Monday, October 29, 2007

St Ives

Drawing towards the end of a busy month, Emma and I paid a visit to Cornwall, to see Cornish Ian, and his wife, Foxy Chloe (she being of a family of fox-hunting Countryside Alliance supporters). Upon reaching Cornwall, it was especially pleasing to find Ian in good form, despite his having lost his mother just over a month earlier (heart failure, in her mid-50s). I would have discreetly enquired as to how supportive Chloe had been, had it not been patently obvious that in her every move and comment, she was a tower of strength, support and practicality.

During our stay, we spent evenings with our hosts, and entertained ourselves during the day.

Leaving for a day in St Ives, I noticed the house name-plate that I’d missed on arriving, the previous evening.

On reaching the coast, the first major sighting of the sea is always pleasing. On this occasion, it translated into a shiver as I anticipated the bracing sea air.

We walked into town.
In a hairdresser’s, an old lady had her hair done. Perhaps she had been seduced by the images in the window.

In a confectioner’s, there was a dominant theme.

Our walk took us out onto the seafront, and along the short pier.

It was windy.

Returning to the seafront, I was chilled in a 'should have worn a thicker sweater' sort of way.
Emma agreed that we should take temporary refuge in a nearby café. It proved to be a hidden gem. Despite being part of a rather dated members-only club, we were able to stay due to Emma charming the bar staff.

Cosy, was the word.

As I’d imagined, looking out over the harbour was relaxing. The setting was one of those that is good for switching off, for fully unwinding, for idling.

The seagulls were putting on a good show.

We took a walk to the harbour’s west wall, whereupon Emma pointed out a seal that moved more quickly than my camera-phone-grabbing self did. Still, the azure couldn’t be taken for granted.

With morning disappeared, we wended our way back through the streets to the Sea Food Café, for lunch.

It was very popular – hat duly off to Emma for earlier suggesting that we book a table.

Sated and warmed, we felt it necessary to take a walk, lest we be guilty of sloth.
Walking towards the west headland, we passed a fine knocker.

A butterfly, caught my eye.

Grey, blue and green, then forged a scene.

Back to the east, a windswept feast.

And with sunshine replete, we were cast at our feet.

We made a smooth return to town.

Emma spotted a necklace that she liked.

At which point, I remembered that we had committed to providing dessert.

Heading back to the car park, Emma recalled an unusual sign.

Emma: Did you see what that sign said – the one on the door of the bakers?
Shane: Nope. I was very much crumble-focused.
Emma: It said ‘Frozen rabbits – three pounds each’. In a cakes and sweets shop!
Shane: Really?
Emma: Yeah.
Shane: When in Cornwall...
Emma: Maybe.
Shane: Probably best not mention the store of frozen rabbits when we unveil the crumble.
Emma: Best not.
Shane: Mm. Now, if we hurry, we might be able to get up to Truro in time for me to show you that paper owl.
Emma: Paper owl?
Shane: Didn’t I mention it?

Back at our hosts’ home, we enjoyed a butternut squash risotto, followed by rhubarb crumble and custard – a beckoning winter beckons winter food.
At around 9pm, we were sat around talking. Emma paused mid-sentence.

Emma: …I can hear hooting.
All: (silence)
Shane: I can’t hear anything.
Emma: Shhhh.
(A barely audible tone)
Chloe: (whispering) Oh, brilliant! (rising) The owl box!
Shane: Eh?
Ian: (whispering, rising) She made me put up an owl box – in the tree just outside of your bedroom window – part of my unofficial bereavement therapy. Come on, let’s have a look – leave the upstairs lights off.

Up the stairs, onto the landing, a left turn, quietly – slowly - through the bedroom door, an immediate right turn, and we all crept towards the window.

Chloe looked first, then drew Emma closer to her. Emma waved Ian and I over.

Perched on a branch just outside of the owl box, looking away from us, sat a tawny owl.

Impressed, we whispered.

Shane: Good work.
Ian: Thanks.
Chloe: Good, isn’t it.
Emma: It’s amazing.
Despite very little light filtering into the room, I noticed Ian put an arm around Chloe. He smiled an owl-related half smile, but not without a wateriness to his eyes.

