Sunday, May 28, 2006


"Did you grow these yourself?", someone asked me. I know what they meant but it would be foolish for me to pretend that I did. I stuck them in the ground and nature did the rest.

For sheer economy of effort and fitness for purpose, these flowers are unbeatable. I had a whole thought process ready to put on the blog about natural phenomena being more powerful than anything mankind has produced.

Now that I've seen these images, the argument seems redundant.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

5 DOs and 5 DON'Ts

Ten handy tips for newcomers to help you to fit in straight away.


Carry a couple of tasty dog snacks in your pocket. It's expected.

Plan domestic emergencies well in advance. Plumbers and electricians here like plenty of notice and follow-up reminders before they will mend leaks or fused circuits urgently.

Commit to memory all possible routes to Skegness or Boston. (Essential for assisting bemused delivery drivers, completely lost through bridge/road closures, asking for directions every time you mow your front lawn.)

Mow your front lawn at least as often as you clean your teeth (or tooth). It's expected.

Keep in mind that "dyke" is a verb as well as a noun (i.e. "I've dyked myself"). It saves vital seconds when calling out the Emergency Services while your car is filling up with water.


Wash your car. If it isn't sufficiently mud-spattered, oncoming tractor-drivers will mistake you for a recent incomer or, worse still, a tourist, and force you off the road instead of making room for you to pass.

Complain about Lincolnshire sausages being gristly. That's how they're supposed to be.

Ask what 'chine' is either. Just eat it and pretend to like it. Ditto re: gristly.

Stare at the tourists. They think it's cool to dress like that where they come from.

Ask anyone over 40 how they are. Unless you really really want to know. I mean really really really want to know.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Backwards and forwards with the tide

200 years ago, before huge public works drained 40,000 acres of fen, the land my house is standing on was a saltmarsh. 1000 years before that it was dry land and sea level was 20 feet lower than it is today. Experts say the reason the sea has risen might be because polar ice-caps shrank from about 300 AD to 1300 AD. Global warming? Nobody was around at that time to call it such. Does call into question the current panic over rising world temperatures, though.

Either way, settlement patterns - Iron Age, Roman and Medieval - confirm the varying outlines of the coast and man's attempts to work new land and to stem the tide. A distribution map taken from the Domesday Book of 1086 shows much the same pattern of villages as one drawn up today. And, as a rule of thumb, the size of a parish church as it relates to its village now is much the same as it was when it was built - showing that we haven't spread ourselves about much for a thousand years and the reason for some places being more desirable and prosperous than others is the same now as it was back then.

Things have changed over the last few decades. Changed patterns of rural employment mean that ambitious local youngsters move to other areas of the UK for work. The vacuum is filled by older people coming in - people escaping from crime-ridden, multicultural, chav-infested cities and bringing with them capital and pension incomes not earned in the local economy. Instead of stretching boundaries to make extra opportunities, the emphasis is on preservation of what was put here by previous generations. Our landscape and landmarks were functional to the times when they were created. Now they exist almost independently of their original purpose and their value is in the contribution they make to the attractiveness of the area.

This church has seen the sea lap at its foundations and recede again. It has survived the Black Death, the Reformation, the Civil War, the Iconoclasts and competition from the Non-conformists. In its Victorian hey-day, it would have held three services every Sunday as well as Masses during the week. Previous vicars lived in some style at the rambling vicarage nearby. One of them is commemorated in the glorious stained-glass East window and a lavish brass plaque records him leaving the Parish to become Bishop of Zanzibar.

Nowadays, the present incumbent is based in Spilsby and has ten such churches in his charge. Services are held twice a month for a dwindling band of, mostly, elderly widows.

How much longer can the church hold out? How long before this entire area goes the same way - or completely becomes a living-museum?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hold the front page!

Wednesday May 17

Today's the day our weekly paper, the Spilsby Standard hits the streets. It's eagerly awaited not, as is unkindly said, so that residents can check the obituary columns to see if they are in them, but for the sensational local news items. This week's edition is no disappointment. Here, verbatim, is the report of just one of the cases faced by our ever-alert Emergency Services:
Wedding ring had to be cut off
Fire and rescue teams had to cut a woman's wedding ring off because it was causing her finger to swell.
The incident happened at Woodlands Fishery, Spilsby, just after 5pm on Friday.
The fire crew used ring-cutters to help the woman who was not injured.

There we are then. Dramatic or what? In other news, Magistrates have ordered psychiatric reports on Mike Jolkin for a series of hoax 999 calls to HM Coastguards. 18-year-old Mike had joined the Skegness Lifeboat crew on March 1st fancying some excitement but the boat had not, so far, been launched. Elsewhere, Partney is looking for a "new tradition". Apparently unfazed by the contradiction in terms, Partney bigwigs are seeking a replacement for the ancient Sheep Fair which had been held since 1086 but folded for good three years ago due to lack of sheep.

