The Compostual Existentialist

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Cromer

It is well known, perhaps written in ancient scripture, that a day out to the British seaside is something everyone must commit to at some point in their life. In that regard, I am blessed for I try to make regular trips to the seaside.

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Living in the centre of the UK, where nearly everything is three and a half hours away, means that I am the furthest away from the seaside as you can be at any point in the UK. Moreover, the selection of seaside destinations reachable within a reasonable time from this point is a little bit grim. Hunstanton is one such place, with its miles of coastal caravan parks; Skegness is another, again with miles of coastal caravan parks. And yet for just a half hour extra drive, one can reach beautiful Cromer, which is where Mrs Gnomepants V2.0 and I have just spent our bank holiday weekend.

Cromer Pier

Cromer Pier

Regular readers (if there are any left) will know that I have visited Cromer before – a small sleepy Norfolk coastal town famous for its crabs. Cromer’s tiny streets are littered with shops selling curios, knick-knacks and tat that most people will only use once, a place which once enjoyed a grander time of bathing machines, day trip ferries embarked via a pier and swanky hotels staffed by gentlemen in smart uniforms. A place as yet unspoilt by amusement arcades, kiss me quick hats and leery youths on drunken stag weekends.

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Cromer seafront, pier and approach

A trip to the British seaside comes with a checklist of things to do. Over the years I have pared down my list to three things:

  • Fish and chips
  • Ice cream
  • Walk along the prom

While I might also occasionally chuck in “a paddle”, “Cream tea in the afternoon” and “A play on the penny cascades”, the core holy trinity of food and a walk does me just fine these days, and this weekend I managed all three successfully. The waters around Cromer are Norfolk brown in colour and not the tropical azure that I am used to these days and the thought of dissolving my feet paddling in effluent still does not fill me with joy. Cream teas, while abundant at British seasides, are only really any good when in Devon or Cornwall (sorry, I’m a jam first kind of heathen) and the lack of (or inability to find) arcades in Cromer saw away any chance of chucking away half a tonne of copper coins in the hope of winning a bottle opener in the shape of a naked lady.

Fish and Chips

Fish and chips @ Mary Janes

Mary Janes, Cromer

Mary Janes, Cromer

None the less, our trip to Cromer was most enjoyable. The seaside ennui began with a late lunch of fish and chips in Mary Janes. Quality, no fuss large cod and chips and a roll and butter for me, with an unbattered haddock and chips for Zoe. I tell you, providing you do your research well, fish and chips at the seaside never fails to please. Unless you’re one of those strange people who doesn’t like fish and chips. Mary Jane’s is a favourite of mine, with Scarborough’s Golden Grid and Whitby’s Magpie Cafe also in the top five fish and chip shops in the UK. Naturally, as any Yorkshireman would testify, the best fish and chips in the world are from Yorkshire, but alas, when it’s a four-hour drive to the Weatherby Whaler, Mary Jane’s will have to suffice. Oh, and don’t let anyone tell you that Harry Ramsden’s is quality fish and chips either. If they do, slap them with a wet piece of huss and tell them to get hence to McDonald’s for a Fillet-o-fish.

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Further sights of Cromer

Next on the checklist was an ice cream. Now I’m a sucker for a whippy ice cream with a flake, but I’m also a sucker for locally produced ice creams as they tend to have unusual flavours. So we took a brisk walk along the pier and the prom (sadly, no brass bands tiddly-om-pom-poming) in hope of finding something worthwhile. Now, as the sun was out in all its glory in Norfolk this weekend, it seemed that every man and his wife, four kids and dog, were also out in force. As a result, the more ideally placed ice cream shops were rammed or had a line of queues outside. Indeed, the pier was quite busy, especially at the embarkation end (where the RNLI lifeboat station is) were middle-aged fathers tried to terrify their children into enjoying themselves by threatening them with freshly crab-laddered crabs. There were even a couple of armed policemen, but such a sight is the norm now that the British Police State is under martial law.

 

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Henry Bloggs, Bigger hero than you

Cromer was also home to the bravest man who ever lived, Henry Bloggs. Bloggs and his chums would fearlessly brave the elements, row a wooden boat far out to sea and rescue drowning townies from watery deaths while smoking a pipe and looking rather cool in a sou’wester. In force 10 gales. For free. With rain lashing his chops. Now you don’t see people doing much of that these days do you? No. You don’t. Now that’s bravery. And, when you’re that brave, you get medals, your own monument and a museum named after you. Not bad eh? Oh, and you also have lots of murals drawn around your town in your honour. Makes helping an old biddy with their shopping seem a bit limp.

