Friday, 27 February 2009

Controlling the weather...


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This is my grandfather Frederick William Height – Billy – a quiet man, a strong man. I remember watching him fearlessly place a huge shire horse’s leg between his own, hammering a still red hot iron shoe onto the beast's massive hoof. I was six and he was a hero.
What he made with a straight iron bar, a fire, an anvil, and a hammer was impossible – but he did it anyway. He made the alter gates for the tiny church in the Lincolnshire village where he lived – not many people knew about it – he was a quiet man. He drank a scotch most evenings, liked football, ate apple with his cheese - and that’s about all I know about him. Like I said, he was a quiet man. He was a master blacksmith, as was his father and his father before him. My father is a trained agricultural engineer – which is another name for a blacksmith really.

Sometimes I dream that I’m a blacksmith – followed my ancestor’s lead. I make wrought iron and copper weather vanes, lightening rods, gates, candle stands – all manner of objects – but it is the vanes and rods that are my speciality. In my dreams every one is unique and glows with an almost-life. They are mystical and magical, some are encrusted with coloured glass gems and others steel folded seashells - copper leaves, iron birds, silver kisses - all welded to the twisted, burnished steel stems that are my work and passion.

North, south, east, west – bent and straight and true - they are all beautiful.

In my dreams the weather vanes tame the winds and the lightening rods control the storm. They stand upright and waiting in my red-glowed forge, giving me purpose and hope – a direction to my life – and the people travel from all over to see them - bankers, fishermen, gypsies, farmers, violinists. Sometimes I sell, other times I give away – it depends on who my work chooses, and their need. They are marvellous and a marvel – they are my magic – my life is a carnival.

My family are blacksmiths.

And I’m not - except in dreams.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

Coming back

Hello again.

It seems like a long time since I've been here. I think that it's good to be back, I hope so because I don't much like where I've been.

If you are reading this let me know. I've been writing (as you know I have to, even if I'm just writing away in my head with my mental pen). I just haven't been writing here. I don't know how frequently I'll be visiting in the future, but I will when I can. Anyway I'm here now and I have this for you.

Don't forget to let me know if you read it - and don't worry it isn't very long. It's about going back to somewhere special after an absence...a bit like being here again really.

A shadow on the landscape.

It had been a long and difficult journey. It had tired him and the indigestion had returned after all this time. He hoped that it had been be worth the effort. He remembered the weeks of standing that first time, in all weathers, waiting for just the right moment. It had made his legs ache and his eyes water. That had been the start of the indigestion – goodness knows why, but it had been with him for life after that.

What had drawn him back after all these years? At least it wasn’t raining. It had rained continually that other time. He’d got soaked on more occasions than he cared to remember and Maria had been worried that he’d catch his death. Poor sweet Maria – he’d loved her so much. Why had her grandfather been so opposed to their marriage? It had made her so unhappy, even at the end it preyed on her mind. He remembered their honeymoon. What times they’d had in Weymouth, Brighton - the love and the light.

He looked around. It wasn’t even as if he had really good memories of that time. Willy Lott had caused him a deal of trouble, shouting and complaining continually that his father had sent him to spy, and how could that be? His poor father had been dead three years or more. Old Willy was mad, and John knew a little about madness - it had almost cost him his freedom. His older brother had suffered badly. Thank God for Abram. Without Abram it would have fallen to him to stand for his older brother, he’d have been doomed to take on the mill. The boredom would have killed him, withered his spirit and destroyed his vision - and what about the gift? Would that have deserted him?

He stared over at the cottage where Willy used to live. Willy had hardly left it during his lifetime, he’d been born there and he died there, finally leaving in a beech wood coffin. The house had changed a little but not too much. The bushes were trimmed and it was freshly painted, but apart from that it was not so very different. He remembered the sound of the water as it escaped from the Mill’s dam, the look of the willows, the old rotten planks and slimy posts, the crumbling brickwork - how he had loved such things. He could never have become a miller, he was too much tied to the landscape – it owned him, not vice versa.

He glanced down at the river. It was higher with the rising of the sea, and it would be hard these days to cross - the huge trees that had stood on the far bank behind the cottage had all been cut down – but for all that it was the same place.

He remembered how his father had strolled around, out for a constitutional or on his way to church, Sunday morning, dressed in all his finery, gold watch and all. He had been a proud man with much to be proud of, two mills, and his own ship, a small one - but a ship. Often, as a young man, he’d sailed on ‘The Telegraph’, leaving her moorings on the Stour Estuary as dawn was breaking, transporting the corn to London. How he had loved London, and after that first time he knew that he had to be there. He couldn’t wait to be there to begin his studies and start living the life that he knew he must, and eventually his father had given him his blessing and a little money. It all seemed so long ago now. He watched the ripples on the water and remembered himself a young man, twenty-three, leaving for London to chase a dream. Was it really that long ago?

Those early days in London had been so good. So many people and such good conversation, passionate debate, poetry and laughter – but in the end London hadn’t really appreciated him.

Now Paris…Paris had been quite a different matter. They loved him in Paris, adored his work, how stupid that he had never journeyed there - ‘I’d rather be a poor man in England than a rich man abroad,’ he once told Arrowsmith. How pompous that seemed now, and how wrong he’d been. If it hadn’t have been for Arrowsmith, he’d never have made it. It was Arrowsmith who’d made his name in Paris, and Arrowsmith who’d asked him to go to the Salon - he didn’t go though. Why hadn’t he? He wished that he’d taken Maria to see the sights and drink champagne at the Jardin du Luxembourg, maybe even stay out late dancing. What fun they would have had together. Why hadn’t he taken the opportunity when he had the chance? Too late now, both opportunity and chance were lost - and he should not have quarrelled with Arrowsmith.

He stared at the swirling water. At least that dog wasn’t around. It had been the bane of his life - nasty, smelly, flea-ridden thing. It had snapped at his ankles and once had made water on his satchel, ruining the work it contained, days worth of work lost - how he’d hated that dog. It would be long dead now, poor thing.

