May 2 2015

Wray Scarecrow Festival 2015

Yes, I know that he is a scarecrow. But I still would.

This is terrifying. It is not the first time that scarecrows have terrified me or my loved ones at Wray but normally they’re flammable zombies or creepily trying to be sexy or something ( (Poldark scarecrow doesn’t count- Poldark scarecrow worked it)

This time a scarecrow is doing a straw poll (sorry) to see which way people are planning to vote in next week’s elections. I hate the fact the faded blue child’s  ballpit balls overflowing in the Conservative tub might actually have some actual impact in my actual real life scarecrowless life. A sentence I should not have to ever say.

I have a  urge to wee in the Ukip tub and then watch them bob all around in a sea of wee but refrain. Only two people in Wray vote Labour. This so beats a swingometer. I wish all voting was done with plastic balls at Scarecrow Festivals. It would make Newsnight far more colourful.

I don’t know what this Angel of the North is meant to represent. I like to think the people who made it are aloof and alone- possibly the  Barclay Brothers and people are scared of them and the sinister message the scarecrow is somehow conveying to the village and the village’s children and the villagers’ childrens’ children.

The theme this year was ‘fantasy’ and this animatronic scarecrow diorama shows a man actually ironing and holding a child. Sorry, suffragettes. It is fantastic of course. I have however got to the stage where I am eyeballing scarecrows to work out the creator’s political persuasions in the hope I can discover the two Labour voters in the village. This is not one of them.

There was a similar Scottish/ anti- Scottish themed scarecrow in this pleasant little nook by the river last time. I like to think it is an embittered husband and wife (one of whom is Scottish)  with different political persuasions  fighting each other through the medium of Scarecrow.

This is just the real Nigel Farage.

I hope the real Nicola doesn’t see this.

No, THIS is just the real Nigel Farage. It’s made even better by the slight suspicion that Nigel Farage is made out of last years Bilbo Baggin’s scarecrow. And look at his toes! His toes are terrifying and I see them at night sometimes in the dark.


Apr 24 2015

Be careful in Settle.

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I am not allowed to take photographs in a museum in Settle.

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It is a small museum that you have to pay to enter. There is nothing of particular interest in the museum in Settle apart from some Okish chairs and a vaguely pleasing window which I am afraid I can’t show you because you are not allowed to take photos in the museum.

Maybe those stacked plastic chairs are of particular interest to ISIS? I hope they are. I would quite welcome a violent insurgency right now due to the lack of a nice licensed tearoom.

I try to take my time to get my three quid’s worth of value but after a look at some pottery shards, I just want it all to end in a massacre of gunfire so take a quick photo. Sadly I remain alive, I don’t even get tutted at so I go to look at overpriced bronze hares in a shop that sells overpriced bronzed hares and Farrow and Ball paint.

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A bakery named The Naked Man is sadly not what it purports to be but a feta cheese  and spinach pasty numbs the pain despite the  disturbing lack of gunned insurrectionists. I suspect they have seen the sad remains of spinach residing in my teeth, noticed the fact that people will pay sixty pounds to have their walls in the same shade as ‘Elephants Breath’ and been told off for not paying Gift Aid when storming the museum.

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Thus Settle remains quiet.


Mar 4 2015

Steaming Labradors in Gastropubs in Keswick.

20150228_161759It smells of wet pedigree and everyone rustles briskly in brightly hued waterproofs.

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The quaint little cottages are blank eyed and empty with a ‘Holiday Home To Let’ sign prominently displayed in cursive script.

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Everything is fifty shades of grey. The cottages are stone and slate, the sky a glowering ‘Off Black’, and the pubs and restaurants all clad in  Farrow and Ball ‘Murky Gusset.’

Two Lotuses parked cheerily  close in a pub car park make me dwell on if the plural is ‘Lotii’, something thats never had occasion to bother me before visiting Keswick.

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It’s a genial friendly place- a middle class frontier town where the gold seam never diminishes- a place to chortle over a long lunch, not to peer and say ‘how much?’ at a price. There are no e-cig shops here but all the whimsical china sheep one could ever possibly desire. It’s like something Cath Kidston vomited up in a wet dream.

 

I’m having the best time ever of course. Pretending I’m au-fait with the price of the wine, reading the Times in a corner and pretending I have been for an actual walk in some never ending stretch of blasted bogland peppered by multi million pound crofts and venomous hills.

