Today is Day Three of the Ellesmere festival of something or other. All weekend there have been day-trip boats chugging up and down the canal laden with land-lubber folk looking slightly sea-sick. Yesterday the tiniest of tiny (rowing boat size) steam-powered boats huffed past, with a couple on-board, it has to be said, who looked as though they’d last smiled in about late summer of the year 1483. I can empathise; smiling makes my face ache, too.
Today one of the attractions listed was a “Classic Car Show” and even though I am most definitely an ex-petrolhead, no longer a car nerd or even really a fan of the damnable contraptions, I went along for old times’ sake. The venue was only four-sixths of a mile up the towpath, so it would have been churlish not to have made the effort.
Well, when I got to the show I have to say that both exhibits looked magnificent. I chatted to the owners and we reminisced about the days of proper cars, cars without ABS, EBD, ESP, TTFN and even without auto-park, sat-nav and AI soup-dispensers. We all agreed that the cars of today are vastly superior, and vastly boring.
Once we got to the shuffling about, slightly embarrassed stage I decided that I urgently needed to explore the town (hopefully giving other exhibits some time to arrive). Ellesmere is a splendid place. I know this for a fact, since it boasts not only an old-time barber shop, but one such called “The ManCave”. This is almost certainly highly illegal now, and doubtless punishable by “removal of the business owner’s nadgers”, but it is a heartwarming sight in these (horrible, horrible) “unisex” days.
The town also boasts the usual modest residence of Mr You-Know-Who, and this shy and retiring institution looks down on the town from on high, casting long, dark shadows.
Considering that the little hand on my wristwatch was pointing to “Sunday” the establishment (indeed, the Establishment) was suspiciously quiet and bereft of both faithful and of clergy. I found out why, when I mooched back towards the classic car show – the church had set up shop there, outdoors, with an electric sound system just to ensure that everyone could join in. Just to clarify, in the photograph below the two in black are the ones on the family payroll, while the collection of assorted coffin-dodgers in the foreground are the congregation.
I watched for a while, but neither of the clergy holding court (one unisex female, one unisex male) were very fire & brimstone. The Church of England was neutered long ago, and it’s all a bit “tea and Victoria sponge” these days. There being little chance of a good show of either salvation or damnation I turned my attention back to the cars.
Well hallelujah praise be if more exhibits hadn’t turned up while I’d been wandering. The Hillman was still there, and, being Rootes Group in origin, brought back memories of pater’s Singer Gazelle Estate car, the main transportation of my childhood some significant portion of five or six decades since.
Cars all had faces in those days. Some were happy faces, some were sad, and some just had big, toothy grins and boggly eyes. These days, when a chap is mown down by a car he has no chance of identifying it, all makes and models look alike, but in my day you knew you were about to be flattened by a Hillman, or a Wolseley or whatever. Baa-doinggg, oops, I’m dead, but at least it was a Humber Super-Snipe with optional heater and front disc-brakes.
The obligatory – and splendid – Austin Healey turned up, looking muscle-bound and butch. In the days of Austin Healeys driving a sports car required much the same skills and physical fortitude as did boxing, coal-mining or wrestling bears. Sports cars then required that one be rugged and that one be made of the right stuff.
If one was struggling at the roadside trying to crack open a coconut for lunch or something, the driver of an Austin Healey could help you out, no problem. Austin Healey drivers, if they had to change a wheel, simply lifted up the corner of their car with one hand and bolted on the replacement wheel with the other.
A Ford Thingummy Classic had turned out – in that lovely shade of cream-lemon-yellow that Ford did back then, with a white roof, the better to reflect some of that tropical heat in the colonies.
This car had four headlights, so a chap could tell immediately that it was fast.
A couple of Moggies turned out, naturally, one a split screen convertible, and both with the most magnificently-styled interiors. When men were men and cars were real the interiors of cars weren’t all rounded and soft and eco-safe accident-friendly. Nope, they were styled such that the moment you wriggled into the seat and looked about you’d find yourself making noises such as “ooh” and “aah” and “by ‘eck, Mother, lookez vous at this interior – nous somme certainly moved up-marché. Feel that real Bakelite.”
Just as my giggle-gland was about to explode a rather nice green MG TD rolled into view, and damp-eyed folk all about began to mutter about how “there’s always be an England” and “Well, blow me down, and here’s me without either black Labrador dawg or Panama hat” and even the odd unreconstructed “Oh I say – anyone for tennis or cricket or both?”
Well, I don’t mind saying so, but this was more than I could bear, so I dabbed away the tears of nostalgia, returned almost all of the items that I’d pick-pocketed while wandering about and announced to everyone that I had to leave.
This puzzled them all, since no-one knew who I was or why they should give an airborne rat’s rectum whether I stayed, left or performed a swan-dive into the canal basin.
As it happened, although I was on the very verge of the swan-dive, just moments before I began my flying leap I noticed that one of the narrowboats trading in the little Ellesmere arm was selling secondhand books and – forgive me, please – DVDs. Thus distracted I selected two pulpish paperbacks, a half-dozen “B” (or possibly “C” or even “D”) films (“movies”, if you will, for those trapped across the pond) – and a box of eleventy-six dog-poop bags. The former are for my undeniably cheap and tawdry amusement, the latter a need borne out of necessity for removing other peoples’ dogs’ cr*ap from my mooring ropes, pins and general vi-cin-ity.
Not a bad haul for a fiver, and when I’m done with the books and the DVDs they’ll go on to new lives elsewhere, via the next “swapsies shelf” I encounter.
So, all in all not a bad Sunday the morning, and I even returned to the Cardinal to find that the solar panels had all but caught up with the previous night’s consumption, and – victualling wonder of wonders – that I had Welsh potatoes, cabbage, leeks, vegan sausages and … broccoli to be eaten for lunch. Once I’d prepared, cooked and served them, that is.
I do wonder if I ought now to treat myself to an afternoon hiding in the towpath undergrowth, flinging cabbages, rotten fish and deceased felines at the passing boaters all fresh from the various accredited Schools of Getting The Most Speed From Your Narrowboat. Some of them do appear to be either answering medical emergencies or attending major conflagrations. One or two have undoubtedly not realised that they have long-since lost their water-skiers.
Our souls. Sir, are these our souls? These are our souls, aren’t they, sir? They are indeed our souls, my child.
I do feel that it could be instructive. Perhaps I could lob cricket balls. What could possibly, in England, be more instructive than being utterly brained by a well-flung cricket-ball while tearing up the canal bank and leaving moored boats bouncing in one’s Severn Bore-esque wash? Wheeeee… thwack.
Mummy? Where’s Daddy? He’s not on the back of the boat anymore…
Only joking, I am, as you all already know, thoroughly non-violent in nature. Lessons such as in re excessive speed on the canals are best taught with hugs. Now, if you’ll all please to excuse me I shall change into my mankini, plaster myself with goose-grease and go chase some speeders along the towpath preparatory to
killing them educating them with love.
What a splendidly active day this is turning out to be.