Wednesday 25 December 2013

Sunday 1 December 2013

It's the 1st December so it's............

Happy Birthday to my youngest sproglet (or is that sproglette?)

Lots of love and many Happy Returns to you

Thursday 31 October 2013

The Ship of the Fens

Ely Cathedral, proud and strong, stands atop her island surveying all below her.  In the bright sunshine, she can be seen from miles away, but when the mist rolls in and wraps its vaporous fingers around the fenlands, she is like a galleon in full sail riding atop the mist; she becomes the ‘Ship of the Fens’.   

The fenlands were once a place full of foreboding, and the boundaries – where the land gave way to the water-logged marshes – became the stamping ground of many a thief who lay in wait for unwary pilgrims on their way to the Isle of Ely to give thanks to God in the great cathedral, or for travellers who were hoping to sell their wares, make deals or just rest awhile before continuing on their journey.  The threat of eternal damnation in the fires of hell that many victims warned of, whilst their meagre purses were emptied, affected these robbers not. Travellers and merchants were easy prey, and the clergy were as much to be despised as the conquering Norman invaders. Such things caused these robbers no concern, for in their eyes the Lord had long since banished them from his charity.  They were already damned; the raging fires had already scorched the soles of their feet.  And when offered salvation they would merely crack a disdainful smile and laugh in the face of those who presented such weak and panic-stricken last deals. 

After Harold’s rule had crashed to the ground along with his body atop Senlac Hill, the bastard king William of Normandy ruled England with an iron fist, but there were those that dwelt in the fens of Ely who conspired to make his life a misery …

But that, of course, was many centuries ago.

However, it has been said that - on occasion - the sounds of footfalls splashing in the thick, dank waters on the edge of marshes can be heard.  If you are caught out on the fens at night, when the vapours waft across the landscape, your ears may pick out the low murmur of voices in hiding, or the occasional clank of cold steel against buckles, and the well-worn  leather of belts squeaking with the motion of hips moving slowly through tall tussocks. Or you may even make out the sound of the soft splash of an oar and the faint rub of the wood against the tholepin of a rowing boat as it carries its occupants across the waters.

Although, of course, the waters are no longer there. Drainage and ditches have put paid to them. 

It was during a September night in 1970 when Becky and Tim found themselves stranded on the border of the fens.  It had been a beautiful day when they had decided to go for a walk, both to get some fresh air and walk Tim’s elderly collie.  Tim had parked his secondhand, slightly battered, Mini in a lay-by and they had set off, basking in the late summer sun.  But the darkening sky had begun its brooding descent several hours into their trek, and it had been this that had encouraged the pair to cut short their dog-walking for fear of getting soaked. The British weather often does like to tease, however, and the skies had brightened again, but as they were – by then - nearly back at the car, they decided to call it a day.  Besides, it was obvious by the awkwardness of his gait that the walk had agitated Sprout’s arthritis and he was only too eager to scramble on to the back seat of the car and rest his weary legs. 

Upon the key being turned in the ignition it became apparent, however, that the young courting couple were going nowhere on wheels.  The battery of the car was as dead as a doornail. So there they were, with no contact with the outside world, and with dusk only a few hours away. 

“Bloody car,” hissed Tim. “I need to buy a new battery but I can’t afford it at the moment.”

Becky just sighed. 

“We had better just walk I guess,” Tim said as he opened the driver’s door.  “We only have around three or four miles to reach habitation if my reckoning is correct. Unless we are lucky enough to come across a farm, but we all know that they are a bit spread out round here in this godforsaken place, and I don’t fancy wandering off the road even if we do see a lighted window in the distance.”

“I presume you have a torch in the car somewhere?” asked Becky.  “Three or four miles are quite a way to walk and with only a few hours of daylight left it would be……”

Tim cut in, “Of course I have a torch. Not sure how long the battery will last though, but we may as well get moving.”

“You seem to have a problem with batteries,” quipped Beth sarcastically, but by the look on Tim’s face both her joke and her sarcasm did not go down very well.

They vacated the car, and coaxed Sprout from the back seat.  He didn’t seem that enthusiastic about the idea.

The three set out on their walk back to civilization; at a slower pace than they would normally tread due to Sprout’s ageing and arthritic gait.  All too soon, the sun began its descent in the west, and its orangey light cast a glow over the cathedral.  It would not be long before the lights around its base would switch on and send their beams upwards to illuminate its towers.

