Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Omo, Brillo, Bisto, Brasso…

When I was a kid every other product seemed to end in an ‘O’ - Omo, Brillo, Bisto, Brasso, Rinso, Oxo, Rollo. I used to wonder why the letter ‘O’ held such a fascination for the product marketing people and I still do.

Omo’ was hilarious to us back then, with its obvious and schoolboy-silly connotations, but the choice of a name for a product can ‘make it’ or ‘break it’. Sometimes the choice can be very funny – ‘funny odd’ as well as ‘funny ha-ha’. Why on earth 'Cillit Bang', and whose idea was it to draw our attention to the rather nasty idea that it was a 'Mr. Brains' who made those faggots? It got me thinking, if it’s like this in the UK, where we are relatively sensible and moderate about names and naming (leaving aside 'Horlicks' and 'Cockburns'), what about the rest of the world? What are their product naming conventions like?

Okay folks, hang on to your hats, and if you are at all sensitive to smut or double-entendre STOP READING NOW! It would seem that once outside of the UK product naming takes a dive into what can only be described as a deep pool of Benny Hill.

Would you buy ‘Happy Crak Popcorn’ even if, as the slogan suggests - ‘no food says fun like it’? And how about mopping up that spilt juice with ‘My Fannie’ paper towels? Now I love shrimps (as the actress said to the Bishop), but I’m not at all sure I want to try ‘Royco’s Shitto Mix’ shrimp based sauce, nor am I keen to try a ‘Fart Bar’ despite the jaunty yellow elephant on the Polish candy’s wrapper. In Asia they may pour ‘Hot Cock Sauce’ on their food, and in Jamaica dried ‘Cock Flavoured Soup’ is available at most good supermarkets and shanty shack shops, but I think I’ll just stick to Heinz thank you very much.

Closer to home, our Norwegian cousins are very partial to nibbling on ‘Megapussi’ potato chips, whilst Primula’s ‘Jussipussi’ bread rolls are almost as popular as McVitie’s ‘Finger Marie’ biscuits are all over Sweden.

In Greece the local bars serve ‘Vergina Lager’ and the Japanese drink ‘Kowpis - a popular fermented drink. The fenugreek based ‘Cemen’ is a popular addition to any meat or fish based dish in Turkey, whilst not too far away, ‘Noblice’ sells well in Montenegro.

If your car lock freezes solid there’s always ‘Super Piss, a Finnish solvent that will unfreeze it for you, and if your grass turns brown why not try greening it up with ‘Green Piles lawn fertilizer.

Further afield ‘Pee Cola’ outsells ‘Pepsi Cola’ in Accra. In the Philippines they drink ‘Mucos’, and the French are partial to a glass or two of ‘Pschit. On the hottest days in New Zealand there’s nothing so cooling as sucking on a ‘Streets Golden Gaytime’ Ice lolly and if insects are a problem why not try ‘Wack Off’ insect repellent - tropical strength, as used by the US armed forces - to keep those nasty mosquitoes away.

The Chinese eat ‘Asse’, a chocolate flavoured blood nourishing delicacy, but if you prefer your chocolate in liquid form, why not try drinking ‘Schovit’, a favourite all over Germany along with ‘Dickmilch’, yet another German milk based drink. There’s no need to worry about your clothes either, because if (in the words of Phil Lynott) you should happen to get chocolate stains on your pants, there’s always ‘Barf Detergent’ – barf being Farsi for snow.

Of course it’s sometimes the changing times that distort and change our view on product names. I’m sure that the recent fuss around ‘Spotted Dick’ is more about political correctness, that people finding the name offensive, after all nobody’s objected to ‘Plum Duff’ or ‘Roly-Poly’ (yet).

And then there are those other times when you simply can’t know what’s around the product name corner. When Campana launched ‘Ayds’, an appetite suppressing candy, in the late 70’s, how were they to know the phonetic association that was going to make the product vanish into oblivion just a few years later.

Nothing, but nothing explains the 'Wii' though. Why 'Wii'? Well why? I’ll leave you to answer that one.

Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Not a vegetable update...

Do you remember the vegetables that I wasn’t going to grow in Wales this year? Well, here they aren’t, not growing as you can see.

I now have two empty mini-greenhouses and an empty cold frame where my tomato plants haven’t contracted curly leaf and my peppers haven’t been attacked by caterpillars. My spring onions aren’t growing in my grow bags and my courgette isn’t doing really well as it isn’t in the large plastic pot at the far end of the gravel. The French beans that aren’t in the two pots by the front door are doing okay after not being sprayed for spider mite, and I’m particularly pleased with the sweet corns that I didn’t plant and that aren’t growing at the rate of an inch a day by the front gates.

So there they aren’t, my Welsh vegetables - I’m looking forward to not eating them.

