God’s own country

I knew it was going to be a great day out when I got to Halesworth Station: for a start, the sun was shining, and I like that. I’m not one of those brooding types who goes in for the pathetic fallacy of saying, “Ooh, I love cold, rainy weather”, as if this somehow confirms the dank seriousness of their own inner life. No, give me May sunshine, and a trip to a small Suffolk terminus with a museum in the old ticket office, and I’m as happy as a sandy beach boy. And what a museum! Complete with Iron Age artefacts, and a lady at a desk who looked at me suspiciously when I asked her where the public toilets were, presumably because she herself hadn’t had a bodily function since the coronation.

Barking mad

To paraphrase Oscar: “Some people come to resemble their pets, that is their tragedy some people don’t come to resemble their pets, that is theirs.” I think in this context of the German woman I have met twice now walking her Leonbergers down the road near Clapham Junction where the boys and I wait to get the bus on the way back from school. The woman is frowsty with a leonine head of pink, dyed hair, thick round the middle – she’s only 5ft 2in, or thereabouts, and must weigh getting on for 10 stone – and as for the dogs… well, they’re not called Leonbergers for nothing. This is the nearest thing you get to lion that’s still canine. Their dotty owner – who snapped “Leonberger!” at me, when I asked what breed they were (as if it were entirely obvious) – must have to go out with a shovel to pick up their dung.

Boomtown stats

Last time I was in Dublin, Vivian drove me round in a big black Merc; this time it’s a still bigger and blacker Chrysler. “I should’ve bought a cement truck,” he observes, as we ooze past the Point, a massive new shopping-cum-entertainment complex that’s sprouting a small forest of large cranes. “I’d be coining it now.” Last time I was in Dublin, the old city seemed teetering on the edge of being metropolitan – now it’s fallen over. Last time I was in Dublin, the joke was the group of three pyramidical office blocks on the bank of the Liffey that were known locally as “Canary Dwarf”; now it’s them that have been dwarfed – or, at any rate, flanked by acre upon acre of plate glass and steel.

Dammit, Thanet!

To Broadstairs, not to bathe – it being April – but merely take the air. The Isle of Thanet has always been a little problematic for me; I can’t even say it without recalling Ian Dury’s lines: ‘I rendezvoused with Janet / Quite near the Isle of Thanet / She looked just like a gannet … ‘ &c. Somehow the great bard of the Kilburn High Road perfectly summed up this, the very coccyx of Britain, with its seafowl and its foul maidens.

Getting round to the Falkirk Wheel

Lowland Scotland is networked with motorways – many of them astonishingly empty. Where my mother-in-law lives, in Motherwell, you can get in the jamjar, and within an hour be in Stirling Castle, or Edinburgh Castle, or clambering up the natural fortification of Ben Lomond. So, you can be forgiven for thinking of the entire statelet as a series of arbitrarily interchangeable visitor attractions. We were zooming up to Stirling when I saw the sign for the Falkirk Wheel. We’d been meaning to go on the Wheel for yonks, but somehow hadn’t got round to it. Boom-boom. Now seemed like the right time: the day was as bright as a political theorist who’s just solved the West Lothian question, and the views – I felt confident – would be superb. I diverted on to another empty motorway and drove straight into a filthy fogbank. Still, even if the prospects had dimmed there was still the miracle of engineering itself for us to admire.

The axeman cometh

I’m seriously considering making a late bid for rock stardom and reforming my student band, The Abusers. We split sometime in 1981 – or possibly 82 – over differences concerning nomenclature. I favoured changing the band’s name to Will Self and the Abusers, but understandably the others were against it. Pete Miller, the bassist, and a black kid called Chris, who played the drums and came from the Rosehill estate outside Oxford, split to form their own, more reggae-centric outfit dubbed Dub Vendor (like the celebrated platter shack in Notting Hill). Apart from me, they were the best musicians, and without them the Abusers were the empty chassis of a car with its rhythmic engine torn out.

Money talks

Feeling like the protagonist of Kafka’s fragment Before the Law, I cycled across town on a windy February evening to the Royal Courts of Justice. They’re Gothic, certainly, but the Gothic is so entrenched in British architecture – as style, recursive style, fakery and mockery – that to call the Courts this is a mere allusion. They are bulbous stupid Gothic, Gothic as an elaboration on High Victorian delusions of mightiness and rightiness, with finials of lumpy complacency buttressed by hefty hypocrisy. It’s no surprise to discover that George Edward Street, the criminal architect responsible for designing them, originally qualified as a solicitor.

Our intimacy with rats

At the time of writing, the fishing trawler Spinningdale is still caught on the rocks near to Village Bay, the only landfall on the Hebridean island of St Kilda. The National Trust of Scotland, which owns the island, has launched an “emergency procedure” to deal with the consequences of the shipwreck: baiting traps. Yes, you read me right: baiting traps. The 14-strong Spanish crew were speedily rescued from the stricken vessel, which ran aground during the storms on February 2, but there’s considerable anxiety that some of the Spinningdale’s probable stowaways may get ashore, and if even one pregnant Rattus norvegicus does take the plunge successfully, the outlook for St Kilda’s half million seabirds is pretty grim.