Tuesday, 31 March 2009


Despite British Summer Time it gets a tad darker each day. Oh well.

People moving on today, my people - good people. I wish them all luck and know that I’ll miss them - they’ve taught me a lot and we’ve had some good times.

Sometimes when I’m in Wales I make candles from empty Pringle tubes. It’s easy, all I do is make a hole in the centre of the bottom of the tub, pull some wick twine through the hole, tie the twine off at the bottom and seal around it with some blu-tack to stop the wax escaping. I make sure that the wick is kept central in the tube by laying a stick across the top of the tube and tie the wick to it in the centre.

When I’ve prepared my mould I melt some wax in an old aluminium saucepan that Gaynor graciously gave to me and when it’s melted I pour the wax into the tube - and… viola - a candle!

I use old bits of used (and thus recycled) candles for my wax, they work fine – very green. Sometimes I pack the tub with chunks of broken coloured candle, graduated red to yellow or purple to green, and simply pour white wax over them – it gives a good effect – sometimes marble, other times splodgey, it all depends on how hot the white wax is.

Best be careful not to get the wax too hot, if you do the candle will turn out a really dull colour -and don’t be tempted to peel away the cardboard Pringle tube wrapper before the candle is set – leave it overnight.

To remove the Pringle tube mould, look at the bottom of the tube and you’ll find the start of a cardboard spiral – once you’ve broken into this it’s easy to peel the Pringle tube away.

You never know how the candle is going to turn out until you remove the tube - it’s quite exciting. Sometimes the results are great, other times not – but they all do what they are meant to… ward off the shadows and give a little light.

Anyway… best of luck and thanks to my friends Glynne, Nicki, Steve and Phil, it really was a pleasure working with you… I hope you can say the same of me.

Candle Making

Take a mould,
Some twine to use as wick.
White wax or coloured,
It makes no odds,
Tall or short or thick.
A candle is a candle,
To give a little light,
A candle to burn softly,
To light us through the night.

There is no darkness
That in this world untrue
Can stop light from my candle
Shine out and darkness through.

Make one or two.
You’ll see,
It’s true.

Monday, 30 March 2009

Making up for lost time…


The clocks went forward yesterday.

Apparently we have William Willet, a London builder, to blame for the whole ‘clocks going forward’ (and back) thing. In 1907 he circulated a pamphlet to dozens of MP’s, town councils, businesses, and any other organisation that he could think of, complaining that for nearly half the year the sun shines for several hours each day while we are asleep. He got into a real tizz about it – except without the zz’s because he obviously didn’t like sleeping (sorry).

I can just imagine…

‘What a sinful waste of good building time - lazing around in bed whilst the sun is up…. how very outrageous! If God had meant us to sleep whilst the sun is shining then he’d have made us nocturnal, like bats, or badgers, or Whitechapel murderers… why… by the time the populace is out and about, I might have roofed a Baptist church, dug the foundations for a row of miner’s terraces, or maybe even added an orangerie to a wing at some manor or other… and all before the king (God bless him) has had his tea and kippers! I really must do something to set about changing this… now where did I put my ink and parchment?’

The American’s call it ‘Daylight Saving Time’ – which is very functionally descriptive but nowhere near as evocative as our ‘British Summer Time’. Ah yes, ‘British - Summer - Time’… I can almost hear the neighbour’s lawnmower, smell the barbeque smoke, and see the traffic jamming away into the smog clouded distance…

Willet’s original idea was to advance the clocks by twenty minutes on each of four Sundays in April (one hour and twenty minutes – an even earlier time to get up!), and reverse this on four Sundays in September. Imagine what a nightmare that would have been! Isn’t it* bad enough having to remember to change the clocks once, let alone having then to change them by twenty minutes for four consecutive weeks.

*Rambler’s corner - Isn’t… ‘isn’t it’ interesting? In full form it is ‘is not it’, rather than ‘is it not’… how very medieval, don’t you think?

A Parliamentary bill was introduced in 1909 but nobody took it seriously until the First World War when in April, 1916 Daylight Saving Time was introduced as a wartime measure not only in Britain, but in most (allied and non-allied – enemy?) countries. It was introduced as a ‘wartime measure of economy’. I’m not really sure what that means but my guess would be it was something to do with countryside things – haymaking, butter churning, bacon curing, scythe sharpening, mangel-wurzel mashing – that sort of thing. Or maybe it was just the bonkers bureaucrats in charge trying to make it that teensy bit harder for everyone - just in case trench warfare wasn’t enough.

I often wonder why William Willet didn’t just get up early, do his own thing, and leave everyone else alone. Why he had to drag the rest of the world into his enthusiasm for working every possible waking hour is beyond me – maybe being a zealot just ran in his family.

I don’t know about you, but I find the whole losing an hour thing very disorienting. For days after the clocks have changed I feel as if I’m slightly out of sync. Maybe it’s because I have a very accurate body clock - I usually know the time on waking to within a couple of minutes (no honestly) and it goes haywire when the clocks change…

… and the clocks don’t really ‘change’ at all do they? They are still the same clocks. Or does some nasty time bandit thing sneak in and change ‘our’ clocks for ‘their’ clocks, with all the implications that might entail if I only understood what ‘their clocks’ meant? I’m not paranoid; my Doctor has it on good authority.

… and what about that lost hour? Where does it go? Does it hang around waiting for our/their clocks to go back in the autumn so that it can slip itself back into time, or does it disappear into a vortex - whirling around and down into the darkness for all eternity, or maybe it just pops completely out of the time dimension with a ‘zipfphhh’??

… and what does go ‘back’ and ‘forward’ mean… is it something to do with time travel – and what if I meet myself coming from the other direction at the same time and the other me gets knocked over by a bus???

…stop! Stop! STOP! It is all too confusing… but where does that lost hour go? It has to go somewhere doesn’t it? Why is there never a Stephen Hawking around when you need one?

Maybe it just flies away.

Anyway, for once British Summer Time seems to have paid off – the clocks went forward, we lost an hour, and suddenly the sun came out and summer (or at least a promise of it) arrived. What a lovely sunny day yesterday was! I spent the afternoon on Criccieth Beach in the shadow of the castle, watching the sun sparkle on deep blue waves and the purple shadows of clouds rush across the sage green mountainside.

It was great, so relaxing. There was I in the sunshine, sitting on the knobbly pebble beach watching time pass, when - all of a sudden, there’s a rushing, thumping, beating noise above my head and that thing in the photograph lands not six feet from where I’m sitting. It proper shook me up I can tell thee.

What is it?

I don’t know. In my rush to get away from it I didn’t have time to ask… it was ticking though.

What's in a name...

When we named Misty we thought she was a girl and, because she was the colour of smoke, Misty seemed the perfect name.

After we’d got over the shock that in fact Misty, our lovely little girl, was actually a boy we considered renaming her. ‘Perhaps we could call her Mister’ we said - after all it wasn’t a million miles from Misty - or maybe Mischief, she certainly seemed to get into enough of it.

Maybe a completely different name was in order? Malvolio – no… Mestopheles – definitely no… Marzipan – too silly… Marvo – plain stupid… Mysterio – I don’t think so… Major Tom – he’s a girl… Mr Tom – he’s a girl… Mac – he’s Welsh… Mr Mac – he’s a girl and she’s Welsh… Big Mac – groan… Macbeth – it’s unlucky to even say the word… so Misty it remained, nothing seemed to suit her as well as Misty.

It’s like that with a cat’s name isn’t it? It either suits or it don’t.

