Out Now!

Tuesday, 27 May 2008

A Coarse Slime that edged slowly down to my knees

Green and yonderly, I proved the existence of Guardian Angels. This will be one of several posts of my student wanderings around Morocco.

It was London, a hot Sunday afternoon and every shop was shut. We tramped on, looking for anywhere that might sell a pair of swimming trunks. I had packed everything, two T shirts, two pairs of shorts, three of underpants, a towel and a toothbrush. All of it was neatly rolled up in the sleeping bag attached to my shoulder. But no swimming trunks.

We were on our way to Morocco, seduced by a tabloid expose with its tales of sex and wild orgies. It was all happening in a youth hostel on the outskirts of Marrakesh. We were students and it was 1970. The Paris train was leaving within the hour and hope was evaporating, when suddenly I saw it - a second hand shop. And it was open.

Terry was sceptical. “They won’t be selling second hand swimming trunks.”

Terry was wrong. Five minutes later I was holding up a pair of knitted trunks, navy blue and made from wool. They looked like a large tea-cosy, a badly made balaclava, but Terry was looking at his watch, and so I paid my 50 cents and stuffed them into my sleeping bag. On the train I forgot all about them, not knowing that they were biding their time.

Northern France is green but boring. For us the adventure began at Gare d’Austerlitz and the overnight train from Paris to Madrid - then on to Algeciras. From Algeciras, Africa was but a ferry-ride away.

The carriages were heaving with Moroccan and Algerian seasonal workers, taking themselves and their savings back home. We squeezed our way through a writhing mass of song and flesh and sweat, looking for the tiniest space that would allow us to both stand and occasionally breathe. Even the toilets were occupied and need was rationed by the reluctance to cause offence.

The singing never stopped; the red wine flowed and everyone around us insisted that the strangers in their midst would share their joy and wine. The lesson I learnt, as a pretty immature student who had never been abroad before was to trust in the goodness of strangers. That lesson was reinforced, time and time again as the journey progressed.

In the distance you can see Gibralter, and beyond - North Africa.

At Algeciras the sand gleamed as hard as gold; the sea glittered, and we looked ridiculous, two pale, underfed students adrift amidst lithe and beautiful Mediterraneans, haughty and bronzed. I scrambled into my second-hand trunks. My body looked as though it had been interrupted by a large hornets’ nest, knobbly and strangely blue. Woollen trunks; why had I bought them, what could I do? I looked straight ahead and ran as fast as I could into the sea, until only my head and neck showed.

It was the moment the trunks had been waiting for. They were alive, morphing into a coarse slime that edged slowly down to my knees. They were sucking the Mediterranean dry. I wondered how long I’d be able to carry the weight. Worse - how I was going to return to the beach wearing swimming trunks now down to my calves. I swam for what seemed like hours dragging a weight of wool behind me until eventually the beach began to clear and I made my escape. Terry had gone some time ago.

Next post: I recover my cool in Morocco

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Maria Zannini' - Touch of Fire

Between mage and man lies fire. ***************************************** Earth is a fusion of culture, language and religion, and the world is divided between plainfolk and the fae, Elemental mages who are born with the ability to manipulate one of the four great elements, earth, air, fire and water. The technology of the old world has been extinct for centuries. One man dares to resurrect it. And only one woman can stop him.

Great Cover. Great Book

Now all I have to do is figure out how to fiddle with layout to have a permanent side bar showing links and books - including some of my own, lesser publications. I hate computers, but can't live without them.

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Oily and Necromantic

Swansea was a mysterious place where limbs would vanish to re-attach themselves at inopportune moments.

Alcohol figured large, whether it was the three pints of Guinness to settle me the night before an exam, or as the regular lubricant that passed away time. I didn’t 'do roaring drunk' except on big occasions like finishing my degree, or MA or something equally grand. Then the results were spectacular. Most days it was pints and darts somewhere in the Mumbles.

On one occasion, walking back home, we stopped at a fish and chip shop. At this particular 'chippy' we tended to inspect each chip - especially the fat ones - before we eating it. The owner was missing fingers on both hands, and after a few pints subconscious fears kicked in. How had he lost them? Were we eating one now?

It was with such thoughts that we passed a launderette and dry cleaners. Outside was a discarded plastic tub. Under lamp-light it looked grubby but had a chemical smell which reassured us that it was basically clean. Whose idea it was I can’t remember, but we all agreed, this would be ideal for making beer…endless pints of cheap and drinkable beer. The emphasis was more on cheap than drinkable, which was just as well.

