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Tanks For The Memories

I've never really been comfortable with the idea of keeping fish in tanks but I guess I have to admit they can look really nice when they are done right and are all lit up and there are shoals of tiny coloured things all floating about apparently quite happy doing whatever it is that they do. Somewhere back in the mists of time I can remember that my grandmother used to keep a tank in her living room near the TV I think it was. I'd visit every now and then with my parents after some shopping trip for new shoes or something, and have to sit well behaved usually hungry and tired out after miles of walking in and out of shops, not touching anything while they had their conversation and we all had cups of tea and cake. In my boredom my attention would roam around the room inspecting every detail trying to keep occupied. It usually ended up being a choice between actually listening to the grown ups conversation of grown up things that interested me not at all, watching the wrestling on the TV or watching the fish swimming aimlessly round and round. Men grappling with each other in only their pants although obviously of great interest to my gran was never really an interest of mine and the fish would often win my attention by default. I presume it was a tropical tank because of all the deep, rich, velvety colours of the fish, all reds and gold and purple. The constant whoosh, whoosh, whoosh of the filter motor and rising stream of bubbles at the back together with the subtle hidden lighting and every present expectation that all of a sudden any one of the fish would maybe start eating the others was at the same time soothing and exciting. Yes I can accept that they are quite interesting but it just doesn't seem right to me. I could never have one myself. There is the fragility of it all. I fully accept that I worry needlessly but I was brought up in the days of industrial disputes and power cuts and sitting around in candle light wondering how life could go on without a TV. One decent power cut and you'd end up with a tank of dead fish soup. I've heard of emergency power supplies for computers and hospital machinery but never a police escort for a failing fish tank. Also from what I've seen of my Atlas the sea is a really big place. Bigger than all the rest put together not including how deep and no matter how big a tank you've got or how small the fish you've stuck to it never seems as though it can possibly be big enough to allow an acceptable quality of life to something used to such a place. They say fish have a limited attention span and short memory and don't suffer by going around and around cooped up in the confines of a small tank but I have a limited attention span and short memory but still go a bit stir crazy if I'm cooped up in my computer room for too long without taking a walk down by the river or out to the shops. Perhaps some people do take their fish tanks out for walks. After all the shopping trolleys at my local store seem to have strange fenced off sections and foldy down bits that would probably accommodate a fish tank but I've never seen it done. I'm sure fish tales of their dumbness is purely a conscience easing exercise by slightly guilty owners. Henry must be testament to that. My friends Dorothy and Steve have fish tanks. Lots of fish tanks. I imagine you can almost drive past their house and hear the filters humming and ultra violet light glowing blue from every window. The walls of their back room are covered by layers of different tanks with different eco systems and strange occupants all bubbling away and going round and round. The food bill must be enormous only matched by the electric bill. One of the most amazing things I have ever seen which must take pride of place in their well cared for collection is Henry. Henry lives in the first tank by the door past which you must squeeze when entering the small cramped bit of the room, which isn't yet underwater. I'm sure they've told me what sort of fish he is but I can't remember because until I'd met him I thought a fish was pretty much just another fish. Henry is most definitely not like any other fish. He must be about the size of my hand, an impressive blue with big tilting eyes and a 'kissy' pouting mouth. He is in the tank on show with some other different types but he is definitely the star of that show. I thought Dorothy was making fun of me when she told me all about him but then she showed me how he reacts. He knows what is going on in the room. He'll hide behind a rock in a dark corner of the tank almost dog like behind a settee when a stranger enters the room until he gets used to them. He perks up and confidently comes out to swim about when Dorothy enters the room and when she loudly announces that it is Henry's tea time he gets all 'bouncy' near the kitchen end of the tank from where he knows his tea will come. A bit of chopped up shrimp hits the water and he acts like a Hoover or perhaps these days a Dyson rushing backwards and forwards, mouth agape, greedily grabbing more than his fair share before the rest can snatch a nibble. Amazing. I'll swear he knows his name.
Steve had decided that they wanted to try and make up a cold-water marine tank for a change and had spent months having one custom made and built into the wide alcove in their front sitting room. He'd made a really good job of it, all fitted in wood with an adjustable cooler and lights and filters and rocks and he'd spent untold hours reading books and checking filters and making sure the water balance was what was required to one day support some life. He'd told me what he was doing and said that when everything was perfect he and Dorothy were intending to go on a trip to some rocky southern coast and do some rock pooling to get something to put in it. Although I was uncomfortable being a part of what could well end up being the death of what ever it was that was caught, I couldn't resist and expressed my wish to go with them and help, whenever it may be. Steve's newly acquired chemistry skills eventually confirmed the time had come and although it was a bank holiday with our inevitable bank holiday weather and probably queues of traffic it was arranged a couple of days before that we would probably drive south to the coast on the Monday. So there I was Monday morning waiting for Steve to call me on the phone to confirm that we were going and I thought to perhaps discuss what I should bring like perhaps a packed lunch of sandwiches and a thermos of coffee.
