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Posts Tagged ‘Tony Quarrington’


The Four Umbrella Sketch
(with thanks /apologies to Monty Python)

Behind the clean, efficient counter of the lost property department at Euston Station lurks a dense jungle of paraphenalia left by passengers, including mobile phones, sunglasses and purses.

And a vast and assorted collection of umbrellas.

The office has been closed for hours, and the last train has long left the station.

All is quiet – until four of the department’s, hopefully temporary, residents break away to the furthest corner and engage in earnest conversation.

The first umbrella, a Liberty print ladies version, opened the debate by stating that “you won’t believe how I ended up here. My owner brought me from North Wales on a shopping trip. By early afternoon she had accumulated designer bags from Harrod’s, John Lewis, Harvey Nichols and many other high end stores. She turned down the offer of a bag to put me in, as it was raining steadily outside at the time, and I was called into immediate action.

I had a premonition even then that, in the panic and confusion that was bound to accompany the train’s arrival at Crewe for her connection, I might be left behind. And so I was, though I did get an extra trip back to London.

I suspect the half bottle of Prosecco she drank on the journey didn’t help”.

A foldable child’s Peppa Pig design replied “mine was a young mother with two kids, both with their own umbrellas. I “belonged” to her five year old daughter, and the six year old boy carried one in the shape of a particularly ugly frog. Their mum had brought them to London for the day from Hemel Hempstead to visit the Natural History and Science Museums.

The day was going well until it was time to catch the train home. As they gathered their belongings for the return journey, mum discovered that one of the umbrellas was missing and harangued her daughter for leaving it somewhere, the precise location and timing being a total mystery at the time.

Well, I can exclusively reveal now that I was left in the ladies’ loo opposite Platforms 1 and 2.

Oh, and by the way, that blasted frog survived the ordeal”.

At that point, a multi-coloured beach brolly interrupted, insisting that “they’re both conventional ways of being left behind. My abandonment was much more interesting. They brought me, along with their two teenage boys, from Watford Junction on a day trip to the seaside. I spent five hours on Viking Bay Beach at Broadstairs, shielding them from the whistling wind and intermittent drizzle, I blew inside out at least twenty times (fortunately my spokes are strong and I didn’t suffer any lasting damage), and how did they repay me?

Left me to go round the entire Circle Line three times, being pushed from seat to seat (I nearly gone thrown onto the platform at Shepherd’s Bush Market), before a kind commuter picked me up and brought me here”.

A large, black, Ministry of Defence affair with hand carved ash handle had been listening to these laments with increasing irritation. He could not restrain himself any longer and haughtily exclaimed “that’s all very interesting but incredibly boring. My owner is a senior civil servant currently employed on top secret government business. It is as highly stressful as it is well remunerated, and requires high intelligence and discretion. He needs to relieve himself – literally – on occasions or it would all become too much.

So, his Tuesday afternoons are set aside for visits to a professional lady along the road from here at King’s Cross. To cover his tracks he always walks from his office in Whitehall and, due to today’s inclement weather, I was recruited to join him. We arrived at the appointed time and he promptly disappeared to carry out his business. At least he had the good grace to prop me by the door to the flat rather than condemn me to witness the proceedings from the inner sanctum.

At the customary time of four in the afternoon, the door opened and, as immaculately attired as he had been when he arrived, he took his leave. However, with the sun strenuously trying to penetrate the tattered curtain in the lady’s bedroom, thus restricting his vision, he omitted to collect me on his way out.

So how did I get here, I hear you ask?

It transpired that, rather than, as I would have expected, she resided in the hovel that hosted the afternoon’s divertissement, the lady in question actually commuted to her place of work on a daily basis, just like the office workers and retail staff that frequent the concourse here from the early morning until midnight.

After attending to three more gentleman callers, she duly took the 18:57 to Birmingham New Street, but not without making a short detour to this establishment to place me in its safe custody.

I must say I was surprised, but equally gratified, to learn that the entertainment industry is as subject to gentrification as any other these days.

It makes one proud to be British”.

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When the day trippers leave

When the tattoos are covered up
And unsightly bellies are put away

When the swearing stops outside the pubs
And childrens’ squeals at the fountains
Turn to grumpy ingratitude

When the car parks empty
And the trails of traffic cease

When weary families trudge back
Up the crooked Old High Street

When I can get a seat again at Steep Street.

