Monday, 30 November 2009

Duck Dayz...

Cloud nine...

I think that you can work this one out for yourself.
New ducks on the pond...
I have some new additions to my duck family. They’ve been given to me by people who probably think that it is better to humour my duck delusions rather than confront me with them - just in case it ruffles my feathers and I go quackers or something.

Here they all are. The one with the hair and bikini is Doris Double ‘D’ Duck. She’s not as brazen as she looks; she’s actually quite sweet and has a heart of gold. You may have seen her on TV - she had a waddle-on part in ‘Benidorm’ as Johnny Vegas’s bath time plaything. Thanks to Martine for introducing her to me.

The big red guy is Deville Duck, now he hasn’t got a heart of gold; in fact his heart is pretty black. I’m not sure what he’s going to get up to but I’m certain that it’ll be nothing good. He reminds me a little of Errol Flynn, he’s got the look of a pirate don’t you think? I bet the person who sent him along to my band of merry ducks was pleased to be rid of him - right Sue?

The blue, black and white duck with the orange bill and happy smile is Dizzie Duck. Dizzie is really cool; he loves jazz and used to play horn in a band with Duck Ellington. He’s been a little down on his duck luck recently, so when Nicki C. found him playing in a bar in New York for breadcrumbs she pointed him in my direction. Don’t worry Nicki, I’ll take good care of him.

Finally that little yellow fellah is Dinky Duck. Dinky was found wandering the streets of York in dazed duck fashion by my daughter Cloë. Not one to pass a duck in distress Cloë immediately thought of me and sent him along to join the ever growing populace of Little Duckington. Another bill to feed, goodness knows where I’m going to keep them all.

Anyway here they are being welcomed into the family by my original duck, Dubby. What a lot he has to answer for.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Getting the wind up…

Sometimes it's all too easy to find troublings and worries where none exist. Perhaps it all stems from the monsters that lived in my wardrobe when I was a child, or maybe it's to do with the ghost boy who lurked and whispered under my bed and still causes me to look for the hidden. Either way, it was a long time ago and I'm all grown up now. Thank God for the rationality of adulthood.

I went for a walk on the beach this weekend. The wind was blowing a gale and the sea was being whipped into a frenzy. Foot deep foam tumbled and floated all along the beach at Criccieth, the water so white with froth that it looked like some joker had tipped a huge tub of washing powder into the stormy, grey waters.

I stopped to take some photographs of the bubbled-up waves when out of the soap-sud waters stepped a very peculiar creature, all dripping wet and shivering and looking as if it wanted something warm to eat. I didn’t quite like the sidelong look that it gave me, so I didn’t hang around to find out if his lobster claw hands were sharp or what was inside the ship-part (or was it a buoy?) attire that it was wearing. Instead I ran back to the car, threw open the door, jumped in, and hit the central locking button.

Gaynor tells me that I didn’t say anything for a minute or two, and when she asked me what was wrong I began to sing…

Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho,
Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho.
I see these things
Wherever I go.

Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho,
Ha, Ha, Ho, Ho.
I must announce.
I’m not mad though.

Ten minutes later I was still singing the same two verses repeatedly, and it wasn’t until she gave me a sharp slap across my face (for my own good apparently) that I stopped. Funny that… the way the weather can affect you - it’s just that time of year I guess, squalls spring up from nowhere, a storm arises and the old monsters come out of the spray to get you. Yes, for a moment there I could have sworn that something was after me, can’t have been though… must just have been the wind.

Friday, 27 November 2009

Stair cat…

Misty’s disappeared down the cellar again. I don’t know what it is about that cat and the cellar but as soon as that door is open down she goes…

‘Okay, so far so good, I’ve made it into the cellar and nobody is following me. All I have to do is sit and wait, he’ll come down eventually.

I like this game, it’s a hoot. He comes down the stairs, I tangle myself around his feet, and he does that funny dance, the one where he waves his arms about and clutches for the banister. So far he hasn’t fallen but he will do one day. I don’t think it’ll hurt him much, after all, falling down a few stairs doesn’t hurt us cats. That’s because of my cat righting reflex, my innate ability to orient myself as I fall in order to land on my feet uninjured. We’re born with it, well almost. I’ve had mine since I was three or four weeks old and it took me about four weeks to perfect it. I had some hissing good fun learning to do it I can tell you, and a few close shaves, I lost two of my lives just practicing. It’s all about my unusually flexible backbone and the fact that I don’t really have any functional collarbones

This is how to do it. First you need to work out ‘up’ from ‘down’ visually because you’re going to need to manage to twist yourself to face downwards without ever changing your net angular momentum. Sounds complicated but it isn’t, it’s easy, I call it the Twist and in the words of Chubby Checker ‘
Now we’re gonna do the Twist and it goes like this…

First you bend in the middle so that the front half of your body rotates about a different axis than your rear half.

Then you tuck your front legs in to reduce your moment of inertia of the front half of your body and extend your rear legs to increase your moment of inertia of the rear half of your body so that you can rotate your front half quite far (as much as 90°) while your rear half rotates in the opposite direction quite a bit less (as little as 10°).
And finally you extend your front legs and tuck in your rear legs so that you can rotate your rear half quite far while your front half rotates in the opposite direction quite a bit less.

Got it? That’s how you do the Twist - simple! Of course, depending on your flexibility and initial angular momentum, you may need to repeat steps two and three one or more times in order to complete a full 180° rotation, but that’s enough of the science stuff.

Us cats also have a few other advantages over peoples – we are small, we have a light bone structure, we have thick fur that decreases our terminal velocity, we are supple and spread out our bodies to increase drag and slow down our fall and our terminal velocity is lower than a man’s at 60mph compared to 130mph for Hisfault in a free-fall position. Cats are also cool and even at terminal velocity we can relax as we fall which helps to protect us on impact. Ooops! More science stuff. Anyway, I’m not at all sure that Hisfault is THAT cool and he doesn’t have my padded paws. Despite that and even with all his disadvantages I’m sure that he’ll manage to survive, and if he doesn’t - well, I still have Foodies and that Whirling Girl thing to play with.

Shhhhhh… I think I can hear him coming… here goes…’

Come on up Misty, where are you? Do I have to come down and fetch you? Okay, if that’s the way you want it…what the? Aghhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Thursday, 26 November 2009

News from the lakeside…

What a lot of weather we’ve had recently. It seems to have nothing but rained for weeks and there have been floods everywhere, particularly in Cumbria.

Now don’t worry, I’m not going to bang on about global warming, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, or any of the other climatically doom-ridden headlines we read about in the papers daily – although we all know that we REALLY DO have a problem, we must do, EVEN the Americans are waking up to it. No, I’m not going to bang on about climate change, I want to tell you about something smaller, closer to home, somewhere we’ve been before - I want to bring you up to speed with what’s happening outside my office window.

You may remember a few months ago that I posted that I’d arrived at the office one morning to find that the small lake or large pond (it still depends on your perspective) outside of my office window was empty! All of the water had disappeared, well almost all, and there were only a couple of dirty puddles left at the bottom of the slimy liner. I posed the question ‘where had the water gone?’ and wondered what had happened to all the fish. As it turned out it appears that the pond had sprung a leak, the fish had been removed to safe haven, and it was going to be very expensive to sort it all out, so expensive that it might never happen.

Well here we are some four months later and I’m pleased to report that the pond has water in it once more. The lilies in their black plastic pots are looking as if they might survive, the wagtails are feeding again, and this morning the heron landed by the water’s edge and had a good look around, staying for about five minutes before disappointedly flying off in search of a fishy breakfast. No, the fish haven’t returned and the water isn’t very deep, the lake is by no means full, but at least it isn’t empty any longer.

