Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Belfast

We went to Belfast last week, and it took all fucking day to get there. As I write this, Boris Johnson is in Dublin for a meeting. He left this morning and is returning to London later today to dismiss Parliament, so he doesn’t have the humiliation of a self-inflicted minority government hanging around his neck 24/7, all before dinner time. What the genuine…? We left our flat at 10:45 in the morning and didn’t check into our hotel until 7 PM. And the 60-minute flight home took up seven hours of our day. Nice to be king, isn’t it?

Belfast. Suggested motto: Not as bad as it looks.
At any rate, we went to Belfast, the Red-Headed Stepchild of the United Kingdom, and we had a grand time. Northern Ireland is, like the rest of Ireland, stunningly beautiful, but the North has issues. 

First of all, they’re small, and often forgotten when people think of the United Kingdom, even by people who live in the United Kingdom.


Secondly, their tourist industry—and their economy in general—took a battering while the British Army was there “keeping the peace,” which is a euphemism for really stirring things up.

The Troubles are still troubling.
Thirdly, although peace came with the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, and the opening of the border, the remnant of the UK Government is leading the charge for a No-Deal Brexit, which could close the border and kick-start the Troubles again. Or, that’s the worry, and if the British Army returns to “keep the peace,” any progress in tourism and economic stability they have made in the last 20 years might be trodden under tank treads.

Admittedly, this is a simplistic and pessimistic view, and, frankly, that wasn’t what was on my mind during our visit; I was more concerned about the bathroom.

We were in a hotel that billed itself as 3-starbut which would have struggled to get a 2 in my bookand, in place of an actual bathroom, we had a prefab unit that looked as if it had been made in a gigantic injection mold, set into the corner of the hotel room before they put the ceiling on, and stuck in place with clear bathtub sealant. I have to admit, I was dubious, but it won me over in the end. The shower was roomy and had adequate water pressure, it contained a large area for personal items (unlike the bathroom in our flat) and it was bright enough in there to perform surgery. If I could fit one into our flat, I would.


Our one-piece bathroom unit.
The first item on our itinerary was a visit to the Titanic Museum. The Titanic was built in Belfast, by the Harland & Wolff shipbuilding company. H & W built hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ships, many of which, I assume, survived their maiden voyages. The Titanic, as you know, did not (no, really, they made a movie about it and everything). Belfast keeps this historic oddity low-key. Aside from the Titanic Museum, the Titanic Bus Tour, The Titanic Gift Shop, the Titanic City Tour, the Titanic Quarter, the Titanic Hotel and dozens of other businesses with the name Titanic, they hardly mention it at all. It’s like they want the world to know, “Remember that ship, the big one, sank and killed all those people? We built that!”

One of the many fine exhibits in the Titanic Museum.
It's a replica, of course.
The Museum, however, was first rate, and took you on a journey through the lives of the people who worked as shipbuilders, detailing how they built the ships, and how Titanic came about, and, of course, how it sank. It was well presented and provided many photographs and recordings about the Titanic and the people who built her and sailed on her. The one thing it did not have was a bit of the actual ship.

This is a replica, too.
With the souvenir hunters going down to the wreak every other week, you’d think they would have been able to snag a rivet or a chair leg from one of the state rooms. I went to a Traveling Titanic Exhibition in Phoenix before I moved to the UK and there was a huge section of the hull on display. I was certain it would be on display at the Official Titanic Museum and was looking forward to having my photo taken standing next to it so I could send it to my Titanic-mad Grandson and say, “Hey, Charlie! Here I am standing next to the hull of the REAL Titanic. And you’re not!”

But, alas, it was not to be. We traversed the entire museum, as well as the gift shop, and there was nary an authentic bit of the boat in sight. Curious, I Googled it and discovered that particular piece is in Las Vegas. Figures.

Las Vegas? What's wrong with Belfast?
At least I got to see it; eat your heart out, Charlie!

The next day, we visited the Giant’s Causeway. This is one of those attractions that is so often in documentaries that, when you see it, you feel like you’ve already been there. Still, it was a thrill to be clambering about on it.

Look familiar? Still, it's worth a visit.
From there, our tour bus wended its way hotel-ward via the monotonously beautiful countryside along a coastal road, with periodic stops at quaint little villages. It soon became apparent that the tour company had some sort of agreement with the villages, wherein they agreed to stop there and unleash hordes of tourists so they could drop money in their shops, tea rooms and pubs. The problem was, these were small villages, and when our bus parked next to four others and we were all released, there was nothing to do but walk from one end of the village to the other (which took all of 5 minutes) because the shops, tea rooms and pubs were full to bursting.

