Friday, 29 January 2010

Cork and the Wider World

I knew a pair of Irish doctors, Fiona and Brian, who went off to work in either Peru or Zimbabwe. They were from Cork, where they corresponded with a journal called Cork and the Wider World. How marvellous to say your home town and the whole world in one breath. I gained a respect for Cork and for Ireland at that moment, and have never lost it.

Marple Bridge is also in communion with the cosmos. I don’t mean through the cultural outings to Disneyland arranged by our specialist language college. I’m thinking more of the Stockport Metros: “Friendship through Lacrosse”. Families from Mellor, Poynton and other local lacrosse clubs receive a touring youth team from Anne Aroundel Lacrosse in Maryland every two years, and take a touring team over there, in between. That’s better.

Mandall 3 tells me that Jimiyke is in town. M3, our youngest, has more antennae than Fylingdales. He can pick up a signal from friend or foe, foul-mouthed celeb or pregnant head of physics, before you can say semi-conductor. I caught him checking out a furniture van on Marina Drive, yesterday. Then he got lost in Big Brother briefings when was supposed to be on M3 says he’s no good at maths. So why does he have such an infernal memory for number-plates?

Jimiyke lives in Freetown, Sierra Leone. He takes his name from an American celeb called J-Mike or similar. Jimiyke was a boy-soldier, but found his way back to school, EducAid, where he became Head Boy last year. Then he suddenly became ill with dreadful maladies that turned out to be hepatitis. Thanks to the school and their friends, he travelled to England for treatment, where he also proved a great ambassador for EducAid at schools which support it.

Jimiyke, EducAid and Sierra Leone have been on M3’s radar for a while. Indeed, it was thanks to M3 that, last June, Jimiyke’s English headmistress Miriam and her Sierra Leonean husband Alhassan came to the Mellor village fete.

Alhassan and Miriam hit the Mellor Church Fete in African garb
We had a May Pole, and country dancing in the evening. Alhassan clearly thought our ethnic dancing was nuts, but joined in anyway.

Alhassan died soon after he went home. Just like that. It happens a lot in Freetown when there isn’t time or money to get you out of the country to a decent hospital. EducAid lost 4 students last year.

Son of a junior wife, Alhassan never got a formal education, but met and married a British teacher, Miriam. Together they set up EducAid, now a network of schools in Sierra Leone. Then, last July, driving through Freetown, Alhassan, to all appearances a handsome and fit young man, had a headache. He thought it might be malaria, which is common, so after dropping Miriam off for a meeting, he headed off for some pills. He passed out at the wheel and hit a telephone pole, which was home to a swarm of bees. (Telephone poles in Freetown don’t carry much in the way of phone conversations). Too ill to move, he let the bees sting him over a thousand times. He died some days later. Nobody knows whether the bees, malaria, or some other condition killed him. Nobody can tell you these things in Sierra Leone, any more than they probably can in Haiti. He just died. Of course.

Jimiyke is staying in Stockport with a teacher whose class he’s been skyping. He’s also completed his medical tests, and is fine. I expect M3 will find out more soon. Or perhaps we'll hear on Miriam's blog from Freetown. It's always a good read.

Meanwhile, I must pay the deposit for M2’s Lacrosse tour. Rather Maryland than Disneyland.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Piccadilly Circus

“It’s like Piccadilly Circus,” says Mrs M. The snow has gone, the schools are back, and the road works have resumed at Cataract Bridge. So Town Street is as congested as the chest of a November Stockport baby.

Like many places, we have our own driving code. My nephew in Stroud showed me proudly that whatever misdemeanour you commit, the oncoming vehicle, be it dust-cart, Polo or even white van, will wait with beatific composure till you pass.

My erstwhile lass in Boston, Mass – now something important in Highways – once gave me a tour of her city in her 20 year old Malibu, mainly views of Fenway Park, home of the Red Sox. “Cut ‘em dead: don’t look ‘em in the eye,” was her motto.

In the Bridge, we are flashers. We flash to let people through, give two flashes to thank the flasher, and the shortest of blips to acknowledge the grateful blink of a bus released from incarceration between a skip and a hard place.

And, while our fingers hover by the headlamp stalk, our eyes are busy in the mirror. Well, I never: there’s John at the wheel: I wonder what’s happened to his collapsible bike, or are his knees giving him trouble again?

They don’t generally say that if you stand in Town Street long enough, the whole world passes by, but I shall. The brother-in-law’s father for instance was evacuated here from Cheetham Hill, and talked of his home in Mellor as a magic place. Back in the old days, when I still smoked outside, I was rolling a cigarette (ah! the glory days) with a new acquaintance in someone’s back garden when I realised we had shared a flat in Brighton, and they’d got here via Birmingham and Trinidad. Then there was the film-maker I bumped into, and found he had once been married to my mother’s cousin... I won’t bore you with more.

