In a hedge, by a gate, in Radford Semele near Leamington Spa, lived some sparrows.
Maddy always thought that sparrows were very interesting.
In a hedge, by a gate, in Radford Semele near Leamington Spa, lived some sparrows.
Maddy always thought that sparrows were very interesting.
A great thing to do in the UK when you’re absolutely stinking rich and still living in the massive family home but you don’t want to spend money on maintainence, is to gift the home to the National Trust on the condition that you only open to the public for the minimum amount of days allowed as per conditions agreed. This way you can continue to live in faux luxury and still feel like you’re something special as you pomp your way around the village and talking with a mouth full of plums.
The National Trust own many properties up and down the UK and many are a wealth of fine architecture and landscaping. It’s often interesting to see how, because God made our ancestors poor, we should live in abject poverty and slavery while those born wealthy or who built their empires on the backs of the poor could have massive luxurious manses in remote parts of the country – safe from the possibility of actually seeing the effects of poverty while also stocking the cupboards with the finest crops and meats farmed on your own land by the local poor farmer who was “thankful for being poor God bless ya me lord” if you ever asked him.
In 2017 I was fortunate to visit Farnbourough Hall in Warwickshire on one of its rare opening days and see the living room and grounds of the hall while being watched hawk like by the owners in case I over stepped their boundaries. There’s nothing quite like being made to feel like a shop lifter in someone’s house. Anyway, I did manage to take some lovely photos of the perfectly manicured and maintained gardens that my National Trust membership paid for. But this one was my favourite and makes me thankful to God that I am poor.
One of my most favourite flowers is the pansy. They’re so vivid in colour and they really brighten up a garden. Our garden in Leamington Spa was big but lacked any colour apart from green. So, while Mrs Gnomepants was away from the house, I nipped out to Homebase and bought a shed load of pansies and other flowering plants and popped them in plant pots, hanging baskets and in beds. Eventually they bloomed and made the beautiful colour display you can see in the collage above
In 2012 I was living in a flat on the outskirts of lovely Leamington Spa, a picturesque Georgian town with lots of history and a grid system, with the then nearly-Mrs-Gnomepants V2.0 . The flat was a post war construct but had some modern trimmings such as central heating.
The thing with houses and flats is you get used to the sounds they make the longer you live in them. Sometimes these noises can be unique – particular to a location, a room or a function. The way a door closes. The way the water runs through the pipes. The way the floorboard creaks. How the neighbours sound. Each noise distinctive to the occupant. Sometimes subtly, other times in-your-face-obvious. The flat in Leamington Spa was no exception.
A particular sound that could be heard in the Leamington Spa flat was an almost imperceptable sigh from the attic when the heating switched from timed hot water only to hotwater and heating. It was like an asthmatic squirrel living in the attic. I could often hear it and know, safely, that the heating had come on gone off. Others might not have heard it though and would often think of my central heating predictions as some element of my weirdness.
So when the sigh ceased and the radiators started to glow red. I knew there was something up. Taking to the loft via a rickety ladder I was able to determine that the mysterious sigh used to come from the motor in the switch valve which had failed and was forcing the hot water into the heating system.
As handy as I am, I donned my flat cap, put a rolled up cigarette on my bottom lip and stood at the bottom of the ladder sighing, tutting and generally looking quizical. Then, after three mugs of tea (extra strong), several looks through the Sun newspaper (upon which I had drawn phalluses and spectacles on people in the photographs) and an impromptu 3 hour trip to the corner shop for some vital parts, I nipped up the ladder and took this photograph.
I then explained the problem to the Then-soon-to-be-Mrs-Gnomepants v2.0, pointed out that there was not much call for that kind of thing these days, sucked air through my teeth and said “It’s gonna cost ya”. The photograph was then sent on to a more experienced central heating engineer/plumber who, having been pleased to see such good investigative work and standing round, had the failed unit replaced in a fraction of the time and only one cup of tea.