A movement - he glanced right towards the mill, a fisherman sat in the exact same spot that John had placed that other angler all those years before. He was setting up his rod, what was it made of? It didn’t look like cane, it was impossibly black and very shiny, maybe it was some sort of lacquered wood? He looked towards the bank where he’d placed the boat - no boat today. That other boat would be rotted to powder, just worm eaten dust by now - he’d often rowed that boat into the centre of the river to look at the cottage from a different perspective, catch it in a slightly different light. Good light today, interesting shadows.

It was a fine day, warm and bright, no need for a fire in Willy’s cottage on a day like this. Did it still have open fires? Was there still a need to draw water from the river? No. Running water would be piped inside, another miracle of science. He understood science, it was everywhere, in the trees, making the weather. Out in the fields across the way he could hear the buzzing of a combine harvester, no scythes, or wagons and horses these days. The miracle of science - running water and the internal combustion engine - a different world - not his world, his world was far away.

It had been well received in Paris, but they hadn’t liked it in London. All that effort, the standing about in the sun and rain, the flies, that horrible mongrel dog - shaking his head he remembered the hundreds of hours spent in his London studio striving to get it right, working to capture that single perfect moment. All that and still they hadn’t seen it. He was proud to have been awarded gold by the Salon, but he’d never really understood the indifference of London.

Perhaps he should have packed up his brushes and moved to Paris with Maria and the children. After all, there were landscapes to paint in France; he may even have enjoyed painting them. He loved landscape. The world was so wide, no two days alike, not even two hours the same, no shadow repeated, the sky continual movement. Yes, he could have painted the landscape of France. But his heart would have stayed in Dedham Vale, that was why he was here – to revisit his heart.

He shivered. The wind had changed. Above him he could see the purple clouds forming. They reminded him of the clouds he’d made from paint and sweat and forced onto that canvas. A storm was on the way. A Suffolk storm, full of beauty and fierce as a she cat. He’d lived through many like it in his lifetime. He glanced across to the mellow pink brick of the mill. It had begun to rain heavily, darkening the brick to blood red with each falling drop. Flatford, his family home, how happy they’d been all those scores of years ago, how happy now for this time to return, a little time to see what had become of the landscape that he’d painted so lovingly. It was almost worth the indigestion, he’d forgotten how it felt. Had it really killed him?

Time to go. Maria and the children would be waiting - all seven of them - and their children, and his Mother, Father, Abram - even old Willy. It was good to be with Maria again, it had been less of a life without without her.

He pulled his long black coat around him, the rain was very heavy now. Looking up, his face wet with rain and tears, John Constable took one last look at the place where once he’d painted the horses that pulled the hay wain to the fields across the river. No, It hadn’t change that much at all.

Turning, he smiled and walked back into the wind.

Monday, 16 February 2009

13

Okay, so I have triskaidekaphobia and paraskevidekatriaphobia and even friggatriskaidekaphobia, and that makes me superstitious, but so what - what if there is something in it?

After all, I’m not the only one, lots of people are worried by the number thirteen (triskaidekaphobia) and are apprehensive about Friday the thirteenth (paraskevidekatriaphobia and friggatriskaidekaphobia), it isn’t unusual.

I wonder if the crew of Apollo thirteen were a superstitious lot? If they were I guess that they must have been clutching lucky rabbit’s foots when they took off from Cape Kennedy on the eleventh of April, 1970, maybe they were still clutching them two days later on April thirteenth when the mission was aborted due to the explosion. ‘They were lucky to have survived’ the papers wrote at the time. All down to the rabbit’s feet I guess.

Formula one drivers must be a superstitious bunch; there hasn’t been a number thirteen car in a F1 race since 1974. I can understand why – why take unnecessary chances when driving at those speeds? Thinking about it though, I really don’t understand why - isn’t that what they do for a living? What is more dangerous travelling at one hundred and eighty miles an hour around hairpin bends in the rain or having thirteen on the side of your racing car?

I’ve been on planes where there is no row thirteen, in hotels with no room number thirteen and up tall buildings where there’s no thirteenth floor. Even the road where I live has no number thirteen, at least none that I’ve ever found. I’ve been inside number twelve and often walked past number fourteen, but as yet I’ve never come across thirteen. I hope I never do. What would it be like if I was walking down my road one evening and noticed a gate with the thirteen curse on it? Would I be tempted to go up to the front door and ring the bell - thirteen times?

That gives me an idea for a story - I’ll call it ‘TheThirteen Club’, it’ll be about a group of people who set out to prove that the number thirteen isn’t unlucky. In my story they form a club and meet on Friday the thirteenth at eight thirteen in the evening. There will be thirteen of them and they will meet at number thirteen (the house that isn’t there) at eight thirteen in the evening. The story will be about what happens to the last one to arrive - which might be nothing but I doubt it. Perhaps I should call it ‘The Thirteenth Guest’? Or perhaps it’s about this person who goes up the pathway to number thirteen, goes in, and meets twelve other people who have gained entry from other streets, up other pathways, into other thirteen’s all over the world – yes I like the sound of that one too.

Sounds like they could be a good stories, there could even be a book of short stories about thirteen, thirteen stories – now what would I call it?

I won’t write it now though – not on Friday the thirteenth – Friday the thirteenth can be a very bad day and no lucky rabbit’s foot can change that. Sometimes on Friday the tirteenth a story that has been a long time in the telling can begin to look like it is almost finished. I guess they'll be other stories but this was a fine one.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Dark day


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Today was a very dark day.
Here's a very short piece about the dark.

The Word Process
There was nothing but darkness and the darkness was huge. He was used to it. He’d been travelling the darkness for as long as he could remember. For so long that he’d forgotten when he’d stopped simply travelling and his search for some other had begun - or even some-thing…any-thing. It had started quietly. He’d never really doubted that he’d find something - there had to be something other than himself? But now he thought differently - he couldn’t be the only could he?

