Monday, 31 August 2009

Little Duckington – The return of the prodigal duck…

If I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes I wouldn’t have believed it, but I was there when it happened and I witnessed it all.

I don’t know what Danni was doing at the pond, after all he hates water, swimming and all that – but when I turned the corner there he was wading in to rescue the little chap. I had to do a double take, they were so similar – same makings, blue crest, bill stud, the other one was a bit smaller, but apart from that they might have been brothers.

Anyway, as I said by the time I got there Danni was in the water and guiding Donni – yes, that’s what he said his name was – back to the safety of the bank.

Out of the water they looked even more alike, different crest styles, but apart from that so similar, so similar that… no, it couldn’t be. Could it?


Donni told Danni that he was an orphan. He’d been found as an egg by Father O’Mallard the local vicar and taken to the orphanage where he’d hatched and then run away. They hadn’t treated him badly, but he’d felt that there were other ducks out there who belonged to him and whom he belonged to. So, he’d crept away one night and started searching. He’d been living alone ever since, finding food where he could and sleeping rough. He’d gone into the water to see if he could find anything to eat, he was starving, hadn’t eaten much for three days - but he’d never really learnt how to swim, had got out of his depth, and got into trouble.

I saw them looking at each other, I don’t think that either of them could believe the similarity between them. I think it was Danni who first realised who Donni was; the markings, the crest, the nose stud, the poor swimmer thing, but most of all the feeling of familiarity was simply too much to be ignored.

“Welcome home brother.” I heard Danni say quietly. “I’ve missed you, but it’s all right now.” And with that they rushed towards each other and gave each other a brotherly hug. “Come on Donni; let’s get you home. I know some other ducks that are going to be very pleased to see you.”

I heard afterwards that Dilly recognised him immediately. She held Donni tight, and sobbed, and laughed, and quack-a-doodle-dooed, all at the same time. Debby and Dolly made such a fuss over him, stroking his crest, feeding him, asking him question after question, and billing and cooing over their little brother. Apparently, Dubby was down the pub – so I have no idea what he made of it all.

And Danni? Well, Danni just stood and smiled at Donni. He felt good, his long-lost brother was back and he was going to make sure that he never got lost or went away again.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Caught in a Breugel...

My family on my father’s side are of Dutch decent. They came across from Holland in the early 1800’s and settled in Lincolnshire. They were blacksmiths and farmers; lumpy, country folk – like me.

Breugel was Dutch. He painted the lumpy, country folk; they were the bread-and-butter of his subject matter - peasant weddings, peasant children playing games in the square, peasants returning from the winter hunt… and peasants being robbed by vagabonds.

I found this little drama in one of Breugel’s paintings, I won’t tell you which one, take a look for yourself, he’s a marvellous painter - that poor chap in brown looks like he’s being robbed, maybe even worse, by those two unsavoury characters in the funny hats. I think he’s reaching for his knife to protect himself - he looks a lot like me, I hope he draws his knife in time.

Yes, he looks a lot like me. I hope it wasn’t one of my ancestors, but if it was I hope that he got that knife out in time.

Friday, 28 August 2009

Cleanliness is next to Catliness…

Did I mention that cats spend ninety percent of their time asleep? They can be rather delicate creatures and subject to a good many ailments, but I never heard of a cat who suffered from insomnia. Yes, they like a snooze - but there’s no snooze button on a cat who wants his or her breakfast.

And after breakfast – what then? Why a good wash of course…

“Some people say that us kitties are sneaky, evil, and cruel – all true, and we have many other fine qualities as well, one of them being cleanliness – we must be clean, and as the saying goes ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’. Thousands of years ago, we cats were worshipped as gods, so as we say - ‘cleanliness is next to catliness’. We’ve never forgotten that cat-god thing, even though those hissing dogs seem to have done. Cats are SO much smarter than dogs; who ever heard of getting eight cats to pull a sled through snow… mush, meoww, mush, meoww, mush… I don’t think seoww!

After all, dogs come when they're called, whilst us cats take a message and get back to you later, maybe... ‘after the tone please leave a message…ddddrrrrrrr…I’m sorry, your call has hissing disconnected. After the tone please leave a hissing message… I’m sorry, your call…’

Hisfault and Foodies think that they own me, but nobody owns a cat. In our eyes, all things belong to cats, particularly ourselves – talking of which, this cat’s eye needs a good lick and paw. There, that’s better, no sticky-wicky, gungey-wungey, now.

I’ve always worked on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want, and it seems to have worked okay so far - I have food, shelter, love, autonomy, a soft bed, respect, a collar, no fleas, strokes, a brush, my own chair by the fire, two hundred guineas per annum… Dogs believe they are human, but cats believe they are God - did I mention that already?

There…all clean, as clean as a whistle, which, if I were a dog and whistled, I’d come to. But I’m not, I’m a cat. I’m Misty the cat, my own me, nobody’s hissing pet unless I want to be.

Collette, the writer once said ‘time spent with cats is never wasted’ and she was right. Perhaps I should start charging for my time? Mmmm, I’ll have to think about that. How does three kittie-treatie sticks an hour sound?

There, all clean, and smart, and ready for another sleepies. I’m only up to eighty-two percent today and washing up is such hard work - I heard Hisfault say so yesterday evening after supper…”

Yesterday I told Gaynor (in a moment of madness after washing up cat dishes endlessly for over twenty minutes) that it was either me or the cat – and do you know what she said? She said that she’d miss me sometimes, but only when Misty wasn’t around for company. Oh well…

Thursday, 27 August 2009

A bit snappy...

Here are some of the photographs of the flowers that I took whilst wandering around Bodnant Gardens.

There were flowers everywhere you turned so it was almost impossible not to be tempted into taking a few snaps of them. Anyway, I was tempted and here’s the result. I’ve never really understood why people take pictures of flowers until recently; actually I’ve never really understood why people take photographs at all until recently, but now I get it – I can’t stop snapping. I carry a camera with me everywhere and mourn the photographs that I should have taken but never did – New York, Paris, London, Munich (everybody talk about), Christmas, childhoods, Barbados, birthdays… I still have time though – and digital photography makes it so much easier.

