Wednesday, 31 March 2010

And here is the shipping forecast...

There is something about the shipping forecast that is fascinating. I must have been listening to it for fifty years or so but I never seem to tire of it, In fact I eagerly await the broadcasts. I usually catch the early morning forecast when I’m off on my travels, suited, pointy shoe booted, Windsor tie knotted, and out into the stormy seas of the big wide work world.

Those seas have been pretty stormy of late and at times I’ve felt tossed and tumbled like a piece of flotsam, but somehow the constant of the shipping forecast makes me forget all that and I’m transported to ‘sea area whatever’ at least for a short time.

It conjures up all sorts of images in my head; old black and white movies, boyhood story books, lighthouses and foghorns, whales and whalers, it’s almost an adventure in itself – no it IS an adventure in itself and all good adventures deserve a soundtrack. So here’s a little sea shanty and to accompany it my illustration of me lost on the (air) waves of the shipping forecast.

BTW - look closely at the illustration and see if you can spot the fish.

The Shipping Forecast

Here is the shipping forecast, the radio says.
From my seat I’m transported to sea.
Riding white tipped waves,
From my armchair ship,
An uncomfortable place to be.

Sea area Viking
Horn helmeted Hun
And Shannon and Fastnet and Malin.
Straight out of a book where whalers kill whales
And cabin boys fall from the rigging.

Sweet Dover and Sole, so good when light fried,
And Portland and Dover and Wightey.
Bailey, Hebrides too
Faeroes up high and true,
And Forties, brow botoxed so tightly.

Up Utsire North, then down Utsire South.
I relish them both when first heard.
Neither much when first read.
But banshees when said,
Ut-seeeeeeeeeeeeera - a scream of a word.

Then Cromarty, Forth,
A black and grey chap, jumps onto the bridge from a train.
Wearing a Fair Isle sweater –
Sorry, I should know better!
Suspended so high in the rain.

It was Fitzroy who founded The Met - I’m astounded!
No forecast if not for he.
As predictor of weather
I doubt he was better
Than seaweed hung up from a tree.

Like the wheels of that train, the names are ingrained
Trafalgar, Dogger and Tyne.
Fisher, German Bight,
Irish Sea, Fair to light.
And Rockall alone on the rime.

Then Humber (a car) and Lundy (la la).
The train rolls on through the night.
To Port smuggled Plymouth
With Brandy and Vermouth
From Bay of Biscay on the right.

Then says the forecaster (I need a sou’wester),
Warns all on the sea as he should -
Northwest four or five,
Severe gales force nine.
And occasionally moderate to good!

Continuing calm, with no note of alarm,
He goes on to say slow and mellow,
“Perhaps gale eight later.”
He’s such an orator,
I applaud, he’s such a fine fellow.

At last all is over as the radio announcer
Concludes the forecast for today.
I sit in my chair
Glad I’m here and not there
As my heart beats a merry mayday.

DotDotDot, DashDashDash, DotDotDot, DashDashDash.
Oh ‘Save Our Souls’ says me
The Shipping Forecast over,
I’m back in safe harbour,
It’s a listener’s life for me.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010


We wandered over to Caernarfon on Saturday. The town is dominated by the castle - in fact there isn’t much else other than the castle.

Caernarfon is one of those towns that, when it was a busy port, must have been magnificent with the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Today all you need is a couple of hours to take in the sights (castle excluded). It doesn’t seem to have a proper high street. Bits and pieces of shops and streets just run to dead ends blocked off by plastic bollards. An odd place. Even the narrow streets around the castle - boutiques, cake and gift shops, a florist or two. It has that not quite permanent, not around for long, soon to be empty feel. Everything is running down in Caernarfon, apart from the castle, the castle is simply ruined.

Mind you by Welsh standards Caernarfon has plenty of pubs. The Four Alls, The Anglesey Arms Hotel, The Castle Hotel, The Crown, Morgan Lloyd, Pen Deitch and The Twthill Vaults and the oldest pub in Caernarfon, the not very politically correctly named and pub-signed Black Boy Inn.

The Black Boy has stood inside the walls of Caernarfon castle since the 1500s. It’s said to be haunted by several spirits (not the bottled kind) but we didn’t see any ghosts when we had lunch there one sunny afternoon in the not so distant past, sitting outside under the hanging baskets swiping at the wasps.

It seems such a long time ago now.

Afterwards we walked along the length of the harbour walk, the Castle towering above us on our left, Holly chasing the seagulls and laughing when they flew away from her. It really does seem such a long time ago, my small laughing girl in T-shirt, shorts, and pink flowery pumps skipping along in the sunshine.

It was sunny last Saturday but we didn’t have lunch at the Black Boy and Holly didn’t run along the harbour walk laughing and chasing the seagulls. I avoided it. I didn’t want to bump into any ghosts, what’s gone is gone. We just looked around the apathetic shops… then left.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Loss of picture...

