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A Dog is not just for Christmas...but these two could be!

I promised you some news about Rohan and India, so here it is!   The brand new book of stories about their lives at TURN Education is now av...

Wednesday 9 November 2022

"There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool..."



                                The Albert and the Lion pub and Tower


The opening line of the monologue, made famous by Stanley Holloway, ‘The Lion and Albert’ and written by Marriott Edgar.  I should know as I’ve taken to closing my ‘Pictures of an Exhibition’ talk with a rendition of this (for reasons which will become clear if you come along to one of the Talks some time 😊 )  The following line is “that’s noted for fresh air and fun”, which I’ve always regarded, perhaps unfairly, as being somewhat dubious.  However, the proof of the pudding and all that, so when my wife suggested we should take a short break and see the Blackpool Illuminations, I put aside my doubts and agreed to give it a go.

You know that expression that goes ‘if something appears to be too good to be true, it probably is’?  Well, I really should have taken that on board when we were searching for somewhere to stay.  We cast around for some time on one of the online booking sites and kept hitting problems with the possible options.  They were either (a) booked up, or (b) had vacancies but dire reviews, or (c) had vacancies and good reviews but nowhere to park (which seems to be a common problem with Blackpool, probably because most of the properties were built in an age when the motor car was a niche concern).  We finally came across an option (d), vacancies, great reviews, just off the Front and an unbelievable price.  It still didn’t have anywhere to park but, what the heck, it was dirt cheap!  We couldn’t believe our luck!  We trawled through all of the reviews and they were overwhelmingly positive and gushed with praise for the hosts and the standard of the breakfast.  We checked the on-site pictures, which showed a basic but contemporary and nicely decorated establishment and all of the reviews had remarked on the standard of cleanliness.  The main aspect was the price – just £90 for three nights for the room and breakfast!  £15 each per night!  How could you turn down such value?

Armed with our booking, we set off yesterday (Tuesday, 8th November) for our autumnal break.  I had a certain foreboding about the whole venture, which wasn’t helped as we set off in a torrential downpour.  After a slog up the M6 (which can’t be anyone’s idea of fun) we finally landed in Blackpool just as dusk was beginning to fall.  We found our venue but had to drive around the block a couple of times to find a sliver of on-street parking, so that we could off-load our luggage.  It has to be said that driving around the back streets of Blackpool is not an enervating experience.  Blackpool has a somewhat ‘Potemkin Village’ quality to it, in that the Front is exactly what you would expect from a premier British seaside resort but the streets leading off it leave a lot to be desired.

After spending a fraught few minutes doing my ‘reverse parking’ bit, generally known as my ‘Reginal Molehusband’ moment (do you remember that Government Information film from years ago?) I was perhaps not in the best frame of mind as we heaved our bags from the car and marched along the wet pavements to our hotel.  Clutching my phone, on which I had the email instructions as to how to access the front door and the door to our room (there being no staff present at that time in the afternoon) we negotiated our way past the key pad and entered the hall way.  This was somewhat less than impressive, being a narrow corridor with various anonymous doors off and a steep flight of stairs to the right.  The sign indicated that our room would be up these stairs.  Three flights of extremely steep and narrow stairs later* we finally came across our room, which was at the very top of the property.

There are many reactions you can have when first entering a hotel room.  The one you hope for is joy and excitement, which usually stems from the room offering far more than you anticipated.  This rarely happens, but it’s nice (and memorable) when it does.  More often the standard British phrase that springs to the lips is “Well, this’ll do, won’t it?”, which usually means that it actually matches what you had expected, perhaps even a little more so.  What you don’t want is that feeling of your heart sinking.  Our hearts sank at a rate that would have given the Titanic pause for thought.

