Yesterday I bought an ice cream in the pouring rain in Borehamwood, on the edge of London.
I thought the grocery shop owner might have been grateful. Instead, he laughed.
But my parents told me, if it is very hot, you should drink a cup of hot tea. That will make you feel hot inside your body and there will be less of a temperature difference between the inside and outside, so you will feel cooler.
By the same token, if it is cold outside and you eat ice cream, you will be colder inside your body and, by lessening the comparative difference between inside and outside, you will feel less cold.
My father was stationed in the island of Malta in the Mediterranean during World War 2 – he was in the British Navy – and the Maltese, he said, drank hot tea during heatwaves.
You sweat initially but, once the inside of your body warms up, you feel the heat outside your body less.
When I was a schoolboy growing up in Aberdeen, in the NE of Scotland, I once made a shop owner very happy by buying an ice cream during a snow storm. He said it was his only sale of the morning.
I was born on the west coast of Scotland – in Campbeltown, Argyll, near the end of the Kintyre peninsula, AKA – as Paul McCartney would later eulogise it – the Mull of Kintyre.
Scots singer Andy Stewart had much earlier sung about Campbeltown Loch.
At the time, as well as having an unfathomably high number of whisky distilleries, Campbeltown was a very active fishing port. My father used to service the echo sounders on the fishing boats.
Radar spots incoming aircraft and suchlike. Echo sounders do much the same but vertically, with fish.
A fishing boat would use its echo sounder to project an acoustic beam down under the surface of the sea and, when the beam hit the seabed, it bounced back and you could see any shoals of fish which interrupted the beam.
My father worked for a company called Kelvin Hughes, who made the echo sounders.
When I was three, my father got a similar job with Kelvin Hughes in Aberdeen, in north east Scotland. It was a bigger depot in a bigger town. A city, indeed.
“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man,” is a quote either from the Greek philosopher Aristotle or the Jesuit writer St. Ignatius Loyola. Neither copyright nor political correctness held much sway back then.
Anyway, I lived in Aberdeen from the age of 3 to 8, in the 1950s.
I remember idyllic summer days in Duthie Park and Hazlehead Park… and happy warm afternoons on the sandy beach, playing among the sand dunes. It must, in reality, have been like combining the sands of the Sahara with winds from the Arctic.
When we first came down to England, I remember being horrified by the beach at Brighton: not a sandy beach, more some bizarre vision from a horror movie where the grains of sand have all been replaced by hard egg-sized grey stone pebbles.
This is not a beach! I remember thinking. This is just a load of stones!
I was also surprised by the uniform blackness of Central London. This was before the cleaning of buildings with (I think) high-pressure water jets. The whole of Whitehall, I remember, was just flat, featureless black buildings, caked in a century and more of soot. Aberdeen, by contrast, was/is ‘The Granite City’ – uniformly light grey stone but, when the light hits it at the correct angle, the stones sparkle.
London also had no decent ice cream: a feature of key importance to me both then and now. At that time, ice cream in London was mostly oblongs of fairly solid yellow ‘stuff’ compared to the glories of the delicious softer white Italian ice cream in Scotland.
No-one seems to have a definitive explanation of why there are so many Italians – and, in particular, Italian ice cream vendors – in Scotland. Explanations vary from Italians on Scottish POW Camps in World War II who went native after the War ended and married local girls… to an inexplicable influx of Italian coal miners in the 19th century. I only repeat what I have read.
I vividly remember playing in the living room of our first rented flat in Aberdeen, beside the wonderful warm flames of an open coal fire while a storm raged outside. My mother was in the room. I was playing on a patterned rectangular carpet with the gaps between the edges of the carpet and the walls filled-in by hard brown lino – fitted carpets were an unimaginable and thought-unnecessary luxury back then. I was racing small metal Dinky cars round the band at the edge of the old and randomly threadbare Persian-design carpet.
It felt so warm and lovely and safe in the room with the raging fire while the storm outside loudly battered and spattered rain against the window panes. And my mother was with me.
I went to Aberdeen Grammar School when I was a kid. This was a state school and it had a Primary School section for under-11s, but you had to be interviewed to be accepted, presumably to get a better class of person. I must have slipped through.
