Tuesday, 30 June 2009

Going Cuckoo...

A friend of mine has just gone off hiking for two weeks in Switzerland, lucky, lucky, they. Before she went I jokingly asked her to bring me back a cuckoo clock. I don’t know why, but I did.

Cuckoo clocks - they have to be the happiest clocks in the world, all that cuckoo, cuckoo, cuckoo, and bellows, and goatherd boys and girls holding hands, ornate pitched roofs, and pendulums that look like pine cones, chains, stag’s heads, and…well, hand crafted, printed, plastic, wooden embellishment with loads of bright red and green paint. How much happier can a clock get?

Cuckoo clocks just have to be the Punch and Judy of the horological world. Forget the chimes of Big Ben – how sombre, forbidding even - and think… cuckoo in capital letters – CUCKOO - well done, you managed it.

Wouldn’t it be great if Parliament rising had a massive cuckoo instead of the bell of Big Ben? No more Bing, Bing, Bang, Bong at news at ten – just, Cuckoo, Cuckoo, Cuckoo, Cuckoo… how uplifting.

Think about it… and now the news with Trevor McDonald… Trevor is wearing clowns make-up, a huge smile on his face…

“Free lemonade to replace water in taps nationwide say water industry.”

“Park where you want! Double yellows to be painted over in a move towards common sense.”

“New national anthem as Eric Idle continues to look on the bright side of life.”

Did you all hear Trevor’s voice? Bet you did.

Thing is cuckoo clocks aren’t even a Swiss thing, they’re Bavarian. Swiss equals chocolate and watches, musical-boxes and alpine horns, gnomes and cow bells, and clogs (only joking about the clogs, they’re from Barnsley).

So what made me ask my friend about bringing me back a cuckoo clock?

I’ve only been to Switzerland once, a school trip in my early teens, led by ‘Hubby’ Clibbon the art master.

At not quite fourteen it was a trip of firsts:

First time abroad.
First time drunk – pale, cold, bottled bier at the local café.
First time I knew I could paint a bit – Hubby had to stop giving me the five franc prize for best painting of the day after I’d won it three times.
First time I realised that people were listening to me.
First big crush.

I can’t remember Hubby’s wife’s name, perhaps I never knew her as anything but Mrs Clibbon, but she was blond, and slim, and made from smiles with the smell of bouquet of spring flowers. She had a slightly bohemian manner and look, her peasant blouses had maybe a button to many undone (my Mother would have said definitely a button too far – maybe two buttons too far) and I seem to remember that her hair would simply not behave itself, she was constantly tucking back a wayward light-blond strand that kept falling in front of her large blue eyes.

Ahhhh… Mrs Clibbon.

We were staying in a small mountain hotel, typical Swiss chalet style, and sharing rooms in twos. I got Pete Burnett. There was nothing wrong with Pete, but he was up for anything, constantly on the edge of trouble, and at times he came close to being a bully. Dinner in the evening was a big deal. All the boys were expected to wear jacket and tie – I had a wonderful dark blue suit, well-cut, red lining, and a stand up Edwardian collar to the jacket. My dad had bought it for me at Burton’s in Oxford. It had been made ‘special order’ for somebody who’d never come back to collect it. When I tried it on in the shop it fitted me perfectly and I felt fantastic wearing it, so my Dad did a deal on the price and it was mine.

One evening at dinner I felt that Mrs Clibbon was watching me constantly, I remember thinking ‘what am I doing wrong, why is she looking at me like that’? Was I using the wrong knife and fork? Did I have another zit on my face? Did she think that I looked ridiculous in my dark blue suit and orange flowered tie? Thirteen year old boys are self-conscious at the best of times, they aren’t comfortable being scrutinised, and as the evening went on I became increasingly paranoid.

What a relief when dinner was over and we meandered down to the village to breath in the late spring air and get a coffee (beer) at the local café. Sometimes Mrs Clibbon would come with us, sometimes not. On this occasion she did and walked alongside me as we walked along the mountain road. ‘Here it comes’ I thought, ‘prepare to be told something that you don’t want to hear, prepare to be embarrassed’. I loved her being next to me and hated it at the same time – either way I felt stupid, silly and gauche (whatever that meant).

This is what she said to me…

She said she’d been watching me closely over the last few days and that I’d impressed her with my maturity, she said I seemed to have the knack of making the other boys listen, even the older ones, without the need to shout or bully. She said that it was good but to be careful that I didn’t draw too much attention to myself. She said the other boys gladly followed my lead because it was well thought through and they liked and trusted me enough to follow happily without argument. She said to use this attribute carefully and never take people where they didn’t want to go or might regret going. She said that I could be anything I wanted and that all I had to do was decide what I wanted to be. She said well maybe not anything, but anything I wanted to be. She said that I was a natural leader (I blushed, I never thought of myself as a leader – I was too shy for that). She said that I made her laugh and that it was an important thing to be able to do. She said I should be careful with my humour, I could be sarcastic and I should never use my humour to hurt anyone. She said I was a good painter and that I should keep it up. She said that I was Hubby’s star pupil and he often talked about my work at home (I don’t know where Julian Merrow-Smith was then). She said that she loved my blue suit and that I looked very elegant in it. She said that if only Dave (Hubby) would try to look as smart. And then we arrived at the café.

Ahhhhh… Mrs Clibbon.

I did bring back a cuckoo clock from Switzerland. I gave it to my mum. It was very small but the bird inside the little Swiss chalet happily cuckooed on the half and full hour.

I also brought back a new me, with a new belief in myself.

Caroline, Caroline Clibbon, there, I just remembered. That single conversation, my first conversation with an adult who treated me like an adult, changed my life.

Thank you Caroline, wherever you are.

Here's a good history of Cuckoo Clocks - Link

Monday, 29 June 2009

A bird in the hand...

It’s a little late for bird’s eggs, so I was pretty surprised to find this nest in the bamboo at the bottom of the garden at the weekend. It was very well hidden and I only spotted it because a small brown lizard ran up one of the bamboo stems so I went looking for him in the long, green, foliage. He'd disappeared by the time I came across this nest though.

We get the occasional Viviparous lizard in the garden in Wales, particularly when it’s hot and it was very hot this weekend. It always comes as a surprise when I see one, it’s exciting. Not as exciting as the time an Adder waved her way across the path and into the long grass down by the stone fountain though. Am I sure it was an Adder? Oh yes, that diamond pattern along the snake’s back is very hard to mistake. And I’m equally sure that it wasn’t a grass snake, grass snakes have small separated diamonds and yellow makings on the top of their heads – and there were no yellow markings on that beauty, definitely an Adder.

I saw a nest of adders up at Geronwy’s farm last summer, tiny foot long snakes wriggling all around the yard. Obviously he had to kill them. They were a danger to his livestock – not a pleasant job though, chopping off their heads with the blade of a spade.

Anyway, back to the nest and the eggs. Quite a comfortable looking nest - well constructed, cosy looking - I think that the feathers are chicken, they certainly look like chicken feathers but they might be duck. I expect that they come from up the farm, probably from Holly’s hens or maybe even from one of her three Aylesbury ducks that are growing at an incredible rate. Hard to believe that these are the same ducks that I held in my hand back on June 1st when I posted ‘Rubbery Duck’. How can they have grown to such a size in only four weeks?

I’m pretty good with eggs, I used to collect them when I was a boy (I know, I know, but it was different back then), even so, I wasn’t quite sure which type of bird these four belonged to. The mother was nowhere to be seen, probably off finding food, but even so I didn’t want to get too close to the nest – birds don’t like that – so I had to use maximum zoom to get a closer look at them. Bit blurry, but I could see that the eggs were a light pinky, beige with dark brown speckles.

