Thursday, 30 September 2010

My name is Andrew...

My name is Andrew and I am a serial doodler.

I’ve always doodled. I’m a fully paid up member of doodlers anonymous. I’ve doodled my way through geography, French, life class, typo design, time management, honeymoons, my daughter’s birth, project board, a keynote speech or two - I’ll probably still be doodling as I doodle my last doo.

Sometimes I doodle on paper (I dread to think the masterpieces I’ve left behind in meeting rooms over the years – not), other times in one of my doodle books. Most of my doodles have unconscious starts, a squiggle, a series of lines, and then I begin to see something and it becomes something more as I embellish. Other times, it remains unconscious to the finish, a moving of the pen on the page thing.

When I’m doodling I usually produce lots of smaller images on the page, sometimes there’s a connection between some of them, most times not. I have no idea what I’m going to doodle when I start, often I still don’t know when I’ve finished, some doodles I don’t even remember doodling.

This is a page out of one of my books.

a. A line of Breugel type creatures.

b. A biblical tree (I must have been to church).

c. My idea of the goddess Kali Crumpet.

d. Some animals in an Aborigine stylee.

e. Mr. Smudge as a young man working for the East India Company surrounded by some fruit, a bird, and a funny long-nosed animal (Smudge's first appearance in my life).

I don’t remember drawing the fruit or the bird, or where I was; probably on some teleconference to somewhere or other, listening to people talk about things even stranger and more inconsequential than these doodles.

Hope you like them. If you do I have others, so let me know.

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The moon and lies...

There’s a fascination about the moon, at least I find it fascinating, but you should never look at her for too long, she can hurt with her cold beauty.

I don’t know why the moon should be a woman, it just seems to have always been that way; but she drags me in, captures, drives me mad; could turn me quite lunatic if I wasn’t careful. She’s had so many names; Aega, Allison, Arianrhod, Bendis, Candi, Chanh-O, Diana, Ems, Hekate, Isis, Juna, Luna, Sadarnuna – the Sumerian goddess of the new moon.

I could stare at her all night. Yes, I know I shouldn’t, but I’m already a little lunatic in its gentlest form - foolish; eccentric; perhaps a little crazy. I see every shade of grey in the moonlight, the truth and many lies. I search for truth in the chaos of the night, looking between the lies to glimpse moonbeams of truth.

There, I told you I was a lunatic. I shouldn’t stare so much.

As a boy, I remember my grandmother coming into my room on nights when the moon was very bright, making sure that the curtains were drawn tight against the light.

She’d tell me that if the moon shone on my face as I lay in my bed that I’d die inside of a year. It was her gypsy blood I think, drawn up like the tides to the surface as the moon shone full.

I let it happen once, opening the curtains wide so that the bright full moon flooded onto my face as I lay in my green candlewick-spreaded bed. I left them open for over an hour, allowing my skin to bathe in the cold white light, absorbing the death rays that I imagined that light must contain.

My head was full of science fiction movies; ‘Forbidden Planet’, ‘The Day the Earth Stood Still’, ‘It Came From Outer Space’, ‘Invasion Of The Body Snatchers’. It seemed perfectly reasonable to my nine year old mind that the light of the moon might kill you if you were exposed to it for too long. In my mind my gypsy blooded grandmother’s tale was metamorphosed into fact by way of a scientific explanation gleaned from American ‘B’ movies watched at the picture house on North Street every Saturday morning.

For a year I waited to die, and when I didn’t felt a tiny twinge of disappointment.

How silly we are as children, how gullible. How could I think that by allowing the light of the moon to shine on my face that I could die?

They say that if you stand in the moonlight of the full moon for long enough, wishing hard and concentrating on what you would become, that you can change yourself into anything you choose.

But then the same ‘they’ say that if you look between the lies you’ll find the truth.

Maybe I’ll become a cat.

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

Signs of change…

I can feel the changes coming, the seasons continuing to turn, as they ride on the roundabout that’s centred in this funfair that we call passing time.

There are clear signs that autumn is all around, I spotted some this last weekend. It looks like being a ‘mast-year’, no, not last, a mast-year. A year when nature does her best to protect herself from the times to come. There’s an abundance of berries on the bushes and trees - conkers, acorns, crabs, rowan, holly, and blackberries, they seem to be everywhere I look. If folktales are to be believed, they all in volume predict the bitter badness of the winter to come.

Walking on the headland last Saturday I came across a hawthorn, bowed to the wind and laden with berries, bright red against the crisp blue sky. I’ve passed it before in other years, other lighter autumns, but I’ve never before seen it as full with bright red haws. So full of swollen life - a warning for all to begin to make ready for the cold season.

