Sunday, September 27, 2009

(Delayed) Postcards from Dorset

Day 1: The Journey From Hell

My next door neighbour put the mockers on it when he said, "Saturday morning, this time of the year, should get down there with no trouble." If only...
To be fair, the first half of the journey wasn't too bad; we got to Oxford and beyond it with barely a stop, but then we hit a bridge replacement and resurfacing just south of Oxford and north of Newbury. This is where it really started. We left at 10.00am and hit the first patch at 11.20am; we'd got over 70 miles clocked, but the next 30 took us to almost 12.30. I still wasn't worried, but as we approached the M3 we hit a wall of traffic that stretched as far as I could see in front - we were up high, so I could see it all spread in front of me. It then took us over an hour to move 3 miles and when we started again, we needed to stop for a break. The dogs' needed watering and so, to some extent did we.
I opted to push on for the New Forest; pull of around Ringwood and stop for half an hour, but as we hit the M27 we hit another wall of traffic, so we came off at Lyndhurst and figured that was as good a place as any to stop. We headed for The Oak Inn in Bank and took a load off of feet, had a pint and I found a cep.
We headed out of the New Forest at 2.20 and promptly got lost; we eventually met back up with the road we wanted about 3.30 and made good time from that point. We got to Southampton as our company for the week arrived at Wareham station; we were only about an hour behind schedule, but as we were picking them up from the station and had to drop me and the dogs off first we were going to be late. Not quite as late as we thought.
We made up for lots of lost time and got past Wareham at 3.50 only to be hit by a police roadblock. There had been an accident on the only main road from Wareham to Swanage and as we were halfway between the two we had to go cross country. As did every other bastard on the Purbeck Peninsula...
We got to the cottage at 5.10. We were knackered and hungry and the wife went straight back to pick our friends up as the road was now clear - it took her less than half an hour...
That should have been the end to our horrendous first day, but it wasn't. I needed a beer and so did Roger, so we went to a pub in Langton Matravers, which was a bit new and while it sold local ale, I thought there was another pub in the village - there was; it was shit and some wanker in a white van almost took the side of my car off driving like an arsehole down a country lane - he managed to smash my offside wing mirror to pieces though. I decided not to tell the wife about it until the next day...

Day 2: I've (not) been here before...

The OS maps came out and we decided to head off for Kimmeridge Bay in the morning. It was warm and sunny, but from the look of the picture on the left it could easily have been at any time of the year.
I swore I'd been there before; it looked familiar and I even could remember how I'd seen it, but as the wife proved, there was no way at all we could have been there or I could have seen it the way I believed I did as there was no other road leading to the bay and it was on private land and you could only get to it via one road, which I had never been on. I concluded that I must have seen it on a postcard and it stuck as an actual memory, but, you know, the weird feeling is still there. Nice tea shop in the village that would have benefited enormously by being a real ale pub.
From there we headed in land; we needed shopping and Wareham had a Sainsbury's and from there we headed home after a not too long day but one that took in a lot of countryside. Roger and I did the pub thing again and this time found (or in my case re-found) The Square and Compass in Worth Matravers, which is one of the best pubs you will ever go to and then the Scott Arms in Kingston, which we were to discover sold some of the best pub food we've ever experienced.

Day 3: Back to the New Forest

New Forest ponies and at least two of my dogs don't mix, so we had to be selective about where we went and we all thought it might be an idea to do parts of the New Forest that we'd never done before and this we did with ease. It might not be the biggest National Park in the country, but it's certainly the easiest to lose yourself in.
But, we found several nice walks and I found very few mushrooms; the warm and dry weather for the last month had really stymied the mushroom season, yet again, and today was proving to be no exception. Yeah, I found some, but only one that would end up in the pot. Nice bracket though, the one to the left.
The dogs got wigged out by an aged glass collector in Emery Down and almost caused a scene, so we decided to make a quick exit.

Day 4: How the expected ends up being less than expected.

