Monday 30 June 2008

'Home Sweet Home'.

Fuelled no doubt by our move in the not too distant future I worked it out that I have lived in over twenty residences. (Is that really all retired people have to do with their time!) Note I said residences not homes for it is beginning to dawn on me in my dotage that there is a subtle difference between a house and a home. A house evidently is a structure, a building, something that serves as an abode, a clinical, somewhat abstract concept. A home on the other hand conjures up a far less nondescript image, defined in one dictionary as 'Any environment or haven of shelter, happiness and love.'
Sir Henry Rowley Bishop (1786-1855) wrote over one hundred and twenty dramatic works, including at least eighty operas. Yet he is remembered today only as the writer of the song 'Home Sweet Home.'
'Mid pleasures and palaces though we may roam,
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home.'
The more I thought about Sir Henry's sentiments the more I became intrigued with the puzzle as to when a house becomes a home. The division if you like is blurred but were all of the places I lived in houses or homes? Or were they indeed both and why are some better remembered than others; for surely every abode is home at the time? A taxing conundrum for my inadequate, incomplete and rather worn brain.
We, my mother, sister and I moved to a tiny terraced house in the village shortly after the war. (We had been living with an aunt and her family at the other end of the village.) The terraced house was tiny with few mod cons but was undoubtedly treasured by my mother. I remember little of my early existence, the hissing of the gas lamp and the silverfish scurrying round the hearth being two memories etched on my mind. The privy down the garden also remembered, though less fondly. The night riders undaunting cheerfulness as they humped overfilled pans down the path filled us children with awesome fascination, the pan's contents spilling down the carriers' backs an everlasting reminder of the basic nature of village life after the war.
A move to an end of terrace council house a few years later was a move up the ladder for the Stevens clan yet I can remember little of the nature of the house. I remember my mother always working, permanently tired yet uncomplaining. I remember too the austere utility sideboard and the Cherry Lady whose lonely presence suggested ornaments were low on the agenda. (My mother in 1948 earned £38-8-9p per year as a part time school cook, working two and a half days a week.) Plus scivvying for well off families in the village brought extra money. Uncompromising backbreaking, poorly paid work necessary to survive in hard times unsympathetic to widows low down the social scale. In 1953 my mother paid the price for a life of toil and drudgery. She died of pneumonia, aged forty six; I was thirteen years of age, my sister eleven.
The small terraced house no longer exists. The council house is now privately owned, with ornate walls, double glazing and a conservatory; undoubtedly worth a fortune in much sought after Ockbrook. We children were poor but undoubtedly loved and no doubt happy, for I have only fond memories of childhood. Despite our poverty, our mother ensured we lived in places that provided 'shelter, happiness and love.' Definitely homes and not merely houses.

Sunday 29 June 2008

Tell a Lie and Find the Truth Spanish Proverb.

George was so pleased with his new hatchet he used it to cut down father's favourite cherry tree. Dad came across the fallen tree and he was not best pleased. He asked George who was responsible and he felt, as any child would that to lie was the best idea. Only George was a well brought up child and his answer is well documented. "I cannot tell a lie. I did cut it with my hatchet." Well done George, George Washington that is.
I too was, I reckon, a well brought up child. Influenced as a member of the Moravian Church, the one thing impressed on me was the difference between right and wrong. My religious convictions were never set in stone, so to speak, but I have never willingly lied, whatever the consequences. I find it difficult to comprehend how some lie so easily and so often. I was always taught as a child that Moravians are God fearing to the extent that they are exempt from having to swear on a Bible in a British court, though I have never seen this premise actually tested in a court of law. I do many bad things but lying is not one of them.
I passed down a road in the Peak District this weekend, at a place called Owler Bar. A road I vaguely recognised; then my connection to the place slowly dawned on me. Around forty years ago I travelled down this road in a minivan with three other people. A Sprite sports car passed us somewhat erratically, enough to ensure comment, not all favourable. Five minutes later and the sight that met our eyes was desperately unwelcome. The Sprite lay upside down on the road, wheels forlornly spinning, the soft top shredded, steam everywhere, the smell of petrol sinisterly threatening, the driver half in and half out of his pride and joy. Tragedy on a summer's afternoon.
We lifted the car to an upright position, for my companions, though young were fit and strong.
The driver, a young man in his twenties, though conscious, was seriously injured; obviously terminally so even to my inexperienced eyes. I could do little to help as we awaited professional help and Owler Bar is a lonely spot. I held his hand, feeling inadequate in the extreme. His words I had forgotten until this weekend. "I'm dying," he said, looking to me for reassurance.
I've never forgotten that young man or the experience of that afternoon, all those years ago.
Three weeks later I was subpoenaed to attend his inquest. I also bought another vehicle, a Mini Cooper, not my first choice, a sports car with a soft top. And I've never forgotten that young man's simple question. Would your answer have been my answer, I wonder.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

