Chance Encounters

What’s the chance of meeting someone you know in a random location miles from home? Well, the odds might be surprisingly high. A couple of Saturdays ago I had my fourth such experience in recent years.

Tessa and I were in The Albert, a busy gastro-pub in Llandudno, on the first night of a short break. The menu looked promising and with real ales called Try Time and Scrum Down we were all set to watch England v Wales rugby on the big screen. As I headed to the bar a figure stepped in front of me and said,

‘Hello Paul, how are you?’

I recognised him immediately as the former manager of Boscobel House, an English Heritage site near Telford where I’d worked as gardener. Peter had lived in staff accommodation at Boscobel although his home was in Lincoln. We’d got to know each other well, but since our relationship had never extended beyond work we hadn’t stayed in touch after he left.

In the 60s Peter had been drummer in a band playing covers in dance halls across the UK. Periodically he’d pull out a set of drumsticks and perform elaborate rhythms on the oak counter of Boscobel’s reception. It was still in his blood. And only he knew the tune he was tapping along to. Before he retired from English Heritage he insisted on tailor-making me a CD from his enormous vinyl collection – Helen Shapiro, Bobby Vee and the like, plus a bonus track by his own band. His wife told us that even now he played the kitchen work surface at home.  Strangely, Peter looks a lot like the Shadows drummer Brian Bennett. Maybe he missed his true vocation.

Tessa and I had travelled the 150 miles from Ledbury to Llandudno and Peter and his wife the 170 miles from Lincoln on the same weekend. Of the many restaurants in Llandudno, we’d chosen to eat in the same pub on the same night at the same time, having not seen each other for eight years.

On another occasion, around the time Peter left Boscobel, I’d experienced a similar chance encounter on a week’s holiday with my brother in Goa . As we tucked into a spicy Indian lunch on our first day, a voice called from a table across the small dining area,

‘Hello Paul, what are you doing here?’

Geoff and Colleen had been neighbours and good friends for seventeen years, although I’d not seen them for three years since I left the B&B I’d run near Shrewsbury. They’d retired from farming a few years before I left and visited warmer climes whenever they could. Goa is 6,600 miles from Shrewsbury and has a holiday season of eight months – between monsoons. There are many resorts in Goa and hotel growth had proliferated over the previous ten years. What therefore were the chances of our staying in the same hotel at the same time? We only got together once or twice during our stay, but the conversation was rich with nostalgia and gossip – as if I’d never moved away.

A third coincidence took place one summer a few years ago on a family coach outing to Sidmouth with Ledbury Community Choir. Late afternoon, as the sun came out after a violent thunderstorm, my teenage daughter and I made our way towards a teashop in the town’s colourful clifftop garden. Coming through an archway a man stepped across my path and said,

‘Look who it isn’t!’

Chris had been stage manager for a Malvern Theatre group with whom I’d performed a few years earlier. During the three months of rehearsal and performance we’d become well acquainted. Now we’d met again, randomly, under a stone arch in the small garden of a seaside resort 130 miles from home.

In an even more bizarre happenstance in the late noughties, en route from Ledbury to visit my mother in Brighton, I was scanning the departure board on the packed concourse of London Victoria railway station when a voice next to me said,

‘Fancy seeing you here!’

It had been five years since my acrimonious parting with a Shrewsbury girlfriend and there’d been no contact since. Luckily, after an awkward three-minute exchange the lady had to dash for an imminent train to West Sussex where she now lived.

But it didn’t end there. Having initially earmarked her train for my trip, I abandoned the idea in favour of a train leaving ten minutes later. With great relief I settled in a carriage halfway along my twelve-coach train. Glancing, as you do, into the window of a train on the adjacent platform (delayed, as it turned out) I was shocked to see her sitting opposite! She hadn’t spotted me so I ducked below window level and waddled to another seat – a precious snippet for Southern Rail CCTV.

Her journey was 220 miles to Sussex from Shrewsbury where she’d been visiting friends. Mine was 170 miles. We’d crossed Victoria at exactly the same time. There was no evidence that I’d been stalked, though for a while I chose that interpretation. It was simply a preposterous (double) coincidence.

