I have a new job...how exciting is that? As I apply my sixty-eight year-old energies to the task in hand, I am reminded of Mr Cameron’s warning about job losses if we should be foolhardy enough to seek our freedom from the shackles of the EU.
Without a doubt, my new job would fall victim to the epidemic of losses and deficits we British are told we will suffer. You see, I live much of my life in Greece. My new job is entirely dependent upon my being able to live here in the sun; should we vote to leave I am reliably informed that filters will be installed across our source of light and heat, which will detect ex-pats and limit the sun’s output to ready us for packing up and returning home.
You might wonder how it is that an antediluvian Englishman has secured a new job in a country that has fifty people chasing every vacancy. Let me tell you that I didn’t even apply for it, it was given to me or I was given to it as the most suitable candidate.
I have to say that I would rather be grafting away here than swanning about in poor old blighty, a country I do not think I would recognise any more. I watched a short film ‘Today and Yesterday in London’, which made me sad. How wonderful it used to be to watch the world go by exactly as George Formby so brilliantly put it when he sang, ‘I’m leaning on the lamp post at the corner of the street just to watch the little ladies go by...’ I learnt that I could still stand, or sit in my case, to watch the little ladies go by, but I don’t think it would be very rewarding for most seemed to be swathed in great black tents that disguise what charms might lurk inside.
I have to confess that in my Greek village, amongst the 300 or so souls, there are about six women of child-bearing age to watch going by, although lamp-posts are in short supply. However, we do have a wealth of grandmothers, or yia-yias as they are called here, by way of a less-visually stimulating substitute, although I must say that some of the old dears are quite amusing.
It is these yia-yias that have given me my new job as the village charabanc driver. Our village is about three miles from the nearest town, but apparently a lot further in kilometres. The town hosts a fruit and vegetable market every Thursday; other things are sold in the market that lure the yia-yias, including outsize clothing and pop-socks, the latter being very popular with any Greek woman over fifty, which is when senility must be deemed to have arrived and with it an inability to get tights the right way round or secure a suspender belt. Nature is a marvellous thing because it produces little markers that let you know you are in the company of a pop-sock wearer. However, it is possible to make a great mistake so care must be taken in carrying out the assessment because you might otherwise think that the legs of a fifteen year-old boy are clad in nylon pop-socks. Why? Because he shares the same markers of wispy strands of black whiskers dotted around the chin and upper lip. A quick engagement in conversation to hear the breaking treble will ensure it is not a senile yia-yia with whiskers, because her voice would be lower than Pavarotti’s base notes.
Every day (except Sundays) we have a bread-van than threads its way around the mountain villages with some fine traditionally baked products; it is a delight to be reminded of my childhood in deepest Somerset when we had vans of all types plying their trade. Here, we also have vans selling vegetables, fish and even clothing, but I don’t often use those, so the bread-man alone refreshes my memories with his daily duties. In the UK, many of those childhood joys would now fall foul of some health and safety directive. I watch as he picks up a loaf with his right hand and stuffs it into a still-free plastic bag...oh how that alone starts me on my journey back in time.
That though, is not what excites my memories, for now I hold out my money and here I must let my imagination take control because it is not the large pre-decimal coins of my childhood England that I proffer, but some ugly little coinage adopted by half of Europe in its quest for uniformity. The bread-man takes my money, which only this morning I had fished out of some work(I think)-stained trousers and hands me back the change, before turning to a village child queuing impatiently next in line. As I walk back to my house I muse upon the hand that took the coin I had handed over; it was the very same naked hand that picked up the next loaf for the child to convey back to his hungry siblings. Suddenly I go cold and am left pondering about the yia-yia before me in the queue and where her hand might have been before it picked up her euro coin and she headed for the bread-van just before me. Oh how stupid, I survived the first 12 years of my life without such morbid thoughts, it just goes to show how we have been so beguiled by the health and safety industry that we are almost too afraid to breathe.
Sorry about the tangent, but it is connected. Sometimes I do not hear the horn of the bread-van being beeped and have to walk to his next wayside stop. Yet on Thursdays, the day of the town’s market, I always have a telephone call from a yia-yia at the top of my lane to tell me that the bread-van is waiting for me. She never rings on any other day including Saturdays when I need two loaves to keep me going through until Monday. However, on Thursdays, when I meet her hovering at the bread-van, she draws herself up to her full height, stares at my bellybutton and asks me in a contrived falsetto if I will be going to the market today. Many times now I have gone and bought things I don’t need and watched stupefied as she has filled my car with half a greenhouse of produce from which the car is bug-infested till the last one climbs out of the left-open windows the following Wednesday, in time for the process to be repeated on the morrow.
This Thursday was different because she had obviously decided she would not avail herself of every bit of space in my car. No, on this Thursday her friend was standing by her waiting and climbed into the back seat without a word. She is a slightly younger yia-yia with far fewer whiskers on the chin, but between the two of them they managed to fill every available corner, including my lap, which played host to a bunch of beetroot. At least now I know what the stain had been on my trousers.
You should see my house, chock full of things I rarely use, things I don’t know how to use and I find myself eating tomatoes morning, noon and night. Senior yia-yia bought me a plate of food last night just when I had made up my mind how I was going to use up a fridge full of vegetables before next Thursday. After all, I knew I would be making another tour of the market buying things to stop the yia-yias guiltily thinking I only go for them. When she came to collect my empty plate she suggested jokingly that maybe I should buy a bigger car as she had more friends wanting to come to the market too. I fear it’s no joke and any day now some local ‘Arturos Daylios’ will be knocking on my door to announce the bargain of the month in the form of a people carrier he has just spent his last euros on to save a starving Athens’ family...
Mr Briton married Madame Brussels in 1973. It was not a match made in heaven, more a match negotiated in smoke-filled boardrooms. Mr Briton had been married before, he should have known better. He was divorced by his first wife Starsa Stripes way back, but she still keeps a watching eye on him and stops him from living his own life; then he married and divorced two cousins in quick succession Aussie and Zeta because they spent too much time down under.
He had a brief fling with two Siamese twins from sub-continent called Indira and Pakira, but he couldn’t get them by themselves and he was always being watched by the other...when he left them to their own devices they tore themselves apart. He had a nice little Oriental girl, but left her because her singing was poor and she was lusted after by a rising son. He had an association with a nice little piece in the Mediterranean Sea, well three really, but he kept them apart somehow; one used to make George cross, one was always panhandling, but the smallest was a real rock and remains so to this day. He’s had one or more dalliances further afield that have brought their share of problems, especially that Lady Falklander whom he passed on to cousin Harold. Not too long ago his British mistresses started making demands especially Blodwyn who nearly flocked him to death.