As Bob would say 'Times They Are A-changin'

I sometimes wonder if there really are two species in the world, 'them and us'. A feeling reinforced by a very recent uncomfortable court appearance.
I have been 'in the dock' so to speak several times over the years but never as a defendant, always to give evidence, even subpoenaed on one occasion. Yet I have never been comfortable, seldom happy with the treatment I received from all and sundry, including defending solicitors. On at least one occasion overcome by feelings of impotency as my word has been challenged as to its truth. I would not dream of lying under oath, the old 'upbringing' thing I suppose. And as to why I should be surprised that others have no such qualms regarding distortions of the truth I have no idea. But there is obviously a lack of morality in some, though not of course everyone than divides society and bodes ill for the future.
We did not enjoy our visit to court. It was extremely costly for a start, no legal aid for us. We were obviously mere participants in a system weighted again ordinary God fearing mortals. Not so our feckless, debt owing contagonists, encouraged I suspect by a clueless government to opt out of responsibility for their own inadequacies.
A learned judge erred on the side of our 'poor' adversaries, aided and abetted by not one but two gentlemen available to those without the means to pay (Yearly continental holidays take, oh so much of your income). It was of course a done deal, the two legal sides had concurred as is allowed, the judge 'slapped wrists' and we were out in under five minutes. (The learned gentleman did say at the beginning our our 'sitting' that he had a telephone engagement in five minutes so that didn't exactly leave time for a lengthy debate!) So who's massively out of pocket due to someone elses irresponsibility, us of course.
Some months ago my wife and I sat on the seafront at Fleetwood, right ouside the magistrates court; we were there many a while. The sea was great and the occasional boats interesting. But neither could compete with the constant flow of miscreants entering and leaving the courthouse.
Laughing, joking, some with cans of beer to hand they entered the building as their turn came. (On enquiry I was told the cans are taken off them but have to be returned to them as they leave the building.) I kid you not. Not all were trustful of the court officials and some hid their 'supplies' in nearby bushes. Which incidentally doubled as a toilet on several occasions despite our astounded presence. No sign of fear, shame, anxiety ever crossed their untroubled countenances. So why were we so apprehensive throughout our visit to court; to be searched for weapons via a scanner I found particularly perplexing. Perhaps we should attend court more often. Lessons from 'regulars' would lessen the aprehension. Perhaps two or three pints of Marston's Pedigree might help; there are toilets INSIDE courts after all. But the answer, I fear probably lies in avoiding the legal professions wherever possible.
I read through this blog and wonder when a blog becomes a rant. It reads like a Daily Mail editorial, worrying for an ex-left winger who thought he was going to change the world when he was twenty five. But Grumpy Old Ken's allowed a grump occasionally. I promise I won't do it too often. Plus I'll let you into a secret. I feel better for it already!

Wednesday 18 June 2008

'Eye, eye'

