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
Poor Jeremy Corbyn...now you expect a punch-line, don’t you? Although I will never vote for the man (unless he treads a different path) I do not feel as hateful towards him as many others. In fact I quite respect him; he is virtually the same age as me and I cannot imagine the stress he is going to subject himself to, in what should be his twilight years, feet up in front of the telly. In fact, unless he is very lucky he won’t even have enough time left to write his memoirs, that’s if dementia doesn’t set in before he starts.
He was late throwing his hat into the ring and even struggled to get enough signatories on his nomination paper, I understand he believes those that did support him did so more out of pity than conviction.
Despite everything, he is a man of principle and even though many of his principles sound a warning bell for me, I cannot deny that he has the courage to stand up and say what he believes. While I am a strident monarchist I had to admire him for standing by his guns and not singing the royalist-inspired National Anthem. I guess that if our Anthem were Jerusalem, he might have sung it, except that he probably thinks it pays homage to Israel, which has annexed much of that once-Palestinian city.
Anyway, unlike John Redwood wearing his Welsh hat (the Secretary for State for Wales’ one, not a pointy black witch’s thing), he did not pretend that he was singing and that needed principle and courage because it was obvious the media’s opinion would be vitriolic.
Will he make a good leader of his party? Who knows? I expect that he will listen to his people and develop policies to suit them, whereas at least one of his foreblairs only paid lip service. However, before he can propose anything radical, he will have to examine the constraints imposed upon him by EU rules. Even renationalising the railways is not permitted, so he will have to decide quickly if he is going to opt for withdrawal, which Diane Abbott might claim he did once (at least), or be hamstrung in his wildest ideals.
Will he make a good leader of the opposition? I think he will. Not least because he is not afraid of getting it wrong: he clearly prefers persistence to performance. I am sure he will be a constant thorn in Cameron’s side...a constant prick of conscience.
Will he make a good prime minister? We shall never know; the 2020 election will see Labour decimated and UKIP could even come in the first two. By 2025 he will be 77 and ill-equipped for the role, even with Merkel or her successor there to tell him what to do, if we don’t vote ourselves out first. I reckon he will be sacrificed long before then with the Labour Party opting for a woman, having tried every other option. Just think, the other half of the odd couple could get her chance.
One point of interest, although he wouldn’t shout about it: Corbyn represents the end of a decaying bloodline. He follows Gordon Brown, John Major, Margaret Thatcher, Ted Heath, James Callaghan, and Harold Wilson as party leaders that had the benefit of a selective education, a Grammar or High school, after an 11 plus exam. His predecessors all went on to become prime minister...will he or won’t he represent selective education’s last stand in the face of the ubiquitous public (private) school hegemony?
In the meantime, I salute him, especially when he knew that all his ill-considered past activities would catch up with him and lay him as bare as he was that day with...yes, you know who...in a Cotswold field, one hot summer.
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
Politics...yes politics; I have stayed away from writing about this subject for a while because I lost my biggest single number of ‘likes’ from my Facebook Author Page after posting something about the Greek situation. My editor seems to have forgotten the perils of the Trojan Horse and has asked me to write a blog considering which is better, the American system or the British.
It sounds like a simple request, no minefield...no risk of being ‘un-liked’. Mmmm, on her head be it, for the non-contentious is not for me.
I read many blogs and Facebook comments on how historical events have shaped our lives, but most of these are emotive assertions that, generally speaking, stray significantly from the truth in order to support the writers' arguments. So let me join the ranks of those that would rewrite history for a moment and say that if I were writing about the two countries’ political system before the early days of the 20th century, I would find it easier to be objective.
It is my belief that men of principle (yes, it was invariably ‘men’...and this fact could spawn yet another blog) were once at the helm of government...men who saw it as their duty to resign if they made a mistake. Although smoking was prevalent back then, I don’t believe that quite so many fundamental decisions were taken in the secrecy of ‘smoke-filled rooms’. I also believe that those we elected to make decisions on our behalf were those that substantively made the decisions albeit, particularly in the UK, they came from a quite narrow social class.
Today though, politics seems to be the province of the moneyed-set...we are ruled by millionaires or aspiring ones rather than conviction politicians. The last real conviction-leader of Great Britain was Margaret Thatcher and the last president of that ilk was...well, I am skating on very thin ice, so I shall plump for Theodore Roosevelt, who many have heard of but few can fault.
In the UK we have a public-school-educated prime minister ('public', oddly, is what we call private schools). Before him Gordon Brown (the man who told us he saved the world) was the last of a long-line of prime ministers educated in a now defunct though prime minister-spawning selective state system. Previously, the transient Labour success story had been the ‘public school’ educated Tony Blair, who nowadays has no friends but is richer than a chocolate cake. There was a brief flirtation with the well-meaning socialist Edward Miliband but the British people rejected him as being too left-wing. Recently the Labour party has replaced him with the even more socialist, though impoverished dinosaur, Jeremy Corbyn. The British people will never elect him, even though he is undoubtedly a man of principle because his principles are the wrong ones.
In the States, apart from the Obama aberration that has been a costly failed experiment in political correctness, past and putative presidents invariably seem to have much money and friends with disgusting amounts of filthy lucre. Without a dollar mountain or some special factor, becoming president is as likely as a Muslim being welcomed into heaven by Jesus H.
Why are we all in the hands of money and privilege rather than being led by politicians of principle? Therein lies a question that needs an answer and more importantly needs a resolution. Why do we seem to accept that those with money (or parents with money and able to send little David or wee Gideon for a private education) will be the best person for the job? I read that many US presidents were principled God-fearing men, but now their only fear is being found lacking, why should this be? Do we really believe that George Dubyah made executive decisions? Of course we don’t, but perhaps it’s even more dangerous when faceless advisers make the decisions and the president is manipulated, muppet-like, to be seen to pontificate on some world-shattering event. Is it the same in the UK and elsewhere? Are our politicians ever in charge these days or has the system irrevocably made them hand over the reins of power to big business as the price of their election?
