Friday, 30 April 2010

Misty gets her mouse...

I did it! I caught a mousey! Okay mousey time to get up now. Now that I’ve caught you feel free to continue on your way. Off you go. Run along. Thanks for playing catchy with me. We did have fun didn’t we?

Why aren’t you moving? Come on get up, the game’s over, you can go now. Off you go, back on your little mousey feet and off you scamper. What’s up mousey? Are you okay mousey? Aren’t you feeling well?

Oh no, I think I’ve deaded it. I didn’t mean to dead it. Sorry mousey, I didn’t mean to hissing dead you. I was only playing a game. Are you sure you won’t get up and run along? Are you sure that you’re deaded and not just pretending or sleepy.

I don’t suppose the kiss of life would work? How about a piece of cheese, would that do it? No I didn’t think so. Only one thing for it – I’ll have to carry the mousey away and give it a decent burial. It’s the least I can do. Oh well, no use crying over spilt mouse, I’ll just have to be a little gentler next time.

Poor mousey, all deaded and when we were both having such fun – swinging him here, swiping him there, tossing him high in the air and catching him. How was I to know that he was going to go and get deaded. That’s the trouble with mouseys they entice you into playing with them, practically beg you to make them your plaything, and then they go and hissing get deaded on you.

Anyway it was its own fault. He should have listened out for the bell. I wonder if he was deaf? I hope I didn’t kill a disabled mouse. Where’s the skill in that?

No definitely not deaf, I catched him fair and square and not my fault if he went and got himself deaded, definitely not my fault…

Thursday, 29 April 2010

Tales of the riverbank...

This is the county marker, that sits in the middle of the bridge, that crosses the river, that runs through the town, in the land where I was born.

The River Thame is, at this point, the boundary marker between Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire. Thame is the town where I was born and grew up in. It’s one of the few Oxfordshire towns allowed to use Oxon in its address rather than Oxfordshire because… well I used to know why but I seem to have forgotten.

There was a saying when I was growing up, more ironic statement really, and I still use it today - I use it to show my incredulation over something, to flag that I’m not stupid, and sometimes for no good reason at all – and that statement is: ‘Be I Bucks? Be I buggery’.

Back then this was the standard reply in answer to the question ‘are you from Buckinghamshire or Oxfordshire’ because it was hard to tell from your accent. Both Bucks and Oxon had the same bovine bumpkin drawl and both counties were populated by village idiots with varying degrees of idiocy from ‘full cretin’ to ‘ just a bit dim’.

I erred on the ‘just a bit dim’ side, spending years calling girls - guruls, milk - mawlk, and shillings – shallins, as in; ‘Is thart mawlk a shallin a point yang gurul?

I was without doubt a fully fledged country oaf, and it wasn’t until my education at Lord Williams School that I lost the accent and became the same as everybody else. It was the scholars who beat it out of me, providing this service to all townies and teaching us how to speak without our retard accents whilst moulding us into acceptable copies of their flawed normality.

Before this, when I was still a real townie boy, I used to go down to the river almost every week. Back then there wasn’t a sign warning you off, nor did your parents worry about you going there and drowning - in fact mine actively encouraged me to get some fresh air by the river - in retrospect I wonder if that was reasonable parental behaviour, but I enjoyed myself anyway and only came close to drowning once.

One Sunday afternoon my Uncle Bob took me fishing on the river. Uncle Bob had been in the army and had made his fishing rod out of a telescopic tank aerial. He let me borrow it and showed me how to cast into the purple shadow under the weeping willows where, he said, the pike were. I was so excited – I was going to catch a pike. Six hours and not a bite later I decided that fishing wasn’t for me and I’ve never been river fishing since.

It was my uncle Bob who caught the Pike and gave it to my Mum to cook for dinner. I have never tasted anything so revolting in my life. It was slippery and slimy and tasted of the smelly mud that you get at the bottom of ditches - it put me off fish for years afterwards. Boiled Pike? Not even if Marco Pierre White cooked it.

I would often take my girlfriend down to the river. We used to wander down the bridge steps into the field below, taking care not to touch the trees – there were cows in the field and they rubbed against the trees, and touching where they’d been rubbing might give you ringworm (or so my auntie Muriel said). We’d hide away under the single landlocked arch of the bridge and kiss and whisper and dream and eat chips from Kimberley’s fish and chip shop at 6d a bag.

Sometimes I’d swim in the river during those long, hot, boyhood summers - me, the Brahams, the Bowler boys and girl. We used to swing out over the river on a rope and then drop into the deep, green, coolness of the water. You had to watch out for the whirlpool under the bridge - the whirlpool would drag you down if you got too close to it. I didn’t believe in the power of the whirlpool, which was only ring of gently swirling water - until the day I watched a spinning sheep dragged, screaming not bleating, under the water never to be seen again.

That’s me in the water in the bottom right of the picture. I can see the bridge from where I’m standing it’s to my right and the whirlpool is just behind me. On top of the bridge, exactly in its middle, is the county marker. I’m standing in the water in Oxon and across on the other bank it’s Bucks and listen, I’m shouting…

Be I Bucks? Be I buggery!

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Feeling sheepish…

I thought that spring was going to be sprung without any reference to those cute, leaping lambs that seem to be in every field you wander into at this time of year - crook in hand, sheep dog at heel. I thought that I’d managed to get away with ignoring their fluffy whiteness and not having to mention their cuteness now that Easter is long gone.

But then I wasn’t reckoning on the text that Holly got from Goronwy, our farmer friend, the other evening. There’s an orphan lamb up at the farm, a bottle feeder, not your fluffy white ball of cotton wool kind of a lamb, something else, a veritable E.T. of a lamb.