I think the best, and most accurate description of the room would be…depressing.  It was a narrow room with two single beds, one placed at either end, the bedding on these looked as if it had been chosen in the 1960s and no-one had heard a convincing reason to change it in the interim. At the far end of the room was a net-curtained window looking out onto the roofs and backs of the properties behind.  To the right of the window was the en-suite facility, which consisted of a hand basin with a soap dispenser (devoid of soap), a toilet and a shower cubicle.  Above the bed nearest the window, was a very small flat screen TV, that had been attached to the wall at a crazy angle.  My wife and I put our bags down and surveyed our surroundings.  The light outside was falling rapidly and our room was dimly illuminated by an overhead light which cast a yellow pall over our accommodation.  Presumably, if the photos of the establishment were to be believed, this was what you got if you only paid £30 per night.

We faced each other, glumly, and tried to second-guess the other’s reaction.  In an effort to instil a degree of optimism, and as a first bid in what I guessed would be our subsequent negotiation, I pointed out that “there’s a hairdryer down there on the side table, we weren’t expecting that!”  The hotel information had advised that a hairdryer could be provided on request and, as no self-respecting Briton would possibly be caught asking for something as effete as a hairdryer, we had brought our own.  My wife did not look as if this was the best news she had received all day.  I made another bid “I suppose I had better go and find somewhere to park the car?” I suggested, without any real hope of this being a likely scenario.  She looked miserably around the room and said “I don’t think I can stay here”.  As this had also been my gut reaction, it was with some relief that I said “Well, we won’t then”. 

There followed some frantic searching online for alternative accommodation.  Given our failure with independent hotels, I opted for the tried and trusted.  Premier Inns were sold out for miles around, which was disappointing but not unexpected at this late stage in the game but, hurrah!, there was a Travelodge, with vacancies for the night, just a hop, skip and a jump from where we were.  It was the work of a moment to book for the night and it was with slightly lighter hearts that we hauled our bags back down the steep stairs to the corridor below.

Another tour around the mean streets of Blackpool, with the rain bucketing down again, we found our home for the night.  Now we had a modern room, with a King-size bed, plenty of room and lighting, very nice en-suite facilities, a large flat screen TV and a very effective, temperature controlled, radiator.  Apart from the frustration of trying to pay online for the car park (don’t ask!) this was a huge improvement.  Admittedly, the cost of the room for the night was just £10 short of the cost of three nights at our previous accommodation but, for the sake of our sanity, it was well worth it.

We went down to get a bite to eat and a drink and plan our evening.  The bar was crowded, mostly with men, and we had a job to find a vacant table.  Behind the bar the one lad who had been manning Reception was also trying to serve a queue of people.  When it came to my turn, and I asked if I could order some food, I was told there would be a 1 hour and 15 minute wait.  Given that we hadn’t seen any alternative eating establishments in the vicinity, I said, in answer to the inevitable question “Is that alright?”, that it would have to be.  Nursing my pint at the table and reflecting on the rather unfortunate occurrences of the day, I noticed that a lot of our companions seemed to be sporting Middlesborough football scarves.  A quick check on the internet revealed that our Travelodge was directly across the road from Bloomfield Road Stadium, the home of Blackpool FC and the venue for that  evening’s match between Blackpool and Middlesborough.  In all fairness, our compatriots were no problem, apart from some fairly fruity language at times and a depressing habit of falling into football chants with little encouragement.

As the match neared its commencement, the room cleared, leaving a sea of empty glasses and bottles and our food miraculously appeared, considerably earlier than the expected hour and a quarter delay.  As we munched our burgers (the menu was a bit limited) I watched the rain splatting against the window and asked my wife if she still wanted to see the illuminations?  She said she thought she had seen enough of Blackpool for one day, so we retired to the relative warmth and comfort of our room.

The following morning, we went to breakfast as early as we could, anticipating a repeat of the previous evening’s crush, but it was much more sedate and less crowded.  I was going to say that we then packed our bags but, in all honesty, we had never unpacked them.  We confirmed with each other that we were still fine to go home and we both agreed we were.  However, I could not, in all conscience, visit a seaside resort and never see the sea.  So we put our bags in the car and marched, resolutely, seawards.  There, on the Front, we could see the Big Dipper in the distance in one direction, in the other, Blackpool Tower.  In front, a strong wind caused a grey sea to lash at the nearby promenade.  We viewed the scene, we looked at each other, we nodded and headed back to the car park.  We had done our duty, as British Citizens, and now we wanted to go back to the ‘privy of our own home’ as Benny Hill used to put it.

