The Age of the Swan

Deep in darkest Dorset is the delightful coastal town of Swanage where, like most British seaside towns, time has stood still. During my tour of seaside towns I’ve noticed this is common place. For example, Douglas and the Isle of Man are trapped in a Scarfolkesque late 50s early-60s time bubble, Scarborough in a weird pre/post-mining eighteen/nineteen eighties decay, Skegness screams nineties revival, while Margate and Torquay languish in a struggling time recession of post-industrial Britain 1986.

IMG_2944.JPGSwanage however sits in a semi forgotten hauntological time zone where grandparents who, having retired to the seaside, now live. Independent shops,  discrete amusement arcades and a well kept promenade with formal gardens show that Swanage is the Utopia of seaside towns. Even the pier, currently undergoing refurbishment, lacks the usual British Pier atmosphere of kiss-me-quick hats, the aroma of fresh doughnuts and the sound of wailing kids.

IMG_3016.JPGGetting to Swanage is probably best when approached from the east. Catching the chain ferry from the Sandbanks area of the conurbation of Poole-cum-Bournemouth, is like catching a ferry to some foreign country only without the need for border or passport checks. Indeed, once you arrive in Studland, even the landscape looks alien making you feel like you’ve gone abroad for the bargain price of £4.50. Then when the weirdly independent town of Swanage comes into view, the feeling of being in some weird off shore British island like Jersey, the Isle of Man or White is stronger. Moreover, possibly the biggest difference to other typical British seaside towns is the regularly audible and familiar toot and chuff of a steam engine for Swanage is home to the Swanage steam railway. Unlike Douglas in the Isle of Man, steam is not the main form of public transport to neighbouring areas in Swanage, it is, however, the easiest way to get to the eerie Corfe Castle.

IMG_2991.JPGThe crumbling edifice of Corfe Castle looms out of the sea mist and inspires thoughts of knights, kings, princes and dirty peasants. Some say it inspired Enid Blyton’s Kirrin Castle in her Famous Five books, but you really could say that about any of the castles in the area indeed, it is clear to see why the area attracts coach loads of tourists and often the tiny streets of Corfe Castle village are riven with ambling shufflers gawping at every nook and cranny, some unable to comprehend the age of the place when compared to their own country’s history.

IMG_2954.JPGFurther into Dorset one can also visit, by contrast, the town of Weymouth with its award winning beach. However, step beyond the hustle and bustle of the Blackpoolesque promenade and enter the ramshackle and tatty environs of the town, one can clearly see how lack of investment in seaside towns has become detrimental to the social community and infrastructure at large. Empty high street shops, lumbering shufflers and decaying buildings. Tattoo and massage parlours, the miasma of cooking takeaways and openly smoked cannabis, the sight of drugged up beggars and opportunist criminals highlights the betray and decay of a society through lack of investment promised by successive local government officials who no doubt only visit the area when official business requires their presence.

IMG_2947.JPGHowever all is not entirely gloomy. The Bill of Portland where Portland stone is still quarried is nearby, where it too attracts coaches of tourists with its lighthouse and scenery. As a young boy I would look longingly at my wall hung A0 map of the UK while listening to BBC Radio 4’s Shipping Forecast and try to imagine how sweater wearing bearded seaworn gentlemen would be struggling against the elements while putting on their Sou’westers and galoshes. The reality is dramatic but features no stereotypical fishermen these days.

Another location worth a visit and one that also the young Stegzy would dream about visiting is Chesil Beach; a unique natural heritage site where one can observe for ones self the effects of coastal erosion on stones. As well as an expanse of stones stretching out towards West Bay and Exmoor, there is a fantastic visitors centre which hopefully will inspire other young people to enhance their knowledge about the natural coastal forces and nature.

Back at Swanage as the sea mist rolls inland and the occasional eerie toot of steam train is heard, the contrast of investment in coastal areas is plain to see. From the modernist style of the cinema/theatre the Mowlem, to the well kept promenade with discrete amusment arcades. It seems the regions tourist board relys heavily on the natural wonders of the Isle of Purbeck, and why not! A visit to the nearby Durlston Country Park and Anvil Head will no doubt summon thoughts of misplaced childhood adventures, perhaps exploring the long closed Tilly Whim Caves or scrambling over the rocks to Anvil Head Lighthouse.