That had been before, he had no doubts left. He had searched and hunted for so long without success that he knew he was the only and - accepting it - he finally understood what he must do. It was hard but at the end there comes a time when the unacceptable must be accepted. That time was now, a single road to travel – he must finish the emptiness and remove the darkness. The ending to a story that had never really began. The empty darkness held no story, had no dialogue, the only word his - hope vanquished and vanished long ago.

It was time. He’d prepared well. All he had to do was press the trigger and it would be over. He didn’t feel sad. He was beyond sorrow. He was angry, raging even. Sorrow was just a distant memory – an echo in the darkness, his echo, solitary and alone. He’d be happy to be out of the darkness, overjoyed by the stop to the loneliness at last.

He reached for the trigger, pressed it and in an instant of implosion the process ignited - light flooding outwards, upwards, inwards, downwards - as the emptiness began to shrink. Exploding embryonic particles rushing from and towards each other filling the emptiness with miasmic plasma soup, the foundation of a future, a vacuum no more. Hot matter and antimatter colliding, destroying each another, feeding on each other, feeding the process, creating pure energy, forming matter. Baryons, photons, neutrinos, electrons and quarks cooling, the soup of matter rushing outwards in that flash, cooling to watery ice, combining and recombining, colliding and re-colliding, forming and reforming - the universe smashing itself into being with a Bang!

The darkness was gone, the emptiness filled and he had filled it. He was free. Everywhere and everything. He would be known by many names, by many civilisations on countless worlds and this time would be Chthlutu, Dreamtime, Rrtyseyndra, Creation, Big Bang…but in the end, as it was in the beginning, they were one and the same - The word was first and the word was last - and some day the the word process would begin again.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Barbados Lamb

Wow! Just look at this, doesn't it look delicious? This is our Barbados Lamb as cooked by Mr Glynne Kirkham earlier this evening - in his words 'Yummy'. Well done Glynne, see you on Masterchef!

America, America…

No, nothing to do with the new president or the exchange rate for the dollar - it’s the title of my daughter’s school’s dance extravaganza that I went along to at the Altrincham Garrick Playhouse the other night.

I’ve never really understood why anyone would want to watch other people dancing – The Ballet, Riverdance, even Strictly Ballroom leaves me cold, and isn’t dancing a doing thing, not a watching thing? I used to like to dance and I must have been pretty good at it – do you remember that scene in Saturday Night Fever where Tony Manero starts to dance and the floor empties as the other dancers stop to watch? Well, I could empty the dance floor in seconds, only nobody bothered to watch - close though.

Anyway, back to the show. We were given a programme as we arrived and I was pleased to see that we weren’t being short-changed on the seven pounds entrance fee, there were a total of twenty-two individual dance pieces for us to delight in – that’s around thirty-two pence a dance - a bargain! The dances, the fifteen minute interval (with the mandatory huge queue for the bar), and the usual thank you speeches at the end of the show (I just want to thank a few people…zzzz) were going to take a couple of hours - I’ve been to these shindigs before so I knew what to expect, and I’d forgotten to take along my boiled sweets – It was going to be a long sugar-free evening. The girls put a huge amount of effort and practice into their dance and most of the performances are very good but there are an awful lot of them, so I knew to applaud gently and briefly to avoid any bruising on my palms by the end of the night.

As the title suggests (twice) the show had an American theme, so each dance had been choreographed around a song with a link to something American - although I’m not really sure what ‘Thriller’ has to do with the US unless all Americans are Zombies…leave it! The show opened with ‘Hairspray’ (Hairspray is an American invention – other examples include: Napalm, the Colt 45, enforced Democracy), danced by year eight - it seemed to be loosely based around the way to spell out “I am drowning” with semaphore signals – how so many arms could move in so many directions without any two managing to be in sync negated the laws of coincidence. I notice that one of the strange things about girls of pre-teen years is how much they can vary in height and shape, particularly when they are all wearing black leotards with short, homemade, elastic-waist skirts in a really busy palm leaf pattern – some are so tiny, others so tall, some are really skinny and others not.

The next dance was performed by year seven. The electric blue foil pom-poms they listlessly wafted about as they stomped away to ‘Oh Mickey’ were not really big enough and didn’t quite have the impact of the Tony Basil video (or the shocked hair – hairspray is an American invention), but they managed to keep it pretty much together and nobody dropped a pom-pom. The evening progressed - dances were performed thick and fast, one after another, until after a while they seemed to roll into a single dance. The dry ice in ‘Thriller’ was so thick that there were times when you couldn’t really see the dancers who attempted a Moonwalk section (well at least they tried…Moonwalking is hard…ask Neil Armstrong – ouch!) I was expecting ‘New York New York’ to be the song that I knew (and loved) but it turned out to be a disco diva anthem (which I loved even more) – there were all sorts of dances ‘We’re the kids from America’ as a mini-ballet, ‘Hip Hop’ as a kind of street dance without much street, ‘Rodeo’ a cowgirl ballet study in shorts and checked shirt (no Colt 45 though), ‘Candyman’ a tap by snowmen wearing white fingerless gloves (I may have been asleep and dreamt that one) – tune after tune, performance after performance, applause after applause.

There seemed to be a lot of tappers this year, they were all pretty good, but it took me a while to work out that the ‘tap’ on the recorded music for ‘42nd Street’ didn’t really match the’ tap’ the dancers were doing. The ‘Hot Honey Rag’, despite some great costumes, wasn’t really ‘hot’ (unlike Napalm) and some of the girls who performed ‘Surfing USA’, whilst obviously having a great time, seemed determined to perform their dance routine in the wings out of the critical eyes of the audience. I’d never heard the track ‘Put your hands up for Detroit’ before but the dance was very cool, the girls moved like automatons and wore funky sunglasses and their hair high on top of their heads (hairspray again – God bless America), the ballet routine to ‘Sweet Home Alabama’ was quirky and worked really well (or so I said at the time although I forget why), and both of the dances Holly performed were brilliant and incredibly entertaining (well, she is my daughter) – especially ‘American Boy’ which was well rapped-up (I have it on good authority that this is the correct term in the hood).