After much consideration (and a bit of argument and bickering) we decided that we’d stick with Misty – we also decided to keep her a girl in our heads. It wouldn’t matter, and it does seem to work okay. Misty seems happy enough with her name and seems not to care that we call her ‘Her’.

It just isn’t a problem. She comes on call to her name, even to the name variations that have developed - Gaynor often calls her ‘Misty Moo’ in a sing-song, up and down way, Holly has labelled her ‘Moo Moo’, and sometimes (when in deep conversational debate with her) I address her seriously as ‘Mister Misty’. She doesn’t seem to care, after all they’re just words to her, and not really names at all. We think that she comes to her name but it isn’t really the name she hears - she hears… warmth, food, milk, cuddles, not Misty, Misty Moo, or Moo Moo… we all know cats don’t really need names…

‘Do I look like a Misty? Fine hissing name for a cat. Do they think I’m a girl or something? And why the litter tray Misty Moo? Does Foodies think I’m a cow? Why does that whirling one call me Moo Moo? What does it mean… double cream? At least Hisfault sometimes shows a little consideration when he calls me Mister Misty - at least he recognises my gender. Not really good enough is it?

“Why can’t they use one of my real names? It wasn’t for nothing that my father called me ‘Tailswinger Toothsharp, scourge of spiders and destroyer of mice’ – so why can’t they use it? I can just imagine meal times – “Tailswinger Toothsharp… nin-nins… come on Tailswinger, come and get your foodies.” No, somehow I can’t see that working, not with Foodies.

How about the name my mother gave me? It’s a good name – Mow Mow the clever, opener of doors and maker of pictures? Even my little friend at the house over the road knows that name - she calls me Mow Mow…and if she can use it then why can’t they? I like her, she’s funny... and she tickles my tummy.

Of course there’s always my ancestral name, it’s very grand, it goes back thousands of years to the hot place where we were gods - Mau son of Bast, Cobra Killer – now that is a name. Pity that there are no Cobras around here - I’d show them! By the way… what is a Cobra? Is it a type of mouse?

When Reallynastyman left me at the farm perhaps he thought that the Cobras would get me - he won’t have known that I’m a Cobra killer. I didn’t like him. He was bad. He took me away from my mother and dumped me in that cold barn. I would have frozen my tiny whiskers off it Farmer Geronwy hadn’t found me and foodied me up. He gave me my Welsh name – Llwydaidd – I keep it for special like he told me to... March first only.

This naming business is so... well, so silly really. I don’t really mind being Misty, and even Moo Moo has a bit of a ring to it - but it isn’t anything like my REAL name, my essence name, my ‘Me’ name.

My ‘Me’ name is the name that I’ve given to myself, the name that sums me up for what I am. Only I know what it is. It’s a secret. If I were to tell you what it was I’d be in your power – you’d be able to make me do tricks, come to call, even make me go to sleep in baskets and… well, all sorts of things. So I’m not going to tell you.

I don’t want to be in your power, cats don’t like being in anyone’s power.

Tell you what… you can have three guesses. Go on guess away! No clues though!”

Yes, we all know cats don’t really need names.

Friday, 27 March 2009

Links to reality...

I dropped into a surreal landscape the other night. It was fantastic, magical, breathtaking, elaborate, sparkling, thought provoking, marvellous, wonderful, astounding… I liked it.

Sensory overload.

What is Cirque du Soleil about?

This is the third Cirque du Soleil I’ve seen. The first, ‘La Nouba’ in Florida had so much going on, so many images to take in, that I felt sick for the first half hour or so. There were just too many frames of reference for me to easily handle. Last year I saw ‘Delirium. It was okay but I have to admit to coming away disappointed - too much music, some good spectacle, not enough Circus - and a little slow moving.

This week I experienced Quidam, I think it means ‘everyman’. There’s some sort of story going on, although I can’t say I understood it - but then, who cares? Cirque is about spectacle and Quidam does the spectacle thing really well.

One of the characters seems to have stepped straight out of a surrealist painting. Dressed in a raincoat and carrying an unfolded black umbrella, he reminds me of the painting ‘Not to be reproduced’ by Rene Magritte - a man stares into a mirror and, rather than his face being reflected as you might expect, you see the back of his head repeated in the mirror – only this character doesn’t have a head at all. Was he the Quidam of the title? He may have been.

There are some other odd characters in the show – a compeer/ringmaster, a human target, an angry lout with boxing glove hands, a she - rabbit, an angel with empty wings, dozens of lost souls wandering all over the place. It was like watching an animation by Hieronymus Bosch – very weird, incredibly wonderful – beautiful.

Quidam has plenty of circus – a man who rolls, spins, and tumbles inside a huge metal wheel, four tiny Chinese girls who whirl ‘diabolos’ high into the air, catch them up in the string, whirl them into the air again, all the time somersaulting and flipping as they do so – an androgynous aerial act who dangles and plunges in lengths of red silk – three women who whirl and balance in silver aerial hoops - a trapeze artist who flies and drops through the air on a swing trapeze – a spider’s web of rope tumblers.

... all gasps and applause.

… the skipping rope act is unbelievable. A stage full of people skip-dance and tumble in a multiple rope frenzy, each time jumping higher and faster. An acrobatic troupe that literally throws each other through the air, around the stage, tossing bodies from one to another, like a human chain, double flipping as they spin. The quiet beauty of the male/female duo performing a series of incredible balances, holding them for what seems like minutes, appearing to become living sculptures, at times entwined and interwoven into a single figure like a living Hans Bellmer sculpture, gorgeous in its strangeness. And probably the funniest clown I’ve ever seen, pulling and demanding people out of the audience to act out his clownish fantasies.

… all watching and laughter.

… and all of the time away from the main action, smaller actions taking place; a blue skirted women rapidly spinning for minute after minute in a corner of the stage, three celestial beings moving along the gantry above the performers, groups of drones statue-standing or dog-running between the circus performers, a pair of spike haired ballet dancers performing a routine in the wings.

For some these might have been distractions, but for me they are the attraction. It’s the incidental that gives the reality to the performance, the surreality to the experience.

No two people in the thousands strong audience see the same performance, no two experiences are the same, and every single person sees their own personal show.

Perhaps that is what Cirque du Soleil is all about.

And what about my Cirque du Soleil, the one single thing that I’ll keep to run over and over in the cinema in my head?

The twenty paper leaves that fluttered from the red balloon as it burst above the stage - the slowly moving, white-suited drone that blew them into the darkness using a huge silver desk fan on wheels.


For me that is what Cirque du Soleil is about.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

A spell on the beach

Know anything about Runes?

To early people writing was a very serious thing - it was full of magical power.

In Europe our Germanic ancestors used a runic alphabet as their form of writing. They used it to identify their possessions - combs, brooches, shields, cattle, wives - help them to make calendars, encode secret messages, mark their sacred monuments and burial sites. They also used them to cast spells - make love charms, curse their enemies, cause their neighbours crops to fail, cure the pox. Usually the ceremony of writing the runes was accompanied by a chant or prayer and sometimes a curse to make the spell. They called this a rune as well, and the two runes combined – written and spoken - made the magic work.

They called it the ‘whispering, secret talk.’ I love that…the whispering, secret talk - it sounds so completely magical.

Ingwaz is the rune of harmony, approval, unity, agreement, love, peace. It’s an important rune, a powerful rune, a very positive rune. It was used to make fertility magic; magic for farming, growth, health, balance. It was the rune of the god Ing, and associated with Frey - god of the weather, generation and fertility - and it’s particularly potent at the time of the new moon.