As you can see E.T. isn’t the most attractive of creatures, but what he lacks in looks he makes up for in personality. Just look at him, he looks like he’s been dipped in soot and he’s borrowed somebody else’s skin – a bigger somebody’s skin. In fact if I didn’t know better I might think that he was a glove puppet and that Holly was doing an impression of Shari Lewis – remember her? Shari Lewis and Lamb Chop - Sunday evenings, black and white telly, school the next day… or was that Pinky and Perky?

‘Are ewe my mummy? Are ewe my mummy?’ As you can see he’s decided that Holly probably is his mummy, silly little bleater. Orphan lambs are like that, they’ll go to anyone for affection. Everyone and everything is a potential mother.

Poor little thing, he’s all over Holly like a rash and not only does he not have a mummy but being born a boy… well let’s just say that I hope that he isn’t allergic to mint.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Birds and Bees

Here’s my first swallow of summer, spotted at the weekend. It took me a while to realise that they were back, but once I did it was almost like they’d never been away.

Now I know that one swallow doesn’t make a summer but there was at least a half dozen or so diving in and out of the barn, starting to patch up last year’s nest, so I think that qualifies.

And then there were the bees. That happy buzz of bees was everywhere. They seemed to be saying ‘Here’s the start of summer, time to start collecting nectar, time to start making honey'. And to confirm their optimism the beekeepers were back, all shapes, all sizes, dressed in white with smoke guns puffing away in the orchard.

I wonder if a first swallow and the buzz of bees will do it.

Maybe the makings of the summer really is here - I wonder how long it will stay?

Monday, 26 April 2010

Resident disruption will be kept to a minimum...

They have been digging up our road for months now, almost three months to be exact and the end is nowhere in sight. I remember the meeting that we went to last November. We walked down our quiet Autumn road to the hotel across the way, looked at the plans, had a cup of coffee, and were told by a very friendly chap with a clipboard and a tie that the work would take place in three phases and that ‘resident disruption will be kept to a minimum’.

Resident disruption will be kept to a minimum’ hang on to that thought as I report from the war zone that I now inhabit. Our own private war zone that’s as dusty and rubble littered as the streets of Beirut.

This war zone was once a quiet residential haven where children could play tennis in the road (bloody kids – watch out for that speeding Audi!) and where, at this time of year, we could sit out on our gravelled front yards on designer benches sipping wine and watching the world, including the occasional star from Coronation Street, pass us by.

Initially the war started at the other end of the road and apart from closing off the entry and reducing the already scarce parking, it wasn’t too much of a problem. But then one morning I came out of the house to find that I was imprisoned behind a heavy eight foot high blue wire mesh fence.

‘Oh my God’ I thought. ‘We’ve been invaded and imprisoned by the Huns / Martians / Jehovah’s Witnesses / National Monster Raving Loony Party’.

Of course it was none of these – it was far worse, we were imprisoned by WORKMEN!

Now I have nothing against workmen, but they have set up a portacabin by the bowling green at the end of the road where they spend their time playing cards, drinking tea, smoking fags, and spitting. Then, at the end of the working (card playing, tea drinking, fag smoking, precision spitting) day they block off every available inch of car parking space with signs, cones, bollards, plastic hazard tape, oil drums, boxes and any other obstruction that they can find to allow them to all have parking spaces for their BMW's when the arrive at seven the next morning.

I and the other residents are left to find parking ‘elsewhere’ which usually means a fifteen minute walk from car to front door in the rain carrying a dozen bags of shopping.

Parking is so at a premium that I’ve seen Barry from number 12 and Ian from across the way duelling with rapiers to decide who should have the last single car parking space available on the road. ‘To the DEATH!’ Well not quite, but definitely to they both run out of breath.

All the drives are blocked with barriers to avoid the residents driving into the ten foot deep, four feet wide trench that has been dug in the centre of the road. (Come on chaps, follow me, over the top and into no-man’s land!... KAPOOM!)

And then there is the noise which starts at seven and finishes at six, and the shaking caused by the twenty or thirty diggers, JCB’s, and dumper trucks that clutter and block our road – I’m sure that I saw a Sherman tank in the distance last week.

The dust which covers our cars, benches, abandoned wine glasses, plants and which gets traipsed all over the house will takes months to disperse. The crumbling Victorian pavement is sliding away into the road. The spring evening light is blocked, and there is an ever present smell of damp drain and methane.

So why are we being put through all this?

Well, there are a couple of houses further up the road that have cellars that are prone to flooding every sixty years or so and after centuries of complaining to the council they have at long last got their way and the main drains are being replaced.

Oh well – only another two months until they finish digging, three months for the road to settle, and then a month or so to resurface. So it should all be over by Christmas and at least we can be take some solace in the knowledge that ‘resident disruption will be kept to a minimum’.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Through my fingers…

I’d written a cheery blog post for tonight. One to keep my spirits up, but it’s no use pretending, we all pretend too much as it is, it’s easier that way. So I’ve put my cheery post on hold until tomorrow maybe.

So here goes - forget cheery and get ready for sad and angry.

We let Chester go to his new home today. We’ve known that we couldn’t keep him for a while now. Holly has and needs to have other priorities – A levels, boys, university - and horses need riding, they make expensive pets and the cost is a pressure.

He’s going to a great home. A friend of the owner of the stables where Chester is liveried wants a horse to hack out on, so he won’t be worked hard and he’ll be ridden in beautiful countryside, Newborough Forest, the beach. She lives on Anglesey, has other horses and plenty of land so I’m sure that he’ll be happy and cared for – we can even visit when we want to if Holly (and me) can bear it.