There was a sudden coolness in the air as the sun slipped below the horizon. Luckily for the three travellers, the sky remained relatively clear of clouds, which would allow the near full unveiled moon to offer a welcome soft, even if slightly eerie, radiance.

It was time for the bats to feed.  Dozens of the winged predators flapped erratically across the road, dive-bombing and catching hapless insects mid-flight. 

“I hate those things. Fucked up mice with wings,” proclaimed Tim, ducking when one seemed to be heading directly at him, only veering off at the last second to avoid the looming collision.

Becky chortled.  “They can’t hurt you.  They won’t suck your blood you know.  Not in this country at any rate.”

“Maybe not, but the buggers do get caught in your hair,” he replied. “That has happened to me before and I hate it.”

Becky raised her eyes skyward in disbelief at her boyfriend’s whining. 

When the sun completely disappeared and darkness finally fell, the beam from the tiny torch didn’t afford them much light, but – with the help of the moon - it was enough for them to pick their way slowly down the road.  The creatures of the night really began to stir now. There were not many trees on this flat, reclaimed land, but those that did grow there were home to many a creature of the day and of the night.  There was the haunting call of an owl in the shadows of the trees, and the rustle in the undergrowth as some small creature scurried about its business.  A hedgehog bumbled across the road in front of them, stopped briefly to turn its head in their direction and then scurried off into the verge on the opposite side of the road. They heard a faint, frantic squeak as presumably something became the meal of some other diner in the darkness. Shapes seemed to loom out at them, but were just tricks of the light from the torch.   Becky was not one to scare easily, but even she found herself twitching at every sound. 

A little further down the road, both of them jumped with surprise as the ghostly shape of an owl left the tree line to their right and passed silently across the road just ahead of them, with its unfortunate tiny prey hanging by the tail from its beak. The ghostly bird was so close that it almost collided with Tim, and he let out an irritated grunt and a low curse under his breath.    “Bloody wildlife,” he muttered.  Sprout growled softly as the winged beast glided over. 

“What’s that?” asked Becky, stopping in her tracks.

“What’s what?”

“That noise.”

“What noise? Oh the church bells, you mean? So what? They ring occasionally. You scared or something?  You been reading too many books about ghouls and ghosts?”

“Huh? Books? Don’t know what you mean.  But I do like to read books about that sort of thing, yes.”


“Because they are interesting.”

“But obviously only interesting if you are in the safety of your armchair it seems.”


“If you like such things, then how come you are acting so scared and imagining things in every noise you hear? You will be seeing Black Shuck next and thinking you are going to die.”

She tutted.  “I am not scared.  I never said I was.  I only asked you what the noise was.  And anyway, don’t you think all that folklore and the stories of ghosts are interesting?”

“Not really.”

“This place is full of history.  I mean just look at the cathedral.  All those people who built it, and died building it.  Such a magnificent structure – I find it fascinating.  I love living near such a historical place.”

“Yeah, and look at all those tourists that heave around the place in summer.  They think they own the place, pushing and shoving you off the pavement, and snapping away with their cameras.  The constant nattering in foreign languages drives me crazy.  It almost comes as something of a surprise when you hear someone speaking in the local dialect.”

“But Ely has always been full of travellers.”

“Yeah, yeah, I know.  Monks visiting with money pouches tinkling, to prop up the church coffers under the watchful eye of the bishop to make sure every last coin was deposited.  Lords and ladies prancing around like they owned the place while normal folks – like you and me would have been – eking out a measly existence, surrounded by the stench of open sewers and the risk of disease round every corner.”

“You have no sense of history at all, do you?”

“Nah.  Boring.”

Becky tutted again.  But then came the sound once more.

“There it is again,” she whispered.

“The bells?” enquired Tim



He crouched down and arched his back, waving his hands about and making strange contortions with his face.  “Sanctuary, Esmerelda. The bells,” he slobbered.

“Stop it,” she said.  “You are making fun of me.”   

“It is easy, you have to admit,” came the reply with a muffled giggle. “Did you like my impression of Quasimodo?”

“Not really,” she replied disdainfully.  Then she noticed Sprout. He was staring into the darkness, his ears flattened on his skull.

“Look,” she said, pointing.  “Sprout can hear them too, and by the look of him he doesn’t like it.”