Not a blackbird then, Blackbird eggs are light blue with dark red spots, nor a thrush, pale blue speckled black, and besides they were too small for either of these. These eggs were a little smaller than a grape and slightly larger than a broad bean. A blue tit? No, white with reddish speckles. Some other type of tit? White again with red or purple specs and spots? Perhaps some sort of finch?

It was no use I needed to consult my book.

I went up to the cottage to fetch it.

When I returned five minutes later after retrieving my ‘Observer Book of British Eggs’, from the bottom of a draw in the old pine sideboard in the living room, the mystery was solved. No need for the book either, the mother had returned to the nest.

Just look who it was. Looks like Dubby is about to become a family man. Doesn’t Dilly look proud.

Rubber duck eggs. Well I never!

Sunday, 28 June 2009

Reading the signs...

Do you think it’s possible to foretell the future? It was once a commonly held belief that you could. Back in the 1660’s William Lilly would foretell the future by observation of the patterns and pictures in the clouds, cloud scrying he called it. As you know I look at the pictures in the clouds all the time but I’ve never tried to tell the future with them – perhaps I may start. Then again, if the future is as dark as the storm that I saw across the sea to Harlech this afternoon maybe it would be better if I didn't.

I’ve never been to a fortune teller. My daughter Cloe has though, a few times. She tells me that her fortune teller is ‘fantastic’ – her words not mine. Madame… lets call her Madame X, has told Cloe about her past, her present, and her future. I wonder how she does it?

I have no interest in knowing what the future has in store for me – well, when I say no interest, of course I’m interested, but… well the future can be a scary place, particularly as it begins to run out for you, and you could get to know when that will be and I don’t think that I really want to know when that is – who would?

I do like to know what the weather is going to be like tomorrow though, and next week, even next month, and I guess that’s predicting the future of a kind. I’m sure that in the middle-ages Sian Lloyd would have been burnt as a witch and Michael Fish would have been heralded as High Court Alchemist. Rather a sexist attitude towards precognition, but then the Middle Ages can hardly be described as a liberated period in our history.

And what about seismologists? The ones that predict earthquakes (or at least try), aren’t they predicting the future? They are beginning to be able to predict when the earthquakes are coming, it could save thousands of lives when they perfect it – and that has to be a good thing doesn’t it? Financial analysts, doctors, traffic forecasting units, even system gamblers - they all in their own way are trying to read their own brand of tea leaf in order to work out what the future looks like in their own particular tea cup.

Is what they are doing so very different from the Tarot card readers, or the rune casters, or the Delphi Oracle staring long and hard into the entrails of a gutted goat? Isn’t it all about reading the patterns and applying those patterns to the situation?

Climatologists all over the world are building models based around the patterns that have warmed and cooled our earth for millions of years in an attempt to predict what our climatic future looks like. Computers are now so powerful that it is possible in theory to input enough data, financial, historical, medical, cultural, political, run a program, analyse the patterns, and predict the future situation – NASA do this all the time to predict potential faults with their missions.

I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the US Government has a ‘Nostadamus’ computer hidden deep inside a bunker under the Arizona desert. Perhaps it’s trying to predict who will win the next world-series, or when the next killer hurricane will hit New Orleans, or even who will be the first woman president. On the other hand, the UK equivalent, ‘Old Mother Shipton’, somewhere deep inside a flyover in Milton Keynes, is probably working on the price of French grown tea in 2030, Wimbledon winners for the next five years (Federer, Federer, Federer, Federer, Murray) and which MP’s are going to get away with fiddling their expenses (next time around).

Data and patterns – that’s all we need.

Perhaps that’s what Cloe’s fortune teller is doing, reading the patterns of Cloe’s speech, mannerisms, reactions and comparing and predicting from data she’s gathered from a lifetime’s experience. Perhaps she’s simply reading Cloe’s patterns and applying them to Cloe’s situation. Maybe she doesn’t even know that she’s doing it.

Alternatively, perhaps she really can see into the future.

One day science and technology will give us the means of looking into the future without the need for entrails, axes, or mystical stones. We’ve already begun to become techno-seers with our modelling, forecasting, analysing, and diagnosing. One day we might be able to access a website and find out what life has in store for us today, next week, next year, in five years time, when we are ninety – IF we will become ninety.

What a scary thought.

ALECTRYOMANCY, divination through birds
ALEUROMANCY, divination with flour
ALPHITOMANCY, divination using a leaf of barley
AMNIOMANCY, divination by means of the caul
ANTHROPOMANCY, divination by using human entrails
ARITHMANCY, divination by numbers
ASTROLOGY, divination by the movement of the planets
AXINOMANCY, divination by axe
BELOMANCY, divination by arrows
BIBLIOMANCY, divination using a book
BILLETTESTOMANCY, divination via an envelope
CARTOPEDY, divination by feet
CELONTESOMANCY, divination by mystical stone
CEROSCOPY, divination by wax on water
CLEDONIMANCY, divination by use of words
CLEIDOMANCY, divination by use of a suspended key
CLOUD SCRYING, divination by the clouds
COSCINOMANCY, divination practised with a sieve
CRITOMANCY, divination by cakes
CRYSTAL GAZING, divination by use of a crystal, often a ball
CURSED BREAD, divination with bread
DACTYLOMANCY, divination with rings
DAPHNOMANCY, divination with laurel branches
OVUMANCY, divination using eggs
EROMANCY, divination using air and water
GYROMANCY, divination by going round in circles
HEPATOSCOPY, divination of entrails

LAMPADOMANCY, divination using a lamp
LECANOMANCY, divination by throwing stones into water
LYCHNOMANCY, divination by candle flame
MOLYBDOMANCY, divination by dropping metal into water
MYOMANCY, divination involving rats
OMPHALOMANCY, divination by the navel
ONIMANCY, divination by observation of the angel Uriel
ONYCHOMANCY, divination by fingernails
ORNITHOMANCY, divination by birds
PALMISTRY, divination by the patterns and lines of the palm
PESSOMANCY, divination with beans
PHRENOLOGY, divination by the reading bumps on a skull
PHYLLORHODOMANCY, divination with rose leaves
TASSEOMANCY, divination by the reading of tea leaves

Friday, 26 June 2009

Remove the collar....

Misty’s been up to her old tricks again. Opening draws and removing stuff, this time it’s the pritt stick. I guess it’ll turn up eventually. At least Misty and Dubby seem to be getting on. I saw them both playing cat’s cradle together with a piece of string the other day. Who’d have thought that a cat and a duck could get on so well together? Haven’t seen Dubby for a couple of days though, I wonder where he is….

Okay I mean business. If Hisfault doesn’t do what the note tells him to as soon as he gets it, then that duck GETS IT! The duck’s a gonner, a deceased duck, as dead as the proverbial. Well, when I say dead… maybe not dead, but certainly a little ruffled, as a minimum - quite definitely purrplexed.

Talking of the duck I’d better check on him. That’s odd, I’m sure that’s his blindfold in the corner - it is! What? Where is he? He’s not hissing here! Where’s he gone? He’s hissing escaped! How on fish-heads did he manage that? He was all trussed up like a chicken. Those knots were as tight as… well, as tight as knots.

He’ll be around here somewhere. He can’t hide forever. Wait, look! The doors open! By Mu-Mu he’s made a run for it. He’s got outside. Well, he’s not getting away that easily; he’s my way out of this hissing collar.

Let’s have a good look around. Where are you Dummy? Where are you? Come out, come out wherever you are. Come out Dubby - I’m not in the mood for games, you are my prisoner, and I’m holding you to ransom… it took me ages to put that note together and I’ve got glue all over my paws. Come out I tell you!

He has to be here somewhere. He can’t have simply vanished. Let’s have a closer look… can’t see him anywhere, but I’m sure that I can smell him. Maybe he’s hiding in the plants. Let’s have a proper look… gently does it - slowly, slowly catchy monkey, or in this case ducky. I bet he’s in here somewhere hiding behind the foliage. Are you there Dummy? Are you there? No, I can’t see him.


