Sunday, April 30, 2006

Brief Encounter

Reading this made me remember my first I account with cockroaches whilst living abroad. Arebella has tried to fool us that the troublesome bugs of Florida aren't cockroaches, but I know better. I've seen these things.

Arranged in multiple shades of brown, from something reminiscent of 1970s Ford tawny metallic, much beloved of granddad's old Granada and a trendy dad's capricious Capri (both with yuckity yuck vinyl roofs) to shit brown, and all its turdy hue variations; these things are brutes.

Living in downtown Limassol in Cyprus as opposed to seeking little-England sanctuary within one of the Sovereign Base Areas, meant hanging out with the locals. It meant speaking fractured Greek with exaggerated gesticulations, staring at the funny tourists, firing up kebab trays on your veranda for every meal, drinking gallons of liver wrecking cheap dreggy red wine with your goaty-meat meal and making yourself ill with pints of sweet commandaria. And living side by side with plagues of cockroaches. It came with the deal, you just went along with it.

The first time I saw one - one of these cockroaches - I was convinced it was a strange exotic animal, or reptile at least. I watched it climb my white-washed wall - picking its way with precise deliberation on spindly legs and scanning feelers which were so long they doubled its size.

I considered my killing options. A lifetime of ant and wasp squashing hadn't prepared me for any less lethal options, any of that stunning, jam jars and considerate relocation nonsense. The murder of anything with a frighteningly complex arrangement of eyes and legs was pretty much all I knew.

Almost before I had selected my weapon of choice - probably something with a firm but yielding rigidity like a rolled up copy of the Cyprus Times or one of those scatter cushions Mediterranean men languish about on the floor with in a tumble of ash, moustaches and sneer-leers - it stopped walking, turned its head and looked right at me. I'd never seen an insect with a face before. A real face, not just a hairy, nobbled affair but proper eyes, mouth, nose, nasal hairs . . . teeth, the whole damn shebang. And not just a face, but an expression. An expression that said to me: 'I lived here before you did fuckhead, piss me off and you die!'

And while I was considering for a moment a moments re-consideration about giving this thing the swipe of its wretched life it took to the air, beating its - until then unseen and unknown about wings - in a clumsy hover before circling my fear-frozen head and whirring out of the open doors into the stifling, terrible night.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

More Lord Carrington Than Jonah Barrington

I played my first game of squash in years yesterday. At my age and in my physical condition doctors the world over will be cradling their heads in tut-tut disapproval at the mere thought. And I was suckered into playing someone half my age who was something of a university champion and a mild celebrity to boot due to his sporting prowess and mind boggling success. What the hell was I thinking?

In truth I considered myself a bit handy when I was playing regularly during the early to mid nineties. A bit whippy with the forehand, a brutal firecracker of a serve, brave in the face of wild swinging racquets and impervious to the odd clout across the ear or head clatter into the back wall. But that was a long time ago. A long time before spidery bones in my foot that I'd never heard of had been broken and fussily fused with great fragility. Years before a ghostly fairground blubber-hoop thrower had encircled me around the waist. Aeons before a million heart attack terrors jolted from every hunger pang and muscle twitch-ache from the chest and the fearful worry that 'the end,' that we all heard about when we were young but either disbelieved, distrusted or didn't care about, had arrived.

I'm older now. Less flexible. Slower. More vulnerable. Crap. Well not really crap, just not very good. From fleet of foot, to clumping. From scampering to the wall to retrieve nearly dead balls, to theatrical sighs and depressed realisations that it would be me who was dead if I chased down too many seeming lost causes. From digging out inert balls from the corners and skittering to the 'T,' to becoming inert myself, exhausted, fagged out by a life time of fags, every little one paying me back, cashing in on half a lifetime of careless, couldn't give a shit lung ruination.

Don't play squash to get fit. Get fit to play squash. Or so they say. I'll write an account of the game, or games should I ever recover.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Meanwhile Back In Normal Life

A walk, around the hills and plains of the Cheshire and Shropshire border and through the village of Marbury which sits, like a rustic stow-away several twists and turns off the A41, proved a bit of an Easter delight.

Marbury has a rather fetching 15th Century church which can be seen from way up on the Cheshire plains. This ruddy coloured, rather grand church with its subsidence-caused leaning tower has acted as a reliable reference point for centuries of walkers and farmers wending their foggy-glimpse way from the hills and fields back towards the ancient village.

There sits in its grounds amid tombs and gravestones the exhausted, gnarled and splitting remains of an elm tree, dated from the 11th century. It looks like a great stump which has received glancing blows from a giant woodcutter's axe, forever. I caressed it with the hands of a sensitive lover, feelings its knots and whirls and shredded bark, searching its hollow bole for evidence of a thousand years of casual attention.

The litchgate which you must pass through to get to the church and its grounds, has an inscription carved upon it: 'To the Glory of GOD and in honoured memory of those from this Parish who gave their lives for their Country and whose names are recorded on the Tablet in the Church 1914 -1919, which, based on the comparative temporal system of time placement around these parts, was carved about five minutes ago, and the old oak tree that has been rising up from the village green since 1814, where dancing bears, illusionists and puppeteers entertained the villagers during endless spring and summer village fayres, was planted a week ago last Wednesday.

