Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cheeky brats.

Walking back to the car yesterday, I had to pass three girls aged 14/15ish, sitting on a churchyard wall. As I approached, one said, "do you want some sex?". The others sniggered and she went on, "have you got a big knob?"

What do you do? What's the correct response? It's not what you're expecting from fresh-faced kids in a picture-perfect village street on a balmy Lincolnshire evening. You're set up already and only going to open yourself to even more adolescent ridicule whatever you say. Well, all I could come up with was, "your mum will be really proud of you. I'll tell her when I see her later on." "Great," she came back, "we'll have a threesome."

It's tempting to put this down to the 'youth of today, videogame generation, no discipline in schools anymore, where are the parents, I blame television'. But no doubt, the same cheeking of strangers has always gone on - just that maybe today it's probably more widespread thanks to a feeling of immunity from sanction. But the content of the taunts.... that's modern, surely?

How knowing was this girl? Was she already trying out the same game that some women enjoy, that exploits, and at the same time mocks, the male vulnerability to auto-response at artificial displays of female sexuality?

I reckon she was, and that's a shame.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Apologise? Yeah, yeah, whatever.

Cripes! Boris has done it again! First it was the whingeing Scousers, then the Headhunters of Borneo, now it's his Stuff Skegness remarks causing furore among the natives. Council Leader Doreen Stephenson was enraged, even breaking off from a fact-finding mission to a Buckingham Palace Garden Party to call for a grovelling apology. Shame she was so humourless, and couldn't have forseen that her shrill and shallow kneejerk howl of distress was exactly the sort of thing that makes backwater resorts items for derision in the first place. Something more in tune with the panache of BJ's article might have had more of the desired effect and brought some much-needed good publicity. Ah well.

Strange photo the Telegraph chose, though. It shows a bloke who appears to have arrived on the beach after tunneling his way in - possibly from HMP North Sea Camp just down the coast, or Butlins a mile the other way. No doubt his chums on the Escape Committee are putting on a Knobbly Knees Contest to distract the Redcoats, while others shuffle round the exercise yard shaking sand out of their trousers.

Just above him, there's another reason for Boris to choose elsewhere for his hols. It's one of the dozens of windmills in Britain's Largest Offshore Windfarm (BLOW), thoughtfully provided right in front of the Front, so that the view out to sea is of a forest of 150ft pylons, each with their propellors which - on a good day - can provide enough electricity to run.. ooh I dunno.. at least a couple of chip-shops, I should think. Course, if he turns and looks the other way, he'll see the ruins of the Grand Parade complex that burned down last summer - still standing like a row of rotten teeth in the heart of Skeg, still waiting for Cllr. Mrs. Stephenson's council to get a grip on the planning applications.

Boris says he's going abroad despite the example set by Brown's patriotic sojourn in Southwold, where the poor bugger will be holed up with nothing to do in the drizzle, except hope Ms Harman screws things up quickly enough for him to make an emergency dash back to Downing Street to show us all how masterful he is in a crisis. No doubt his spin-doctors are working on a disaster for him to solve at this very moment. Plague and floods worked wonders last year. Look out for fire and famine this time!

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Global Warnings

Last time I was in London, it peed down all day and, in case we hadn't noticed, National Express kept warning us against slipping on the dangerously wet platforms. This time it was the turn of the Station Announcer at Kings Cross Tube to explain that, as it was a hot day, we should "carry a bottle of water and not attempt emergency medical procedures between stations but wait until the next stop and summon help".

These safety notices haven't penetrated Lincolnshire yet. But I can't imagine it will be long before we have signs saying, "Don't Drink the Sea" and "Remember to Blow on Chips Before Consuming", for our own protection. Anyway, it's bad enough having to steel myself to brave the knife-toting hoodies and gangs of pickpocketing Roma children down south without having to worry about all these other dreadful hazards. So I thought it best to double back to the Spar for an extra couple of litres of Drench before descending into the inferno. Just as well I did. The train arrived half-empty due, I guess, to passengers foolhardy enough to have attempted the journey from Cockfosters having suffered Spontaneous Evaporation en route.