My mother had heard that one of the things they sometimes did during the interview was to ask you to tie up your own shoelaces. This was not something I could do. Frankly, I’m still not too good at it. Fortunately, it was snowing the day I had my interview, so my mother dressed me in Wellington boots, thus circumventing the problem.
I do remember one question I was asked.
I was shown a cartoon drawing and the grown-up asked me what was wrong with it.
The cartoon showed a man in a hat holding an umbrella in the rain. But he was holding it upside down with the handle in the air and the curved protective canopy at the bottom.
I have a vague memory that I may have thought the grown-ups there were stupid, but I did point out the umbrella was upside down and got accepted into the school.
Weather was an important factor in Aberdeen.
We lived on the ground floor of a three-storey roughcast council block on the Mastrick council estate.
Modern Google Streetview of a similar – but not the actual – council block on the Mastrick estate
It was cold cold cold in Aberdeen. In the winter, my mother used to make the beds and do the housework in her overcoat.
She used to get up before my father and I did and make the coal fire in the living room. She used to start with tightly rolled-up newspaper pages which, once rolled-up, were folded into a figure-of-eight. These and small sticks of wood were put below and among the lumps of coal. The rolled-up newspaper ‘sticks’ were lit with a match and burned relatively slowly because they were rolled-up tight and, when they went on fire, they set the wood on fire which started the coal burning.
At least, that’s the way I remember it.
The bedrooms, as I remember it, had no lit fires, which is why she had to wear an overcoat when making the beds in the morning.
I remember making an ice cream shop man (probably Italian) very happy one afternoon by buying (well, my mother bought for me) a cone of ice cream. I was his first and possibly only customer of the day.
My father had been in the British Navy based in Malta during the Second World War and always told us that, in very hot weather, the Maltese drank lots of hot tea on the principle that, if you made yourself feel as hot inside as the weather was outside, you felt the extreme heat less.
As a reverse of this he said, in cold weather, you should eat cold ice cream because, if you feel as cold inside as you are outside, you will feel the extremity of the cold weather less.
Rain, snow, sleet and high winds were, of course, not uncommon in Aberdeen.
I remember once, coming back from school one afternoon, being on a bus which got stuck on a hill on an icy road in a snowstorm. I think it was maybe not uncommon then.
The Mastrick council estate was built on a hill with lots of open areas between the buildings, so the wind tended to build up.
The main road, a few minutes walk away from our council flat was The Lang Stracht (literally The Long Straight) and I remember it in a snow storm once. Or, at least, I think I do. I may have got confused by seeing a YouTube video a few years ago of a snowstorm on the Lang Stracht.
Either it reminded me of a genuinely-remembered snowstorm on the Lang Stracht; or it made me think I remembered one but hadn’t.
Mental reality, like any memory, is flexible.
All the above could be a whole load of mis-remembered bollocks.
Specifically, the National Weather Service in Miami warned residents:
“Don’t be surprised if you see iguanas falling from the trees tonight as lows drop into the 30s and 40s.”
When temperatures drop, apparently iguanas tend to become immobile.
As a result, they lose their grip and fall out of the trees, remaining stunned on the ground until they thaw out.
Male iguanas can be up to five feet long and weigh 20 pounds. You do not want your loved ones to be hit by a falling iguana and there are a lot of them about: female iguanas can lay around 80 eggs per year.
The Associated Press reported that the number of iguanas in South Florida has “increased dramatically in recent years,” so death by iguana is an increasing danger.
The BBC News weatherman last week had done additional research. He said that apparently, in these low temperatures, iguanas have trouble mating. He said (and you have to say it out loud) that this was known as a reptile dysfunction.
This is why I pay my TV Licence in the UK: to be simultaneously and succinctly informed, educated and entertained.
Today, a week later, I received an email from my friend Lynn (not to be confused with comic performer Lynn Ruth Miller), currently in Costa Rica. It reads:
“Waiting for rain to stop. We had a massive iguana thud from a tree onto a table where we were eating.”
So the danger continues, increases and may spread further.
You have been warned.
This is very reminiscent of a scene in Paul Thomas Anderson’s 1999 movie Magnolia…
Should I turn my back on Chinese medicine after this result?
I was hit by a truck in 1991. It pulverised two parts of my shoulder which still occasionally hurts; I also hit the back of my head on the edge of a brick wall and have not been able to read books since and the base of my spine is slightly damaged, causing me occasional pain.