I had an uncle who had one of the earliest cataract operations in the country, not many years after the war. I only remember him having one contbut act lens. It was the size of a ten pence piece with one part raised and always reminded me of a sea shell. But best remembered was the fact that he used to clean it with Brasso, unbelievable true. It must have surely affected the capability of the lens and how his eye never became infected is beyond comprehension. Though I do remember his eye was often bloodshot in the extreme.
I have one good eye, the left has very limited vision and has evidently been so probably since birth. Only I never realised until undergoing an army medical in the late fifties. (The proper army, honest, not the Salvation.) But it would explain why, having no three dimensional vision I was such a lousy batsman at cricket. The ball was often past me before I picked up its flight. (Plus being hit round the ribs frequently does little for your confidence; neither does a low pain threshold help.)
I was fitted, after tests involving space age equipment with a single (left eye)) contact lens by a knowledgeable optician. Eyes at the ready I thanked him profusely and marched out confidently, promptly colliding with the door frame, suffering mild concussion and one hell of an headache.
I persevered for many a month but eventually admitted defeat, having, I fear nearly put several cyclists on the nearside of my car into the nearest available ditches. What happened eventually to the lens I have no idea, it will probably turn up as the loft contents diminish.
Neither is my wife immune from eye problems. She was a young and attractive young lady when we first met, the owner of large round spectacles so befitting of the era. (In case she reads this, you are still attractive, my dear in spite of the passing years.) Self conscious, fashion conscious too, Paulette was talked into being fitted with contact lenses. Then the fun really started.
I often got the impression my wife peered into the distance rather than merely looked, like ordinary mortals. They, the lenses had to be found and inserted before any excursion, however small and even then you were never sure if they were in or out, so to speak. And if they ever did 'pop out' what followed could be stressful, pandemic and sometimes even entertaining.
The earliest search I remember was going on honeymoon. The car full of confetti, thousands of coloured pieces of paper versus one dropped lens. Result, confetti, five thousand; lens nil. One one eyed bride; one one eyed bridegroom.
One once went missing on a sand slide from the sand hills to the beach near Cromer. "Stop, stand still" once again came the plaintive cry, "I've lost a lens." Again ten minutes of entertainment for all, including the children, bystanders and the dog. The latter incidentally particularly enjoyed the digging, spraying sand in all directions. I reckon he thought we were hiding it, not burying it. Result, ten million, million, million particles of sand, lens nil.
I did once recover a lens after yet another of my wife's mishaps. She lost it, in of all places the shower. At least we knew where it had gone, obviously down the plughole. From the drain outside I collected in the region of a dozen jam jars full of foul smelling, black, oozing, putrefying semi liquid filth. I patiently filtered the oozing substance. Every handful contained at least one beetle carcass that felt to the touch unbelievably like a contact lens. And, after an hours patient searching I got the little blighter. Triumphantly I returned my prize to my wife. Only she wouldn't reinsert it in her eye, not now, not never. Rather a waste of my efforts, I thought, but in retrospect who could blame her after where it had been, though not in the same league as Brasso.
Contact lenses, at least the early ones often had the knack of adhering to clothes after they had fallen out. Walk around and you could redistribute them anywhere. The trick was to strip off completely, the wearer not the searcher and place your clothes in a neat pile. Then you could search diligently, the pile of clothes first and then the rest of the room. For under thirties it became a very interesting few minutes that could be stretched somewhat if you spotted the elusive lens but didn't let on, so to speak. If you happened to be in Woolworth's shopping definitely a good time was had by all.
We are older now and neither my wife nor I wear contact lenses. I normally make do, for reading at least, with pairs from Lidl, Aldi or Home Bargains, priced from ninety nine pence per pair. Prescription number 2.5 0r 3.0. You need to know this, Lidl's glasses are sealed and woe betide you if you open a packet to try them on. The Croation employee patrolling the isles of our nearest store has had lessons and can hear the rustle of a packet being opened from all of a hundred feet. I own never less than seven pairs at any one time and can nearly always find a pair when I need them. Strangely enough they are seldom less fragile than the ultra expensive pairs of driving glasses I buy from the opticians. For the arms fall off them all, they don't like you sitting on them and I seldom have both bridge pieces after a week or so.
So life goes on and we go along with it. But just occasionally I miss those searches for the elusive lens! There again we were young and foolish. Perhaps we had better stay with spectacles. What do you think.