Some of my photographs end up in this blog wrapped up in some words and thoughts, most of them languish in folders on my laptop gathering dust and waiting for the moment when I might need them as illustration or inspiration.

I have lots of photographs in waiting. Pictures of the countryside - animals, clouds, trees, Little Duckington, insects, birds, Misty, drain grids, waves – lots and lots of photographs, but there’s one subject that escapes me – my wife Gaynor.

Gaynor doesn’t like having her photograph taken. When I try she walks away, turns her back on the camera, or finds some other way of stopping me snapping her – a brick to the head, a shove off a precipice, maybe a well-aimed punch to the solar plexus. I don’t know why being snapped should make her so snappy, but it does - and I have yet to get a photograph of her for ‘the record’.

I came close with this one though. If only I’d been a second quicker I’d have managed it, the Holy Grail. Goodness knows what would have happened if I'd succeeded – a smashed-to-smithereens camera (what is a smithereen I wonder), a decree nisei, an ‘unavoidable accident’ with a piece of pipe in the library… who knows? Anyway, I wasn’t quite quick enough this time and ended up ‘snapping’ the hand, much to Holly’s obvious amusement. The picture serves you right Holly – after all, you pulled that face, not me.

I’ll keep trying, I’ll get her one day, she WILL appear in my blog sooner or later. It’s only a matter of time, some luck ,and good lighting.

Yes, I’ll get that snap of her sooner or later.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Head in the clouds again...

It’s all a bit cloudy…

There have been some interesting clouds in the sky this Summer. No, not those mid-level grey ones, the altostratus, those horrible flat clouds that often bring rain – the other ones, the interesting ones.

Just look at the clouds in the picture – the wispy cirrus high up in the atmosphere, the hazy cirrostratus, the band of low lying stratocumulus over the mountains. I think there may even be a lenticularis forming over one of the mountains. This is the view a couple of miles along the road from our place in Wales, and those are the mountains of Snowdonia in the distance, although in this photograph they are almost incidental - I really only wanted the sky, isn’t it glorious.

Way off to the right you can just see the start of a mackerel sky – cirrocumulus stratiformis undulatus – so called because the clouds look like the patterns of a mackerel’s skin. That’s it below, it looks a little like looking at the sky through that rippled glass that you sometimes see in seventies front doors doesn't it? It’s meant to mean that good weather will continue - let’s hope so, I still have plenty of wall to paint.

Update - The day started wet but soon cleared up and was sunny and warm so we got on with the painting. Looking up I was amazed to see these beautiful Cirrus Flocus high overhead, those tails are trails of falling ice crystals. I forget the painting for a while and just watched them floating high over my head. Well, maybe not floating – that almost forty-five degree angle is caused by incredibly strong, fast winds in the upper atmosphere, the tail-end of Hurricane Bill hits us tonight which may have something to do with it. So a hurricane is coming, no painting tomorrow then. Oh well, it’s still a wonderful life, made even more wonderful by the clouds above our heads.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

A snake, a winged jewel, and a visitor from abroad…

One of the great things about being out and about in the countryside is that you never quite know what animals you are going to come across. Here are three of the creatures I’ve seen in the last week or so – a dragonfly at Bodnant Gardens, an adder up the lane at Geronwy’s farm, and a little egret (the white bird with the long legs that looks a bit like a mini-stork) on the estuary at Caernarfon yesterday. It really is worthwhile carrying a camera around with you but even then you don’t get everything; last Wednesday I saw a green woodpecker for a second or two, and a brown lizard scurried under a log in the garden this morning. I also saw a curlew, a plover, and a pair of lapwings at the estuary, but they were too far away to get any decent photographs. Last night I caught a glimpse of two tiny bats from next door’s loft, probably pipistrels, but it was far too dark to get a picture. And our far-to-fast-growing buddleia has been covered in butterflies – admirals, tortoiseshells, whites, painted ladies, one tattered peacock caught in a spider’s web.

I’ve passed a variety of road-kill – a badger, a fox, several squirrels, half a dozen rabbits, a stoat… and that adder in the montage above – yes, I found him dead by the side of the road, not too mangled, so I picked him up with a stick and arranged him in a semblance of life in the hedge. You didn’t really think I’d get that close to a venomous snake did you? Do I look stupid? No, on second thoughts, don’t answer that.

Monday, 24 August 2009

Duck call...

Who is Dilly on the phone to?

I think it could be her French cousin Colette Canard. Yes, it’s Colette alright – I just heard her say ‘Oui, bon – mais je ne sais pas…’ and then something about a ‘chapeau’ – whatever a chapeau is.

Colette lives in Paris – that call must be costing a fortune, it doesn’t look like a quick quack. I wouldn’t want to be in Dilly’s shoes when Dubby sees the bill. Oh, I forgot - Dubby’s probably not that bothered about bills these days, after all he’s got his bill stuck into other things.

Ah, looks like they’ve finished at last. My French isn’t very good but I’m sure that Colette said ‘See you soon, ma Cherie’. I wonder if she’s going to pay Dilly a visit. Perhaps Dilly needs a sympathetic wing to cry on and what could be better than her Parisian cousin to cheer her up?

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Wet paint...

Will this rain ever stop?

It was all going so well. Between the three of us, Gaynor, Holly and myself, over a few long mornings and some even longer hours in the early evening, have managed to paint the front of the cottage, more than three quarters of the side and Holly has painted most of the front of the wall. That only leaves – well an awful lot more wall to paint at the back and up above.

If only this rain would stop.

We’ve had a lot of rain this summer. The weather men got it wrong again promising a ‘Barbecue Summer’ but not delivering. I think we’ve had three or four barbecues all season; the weather hasn’t been good enough - it’s even raining, the west wind blowing its cheeks out, as I write this.