So, how did this happen? Did the building agents spend the hundreds of thousands of pounds that they claim is required to repair the problem? Did they have a change of heart and decide that the lake was an important and vital habitat for wildlife? Or maybe they realised that the residents were getting a bit tired of looking out at a smelly mud-hole that might have come straight out of an episode of ‘Wild at Heart’ (and how did Hayley Mills grow so old?).

Well, actually, not. It was none of these, it just rained and rained and rained. Yes, it simply rained and the rainwater began to refill the lake and seems to continue to do so and since I took this picture the water has gained another six inches against the land. I don’t know how much further the water will rise or when the leak in the lake will come into play again, but for now we have water and plants and birds and whilst we can still see mud, at least it is wet mud and not the cracked, parched, dead, mud that we were quickly becoming used to.

That’s the thing with nature. It doesn’t give up. It’s relentless, it keeps trying. Leave it alone and it will fix itself. Nature will renew itself, it wants to live. It might not be quite the same as it was, it might be bigger, or smaller, or hotter, or colder, but it will survive, and work, and maybe even reinvent itself as something better. Perhaps nature will do that with this climate thing that we’ve helped cause, perhaps nature will repair the damage we’ve done with our Co2 emissions? Who knows, it might even lead to something better. I wonder if nature will let us be a part of it? Perhaps, like the building agents, we should pay the price and begin to repair the hole we’ve made in nature, and maybe if we do that we may get the chance to play a part in nature’s repair process.

For my part - I think I’ll buy a couple of goldfish, throw them into the lake, and wait and see what happens.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Lucky numbers...

I guess that sometimes we all dream about winning the lottery and we all have our own thoughts about what we would do with the money. Mine are simple enough; they involve a camper van, a boat and a minimalist house by the sea that has a huge attic room with glass doors that run along its entire length leading onto a hardwood and steel balcony. That would do – Oh, and I’d need some canvasses, paints and brushes, and plenty of alcohol by way of inspiration.

I could happily spend my life painting the sky and sea. So, last week I posted a request on Facebook, asking my Facebook friends to each send me a lottery number. And some did, here they are with comments:

Linda Kemp - has to be 42 - that's the answer to everything. Let's hope so Linda, let's hope so.

Janet Dykes - number: 8... do i get a share if you win? You may if you can find me Janet.

Scott Mitchell - 29. I hope you're going to share the wealth?? I shall indeed Scott, I just need to decide with which young ladies I shall share it with.

Philip Heslehurst - Unlucky for some 13. That's a bit daring Phil. I won't even write down the 'Scottish number'.

Mike King - 39. My Dad would have been 78 today and 'cos I'm a twin I divided it in two. You always struck me as sombody who was good at maths Mike, not that I'm saying that you are a geek or anything.

Paul Eddison - 23 (it has mystic powers). Mmmmm... mystic powers eh? Well it can't do any harm can it Paul... Now, look into my eyes. When you awake you will believe that you are handsome / funny / rich / none of these (delete as applicable).

And I got others, some of them predictable like Rick’s ‘69’, and others unworkable like Jordan’s ‘50’, but these were the first six to hit. Thanks everyone.

I posted the request on a Tuesday which gave me a bit of a dilemma - should I place them on the Wednesday draw, the Saturday draw, Lotto or Euro? In the end I decided on them all; well it was worth it, I could feel my luck changing as I penned my marks and parted with my four pounds. I’d soon be in that salt-breezed loft, beret on head, brandy in hand, throwing and splashing, smearing and daubing, flicking and caking, painting the storm clouds as they rolled in across the white-whipped waves.

Did I win?

Well, let’s just say that for now the beret will have to wait, and I guess I’ll have to keep painting in my cellar studio whenever I get a spare few hours… one day though, one day. Anyway - here's one I did earlier.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

First kiss

Here’s the story of my first kiss. It isn’t the whole story - some things were added afterwards, some things have been left out. What’s in and what’s out I’ll leave for you to decide, but let’s start with the bell, the school bell. Can you hear it? Ringing, tolling us boys to assembly, telling us that something is about to change, tolling us that something, something very special, will never be the same again…

At the end of the summer vac in October 1969 after 400 years of female free existence the wholly male world of Lord Williams school changed forever as Carolyn Ward became the first girl pupil in the School's history. You can imagine the buzz amongst the 300 or so boys on that day. A girl in school, who said so? Why? And are you sure? It had to be a joke, but it soon became clear that it was true and suddenly nobody was laughing.

In school assembly that morning Carolyn, standing beside matron in the front row, just to the right of the woman dominated kitchens, was introduced to us by the Headmaster as - ‘the first pupil of the fairer sex to grace these corridors in our long and noble history’ and then Stosh, as we called him, rather stiff-upper-lipedly went on to say; ‘Gentlemen! I trust that you will always remember that you ARE gentlemen and treat Miss Ward accordingly both as a fellow student and as such - an equal.’

Miss Ward, a girl, an Equal?… PHWORRR! Heady statements for such a time and questions abounded; was Miss Ward going to play rugby (and subsequently shower)? Would more girls be coming soon? Did we even have a ladies toilet in our school? But, as things turned out Miss Ward, Carolyn, didn’t play rugby (or subsequently shower), although she did do gym and more girls would be coming, but not until two years later, and yes there was a ladies toilet in school - but it was hidden in the guise of an unmarked cupboard adjacent to the practically all male staff room.

It was odd seeing, expecting to see, even hoping to see a girl around every bookshelf or corner. But after a couple of months of being startled whenever she passed in corridors and hundreds of whispered and very silly jokes about blouses and breasts and continually trying to find an excuse to be in or around the gym whenever she was exercising (in those tight blue shorts and that all too revealing polo shirt) things began to settle down and school life began to return to normal. I don’t think any of us knew why a solitary girl had been admitted to our school, particularly one as shy and quiet as Carolyn, but ‘one just had to get on with things didn’t one’ - so we did and the bell tolled on.

That picture never really did Carolyn justice. She was far prettier in the flesh. She usually had her hair tied back in a pony tail. She was tall, taller than me, and she had a nice smile. She was popular, I liked her, and besides, that picture was taken the first week she arrived at school when she was new and nervous and all alone. The event I want to tell you about happened long after, when she’d matured and made herself up a little, after she’d become used to and familiar with the attention of boys and long after the assembly bell had stopped and the ‘come to’ bell had begun to ring.

A few terms after Carolyn smashed into our all male world, one of the sixth form boys, Doughy Quainton I think, thought it would be a good idea to raffle unusual things for Christian Aid Week. One of Chunky’s far too bright ties, Willy Cooke’s 1st XV rugger captain shirt, even a ‘get out of detention for a term free’ card. Tickets were five bob each, quite a price, but it was a worthy cause and a ‘get out of detention free’ for a whole term card seemed like it was worth it, particularly as I was once given a detention for sneezing in class and when I protested was given a double-detention for my trouble. So I bought a ticket and on the day of the draw was lucky enough to win a prize. Not the coveted detention card, or Chunky’s tie, nor Cooke’s sweaty rugby shirt, or any of the other six or so prizes.

I won the final prize… I won the mystery prize… I won a kiss from Carolyn Ward!

‘A kiss from Carolyn Ward at a time and place to be mutually agreed by both parties’, it said on the sheet of exercise paper that was in the envelope I was roughly handed.

I won’t talk about the outrageous stick I took over it all, nor will I mention the new nickname I was given (Hot-Lips Height, or H.L.H as it became) and I’ll forget the cruel comments that were scrawled on my books and locker (and once on my arse) whenever my back was turned. After all I was only fourteen and she was almost three years older… and I definitely won’t tell you the detail of that kiss, the where or when or how, but I will say this… Carolyn Ward was a great kisser and she rang that particular bell the first time for me.