We all know it is best all round - for him, for us, for the future, but…

He was so big when Holly first rode him - she was just nine and so was he, he was her birthday present. Now that she’s almost sixteen she’s grown into him, they respect each other, she’s a good rider and he’s a good horse. I used to be scared of horses, now I can lead him to the field and even feed him a piece of apple from my hand. I used to think that you changed ALL the hay in a stable every day, now I know that you don’t and it’s straw on the floor, not hay – horses eat hay.

We’ve learnt a lot about horses, about responsibility, about Chester’s personality, and now about loss.

And good old Chester, true to form slipped a shoe some time on Friday which meant that Holly couldn’t ride him on this last weekend for that last time. She’d planned a special evening hack down to the river with him - a long one. It couldn’t happen. Why does life do that at the most sensitive of times? She was so upset. So there we have it, another dream slipped through my fingers, one more piece of the old life gone. Will it ever end I wonder?

Chester, Chester, doesn’t wear a sou’wester or a string vester, sleeps in a nester, he’s the bester.’ As Holly and I used to sing all those years ago.

I used to be so scared of horses, I never thought that I'd hug one - how wrong I was. Goodbye Ches.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Ding dong bell...

It looked so cosy when I crept in but now that I come to think of it I’m not so sure that getting into this shopping sack was such a good idea.

I’d forgotten that story about naughty Johnny Flynn, the cat serial killer. He killed hundreds of cats by dropping them in the local well. What if Foodies is descended from him? She could be, she has all the requirements - a sack, a cat, the availability of a well (a deep one)… and she looks like a bit of a nutter - particularly when she’s going shopping.

What if she decides to chuck me down the well? If I’m really lucky good old Tommy Stout might pull me out, but what if he’s not around and who is Tommy Stout anyway? Foodies keeps muttering his name but I've no idea who or where he is.

HmmmmHisfault is pretty stout, it could be him, but even if it isn’t him perhaps he’ll help me anyway – I don’t think he’s Tommy though, he doesn’t look like a Tommy.

Oh no, she’s picked up the sack! Is she going to drown me? I don’t deserve it. After all what harm have I done? I know that I’ve tried to kill the mice up at the farm but every time I chase them they run off, so I shouldn’t be punished. It’s this hissing bell's fault I can't catch 'em! How am I meant to catch those juicy mice in Geronwy’s barn with this stupid collar on?

What’s she mumbling?
‘Ding dong bell. Misty’s in the well. Who put her in? Little... Johnny... Flynn. Who pulled her out? Little... Tommy... Stout’.
See I told you she was loony, just listen to her singing away to herself.
What a naughty boy was that to try to drown pooooor Pussycat.’
Why is she smiling like that? I don’t like the look of that smile at all, it’s all slanted and red.
‘Who neeeee'er did any harm but kiiiiill all the mice in the Farmer's barn. Ha, ha, ha. Ha, ha, ha, ha, haaaa’.

Oh-oh, I think she’s completely lost it, she’s swinging the bag as she croons and she’s beginning to dribble. Where’s she taking me? Oh no, she’s going over towards the well. Stopppp!

Perhaps I can talk her down… come on Foodies think about the consequences… you don’t want to get you nice shopping sack all wet do you… and think about what the neighbours are going to think when they find a deceased cat in their well… it isn’t very neighbourly is it…I promise I’ll never climb into your shopping sack again.

Hissssssfauuulllltttt!!! Tommy Stouuuut! Help meeeeeee!

Thursday, 22 April 2010

The Darksmith...

I’m watching the sun go down, blood red finally on the field, watching the shadows form, the air growing steadily colder and making me shiver – brrrrrrr.

Empty headed with the sun, the field, and the evening air… relaxed, floating, calm.

And then, in an instant, my head was filled with this, all the words coming at once, complete.


Sun’s going down
Through the blackthorn hedge.
Day was never meant to last.
The Doubler said.
Night is so much cheaper
The old ways are dead.
Sun’s going down
Through the blackthorn hedge.

Sun’s going down
‘Cross an empty field.
Times they are a’changing,
Don’t fight it, give in, yield.
It’ll all be so much better.
Said the Fool, ‘cards dealed’.
Sun’s going down
Cross on empty field.

Sun’s going down
In the darkening sky.
Pinched out like a candle
With the Liar’s lie.
It’s better in the long run
Wrote the Chief’s chief spy
Sun’s going down
In the darkening sky.

Sun’s going down
Through the blackthorn hedge.
The day will soon be over.
The Darksmith said.
Night is so much nicer
Once everyone’s been bled.
Sun’s going down
Through the blackthorn hedge.

So there they stood a’waiting
All hoping for his cry.
Doubler, Darksmith, Liar, Fool,
A’watching him die.
Expired not with a scream or shout
Just the whisper of a sigh.
The Chief’s chief took notation
Recording lie on lie.

Sun’s gone down through the blackthorn hedge.

Note to myself: I don’t think I like the Darksmith - actually I don’t like the sound of any of them but I think the Darksmith could be Mr Bleak’s brother. Something is emerging here – madness, a memory, a tale?

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Blackbird making me smile...

I was sitting having a pint at the Cliffs at the weekend, sitting outside in the sunshine overlooking the sea, Porth Dinllaen and the Ty Coch in the distance.

Just sitting having a pint of bitter, a micro brew called Concorde, pretty good stuff, deep and hoppy. Sitting savouring the beer and the sunshine, Gaynor with a wine and soda, Holly with a coke, badly sketching the distance as I sipped - another drawing destined for the bin, when ‘chirp’, we were joined by someone.