The night before he had been kind enough to do all the running and arrange a meeting between me and an acquaintance of a friend of a friend who had a second-hand laptop computer for sale. I'd expressed my desire to get my hands on a cheap one a couple of times, since spending hours locked away in my dark stuffy back bedroom come computer/radio shack staring into the virtual world was fast giving me the appearance of some sad middle aged, grey skinned, vampire like (my elder sister has started calling me Drak!!) boggle eyed computer nerd increasingly inept at venturing out into the real world. In my cyber-fantasy world I thought that if I had a laptop I could maybe on sunny days take a walk down by the river, sit with the birds and the trees and still do a bit of typing. So when news of one up for sale was passed around, he gave me a shout and I eventually decided that I was interested either for myself or if not, for my sister who is eager to be a whisper in the internet explosion. It was a little unsettling to see on the news at about this time that two laptops had been 'lost' by secret service personnel in London so I did feel obliged to make it clear that if the machine had state secrets stored on its hard drive I really wasn't all that interested . . . although I wouldn't mind a quick look! Steve generously picked me up and whisked me off to the place where the man lived. Oh dear. Oh dear oh dear! You can tell quite a bit from the state of a front door and this front door was in a hell of a state. With a good kick it looked as though it would have fallen apart and from the look of it not for the first time so it was a quite gentle nock that saw the occupant arrive at the door, laptop in hand. We were invited into the hallway to look at the machine and the man gave us his best patter although I confess I wasn't really listening and was instead desperately trying to remember all those tricks you are supposed to pull to test out a pc to ensure all its bits are where and when they should be. My mind went a total blank and instead became mesmerised by the unpleasant smell of something dead or dieing and the stack of what must have been twenty or thirty assorted old car stereos stacked against a wall. It wasn't right but who was I to suddenly burst into flames and become a burning martyr to what may or may not have been right under the circumstances. I'm getting old. I can no longer tell whether or not some young kid wearing dirty clothes and living in some squalid flat isn't a businessman selling old kit after upgrading his business computers? I couldn't decide. Should I say no and walk out? I made a ridiculous offer, which was immediately refused and was made very aware the price that was asked was fixed. With that horrible nervous feeling in the pit of my stomach that you only get when doing such deals I handed over the money, got out as quick as possible and was soon being dropped back home. For the next several hours I played with my new toy trying to understand how it worked and figure out what was what. After a good clean with a little washing up liquid it didn't look half bad and despite some obvious limitations due to its age was actually quite nice although without a CD drive I couldn't put any of my up to date fancy Microsoft software on it. I did try. I tried until 3 o'clock in the morning pulling machines apart and trying to link the laptop with cables to my desktop machine but it really wasn't up to transferring anything more than the odd file or two never mind whole programs. A good half an hour feeding old floppy disks into it and clicking Ok saw me set up with old versions of Word and Excel. It was obvious to me that this wasn't any good for my sister but given a network card and this and that I could really have something that would do for me. Bleary eyed and with inexplicable Microsoft technical laptoppy type terms drifting around my mind I finally got to bed. After not enough sleep I found myself back up and stood at the sink starting to clean an old mouse I had lying around that I could plug into the laptop, with washing up liquid and a toothbrush, as I leisurely allowed myself to wake up having assumed Steve would call when he got up to tell me he would be there in an hour or so. The phone rang. "We'll be there in about ten minutes". Damn. Panic. I rushed around turning of PCs, turning on ansaphones, wrapping the dripping mouse in a tea towel to save it from ending up like a drowned rat and having the quickest wardrobe crisis I've had in a long time. In fact the only crisis I had about my wardrobe on this occasion was that I didn't have time to open it! I was already wearing several layers of black and had a pair of my new comfy padded army socks on so was quite confident that would be fine.
It is surprising what a difference comfy socks can make to the world. For the past couple of weeks every time I had walked up to the local shops to buy my economy bread and potatoes I had managed to resist the enticing looking sign announcing that the army clothing store was closing down and that everything was twenty five per cent off but the temptation eventually grew too great. I finally could resist no longer and whatever the state of my meagre finances thought I couldn't pass by this opportunity any longer. I must have been in that shop for about half an hour trying to resist buying everything but I couldn't. My small pile of wants on the counter didn't stay small for very long. I was a little wary. I'd made a mistake in the past like this. Many years ago because of the lanky, skeleton like figure puberty had seen me develop into I had tremendous difficulty finding any trousers that fit me without making me look like an extra from Billy Smarts circus. You know the ones . . . big feet, short baggy trousers, big red nose! Well what a joy to find a small out of the way store in Keynsham with a closing down sale of ridiculously cheap British made jeans that fitted me perfectly. They were SO cheap and I reasoned that I was quite young and if the world worked as I understood it I would probably be wearing trousers for the rest of my life, being a guy and all, so buying the lot seemed the obvious thing to do. So for the last twenty years I've been wearing the same sort of jeans. When one pair wore out or got permanently covered in paint I would take out another from the top of the magical never ending pile. Trying to keep up with fashions has certainly never worried me and I thought that jeans would always be what everyone wore when they weren't at work. Sadly the world doesn't work in quite the way I thought, the shortsighted naivety and arrogance of youth I suppose. Things change, not least of all, oneself. Although it was presumably a slow unnoticed process at first, years of economy bread and potatoes had made the need for a belt through my trouser loops less and less. And all of a sudden so it seemed I was one of those middle aged old fuddy duddies who still wore unfashionable tight (very tight!) denim. What a surprise I have become to myself in recent years as I have become more and more painfully aware of the determination. I used to wonder why every piece of electronic entertainment equipment for the home, was made by those clever old inventors with a digital clock. Such a nuisance every time you have to turn the power off for some DIY wiring job or other. You know when you turn it back on that all over the house things will go beep and you then have to spend the next hour or so looking for old hidden away instruction books for programming a dozen different clocks, all of which end up telling a slightly different time. But those old inventors obviously knew a thing or two. They must have had the same feelings and desire to tell the young to look out . . . that age would get them too. I used to be able to tell the time and see what program was on TV next by just glancing across the living room at the soothing blue glow of the video clock LEDs. I couldn't understand why my father would squint and wait for me to announce it. I've stopped pulling my hair out while trying to focus, squinting. I can't afford any more grey hairs and squint as much as I like all I see is a frustrating blue blur. Luckily my new even more compact than ever before stereo which sits closer to me in focusable range, of course has a clock on it too!
Somewhere along the way I started wearing different trousers. The sort they sold cheap in the army surplus stores, black of course with pockets on the legs to put awkward hands in and with an adjustable waistband. They were always too short but with reconditioned combat boots you could get away with that. Pure practicality. How surprising and perhaps a little disappointing that all of a sudden I was fashionable. As for the pile of half a dozen brand new unworn jeans fit for a human stick insect in my cupboard . . . I am old enough and wise enough to know that try as I may the two-inch gap between the top of the zip and button is forever more a bridge too far. I think it was a good investment which despite the waste paid off but in the near future I'm going to write off my losses and take them all to some nearby charity shop for suitable disposal. I imagine they will have to search far and wide for some needy individual with the right build but someone will benefit somewhere. Perhaps in years to come I'll get an uncomfortable feeling of recognition while watching some David Attenborough TV documentary about the African Massai Mara game reserve and realise that the proud slender Massai warrior in the background, spear in hand is wearing a pair of British jeans!
Socks are different. Even with my new worldly wisdom and cub scoutish expectation of the unexpected I guess unless something goes horribly wrong I fully anticipate keeping my feet more or less as they are at the ends of my legs hopefully for the rest of my life. After all I've never heard of feet putting on weight or having too much of a life of their own other than occasionally getting a bit sharp although I'm sure my friend who does reflexology would have something to say on the matter. It seemed therefore that buying a stock of the marvellous comfortable reinforced warm army socks with the extra fluffy under sole at a low price was a safe bet. I bought four pairs. Finding room for them in my cupboard wasn't easy because of the entire shelf I have devoted to socks with holes that need darning. I really did intend to darn them . . . sometime! Money being tight it really seemed just too much of a waste to throw them away simply because of a little hole or two or three but walking everywhere as I now do wearing socks that allow a big toe to poke through and that ruck up between your toes as a result is more uncomfortable than I can bear. I had remember as a child watching the skill of my mum with an old wooden darning bobbin and the mysterious contents of her 'don't play with that!' sewing box miraculously weaving a resurrection out of old socks and had mentioned I was going to give it a go if only I had a darning bobbin. Hasty words. Hey presto and ever resourceful 'Heath Father Robinson' had conjured up from the depths of his garage 'that'll come in handy some time jam jar collection' a bobbin apparently made from an electric drill handle and a furniture coaster! The sew and sew. I then had no excuse and was forced to confront my laziness. I just couldn't face sitting for hours surrounded by twenty pairs of mixed up socks with bleeding pinpricked fingers. I'd be darned if I would. I returned to the shop and bought another four pairs of new ones and determined to throw my old ones away. Wearing a pair of the new ones around the house without any slippers on I felt all warm soft fluffy and decadent!
