Twitter Talk

In my comedy Terms and Conditions Apply, an actor had to say the following lines as fast as he could:

“This Party is registered with House of Commons Political Services. Membership subject to status. Services may be provided in conjunction with another Party. The Party reserves the right to amend or withdraw policies without prior notice. Minimum spend: your entire household income. Offers subject to availability and end when the Party chooses. Typical APR ten thousand per cent. Exclusions apply. Selected other Parties may contact you with offers, which you should ignore. Participating politicians only. Go online for details. Terms and conditions apply.”

The idea was to satirise radio advertisements by bringing their language into normal conversation. The audience certainly got it!

Daft though such speed-talk is, at least the words are plain English. Less so I fear with other media. Okay, the abbreviations and acronyms used in texting or on Facebook  – ur, lol, wd, cd and so on – though often irritating, have been normalised across generations, and are at least underpinned by recognisable English. (Btw, I use btw from time to time). And thirty years ago when seemingly complicated website and email addresses started appearing on letterheads and advertisements, they soon proved to be simply a point of contact, like a postal address – once you’d accessed the address you could communicate in ordinary English.

Not so Twitter. This instant-messaging medium has a bright blue language of its own and limits messages to 140 characters. Addresses are prefixed with @, and have to come out of this allocation. Some messages use so many @addresses that there are few of the 140 left for proper words. I just drew the following tweet off my Twitter feed:

LIVE SCORES: @WorcsWarriors lead 7-3 at @CornishPirates1; 0-0 between @khfcofficial & @BarnetFC and @bradfordparkave and @WorcesterCityFc

Not good communication and not easy reading. And clicking on any of the @addresses leads to an equally impenetrable barrage of @information and few meaningful words.

Then there’s the hashtag. This allows you to follow a topic of specific interest or current fashion. The subject is prefixed with # to draw attention. Shops now prefer a #BetterBuy banner in their window to a ‘50% Off’ poster, and TV channels invite you to click on #LostDog to find out more about, well, you guess …

Here’s another actual tweet from my account:

Brilliant poem: #Sum Poet @GregMLeadbetter http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b05q5y3q … #SomethingUnderstood #Poetry & #Linguistics @writingwestmids @BBCRadio4

The @s and the #s take up over half the spaces, and, though photos speak many words, the added BBC link eats up most of the rest. Hard going.

Okay, @PaulCostello8 is a dinosaur when it comes to social media #FairCop. So I’ve tried to come @ it another way. If communication in plain English is seriously hampered by a limit of 140 bright blue characters then I thought we could at least extend its useage to other @times and @places, say during a ch@ or when b@ting ideas about. We could call it Twitter Talk. #BetterValue #ImproveCommunications #NewLanguage #WorthTrying

I put my idea to the test in Hereford last week. I’d cooked up a bulk hash of chopped cold meat and vegetables, reheated in a spicy sauce, and wanted some tags to label the freezer bags with. So I caught the @DRM476 bus into town and visited @Wilkinsons for some hash tags #HashTags.

I couldn’t see any on the shelves #NoHashTags, and when I checked with the Customer Assistant she said,

‘Sorry luv, we’re out of hash tags.’

‘What, none at all, HashtagNoHashTags?’ I said.

‘Ever so sorry,’ she said. ‘They’re trending at the moment.’

‘What does “trending” mean?’ I asked.

‘Well,’ she said, ‘once we started hashtagging hash tags it caught people’s @tention and now everybody wants them.’

‘So @everyone thinks hash tags are fashionable?’ I said.

‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘A trend. Hash tags are trending HashtagHashTagsTrending.’

As you can imagine, I was delighted at her quick grasp of Twitter Talk!

‘When are you getting some more?’ I said. ‘I need to tag my hash.’

‘Ah, there’s a problem. Our stock buyer has made a hash of ordering hash tags HashtagHashUpHashTags. He didn’t tell @HashTagProducts who supply our hash tags that they were trending as a result of our HashtagHashTags, so they too are out of stock. It’ll be at least three weeks.’

‘Not very clever of the buyer,’ I suggested.

