Monday, 14 August 2017

BLEU



That’s a much better acronym than the worn-out Brexit acrostic, isn’t it?
I have read so much nonsense about ‘Britain Leaving the European Union’ that I thought it was time to put the world’s thoughts in order.  I will confine myself to the classic five-point system.
One.  Nobody knows anything.
Two.  Nothing has happened.
Three.  This is not democracy.
Four.  Loudness is not thought.
Five.  The devil is in the detail. 

To expand:
  1. Nobody knows anything about what is going to happen when, after a protracted process of definition, drafting and deliberation an Act of Parliament representing Britain’s departure from the EU is presented for the Royal Assent.  Not just because whoever turns out to be monarch by then might just say ‘no’, but because nobody has a clue what it will actually say.
  2. Following from that, so far nothing’s actually happened.  The debate, if that’s a word any more, is almost entirely about the story of the last 15-odd months of speculation, reaction and counter-reaction, not to mention global economic and political forces compared to which BLEU is a minor ripple.  All fur coat and no knickers. 
  3. Democracy means ‘rule by the people’.  Referenda are not a sensible means of achieving this where the population exceeds a few hundred.  In the present case, the canard that ‘the people have spoken' needs to be critically analysed and clinically destroyed by facts and logic.  For a start, only 37% of the electorate voted to leave.
  4. I often dip in to internet sites that support BLEU, and I’m dismayed not just by the lack of fact and focus, nor even by the outright blatant lies, but by the overwhelming volume of vitriol and personal abuse.  I counter this whenever it’s directed at me, of course (don’t ever enter into a slanging match with me, anyone, because I will win!).  But I am shocked by the amount of unnecessary sheer nastiness.  I thought this was a nice country.
  5. I’m getting a bit tired now, so I don’t want to go into the details of what this will do to everyone in this country’s personal day-to-day lives.  Two words cover most of it, actually – health, and safety.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Ray's Story


Z had taken the kids to the beach, but I’d opted to stay in the caravan.  After an hour or so, and having exhausted the entertainment potential of the newspaper, I dipped in to the small selection of books, leaflets and so on that reside in my bookrack there.  There’s a first aid manual, several quick’n’easy cookbooks, guides to walks and places to visit, and a few snatches of genuine local Pembrokeshire history.  It was one of those that captured me.

It’s a book of black and white picture postcards of Narberth, from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.  Old pictures are, of course, always good to look at; but what caught my eye was the foreword, which heaped lavish praise and thanks on Miss Ray Davies, without whom the enterprise would never have happened. 

I knew her quite well, and I just wanted to set down what I can about a rather intriguing character.

Rachel, only ever known as Ray, was born in 1916 and died in 2003.  She never married.  It was rumoured that this was because her heart had been broken, just after the war, by a scoundrel in Belgium, where as a WREN she’d been posted for unknown reasons following service at Bletchley Park on the Enigma code-breaking project. (She was probably one of the Bombe girls, but I haven’t been able to verify that.)  I’ve seen a picture of her, in uniform, from around that time, and can only say that the Belgian heartbreaker must have been crazy.

By the time I met Ray, her focus had both narrowed and broadened.  It had narrowed to a compulsion to sort, identify and catalogue.  The broadening was in the range of material she did this to.  It started, probably, with stamps – she worked for Stanley Gibbons in the thirties – then expanded to archaeological samples, coins, Victorian fans, local history…  After she died we found dozens of exercise books filled with quite indecipherable lists of stuff, which of course we had no choice but to throw away.  Nobody would have cared.  The stamps and fans were sold, not for much.

What started me on this, though, was the local history obsession.  She became, I think, an infuriatingly avid supporter of the Narberth Wilson Museum (which has since closed down and then reopened; it won some ‘best museum’ award a few years ago, and we really should try and visit it next time we’re there.)  She put a few backs up during this late phase of her life, but the important things are that it kept her going, and that her efforts, however misdirected by her oncoming dementia, did get recognised in the foreword to that rather splendid book of old postcards.

Thursday, 3 August 2017

Mussels

I promised to tell you more about our caravan holiday, but it's too late to start on Ray's story now, so you'll have to wait till tomorrow again for that.
Meanwhile, here are two words I learnt on a wet evening: Scaup; and Mussitation.

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Caravan Life is Alive and Well


Child: “Where’s my *insert child’s object of choice*?”  Adult: “Where you left it.”  Child (pauses): “I don’t know where I left it.  That’s why I’m asking you.”  Adult: *surrenders*

The craze this time was folding paper napkins into neat narrow oblongs.  There were also marbles and complicated card games.  I resisted engagement with any of this, of course, relying on Z to do what grannies do on cool windy wet afternoons trapped in a caravan with two small energetically unfocussed children.

It wasn’t all like that, of course.  We managed a fair bit of time on the beach, which had its usual effect on me.  When I rashly suggested that we might try a different one (I targeted Manorbier, partly, if I’m honest, because I really like the Castle Inn there and carefully timed the trip to arrive spot on for lunch), once the wind had got the better of us and we’d agreed that wasn’t on, Gus and Zerlina made it quite clear that they would much rather be back on what, to my delight, they called ‘our beach’.  (Technically, the correct term is ‘the local beach’, as my brother and sister will confirm, but hey, ‘our’ will do.)

I also welled up, briefly, when they came back up to the van and proudly announced that they’d once again climbed ‘Tim’s Rock’.  (Again, it’s more properly called ‘The Big Rock’, but hey again.)

 


There’s more.  I’ll post again tomorrow.

Still no rabbits.  I blame Joseph’s new lawnmower.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Royal Prerogative


It’s fairly certain there will be another general election within the next few months, and increasingly likely that it will result in another hung Parliament.  Constitutionally, the Queen is required, by convention, to call upon the leaders of the parties, in turn and in order of their representation in the House of Commons, to attempt to form her Government.  This has proved difficult enough recently, and won’t be any easier next time.  In fact it could prove impossible. 

So what happens then?  There are no historic precedents that I’m aware of.  Another election?  Same result.  Another one?  You get the point – we’d end up with an election at which nobody could be bothered to turn up.  And we’d still be without a Government.  Some might say that’s no bad thing; indeed when I lived in Italy in the sixties it seemed to be the norm, and Belgium went without one for at least a couple of years a while ago.  But it wouldn’t do for us, would it, eh?

Fortunately Z and I have come up with a simple solution.  Her Majesty will form her own Government.  She will continue to be Head of State, and of course Parliament will continue to be the Legislature*, but she will appoint her own Executive. 