Meanwhile, East Lindsey Council is set to attract more visitors to the area through a novel and, given our weather and sea conditions, very brave idea of a Beach Cinema. People will sit in deckchairs on the sand while films are projected on to a giant screen located on a ship moored out to sea - with councillors apparently oblivious to the comic potential of the idea.

And there's also a full-colour picture of the line-up (self excluded) at our last Friday's Open Mike Night, together with correctly spelled names. You read it here first!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Food fads and brainy beans

Sunday May 14

Had salmon from Scotland, peas from Spain, potatoes from Egypt, strawberries fron Italy, wine from Madeira and Chile for dinner last night. Probably enough in food-miles to shrink the Polar ice-cap by a couple of yards. What can I do, though? Despite living half-way between two great fishing-ports; Grimsby and Boston, and smack in the middle of the UK's largest veg growing area, local produce is near impossible to come by. Yet you can buy sushi in Tesco's in Skegness.

Well actually, that last statement may or may not be true. I haven't, strictly speaking, been in the Skegness Tesco. And to be fair, the metro, loft-apartment aspiring, everything-is-the-new-black, lifestyle-victim culture hasn't penetrated this far yet. The nearest sushi outlet I'm truly aware of is at Kings Cross Station - standing ready to serve the Capital's arrivals as they arrive and departures as they depart. But still...

The runner beans that poked their heads through last week are already showing signs of conditioned reactive behaviour similar to that of the sushi-eaters. They're about 8 inches tall now and on dull days like today, they open their leaves wide to catch as much sunlight as possible. On warm bright days, their leaves close in, touching at the tip, to conserve moisture.

Interestingly, this is almost the exact reverse of the behaviour exhibited by tourists weekending in Skegness - who expose as much of their bodies as they can on sunny days and then have to cover them up to protect their sunburn when it clouds over. Is this a sign of rudimentary intelligence in both species?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Life as we know it

Saturday May 13

Was pretty much dreading last night at the Village Hall; Open Mike Night - for the cream of local talent to show what they can do. The thing is, however much I tell people that the blues harp is only for playing blues on, they don't listen and I knew for sure that I'd be asked to play Morning Has Broken or something just as ghastly.

Yep, did get a few requests for stuff I can't do... but I got through OK. Others on the bill included a couple of 9 year-olds doing card tricks, a bloke reciting a poem about his shed, two sisters singing songs from South Pacific, a woman reading poetry from a book and the good old boy from up the lane on his melodian. The star, though, was a lovely woman from across the road on keyboards and vocals who kept the whole thing running through sheer panache.

All great fun. But what would really have made it excellent would have been if more people had've switched their TV's off, got off their sofas, and come out to mingle with real people - and rediscovered what pleasure there is to be gained from real-life and the warmth of friends. Think back over the best times you've ever had. Were any of them spent watching TV? Nah.. I once heard it described as something you'd stay in for - but not go out to.

Reality TV is a contradiction. A deceit. 20, 30, 50 years ago, maybe, watching TV was like looking through a window at a world beyond. Now it's sucked people through the glass. Lives are being defined by the lifestyles projected to them. The fate of soap characters - caught up in lesbian affairs, domestic violence, euthanasia, racial inequality, child abuse - colours and defines attitudes in everyday life. The standards of acting and entertainment - full of canned laughter, glossy sets and a jingle to emphasise any minor point - look pathetically amateurish to anyone unused to TV. Then there are the manipulative priorities given to what the TV companies define as news.

But still it is the most influential character in many people's lives. Passive people, that is. And the Passives are winning through sheer weight of their indifference.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Liars leading donkeys

Wednesday May 10

So much for Blair's extra £bns and his '24 Hours to Save the NHS' campaign. Lincolnshire Hospital Trust, which closed 5 wards last year as part of its, err, improvements programme (sic), is now even deeper in debt and thinking about closing its night-time Accident & Emergency facility at Boston Pilgrim Hospital to save money.

If it does close, it will mean a 40odd mile trip to Lincoln for about 120,000 people living out here if they're unco-operative enough to suffer a medical emergency after 6 pm. At the same time, Lincolnshire Trust is going to "ration" care given to smokers and the obese. Not for breathing and weight issues even (yet). Get this... for hip and knee replacements and hysterectomies!

