Thursday, July 31, 2008

I'm working. I'm spending my days this week helping Ilona enthuse small (and not so small) children into making up, and performing, a mini play in a stinkingly hot school hall as part of the Highland Council's 'Let's pretend we care about the arts and out of school groups at the same time!' policy.
So all day I try to strike that fine balance of control vs enthusiasm that will encourage the inert blobs in the group to do - anything, while simultaneously trying to keep the lid on the kids who fire off a million ideas a minute (some of them are genuinely funny silly ideas too) without stffling them. Luckily Ilona actually knows what she is doing; I'm glad one of us does. So what with doing that, and house-working, and trying to cobble the million and one stupid ideas from the kids that did get through into some sort of coherent form on the computer for the next day, there hasn't been a lot of time for Blogging - or movie watching.

Which brings me too this month's roster of Italian Space Bimbos, Swedish lesbians, and Gerry Stiller.

July Movie list (Groan! Moan!)
1. Aladdin - Awful Disney tripe. My tolerance for even the smallest amounts of Robin Williams has almost vanished.
2. Mr Wong The Detective -
3. Mysteries of Mr Wong - Starring Boris Karloff. Only in Hollywood - could a tall, well-spoken, English actor with a lisp be cast as a Chinese Detective! Soporific poverty row pot boilers.
4. Zombie Nightmare - (MST3K) All I can really remember of this, less than three weeks later, is that it had Adam West in it. I think the director must have won a couple of days work from him in a game of poker.
5. Last of the Wild Horses - (MST3K)
6. Jack Frost - (MST3K) This year's obligatory Finnish movie.
7. The Hellcats - (MST3K) I sneaked a couple of Mystery Science Theater 3000 disks into the luggage when we went on holiday.
8. The Queen of Outer Space - This has long been on my Must Watch List (it's Zsa Zsa Gabor's only starring role!) and I wasn't disappointed. Total full Technicolor, cardboard pants from end to end - though weirdly deja-vu inducing. I have never seen this film before but knew what was going to happen every single frame. This is possibly because this movie, even more than the usual for cheap SF movies of the period, was assembled from bits left over from other, better films. The costumes were left over from Forbidden Planet, the script was Cat-Women of the Moon (again) and a lot of the sets, special effects shots and the obligatory giant spider (a staple part of any late 50s space adventure) were from World Without End - which I only watched last month.
9. War of the Satellites - another quality product from Roger Corman. At least it was short: 66 minutes of low-grade tosh.
10. Flatliners - for years, in my head, I have managed to confuse this with Lifeforce (AKA Space Vampires) and was disappointed last night to find I bought the wrong movie. Not terrible and it was fun watching a young Oliver Platt working out his moves.
11. Flushed Away - Very funny - and the kids liked it too.
12. Angry Red Planet - The first expedition to Mars encounters a very weird post-production effect called 'Cinemagic'. A process invented by a man who went on to become a story editor on the Scooby-Do show a process which, as far as I can tell (after an intensive three minutes on Google), was never used again. Cinemagic, which was expensive and complicated, gave the entire screen a deep red tint with cartoony dark lines around our actors, sets, and props, and strange, luminous glows in areas of shadow. It was all very odd and if the script had been at all competent would have made for a good, eerie little movie. As it was what we got was a bad, almost eerie movie with the usual copious amounts of stock footage* of military stuff, ranks of scientists doing nothing but tell each other things they want the audience to hear, and the oddest 1950s giant movie spider ever filmed: '40 foot tall', with the face of a bat, the tail of a rat, and huge lobster claws. But even that was not as weird as the main monster of the movie - a giant amphibious amoeba with eyes that rotated like radar antennae. Odd. Very odd.

*Even the trailer is stuffed with it!
13. Zoolander - A rare thing: a film actually improved by having commercial breaks in it.
14. The Independent - Bit of a a Stiller family double bill tonight. Gerry Stiller and Anne Meara and their son Ben Stiller appearing in both. And both movies also having impressive rosters of people appearing as 'Themselves'. Though nothing in either movie was quite as impressive as these six - three!

Les Bimbos D'espace
What Planet is This? (Oh My God, It's Earth!)