Oh well, perhaps the rain will stop tomorrow and we’ll be able to get back to our painting – there really is a lot of wall left to cover.

Saturday, 22 August 2009


Now what was his name? It’s on the tip of my tongue. Blondie? Blondano? Blondinski? Blondini! That’s it, Blondini - The amazing Blondini! Blondini the hire-wire artiste who walked across Niagara Falls on a tightrope - did he make it, or did he fall to his death? I can’t remember…

“Ladies and Gentlemen, I present the one and only Mistini! Mistini the fearless - conqueror of the kitchen cupboard, climber of trees, and master of the five-bar gate. I look nonchalantly this way; I look death-defiantly that way. Do I know no fear? Watch me as I navigate the dangers of the sticky-out bit (steady now it’s a long way down and this is tricky), overcome the treacherous lucky horseshoe (is that the right way up?), and reach the end of the gate with an inquisitive sniff (Mmmm, doesn’t smell of anything much).

Did I hear applause? Thank-you ladies and gentlemen, thank-you… and now for your further delectation, to once more astound and astonish you, be prepared for the hairs on the back of your necks to rise with trepidation and tension… Yes, ladies and gentlemen - I shall now turn around and go back the other way!

Maestro, roll the drums please.

Mmm, that sticky-out bit again… I think I’ll just sit here for a bit and wait until it goes away, I didn’t much like it last time, and I can’t really spare another life.”

… and wasn’t it Blondini who walked a wire hung between two skyscrapers in New York – didn’t he fall that time to? No he can’t have done – only cats have more than one life to lose.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Thirty minutes only…

The parking sign says ‘thirty minutes only’. Okay, thirty minutes, enough time to make a couple of stops in Beaumaris.

Stop one. Pick up some milk from the post-office. What a queue! But I’ve still got almost twenty minutes; I’ll just have a quick look around and see what I can find.

Stop two. To photograph this beautiful iron and glass coal hole cover, made at 187-189, ‘Something’ Street in the borough of London, and then imported to Wales. I’d kneel down and clean off that dirt to find out the name of the street, but people are already staring at me taking pictures of the pavement – I don’t want them calling the services. That glass must be very thick, even with all the crazed cracks it’s holding together pretty well. The house it stands outside of is tall and thin and looks out towards the sea – a merchant’s house maybe – I wonder what he traded in?

Stop three. The main street, on the way back to the car, to photograph this old door, set low and deep in one of the oldest houses in Wales. This house, number thirty-two, dates from the 1400’s and used to be an inn – I doubt it was called number thirty-two back then though, more likely the Bloody Bull or The Saracen’s Head. The door looks to be more recent – only a couple of hundred years old I’d guess (only!). It has an interesting knocker; I think that could be Neptune. It’s a hammer type, pity it’s lost its hammer. I wonder what the hammer was… my money’s on a trident!

Twenty-eight minutes, two minutes left, time to get back to the car. Amazing what you can find when you look – even if you do only have ‘thirty minutes only’.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009


We went to Bodnant Gardens at the weekend, met up with my friend Mr Kirkham and his wife Alison, we walked around, took in the sunshine; and Glynne and I snapped everything in sight, from every angle possible. I’m quite new to the joys of photography but Glynne is an old hand and takes great photographs - I want his camera.

The weather was fine and dry and the gardens were beautiful. I took some pictures that will probably turn up on this blog when I can get to a more reliable signal. But for now you’ll have to be content with my Water Lilly pictures. The building you can see in the picture above is a wonderful garden folly that stands at the end of a long thin pool which seems to stretch forever, reflecting the clouds on its surface.

I love Monet’s Water Lilly paintings; he painted them over and over. I’ve seen some of the originals, the colours are impossible to describe, blobs and flecks of paint capturing the flowers and their reflections in the water perfectly. I can see why Monet loved painting them, I found myself fascinated by the lilies that floated on the various ponds and pools in the gardens and took dozens of photographs of which these are just three.

So this is MMM - my Monet moment.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

what is it?

It's Bardsey Island at the bottom end of the llyn with a sun dog reflected in the sky above it. Those cirrostratus clouds have been around a lot this summer, they hold the ice crystals that cause sun dogs to appear. When I was a boy we called them Mare’s tails because that’s what they look like – I still do.

You can read about Bardsey Island and sun dogs elsewhere in this blog.

Monday, 17 August 2009

Fish and friend...

This is Debby’s fish - Fido. Yes, I know Fido is an odd name for of fish, more of a dog’s name, but Debby always wanted a puppy. Thing is, dogs often chase ducks and that would have been a bad idea - so Debby had to settle for a fish. Besides, they have such a lot in common; they swim, eat the same food, and compliment each other in colour terms. I really can’t see Debby, fetching a stick, gnawing on bones, and covered in thick brown hair – can you?

They seem to be having a good long chat. I wonder what they're talking about?

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Red door,blue door...


I saw these two doors in Pwllheli. The red one is in the arched entrance to what I think was probably an old coaching house - there was a cobbled yard behind the arch. The blue one is in the centre of the town down what we call Windy Alley - it is a funnel for the wind in winter.

I like their dilapidation, the layer-on-layer of flaking paint scars that they bear, the crumbling brick and cement of their surrounds, the locks, knobs and hinges, the initials scratched into the plasterwork – their decay.

These doors make me wonder… who made those scratched initials, where do these doors lead, what’s behind them? Perhaps they open onto a flight of steep stairs that climb up to a glass observatory on a midnight roof, or a dark, windowless room containing nothing but a dusty rocking chair, or a long narrow passageway leading who knows where?

I wonder?

Friday, 14 August 2009

I'll be back...

I'm not around for a couple of weeks - did I hear a sigh of relief? I'll try to blog mobile but it is not the greatest. I'll see what I can do though.

Now don't be forgetting me whilst I'm away.


Talking of cats...