 

I’m just pretending it’s shit outside for pure inertia driven guilt of course. There is a hole at the heart of my being that has plumped for grilled halloumi and dukkah over climbing a mountain.

 

Or indeed a small incline. I did try. I chose the path that didn’t go Up because I don’t like Up and then followed the wide gravelled track  right along the side of the surprisingly busy road until after a mile I found a tea room and purchased a 7 Up for £1.80.  Alfred Wainwright, eat your heart out.

In a horrible fake gastropub ( clearly Wilkinson’s  ‘Found Dead in a Bedsit Grey’) they don’t serve chips unless as part of a meal. You are a small pub with uncomfortable seats and last October’s tattered Cumbria Life, not L’Enclume. Oh do piss off.

 

It’s a theme park of what it means to be English- the ‘locals’ starring roles played by people who live in the Midlands or London happily jollying it up in a pub with staggering priced wine and a wet dog fug.

 

It was brilliant. I love a bit of commodified selling of Nature with some avocado and panki fries and a large house red. I love the fact that teenagers don’t appear to exist and you are either in five and in Boden or forty in Trespass. It was a retreat from the confines of Town with all the all the attractions of Town and a staggering backdrop of actual Nature.
Sorry Nature. Next time I will walk in you until I see a dead pheasant or there’s a slight incline. Then I will retreat in indignity to a place with no primary colours and demand a Pot Noodle ‘Bombay Bad Boy’ in my poshest voice.


Jan 10 2015

The Co-Op is the New Country Pub. Discuss.

Oh stop it, you. It will probably be fine once you’re in there. It will be better than this lashing January sideways rain of misery and despair  and the next train is not for another hour. To walk slowly around the Co-Op one more time just in case the white chocolate cookies  have been reduced by another 10p is not ‘cool’ either.

Oh. ok then, me. But a Co-op in the rain in a small provincial Northern town is somehow strangely soothing.

Five Minutes Later

Oh carpet. Generic pub carpet from decades ago. One day you will rise again due to a hipster from Bristol with a twinkle in his eye, an ironic retro vision in his head and a trust-fund.

Now I sink my feet into your red, pink and orange overlapping flowers and smell Dog. No, Dogs. Dead Dogs. Dead Dogs on an eternal slobbery march through the aforementioned carpet. They also had a jolly Dead Zombie Dog Romp in a stagnant mire beforehand and made sure they never achieved dryness. It’s a good life for Undead Zombie Dogs here.

Last week, I walked into a nice looking country pub and then left in disgust at its ‘locally sourced’ smugness, size six staff wearing smart black, bespoke ‘ olde’ floorboards and ‘LOOK AT ME- DEFINITELY FUCKING  FARROW AND BALL’ muted undertones. Other people might say I left because there was not a table. They are of course wrong. I yearned for a generic pub in the countryside unbesmirched by menus with a ‘to begin’ option.

There is no other female here. There may never have been. Around eight men sit around a table and stop swearing briefly to stare at me before reinvigorating their candid talking with extra vigour. The racing is on. I suspect the racing is always on.  An elderly man on his own picks up a tiny leather dog toy in the shape of a shoe and comes up to me with it as he thinks it might belong to me then retreats to his lonely table to listen to the vigorous swearing.

There are pinstripes on the walls and a corniced ceiling. Dry pot plants point crispily towards the floor. The rain slaps against the stained glass of the windows.

Last week, I was the hoi-polloi, thrown out on the  flagstone pavement, sneering bitterly at the Barbour clad over loud and over confident ‘country’ people shrieking to each other over professionally battered old oak tables.

Today I slink out, after retrieving my sleeve from the sticky Melamine surface. No-one says goodbye but I’m sure I hear a burst of laughter when I leave.

I’m not sure where ‘real country’ lies anymore.

But I liked it when I was in the Co-Op buying reduced coleslaw.

 

 

 


Nov 3 2014

I have not taken a photo of the egg in the cafe at Asda. Sorry.

‘Tinned mushrooms or fresh?’ she asks. ‘Err, ‘fresh’ I answer wondering if this is a quick stealthy question to ascertain my class. Then I realise that is unlikely.

She slops the mushrooms onto my plate, the mushrooms from the same stainless steel vat, the only stainless steel vat containing mushrooms. I feel I have only been given the illusion of choice. I am already angry about the mushrooms. More angry than the situation merits.

 

Starving on the outside of an industrial estate at 9am on a Sunday due to an ill-fated walk to a car boot sale means I am here. Being angry about a meat- free breakfast in Asda as an unsteady queue forms behind me and a beautiful morning forms outside.