Unpacking later, I remarked that it’s not often you get to take half of your wardrobe on a 200+ mile journey just for the fun of it!  She gave a wry smile.  It was illuminating!

P.S. If you’re interested, Middlesborough won 3 – 0, which might explain the somewhat more sedate atmosphere at breakfast!


* I was tempted to say that we passed a mountain goat on the way up, but that would have got me into one of those off-colour jokes about always knowing when you’ve passed a mountain goat because you can’t get the toilet lid down, which I’m sure you wouldn’t have appreciated?

Friday 1 April 2022

April Fool Minus One!

I haven't noticed many (if any) April Fool-type gags in the news and social media today, which I suppose is understandable.  There really isn't a lot to laugh at in the world, at the moment.  However, I rather think that Mother Nature has decided to play a few tricks of her own in the absence of any human endeavour.

This all started yesterday, March 31st, which makes sense as there is no logical reason why Mother Nature should find herself bound by the Gregorian calendar.  I wandered downstairs, in my usual bleary state, and opened the curtains in the cat's bedroom.  Yes, I know that sounds rather grand.  In reality, she has the run of the Dining Room at night and I'm sure she thinks of it in those terms.  Anyway, I pulled back the curtains and was greeted by bright blue skies and some very welcome Spring sunshine.  Nodding appreciatively, I shuffled into the kitchen to perform the same function.  I pulled on the cord to raise the roller blind and was greeted by...BLIZZARD!  All you could see was whirling snow.

Now, I like a laugh as much as the next person, but this was more than a bit disconcerting!

Later in the same morning, as I was enjoying a contemplative shave, I heard a quacking sound.  This isn't entirely unusual as we have what is grandly called a 'lake' just down the road from where we live but which is actually a duck pond.  From time to time, the residents of the 'lake' potter up our cul-de-sac to see what's going on.  What made this unusual was that it seemed to be coming from close to our bedroom window.  I looked out, and saw this:


Is it me, or what?  Surely ducks don't roost in the normal way of things?  They haven't got the right feet for perching on narrow ledges or, as in this case, the apex of our neighbour's roof!
Something is clearly going on and, from the evidence, it would seem that the ducks are in on it.  I await further developments.

Monday 7 February 2022

"You've got to fight, for the right, to..."

 From time to time, I let my Undertakers comment on topical issues.  

This is one of those times 😉

Archibald Thurble took a deep breath, attempted to straighten his permanently lopsided jacket, gave up the unequal struggle and knocked smartly on the door of his employer.

“Come!” Josiah Oakshott intoned from the other side of the door.

Archibald peered around the door, as if expecting to be set upon by some unseen dark force.  Satisfied that the coast was clear, he shambled forward to the desk, on which Josiah appeared to be making a series of important notes.  The fact that this was actually his shopping list and that, apparently occupying himself with some important document or other, was a device that Josiah had long utilised to reinforce the pecking order when entertaining guests in his office, was something that Josiah intended to keep firmly to himself.

“Ah, Archibald!” Josiah glanced up from his apparently meticulous notes, at his employee, who took this as an indication to slide toward the chair opposite, “no, there’s no need to sit, Archibald, I won’t detain you for more than a moment” Josiah said, sharply.

Archibald, somewhat discomfited, aborted his manoeuvre and stood, tugging at the sleeves of his jacket.  Josiah completed his writing and looked up.

“Thank you for coming to see me so promptly, Archibald…”

“No problem, Mr. O.”

“I’m delighted to hear it.” Josiah gave a weak smile, “Archibald, I’ve called you in today because I must inform you that I will not require you to provide pall-bearing duties today or, for that matter, the rest of this week”

“You what, Mr. O.?”  Archibald looked more than usually puzzled.