For some reason pictures are not uploading to my blog tonight. I'm hoping that it is one of those technical problems and, like they used to say on the BBC, normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

I remember when the Telly went 'wonky' all of the time and the word 'Interlude' would flash up to replace whatever we were watching - Juke Box Jury, Bootsy and Snudge, Gunsmoke. Along with the interlude (which always seemed to be a man throwing a pot with his sleeves rolled up) was the music that accompanied it, usually classical, usually quiet soothing to go with the pot throwing.

I remember my dad playing with the dials at the back of the telly trying to adjust the horizontal and vertical holds, the picture spinning around and around making the chap reading the news look like a flicker show. I remember him taking out a glass thing like a light bulb, a valve, and polishing it on his jumper before screwing it back in. It even worked sometimes.

I remember the dot in the centre of the telly getting smaller and smaller when you switched off the telly after the national anthem at 11 o'clock each evening. It seemed to take ages to disappear, and when it finally vanished completely the telly would make a pfffff noise.

I remember interference every time a motor bike passed the house or Auntie Muriel switched on her hairdryer upstairs.

I remember public information films - 'Cross safely', 'Call the coastguard', 'Keep your dog on a lead in the country', 'Watch out for children' and 'Don't take sweets from strangers'. Some of them were quite horrific - a girl perches on the side of a sports car whilst another car turns the blind corner her boyfriend has parked on. The driver (who had a Terry Thomas moustache) tries to swerve, but too late, and smashes into her crushing her legs. I think that one was called 'Take care to park properly or you pretty young girlfriend will get her legs crushed'. Another had a car (a sports car again) speeding along a winding high-hedged country road only to smash headlight first into a tractor. I think that was called 'Take care on country roads you never know when the grim reaper is just around the corner driving a bloody great tractor'. A warning to us all.

I remember two channels - only two channels.

I remember 'Children's Hour'.

I remember the relief when the announcer announced 'I'm pleased to inform you that we are able to return to the scheduled programme and we apologise for the break in transmission'.

Ditto. I apologise for the break in transmission and hope that normal service will be resumed as soon as possible.

Sunday, 28 March 2010


So there we were driving along the short cut by the estuary, (the one that they are trying to make into a wildlife haven by grubbing out the reed beds and chopping down all the trees!), when we were ambushed.

The first one jumped from on top of the embankment walkway directly in front of the car and just stood there looking at us. Ten minutes later it was still there ignoring my toots and only moving back a foot or two when I slowly pulled forward before looking me in the eye, standing its ground, and daring me to move again.

'Maybe you should get out and shoo it off.' Suggested Gaynor.

She had to be joking, everybody knows a swan can break your arm with a single flap of its wing. Everybody knows that as soon as you get within six feet of a swan you are in mortal danger and people will begin to shout; 'Get away or it will break your arm with a single flap of its wing!'
Everyone knows - I've never actually seen it happen though (and the same thing goes for taking eyes out and paper planes).

After fifteen minutes of waiting I decided to reverse the half mile down the single track road to the turning and not bother with the short cut. I glanced in my rear view mirror... there was another one behind us. We were trapped! Five minutes later and four swans had strategically positioned themselves around the car making it impossible for us to escape. We were surrounded, we were there for the duration... and then we remembered the bread in the boot.

Luckily you can reach into our boot from inside the car by dropping the back seat. Holly reached in, grabbed the french bread we'd bought for lunch, and we all proceeded to break it into small chunks. Then we threw it as far as we were able away from the car through the open car door windows hoping to lure the swans away.
It worked! The swans waddled off after our bread and we got the hell out of there before they changed their minds.
We were lucky this time, we avoided the swan gang. But who knows, maybe next time it'll be our swan song.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Misty sends a text...

I wish that they would come home and give me some nin nins, I'm starving. I've tried calling them on the Whirling Dervish Girl Things talking box but all I got was music. Perhaps I'm pressing the wrong buttons. I pressed it once and a cat appeared on the screen. It was such a funny looking cat so I pressed it again and a lot of letters appeared. I think that is called texting or something. The WDGT does it all the time so I tried to send a text but texting isn't easy when you don't have any thumbs.

I did my best but this is all I could manage: 'You2 i wnt ninnins. when r u hme. I *vin + nd fd lol'. Actually it looks just like one of the texts that the WDGT sends every two minutes or so, particularly the 'lol' bit. I wonder what 'lol' means? Look out looney? Lots of Licks? Could be anything really.

I'd just finished my text when I realised that I didn't know how to send it and all that hissing texting had worn me out. so I decided to have a sleep instead.

'Gnght vry 1 c u nxt wk'.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Getting it in perspective...

Hard to keep perspective sometimes, hard to keep your balance.

Balance is a morphing thing, sometimes this, sometimes that. Depends on the angle, circumstance, time, surroundings, people, mood. One moment a figure out of a Monet – a woman in a skirt with stole and piled high hair - the next a duck sat on a rock balancing another rock, like a chicken comb, on its feathered head.

Same thing – but a different perspective.

Rocks are hard, heavy, they can weigh you down, and rocks can take time to lift. They can be lifted though - all you do is look at them in another way. Take a different view. That’s all it is really - perspective, a different perspective.

