Oct 29 2011

Halloween, a crumbling castle and a brush with evil…

It is nearly Halloween and I am paying a fiver to have a quick revel in misery and death through the ages. I actually wanted to pay eight pounds which would allow me on the Ghosts and Murders tour and thus far more misery and death but it is about to start, I need a wee and more to the point, all the other people on the ghost tour have an enthusiastic school child with them. My baby clearly does not want to know about ghosts and hauntings so to go on the tour would mark me out as being a complete and utter loser. I stare sadly after the small huddle led by a man in Victorian garb and wish I was into something cooler or more age appropriate.

My spirits are however raised in a very real sense when I see the shape of a woman dressed in black old fashioned clothes walk through the doorway to the keep and then simply vanish. This is it! I have seen a ghost! Then I see she is merely lurking in a corner and is wearing too much foundation, hardly the behaviour of the true undead especially when I see her later with a plastic key fob (not even a great big iron gnarly old key) going through (but in a prosaic normal way) a glass door.

But here are dank and ancient stone steps leading down to the bowels of the earth from where guns were fired at attempted invaders. I swear for a minute that a black form appears and disappears in less than a second in the narrow passage ahead but I am tired and in a highly susceptible frame of mind.

I trot through dark passages, up spiral staircases and peer into claustrophobic little hell holes.

Some mesmerizing  intricate carvings can be seen on a wall but are annoyingly behind the glass door that the fake ghost went in and locked behind her. I have a sudden terror the ghost tour party are allowed in this bit and am filled with a wholly disproportionate sense of anger and horror.

Then down in the dungeon, we catch up with the ghost tour who are listening to the grey haired guide cheerily inform his captive crowd that upwards of three hundred bodies could be crammed in this small space and points at the grooves in the rock, said to be from the tongues of desperate Jacobites trying to moisten their mouths with the damp running down the walls. I want to hear more but am scared I will be accused of trying to steal some Ghost tour so lurk uneasily around until they file past me.

The grey haired guide as if to show me what I am missing by having not handed over the extra three pounds, orates grandly-‘Next, we are going to see THE HAUNTED ROOM! ‘

I want to see the haunted room too, more than anything else ever even though it must be one I would previously been in but stupidly not sensing its hauntedness. I am sure with a grey haired guide and some sensibly dressed parents and slightly less enthusiastic children, I could not fail to have a face-to-face meeting with a portal into another dimension. An extra three quid seems a positive bargain. I want to follow but there must be some sort of rule about following ghost tours without paying the extra three quid. I look mournfully after them then begin the ascent back from hell into the sunny courtyard.

I read later than the ghost is said to be a woman found holed up clutching the skeletal remains of her child. It doesn’t seem so much fun then and the growing realisation of mans inhumanity to man is frankly more terrifying than any ghost I can possibly imagine.

Oct 27 2011

Misery, suicide and ghosts- a pleasant day out in Chipping

I like the concept of a walk until I have been actually walking for a bit, slipped in some mud and had a bit of a fight about being lost. Then I see something like a deer or an abandoned cottage and I like walking all over again until I slip in some mud and get a bit lost.

This walk was in Lancashire Tea Shop Walks, a book that must be about two decades old and it was not the teashop or the walk that attracted me although that is how I presented it to my partner to get him to drive there. It is a good old  fashioned  tale of misery, betrayal, suicide and ghosts. Which is also licenced.

Lizzie Dean, a servant at the Sun Inn in Chipping was having a romance with a local man. He dumped her to marry her best friend in a true cliché of wankerness and on the day of the wedding, rather than make gestures as to the small size of his cock from her window overlooking the church, slag him off on Facebook or go on the Jeremy Kyle show, it being the 19th century, she chose to hang herself and her ghost is well reported as being said to haunt that very same pub.

I feel sorry for Lizzie. There is now a Lizzie’s Lounge in The Sun and although I wandered wide eyed around the pub hoping something ghostly might happen, there were only well priced pub meals and posters advertising a Halloween event featuring bats. It was a nice pub though and even nicer for having completed the six mile walk in the aforementioned Lancashire Tea Shop Walks.