But where to find the appointees?  We humbly suggest she looks to her own family.  We’ve drawn up a list of proposals for a few key Cabinet posts, and would welcome feedback before we forward the final recommendation to the Palace.

Prime Minister: Charles.**

Chancellor of the Exchequer: Anne.

Home Office: Camilla.

Foreign Office: William.

Defence: Harry.

Education: Kate.

Transport: Andrew.

Culture: Edward.

 

Unfilled posts include Health, Justice, Energy, Environment, Local Government, and Work & Pensions.  There are plenty of spare minor royals out there though.

 

*The Whip system will be abolished and MPs instructed to vote purely as representatives of their constituents’ interests and according to their own consciences, if any.

** We considered abolishing this position, but that would risk taking us too close to the American system, and besides, it’ll keep him out of mischief.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

United Kingdom?


I’ve just been listening to a radio programme about a 15 year old girl from Northern Ireland who needed an abortion but had to travel to England to obtain it, at a cost of several thousand pounds, because it’s still illegal there.  She challenged this through the law, with financial help from family and friends, and last week the Supreme Court of the UNITED Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland ruled against her on the basis that residual regional powers outweigh national ones.  I can’t, obviously, challenge their lordships’ interpretation if the law, but I can and do question whether there is really one such thing as ‘the law’ in this so-called country – or indeed whether it can really be called a country any more.

Devolution – the biggest constitutional mistake since 1715 – has had the opposite of the intended effect.  The idea was that different parts of the land had different needs, which they should be allowed, within appropriate constraints, to express and control through their own legislative and judicial bodies.  Fair enough.  Where it went wrong was to do it the wrong way round.  They should have started with the body of law that applied to everyone and then asked the regions to justify their exceptions.  Instead they assumed the exceptions stood and ducked the inevitable outcomes when a Westminster law came to a head-on collision with a Stormont, Cardiff or Edinburgh one.

As it stands, we are neither one country nor are we several.  And it’s not gonna get any simpler…

 

 

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Shoddy


There’s a good word, which shouldn’t be needed nowadays but obviously is.  Chambers says ‘origin unknown’, applying to both senses of the word, but I leave aside the wool-weaving one and would like to focus on the meaning we all know, which Chambers, as always, succinctly sums up: ‘badly made or executed.’  (There are several more adjectives in there, which I won’t… oh all right, I will: ‘inferior, pretentious, cheap, nasty, sham, badly made…’ you get the drift…)

I’d intended to rant about the obvious shoddiness we seem to be getting engulfed in, but I see that I don’t need to.  So I will anyway:

I am to be prosecuted for doing 68 mph on a traffic-free dual carriageway where the limit would normally be 70, but has arbitrarily been set to 60.  I’ll be fined £120 and my insurance premium will go up by another £100 or so next year.  The total cost of this, not including human effort and stress, will far exceed any benefit to any person or organisation.  The thinking (if any) that resulted in this outcome can only be described as shoddy.

The people (I assume humans still exist there) behind Facbok, a computer program I sometimes make use of, see it as their role to keep the universe on its toes and themselves at its centre.  They do this by changing their program whenever they suspect another human might have started to grasp it.  Unfortunately, they do this really badly.  Double shoddy.

… and thirdly – oh, I can’t be bothered to do thirdly.  It’s politics. 

Friday, 16 June 2017

Transport of Delight?


TfL does not, as you might guess, stand for ‘transport fucking lunacy’.  That’s putting it too strongly; but only just.  I will tell the story.

To travel from Romford to Charing Cross, you need to get a train to Stratford and then change to the tube.  So we bought train tickets for that first leg, assuming we’d then clock in to the tube for the rest of the journey. 

Not so.  Without walking for half a mile, exiting the station and then re-entering it and walking the half mile back, there seemed to be no means of paying for the second leg of our journey.  We asked a nice staff man who didn’t see the problem, and indeed there turned out not to be, as we were just waved through by the weary attendant at Charing X on the flash of a bit of roughly right-coloured cardboard.  Lucky.

Z rightly insisted on a more informed approach to the return trip, so we clocked in at Charing X, exited and re-entered at Stratford, and caught a slow train back to Romford.  (Finding that one was a whole different, which I’m too tired to relate in detail.)

The moral, if any, of this story (apart from don’t go to London from Romford without serious forethought) is as follows:

If you are going to bring a lot of different things together under one name, make damned sure the bits add up to the whole, rather than the whole consisting of the bits.

Monday, 5 June 2017

The Caravan Has Legs


Caravan diaries 17.2

Now that Z has her new hip and can do level walking at least as well as I can, I decided a couple of outings were in order.  The first was Lydstep Head, which is a fairly gentle circular mile with great views south and east across to Caldey Island, west towards Manorbier and the wilder coast beyond and, in the last stretch, downwards to what’s now called Lydstep Haven. 

Once upon a time one went (or was taken, to be exact) to this uninspiring shingle beach for a sole purpose – to walk, at the lowest tide, round to the spectacular caves that must, now I think of it, be more or less underneath where we were walking.  Now it’s been turned into a very expensive caravan site, the entrance to which has been made to look like private property (which it isn’t of course, there are no private beaches in this country).  I’ve never driven down to it, but from above it looks horrible.  The walk is lovely, though, and the flowering gorse smelt as coconutty as always.

The other big walk was to Bosherstone.  This is an entirely man-made stretch of lakes created by an obviously mad 18th century aristocrat to grow waterlilies in, and now owned and curated by the National Trust.  (I know they have their faults, but imagine the country without them!) 

The car park at Bosherstone village being full, we drove round to Broadhaven beach and did the walk from there.  This was not so good, as it involved a long stretch over the beach; walking on soft sand, especially up a hill of it, is tough on the legs, heart and lungs.  But we made it back to the car, the village and the Govan Arms for lunch.  I was pleased to see that the scenic cameos my friend Graham Hurd-Wood had painted in his youth were still hanging on the wall.

On our last day, we’d intended to leave first thing, but the weather was so great that we delayed and instead went to Colbey Woodland Garden, another local NT property.  The garden is fine – what it says on the label, more or less – but they do need to have a look at their signage: I won’t bore you with details, let’s just say that if you have a ‘red’ walk on the map, a few red signposts along the way might help…

Sunday, 30 April 2017

The Last Midsummer Banquet - The Chairman


Int, artificial light

A  Government office. 

Six officials – five male, one female – sit round a table, debating tactics.  Two of them never speak, just nod, smile and take notes.  The Chairman is clearly in control, and is clearly insane.