A young blackbird - a brave young female looking for dinner, not at all bothered by the three of us and hopping around our table close to our feet. Jumping up on the table opposite to where we sat, dancing a jig with a juicy lunchtime insect in her mouth, ‘chirp’.

I fumbled out my new camera, still fumbling set it for close action and snapped away, fifteen or twenty snaps, these the ones where I managed to catch her in total, not just foot, or head, or the empty space where she had been a moment before.

She performed her ritual for a few minutes, ‘chirp’, hopping from left to right, ‘chirp chirp’, right to left, flirting, fluttering her bird equivalent eyelashes before jumping down and scampering away into the bushes.

No fear. A privilege of the very young and those in love.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Mr Bleak...

Mr Bleak is everywhere, he knows no boundaries.

We’ve all been to bleak places - open, empty, vacant landscapes, tumbled down buildings, places past - forgotten and discarded. I was taken to one of those places last week – Ravenscar, the town that never was. First time I’d been there, first time I’d even heard the story. Ravenscar, the next and new Scarborough, all planned, even started, and then not - a dream that didn’t happen, a dream that failed.

As I walked from the top of the hill down to the alum mines on our way to find the beach with the promise of fossils we would never find (a dream that didn’t happen, a dream that failed) - as I walked, the wind flap-flapping in my ears, a threat of rain in the air - as I walked down the steep stony track winding its way to the steel gray sea - as I walked he came on me…Mr Bleak.

Perhaps it was the ruins, perhaps it was the weather, maybe it was the tale of the town that never was or the tingling of my bad back invading my legs, the failure of finding fossils, that flap-flap of wind in my ears. It might have been any, all, or none of these that caused Mr Bleak to appear walking beside me, staying by my side even as I struggled back up the hill - away from the bleak landscape, leaving the sea and rocks behind, Mr Bleak still with me.

Mr Bleak, dreamer of lost dreams - lost dreams – faded photographs of things long gone, faded paper plans on an abandoned station platform, cracked clay tiles – incomplete pictures of a future never formed. A woman in evening dress stood outside a house that never was, a lighthouse all in darkness warning no ships away from the rocks, a train on a journey to nowhere, never arriving - all facing towards nothing, all on that journey to nowhere with Mr Bleak.

Mr Bleak will find you no matter where you hide - even Ravenscar.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Blue skies...

The contrails have gone.

Eyjafjallajokull, that volcano in Iceland has done what the threat of cataclysmic climate change, the credit crunch with its ever extending aftermath, even Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda could not. The ash mix of the Icelandic volcano has cleared the skies of aircraft and the ever present contrails in the skies above our heads.

Look up, the contrails have gone, the skies are empty and would the world be such a different place if planes were never to fly again?

Our supermarkets would be more seasonal, our beaches would be busier, posturing politicians and book-balancing businessmen wouldn’t be able to take quite such an all encompassing global attitude towards making profit or protecting oil. It would be like going back almost a hundred years and life might be simpler / happier / richer if we didn’t expect fresh pineapples and coconuts in the shops all year around, or to be able to buy a dress for six quid, wear it once and then throw it away and expect at least two holidays (one long haul, one short) each year.

Of course it isn’t quite as simple as that, it isn't just about the planes, but maybe we’d begin to refocus on the boundaries of this island of ours and the people within it, look inward rather than greedily ever outward. We might even retake some responsibility for looking after ourselves, growing more of our own food, making things for our own use rather than importing quite so much, we might even start creating futures for our children.

Just think.

In a few days the wind will change and the volcanic ash cloud will be gone. The planes will take to the air once more and what went on before will begin again as the contrails return to the skies. If only there were volcanoes that would throw ash into the atmosphere, volcanoes that could stop greed, spin, battle, vacuous celebrity, position, status, all the things that we need so much stopped, even for a little while.

I wonder what the world would be like? Just think. Do you really want those planes back? Are you missing those contrails?

Look up - how blue the morning skies, how clear the evening air.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

April hedgerow ramblings…

I took a short ramble at the weekend, down the lane, taking a little time to find the flowers appearing in the hedgerow. First of the violets, old fashioned - my gran’s favourite flower, dog violets she called them - and primroses to support my celandines. Tiny flowers popping up through the greening grass, bringing a smile to my hopeless, old, ugly, useless face for a moment.

So hopeful the hedgerows of spring and early summer, I ramble on. The yellows and whites soon to turn pink, and red, and blue as summer flowers arrive. Later, as summer grows fat, they hide as the bracken and grass grow tall before the tractor blade comes to slash it all down.

Still rambling, I move forward to the patient waiting of bramble hedge as blackberries and dog rose hips swell into life. Picked, burst, eaten as they gently drift to leafless sleep becoming stark and structured by late, low winter light.

Rambling, rambling, I found a meadow cranesbill once when boy, bright blue and long hunted for, found by stream and illuminated in a single shaft of light. A rambling memory of a perfect summer’s day, my only Holy Grail - picked, carefully carried home protected by a boy’s sunburnt arm, pressed, carefully stuck into my scrapbook. That scrapbook my school summer project, wild flowers, over a hundred and twenty different found that summer, such long summers back then.

I didn’t win the prize. Caroline Jones won the prize with fewer flowers and carefully copied descriptions from an I-Spy book.

Rambling. So long ago. Rambling.

Friday, 16 April 2010

The Scarlet Misty...

I'm hiding. I like hiding, hiding is fun.

I don't know who I'm hiding from but that isn't what hiding is about anyway. Hiding is about not being seen, it doesn't matter if there's nobody there to see you in the hissing first place.