I built this sculpture on Dinas Dinelle beach last summer – it’s the Ingwaz rune. I like to go there to watch the small planes at Caernarfon airport. They’re pleasure craft and go around and around in a ten mile circle, landing, taking off, then landing again. Don’t worry I’m not an airport freak, the airport is a really a landing strip and the planes are micro-lights, biplanes, and single engine Cesna’s…actually that does make me a plane freak doesn’t it.

It was a beautiful sunny day and the tide was out. The beach has a high pebble ridge along its length, falling away to firm sand at low tide. I found an old, rusty bike wheel, a broken branch and some polythene. I wanted to leave behind a statement about how beautiful the day was and how positive I felt on that day.

Yes, I’m bonkers - but you probably know that anyway, and if you need even more proof - here’s the whispering, secret talk I chanted to make the magic work.

Rich dirt
My seed to grow
My hearth to simple burn
Rest godly laboured
Not worn in toil
Blessed by new life born

There you go, if you knew nothing about runes before, you know a little now… did the magic work?

Not so far I’m afraid.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Fish Circus...




It’s a gloomy old day. Windy, wet, and cold - the sort of day for staying indoors or (if you’re bonkers like me) going for a walk on a beach somewhere. Still, it isn’t as gloomy as yesterday – I’ll try to be lighter today.

I love wrapping up warm (to quote Mothers everywhere), making ready to battle the wind and rain, and then sallying forth into the Weather (capital intentional). I enjoy the ‘struggle’ against the wind, rain, and whichever other elements are available in order to reach whatever goal takes my fancy (as long as the ‘struggle’ isn’t too struggley and the ‘goal’ has a nice warm fire at the end of it).

Yes, I like to sally forth.

‘Sallying forth’ – what a great term. It means ‘to set out in a sudden, energetic or violent manner often with an uncertain outcome’. Well, I’m not too sure about the sudden, energetic or violent part of the definition (I like to take my time when I’m sallying) but I love the idea of an uncertain outcome. Exciting isn’t it! Free in the wind and rain, a little unsure of where you are going or what you might find when you get there. It’s in that uncertainty that the anticipation and promise lays - or so I’m told. I won’t dwell on the uncertainty element though, it may take me off on a tangent.

Sometimes I sally forth along the beach at Porth Dinllaen towards the Ty Coch pub. The pub (which by the way is almost incidental to my sallying) is actually built on the beach in a beautiful little bay surrounded by mountains - it’s a great place for a pint (or two). We often sally there on New Years day. Once I found a long dried pipefish on the sand. I’ve kept it - it looks like a cross between a snake and a sea-horse. We’ve found a few pipe fish over the years - on various sallies along numerous Welsh beaches - and I’ve made them into a kind of sea sculpture (I really must post a photograph of it).

This brings me to what I set out to write about (at last)… Eileen Agar. God, I ramble sometimes!

Eileen Agar is number ten in my list of top ten surrealists, I’ll get around to them all eventually I expect, but let’s start with Eileen. She was a fervent beachcomber, often using the flotsam and jetsam she found washed up on the shore in her work. ‘Fish Circus’ features a real starfish that she found on a sally in 1939 near Toulon on the Mediterranean coast. She’s pinned it to the painting with a large blue drawing pin and painted and collaged other sea creatures along with some inevitable surrealist chequerboard patterns to the work. I don’t know what it is about surrealists and chequerboard – maybe it’s a perspective thing - perhaps they just like chequerboard.

She used ‘found objects’ in her sculptures as well. ‘Marine Object’ is one of my favourites, and yes, I know that it’s simple and anyone could have made it, but in the context of its time…

All in all, I think ‘Fish Circus’ and ‘Marine Object’ are lovely, light, whimsical works that on a grey day like today, and after a black day like yesterday, lift my spirits and make me want to sally forth along the nearest beach to see what I can find to ‘do’ something with.

How about you? Up for a sally? I’ve even arranged it so that you can do your sallying from the comfort of your own armchair…

- Here’s the Ty Coch webcam.

- And sally forth virtually along the beach at Porth Dinllaen on a sunny day.

Better still… sally forth along there sometime. It’s a great place in any weather and you never know what you may find.

Chin up! Summers just around the corner and I’m off to see Cirque du Soleil tonight which is a completely different kind of circus to Eileen's fishy one.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

10 years Ju-Ju...

I’ve mentioned the films that run in my head. Sometimes they are good films and sometimes they aren’t.

This is one that runs a lot – pretty much most days at some point (especially today) – popping into my head for a few seconds whilst I’m driving, washing up, walking on the beach. I wake up from the full version sometimes - late at night, early in the morning. Occasionally I wake up to it. It’s never far away. Sometimes I wish it was, and at other times I don’t.

If I had to compartmentalise it within a genre it would be a Film Noire. It runs in high contrast black and white - very dark, no colour. But then what else would it be? A friend's death is always dark.

I don’t feel completely comfortable writing about it, but I don’t want it to go unrecorded, and I’m really not sure that I want anyone else to read it; in which case why put it here? I think I have to. This is my place for being me, and this is as me as it gets.

As I've said before - it's all about me.

When it happened it was Dave that let me know, he phoned me. First call in a while and I’m glad it came from him, we always were a trio. Me, Dave and Ju-Ju - Julian Wood.

Anyway, here goes - Roll’em... I'm being sardonic, but it isn't funny.


It is warm in the car, far too warm. The heating is right up - Norway can be a cold country.

He’s sitting in the driver’s seat looking out of the windscreen. He’s older, thinner, but he hasn’t changed that much – at least outwardly – he’s still Julian. The car is surrounded by tall pine trees. It’s getting dark.

He speaks first. “Oh you’re here again are you? Sorry I can’t offer you any vodka, I’ve drunk it all as always. How’ve you been - okay?”

“Yeah fine thanks…you?”

He shoots me a strange look, a kind of half-smile. His face looks crooked, ironic. That’s such a stupid response from me. He’s in a car full of exhaust fumes and he’s drunk the best part of a bottle of vodka – how would he be? Why do I always ask him how he is?

I know what he’s going to say next.

He says it.

“Remember playing darts at the Bells? How did we get away with it? And in our lunch break. We were only fifteen. Three-o-one, double to finish and half a pint of bitter - remember? Remember old Charlie?”

“Yes Ju-Ju, I remember. Who usually won?” I always ask that.
“Dave.” (One time he said ‘me’, but just that one time.)

“I thought I usually won.” I always say that.

“No, it was definitely Dave. Want some music?”

“Why not – what’ve you got?”

“You’ll know it when you hear it.”

He puts a CD in the player, the sound of violins rise above the purr of the engine and the Psychomodo kicks in.

I look around the car. Where’s the hosepipe? I can’t see it poking through any of the windows. How’s he rigged it this time… through the boot? He leaves nothing to chance. I look around the floor for pill bottles, most times there’s only one, occasionally a couple - no pills tonight though.

He’s singing at the top of his voice, spitting the words out, concentrating hard – ‘Mr Soft’. A few times it's been 'Judy Teen' but it’s usually ‘Mr Soft’. He loved that track.

“Don't you know; life gets tedious enough without this extra grudge to bear? You so slow, shift your ideas, make your mind up in a jiffy, let's be fair.” He growls on in his deep rough voice. He's no Steve Harley – “We'll be taking off tonight, turn off your eyes and shut the light, you're the most, you're so unreal, we'd all be dead without your spiel!” He’s flat as always - he never was much of a singer.