Chairman:

(calming hand motions):  Please, please ... please.  We are more than prepared to listen to everything anyone might conceivably have to contribute.  (smiles round the table)  What we are not prepared to do is admit that I’m wrong.  Is that clear?

Official #2:

Um –

Chairman:

What have we achieved?  We outlawed, let’s see, illegitimacy, unemployment, most diseases – in short, anything that costs us money – but our greatest achievement has been uncertainty.  Uncertainty.  Our greatest achievement has been that now, nobody can be sure what is or is not permitted!  We must find ways of sustaining this.

Official #2:

Sustaining uncertainty?  That’s a bit of a difficult concept to sustain, I mean I’m not quite certain about that but, um 

Chairman:

We must sustain uncertainty.  It sustains stability!  If they have an absolute, like these Banquets, if they have this, this Walpurgis night on which anything seems to be permitted, then they focus on the opposite, the other three hundred and whatever days on which nothing seems to be – they focus on the notion of prohibition – and that’s the last thing we want, is it not? (he looks enquiringly round the table)

Official #1:

Your point is well made Chairman.  Just on a niggle of detail, Walpurgis night is actually the thirtieth of April, not Midsummer’s –

Chairman:

So we’re agreed I think.  (Silence)  That is to say, nobody disagrees with ... us?  (More silence) 

Official #1:

Agreed.  Nobody quite disagrees?  But – more like … not quite entirely agree?  Entirely? 

Official #2:

Entirely!  I mean exactly.  I mean precisely!  (glances at Official #4) I mean, Norman, you’re the expert in all this sort of stuff –

Chairman:

Gentlemen, gentlemen – and madam of course – we do need a consensus here.  I’ve stated very precisely what that is, and I expect you to agree with me.  That’s my final word I’m afraid.

Official #1:

Did you say ‘afraid’?

Official #3:

Just run it up once more, for a little lady please?

Official #2:

Oh come now Sykya, no need to patronise –

Official #1:

All the same I think I’m behind Sykya here.  My issue is one of presentation.  We need a short sharp bang bang bang one two three bullet approach here –

Official #3:

Has it come to actual bullets then?

Chairman:

(He bangs the desk - it sounds like a gunshot):  Very well.  Bullet one (bang).  Music as a panacea has failed.  Diluted to a cheap substitute for the real economy.  Bullet two (bang).  We are out of money.  We cannot afford any more of these Banquets.  Bullet three (bang).  Research shows that the Banquets, in their support of the idea of ‘free’ music as a calming influence, have actually had the opposite effect, have actually induced what I might call terrorist activities –

Official #2:

Hardly terrorism though, is it?  A few bricks, scrawls on walls … even playing guitars isn’t quite –

Official #1:

So we need to kill free music.

Official #3:

Which means killing the Banquets.

Chairman:

(bang)  Bullet four. 

Official #2:

Wasn’t it ‘bang bang bang’, that’s three, not –

Chairman:

The solution. (smirks)  Loyalty oaths.

Perplexed glances whizz in both directions round the meeting.

Official #3:

Hang on.  This is new.  You have never mentioned loyalty oaths –

Chairman:

No, of course, I do apologise, this is freshly minted new-laid slashing edge thinking.  Let me explain.  Before being allowed to leave the Banquet Hall, each participant will be required to sign a document renouncing their rights to any future events of this nature, or, or they get – (makes circular shrugging hand gestures)

Official #3:

They get?

Chairman:

Well …  Arrested?  Amputated?  I don’t know, I’m policy, it’s up to you people to put the flesh on it –

Official#1:

Flesh?  Hmm ...

Official #3:

Killed?

Chairman:

(a final gunshot table fist bang):  I want them.  They’re an irritant.  Grit under the foreskin.  I want them.  (stares at Official #4)  Norman.  Implement.  Kill music. 

Norman’s face springs into a rigid, fixed grin, transfixed with terror.

Friday, 28 April 2017

The Last Misummer Banquet (introduction)


Text on blank screen:

 

Once upon a time in the future, in a part of what was once Britain ...

 

Commentator:

(voice over, concurrent with the text, which fades with the sound): Once upon a time in the future, in a small part of what was once Britain …

As the text on the screen fades away, whispering half-audible voices mutter conspiracies:

Conspirator #1:

... the most subversive power in the land ...

Conspirator #2:

... subversive, must be ...

Conspirator #1:

... banned ...

Conspirator #2:

... must be banned, yes, the most subversive power, yes ...

Conspirators:

... must be    Music!

Text on screen flashes and slowly fades

 

MUSIC!

Ext, day

A huge pile of guitars, keyboards, drums, every conceivable sort of musical instrument, stacked up on a patch of waste land.

Close up of a Machine pointing a gun-like appendage at the instruments, which burst into flames.  We see this bonfire from several viewpoints.

Fade to blank screen

commentator:

(voice over): So, music was banned. 

Obviously, you can’t do that.  It’s like banning hearing and breathing.

So after a while, they back off a bit.  OK, some music can be allowed.   Conforming to defined guidelines, mechanically constructed in officially approved music factories, by suitably trained mechanically qualified ‘resources’  – well OK, that can be allowed. 

But don’t try it on your own, don’t try it at home.  Unauthorised music, human music, that stuff’s well and truly banned!   

Well, after another while – a very little while – they saw that people might not like this either, might get a bit, let’s say, fractious.  So, it was decreed that each year, on Midsummer Night, there will happen A Great Banquet!

Text on screen flashes and slowly fades

 

A Great Banquet!!!

 

Fade up shadowy images of huddled conspirators.  Voices over:

Conspirator  #1:

… a Great Banquet, in a Great Banquet Hall –

Conspirator #2:

… everyone invited, things might even be permitted  

Conspirator #1:

… even their own music 

Text on blank screen

 

THEIR OWN MUSIC?

 

Commentator:

 Their own music?  Allow them their own music?  Human music?  For a few hours a year?  Bad idea!

Ext, day.  twilight

The bonfire of the musical instruments.  Shadowy figures dart in and snatch more or less unscathed guitars, drums, saxophones, gongs, dulcimers being salvaged and snuck away to secret hiding places.

Fade to blank screen

Ext, night and day: split screen

Dissolving close-ups of people learning to play their stolen musical instruments; raiding parties stealing stuff from shops, fuel depots, etc; people cultivating, harvesting, cooking, eating their own food ...

Text on blank screen

 

Some years later

 

Commentator:

Very bad idea!

 

*


Text on blank screen

 

June twenty-fourth, this year

Crash on soundtrack.

Commentator:

So, is this going to be the Last Midsummer Banquet?

