Saturday, 31 October 2009

Trick or treat

He’d become used to it after a while, the children coming to the door every October - Halloween. Ringing the bell and calling out for trick or treat, costumed up, the American way - not in his day, never that, but these days…

These days Halloween was an incessant procession of devils and ghosts and ghouls and witches, monsters, pirates, rascals, Russians and rapscallions, a few asses, actors, assassins, the occasional banshee, Bedouin, or beast, with Dracula, Wolfman, Frankenstein and Freddy thrown in for good measure – all with mums or dads in tow for soft safe keeping. Yes, different in his day - there hadn’t been all this fuss and kafuffle with Halloween back then.

It was simple back in his day - you set the carved, lighted pumpkin on the porch, locked tight the door, said your prayers and went to bed praying for the witching hour to pass and the evils of the world to tire of being abroad. Those evils had been real, not garishly made-up frauds, all wig and plastic axe. No tricks or treats, just the threat of losing yourself to something somewhere. Halloween had been a serious business back then - and Len had taken it seriously.

The knock came late. Small but firm upon the dark green paint. No ring of the bell or rap-rap-rap of the knocker, just a single clear ‘tap’. A solitary dull note - very nearly an order, an announcement demanding that the door be opened.

The small boy stood well back in the shadow as if he had something to hide. Len without knowing why held his breath and waited for the inevitable squeal of ‘trick or treat’. It didn’t come. The boy stood silent not making a sound and still, so still. Charcoal smudged, a study in grey - grey shorts, grey shoes, jumper, and skin - short-scissored hair swept to one side in parting. Unfashionable these days, not like then.

The boy seemed to be made of shadow, a fog, an old faded photograph. Did Len recognise him from somewhere?

Len turned to the table reaching for the toffees in the bowl by the telephone directory - chewy caramels, tongue-blackening liquorices, head-exploding menthols - the sweets of long-gone boyhood. He scooped them up and into his hand - let him have them all, best place them in his cold grey hands, careful not to touch, and make him go away.

Yes, make him go away then set the pumpkin on the porch and lock tight the door. He’d say his prayers and go to bed, waiting for the witching hour to pass and for the evils of the world to tire of being abroad. Give him the sweets and send him on his way, get rid. Send him off with his shadows and greyness and ice cold hands back to whatever old photograph he’d stumbled from.

Len could sense the boy behind him, the boy with the cold grey hands. Those hands were so cold, as cold as the thick casing of ice that clung to the ice compartment inside Len’s fridge - so cold they made a mist in the night air like the mist that formed when Len opened the refrigerator door. Len turned, reaching out in offering to the boy, dreading the cold of those hands, not wanting to get too close, not wanting to touch them.

Len turned… the boy was gone. And then the pain began.

He’d felt the cold move over the threshold and into the house as he’d reached for the sweets that still lay sticky in the bowl upon the table. He’d been too tired to move them. Too tired to do much of anything really, except sit in his chair and watch and wait. Every movement was such an effort, it all hurt so much. The offering of sweets must have been an invitation, an acceptance of the boy.

After a few days it wasn’t so bad having him around. Len had got used to it, like Halloween. Sometimes, in his better moments, when he managed to painfully shuffle from one room to another, he caught a glimpse or heard a whisper. A smudge of charcoal in the dim light of the hall, a scuffling over his shoulder or the sound of scraping on the stair, a shadow half-hidden behind the bathroom door, a rushed reflection in his shaving mirror - the settling swirl of dust high on the landing above.

Yes, it wasn’t so bad. He was used to it – even the ice of the hands when they were on him, easing the pain where they touched as he slept. Len recognised him now, understood why he was here, knew him for what he was, understood his waiting.

Len, wishing the pain away, waited with him.

Later, ignoring the dusty toffees in the dish by the telephone directory, they left together.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The Rivals…

See those three small mountains in the distance, the ones with the giant half-formed lenticular clouds stretching out low above the summits? They’re the Rivals - Yr Eifl. Tell me - is a ‘small mountain’ an oxymoron?

Thousands of years ago they were active volcanoes, created as the molten lava spewed up from the centre of the earth to cool and solidify on the surface. You’re meant to be able to hear fairies on the mountainside as the talk to each other, and if you listen long enough it’s said that you’ll hear the secret of your heart’s desire, your destiny, the name of your secret sworn enemy, and even learn the date of your own death. I don’t know about that; all I’ve ever heard is the crack of the wind, the screams of the gulls, and the incessant bleating of the hill sheep – not once a fairy chatter.

I’m told that the top is one of Britain’s best-preserved Iron Age hill forts - Tre’r Ceiri (Town of the Giants). ‘Told’ because it is a very long, steep, trek to get to it and this - coupled with my fear of fairy gossip - has meant that I’ve never seen it except in photographs. Legend has it that three giants once fought a battle there, none winning, wearing each other down, the trio holding each other off in a stalemate stranglehold. It’s said that they are still grappling with each other and sometimes their struggle causes the earth to shake – and occasionally it really does.

The quiet landscape around Yr Eifl is one of the most earthquake prone areas in the UK. The last major earthquake was in 1984, and from the records there were others in 1827, 1842, 1852, 1874, 1879 and 1903.The 1984 earthquake measured 5.4 on the Richter scale and was the largest onshore UK earthquake event for over 100 years. It originated at a depth of around 22 kilometers under the Earth's crust and the epicentre was traced to the Rivals – it was those giants fighting again for sure.

Sometimes a low cloud will cling to the three peaks like a large brooding argument and it’s easy to imagine the volcanoes still live – smoking, rumbling, the Rivals waiting to erupt in battle once more, sending shockwaves out across the fields of sheep and more sheep.

Why mention all this?

I mention this because these days, most of the time, I hardly notice the Rivals – they’ve almost become a backdrop to whatever it is I’m worrying / complaining / arguing about or doing / not doing / complaining about doing / not doing at the time. I hardly notice them any longer as I drive through them - so caught up in myself as I am. Even though they tower above me, and - though there’s no escaping them anywhere on the peninsula - I rarely see them, always so solid and present, as I grumble / niggle / tut MY way through MY day.
Am I alone in this or do we all to it sometimes / often / most of the time? Tick accordingly – I’m in the MOTT box.

Sometimes things and people can become so ‘used to’ that you almost stop noticing them. You stop seeing their light reflected on surfaces, the sound of their noise, the smell of their presence, they become forgotten, invisible - part of an all-too-familiar landscape that you move around and through without really experiencing… Just too busy with yourself.

Yesterday, for a moment, I saw the mountains in the distance and the reality of their strength and stark beauty made me stop and stare… just look at them – magnificent aren’t they.

I hope it doesn’t take an earthquake, a gigantic wresting match, or truth telling fairies to make me notice them again - and I hope they don’t have to erupt to make me see things for what they really are once more.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Rockets, cacti and the Devil's dyke...

It’s been years since I’ve been to Brighton, so many that I’m not sure how many exactly - certainly not since childhood. I remember travelling there as a small boy in a collection of black cars with cracked red leatherette upholstery and engines that would get cranky and need fixing every fifty miles or so.

It seemed such a long journey from Oxfordshire where we lived. Long and boring and full of the fear of car sickness that could take hold of any of us children at any time. We travelled for years holding two big old copper pennies in our hands and sitting on newspapers. It worked… usually.

