Magical Mystery Tour

My sister has the loveliest hair in all the world; it is thick and silky and always looks perfect, except for the time she had it permed and looked like a poodle. Unfortunately for Angela, we had a family portrait during her perm phase, so her poodle-do has been immortalized for all to see on our parent’s wall.

The portrait is a bone of contention in the family, with all us kids fighting over who will get it when our parents pop their clogs. Angela and I insist it should go to Mathew, but his wife Emma won’t have a bar of it. To make matters worse, someone had the bright idea of having a second portrait taken 20 years later, so now there are two in the family estate (by estate, I mean a silver-plated soup tureen and two portraits).

Lucky for Angela, her perm grew out. I’d dearly love to show you a picture of what it looked like, but I am too scared – Angela might have a pretty face, but she could strip the paint off the Sistine Chapel with just one look. It’s fair to say the whole family are scared of her (except Dad). Her husband Neil pretends he’s not, but I liked to see him have the nerve to post a photo of her perm.

The only picture of Angela I dare post.

Not only does Angela have lovely hair, she is also clever and kind and lives in Cambridgeshire with Neil and their talking cat – I’m not lying, it once said Hello (Angela heard it, but Neil denies all knowledge of the incident). The rest of the clan live on the Isle of Man, which is great for Angela – as she’s close enough to visit, but far enough away to not be bothered by us all. It also means it’s a bit of a novelty when she does come over, and we each, in our own way, try to make her trip special. Mathew and Emma provide a first-rate drinking service, popular with all their guests, which consists of sitting around and getting trolleyed; Ma has home cooking and Dad for entertainment; and me – without a fondness for drink or an aging patriarch at home – I have to be creative. As such, for the trip in question, I decided I would take her on a Magical Mystery Tour – when I say I, I mean Mathew, as I don’t have a car, and Angela is too fancy for a wheelbarrow.

The Island has lots of nice places – like Castletown, Laxey, the Sound and, of course, Peel. If Ma had her way, we would definitely be going to Peel, because she is from Peel, and takes everyone who visits us, there, even if they’ve been 100 times before (which Angels probably has).

While all these locations have their merits, there is only one place on the Island filled with Magical Mystery, and that is the North, specifically Jurby – which boasts a prison, motor museum and topnotch shopping.

Harrods of the North

The evening before the tour, Angela availed herself of Mathew and Emma’s drinking service, and, when she and Mathew arrived at my place blurry eyed the next morning, it appeared she had made the most of it. Not to worry thought I, my fun-filled tour would soon jolly her along. After collecting Ma, the four of us set off for the first stop on the itinerary.

Poo Beach

Poo Beach is where the North’s detritus is pumped out to sea – sadly, not far enough to avoid the occasional wash back. To remedy this shortfall, a new location has been found, and work on a new pumping system has begun. First, however, the old system has to be dug up.

As fascinating as this digging up process may be, it wasn’t actually what I had taken Angela to see. Rather, Poo Beach is also the site of a recently discovered World War II bomb. No doubt, showing someone a bomb would be the highlight of any tour, but, unfortunately for Angela, the Poo Beach bomb exploded some weeks before and there was nothing to see. Still, I pointed out the general vicinity of where it was found, and she seemed very impressed.

Who wouldn’t be impressed!

As we continued on our journey, I handed Angela her in-car entertainment…

I know what you’re thinking: how was she meant to find a wallaby on the Isle of Man? Well, it so happens, a pair of wallabies escaped from the Wildlife Park in the 1970’s, and estimates are, there are 100 or so roaming the north. There are sightings of them now and then, and rumor has it they’re gigantic. It is also rumored they are working for the government (indeed, a certain fellow, who shall remain nameless, was knocked off his bike by one, which did rather seem like a public service).

Angela, thrilled with the chance to win a prize – which, unbeknown to her, was only a KitKat (due the Magical Mystery Tour Company’s liquidity constraints) – managed to find a sheep and a cow before we arrived at our next destination.

Northern Civic Amenity Site

The Northern Civic Amenity Site (fancy for dump) was opened in 2012 at Balladoole Farm, next to, coincidently, the new Poo Beach pumping facility – otherwise known as the Northern Sewage Treatment Works. As far as dumps go, it’s pretty flash; it is always neat and tidy, with separate bins and skips for all kinds of crap, and a section where you can leave your fancy crap for other folk to riffle through.

