Jun 30 2012

Cartmel is posh but I am not.

Cartmel is the poshest place in the world. Seriously.

And I used to live in Bath.

This scares me.

I do not know where 20 fags and some Tampax could possibly be purchased here. The residents here must live on over embellished cupcakes, unpasteurised ewes milk cheese cut from a block and a sense of their own self-satisfaction.

It is undeniably a staggering beautiful village, the sort of village you imagine in a trench when about to be shot to death because it is the Essence of England, like something Cath Kidson has spewed up in a dotty bunting bedecked dream in the Cotswolds.

Being sort of hidden somehow between Lancashire and Cumbria, on minor A roads, you are expecting a small village that excels in its rightly famous sticky toffee pudding and the Priory that you have read about somewhere and feel you should really go and look at and pretend to be interested in even though you are actually only interested in the haunted gatehouse that you read about in a rubbish local book about ghosts you were embarrassed to be seen ordering from the library.

Oh and L’Enclume, the famous Michelin starred restaurant which has unlikely foams and things and you secretly hope that there might be a two for a tenner lunch special even though you are actually aware that won’t ever ever happen.

There are waving meadows in front of hanging basket-bedecked cottages, the cottages all have names engraved on little slabs, and tasteful dust free antiquities are displayed on quaintly gnarled windowsills.

A woman is splashed (oh so slightly) by a car and when I smile and make a sympathetic joke, she keeps repeating the word ‘idiots’ and she is very angry indeed. It was only a small puddle but the car had young people in which I suspect may have been the problem.

The centre is bigger than expected; should one wish to have a nice cup of coffee, there is so much competition there is clearly controversy galore as one coffee shop also delighting in the excitement and daring of selling sodding cupcakes, (prostituted tarted up fairy cakes) has a sign that says ‘best coffee in town or your money back’. I like Community in Action.

I am nearly run over by a Bentley, which I am a bit pleased by. There is a fiver in my purse and some coins and I feel rich rich rich with my paper money knocking splendidly about but a sticky dense loaf of three cheese and marmite bread from the bakery and a Cartmel Apple and Toffee Crumble Bake has knocked me into overdraft.

The Priory is glorious but I feel guilty as do not have the politely requested three pound donation so post all my remaining cash through the slot where it gleams with accusing copperiness. The bread won’t fit through, anyway the marmite and three cheeses will surely jam up the hole so I run around quickly, trying not to get three pounds worth of viewing. If it crumbles into a ball tomorrow, it is my entire fault. But the bread was worth it.

A Farrow and Balled pub up a side street has the classic meal deal of soup and sandwich but for a tenner. The nearby L’ Enclume is indeed so classy and non ‘two for a tenner’ there is not a menu outside, nor indeed any sign it is in fact a place to eat. It could be a media hub in Shoreditch or an Anorexic clinic for supermodels in Richmond were it not for the fact that there is an ancient cat on a windowsill opposite sticking its tongue out at me and yet another pony has just gone past.

It is hard here, to imagine the reality of the recession, which is why it might be so bustling.

If you can afford the petrol to get here and a tenner to spend on cupcakes and coffee, you feel like a Barclay Brother. A woman cheerily bemoans to the staff in the bakery (a bakery so posh it sells virtually only bread) that she will simply never get the time to read her ‘papers’- (the Daily Telegraph was tucked under her arm) but she ‘buys them anyway’.

I look at my toddler leaning dangerously and angrily away from me, coated in Smartie Batter and consider leaving him here. Like a pub cat, he would be fed on lovely tit bits by tourists and well heeled locals, be patted and smiled upon and probably be extremely happy.

Then as I look upon a cheeseboard and wine platter, displayed vividly and erotically upon a chalkboard, I decide to simply sell him instead.

Jun 24 2012

Lets not think about reality but stroke animals we like in the rain.

I do not like attractions aimed at families. They normally seem to feature bad Clipart, an extortionate price for a Ribena Light and a cafe which is unlicensed.

Oh and other families.