WHAT was THAT? I’m sure I heard a noise, a kind of slapping, rushing, make-a-run-for-it kind of noise. Was that Dubby? No it couldn’t be - ducks can’t move that fast, ducks waddle, they’re not built for speed like us cats… so where is he? Where is he?

He’s has to be here somewhere, he’s has to be, I want to lose this collar. Dubby! Dubby! Come to Misty! I have a nice tweety for you…

There he is! Oh look, how sweet, Dubby and Dilly. Don’t they look pleased to see each other? By the look of all their billing and cooing, you’d think that they hadn’t seen each other for days. I think we should leave them alone - they obviously have some catching up to do…

Thursday, 25 June 2009

The Process...

Thursday seems to be becoming justification day. There are those of you out there that don’t think I need to justify what I write and (to some degree) you are right. After all, and as I have always said, this blog is ALL about me.

However I am a process guy, and I want you to keep reading – so I am very aware that sometimes in order to understand what I am ‘going on about’ it would probably be simpler for you to understand the process that I sometimes use to generate the pieces that I post. I want you to keep reading, so I have a responsibility to explain why I do some of the things I do – I’d hate you to lose faith.

I find it quite easy to write. As Chunky Gould, my English teacher, used to say; ‘my imagination will get me hanged one day’. Give me a subject and I will research, write about it, and try to bring it inwards so that it has a personal slant (ME again) - and hopefully usually make it readable in the process.

So, what’s this process? Now there’s the rub.

Yesterdays post. What was it about? If you read it you’ll know that it was quite a bit about post-boxes, that David Bowie put in a brief appearance, and that there was a lot of reference to the blues (da-da-da-da). But why?

Let me explain.

Process fascinates me. I have spent my life looking for better ways of doing things, designing processes leading to improved quality/productivity/speed, ultimately price, and all of my real-life has been about delivering as efficiently as possible through process.

Asleep yet? I almost was. What I do in my real-life with process is all very worthy but a bit boring in creative terms, so I’ve been looking for a process that could help me to generate creative and challenging ‘whatevers’ - and I’m using this process within this blog occasionally. You may have noticed - they are usually the posts that leave you scratching your head and wondering if I have finally and totally ‘lost it’, or the ones that you simply give up on and don’t bother to read at all.

I’ve used ‘The Process’ as I call it, to generate themes around my beach sculptures so that I have some story behind the picture, I’ve used it at times to generate some of the more surreal posts that run throughout this blog, and I’ve used it in the past to help me generate ideas for paintings. It isn’t unique and it isn’t particularly new – Dali used it in the composition of his paintings, Bowie in his lyrics, and the ‘Dice Man’ (in the novel published in 1971 by George Cockcroft under the pen name Luke Rhinehart) used a variation of it to give direction, albeit random, to the actions of his main character.

This is what I do. I write down what I consider to be eight totally unconnected subjects on slips of paper – I have various ways of generating them (pins, next thing I see, next word spoken), place them in a hat (in this case a real sea-captains hat that used to belong to my great, great uncle Alexander), and draw out three of the eight. These three subjects then become the themes for the post and I try to make a piece of interesting writing (based around personal experience and research) that combines these three threads into a single strand.

Here are my potential options for yesterday’s piece – ‘Post-box blues’

- The song China Girl by David Bowie
- Second World War barrage balloons
- Shifting sands
- Blues
- My oldest daughter Cloe’s trip to Uganda
- Minestrone soup
- The shoes that I can’t throw away
- Post-boxes

I’m pleased that I didn’t draw ‘Second World War barrage balloons’, disappointed that I didn’t get ‘Cloe’s trip to Uganda’. But you get what you get, and given what I got I’m not that unhappy with the result.

So there you have it – ‘The Process’. By the way I’m considering a slight shift in how I generate my potential threads. I’m thinking about asking you to suggest the subjects that I put into my great, great, uncle’s captain’s hat!

That should make it really interesting… ideas anyone?

Cirque Montage

My Cirque du Soleil Montage
Click to enlarge

Wednesday, 24 June 2009

Post-Box Blues...

So I woke up this morning (da-da-da-dah). Sorry, this is not a blues, I have no idea where that came from.

I’ll try again. So I woke up this morning (da-da-da-dah – STOP!) with visions of post-boxes in my head, plans for everyone. It’s in the white of my eyes - STOP! Sorry - this must be making no sense at all - that was Bowie, China Girl!

What's going on here?

Again… ah-one, ah-two, ah-one, two, three, four! So I woke up this morning (da-da-da-dah – STOP I SAY! - visions of post-boxes in my head, plans for everyone – STOP, STOP, STOP).

Post boxes? Yes, post-boxes. Oh, I see, that Bloody Blog is talking to me again.

So one more time, and from the top - ah-one, ah-two, ah-one, two, three, four…

Blogging has made me look at things differently. After years of not really noticing things I have suddenly begun to notice so much… and there is so much to notice. There are so many things to be interested in; things that we pass every day without really seeing them.

When was the last time you noticed your local post-box? (da-da-da-dah) Have you ever really noticed it at all? (da-da-da-dah) I’za bettin that you ain’t (da-da-da-dah) N’ they are all the same anyways ain’t they? (da-da-da-dah). Nope, them’s all different (da-da-da-dah). Position, n’size, n’shape. (da-da-da-dah). Even colour (da-da-da-dah), I’m a’telling you (da-da-da-dah), says I’m a’telling (da-da-da-dah) each postey-boxey (da-da-da-dah) STOP! STOP! STOP!


Each post – box has the monarch they were placed for initialised on their body. Maybe a GR, or an ERII, perhaps even a VR, and definitely a number – they all have a number. Say baby what’s that on the post-box where you post your Christmas, an them purdy Birthday, cards? Course I is assumin that you pay your bills online (da-da-da-dah) and that y’all social networking (da-da-da-dah) an bloggin’ (da-da-da-dah) an e-mailin’ - rather than doin’ that writin’ them letter thing (da-da-da-dah) an of course sweet honey (da-da-da-dah) I is a’sumin that you ain’t (bum, bum) succumbed (bum, bum) - to the awful e-card thing (da-da-da-dah-dahhhh)…

STOP…this is NOT a blues! This is a blog!

Hear this Blog – get a grip on yourself!

Anyway, this is the first of an occasional series on those interesting objects that are on our roads and streets but which none of us notice. There WILL be post-boxes, but there will also be other things. I don’t know what they will be yet – I’m yet to find them – but I know that they ARE out there waiting and that they are worth writing about.

Here’s the first ‘right under your nose’ object. Of course when I say ‘your’ nose I mean ‘my’ or ‘our’ or ‘someone’s’, I mean it inclusively so as to be politically correct… yes, even you!

ONE: The post-box at Holwell: post-box № DT9 4 (da-da-da-dah).

This post-box, dating from the 1850’s, at Barnes Cross, Holwell, Bishop's Caundle, Dorset, is reckoned to be the oldest post-box in Britain still in service. Just imagine the letters that have been posted from this box, the events that have resided temporarily in the dark interior of the collection box - the Boer War, Victoria’s Jubilee, the sinking of the Titanic, both World Wars… letters to soldiers, from evacuated children, lovers, blackmailers, sad and happy, bills and wills, love and poison. History, emotion, utility.

The next time you’re passing go take a look at this magnificent slice of history, send me a post card, and please stick a Penny Black to it – just to make it look authentic!

I FEEL GOOD! (do-da-da-da-da-do-do - I knew that I would, now!) This is the start of a whole new chapter…

Thanks blog – you’ve opened my eyes (again), but please can you just drop the blues, it’s driving me nuts (da-da-da-dah).

Okay, I’ll take that as a no then.

Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Old Soldiers...

Just look at this.