Monday 16 June 2008

Hoarding Masterclass

The loft clear out is ongoing. The charity boxes continue to fill. I continue to empty them when my wife is out. I don't mind giving to charity but there's a limit, for heavens sake. I retrieve some empty files, unused for four years, well you never know. A candle in a bucket, unopened; surely someone will like it. Though the artificial flower arrangement even I return to the box. They decorated my late aunt's room for several years. We looked after her until she was well over ninety. She always admired them and remarked almost weekly, "Aren't those flowers on the sideboard doing well."
Last week we moved on to ornaments. All lovingly wrapped in faded newspaper dated 1999. (From the last house move. There are also objects dated from the move before that, the year 1981. The name of boxed games turning up tend to be a pointer where age is concerned including Cluedo, Down Fall and Stay Alive.
The ornaments have presumably not been missed (and were no doubt 'lofted' when I was at work) but I feel uneasy that some strangers will not appreciate our hoardings.
As Baldrick would say, "I devise a cunning plan." Ignoring my wife's protestations I place them in a large open topped cardboard box. We visit the grandchildren. Helena is nine and is awarded first choice. Slightly apprehensive at incurring the wrath of mother, for her bedroom is already a mass of trinkets and treasures (and in fairness the family are shortly to move house) she nevertheless cannot resist several items. Plus I am secretly pleased as some items were originally treasured by mother Sarah, an equally avid collector in her time. She has good taste I assure her as the pewter items, a peacock, and two dogs are triumphantly borne to their new home. To be added to the Beano and Mandy comics retrieved earlier and added to her ever increasing collection.
Grandchildren Angelina, six and Tommy, four are less discerning. Angelina makes claim to the bambi figure, minus one ear and the globe pencil sharpener, the plastic pony and ballerina. Tommy likes the mini monster, the wooden gorilla (goes well with Wednesday's wooden rhino), the straw lady, imitation ivory chess piece and the pixies on a mushroom. Mother Alison joins in and claims the Scottish lady for the school topics box.
The box is depleted and I am secretly pleased. I return home with five out of twenty five items. Who says the art of hoarding is dead.

Weekend Wind Down

We all have our favourite places, but how many have six feet pictures of it on their vehicle. Sad, maybe and you may even scoff but as Lauren is prone to retort, 'Am I bothered?'
On the back of our motorhome, is the constant reminder of Castleton, Derbyshire and in particular Mam Tor, otherwise known as the Shivering Mountain; a favourite overnight stop, always eagerly anticipated, seldom disappointing. The attraction after a week at home in downtown Derby immediately apparent. The scenery, breathtaking, the pace of life, slower, a weekend 'wind down' often after a weeks 'wind up'. Yes there are those who energetically rush around the place; mountain bikers abound; quad and scrambling bikes disappear over rocky ridges at intervals. Determined hikers of all ages and sizes, some striding, others staggering are viewed, sometimes with admiration, occasionally with amusement by locals and ourselves alike.
However our energies tend to be reserved for the constant cooking of bacon and eggs and leisurely short walks usually ending in a favourite public house, where we are inevitably greeted with friendly banter and an excellent choice of beers, though a connoisseur real ale snob I am not.
Castleton is always full of overnight visitors of a weekend and combined with local trade the mix is always interesting. We talk with a group of, dare I say it, elderly visiters from Hull, seven in number, one having gone to bed early; perhaps the pace was too much. Excellent company, humorous and outgoing, designerware on display. (definely bling bling, and why not, why should the young 'uns have the monopoly on life.) They are an excellent advert for retired living in the 21st century. I think back to the fifties and the drab tired people; My mother, worn out at forty, dead before fifty. Thank God for life today.
I talk also to three equally delightful young ladies who are local and 'doing the rounds'. ( My wife winces at my tendency to 'chat up' all and sundry.) The girls attractive and vivacious, drink via straws what I take to be soft drinks but am informed is a mixture, Jack Daniels being only one of the ingredients mentioned. In search of young men I fear they are destined to be disappointed, a dearth of similarly aged young men seems inevitably apparent. We talk of the lack of excitement at least for lively young ladies. I suppose everywhere on earth has a drawback for someone, somewhere. Strangly enough I remember on a previous occasion a young man from a Midlands city who had brought with him two young ladies for a night in a nearby hotel. He was almost tingling with anticipation, he could not hide his excitement. Never underestimate sleepy little villages like Castleton.
We leave, eventually, park up outside the village (my wife is conveniently a non drinker) and so to bed. Much as we love the place we have no real desire to live in Castleton, for where would we go for weekends of pure pleasure; we are indeed blessed.

