Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Vision on...

Do you remember Vision On? If you did, did you feel guilty watching it? I did and so did my friends, in fact some of my ‘friends’ wouldn’t watch it at all - some of them would even start a fight with you if you admitted watching it. After all, it wasn’t for us; it was for them – the deaf kids.

Vision On was for the deaf kids and normal kids weren’t allowed to watch it. You were breaking ‘the law’ if you did, whose law nobody seemed to know, but it was definitely illegal.

Vision On was designed specifically for deaf children and shown on BBC’s children’s hour from 1964 to 1976. I think I remember watching it from the start but can’t remember if I was still watching it in 1976 – I doubt it. It was dreamt-up and developed by BBC producers Ursula Eason and Patrick Dowling to replace a monthly series that the BBC sensitively called For the Deaf – what a terrible and so ‘of the time’ title. FTD was paced slowly enough for deaf children to read captions and subtitles. There was some initial disagreement as to whether lip-reading or sign language would be more appropriate for the deaf kids who were going to watch Vision On - eventually it was decided that, since the new programme was primarily intended as entertainment and not education, that communication would be completely visual, text would be limited and speech would be almost abandoned altogether.

Ground-breaking stuff at the time and the programme won awards. The Vision On title alluded to the illuminated sign in BBC studios that indicated that the cameras were running - not that anyone would have known that outside of the BBC - it was an in-joke, how typically ‘sports jacket’ BBC.

The aim of the programme was to entertain and capture the deaf kid’s imaginations. It was fast-paced, with a flow of contrasting ideas, both sensible and silly. The presenters were Pat Keysell, an actress who also taught deaf children - she used to sign I think - and the artist Tony Hart who made all sorts of pictures in all sizes and all media – paint, pencil, collage. I think it was Tony Hart who got me interested in painting and making art generally. I certainly sent of a few of my ‘masterpieces’ to ‘The Gallery’, along with thousands of other children. Tony Hart died recently.

Pat’s signing made me uncomfortable, it reminded me that I shouldn’t really be watching, and I was never really sure if I was ‘allowed’ to send my pictures in to ‘The Gallery’ – after all I wasn’t a deaf kid. And, although the pace was fast, the lack of speech seemed to slow the whole thing down, gave it a ‘spacey’ feel. It was an odd viewing experience, sometimes after watching it I felt empty, Deputy Dog afterwards was such a relief

I liked watching it though, and was even in ‘The Gallery’ once – what a buzz that gave me.

I still get a buzz from seeing my stuff on screen, hence this blog. I really enjoy reading the comments that people leave me, I enjoy the interaction – warts and all. It is so great when people take the trouble to leave me messages, share their thoughts, experiences - send me parts of their lives. It’s a little like having my very own Vision On gallery.

Sometimes I’m sent pictures by my blog friends, things that they know will interest or amuse me - get me going. This fantastic photo was taken in a Scarborough slot machine arcade by one of them. Look at that group of pirate ducks! I want them! I’d be happy to while away a few hours and hundreds, thousands of twopences to get them. I want to win them ALL. It’s a great picture, and I particularly love the skeleton duck – thanks Glynne.

And… here’s the sunset, on a rainy summer’s evening, photographed through a rain splashed window. Just looking at it makes me feel glad to be indoors and out of the rain. I’m fascinated by the sky and weather – thanks Nicki C.

And… my old school friend Sacha sent me this photograph of a rather grand post-box in Llandudno. I’ve never seen one like it before. I wonder which George it was - my money’s on George V.

And more… some spooky shadows from Holly, a chunk of ancient peat bog wood from BMD - just look at that shape, it could have come straight out of a Dali painting, and another picture from Nikki, this time of her seed-grown, potted, sunflowers.

And that’s this weeks gallery – thanks everyone.

Play Gallery music: Dum, di, dum, di, dum, di, dum, dum - da, da, dum,di, dum, dum, dum.

Tuesday, 29 September 2009


Some people talk about going the extra mile or reaching a milestone in their lives, well, I’m not sure about either. Sometimes that extra mile seems a lot longer than a single mile and that life-milestone can seem like a life-millstone.

Milestones have been around since Roman times. They were placed to provide points of reference for that weary traveler traveling along that lonely road. The stones were placed there to reassure them that the right and proper path was being followed, and to indicate either the distance they had traveled or the remaining distance left to travel to reach their destination – heart’s ease.