Cognoscenti will assert that some of these people live in Mellor, or Rowarth, or Marple. But that’s not the point: they all pass through Marple Bridge, because it’s miles round if you go by any other way. Indeed, it seems that half the local children live on the Mellor side, but go to school in Ludworth, while the other half live on the Ludworth side, and go to school in Mellor. Via Town Street.

Except, of course when Town Street is shut. After the River Goyt, in spate, washed away its embankment, Town Street seemed to be closed for ever. First the bank, then the gas main, then the bridge: it went on for about twoyears. So we roared around the narrow lanes, turned grass verges to mud, trashed tarmac. And flashing was definitely suspended. We gripped the wheel with both hands as waves of Discoverys charged us down.

It was a May evening when a black cab brought me home from Stockport Station, along Glossop Road, and right at the Travellers Call onto Ley Lane. Over Mill Brow, and through Hollywood, the evening sun filtering through new pale leaves. The driver had slowed, unfamiliar with the road, nosing around bends.

“It would be quite something to live here”, he said, “something to aim for”. Something to be grateful for, I thought, as I have been ever since. Most of the time.

We clattered up Chatterton Lane onto the moor at Shiloh Road, and dropped down by Five Lane Ends into Moor End, with Manchester before us and the Cheshire plain beyond.

Friday, 15 January 2010

Spit Spot

I see Julie Andrews is promoting her new show. Mrs M is so glad she’s back. She (Julie A.) very sweetly sent us a signed photo for a charity “gala” presentation of The Sound of Music at Marple’s Regent Cinema a couple of years ago.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if Julie came to see us here in Marple Bridge! 

We’re very welcoming to most visitors. Lady Thatcher might disagree, because someone attacked her with a bunch of daffodils on Town Street.

Alright: it’s hard to imagine Mary Poppins’ umbrella, or her vowels, making it much further North than, say, Gerrards Cross – certainly not all the way up here. The Dark Peak has more peat bogs than Alpine flowers. Also, marching up from Hayfield Quarry to claim the right to roam on Kinder Scout isn’t quite the same challenge as the Von Trapps’ problem with resisting Nazi lebensraum.

Still, our hills are alive. Not so much with the sound of music, but with the thump and squelch of Vibram soles, the swish of Gortex, and the munching of Eccles Cakes. Nothing wrong with that. In fact, there’s quite a lot to recommend life here, Julie.

Take the Regent Cinema. Today, our local screen stands alone against the Multiplexes of Belle View, Grand Central and Parr’s Wood. All around have fled: Gatley, Hale, Hulme; even the Rex at Wilmslow has gone. But the Regent still brings us one screen, two ice cream trays with real Choc Ices, and the faintest hint of popcorn oil and Jeyes Fluid. Great movies too. Mrs M is always on the phone to the Management discussing the programme, so how could I say otherwise? A quick phone call to the Regent is all you need for two perfect seats in the circle for you and Dick Van Dyke – no booking fee. Add in 2 Magnums (Mrs M has no shame), and you’ll still have change from £12.

I’ve done a ditty for you, Julie. The boys (we call them Eminem behind their backs) say it’s nuffin on Big Brovaz’, but it will have to do.

Grey skies and Gregg’s pies in front of the telly
Puddles on towpaths and crab apple jelly
The bubble of curlews high up on the moor
Go on like this, and you’ll give me what for.

When the wind howls, when the road’s shut
When I’m unemployed,
I’ll get out in a track through the woods with the mut
And somehow I’m less annoyed.

Personal number-plates, modernised dwellings
Diggers and tractors, and blousy white weddings
Wet Winter Wonderland, jams on Dan Bank
Why am I looking for someone to thank?

When the wind howls...

Arkwright and Oldknow; blonde ladies in Minis
Agas and Rayburns, expensive bikinis
Moderate jazz in the Devonshire Arms
This little town has more blessings than harms

When the wind howls...

It’s just an idea, Julie. I really don’t mind if you change it. Tx A3GBJGJPR45E

Friday, 8 January 2010

Grit and Gumption

I shouldn’t go on about Hollins of Marple, but where would we be without them? Well, probably exactly where I am now, tucked up inside Number 72 with a warm word-processor. Logs are crackling in the flame-effect fire, the boys are burning up the Broadband, and Mrs M is nowhere to be seen, so she and Bono have probably cracked open the Thornton’s that I hid after Christmas in case of Lent or dieting.