Standing, looking out across the sea, I heard a sound in the air and looking up saw a flock of swans overhead, the thrup, thrup, thrup of their beating wings high in the sky above my craned, sky-gazed, neck. Thrup, thrup, thrup, running from the cold of Siberia. Thrup, thrup, thrup, fleeing her frosty breath.

And spiders everywhere. Seven in the cottage last weekend. The greater the number that crawl in from the cold and the larger the webs they spin, the colder the winter to come – and longer.

I’ll keep my eyes peeled back for ratty squirrels gathering, fortifying ready for a hard winter, preparation for the snow – the earlier the gather the harder the winter will be.

Longer and harder, colder and darker - winter's breath just out of sight around that autumn corner.

Some say a warm November and we’ll freeze in December. It’ll be a warm November for sure, weather or no weather. The berries, swans, squirrels, spiders, are all true signs of winter’s bite. She’s on her way in her long white coat, teeth sharpened ready - who can blame us for making ready?

The roundabout keeps turning. I’ll ride with it a while.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Spiders in the bath...

Seven. Yes, seven!

Far too many to pick up and hold in my hand, so instead I scooped them into a plastic glass turning it upside down onto a saucer.

Seven soft grey brown bodies, fourteen staring black stalk eyes, fifty–six legs, and two hundred and twenty-four joints in those legs; tumbling over one another in a pointless attempt to escape.

Spiders. The clean kind, the ones that come in from the outside and wait in the bath for us to arrive, creeping up the pipes and out of the plughole.

Why do they do it?

After photographing them I set them free outside. But they’ll be back.

I wonder how many we’ll find next week.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

We all know that song…

Friday evening, old friends, beer, laughter, memories, Didsbury Rugby Club (so hard to find that our taxi driver couldn’t and dropped us in the wrongest part of town – thanks Sue for coming to the rescue), food, tears, goodbyes, and karaoke.

A great night with great people. I’m glad I got up and sang. I’m glad I chose this song. It isn’t about a broken love affair as so many people think, it’s about – well, have a read of the lyrics, you’ll work it out.

Thanks for the photo Glynne.

Love on the Rocks.

Love on the rocks
Aint no surprise
Just’ Pour me a drink
And I'll tell you some lies
Got nothing to lose
So you just sing the blues all the time

Gave you my heart
Gave you my soul
You left me alone here
With nothing to hold
Yesterday's gone
Now all I want is a smile

First, they say they want you
How they really need you
Suddenly you find you're out there
Walking in the storm
And when they know they have you
Then they really have you
Nothing you can do or say
You've got to leave, just get away
We all know the song

You need what you need
You can say what you want
Not much you can do
When the feeling is gone
Maybe blue skies above
But it's cool when your love's on the rocks

First, they say they want you
They really, really need you
Suddenly you find you're out there
Walking in the storm
And when they know they have you
Then they really have you
Nothing you can do or say
You’ve got to leave, just get away
We all know the song

Love on the rocks
Ain’t no big surprise
Just Pour me a drink
And I'll tell you more lies
Yesterday's gone
And now all I want is a smile

Keep in touch guys.

Friday, 24 September 2010


Here’s a snow globe I keep right at the back on my collection, on the top shelf, in the deep shadows at the back near the shifting darkness. It's quite old, a little battered, worn and scarred - a bit like me really.

Dependent on how you see things it’s either empty, apart from the tiny white flakes of falling snow, or the empty space is waiting to be filled with something. Either way, you’d think that there wasn’t much to look at, but you’d be wrong.

Sometimes I take it down, shaking the snow into a storm, and gaze deep into its centre – a crystal ball, a scrying glass - deep into its centre looking for past times, hoping for a glimpse of the future.

Sometimes when the snow eddies and swirls I think I see shapes forming; a house, a running child, a palm tree, a bicycle. Once I saw a face that I recognised, but it made me so sad that I had to shake it away. On a couple of occasions I’ve seen things I didn’t recognise until years later when they eventually turned up in the real world.

Silly really - it’s only an empty snow globe, bought from the window of an old junk shop when I was a teenager on a laughter-filled rainy afternoon in Oxford. The shopkeeper couldn’t tell us why it was empty. He’d bought it as part of a house clearance - just another piece of junk to be sold on. It didn’t have any maker’s marks, there was no box. He wrapped it in a few pages from a copy of the Oxford Times, stuffed it in a small brown paper bag, and let us take it with us for fifty pence. We walked hand in hand, back up the alley and onto Alfred Street just as the sun came through the clouds. We smiled, happy with our new find and the certainty of a perfect future together.