Isn’t it beautiful? What a glorious field, brim full of poppies. I passed this on my way to Scarborough, at Staxton, and had to stop and take some pictures – even though it meant parking up in the muddy entrance of a field. Can anyone look at a field of poppies without starting to mind surf?

I can’t.

Mind surf? Oh, you know, when you see something and it makes you think of a connection and that kicks off another connection, then another, and another, like this - Poppy – that tea set my mum used to have – the Great War – Wilfred Owen - Flanders field – Poppy day – Frank.


Frank was my wife’s mother’s partner. We never had an easy relationship, we came from very different places on just about everything – politics, religion, race, country, duty, work, food, we may have agreed on beer – but we had some terrible arguments over the years usually culminating in him storming off - he never waited to be beaten.

I didn’t know what I thought of Frank, at the time I could take him or leave him - but I did know one thing; he worshiped my daughter from the minute she was born and she worshipped him back in turn, always.

He was her friend, Uncle Frank, her ‘honorary granddad’ - as she used to say. To me he was a bit of a pain, but he loved taking Holly out and he took her all over. He used to take her into Manchester almost every day when she was a baby – pushing the buggy to the tram station, into the centre of town. By the time Holly was three she knew Manchester better than I ever will. Frank and Holly were in the centre of Manchester on the 14th June, 1996, the day before the IRA bombs exploded – for some reason they didn’t go the day of the bombing, I can’t remember why – perhaps it was her guardian angel keeping her safe, maybe it was even Frank’s.

Frank had done national service and been out to Egypt, but by the way he spoke you’d have thought that he’d been in the army his whole life, instead of an ambulance driver invalided out due to his badly worn hips. I think his army days must have been a very special time for him, maybe he found a niche for a while, he was ruled by routine – packing his bags a whole week before he and Joan went away on their annual holiday to Jersey, and Holly went with them – she loved it, two ‘being spoilt’ weeks with Uncle Frank!

Frank was a big believer in duty. Every November he’d polish up his medals, put on his beret with full colours, polish his (already polished) shoes, don his regimental blazer and tramp into town on his tin hips with his box of remembrance poppies. He’d stand outside Boots all day in the cold and rain, saluting everybody who donated, until every single red paper poppy had gone, then tramp back home – duty done.

He died from cancer a few years back. I was there for a while by his bed on the morning of his death, he looked old and tired – he was old and tired.
I’ll get the drinks in ready’ he’d said.
Make it a gudg’eon’ I’d replied.
He always called it a ‘gudg’eon’ when he bought a round of whisky, he was ‘careful’ about his rounds but always played it fair – it was his way.

So there was I standing in that glorious field, brim full of poppies, car sinking in the mud, taking pictures and mind-surfing to Frank - Poppy – that tea set my mum used to have – the Great War – Wilfred Owen - Flanders field – Poppy day – Frank.

All those poppies… I guess I must have liked him more than I knew.

Old Soldiers…
Odd isn’t it?
In life not eye to eye.
With this or that,
Or that or this,
That when they simply die.
You remember
As best they were,
And wish…

Frankie Boy was a soldier
He never fought in war
He did his time in Akabar
National service, a single tour.
He so proud to ‘do his bit’,
Not easy, he and I.
But ask my child
Of Uncle Frank
And watch the memories fly.

Monday, 22 June 2009

Free Dubby... Free Dubby... Free Dubby...

Just look at what Misty has done to poor Dubby, poor little duck, all gaffa taped, blindfolded and tied up with string – and what’s that? That bad cat has put him on a bread and water diet, not that the poor creature can do much with it, all entrammeled like he is… what a tangle. Are you okay Dubby? Can you breathe? Nod once for yes, twice for no. Its okay everyone, Dubby just nodded. Now what can we do to get him out of there?

Dubby have you ever heard of Harry Houdini? Dubby just nodded twice everyone. Well, that’s hardly surprising I guess rubber ducks don’t usually have much of a need for escapology, and I’m sure that bondage isn’t really a duck thing.

Harry Houdini, the ‘Handcuff King’ as he was known, was probably the greatest escapologist to have ever lived, he’s certainly the most well known.

In the early 1900’s Houdini has great success in both Europe and America making a fortune by freeing himself from jails, handcuffs, chains, ropes, straitjackets, sometimes while hanging from a rope in clear sight of an audience who were only too happy to pay to watch him - probably in the morbid hope that he would fail. He would regularly have himself handcuffed, chained and incarcerated in a locked, water-filled milk churn, and sometimes into a nailed packing crate that was then lowered into the water. Riveted boilers, wet-sheets, mailbags - you name it, Harry was up for it. He once even escaped from the belly of a Whale that had been washed ashore in Boston – I bet that was stinky.

What’s that? No, don’t worry Dubby, we’re not going to put you inside the belly of a whale, but you do want to get out of there don’t you? Dubby just nodded once ladies and gentleman

One of the techniques Harry used to get him out of ropes was simple, he’d flex and un-flex his muscles over and over until the knots on the ropes started to loosen, then he’d throw himself all over the place, banging into the walls of the crate or cell he was imprisoned in, turning himself upside down, until eventually the movement would cause the ropes to loosen so much that they would simply fall off leaving him as free as a bird.

Do you want to be free as a bird Dubby? Sorry, bad choice of expression – of course you do. No, there’s no need to nod – we all know that you want to be free.
Okay, let’s give it a go. Flex Dubby, flex.

Come on everybody lets help him here, everyone flex with Dubby. Flex in, flex out, flex in, flex out, flex in, flex out.

Now Dubby, throw yourself about a bit. That’s it, upside down, to the left, to the right – are they loosening? They are! Good. Keep it up Dubby, keep it up. Flex in, flex out, flex in, flex out, spin, turn, spin, turn, flex in, flex out, left, right, left, right, flex, flex, flex, flex, flex…WELL DONE DUBBY! You’re free!

It could have been worse you know - at least that nasty cat didn’t lock you in a tank full of water, not like poor old Harry. In 1912, Houdini started performing his most famous act, the Chinese Water Torture Cell. He was suspended upside-down in a locked glass-and-steel cabinet filled to the top with water. It required him to hold his breath for more than three minutes and Houdini performed the escape for the rest of his career.

Now I know what you’re thinking. You all think I’m going to tell you that Harry Houdini drowned in the tank, am I right? Dubby there’s no need to nod, your beak is free now - all you have to do is quack once. That’s it, one quack – so you think that he drowned Dubby… well you are all wrong!

Despite two Hollywood movies that show Houdini dieing in the icy water of the Chinese Torture Cell, this escape had nothing to do with his death. He actually died from peritonitis caused by a ruptured appendix, probably accidentally, when a McGill University student, J. Gordon Whitehead, was allowed (on request) to punch Harry’s abdomen repeatedly. Yes, I know that it’s a bit of an odd thing to do but Harry Houdini was a showman, and back then there was no TV so you had to make your own entertainment.

Poor Harry, death is death no matter how it’s packaged.

Still, that isn’t your worry is it Dubby? Now pick up that string and let’s get you down from there. Indian rope trick time I’m afraid. Now, grip tight with that bill, lower yourself away, and no quacking under any circumstances, not even if I ask you a question…

To be continued...

For those of you that liked the picture in my Oberon and Titania post here's another by the same painter - Edward Robert Hughes. It's called Twilight Fantasy.

I'd be interested in what you think of it.

Sunday, 21 June 2009

Summer solstice - Oberon and Titania.

Two lovely berries moulded on one stem;
So, with two seeming bodies, but one heart.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, 3. 2
June, summer solstice, midsummer, the longest day. High summer, only fully dark for those magical, fewest of hours and then… downhill-all-the-way, to deepest, darkest winter. Right now though that seems a long, long way off – so let’s not even think about it.

Call it an irrelevance.

Summer solstice - druids, and virgins, fairy rings, a man with an ass’s head. Such a magical time, light and airy, fragrant and sweet – anything may happen on mid-summer’s eve – breathe it in and smell it strong.