As I have become older, I have become more cynical and that cynicism reached a new peak when the newly elected and referendum bolstered Alexis Tsipras, the socialist Prime Minister of Greece, caved in to the demands of Fuhrerin Merkel. Like many before him, he took the thirty pieces of silver and defecated on his people.
So the question my editor asked me was: ‘Which is the better system, American or British?’ My answer, sadly, is neither; I think I’d rather go for benign dictatorship...at least the ultimate sanction, assassination and real change, remains open to a disappointed public. With democracy these days it’s the same old lies, by the same elite with big business pulling the strings. God help us, because if he doesn’t, Allah soon will!
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After my Easter week’s excitement I was glad that we ambled home gently and I was promised a couple of weeks’ rest. All would have been well if the sun had remained hidden by dense cloud and the wind had continued to rip out the new tender shoots of Spring, but suddenly the sun put its hat on and came out to play and lo and behold, that was the end of this snail’s flipping holiday...they wanted to be off gallivanting again.
The Sap has decided we are going to explore some of the northern parts of Somerset he seldom visited when he lived in the county. He says we are heading for Bath! I fearfully think of my last bath up in Yorkshire when I nearly drowned fording a winter-rain swollen river. Filled with trepidation, I feel soothed as we take a leisurely cross-country route and the nightmare of drowning recedes. We stop for the night just short of their destination, which allows us to be in the city shortly after 9am. The Sap drives round and round determined to park in a supermarket car park that was once a railway station...just think, I am owned and driven by a train-spotter! It’s a good job he doesn’t wear an anorak as well.
He is keen to park me in a particular spot where I can be photographed against the still-standing background of Bath Green Park railway station that he says he came to by train donkey’s years ago. As it turns out, he is more than delighted because by chance one of that railway line’s preserved steam engines has been brought in by low loader for a display...all he had to do was add some steam and there I am where the rails used to be in what is now a Sainsburys car park.
After putting me in a proper space they make some coffee before heading off into the city to explore, leaving me to doze and dream in the sunshine. Fortunately, now that I know that Bath is the name of a city, I had no dreams of being immersed in water but I did have one of being scalded by steam.
My reveries are disturbed when they return for lunch and tea. Apparently, they went into the supermarket opposite and bought a crusty cottage loaf and a pack of vintage cheese, but The Sap is not impressed with the waxy cheese and announces that we are now going to Cheddar where he can buy and gorge himself on Somerset’s hand-made finest. I am confused...I thought cheddar was a tasty hard cheese so how can we go there? I’m half listening and part dozing in a pleasant bit of sun that makes my body creak with joy and I have an image of my portly owner gorging himself with cheese. He announces that we are going to go down Cheddar Gorge...now it’s getting silly, I know cheddar is cheese and I have seen it being eaten rapidly by The Sap so it’s obvious that ‘to gorge’ is eating food rapidly...but cheddar gorge, is this some sort of competition?
While he’s setting Phillippa for the best route out of Bath, he says he plans to go via the village of Priddy which will take us to the top of the gorge and give a stunning view of Axbridge Lake before we start the descent. As we weave our way through the narrow lanes of the Mendips, we pass a village called Torhole Bottom, which I reckon beats the names of any of those places in Yorkshire I mentioned in Sammy VII.
As we get closer, The Sap is telling The Chief that cheddar cheese was first made in the village it’s named after but was so liked by Somerset folk that it was later made throughout the county and is now produced in all four corners of the world. She asks how the foreign versions can still be called cheddar when, for instance, Melton Mowbray pork pies and Stilton cheese must come from a specific area in Leicestershire. The Sap takes a laid back view, saying that the locals should have registered it long ago but were likely diverted from their task by Somerset’s other well-known product, scrumpy cider and under its influence registering essential trade-name paperwork was probably overlooked.
Suddenly I am dreaming again and I picture the road descending through endless rows of cheddar cheese on which the locals can gorge themselves freely...it’s a good job I go where I’m told because soon we’re about to fall off the edge of the Mendips and he points out the huge lake shimmering in the distance. I am a bit disappointed because the gorge turns out to be nothing like my dream as we twist and turn our way through limestone cliffs to the village of Cheddar and an interesting district called Velvet Bottom.
They are lucky enough to find a parking spot near Gough’s cave. He cracks a joke about Gough being unwashed and malodorous and that his cave was known as Fug Gough. A few seconds pass before she starts laughing and throws back what sounds like the same two words...it went right over my head. Thank goodness they’ve gone for a stroll and left me in peace to ponder things humans eat that have funny names...cottage loaf...I ask you.
Before long they are back and he is nursing a wodge of cheddar like a doorstop and a tub of local butter. He breaks out the crusty loaf, cuts two girt slabs (that’s what he said, honest!) lays on some butter like he’s using a trowel and hacks two lumps off the cheese and they soon sit surrounded by crumbs and contentment. Sometimes I’m quite jealous because I just get fed heavy oil and it tastes worse than the deposit on a zookeeper’s boot...see, I am beginning to assimilate and use their stupid sayings.
Anyway, he tells her that proper cheddar isn’t naturally a yellow coloured squidgy rectangular block pre-packed in suffocating plastic film, but whitish and shaped more like a football that has been flattened top and bottom. He says there is nothing finer than gorging on what is called a truckle of cheddar. He says he and his Somerset mates used to go camping with a couple of gallons of cider, two or three crusty cottage loaves and a truckle of cheese. He reckons a proper truckle is quite rare these days and is shaped like a miniature beer barrel. Nowadays, round blocks of cheese are usually only half the height.
We stop for the night a few miles south of Cheddar, a perfect place for a peaceful night in a small road leading into a cemetery and I dream again of that cheese-lined gorge, which goes to show that even a great dobake of a campervan can have his slumbers disturbed by nocturnal cheese.