I thought Angela would like to go there, not least because the surrounding countryside is so pretty (not that she noticed, as she was too busy looking for a Wallaby). In order to give her an authentic experience, I brought a bag of cans for her to recycle. Strange to relate, she seemed underwhelmed by the whole affair and didn’t even join me for a riffle through other people’s crap. It was her loss, as I found a pretty pottery bowl, that matched one I had at home.

For free!!!

Ballagennie Visitors Centre

Next we made an unscheduled stop at the Bellagennie Visitors Centre. It wasn’t on the itinerary, but Mathew said it was the scene of some goings on in his friend Chris Ewan’s book, Dark Tides, and we should stop for a nosy. Once there, we asked Mathew what precisely those goings on were, and he said that someone met someone there and then something happened in the clump of trees in the distance. Not exactly a Times Book Review, still, we all piled out the car and took a photo near the Visitors Centre.

Say cheese. Mathew!

Isle of Man Prison

The Jurby Hilton, as it is known locally, is home to the Island’s scallywags and ne’er do-wells. Situated in rolling countryside, affording fabulous views, the prison is a vast improvement on the old Victorian one, which was so cramped, inmates had to go home on weekends. Building for the new prison began 2005, and was due for completion in December 2007 – but it rained and then it was Christmas, so it opened in August 2008.

The prison received a shakeup in 2011, after an inspection revealed inmates were subject to boredom and rampant drug use; on the plus side, they got on very well with the guards. To counter this, and to combat boredom, inmates can now take art classes, earn a degree or learn a trade, and have an X-Box in their cells (though only 360’s – prison being punitive and all).

Sadly, the prison is not open to tourists, so we just sat in the carpark. Still, I could tell Angela thought it was pretty cool.

We can’t all go to Disneyland!

Isle of Man Motor Museum

Next we went to the Motor Museum. Opened in 2015, the Museum – covering an area of 70,000 sq ft – is home to 150 motorbikes and 150 motor vehicles, including a Greyhound Bus and a fire engine. Unfortunately, the price of the entry tickets far exceeded the Magical Mystery Tour Company budget of one KitKat, so we had to make do with looking in the window as we drove past – twice as in happens, because we got lost.

Jurby Junk

Next stop was the must have Island Shopping Experience: Jurby Junk. With the clue in the name, a whole heap of junk can be found there. Locals recommend tucking your trousers in your socks as a form of affordable flea repellent; and, if the smell of cat pee is not to your liking, a peg for your nose is advisable. Apart from that, there are some real treasures waiting to be unearthed in the cluttered aisles, where hoarding is artfully wed to commerce.

Now, I wouldn’t say Angela is a snob (at least not in earshot), but she is definitely more boutique than bargain when it comes to shopping. Nonetheless, I was perplexed she wasn’t excited when we drove into the Jurby Junk car park; rather, if I recall, shook her head, rolled her eyes and refused to go in (something she pobably deeply regrets, as Jurby Junk has since gone out of business). Still, she soon perked up when Ma bought her a vintage (read tatty) Ladybird Book on computers.

Dad’s Allotment

Our last stop, before heading back to Ramsey for refreshments, was Dad’s allotment – where he had spent the morning pottering, rather than join us on the Magical Mystery Tour. Dad has grown vegetables since I can remember, and has had his current allotment for the last 10 years. It’s a wee ramshackle idyll; with its lush vegetation and clean country air, it’s no wonder Dad spends most of his free time there.

Dad in his element

My favourite thing about Dad’s allotment is seeing Quackers the duck. Quackers and her friend Nomad showed up there a couple of summers ago and made it their home. Soon after, Nomad came to a sticky end (thanks to some polecat goings on). Quakers remained, making friends with the gardeners, especially Dad. She always waddles over and says hello when he arrives, and enjoys eating out of his hand.

Sadly, at the time of writing, Quakers has been promoted to glory.

The Mitre Hotel

Having bid goodbye to Dad and Quackers, we headed back to Ramsey for refreshments at the Mitre Hotel. Situated in the heart of town, and sprawled over 3 floors, the Mitre is the day drinker’s paradise. With comfy seats, a pleasant view of the Harbour and fine ales on tap, one can away fritter away one’s dole money in no time.

Matt, thrilled to be on such a magical tour!

Ange seemed pensive as she sipped her pint of lemonade; whether it was sadness that the Magical Mystery Tour was over, or the effects of her enthusiastic availment Mathew and Emma’s drinking service the night before, I can’t be sure. Either way, to cheer her up, I presented her with the KitKat – even though she had failed to find all the things on the sheet, the wallaby and skeleton having remained elusive.