This means occasional brittle smiles, small talk and quiet competiveness whilst the Other Children are always over enthusiastic as the Good Families over enunciate and over explain to show what Good Parents they are and frozenly smile when my baby is cheerily hung upside down for perhaps slightly too long.

I am of course just jealous. I envy and bitterly admire their fluid unselfconscious discourse, their nice but not too nice cars and ability to not say ‘Fucking hell’ when seeing the price of the Soup of the Day.

I do not like family attractions where a badly punctuated laminated sign is waterlogged and thus the protective laminate has come free, bellows emptily into the swirling wind and the Comic Sans ink has bled into a red then pinkish  swirl.

I do not like the children’s menu being cheap bland fatty shit sans any veg and consisting of battery-farmed animals, the like of which £5.95 has only an hour ago been spent upon petting and loving.

And I totally fail upon visiting petting farms. Other people see cute calves. I see their heads piled in vats in an abattoir. And don’t even mention the chickens. It’s gnarled piles of tangled whorly feet or bloody  yards of spiky shards of blue and grey beaks in my head.

It’s like that thing where people taste colours but with misery and death. To be fair I am the same anywhere and can spin a story of glistening spilt organs from a trip to TK Maxx.

Having a car means no looking at the glistening view of the Trough of Bowland snaking foggily into the far horizon but more of all encompassing sense of tragedy as I vividly imagine the death of a cat very soon under the wheels or look back despite my partner barking at me not to, to ascertain from the velvety ears still so poignantly visible from the red mush on the road whether it was a rabbit or a hare so recently killed.

I have been to a few petting farms before and the jolly peeling signs about ‘These male cows will be leaving our jolly farm when they are 9 months old!!!!’ makes me want to pleasantly ask if we can visit them in their new home. I scrutinize eggs so much I pretty much need to know the chickens by their maiden name.

But Docker Park Farm does not feature ‘wellie hire’ in a star shape as one of the attractions as did one leaflet I picked up in Morrisons that made me consider infanticide if my boy pointed at it and said ‘Dat’.

It is pleasingly remote and the shattered tree debris of a shit June litter the road.

It is a £5.50 entrance fee for the adults who would definitely not be here unless it was for their children whose entrance is free. I could labour upon the inherent irony here but I have donuts to put in lunchboxes and gin to drink.

And I like Docker Park Farm. I like it a lot. There are no stupid families who I actually just envy here because some parents think their kids melt in the rain. I am liberated which means I let my toddler get soaking wet and as I am in my own private parkland I thus attempt a climbing wall. I will not do so again.

There are alpacas, my best of animals due to their ‘should not actually exist’ quality. Or when Disney has swept up all the cute bits from the abattoir floor and reassembled them with extra long eyelashes.

I like the goats which if they were rebranded and remarketed as ‘God’s hoofed angels’ would still have people going ‘Satan Satan’. It’s something in the Satanic eyes. I feel like that about Boris Johnson. But I would rescue a goat from a fire first. An unlikely but intriguing hypothetical event.

There is a large soft play area in a barn and we were warned about the puddles beforehand. There is an isolated bouncy castle swinging and banging into itself in the harsh unsummery breeze. I   like this very much. The background is blue hills coated in swirling rain heading this way.

The signs about the animals are neat, well punctuated and informative without being patronizing. And in a grown up font with no  bad pictures of a cartoon pig with a fork holding sausages.

There is a lake, Shetland ponies, a donkey and her baby and the Millionaires Shortbread is big enough to bury a body underneath. Which is all I look for in a farmyard attraction. And the chocolate is not waxy.

We spend a good few hours here wandering around without being force-fed into a clearly designated track with ‘No Picnic’ signs. My boy loves the plentitude of plastic JCBs, I love the snuffly rabbits and the lack of smiling at other mothers and asking polite forced questions.

We will come here again. But only if it is raining.

Jun 10 2012

Penis shaped stones in the North

The sky has finally darkened up here in Kirkcudbright, Scotland. The lantern procession has begun. At the front is a gently lit and frailly beautiful paper replica of the Titanic.

