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

Web:        www.paulcostello.me

Twitter:    @PaulCostello8


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