Sunday, 31 January 2010

Here it comes...

Sometimes you know when you’re walking towards the storm and sometimes you don’t. That’s just the way it falls I guess.

When you don’t the road looks clear and everything seems dandy. You know where you’re going and you know the direction that you’re going to take to get you to where you want to go. It’s not until you feel the electricity in the air that you know that something’s coming and by then you probably know that whatever’s coming is not going be good, and whatever it is going to be a big deal, a very big crappy deal. It’s pretty funny, in a way.

It’s then you feel the change, that picked-up wind making them dead leaves tumble along the road in front of you. Goddam road, goddam leaves. That road looks pretty goddam lonely all of a sudden, lonelier that you’d like. So you watch the dark clouds gather in the distance, the sun all slashed like blood in a gash, red on that far horizon that you are heading to, sorta.

The kids have stopped playing in the rye across the way and all. Maybe I should have tried to catch them. They seen the storm coming too I guess. Seen it coming and run on home, safe and sound. I know it's crazy trying to catch those kids but I don’t want them going over the edge, I don’t want the storm catching them. I know it’s crazy. Anyways, they’ve gone now, run on home, safe and sound.

I saw the storm coming too. Well, it don’t take a genius to know it, and that distant rumble of thunder is a pretty good goddam clincher of a clue I guess. Yeah, that storm is coming, whipped up by crappy politics, circumstance, greed, maybe even goddam God almighty himself. Or it could be something else. Something else called Bad, called Bad because bad is truly our nature, no doubt about it.

Yes sir, storm’s coming and we’re sure going to get caught up in it. I wish I wasn’t here. Maybe I should run for home too, run for home safe and sound, except I don’t go home anymore, well hardly ever. The thing is even if I went home there ain’t no way for them to help I guess. Maybe I should look for shelter, but by the time you get to looking around - there ain’t none. There never is when you need it most. That’s just the way it falls I guess.

No sir, there never is when you need it most. Here it comes.

Friday, 29 January 2010

No comment...

“ Okay, that hissing does it, I have nothing to say, I have no comment to make, I am taking the fifth, a vow of silence, staying schtum, and by the way - mum, putting a lid on it, keeping my mouth shut, not answering questions, refusing to open up, not taking part in discussions, withdrawing my input, not making a statement, declining to tell you my thoughts and feelings, keeping my gob shut, zipping my lip, making like a stuck pig, refusing to squeal, keeping my own counsel, declining to reply…

And why?

Well, let’s face it, it’s a bit of a one way conversation, most of you don’t give me any feedback, so why should I bother?

What’s the point of me trying to entertain you every Friday if you don’t respond? I’m on strike, and I’m not coming out!”

Thursday, 28 January 2010

On the scrap heap…

I guess by now you can recognise me. Here I am with my Grandfather suitably attired for a spot of agricultural engineering in white socks, shorts, hand knitted cardigan, shirt and tie – a man in miniature. I’m not sure what I’m fixing, but it looks like something with blades and spikes and it’s probably covered in dried or drying animal excrement. Just the thing for a small child to be tinkering with, mind you back then children could even climb trees.

How much like my Grandfather I looked even then, our expression and set almost identical. That’s the forge you can see in the background and we are in my Grandfather’s yard. To the left of the forge was the building where my Grandmother kept her chicken feed sacks in galvanised dustbins to keep the rats from stealing it and to the left is where my Grandfather dumped his scrap… his scrap heap, my scrap mountain.

And it really was a mountain, a Matterhorn of scrap, and fourish year old me was fascinated with it. For fourish me the highlight of our twice yearly visits to see my Grandparents wasn’t the wooden crate of fizzy drinks that I’d steal a bottle or two from in the outhouse, or the empty pigsty (the yearly pig not reared since the fifties), or the huge chicken shed (although I liked collecting the eggs from the wood shavings that lined the hen troughs), or the hand pump by the massive black tank of rainwater outside the back door, or the wash-house with it’s white enamel bowl and tub of Swarfega, or my Grandfathers various greenhouses (full of cacti and pots and trays of feeble seedlings) that were dotted about the huge rambling garden, or the belt driven machinery in the anvil strewn forge, or the charcoal fired forge itself (red hot coals glowing, electric bellows blowing) or the wooden seated earth closet up the garden (there was no inside toilet for years), or the huge black safe with the big brass lock hiding inside the upstairs airing cupboard, or the two massive apple trees at the end of the vegetable plot where uncle Mick kept his pheasants, or the wooden farm carts that stood dumped by the side of the forge entrance, iron rimmed wooded wheels propped against their sides. No, it wasn’t any of those things, exciting though they were to that man in miniature fourish boy me - it was the challenge of climbing my mountain of scrap.