The next day we eventually head for home along the A303 when The Sap announces that he’s pulling in for dinner and we lurch down a side road which turns out to be scoured by a series of deep water-filled tyre tracks. “Damn and blast it,” says The Sap, (he didn’t really, but children could be reading) “this track used to be a simple unpaved by-way but the blasted off-road fraternity have taken it over.” He manages to keep me going on a swerving course until a wide patch with a tawdry caravan looms into view and we shudder to a stop. “Look,” he says, pointing, “you can do some food then we’ll sit and enjoy the view of Stonehenge. ”
The Sap’s hopes of getting out are soon shattered when a convoy of 4x4’s streams by chucking mud and water all over me...I reckon I must look like a half demolished chocolate cake now. “That’s put the kybosh on getting home tonight,” groans The Sap, “so we had just as well stay the night and worry about getting out of here tomorrow. It will be too dark soon so why not have the added advantage of seeing the sun rise over Stonehenge?”
In the morning, I can see lots of people milling like ants around what looks like a huge partly eaten truckle of grey cheese. The Sap says it’s a temple built by people thousands of years ago who worshipped the sun. Apparently, many of the huge rocks were transported hundreds of miles from south Wales somehow.
Now, I’ve seen a few sun worshippers in my time while parked on the sea front at Swanage, but they only ever shifted a few odd pebbles from under their towels and I can’t imagine any of their ancestors heaving huge rocks around. I reckon people must have been bigger and stronger back then. I am still struggling to picture those prehistoric sun worshippers. Perhaps ancient Stonehenge looked something like this...but I’m dreaming again.
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We didn’t head straight home from Yorkshire; I can tell The Sap is up to something, but despite The Chief pressing him mercilessly, he won’t let on. Even Phillippa is kept in the dark with only a short burst of programming to take us west from Whitby on the Yorkshire coast, where we looked down on the town from the abbey ruins that The Chief says figured in Bram Stoker’s worryingly immortal classic, Dracula. This outing is fast turning into a literary paper chase! I wonder what The Sap might have in store as we start our westward journey.
After a few hours on minor roads through moorland scenery that deserves to be preserved for posterity but probably won’t be and with the winter sun now dazzling me and reddening the sky on its journey to the horizon and beyond, he stops me on a bridge over...yes, you’ve guessed it, another railway line. He tells The Chief a mainline steam locomotive will soon be passing, hauling a returning special train southbound over Shap, a railway summit on the line between Carlisle and Lancaster. The line is now electrified and rarely echoes these days to the sound of struggling steam engines as it once did. Just as he guzzles his last drops of tea, a distant whistle heralds the appearance of the determined engine, tugging its sinuous rake of old fashioned coaches. The Chief, who seems to have the measure of The Sap, ventures that the train is no doubt crammed full of similar old boys also trying to recapture a long-lost smutty youth.
Pictures taken, we’re on our way south, on what he tells us is the A6...the one-time main road from the glens. He says it carries little traffic these days because everything rushes blindly along the nearby M6, which unapologetically desecrates the once-tranquil fells. He recalls stopping hereabouts as a youngster when he was allowed to stand and watch the trains while his parents took a break for a brew-up on a motor trip to Scotland in the sixties. True, he continues knowingly, the trains shouted their presence and blackened the sky every half hour or so but the traffic high on the M6 throws a remorseless cacophony that echoes day and night across the hills. As he finishes his story we arrive in Kendal where the local council have very kindly pointed out our campsite for the night. We follow the signs and arrive on an empty industrial estate where a little investigation provides a first class peaceful hard-standing, complete with outside tap and no other souls...bless them.
Early the next morning, before workers arrive, we are long gone and heading into Coniston and Windermere where I take a breather while they prepare to wander off to explore. The Chief says she thinks we have been drawn here by yet more literary giants in the shape of William Wordsworth, Samuel Coleridge, Beatrix Potter and Arthur Ransome of Swallows and Amazons fame.
“Whatever makes you think that?” says The Sap, “perhaps I was drawn here by John Cunliffe!”
“Who’s John Cunliffe?” she asks, thinking he’s joking.
“You must have led a sheltered childhood,” he laughs “these days he is the most read of them all, he created Postman Pat.”
It’s a bright chilly day so tea is required once they return, but I can see The Sap is itching to get going...another train is due, I suspect. Well yes and no. Finally he tells The Chief that they are not here for any railway or literary purpose but he wants to show her a road that is the most spectacular he has ever travelled on in Britain.
I listen in awe as he says what we are going to do: It is only something we can do out of the main tourist season because the road is extremely tight for a campervan of my 6’6” girth, in fact he isn’t certain I will complete the route unscathed...now I am worried.
We travel west on a road that barely appears to be narrowing, so I don’t know what all the fuss is about...there’s plenty of room. Suddenly, though, without warning he heaves me across the road onto little more than a track and that excess room has disappeared; I couldn’t share this road with an escaped sheep and a starving one at that. He tells The Chief that although he shouldn’t really bring me down here because of my width, it is out of season and lunch time. Most tourists, he reckons, will have sought refuge in one of the hostelries at each end of the long narrow stretch, because other than sheep, grass and abundant water there’s nothing for miles.
Gradually the road starts to climb and we weave through the foothills and he is constantly fighting with my steering wheel and gearstick. He tells her that my saving grace, compared to modern campervans, is that I am rear wheel drive so won’t lose traction on the really steep sections and I have a very low first gear and a good lock to negotiate the tight bends.
As we stop in a passing point for the first time to make way for an oncoming car, I wonder why the driver is shaking his head and wagging his finger. The Sap shouts something and sounds my horn defiantly and we’re off again with grass and shrubs brushing along both my sides. We round a tight bend and the road comes back on us and climbs like a confused helter-skelter, then it veers to the right and manages to keep climbing...we pass a car that wisely seeks refuge in one of the passing places and the driver’s eyes seem to pop with amazement as if reflecting on what lies before us. I am getting quite dizzy as we climb in first gear, which to give you an idea, flat out on the level I would barely overtake a push bike pedalled by a 5 year old and a wimp child at that. The climbing seems to go on forever, then suddenly he goes up a gear and we run slightly down hill to a long plateau where a boulder-strewn torrent joins us from the right. All around us are mountains and incredible scenery, the like of which I have never seen before.