Sometimes, as I've said before, we walk around with our eyes almost closed - here's another example of what I mean. The milestone in the picture is just up the road from the Birmingham office of the company I work for. It’s a very busy road, office blocks, hotels, lots of traffic, not quite the place to find an old milestone. I must have walked past it dozens of times before eventually noticing it very recently. Who knows what surrounded it when it was first placed there - fields, a village, a herd of cows? Maybe it stood on a country road like the slate milestone just outside of Bangor, North Wales, pictured below. Not my picture I'm afraid, I'm still looking for this - I'll blunder into it one day, probably breaking an arm or leg in the process.

When the Hagley Road milestone was erected Birmingham was a whole mile away, and a mile was a distance.

Wouldn’t it be comfortable to have the reassurance of milestones in our lives? Some markers along the way indicating that we are doing the right thing by following a particular road; something to confirm that we are on track and will reach our destination, wouldn’t it be calming to know how far we have to travel before we get there, be sure where there is – to know we only have to go only that extra mile along the road to find our heart's ease.

We all reach milestones in our lives I guess, but I for one have never been sure that I’ve reached the right one, nor how far along the journey I am, or when or where my journey will finish.

Perhaps that’s how it should be.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Duck Dayz...

Cloud 9…

The Rubber Duck in art…
Les Canards de Caoutchouc d'Avignon
The Young Rubber Ducks of Avignon is large oil painted in 1907 by Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) which portrays a trio of unfeathered Spanish ducks (patos) in a house of easy virtue on Avinyó Street in Barcelona. All of the figures depicted are physically jarring, none conventionally duck-like, all slightly menacing, and each is rendered with angular and disjointed body and bill shapes.

In his adoption of Primitivism and abandonment of perspective in favor of a flat, two-dimensional picture plane, Picasso makes a radical departure from traditional European painting. The work is one of Picasso's most famous, and is widely considered to be a seminal work in the early development of both canard caoutchouc cubism and modern art. It is in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, having been acquired by the museum in 1939.

And finally…

Those of you with a religious education may relate to this duck.

The nun who is elected to head her monastery is termed an abbess if the monastery is an abbey, a prioress if it is a priory, or more generically may be referred to as the Mother Superior. Either way, this Mother Superior rules the roost – and just why is she carrying that ruler?

Perhaps it poses the question: ‘How do you solve a problem like *Cairina (Moschata)’? *(Google it)

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Food for thought...

Did any of us like parsnips as children?

I didn’t, and there were dozens of other foods that I didn’t like at the time as well, probably more that I didn’t like than I did like. At one point I wouldn’t even eat sausages. I seem to remember a childhood of beans or spaghetti on toast for tea every night. Of course it wasn’t real spaghetti, that hadn’t been invented in our street yet; it was canned spaghetti in tomato sauce. I loved beans and spaghetti for tea, not together though, that tasted horrible - I tried it once. Given my own way I don’t think I would have eaten anything else.

‘When will you ever grow up?’ My dad used to say about my eating habits.

As I grew older foods that used to make my face squirm like a bag full of worms, became gradually acceptable to me. I can’t exactly remember when I started eating and enjoying liver, but it was probably some time in my early teens, around the time I went to secondary school. The dinners at Lord Williams weren’t great but they were varied and, as they say, variety is the spice of life. There were some dinners I dreaded like boiled fish (actually that was the only one), but my first tastes of spaghetti bolognaise, curry, chilli, the rice that went with both dishes, and pink custard, were all taken within the company of the eight other boys at our dinner table, dished out - portion size dependent on status, house and popularity - by the table prefect.

I don’t know when I got into vegetables, or stilton, or braised ox tail, but I do know that it was sometime after I hit thirty. Up until then I have no idea what I was eating but I think it was what might be described as ‘simple British fare’ – chicken, shepherd’s pie, fish fingers, chicken tikka masala, lasagne, chilli – that sort of thing, and all with chips.

Then I found that I liked cooking and met someone who could actually do it. Even so, Rabbit, squid, and unbelievably roast lamb are even more recent removals from my ‘I don’t like that’ list.