 

Title on logo screen:

 
The Last Midsummer Banquet

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Caravan diaries (cont'd)


We had to collect some chickens from Herefordshire and bring them back to Norfolk, so the obvious thing to do was go to Reading, go to Pembrokeshire, open up the caravan, stay there for a few days, go to Herefordshire, pick up the chickens, go to Reading, and come back to Norfolk.  And so it came to pass.  About thirteen hours driving in all, but I don’t mind that.

Opening up the caravan is usually straightforward – you put the drain taps and the shower mixer back in, sweep up the dead flies, clean the green gunge off the outside walls and cut the grass.  This time, normality had gone slightly adrift.  The grass hardly needed cutting (Joseph has a new mower, which goes almost all the way up the slope in front of the van, which used to be entirely my responsibility). Far less green gunge than usual (the overhanging sycamores have been fairly ruthlessly pruned, although not enough for my liking – they’re still above ground level, vile weeds).  No dead flies at all (once some years ago I could hardly see the carpet for them, which was when I started spraying with Raid or Flit on departure, which helped but a few would still get through). 

The plumbing, though, proved unusually problematic.  Joseph had told me, ages ago, that the thing to do in the autumn was unscrew the four drain taps and just remove them.  Of course, he now denies this, and tells me I should have been following a whole different procedure, the detail of which is too boring to relate… anyway, I had several leaks, the last at about 3 a.m.  But once he’d fixed the underlying cause – a crossed thread – all was well and dry, and the problem will never happen again.

After that, it was just as it’s meant to be.  We walked through the tunnels to Saundersfoot (I wanted to make ghosty noises in the long one, like when I was eight, but didn’t want to scare Z), had a nice fish lunch at the Mermaid (now rebranded the Beach View, which is more accurate but less romantic, but otherwise unchanged in twenty years), walked around Tenby, watched the pale everchanging colours of the flat calm sea, failed to connect to the internet… everything as it should be.  No rabbits so far.

The chickens are gorgeous.  Z will no doubt tell you all about them.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Top Ten Top Tens


This is an experiment.

I /haven’t had a good list for ages.  So here are my ten best lists, with a starter of one from me in each.  Please submit yours via the comments, and I’ll update.  I’ve set a few of my own ground rules, but feel free to ignore these.

Films (no CGI blockbusters):

Rio Bravo
Local Hero (2)
Monty Python and The Holy Grail
The Quiet Man
4 Weddings and a Funeral (I know, but there it is)
To Have and Have Not
Perhaps something Scandinavian like the one with the knight and death playing chess
Blues Brothers
The big sleep


Albums (no Beatles/Stones/Dylan/Beach Boys/Led Zep):

Janis Ian: Night Rains
Sand andWater - Beth Nielsen Chapman
Solitude Standing - Suzanne Vega
"Whatever people say I am, That's what I'm not" by Arctic Monkeys
The Main Event-Frank Sinatra
Pictures at an Exhibition by ELP

Jimi Hendrix - Electric Ladyland
Gallagher's Irish Tour
Still Crazy After All These Years Paul Simon
Crime of the century - Supertramp


Singles (ditto):

Dion: The Wanderer
Heartbreak Hotel - Elvis Presley
Because They're Young - Duane Eddy
"Paradise City" by Guns 'n' Roses
Somewhere Over the Rainbow-Israel Kamakawiwo ole
Will You by Hazel O'Connor (for the sax break)
Old 97's - Designs On You
Teach Your Children Well

Mystery Train Elvis Presley
Drive in Saturday - Bowie

Novels (not over 500ish pages):

Albert Camus: The Outsider
Snow falling on cedars - David Guterson
Billy Liar - Keith Waterhouse
"Behind The Scenes at The Museum" by Kate Akinson.
To Kill a Mockingbird-Harper Lee
Guards, Guards by Terry Pratchett
Vanity Fair
Merrilie Watkins Series Phil Rickman
A day in the life of Ivan Denisovich

Non-fiction:

J K Galbraith: The Affluent Society
Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari
Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson
"Pies and Prejudice" by Stuart Maconie
The Shepherd's Life,-James Rebanks
Roger Deakin - Waterlog
Charlie Marx, Das Kapital
Atlases, Maps, and books about maps
The selfish gene -Dawkins

Musicals (no Rodgers and Hammerstein):

West Side Story (2)
We will Rock You - Queen and Ben Elton
"Chicago" (Bob Fosse and Fred Ebb)
Les Miserables

Rocky Horror Picture Show
Oklahoma (obvs)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Foods:

Fresh crab
John Dory with samphire
Sticky toffee pudding
fresh Pacific salmon
Pie, or failing that, big lumps of meat in gravy
I am a greedy git who loves to eat everything
Leek quiche with wholemeal pastry
Bratwürscht
New Season Asparagus
Stew and dumplings

Places:

The Knoll Beach, Studland
Camusdarach, Morar, Highland (Ben's Beach)
Tenby
Paris (2)
York
The Backwaters, Kerala, India
Anything Greek, best on an island
Venice
Everywhere

Journeys:

Through the tunnels, Wisemans Bridge – Saundersfoot
Cycling (e-bike) through the Ardnamurchan caldera between Kilchoan and Sanna Bay, Lochaber
The Way of the Roses c2c bike
Riding the Paris Metro out to Montmartre.
the train from Chester to Wales
Batobus on the Seine
The last bit of a journey to somewhere you love, when you recognise landmarks that mean you're nearly there and become excited

Train rides
JFK to Manhattan
Peterborough to Stansted airport

Machines:

Morris Minor
Electric bike
Raleigh Pioneer 2 (ladies model)
The steam locomotive
Deux chevaux
Vincent Black Shadow
Austin Healey Sprite
Jaguar XJ6 4.2 litre
Landrover
Porsche 911, do not know the version blabla, just pedaltothemedal and blam


Sunday, 5 March 2017

Influential Albums #4: Is This What You Want?


In 1969 we were bothered, bewildered, but still bewitched by the Beatles.  John had embarked on his dead-end solo career, Paul was on a desperately controlling mission to keep the dream alive, Ringo was, as always, going with the flow…  The only one who seems now to have had any forward-pointing focus was George Harrison.
I was marooned, geographically and musically.  My band had broken up but was contractually obliged to go through the death throes in Italy.  I’d entered into a mistaken marriage which left me, I suppose, emotionally marooned too.  Records seemed my route to salvation.
Just then, Paul invented Apple Records, launching it with Mary Hopkins’ delightfully charming ‘Those Were The Days’ and then following up with two superb albums: James Taylor’s first, about which I’ve previously blogged, and this one by Jackie Lomax, produced by George, with a stellar cast of backing musicians.  It’s probably available online if you want to have a listen, I can’t be bothered to find a link.  If you can’t either, you’ll just have to take my word for it: this is interregnum pop at its very best.  I’ll have to explain that.
Popular music has always been an industry, and as such governed by the laws of industrial economics, which operate to drive quality down to the lowest common denominator.  It happened to jazz, swing, rock’n’roll, disco … the best was forced out by the worst.   Of course, there’ve always been swerves around the outside curve, which I’ve kept an ear open for; but ‘the best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.’  But there was that brief break when nobody knew what was going on or who was in charge – and some wonderful things popped up out of the vacuum.