Today, Friday 24th September 2010, seemed like a good day to tell you about my empty globe. Today a huge piece of my past disappeared into memory, changing everything for ever, and as for the future – well, I’m trying to look beyond the falling snow, but it isn’t easy.

Tonight, when I get home after our final ‘do’, I’ll take down my empty globe, shake the snow into a storm, and gaze deep into its centre.

What will I see?

Good luck to all my friends from the Manchester Studio.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Bigiam and the Bigyouare...













Moondog Almighty

I am the Bigiam, I am.

The Bigiam am I.

Moondog Almighty, almighty me,

Falling through the sky.

You are the Bigyouare, you are.

The Bigyouare, are you.

Waving arms and signalling,

A singular of two.

Well, you can’t win them all

So the soft Tuppence sings,

And tomorrow’s another day.

A crown won’t keep your head warm,

You don’t need God to pray.

A suit and tie is no disguise,

Watermelon sweet no steer,

And all we have is to be afraid,

And all you have is fear.

I am the Bigiam, I am.

The Bigiam am I.

Emperor of my universe,

Ridiculous to your eye.

Oh, Bigyouare. Oh, Bigyouare,

How did you come so big?

Stood still and waving all about,

Still motion whirligig.

Will I away? I will away,

Away will I? I will.

Away from him, away from he,

Away from will doubled.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Just the usual...

Usual place, usual time – just standing in the usual way, watching the usual sun dip down below the usual trees. Just the usual Saturday evening, the usual beauty, the usual me.

Sunset, just another sunset, like all the others that ever were and will ever be.

Just another end of day. Just the usual me.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Creepy crawlies...

It’s that terrible time of the year again. The cottage was full of screams at the weekend as the latest intruding spiders and daddy longlegs were discovered by the women of the house.

First there was the longlegs in Holly’s bedroom. Apparently it was flying around her head in order to fly into her mouth the moment she opened it. I carefully caught it in a glass and let it out of the window, freeing it into the beauty of the sunset. It flew towards the lavender sky and then turned swiftly around and settled, clinging to the glass in that way that they do, legs outstretched and bent, wings all-a-glimmer, on the outside of the window. Perhaps it really did want to fly into Holly’s mouth and die, though goodness knows why.

Then later, as Holly went up to bed I knew that there was something more than a Daddy Longlegs in her bedroom when she rushed down the stairs at breakneck speed screaming ‘Spiiiiiiiider’ at the top of her voice. I trudged up the stairs and despite it being ‘massive’ it easily fitted into the palm of my hand.

When I catch a spider in my hand I have to keep shaking it around so that I can’t feel it walking on my palm. I’m not scared of spiders, but I can’t stand the feeling of them walking on my skin. For the very big ones – like the one Gaynor ‘Andrewww Spiiiiderrr!!’ found in the fireplace on Saturday evening, I use tissue, bundling the creature up in a temporary shroud before flapping it out of the back door and into the night.

And then there are the clean spiders, the ones who live to be found in the bath. Every Friday at this time of year we each make a guess on how many spiders we are going to find in the bath when we arrive at our cottage in Wales. Our record is nine, although the average is probably three.

Maybe we’ll beat our own record this year. It looks like being a good year for spiders.

I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Keep your pecker up...

I knew if I waited long enough I’d get lucky.

They’ve been around all summer, I’ve caught the odd flash in the trees and of course I’ve heard them, but I haven’t caught them feeding on the peanuts. I’d seen signs that they may have been, telltale pecks in the red-brown kernels, a scattering of papery skin on the ground. Of course it could have been any bird, but I had a feeling it was a woodpecker.

I got up really early Sunday morning. Well, it wasn’t so much getting up, more a washing, cleaning teeth, and getting dressed. I had one of my sleepless ones - I’ve been having a few lately, and I was up and about at first light.

The early morning air was dry but with an autumn dampness, it felt as if rain would come later (and it did, gallons of it, for hours on end). I placed a chair by the woodshed and sat as still as I could, camera in hand, waiting.

Tits, sparrows, more tits, a pair of collared doves and then without announcement it was there, a lesser spotted, feeding on the peanuts, I didn’t even see it arrive. I clicked off two pictures. The first was so blurred (my hands were shaking with excitement wanting to get a good picture) that it was useless, but the second was fine. There wasn’t time for a third, it’d gone – I didn’t see it go either.

I sat for another twenty minutes waiting for it to return, but it didn’t.

And then it started to rain.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

The exhibition...