At the weekend the wife, an out-of-town friend and I nipped out to the lovely town of Royal Leamington Spa for a mooch around the Peace Festival.
The Leamington Spa Peace Festival, for those who don’t know, is an annual rain causing event held in the Pump Room Gardens and features all manner of new age nonsense such as yogurt weaving, kaftan liberation, tofu swallowing and vagina floating.
The food sold there is mostly vegetarian to vegan on the omnivore spectrum. Free range falafel chocolate bars, organic gravel soaps, crunchy compost on a stick and fair trade mong bean ice creams abound. That kind of thing.
As well as hearing local folk bands and pan pipes, it’s also a good opportunity to see the latest trends of the anathematic capitalist hippies are pushing onto today’s youth. For example, stove pipe hats seem to be entering a renaissance, gong showering is breaking into the wavy world of healing and knotted dyed rags are this year’s rad hair fashion (again).
With hipsters now denying their own existence in a Schrodingeresque fashion (you’re either a cool cat in a box or not, depending on who is observing you), goths morphing into the less threatening emo collective and neo-nerd-geeks becoming vogue thanks to Big Bang Theory the time is right for a new collective. One that is so trendy and beyond cool that it is off the spectrum entirely, but one whose emergence will be unobserved until it has spread to a point where it becomes commonplace.
Of course it’s not just teenagers and infantilised twenteenies trying to be trendy. While beards may no longer be the fashion and half-mast trousers and arse showing waistlines have gone the back into the wardrobe for several years, the smart Sunday shirt wearing, middle class middle age organic free range grass eating daddies of the world appear to be taking their midlife crisis to the high street. Quitting their well-paid, high stress jobs and opening cafés using the stylistic ideals of designer hipsters to influence their décor.
At least, that’s how it appears from my visit to the overly trendy café, Bread and Butter on Regent Street in Leamington Spa. In what appears to be a former butcher’s shop a couple of doors down from the fishmongers, Bread and Butter just oozes huge blobs of “I’ve been to that London and seen how the well to do spend their leisure time”. I was reluctant to go in but guests take precedence and so began an experience I am about to recount.
Stepping through the door, it is difficult to see what’s going on due to the low level lighting. Windows provide free light and white tiled walls help reflect it around the important areas mostly to the till area which is sat on a thick wooden counter.
Garden furniture, the crap type that rotund people will find difficult to sit on comfortably or safely, are the choice of the day, enhanced only by artistically and purposefully strewn autumnal leaves on the floor. These, it has been debated, appear to be swept up of an evening, sieved to remove dust and detritus before being replaced after the floor has been mopped, cleaned and dried. Wankery.
Menus come in the form of a sheet of A4, minimalistic in choice, as per instructions from Blumenthal and Ramsay, but in a way that is limiting to the consumer. Old favourites ruined by the addition of wankery. A bacon club sandwich with wanky bread and avocado. Wanky salad, served with wank. Poncey toasties with cheese and a selection of teas that would ordinarily cost you about 30p to make yourself in a mug sold at the exorbitant price of £2 for a mingy scale model cup.
I had the “slow roasted” pork bap which came garnished with stale musty tasting crackling. This was obviously a new definition of “slow roasted” as to me, slow roasting means that the meat is succulent and melt in the mouth. I’ve chewed shoes less tough. Supposedly reasonably priced at £6.70.
During my years of eating out and writing about my experiences in the food world I’ve always said that you can’t make a restaurant or café trendy and popular by charging a lot of money for a small portion of food. Sure, you’ll get some tossers who think “Hey! This is so trendy and cool I’m going to come here every day because £6 for a stale pork butty is the lifestyle I want to lead”. But these people, like the hipsters they gave birth to, are dying out.