Nineteen seventy-three - another midsummer. Me, fifteen year old youth strolling rugby-muscled, out in meadow, first-ever girlfriend on arm, walking towards the hill. I ruled the world, knew everything - I even had a plan. We walked along the Icknield way, old roman road, Centurion, towards the Chilterns and Chinnor Hill. It wasn’t far – quick cut across the fields, then up along the track - all the way to Pook’s hill.

Puck, of Pook’s hill.

We could see so clear for miles up there.

And wine (German, flowery, and sweet), and a white paper bag of pear drops. Warm. The buzzing of bees and chirrup of hoppers in the long grass all around us, sitting, a chorus of life, as we talked of school (exams were not so far away), and music (Roxy, Tamla too). Everything was so unfair, what Fascists (her) parents were - and how we hated our Saturday jobs (hers in the chemist and mine at the ironmongers). The ground bound sun still warm as the swallows flew, we smiled and kissed. Love? Yes, young and sure, and holding hands we lay together, supple.

A couple.
A couple?
A couple.
Together, supple, we lay beside the old straight road on Puck’s hill.

We smiled at each, and with each other.

Was it really over thirty-five years ago?


We drank our wine and sucked on pear drops, crunching them to teeth sticking gum within our mouths between kisses - and laughed, and laughed, and laughed – holding each other tight these two child people… until the woman came out in her and the potential of the man I might be came out in me.

Hello you… is that me?

Midsummer, solstice, the longest day, a day remembered always - by me, by me.

We stayed as late as dared, and back to fascist parents waiting to pounce behind the frosted door.

She made me leave before the shouting. A new born depth of kiss and look within her eyes that I didn’t yet understand.


So long ago.

And then last week driving fast through the scar where I found her - my first love - soft, and light, and welcoming… when we were there entwined, this road (three laned and real) and almost yet to come - I smiled… so long ago.

So long ago.

Nineteen seventy-three to two thousand and nine, fast travelled to another summer solstice - older, wiser, sometimes tired - but alive and (often) happy.

If I have one wish for mine it’s this,
May they smell midsummer, hold hands and kiss.
And who should ask for more than this?

That girl,
The one that laughed -
The one I sometimes miss,
May she still be laughing now
Where she (old new love) is.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Make my day...

I hope Misty and Dubby become friends. Dubby is trying so hard. Look at him sitting on top of Misty’s play-pole. I guess he’s waiting for Misty to turn up so that they can both play with it together. I wonder where Misty is?…

‘Look at that stupid duck thing. Sitting on top of my play-pole like he’s king Duck. I can see you, you rubber quacker, but you can’t see me can you? No, I’m up here on top of the kitchen cupboards high above your silly rubber head. You think you are as safe as hen-houses don’t you? Well, I’m watching you and if you don’t get off my play-pole I’m going to jump down there and, and, and - and then you’d better watch out. See me? See my long, sharp, teeth? Looks like you’re going to need a bigger boat!

No, you can’t see me can you, good… and you haven’t moved yet - well you can’t say I didn’t give you fair chance, and frankly my dear, I don’t give a duck.

Are you feeling lucky ducky? Thinking of playing with red, stripy, mousey? My red, stripy, mousey? Go ahead duck play with him, play with his tail, go on Dummy… make my day. If you make one move towards that mouse I’m gonna blow you away. You gonna move punk? You gonna go for it? Or are you gonna get down quietly and waddle away?

No? Okay, well you asked for it… little ducks, little ducks let me in - little ducks watch out, here I come… Heeeeeeeeere’s Misty!



Wanna play ball ducky? What’s up Dummy, you look surprised to see me? I bet you weren’t expecting me to fly in like that were you? What ya doing up there anyway? Waiting to fly south for the winter? Well, you had your chance to fly and you hissing blew it. Put ‘em up Dummy, put ‘em up. MeowwwwwwwwwwwhisssssssswhassssssmeoooooooohisssssshissssssgrumphhhhhhhgrrrrrrrrrrrrrrshiiiiiisshhhhhhhwhizzzzzzzzzzzzzbraaaaaaaaagrummmpphhhhhhisssssssssssssssHad enough yet duck? Want some more? Hisssssssssgrrrrrrrrrmeoooo You coming down duck? Or do I have to make you come down…Meooowhisssssssssgrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrhisssssssswhassssssmeoooooooobraaaggaaaaaagrummmpphhhhhhissss.

Gotcha! Come on duck, you’re coming with me. Back up on top of the cupboards, you’re my prisoner. I hope you don’t get vertigo - it’s a long way down from up here. Look at you duck - top of the world ma!

Now, what should I demand in the ransom note… fish, treats, a new collar? I wonder what Hisfault will be prepared to pay for Dummy’s safe return?’…

That’s odd where’s Dubby gone? Perhaps he’s gone off to play with Misty. Oh well I hope that they have fun together. I do so hope that they become good friends…

Thursday, 18 June 2009

Over and over...

So we went to the Lakes last weekend, yes I know Dubby’s told you all about it – well maybe not quite all, one way and another it’s been a spooky old week.

As you may know we went to Grange-over-Sands and we were walking through the beautiful park that runs alongside the prom - early evening, sun shining. There’s a wonderful lake in the park, small but larger than a duck pond. Even so, it was full of ducks – Mandarin, Pochard, Eider, all sorts. Dubby would have loved it but I hadn’t pulled him out of the quicksand at this point - I thought I’d teach him a lesson.
Behind the lake, through the trees, there was a building – park offices or some such, and at the back of the building was a deep red painted door with a sign nailed to it – ‘Haunted House’ it proclaimed.

Haunted house? Could it be? The arrow pointed the way. I had to follow. I’ve been searching for the haunted house for most of my adult life.

I can’t remember the first time I dreamt of the haunted house but I must have been dreaming it for at least thirty years. It’s become one of my ‘recurrings’ - dreams I have frequently and often, like Ju-Ju and the ‘Lost’ dream. In this dream I’m also driving, only this time I’m by the sea and not on a treacherous mountain road. It’s a sunny day, the skies are blue and I’m driving along a gloriously green country lane towards – well nothing really, I have absolutely no idea where I’m going, I’m just happy to be alive in my red open-topped sports car on such a wonderful day.

Now the thing is I’ve never owned a sports car in my life, let alone an open-topped one and if I did… well - if I did I’d be very nervous about it, given this particular ‘recurring’.

I drive along the lane until it becomes a drive to a big red brick house. I park up on the grass by the side of the house overlooking the sea. The bricks are so dark they are almost black, so black that they look like they’re covered in dried blood that has been baked hard by the sun. The door is open. It is my house. I don’t know how I know it is my house, I’ve never been there before, but the minute I see it I know that it’s mine and that it has been waiting for me to arrive for a long time.

I get out of the door, walk across the gravel, climb the six sandstone steps and go in through the open door. It’s dark inside the gloomy hall, a long, wide staircase rises towards the second floor. I climb the staircase, moots of dust rising from the patterned carpet as I climb them. I walk along the landing. It goes back and back, past room after room, and as I move into the interior of the house the décor becomes shabbier, the fabric of the house more and more unstable. By the time I’ve been walking for an hour or so I am walking through decaying ruins covered in pulsating fungi, damp with some sort of sticky black ooze.

In front of me I see a slit of light. It’s a doorway. The rotting door slightly ajar. I can hear the sound of the sea swishing from behind the door. I push the door wide open and step through.

It is the end of the house. The last of the house. The crumbling boarded floor hangs above a sea which is thousands of feet below. The back wall of the house doesn’t exist and the house is open to the storm that rages above the lashing, black, water below. Huge waves batter the purple rocks - they look like pebbles from where I’m standing high above them in the element-open room.

And then I see her.

The woman, her back towards me - she’s wearing that long black skirt, hair up in a bun - as she always has and always will.