 

 

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More Cromerian sights

 

Sadly parking is a premium in Cromer on popular days, so three hours is not enough to enjoy a sit and a watch of the world going by so we had to leave. Previous visits to this part of the coast, however, had involved a stay or visit to Sheringham and being a stickler for tradition, it was only fair that we popped in to see what the place looks like in season, even if it was only for half an hour.

 

Sheringham is the upmarket sister of Cromer. Middle classes, mostly with nearby holiday homes, price out the locals and swan about like they own the place. Mostly because they do. The stark difference between Cromer and Sheringham is evident from the upmarket theatre and selection of nearby restaurants in Sheringham. While Cromer’s fish and chips attract some diners, it is Sherringham’s mix of Nepalese, Thai and European restaurants that mark the contrast there. Indeed, short of organic, artesian gluten-free neo-paleo hypoallergenic ice creams, it is hard not to delight at the pomposity of some of the patrons. Children with names such as Pompidu, Sefton and Chanterey freely express themselves while aloof mums swig large glasses of Prosecco and dads pander to Parmesan and Chigley’s ever increasing demands in an attempt to be the best fathers ever.

 

Indeed, much like Cromer, there are rows and rows of chalets lining the prom. For non-Brits reading, a chalet or beach hut is basically a really expensive garden shed which you’re not allowed to live in. However, it is this quirk that makes this part of the coast so picturesque. The sight of painted wooden huts often with unusual names being cracked open for the first time in six months is a delight to behold and, much like the bathing machine houses in Scarborough and Cromer, is an important part of British seaside heritage.

With bellies full of noms and a distance to travel to our B&B, we left the Norfolk coast once more and headed inland for further bank holiday adventure.

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In Alton Towers you Will find you can leave your cares behind

Apart from when Mrs Gnomepants V1.0 and I visited in the early noughties, and when Mrs Gnomepants v2.0  and I went swimming there in 2016, the last time I was in Alton Towers was when I was 14. So what poetry it was to take my 14 year old niece there as an Uncley Treat.

Of course, when I was 14, my fun Aunt had passed away a couple of years previously and my remaining grandparents were too frail to attempt the trip, let alone the standing around waiting for young me to get off the rides. Instead I had to wait for the school to take me which, tradition dictated, they did with all the other boys as an end of academic year treat right through secondary school, although during following years they offered other trips such as climbing mountains or some such.

So it seemed right that I took my niece to the Earl of Staffordshire’s pile where upon I took great delight at having her walk well over 9 miles in a day without actually realising. Hah! Alton Towers, for those not in the know, is the UK’s premier rollercoaster theme park. Or at least that’s what it claims to be. Set in the gardens and grounds of the ruins of a former stately home, some enterprising cove set about building elaborate nests of  twisted metal upon which people can sit and experience accelleration and exhileration at high speed with the associated pull and tug of gravity on their leathery chops.

One such ride is Oblivion which teeters on the brink of an iron precipice before plummeting its screaming riders into a pit of darkness. There was no way I was going on that.

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Death by splat

Another such ride was Nemisis which Mrs Gnomepants V2.0  claimed was “Nice and smooth” which must be the alt-fact definition of “OMG I’m going to die” as I found out. As for Smiler, well I’m quite attached to my legs so I didn’t fancy going on that and I also didn’t fancy whiplash so I avoided Rita too. However, I did manage Hex, Thirteen and Grand Canyon Rapids so I think I got my £30’s worth. Especially as I was also tricked by Mrs Gnomepants V2.0  to go on Enterprise which by all accounts was just a tumble drier simulator.

Of course Alton Towers is not just death roulette machines, its acres and acres of picturesque landscaped gardens. Some of the ruins belay the once grand manse that was Alton Towers. Summer houses and decayed greenhouses now overgrown with vegetation while here and there are hidden speakers piping irritating music into area where irritating music shouldn’t be.  The cable cars over the area do give you a better, plinky-plonky-less experience.