Walking up the hill towards the 'stiles' and 'kissing gates' which would direct us towards Llangollen Canal, used to transport local produce such as cheese, (a cooler journey in more ways than one), the village detective in me attempted to plot which buildings were once part of Marbury's G5 their group of five (such was the importance of alehouses and gossip) pubs. The Wheelwright's and Smithy's workshops were more easily identifiable. And so was the Swan Inn, which has either seen off the opposition through location and real ale and food quality, or got lucky in the great pub shake up a hundred years ago when homes became more important.

The two meres known as rather prosaically but unambiguously as 'Big' and 'Little' look like a couple of sad melted snowmen on the map, but 'Little' shines serenely through the windows of the pub and the church and 'Big' - hidden behind reeds and fronds - has a million adventure stories behind it, and a million more to come.

Ahh. A little slice of real England.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

More Incredibly Interesting Search Requests

There is a rubbish tip in Enderby, Leicestershire, though rubbish tips don't really exist any more, now replaced by fastidiously managed Recycling Centres. Unlike the old rubbish tips where tangles of garbage - tube-blown tellys, burst mattresses, Christmas tree skeletons, potato peelings, stinking nappies and empty beer bottles - could be hoiked into seagull swarm-infested muddy pits before being buried by skinny, woodbine sucking, ginger haired men tearing around expertly in tractors, these Recycle Centres require the fussy sifting and near forensic categorising of rubbish.

If you need to use these places and you get it wrong, you risk the exaggerated wrath of the soiled yellow coated attendants. If you drop a piece of cardboard into the plastics receptacle as you try, unsuccessfully, to switch-dispatch left and right into the side by side skips, you'll elicit ' are you stupid' like theatrical sighs and head shake tut-tut frustration from these new lords of the mucky and the brassy.

Break the rules flagrantly however, like abandoning a hated washing machine that's flooded your kitchen and wrecked your flooring yet again, nearer the 'garden waste' than the 'old electrics' these guys - only one step up from our ginger tractor scrambler look as if they're capable of giving you an ass clout whether it's May or not.

I know all about the fragility of the planet and the ruination of it through pollution, but for a scrap the junk session give me the old dumping grounds any day, when the dispatcher was king - get it all in there, who cares what it is, you've defined it as crap, that's all that matters: grab, drag, yank, throw.

So... if I resemble a bit of a dumping ground, I think I'd prefer to be known as the 'enderby rubbish tip' rather than anything too green and prissy. So, I guess at least one person has found it.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Bedknobs And Room Picks

Just back from a short business trip which involved a short stay at the Manor Hotel, Crickhowell. This hotel is snuggled into the side of the Black Mountains and overlooks the dramatic Usk Valley in the heart of the Brecon Beacons.

These regular work-away breaks have to be one of the best things about the job I'm doing. The hotels I stay in are invariably booked for me by a central booking agency and are selected on the basis of the proximity of the relevant business I'm attending, but through this random process it does seem to reveal some true nuggets.

The Manor Hotel dates back to the early 1700 s . It can be seen from the main road jutting out of the hill and looking as if a giant child had pushed a miniature house into a green mound of Plasticine. It sits, all white-washy and glassy at the top of a winding road, the route of which dates back to the 10th century, laid for horse drawn carriages to clip-clop rattle-snort their way up to during the last few centuries.

Typical of old manorial homes that have been turned into hotel and country clubs, there are space adding building bolt-ons all over it, making it into a bit of a mish-mash of dates and styles; odd juxtapositions of dowdy looking Eighteenth Century drawing rooms, connecting to modern conservatory like breakfast rooms, and balustered staircases. The stairs lead, in one direction to grand, creaky floored bedrooms, and in another direction to rooms which could easily have been snatched and grabbed from the an Ikea bedroom display and dropped in by chopper.

Previous owners and occupants of this pile could fill a couple of pages of Debrett's Peerage but the main contender and most likely to be profiled in Hello Magazine today, surrounded by his family, pets, all the in-house finery, was Sir George (Mount) Everest. Sir George who preferred Eve-rest to Everest apparently but the pronunciation never caught on, was the former Surveyor General of India and height calculator and namer of the famous mountain, was born in the house in 1790 and consequently his name features heavily around the the place - the dining room is Everest ( Eve-Rest) Dining Room and so on.

And I have a feeling there are other legacies. I wouldn't mind betting that the bed in my room - one of the grand old rooms, not one of the MFI mock ups - was his.

This bed is so big it had to have been built in the room. Carved out of mahogany and shaped like Santa Clause's Sleigh, it was immense. Whole forests must have been left weeping and bereft once George's wood order had been made known. Lumberjacks must have died, Suez canal style, during the cutting and gathering process. Battalions of Sherpa's unbreakable backs, broken. I tried to lift it at its end, I have no idea why, perhaps it was its challenging sturdiness. I couldn't move it an inch, couldn't even disturb it by a courteous, acknowledging creak.

I have since learnt that these beds are known as, surprise surprise, Sleigh Beds though whether any modern floor could possibly support their weight - roughly similar to a couple of old fashioned lead filled upright pianos or professional snooker tables, is anyone's guess.

But the setting of this hotel and the scenery surrounding it makes it worth a visit.

I hope this doesn't sound too much like a review or an advertisement. Then again, it's a break from going on about stats and weird search requests though they'll be back soon enough.

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