I grabbed my warm hooded fleece just for good measure and was pulling on my black cotton army coat near the front door as I heard Steve and Dorothy pull up outside in their taxi. Just made it!
I was given the honour of the front passenger seat and with Dorothy in the back we set off. I couldn't resist it and for the first several miles I ended up talking about laptops and computers in general to Steve. There were some huge banks of cloud looming in the sky ahead but there were also some breaks and things looked rather better than they had been of late. Passing through Keynsham the empty fields bore witness to one of the wettest Aprils on record with huge lakes of water covering much of the grass. Only a foot or so of the white foaming, rushing weir was visible with the unusually very high muddy brown river level. On out past the prim and proper church hall where in some forgotten life I had helped someone set up his disco for a party which hadn't banked on having the loudest disco in Bristol and the resultant arrival of the police to deal with the deluge of complaints from the neighbourhood. Things have moved on and it seems now as though the loudest disco in Bristol makes guest appearances in the back of most young men's cruising cars. How on earth having a nicely turned out powerful-engined vehicle which seems to me quite understandable degenerated into who has the loudest, most expensive, biggest speakered stereo I shall never understand. Admittedly my wooden front door is old and has seen better days but is that any justification for me having to sit in my living room listening to it resonate in tune with passing discos worrying that the self destruct frequency may be played and it will dissolve into a pile of saw dust. If only I'd done electronics at school I'd get into the hearing aids business. And they say you should no longer expect a 'job for life'.Ha!
There seemed to be very little traffic on the roads considering it was after all a bank holiday and we made really good time speeding along until we reached some out of the way roundabout in the middle of the countryside with signs indicating that a left turn would lead to London. The London road was absolutely full with traffic moving at less than walking pace and it took a few moments to force our way through the arrogant London drivers who obviously thought they owned not only the road they were on but also the roundabout. It seemed so strange that their world view with them at the centre of it should give them the right to stop in the queue obviously blocking the roundabout junction of joining traffic even though almost everyone joining from that junction was wanting to go anywhere other than London. A courteous woman with more manners and sense than most stopped in the queue short of the junction allowing us to go accelerating through and carry on our way. With the occasional glimpse of sunshine it was nice to chat and just watch the fields and trees and hedgerows with their new bright green spring growth after the drab slumbers of winter just starting to show. I held my breath as we dashed towards a crow sat in the road just up ahead, breathing again as it took flight just in time. Maybe it's because I haven't driven for so long but I would probably unnecessarily have slowed down just to make sure we didn't end up with a ex crow adorning the bonnet definitely not 'pining for the fields' as a Monty Python sketch might put have put it. I imagine it is because I have mostly driven motorbikes over the years but I am proud to say that I have a relatively small list of 'road kills' of this type attributable to me. A solitary humble sparrow springs to mind while driving home from Asda one time loaded with groceries and tins of coffee. I wasn't going very fast but all of a sudden from somewhere out of sight it flew down straight into my path and disappeared somewhere beneath the front of the bonnet. I checked in the rear view mirrors but could only see a small ball of feathers lying in the road. Some people seem to relish such things and even speed up and try to hit things but I was so upset I pulled the car straight over half on half off the pavement partly blocking the road and ran out into the following traffic to grab it and offer whatever first aid I could. My version of the last rights was all I could do. With inordinate guilt and sadness I laid the little broken body back in the gutter and got back in the car and drove agonisingly slowly, agonising back home.
Dorothy was obviously the designated map-reader and started discussing with Steve the best route to follow. The thing she was trying to avoid and apparently a standing joke was Steve's tendency of losing patience with any queues that we might come across and his habit of deciding under such circumstances that any nearby turning must afford an easier quicker route to the same destination irrespective of the road signs. Tales of four hour magical mystery tours all around the south west of England as a result of such past behaviour helped me to understand why Dorothy wouldn't give up during occasionally heated discussions about the best way to go. That said it seemed confusing to me that almost every route shouted forward from the back seat seemed to include Crewkerne somewhere along the way. Even if the road signs didn't mention it, it was apparently still towards Crewkerne although we never seemed to actually go through it. It didn't go badly at all really. Steve only really took one wrong turn when confronted by some slow moving traffic. Withdrawal symptoms or reasserting his authority perhaps. Nevertheless the road we ended up on ran parallel to what was perhaps some bypass or other so with a quick turn onto the road in the direction of Crewkerne we were soon back on track.
I don't know what Dorothy was thinking but all of a sudden it was thrust forward and Steve was turning the steering wheel around a turn, changing gear, adjusting radios, smoking a cigarette and holding his coffee mug and our lives in his hands all at the same time.