Although a greasy spoon café has its place, I’m not calling for that, I’m calling for some balance. Wankery has had its day back in the noughties when we found it ironic and amusing. Wankery today is just a road to disaster and mockery. Just as sticking the words “Organic” and “Free range” before every item on your menu is passé so is bringing the outside in, tiny portions and over pricing. The people you think you’re appealing to have grown out of this kind of approach and, much in the same way as faux-Victoriana and retro tea rooms have faded from popularity, so will wankery in décor. If it isn’t naturally worthy of brown leaves being tastefully placed on the floor, then don’t do it.
As we left and made our way back to the car, I observed corduroy trouser, gingham shirt wearing, late thirty something middle class graphic designer dad with his stay at home on an allowance yummy mummy what lunches and writes crap fiction wife pushing their child-with-a-neo-trad-name-like-Edna in its free range organically padded for their own safety comfort five wheeler monster stroller making their way into the café. Exactly the kind of clientele the café is trying to attract.
Would I go again? No I wouldn’t.
I notice that you are increasing the regularity of the appearance of people who seem to be experts on everything and have opinions on everything which, for some reason, you think reflects society at large.
I would like to offer my services as a gobshite. I too have strong opinions on everything from David Cameron’s underwear to the cost of prawns in the Middle East during the Byzantium Empire. I am an expert on everything and nothing. I have several years experience of spouting utter crap to backup people’s clandestine agendas and I am happy to cast aspersions and morals to the wind without forethought for the wider consequences.
Hope this will cover everything.
Lots of Love
Not something like the creation of a cure for a terminal disease. Nor (hopefully) some catastrophic event where millions of lives are snuffed out in a moment. Nor is it something like finding a teaspoon on Mars.
Tomorrow the British public elect regional Police and Crime Commissioners.
You read right. The British public….that’s me and the people around me….elect….as in vote for, like you would for say, a president or MP….. regional….as in local….. Police and Crime Commissioners1…..Big decision making honchos in the police force.
The end of an era. A moment in history.
So you would think that such a monumental moment in history would be heralded with fanfare, instruction and promotion. Well…you would be wrong. Here in sunny Royal Leamington Spa there has been little in the way of canvassing.
Much like during the local and general elections the half hearted mehness of the candidates is not giving me insight into who to vote for nor is it inspiring me to vote. Regular followers of my blogs (Hi Louenne) will probably remember during the local elections in Barnsley I challenged the candidates to come to my house and suggest why I should vote for them. Nobody did, so I voted for an outsider. I also complained of a similar lack of canvassing during the general elections.
I later wrote a piece about local MP Jeremy Wright who, until recently, had only discussed chickens once in Parliament, now seems to be a most prolific letter writer in his new job in the ministry of Justice2
For the Police and Crime Commissioner of Warwickshire there had been nothing much until Mrs Fruitcake received a card addressed to her from the local independent candidate Mr Ron Ball. [http://www.ronball4pcc.co.uk]
Mr Ron Ball says that if he is elected he will :
Ensure no reductions in policing
Spend money on nice offices for him to use
That’s fairly honest. I mean what else could he say? Nothing, I noted about the commissioning of crime. But maybe he doesn’t really want to advertise that bit.
So like in Barnsley, as Mr Ron Ball was the only person to bother to send some information about himself and why he was standing even though it wasn’t addressed to me, he was going to get my vote.
That is…..Until last night.
Hurrah! Someone else to consider.
Make sure there are no reductions in policing
Spend money on nice offices for him to use
Ok. So that’s pretty much standard then. Then…at the top of the back page….
“I WILL KEEP POLITICS OUT OF POLICING”
How? Hang on, you’re the LABOUR PCC candidate. And you’re going to KEEP POLITICS OUT OF POLICING?
That’s like Jimmy Saville running for Child Protection officer saying “KEEP MOLESTATION OUT OF CHILDRENS HOMES”
I don’t get it.
