‘Rain’

It’s a Bank Holiday here in UK land – or the fifty-first state as it’s more commonly known.  Fifty-first? Fifty-second?  How would I know, I don’t even know how many counties we’ve got here and you could fit the whole shebang into Central Park with room round the edges for immigration and a dog track.  Although you’d have to find somewhere else for the Scots as they are currently on an independence high and sawing their way along Hadrian’s Wall with a view to casting themselves off[1].

Anyway, Bank Holidays are the times when us Brits arm ourselves with barbeque gear, enough food to feed the massed armies of several small republics, and an optimism that consistently fails to be met by reality.  The heavens open, we are deluged with rain and we retreat indoors with all the neighbourhood kids, their dogs and assorted elderly relatives waiting for the men (or man more often, as his mates are now down the pub) to dash in out of the thunderstorm periodically with unidentifiable, partially singed, and often still bleeding, bits of dead animal.

It didn’t used to be like that.  In fact when we wanted to be wholly dispirited and soaked to the skin in the interests of leisure, we would drive for hours to a coastal town in vehicles held together with string and started with the aid of a large spanner.  There we would sit in shelters on the sea front gazing dismally out at the pounding grey sea and rubbing the blisters caused by the compulsory wearing of plastic sandals.  Soggy tomato sandwiches and tea made at five in the morning from a flask that contributed a vaguely metallic flavour to the contents were something of a highlight as this frugal repast at least distracted the adults from that other traditional activity – yelling at the fractious and justifiably whingeing kids.

When that was all over and we had taken another painful stroll along the seafront for the bracing quality of the air, everyone would pile back in the car for the journey home. Dads would then, as one, leap out again and attack the engine with a spanner and off we would all go in clouds of exhaust fumes back to our home towns; all of which seemed to require exactly the same road for roughly 92% of the journey so that an immense queue would build up and vehicles whose spanners and string had not been up to the job would fall by the wayside.

For children, this was a wonderfully exciting diversion as a breakdown might mean the summoning of an AA Man. These jolly chappies would turn up in motorbike and sidecar and salute to your dad, and was that something to talk about at school or what!  It beat a couple of dead leaves and a beetle on the nature table that’s for sure.  If you were really lucky, you got towed to somewhere exotic like Pocklington or Nafferton and didn’t get home until after midnight.

Today, the Bank Holiday weather is doing its thing so it’s on with the wellies and out with the dogs to encounter people who have come to the countryside with the express intention of not meeting any animals.  Please then, go to CenterParks and sit on the astroturf under a polythene propagation tunnel.

[1] In 2014, they hacked through 42% of the way then got confronted by the English with a crack team of Morris Dancers and went home again.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

 

‘When We Only Had Radio Luxembourg and Buying a Bulb Was Men’s Work’

drawing 1950s cabinet radioRecently, I felt compelled to add some variety to the sounds escaping the windows and boot of my car when either of these is opened. The neighbours at least will have observed that I’ve had the same cd in the deck for several months and so, clearly, something has to be done about it. Time then to burn a special edition so I crank up the media player, load a blank and start dragging and dropping tracks onto the slate.  But what’s this? No drive?  How can that be?  It was there yesterday, it ripped yesterday, it was acknowledged as a drive yesterday, for all I know Bill Gates himself approved its presence and tickled it under the chin yesterday, but today – zilch!

I check out Help and Support; there are reams of FAQs but nothing that addresses the recapture of errant CD drives. Online then; it’s the drivers maybe.  Nope.  I shout at Media Player but it doesn’t respond, other than to confirm gently, as to a rather dim child, that it needs a CD drive through which to effect the burning of a cd. I resort to tea because that usually shifts something, but not on this occasion. It would appear not even a large mug of Lapsang Souchong is going to persuade it that the drives with which it was wholly acquainted a few short hours ago are still within reach if it would only look.  It’s time for the Shut Down and Restart approach – that’ll teach it. And lo, after a great deal of packing away of programmes, counting its fingers and toes, and then setting out its pens, pencils and blotting paper again, a full set of drives appears on the map with not a squeak of an apology for absence.  That’s half an hour of my life I won’t get back although the tea is always worth having and, under duress, an obligatory biscuit. But most importantly, I am fully equipped in relatively short order with the means to put together a collection of tracks that should last me a good year if I keep the car windows closed[1].

Back in the day, this would have been nothing short of magic and people would have brought you toads in the hope of taking home a bit of Bert Weedon. In the 1960s, the only access to music that wasn’t Joe Loss and his Big Band came via the BBC Light Programme on Sundays when we got two hours of Pick of the Pops to be recorded but never replayed on a reel-to-reel in strict silence with absolutely no visits to the loo in case the flush became forever embedded in Mike Sarne’s Come Outside.

Alternatively, there was Radio Luxembourg which transmitted in the evenings but, with your parents generally monopolising the one piece of equipment in the house, could only be heard at youth clubs.  These palaces of entertainment; offering table tennis and possibly a quick snog if anyone suitable turned up, often boasted a wooden cabinet the size of Oswestry out of which scratchy bursts of melody would be coughed as the frequency wafted in and out of range.  These devices would also heat up during the course of the evening, usually as the strength of the signal improved, so that they would suddenly expire with a kind of pfff and an alarming spark as accompaniment.  The trick was to turn them off mid-evening in the hope that, when switched back on again later, you would have made it up the chart past Pat Boone and arrived at a bit of Elvis before the bulb went.