This story came to me fully formed at three o'clock this morning. It wasn't a dream because I wasn't asleep, I couldn't, it just popped into my head so I wrote it down. Then I stayed up another hour to illustrate it. Sometimes it's like that. Sometimes things come out of nowhere and take me to the zone.

Anyway, here it is. I think it was worth spending the night in the zone and losing a night's sleep over.


“Hello.” She said as she walked towards me.

I had an idea that I’d seen her before - not through these eyes, but through some others.

“Are you here for the exhibition?” She asked.

“Exhibition?” I replied. “I guess I must be. Whose exhibition is it?”

“Yours.” She said with a small smile. I was both pleased and concerned in that same time. My own exhibition after all these years and me not quite yet able to even draw properly despite trying.

“Is it all my own work?” I asked with a grin.

“Yes, all yours.” She nodded.

“And is it good?”


She led me to a room. It was tall and very square. Two pictures hung opposite and facing each other, one to the left and the other to the right. We entered the room. In front and facing us was a blank wall. Behind us the door through which we had entered, now closed and (somehow I knew that it would be) locked.

“Only two pictures?” I asked.

“Only two.” She replied with that same and small smile.

I looked to the right at the canvas hanging on the grey wall. It was blank - or maybe it was painted white. To the left the other canvass seemed just as empty but was deepest black.

“Just two?” I asked her - already knowing how she would respond.

“There were others.” She replied. “Many, many of them - an almost infinite number, of every colour and every shade from blankest, whitest nothing to blackest, darkest nothing, all colours, all shades, a lifetime of painting, a full experience of that time -- but in the end just these two, only these two.”

“Who are you?” I asked.

“You know who I am.” She replied with that same small, comforting, disconcerting smile.

And I did.

I knew her name. It began with ‘D’ and ended with ‘H’ - but it wasn’t Delilah. She hadn’t come to my exhibition to cut hair.

“Time to go? Time to leave my exhibition behind?” I asked.

“Yes.” She replied

And together we walked forwards towards the blankness of that other wall.

Friday, 17 September 2010

Betty Boop's dog - Boop-oop-a-doop…

I bought this globe in New York. I couldn’t resist it. Betty Boop was my first love.

I know it sounds odd to be in love with a cartoon character but I was only nine at the time and she does have all the attributes of the perfect woman. Mind you, I’m still a little in love with her today, despite being grown-uppish these days

Betty Boop was created by Max Fleischer in the 1930’s. She started out as a poodle dog character without a name. She was an immediate hit with the public and when I saw her in ‘Minnie the Moocher’ back in the sixties on TV she was an immediate hit with me – my heart went out to her.

Betty's love interest was also a dog character named Bimbo. As Betty's popularity grew, she went through a transformation, losing her dog characteristics, but Bimbo remained as her boyfriend despite the fact that he remained a dog. Her little pet dog ‘Pudgy’ was introduced in 1931 - that’s him waiting for Betty to get out of the bubbles by her pink, pearlescent bath.

Betty was based on one of two real women – the silent film actress Clara Bow (the It-Girl) or Helen Kane, an American popular singer whose signature song was "I Wanna Be Loved By You" (boop-oop-a-doop). Both Helen and Clara bore a strong resemblance to Betty and whilst I have a soft spot for Helen, Clara was my second love – well, in my mind they are one and the same person, and interchangeable in my imagination. Either way I’d be any of their dogs – Pudgey, Bimbo, even the Great Dane in Clara Bow’s rather risqué, ‘Call her Savage’.

So my secret is out – I want to be Betty Boop’s dog.

Not your usual ambition I agree, but pretty harmless, and as Betty would have said "Nobody can take away my boop-oop-a-doop" for dreaming my own dreams.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Head stuff…

Empty headed, head full of nothing, airhead – is that daylight I can see between your ears?

Saying these things to anybody is considered insulting - but what’s so wrong about having nothing on your mind, and what’s so good about having a head full of stuff?

Sometimes my head’s so full of stuff I can’t think, yet I constantly fill it full of new stuff – TV stuff, blogging stuff, radio stuff, paper stuff, media stuff, internet stuff, networking stuff, telephone stuff. It’s so easy to get stuff these days, to fill yourself up - and why wouldn’t I? How couldn’t I?

I love being able to instantly Google something I’m finding interesting to find out even more, watch a favourite TV clip instantly on Youtube, or listen to a piece of music or buy it immediately after hearing in on the radio. Sometimes I take of that stuff and tweet, blog, Facebook it. Of course, all I’m really doing is filling my head with more stuff, making my head fuller and fuller, and sometimes with that fullness comes confusion - chaos even.