The finale was uplifting if a little delayed. Something must have gone wrong backstage and it left twenty or so girls crouching on the stage in the dark waiting for their music to begin. It went on so long that I began to think that the crouching in the dark was the dance- avant garde c'est manifique! - but I was wrong, once underway every single dancer who had appeared in the show managed to squeeze on stage until it was completely full with smiling girls dancing to Glen Miller. Each of the girls had each been given a khaki T-shirt to wear and I thought they looked quite stylish, but according to my daughter and her friends they were “just so totally random” – so ‘wrong again’ Dad - I wonder what that says about me?

The thank-you speeches took even longer this year - there were more people to thank I guess - and I applauded each of the helpers as they received what looked suspiciously like a bottle of wine in a wine-bag (perhaps that was why there were more helpers). Seeing all those wine-bags reminded me that I was desperate for a glass and, although I’d had fun, I was a little relieved when it was over – watching all that dancing was quite exhausting. It really had been fun though despite some of the girls being so focused (terrified?) of getting the steps right that they couldn’t manage a smile, and a few who would have made Pinocchio look bendy - but they all deserved the cheers and applause of the crowd (and it wasn’t simply parents applauding their daughters) it really was a genuinely entertaining show and the dancing was great.

So great that I May even dig out my white suit - clear the floor guys, here I come! 'Night fever, night fever - you know how to do it!'

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Wierd weather at sea...

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We went across to Trevor at the weekend. I’ve always thought that Trefor is an odd place - it’s quiet, empty, even a little unsettling, tucked away at the northern entrance to the Llyn. Trefor used to be a quarry town and the quarry buildings still perch on the side of Yr Eifl like a huge, grey fortress in a fantasy novel. The beach is littered with chunks of quarried granite, sometimes we take a drive down to the beach to watch the sea, and that’s what we did this weekend despite the snow and rain. It is just the place for a weird event.


I sat in the car counting the grey waves rolling in and as I watched out over the sea a strange milky white light began to develop. High in the sky at first but moving quite quickly, it seemed to fall into the sea where it hovered just skimming the waves, shimmering and pulsing. Something was happening out at sea, something strange and something that I’d never seen before.

eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeSuddenly I was in a Spielberg film - and it was running in my head as I watched the sea. A UFO had cloaked itself inside a cloud of light so that it could come close to the earth and take up seawater to restock its depleted cooling tanks. The aliens had found a way to power their ship using seawater as both a coolant and a quasar synthesised fuel, but had begun to run dangerously low on their way to Alpha Centauri where they we due to seed a barren asteroid with synthetic sub-lifes. They urgently needed the water to cool the dark matter held within the crystalorator, and were only minutes away from exploding. I held my breath. If they were too late then this would be the end of the world. I watched and waited for the craft to appear from inside the cloud. Streams of vapour spiralled down from the craft and dissipated as the strange white light continued to shimmer, inside the shimmer something started to change as gradually a multi-coloured band of light emerged from the cloud, hanging above the water where it glowed and became stronger with each passing second. It was beautiful. I must have been seeing the light from the engines as they prepared to warp.

“Take me with you. Take me with you. Klaatu barada nikto” I cried!

The skies opened, we were hit by a massive hail storm, and by the time it was over both the light and the spaceship were gone. It must have been the kinetic energy from the ship reaching warp that had caused the storm, I knew that the ice crystals wouldn’t last long and if I was to get one back to my laboratory in time to analyse it I’d have to move fast.

I could have gone on. The movie was still running in my head - but I gave up there. It was time to go, and as I turned the car to drive up the steep road from the beach the credits began to roll. Keifer Sutherland had played me.

Keifer Sutherland, good choice!

Getting my Goat…

Brrrrrr...still cold. With weather like this I find myself wishing for a little sunshine and warmth. My favourite place for a holiday is Barbados. I’ve been there three times and I hope one day to be able to go again. What a great place it is. The beaches are perfect, the people friendly, the water clear and teeming with colourful fish (great for snorkeling), and the food can be delicious. I have a very fond memory of eating lunch at a roadside pull-up be the airport. The pull-up really was little more than a wooden shack at the side of the dusty road, open-air benches and tables, bowls and spoons and a fridge full of cold beer. The other customers were mainly Barbadian workmen, we were the only tourists, but I reasoned that if they were eating there then it had to be good – and it was. It was delicious, plentiful and cheap. The menu was limited to half a dozen dishes, all very simple - chicken, fish, beef, pork, macaroni, and goat. We had the goat.

It was good, very good, and as we always do we tried to work out what was in it so that we could make it when we got back home. Getting goat in the UK is pretty hard so we have always substituted lamb. Our first attempt tasted nothing like the rich, aromatic dish we had in Barbados, far too bland, but we persevered and after five or six tries got it taste almost like that meal we had on that scorching hot afternoon, sitting on a bench by the side of the road with yellow lorries whizzing past, big black workmen eating and laughing. Gaynor hit on the secret eventually though – you need to marinate the meat overnight!

Perfection!

Here it is…by the way you need to prepare this the day before you want to eat it.

Seasoned Barbados Lamb (Goat) in Spinach Sauce

You’ll need...

About a pound of lamb cut into cubes (we used some of Holly’s pet lamb chops. Removing most of the fat first)
A teaspoon of grated fresh ginger
Half a teaspoon of dried thyme (we tried fresh, but dried is better – we dry our own)
Two tablespoons of olive oil
One chopped onion – not too fine, not too chunky
Two garlic cloves, crushed
One tablespoon of tomato paste
Half a largish chopped red chilli pepper – or a whole one if you are brave
Half a pint of lamb stock – Knorr is a good cube
Four ounces of fresh spinach, finely chopped
Salt and Freshly ground black pepper
Sunshine (if you can get it)
A rum and ginger beer (whilst you are waiting for it to cook)

This is what you do...