Sometimes I hide for hours. I've hidden in trees, in cupboards, under beds, even under the floorboards when I was a kitten. This time I'm hiding under Hisfault's car, hope he doesn't decide to go for a drive.

Yes, I like hiding. I like it so much I've made up a poem about it - They seek me here, they seek me there, that Foodies seeks me everywhere. Am I in Heaven, or am I in Hell? This damned, elusive.... now what rhymes with hell, Tinkerbell, funny smell, hissing bell, William Tell, kiss and tell? No, it's no use. Any ideas anyone?

Thursday, 15 April 2010


For me the flower of spring isn't the snowdrop or the daffodil and I can hardly be bothered with the crocus (or is that crocuses or crocai?). I'm almost there with primroses, violets, and cowslips, but for me the flower of spring is the lowly celandine. I took these with my new super-duper camera last Saturday walking along the Menai Straits at Caernarvon (zoom-zoom to 18x, 12million pixels, focus, flower mode, auto shutter speed - CLICK).

The celandine is a common enough flower - native to the UK and found in all sorts of places - dew damp meadows, dark shady woods, almost perfect front lawns, under spiky hedgerows, beside cool mountain streams - even in dirty dank ditches. It grows in the shade, in the light, in soils with a pH of 4.4 to 6.9., from seed, from tuber. So it's a hardy little thing, although it doesn't much like the heat or dry and dries up a little in the summer, a little like me, perhaps that's why I like it.

The lesser celandine has therapeutic and medicinal uses, it's been used for centuries as a treatment for piles despite it being poisonous - it's said to have caused the deaths of whole herds of cattle and numerous flocks of sheep.

Wordsworth wrote three poems about the flower including his 'Ode to the celandine (he only wrote one about daffodils). Upon his death (not from piles or celandine poisoning) it was even proposed that a lesser celandine be carved on his memorial plaque inside the church of Saint Oswald at Grasmere, but unfortunately they carved a greater celandine, Chelidonium Majus, by mistake. Whoops! I bet that mason never got his money.

C. S. Lewis mentions celandines in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, there's a reference in Tony Hendra's The Messiah of Morris Avenue, and even good old J. R. R. Tolkien mentions the plant when he describes the coming of spring in Ithilien. So I'm not alone in my fondness for the flower.

Most people mistake them for buttercups, if they bother to see them at all. So keep your eyes open - you'll see them everywhere now that I've mentioned them. But don't eat them even if you do have piles - as Wordsworth wrote:

I have seen thee, high and low,
Thirty years or more, and yet
T'was a face I did not know.

Well you do now.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Season's first...

First barbecue of the season last Saturday, just a small one, we used our kettle barbecue, very handy and quick to set up.

We always cook too much, this time we cooked too much of barbecued anchovies, barbequed herring in lemon and parsley, bar-b-q-ed salt and pepper wings, barbied herb and clover honey pork sausages and one or two too many outdoor grilled welsh black beef burgers.

To be healthy we also had some salads and things, and to combat that some beer and wine.

The thing with barbecues is that you eat for hours. Eat and eat as it gets darker and colder and then suddenly you realise that you’ve missed the news and it’s too late to do the washing up - then Misty decides to climb out of Holly’s bedroom window and disappear into the night – but that’s another story.

Tiffany sunset...

Sunset outside last Saturday, the first warm day of Spring and from across the usual field. I just stood and watched unable to move for a while as the clouds changed, then changed, then changed again. Deep orange and purple, light orange and lilac. Tiffany lamp colours, the colours of the lamp in our kitchen. That lamp that Gaynor so carefully wrapped and packed in her suitcase bringing it home safely from America all those years ago.

Then, moving inside the cottage I found that the sunset had crept indoors and repainted the seascape that rests uneasily on the kitchen wall, picking up the shadows of the glass wind chimes that hang in our window. The wind chimes that I so carefully wrapped and packed in my suitcase bringing them home safely from America so long ago. Happier days? Yes, happier days.

Remembering, I stood and watched the light play on the wall until it faded to dark and disappearance.

You can’t wrap up the sunset and pack it carefully in your suitcase to bring it home to keep. You may remember, keep it close, but in the end memories fade and what have you then in the dark and disappearance?

Yes, what have you then - an empty suitcase?

Monday, 12 April 2010

Floating away...

Up and out in darkness for Scarborough today, weekend gone along with the sunshine, a long walk to the car, past the barriers and diggers that are littering the road as they replace the main drains – but I’ll save that for another post.

Ninety minutes down the road, early morning, yawning in the cold grey light, traffic medium, nothing much happening, a very standard day, driving tired and bored to my bones.

Then, a glow of flame in the sky.

Look up. A balloon, a red hot air balloon, floating through the early morning mist and flaming-up to keep it hanging in the air.

It passes over, making me look up. The small boy in me yearns to pass through the windscreen, float up and drop into the basket swinging gently above. I want to go wherever the balloon is going, anywhere the balloon is going, drift away anywhere, the small boy and the middle-aged man drifting away - anywhere.

And if we did, would we ever come back?

Sunday, 11 April 2010

A ship of fools...

A ship of fools

My ship of fools,
My ship of fools,
Made by myself
I earned the tools.

It’s me a’winded round the mast,
As masked I stare into the past.
A vanished man I carefully sit,
Where once my sail had wind in it.

My ship of fools,
My ship of fools,
Made from a life
So bent by rules.

I fished the waves with me as bait,
A sea of lust and loss and hate.
I sat boxed in upon the prow,
My head on fire but empty now.