At first I climbed alone, but years pass and every Edmund Hillary needs his Sherpa Tenzing. I remember clambering across the rusty daggers of bent and twisted metal spears formed from old farmyard machinery, balancing on horizontal sheets of corrugated zinc as I dragged my sister Caroline over and up the rusty debris as she tearfully followed my each and every step. Screaming for me to ‘STOP!’ as she was forced to climb towards the summit of the red blood dried Everest of rust.

“Nothing to worry about.” I’d say, as I jumped from old car wheel to old car wheel or skipped across a bridge of twenty oil drums. “Come on you can do it. It’s easy”

She didn’t believe me though – and sobbed as she toddled along after me only just managing to stop from falling into the pile of shattered windscreens that lay six feet beneath the old iron lamppost she was gingerly tight-rope walking. I can see us now, her crying with fear as we shinned the last five feet of rusted iron girder and reached down onto the old tractor that was my mountain’s summit. Hardly a scratch – a cut here, a graze and bruise there. She’d survive. We’d made it. I sat at the wheel and stare down at the detail of my wonderful mountain.

Looking down in my mind and remembering my mountain I realise what treasures were buried within – petrol engines, pulleys and flywheels from steam driven farm equipment, huge cogs from old contraptions, tractors, cart wheels, a huge upended iron roller, mangles, bits and pieces from vintage cars - all there piled and balanced on my scrap mountain. I once found the silver Viking mascot from an old Rover, I wish I had it still. Such happy days - I climbed that heap for years, discovering as I went and never tiring of it.

And then one day it was simply gone - sold and taken away by the scrap man, never to grow to mountain size again.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Heart's desire...

Here’s the little mountain I can see from our cottage bedroom window. Away across the fields over the stream and along a muddy lane, a long walk or a short drive and a very short walk away. It probably isn’t a mountain at all, it’s probably just a hill, but in shape and contour and in my head it’s a mountain.

I don’t know what the mountain is called or even if it has a name, although my feeling is that it does, and I don’t know if there is a story or legend attached to it although there will be, there always is.

I think about this mountain a lot, I think about it as I fall asleep, a charm to make me to sleep. I walk the mountain path and as I walk I pass things on the path - a rock, a tree, a standing stone. Sometimes I walk the mountain into sleep and begin to dream and when I dream I sometimes dream about the golden hare. Here is how my dream goes...

I'm in the body of an old man walking on the mountain at midnight, the moon is full and silver and the air is sharp. I pass the rock and the tree and stroke the standing stone with my fingers as I pass it by.

"Brother" I say.

"Brother" the standing stone replies.

As I walk I come across a golden hare caught in a hunter’s snare. The hare tells me that he is a magic hare and that if I free him he will grant me whatever my heart desires – riches, power, youth, eternal life, anything at all.

I (inside the old man) think long and hard and then I reply; “I am old and have lived a long and varied life. I have known happiness and sorrow, times of plenty and times of empty, I have known love and I have felt betrayal, I have walked with a spring in my step and hobbled - caught by cold - with tired, bent bones. I have lived my life long and slow and to a tune of my own and of others making. As for riches and power, I need neither, nor do I want for youth or eternal life - what should I do with THEM? I should only make the same mistakes and spend my life, or perhaps eternity learning my lessons over and over again.

Brother I set you free. I wish for nothing in return."

And with that I loosen the snare and set the golden hare to flight.

"Brother." Calls the hare as he leaps off down the mountain.


I always wake up wishing that I really was that old man, not because of what he does or who he is, but offered the chance of my heart’s desire outside of dream I’d take it each and every time.

Who would not?

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

No post today...

I spent last night in a motorway hotel technology free.

You see, I couldn't get a connection. I tried everything and still couldn't connect.

'So what?' You might say. So what indeed. I felt completely cut off from the world, I didn't know what was going on, I had no voice, I was deaf, dumb and blind. I knew nothing, I understood nothing, I couldn't get the answers to my questions. My life was out of control, I wasn't in charge, I was LOST!

When did all this happen? When did I make this transition to needing to be always on?

I have to say I didn't like the reliance I felt. I may need to do something about it, make a change, stop doing some of the things I (have to) do - like blogging EVERY day (except Saturdays).

Maybe I'll write letters instead and post them to my blog followers, or read, or watch TV. I may even go back to smoking. Perhaps that's it, maybe if I start smoking I might be able to quit being always on. There, I feel better now, back in control... maybe.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

I win…

Did you ever seen the rain coming towards you, felt the raindrops the instant after you saw, then wet faced with rain felt the air beside you dry?

It happens sometimes – a wall of rain moving across the way, edge-sliced as if with a steeled butcher’s knife.

Yesterday, Saturday afternoon, watching the dinghies in as day darkened and wind began to flap. Just watching, orange inflatable shepherding the bobbing vessels up-and-in before the rain could start. It came - a thin transparent veil across the chopping waters towards me. I’d only a moment to act… SNAP… Gotcha!