My point is that, without Hollins, "everything for home and garden", I would be getting very anxious about ever getting out of number 72. The snow is deep, and getting crisper by the minute. A Corolla has been practising figure skating on Town Street. They say that this spot of global warming (sorry: extreme weather event) could go on for weeks.

But Hollins’ plastic snow shovel has saved our bacon at 66! I bought it when we lived up in Moor End. I had reached an age when part of me wanted a Land Rover, but at £4.95 or thereabouts, and free road tax, the shovel won on points. It kept snow away from our door most years without coming out of the coal shed: Moor End wasn’t quite as wild and exciting as the Estate Agent claimed.

Still, I got the knack of the shovel. I can clear a metre strip of fresh snow in no time, which is a good thing because we have had 6 inches down in the Bridge today.

I have been trudging up and down the snowy steps of our leisure centre for days now, on my way to its great little gym where I am trying to shed the Christmas pudding.

Our leisure centre is a modern organisation. It takes access very seriously. It has an accessible ramp leading to an accessible powered sliding door. Unfortunately, it does not appear to have access to £4.95 for a shovel from Hollins, or to grit. Or perhaps it has them, but needs a little more gumption.

The consequence is, that after 3 or 4 days of white stuff and frost, the leisure centre steps and ramp were covered in packed ice. Someone had scratched at it with a stainless steel spade, which had been left across the opening of the accessible powered sliding door. Two orange traffic cones completed the display.

Today, the leisure centre is closed due to staff shortage and adverse weather. Get well soon! We need you.

Grit and Gumption Awards now to our Winter Warriors:

• to Jon, our milkman, for bringing pintas to the back door
• to Marple Bridge Pharmacy, for staying open for our essential prescriptions
• to Marple Bridge Post Office, for its lovely warm displays of mags to thaw out with
• to our newsboy and our postman, for regular deliveries. And to the van driver who left the “while you were out” message. Sorry I was on the phone.
• To the staff of Sherlocks for their tasteful snow model of Nora Batty, with the pink and yellow hair rollers.
• To Environmental Services, who picked up two weeks worth of blue sacks on Saturday. There’s no hurry for the recycling: the new bins are brilliant.
• To the Cooperative Superstore who have kept heroic opening hours all over Christmas and New Year, but unfortunately forgot to tell us.

And of course to Hollins. Talking of grit, I wonder if they have any in stock. No one else does.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Conserving Energy

I know my readers need no introduction to the importance of conserving energy. You may even have heard of “10:10”, a lobby group that wants us all to cut 10% of our energy consumption in 2010. (Here's the link: 10:10.)

The Mandall household has been hard at work on this. The boys for instance have taken to putting our new digibox on “pause” for hours, just at the moment before the car explodes: think of the energy that saves!

Mrs M has been getting ahead with the washing. I bought some rubber balls to go in the dryer. The more we use them, the more energy we save! I also think the towels are fluffier, but Mrs M is silent on the matter.

From the above, you see an example of the division of labour in our household. I buy the gadgets, Mrs M does the work, and the boys are, well, busy growing.

Mrs M generously says that the division of labour is not unfair. For instance, I’m in charge of the garden. I’ve been hard at work saving energy since November, when I started listening to snippets of Gardeners’ Question Time, hoping to hear Bob Flowerdew tell me that it’s time to hang up my spade and take a well earned rest from my labours.

November is long gone, but with luck, frost and water-logging will save me the energy of lifting spade or Flymo for weeks yet. And it will certainly be a while yet before the earth passes the trouser test. This is my mother’s energy saving tip. Lower your posterior onto your seedbed. If you can count to 20, remove your over-garment and try again. Only if you can do this in comfort, it’s time for sowing.

When our plastic greenhouse blew over again, I decided to research whether the blast off the Goyt would drive a DIY turbine on the roof, and help the Mandalls through the recession. However, I’ve not seen these advertised since someone pointed out that they can consume more electricity than they generate, and can also shake the chimney to bits as well as the neighbours’ nerves.

So it’s back to saving energy. My top tip is to visit the ironmongers in Marple, rather than trail into the DIY superstores in Stockport. Straightaway I’ve saved 10 miles of driving! Of course I could just shop online to see who’s offering a bogof on insulation, but Hollins offers more fun for less energy.

I spent a happy hour there researching key-hole covers to stop the howling draught through the back door. The better class of covers come in boxes and are called “escutcheons”. These sound a bit heraldic for me. I imagine a knight charging up the drive from a jousting contest in his shining Range Rover. He proudly fixes an escutcheon plate on the front door, and presents his fair damsel with a golden key.

I settled for a brass-effect key cover in a blister pack. Mrs M makes hardly any fuss about the extra fiddle getting the key in the hole.