 

I refuse to ask if the eggs are free-range in case I sound poncy.  Instead I ask for mushrooms instead of the clammy looking eggs.

‘Can’t do that, mushrooms are extra.’

‘But it is instead of the egg- I don’t want the egg.’

‘Mushrooms are extra.’

‘Ok, I’ll have no egg and extra mushrooms.’

Then I stew in middle-class annoyance, spite, pettiness and thrift.’

‘Actually, I’ll have the egg then IF I HAVE TO PAY FOR IT’.

 

Then I realise I have the egg.

 

It bleeds anaemically through a snotty white viscous.  I try to shove it away from my shockingly highly priced tinned/fresh ‘extra’ mushrooms ( I do not want to pay four pounds for a meal under this level of light) but it spurts a sad yellow pus with the fury of a bad horror film from Mexico over my lurid tepid beans, my ‘Glamorgan’ sausages and a hard half of raw tomato.

And how much pus there is! The yellow fingers slide and seep under every item, veritably lift it up and sweep it along in congealing tentacles. It is the colour, the just off white Dulux ‘ Jaundice Dawn’ seeping towards me in jellyfish waves, flecks of raw albulum floating like jetsam to come to break gently on the wreckage of the slimy mushrooms.

I wish I did not have to pay for toast.

I wish I had not walked two miles with a three year old to have nothing but this and a scratched DVD of Fireman Sam to show for it.

I wish I had not eaten it.


Oct 23 2014

I am not allowed to take photos of ghosts

I am not allowed to take photographs in Lancaster Castle.

I have taken a photograph.

Because I was not allowed to take a photograph all I thought about was taking a photograph. Amazing photographic opportunities swam before my eyes. My elderly Samsung 3 was getting moist in my hands. Gargoyles leapt, angles pointed towards an obvious frame with a definite Interesting Thing inside it. But I am not allowed to take a photograph.

I am about to witness some ghost stories inside Lancaster Castle. I love any opportunity to be in Lancaster Castle in the dark. I also love ghost stories. The crowd annoys me as I feel I am the only person in the world to love ghost stories and also Lancaster Castle and the crowd do not treat the experience with the relevance the occasion deserves. Some of them are with friends. Some of them smile and joke.

We are split into separate groups and we go to the a room where people were hanged to hear some ghost stories. This seems strange to me. Here, in a room where so many people shuffled through in mortal terror to die a horrible death, where so many stories and lives are left dangling, we listen to ghost stories about somewhere else.

But, but but- a fictionalised account of a hanging would make a mockery of the suffering that has actually occurred and a true account would nullify a jolly evening of ghost stories because the actual truth of death and suffering is not something to spend seven pounds on-especially on a first date.

 

I think the woman opposite me is on a first date. Her pure exquisite boredom rolls off her in impressive sneering waves. Her  slightly awkward but pleasant young ‘partner’ puts a comforting hand around her. I feel her flinch from across the room. Her eyes roll like waves, the whites a flash of ocean. She slumps further and further towards the cold stone floor. I have forgotten what the story is about and probably look a bit stalkerish.

 

A jolly lady with white hair informs me she is related to Alice Nutter. This impresses me more than it should.

 

There are no MR James stories this year. This saddens me more than it should.

A well read story surrounded by instruments of torture about a couple going to a Cornish village  and finding it strangely deserted and empty makes me want to leap up and shout ‘That’ll be the second homers, lol!’

 

Fortunately I don’t.

 

The eye rolling woman has collapsed extravelently yet taughtly in her nervous paramour’s arms.

 

I become mildly xenophobic when an American woman reads a ghost story. No ghost stories should be read in an ancient crumbling haunted castle and feature fucking Cape Cod. Yes, I am channeling the spirit of Nigel Farage right now. A sentence I never thought I would say. The eye rolling girl is slumped somehow sarcastically grimly defying the nervous arm of the nice man. I suspect if an actual spectre appeared, she would sneer at it and say something sarcastic.

I wish I was her. But instead of a spectre, I have taken a sneaky picture fortified by a 125 ml glass of wine in a plastic cup of a ceiling. A ceiling in the castle.

This may be the last thing I ever write.
Anyway, got to go- someone is knocking in the door.

