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

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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

Monsieur Costello va au bord de la mer

‘Vous parlez Français?’ says Jean-Yves after a hearty handshake.

‘Un peu,’ I say with the wide-eyed smile inculcated in me at American Convention-style training sessions – in Hackney.

‘Vous, Anglais?’ I say.

‘U-u-r-r …’ he says with raised shoulders and a palm-down swivel of the right hand.

‘The last skill you’ll need is speaking French,’ a colleague, Jetty Jones had assured me, having worked with the French-speaking Monaco team in the Olympic sailing a few weeks earlier. ‘They all want to practise their English.’

Except that is Jean-Yves, the Chef de Mission of the French Paralympic sailing team, who it seems doesn’t have much to practise. Jean-Yves cuts a grandfatherly figure and is utterly charming. And he is the man I shall be working for while the rest of the squad focuses on its real concern – sailing.

I’d spent three months revisiting the subject for which I got a ‘2’ at GCE, but which was thick with rust after half a century. Being offered a Games Maker role with the French delegation in Weymouth and Portland was a privilege, but could I cope with their mother tongue?

“Monsieur Dupont prend le petit déjeuner à sept heures, et part pour la gare où il achète un journal et une pomme.”

In Living French – Complete with CD borrowed from my local library, the lingo felt familiar despite the time lapse. Breakfast, newspaper, apple – this would be a cinch.

“Pierre était assis sur les rochers avec Madame Leblanc.” Rocks – that might be useful, what with being by the sea.

“Il a vu un homme dans un bateau de pêche.” Fishing, sailing – boats, just the same!

Armed with Jetty’s assurance and knowing I could make a real contribution when it came to men buying apples and women meeting friends in the park for coffee and cake while they watched pretty, green ducks, I was ready for action. Until, that is, Jean-Yves did the palm-down swivel. Bloomin’ French! The language I mean, not the people. The pressure was on.

Enter my French colleague Christine who’d lived in England for years and, like Jetty, had carried out the role of NPC (National Paralympics Committee) Assistant the month before – in her case with the French Olympic sailing team. To ensure Jean-Yves got the right support, we agreed she would be his main contact. For the next two weeks Christine translated at meetings, made transport arrangements and dealt with unexpected visits from French schoolchildren wanting to wish their heroes well, while I stood by like an apprentice waiting to pass the 15 mm spanner, ill-equipped to join in quick-fire conversation about sail measurement, registration of radios and the likely impact of a deep cyclone tracking through the Channel.

The pressure was off, but I needed to contribute more. On the second day, at coffee outside the team’s storage container, I slipped a banana onto the makeshift table, silently rehearsing what I’d practised to perfection in my B&B:

‘J’ai acheté cette banane dans l’épicerie à côté de la gare à sept heures trente ce matin.’

In spite of moving the banana from side to side and repeatedly glancing at Jean-Yves and the banana in turn, he didn’t take the bait. Nor did a personal approach bear fruit the following day. Jean-Yves seemed every bit a family man, so I casually left my wallet open when he and Christine were (I think) discussing the ballasting differentials of the 2.4 yacht being raced by Damien and the Sonar yacht of Bruno, Eric and Nicolas. As soon as Jean-Yves noticed the photo of my daughter Lily I was ready to say:

‘C’est ma fille Lily. Elle a seize ans. Elle vit dans un joli village où ils ont un boulanger, un boucher et un petit lac. Elle prend son petit déjeuner à huit heures avant d’aller à l’école, et prend toujours une pomme à manger plus tard.’

He never did. Despite freezing like rabbits in headlights when the other asked a question in his native language, Jean-Yves and I always managed a friendly smile, but our longest exchange was him pointing skywards and saying ‘vent’, which only led to a mutual chuckle and nod of the head, leaving me no wiser as to whether there was too much or too little wind for sailing.

After a few days I realised I was missing the point. And it was the Games Maker uniform that did it. From the first day I dressed up I’d felt proud to be one of seventy thousand volunteers chosen to represent Great Britain. The camaraderie and mutual respect between Games Makers reinforced this, as did drivers on the workforce shuttle buses who always offered a cheery: ‘Morning, how are you today?’

But I soon saw what the uniform also meant to those we were supporting. Each team had different needs. Singapore sought physical help preparing their boat, the Spanish wanted escorting to Weymouth to look around, the Danish liked domestic support at their house, and Jean-Yves looked for language and organising skills. But a common demand of athletes and officials across the twenty or so teams was simply for us to be there, in our conspicuous purple and scarlet, as a point of reference.

I forgot about contributing in the narrow way I’d expected, and helped however I could, displaying my uniform and wide-eyed smile with pride. Now I could detect the joy in a loud ‘Good morning!’ as the Japanese man and his wheelchair tore past down the slope like a seventeen year old in a Peugeot 106; I could feel the appreciation of a lone Argentinian whose boat trailer I helped push to the measuring sheds; and in the coffee queue I could share the frustration of a Brazilian sailor when zero wind meant no sailing.

In return I enjoyed the privilege of seeing dedicated athletes tend their boats, jumped at Jean-Yves’s invitation to follow races on a tracking screen in the athletes’ lounge, and basked in watching with the public from the ruins of Sandsfoot Castle. And it was utterly uplifting hearing Games Makers greeted in such glowing terms by athletes, crowds and the media.

Sailing finishes, with no medals for the French but a clear pride in taking part. The nine-man team lines up for the coach that will unite them with colleagues in London for the closing ceremony. I play down my joy at Helena winning gold for GB in the 2.4 class and Alexandra and Niki bronze in the Skud, but frankly my loyalties are divided after being attached to the French for so long.