“Probably just hears a rabbit,” responded Tim. “And is probably upset because he is too old to chase it.”

“Can you not hear the bells?”

“Huh?  You know I can.  I just said so.”

“Yes but the bells.  They are not the usual bells, I swear it.  They are too deep.  If I didn’t know better, I would almost swear the sound is coming from the cathedral.  But that can’t be.  Bells have not tolled there for centuries.  Jesus, John, Mary and Walsingham.”

“What the heck are you on about?”

“The bells – Jesus, John, Mary and Walsingham were their names.”

“They actually named the bells?” he asked, his voice sounding incredulous at such information.  He raised his eyebrows as the words uttered forth.

“Oh yes.  They were cast in Gloucester some time in thirteen hundred and something …”

He broke in… “Enough!  I don’t want a history lesson. Thanks, but no thanks.”

Her doubts about her continuing relationship with Tim were growing.  To be uninterested in history was one thing, but to totally dismiss it with such arrogance was another matter entirely. He was really beginning to annoy her.

“You know this area is supposed to be haunted, don’t you?” asked Becky. 

“I have heard the locals spout about such rubbish, yeah,” came the disinterested response.  “No doubt the usual lady in grey, the headless horseman and the like,” he continued sarcastically.

“Actually no,” said Becky.  “For the sake of daring to give another history lesson, as you call them, the Isle of Ely has been at the centre of quite a few incidents.  For example, back in the 11th Century, Hereward the Wake had a refuge there where he led insurgencies against William the Conqueror.  William was desperate to get to Hereward but did not know the way across the marshes, so he had a timber causeway built – you know down around Aldreth -  and sent his soldiers across it in an attempt to get to Hereward.  However, the weight of the soldiers’ armour and horses was too much for it and it collapsed, causing some men and horses to drown.  Over the centuries there have been reports of people having heard the sound of cries for help, splashing and horses whinnying, especially – of course – near the village.”

“Weird folk in Aldreth, so I’ve heard.  More likely to be scaremongering by the locals.  Or even stuff drunks see and hear on their way back home after having one or two too many at the pub. You are just trying to freak me out with your tales of ghouls and ghosts wandering the marshes.  You know I hate all that stuff.”

“I can assure you that I am not trying to do any such thing, Tim,” responded Becky, somewhat churlishly.  “If you are not interested then that is your choice, and I would most definitely not try to scare anyone on purpose. And the villagers of Aldreth are not weird.  My aunt and uncle live there, and they are as normal as anyone else.”

“Okay, okay, keep your knickers on,” replied Tim somewhat surprised at the change of tone in his girlfriend’s voice. 

They began to move on, but Tim had trouble getting Sprout to move.  The old dog strained at the leash and refused to continue forward, but stood staring intently towards the drained marshes. 

“Oh come on, you silly mutt,” called Tim.  “There ain’t nothing there.  Get a move on, or we’ll never get home.” And he pulled harder on the elderly dog’s lead. 

“Don’t be so mean to him,” said Becky, snatching the lead from her boyfriend’s grasp.  She made a clicking sound and called to Sprout in a soft, calm voice.  “Come on boy, let’s go.”   And, much to Tim’s annoyance, the dog trotted slowly off to her command.

At last they could see the faint lights in the distance.  The nearest village was not far off now and Becky felt sure that there would be a telephone box so that she would be able to ring her mum and dad and ask one of them to come and pick them up.  A silence fell between Becky and Tim as they carried on walking towards the lights. 

And then the torch began to flicker.

Tim frantically began to shake it in an attempt to get the light to work properly.  “Damn batteries,” he said.

“I am not sure shaking it will help, Tim”, offered Becky. 

“It could be a loose connection, it sometimes does the trick,” replied Tim testily.

“If you say so,” responded Becky.  “But we should be alright, the village cannot be that far away now and at least we can be guided by the light from the windows.” 

Tim looked skyward.  The stars were beginning to disappear above a blanket of cloud that was slowly edging its way towards the moon. Becky followed his gaze. 

“It will be as black as pitch out here in the meantime though if those clouds build up.  We will not be able to see where we are walking if this damn torch goes out, whether or not there are lights in the distance,” responded Tim. 

Becky had to concede that what he said was true, but still refused to panic. 

And then came the voices.

“Listen,” she said, with her hand on Tim’s arm.  “Can you hear that talking?  There is somebody here. There. Somewhere.  Perhaps they have a spare torch.”

