Friday, 31 July 2009

Creepy weepy crawlie...

Misty gets into the strangest places, in the boot of the car, up a tree, I even found her in the bath playing with a spider the other day.

Look where she is now. Up on top of the cupboards again - I wonder why she does that...

‘I like it up here. I’m safe from everything up here. Nothing can get me up here, nothing at all, not even the creepy.

I don’t like the creepy, it has too many legs and I hate its stripy yellow body. I don’t mind the brown things with the eight legs, eight legs aren’t too many, but the creepy has hundreds, the creepy scares me.

There I was having a little lie down and a wash thinking about playing with stripy mouse, when all of a sudden I felt a tickley thingy on my neck and when I looked down there was the creepy climbing up my fur. It was horrible! It was all wriggly, legs everywhere, and its horrible yellow pincers were going snippety, snap, snippety, snap.

Only one thing for it! I jumped up onto the work surface, then the cupboards and onto the divider. I can keep watch from up here… make sure that it can’t get me. I don’t want it coming to get me again - horrible little creepy weepy crawlie.

I wonder what it wants? Maybe it is coming to get me because I ate the eight legged thing, maybe that’s it, maybe its come to get revenge, maybe it’s the eight-legged things friend. I’ve seen them in the garden, scuttling around, buggley eyed, but never in the house before. I bet it’s the eight legged things friend and it’s come to get me… I think I’ll stay up here for a while, make sure that it’s gone. Yes, I’ll stay nice and safe up here…’

Are you all right Misty? What’s the matter? You look like you are looking for something. What is it… a spider? You’re not scared of spiders are you? Spiders are nothing to be scared of… now centipedes they’re another matter…

Thursday, 30 July 2009

On the bench...

Here’s the third ‘right under your nose’ thing:

No3: Bench Plaques

I was in Scarborough this week and saw this bench plaque not far from the Crescent Hotel where I was staying. I had no idea what a Soroptimist was, what the society did, or that in 1971 it had been the golden anniversary of the Soroptimist Society (whatever that was).

It piqued my curiosity and I needed to find out. Was it a secret society of men who met once a week, rolling up there trouser legs and placing tied handkerchiefs on their heads, after all it was Scarborough? Or a group of optimists who also belonged to the Society of Radiographers? Maybe even a dead German girl with a boy’s name who disguised herself through an anagram – RIP Miss Otto?

So I checked it out and it was none of these.

Founded in 1921, the Soroptimist society ("best for women") is an international volunteer organisation for business and professional women who work to improve the lives of women and girls in local communities throughout the world. The organisation seeks equality, peace, and international goodwill (not much then) along with the improvement of professional skills and the support of human rights, specifically women's rights. The SS has around 95,000 members in more than 120 countries and their head office is in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Interesting… anyway, back to benches.

We all see them don’t we, benches in memoriam to Dora, or Terry, or mum, or dad - we all see them, but we don’t really see them at all do we?

There are over 215,000 memorial benches in the UK. Every town, village, or hamlet will have at least one, some towns will have dozens, some larger cities may have thousands!

Next time that you pass a bench look for the plaque and read it – you never know what it might be commemorating…

Just take a look at these.

Wednesday, 29 July 2009


Don't switch off this isn't just another post about AA boxes, it's a true story.

AA box 487 can be found on Dunmail Raise on the A591 between Keswick and Ambleside, Cumbria, England. It is perhaps, and maybe always was, the most picturesque of AA boxes, sitting proudly in the magnificent beauty of the Lake District.

This picture was taken by my old friend Glyn Bailey whilst he was on a very recent walking holiday with his two sons Tom and George in the Lakes. I’ve passed it several times over the years and when I heard that Glyn was staying nearby asked him to take a picture for me and he graciously agreed.

For a brief period back in my childhood, during the bitter winter of 1963, this AA box became almost the only topic of conversation at our house in King’s Close. Speculation on what had happened in the box was rife, and spoken of in low voices by my mum and ‘aunty’ Clara as they drank their cups of hot tea at the table in our gloomy kitchen as the snow continued to fall heavily outside. I overheard some of it, most of it, and to this day I can’t drive past box 487 without recalling the story of Josh Winstanley and the tragedy that I heard about as my mum and her friend chatted at that long-ago kitchen table.

Back in the winter of 1963, the year of the big snow, a bus broke down a mile or so from the box on Dunmail Rise. Fortunately the bus was empty of passengers and only the driver, Josh Winstanley, was aboard when a fierce storm set in. At first Josh wasn’t worried by the snow, but after three hours of continual snowstorm he decided to make his way to the small farmhouse that stood close to the AA box, a little way along the road from the bus, and seek shelter from the terrible storm that raged around him.

It took him about an hour to walk a little less than a mile, strong winds and drifting snow hampering, and at times almost halting, his progress. When he arrived at the farmhouse the doors were locked and the windows shuttered against the storm and the tenant, Frederick Chadderton, fearing becoming snowbound, had left that morning to stay in the relative security of Keswick with his Mother, Clara Brunswick, a twice widowed shopkeeper.

There was no way into the farmhouse and meanwhile, the storm had worsened. Josh considered making his way back to his abandoned bus but immediately realised that the total white-out conditions of the storm would make this far too dangerous; it would be impossible to find the bus and it was almost nightfall, there was no going back.

There was only one thing for it. Josh had his car keys with him, his car was parked at the bus station in Keswick, he’d been looking forward to the end of his shift and driving home to his wife Molly. Obviously this was now impossible but he did have an AA box key on his heavy key ring. He’d been an AA member for almost two years after buying a 1957 Hillman Minx convertible. It was his pride and joy, and joining the AA had seemed like the sensible thing to do even though Josh was no stranger to the workings to be found beneath a car bonnet. Josh decided that he’d have to shelter in the AA box until the storm subsided; at least he’d be out of the biting wind, after all the storm couldn’t last much longer.

Josh unlocked the box struggling to break through the ice that was frozen to the brass lock and, tugging the door closed against the storm behind him, stepped into the darkness making ready for the long cold night ahead.