I have three vivid memory points in that journey. All three small landmarks as we travelled closer towards our destination.

Memory point one - Rockets! I remember a field of missiles, grey and threatening, thrusting their long pointed noses to the sky, probably pointing towards some Russian city or other.

Memory point two - Cacti! I remember a stretch of massive cactus standing amongst large rocks and sand, like something out of one of the cowboy shows I loved to watch.

Memory point three - The Devil. As we passed Devil’s Dyke, my Dad would always tell us that if we were naughty the devil would come down from the hill and take us to Hell where we would burn and burn. I saw him once, high up on the hill in the distance, horns and beard and tail – I know I did, he smiled at me and winked fire as we passed below.

Last week I visited Brighton again, first time in I don’t know how many years - not quite fifty but almost I guess. No rockets, no cacti - I did pass Devil’s Dyke but don’t know if He was still up there winking fire and waiting to come down and take me off to Hell to burn and burn.

The pavilion was still there though, covered in scaffolding but in better condition than one of the two piers I remember. The West Pier burnt down in March, 2003 and lies like the skeleton of some huge sea beast washed up in the water just offshore.

For a few minutes I wandered lost, a child again in the warren of jewellers that is The Lanes and stood for a moment on the flint pebble beach where we used to sit fully clothed, wind blowing hard around us (me), on our (my) day trip to the seaside. I picked up two of the knobbly grey pebbles and pocketed them, they sighed contentedly as they settled in the pocket of my dark blue business suit.

Being there again if only for a few hours, brought back so much and many. I knew what to expect – the pebbles, the jewellers, the minarets of the Pavilion – it seems some memories remain correct and true - but the rockets, the cacti, the Devil? I remember them all AND equally as clearly as the pebble beach, the pavilion, the piers, the narrow thoroughfares of The Lanes.

Yes, I remember them and maybe in remembering I make them real.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Painting the cottage…

Thank goodness, the rain held off just long enough for me to get the ladders out and finish painting the dormer window of the cottage in Wales. I know the name Meifod means Halfway House in Welsh but a half- painted house does look a bit odd and a large patch has been left unpainted since the summer holiday when the rain set in and decided to stay. Today has been the first day since then that we have been here and it’s been dry enough or not too windy to paint. So, spotting the opportunity, I got up onto the roof with my paint pots, brushes, and my heart firmly positioned in my mouth.

I’m not very good on ladders, I tend to forget I’m up one. I have been known to step back to admire my work leading to a short ungainly flight… well at least I’ve never been seriously injured. The dormers on the cottage are awkward; you can’t reach them with an ordinary ladder or even a roof ladder. A sky hook would do the job if only they existed but the twelve-way adjustable I bought off the internet for £90 - with free next day delivery - worked brilliantly. Even so, the sides of the dormer proved to be almost unobtainable and I had to climb out to the very last rung and lie on the slates to reach the furthest corner stretched out like some lunatic waiting for the moonlight. I managed it though, despite the trembling hands, the cold sweat, dizziness and general scaredy-catness - slow work but I managed it.

Holly and Gaynor both stood on the ladder while I was up there being brave. Holly at the top, Gaynor at the bottom, keeping me safe, making sure the ladders couldn’t move with my not inconsequential weight on them. We managed without mishap… although at one point the ladders did move, well I knew I was on the edge of safe practice, and Gaynor rushed to the rescue to stabilise them, catching me just in time before I had the opportunity to fly.

So, that’s that, cottage painted – apart from the chimney and that can wait until the spring. It was a real team effort with all three of us involved. Holly painted the front wall almost single handed and Gaynor did most of the front whilst I did the back and the ladder work. Ten years ago I’d have done it in three-quarters of the time, twenty years ago about half that. Time is in so many ways an unwelcome travelling companion, but it seems that I CAN still do things despite my age and back, so I’m quite pleased with myself.

Mr Winter can come now. His rain and sleet can pound the walls and the wind that he whips can blow as hard as he likes. The double glazing is in and the walls are painted so he can do his worst – and he will, believe me, he will – sometimes he travels on the back of eighty miles an hour winds, booming and crashing against our tiny cottage.

Yes, Mr Winter can come now. After all, I still have the inside of our cottage left to paint.

Monday, 26 October 2009

Who did done dun it…

It’s time for Claude to reveal all. All six suspects stand in line before him – The Dave’s, D’arcy and of course little Denzil.

Claude knows who the murderer is and he knows why they did it. Look at them standing before him, the innocent and guilty. Most of them looking a tad nervous.

Shhhhh… Claude is about to speak.

“Monsieurs, I zank you for attending today. I em pleazed that yur af come ere at yur own accord, but of course yur ad leetle choice, we af ze police outside at every door. D’accord, to ze buziness.”

I’ll translate from here. Claude really does have a very thick accent. Claude is saying that the reason that they are here is that they had been playing cards at the wedding and a playing card had been found at the scene of the crime. Claude believes that this card was dropped by the murderer who’d hidden it about his person as he’d been cheating at the card game – it was an extra ace! Just look at the Dave’s faces, they look terrified! Well, they were playing cards at the wedding, so it could have been them.

Wait, Claude’s saying that the Dave’s couldn’t have done it. Three of them were to be seen clearly standing on the wall as the bride and groom left on duckymoon and there is a photograph to prove it. Only Sailor Dave was out of view and the other brother’s swear that he was asleep behind the wall. The Dave’s are close, but of good character, none of them could rest knowing that they had a murderer in their midst. Claude believes Sailor Dave’s alibi, so all four brothers are accounted for at the time the murder took place. They are innocent.

Claude’s moved on to Denzil. He’s saying that Father O’Mallard had been wounded with over twenty wounds when he died, some to the face and a couple to the back of the head. It would have been impossible for Denzil to have made these wounds as the Father was a very tall duck and Denzil is… how can he put this… a ‘shurt arze’. Forensics has proven that the head wounds were made before the fatal wound to the chest so in Canard’s opinion Denzil is also innocent.

That only leaves D’arcy. I have to say he doesn’t look bothered, he’s still smiling – it can’t be D’arcy, can it? He wouldn’t kill his own uncle, not after he’s been so good to him, would he?

“Monsieur D’arcy iz eet not true zat you af ze – ow you zay? – le debts de gambling?”

I’ll take over again, it’s easier. He’s saying that D’arcy has run up gambling debts at university, big gambling debts, D’arcy owes thousands, he’s in so deep that the few Quacks he lost at the wedding reception don’t really count. D’arcy knew that Father O’Mallard had left him everything in his will but he couldn’t wait. D’arcy needed the money now; otherwise his goose would really be cooked - he couldn’t duck his debts any longer, he had to pay up to his creditors or he’d be a dead duck.

Canard is painting a picture. D’arcy is creeping away from the reception back to the church. It isn’t far, this shouldn’t take too long. He enters the church, Father O’Mallard is by the alter tidying up, he turns and smiles as D’arcy approaches him… and D’arcy strikes! He takes the screwdriver from behind his back and slashes Father O’Mallard across the face, then his neck, his back, his chest, over and over, slash, slash, slash, Father O’Mallard falls, slash, slash, slash… and then D’arcy delivers the coup de grace and thrusts the screwdriver deep into Father O’Mallards chest… and it’s over.

D’arcy, without a backward glance, leaves the church and returns to the wedding reception.