Once refreshed, we took a stroll through Ramsey town, then said goodbyes and went our separate ways.

Ma would like it noted for the record that the pictured shopping trolley is not hers – it’s mine!

All and all, the tour was a great success, as I am sure Angela would agree. So, the next time you visit the Island, and fancy the non-stop excitement of a Magical Mystery Tour, be sure to drop me a line!

The Horrors of Narrow Boating

Ma recently had a traumatic experience which challenged her physically and psychologically. No, she wasn’t caught in a great flood, nor was the town pillaged by marauding Vikings. Rather, she went on a narrow boat holiday.

Trauma is not something one usually associates with Narrow Boating; indeed, it is normally perceived as a leisurely tootle along idyllic waterways. Not so, according to Ma. Rather, in her mind, it is an experience that should strike fear in even the most intrepid of travellers. To understand what made Ma’s narrow boat holiday so harrowing, it is necessary to examine all the contributing factors.

1. Ma Herself

Ma is great fun. When you spend time with her, 9 times out 10 you’ll have a good laugh. However, in later years, she has developed a condition which affects 1 in 3 people over the age of 60 (numbers in the Isle of Man are much higher) and is the outer manifestation of an underlying ailment called lifeisabitcrapitis (Latin for I haven’t won the Lotto). The condition is called moaning.

Moaning initially presents as a mild irritation with the way of the world, then steadily progresses until it becomes full-blown, usually when one retires and has the opportunity to sit around and think of lots of things to…well…moan about. It’s easy to tell when someone has Moaning, both by the discussion of their favourite topics – the weather and their various physical ailments – and their frequent use of the adverb too (i.e. it’s too hot; it’s too cold; I’m too old; I’m too fat…etc. etc.). And, of course, there is the most recognisable symptom: frequent sighing.

Fellow moaning sufferer, Victor Meldrew

NB: It is important not to confuse Moaning with another more serious condition – i.e. Evil Cow Disorder (or the male variant, Miserable Git Syndrome). People afflicted with Moaning are generally good-hearted realists who are merely fed-up with the injustices of life and the inconvenience of growing old. Whereas, People with Evil Cow or Miserable Git, poison neighbourhood cats, scare little children and spread bitterness and dissension wherever they go, and should be avoided at all costs.

And so, it was, Ma went on her narrow boat holiday with a particularly bad case of Moaning. According to my sister Angela, who had the good fortune to be on the same trip, Ma’s chief gripe was the fact that she doesn’t have a hat head. Apparently, Angela looked very pretty in her bobble hat but Ma’s bobble hat, in Ma’s opinion, looked rubbish on her non-hat head.

Ma wearing her bobble hat on her non-hat head

2. Crew Dynamic

Da and Ma recently bought a share in a beautiful Narrow Boat, called Dawn Chorus. The holiday under discussion was their maiden voyage, and crewing were Da, Ma and my Sister, Angela. Da was Captain, Ma was First Mate, and Angela was Deckhand. Sound simple enough? Well, it would’ve been, were it not for the fact that Ma was also Admiral.

Captain and Admiral of the Dawn Chorus

As such, Da gave orders to Ma, who gave orders to Da, who didn’t want to take orders from the First Mate but had no choice but to take them from the Admiral, who, incidentally, moaned about having to give orders, but, being genetically predisposed to give orders, given that she issues from a long-line of stalwart Matriarchs, moaned more about taking them, but who shouldn’t have given orders to the Captain, but who had to, cause Da, whose peripheral vision is on the wane, crashed if he didn’t lookout, when Ma shouted lookout. Added to this, Ma tends to mutter and Da’s as deaf as a door post, so any orders that were given were not usually received. Angela just did what she was told.

My lovely sister and deckhand, Angela

Now, I should explain how Angela ended up on Ma and Da’s maiden voyage. Firstly, the invitation was presented as a once in a life-time experience, which, though it surely was that, it was not quite the restful sojourn through the tranquil Shropshire countryside she imagined it to be. Further, she was promised plush sleeping quarters, exciting excursions (see further ahead for just how exciting they were), relaxation and reverie. Who could refuse?

