Tuesday, 22 December 2009

extreme weather mayhem

We are currently playing an exciting game of Weather Cliché Bingo in the UK, due to the Extreme! Weather! Conditions! of literally millimetres of snow and hovering-around-zero temperatures. The Eurostar has just limped its first train through in four days, Heathrow and Luton airports seem to be closed indefinitely (if you want to fly anywhere for Christmas, you may do so next March), and roads are closed everywhere. Cue the clichés.

My bingo card is getting full, as it has both ‘chaos’ and ‘mayhem’ on it (though also ‘bedlam’, which I haven’t heard yet). Other family members have crossed off ‘ongoing delays’, ‘heartache’ and ‘families running out of time’ just from one airport alone. Surprisingly, ‘the biggest/worst snowfall in x years’ has yet to make an appearance. But bonus points were scored from a canny spotting of an entreaty to ‘find the Dunkirk spirit’.

There is even an Added Irony round. This covers motorway signs warning about weather problems that are themselves compromised by the weather problems (witness: the ‘Sa preading’ rather than ‘salt spreading’ sign). It also includes a rather brilliant comment heard on tv just this evening that ‘around Christmas is the worst possible time for weather like this to happen’ – mid-July presumably being more convenient.

It seems likely that ‘absolute shambles’ won’t be wheeled out until the aftermath, which could be weeks away at this rate. A twist in the tale tonight might furnish other valuable opportunities, though, as theories begin to be floated on councils being forced to import grit from offshore. (Jury is out on whether importation of pluck and mettle will also be required. Snork).

Please feel free to offer your own suggestions that should be included on the bingo card. Even if you are in Canada, where you will have to stop laughing at the UK’s incompetence for long enough, or the southern hemisphere, where you will have to stop laughing and also come home from the beach.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

after three o'clock

The scene: The Seafront Restaurant*, The British Seaside, about 3.10 pm.

ME: (planning to run some errands and then come back later) Hello. What time are you open until?
RESTAURANT LADY: About quarter to five. But you can’t have food.
ME: No, that’s all right.
RESTAURANT LADY: You can have tea, after three o’clock, but no food.
ME: Great! Thank you!

There may be restaurants where the tone of this exchange is begrudging or abrupt, but in this instance (and in most instances of this very same conversation), both participants maintained a jaunty, friendly and pleasant manner.

It is The Way We Do It here.

I would not at all have expected to be served food after three pm in a seafront restaurant at The British Seaside, even though it has the word 'restaurant' in its name, which implies there is food to be had. There is a narrow possibility that at the height of summer and tourist season, allowances would be made for people to eat food in a seafront restaurant after that time, but not always. Thus I was not in any sense disappointed that this was the case.

To Canadians, Americans, and, let’s face it, most people in the world, this is absolutely unfathomable.

But it is one of the many things that makes this The British Seaside. I love it. I don’t love it ironically, or nostalgically, or in a way that implies I think it is quaint or old-fashioned or comical with a side of embarrassing. I just love it, without qualification.

I went back at 4.10 p.m. and had tea, and a scone with jam and cream, and looked out at a wild and wintry sea. And felt very pleased indeed with the whole affair.

*Not its real name. I’ve called it this because I can guarantee you this scene has played out in every single seafront restaurant in the whole of the UK, several hundred thousand times.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009


Friends, the time has come to speak seriously about something very important.


This excellent publication came from the library book sale at a cost of one of your finest earth dollars, and I can feel your envy all the way from here.

There is one among you who once told me tales of an office in which, on quiet Friday afternoons once the bosses had departed for their afternoon of golf and alcohol, the secretaries all indulged in a heady afternoon’s macramé-ing. (There are others of you for whom the afternoons of the mid seventies emphatically did not involve such pursuits, and who frankly may be in slightly better shape now if they had).

The observant will have noticed there is something amok with this publication. Because this is not your traditional 1970s government-office secretary macramé. This is cutting edge, the-80s-will-be-here-in-three-years macramé, and that means macramé with the most modern of materials.

As the book notes, polypropylene is ‘washable, colourfast, mildew proof, durable and practical for interior and exterior macramé.’ But perhaps most importantly, ‘the ends of polypropylene cord can be fused together over a candle flame for easy splicing’. It is not, then, a staggeringly massive surprise to find elsewhere on the same page a notice that ‘disclaims any liability for untoward results and/ or for physical injury incurred by using information in this book’. This is not macramé for the faint of heart.

This pillow cover design will ‘liven up an entire room’ – presumably because nobody will actually want to sit down on something as deeply uncomfortable as a pillow made from polypropylene cord. Other project descriptions include the following: “the lines of this elegant design are reminiscent of the slender loftly towers of the Near East, from which holy men cry the summons to prayer”. So you can see, this is some pretty amazing macramé.

The magnificent project on the cover page at the top is called ‘Bell of Yama’. There is no such flowery project explanation for Bell of Yama. Bell of Yama simply is. If you need Bell of Yama described, well, then, maybe you just don’t get Bell of Yama.

Its ingredients include 660 yards of gold polypropylene cord, and a ‘large cowbell’. In fact, the total amount of polypropylene cord needed for this project is SEVEN HUNDRED AND THIRTY. And yes, that would be just shy of HALF A MILE.

Something tells me that Bell of Yama is not a project those office workers would be secreting in their desk drawers.

I, however, am going straight down to the yachting store to tell them I’d be willing to import the cowbells and we can work out some sort of kit cost. They probably don’t even know what a goldmine of creativity they’re sitting on there, with their endless polypropylene yardage. The macramé revival starts here.