Yes, bulb. Lord knows what bulbs were doing in those things but they were clearly of the incendiary type rather than the sort whereby, if you hang about long enough, you get daffodils.  If they blew, arcane rituals were activated that usually involved a visit to a small, unlit retail outlet up a side street and housing a bloke in a brown warehouse coat.  Only men were inducted into these rituals although, in the absence of sons, daughters may be granted access, a socially risky strategy that necessitated some introductory butch language on the part of the Dad so as to establish proper credibility with the shop owner. It was a lengthy ritual. By the time the dead bulb had been inspected by everyone present, a grubby dog-eared book of serial numbers consulted and the order finally placed to be collected in – well, let’s see, it’ll be coming from Hull tha knows – Elvis had fallen off the toilet and the Beatles had invented colour.

[1] This has been superseded by iThings that plug into your car’s radio and could keep you entertained from Brighton to Bangalore with tracks you no longer recognise because you only played them once before downloading them from iTunes.

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

 

‘Ye Gods’

cartoon drawing wet catOkay, you win, I APOLOGISE you pestiferous, pea-brained, gnat-witted, god of Excessive Precipitation.  Clearly I have upset this cloven-hoofed repository of extreme grandiosity by suggesting that the British weather really didn’t do anything terribly exciting, just got damp a lot so that we’re always obliged to carry raincoats.  By way of vengeance, he, she or it has taken it upon themselves to dump somebody else’s monsoon on us so that parts of the country got a month’s worth of rain in twenty four hours.

Now you’d think that, this being an island, the excess would just run off the edge into the sea, leaving us with some nice green fields and a bit less dust, but no; instead it heads for a High Street Near You and fills it up to the gunnels (or the Aga if you’re from the Home Counties), leaving old ladies sitting on their roofs waiting for the fire brigade to turn up in a boat. Most are seemingly taking it as it comes, or at least the ones considered fit to provide a sound bite for reporters, who are also trapped and have little else to do but gather commentary.  Naturally, we don’t hear the interviews that start So how difficult has it been sitting in your Ford Fiesta for fifteen hours with three kids under seven and your Grandad whose marbles are currently absent without official leave?  Presumably the reporter daft enough to go down that route is picking his teeth out of his shirt and consulting his PDA[1] for the whereabouts of a cosmetic surgeon.

Fortunately we’re not on flood alert here although there is a river nearby and there was an occasion when the entire community was trapped in the village by twenty yards of water that had failed to drain away from one of the two roads out of the main residential area.  The fact that many of the residents of that road had moved their cars to the other available road and blocked it seemed to escape everyone’s attention and the council got an ear-bashing for its negligence in clearing the offending drain. That’s democracy for you.

Trevor Baylis, the delightfully dotty inventor of the wind-up radio (by which I mean the radios you wind up to make work, not the ones that wind you up and stop you from working), lives on an island in the middle of the Thames where flooding is clearly a regular thing. Trevor’s got it taped though: his sockets, hand-painted dark green to match the walls but with white plugs and cables attached, are sited at waist height, and there are odd little wooden contraptions that clip across the bottom of the doors.  The piece de resistance is a raised concrete area outside the house upon which chairs and tables have been placed in the manner of a front garden.  It is painted grass green, and neatly demonstrates the distinction between capacity for invention and any sort of design sense. With any luck, Laurence Llewellyn Bowen[2] will be round sharpish to splash on some terracotta masonry paint and construct an emergency lifeboat out of MDF and some tastefully positioned appliqué motifs with a naval theme.

Meanwhile, I will knit water-wings for the cats and fit them each with a dorsal fin with a satnav in it.

 

[1] Personal Digital Assistant. It’s what we had before iThings.

[2] Remember the BBC’s Changing Rooms with all that flounce and MDF?

From Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

 

Not Being First Fish

drawing of fishA wasp drops onto the pond, flails about a bit in an unequal struggle with the surface tension and, GLOMP! A fish snaps it up and disappears.  Then – Splash! Thrash! PWARGH! Wasp floats to the surface, not so lively but still kicking.  Another fish eyes it up.  GLOMP! Then PWARGH!  And back comes the wasp, this time with distinctly critical vital signs.  Fish Number Three approaches, gets a bead on its profile and GLOMP! Fish disappears. I wait.  No regurgitation; this wasp is being recycled. To recycle a wasp, it’s smart to be Third Fish.

 

Title story from Not Being First Fish by P Spencer-Beck.  Available from Amazon (non-illustrated edition). Second edition (illustrated) due 2018.

Edited 10th September to replace image with new version.

‘Ye Gods!’

Trevor Baylis, the delightfully dotty inventor of the wind-up radio (by which I mean the radios you wind up to make work, not the ones that wind you up and stop you from working), lives on an island in the middle of the Thames where flooding is clearly a regular thing. Trevor’s got it taped though: his sockets, hand-painted dark green to match the walls but with white plugs and cables attached, are sited at waist height, and there are odd little wooden contraptions that clip across the bottom of the doors.  The piece de resistance is a raised concrete area outside the house upon which chairs and tables have been placed in the manner of a front garden.  It is painted grass green, and neatly demonstrates the distinction between capacity for invention and any sort of design sense.

Excerpt from Not Being First Fish, by P Spencer Beck, 2015

‘Not Being First Fish – and other diary dramas’

fish and titleThe truth, the half truth, or nothing like the truth? It depends, says the pseudonymous author, on whether you recognise yourself. But if you didn’t leave the gate open to cavorting cattle on a rural bridge, or become unsettlingly aroused at the sight of a Saab, you’re probably ok. You can find it on Amazon (UK and US) Barnes and Noble, and also eBayChildishly grown up.