“What are you on about? I can’t hear anything. Don’t start again, Becky.”

“Start what?  I can definitely hear voices – faintly – but they are there.  French I think.  But my schoolgirl French was never very good and I can’t make out what they are saying.”

“Well that will not be much help then, will it, if they are French, if all you can say is ‘hello’, ‘goodbye’ and ‘how are you?’ 

Becky threw him a glare.

“Oh wait, yes,” said Tim. “I can hear voices now. Your hearing is a darned sight better than mine.” 

And then came the scent of woodsmoke, as it wafted on the breeze that blew gently  across the lane from the fens.  And with it came the unmistakeable scent of fish cooking. 

“Smells like someone is having a barbecue,” said Tim.  “Surely not – not out here.  The smell must be travelling from a garden somewhere nearby. Which means that we may have found our telephone and ride out of here quicker than we thought.” 

An uneasy feeling had by now crept upon Becky. Her skin pricked on the back of her neck, and she had goose bumps on her skin.  She felt as if someone was watching them, under cover of the shadows around them.  Even old Sprout had begun a low growl and she could see by the light of the fading torch beam that his hackles were up.  However, Tim was too intent on trying to get the torch to work properly to notice. 

So she nodded. “Possibly”.

It was clear that the walkers were heading towards whoever was out there.  But not only did the voices grow louder, they also seemed to infer much animation in their delivery.  And they were all male voices as far Becky could make out, and – although it seemed somehow not quite right - she definitely thought it was French.  ‘Perhaps just an odd dialect’, she thought to herself.    

“They don’t sound very friendly,” Tim said.  “Perhaps we should just sneak by them as quickly as possible.”

Although his obvious nervousness annoyed her, she found herself having to agree with him.  There was something definitely ‘not quite right’ about those voices. 

The stench of fish cooking invaded Becky and Tim’s nostrils, and Sprout growled louder, and came to a halt, firmly refusing to move a further muscle. 

“Oh no, Sprout.  Not now.  Come on boy,” urged Becky. 

She pulled on the lead and whispered coaxing sounds and words to no avail. The dog was going nowhere.

And then the icy grip tore at Becky’s insides.  She felt so cold from the inside out.  Not the feeling of your skin getting cold and that coldness permeating inwards.  This was in reverse.  Icy cold.  Deathly cold. She shot a quick glance at Tim, and from the ashen look on his face it was clear that he felt a similar sensation. 

Clumps of mist swirled across the road in front of them. 

“Will-o’-the-wisp,” whispered Becky. “Ghost lights.” She grabbed hold of Tim’s arm.  “Don’t move,” she continued.  “They will lead you off the road.”

“Superstitious hocus pocus,” replied her companion.  “Come on, let’s just keep moving.  Sprout…move!”

“No!” shouted Becky. 

A swirl of ghostly shapes appeared behind the ‘lights’ and stopped.  The sound of talking intensified as the shapes appeared to turn to face the walkers.  Then they almost seemed to sigh as one in satisfaction at their discovery.  Becky and Tim knew that these were the voices that they had heard.

The vapourous shapes slowly began to take the form of men as they walked slowly through the will-o’-the-wisp towards Becky and Tim. 

“There you are, you see,” announced Tim.  “Blokes on a trip stopping off for a barbecue, that’s all.”  But his voice didn’t sound convincing.  “Just say something to them in French, and we can be on our way.”

“Somehow I don’t think ‘Bonjour, mes amis. Comment ├ža va?’ is going to work, Tim,” responded Becky. 

Tim looked across at his companion.  Her face was ashen, and for the first time that night he could see fear in her eyes.

“Unless we have stumbled across some film set, I am not sure why we should be greeting a dozen or so men in chainmail with the greeting of ‘Hello my friends, how is it going?’” she said. 

As the figures drew closer, and the sound of their armour rang out in the quietness of the night, Sprout growled, his lips wrinkling around his mouth to expose the rows of teeth.    

“Back up,” Becky continued.  “Walk backwards and then just turn and run.”

“Why?” asked Tim.  “What the hell is the matter with you?”

“These are not real, Tim.  Or, rather, they were once but not now.”

“Oh come, on,” said Tim. “You are not trying to tell me these are ghosts are you?”

“Just walk backwards, Tim. Hold my hand so we stay together. Come on Sprout.”

