Saturday, 10 January 2009

Jan gets Smaller and Smaller ... Then Disappears Completely

If the song's not broke
why bother to fix it?
Don't mix it up
with some
hard-assed jive.
You don't want to mess
(like all the rest)
with a good thing!

It's karaoke
and curry night at the
Wellwood Arms Inn:
hard-assed jive.
The place comes alive.
(Opened at five.)
It's a great thing!

Girls smoking in the
doorway, boys are passing
a joint around,
then some
hard-assed jive
drags them back inside.
(Gone with the tide.)
That's a good thing!

There's a punter drunk
outside my flat tonight.
But it's alright:
just some
hard-assed jive
got the boy that way.
(And he won't stay.)
Though he can sing!

Might just sing along
with that kid for a laugh.
A melody,
but no
hard-assed jive.
Morning's coming fast
(the night has passed).
The lark will sing!

If the song's not broke
You've no need to fix it.
Don't mix it up
with some
hard-assed jive.
You don't want to mess
(but do your best)
with a good thing!

Ross Eldridge (Hard-assed Jive)

"WHY AMBLE BY THE SEA?" people ask me regularly. And the answer is not the flippant "Why not?" even though it might be somewhat correct to respond that way.

When asked what attracted me to this seaside town, I can only truthfully say that I turned up here late one morning to pick up some brochures on local attractions from the Tourism Offices on the Amble Town Square and one thing after another fell into place. By mid-afternoon I had a partially furnished flat, a list of what I might be needing (not much) and a date to move in. I must admit, in my mind that day, I measured the flat for a small dog. Two years on, I got him.

And that came back to me this afternoon as I walked from my home to purchase some goat's milk from the Co-op, which is really a minimart, a corner store, smaller than the 7-Elevens one sees in the United States of America. It is early January on the North Sea coast of England, about 35 miles south of the Scottish Borders. If one swam due west, one would … assuming one did not freeze to death … end up at the entrance to the Baltic Sea. Mind that freighter coming from Russia with coals for Newcastle!

With January comes the frigid weather: And we've had a blast from the Arctic this week. Rivers, lakes and puddles are freezing over, the fountains in Trafalgar Square are frozen (I'd like to see that), snow in places. Very small ponies near me are wearing blankets and I wondered if the horse-blanket folks make them that size only by special request, not routinely. Might these ponies be the descendants of the pit ponies?

This afternoon I was bundled against the cold, six layers above the waist. Protect the chest, the throat: I don't want the bronchitis that seemed as if it would kill me off a year ago (in milder weather). I waddled down my street and joined a half-dozen or so other penguins wandering, bobbing along really, and headed towards the minimart on the pavement on my (north) side of the street. There were no people coming towards me. On the other side of the street was one lady, walking in the same direction that I was, so all I saw were the backs of people.

I recognised the lady on the other side of the street, even from the back, even though she was layered and over-coated, wearing a woollen cap, and her movements mostly masked by the extra clothing. It might have been her carrier bag, but more likely it was the foot of her maxi-skirt showing below her coat. A lovely printed fabric in many colours, tending to the darker shades, the sort of patterns that the hippies were wearing 40 years ago. It was Jan from the Tourist Information Office.

Three years ago my father's youngest brother drove my aunt and me into Amble prior to a jaunt up the coast to do some sight-seeing. We found the Tourist Information Office easily: Amble is such a small place, with only one main street a narrow block in from the water. The building housing Tourist Information looks quite new (half of the building is a public toilet), and is bright and colourful inside: postcards, pamphlets, books, films, souvenirs, and a live television feed to a bird sanctuary on an offshore island. And there was a lady at a desk three years ago.

I always buy postcards, and headed straight for those. Then I got chatting with the lady at the desk as she totted up my cards and other small purchases. My accent gave me away as someone not exactly from around here. I could have passed as a local if I'd spoken with a Scottish burr, or in the Newcastle Geordie dialect, or Pitmatic, but I sound foreign. In any case, the lady had not heard my accent recently (it was out of season, tourist-wise, and her office was rather quiet) and that usually requires an explanation. Yes, I don't really sound American. Could it be Canadian? The lady had relatives in Canada.

I had been wondering about renting a flat somewhere in this part of the world, which I'd fallen in love with. I'd been staying at The Angler's Rest Inn in Sheepwash, Northumberland, I asked the lady at the Tourist Information about the possibilities of finding bed-sit (efficiency) apartments, furnished, in this area. She immediately telephoned the town's real estate agency. Yes. Yes. I will. Yes, Bye now. I could walk two blocks and the real estate folks would be glad to chat with me.

Before I left, I did introduce myself, and the Tourism lady was Jan… with rather modest flower-power 1960s clothes.

At the Agency, they happened to have an available, vacant flat, furnished, just up the street (in Amble, everything is just along the street, it is that small). They could call the owner, and did. Yes. Yes, I will. Ta-ra! To me: Paul will meet you there.

Ten minutes later my landlord was showing me around this flat. My first thought was that it was too big. The kitchen is nearly twenty foot square, which is daunting. However, the rent was right and the location was fine. I shook my new landlord's hand. The deal was done.

It was Jan's back that I saw on the far side of the street yesterday. I pop into the Tourism Office now and then to buy local gifts to send to family and friends, so I see Jan from time to time there. But she also plays the organ at the Roman Catholic chapel next to my flat and I sometimes see her up this way. Of the many Amble friends I have now, she is the first.

Jan was walking away from me faster than I was, for I was daydreaming a little. I thought how short Jan is, though it might have been the many coats she was wearing, making her look nearly as wide as she was tall. As she approached the corner across from the Co-op, she seemed so small that she would not have been able to see over garden walls. Then she turned right at Olive's Tea Room. I reached the junction in a few seconds, but no sign of Jan. Had she become so small that she'd disappeared?

I remembered the lines from Alice in Wonderland:

"The White Rabbit actually took a watch out of its waistcoat-pocket, and looked at it, and then hurried on, Alice started to her feet, for it flashed across her mind that she had never before seen a rabbit with either a waistcoat-pocket, or a watch to take out of it, and burning with curiosity, she ran across the field after it, and fortunately was just in time to see it pop down a large rabbit-hole under the hedge."

That's the way Amble by the Sea can be. Small ponies and short people, and friends popping up and then seeming to vanish. Yes, I saw Jan again today. If we fall down rabbit-holes, we somehow reappear quite safe and sound, usually smiling, even under cold, grey skies.

I love this part of England's green and pleasant land.

1 comment:

Camroc Press Review said...

Gosh, I've missed you, Ross. How lovely this is. You are so glib and ramble to such pleasant climes, I doubt you could ever restrict yourself to 550 words, but should you sometime feel so inclined, let me post some hard-assed jive from you.