‘Yeah – his problem is he’s too fond of the old, you know …’ she said, making a smoking gesture with her hand.

‘Hash?’

Pitching herself wholeheartedly into Twitter Talk, the Customer Assistant said,

‘Yes, he hashes things up at the best of times, but this time the hash has clearly hashed up his hash tag handling HashtagHashHashingUpHashTagHandling, and @HashTagProducts aren’t happy about it.’

As we were ch@ting, I was becoming increasingly agitated by two children running up and down the aisles punching each other. Pre-empting me, the Customer Assistant said,

‘It’s okay. They’re only playing tag HashtagTag. Not harming anyone.’

‘But where are the parents?’ I said.

‘They’ll not be far away. Probably got ’em electronically tagged to keep a track on them HashtagTaggingTaggers!’ she said, laughing.

‘No doubt tagging taggers is trending too,’ I ventured.

‘Definitely! HashtagTaggingTaggers@HashTagShelves. Anyway, good luck with the hash tags. Try @Boots or @WHSmith in @HighStreet.’

I came away really excited about our conversation! In the same way as I’d successfully brought the speed-talk of radio-ad language into Terms and Conditions Apply @MarketTheatre @Ledbury @LastSummer #HilariousComedy #GreatAudience #MyFirstPlay, in one simple exchange I’d shown that moving away from on-screen Twitter can add value. #TwitterTalk #NoLimitOnCharacters #UseInEverydayConversation

Watch this space! I’ve got a sneaky feeling that before long Twitter Talk will be trending!

 

Copyright © Paul Costello April 2015

click. com – a play by Paul Costello. A comic romp through the joys and pitfalls of internet dating for ‘mature’ people. Showing at Bosbury Parish Hall Friday 24th/Saturday 25th July 2015.

In My Kitchen

Last month three of Britain’s leading lights invited me into their family homes. In three fly-on-the-wall moments of political genius, Camshaft, Moribund and Clogg each revealed their kitchen’s innermost secrets – how the kitchen was the hub of family life and how they shared the routines of a workaday household. Chopping onions, stirring cake mixture and laying the table were all on show, as were recipes offering the nutrition that helps senior politicians tirelessly conduct themselves with vigour and grace.

I felt it only right to reciprocate their hospitality by inviting the three of them round to my house. I say ‘the three of them’ because once other party leaders got wind of my intention they all wanted to come. At one point seven of them were demanding a piece of the action, which I thought was a bit of a cheek since only three had been considerate enough to show me their kitchens.

(L to R) Camshaft, Moribund and Clogg at ease in my Herefordshire  home

(L to R) Camshaft, Moribund and Clogg at ease in my Herefordshire home

At the appointed time Camshaft and Moribund were delivered by smart limousines, though we had to wait a while for Clogg who’d come by public transport and the connecting double-decker from Gloucester to Ledbury had conked out in the middle of nowhere. Once we were all assembled in my kitchen and Clogg had called his mum to say he’d arrived safely, we got down to business.

I think they were instantly impressed! I’d worried that their kitchens would be a tough act to follow, but I could sense a heap of kitchen envy coming my way. And they seemed pleased to be free of the Westminster maelstrom and to bask instead in the haven of my provincial Herefordshire home.

Camshaft was interested in my two sieves – a coarse, plastic one for vegetables and pasta, and a finer one for rice.

My Twin Sieves

My Twin Sieves

‘Moribund’s economic policies would wash away through either of these,’ he said, with a tight-lipped grin.

‘But joking apart, this system is ideal for the smaller home,’ he added. ‘And if the Cons form a new government it will be our aim for every three-bedroom household in England to have twin sieves.’

 

One of my Kitchen Cupboard Doors

One of my Kitchen Cupboard Doors

I noticed Clogg admiring my kitchen cupboard doors. Personally I find them rather dull, but it was flattering to have them thought of so highly by such a senior figure.

‘Our raising of the Income Tax threshold during the past five years has enabled thousands of ordinary households to install kitchen cupboard doors like these,’ he said.

‘If the Never Nevers form a new government we shall raise it even further, allowing millions to upgrade their flip-top bins and oven extractor fans.’

