Tuesday, 21 October 2008


My toaster, like all toasters, is a fickle beast, and like all toasters, has Various Settings. One is for Pale and Uninteresting, another is for Perfect!, the third is for Charred, and the fourth for Smoke and Flames.

It seems others appliances within this household have taken note of the toaster's antics.

Last week, for example, the water pump which turns our bore hole water from meager trickle to mighty, er, trickle, changed its normal habit of being Irritatingly Noisy to one of Slightly Explosive.

Meanwhile the bathroom extractor fan, usually Irritatingly Whiny, became Oddly Quiet.

Today the washing machine, an elderly beast of at least a decade, discovered a setting for Shock and Awe.

Finally, Granny in the Annexe, discovered a new setting on her computer screen: Elegant, But Alarming, Plume of Smoke.

What's next? Who knows! My money's on the fridge freezer, normally Chilled or Ice Cool, discovering Alarmingly Warm or Flood.


Friday, 17 October 2008

Do you remember...?

Do you remember chalk hearts melting on a playground wall?
Do you remember dawn escapes from moon washed college halls?
Do you remember the cherry blossom in the market square?
Do you remember I thought it was confetti in our hair?
Kayleigh by Marillion (Misplaced Childhood, 1985)

I don't normally quote lyrics; I find them a little too much like poetry which can be - like the bible or Shakespeare - a little like someone scraping their nails down a blackboard. But these lyrics (and their accompanying tune) have been floating around in my head today.

Because today found me in Aberystwyth meeting new friends and having a terrific day all round. For me Aber is mired in nostalgia. I spent three years there as a student from 1987 to 1990 (BSc Agricultural Economics) and it hit me today, 20 years later, just how happy I was there.

It's odd to go back there now. I kept expecting one of my bunch of friends to pop up. Outisde the bank, for example, which was then Midland and is now HSBC, or on the sea front.

I found it extraordinarily poignant standing at the north end of the sea front opposite where the Sea View hotel used to stand - I say used to because it burned down a few years ago. There was a big Great Dane dog there and it was where we'd go for last orders. I remember a mad evening there with Sue and Ant and a hippopotamus puppet while Sam Brown sang "Stop" in the background. And someone lived there who I was particularly fond of for a while.

It was odd, too, walking past the sea front halls - Carpenter, Ceredigion, Plynlimon - looking up at the rooms where Fran, Sue, Tracy and Sarah lived and to see that the former Padarn Hall on the corner of Great Darkgate Street where Neill lived is now home to Corals the bookies.

Rummers Wine Bar is still there, tucked into its cosy nook by the bridge over the river. I wonder if it still serves foaming jugs of Stella to thirsty students. It had the best bar staff in Aber too, I've only seen better in kilts in Scotland.

Odd to walk past front doors that used to mean home and whose keys used to rattle in my pocket; the house at the bottom of Constitution Hill where I lived for a term in my third year and Frondeg in Portland Street where I lived for two years.

The town is chock full of the ghosts of Christmas past. Memories of running down the sea front in a ball gown and stilettos; the daily slog up Penglais hill to the campus; walking down to town from the students union at night on the white line in the middle of the road to avoid the rapists in the bushes; sitting in my room in Portland Street in the summer with my legs hanging out of the window as I bashed out another essay; the telephone box at the bottom of Constitution Hill where students would queue to phone home and beg for money.

The sea is a big memory too: Crashing onto the pebbly beach, spray clearing the sea front buildings and coming into our kitchen window two streets in; the night we had a really high tide and the sea came in through the front door; the snorkeler who scared me across the road once (I thought he was a dead body, floating in the sea); walking Richie home to Alex Hall after watching a horror film at the cinema (Alex Hall was a bit too Gothic in the dark, even for a big rugby player!)

I remember the days we couldn't walk on the sea front because the weather was too windy or the sea was too rough; and the storm in October 1987 when I ran home to Frondeg through the streets as slates rained down on the road from the roofs high above me.

Gosh, so many memories. Listening to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon at night in a car parked on the sea front with someone whose name escapes me now; buying bars of Galaxy and bottles of Coke from Arkwright's after a night in the pub; walking up Constitution Hill on Sunday with a hangover; fending off insults as I walked through the fair in my army kit on TA night; dancing with (another) Richie at the football club on a Saturday night; making popcorn in Frondeg's kitchen in a frying pan without a lid (we'd had wine).

Those three years passed in a blink of an eye. I remember Andy saying one night, probably in Rummers, before we graduated, that we would never have it all again; that we would go our separate ways and lose touch with each other, that life would move on and grown-up things like careers and mortgages, families and children, would take over.

He was right, of course, but I think, at the time, we probably just said: "Nah!" and ordered another jug of Stella.

Friday, 3 October 2008


I had one of those evenings last night, you know one of those evenings where everything is full of sinister danger. Outside was a howling torment of wind and rain, inside was all a rattle and a tattle of doors and window frames. It was a bit like being at sea in a big, dark creaking galleon.

So I decided to watch Spooks series one on DVD. Now I'm not the bravest of watchers, it has to be said. I'm okay with things like the Tellytubbies and In the Night Garden, but real proper horror, such as Eastenders and Casualty, scares me witless.

Odd, then, that I should have developed a passion for Spooks. Odder still that I should choose to watch Series One completely on my own while Brian suffered a late shift at work.

So, there I was, crouching terrified on the sofa, half hidden behind a cushion as hero Spook Tom and his attractive blond colleague had their husband and wife cover blown and were in mortal peril. To non-Spooks watchers, said pretty blond then comes to a sticky end courtesy of a deep fat fryer (face first) and a hand gun (which, after the frying incident, was probably the kindest thing to do).

All pretty shocking really, at least for the easily shocked such as myself.

So, I was already in a pretty sensitive state when suddenly my peripheral vision caught sight of Something Nasty walking along my leg in a very furtive and particularly creepy fashion. In a nano-second a blood curdling scream had issued forth while I swatted the beast off.

Once I had restarted my heart and ceased the screaming business, I thought it sensible a) to check exactly what the foul beast had been; and b) to establish whether it was alive or dead.

So I followed its elegant trajectory and found: a shrimp.


Yes, a real, live shrimp, or, to be exact, one of the algae eating shrimps from the fish tank.

"You bastard!" I yelled unkindly at the tiny crustacean.

"Boing," it did back.

Now we paused for a moment of the heebie jeebies, probably on both parts, before I pulled myself together, fetched the goldfish landing net from the cupboard and recaptured the beast. It took three goes, the shrimp being of a bouncy persuasion, but I finally had it in custody and returned it to its tank in the dining room.

In the dining room?

Oh yes. Said shrimpy was a whole room away from home, the wrong side of a closed door.


Now that's a very good question indeed. To get from the tank in the dining room to my lap in the living room is the shrimp equivalent of walking from here in the Preselis to the tip of Everest in Nepal.

So he/she is back in the tank again after his/her adventure. I had a good look to make sure that his/her wife/husband/life partner was also still in the tank too. He/she/it was. After all, one shrimpy shock during an evening of Spooks is enough for anyone.