15. The Wizard of Oz - Watched with the kids. Friday night is Pizza and Movie night. It's been many many years since I watched this but what a great film. The story maybe simple and childish but I sat there for the whole thing just blown away by the set design and costumes.
16. Star Crash - See previous waffle.
17. Moontrap - years ago, before they deemed them obsolete, Blockbusters had this big bin of 'Pre-Viewed' Videotapes at one pound fifty each or three for three pounds. I used to buy a lot of never to be released on DVD movies from this bin; stuff that went straight to video and was destined to stay there. The best bit of the deal was that Blockbuster would buy videos to shove in this bin for 50p each. Any videos. So I got into the habit of buying, watching and returning them. It worked out a cheap way of renting movies I would never otherwise get to see. Sometimes I would buy tapes from charity shops, flog them to blockbuster and make a profit. I didn't keep a tally but I probably came out financially carbon neutral. One of the films I remember getting and flogging back to them was Moontrap starring Walter 'I'm not Chekov from Star Trek' Koenig. Today I found it (quite possibly the same tape) in a charity shop for 50p. I bought it. It's still shit.
18. Silent Running - I was slightly disappointed (though not surprised) to find the DVD didn't have an option to watch this film without the hideous Joan Baez songs that batter you round the earballs in what otherwise is a small, but wonderfully made bit of SF moviedom.
19. Xanadu - Olivia Newton-John, Gene Kelly and some bloke who never made it big enough to get his name on the DVD cover* in a WTFkly awful movie that, after an hour something (boredom?) made me click the 'Display' button on the DVD remote - only to find that I had only been watching it for a mere twenty minutes. Towards the end of the movie I had the 'Time Remaining' up in the left hand corner of the screen. Occasionally I would look up at it and think: 'There's no way this can go on for another twenty, eleven, eight (or whatever) minutes!' But it did. Time was going very slowly in my living room this evening. Not bad enough to be good. Just boring.
*His later IMDB credits include: Diagnosis Murder and Murder She Wrote.
20. Fucking Åmål - aka Show Me Love - low budget teen lesbian movie. A sort of Gay, Swedish Gregory's Girl but with fewer laughs. Not great, but gently inspiring.
21. Spy Kids - I like Spy Kids, I think it's fun, and so did the girls as we pigged out on pizza and flopped on the sofa.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

After weeks of masterful inactivity (most of it spent watching dreadful Italian SF movies) I have finally got my finger out and done a new cartoon: Hurrah! Don't all rush over to see it at once; the web will get heavy on one side and fall over.

So, back to the thing I'm really interested in at the moment: Bad 1970s Italian SF movies with scantily clad, large-breasted women running around in leather bikinis. I really can't understand why these movies aren't more highly regarded. What's not to like? Take last night's magnum opus ferristance:

Star Crash

Star Crash is a stunning movie (as in the thing they do to cows just before they shoot them). It's a 1978 Italian, jump on the Star Wars band-wagon, entry which has Caroline Munro in a variety of leather bikinis and thigh-high boots, a police robot that looks like a walking dildo, no discernible plot - and so much more: chiefly David Hasselhoff being spectacularly wooden as 'Prince Simon', and Christopher Plummer as his silver caped father, the Emperor of the Known Universe, delivering his lines - Two words - At a - Time. Because - That's the - Way everyone - Talks in - Italian movies - Even if - They are - Talking in - Their own - Language, that or he was doing his William Shatner impression*: You could almost hear his thought processes as he got to grips with the part (probably in the taxi on the way to the studio) "Science Fiction is it? Right, I'll play it like that Captain Kirk fellow. That's what Science Fiction Acting is all about."

What the movie was really all about...**

I think I am glad to say I had no idea what the hell was going on at all. I suspect I missed some of the finer plot points because I was laughing so much (usually at the direction and the dialogue - though some of the special effects are outrageously funny at times). I don't know why I had no idea what was going on in the film; I had no excuse, all the characters did was tell each other what they were doing or just about to do:

"We must go to the Planet of Certain Doom! Calculate a course allowing for solar driftage!"

"I am calculating a course for the Planet of Certain Doom and have entered it into the ship's computer brain. We we'll be at the planet in twenty seven point thirty-twoty seconds of standard Earth time."