That episode aside, I find these chance meetings reassuring. Past friends and acquaintances never seem totally lost, and compared with dreams or déja vu the experience is at least tangible, albeit fleeting. I now keep a lookout on the off chance that an old friend is on the same plane or is sitting a few rows down watching the same West End matinée.

Perhaps like-minded people with similar backgrounds tread common social paths, making the chances of meeting greater than we think. In any case, despite a world surface of 510 million square kilometres and more than 525 thousand minutes in a year it’s bound to happen sometime!

So cheerio for now. I’m sure we’ll meet again. Don’t know where, don’t know when.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello October 2015

Paul Costello – Writer       Website: www.paulcostello.me       Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Battered Hat

Giant stacks of crisp new hats
Beg to be rescued from endless racks
Of dreary seaside tack.
 Porkpies and trilbies,
Leather fedoras,
And Wimbledon’s uniform –
Pure-white straw hats.

100_3084

Too bad, I say back.
I was once pristine,
But now I’m battered,
A concertina
With history and charisma,
And you can’t beat that!
He’s taken me places that you still dream of –
Australia, Malta,
Hyde Park, Gibraltar,
Gatwick and Catterick.
In fact, any place
Where the sun puts on its flame-throwing act.
100_3081
Squeezed in the rack on train and plane,
Scrunched in his rucksack when it starts to rain,
Or is plain cloudy.
I gladly soak up Factor 30 each day,
And Vanish to take the stains away.
It’s all in a day to be blasted with sand on breezy beaches,
Blown into puddles on platforms or pavements.
And I always spring back!
My straw is rotting and starting to snap,
My weave is fraying, my rim is splaying,
But I can’t be discarded, I’m not finished yet.
I’m him, he is me;
A battered hat,
A comfort blanket that won’t be sacked.

 

Copyright © Paul Costello August 2015

Paul Costello – Writer       Website: www.paulcostello.me       Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Postcardd ffrom Llanelli

Hiya Holly!

Guess what – I’m in Doctor Who territory! Having trundled along from Cardiff, my Arriva two-coacher dropped me off at Llanelli and disappeared round the bend towards Camarthen, hooting happily like Gordon the Big Blue Engine. And under a perfect holiday sky, I headed for the sea.

Ood

Ood

‘But, hm, where is it?’ I thought, following signs for ‘the beach’. 100_2438Sand and mud stretched for miles, and barren mud gullies, dressed with Asda trollies and bike tyres, reached towards the town like the tentacles of an Ood.

I had to wait till teatime for water briefly to invade the flats – before nothingness returned. And apart from the ubiquitous seagulls, there was little evidence of estuary birds. It’s as if water and waders took one look and decided: ‘Hm – perhaps some other time.’

Alongside the railway and mudflats runs the tundra-like Millennium Coastal Park, its Tarmac trails and rough-cropped grass affording little shade and few benches on which to sit and ponder the mud. A solitary ship-shaped building, the Coastal Park Discovery Centre, offers basic comforts, including a smart cafe and balcony with elevated views of perhaps an extra mile of mud. In the shop, you can buy fluffy green and red dragons, plastic green and red rugby balls with dragons on, and knitted green and red tea cosies (dragons optional), all from a trestle table laid out first thing and cleared away at 4 o’clock sharp. Outside, an overflowing litter bin is clearly popular for burger boxes and nappies.

But what may pass for a lack of imagination is more than made up for by friendly people. And they speak English. In the cafe, I overheard a woman with a strong Welsh accent explaining to her friend how nothing was more annoying than people talking Welsh as you entered the room. I nodded across, smiling!

The Welsh language is distinctive. Lots of ddouble lletters – hard if you have a stutter, llethal with ffalse teeth! And there’s a ‘y’ in every other word, and ‘w’ insteadd of ‘u’, like bws (bus) or Millenniwm (Millennium). The strangest I’ve heardd is a place name on Anglesey starting Fanfare something and endding God God God. Perhaps it’s a religious thing – you know, a call to God? I mean, they do have llots of chapels here.

I’m staying at the Coastal Grill with Accommodation. It seems the ffashion to call places: ‘Bistro with Accommodation’ or ‘Restaurant with Rooms’. Posh soundding – until you step inside and ffind they’re just orddinary B&Bs!