Unfortunately for Josh it wasn’t until almost four days and three long nights later that the storm subsided and the South Lakes Mountain Rescue crew were able to get through the snow to find him. A snow plough had reported Josh’s bus abandoned on the A591, almost up to the top deck in a drift of snow. They began a search immediately.

Less than two hours later Josh was discovered frozen to death in the AA box, he’d been dead for at least two days, his hand frozen to the receiver as if trying to make a call but the weight of the snow had brought down all of the lines within a seven mile radius of the Dunmail Raise box, AA box 487.

Some say that if you stand outside the box at night on the anniversary of his death you will hear him asking: ‘Operator, are you there? Are you there operator?

Of course she never is. Others would say that it is only the wind.

On the morning that Glyn visited the box for me our idea was that he would get there early, before six, and pose almost naked outside the box clutching only an OS map to hide his embarrassment. Unfortunately the weather on that day was so bad he had to give up on the idea and he took this picture from the warmth and safely of his car. That’s the thing with the weather in the Lakes - you never know when some bad stuff is going to set in and spoil your plans - as Josh Winstanley found out to his cost back in the long cold winter of 1963.

Box 487 - watch the video...

Tuesday, 28 July 2009

Patch, peach, and fool's gold...

It’s turning out to be a bit of a slow week in my world.

I’ve been mainly caught up in travelling and meetings, even the weekend was a little flat – it rained and then rained some more, and by the time Sunday came and it had stopped raining it was time for me to get back in the car and drive away again. Life is like that sometimes – unsatisfactory.

My Aquilegias have all finished flowering and we’re rapidly moving towards that time of year when the plants grow too big, too quickly, burn themselves out, and start their collapse into autumn and then the disappearance of winter.

That’s the thing about blogging so regularly, sometimes when your cat has stopped doing tricks, and your rubber ducks are content to simply bob in the bath, you are left with unsatisfactory space to fill. I was hoping for something in the sky this morning, a rainbow, a cloud in the shape of a kangaroo, lightening – but the sky was that flat, hazy blue that you get on pleasant mornings when there’s not much weather around.

I suppose that I could write something about Harry Patch, the last survivor of the trenches of the First World War who died aged 111 a few days ago - but what could I say that hasn’t been said already? Besides, my experience of the Great War is a few war poems read at school and a grandfather who was gassed in the trenches and died long before I was even born - and I’m saving that tale for another day.

Perhaps I should write about the two gifts I was given by a friend yesterday. She had a much more interesting weekend than mine, a stunningly good weekend by the tweet of things. She gave me one of the outdoor grown peaches that she’d harvested and a small piece of fool’s gold that she’d picked up from a beach on the cold east coast where she lives.

Fantastic! English peaches and fool’s gold, I’ve never had either before.

It’s practically impossible to grow free-standing peach trees anywhere in the UK, at least it is if you want them to fruit - it’s doomed to failure but you will take years to fail - you can grow a peach tree fan-trained against a south-facing wall and they’ll sometimes produce a large crop of fruit. My friend’s tree did - dozens of peaches - so there’s jam, crumble, syrup, and pie to come – lucky, lucky her.

Home-grown peaches are meant to be far better than those available from the shops because commercially grown peaches are harvested before they are ripe and never develop the full taste of a tree-ripened fruit. I shall be eating mine tonight at midnight (midnight is the best time to eat fruit) so I’ll let you know.

Fool’s gold is actually the mineral pyrite, an iron sulfide - FeS2. It does look a bit like gold - it has the same metallic luster but is generally a little paler, it’s heavy, but not as heavy as real gold. One way to test for true gold is to place the ‘gold’ on a hard surface and whack it with a hammer. If it disintegrates it’s iron pyrite and if it simply changes shape and flattens a little, then it’s gold.

Shall I, just in case? No I think I’ll keep it as it is.

It must be easy to mistake fool’s gold for real gold and a South African peach for an English one – there’s no mistaking Harry Patch though and with his death we all lose something of our pasts. He was in the trenches in the same war as my long dead grandfather, perhaps even the same trench who knows.

Yes, the Aquilegias are over for another year and autumn will soon be with us.

Harry Patch on Facebook

Click to see my beautiful Aquilegias including my first blue in frame 3

Monday, 27 July 2009

Duck Danni duck!

Oh goodness! What have we here? It looks like there’s a new duckling in town and I don’t think Danni will like that. No, look at him – I don’t think he likes it one bit.

What’s Danni’s saying? Something about second rate nose-studs and silly big quiffs, it sounds like he accusing this other young duckling of copying his look… badly. And now he’s saying something about this town not being big enough for the two of them… punk! Oh no, that is so typically Danni, speak first and think later…

And that new duck looks like he can handle himself!

Don’t push it Danni!

Too late! There he goes, putting his webbed foot well into his bill without thinking about the consequences. It was probably a mistake to call this newcomer a quackpot, and definitely not a good idea to say that his hair looked like a Duck’s arse (gone wrong), and certainly very stupid to follow it up with a comment like ‘you’re a no good, quackless, mother ducker’.

There is going to be a duck fight I think!

Look at them go. To be honest there’s no way Danni is going to win… well, he’s not exactly well-built is he? I don’t really want to be the one to say this but as litters go Danni would definitely be erring towards the runt side.

OUCH! I think that might have hurt! You should have ducked that one Danni!

Oh well Danni better luck next time. At least Dilly is here to patch you up, put the odd plaster here, some disinfectant there. You’ll mend, it’s only a few scratches and a couple of bruises.

By the way - anyone have any idea who that other young duckling was?

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Carry on up the garden path...

We are having an early harvest this year. Apparently it’s something to do with all of the sunshine and warmth we’ve had. I know, I know, it feels like we’ve had a lot of rain but in reality we have had far more warm sunny hours, than cold wet ones.