Monday 9 June 2008

Always Look on The Bright Side

I watched Terry Pratchett the author on the television with great interest in the week. What a brave and talented man. Mr Pratchett has recently announced he is suffering from Alzheimer's and has probably been so for the past three years. The illness is progressive and one of the puzzles is to how to measure its progress.
In no way can I mirror Mr Pratchett's talent or his stoic demeanour for that matter but since being diagnosed with TGA I recognise the tendency to look for signs of progression in illness. We well might outwardly 'look on the bright side' and you have no real alternative, but there is a mite bit of pessimism in the most optimistic of men. And this is where imagination, conjecture, suspicion, call it what you like comes in. The slightest doubt that all is not well, that the old memory is going and you're away, and senility seems just around the corner.
I couldn't recall a name last week, however hard I tried; thus the black clouds gathered.That was it, finished, on the scrapheap, useless, a burden on both state and family. The former, not too bad an idea, they've had enough of my money over the years but the latter, not so keen. Never one for gloomy thoughts the mood passed and the new reality took over.
I'm sixty eight, for goodness sake, not twenty eight. No sixty eight year old still has it all intact, otherwise they wouldn't have invented viagra. My wife thinks Sean Connery is wonderful. I personally would love to see him first thing in the morning. Plus I've got more hair, just! Jealousy is a wonderful thing. And thinking back I wasn't exactly Einstein in my youth.
I went to town on my bike once and went home on the bus. When I eventually realised, a day or two later I returned and, lo and behold, it was still propped up by the kerb in the market place. How long would it last now I wonder, twenty minutes?
I regularly had to retrieve my football boots at the Barton Bus lost property office in Long Eaton, retrieved quickly though my satchel containing homework was less urgently recovered.
Its no secret I'm less than perfect as an adult. But I'm surely not the only person that's left library books on a car roof and driven off. (My last library fine for late returns was just under ten pounds.)
Haven't we all sat on a car park at least once and wondered where we were and why. A little more unusual in the school minibus but teaching is a very stressed profession.
I used to put my sandwiches on the staffroom window sill. I ate them early one dinner time and they were the best ever. I thought my wife had been to cookery classes. I fetched some books from the car and, hey presto, there were sandwiches on the passenger seat. I rushed indoors, slipped them onto the windowsill and waited. I watched a colleague retrieve sandwiches and tuck in. Only he continuously looked inside them to see what exactly they contained. I must confess he didn't seem over impressed. He should be so lucky.
I've given up on 'Hole in the wall cards' but I have more to do with my life than fetching the card back when I've fed in the wrong number. I know they give you three tries but three's nowhere near enough. OK, I sat outside the house this week for twenty minutes with the alarm going off because I fed in the wrong number but I tried every button and nothing would shut the thing up. Interesting no-one came out to see if I was being burgled. Thanks a bundle!
I'm not allowed a mobile phone, my wife quite rightly says I'd only lose it. Plus I once borrowed one, it went off in the car and it startled me so much I nearly finished up in the nearest ditch.
Everyone reckons my wife 'carries me' in life nowadays but she always did, and seems to enjoy it; I'm not totally hopeless. Not quite, though a cup of coffee I made recently when my wife was out gave food for thought. I thought it tasted a bit strange though it took me a while to decide. On close examination gravy brownings and salt are a poor substitute for coffee and sugar; come to think of it my taste buds are apparently failing along with everything else.
I might agree that I'm ready for the knackers yard but there again don't be too sure. I may not remember what I had for breakfast but who cares. I had a motorbike in the 1950's, a Francis Barnett; the number plate, TNU 137. My pride and joy in the 1960's was my Mini Cooper S, number GDT 703C. Not bad recall for a decrepit geriatric.
Good luck Mr Pratchett and anyone else similarly afflicted. By the way, the name I was looking for has still not come, but it will, I know it will.