For a moment it was as if I were between worlds - caught waiting for the dry to stop and the wet to begin, from chilly to icy, soaking cold. It wouldn’t hurt, I’d survive, not made of sugar, not sweet enough for that. And then as one world turned to another, just after I’d snapped, as the first, second, third wet ball of rain splashed upon my face, I shivered with the shape of things to come. Standing between the grey of this and the grey of that I waited for the cold to begin, knowing that the cold would come, certain it would come again.

Gotcha… and my face turned wet with rain, the air beside me dry, rushing towards the car, in and out and warm. I’d stood on the edge of weather, seen it before it saw me, caught it before it captured me.

I win… this time.

Friday, 22 January 2010

Like a Cheshire cat…

Now where has misty gone this time? She’s here one moment then vanished the next. How does she do that? It’s almost as if she can just disappear into thin air…

‘Just look at that stupid Hisfault looking for me, silly hisser has no idea that I’m here at his feet. Just because he can’t see me he thinks I’m somewhere else, when all I’ve done is my disappearing trick, my Cheshire cat trick. Well, I live in Cheshire but strictly speaking I’m Welsh.

Not all of us cats can disappear when we want to, but some can and it isn’t just Cheshire cats either. I’m particularly good at it, after all I was taught by the master, all I have to do is meow the magic meows and I’m gone – well not gone, but invisible.

This is how I met the Cheshire cat. Well, when I say I met him it was rather he met me, or at least his grin did. There I was minding my own business up a tree when all of a sudden a grin appeared beside me and began talking to me. Before I knew it he and I were having a, oh so pleasant, conversation. I REALLY can't remember what the subject was, but I DO REMEMBER asking Cheshire-Puss 'Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go...' (I was a bit lost up that tree you see) but all the CAT did was to keep assuring me that EVERYONE around here was...MAD! (as if I didn’t know that anyway, after all I live with Hisfault, Foodies, and the whirling girl thing and they are all as mad as… well as mad as hatters really). So, 'It didn't really matter...' And then, just as I was trying to get to the bottom of things...the CAT just DISAPPEARED!... or, I should say, slowly de-materialised.

Clever I thought… but I’d seen how he did it and heard him. I knew his trick! So I thought I’d give it a go and Frilly Fishhooks it worked! All of a sudden – THERE! – I wasn’t (there that is).

I’ve been doing it ever since as the fancy takes me for a bit of a lark, or when Foodies wants me out and I don’t want to go out, or simply to give Hisfault a bit of a scare.

I vanished for two days once. They thought I’d run off and got lost, but I was there all the time watching them worry and arguing with each other about whose fault it was – of course it turned out to be Hisfault’s fault – it always is. They seemed pretty happy when I decided to appear again though, fed me all sorts of treats – it’s a hissing good way to get some extra lovely foodies.

Oh well, time to re-materialise. Better do it while Hisfault’s not looking – don’t want him to blow a gasket do we? After all it IS almost dinner time… meowww, meeeeow, meowwwwwwwzzzzz

Now where did she come from? She wasn’t there a moment ago. I turned away for a moment and when I turned back again there she was. I heard three squeaky meows, turned, and she was back. It was almost as if she appeared out of thin air, can’t be though… Just look at her, she looks pleased with herself. What IS she grinning about?

Thursday, 21 January 2010

The big I am...

See these four? These are my foundations – my Father, my Grandfather, my Great Grandfather and the baby me. Four generations of my family captured in an instant of time in best suit and tie in black and white, although I seem to be wearing a dress and showing my knickers.

These are the blacksmith men, Dutch men. See how strong they look and how small I am by comparison – the small I am. That’s my Great Grandfather holding me. I wonder if he thinks he’s holding another blacksmith - he’s not, he’s holding a wild eyed boy from Freecloud.

I don’t know exactly when my Father started calling me ‘the big I am’ - twelve, thirteen, fifteen – but at some point my ideas and opinions grew and moved away from his and those of the generations of him that came before me and inevitably led me to rebellion.

Maybe it was the time – Bowie, Concorde, Baader Meinhof, Peter Blake, communism, Roxy, the Doomsday Clock, satin, stacks, Vietnam – or maybe it was just me drowning in the frustration that is born of teenage boredom and the hatred of the familiar and repeated. A wild eyed boy from Freecloud imprisoned, set free, by unfamiliar thoughts.

‘You are the big I am!’ He’d spit. Me, the big I am, raging and ranting, disagreeing and storming, some years, maybe a decade and out the other side… so different? No, not so very different at all. Four generations, two alive and all in me, I felt and feel them all in me… somewhere and sometimes.

So Forty years on from big I am, rebellion gone, looking out through Father’s, Grandfather’s, Great Grandfather’s eyes, all in me, felt by me, suit and tie, and not the big I am at all. No longer wild eyed and raving, so firmly fixed in the world of realise - their world.