Some people spend years emptying their minds, getting rid of the chaos, meditating, looking for a state of nothingness, removing the confusion, seeking Nirvana. I don’t think I want that but I probably need to simplify, not let my head get too full, try and leave some room for me.

Perhaps blogging is my attempt to get some of that stuff out and put it somewhere else, or perhaps it’s just the opposite – more stuff to fill my head up with. Maybe I should stop. But then what would I do with all the emptiness? If my head wasn’t so full I might have to face up to me and all that might mean.

There are times when I do almost give up. Times that I have to remind myself that this bloody blog is about me - it’s all about me.

Hey, who am I kidding? I can’t even work out who ‘me’ is.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010


We went walking in the woods at the weekend. I was surprised to see how close we are to the autumn.

The woods are full of deep red berries and the leaves are beginning to turn brown.

Bending down to pick up a couple of conkers - I never can resist their hard brown richness - I noticed this fabulous fungi. I think it’s one of the Agarics although I’ve only ever seen red ones before.

There’s something about toadstools and mushrooms. When I find them I’m always temped to pick them and take them home to identify. I’ve done it a few times, even eaten some of them, and each time I do I worry that I’ve misidentified and begin to be sure that I can feel stomach cramps. I’ve never been really ill through eating them, but I have had a few headaches.

Not this one though. You can tell just by looking at it that it’s poisonous. I’ll leave this one to the woodland folk and wait for the mushrooms I’m growing in my shed to come through.

And I may go on a wild fungi hunt next weekend, see what I can find.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Not looking for beauty...

I see paintings everywhere.

In the rubbish on the beach, in the skies, in the raindrops dripping down the window pane. It’s a curse, like seeing dead people.

I found this one on a beach, there’s something almost Jackson Pollock going on in it – in the spray of colours, around the splash and swirl.

Just some rope and a tangle of frayed nylon cord on the sand. Odd that something so disposable, so wasteful, can be so beautiful. It’s just litter really, somebody else’s throw away washed up on the tide line.

Standing gazing down I’m captured by the randomness, the chaos, the tangled, jumbled order of it. How strange I must look staring down at some rubbish at my feet - not looking for beauty but finding it.

I want to pick it all up and paste it to a canvas - shells, twine, sticks, sand -- then hang it on a clean white wall.

I wonder, could I?

Monday, 13 September 2010

Thrupenny sea thrift and a bag of sweets…

Sea thrift is such a cheery, cheeky brave plant.

Back before decimalisation when we had history in our pockets and it wasn’t unusual to have Victoria, various Georges and Edwards, and Elizabeth in our purses at the same time, we might also have carried a small bunch of thrift around with us.

Our coins were so various, so metally, and sometimes worn almost to smoothness through constant use. To my mind the cheeriest, cheekiest, bravest of our coins back then was (dependent on what part of the country you came from) the "THROOP-ence", "THREPP-ence", "THRUPP-ence", or "THROOP-nee", "THREPP-nee", "THRUPP-nee" bit. Where I came from it was inaccurately called a “Thoopnee Joey” (only the preceding, small, round silver coins are Joeys) but it still it bought an awful lot of sweets.

I loved the old threepence with its funny, not quite round, twelve (yes twelve) sided shape and dirty yellow colour. I remember them having very angular sides, which the early ones did, but in 1941 they changed to a more rounded, softened edge. It was a very thick coin. You could stand it on its edge with ease, the dirty, turning green, hue as a result of its nickel-brass mix (79% copper, 20% zinc, 1% nickel). It weighed 6.6 grams and had a diameter of 21 mm across the sides and 22 mm across the corners. The Edward VIII bit shows a left-facing picture of the king on the heads, and a stylised three-headed thrift plant on the tails.

They didn’t mint many and they are pretty rare today. I’ve a few that I kept when we went decimal but they’re not worth a lot; even the low mintage years in perfect condition are only worth around twenty quid.

But then you can’t measure value in money alone. I value them for the memories of the sweets they bought me and the history that used to jangle in my pocket. THREE PENCE it shouted above the Thrift – 2 blackjacks, 2 fruit salads, 4 flying saucers, and a gob-stopper!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Early autumn birds...

The birds visited the new feeders by the caravan over the weekend, a sure sign that autumn is on the way. Throughout the summer the birds haven't really bothered with the fat balls and peanuts we leave out, but now they're back feeding.

Coal tits, great and blue tits, some finches - all coming to the feeders when they thought that I wasn't there, flying off the moment that they realised I was.

The wind was in the trees last night, blowing unwanted thoughts into my already full head. On a whim I slept in the old six berth static caravan under the trees. It reminded me of the nights I used to camp in the back garden when I was a child. It wasn't quite the same - the caravan has electricity, gas and is all plumbed in, but the wind still whistles around it.