When I don’t stumble over
Discarded chip boxes and plastic beer glasses

When the angry squawk of the gulls
Is reduced to a plaintive mew

When Harbour Arm food stalls are locked
And music and laughter have faded into silence

When the ghosts of Hengist and Horsa
And the Orient Express caress my memory

When the sun disappears and clouds return
And waves lash against the Copt Point rocks

When the day trippers leave

That is my time

That is my Folkestone.

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I dreamt long last night of San Francisco,
As I have done on so many nights since
I left my heart there twenty years ago,
I trust these verses will you too convince.

I stood upon summer brown Bernal Hill,
Watching the golden city laid before me
Like a lover spread ‘cross a crumpled bed,
In no sweeter place would I rather be.

Standing astride the stunning Sunset steps
As Karl the Fog weaves his cool, wondrous spell,
Slicing Sutro Tower in half before,
In a heartbeat, it returns and all’s well.

Hanging for dear life from the cable car
I crest the hill on Hyde at dawn of day,
Siren song from all the foghorns moaning
As we hurtle down to the glistening bay.

Eating popovers by Pacific shore
Among the tourists and locals well dressed,
Humming to O Sole Mio on a Saturday
While wrestling a ristretto at Trieste.

Hailing Emperor Norton and his doting flock,
As they follow him on the Barbary Coast,
Waiting two hours in Mama’s breakfast line
For bacon, eggs benedict and French toast.

Hunting for tie-dye tees in Hippie Haight,
Paying homage to Harvey on Castro Street,
Reading a whole novel on the F Streetcar
As it clanks and clatters to a Market beat.

Drinking a cool, tall glass of Anchor Steam
With ghosts of Ginsberg, Neal and Kerouac,
In North Beach’s celebrated beat retreat
With Joyce’s peering portrait at my back.

Gorging on Gilroy’s garlic fries at the yard
As gulls circle above to claim what’s left,
Pablo slams a mighty walk off splash hit
To leave downhearted Dodgers fans bereft.

Sharing tales of shows at the Fillmore West
In Martha’s line for coffee and muffin,
The Blackpool boat tram glides past and waves
To Lovejoy’s ladies taking tea and tiffin.

The scent of jasmine on our Noe porch,
Sea lions honking on the wharfside pier,
Sourdough crust with Coppola chardonnay,
And that bracelet of bridges held so dear.

These and other images engulf my mind –
Painted houses, murals and gleaming bay,
Neighbourhoods full of music, food and fun –
I mourn the undue advent of the day.

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This is an adaptation, and considerable shortening, of a piece I wrote a couple of years ago.

 

Mermaid Beach at Dusk

On a night like this, the Cote d’Opale
Might as well be a thousand miles away.

It is a calm, quiet, otherworldly evening
After a dank, dreary December day;
Sky and sea present an ashen canvas.
Tonight it is impossible to tell
Where one ends and the other starts.

Despite slimy conditions underfoot,
I elect to descend from
The well-lit comfort of the Leas
To the chilly Channel seashore.

Barely a whisper from the surf tonight.
I cannot even hear Matthew Arnold’s
“Grating roar of pebbles
Which the waves draw back”,
So faint is nature’s melody this evening.

Across town, an artwork springs to mind,
Above Tontine Street’s old post office
Proclaims that heaven is a place
Where nothing ever happens.

Because nothing is happening tonight
In this desolate speck of paradise.

But then, everything is happening.

To the east, the lighthouse blinks
Through the thick, enfolding gloom;
A tuneless, abandoned church bell
Hangs silently suspended above
Where once stood rotunda, swimming pool,
Boating lake and fairground rides.

A dalmatian puppy snuffles among
The seaweed encrusted pebbles
On the dark shoreline, while its
Fretful owner punctures the peace
With impassioned and fruitless pleas
To follow her back across the beach,
To the refuge of her Range Rover.

A lone fisherman sets out his stall
For what appears a long night ahead,
Reminding me of all night sessions
With my teddy boy uncle fifty years ago,
On the shingle beach at Dungeness.

