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Tuesday, 11 August 2020


Filey c1957
Dad with my brother, Primrose Valley, Filey, around 1957

Filey, like Bridlington, is another Yorkshire seaside resort with a long family association. There are pictures of my dad there with his parents in the nineteen-thirties and then with his own family including me in the nineteen-fifties. Later I took my family in the noughties. We had some good times there, and some not so good ones. 

Primrose Valley caravan site 1950s
Primrose Valley caravan site 1950s

My earliest memories are of Primrose Valley, the caravan site just south of Filey near the Butlins camp: not the modern fixed caravans there now but the old towable tin boxes with fold-away beds, sickly calor gas, a long walk to fetch water and cell-block toilets. We spent most days on the beach with proper metal buckets and spades, digging and building sand castles with paper flags and sea-water moats.

A fresh-water spring bubbles out of the sand near the cliffs and washes down the beach begging to be dammed before it flows away. No matter how much sand you pile up, the weight of water accumulates until it inevitably breaks through. You have to watch out nobody is sitting on a picnic rug lower down the beach.

And there is Filey Brigg, a long, low neck of sandstone and limestone sticking half a mile out into the sea, covered in shells, fossils and rock-pools. It makes for a breathtaking walk on a warm day at low tide, with gentle waves, seaweed smells and lazy seals, all at one with the enormity of the earth, sea and sky. On other days, at other times, it would be foolish to defy the power of the wind and tide.

Filey beach
On Filey beach with the long, low neck of Filey Brigg piercing the sea to the right

Filey Brigg
Filey Brigg

Filey Brigg
On Filey Brigg
At the end of Filey Brigg
At the end of Filey Brigg

We had two family holidays at Filey in the noughties, staying in the rented cottages that nestle in the dunes beyond the caravans. It was a wonderful time: our children, born in my forties, were still under ten. That first year we found the fresh-water spring and dammed it, or tried to, and walked out along the Brigg searching for life in the rock pools. From the cottage windows, through binoculars, we watched the Regal Lady from Scarborough sail by in the evening sun on a coastal cruise.

It was so good we booked again the following year in a different cottage. That was one of the not so good times. We nearly went straight home. It was the most disgusting holiday cottage I’ve ever stayed in.

I still have a copy of the letter we sent to the agent. The cottage had not been cleaned. There were stains and spots of blood on the bed sheets and one of the children’s beds smelled of urine. The drawers and cupboards stank and were filled with the owners’ dirty clothing and other personal items such as half-used bottles of mouthwash. There was very little room for our own things.

In the bathroom there were soiled footmats, hairs around the wash basin, the bath needed cleaning, and the lavatory smelled appalling and had a broken seat. There was a note from the cleaner to say the shower was not working and would be repaired during the week, but it wasn’t. Other things in the cottage were also broken.

In the kitchen was a vase of dead flowers, the bin had not been emptied, there was rotting food in the fridge, a smelly dishcloth on the draining board and a grill pan full of dirty fat that tainted the oven. There were crumbs everywhere.

The sitting room stank of stale cigarette smoke and prominent in the book case were Alex Comfort’s ‘The Joy of Sex’ and other visually explicit sex books, hardly appropriate in a seaside holiday cottage where young children such as ours would be staying. We encouraged our children to read and take an interest in books, but not those at that age.

The cleaner and owners could not be contacted, nor, it being Saturday evening, could the agent. Fortunately we found clean bedding to make the beds usable, did some cleaning ourselves, and survived the week by eating out more than planned.

It took two weeks to get an apology. The cottage had been unbooked the week before ours but someone had been there without booking. It had been cleaned after the previous legitimate occupants, and the cleaner had then gone away on holiday. The owners, a couple from Sheffield, were also on holiday.

We got a refund eventually. The owners sent flowers, which seemed patronising, and offered a further week’s stay for free, but, frankly, at the thought of them enjoying the joy of sex in their pissy underwear, we politely declined. 

We have been back to Filey for days out, but have not stayed.