The companions began moving slowly back down the road. The figures kept on walking towards them.  The breeze picked up and blew the stench from their bodies towards Becky and Tim. 

“Turn, now. Run!” shouted Becky.  Sprout’s growl had turned to a whimper and he strained at the leash.  Becky had to let it go and she could do nothing but watch him run off into the fields. 

The two turned as one and ran back the way they had walked before.  But their escape was cut short when in front of them more figures appeared.  Slowly they were surrounded by a circle of sneering, smelly figures; a circle that closed in tighter and tighter until each one of the travellers was staring into a pair of cold, lifeless eyes of evil.  The soldiers’ lips moved as their unintelligible words uttered forth in a foreign language, but the sounds and movement were slightly out of synchronisation. 

By now Becky and Tim were standing back-to-back in the centre of this circle of malevolence.  They both heard the smooth sound of steel being drawn from leather and saw the faint light of the moon shine on the metal.  The heavy toll of bells resonated across the landscape. 

It took Sprout the best part of a day to walk home.  After scratching at the door to gain entrance, he found his bed by the stove and lay down.  As the panic went on around him as to the whereabouts of Becky and Tim he lay his head on his paws and drifted off to sleep.  He dreamed of the day before and twitched in his sleep as he re-lived the night’s events.  He whined and yelped and then fell silent for the last time. 

The police found the abandoned car later the next day.  But weeks of searching could find no trace of either Becky or Tim.  The only item found was a torch at the side of the road, its glass smashed where it had come to rest. 

Monday 9 September 2013

Bin art - the conclusion

Further to my last diatribe with reference to the kitchen bin, I can now reveal the culprit (s).  It is 4.00 am and all is quiet in the house, not a creature is stirring, not even a mouse.  Not in the kitchen anyway, until – that is – Morticia appears on an evening pad around the joint. Completely ignoring the bin at first, she is soon back to remove a scrunched up kitchen towel, then back for something else, and then on the third not-so-delicate pick, down the bin goes.   
But she doesn’t do much after that except for investigating the folded up empty fish and chip box.  Then into shot comes Lilith.  Hmm has this whole exercise merely been a training session for Lilith to learn how to hunt kitchen bins? Nearly an hour later Lilith appears slightly bored and wanders off, but comes back, listens to a few more instructions on disembowelling methods, and then disappears again. 

But that seems to have been that – Morticia merely felled the bin and then just kept sniffing around it on and off until 5.31 am, perhaps with the occasional lick of an empty sachet of cat food here and there.  Nothing occurred then until Morticia returned at 7.30 am, to take a couple of cursory sniffs and then leave  again. 

So how did the contents of the defenceless plastic receptacle end up strewn across the kitchen floor? Move forward to 8.20 am, and in comes Archie. You can almost sense his excitement when he sees the felled beast. He does not waste too much time before getting to grips with the contents and out they come.

And that is how the contents of the bin’s bowels ended up as a project of modern art in a sleepy North Devon village.

PS:  All precautions have now been taken to  secure the safety of the bin and its inner depths.  A chair was placed against it last night and one will continue  to be put there at night in the forthcoming future.    It looks like there are not only two felines here that are possible ASBO  material after all.

PPS: And it has since transpired that Morticia is a well-known felon and certainly not new to this kind of crime.  I have it on good authority that the bin at her previous abode suffered similar indignities. 

Saturday 7 September 2013

Bin Art

I have never been a fan of modern art; unmade beds or a half-open, half-eaten can of baked beans in the middle of an empty room, with one sticky bean 'artistically' left where it dribbled down the side of the can to stick itself on the floor, don’t really rock my boat.  However, as can be seen from the photos, it does appear that we have an exponent of such artistic ‘talent’ here. Yes right here, in a kitchen in deepest, darkest North Devon

Whodunnit?  Well I do not believe for one minute that it was one of our resident ghosts.  So there are three humans, four cats, and two dogs that are in the running.  We know that it was not Poppy McGregor, my cat of aged years, who likes nothing more than to sleep and then pop outside for a natural break and sniff round her ‘hood. We know that it was not Prudence the dog, because she was on our bed, and although she came downstairs at one point in a huff (apparently she tried to boot Jon out of bed and went off in a sulk when he chastised her for her impudence) she soon returned when thunder rumbled in the distance.