Look closely at things. You’ll see what I mean.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Walking on History...

Why the picture of the floor? Well, this isn’t just any floor. Look closely, this is part of the history of the world, the long ago history of the world, and it contains miracles – fossils, beautiful, perfect ammonites and belemites. I wonder where in the ancient world they came from? At the start of the Cretaceous age, the time these fossils were formed, our world looked very different. Earth was beginning to resemble the one we know today, but it still had a long way to go and there were some real differences.

There was a huge continuous equatorial seaway between the two continents, Laurasia and Gondwana, and the oceanic flow between them was a major influence on climate. It was warm, very warm. South America had began to float away from Africa, causing a rift and forming the South Atlantic Ocean, the Central Atlantic (between North America and Africa) was opening up as they slowly drifted away from each other (like a long married couple) and the split between North America and Western Europe (that eventually produced the stormy North Atlantic) was just beginning.

On the sea floor, the long violent rift between the continents was marked by a continuous, underwater, volcanically-active mountain range and Iceland, the Ascension Islands and St. Helena, were in the process of throwing themselves up in a determined attempt to breach the surface of the life-filled ocean.

The small creatures that once swam these seas might have danced in shoals a million strong off the shores of St. Helena, or been battered by prehistoric electrical storms and washed up on the sulphuric beaches of a newly formed (and ice-free) Iceland.

This is not a floor, this is the history of the world tamed and put to use as decoration for a glass and steel office building in Manchester – the one where I work at the moment. Most people don’t notice the wonderful creatures captured for all time in the wall and floor tiles, most people probably don’t even care – but then most people don’t collect fossils or balance stones, and most people don't give a flying fossil anyway.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Life in front...

Here I am in the sunshine my whole life in front of me. How blond my hair is, perhaps I’ll grow up to be a Beach Boy – after all I might, anything is possible with your whole life is in front of you. I think the girl is my cousin Linsey. Look at her funny little shoes, old ladies shoes and a smock, standing in the sunshine in a garden overrun with weeds with her whole life in front of her. I remember that garden, it was my Gran’s and at the back there was a beautiful sweet-smelling purple lilac bush. Gran used to pick the lilac, thrust it into a jam jar, and stand it on her kitchen table, the dust spinning in the sunlit air above the bread board.

See that old tricycle, it hasn’t any back tyres, just the rims of the wheels. I won’t go far on that, It's all broken down and finished, at the end of its useful life.

Fifty years ago, frowning in the sunshine on a battered old tricycle that isn’t going anywhere in a garden full of weeds my whole life in front of me.

I wonder what we are looking for. The future?

Monday, 22 March 2010


Have you ever played Disc, Quizzes, Joujou de Normandie, Tagalog, L'emigrette, Coblentz, Incroyable, Bandelore? Or more simply put, do you Yo-Yo?

I do, I’m a bit of a yo-yo monster, an addict - hence the doodle that popped out of my pen recently and reminded me of how much I like to yo-yo. It isn't meant to be me by the way, just one of those creatures that wander around my head from time to time.

I first learnt to yo-yo (a bit) at aged four – you know, up and down a couple of times followed by the inevitable spinning tangled string knotting that always seems to happen on the third yo if you aren’t very good. It wasn’t until my early teens that I learnt to do it properly and became hooked -or yo’d as we in the brotherhood term it.

I remember my first breakthrough. I was standing on the platform under the fabulous glass ceiling of Lucerne station in Switzerland. I was on a school trip and I’d swapped a small Swiss penknife for a really nicely balanced black Ja-Roo Classsic yo-yo. It was a revelation. Almost immediately I went from an almost zero yo-yo skill base to a good yo-yoer, three weeks later and I’d mastered the art of the yo-yo and could walk-the-dog, go around-the-world, flick-and-retrieve, stand-down, I could even hit-the-sky.

The term yo-yo is Filipino, and means ‘to return’ or ‘come, come’. It’s the second oldest toy in the world, next to the doll – yes a girl toy got there first. The Ancient Greek made yo-yos from painted terracotta, wood, and metal, and decorated them with images of mythological creatures. Yo-yos can be even be seen depicted on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples. Both Napoleon and the Duke of Wellington were keen yo-yoers and they were used by hunters in the Philippines for thousands of years.

The first actual evidence of yo-yo’s as a toy comes from India around the mid 1700’s when the yo-yo seems to have yo-yo’d from India to Europe and Britain. By 1789, yo-yos were becoming all the rage and the best French yo-yos, made from glass and ivory, were considered bourgeoisie which led to anybody sentenced to death being allowed to play with yo-yos on their way to the guillotine. Later the French playwright, Beaumarchais, featured a yo-yo in "The Marriage of Figaro".