Monday, 28 June 2010

Seaside thoughts and sandy feet…

Such a lovely Saturday afternoon, we went to the beach at Llanbedrog. We flashed the Trust card at the attendant and walked down the sandy steps from the car park to the beach road. Such a dark road, overhung with sycamore and chestnut, dark and gloomy with its cool, green, stream, until that blind of light as we stepped out of the trees by the beach café on to the hot sand.

Changed but still the same – tropical beach huts and windbreaks, that cottage we used to dream of owning, the tin man, forever looking out to sea high on the hill above. Remember?

The tide was on the turn, the sea far away in the distance a line of shimmer. We walked towards her, avoiding the mud, stepping on worm cast castles as we slopped. You can walk out for miles at Llanbedrog, the gradient’s so slight - wade when the tide’s in.

Reaching the water’s edge, flat, rich blue, speckled with boats, we paddled side by side alone, feet wet and cool, sand oozing between our toes - each lost in our own old seaside thoughts.

You never did like the feel of sand on your sandaled feet, even the white sand in Barbados. An old man with a straw hat and fish strolling along the beach that first morning, that fallen palm tree, the water’s edge, tiny fish darting around our toes, red, blue, yellow, black. We never did catch any. Remember?

My sunny seaside thoughts.

Sunday, 27 June 2010

Just off the A64…

Sometimes it’s possible to slip out and away. I don’t mean out of the room, or even out of the country, I mean out of the world, out of reality. It happened to me as I drove along the A64 towards York, passing the early summer fields rich with shades of green, ochre, yellow, brown, red, and the purple, blue, black, of tree-deep shadows.

A flash of vermillion on my right – poppies, thousand upon thousand, lost in a quiet breeze-blown seclusion in that field behind the hedge. I couldn’t help myself, and I didn’t want to. I had to stop and take a closer look.

Outside the car the summer surrounded me full on; heat and humidity, the cars and lorries flashing noisily past. At a break in the roar, with a nervous last look, I was across the road and being drawn towards the shimmering redness.

Off from the road, to the side of the hedge, a track led towards the calm of fields. Stepping onto the dry, pink, earth, I kicked up summer with every step as the rippling air pressed in and on, walking out of this world, to view another, the colour enclosing me on every side. Willingly I let it draw me in, and in that moment it all ceased – the noisy motion of the road, the breeze that caught my thin cotton shirt, the undertone of insect sound, dust, movement, that steam of the air – all stopped, made static as painting.

What mastery of brush. Each stroke a blur of captured movement, each daub a patch of distilled light, this masterpiece before me, this rich flat canvas of the view - and looking deep at once I was not alone. Joined in my thoughts, my sight, by those others all here in this moment, all here with me in this other place.

They’d been here before - Turner, Arp, Matisse, Chagall, Monet, Constable, Renoir, Breugel, Dali, the rest, known and unknown, observing the work of the Painter, all standing in me in this field - just off the A64.

Friday, 25 June 2010

Misty and the weather machine…

Just why they have this hissing whirly thing in the garden is quite beyond me. It looks weird and doesn’t seem to do much except spin around when the wind blows - just like the Whirling Dervish Girl Thing.

Foodies hangs those hissing clothes things from it most days, but I’ve no hissing idea why? It definitely has something to do with the weather though, because if she hangs the clothes out the weather is usually dry, and if she doesn’t then it usually rains.

Perhaps it’s a device for controlling the weather. Maybe Foodies is in charge of the weather and this machine controls it. I can’t see any controls though. No knob with ‘dry, damp, rainy’ on it, and no lever with ‘breeze, wind, gale’. Maybe it’s controlled by the type of clothes she hangs out – T-shirts might indicate hot, and jumpers might indicate cold. I wonder what sort of weather pants indicates?

Sometimes she gets it hissing wrong, either that or the machine loses control - and out she rushes in the rain to grab the clothes as though the rain might damage them. Funny thing is they’re wet when she hangs them, so what’s the difference? Maybe that’s it. Maybe she’s trying to make it rain - although I thought that was Hisfault’s job, at least that’s what Foodies says when he starts to sing.

It definitely has hissing something to do with the weather though, sometimes it seems like she’s trying to catch the wind. Maybe it’s a wind catcher. I wonder what she does with the wind when she catches it. According to Foodies, Hisfault already has lots of wind - so I don’t know why they need even more of it in the house.

There, I’ve done it a-hissing-gain. I’ve used my superior cat intellect to hissing work things out and my conclusion is that it’s some kind of hissing weather machine... and if Foodies can make it work then so can I. Now what weather would I like today? Mmmm… some nice warm sunshine would be good. Maybe if I do a little weather dance on this pole I might be able to make the sun come out

Does this make me a ‘pole cat’ I wonder, and is this what Hisfault means when he talks about ‘pole dancers’?

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Woolly jumpers…

That’s me in the woolly jumper. Me, my mum, my younger sister Caroline in her duffel coat, and my little sister Della in her tartan pinafore dress staring down at her Wellingtons.

We are in the New Forest. We used to go to camping in the New Forest a lot in my Dad’s old Bedford Dormobile back in the sixties. Here we all are, not quite awake, early morning autumn and all wrapped up warm in hand- knitted sweaters and cardies to keep out the cold.