There is an awed pause.

A dour voice crops up. ‘I’ wouldna be following that one.’

I do love Scotland.

Bagpipes do their merry droning thing and fireworks shoot off into the skies. I thought Scotland would be a great place to get away from the Jubilee but it seems Scotland will use anything as an excuse to get the bagpipes and plastic cups of beer out. I am slightly disappointed but it means I can stop attempting to say ‘aye’ in a stupid Scottish accent as to be fair, to go to a small Scottish town in midsummer, famous for being where The Wickerman was filmed and where there is currently a random parade of locals is quite simply asking for trouble. Or ritual sacrifice by fire.

Things are bad when I do not look like a virgin and I am thus tragically alive the next day. I decide to go in search of more paganisms and consulting The Modern Antiquarian, Julian Cope’s surprising yet wonderful book about stone circles and the only one thus far which has the word ‘cunt’ in its index, we drive though field and moor, almost getting bored with exclaiming how stunning it all is and yearning for an industrial park  to break up the unremittingly mountainous beauty.

Glenquicken is a lovely stone circle, one which I imagine to be somewhere more Southern would probably be featured in shitty calendars sold in train stations and have overpriced scones with clearly aerosol cream topping in the near vicinity for £5.95.

It is a perfectly round stone circle with an enormous central stone although someone on the Internet has darkly said that ‘it is almost too round…’ the three insinuating ellipses clearly hinting at black too nicely circumferenced deeds. Julian Cope thinks the central stone to be particularly phallic but I can’t see what is possibly phallic about an enormous engorged piece of rock looming powerfully above a small circle.

The area around is strewn with antiquity- graves, cairns and circles abound like some big Neolithic funfair. It has started to pour down; we tramp through the mist and come across another smaller circle, an apologetic little ring surrounded by mist, moor and mud. There is no sign of habitation for seemingly hundreds of miles. We stand and marvel.

Then a man sprints through the rain and miles of nothing in a small pair of shorts to shout across a joke about the weather and point towards a place where he bellows that more standing stones lie in a deep valley. Then he disappears again, waving cheerily as he disappears into a foggy mire of nothingness.

I think again how wonderful Britain is and begin the long walk back to a present civilisation.

Jun 8 2012

A lack of shipwrecks and beer in Fleetwood

I hear the words ‘Shipwreck Walk’ and my mind flows rapidly and exuberantly through tragedy, romance and death. And everyone likes romance, tragedy and death.

It is a walk starting in Fleetwood, guided by and funding the RNLI through the treacherous Morecambe Bay and my main concern is when all the earnest men in woolly jumpers are staring earnestly at the barnacled ribs of ancient galleons I might seem ignorant over whether it is from the 16th or 17th century as they tramp over the treasure chests peeping out which somehow only I can see and thus get the acclaim and oh the huge amounts of money somehow for finding.

What I was not expecting was no shipwrecks. And a sellout of crisps in the middle of the sea.

Fleetwood is out in force and they are determined to have a good time.  I see few furrowed brows looking at antiquated maps but there are a lot of cans and I am the only one with a rucksack. This makes me embarrassed and I hope for a sudden squall so I can be all resourceful before realising there is only cardigans and a hideous brown banana in the rucksack. Most people here look like they would chirpily die before wearing a somewhat bobbly Bay Trading cardigan.

We walk out into the bay, always an exciting experience when knowing of the ‘treacherous quicksand’ and towards a distant lighthouse. Upon arrival it is Escheresque in its bold hold onto existence, its wooden shackles snapped in so many places it seems impossible it is still standing. Underneath its shadow, a folk duo is suprisisingly playing and crisps and kit Kats are being sold but have sold out by the time we fight over whether with our solitary gold coin to have a packet of Walkers cheese and onion crisps or a Kit Kat.

I see brown skeletal ribs of long sunk ships poking enticingly out of the sucking sucking sand. I cannot wait to touch them and imagine Tragedy.