As if he hadn’t had enough problems with Matt Rimony, he wooed and wooed and wooed again Bertranda Russell, more often known as Bee Russell or B.Russells to her friend...not a real friend...shhh...don’t speak too loudly or you’ll upset her. She doesn’t have any real friends, just one of those that’s represented by a piece of old white sheet that is trailed around in the forlorn knowledge that it might have to be waved frantically from some once-lofty bomb-damaged building. BRussells has a name for her ’tend friend, it’s Germania, but don’t say I told you. Now ever since Mr Briton crawled drunkenly into bed with BRussells, Germania has been quietly calling the shots; she used to fire them off quite noisily, but she gave away her intentions, so is much craftier now.
Anyway, she had just about got Mr Briton where she wanted him, under her Jacqueline Boot, when he smelt a rat and asked his friends if he should get divorced from BRussells and come back home and make peace with an otherwise wet fish on the north of the border.
I knew drinking raki would cause me big trouble one day. But when it hit me I was totally unprepared. I had been in a kafenion with some Cretan friends getting blotto one evening, when a newcomer had plonked himself at our table, poured a drink and started bemoaning the state of the economy.
Through the alcoholic fug, I realised he wasn’t talking about the Greek economy, but his own; he appeared to cry into his glass as he listed all the people to whom he owed money. True to Greek form, needless to say, the taxman was way off the bottom of the list, but he gradually reached the top and there I struggled to believe him. He said that he had a yacht, making it sound like what we Brits call a ‘gin palace’ in the local marina, which had been a shrewd investment for...aah...entertaining.
He sobbed, as he said his beloved yacht would probably be seized to discharge his marina debts for mooring, electricity and maintenance and there was nothing in these hard times he could do to stop it. He told his audience that he only owed €2,000 and his yacht was worth far more...if only he could find a good man to buy it for €3,000.
There were no takers around the table...talk had turned to the tide of refugees that were pouring into Greece and what it would mean for each of them. Although drunk, I took a pragmatic stance and told them in broken Greek that it would hardly touch their lives; Muslims don’t drink raki or wine, they wouldn’t touch their plates of precious pork and Cretan women barely ventured out alone. On top of that, the refugees were only using Greece as a convenient staging post on their way to a better life...why would they want to stay in Greece when life was certainly not going to get better for many years?
Vasilis, the man with the marina problem, complemented me on my philosophical approach which, he said, ranked amongst the quality observations of Plato and Aristotle. Head swollen, I belatedly realised what a decent man he truly was. “Ish she a deshent size, your yacht?” I asked in slurred broken Greek.
“She’s just over ten burrp long, regularly sleeps four, usual marine toilet, two stoves, new main and Genoa sails, can’t find fault with the engine...cost me 40,000 ten years ago...she’s still worth that today”.
“How much do you owe the marina?”
“It was only two thousand, five minutes ago,” I said, pleased with myself for catching him out.
“I said two, didn’t I?” he grinned.
“I’ll give you a thousand for it here and now, no questions!”
“You try to take advantage of my misfortune,” he groaned, “but you would make a good new owner, so I’ll let you have her for one and a half.”
“So, if I give you one thousand five hundred euros tonight, you’ll give me a receipt for the yacht and you’ll pay off the marina?”
“If you do that I’ll give you the key and you can sail Μπουζούλας out of the marina tomorrow!”
“That’s her name...Boozy Lass?”
He looked perplexed, but seemed to realise I’d heard the Greek name Bousoulas as if it were an English name, “Once she’s yours you can call her whatever you like...all females’ names change with time...my wife was given the name Antigone, now I call her Antagonisti.”
Liking his humour, I jumped in feet first, “Okay, come back to my house and I’ll give you the cash.”
He was on his feet and at the door in the time it took me to knock back half a glass of raki.
“Hurry before I change my mind,” he called.
I woke the next morning in my fireside chair clutching a rusty key and a piece of paper, a receipt for a 10 ‘squiggle’ yacht called Boozy Lass (I remembered writing the name for him) free of all debts (I remembered writing that too). At the bottom was a haphazard line, which I imagined was his signature, written above ‘Marina D23’. After more than enough cups of coffee, I was on my scooter heading excitedly for the marina and my floating ‘raki palace’ where I hoped I would soon be entertaining those flaunting floosies.
I swaggered along the pontoon savouring the quality of my neighbours’ ocean-going craft, but stopped dead, deflated in my tracks when I reached D23. I fished out the receipt, this was clearly the berth. Painted across the stern was what I took to be the Greek for Boozy Lass, but this was not the sizeable floating palace that I’d hoped for. I focussed on the crumpled paper to check what followed the number 10, that indecipherable squiggle that looked like an apostrophe, which I had taken to mean ‘metres’ and remembered the timely burp when Vasilis had described its size. I remembered all too late that a single apostrophe was English shorthand for ‘foot’ and a double apostrophe for ‘inches’; it was indeed 10’ and at 10 feet long would struggle to sit four, let alone sleep them unless wedged together drunk.
Stains on the gunwales indicated the toilet and the two camping gas stoves and battered kettle chucked in the bilge revealed the unsavoury truth. There was no wonder he could find no fault with the engine...there wasn’t one and the key he had given me was for an empty storage box in the prow! It dawned on me that the 40,000 he reckoned he’d paid was in drachma not euros and I had been had. However, the sails were new, to the boat that is. I imagine they were cut down ones a neighbour had tossed aside.
But I persevered and began to learn to sail, albeit lifting the boom over my head when tacking was daunting at first. Yet do I regret it? Not in the least, you see on my first outing I pulled the two birds in the picture and they were indescribably grateful. I have renamed my little tub Samphire and I can assure you that size does not matter...the girls said so too!
It was not long before ‘Old Bill’ was on my tail again. I did wonder if they were joining in my sport – but this was a different Police Authority in a different county, so it was unlikely. Again, I wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, but this time I was driving a more modern car, but it was quite soon after the change of law, so I had just forgotten.
I had been driving happily along a dual carriageway and slowing down for a queue of traffic in both lanes, approaching traffic lights, when I spotted a police car that surreptitiously moved into that blind spot of my door mirror. Unfortunately just because you can’t see them, does not mean they can’t see enough of you. I came to a halt and put my seatbelt on.
They slowly overtook me and stopped in their shorter queue. When the lights changed, I pulled gently away in the forlorn hope they would bugger off. While I enjoyed the occasional tussle with the boys in blue, it was getting to be too often and, being a pragmatic bloke, I recognised that the more often you engage in dangerous sport, the more likely you are to get hurt.