1. Place the lamb (goat) in a glass dish. add the chopped ginger, thyme and salt and pepper. Cover the dish with cling film and put in the fridge overnight.
2. Next evening, heat the oil in a large heavy saucepan, not non-stick - you want the meat to make some crust in the pan from it’s juices, and you can’t do this with non-stick.
3. Add the onion and garlic and fry gently until the onion is soft – this should take five minutes or so, time for a sip or two of the rum and ginger beer.
4. Add the lamb and fry until sealed and the meat has a slight crust. Keep moving the meat about.
5. Add the tomato paste and pepper and fry for a few more minutes, stirring often.
6. Add the stock.
7. Cover and simmer for at least an hour until the meat is really tender. Add more stock if you need but you need it to be a thick juice not a watery liquid. You need to aim to have just enough juice to make a nice thick sauce when the spinach is added.
8. Stir in the spinach and cook for about four minutes.
9. Serve with plain boiled rice or mashed sweet potatoes.

Eat and enjoy. Its the next best thing to being there - Apart from the rum and ginger that is.

Song along now...'Oh, I’m going to Barbados!'...One day, one day.

Friday, 6 February 2009

Let sleeping cats lie...

S/he’s fine.

I picked Misty up from the vets earlier this evening and gave her some nin-nins as soon as we got home, she ate a little of it and then curled up on the work surface above the radiator in the kitchen and went to sleep. She knows that she isn’t allowed on the work surfaces but on this occasion I think I can stretch a point. She didn’t have any stitches and we can let her out in a day or so. I don't think that the anaesthetic hasn’t quite worn off yet. She seems to be in a very deep sleep, her front paw keeps twitching and her eyelids are fluttering. REM? Do cats have rapid eye movements? Can cats dream?……

‘First they starve me - no nin-nins last night – then they put me in that carrier thing and take me to that torturer purrrson with the nasty needle. I thought I was going to the vet’s to get some lovely Nootered and instead they kidnap me and give me to a psycho who sticks a nasty needle in my leg. The next thing I know I’m waking up sore and woozy and something’s not there any more – I’m not feeling myself at all. I couldn’t see what he looked like because he was wearing a piece of cloth over his mouth, but he did something bad to me and it’s their fault. I wonder how much he paid them? Look at them, all smiley down at me, Hisfault and Foodies, bad keepers. It is their fault that I hurties, they sent me to that vets place. If they weren’t so much bigger than me I’d show them. Purrhaps if I wish very hard…wish…wishh…wishhhh!

Hissing fishbone, it’s working, it’s really working…look they’re getting smaller, they’re shrinking. What’s the matter Hisfault? Feeling a little ‘short’ of breath? Well Foodies - you did say that you needed to lose some weight. Wishhhhhhhh – you’re shrinking fast, purrfect - oh look you you’re not much bigger than me and you’re still getting smaller. How does it feel to be my size? Wishhhhhh - rabbit size – Wishhhhhh - pigeon sized - Wishhhhhh - mouse size. That’ll do. Don’t want you disappearing on me. You’re just about the same size as my wind-up mouse. I like playing with my mouse. I like it when it runs away and I catch it in my mouth and toss it into the air. I like it when it lands – thump! Want to play mouse chase? Not sure? How about ball then? No? Well I do. Here. Catch. Oh dear, did the big nasty ball knock you over Hisfault? What’s the matter Foodies? Is the ball’s little bell making your tiny ears hurt? Shame. Just a minute, I’ll jump down and join you, what fun! That’s better I can see you properly now. What little legs you have, you won’t be able to run away very quickly will you? Now what shall we do? I know lets play a game. How about hide and seek? I’ll be it and you can run and hide. Off you go and I’ll come looking for you. I’ll shut my eyes and count to ten to give you a chance, one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. Coming ready or not…’

….…Yes, she must be dreaming. I wonder what she’s dreaming about?

Thursday, 5 February 2009

No nin-nins?


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More unseasonable weather, at this rate it’ll be March until we see the daffodils in bloom.

Misty is going to the vet tomorrow to have the deed done, so we haven’t been able to feed her tonight. I think she knows that something’s up - judging from the way she’s behaving - but I don’t think she knows what yet...

‘Hey you two! Yes you! Keepers! Hisfault and Foodies! What’s going on? How come no nin-nins tonight? What is all this nin-nins rubbish anyway? I haven’t got Alzheimer’s you know; I’m not a baby. It’s not nin-nins, it’s fooooood - F-O-O-D, sustenance, fuel, scoff - not hissing nin-nins. And while we’re about it how come you get all the good meat? All I get is that tinned slop. Rabbit? More like rabbit’s guts. Turkey? It’s all eyes, brains, and feet – no way is that stuff juicy, succulent Turkey. I’ve seen Turkey and that’s not it - and what the hiss are those hard brown biscuit things all about? They taste like sawdust, and I should know, I’ve tried sawdust – Yuk, horrible stuff, but better than those biscuit things. Hey - you up there – where is my hissing nin-nins? I’m starving.

I’ve haven’t had a good day. I was late for a meeting with Black Sam at nineteen, and he wouldn’t wait. So I’ve still no idea if I have prowling rights. I was prepared to negotiate, but if he’d wanted a fight…well let’s just say that I went prepared – I sharpened my claws especially. We’re going have to reschedule, but fishness knows when - I’m so busy at the moment. And to top it all I thought I’d got that mouse from number nine – I was a whisker away from it, I was about to leap, when this hissing bell that you’ve forced me to wear went ding-a-ling-a-hissing-ling and it was off like a shot. Thanks, you cost me a nice little snack!

Tell you what, how about a treat? Give me a treat and I’ll do that paw thing you seem to like so much. How about it? Paw? Suit yourself then. Give me my nin-nins! Look, here’s how it works, I rub around your legs and purr, and you give me my nin-nins. Yes? No? How about this then, I rub around your legs, then leap up and dig my claws into you? Well, maybe not, it makes you scream and I have delicate ears.