These days there is nothing I won’t try and I like most things – a nice ostrich steak won’t make me bury my head under the tablecloth, shark meat won’t put me on the attack, and mussels don’t send me into my shell. We even collect and cook our own mussels straight from the sea at Caernarfon – they are great and they are free, mind you, you have to know how to prepare them and what to soak them in.
I had alligator once - it was okay but chewy - and horse, unbeknownst in France, although I have to say that it was delicious. I’m still trying to pluck up the courage to try heart, brains, and tripe - although these days I do enjoy a pork pie, as long as there isn’t too much jelly.

Coffee just kind of slipped into my life without me noticing one day around fifteen along with beer and, a little later, wine. Brandy mugged me one evening in my very early twenties, and whisky, vodka, rum and finally gin, followed in a quick succession of body blows to my stomach and chin.

I don’t do milk, but who knows, I may do one day! After all, I’ve only this week had a major food epiphany…
Now what, given that I like most foods, can this new wonder food be I hear you ask? Is it exotic? Is it rare? Is it from deep inside the recesses of some animal’s body? No, none of these, it’s…


Yes, after fifty years of pulling ‘that face’ every time the word Marmites been mentioned, I suddenly find that I like it! How did I find out? Simple – I bought some and tried it! I was just sitting there last week and it suddenly occurred to me that I might like Marmite now that I’m older and that, apart from eating it once as a small boy, I’d never eaten any. I’d based my whole Marmite position on that one-off, lifetime-ago, single, solo experience. So I bought some and tried it and found that I liked it. In fact, I liked it quite a lot – despite not being sure what to eat it with - yet.

Maybe it has to do with when I was brought up or maybe where, maybe even how and by whom, but it has taken me years to discover some foods that I love. It makes me wonder - if I like the foods I used to hate as a child, what other things might I enjoy if I retried them now that I’m older? Should I go to a football match or try skiing again, should I study maths at ‘A’ level, give ballroom dancing a go?

‘When will you ever grow up?’ My dad used to say. Well, it’s certainly taken me a long time. Maybe I should have tried the Marmite earlier.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Odd light in the sky...

I don't usually post on a Saturday. Finding a place to upload in Wales is hard. But here I am sitting in the car in Porthmadog as it gets dark so that I can post these pictures.

We arrived at the cottage late last night and by the time we'd unpacked it was dark. I went out to lock the car, looked over the fields and saw that bright light in the picture.

It was sitting, quite still, low above the field. I thought it was the moon, but then it did this. I just had time to shoot these three images before it wasn't there anymore. Any ideas anyone?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Autumn scene with cat...

Misty keeping guard on top of our garden shed on a late September evening - crisp air, wood smoke, blue sky. Sometimes Photoshop works so well – all I did was take this photograph and put it through the watercolour filter. If only it was that easy with paper and paint…

Cat mess…

Just look at this – it looks like a bomb’s hit! How did all those crisp packets get all over the floor? When something like this happens there’s usually only one explanation…

‘It could have been an earthquake. Sometimes when earthquakes happen things get disturbed. The scattering of crisp packets wouldn’t take much more than 3.5 on the Richter scale. Admittedly it isn’t very likely, but we do have lots of tiny earthquakes in this country, nine at least in the last thirty days. The one in Buxton on the 7th July only measured a measly 2.00 on the Richter scale, so it wasn’t far away; but not strong or close enough to move crisp packets.

Earthquakes are really hissing common. There are almost a million earthquakes each year worldwide, although most are under 3.4 on the Richter scale. You people wouldn’t feel them - us cats can though. It’s a hissing nuisance. It really sets the whiskers trembling when one goes off. Of course we don’t feel all million of them, just the ones that are local to us - within a 50 or so mile radius. It can be very distracting - usually it works out at around 5 a day. My whiskers seem to be in a state of constant vibration - and it makes me sneeze.

Aaashmeooooo – there goes another one. About a 1.7 I think.

3.5 to 4.2 is just about noticeable indoors to you humans, there are 30,000 of them a year. Windows rattle at 4.3 to 4.8 and there are about 5,000 of them. Dishes break at 4.9 to 5.4 - a mere 1,400 a year. At 5.5 to 6.1 plaster cracks, 6.2 to 6.9 houses shake, 7.0 to 7.3 houses fall, 7.4 to 7.9 whole cities crumble, and anything over 8 – well let’s just say it wouldn’t be a few crisp packets that Hisfault would be worrying about. It’s a good job we only get one of those every ten years or so.

So it could have been an earthquake… or maybe a poltergeist.