Dreams lost? No, experience gained.
Anger gone? No, anger withheld.
Hopes dashed? No, modified.
Really? No, not really.

The big I am? No, just me - but free with unfamiliar thought.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

I don’t want to be sarcastic but…

I have been known at times to be a little sarcastic. I don’t do this as much as I used to but given the right set of circumstances (a wedding, a divorce, an anniversary, a need to draw attention away from myself) or individual (a queue jumper, a moron, a politician, an attractive genius) I might still hurl a vicious, cutting and bold one-liner encapsulating the hint of caustic, bitter, humour and just derogatory and brutal enough to draw an embarrassed snigger from a captive, and often sycophantic, audience.

Some say that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I can’t agree. In order to be successfully sarcastic your chances of success are greatly increased if you are intelligent and sharp, or at the least not mentally incapable of detecting and producing sarcastic remarks – in other words that you are not too ‘nice’. After saying this by no means do I consider myself intellectually superior - sarcasm is my natural state and I don’t have to try too hard. It comes naturally to me - but only because I am clever and quick witted and not always very nice at all.

But that is enough about me, although I’m sure that you find me fascinating. I know I do you. This week a company in America began selling the SarcMark, a downloadable symbol – a dot inside a single spiral line – that can be installed onto any PC running Windows 7, XP or Vista, as well as Macs and Blackberry mobile devices. Once downloaded the SarcMark, a bargain at only $1.99, can be used in Word documents, instant message conversations, email and other programmes, just by pressing Ctrl and the full stop button.

What a great idea – and SUCH a new one [!].

In some languages sarcasm and made-up phrases are indicated at the end of a sentence with a character that looks like the inverted exclamation point ¡, and in subtitles (such as in the old Teletext) an exclamation mark in square brackets is used to mark sarcasm: [!]. Techhies and ether-dudes often use a pseudo-HTML element in front and back of a sarcastic remark in online conversation: {sarcasm} Yeah, that's really going to work {sarcasm}. In instant messaging a ‘rolling eyes’ emoticon is often used, and Karl Marx used an exclamation mark in rounded brackets throughout Das Kapital Volume one.

Lucretia Borgia was known to announce her sarcastic writings with the symbol of a dagger and a single drop of blood before the sarcasm was made {sarcasm} you may rely on the Borgias to always give warning of intent {sarcasm}, and Da Vinci on a few occasions used an ‘S’ with a full point underneath to indicate that he wasn’t being wholly serious 8-)

Even so for those of us dull enough not to be able to recognise sarcasm in the written word I think that at $1.99 it’s a must and I can hardly wait to download it for myself
¡ 8-) [!] (!) {sarcasm} NOT!

If only we could get something similar for the spoken word (!). If only everybody in our wonderfully erudite English speaking landscape could distinguish sarcasm from sincerity by recognising that: when one lowers the fundamental frequency of the voice and speaks with a muuch sloowwer speeeech raaate it usually means that the speaker is being sarcastic and not that they’ve recently had a stroke.

And of course there is always the very popular ‘NOT!’ at the end of a sentence, guaranteed to flag sarcasm to even the dullest (and nicest) moron. Maybe I should invent a SarcFlag, a flag that one raises after making a sarcastic remark. That oughta do it! NOT!

Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit, so easy that who really needs the SarcMark? Anyone can understand it and anyone can do it…NOT! As Groucho Marx once said “A child of five could understand this. Fetch me a child of five.”

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Blue Monday...

Yesterday was Blue Monday, it slipped in quietly almost unannounced and sat down beside me. Blue Monday, the most miserable day of the year, the day when if something could go wrong it would go wrong.

I heard it on the radio, on the news – Blue Monday. I don’t know why it’s been declared the most miserable day of the year – it’s not my birthday, it’s not a Wednesday, it’s not the anniversary of the day that I realised that holding onto the moon wasn’t an option any longer and let it float away into the darkness. But I heard it on the news yesterday morning that yesterday, Monday 18th January, was officially the bluest day of the year, Blue Monday, official.

Maybe someone is trying to make us all a touch more miserable and paranoid than we usually are, but I wish that they wouldn’t - we really don’t need an official miserable day, not with so many unofficial miserable days around. I heard that some tweeters on Twitter reacted furiously to the news and started to tweet happy thoughts out to combat Blue Monday. I even read some; ‘the sun is shining’, ‘smile it’ll make you feel better’, ‘think happy and the world will be happy’. Those thoughts were bound to make Blue Monday react, so I decided to take no chances. If this was going to be the most depressing day of the year I’d have to call on every charm I possessed into action.