The demands of tea and sustenance make him pull over for lunch at what, he says, is roughly halfway, but that a more demanding climb faces us. More demanding? Can anything be more demanding than what I’ve already been put through? But so far I am at least unscathed, if a little breathless. He walks across the track to take my picture and if I could puff out my chest, I would because I do feel quite heroic at my achievement. I chuckle as he is corralled by a questioning posse of sheep that gaze at him as if demanding to know whether he is simply mad or is the infamous campervan-driving sheep worrier so recently escaped from Wales and now seeking refuge in the isolated northern fells.
Lunch over and with the inquisitive sheep left to nibble their scant grass in peace, we set off along the plateau before starting to scale the heights of the second trial section. As we approach a veritable mountain that seems to have no way across, he makes The Chief tremble and yours truly Sammy the intrepid mountaineer anxious, by recounting the tale of the night the looming climb almost snatched his life from him. Now I know he must be mad because who in his right mind would give the fates another chance?
He tells us that one afternoon he’d been at work more than three hundred miles south when he was summoned urgently to resolve some equipment problems on the Cumbrian coast. After rushing up the M6, he says he passed through Kendal just after 11pm. To have a chance of making his hotel at St Bees and a welcoming drink before the last residents vacated the bar and it was closed for the night, he rashly decided to take the cross country short cut. As he turned onto this narrow route, it was getting foggy, even before the mountains, and at one stage he had to stop because the glare of the headlamps in the fog made the road invisible. It was well after midnight when he climbed out of his car; he crept cautiously to the front to see where the road was going, only to find that the wheels were on the edge of a precipice. Swallowing hard, he groped his way to the rear of the car where he found that the road had zigzagged unseen to the left. He reversed and resumed his journey, at times just about walking pace, that tempting nightcap receding in importance.
And this is the road he wants to take yours truly on...yes, now I know for certain he’s mad.
Then almost without warning we start climbing...now I have never been to a theme park, as such, but I have watched from a car park as a little carriage packed with masochists climbs ever skyward on some fragile-looking framework. Then it hurtles downward and all aboard scream with fear...then queue up and do it again. I tell you, if I complete this journey, nothing will persuade me to do it again.
I climb and climb in first gear, twisting this way then that before corkscrewing my way even higher...I fret that at any moment I shall miss my footing and go over the side or hurtle downhill out of control. Then the road disappears, “This is the spot,” yells The Sap, “imagine this bit at night in fog!” He winds my steering wheel hard to the left and I follow the road back and down to another one hundred and twenty degree turn at the bottom. We are heading downward all the time now and I am grateful when he tell The Chief it’s over and we, no make that I have conquered The Wrynose and Hardknott Passes.
In just a few days I have learnt to swim and mountaineer...not bad for a geriatric campervan! I don’t think I shall ever face such a challenging journey again...but on the other hand, with these two twerps I can’t be sure.
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The Sap has decided we’re heading north for Easter, but the up-country weather forecast is not encouraging with predicted snow flurries across high ground...well in some ways it is encouraging to The Sap because he is winterising me. We hadn’t been back from Wales a couple of days before he started on a list of improvements to make my living space cosier.
Campervans, like me, were designed almost exclusively for warm weather use. You may well ask why. Well, I suppose that thirty years ago, most campervan users were hardly going to take a fortnight’s holiday in the depths of winter. Nowadays with early retirements, things have changed.
Anyway, when I left the Lunar factory I was kitted out with a pair of long curtains that did a reasonable job of separating the driving cab from the living cabin. Now, curtains may do a fair job of keeping out the early morning light and stopping prying eyes when you’re relaxing during the evening, but as these two have found, especially with curtains that have shrunk and become difficult to close completely, they’re rubbish at stopping heat from escaping.
On every outing so far, the pair have huddled next to my gas fire. It has been amusing to watch them playing a version of musical chairs as they swap places. The heat rushes past them down the cabin past curtains that might just as well be football nets and once inside the cab throws itself out of the glass and steel skin like as if it has a death wish. So every fifteen minutes they change seats to warm the cold sides of their bodies, but worse still their feet have never been warm.
So The Sap has designed and made a partition wall out of two inch cavity-wall foam slabs. I have to say he’s done a pretty good job and he’s covered it in the same beige carpeting he now has on my walls. This removable wall sits up in the over-cab space and he can take it down and have it in the Tee-shaped aperture between cab and cabin in seconds. He tested it last night and the cabin soon became too hot with the gas fire flat out here on the south coast. Over the next couple of days he plans to line my ceiling with polystyrene tiles, so he reckons the living space ought to be good enough for the snow-bound wastes of the North Yorkshire Moors...we shall see.
I suppose Yorkshire is a logical place to go after Wales. He says it, too, has moorland hills, sheep, rain (which often falls as snow) and its own near-incomprehensible dialect. The Chief reckons it’ll be a bit easier to navigate without all those double consonants and words that seem to go on forever and obliterate the map in their quest for space. We discovered a backwater village called Sodom in north Wales, but not even Yorkshire’s doubtful collection of place names stoops quite so low. Up there, I’m told, they have places like Penistone, Scunthorpe, Humpswaite, Giggleswick, Crackpot and even Hole Bottom.
Eee, Ah’m reet lookin forward to gooin thar.
With names like those it’s hardly upmarket, but it’s so far up-country according to Phillippa, it’s almost knocking on the door of that other Celtic paradise...The Peoples’ Republic of Caledonia, where they hope to take me one day. Yorkshire is a damned long way according to Phillippa’s continual rehearsal of her well-planned route. I keep trying to pluck up courage to speak with her because I know The Sap won’t like her chosen course and neither do I, it’s all humiliating high-speed motorway, which is not natural snail territory.
