Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Fish Called Daphne

Back in February, you will remember, there was a terrible earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The fleeing inhabitants left behind a tank of goldfish in one building, a chartered accountant's.

A hundred and thirty-four days later, people returned to the building and found two of the fish still alive. Apparently they had been named after characters in Scooby-Doo. One was called Shaggy and one, far more interestingly, was called Daphne.

The story, whilst claiming that these two fish had survived all that time without food, slightly skirts round the fact that there were originally six fish in the tank. I don't know what the others were called. I think Bob is usually a good name for goldfish, since it's the only word they appear to know.

I've heard that goldfish only have a memory of two seconds so I expect that these two, after the earthquake, spent a couple of seconds thinking "What the - - ??" and then got back to thinking the thoughts that they normally think, which I have always feared might just be "Now what was I - - ? Now what was I - - ? Now what was I - - ?"

Anyway, that's it. Six fish for starters. Two left.

"Don't mess with Daphne," I think is the message here.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Do Geese See God?

Thank you all for the palindromes - I love them!

And also thanks for Shooting Parrots' suggestion of this video, the Palindromic Sketch, which I very much enjoyed and I hope you do too.

The Great North Swim - my sponsorship total

I know that some of the readers of this blog very kindly sponsored me when I did The Great North Swim back in June.

My sponsorship totalled £563.25 for Multiple Sclerosis Research. Grateful thanks to everyone who contributed.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Madame, Not One Man is Selfless

"Madame, not one man is selfless: I name not one, madam."

It sounds like a quotation from one of Shakespeare's more obscure works. But it's not. It's a palindrome. It reads the same backwards as forwards.

I love palindromes (let's face it, I like most things to do with words.) I came across the one above only recently.

Perhaps the best known ones are "Madam, I'm Adam" and the one that Napoleon's supposed to have said when he was imprisoned on the island of Elba: "Able was I ere I saw Elba."

Of course I don't believe it for a moment. He wouldn't have been speaking English, for a start. I think this palindrome is a very loose translation of what he actually said, which was "Ohhh - - merde."

My favourite is one I've mentioned on this blog before, because it has a likeable spookiness about it:

"Live dirt, up a sidetrack carted, is a putrid evil." Glorious!

If you know any good ones, please do tell me.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Back in Time with Victory Vs

I'd just dropped Olli off at work in York yesterday. I hadn't any idea of the way home so asked the satnav to take me.

After I'd driven about a mile or so, I saw a road sign. BECKFIELD LANE.

Instantly I knew where I was. I couldn't resist. I turned left and drove along the road.

After half a mile or so, suddenly, there it was.

A small pharmacist's shop.

The one that used to belong to the Communist, until he retired in 1985, when he was sixty-two.

That's the shop where he worked for over twenty years. That's the shop that provided for us all throughout much of my childhood and all my teenage years. That's the shop where I worked sometimes on Saturdays, and sometimes during the school holidays.

In those days there wasn't a ramp at the front. The little strip of grass on the left was full of flowers - I used to look after them and weed the garden when I went there to help the Communist. And in the summer, there were always swallows nesting above the door. I liked this, but the Communist didn't - he was always worried about their droppings falling on the customers' heads.

In those days it was - unusually - an off-licence too. My Dad wasn't much interested in alcohol. "It's just for selling."

That was his reply to a lot of things.

"Dad, what's this for?" I would ask about some new face cream or beauty aid.

"It's for selling," was his reply.

He knew almost all his customers. "When a customer comes in," he would say to his staff, "you stop doing whatever you're doing, and you serve them."

So, yesterday, in I went. One of the staff stopped what she was doing in order to serve me.

"Have you any glucose tablets, please?"

"Yes, I think so - - "

"And this was my Dad's shop."

Suddenly they were all listening, including the female pharmacist.

"What was his name?" she asked. "Was it Mr Blass?"

"Yes, that's him," I said.

"There's still a sign in the garage," she said. "Blass and Fisher Chemists."

I could instantly hear the Communist's deep voice, answering the phone.

"Blass and Fisher Chemists, Acomb."

The back part used to be the stockroom where I spent a long time tidying and checking things, and there were a couple of electric rings where the Communist would heat things up for lunch.

Now it's all been opened up and they have a much bigger area for dispensing.

"The Communist used to do all that in this little area here," I said, "and I used to stand here counting out tablets and eating Victory Vs."

Victory Vs were strong, flat sweets, brown in colour. I don't know what they tasted of really but I liked them. Only chemist shops sold them. They were one of the perks of my job, along with sticks of barley sugar, and, from time to time, fish and chips from the shop next door.

"You counted tablets by hand?" asked one of the assistants in astonishment.

"Yes, I did," I said. "I got good at counting to sixty or a hundred very quickly."

