11 February, 2013

“ There's Nowt So Queer as Folk”

Back to the UK’s cold, wet and, likely, snowy February weather. We’ve been away to the warm for a few days – a lovely week in Lanzarote where the sun shone, the beer was cold and the sun loungers lounged! We had a lovely week. Our annual trip to the island to shake off the mid winter English weather is now, after three trips, established. We had a very relaxing week – pool sitting, reading in the sun (or in my case the shade), enjoying the hotel meals, walking along the sea shore into the local town (Playa Blanca) and for three days hiring a car to see a bit of the island.

Lanzarote – like all the Canary islands - is volcanic. Much of the island is pretty desolate. Barren, volcanic rock, bleak.  Having said that there is a desolate beauty in its bleakness and each time we go I am amazed that islanders have created a life for themselves in this potential wilderness. For much of the island grass is at a premium  but when one comes, for example, to a traffic island, although the ground might be grey volcanic “dust” the carefully painted white edging to the island and the display of colourful cacti make it a real “garden”. Everywhere one goes one feels that farmers must have to work hard to coax anything from the ground – the burning sun, the low rainfall and the rocky and barren landscape must make the task very difficult. But equally, everywhere one goes you can see the results of hard work by those who work the land. Indeed, as we drove across the island one day, we came across a great sculpture – constructed as a homage to the farmers who work the land. Absolutely right.

What I find especially remarkable and heart warming, however, is that the islanders seem to have taken the decision to ensure that their home is in sympathy with the environment. There are no high rise buildings; hotels like the one we stayed in slot neatly into the environment. Houses are pretty but spartan – again reflecting, in their way, the landscape. There are no vast theme parks or overt tourist attractions. It is simply a place to come and fit into. A place to enjoy but not despoil. Of course, tourists mean cafe’s, bars, souvenir shops and the like but these are largely in the background and do not dominate. It is, largely, a place of quietness and not “kiss me quick.”

And yet, it would have been so easy for things to have been different. When one climbs aboard the bus to transport you from the airport to the hotel  the guide will at some point remind you that this tiny island does have a claim to fame in the modern world. She will tell you that the lunar space buggies were tested here – the terrain was judged to be similar to that experienced in the moon’s surface. There is also a belief that Lanzarote might have been used in the Star Wars films.  I don’t know if that is true but certainly put these two things together and it would have been so easy for some tourist entrepreneur to have had a space theme park built and for shops to be filled with space memorabilia! When we visited Sicily last year, the Sicilians and the island’s economy seemed completely  based upon Hollywood mafia legend Don Corleone. Marlon Brando’s gloomy face peered out from every shop window and every street corner (see blog “Footprints of the Past”). It would have been so easy for Lanzarote to jump on the same band wagon and sell itself on Hollywood’s glitter.
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I was thinking about this when we pulled up outside  the Cactus Garden – the Jardin de Cactus – in the north east of the island. Pat had read about this place as worth a visit and although neither of us have any great knowledge or love of cacti it was worth a stop. We were immediately  entranced. Having each paid our 5 entry we entered a quiet and stunningly beautiful world where, it seemed, everyone wanted to talk in whispers such was its impact. An old quarry converted sympathetically into terraces – complete with a “Don Quixote” windmill and filled with these strange and wonderful plants. Each one seemed to have its own personality and I remarked to Pat as we walked around clicking our cameras that if one was lost in the desert you could not feel alone if you could see a cactus! We wandered around and thought the whole place typified Lanzarote – quiet, tasteful, in keeping with the island and the environment. In short, making the most of what the island has to offer in a gentle and sympathetic way. The little gift shop was tucked away and sold little boxed cacti (we bought some for the grandchildren) and the cafe looked pleasant and well kept.
As we left, however, Pat happened to comment that she had heard one or two people complaining that there wasn’t much to see and that “it wasn’t worth the entry fee”. As we climbed into our car a man asked us (he had just pulled up) if it was worth a visit. We enthused and he replied, “Oh I’m so glad several people told me it wasn’t worth it!”. He disappeared towards the entry – I do hope he enjoyed it!

As we enjoyed the quiet and unusual beauty of this place some words from my past flitted across my mind!

There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That's noted for fresh air and fun
And Mr and Mrs Ram sbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.

A grand little lad was young Albert,
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
With a stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle,
The finest that Woolworth's could sell.