‘Ding-Dong!’ as Lesley Phillips would have said.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Some days...

Here I am driving to Reading this morning (above), and here I am driving home from Reading this evening (below). Spot the difference? No me neither. Some days are like that, some days there just doesn't seem to be any day; there must have been, but I missed it and that's why this is such a short blog.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Maybe it's not all about me...

This bloody blog has become such a large part of my life. Not too large but large enough. I had thought it was all about me - but increasingly other people enter and influence it and I wonder if anything I do influences them. I’d like to think it may… but does that make it all about them (you) and then I have to ask - was it always all about you?

I have followers and I know that there are other people who read regularly but don’t follow publicly. There are others who dip in and dip out like butterflies, and there are the one-offs - the ones that come in, say something, leave and are never heard from again.

So maybe it really isn’t about me and it is about you, and maybe you make this blog happen. I wonder, would I bother if you didn’t read it? Probably, but it wouldn’t be the same. It would be different and less, maybe much less, I don’t think I would put myself through such a rigorous schedule if you weren’t reading it.

Anyway, here’s a first. I posted about fly agaric last week based around a photograph Mr Chorley sent me, you may have see it. As always some of you commented but one of you, let’s just call him AS, went on to write a little story of his own about the post and it made me laugh. I enjoyed it so much that I doodled a doodle about it. So not only to you contribute comments, inspire, send photographs and generally keep me going, but you’ve even started to write the bloody blog for me! Oh well, Gaynor will pleased if nothing else.

Here it is for you to read. Thanks AS, it's good to know that there is somebody out there even more bonkers than me...

A strange happening in Toadstool Wood…

I once met the ‘hair’ apparent to the fairy kingdom of Britanicus Arbus Minor. We met under a giant toad stool purely by accident in my Uncle John's back garden. My friends had come round to my uncle's house in the morning and we all decided to play hide in seek in the giant toadstool wood at the back of his house. John wasn't my real uncle, he was just a kind old chap who would ask us all round to his house to play hide and seek. After a tiring game John would give us lots of biscuits and cake, my favourite was the mushroom cake. My uncle John would always want to join in and insisted that he would be the seeker. Great fun was always had by all. If John found you he would dress you up as the 'Dippy Toadstool' and sit you in a cold bath, while the rest of the boys had afternoon tea.

Anyway I digress; it was during one such game that I met Prince Izud Dumble Dippledap.

With three of my friends I had hidden myself deep in the centre of the toadstool wood, under a giant green domed mushroom. It would be no exaggeration to say that if the four of us had linked arms we would not have been able to join around its circumference. We seemed to wait for ages for Uncle John to come and find us and eventually we all fell asleep. I am not sure how long I was asleep for, but a tickling sensation at the end of my nose made me stir from my drowsy interlude. When I awoke my friends had gone. I was quiet cross with them for just leaving me. Suddenly a voice shouted 'what are you doing to my mushroom!' and there at the side of me, standing no more than six feet away, was a very finely attired Fairy of about twelve inches tall. He was dressed in silver chain mail and a white satin cloak and had a little silver and gold tammy on his head with a fluffy white bobble on top.

In his right hand he held rather disconcertingly a long silver dagger, embossed along the shining blade was the finest of gold filigree. 'What's your name' he demanded. I answered that my name was Alan and that the mushroom was not his but my Uncle Johns. He literally flew in to a rage, darting about my head, dive bombing me, slashing out with his dagger, to such a fitful excess that he fell to my feet completely exhausted.

Poor little man I thought. My Uncle John had always told us that there were fairies in the giant toadstool wood, but we never believed such a ridiculous tale.

When the little man regained his composure I asked him his name. He told me rather exhaustedly that he was The Crown Prince Izud Dumble Dippledap, youngest son of the Great King Izudrum Dumble Dippledap ruler of Britanicus Arbus Minor and all land, sea and sky east of the Jarawack. What a pompous individual I thought, but I decided not to stamp on him and to be nice to him instead. (Don't judge me I was only eight at the time). Once I’d won over his confidence he began to tell me that he hated his older brother Izudor and he planned to murder him and make sure he was next in line for his father's thrown. Izud went on to explain that he then intended to murder his father and when crowned King he would kill his nephews Izuderz, Izudal and Izuff the tiny. His Great uncle Count Izold the Wanghog would be kept alive long enough to see his beautiful daughter Izeewe married to his good self.

What a thoroughly unpleasant Chap I thought.

Just at that moment I heard a voice shouting out my name. I turned to look to see what Izud was up to, but he had vanished. The voice came closer and I recognised it. A minute later my Uncle John was standing in front of me. My real uncle John that is and he was very, very angry.

'How many times have your mum and dad told you not to come down to that weird old mans house, you're lucky to be alive. God help you when I tell your dad. The police are out looking for all the boys'.

I explained about meeting Izud, but Uncle John simply said 'that fairy is a nutcase, keep away from him, he is and has always been bad news.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Mistyery shopper...

Shopping list
Washing-up liquid

‘Looks like they’re going to the shops, I wonder if this is my chance? If I hide in this shopping bag perhaps they’ll pick me up and take me to the shops with them. I need a few things, I’ve made a list:

Misty’s shopping list
A new ball
Mouse trap
Cat treats
My extra special gourmet food
Salmon flakes (unsmoked)

The ball is for practice. I saw a mouse out the back the other day and I reckon that if I can get my speed up I might just be able to catch it. My old ball has disappeared. I was playing with it, gave it a good hard swipe, off it went up into the air, and it never came down again. It either magically disappeared or it’s stuck in the light fitting in the loving room. We used to call in the living room but ever since the whirling girl thing brought that curly boy home… My guess is that it’s disappeared, vanished. Hisfault is always saying that things just disappear around here – pens and keys mainly, but marbles as well. Foodies often says that Hisfault is losing his marbles.

The cheese is to tempt the little mousey my way. I’m going to lay a trail of cheese across the ground right up to a place where I’ll be hiding - then all I have to do is pounce! Couldn’t be simpler, minimum effort, almost too easy, and failing that there is always the mousetrap. Well, I may need the mouse trap because of the hissing bell on this collar. You should hear it, it’s so loud! Forget Misty! Just call me Quasimodo… ‘The bells, the bells!’Might as well shout out ‘I’m here mousey, I’m here.’

So…One: Get in the bag. Two: Go to the shops. Three: Get my mouse catching equipment. Four: Catch me a mouse. What could be simpler?

The other things, the yummies? Well, the other things are to comfort me if I don’t catch the mousy. Not than I’m expecting to need them, but it’s always good to have a back up plan. Now stop talking to me and be quiet, they’re coming to pick up the shopping bags. Whiskers crossed, here we go…”

She’s in the shopping bag again. Why does she do that? Come on Misty, out you come, I don’t think that you want to come shopping and it isn’t as if you need anything from the shops do you…

Thursday, 19 November 2009

An unexpected trip to Scarborough …

I’m pretty good at making connections, seeing the patterns around me, understanding the inter-relationships between events and thoughts, thoughts and actions, actions and results.