If you’ve ever played the PC classic Rollercoaster Tycoon or early nineties Bullfrog classic Theme Park then, like me, you’d probably have spent the day imagining people walking round with think bubbles saying things like “£2.75 is too expensive for a bottle of pop” or “I feel sick” while sporting green pukey smileys above their heads. Or looking skyward in the hope of spying a pair of pincers dropping in a new ride or even imagining that the popcorn tasted good because the themepark management AI decided that it could do with an equal mix of salt and sugar.

In all though it was a most enjoyable day out. I can’t wait to do it again when my nephew is a little taller/older, but probably by that time the rides will all be different again.


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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


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Holiday

I’ve been musing and fantasising about going to Wales, I got thinking about the way my Dad used to take us to Porthmadog in the 70’s and 80’s. Instead of taking the A55 along the north coast through Conwy and then down the A470 through to Betws-y-Coed and Blaenau Ffestiniog we would scuttle down the A494 via Mold and through Denbighshire to Ruthin and Bala before gimbling down the A4212 which goes round the beautiful Llyn Celyn.

During this time my Dad drove a yellow MkI Ford Escort. It had vinyl seat coverings. Alighting from the car on a hot day would always result in cries of pain as you left the upper epidermal layer of your thighs on the black seat coverings. Regardless of this inconvenience, it seemed like we would always stop at Llyn Celyn and have our lunch while my mum told us about the village that was flooded to make the Llyn.

Lunch on such occasions nearly always consisted of cold bacon sandwiches on white bread with a thickish layer of butter or margarine. The sandwiches would be wrapped in silver or aluminium foil and they would be accompanied by a melted KitKat and a cup of warm milky coffee served from a tartan thermos flask. We would eat our lunch at the road side picnic tables and watch the rest of the holiday making public go past to their destinations. This seemed to be a traditional repast in the Gnomepants household as whenever my Auntie Joyce took us on picnics, the same fayre would be served (though more often than not accompanied by sweets and cake).

Our hearty lunch devoured, we would then continue on our route, down some twisty bendy B Road across the Snowdonian moors bypassing Blaenau and then down the A487, along the causeway (paying our 5p toll…heh) before pulling into Porthmadog itself to do the grocery shopping that would see us through the week of staying in Uncle Nat’s caravan.


In case you don’t know From Left to Right:- Me mam, our Carl (avec trainee scouser moustache), me (the little one at the front in the Paddington Bear tshirt), me dad (balding one) and our Chris (looking thin there, now he’s a bit chunky).

The caravan was near the fabled Black Rock Sands in a caravan site called Greenacres. Now it has its own swimming pools, luxury static caravans, security watch towers and special 4×4 Chelsea Tractor parking facilities, Cocaine snorting area and swinging club. Back then, in the 1970’s/80’s it was a basic caravan site with a small amusement arcade containing table top Asteroids and Space Invaders. If you wanted a swim you would nip down to the beach and paddle in the sewage outflow safe in the knowledge that nasty diseases and child snatchers hadn’t been invented. (Now you need to take a prepreswimmingpoolshowershower, a preswimmingpoolshower and a swimming poolshower before you are even allowed to look at the swimming pool, then you are required to have a postswimmingpoolshower, a postswimmingpoolshowershower and then remain in quarantine for a week incase you pass something on to one of the precious little darlings that people insist on taking on holiday). The sea was unimaginably cold. Well. I suppose you lot that live out near the flipping North Pole (robynz,zelest and think4yrself for example) would probably scoff at me saying that. But Cardigan Bay was bloody cold.

Of course, at this time nasty skin cancer causing ultraviolet rays and holes in the ozone layer hadn’t been invented and if it wasn’t for my fair complexion requiring me to wear a tshirt when I went swimming which although protected my torso, didn’t do much for the arms and legs. Added to that, I wasn’t the strongest of swimmers because I had ear problems as a child and wasn’t allowed to go in water incase I did damage to the surgery. Not that it did like. All that meant was I couldn’t swim very well until I was about 10. But I digress. Greenacres also had acres and acres of sand dunes to explore and views of the Carn Fadrun, the Snowdonian mountains and Harlech Castle.