Poltergeist’s a German word - it means ‘Rumble Ghost’, which doesn’t sound quite as scary does it. They’re invisible, not like the usual ghosts that I see. Yes, cats see ghosts all the time. I’ve never seen a Poltergeist though, but then I wouldn’t would I, they’re invisible. In India they are called Mumai. Poltergeists are just mischievous; they move stuff around and throw things. So it could have been a Rumble Ghost that threw the hissing crisp packets all over the floor.

Look, there goes old man Wilberforce, straight through the kitchen wall as usual.

So it could have been an earthquake, or a Poltergeist. In fact it could have been any number of things… mice, the wind, fairies, spontaneous locomotion, an act of Mu-Mu… but it wasn’t… it was me.

There, I admit it, I’m guilty, hate me for it if you wish, but I couldn’t help myself.

I do so love snuggling up in a nice cosy box - and this crisp box is just the right size for a snooze…’

I knew it! When something like this happens and there’s mess everywhere, there’s usually only one explanation… Misty!

Look at her, she’s fast asleep in that box, doesn’t she look comfortable - I’ll tell her off later, when she wakes up…

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Conker duel...

On my way back from the dentist yesterday I picked up some conkers. I don’t know why but I couldn’t resist the beauty of their dark brown, shiny, roundness. I had to have them – despite (or perhaps because of) feeling a little woozy.

I stuffed my pockets full, just like when I was a boy. Each one I picked up was going to be my last – but then I saw another, and another, and another. Soon my pockets bulged. What was I going to do with all these conkers?
Well there’s only one thing to do with conkers isn’t there?

Yes! Let’s go bonkers and play some conkers…let’s have a conker duel.

Here’s how:

Two players (in this case myself, Angling Andrew, and my wife, Gazumping Gaynor), each with a conker threaded on a piece of string, take it in turns to hit each other's conker, until there is one conker left. The first player holds out their conker at arm's length, hanging down, ready to be hit. The string should be wrapped around his or her hand to stop it being dropped. They must hold the conker still as the other player hits it. If it accidentally swings, the second player can steady it before they take a strike. The second player then wraps the string of his or her conker around his hand, draws it back and takes aim. He or she then lets go of the conker as he or she swings his or her arm in an arc and tries to hit the other person's conker. The first player then has a go at hitting the other player's conker and take it in turns until one conker disintegrates - narrowly missing taking out somebody or others eye.

NOTE: If the player deliberately moves his or her conker while waiting for it be hit, the other player is allowed another go!

ANOTHER NOTE: Girls aren’t very good at conkers but I thought it only fair to put ‘his’ and ‘hers’ as I like to be PC where possible.

When I was a boy we used to hold huge conker tournaments that lasted a day, a week, or until we simply ran out of conkers or got bored. The winner was the boy (girls simply didn’t play conkers back then, well not in our tournaments) with the last conker standing.

This is how we scored.

If a conker had never been used before and succeeded in breaking another unused conker, it scored one and became a 'one-er'. If, in the next game it broke another new conker, it became a 'two-er' and so on. But, if the two-er lost a game and was broken, its score was added to the other person's conker. So if they used a new conker on a two-er, it became a three-er and so on. If the conker that broke it had already broken others, then the scores of BOTH the conkers were added together and added to the winner. So if you used a three-er on a two-er, then the score awarded to the winning conker would be five. Get it? Confused? Yes, so was I, still am.
We used to have all sorts of tricks for making a really tough conker. This was the best one - first we’d pour some vinegar into a jam jar and leave it to soak for two minutes exactly, then we’d take the conker out of the vinegar and let it dry for an hour or so. Once dry, we’d heat our mum’s oven to 250°C and bake it for one and a half minutes, then take it out, leave it to cool, and string it. This really worked. Jimmy Braham once had a hundred and thirty three-er that had been made like this. It would probably still be going strong today if he hadn’t have dropped it down a drain. My best was a nineteen-er, it was Jimmy’s conker that conked it.

Gaynor and I held a tournament last night, a small one, first to get a five-er. I lost.

Maybe girls can play conkers after all.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

A couple of firsts...

October is on its way and the evenings are getting colder and darker.

We lit our first fire of the season last night. I know it’s a cliché but there really is nothing like an open fire, just the look of it warms you up. I like to here the crackle of the logs as they burn and watch the spitting sparks as they fly up the chimney – yes I know, more clichés. When Holly was a little younger we used to send her letter to Father Christmas up the chimney by letting the warm air from the flames grab it, wafting it up, out of the chimney, and off to the North Pole. Father Christmas used to reply in the same way, sending his letter down the chimney to be found in the ashes the following morning.