What do I mean? Here let me show you… Hold very tight please!
So I’m on the phone to Mr. Chorley yesterday and suddenly he tells me that he has some rather strange looking fungi growing on the bank in his garden. Mr. C. has something nasty; he’s quarantined, working from home, gazing out of his window.
Now I’m quite interested in Mushrooms and toadstools, so I asked him what they looked like and when he told me I was certain that I knew what it was he had there growing on his bank, but just to be sure I asked him to send me a photo. I was right. It was Amanita muscaria, commonly known as the fly agaric or fly amanita.
FA, as us mycologists call it, is both poisonous and psycoactive, which means if you eat one it’ll will make you pretty ill AND give you some pretty weird hallucinations. Yes, Mr C. had magic mushrooms growing in his back garden, or at least one form of them.
Fly agaric is the quintessential toadstool, its white-spotted, deep red mushroom shape is often found in Children’s books and on lawns in old ladies gardens resplendent with some species of faerie or elf sitting on its spotted cap. Its name, fly agaric, doesn’t refer to the insect, but to the delirium that results from eating the fungus, based on the medieval belief that flies could enter a person's head and cause mental illness.
Maybe flies entered the head of Arthur Conan Doyle’s father, the artist and poet, Charles Altamont Doyle. Charles came from a very ‘Arty’ family - his father, John Doyle, was the famous political cartoonist "HB" while his older brother, "Dicky" Doyle, was a prominent illustrator, best known for his work with Punch magazine. His other brother, Henry, was also an accomplished artist and became the director of the National Gallery in Ireland.
Poor Charles had a lot to live up to, but although he had a great deal of artistic talent he never managed to earn a living from his artwork, so instead worked as a draughtsman in Scotland. It was Charles who designed the fountain at Holyrood Palace and that, along with begetting his son, became his most famous accomplishment.
He illustrated books, wrote articles, had a loving wife and family, but none of it was enough to keep his inherent feelings of inadequacy and low self-esteem at bay. He began to drink, and over time became so addicted to the booze that his health started to decline. Eventually he lost his job, developed delirium tremens, and began to see fairies and elves.
In 1881 he was admitted to an asylum. He continued to draw, creating some of his best work, and keeping sketchbooks which he filled with water-colours and pen-and-ink drawings. Most of his work featured elves, faeries, and other whimsical creatures which he tried to use to prove of his sanity, telling the asylum staff that he was drawing the little-people that he could see so clearly.
On October 10, 1893 Charles Altamont Doyle suffered a severe epileptic fit and died just another lunatic in the madhouse.
His son, Arthur, went on to be the creator of Sherlock Holmes and spent much of his life trying to prove his Father’s sanity by investigating the supernatural and claiming that fairies were real, his most famous proof being the photograph’s taken back in 1916 by Frances Griffiths and Elsie Wright, two young girls who lived in the village of Cottingley in West Yorkshire, who produced the most famous fairy pictures in the history of photography.
Arthur was entirely convinced by the photographs and to demonstrate this he published The Coming of the Fairies in 1922, recounting the story of the photographs, guaranteeing them as genuine, and declaring his unshakeable belief in fairies. One of the girls, Frances Griffiths, moved to Scarborough in the 1920's…and so finally we reach our destination.
Mr Chorley, magic mushrooms, faeries, flies in the brain, madness, more faeries, Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes, still more faeries, Scarborough. There, I told you that I’m pretty good at making connections, and all that from a chance glance out of the window from Mr. C.
What a journey, everybody off please!

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

An Omni-Omni Perambul-amble Doodle

I can't keep my hands still. Maybe it's because I used to be a smoker, maybe it's the result of some other bad habit. Either way, it gives me a problem in meetings, and I often have to attend some very long meetings. So to combat this need to move my hands I doodle.

When I start to doodle I often have no idea what is going to materialise, I just start my pen moving on the paper and something starts to appear.

That's how I got this creature, my Omni-Omni. I was in a meeting last week, listening, participating, but I felt the need to move my hands, well it was a VERY long meeting, so I doodled on my notepad. I had no idea what was coming - I wasn't expecting a parrot, or a monkey, or those tiny creatures hiding in the spiky bushes, it just appeared along with the Omni-Omni.

I hope that you like it.

An Omni-Omni Perambul-amble

In the land of Shumba Shumbo Shoo
As ride for green furred primates,
A full half foot above the ground,
The Omni-Omni levitates.

And in his tail he holds a net
For everyone to see,
And catches fish out of the air,
A floating fisher he.

Then on his head a parasol
All hanging down with corks,
Stepping on sky to save his feet,
The Omni-Omni walks.

Upon his shade a parrot sits,
From his foot a spider dangles,
Just slightly off the boiling sand,
The Omni perambul-ambles.

As flapperwings flop and elebugs hum,
In shimmery blue around,
That O-O rather gracefully,
Strolls off - above the ground.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

A living ink spot…

I guess we’ve all seen them at some time or other. Huge Flocks of Starlings weaving around in the sky like the black ink spot swirling in my jar of water. It really is an incredible sight. It’s called a murmuration. Imagine all those birds moving in accordance with its fellows, I wonder how they do it?

Starlings flock all year around, but in the winter numbers are boosted with migrants from the north and the flocks can grow enormous, hundreds of thousands even millions of birds. Flocking allows the Starlings to throw caution to the winds. There’s safety in numbers, so they don’t need to worry quite so much about hawks and other predators.

During the winter starlings live in flocks all day long, travelling between feeding sites or just lazing around in their day roosts. They’ll travel up to 20 miles from their roost to feed, and then in late afternoon they form into pre-roost assemblies, growing larger and larger as assemblies converge and join up and make the swirling cloudlike formations that I’m always so excited to see. I could watch them for hours

Back in the eighties when I worked in Birmingham the Starlings would roost in the city centre on the window ledges at Lewis’s department store, thousands on thousands of them, what a racket they made. As dusk fell they would take to the air and swoop off, a huge swirling cloud of coordinated activity.

The largest flock I ever saw was a few years ago driving home from Edinburgh on the M6, it was so vast it filled my windscreen for a few minutes.

One winter back in the last century the Starlings decided to assemble in the trees at the back of our cottage in Wales. Each evening they would gather and then, with a sudden and mighty flapping of wings, fly up to Geronwy’s farm for one last meal in his fields before bedtime.

This picture was taken in my favourite lay-by on the way back from Reading. The same lay-by where I saw the Kites a few days earlier, the one where I stopped to watch the storm clouds roll in across the Chilterns last summer. Summer seems so far off now, I stop there often, there’s always something to see. I wonder what it’ll be next time.

A murmuration of Starlings, a sure sign that winter’s on the way.

Here’s a great video of Starlings flocking in Scotland.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Big duck...

No, it isn’t a trick photograph or photoshop, it really is a huge rubber duck floating on the water.

Now I know that my interest in rubber ducks isn’t to everyone’s liking, a few of you have even said ‘I just don’t get it’ – well, I can’t make you ‘get it’ but I think that you would agree that this 10 x 11 x 13 meter, pontoon based, inflatable rubber duck by Dutch artist Florentijn Hofman is probably the rubber duck statement to end them all, and so much grander than any of my feeble meanderings into the rubber duck world. So far this Duck has landed in Japan, Holland and South America but has yet to come to the UK.

Hofman says – ‘The Rubber Duck knows no frontiers, it doesn't discriminate people and doesn't have a political connotation. The friendly, floating Rubber Duck has healing properties: it can relieve mondial tensions as well as define them. The rubber duck is soft, friendly and suitable for all ages!’

And you know what? I agree with him! There is nothing negative about rubber ducks, rubber ducks are a totally positive experience and that is more than can be said of most things. I understand why Hofman believes that rubber ducks have healing properties, well anything that makes you smile has to have at least some health giving energy, and rubber ducks can even save your life; Shirley Madsen, a ninety year old American woman, survived three days trapped in her bathtub by drinking water from a rubber duck.

So in answer to those of you that ‘don’t get it’… try looking at these pictures without smiling, and don’t worry about what it all means, see it for what it is… a humongous rubber duck floating on the water, nothing more, just a very big rubber duck… feeling better?

I bet you can already feel those mondial tensions just draining away.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Red Kites...

