The Compostual Existentialist

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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.

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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!


Free

Facebook_logo_(square)For those who don’t read my Livejournal, those who have only just noticed I’ve not liked or posted on Facebook recently and those who just don’t give a stuff, on 30th January I logged out of Facebook.

I went up to the little icon in the right of my Facebook page clicked and then clicked on Log Out. I did the same on my devices and desktops and I sat, twitchy fingered, waiting for the wave of withdrawal to wash. Fourteen days later, nothing. I’m not even cowering in the corner like a heroin addict from a 1980s public information film.

I have been reminded though, thanks to Facebook, that I have an account…AND…I might have missed somethings. M has posted an update. S has shared a picture. B was live. Messages like these, I had a few from the social network, no doubt in an effort to entice me back in. Even today, I received a message to tell me I had 19 notifications and 3 Event invites. I don’t care. I’m not even curious.

The sad side though, is none of my associates on Facebook have noticed my absence and if they have, they haven’t messaged me out of concern about my well being or to enquire my virtual whereabouts.

So I have a white F on a blue background shaped hole in my day to day activities yet I still yearn to share things like interesting links or thought farts. But thanks to IFTTT my link sharing addiction has allowed me to share links, Swarm logins and Pinterest pins to my Blogger account and, in turn, occasionally some legacy IFTTT recipes will post over to FB. Really though, I’m not arsed.

Then this morning, while trying to enquire about the imminent birth of a friend’s child I realised that the only way I can reach the guy and his missus was through FB. They were on Twitter, but rarely used it. The overwhelming urge to log in was, although fleeting, like when a smoker kids themselves that just one won’t hurt. But I endured. I fired up Twitter and fired off some messages. That way, at least if they think I don’t care, in several years time they might log back into Twitter and see my messages. Then again, they might not.

Instead, I have retired to former social media haunts. My feeling is that the love affair with FB has passed. With nothing to jump ship to, I have returned to the likes of Livejournal, Ello and I’ve even dabbled with other new pretenders to the throne. But the lack of familiar people on these new arenas just shows me even more how much of  behemoth Facebook has become. Its vast digital dirty fingers dipping into every aspect of the web like a rot. But, I’m free now. Free.


Open Letter to Sticky Toffee Pudding (with Hot Custard)

Dear Sticky Toffee Pudding with Hot Custard,

Slut

I’m sorry.

I’m so sorry I can’t eat you at the moment. You’ve been calling me for two weeks now. Quiet at first. Almost a whisper. Maybe once a day. Now you’re calling me every hour. Sometimes several times an hour. Unfortunately, we can never be as one. Well not at the moment.

I know we’ve had meetings several times in the past and they were fun. We had so much fun. The pleasure you gave me. The satisfaction of spoonsful of your hot creamy goodness being ladled into my mouth. The feeling of your moist, sweet and sticky sponginess on my tongue making me groan in adoration and delight. But no more. At least not for now.

We must wait. Wait for the time to be right to recreate our union. For now, I must share moments like those we once did, however fleeting, with two chocolate hobnobs and 10 salt crackers washed down with a hot cup of chemically sweetened tea.

They’re not as good as you. Nor will they ever be. It is my lot. My penance for our previous overindulgences in your brown oozy goodness.

It will pass. Like a really difficult poo. Eventually. If we’re patient.

Until then, we must accept the situation we find ourself in. Please stop calling me. Allow me to mourn your passing like a 12-inch pepperoni pizza with pineapple and anchovies, 5 finger cream cake selections and custard doughnuts. Allow me to transition through the eating regieme I now must follow. Taunt me no more you sweet seductive Enchantress of Confection.

Fond regards,

Gnomepants.