Back then everyone wore hand-knits and just about everyone knitted. My gran knitted, my mum knitted, even my uncle Len knitted. Some of the knitting was done through necessity - to clothe us relatively cheaply - some of the knitting was done for pleasure – my gran had a very bad knitting habit, and was seldom seen without a pair of number nines or sixes in her old arthritic hands.

Gran knitted all the time – jumpers, waistcoats, dresses, socks, baby clothes, dolls, woolly hats, balaclavas, blankets, rugs, even a pair of swimming trunks for my Uncle Bob. A sixpenny knitting pattern, a skein of wool, and some needles was all it took. A new sweater every Christmas, birthday, start of Autumn term, and a new balaclava every winter. How disappointed and lucky I was to have such lovely, lovingly made presents.

I found some old knitting patterns in the cupboard in the dining room last weekend. They were in a carrier bag on the top shelf gathering dust. One of them was definitely a pattern belonging to my Mum; she knitted my Aran jumper in the photograph from the pattern with the boy holding the boat, but I think that Helmets and Caps pattern belonged to my gran. I definitely had a helmet with a pom-pom on the top, and I dimly remember wearing her hand-knitted sleeveless pullovers and tight-buttoned cardigans when I was at infant school.

I don’t remember the horsey polo neck though thank God - I’d have drawn the line at a polo neck, jodhpurs, riding crop, and Brylcreem – quiff or no quiff.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Hedge of Horror…

Driving to Scarborough one morning last week I had a Hammer House of Horror moment. What were those thick white webs clinging to the bushes? It looked like the bushes were covered in a shroud. Not spiders surely? No, not spiders the webs were too thick. They reminded me of those fake spray webs that you can buy in aerosol cans and that I had such fun with one Halloween long ago.

I’d heard about these webs from a colleague of mine, but even so as I passed them the sight of the thick white webs clinging to the branches of the bushes came as a shock. It looked unreal.

Parking the car I walked through the rain with my camera. The thick webs covered the almost bare branches. Most of the leaves had been stripped - something had been eating them. Not spiders then thoughg, spiders are carnivores.

After a little research I found two possible explanations:

The first was that the webs might have been caused by Ermine Moth caterpillars. The caterpillars are mainly seen from spring to June and feed in huge groups under a web, protecting them from birds and other predators. I looked long and hard but couldn’t see any caterpillars, it was a possibility though.

The second explanation was a little more unsettling. Walking back through the drizzly rain and wondering why on earth I felt so compelled to record these things, I came across an old, crumbling, brick building set back in the hedge. The building had a sign - S. Bowes & Son. Joiners, Painters and Funeral Directors.

Funeral Directors, and was that a half-completed coffin I could see through the window? Coffins hold corpses, corpses wear shrouds, and shrouds are made from…

No it couldn’t be… could it?

Footnote: I was in Scarborough today and, over a week later, the webs were still there. I wonder if they will ever disappear.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Hedge cutting...

My hedge needs cutting and I hate cutting my hedge. I have all the gear - electric trimmers, a Garden Groom that collects the cuttings in a bag as you go, a really long extension lead (well it’s a really long hedge) trestles, ladders, tarpaulins – but it’s such a faff getting it all out and setting it all up that last time I just used hand shears.

I really hate cutting my hedge, but I think about cutting it a lot. I was thinking about it on Saturday, wondering how I could make the job more interesting. Perhaps I could do it blindfold? No, best not, I hate the sight of my own blood and transfusions are always problematical.

Maybe I could make the hedge look more interesting without the spilling of my AB negative. Perhaps if I shaped the hedge into something unusual then I might find cutting it a pleasure rather than a chore. That was it! Topiary was the answer to all my hedge-cutting ennui. Now what interesting leafy fantasy should I make it into? A train would be ideal; it really is a long hedge, or something more naturalistic, a herd of elephants, a flock of sheep, a dragon? Perhaps I might go for a series of geometric shapes - a sphere, followed by a pyramid, then a spiral, a cube, then back to a sphere, and so on to infinity and beyond? Probably not; just down to the caravan, not beyond, that would be too wrist-achingly tiring.

There is something so surreal about topiary, maybe it’s the perspective of a long strait hedge made all weird and wonderful with shears and imagination, or a small box bush teased into the shape of a heart with scissors. Dali would have made good topiary - it is by nature so Daliesque a pass-time. I can imagine him trimming a full size giraffe out of a yew tree, dousing it with petrol, and then setting it alight with a twist of his moustache and the scratch of a match. I wasn’t going to burn my hedge down, instead I sat gazing, imagining the magnificent ocean liner it could become, or maybe a teapot followed by a line of dancing teacups, until it changed into a swathe of fluffy green clouds.

It would be quite a challenge, but it would be good fun despite the work.