I’ve spent a lot of time driving along the M40 this year back to my old haunts around Oxfordshire. Nothing much has changed. The old tumble-down barns of my childhood are now incredibly expensive executive homes and all of the villages are carefully manicured as opposed to the lived-in farming communities I remember, but the dock ponds are still there and some of the old pubs remain, not enough but a few.

There is a change in the skies though.

As a boy I was a keen bird watcher. I kept my list of ‘birds I have spotted’ in a small red notebook that I bought from the bottom shop for four-pence. It was quite a long list. I had all of the usual birds - tits, gulls, coots, swans, and some harder to spot items – egrets, kingfishers, barn owls, most of the birds of prey. One bird I didn’t have in my spotter’s book and desperately wanted though was the Red Kite.

The red kite was very rare when I was a boy. By the end of the last century persecution meant that the bird was almost exterminated. There were none in England or Scotland and most of Wales. The Red Kite was seen as a threat to expanding agriculture back in the 16th Century so a series of Vermin Acts were passed, requiring 'vermin' including the Red Kite to be killed throughout the parishes of Wales and England.

The extermination continued throughout the 17th and 18th Centuries, and when increasing numbers of gamekeepers were employed on the newly acquired country estates of noveau riche merchants the whole process was speeded up. By the late 18th Century Red Kites had bred for the last time in England and the story in Scotland was very similar. Only in rural Mid Wales did Red Kites hang on, their numbers down to just a few pairs and at that point a few local landowners had the foresight to set up an unofficial protection programme to try to safeguard them.

I once went to Mid Wales on a field trip in my first year of senior school and spent the whole week scouring the skies for a Red Kite. I never saw one. Although on a couple of occasions I almost convinced myself that I did, but each time it was just a buzzard. I wonder if you can spot me in the snap below.
Then in 1989, The Aston Rowant Nature Reserve, not far from where I was brought up, became one of the initial four sites selected by the RSPB and Natural England for the reintroduction to England of the Red Kite. They brought in birds from Spain initially, but the Chiltern-based reintroduction programme has been so successful that the local population has now self-generated to well over 200 pairs and continues to grow.

A couple of weeks ago I counted eighteen birds in a ten minute drive through the Chilterns. I parked up for a while by the side of my favourite field to watch a couple in flight and one of the birds swept down towards me to almost ground level. That’s it in the picture. It was a magnificent russet red and that forked tail makes the Kite unmistakable – no buzzard this time.

On my way back up I always look to see how far north the last Red Kite I spot is. So far it’s around Banbury on the M40, I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to look out of my window in Manchester and see a Red Kite circling high in the air above me. I wonder how may decades it will take?

Friday, 13 November 2009

Cat on a stick...

‘I think I’m stuck again…

Getting up was easy. I just climbed the holly tree, walked along the branch, and jumped. It wasn’t even a big jump, it was easy-peasy. But now I’m up here I’m not sure that I like it. It’s cold and windy and it looks like it’s going to rain. How I wish I was warm and snug in my box or sitting in my chair by the fire and how am I going to get down? It’s a long way up AND a long way down. Perhaps I should just stay here and wait for someone to get me. Maybe Hisfault will call the fire brigade, or maybe I can jump on the back of a passing bird, or maybe he’ll climb the holly tree and save me…’

Are you up that post again Misty? Why are you always getting stuck up there? If you can get up you should be able to get down, all you have to do is jump onto that branch. It’s not even as if it’s a full size post, it’s only twelve feet high. You could probably jump down. You are such a scaredy-cat. Hang on - I’ll get my special ladders…

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Girls, angst, danger, death…

But first, let’s start with rugby, the game not the school. I played it for years at Lord Bill’s. Well you had to, it was compulsory, and Lord Bill’s didn’t do football – thank God. By the time I was thirteen I was a hardened, head down, ball under arm, ear ripping, mud covered, scrumming machine of a loose head prop - pushing, pushing, pushing, kicking, grunting, swearing… and growing up.

I was in the school under 15’s first team, we always won. Half the team (me included) played for the County. We could beat them all - Dragon’s, Abingdon, Rose Hill, Cowley – we were unstoppable, I was unstoppable.

We each had a nickname – Everest, Brick, Hammerhead, Brigadier, Gloria, Wings, Tonto, Boy Wonder, Bog Brush - they called me Tankman, the Tank, as I said - I was unstoppable. Compare these two pictures. There’s a year between them and most of the boys in the first picture are still around in the second. Just look at the changes a single year made to some of us, not least of all to my hair – 1971… what was I thinking of!

1971 was also the last year I played rugby in any serious sort of way because a number of things happened.

Happening 1. It was the year that I discovered that girls could be almost as much fun as running around in the mud and rain for eighty minutes dragging other boys to the ground getting kicked and punched whilst trying to catch a silly shape ball as I shoved my other hand into somebody else’s face.

Happening 2. I began to rebel. Not about anything in particular, just about things generally, and everything that had gone before had to be undone. By the end of the year I’d changed everything that I thought, did, said, and I’d developed a new look, way of acting, attitude to things and I was working really hard at trying to be a cynic.

Happening 3. It was that year that Bruiser ran into one of the posts with his head down and fractured his skull, Gloria and Wings both broke a leg after bad tackles in two different matches, and I ended up in hospital for six weeks after emerging from a particularly heavy scrum with a smashed collarbone which complicated, brushed my heart, and bruised it quite badly. As I lay flat in my hospital bed it dawned on me that rugby could be dangerous.

Happening 4. Lastly, team morale took a huge knock when one of the boys in the photos went to sleep one night and didn’t wake up the next morning. He played second row.

Girls, angst, danger, death – a heady and complicated cocktail to down – suddenly rugby didn’t seem quite so important any more.

I still played, but I didn’t train. I was dropped from the firsts, went down to the seconds, then the thirds and a year or so later I stopped playing rugby altogether.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

The Eleventh hour...



On Sundays we would sometimes visit my Uncle Alf and Auntie Edie. They lived in a low ceilinged cottage at Priest End, all dimly dark and smelling of coal smoke. They were old. My dad said that they were rich, he said they had money all over the house, he said they had golden guineas wrapped in white fivers on their lace-draped dressing table, but then my Dad said a lot of things.

Uncle Alf loved cricket. He’d played a lot before the first war; he played for the village, batted number one - that’s him in the middle, dark hair with the side parting, the one with his arms folded. After 1918 when he returned, after it was all over, he ‘didn’t have the heart left’ to play, he’d say. My Dad said that Uncle Alf never did say much, and what he did say was about cricket, and he never spoke of the war.

They all signed up in the Summer of 1914, all eleven of them – bakers boys, the blacksmith, the teacher, a butcher or two - and by the end of August they’d taken the shilling and were over in France. There’d be plenty of time to play cricket the following year they all agreed, after all it would all be over by Christmas. Three Christmases on and Uncle Alf was the only one to come home – all dazed and dented. His words, not the doctor’s - the doctors called it shell-shock.

After he got out of the hospital he never once went to the war memorial on Armistice Day with the rest. He never marched at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day on the eleventh month, preferring to walk down to the field by the church and sit in the cricket pavilion watching his old friends bat and bowl and field - smiling, clapping at fours and sixes. ‘Howzat!’ he’d mutter as a shell exploded on the pitch. ‘Howzat!’, when one of his mates was caught, or bowled, or shot by a sniper hiding in the trees down by the far side of the church.

Once I sat with him for a while listening to him murmur, watching his eyes as he followed the play. I saw him flinch each time a shell exploded in the church field.

‘Howzat?’ he’d whispered, ‘Howzat?’

It was always about Cricket with Uncle Alf , that’s all he ever talked about - my Dad says.
The Match – by Alfred Roberts

On the cricket pitch
The wicket keeper stands
Crouched low behind the stumps.
Waiting, watching, ready.
And waiting for a catch
Eyes watching, waiting,
Darkly deep,
Both hidden by a hat.
Waits patient
For the match to start,
As the hunted come to bat.