In all Swanage is very genteel. A relaxing locale for those more interested in nature and natural beauty over rowdy bars and vomit soaked pavements. I’d definately go back.

Eastern Sojourns

[Cross posted from Livejournal with some editing and adjustments to text]

Ever so the romantic, to celebrate our third wedding anniversary, I took my dear wife to the East Coast the other weekend. The British seaside has a magnetic appeal no matter what time of year you visit. Bleak, grey sands lapped by a cold grey sea set against the crumbling facade of decaying Victoriana.

Perfect.

However, while the golden heyday of the British Seaside is still in living memory and some areas having received European regeneration money, the decay of neglect has been spreading deeper because of cash strapped council cuts. It is sad, like the passing or deterioration of an old friend, the end of a cultural pillar, but still there is a fondness for the seaside. Indeed,  while some places like Scarborough, Brighton and Blackpool still remain popular, others like Bridlington, Cleethorpes, Margate and Weston-Super-Mare show the cracks and devastation of a lack of investment. I’ve visited most of the British coast now I’m in adulthood, enjoying all that the little towns and villages have to offer while observing with an educated eye, the places once popular with the masses, the places once money making engines, now clinging on with Damoclean effort.

Of course it’s not just the big towns that appeal to me, the smaller lesser known towns that started to form their own resorts only for them to falter with the arrival of mass international transport also appeal. As it is, I’ve always wanted to visit the Humber Coast, so with places still left to visit running out and the cost of getting to the Isle of Wight more expensive than staying two nights there, I thought a trip to the Bridlington area was in order.

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Our journey began with a trip to Hornsea. Despite the cold, it was quite busy for a half-term and the promenade was quite busy. Even the fish and chip restaurant we stopped at for lunch appeared to have been busy with grandparents treating their visiting grandchildren to a half-term treat.

Hornsea is a nice quiet little town. Some of the once proud guest houses have been converted into old peoples homes but there are also lots of lovely houses there and well maintained public areas too.   I was further overjoyed to see a Cooplands still functioning in the town too, indeed, I was able to convince the wife to treat me to a post-lunch Yorkshire delicacy, a Curd Tart, from there.

IMG_2801After lunch and a walk around Hornsea, we scooted up the coast towards Bridlington. Bridlington is kind of like a mini-Scarborough. It consists of two bays, North and South separated by the old port with an even older town slightly out of the main centre. The north side of the harbour town towards the Pavillion peters out into amusement arcades and fairgrounds, most of which, being out of season, were closed. Meanwhile, the southside, toward the former spa, beholds guesthouses (former and existing), fish and chip shops and the main residential areas.

There had been some regeneration of the south side. Lots of glass and concrete with shared spaces for vehicles and pedestrians. I couldn’t help thinking that whoever on the council agreed to the “Glass and Concrete” mix obviously hadn’t thought of vandals and the longevity of such materials. I can’t see this lasting as long as the structures they replaced.

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Hornsea is where the TransPennine Route starts
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Strange Monuments no doubt to pagan rituals performed here
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Even the waste paper baskets are on poles
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In Bridlington, Padding pools on the seafront looking cold and blue in the cold and grey
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Just in case you like to play in paddling pools during storms…
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Looking North towards Flamborough
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Bridlington Tower provides glorious views to those up high
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Every East Coast town has a Jolly Fisherman
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Uffington has a white horse, Bridlington has a craply drawn cock
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The Gansey Girl
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The pavillion was once were the gentry would drink, dine and dance
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Sea-view from the hotel
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In the old town
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Old town butcher
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Even older is the gatehouse to the old priory which was demolished by Britains own Donald Trump, Henry VIII
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The priory church of Bridlington. Closed for refurbishment.

The next day, we headed up the coast to Filey. Filey is a lot smaller than Bridlington but more grand. Georgian terraces atop the steep terraced cliff gardens leading down to the promenade where hotels, both newly refurbished and in the process of refurbishment, indicate a prospective gentrification of the area. Again, the front seems to have received a large sum of European grant money and no doubt a great deal of the residents that live there were so thankful for this they voted to leave the EU.

Still, that money brought lovely gardens and statues.