As yet Gnomepants Heights is still to receive propaganda from the Conservative candidate, Fraser Pithie [http://www.fraserpithie.org.uk/] . Being a Conservative area he probably thinks “I don’t need to do anything as people in this area automatically vote for conservative here anyway. I mean if Adolf Hitler was standing as a conservative then people here would vote for him.”
But no doubt he will say that he will:
Make sure there are no reductions in policing
Spend money on nice offices for him to use
While probably also keeping politics out of policing.
Hmmm. In all that’s like saying “Vote for me and I’ll do the job” which is to be expected. But it’s so confusing. It’s like being asked to pick your favourite pot of jam. Where all the jams are the same flavour and brand.
Especially as I notice a distinct sweeping resemblance. They all look the same. Perhaps they are. Maybe they are all the same person So I’ll put the challenge out there.
Dear Messrs BALL, PITHIE and PLASKETT.
I, Stegzy Gnomepants, challenge you to come to my house and tell me why I should vote for you.
I won’t tell you where I live. You must prove your policing skills by using detective work to find me. If you find me and tell me why you’re the person I should vote for you’ll get my vote. And a photo opportunity.
Lots of love
I’m not holding my breath. My challenge failed in Barnsley. However all this insight into the candidates might be in vain. During research for this article I came across several items about voter apathy. Interestingly enough, one about apathy in Barnsley. [http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-20301308]
I’ll let you know if anything happens.
1 – A person that commissions both Police and Crime? Who would commission crime? “Oh we need more burglaries in that area and we should have some more stabbings in that area….”
2 – Granted, Mr Wright is doing an important job in Parliament now and no doubt his wrist is swollen due to the 3-4 letters he writes each day. But my point remains, he doesn’t seem to be doing much specifically for the Coventry and Warwickshire area. He’s too busy you see….writing letters about prisons and the cost of jam in police cells.
You probably won’t remember, in fact I probably didn’t relate to you, that the smelly old man downstairs was carted off to the knackers yard last year because he got stuck in the bath.
Briefly, for those who don’t remember, I was “home alone” and heard some banging that I initially thought was someone doing some DIY. It wasn’t until 11pm when the banging continued that I realised something was amiss. Nipping outside I managed to determine that the banging wasn’t some late night Tommy Walsh but probably the old man in the flat below had come into some sort of mischief. The police were called, who in turn called an ambulance and, long story short, the old man was prised out of his cold bath, bundled into an ambulance and shoved into some sort of “sheltered housing” wherein he now shits and spits where disgruntled Polish nurses can clean up after him. No doubt they also force feed him pureed parsnips in some sort of perverse preparation for my turn in the Old People’s Home Of No Return.
Since those heady days of loud televisions, constant coughing and infestations of rats, wasps and mice we have had some new neighbours in Gnome-cake Towers. A young-(44)-ish mother and her teenage daughter. Out goes the loud telly and farting and in come the late night Mother-Daughter arguments, door slamming and complimentary sobbing.
Last week, Mrs Downstairs went to Ireland. It transpires that previously they (or at least she) lived in some remote part of southern Ireland wherein the nearest neighbour was some distance away. Mrs Downstairs returned to the Emerald Isle with a van in an attempt to fetch the remainder of her stuff, which I assume was in storage.
This left Teen alone.
A whole week with no shouting, no loud telly but just the occasional slamming of badly council fitted windows and doors. With Thursday being the exception when, Teen being a teen, a small soiree took place. Five girls, the Glee soundtrack, cigarettes (possibly some dope) and a bottle or two of Blue Lightning or White Nun or whatever underage beverages are of choice today (In my time it was kiwi MD20/20).
Fruitcake was getting a bit tense by about 10pm when the noise hadn’t abated but by 10.20 the doors were banged and I assume the teens reduced their noise with some consideration culminating in peace and quiet returning to Warwickshire at about 10.40pm. By morning, the only sign of late evening revelry was a couple of fag buts and an empty bottle, possibly Tesco’s Value Turpentine substitute.