Come play the game,
My game,
The game,
Play out this game with me.
I’ll watch for you,
I’ll keep for you,
I’ll wait while you take tea.

No Maidens here.
All men,
Own men,
And here to play the game.
To their own way,
And well cast rules,
Scattered around the green.

I’m always here,
I’m ever here,
I watch and wait
You’ll see.
I know your face,
I know your name,
I know what you would be.

As play moves on,
Slow motioned caught,
Trapped in ongoing over.
Men rush,
Men run,
Some stand in rain,
As players rush for cover.

It will come soon,
Soon it will come.
And ever come to me.
There is no hurry,
No way back,
All mine eventually.

And so the wicket keeper waits,
And watches patiently.
No matter how you play the game
All runs are his, must be.
He’ll win the game, he always wins,
You lose, run out, clean bowled.
He’ll take your bails, your stumps, the ball.
He’ll take them, you - and me.

...............11th November, 1921.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Moondog a'Leary...

There were a few clear nights around the last full moon and on these clear late autumn nights you can quite often see a faint rainbow-like circle around the moon, a moon halo. But it isn’t everyday that you get to see a moon dog, moon dogs are much rarer.

A moon dog is a brightish circular spot on a lunar halo caused by the refraction of moonlight by hexagonal-plate-shaped ice crystals in cirrus or cirrostratus clouds - those high wispy ones. Moon dogs appear to the left and right of the moon and the moonlight has to be really bright for it to happen. They don’t seem to have much colour because their light isn’t bright enough to activate the colour receptors in our eyes.

It really is quite a rarity to see one. Now I don’t know if it was the glare of the moon and it's dogs or the constant looking-up, but as I stood looking at the moon I began to come over all peculiar. Some people turn into wolves, others go all lunatic, and me… well, I had one of my Leary turns…

The Melody of the Moondog

Stood looking at the Moon stood he,
Stood looking at the Moon -
And on its surface he spied a thing,
All eyes and ears and golden ring,
With a feathery tail to make it sing
A’standing on the Moon
A’standing on the Moon.

And all around were buried bones,
Buried bones were all around.
And each a dinner for it to eat,
All white and fully removed of meat,
A veritable feast, a trouncing treat.
A’buried in the Moon,
A’buried in the Moon.

And through the skies the Mandilopes swam,
Swam Mandilopes through the skies.
With pyramid bodies of peacock blue,
Whilst flicking their tails as Mandilopes do,
And making an awful hullabulloa.
A’flying around the Moon,
A’ flying around the Moon.

Stood looking at the Moon stood he,
Stood looking at the Moon –
The creature began its tail to wag,
All causing the Moon to shake and jag,
The bones to move and the Mandilopes sag.
A’staring at the Moon
A’staring at the Moon.

Cried he, ‘What creature’s this, upon the Moon!
Pobble, Bong, or blue Baboon?
Making bones fall and Mandilopes swoon,
Whilst howling away with a forrible croon,
Like the Blog that dreams of the blue lagoon,
Or a man who’s been touched with a big buffoon,
Please stop before you make me swoon…
I beg in the name of the runcible spoon,
And swear by the blast of a sailor’s maroon,
And promise a gift of Arabian prune,
If you will only grant my boon…

Tell me your name,
Tell me your name,
Name you to me I plead.
Tell me your name,
Tell me your name,
Name you to me indeed.

And from high above the answer came.
A’drifting from the Moon.
Not Blog, or Bong, or Pobble,
Nor even the blue Baboon…
‘I am the Moondog’ was its reply,
‘The one, true Moondog, the only I,
The Moondog me, Moondog on high.
Here now, tomorrow and yesterday,
In timeless Moondog trinity,
I am the Moondog Almighty...’

‘I seeeeeeeeeeeeee…’ said the watcher with a silvery sigh.
‘I see.’ said he with a sigh.

Stood looking at the Moon stood he,
Stood looking at the Moon -
And on its surface he spied a thing,
All eyes and ears and golden ring,
With a feathery tail to make it sing
The Moondog on the Moon
The Moondog on the Moon.

Monday, 9 November 2009

My Give-a-Show...

I used to love going to the cinema when I was a child. I could hardly wait until Saturday afternoon came around so that I could go off to the Saturday matinee with my friends. It cost one shilling and three pence (about six pence these days). Off I’d go, armed with my packet of fruit gums to the picture house on East Street to see a cowboy, a funny, the occasional Disney. I can’t definitely remember a single film that I watched on these outings (apart from Mary Poppins) but I think I remember Summer Holiday, Tom Thumb, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Abbot and Costello Meet the Wolfman, The Wizard of Oz, High Noon and, rather inappropriately given it’s rating, The Man With the X-Ray Eyes – all for the first time at the Saturday matinee.

My Uncle Charlie was the projectionist. He did everything in town – well everything exciting or interesting, he really was a wonder. Once he took me up the stairs beyond and above the balcony into the tiny projector room to see the cinema projector. That was a wonder too, all lights, and reels, and cogs and buttons. Charlie showed me how to fit the reels of film to the projector wheel with a huge wing-nut, and where the bulb was, and how to press the big red start button, and how to get the second reel ready so that there wasn’t a break in the film.

When I grew up I wanted to be a projectionist.

It may have been Charlie who bought me my Give-A-Show projector one Christmas, although it was probably my Mum and Dad, but what a great present! The blue battery powered projector had an adjustable lens with a torch bulb and reflector unit fitted behind it. It came with lots of cardboard cartoon strips, seven panels on each, each panel a celluloid printed picture. The cartoon strip were inserted into a slot behind the lens and when the projector was switched on the image would shine and be projected onto to the old white sheet that I would hang from the back of the sofa. You couldn’t make the image too large or you lost definition and colour, but what fun it was.

Yogi Bear, Huckleberry Hound, Fred, Wilma, Barney, Betty, Quick Draw McGraw - all my favourite cartoons were there and later, mainly for my birthday, I was given other strip cartoons, educational strips - The seven Wonders of the World, The Story of the Cutty Sark, the History of the Tower of London.

Sometimes I would invite the other children around to watch a show - Jimmy and Phillip Braham, Jackie Wood, Vincent, my cousins Gina and Ian. I’d set up a row of small stools behind the sofa, dim the lights, project the shows onto my white sheet and invent and narrate stories to the pictures as I gently pulled the cardboard strips through the projector’s slot. Sometimes I handed out the paper tickets that I’d made to collect before the show solemnly tearing them in half before letting them into our living room. Once I charged my audience a fee, a penny a show but my Mum made me give the money back.

Eventually the cardboard strips buckled and ripped with use, the celluloid panels faded and shrank from the heat and then the bulb went – Pfffwft. My projector was assigned to the old cardboard box in the cupboard under the stairs where all of my discarded toys ended up once I had tired of them - and I moved on to something else.

My career as a cinema projectionist was over almost before it started - and then I discovered Meccano…

Sunday, 8 November 2009

M6, M40, M42, M25, M60, M62, M56...

Just look at what I saw on the motorway last week. That would make one hell of a Marmite sandwich wouldn’t it?

Last week I spent twenty-two hours on the motorway a lot of it stationary and I can’t remember the last time I went a week without travelling at least a few miles on one. I don’t mind, I’m used to it. I have radio 4, CD’s, the occasional talking book and you can get really good coffee at the services now without having to queue for it.

I’ve heard people say that motorway driving can be boring. I can understand how they might think that but I can’t agree. Being stuck for hours in stationary or slow moving traffic can drag, but it can’t be avoided, so I try to make the most of it when it happens and take a look around me to see what’s going on.