Apparently he chose an electrical screwdriver to incriminate DJ Dave - DJ’s are always fiddling around with screwdrivers and their equipment. Unfortunately DJ Dave was in clear view of the camera as the murder was taking place, so it couldn’t have been him… and then, of course, there was the tie.

Canard had photographic evidence that the tie found at the murder scene was the same tie that D’arcy had been wearing when he was at the reception – at some point earlier D’arcy had somehow spilled dark blue ink on it. That tie had been his downfall. To his misfortune he’d been seen leaving the wedding reception wearing the tie by both of Dolores’ maiden aunts, and they’d seen him return a few minutes later no longer wearing it – he must have removed it in the church after the murder and, in his haste to get back to the reception, so that his absence wouldn’t be noticed, dropped it.

So that was it. D’arcy Duck dun it.

Just look at him as the police ducks lead him away. Still smiling, not a hint of remorse. How could he do that to his poor uncle? He’s going down for a very long time. He’ll be a very lucky ducky to ever see the light of day as a free range duck again.

And it serves him right.

Sunday, 25 October 2009

M6 blues...

I was driving along the M6, traffic stop start, very slow, through the storms and sunshine on my way back from Brighton, five hours in, delays, accidents, weather.

It’s a long way from Brighton to Manchester and after a while the motorway landscape all looks the same M23, M25, M40, M42, M6… ‘oh no, not another delay’ as the traffic slowed to a standstill in front of me again.

At this rate it’d be midnight before I got home. With a resigned sigh I glanced out of the side window and ‘double-take’… at last, there it was through the rain splattered glass - beautiful bright and lasting, the first one in ages. It stretched, a perfect arc, across the fields for miles, moving with me as I shuffled slowly along in the traffic - a semi-circle of coloured light shining against the blue sky, white clouds - mysteriously alchemised from within their substance.

And then, as I watched – very faintly, but definitely there - the ghost of another a little way from the outside of the first. Look closely, you can just see it reaching down to kiss the distant centre lane. It made me smile, and for a moment all the rainbows I had ever seen remembered, filling my head with colour.

I watched for a while as I sat in the traffic. Slowly, almost imperceptibly it began to fade, dimming, becoming watery, thinner, transparent with too much light. Two minutes later it was gone, a few short moments after that the sky turned black as it started to rain and the traffic began to move once more.

M6 blues… and violets, and greens, and yellows, and oranges, and reds… rainbow.

Friday, 23 October 2009

Feeling all Leary...

Misty, what are you doing sitting on my Edward Lear? I don’t mind, but no scratching at it, I’ve had that book a long time.

‘Don’t worry you silly Hisfault I’m not scratching it, I’m reading it. That’s one of the good things about being a cat we don’t read with our eyes, we read by osmosis – the words just sink into our consciousness through our fur. I like Edward Lear, he talks complete nonsense but I really like this poem.

The Owl and the Pussy-Cat went to sea

In a beautiful pea-green boat:
They took some honey,
and plenty of money
Wrapped up in a five-pound note.

All hissing rubbish of course, no self-respecting cat would dream of marrying a bird, particularly an owl – big, horrible, twooting creatures. And as for getting into a boat… no way, I might fall out and get all wetly and I hate being wetly. You know, I’ve never eaten honey - I’m prepared to give it a go though, who knows I may have a bit of a sweet tooth – except us cats can’t taste sweetness. Bet you didn’t know that did you, but it’s true – cats are the only mammals that can’t taste sweetness – salt, yes…sour, yes…bitter, yes… I might even be able to taste umami if I knew what it was, but not sweet, cats don’t do sweet.

And I can’t see much point in the money, even if it is wrapped up in a fiver. Money’s pointless – you can’t eat it, you can’t really play with it, and it doesn’t help you to sleep, pointless, pointless, pointless – no, I wouldn’t bother with the money.

I DO like that poem though, it makes me purr - but that Lear person got it all wrong from a cat perspective. Edward Lear, the twentieth child of Jeremiah Lear and his wife Ann. They must have been kept very busy with twenty children and it must have taken a lifetime! Humans aren’t like us cats they don’t have kindles, even twins are unusual. An average cat can have up to eight kittens per litter, and two or three litters per year. So during my lifetime, I could have more than a hundred kittens… if I really was a girl that is.

Back in 1952, a Texas Tabby named Dusty set the record by having more than four hundred and twenty kittens before having her last litter at the age of eighteen, and the largest ever known litter (with all surviving) was a Persian called Bluebell who gave birth to fourteen kittens in one litter! That sounds like hard work.

Lear loved limericks. A limerick is a five-line poem in strict AABBA (no, not the pop group that’s ABBA) form. The best ones are meant to be witty or funny, and the very best ones are really rude – like this…

A Texas Tabby called Dusty
Was continually feeling lusty.
She’d paint the town red.
Then end up in bed.
Well at least her libido ain’t rusty.

Ha, ha…I like that. I’ll try another…

Their was a young kitty called Misty,
Who en-joyed the odd nip of whisky.
When on her third glass,
She’d fall on her arse.
Poor Misty is all Brahms and Liszty.

Purrrrrr…I like that too, very witty, most amusing – I have a knack for limericks, even though I do say so myself. Edward Lear eat your heart out…’

How’s the reading going Misty? You look deep in thought. What’re you up to, writing a poem? Perhaps that’s it – perhaps you’re a poet and you didn’t know it…

Thursday, 22 October 2009

The Flying Fellinis

Have you ever felt that you wanted; needed to pour your heart out? We all do at some time or other, but some of us, maybe all of us have places in their hearts that it’s better not to pour, better to not even drip. Better to keep the lid on, cork in, heart or voice firmly stoppered. There ARE ways to let it pour it out so it can go unnoticed though; a joke, a story, an allegory – juxtapositions of the truth or the truth hidden within a lie or a lie taken and wrapped up in the truth. Many ways, lots of ways, ways to let it pour out without even letting a single drip drop. I intended to keep this in the bottle along with the murder party, Scotland, and the chicken, but here it is pouring out.

When I was very young I lived in a circus and my parents were the star attraction. They were a high wire act, the Flying Fellinis. If you Google them you may get my cousin’s son who is the guitarist in a band who use my parent’s circus act as the band’s name. My uncle’s grandson also keeps up the family tradition with a high-flying skateboard act that performs all over the world - they’ve even been auditioned by the Cirque du Soleil in Toronto.

I may at some time have mentioned to some of you the fact that I am an orphan. Adopted by my non-biological parents after a terrible tragedy in which my mother and father fell to their deaths. I hardly remember them now- Treya and Paul - my mother and father. I was not quite three when they died.

Treya was a Bulgarian trapeze artiste and Paul a Dutch high-wire daredevil. They met in 1955 in High Wycombe where they were both performing in Billy Smart’s touring circus. They married the following year, I was born in 1957, and by 1959, through sheer hard work and determined risk-taking, they’d become the stars of the circus, the headline act.

I remember our caravan, it was cream and warm, a wood burning stove sat in the corner and I used to love the smell of the wood smoke as it rose up and out of the tall black pipe-chimney and into the crisp autumn air outside. Autumn is the time for circuses, and I have vague recollection of a summer spent by the sea in Wales, the circus people laid-up in rehearsal waiting for the performance of the autumn – but then I could be wrong, it could be a dream, a false memory, hearsay – I remember it nonetheless.