The evening came at last to try our home-made beer. All forty pints of it. The look of it should have been some kind of warning. Necromantic and oily with little grey flecks, it had a smell that could awaken the dead. A sorcerer’s brew. Wiser men would have tipped it down a drain. We decided to have a drinking contest.

The taste confirmed we were drinking something unutterably bad – fermented bleach with an after taste of cabbage and decayed fruit. Like some horrible game of Russian Roulette we each drank a pint in turn, waiting to see who would be the first to drop out - in one way or another.

Eventually there was only me and John Davies left. Ill but defiant, having drunk so much neither of us was willing now to admit defeat. Some countries follow a similar foreign policy.

I’d drunk what was to prove my final pint when it was John’s turn to match it. After four painful swallows his face turned a peculiar shade of green and he ran to the bathroom with me in close pursuit. No way was he going to tip that pint down the sink.

He sat on the edge of the bath drink in hand and vomiting. I sat alongside, a commiserating vulture, the rest outside confirming fair play. Someone afterwards told me how good I was, comforting and encouraging John in his moment of pain. If only they knew I was whispering viciously into his ear: ‘Drink you bastard, drink.’

Two tormented souls like something from a Russian novel.

Saturday, 10 May 2008

Hide and Seek and Swirling Stars.

A Swansea Bay

Ian Nairn was a fine journalist who wrote for the Observer newspaper. He did a series of articles on the most interesting towns and cities of Britain. I remember one comment he made about Swansea. It went something like this. “Not since leaving Liverpool have I seen such a display of sexuality and seedy vitality on the street.” So obviously I had done something right in making Swansea my university of choice.

A wonderful picture is conjured up of this lubricious and well oiled journalist peering down from the top of a Swansea bus at the crowded streets below. I remember the streets as being shabby and worn, and he didn’t mention the pubs which smelt of beer, unlike today; but everything else he said about Swansea was true.

What I don’t remember him saying is how breathtakingly beautiful the immediate area is, especially the coastline. We were fortunate living just over Langland Bay with other bays like Caswell, Three Cliffs, and Oxwich in easy reach. Each had their own peculiar magic that slowly seeped into you and never let go.

This picture reminds me of a Dennis Wheatley horror movie. It has something of the satanic ritual about it, but it's just us sharing a drink in the Langland House. I don't know who the woman is. I wish I did.

In our second year we rented a house in Langland. It overlooked the park where I rediscovered swings and slides, the potency of a roundabout at night when drunk, seeing how fast you could make the stars swirl round. In Langland we most often walked down to the Langland Bay hotel which had a dartboard and a pleasantly seedy bar. Alcohol bonds, allows a degree of telepathy, encourages schoolboy japes, disguises cruelty.

Langland Bay.

One night someone suggested a game of ‘Hide and Seek’ on the beach. Ian volunteered to be ‘Man’ while the rest of us hid. Nothing was said or planned; what happened just happened. We all crept quietly up the cliff path on our way home, listening to Ian counting up to twenty and then searching the rocks and chalets where we should have been hiding. We were on our second cup of tea when Ian finally reached home, thoroughly disgruntled whilst we felt thoroughly mean.

Rocks in Langland Bay

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Andy Stone

Andy Stone caught in the act - studying.


looks as if you have spent a significant amount of time working on your blog - looks pretty impressive. Some random reminiscences on Swansea you may ( or may not) remember or even agree with.

I'm not sure why we did not make it into hall that first year but we were allocated some boarding house accommodation by the Uni up past the Mumbles, in Langland. The address was 22 Higher Lane (you were right, I was wrong) & the kindest description I can conjure up is that is was a pretty odd establishment. A 3 or 4 story Victorian house inhabited by a near invisible old couple who had obviously decided that renting out some top floor garrets would enhance their income - however they would
rather not be directly involved & left contact with us aliens to their housekeeper. To my shame I cannot remember her name, but she had a heart of gold & was cheerful despite obviously having a pretty hard life. To use non PC but correct language, she was very short & had a pronounced hunchback.

In a way that I'm not sure happens today the house threw seven disparate students together, mixtures of middle, lower middle & working class revolutionary from up't north, midlands & south west. Not saying which fell into each category but as I recall there was, in no particular order:

John Stratford - from Cirencester on a Post Office sponsored
sandwich course doing Electrical Engineering.

Brian Moss - from Bolton (before it became Notlob) doing Mechanical Engineering who I think was a mature student & actually had a car - a Triumph Herald. I think he smoked a pipe, if not he prob does now.

Ian Jones - From Formby, a mountaineer & Geologist, who seemed to bear the brunt of many schoolboy pranks. If it is not too late for an apology, I think we owe him one.