We’d been playing the ‘random record’ game, whereby you point at a CD or an LP in the stack, eyes closed, and have to listen to it.  Last night Z came up with Gill Scott-Heron’s last CD; tonight I fished this out.  Not my original vinyl – when my bandmate Andy returned from Italy a few months after me, penniless and with a family in tow, he had hardly any music, so, having got a job in the meantime, I gave him my copy and bought another.


That’s probably why I count it as influential.

Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Carwash


My car had become unacceptably filthy, so as I had twenty minutes to kill this morning I took it down the garage and ran it through the £3.99 option 3.  This is supposed to wash, wax and dry.  As it turned out, it may or may not have waxed, it sort of dried, and it quite failed to wash the dirtiest bits.
I don’t get the car washed all that often, preferring to wait for its six-monthly service.  In the meantime windows, lights and number-plates will suffice.  So it was, as I said, pretty dirty.  But surely the whole point of paying to get something done is not to have to do it yourself?  Especially, not to have to do the hardest bits yourself?  And, isn’t automation supposed to be better than humans at simple tasks?
Down the Oxford Road in Reading, there’s a ‘hand car wash’ which I used once a few years ago.  It took around twenty minutes, which is about evens timewise.  It cost, back then, £4.95.  Even if that’s gone up to £5.99 by now, I reckon my time to hand-finish the job the machine failed to auto-complete will be worth considerably more than two quid.  So in what sense can automation economically out-perform human effort, for even such a simple task?  And if it can’t even achieve that, how can I possibly expect it to drive the car to the carwash and back as well?
Of course, it’s academic, because the guys who beautifully cleaned the car down the Oxford Road won’t be there anymore.  They’ll have been repatriated.

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

Blog minus 1

It's a bit less than nine years since I wrote this record of a much-relished holiday, which prompted my brother to remark "you should write a blog."  I researched how to do that, and started to do so.  This is where my recently neglected blog habit started.



Holiday in Bequia, February 2008

Thursday 14th
Reading
Completed packing, shopped, made dinner (chicken and lentil curry).  Dick and Val arrived about 7.30.  Got drunk and fell over on patio after ‘the last cigarette’.


Friday 15th
En voyage; arrival at Barbados; St Lawrence Gap; the Whistling Frog Café
Up 6 a.m.  D drove us to Gatwick and negotiated parking.  Flight very smooth and shorter than expected.  Excel’s idea of in-flight entertainment (not that I was bothered) seemed a bit weird, as pretty well nobody would’ve been able to see the miniscule TV screens.  Arrived Barbados 3.30 p.m. local.
I was first to the immigration queue, which stretched out almost to the runway.  D&V, having been seated amidships in the plane and therefore nearly last off, took a while to catch up.  Inside the building, a zig-zag snake queue, which took more than an hour to negotiate.  Three flights had arrived at about the same time – several hundred people striving, good-naturedly, towards sixteen or so hardpressed officials.  When we finally got through, we found that our luggage had taken even longer to get to the belt.  Imagine our surprise!
Taxi to the Dover Beach Hotel at St Lawrence Gap, to be greeted by charming staff and shown to our very pleasant rooms.  We swam in the rough sea (high winds, D a bit worried about this unexpected aspect), then wandered out to the main Gap drag in search of food and entertainment – ended up at the Whistling Frog Café for dinner.  Apparently, Barbados is populated with frogs, which whistle.  I definitely heard whistles, but didn’t see a single frog.


 Saturday 16th


Dover Beach; Oistins fish night; karaoke
Breakfast at the hotel bar.  Just after we’d ordered, the bar was invaded by a horde of English teenage sporty girls from some posh school, on some kind of sporty activity holiday.  We were loudly informed that Gemma had been sick, but then that ‘I’ve cleaned up the vomit’.
To my relief, we spent the day lounging around the hotel pool and strolling up and down the Gap strip (which proved to be pretty dreary).  We decided to taxi to the Oistins fish night event – major tourist attraction/trap – overpriced food and 30 mins of local worthies speechifying and Christian entertainment – then back to the Dover Beach for their karaoke night (featuring a different bunch of teenage sporty girls, and some loud Americans).  I will say no more about this – we’ve all been there.  (The karaoke I mean, not the girls …)


Sunday 17th


Transit; first impressions of Bequia; Gingerbread; Farine
 We negotiate the complex check-in procedure for the flight to Bequia, which turns out to be via Mustique, with pick-ups and drop-offs en route, which almost resulted in my suitcase winging its way back to Barbados.  This is a 20-seater two-engined prop plane, two pilots visible up front, 8,000 feet up (1,000 for the Mustique-Bequia leg), bucking around in the steady breeze.  Mustique airport looks like a par three golf hole in tarmac.  Jolly Mustique holidaymakers with self-consciously beautiful girls and sulky iPod boys come and go.  Landing at Bequia James F Mitchell airport is like aiming at another par three, through trees and cliffs, on the pillion of a bucking motorbike.
Once my case has been salvaged, Curtis, our taxi driver (who we will learn to know and love) greets us and takes us to Gingerbread.  On the way D&V are having local knowledge conversations with Curtis, but I’m just seeing concrete roads, flashes of turquoise sea, glimpses of colonial or shanty buildings; feeling steep ups and downs and vicious speed humps; breathing the warm sea air and odd spice smells: all from the back of this bright yellow Challenger pick-up truck, bench seats each side, which is a Bequia taxi.
Gingerbread is gorgeous.  I feel at home at once.  Easy to wander out around the town, down to a little local beach (Plantation House) for a swim, along to Frangipani for rum punches then back to Gingerbread for dinner and Farine.  They’re a local group – guitar, banjo, bongos, and a varying number of singers – who do a unique take on everything from gospel to skiffle via Motown, Marley and the Beach Boys.  We get pissed and close the bar.
This is my first experience of the mosquito net – essential in these parts I’m told.  It hangs from the ceiling, a huge swathe of muslin which you drape over your bed, tuck in, then crawl under and sleep in your private indoor insect-free tent.  Certainly I wasn’t disturbed by mozzies that night.  But nothing is perfect.  They will get to you sooner or later.  Fortunately, my skin is fairly mosquito-proof (years of conditioning in Italy, maybe), and Bequia mozzies are indolent and rather impotent.  I got bitten a dozen or so times over the stay, but none endured or itched intolerably.
There is a notice in my bathroom which reads, in full:  Flushing toilet.  Do not let the handle spin around.  Press back until down then let it come back up.  Management is working to solve this problem.’


