Friday, 24 October 2014

Guest post, guess who?

What we call  decent breakfast in my part of the world, NOT some lefty nonsense involving hummus or seaweed.

I didn't have to pay 35 Euros per kilo for those mushrooms, I picked them myself THIS MORNING. 5 o'clock this morning, in fact.

Every time I go back to Brighton I time it for the annual Baked Bean Festival there, because you just CANNOT get a decent baked bean anywhere in France, so I fill the Compact Royce with them. Lady Magnon isn't too happy about being squeezed in the back with five boxes of the things, but - like I say - finding a baked bean worth the name in France is like trying to buy a flat-packed wheelbarrow in Blighty - it CAN'T be done. You have to buy the wheelbarrow in one piece then disassemble it just to put it in the car. Even then you find that there isn't enough room for both it and the beans, so Lady Magnon has to take the train back.

What am I going to do with all these quinces?

(What fun! Don't hurry back, Darling Tom - we are going to do Rachel next!)

Long-awaited invasion

This is the avatar I have chosen for H.I. when I write on a forum pretending to be her and not Tom Stephenson. It's rather charming (as my German friend, T1, would say) don't you think?

It doesn't fool anyone because they all know it is me, and when I write as myself, my avatar is Father Jack so there is definitely no confusion.

Both images encapsulate the essence of me and H.I. - one being the quintessence of femininity and the other a stark reminder of what can happen to a man when he lets himself go.

The other dear German friend arrives from Bremerhaven this weekend to stay for a while, and this will be about the 15th visit to Bath he has made over the last 20 years or so.

The first time he came, I was living in a tiny cottage in a small village just outside Bath, and we all had to sleep in the same room.

This was the first time I met him and I - understandably - thought he was T1's latest boyfriend, so I put them in the same bed. Both of them didn't sleep at all, because we had all gone to the local pub to eat and drink, then drink some more and, although I have no recollection of it, they told me that I snored louder than anyone else they had ever heard - all night.

In the morning, T2 took me to one side and quietly informed me that he was not - like T1 - Gay, and requested his own bed for the next night.

T2 spent about 15 years studying to be a dentist, not because this is how long it takes in Germany (though it is quite a long time), but because he kept failing one particular exam due to running out of money. He was supported by his 'extreme-rich aunt' for the whole of this period, and is now a very good and popular dentist in Bremerhaven.

T1 has been a graphic artist for many years, starting off as a Marxist and eventually graduating to a Catholic lay-priest, doing the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela on the way. Outwardly, he doesn't seem to have changed at all, other than wearing a small, silver Coquille St Jacques around his neck in the place of the Hammer and Sickle.

He is still as obsessed with the Eastern Block as he was before the wall came down, but now you can buy all those Russian sub-mariner's watches for peanuts, whereas before they were exotic and mysterious.

T1 lives in Hamburg, where I first met him when he was assigned as my helper for the theatre company I worked for at the time. Occasionally, a Soviet Navy ship would berth in the harbour there, but the sailors were not allowed to leave the ship and visit the Reeperbahn as generations of sailors had before them, so T1 would have to hire a rowboat and pull up alongside them to exchange gifts and trinkets, all the transactions carried out in broken Russian. How he lusted after those sailors.

The salt water laps up against both of their lives - T1's access to it is down the broad beginning of the Elba river to the Nordsee, and T2's practice is right on the docks of the old Fish Harbour.

The U-Boat bunkers in Hamburg still stick out of the water like jagged islands, having been bombed out of existence in WW2, but - like the Flak-Towers - are too solid to completely demolish and forget.

The 100 year-old fish-packing factories in Bremerhaven were the only buildings not to receive direct hits in 1943, but now they are all restaurants that specialise in fish, rather than processing and packing them. All that is done on board the factory ships these days, so is already packed in ice when it comes back to the ice-factory. The ice factory is still working though, and it is amazing to watch it disgorge tons of white slush into the boats via a huge overhead conveyor.

T2 used to live in a small apartment over his practice next to the harbour, and one day he had T1 around for lunch on the open-air balcony.

T2 took the plate of seafood to the table where T1 was gently sleeping in a chair, then went inside to fetch his own. In the few seconds he turned his back, T1 had woken up, eaten the entire plate of food, then gone back to sleep again.

He woke him up, astounded at the speed he finished it off before returning to his nap, but T1 had no recollection of having eaten anything.

They looked up to the roof to see a huge Gull staring greedily at T2's full plate...

Thursday, 23 October 2014

All Hallows at Conkwell

Did I say I wasn't going to post for a few days? Well I was lying. I used to live here - a few hundred yards from a prehistoric stone circle which only me and a handful of others know about, and that handful is the Bradford on Avon Amateur Archeological Association.

This is one of the original standing stones, now prone and lying there, waiting for cars like mine to be parked upon it.

Others lurk in the undergrowth,

... like this one. Nearby there is an ancient earthwork and stone conglomeration called 'Jugg's Grave'. Look it up on an OS Map.

And closer again, someone has dumped the second most expensive vacuum cleaner in the world.

I once tried to rent this cottage, also close by. The outgoing tenant advised me not to, because the place was haunted by the entire family of an axe-murderer who killed them all in it, and I later found out that this was true.