Ooola!” I sing at the end of the line. I always do it, I can’t help myself, a habit really.

He turns towards me.

“You remember it then?”

“Yes I remember it.”

I know what comes next. He’ll say - ‘I’ve been living it.

“I’ve been living it.” He says.

We sit in the silence of friends watching the pine cone laden branches wave in the breeze. It’s getting darker. We must be very deep in the trees. It’s totally silent. No traffic noise, no planes – just dark. Heavy silence and the comforting sound of the breeze. Nobody is going to find us here. He grips the steering wheel hard, his knuckles turn white with the effort.

“Why do you come?” Always that and I always give the same answer.

“I don’t have a choice. The film starts running in my head and I’m here again.”

“I always was your entertainment.” Always.

“You were my friend.”

“And your entertainment. Remember that party? The fancy dress party that wasn’t? I came dressed as Charlie Chaplin… I was the only one in fancy dress. Ha - ha – ha, thanks friend.”

“It was only a joke, we were young. You didn’t mind.”

“No, I didn’t mind. I never minded did I? Seen anything of Dave?” Sometimes he asks other questions but he’s been asking about Dave for a few weeks.

“A little. We talked about you.”

“Nice to be remembered.” Sometimes he says 'I'm surprised you remember me'. We remember him.

The film continues to run. We listen some more to Cockney Rebel like we used to when he wasn’t dead - and like I’ve listened so many times since - in the film in my head - but never in the real.

Ju-Ju I need to ask you something.” Here it comes - the big question in a small word. It is such a hard word - so small, but so hard. I let it sigh out of my mouth. I'm not looking at him as I say it.


I look towards him. His chin is on his chest. It always is when I look towards him after asking the question. He’s asleep this time. I can hear him breathing. Sometimes, the really bad times, I can’t and then his skin is titanium white - as white as sea salt. I'm relieved. I prefer it when I can hear him breathing - not that it changes anything.

‘Bed in the Corner’ is playing softly on the CD player.

The film always plays out to ‘Bed in the Corner’. Then the light fades and the film ends.

“I love you Julian. I’m sorry. Rest now.”

I’m always a little too late.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Hero to zero...

See that chap in the painting? It’s a self portrait by Julian Merrow-Smith. I went to school with him. I can just see the boy I remember in his face.

He was simply Merrow-Smith at school, and I was Height. We didn’t use our first names at Lord Bill’s. Not even best friends called each other by their first names. It was either surname or nickname. I knew him by his surname, Merrow-Smith - I didn’t know his nickname if he had one, and I didn’t know that he would go on to become everything that I’ve ever wanted to be.

And that I wouldn’t.

Julian Merrow-Smith stole my life.

He was a couple of years younger than me and I don’t remember him being ‘good at art’ at Lord William’s. But he must have been. He went to North Oxfordshire College of Art to do his foundation year, as I had a few years earlier. I was ‘good at art’ and after ‘foundation’ I went on to Wolverhampton Poly to do a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Fine Art. He followed me there to do fine art a few years later. We had almost identical educations - maybe he was copying me, maybe I was his hero at school - I doubt it though.

He must have arrived at Wolverhampton Poly just as I was leaving. The big difference between us was that he went on to complete his degree in Fine Art and I transferred to graphics after my first year. I don’t really know why I transferred to graphics other than I didn’t think that I was fitting in with my performance art and paint slinging BA course colleagues.

Since my recent ‘actual’ visit to Thame I’ve been continuing to wander around my home town in the ‘virtual’. Surfing here, linking there - and I stumbled across Merrow-Smith on the Old Thamensian web site as a link.

He’s living in Provence and has married a cellist. Yes, a cellist, and yes, that Provence in southeastern France, the Provence that is on the Mediterranean, just by Italy. Beautiful, sunny Provence with his cellist wife - and to make things even worse (for me, not him), as if Provence and a cellist wife were not riches enough for any man, he is also (God how I hate to say this) an abso-bloody-lutely brilliant, gifted, skilled, talented, accomplished painter (damn his observant painter's eyes).

Not only does he paint vibrant landscape, masterly still life, and superb portraits, he lays down paint in a way that I try to do, but always and continually fail with. (May his brushes lose their bristles and his beret blow away in the wind).

Either Merrow-Smith didn’t care about the other students at Wolverhampton Poly or the course changed direction just as I left. Either way; he stuck to it and I gave up – which makes him a hero in my book – and me? Well, just call me zero.

Julian Merrow-Smith- Hero to zero.

Why, oh why did I transfer to Graphics? Why didn’t I stick to my painting? I wasn’t bad and I’d have become better if I’d stuck at it - this has become the BIGGEST REGRET OF MY LIFE - and yes I am shouting…I’m shouting very, VERY LOUDLY!

It isn’t only his fantastic painting either. To top it all he’s come up with the brilliant idea of painting a small picture each day and auctioning it on the internet – his own arty e-bay. Every night at 10pm the auction begins and hundreds of people log on to his ‘Postcards from Provence’ painting blog and bid for the four by six inch ‘postcard’ oils. They are currently selling from between £100 to £500 a time! He’s cracked it! He’s painting money and enjoying himself whilst he’s doing it.

I HATE HIM! No I don’t - but I could hate him if I didn’t admire his skill and his art so much.

Listen up Merrow-Smith. You are a hero, my hero. Well done.

Take a look at his work, it is superb and it should have been mine.


Sunday, 22 March 2009

Dali's cat 2...



You’ve probably noticed a surrealist theme emerging in my blog? Truth is - I guess I’ve always been a surrealist at heart. There is something about stumbling across the unusual in the usual, finding the the-out-of place in the in-place, seeing the slightly odd in the perfectly ordinary, that makes my imagination set alight.

André Breton was the major spokesman for the surrealist movement, he was a poet, and didn’t paint as far as I know. He wrote their manifesto. He said that Surrealism was a means of reuniting conscious and unconscious realms of experience so completely that the world of dream and fantasy would be joined to the everyday rational world in ‘an absolute reality - a surreality.’

Interesting…how often do you awake from a dream unsure if you are still dreaming? Could it be that just for that split second the world of dream is joined to the everyday rational world? Perhaps in that split second you truly are experiencing the surreal. What do you think?

People use the ‘surreal’ word a lot, usually out of context - I wish they wouldn’t. They use it to describe things that aren’t surreal at all. I once heard a friend describe a man walking along a busy high street in top hat and tails as surreal – ‘now that is SURREAL!’ he said. It wasn’t. It was just some man walking along a high street in top hat and tails probably on his way to a wedding. Now if his face had been devoid of any features, or he’d been floating in mid-air, or even if it’d been a sunny day and he hadn’t cast a shadow then he may have qualified. Another time I heard a chap in the pub call a packet of crisps 'surreal' because they were described as hedgehog flavour. Watch - my - lips.... Hedgehogs (even cooked hedgehogs that have been used to flavour crisps) are not surreal, they are just hedgehogs.

Anyway – here’s my Dali cat built from found stuff on the best wash-up beach in North Wales. I’ve been doodling Dali cats for a while now, but this is the first time I’ve built one.

Hope you like it.

Oh, and by the way - that funny little thing below is something that followed me out of a dream this morning and stuck around. I think that it might be Yves Tanguy’s pet mouse.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Dali's cat

I haven’t mentioned Misty for a while and I know that she has her fans out there in internet land.

So, how’s Misty doing?