Misty can fall asleep just about anywhere. Her sleeping arrangements seem to go in cycles, for a few nights she’ll sleep at the end of the bed, then move to the chair in the bathroom, maybe for a week or so she’ll treacherously sleep at the top of the stairs, occasionally on the rug, once half sitting on a cool-bag in the car boot, and most recently in the holdall that I’ve been bringing my stuff to Wales in each weekend. She gets right into it and pulls the top across so that she is actually fully inside the bag. I wonder why she likes it in there…

Mmmm I like this bag. It’s nice and cosy, not like in the old days. In the old days putting a cat in a bag was a nasty trick and you could get hurt or even deaded. The farmers used to sell their piggles in bags and sometimes instead of a piggle they’d put a cat in the bag, nasty men – ‘letting the cat out of the bag’ meant that they’d been found out and the buyer hadn’t bought ‘a piggle in a poke’.

Not much fun for the cat if the buyer of the piggle didn’t find out until he got home though, it wasn’t the poor cat’s fault, but it’d be him that ended up in the river, all drownded in the bag if he was unlucky. My uncle Tomster used to tell some terrible stories about drowning kittens when I was a just a catnip, he used to have us squealing and mewling in frets with his terrible tales.

Those peoples are always talking about us cats - and why not? After all we are the superior of the two races. Even so, some of the sayings aren’t very nice - ‘there are more ways of killing a cat than choking it with cream’; what a horrible thing to even thinks. I don’t mind ‘when the cat is away, the mice will play’, after all mice will be mice, or ‘all cats are grey in the dark’, whatever that means – and anyway, I’m grey all of the time not just in the dark - but ‘curiosity killed the cat’ and 'more than one way to skin a cat'! Well I hissing ask you, why would anyone wish that on us?

My favourite is ‘a cat may look at a king’. Quite right! After all us cats have royal blood. I’m descended from the mighty Mu of Egypt.

I’m not one to ‘cat around’, ‘play cat and mouse', ‘set the cat amongst the pigeons’, but I don’t like the phrase ‘raining cats and dogs’, I don’t know why they need to mention THEM, ‘raining cats and cats’ would have been better, that would have been ‘the cat’s pajamas’, not that I wear them, and anyway, I prefer ‘the cat’s whiskers’. I’m not one to ‘turn cat in the pan’- you see I’m not a ‘whichever way the cat jumps’ kind of cat, but when they say ‘like herding cats’ I’d like to see them try. I’m a ‘cool cat’, a bit of a ‘fat cat', not literally obviously, but they’d never say ‘look what the cat dragged in’ about me. Nor ‘cat got your tongue?’, ‘not a cat in hell’s chance’, I’m hardly the silent type.

Now, I’m not one to play ‘cat and mouse', I like to be up-front, come straight out with it - and I don’t like to ‘cat call’ - but it makes me as ‘nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs’ when Hisfault looks at me that. He’s not thinking of taking me to market is he? No he’s ‘grinning like a Cheshire cat’ so he’s not in a moodies with me, he doesn’t mind me being in his bag.

Good, I like this bag, it’s ‘the cat’s maiow’ - some might say that there’s ‘not enough room to swing a cat’, but I think it’s purrfect, it makes me happy - I must ‘look like the cat who ate all the cream’. It’s such fun being in here that it’s ‘enough to make a cat laugh’. I think I’ll call it a sleeping bag - maybe I should patent the idea. Oh well time for a ‘cat nap’ – ‘let sleeping cats lie’ as those peoples SHOULD say…’

Just look at her! Is she smiling? I think she is, she looks just ‘like the cat who caught the canary’

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Shooting stars...

Did you see the shooting stars last night, The Perseid meteor shower?

No, me neither. Why is it that when ‘once in a century, lifetime, decade, year’ celestial things come around its always too cloudy, or foggy, or happening somewhere else? Oh well, there’s always next year.

The meteor shower, caused by the dust of the debris trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle as our world passes through it , is there for a few days then gone for another year.

Just like Thame fair. Thame fair; it’s only a few weeks away (calloo callay). As a child it was around this time, shooting star time, that I’d begin to get excited by the thought of the fairs arrival.

I felt the first lazy yawn of autumn in the air today – the smell of smoke and crunch of leaves, the mists and scudding indigo grey clouds. Almost time for the fair, the fair is coming, the fair is coming.

The mid-September fair in Thame was such a ‘magic’; such a ‘magic’ that every year I could hardly wait for ‘Thame fair week’ to arrive. Of course it wasn’t a week - the fair would arrive on Wednesday morning, set itself up with the wave of a wand, the swish of a top hat, and stay just a few short days, running the length of Upper and Lower High Street - like a long, stretched out, sleeping dragon awaiting the breath of life.

Three nights only - Thursday, Friday, Saturday - by lunch-time Sunday gone; as if it had never existed, the smell of candy floss and onions blown away, the popcorn cartons and brass BB gun pellets swept neatly up or pocketed by small boys, the tiny, plastic-bagged, goldfish all taken home to die in too small bowls a day, a week, a month later, but all too soon.

Half-a-crown, two shillings and sixpence, twelve and a half (new) pence; what pleasure it bought – and one for each three nights, one year a ten bob note! Hard to believe that I rode, and threw, and eat till sick, THREE NIGHTS, for all of fifty pence!

A ‘go’ on the rolling ball clowns, their sinister faces scaring me when I was not quite four, ‘score over twenty to win a prize’… Hoopla, ‘win a fiver’… the Penny arcades, the steel ball bearing spinning around and around, into the cup, and all to get your copper penny back… one arm bandits, ‘three cherries and you win a shilling’... the laughing policeman, ‘ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, ha, haaa… the haunted house, ‘look out, look out, here comes the GHOST’!

And the middle, by the Abingdon, the huge white, Boxing Tent, men only, no children or respectable women, ‘all comers taken! Go on Bob, go on Bob!’… the Tunnel of Love, ‘never, not me (but wishing I could)’… the Dodgems, and Rockets, and Ferris, the Helter Skelter… and the clang, clang, clang, of the brass bell upon the wooden bus, and my little red car, honk, honk, and the Roundabout slowly turning by crank - ‘wait until it stops, and, and, and, and, and, and….