Thankfully he decided that it was just a little too much for comfort so all of a sudden he veered off at the next junction and then half pulled off the road over the kerb onto the grass verge without spilling a drop. What most welcome luxury to be unexpectedly stopped and supping a china mug of steaming coffee and rolling a cigarette without having to juggle lighters, papers and precarious tins of tobacco bits whilst bouncing around corners. Dorothy is a master of such surprises which with some effort and forethought make life so much more enjoyable especially when you've missed out on your usual second and third morning cups, a characteristic peculiar to most women and few men in my experience, and almost certainly due to men's apparent inherent laziness. Suitably refreshed we were instructed by Dorothy to wipe out our cups with the paper towels she provided because she hadn't brought anything to wash them up with and we would have to re-use them. I was almost disappointed since I really half expected her to conj our up a sink, water and washing up liquid from somewhere. All wiped and stowed away Steve did a U turn and headed back towards Crewkerne and then took the left hand junction back onto the road we were originally on and carried on once again in the direction of . . . um . . . Crewkerne?! Steve kept checking his watch and talking about plenty of time before low tide and I wondered how he knew so precisely when it was. He showed me a print out from a computer program he had obtained for use with his boat, which gave exact details of the tide times for this bit of coast. If only I'd brought my laptop, I thought, I'd be able to . . um . . look at it but then again the piece of paper seemed much more sensible under the circumstances. Seemingly all of a sudden we were smelling sea air between the clouds of cigarette smoke as we drove into a small town. It started to rain as we drove around the winding streets. Steve seemed to know where he was going since they had both been down that way many times before but I didn't have a clue and was rather surprised when we suddenly pulled up and stopped next to a huge concrete wall. Apparently that was the sea front! Seaton sea front?!! That wasn't how I remembered it. We'd had a family holiday or two in a proper sea view flat there when I was a kid but I can really remember very little about the place itself other than the beach being a long, long featureless expanse of shingle and pebbles heaped up by the waves with a small but treacherous river estuary at the eastern end. My father and I had gone fishing there. I don't know why we had so little luck casting into the sea but I remember resorting to the estuary in desperation. It worked and we caught something which we decided to keep and we marched triumphantly back to the flat carrying our prize. Assuming the ancient roles my dad must have gutted it and despite her disgust I think my mother accepted the responsibility for cooking it. It was eventually proudly served up with bread and butter but I remember the effort being wasted on me. One mouthful was enough to confirm that it had probably spent its whole life living in the muddy waters of the estuary and it had totally lived up to the saying 'you are what you eat'. It tasted like earth or mud. Know what I mean? I bet you do, which of course is curious in itself if you think about it. After all when did you last sit down to eat a nice big plate of mud or have some soil as a side order? I guess we all of us must go through a phase in our childhood where we try tasting most things and mud seems to feature pretty early on, on the list, the knowledge of the taste of which seems to stay with us for life. Maybe Freud wasn't so wrong after all.
I ran away from home at Seaton once although perhaps sat away from home was more appropriate. It was some silly childhood argument with family, probably the result of being cooped up in a strange flat all day because of the incessant holiday rain but I can remember ending up sat on the shingle beach for hours vowing never to go back to 'them'. It got cold and wet and dark and hungry and I figured well maybe just one more chance and I sheepishly went back to the warmth and safety of parental protection at the flat.
Steve hopped out to have a quick look while Dorothy elected to stay in the car. I decided that having a look was the right thing to do because I was sure I'd never been there before so I leapt out too. By the time I got out of the car Steve had somehow managed to climb on top of the wall and was surveying the hidden view. He offered me a hand to help pull me up which I gratefully took since I wasn't too sure that my out of condition stiff old body could negotiate such a height of sheer concrete even if Steve had. With much laughing as though we were a couple of excited schoolboys at the beach I embarrassingly succeeded in pulling Steve off the wall. I managed to swing a combat boot up on to the top of the wall and pull myself up. It was definitely the sea and a long shingle beach but was really quite unimpressive and bleak with the wind blowing the drizzle into my ears and my hair into my eyes. Maybe I did remember it. No matter how unimpressive it was it seemed strange that someone had decided that the occupants of the sea front properties would rather look at a concrete wall than the distant horizon. Maybe it's a sign of things to come. I suppose if we are going to stupidly keep on ignoring the warnings of the scientists about the greenhouse effect and rising sea levels and will insist on spending millions on holding back the tide of time then I guess we'll all end up living behind a wall in a hole in the water. A bit like a decadent society going down the plughole perhaps. It wasn't very comfortable stood in the icy wind and since there were no rocks in sight bigger than about an inch in diameter we soon got back in the relative warmth of the car and carried on driving along the sea front. Pausing at a roundabout we spotted a street of small shops and Dorothy decided that there was a high chance of being able to get some buckets and nets here that she thought we were lacking. It seemed a little childish no matter how practical and I joked that I also wanted one of those kiddies windmills on a stick that goes around in the wind because I thought it would look good on the front of the car so while Steve stayed with the car she and I headed off in search.
Woolworths seemingly the social centre of the town was packed with people but surprisingly had nothing to suit us apparently making no concession in its product range to its seaside location although I admit today's kids no matter how young are probably happier on the beach playing electronic Pokemon games rather than filling buckets with pebbles. Dorothy disappeared and after having with some difficulty pushed my way out of the store, I started up the street trying to spot where she may have gone. Just across the road I spotted a shop with displays of buckets of brightly coloured windmills all franticly turning in the wind and made a beeline for it. The winds of change blowing behind the unstoppable march of technology had even had an effect here as I noticed the windmills were all now attached to little plastic ends that miraculously produced a little nursery rhyme tune like an old music box as they turned. I genuinely thought of buying one which had a particularly nice twinkly effect for the garden but then thought of how silly I thought my neighbours were with their silent one stuck in an artificial roofed wishing well surrounded by ugly brightly coloured gnomes in their back garden. Childish and not politically correct so it seems when you consider how society has been encouraged not to be 'sizest' and make fun of congenitally deformed small people.
Squeezing inside the very cramped shop I spotted Dorothy deep in bartering negotiations with one of the assistants holding bamboo cane nets and making a choice about which of the brightly coloured little plastic buckets with handles she wanted. It felt like we were certainly foreigners in a strange land since there seemed to be more staff in the shop than customers and all were overly polite and attentive most unlike what we are used to in the cut and thrust ignorance and rudeness of the big city. Squeezing past a small crowd of assistants I spotted a display of sunglasses and decided to see if I could find some an out of the country friend had asked me to try and get for him since he was unable to buy just the particular type he wanted where he now lived. I understood his problem. Sunglasses are very much about image and how you feel you look in them and if you can't get just the ones you are comfortable with it can change your whole attitude. I still have a favourite pair in a drawer somewhere that I just can't bring myself to part with no matter how scratched and opaque they have become without a protective case to save the lenses from scratching backwards and forwards in the dust on the drawer bottom. I decided several years ago probably naively that maybe there was something in the Seasonal Affective Disorder argument that a low mood was affected by the amount of light entering the eye and I've hardly worn sunglasses since. Certainly on sunny days getting a head ache, having to permanently squint and trying not to keep bumping into things that are too bright tends to take your mind off how low you may feel generally. I'd found some glasses earlier in the week on a display stand in a local Boots The chemist which although not quite what I was looking for, on trying them on and peeking into the little vanity mirror I decided would have probably been ok and I'd get a couple of pairs to keep him going. Only then did I realise they were twenty-five pounds each!!! They were back on the display and I was out of that shop so quick that I almost had the seven foot tall WWF wrestler like uniformed security guard chasing me although stood around for hours each day as they do I'm not sure he was awake.