I see the current tenants are getting into the Halloween spirit quite nicely, and also quite early.

I will respond to all your lovely comments from this morning tomorrow, honest!

The kindness of strangers

Aside from this post, I am having a little blogging break for a while. I have become sick of the sound of my own voice, especially when I lose my sense of humour over a comment or two, and I refuse to set the 'blog owner approval' delay here.

The last time I didn't post for a couple of days, someone emailed me to find out whether or not I was still alive. I couldn't work out if I was touched or dismayed by that kind gesture.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Lots of lovely Lifestyle

How many people do you know who wear a hat to make a blog-post? Stylish, or what?

Actually, at this time of the year, the sun blares right into the front windows of our compact but adorable city apartment (welcome home, Mise), so if I don't wear something with a brim, I can't see what I am writing. It could be worse, it could be a baseball cap.

Also actually, this hat is one of two that I have bought, and they are called 'Irish Walking Hats'. Well they are made in Ireland (welcome back, Mise), but they don't improve my walking.

You all know very well by now, the problems I have had over the last few years trying to find the perfect tweed hat (below) as worn by Basil Rathbone, and you may remember the excuse which a top London Hatter made when I asked why they couldn't make one of their own models with an extra half an inch of brim on it, just for me: "There is a shortage of Harris Tweed, Sir."

Of course, Harris Tweed is a Scottish product, and this hat is Irish. I know that the Japanese and Italians try to buy as much Harris tweed as they can lay the hands on - they virtually pull it off the loom -  but an extra half-inch on one hat? I mean, really.

Step-Daughter works for a small company which commissions  and sells cashmere products, and these are all made in one small area of East Scotland. At the moment, the Bath branch is about 500 yards away from here, but they are about to relocate to different premises - right beneath our compact but adorable city apartment.

S.D. was born in London but brought up in this flat, and I first met her when she was 4 years old. In the intervening 40 years, she has moved to London where she was the general manager of 'Whistles' for the original owners, moved back to the Frome area where she brought up her two lovely kids, moved back into Bath to continue to work in fashion retail, and has ended up right where she started at the compact but adorable city apartment.

Tomorrow she has a day off, and I am combining business with pleasure by visiting a client in the Oxford area, then dropping her and her mother at Bicester Village - again - so she can have a bit of a busman's holiday.

They just cannot get enough of this Lifestyle malarky.

Saturday, 18 October 2014

Getting into hot water

To celebrate the return of darling Mise, here is a Life-Style post.

H.I. said she was fed up with our old kettle, and had found a new one with £12 off the RRP, right next door. So we got it.

Out with the old, in with the new, eh?


An American tourist got accidentally locked into a London bookshop last night, and this little news snippet prompted a radio show to ask listeners if they had ever been locked in anywhere at any time.

Lots of stories surfaced, but the one I found most gripping was told by a woman who found herself locked in - alone at night - at the Madame Tussaud waxworks, also in London.

There have been countless films which used waxworks museums as a really terrifying set - you know the ones, where one of a group of figures is real, but you don't know which, etc. - but this woman calmly recounted her experience as if she had been trapped in a furniture shop. The first wrong turn she made took her straight into the Chamber of Horrors apparently. I think I would have fainted, but she said that she turned around and walked calmly out. I bet she didn't look over her shoulder, though.

About 15 miles from Rome lies the ancient port of Ostia Antica, though the sea has long since retreated and the old supply town for ancient Rome lies in ruins.

The 'new' town is dominated by a large castle (above) and the castle is attached to some old barracks, one of which serves as a self-catering holiday cottage which H.I. and me rented for about a week once.

The very first thing we decided to do on the first morning was to visit the castle which loomed over us, filling the window of our little room in the barracks. Entry was free, and we were the only tourists when the huge gates were opened at 10.00 am.

The young woman who was to be our guide could speak no English, so she beckoned us to follow her into the courtyard, then unlocked a small iron door which lead to the dungeons. The other young woman guide stayed at the small hut by the main gate.

She held the door open and H.I. went in, then I - being English - gestured for her to go before me, which she did. I then - for some reason to do with following the Country Code, maybe - pulled the door shut behind me.

The woman let out a scream just before the door closed with a clunk of finality, but it was too late. It could only be opened from the outside.

She stared up at me with a look of hatred in her eyes as she ranted a tirade of abuse which, though I could not understand, I got the general meaning of. I think the word 'stupido' was mentioned a couple of times.

I calmly took my mobile phone out of my pocket and handed it to her so she could call her friend for assistance, but she pointed at the 20 foot-thick walls, then at the non-existent signal icon on the screen.

I started laughing as H.I. was asking me why the hell I had shut the door, and for a brief second, the Italian girl laughed with me, but her good humour didn't last for long.

She went to the iron door and began screaming "MARIA!!!" as loud as she could, over and over again.

After about 10 minutes of this, Maria turned up to see what the fuss was about, but then had to go off again to try and find the spare set of keys. That took about another quarter of an hour.

The rest of the tour of the castle was conducted in a very frosty silence indeed, broken only by my occasional fits of stifled giggling as I tried to avoid the malevolent eyes of our guide.