I decided to turn left up a side road that looped around to where I was heading but I cursed when they slowed down, switched lanes and followed me. I stopped in the road outside a pub and climbed out just as they drew up. Ignoring them, I headed for the pub.
“Where might you be going, Sir?” asked a portly officer.
“In the pub,” I answered honestly, as we entered into that stupid question and curt answer phase.
“Have you been drinking, Sir?”
“I said I’m going into the pub – not leaving it.”
“Do you know why we followed you, Sir?”
“Because you’re lost?”
“Don’t play games with us, Sir – this is serious.”
“Yes it is – very serious – because if you keep messing about I shall have to stand here in full public view and take a pee and it will be because of you that I shall have to expose myself. Now will you let me go into the toilet, please?”
They looked at each other, “Be quick about it then, Sir.”
I went in, took my time, certain of the outcome, and was very carefully drying my hands when the large officer came in, “Need to go too, Officer – good job I stopped here, wasn’t it?”
“No, Sir – you were a long time so I thought I should find out what you’re doing,” he said looking up at the tiny barred window with evident relief, “I’ll wait for you by your car.”
Five minutes later after ‘paying’ for my pee with a nice cool lemonade, out I sauntered. Now had I been drinking I would have had plenty of time to chuck a couple of evidence-destroying whiskeys down my throat – but I hadn’t been, so the lemonade was just right.
“Now, Officer, what may I help you with?”
“What is your name and address, Sir – and do you have your driving licence to hand?”
I gave them the details they asked for, took my licence from my wallet, and opened it on the pages they were entitled to see – those with my personal details and what I was qualified to drive.
The officer went to take it. “I can’t let you take it – but everything you need to see is in front of you.”
“Why won’t you let me look at it properly,” he asked, suspiciously, “do you have something to hide?”
“I have nothing to hide, but you are only entitled to read the two pages I have offered you.”
“You’re trying to hide your previous offences – is that it, Sir?”
“If I have offences, which I am not admitting, you are not entitled to see them.”
“Think you know the law, do you, Sir?”
“So far, probably more than you.”
He went red in the face with anger, “I won’t press that point, Sir. Do you have any idea why we stopped you?”
“You didn’t stop me.”
“Of course we...let me rephrase that, Sir. Do you know why we stopped behind you and why we are talking to you now?”
“You have nothing better to do, Officer?”
His hackles were clearly up. “You committed a moving traffic offence, Sir – as you well remember, which is why you nipped up this side road in an attempt to lose us,” he crowed.
“I have no idea about any moving traffic offence, Occifer.”
“Are you sure you haven’t been drinking?”
“I had a lemonade in the pub there, while you were waiting. If I had been drinking I would have been able to drink something alcoholic, wouldn’t I?”
“So you could beat the breathalyser?”
“Not at all. You are quite free to breathalyse me but it would be a waste of time on two counts.”
“Two counts, Sir?”
“Yes, firstly you would have to demonstrate that I did indeed commit the moving traffic offence you allege and even then the opportunity you afforded me to consume alcohol in the pub would render any such test null and void.”
“I cannot smell alcohol on your breath, Sir, I grant you that, so we’ll not be pursuing the breathalyser – but you did commit a moving traffic offence.”
“Before the traffic lights you were not wearing a seatbelt, Sir.”
“When did you observe this, Officer?” I asked, feigning resignation and capitulation.
“As we drove past you in the traffic queue – we saw you put the belt on because you’d spotted us behind you.”
“Was that when you were coming up behind me, when you passed me by, or when you came to a standstill?”
“When we passed you.”
I took out my diary and wrote, ‘At 14.23...’ – I read his number, F1772 – “Your name please, Constable...?”
“Er, Bannister – Sir, why?”
I continued writing, ‘…F1772, PC Bannister explained that he believes that as his police car slowly passed me in a queue, he saw me putting on my seatbelt at the by-pass traffic lights in Darnham.’ I held it up for him to read but he did not attempt this time to take what I held before him. Funny, I thought that he should understand he has no right to take my diary because it’s private, yet believes he has a right to handle my driving licence. “Do you agree with what I have written, Constable?” I asked feigning humility.
“Yes, Sir – are you now admitting you were not wearing a seatbelt?”
“Perhaps if you would do one of two things, I might.”
“Such as what, Sir?”
“Either you sign my diary or write the same up in your notebook.”
“I’ll write it in my notebook.” He did and showed it to me.
“Come off it, Constable. I’ve not yet admitted to anything so you must delete that part saying
‘Mr Stevens admitted...’ until Mr Stevens does in fact admit.”
“Does it make any difference, Sir, if you’re going to admit it?”
“Of course it does, because your timing would not agree with what I have in my diary.”
He crossed the piece out angrily and initialled it, “Now Sir, as to your admission.”
“Oh yes – I admit I was putting my seatbelt on while waiting to move in the traffic queue before the traffic lights.”
“Thank you, Sir,” he said and wrote my words in his notebook, “In the light of your confession I shall caution you for not wearing a seatbelt and offer you the chance of a fixed penalty notice of £40.”
“But you can’t do that.”
“Because as I said and you wrote down, I was waiting to move which implies I was stationary and the law does not require me to wear a seatbelt when stationary.”
“Now you’re splitting hairs, Sir. We observed you were not wearing your seatbelt immediately prior to your car becoming stationary and then we saw you fitting your seatbelt – so you are quite aware that a seatbelt must be worn during all movements,” he said stiffly, handing me back the fixed penalty notice.”
“I’m afraid I cannot accept that, Constable – you have no evidence.”
“We blood...blooming-well saw you – we need no other evidence.”
“Who is the ‘we’ you are referring to, Constable?”
“Me and my driver, PC Hutchings.”
“Who was, ‘as you said’, driving slowly past at the relevant time?”
“Yes, Sir, confirmed the driver.”
“Well that’s it then,” I said, heading for my car, you have no evidence so you must let me go.”
PC Bannister headed after me as if to apprehend me, “I wouldn’t do that, Sir or I shall be forced to arrest you.”
I turned and looked him in the eyes, “I suggest you read up on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, latest amendment – you have no evidence because you have no witness.”
“My driver saw...” realisation partly dawned.
“That’s right PC Bannister – your driver was moving at the material time and as such he is disqualified from acting as a witness. Now you have my name and address; you may choose to caution me that you intend to press charges and we would all have to spend a pleasant day in the magistrates’ court. I would of course plead not guilty and seek costs – but it’s your decision.”
He stuck his nose up close to mine, “Why don’t you just piss off, Mr Know-all.”
“I’d be delighted to, Cont-stable, why ever didn’t you suggest that earlier...?”