Wandering about the town.
The impression I came away from these villages with was, they needed the money. They all looked a bit down-at-heel, but they get top marks for attempted to disguise the fact that many of the buildings were derelict by painting over the boarded-up windows and doors with pictures of windows and doors, so they looked like this:


Instead of this:

I had to look twice at this door to be sure it wasn't an actual door.

On our final day in Belfast, we were left to our own devices, so we went to the spectacular city hall. There was a history exhibition there that was well worth an hour of our time, and then we took the 50-cent tour, that didn’t cost a penny. I have to tell you, if you are ever in Belfast and have an hour or two to kill, you could do worse than take this tour. If, that is, you don’t mind listening to a city employee who is clearly very excited by civic architecture and the city’s political history.

Belfast City Hall.

Worth a visit.
After that, we headed for the airport for our 60-minute flight home, but…well, you know how that worked out. Maybe if I had told them I was the Prime Minister, I might have made it home by dinner time.

And look what we found! This, alone, made the trip worthwhile.

Friday, August 30, 2019

The Power of the Blog

Wonder of wonders: they turned the fountain back on.

No announcement, no fanfare, no apology. It just came on one day. And now that the hot weather is back, the children are gamboling in it once more—along with, one must assume, their sun-cream and danger of falling.

Granted, there was an outcry, and articles and letters in the local papers, and angry/sarcastic comments on the town’s website and Facebook pages. But the thing that pushed it over, the deciding factor that made them say, “All right, already! We’ll turn the sodding fountain back on!” must have been my blog post. I mean, it’s obvious, isn’t it? They turned it off, I did a blog post about it, they turned it on; cause/effect. I’m stunned, elated, humbled and a little bit anxious.

Fountain before Blog
Fountain after Blog
As Uncle Ben told Spiderman, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I can’t ignore this newfound ability to make governments bend to my will, and I must use it for good. But what should I turn my attention to next? Brexit? Lord knows it needs some sorting out. Trump? Ditto. The Middle East? They could have peace at last, and with peace comes McDonald’s, KFC and ASDA; a win-win-win. And what about the Climate Crisis? Should I use my power to tackle that?

No, I think I need to turn my attention closer to home, toward those everyday things that are the bane of civilized men and women everywhere. Therefore, I request that the appropriate governments pass the following laws:


  • If a market sells hamburgers or hot dogs in packages, they must also sell packages of buns with the same number of buns. Failure to comply will allow customers to take as many packages as they wish in order to achieve bun-parity, and they will only be charged for the initial package.


In case you went to school after 1970 and don't have your smart phone handy,
you would be allowed 8 packages of hot-dogs (real ones, not tofu substitutes) and 5 packages
of buns to make a 1:1 ration of  hot-dogs to buns.

  • People who park like idiots should be chained to their vehicles for three days and made to apologize to everyone who passes by the blocked parking spaces. For every person the offender fails to apologize to, and extra day will be added to their sentence
Idiot

  • Grossly over-sized carry-on luggage should be placed in the offender’s seat with the offender standing next to it. During the flight, the offender’s seat number will be announced, and passengers will be encouraged to “Tsk tsk” them.
That is easily twice the size of my carry-on.
Who is letting these people get away with this? Find them and
arrest them, as well.


  • These people just need to be shot.

That will do for a start. So, if the appropriate powers can put Brexit aside for a moment and turn their attention to the above, I (and everyone else in the civilized world) will appreciate it very much.



Thursday, July 25, 2019

Aqua-phobia

We are, as I write this, experiencing the hottest day ever recorded in the UK. Fortunately, Horsham has a fountain, the kind that shoots water up from the pavement at various heights, to please the eye and provide a place for children and the adventurous to frolic and, on a day like today, cool off. Unfortunately, the Horsham District Council decided to celebrate the hottest day ever, by shutting the fountain off.

Horsham's Non-Water Fountain
Their excuse: sunscreen, it might get into the filters, and it might damage them. Also, children might slip.

This might have made sense (well, actually, no, it wouldn’t) but for a few extraneous reasons:

- Fountains in cities all over the world are famously packed with people on hot days. Some of these fountains are hundreds of years old and they all seem to be working fine, and as far as I know, no one has died.