She/he’s completely recovered from that little op and I have to say it seems to have done the trick. Misty is turning into a reasonably well behaved, loving, slightly crazy, puzzling, very clever cat. You may have seen the video of her trick – the ‘shake paw’ video? Well, I don’t know if it has anything to do with ‘the operation’ but she seems to have developed some even more interesting new skills recently.

She’s started to open drawers and cupboards and I’ll often come downstairs to find that she’s removed the contents of some drawer or other - and after she’s taken the stuff out she arranges it into…well, the only way I can describe it is – she arranges it into a picture. An abstract picture, but a picture nonetheless…and sometimes she seems to make ‘sculptures’ out of her toys, piling them one on top of the other to make very surreal shapes and forms.

I must be imaging it; seeing things that aren’t really there. They can't be pictures can they? Cats don't do art...do they?

I came down this morning to find my paint brushes (I keep them in the middle drawer by the sink) scattered all over the kitchen floor.

I wonder what she was up to…

‘They don’t understand me at all. They treat me just like some ordinary cat, some stupid moggie - they simply don’t understand that I’m as much a purrson as they are. After all, I have aspirations, dreams, hopes, needs, ideas, imagination just like they do! All they do is stroke me and want me to do shake paws like some pet or something! I’m not a toy! It makes me so cross when they smiley down at me – stupid keepers. Can’t they see that I need to express myself? Why don’t they talk to me? Why don’t they ask me what I need? They could at least try to understand me.

After all I only want some brushes, a few tubes of paint, some canvas. If I had those things I’d show them what I can really do! They need to know that I come from a long line of artistic geniuss’sis’s (or should that be genii?) They need to recognise how talented I am. Are they blind? Are they stupid? Can’t they see the patterns I make in my litter tray? What about the way I’ve scratched those intricate designs into the leg of the telephone table in the hallway, eh? Genius! Sheer hissing genius I tell you!

Artistic genius runs in my family. My great, great, great, great grandfather painted all of Dali’s pictures, Dali couldn’t paint at all. He didn’t have an artistic idea in his head or an ounce of artistic skill in his fingers. It was all Granddad, Old Moses - Dali’s cat – and I get it from him, it runs in the blood. Now where does he keep them?

Ah! Here they are; Hisfault’s brushes. Now, if I can just find some paint in these cupboards I can get going on that burning giraffe I’ve been thinking about, that wall over there should do nicely…”

Thursday, 19 March 2009

Snapshot memories...

St Mary's Church.

I was christened here as were all of my family on my Mother's side - just about all of the family were married here to. Not me though, I moved away long before I made that first mistake. I remember going to lots of weddings when I was growing up and even more receptions in the Church Hall on North Street. Sausage rolls, barrels of beer, egg and cress sandwiches - my Auntie Lena's multi-coloured cocktail cigarettes. I was at the weddings of my Mum and Dad, Auntie Muriel and Uncle Bob, all of my cousins - Lynsey, Judith, Alison, Leslie, Susan, Mary, Linda' - maybe even Gina. Not Ian though, Ian never married, and he died last year of AIDS.

My Grandfather is buried here. As a child I can remember going to the grave with my Mum and Gran and watching whilst they cut the grass with a pair of shears. His grave was in the far corner by a Yew tree, unmarked. It might even be under the tree you can see in the centre-ish of the picture. My Gran is buried here to, on the left not far from the path to the church. It rained the day she was buried. Aterwards I went off on my own, down to the river, to cry.

My school held services here a couple of times a year. A carol concert at Christmas and a service of thanksgiving for Lord William on founder's day. I was in the school choir, a soprano. On founder's day the teachers all wore there best gowns and mortar boards, walking single-file the full length of the aisle to sit in the dark oak pews in front of the alter. One would carry the banner with the school coat of arms, a shield supported by two greyhounds, and the motto 'Sic Itur Ad Astra', which I think means 'Thus do we reach the stars'.

Our school hymn was also in Latin. It started something like 'Bene di decat omnium salutis anchora' - I have no idea what that meant. I gave up on Latin after my first year - I found it just a little too dusty and my teacher's (Aw Henry) dry delivery didn't enthuse me with the language.

Founded in 1575 by Lord William of Thame. The original school is to be found down by St. Mary's Church. It's now offices - four hundred year old offices. That's the old school in the picture .

The original mellow sandstone school was replaced in 1879 with this large, red brick, nursing home, of a building ( in black and white for period atmosphere). This is my Lord Bill's, and that isn't just a lawn in front of my old school... it's the Head's very own croquet lawn.
When I was at the school there was a mixture of boarders and scholars.

I was a lowly, much looked down on, plebe of a scholar.

Today I count myself very lucky to have gone there at all, but at the time I felt out of my depth and class. I guess I was. David Tomlinson's sons were in my form. It wasn't easy being at school with the children of Mary Poppin's employer. He used to visit - he never flew like he did in the film though.

If you walk up from the Old School towards the high street you pass the house where Dr Beer used to live.

I can’t say that I enjoyed visiting Doctor Beer, but then I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it either. He was a funny little bald-headed man with a walking stick and a limp. He'd fought at Flanders, and looked a little like a wizened old elf. He was a great doctor though - a real old time, any time, 'this won't hurt much', doctor.

Doctor Beer was our family doctor. This meant that when one of us was ill, (two sisters, no brothers), my Mother would threaten us with a ‘visit to Doctor Beer’. Not much of a threat really, but the slightly gloomy surgery in his half-timbered house at Church End held an odd fascination for me... and it wasn't just the dish of orange and lemon boiled sweets on the dark oak side-table in the waiting room.

I remember the long walk to his surgery from our small house at the other end of town. It always seemed to be autumn and dark, and there was usually the smell of bonfires and fireworks in the air. Perhaps I only ever got sick when summer was over and the air had turned to damp, or perhaps it’s simply one of those odd tricks that memory plays.

Either way I liked the surgery with its dark oak panelling - and in an odd, slightly terrified way, I liked Doctor Beer.

His surgery was lit with a single standard lamp and heated by two bar electric fire that was set into a huge brick fireplace. The fireplace ran along almost the entire length of one wall, the floors were massive black oak planks of varying widths, and on the fireplace mantle Chaucer and his pilgrims made their slow, holy way to Canterbury.

I loved those flat wooden figures. There must have been twenty of them, friars and millers on donkey and horseback, and the odd pardoneer or two. In the lead Chaucer himself sporting a huge grey floppy hat, a dull green coat, riding along on a dapple-grey mare. Each figure had been keyhole-sawn from a piece of softwood and painted by hand. The workmanship was exquisite and they were obviously scores of years old.

I often thought about stealing one of the figures, probably Chaucer - but I never did.

This is a view towards the Lower High Street.

In September a huge fair comes to Thame and runs the full length of both the Upper and Lower High Street. I have very happy memories of the fair and I'll probably tell you more about them at some other time.

That half timbered building in the centre used to be a sweet shop owned by Mr Bingham. On Sunday afternoons my parents would take me in my pushchair down to Bingham's and I was allowed a thru'penny bag of sweets. The sweets were kept in large square glass jars on shelves behind the counter - midget gems, liquorice, wine gums, humbugs, twists, lemon drops, acid drops, pear drops - all manner of sweets. Mr Bingham wore round pince-nez and a striped blue and claret blazer.

I honestly do remember this despite being well under four. I can see Mr Bingham now handing me my white paper bag of acid drops and smiling down at me.
"These are for you little man."