My ship of fools,
My ship of fools,
We’re on a journey
For lost souls.

Hooked, lined and sinkered, taken in,
I hanged myself for every sin.
The beak I hang from is my own,
Above I flap, a thing of bone.

My ship of fools,
My ship of fools,
I am their vessel
And they my dues.

Friday, 9 April 2010

Misty takes a tipple...

My Name’s Mizty and I’m a alcoololic… locoalic… cocolalic...

No um not. But I did fin this bozzle in the bin, an when I snivved the top, it tayted so goo lat I jus had to lickety poo an when I didz I fell all dippety lippety.

Whay iz tis stuff? Fudies and Hizfluff drinks it all time, praps thax why they goes aw wobbley when theyz had a too foo glazzes. Iz not water. Iz not milks. It muz be chin chin. Thaz what Hisflap sez whnhe giz Fodles a glazz.

Chin chin, down thatych, bottms up… it muz be one of those. Oh well. Whazever, I thinn I nee to snooze ths off. Cheeeeerrrs!


Thursday, 8 April 2010

Here comes the gallopin' major...

I don’t know what to tell you about this old photograph. I’m hidden in there somewhere but I can’t see myself.

This is my Gran and Granddad, my Mum’s parents. That baby could be my Mum or any one of her three sisters Kate, Lena or Muriel. Gran had a lot of children, six of them lived to be ‘all growed up’, Charlie and Ted - her two boys.

Ted ran off to Australia and Charlie – Charliieeeee! - taught me to whistle and fly and dream.

I never met Granddad. He was dead long before I was born. All I know is that he was a Welshman from London, family name Roberts, a boxer, a soldier, an invalid; gassed in the Great War, never really recovering. Dead, before I was born, me born in the bed that he died in after that long illness. ‘Gassed in the Great War, gassed.’ I’d whisper late into the night.

Born in the bed that you died in - remember?

My Gran, Katherine - Kate - kept her hair long, pinning it up in the daytime and taking it down at night even in old age. She cooked fresh fish on market day, smoked roll-ups from a 'baccy' tin, wore flowered aprons, made spotted dick, knitted Christmas jumpers / scarves / balaclavas, could make a rug out of rags and a small boy’s shirt out of an old dress. ‘Bumpety, bumpety, bumpety, bump. Here comes the gallopin’ major. Bumpety, bumpety, bumpety, bump. Ridin’ his Indian charger.’ She’d sing to me, bouncing me on her knee. There was gypsy blood running in her veins somewhere, gypsy blood and gypsy curses.

Gypsy blood in our veins – remember?

I was a teenager when she died. I didn’t cry at the funeral but afterwards took myself off down to the river and sobbed. I see her in the picture - then some thirty years later, no different, the same - bumpety, bumpety, bumpety, bump. Always old, a hard life - hard lives common back then.

Sometimes I think of their hard lives, my mum, the pretty young teenager in her grammar school tie, cardigan knitted by arthritic hands, Gran's stitches - loose and long to save the wool. So young when her dad died - bumpety, bumpety, bumpety, bump - poor then poorer still. I look at the photograph and remember -
Here comes the gallopin’ major.

Wednesday, 7 April 2010


There are those amongst us who were brought up holding tiny silver spanners in their hands instead of silver spoons in their mouths. We are the Meccano generation; a generation of small boys who built cars, planes, locomotives, and steam engines from exploded drawings printed in incredibly complicated technical instruction booklets that a seasoned engineer – even one that had built the odd bridge or two – might fail to follow.

Despite this we all managed to build working cranes with winding platforms, suspension bridges with operating cantilevers, and fully working Second World War tanks that fired actual shells which exploded on impact… Didn’t we?

Well, I for one didn’t.

My Grandfather once bought me a huge set of ancient Meccano in an auction for five bob. It was most of what must once have been a Meccano cabinet no.10 set, and the boy that had once owned it had probably gone on to build multi-funnelled passenger ships, streamlined cars that beat the land speed record, maybe even the Doodlebugs that landed on London during the Blitz.

Even without the lid and with one drawer missing, my Meccano set was magnificent with all kinds of intriguing cogs, wheels, bases, pinions, joiners, braces, flywheels and dozen on dozen of tiny brass nuts and bolts that I never seemed to have enough of and always managed to cross-thread with that silly bent silver spanner. Yes, it was every budding engineer’s dream.

Thing was I wasn’t budding engineer inclined and, much to my Grandfather’s disappointment (disgust?), all I ever seemed to make were random Babylonesque towers of Meccano scrap, or surreal half-formed Meccano creatures – part wheel / part horse / part sellotape (I never did have enough of those dammed annoying nuts and bolts).

I did once make a car of a kind. Well, when I say car it had four wheels and a box thing that it might have been possible for a driver to sit in, IF only there had been a seat – oh, and a steering wheel.

Then there was my train, well it looked like a train to me.

“What IS that?” My dad asked me when it was finished.

“I call it ‘Man’s eternal struggle for self fulfilment in an age of sceptical neo-realism’.” Six year old me replied. Actually, I just looked sheepish and mumbled that I didn’t know and that it had just came out that way. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him that it was a train.

And that’s how it has been ever since. I might set out with a complicated set of plans, some cogs and wheels, tiny brass nuts and bolts and all manner of stuff. I might even have a stupid bent silver spanner, but when it comes down to it, whatever I start out to make usually ends up as something different, something that ‘just came out that way’.

And I’m not just talking Meccano.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Empty - the Devil and all his friends...