Thursday, 6 August 2020

Health Gadget

Boots Blood Pressure Monitor
Recently, I went to Leeds Infirmary for medical tests: some of my cousins have been diagnosed with a serious, intermittent heart arrhythmia of hereditary origin and I need checks to see whether it is in my line of the family. There is a further test to come, so other than to say all looks well so far I won’t write about that now.

However, during the tests my blood pressure was measured at 189/87 millimetres of mercury, with a pulse rate of 83. The diastolic reading of 87 is not too bad, but, bluntly, a systolic reading of 189 is extremely high. It is classed as Stage 3 hypertension, a potential medical emergency!

In my defence, I should say that the measurement was taken about five minutes after a brisk fifteen-minute walk uphill from the railway station followed by a climb up five floors of stairs, that it had gone down slightly after half an hour, that I was typically anxious about what was about to happen and that I was uncomfortable in a coronavirus face mask, but really, I thought it best to respond to the letter from the G.P. I had been ignoring for a month and go for a routine blood pressure test.

That reading was a bit better: at first 167/83 and then, as I calmed down, 154/78, with a pulse of 70, which the practice nurse said was still classed as hypertension, but not at a level that would normally be treated with drugs. The diastolic 78 was, in fact, normal. I wasn’t just relieved, I was elated.

But, I should not have high blood pressure. I am active, vegetarian, have a below average body mass index, don’t smoke and don’t drink excessively, so why is it elevated? Could that also be hereditary? My mother used to be on what (in polite company) she called “wind and water pills”. Or am I, as some would say I always have been, of a nervous disposition? 

The nurse said it might be worth getting a home blood pressure monitor, so for £20 from Boots I bought the one pictured. As the cuff and instructions show, it is a rebadged early model of the Omron monitor they have in the surgery.

It has been well worth it. At one time, doctors would not have let you anywhere near a gadget like this so as not to “worry the patient”. My readings are coming out even better at around 142/77, and just out of bed first thing in the morning I managed 124/71 with a pulse rate of 56. Phew! That’s absolutely in the normal range.

Except, the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association have now changed their definition of normal from below 140/90 to under 120/80 (see source article). Well, they can just piss off.

Mrs D., by the way, is gloating over her reading of 112/64 with a pulse rate of 59. I know it’s not a competition, but that makes it feel like it is, one I can never win.

Saturday, 1 August 2020

New Month Old Post - Partners and Seniors

(First posted 6th October, 2015. 1,050 words)

Andrew and I were speaking in hushed voices, trying to look as if we were working.

“You’ve hit Mr. Hawkwind.”

We were playing Partners and Seniors. It was based on Battleships, a pencil and paper game for two players.

In Battleships, each player draws two 10 x 10 grids for their own and their opponent’s fleets of warships, and positions their own fleet secretly in their own grid. Typically, they would have an aircraft carrier occupying five squares, a battleship occupying four, a destroyer and a submarine of three squares each, and a minesweeper occupying two. Neither player should be able to see the other’s grids.

The objective is to sink your opponent’s fleet before they sink yours. There are many variations but we played it as follows. Players take turns to shoot by naming a square in the opponent’s grid. If the square is occupied by one of the opponent’s ships then it is announced as a ‘hit’. If the square is adjacent to an opponent’s ship it is a ‘splash’. If the square is neither occupied nor adjacent it is a ‘miss’. A ship is sunk when all its squares have been hit. Players use their second 10 x 10 grid to record the results of their shots and to decide where to target subsequent shots.

Partners and Seniors

Except we weren’t playing Battleships. Our game had evolved into Partners and Seniors. In place of warships we had Chartered Accountants. Instead of aircraft carriers, destroyers and minesweepers, we had partners, seniors and articled clerks from the firm where we worked. Mr. Hawkwind was one of the partners. He occupied four squares.

We were working out of the office on the most mind-numbing of all the audits we did. You could be there for months putting ticks on ledger cards. It was like disappearing off the face of the earth.