The first recorded reference to the yo-yo in the US is in Ohio in 1866, but there was no return wheel – so it was more yo than yo-yo. The return wheel, which makes the toy shoot back into your hand, was developed by German immigrant, Charles Kirchof a few years later. In the early 1920’s a Filipino immigrant, Pedro Flores, moved to the California and made the yo-yo the success it is today. Pedro worked as a bellhop and carved and constructed wooden discs to play with in his spare time. One day he took one of his toys to work and soon attracted an excited crowd. Within a short time Flores launched his own company and began manufacturing yo-yos.

In 1929, a young entrepreneur named Donald Duncan discovered Flores, and bought out the company and the yo-yo name. Duncan’s also credited with the development of ice cream on a stick and the parking meter (bastard), and he developed the first-ever looped slip string, which allowed the yo-yo to rest at the bottom of the string or ‘sleep’ as in sleep-the-dog.

‘ENOUGH!’I hear you say. Yes, you’re right. Don’t read about yo-yoing, get one and learn – IT IS SUCH FUN!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Early morning mist...

I couldn't sleep last night so as soon as the birds started to sing I crawled out of bed, dressed and went outside into the early morning air. It was really foggy, but not that thick grey blanket fog, this fog was wispy and changed colour as the bright morning sunlight shone through.

I clicked of a couple of photos - into the sun, through the holly tree, by the cottage roof.

Here's how it turned out. It reminds me of the swirls the oil paint made when I made oil paper at art college, floating the thinned paint in a tray of water and lifting the paper up, then out, to catch the wonderful patterns.

It was beautiful paper.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Funny old week...

I heard Hisfault say ‘Funny old week’ to himself last night. Sometimes I don’t understand him at all. It hasn’t seemed like a funny old week. I haven’t heard much laughter around here recently - in fact I haven’t heard any. Everyone’s been very quiet and Hisfault has had a face like a salty sardine. He even forgot to give me goodnight nin nins one night – I think it was Tuesday, and he hasn’t asked me to do ‘paws’ once. In fact he’s practically ignored me even when I’ve tried to get his attention by doing snuggles around his foot.

I don’t think I’ve done anything to upset him, at least I can’t remember doing anything, but there is definitely something not as usual. I wish there was something that I could do to help, but I don’t know what to do. Perhaps I’ll just sit around quietly and wait, maybe sleep at the end of the bed, make sure he’s okay, stop any mices from getting him – not that we have mices, but if we did I’d protect him from them.

Yes, that’s what I’ll do. I’ll just be here in case he wants to talk, or play fighting, or something – and if he does want to play fighting, I’ll keep my claws in. I’m sure things will get back to normal soon, whatever normal is.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Blog down...

There is no blog today, bloody or otherwise. Maybe I’ve run out of ideas, blogged myself to a standstill, developed blogger’s block? Nope, not that.

The films that usually run in my head aren’t running currently. The screen’s blank. I’m not even sure that the projectionist is in the building. Perhaps he’s on his break? I don’t know, but I hope so, I’m missing my internal dialogue and I’ve lost my way in the fug of the events surrounding me. My film (the internal film that keeps me warm) isn’t showing at the moment.

Lights are off, camera’s broken, there is no action.

My blog is down. Tomorrow?

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Blood, flint and a small boy’s dare…

Where I come from, the place where my blood was made, not where I store it now, flint walls are common.

I’m walking to school, along Wellington Street, through Gas Alley - long, narrow, always in the shade, cold, proper cold, and a proper alley. A Victorian alley out of an old novel; cloaked villain, Sherlock and Moriarty, a smog and vampires type of novel, one of those books that smell of dust, fear, and stale tobacco.

I’m trying to forget the smell of that book and tracing the flint walls - grey and sharp, with crumbling red brick frames - as I walk. Dragging my small boy hands across the shiny glasslike surface, tracing the shattered, knapped, edges of the calcium encrusted schist, carefully trying not to cut my pink, boy, fingers so as not to leave my trace on the chalk and chert. I do this every time I walk through the alley but this time I’m not quite careful enough and draw blood. Ouch! It hurts. The sliver cut stinging as quick as any made by paper, made colder with the stony sharpness of the flint. When this happens - the blood letting - I know that I must run. Run as fast as my pink, short-trousered legs will carry me, run like the devil is at my back – because he may be.

Blood means vampires and I am in the alley. If I don’t run fast enough one might get me, there are lots of places for them to hide – on top of the walls, by the dark steps, in the house that shouldn’t be there, behind the haunted holly bush.

I run and run and run – full pelt, careful not to fall, past the overhanging apple tree (where apples would drop, to be squashed flat and pulpy, in September), past the tall bit (that always threatens to topple), past the painted lovers heart (BK – L – SP), towards the light at the far end and away from the dark - away from the vampires.

I’m running along the alley, panting and breathless, faster and faster towards the pink house and the sign that says safety, sign getting closer - ‘Gas Works Alley’ - almost close enough to read now. Closer, closer, brighter, brighter, safer, safer - wanting the breeze beyond the stillness of the enclosing walls, feeling the warmth outside the almost tunnel, seeing light in the entrance, hearing cars beyond - a little farther, a little faster, arms outstretched, almost there…

And out!