100_2454

Tardis shower

The shower in my room (Nwmber 15) is llike the control console of the Tardis. There are no instrwctions, and the llist on the outside wall talks more of llifestyle than knob control:100_2458

–  Immediately shower after strenuous exercise inadvisable.

–  Leave at once if feel uncomfortable when                                                taking steambath.

Llike David Tennant, I push at the bank of bwttons andd pull at chrome llevers wntil smoke and steam gwshes from every spout and the capsule shwdders as transportation begins. This morning I found myself being llathered ddown by Miss Llanelli 1957 – how I llove that abillity to ddrop in anywhere, anytime!  But it was a sharp awakening as the air cleared to a washbasin with no pllwg, a benddy, plastic toilet seat that ddoesn’t stay wp, and a wardrobe door that swings open when people go in and out of Nwmber 16 – handy when I want a clean shirt.

Each morning, the llandlord, who is also cook, greets people and takes their breakffast ordder. His ddaily pleasure is itemising the Ffull Welsh – never the same two ddays rwnning.

‘Today’s Full Welsh is bacon, sausage, fried egg, half a grilled tomato, baked beans, button mushrooms and a hash brown,’ he said enthusiastically on my ffirst morning.

On the secondd morning, I eagerly awaited the new menu.

‘Today’s Full Welsh is bacon, sausage, fried egg, baked beans, button mushrooms, hash brown, and this morning,’ he added prouddly with ddramatic pause, ‘it’s tinned tomato.’

Tinned tomato! Mmm!

The third dday was like the ffirst bwt with halff a fflat mwshroom insteadd of bwttons. Then, somewhat bizarrely, he added, ‘Or kippers with butter,’ which seemed as incongruous as the Tardis in the beddroom and as unlikely as ffindding ffreshly picked, pimento-stufffed olives in Lidl.

100_2481

Theatre Elli

100_2498

Council garddens

In empathy with its mwddy estuary, Llanelli town has an iddentity crisis. The main shops have moved out, the theatre (Theatr Elli) has closed andd the cinema converted to a Wetherspoons. Home Bargain Stores, Cash Generators and charity shops dominate the centre. Bwt in the middst of this plainness, set out serenely behindd the imposing Victorian Town Hall, lie the beautiffully manicured Council garddens, with colourfful beds, comffortable benches and a grand banddstand lladen with plwsh hanging baskets.

And the llong rows of terraced houses, tidily painted in neat pastels, with satellite ddishes 100_2486pointing symetrically to the heavens llistening for the Doctor’s return, are testimony to the undderlying vibrance of the community. Street names llike Great Western Crescent (Gilgant Great Western), Railway Terrace (Teras y Rheilfordd) andd Railway Place (Fford y Wagen) hint at the extensive railway network servicing the coal, steel andd tin inddustries in Llanelli’s heydday. Only the pretty, toytown coastal lline remains.

Time ffor reffreshment. The delightfful llandllady of the one surviving tradditional town centre pwb, the Double Dragon, ddeffies ddesigner bars like Stamps andd The Met – offering great beer, andd ddarts matches five ddays a week. Andd twcked between the kebab take-aways and overbearing Asda, the Bengal Lancer serves a cracking Prawn Methi andd Aloo Sag. A handdwritten notice promotes ‘Potion of Chips’ for £2.50. But no need for strange brews – ffive pints of Felinfoel and a curry brings on slleep soon enough!

Any llwck with a job yet? I know it’s not easy for gradduates these ddays …

Llove Paul

Paul Costello © August 2013

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello

cropped-paul-and-book-7-13-3.jpg

Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

www.fineleaf.co.uk/titles/utterlyundiscove.html

A fabulous holiday read!

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

Postcard from Torquay

Dear Uncle Harry.

I’m on a short break in the English Riviera – a grand name embracing the likes of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.

And what better way to spend my first day than a boat trip from Torquay? With the weather set fair, mackerel fishing seemed a good idea, and from the fierce competition for a two-hour trip I picked a vessel called Wave Rider – rather romantic I thought.

A mile out, my suspicions were aroused when the captain – called Ahab according to the name emblazoned across his stained tee shirt – began layering up with woolly sweaters and oilskins and removing the component parts of what looked like harpoon equipment from a box near the bow.

‘Are we looking for giant octopus too?’ I asked, feigning interest.

‘No-o mate,’ he said, with gnarly know-how. ‘Whales – if we can find the migration path.’