So we are down to six possible offenders:
  • Jon – nope he was fast asleep and away with the faeries. He didn’t even hear the dogs barking, a foot away from him, at the thunder
  • Me – well you know I am not a fan of such art so why would I?
  • Graham - well he has been known to take odd photographs of things in the past, like chairs in the middle of a room, or drainpipes. These oddities, I must add, usually taken when he is supposed to be taking photographs of speakers, for example, at the Weird Weekend 
  • The ginger kitten, Captain Frunobulax the Magnificent (aka Peanut) – quite possible due to him being ASBO material
  • Lilith Tinkerbell the black kitten – quite possible due to her also being ASBO material and being the sister of the Captain 
  • Morticia, Olivia’s black cat – a bit of a quiet one and we all know they are always the worst
  • Archimedes Archibald the Archimandrite of Joppa (Archie for short) the Jack Russell – the new boy in the ‘hood
Now, it is quite possible that the two kittens could have ganged up together as they do tend to hang around in a pair menacingly, flattening everything in sight, and then chilling as if butter wouldn’t melt in their mouths like two spotty-faced kids  around a bus shelter plotting their next act of defiance against the system.  However, I do have to admit to have witnessed the bin going down under attack from one of them in the past.  But that was before I was alerted to the bin’s vulnerability and began to wedge it under the counter. 

So who has the crowbar and the weight behind them to un-wedge the defenceless receptacle?

Let us look at the psychological profiles of the two remaining suspects:
  • Morticia:  As I have already stated, she is the quiet one. She stalks around the house like a black panther (no such thing? I beg to differ – she is one).  She has this ability to remain unseen while I frantically search behind curtains, under beds and in cupboards in a bid to check that she has not managed, somehow, to escape the house. Then she will arrive downstairs with her yellow eyes glinting at her own cleverness at hiding and relishing in her own impudence for ignoring my calls for her.  Being a black cat she is adept at putting the shadows and darkest recesses to good use. 
  • Archie: The new boy.  Well his background his hazy.  There is not much information on him to form a satisfactory profile. We have given him a home due to him being under unavoidable duress at his last abode. However, he was definitely upstairs with us, at least until I went to sleep. But he is a dog, and dogs are always on the look out for a free scavenge (and some do have a penchant for bins as we all know). And he did bark at Poppy this morning - was this an admission of guilt? Was he scared she was going to dob him in?
So, readers, who is the perpetrator?  I think I know who the guilty party is.  If only I could speak ‘cat’ as Poppy may well have witnessed it all and I have a feeling she would be quite happy to squeal on the offender (or offenders).  On the other hand, she was probably also away with the faeries and missed the whole messy project as it formed itself on the floor around her.
Poppy: Fetch me Dr. Dolittle and I shall reveal all 

Where is Hercule Poirot when you need him? Probably off on some cruise down the Nile I expect. I think, therefore, that this may be a job for our very own spymaster and sleuth, Graham. Tonight, I shall ask him to open his special box of tricks. A box containing, amongst other things, cans of lager, rollie dog-ends, the occasional mug growing its own special culture, and…hopefully …a trail camera. If all goes well, tomorrow we may have our culprit (or culprits). 

Thursday 22 August 2013

Hip, Hop, Hooray, Jonathan's 54 today

Happy Birthday, Mr. D


Monday 29 July 2013

Journey to the Centre of the Garden of England (and the Sussexes)

So, with our Gonzo Multimedia hats on, we (Jon, young Jessica and I) were off to Kent to film Judy Dyble and others at the SOL festival, visit CJ Stone in Whitstable and then visit Mick Farren of The Deviants in Brighton on our way home.  What started out as an adventure turned into a freaky episode of peculiarities, culminating in a very sad return journey.

There were so many odd occurrences that they cannot go by without a mention. Jess certainly had a baptism of oddities during this, her first, trip away with 'uncle and aunt'.  She seemed to enjoy herself and we hope that any future trip she may accompany us on will be a little less full of such strangeness. She is great company, as are all of her family, and we hope she would like come with us again some time.  Thanks Jess, you were a star.

Frustrating hitch number one: Jon wanted to try to get a replacement watch – but the shop in Bideford no longer sold them. Well it did, but for some odd reason it only sold ladies’ watches. Go figure.

Frustrating hitches numbers two, three, four…..ten:  Then came some of those odd, unexplained stop-start traffic incidents – caused, presumably, purely by the sheer volume of traffic, with the M25 doing a perfect impersonation of a car park at Christmas time. 