Do any of you listen to ‘Gardener’s Question Time’ on Radio 4? I do sometimes. I listened to it this afternoon. This week’s came from Hampshire. There was a question about getting rid of fungus on Quinces, another asking how to improve the foliage for a potted Camelia, even a tip about it being a good time to scatter Aquilegia seeds around. It was the usual kind of informative, slightly eccentric mix of speculation, advice, pitiful humour and ridicule of the audience - all very reassuring and cosy.

I must have been listening most of life, since I was a boy on my granddad’s knee (no – there were no Werther’s back then). I’ve heard all the greats – Bill Sowerbutts, Professor Alan Gemmel, Daphne Ledward, Franklin Engelman, Geoffrey Smith, Clay Jones – and for some reason when I hear their names, in my mind, I see them seated behind a long cloth-covered table, panel-style, on a tall wooden stage, dressed in tweed and smoking pipes – every one of them… even Daphne.

These days the chair is the wiltingly unfunny Eric Robson with panelists - Chris Beardshaw, Matthew Biggs, the organic wonder that is Bob Flowerdew, Pippa Greenwood, the cute and deadly boring Bunny Guinness (she does have the best name ever though), the ever so slightly punky (in a well-groomed way) Carol Klein, Roy Lancaster, Anne Swithinbank, and the incredibly terse, needlessly sarcastic, very rude, and even more incredibly annoying John Cushnie – only Cushnie wears tweeds in my mind these days, the rest wear jeans and tops from Fat-Face (Cushnie’s tweeds are starched and itchy and he has black electrical tape over his mouth to SHUT-HIM-UP)!

Today’s GQT is lighter than in the past, not as seriously educational or earnestly botanical, they make so much effort to be funny and sometimes come so close to almost succeeding that it’s easy to forget that they are talking about the noble science (or is it art?) of horticulture.

I listened to an episode back in February that was… well, it was like listening to a cringingly bad sitcom from the early seventies. The BBC ended up apologising for running it, although they did run it twice, and did have a chance to edit, after all the show is pre-recorded.

See what you think: The listener asked for some advice on the Rhodochiton volubilis, the purple bell vine. Native of Mexican woodland, it’s an attractive plant that winds through undergrowth and produces dark purple tubular flowers that droop down from a lighter hood. I’ve grown it quite successfully from a cutting that I ‘borrowed’, but this listener was having problems getting it to stand up straight, he also said that the purple bell vine was also "commonly known as the BMW, or black man's willy".

BMW? Ooo-errr- missus… No, listen… I’m serious. That is really what he said – check it here if you think I’m deviating – LINK.

The panel immediately proceeded to giggle and snort their way through a discussion about the plant. Organic guru Bob Flowerdew said that he’d "only ever seen one close up - and not that colour", Ooo-errr… Gardener’s World presenter, Anne Swithinbank, commented that she’d "never seen one in (her) life. They don't really like the cold, as you can imagine. They shrivel up and look very unhappy." Ooo-errr- missus!

…Shrivel up and look very unhappy! I ask you! Dr Stephen Buczacki would have turned in his nicely landscaped grave (if he weren’t alive and well and living in Stratford-upon-Avon. Well… where else?).

What do you think - harmless innuendo, or deeply offensive jeer?

Anyway, we are having an early harvest this year and in my garden there isn’t a BMW in sight. I’ll just concentrate on keeping my globes safe, thank you very much (I’m growing globe artichokes this year). Just look at my potato basket, don’t my spuds look lovely and round in it. Which would you prefer - a long, firm cucumber or my thick, curly courgette? I keep my cucumber warm in a plastic frame, I don’t want it wilting in the cold… and whatever you do, don’t put my chilli pepper anywhere near your mouth, it is red hot… arf, arf, arf!

Friday, 24 July 2009

Puss in boot...

They say that curiosity killed the cat. Well I'm not sure about that, I hope not, but just look at Misty. The things she gets up to. Once we opened the boot in town only to find Misty asleep inside, we had to tie some string to her collar and walk her around the shops with us...

Mmmm...a nice wash before I go off to the shops with hisfault and foodies, I want to look my best don't I.

I wish they'd get a hissing move on, all this waiting about is making me tired. Where in Mu-Mu are they?

Come on you two. I want to get to the shops. I can't stand around here all day. I have places to go, people to meet, hurry along now.

Might as well have a look around whilst I'm killing time. What's in there, up there, over there... dum-di-dum-di-dum... hurry up, hurry up.

Right, I'm not waiting any longer. I'm getting in. I can't stand around here all day.

They might have left me a bit more space. I see that they've been at the wine again, getting the evidence away from the scene of the crime eh! Good idea, wouldn't want the neighbours seeing all those empties.

If they don't come soon, I'm going on my own! I'm meant to be having lunch with Ginger at 1.00, he's bringing the fish and we're going to have a picnic... where are they, where are they?

Just look at Misty pacing up and down. It's almost as if she's waiting for us to take her somewhere. Come on Misty out of the boot, you don't want to end up in town again do you.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Walking on the Moon...

Here I am in 1969 at school choir practice.

Those of you who know me will probably recognise me, even though I was only twelve and in my first year at Lord Williams school for boys. I was a day boy; there are a few other day boys in the picture, but most are boarders – School House boys as opposed to New House boys, in-school as opposed to scholar, silver as opposed to Sheffield plate.

If you don’t know me, I hope you have fun guessing which of these I am – I could be any of them, but I’m not, I’m me even then.

I remember a few of these boys, although not all. Of the other boys in this picture (I won’t bore you with their names), one of them went on to be an officer in the army and was killed in Northern Ireland, another is David Tomlinson’s (the father in Disney’s Mary Poppins) son, another had a father who made bespoke harpsichords, and another is a famous musician. The rest are probably just doctors, entrepreneurs, or QC’s these days. Silver as opposed to Sheffield plate.

See, I told you there weren’t many day boys in the choir.