The client was a cloth merchants, an old family firm. They bought rolls of cloth from the manufacturers in every weight, weave, colour, stripe and herringbone imaginable, and re-sold it in suit lengths – the amount needed to make men’s bespoke two-piece or three-piece suits, with or without extra pairs of trousers. The rolls of cloth were stored elsewhere in the building, away from the damaging effects of heat and light. The cool, shadowy stillness of the warehouse had a strange musty smell: a mixture of dyes, preservatives and the scent of the cloth itself.  

The firm supplied just about every tailor and outfitter in the country. In other words, they had a lot of customers: twenty trolleys full. For each customer there were one or more yellow sales ledger cards around eight by ten inches in size. The cards were arranged alphabetically in boxes on long-legged, wheeled trolleys like miniature babies’ prams. They referred to them as buses. “Have you seen the ‘B’ bus?” “Could I have the ‘QR’ bus when you’ve finished?”

Some of the office staff had been there for decades, from the days when most clerical jobs were done by men. They all still wore suits and ties, and kept their jackets on all day. Only the office manager, in the room next to ours, worked in his shirtsleeves. He was not an attractive sight: a fearsome, grossly overweight man who always left his unpleasant outdoor shoes, or in winter his stinking wellington boots, beside the radiator.

One of the clerks, in his mid-forties, all worry-lines, teeth and thick glasses, would have been tall had he stood upright, but was bent over from years at a desk. As he stooped to push the ledger buses, his jacket draped itself around the cards as if trying to consume them.

One Friday afternoon we listened, able to overhear the office manager tell the clerk, completely out of the blue, that he was no longer needed. “You realise this is absolutely no reflection on you in any way whatsoever,” he tried to reassure him, as if it made things better. The clerk seemed unable to reply. A week or two later his job was taken by a new girl straight from school.

The business was beginning to struggle and trying to cut costs. Demand for made-to-measure suits was falling because of changing fashions and cheaper, ready-made, ‘off-the-peg’ garments. One floor of the warehouse was now empty. Within not so many years the family owners would decide to give up the ghost and lease the building to the old adversary: the Inland Revenue.

But that was in the future and the firm still had a few years left to run. As auditors, we were required to check that every sale the firm had made during the year had been correctly recorded on the correct ledger card. So for several weeks each year, a couple of articled clerks would spend their days ticking off the cards against the order books and sales invoices. Then, to ensure they received an appropriate breadth of professional experience, they would go through all the incoming payments and tick those off against the ledger cards too. One year you would use a red pen, the following year a green, and then back to red again. The exhilaration was tangible. You really looked forward to getting up in a morning.

What made the task seem even more superfluous was that the ledger cards were partly computerised. They were printed by machine, and each yellow card carried three dark-brown, machine-readable, magnetic stripes to record all the transactions. It was an early, primitive system, but really, wouldn’t some kind of statistical sampling been sufficient to ensure the cards were reasonably accurate? Any mistakes that crept in could have been corrected as and when they were discovered. The firm must have wanted everything checked by the auditors. Articled clerks were paid a pittance so it didn’t cost a lot. Perhaps they needed to keep tabs on the inexperienced staff they were now taking on. 

I never did find an error. That is not to say there weren’t any, but the job was so soporific that any I came across would probably have got ticked correct anyway.

Is there any wonder we invented diversions such as Partners and Seniors and firing rubber bands at paper cups to brighten up the day? 

“You’ve just sunk Mr. Hawkwind.”

Mr. Hawkwind would have sunk us if we’d been caught. 

Monday, 20 July 2020

Review - Kazuo Ishiguro: The Remains of the Day

Kazuo Ishiguro
The Remains of the Day (5*)

What a delightful book this is, both funny and sad, a story of an obsessively fastidious butler and unrequited love. I saw the 1993 Anthony Hopkins / Emma Thompson film when it came out but suspect the book will leave a much stronger impression.

Mr. James Stevens, an ageing, nineteen-fifties, top class, old fashioned English butler, embarks on a solitary motoring trip to the West Country, giving space to reflect upon his role in personal and public events during his lifetime. He recalls gatherings of naïve Nazi sympathisers and anecdotes of “great” butlers who could deal with tigers in the dining room without alarming the guests.