They didn't think much of the Ocean:
The waves, they were fiddlin' and small,
There was no wrecks and nobody drownded,
Fact, nothing to laugh at at all...........
For those of you not familiar with the words they are from a humorous poem written about a century ago by Marriott Edgar and called “Albert and the Lion”. The poem tells the story of little Albert Ramsbottom who goes to Blackpool for the day with his mum and dad. They visit the zoo and Albert is bored. He pushes his umbrella into the ear of Wallace, a sleeping lion. The lion is, of course is angry, and drags poor Albert into the cage and swallows him whole! The poem was made famous by the entertainer Stanley Holloway in the 1930s and has become a piece of English entertainment folklore. Holloway recited several other similar poems – my personal favourite is the hugely funny “Three ha’pence a foot” which tells the story of the building contractor Sam Oglethwaite who refuses to sell Noah some maple wood with which to build his ark!
I thought about the words of “Albert and the Lion” in relation to the Jardin de Cactus and Lanzarote. Albert and his family were looking for excitement, raging seas, shipwrecks, drowning,  fierce lions and the like. They didn’t like the quiet, the understated and unassuming. Albert wanted to liven it up so he pushes his umbrella into the lion’s ear. Albert and his family would clearly have been like the folk on Lanzarote who didn’t like the Jardin de Cactus – it wasn’t brash enough or colourful enough. It wasn’t “in yer face” like a Disney theme park might be. They obviously didn’t appreciate subtle, silence and solitude. The older I get the more depressed I become that brashness, glitter, “razz-a-ma tazz”, lack of subtleness and the rest are fast becoming things of the past. No longer, it seems, do people “read between the lines”, everything increasingly has to be spelt out in big bright letters, overt screen violence rules, “loud is good” appertains, we are increasingly victims of a “never mind the quality feel the width” society. 
I pondered  this as we drove back across the island to our hotel and as I drove another saying from the past came into my mind. One of my mother’s favourites - and like “Albert and the Lion” and “Three ha’pence a foot” a bit of droll Lancashire wisdom . It seemed just right for the naysayers who didn’t see the garden as a thing of quiet beauty: “There’s nowt so queer as folks” my mother would have said. She would have been right. For those of you who don’t follow Lancastrian dialect it means “There is nothing so contrary and perverse as people – no matter what you provide some will always object”. Indeed!

Albert and the Lion 

There's a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That's noted for fresh air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.

A grand little lad was young Albert,
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
With a stick with an 'orse's 'ead 'andle,
The finest that Woolworth's could sell.

They didn't think much of the Ocean:
The waves, they were fiddlin' and small,
There was no wrecks and nobody drownded,
Fact, nothing to laugh at at all.

So, seeking for further amusement,
They paid and went into the Zoo,
Where they'd Lions and Tigers and Camels,
And old ale and sandwiches too.

There were one great big Lion called Wallace;
His nose were all covered with scars -
He lay in a somnolent posture,
With the side of his face on the bars.

Now Albert had heard about Lions,
How they was ferocious and wild -
To see Wallace lying so peaceful,
Well, it didn't seem right to the child.

So straightway the brave little feller,
Not showing a morsel of fear,
Took his stick with its 'orse's 'ead 'andle
And pushed it in Wallace's ear.

You could see that the Lion didn't like it,
For giving a kind of a roll,
He pulled Albert inside the cage with 'im,
And swallowed the little lad 'ole.

Then Pa, who had seen the occurrence, 
And didn't know what to do next,
Said 'Mother! Yon Lion's 'et Albert',
And Mother said 'Well, I am vexed!'

Then Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom -
Quite rightly, when all's said and done -
Complained to the Animal Keeper,
That the Lion had eaten their son.

The keeper was quite nice about it;
He said 'What a nasty mishap.
Are you sure that it's your boy he's eaten?'
Pa said "Am I sure? There's his cap!'

The manager had to be sent for.
He came and he said 'What's to do?'
Pa said 'Yon Lion's 'et Albert,
'And 'im in his Sunday clothes, too.'

Then Mother said, 'Right's right, young feller;
I think it's a shame and a sin,
For a lion to go and eat Albert,
And after we've paid to come in.'

The manager wanted no trouble,
He took out his purse right away,
Saying 'How much to settle the matter?'
And Pa said "What do you usually pay?'

But Mother had turned a bit awkward
When she thought where her Albert had gone.
She said 'No! someone's got to be summonsed' -
So that was decided upon.

Then off they went to the P'lice Station,
In front of the Magistrate chap;
They told 'im what happened to Albert,
And proved it by showing his cap.

The Magistrate gave his opinion
That no one was really to blame
And he said that he hoped the Ramsbottoms
Would have further sons to their name.

At that Mother got proper blazing,
'And thank you, sir, kindly,' said she.
'What waste all our lives raising children
To feed ruddy Lions? Not me!' 

Marriott Edgar