What was that? What did Hisfault say? I’m going where? The vets? What the hiss is the vets? Can I get food there? Do they have nin-nins? If they do I can’t wait to go, let’s go now shall we? Let’s go to the vets and get nin-nins. What’s wrong Foodies? Why are you looking at me like that? What’s a shame? Nootered? Is that a new type of food? Can I have some? Can I get it at the vets? Can I get nootered at the vets? Will it taste of Chicken? Look, a joke’s a joke but can I have my NIN-NINS now please? Listen, give me some food you uncaring, sadistic, Fascists. I’m really, really hungry. Are you enjoying this? I’m not. Give me some food right now or the next time I get the chance I’ll trip you up on the stairs. I’ll love you if you do, I’ll purr, I’ll do that wrinkly nose thing.

Stop looking at me like that will you? You’re making me nervous. Hisfault - Foodies - what’s wrong? Why are you staring at me like that? Please stop. Why are you starving me? Have I been bad? I don’t remember being bad. Well, no badder than usual. What is it? What’s going on?’

Poor Misty she’ll find out tomorrow at ten.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

The day the other music died…













Misty didn’t want to come in last night. For a while I thought that she’d got wind of the ‘operation’ and decided to run off, when she eventually came home she’d been fighting – it must be a young male cat thing – she was all right though, some of her fur was a little loose, but that was about it. It was an odd evening. Gaynor and Holly were out and I found myself at a lose end, this is what happened…

I’m waiting for Gaynor, Hollly and Misty to come home, they’re all out doing their respective things and I’m wandering around aimlessly, fidgeting about as I do when I’m bored. I wander into the kitchen. I usually end up in the kitchen when I’m on my own. Sometimes I listen to radio four but tonight I decide that I’ll listen to some music. I have a pile of un-played CD’s by my CD player in the kitchen. I bought them from Woolworth’s on the last day of the sale, a really eclectic selection - by the way, did you hear that Woolies has been bought by Shop Direct and will be re-launched as an online store this Summer? I guess they only bought it for the brand, but I think it might work. I know that I’ll be going there to take a look anyway. I doubt that they’ll sell clockwork motorboats, and I bet I don’t bump into Peter Lorrie. Anyway, I bought the CD’s for a song, they were all under a couple of pounds, and I can’t really remember what I’d bought. I flick through them. The Killers, Roy Orbison, Nelly Furtado, Lily Allen, Glen Campbell, Lucinda Williams, Black Sabbath, Best of the Sixties, 40 Great Rock n’ Roll Classics.

What! Rock n’ Roll? Sixties? Heavy Rock? Country and Western? I don’t do Country and Western, and I hate Heavy Rock, Rock n’ Roll’s is for old Teds, and Sixties music is so then - why have I bought all this stuff? Have I lost my musical direction? Aren’t I a ‘Tears for Fears / Roxy Music / David Bowie’ aficionado? Thinking about it – did I ever have any musical direction? Perhaps it was ‘Top of the Pops’ directing me all along and now that’s gone…am I really this un-cool?

I put on the sixties CD and listen to a couple of tracks, Dusty Springfield followed by The Animals - I know all the words! How can that be? I don’t do the sixties. I put on the Glen Campbell CD. Within seconds I’m singing along to ‘Linesman for the County’ caught up in the hot dust of a summers day somewhere on a dirt road in the Mid-West of America. I’m worried now.

I don’t often do complete CD’s in a single play, so I take Glen out of the player and try my Rock n’ Roll Classics. Instantly I am caught up in the opening bars of a song and find myself getting ready to sing as the deep sax and tinny piano thump out the intro…Chantilly lace and pretty face, And a pony tail hanging down, That wiggle in the walk and giggle in the talk, Weeeeelll it makes the world go round…I snatch up the black pepper grinder, point it at my mouth and spill black pepper everywhere… There ain't nothing in the world like a big eyed girl, That makes me act so funny, makes me spend my money…I am really into this, my legs are moving to the beat, my facial expressions become ever more animated with each nonsensical line…Make me feel real loose like a long necked goose. Like a girl, oh baby that's what I liiiiiiiiiike. Thank God nobody is around to see me because for a moment in the kitchen, waiting for the cat to roll-in, I AM the Big Bopper. My jeans and polo shirt have disappeared and instead I’m wearing his wide pinstripe suit with a pressed white cotton shirt buttoned up all the way to his neck, no tie, thick black crepe soled shoes, his spiky crew-cut shining with Brylcreem and his six string slung low over my shoulder…. Oh alright baby you knooooooooow what I liiiike.

Tonight, on the anniversary of his death, the Big Bopper, Jiles Perry Richardson, JP to his friends, has come into my kitchen and taken me over with his music. Or at least that’s how it feels. I swing the guitar high above my head - What's that honey? Pick you up at 8, and don't be late. But baby, I ain't got no money honey. Oh alright baby, you knoooooow what I like.

He died in a plane crash in an Iowa cornfield on the third of February 1959, both Buddy Holly and Richie Valens was on the four-seat Beechcraft Bonaza with him. They’d just finished a gig at the Surf Ballroom, Clear Water, Iowa and were flying to Mason City where they had another performance. It was one in the morning - perhaps the pilot fell asleep, who knows? But they never made it. The Big Bopper is always the ‘along with’ when Buddy Holly is mentioned. Sometimes he’s mentioned before Richie Valens, sometimes after, but both of them are always ‘along with’ Buddy. Buddy is always mentioned first.

Not here though. No Buddy to be ‘along with’ this evening. Tonight is all about Jiles Perry Richardson. For a few moments I really am the Big Bopper, singing along – word perfect – to this song of his. It’s a strange moment. It seems that coincidence and fate have brought JP and me together for an instant, fifty years after his death, letting me share the joy of Chantilly Lace with him. Yes, I know it sounds mad – but Rock n’ Roll is mad, and I don’t even like Rock n’ Roll – do I?

I know all the words, the words the Big Bopper sang all those years ago. I was only two when he died, but I know a little about him and I know all the words to this song – perhaps I do like Rock n’ Roll after all.

I know all of the words. Is that what immortality is all about?

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Nothing to say…

I knew this day would come - the day that I had nothing at all to say and nothing to write about in this blog. I’ve wracked my brains for something to write about, but I’ve drawn a blank.

