Sunday, February 24, 2008
I don't think that I have ever put this on my blog before, though I did write it some time ago. If it seems over familiar please forgive me.
Village committees had met, deliberated, voted, and agreed that it would indeed be splendid if the children of the school could join in the forthcoming festivity by taking part in a couple of country dances. One involved lines of us standing opposite, boy girl, boy girl and head to tailing in a simple arrangement set to music. Along with verse variations where shapes were made with arms, and pat a cake clapping as a couple by couple passed down the middle. The whole concluded after reprises of the main theme. The other comprised a rather more circular affair. Now couples wove in and out of counter rotating rings in a path that would have generated a fine spirograph pattern had they been allowed to pull baler twine in their wake. We were all to take part.
To begin with I was just a bit clumsy. If there ever was a person who proclaimed that ‘white men ain’t got no rhythm’ I suspect that they could have held my ineptitude at skipping to a beat up as a definitive example. The trouble was that Mrs Jasper, the self chosen choreographer of the spectacle was a perfectionist. The sort of woman who saw my feet of clay as an insult not to be entertained. I was caught then, between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand there was no way that I was going to allowed to drop out. If one rat was allowed to jump ship, however much the ship would benefit, it was clear that there were a number of others that would rather not be part of it. In a school of under thirty students there really wasn’t a lot of slack as far as the required number at the dance was concerned. On the other hand there was Mrs Jaspers reaction to my overqualification in the left foot department. Over a period of a fortnight she went from being a patient maternal perfectionist to a screaming banshee every time I put a foot out of place. Rather that curb my wayward rhythms this really only served to aggravate them and produce secondary anomalies. Soon I was unable to tell clockwise from anti clockwise, invariably made lunges for a male partner, and, when trying to follow other pat a cakers, nearly had Wayne Bests eye out on the end of my thumb. Students with whom I had shared tears and laughter began to discuss openly the best methods for my dispatch and the disposal of the body. I was totally crap at country dancing and not even my sister had a comforting word.
Add all this to the fact that I was having a frighteningly early puberty. I reached the point where I prayed in earnest for some of the tragic deaths of children that we learned of in the Bible and Dickens could befall me, thus enabling friends and family to remember me as a wonderful boy. To spare them the need to speak my name in the hushed tones that would undoubtedly be reserved for the tales of the great barn dance debacle.
God answered my prayers, thoughtfully avoiding my untimely death, he instead sent a great flood to help me out.
Overnight the Bristol Avon catchment area was inundated with nearly seven inches of rain. The river rose, sweeping away old stone bridges. A dam burst and washed away the centre of Bitton. In our house the water rose to a depth of nearly four feet. In the early hours of Saturday July the thirteenth, the very day of the Upton Cheyney barndance, my sisters and I were evacuated by the fire service to a family on higher ground, and subsequently to my grandparents house in Kent. And as the circumstances of our family life moved on it turned out that we were to change school by the time the new term started. It wasn’t until the year two thousand and one that I felt able to dance as if no one was looking.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
“An English man’s home is his castle…
It’s also a valuable asset that could help keep your independence.”
Thus began a letter that I received trough the post today. A letter that went on to advertise the potential for equity release from my home.
Nothing wrong with that I suppose.
Unless of course you live in Wales and have a passing knowledge of how old Longshanks surrounded your countrymen with his castles in order to suppress any notion of independence.
I shall be giving Mr Daren Carter of Retirement Services Ltd a ring on Monday to educate him a little.
Monday, February 18, 2008
Back it the late seventies it was still legal to burn the straw by products of the grain harvest directly in the field. Various justifications were expressed on behalf of the practice. Weed control was one. Ash as a quick wash in fertiliser was another. I think that I heard destruction of certain types of parasite insect larvae once as well.
The truth was of course far more simple. It gave you an opportunity at the end of a hard days work for more than a little mayhem.
Stubble burning was a truly spectacular conflagration and the real aim was to produce a pall of smoke that could be seen for three counties and allow you to turn up grinning and red eyed for last orders at the pub. If you were truly gifted you might just get a write up in 'The Stubble Burners Gazzette'.