Angela’s plush sleeping quarters

Secondly, Angela’s husband and I were meant to go too. Unfortunately, Angela’s husband had a last-minute work emergency, and had to forgo joining his in-laws on their floating Winnebago (I believe he was devastated). I too had the great misfortune of not being able to attend. Though, to be fair, my invitation did not include the promised luxury which lured Angela; rather, I was offered the kitchen as my sleeping quarters and the role of Galley Wench.

Not so plush!

3. The Rigours of Narrow Boating

Narrow Boating may look easy but, according to Ma, it is not. Rather, it is a perilous way to travel, fraught with dangers. After all, you must float in a straight line, on smooth waters, at speeds of up to 4 miles an hour.

Clearly not for the faint hearted!

Then, of course, you must forage for your food at local, waterside public houses, and, in Ma’s case, find the nearest hoedown.

And let’s not forget the fact that you are in the wilderness, with only a bit of painted tin between you and the elements, and are, therefore, exposed to all manner of feral plants and animals.

Indeed, Australia might have its river crocs, but England has ferocious canal fowl:

And while Amazon river travellers have carnivorous plants to content with, the wayfarers of the British canal system must put up with these menaces.

Despite such deprivations and life-threatening dangers, you’ll be pleased to know that the Dawn Chorus cut a safe passage through the countryside and, all on board, arrived at the Nantwich Basin, well-nourished and unharmed.

4. The Perils of Excursions

Day excursions are an important part of Narrow Boating; they offer the crew the opportunity to relax and take a break from the rigours of floating, and experience some of the wonderful attractions England has to offer.

Now, it is not often that one of us kids end up on holiday alone with our parents. However, it is interesting to note where they take us when we are. For instance, the last time my brother Mathew was on holiday with them, they took him to Disneyland. Where did they take Angela?

She could barely contain her excitement!

It may surprise you to know that the Hack Green Bunker was not built for Royalty, or the Business elite; rather, it was built for Civil Servants. It is strange to envision post-apocalyptic England with nothing but civil servants running about, especially as there’ll be no one left to fill out their forms. Obviously, the Government thought it was a great idea, and spent oodles of Tax Payer’s money on the project.

Despite not having a log flume or magic mountain, Angela said her visit to the Bunker was very interesting.

Barely contained!

The crew also went on a day trip to Chester. For the most part, the outing went well. They visited all the local sights, then Ma and Angela did a spot of shopping.

Late in the afternoon, the crew returned to the boat, tired but happy. That is, until Ma realised she had lost her purse. Panic descended and everyone sprang into action. Angela and Da were dispatched back to Chester to scour the city’s ramparts, and Ma had a glass of wine to settle her nerves. Unfortunately, their efforts proved fruitless and the purse remained lost. After cancelling all her Bank Cards, Ma spent a sleepless night worrying that she had ruined their holiday and, by logical extension, the balance of the Universe.

She needn’t have worried though; when they went to the Police Station the next day, to request a television reconstruction of events and a countywide purse-hunt, there was her purse, safe and sound. Apparently, a lady had found it on a park bench Ma had sat on. Ma left the kind stranger a reward, and returned to the boat happy that both her faith in humanity and the balance of the Universe had been restored.

So, there we have it, all the shocking details of Ma’s traumatic journey. While these details provide us with a good idea of what Ma had to endure, nothing conveys the raw nature of an experience like a photograph. Indeed, a closer examination of one photo in particular, shows the true extent of Ma’s ordeal.

Oh, dear God, the horror! How did she survive!!!

Ellan Vannin

Ellan Vannin is Manx Gaelic for Isle of Man

The imagery of this collage is taken from the line in Eliza Craven Green’s poem:

“My own dear Ellan Vannin with its green hills by the sea.”

In the upper left corner is a pair of wallabies. In the 1960’s two red-necked wallabies (native to Australia and Tasmania) escaped from the Curraghs Wildlife Park in the North of the Island. Free to roam in an expansive habitat and with no natural predators or competition for food, the wallabies thrived and multiplied. It is estimated that over 120 wild wallabies live on the island today. Although most live in and around the Curraghs, there have been sightings as far south as Braaid. Far from being invasive, the wallabies play a vital role in keeping wild grassland under control, which has a positive impact on other animals.