She doesn’t turn. Simply holds her arm out and back a little towards me, just about offering her hand. The fingers twitch slightly, she’s wearing a fire-speckled opal ring, the hand is wrinkled, covered in liver spots. It looks cold.

I walk towards her, reach out for her hand, and take it. It is cold, cold as death. As her fingers touch mine the sea below erupts in a maelstrom of fury. She begins to turn to face me and I catch a flash of red in the corner of her eye.

I wake up.

I hate that dream.
I went looking for the haunted house in the park at Grange-over-Sands. I didn’t find it.

I think that I’m glad that I didn’t.

To cheer us all up and as a bonus, just for fun, here's my Surrealist montage. Double click on it to see it at a larger size.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

All blogged up...

I thought it was about time I explained myself, ‘came clean’ if you will. About my blog – well what can I tell you?

I’ve had quite a few people comment both on the blog (thanks to all who have commented - if I know you like it I can do more and if I know you don’t like it I’ll still do it but at least I know you don’t like it - after all ‘it is all about me’) and I’ve had comments by mail, twitter, facebook and (gasp!) to my face.

Some people find it all a little weird, others a lot weird. Thanks! One of the things I set out to do when I started blogging was to expand my own horizons and (I hoped) the horizons of the people I hoped would read it. It has worked for me - I hope it has for you. I spend a lot of my free time thinking ‘blog’, usually in the early hours, planning what to try next, how I’m going to keep your attention, what might interest you, what interests me. Often though the best things aren’t planned, they just come along or happen spontaneously – it’s almost like the blog has got a life of its own, sometimes I could swear that it talks to me.

Not everyone gets all of it - some don’t get any of it, and that’s okay.

As you know my wife thinks the ‘Bloody Blog’ is really annoying. In her eyes it takes up way too much of my time and her husband (me) has turned into a weirdo as a result – actually she knows that I’ve always been a weirdo and that the blog is just the most recent manifestation of my weirdness – but I do get where she’s coming from. I’m continually looking for blogging opportunities.

Think about this.

How would you feel if your partner carried a rubber duck with them everywhere they went and thought nothing of getting his rubber duck out in public, laying down on the ground - despite the crowds of people - and then photographing said duck in quite ridiculous circumstances and in the most public of public places? How can I blame her for sitting a hundred yards away while I do this and then pretending that she doesn’t know me until we are completely clear of the bemused crowd I seem to attract? It has to be hard to accept that your partner has a friend who is made of rubber, looks like a duck, and is called Dubby – and it must be even harder if your partner’s duck has a girlfriend called Dilly who is also a duck, made from rubber and covered in large pink flowers.

And then there’s Misty. Misty is at least a real cat, but if your loved one began to claim that they knew what a cat was thinking and that the thinking was about surrealist painting and the frustration of not having any painting materials – well, what would you do? Call the doctor? Call the police? Run away very quickly?

And what about all those beach sculptures? Would you be happy to spend hours on the beach whilst the ‘mad person’ that you used to know so well collects rubbish and rocks, and then makes the silliest things out of them, weaving strange stories about what they are and how they got there? Hardly normal behaviour is it? Not normal? Who says? Well, Gaynor often points out to me that this kind of behaviour isn’t normal, whatever normal is – and I can see her point I think.

I don’t think she minds the memory stuff (well at least the happy memories), and I think I know that she doesn’t mind the ‘event reporting’ stuff - but the dreams, the cloud pictures, my ‘flights of fancy’ – well, yes I can see how that could seem strange – and I know that she doesn’t like me sharing her recipes.

WAWL is an experiment. I'm just seeing where it meanders, what boundaries it crosses, taking in the countryside it travels through, enjoying the company of it's inhabitants - whether they be cats, memories, rubber ducks, dead heroes, whoever and whatever - it's almost like having my own country to play with.

So where will the ‘Bloody Blog’ go next? The answer is I don’t know and that is probably why I like it so much - no not like, love. I have absolutely no idea where it is going or what is going to happen next. This time last week I had no idea that I’d be in touch with Orson Welles or that he’d be commenting on the blog, and I haven’t any inkling who or what will be in the blog this time next week. It’s a changing, living, fluid thing - although not all of it is exactly, strictly, absolutely, true – it is an experience to be enjoyed and be in no doubt - I am enjoying it.

If that ever stops then so will the blog, I’ll let you know if it happens - but for now it really is a wonderful life.

What’s that? Oh yes, the blog says thanks for reading him and he’ll try his best to keep on entertaining you (please don’t tell Gaynor that the blog can talk, she’ll have me sectioned).

Now try this, it is easy and fun – I built the top and tail montages with it and it is as random as the blog. Go on try it out - you'll love it.

Google montage builder Link

Tuesday, 16 June 2009

Is there anyybody there?...

Ever done the Ouija thing?

Yes? No? I have.

When I was about ten my uncle Charley came to our house one Saturday lunchtime and set up his home-made deck of ouija cards on our kitchen table. We were going to have a séance – me, my mum, my dad and uncle Charley. What a weird thing to do on Saturday lunchtime, but then it was the sixties so it was kind of a fab, groovy, hip, thing also.

Charlie used a small stemmed wine glass as a makeshift planchette and arranged an alphabet of cards in a semi-circle with another numerical (0-9) semi-circle beneath it. Finally to add symmetry to his magical arrangement he placed a ‘yes’ card on the left and a ‘no’ card on the right. The ‘goodbye (I’m out’a here and back to the spooky, spirit world) card sat right at the bottom like a final straw.

Nervously, we all placed our little fingers on the little glass and uncle Charley spoke the words…

‘Is there anybody there?’

There was.

Some people think it is evil, others think it is fun.

Science says that the subconscious mind directs the planchette, or pointer, to spell out the words, producing something that is already in one of the participant’s subconscious mind. They call this automatism or ideomotor action (it’s all in the ideomotor action).

Spiritualists obviously believe that they are actually making contact with the spirit world and that they are talking to the dead; messages from Aunty Dora or Uncle Fred, directions on where to find those lost keys (what lost keys?), red Indian spirit guides, ‘you need not worry, I’m at peace’ messages.

Or perhaps every single Ouija session is a fake, who knows?

I don’t know what caused the pointer to move around the table, I’m not even sure that I cared. I just know that for some reason it worked and that I found it fascinating.

Years later I tried it again, this time at midnight, on Halloween, by candlelight.

‘Is there anybody there?’

There was - and not a very nice ‘anybody’.

It put me off meddling with the ‘hidden forces’ for quite a while, but in pursuit of bloggable experiences I’ve recently been experimenting with Madame La Ouija once more.

Here’s the verbatim (if automatic writing can be verbatim) transcript of my first experiment. I think I got pretty lucky.