I hope you have enjoyed reading 'Belt Up' which is from Short Fews 2, a collection of 8 humorous short stories and is available to buy on Amazon Kindle or if you still need convincing,
you can read more excerpts from Short Fews 2
Reg was driving and we could see people quite clearly on the town’s pavements next to the River Bure which the map said was a good place to stop and explore Great Yarmouth and eat in waterside inns. I just hoped they’d let me in. Reg found a vacant spot and had his sons tie up to the bollards front and back. It was getting quite dark but I could vaguely see another warning notice saying something about tides, but thought we wouldn’t get swept away because Reg’s sons were Scouts and had tightened us up well with some strong knots. After changing, we headed off and found a good pub five minutes away, but they wouldn’t let me in so we sat outside and waited for the food dad had ordered to be brought.
My pie and chips were delicious and I even got to mop up dozens of chips that the others had left. Dad even let me taste his beer but it was awful and made me shudder. The two men laughed at me, “I’ll never drink that again – ever,” I grimaced prophetically. I think my dad and Reg might have had a bit too much to drink and I was quite pleased when they announced it was time to turn in. Reg almost fell into our boat and dad had to help him to his bed in the boat’s pointy bit. I clambered happily into my bed and before long the boat echoed to snoring, farting and the odd cough but otherwise a welcome silence, as if everything was right with the world and all our troubles were behind us.
They certainly weren’t behind us – they were in front of us factually and metaphorically. At some time in the night, there was an almighty bang, like a firework going off, which woke me and I fell out of bed. I hadn’t done this for ages and hoped it didn’t mean I’d disgrace myself with the other problem I had. I sat on the floor listening, but nothing. It felt like we were moving and I sat there thinking about my embarrassing problem and whether I should head for the toilet, but it was crazily downhill, I must be dreaming and I was afraid I’d have that awful dream where I was going in to some public toilets, desperate ‘to go’. In the dream I was ever so pleased I’d found a public toilet. Funny why it was always a public toilet where I started peeing, before that familiar warmth enveloped me and I realised that yet again I’d wet myself. ‘Please God,’ I prayed, ‘don’t let me wet the bed this holiday.’ It was bad enough at home where I could run and confess to my mum, who’d change the bed and console me with a cuddle, but here with these ‘big boys’ I’d never live it down. But I decided I didn’t need to ‘go’ and after a struggle I managed to get back in to bed. Yet I had a job staying in. It was like the boat had been last night but downhill the other way, so I tucked my arm down by the side of the mattress and eventually went back to sleep.
I can’t remember what woke me, but I pulled back the curtain above Graham’s feet to look across the pavement, but I found myself looking across the river. Peter was on the other side – it was like a ‘Π’ shape where I was the horizontal dumpling between two long, cool ‘Sweets’. Anyway, I reached carefully across Peter’s feet and pulled his curtain back only to see a wall. I wandered out to the cockpit, unzipped the hood and there was the quayside two feet above us and we were facing back the way we had come. I was still trying to puzzle it out when my dad came and stood next to me, “Bloody hell – look there’s our mooring rope.” I followed his pointing finger and there, forty-odd feet behind us, was our rope dangling down and some way above the water, our brass deck cleat was still tied to it.
We climbed out on deck and inched our way to the front where two ragged holes marked the spot where our mooring cleat should have been. As we turned to go back to the cockpit, my dad saw one of several notices painted on the wall, just like the one I’d seen last night, but which I hadn’t read properly in the dark. It was quite clear now – it said: Warning this river is tidal with a distance between high and low water of ten feet. If you moor at high water, make sure you tie up with enough slack to allow your boat to drop with the tide. We hadn’t and it had dropped. It must have hung there almost out of the water before the forward cleat screws gave up the struggle, the front had plunged back into the water and I was thrown out of bed. If I had known in those wee small hours what was going on, they really would have brought about wee in the small hours, more from fear than lavatorial dreams.
When the Sweets surfaced, we told them the sorry tale, and decided to clear off before we were taken to be illiterate and a familiar phrase rang out, “Theym did’norta let citee toypes looze in bowts.”
We turned around and skedaddled up river to a welcome marina where my dad was able to fill her up with diesel and make up for what we’d used getting out of Great Yarmouth docks. They had a café there too, so we had breakfast while going over the previous day’s disasters. They didn’t have a cleat in the shop there, but said that the marina at Potter Heigham would most likely have one. We should have retrieved the one last seen swinging in the breeze at Yarmouth; we just hoped the name of our boat wasn’t stamped on that cleat that we’d left hanging for all to see and recognise somebody’s stupidity, worse still return it to the boatyard and blow our incompetence. But at least this calamity wasn’t seen to be my fault. Fortunately for me, Peter and Graham wrongly got the blame because the two adults on board should have been able to read the warning notices before we headed for the pub, even though they couldn’t read anything after staggering back.
Next stop Potter Heigham. Had we known exactly how we were going to stop there, I think we might have turned around and gone home. It was a nice day with only a slight breeze kicking the odd fleece up on the water. Dad said to take it easy because he wanted to arrive there for lunchtime. I remember seeing some quite big fish in the weed beds by the riverside and thought that if I concentrated on missing yachts and all waterborne things that could herald disaster; I might see if dad would buy me a fishing set.
I was chugging on at a very slow walking pace sorting out a list of good reasons why I should have a fishing rod, topmost being nice fried fish and chips of our own making and bottom of the list currently was to take me away from the steering. Reg was sitting up front with his back against the fore-cabin windows reading a book and he suddenly shouted to my dad, “Gord – quick, I can’t believe this bridge.” I throttled back and tried to get it in reverse but it wouldn’t engage – Reg sprang up and slapped his foot against the bridge but he had to duck before he got squashed. We carried on drifting through until the cockpit and the edges of the folded-down screen scraped along the underside of the bridge before almost landing in the cockpit with us. Dad got it in forward gear and put some power on so we wouldn’t get stuck underneath and we scraped through and moored up to take stock of the latest damage we’d inflicted on the poor old Temptress.
Father pushed the shattered cockpit screen back into place. Fortunately the glass or whatever material it was, remained undamaged but I could see the mahogany frame around the two panes, was no longer joined in a couple of places. Dad took solemn stock of what he would need to rectify everything and we headed off for lunch in the marina’s cafeteria.
The marina shop was huge and probably owned by the same people who’d built that stupidly low bridge perhaps with malice aforethought. I only knew one other bridge that was as low and that was a railway bridge over a road between Muchelney and Drayton, near Curry Rivel on the Somerset levels. Even I, as a nipper, could reach up and touch the main girders that spanned the road and cars could just pass underneath. Bigger things, if they didn’t want to rip their tops off, had to drive up and over the railway line via some gates. That wasn’t too bad because at least you had an option – at Potter Heigham there was but one other – turn around and go back. But at least we were through and dad seemed to have a trick up his sleeve for our return appointment with that bridge, but now the lure of the evocative-sounding Hickling Broad drew us on and would nearly consume one of our Sweets.
