Monday, 30 August 2010

Wounded in Wales

I’d been to Barafundle Bay many times before, of course, but I hadn’t got lost in the sand dunes since, oh, when would it have been? We debated this as we tried to discern, with the aid of the rapidly disintegrating National Trust leaflet and my brother’s iPhone, which of the five sandy paths before us was most likely to take us towards the Permissive Path which would lead us down to the Eastern Arm of Bosherstone Ponds. In sand dunes, maps don’t help – people think they need to go that way or this way, set out through the scrub and before you know it you have a new path, one never to appear on any map.

The first time, we decided, could have been about 1949 or 50, when he was a babe in arms. But he remembered something more recent. “I got stung by a wasp.” This must have been four or five years later. “We’ll watch out for it, then,” I said. “You don’t want it to sting you again.” “Or one of its ancestors.” “Or descendents even.” He remembered being terrified by the steep descent from the walk across from Stackpole down to the beach; there probably wasn’t a wall back then, but even so it’s only about sixty feet. Heights, we agreed, reduce as one gets taller. Cliffs Kill! Said the banal sign at Stackpole. “No they don’t. It’s the injuries when you fall off them that kill.”

Barafundle is the greatest beach in the world, everyone knows that. Sweeping soft sand, a gentle curve of shore, serrated granite cliffs to each side, even a promontory with a hole through it, dunes behind stretching back forever. No car park, so only those who know how to walk can get there. But we couldn’t linger: we had to get to Bosherstone, the Lily Ponds, and the pub.

It’s remarkable that no injuries had been incurred yet, as we entered the pub. Brambles, nettles, gorse, tree roots, a plethora of dangerous-looking insects – and actually, probably, the occasional adder. Threats aplenty. True, Val had fallen off a chair back at the caravan the day before and grazed (and possibly nettle-stung – to my shame I found I had no antihistamine cream in my pathetic medical stock) her arm (and she already had a bad back), and I had arrived on Thursday with the tail-end of a fit of gastro-enteritis, contained by industrial administrations of cement pills and pink gungey stuff – but otherwise, unscathed.

The first wound occurred in the gents’ toilet back at Stackpole Quay. A door, I discovered, when presented open edge-on, is almost invisible. Invisible enough, at any rate, to draw blood when it encounters a fast-moving sandaled toe. Middle toe, right foot, since you ask. National Trust cafes don’t stock plasters, nor any form of medication apart from tissues. Their outside seating areas do however, stock a plentiful supply of wasps. Evasive and distractive actions were taken over the tea and scones (“put the jam over there”), and nobody got stung.

Sunday afternoon, after they’d left and I was having a post-lunch snooze on the sofa in the van, occasionally opening my eyes to peruse my sea view and compare it to the Barafundle in my mind, I woke up to a pricking sensation in the shin of my right leg (the one with the busted toe). I looked down. There was a glowing red patch spreading out from a white core. “Hmm,” I thought. “That’s a wasp sting.”

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Sympathy for insects

On one of my three favourite blogs, The Last Word on Nothing, Ann has been conducting a campaign against the admittedly sometimes abhorrent behaviour of some of our arthropodal cousins.  Some of it makes gruesome reading.  But, in the interests of balance, I thought I'd pass on this delightful snippet from today's Guardian:   Zombie carpenter ant fungus

Enjoy your meal.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Caravan diaries (cont'd)

I came home a day earlier than I'd intended, to avoid the Pembrokeshire rain.  I couldn't face a rainy Monday sitting in the caravan staring out at the grey Pembrokeshire drizzle.  Pembrokeshire rain is about as depressing as rain gets.  I remember a family August holiday in 1958 when it rained Pembrokeshire rain constantly for three weeks.  The parents were, I imagine, desperate for diversions for us three kids, not to mention themselves - but they never showed it, or if they did, I never noticed.  I spent the whole time writing an imitation Peter Cheyney Lemmy Caution detective novel, with a pencil.  Now, I'm sitting here in Reading wishing for rain, preferably of the Pembrokeshire sort.

Meanwhile, down there, the Pointyheads have arrived.  They don't appear very often, but when they do they are even better entertainment than the rabbits, the woodpeckers (who persist in trying to chop down the poles holding up the electric power lines) or the incompetent jetskiers.  The Pointyheads arrive with three bikes strapped vertically on the top of their old 4x4.  Mr Pointyhead is very tall, skeletally thin, and has a very pointy head, even without his helmet.  He spends an hour (I timed it) removing the bikes from the car roof and stowing them behind one of his two toolsheds (which are never opened).  Mrs and Ms Pointyhead disappear into their caravan and are never seen again.  Various other mysterious procedures take place over the next few hours (two inexplicable eight-foot long poles are removed from the caravan and ensconsed behind the toolsheds), interspersed by long intervals where Mr Pointyhead stands very still and stares perplexedly at whatever it is he's just done.  Next morning he gets out his super-hi-tech racing bike, rides it round the field a couple of times to make sure its seven or eight moving parts have survived the journey, and whizzes off down the slope to ... 

Well, wherever he's going, really. 

Monday, 2 August 2010

I was in two minds ...

... (always a good place to be if you want to get through twice the work, as long as you avoid the white coats) whether to write about el sistema or the banks.  So I (we?) decided to do both.

Mind # 1: well, that's easy.   This tells you all you need to know, to kick off, about this inspirational Venezuelan project that's transforming the lives of deprived kids, in every way from the economically physical to the emotionally behavioural, through the medium of music - and which has just started up a spinoff in a degenerated part of Scotland.  Just have a look, I promise you'll love it and want to dig deeper.

Oh dear, the banks.  Mind # 2  is off to pour itself a glass of wine, because anaesthesis is the only way to deal with this sad but important quagmire.  Fortunately, thanks to a little-known internet portal, I have direct access to the questions that were spinning through the deep subconscious nightmare minds of the CEOs in the lead-up days to their profit declarations.  Space doesn't permit a full list, nor does credulity (nor ennui), but here are just a few.  Beancounters' responses shown in [brackets].
  • How does charging risky businesses three times as much interest as non-risky ones help them to become less risky?  [They piss off to an even more stupid bank, or go bust.  WGAF?]
  • Should I tell the shareholders how much of the £7bn (HSBC) came from derivatives trading or short selling?  [Probably not.]
  • Should we be offering £1bn of the £7bn to flood relief in NW Pakistan?  There'd still be six left over for us.  [Where?  OK, put us down for 100K.]
  • How does selling 318 branches help anybody who lives near them?  [Dunno, ask Brussels.  Glad to be shot of 'em.]
  • Yes, but how does it help the customers?  [Don't understand.  Who?]
  • What am I here for?  [To serve us.]
  • Is there a God?  [Oh yes.  But not on our balance sheet.]