Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Good, the Bad and the Unready

This is not a book by me on 'Directors I've Known' - although with that title it could be. Would be quite a good read too. I could devote some chapters on the various types out there, plus throw in a few tips and tricks on how to deal with the more challenging ones (think spawn of Satan). I might even give away the secret to perfecting the 'You So Do Not Impress Me' look. Growing up with a cat in the house has many benefits.

Not what this book is about though. The Good, the Bad and the Unready by Robert Easton (childhood nickname 'Ridiculous Robert') is 'the remarkable truth behind history's strangest nicknames'. The man's not lying - he's got some pretty odd ones summed up in there. You have to feel sorry for the subjects of some of the included monikers though. It's one thing to be nicknamed 'the Terrible' or 'the Cruel', but really, doesn't your heart go out to 'Elizabeth the Red-Nosed Princess' (centuries before Rudolph), 'Heneage the Dismal' or 'Ladislaus the Elbow-High'? Oh and poor, poor 'Hugh the Dull' - an epithet like that would have almost made him wish he'd butchered a peasant or two (or two thousand) to earn a more fierce cognomen. No need to frown - I said almost.

If you're one of the seemingly dying breed that loves history, chances are you’ll be familiar with quite a few of the mentioned characters and their nicknames. Not that the likes of Tum Tum, Nose Almighty and the Prince of Whales are not still worth a good snigger. But it's the more obscure names that really tickle the imagination. Take ‘Athelfleda the White Duck’. That one had me seriously intrigued. Did the damsel in question have distinct Donaldian features (pale with webbed feet)? Did her mother blame her pregnancy on a white bird (can't believe Leda got away with that), or was poor Athelfleda just cursed with a bit of a funny voice? Here’s what Easton had to say on the origin of the name: ‘We don’t really know – it could have just been a term of endearment’. Yes. I liked my suggestions better too. Not sure Athelfleda would agree though.

I do admit to a childish delight in nicknames - especially (and this will come as no shock to you) the more irreverent ones. Chances are I’d think otherwise if I knew all that people called me. As a penniless student I was temping at a shower curtain factory one summer (not one of the high points in my life) and was  mortified to discover some of the male population had started referring to me as ‘The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies’. Not the kind of thing a very self-conscious young woman wants to hear. Especially as mine are really more of an average size anyway. I wore baggy things for the rest of the season. Of course now I think it was actually quite funny – and possibly a bit friendlier than ‘the Missing Links’, which is what I called the gentlemen in question from then on.

If you like nicknames as well, and enjoy historical anecdotes (peppered with quite a bit of gossip and hearsay), you will enjoy reading the Good the Bad and the Unready. No self-respecting toilet should be without it. Which is maybe not the kind of praise Robert Easton had in mind when he wrote it, but the bathroom really is a perfect place to 'dip into this little book and enjoy a good giggle' (pinched that from the cover). Now if I were to write the book I mentioned above, I would be thrilled if it became a toilet read. Considering how some of its main characters were full of crap, it might actually be quite appropriate.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Aladdin's is a cave no more

It used to be a mix of Aladdin's cave, pirate's den and older boys clubhouse. One of those secret places that made you feel glowing with smugness for knowing about it. Hugely satisfying to take visitors from out of town to and wait for the inevitable gasps - that kind of place.

Treasure hunting here was not to be taken lightly though. Especially not while carrying an oversized handbag. 'You break it you buy it' meant you could just end up with an 18th century squinting Madonna. A broken one. Then there were the dangers of setting foot on the creaking and groaning mezzanine, wondering whether that second helping you had the night before was going to prove fatal. Ah, that feeling of indecision in the pit of your stomach as you reached the end of the entresol - would it be best to chance a quick yet light-footed dash back (desperately trying not to knock anything over), or try your luck descending the Spiral Staircase of Death: wobbly, narrow and out to ruin your heels.

Risking your neck could be worth it though. Really worth it if you allowed the minx in you to come out and play. Which isn't all that hard when there are pretty things to be had, let's be honest. I struck some really good bargains here with the odd lash flutter, a demure smile and a whispered 'well I don't know' while discussing the price. Whoever said I even resorted to twirling my hair is a big fat liar though - I haven't stooped that low since I was six. And even then it made me feel quite ridiculous.

It was a dream of a place but sadly, all good things must come to an end. The owner has found himself a lady friend. And wouldn't you know - she likes to play house. All of a sudden the downstairs has a proper floor. A nice one, that you can actually see. No more mad stacking of as many antiquey kitschy items the building can hold. Objects are now arranged in pretty displays. Tasteful. Stylish. CLEAN. Even my old nemesis the mezzanine has been getting quite a makeover. Which hasn't actually stopped the creaking and the groaning and the murmured 'please don't let this be the day the whole bloody thing comes falling down' prayers.

Funny thing though. They've incorporated all the changes I thought would make the place even better, and yet part of the magic is undeniably gone. Goodbye Aladdin's cave, hello upmarket antiques store. Did I mention that prices have gone up significantly?

Lash flutters would now be wasted here. The new lady manageress is patrolling the store. Charming, elegant,  sophisticated, she greets visitors with a polite smile. Not to mention a very, very steely gaze.

All photos were taken post makeover.