 

Quietly unnoticed during this door-admiring exchange, Moribund had been closely inspecting my Morphy Richards microwave.

‘That’s strange,’ he said, ‘this microwave is timed in minutes only. There’s no “hours” symbol.

My Microwave Control Panel

My Microwave Control Panel

‘That’s quite normal, isn’t it?’ I suggested.

‘It’s a disgrace!’ he said, with as much bluster as he could summon. ‘If Laborious forms a new government, I shall put an end to the outrageous epidemic of zero-hours microwaves.’

We all sniggered a bit – but, fair enough, I guess he had a point.

 

 

 

To get a better understanding of where they really lay on the all-important matter of cooking and kitchenalia, I set them a challenge. I laid out a number of ingredients from which they each had half an hour to make Welsh rarebit. I would stand by and offer encouragement, and it would be called Master Chief.

Camshaft fussed away, admitting that he’d always steered well clear of Wales and this task was therefore a bit close for comfort. He also pointed out that with the extra million jobs he’d created in the economy there were now a million more people able to enjoy Welsh rarebit as a teatime treat.

Meanwhile Moribund was stirring a suspicious-looking mix like nobody’s business, smacking at the unyielding cheesy lump whilst muttering about the right ingredients for a just and fair society.

Sadly, Clogg disqualified himself, breaking competition rules by phoning his mum to ask whether the Marmite should go underneath or on top of the cheese.

Having hosted them in my kitchen, I felt none the wiser about political affiliation than I had when they entertained me in theirs. My test hadn’t really helped, nor did the subsequent debate on television, where Clogg, Camshaft and Moribund were joined by the four other leaders who’d tried gate-crashing my kitchen event:

  • Nigella Gar-arge             You Fancy a Kip Party
  • Theresa Green              Clean Party
  • Nickaless Urge-On        Scottish Gnats
  • Leanne Would               Plied Comely

TV DebateGrandiose claims on the economy, immigration and the National Health Service were bandied about by seven people during two hours of heated debate, but none had the guts to reaffirm their position on recipes, ladles, kettle wattages or, frankly, kitchen matters of any kind – rather disappointing, I thought, after the early promise of three culinary campaigns.

Only weeks till the big day. Cometh the election, cometh the Leader. If they’re to get my vote they’d be well advised to slot in a few more demos at their marble worktops. I tell you, the first person I spot sporting an anti-slip, toughened-tip, ultra-grip, own brand Wilkinson spatula with matching omelette whisk will shout out at me: “WINNER!”

Paul Costello Copyright © April 2015

click. com – a play by Paul Costello. A comic romp through the joys and pitfalls of internet dating for ‘mature’ people. Showing at Bosbury Parish Hall Friday 24th/Saturday 25th July 2015.

Letter from No. 10

Dear Broadcasters

I take exception on two counts to your proposal to ‘empty-chair’ me at TV debates.

Firstly, I can assure you there is no such verb as ‘to empty-chair’. This is a feeble attempt by you broadcasters to be media cool. Leave all that to me. The only such transitive verb is ‘to empty-pocket’, a practice of which I now have five year’s experience.

Secondly, you don’t say what kind of chair.Blue chair Can I put in a bid for the MARKUS swivel chair in sonnebo blue from IKEA. Clever choice I thought, what with Sonny Boy Williamson finding the blues so vital to life.

Should you have a change of heart about ’empty-chairing’ me, I’d be happy to come and tell viewers how I propose empty-pocketing them over the next few years.

Yours temporarily

Dave Camshaft

Copyright © Paul Costello March 2015

click. com – a play by Paul Costello. A comic romp through the joys and pitfalls of internet dating for ‘mature’ people. Showing at Bosbury Parish Hall Friday 10th/Saturday 11th July 2015

Website: www.paulcostello.me                 Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Ear Today, Grown Tomorrow

For last month’s birthday my nearest and dearest bought me a vintage Noddy Annual. Grand it was, with its pink, hardback cover and brightly coloured characters.