Monday 18th


Port Elizabeth; Princess Margaret Beach; the Green Boley; Captain Mac’s
We walk into town, where I fail to change money, due to huge queues in the RBTT bank (Royal Bank of Trinidad and Tobago, I learn from Google).
Then we try to walk across the headland to our nearest ‘proper’ beach, the Princess Margaret or Tony Gibbons.  I haven’t researched either of these labels, but I’m inclined to D’s theory: originally, it was probably called ‘Middle Beach’ or somesuch; Princess Margaret went for a swim there one day, slumming it from Mustique; the locals weren’t having that, decided the beach needed an authentic indigenous name – and just then good old Tony walks into the bar.
Whatever, the headland path turns out to have been blocked off by a cavalier housebuilding project.  We were warned of this by a guy cleaning the Plantation House beach and by an American fellow-tourist, but went to have a look anyway – sure enough, a block wall and industrial barbed wire make this public right of way totally impassable.   All the locals act appalled, but nobody seems to know what to do about it.  Even the water-taxi drivers (who stand to benefit) feel that it’s wrong, and probably illegal – yet this construction has obviously been allowed to go ahead, unchallenged to the point of irreversibility.  It’s my first intimation, or reminder (Tobago), of the sinuous workings of Caribbean local politics.
So we get a water taxi.
I am not going to repeatedly describe the experience of lounging on a Caribbean beach for a day – so pay attention: I am only going to say this once!
Find a place with available shade and pitch camp.  Spread your towel and lie/sit on it; read your book, shifting your posture according to discomfort levels, which may be caused by sand, sun intrusion, muscular strain, buried hard objects, or ants.  Go for a swim.  Snooze.  Repeat as necessary until lunchtime.  Have lunch at local hostelry.  Return to camp and repeat above, until it’s time to leave.
Henceforth, this delightful process will be identified by the phrase ‘lounge on beach’.
Lunch, on this occasion, was at ‘Jack’s Bar’, a slick new venue.  Food good (although I still want my tomato remoulade – having looked it up, what I was given no way conforms to that description!).  The place seems unfinished – concrete floors and pillars – and so a bit impersonal.
Rum punches at the Green Boley, ten paces down the Belmont Walkway from Gingerbread.  They’re a tad more rummish than Frangipani’s.  Can’t find out what a Boley is, never mind a green one – but the bar is basic, relaxed, a place you could sit and lime all evening.  We view the sunset, then head off to Captain Mac’s, a new place opposite the fruit market.  Apart from a bunch of American teenagers, we’re the only customers.  We ask for the wine list: two bottles are brought to the table for our selection.  We choose the Chilean Sunrise Merlot, which is to be our staple diet.  Food and service are good; just a bit sad about the ambience, the less than ideal location, the optimistic desperation of the enterprise.  Nice map of the world though, filling an entire wall of the inside, unused, room.
Tuesday 19th


Friendship Bay; Moskito; dinner at home
The wind (external not self) gets up at 6 a.m. and howls through the shutters and the plants outside the window.  I see I haven’t described my room properly.  It’s big, about 5 metres square, unglazed but shuttered windows on three sides; bed in the middle, nets hanging from the ceiling over big wall hooks, a kitchenette and a bathroom off the fourth wall; big balcony through sliding shuttered doors to the front.  I now have a key to my safe.
Breakfast with D&V (purchased yesterday – fruit, eggs and tomatoes).
We take our first big walk across the island to Friendship Bay.  The ups are a bit challenging, but I’m gratified by how well I manage.  Beach a bit of a letdown, rather narrow and ant-infested.  Good lunch though at Moskito café – excellent well-endowed burgers, and V’s seafood pasta looked good.
Lounged on beach.
Dinner at home uncovered a few issues, mainly that we couldn’t work out how to light the oven – which is a concern when you’re cooking chicken legs.  As luck would have it, Pat Mitchell had decided to install, experimentally, a microwave in D&V’s apartment, and V rose heroically to the occasion.  But we resolved that eating in probably isn’t a high priority option – especially as it seems that raw materials in the shops cost far more than the prepared, cooked and served equivalents in the restaurants.  The starter was a feta cheese salad, at about sixteen guineas an ounce – at any rate, far more than we’d paid for the same thing at Jack’s Bar.  How can this be?  Caribbean economics becomes more and more mysterious. 


Wednesday 20th


Lower Bay; Da Reef; Devil’s Table
After breakfast, split between fruit at D&V’s and banana bread at Gingerbread café, we walked across to Lower Bay – the best beach.  Far fewer ants.
Lounged on beach.
Lunch at Da Reef, a big canteen-like bar/restaurant right on the beach.  I had conch (pron. ‘conk’) curry.  This is the animal which inhabits those huge shells you see at beach-side venues everywhere, and which can with practice be blown, like a trumpet, to announce, for example, the arrival of the day’s fish catch at the market in Port Elizabeth.
We’ve discovered a great non-alcoholic refresher, lime squash.  Freshly squeezed lime juice, sugar syrup, a dash of Angostura, over loads of ice, made up with tap water – brilliant!  You could add white rum or vodka for a long cocktail … try this at home, when the summertime comes.
Excellent dinner (though not very Caribbean in character) at Devil’s Table, apparently named after a nearby reef.  It’s their ‘reggae night’: a semi-live, semi-backing tape on-stage performance, which worked – I’d have danced had the opportunity arisen –  because of a young, lively crowd, all fired up to watch the total eclipse of the moon.  This duly came about; would perhaps have been more interesting if it hadn’t!  The moon gradually disappears from one side, then gradually reappears – a bit like the London Eye in reverse.  I expressed the view, to a local, that it was being eaten by a dragon, but was told ‘no, man, it’s a shark’. 