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Terraced Filey to the left
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Terraced Filey to the right
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See! Another fisherman!
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Filey drinking fountain similar to one in Scarborough
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Yet another jolly seaside fisherman
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More Georgian Filey

Further into the excursion, we headed south again, this time for Flamborough Head for lunch. Such a beautiful place.

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Flamborough Head Lighthouse
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Holey cliffsides Batman!

We stopped briefly at Sewerby Hall for a post lunch exploration where there were exhibitions on Amy Johnson and Bridlington’s past. One part of the Bridlington exhibition allowed visitors to add their own postcard to the display.

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I’m sure Boodica has a very healthy diet

We then headed further south again, past Hornsea towards Withernsea and Spurn Head. Withernsea is a lot more run down than Hornsea and it looks like it is getting the last of the European regeneration money as work still appeared to be going on. A once grand pier head is all that remains of Withernsea pier and this stands proud like an erection at a nudist camp. There was an amusement arcade, sadly closed for the winter season, and a lighthouse in the town centre which made for distinctive landmarks.

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Withernsea now
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Withernsea then
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I see you Clem Lighthouse

Hoardings decorated with old pictures of the area  hid municipal works from the general public and showed what Withernsea once looked like. If Bridlington was a budget Scarborough, Withernsea was once a kind of budget Bridlington. However, it looks like a stray Hull bound bomb during World War II took out a fair bit of the grand livery and the town never really recovered.

Finally we ended our day trip at Spurn Head by driving through the Quatermass II like gas interchange at Easington. “Police” cars disguised as security guards buzzed our little car as it travelled along the PUBLIC highway through the interchange. No doubt high powered antenna and listening devices were pointed at us hoping to determine whether we were a threat to the public and several sinister government databases were also searched to ensure we were not ne’er-do-wells. But the reward was a lovely sunset at Spurn though sadly not to right to the end as that involved a three mile walk and we needed to be back in Bridlington for dinner.

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Spurn Head

 

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Wales, Wails and Whales

Before I blather on about how amazing Wales is I’d like to point out two important things.

1. On the subject of the Russian provoked LJ to Dreamwidth exodus: – I’m there as Stegzy too (http://stegzy.dreamwidth.org) although I rarely post there because I forget to do so but feel free to add if you are there. Alternatively, you can follow me on Blogspot (http://stegzy.blogspot.com or ) although, to be fair, you’ll only get to see articles and social media posts that I like there.

2. Did you know that Smart Cars come with a free invisibility cloak? Similarly, Mercedes cars come with automatic road ownership deeds it seems.

Anyway. Wales.

Wales – that crinkly bit that keeps the West Midlands away from the sea. The bumpy bit that keeps Cheshire cheesy and the coaly bit that kept Cardiff busy for a couple of hundred years. That’s where I’ve been.

If you’ve read this journal long term, you’ll already be familiar with my love affair with the place but usually, I either float between the Llyn Peninsula, Anglesey or South Wales. This trip, however, we loitered with intent at the foot of Snowdon, in the glorious Conway valley while using the peaceful former fishing village that’s soon to be the front garden of a nuclear powerstation, Cemaes Bay as a base to launch a sortie into Llandudno before scooting up the coast via Rhyl towards Liverpool.

Our journey began early Good Friday morning when, fortified with chocolate porridge, I drove (invisibly) north via the sat-nav’s “Shortest route” which eventually seemed to want to take us through the heart of Coventry. “Stuff that!”, I thought and quickly joined the M6 at Walsgrave and navigating by memory westward along the M54 bypassing Telford and Shrewsbury.

First stop was at the mysterious often cloud bound lake of Llyn Brenig. I first visited Llyn Brenig over thirty years ago with my Aunt Joyce. I remember the visit fondly especially as it was in the visitors centre there that she bought me a memorable puzzle book which featured a maze through a haunted house. More recently, Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 and I made a return visit to Llyn Brenig around 1999 where I was pleased to see that the visitors centre hadn’t changed, the shop still sold cool books and there was an informative exhibition detailing pre-Cambrian times, dinosaurs and ice ages and how they were important in supplying water to modern day homes in Wales.