We passed by some wonderful waterside houses – some like mansions and also churches in the middle of nowhere. But Hickling Broad was nothing like any of us had pictured – just a huge expanse of water with yachts charging around willy-nilly. Then for no reason Peter fell in. I saw him go under but he didn’t come up. His father shouted and muttered he didn’t understand it, because he was a strong swimmer. We turned the boat around but still no Peter. His dad stripped down to his underpants and jumped in. He immediately bobbed about gargling curses because his glasses had fallen off and he thrashed around blindly, half drowning and shouting. Like lemmings, we all joined in except my dad, who couldn’t swim. I was amazed by the weeds which seemed to reach up as if trying to drag me under – then suddenly Peter appeared and we all got hauled back aboard. I was told that Peter had epilepsy, had fallen in and lain twitching in the weeds until Graham had found him and pushed him to the surface. We moored up for the night and for the first time we played a game of cricket, although Peter was feeling very fragile from his epileptic dive that could so easily have been fatal, just because he’d forgotten his tablets.
In the morning, we headed back to Potter Heigham and moored up short and away from prying eyes so that dad and Reg could set about repairs that almost amounted to a major overhaul. I was only able to scrounge 10 shillings and we three boys headed for the shop where I found I hadn’t enough money for a rod and reel but purchased a wooden frame with some line wrapped around it, some hooks and lugworms. The shop owner said that the fish around here were easily caught with bread flakes. I left my bits and pieces at the shop to be collected on our return, which was just as well because we got lost and at least my bait had been put back in the fridge. We wandered over to Potter Heigham station and watched a train deposit a few people but pick up nobody. We ran up on the bridge and watched the level crossing gates swing across the road before the train went off into the unknown – just as we did! Somehow we’d wandered off in the wrong direction, because we forgot we’d gone over the footbridge and changed platforms. Anyway, we found ourselves reaching the end of a narrowing lane which became a rutted track and we were just about to turn back when a tractor hove into view. The driver told us that if we continued and turned right after two hundred yards we’d get back to the main road where a left turn would soon have us standing on top of the canopy-busting bridge.
There was a fish and chip van parked in the marina and Graham used some pocket money to buy enough for all of us and we headed back to the boat after a diversion for my fishing gear. Dad and Reg were getting on like a house on fire and were just varnishing the repaired canopy. There was a new shiny cleat at the front and the huge dent caused by that weaving yacht had disappeared. We all sat on the grass to scoff the fish and chips while admiring their handiwork that covered a multitude of very naughty sins.
We tried some fishing that afternoon but neither bread or lugworms would tempt the fish onto the hook – it was a good job we’d had fish for lunch because we certainly wouldn’t be having it for dinner. We climbed aboard and dad took the boat and tacked on to the end of the queue waiting for the pilot to take boats through the bridge without collision. He was good that pilot, his path through the less than liberal space was almost the same each time and if he was lucky there was a balanced working – drop one off, bring one back and so on – but there has to be a balance in all things and we were like the scales of the Old Bailey – we did not balance for him,
“Zorry – that class a boats don’t go unner this bridge.”
“Well we’m already ’ere,” replied my dad in Somerset yokel dialect, hoping for sympathy, “so why cassn’t ee take it back again?”
“’Cos I dint bring ’er through,” said the pilot, “I saw thee knock her canopy off before and I’ll have to watch thee do it again – I’m sorry.”
“What do we do, then?” growled my father.
“We-ell if I were thee, I’d go and moor up again where you hid to fix her up. Good job by the way – pity thee’lI ‘ave to do it all again. Yes I’d moor-up and do a dance like the red injuns do but t’other way round so we ‘ave no rain over night – ’cos if we do thee’ll be stuck ’ere a fortnight. First thing, when the river’s at its lowest and no bugger’s around to see you ‘part from me, you can take her through slowly like. Oh and if thee wants a better chance of not undoing yer ‘andiwork you could try pumping some water in her bilges. I’d draw a line a foot ‘bove the waterline then chuck water in ’er like there’s no tomorrow – about two hundred gallons might do ee. Then ’er might get through but don’t blame I if ’er don’t.”
We didn’t bother with the rain-dance, we figured that bit was a joke, but dad reversed the pipes on the bilge pump and we took it in turns like shipwrecked sailors fighting for survival. We augmented this with a dribbling hosepipe from a nearby tap and four of us in a bucket chain. We grafted till well after dark when our redrawn plimsoll line disappeared and dad reckoned we ought to call a halt in case we sunk during our sleep.
Six in the morning we were ready for the off – well we weren’t ready ’cos that bloody line was two inches above the water again. How had that happened? Peter should have known – he was the bright spark. However, he was still off-colour and Graham had barely been at the school long enough to know how to separate salt from sand, let alone about temperature influence, pressure gradients and density of water. We pumped some more in until the pilot hollered, “You’ve got five minutes – my first booking’ll be ’ere then.”
Dad took the controls and even I could feel that the old tub was ponderously crabbing through the water. He headed for where the pilot started and the man yelled, “Better line ’er up and keep going ’cos with all that weight you’ll ‘ave to put on full power to get thee rudder to do anything or thee won’t be able to steer her – I’ll give ee a nudge with me pole to help but the rests up to thee.”
The bridge looked even smaller with hardly any light coming through and a dark reflection on the water. Dad kept close to the pilot’s barge then put on some power and steered the pilot’s course. The old man gave us the promised nudge to stop her tail from coming round and through we went safe and sound, apart from the folding canopy which this time landed with a crash at my feet in the cockpit. My father used those new words again, and a few more, before we moored up and he set to re-fixing the canopy while the rest of us bashed away at the bilge pump until we’d got rid of those two hundred gallons of water. “Dad, why didn’t you fix the canopy after we’d gone through the bridge?” He lunged for my lughole which he didn’t miss either.
Three hours later, after a cup of coffee, we headed off down the river, certain we would not moor up at Yarmouth and would turn right after the railway bridge so as to avoid the harbour. Nor would we have any encounters with retired admirals – real or imaginary. We had had enough and even the long journey home held promise – but we had survived.
I went back to Norfolk in my campervan four years ago. There’s a new road that follows the long-closed railway line. Apart from the evidence of strikes by a few more hapless boats on the underside, in the past half a century – it looks much the same as when I’d first seen it – except I’m sure there’s an indentation just above the arch where a size nine shoe once landed.