Thursday 21st


Friendship Rose to Tobago Cays; Frangipani BBQ
Up at the crack to join the much-anticipated boat trip.  Strong winds and torrential rain overnight caused some apprehension, but there was no risk of cancellation merely for a bit of weather.
So we embark and set off, with about forty others, mostly Americans, and five crew, under the command of Captain Lewis, who has been running this ship since she was the St Vincent ferry back in the seventies.  Departure is delayed by engine trouble, and in fact we have to return for repairs; but once we get going properly, and clear Admiralty Bay, full sail is set and we are soon scudding along through wine-dark seas past island after island, bucking and crashing through the waves.
We reach the Cays about 11.30, and are ferried to the reef for snorkelling.  The undersea views are breathtaking; but that’s perhaps not the best choice of words.  The sea was choppy enough for me to ship several mouthfuls of seawater through my snorkel, often when I’d just breathed out and so had no air in my lungs to blow through like you’re supposed to do; and the leg action, with fins, is more arduous than I remember from when I was sixteen.  I’m glad I did it, but not convinced that this particular recreation is quite for me any more.
Back on the boat, we are served a good lunch, with unlimited rum punch and wine, then set off for the homeward leg, through a massive blow and drenching squalls – shipping dense spray and occasional green water, plus rain – soaked to the skin several times – boat keeling at twenty degrees – exhilarating!
After regaining dry land (which refuses to stay still for hours), we freshen up and go to the Frangipani barbeque, which is fine except that we’re too knackered to do it justice.  We’re seated at the back of the restaurant, away from the band, along with several of our fellow voyagers – and, as D&V discover to their amazement, a delightful young couple called Cherie and Dylan, from Toronto, whom they’d met in Carriacou five years ago.  Arrange to dine with them Monday.
I’m lulled to sleep, under my gauze tent, by the gentle swaying motion still retained by my body’s memory, sea-legs so thrillingly acquired aboard the lovely Friendship Rose.
Friday 22nd


Fort Hamilton; Tony Gibbons beach; Tommy Cantina
Despite good intentions to sleep in, we’re up and running by 8.00.  ‘Full breakfast’, which is bacon and eggs, as opposed to ‘English breakfast’, which is that plus sausage, beans, tomatoes, etc etc, at Porthole café, Mrs Taylor’s tight ship.  She and her staff of daughters or nieces are highly organised, but make us feel comfortable and relaxed, the best customer care yet!
We walk up through the town to Fort Hamilton, built by the British in 1760 to defend Bequia from American privateers or French pirates.  The views are great, and we stroll back down, past ineluctable shacks and enterprises, painted in vibrant colours or allowed to rot down to sad greys – some with religiously challenging rasta slogans carefully etched on their facades, others with failed fading bar names.  Now, I am pleased that I didn’t photograph these relics, or record their names.  I am glad that I didn’t demean them in that way.Lunch at D&V’s, using up the solid gold Feta cheese.  Then water taxi to Princess Margaret, lounge on beach, return, rum punches (RPs) at the Green Boley (GB).  An intense meeting of, we think, the Easter Regatta Committee is taking place inside.
Dinner at Tommy Cantina’s – O.K. depending on how far you’re into Mexican.  I ordered a ‘lime daiquiri’ as an aperitif, which turned out to be a rather odd kind of rum and lime sorbet, to be sucked through a straw as it melted – hardly a drink at all, more like a dessert.


Saturday 23rd


Spring and Industry; Mrs Taylor’s
Buffet breakfast at Frangipani, then walk across the island to Spring then Industry Bay, which is trying to reinvent itself as ‘Crescent’.  Presumably they think ‘Industry’ has adverse connotations (invokes dark Victorian satanic mills, whereas I suspect it was actually named for the sturdy Victorian virtue; ‘Crescent’ is of course free of any such negative associations, or any other sort for that matter).  The beaches, especially Spring, look at first sight like a lost opportunity, but then you think, just how many idyllic tourist beaches can this island, and its fragile economy and ecology, sustain?  Certainly, Industry/Crescent’s café  will have to do better – hugely overpriced and inadequate in quality and service.
At 6 p.m., D&V bumped into Cherie and Dylan at Gingerbread; we all repaired to GB to find they’d run out of RP (we’d drunk them dry), so to Frangipani instead.  Then dinner at Mrs Taylor’s ‘Porthole’ – food very good, but the ambience (irritatingly loud TV) and service not quite up to the price.  Shame, because just a little bit more effort could make this into a star turn (see Fernando’s later).

Sunday 24th


Lower Bay; Can’t Remember the Name; Gingerbread; Farine
Walk across to Lower Bay.  My legs are getting good at this by now: once you have seen your destination, the journey does become a bit easier!
Lunch at ‘Can’t Remember the Name’, a newly built venue – very nice building, roof made of natural untreated timbers, a good, friendly, professional service, we all had ‘fish and chips’ – not quite as we know them back in Blighty, but then, that’s not what we came for is it?
Dinner at the Gingerbread restaurant, curries.  Farine were playing again – what a joyful, inspirational experience this group is!  The Gingerbread waitress, Arlene, did a couple of numbers with the band, then went back to work.  Next thing, she’s washing up behind the counter whilst performing ‘Stand By Me’ with the band, exactly parallel to Aretha’s take on ‘Respect’ in The Blues Brothers – this woman is precisely conscious of what she’s up to, and, as I told her later, is an unmistakeable star.
I attract the attention of Farine’s guitarist, who forces me to play his guitar for about 45 embarrassing seconds.  I try to decline: ‘no man, I’m too pissed’; he responds ‘yeh, so’m I’; I say ‘yeah man but, you got pissed whilst playing, while I got pissed then got asked to play – there’s a difference!’  He acknowledges this distinction, but makes me do it anyway. 


Monday 25th


Hope Bay; Fernando’s Hideaway
Heavy rain overnight.  Strenuous walk over Mount Pleasant to Hope Bay – hard work, but there was cloud cover most of the way.  Very humid though.
Hope Bay is a totally deserted east-facing cove with a derelict shelter, self-seeding coconut palms and biggish surf, in which we swam.  Then back up a rough overgrown track, a bit hard to find at first, not helped by well-meaning pink ribbon waymarks which unfortunately had, some of them, been fixed to moveable objects.
Rotis for lunch at Mrs Taylor’s, then lounged around on the balcony.  We walked into town to change money and try, unsuccessfully, to find a ‘live-slow@bequia.calm’ T shirt for me – how can they have failed to re-use such a great slogan?
Cherie and Dylan join us for drinks at D&V’s, then Curtis taxis us across to Fernando’s Hideaway, now I think just called Nando’s, an excellent local-style family run outdoor restaurant, with good fish, stewed eggplant (aubergine) etc. – great meal and lots of good conversation.