Out into the sunshine and the dusty normality of North Street – mothers with pushchairs across the way, dray men rolling iron-banded barrels down into the cellar of the Cross Keys at the corner of Park Street, Austin’s and Morris Minors passing on the road that I’m waiting (panting, panting, panting) to cross.

A quick glance over my shoulder. Beat them again. They’ll be cursing now, cursing and hiding in the shadows until the next time. I’ll be more careful on the way back, it’ll be darker. Dare I do it? Dare I not?

Blood on flint, a dangerous combination - I knew it when I dared it, but that is the way of small boy dares.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Long day - pictures of the sky...

Sunrise at last - sun through trees, delicate orange-pink-blue sky as flat and perfect a transition as any water-colourist ever spread from his dripping sable wash brush. Above, a smear of white contrail as aeroplane spoils the perfect surface of the lightening sky.

The day is here. This day is here.

Sunset finally – huge pink clouds shaped on evening wind rolling lazily across this surreal sky of a day, texture and depth palette-knifed from the coloured air around them. They look so heavy, ponderous, important, but all they are is a mist

So this day ends as this day began - a shifting mix of light and dark and every shade of colour. The artist puts away the brush, and who amongst us knows the colour and shape of the next painting?

Monday, 15 March 2010

Talking about the car wash...

Car washes are strange places. For a few minutes you are totally alone with your imagination as the washer jets spray a seductive film of soapy liquid around and over your vessel. Your mind seems to float as the sound of the splashing water hypnotises and you are set adrift on memory bliss…

Down, down, down – and as the light dims, filtering down through the water above, you begin to move towards another place. You should be in a petrol station car wash at a supermarket in Scarborough, but instead you’re in a in a submarine caught inside a cave underneath the ocean - and you are someone else. Dive! Dive! Dive! The claxon repeatedly sounds as the hunt for Red October begins.

You’re in a submarine deep beneath the sea, twenty thousand leagues under the sea, Captain Nemo, commander of the Nautilus. Now you’re Troy Tempest, puppet captain of the Stingray and the fish people, armed with spear guns, are quickly closing in on you. Deeper, and you’re Lloyd Bridges at the wheel of the Argonaut, the ‘Sea Hunt’ on as you carefully edge your way past that ledge of rock that looks as though it must fall at any moment.

And what’s that sound? Thousands of tentacles, as noisy as your sub’s engine, surround you, slapping you with thousands of seaweed-like fronds as they lash you repeatedly, trying to break into the safety of your diving capsule.

A sea centipede with hundreds of leathery legs tries pulling apart your one man submarine, intent on catching you for supper. You struggle but it’s no use. It has you! You are going under!

“I’ll go down with my ship!” And as quickly as the monster appeared it’s gone.

But now a raging storm whips up, the sound of the wind a fury, blowing the water fiercely away from your observation hatch. What now, an underwater volcano about to erupt? Then all is quiet as you come back, no longer adrift on memory bliss and you see dry land full ahead – the sanctuary of Morrison’s car park.

You are safe. The sea could not hold you, monsters didn’t eat you, the storm was weathered – and, washing cycle over, you start the engine. EXIT – the neon sign displays, and you do. That was a close one.

Next time I may wash my car by hand.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Not talking to trees...

Take any lane in our bit of North Wales and you are sure to end up finding something that you didn’t expect to come across. Beaches, mountains, churches, stones, cliffs, rivers and streams, bogs, islands, cottages, and of course flock after flock of sheep. They are all there to startle as you round the bend or climb to the top of that rise.

Today it was trees, but what trees - a line of windswept, angled, warriors, clinging to the side of the mountain waiting for the battle of spring to commence - old hands at it by the size and shape of them. As I walked past and under their leaf bare boughs, following the twisting lane they border to the lake below, I’m sure they watched me as I passed – and for a few seconds talked to me, whispering of things past and things yet to be, unsettling me as I moved across the deep blue silhouettes of their shadows and making me shiver.

I didn't reply, just hurried on pretending that I hadn't heard them. I always do when things try to speak to me.

Unforgiving, unforgiven, and honest as salt - that’s the way of the trees in our bit of North Wales.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Outside in...

Outside is big. It’s interesting looking inside from the outside, inside looks smaller from outside. It gives you a different perspective on things, cat perspective that is – taller, thinner, narrower – it’s an eye thing, an iris thing. I’d never noticed that long blue candley from the inside before, but now that I see it I think I might enjoy playing with it. It looks like a long, thin, blue waxy worm. When I get back inside I think I’ll jump up and see if the candley worm fancy’s a game of play-paw. That will be hissing fun - if they ever let me hissing inside again that is.

I’ve been sitting outside for ages waiting for them to see me and let me back inside. I’m starving and there’s a nice bowl of nin-nins waiting for me in my usual place. I know that I have the patience of a saint, but even Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, the patron saint of cats, might lose her patience if she were as hissing hungry as I am, and I’m really, really hissing hungry. Come on, come on, come on, come on – let me in, let me in.