I hope you have enjoyed reading 'Broadside' which is from Short Fews 1, a collection of 8 humorous short stories and is available to buy on Amazon Kindle or if you still need convincing,
you can read more excerpts from Short Fews 1
She was put back in the water by a big crane and Yorik went up and down the river a few times before pronouncing that all was well. We loaded all our provisions on board including milk and butter Reg’s sons Peter and Graham had been entrusted with half-a-crown to get from the village grocer’s.
There was no bottle broken across her prow, no marshal music and no crowds whooping and cheering. Just a yokel and a blacksmith looking on anxiously as we took up station in the middle of the flow and set off for Yarmouth. “Keep to the right – and give way to ya...” hollered Yorik.
“What?” we shouted back.
“Can I drive Dad – please...please?”
“Okay, but stay over to the right – I’m going to do us some bacon and eggs so look out for somewhere nice to moor up.”
“Can we play French cricket Dad – after breakfast?”
“Perhaps,” he offered unconvincingly.
We didn’t. With them all down below I looked on anxiously at some boat that was weaving up the river towards us. First he went one side, then the other – his great big sail twisting and billowing again and again in the wind.
Undecided, I called for a second opinion like a doctor confronted with something new and nasty, “Dad – Da-aa-ad, quick Dad, there’s this boat and he’s...”
The yacht drove into us like a destroyer ramming a U-boat. It knocked me off the driving seat and my dad was thrown back down the steps into the galley. I sat on the floor wondering if the yachtsman might be drunk. Not that I knew what drunk meant exactly but I had seen a film where Laurel and Hardy had weaved a car all over the road and were stopped by a policeman who made them walk the white line. They couldn’t even see it, so I reckon that’s what drunk meant. I peeped over the side of our boat and watched as a man dressed like an admiral with a smart white peaked-cap sprinted along his deck towards us, as sober as a judge and about to pass judgement, “Who was steering this boat?” I ducked down again and hid on the floor, fearing the worst. “You stupid sods!” shouted the man, “who’s in charge of this ruddy boat? Don’t you know you have to give way to yachts?” He continued forward and inspected his pointy bit that had whacked into our side, “You’re bloody lucky there’s no damage to my yacht – bloody-well watch where you’re going and give way to yachts in future.”
We continued down river with Reg at the wheel – I was in disgrace and worried I’d never drive again. My fate seemed to be confirmed, “He’s made a right mess of this boat,” growled my father, “I shall have to buy a piece of mahogany in Yarmouth and scarf it in – good job I brought some tools. A bit of varnish, some white paint and Bob’s your uncle.” He was too, but my Uncle Bob had wisely opted for a week in a caravan in Cornwall. He’d been on minesweepers during the war and had originally seemed the ideal companion for this sort of holiday. He must have known a bit about boats and the risks with me on board, so had cried off. Without Aunty Joyce, my mum had backed out too and dad, having paid the deposit, talked his mate into coming. It would have been obvious even to a village idiot that we two men and three boys, messing about on the Norfolk Broads, were heading for disasters Jerome K. Jerome couldn’t have imagined.
“Bloody good job I hadn’t got the bacon in the pan or we’d have lost the lot – pull up over there Reg,” dad cried excitedly, pointing to some flat ground beneath a windmill on the opposite bank, “I’ll finish the breakfast and then take a better look at the damage.”
“And the cricket, Dad?” His look said it all.
We sat out on the grass and ate our bacon, eggs and fried bread. If cholesterol existed back then, which I doubt ’cos my dear old grandma, who was nothing but goodness personified, would never have fed me the things she did. Anyway, I wouldn’t have taken much convincing it was the ‘goodness’ that came out of cauliflowers. Everything was full of goodness my mum reckoned, but cauliflowers?
Graham and Peter ran off to explore the windmill and I went with them. We didn’t have any windmills in Somerset that I knew of and I looked on enthralled as Peter, a fourteen year old clever-clogs at the local grammar school explained that it wasn’t a windmill but a wind pump to take the water from the reclaimed land and shift it into the rivers and drainage channels. I looked across at my dad crouching down to examine the damage – definitely no cricket and time to go, but I hadn’t thrown in the towel quite yet, “If I’m careful, Dad and tell you straight away if there’s a problem, will you let me drive again?”
“Only if Mr Sweet will watch you and agree you’re safe!”
I drove like my life depended on it, calling attention to boats, logs and just about anything Mr Sweet should know about, including a passing skein of geese which might decide to bomb us. At the end of ten minutes, he could take no more of my running commentary, pronounced me fit to drive with care, and went below, yawning.
His sons seemed disinterested in driving, perhaps they’d developed some sort of antithesis to all forms of driving so as to avoid following in their father’s footsteps. At one stage, I pulled in to the side to make sure another yacht, tacking with malign intent, left us in peace. We’d sailed by Acle where we had thought about stopping yesterday evening. All around was flatness – not boring flatness because there were things to gaze at which often drew my concentration from the river. Fearing another catastrophe I refused to look at cows and windmills, the latter being hard to ignore, and concentrated only on things in the water. I saw moorhens, water rats and even swans as we sailed on into a huge lake beyond which I could see buildings and church towers. The map said there was a wide stretch of water before Great Yarmouth called Braydon Water so I knew that when it narrowed I had to turn sharply north.
Suddenly it narrowed and a railway line come in from the left and ran parallel to us, but the map wasn’t too clear. I reckoned we had about a mile to go before we turned north toward our destination – Hickling Broad. I tried to gauge our speed as if there was a bicycle by the side of us. We seemed to be going faster – maybe this bit was downhill. Then a train chugged past and when it whistled, I waved happily to the passengers on the train. I watched it as it rumbled slowly across a trestle bridge. I could see the train driver waving too – almost frantically and he was making his engine whistle too. Perhaps he knew this boat and saw it quite often, I thought – so I waved even faster. I watched the train devotedly as it rattled on and just as it sounded its whistle a few more times something caught my eye as I said goodbye to that nice train driver.
I thought I saw a big red notice and an arrow on a wall but hadn’t time to read it because our boat seemed to be romping along, even though I throttled back. The river got even wider and on each side of us were big, very big ships everywhere, with people shouting and waving – one ship let out several booming blasts on its hooter and I knew I was in trouble, “Dad...Da-aa-ad...Oh dad...I’ve got it wrong again.” I started to cry – it was, I hoped, my only defence. My dad came from below and uttered a strange word beginning with ‘eff’, then another ending in ‘locks’. He grabbed the wheel and turned us around and thrust the throttle to full.
However, on full power we were barely making headway against the current so after more than two hours and now in the dusk we passed by that red warning sign with the big arrow, telling all craft of danger, “How could you miss that damned sign? It’s big enough, Richard.” He was right and it dawned on me that the waving and whistling were warnings not greetings that only a bad boy could have mistaken, but I was tired and hungry and happily helping to find somewhere to moor-up for the night.