When The Sap returns, weighed down with essentials for our forthcoming outing, Phillippa is still talking to herself and has just cycled again to the bit where she gives instructions to turn left onto the M1 off of the M25. He’s quick to put her right, “I bloody told you I don’t want to go by motorway, Phillippa...I pressed the damned ‘no motorways’ button, why do you choose to ignore me?” He’s sort of telling the truth; I watched him do it, at least I watched him go to do it, but as with the off button when he went out, he was distracted and missed. If she could say, ‘No you didn’t, you fat twerp,’ I’m sure she would. After cancelling the motorway option, he again leaves Phillippa on ‘repeat’ mode but after a while ungallantly clips her around the ‘ear’ for a bit of peace and quiet. It’s the misogynist in him...he only chooses to use the navigator with a female voice so he can shout at her when he thinks he knows best and believes she’s wrong, then if she doesn’t give up, he smacks her casing in the sensitive spot that rarely fails to work her off button.
When we finally set off for Yorkshire just before Easter, I was thrilled. I quite like their approach to getting the best out of me...with my previous owners it was always rush, rush, rush to get to their chosen campsite before dark. The current idea of a perfect campsite is to find a quiet spot down a lane or in a lay-by, just as it’s getting dark. Although I listened intently to Phillippa droning on about a detailed route taking us up through the Peak District and an overnight stop at Matlock Bath, I only vaguely remember the route we actually took because every now and then The Sap has to assert his authority and deviate from her track. He often takes what he believes will be a shorter route but Phillippa always manages to show that his short cuts are long cuts, but still he persists. First port of call, apart from the couple of overnight stops is to be Keighley and then Haworth... Brontë country.
The Sap wants to see the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway while The Chief is excited about going up on Haworth Moor to see the ruin at Top Withens that is said to have inspired Emily Brontë when she set out to write Wuthering Heights. I am delighted that she likes to look at old ruins because The Sap and I should still be pleasing to her eye for a few years yet.
I find it quite interesting watching steam trains that are even older than I am rumbling in and out of Keighley station. It's a biting cold day and the steam drifts across into the car park where I'm sitting.
After half an hour we move on to Haworth and they park me between the town and the railway line. No more than five minutes passes after they leave before I hear a distant Sap shouting out excitedly to The Chief. Now I can just see him pointing up at a building on which I can make out the word Spooks, but he seems to be pointing above it and it isn’t until later when we’ve parked up in the car park for the Top Withins path that I get to see the picture she took when he hollered. Anyway, The Sap reckons that by the time Joe Public sees this blog and the picture he has modified to protect himself from Welsh wizardry, the locals will probably have changed the name in the picture because in these be-nice-to-all politically correct times,
even perverts have rights.
Ba ’eck t’were cold up on ’aworth Moor! As usual she is gasping for a nice cup of tea as soon as she stumbles into my sanctuary. After the kettle is readied to sing, he has the partition in place and the gas fire on. I have to give him credit...it seems to work a treat...he’s even hinged it half way up so it’s possible to scramble underneath into the cab to retrieve something. Apparently, up on the moor, she came hurtling down a slope, arms wide and shouting ‘Heathcliffe’ when she slipped, carried on down on her backside and crashed into him. Eeee! I don’t think t’were like that in t’book. Muddy wet clothes are now hung up above my gas fire and it is so warm they can now sit in their undies in the midst of winter. Tea and food behind them, they settle down with barely a glow from the gas fire and it’s like a hot house all evening, so hot in fact that so much heat has congregated in the above-cab bedroom that he has to open the window briefly before they climb into bed.
We’re going even further north today, heading for the North Yorkshire Moors and yet another railway, this one running from Pickering to Grosmont. Midway between them is the hamlet of Goathland, which doubles as Aidensfield in the old TV series Heartbeat. On arrival she says it seems quite strange to be sitting outside the village garage drinking tea and expecting to see some old police cars hurtle through what still looks like a 1960’s village. Just before dusk descends we head east up a winding track to the moors but quickly Phillippa tells him to turn right, then to turn around and finally to turn back.
“Shut up, Phillippa,” he snaps, “we’re going by a track that cuts across the moor where we’ll stop overnight...it will bring us out in Grosmont in the morning.”
“Turn back, turn back,” she seems to cry, before stepping further out of her programme in her desperation to protect us, “turn back, this track is impassable in winter.”
For her trouble she is cuffed around the hypothetical ear and powers down in a sulk. He finds a spot just off the track and we settle down with The Chief cooking a stew which almost has the effect of making this diesel-gobbling campervan feel hungry.
The next morning there has been a fair old fall of snow which allows my idiot owners to run around like a couple of kids having a snowball fight, but they hit me more than each other, I don’t mind though, it is all quite amusing. After breakfast we continue the spectacular winding track and descend into a valley where the fast flowing river is shown on the map, but there’s no bridge, just a warning sign for a deep ford. “She told you the road was impassable, ” says The Chief, patting a slumbering Phillippa.
“Don’t you side with her, that’s all I need. If you want to do something useful you can pull on your Wellington boots and see just how impassable that damn ford is, because it’s a long way back.”
“Why don’t you walk it? You’re the twerp that got us into this.”
“And I’d be the twerp who’d have to walk back again! No, you must go so that I can watch carefully and steer Sammy in your footsteps...so don’t fall over!”
I can’t believe she’s going to do it, but she pulls her boots on, slams the door and heads for the river, which looks ruddy deep to me. He opens his window and shouts, “Go on, if the water just goes in your boots, Sammy will go through okay...if it reaches...well, if it gets that high we’re all going to get a soaking.”
Then he seizes the moment and rushes by her, causing a tidal wave that dampens her ardour for days and I’m sure he is given smaller portions of her cooking as punishment. Wisely, he said nothing...she could have used some unusual flavourings in his portion if he had. Even so, her absolution was a long time coming. I’m not sure about Phillippa’s forgiveness though...I swear that several times when he switched her on, I heard her say, “Told you so!”
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Thump! The Sap has just dashed in and slams my back door, he’s furious. He’s standing on the doormat as naked as the day he was born shivering with a mixture of cold and rage. In fact, if you take into account there’s an awful lot more of him, he’s even more naked than the day he was born. The Chief is still cocooned above the cab, which plainly hasn’t helped his demeanour. Noisily, he lights the gas fire, fills the kettle and clatters it onto the stove, knowing that just a whiff of tea will wake her easier than any poking, prodding or shaking.