I didn’t know that this picture existed until earlier this week when, browsing Lord Bill’s old boy’s web site, I came across this and a few other pictures of me in my early teens. It came as a bit of a surprise to see me staring out of the picture, I didn’t know that there were any photographs of me at this age, we certainly don’t have any at home - I decided to be ‘unphotographed’ by choice from about eleven onwards. I’m NOT a member of the Old Thamensian Society, but I thank them for my pictures.

I remember the day this photograph was taken.

FLASH! It was the twenty-first of July 1969. I remember it for two reasons – firstly the choir was going to be photographed rehearsing Offenbach (at least I think it was Offenbach) and secondly it was the school day after most of us had stayed up into the early hours watching one man take (a) small step and one huge leap for mankind.

FLASH!Man Walks On The Moon!' The day that Neil Armstrong took the very first step on the moon.

FLASH! Look at our faces. We look a little tired but still full of the wonder of the events that had kept most of us up until past two o’clock that sunny Monday morning.

FLASH! On that day I felt that I could become anything - an artist, a philosopher, an explorer, even an astronaught – please God, an astronaught. Maybe one day I would go to the moon. We would have a colony on the moon by the year 2000, the ‘Sun’ said so - but that was still a lifetime away.

FLASH! Look at my face. In 1969 I was an empty page awaiting the first paragraph of the story.

FLASH! You might not know which one of these boys I am, but I recognise him. I can see who he was and who he’s going to become.

FLASH! The boy that is me is still catching moths, collecting eggs, maybe hasn’t yet given up on Father Christmas. Look at him, concentrating on the music, concentrating on ‘Bones’, the choir and biology master, conducting Offenbach or whatever it was. He doesn’t know on that most optimistic of days that he’s just on the cusp of disappointment, that he’s waiting to learn about failure, learning how to lose his dreams - he doesn’t know that he’ll never be an astronaught and that there won’t be a space station on the moon by the year 2000, despite what it says in the ‘Sun’.

FLASH! Look at him standing there, his school tie crisp with newness, shirt collars not yet frayed, in his grey school suit - so full of hope for the future.

FLASH! I remember the photographer in his tweed jacket and trilby hat. ‘Don’t look at the camera, look at the master’. FLASH! I remember the photographer’s flash attachment, round and silver. He held it high as he pressed the button. ‘Hold it!FLASH! It shone like the moon and left a green after image that faded away slowly. FLASH! In 1969 they landed on the moon and I was photographed singing in the school choir. FLASH! There was no digital photography back then - in our house we had a black and white TV, a fridge, an iron, and a transistor radio - we didn’t have a phone or central heating, not even an electric toaster, but somehow they still managed to put a man on the moon!

I’ve been there and seen it. No, not the moon, the Kennedy Space Centre, in Florida - I went a few years back with a group of friends from work. I saw the launch pad, the Apollo’s, the Gemini’s, moon suits, mission control, landing craft, training pods – I even reached into a glass case and held a piece of the moon, a piece of the moon that Neil Armstrong had picked up and pocketed all those years ago while I was waiting to be photographed singing in the choir.

FLASH! I have held a piece of the moon.

That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind?

It seems to me that as Neil Armstrong took those first steps on the moon he was on the cusp of disappointment, waiting to learn about failure, learning how to lose his dreams. That piece of moon was little more than a small, grey, stone. The dream of going to the moon had been the thing – and once done, the dream was over.

Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Going off the road...

Gaynor is jealous of my sat-nav woman. She simply can’t stand her. It started as soon as Trudi opened her mouth.

Who’s Trudi? Trudi is my sat-nav woman - it’s what I’ve been calling her for a while now.

There we were, the three of us, happily driving along, Gaynor pulling faces at the sat-nav screen, me listening to Trudi’s strangely sensual electronic voice, when Trudi made a mistake. Not a very big mistake I hasten to add, she just told me to leave the roundabout at the second exit when I needed to leave at the third, probably a new exit that hadn’t been data-entered yet. It wasn’t Trudi’s fault, nobodies perfect, and she’s usually spot-on… but Gaynor pounced immediately.

“She’s useless! She got that wrong! I thought she was meant to know where she was going. Second exit! If we’d followed her instructions we’d have ended up in that field with all those piles of sand and loose chippings. She’s useless, stupid bloody… womany, thing”.

I thought at the time that her reaction was a bit out of order, and there was absolutely no need for a personal attack on Trudi. Perhaps it’s because I listen to Trudi and do what she tells me. Well, her recalculations have saved me hours of waiting in traffic queues, she has all the latest traffic information, and she is so patient. I didn’t say anything though; sometimes it’s better to just let these things go.

A few days later we were driving across to Haydock. I turned Trudi on (figuratively speaking), we were trying to find an equestrian supplies outlet and we’d never been there before. About twenty minutes into the journey I began to notice that each time Trudi spoke Gaynor repeated what she was saying with what I can only describe as ‘ her sarcy voice’ adding the odd word or two to help the sarcasm along.

T. “Follow the road for the next five hundred yards”.

G. “Follow the spiffing road for the next five hundred yards”.

T. “Turn left at the second turning”.

G. “Turn left at the second turning dahling ”.

T. “Proceed along the road for two miles”

G. “Proceed along the la-di-da road for two miles”

How odd, I thought, it must be Trudi’s accent that Gaynor doesn’t like. Well, she does sound sophisticated and you can tell that she’s had a good education, comes from a very good family probably. I'd guess her father’s in business or maybe even a doctor.

Trudi only had to make the slightest mistake - stating that we were off-road when we weren’t, or telling us to turn at the roundabout when the roundabout had been made into a flyover - and Gaynor would be off! Criticising, ridiculing, sneering… it got so bad that I stopped using Trudi (figuratively speaking) when Gaynor was in the car with me.

I now keep Trudi for myself. She never uses my name but no matter - I have brackets and my imagination for that - and of course, I use her name when I’m talking to her…

“Please turn left at the next junction (Andrew).”

“Okay Trudi. I will.”

“At the roundabout take the third exit and proceed along the road (I really like your shirt it makes you look so handsome).”