Most of us made it to Piccadilly Circus in one piece, although Russell Square was full of casualties as usual - mostly reckless tourists who hadn't Minded the Gap. It was a relief to get into the fresh air again, but I did give some dossers near Eros a wide berth by detouring down Lower Regent Street - it would have been a shame to have got this far only to lose a lung to passive smoking.

No such problems at Kneehigh Theatre's inventive stage production of the Noel Coward/David Lean classic, Brief Encounter. It superbly picks its way through affectionate pastiche and respect for the dramatic tension of the piece by cleverly mixing film, song and comedy with a faithful reproduction of the core central relationship between the two illicit lovers. Their cut-glass accents and anguished reactions to the implications of their affair would be fertile ground for parody and easy laughs... so it's to the producers' credit that they allowed the plot to stand as its author intended, and the fact that it can still resonate even in today's more licentious atmosphere was proved by the audience's rapt attention to every nuance. A warm and memorable entertainment from a talented ensemble. Special mention must go to Naomi Frederick and Tristan Sturrock for taking on Celia Johnson and Trevor Howard's iconic roles, with such skill in nodding just far enough to the originals. Can't have been easy but they get it spot on.

So if you're on Haymarket with a spare couple of hours, there's nowhere better to spend them than with Kneehigh. Certainly not across the road at the Theatre Royal where Marguerite plays to half-empty houses. Good performances - dud book and music. In fact I can give my new favourite word an outing for that show. It's sententious.

Glad to have got back safe and healthy. Whew. It's a jungle out there.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Famous Yellowbelly

St. Margaret's, Somersby. Charming in its way, a typical little Wolds church, even if not one of Lincolnshire's most impressive. Its claim to fame, though, is in being right across the road from the poet Tennyson's birthplace - his father was Rector here, as well as holding the living at the exotically named Bag Enderby, just half a mile away down a narrow lane. Nowadays it stands closed and dark, in a now-prosperous hamlet hardly big enough to provide it with a congregation, even if the residents were so inclined. His Fan Club, though, hold regular commemorative services and there's a bust inside for them to look at. From the outside, the main clue to its history is the the C15th window, which looks as if it's been bought as a medieval flat-pack, assembled and bodged in by the same local builder who made the porch-arch, roughly hewn from sandstone identical to the main body. Only the standalone cross on the mound, particularly the base, hints at an even more ancient origin.

I don't know whether visits to famous people's birthplaces ever do actually give an insight into their work. Come to think of it, I think they can; considering some of the places I've been. Ferriday and Tupelo spring to mind. More often though, I guess they're kind of a pilgrimage for fans. Poetry though, like opera, is an art-form that generally leaves me cold and wondering what on earth it is I'm missing. Seeing Somersby at first hand, imagining its claustrophobic remoteness 200 years ago, still leaves me guessing as to what it did for Tennyson's muse. The only one of his I could have called to mind goes, 'Tumty tumty rode the six hundred, tumty tumty someone had blundered'. I've looked up his stuff and no wonder that's so famous - his other stuff is impenetrable. Is it just because it's Victorian.. can it still speak to us? Am I dismissing it as old-hat? Here's one I picked out, mainly because it touches on a topic I've been pondering lately:

The sun, the moon, the stars, the seas, the hills and the plains,-
Are not these, O Soul, the Vision of Him who reigns?

Is not the Vision He, tho' He be not that which He seems?
Dreams are true while they last, and do we not live in dreams?

Earth, these solid stars, this weight of body and limb,
Are they not sign and symbol of thy division from Him?

Dark is the world to thee; thyself art the reason why,
For is He not all but thou, that hast power to feel "I am I"?

Glory about thee, without thee; and thou fulfillest thy doom,
Making Him broken gleams and a stifled splendour and gloom.

Speak to Him, thou, for He hears, and Spirit with Spirit can meet-
Closer is He than breathing, and nearer than hands and feet.