… then finally, and at last, each closing race on the galloping horses. First, so young, in a Dragon Boat; and later riding up and down, up and down, laughing on painted, psychedelic horse, clinging to the golden twisted pole, as music from the whistling organ pipes pumped out of its heart and mine.

Thame fair - from pushchair three to sulking early teen, holding breath, hot-handed; waiting for the fair to come, dreaming and wishing for those three short nights of joy and wonder – would I felt that still.

Smell the smoke, hear the crunch of leaves, reach out and touch the mists, and watch the scud of the indigo grey clouds… autumn’s coming; Thame fair is on its way.

I can hear the music once more, perhaps this year I'll return.

Visitor at the lake...

Homage to

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

I don't want to carp on but...

I came into the office one morning last week to find that the small lake or large pond (it all depends on your perspective) outside of my office window was empty! All of the water had disappeared - well almost all, there were a couple of dirty puddles left at the bottom of the slimy liner. Where had it gone? More importantly – what about the fish? The lake/pond had been full of fish, hundreds of them, where had they all gone?

I sometimes sit and watch the fish through my office window as I listen to long, and sometimes very dull, discussions about ‘blah, di, blah, di, blah, blah’ in the telephone conferences I’m often required to attend. Sometimes it’s only the fish that keep me sane – meetings really can be very dull.

How I fret when the Grey Heron turns up standing at the water’s edge, still as a statue, waiting until he ATTACKS, his long, darting beak emerging from the water full of wriggling golden carp. I’m often left screaming and banging on my office window in a vain attempt to scare him off, as the other attendees in the meeting listen confused at the other end of their various phones. ‘What is happening…a murder… a fire drill… an action point? No, the heron! I pound on the glass but to no avail, he always wins, it’s the way of nature I guess.

On a couple of occasions I’ve even fed them. Once with my sandwiches and another time with a tub of fish flakes I bought especially for the feeding thereof. I found the feeding of the fish incredibly relaxing and I was looking forward to doing again, but with the water gone and no fish to be seen…

So, what about the fish? I peer into the dirty brown puddles. If they are in there and the Heron shows up….

Later that morning a man in waders, carrying a net turned up and began to fish. Thank goodness, the fish were going to be saved! It took him a few hours of netting. He released them into large blue crates, which he carried off to his typically white van. I wonder if the fish will be returned when the leak is fixed?

Yes, The pond/lake has been drained because it has sprung a leak. The pond /lake… pool (yes, let’s call it a pool) covers a big area. I wonder how they are going to find the leak? They can hardly immerse it in a bucket of water and squeeze until the position of the bubbles gives the leak away can they?

Will the fish be returned or will they be taken to a new home, a home far away from my office and the long, purgatory of my telephone meetings?

How will I stave off the mind-numbing boredom if that happens?

STOP PRESS: Bad news – There's a rumour going around that the pool is to be filled in with pebbles. It is too expensive at £250,000 to repair the leak and the fish have been moved to some ponds on wasteland down the road. I feel a deep and inexplicable sadness that things will never be the same again. I hope that it IS just a rumour.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Get your knockers out...

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

No4: Door Knockers

For some reason I’m not counting manhole covers as a ‘right under your nose’ thing, perhaps because they are right under your feet rather than under your nose – or perhaps I just forgot.

And… sorry about the title of this post, but there are those amongst you (Number 2) who are huge fans of the ‘Carry On’ film genre and as it was such an obvious titillation, I simply couldn’t resist it.

And… two for one tonight, there’s another post, ‘A nice pear’, below this. No, they’re not connected - but I may not be able to post easily for the next couple of weeks so I thought that I’d treat you.
I love door knockers, they are so decorative. A door knocker can be used to express the personality of whomever lives behind the door, they are so varied, so quirky, idiosyncratic even.

Sometimes I look at a knocker and try to imagine the person who owns it – does a retired sea captain own that anchor knocker? A once dashing RAF pilot that spitfire? What about the rose, the scroll, the feather, that horse’s head (the card on the bell says D. Corleone)… and who on earth lives in that house with the bat knocker?

Door knockers have been around, except for short periods during the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries, since their invention, so probably since the knocking together of the first door.

(click to see these lovely knockers in there full glory at a larger size and in detail)

They were most popular and prized during the Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance periods and can be divided into three clear types, the ring, the hammer, and the ornate - human figures, animals' heads, and anything else that you can dream of.

Medieval door knockers were functional but very carefully designed; the Renaissance produced fanciful and imaginative knockers. Early knockers were made by artists and smithy-craftsmen; with mainly iron being used in construction - partly on account of its inexpensiveness. Despite the baseness of the metal the resulting knockers are both artistic and beautiful, further enriched, I feel, by the rust of age that often encrusts them. Later, brass came into favour and remains the most frequently used knocker material, as none better has been found. I have seen knockers in stainless steel, but I can’t say that I’m a huge fan – pewter looks good though - stainless steel doesn’t age and tarnish easily, and I think that a knocker with a few knocks to its name is so much more knockable.

The lion with ring has always been popular, other popular knockers include hands, fish, nymphs, mermaids, dolphins, and ribbons - their variety is infinite. I photographed the three knockers in the lead montage above in Beaumaris at the week-end; all within a couple of minutes walk of each other. I had to walk up the paths and right up to the doors to get them, I wonder what I’d have said if someone had come to the door whilst I was taking the photographs:
‘Excuse me, do you mind if I take a photograph of your knockers’?
Arf, arf, arf - (just for you Number 2, just for you).

And what does my door knocker look like? well, here it is.

‘Celebrity - Get your knockers Out’ Competition…
Recognise the three knockers below? Just tell WAWL where are they to be found and you could win! Go on have a go…no prize, but you can glory in the knowledge that you will be named in a special post on WAWL. The answers will be revealed in the comment box of this post on Friday – so you have a couple of days. Go on and have a guess – no cheating though. You can leave your answers in the comments section of this post. Good luck!