They were a great act; my mother’s trapeze skills and my father’s strength combined to make the greatest high-wire act that the British public had ever seen – and of course back then they refused the safety of a net, there wasn’t any need for one, professionals – true professionals – didn’t need nets, after all professionals never fell.

The big performance, Oxford, the week before Christmas, me excited for Kris Kringle to bring me the ball I wanted so badly, the ball that I would learn to balance on. The mirrored balance-ball that would allow me to become the youngest acrobatic clown that Smart’s had ever seen. I would ride across the ring arms outstretched, my mirrored ball, the one that would one day lead me to the high-wire bicycle that my parents at this moment rode so fearlessly across the thin steel wire, precariously, high above my head, beneath me.

Bobo held my hand and watched as my parents rode slowly along the wire. My father holding the balance bar firmly in his strong hands - my mother standing balanced, arms outstretched, wavering gently upon his muscular shoulders.

They were professionals, true professionals - they had no need for a net.

It had been a terrible accident they said afterwards, nothing could have prevented it. My father had a blackout, maybe a small stroke, up there, high on the wire and both he and my mother had fallen to the sawdust sprinkled ground below. Sawdust is soft, but a December playing field in Oxford in December is hard and unforgiving. My Mother was killed instantly, crushed by the weight of my father’s body, her neck broken. My father died on the way to hospital, he never regained consciousness thank God.

I remember Bobo’s huge red smile as tears dripped from his chin, falling onto my small upturned face. That night I slept in Bobo’s caravan next to the elephants. I didn’t sleep much - I kept hearing my Mother’s scream and the GASP of the audience as she fell on the hard ground… THRUMP! The elephants were quiet that night - although I knew they were awake. Elephants pick up on tragedies – they feel the atmosphere.

A week later it was over. My parents were buried in Crendon churchyard, a circus funeral – clowns, elephants, jugglers, a procession, the ringmaster dressed all in black. I was fostered (and later adopted by my foster parents), and the circus moved on - perhaps to spend another Summer by the sea. There are no markers on their graves, why would there be? It’s the way of the circus, you come, you perform and you move on – it is all ephemeral – a passing moment. I know where they are though - and sometimes, on my way to Reading, take a detour to stop and remember.

And sometimes I tell this tale; when the mood takes me. Sometimes I’m believed, more often not. It doesn’t matter, it’s a pouring out of the heart, honest to me if not to all and there are ways to let it pour; a joke, a story, an allegory – juxtapositions of the truth or the truth hidden within a lie or a lie taken and wrapped up in the truth. Many ways, lots of ways, ways to let it pour out without even letting a single drip drop.

This was one of them.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Goodies and Baddies...

I used to be a cowboy. No I really did, we all did, the boys on our road - we were all cowboys.

At three, pre-school with absolutely no worries, I was a happy-go-lucky type of cowboy. The sort of cowboy with a girl in every town (not that I was interested in girls back then) and a wandering, bunkhouse, move ‘em up, move ‘em out, Wagon Train sort of attitude to life. The kind of easy going, take it easy, one day at a time, howdy pardner cowboy, who we all loved to watch on the black and white rented television sets that sat in the corners of all of our single-bulb living rooms.

I remember being a baddie - masked, bandanna covering my mouth, the rustler, the bank robber, the one that shot the old man riding shotgun on the stagecoach, my twin holstered six guns out of my holster in a flash. That’s me – the baddie in the tartan trousers, the one with the huge smile on his face, standing outside number 57. I could be a baddy from the time I got up until the time I went to bed, shooting at lawmen, robbing banks, stealing horses, drinking whisky (water) in the local saloon standing on a chair at our wooden kitchen draining board.

By the time I’d reached four and a half and was off to school I’d decided that being the good guy was no more the thing - so adios my tartan trousers, goodbye mask, so long cheeky smile, and howdy Mr good guy. That’s the thing about the ‘going to school’ thing - the worry begins and you have to change, stop shooting people, no more ambushing stagecoaches, starting brawls in bars. You have to become more sensible, measured, have to be liked, have to conform. You don’t see it happening at the time, it seems the right thing to do, it’s easier, people expect it, you have responsibilities (ink monitor) - being a baddie isn’t an option and old Miss Mathews took a very dim view of having baddies in her class.

Just look at the second picture of me eighteen months or so later. I’m still a cowboy. My hat’s still black, I’m still wearing a bandanna - but now my hat has a silly white fringe and my trousers, T-shirt, even my bandanna are white(ish).Instead of my six gun I’m carrying an old tin cash box like some kind of cowboy banker. And worse of all I’m wearing sandals - and I’m wearing them with white socks. No wonder my smile’s disappeared. I look almost sad, see that faraway look? I think I’m yearning for the good old days back when I was a baddy and life was an exciting adventure of murder and robbery from dawn till dusk. Regrets and I’m not even five…sounds about right.

Yep, I used to be a cowboy. Sometimes a baddy, but generally a goody – which about sums up my life really - I know which of those two cowboys I’ve come most to resemble and he isn’t wearing tartan trousers.

I wonder how big my smile would be now if I’d decided to stay a baddy?

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Onion tears and gardener's secrets

Do onions make you cry when you chop them? Well, unless you've managed to avoid cooking all your life you've probably chopped an onion and experienced that burning, stinging, tears-running-down-both-cheeks thing you get from the onion fumes. Why does that happen? What is there to get all emotional about over an onion?

Apparently when you cut an onion, you break the onion cells and release their contents. When you slice the onion flesh amino acid sulfoxides form sulfenic acids and enzymes. Up until this point these had been kept separate - but by cutting into the onion it frees them up to mix with the sulfenic acids to produce propanethiol S-oxide, a volatile sulfur compound that wafts upward, and when it hits your eyes it reacts with the water in your tears to form sulfuric acid. The sulfuric acid burns the delicate skin around your eyes and this makes them release their tears, as protection, washing away the irritant as you cry and sob.

So, you are literally crying acid tears!

Just look at these onions, the wine bottle is to give an idea of scale (honestly), they must contain enough enzymes to make gallons of tears. They probably contain enough acid inducing chemicals to make vast armies cry oceans of sulphuric acid tears. They were given to me by a neighbour of mine; he grew them on his allotment. They have to be three of the biggest onions I have ever seen outside of a county show and even then I think these may be bigger. Chris tells me - Chris is my neighbour’s name - that compared to some of the onions he has grown that these are pretty small! What is he putting into his soil I wonder – elephant dung! When I asked him how he’d managed to grow these whoppers he simply smiled and with a twinkle in his eye said that he didn’t know. Didn’t know?

That’s the thing with gardeners; they don’t like telling you how they do it, they like their secrets. Acid tears and gardener’s secrets - no matter, either way these are three of the biggest onions I’ve ever seen and I’m sure that you’d agree that Chris, my neighbour, certainly knows his onions.

Now, I wonder why people say that…

Monday, 19 October 2009

Who did done dun it?...

So poor Father O’Mallard is dead - murdered in his own church. Little Duckington is in uproar. Everybody is talking about it, nobody is going out after dark, everyone is under suspicion. What a terrible thing to happen, who would do such a thing, and maybe more importantly - why? Father O’Mallard didn’t have any enemies… did he?