Tuesday was forecast as the warmest day of the week and we decided to take Roger and his other half to Studland, but first we went to a country park in Swanage (but more of that later). Studland beach is world famous; it's owned by the National Trust and it's ideal for dog
walkers (after October 1st) and, oddly enough, naturists. We didn't see any nudists, but we saw plenty of dogs off their leads.
We spent a good hour there, where Marley decided she wanted to bury her mum in the sand. Then we went to the pub I'd been enthusing about all year - the Banks Arms. We'd had a great pub lunch and some excellent beer there three years earlier and figured not much would have changed.
Not much did, apart from there being 9 real ales on sale, none of which were particularly nice and the food menu had changed and we had bugger all choice. In the end, we settled on something neither of us fancied, which turned out to be reasonable in a Bird's Eye Vegetable Fingers kind of way. The dogs also caused a scene when the dray men arrived and scared the shit out of them by dropping barrels out of a van close to the pooches. It ended up being the most disappointing afternoon of the holiday.

However, we did see this, which was the Globe at Dursford Country Park and yes that is the
sea behind it. Dursford has one of the most crazy country parks I've ever seen and it has nothing to do with the National Trust, which has its bonuses. As well as this monstrous great globe of the planet, there are caves, a lighthouse, a castle and some utterly terrifying viewpoints. Plus a nice little cafe that Marley decided was worth checking out...
There are also loads of stone benches, evenly distributed around the park and each one faces in a different direction - no two seats point the same way. As you can see by the sun's reflection on the sea, it was a glorious day and our morning there was much more enjoyable than Studland.

Day 5 - The dull and humid day.

This probably had to be the weirdest day of the holiday. It was very overcast, yet warmer than the preceding two days; it also didn't actually rain but we got the car wet to the point of windscreen wipers a couple of times.
The day started at Lulworth Cove; venue of a previous great holiday and something of an inspiration for me in the past. The place doesn't change much and I suppose that's how the locals (and the World Heritage Trust) like it.
From there all the way over to Bridport; the women wanted to go shopping and I wanted to sit in the garden of the Woodman and drink ale. This is exactly what happened, but Roger insisted on dragging me around Bridport for an hour while we imitated shopping and acted like a gay couple out with our motley hounds. I did everything but mince up the street.
The journey back took us to Chesil Beach; somewhere I'd never actually set foot on. It really is quite an extraordinary bit of tidal peculiarity, as the picture above doesn't really show. On from there and up into the clouds; we took the coast road to Weymouth - a shit awful dump of a town - and ended up driving through clouds; it's like fog but wetter.

Day 6: Chapman's Pool and lunch to die for.

I'm rather pissed off. I took several pictures of this wondrous day and for some reason none of them were on my camera phone when I uploaded them. There was a picture of my jeans, but none of what turned out to be the highlight of the week.
We decided to go to Chapman's Pool, which on the OS map looked like a mini Lulworth Cove but almost completely inaccessible. The trip would involve walking probably a couple of miles and should end up somewhere splendid; at least that's what I was hoping for.
In the end only me, the wife and Roger took the plunge, so to speak, and what a plunge it turned out to be. We missed the direct path down by a matter of feet; Roger even took a photo of the view and missed this new, large, path that had been constructed; so we took the long way and it was much better and infinitely easier to walk along. We then reached the place where the paths divided, Chapman's Pool was down another 100 foot, through gorse and bramble, but a well worn path. Still, we had no real idea of what to expect. When we finally got there we were greeted by a beach, unusual for round there and a cove about a quarter of the size of Lulworth with nothing in it but two boat housings and for some strange and unfathomable reason, a small hatchback car. We stayed there for nearly an hour, the sun blazing down, the dogs swimming and running about like loons and we were virtually alone, except for a man fishing and another couple with a dog.
The journey back was quicker, but much, much harder. We took the short route and my legs are still feeling it now.
From there we went to Kingston, a small village near Corfe Castle and to the Scott Arms. Quite a wonderful pub with possibly one of the best views I've ever seen from a pub garden - Corfe Castle and the surrounding countryside, all sweeping below you. The beer was excellent - DBC's Jurassic and the food was unbelievable. I had the wild mushroom risotto and the wife had sun-blushed tomatoes with pesto linguine and rocket salad, both were exceptional value and at least good quality restaurant standard. We decided that we'd have to come back for lunch again the next day.
I ended up getting quite pissed and let the wife drive, for the first time ever on a holiday, she broke her not driving rule and ferried me back to the cottage.