John Davies - From Exeter doing (I think) Zoology. Very successful with the ladies & with a novel way of drying shirts. He used to put them on a baking tray in the oven. Maybe women find the smell of roast chicken irresistible? Who would have thought that Chicken OXO is an aphrodisiac.....

Mick Gray - From near Alsager near Sandbach, doing English? Very sporty jack the lad - always up for a beer & a game of football in the park. Had the heavy burden of supporting Crewe, who were as bad then as they are now.

Andy Stone - oops thats me. a very shy retiring las from the west country who found Wales a bit odd. Also like caving - god knows why. Electrical engineering - because it seemed a good idea at the time.

Mike Keyton - A bespectacled, intense lad from Liverpool. Instantly had some sort of kudos as that’s where the Beatles came from. Generally seen as a wild eyed revolutionary who sold The Militant and argued endlessly about the rise of the proletariat in a post capitalist peoples dictatorship etc etc. After some alarm we decided that he fitted the description later coined by Douglas Adams to describe the Earth, 'Mostly Harmless'.

Thats the cast list. Seven blokes thrust randomly into digs & attending a Uni about 5 miles way with uncertain public transport. I remember the first evening there was a gathering of all ‘freshers’ in the refectory to be addressed by the Chancellor (or at least someone in the far distance who looked important). Best years of your life, grasp the opportunity, world is yours etc. Every bloke there was thinking: where is the bar & what do the women look like?

Although they had just about mastered the art of drinking halves slowly (Starlight at 1s /10d a pint) skills for chatting up the ladies were non existent - with the exception of John Davies I think who met a girl called Sue (prob that night knowing John) & led her a merry dance for the next 3 years. Us mere mortals just gazed from a distance. With hindsight I now know that the girls were also in a similar state of unpreparedness - eying the motley crew with disdain.We then walked back to the digs along the beach, which seemed to take forever. Well it was 5 miles...

Thats all for now, if the creative urge returns I'll add a little more.


Saturday, 3 May 2008

There are faces I remember.

To misquote John Lennon 'There are Faces I Remember' This was one of my early ones.

I was desperate to leave home, excited to leave Liverpool not because either were bad but for reasons I still don’t quite understand. Maybe early hospitalization and rejection as the fat kid with glasses who couldn’t run were responsible. It made for detachment, and outsiders find it easy to move on. A less self absorbed motive might lie in the genes. Liverpool is a city of explorers, and it was the late sixties and like everyone else I just wanted to get out there.

I remember my father carrying my suitcase to the bus stop, and shaking my hand. Shortly after that he suffered a stroke and spent the rest of his life in purgatory. Along with my mum.

The train to Swansea had all the magic of the Hogwarts Express. We arrived at the station late evening where a University van was waiting to pick us up. Total strangers tumbled in the back and we were dropped off like World War II parachutists in flats and boarding houses all over the city.

I ended up in 17 Higher Lane, Langland, though Andy stone insists it was number 22. It was a boarding house with pretensions. The couple who owned it were silver haired and carried with them an air of pre-war gentility. They found us intrusive, but needed the money. The man always ate his breakfast alone and we were not allowed in until he had finished. The woman spoke to us as though wearing white gloves. They had allowed tradesmen into their house. All our needs were met by Beatrice a middle-aged hunchback who showed a fierce and undeviating loyalty to the woman with permed hair and the man who ate by himself.

17 Higher Lane.

The best thing about university is the people you meet and the manner in which social backgrounds merge and interact. I was a grubby scouser, tribal, parochial and convinced of ‘the truth.’ I shared a room with Andy Stone who spoke with a soft west country bur and tried to convince me that a band called ‘Love’ was superior to the Rolling Stones. He spoke of Keynesham ,and did imitations of a man called Horace Batchelor who spoke on Radio Luxemburg, selling his formula on how to win big on the Football Pools. Adjoining rooms were inhabited by John Davies, son of an Exeter University Professor. We envied his success with woman. A C17th rake but who settled down for a period of connubial bliss with the beautiful Sue, a red-head from Cardiff. Mick Gray from Alsager near Crewe; too old to be a puppy, he reminded me of an exuberant young dog. Brian Moss, possessed of a dry Bolton accent, was the prince amongst us because of his car, a white Triumph Herald.
Mick Grey, wearing his girl-friend's shower cap.

John Davies, the young D'artagnon with a lamp in lieu ofa sword

Finally, there was John Stratford from Cirencester who broke the stereotype of electrical engineers by having Stendhal as his bedtime reading, and Ian Jones who we treated with unwarranted cruelty and to whom I now apologize with all my heart.

Tomorrow there’ll be a post from Andy Stone and later, I hope memories of others who shared that house and later the much grander house on Langland Road with its ‘obviator’.