I suppose I could write about the snow that we had yesterday, but hasn’t that been done to death on the TV and Radio? Whilst we are on the subject though, I did hear someone say ‘snow in February, I can’t believe it!’ Snow in February – is that unusual then? Isn’t February mid-winter? I guess if you are under twenty-five (as this person was) then February is the start of Spring – but in my mind it is still the bleak mid-winter. Yes, the seasons are changing, but climate change has yet to affect my memories of Christmas card childhood winters, and I’m continually surprised that I don’t see hoards of small boys in greatcoats, scarves, fingerless gloves, and grey full-face balaclavas trudging their way to school through drifts of snow, hiding around corners, ready to ambush the postman with a couple of well-made snowballs. Sorry, I forgot that the post doesn’t arrive until mid afternoon these days…and while we are about it - can anyone tell me when breath stopped steaming in winter?

No, nothing much to write about there - I’ll give the ‘unseasonable’ fall of snow a miss I think, although there is a bit of a Manchester mystery surrounding the snow. The snow in Manchester was reasonably heavy yesterday and when I went to bed last night our road was a wonderful winter world of white and it was freezing cold, minus one at least. When I went out to the car this morning all of the snow had gone, it was still freezing - zero degrees – but there wasn’t a single flake to be seen. Where had it all gone? I don’t think it warmed up sufficiently in the night for it to thaw, and it was too cold to rain, so what caused all that snow to disappear? Did someone steal it? It’s a puzzle. Perhaps the snow fairy came along and took it all back.

How about a recipe? I’ve tried that a couple of times in the ‘bloody blog’ (as it has become known in my house), and when all else fails that usually works. The problem is that I had gammon for my meal last night, and whilst it was delicious, it’s pretty hard to make an interesting recipe around a piece of gammon. Its particularly difficult when simply served with a fried egg and chips, just the way I like it, and just the stuff to keep you cosy whilst the freak blizzards rage outside. It might be worth mentioning the egg though. The egg (eggs actually, I had two. Yes, I know…cholesterol) was particularly good having been laid by one of the hens my daughter keeps at the ‘Welsh Farmer up the lanes’ farm in Wales. She raised her hens from eggs in an incubator and they scratch around the farmyard eating whatever they can find (worms, seeds, nuts – the odd dead mouse or two), so they are truly happy eggs. Then again - maybe not - how much can you actually say about an egg? It has a white shell, it is egg shaped, it cracks if you drop it, (Which is correct? ‘The yolk of an egg is white’ or ‘the yolk of an egg are white’? Answers on a postcard, or leave a comment.) Not exactly gripping stuff is it? , I suppose I could talk about tonight’s dinner - we are having roast lamb - and about the fact that it was my daughter’s pet until it was time for slaughter last November…but I may need that story for tomorrow unless things pick up.

So what about Misty? Should I write a quick episode of ‘What Cheshire cats do?’ Truth is that apart from having a rather nasty swelling on the side of her neck – which burst in the most horrible way, was treated, and is well on the way to getting better now - there isn’t much to say. Oh, she is going to the vets to get neutered on Thursday – thank God - she’s getting a little smelly. As you know, Misty is a Tom but despite that we all call her ‘she’, can’t stop. We started when we thought ‘she’ was, and now ‘she’ is, to all intents and purposes anyway, and more so on Thursday. I feel for the poor thing, but it has to be done.

Of course, I could mention that Misty went missing again one morning last week. I couldn’t find her anywhere in the kitchen (where she now sleeps resplendent on her splendid ‘hanging radiator cat bed’, or should that be ‘hanging cat radiator bed’? It was a Christmas present from my Mother-in-law - I got socks (again) in case you were wondering) - I did the usual round of hidey-holes but couldn’t find her…here we go again I thought. I was just a about to get out my lump hammer and start smashing through the walls when I heard a meow from above, ‘not the ceiling this time’ I thought…and the next minute a flying cat landed on my back, digging her claws into my spine as she did so. Misty had been sitting on top of the wall units. God knows how she had got up there, but she must have lost her bottle, and it wasn’t until I appeared, providing her with a handy landing pad, that she worked up the nerve to jump down. The damage to my spinal column shouldn’t be permanent – although it is unlikely now that my skateboarding career will progress to competition level after all.

What else? Oh yes, and Gaynor has taught her to shake a paw – yes I know, cats don’t do tricks.

So there you have it, absolutely nothing to write about, no blog today - I knew this day would come. If only the snow, last night’s tea, or the cat had been worthy of writing about, oh well, c’est la vie - apologies, I’ll try to do better tomorrow, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up if I were you.

Misty does her trick


video

I don't know why this is around the wrong way - but you'll get the gist.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Scribblings


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I went up Mynydd Mawr at the far end of the Llyn at the weekend, Mynydd Mawr means ‘Big Mountain’ and it is. I go there sometimes to have a think. You can see a long way from up there – out over Bardsey Island -Ynys Enlli in Welsh - and right along the length of the Llyn. You have to think up there, something makes you.

A cold, clear day – scribbled with my pastels until my fingers got too cold. I was covered in the dust they make, all over my hands and face.

It’s a good place for thinking – this is what I thought.

On a hill
On a hill
High up in light
Mind soaring
Not yet quite sky.
Stone still standing
And footed down tight
So as not
To take flight

By the distanced distanced
Slow movement stopped
In freeze-frame
Activity not seen
All happening
Far-sighted see
It happening
Unseen by me

In distance

Hare leaps
Child falls
Old man shakes from sleep
Leaves breeze
Safe down below
From gulls
Fish deeply hide
In scaled and rusting hulls

Up on my hill
I cannot see
But feel it
Seeping in.
Awareness
Rushed activity
Life's motion,
Pulling deep on me

I could join it
And I will
Too soon move
Back to earth
To restart life
Once more
A used continued
Chore

But for a minute
My minute
My minute snatched away
High on my hill
Not tired at all
I stand within my sky
And struggle
Not to fly

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Do nothing…

I watched a programme on TV a few weeks ago - ‘Around the world in Eighty Faiths’. I was just channel flicking (well not really flicking, we can only get four channels in Wales and one of them is in Welsh - so flicking is too grand a word for it) and it caught my attention. Some vicar chap was travelling the world, checking out different religions as he went, this particular episode was about the Far East. He was in China, up in the mountains, visiting a Daoist monastery. The scenery was breathtaking , immense pointed peaks, stunted pine trees, ornate wooden bridges – it looked like he’d stepped into a willow pattern plate. By the way, he looked more like a cross between a hairy biker and Indiana Jones than a vicar – I don’t know what the world is coming to.