“Thanks Trudy, that’s very nice of you, I’ve had it for ages, I just haven’t had any reason too wear it until now”.

“(Pink really suits you. You manage to look sensitive, yet so masculine in it). Follow the road for three miles and await further instructions (What are you doing for lunch? Should I direct us to a nice little place that I know around here? We could get to know each other a little better).”

“Errrr…. Yes that would be very nice Trudi, very nice indeed. Thanks…”

Oh well, Gaynor should have tried to like her better, this is what happens when you spend so much time alone in a car with another woman, I don’t think I can be held to blame though, and it’s only lunch after all, I’m glad I wore this shirt, Trudi’s right… sensitive AND masculine… WHAT a combination…

Tuesday, 21 July 2009

It's all done with...

Well, ice crystals actually, but more of that later.

My oldest daughter Cloe is recently back from ten days in the Caribbean, the Dominican Republic to be exact. From what she tells me she had a great time, swimming with dolphins, waterfall jumping, seeing strange lights in the sky.

Seeing strange lights in the sky?

Yes, but I’m not talking flying saucers, there are lots of strange sights to be seen in the sky that are completely natural and totally beautiful. We’ve all seen a rainbow, now what could be more beautiful than that? Answer, a double rainbow, I’ve even seen a triple rainbow, and what about that rainbow halo that you get around the moon sometimes on cold nights. I’ve seen rainbows around street lights and once I saw a rainbow fog about six feet above a field at Hell’s Mouth in Wales.

Of course you have to be looking and most of us don’t, and by not looking we miss such a lot. I’ve shown you what I see in the clouds but what about the other stuff that happens in the skies? What stuff? The really beautiful, spectacular stuff that’s available to us all absolutely free of charge. Of course you have to be in the right place at the right time to see it, but sometimes you yet lucky.

Cloe was, she was lucky enough to see a sun halo whilst she was in Dominican Republic, that’s the picture she took of it at the top of this post. Sun halos are rare, they are caused by ice crystals in the upper atmosphere and refraction, most optical phenomenon are, so not exactly mirrors but something close. Sun halos are sometimes accompanied by sun dogs… tell you what, how about I show you in pictures (they’re not mine but they are copyright free). Yes, I’ll do that, if you want to know more you can always go to Wikipedia, I did.

Don’t forget ‘look to the skies’, you never know what you may see and to prove it here’s a great video that Nicki C e-mailed me. PLEASE watch it - it is interesting and truly beautiful, and let me know what strange things you've seen in the sky... I'd be interested.

Just click on the link below:
Sky Clip.

Things I have seen. Top left: triple rainbow – Top right: aurora borealis – Bottom left: circumhorizontal arc – Bottom right: lightening

Things I would like to see. Top left: circumzenithial arc – Top right: light pillars – Bottom: sun halo with sun dogs

Oh, and by the way… for those of you who prefer Dolphins, here’s a picture of Cloe cuddling one in the Dominican Republic. Can life it get any better than that?

Monday, 20 July 2009

Getting in the swim of things...






Just look at them. You think that they’d been swimming for years rather than just a few minutes. They’ve taken to it like… well, like ducks to water… two of them anyway.

As you would expect, they all approached it in their own individual ways – Dolly splashed straight in, all flounce and confidence, Debby took her time, easing herself into the water, just to be sure that she wasn’t going to sink, and Dani… Well Dani did the Dani thing, he attacked the water, going in all guns blazing, daring the water to make him wet, getting too close to the waterfall. It was all bravado of course, he was very nervous, went into the water in a real panic, and he almost got into trouble - he didn’t let anyone see it though.

Not that anyone was there to see how nervous he was, apart from Dolly and Debby and they were so busy learning to swim for themselves that they hardly noticed him struggling. They didn’t see him almost giving up and ducking out. He got there in the end, but I don’t think he’s ever going to be a confident swimmer - not as confident as Dolly, or as graceful as Debby – no I think he’s always going to be a little awkward in the water.

It was funny, but when he was in the pool he kept looking around as if he were expecting someone to be behind him, watching, spying on his attempts to remain buoyant. There wasn’t anyone there of course though.

Poor Danni, I think he’s actually a little scared of the water, as if he didn’t have enough issues to deal with. Oh well, he’ll get used to it I expect.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Phantom followers...

I’ve been thinking about writing this post for months, ever since Cheri Amor turned up followed by – well, I’ll come to that. Have any of you noticed how people and even characters that I have written about in my blog are turning up as followers? I thought it was quite amusing at first but now I’m not so sure.

The first time something odd happened was back in May when a new follower called Sheri Amor turned up and left a message for Misty. Now it always flattering to get a new follower, particularly when they are a stranger, but Sheri Amor is a 19 year old female from Binan Laguna in the Philippines. She is fond of Rhythm and Blues, not keen on movies, likes writing, cam whoring (which isn’t what it sounds like) has a blog called Amourous, is on myspace, and is a Capricorn.

I web-checked her and she appears to be real, I even found her myspace, blog and photographs… how very odd that she should follow me. Admittedly, she only followed me for a week and then disappeared from the followers list - she left her tracks though.

You can see her message to Misty here.

Even odder ‘misty’ (I assume Misty the cat) responded to Cheri’s message and left her a message. What was happening here? A Pilipino teenager and a cat corresponding on my blog… how interesting. Later a new Misty_the_cat turned up as a follower (the one that is still with us), I have a suspicion as to who that one may be (Holly), but that first ‘misty’ message – who was that?

I have a number of readers who dip in and out of my blog and never leave messages, I seem to have some people who regularly read but follow anonymously, leaving the occasional comment, and of course I have my regular followers who read and comment (I thank them for being interested), but imagine my surprise when a dead person turned up as a follower. You may remember that I wrote a post about getting in contact with Orson Welles by Ouija. I haven’t experimented with the Ouija since and one of the reasons is that after that particular post Orson Welles made an appearance, leaving comments and even posting a picture of himself in the follower’s gallery.

