Monday 26 November 2018

A step back in time

While in Dorset visiting Mum, my friend had kindly booked us a night in a Swanage hotel - mainly so we could walk the coastal paths, draw and yak to a great extent, but very sadly she couldn't make it at the last moment. So, I went on my own as refused to reimburse her . . . Bastards.
Anyway, I'd never been to Swanage, despite living in the county for some years, and a small break from the hours drinking tea, listening to surreal phrases and filling in photo albums with Mum was a welcome, if I'm honest, prospect.
A rain-laden wind was hacking its way around the buildings as I got off the bus, forcing me to explore the town's cafés, my favourite being an untouched-by-time bakery/eatery on the seafront with old pine tables, misted sea-view windows and more unhealthy food that you could shake a toasted tea-cake at.



I had a pastie and wrote poetic rubbish while half-listening to various local's conversations about groins (beach), landslides and Christmas, after which the rain eased off (love this expression) and I was able to go out and explore the almost people-less town.


Swanage has an atmosphere of still being in the 60s, somehow. Perhaps it was the old shop fronts, untampered with from the 20s, 30s and 60s, with occasional 70s and 80s makeovers, hardly any chain shops (hurrah) except Oxfam book shop (excellent) and Smiths (horrible, as they all are). I did all the charity shops, walked along the sea front, up into the backstreets and marvelled at the curve of the bay and huge cliff face jutting out into the ocean.
I was surprised that the tourist office didn't have lashings of Enid Blyton's works as apparently she used to holiday and write there, and there was no 'writer's trail', mention of where she stayed etc; maybe it's more of a summer thing.
Actually, I just checked and found that she often stayed in The Grand Hotel where I went in search of food the same evening after checking the scarily expensive menu of my hotel. I hope she experienced better nourishment than I did - a very odd long, white platter containing a veritable mattress of undressed salad and a trail of packet and jar seafoods . . .

Back to the day - After my coat could absorb no more rain, I walked up to the hotel and found my room which was cleaner than bleach, bland and featureless but with a stunning sea view and A BATH!
Aforementioned meal eaten at rival hotel, I read, watched a bit of TV, had wonderful bath and fell asleep lulled by the sound of crashing waves and strange plumbing noises.
Nine hours sleep! Unheard of.
I woke to a slightly calmer day and the sun rising between clouds casting intermittent silver rays over the sea.
My coat was a little dryer so I donned it (and other clothes) and walked out to the coastal path and onto the beginning of the rounded, treeless hills, rather reminiscent of the Yorkshire dales and similarly dotted with sheep and lowing cows.



                                                      The house I would rather like . . . 

Back for breakfast - excellent buffet, heavy on the fruit options which was great but my choice of Eggs Benedict was nasty to say the least - cold white muffin, chunks of cold ham, rubbery egg and gloopy yellow . . . stuff which tasted like emulsion. Maybe that was the recipe, followed faithfully.

I packed my bag and walked back into town, this time along the coast path as the waves were less ferocious and explored further; took tea in a 1920s bakery which had undergone an interior re-fit in the early 80s but still had the beautiful original shop-front with metal lettering and art deco glass windows, and absently-mindedly looked in a few estate agent shop windows.
Well, if Brexit happens, the French government fails, and the right get in, I/we might get thrown out and have to re-consider life on the rock. Swanage? Probably not. But most interesting for a day's investigation, thinking time, drawing, writing and appreciating that some places have the courage to stay as they are and not succumb to Starbucks, Nero's, Subway and all the rest of it . . .


                                           The house we probably could afford (35,000 pounds!)


Friday 23 November 2018

Different species of humans

Yesterday, after listening to a fairly typical adversarial slanging exchange from the house of commons I walked down the hill to visit Mum in her nursing home. The hate and smugly rehearsed retorts still in my mind, I entered the home and discovered it was one of the volunteer activities-lady days.
I greeted Mum, who asked me where I had come from as if I had green skin and antenna, then sat down to watch the activities commence.
This lady is a marvel. She has been coming to the home as a volunteer for seventeen years. Seventeen years! Without pay, because she wants to help brighten the lives of elderly people. And she does. On non-activity days, the sitting room is a sea of blue carpet dotted with the individual boats of plastic-y upholstered chairs each containing a mostly silent home-inhabitant waiting for the next cup of tea.
I'm not saying the staff don't care - they do, but there isn't much time to anything more than wheel or hoist the residents to the loo or pass on a few bright words before having to move on to the next necessity.
While I helped her round up spongy, brightly-coloured balls, arrange hoops and re-locate a bean-bag target practice I thought back to the House of Commons; to the seats full of heckling MPs and bitching heads of government/apposition who are supposed to be to be 'looking after the interests' of the British People. Do any of them really care? Or is it just about power and personal political positioning?
It seems to me that we could do with more people in power who actually have an interest in helping fellow humans; like our activities lady - no judgement, no questions, just a genuine desire to make things better for other people.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Christmas, train delays and enforced socialising.