Don't forget tonight's second post 'A nice pear...' below

A nice pear...

Click to see this at a larger size - it'll help you make the recipe

I promised you my Poached Pear recipe, here it is.

What you need…
Some white wine (enough to sit the pears in)
1 tablespoon of Demerara sugar
½ a teaspoon of ground cinnamon
Vanilla essence
A pear (peeled if you want, unpeeled if you don’t)
A little Calvados

What you do…
1. Place the white wine, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla essence in a shallowish pan.
2. Bring to a gentle simmer.
3. Cut the pear in half and place in the liquid.
4. Put a lid on the pan and poach the pear over a low heat for 30-40 minutes or until translucent, turning occasionally.
5. Remove the pear and reduce the cooking liquor by three quarters.
6. Place the pear in the centre of a dish, sprinkle with some more sugar, caramelise with a blow torch.
7. Pour on some heated calvados and set fire to it.
8. Splash some of the reduced liquid around the pear.
9. Serve with vanilla ice cream if you wish.

That’s it, poached pear – how very simple, but delicious.

Monday, 10 August 2009

Small quack...

What’s this?

Why is Dilly having tea with THAT woman…well, THAT duck actually, but I think you know what I mean. Doesn’t Dilly know about Dubby and her/she/it? No, of course not, she can’t do otherwise I’m pretty sure that the feathers would fly. She wouldn’t be sitting there calmly having a cup of tea with her, smiling, making small quack.

Scarlet woman… well very nearly, she really is a very bright shade of pink.

By the way, the bright pink duck IS the barmaid at the Drunken Drake, and her name (as you might expect) is Delilah. Apparently she’s very popular with the customers at the Drake, particularly the men. That must have been where Dubby met her, although I never had him down as much of a drinker. Even in his Elvis phase Dubby generally drank soft drinks, maybe a sherry at Christmas, but usually the strongest tipple he’d take was a glass of dandelion and burdock.

Dilly seems to be getting on pretty well with Delilah though doesn’t she? They’re both on their second cup of tea and Delilah seems to never stop talking, she certainly seems to be very excited about something, Dilly can hardly get a word in.

Wait, I think they’ve finished. Dilly’s thanking her for coming and they ‘must do it again some time’, Delilah’s leaving, there she’s gone. Poor Dilly looks exhausted, I’m not surprised - Delilah could talk the hind leg off of a donkey, although what you would do with a Donkey’s hind leg once you’d talked it off has always been a mystery to me.

That’s it Dilly have a rest, a little quiet time, another cup of tea and a nice Nice biscuit. You kept the biscuits well hidden when Delilah was here, perhaps you’re not as friendly as you appear to be. Go on Dilly, have a nice cup of tea and a rest before Dubby and the children get home.

Poor Dilly, if she only knew.

Sunday, 9 August 2009

Stitched up...

It is haymaking time at the cottage and the tractors are up and down the lane all day and all evening, only stopping when the sun begins to set and the night slowly starts to fall.

We had a couple beautiful sunsets at the cottage this weekend. They were even better earlier in the week, or so I’m told by Gaynor and Holly. I wasn’t there to see them, but the ones I saw on Friday and Saturday were very lovely and Holly took some pictures of the (even more beautiful) others for me for me - she knew I’d want to blog them (thanks Holly). A few of Holly’s photographs of Wednesday evening’s sunset are above, these are exactly as they came out of her new camera - good aren’t they.

On the subject of photographs, I have some new software on my computer that can take a number of separate pictures of the same scene and seamlessly stitch them together as a panorama. I love panoramic photography and I’ve been using the panoramic facility on my camera-phone for ages, but this software, and my new Polaroid, 7 mega pixel, m737t, digital, compact camera, makes it even easier. All I have to do is move my camera across the landscape, taking individual shots as I go, roughly joining them by eye, and the software does the rest at the click of a button.

My ‘Wales - across the fields, Friday evening sunset’ panorama below is actually three shots automatically stitched together through the wonders of software - incredible.

I sometimes wish that I owned some software that could do that with my life. If only there was some way of taking my life’s rough, almost joined-up episodes and experiences, analysing then, and then stitching them together seamlessly so that the ragged, messy edges, joins and overlaps were made smooth and shiny. What a perfect panorama my life could be.

As it is my life is a series of individual pictures taken on an ever changing array of cameras - plate, film, instant, and digital. Some are colour, others black and white, both under and over exposed, many out of focus; others have only half the subject matter in frame, several are damaged at the edges, a couple are ripped in half, and one is so badly burnt you can’t see it at all.

If only I could bring them all together, a single flawless whole, at the click of a button - colour correcting, sharpening, repairing and joining in that simple, single click, process. Unfortunately there isn’t software available to sort out my continuingly messy life (yet), so I guess that it’s down to me to keep on trying to smooth out the wrinkles, sew up the rips, and glue the pieces back together as I find them. What a job! That should keep me busy for a while.

Oh well, I always have these wonderful sunsets… you couldn’t dream those colours could you?

Friday, 7 August 2009

Like cat and dog...

Look at those two.

Benjy often wanders up from the farm at weekends to see Misty. Benjy’s a nice dog, a bit excitable, maybe a little too ‘jumpy uppy’, but then he is very young. He’s Holly’s dog and she’s trying to calm him down but it’s hard when she only sees him at weekends and holidays….

“Hello cat, hello cat, hello cat… it’s good to see you again. Haven’t I grown? Aren’t I big? You okay? How about a game of chase the rabbit, chase the rabbit, chase the rabbit?”

Oh no… not him again… “What do you want?’

“Just thought I’d pop up for a chat cat, for a cat chat, for a chat cat, see what’s new, what’s new… do you want to play a game with me?”