"Look! (Points at view screen - I gave up counting the number of times in this movie people pointed at viewscreens and said "LOOK!") We have arrived at the Planet of Certain Doom.".

"Good. We'll park in that canyon over there."

The trouble was no one ever explained WHY they were going to the fucking Planet of Certain Doom in the first place. The whole script boiled down to a seemingly endless repetition of: "Let's go over there and get attacked!" Biff! Bash! Whallop! Help! Whallop! "Aha! You arrived from nowhere just in the nick of time to rescue us! Hurrah! Let's go over there and get attacked." Biff! Bash! Whallop! etc. (But in Italian. Maybe it made more sense in Italian. I doubt it.)

Towards the end of the film, with our central characters acting as bait in the evil count's fiendish trap, one character (who has totally and mysteriously and inexplicably developed the powers to see into the future and telepathically control any machines he comes across - apart from badly animated killer robots) seems to know what is going on because he starts waffling on about 'destiny' a lot. He tells his two companions to be patient as he will explain everything very soon - then almost immediately gets himself severely killed and evaporates! without explaining anything.
At this point the Emperor of the entire Universe, and for all we know a few other places, arrives, walking into the trap as the evil counts hoped he would:

Prince Simon:
Father! We must leave at once.

Stella Star:
Forty-eight seconds left till the explosion. We've got to get out of here.

Prince Simon:
It's true father the count has mined the planet with nuclear charges - we're all about to die!

You know something my boy, I wouldn't be Emperor if I didn't have some powers at my command... (He steps forward slowly and lets his cape settle. He addresses the empty air as if playing Mark Anthony addressing his army.) Imperial Battle Ship! Halt!... The Flow of Time!

Green ray shoots out of golden spaceship hovering off to the right of the planet - and they all escape.

I'm not sure what happened next I was laughing too much but pretty soon Imperial storm-troopers are being fired in golden torpedoes through the huge Gothic windows of the count's battle cruiser (That's what they were there for!) and our heroine gets at least three more costume changes (at least one of them apparently whilst wearing a space suit) before the end of the film. I shall be watching this one again and again.

* As my mate Mike has pointed out both Shatner and Plummer are Canadian, so maybe it's a Canadian SF acting thing. They went to the same class. Somewhere in Manitoba there's an acting teacher - Who talks - Just like - This.
**Though I mainly watch this kind of movie for the explosions - honest!

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Verb of the Day

Daddy, what do ninjas do?

They ninj things.

We spent a short while ninjing things - then they played hairdressers, though Daisy did like the idea of Ninja hairdressers who gave people haircuts without them noticing.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Further, Week-old Holiday Ramblings 3 - Strangers on a Tram


We spent today wandering around Sheffield with four semi-naked children. (That's the equivalent of two full clothed children and two totally naked ones). We had gone in to meet up with Gaenor, Merriol's sister, and her family. The second stop on our shortened itinerary was the funky fountains at the Peace Gardens. The fountains there are set into a very well drained, shallow, bowl-like depression in the square. They are the most walkable-into fountains in the world; it's just pavement with water shooting up out of it.
The kids wanted to play - "Just round the edge!". We managed to get their shoes and socks off before they dived in but within minutes both sets of kids: Holly and Daisy, Thomas and Jacob were drenched to the skin. We did manage to get Daisy's dungarees off her before they were too wet, and Holly's jumper but otherwise they were fully clothed. They had a great time and within minutes had gone from splashing around the edges to standing, sitting and lying on the individual water jets.

And we had nothing to dry them with.

Then I had the only creative thought I've had all week and went into a charity shop over the road and bought some towels at 50p each. According to the women behind the counter they sell a lot of towels in that shop.

Later were coming back from town on the tram. Holly was keeping up her usual non-stop stream of impossible questions - What's this? what's that? why don't? etc.
Sitting across the aisle in the chairs opposite a middle aged-man watched us with barely disguised amusement. The tram slowed into a stop and he got up to disembark. As the doors opened he asked Holly: "Why don't you ask your Dad some hard ones, they've all been easy questions so far."

Without blinking Holly answered: "My Dad isn't that clever."

Next time, she can go buy the sodding towels.