Eventually she eases her legs out of the warmth and carefully climbs down the ladder where she grabs yesterday’s clothes that he has hung above the fire. The tea poured, they sit and ruminate on his stupidity. Who in his right mind would rush out naked into a field full of bleating sheep at the crack of dawn? Twice now in Wales he’s innocently gone into a field of sheep, he tells her, and twice he’s had withering Welshmen hollering and honking their horns, perhaps because they look on the English as Johnny foreigners, typically trying to corner the best females.
I listen in amazement because my previous owners have all been normal, conformist types that took me on nice campsites away from sheep and trouble and avoided confrontation of any sort. These two are certainly different but I’m not yet sure if it’s down to crass stupidity or both having rebellious streaks which are compounded by being together. They are certainly going to change my life, I just hope they don’t manage to shorten it too soon.
I hear him telling her that in the early seventies when he first got too close to a sheep in Wales, it wasn’t the disaster it could be today because the boyos only had their parents’ Brownie box cameras to capture his embarrassment. Luckily, there was no internet back then, so pictures of him on all fours, half naked, trying to get poor legs-in-the-air Blodwyn the Blacknose into a more comfortable position, wouldn’t have gone beyond the local chemists. They certainly wouldn’t have reached far-off Cardiff, where woolly-minded journalists sometimes flocked to unearth the latest sheep-dipping scandal. In those days, there would have been little chance of his images going national let alone becoming a cause célèbre with The League against Cruel Sports baying at his heels.
But nowadays he says he is worried about this particular nude incursion into a field of sheep because 3G mobile has finally reached the depths of Welsh Wales. The Sap fears there is a possibility that the passing drunkard with horn blaring might have realised there could be money to be made. Apart from the attractions of living things, he believes there’s nothing the Celts like more than English money.
Would you believe it? Now he’s got me at the histrionics, pondering all sorts of possibilities about the recent horn blowing . Now, I’m a level-headed sort of campervan, yet the rarefied damp air of the Principality seems to have brought out the Kinnockesque in me. For my readers who don’t understand this British political nuance, suffice to say that it alludes to a one-time leader of a UK political party who seemed constantly smitten with verbal diarrhoea and stupid statements.
I ponder whether the promise of short-term wealth might have taken Dai the Drunk’s immediate focus away from some earthy Brenda the Barmaid. After all, some female must have waved her sizeable temptations before him all evening so clearly to raise his blood pressure. Now bear with me, don’t dismiss my offering out of hand. I am sure I could plainly see, as he drove by, that his flagging resolve was stiffened even more by the prospect of transient riches with which to buy his Brenda’s fitting attachment. Yes, without a doubt I saw him take his non-honking hand from its R.S.I-inducing activity and fumble for his Smartphone. Despite the alcohol, the blood pressure and those licentious thoughts about Brenda spread before him, there was the possibility, if only a faint one, that his poised Smartphone did indeed record The Sap’s discomfiture, while the car, not unusually with a drunk in charge, steered its own wayward course.
The Chief says she doesn’t know what he’s worried about because he’s not famous enough for any pictures to go viral and who’s going to recognise his backside anyway, other than his long-retired proctologist?
He has calmed down, overwhelmed by logic; it’s 6am, a soothing cuppa and some toast and they’re ready to point me in the direction of Devil’s Bridge...It’s a Sunday and early, the place appears, unsurprisingly, to be closed. He tells her that it seems impossible to believe that in living memory Wales had ‘dry’ counties where pubs weren’t allowed to open on Sundays at all. The men of many such places chose to sleep all day and avoid Sunday’s wretched reality of closed pubs and open chapels. The Sap reckons that many of the ‘Great Little Trains’ that chuff from Llanfair-no-wayre to Pant-y-hoes and back, owe their latter day salvation to the railway licensing law that enabled alcohol to be sold on moving trains, including trains crawling across those parched counties. Anyway, the trains don’t run for another five hours, maybe to allow Dai the Drunk and friends to recover from last night’s binge before embarking on the next.
It’s a typical grey overcast day and I am parked opposite a sign that says, ‘Entrance to the devil’s bridge viewpoint and gardens’. They are huddled in front of what looks like an old football turnstile incongruously guarding the entrance and are rifling through pockets and purse to find a second £1 coin, but without success. Now this next bit is funny...after both offering to forego the undoubted pleasure of the view, the two squeeze into the stile and he reaches back through the bars to feel for the little slit. After a groping struggle he eventually finds the spot and I hear the coin thump into the empty box below, whereupon they inch their conjoined bodies, penguin like, around to the viewing side. Now if those two lovers of good and plentiful food can squeeze their combined girths through, I wouldn’t be surprised if most people managed to claim their 50% discount, provided, of course, that old Trevor the Turnstile’s watchful eye has drifted away into bygone memories of better days when he worked down the pits in the Rhonda Valley and his only encounter with a turnstile was on Saturday afternoons at Swansea Town’s Vetch Field, long before Swansea itself was promoted to the City league.
It can’t have been very big or particularly interesting, this devil’s bridge because they’re soon back and we’re on our way to Aber-wrist-ache where we park on the vast empty seafront road. Now this could be a nice place, apart from the weather. I can well believe that, given a bit of sunshine, it could be a highly ranked resort, particularly if it were moved a couple of hundred miles south. If it were in Cornwall it would be crawling with tourists at this ungodly hour. Even I, Sammy the Snail, with more battery cells than brain cells, can picture Aber-wrist-ache swathed in glorious Cornish sunshine. It makes me wonder what crimes the Welsh must have committed in centuries past to be so punished by precipitation, but that quite naturally leads me back to sheep. He says that statistically it is always raining somewhere in Wales, which is depressing, especially for the Welsh and may explain why I haven’t seen a happy-looking one yet. Yes, Aber-wrist-ache is depressing; judging by the amount of puddles on the road, the place is well ahead in the rain charts.