Ellan Vannin – 22″x30″ hand-cut collage

Ellan Vannin (detail.1)

Ellan Vannin (detail.2)

Ellan Vannin (detail.3)


Fat Club – Weeks Ten to Fourteen

History is littered with crazy weight loss regimes: including electrocution, arsenic, yogurt enemas and fat-reducing soap. No stranger to crazy, when I put on 1/2 a pound the other week, I knew it was time to bring out the big guns; so I dusted off my sauna suit and got ready to sweat like a mouse in a cat-lady’s pantry. For those not in the know, a sauna suit is a non-breathable latex garment designed to maximise the intensity of your workout. Its predecessor was the sauna pants (more kinky lace-up pantaloon than workout enhancer) which promised to make you liftable. Next came an inflatable variety, daubed the Health Wonder of America, which guaranteed to ‘wake up’ your body, never mind that you looked like a lilo.

It makes you  wonder if intelligent life on other planets have evolved to the point of inflatable exercise clothing?

The modern iteration of the sauna pants is the sauna suit. I first came across this wonder of human ingenuity at a carboot sale a couple of years ago. It cost me £5 and I bought it with the intention of giving it to my brother. My brother and I, like all good siblings, keep each other’s egos in check by pointing out the other’s flaws and having a jolly good laugh at them. Thinking he was looking rotund, I thought a sauna suit was just the ticket and relished the thought of presenting it to him. But, beguiled by the sauna suit’s promises and aware of my own bulbous state, I decided to keep it.

The outfit of champions!

The sauna suit is labelled an accelerator product; and what it does is accelerate the sweating process. As the material is non-breathable, all the heat generated by the body as you move about, is trapped in the suit, thus raising the body’s temperature and producing an impressive amount of sweat. You don’t have to go to great lengths to exert yourself either, you could check Facebook status, do the dishes or, if you don’t mind looking like a twit, pop to the shop for a pint of milk, and, hey pesto, puddles of sweat will form in your suit.

…well, little puddles anyway.

Me, I like dancing in mine. I put my music on real loud (through headphones of course, so as not to bother the neighbours) and happily prance around the room, sometimes with weights, sometimes just flailing my arms about. Over time I have taught myself to be light footed, because when I started – and this is true – the fellow in the apartment below me asked if I was building something.

If you fancy doing a bit of sauna suiting yourself, let me give you a couple of pointers:

First and most important, DO NOT, UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES  pass wind in your suit. Normally I would not be so uncouth as to mention bodily functions, being a lady and all, but this point is so very important – indeed, your very self-respect is at stake – that I feel I would be remiss not to warn you. That warning is:  it does not matter how long you have your suit on, if you pass wind, IT will still be in there when you take your suit off.

Second, drink lots of water.

Third, if your a flailer like me, get yourself some duct tape. Sauna suit seams aren’t very strong, and vigorous pulling can tear them; that means heat can escape and your suit is effectively useless. If this happens to your suit, don’t just throw it out, patch it up with duct tape and it’ll be good as new!

That there is Kiwi ingenuity!

I am not the only one who has been exercising; here is a photo of Daisy on her hollies in Dubrovnik:

Don’t you just want to fold her up and put her in your pocket?!

As you can see, Daisy reached her goal weight just before she left. However, after a daily round of Slovakian ice cream washed down with a few G&Ts, as well as her 2 day post-holiday scoffathon, not only did she fall off the wagon, she rolled down the hill and got stuck in a ditch until the wagon was a dot in the distance. I am pleased to report that she has managed to claw her way back and is happily in the ‘maintenance’ phase of her diet.

Maisy has been on holiday too – a cruise to be precise. By all accounts (that account being Maisy’s), she was very self-controlled and ate salads and such. Somewhat mysteriously then, she magically gained 2lbs on her return, which one can only assume was an increase in muscle mass from all the shuffleboard or deck-chair reclining.

As for me, I have popped. Popping occurs when you move from one body shape to another. Mostly dieting is slow going, with imperceptible changes, until one day…pop! You and everyone else can see you’ve lost weight. It can happen then the other way too. Like if you’re slim and you get a new fella, you let your gym membership lapse and cement you bond with pies, you start gaining weight and moan about it to your friends but they say they haven’t noticed, and perhaps they haven’t, then…pop! You’re back shopping at Evans, and he, if your lucky, at Big and Tall.

I won’t lie, it’s great popping down. Though, like all good things, it has its drawbacks; like when I mention my weight loss: pre-popping it was like “good for you, fatty”…now it’s like “go away, you’re a bit annoying!” and when I reach my goal weight and pop again, it will be “bugger off you skinny cow!” Ahh well, wandering around town with my coat done up more than makes up for it!