Llyn Brenig hasn’t changed in over 3000 years

As with all things, the sands of time have been harsh to Llyn Brenig. While the scenery hasn’t changed much, it seems that the visitors centre has. The exhibition, once so informative, is now reduced to a rotary leaflet cage and a couple of dodgy looking poster boards in an entrance hall; the vast majority of the floor space now given over to a new bright and airy cafe selling a range of trendy coffees and cakes. Mrs Gnomepants V2.0  seemed to enjoy it though, especially after a brisk wind lashed walk along the lakeside together.

Back to the car, we drove further north towards Bodnant Garden. Bodnant too has changed since my last visit nearly 15 years previous. The once dominant faux-Swiss log cabin cafe with the gorgeous cakes has now been replaced with a flimsy looking wooden shed like structure, sadly now lacking the gorgeous cakes.

One bonus change about Bodnant is that visitors no longer have to take risks with their own lives by attempting to cross the road from the carpark to the actual gardens. Now you can cross in safety by taking the tunnel under the road while trying to visualise where the dominant faux-Swiss log cabin has gone and whether those fifteen year old cakes were actually just a dream (surely no-one could really make profiteroles the size of cricket balls).

Another change about Bodnant is the footprint of the gardens. Since my last visit, new areas have opened up and there are some really interesting juxtapositions of man-made and natural landscapes enhanced by the lovely rhododendrons and other flora.

After a quick lunch and an even briefer lesson in Welsh at the disappointing cake sporting shed, we jumped back in the car again and yet again drove (invisibly) north then west along the A55 to the delightful Cemaes Bay.

We last stayed in Cemaes in 2011 but it seems I was starting a new job around that time so long pieces of prose took a back seat. It hasn’t changed much. Some of the quaint little village high street shops have shut but everything else seemed almost the same. The hotel, mostly unchanged. The high street, mostly unchanged. The strange elderly man with his unusual tick, mostly unchanged. The quaint quay (or was it a jetty), mostly unchanged. The little kitten following us down the lane, mostly a different kitten. The peace and tranquility juxtaposed against the crying seagulls, lapping waves and irritating yapping from a distant dog. Lovely.

Equally lovely and unchanged (mostly) is Llandudno where we visited the following morn. A killer wind prevented (yet again) a cable car trip down the Great Orme. It has been thirty five years since I last travelled down the Great Orme by cable car. This time Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 and I caught the cute Victorian cable tram down the hill into the town.


Llandudno – Where the old go to die (and have a holiday).

Llandudno is where old Scousers go to die, much like how Worthing is where Brighton pensioners go and Scarborough is where old biddies from Leeds, Wakefield and Sheffield go. A massive Victorian seaside retirement town complete with remains of ornate gardens, grand hotel and a pier selling ice cream to wailing and demanding grandchildren.

You can see how Llandudno was once a grand place where the wealthy would adjourn to during the summer months following a busy year promenading around the city. Big former hotels, big wide sweeping boulevards and avenues, now largely an amount of old buildings just waiting to accidentally on purpose catch fire, be pulled down and turned into luxury flats.

From Llandudno we nipped back over the Conwy estuary to Conwy. A delightful town within a castle’s walls. I always think of Conway as being much bigger than it actually is. It isn’t big at all though. Consisting of about five short narrow main streets and the UK’s smallest house. The town is enhanced only by the constant throng of gawping tourists mooching around the place making everything expensive.


Conwy – Small and full of tourists

On this visit I managed to locate the UK’s smallest house and, as a bonus trick, was also able to visit Thomas Telford’s bridge and tollhouse. Such an amazing feat of engineering. I often feel that Telford is overlooked because of Brunel yet all Brunel did was make a railway that nobody could use and build three massive ships that bankrupted him. At least the majority of Telford’s legacies are still used, and he has a town named after him. Meanwhile most of Brunel’s creations are now reincarnated as tins of beans and a bit of Bristol.

We headed back to Anglesey and dined on mountain of fried seafood before sloping back to the hotel. The mountain of fried seafood was well worth every penny but it saddens me that mountains of fish are not as freely available in the UK as they are in other parts of the world. I sometimes wish I could go on a Mountains of Fried Seafood tour of the world. Perhaps when I’m a millionaire. Or retired. Or fed up of the sight of Fried Seafood.