- This particular fountain has been operating fine, even with children gamboling about in it, for several years now. Would another week have hurt? Why shut if off on the hottest day…ever?

No problems  here; must be Horsham-specific.
While it may seem illogical and indefensible (because it is), they did not do it because they hate children (although there is nothing to suggest that they don’t); they did it because they are afraid of water.

This makes perfect sense, when you take this recent move into historical context.

The Shelly Fountain, it was an icon of our town, it put it on the map, it was what people thought of when they thought of Horsham, but the Council shut it down, put a fence around it, left it to rot and then dug it up and made a planter out of it.

Such a joyful fountain...

...left to rot...

...now pushing up birch trees.
The Swans, a much-loved sculpture in the Swan Walk Shopping Mall, depicted swans coming in to land on a sheet of water, about 1-inch deep. There were little jets of water that shot against the swan’s feet, giving the impression of movement. It was a lovely image, until they took the water out and replaced it with glass.

Before

After
There was a water feature in the plaza near the Bishopric, a babbling brook that ran over a waterfall. This was turned off some time ago without funfair or explanation.

No reason. I guess they just didn't like it.
There is also a water fountain that was put in the town during Queen Victoria’s reign. It was restored in 1977 and hasn’t been active for as long as I can remember.

I can't recall ever seeing water in this thing.
And even the town watering trough has been turned into a planter.

Think of the poor cows!
So, you see, the move to turn off the fountain in the plaza was the next logical step toward a water-free town. If you come to visit Horsham now, you will find not a single water feature working. Apparently, this is what the Council is aiming for.

I understand their next move will be to drain the River Arun.

The River Arun, and The Riverside Walk, soon to be The Dried-out Trenchside Walk


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Scamaphobia


Time was, you had to meet someone face to face to be scammed. Then con-men discovered mail, and the telephone, and email and their job became easier and easier until you could find yourself sat on your sofa watching Homes Under the Hammer, content in the knowledge that you had a hefty sum nestling in your bank while, unbeknownst to you, someone from the other side of the world was transferring your money from your account into his.

"Hell-o, Mr. Harling's Bank. This is Mr. Harling. I should like you take all
money from my accounts and place them in Cayman Island account, yes?
Oh, certainly, I am Mr. Harling. I do not pretending to be him.
Money is sent? Спасибо, I mean, thank you.
This has led me to develop a simple, but hard and fast rule: if anyone approaches me—via phone, mail, email, at my door or on the street—that I do not know as a friend or who is not responding to a request for assistance or sustenance, that person is, de facto, a criminal with the intent of pulling money out of my pocket and sticking it in his.

That this rule has led me to hanging up on actual utility companies and, in one memorable occasion, a hospital calling to tell me my father-in-law was being discharged and needed a ride home, is unfortunate, but I still believe it is better to err on the side of caution. I never click on links in an email and I routinely hang up on unknown callers.

But, while phone calls and extraneous emails remain a nuisance, they are easily dealt with, What I really fear is being scammed while I’m not looking. Fortunately, this has never happened. Until the other day.

I was doing the monthly updates of our accounts and noticed a fee of £98.83 taken from my bank account by a company I had never heard of. This didn’t alarm me at first. I often forget that I have bought something, but a Google search generally jogs my memory, allowing me to recall a holiday purchase from a little store in the Highlands a month or two back who have finally gotten around to taking their money. In this instance, however, the search only served to heighten my suspicion.

It was a loan company, the type catering to recently released felons and/or people with a bankruptcy looming in their background. Additionally, I found a thread on a message board about this company having taken a hundred quid from someone’s account in similarly suspicious circumstances. They were not only a dodgy loan company, they had form, so I went down to my bank, explained the situation and they, quite helpfully, canceled the direct debit, refunded my money and began an investigation.

Later that day, after finishing the household accounts, I noticed, with extreme unease, that we had more money than I thought we should. Having less doesn’t surprise, or unsettle me. But more? There was clearly something wrong. After some careful searching, I realized that a very expensive purchase I made some months back had never been deducted from my account. I wondered about this, and why I had no paperwork. Surely something that expensive would generate paperwork.

It took a while, but I finally tracked down an e-mail that jogged my memory. Something I had received and filed without thought weeks earlier: the sum I owed the company was being taken in installments, which explained why I had not seen a drop in our bank balance. Additionally, the installments had been converted to a no-interest loan by the company, and turned over to…a loan company.