Birds woke me early, pitter-pattering on the metal roof. There are greater spotted woodpeckers woodpeckers in the trees above, I heard them peck-peck-pecking away. I haven't seen one properly, just a flash of red, white, and black for an instant out of the corner of my eye.

Maybe if I'm patient one might visit the peanut feeder.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Lucky Leprechaun...

This is my most recent snow globe, so recent that I only received it this week. My daughter Cloë, you know the one that’s just hit thirty, brought it back for me from Cork - her fiancé Jamie having whisked her off to Ireland for a long weekend as a birthday surprise.

Obviously he’s a leprechaun (not Jamie, the little creature in the globe) and obviously he’s lucky (again not Jamie, although he may be for all I know).

Just recently Lady Luck hasn’t exactly been smiling on me and I’ve never really had the luck of the Irish, so I’m hoping that my new globe changes all that. Perhaps if I rub it a few times my Leprechaun might jump out of his globe and grant me three wishes. I’ve often thought about what my three wishes would be if I found a bottle with a Djinn inside it, or rescued a witch’s cat from a well. Usually I can’t get past my first wish being for a million more wishes – but there’s probably some contractual clause to stop that from happening, it’ll be in the small print, paragraph 16 ‘wishing for more wishes make all other wishes null and void’ - just my luck really.

Maybe he’ll lead me to his pot of gold. All leprechauns have a pot of gold, usually at the end of a rainbow. At the very least he could make me some shoes, they’re meant to be good cobblers.

Whatever happens, if he does pop out and grant me some wishes, I mustn’t take my eyes off him. Take your eyes off a Leipreachán even for an instant and he’ll vanish, disappear, never to be seen again. They’re tricky little creatures.

Leprechaun’s carry two leather pouches, in one there’s a silver shilling, a magical coin that returns to his purse each time it is paid out. In the other he carries a gold coin which he uses to try and bribe his way out of difficult situations like being caught stealing milk from a sleeping cow, drinking someone else's Guinness at the bar - that sort of thing . This coin, more often than not, turns to leaves or ashes once he’s parted with it - but that’s pretty much always my experience of all money anyway.

Look at him sitting there on all that gold, smiling. He’s got his eyes closed, do you think he’s asleep or just pretending to be?

Oh, well I’ve nothing to lose. Here goes… I hope I don’t rub him up the wrong way.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Monkey Juggler

The Monkey Juggler

He juggled with monkeys

With primates did he

With Baboons and Howlers

And a small Chimpanzee

He juggled them all

For his public to see.

And that was his job

Skilled activity

He flung them

He threw them

Somersaulting them high

He twirled them

He tossed them

See simians fly

But he’d always catch them

Seemed not even to try

With a wave and a bow

To his audience cry

He juggled with monkeys

With a young Capuchin

With Rhesus and Rolaway

And a red Tamarin

Then one day he dropped one

And then he dropped two

His juggling had faltered

The audience boo

He fumbled them

He missed them

It all went awry

He slipped them

He dropped them

What did it imply?

He just couldn’t catch them

Nor gravity defy

Some fell, some just bounced

And a few of them died

They took all his monkeys

The Spider, the Blue

His Mandrill, his Saki

Away to a zoo

So he left the circus

His purpose departed

A past monkey juggler

Empty, bleak, broken hearted.

Now if you juggle with monkeys

They will juggle with you

And it’s best not to trust them

They seldom speak true

Just keep them spinning and turning

Let them never catch breath

And if you should drop one

Ensure it’s to death

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Strawberry memories…

We didn’t get many strawberries this year. The plants have done well though, shooting off runners with two or three potential strawberry plants on each, over thirty in total, plenty of new plants for next year if I can get them to root and grow.

I’ve potted them up in loamy compost, each runner held in place with two wire ‘U’ pins, one each side of the developing plant leaving the runner attached to the parent. I’ll cut the new plant free from its umbilical chord in a few weeks time, then pot them on into larger pots and put them in my cold frame.

I can remember when and where I first propagated strawberries from runner. It was at Waterperry Hall in Oxfordshire - a horticultural college for young ladies, and I was fourteen. I was working there in the school holidays. It was the most glorious summer of pricking-out tomatoes, Dutch hoeing lettuce beds, potting up runners in the strawberry fields - the soft undulation of the Oxfordshire countryside all around me. I couldn’t do it today, eight hours of bending – these days my back won’t stand eight minutes without screaming at me to stop. Forty years on and forty years ago - a good strong back, a deep-brown tan, and girls -- what a glorious way to spend an Oxfordshire summer.