And then I remembered the last time I ‘did’ something to the hedge. All I ‘did’ was remove a little of the bottom of the hedge to allow the light to get to my trailing lobelia, six inches or so that’s all - but apparently you just don’t do that sort of thing with a boundary hedge, particularly in Wales. It was weeks before Will started talking to me again.

Oh well, my topiaristic fantasy will have to wait – just like cutting my hedge.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Who, why, and what for?

As some of you will know by now, I have a thing about stones - pebbles, standing, balanced. I can't resist any of them and it seems that I’m not the only one with this preoccupation. Either there’s a band of time travelling Neolithic stone raisers doing the rounds or there are people who still feel the need to raise stones for one reason or another, but who, why, and what for?

Modern stone circles can be found littered all over Wales. A stone circle is an integral part of any National Eisteddfod and the Gorsedd, the council who oversee the ceremonies, proclaim the next eisteddfod by holding a ritual at its centre. The circle consists of twelve large stone pillars surrounding a large, flat-topped stone called the Logan Stone; it’s from here that the Archdruid directs proceedings. Facing the Logan stone, directly east, is the Stone of the Covenant where the Herald Bard (and not, disappointingly, Indiana Jones) stands. Behind the Covenant Stone are the Portal Stones, guarded by long-robed Eisteddfod stewards, one, to the right of the entrance, points to midsummer sunrise, and another, to the left, points to midwinter sunrise.

The circle above is in Porthmadog, taken one frosty morning last January - there are others at Pwllheli and Bangor, and dozens of others all over North and South Wales. The North and South take it in turns to hold the eisteddfod, alternating every other year.

Eisteddfods explain the stone circles that have popped up all over Wales in the last 150 years or so, but what about these stones on the roundabout at the Trafford Centre outside the office where I work, or this dolmen type arrangement in a field on the A487? Neolithic builders returned from the mists of time? Workmen and bored farmers with too much time on their hands with diggers and tractors? Or roaming druids looking to expand their eisteddfod empire beyond the borders of Wales?

I like to think the former, how about you?

Sunday, 20 June 2010

Buttercup, Poppy, Forget…

Buttercup, poppy, forget-me-not--
These three bloomed in a garden spot;
And once, all merry with song and play,
A little one heard three voices say:
"Shine and shadow, summer and spring,
O thou child with the tangled hairAnd laughing eyes!
We three shall bringEach an offering passing fair.
"The little one did not understand,
But they bent and kissed the dimpled hand.

When I was a kid I used to trick the girls I liked by saying that I could tell if they liked butter or not. I'd take a buttercup, hold it under their chin so that the sun reflected the yellow light from the flower onto the smoothness of soft skin and - if I could get away with it – quickly declare that they did like butter whilst stealing an even quicker kiss. Not much of a trick really, and all very innocent back then.

It looks like a good year for wild flowers. Maybe it’s the early summer or global warming, or it could be that because farmers have been told to use fewer sprays to keep the weeds in their fields down. The buttercups, poppies, forget-me-nots - all kinds of wild flowers are doing really well and buttercups seem to be having a great year, they seem to be everywhere. Grounded patches of sunshine cover the fields, sweep down the sides of motorways, flowery yellow roads like the yellow brick road in the Wizard-of -Oz.

Buttercup, poppy, forget-me-not… Do you like butter?

I can’t wait to steal those kisses.

Friday, 18 June 2010

Cat map…

I love beds, Hisfault and Foodies bed particularly. Beds can be such fun and some of my best ideas come to me when I’m in or on the bed. Just last week I was lay half in and half out of my cat napping space when an idea crept out of my thinking area, along my whiskers and into my head. It gave me quite a shiver, but before I knew what I was thinking I’d worked out a way to climb on top of the hissing wardrobe.

The bed didn’t look quite as big from up there but I could see all of my favourite spots - my scratching area, the place where I do my Yoga and meditate on the meaning of life (which is of course food and sleep, I worked that one out ages ago), my night time sleeping space (I’ve nearly suffocated Hisfault on a couple of occasions, but as his name suggests, it’s his fault - he will insist on invading my space), my foot attack zone (well, toes can look very much like miceys in the dark if you use your imagination), the spot where I pretend to cough up hair balls (Foodies hates that, she makes Hisfault get out of bed and take me to the kitchen, which is what I want because he always gives me some Nin-Nins to stop me heaving - that Foodies has absolutely no sense of humour), and my launch pad. I can jump up onto the dresser from my launch pad and from there I managed (by use of the curtains) to climb up on top of the wardrobe.

Once on top I just sat quietly minding my own business waiting for bedtime and gazing down at the bed. Once Hisfault and Foodies were asleep I set the second part of my idea into action. I love ideas that come in two parts, particularly if you get to have a little nap in-between them. I waited and as soon as Hisfault was snoring and Foodies was mumbling something about blanching the asparagus I launched myself off the wardrobe and out into the darkness of the bedroom. I landed dead centre in the middle of my grooming salon with a WHOOMF! It was so hissing funny, you should of heard the hissing commotion - Hisfault jumped out of hissing bed and banged his head on the wardrobe and Foodies just kept repeating ‘What was that? What was that?’ in a squeaky, high pitched voice. It was such hissing fun that I might try it again some time.