You’d be surprised what people do on the motorway in traffic hold-ups. I once saw one young woman changing her blouse in a jam on the M5 (lucky me) and a few weeks ago two very attractive ladies putting on full make-up in their visor mirrors, puckering their lips and blowing kisses at themselves as they applied their lipsticks. I’ve seen people reading, arguing, writing, singing, crying– I’ve even seen people using laptops – of course not all of these were the drivers. I was once asked if I knew the answer to three down when a nice old lady leant out of her window to ask me (it was cantaloupe) and last summer I saw one young man get out of the passenger seat of a BMW, climb the very steep motorway embankment and return, ten minutes later, with two huge ice cream cones – talk about local knowledge.

I like to watch the clouds moving when I’m stuck in traffic, it’s very calming - and motorways are great places to see the sun rise and set. Have you ever noticed what a wonderful variety of trees grow at the sides of our motorways? You’d be amazed at how many apple and cherry trees there are. There are raspberry canes on the M62 and I even know where there’s a pear tree on the M6 – and I’ve eaten a pear from it.

And there’s the wildlife. You can’t go more than a few miles along any motorway without seeing some bird of prey hovering or swooping above you – kestrels, buzzards, kites, falcons, even the occasional owl. I’ve seen foxes, rabbits, pheasants, weasels and once half dozen fallow deer appeared from nowhere, sprinted across all six lanes, leapt the central reservation barrier, and disappeared into the trees. Thank God it was very early morning and there wasn’t much traffic or they might have caused a pile-up.

I enjoy watching the fog, and the glint of sunlight on water, and wind turbines in the distance, and the huge expanse of purple heather, and the way shadows of the clouds move on the hills, and the weird orange light on the trees just before the storm, and all of this whilst keeping my eyes on the road and concentrating on my driving.

So to those who think that motorway driving is boring I say this: although I might think that I’m rushing somewhere when I’m on the motorway I’m really enjoying some quality time. I can listen to music, or a play, or a book, I can people watch, enjoy the natural world, even catch a glimpse of a huge marmite sandwich maker!

I can hardly wait for the next four hour jam

Friday, 6 November 2009

Adventures big, adventures small...

‘You may be wondering what I’m doing sat on top of this wall without a care in the world.

Well, this is my wall and I like to sit here watching the world go by waiting for an adventure to arrive. I like adventures, adventures are fun and this wall is a hissing good place to see them coming. Sometimes the adventures are small - like that bee buzzing just over there - and sometimes they are much bigger – like the time that the bull from up the road escaped and came charging down the road followed by three red-faced farmers with ropes and sticks. Hissing fun!

I was once sat here and a big bird swept down and grabbed a mouse that I was thinking about chasing from right under my whiskers. It was a very big bird with a huge, hooked beak. Another time the postman dropped all his letters and had to run after them as the wind tried to blow them up and away – he missed one and I ripped it open. It looked like a bill, whatever a bill is. They can’t be good though, Hisfault is always saying - ‘Not more bloody bills’.

You see all sorts of adventures from up here. The first time I saw the jets they scared me. Well, I heard them before I saw them and… BOOM! Then they were away across the sky with a SSShhhhhing noise. I’m used to them now. So I don’t run up the Holly tree when they fly in unexpectedly waggling their wings and flying much too low.

Sometimes those silly men on those lawnmower engine thingies, held up by big bits of cloth and string, fly overhead like tiny birds. Hisfault says they are puddled and I think that, for once, he’s right (if puddled means the same as kitten-brained). Why would anyone want to fly like a bird, especially in one of those flimsy things? Birds are for catching.

One time a big whirly thing landed in the field behind. Two men carried somebody on a flat thing to the whirly thing and off they flew straight up into the air. I didn’t like the whirly thing; it was noisy and made lots of nasty windies. It hasn’t been back since thank Mu-Mu.

Every now and then sheep come down the lane all white and silly and following each other. The shouty boys make sure all the gates are shut so they can’t run in, but they still try and keep bumping into each other. I like it when the sheep come. I hide in the bushes and jump out at them. It makes them jump around and bleat. I don’t get too close though – sheep can be a bit unpredictable, and they’re a bit pongy.

I wonder what will happen today? What adventure will come down the lane? Will it be a big one or will it be a small one? Will it be a tractor, a dog, the man on the wobbly bicycle, one of those red, floaty, bouncy things, a w
easel, the milkman, the woman with the stick and the basket, a circus clown, the fish-man? I wonder, I wonder, I wonder!

All I have to do is sit here and wait, stay alert - eventually an adventure will turn up…’

What is Misty waiting for? She looks like she’s expecting something but I don’t know what. Nothing’s going to happen. It’s always so quiet around here…

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Remember, Remember…

The fifth of November… so I have. I’ve remembered a few out of many.

For years I loved bonfire night, I still like it, always will and I still enjoy fireworks, but the excitements gone- taken away by rules, regulations, restrictions and SO many safety warnings when we are already over-cautious and afraid to let our children have fun.

Guy Fawkes Night was ONE of the big nights of the year, almost as big as Christmas, bigger than Halloween and much bigger than Easter with its chocolate eggs and daffodils - maybe even bigger than my birthday. I looked forward to the fifth of November for weeks before, collecting wood, gathering old clothes to make the guy, saving my pocket money, buying fireworks from Platers corn-merchants to store in the metal biscuit tin in my wardrobe - bangers, Catherine wheels, sparklers, rockets, jumping-jacks, and then on the night ‘Dad’s big surprise was Standard Fireworks’, a big box, a five shilling box. It was huge!

I spent days making the guy, carefully modelling a mask from papier-mâché just like John Noakes had on Monday's Blue Peter, knowing that it would burn but not minding – after all, that was what it for, and besides it was the law to celebrate Guy Fawkes night – and it really had been until the mid-1800’s. My mask of dark hooded eyes, hooked nose, pointed beard and Salvador Dali moustache was so much better than the orange egg-box cardboard masks that you could buy at Castle’s the newsagents in the high street.

Everyone built huge bonfires in their back gardens, it was almost a competition. No, it was a competition and the Bowler’s always won - building twenty feet stacks of wood in their back garden and setting fire to them. One year it got out of hand and the fire brigade had to be called to put it out with their long black hoses - but the Bowlers were back next year with an even bigger fire.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a ‘penny for the guy’ on a street corner but it was a regular sight when I was a boy and a good way to ‘earn’ money for fireworks. I was never allowed to do ‘penny for the guy’, it was too close to begging in my parents opinion, but the Braham boys did and ‘earned’ fortunes which they spent on huge ‘mortar shell’ bangers. Oddly I WAS allowed to go carol singing, I don’t know where my parents would have stood on ‘Trick or Treat’ – it just didn’t exist back then – but one year I built my guy, stuck it in an old pram and pushed it down to the bottom of North Street, standing there with my tin asking for ‘a penny for the guy’. I made seven bob in about four hours, not bad going.

Unfortunately someone must have seen me and told my dad and when I got home he made me own and confiscated my hard earned money – all three bob of it!

Every year at the end of the night at around 10.30 the whole estate would stand in their back gardens and wait for the ‘parachute’ to go over. It was the grand finale of Bonfire Night. The father of the spastic kid in the wheelchair who lived at the bottom of the road in the big houses made his own fireworks… amazing!

Each year he’d hold a big display in his garden, we were never invited of course, but we used to peer up into the sky and watch his homemade rockets and shooting stars thunder into the dark night. They were brilliant! Far better than anything that we could afford to buy – and then at the end of the night he’d set off the last firework… the parachute. A huge rocket whooshed into the sky, setting free a parachute that would unfurl high in the air and float across the darkness. Somehow it was lit from the inside so that the parachute glowed with ever changing blues, reds, yellows and greens. It mesmerised us as it passed and we held our breath as it gently floated away to disappear over the treetops of James's farm.