Frustrating hitch number eleven (although it was probably actually somewhere between four and eight):  Well not really a frustrating hitch.  Just one of those Jonathan moments – a bit like one of those old Fry’s Turkish Delight moments but with no Turkish Delight, seductive music, or desert scene.  In fact, nothing like one of those moments, and I have no idea at all why Fry’s Turkish Delight popped into my head. 

But whilst on the subject, and for those who don’t remember, or have never seen, that iconic advert of the ‘80s here it is:

Anyway, we were stop/starting over Salisbury Plain and asked Jess whether she had seen Stonehenge ‘in the flesh’ before.  She hadn’t.  So Jon explained that we would be passing by said monument very soon and that she should have her camera-phone at the ready.  ‘Just after this hut’, he said confidently.  Hmmm nope.  ‘Sorry, I always get confused when it will actually appear,’ he explained.  ‘Okay’, said Jess.  ‘Actually I don’t think we will be passing it at all to be honest,’ continues Jon later.  ‘Sorry’.  ‘That’s  a shame, never mind,’ says Jess, putting away her mobile.  Stop/start.  (I am so glad our car is automatic at times like this).  ‘You know, I think we will pass it,’ announced Jon confidently.   This will we/won’t we scenario continued along the A303; Jess remaining outstandingly unfazed by Jon’s long-drawn-out senior moment.  However, you will all be pleased – and relieved – to know that we DID pass Stonehenge and Jess DID get her picture after all. Phew. 

Frustrating hitch number twelve:  Arriving at the festival, we discovered that the other act we were supposed to film had kindly gone on a couple of hours earlier, because those who had supposed to have gone on a couple of hours earlier had ‘phoned in to say that their transport had broken down.  So, basically, we missed who we had supposed to be filming because when we arrived the people who had supposed to be on two hours earlier were actually on then, having managed to get their transport working again.

Frustrating hitch number thirteen:  We mustn’t forget the ambiguous travel directions to our hostelry which caused our cranky sat nav to take us around the back-streets of Bexhill-on-Sea and to keep telling us that we had reached our destination, although eventually we found our actual destination about half-a-mile away.  Then there was the missing key to our room facilitating the need for the inn-keeper having to be asked to lock the door for us after we had left each day.  I am not sure how it would have worked if we had not returned before closing time on the Saturday, for although we had a key to the hotel back entrance, we would quite possible have had to bunk down in the corridor. 

Frustrating hitch number fourteen:  We had booked the hotel rooms online just like we always do.  When we eventually got there we found that although they had taken the card details, these were just required to secure the booking.  So instead of what we had thought was a good idea, thus avoiding the need of claiming back the expenses with Gonzo having paid for the booking, we ended up having to pay them anyway.

Frustrating hitch number fifteen: Then came the beer and oyster festival at Whitstable (plus road-closing carnival) followed by thunder, lightning and heavy rain drenching hundreds of festival-goers (plus us non-festival goers) and pubs being so full they looked like enormous cans of sardines.  Then there was Jon trying to hold a ‘business meeting’ amongst the loud ‘chatter’ of revellers.

However, this frustrating hitch did give me the best seat in town to be able to watch the antics of one particular drunken attendee who was outside in the pouring rain as he stood in the road, stopped traffic and mooned splendidly at all and sundry, before intermittently gesticulating and then throwing himself on a bollard.  Wow they make bollards of bendy plastic now – that’s brilliant.  I know this because when he stood to pull up his trousers over his lightning-lit posterior cheeks, it bounced back up again.  Amazing.  They should get some of those in children’s playgrounds.  It would give them practice for any future exploits they may undertake in those odd years of youth that would probably have - once upon a time - involved the beating of chests, body painting with woad or some other ancient ceremony that cannot be performed these days due to health and safety, or just simply because we have evolved a bit since then and are supposedly civilised. However, the painting of woad does still appeal to me on  occasions.  I am quite often impelled to daub myself, fling my quiver over my shoulder and take up my long bow, and a sword, and cause havoc in Barnstaple High Street or on one of those trains that are transporting that other group of ceremonialists – the football supporters.

I understand that new grandpa (or whatever he is to be called; granddad, grampy, grumps or even just plain Your Royal Highness, granddad sir) Prince Charles, is supposed to be visiting Whitstable Oyster Festival today (Monday).  I hope Mr. Moonie is either still suffering from one-helluva hangover and is hibernating in his bed, or that he at least keeps his trousers on for such an auspicious occasion. 