A woman came in when we were there and when told about the sausage hotpot, asked grimly how big the sausages were to which the confused teen attempted to measure with his hands and then perform a clumsy chopping motion.

The walk itself was soggy, muddy but ultimately wonderful due to a sudden fold in the hills opening up into a heathery glen, the sort of one you just want to lie spread-eagled in and shout ‘aaaaaah’ at the skies. It is muddy though so I do not. There are wooded copses of the sort that hide bodies and treasure, creepy glens of stunted trees where surely wraiths must glide when not disturbed by the sound of an argument over which way is next whilst holding a sodden charity shop guide book and there are crumbling barns. The fells overhead are magnificent and it is like being in a budget Glencoe.

Back in Chipping, we  peruse the village store which is antiquated and excellent, selling local cheese, faded birthday candles and Wispas. There is another pub, The Tillotsons Arms that ahem, has to be explored/drunk in and I am delighted by its gothicness until realizing it is preparing for Halloween and the skulls are not permanent. It is a friendly pub though with decent ciders and awards by CAMRA.

On the way back, we go to see Lizzie’s grave. According to her suicide note she wanted to be buried at the front of the church so her ex lover and friend would have to step past her grave every time they went to church, which has to be the ultimate in passive aggression.

Oh Lizzie. Seeing your grave you made me realize you were real and I apologise for nosing excitedly for your unhappy ghost. You were too dignified in life and I suspect you regret it bitterly now that your only outlet now is to attempt to spook over a Meal For A Fiver menu.

You should have just killed them both.

Oct 26 2011

Carnforth Station Pictorial

Here speaks the usually silent photographer. Set loose from my usual job of photographing stuff that Cyberfairy points out as curious, winsome or tragicomic, I had free rein to indulge myself in my chief delight. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it’s a short photoblog where I ignore pretty things and give you instead mould, concrete and aging roofs out of context. Don’t worry, I shall return to Penn-like (or is it Teller-esque?) silence now and your enjoyment of our heroine’s adventures in unlikely places shall continue unsullied.

Oct 25 2011

Clones in North Face Jackets, etiquette terror and Grizedale Forest

A small swarm of blonde female clones wearing North face jackets, jeans and slightly pinched expressions surrounds me.  It would be nice to surmise they are also bitterly resenting paying six pounds to park in the car park but I suspect this is more a bugbear for me than for anyone else. And it will continue to be a bugbear for me until my last dying breath.

We are in the café at Grizedale Forest in the Lake District. One family has bought along a shape sorter for their baby just in case she is not intellectually stimulated enough as her parents rustle seriously about in branded waterproof clothing, sensible hiking shoes and rucksacks. My baby is happily gnawing on a packet of Morrison’s own brand wet wipes.

This is all my boyfriend’s fault for not letting me Google places where there was a murderer or a ghost for us to have a walk about in. He walks a ‘pleasant aesthetic walk that’s not all murdery’ apparently. So we are here.

I am wearing a turquoise minidress from which the crotch of my tights appears underneath so already the aesthetic pleasure of the walk is somewhat diminished. Good.

But never mind-there is a sculpture trail! I am looking forward to seeing big singing ringing things aloft suspended, abstract and mesmerising, walking through ancient woodland, communing with nature.

But there is a choice of three routes. Red, green or Yellow.

We follow the Red route-it is described as ‘Strenuous’ and uphill, hence the red for danger and I am excited and scared. Will we get lost in swirling mists, our desiccated corpses found years later? No because the Red route is clearly signposted, micro managed, pristine and the path could easily fit an Eddie Stobart lorry down it and the majority of the route is identikit pound shop conifers. Or the wasteland where they used to be which makes you feel sentimental over identikit pound shop conifers.

I keep looking for the amazing singing ringing sculptures but I have got them mixed up with a dream or something and just find the occasional small carved bird.

It is a scramble to the top but not a Strenuous one and we have a baby gazing wide-eyed on our unwaterproofed backs and a heavy rucksack filled with nonsense and junk food. There is a pleasing circular sculpture and a view, which nearly makes the car parking fine worthwhile. Nearly. But I am materialist to the core and eye the glorious nature surrounding us angrily and beadily spying all the potential free car parking spaces.