After that new phantom followers continued to turn up at regular intervals - the voice of the blog, Salvador Dali, Denzil Duck.

Now I had no intention of Dilly’s lost egg ever turning up as a lost duckling, but since this Denzil has become a follower I’m thinking about bringing him into the lives of my rubber duck family. How strange is that? It seems that an unknown follower calling himself Denzil Duck is beginning to direct my blog. Yes, the lunatics really have taken over the asylum, in fact they are even adding new wings to it, what next… a conservatory?

Generally I know the identities of the people following me. I know who SAR is, and David, but there are a few people who comment occasionally that I really have no idea about, they aren’t followers but they still comment. So just who is ADWORKS, and are these phantom followers all the same person or are they different people borrowing names from my blog? Which of you is Misty, who is TVOTB, do I know Orson, and who on earth is Denzil Duck? Are you all reading this at the moment?

It can’t really be Orson Welles and Salvador Dali can it?

I’m becoming a little paranoid about the whole thing. I’m convinced that Cheri Amor was a scam to make money, she’s probably a fifty year old man in the Phillipines, and if I’d had made e-space contact with her I’d have been bombarded with sob stories and requests for money. Her original profile was tailored around my interests gleaned from the subject matter of my blog. It told of a single parent sister and a sick auntie and uncle with whom Cheri was going to live with whilst studying at university. Yes I think that young Cheri Amor is definitely a scam… but what about the others?

Just to prove I'M not making Cheri up, take a look at Cheri’s friendster page here.

You know, I wasn’t even totally convinced about Sacha until I made contact with him away from the blog (sorry Sach). Of course, logic should have told me that nobody would have known about my old school friend, but then logic isn’t talking to me much about my phantom followers. That’s Sacha in the picture, handsome young fellow isn’t he? Sorry again Sach, but I couldn’t resist it - bet you didn’t know I had that picture did you?

Okay, so I have some phantom followers - ‘So what?’ I hear you ask.

Well, today perhaps the oddest thing of all happened. I posted a picture of Holly for her birthday and Misty_the_cat responded (which is not that unusual, is it Holly?), but then somebody called Trudi Satnav responded to the photograph as well. Now, only a handful of people at work, and my friends and family know that I call the sat-nav in my car Trudi. Is it one of them, all of them, are they my phantom followers?

Spooky. Right? Well, even spookier is the fact that I wrote a post about Trudi the night BEFORE she turned up on the blog. It isn’t even published yet, I’m going to post it some time this week, and NOBODY knew about that, not even Gaynor.


I’m beginning to feel as though I’ve stepped into a Steven King novel where the writer (there’s often a writer in SK’s novels) is writing about characters which then start to appear in the real world…

No. It can’t be that…

Can it?

Friday, 17 July 2009

The Big Cheese...

Misty’s going out with the KatKam on again today. Off you go Misty, enjoy yourself and bring us back some good pictures, bye.

There she goes, off to have some fun, now where did I put that cheese? It needs grating ready for lunch…

‘Oh, I don’t feel well. I’m so tired and I feel all fuzzy. I’m hot, my eyes ache, and everything looks blurry, like I’m looking at it through the bathroom window. Maybe I shouldn’t have eaten so much cheese… Ouch! My tummy hurts, nasty cheese, nasty cheese… Maybe if I just close my eyes and rest…….

Mmmmff… what was that? Pesky bird, it flew so close it woke me up and almost took my whiskers off. I might have catched it, if only I’d been awake. And what’s that? That trembly thing, like the ground shaking…Whoaaaaaa… Help… I’m faaaaaaaaaaaaaaallingggggggggg… Meeeeeooowwwwwwwwwww!!!

Humph! Where am I? Oh no! I’m underground…why am I underground? Am I dead? Has Hisfault dug a hole and buried me? Did that nasty cheese kill me? I’m sorry Hisfault, I didn’t mean to take the nasty cheese, let me out, let me out, it’s dark in here, I don’t like it! I’m not dead, I’m alive, I’ve only used two, I’ve got another seven left! I can smell cheese! Why can I smell cheese? Is this a cheese mine? Is that where cheeses come from?

What’s that slithering sound? Oh no, look the worms are coming to eat me! The worms, the worms, they’re huge, all slippery slimy! Go away you nasty worms… I’m not ready to be your Nin-Nins. Oh no, they smell like cheese, they’re cheese worms and they’re going to eat me! Cheese worms in the cheese mine and they’re going to eat me! Let me out, let me out, don’t let the cheese worms get me, don’t let them eat me!

Wait! Who’s that? No, not him! Not the devil cat! It is! It’s Ginger Nick! He’s the big cheese in the Catacombs! That’s it! Not a cheese mine at all, I’m in the Catacombs! I’m doomed, dooooomed d’ya hear me! The devil cat, Ginger Nick! Go away Ginger Nick, I’m not ready to go to the Catacombs, I’m a good cat, I deserve to go to Purradise - Purrgatory at the very minimum. Cheese? Me? No, I don’t know anything about any cheese. I’m innocent I tell you, innocent! Don’t take me Ginger Nick! Let me go! Let me go! Let me go… Where’s he gone?

What’s that light up ahead? It’s getting brighter, I feel like I’m moving along a tunnel and the light is getting bigger, brighter, bigger, brighter… look grass… grass and sunshine… have I gone to Purradise? See, I said I was a good cat. Mu-Mu, I didn’t mean to take all of that cheese, it was an accident, I swear I thought it was for me.

Now what? Why is everything going all golden? Why is everything all shiny and yellow like… like cheese! What did you say? I mustn’t go towards the light... not towards the light… I must stay away from the cheese light? I’m not dead? Not ready to be dead? I’m alive, and I must stay away from the cheese light! Misty, stay away from the cheese light, stay away from the cheese light…’

She needs to stay away from the light… three of the ten shots were just blanks, probably over-exposed, and one was just solid black. Perhaps she fell asleep somewhere really, really dark - the rest of the shots were pretty good though. Either way it looks like she had quite an eventful day. Whatever happened, she looked terrible when she came back – all wobbly, wet and damp, her fur sticking up all over the place - did it rain? She looks a little out of it, maybe even drugged, I hope she’s not been eating something nasty. Come on Misty lets get you dry, you’re not looking so good, what have you been eating?