To my surprise I spotted a pair that looked ok and the manageress bent over backwards and forwards and all over the place to find the best pair from a large mixed up box that had no fingerprints and a protective bag. Only three pounds something . . . I'll have two! Good naturedly she got back in the box and I was soon back outside clutching my prize, feeling smug and looking for Dorothy who had disappeared again. I returned to Steve and the taxi and waited for Dorothy who was soon visible in the distance struggling across the road carrying bags and nets and buckets . . . and a ball?!! She explained that they had sold her the buckets at a knock down price because they didn't all have the miniature footballs in them. It seemed reasonable so with Dorothy in the back seat surrounded by bamboo canes and nets and buckets and balls we once more took to the road. We wound our way out of town and along narrow lanes until we came to what was apparently Beer. It was crowded with slow moving traffic and people in rain coats and hats and carrying umbrellas and all seemingly milling aimlessly about in the drizzle with surprised what on earth are we doing here expressions. Dorothy needed to use a loo so Steve pulled the car into a space next to the narrow open stream that ran down the side of the street towards the sea, hidden from view down the hill. I felt rather sorry for Dorothy and thought it was really rather too public before I noticed the nearby sign pointing the way to the public toilets. As she disappeared off towards them Steve manoeuvred the car and re parked it so it was less of an obstruction to the flow of traffic and we waited for her return smoking and watching the crowds. When she returned while precariously climbing from one side of the stream up against which Steve had parked straight into the back seat she asked if we had seen the car behind. I could see nothing unusual until on opening my door and leaning out over the fast flowing water I could see that the rear wheel of the Sierra was actually sat inside a large plastic crate of the type often used for transporting a catch of fish in such places. It wasn't buckled or bent, as would have been the case if it had been driven over and looked as though somehow the car had been picked up and deliberately put in it. How on earth the owner would get it out I couldn't imagine. It occurred to me that maybe the place lived up to its name and that the local fishermen late at night after a few beers too many may amuse themselves by descending upon some poor unsuspecting grockels car and 'boxing' them in. Escaping such a fate we pulled away and drove on through more winding streets and lanes and headed for somewhere that had rock pools and that we could be more sure we could leave when we'd had done with it.
We drove slowly through the small quite crowded winding streets of Lyme Regis down and into a tiny car park at the end of a narrow, car littered sea front road. It was rainy seaside busy with cars parking, steamed up parked, reversing, pulling out and waiting but lo and behold there was a space. The man that was stopped in front seemed to be in a daze perhaps after having sat there waiting for so long and didn't seem to know what to do with it. We gave him every opportunity but he seemed reluctant to move so in true taxi driver style Steve pulled out around him and dove into the space before anyone else took advantage. It was nice to just sit with a cigarette for a while without the motion or noise of the car. Dorothy suggested another mug of coffee that we all agreed was a great idea and the next thing I know we are sat there drinking coffee and sprinkling salt and eating ham and salad rolls from paper towels spread over our laps. What joy! I was a child again. A rainy day driving aimlessly for miles and miles with map reading arguments to some unknown sea front to sit steamed up in the car with the rain beating down after having symbolically briefly braved the elements and then eating a cool boxed picnic with salt before driving with arguments and silences all the way back home again and to arrive so tired and happy.
With breadcrumbs and salt added to the tobacco and ash on my chair and the foot well beneath we were soon full and wiping out mugs with paper towels and stowing everything away. Steve disappeared off to use the public toilets and full of coffee I soon decided that I needed to as well. As I walked toward the crowded entrance he was coming out and it was amusing to watch him walk straight past me without seeing me. I understood. There were a lot of people all milling around and there is a certain attitude that unfortunately seems necessary in such circumstances. A sort of self protecting aura that is put on to ensure people keep out of ones personal space. It's different when you are with someone else or in a group, softer somehow but when you are on your own you can wear it hard like a shell. Doing my best tortoise impression I did what I had to do and escaped the throng and returned to the car. Steve was putting his waterproof coat on and was gone. I briefly stopped to put my hooded fleece on beneath my combat jacket, did the buttons up as far as they would go, rearranged my hat and made ready to do battle with the elements. Dorothy offered to let me use her waterproof coat but I declined since she was going to need it when she got out. I crossed the car park and followed Steve who was rushing off excitedly ahead past the rusting cannon, over the rain swollen river outlet where the gulls were swooping in the wind diving down for food scraps amongst the flotsam, and on along the concrete castle like sea front walkway toward the steps that lead down to some uncovered rocks. The computer program must have been right for the tide looked as though it was out or just about to turn. Down on to the rocks I followed watching where I placed my feet and unconsciously scanning for something for nothing. It may be because I lack confidence but there are times when walking around with a lowered gaze does have it's benefits. Over the years I've found quite a few things that others have dropped. There was that time when I was a child when I had to go to the shops with my mother in the rain. I really didn't want to go and was lagging behind her long legged grown ups pace entertaining myself by stamping in puddles. Suddenly wide eyed I spotted floating in the puddle I was about to jump in the unmistakeable magical green of the queens head looking up at me from an old pound note. It was lots more than pocket money and would certainly with care dry out as well as any pair of socks on the grey enamelled top of the Parkray fire later. My Mum looking round to see me crouched with my hands and feet in a filthy puddle let fly with all understandable stern admonishments but how her demeanour miraculously changed and softened as the limp dripping note came into view. Oh. Oh . . . come on then!
I spotted a strange heavy duty quarter pound swivel fishing weight contraption with fold out legs and coloured plastic rollers that had been lost to the sea by some 'if I can't hook them it'll club them to death' fisherman. I just couldn't leave it sat there on the rock and although I could think of no use I could put it to I forced it down between the increasingly damp folds of my cotton combat jacket pocket. I didn't have much of an eye for whatever it was that Steve was after and very quickly came to the conclusion that rock pooling was a fit, young mans skill the years and disuse had dulled in me. Just staying upright on slippery seaweed covered rocks in well worn nearly smooth soled combat boots was a feat nearly beyond me and muscles not normally found on sea shores were beginning to ache. We carried on with our reconnaissance surveying the pools and trying to figure out how to get across the watery channel to the outcrop of greener rocks that looked more promising as everything on the other side always seems to. We found what was apparently a particularly nice piece of seaweed and crustacean covered rock, just like all the rest as far as I could tell, which he would come back for and it was decided this would do for what he had in mind. We walked purposefully straight back along the sea front towards the car to get whatever equipment Steve had brought as well as the buckets and nets. Almost back at the car park it was only then that I suddenly remembered Dorothy telling me to tell Steve that she was going to have a look around the shops and would lock the car up when she left. Ooops. The car was empty and locked as we stood in the driving rain looking forlornly through the windows checking that the keys were not still in the ignition. We started to wander about looking for Dorothy but I wasn't much use because I didn't have a clue what sort of coat she had on. Steve said it looked like his but on studying it that didn't help since everyone everywhere was dripping wet, so I simply followed him as he searched. He said that if he knew Dorothy if she was shopping she would systematically go up one side of the street and then down the other. I thought well of course, that's what my dad had taught me doesn't everyone, but looking at the confused people criss crossing the road it seemed maybe not. We wandered up and down a little and had a look through one or two of the shop windows. One had a particularly interesting window display of fossils and dinosaurs that drew our attention. Pieces of card in front of abstract rocks gloriously announced that we were looking at dinosaur eggs. Well who would have guessed? At last Dorothy happily appeared, having shopped, and we got all the equipment from the car needed for our expedition not including a bouncy rubber ball which I had to prise from within one of the child's buckets and all headed back out along the sea front to the rocks. We must have looked a strange group all soaking wet with buckets and nets and a cool box placed strategically on a rock that would be used to house our quarry. The strange evidently short sighted man intently studying individual sea weed fronds must have thought it a strange place to have a picnic in the pouring rain with the tide on the turn. Good grief it was on the turn. It seemed to be rushing in as if to protect its own, reclaiming the odd sandy footprint as soon as I had left it.