Day 7: The sun-tanned anti-climax.

We decided that the last day should be about slumming it. We went to Swanage to the world's oddest recycling tip, with the best view ever; we bummed around Swanage town, me sunning myself in the park with the dogs, the others doing their shopping. We went back to Dursford Park and I got wigged out by the unbelievable lack of safety barriers along the cliff walk. I got so bad we had to go back, not because I was scared I'd fall over, but because I just knew Marley probably would go sailing over.
We then went back to the Scott Arms for lunch, which was just as good, before heading to Church Knowle to the animal sanctuary we donate money to annually. Roger and I went to the pub and it was shut. We popped into Corfe for an hour and had the pint we wanted earlier - an almost perfect pint of Summer Lightning, as clear as a bell.
By the time we got home it was later than most of the other days, but we all felt like we'd had a good relaxing and enjoyable holiday. How fucking boring is that?

The journey back was uneventful and took 3 hours and 15 minutes, including a 10 minute stop at Newbury; compared to the 6 hours it took to get down, I was grateful. I discovered that the latest wrinkle in my shoulder saga hasn't gone away and I now have an almost unbearable numbness that creeps into my upper left arm. I'm also convinced it aint fixed properly. I also found out that if I sit in the car for too long my right leg all but seizes up. Jesus, I'm going to be a bundle of laughs if I make it to 70+...

Now, I have another weeks holiday. As much as I hate the fact I've only been back at work 3 weeks and I'm off for another 2 again, I have so much leave to use up... I expect I won't do anything that I'd really like to do and I'll be wishing I was back at work by Thursday...

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Of loss and prawn cocktails

Or Week-ending Odds n Sods...

It's been a bizarre week in many ways. It started a bit like summer and it's ending with me sitting here in no less than 3 layers - September has arrived like a March. I started the week with more friends than I finished it with - and amazingly that isn't a reference to my job - which I have learned in the past is something I don't ever discuss on these pages. But, my return to work was just about every one of my worst paranoid nightmares come true - and on the whole it could have been much better...

It's been a week of change for some of my friends. Tonight, an old friend came round for a cuppa and seems reborn. She's is on the verge of finally walking away from a loveless and at times terrifying relationship that has been going on almost as long as my own terrifying (but for different reasons) relationship. It was a remarkable change in many ways and left me hoping this wasn't a false start. I've seen people in similar situations who still end up staying put.

I watched a film that could well be the best film I've seen in the last 20 years. District 9 just happens to be an extraordinary SF film that could just appeal to people who hate anything SF, fantasy or horror related. Yes, it's choc-a-bloc full of aliens, weird technology and almost impenetrable South African accents, but it's just fucking brilliant. Take away the aliens and the technology and this could be a desperate tale of apartheid.

On Monday, I argued with a good friend; one of my dearest. It was the culmination of weeks of growing anger between both of us. You know how it is, sometimes someone special or important in your life and you start to see things slightly differently and instead of doing the sensible thing and sorting it out, it ends up driving a widening wedge into a tiny, repairable wound. I think its human nature to take things too far sometimes. Plus, there's always a victim, whether it's between friends, lovers, husband & wife or a couple in a 50 year friendship - one person will at some point feel that not enough is being done by the other. I've had friendships where I've felt I've done all the hard work and I'm sure the same could be said vice versa. The mind is a powerful weapon against your own well-being and once you start to lose trust in someone, your brain will exacerbate the inkling - the brain is a fantastic place to grow things; not just positive imaginative things, but dark and negative ones too.

This falling out can be blamed on many things; both of us are probably trying very hard to out-justify the other in our own heads; but it boiled down to one thing in the end - honesty or the lack of it. But its difficult when you're as tenacious, as I am at times, to sit back and take things as they come and I had a little too much time on my hands to dwell on miscommunications and false expectations. It's horrible being let down, for whatever reason it might be, but sometimes the fall out is much worse...

Subsequently, that and a dreadful pub lunch experience and a thundering headache spoiled Bank Holiday Monday and flowed into the Tuesday - my last day before returning to work - meaning that most of the good intentions I had about my final days of sick note land failed to materialise.