That square, Edwardian, cream house across the road from Bingham's is where Henry Blythe - my ponderous, boring, Latin teacher - used to live. He still lives there but he doesn't really know about it - he's in the last stages of Alzheimer's.

The quaint yellow building on the far right is The Rising Sun pub - where 'Shakey' was landlord.

This is the Town Hall in the centre of the town. It was built to commemorate Queen Victoria's golden jubilee. Some people think it is an ugly building but I love it. I saw the film Genevieve for the fist time, upstairs at the town hall projected onto a large sheet by an old noisy reel-to-reel cine projector. On Saturday nights the local labour party would hold 'bingo' in the same room - sometimes my dad was 'caller'. Henry 'Latin' Blythe was chairman of the local Labour Party and turned along to support the Bingo - although I don't think he had a clue as to what it was all about.

"Quiet please ladies and eyes (pronounced eyas) down for a full house...First out... Two fat ladies, eighty eight... On its own, number three... Kelly's eye, number one... Legs eleven (everyone would wolf-whistle)... Key of the door, twenty-one... four oh, blind forty... Wilson's den, number ten... Sweet sixteen (more wolf-whistles)... and so on until... HOUSE!'
As you can tell, political correctness hadn't been invented back then (thank God).

One bingo night I won a huge basket of fruit and my Aunty Lucy won the nights 'star prize' - an electric toaster, she was made-up with it. An electric toaster! Such simple pleasures in such simple times.

At sixteen I used to stand at the bus stop by the town hall waiting for my girlfriend's school bus to come in from Holton Park Girls Grammar School at Wheatley. But that's another story. I'll be going to Thame again in the future.

Maybe you'd like to come along?

Wednesday, 18 March 2009


Tuesday is market day.

It doesn’t matter where I am, or what I’m doing – Tuesday is always market day, it always will be. Also, Tuesday’s the day I get my comic.

I met up with Dave tonight, first time in twelve years and it really was as if the last time I’d seen him was yesterday. He is a constant in a world where constancy seems to be draining away – like my Tuesday comic, or market day, or battered fish for dinner. Spending some time with Dave, on market day evening, in my home town, was a reminder of who I am, what I was, and what remains important. It grounded me a little and made me recognise that I have roots - some very deep. But best of all we talked, and laughed, and drank some beer like all three of us used to do in the old days. Two old friends not much changed.

But first…Tuesday is market day and I get my comic.

Thame is a very pretty market town in Oxfordshire. I was born there in my Gran’s house in Wellington Street. I didn’t realise at the time just what a lovely town it is. History is in every house - well the older ones, and some of them are over five hundred years old. Each Tuesday there’s an open market on the cobbled market square. Stalls of all types and lots of them – fruit, veg, flowers, shoes, meat, bric-a-brac, clothes, books – most things you need, and some that you don’t.

When I was a child there was a huge fish stall selling smelly fresh fish all laid out on ice in wooden boxes; “Get your Cod, fresh from the sea!” My Gran always fried fish for dinner on market day.

On market days my mum and I would wander down to Holland’s the newsagents in Buttermarket to collect my comic. My uncle Charlie worked there, he sorted and delivered papers amongst other things - it was ‘on order’ so I was sure of getting it. I was allowed one comic a week. Over the years I swapped and changed on a pretty regular basis. I think I started out with The Beano, then Dandy, and migrated on to The Magnet. Magnet was great because it wasn’t a ‘strip’, it was a ‘serialised adventure comic for boys’ - all text and a good long read. The stories were about the British Empire (The Wolf of Kabul), the Second Word War (Take that Fritz!), cops and robbers (it's a fair cop guv), ghosts at public schools (Yaroo!) - and of course the wild-west (Quick, form the wagons into a circle). I can remember other comics that I read occasionally – Dandy, Beezer, Hotspur, Wizard, Eagle, TV 21, June and School friend (borrowed from my cousin Linsey) and finally Fantastic - which was a black and white UK version of the colour American comic books that were sometimes for sale in Castle's, the rival newsagents – but The Magnet was the best.

After that all the comics seemed to be about football so I stopped reading them.

I don’t know which comic I was eagerly devouring when I first met Dave – probably Beano or Dandy. I can’t remember, I was only five. I met Dave in the playground on my first day of primary school. I have a dim recollection of my Mum pointing him out to me and telling me to look out for him - I don’t know why - perhaps his Mum said the same to him, but we struck up a friendship on that first day that seems to have lasted forever.

Twelve years absent and instantly at home.

Last night, first for thousands, we met in the ‘Brewers’. Dave had used it quite a bit in his teens but I only drank there occasionally, and only when Dave was in.

One of the best things about Thame is that it has lots of pubs, and there were even more when I was growing up. The Oxford Arms is now an Italian restaurant (Prezzo, a chain, I ate there – Spaghetti – average but passable) and the Saracen’s Head is an now an estate agents; but The Bird Cage, Swan, Black Horse, Nags Head, Cross Keys, Star and Garter, Falcon, Six Bells, Rising Sun, and the Oxford Arms are all still going strong.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to ‘do’ them all, but after the Two Brewers - which hadn’t changed from the spit and sawdust kind of place that I have teenage memories of - we walked down to the Six Bells.

The Bells holds a special place in my heart. It was here, as fifteen year old ‘men’ that we were first served halves of bitter in our school lunch breaks, dressed in school blazers and ties, by a white moustached barman called Charlie. Charlie looked like he’d been in the army a long time ago and didn’t seem to mind that we were underage. There were three of us then – me – Dave - and Julian.

Julian couldn’t make last night, he killed himself a few years back. We talked about him, remembered good memories, raised our glasses, and tried to work out why.

Then, on up the 'Lower High Street' a little and into the Rising Sun.

The Rising Sun used to be a strange old pub, dark and dingy and run by an ancient old chap who we called ‘Shakey’, because he shook badly. We used to roll in for a pint, Crombie overcoats, Ben Sherman shirts, and see if we could ‘nick’ the beer out of the pump when ‘Shakey’ went out back. It seemed like ‘fun’ at the time - a lot of things are ‘fun’ at sixteen - you learn as you get older though. The Rising Sun has changed completely, it’s still ‘traditional’, but opened up and much lighter. There wasn’t a sign of ‘Shakey’; perhaps he was out the back. The place was heaving with a pub quiz, the landlord/quizmaster booming out questions in his ‘bingo caller’ voice.

Q. “Whose pen name was Ellis Bell?”
A. “Emily Bronte”. But I wasn’t playing.

It was completely packed, so we just had the one and moved on to The Abingdon.

I'd hardly ever used the Abingdon Arms - but it was quiet, it was getting late, so we stopped and had a couple and talked about the old days. Dave’s a great listener, he gets to listen a lot in his job I guess, and I’m a great talker when I’m talking about my favourite subjects – me and my blog – it’s all about me.

As I said to Dave last night “Read the blog, you’ll find out loads” – I know I do.

I think Dave will feature in my blog in the future. I’m not done with him yet.

Yes, it’s all about me, and Dave - and Julian.

I find out loads.

Monday, 16 March 2009

My Desert Island Discs…

Have I mentioned that I was at school with the composer and famous headmaster’s son Howard Goodall, and that he was on ‘Desert Island discs’ a few months back?

Well he was and I’m very jealous.

You just wouldn’t get away with coming up with a programme like ‘Desert Island Discs’ today would you? Even the programme controllers at Radio Four would have a problem - where is its edge?