Sunday, October 21, 2007


One week ago, Alex’ paternal grandmother called to ask if he would be able to join her, and his grandpa and cousin Harry (‘He’s nearly eleven’), for a trip to the theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme. The answer was ‘Yes, he is able and willing’. And so, they planned to see Jacqueline Wilson’s The Suitcase Kid, on Saturday 20th October.

On Friday 19th October, grandma received a friend’s review of the play and from that determined that ‘It may be unsuitable for the boys, it might unsettle them’. Thus, their trip was cancelled - they would not see the play.

The key context here, for grandma, is that both Harry and Alex (whose Dads are brothers) were born to couples who split-up a short number of years after the births of Harry and Alex, respectively. In other words, both grandsons are subject to the kinds of reconstituted families that are at the heart of The Suitcase Kid story.

Despite feeling disappointed at grandma’s turnaround on their theatre trip, I recognised that she was acting for all the right reasons – even though she may have been underestimating her youngest grandson, at least. At short notice, this had left a bit a gaping hole in Saturday… until, that is, grandma floated an alternative suggestion by Emma.

Emma: Shane.
Shane: Mm?
Emma: Celia says that she and Eric will still have Alex and Harry on Saturday afternoon.
Shane: Mm, good.
Emma: They’re gonna go out for a country walk.
Shane: Good – great outdoors and all that, good for them to get out before winter properly kicks in.
Emma: Mm. (pause) And she’s asked if we would like to join them.
Shane: (pause, processes the very idea) Oooooh.
Emma: Don’t freak out.
Shane: I’m not.
Emma: I know it sounds a bit -
Shane: Aaaaah.
Emma: (laughing) I think it’ll be ok.
Shane: Ohhhhh - spending a Saturday afternoon with the parents of the Ex of your partner...
Emma: It’ll be fine.
Shane: It’ll be weird - very weird.
Emma: A bit weird, but they like you.
Shane: They don’t know me.
Emma: (pause) But they know Alex.
Shane: No comment.
Emma: I'll take that as a ‘Yes’, then.
Shane: Eh?

So, Emma, Alex and I joined Celia, Eric and young Harry (whose Dad and stepmother had gone shopping), shortly after midday. The boys were excited; the grown-ups were polite, if a little shuffling. From the grandparents’ house, we headed for a Woodland Walk close to the nearby Trentham Estate - once the site of a Beatles concert, now famed for its Monkey Park.

Once the boys had initiated a game of tag, it was hard to feel anything other than playful. Unfortunately, grandma didn’t have a chance. In fact, she rather made me think of the word 'behemoth'. Perhaps that was unkind.

From a bridge, we played Pooh sticks. I explained to Harry that the ‘h’ was the most important letter in the name of that game.

There were pleasing sightings throughout the walk. There was a pony.

There were some really interesting trees – gnarled and fallen and lovely and liney.

There were chatty strangers, with a basket of allegedly edible fungi. It was his first walk through this wood. He was from Bucknall, a nearby town. It was her umpteenth walk through this wood. She looked and sounded as though of South East Asian origin.
I contemplated the power of the internet.

There was a fleeting dog – a dog that did fleet.

And as Celia and Eric had, by now, become fully enthralled by the mushrooming opportunities about their very feet, I too paid closer attention to the floor.
Leaves, so gorgeous.

And sky – not without merits.

Boys being boys, there had to be some stick-carrying.

But mine was bigger.

A couple of hours later, we had garnered the materials to return to Celia and Eric’s for an alternatively artistic end-of-afternoon with their grandsons.

And they didn’t disappoint.

Back at home, we reflected.

Emma: Wasn’t bad, was it?
Shane: No, it was ok. Harry’s a good kid - Alex clearly likes him, and Eric’s a nice man, and Celia… she is nice also.
Emma: What were you and Eric talking about?
Shane: Places, mostly. He asked me what my first impressions of Stoke-on-Trent had been.
Emma: And?
Shane: I said I liked it – it seemed like a very unpretentious place
Emma: Mm, good.
Shane: …and that it had a lot to be unpretentious about.
Emma: Shane!
Shane: It’s alright – he laughed.

And out of what seemed like nowhere:

Alex: I think I’ll live in London (where his Dad lives) when I’m grown up.
Emma: (a bit shocked) (trying not to sound a bit shocked) Oh right. Why’s that then?
Alex: Cos it’s got big bridges – loads of them. The bridge that we went over today was titchy. Tower Bridge is massive!
From the mouths and rationale of Suitcase Kids...