Oh well, time for a nap – maybe another good idea will come to me whilst I’m snoozing...

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Why’s and what’s…

So here is the question I really can't answer... why do I bother? I ask it a lot, about lots of things, this and my other question… what’s the point? Why do I bother and what’s the point?

Driving in to work today I saw something wonderful, a puzzle, an intriguing scenario that made me smile as it lightened my spirit a little and set my mind to working. It wasn’t much, just two boys walking to school, but what a contrast between the two. It was almost unreal in its clarity and I’m not even sure now that I really saw them, although I must have. Nothing remarkable, just two boys walking, but so remarkable that I need to remark upon it here.

I’m not sure if they were walking together, but they definitely went to the same school. I could tell by the maroon blazers with machine-stitched school badges, gold-thread emblazoned on their breast pockets.

The first boy was about thirteen, tall, with hands thrust deep into his long-trousered pockets. His dark hair hung over his downcast eyes as he trudged to school, coolly disinterested in the world around him, untouched by the sunny day, immersed in his own thoughts. For a moment I wondered what was going on in his thirteen year oldish head. Such a lovely day, so much life ahead - ‘smile, whistle, sing, and walk with a spring in that dullard step of yours.’ I wanted to wind down my window and shout at him. But then I remembered my own thirteen - exams, cross-country runs, girls, spots, homework still to be done, detention, head down untouched by the sunshine, trudging.

The second boy was much younger, nine or ten, his blazer far too big for his tiny body, a huge satchel - just like the one I used to drag the three miles to and back from school - dangling from his back. No, couldn’t be, not possible, he was wearing grey flannel shorts (grey flannel shorts, in this day and age?), and short grey socks. His pudding basin haircut caught the sun as he happily made his way to class. He was smiling, beaming – and here’s the thing that struck me as remarkable – he was skipping. Skipping high, one foot in front of the other, as he followed some six feet behind the bigger boy, his friend / brother / schoolmate?

Skipping along alone like a loon as they both made their weary, joyous, way to school.

The scene captured me immediately. What was their relationship? Who were they? Where were they going? Was the small boy really wearing grey school shorts? Was that small boy real at all? Could he be an echo of the past, a shade, a ghost, an imagining? Why was he skipping? Real boys don’t skip these days do they? What did it all mean? How had they engrossed me so?

I must have watched the pair for less than a minute, but in that minute I experienced my own past as memory, shared an experience with the pair unnoticed by them, had my curiosity peeked, even began to weave a story around them. And then I was past them, driving away, leaving them behind as just more flakes of memory. Leaving them behind, driving back to me, driving back to where I am today.

So where am I today? I’m not quite sure. I can’t quite work out real from wish. I’m caught up in longing for then, the comfort of doing now, and not really thinking much about the planning of to be. I feel I should be doing more, I just don't know what I should be doing, I think I should be able to solve the problems, but I’m not sure what the problems are and my pencil seems blunted anyway. I know that I must be positive, but some days I wake up with that 'why bother?' and ‘what’s the point?’ in my head and on my back.

Then sometimes.

Two boys on their way to school, each an echo of an old me; surly me, happy me, unhappy me, cynical me, innocent me, rebellious me, joyous me, so many me’s in those two boys. What’s in my bag? Where am I going? Why do I bother? What’s the point? Two boys on their way to school.

What a strange country I’m in.

Anyone got a map?

Wednesday, 16 June 2010

Close up…

Such a lovely shade of peachy-pink, not quite sickly candy-sweet. Swirls, sunset reflected waves broken on a distant beach.

Deep coal heart, imperfectly symmetrical. Flawed, repeated, differently identical. A not so quite tamed randomness and dark star centre.

Fresh until the rain falls. A single clumsy smudge from spoilt. Creasing silk of petal, purple pollen to mascara dip then drip to stain the path beneath.

Dip, drip, drip - gone with a single gullible gust.

My oriental poppy, a life short lived in close up. A life blown large as any other.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Tonibell, Nobby Stiles, Ice lols...

I found this photo tucked away at the back of a drawer.
I don’t know who the girl is or why she is sitting on that old car, it could be any one of a number of my older cousin’s friends, or a neighbour, or some visiting distant relative. Anyway, I’m not really interested in the girl, or the car; look beyond them and down the road. I’m pretty sure that’s me walking away from that ice cream van parked on that bend back there in the sixties.

I wonder what kind of ice lolly I’m about to open? Chances are that it would be a Zoom or a Rocket, they were my favourites. I loved Zooms with their triple lime, lemon, strawberry flavours, mind you I loved the strawberry, orange, lemon mix of Walls Rocket just as much. I would never buy a Fab. Fabs were for girls.