I don’t expect we’ll be doing that any more – shame.

And I had another first today. I had my first tooth extracted by my dentist. I’ve really been very fortunate with my teeth, no fillings and few problems other than one annoying tooth that is rather prone to abscesses. It was around the time that Holly was born that it started to give me trouble - no connection. After a week of agonising, abscess driven, head banging, four o’clock in the morning pacing and crying pain, I had to have it drilled and a crown fitted. It was fine for years and then, a little over a year ago, it became infected again. The dentist gave me antibiotics, which cleared it up, and a warning that like Arnold Alois Schwarzenegger ‘IT WOULD BE BACK’. And, annoyingly, she was right. A week or so ago, I woke up one morning with Arnie Abscess screaming ‘ I’M BACK, I’M BACK, I’M BACK’ – ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch, ouch!

So today, on the advice of my dentist, I had it removed. Who’d have thought that in this day and age that the removal of a tooth would still require brute force and the shedding of blood? Surely, there must be some kind of sonic or laser treatment that can vibrate, or turn the tooth to dust, without the need to yank and crunch!

Here is some of the advice printed on the sheet of paper my dentist gave to me as I stumbled in shock out of her surgery door.

1. To prevent bleeding: Bite firmly on the mouth pack provided for 10-20 minutes after the procedure.
2. Avoid hot drinks, cold drinks, food that is hard.
3. If bleeding occurs: Apply pressure by biting on a clean rolled-up handkerchief placed over the wound until the bleeding stops.
4. Warning! Do not hold anything hot against the face or use hot mouthwashes the same day.

My dentist also told me to eat on the other side of my mouth (soft food only) for a while and after twenty four hours to rinse four times a day for seven days with warm salty water!

Eat on the other side of my mouth! Bite on a hanky! Rinse with salty water! Maybe I should just slug some more whisky and bite on a leather strap!

Where is the plastic spray skin that immediately seals wounds to prevent loss of precious blood? Where is the needle-less hydraulic injector filled with anti-pain that Raymond Baxter promised us all on Tomorrow’s World? Where is the pain evaporating, all-healing, light ray that radiated from that glowing head shield I remember as a boy - was Star Trek just a work of fiction?

Anyway the tooth is out and the fire is lit. I’ll have to remember not to get my face too close to the flames – as recommended in my dentist’s note.

Oh well, at least I now have a lucky tooth. Now where did I put that rolled-up hanky?

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

In a jam...

Gaynor and I went blackberry picking again this Sunday, our third expedition this year. There seems to be a lot of fruit on the brambles, much better than last season, must be all the rain. Gaynor hates the way that the blackberries stain your hands, I don’t mind it, but I always seem to get stains on my shirt when I’m jam-making.

I love making jam; there’s something very therapeutic about it. I’m on my third batch of blackberry jam (preserve or jelly really, I remove the pips and skins) this year. I don’t make a lot, but enough to share around a little.

This is what I do, it’s very easy.

After you’ve picked your fruit you need to weigh it. We picked five pounds last Sunday whilst Holly was out on a hack – not bad going for an hour or so. You need an equal amount of ordinary white sugar, and I add a little booze and some lime juice from half a lime. In booze terms, use whatever takes your fancy; I used the Grappa (60% proof grape-based pomace (the remains of the grape after pressing) clear brandy spirit) that I won on the tombola at Holly’s Christmas Fair last year. Don’t add too much, just enough so that you can imagine that you can taste it, so that you can declare ‘you can really taste the alcohol in that’ - when you probably can’t.

Get your potato masher and mash it all down whilst simmering it in a big pot for about eight minutes. When it looks nice and liquid boil vigorously for about ten minutes or until the setting point is reached. Now about the setting point… I have no idea how you tell when it is reached, all I can say is that I know when it is reached because I can see it, I don’t know how I can see it, but I can. Of course you could use a jam thermometer, and it’s always a good idea to do the plate test to be sure.

Plate Test: put a small plate in the fridge for a few minutes and when you think the setting point has been reached spoon a little of the mixture onto it. If it cools and sets in a minute or so the setting point is reached, if it runs continue to boil and re-test.