AKH – Is there anybody there?
Answer – YES
AKH – What is your name?
Answer – O-R-S-O-N
AKH – Do you have a family name?
Answer – YES
AKH – What is it?
Answer – W-E-L-L-E-S
AKH – Orson Welles - are you THE Orson Welles?
Answer – A-P-P-A-R-E-N-T-L-Y-I-A-M
AKH – Wow! You are one of my heroes.
Answer – H-O-W-S-A-T-I-S-F-Y-I-N-G-L-E-N-D-M-E-Y-O-U-R-A-R-M-A-N-D-I-L-L-S-I-G-N-Y-O-U-A-N-A-U-T-O-G-R-A-P-H
AKH – What’s it like on the other side?
Answer –I-H-A-V-E-T-H-E-T-E-R-R-I-B-L-E-F-E-E-L-I-N-G-T-H-A-T-B-E-C-A-U-S-E-I-A-M-W-E-A-R-I-N-G-A-W-H-I-T-E-B-E-A-R-D-A-N-D-A-M-S-I-T-T-I-N-G-I-N-T-H-E-B-A-C-K-O-F-T-H-E-T-H-E-A-T-R-E-Y-O-U-E-X-P-E-C-T-M-E-T-O-T-E-L-L-Y-O-U-T-H-E-T-R-U-T-H-A-B-O-U-T-S-O-M-E-T-H-I-N-G-T-H-E-S-E-A-R-E-T-H-E-C-H-E-A-P-S-E-AT-S-N-O-T-M-O-U-N-T-S-I-N-A-I
AKH – Sorry. No message then?
Answer – R-O-S-E-B-U-D
AKH – ‘Rosebud’? Citizen Kane ‘Rosebud’?
Answer – R-O-S-E-B-U-D
AKH – What does Rosebud mean?
Answer – F-A-K-E-I-S-A-S-O-L-D-A-S-T-H-E-E-D-E-N-T-R-E-E
AKH – And what does that mean?
Answer – O-L-O-R-O-S-O
AKH – Oloroso? Are you talking about the Sandeman’s ad? I thought you were great in that. I was only about six but I remember it vividly.
Answer – I-H-A-T-E-T-E-L-E-V-I-S-I-O-N-I-H-A-T-E-I-T-A-S-M-U-C-H-A-S-I-H-A-T-E-P-E-A-N-U-T-S-B-U-T-I-C-A-N-T-S-T-O-P-E-A-T-I-N-G-P-E-A-N-U-T-S
AKH - I don’t understand. What do you mean?
Answer – W-A-T-C-H-T-H-E-F-I-L-M-A-G-A-I-N
AKH –Which Film?
Answer – R-O-S-E-B-U-D
AKH – Kane again? But I’ve watched it at least twenty times!
Answer – T-H-E-M-A-R-K-E-T-J-U-S-T-C-L-O-S-E-D
AKH – Eh?
Answer – I-F-Y-O-U-W-A-N-T-A-H-A-P-P-Y-E-N-D-I-N-G-T-H-A-T-D-E-P-E-N-D-S-O-F-C-O-U-R-S-E-O-N-W-H-E-R-E-Y-O-U-S-T-O-P-Y-O-U-R-S-T-O-R-Y
AKH – Eh? And where did you stop your story?
Answer – W-E-A-R-E-B-O-R-N-A-L-O-N-E-W-E-L-I-V-E-A-L-O-N-E-W-E-D-I-E-A-L-O-N-E
AKH – Are you lonely?
Answer – N-O-B-O-D-Y-G-E-T-S-J-U-S-T-I-C-E-P-E-O-P-L-E-O-N-L-Y-G-E-T-G-O-O-D-L-U-C-K-O-R-B-A-D-L-U-C-K
AKH – And which did you get?
Answer - GOODBYE

And then the planchard stopped moving.

‘The market just closed’? I wonder what he meant, and what was all that about ‘fake being as old as the Eden tree’? Orson always did talk in riddles - managed to make the biggest nation in the world panic over a radio play about an alien invasion from Mars though. He sounded a bit low if you ask me - but then he was genius, pure genius! Goodbye Mr. Welles, I wonder if you’ll be back to talk in riddles with me again some time.

Now watch the great man. Two hours after this interview he was dead.

Monday, 15 June 2009

Dubby does the Lakes...

Dubby spent the weekend in the Lake District, his first time away from home – how exciting for him, so exciting that he spent the whole journey quacking ‘are we there yet?’!

Here he is at Bowness on Windermere, the largest natural lake in England. Funny place Bowness – it has a touch of the ‘Blackpools’ about it but at the same time manages to appear to be very ‘Homes and Gardens’. Dubby is making friends with some of the local residents. Poor Dubby, his swan cousins dwarf him.

Wait what’s this? Now isn’t that amazing! That’s the thing about being a rubber duck, all you need is a foot-pump and you can blow yourself up to any size you like! Come on Dubby, say goodbye to your swan chums - and let some air out or you'll never fit back in the car.

Back in the car and up and across to Ulverston. Now who’s he talking to? No, it can’t be… Just look at Dubby sitting on Stan Laurel’s shoulder! I knew that Stan came from Ulverston but I didn’t know that Ollie lived there as well.

What’s he saying to Ollie? I can’t quite make it out. Whatever it is Ollie has just replied that his ‘ear is full of milk’. Is that a quote from a film, and shouldn’t it be his ‘ear is full of Duck’? Oh well, nice to see them both. Must dash, we’ve got a lot to see. Come on Dubby – they are a comedy duo, they don’t need you, there’s already a comedy trio – they’re called the Marx Brothers… honk, honk.

Here he is at Castlerigg stone circle. It’s over 5,300 years old. I’m not sure that you should be sitting there Dubby, legend has it that any creature that rests on the stones for long will be turned to stone by the ancient ley power that runs through and around the circle.

What’s did you say? ‘Your beak feels like it’s getting harder? Time to move on Dubby before you become a statue - and you wouldn’t mind being a statue if you got to hang around doing nothing all day like Laurel and Hardy. Come on Dubby, there’s lots more to see.

What a tour Dubby had - Kendal, Keswick, Grasmere, Dove Cottage, Beatrix Potter’s house, Barrow-in-Furness, Cartmel, then down the coast to Grange-over-Sands. The tide was out - isn’t it always?
Now Dubby stay off of the sands, you don’t want to go walking too far, you need a guide to walk around out there - it’s dangerous even if you are a duck - fast rising tides, hidden channels, quicksand!

Oh well, you can't say that you weren’t warned!

Sunday, 14 June 2009

Farmyard Tales

Here's Holly at the farm along the lane from the cottage, the one where she keeps her chickens, ducks, lambs and Benjie her sheepdog.

The cow you can see in the corner is nameless, the cow with no name, which is unusual on Gewronwy's farm where pretty much all of the animals have names given to them.
The cow with no name is on guard. She's guarding her two calves, Ollie and Hollie. It's pretty unusual for a cow to give birth to twins but TCWNN managed it and is very protective of Ollie but doesn't seem to have much time for Hollie at all. Tcwynn? Now there's a thought! maybe I'll suggest to Geronwy that he call her Tcwynn, the addition of that 'Y' makes it sound very Welsh immediately.
Anyway, here's a picture of some of Geronwy's sheep waiting to be fed. Left to right: Bethsheba, Nancy, Willow, Ashley, Mrs Brown, Kitten, Hazy and Sunshine (twins), Milly and Molly (more twins), Cathy, Kerry, Apricot, Methanwy and Pepsi.

Friday, 12 June 2009

Nasty, Wasty, Catnap…

Look at her in her Misty chair, all snug. Apparently cats can spend as much as twenty-three hours a day snoozing, catching forty winks, just generally catnapping. Misty seems to be no exception - when she’s not washing, she’s sleeping.

She loves that chair, just look at her paws. What’s she doing? First flex, then relax, claws in, then out - legs and whiskers jumping and twitching, all furry and purry. Is that purring? She’s making some funny noises – I expect she’s dreaming. I wonder what about – mice, birds, treats, nice nin-nins? Yes, I wonder…

Stop, stop! I’m king of the Celtic cats; you should be viewing me with guarded superstition, you should fear me, not... well not this! That’s the problem with druids – one minute they’re scared of you, the next they’re tossing you into huge burny bonfire. Poor, poor, kittie - not a nice way to go. Stop it I tell you…stop!

In Roman Gaul and Irish lore I was the 'Little Cat', a guardian of treasure. I could turn myself into a flaming ball of fur and burn thieves to ashes if they tried to steal my master’s treasure. Don’t you even know your own history? Put that knife thing down, it looks sharp... do you want me to turn into a ball of flame and set fire to you? Put it down I say, put it down.

I used to live on an island inhabited by men with cat-heads. No seriously, don’t laugh. I’m in all your Celtic sagas - you know the ones about the Monster Cat, the ones where I fight your pathetic Celtic Heroes and beat them. You used to think that I was as dangerous as that red Dragon thing you hold so dear, so what happened? No, don’t tie me up! I don’t like being tied up! Ouch! That’s far too tight; I can hardly draw breath to meow.