We get big skies on the Llyn - big skies, big winds, big rains, big landscapes. The peninsula sticks out into the Irish Sea like a broken leg surrounded by water, not quite an island – and there are giants and giantesses in the mountains. They throw rocks around, littering the landscape with their monoliths and cromlechs. It can be an empty, dangerous place, even more so when the thinking is upon me.

Sometimes, when the thinking is there I cross the lane, climb the step-up stones to the field and stand looking upwards under the big empty sky until its emptiness fills me up. I hate the empty feeling but it’s better, easier, than letting the fullness that threatens to engulf me build - filling me up to bursting, battering inside, demanding itself out. I stand arms outstretched, face upward, buffeted by wind, becoming void.

And, after a while of an age, fullness out and empty in, I walk back across the lane the hollow man.

Ready for sleep, I dream.

I’m at the hill and the moon is bright. The stone doors aren’t where I expected, so I simply walk into the hill through the turf and soil, roots and worms passing through my flesh and on into the chamber in the soul of the hill. They are all there – Arthur, his men, their horses, Merlin, Odo, Simsan and his wife, Maer, my Grandfather at his anvil beating on a long, glowing blade – and in the corner, towards the back, the Devil and all his friends sitting at the table, talking quietly, laughing, dealing, congratulating each other.

I see my Grandfather glance towards me, he shakes his head and continues with his work, heavy hammer falling, falling, falling. I look to Mair, no smile, no tear - she simply turns away towards the sanctity of the wall. The horses snort and spook nervous, ready to run – but where? Arthur and his men, each a statue, look forwards as Odo, Simsan and all the other Giants and Giantesses focus their tearful, bulging eyes towards the earthen ceiling above.

Only Merlin watches as I walk towards the empty chair and take my seat at His table.

His Counter makes the tally, ticking me against his column of souls. They are talking, the Scribe recording the conversation, hot red, in his record. In the shadow behind the Devil, his Talker sucks in each and every word, storing them up for her future use. A single sword is drawn, held high by His champion, the New King, His favourite boy - and then there are the others, the necessary small evils, of which I am only one - but one.

The Devil and all his friends waiting to take my emptiness and fill me again with their thinking and thoughts.

Where, inside this hill, is the big sky now? Where, oh where, am I?

Monday, 5 April 2010

Off the beaten track…

Sometimes we take THAT turning rather than sticking to the main road. It’s always a risk. The roads around out bit of Wales can get very narrow, passing points can be few and far between, and reversing a mile uphill on a twisting, stone-walled, single track road can reduce even the calmest of drivers to a sweating, swearing, heap of jelly.

It can get even hairier when you encounter a tractor and trailer driven by the farmer from hell who refuses to slow, insisting on edging up to within six inches of your bumper whilst blasting his tractor horn and flashing his headlights, hazard lights, fog lights AND indicators whilst revving his noisy, smelly, engine.

Fortunately we didn’t meet him yesterday or that woman in the 4x4 who seems incapable of reversing the six yards into the huge passing place immediately behind her, preferring to shake her head and raise her hands (palms upwards) with a shrug instead. You may know her. She’s the one with the piggy eyes which clearly announce that it is you who are going to have to reverse back along the road to the passing place you vaguely remember seeing ten minutes earlier. After all - what else can she do poor thing?

Answera) Get a smaller car. b) Learn to reverse. c) Take a day off from being a bitch. d) All of these.

I have met both of these individuals ‘off the beaten track’ as we euphemistically call the ridiculously winding, undulating, narrow lanes we sometimes decide to take. We once encountered a huge fallen tree on a five-foot wide downhill ski-slope of a track overlooking a twenty foot drop to rocks and rapids on one side and a solid cliff face on the other.

Despite speaking nicely to the tree it refused to move. So on that nightmarish occasion it took me over thirty minutes to reverse the half mile back to the turning point at the top of the hill with Gaynor walking along behind the car instructing me to ‘turn left a bit, turn right a bit, Careful, your back wheel is almost hanging over the edge of the drop. STOP YOU IDIOT, STOP!’

I was twenty years older, six shades of grey lighter and crying tears of relief by the time I reached the sanctuary of that turning point.

Never again!’ I always say. But then I see an intriguing little side road and ‘off the beaten track’ we go again.

You see, the thing is you never know what you are going to find off the beaten track. It isn’t all sadistic agricultural workers, sow faced florists, and uncommunicative trees.

By the way did I mention that the bitch in the 4x4 was a florist? She was, and her name was Sheila. Sheila of Sheila’s Flowers and there was a phone number. I called her afterwards from a phone box and pretended to order some flowers dictating a card which read: ‘To Sheila, hoping that you meet a tractor when out driving and reverse your car into a very deep ditch.’ She hung up.

Yesterday, we only met three cars on our eight mile journey ‘off the beaten track’ and on each occasion the other driver stopped and reversed to allow me to pass (nice, nice, chaps). The road was very narrow in places but we could usually see quite a way along it, so Gaynor spotted the massive tipper lorry bombing along towards us long before it was reached us, allowing me plenty of time to pull into a handy farmyard, hide from the lunatic driver, and wait for it to pass.

We ended up deep in woods in a sunlit glade by the river with rocks and waterfalls and swirling water. An old stone bridge hung above an even older ford beneath. It was one of those magical places that you sometimes happen upon.

The road continued the other side of the bridge, but it looked even narrower than the one we’d taken to get there and there was a sign saying ‘PRIVATE – NO FURTHER’. The ford looked pretty deep and the road up from it very steep and slippery so instead of going any further and continuing our adventure off the beaten track we just took a few photos and drove back to the safety and relief of the main road.

Phew! We’d got away with it again.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Spring scribbles...

Spring was in the air today, between the showers.