Stir a knob of butter into the mixture to disperse the scum. I hate the ‘scum’ word when it appertains to jam making, but that is what they call it in all the cook books.

Get a fine sieve, place over a jug, spoon in some of the jam mixture, and press and stir with a wooden spoon so that the liquid runs into the jug and the pulp (pomace) is left behind. Best put down newspaper to avoid splashes. Do this in small batches pouring into assorted jars as you go. Leave to cool and then cover. If you don’t have lids (I never do, I don’t know where they go) use cling film. If you want you can cut out circles of baking parchment and place over the top of the cling film securing each with a red elastic band for that home-made look.

Label with something like: ‘Extra Special Home-Made Blackberry Preserve’, with your swirliest handwriting, and date.

That’s it! Enjoy your jam making.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Duck Dayz...

Cloud 9…

The Rubber Duck in art...

The Quacking Cavalier
The Quacking Cavalier (1624) is a famous painting by the Ducktch Baroque artist Frans Hals. The title is a Victorian invention; although the subject does, in fact, sport a cheeky, enigmatic smile.

The portrait is inscribed in the top right "Æ'TA SVÆ 26/A°1624", which expands to "aetatis suae 26, anno 1624" in Latin and means that the portrait was painted when the sitter was 26 and in the year 1624. The identity of the duck is unknown; when the painting was acquired in 1865 (for the Wallace collection) it was simply called "Portrait of a Young Drake". The most likely theory is that the duck is in fact a minor Ducktch noble from Haerlam.

The canvas measures 83 × 67.3 cm and is famous because of the artist's skill at painting the lace of the costume and that the eyes and bill appear to follow the viewer from every angle.

And finally…

A rubber me.

How flattering that somebody should take the time to make an effigy of my-good-self. This custom-altered rubber model sits on the desk of a colleague (who shall remain nameless) in Birmingham.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

Seasons end...

Almost the end of the growing season and as always I’ve pretty much given up with my plants. I hate it when they get all straggly and past it, they start out so full of hope and end tired and flabby. So I usually just leave them for the frost. I always promise to have a good tidy up before the winter comes but I usually never get around to it.

Gaynor pulled the last of her carrots this weekend, she grew them in a garden bag she got half-price in the sale from Wilkies – they did pretty well. I harvested my chilli crop from the single plant I bought from Aldi, and ‘ouch!’ they are hot. I think we have enough chillis to make about a five hundred con carnes - we’ll have to dry them.

Back in the spring I planted some lettuce, you may remember that I planted some in pots and some more in trays. The pots are long eaten and the lettuce in the trays bolted back in early August. As is my habit I just left them to bolt merrily away.

This weekend I tidied up a little (and I mean a little) and in one of the trays found these pretty blue flowers growing. It gave me quite a surprise I didn’t remember planting any flowers in with the lettuces. Looking at the foliage, what little was left by the slugs, I realised what they were…

Lettuce flowers - I didn’t know that lettuce had flowers, and if I had known I wouldn’t have expected them to be blue, yellow maybe, but not lavender blue.

Lettuce has flowers - you learn something new every day in this wonderful life.

Friday, 18 September 2009

A trick of the light...

I’m sure that I saw something small and brown run in through the cottage door just then. It was too long for a mouse and it didn’t look like it had fur. No, I must have imagined it – a trick of the light…

‘What the fish-heads was that? It ran past me and disappeared in a flash. It was all brown and darty, I hope it wasn’t another creepy-weepy crawly thing, I hate all those legs. Now where did it go?

Is that it up there? What is it? How did it get up there? It’s far too high for me to jump up to get it - not that I’m sure that I want to get it. It doesn’t look like a creepy-weepy crawly, not enough legs - I still don’t like the look of though. I’ll just sit here and watch, it’s bound to make a move eventually and when it does I’ll decide what to do about it.

Perhaps I’m imagining it, having a hallucination - or maybe it’s a mirage, a Fata Morgana. I’ve never seen one but my great uncle Tiberius saw one once. He saw an upside down, long, thin fish floating on the horizon. When he jumped at it, he went right through it.

Uncle Tiberius used to talk to me about mirages, he read up on them; they’re usually seen in the morning after a cold, cold night. The weather needs to be calm, so that when the warm air that lies over the colder, denser, air near the surface of the ground meets the undisturbed air layer between the two, the warm and the cold, they become a huge refracting lens and produce upside-down images. Distant miragey things that appear to hover, strange ghostly objects on the horizon - islands, cliffs, ships, icebergs, even uncle T’s fish – they all appear to be stretched and float in the air like phantoms. Spooky-wooky!
Of course nobody called him Tiberius, they called him Tibby – he knew his mirages though.