The police are baffled and their feathers have been ruffled. Luckily Claude Canard is on the case, he’s been asking questions, investigating the scene of the crime and he has theories, suspects, he even has some evidence…

Evidence item number 1. - The screwdriver that was used to dispatch poor Father O’Mallard.
Evidence item number 2. - A playing card, dropped behind the alter.
Evidence item number 3. - A lilac silk tie found in the aisle of the church.

Claude works on facts. The facts are as follows:

- Claude knows from the autopsy that the murder happened around the same time the bridal couple drove away on Duckymoon – so three out of his six suspects can easily be eliminated.
- He knows that the screwdriver is of the electrical type.
- He knows that there was a game of cards taking place at the reception and he also knows who was playing.
- He has the tie. Unfortunately all of his suspects were wearing similar wedding day ties. The difference with this tie is that it has a distinguishing mark and Canard remembers who was wearing one with a similar mark on the day of the wedding.

Canard knows who dun it and has a theory on why, Do you?

The answers are in the words and pictures – go on give it a go it isn’t so hard. Are you as good a detective as Canard?

Click HERE and HERE and HERE to gather your clues.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Chasing the rainbow…

Blue May skies in Scarborough, September purple sunset between the houses, summer grey evening sunlight glimmering on the Irish Sea.

I’ve been watching the skies all year long. Watching the skies and hoping. Silver light on water, sunset orange setting, through clouds, on the road, over the estuary; I’ve been watching the skies everywhere. Watching the skies and hoping.

Watching from the car, watching from the shore, watching from my window; watching the skies and waiting.

I caught some glimpses, almost captured it once or twice, just missed, gone as I pressed the shutter - click.

I’ll keep watch, I can wait. I’ll get it eventually.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Misty has taken to jumping in the car every time I open the door and mooching and meowing until I have to reach in and lift her out. It’s almost as if she’s bored and wants to go somewhere…

‘Right I’m ready to go, do you hear me? I’m ready to go. Come on, get in the car and drive, I feel like a spin. I’d quite fancy a drive along the coast road and past the castle, see what birds are about on the estuary - I like bird watching. Well, let’s face it with all these bells watching is the best I’ll do - I’m never going to catch one.

Or we could have take a little trip over to the woods, park up, go for a walk, see if I can find any squirrels. Or even to the shops, anywhere, anywhere. I just want to go somewhere different. I’m bored. I want a change of scene. You don’t know what it’s like being a cat – it’s very restricting. You can’t go to restaurants, can’t go to the pictures, you can’t even go to the pub – and even dogs can go to the pub, I know I’ve seen them. All I ever do is wander my territory waiting for something to happen. Well, do you know what’s happened today? Not a thing - zilch, nada, zero - N-O-T-H-I-N-G - nothing! Take me somewhere. I AM BORED!

Boredom is not good for a cat, it makes us aggressive. If you ever see us pacing up and down or swiping at imaginary creatures or biting our own tails – walk - away – very - slowly.

What’s he doing now? He’s walking towards the car. I think he’s going to try and get me out… well I’m not going. Do you hear me, I’m not going…. back off! Move away from the vehicle! I’m warning you once… twice… last warning! Come any closer and I take your fingers off. Is he going for the door…’

Come on Misty out you come, we’ll be going out soon and you don’t want to go for a boring old drive do you… My goodness, she looks a bit… oh well, there’s no rush, perhaps I’ll come back later…

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Learning to whistle…

I need to tell you about my Uncle Charlie. Everything I’m going to tell you is true, even the bits that aren’t true are true, they still run in my head remembered, polished and burnished over years to shine with yesterday’s light. Not lies, not deceits - truths lovingly recalled, longingly remembered, not imagined, lived.

Lived and lived and lived.

Uncle Charlie could fly - not really fly, but REALLY fly. Here, I’ll make a film for you. Watch him on his bike as he comes around the corner delivering the newspapers to the townspeople. Look at him. You might think that he really could take to the air as he whistles and sings his way around the dark, be-drizzled council estate, so light, so tall and thin, like a character out of a Dickens’s story. Watch him weave, see him racing the barking dogs, look at how the rain can only make him wet outside, not inside. He’s as dry as bone and warm inside. And look at him flying inside his head - not in a really clever way, but in a REALLY CLEVER way. His own way; his ‘I can see all colours I can hear all music I can feel all weathers I can smell all life around me – all around me, pulling and exciting me, so much life!’ really clever. Only his way.

See him? I wish I could make it clearer for you, but it’s in my head, running in black and white, a bit grainy, running a little too fast so as to give it that slightly jerky motion that you see. I’ll try to make it clearer for you. Watch here he comes. That’s him there at the corner, down there, listen you can here him coming. He’s whistling as he rides his bike, legs spinning on the pedals, weaving his way, flying through the mist and fog-like rain on this dark December morning, Charlie’s coming to bring my comic all the way from Butter Market, wrapped in scarves, collars up, cap pulled low over his face. Look at me, still in pyjamas, in our shadowy kitchen waiting for the tea to brew, waiting for Charlie to come and drink the tea - watching for him out of the window, listening for his whistle, waiting for his magic. Here he comes, up the road, through the gate, along the concrete garden path, swinging his leg over the handle bar, the last three yards a single pedal glide, then off - his hand dipping into the newspaper bag, a quick rap-a-tap-tap on the door, and here he comes again, flying in, all scarf and legs and smile and cough and comic.

Got a cuppa char?" he asks smiling, glasses misting over as he comes into the almost warm kitchen. “Got a cuppa char for Charlie?”

And of course we always did - and one of Mum’s cigarettes.

Uncle Charlie was magic. Uncle Charlie, magic Charlie, the one with the sparkle in his eye, the chuckle in his throat, the sweet in his pocket, the quick smile… and something else, some dark hidden thing behind the inch-thick pebble spectacles deep, deep, in the deepness of his poor-sighted eyes - lurking just beneath the surface. What was it? It was magic for sure, but not the magic of top hats and rabbits or the magic of pennies swished from behind the ears of small excited boys, he could do that and more, but this was MAGIC! Real magic, life magic, the magic of chimneys and poster paints and mouth organs and winters’ tale and burning pianos and Rolf Harris with his Stylophone and too-short-of-money and rockets and (BANG!) the atomic bomb. REAL magic, life magic, dark magic - rushing, tumbling, winning, losing magic. Charlie’s magic.

I was in awe of Uncle Charlie. He knew everything, EVERYTHING! The names of the planets in order, and where each constellation sat in the skies, and how to build paper aeroplanes and paper chance machines and paper houses for the side of railway tracks, and how to make music from a biscuit tin or two spoons or a dustbin or a shoebox and some string, and the names of ALL of Ali Baba’s forty thieves, and how to sweep a chimney whilst keeping most (most) of the soot in, and how to make Christmas decorations from old toffee wrappers, and how to sing like an Irishman, and how to make a hat from an old newspaper, and a sword from sticks, and a bow and arrow, and a paper kite, and how to take two colours and make a third, and how to, and how to… and how to…EVERYTHING!

Everything magic, and fantastic, and clever - and everything you could ever wish for to keep you entertained or make you laugh - and everything you could ever need to keep that edging darkness at bay. EVERYTHING… that some might say was - nothing.