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Oct 1 2014

Don’t Insert Hand

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All I want to do right now is insert my hand. I need to. I am in a slightly sticky pub somewhere near Lancaster, I hear the slight suck of my hand leaving the table and wonder at who wants to spend £13.99 on Gammon and Pineapple here. Maybe to read last Tuesday’s i paper. I suddenly feel depressed and think of all the things and places in the world I have not seen because I am in a slightly sticky pub near Lancaster. I have ennui but I cannot revel or drown in it because someone is trying to chat to me. He looks a bit BNP. Meanwhile my child is trying to insert his hand in the machine.  I wait to see what occurs.

 


Sep 20 2014

I have a Booths card- bow before me peasants. Oh.

I’ve just paid £2.20 for a hot chocolate, a cup of premium tea and a glass of wine in an artisan cafe in Garstang. This is it, the pinnacle of my life, there is no going back now. I have jumped the shark of my life.

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Booths  ( or Boobs as my three year old keeps ‘hilariously’ calling it loudly in front of teenage boys) makes Waitrose seem a bit on the slummy side. In fact, I heard once on Radio Four on one of those mid- afternoon programmes that nobody actually listens to unless they’ve got crippling Norovirus, a hangover, bad reception or are retired that Booths is actually posher because they stock more types of expensive caviar than Waitrose.  This has become one of my ‘Actually I’ll think you find..’ quotes about the North  I repeat like a pub bore every time  I go down South.

Being the owner of a black embossed Booths card (free when you enter your email address into the website form) makes me feel a bit special. I hold it out casually with a smile, a triumphant smile like somehow I have made it into that special club. That special club where you have to write your email address into an online form.

It is quite sad my life has become to this really. BUT ACTUALLY NO!  Because with the Booths card comes free hot drinks-even hot chocolate. Yes, even hot chocolate.  EVEN FUCKING HOT CHOCOLATE! It’s the beverage equivalent of climbing Mount Everest but without the death and stuff.

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So the hot beverages are free so I can absolutely justify a small bottle of wine for two pounds whilst I sit in laminated splendour, the queen of my brightly yet attractively lit domain.

Until the random envy and spite directed at the other plebs with their free hot beverages.

I go downstairs and pretend to think about purchasing luxury pickles. That’ll learn em. I accidentally purchase a luxury pickle.
I think I understand how marketing works.

 

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Aug 12 2014

Listening to Bryan Adams in Ayr

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The worst music in the world is to be found in Ayr. Maybe they haven’t paid their licence. Maybe the only music in Ayr is an old Now 47 double cassette tape. But the fact remains that the worst music in the world is to be found in Ayr.

 

Actually I do the World a disservice. Sorry, World. When I say World, I mean bad chart records from the UK that you had forgotten had actually existed.

 

I sit in an otherwise quite pleasant pub. There has been an effort to make it look old but the beams may not be real. We are told sternly to use the beermats. The wine comes in miniature bottles. We are in Scotland. ‘Everything I Do I Do It For You’ is playing and I am suddenly reminded of my horrid first kiss at a teen disco in Barnstaple.

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There is a sudden fury of a gale outside. It is August. Rain smatters furiously at the windows. On Facebook, people are complaining it is too hot. They are not in Ayr.

There are moments of bombastic glory, an ancient yellowing neo-Baronial building toppling gently towards a barbers. The old, the new and the simply a bit broken sliding haphazardly along the same street.

My boyfriend who has driven a considerable way for this glumly declares it ‘Bolton.’

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Songs from Now 47 plaintively bleat in the charity shops. I had forgotten about Chesney Hawkes.

In the ancient thatched Tam O’ Shanter inn, Robbie Burn’s pub of choice apparently, stalwarts of heavy day-time drinking lean against the timeless bar muttering incomprehensibly against a backdrop of Something Bad from the Eighties as bemused American tourists wonder if this is a living recreation. I yearn to tell them not to try a Macaroni Cheese Pie from anyone, anywhere but I am left silent and floundering due to a large vodka and mixer for £1.60. I definitely preferred it to the Red Hot Chilli Pipers CD and six  pound large vodka of olde Edinburgh hostelries, mind.

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Next, a place recommended by Trip Advisor as being excellent for vegetarians. I ask for lentil soup. Then to a backdrop of Cher, I ask if I have just eaten bacon. I am informed it is probably beans. She goes to check. I have eaten bacon. Nice soup though and it is wiped from my bill. I suddenly have a huge desire to go on a mad bacon rampage through Ayr whilst listening to Sinitta.