“By which, I mean” Josiah sighed, heavily, “that you will not be required to be involved in any customer-facing duties for the remainder of this week”

“Well, I don’t usually face them, Mr. O., on account of I’m driving and they’re in the back!” Archibald protested.

“It’s just an expression, Archibald.  Not to be taken literally.  It means that I do not want you to be involved with our clients, in any capacity, this week.  Is that clear?”

“Oh, right” Archibald’s bottom lip quivered a little. “Any particular reason, Mr. O.?”

“Well, I would have thought that would have been perfectly obvious” Josiah snapped.

Archibald frowned in concentration as he attempted to figure that particular conundrum out.  After a considering a number of possibilities, each more unlikely than the other, he gave up and said,


Josiah sighed again, shook his head and explained,

“It is apparent to me, Archibald, that you have been engaging in fisticuffs!”

“Come again, Mr. O.?”

“You appear to have been fighting, Archibald”

“What makes you think that then, Mr. O.?”  Archibald looked perplexed.

“Well, the two black eyes, the swollen and bruised nose and the cut upper lip were something of a giveaway” Josiah pointed out, sarcastically.

“Oh, right, and you think I’ve been brawling!” Archibald chuckled.

“Well, haven’t you?”

“Nah, I’ve never had a fight in my life!” Archibald grinned, “this isn’t from fighting, it’s from drumming!”

“Drumming?  Really?  I had no idea it was such a dangerous occupation!”

“It isn’t, most of the time,” Archibald conceded, “it’s just…I can’t afford to have proper drumming lessons, see?”

“Yes, I’m with you so far” Josiah nodded, cautiously.

“So, I’m having to follow these videos what you can get online.  There’s loads of ‘em by all these blokes.  It’s mostly blokes and they’re usually American” Archibald explained, “They’ve usually got shaved heads and look like someone you wouldn’t want to meet down a dark alley but, any road, they all reckon they can turn you into a genius drummer if you just do this exercise, or that, or summat else, for five minutes a day”

“And how does this relate to your…” Josiah vaguely indicated Archibald’s facial injuries.

“Ah yeah, well I was coming to that” Archibald nodded, “there was this one exercise what involved doing summat really tricky by crossing your hands over so as how you were hitting stuff with your right hand what you would usually hit with your left and the other way about, if you get my drift?”

“I think I follow” Josiah nodded.

“Well, like I’ve said before, I get my left and right mixed up sometimes” Archibald blushed a little, “and this exercise what he had us doing was a bit complex, and you had to do it pretty sharpish otherwise it sounded like nothing on earth”

“I can well believe it” Josiah smiled, thinly.

“So, I’m trying to follow what he reckons we should be doing, only I get totally confused and I only finish up with one drumstick clouting me in the face and the other shoved up me left nostril, don’t I?” Archibald looked suitably downcast.

“I er, I can see how that might be somewhat unfortunate” Josiah sympathised, whilst trying to suppress a chuckle.

“I don’t reckon I’m going to do any more of his lessons, life’s too short” Archibald shook his head, sadly.

“Nevertheless, it is commendable that you have applied yourself to your studies in such a fashion” Josiah consoled him, “I’m sure you will find a mentor that better suits your particular learning style”

“Well, I hope so, Mr. O.” Archibald sighed, “’cause I was trying to get a few tricky bits under my belt, on account of how we might have this gig coming up”

“This would be your ensemble ‘Dead Set’, I take it?”

“Yeah, that’s right” Archibald grinned, with some difficulty given his injuries.

“I would have thought that, accepting a ‘gig’ of any description, might a something of a triumph of hope over experience, given that, as you previously informed me, your little ‘beat combo’ only know one song, and that imperfectly?”

“Well, that’s why I was practicing with them videos” Archibald pointed out, “’cause I was hoping to get at least a couple more tunes under me belt”

“Laudable though that may be, I would severely doubt that three tunes in all would be sufficient to warrant a live appearance?”

“Well, it’s not like it’s owt professional” Archibald shook his head, “it’s just a “work event”” He framed the words with the forefingers of both hands and grinned broadly.