First I put on the lucky socks. These are the socks that Gaynor bought me one Valentine’s Day over twenty years ago from Next. I wear them whenever I have a challenging day ahead or I’m worried about having a ‘bad luck’ day and unbelievably even after twenty years they are still almost as good as new, the elastic is fine, there are no holes, and they are very nearly as black as the day that she bought them. I am invincible in these socks, no harm can mar me, I am protected. I’ve even been known to wash and dry these wondrous socks overnight each night for weeks at a time in particularly difficult periods.

Then there’s my voodoo dolls, the ones that hang from the mirror in my car, the ones that ward off the evils. I have three and they each ward off a specific sort of trouble. Stroking them three times keeps the bad at bay, I can’t tell you how though, it might break the ju-ju and the protection spells might dissipate.

And of course there’s the usuals… the multiple saluting of magpies, the anticlockwise stirring of tea, and the whistling at corners in shadow. My protections.

So, how did Blue Monday go? I think I got away with it, but we’ll see what Tuesday brings - and Wednesday, and Thursday and Friday, Saturday, Sunday…
What am I going to do when my socks wear out?

Monday, 18 January 2010

Birfrost, the flaming rainbow bridge...

We had some fog in Wales at the weekend, not too dense, but more than a mist. It hung in the air turning the trees to creatures draped in lace and turned the sky to a blurred palette of muted peacock hues.

On the hill, passing the sheep, the setting sun suddenly flared and sent out a bridge of colour across the darkening fields. A glimpse of Birfrost, the flaming rainbow bridge between Asgard and Midgard. If only I could climb and sit in Valhalla with Odin in the hall where the Einherjar await Ragnarok, that ultimate destiny of the Norse gods - a trail of disaster and final battle. The end of Odin, Thor, Freyr, Heimdall and Loki, the god of both.

So where did I get my encyclopedic knowledge of Norse mythology? A museum, a text book, an encyclopedia? No, all learnt from my ‘Fantastic’ comic back in the late sixties. Who says that reading comics is bad for you?

Sunday, 17 January 2010

My soul and plastic farmyard animals...

Sometimes I feel like I’m losing my soul. Well not exactly losing it but selling it grain by grain to whoever is holding the stings at the time – and why?

This is how it happens... I sold my soul for some plastic farmyard animals.

Ever had that ‘must have’ feeling? That ‘I have to have it – them – those - or I am going to die’ feeling. That, ‘I must have, I must have, I must have’ feeling? I think that at sometime or other we’ve all experienced it, I know I have. With some of us it is cars, others gadgets, or houses, or clothes, or cruises… well, it can just about be anything can’t it - and all of those ‘must haves’ cost money.

‘I must have whatever it is’. I think - and there goes another piece of my soul.

My first ‘must haves’ were toys – farmyard animals to be precise, plastic farmyard animals to be even preciser. Plastic farmyard animals bought in Castle’s the newsagents from my Auntie Lena who worked as an assistant way down in the dark, narrow-aisled, back of the shop where they kept the toys, piled ceiling to floor, on shelf after shelf after shelf. You could get any toy you wanted at the back of Castle’s. It was a place where small dreams were realised and ‘must haves’ threatened to leap at you from every shelf and corner. It smelt of wood and plastic and cardboard and dust and it was like walking into a long thin tunnel - down on the left with just enough room to get through, around at the bottom, then back up on the right – three lines of shelf, one on each wall and one free-standing right down the centre. It was a place to begin to lose your soul and my ‘must have’ farm animals were at the top on the right on a racked display with a painted background.

Pigs (must have), sheep (must have), cows (must have), horses (must have), chickens (must have), ducks (must have), goats (must have), cockerels (must have),, I loved my turkey and my two sheep dogs (one standing on all paws, another down on front legs and herding), my farmer carrying a lamb and his wife holding a bucket (must have), I even had a scarecrow (must have) - and acre on acre of fencing and gates.

‘I must have them all’. My four year old self thought.

I bought a different ‘must have’ each week with my pocket money - six-pence for a chicken, one shilling and sixpence for a ram, two shillings for a cow – and sometimes my Auntie Lena gave me discount, even dropping something extra into the brown paper bag ‘accidentally’ on occasion – that’s how I came by my scarecrow. Soon I had a very big farm and it was then I realised that I ‘must have’ a zoo… I’m still finding ‘must haves’ and so are the people around me.

I wonder how long my soul will last?

Friday, 15 January 2010

A cat's best Friends...

Misty is turning into a real Telly addict. She’d sit there all day watching reruns of ‘Friends’ if I’d let her…

‘I still can’t see how they get into that box thing. It’s so narrow that they must be really squashed in there.

I wonder if they can see me, I wonder if those people inside the room inside that box are watching me, just like I’m watching them? They don’t appear to be, but they could be doing it out of the corners of their eyes.

Look at Joey in that silly red hat. I bet he’s surreptitiously looking at me at this very moment. I wonder if Rachel will come in soon and pretend not to look at me whilst thinking what a handsome cat there is sitting on the rug behind the glass thingy. Rachel looks at me all the time, she smiles at me and I’m sure that I’ve heard her say my name a couple of times, once in episode sixty seven, and again in episode two hundred and six.