Friday 6 June 2008

Talk Talk

A couple of years ago I allowed my name to appear on a 'speakers available' list. Vanity got the better of me though I had no previous experience outside school so to speak. Around a dozen sessions later, much chastened what have I learnt.
I'm down on the list as the man who gives a talk entitled, 'There's Nowt so strange as Folk' though I doubt the subjects important. "Was it ok?" I enquired after one session. "Oh fine" the chairlady assured me. "They didn't react much" I somewhat anxiously replied.
"Oh don't worry about that" the lady replied dismissively, "they're all deaf."
I must confess the average age of my clientele is rather high and usually female, WI's a speciality. If its mixed and dinner time, watch out. Sleepers, snorers or mere dozers, you get them all, mainly male and nearly always on the front row (they're last in and the only seats left unoccupied are always on the front row.) Plus they've usually had a little drinky or two and some wholesome pub grub. Not exactly compatible with an hour in the warm listening to some boring old fart rambling on about heaven knows what.
Nor are the elderly adverse to telling you in no uncertain terms if you are not exactly scintillating. A bit like the Glasgow Empire in Music Hall days. A fellow speaker was less than five minutes into his speel when he was interrupted by an aged ladies "We don't want this rubbish" as he attempted to explain the complexities of the inner working of a computer. Exactly what they did have in mind when they booked him I dread to think. I'd have taken the money and ran. On second thoughts I'd have just ran for the money is not exactly mind bending.
I talked recently to a charming group of village ladies who had very professionally negotiated the minimum fee possible, any less and I'd have been paying them.
You often sit beforehand listening to the 'business' of the group, (plus hymn, prayer, hymn, even sometimes a talk almost as long as the one you've prepared.) In this particular instance the chairlady (again) bemoaned the fact that costs were rising, including speakers (I had been negotiated down to fifteen pounds and no petrol money). I couldn't help but hear they had only nine hundred or so in the bank. Then blow me, a future speaker was suggested, an excellent lady evidently, who apparently does the Queens flowers, very good and charges one hundred pounds. Lovely ladies, posh village but you live and learn.
The opposition is talented and wide ranging. Subjects ranging from homeopathy, acupuncture and the history of Christmas Cards. One, couple, two for the price of one offer thirteen different talks and, note, also play the keyboard. Yet I'm still around, still available, Derby County home games excepted. (How sad is that.) I have been asked back thereby entailing another talk. Entitled 'Is the Whole World going mad or is it me' it's well on the way. I look forward to trying bits of it out in the near future. Any suggestions gratefully received.
By coincidence the front page story of the local newspaper concerns a book keeper who has embezzled over £90,000 from the Derbyshire Women's Institute. No one seemed to notice it was missing; my fees are definitely too low! The lady in question lives not far from me and obtained a paid book keepers position with a local auctioneers whilst awaiting sentence for her misdeeds. I have helped out at the aforesaid auctioneers, for nothing I might add for the past five years. Would it be fair to say I'll never be a rich man the way I'm going!

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Aren't People Strange and aren't Families even Stranger.

The gradual clearout of the loft is ongoing and still turns up trumps.
Amongst the many photos of times long since gone one in particular stands out. Not grandad in his grandeur as Sunday School Superintendant. Not grandma with her brood of eight around or not too far from her tiny feet. Not the weddings of the brood, safely despatched over the years. that is, not of each wedding, faithfully recorded, but only, God forbid, one in particular.
A wedding photo is retrieved, one wedding in many. The bridegroom, smiling, as bridegrooms should. The bridesmaid, shy and demure, as bridesmaids were expected to be.
The bride, I know who, but I'm not telling. Carefully cut, and I mean carefully from the wedding scene. Cut undoubtedly by a sister in law, my aunt who obviously disapproved of the marriage to a favourite brother.
I make no comment as to the rights and wrongs; for all I learn in life is that despite increasing age I know nothing. But look at the careful cuts involved and wonder. Aren't families strange, and isn't life in general even stranger.