In a panic, I contacted my bank, only to be told that, as the investigation process had started, there was no way they could stop it. They suggested I call the loan company, which I did, with great trepidation. I imagined they would not be pleased at my having taken the money back, and might say something like, “You took your money back? That’s okay, Vinny will be around to collect it. You’ll recognize him. He’ll be carrying a cricket bat in one hand, and a cash box in the other. You’ll become acquainted with one of them. Your choice.”

"Good morning, Mr. Harling. We can do this the easy way,
or the hard way."
The loan company, however, was cordial, and understanding, “Oh don’t worry about it,” the woman chirped, “It happens all the time.” Which only served to confirm what type of loan company they were.

Long story short (too late) everything was eventually straightened out, they got their money, the bank has been mollified, all future payments should go ahead without a hitch, and Vinny never paid me a visit.

But I’m still going to be cautious when answering the door for the next few weeks.



Friday, June 21, 2019

Day of the Ziffit

This is to be a day of sitting and waiting. Let me tell you why.

We are readers. And as such—and despite occasionally taking advantage of the amazing convenience of eBooks—we habitually visit bookstores and charity shops and return home with arm-loads of new acquisitions. In a perfect world, this would not present a problem—an ever-expanding library is a joy to a book-reader—but, alas, this is not a perfect world so we do not live in a mansion with a library and snooker room that we could turn into a library. We live in a tiny flat, a reality which, from time to time, requires us to cull the herd.

We undertook such a purge a few weeks ago. But this one was different, as we had discovered a service called Ziffit.


It sounded brilliant. You download the app, point your phone at the bar-code on the book and, ping, the book is added to a list, along with the amount of money Ziffit will pay you for it. You do this to all the books you want to get rid of, then take them to a handy collection point (there is, it turns out, one half a mile away from us) where they are shipped to Ziffit Central and a few days later, money appears in your bank account.

That’s what the website said, at least. The reality was a little different.


It started well. I pointed my phone at the first book. Ping! It was accepted. The next book was not. Nor was the next. Nor the next. I scanned several series, where one book in the series was accepted, and all the others rejected. I scanned old books, new books, rare books, popular books—nothing. In all, I scanned over one hundred books. Of that, only eight were accepted, for a total of £4.97. This in my view, wasn’t enough to bother with. So I didn't.

Undeterred, or perhaps because I had already done all the work to dig them out, I then scanned our collection of CDs.

The CD cull represented a major step in our efforts to regain storage space. We’d been hauling these CDs around with us for years but only recently realized that we no longer owned a CD player. So, even if we did one day decide to move several items of heavy bedroom furniture and search through the box under the bed to find that one song (rather than just cue it up on our phone) we wouldn’t be able to play it anyway.

Still, it was a heart-rending decision. These were physical items, sought-after jewels that, throughout our lives, we had scoured erstwhile records stores for and listened to over and over again. Each one evoked memories, making them more than just a collection of useless, plastic discs. But, while memories don’t take up space, things that evoke them do, so the CDs were consigned to the Ziffit pile.

That went marginally better. The hit-rate for CDs was about 1 to 4, so we ended up with a big pile of acceptables, and four big piles of rejects to haul down to the charity shops, which, incredibly, still accept CDs.

Following Ziffit’s guidelines, I boxed up the ones they wanted, closed out the list and moved on to the step where I arranged to take them to the local drop-off point. To my consternation, that option mysteriously disappeared, leaving me no choice but to arrange for a courier to come pick it up, which required our presence. And the pick-up window was from 8AM to 5PM.

The upshot was, in order to get rid of the CDs—and, hopefully, see £98.07 put in our bank account—we had to take a full day out of our oddly busy schedule so we can sit here, in the flat, all day long, waiting for someone to come take this box. (And how, I have to wonder, do people with the inconvenience of jobs cope with this?)


Ziffit, to their credit, did try to soften the blow by telling me that, on the day, they would send an email with a 1-hour window “so you can plan your day.” Sorry, too little, too late. I plan my day in the weeks leading up to it, not at 9AM when I may or may not get an email telling me to be here from 1 to 2PM. (No email yet, by the by.)