I like Rachel, I can tell that she’s a cat lover. I’m not so sure about Phoebe though. She looks the sort that would put you out in the rain at night and forget to let you back in…ever! And what about that stupid song of hers about a smelly cat… cats aren’t smelly. It’s an insult! Such an insult that I’ve memorised it just in case she ever pops out of that box and I get the chance to challenge her on it.

Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat. What are they feeding you? Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat. It's not your fault.
They won't take you to the vet. You're obviously not their favorite pet. Smelly Cat, Smelly Cat. It's not your fault.
You may not be a bed of roses. You're not friend to those with noses. I'll miss you before we're done.
And so on and so forth... 'One, two, what's that smell?' indeed... If she ever comes out I’m going to make her understand what a ridiculous song that is. No, I don’t like Phoebe at all and as for that Ross – well, I simply can’t stand him. Monica’s okay and I can take or leave Chandler…

I wonder how I can get their attention. I’d love to know one way or the other if they are looking at me… Perhaps if I wave? No, that isn’t working. How about twitching my whiskers? No, that doesn’t work either…

I know I’ll lie back on the carpet and pull funny faces at them… well they do it all the time and call it acting.

There, if this doesn’t work then I don’t know what will…’

Thursday, 14 January 2010

The Blue Bird...

I hope that you like my story about the Blue Bird..Every day the blue bird came to his branch and sang. He’d been singing on this branch, on this tree since he wasn’t much bigger than an egg. The forest, dark and quiet, surrounded him. Every day he sang without fail, he sang to the trees and the sky, his tune sweet and melodic carried away on summer breeze and winter gale.

One day an old man carrying a wooden stool and an old battered fiddle appeared beneath his tree. The man set down his stool, took up his fiddle, and began to accompany the blue bird’s song. The blue bird followed the old fiddlers tune. The music they made together was wonderful, a total harmony of sound, both melody and obbligato, a musical experience to rival any orchestra. So joyous a sound was it that on hearing it the sad would smile and the happy laugh - never was there music so uplifting as that made by the blue bird and the old fiddler.

Each day the blue bird sang and the old fiddler played his violin. Word of the wonderful duet began to spread far and wide and the people of the city started to come to the forest to listen. It wasn’t long before the king himself came to the forest. He was enchanted by the music and - as if the way with kings - wanted to own it alone so that he could listen whenever he wanted without the inconvenience of the journey to the forest.

“Catch the bird and bring the old fiddler to court.” The king ordered his council. “The fiddler shall sit on a golden chair and we will make the bird a golden cage, on a golden branch, on a golden tree, and they shall sing and play for my delight.”

So the King’s men were sent to the forest and caught the blue bird within a silver net. Then they dragged the old fiddler from his cottage despite his pleas and took him to the Palace, leaving behind his poor sick wife to fend for herself.

The Blue bird and the old man played for the King each day. At first their performances were as sweet and melodious ever. But as time went by their music became sadder and darker until one day their once sweet music became a cacophony of despair. On hearing the mournful duet the ladies of the court bust into tears at the sorrow and heartache from which their music seemed woven. Soon the courtiers stopped enjoying their performance and the King stayed away altogether.

Time and things went on as time and things generally do, but the blue bird missed his freedom and the old fiddler worried for his wife. Soon they became dull and listless, then ill, and then one day the old fiddler simply died and the blue bird sang no longer.

He could not sing alone and his heart yearned for his partner. The blue bird had become one half of a duet and he could not remember how to sing without the other half. It was as if he’d forgotten his solo singing long ago in the forest.

“Set that sad creature free.” The King declared one October morning. “What is the use of a bird that will not sing? Take the golden cage, the golden branch, and the golden tree and have my goldsmith make a wonder to amuse me. There is no wonderment or amusement in that pathetic bird. Throw him from the castle window.”

And so the blue bird was thrown roughly from the castle window to make his slow way back to the forest alone.

The blue bird sat on his old branch but he could not sing. He missed the old fiddler and he longed for the music they made together. The songless days went by and by until one day a small girl wandered into the forest and stood beneath the blue bird’s tree. She looked up.

‘Why do you not sing you pretty bird and shall you sing for me?”

She smiled and with her smile the blue bird’s spirits suddenly lifted. He remembered when he too was young and alone in the forest - and on remembering the blue bird began to sing of that time. It was the old song but deeply richer, made wonderful with experience, some part melancholy, some part regret, some part knowledge of what had been.

From that day forwards the blue bird would sing each day. From dawn till dusk he could be heard telling the whole world who he was, and where he’d been, and how he got there, and how he felt about the journey. Sometimes people would come to listen, sometimes the girl would come and sing along with him - but often nobody came and the blue bird sang on anyway.