The monastery is very high up and the monks have lived there for hundreds of years. They are seeking the ‘Chi’ – the universal order that underlies chaos – they believe that if they can reach perfect harmony with the Chi then they will achieve increased longevity, maybe even immortality. One very young monk spoke about the Ying/Yang balance – light and dark, male and female, good and evil – at least I think he was young - he may have been much older than he looked, who knows.

One of the Masters of the order, Zhizhen He, had spent twenty years of his life building a temple inside the mountain where the monastery stood, his disciples spent another forty years completing it - sixty years in total. It is only accessible by walking along a narrow, open to the elements, path, thousands of feet up the side of the mountain, a sheer drop on one side, and only a rope rail to save you from a long, lonely fall to – well, wherever you believe you go when that sort of thing happens. Indiana Vicar-Biker looked terrified as he trod the path to the temple, I don’t blame him - I felt sick with vertigo just watching from my armchair.

The gateway to the temple is shaped like a squared-off upside down ‘U’ and carved into the rock face. It is covered in Chinese symbols, I have no idea what they say but imagine they mean things like ‘live long and prosper’ or ‘ each journey begins with a single step’, you know the type of thing, like the mottoes you get in fortune cookies in Chinese restaurants. The temple behind the gate is a huge round cavern carved out of the solid, red, rock deep inside the mountain - its crammed full with massive, smiling, painted statues representing some of the many gods that Daoism recognises.

I.V.B asked one of the master monks, a farmer in a previous existence, what the essence of Daoism was, what it really means – ‘Quietness and Effortlessness’ he replied. He defined quietness as ‘no thinking’ and effortless as ‘doing nothing’. He said that to achieve the Chi you must never let the outside world affect you.

‘Think nothing, do nothing’. An interesting concept to live your life by.

‘Think nothing, do nothing’ seems to be a concept a lot of people live their lives by. ‘Think nothing, do nothing’ – I recognise that mantra, I seem to know an awful lot of Daoist’s, although I’m not sure that any of them know that they are on the road to enlightenment, or that they may be going to live for a thousand years. They are all around me, these people who look for reasons to do nothing, and shy away from doing something, preferring to spend their time and energy looking for reasons why something can’t be done, instead of overcoming the ‘can’t’. They actually seem to prefer to do nothing, and spend an awful lot of time talking about why it is best to do nothing - surely thy can’t be all be chasing the Chi?

The problem with doing something is that it can be risky, you might fail, and worst still someone might see you fail – and if they see you fail then they might label you a failure - and failures get to wear the ‘F’ hat (which looks like a dunce’s cap only with a large capital ‘F’ instead of a ‘D’). Better to do nothing, don’t get noticed - the ‘nothing’ label is relatively safe, you won’t get into too much trouble wearing the nothing label, and its so much easier to do nothing, you don’t have to put any effort in. What is it they used to say in IT? – ‘Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’s’ – and best of all you don’t get to wear that hat – phew!

Remember that farmer monk? What did he say? Oh yes, whatever you do ‘don’t let the outside word affect you’, whatever’s going on out there has absolutely nothing to do with you - it’s their problem, not yours. If they think differently to you – well, hey, let them. Better not to think about what they are thinking, don’t them in, don’t let them affect you. Better to stay in your comfort zone, inside the temple, stay with the things that you know - better not to step away from the fire and into the shadows, the shadows are dangerous - behind them is the dark - and the dark is unknown and could be full of danger, maybe even adventure. No adventures thanks – too risky – might get the hat.

Think nothing, do nothing - safer and easier.

If you have absolutely no choice other than to to do something, then make sure that you only do what you have done before. Don’t try something new, you might fail, and who wants to end up wearing the hat? Doing the ‘same thing’ is clever, its pretty much the same as ‘doing nothing’- but it fools an awful lot of people into thinking that you are doing something.

And, who knows? It might turn out differently this time – you never know (not).

People who say ‘it won’t work’ are usually right because they are, more often than not, in a position to make it ‘won’t work’. After all, why would you be going to them if they weren’t in that position? I wonder what would happen if they said ‘it might work’, or even ‘it will work’?

Benjamin Franklin once said ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.’ In which case I know an awful lot of seemingly sane people who need locking up in an asylum. The same people that usually tell me ‘it won’t work’. They’d rather find reasons to do nothing rather than do something, they don’t want to think about trying something, least of all anything new - that would be too risky – and they’d have to come out of the temple, they might even end up wearing that ‘F’ hat - and that would never do, what would people think of them?

Do the same thing – safer, easier, and you know how it will turn out.

I’d love to spend some time in that temple, high on that mountain in China – thinking nothing, doing nothing, pretending that the world wasn’t out there and that one room was the whole world. Some time – a few hours, perhaps a couple of days, a month, a year - my life? It would feel safe in there, I wouldn’t have to try anything new or different – just stick to the rituals – that would be so nice, so easy – maybe - I can see the attraction, and if I were a monk living a life focused on meditation…well yes, I understand. But that isn’t my life.

Think nothing, do nothing, and when really pushed - do the same thing.

Want some advice guys? We are not Daoist monks. Start living. Get out of the temple. Start thinking, do something - try another way.

Put the hat on - Who knows, you might look good in it.

20 Things You Didnt Know About Nothing

By the way – if you’re quick you can still see that episode of ‘Around the World in Eighty Faiths’ on the BBC iplayer – Episode 2. The Far East. I commend it to you.