Thursday 21 August 2008

Synchronized swimming still has the edge

14st 1lb; 6.2 units of alcohol yesterday; 1,263 days left; South Wirral.

This morning I made my customary delivery of the local daily paper to my next door neighbours, and had that unsettling experience of spotting that something was different, but not immediately being able to work out what it was. Gradually it dawned on me that they were both grinning (well, perhaps more accurately, grimacing) at me with gleaming white gnashers that were at least 80 years newer than the rest of them. It was the tube of Bonjella teething gel for babies on the arm of one of their chairs that gave it away. That and the blinding flash every time one of them opened their mouths.

Yes, an NHS dentist (and how many of those are there left?) had come to visit them in the comfort of their own home in the middle of nowhere, taken impressions and fitted them out with new false teeth. They were both suffering considerable discomfort and could not actually use their new teeth for eating, but they looked terrific. Another partial success for the NHS, then. Now wonder it is “the envy of the world”.

After a quick snack lunch in Rothbury’s riverside car park, enjoying the fine views of the River Coquet and the community recycling centre, I followed my sat nav’s instructions and drove to Chester. I struggled to stay awake in the early part of the journey, perhaps lulled towards sleep by the Bill Bryson talking book about small town America that I had selected for the trip. I realized as soon as it started that I had actually read the thing, but fortunately the opening line about the horror of coming from Des Moines, Iowa proved to be the only memorable one in it. It was a totally unremarkable drive apart from one moment of danger on the M60, when the traffic suddenly braked to little more than walking pace so that we could all have a jolly good gawp at a very minor accident in the opposite carriageway.

This evening I accompanied the Less Tall Cheshire Brunette to her weekly riding lesson on a farm in South Wirral which has diversified into indoor equestrianism by investing in a large shed with strip lights and a sandy floor. At first it looked like the LTCB was going to be the only pupil, but eventually six of them assembled; the others being a big fat woman on a vast brown nag called Tyson (I believe the owners also have a pit bull terrier named Shergar), a posh lady, a couple of silent younger females and a solitary bloke. A plump lady with short hair stood in the middle of the arena and shouted instructions and, to summarize, they all went around in circles for an hour, variously walking, cantering or trotting. The LTCB proved to be something of a teacher’s pet, answering the vast majority of the instructor’s questions. It was nothing like my experience of school, where the teachers always ignored the boys with their hands in the air begging “Me, sir! Me, me, ME!” and insisted on asking the ones sitting silently and looking fixedly at their desks. Or, in this case, manes.

Two or three of the participants claimed to have exams coming up. This came as news to me, but apparently you can take exams in riding horses, like those mysteriously graded tests that my keener contemporaries used to take on the piano and violin. Part of the preparation for this examination proved to be practising riding without stirrups, which is presumably the equestrian equivalent of landing on just one engine on a flight simulator. The posh lady protested that it was all very painful, shouting “I’m too old for this!” No-one seemed inclined to argue with her, which was doubtless a bit of a blow.

Overall, it was a moderately entertaining spectator sport, so long as I concentrated on how fetching the LTCB looked in her jodhpurs, and did not start trying to work out exactly what was bouncing up and down when the earth-shaking fat lady and her supersized mount lumbered by.

But, on the whole, I think I still prefer beach volleyball and synchronized swimming.

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