Listen, Purrhaps I should explain… I’m the Welsh Great Cat, born of the enchanted sow Henwen. Originally I was human - just like you - they used to call me 'Puss of the Corner'. Why? How should I know why? But let me tell you that I could eat nine score warriors and still have room for a pudding. Haven’t you heard that Monster cats and sea-cats are common in Irish myth? Well, I’m one of those and you are going to live to regret this you… you… Mistletoe fanciers!

Put me down! If only I could get my hissing claws into you.

Okay let’s stop playing pussie, now don’t get frightened, but even you lot must know that I have powers - what about all the witches cats? I’m magic, M-A-G-I-C, so let’s stop all this and we can all pretend it never happened. We can put it behind us and all be friends, otherwise… I’ll have to put a curse on you and change you all into little white mice and then you’d better watch out!
Stop I say! Stop, stop, stop, stop, stop, stop!

Caithness is named after me - doesn’t that mean anything to you? Please stop! I want to go home. I want to go back to my cosy chair. I want to go home to Foodies and Hisfault, even that whirling dervish girl. Please stop. I’ll be good - I promise I’ll be good.

Now look, I know that us cats don’t play a huge part in Celtic tradition, never have, never did, but even you should know that I have chthonic powers and am thus viewed as funerary in your so very backward culture. You should all be terrified of me… do you hear? Terrified! I’m prophetic! Prophetic! Do you know what that means? It means that I am an omen, a portent, potentially your worst nightmare. Didn’t they teach you anything in hissing Druid school?

Perhaps that’s it? Perhaps this is a nightmare. A nasty, wasty, catnap. Wake up me! Wake up me! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up! Wake up’

Oh, how sweet. Just look at her pulling all those funny faces, and she’s snoring. She must be dreaming, and whatever it is she’s dreaming about it certainly looks like she’s having fun…

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Small Pleasures…

I was driving home M6 from Birmingham last night, the weather all shade and showers, smell of freshly cut fields coming in through the air conditioning, light changing minute by minute - when suddenly it hit me… WHAM!

The green! It was all so green. How had it escaped notice until this moment?

Early June in the British countryside. Green things growing greener by the tick, the fullness of life all around and sure promise of fruit yet to be fulfilled. How lucky I am to live in this land of ours, despite having to put up with the treachery and flannel of our simpering politicians – they can all go whistle - I have my bench.

Small pleasures no. three.

My garden bench.

How lucky I am to live in this land of ours and how lucky am I to have this bench to sit on in the evenings on my Welsh weekends; sun slowly sinking redly in the distance, drinking a glass of me-made cider surrounded by seed grown plantings, pots, and come-along beach finds. Picture me sitting so absent-mindedly listening to the birdsong, breathing it all in.

Ours is a quiet lane – a cyclist or two, a car every hour or so, the occasional dog-walker, once a flock of sheep, big noisy tractors at haymaking, an escaped cow once every blue moon. A good place to let your thoughts wander.

Sometimes mine wander far and deep. I go everywhere and nowhere - backwards, forwards, up, down, real, unreal, dark, light, hot, cold. Other times, contentedly, I just stay where I am.

Sometimes I remember, and sometimes I make myself forget – it just depends.

‘That feels nice’, ‘Good to see you again’, ‘To infinity and beyond’, ‘Don’t do that, please don’t do that.’, ‘On the top of the Crumpetty Tree’, ‘Well done!’, ‘I don’t like this at all’, ‘That blue is all wrong’, ‘Why? Ju-Wu, why?’…

It all comes to settle as I sit on my bench.

Rupert Brooke - 'Hearts at peace, under an English heaven'? Sometimes, usually - and it applies equally under a Welsh one.

Sitting on my bench absent-mindedly listening to the birdsong, breathing it all in, it’s so easy to believe - it really is a wonderful life.

Wednesday, 10 June 2009

Oh arr oh arr aay, oh arr oh arr aay…

I make my own cider, sometimes I even drink it.

Making cider is easy. I get my apples from the farmer up the lane. They are quite sweet, not very big, they make really good cider, but best of all – they are FREE!

Here is a simple recipe for making cider. Give it a try, what have you got to lose?

There are twenty steps to heaven. Buddy Holly lied.

1. Get hold of some apples – if you have a tree, great, if not, scrump some – nobody will mind.
2. Wash the apples in the bath. Just water, no soap.
3. Cut out any mouldy bits. A good rule is – if you wouldn’t eat it; then don’t put it in your cider.
4. Pulp the apples. There are lots of ways of doing this. For small amounts you can use an electric kitchen juicer or a blender. I’ve tried this and it takes forever, so I filled a metal bucket half full of apples and hit the apples repeatedly with a hammer. This was too tiring. Eventually I took to chopping the apples up with a machete and then putting them through a mincer… that killed ‘em.
5. Once you have a nice juicy pulp you need to press your pulp to get the juice out. I made an apple press from four G-clamps and two large wooden chopping boards, one on top, one on the bottom with the pulp in-between and one G-clamp at each corner. I wrapped the apple pulp in new dishcloths, placed between the boards and started turning the screws, tightening them one at a time, corner by corner. The juice drips out on all sides and into a large dish that I found. It takes a while to get five gallons of juice, but it works. By the way, you are going to need two to three carrier bags of apples to make a gallon of juice – so get scrumping.
6. I pour the juice into a sterilised plastic keg that I bought from a Wilco store. TIP - Always fill the keg to the top; even if it means having to use a little bought apple juice or even (gasp) sugar water. Having a half-full keg is a good recipe for vinegar.
7. Chuck in two pounds of sugar – brown or white, you choose. You don’t need this but it will boost the alcohol content a tad (hic).
8. No yeast needs to be added, traditional cider making relies on wild yeasts, but I add a little wine yeast (again from Wilco) and the juice and zest of a lemon. (I just chop the lemon in half, squeeze the juice out into the keg and chuck in the rest of the lemon -why ponce about? We are making man’s cider here).
9. Wait for the fermentation to start. Within 1-2 days you should see whitey brown froth bubbling on the surface of the juice. Don’t panic, it should be doing this - the live yeast is gobbling all the sugar and then excreting it to make alcohol, the bubbly, gungey, stuff is just wind.
10. Wait a few weeks for the fermentation to stop. You’ll know when this is because the yeast stops farting and the bubbles cease.
11. Put a teaspoon of sugar in as many sterilised 500 ml sterilised plastic bottles as you think that you are going to be able to fill. I use the stuff that you sterilise baby’s bottles with rather than Camden tablets, it’s less caustic.
12. Use a siphon tube to siphon the cider into the plastic bottles. The fancy brewing term for this is ‘racking off’ – so you will be able to say that you are racked off with a reason.
13. The sugar will cause the second fermentation to begin a day or so later. This puts the sparkle into the alcohol - apparently the champagne makers stole this technique from the cider makers. If you want your cider to be still (scrumpy-esque) then don’t add the sugar.
14. Wait.
15. Wait some more.
16. Wait some more – don’t be tempted.
17. Give in to temptation.
18. It’s recommended that you leave it to mature for at least eight months… but hey!
19. Taste a little (or a lot if it’s that good) to make sure it hasn't gone badly wrong.
20. Invite some good friends around to get very drunk with you.

My last batch was about 9% alcohol (hic) and sparkling. I de-clouded it with some beer finings and it was perfectly clear. It is all gone.

I’ve left this batch cloudy and still. It’s also about 9% (hic, hic).

I’ll let you know how it tastes in… well as long as I can wait. I never manage eight months, I’m lucky if I manage eight weeks!

Now watch this… it’ll get you in the mood for plenty of cider!

The Wurzels Link

Cheers! Was that Nick Ross from Crimewatch on accordian?