Strangely I found another Sputnik like fishing weight and forced it into my pocket with the other as rainwater was forced out of the material in exchange. At last after much fruitless searching I found a nice big crab but on picking it up I was dismayed to find its pincers guarding a mass of brightly coloured orange eggs. I felt loyalty bound to draw Steve's attention to it but thankfully he agreed that wouldn't have been right. Slowly very slowly we amassed a collection of anemones, which were put in the icy water of the cool box together with the odd rock and some weed. Steve was dismayed that he couldn't find the best bit of rock he had ever seen which we had spotted earlier. I came to the conclusion that the entire beach was covered in dinosaur eggs but only those with an experienced eye could tell. It soon became obvious to me that we were going to have to get serious if we were going to find anything really interesting so we geared up into earth moving mode. Never mind picking up little pebbles and putting them down again. If it was humanly possible to lift great slabs of rock . .do it. We nearly came to grief on a couple of occasions when trying to lift rocks that nestling in the sand had the characteristics you more normally anticipate of an iceberg where only perhaps one third is visible. The strategy worked however and we eventually ended up with three fish. Dorothy quickly called us over at one point and showed us a particularly unremarkable looking rock. Holding it in her blue fingered hands she then pointed out that a small hole in one side was the home of a fish which was still safely in there. It was gently dislodged but I think we were all so impressed that it was safely released since we already had some although I imagine it ended up having to move home. We saw some shrimp but only just. Amazingly transparent and faster moving than I had imagined they could be. We tried and tried but they beat us every time. Every time except for one when engaging a cunningly devised plan and lying in wait for a ridiculous amount of time I managed to flush one into my net. Poor little lonely thing was added to the cool box destined to live out the remainder of its life alone. Uncomfortable at still being single at my age I heartlessly thought well if I have to do it so can you! Modest though our collection was enough was enough it was decided and freezing and soaking we fought our way back to the car park against the wind taking it in turns to carry the heavy cool box with the plastic handle threatening embarrassing disaster. Everything was quickly stowed away in the boot and we all jumped inside and tried to warm up and dry out by starting the engine and heater. I really wanted a cigarette like everyone else but rolling my own as I do, with cold wet hands it would have spelt disaster even if I could have got my fingers to move independently again. I'd have ended up covered in bits of tobacco and a packet of cigarette papers all stuck together more like something made by Andrex rather than Rizla. I did without for the time being. Once we had warmed up a little we drove out of the car park and made our way gently out of town mindful of our precious cargo. I think we briefly headed for Crewkerne but then after some discussion and seemingly random short cut turns decided to have a quick look at West Bay where there had apparently once been herds of prawns just waiting to be scooped out of the water. It didn't seem right just having one.
'Voila' . . . next out of her magicians hat from somewhere on the back seat came supplies of fresh jam doughnuts wrapped in more kitchen role and offers of great chunks of sickly sweet, multicoloured sugar cake. Simple things make quality of life. Way to go Dor!
All steamed up and with the rain driving onto the windscreen between wiper sweeps we pulled up onto the harbour side at West Bay. Steve leaped out armed with a net and purposefully wandered off down the slipway in search of some friends for the lonely prawn we already had captive. To Dorothy's concern he didn't bother putting his waterproof coat on but it seemed difficult to believe he could get any wetter. I paused before deciding I'd better show willing and followed Steve down on to the treacherously slippery green covered wooden slipway. Leaning dangerously close to a ducking Steve repeatedly plunged the net at random into the water withdrawing it for close inspection each time before having another go in a presumably more promising place nearby. Not surprisingly to me . . . nothing! Thankfully he soon gave up and we returned to the shelter of the car. Dorothy and Steve talked about fond memories of the good old days from when they had been there before but it did seem from their descriptions rather as though everything was in a slightly different place or somehow subtly different. Perhaps rising sea levels meant the whole place was Atlantis like and now underwater and this was a higher, although in that weather not much dryer, copy. The wooden huts that used to sell nice fish and chips were presumably quite easily re-located and were visible over the water on the other side of the miniature harbour so we decided to go and get some to eat in the car. Three or four different huts were lined up all in a row and all selling pretty much the same stuff and I really couldn't figure out how to choose any particular one. Dorothy seemed to know by instinct and we stood in the force nine gale at one counter asking the woman if they did nice 'real' chips. She proudly presented us with a sample chip, which really was a very good example of how a chip should be, and we gave her our orders. Dorothy returned to the car to shelter from the rain but I stupidly thought I'd better stay there and wait. More sensible customers pulled up and shouted their orders out from inside their cars. A couple of men all dressed as though extras from Moby Dick stood next to me, upwind and I tried to take cover behind them but they would have needed to have eaten an awful lot more chips to have been big enough for it to have made a difference. I was drenched. We all engaged in some shouted 'Dunkirk spirit' small talk about how it would be better under the prevailing conditions if the huts were facing the other way but I suppose unless they were on turntables like some hug weather vane it wasn't really practical or for that matter safe since the edge of the harbour wall was close behind. Waiting for the fresh fish to cook the woman behind the counter acted friendly and asked if we were on holiday so I openly but with some difficulty explained how we were only down for the day and why! She looked a little worried and suddenly seemed to become very busy after that, rearranging salt pots and didn't have time to talk any more. With my arms full I struggled back into the car and we drove quickly back to an appropriate vantage point in the car park overlooking the harbour to sort out who had what. Something went horribly wrong with the paper and hot fat and I ended up sat in a pile of my chips eating quite literally off my lap. I embarrassingly drew attention to the fact and assured Steve, although I knew he wouldn't let me, that I would clean his car before he took his next customer.