The first-person narrative is highly formal in keeping with the character, but it flows easily with both hilarious and heartbreaking effect. In thinking about the question of ‘what is a “great” butler?’, it occurs to him there is a dimension he has not fully considered. The way he says it is typical of his voice throughout the novel:
“I have never in all these years thought of the matter in quite this way; but then it is perhaps in the nature of coming away on a trip such as this that one is prompted towards such surprising new perspectives on topics one imagined one had long ago thought through thoroughly. I have also, no doubt, been prompted to think along such lines by the small event that occurred an hour or so ago – which has, I admit, unsettled me somewhat.” (p123)
which leads to quirky diversions about the surprising new perspective and the recent and significant “small event” which begins when he runs out of petrol on a remote road.

Stevens is the most unreliable of unreliable narrators, unable to see he has spent a lifetime turning himself into a robot: stiff, formal, handling unexpected events with aplomb but taking little notice of personal social cues. One thinks of Sheldon Cooper in the The Big Bang Theory. You want to hand him an Asperger questionnaire.  

Gradually, the mask peels away. Woven into the fabric of his reminiscences is a touching story of unrequited love. Memories of Miss Kenton, a former housekeeper, flood back during the journey, the real purpose of which is to visit her in the unspoken hope she will return. It becomes clear she would have married him had he only been able to set aside his mechanistic self-deception. Instead she had married someone else and moved away over two decades earlier. He begins to see the different path his life might have taken.

At the end, after leaving Miss Kenton, he meets a jovial man on the seafront at Weymouth and tells him about his career.
“… look mate, … if you ask me, your attitude’s all wrong, see? Don’t keep looking back all the time, you’re bound to get depressed … you’ve got to keep looking forward. … You’ve got to enjoy yourself. The evening’s the best part of the day. You’ve done your day’s work. Now you can put your feet up and enjoy it.” (p256)
One hopes he can take the advice to be more positive and make the best of what remains of the day.
“After all, what can we ever gain in forever looking back and blaming ourselves if our lives have not turned out quite as we might have wished?” (p256)
A warning for a memoir writer if ever there was one, although I believe my own motivation is celebration rather than regret.

Key to star ratings: 5*** wonderful and hope to read again, 5* wonderful, 4* enjoyed it a lot and would recommend, 3* enjoyable/interesting, 2* didn't enjoy, 1* gave up.

Previous book reviews 

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Twelve Bar Blues

In 1965, Paul McCartney awoke with a lovely melody in his head. He hurried to the piano so as not to forget it, and came up with these words:
Scrambled eggs,
Oh my baby how I love your legs,
Not as much as I like scrambled eggs,
We should eat some scrambled eggs.
Like many dabblers with musical instruments, I too occasionally wake up with a tune in my head. Sometimes they might even be original. And sometimes there are words. Out of the fertile depths of my own imagination have emerged such timeless classics as: Sitting In Bed With A Cold, I Can’t Sing Very Well and She Was Only A Chartered Accountant’s Daughter. I contend they are every bit as good as Scrambled Eggs. If only Paul McCartney had left things as they were I might have been up there with the greatest songwriters in the world. Unfortunately he had to spoil it by waking up another morning with a completely new title and set of lyrics for his tune: Yesterday.

I am probably going to get into trouble for this, but I woke up one morning with a fully formed set of twelve-bar blues lyrics in my head. The idea seems so obvious it cannot be original, yet there appears to be nothing like it on the internet. Gender stereotyping it certainly is, possibly sexist as well, but if it is offensive then please re-educate me. Otherwise, could someone tell me where it came from? It is not autobiographical.

[hackneyed riff to begin:]

I’m in a house full of women, a house full of women and me
I’m in a house full of women, a house full of women and me
There’s her mother, my woman, three daughters, the maid and me 
[hackneyed riff]

I’m in a house full of women, where do you think that puts me?
I’m in a house full of women, a house with a hierarchy
There’s her mother, my woman, three daughters, the maid, the dog and me
[spoken: “don’t even beat the dog”]

Went down to the pub
Came home to my bed
The lights were out
The door was locked
Now I’m sleepin’ in the shed

I’m in a house full of women, a house where I always lose
I’m in a house full of women, a house where I don’t get to chose  
Can’t leave the seat up, drink whisky, smoke, fart, swear or play the blues.
[hackneyed end riff]

Thursday, 16 July 2020

July Hedgehogs

Following on from earlier posts of videos from the night camera, the hedgehogs have now returned. They are going into the home-made feeding box to eat the hedgehog biscuits which the mice have not found yet. One hedgehog is so fat it has a bit of a squeeze to get in. Here is a quick two-minute compilation of clips from the first half of July.