I’d usually spend my sixpence on a Zoom or Rocket; occasionally I’d buy a Cider Quench for a change but the Tonibell man would always pull my leg about ‘not getting drunk on it’ so it wasn’t often – I didn’t like having my leg pulled back then.

I remember the chimes of the Tonibell van; I used to sing along when I heard it driving onto the estate – ‘Tonibell, Tonibell, Tonibell time. Tonibell, Tonibell, Tonibell time. Tonibell, Tonibell, Tonibell time’. Not much of a song, it sounded better on the TV, but it always sent me rushing begging for the money for an ice lol to my Mum.

The Tonibell man used to sell ice cream in mini-plastic footballs. You got a badge with the football – Gordon Banks, Martin Peters, Nobby Stiles. You always got something ‘extra’ with Tonibell – badges, cards, and the most wonderful plastic figures that linked together and came in a variety of colours. They looked like a flattened Mr Blobby and the white ones were rarest – I wish I had one now, I’ve e-bayed for one, but with no luck.

I hardly ever bought ice cream; I was always a lolly man, still am – Funny Foot, Calypso, Twister, Teddy Bears, Crusader, Space 1999, Count Dracula, Ribena, Jubbly, Funny Face, Feast, Kinky, these days a Rowntree’s Fruit Pastille - I’ve tied them all.

But never a Fab. Fabs were definitely for girls.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The bird house at Bag End...

It started out as a bird feeder hanging from a cane.

The feeder had hung for a year from a post, brim-full with Niger seed, waiting for the finches to appear. Niger seed guarantees goldfinches or so I’d heard, but a year on from hanging and not a single goldfinch had appeared.

‘It needs to be higher.’ I decided one day, so off I went to get a cane.

Now when I look at something for a long time I begin to see its potential, and I spent a long time looking at my cane waiting for the finches. ‘Perhaps it needs a spar or two, and a couple more feeders’. So off I went again to get another cane and to rummage in the shed for the half a dozen feeders that I knew were buried under the high- piled spades, garden chairs, and barbecue paraphernalia.

It grew from there. One day it rained and the bread that I’d put on one of the feeders got soggy; ‘it needs a bread shelter’ I thought – so, three small canes, a couple of plastic plant pot dishes, and a small amount of swearing later it had one. ‘It looks a bit bare’ – so, off to the beach to collect twisty driftwood which I carefully wired to the canes. ‘The bottom needs some colour’ - out with the electric drill and half an hour later five clay pots, planted with newly bought Hens and Chickens, were screwed to the driftwood like a tiny hanging garden of Babylon.

I added a grey slate shelf, replaced a rotting feeder roof with more slate, installed a dish for water, wired more driftwood - and before I knew it I’d built a bird feeder that Bilbo Baggins would have been proud to have had standing in his garden at Bag End.

I’ve had sparrows and tits come along to feed, I’ve even had a robin - but as yet the goldfinches still haven’t appeared…

Perhaps it needs another level.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

First butterfly…

First one of the year, found perched upon a yellow rape flower in the sunshine and as yet unrecognised by me. A Queen of Spain? A Copper?

I’m back to another summer when rape was mustard. A summer spent cutting large green lawns in large country houses, picnicking by railway lines, walking through the still summer air surrounded by them, dozen upon dozen like petals tossed by the cooling breeze.

I’d never seen so many butterflies before or since, so many you almost had to beat them off with flapping hands and laughter. Browns, Blues, Orange Tips, Whites, and my devil’s favourite sulphur yellow Brimstone. A summer kissed by butterflies. We lay in the soft grass waiting for the train that never ran on that line to arrive.

The girl, that boy, ham sandwiches and squash; counting butterflies by colour, laughing into the empty butterfly evening, holding hands as we walked the line where that train never did arrive.

My first butterfly.

Friday, 11 June 2010

A sky is a sky is a sky…

So this is where Hisfault comes to watch that sun thing go to sleep. Why does he bother? Personally I can’t see what all the fuss is about. After all, what’s so hissing special about a hissing red sky anyway? Blue skies, grey skies, even green skies – they’re all the same to me. A sky is a sky is a sky to Misty the cat. Not that I’ve ever seen a green sky, well not a hissing green-green sky - I’ve seen clouds that have a bit of green in them. I’ve seen a greenfly, I’ve seen a greenhouse, even a green village (or was that a village green?) But never a green sky… and so what? Like I said - a sky is a sky is a sky.

The way Hisfault goes on you’d think that the sky was good enough to eat, what with his sunsets and sunrises, rainbows and storm clouds. But you can’t eat it. You can’t even lick it, it’s too high up to reach. I wonder what it tastes like, Chicken, Lamb, Rabbit? Now I could understand his sky thing if the sky was a tasty treat or a nice bowl of nin-nins. If the red sky tasted like ‘rich lamb chunks in a delicious meaty gravy’ and a grey sky like ‘a mix of beautiful chicken and rabbit pieces in a thick savoury jelly’ then I’d be up here all the time waiting for the sun to disappear - but as far as I can see it doesn’t, it doesn’t even look very tasty and it doesn’t smell of anything remotely foodies.