Blue skies, ponderous white-grey clouds threatening to catch me and my paper with a soaking, grass beginning to stir itself into a lively green and movement everywhere.

It’s the movement that interests me, the movement that I can feel around me but can’t quite see. The movement that is like an extension to the wind, a magnification of the shade and light as it passes over landscape. I feel the movement at the edges of my senses so strong that it should be with capital. Movement.

The Movement is the unseen inner life of the landscape - a sound of insects, the whisper of a breeze, a smell of something rotting on the wet land. It comes to the paper as scribbles in an attempt to catch everything; it’s moving all around.

I know it sounds pretentious or maybe a madness, but it’s what I feel when I’m drawing, the landscape broken down into a series of wiggly moving lines.

So here’s my latest scribble - Across the fields towards the mountains with a stone gatepost in the foreground. Don’t ask me what those dark smears over the field are, I have no idea. I simply felt and heard them as they passed in the air high above me.

Perhaps they’re echoes of bird song.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

That poster...

I don’t usually post on a Saturday but I heard on the Radio 4 news yesterday morning that Martin Elliot had died.

Martin who?

Martin Elliot was the dashing thirty-something Wolverhampton Polytechnic photography technician in the late Seventies when I was at college studying first fine art and then design. He was tall with a beard, wore faded 501’s and drove a Volkswagen beetle. At weekends he would drive down to Cornwall to go surfing. He was cool.

His much younger girlfriend, Fiona Butler, was on my design course. She went surfing with him and I used to daydream about her in her wet suit. She was cool as well, cool and sophisticated, very sophisticated for a girl in her very early twenties. She was tall and blonde and very beautiful and she was one of the colouring girls, there were three of them - Fiona, Liz and Jayne. They drew and coloured with pencil crayons, flowers mostly, with great care and very beautiful blends. I was a scribbler by comparison.

One evening, after a few glasses of wine, Fiona told us that she was the girl in that poster. We didn’t believe her at first - how could she be the girl in that poster? That poster? Yes, that poster. That poster, the one I and ALL of my school friends had pinned to their bedroom walls a year or so before, the one that I’d bought out of the NME with a three quid postal order, that poster with the girl in her tennis gear hitching up her dress to show her bare bottom, the one that sold over a million copies for Athena, their best seller ever.

THAT poster.

Martin took the photograph. Fiona was the model. It was a spur of the moment thing, they were about to leave the tennis courts when, seeing the evening sun shining through the trees, Martin had an idea. The rest, as they say, is history.

Imagine what it was like for us testosterone driven male students with Fiona wandering all over college in those ‘so’ tight jeans of hers and knowing EXACTLY what they were covering. After all we’d seen it on our moonlit bathed bedroom walls night after night.

Martin sold the rights to the photograph to Athena for a few hundred quid but, good for him, he kept the copyright.

Martin died in Cornwall, a mildly wealthy man, from cancer yesterday. Fiona married a multi-millionaire businessman years ago and still lives in the Midlands. Between them they created a twentieth century icon and a ‘branded on my brain’ memory in me.

THAT poster.

Tennis anyone?

Friday, 2 April 2010

Misty voodoo...

What’s that in Hisfaults car? Oh yes, that voodoo doll of his. Nasty little thing.

I know all about voodoo, well us cats do, we’re hissing experts at curses. It’s a witch thing. Everyone knows that cats make the best familiars, and as for hexes we are the cat’s whiskers at hexes.

Talking of whiskers – if I could get into the car and get hold of that voodoo doll and then find one of Hisfault’s whiskers, or even a hair would do, I could wrap it around that hissing doll and hex him so that he would… Now what would I hex him to do? Take my collar off? Feed me tinned Salmon? Buy me some pet mouses? Maybe I’d make him go crazy and run around like a headless chicken… no, he does that anyway without the need for voodoo. I know, I’ll make him let me stay out all night rather than making me come indoors.

Now how do I get into this car, I have to get that doll. Wait a hissing minute, I feel a bit funny. What’s wrong with me and why is that doll looking at me like that? I feel all fizzy…fresh fried fishheads don’t tell me I’VE been voodooed.
Nooooooo not me vooooooodoooooooo! I'm too young and full of life to be a zombie!

Thursday, 1 April 2010


A funeral today. How many have I attended? Less than two handfuls but I’m sure they’ll begin to come thick and fast soon enough.

Mair (not Mary) our next door neighbour in Wales. Our good, keeping an eye on things, pick up the post, put the bins out, and get Will to cut our hedge, lovely, caring, always ready to have a chat neighbour, Mair. Her passing not expected, not even suspected, so sudden a downhill slide and not old at seventy six.

The funeral beautiful. Service at home in her spotless, immaculate, neat and tidy living room. Closed coffin surrounded by friends dressed in black. An honour to be invited to attend, a ‘private’ affair, close and closest in the way of small communities. Words spoken in Welsh, not understood, but understood, the passing words spoken by the preacher.


The postman delivering the post mid-through and I picking up the cards from the carpet to place on the polished sideboard. Then Mair leaving her home of all her life for that last time, wheeled to the waiting hearse followed by a trail of black.


The chapel cemetery. Sunshine and mud, a glimpse of the sea, the gulls soaring overhead, husband, son-in-law, grandson and friend lifting the coffin to the greengrocer grass disguised grave. Lowering gently with black ropes and words. Mary Elisabeth Jones on coffin plaque, not Mair after all then.


After, tea with sandwiches and barath bread at the Lion. Words spoken gently, kindly, light laughter, remembering.


Mary Elisabeth Jones and always Mair to us - we will miss you.