I wonder now why I ever went,
I was never interested in fishing!

Pastel hued beach chalets are now
Padlocked up for the winter,
Along with the Mermaids Cafe Bar,
Welcome pit stop on the promenade
From Folkestone to its upstart neighbours,
Sandgate, Seabrook and “posh” Hythe.

I defy anyone to assert that they
Do not like to be “beside the seaside”;
And I look forward to a first full summer
Season in my coastal home next year.

However, it is at moments like this,
With the cold, dark sea alone for company,
When enjoyment is such a feeble word
To evoke the effect of this magical place;
I can only equate it to a profound love,
Both infatuation and long term comfort.

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One of the iconic images of the great British seaside holiday of the fifties and sixties is of happy families playing beach cricket.  Everyone joined in, playing with children’s bats, balls and stumps that reduced fathers who fancied themselves as Dexter or Sobers to the same level of competence as their seven year old sons, non-sporting wives and even the family dog (when they were still allowed on the beach between May and September). Truly, we had “never had it so good”.

Sadly, the advent of the foreign package holiday, breakdown in traditional family structures and expansion of alternative leisure pursuits, all contrived to render such a scene virtually obsolete.  Over the past weekend, therefore, I embarked upon a one man (at least for now) campaign to revive this venerable but floundering tradition, pitching up on Ramsgate Main Sands with my wife at 2pm on Sunday for an impromptu game.

I say impromptu because my planning had left something to be desired – a brief glance at the tide times beforehand would have revealed that this was the worst time of the day to start.  Nevertheless, after twenty minutes inspecting the fast diminishing slither of sand along the bay, I found a strip that was marginally more playable than the Rose Bowl.  It quickly became clear, however, that if the game was to be remotely watchable, or attract other participants, it was pointless bowling anything other than full tosses because once the ball had pitched, it was firmly plugged into the sand.

“Sticky dog” wicket aside, it proved a batsman’s paradise as the leg side boundary shortened sharply with the onrushing scum brown tide, ensuring that the merest of flicks resulted in a boundary.  That said, the smacking of  my extra cover drives against the sea wall was more satisfying.  Frank Keating once wrote that Ian Botham played a net “as if he is on Weston-super-Mare beach and the tide is coming in fast”.  I’d like to think that if you substituted Broadstairs for Weston, that might accurately describe my batting on this day.

Public interest was negligible, evidenced by a succession of families, oblivious of the sacred nature of my work, plodding across the wicket at regular intervals.  It reminded me of my primary school football pitch which had a concrete public footpath running diagonally across it, constantly trodden by young mothers with prams during vital matches against our bitter rivals from the adjoining parishes of Luton, Delce and Arden.  Understandably, dribbling was a skill particularly valued at Glencoe Road.

But back to the summer game.

Human indifference was not mirrored in the reaction of the indigenous bird population. An improbable infield of gulls occupyied short square leg, silly mid on and extra cover loitered, more, I suspect, in anticipation of the next tasty titbit thrown up by the thrashing waves than hovering in hope of a bat pad.  Their noisy sledging would have done justice to any Australian test team in history. Eventually, with the wicket completely submerged, the players were forced to dash from the square to the nearest ice cream van.

Undaunted, I resumed my missionary work two days later with a game on the much larger and more suitable Viking Bay beach in Broadstairs.  Low tide was scheduled for 2.04pm but, conscious that the tide came in a lot quicker than it went out, I decided that play should get underway an hour earlier.

An early inspection of prospective wickets revealed not only a soft, dune-like sand texture inconducive to a meaningful contest, but also an unmanageable abundance of people, deckchairs, windbreaks and bouncy castles, along with the ubiquitous volleyball court, populated by hordes of young Latino youths, led me to cancel plans to play there.  However, we rounded the bend at the end of the beach to enter Louisa Bay which, a full hour before the scheduled start of play,  sported a vast expanse of dark, compacted sand. Only sporadic handfuls of spectators scattered around what would serve as the boundary.

My excitement was heightened by the sight of  TWO sets of wickets already pitched further along the beach.  This was promising.  Our game got underway and soon acted as a magnet for every bored child on the beach.  Questions such as “can I play?” and “can my brother / sister join in?” (only the absence of the suffix “mister” reminded me I had not been transported back to 1960) were music to my ears as I suddenly found I was setting fields for TEN kids of assorted ages and having to remember in what order they all batted and bowled to avert tantrums.