“Is it some form of naked puppet show?” Josiah looked suitably puzzled.

“Nah!” Archibald giggled, “I mean “work event”, like someone’s party!  You know, it’s what everyone’s saying now… since that business at No. 10”

“Oh, now I understand” Josiah nodded, “you are referring to the unfortunate events that are alleged to have occurred in Downing Street during the recent pandemic restrictions?”

“Yeah, that’s it!  It ain’t right, is it Mr. O.?”

“I make it a practice never to discuss politics in the workplace, Archibald”

“Well, yeah but, what with parties for someone leaving, parties for someone getting the push, birthday parties and ‘bring your own bottle’ parties, I reckon they’ve had more parties in a few months than I’ve had in my whole life!”

“It would appear that there was a somewhat erm, jovial and relaxed atmosphere pervading” Josiah steepled his fingers and rested his chin on the result.

“And, on top of that, while they were having it large down in Downing Street, I’d got a bloke threatening to punch my lights out because he couldn’t have a ruck of people at his Mam’s funeral”

“Ah yes, you are referring to the unfortunate Mr. Blunt (see ‘From A Distance’) who had anticipated a large family gathering for his mother’s funeral but found he was restricted to six mourners” Josiah remembered, with a visible shudder.

“Ar, that’s him!  And you remember how you were all stressed out ‘cause you thought you might have to get some bouncers on account of the chance of hundreds of people turning up for funerals and you getting fined for it?” (see ‘The Thin Black Line’)

“I would acknowledge that these alleged gatherings would tend to grate, somewhat, with those of us who endured considerable privations whilst adhering to the restrictions appertaining at the time” Josiah mused.

“Me Nan’s fit to be tied!  She says she didn’t go for months without being able to go to ‘The King of Prussia’ just so that they could get rat…”

Josiah looked at him, quizzically.

“Erm, a bit merry?” Archibald suggested, lamely.

“Yes, I take her point.  However, none of this is currently proven and I understand that the matter is being probed by the relevant law enforcement authorities.  Nevertheless, leaving all this to one side, we must address your facial injuries”

“Oh yeah, sorry about that Mr. O.” Archibald looked crestfallen.

“Do not concern yourself, Archibald, I’m satisfied that your injuries are not the consequence of misconduct on your part”

“Yeah but, I don’t suppose you want me out there with the punters, do you?”

“I would prefer the term ‘clients’, Archibald.  However, you are correct in your assumption. Regardless of the origin of your injuries, our clients might well arrive at the same, albeit erroneous, conclusion as I did.  Therefore, I must, regrettably, ‘confine you to barracks’ for the remainder of the week” Josiah made the same ‘inverted comma’ motions with his hands, that Archibald had made previously.

“Hey, now you’re doing the naked puppet show thing!” Archibald chuckled.

“Yes, indeed.” Josiah frowned at his hands, “That is a habit I must shed with some alacrity!  For the rest of the week, you will focus on your duties within our workshop.  That will be all, for now, Archibald” Josiah returned to his shopping list.

Archibald nodded and set off for the office door, until a thought occurred to him.

"It makes you think, dunnit?"  He suggested.

Josiah paused his notation, lifted his head and raised a speculative eyebrow.

"In what way would that be, Archibald?"

"Well, if they were that sloshed all the time, how did they ever get owt done?  I mean, running the country and all that?"

"On the contrary, Archibald" Josiah returned to his writing, "I rather think it explains a great deal!"

“Hey up, now there’s no restrictions to speak of, is there any chance we might have a ‘work event’ here, Mr. O.?”  He winked broadly.

“I think we see quite enough of each other, within a work setting, Archibald, without further expanding our horizons” Josiah said, determinedly, without looking up from his notes.

“Right you are, Mr. O.” Archibald grinned and headed off to his restricted duties.

You can find a lot more from Josiah and Archibald in the two collections of their stories, available in Kindle format, "A Dubious Undertaking and other stories" and "Grave Expectations"