Perhaps if I cover my eyes it will go away. That’s it, I’ll cover my eyes and count to ten and if it hasn’t gone by the time I open them again I’ll… well I’ll try something else.
One, two, three, four (has it gone yet?), five, six (it must have gone by now), seven, eight, eight and a half, nine (go away mirage), nine and a half, nine and three quarters, ten!

Opening my eyes - open. Has it gone? No, it’s still here. Now what do I do?

I know… I think I’ll sCat.”

There goes Misty. I wonder why she’s in such a rush? I can’t see that brown thing anywhere, maybe she chased it away…
Now watch this incredible video about a man who chases aerial phenomenon – I completely get what he does and why he does it, but maybe not about how he feels about himself.
Take a look at the MIRAGE FILM - it's unbelievable.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Some thoughts from the side of the road...

Sometimes something happens to you that makes you stop in your in your habitual, humdrum tracks and forces you to think harder about that something than you normally would. It doesn’t have to seem like much. It doesn’t have to look like much. I had one of these episodes recently. Nothing much, just some road-kill I came across, just some road-kill, it happens all the time, just some road-kill that had me standing by the side of a busy road for full ten minutes, mourning the creatures that lay dead in the road beside me. Cars passed, people looked, I stood – and thought.

Autumn has arrived, and with the coming of the winds, the Change begins.

By late October the Change will be strong - roughly fashioned shards of experience will blow into cities, towns, and villages - even tiny settlements will be found out, nowhere escapes. An animal will be run over by a car, a young woman will lose her engagement ring, cancer will be diagnosed, and some father will hit his child in anger. Prayers will go unanswered, leaves will fall rotten in gardens and graveyards, big and small importances will crash in on the suspecting and unsuspecting alike.

The Change will have arrived delivering its ‘what’.

The ‘what’ that the Change blows in depends on many things – its strength and direction, where it comes from, who it wants, what it needs, what it’s lost, what it’s hungry for - and of course who, and which, and what, are caught up in it at the time. There is no choice in the Change. Both the innocent and old are found, young and male, good and black, white and guilty, bad and female. It is all chance.

Sometimes it blows in the bad things, they stop to rest for a while, have a drink or two, find love, spread hate, feed, sneer, take what they need - and leave as the Change catches them up and blows them to that next and other place.

I wonder what it’s blowing our way?

I was driving along the road when out of the corner of my eye I saw the lump of brown. I was past it in an instant, but it connected with my mind in that tiny flash - connected so firmly that I had to turn the car around, drive the half mile back along the road, stop the car and get out to look - look for evidence of the Change.

I found it. The Change was there, milk-eyed and looking up at me.

There were two of them. An adult, a full two feet long, and a youngster. So close together, a few inches away from connecting, broken and bloodied and dead. I’d never seen these in the wild before, only in pictures. Mink - two mink, escaped or released; the youngster maybe wild-born, both dead - thrown carelessly and uncared for to the side of the road.

How beautiful they were in death - sleek and brown despite their own destruction – and still the ‘much more in life’ remaining for me to see. Not long dead then – cold but whole.

I stood over them looking down, and for a moment I could see them in the road, crossing - the moon shining on their breeze-blown fur – so prized for the making of coats and stoles. Mother and son, returning to home from hunting, fed and sleepy, not either one alert, playful and careless - and with the turn of the wind - caught up by the Change.

I see the mother go first. Mown down and crumpled in the speeding headlights, dragging her broken back to the verge, her young one - frantic with squeals - nipping her neck to spur her on. No use. And he, a few moments, hours later, still tending his motionless mother. Just a glancing blow - just enough to bring the Change almost without a mark.

How sad I feel as I stand examining their crushed bodies; ‘minds-eyeing’ their slaughter. I feel for these creatures, I feel them as creatures, one moment bright and visceral, the next dumb with death. How like them I am, how like me are they, how alike are all living things.

I feel the Change brush me by and speak; ‘The Change is here for all to see. The Change is with them. The change will be.’ And I understand - all life is waiting for the Change, I am waiting for the Change, we are waiting for the Change.