The bottom of my spine is painful as I write this.
In my apparently never-ending quest to try and stop this occasional pain, a friend and I tried a cut-price offer from the Daily Telegraph this week – three Chinese techniques, one of which was cupping.
Certainly interesting. But, three days later, we still have giant red-and-brown blotches on our backs. My friend likes to swim but can’t go to the pool with these blotches – “I will look like a mobile art installation!” she says.
I tried to cheer her up by suggesting she could sell herself to Tate Modern, but this only made things worse. One problem, I think, is that she believes the blotches on her back look “very Sixties”. There is nothing worse than being scarred in an outdated style.
But our mild medical traumas are minor compared to British comedian Eric’s financial problems at the Adelaide Fringe in Australia, where he had his credit card stopped after a company tried to take over $4,000 from it for a hotel bill which should have been $640. Being on the other side of the world with his wife Helen and newish-born baby ‘Little E’ but without access to credit, he is struggling a bit.
And it never rains but it pours.
Eric, Helen and ‘Little E’ were eating a pizza under a tree when a leaf fell off the tree onto the pizza, signalling, Eric presumed, the arrival of autumn.
He tells me:
It appears the change of seasons are very marked here. I wasn’t able to finish my pizza as I had to go see Gordon Southern’s show A History of History. As I walked away, the sky darkened quickly and I heard a clap of thunder, followed by the inevitable lightning. “Crikey,” I thought. “It was 31 degrees when we went to the restaurant!”
Then it started to rain. I was wearing only shorts and a shirt – I have not worn a coat or carried an umbrella since I got here in October. The trees on my side of the road provided some cover, but spotting an awning outside a pub over the road I made a dash for it. This was a big mistake. I got as far as the median strip and it absolutely fell down and, as the traffic slowed dramatically at the onset of the downpour, the gap I had anticipated in the cars closed up and I was stranded in the middle of the road with no cover whatsoever… And this was no light shower – it was bucketing it down! Within seconds, the rainwater overwhelmed the drainage system (which is probably only designed to cope with about four inches of rain a year) and great puddles formed by the kerb.
By the time I reached the awning, I was already soaked to the skin and the shelter it offered was of no use to me now. I continued in the pouring rain to see Gordon’s show. I arrived but had missed the start – he was already up to the Greeks (not the financial bail-out, but Aristotle). I sat on a stool at the back of the room and wrung my socks out into an empty glass on the windowsill.
When I had finished, I did not know whether my glass was half full or half empty (of sock juice).
Eric started his comedy career when the late Malcolm Hardee dragged him out of the audience and up on stage at Up The Creek and, ever afterwards, encouraged him to become a performer. It seems Eric’s baby daughter ‘Little E’ may follow in his footsteps (when she learns to walk):
Helen and I have been taking ‘Little E’ to shows at the Adelaide Fringe and she has seen quite a few now, though we suspect that some of the more subtle stuff has gone over her head and a lot of her dinner has certainly gone over Helen. Nevertheless she seems to be having fun.
We went to see the legendary (almost wordless) Dr Brown’s show. I first saw him at the Edinburgh Fringe and he ejected me from his audience, because my mate Charlie Saffrey clapped in the wrong place and Dr Brown thought it was me.
‘Little E’ was silent all the way through his show and, when it came to the part where Dr Brown was miming a baby onstage, I whispered to Helen that, for once, the little one’s cries might actually have fitted in with the proceedings, instead of proving a distraction.
No sooner had the words left my mouth, than Dr Brown left the stage as part of his continued mime and, when he got to the back of the room, he spotted our silent ‘Little E’ perched on Helen’s lap. So he whisked her onto the stage to the delight of the whole audience and ‘Little E’ made her stage debut at 11 weeks and 12 hours old.
Afterwards, Dr Brown said that “it was an honour to be working with such a professional.” Well, actually he said “playing with” but I felt I should change the wording.
My first stage performance was as a result of being dragged up onstage by one comedy legend. Now Erica has followed in her father’s footsteps, but at a much younger age.
The reason why it was ironic will become evident later.
I was given a private tour of the building and, indeed, taken to the very Gents toilet where future Mensa member Alfred Hinds famously escaped for a second time (he escaped three times) by locking his two guards in the toilet round the corner from the Bear Garden. He was not a prisoner to mess with, as he also successfully managed to sue a Chief Superintendant in the Metropolitan Police’s Flying Squad for libel.