The majority displayed more willing than competence, all wanting to field at mid wicket for some unaccountable reason (maybe the proximity of the tea hut and toilets had something to do with that), but uncomplainingly hared after every ball, regardless of how far and in what direction it had been despatched.  Falling into a rock pool or getting entangled in the profusion of seaweed were no barriers to their enthusiasm.

On a more serious note, it was heartening to learn that you could still play an innocent game in public with a group of children that you had never met before, without being accused of wanting to take salacious photographs of or, worse still, interfere with, them.  In fact, the parents seemed content to allow them to play, even the mother who was called upon to console her ten year old when he retired hurt after being struck on the left thigh by one of my rising eighty mile per hour inswingers.

The most poignant moment arose when one small boy advised me, with evident pride, and in hushed tones, that the reason his brother was scoring so freely with quasi-classical strokeplay and bowling off a run up that appeared to start just to the left of the Goodwin Sands, was because “he PLAYS cricket”.

The game lasted nearly three hours, interrupted only by obligatory lunch and tea intervals, dictated more by my need for regular rest than by the tyranny of the clock.  Each succeeding resumption of play appeared to draw even more players until the relentless waves washed the wicket away completely.

So beach cricket is alive and flourishing in the cradle of the game, not quite the High Weald, but still in God’s own county.  It can be no coincidence that shortly after this pilgrimage, I moved to Folkestone which boasts one of the firmest wickets on the coast at Sunny Sands.

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Life was never better
Than in Nineteen Sixty Three
Between the end of the snowbound winter
And Freddie’s You Were Made For Me.

On a cool August morning in Foord Road
A blue Vauxhall Victor groans to a stop,
Disgorging two pairs of flustered parents
And three kids chock full of crisps and pop.

No sooner the guest book’s been signed
The kids clamour to go to East Cliff Sands;
With the tide far out the beach is ripe
For making castles and handstands.

But it’s for cricket the boy yearns the most,
Pitching stumps and bails he scans the beach
For willing, smaller boys to do the fielding
While he smashed the ball out of their reach.

As sand recedes beneath insistent waves,
Cricket gives way to crazy golf with slides,
To amusement arcade and boating lake,
Rollercoasters and Rotunda rides.

He plays for plastic racing cars
And pinball machine high scores,
While parents play bingo for household goods
They could buy much cheaper in the stores.

And then there’s that first trip abroad
On a ferry bound for Boulogne-Sur-Mer,
The boy spends his time bent overboard,
In bitter tears and silent prayer.

But he brightens at promise of fish and chips,
White bread and butter, mugs of tea;
And climbing the crooked, sloping street
To Rock Shop’s window wide and free.

Life was never better
Than in Nineteen Sixty Three
Between the end of the snowbound winter
And Freddie’s You Were Made For Me.

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Perambulators and parasols parade
On new mown and manicured lawn
Designed by Decimus Burton,
From polo field and pasture hewn.

“Finest marine promenade in the world”,
The guidebook effusively lays claim;
Hard to argue on this glorious morn
When sea and sky look just the same.

The guests arrive by lift and carriage,
Depending on their wealth and style
To acclaim a marvel of the modern age,
A red brick vision to make them smile.

Crowds congregate on Madeira Walk,
Path forged from latest cliff slide,
While builder Baker, spurned by Metropole
Admires his handiwork with rightful pride.

The band plays a medley of popular tunes,
From jazz, music hall and ragtime,
Like When We Were Two Little Boys,
And In the Good Old Summertime.

Albert Burvill, in new blue uniform,
Sends packing gatecrashers from the town,
Craving a peek at the rich folk’s party,
Now turned away by copper’s frown.

But they will get their chance another day
To press their noses to the Monkey Cage,
And watch their King among his court
Feast and roar on this most public stage.

Metropole management looks on
At the rival Radnor vowed not to build,
Contemplating legal action
Against violation of its private field.

Pavilion, Burlington, Majestic,
Metropole and now the Grand,
Fashionable Folkestone is all the rage
At harbour and on cliff top land.

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