Unbefcknglievable isn't it? I don't believe a single word this bunch of lying incompetents say. Not on waiting lists, employment figures, inflation figures, education results, crime figures, immigration numbers... Passing legislation, doling out money to Civil Servants, spinning the results is the easy bit. Their problem is that they can't actually run anything. Getting the bloody thing to work properly is a hard trick and this lot aren't up to it..

When you are elected to a Council, officers will fawn over you - calling you Councillor, Chairman, Leader or whatever and laughing like drains at the merest of your jokes. It's a flattering experience, especially for many people who come from humbler backgrounds than the senior officers who are being so deferential. Inevitably, the officers will be more skilled in their fields than mere 'amateur' members so that it takes nerve to query them when they give advice. But most members remain entranced and so are led to approve staffing and tax increases as the solution to every problem. They go native. Same thing in spades happens to Ministers - plus they have%

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Sunday 7 May

The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, at the Embassy tonight, weren't the limp 30s pastiche I was half expecting. Yes, they wore dinner suits with carnations in their buttonholes.. OK then, the singer DID sit on a chair at the side of the stage between solos. But it swung like hell (no stupid.. the music not the chair). Mostly Irving Berlin, Woody Herman and Ellington stuff with the original arrangements, great harmonies and rhythms and with a modern-day oomph. Those who missed it (a lot.. there were acres of empty seats) need to get out more.

Last night was a Taste of Things to Come - at the Hundleby Inn (No Smoking). They have a notice saying patrons can "feel free" to smoke out in the carpark. Well thanks a million. It was pissing down with rain. Ah well.. I shan't be going there again, anyway. Too nice.

"Enjoy your meal, luv?"
"Yes, it was very nice thanks."
"What about the music?"
"Very nice!"
"And the view from your table of the sun setting over the Wolds?"
"Very nice indeed."
"As nice as the fire-eating topless waitress who brought the dessert trolley?"
"Oh yes, just as nice."
"Complimentary wine, coffee, liqueurs and de-luxe Belgian chocolates to your satisfaction?"

"What about when the Massed Bands of the Royal Marines marched past playing 'Anchors Away'"?
"They were nice."
"Nicer than the multi-media re-enactment of the Battle of Winceby with live cannon rounds and real blood?"
"No, not as nice as that. Nice, though."
"Did you enjoy it when the toilets exploded, spraying ordure everywhere?"
"Yes, that was nice."
"You didn't mind having to change tables when the Fire Brigade sprayed toxic foam over you, I hope?"
"They were very nice about it."
"Thank you. Always nice to see you, please come again."

Friday, May 05, 2006


Friday 5 May:

My runner beans began to poke through the compost today. I reckon each bean makes a plant that gives around 80 pods - say 8 beans to the pod = enough to make 640 plants next year. Or let's say 320 if we eat half and sow the rest. Pretty good going, either way. Soon be enough to plant an acre... then 320 acres the next year and so on and on. The whole world could live on the damn things in no time.

The electrician came today, too, to mend the hot water system. He's about 40 and last time he came I discovered that I knew his father from when we were kids - he was apprenticed to my Grandad as a plumber. Quite a big coincidence - this was back in the City and what must be the odds against us both moving out here and running into each other?

Now then... my great grandfather, a factory hand, had 3 sons in around 1880. He made them all learn a trade.. one a printer, one a painter and decorator and the other, (my grandfather), a plumber. They all prospered and founded their own businesses. I've often thought about how much I owe to the old geezer's foresight because I've benefitted from the attitudes, and money, that came down through the generations to me. He sowed a kind of a seed. And if he hadn't, even the electrician who came to me today may well not have had the chance to learn the trade he's doing now, more than a century later.

It must be some kind of natural law. Probably what the miracle of the loaves and fishes is getting at. Things just multiply. So be good.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Spanish Plume

Thursday May 4

It's funny; you go all your life and you've never heard of something... then it turns out to have been around for years. Forever, even. Today, we're in a Spanish Plume! According to the weatherpeople, we get them regularly. Apparently, they're a chunk of hot air that come up from Spain every now and then and covers the UK in gorgeous sunny weather. Well who'd have guessed? Why haven't we been told before? Me, I think the whole weather forecast game is a scam akin to astrology and feng shui. They have to keep coming up with new and complex-sounding stuff to sound as if they know better than we do what they're doing.

Either way, though, it's a welcome change after the long cold start to spring - even the daffodils are still flowering and the leaves have barely broken on the hawthorn hedges. The local economy is dependent on tourism and farming, so it matters more to people here than elsewhere.