Sorry, another (minor) rant, but I am feeling somewhat jaded by a four hour unintentional wait in Alton and Woking due to disruptions on the Waterloo line.
Woking . . . never had the pleasure, or otherwise, to investigate the town centre so am doing so in a slightly dispirited way due to dragging suitcase around and feeling nasty from possible take-away tea poisoning.


                                Rather worrying sculpture in Woking's shopping district

Lots of usual UK high street shops, many, many chain restaurants, small plastic potted christmas trees suspended from shop fronts, the biggest Superdrug I've ever seen containing vast swathes of sparkly landfill and, Poundland. I have just spent five minutes looking vaguely at phone charges as I failed to pack one for my travels but can't imagine that something electronic costing a pound would actually work so have bought one from a bored-looking youth sitting on a stool at one of those shopping-mall 'islands' of more stuff that's not actually in a shop - whatever they are called. An open-air shop? except it's in shopping mall air.


                                                                 Do I have to . . .

Brexit has forced Christmas even more into the spotlight this year. There's a palpable air of festive desperation in the shops - let's forget the political chaos and forge ahead with total green, red and gold indulgence. Plan your perfect Christmas lunch, tree, TV watching schedule. Do it all NOW. Except the shops appear somewhat deserted - at three o'clock in the afternoon I would have thought they'd be under shopping-siege.

Finally, back on a train.
The youth assured me the charger would work, and indeed so far it does plug into the phone but there's no plug socket on this now-delayed train to try it out with. Ah. Train is moving. Everyone is settling down with tablets, computers and crisps happy in the knowledge that finally we will be reaching our destinations.
Nope. We have arrived in Eastleigh and are now apparently stuck behind a broken down freight train.
An hour later.
The freight train is irreparable. We are all being asked to get out and wait until something else happens. A feeling that I am in some weird purgatory has mantled itself about me. I will be forced to live out this afternoon of Woking-exploration and investigation of Eastleigh station. Forever.
I have joined a queue in Platform two's café where a slight air of rioting over the remaining sausage rolls is noticeable.
No - wait. News of a train that might be going to Bournemouth. Mass surge over to the Cross-Country train (different train company - Please, please, France DO NOT privatise!!!) I squish on with everyone else and we wait in the corridor next to the loo which looks surprisingly like a bad Dr Who set. Eventually the train moves, and, as humans do in times of minor chaos, start interacting.
The woman next to me and her friend have both just taken their girls up to perform in a dance event at the ex-millenial Dome. Another woman has been to stay with her daughter in Islington, and another a shopping trip to London. We chat about trains, the new Queen film, joke about the loo door swishing open as various of us make use of the facilities, and it's . . . nice! I borrow one of their phones as mine has died, blag some water from another, sweets are passed around and eyebrows raised at the young couple engaged in passing the time without talking . . .
If the shared train mess-ups hadn't happened we'd have all been sitting silently prodding away at screens, safe in our own individual spheres.
An hour later at Bournemouth, two of the women and me are going to share a cab. We find one, carry on talking, now about London and the cabbie joins in at my mention of Muswell Hill.
He: "I was born there."
Me: "No . . . so was I!
When the other ladies get out we continue reminiscing over life in Muswell hill, our respective schools, lidos, that sort of early concentrated orange juice, the first Sainsburys on the Broadway, Saturday morning pictures at the Odean, cafés, pet shops, the view over the rest of London at night . . . When he drops me we realise our mothers followed exactly the same life-pattern - leaving London to start a new life in Wimborne, only a couple of roads from each other . . .
We exchange a last few 'wow, weird' comments, he gets my case out and I gratefully enter my cousins house to be welcomed with tea and suggestions of hot bath, soup and electric blanket. Things that might have seemed part of a faraway dream while waiting on Alton station's freezing platform nine hours ago.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Autumn walk on Armistice day.

We found this rather wonderful place a few months back - an unsung nature reserve of interlocking lakes and natural woodland. Long may it stay unsung as there are no cars, ice-cream vans or crowds. It's not mentioned as a place to visit at our local tourist office and the vague attempts at fencing suggest whoever owns it would rather people stayed out.
Today it was exceptionally beautiful in the autumn sun: majestic tree reflections in the calm water, a new carpet of gold and yellow leaves and many water birds including herons, moorhens, winter-sheltering cormorants and a colony of white egrets.
Also, wonderful to see was a veritable village of bee-hives which we had to pass (gingerly) a few bees lazily buzzing around their respective edifices. I don't know whether this place might have been ex-gravel pits or is a series of natural lakes but I think it will become a regular haunt through the different seasons.