Charlie rode his big black bicycle, delivering papers for the local newsagent on Butter Market; the papers, safe and dry in a newsprint grubby canvas bag balanced precariously in the tubular steel basket sticking out from in front of his handle bars. That bicycle his wings, the machine that he flew on, and the fuel of the flight his whistle. And what a whistle! Not the reedy trying-to-follow-a-tune whistle we might all blow - but a whistle like you have never heard before, a boy-to-man lifetimes practice whistle, with tremolo, warps, and rising crescendos, a whistle to match any songbird or boiling kettle, a whistle like no other before and no other since, a special whistle, a magic whistle, his whistle.

“Teach me to whistle.” I asked him.

“I’ll try. But whistling isn’t in the mouth, it’s in the mind - and you could be wearing your tin hat.”

“I’m not wearing a tin hat!”

“We’ll see, we’ll see. You don’t always know that you’re wearing it then one day you realise and, WHOOPS, there it is right on top of your head all shiny and hard. By then it’s too late though - it’s going or gone and almost impossible to get back. Take care of your hands and look out for tin hats is my best advice to you my lad, you’ll need your hands AND your imagination to become what you might become.”

But I didn’t care about tin hats or hands, I just wanted to whistle. So Uncle Charlie patiently taught me, showing me how to hold my lips, how to blow and how not to blow, teaching me the whistle. For days then weeks I tried, forcing spent air from between my soundless lips, not once aware of the hat upon my head.

“I’ll never whistle!” I cried, really cried, the tears running down my face.

“Yes you will. Come on, give it another go. Listen.” He whistled. A long lilting tune of a sea shanty so salty I could taste the waves. “There!” He pointed. Two seagulls swooped down from the clouds.

“Did you do that?”


“Again!” This time a tune I recognised as a hymn, but so much more, the whistle soared upwards as a single ray of sunshine broke through the flat, grey clouds and dazzled the window of the red brick house across the way.

“Did you do that?”


“Once more!” This time a darker whistle, low and rumbling, deep from inside his throat, out through his lips - higher, higher, higher, shriller, more erratic, warbling, screeching, jarring, as if to break a glass. And then, as if in answer, the reply of the siren on top of the tall pole outside the fire station – nnnnyyrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…

“Did you do THAT?”

Charlie smiled, “Come on boy, try again, take off that tin hat. Let your thoughts out. Whistling isn’t in the mouth; it’s in the mind, in your head, inside your imagination. Now take off that hat and whistle!

I reached up, removed the tin hat from the top of my head, and blew as my thoughts came rushing out.


My first whistle!

Shrill, hard won, long-time coming – but whistle never-the-less.

“Well done! You have it. There’ll be no stopping you now, you’ll soon be whistling to make me run for the money.”

Uncle Charlie smiles, then jumps back on his bike and, whistling like a boiling kettle, is off to deliver the newspapers to the townspeople. Just look at him go, listen. You could almost think that his whistle will take him up high into the air and away, flown away by a whistle.

“No stopping you now, you’ll soon be whistling to make me run for the money.” He calls from over his shoulder as he turns the corner, and in that moment I know it isn’t true. I’ll never whistle like Uncle Charlie. His whistle is all his own and the only tin hat he ever wears is his Civil Defence helmet and then only for an hour or two. Look, watch as he goes whistling, whistling, whistling, mind free, imagination everywhere.
Watch him go, now wave goodbye.

There - my Uncle Charlie, now you know all about him. I never whistled like him, I never could and I never will. Instead I do the safe thing - I make my hat stronger day by day, placing it firmly on my head, readjusting it every now and then - but hardly ever taking it off. Sometimes though, like now, I dare to remove it for an hour or so... and for those few precious minutes I fly and whistle and can do magic.

Thanks for teaching me to whistle Uncle Charlie…

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Down the tube...

The world has changed around me and I didn’t notice! How did I miss it?

What is this great event? Has world peace broken out at last? Do dogs no longer chase cats? Have traffic wardens decided to let you have a few minutes leeway? No, none of these - the event I am talking about is even more incredulous, it beggars belief, it is unthinkable, an outrage, without precedent, and yet another piece of my life destined to become one more fond memory to add to my ever increasing list of fond memories.

Are you ready for this? Smarties no longer come in tubes!

‘What!’ I hear you gasp, ‘It can’t be!’ But it can, it is, it’s true - Smarties no longer come in tubes. I know - I bought some in Wales at the weekend. I reached out for a tube of Smarties only to find that Smarties now come in hexagonal boxes made from a piece of flat, die-cut, folded cardboard and… brace yourselves for the ultimate disappointment – the box does NOT have a plastic lid! No lid? No press in plastic stopper? I know what you’re thinking… if it has no stopper how can you send it flying across the room when you slam your hand down crushing the tube flat and forcing all of the air contained within it to shoot the stopper high into the air making that incredibly satisfying ‘plop’ sound? Well, thing is you can’t, no stopper, no tube, no plop, all gone. Things have changed.

But when did it change, last year, last month, last week? Nope the round Smartie tube and the plastic alphabet lid which sealed it became a thing of the past in May 2006 when the hexagonal tube was introduced – over three years ago. How did I miss that?

Well the same way I missed it when the cardboard tube no longer had a spiral construction but moved to a flat seam running down its length. A flat seam running down its length! But I remember unravelling my last spiral tube only a couple of years back, five years at most! Afraid not, the cardboard spiral tube was last made in 1987 over twenty-two years ago - I know, I know, that can’t be right…can it?

How our memory plays tricks on us. My first tube of Smarties was a wonder of spiralled cardboard tube with a plastic lid that had a raised letter of the alphabet on it. Under the Smarties name it read ‘milk chocolate beans’, the beans inside were very bright and there weren’t any blue ones, at least I don’t remember any blue ones. I used to pop out the cardboard circle at the bottom of the tube and pretend it was a spyglass when I played pirate. At infant school I used it as a big pea shooter, shooting balls of paper in class by blowing hard down the tube, and I waited years to find a tube of Smarties with a black lid and the letter ‘X’ pressed in it. Everybody knew that if you found a black ‘X’ then Rowntree Mackintosh would send you a lifetime’s supply of Smarties for free - and those very same everybodies knew someone who knew someone who knew someone who’d found one. I waited for years to find one… and I’m still waiting.

So the Smartie tube has gone the way of the NME, Postmen, and Woolies, still around but not as they were, evolved, different, and to my mind diminished. Yes, the hexagonal box is a miracle of cardboard engineering and has a certain charm, but it just isn’t the same. I’m sure that it is far more environmentally sound than the tube was, I guarantee that it’s cheaper to produce and easier to box and transport, I quite like the flip-up cardboard with its ingenious sealing mechanism – it has a quite satisfying flip action and accompanying ‘plip’ - but it isn’t a tube, you can’t make the noise of the wind by blowing through it, it doesn’t have a cardboard pop-out bottom and you’d have to work really hard to take somebody’s eye out with that lid.

You see it wasn’t the milk chocolate beans that made Smarties ‘Smarties’ - it was the tube. That’s why we bought them. It was never the sweets, they were just coloured candy covered chocolate, but what fun you could have with the tube. The tube was everything and anything you could imagine it to be – spyglass, tunnel, marble launcher, spider keeper, money box, rocket launcher, sister thumper - I once carried tadpoles with water home from Morton pond in one, it leaked a little but it did the job. I kept a collection of tiny fossilised ammonites for years in another, until it ‘went missing’ in one of my Mum’s tidying-up exercises.

Yes, it was always about the tube. I wonder what kids will play with without them?