If you ask me he’s just a wasting his time, every time the sky turns red off he runs to get that box thing. Doesn’t he realise how stupid he looks with that hissing box thing around his neck? He points it at the sky, mutters a ‘wow’, or an ‘ah’, or sometimes a ‘gottit’ and then does a little excited dance like when I’m desperate for a pee in my litter tray.

Just what is that box? Is it a trap? Is he trying to catch the sun? Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps Hisfault catches the sun in his box thing and doesn’t let it out until the next day. I heard him telling Foodies that he’s caught the sun - maybe he’s a sun catcher. Now let me think… if he can catch the sun in that box I wonder if I could hissing borrow it to catch a birdie?

Thursday, 10 June 2010


Remember when you were small and everything seemed so much bigger? Trees were as tall as tall could be, wasps were the size of sparrows, grown-ups giants, rooms were for getting lost in, chocolate bars never quite big enough.

Remember how vast the world was, how threatening things could be, how full of detail and wonder?


It still is. Just get down on your hands and knees, up close, and take a good long look. Jungle is all around us, a prehistoric forest full of primordial fear and life.

Become a child again, take a closer look - remember.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010


I came across these cows in a field in Wales. So pastoral, quiet as they chewed the cud, lazily, languidly passing the time of day in a vacuum of serenity. I almost expected to see a bonneted milkmaid wander across the field with her milking stool, and was that a snatch of flowery poem I heard floating across the field? Surely not Robert Louis Stephenson…

'The friendly cow all red and white, I love with all my heart: She gives me cream with all her might, To eat with apple-tart.'

Phew! Now that stinks as bad as any cow pat. Cows are such inquisitive creatures, no sooner do you stand by their wall than across they come one by one to see what you are up to.

‘What are youuuu dooooing? Why are youuuu here?We don’t want youuuu mooooching around our field, youuuu clear off do youuuu hear? Moooove away youuuu.’

Don’t worry – I’m only going to take your picture, now say cheese!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Mr Potato Head...

I heard on the news today that a field of genetically modified potatoes is being planted at a secret location in Norfolk. The aim is to test if genes from two wild varieties of potato can protect cultivated plants from late blight, the disease that caused the Irish potato famine. It got me thinking about that other genetically modified potato - you know the original one, Mr Potato Head.

I have at times been likened to Mr Potato Head and sometimes I wonder what it would be like to go through life with a face that’s well put together and a pleasure to look at in the mirror - but we can’t all be handsome haricots or gorgeous greengages, so Mr Potato Head I remain.

I had one of the original Mr. Potato Heads, the one where you had to use a real potato, these days a plastic one comes with the American invented toy and there’s a much wider range of plastic accessories than there was back then. I used to like finding the ugliest, most misshapen potato that I could and use the plastic ears, eyes, hats, noses and moustaches to make the most deformed Mr. Potato Head I could manage – a kind of Hunchspud of Notre Dame.

Unbelievably Mr. Potato Head is even older than me, invented and developed by George Lerner in 1949 from a series of hand-crafted vegetable dolls that he made for his younger sisters to play with and manufactured and distributed by Hasbro a little later in 1952. It was the first ever toy to be advertised on the television and I think I remember seeing the ad on our black and white telly.

In all honesty though it wasn’t the greatest of toys - after all, just how much fun can you have with a potato, even if he does have Groucho Marx eyebrows and smokes a pipe? I think I tired of mine after about an hour.

Even so, there’s no denying that Mr. Potato Head has had his moments - he’s married Mrs. Potato Head, bought himself a car, a boat, and he’s even had a family - so he’s done pretty well for himself despite not being the greatest looker in the sack. Mr. Potato Head has been around a long time, chipping out a place for himself, crisping up his image, and having a smashing time along the way.

I know how he feels.

Monday, 7 June 2010

The sound of reeds...

Sound is a funny thing. Some sounds have a place in time. Some sounds can make you travel back in time - just the wind in the reeds calling me back to a single, simple, summer’s day in childhood.

A scouting party, Jimmy up front, Phil in the middle, me behind. A scouting party of three apache Indians carefully making our way through the reed bed. ‘Don’t step on that twig Jim, it’ll give away our position.’

A flurry of two Mallards, away to our right, shoot out and up through the reeds startling us. I loose my place on the mat of intertwined reeds beneath my feet and step into the oily, black water. My plimsolled foot sinks beneath the surface and doesn’t stop. I’m sinking. The mud has got me and I’m sinking into it. It stinks. It’s sticky, pulling at my foot. I’m in it to the knee, then losing my balance, I fall sideways toppling into the water – splash!

I flap and struggle, try to stand, but no use. Past my knees, past my thighs, up to my still slim waist - I’m going under.