We should all sing our songs – it matters not if people listen. There is no better song than the song that you sing for yourself, and the tune is made richer for a life that has been lived.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Docs with roses...

Dr Marten’s, the most recent ‘must haves’ of my daughter Holly. Funny how some things remain constant, always a fashion statement, iconic. And these Doc’s are excellent boots, truly magnificent boots, made from leather, cotton-stitch embroidered with swathes of red, ruby, roses, all AirWair soles, with zip-sides and laced fronted high tops, the most perfect boots a teenage girl could wish for and well deserved - her reward for working so hard to paint the cottage back in the summer. Let’s hope she wears them until she’s forty, they cost a fortune.

A constant just like my own Doc Marten shoes that the teenage I wore back in those seventies so long ago, when I was a ribbon. Fashion statement, iconic and practical, I wore my Docs everywhere, year after year, replacing the steel toe and heel protectors that I bought from Woolworths for two bob a time and nailed on using my Dad’s big hammer. Almost a ritual, the hammering of new steelies - I must have replaced them at least a half a dozen times over double the years, protecting the soles and protecting the smooth, supple, leather with an almost daily Cherry Blossom Boot Black and a weekly Tana Dubbin Polish, the most looked after shoes I’ve ever possessed, no need for my Dad to tell me to ‘polish my shoes’, not with my Docs – it was my pleasure and duty.

My Doc Marten shoes, my trusty Docs, at first my badge and later just sensible footwear, I still owned them into my thirties until one day, like so many things, they weren’t there any more and I with no idea where they’d gone. Where had they gone with their thick rubber bottoms and bold stitched edging?

I still miss them, and seeing Holly trying on her new boots made me miss them even more as you may have guessed - perhaps it’s time to buy myself another pair.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Not listening to Pan...

Sometimes it is far too hard to believe that everything is chance. Sometimes it might be better, easier, more exciting to believe that there is some great melody to be heard, played on the breath of some strange and frightening minstrel and that we all have a note to play in the tune. There are even moments when I almost hear his music, almost believe.

I was looking across the fields towards the sea a couple of weeks past when a hole appeared in the clouds and golden light shone down and through to the trees below. For a moment he almost had me as I nearly caught the sound of some deep tuned oboe on the breeze. I only just managed to not listen and ignore him, sternly reminding myself that it was a common and perfectly ordinary sight – hardly wonderful at all.

Then on New Years Day, blue skies, crisp, clear, early and fresh, standing outside our kitchen door and glancing up to the sky, I caught sight of a flock of lapwing, stark white and black, flying slowly overhead. Was that the low notes of a flute? ‘No’. I told myself ‘Just the sound of dozens of pairs of wings beating in the air, not music, just dull and quite usual’.

And I’m sure I almost thought I caught the drums of his travelling band one stormy evening late last November. The boom of kettle, the shish of snare, with and underneath the quivering notes of his reedy pipes. But it was just a storm, caught up in a web of sleep as I fell, not him at all, just the sound of thunder and a flash of lightening, the start or end of dream.

Everything is chance - but perhaps that’s how the music is made.

Monday, 11 January 2010

X-ray specs...

I went to the cinema at the weekend to see Avatar in 3D – amazing, both the film and the unbelievable 3D-ness of the film.

As a friend of mine said – ‘Nothing new about the story, it's basically Pocahontas but the re-imaging of it via 3D, enhanced rendering and motion capture certainly raises the bar’. It does indeed, so much better than the fuzzy image of old style 3D and those red and green , paper and plastic glasses I remember wearing on the couple of occasions I’ve watched 3D films in the past.

The new 3D glasses just look like sunglasses, I’ve no idea how they work, any more than I understood how the X-ray specs I longed for as a kid worked either - all I knew was that I wanted a pair. X-Ray Specs were advertised in the back of the Superman comics I used to buy, American imports, hard to get hold of and expensive, but the small ads advertised all manner of wonders – silent dog whistles, teach yourself hypnotism , exploding fountain pens, buzzing hand-shakes, sneezing powder, clacking teeth, secret agent miniature cameras, sea monkeys, and of course the much longed for X-ray specs.

X-ray specs claimed to allow the wearer to see through or into solid objects, like in the Ray Milland film ‘The Man with the X-Ray Eyes’. I must have watched that film half a dozen times envying his ability to see through skin and even clothing! Like the slogan said ‘See the bones in your hand, see through clothes!’ and all for only a dollar!

Only two things stopped me from sending for a pair – I didn’t have a dollar (and not much hope of getting hold of one in 1960’s rural Oxfordshire) and I didn’t have a clue as to what a zip code was (zips had more to do with dresses than addresses didn't they?). So all I could do was dream of the day when X-ray specs would be available in England.