I don’t plan to post any more of these unless the camera picks up something really noteworthy, but here is a list of links to the previous compilations of videos and photographs.

Easter (12th April 2020)
Night Cats (5th May 2020)
Hedgehog Update (8th May 2020)
Snail Bogeys (12th June 2020)
More from the Night Camera (20th June 2020)

Friday, 10 July 2020

Cinema Paradiso

The death this week of Ennio Morricone prompted us to watch Cinema Paradiso again for the seventh or eighth time. Some dismiss it as sentimental claptrap but it isn’t, even though it makes me both laugh and cry. It is so good you hardly notice it is in Italian with subtitles.

It has been described as a love letter to the cinema. The plot is deceptively straightforward: Salvatore Di Vita, a wealthy, successful, middle aged film director, hears that Alfredo, a father-figure from his childhood, has died. His thoughts drift back to growing up just after the Second World War in Giancaldo, a small Sicilian town where Alfredo is the projectionist at the local cinema. Alfredo allows eight-year-old Salvatore to watch films from the projection booth and teaches him to operate the projector. Their roles then are partly reversed when Alfredo is blinded in an accident. Later, as a teenager, Salvatore falls in love with the classy Elena but they lose touch when he goes off for military service. Afterwards, Alfredo tells him to get away to follow his dreams, never to come back and not to write. Salvatore leaves to become a filmmaker.

It is far more than a simple coming-of-age story. It is as if Salvatore’s memories become our own. It parallels the lives of the boomer generation. For me, post-war Sicily has echoes in the ‘bomb buildings’, the piles of rubble that lined the streets of nineteen-fifties urban England. Giancaldo is like Catholic Belgium in 1965, glimpsed through faces attending church and cinema where, with language taken away, I had to watch and understand gestures and expressions. In fact, in both looks and passions, the teenage Salvatore is uncannily like my Belgian language-exchange pen-friend. You feel the passage of time, not just from child to young adult but at the end where forgotten faces, older and wiser, reappear at Alfredo’s funeral. In real life we now even call them Cinema Paradiso moments.

One of the characters in the audience at the Paradiso cinema knows the films so well he mouths along with the dialogue. That is me with Cinema Paradiso. I am Alfredo, a true sage, a man without pretension, entirely at home in his own skin. “I choose my friends for their looks, my enemies for their intelligence”. Except I can’t do it in Italian. 
Alfredo: You have to go away for a long time... many years... before you can come back and find your people. … Right now you're blinder than I am.

Salvatore: Who said that? Gary Cooper? James Stewart? Henry Fonda? Eh?

Alfredo: No, Toto. Nobody said it. This time it’s all me. Life isn’t like in the movies. Life... is much harder. … Get out of here! Go back to Rome. You’re young and the world is yours. I don’t want to hear you talk any more. I want to hear others talking about you. Don’t come back. Don’t think about us. Don’t look back. Don’t write. Don’t give in to nostalgia. Forget us all. If you do and you come back, don’t come see me. I won’t let you in my house. Understand? … Whatever you end up doing, love it. The way you loved the projection booth when you were a little squirt.
And underlying it all is Ennio and Andrea Morricone’s haunting, lilting score. Beautiful.

I watched the international version which runs for 124 minutes. There is also a fifty minutes longer “director’s cut” in which the middle-aged Salvatore goes in search of and finds Elena. Reviews say it is not as good but I’d still like to see it. The director is Guiseppe Tornatore. 

There are several other versions of the trailer on YouTube, some with an irritating voiceover giving the false impression that it is indeed sentimental claptrap.