My old boss Roger was a stubble burner of legend and on a good windy day, a day when things got truly out of hand, he could close down the M4, Divert air traffic from nearby military airfields, take out half a mile of hedge, endanger a few lives and probably several tens of thousands of pounds worth of equipment. It was men like Roger that made farming ‘exciting’ in the seventies and I fear that unless health and safety legislation becomes a whole lot more lax we shall not see his like again.
I remember at the end of the day he would turn up just as his chaps were taking the last load of grain from the field. Cackling like a spectacularly maniacal Arthur Brown, he would drop a match while standing at a point that he judged to be upwind. Heaven help you if you were downwind.
Here on Hallett’s mountain it is time to pay tribute to our heroes of yesteryear. For the next month or so it is perfectly OK to set fire to the gorse. I have no idea why, though they do say that it keeps down weeds and pests and improves the grazing. For the next month we shall be blessed with a little rain of ash from the sky. Lone tractor drivers will be seen heading away as fast as they can. The skyline will be filled with small volcanoes, and men glad of the overtime will arrive in little red fire trucks to watch as things burn to their natural conclusion.
Saturday, February 16, 2008
After freezing my genitalia down to the size of a chipolata blessed with poorly shrivelled raisins for company I looked in despair at the contents of my bag.
Now there’s an opening line for you.
You see the thing was this, She Of The Townhouse had lured me on a promise down for a couple of days in the Cotswolds. While she went off for the day trumping up business for her organ, I am left to my own crude devices.
I am not sure whether fortune or foolish vanity drove my reason but I took my Dawes out of the shed and dusted it off with the intention of exploring a bit of Laurie Lees backyard. The gentle spring that had blessed the early part of the week had rather lulled me in to a false sense of security. Persuading me that all would be well and warm even without the extreme nether garments that I layer on when striding the mountain.
Dear me how wrong I was. As I attempted a hurtle along the A417 from Birdlip towards Cirencester, a very bike unfriendly dual carriageway, I soon regretted my optimism regarding the sun breaking through the chill grey mist. My fingers gradually turned blue and my thumbs stopped aching and went completely numb. The nose I was following likewise. Soon the uphill bits were accompanied by ragged breath and snot. By the time I actually arrived at Phoenix I was like a block of ice, and as I say at the top in danger of the unfortunate emasculation of the proverbial brass monkey.
I was glad then to repair to a coffee shop called Jacks and gird myself for the next stage of my expedition, first having purchased a map that would guide me to a route with a little less heavy traffic.
There I also reflected on how poorly I had stocked my small rucksack, not even a pair of gloves.
I was a sad comparison indeed to the radiant mother with a toddler who sat opposite me. Hanging from the back of a pram she proceeded to unpack an impressive range of puzzles, books, foodstuffs, spare clothes, cleaning materials and all manner of daily essentials until I began to suspect that she must have access to the Tardis space saving technology of ‘Bigger on the Inside”. This she multi tasked with animated and interesting conversation and the consumption of coffee.
It was like watching someone rub their stomach and pat their head at the same time.
I did think about whether she might not have a hot water bottle that I could stuff down the front of my trouser. But then I guess there are some things that are better left unspoken between strangers.
Ten miles later on I found a very nice pub and thawed out by the fire. As well of course as sinking a couple of pints of IPA and floating pie and chips on top of that.
The day seemed to brighten up…..
Saturday, February 09, 2008
Tuesday, February 05, 2008
Seldom free from pain but never one to grumble. Such, dear reader, is a mans lot. While some exceptions are out there (lesser men…) we bear our lot stoically and seldom remark upon life, it misfortunes, or indeed illness. Indeed, I myself am raising a weary finger from my own sickbed to type this small note to you and no living soul has yet heard a word of complaint.
Wracked though I am with this terrible cough. Burned by a fever hotter than pepper. Staring through the wild eyes of delirium.
Though I am uncomplaining, She Of The Town House has spotted my plight, and summoned the Old Walled Town's finest medical opinion to my sickbed.
I can tell that the end is near. The lights are dim now and the sound is receding to a gentle murmur in the background. I understand that the HN51 strains have all been accounted and discounted leading to a sorry conclusion. There is little time left. Unless an elixir can be located, and fast, I shall be gone by morning.
It seems that I have ‘Man Flu’.