And I never did find that cheese...

Happy Birthday...

Happy 15th Birthday Holly. Don't worry I'm not going to embarrass you by saying anything about how fifteen years ago when I watched you being born that I had no idea that you would out to be the person that you are today, no I won't say that, or that I'm actually quite pleased with the way you are tuning out because that might embarrass you too, nor will I say that despite the fact that you mumble and speak far too quickly that most of what you say makes sense when I can make out what you are actually saying. No, I'll just leave it at a simple 'Happy Birthday' and this picture of you being 'bonkers'.

Happy Birthday Holly xxx

Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Fray...

On Thursdays I allow myself to listen to the voice of the blog. Not that I have much choice. Thursdays are his day, so he can pretty much say what he wants and I have to listen. It’s like the films that run in my head, I have to watch them as they flicker away even when I don’t want to. And of course Thursday is my experimental day – Thursday is about the sound and feel of the words not the tale, a day for a little creative self-indulgence. But then you already know that don’t you? Here goes…

You should by now know that I have an affinity with stones.

I love the ‘pick them up and slip them in your pocket’ feel of them, their smoothness, their contained self-life, not self-contained life that means so much less.

They speak to me.

Some stones more than others though. Some stones say very little, it is something to do with their colour, shape, pattern, or form. Others shout at me… ‘You there, look here, I am me, a stone to be reckoned with, revered, contained, picked up and pocketed and kept secret from the fray’.

The fray, the fray, the fray. Shhhhhh. Secret from the fray.

This is not to say that all stones that speak loudly, with authority and knowledge, are interesting in their appearance, but they all have an internal message that makes me notice them and keeps them secret from the fray…

The fray, the fray, the fray. Shhhhhh, kept secret from the fray.

My most special of stones I keep close. My MOST, most, special of stones I keep and group together (away from the fray, away from the fray, the fray)… and then there are the others, my MOST, most special of stones who call to me with such emotion that they lift my spirit and call ‘MAKE - US - MORE’!

These ones have no need to fear the fray… they are the few the fray is a-feared of.

A- feared by the fray, the fray, the fray.

I have a few of these; some in Wales, one in my pocket always (to keep me safe from the fray, safe from the fray, the fray), and nine others who wait on the shelf of my office window arranged and made more. ‘MAKE - US - MORE’!

My window stones are balanced; so carefully, impossibly, balanced that the slightest movement can send them separating into the empty space that waits to envelope them and out into the fray, (out into the fray, the fray)… they are polished and smooth. So polished and smooth that I, with my shaking, old man coming, soon paper-thin-skin hands, should not be able to balance and stop the slide of the shimmering polish…

But I do.

It is about both concentration and need.

My need, their concentration - our need to hold back the fray.

OUR need to hold back the fray (the fray, the fray, the fray).

My need to hold back the fray.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Getting there...

Last Saturday we were up in the High Peaks picking up Holly from her Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme outbound weekend. Part of The DOE is to find your way around with just a map and a compass… a map and a compass?

Now, I don’t know about you but I’ve never really got the hang of compasses despite the fact I used to have one in the sole of my shoe when I was a boy. No, really - how proud I was of my Wayfinders, my adventure shoes – sensible black lace-ups, compass in the inner sole, ten animal footprints imprinted on the outer sole, so that if you came across an animal track you could slip off your shoe, stand in the mud in your grey socks, and see if it was a rabbit, a fox, a badger, a deer, an otter, a racoon, a mongoose, a polar bear, a unicorn, a yeti… no dog footprint though, if there had been a dog footprint then I would have tracks to follow to my hearts content.
No, I never have had the hang of compasses, and I’m not even slightly good with maps, so it’s a good job I live in the UK where our land(s) are small enough to carry a broad mental map in our heads.

I’m okay as long as I know (more or less) which large town my destination is close to. If I know this I can usually get within twenty miles of it without the need for a map, and once I’m THAT close there are always signposts. Not that they can always be relied on.

In Wales the signposts often point in completely the wrong direction – turned around by young (they have to be young to reach) jokers delivering a blow for Welsh Nationalism to lost holidaymakers. I must have spent cumulative weeks totally lost in my early years of becoming Welsh, trying to find my way home from this place or that place on narrow roads that never seemed to be the same road twice – even when they were.

I know the roads very well now but still occasionally one pops up that I haven’t travelled before. I think they just appear from nowhere, from the past or maybe the future; and I can never resist taking them. It’s got me into some really interesting situations over the years I can tell you (and probably will in some future post).

I still remember the old wooden signposts from my Oxfordshire boyhood, white painted, hand-carved, beautifully ornate. Who made and maintained them? I never saw anyone painting them (maybe they were self-maintained by magic, the past is a bit like that) and of course there were the worn stone milestones by the side of multiple arched, mellow stone bridges, the lazy river meandering its way beneath - Aylefbury 5 milef.

Thank goodness for my sat-nav. Without it I don’t think we would have found Holly at Hartington in the wilds of the High Peaks. I’d have got within a few miles (Buxton) using my mental map - but after that it would have been down to road signs, and I don’t know if this is just me, but road signs seem to be getting fewer and farther between.

Yes thank goodness for sat-nav – ‘Please turn right in two hundred yards and continue to follow the road’ – not that I had any plans to stop following the road and go cross country. Perhaps sat-nav technology is the cause of the demise of the road sign – after all, who needs road signs, maps, and compasses when we have a Global Positioning System?

Maybe road signs are going the way of the other interesting things I saw in Hartington. The commemorative pump that’s no longer used (internal plumbing is the norm now I believe), the old Victorian post-box (yes another!), standing outside a tea-room behind an outside table and some chairs (I had to move them), and the phone box (despite offering e-mail, text and phone) was very dusty inside (I know, I looked, my finger came away black when I wiped the receiver).