Tessa knows I like old books, especially those harking back to childhood. And she probably chose Noddy as a joke because I do nod off like a baby – typically ten hours a night plus daytime naps. In fact, on the parabola of life I’m wandering happily down the second childlike path. Having skipped along my first childhood and barged through the earnestness of middle life, I am once again showing off and making demands, and people think I’m sweet.

Big EarsBut inside the Annual I discovered a perhaps more pointed reason for her choice. Tessa had picked an edition where Big Ears sets up a taxi firm to rival Noddy’s, with a brightly coloured people carrier, cut-throat fares and an aggressive advertising campaign. Noddy’s livelihood was threatened and his sixty year friendship with Big Ears was teetering on the brink.

In itself the story made excellent fireside reading but, I thought, is her choice of the “Special Big Ears Edition” trying to tell me something? Was she perhaps inferring that Enid Blyton introduced Big Ears to make older readers like me feel less alone?  Was she teasing me about the differences between early and late periods of childhood? After all, in this secondary phase I hobble rather than skip, I take a daily dose of multi-coloured tablets not sweets – and yes, my ears are rapidly growing longer. An esteemed graduate of the British School of Irony, it wouldn’t be beyond Tessa to poke fun at my lengthening lobes.

I’m trying to grow old gracefully, bumbling and stumbling my way as best I can. But short of radical surgery (a ”lobe job” as they say) I can’t stop my lugs growing. Until recently I thought it was either genetic – that not everybody’s ears grew bigger – or that it was nature creating a larger funnel to compensate for loss of hearing. And I only thought about it when, say, World War 1 veterans appeared on TV or I was singing carols in a care home.

But I’ve discovered that ear growth is a natural part of the ageing process for all of us. Studies since the mid-nineties in Italy, Japan and the UK have proved that ears elongate by an average of 0.22mm a year, a fact so accurate that forensic scientists can determine someone’s approximate age by their ear size.

A little help funnelling sound

A little help funnelling sound

One school of thought is that an enlarged auricle (outer ear) does help funnel more sound. But a more accepted explanation is that ears sag with age thanks to a loss of elasticity as the collagen and elastin fibres that make up the ear’s cartilage and surrounding skin start to break down. Deterioration of this cartilage removes structural support, allowing gravity to take over and cause the appearance of droop. Since noses are constructed in the same way, they too are subject to apparent enlargement, though less so than ears. The effect is exacerbated by a loss in volume of surrounding areas like cheeks and lips, making the organs next to them look larger.

Ear-lengthening happens to women as much as men, but because their ears are often covered up we don’t notice. Under the pink and purple rinses on those coach trips to Scotland lie an abundance of awesome auricles. In fact sagging ears are potentially a greater issue for women because earrings, especially the ‘drop’ variety, encourage gravity to do its dastardly deed. No surprise that it’s women who most often seek redress through lobe surgery. A similar tug must be exerted by the ear stretchers in vogue with many young people. The combined vertical strain and butchered lobes will surely come back to haunt them in later life. But, huh, what do they care?

I’ve just measured my ears – they’re exactly 70mm long. If I live another thirty years they’ll be 76.6mm when I’m ninety-seven. But since 0.22mm is only the average growth, they could get even larger, occupying the entire sides of my face. I’ll be able to hear well enough, but it could spoil my chances with, say, a woman I’m trying to chat up in my nursing home. And I worry about other silly things, like how will I deal with all that unwanted extra hair? Would I need giant Baby Buds? Would a mobile phone disappear down my swollen ear canal? Will I experience violent ear-popping on flights, causing my head to explode?

Obama checks today's flap factor

Obama checks today’s flap factor

 

Maybe I’m taking it too seriously. At least I don’t have sticky-out ears. With decades of growth and a high flap factor, people like Barack Obama and Gary Lineker might in later years find it tricky staying grounded in a strong wind.

 

I think I’m still on the right side of ear droop. Holding the Noddy Annual alongside my head in the mirror, I’m no way like Big Ears. And I’ll never catch up because his ears should grow with each new Annual. Let’s just say Tessa’s gift has made me think properly about my ears’ future; and she’ll be pleased I’m not now ordering from Amazon the gorgeous blue and white striped 5mm ear stretchers I’ve been banging on about for the last year.