Tuesday, October 16, 2007


Last weekend, following some deft planning, a long and winding road took us west, into mid-Wales.

As a treat to Emma, following her recent Ph.D. triumph, it was determined that we should take a relaxing break at The Ffynnon Townhouse, in Dolgellau, Gwynedd. Set in a renovated and refurbished former rectory, the exterior of the building matched the earthen greys of the town.

Stepping into the property, it was immediately clear that this was to be a far from grey residence, as others have testified.

Soon after arriving, we scrubbed up prior to taking our table reservation at the nearby Penmaenuchaf Hotel. There, we began with drinks and nibbles in the lounge.

Despite being three decades younger than all other diners, we managed to play the evening like this was the norm for us (my picture-taking remaining discreet). Our ruse was that I was a professional footballer (probably more Macclesfield than Manchester), and that Emma was my WAG.

It was good that the tricky journey was behind us. We relaxed into the evening.

Shane: You look good.
Emma: Thank you. So do you.
Shane: Thanks… My tie-sweater combo aren’t too lurid?
Emma: You’re doing ok – relax –save your energy.
Shane: Mm?

I realised that I had failed to properly wash the driving directions to Dolgellau from my hand - what an embarrassing school-boy error.

Not that that mattered, I was to have other things to distract me.

It’s true. We got back to Ffynnon to find a body in the bath!

Only kidding. The body is Emma’s, she brought it with her - that is, the body is she – relaxing - she’s not weird or owt (I would like to dedicate that last word to my parents; ‘owt’ is a colloquialism for ‘anything’).

Anyway, back to Wales… At this stage of the evening, with Emma looking utterly delectable, myself feeling roused, and it getting late, I could not help but to glance over the forbidden.

God bless WiFi.

Following a good night’s sleep, and stuff, Saturday saw us walk into Dolgellau town centre, where we took lunch.

Afterwards, we drove down the coast road to Aberdyfi, where Emma got to see the site of Alex’ summer crabbing success.
We walked on the beach and got arty.

Emma: What are you doing?
Shane: I’m taking a photo of the seafront properties, from an upside down yoga-type crab position.
Emma: (pause) Why not just turn your phone upside down?
Shane: (gasping) Shhhh – I’m innovating.

In late afternoon, we took a mountainous route back to Dolgellau.
I’d brought good reading, I ran a bath.

But alas, my reading would have to wait.

The best laid plans…

On Saturday evening, we arrived a little late for an excellent dinner at the Dylanwad restaurant.

The weekend bore no more photographs - my batteries were out of...

Thursday, October 11, 2007


Alex’ recent bed-time stories have seen us working our way through J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. Last night, we read the first chapter of the fourth book – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. After that, we dipped into a work of literature no less impressive in scale, imagination and sophisticated editing - 'My Very Own Bible'.

This later reading has begun to plug a huge void in my own reading; far from seeking to find God, stories that I slept through 25 years ago now seem worth following – simply for the sake of their being interesting stories.

Having argued against reading ‘Noah and the Ark’ again, we struck a deal to set about reading through the Old Testament and New Testament, in order. So, we read the eight pages that were devoted to ‘God Made the World’ and ‘The Garden of Eden’, the second of these two stories featuring the paragraph:
God knew what had happened. ‘You can no longer stay here,’ said God. ‘You must
go out into the wide world where you will find good things and bad things all
mixed together. Your life will be hard, and one day you will die.’

In our house, that’s a recipe for formative theological debate:

Alex: I wonder why they ate the apple.
Shane: Mm.
Alex: Maybe they were just hungry.
Shane: Maybe.
Alex: (pause, thinking) So, if God had just kept working for a bit longer, and made them a packed lunch, then maybe they wouldn’t have had to eat the apple?
Shane: I suppose.
Alex: Or he could have just given them a massive packet of Quavers.
Shane: Mm.
Alex: (contentedly) Ah well, fat pigs!
Shane: Be sure to not let your grandma hear you talk like that.
Alex: (objecting) I didn’t call her a fat pig! I called Adam and Eve fat pigs!
Shane: Yes, I know you did – and grandma wouldn’t find that funny.
Alex: Why not?
Shane: Because… because grandma likes God a lot, and she wouldn’t want to hear you calling his creations ‘fat pigs’.
Alex: Well -
Shane: It’s sleep time.
Alex: Can I call you a f-
Shane: No. Good night.
Alex: Good night, thin pig!
Shane: Good night.