To conclude, it would have been a lot less trouble and taken a lot less time if I had just bundled everything up and schlepped it down to the charity shops. The only up-side to Ziffit that I can see is that, from here on, I won’t be tempted to try any of the “Bucks for Books” dot coms popping up like housing estates on green-field sites.

However, if you find yourself with a surplus of books, or a surfeit of obsolete CDs, and you don’t mind buying packing materials or waiting around all day for a delivery van, then you might give them a try. After all, despite my moaning, I am going to be almost a hundred quid to the good when this is over. And I am getting a day off where I don’t have to run here or there or do this or that so, all in all, I would call it a win. But just.

UPDATE: Three emails and two text assuring me they would come get my package today. We waited all day, and no one showed up. No hundred quid, and I have to unpack all the CDs and take them to the charity shop. Ziffit can stuff it.

Disclaimer: Ziffit is not paying me for this, aside from the money they promised for the CDs. They did not solicit a review and, frankly, would probably have been happier if I had not supplied one

Monday, May 13, 2019

Shropshire

Shropshire is beautiful. You should go. Right now. I’ll wait…

Back already? Nice, wasn’t it? We just spent a week there in a holiday cottage and it was wonderful.

It was a bit out of the way, and I have to say that the directions left a little to be desired. When talking to the owner, during the traditional “Where do we find the key?” phone call, the woman did warn me that the SatNav (short for Satellite Navigation, what you Americans erroneously call a GPS) wouldn’t bring me to the cottage. She didn’t, however, tell me where it would bring me. All she told me was to watch out for a black sign with a white arrow on it.

And so, we set off, thinking we couldn’t possibly go wrong. It only occurred to me how lacking her directions were when we saw the black sign with the white arrow. It told us we were on the right track, but we weren’t sure what to do with that information. The arrow pointed at a large and cluttered farmyard with a narrow strip of tarmac next to it, which did not look inviting. So, we continued to follow the SatNav, knowing that, at some point, it would steer us wrong, but we didn’t know when that might be.

Of course we went to a castle; the place is lousy with them.
The SatNav had us follow the road (a slightly less narrow strip of tarmac) and stop at a dead end in front of a house that was clearly not our holiday cottage. Fortunately, when we turned around in the driveway, the woman of the house—along with a guy out walking his dog—came over to see what we wanted.

I asked if there was a holiday cottage in the vicinity and she and the guy exchanged knowing looks, then told us how to get there. I think they go through this a lot.

Turns out, the owner should have said, “When you see the black sign with the white arrow, follow the arrow down the lane until it ends. Then keep going. When you can’t go any farther, that’s where the cottage is.”

Iron Bridge--World Heritage Site.
Don't let the photo fool you, there is a lot more to do
there than just stare at an iron bridge.
We did as the dog-walker suggested and found the cottage just as the owners were finishing getting it ready for us. They gave us the keys, showed us around, and then we never saw them again, which is what I like in a host, and which, I am sure, they appreciate in a guest.

Now, we have previously stayed at cottages where we needed the SatNav to get there, but we have never before stayed at a cottage where we needed the SatNav for the entire week, to not only continue to find the cottage after a day of sight-seeing, but also to find our way out in order to go sight-seeing. It was, in a word, remote.

There were canals everywhere, and they provided some excellent walks.

They also had an impressive aqueduct...

...and an impressive tunnel.
This is what it looked like from the outside.

This is what it looked like on the inside.
When we first started going on cottage holidays, we used to dine out every night. It wasn’t long before that got old, so we starting decreasing the frequency of restaurant meals and increasing the number of dine-at-home meals until, for the past several years, our routine has evolved into us arriving in the area of the cottage early so we can find a supermarket and do a week’s shop. Then, we spend the week going out in the mornings to a local tourist site and returning in the afternoons to potter about with our respective hobbies, make dinner, do the washing up and sit in front of the telly until it’s time to go to bed with a cup of tea and a good book. We, therefore, don’t really go on holiday, we simply live in another part of the country for a week. In this case, I was doubly grateful for our established routine because—SatNav or no—we’d never have found the cottage in the dark.

If you’ve ever stayed in a holiday cottage, you’ll know there are two type of hosts. One is the kind whose prime motivation is kitting out their offering as inexpensively as possible. This results in a week of disappointments as you discover cheap utilities, shoddy furnishings, inadequate plumbing (we once stayed in a cottage where the bathroom sink was so small I could literally—that’s literally in the literal sense—cover it with my hand), hard beds, flat pillows, thin blankets and single-ply toilet paper. The other type of host has a bit of pride and doesn’t fall for the false economy of buying cheap, knowing that buying quality means less breakage and wear, and results in satisfied guests who might turn into repeat customers. I am pleased to report that our latest hosts were of the latter persuasion. The cottage was well-appointed, with comfortable furniture, quality white goods, perfectly acceptable water pressure and plush toilet paper.