I lived on that road for ten years and I only saw that poor spastic kid twice. Once in his Dad’s car waving at everyone from the back seat with a huge smile on his face - I waved back, a huge smile on my face also - and one other time when his Mum wheeled him up the road and back again on a very sunny afternoon. She was crying. In those days disability was talked about only in whispers and you never saw the disabled kids - they were kept indoors like a shame. And tell me, just when did the word spastic become unnaceptable?

And then... that would be it.

Firework night over for another year. And back then it was a single night, back then we celebrated Guy Fawkes on the fifth of November, his night, and not for weeks before and weeks after. The whole country was lit up with fires and fireworks and blitzed by the boom of bangs on each November fifth… for one night only!

Please, just one more, allow me one last memory of firework night.... Years later when I was at college in Oxford - taking my BA foundation year - we would visit the Ashmoleum Museum each Tuesday to sketch and paint the exhibits. They were fantastic – insects, skeletons, costumes, paintings, furniture – you name it they had it, even Guido Fawkes lantern.

The lantern had been given to them by the son of the man who had caught Guy Fawkes back in 1605 and sat in a glass case in one of the side rooms at the museum. One Tuesday, just before Guy Fawkes Night, I decided that the lantern would be my subject and stood in front of the case drawing it.

After about ten minutes drawing one of the attendants asked me if I wouldn’t be more comfortable sitting down and I said that I would - expecting him to offer me a chair. Instead he took a ring of keys from his belt, opened the case, reached in, took out the lantern and handed it to me telling me to take it to the table in the corner by the window and to be careful not to drop it. I very carefully carried the lantern – the one that Guy Fawkes had been carrying when he was arrested - across the room, placed it carefully on the table, sat down and spent the next three hours happily drawing away with my 2b and smudge stick, the attendant occasionally popping back to make sure everything was okay. It was a pretty good drawing when it was finished – I wonder what happened to it.
Guy Fawkes lantern, a small significant piece of history - in my hands… incredible!

And like 'penny for the guy' - I don't think that would happen today either.

So that’s it:
Remember, remember the fifth of November - Gunpowder, treason and plot. - I see no reason why gunpowder, treason - Should ever be forgot...
Now, light the blue touch-paper and stand back please.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009


The nights are getting longer and colder and this is Chester’s first bed of the season, looks snug doesn't it.

Yes, it's time for him to come in from the field and for us to start shelling out the cash. Stabled horses are expensive. I learnt to make his bed last year and how to muck out a stable with the minimum of effort. It isn’t as easy as it looks and it’s still bloody hard work. The back of the stable bed is banked up a little higher than the rest and it’s quite an art to get the straw laid to the same depth with a nice straight line at the front edge. I think I’ve done a pretty good job all things considered.

Holly’s had Chester a while now, they look great together and he’s a good horse, thoroughbred, ex-racehorse, but now she wants to spend more time at home, less time in Wales – some of it’s about school friends, but most of it is about boyfriend. Of course it was always coming and we knew that would have had to rethink Chester at some point with GCSE’s, ‘A’ levels and university rushing towards us like a freight train.

Having a horse for a pet just isn’t an option. Horses are expensive to keep and they need riding regularly, it just isn’t fair to keep them as pets. We either have to sell him or put him on loan. If we can find him the right home with someone that will care for him and ride him them we’d probably let the loaner keep him as soon as Holly loses interest completely – which will happen in the not to distant future I’m sure.

It’s funny really, I didn’t like horses, they scared me, but I’ve enjoyed looking after Chester and I think I’m going to miss him. Making his first bed of the season made me realise just how much a part of my life he’s become. I felt a real pride making his bed for him - how strange.

Oh well, he’s destined to become another memory to take out occasionally and let run in my head. Better put another light bulb in the projector Charlie.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Coming over all Leary...


My blog is broke, my blog is broke,
The words all eaten by the Runnaby Goat,
And I swear by the trives of the words I wrote,
My blog is unquestionably wangle poked!

I mentioned previously that some days my life is like an Edward Lear rhyme, a nonsense, nice to listen to but not as nice to be in and it can be quite small things that turn it upside down and break the rhythm. I’m afraid that I’m a creature of habit and the break to my blog last week really took its toll. I feel like life has been out of kilter since last Thursday, the day before my blog loss episode. I feel as if I’ve been, in almost the words of Edward Lear…

Tossed where the angry breakers roar
As they beat on the rocky shore;
When Storm-clouds brood on the towering heights

Of the Hills of the Chankly Bore:

Or thereabouts at least, if not directly on the hills of the Chankly Bore, then I wasn’t a million miles away from them. You see, losing my blog, even for that short while, caused me to go all Leary… Edward Leary. If Edward Lear were alive today he’d understand how losing my blog, even for that short, short time might cause me to grin with a runcible smile, and a quivering quavering groo, made me snort with buffoon, by the light of the moon, with a wispet of harrowing guile… or some such nonsense.

Edward Lear if alive today would have been the blogger of all bloggers. Just imagine what his Blog would have been like, the wonderful nonsense it would have contained, the variety, the fun, the lunacy, the poetry and pictures. Even the word Blog sounds like something he'd have made up and secreted in one of his wonderful nonsensical verses. For sure, anybody who can invent words as interesting, silly, and at the same time perfectly believable as Pobble, Jumblie, and Yonghy-Bonghy- would have no problem inventing a Blog to blog about.

I wonder what Lear's Blog would have been like?

The Blog and the Dimpley Do

Around the corner and through the thrump,
To the land where the Carricles dimp their dump,
Sat the Bongley, the Bingley, and the Blog,
All sat quite still upon a log,
Watching the Oysters sing and play
On viola, cello and guitars gay,
And all so that those three could say
That shellfish are fine fiddlers,
That shellfish are fine fiddlers.

And for that time as the Oysters croon,
The Blog stared quietly at the moon,
And pondered some vast blue lagoon,
Where he would seek his Dimpley,
Where he would find his Dimpley.

‘It is no use!’ exclaimed the Blog,
I can sit no longer on this log,
For I must away to the Borrible Bog,
Off to the land of the Dirigible Dog,
For I must find my Dimpley,
For I must seek my Dimpley.

So past the corner and around the thrump,
Where the last of Carricles dimp their dump,
Goodbye to the Bongley, the Bingley and log,
With gelatinous tears from the eyes of the Blog.
No more for Oysters to sing and play,
For they could wait till another day,
The Blog thrumped off along his way.
In search of his fair Dimpley
To look for his fair Dimpley.

He seeked and searched, he searched and seeked,
For many a day and many a week,
But not one sniffle did he find,
Nor a single snatch of Dimpley rind,
And after a while did lose his mind.
A searching for his Dimpley,
A seeking out his Dimpley.

And remembering the time of the Oysters croon,
The Blog stared quietly at the moon,
A dreaming dreams of his blue lagoon,
And longing for his Dimpley,
A dreaming of his Dimpley.

So day on day poor broken Blog,
Searched high and low with unflappable flog,
Searched low and high with face agog,
But never to find his Dimpley,
To pine and die for Dimpley.

My Blog is broke, my Blog is broke!
His words all eaten by the Runnaby Goat!
And I swear by the trives of the words I wrote,
My Blog is unquestionably wangle poked!

And all for the love of a Dimpley Do!
And a Dimpley Do's love is NEVER true.

What was it that Aunt Jobiska said to the Pobble?

'No harm can come to his toes if his nose is warm; and it's perfectly known that a Pobble's toes are safe, -- provided he minds his nose.'

Good advice methinks – mind your nose and your toes will look after themselves. Mad? Not quite.