And now we have come off the empty perilous Red route we come face to face to people who have driven miles in sensible branded outdoor clothing to plump for the Yellow route.  And face-to-face means the perilous comedy of manners, which is  ‘To Say Hello Or Not To Say Hello.’

That is the question. Whether to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune by not saying ‘hello’ first and either thus replying too brightly out of guilt and seeming a bit mad and Jehovah’s Witnessy or muttering something like ‘heyllaaa’ because you haven’t formed your brain to mouth action quickly enough and it all goes a bit wrong and you spoil the walk for yourself. Or neither of you says ‘hello’ first and you feel desperately guilty in case the other walker was hoping you would say ‘hello’ first and is now despairing against haggard looking inappropriately dressed people for their rudeness and disregard of pleasant greetings on nice autumnal days.

Or you take arms against a sea of troubles and say ‘hello’ first and risk seeming a bit mad and Jehovah’s Witnessy when some people slink past saying either nothing, ‘heeylla’ or an appreciative response and a bright elderly smile.

The youth don’t seem to do ‘hello’s anymore. I know this because I nervously scout the oncoming pedestrian and try to work my greeting/lack of greeting/’heeylla’ accordingly.

It’s a minefield out there. A minefield with occasional carved birds, an overpriced car park and a lot of pinched blonde women in North Face Jackets. I shan’t be returning soon.

But I shall look for real nature.

Oct 21 2011

Self pity, chips and Lancaster

It is recession time and it is bleak. Remember when this blog was started? Unless you are my mum you probably do not. I wrote about boutique hotels in major cities, I critisied canapés and described third courses in words stolen from Sunday newspapers. Now I have a baby, no money and a part time public sector job. I am a vox pox of 2011 and my roof is leaking, the camera is broken and to cut a long whining story short, my blog has not been updated in a while, I can’t afford to go anywhere so I will walk around Lancaster with a pushchair and hope for something exciting to happen.

Hmm, nothing exciting has happened as yet. I walk past the quay where there were gypsies camped but they have left it relatively clean. Apart, surprisingly from a baby bath.

The quay is wonderful to me and I try to walk past it every day-I like its urban dereliction, shattered boats, adverts for long defunct businesses and the history behind these mammoth facial slabs of building-behind which now lie broken office chairs, badgers, feral cats and tumbling nature. The river Lune shoots past, grey and angry possibly because it is heading towards Morecambe and nobody likes Morecambe on a bleak October day. Sorry Flotsam. Sorry Jetsam. You were washed down here from the more cerebral heights of the Lake District and now are passing a grave to British industry. To the right across the river is Skerton, which makes these 19th century derelict warehouses look positively antiquely charming.  Over there lies all concrete ‘office space’ where nobody has taken an office, snarled up roads and an enormous spaceship Asda to which I am attracted to more than I should be.

But we are still firmly on the left side and so we pass the Maritime Museum, a wonderful pillared place, formerly the town hall and a place I spend so much time in, the staff recognise me. My baby’s first words will hopefully be anchor. It is a cosy place where people are pleasant at all times, has a changing room full of painted fish and a quiet café where you will always be chatted to. There are wooden replicas of ships, terrifyingly realistic 18th century figures rolling barrels (one of which I rather fancy) canal boats you can sit on and one for the children, a replica stagecoach where a disembodied voice narrates the deaths of people who traveled the treacherous sinking sand of Morecambe bay.

I should really take the baby to Stay and Play sessions at the nursery a bit more but I want him to be aware of mortality and also I don’t have to make asinine conversation about the weight and cleverness of other babies. He seems to like it anyway.

We walk along over the Millennium Bridge, a wonderful piece of architecture shaped like a ship’s sail which everyone else in Lancaster hated and is still a feature in angry letters to the Lancaster Guardian along with the traditional favourites of dog poo and cyclists.

In town, filled with happiness on this bright Autumnal day, I enter a charity shop and then leave frozen and still by the talk of misery, illness and death and also by the prices on bobbly Primark dresses.