Further, Week-old Holiday Ramblings 2


Another lazy day. (I could get used to this.) About the most energetic thing I did today was visit to the only charity shop I have ever encountered that opens on a Sunday. Bliss! LPs! Boxes and boxes of LPs - all 10p each! I was very restrained; I only bought a dozen - which (dammit!) I will have to wait till I get back home to listen to. The anticipation is not exactly killing me but it is very enjoyable.

While I was riffling through the boxes I had one of those wonderful 'OMG! I hope the LP in this sleeve is the LP that should be in the sleeve....!" moments followed immediately by a "...and I hope it's at least halfway playable...!" moment. I love moments like that. It makes up for wading through all the boxes which contain nothing but the collected albums of Jim Reeves, Peters and Lee, and copies of Pickwick Records Presents Highlights from The Best Loved Gilbert and Sullivan Operettas. I hate boxes like those. They're so dull, a real slog to wade through. It's hard work getting excited over a Geoff Love Orchestra Plays Great Movie Themes LP* which, quite often, is the most interesting thing you'll find in them.

It's worth it though for the OMG! moments. Sometimes you find interesting looking LPs only to suffer the instant disappointment of finding the sleeve is either empty - Fuck! - or contains a completely different record - doublefuck! (you then have to go back through the whole box trying to find the cover for THAT record - in the always vain hope that the two have been swapped), or the correct record is there, but looks like it has been used to test Black and Decker power tools on. Oh, Triplefuck with spinkles! - this last one is the worst because at least with the other two there is a vague chance that someone, somewhere is enjoying the sounds of Elvis' greatest hits played on the Gamalan, or 'The Trorchy Male Voice Choir sings The Bee Gees', or whatever - but with the record that has been reduced to an unplayable circular mat of scratch, no one is ever going to listen to that particular disc ever again. And this stuff needs listening to; it's part of our heritage! (admittedly a particularly painful and never fashionable part) but it needs to be nurtured, reevaluated and preserved. Why? For the same reason that we should maintain biodiversity. We don't know what undiscovered usefulnesses there are out there in the Rain Forests, who knows what future generations will consider musical masterpieces? I mean Vivaldi wasn't played for several centuries, dismissed as he was by received wisdom as being a near worthless second-rater. Received wisdom was wrong about him, it may (possibly) be wrong about The Barron Knights, James Last, or Daniel O'Donnell. Who knows?

Today's strike of discarded vinyl wasn't exactly a Klondike of future Vivaldis but was a good seam. I'll not bore you with all my purchases but they did include: an album of Miklos Roska conducting some of his movie themes. Roska was a movie music genius responsible for scoring all sorts of great movies but I mainly bought it because the first track on the album is called:
'The Love Theme From Sodom and Gomorrah'
I remember seeing Sodom and Gomorrah once. It was one of those sword and sandal Biblical epics that used to crop up on Sunday afternoons on BBC2 when Wimbledon or the cricket got rained off. I remember nothing about it at all apart from one gloriously wonderful, all time brilliant, Hall of Fame, bad movie moment. As I recall it, our hero type (possibly a young John Derrick) is leading his bunch of Gomorrahn** foot soldiers on a daring raid behind enemy lines. At one point he turns and cautions them to extra vigilance with the immortal line:
"Be careful - and watch out for Sodomite patrols."
So, there I was, working my way through a far more interesting than usual pile of dreck, selecting and making a neat pile of all the early Herb Alperts and late 60s Spanish pop music LPs when I had my moment of riffling joy. I held in my hand a battered sleeve emblazoned with the words: 'Toddlers Au Go-Go, Nursery Rhymes Played with the Teen Rhythms of Today'. Paydirt! Could this be it? - Genuine shit? ***

For a moment I was Schliemann at Troy, I was Cortez gazing at the Pacific, I was Madame Curie holding the first vial of Radium. I slid the disc out from the sleeve - it looked playable! - no great cracks or scratc\hes. The label? Did it? - it did! - it matched the sleeve! I breathed again. I had done it! I had discovered a brand new isotope of crap!

And it's a whole week till I can play it and find out what I have got.

And Merriol wants the car decontaminated when we get back.

* Especially when you already own a copy.
** Can this possibly be right?
*** The bizarre 'Au' in the title was enough for me.