Anyway, they wouldn’t have gone with my titanium butterfly eyebrow bar.

Copyright © Paul Costello March 2015

click. com – a play by Paul Costello. A comic romp through the joys and pitfalls of internet dating for ‘mature’ people. Showing at Bosbury Parish Hall Friday 10th/Saturday 11th July 2015

Website: www.paulcostello.me                 Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Game of Public Thrones

When I turned sixty-five my doctor gave me three pieces of advice.

  1. Never knowingly walk past a public loo.
  2. If you think you’re going to pass wind, don’t risk it.
  3. Should you get an erection, use it.

Sound ideas, I thought, except perhaps the final one since an irregular heartbeat already deprives my brain of oxygen-laden red cells and redirecting yet more blood might make me pass out.

The first suggestion was the most useful. I’m now in a steady relationship with public loos. I do knowingly walk past them, but never without adding their locations and opening times to my mental map – an imprint which includes cafes, bars, hotels and any stores with toilets the public can use. A relief map, so to speak.

The map for my home town of Ledbury is of course complete, as are outline maps of nearby towns Hereford, Worcester and Gloucester. Further afield, Birmingham City Centre and London Paddington Station are fairly well plotted, and having spent a great deal of my life in Brighton I’m confident about its layout too.

Does that mean more than one men?

Does that mean more than one men?

Where there’s a choice, the quality of premises counts. For example, my map shows that the men’s loo at Gloucester Bus Station is no-go for hygiene and feel-good, whereas Wetherspoon toilets are generally well kept. And whilst the loos of most Ledbury cafes might be all potpourri and frilly flowers, there’s one hotel that could do a good trade selling surgical masks in its men’s toilet.

Then there’s the question of payment. Perhaps once or twice in my life, in desperation and not without a good deal of resentment, I’ve paid to use a loo. The idea of charging originated in major railway termini, perhaps using their captive market to tempt people with a more attractive alternative than toilets on trains. Admittedly they are very clean. Thirty pence a go, it is – free for moneyless people whom I’ve often witnessed climbing in through the exit turnstiles with practised ease.

Charging has now become more common. McDonalds has coded loo doors – you have to buy something to get a code. I’m told that in Amsterdam nightclubs you have to pay each time you go to the loo or buy a night pass for 3Euros. A while ago Michael O’Leary floated the idea of charging customers to use the loo on Ryanair flights. And many local Councils in the UK, where they haven’t actually closed toilets, have started charging – supposedly a fund raiser in these hard times.

Fact is you shouldn’t have to pay once you’ve developed a mental map. There’s always a free alternative nearby, more often than not sponsored by the very places charging. Pubs and cafes in the retail ‘villages’ on major railway stations are a good bet. And some Councils promote so-called Community Toilet Schemes where Marks and Spencer, Wetherspoon and the like are encouraged to give free access to their loos.

I contend in any case that charging to wee is proportionately unfair on us ageing men. We can’t help how our bodies change. “Slo-flo” and “little and often” can be part of daily life. Should we really have to pay over the odds for nature’s shortcomings?

Fortunately I’m able to laugh along on that subject. I remember a work colleague at an English Heritage site pointing to a cow in an adjacent field and wistfully saying, ‘I wish I could still piss like that.’ And whenever I’m out with my teenage daughter I come to expect her cry of, ‘Not again, dad! You’ve only just been!’  I even enjoyed a younger friend’s inadvertency at a Brighton and Hove Albion soccer match. The half-time scrum in the men’s urinals involved banking up behind existing stallholders, creating a second row as it were, then stepping up when the man in front had finished. On returning to his seat my friend said, ‘Trouble is, you get stuck there for ages if you land up behind some old bloke with a prostate problem. You wonder if he’s ever gonna finish!’ Yeah, thanks for that, Buzzer. It was probably me.