And weather is more visible to us out here than in the cities. We've got so much sky and, being so flat, we're aware as soon as we go outside, where the wind is coming from. In winter, when it's from the East - there's nothing much in its way between its beginnings in the Russian Steppes, gathering speed over the North Sea and into the Fens - where it howls and shrieks over the frozen dykes till it rattles our window panes as we huddle by the fire. If there's one place in the world a weather forecaster can hardly ever be wrong - it's here.. as long as all he sticks to saying is "tomorrow will be windy and changeable". Oh, unless there's a Spanish Plume on the way.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Detour to the pub.

Wednesday May 3

To the pub last night - with harmonicas. But first, the detour.

The little bridge over the River Steeping is closed for repair. Bridges round here are always closing for repair. Coming from a city, I've been used to plenty of road works - but there, the volumes of traffic mean that the Councils get them done quickly. Here, it's different. Our bridge has been closed for five months already and looks set to stay closed for a while yet. No urgency... a foreman and his assistant contemplate the passing of the seasons; brewing themselves tea and cooking breakfasts on a portable stove, while work proceeds at a gentle pace. In the three years we've been here, our one lane in and out of the village has had two other closures - both of them lasting for months and each requiring us to detour along farm tracks to wherever we're going. Last night, it was just a few miles out of the way along tortuously narrow lanes - but it was dusk and the hedgrows, just bursting with blackthorn blossom, were pretty and the sight of an early-rising badger scuttling along the verge made for a pleasant drive.

The pub itself is over on the coast... in a deserted spot along a narrow lane behind the dunes. When you get to the place where you can see the green neon 'Open' sign glinting through the dark, it's always a relief. It's the very last type of venue you'd ever expect to find in a quiet rural area like this. Atmospheric, energizing - a haven for hippies and scoundrels from every generation... the most supportive, encouraging, forgiving, diverse, friendly, creative and generous people you could meet. Andy was running the bar - I could tell as soon as I got out of the car and heard his 70s punk blasting from the stereo. Tuesday night is 'Open Mike' night but it kind of depends who's there whether I play or not. So last night I didn't get to... a band from Lincoln turned up and played some kind of urban-metal-folk or whatever and so I passed the night chatting to people I knew through the noise. I haven't been in for a while.. I should go more often... 'where everybody knows your name - and they're always glad you came'. So true.

I drove home through the back lanes in case any overly-vigilant police were out patrolling. Sleepy villages with their ancient names; Hogsthorpe, Sloothby, Welton le Marsh, Gunby. Quiet places for quiet people. Burgh le Marsh Church lit up like a beacon on its ridge on the southern horizon. Just a few lights still on in the houses... they don't stay up late in Lincolnshire. Not many, anyway.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Out and about

Tuesday May 2:

Difficult decisions over the May Day Weekend. Daughter was staying with us and we normally try to find something to do to entertain her before she goes back home - leaving us out of food and out of pocket. Despite it being a holiday, though, there was surprisingly little on offer. An amateur production of Return to the Forbidden Planet at the Embassy in Skeggie? Nah... I love that show, seen it many times... 'Shakespeare's forgotten rock and roll masterpiece' - like Rocky Horror but with better songs and a snappier and more literary dialogue... couldn't bear to see it being mangled by wannabees. Or the Tetford and Salmonby Scarecrow Festival (in aid of St. Mary's Church and the Community)? Don't think so somehow... doesn't quite get the nerves tingling and the juices running does it? Next year, maybe.

So just a trip to Horncastle for lunch. Mme. bought a waterproof hat from a market stall. Some people suit hats. Some don't. Mme.'s makes her look as if she's got her head stuck in a bucket.

As we crested The Wolds on the way, Lincoln Cathedral's towers could be seen on the horizon, about 30 miles or so in front of us to the West. And another 30 miles away on our left looking South, Boston Stump - the towering.. err.. tower of St. Botolph's, Boston, standing out over the flatness of the Fens. Each of them the biggest man-made features in the landscape... and both about 700 years old. What landmarks they must have been for our ancestors when this countryside was almost trackless. What monuments they are to the prosperity and concentration of wealth of those times.

I went to a service in Boston one Sunday a few months ago. There were about a dozen of us in the cavernous parish church - I hardly ever go myself but it's kind of disappointing that hardly anyone else does either. The clergyman was from Chattanooga, Georgia. Gawd knows what he makes of it... although he did have a stab at converting me to a regular attender. It is said that there are 365 steps to the top of the tower, 12 pillars supporting the roof - equal to the months of the year. There are 7 doors for the days of the week and 52 windows. There are also 24 steps leading to the library above the south porch, whilst on either side of the chancel there are 60 steps by which the roof can be reached; these steps indicating the hours, the minutes and the seconds by which our days are numbered. Scary or what?