I’ve been listening since I was a child; the radio was always on in the background at my Gran’s house, tuned to the Home Service, later to become Radio Four.

I remember ‘The world at one – the latest news headlines this whateverday lunchtime’, Listen with Mother ‘Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin”, The Archers, Woman’s Hour – I still listen to some of them (I’m an Archers freak) and Radio Four really hasn’t changed much since its Home Service days.

The Daily Service is the longest running programme; it’s been running since 1928 but is only broadcast on long wave these days, a ‘real’ programme is broadcast on VHF. Woman’s Hour has been running since 1946 and The Archers is a relative newcomer - the first episode was really quite recent…1951.

Roy Plomley first aired Desert Island Discs to the opening music of ‘By the Sleepy Lagoon’ on 29th January, 1942. It’s the longest running music programme. Michael Parkinson took over when Plomley died, then Sue Lawley - who was recently replaced by Kirsty Young. I don’t remember Parky doing it – he must have though; perhaps he did it when I was still young enough to have a life where Radio Four was not vital to my well being and inner peace.

The seagulls superimposed over the softly undulating theme music conjure up sea, sand and sunshine in my mind and, as the music plays in, I’m looking down on the island from far above, drifting down towards palm trees. Of course on a real desert island there wouldn’t be any seagulls, just parrots - but the sound of parrots cawing wouldn’t be quite as relaxing and this desert island doesn’t exist outside of my head anyway – so seagulls are fine.

Azure blue waves gently lap at the shore as I gently touch down. White sand – virgin and perfect apart from the occasional pink conch shell - squelches up between my bare toes. I’m wearing jeans cut-off at the knee, no shirt, no shoes - and I’m brown all over by the looks of it – well, there’s nobody to see me here, so I can be. Looking down at my feet I realise that I can see my toes - I’ve lost weight, quite a lot of weight, and I feel great as a result, there’s even a little muscle in my legs and arms.

I look around. My hammock is slung between two sturdy palm trees not far from my palm leaf roofed hut (“yes - I would be able to construct a shelter”), over a small fire a large blue fish is cooking on a spit made from sticks (“I’m sure I could fend for myself, I like the idea of cooking whatever I can find ”). I caught the fish myself in the lagoon using one of my fishing spears, I make them from the bamboo I harvest in the jungle, the walls of my hut are made from the same material (“I’m very practical and would be able to provide for myself - as long as there are fish in the sea and fruits in the jungle”).

I’ve been marooned here for a while and I’m coping pretty well with the loneliness (“I don’t need people around me all of the time. I’m good with my own company. I like routine - and space to make my own routine – I stick to it. I don’t have to be talking continually - I have the films in my head for company”).

I’ve read some of the Shakespeare – Twelfth, Much Ado, The Tempest, Hamlet, Anthony and Cleopatra (“I did that for ‘A’ level”) – but I haven’t really bothered with the bible. I’m working my way through ‘The Complete Ray Bradbury’ ("I still think that ‘Something wicked this way comes’ is the best story ever written").

There isn’t much of the Calvados pays D’Auge (my luxury) left, I’ve drunk it all almost. Good job I found that sweet apple tree and the washed-up barrel - I’ll have some cider ready for drinking in a month or so.

I walk over to the wind-up gramophone sitting on my small bamboo table besides the hammock. Carefully stacked in a pile are my eight records. Strangely there's only a groove on the 'A' side, the 'B' side has no groove - no track at all - it's completely smooth, like a round black mirror.

One - ‘Tell Me What He Said’ by Helen Shapiro. (“This was one of six singles that came with my parent’s red Dansette record player back in 1962. They purchased it mail order and on the tick. I must have been about five at the time and I remember playing the records over and over, fascinated by the ‘changer arm’ that allowed the next record to drop down when the previous one had finished playing. They had ‘Little Red Rooster’ by the Stones and ‘The Theme to Z cars’ as well – but this was my favourite of the six.”

Two - ‘Sumer is icumen in.’ (“A traditional English folk song that we used to sing at primary school in the original Middle English – ‘Sumer is icumen in, Lhude sing cuccu! Groweþ sed and bloweþ med And springþ þe wde nu, Sing cuccu!’ Fantastic! It reminds me of May Day and the Maypole dance at the village fete. I never danced, but there was something earthy, almost pagan about it. Perhaps that’s why I never really embraced my Church of England upbringing. I think I prefer the old ways, I’m a pagan at heart - and when I hear this tune played on the recorder I feel happy, a child again. It makes me smile"

Three - ‘Band of Gold’ by Freda Payne. “I remember listening to ‘Pick of the pops’ with Alan Freeman in my bedroom on a Sunday afternoon. One day this track blasted out of the radio and I liked it so much I went out and bought it. It was the first record I ever bought. Listening to it now I wonder why a thirteen year old boy was so taken by a song about penile dysfunction and unconsummated marriage. I don’t think that I really knew what it was about at the time. I was just taken with the sheer energy of Freda Payne’s delivery. After ‘Pick of the pops’ it was ‘Sing something simple’ – how I hated that - homework still to do and school in the morning – groan!

This track was almost 'Double Barrel' by Dave and Ansell Collins, a great and groundbreaking reggae track that I think is closer to rap than ska. Maybe it was the first rap track - I loved it. Dave and Ansell weren't brothers, they never even met - they were brought together from Jamaica and New York by the magic of the studio mixer. They were very close, but in the final analysis Freda just beat them - after all, she was my first single.”

Four - ‘Get Down and Get With It’ by Slade. “I’d heard a single called ‘The Raven’ by a group called Ambrose Slade on Radio Luxembourg. Some time later the group renamed themselves Slade and this was their first hit single. I was a teenager and, as were a lot of teenage boys at the time, going around it an Abercrombie overcoat, two-tone tonic trousers and tasselled brogues. Slade were THE band. They were the first group I saw live - at the Oxford Playhouse - they were supported by Suzi Quattro and Thin Lizzy – what a great concert…sorry, gig!”

Five - ‘Virginia Plain’ by Roxy Music. “What did Bob Harris say about Roxy on Whistle Test? ‘If that is the future of rock music I don’t want any part of it.’ How could he say that? He was so wrong! I thought that they were the most astonishing thing that I’d ever heard, so retro, yet so futuristic at the same time. Ferry’s hair, McKay’s white boiler suite, Manzanera’s shades, Eno’s eye liner, and Thompson’s drumming – what a band! ‘What’s her name? Virginia Plain?’ What a song! And one of only two where the title is also the last words of the song – the other being ‘Up the Junction’ by Squeeze.”

Six - ‘Tinsel town in the Rain’ - The Blue Nile. “Someone I worked with gave me a compilation tape he’d made up and there was a Blue Nile track on it, not ‘Tinsel town’, but a good track, so I went out and bought the album on tape and played it until it wore out. I saw them live in Manchester years later. The audience was full of middle aged musicians – they were still great though. This track sends a tingle up my spine and I’m thinking of having it played at the start of my funeral, it's very uplifting. I wonder who'll be there?”

Seven - Erik Satie, ‘Gnossienne No 1’. “I don’t know where I first heard this. I think it may have always been there in my head. I seem to know it well, but don’t know why. I think I may ask it to be played at end of my funeral – it calms me down – not that I’ll need to be calmed down on that particular day.”