It took the assistant a while to find the glucose tablets, because she was new. And next to them on the shelf? Victory Vs. Amazing.

I bought some Victory Vs and drove home. With the scent of Chemist Shop and the taste of Victory Vs, the past felt so near I could almost touch it. It goes fast, this life thing, doesn't it?

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In Carnlough Harbour

We saw many, many stunning views in Northern Ireland but, for some reason that I can't quite fathom, this is my favourite:

It's the entrance to Carnlough Harbour: just a small harbour in a small place, but I absolutely loved it. We went there several times (Stephen and Silverback were somewhat surprised by how often, I think!)

I liked the reflections in the water of the boats:

and of the harbour wall:

I couldn't stop taking photos of it: here's one quite late in the evening:

There were steps leading down into the harbour:

Here it is on a different day:

I couldn't do it, because it was a harbour, and not a safe place to swim - - but what I really wanted to do was to go down the steps, swim through that lovely blue sea, out of the harbour entrance, and away. No, I don't know why. But tomorrow morning, when I'm swimming up and down in the pool at Fearnville Leisure Centre in Leeds, that's where my thoughts will be.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The 1960s Made Flesh

I liked the 1960s. I felt comfortable there. It was a time of optimism, and - for me - childhood, all played out to a great musical soundtrack.

In the 1960s, round about where I live now in Leeds, there were lots of little family-owned shops, all within about a quarter of a mile of our house - the house where we live now. Most were much nearer - within a few hundred yards!

There were two little grocers called Beevor's and Cawdron's (actually I have no idea how to spell that last one - I don't ever remember seeing it written down!) There were two greengrocers - one was called called Perrin's. I forget the other one's name but its owner had thyroid problems and so had very prominent eyes which always fascinated me. His son was called Chris, I do remember that.

There was Turnbull's the baker's: I was at school with the daughters. Their mother was French but this didn't stop her making the best Yorkshire curd tart I have ever tasted.

There were two post offices - one was also Austin's the newsagent's - and a haberdashery run by my schoolfriend Janice Jones's mum. There was a cobbler's, and a kind of primitive small supermarket-type shop called The Thrift where - revolutionary idea! - you picked things off the shelves yourself and put them in a basket.

There were two butchers' shops, one better quality and more expensive than the other. If you wanted lamb, you went to the one next to the Thrift, but if you wanted mutton you went to the one next to the Post Office.

The first time I ever went as far as the nearest shop - the grocer's round the corner and down a bit - was New Year's Day, 1964. I led rather a sheltered childhood and was very shy, so I felt it was remarkably brave of me. But it was a new year, and I was now remarkably advanced in age - - seven and a half - and I felt it was time to begin a more grown-up exploration of the world.

So, proudly, I went round the corner, stood outside the shop - which was closed, of course, because it was New Year's Day - feeling grown-up, and then found my way the two hundred yards or so home again.

Then the first supermarket came to nearby Oakwood.

Within a decade or so, almost all the little shops were gone. Only the "parade" - as we called it - remains, with one of the post offices. All the others have been turned into houses and when I pass them I still think - - oh, there's the greengrocer's.

Then, last week, we went to Northern Ireland, and visited small towns such as the delightfully-named Magherafelt and Ballymoney, and drove through numerous villages.

And there, gloriously, they were. Small, family-owned shops, by the dozen. (Oh yes, and Chinese restaurants, too, interestingly - most places seemed to have one!) We did visit one shop with a very narrow front that went back and back and back until we were nearly in the next town. What did it sell? Everything.

I wish I'd thought to take more photographs of all these small shops, but my eyes were too busy looking sometimes because I enjoyed everything so much.

I was fascinated by the number of old-fashioned butchers' shops in particular, all with the meat neatly arranged and smart-looking butchers in cap and apron.

(Anyone recognise that gentleman striding purposefully towards the shop? Yes, they remembered him, though he left the town in 1970).

And here is another butcher's, with a name meaning "butcher" that I had never seen or heard before:

Just one small part of a fascinating week.

Monday, July 18, 2011

In Giant's Footsteps

If, like me, your mental images of Northern Ireland were coloured by extensive television footage of people throwing petrol bombs in a rainy Belfast, the real place comes as a huge and stunning shock of the very best kind.

This, for example.

And this:

Yes, the Giant's Causeway, world-famous and deservedly so.

You walk along a coastal path from a car park, round a corner, and there it is: thousands upon thousands of stones made of basalt, mostly hexagonal, some short, some tall. They were either formed millions of years ago by volcanic means, or built by a giant, Finn McCool - you may take your choice of stories.

They stretch out into the sparkling sea:

Two grey seals were watching us with interest, their dark heads bobbing up from time to time as they discussed us. "Look - if you come here any day at all there are lots of people to watch. Wonder why they all congregate in this spot?"