I scream in fear. I’ve seen this at the Saturday flicks – Hoppalong / Sherlock / Lassie’s young master, get stuck in the quicksand and sink. The goodies are always saved – the cavalry / Watson / Lassie, but sometimes the baddie goes under and is lost forever.

Not me though, I’m no baddie. I feel a hand grab my shoulder and pull hard, then more hands pulling harder. Jimmy and Philip, my own small cavalry, pulling me out of the mire inch by squelchy inch. One last yank and, with a loud slurp, I’m out and back in the reeds.

Plimsoll’s, jeans, new windcheater, all covered in thick black ooze - sticky, dripping, and rank.

I traipse home. My mum is going to kill me.

She didn’t, well not quite, and my clothes came clean eventually. Not my plimsolls though, they were past recovering.

Just the wind in the reeds calling me back to a summer’s day in childhood and making me remember. I smile.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

End of day...

It’s been a while since I blogged one of my sunsets, after all how many sunsets can a blog take. But I try to take a few minutes to watch the end of day from the usual viewing place whenever I’m in our bit of Wales – as long as it’s not raining.

It wasn’t raining on Saturday. Saturday was hot and sunny, the evening still warm when the sun went down. Maybe the warm weather contributed to the vivid evening sky or perhaps it was some of that volcanic dust that’s sill floating around up there, whatever caused the lightshow the fuchsia pink and smoky lilac sky looked almost like a bruise spreading across the horizon.

I was sitting in the garden slurping a glass of wine and looking at the shifting, deepening sky when I noticed that light change, the clouds seemed to be lining up in horizontal rows - and then light pillar occurred. Light pillars at sunset aren’t common and don’t last long. The clouds need to be just right so that the rays of the setting sun are refracted up through the clouds vertically to make the pillar.

I watched in for a few minutes and then it was gone as the clouds realigned themselves and the vertical rays of the sun spread sideways.

Show over for another night. More wine please waiter.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Just sitting…

The nice thing about being away is that you don’t have to do anything if you don’t want to. I lead such a busy life, what with all the eating and sleeping, the chasing of miceys, trying to catch birdies, attempting to trip Hisfault up when he walks down the stairs that there isn’t much time for just sitting. So, the nice thing about being away is just having time to sit in the sun and do nothing and here I am doing just that – sitting in the sun doing nothing, just sitting doing nothing on Hisfault’s chair in the sun doing nothing, nothing at all, just nothing, nothing, boring old boring nothing, boring, boring, nothing, nothing, boring, nothing, nothing.

Ho-hum, nothing at all.

Well, that’s about as much of nothing as I can stand. What shall I do now? Perhaps I should see what I can with Hisfault’s tomato plant, I’ve always fancied myself as a bit of a gardener, I’ve got green paws you know. Maybe I should remove the leaves or shorten the stem - that might be fun.

Better than doing nothing anyway.

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Summer spell…

They are haymaking on our lane in Wales. Up and Down with the tractor, the hay falling from the trailer and floating down to rest by the edges of the road; potential nests waiting for sparrows to gather and build their homes.

The days are long, the evenings light , it is the weather for haymaking - dry and hot with clear blue skies, the wispy mare tail cloud high in the air as they gather in the ocean of grass - calming the waves with their hay making machines.

The Welsh farm men work late into the evening, up and down, load after load, emptying the top field - the one overlooking the mountains - of its bounty of dried grass. Almost dark before they gather their final load - a thin crescent moon sketched into the sky above them becoming solid as the late darkness falls, a silver crescent brooch pinned to a deepness of ultramarine silken gown.

I could look at the cut grass fields all day. Mesmerised by the buzz of bees, hypnotised by the hum, dizzied by the swirls and eddies of the patterned field, and captured by the rising warmth of mown grass. I could fall deep into the vibrant greenness of this summer spell, finding calm in that new cut smell, the heat that rises from the cut, the languid scurry of the insects in the grass.

I could drown in this summer spell; can you drown in a pasture?

I could, and perhaps I will.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

Neil Atkinson's fox...

Sly? No, not sly, but aware - aware of every breath, each falling leaf, all sounds within the trees. The memory of a million moons, a hundred thousand quick lived lives, the panting panic of the chase - ten thousand times; some to win, others to fall and fail - a sound of stupid, clumsy, yelping dogs made bloody with his lives.

He knows it all. You can see it in his eyes. Deep hidden like a diamond in the mine - clear, and sharp, and sharp enough to kill; they say he kills for fun - not fun, excitement, the excitement of the death, a repeated nightly ritual.

Excitement, ritual, but finally food - food to feed a family.

Rufus Redhead - prince of the wood, despoiler of dustbins, stealer of eggs, maimer of hens, a shadow in the night and gone at dawn. Wily? (most certainly). Old? (if he’s lucky), but as old as the hills in race and memory. Cruel? (sometimes), and quick?

As quick as a fox. But sly? No, not sly, aware.

The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.
Not sly, aware.

Many thanks to Neil Atkinson wildlife photographer of genius who took this incredible photograph and for allowing me to borrow it.