We go to NICE, a bar and café that unlike most others on the high street does not offer pie, chips and peas for under four quid. And thus the middleclass flock to it.

It has quotes from clever books embossed on the wall, Japanese beer on draught, sporadic poetry and music events in the next room, an art gallery overhead and an air of well-fed middle class gentility. A meal is about a quid more than a large house red and nearly as good- think date based cous cous recipes with foreign names for under six quid. Think women in Monsoon clothing with large lattes and a general sense of wellbeing.

I prefer The Merchants pub next door but the baby hates it because it is dark and thus bedtime. It is underground, an old wine merchants, does the best chips known to humanity and has a variety of newspapers. It is my idea of Nirvana and I miss rainy Sundays there very much and is the only reason I resent the baby sometimes. I like the combination of students, alcoholics and random people who have missed a train (possibly due to alcoholism)

Sometimes it has the Evening Standard or The Scotsman left by a weary (alcoholic) commuter which makes it a portal into another glamorous world when you did not have a baby in a pram you can’ t quite fold up, a bank balance that equals zero and memories of when a meal out was not eaten with fingers in a cold Northerly wind and your life did not take place within half a mile. I blame the Conservatives. Because they are easier to blame than contraceptives and far far less cuter than babies.  And in short, just because I can.

Oct 9 2011

Romance, rain and petty vandalism in Carnforth

You know you have hit rock bottom when you catch a train just to go to the next  station along the line. And then don’t even leave said station. But if you have ever been to Carnforth you will understand why as it is a grim straggle of a town where the goods in the shop windows appear to have stopped being replaced in the mid eighties. There is a pub called The Canal Turn where someone has painted out the C on the sign. This is the second best thing about Carnforth.

But within this windy hinterland of £3.95 Sunday Carveries and wretched looking charity shops lies simmering passion, thwarted carnal desires and unmentioned love.

The waiting and refreshments room at Carnforth station is famous for it appearing in the 1940’s film, Brief Encounter where two well-spoken people gaze longingly at each other, talk about nothing and you wonder why they just don’t get some bloody Durex and get on with it. Although this would make it another sort of film entirely and one possibly less desirable to the pleasant grey haired people sitting  in its restored interior eating toffee and date cake. There is a gramophone playing quiet jazz, a wood burner and a general air of gentility and pleasantness. The Comments book is unsullied by rude words in childish hands and we are called young by some nice old people by the fire who natter on about their childhood. What better place to go on a rainy Sunday morning? And it’s licensed. That always helps. There are sticky cakes of the old fashioned no nonsense tray bake variety and a short stodgy menu. It is always raining outside and the nice old people are always instantly replaced by other nice old people. Or the occasional grumpy looking cyclist in Lycra.

There is a museum devoted to trains of yore and in the gift shop a woman is re-imagining the Cumberland sausage she had at lunchtime with the dreamy eyes of the film heroine. No-one appears to be buying anything train related, they just wonder around in the romantic daze only tonnes of combustible metal and coal can arouse in people of a certain type. There are no teenagers sneering, there is no rubbish or complaining but reality trickles in with a sign saying the steam train excursions are now cancelled due to security issues at Sellafield. I suspect al-Qaeda would not stand a chance trying to infiltrate a steam buffs excursion-especially if they were not wearing corduroy and making genial remarks about the wetness of the summer.

The Harry Potter train is here but lies hidden in a tunnel after teenage vandalism several years ago. Other trains in various states of antiquity and dishevelment lie around like a big rusty elephants graveyard. Within the station museum, the TV screens endlessly show Brief Encounter, the black and white images of unconsummated love flickering silently as people shuffle around and are delighted with the safe comforting representation of the past in politeness and British steel not the reality of the Anal Turn and a merrily smashed Hogwarts Express.

I like it too but find nearly three pounds for a piece of cake a slightly too high a price on nostalgia but am comforted by my glass of wine and bowl of chips, an uncouth meal compared to my white haired neighbours cups of tea and slowly sipped soup but it is cosy in here and foul  outside so I too shall hide from the present for just another half hour.