Perhaps it was the thought of the fish in the boot and the contradiction of eating a dead fish again for the first time in ages or the uncomfortable bobb, bobb, bobb, of the boats in front of us but my stomach began to feel as though it was bobbing in unison. It was a very nice fish and chip lot but when we left, the car park was strewn with chips and flapping, squabbling gulls who'd never had it so good. Steve forgot to change into his dry shoes and socks before we set of and only remembering at the next roundabout decided not to bother after all. Perhaps because of this but also because Dorothy was not too warm in the back the hot air blower in the car was turned up full. Very full. I took the opportunity to warm my hands on the vent on my side and then decided it was really so hot I couldn't keep my hands in front of it and may as well try and dry my woolly hat which was dripping in front of my eyes and drooping around my ears. It worked perfectly and in almost no time was starting to dry out. It was only then I realised poor Steve was freezing cold, driving with his side window wide open, rain pouring in, frantically trying to peer through a thick mist of condensation that had inexplicably developed on the windscreen in front of him. I quickly put my hot hat back on my head and sat there all innocently but the plume of steam now rising from my head I think gave the game away. There was a lot of water in that car by then and I'm convinced that is what killed his mobile phone sitting next to my soaking trouser leg. It just died completely, dead . . . but did at least do us the honour of letting out a few gasps as it did so, so we knew we were cut off if anything went wrong. Steve had intended to call his taxi controller who was covering their absence just to check all was ok so he was a little distressed never mind unexpectedly having the expense of buying a vital replacement. I made a mental note never to take sensitive electrical equipment anywhere where it would be exposed to any form of damp which considering our climate seemed to encompass just about everywhere.
We drove on. Passing a police car pulling out of a side road behind us I felt a little uneasy and wondered what would happen if they pulled us over for anything and demanded to look in the boot! I'm not too sure of the law but imagine if there are laws preventing the picking of wild flowers and rustling there must be laws about a cool box full of rock pool livestock. I looked quickly around the inside of the car and saw the meter and remembered the big orange taxi sign that was still on the roof. That was it. If they stopped us I'd pretend I was just an innocent customer who had hailed a cab to take me home from the Bristol city centre and all of a sudden we'd taken an inexplicable detour because of flooding and I knew nothing of any strange goings on in the boot. Honest officer!! The police car pulled out and went the other way. We speeded up and carried on. In fact we speeded up rather too much for my liking considering the conditions. Pools of water were stood in every slight depression in the road surface and rivers of water were flowing along on each side but Steve seemed not to notice or care and kept us blasting through the countryside in clouds of spray. Everyone else on the road seemed to be taking extra special care and were actually driving around the larger pools of water even if it meant straying over the barely visible submerged white lines. We however seemed to be laughing in the face of danger and were driving as if on unalterable rails. The bigger the puddle the bigger the splash. Panicking a little I did comment on how the waves of water could in my opinion cause problems like brake failure or electrical failure or anything else nasty I could think of to boost my argument but Steve was of the opinion that it would simply make sure the car had a good wash and remove all that damaging sea salt proximity to the sea had covered the car in and which was poised to make the car dissolve. We flew on, quite literally at one point as the car apparently began to aquaplane. "Aquaplaning!" Steve announced as he calmly kept his foot hard down on the accelerator. A quick twitch of the wheel and he said with only a little more concern "almost lost it there!" I almost lost it too but thankfully the roads changed into gentle rolling hills with less water on them and we seemed to slow down just a little stuck behind less confident more cautious drivers.
Was it actually going to happen? All the signposts suggested it finally was. Steve joked that he'd have to turn off and avoid it out of pure bloody mindedness but it was only a few miles later that we finally drove through Crewkerne at last. In the rain and the spray and the dullness of the early evening I couldn't think why it had been so prominent in our conversation. We were quickly through the dull featureless streets and back out on open roads quite unimpressed. The rain poured and poured and passing a large group of bikers and then another coming in the opposite direction we commented that we were glad to be in the car although I suspected we were actually probably wetter than any of them were given they were at least dressed the part and I did feel at least a twinge of jealousy. There were lots of bikes all heading south and presumably home and I guessed that they might have been to a bike show. We started to pass the temporary signs attached to any convenient post that I had noticed on the way out which advertised upcoming events at the nearby Bath And West Showground. Twisting in my seat as we flew past I managed to make out that surprisingly it wasn't the Custom and Classic Bike Show this weekend. It was next. This weekend it was the Home and Garden show. This seemed strange at first but then I reasoned that if the recent press reports were to be believed the majority of bikers on the roads today were what they were calling 'born again bikers'. Older guys, family men with good jobs and lots of money getting back on high powered bikes after years of not and seemingly willing to throw themselves at tremendous speed into any suitable tree, stationary or oncoming car or more spectacularly see how far over a roundabout they can get on their heads after having left the bike in bits on the approach road. Presumably in their day to day alter egos they had sat with their family watching Changing Rooms and Groundforce on TV and had decided this bank holiday to take a trip to the Home and Garden Show 'on toy' to see the latest shades of off white matt emulsion, complimentary stripy wallpaper and matching dado rails and what options were available in pond liners, coloured patio slabs and wooden decking. Rebels!
On we went now not far from the outskirts of the sprawling Bristol environs but still in lush green open countryside but you wouldn't have thought it at one particular junction. Just the other side of a hedge towering before us was the most ugly mobile telephone relay mast that one imagines must have accidentally just happened rather than was designed and built. How long will it be before brave men throw caution to the winds and risk their lives as they struggle against all that nature can throw at them as they scale the final summit of Everest only to find a mobile phone mast on the top? As the advert says the future may well be bright and orange but what they don't tell you is that it will also be a future of ruined countryside reminiscent of some enormous mechanical hedgehog. There had been no attempt whatsoever to disguise or in any way improve the look of the thing that was just steel and mesh and really horribly out of place. But then again perhaps it was in place and could be viewed as something equivalent to a spear and animal body part like in years gone by, a marker of a particular tribes territorial boundary. Thee bist ner Brissl! Sure enough Steve was soon within radio range and was checking with control that all was ok and not long after we were pulling up outside the house and unloading everything.