The weather, however, was not as accommodating. It was cool all week, cloudy and, from Thursday on, rainy. Still, we managed to visit some nice sites and see a great deal of stunning scenery. Then the food ran out, so we knew it was time to move out of the cottage and back into our flat, where we go out and do things in the mornings, potter about with our respective hobbies in the afternoons, make dinner, do the washing up and sit in front of the telly until it’s time to go to bed with a cup of tea and a good book, leaving unanswered the eternal question, “If you’re retired, how do you know when you’re on holiday?”

Shrewsbury, a perfectly adequate little city, even in the rain.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Tuesday Morning, 6 AM

This is the day my wife and I go swimming. For exercise. I hate it.

I hate the early start. I hate the chilly (and, until recently, dark) walk to the leisure centre. I hate changing in those little cubicles. I hate having to hold my stomach in as I walk to the pool. I even hate the swimming, which is mind-numbingly boring, and the public shower afterward. The only thing I like about it is stepping out of the leisure centre into the now-not-quite-as-frigid-and-dark morning to go to the Cafe in the Park for a cup of tea and a toasted teacake. That feeling of having the swimming behind me and something else to look forward to is what keeps me going back week after week (that, and my wife reminding me of how beneficial it is). It’s akin to hitting yourself in the head with a hammer just because it feels so good when you stop.

All of this is strange to me because, as a youth, I loved swimming. In fact, love is too bland a word. I lived for swimming.

Such was our eagerness to get back into the water that we—the half-dozen kids in the area I grew up in—designated Memorial Day as the opening of swimming season, and celebrated it each year with an inaugural trek to the local swimming hole.

Where I swam as a kid.
Memorial Day comes on the final weekend in May and, while it can often be deceptively warm, the holiday is separated from the time when the streams raged with a torrent of snow-melt by mere weeks. Consequently, the water was scrotum-clenchingly cold, but we never let that deter us. We walked over the fields and through the ravine to the nearest bend in the creek to splash in the fast, icy water until our lips turned blue, then we made our way back to our homes where the hot dogs, potato salad and watermelon of the first barbecue of the season waited for us.

Where I swim now.
School ended not long after, ushering in ten glorious weeks of summer, when I swam almost every day. From the age of ten or eleven until my early twenties, summer days were split between the series of cliffs, waterfalls and dam at the edge of the the nearby town of Stuyvesant Falls signified, respectively, as The Cliff, Lower Falls and The Dam and collectively as The Sand Bar, and the more secluded bend in the creek known locally as Wagoner’s.

The Sand Bar and surroundings offered the opportunity of jumping from high places into deep water, and the exhilaration of climbing back up the cliffs to do it again. There was also the thrill of crossing dangerous rapids to get to some of these places, coupled with the pleasantly disquieting knowledge that, if the water rose too far, you might be trapped out there, or be swept away by the white, roiling water.

The Sand Bar, taken when I was an adult. This is the beach (the actual Sand Bar).
Behind is The Dam. Cliffs and Lower Falls not pictured.
This is The Cliff.
Yeah, I jumped off that.
Wagoner’s, on the other hand, involved a languid stroll through dusty fields and down rutted farm tracks to a bend in the creek that was boarded by a ridge of rock on one side and shallow rapids on the other. This formed a pocket of slow-running water, deep enough to accommodate dives from the rope swing hanging from a tree on the high bank.

Both had their place, and were equally utilized, and I spent many lazy afternoons splashing in the cool, green water, or shivering on the rocky beach, waiting for the sun to warm me so I could go splash again. Everything about it excited the senses: the glaring sun washing the color from everything except our naked backs, which turned red in the first weeks before going nut-brown, the coolness of the water, the slightly rotting smell of the creek, the hushed heat of the ninety-degree afternoons, the wet bodies glistening, the sounds of yelps and squeals as the boys, and girls, swung from the rope or jumped from dizzying heights.