‘Oh,’ I said, going along with a joke that was clearly part of his patter, especially for soft southern targets like me. ‘That’s all right then.’

I looked around at the twenty or so other passengers. Worryingly, half of them were now also kitted out with cold weather gear and heavy duty waterproofs, while the rest of us were in flimsy summer clothes, skin gleaming with Factor 50 Nivea Sun Lotion to protect against the strong midday sun and brisk sea air.

‘How about some coloured feathers to catch the mackerel?’ I said, uncertain of my ground and aware that my short shorts and white Matalan tee shirt with “COOL AT 65” on the back might be inadequate for whaling on the high seas.

‘Aa-rr, this is all you need,’ said Ahab, tapping the harpoon affectionately. ‘People don’t read the small print, you see. It’s Silver Flash for mackerel. This is Wave Rider – we’re whaling.’

Other mackerel fishers overheard our conversation, some vigorously contesting the legality of the small print, others cowering on their slatted seats, muttering about never seeing their loved-ones again.

‘Don’t worry,’ Ahab said, after keeping us on tenterhooks another hour. ‘A mackerel relief boat will be along later.’

By the time the mackerel transfer arrived, Wave Rider was plunging into the troughs and surging to the peaks of a strong Atlantic swell. Land had long since disappeared and Ahab’s assistant, Ishmael, was in a raised basket on top of the cabin looking out to sea with a brass telescope.

From time to time he’d cry, ‘Thar she blows!’ making us rush to one side before he invariably added, ‘Sorry, just an iceberg,’ or, ‘Only kidding,’ staring at us madly with what we later found out was a glass eye – which being the one he used for the telescope didn’t bode well for serious whale catching at the business end of the trip.

Back on the quayside, having finally tamed a few mackerel, I was ready for supper and a pint of Doombar. Set on the harbour front, Wetherspoons seemed a good bet. Outside, all seemed well as I passed the cordoned area where people were tucking into spicy chicken wings and breaded Camembert bites washed down with, perhaps, San Miguel or spritzer.

Inside was different. Unlike the usual dominant clusters of men with thinning hair and agitated stammering, I found the entire seating and bar areas occupied by stocky, bearded gentlemen in yellow oilskins and black sou’westers.

‘Aa-rr, DOOMbaa-rr!’ went the call down the length of a bar where staff must have had the dickens of a job remembering who they were serving.

‘Aa-rr, DOOmbaa-rr!’ echoed the seated many, as they clinked pints to celebrate another day at sea. ‘Aa-rr DOOMbaa-rr!’

Having bought a pint of the pub’s favourite beer and ordered a Right Whale Fillet with Seaweed Sauce I sat in the corner, feeling underdressed yet fascinated by what I saw unfolding. Several yellow people stood up alongside each other forming a line with outstretched arms resting on their neighbours’ shoulders. Others joined in, pushing back chairs to make space, and eventually there were forty in the row, with the men at the two extremities stretching out their free arm in an exaggerated fashion. Then at a given signal, in unison, the forty shouted:

‘And it was THIS long!’

No wonder Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin, ever the man to spot a perfect tag, had called this former trading exchange The Giant Sperm!

Now, back in the B&B, I’m planning the rest of my stay. I might try Paignton Pier tomorrow. According to the leaflet, this was once popular with anglers, but with local Councils seeking to increase revenue, fishing was banned and the staging at the end adapted for carrying out sentences imposed by local magistrates. Apparently, for minor offences a lesser sentence of being strapped to the stanchions at low tide and freed when the sea reaches neck height is common; whilst for more serious cases there are boards that extend over the sea electronically at high tide, with individuals ‘walking the plank’ or, for gang crimes, several villains jumping at the same time – a sort of synchronised sentencing. Hopefully there are still tickets on sale for the ten o’clock (high tide) sitting. I’m told the two grandstands fill quite quickly.

And on Friday I shall check out the Golden Hind in Brixham harbour. Whereas this replica of Sir Francis Drake’s galleon was once at a fixed mooring for day trippers to pore over, it now offers full day excursions to the French coastline, where passengers in period costume can fire live ammo from the ship’s refurbished cannons, and give the residents of Brest and St Malo something to think about. I really fancy this! It sounds so much more hands-on (and probably warmer!) than the whaling trip I got caught up in.