Eight - ‘Cloudbusting’ by Kate Bush. “What can I say? I’ve always been in love with Kate and I always will be – it’s just a pity that my love hasn’t been reciprocated. This is just the best track. It has everything – a story, weird science, magic. I even had a yo-yo that glowed in the dark like the one mentioned in the song. I’m a proficient yo-yo’er. I can do all the tricks - around-the-world, walking the dog, damn your eyes – everything…And Donald Sutherland in the video…What more could you ask for? Apart from maybe Kate Bush for company on my island – Oh I can’t have that? Pity.”

“And my favourite Kirsty? The one I’d save if a big wave washed all the others into the sea…now that is tough…let me think.

The Satie I guess, or is it Kate?
Yes, definitely the Satie… No Kate.
Definitely Kate.”


Saturday, 14 March 2009

Columbo moment...

Remember ‘Columbo’?

Yes, of course you do – battered raincoat, smelly cigar, ancient Peugeot, wife who’s mentioned a lot, but never seen – and of course the famous ‘just one more thing…’

It was always ‘just one more thing.....’ that eventually tripped the killer up. It always seemed like an afterthought, clever - it usually caught the killer off guard.

Isn’t there always - ‘just one more thing…’? One more thing to consider, one more thing to do, one more thing to be concerned with – there always seems to be ‘just one more thing’. It's called having a 'Columbo moment'.

Sometimes we decide to take ourselves to the 'Columbo moment' – ‘I’ll just pack one more thing…’ And before we know where we are our case is bulging and we are looking at having to pay a hefty excess baggage charge - particularly if we’re flying budget airline where two pairs of underpants and a toothbrush are just about the only luggage allowance that you have - there's certainly no room for a raincoat.

And isn't it that 'Columbo moment' that almost always makes us late?

You know where I’m coming from… you have an important appointment – maybe a marriage or a birth – and there is ‘just one more thing’ that needs to be attended to before you can get into the Rolls Royce or call that ambulance. You attend to that ‘one more thing’ and suddenly realise that the reception is just about over and you’ve not even got to the church; in fact your partner has married someone else, divorced, and has visiting rights to the kids; or not only have your waters broken, they’ve evaporated - and your ‘newborn’ child is in the kitchen making its own sandwiches for his/her school lunch.

And what about when you get caught up in somebody else's 'Columbo moment'? You are on the phone, you are in a rush, and you want to get away - but it’s your mum / wife / aunt / long lost friend / salesperson on the line…

“I have to go.”
“Yes you do, but (Columbo moment alert) just one more thing…about your father.”

“It’s been great talking to you. We must catch up again sometime…”
“Okay, but before you go(Columbo moment warning) , just one more thing - do you remember...”

“No. I already have one.”
“Okay, thanks for your time (yes, you guessed it). Just one more thing, did I mention our one time only, two for one, extra special offer?”

I've had a few 'Columbo moments' over the years, and some of them have caused me some real problems. I once missed a connection from Chicago to Iowa because I stopped to do 'just one more thing' - a phone call - and I had to wait fourteen hours for another flight.

Another time, in my teens, I went on a school trip to Switzerland. I was shopping in Lucerne and went back into a shop to buy 'just one more thing'. The queue for the till was so long that by the time I'd paid for my Swiss army knife and got back onto the street the rest of the school party had moved on assuming that I was with them. Fortunately the Swiss police managed to reunite me with, 'Hubby' Clibbon - my furious and very worried art master - some five hours (and nine miles uphill) later.

Sometimes though 'just one more thing' can be a blessing in disguise. A few months back I left the house a few minutes later than I'd planned to, delayed by 'just one more thing' - an e-mail. Forty minutes, and fifty miles, along the M6 later I encountered a really bad multiple accident that could have only happened a few minutes before. So who knows - perhaps that particular 'Columbo moment' may have saved my life?

Usually though 'Columbo moments' are a nuisance, and there is always, always, always going to be ‘just one more thing’ that you can do, if you want to - but maybe it would be better to forget your 'Columbo moments' and make ‘one more thing’ the ‘very last thing’ - wouldn’t that make your life calmer and easier to cope with? Yes - now that you think of it, it would, wouldn’t it?

So... big deep breaths and repeat after me… “I will stop having 'Columbo moments'. I do not need to do ‘one more thing’ and when I have finished ‘the last thing’... I - can - stop."

How does that feel?

Oh yes...while I'm thinking about it - just one more thing!

Friday, 13 March 2009

NGC 63, Friday the 13th, 2020


Oh no, another Friday the 13th and there’s still one more to come this year in November. This happens every eleven years, so I’ll be sixty-three the next time we get another triple whammy.

I wonder what I’ll be doing when I’m sixty-three?

There is a galaxy in the constellation of Pisces, a spiral galaxy, NGC 63 - maybe I’ll go there the next time we have three thirteenths in the same year. That is if they have Friday the thirteenths. Maybe they won’t have time at all - no years, or months, or weeks, or days, or hours, or minutes, or seconds.

No time at all – timelessness, what a comforting idea, no reason to rush.

I wonder what the planet I’m on in NGC 63 will look like?

I’d like it to look like a surrealist landscape. I like surrealist art, I find the artists as interesting as the work. The really big surrealist painters were Jean Arp, Max Ernst, André Masson, René Magritte, Yves Tanguy, Salvador Dalí, Pierre Roy, Paul Delvaux, and Joan Miró. There were lots of other artists trying it though, most artists of the time tried surrealism at some point and they either liked it and stuck with it like Dali, or didn’t and moved on like Picasso.

I like Dorothea Tanning. She was married to Max Ernst, one of the biggies. Tanning is so incredibly sexy. I think she’s still alive - living in New York, in her eighties, so maybe I should say that she used to be so sexy.

It’d be great if when I arrived on this planet in NGC 63 it was populated by surrealist painters – particularly the young Dorothea Tanning. There’s a photo of her with Max Ernst, taken in 1946 in the desert in Arizona. It’s by Lee Miller, the surrealist photographer. It looks like a photograph of a dream, a dream photo. In it Ernst is a giant of a man with his trouser leg rolled up and Dorothea is a minute sylphlike dark haired girl in a flared skirt. She’s so tiny; she looks about two feet tall compared to Ernst, a weird photo – a dream, the sort of thing you may come across in a galaxy as remote as NGC 63.

If you ever get to Philadelphia check out the museum of art. There’s a painting by Tanning called ‘Birthday’. It’s fantastic in every sense of the word, a self-portrait and she is gorgeous in it. It shows her in another surrealist dream, and it looks like a bad one. A woman stands on a slanted hardwood floor in an open doorway. She’s standing stiffly, not smiling. The background is doorways, door after door as far as the eye can see, and her purple dress is flung open above the waist. It looks like satin, you can see her naked breasts. Tree roots, tendrils and tiny naked women cover her skirt. It is very erotic – she is very erotic.

There’s a small furry creature with round, piercing eyes and extended bird’s wings at the woman’s feet -her pet perhaps? I don’t know. The woman’s gaze is locked on a point somewhere far over your right shoulder, but she’s looking way beyond you - she knows that you are there but you’re simply not important. I wonder what she is seeing?

I think that she about to start a journey. Where is she going? I don’t know, but wherever it is I don’t think it’s anywhere good. Perhaps she’s off to Hell, or Mars, maybe even back in time to the start of it all. I can’t know, and she’s not telling, but I bet that when she gets there whatever or whoever she finds there isn’t very lucky for her.

I wonder if it’s Friday the thirteenth in that picture? I wonder if she’s going to NGC 63 and it is Friday the thirteenth?

I wonder if she’s coming to see the sixty-three year old me that is desperately waiting for her.

Is she going to tell me her secret? I hope so.