Thursday, 7 July 2011

Oh, the Huge Manatee.

Food shopping. I've never quite got used to food shopping. I know it needs to be done and, since we got rid of the manservant, we have to do it ourselves. I'm afraid I find it rather a grim ritual, so, rather unfairly, I tend to leave Mrs. H. to do the useful stuff, like decide on what veg we're having, checking the date on the milk, etc. whilst I eye up the unusual cheeses and cooked meats, and generally get in everyone's way. And it's a curious thing, but I do get in everyone's way. All the time. Because it seems, dear bloggy friend, that wherever I stand whilst I'm waiting for Mrs. H. to determine the appropriate quantity and persuasion of mushrooms that will find their way into the trolley, I'm blocking someone's view of something, or preventing someone from getting to their favourite supermarket item. Last Friday I thought I had the problem licked. I parked myself in front of the Quinoa, whatever the heck that is, and congratulated myself with the thought that no-one was likely to bother me. I could, I thought, stand here, on and off, for days and days. And yet, dear blognator/blognatrix, within a minute a supermarket employee was saying, 'Excuse me, but can I just get to that Quinoa, please?' Next week I'm going to stand in front of the pickled dugong slices. Oh, the Huge Manatee!

But hang on. Perhaps I'm missing a trick here. Maybe I could offer my services to supermarkets to help them shift unpopular items. Let's say they've overbought on lemon puff biscuits. They call me. I stand in front of the lemon puffs for a couple of hours. Sales go through the roof. I'll draft the letter tomorrow.

Although I'm not that partial to the weekly shop, I always enjoy the drive back from the supermarket. As you climb the steep hill just beyond Old Town the last few houses at the edge of Eastbourne are left behind, and then, suddenly, you're on top of the Downs. To your right the rolling, whale-backed hills with views far to the north of the county; to your left, flocks of newly-shorn sheep biting the grass against a backdrop of the shimmering sea and, in the distance, the Belle Tout Lighthouse, famously moved 57 feet back from the edge of a cliff in 1999 to prevent it tumbling into the English Channel. The road rolls eastward through East Dean, Friston, Exceat (with its little bridge over the Cuckmere River) until at last you reach Seaford. And one such recent journey was more fun than usual as a result of something I'd heard on the radio.

The Radio Sussex presenter was talking to a guest; an animal behaviourist, I fancy it was, with specialist knowledge of dogs. And the good people of Sussex were phoning in with their questions and queries about their own animals. One very pleasant-sounding lady was the proud owner of an animal that was a cross between a West Highland Terrier and a poodle - a "Westie-Poo", apparently. This got me thinking. How many other interesting-sounding crossbreeds could I come up with? A Collie crossed with a Lhasa Apso and, hey presto, you have a Collapso. Or a Lhollie. A Pug and a German Shepherd would be a Pugger. And what you'd get if you crossed a Bulldog with a Shih Tzu is nobody's business...

I rather like local radio. In recent years it's suffered at the hands of the likes of Steve Coogan via his portrayal of the tacky, oleaginous Alan Partridge ('Who is the best Lord? Lord of the Flies, Lord of the Rings or Lord of the Dance?'). But on the whole, I like the fact that the presenters are rather more laid back than their counterparts on national radio, or indeed those who work on London stations. Comments and opinions that would result in your call being terminated within seconds on Radio London or LBC are aired on local radio, untramelled by the 'dump' button so often used to deal with callers to stations in the capital. And how refreshing it is to hear news bulletins about truly 'local' issues: the South Downs National Park, the effect of the recession on the rural economy, and items concerning the day to day minutiae of country life. In London, the stations appeared to be incapable of covering 'local' news; they seemed to be obsessed with international issues, government, and the latest edicts from the Mayor of London. And although local radio has its fair share of 'hang 'em and flog 'em' correspondents, the anger and bitterness one encounters on the Big City media seems to be absent. Ok, so they might question immigration policy, disagree with the mores of a percentage of Brighton's community, and spit feathers if a neighbour plays Radio 3 on their wireless after four in the afternoon, but you still feel you'd probably quite like them if you met them propping up the bar in a local pub, or out rambling with their Westie-poos on a Sunday morning...

Sunday morning just gone saw us taking a slow walk along the beach, soaking up the warm July sun and watching a procession of small sailing vessels tripping lightly across the shimmering sea. To our left, the chalky heights of Seaford Head with its colony of wheeling, squalling kittiwakes. To our right, the broad sweep of Seaford Bay, with the port of Newhaven, nestling in the shadow of the Victorian fort, its defensive guns forever silent. And, as the sound of children playing at the water's edge mingled with the lap of the sea and the distant bells of St Leonard's Church, I thanked my lucky stars, for the umpteenth time, that I live in this place.