Further, Week-old Holiday Ramblings 1

Saturday: a day's lazy slobbing about at Len and Sue's after spending the night in a sleeping bag on their living room floor; we started out sleeping on a camping mattress but it deflated during the night. I half woke in the early hours incredably uncomfortable and convinced Merriol had shoved me off the mattress and onto the floor, so I sort of shoved back, and found that the floor just kept on going, before falling asleep again. I don't think either of us had a great night.

Tonight we are at the B & B we will be staying at for the next few nights. Big old stone farmhouse with some of the scariest wiring: the TV in our room is plugged into a socket which is, in turn, plugged into another socket via a length of 1.5mm core lighting cable, the flex for my bedside light just disappears into the wall - or possibly through the floor, I haven't peeled back the carpet to find out - though I am tempted.
The place is full of really nice antique furniture, the obligatory tea making facilities - and no coasters. Soon after getting into the room Merriol made me a cuppa and I spent three minutes wandering around the bedroom trying to work out how to safely put it down without leaving a ring on any of the posh wood. Luckily I spotted a shelf of Country Lifes, and chinsy interior decorating porn, and posh celebrity mags. I finally found a good use for a copy of Hello.

The kids are in the room next door with a big single bed each. Holly was delighted to find they had a television in the room and in the space of a few moments went from happy delighted six year old: "I've got a telly in my room! I got a telly in my room!" to her horribly accurate grumpy teenager impression when I pointed out there were only five channels - none of which were likely to be The Cartoon Network, Cebeebies, or Nickleodeon.

So we ended up watching the ITV News together.

Only five channels? When I were a lad...

[long pointless ramble about there only being two televion channels, which only came on in the afternoons and evenings - and were in black and white excised here].

Saturday, July 05, 2008

The True and Thrilling Adventures of Liam on Holiday With His Family - Copiously Illlustrated With Full Colour Pictures of the Author's Own Devising

2008 holidays. - so far (the 'Copious Illustrations' will be added later.)


We're staying for the week in a village in the North of Yorkshlandshire. We've rented a minute (the whole footprint of the building is smaller than our kitchen) self-catering cottage built in the early part of the 18th century and recently refurbished in a style that can only be described as Early 21st Century Tat. MDF Fireplace, squarish plates, black wraughtish iron curtain poles, and some of the most amateur woodworking I have seen for a while; some of it has actually made me laugh. I would estimate that the rent we have paid on this place for the week has paid for most of the fixtures and fittings - and if the owners' have any sort of B&Q loyalty card I guess they must in profit. We're only here for the week. I think I can cope - unless many more things fall off the wall due to inadequate fixings. Maybe next year they could afford a toilet roll holder.

We passed a supermarket on the way into the village and shortly after we arrived I went there to buy some milk. Maybe it's a product of my gentle lifestyle and my living in an even tinyer tiny village in the middle of nowhere but I didn't realise they actually posted ASBO notices up in public. At the supermarket checkout there was a board with all the usual community notices pinned to it, including a full colour A3 poster (with photo) informing the world that: 'Stig (aka 'Stig') McMoron had been banned from the following streets (shaded area on map) and that between the hours of...' etc. etc.
Next to it, slightly to the right of Stig's Neanderthal mugshot, was another poster pointing out that having guns and shooting things is against the law. Oh Happy holidays.

Days was, when you packed up for the summer hols, you packed some clothes, a good thick book (usually with a swastika or the words 'Jilly Cooper' on the front cover), and your bucket and spade. Packing for this trip (or rather watching Merriol pack) I was struck by the vast amounts of electronics we seemed to need to take with us - to wit:
2 Mobile phones
1 MP3 Player
2 MP4 players
1 Little radio transmitter thing that plugs into the MP3 Player, the MP4 players, and one of the phones which allows you to play your music without the hassle of taking CDs out of their cases or rewiring the car.
1 Juicebox (Holly's weird little toy MP3 / video player)
3 Digital Cameras (Merriol's and the kids' - this not including the cameras on the phones.)
2 Gameboys (Merriol's and the kids')
1 Portable DVD player
1 Laptop
All the cables, adapters, chargers, USB sticks etc. neeeded to plug all these slighty obsolete electronic devices into each other, the car, or ourselves*.