However, things perked up on Thursday when I met up with someone I hadn't seen for nearly a year - proving to me at least that times flies far too fast the older you get. For Cam, it seemed like ages since the last time we saw each other, for me it seemed like yesterday we were in a studio in North London being photographed for another weird and wonderful picture by my old buddy Mitch. Cam's 24, so that probably explains why the last 11 months seemed much longer than they did for me - but I have all manner of time theories that I can't be arsed to go into. Much was consumed and I discovered a new meaning to the word 'special'.

I remember saying recently that I'd had one of the best weeks of the year; despite not having had anyone die for a while and not having the pain and stress I've suffered for best part of 2009, and despite meeting up with an old friend and having some good times; this week has been one of the worst, not just in 2009 but for many years. It's been bad in a mentally debilitating way. It's been a week to sap your confidence; for delivering damaging metaphoric body blows and if I wasn't trying to be so (unusually) positive about things, I probably would have been reaching for the antidepressants again.

Talking about pain; my left arm hates me. It's going through a series of exercises to rebuild the muscle that has wasted away over the last few months and despite me only having a flimsy bright pink stretchy thing (I'm moving to a green one on Thursday) it's proving to be bloody hard work and at times it leaves me with a dull ache, not to different from the dull ache I started to get back in December. Or in other words, I'm still not entirely convinced about Mr S*****'s 100% fixed proclamation. That's probably a mixture of fear and resignation that I can't be lucky enough to have something done quick, efficiently and without further complications - I still find it too easy to take the glass half empty route...

On a more positive note - Roger and I found a decent pub hosting a small but perfectly formed beer festival. The Red Lion in Broughton (near Kettering) is yet another pub we've found in the county that seems to be abandoning 16 lagers and John Smiths in favour of something a little more palatable and real. Lovely old building, very friendly landlord and it looks like it has potential to be a potential eatery (but I won't hold my breath about that).

I somehow suspect the next week could get worse than the one just gone and current circumstances are hardly going to make me a nice passive bystander. I need, yes I really am going to say this, a holiday. Ideally 2 weeks on a Caribbean beach with no hurricanes forecast; so Dorset in mid-September will have to suffice.

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

The Passion of Lovers (Part 2)

More football meanderings, so just move along until next time...

It's an international break and nearly 2 weeks without club football again, so i thought I'd look over my predictions made at the start of August and see if I've got anything really wrong:

Manchester United - right - said they'd be there or thereabouts and I see no reason why not. No longer convinced they can win it easily though, but that's a prediction made at my peril.

Chelsea - wrong-ish - at the moment they look capable of winning the league without a new big signing.

Liverpool - right - need quality outside of the Fugitive and the Pin-Up boy; too many hiccups already.

Arse-nal - right - I said anyone would be stupid to write them off.

Citeh - woefully wrong - they already look capable of not conceding a goal, ever and they have strength in depth.

Aston Villa - probably wrong - said they were most likely to break the Top 4 but despite beating the Red Shite at Anfield, I'm not convinced this team can keep up with the pace that others are setting.

Everton - right-ish - said they'd struggle for consistency and if their 65 games so far is anything to go by, then yes, they will.

West Ham, Fulham - right-ish - two teams where it really is too early to tell.

Blackburn, Bolton, Portsmouth - right on the nose - all three look like relegation material and will just hope there are others worse.

Sunderland - wrong - have had a solid start to the season and are showing signs of resilience.

Burnley - wrong - could be this year's Hull.

Wigan, Birmingham, Hull - right - all woeful strugglers, Birmingham look the most capable of putting up a fight, the other two will be on the receiving end of good hidings lots of times.

Stoke - wrong - look like being this year's Stoke, but better and with players that can win games in their side, which is remarkable, because this is Stoke.

Wolves - jury's out - I still think they'll go down, but they might have teams below them now.

Tottenham - WRONG - 4 leagues wins out of 4, a 5-1 demolition in the cup of Doncaster and have been top of the league and are now 2nd on goals scored. It couldn't get any better and what can possibly go wrong? Modric has broken his leg; King has torn a groin muscle; four other players are unlikely to return before October. Man Utd and Chelsea are next and the realist in me knows that 2 points would be sensational.

Back to work tomorrow, so all this frivolity may stop!