Monday 2 June 2008

What a Diff'rence a Day Makes

I wonder if Dinah Washington ever visited Southport; maybe, maybe not. I was certainly reminded of the wonderful Miss Washington on a recent visit to that delightful Lancashire resort. ‘Southport by the Sea’ as I remember it from childhood. For the memories, though pleasant enough, do not include the recollection of seeing the sea itself.
Our return visit, minus the children all these years later had an inauspicious start. The drizzle was unrelenting, belying the fact that June beckoned. The town buzzed with impatient traffic, seemingly driven by growling, scowling individuals, crossing the road somewhat dangerous. We found the seafront at the third attempt, (I thought we’d actually found the sea but alas it was only a lake), parked up on miles of almost empty asphalt and peered out across miles of mud come sand to where the sea presumably existed. And we very nearly went home.
‘What a diff’rence a day makes
Twenty four little hours
Brought the sun and the flowers
Where there used to be rain.
Next day the sun did indeed shine; smiling was once again allowed and we began to appreciate Southport, for it has much to offer. (One of the things it offers is an abundance of bright orange people, and I mean orange. I kid you not. Not tanned, brown, black, olive, nut coloured, definitely, unequivocally orange. Is it too many carrots. Is it a genetic aberration exclusive to the area. Do they know they're orange. Do they like being orange. Fascinating, is it a phenomenon exclusive to Southport. I'm dying to know. Would someone out there please put me out of my misery.)
The town itself dates back to 1792 when a certain Mr Sutton opened a hotel. Other key dates include 1848 when a rail service linked Southport to Liverpool and 1853 and a rail service linking the resort to Manchester. From which point Southport never looked back.
The Victorian legacy is both obvious and pleasing. Lord Street, a tree lined boulevard is one of Britain’s finest shopping thoroughfares. Lord Street was named after the Lords of the Manor whose foresight and money made such an impressive street possible. The idea was a deliberate attempt to develop a resort for the ‘refined’ and ‘the well to do’. The aim of creating both a select residential town and high class resort has in the main succeeded. The Victorian buildings particularly in Lord Street have to be seen to be appreciated. Neither is the attraction of Southport confined to its main street.
The pier is the oldest surviving iron pier in the country and the longest overland for good measure; an excellent fine weather walk with a tram ride available for the faint hearted. Rewarded at the end with an arcade of Victorian and Edwardian penny style attractions. Old style pennies available for the machines though the exchange rate, one old penny equalling ten new pence is eye watering! Or am I just being an old meanie. But Southport is not merely an advert for the past.
The Marine Lake (the largest man made leisure lake in the UK) has the Miniature Railway Village and the Southport Belle Mississippi style paddleboat. Plus I was particularly impressed by the Marine Way Bridge into the town, very futuristic, very aesthetic. Southport definitely grew on me.
Southport offers something for all. Culture lovers, try the Theatre and Floral Hall or the Arts Centre. Skateboarders have their own park whilst the Dunes Leisure Centre is particularly accessible to disabled visitors. And where else in the entire country could you visit a museum dedicated to the humble lawn mower.
If you fancy a ride out the Martin Mere Wildlife Wetland Centre is a must for bird lovers of all ages and a stone’s throw from the town. Home to over one hundred species of rare and endangered ducks, geese, swans and flamingos. Internationally important, offering ten hides and numerous exhibits, Martin Mere is an all year round attraction that appeals to all, not just the professional ‘twitcher’.
Further down the road is the European Capital of Culture, Liverpool of course. An afternoon visit can only wet the appetite for further visits. Suffice to say we found Liverpool amazing, vibrant, the place has truly arrived. The bus tour round the city was exhilarating and extremely educational. A couple of hours spent at the Albert Dock made me realise how far Liverpool has come in the twenty first century. The last time I visited was as a schoolboy not long after the war. I remember only ruined buildings, a rattling yet wonderful overhead railway and men performing on the banks of the river. One of whom was tied in a sack and destined for the river unless the collection by his cohort from the bystanders dictated otherwise. (He never did get thrown into the filthy river, much to my childish disgust.)
With regard to Southport I get the definite impression the British seaside is fighting back after years of decline. Presumably in part I suspect due to the availability of European Union money. But there again I never did really understand the political scene. If it helps British seaside resorts, Southport included, all well and good. That being the case, black mark Southport for the sad derelict frontage of what was once a railway station at the far end of Lord Street. I am assured by locals neglect of this frontage goes back many years.
Overall my wife and I enjoyed our stay immensely. Much helped by the fact that, as members of The Camping and Caravan Club we could stay with a pleasant Yorkshire group, in this case the East and West Yorkshire BCC on a local commercial site for a saving of over two thirds of the normal cost; for four nights a saving of a massive £64. Well done both the Camping Club and the EWY BCC for organising this particular holiday meet.
Even the fact that whoever is in charge of roads in the area decided to start major roadworks on the Saturday bringing the whole area to a standstill didn't detract from our overall enjoyment. I know you've got to start jobs sometime but a Saturday, lads, come on!
Picture the Council offices the week before.
"The roadworks, John on the A565, when shall we start?"
"How about Wednesday, Harry.
"Forecast's poor, John plus it'll be bit quiet on the roads."
"Forecasts hot for the weekend, Harry, and it's bound to be busy."
"Right you are, John, Saturday it is."
Nevertheless we enjoyed our stay and we will return. And by the way, we still didn’t really see the sea.