God is law, say the wise; O soul, and let us rejoice,
For if He thunder by law the thunder is yet His voice.

Law is God, say some; no God at all, says the fool,
For all we have power to see is a straight staff bent in a pool;

And the ear of man cannot hear, and the eye of man cannot see;
But if we could see and hear, this Vision-were it not He?

Now if he's saying (and I do mean IF) that the expression of God is all about us in the natural and physical world and there is no need to construct our own anthropomorphic version of Him.. well fine. I can go with that... but he's putting up a fairly radical idea, and I'd far rather see it done as an elegant essay which tackled the objections and attempted to persuade me with reason, than what he's done - which is a set of bald assertions, hidebound by the need to find rhymes.

Probably I should get myself a slim volume and, next time I'm passing, leave my world-weariness at the lych-gate, settle down under a yew and prepare to be enlightened. Tennyson was the Dylan of his age, applauded and ennobled for his work. Surely twenty-five million Victorians can't be wrong.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Boulder Blog

I've often passed this boulder, curious about its place in the landscape, but until Saturday I've never looked at why it's there. Turns out it commemorates the Civil War Battle of Winceby, when Parliamentary troops routed a Royalist force on their way to relieve the besieged garrison at nearby Bolingbroke Castle.

English Heritage has a pretty comprehensive write-up of the battle, complete with eye witness accounts. Apparently the two sides were evenly matched - a couple of thousand dragoons and cavalry each. It must have been a hastily arranged affair, for neither infantry had caught up with the mounted advances. Oliver Cromwell himself led the first charge, putting the Royalists into disarray and forcing a retreat that soon turned into a terrible bloodbath. In only half an hour 200 were dead and another 200 captured in what has been known ever since as Slash Hollow.

Well, of course, the Fixer in me couldn't help but work out where it all went wrong. And being on the ground at the battlefield itself makes it painfully obvious. The Earl of Manchester's Roundheads were waiting on the high-ground at the top of the picture - indeed he would probably have concealed his forces just behind the ridge. The Cavaliers' front ranged from just out of shot on the left, down to a boggy hollow on their right (south-west). So they were already vulnerable to a downhill charge - which immediately befell them - and were unable to make a cohesive counter-attack because the lie of the terrain was against almost all of their line. They were stuffed before they started because their commander, Sir William Widdrington, had ceded tactical advantage even before the fight had begun. He engaged at a time when his situation was inferior to the enemy's and from that moment was fighting, literally, an uphill battle. He had options. He could have stayed on higher ground until his infantry caught up, and/or manouvered north-east to put himself on at least equal topographical footing, or simply outflanked the Roundheads by marching to Bolingbroke on a more westerly route. Instead, he seems to have had a rush of blood which, as a consequence, led to the loss of all Lincolnshire for the Crown.

All this is pretty empty (pointless) speculation, coming as it does some 365 years after the event. My only excuse for blogging it is to draw the most tenuous of connections between then and now, because for the last little while I've been buried in things that have taken my mind away from the current affairs that seem to be arousing the nation's disquiet. And the fact is, that it does about as much good concerning myself about most of the newspaper headlines as it does over whether history might have been changed had Sir William not blundered. It's not that I don't care about the bad news - just that I'm unaware of it unless I read about it - a variation of the old 'tree falling in a lonely forest' question. The sense of being led into certain disaster by clueless modern-day Widdringtons like Brown, Balls, Milliband and Harman doesn't help either. The task of leadership is beyond them. They are doomed at the outset.

What point is there in enraging myself over the world's ills, when I can do so little to influence them? Smugly probably, I can claim to have dragged myself far enough up the greasy pole to be immune from much of what gets complained about. So why concern myself with matters that barely touch me? Why propose solutions that will never be taken up by those with the power? Public duty?

When I started this blog, I thought it would amuse me to put a personal slant on some of the things peculiar to living in this area. Somehow, I've been drawn away from the original idea. I need to re-think and get back to the trivia - here or elsewhere.