The Sap opens his door and dashes to the sea wall to smell the air. His only reward, apart from the shivers, is to catch a great splash of pooh on his head from an anti-English seagull. That must have been the last straw and as he turns toward me, two gnarled Welsh women walking their retired sheep dogs point their walking sticks accusingly at him and squawk in Welsh. He stops and politely asks what they are saying but a sudden squall distorts their heckling words so they sound to me like sleep plucker. Obviously not to The Chief because she’s laughing her socks off and they’re really thick long socks! When he gets in she mops his head and suggests the old dogs and their walkers might be reincarnations of ancient Welsh witches, because how else could they recognise his chubby pink cheeks when they are swathed in camouflage trousers?
Now it’s his turn to laugh his socks off, but it’s not quite so easy because he forgot to put any on this morning. He tells her that maybe his army surplus camouflage trousers are so effective that the old biddies saw right through them. Yet within seconds he has a face as long as a donkey’s thingy when he convinces himself that Dai the Drunk must have exposed his backside to the merciless world of social media. How else, he says, could Myfanwy the Miserable and Gweneth the Grim have identified him as a gwyrdroi except by that damned photograph?
He is not just being stupid, I think he is being exceptionally dim-witted. It is far more likely that it is yours truly that has been identified and word has gone around there’s an English ponce at large in the area, only because he’s driving an exceptionally splendid campervan.
The Chief asks what gwydroi means, that the wizzened witches shouted after him as he dashed for my sanctuary to escape their flailing walking sticks. He says it has a familiar ring about it but he doesn’t know for sure. The he goes deathly white and I bend my ear in anticipation. He now recalls the hordes of sightseers shouting the same word with venom back in 1970. As the police led him away for interrogation he asked what the crowds had been shouting. ‘Gwyrdroi?’ asked the officer, ‘it means pervert...that's the word my superior used when he told me to bring you in’.
The Sap fears that all eyes are now upon him, all tongues are wagging their double quick Welsh lingo, while suddenly flocks of sheep seem to have deserted distant hillsides and been confined to their pens under heavy guard, meaning a fat shepherd with a huge crook. That’s the bent-at-the-end ‘Little Bo-Peep’ type, not the Kray-twins, hardened criminal sort of crook. Quickly, mindful of those ubiquitous net curtains twitching in nearly every window, we’re heading north, not that it will be any warmer but the puddles might have dried up and his new-found infamy might not have reached the banks of the Dee. After a long wet drive we’re in Thlan-goth-lingummy, where she says they have an annual singing competition called an eye-something or other. I ask you...how can anything to do with singing start with eye? It’s as daft as something to do with rhythmic percussion starting with ear!
It’s their lunchtime when we arrive at Thlan-goth-lingummy and he heads through the town looking for road-signs for an aqueduct that he’s been told carries a canal with its barges across a valley. Soon I’m parked up enjoying my handsome reflection in the water while they have a late fool-English breakfast. She suggested Welsh Rabbit but he said he hates cooked cheese...totally mad...now I want to know, what have rabbits to do with cheese anyway, apart from whey-hey!?
They have left me in peace and head off to cross the valley on this aquaduck thing. They disappear around a bend in the water, so what happened next I do not know, but all the time they’ve been gone there’s been a flotilla of funny pencil-shaped boats going by crewed by even funnier rubber-shaped people who wave at me as if they know I’m a celebrity.
Suddenly, they’re back and as usual she is ‘gasping’ and ordering him to ‘get the kettle on’; She’s so bossy! Little do I know that disaster lurks beneath the tranquil surface of the water. He has left something switched on so that when he tries to start my engine there is only a clunk and it does not burst into life. Stupidity to the fore once more, they manage with the help of a passing local, who I expect wished he had passed much earlier, to push me forward half my length. Then it’s back I go with The Sap managing to start me in reverse gear, but he only just gets his foot from revving accelerator pedal to my brake in the nick of time because my back wheel is halfway down the grass to the water. I can see my life shortening by the day, because unlike those pencil-shaped barges, this blob of a campervan can only swim like a brick.
With a sense of relief I’m heading back to Thlan-goth-lingummy but he stops along the road where The Chief climbs out to photograph what I now know to be the aqueduct with one of those pencil-shaped barges and rubber people in transit. Reaching Thlan-goth-lingummy he parks me at the top of the car park just in case my battery isn’t yet up to scratch...I can’t see any nearby hazardous water, which is a great relief but there is an enormous stone wall at the bottom, which I hope he stays well away from. He has taken The Chief to see the steam railway which once stretched from somewhere to somewhere else and took many of the Midland’s holidaymakers to west Wales. Now though, he says, it has joined the ranks of those that trickle to Panty-y-hoes and back, but they have plans to expand. From what I’ve recently learnt, they should just focus on survival.
The sun must have set because the grey clouds have got darker. In my past lives I would have been comfortably parked up on a nice little campsite by now, but these two have an aversion to such gatherings and off we go to look for a suitable bolt-hole for the night. He spots a straightened piece of road where the old road is still accessible, albeit one end is closed off and we settle down for the night; at least we thought we had until a familiar noise outside brings a sense of doom and pulling back my curtains reveals a field full of sheep. Like a shot he’s on his way again.
The Chief deepens the doom and gloom when she reminds him that the chances of finding somewhere to park up with no sheep nearby must be akin to finding decent cheese without calories which she knows is something The Sap has been hoping to find all his life. But he presses on remorselessly, climbing ever higher as we head for the Horseshoe Pass and the road to the north Wales coast. We pull in to a picnic spot but it’s now too dark for The Sap to read the sign that says ‘No Overnight Camping’, only in English.
They’re tucked up in bed when they hear a car enter the site and despite the fact we’re the only ones here, it parks right next to us. Any second we expect a knock on the door but nothing. The Sap is out of bed like a shot and pulls back the curtain expecting to see a courting couple so overcome by urgency that they didn’t even see me in the corner. But no; he tells The Chief that there is only one man in it and he’s just sitting there, no booze, no wacky baccy, no R.S.I., no nothing. He tells The Chief that he’s not coming back to bed while the threat remains outside. He says that in some ‘Aires’, those roadside stops in France, thieves have been known to squirt engine ‘cold start’, into campervans. This is basically ether, as once used as an anaesthetic and when the occupants are judged to be out for the count, the thieves break in to steal anything worth having.