                                                                      Egret colony


          And as if a quiet reminder of what this day commemorates - a field of autumn sunflowers we passed on the way to the lakes.

Friday 9 November 2018


Christmas rant time.

8th of November and our local BIG supermarket already has all the festive calories well on display. I tried to find last years rant and can't but I'm sure it was nowhere near this early.


           Cardboard Big Ben of After Eights - or, some creepy and messianic battleship Galactica?

So, After Eight Mints are dominating the territory this year in this particular shop - maybe some ironic statement on Brexit? I just looked up where After Eights (Nestlé) are actually made and was surprised to find they are still manufactured on British soil - Halifax and not within the scary-looking Swiss Nestlé plant somewhere on the edge of Lac Leman.
Hurrah for British products and come the great cutting of the umbilical cord from the EU mother ship (Hopefully Not!!!) at least that will be one export the rest of the world will be raving to buy. Except A 8 mints are obviously as British as Alpine horns, Muesli and Helvetica Font are.


What I found so extra-weird was there were actually people fondling packs of NEW Christmas A 8 special editions: strawberry and mint, cat-liver and gravel flavour, etc, and then placing them in their trolleys. In early November.
Why not some heavy seasonal marketing on Butter Nut squash, VitC-providing citrus fruit, hearty soup ingredients? Well, obviously not quite the same money-raking-in as cruise-ship size display of chocolate from basically one manufacturer.
It's all so sad. Could be quite exciting in a twisted, consumerist way if none of this was allowed until say the 15th of December. Imagine the mayhem as shoppers climbed the wavering cardboard display stands, hurling tens of boxes of Nestle soft-centres into the hands of their waiting family members and/or already bulging trolleys.
Oo. I'm quite cross today. Think I'll head out into the rain for a dog walk then come back and eat some of Mark's home-made pumpkin pie.

Tuesday 6 November 2018

The lowest point, climbing back up and the occasional usefulness of mosquitos.

I never thought I would say this but, last night a mosquito saved my life (to the tune of 'last night a DJ saved my life'). Well, not exactly - saved my life, but turned the positivity back on.
It's been a crappy couple of weeks due to emotional things; too many articles read on the looming chasm of crap humanity seems to be peering into; Brexshit, Trump, and the final straw, a feature on the fact that the Box Moth, which has destroyed just about all of our indigenous Box trees is now moving on to Cypress trees/hedging. Added to the fact that I had the worst cold/possible flu I've had for years, well I was feeling fairly grotty.
After trying to get to sleep for two hours I was just dropping into a cocoon of warmth and drowsiness when I heard a noise that shouldn't be present in early November - a mosquito looking for a last blood feast before? dying? hibernating? feeding up the next batch of offspring? I whacked the air around my head for a while, as one does then got up knowing my sleep had well and truly been disturbed. I stood in the bathroom for a moment looking at my groggy reflection and then started laughing. The final absurdity. The lowest point. Then I knew it had to be time to find the metal rungs stuck into the side of the mental well and start climbing.
This morning, the vile cold is well entrenched - possibly flu (three jumpers on, hot water bottle trapped in the layers and I'm still shivering but the gloom seems to have moved off along with the rain that poured last night.
Such a strange thing the mind. I'm lucky to have one that generally springs back to half glass full after any bad times. It might be a trigger of a walk, a bit of digging the garden, a kind email, or the fact that Nigel Farage only had a vote of 18% confidence on a Britain-wide survey/Channel 4 survey I saw earlier this morning while doing the washing up. Whatever . . . it's good to feel I'm back in my own personal leak-free (mostly) boat and rowing the right way.


Saturday 3 November 2018


Spot the difference.

The Lorax, by the inspirational Dr Seuss was first published in 1971 and is apparently one of many banned children's books in the USA - too subversive, the wrong message, anti-consumerism. I think he had incredible powers of observation, possibly the ability to see into the future?

We must have read The Lorax to our son Ezra about two hundred times and we/he never tired of it. In the early 90s the message was all too clear especially for someone like me, being involved in the shoddy world of advertising as a stylist.
I worked with companies who produced the equivalent of Thneeds - useless, of-the-moment items that would be produced in sweat shops to then be added to land-fill as soon as the interest wore off/the items broke/or were deemed to be 'so last year' or actually, month, more likely.
I've just read a review of the Lorax film. The story, from this account would have poor Seuss weeping in his grave - sugary, pathetically unfunny jokes all the way through, the message lost under a whumph of Hollywood 'business as usual'.
The book should be brought back and be issued as standard early-school reading along with subjects such as: where food actually comes from, how to cook it; how to garden and nurture food-plants, how to reuse what you have, and how to adapt to a possibly very near world where what colour your next smart phone will be is of absolutely no consequence.