Uncle, I’m SO impressed by the locals’ willingness to diversify, and make use of the rich maritime resources that endow this area. It’s the kind of initiative the Tory government would be proud of in these troubled times. But sadly, I fear it won’t live up to some of your tales about the merchant navy!

Best wishes – Paul

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello

Utterly front cover - final 30.5.13

Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

www.fineleaf.co.uk/titles/utterlyundiscove.html

A fabulous holiday read!

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

Saucy Postcard from Brighton

Dear Uncle Ian

“I’ll have those two plump melons, please” seems tame today! But in the 50s it would have been banned for obscenity, like a lot of the original saucy seaside postcards by Donald McGill. I’m sure Aunt Fifi will appreciate this one when she gets back – bearing in mind the dance she stood up and did at your Ruby!

Earlier I was on Brighton Pier, and felt moved to write about their wonderful marine conservation programme. If you like, you can check it out at: www.paulcostello2011.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/postcard-from-brighton-the-pier/ – I’ve heard you’re into silver surfing!

Even in winter Brighton is thriving. It’s a student city these days, with an art college, universities and lots of English Language schools. When I lived here, to make a bob or two I did B&B for foreign students. The Swiss and Brazilians were nicest, but the Germans were hard going. One called Hans had no sense of humour at all. I once asked him: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” and, seriously uncle, he replied: ‘Vell, vee never allow our chickens to get on zer road in zer first place.’

The biggest change I found in the famous Brighton Lanes is that the countless dinky shops, once full of antiques, have become Brighton’s jewellery centre, all selling silver or white gold. The window displays are great! An antique ring marked:

A Marvellous, Amazing, Victorian, Silver and Diamond Ring

came next to:

A Truly Wonderful, Old, Marvellous, Silver and Amethyst Tiepin

and then:

An Absolutely Marvellous, Antique, Silver Brooch with Pretty Sapphire.

I realised there was a theme going on. With at least three hundred items in every shop window, shop owners worked hard to outdo their neighbours. Further along I saw:

A Rare, Marvellous, Fantastic, Edwardian, Silver and Diamond Engagement Ring

alongside:

A Superb, Wonderful, Marvellous, Amazing, Exquisite, To Die For, Grandma Would Look Great In It, White Gold Hat Pin.

No surprise that a sign in a nearby bookshop said: Roget’s Thesaurus – Sold Out.

I don’t know about you, uncle, but if I was going to spend hundreds of pounds on a ‘Marvellous’ ring, I’d want to know that as well as being the only such ring in The Brighton Lanes, no-one else in the whole world (or Margate) also had a ‘Marvellous’ one.

Beyond The Lanes is a fashionable district called North Laine, a ‘boutique’ area buzzing with Brighton’s alternative culture, and packed with vintage clothing shops, arty cafes, bars and galleries. I love it, uncle. I saw more studded noses than there are Catseyes on the A259, and people wearing racks of rings like mini orchestral triangles – each set playing a different octave. One enterprising shop owner had installed a battery-powered circuit on a heavily ringed employee, and was challenging customers to pass a metal rod through her rings without triggering a bell. A quid a go. I found the eyebrows quite easy but the lips were my downfall every time! Had I succeeded, I’d have won:

An Amazing, Delightful, Marvellous, Just Like A Baby Elephant’s Tusk, Every Auntie Should Have One, Ear Stretcher.

I was thinking – there’s no reason why Aunt Fifi shouldn’t have an ear stretcher just because of her age, is there? It would only need a ten millimetre hole. Let me know when she might be coming home, by the way.

Love Paul

Paul Costello © February 2013

 

Utterly Undiscovered – comic Bed & Breakfast Memoir by Paul Costello.

 

Illustrated by Emma Hames.  Header image above from chapter titled: Caught Napping    

 

Publication:  spring 2013.    Fineleaf Editions  http://www.fineleaf.co.uk 

 

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

 

Postcard from Brighton – The Pier

Hi Bruv

The Palace Pier is as vibrant as ever. You probably take it for granted, living down this way! The funfair at the end is great – I love the blaring hip hop club music, and usually stand near a giant speaker to watch the rides.