In the mid morning I saw the Teen. Smiling sheepishly at me, as she does, she politely said hello. I asked her how her party went the previous night. She replied with apologies and platitudes for any noise and explained that her mum was away in Ireland and was back later that afternoon. We chatted lightly and, using my journalistic skills, I managed to glean further information from our mysterious new neighbours while pointing out that the scary tapping she had heard at night was Quincy the cat trying to get out of the cat flap and the hint that the walls were like paper.
A penny seemed to drop.
I let it lie there.
Spin forward in time in one of those wibbly wobbly screen dissolves to today.
There comes a tap tap tapping at my chamber door. No, not the Raven, but Mrs Downstairs. Chip on her shoulder apparent immediately. Not something I had said or done rather something that Mr Gardener-Nextdoor had obviously said to her regarding the mass of branches felled from the tree out at the front which had lain their since the Autumn.
Promises were made. Promises backed by annoyance at having been told off by someone who seemingly has no business complaining about piles of decaying leylandii. Excuses given. Given to both the right person and the wrong person.
Mentions of the back garden.
Did I mention the back garden? No it seems I didn’t.
During the summer, house clearance people came and cleared the old man’s flat out and demolished and emptied his two sheds. Apples were thrown about the place, larks were had and a couple of trees and a fence saw their demise. Before the new people moved in, the garden looked rather good, if not still a little overgrown.
Wibbly wobbly screen dissolves again.
Now, it seems, Steptoe and son have come to some arrangement with Mrs Downstairs. Instead of useful stuff from storage, the silly bint has brought, what can only be described as, a scrap yard over on the ferry. Perhaps she emptied the wrong lock up. Who knows.
As I said, apologies were given about the kip of the back garden. Promises made regarding the imminent arrival of fencing material, a six foot gate and some tree felling. Apologies regarding any noise.
In return I listened, placated and smiled reassuringly while inserting titbits into the conversation regarding reciprocal noise, door slamming, rampant terriers and nosey busy body neighbours. Seeds were sown. Hints were dropped. Deals alluded to.
On her side? Promises.
As I frequently say “Words are but wind”
Developments, like photography, remain to be seen.
It’s bad enough, when born this time of year, to be told “Oh I’d have got you a birthday present but I’ve got you a bigger Christmas present” by cheap skates hoping to pull the wool over already tried before eyes. But what’s worse, especially recently in the UK, is the chuffing post.
While all around me are putting up their Christmas cards in displays of social popularity I have to hold off opening cards I receive before my birthday, which, if you didn’t know, is today. A few years back I realised that when my birthday arrived I had fewer birthday cards to open on the actual day than my peers because I had opened mine by accident thinking “Oh it’s a Christmas card, it should be safe”. So recently I have taken to stock piling the cards received through the mail until the actual day and then I have a mass card opening ceremony.
Usually I get about a 3:2 birthday/Christmas card mix with some cheeky sods trying to sneak a Christmas card in with the birthday card or, if they’ve thought ahead they put the birthday card in with the Christmas card (which I don’t mind as long as that’s in an envelope marked “birthday”). However, over recent years the Post Office in Warwickshire have been a bit shit and cards sent way in advance don’t arrive until way into the later weeks so my pre-birthday Christmas card opening abstinence seems to be a bit futile.
Last year the postie had a good excuse. Most of the UK and Warwickshire was under a thick blanket of snow and poor Postman Pat was at risk of slipping on the pavement. Meaning they would be having to take time off work with a sprained foot and a personal injury claim. Fair enough. This modern snow can be lethal. Those Victorian and postWW2-pre HSWA(1974) postmen had it easy. I’m surprised today’s postmen don’t have to wear special wire lined gloves in case they get a rather nasty infected paper cut from an overtly sharp envelope.
Last year’s snows and postage backlogs meant that I was getting birthday cards well into the New Year, which was nice. Amusing in a “Ne’r mind eh?” kind of way.