You can read Broadside Part 1 and Broadside Part 3 here
'Broadside' is from Short Fews 1 a collection of 8 humorous short stories and is available to buy on Amazon Kindle or you can read more excerpts from Short Fews 1 and Short Fews 2 here
I love driving things – animate and inanimate. Teachers mad, women wild (I can dream can’t I?) and parents to the wall – I expect you can come up with a few more...Answers on a postcard please.
In the inanimate section apart from ‘hard bargains’, I’ve driven trains, cars, lorries, motorbikes, aeroplanes, but not many boats. I tried it once and Higher Authority looked down on my disastrous experience and He said ‘no more’. He should have said the same to the captain of the Costa Concordia long before he became a Captain, in fact long before he left school; but He has the Pope to look after His affairs and to do His work in Italy, so it wasn’t God’s fault the captain slipped under His radar.
Anyway, He must have had His beady eye on me the day my father and I, his mate Reg Sweet and two teenage sons headed off from the West Country to Norfolk for a week on the Broads. This was in 1958, in pre-motorway England – pre-motorway apart from perhaps the Preston By-pass, but, up there in the north-west, knocking on Scotland’s door, it wasn’t much good to us.
The journey took forever, or seemed to, even though I slept most of the way, in between eating and then yawning (of the tomato skins and grated carrot kind). Excitement echoed around the trusty Ford Consul as we crept towards our embarkation point – a shipyard just east of Norwich on the River Yare. We had thought we might moor up for dinner at Acle that evening. But this decision was only based on the rudimentary river and Broads map sent to my dad when the booking was confirmed. We had no idea what might be open for food and it was too far to Great Yarmouth so, luckily as it turned out, we decided on fish and chip sustenance well before we arrived at the boatyard late that fateful Saturday afternoon.
We had enough supplies in tins and jars to last most of the week, my mum had been squirreling rations away for weeks. However, I was a consummate eater so supplementation would be required. It did not occur to me at the time, but my dad must have decided on some diversion to take my mind off its body-stretching preoccupation with food, so as to eke out the supplies. What he dreamed up was clever and did work but as it turned out, it was a dangerous, high-risk strategy.
These days people seem to be able to stuff their faces anywhere, walking, driving and even cycling – in fact a week ago I’d needed to use a public toilet and was washing my hands after the urinal, when a cistern flushed. Out came a bloke in his thirties clutching a burger. He clamped it between his teeth so as to wash his hands, I assumed. But no, he took out his comb and ran it through his hair. Then he took the burger with what I guessed was his unsullied left hand. He returned the comb to his pocket and, ignoring my incredulous look, strolled out munching his burger. Truly it’s a different world!
Returning to 1958, it was obvious from the start, in fact even before the start, that our boat was jinxed. As soon as we pulled into the boatyard, it glowered at us from its high-and-dry position above the slipway. Dad and his mate knocked and went into the office while the two young Sweets waited patiently outside. I wandered off and walked around what I soon discovered was intended to be our cabin cruiser, but why was it not where it was supposed to be – in the water?
I circled it quizzically pondering its lofty, tilted stance. At the back, they don’t call it that, do they? It’ll do though – at the back, her name was beautifully sign-written in red-edged gold. Look, I don’t give a damn whether boats are male, female or bloody neutered – this one was definitely a female because of all the boobs she had waiting for us in the next few days. Her name was supposed to be appealing but, with her forlornly propped-up, it was an unrequited enticement. There it was at the top of the D shaped back, sitting just below the flat piece at the top where the deck starts – ‘Temptress III’. If I had known what she would bring us, I’d have found a ladder and a pot of paint and changed it to The Tempest. My well-placed maiden aunt in London had taken me to see John Gielgud in The Tempest at Stratford and it had shaken me; now I feared that I might be a re-born Prospero, about to embark before the storm. But how was I to know how fitting Shakespeare’s play would turn out to be?
There were no ladders or paint to be seen anywhere in this prop-filled, theatrical boatyard in deepest Norfolk but Temptress was most certainly a ‘she’ and she did have a hole. I was only ten but I wasn’t quite the innocent my mum thought I was. I’d played doctors and nurses in the long-grass-summer days when the girls always were the nurses or patients and we boys eagerly examined the bits that were different from ours. But as far as boats were concerned I was an innocent abroad. Yet there behind the steering thingy – the...rud...yes that’s it, behind the rudder, was a pretty little hole, sitting right near her bottom just crying out for a penetrating examination.
Nobody was watching, so I reached up on tiptoe and inserted my finger into that inviting orifice. I recoiled – it felt slimy and cold. She obviously had not been pleased with my probing, because my finger was now covered in something brown and slippery – come off it – I was only ten – in an age of innocence; there was only one hole after all. Suddenly I was no longer alone. The others had arrived and gathered around like a consultant around a patient with a group of medical students. Quickly I tucked my finger away in my fist and feigned innocence.
There was a tall man in a blue boiler suit pointing to the hole as if he somehow knew of my intrusion and my dad and his mate Reg were gazing up at it like it meant something. “I’ve sent it down the local blacksmith’s to have it straightened,” he gabbled in an accent more yokel than even we yokels were used to, “it should be back first thing.”
My dad was fed-up. I knew he was because he was wearing that face he’d worn when I’d stripped down his bike’s three-speed and lost one of the gears. “Where are we going to sleep tonight?” he demanded.
“There’s a B&B in the village – you can walk to it easy enough.” said Yorik the yokel.
“You’ll be paying for us then, won’t you?” said Dad the demanding.
“Or give us back one day’s hire charge for the day we’ll lose,” suggested Reg the realistic.
“Ahr, I’ll do that right enough,” agreed Yorik the yes-man.
My dad looked askance at his mate for scuppering his plan for a good night’s sleep, “Where shall we put our heads down then?”
“You can sleep on board – it’s all right on these props,” he said, kicking one timidly, and then eyeing us one by one, “just don’t go bouncing around too much.”
He found a ladder and we climbed aboard. It was like trying to stand on a ski slope – on the piste, so to speak. We sat holding tightly to the kitchen table; Reg told us it wasn’t a kitchen but a galley. When he spoke it was always important – perhaps that’s why he’d chosen to drive taxis – they get to go to a special school to learn how to be a know-all, don’t they?
“Dad,” I asked, with visions of our being pulled along by a carthorse like those old-fashioned canal boats, “what was that man going on about the blacksmith’s for?”
“The prop shaft is bent – it’s at the blacksmith’s,” came the weary reply, as if knowing he would have to say more.