There’s a fantastic one called Adrenalin Rush. It’s like a windmill with two sails, each a hundred feet long with eight seats at the end. Once the riders are locked in their seats, the controller flicks a switch and the sails take them two hundred feet into the air at a fantastic speed. Hanging upside down over the sea, and with the g-force and bass boom below, they get in a right frenzy. One girl was even crying as she shot past, though I suspect this was more to do with the wonderful winter sunset you must see from up there.

Then things really take off. I’d watched the controller lock people’s safety harnesses with a hydraulic switch, but on the fourth rotation, with the sail approaching full height and spinning as fast as a wind turbine, I saw him pull another lever which must have released the harnesses, because the riders were suddenly hurled way out to sea. It reminded me of those whippy sticks with a cup shape at the end, which dog walkers use to throw balls. Now I realised why it was called Adrenalin Rush. Seeing eight tiny figures, then another eight disappearing through the December sky like little Lowrie people was a truly heart-thumping sensation for us spectators.

Where the sixteen riders splashed down, I couldn’t help noticing that a ripple on the glass-like sea, as if there was a localised breeze or turbulence from the geology of the sea bed, had turned to a bubbling froth. I realised it must be a marine feeding ground, because after five minutes the frothing stopped as quickly as it had started. The teenagers queuing for the next ride were so busy trying to outdo each other, they noticed none of this. And I knew my adrenalin rush wasn’t just from what I’d witnessed, George. It was because I could see that the pier was not merely a gratuitous money-making machine but had a major role in marine conservation.

Moving on to Lumberjack’s Revenge, better known as the Log Flume, where canoe-like logs are propelled round a water race, I began to see a pattern. One or two ‘logs’ never reappeared after going into the deep water stretches, yet with the thumping bass of DJ Khaled keeping riders and spectators enthralled for the three minutes it lasted, their disappearance was barely discernible. I took this as further evidence of the pier owner’s selfless dedication to preserving fish stocks in the English Channel, a supposition confirmed when I spotted that fewer chairs on the rickety Ghost Train came out at the exit than went in at the start. Being an indoor ride, it was impossible to see where the others had gone, but I imagine a lot of marine life feeds around the pier stanchions immediately below both the Ghost Train and Lumberjack’s Revenge.

And as I made my way back past the stalls dispensing candy floss or chips, just as they must have done since the pier opened in 1899, I couldn’t help noticing a dozen or so people whose heels were jammed in gaps between the shrunken, oak planks of the pier decking. Others ignored their plight and walked on by, knowing that the trapped people would, like flies tangled in a spider’s web, eventually stop struggling and accept whatever salt-water fate awaited them – proud to be helping safeguard the planet’s future.

I tell you, George, I headed off for the Brighton Lanes, glad I hadn’t been wearing my Cubans!

Cheers, Paul

Paul Costello © January 2013

Utterly Undiscovered – comic Bed & Breakfast Memoir by Paul Costello. Illustrated by Emma Hames            

Publication:  spring 2013.    Fineleaf Editions  http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

Postcard from Albufeira

Dear Uncle Ian

‘Feelings, wo-o-o feelings,
Wo-o-o, feel you – again in my arms.’

When I first heard pan pipes echoing through the tunnel from the beach I thought,

‘Shit, shit – not that – please! Birmingham, Cheltenham or even Ledbury sometimes – but not Albufeira. And no, I don’t want a CD for 10 Euros.’

‘… feelings – like I’ve never lost you …’

Peruvian guy in coloured gear and headdress – been here all week. Presumably from Mashu Poteetu since that’s the only place ever talked about.

But yesterday it took an interesting turn. A coachload of white-hairs on a Saga day trip from along the coast, who’d stopped for tea and tiramisu at the Esplanado do Tunel Restaurant, were nodding and miming along happily when an overweight man with pebble glasses got up and started jigging around.

At first I thought, ‘Why bring ‘em here? Tiresome git!’, and that it would only be a matter of time before he started that hissy whistle-speak Saga language, like,

‘Come on lads-s-s and lass-s-s-es. Let’s-s-s danc-c-e!’