I now know that the glasses weren't as magical as they appeared to be and simply created a bit of an optical illusion, no X-rays were involved, and you couldn't really see through skin or clothing. The magic specs were just a pair of outsized plastic frames with white cardboard "lenses" that had red concentric circles printed on them. The lenses consisted of two layers of cardboard with a small hole about a quarter of an inch wide punched through both layers. A feather was stuck between the layers of each 'lens' with the individual strands of the feather placed so closely together that they diffracted the light, causing the user to see two slightly offset images through the holes. So, if you were looking at a matchbox, you would see two offset images of the matchbox and not the matches inside the box - it was just that where the images overlapped, a darker image appeared giving the effect of an outer and inner layer.

How dissapointed I would have been if I'd got hold of that dollar somehow and managed to find out what a zip code was and then found that my X-ray specs wouldn't let me see through Sarah Flynn's blouse after all.

Oh well, 3D at the cinema is now a reality so who knows? Perhaps one day soon I'll be able to buy a pair of X-ray Specs that really let me see the bones in my hand and see through clothes! - I can hardly wait.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Draw for Joy...

Okay I promise that this is my final post with any mention of Christmas until next year, but I really need to share this with you.

You may remember that just before Christmas I entered a competition to have a story illustrated by Roxana Soare, the Romanian illustrator, and won. I expect some of you may have voted for me so thanks for that. Well, I've eventually got around to posting it at long last.

Roxana drew a picture of Santa Claus behind bars and posed the question - why was he there? Here is my response in words and Roxana's interpretation of them in illustrations.


You can find more of Roxana's witty and colourful work here:
Draw for Joy

Friday, 8 January 2010

Christmas box...

Here's Misty's Christmas box, one of Holly's presents came in it and she took a real liking to the thing - well, it is a box and as we all know Misty has a thing for boxes. Of course, I wrote 'Misty's Christmas Box' on the lid, not Misty silly - cat's can't write!

That other thing on the stick is another of Misty's Christmas presents - a wobbley Giraffe on a string on a stick. She really seems to like it...

'Get out of my box you horrible thing! This is my box and I don't want you dingle-dangling your dingley-dangley stupid legs all over my carboard. I don't mind white mousey being in here - after all I put him there, but you... Get away I say, get away - or I'll rip you to pieces. Just what sort of an animal are you anyway? Are YOU a mouse? If you are you are a very silly colour, what kind of mouse is yellow with brown blobs all over its body? Get away I say, get away!

I know what you are. You're a Tiger aren't you! I saw you on that box thing, the one that you must have escaped from. At first I thought you were hiding behind it, but when I looked you weren't there so you must have been inside. You look much smaller outside of that box - perhaps the glass at the front makes you look bigger, and you're not very frightening - where have all those teeth gone?

Well, you can't say I didn't warn you, you should have stayed out of my box... here I come Tiger, watch out I'm going to tear you to shreds...'

Thursday, 7 January 2010

The world is made of ice...

Yes, I know that this cold weather thing goes on and on and that my blog is turning into a cross between a weather report and a children’s adventure film by Disney - but the cold and snow remain a huge part of my life currently and in some ways it is wonderful. I haven’t had so much snow fun and games since I was a child and I still can’t quite believe the whiteness and beauty around me.

It isn’t all a ‘A Wonderful Life in Bedford Falls Winter Wonderland’ fun though.

I made it into work yesterday to find the office car park was closed and cordoned off by red and white striped tape. The trek from the Trafford Centre car park where the snow was piled deep (heaped four foot drifts requiring snow shoes - not that I had any) took me fifteen minutes to walk only a few hundred yards, sinking up to my knees in snow as I crossed... well I don’t really know what I was crossing I couldn’t really see for the snow.

The main roads had been generally fine driving in that morning, but by the time I left for home they had frozen, the traffic causing the snow-ploughed roadside banks to drift back onto the roads. I had an errand of mercy to perform (or should I say error) - getting provisions to my eighty year old, snowbound, mother-in-law – just the essentials, chocolate, lucozade, butter, cake, crumpets, magazines, cream, gin – the car park at the supermarket was an ice rink, cars were sliding everywhere. The two mile drive, at ten miles an hour, was ‘tricky’ and when I got there I had to leave the car at the bottom of the road and climb the hill to her house on foot because I couldn’t quite persuade my car to go up it. Best of all, when I got to her door she told me that she’d just run out of coffee and could I get her some - and then that bloody tree dropped snow all over me!

Drink tea.’ I said as I slipped my way back through the muddle of abandoned cars and back down the hill.

Last night the temperature dropped and dropped, and for the first time since I was a child we had ice INSIDE the house! The third floor windows iced up even with the central heating on, I wonder how cold the air outside was up there? This morning the temperature was minus eleven and it’s stayed there all day, and as I write this it is minus twelve.

Outside the world is made of ice. I wonder if this really is the shape of things to come?