Saint Gertrude, Gertie as we call her, is also the Pat Sat of gardeners, herbalists, travellers in search of lodging, and cat lovers. What a mixture! I hate the smell of herbs, gardens are for digging up, I lodge with Hisfault and Foodies, and they are meant to be cat lovers – just look at the way they leave me outside when I want to be inside eating my nin-nins.

Talking of which – look, there’s Hisfault in the kitchen, and about time too. Is he going to hissing let me inside? ‘Oy, hissing Hisfault, let me inside! Don’t just leave me here outside, I want my hissing nin-nins!’

That should do it. What? Fidgeting fishbones, I don’t hissing believe it! Not again! Look, he’s got his camera and he’s pointing it at me. What does he want me to do? Smile? Well, he’s got no chance. In fact I’m going to look nonchalantly away and ignore him. No, I will not say cheese - I might eat some if there were any on offer though.

Come on Gertie, I’m a cat, he’s meant to be a cat lover - do your stuff and get me out of this garden and back inside. Work your magic and get me to my nin-nins before I become sick with hunger. I’m so hungry I could eat my nin-nins even if it were flavoured with herbs.

Right – looks like there’s nothing else for it… I’m going to have to pray.
Thank you, Gerty, for nin-nins time,For milk, for meat, for fish,Thank you, Gerty, for all the food,I find upon my dish.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Place - a bit poem, a bit prose…

Here’s a boat coming in to safe harbour,
The storm on its way,
A relief to the sailor.

I come to this place often to watch the waves, to smell the sea, listen to the radio, watch the gulls, looking for the bob of the seal that together we once saw, making us laugh and - with delight - clap our hands.

I come to this place often, once I even fished, catching nothing, outdone by some small girl with her three foot rod and a kiss for bait. The setting sun, such a small fish, such a large kiss - better than no fish at all.

I come to this place often to remember, think. Planning this and planning that, plotting, asking, answering, questioning, sometimes wondering, hardly ever listening, so rarely making reality.

I come to this place often and I'll be back to look for the orange stars in pools, the scatter of fireworks across the way, pink gulls in the evening sun, pebbles, boats and snotty noses. I come to this place often.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Birthday blur...

Today is my birthday. Happy birthday me.

How did I get here so quickly? Sometimes it seems as though my whole life is a rushed through journey, there and back again, a bit of a blur. I recollect some small part of it – high days and holidays, dark days and death days - but the rest is ill defined, badly remembered. Whole tracts of my life seem lost to me – they are there somewhere deep, but the days and years submerge them, have dulled and blunted my rememberings with their cumulative weight and sunk them.

Here, let me explain - what was I thinking on this day, my birthday, in 1983? No idea. I think that tells it.

On the day I was born the floodgates of The Dalles Dam were closed. Doesn’t sound like much, but with the closing of the floodgates Celilo Falls ceased to exist along with the Salmon fisheries that Native American Indians had been fishing for thousands of years. At the moment I entered the world hundreds of observers watched as the rising waters of the Columbia River rapidly silenced the falls, submerged the ancient fishing platforms, consumed the village of Celilo, and ended a way of life as my own tiny life kicked in.

Of course I don’t remember this, but I know because my Uncle Charlie used to tell me about it. I can see him now in our living room, my mum and dad out somewhere, telling me how the Red Indians danced around their totems as the water rose. All the big chiefs from the TV were there – Sitting Bull, Geronimo, Cochise, Hiawatha, Crazy Horse, sitting on their Indian ponies wearing eagle feather headdresses.

Charlie said that it was a crime, describing how the water rose above the roofs of the village and how sometimes even today you could hear the chapel bell ringing beneath the water. He’d tell me that since that day no Indian had fished the reservoir left behind by the flooding and that the Salmon had all gone away, taken by Noa-kinem, the Salmon God, to the great fishing lakes in the sky.

Charlie said that electricity wasn’t worth the destruction and sometimes the things people did in the name of progress was quite simply wrong, but that you couldn’t stop progress – more’s the pity.

He was like that my Uncle Charlie. A man who remembered things and built stories to help him remember what was important. He may not have always been historically accurate, and he may sometimes have muddled his stories up a little, but he remembered the important things. He was a story teller my Uncle Charlie, a tale spinner.

And that’s what I’m trying to do with this blog – build stories to help me remember things, create an almost daily record in words and pictures of what I’m doing, thinking, seeing. I’m not always accurate, often it’s written in code, sometimes I muddle things a little, and not all the things I record are important - but then this isn’t meant to be a diary, even though it’s all about me.

In my future I’ll be able to look into the blog and see through the water to the memories beneath without the need to worry about the blur effect of passing years. I’ll always know what I was thinking on this day in 2010, even if nobody else does.

Happy birthday me.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Maintaining a balance...

It’s all about balance but balance is such a hard thing to find. The world, particularly this modern world, is set up to excite, entertain, distract - keep you so busy that at times you have no idea what you are doing, why you are doing it, where you are going, or what is there for you when you get there.