I needn’t have worried, because at what seemed a pre-arranged signal the music changed, dramatically. The Peruvian boosted the bass and started puffing out a rap beat, no mean feat on pan pipes. Meanwhile the fat geezer donned a pair of giant, sponge hands like you see at soccer matches, and with perfect enunciation and a great deal of emotion started banging out his own lyrics, synthetic fingers pointing down to the ‘feelings’ he wanted to share with one of the old girls drinking tea. The chorus went something like:

‘You ain’t never gonna leave me ’cause 

believe me, I ain’t waitin’ while

you playin’ wid my mind, this time

it’s me who calls the shots, and what’s

the point in hanging round, you’ll drop

before you leave me gal, I’ll see

to that, you know I will.

Just like that Buster Rhymes I told you about. It was really emotional, Uncle Ian. The message got nasty at times, but a sweet old lady who spoke just with her lower lip reassured me,

‘Nothing to be frightened of, dear. He does it wherever he goes – in the name of performance, so he says.’

And get this! The shape of the sponge fingers perfectly matched that of the pan pipes – a clever touch I thought.

*

I nearly didn’t get here. Two hundred of us were sat an hour on this Air Explore jet at Birmingham, welded together across each row with chunky North Face jackets atop ten layers of pocket-laden clothing to keep hand luggage below the prescribed ten kilos, when the head steward announced,

‘Unfortunately, due to operational difficulties we must ask you to de-load.’

We gathered from a man near the front that the person appointed to fly us safely to Portugal, a Captain Icarus, had failed a breathalyser, which explained the police presence as we transferred to a Monarch plane; I thought the guns were a bit over the top, but I suppose the crew were Slovakian. Even then we waited another hour while they transferred luggage, then unloaded the hold again to find the medicine of a passenger who’d been taken poorly – I mean, for God’s sake, I bet she put it in the hold to keep her hand luggage underweight!  Selfish.

I can tell you I was ready for those Bombay Sapphire and tonics, although it was hard pouring them with eleven layers of clothing and tray tables that wouldn’t fold down properly with only ten inches between rows. The fat Saga bloke would have stood no chance drinking or eating – which I suppose would have been a good thing. As for getting in the brace position …

*

Apart from the first night, I’ve had some fabulous food. Local specialities include rabbit stew and cataplan, a medley of seafood, chicken or vegetables. I’ve been eating slowly. This is partly for my Mindfulness regime, where chewing every grain of food for several minutes absorbs spiritual as well as nutritional goodness, but also because of a hammering the Euro is taking on financial markets. Making a meal last four or five hours instead of an hour saves me 5 to 10 Cents with Santander by the time they convert my Visa payment. An hour and a half of mouse-like nibbles at an almond tart alone gains me 3 cents. Of course hot dishes can go cold, but to mitigate this I keep telling the waiter,

‘I’m not quite ready to order. Can I have a few more minutes, please?’

Or I choose something like sardines and say,

‘Tell the chef to take his time, oh and with the sardines, could he pop out and catch some absolutely fresh ones, please.’

But on the first night I had to eat down The Strip. This is where hen and stag parties hang out and Glaswegian drunks want to be your friend – a narrow street with restaurants and bars blasting out music that drowns the football commentary on giant TVs which neither the women in matching pink fluffy antlers, nor the men with cowboy hats and tattoos who clap appreciatively each time a woman goes past, are watching anyway.

Competition between bars is intense, and pretty girls try to hook you in at each doorway. It’s hard enough fighting off hookers who are waving a menu in your face, but that’s not what trapped me. Unimpressed with the eating choices, I made to leave at the far end of the street only to find a massive trawling net thrown around me from an upper floor, much like they catch a sick giraffe on the African savanna in Wild at Heart.  I managed to extricate myself and head back to the other end of the street, whereupon the same thing happened.

Following a decline in the local fishing industry, enterprising Pescadores, as they’re called, have diversified into tourist-related activity using whatever resources are to hand and clubbing together with Bar owners to form a captive market. Once in the street, you have to show a meal receipt before the net is raised to let you out. With the limited menus tailored to typical Strip visitors, and not fancying kebab and chips, I had to make do with a rather late Full English Breakfast. I can tell you, Uncle, I’ve not been down there again at night!

‘Teardrops – rolling down on my face,
Trying to forget my – feelings of love.’

I’d better go. The Peruvian’s back and another Saga coach is pulling up. Anything could happen! Hope you’re not missing Auntie Fifi too much.

Love Paul

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