As they board, there are air kisses and prolonged French farewells with Christine and a genuine handshake and ‘au revoir’ for me. Last in the queue is Jean-Yves who, outstanding manager that he is, courteously sees each colleague onto the coach first. He then takes me quietly to one side and with measured diction says:

‘This morning I got up at seven o’clock and walked to the beach. On the way I went to the shop with the little yellow door and bought a small bag of red apples. This one is for you. I shall eat two on the coach, and the rest I shall feed to the pretty, green ducks in London when I go to the park for coffee and cake. Goodbye Paul.’

‘Merci. Moi aussi, j’aime les pommes rouges,’ I say. ‘J’ai toujours deux kilos à la maison sur un plat bleu dans ma jolie cuisine. Au revoir Jean-Yves.’

Paul Costello © September 2012

Web:        www.paulcostello.me

Twitter:    @PaulCostello8

Postcards from Weymouth

Effing Postcard from Weymouth

Dear Grandad Greg

Strange place Weymouth.

Just went for a quiet early evening drink in the Welcome Inn. Was all right until a handful of blokes, sat at the bar in football shirts limp with wear and streaked with Pukka Pie, started bragging loudly about their sexual exploits. Trouble is they interspersed the ‘F’ word so frequently I couldn’t tell when they were referring to the subject at hand and when it was just for effect. Effing this, effing that. Effing effing. Effing annoying it was.

Then from the other side of the room I heard a group of excitable students saying ‘like’ a lot. I found it hard to tell whether they actually liked whatever it was or just wanted their friends to think they liked it by using the word like. Like they kept effing saying they were like effing cool about Green Day, but were they effing really like?

While this was going on like, a coach load of like really old people with effing elasticated M&S waist bands came through the effing door wittering on about like ‘not remembering what they’d come in for’. Like what’s the effing point of like going into a pub if they can’t even effing remember why? And another thing: if they effing … if they effing like … no, sorry, it’s effing gone.

To make things effing worse, in a like snug at the far end of the effing bar, trying to hide from all the like hubbub, four effing boring businessmen were like prattling on about effing blue sky effing thinking, and how one of them had once like gone into an effing Barclays meeting and effing forgotten why he was there – except like to make sure of an effing obscene effing bonus at the end of the year I expect.

Then a baby on the next table started effing crying like really loud. On the one hand I could really like effing sympathise with it, since even in its effing infant state it was already like looking around and getting depressed about the prospect for the rest of its effing life of having to deal with these like effing weird kind of people. But like the effing little tyke had like decided to come into the world with no idea why, and clearly hadn’t been thinking outside the effing box before it like did so.

All this got too effing much for me, and I found myself like screaming just to hear my own effing thinking join up. Clearly nobody else was singing from the same effing hymn sheet, so with a three hour runway I like parked the remains of my Dartmouth Ale and headed for a quieter effing hostelry.

That’s all for now. Will write again and tell you about the sights I’ve seen on the beach.

Love Paul

A Nice Day on the Beach

Dear Grandad Greg

Here’s the other postcard I promised, from Weymouth beach!

I’ve been watching young Council workers, with the rather ominous title ‘Beach Control’ on their black tee-shirts, collect people’s deck chair money. But honestly grandad, they have no respect. I just watched an elderly person taking a while to find her change, when the collector kicked the wooden support out of its socket at the back leaving the mesmerised lady floundering in a melee of wood and canvas.

At eight pounds for half an hour, pedalos are dear, but I had a go. It was only after twenty minutes, when I’d made little headway, that I realised the same beach controllers were having a laugh at my expense. The pedalos were tied together like a snake at the water’s edge, and they’d put me in the front one without disconnecting it from the rest. I’d been trying to pull eighteen pedalos with one pedal! Having already seen what they can do to people in deck chairs, I laughed along with the youngsters.

On the family beach there are donkey rides. As soon as I saw them sauntering along the firm sand, tiny passengers hanging on tight, I noticed their legs were abnormally long, six or seven feet in some cases; a bit like those old paintings of cows and horses. Apparently when an obstinate donkey refuses to walk any further the man switches the child to a more cooperative donkey, leaving the objectionable one to come to its senses. I saw a moody donkey called Scargill quite unconcerned when he was left to sulk with the incoming tide lapping round his legs, knowing he’d be left high if not dry and could wait until the tide receded before reconsidering his position. When I went back later, with the tide right up, I found him and three others, head and shoulders sticking happily from the water like Anthony Gormley’s ‘Iron Men’ on that beach in Lancashire!

Best of all was the Punch and Judy show, although it wasn’t quite how I remembered. It started innocently enough with Mr Punch winding up the audience and Judy rocking her baby, and when Mr Punch threw the baby down the stairs, the constable thrashed Mr Punch with his truncheon and two boxers beat the hell out of each other I really started getting into it.

But the mood changed once the crocodile appeared. It looked bigger than usual, and since the baby had gone quiet since the crocodile’s entry I began to have my suspicions.Within minutes of its arrival I noticed a few mums move in and usher their children away. In its second appearance, by which time the watchful constable had also gone missing, the crocodile seemed even larger. Mums and dads jumped into the arena frantically grabbing their children, whilst the swollen crocodile loomed over the edge eagerly eyeing the remaining toddlers whose parents had gone off for ten minutes peace. Judy hadn’t been seen for a long while, and I last saw Mr Punch disappearing down the crocodile’s throat like the boat owner in Jaws, defiantly crying, ‘That’s the way to do it!’

Then the arena fell silent, and being the only one left I assumed the show was over.

Well, that’s all from Weymouth. Say hello to Uncle Ian for me.

Love Paul