How long the signpost?

These days we can all arrive at our destination without the need for a mental map. You no longer need to know where you are going to get there. There’s no need to plan a route, look at a map, consult an A-Z. These days you can get to where you are going without having to worry about the journey.

I wonder if that’s a good thing… after all what is the destination without the journey… and what is the journey without knowing the route that led you there?

Yes, I’m for putting the compass back in our shoes.

Tuesday, 14 July 2009

Tiger moth...

Here’s a moth I found in the garden in Wales at the weekend. It’s a Garden Tiger, isn’t it striking, so perfectly symmetrical.

I like moths, there’s something about them that makes them just that tiny bit more interesting than butterflies. I’m not saying that I don’t like butterflies, I do, but moths are a little more mysterious, slightly more threatening and somehow edgier.

Moths are creatures of the moon.

As child in Oxfordshire I used to catch Tiger Moths all the time, once I even caught a rare Emperor Moth in the old willow tree by the cottages. I would set my torch on the ground, pick up my well-used cane fishing net bought for sixpence and Mrs Rileys, and wait for the moths to arrive. I would keep them in my jar for an hour or two, watching them frantically flutter, and then let them go. Sometimes I would find moth chrysalis hanging in the dark corners at the back of the tool shed and these would also go into my jar, suspended on a piece of privet, until the moth unfolded itself and emerged all new, to be freed to fly away.

Much later my parents moved and went to live in the centre of Exmouth in Devon. They had a second floor flat in a big Georgian house with large gardens, not far from the church. I can still hear the chime on the hour and the smaller chime on the half, floating on the crisp, sharp air, on a late summer evening.

When Holly was a baby Gaynor and I would often visit for a week or so, using their flat as a base to explore Devon, visiting the nearby villages, or going further afield to Salcombe or up onto Exmoor. I think they were happy in Devon and I’ve never really understood why they upped and moved, without warning, to Anglesey one day.

One night when we were staying at their flat, reached by the wide red painted concrete steps, a planter full of bedding flowers on each step, I couldn’t sleep. I watched television for a while, but as the night became the early hours I got bored and went into the flat’s small galley kitchen to find myself a drink. Turning on the light I noticed a small white moth fly in through the open window and start to flutter around the buzzing neon light, then another, and another – soon there were seven or eight moths of different sizes and colours dancing along the tube. They looked so delicate, all lit up by the blue-white light, their feathery feelers quivering as their downy bodies battered against the glass. They were going to hurt themselves. I reached into the cupboard, took out a pint glass, turned it upside-down on the counter, and began to collect the moths.

After three hours I had four upturned beer glasses each with about twenty moths fluttering away inside – striped yellow and black moths, emerald green, pale grey, brown, black spotted magpie moths, white ghosts, pastel blues, moths of all sizes and shapes fluttering and spinning against the glass still trying to make their way up to the light above.

I read up on moths after my moth hunt. The reason moths circle the light isn’t because they are attracted to it. Moths are creatures of the moon, and they use it to help them navigate in the dark. When they get too close to a light, the moth does what nature tells it to do - it keeps its body aligned in relation to the light source, so if the light source were the distant moon, the moth would fly straight. After all, the moon is a long way away - but my Mum’s fluorescent tube wasn’t the moon and since the light was so close, my moths ended up flying in circles making them easy for me to catch.

I must have caught at least seventy moths, maybe as many as a hundred, in about four hours. The sun was coming up when I set them free, watching them drunkenly flutter away through the open kitchen window into the cool, morning air to wherever moths flutter away to in the daytime.

I went to bed happy. I don’t know why. Perhaps I felt like a boy again, a boy with a jam jar and a Tiger Moth.

I must go moth catching again… maybe - just maybe, I’ll catch the boy once more as well.

Monday, 13 July 2009


They’re here at last!

After all the patient waiting Dilly’s ducklings have come out of their shells and launched themselves into this wonderful life… and what a launch… what a coming out… just look at them!

Don't they look cool? What fun we are going to have!

The confident looking one with the green beehive and pink sparkly necklace is Dolores, Dolly for short. She’s a bit of a throwback to Dubby’s Elvis period, do you remember the time that Dubby was an Elvis impersonator? Well, as a result Dolly loves all things fifties and simply can’t wait to start dating some hunk on the football team (Dolly this is Wales, not Pennsylvania). I think she’s going to be something of a handful, just look at the way she wears her eyelashes, so Max Factor, and at such an early age! I just hope Dilly and Dubby know what they’ve let themselves in for.

The moody punky one (yes I know, punk is so long ago, maybe he's another throwback) with the random black patches, blue Mohican and silver nose-stud (sorry, bill-stud) is Dennis. He hates being called Dennis though and prefers Dani, only Dilly is allowed to call him Dennis, and only then if he’s in the right mood. He likes to think that he’s got a bit of attitude, but underneath it all he’s a real softie and worships his two sisters, particularly Dolly, he admires her confidence. Dani’s not really very confident at all, he’s a little sad inside, that’s why he rebels a little. It was Dani’s twin that went missing and he thinks a lot about it, he’s still hoping that one day he’s going to turn up.

That cute little thing with the whimsical red curl is Debbie. Thank goodness we have at least one relatively normal duckling in this trio. Debbie’s the quiet one, the sensible one, the moderator, the one who always sees the good in things. Debbie was the last to hatch and is the baby of the family, everyone looks after Debbie, she’s the apple of Dubby’s eye already, she can do no wrong, not that she ever would, after all she’s practically perfect… Now what is it they say about the quiet ones?

So there we have it - Dilly and Dubby’s new family - Dolly, Dani, and Debbie. What a splendid family group they make.

I wonder what surprises they have in store for us and what adventures they are going to have.

One thing I am pretty certain about though… Misty’s going to have her work cut out with these three on the scene.

Watch this space...