I also bought a good thick book No swastikas or hanky panky in the home counties but 'The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy' by Laurence Sterne, a book I have never finished starting several times over the years. This time I intend to get a good way into it before the inevitable charity shop purchases start whining for my attention.

I also brought a crappy SF novel and a frothy piece of chick lit called 'Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging' just in case I don't.



"I want to go to a museum, I'm not bothered what kind; I just want to go to a museum."

Port Mulgrove: A path down a sloping cliffside (I know what I mean) between high bracken, and gorse, and the usual mixture of wayside flowering British wild plants I should know the names of but don't. Half way down the sometimes steep decent, Holly found half a slow-worm in the middle of the path. The back half. It was still moving. We had obviously interupted something's lunch. The walk down to the beach was like every childhood summer holiday memory I have rolled up into one. I had deja-vu all the way down to sea level. The summer holidays I remember were taken in Cornwall and we're in North Yorks, diagonally the other side of England, but I guess clifftop paths are pretty much the same where ever you go. No midges. The beach when we got to it was initially a bit of a diappointment: a few tin shacks on a beach of industrial rubbish from an ancient ironstone mine - the bricked-up mouth of which, half overgrown with generic undergrowth, was still visible in the cliff face. An internet aquantance had recomended it as a place to take the kids fossil hunting. We wandered around - the kids were happy, it was a beach after all, even if it did have more that the usual number of bulldozers sitting on it - and after a while picking up interesting pebbles, and then discarding them a few minutes later when an even better looking pebble presented itself, I found a rock with some lumps sticking out of it. Fossils! Look kids! Vague lumps that could be fossils! A few moment later Merriol turned up half an ammonite in a freshly cracked rock that still shimmered with nacre. XtyX million year old Mother of Pearl. After that, we had our eye in and every pebble and piece of shale had flattened critters in them. It was great fun.

Whitby: It's ages since I've been to Whitby - 20 years maybe? I was warned the place would be full of Goths which makes me regret not having packed my black kilt but I was sadly disappointed - our fault for arriving on a hot Saturday afternoon - the place wasn't full of weird and wonderfully dressed blackhaired teens* but heaving with the usual fat, sweaty, tattooed, and doddering British daytrippers. Just like us. After a cafe lunch Holly announced she wanted to: "Go to a museum, I'm not bothered what kind; I just want to go to a museum." So we found her the Whitby Museum. And it's BRILIIANT. A small, privatly-owned treasure stuffed with glass cases stuffed with - things (many of them stuffed). All sorts of things. Fossils, Roman pottery, stuffed birds, unstuffed birds, eighteenth century shoes, Victorian school books, Georgian Dolls house... everything, all in one room and all wonderfully labled in a variety of styles and degrees of detail. Not 'interpreted' - labelled, names and dates, and then who presented whatever it is to the museum, in ancient handwiting, faded typing, and modern office printing. The labels themselves tell you more about the history of the museum than any carefully curated display could. It is a wonderful place. It's what museums should be: eclectic, interesting, varied, fascinating, and serendipidous. How can you not love a place that has a mummified human hand on display next to a 1970s Teddy Bear? - not because they were juxtaposed as some post-modernistic cultural commentary, but because the Whitby Hand of Glory (found in an attic) is displayed in a box next to the case with museum's latest aquisitions, which happen, this week, to include a 1970s givaway advertising sloganized Teddy. It's everything the Kelvin Hall used to be before it got fucked over and modernised. On the way out I praised the place to the staff at the entrance. Apparently most of the people who comment tell them not to touch a thing and mess it up. I am not alone.

Daisy and Holly loved it too. Darting from one case to the next, noses pressed against glass: "What's this, Daddy? What's that? Mummy, come and look at this? Oooooh! can we have one of them?" Museum curaters of the world take note, you don't need to fill your building with flashy gimmicks and interactivness. Just stuff them full of wonders and let us explore.