It took 4 experienced climbers to rescue me from the top of this mound

The next morning I fulfilled my threat of taking Mrs Gnomepants V2.0  to Rhyl. If you’ve never been to Rhyl, you’re lucky. Rhyl was once a place where elderly Scousers went to die. Now it is where elderly scousers who live most of the year in static caravans go to die. Indeed, as if to illustrate Rhyl’s level, we espied a family happily having their midmorning cigarettes on the veranda of their static with a view of the main road while dressed in their nightwear. Awesome.


I didn’t leave her there honest!

I felt your presents

Or so said Darth to Luke.

Presents are a funny old game. Not being someone to want to appear ungrateful, normally I’ll smile and thank who ever got me what ever and appear interested or passionate about what ever they have got me. I think, generally, it is possible to classify presents into ten categories. These being:-

 

1 Corker – An absolutely fantastic present. One that has been bought with great forethought and careful selection. They tend to be a bit of a surprise though they need not be expensive or nastily cheap. Typically they would be the type of item you didn’t even know you needed or existed just that now you know they exist and you just can’t wait to take it out of the box or package and utilise it.

2 The Wow – A present with surprise. They’re the sort of gift that makes you exclaim “Just what I’ve always wanted!” and you actually mean it. You’ve hankered after one of these items for ages and you’d promised yourself that one day you would treat yourself to one. Again, they need not be overly expensive or cheap. The kind of item that makes you beam with contentment for hours.

3 The Ooh – Another present with surprise. You’ve been aware of the items existence but you’ve never really been passionate about it. One of those things you’ve put off getting because you couldn’t be arsed about really, but it’s still nice now to have one. Now you’ve got one you exclaim an ooh. Still saves you going out and having to choose one for yourself

4 The Ah – A item which you typically already own. But no matter you could do with a new one because the other is now a bit tatty. It could even be a better model of whatever the item is, but your sentimentallity for the original is strong and you’ll probably hold onto the old one for spares.

5 The Mmmm – Typically these items are things you already own but the gift is an inferior one. But, not wanting to seem ungrateful you accept it graciously and with thanks.

6 The Oh dear – You’ve already got one again. In fact you went and got one for yourself only the other day. Still the thought was nice

7 The Gah – You never wanted one. If you did you’d have gone out and got one and probably got a better one. Still you smile graciously and secretly plan on taking the fucker back to the shop for a refund. If you’re not careful your feeling might just slip and the benefactor, who is watching you intently to see your reaction, could just spot your disgust.

8 The Eh? – These tend to be bizarre gifts. Like what was the benefactor thinking? Did they think you’d really enjoy this? Still again, you don’t want to appear ungrateful. Then in a few weeks you’ll shove it on Ebay or swap or flog it to a mate down the pub for something you need more because there’s no way any shop in it’s right mind will take back whatever the item is. Hell shops probably don’t even sell them.

9 The Fuck me – Similar to the “Eh?” only with the added embarrassment of you actually involuntarily expressing your reaction. Typically these are items where the benefactor has more than likely just ran into the shop to buy on their way to give it to you. They’ve probably gone “Oh fuck I never got so-and-so a present. OMG What shall I get them? They’re typically the kind of thing that are left in shop’s aisle bargain baskets in February this time marked down or even on offer (eg 2for1). They are a clear indicator that to them (the benefactor) you are just an afterthought.

10. The What the Fuck is this? – The benefactor is obviously trying to palm off items that they have been given last year. Things they never wanted. To them they are probably Gahs or Ehs though occasionally they might even be Fuck mes. Such gifts are indicative of strained relationships. Surely they’d have been better off getting you a gift voucher….

Of course this list is not exhaustive. There are probably further categories that one can define but I like my taxonomy (it was a gift) and I’m sure you’ll agree with most of them. Indeed, you may have your own similar taxonomy (which I would love to hear about) but then you might not.

An apology and a ride on a cushion of air

Such a shame I didn’t have time to continue the advent calendar thing. The run up to Christmas became far too manic for me to do anything regular and weekend after weekend just had me doing non-internetty things (like World of Warcraft). Anyway, a Christmas and birthday was had during the hiatus. Which was nice.