In comparison, the sterile, rule-driven environment of the leisure centre is…well, there is no comparison. I go there to exercise, to swim, back and forth, in a designated lane, over and over and over again. I realize this is good for me, I admit I can see the benefits, but I would give a pretty for just one afternoon of getting my exercise by climbing the cliffs, navigating the rapids or swinging from the rope to splash into the cool, green water.

Swimming--for probably the last time--at Wagoner's.
But after that, I really wouldn’t mind a nice hot shower (public or not) and a visit to the cafe for a cup of tea and a toasted teacake.

Monday, April 1, 2019

April Fool's Day

A strange thing happened this morning. My wife and I woke up to find, for the first time in, well, forever, that there is nothing on our calendar.

Today is the second day of British Summertime, which, even if the weather was crap (which it isn’t) is kinda nice. The sun is shining, the sky is a cloudless blue, we are both without the need to go to work (this is my wife’s first official day of Professional Retirement, having passed her exam and turned in her ‘L’ plate last Friday) and there are no appointments to keep, no crisis to deal with or even any pressing tasks we have been letting go that demanded attention NOW.

We are still in shock.

I know it’s April Fool’s Day but, trust me, this is not a joke, which made me wonder what jokes could actually be played on this day. The newspapers traditionally publish ludicrous, but almost believable, headlines on this day, but with the world being as it is, what could they possibly print that would be stranger than actual fact? Trump Resolves to Become a Rational Human Being? Britain Finally Comes to Its Senses? They’re not exactly laugh-inducing headlines, and they would be spotted straight away as untrue.


Typical Joke Headline
So, I decided to not think about it, or any of the other nonsense going on in the clusterfuck they call Britain or the Banana Republic across the pond, and instead walked into town with my newly retired wife to get tea at the Park Cafe.

Part of the reason for this unexpected leisure had to do with The Show being over. There were no songs to learn, no lines to rehearse and no practices to prepare for and, although that leaves a big hole in my life, for the time being, it’s a good feeling.

The Show—Keep Smiling Through—opened on Friday the 22nd, and closed on Saturday the 23rd, but that wasn’t because critics from The Guardian, The Independent or The Daily Telegraph panned us in their reviews; it was always scheduled as a two-day only event. Also, as far as I know, no one from The Guardian, The Independent or The Daily Telegraph showed up anyway.

The Show, in case you missed my previous post about it, was a WWII revue, put on by The Unitarian Players. It went well, and was everything an AmDram production should be, including awkward silences, flubbed lines and creative ad libbing.

We had a final meeting after the run, where they showed us a video of the entire production from beginning to end. It was the first time I had seen the show. All I knew of it were the parts I was in, so to see it fully and in its proper sequence was as new to me as it was to the audience.

The singing was really good. There are several members of the group with outstanding voices, and the ladies did their routines with practiced ease and no visible panic.

Us men, on the other hand…not that there weren’t some outstanding performances, but one guy (that would be me) managed to lead the group into the wrong verse of a song, which precipitated one of those awkward silences. In another skit, four of us were singing, and doing movements to, Hang Out the Washing on the Siegfried Line, and we looked like four guys who had just met and decided to do a song and dance together.


Me, Rob and John ready for our Nightingale Sang in Berekly Square number
But it all added to the humor, and I like to think the audience took this unintended comedy to be part of the production.

The atmosphere, however, was what I recall most. It was thrillingly frenetic “backstage” (read: the church hall adjacent to the chapel): changing costumes, lining up for the next scene, trying to keep your voice to a whisper and checking the script outline to see if you might have time to gulp down a coffee before you had to go on again. It was—in a little church AmDram group sort of way—thrilling.


In the Green Room, waiting to go on.
Due to the subject matter, several members of the cast told me stories of their wartime experiences, both while we were waiting to go on and at the gathering after the event. They weren’t (thankfully) horrific tales, but they were personal, so I won’t recount them here. All I will say is, they put my consternation at Waitrose’s failure—for two weeks running—to stock my favorite Soft-Baked Belvita Breakfast Bars into perspective.

I'm the white blob on the right
It also puts into perspective that, no matter how fraught and angst-ridden the modern world is, at least no one is dropping bombs on us. (Aside from the obvious disadvantages, it would really put a crimp in the supply-line for those Soft-Baked Belvita Breakfast Bars.)

And so, we finished our tea, took a wander through the shops and returned home to do whatever we pleased with our time, which was a good way to remind ourselves that, despite all, life can be good at times.