* Goths must be, to my mind, a vast improvement on the vast numbers of singing, hairy, Real Ale Drinkers and Morris Dancing teams that I remember from one of my previous visits. One of the scariest things I think I have ever heard happened in Whitby. It was during the Annual Folk Festival - I have no memory of why I was there, though drugs may well have played a part in the proceedings - I remember sitting having a fish and chip lunch when a whole procession of Northern English Morris Dancing teams went by, most of them seemingly made up of vast, rectangular women in huge, steel tipped clogs. As they reached the cafe, they all stopped in the middle of the road and started prancing about doing energetic folky stuff, leaping about in wooden shoes on narrow cobbled streets, whacking each other with sticks. It was deafening. I think there were accordians involved too.


Fewer fat people in Whitby today but by Christ, aren't there a lot of steps in East Yorkshire? Getting from anywhere to anywhere in a town around here seems to involve plodding up endless stone staircases built into hillsides. The most famous set of steps I would guess being the 199 that lead up to the Abbey - except they aren't the Abbey Steps at all, they are I found out today, the steps up to the wonderfully weird St. bMary's. The Abbey just happens to be behind it.

St Mary's is a working church and has been for a very long time. It's a building that looks like it has been partially rebuilt several times. It's had windows hacked into it, while other have been bricked up, it's had extensions added - and demolished, had extensions added to previous extensions (sometimes on top of them). The roof is nowhere near as tall as the original or, at least, a previous one was. (If the east gable end and the lines where the old roof used to sit against tower are anything to by.) It is a building that has, for several centuries at least, been used, abused, remade, attacked, demolished, restored, neglected and endlessly remodled with whatever came to hand by whoever was in charge in the prevailing style of the time. It is, in short, one of the most gloriously unplanned buildings I have seen for a long time, far more interesting than the Abbey. That's one of the things I appreciate about the places we have visited over the last few days. The old towns (ie the touristy bits) of places like Whitby, Staithes, and Robin Hood's Bay were all built in the days before Planners and Planning Laws and Building Regulations and Health and Safety conciderations. They were built by the people who lived and worked in them for their own particular needs. They weren't built to meet some national plan and didn't have to conform to any pan-European minimum requirements. They are very real human environments. Probably absolute Hell to live in at the time. I don't think I could have done it. For one thing I like having a sewage system that doesn't end at my property's boundry, and the thought of having 300 of my close reletives within spitting distance makes me feel positvly ill - but looking at these tightly packed, individualistic buildings all shoed-horned higgledy piggeldy, one on top of another and then, as we drive away, at the well-spaced, des res, and instantly boring monocultures of 'housing developments' around the outsides of these towns, I can't help thinking something has gone seriously wrong with the way we live these days, which is not an original thought, or, indeed, an uncommon one.


The morning was spent being the only four people on a guided tour of The Cleveland Ironstone Mining Museum in the village of Skinningrove, which had the kids (and us) enthralled for an hour. The staff were great. Very friendly helpful and genuinely interesting. Holly was especially chuffed when she got to light the fuse for the explosive charge that blew a new section of rock (a neat piece of theatre which involved lighting the fuse, then retiring to the 'safety' of the Deputee's hut with the sound of a large explosion played over hidden speakers. The Guide then left us for a moment to 'make sure everything was safe' and, while out of our sight, whipped away a false wall to reveal a 'newly blasted' pile of ore. Smoke and convincing gunpowder smells came from somewhere too. Holly is convinced she 'exploded a mine' and has a wee certificate to prove it.
Lunch was had at the delightful Staithes Tea Shop. Which got our custom purely because it was the first place we came to with two hungry and slightly fractious kids on our hands. Like many things over the last few days it reminded me so much of places I remember from my childhood summers. It's a small, cosy little place with great (genuinely) homemade cakes, relays of locals popping in for tea and a chat and keeping up a never-ending conversation and friendly helpful people running it. The kids were incredibly impressed that the one toilet had flowery wallpaper and purple curtains.

Tristram Shandy is turning out to be a Good Read. I loose the thread from time to time. My classical education being somewhat non existant I don't get half of the allusions and references I notice, let alone all the ones I don't even see because I don't recognise them as being references or allusions, but there is enough slapstick and knob jokes to make me laugh out loud and keep turning the pages. I am, so far, managing to ignore the siren calls of all the books I have bought over the last few days. I don't know how I aquire so many books in so short a time. One of my few genuine talents is the ability to find second hands books for sale in the middle of nowhere*.

