Pack Monday! The World’s worst street fair!

Next Monday is Pack Monday, once a proper fair with horses and everything. Not any more. You would think that a town with Sherborne’s pretetensions, sorry, I mean pride in its past, would try for something a bit special. Maybe a medieval jongleur or street music. Interesting and colourful stalls. You’d be wrong. The most overpriced tat imaginable. Stalls selling fashion-disaster clothes as worn by illegal immigrants hidden in the back of a truck, but more expensive than Primark. Mexican food stalls presided over by couples who thought the franchise would help with retirement. It doesn’t. Worse, from another that sickly stink of stewed onions – ‘Wot people want, luv’ – served with a wedge of meat-flavoured grease. But it’s Pack Monday, it’s traditional and it ain’t gonna change. Most of the local shops shut up shop for the day and the pubs hire in serious muscle because even worse than the stalls are the people they attract.

They come down from the hills, nervous and defiant in their annual trip to the outside world. Some so fat they’re airlifted in by huge Russian helicopters because the roads would only shatter under the weight. Staring in amazement at anyone not wearing a track suit and trainers. Giving little cries of wonder at all the luxuries on show. It could be the annual outing of the Jeremy Kyle Show. Mmm. Is this where he finds them?

That said, I do get a certain kick out of Pack Monday. For one day a year the town’s genteel pretense is punctured by naked greed. Sherborne isn’t a haven. It doesn’t exist to promote a kinder, more civilized world. It’s there to make money, baby.

Anyway it can.


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Sucking Sherborne

So, a very good friend shows up who used to live here until she saw sense and went back to civilisation. And we go out for a meal, together with her gentleman friend who still lives here, despite being from foreign parts and knowing better. It has been one of those on/off relationships that suggest the gods are squabbling over the remote control again. They are also amongst the few people in Sherborne I can talk to without wondering where the groundhog is hiding. Pub conversations around here repeat the same topics, even the same words, although the latter do become more slurred as the day wears on. Mostly those topics are about: the fantasy football league; badgers; the pool league; horse racing; who got drunk the night before; the inferiority of Blacks and Gays, especially when compared to badgers; Daily Telegraph quick crossword; local bankruptcies; how Maggie T would sort everything out; beer; and, occasionally, why can’t Lee Child write a thriller featuring badgers. Curiously enough the only people who’ll openly talk about art are a builder, originally from Yorkshire, and a grumpy Mancunian who also loathes Sherborne. I’m thinking of inviting the latter to join the Escape Committee, the tunnel’s already half-way towards the A303 and could have been there by now but the badgers keep on filling it in.

Anyway, to the Indian which has finally changed its menu so it’s possible to avoid the ‘one-sauce-fits-all’ trap. And we’re chatting away, the Returnee trying to persuade her Gentleman Friend to bring up a load of logs the next time he visits. One thing we do cheaper and better down here is logs. It helps stop people thinking. The conversation is is lighthearted and reaches the following stage:

Me (lightheartedly): And you also get to stay with your Sweet Patootie (which is a reference to Cheers, in case you think I went mad).

Gentleman Friend. (Looks down at his plate) Oh. (Worried). You mean I have to spend the night?

Which at the time was very funny and quick and so very much not the kind of quip one normally hears around here. And trivial or not this sums up what I most miss about London and places near. Next day I went back to digging the tunnel.

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First past the Proust

So in a few days dominated, for me, by England’s debacle in the rugby world cup, closely followed by all the usual self-serving cliches from Twickenham’s senior management (MEMO to Martyn Thomas and Rob Andrew: neither of you are part of the solution. You are both part of the problem). Amidst all that there were two magical moments to make October worth-while.

Both were from an old black and white movie on television: The Gay Divorcee with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. God, but I love to watch Astaire and Rogers dance. Grace, wit and a delight in each others’ skill, the near-impossible made to look easy. Anyway, at one moment Astaire adjusted his tie-pin – and suddenly I was maybe fourteen again and wearing my own tie-pin for the very first time. One of those Proustian moments when you can scent long forgotten emotions, when you know what was going through your mind (pride because back then tie-pins were part of growing up) without remembering the actual scene. It wasn’t a black-tie and tails occasion, though. It was check shirt and woolen tie, gent’s casual clothing suitable for the city and the tie-pin would have been my late father’s idea. There was a remembered sense of him being there and I wonder if that’s how the dead remember the living, in small perfect moments rather than great life-changing ones.

In the same movie, an exterior of a hotel supposedly at Brighton which somehow reminded me of the old Odeon cinema where High Street Kensington morphed into Olympia. Now a multi-screen with Art Deco/1950’s wedding cake interior architecture – all those false balconies and raised double clefs, only ever seen in cinemas – long vanished.

Good to be reminded of the optimism of youth.

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Good night, Steve

It would have been good to meet Steve Jobs. To say ‘thanks’ for producing such an easy-to-use computer that also looked so cool. For all the innovations that made us go ‘wow’ or just giggle with pleasure, whether or not we owned the latest model. For giving his people their heads and not be afraid of failure as long as they were trying their best. For saying okay, market research is all very well but I think this. Steve Jobs knew when to follow his intuition.