It is a very nice building, the Royal Courts of Justice, with allegedly 3.5 miles of corridors and 1,000 rooms, one of which is painted. I had my tour in the middle of the afternoon yesterday – Friday – and there appeared to be only one case being tried. It was suggested to me that this might have been because all the judges had knocked-off early to get to their country homes for the weekend.
But I was particularly impressed when I heard about the Royal Courts of Justice’s ancient ceremony of “cutting the faggots”. This is part of what is claimed to be the the second oldest ceremony in England (after the Coronation ceremony).
Details on this ceremony seem to be a bit sketchy but, as far as I can understand it, “cutting the faggots” is part of the feudal legal ceremony of “Rendering of The Quit Rents to The Crown”.
At this point we enter the area in which it is a joy to be British.
Apparently, “the paying of Quit Rents by the Corporation of the City of London to the King (or Queen) is an annual ceremony dating back to 1235. It takes place at the Royal Courts of Justice, where the City Solicitor hands to the Queen’s Remembrancer two faggots, six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails.”
The six horseshoes and 61 horseshoe nails are around 550 years old and are in payment – as rent – for an ancient forge in Tweezer’s Alley, near the Strand.
According to Wikipedia (and you could not really make this up):
During the ceremony, a black-and-white-chequered cloth is spread out — it is from this that the word “Exchequer” derives. The Solicitor & Comptroller of the City of London presents the horseshoes and nails and counts them out to the Remembrancer who then pronounces “Good number.” Two knives are tested by the Queen’s Remembrancer by taking a hazel stick, one cubit in length, and bending it over a blunt knife and leaving a mark. Then the stick is split in two with a sharp knife. After the two knives are tested the Remembrancer pronounces “Good service.”
I am a bit confused about the centrality of faggots in this ceremony.
According to another source, the City Solicitor cuts faggots with a hatchet, and – it would seem on a regular basis – “some of the spectators are amused, while others seem to find it distasteful.”
Someone told me yesterday that, apparently, the rough cost of an average hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice is £5,000 per hour.
Anyway, to explain the irony, last night, I had been in Greenwich the night before and parked my car behind the Up The Creek comedy club in a road 30 seconds walk from the centre of prim Greenwich which the famously uncaring local council has allowed to get run-down because, it appears, the councillors tend to live in flash roads and this road has only a block of council flats down one side.
Yesterday’s irony is that I was looking round the Royal Courts of Justice in the afternoon and then, in the evening, my car got broken into in Greenwich (again).
It was broken into in that exact same road behind Up The Creek in December 2010. I blogged about it.
On that occasion, nothing was stolen. On this occasion, the car was parked under a streetlight with a StopLok on the steering wheel and was double-locked, which means that, if you smash the window, you cannot open the doors from the inside – the doors are double-locked.
What they did was to smash the window (the Autoglass repair man explained to me exactly how it was done, but I am not repeating it). Then someone climbed into the car through the window, looked in the glove compartment and in the central armrest and lowered the back seat to get access to the boot from inside the car. And then climbed out the window again. The car was overlooked by two buildings.
I had, alas and unusually, left a SatNav and CDs in the lower part of the two-level arm rest (it is not obvious there is a lower level). They nicked the SatNav but left my CDs. This is only the latest in a long line of people insulting my taste in music.
It was -2C when I found the car window smashed at 10.35pm. By the time I got home after a 90-minute drive with no passenger window, it was -6C.
Things could be worse, though.
When I got home and switched on my TV, the BBC was reporting 200 deaths from cold across Europe and 100 of those deaths were in the Ukraine where temperatures were -40C.
This morning, ‘the world’s most travelled person’, Fred Finn, who lives in the Ukraine, told me in an e-mail: “I should be home by 8.00pm tonight but, given weather conditions today, anything is possible. The weather hasn’t been like this for 90 years they say.”
Back in Britain, the police in Greenwich told me mine was one of three cars broken into in that street behind Up The Creek last night. To me, that feels more important than the temperature in the Ukraine.
But around 100 people are dead in the Ukraine from the cold; around 200 in Europe; and over 200 were killed yesterday in the Syrian city of Homs by the Syrian armed forces.
Egocentricity is not really an admirable character trait.