I wonder when the Change will blow our way?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009

In search of blue eggs...

Holly bought four Legbar chicks to add to her hen collection last weekend.

We saw an advert in the local paper advertising Legbars for sale at £8 each, declaring them to be prolific layers - of blue eggs. Yes, blue eggs! We knew that some hens could lay coloured eggs, we’d even seen some blue egg laying hens at a local show, but Holly and I had no idea what sort of hens could perform this miracle – but we were keen to have some of these magical creatures, so we decided to get some.

I rang the number in the small ad. A man with an Eastern European accent answered and confirmed that he did indeed have some Legbar chicks for sale, that they were to be found at Trearddur Bay on Anglesey, that he could meet us after three o’clock that afternoon at the chicken field, and that – yes - they really did lay blues eggs once fully grown. At least that’s what I think he said – he really did have quite an accent.

We placed the hen carrier (a large cat box) in the boot of the car and set out in search of blue laying hens.

Trearddur Bay is an odd place. The village is located south of Holyhead on the west coast of Holy Island just off the north-west coast of Anglesey. Crossing the picturesque ‘four mile bridge’, it feels like you are driving onto an island – water, or the promise of water, seems to be all around you - and the village itself has that feeling of abandonment and desertion without being abandoned and deserted. Perhaps it’s the dunes and the spaces that surround the two general shops, garage, and hotels that sit amidst Trearddur’s two golf courses.

We drove along the sea road guided by the sat-nav - past tiny rocky bays and inlets where kayakers kayaked and scuba divers scubed, up the hill, around the corner, past the white house, up the hill some more… until we were lost. It’s so easy to get lost on Anglesey. Luckily we had a flickering single signal bar on one of our three mobile phones so were able to ring the chicken seller who managed to tell us, before the signal faded and died, that he was waiting for us a little further along the road in an old blue Citroen. He was standing by the car and we would recognise him as he was carrying a copy of the Telegraph and wearing dark glasses… what was this – a spy novel?

We found him - he was accompanied by either his daughter or his extremely young wife.
“Bezt leaf zee car haire… mud!’ He said from behind his dark glasses.

And indeed there was mud; lots of mud and lots of chickens in a large fenced field, dotted here and there with runs and hen-houses. He opened the door to one of the hen-houses and we were amazed to see scores of small, fluffy, Legbar chicks scatter in all directions. Ten chick-chasing, chick-sexing, feather-flying minutes later we had parted with our £32, been given instructions on feeding, shown a very pale blue (almost ice-white) egg, shaken hands, walked across the muddy field and were back in the car - our new Legbar chicks chirping nervously in the boot.
The man smiled and waved, watching us from behind his dark glasses as we drove away - and as he receded in the distance of my rear view mirror I wondered what part of Eastern Europe he was from. Perhaps I should have asked him? But even if I had would he have told me?

After all – he was a spy.
It’ll be a while before the Legbars start to lay - I wonder if the eggs really will be blue?

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Early goings and late returnings…

I seem to spend a lot of time in the car. I don’t mind, in fact I quite like it, - the going, the arriving, the returning - early morning goings and late night returnings sometimes. You know that you are going early when you get to hear the world service on radio four before listening to ‘Farming Today’, and you really know that it’s very early when you pay the £3.50 reduced fee M6 toll by getting to the toll booths before 6.00am – because to do that you must have left at 4.30 in the morning darkness.

There aren’t many upsides to getting up at stupid o’clock and driving halfway across the country, but there are a few, and here is one of them - this fantastic sunrise that I was lucky enough to see on the M6 toll road the other week as I was going to Reading. It was even more spectacular a few minutes earlier, but by the time I’d managed to pull into the services and start snapping the sun had arisen just that tiny bit more and the sky had begun to lose some of its drama.

A couple of days later I was returning from another trip to Scarborough and got very stuck in traffic - lots of traffic. In fact, a few minutes after I took the picture below, the M60 closed and I spent the next two hours driving two miles further along the road so that I could get off at the next exit (exit 17) to double back on myself and find an alternative route.

I arrived home from the 118 mile journey from Scarborough some four and a half hours after I’d set out - very stiff and aggravated. Oh well, at least I got to see and photograph this totally natural ‘no artificial colours’ sunset – and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I hadn’t been stuck and stationary.

Yes, even bleary-eyed early starts and joint-stiffening traffic jams can have an upside sometimes - if you're lucky.