Back in Steve's front room which was pleasantly humming with the noise of the tank water cooler I collapsed after checking my backside wasn't so damp as to ruin it, into a comfy chair, out of the way, feeling tired out. Strange how exposure to the sea air can really seem to do that although I can't figure out why. I watched Steve with great care start to investigate the contents of the cold box as Dorothy disappeared to busy herself with putting her clothes in the dryer. One thing was for sure. It really was a cold box! The plastic bottle of ice that had been put in to keep the seawater cool was now defrosted but the water was absolutely freezing as Steve's light blue fingers showed! The poor little devils inside were all looking a little sleepy but everything seemed to have survived amazingly well. I suppose nature has built them to withstand the crashing waves of a winter storm on some bleak shore so withstanding the tumult of getting put in a cold box and swished about in the boot of a car for a few hours was no big deal even if it was the boot of a taxi driver! Very gently the three fish were placed in separate, sealed, purpose made, plastic bags together with some of their native water and left to gently float in the top of the tank to adjust to the temperature. They were clearly not happy at being so exposed under the strip lights and sadly tried to push themselves using their front fins like legs into the most confined corner of the bags. It wasn't for too long as Steve hurriedly placed rocks and sea anemones and bits of weed into suitable positions in the tank amongst the rocks that were already laid out in imitation rock pool fashion. It did seem at one point as though the current that was made by the filter and pump was perhaps a little strong as some poor anemone detached from its rock went strangely shooting across the tank like a cannon ball but it soon lodged against a rock and within an hour or so most of them had extended their tentacles and were beautifully opened, flower like waving gently in the current doing whatever it is they do. The tiny crab only a few millimetres in length dropped in at the top floated gently to the bottom looking with its outstretched claws like some expert free fall parachutist and immediately disappeared from sight into the sand like layer on the bottom leaving only its surprised looking eyes protruding. The solitary shrimp only just visible in the cool box dropped in from a small net seemed to light up a little under the strip lights of the tank and looked amazingly beautiful and delicate as all its legs and feelers worked against the current and it found itself a hiding place in the dark of a miniature cave. After checking thermometers and timers and when he was completely happy that everything was as it should be the master of ceremonies with a small hushed audience started to let the fish out into the tank. Having unsealed the first bag, very slowly very gently he let it fall so that the open top became submerged in the tank and the waters would mingle and the fish could swim out. It didn't realise how much work had been done on its behalf and needed a little encouragement to find out. Slowly, slowly the bag was drawn up into Steve's hand and at last all of a sudden the fish was in the tank. In an instant it swam to one of the porous rocks Steve had put in, paused for a moment and then without hesitation in a remarkable fluid movement backed itself into a small round hole that none of us had even noticed was there. And there it stayed unmoving and safe with just the tip of its nose poking out. Amazing. The other fish weren't quite so lucky and had to make do swimming about between the rocks looking for a happy place although they didn't seem too distressed at all as far as we could tell. What they made of the three enormous looming faces pressed up on the other side of the glass is anyone's guess. A funny thing about water is that it can often have stuff in it we can't see. Anyone used to foreign travel especially in third world countries probably has an experienced bottom that can attest to that. So it was with the water we had in the cool box. The more we all looked the more we could just about see was microscopically moving about under its own steam. Dorothy and I were both of the opinion that whatever it was, come dead fish or high water it should be put in the tank since it had come from the rock pool and was a natural part of the eco system they were trying to recreate. Steve was not convinced and was already concerned that some of the 'things' had already found their way into the tank and were doing unpleasant jitterbug dances in the water. Then there was that weird white thing stuck to the rock that had moved and not forgetting that other tiny thing that the magnifying glass had revealed had lots of legs. We didn't know what they were and they could spell the end of the experiment and he really didn't want to cause what was already in there, the fish and anemones, any undue suffering if he could help it. Some arguing ensued about life being life and who were we to play god but at the end of the day we had to admit that the whole thing was an experiment that could end in deaths and I invoked my strange philosophy for such circumstances. No matter how undesirable it may have been, our actions that afternoon had caused the deaths of those little living creatures. They had died that afternoon. Any future life those creatures got from here on was a bonus. After all who is to say that, that which is I has not been plucked from the safety of some ethereal rock pool by the hand of god and forced into a tank to live out my days?!! It works for me.
We sat around studying aquamarine reference books and the smaller ones Dorothy had bought about that part of the South coast we had raided and had more good natured arguments about what the creatures might be and what they might eat and whether or not they would be hungry so soon after such trauma. Steve suggested it would be best not to feed them anything that night but I couldn't quite understand the reasoning. Dorothy book in hand confident she had identified the fish became adamant that they should have some plant matter to munch on and went to the kitchen to start blanching lettuce leafs. She explained to me how poorly Henry had once become, all covered in spots until they realised that like a small child he had to eat his greens as well as his meat. She called me in to watch him feed but he really wasn't too sure about my hat which I still had on and I had to take it off before he would come out from his safe corner and Hoover up his chopped shrimp main course before grazing on his side order of weighted down blanched lettuce. Steve relented and a small amount of chopped shrimp and one lettuce leaf were added to the new tank. One fish seemed to have a quick chomp at a passing piece of flesh but I imagine the majority ended up almost immediately in the filter.
The gods having done their work we restored the settee to its proper position and all took up sitting positions where we could relax with a few drinks and smokes and watch whatever was going on in the new world. Every now and then something would swim about or move and it really was quite interesting. The thought of putting a record or the TV on for entertainment didn't enter our minds.
The drinks flowed and eventually the timer set the tank into its ultra violet twilight. The fish became more active and every now and then we would each draw the attention of the others to some interesting movement. The trouble was trying to explain which area or occupant was worthy of focus and so it seemed obvious that at some point they would all have to be given names. I couldn't help suggesting that the timid looking fish backed into his little hole for security with just his head poking out should be called Terry cause I figured I kind of knew how he felt. It was quite exciting when at one point during the evening he suddenly darted out of his hole and moved around a little before settling on a nearby rock. I got up and moved in for a closer look only to see him chomping away on something rather too big for his gulping mouth. It looked to me a little like a piece of the plant matter debris that adorned a few of the rocks at the back of the tank but then again. Oh dear. Oh dear, oh dear. When was the last time anyone had seen the shrimp?
The drinks and filtered water and largely 'what is the meaning of life'conversation flowed until the early hours at which point I eventually concluded that the fish were probably waiting to go to bed and that the fishing weights I had found would probably make nice earrings for Dorothy. Time to go home!! Declining the offer of a place to sleep or a taxi home I set off walking and arrived home and backed myself into my safe little hole in a rock at four o'clock just as the birds were beginning to sing.
The next day I decided to do some typing on the PC so I put the heating on in my back bedroom come computer room and sat there, shoes off wearing fluffy socks with cups of coffee and cigarettes, warm and dry as the rain fell and the wind howled outside.
Why on earth did I want a portable laptop computer?

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