Further along the beach cars were permitted to drive. Two things stick in my mind about this privilege, the first being my first ever “drive” of a car. When the beach was quieter my dad would take the Escort onto the beach and I would sit on his knee and turn the wheel while he operated the pedals. The second thing being that often people would park their cars on the beach then bumble off to the pub or somewhere further along the beach to enjoy themselves. This would frequently result in people forgetting to check the tidal times and hilarity would ensue when cocky holiday makers would return to find their car somewhere in the middle of Cardigan Bay. Of course you wouldn’t get that today. Pretentious wankers in their smart pristeine cars would probably have some sort of tidal early warning system hot wired into their brain. Also the “risk” of having a car on the beach would probably be too great and the council have probably stopped the practice of cars on the beach in case someone mistakes a Porche for a tube of Smarties and chokes. Or in case it incenses someone’s religious beliefs or some other PC crap.

Happy times. Irreplaceable times. These days Porthmadog is spoilt by the frightful hordes of frightful families in 4x4s and other fat arsed cars. Screaming overly spoilt and cotton wool wrapped kids, disenchanted husbands and hyper-fussy mothers who either don’t give a shit about their kids or give too much of a shit about their kids. Cafe Bars, expensive boutiques, surf shops, stinky burger bars and snooty retired pensioners trying to recapture their lost childhood in their autumn years. But I doubt kids today have as much fun as I did dicing with death and mistaking cars for tubes of smarties when I was their age. This year I would love to travel to Wales along that route described. Eat cold bacon sandwiches and drink warm milky coffee from a tartan thermos flask. I long to stand on the platform of the Ffestiniog Light Railway, inhale the steam from the trains and admire the view across Cardigan Bay. Relive part of the magic but not all. Before such practices are banned because someone might get offended or some boffin discovers that there is too much salt in cold bacon sandwiches or that holidaying in Wales is bad for the environment. Happy fond times.

Thank you for reading.


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Re-enacting the past

For shitz and gigglz I took Zoe to the Great Central Railway near Loughborough. It was a special day there as they were holding a Second World War day where each of the four stations were “zoned” into different “fronts” of the Second World War. It was a very enjoyable day out, with people dressed in period costumes, stalls selling period things, period food and drink and music from the era.

While walking round I was struck by the thought of how iconic that period was. It was a time of strife, knuckling down and patriotism. It was a time that many people today lived through themselves. Unlike the likes of say Civil War re-enactment this period was still in living memory.

And that got me thinking. What will people re-enact in the future? What iconic periods have we lived through in recent years? Will they re-enact say, the 1980s? The 1970s? Or even the noughties? What would they do?

Well, now you can join in on my special 1980s re-enactment.

80s


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>Geocaching 2010

So this weekend saw the start of the Geocaching season for me. Ok, technically it was a few weeks ago when I went mooching round Wooley Edge and bagged two caches while trying out new software. Zoe and I decided to start out with some easy ones to get us back into the swing of things.

The first trip took us to a disused railway bridge out at Hunningham near Leamington Spa. As I say, it’s been a while but it’s the little things like spotting good places to park, working out that the direct path is not always the best and if at first you can’t find the cache – look in the most obvious place.

So on getting there it became apparent that there was no easy way to get up to where I needed to be. Short of taking a good 4 mile walk to get to the cache the only other option was to scramble through undergrowth and up some rubble.

Further adventures were had trying to navigate a field of potatoes. We could either take the direct path across the crops or round the edge of the field adding about 30 minutes onto the trip. The crops were safe as we opted for the indirect approach which, fortunately, took in another cache on the way.

The glorious sunshine which graced the midlands today meant that rather than the usual slobbing out on the couch, Zoe and I would do some more geocaching. Today’s trip reminded me of why I really enjoy the hobby.

The UK is a beautiful picturesque land. There’s so much to see but often we ignore places because, on maps, there doesn’t seem to be anything there.

However Geocaching takes you to some of the most interesting places that you wouldn’t ordinarily visit.  So today’s trip took us to the lovely sleepy village of Weston Under Wetherley.

I mean look at it. It’s just gorgeous. Makes you feel British. I can just imagine poncing about the place in my blazer with service medals and being called Major or something. So this has reignited the desire to mooch about the countryside looking for bits of concealed tupperware while armed only with my HTC HD2.

Anyway, the glorious weather seems to have awoken other cachers as the travel bug – the Stegzy Gnomepants’ Badger’s Coastal Tour Travel Bug has also been on the move. So it seems the season has begun, work permitting, I intend to do many more caches this year. Maybe actually getting to places outside of the West Midlands and Yorkshire.

And yet I still find myself wishing there was something like this when I was younger….