Our world has lost its balance. We have lost our balance. I have lost my balance. So here's a remedy, something to help - well it helps me.

Take a walk on a beach and pick up some pebbles. Try not to choose them for any other reason than you like the look of them or they talk to you. Take them to your place and get to know them. Hold them in your hands, feel their weight, find their balance, understand the shape of each of your pebbles, how they sit with each other, where their contours are – and when you know them as individuals, balance them with each other. On their tops, by their sides, underneath, upright, horizontal, whatever takes your whim - but balance them, ten minutes a day.

It won’t make the world go away but it will for a while restore your balance, make you feel a little more at one, a little better about things.

Try it – what have you got to lose?

Monday, 8 March 2010

Naming stones...

This summer we’ve decided to find as many standing stones on the peninsula as we are able – so, this weekend, armed with an OS map, we went hunting for them. East, along the lane, through the woods, and up and down the winding tracks of Carn Fadryn (the small mountain we can see from our cottage window), past the lodge park that was once Castel Madryn, almost through a field and there we stumbled across our first.

In the middle of a sheep feeding, turnip strewn field overlooking the sea we come across a solid, six feet tall menhir. Look closely and you can see his face, eye slanting towards a profiled nose, beneath that the scar of a slightly withered mouth that seems to be whispering something. What is it? Is it a name? We listen but we can’t make it out - so we name him for him, Loki Bautasten, after the mischievous shape shifter god of Norse mythology and the word for standing stone in Norwegian.

“Bye Loki” we call as we drive away and go in search of another.

Through the trees to a field of dark earth molehills surrounded by crow filled woods, we come across our second stone and, after taking a look, we name him Ehwaz, the rune for horse. The resemblance to a horse is at best passing but there is something of a creature’s head about the monolith, a slight touch of horse - perhaps a hint of dragon? A crow flies down as if to land on the stone as Holly takes her picture perching precariously on the boundary bank, she captures it in burred still motion for ever and I think; ‘this stone will stand when I and all the crows that ever were are dust.’ And with that warming thought we move on.

Along the B435 towards Y Ffor, some stones are map marked close to Moelypenmaen, deep in the tiny grass-grown tracks behind the mountain. We search and search, straining our necks to look over tall stone walls and then, through a gate, along a long lane towards a farm, we catch a glimpse of the pair - one tall and willowy slim and the other short and stunted - but too far away to photograph and no sign of a footpath - private land. So, we stop and get out of the car looking wistfully across the field towards them. Gog and Magog we decide and leave. At least we found them, unlikely pair as they are, feeding in a farmers field.

Through Y Ffor and down towards Pwllheli towards the sea - we are looking for another stone, one we must have passed at least a thousand times before. We’ve been told that there’s a standing stone hidden in the wall at Parc Bodegroes. We stare intently at a long, long, wall as we drive slowly by searching for the stone that we’ve been told about. And then, three feet tall from the ground, surrounded by rough hewn, dark grey, blocks of quite another time, we see her. The road is busy - so we drive slowly past, turn around then back and park by the side of the busy road to risk our lives as we take a picture.

We name her Luned, after the Welsh maiden who once gave Owain a ring of protection and invisibility. Legend tells that poor Luned was imprisoned in a stone vault by an evil witch, perhaps this is her - still imprisoned, turned all to stone. I think I can just make out the swirl of a face etched into its surface.

Luned – our final stone of the day. Five stones in less than two hours, a couple no more than a stone’s throw from our cottage and the others no more than a few miles.
Standing stones - they seem to be everywhere once you start to look…
Thanks to Holly for the fantastic photographs

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Black Jacks and Fruit Salads...

Black Jacks or Fruit Salads? Down at the bottom shop octagonal three-penny piece in my hand I have to make a decision. Black Jacks or Fruit Salads? Or a mixture of both? Two for a penny, six for thrupence. Which should it be?

A mixture of both, it always was, it had to be. Such different tastes, such a different look to each.

Black Jacks – black as faded coal, liquorice and sweet, the taste of far away desert islands. Gollys and palm trees on the black and white waxed wrapper – sticky and exotic, at least that’s the way I remember them. Summer, hot, hot summer - tar melting fluid in the road, sticking to the bottoms of my sandals and walked into the house.

‘Get out! Get out!’ She says shaking a broom at me, so out to the kerbside to sit and eat Black Jacks with Jimmy Braham. Chewing, chewing, chewing.

Fruit salads – pink and fruity. Pineapple, orange, and melon melded into a sticky chew. And the only pineapple I’d ever seen - a chunk inside a tin of syrup - and never as a boy did I see a melon. What was melon anyway? Was it like an apple?

Small sweet rectangles of fruit fields in much hotter lands where women wore brightly patterned cotton shawls bound around their heads, the men sucking on sugar cane from rich dusty fields.

Summer, wet, wet summer. Watching Blue Peter with Jackie Woods in the living room at Kings Close - Beep, Booster, Petra the dog, and Uncle Chris and Auntie Valery.