Yet, charging to use loos might be better than shutting them altogether. Closing public toilets in tourist towns like Ledbury, Hereford and Worcester is a bad plan. Such places are a mecca for day-trippers who add life to the streets and money to the economy. Visitors need wooing. Throughout the year I see coaches dropping people off on Ledbury High Street for a two-hour stopover. Who are these people?Elderly People sign Well, like me, they’re part of the growing elderly population that has time on its hands. And what’s the first thing they might want when they’ve been stuck on a coach for the last hour or two? Visitors often stop to ask me where there’s a loo. When I worked in Ledbury Library we were asked every day. At the moment I can still point to one that’s open, but for how long I don’t know.

As a visitor to Malta last Christmas I was relaxing in glorious winter sunshine on Sliema harbour front when a group of elderly tourists came tottering towards me. Led by a cheerful if mechanically-spoken lady sporting a blue Saga badge, the dozen or so newcomers moved at the pace of the couple bringing up the rear – dead ringers for the Highway Code road sign. Saga specialises in holidays for the over fifties, with a majority upwards of seventy-five. One of the company’s routines is to run a local orientation walk on the first morning. In a small Majorcan resort, when the rep pointed out the chemists, supermarkets, churches of various denominations and public toilets, I remember thinking how sensible this was for new people in unfamiliar surroundings, particularly the most elderly and those with special needs.

In Sliema the group stopped alongside my bench while the leader waved her arms semaphore-style, like the cabin crew doing safety drill on an Airbus 300.

‘In the likely event of you getting caught short,’ she said loudly, ‘there are public toilets therethere – and there.’

Indeed, Malta is proudly endowed with public loos, and I’d formed an excellent mental map by the end of my first day. I thought it ironic that a country perhaps second only to Britain in Britishness continues to recognise the importance of such public investment, made by the British, while back in blighty governments now deem public toilets surplus to requirements. Perhaps we can learn from this former British colony. How nice it would be, say, to find that my local Council had printed ‘GO’ at the end of its welcoming HEREFORDSHIRE – YOU CAN logo – and meant it.

I mean, we all have to.herefordshire-road-sign

And when you’ve gotta go …

 

 

Copyright © Paul Costello    January 2015

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. A hilarious Bed and Breakfast memoir set in deepest Shropshire. Order through bookshops or direct from http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

Website: www.paulcostello.me                 Twitter: @PaulCostello8

 

When She’s 94

In A Last Banana I reflected on my feelings when Dad died. Too often it’s only after such loss that we feel able to express our emotions – when, perhaps, it seems safe and normal to do so. So this New Year I write a living tribute to my Mum, alone seven years aged ninety-four …

… whose brilliant smile welcomes me in when we’ve not met a while. Who in all sorts of weather sets pots of pink fuchsias and waves of white heather. Who daily ticks the Guardian Quick. Who knows all the scores – Wimbledon, Old Trafford and Lords – and still bowls a winning wood indoors. Who correctly predicts the winner of Strictly, and “did all those dances with Dad in the fifties”. Whose diary is filled with visits and trips. Whose faithful old heart is put to the test, just like her bus pass getting no rest. Who stumbles and falls, yet hauls herself up, with a thin-blooded bruise. Who sings all the hymns on Songs of Praise and polished pews. Whose spirit nourishes the branches beneath her. Whose Thursday perm rests on my chest when she squeezes goodbye with a hug so strong it lasts long beyond my departing.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello  January 2015

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. A hilarious Bed and Breakfast memoir set in deepest Shropshire. Order through bookshops or direct from http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

Website: www.paulcostello.me                 Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Donuts and Toilets

On a recent trip to Stroud I spotted a postie delivering letters to the Wy Wong takeaway, and since my mind works in mysterious ways I imagined that the white envelopes scattered across the mat were from dissatisfied customers answering that very question.

2014-08-30 13.56.43‘Because it wasn’t the weightwatchers version I asked for,’ might be one reply, or ‘because as always I was still hungry after eating it.’ Or simply, ‘because you forgot to put in the prawn crackers.’ That sort of thing.

Naturally, I jotted these thoughts in the Moleskine writer’s notebook that follows me around, its pages rich with wacky catering snippets – a source of writing inspiration only surpassed by people’s moronic mismanagement of mobiles in public.