My Smarties movie

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Rock on...

It isn’t every day that you share a hotel room with £1,000,000 worth of rocks. Yes, you counted those zeros correctly, there are six.
A million pounds worth of rocks, they must be something really special!

I was in Scarborough last week in a hotel meeting room thinking about the future, not knowing that on a covered table in the corner sat a big chunk of the past. It wasn’t until the hard-thinking day was almost over that I learnt what was under the drab yellow covers.

We shouldn’t have really peeked. The rocks, left by a group of visiting geologists, were rare, priceless, so valuable that the carriers who had brought them to the hotel couldn’t get insurance to take them away again. They were worth millions.

Well, we just had to look.

The rocks were stacked in flat wooden trays piled one on top of another. The stacks of trays looked a little like a sarcophagus, reminding me of mummies and Christopher Lee and Hammer horror movies, each tray containing a series of flat cut slices of clay-like stone. How could these be worth a million pounds? Diamonds - yes! Ytterbium – yes! The tablets of the Ten Commandments – yes! A meteorite of glowing green Kryptonite – yes! But these flat grey slabs of nothing? They looked more like badly damaged kitchen floor tiles than million pounds worth of valuable rocks.

Anyway, I took these pictures and did a Google but I still have no idea what these rocks are or why they are so valuable.

Answers on a postcard please (better still the comments box).

Monday, 12 October 2009

Duck Dayz...

Cloud 9…

The Rubber Duck in art…

The Quack
Created between 1893-1910, The Quack is the title of a series of expressionist paintings and prints by Norwegian artist Eidervard Munch, depicting an agonized duck against a blood red sky.

Munch created several versions of The Quack in various media. The Munch Museum holds one of two painted versions (1910) and one pastel. The National Gallery of Norway holds the other painted version (1893). A fourth version, in pastel, is owned by Norwegian billionaire Petter Olsen. Munch also created a lithograph (1895) of the image.

In a page in his diary headed Nice 22.01.1892, Munch described his inspiration for the image:

I was walking along a path with two friends—the sun was setting—suddenly the sky turned blood red—I paused, feeling exhausted, and leaned on the fence—there was blood and tongues of fire above the blue-black fjord and the city—my friends waddled on, and I stood there trembling with anxiety—and I sensed an infinite quack passing through nature”.

One theory advanced to account for the reddish sky in the background is that Munch had observed a powerful volcanic eruption of Quackatoa in 1883: the ash that was ejected from the volcano left the sky tinted red in much of eastern United States and most of Europe and Asia from the end of November 1883 to mid February 1884. This explanation has been disputed by scholars who note that Munch was an expressive, rather than descriptive painter, and was therefore not primarily responsive to literal rendering.

The duck in the foreground may be, not quacking but protecting himself or itself from the quack of Nature. Thus, the position could be considered a reflex reaction typical of any duck struggling to keep out a distressing quack, whether actual or imagined.

The scene was identified as being the view from a road overlooking Oslo, the Oslofjord and Hovedøya, from the hill of Ekeberg. At the time of painting the work, Munch's manic depressive sister Laura Catherine was interned in the mental hospital at the foot of the hill.

And Finally…

I’m not sure what Eidervard Munch would have made of this chap, he looks like he might have escaped from that mental hospital that Laura Catherine was in – what with the knife and that awful gaping bill. Yes, he’s absolutely cuckoo, quite puddled, definitely quackers, one breadcrumb short of a sandwich…

Sunday, 11 October 2009

A short blog about ducks…

No, not rubber ducks and sorry I haven’t much time, my dinners nearly ready, so this won’t be a long one.

These are the ducks that I’m talking about, Holly’s ducks, those little fluffy ducklings I blogged about just a few months ago. Haven’t they grown - Just look at the size of the big white one, Huey, we call him. He looks more like a goose than a duck. He looks just like the illustration of the Goosey-Goosey-Gander goose in the nursery rhyme book I used to read to Holly when she was little.

Goosey-Goosey-Gander, whither do you wander, upstairs, downstairs, in my ladies chamber. There I found an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers, so I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs….”

Huey seemed to grow at twice the rate of the other two, Louey and Dewey, I wonder why that should be? Perhaps he was a bigger egg as a duckling, or perhaps he was just a bit of a bully, taking more than his fair share of the duck meal, bread, and scraps of cakes and biscuits we feed to them.

Yes, he grew the quickest and he is the biggest, so perhaps if he was the greediest it serves him right.

Anyway, tea’s nearly ready. I’m looking forward to it. The aroma coming from the oven smells delicious. It reminds me a little of the last lines of that rhyme. They’re usually left out of the text but not in Holly’s book and I always read them to her, perhaps it explains her ‘realistic’ approach to livestock - “The stairs went ‘crack’, he broke his back, and all the little ducks went “quack, quack, quack.”

Quack, quack, quack.

Friday, 9 October 2009

Here's to you number two...


I don’t know why poor Rick hates cats so much. He’s constantly making nasty comments about Misty, it’s just so unnecessary. All I can think is that he’s got some deep-rooted problem, some aversion that’s probably based around a bad childhood experience. Such a pity - he’s a nice enough chap otherwise. Can you believe what he wrote last time? ‘Cat in the bath and plug in the hole. Surely you turned the taps on next.’ How wicked! Of course he didn’t use his own name, he called himself Liz – maybe that’s another one of his issues, or maybe he’s just too embarrassed to come out in the open…

‘I’m sure that there’s something funny going on. Things just don’t seem right. I know that I’m the only one home but I keep hearing funny noises – bumps, scrapes, squeaks. There! There it is again…

“Who’s there, is there somebody here?”

What’s that? Oh-my-fishbones, just look at that big purple claw thing! And what’s that horrible crouchy thing attached to it? It looks like some sort of goblin, all gnarled and stumbling. Wait a minute I know that face, I’ve seen it before… Hisfault has a picture of him on his darty-board, bottom-right, just above the number two. It makes him laugh when he hits it with the dart. He always shouts ‘Here’s to you, number two’ when he gets it dead centre, between the eyes. I think it’s someone Hisfault knows, someone who doesn’t like felines, someone who has a grudge against us poor cats.

That must be it! He’s come to get me, he’s come to take revenge on poor Misty for all the times he’s been stucked with that darty thing by Hisfault. Well, he won’t get me; not even with that silly purple leopard-skin glove thing on his hand! Come on then, come on and have a go if you think you’re hard enough. I’ll rip you to tiny shreds. Come on number two. As Rocky B once said: ‘you're gonna eat lightnin' and you're gonna crap thunder!’ Come on, do your
worstest. Missed! Missed me by miles! My turn… in with the left, follow up with the right, unlike you I don’t need no gloves and you is so ugly that you should donate your face to the US Bureau of Wild Life… I am the Greatest! Another left, a right, a jab to the thumb, a pounce at the fingers. Did that scratch? In for the wrist, a swipe of the thumb - Gotcha! Yes that hurt didn’t it? Not so ‘Shore’ of yourself now are you? Yes I know your name, not that you’re man enough to use it publicly. Hisfault says you use your wifey’s name, why’s that I wonder, scared of what might happen to you, feel safer hiding behind her skirts, bit of a scaredy-cat are you? Well, I’m no scaredy-cat.

Come on number two, aka Liz, take your medicine like a man. Come on, come and get it, nobody puts Misty in a corner… I’m gonna rip your little purple balls off...’