Looking from beside the sea towards the land, this is the view:

It's a World Heritage Site, owned by the National Trust, and I was slightly surprised and very grateful that it hasn't been too Health and Safetyfied.

I was half-expecting not to be allowed to walk on the stones in case we damaged them, or in case they damaged us.

But hurrah! There weren't any notices saying that the stones were uneven and that we should take care. We just had to jolly well work that one out for ourselves. And, cleverly, we did. We all climbed all over them, marvelling and taking photographs. Stephen and I have some natural caution, but Silverback, I tell you, will stand absolutely anywhere to get a good shot, especially if it's on the extreme edge of something with a very long drop into some churning seas below.

It was my 55th (yes, I know, I know, sighhh) birthday. There has never been a better place to spend a birthday than the Giant's Causeway, and I doubt if anyone has ever enjoyed being there more than I did last week.

Northern Ireland is fantastic. Beautiful. Fascinating. Words nearly fail me - - but hey, those who know me will be certain that will never happen. So there'll be more posts to come.

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

In the Evening Sunlight

I think last week's visit was our 46th annual visit to Tenby. I've been a few times in different seasons, too - so really I think we're heading for the fiftieth soon, all to the same hotel, Park Hotel, which has been owned by the same family all this time.

I've never ceased to love it. We all love it.

One of the things I love in Tenby is walking around in the evening sunlight.

The old lifeboat station is the one on the right - it's a house now. What a fantastic place to live! The new one's on the left: it opened a few years ago, but I'm glad they have managed to keep the old one as it's such a Tenby landmark.

Here's St Catherine's Fort. It was built in Napoleonic times and sadly the man who owns it now has stripped out everything of value and is letting it gently crumble away - such a shame. The only good thing is that it makes the little island a great place for seabirds.

In the next photo you can see, if you look carefully, the old path up to the fort. In the nineteen-sixties there was a zoo there.

Now nobody can visit at all. Every year in Tenby I long to climb up the path and go inside it again.

On the headland is a statue of Queen Victoria's consort Prince Albert, looking authoritative and important, and just a tiny bit pompous.

Unfortunately, it's quite hard to maintain any air of pomposity when you have a seagull on your head, and the Tenby Prince Albert so often does.

Walking up the road past North Beach after sunset, the sky is still lovely:

I've had a really busy few days since we got back on Saturday. But next Saturday, as Silverback has written here, we are off to Northern Ireland. I'm hoping for more beautiful scenery, and I don't think I'll be disappointed.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Breakfast Time with the Cheery Hungarian

"So, that's one vegetarian cooked breakfast," said Cheery Hungarian Waiter in his excellent though heavily-accented English.

Over the past few years there has been a small invasion of Eastern European staff at the hotel. They have all been excellent but Cheery Hungarian Waiter is a particular favourite of ours. His cheeriness knows no bounds, but it's not a fake cheeriness, more a full-of-the-joys-of-life type of cheeriness. He is very efficient at the same time. And - top marks, in my book! - he always arranges for the open-air swimming pool to be opened half an hour early so we have more time to swim before breakfast.

(Yes, I do know that in most hotels taking the cover off the pool might not, perhaps, be the waiter's job. At Park Hotel everyone tends to do what needs to be done, as far as I can see).

He looked to Gareth next.

"A vegetarian breakfast, please, but with scrambled eggs, not fried eggs, and no beans," said Gareth.

He turned to me. "Fruit platter, please." Oh yes, I was being very virtuous. Also the fruit platter is delicious: several kinds of fruit and each in perfect condition.

Then to Stephen.

"Full English breakfast, please."

"Ah, good," said Cheery Hungarian. "That is very easy to remember. " He turned to Olli. "And for you?"

"Vegetarian breakfast but with no mushrooms and no tomatoes, please."

Then he turned to my mother, who can never say things when put under stress.

"Errrrrrrr - - - what do I want?"

"Do you want just bacon and eggs, Mum?" I said, because I could guess.

"Yes, yes, that's it. But not too much. They always give me too much."

"So." said Cheery Hungarian. "On this lovely day, beautiful sunshine outside, eh? Beautiful! What you want is as follows. One vegetarian cooked breakfast. One vegetarian breakfast with no mushrooms and no tomatoes. One fruit platter. One full English breakfast. One just bacon and egg, but not too much. And, finally, one vegetarian breakfast with scrambled eggs, not fried eggs, and no tomatoes."

"Sorry," said Gareth, "mine was with no beans, not no tomatoes."

"Nooooo!" shouted Cheery Hungarian to the heavens, waving his arms wildly in the air in a gesture of mock-sad resignation as he headed for the kitchens to fetch it all. "I am JUST SO SHIT TODAY!"

I am never going to be a waiter when I grow up. But oh, my goodness, I love Park Hotel.