I AM missing the sea. This is quite ridiculous, since it is many decades now since I left the seaside town where I was brought up. Further, I choose to remain slap-bang in the middle of England, in Nottingham: a city as far from the sea as it is possible to be. And, ironically, it is the destructive force of waves crashing over promenades in the February storms which awakens this longing.
As a small child, in 1953, I witnessed the pounding of Saltburn Pier. Wicker tables from the café were being swept into the water to ride the surf, and our beach “shally” — it was years before I knew it to have been a chalet — became a hideaway from which to view the forces of nature unleashed. Our lives were bound by the tides: we were expected to observe the times of high and low tide displayed on the kitchen mantelpiece, and we knew never to bathe when the red flag was flying, or walk beyond the point of no return below the cliffs.
All this comes back to me because we’re exploring the feasibility of taking our play about the Synod of Whitby (Arts, 2 August 2019) to Holy Island. I idly put “Tide times for Holy Island” into the search engine and, lo and behold, there they are: safe and unsafe causeway crossing times, tabled for every month of the year 2020. And I feel curiously grounded and comforted by this God-given assurance that, however unstable the world feels, some things are certain still to be.
RIVERS remain natural barriers, too, and the Trent contributed to Nottingham’s temporary status, for a brief period on 10 February, as the most congested city in the world. We have three crossing-places, and the detection of corrosion in the Clifton Bridge supports led to the immediate closure of a hugely busy highway. It brought the city to a standstill in which, according to Tom Tom’s Traffic Index Scale, we found ourselves heading an eclectic list of ten cities — Stoke-on-Trent, Montreal, Edinburgh, Ottawa, Novosibirsk, Quebec, Leiden, Lodz, and Krakow — where traffic levels had peaked. There was a feeling of global togetherness about that shared experience, but only — after miserable journeys — in retrospect.
WE MIGHT be a long way from the sea here, but my local chippy — less than five minutes from my door — has officially been designated the best fish-and-chip shop in the UK, beating 10,000 other establishments to be first placed in the National Fish and Chip Awards.
Mischievously named The Cod’s Scallops, its seaside flavour extends to a pair of deckchairs out on the shopping street in the summer, terrible puns about plaice, and the all-year-round sporting of knotted handkerchiefs by its staff. It is a community hub like no other, and we’re all glad that our regular consumption has contributed to its success as well as to our waistlines.
Lost in translation
STORMS and atrocious weather bring confinement at home and the opportunity for reading and research. Making notes is enabled and eased by the dictation facility on my laptop, but I’m exasperated when it wantonly refuses to recognise certain words and combinations of letters. It is quite happy with polysyllabic words, reeling them off like a maddeningly clever child. But give it “Pantries” and it will give me only “Countries”. “Pa-,” I tell it patiently; and then, with rising voice, “Pa-n-tries”. But, no: countries, countries, countries.
It reminds me of the days before fax and email when, as a regional theatre critic for The Guardian, I had to dictate my reviews over the phone the next day to copytakers in London. I always ardently hoped I’d get the nice patient woman and not the irascible Scotsman. I well remember reviewing Joe Orton’s farce What The Butler Saw, and having to phone the copy over from a public booth at the Hayes Conference Centre, Swanwick, where my church was staying for a parish weekend.
I got the Scotsman. My review included a quote from the character, Mrs Prentice, who famously declares, “My uterine contractions have been bogus for some time.” I swear he made me articulate it three times just for my discomfiture. And he didn’t even know about the multitudes sitting within earshot, clutching their Bibles and choking on their cups of tea.
MEMBERS of our evening congregation now enjoy tea and cakes at 5.30 p.m. on a Sunday, before the service. We set up a sitting area in the south aisle, and it started with just a few regulars; but numbers are growing, and legends are being created. I have become known for my rock buns, still warm from the oven if I time things right. They are baked to an easy recipe from a tattered little Be-Ro book, its pages sticky from years of turning with buttery fingers.
Shirley’s flapjack with its soft chunks of apricot is my personal favourite. Wendy is queen of the iced sponge; and David is revealed to be the surprise maker of the sublime pastry for the jam tarts that have made an appearance. Many of us no longer have families at home; so this is a very satisfying outlet for our primeval urge to Sunday-bake. We reckon that the singing at this service has improved by leaps and bounds. It could have something to do with lubricating the throat, but it’s probably due much more to the harmony and fellowship induced by a natter and a fat slice of cake.
Pat Ashworth is a journalist, playwright, and theatrical landlady.