But I never did meet him and now never will. Never sent a letter, either. But seeing as how this is being written on an I-Mac G4, maybe, just maybe. . .


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Those falling leaves. . .

. . . drift by my window, as sung by Sarah Vaughan. Perfect.

The other day an excursion to Exeter. Part boredom, part wondering if I’d like to move there. Uni students on the streets, two separate snippets of conversation overheard within seconds of each other.

Young man: “He was Jesus’ best friend. His best friend!”

Young woman. “So I said you must be fucking joking!”

Not quite Pinter but close.  Exeter is a good city but an hour too far from London. So probably the move will be to Salisbury or even Bath. I miss the city for its variety, energy and always threatened anarchy.

Just before the train left Sherborne there was an announcement about leaves. This year there’s to be special time-table on the London to Exeter line, with some trains starting earlier than usual.  If I were a leaf I’d be proud.

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And we’ll frolic as the birdies sing. Oh, God.

Big deal discussion of the week, aside from New Improved Labour taken over by a giant bush-baby with homicidal tendencies, is town versus country. No secret where I stand. Human civilization and cities went hand in glove. Die-hard hunter gatherers never invented the wheel which is significant because it wasn’t all trees and mountains.

Those who did invent it, the embryonic city-zens, obviously needed more streets to play on and so the city was born because what is a street without houses? This inevitably led to shops, street corners for meeting friends and dance halls,  instead of a moon-dappled glade moonlighting as a swamp.

Cities were invented by people who needed people. Some wanted to play with their wheels, a harmless activity that would one day become Top Gear. Others wanted to buy stuff. Any stuff, the glittery the better. This became Harrods. Many of them wanted to jump up and down in front of each other, leading to talent shows and Simon Cowell. No matter how pointlessly awful, the Mister Whippy of the Pop business is no reason to dismiss the city as an experiment gone wrong. Museums. Art. Music. Science. A quickness of mind that delights the heart. Buildings to amuse and to awe. More and better sex. Restaurants and markets. If the country’s so great, how come city-dwellers don’t commute there? Yeah, right: because they couldn’t get a decent espresso and the sandwiches are boring. And before you start muttering about Waitrose, Marks and Sparks  and Cafe Nero, you don’t get them in the countryside. You get them in towns where countryside-dwellers go to buy stuff and hang out on street corners.

This is the truth: the vast majority of ‘country dwellers’ live in small towns and villages. In  West Dorset, small towns try to out-smug each other. Villages dream of a career in television – period drama, nature programmes – and hate anything that Threatens Its Way Of Life, which is anything not made of Local Stone. It’s the Dream, right? The search for a kinder and gentler life, walking bare-foot on a dew drenched lawn as birds salute the rising sun and leaving your door unlocked. This last often results in squatting by badgers or travellers. All of them bite.

Real, West Dorset country people – farmers, hermits and those others who give incest a bad name – live at the end of muddy tracks surrounded by misshapen trees and vicious sheep. Real country people are wary of strangers, variously defined as anyone with less money or who doesn’t worship the Goddess or who isn’t related. Forget it. You’ll never belong and probably wouldn’t like it if you did.

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Happiness is one of those. . .things

Remember those funny little ads when you were a kid? Sea Monkeys was one, with a picture of the King and Queen SM wearing crowns. Then there was the X-Ray Specs – what twelve year-old boy could resist? – and the thing for seeing over hedges. Later on another advertised gadget came into my life: the thing for getting hair out of your nose.

Now this was truly fascinating because I didn’t then have any hair in my nose and while I’d noticed that some adult males did – and a few adult females, which was strangely worrying – never thought it would apply to me. And if it did, well the gadget would be as crap as the Sea Monkeys or the X-Ray Specs: the first didn’t wear crowns, or anything very much, and the second only gave me a headache from all the squinting.

Move on more years than I want to talk about. And now I have hair in my nostrils which is kept under some sort of control by nail scissors, or a sharp tug which often brings tears to my eyes. It is not easy, being well groomed. Maturity is a plucking pain.

Then the other day I was in Boots and there was a nose-groomer thing reduced to £4.99 and for a moment I was back in a more optimistic time when Sea Monkey’s wore crowns. I was thankful, at the check-out, that I’d sorted out my nose that very morning. You do not want to be buying a nose-groomer thingy while looking as if a family of untidy squirrels have invaded your nostrils. The instructions mentioned ears. There was one solitary hair on the left lobe which went with pleasing zzt! but I needed more, a man with a new gadget thing  and not to be denied.

The eyebrows will grow back again, there’s no stopping them. And the barber sorted out the worst when I got my hair cut this morning. But there’s still a suggestion of moth, or even eyebrow-pattern baldness which is a little annoying. The gadget works, though.                                                         All I need now is some nose-hair.

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