“Not really.... do I look like I’m the sort of creature that runs around chasing rabbits? I’m not a dog you know, I’m a cat. When I hunt something I do it quietly, with stealth. When I hunt something they don’t know I’m there until it’s too late, that’s what cats do, cats are great hunters. Not like you dogs. When dogs hunt something you run around shouting ‘Helloooo, I’m here! I’ve come to catch you! Don’t run away now!’ I’ve heard you, you’re useless. When was the last time you caught anything?”

“ Well, I almost chased a sheep into its pen last week, and I almost did it quietly, and it was almost the right pen… it’s just that I got a bit excited and I went a bit wrong and instead of chasing it into the pen I chased myself into the pen and locked myself in. The Farmer had to let me out. It wasn’t my fault really, sheep are very exciting you know, all fluffy and they baaa a lot, that’s what made me so excited… baaa, baaa, baaa, baaa. Come on lets go catch a rabbit, a rabbit, a rabbit.”

“No thank you, I think that I’d prefer to sit here and watch you chasing your tail whilst the rabbits run rings around you. Anyway, I’m not really interested in rabbits unless they come in a can with extra jelly, and hunting is simply too much effort. Why hunt when your food is provided on a plate for you? Talking of which it must be nearly time for nin-nins. Bye Benjy, thanks for calling, off you go to catch your rabbit, I’m going indoors for some lovely nin-nins. Bye Benjy… and don’t rush back.”

“Bye cat. Sure that you won’t change your mind? There are lots of rabbits in the field, I’ve seen them, I’ll let you have first go and I’ll be quiet as quiet can be, honestly, honestly, honestly… come on cat, it’ll be fun…”

“Stupid dog. I don’t know why people love them so much, they haven’t got an ounce of dignity - and as for brains… well, they’re all instinct and rush. Man’s best friend? Man’s best fool more like. I may pop across to the field later and show him how it’s done if I can be bothered; after all he’s not such a bad dog as dogs go, they can’t help being stupid, and he is very friendly… just a little over-enthusiastic, enthusiastic, enthusiastic…”

There goes Benjy, all in a dash as usual, just look at him rushing around that field. If I didn’t know better I’d have sworn they were having a conversation. It looked just like they were chatting about something.

If they could talk to each other, I wonder what they’d talk about...

Thursday, 6 August 2009

The mathematician and the actor.

I passed another one this evening. You will have seen them, the roadside shrines - dead flowers, small wooden crosses, toys, rain-soaked photographs taped into polythene bags carefully placed on the grass verge, or pavement, or pinned to a lamppost or the trunk of a tree. Often they’re on a bend, sometimes at the bottom of a steep hill. They make me feel sad and depress me. They make me think and remember.

Look hard and you’ll find me in this picture and unfortunately, if you knew who to look for, two brothers who died before they were old enough to vote, pictured here for probably the last time. I knew them well and they were Fine; the capital is intentional, I liked them.

They lived two houses away from the girl who broke my heart. It was nothing to do with them, it wasn’t their fault, they were too close for comfort but not at all involved. If they had been, who knows, it may have changed their ending.

Martin and Stephen. The mathematician and the actor.

Their dad was a weather man, not the telly type, the meteorological office type, a bit posh, and a whole lot posher than me. Stephen and I though, same rugby team, me the loose head, he the wing three-quarters. Between us we’d put down so many tries, enough to get us both onto the county side for South Oxon. There was no problem with the trials, we flew through.

The Six Bells, Friday night, me and the girl (Titania) having a drink, under-age of course. Well it was then, not now, life less watched, much easier to ‘get away’ with.

‘Night Martin, night Steve’.

Out into the dark and along the road. On another night we might have given them a lift; but tonight Titania was staying at mine.

‘Night Toby, night Kate’.

A kiss on the cheek from Kate, the gypsy girl, so full of everything that I (nor Titania) was not, and Toby a volcano waiting to erupt.

‘Night Kate’.

Then home.

The news spread fast. Both dead, knocked down, a hit and run, on Chinnor road, thumbing the lift that I so many times had thumbed.

Both dead. Stephen and Martin, the actor and the mathematician, dead and dead and dead, killed on the road, and rumour had it that one of their heads was sheared clean off and thrown into a field, eyes still bright with reflected headlights.

Teenage nonsense of course.

The other found in a ditch bloody and broken and not quite dead until the lifting up and into the ambulance.

Teenage truth of course.

News travels fast, bad news fastest. Toby and Kate, Titania and I, so many others, dressed in feathers and jeans and hats and robes and stars, but mainly sorrow, on hearing stood slack in the road and wailed.

The mathematician and the actor - it could not be.

But it was.

Another friend had been driving the car, the car that hit them on that dark road, over the limit and going too fast, that friend just old enough to have passed his test.

No friend now. Suddenly how we hated him – Kate and Toby, Titania and me, and all the others in their feathers and rags, hats and robes, hearts and tears smeared on their sleeves.

The mathematician and the actor - it could not be.

But it was.

They buried them both. It rained on the day, cold, and wet, and grey. We weren’t invited, family only, we went to the Bells instead, dressed in black; black feathers, black rags, black hats, black robes, with hearts and tears smeared on black sleeves, and afterwards left flowers at their last breath.

And not thirty-four years in total between them.

We are all there in the picture, at least the boys - the actor, the mathematician, Toby, the rags and hats, and feathers and robes, Oberon, the killer behind the wheel - each frozen in a flash - the rugby playing boys of Lord William’s School, every man all, until the last.

It was soon after that the drift began. Slow-moving at first, but gathering quiet speed; first the feathers and rags, then the hats and robes, Toby and Kate, Titania, Bells, team, game… and finally me.

And that was the last time we were ALL in the picture. I gave up playing Rugby, the driver was locked away, some moved on, and those two – well those two, the mathematician and the actor, became a memory; the end of one thing, the start of something less. I guess we all started over, one way or another.

I hate those roadside shrines – there seem to be so many of them.

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Gods, godesses and Arthur Mee...

Yes more stones.