So today I used the birthday present that Amazing Wife of the Future bought me. It was a Hovercraft Experience at High Cross Hovercraft in Leicester. Aparently hovercrafting is much more popular than you think and there are competitions and courses all over the UK. Someone asked whether you could use a hovercraft on a canal which would be really cool if you ask me. Sadly you can only use hovercrafts on tidal waters/estuaries and privately owned bodies of water.

Anyway, here is a picture of me looking at a hovercraft with a bunch of people, because, dispite knowing that the event was today, I didn’t remember to charge my GOPRO+3 and Amazing Wife of the Future’s iPhone 5 ran out of battery as did my iPhone 4s. Such is life.

Looking at how to pilot a hovercraft in the rain.

Driving (or should that be piloting) a hovercraft is a difficult thing to do really. First off you’ve got to put your weight into the turn you want to make. I suspect this didn’t matter on the old cross Channel hovercrafts that ran from Dover (if you went on that can you confirm that passengers didn’t all have to lean into the turn?) but on the smaller individual hovercrafts you have to kind of do the opposite of what you might do with riding a motorbike, that is, lean into the direction you want to go.

Following a bit of training I did two loops of a circuit in the pissing down rain which was great fun before returning to a drier but bored Zoe. A good day, a fab experience and another thing off my bucket list.

Let’s see….Modes of transport I have done:-

Helicopter
Hovercraft
Car
Motorbike
Push bike
Pram
Scooter
Sit on lawnmower
Cruiseship
Airplane
Surfboard (partially)
Rowing boat
Bus
Train
Cable car
Rollercoaster

Christmas Music – Day 7 of 24

Walking in the Air – Various Artists

Another song that does my head in.

Written by Howard Blake for Raymond Briggs’ The Snowman in 1978 and played ad nauseam ever since. Covered by all and sundry. Even the film does my nut these days.

Walking in the Air has as much to do with Christmas as Ding Dong the Witch is Dead in that the only connection to Christmas is that it is part of a film traditionally shown at Christmas. But still it invokes the imagery of the festive season. For some.

Christmas Music – Day 6 of 24

Baby it’s Cold Outside – Various Artists

Creepy older guy sings to younger impressionable female who is trying to get out of the guys house. Older guy tries his best to dissuade her from leaving and going on her way.

Continue reading “Christmas Music – Day 6 of 24”

Christmas Music – Day 5 of 24

Winter Wonderland – Various Artists

Oh my pants. This song is so cringe-worthy I can’t believe that people still play it.

Nobody walks in an atypical winter wonderland per this songs lyrics. When was the last time you walked in snow? It’s not so much a walk, its either a trudge (deep snow) or a bit of a flail (that icy bollocks shallow snow) as you try to maintain your balance.

Nobody walks in snow. Sure when it first falls it’s nice and crisp and glisteny. Yes its fun to chuck lumps of it at passing people. It’s fun to build androgynous phallus shapes out of the stuff. Fun also to try and pass the effigy off as a snowman by  dressing it up in an old hat and sticking a carrot in the bit that passes off as a head.

But calling it Parson Brown? Is that a euphemism? Then you’re asking it to marry you?? My pants, this is turning into some weird snow based death cult isn’t it? This is where you clonk me on the head, bury me in the icy slush and try to pass off my corpse as a snowman. Isn’t it? Sort of a snowy version of the Wicker Man.

I’m out of here.

Christmas Music – Day 4 of 24

Rocking’ Around the Christmas Tree – Mel & Kim

This didn’t get enough air time. Something to do with someone having Parkinson’s Disease putting up a Christmas tree…I think…

Anyway, Mel Smith behaves inappropriately with Kim Wilde by being suggestive and lewd. Back in the day I suppose it might have been acceptable. These days…no….

Christmas Music – Day 3 of 24

Santa Claus is Coming to Town – Various Artists

Screen Shot 2014-12-03 at 18.30.41So some creepy old guy with a beard and a beer belly is stalking your kids. He watches them when they sleep and knows when they’re awake. Worse, he has compiled a list containing your children’s behavioural difficulties which he checks frequently. And yet you still don’t report his suspicious activities to the police!

No. You give him alcohol and cake and dress your houses up with icons devoted to his form.

And you wonder why the world is so fucked up?