Black Jacks, Fruit Salads - how each of their tastes make my memories flow like childhood saliva. I bought some today. A mixed packet with both. Black Jacks and Fruit Salads in a single pre-packed bag, not the small white paper bag passed to me by Mr Bingham at the corner sweet shop – “Thrupence please young man.” He's saying as he smiles down at me.

The wrappers may have changed – not a Golly in sight, nor palm trees, or badly printed pineapples - but the taste was just the same. Delicious!

So how about you? Which would you choose? Black Jacks or Fruit Salads?

Friday, 5 March 2010

Cat camp...

The thing about camping is that it is best done in a tent. This is my tent. Rather hissing grand isn’t it? Just look at its plush and as for the colour, such a rich chocolate brown purrrrrr.

The door is just big enough for me to climb in through but not so big that the draughts get in. I hate drafts, particularly on my tail.

Sometimes I climb in and just watch the world go by, at other times I snuggle down and have a snooze. It’s the sort of tent just made for sleeping and best of all my tent is of the indoor variety. I’m an indoor camper type and leave the great outdoors just where it is - outdoors.

I love camping but I wouldn’t want to do it hissing outside. What if it rained? What if I was cold? What if I heard a funny noise? For all I know there are all sorts of nasties outside at night.

I’ve never been outside at night, sometimes I think I want to try it and stand by the back door meowing - but they never let me out and thinking about it I’m hissing well glad that they don’t. Outside at night looks a bit dark to me, a bit dark and a bit dangerous. There might even be thingies about at night.

Better to do my camping indoors where its safe and warm and I can pop downstairs for some food when I want some. Anyway, I can’t sit here chatting with you all day I’ve got some serious sleeping to do and after that I may get them to move my tent downstairs – I fancy a change of scene. Now should I move to the kitchen or the living room?

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Grandad's anvil...

How about this for a bank of clouds? How magnificent. Just look at that huge anvil shaped cloud on the horizon, an anvil cloud. It’s called an anvil cloud because of its shape, narrow at the bottom and spreading out broadly at the top – just like a blacksmith’s anvil - this one really looks like an anvil, blunt at the back, sharp at the front.

Anvil clouds, which are mostly ice, form in the upper part of thunderstorms. They get their anvil shape from the fact that the rising air in thunderstorms expand and spread out as the air bumps up against the bottom of the stratosphere. You’ll often see streaks of snow falling at the edges of anvil clouds, and a light dusting of snow fell not long after I took this photograph.

And here’s a picture of one of my Grandfather’s anvils that used to sit in the forge at Langton, the small anvil. I can smell that forge now, hot iron, burning charcoal coke, oil, a smell of electricity in the air. I can hear him hammering the red hot iron and the rumble of the bellows like thunder. I can see the red flecks of dulling metal falling onto the dirt floor like hot snow.

I can smell, hear and see the forge but I can’t feel it because it’s gone, except in my head, up in the clouds, where I started from. I wish I could touch that anvil, I wish I could talk to my Grandad.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Shrimping summers...

Here’s Criccieth castle late afternoon, early spring, crisp, sunny day – last Saturday.

I’ve rock-pooled in these pools with Holly. Caught shrimps hidden in the deep green weed and cooked them for our tea. Not last summer, but the summer before, and before, and before.

As a role of thumb they need to be about the size of a little finger to make them worth cooking, so I guess it’s a rule of finger really. The shrimps hide in the weed around the rocks so swoop your net into the weed and scoop up. Most times you get none, often a few -or even dozens- far too small to eat, but occasionally you will get a big one and once we had six big ones in a single netting.

Holly would never lift them out of the net and even after boiling in salted water for three minutes and serving with buttered brown bread and lemon she wouldn’t touch them until they were prepared. I had to patiently peel them for her, heading and tailing and peeling the translucent orange shells and placing them in the dish in the centre of the table. A pile of peeled prawns, worth it though to see her face as she enjoyed eating the shrimps that she’d caught.

We didn’t go shrimping last summer – no time, the weather, too busy, the tide. Maybe this summer we’ll shrimp together again, who knows?

Monday, 1 March 2010

Free as a bird...

It shouldn’t be too long now before we see some sign of spring. But for now the trees remain bare, all sticks and starkness, bleak silhouette shadow-plays against these wintry skies.

Trees - they seem to come upon you out of nowhere, like half forgotten thoughts, badly remembered from even more badly remembered dreams – ‘it’s in the trees, it’s in the trees!’ the voice in your head cries out and often it is. But where?

How I hate these winter trees so unsettlingly tall, old, filigreed – pointing me at something that I can’t quite remember, making me oppressed, intimidated, despite the open sky beyond and above - and the crows, I hate the crows almost as much as the trees, perhaps more. Not as birds but for their collective carrion darkness.

As free as a bird they say. Free to be buffeted willy-nilly by wind, starve in winter, mate to the order of spring, free to be at the will of the elements, free to be cruel and have cruelty done to. Is that what freedom is?

It shouldn’t be long now before we see some sign of spring and with it may come freedom.