I sense that grandma will soon face an odd biblical grilling, and as Alex mixes up his stories, there’s a good chance that she will have to dispel such notions as God ever being a caster of spells, mixer of potions or indeed a plain-as-day wizard.

I bet Jesus would have been a Gryffindor.

Monday, October 08, 2007


* A blog post proffering oh so low quality photographs… we were in a hurry.

A last-minute grand-parental offer to look after Alex, and some equally last-minute hawking about for tickets, saw Emma and I head off to a gig - Damien Rice (singer/song-writer). Unusually, this meant going out, on a Friday, together.

Neither of us were especially au fait with Nottingham – for gig, ‘twas there, nor were we up to date with the Rice repertoire, but still, like that mattered - we were going out, on a Friday, together.

En route:

Emma: You’ll probably have to replace this (car) in the next year or so.
Shane: Nonsense - in ordinary car terms, my trusty Peugeot steed - no ordinary car - is a mere teenager.

Closing in on Nottingham:

Emma: (Looking leftwards) Ugly, those things, aren’t they?
Shane: I like them – they’re so dramatic – bit like the ones on the M1 near Sheffield – they spring out of nowhere, and they’re so close to the road that you do drive in their shadow.
Emma: Unless you’re driving at night.
Shane: Yeah.

Pre-gig dining:

Shane: (thinking ‘I can only just about move following my late enormo-lunch’) I’ll be light-biting – healthily, even.
Emma: You trying to impress me?
Shane: Not now, not ever!
Emma: (amused) This place - its lighting…
Shane: I know where it reminds me of.
Emma: Green tights?
Shane: (blissfully) Mm.
Emma: Bad… but good.

Shane: That was good.
Emma: Mm, apart from the...

Following a bit of work-talk, Emma glanced over some notes that I handed to her:

Shane: I like the fact that I can make lazy reference to ‘Chancellor's annual spending review’ and you know what I’m talking about.
Emma: Must mean that we’re meant to be together… ‘They know their policy frameworks – woo-hoo!’

Shane: We’ll have to get going soon.
Emma: One last drink?
Shane: (checks time) Oh what the heck – it’s Friday, we’re out, let’s go a bit mad!
Emma: Let's.

Shane: We’ll have to hurry if we’re to catch the support act.

Emma: Look! A grand building! Get it!

Shane: Got it earlier.
Emma: Good work, keep moving!

Shane: You see those flowers?
Emma: Yeah.
Shane: If we weren’t in a hurry, I’d get you some.
Emma: And I’d say ‘thank you’.
Shane: You’d be welcome.

Shane: Whew! Tickets?
Emma: They're here.

Shane: I hear music – the support act is on.
Emma: You know you ought to be careful.
Shane: What do you mean?
Emma: Going round appearing to take pictures of strangers’ crotches isn’t generally seen as an ok thing.

Shane: Annnnnnnd relax.
Emma: It’s very… convention-al, isn’t it?
Shane: Mm, makes me want to preach.
Emma: Please don’t.

Back in the car, after a very good gig (that later sparked a weekend of Ricesque warbling, ‘Stones taught me to…’):

Emma: Do you think we’ll be here long?
Shane: No – it’ll clear soon. You can sleep if you like.
Emma: Ta.

One hour of Emma sleep later:

Emma: (Groggy) Oh. I thought I’d been asleep for a while.
Shane: You have.
Emma: Have we moved?
Shane: We’ve come down two levels – only five more to go.
Emma: Hey ho.

And as the in-car digital display begins to flash ‘Brake Fluid – Level Low’ (I was too distracted to take a picture):

Shane: Oh bollocks - my trusty steed’s trying to tell me something.
Emma: (noting the digital display) Bloody teenagers!
Shane: (unimpressed) I'm eyeing you.
Emma: Later, if you're lucky.

And on that note, the steed bucked-up its ideas and got us (and itself) home in tact.
And that, was our Nottingham.
It was good.