Wednesday: was proved by our visit to Saltburn today. We'd promised the kids a playing on the sand, buckets and spades, seaside day and, more by luck than any kind of concidered judgement, ended up at the huge sandy expance of Saltburn by the Sea while the tide was out. For the past few days we have been arriving at seaside places at full tide, leaving the kids disappointedl, staring at dead things bobbing about and sluggishly slopping against the bottom of cobbled slipways. Look kids - the sea!
Today we got it right: sun, sand, water all the way over there on the horizon, and a pier to boot. We did the whole British seaside thing but without any of the tons of kit (folding chairs, windbreaks, towels, Thermos flasks full of tepid tea etc. etc. that people usually take). The kids were soon covered in factor 60 sunblock - I think it works by being so tacky that a thick layer of sand sticks to them forming an opaque carapace - and spent the next couple of hours making a whole village for an imaginary ladybird called 'Tulip' (including both primary and secondary schools, and two swimming pools).
After a while I was dispatched/volenteered/ran away, up the usual hillside of a million and one stone steps, to buy some sandwhiches for lunch. The first shop I came to was... a second-hand bookshop, where I squandered a whole pound on a collection of Eric Frank Russell stories I had never heard of before. Merriol was not impressed - or suprised.

*In fishing villages, RNLI lifeboat stations are always a good bet.


Somewhere along the way over the last few years I, or (more likely) Merriol and the kids have developed some element of a Scotttish accent. Twice over the past few days people have identified us as coming from north of the border before asking us where exactly we come from. To be entirely accurate it's three, but the third person recognised our 'Save the Belford' car sticker whan we parked next to her in the middle of nowhere so doesn't count.

To be honest after only a week away I'm getting homesick. It's nice here, Merriol was right we did need a holiday, and she and the the kids seem to be having a good time but I'm getting fed up with the endless procession of shaven headed men wearing white Umbro England shirts and dark blue tracky botttoms with three stripes down the side. Everywhere you look. It's like a national costume. "For Harry, England, and Saint Chav!" - Maybe it's only this area but that's all men under the age of forty seem to wear. (Mind you we are a periliously close to Middlesborough, so that might explain it). To complete the picture most of them accesorise with white trainers, tattoos, and an asthmatic, short-legged, fighting dog on a lead.


Things not to do while on holiday, number 137:

Start to fill your car with unleaded petrol - when it's got a deisel engine.

This act of stupidity came at the end of a long, sticky, sweaty day which involved me doing a lot of driving, the kids getting hot, bored, but suprisingly unwhiney, and Merriol getting fed up with me for asking her directions at inconvenient moments. Immediately after putting a quarter of a tank of the wrong sort of fuel in the car, then filling it up to the top with the right sort of fuel (hoping I had dilluted the wrong sort enough for the engine not to blown up, seize up, or whatever five miles down the road) we drove out to rejoin the motorway only to find the recovery vehicles I had been dimly aware of as we came off the motorway were in fact recovering some sort of fallen over tanker and before we knwe it we were diverted back the way we had come. "Oh great!" I said, "We're on our way back to Hull!" Holly burst into tears. That's the sort of reaction I have about the place and I lived there for 10 years. She'd only been there for the afternoon.

Highlight of the day was The Deep, a huge multi-storey aquarium located in Hull. As I said, I used to live in Hull, it's not a place I ever really wanted to go back to, but it was half way between where we were and where we were going, and I thought the kids would enjoy looking at the fish. Just after we started our walk through what is indeed a spectacular place, Merriol's camera started rattling - and stopped taking pictures.

In the obligatory shop on the way out I spotted an expensive looking, lavishly illustrated book: A Portrait of Hull. I picked it up and flipped through it wondering what a photographic journey round what I remember being, for the most part, a godforsaken dump would look like. The third picture was of a car park.
The Internet! Wonderful thing! I've missed it over the last week.
The True and Thrilling Adventures of Liam on Holiday With His Family - Copiously Illlustrated With Full Colour Pictures of the Author's Own Devising will be published shortly but for the moment I have to go through and delete the million and one French penis extension adverts that have clogged up my inbox over the last few days.

Why anyone thinks I have a French penis is beyond me, but there we go.

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