“Is that something to do with the thing he kicked – he said that was a prop.”
He had that look again, I would get just one more answer without pain, “Don’t be bloody stupid, Richard. The prop shaft is the thing that goes in at the back and connects to the engine; it’s got the propeller on it that drives the boat through the water.” As if I should know all this at ten years-old!
“You mean in that hole at the back, near the bottom?” I asked, with growing relief – releasing and holding up my still brown finger, what’s this then, Dad?” He grabbed my hand and looked his most concerned, “Hmmm – molybdenum graphite – I should say – it’s serious stuff. How long’s your finger been like that? Please tell me you didn’t put your finger in that hole – you didn’t – did you?”
Near to tears I nodded my head violently, “I did, Dad – oh Dad, what’s this Molly Bendum thingy – will I lose my finger?”
“You shouldn’t if you wash it off quickly,” he continued, “let that be a lesson to you. Do not go sticking your finger into inviting holes, one day it could get you a life sentence.”
“What do you mean, Dad?” My bottom lip curled, but he and Reg just burst out laughing and told me to go out to the toilets and wash my finger. I didn’t understanding what they found so funny. I was pleased I hadn’t suffered a clip round the ear. I bawled my way to the gents, worried about what was on my finger, looking like it had gone through the Izal at school. Are you old enough to remember that indelicate tissue that doubled as tracing paper? I’d convinced myself that hole was where the boat’s toilet emptied into the river and my finger might have to be ampu... amput...cut off.
The others didn’t sleep well that night, but it wasn’t too bad for me across the rear above that hole because I was thrust backwards, but for the others it must have been a bit like trying to sleep in a hammock slung between one tall and one short tree.
A noise below woke me in the morning and I pulled on my clothes to find the boat empty and everybody gathered at the back watching a man standing on a box with a determined look about him. I heard my father muttering something about his looking like a horse at stud, as the man tried repeatedly to insert the great long shaft into that dear little hole. Suddenly the tip of it entered and he slipped it in with obvious relief. He removed a piece of rag and wiped all around the shaft before jiggling it in to his satisfaction, then wiped around the end to reveal a shiny yellow three bladed propeller. He had got his breath back and was telling Reg he’d had to straighten this along with the shaft he’d just slipped in. He had been moaning all the time he’d been putting the shaft in, especially about the previous people on the boat and how they’d buggered it up by reversing into a brick pier. “Theym did’norta let citee toypes looze in bowts,” he growled at Reg, as if ’cos we talked like yokels we’d know how to sail a boat any better than someone from Birmingham.
As it happens, poor old Temptress the Turd as I’d end up calling her, suffered more at our hands than she probably had from the city crew, but we didn’t trifle with her prop or anything tucked away down-below, like. Everything we inflicted on her was out in the open, exposed and touchable – visible for all the world to see.
Read Broadside Part 2 and Broadside Part 3 here
'Broadside' is from Short Fews 1 a collection of 8 humorous short stories and is available to buy on Amazon Kindle or you can read more excerpts from Short Fews 1 and Short Fews 2 here
Thank you, Jeremy Crow, for nominating me for a Beautiful Bloggers' Award. I assume you collected yours from the White House, if that is what it is still called. I am hoping that I shall receive an invitation to The Palace to be invested with this marvellous accolade which is only just eclipsed by the last award I received from Her Majesty, namely the OBE, commemorating my ability to build upon Other Bloggers' Efforts. My nominations are below, but whether you get the magnificence of the White House, the opulence of The Palace or the lofty heights of the Crow's Nest, I cannot predict.
By the way, for those who are wondering about the dates on my blogs, I must tell you that Weebly have thrown a wobbler. Good job they don't run a dating agency.
Seven Random Fact:
My Nominees Are:
Did you see that UKIP, Mr Farage’s political party, is giving the three traditional parties bellyache? Good for him. I hope it goes beyond that and develops into really pressing problems. Maybe it will be catching and have them hurtling in groups to the throne rooms. Maybe it would bring a completely new connotation to the term ‘Running Mate’. Enough said! Mr Farage has hit on a bold plan: worthwhile degrees will be free, others will be charged. His hit list is extensive: sociology; media studies; homophobic studies; green & vegetable studies, travel and tourism studies and others.
I know a professor of Travel and Tourism at a well-known university who is in a state of panic because he or she had intended to vote UKIP. You may deduce that I am a modern-day, politically correct individual because I have not seen fit to reveal the professor’s gender. Not at all, despite scrutinising the said professor from afar (I must add), I haven’t been able to ascribe to him or her a gender category, but I believe ‘it’ might be an hermaphrodite.
The good professor has landed a research contract from a well-known conglomerate in the leisure industry, no, not the jobseekers’ alliance, but the sector of the industry that provides holidays in the sun for the masses, but, being a global organisation run by non-Catholics they cater for atheists and other religions too. The only criterion important to them is your ability to pay.
The professor and his/her flock have been analysing the future options for this hospitality giant, whose hotels include some of those tucked-away paragons favoured by film stars and footballers and considered ‘Exclusive’. This is a shorthand term for, ‘We do not admit riff-raff,’ (unless the riff-raff in question have pots of money, provided by other riff-raff that spend their hard-earned, or hard queued-for, cash on watching the sort of thing these elite riff-raff provide). Our Multi-national conglomerate (the management isn’t multi-national, of course, but appear to be) decided some years ago, to expand its service to include what they generously term, ‘Ordinary folk with a limited budget and simple (meaning little) taste’.
You will almost certainly have heard the expression they coined for this now ubiquitous experience; you may even (on somebody else’s say-so, of course) yourself have experienced this service, known as ‘All Inclusive’, which accounts for 37.386% of all vacations, we are told. Determined to stay ahead of the game in the face of very stiff competition from the Bordello Industry, they commissioned the professor to determine the shape of their industry in the future.
I have been privileged to have had a sneak preview of the efforts of the professor’s research assistants, all nine of whom will, without question or even viva voce, be awarded their PhD’s next year and job’s with…anyway, back to the preview. The following are the new terms we shall be hearing about, should Nigel and Co fail to win the UK General Election. Shortly afterwards travel agents will be trying to convince us that they offer us an experience we can’t live without, except perhaps the penultimate one:
The professor has surveyed a cross-section of people to find out which of the above services they might be interested in, so that a report may be sent to those that would invest others’ hard-earned cash in the new ventures. 7,362 close relatives of potential users have recorded just one question thus far: ‘Is there a special Terminal for the departing All-Conclusives at Heathrow?’ Only one respondent has asked about possible returns.
I hope that you will be able to furnish other questions about the services for forwarding to the professor, but please do not delay, Nigel (not Theresa) may win the day.
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