Now where did that come from? I’m sure I’ve never seen that before. Perhaps it belongs to Holly, some Halloween prop for that party she’s been invited to; or maybe it’s Gaynor’s, a new type of oven glove or something? Either way Misty seems to have taken a real dislike to it, she’s really ‘killed’ it. It’s all frayed. Look, she’s torn off most of the pom-poms... I wonder why she dislikes it so much. Oh well, they’ll both be home soon, I think I’ve just got time for a quick game of darts. Coming to watch Misty? Do you fancy a quick game of ‘Here’s to you, number two’…

Thursday, 8 October 2009

A borrowed opening line with Der Spaziergang …

Success led us up a narrow road to a remote farm house and a dead end.

There were five in our tousled group, well met along the way, unknown to each other, but each known in our single purpose. Others converged around us; in pairs, threes, fives, even a group of twenty off in the smoking distance all making a way across the fields. Smiling in each other’s silences no need of words, hard-listening, sharp-seeing, light-feeling breathless in anticipation of success.

My invitation had come gradually. At first a quiet mumble in my head, floating in and around my day-to-day, unannounced, unaccepted, uncontrollable. Annoying at first, increasingly a comfort – the wind, bees, rumbling thunder, soft rain, wave crash, birdsong, call of the deepest whale, that owl.

And the colours. Almost too bright, so vivid that I thought that they might burn through my eyes and etch themselves into the very back of my brain. Until I realised that they already had.

And finally the drawing to. Magnetism my body could not resist nor wanted to. Skin, hair, blood, my thoughts, each and all pulled towards this place; all pull inwards to this place, pulled inwards and outwards and see… upwards - to the wedding.

I applaud. We all applaud, we applaud and smile and at each other look and watch and remember and hope, and…

The world and his wife take close each others hands and with their gesture save us.

We fly. It wasn’t a dead end at all.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Frayed rope and string...

We went over to Hell’s Mouth on Sunday, a nice day, sunny and crisp - went looking for wash-up wood to burn blue with salt in our fire. There’s always plenty of wood on Hell’s Mouth, wood to burn and watch as sea blue flames flicker.
It seems like all the wash-up in the world finds its way to Hell’s Mouth. The beach is flotsam-jetsam littered – plastic bottles, M-way cones, seaweed, old toys, shoes, wood and orange rubber gloves like severed hands, fingers pointing accusingly back at the sea. ‘Orange glove!’ we shout each time we find one…‘Orange glove!’

You might find anything on Hell’s Mouth.

Not this day though. This day the beach is almost clear, part from some weed and tangles of rope and string. A nice day, sunny and crisp - other times, winter times, Hell’s Mouth can, will, must behave to name, wind blasting faces with cutting sand, the waves crashing, foam tumbling over sand to dune, voice sent lost a’carried away and out to sea, coats, scarves, hoods flapping-fast around bodies to trip or smother, full trees, decayed sea creatures, small islands of rock thrown out of the waves to thump hard down on sodden sand - a wide-open Hell’s Mouth of sea and shore: ‘Hold hard, hold hard!’ we always whisper.

Not today though. “Where’s all the wash-up? I wanted to make a ‘thing’. It’s been a long time since Dali’s cat”.

But all we find is a single bag of sticks and a few bits of frayed and fraying nylon rope. No chance of a ‘thing’ today then, no sculpture for me, hard to make a ‘thing’ out of rope and string. Pity, such a beautiful day - if only I’d brought my paints or a few pastels, how to capture that jut of land engulfed in blue-green sea, the swathe of storm promised sky, white topped waves, that swirling yellow sun perhaps to leave it on the beach for all that pass to see.

Maybe next time…

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Lost potion found...

The sloe gin I made back in 2002 or 3 or 4 is now a beautiful dark red and has been ready to drink for – well, who knows how long? How could I have forgotten it? Hidden in an old Johnny Walker tin at the back of a shelf for all this time deepening, darkening, becoming richer, more viscous, waiting for its rediscovery, then found last weekend and tasted.

A potion of nectarine delight.

My first and only bottle of sloe gin, made way back from sloes I gathered on a shrill October morning from a single blackthorn hedge at the entrance to the steep-down track to whistling sands. Tasted once and much too early (groagh!), then back-stored and laid forgotten until now.

Time to drink, time to make some more…

Firstly, gather sloes. Best done after first frost (by full moon), but I didn’t bother. The thorns of the blackthorn bush are long and sharp, you’ll prick your hands, bleed, but hopefully not too badly, be careful – you don’t want to taint your sloes. Gather enough to third-fill as many bottles of gin as you would afford to make.

Obtain cheap gin, any old gin will do – strength not quality for this, the sloe ferment will add both depth and flavour. Empty out a third of the bottle into some other bottle to leave room for the fruit. Two bottles of gin will make three bottles of sloe – me, the mathematical genius!

Wash and prick your sloes. Forgetting to prick mine I had afterwards to go in with a long wooden skewer, down inside the bottle, not easy - nor did I wash them, even letting some bits of leaf fall! What matter? What of harm will thrive in gin save misery?

Drop a quantity of washed, pricked, sloes into you gin bottles singly, each by each, until full.

Now pour in sugar. How much is up to you. The more sugar, the sweeter still the gin - I use only a little, three tablespoons, less, and none at all.

Shake well – but first screw tight the top!

Store in some cool, dark cupboard - or put at the back of a shelf and forget - shake every other day for a week. Then shake once a week for two months or until you forget about shaking.

When the sloe gin is beautiful and dark red, it’s ready to drink. The longer you keep the better it will become – months, years, a lifetime - sloe gin, magic done.

I wonder if I’ll ever even remember this batch… what batch?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Duck Dayz...

Cloud 9

The Rubber Duck in art…
Portrait of Marilyn.

Andrew Warhola (August 6, 1928 – February 22, 1987), more commonly known as Andy Warhol, was an American painter, printmaker, and filmmaker and a leading figure in the art movement known as Pop Art.

It was during the 1960s that Warhol began to make paintings of iconic American products such as Campbell's Duck Soup Cans, Ducka-Cola bottles, and Billo soap pad boxes, as well as paintings of celebrities such as Marilyn Monduck, Elvis Duckley, Jackie Keneduck, Duckammad Ali and Elizabeth Tealor. He founded ‘The Factory’, his studio during these years, and gathered around himself a wide range of artists, writers, musicians, and underground celebrity ducks.

In 1962 he began mass producing prints using the silkscreen method and his work became popular and controversial.

“In August 62 I started doing silkscreens. I wanted something stronger that gave more of an assembly line effect. With silkscreening you pick a photograph, blow it up, transfer it in glue onto silk, and then roll ink across it so the ink goes through the silk but not through the glue. That way you get the same image, slightly different each time. It was all so simple quick and chancy. I was thrilled with it. When Marilyn Monduck happened to die that month, I got the idea to make screens of her beautiful face - the first Marilyns”.

Examples of this work in various colourways are numerous and can be seen in galleries all over the world. The Andy Warhol Museum is located near downtown Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, where Warhol was born and grew up. The Museum features extensive permanent collections of his art, including several Monduck prints.

And Finally…

Some like it hot, others cold, on toast as a pâté – but either way it seems to me she lived her life like a canard in the wind, never knowing who to swim to when the rain set in…