And what a summer it was. Hot and humid, two days of sunshine, followed every third by a thunderstorm, in a cycle, repeated over and over. Me working in the fields, wandering beside the high walled, brick backed, herbaceous borders during lunchtimes, sheltering from the rain in the old wooden barn (the one that was used in the TV series ‘Cromwell’), watching the girls in their T-shirts and leggings; digging, hoeing, laughing as they worked – running from raindrops that exploded on the yellow gravel paths.

I remember queuing to collect my wages from the open window at the big house each Friday afternoon, old Miss Havergal reluctantly handing over the shillings and pence, but thanking me with a handshake and a gruff ‘thanks my boy’ all the same. Just a single downward shake, and that yellow gravel voice - sitting by the open window, a rug over her kilted knees, keeping off the cold of old age in that sweltering, steamy, summer.

Beatrix Havergal, principal, opened Waterperry residential horticultural college for women in 1932. She was a woman of her time - Curchillian almost, a force to be reckoned with, but crippled by arthritis when I shook her hand. She was known as the ‘Strawberry Queen’ of Chelsea, and for years she won the gold medal for her Royal Sovereign strawberries at the show. She retired in 1971, the same year I learnt how to pot up strawberry runners at her school. I wonder if my newly potted runners are Royal Sovereign.

Forty years on and forty years ago, summer and strawberries - I can hardly believe it.

Thanks my Boy’- and me almost a man.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Shed city...

What would the summer be without a project?

My wife Gaynor, tired of all of my clutter in her kitchen drawers and stored in potentially useful cupboards in the caravan, set my project for me this year. It was simple enough - gather up all of my tools from the hundred or so places they have ended up into a single place. Take down the old, jam-packed, jumbled, rotting wooden sheds and replace them with new sheds that we could actually keep things in. Tidy up the area at the bottom of the garden under the trees by the gas tank, and generally sort things out.

Generally sort things out… No problem.

If only it had been that simple.

It took weekends of demolishing, building, swearing, painting, refurbishing, arranging, chopping, swearing, sawing, moving, swearing, rearranging, hammering, sawing, swearing, erecting, smashing, instruction reading (something I’ve never done willingly), swearing - until I eventually ‘generally sorted things out’.

It was a much bigger task than I envisaged, but here’s the result – Shed City, every ‘doing’ man’s idea of heaven.

Shed City is actually a metal workshop containing all of my tools, including my collection of power tools. I won’t list them all, but suffice it to say that it includes a chainsaw, a nail-gun, a garden blower, circular, jig , and sabre saws, a jetwash, several power drills, and an electric screwdriver. It’s fully kitted out with electricity and light, has a workbench with a vice, and I’ve even hung up my hand tools on racks. In front of my workshop are two plastic outdoor storage cabinets for all the beach and garden stuff, with shelves and hooks to hang things on, and my trusty old garden shed (which I couldn’t bear to throw away in the end) has been lovingly refurbished and carefully fitted into a quiet corner to become my woodshed. It’s full, top to bottom, with the wood from the other two, not so loved, old wooden sheds I smashed down, chopped into pieces, and bagged up ready for the winter’s burning

Next project please, I need a purpose, I need to feel useful.

Monday, 6 September 2010

Monty the moth to be...

This is Monty the Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar. I rescued him from a hopping thrush a few weeks ago. I’ve waited until now to tell you about him because I wanted to see if he was going to make it to pupae stage before admitting that I was so worried by his close call with the thrush that, rather than leave him for nature to do it’s worse by means of a hungry bird or vole, I built him a house and dined him on willowherb.

The house I built for him was made out of a two litre lemonade bottle with the top third cut off, pierced with a hot skewer to provide air holes, and squeezed back onto the bottle so that it formed a lip. I was pretty pleased with my insect house, I hate throwing these bottles away even to be recycled and I’m working on some other interesting ways of using them including hanging tomato plant containers.

Monty seemed happy enough to live safely in his house, I cleaned him out regularly, he needed it – yet another similarity to an elephant. I fed him plenty of fresh willowherb, his favourite foodstuff and fuchsia leaves. Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars are big. Monty was a little longer than my index finger, the pupae are about half that size, and when he turns into a moth next year he’ll be about 4 centimetres long, have a 6.5 centimetre wingspan with combination olive and dusky pink markings.

This weekend he started to pupate, if you look closely at the bottom of his house you can see him pupating merrily away. We’ll have to wait until late next May or even early June to see him in all his mothy glory though and when he makes it I’ll post a picture.