Tuesday 26th


Breakfast with ‘Son’; Princess Margaret’s beach; Jack’s Bar; Moonhole; Moskito
Breakfast at Frangipani, very nice fruit platters.  We chat at some length with Sir James (‘Son’) Mitchell, ex-prime minister of St Vincent and the Grenadines and Caribbean world statesman, now owner of Frangipani (and probably half the island), ex-husband of Pat who runs Gingerbread – very interesting.  He isn’t too forthcoming about the famous footpath blocking – a vested interest in there perhaps?  D has bought his autobiography, for which Sir J gladly supplies a dedication.
Water taxi to Princess M’s; lunch at Jack’s Bar, better than last time.  The feta salad costs significantly less than it did when we made the identical thing at home – how can this be?  There’s obviously more to the local economy than meets the eye.  Sorry, I’m repeating myself.
When we arrive at the beach, Friendship Rose is moored offshore and the place is heaving with people.  After a couple of hours, at least forty are ferried back to the boat, which then apparently returns to Port Elizabeth.  Strange, we think.
In the afternoon we visit Moonhole, at the far end of the island beyond the airport.  It’s a complex of nineteen weird and wonderful houses, built from and totally integrated into the local landscape – no straight lines.  It was initiated in, I think, the sixties by an eccentric American called Tom Johnston, and now run by his son Jim and lovely English wife Sheena.  The houses are mostly privately owned, and passed on by inheritance, the managing company having first refusal should anyone want to sell.  So there are a few owned by Jim and Sheena, and rented out.  But they make most of their money, I guess, from guided tours like this one.  Fascinating and great fun.
Curtis taxi to Moskito at Friendship Bay for dinner – very disappointing, at least for me.  My fish was overcooked to inedible, service was rushed, wine vastly overpriced.  Aspirant corporatism at its worst.
Curtis actually seems stressed out – wife ill in hospital in Trinidad; can’t meet demand for his services on his own, but terrified of losing business; drafted in his son to help, but unsure he can trust him to deliver, etc…  Just how ‘laid back, live slow’ is this place in actuality?   Jim Johnston, as laid back as they come, explained how, in the rental homes at Moonhole, all you have to do is make your decisions: the full-time staff do everything else.  In the best restaurants, the staff work their butts off to get it right whilst presenting as ‘laid back’.  V thinks we’re seeing the early signs of a new ‘laid back Bequia’ corporate product range.  The Americans we’ve overheard and talked to certainly think that’s what they’re buying. 


Wednesday 27th


Quiet day; Mac’s Pizzeria; Devil’s Table
Breakfast at Frangipani.  Good pizza for lunch.  D&V went on a snorkelling trip to Moonhole; I lounged, took photos, read, snoozed.
Quiet (!) dinner at Devil’s Table: nothing like the atmosphere of last week, perhaps due to lack of lunar influences – no hordes of nubile teenage dancing girls, just middle-aged Yanks who really shouldn’t.  Lovely steak though.


Thursday 28th


Lower Bay; Can’t Remember; Fernando’s
Last day!
We attempt breakfast at Frangipani, but are met with stony-faced opposition (‘all these tables are booked!’) then ignored for five minutes – so we decamp to Gingerbread.  No fruit (how do they manage that?), but otherwise OK.
We walk over to Lower Bay, now confirmed as the very best beach.  There’s a huge cruise liner called ‘Wind Surf’ anchored out to sea, not the first one we’ve noticed, but thankfully its population haven’t made it to Lower.  We lunch at Can’t Remember – their burgers aren’t as good as Moskito’s!
Another nice dinner at Fernando’s, back to Frangipani for a beer, and so to bed.


Friday 29th


Homeward bound
We pack, pay, and bid a sorry farewell to sweet Bequia.
We by-pass the immigration queue at Barbados, as transit passengers.  Flight to Gatwick O.K., but the seats are incredibly uncomfortable – don’t they test these things?
Luggage doesn’t get lost, though it takes hours to find its way to the reclaim; car delivered by an enthused boy racer; back to Reading, cup of tea – and I’m back where I started.



Notes


Taxis
There are three kinds of taxi on Bequia:
·         Minibus.  We didn’t use these, but they’re standard people-carriers, with mostly edifying names like ‘Don’t Give Up’, ‘Justice’, ‘Faith’ etc painted across the front in graffiti-style lettering.
·         Pick-up truck.  This is Curtis’s style of taxi – a truck with bench seats ranged along each side.  Apart from the taxi firm’s ID, they don’t seem to have names.
·         Water taxi.  Obviously, these are not strictly ‘on’, but are boats with outboards, which hang around the jetties or tout for trade up and down the beaches.  They have racy names like ‘Humble Afrikan’, ‘Sweat’, and our favourite ‘Phat Shag’.


Birds
The following types of bird were observed:
·         Bequia Blackbird.  Shaped more like a starling than its English cousin.  Supposedly says ‘Bequia sweet sweet’, though to me it sounds more like ‘Bequia cheap cheap’, which isn’t entirely true.  They’re everywhere, but mostly hang around restaurant terraces.
·         Brown Boobie.  Four foot wing span diver, seen everywhere around the coast.  They hunt constantly, not hovering like raptors but cruising and plunging on the off chance – but rarely seem to catch anything.
·         Frigate Bird (aka Man o’ War).  Magnificent huge sea hunter, up to eight feet span.  They can’t actually dive, not having water-resistant feathers, so have to snatch prey from the sea surface (or from brown boobies).
·         A tiny yellow and black finch who frequents balconies.
·         Humming Bird.  Surprisingly few spotted, as there are allegedly about 29 varieties.
·         A black heron, seen elegantly winging across the bay one evening.
·         Pigeons.


Music
Quite a conservative scene, with the shining exception of Farine (named apparently after a kind of cassava-based porridge).  Bequia musicians don’t seem to have got over Bob Marley yet – seventies style reggae predominates.  A guy called Elvis plays steel drum at the Frangi once a week, to a pre-recorded backing track.  He’s actually very good, jazzy when he lets himself cut loose, but mostly feels he has to do tourist-pleasers.  Quite a lot of country & western, which seems incongruous.  Very little Soca or other more adventurous forms.


Shopping
We concluded that most locals take the ferry to St Vincent to shop – certainly they don’t get their clothes here!  The fruit & veg market is vibrant and well-stocked, though the sales technique can be a bit off-putting – reminded me of the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul.  A notice on the back wall reminds vendors not to apply this kind of ‘in your face’ selling approach; but one or two of them seem to have missed the word ‘not’.  Clothing is almost exclusively tourist crap – there is some good stuff, but you have to hunt it out.  Prices, as noted, seem on the high side.