But when the walk continues, it snakes merrily back to the starting point. The route has changed to encompass no shipwrecks. I was not aware of this and am saddened but nobody else seems to care. This is an impromptu party in the sand and the hiss of opening cans of beers fills me with envy. I have only water and sensible footwear, dammit. It is an unusual situation for me to be in and I resolve to carry beer and crisps with me at all times. Just in case.

The earnest men with maps and books do not exist, the shipwrecks remain a mirage but I have walked across the bay, dodged quicksand, touched the fragments of a lighthouse and soon I will find that the North Euston Pub does a large house red for three quid something.

And it will have been a good day.

Jun 8 2012

Upon anniversaries of Death, Witches and the stupid Queens

It is Jubilee weekend and I am determined to avoid the queen. I do not like her reptilian smile and beady eyes. I do not like her slight sanctimonious smirk. I do not like her gently folded hands and I do not like anything she stands for, whether it be her and her extended family bopping wildlife on the head or hee-hawing around their Lovely Houses when I yearn to afford laminate flooring from B and Q.

And thus I end up in prison.

And it’s all the queens fault.

Lancaster Prison contained within the castle complex is open for the second time to non-offenders as part of the Jubilee celebrations since it was decommissioned a year ago. I could give you some fascinating facts about the prison being the oldest continual prison in the country and how the courts sentenced more people to be hung there than anywhere else in the country besides the Old Bailey in London but in my excitement and enthusiasm about PRISONS and DEATH and WITCHES I will no doubt spectacularly exaggerate and not bother to look up actual facts and dates  because who would when the subject matter is PRISONS and DEATH and WITCHES.  And then instead of my steady stream of Spam I might, if I’m lucky get an annoyed missive from a local person on a Hotmail account informing me that I am incorrect about something significant and I should correct my facts and I will be all embarrassed and angry at the same time.

And it will be the queen’s fault.

Everything is.

The huge old wooden entrance door to the castle, the ancient wall containing it splattered with musket shot is opened slowly to show the fascinating jumble of archaic cruelty, torture, murder, graffiti in ballpoint pen and toilets separated from the room by a mere screen.

The prisoner in cell one should he/she have pleaded Not Guilty might have had narrowed eyes aimed at him in the unlikely event the judge came to his/her cell and seen the cannabis leaves drawn carefully on the wall. I watch my toddler cheerily attempt to thwart the wire and forbidding notices and go up several flights of forbidden  stairs and feel a sudden pang of guilt that we are not at a petting farm. Then he has a huge tantrum due to not being allowed to dangerous forbidden things in a prison and I want to leave him here.

The cell where the ‘witches’ and other poor unfortunates were kept is almost Disneyesque in its over the top caricature of terribleness.  A stone time worn flight of steps curving into a small hellhole of utter darkness, dankness and depravity. I jokily threaten loudly to put the badly behaved baby in there and no-one smiles. Which is embarrassing. I guess they are too busy thinking about sad and lonely deaths centuries ago or trying to hear the guide to enjoy a weak pun about making a child suffer. Bastards, I will put them in there as well. And the queen. That’ll learn em.

Somewhere a convict is reading this because they Googled ‘escape from prison tips’ or something and my languid prose appeared and they are laughing about the stupid idiots who pay nine quid to go to prison on a sunny bank holiday weekend. For nine quid I was pretty much expecting a ride on a broomstick but the reality was better and I say this rarely. I loved the angular lines of stark modernity against the crumbling walls of the medieval, I loved the Health and Safety notices next to where people were murdered by the state for stealing a handkerchief and I love the way where for a brief minute when recoiling in the sudden sunlight outside the castle, our government, our recessions and even the queen didn’t seem quite so bad.

Then I shivered in that sudden stream of bright sunlight,  told myself to man up and went home to play The Sex Pistols and to try not to think of the living deaths I paid nine quid to gawp at, like a viewer at the Roman Coliseums, excited about misery and death as long as it is diluted by Time.