This year though, I thought it would be better. No snow in the midlands. Not a drop. Well at least in Leamington Spa at any rate. Through the week I had received a good few cards through the mail. I’d say about 9 or so. A few who’s origins I could guess and a few I could not. It was going to be a good birthday morning, opening these cards.
Just after my breakfast of Cinnamon Grahams and a cup of tea, I began the opening ceremony. One by one I gingerly teased each card out of it’s envelope revealing either ageist birthday mirth or greetings of seasonal persuasion.
The score was roughly
BIRTHDAY CARDS 6
CHRISTMAS CARDS 5
A nice balance. But no fear, I thought, it is Saturday today! The Royal Mail still deliver on a Saturday. Maybe I’ll get some in the post today!
Of course, sitting round expectantly is not something I can do these days, so we opted to brave the early morning cold and penultimate-Christmas-weekend shoppers and grab a few things before we came home for the afternoon to see what exciting things were in line for the rest of the day.
All the while I was like “heheh I can’t wait to get home to the mountain of cards that will be awaiting me on my doorstep”.
It was the spirit that enabled me to battle through the shuffling horde of consumer zombies.
The vim that vigorously calmed my need to vent venom at gawping gormers goggling at festive gifts of grot.
The spice that added fire to my mental curry of warmth empowering me through the ice knife cold Warwickshire winds.
So you can imagine my face when I opened the front door with the eagerness of an expectant child on Christmas morning only to find….
there was for Fruitcake.
NOT A SINGLE ONE delivered today was for me. NOT ONE.
ON MY BIRTHDAY!
It was busy; mostly because it was Halloween but also because it was the day after pay day and the world, his wife, their neighbours and their best friend’s uncle’s favourite mechanic’s son also had the same idea.
Because it was Halloween weekend there were many children present. A good deal of these children were sat, well behaved and happy to be out with their family. There was, however, a pair of little shits present whose parents obviously went to the “freedom of expression” school of parenting. These delightful little darlings thought it fun to run rampant around the restaurant squealing with glee instead of remaining seated and only speaking when spoken to.
You know the type. They usually have traditionally cheeky scamp names like Bob or Tommy. The type of names traditionally apportioned to working class flat cap wearing, roll-up cigarette smoking betting shop regulars but, for some bizarre reason only known to fashionable middle class Guardian readers, deemed preferable to Tarquin, Charles and Gordon.
The type whose parents, as stated previously, believe in “freedom of expression”. The same parents who probably inexplicably develop a “cough” when walking near smokers. Or fuss about their children and whatever food allergy or intollerance may be fashionable at the time. The type of parent that any normal person would want to smash into a granite table face first before flushing their head repeatedly down a particularly dirty toilet.
The type of child who runs around restaurants unbidden. Screaming and tripping up waitresses. Any accidents that arise are clearly the fault of the waiting staff not taking care when carrying a tureen of boiling soup or molten lard.
That got me thinking.
When I was a kid at a restaurant (or, more likely, a Berni Inn) , if I didn’t sit straight, shut up and eat my greens provided with my scampi and chips the likelihood of eating out again would diminish to the point of never again. But no, not these chuffing days. Noooo. These days it seems it is totally socially acceptable to allow your child to run rampant with no regard for other diners or waiting staff.
All in the name of “freedom of expression”.
So to express my own freedom, I rose from my chair, went over to the little shits, grabbed them by the collars. Dragged them over to their parents who were sat, jaws agape in protest. Threw them into their seats and said: “If you don’t fucking control your children I will pickle them and feed them to the tramps.”
“Oh but they’re only expressing themselves” came the protest.
“Yeah well I’m expressing myself freely too.” I retorted as I stabbed the father in the nose with his blunt steak knife and forced the mother to swallow her barbequed rib bones whole. Sideways.
“Do you want a starter?” Zoe asked, snapping me out of my daydream.
“No, let’s get straight to mains” I replied.
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