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Another bar, an Alternative bar and I sadly realise that I look like a mum waiting to pick her kids up when they are finished on the pool table. I never thought I would be so glad to hear some Sisters of Mercy B-sides in my life. I think about having a Macaroni Cheese pie and am frightened by myself.

 

Last port of call, an accidental discovery of a cocktail bar on the way back to the car. The designated driver sighs heavily at this point. It seems to be populated by actual people from the eighties which is an exciting change but we leave when I start having Delerium Tremens about MC Hammer offering me a Bramble Gin.

I quite like Ayr.

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Jul 22 2014

The Best Pub In The World (made up for camping)

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I hate camping. The waking up at a 90 degree slant with a dry mouth, an over- full bladder and a hairbrush molded painfully into your pelvis after someone on ketamine called Ketamine Pete stumbles over your tent-pegs repeatedly and his mate, Si, laughs with a really annoying high pitched burst  at irregular short spaced intervals all night long.

Then you semi-wake from drifting uncomfortable burning/broiling hellish semi-consciousness with either the unrelenting sound of rain smashing against the sagging flaccid Ketamine Pete shaped dome of your Eurohike or burning relentless sun making you feel like an unappetising hairbrush and stale alcohol flavoured pizza in a sagging burning  Eurohike topping.

It will be 5.35 am at this point and you will NOT get back to sleep.

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And if you piss in the saucepan, the saucepan is always too suddenly too tragically too late small for the surprise enormous piss and you discover the hurriedly  emptied by being splashed outside the tent saucepan being used to make baked beans by a cheery eyed fellow tent-person who loves camping.

 

This cheers you up.

 

I hate camping. I have only ever done it at festivals  for the pure reason to be gruesomely debauched at a  festival and certainly never ever considered it festival-less with a small child. I’m not an idiot.

 

It is festival season now and I am with a small child in a campsite minus a festival. It is a very pleasant campsite, Low Greenside Farm, hill and field ringed and pleasingly free from the sea of irritatingly jolly expensively water-proofed campers I was fearing wide-eyed at four am the previous morning. I’m not a general fan of people. Especially when they rustle.

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Tragically, I greatly enjoy researching holidays on the internet. Since the decline of cash and the arrival of the child, the excited search for the best deal on boutique hotels in Edinburgh ( ‘well someone on Tripadvisor said the lavender chocolates on the pillow were the same for two days running!’) has been sadly discontinued.

Now I am looking for cheap campsites in a safe proximity  to our house.

I try to utilise  this to my advantage and look for campsites near good pubs. The Lake District is out because our only view would be the kayak on top of the car that is worth more than our house in the queue in front on the M6.

 

Hmmm,  Ravenstonedale- 45 minutes away and two good pubs, the campsite looks refreshingly deserted of hoards of ruddy faced pains (who might even sing in a jolly fashion-that has been another major concern )  in Hunter wellies, indeed pleasantly free of anything apart from toilets.

I approve of toilets. They are better than people.

 

Ravenstonedale itself (and is that not the best name for a place ever? You think of err, ravens, stones and even dales if you have a particularly imaginative frame of mind. Often places called things like Cherry Tree Orchard have been named by Persimmon or Barrat Homes to replace what was previously there but here in Ravenstonedale ( say it again and it’s all Tolkien) there are no Barrat homes, just jovial people who beam at you and give a jolly ‘hello’ and a coment on the weather before touching up the Tudor exterior timber on their annoyingly ancient beautiful house like that is a totally normal thing to be doing in 2014. In a recession. In the North.

 

It is a village that time and Barrats Home forgot. Apart from the prices of a large red wine. And we all know that is a major theme of Unicycle Emptiness.

However and you will probably all faint at this. I have finally been to the BEST PUB IN THE WORLD.

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That’s it now. I have jumped the shark. Life is now meaningless. My search for the best pub in the world (well within a close proximity to the North West of England) is over. It is the Black Swan. I feel a bit like Edmund Hillary.

If Edmund’s main endeavour had been sitting getting slightly drunk in a massive pub garden that he discovered on Tripadvisor.

 

It is a particularly massive beer garden though with all the things I am doomed to never discover in a beer garden again- a stream with a tyre swing over it,  a friendly cat, red squirrels, a hammock, trees, garden games such as quits and skittles, a bbq hut and bbq selling for a reasonable price freshly grilled local meat or in my case a portobello and halloumi burger with watercress (£4)

Oh and the camping? Reader, I managed it.

Despite the five am rain.

 

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