Sleep tight Monty, see you in the early summer.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Summer's end - campervan dreams

The summer has been full of VW campervans. They’ve been everywhere, on every roadside, at every corner, in every car park – yellow, powder blue, orange, cream, rusty, red, and pink. Every colour you can imagine and then some.

I’ve only recently got the campervan bug - it’s an age thing probably. With some middle age men it’s Harleys and sports cars, with me it seems to be campervans.

Sadly, I’ve taken to snapping pictures of other people’s campervans when I come across them – here’s one I bumped into in Criccieth car park, isn’t she a beauty. Sadly again, the closest I’ve come to owning one are my two small campervan snow globes.

Now that summer’s coming to a close I guess they’ll all soon disappear like swallows or summer bees to hide from the winter. First they will be lovingly waxed, polished, shined and chammied, then stored away in campervan hibernation to dream of next summer and the rising of the summer surf.

I have a campervan dream. I dream of buying my own and taking off - all brightly painted and fully kitted – I’d tour the UK for a year - snapping here, drawing there, blogging as I go. Town by town, a different town each day. ‘365 towns in 365 days - a campervan quest’. What a marvellous book it’d make.

What a lovely dream, one of many, I have lots more.

Time to stop dreaming though – time to shake up the snow in my snow globes and shake the summer away -- winter’s coming.

Friday, 3 September 2010


She popped into see me this morning, all smiles and hugs. I gave her some flowers and cards. We had a chat, a coffee. Talked about old times, good and bad, her plans and hopes - and rather foolishly she left a few pictures with me. Some I’d seen, others I hadn’t. I knew she’d played Mary in the nativity, but not Joseph. I knew that she’d worked with the cast of ‘Casualty’ on her work experience, but not ‘Cold Feet’. I knew that she’d seen the Pyramids, but not that she’d sat on an eight foot penis in the sex museum in Amsterdam… and is that really Keith Chegwin? Yes, I know it is - I was still there for that.

My daughter Cloë is thirty today. I say it quietly, thirty is such a big age, it’s taken her thirty years to get there and now that she’s arrived I want her to know what a really good job she’s done of becoming who she is.

She’s well educated with a first class degree, successful and in demand in the world of the marketeer, liked by many, as secure as is possible these days (any days), well balanced, sensible, funny, a homeowner, in a relationship (a real one) – and of course she’s done it all for herself, which is the thing I most admire about her.

Mind you, she’s needed to - I wasn’t around much when she was growing, no excuses or reasons - that’s just the way it turned out. Still, as a result of that distance, I think I know her for who she is rather than a father’s image of his daughter - and I like that.

Her self reliance, her responsible approach, her work ethic (she always has and does work bloody hard), her common sense - I could go on. She makes me very proud.

That’s it. Thirty today. Happy birthday Cloë.

P.S. – I love you.

Dad xxx.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Summer’s end – summer moon

As summer ends the daytime moon appears, a sign of the impending end of summer and autumn's coming. He sits high in the daytime sky, a ghost, knowing he shouldn't be there - night time is his realm.

Knowing that he should let summer be, leave her to live on for at least a while.

But the moon is cold and his kiss colder still - and besides he can't and won't resist.

Summer moon

As sign of summer’s ending

The daytime moon appears.

Defiant summer shows her back,

Blows kisses as he sneers,

Turned evening sky from red to rust,

I view his cool with cold disgust,

Her ending right - but still unjust,

Not bowed, but proud, with head upthrust,

I see her passing, as he must.

As sign of summer’s ending

She gently turns and smiles - and fades to dust.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Summer’s end – first fire

I don’t know if it was the last barbecue of the summer, it may or may not have been, but it was certainly the first outdoor fire of the year.

Monday was beautiful. Warm and still, blue skies and sparkling seas – but as evening approached the temperature dropped and there was a definite autumn chill to the air. Barbecue planned, there was only one thing for it.

Our old cast iron chiminea hasn’t been used this year, or last year, or the year before that, come to that – but we decided to give it an outing on Monday evening down at the bottom of the garden where we sometimes sit in the evening sun.

Old Faithful’ caught first time and, fed by broken chunks of old shed, was soon blazing. The heat it gave out was fierce and that, along with a very nice dry cider and some Lincolnshire sausages that were actually from Lincolnshire, soon warmed the chill from the evening air.

As darkness fell and the stars came out in the clearest of skies we decided that we should light ‘Old Faithful’ more often. So maybe it isn’t the last barbecue of the year after all - perhaps we’ll carry on barbecuing throughout the autumn and beyond.

Sometimes rediscovering the value of a thing is a joy, it’s all too easy to forget the things we really love.