Frustrating hitch number sixteen: During the festival Jess and I somehow started discussing milk shakes and both then yearned for a McDonald’s milkshake (because they do make exceedingly good shakes).  This was sometime during the afternoon of Saturday.  So for the rest of our stay at the festival and the journey to Whitstable and back, it was at the forefront of our minds.  Could we find a McDonald’s on the way back to Bexhill-on-Sea?  You bet your posterior cheeks we couldn’t.  So it seemed that the yearning on the 80-odd mile round trip was going to prove insatiable.  Until, that is, we stopped at a garage shop not far from the hotel to buy some sandwiches etc., and a quick enquiry revealed that there was a McDonalds on our way back to the hotel.  We found it.  We were excited.  It had a drive-through. And it was OPEN. Huzzah!  Somehow, not one of us had noticed this establishment on the other two occasions we had passed it.  But to be fair I think we were all side-tracked by the sight of the Big Top that had been erected in a ‘field’ opposite.  Well I wasn’t that side-tracked of course, because I was the driver and had my eyes firmly fixed on the road, and after driving for so long I was firmly glued to my seat,  with hands firmly wrapped around the steering wheel (basically set in that position) and staring out of the windscreen. 

‘To McDonalds and milkshake,’ we cried.  We didn’t really cry that at all,  but that rousing untruth does add a little je ne sais quoi to the situation.   After tackling the mini roundabout that had been placed so you couldn’t actually drive all the way around it in one go, facilitating a dodgy three-point  turn, I then promptly drove right past the ordering station – you know, the metal thing that speaks to you.  As I crawled along I heard the muffled, ‘Can I have your order please?’ as the sound trailed off behind me. Realising my mistake, and reversing back, I said something along the lines of: “Oh, I am sorry. I drove right past you then” – admittedly in a rather Joyce Grenfell, and ever-so-slightly vacant, way - at which point Jon started laughing.  Anyone who knows the sound of Jon’s laughter will know it is not a stifled giggle, or a gentlemanly guffaw, but more of a raucous cacophony of belly laughs that echo around the area like ricocheting rubber bullets.  At this point young Jessica started laughing and I was left to implore them both to shush whilst I started to give our meagre order.  This shushing task I singularly failed to fulfil and had to shout down the thing, ‘One banana and one strawberry milkshake please!’  Fine… I had gotten the order out.  But then came the reply ‘I’m afraid we have no milkshakes,’ at which point we all started laughing.  The guy on the other end apologised profusely, and after saying, ‘Okay, never mind. Thanks’, I drove off.  I didn’t notice, but apparently the guy gave us a really odd look as we crawled passed the window.  Slightly confused, I then asked why Jon had laughed, and he replied that when I had explained (albeit unnecessarily I have to admit, but I put it down to a manic state of mind on actually finding a McDonalds after all that time) down the speaker that I had driven passed, it had sounded as if I was stoned.

Frustrating hitch number whatever it was:  We thought we would take Jess on a shortish trip to Beachy Head, but the road was closed due to yet another annual event. However, we did manage to see a very large white horse and a giant....etched into hillsides I must add before you begin to wonder whether I was actually stoned after all.  

There were other irritations too, for example: a) whilst there were coffee and tea facilities in the room, there were none of those handy little milk cartons/tubes, b)  there were no instructions on how to work the shower nor was there any mention of having to flick a switch on, located high up on the outside of the bathroom in order to get aforementioned gadget to work, c) we realised at 9.55 am that we had to be out of the room by 10.00 am avoiding the necessity to pay for an extra day.  This information, of course, causing a mild panic as Jon was still IN bed and I was still faffing around in my undergarments. 

None of these peculiar and frustrating occurrences mean diddly-squat though.   They were purely that – peculiar and frustrating, and part of the rich-tapestry of life; little things that just happened to occur all on the same weekend rather than being spread out. 

When Jon attempted to contact Mick Farren to confirm that our visit to see him at home in Brighton was still okay, the news that unfolded of his collapse on stage the previous night, and his resulting passing deeply shocked and saddened us all.  Both Jess and I had been looking forward to meeting him for the first time, after hearing from Jon what a great guy he was. 

Bon voyage, Mick, and rest in peace.