A lot of material has come from Indian Restaurants – probably because I’m in them so often. The chicken madras in the Rice ’n Spice at Haywards Heath according to the menu contained ‘avid black pepper’. In the Bengal Lancer at Llanelli you could get a ‘potion of chips’ (spooky).The Bilash at Rugeley offered ‘King Prawn Roshuni – a pleasant dish of king prawns made by our chef,’ which sounded, well, really pleasant. When I hurried the order along at the Jalsagor in Hereford the manager said he’d ‘hasten the papadums in a minute.’ And in the Taste of India at Leominster the menu described chicken tikka as ‘tender pieces of lamb cooked in …’. I wondered if it might have been ‘torn’ chicken – torn, that is, between whether it was a chicken or a lamb. It got eaten, so we can’t ask it now.

Elsewhere, a sign in Tesco exhorted me to buy puddings: ‘Life’s Short – Eat Dessert First’. In the same store a man asked the shelf filler if they had any Camp coffee. ‘Ooooo, I’m not sure. Now let me see-ee.’ And in a lovely cafe called Quinns in Worcester the menu offered ‘a lovely large bowl of home-made soup, lovely salads, lovely old-fashioned puddings and orange squash served in a lovely plastic cup with a straw’. Lovely. I was, however, appalled to see 30p for a glass of tap water with ice and lemon at Nice Things cafe in Ledbury, a charge sensibly removed by new owners.

Further afield, I liked the English blackboard menu outside the Hotel Verol Restaurant, which included chicken breast with chips, chicken wings with chips – and chicken tights with chips, presumably a thirty denier Las Palmas speciality.

I'm sure there's a chimp in here somewhere.

I’m sure there’s a chimp in here somewhere

And during a three-night stay in Bangkok I took a shine to a nearby fish restaurant – Kuang Seafood – which had numerous fish tanks fronting the street. Families and business people filled the room each evening, waiters brandishing huge trays of mouth-watering delicacies and chefs periodically lowering their nets into the bubbling homes of red snappers and catfish. In Thailand what we know as prawns are called shrimps; and tucked among the long list of shrimp dishes I found ‘Baked Chimp with salt’. I didn’t fancy the salt and opted instead for crab curry and fried rice with fish.

On the move, I particularly enjoyed the jolly Welsh trolley man on Arriva trains between Manchester and Cardiff. Happy in his work and determined to offer travellers a new experience, his operatic rendition of ‘Just One Cornetto’ lightened the atmosphere of a crowded carriage, as did his later promotion of sea serpents and snake venom in as deadpan a way as one might sell Walkers crisps or KitKats.

And on a bus near Gloucester I overheard a woman telling fellow travellers they should try a cafe in Herne Bay, Kent which sold ‘the best garlic bread in the world’. Okay – tomorrow perhaps.

I’m used to restaurants glossing their menus; outrageous descriptions are now so commonplace that I rarely bother noting them. A roadside Brewers Fayre listed ‘fresh, hand-battered, pole-and-line caught Cornish cod, served on a bed of chef’s chunky, crispy-dipped potato strips and topped with a jus of caper-infused mayo rich in mountain tarragon’. To you and me, fish and chips with tartar sauce. Even M&S gets in on the act with ‘handcrafted, British pork sausage rolls’. And I found a fine example at the Seven Stars pub in Ledbury: ‘complex, muscular yet graceful, with fine length and lovely maturity’. Not as I had imagined some sort of sex service, but a bottle of Bolinger for fifty quid. A stark contrast with the pundit on a TV wine tasting who glugged some red and got ‘a WVS clothing store’.

2014-11-04 11.04.31

Only last week I found that a Weston-super-Mare seafront cafe had thoughtfully placed its menu on the outside wall.

Only two choices. But which first, that’s the exciting thing?

Eenie, meenie, miney …

 

 

Copyright © Paul Costello November 2014

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. A hilarious Bed and Breakfast memoir set in deepest Shropshire. Order through bookshops or direct from http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

Website: www.paulcostello.me                 Twitter: @PaulCostello8