He tells her to go to sleep and he will exercise his manly duty and keep guard all night. As the dawn breaks, The Sap has slept fitfully next to my door, stirring with every forest sound, when finally our next door neighbour starts his engine and leaves. For days afterwards they speculate what he had been doing in the car park and particularly why he had to park next to us.
My favourite reason? He had been shacked up with Jones the Bread’s wife but when Jones came home early from Wynifred the Widow’s, Jones chased him out but he couldn’t go home because he knew Ivor the Engine was there still enjoying his wife, Glenys the Gaumont’s pleasures until it was time to prepare the engine of his great little train for its journey to Pant-y-hoes and back. Maybe our companion for the night sought safety in numbers in case Jones the Bread came looking for him. Talk about interbreeding...and not only with the sheep and rabbits.
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I’m all excited. We’re heading to Wales this weekend. I have never been to Wales; I’ve listened to lots of talk about Wales and sheep in my time, but I don’t understand any of it.
Before I know it, we’re on our way and Philippa stands-by patiently to start telling The Sap the way. He spent an hour before we left, pressing her buttons so that she’d know where he wanted to go. The Chief sat impatiently after observing that most women know where a man wants to go before he even thinks about pressing any of her buttons. If she’s anything to go by, these Chief Cooks and Bottle Washers must be really clever people, which makes me think that they must progress to doing something important like running a multi-national company or a huge investment bank, even being a politician would be a small step up the ladder from being a bottle washer.
Talking of ladders, they both thought that the one I left the factory with is useless. It was made from small square steel tube and in my original colour brochure a child of eight is shown halfway up it. I don’t think the people that designed me expected adults, especially largish adults or fat plonkers (the largish is a sop to The Chief but there’s no sop to The Sap) to be sleeping or doing anything up there. He reckons the pain-provoking ladder proves this.
They both tried to climb onto their new mattress last weekend and found it nigh-on impossible without something on their feet. The Sap thought he was being clever; he wore his shoes to climb the ladder but couldn’t get them off because of the lack of headroom. You try lying under a bed so you can’t get your head high enough to allow your hand to reach your feet! He could just do it if he turned on his side and brought his feet up in turn to his hand. Next thing I knew he was shouting and hollering ’cos he’d got cramp in his thigh. It must have been bad because I don’t think he even used the ladder to escape below from my over-cab and that cramped experience.
It also dawned on him that if he wore shoes or slippers and managed to get them off, there was nowhere to keep them but he couldn’t just chuck them down below or he’d never reach my toilet during the night, unless he dived out of bed. Worse still, with The Chief in bed first, taking up her two thirds, he feared for his bladder, so made me a new ladder to make it easier to get up into the over-cab bed.
I don’t expect the ladder issue is finished yet, but I wouldn’t mind betting it will be over...the ladder that is, before the weekend’s out. But for now, it’s a step in the right direction with its kind-to-bare-feet wide steps, albeit painted pink.
He tells her that first off we’re heading for a place called Devil’s Bridge, which is near Aber-wrist-ache or some such place, because he wants to visit a two-wrist railway he hasn’t seen since the last time, but won’t tell her when that was, or with whom.
He is laughing again about sheep and wrists as he tells her about a time in Wales when he tried to rescue a poor sheep that had rolled over and was stuck with its feet in the air. He was getting annoyed with all the Welsh people supposedly on their way to work, because there he was kneeling on wet grass, huffing and puffing to get this poor sheep sorted and all they could do was peep their horns and shout abuse at him. He has told The Chief that if she should see any sheep in funny positions, with or without anybody nearby, she must keep it to herself because he’s no longer interested in bleating sheep or horny-sounding Welshmen.
It’s been dark for a while now and we’re not going to make Devil’s Bridge before the witching hour, so he pulls into a lay-by and encourages The Chief to set about preparing the evening’s sustenance. Afterwards he says it was a creditable feast, given my humble culinary facilities.
After a few rounds of something called cribbage, which I shall leave to your fertile imagination or a dictionary to solve, it’s time for them to head up the new wooden hills. She’s first and yep, the ladder decides to play rough with her only half way up. He manages to stop her naked decent to the floor below. Now he is under penalty of being denied her culinary and other skills, if he doesn't promise to come up with a means of stopping the ladder from moving perilously under foot. I am getting quite used to his weasel words and I can tell that it is a half-hearted promise. I should say it was, until he climbed out for the first of his nocturnal loo visits and found himself nearly thrown on the floor. Badly shaken, it reminded him that a solution was really urgent and could not just join the endless list of things to be done.
Word must have reached the hills of northern Wales from the valleys of the south where Blodwyn the Blacknose was ‘rescued’ by The Sap all those years ago, because every sheep for miles around seems to have gathered in my immediate vicinity. It’s the middle of the night and all are flocking well near me and are bleating for all they are worth. She wants to know what they want, as if he is an expert on the needs of sheep. Half asleep, he says that the only thing they need is to baa-grr off, and he shouts abuse out of my little window, but they don’t move and the bleating gets worse.
An hour later they’re still creating holy-hell, as if the devil is in the field on his way to his bridge. It gets too much for her and, safe in the knowledge that she can’t get out to do anything, she insists he goes down and scatters the sheep. Knowing there will be no peace from any quarter until he does something, he slides, fireman-like down the ladder...not because he is in any particular hurry to please her, but because he missed his step and now, clad only in his birthday suit, he heads out of my rear door at the crack of dawn to holler at those sheep.
Suddenly, a car driven by a Welsh night-worker or more likely a drunk who thinks the police will have retired to their stations for a cuppa, picks him up in its headlamps and further disturbs the remains of the night with its Colonel Bogey air horns. Anyone would think we weren’t having enough trouble with horns already.
“I’m not coming to Wales again,” says The Sap, having dashed back naked into my sanctuary, “every time I come here I’m harassed by sheep and Welshmen who can’t keep their hands off their horns.”
I don’t believe him, there’s too many steam railways here and even I know already that keeping The Sap away from railways is almost as difficult as keeping him away from food.
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