This is my ‘small stone and stuff’ collection in my office. It includes my piece of fool’s gold (thanks Flora), a glass nugget I found on the road, some snail shells that mysteriously appeared one day (thanks anonymous benefactor), a tiny piece of broken windscreen, some calcified coral I spotted on a beach in Barbados, two scallop shells I picked up on another beach in Wales and some green pebbles from the tiny fishing village of Aberdaron at the most westerly tip of the Llynn. As you can see, the tiny golden Buddha my daughter brought me back from Gran Canaria one summer sits proudly on top of this eclectic mini-mountain of bric and brac (thanks Cloe).

I find it very pleasing, most extremely Zen.

If you look closely, on the right hand side and at the front you will notice three small stones - a flat oval one with brown stripes, a grey and white lozenge, and a brown and white one shaped a little like an extracted tooth. These are the latest additions to the madness that is my office windowsill. They come from Cyprus, picked up and brought back for me by Mr A. Lloyd of Macclesfield. Thanks Andy, a nice thought and I shall treasure them. Good to see that collecting pocketable pebbles is catching on and that I’m not the only loony wandering on the beach.

These three stones are very special though. These stones were picked up on Aphrodite's beach, the beach where Aphrodite was born - these stones might hold the love magic.

According to mythology the Greek goddess Aphrodite was born on Cyprus. I remember reading about it when I was a boy. I had nine out of the ten volumes of ‘Arthur Mee’s Children’s Encyclopedia’, how I loved those books and how I loved the sections on mythology – Roman, Greek, Norse, it really didn’t matter. Specifically, she was born from the foam of the sea around Aphrodite's Rock, on the beach close to Pafos. In ancient times, people came to the beach to join in the fertility rituals and at the nearby temple, maybe my stones were part of the rituals, or maybe they watched as the magic was made.
The story tells that Aphrodite (Venus in Roman mythology) floated into the bay on a scallop shell. You may have seen the Boticelli painting ‘the birth of Venus’, if not I’ve recreated it for you in Photoshop at the bottom of this post. The first time I saw the painting was in a plate in volume six of my Arthur Mee – I was fascinated by it.

Aphrodite had no childhood - she was born adult, nubile, and infinitely desirable. She’s a major figure in Greek legend, characterised as vain, ill-tempered and easily offended. She appears in the Odyssey, was connected to the Trojan wars, even Zeus was frightened of her beauty, and she wore a magic girdle that made her irrestible to men.

She’s still worshiped today. Andy told me that people come to bury hand-carved stone hearts in the hillside, and at night - well at night the beach is littered with coupling young couples making the magic. Such is the way of Aphrodite.

Alas my nine volumes of Arthur Mee are long since lost. How I wish I still had those books. They had the most wonderful colour plates; birds of paradise, the great works of art, the flags and seven-wonders of the world, butterflies, moths, Boewolf, Romulus and Remus, Hottentots and knots.
I learnt more from Arthur Mee than ever I did at school - and I only had volumes one to nine.

I wonder what else I’d have known about if only I’d owned volume ten, perhaps I'd have learnt the secret of Aphrodite's love magic - what do you think?

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

A bit of a pickle...

As you know you never quite can tell what's coming next in my blog, anything can pop up and frequently does, but it 's ages since I’ve ‘done’ a recipe, so when I checked my beetroot and found that it was ready - well it was too good an opportunity to miss.

Now I'm not usually big on beetroot but seeing as I recently grew some in a large pot at the cottage and ‘pulled’ it last weekend, I thought that I may as well do something edible with it rather than putting it in a bag and waiting for it to rot. What should I do - Borsch, boiled buttered mash, chutney?

It was surprisingly easy to grow from the 30p packet of seeds I bought from Lidl. I got about ten good sized beets that I decided to pickle ready for Christmas. I’ve never pickled anything before but fortunately I have a book - I almost followed the book but I can’t resist experimentation so…

Spicy Pickled Beetroot .

This is what you need –

Beetroot – as much as you can grow! If you can get 2lbs like I did here’s the volumes of the other stuff you’ll need.
1 litre vinegar - either malt vinegar or wine vinegar (I used ½ wine vinegar- it was in the cupboard- and ½ home-made cider, well why not?)
½ tablespoon whole coriander seeds
½ tablespoon whole peppercorns
5 cloves
A bay leaf
A chopped red chilli (leave this out if you want, it wasn’t in the recipe, so who knows, but I had some in the garden.)

This is what you do-

Chop the stalks off the beetroot, leaving an inch at the end. Don’t chop off the long root, leave it on, it looks a bit gross but otherwise the beetroot will bleed.

Scrub the beetroot gently to remove any mud, but take care not to damage the skin or all the red juice will run into the water and your beetroot won’t have any flavour.

Boil them in a big pan for an hour or so until they are soft enough for a cocktail stick to go through them - enjoy the spearing, I did, it bleeds.

While the beetroot is boiling, make the vinegar mixture.

Put the vinegar/cider, coriander, cloves, peppercorns and bay leaf in a large pan
Bring to the boil for about 1 minute.

Turn off the heat and cover the pan.

Leave the flavours to infuse (I always want to say enthuse I love the idea of enthusiastic food) for about 2 hours.

Strain out all the bits but keep the liquid.

Put on some rubber gloves and peel the beetroot (better to leave no prints), the skin should just fall away. If you don’t use gloves it'll take ages for your finger nails to return to their usual colour!

Slice the beetroot into round 1/2 cm slices.

Put the slices into sterilised jars. I used some nice Kilner jars I bought from Wilcos for £2.25 each (I bought 2).

Bring the vinegar mixture back to the boil and then fill the jars and leave to cool.

Leave for at least a few weeks before eating. It says to gently shake the jars every week or so, to allow the flavours to infuse (enthuse), but I’m sure that you can eat it whenever you fancy.

As I said I’m leaving mine until Christmas to have with some nice boiled ham and fried potatoes.

I can hardly wait (in fact I couldn't and ate some tonight - it was fantastic - flavoursome and spicy).