Sunday, 31 October 2010

Jack o’Lantern

Good evening and happy Halloween or Samhain as we call it. I hope that you like my pumpkin head Ju-Ju Jesus Peanut, he took a little carving but I think that he was worth it. Let me know if you enjoy the story that I've written for you this All Hallows Eve. I hope that it doesn't give you nightmares.

Jack o'Lantern

He bought the pumpkin at the supermarket. They had all sizes and shades, but in the end he went for a brash orange, slightly corpulent one, a little bigger than a football. He’d never carved a pumpkin before. This was going to be his first attempt. He’d read up about it on the internet, watched some ‘how to’ videos on Youtube. He’d even collected together a good set of tools as recommended on jack o’; a sharp knife, a small saw, a potato peeler, a pen for drawing out his design, and of course a bucket to collect the seeds and flesh from deep inside the pumpkin. He had to wash the bucket out. It was still messy from the last time he’d used it; but it came clean eventually. That was one of his problems she’d said; he never cleaned up after himself.

He hadn’t decided what sort of face he was going to carve into the vivid flesh of the pumpkin. It had to be something suitable, something that would fit the stand he’d made. It must be something just right. He liked things to be just right despite what she’d said. It wasn’t true anyway - he did have a clue, he could make things happen. He’d show her just what he could do when he put his mind to it. Maybe he’d carve the face of a witch, all wizened and gnarled, a broken toothed hag. Or a Jodie pig with a flat snout and piecing eyes - he knew just where he could find a golden ring to put through its nose. Perhaps he’d try something more adventurous, something a little more realistic. Experience of the knife had proved it sharp, good for detail work; it’d slice through the pumpkin like butter.

He whistled as he covered the table with newspaper and placed the pumpkin in the centre, arranging his tools neatly in front of it. He had reached a decision about his subject. It made him smile. How fitting it would be if art were to imitate life - and what better subject to grace the stand that waited silently in the chair by the back door than a copy of what it once had carried.

Going to the fridge he pulled open the door with a ‘clumf’. The cold white light of the tiny bulb illuminated the head, a shadow passed over the face giving it a fleeting resemblance to life. The slashes and gouges had dried; the remaining blood now no more than a few powdery stains. The flesh of her cheeks and lips were a rich deep brown where he’d removed the delicate skin. It lay on the plate beside the head where he’d placed it, not knowing what else to do with it.

Had she moved as he’d opened the door? No, she was still dead, motionless. He glanced towards the bulk of her; the torso propped on the wooded kitchen chair remained still, motionless, the light from the open fridge casting it as a canvas by de Chiciro.

He’d placed the head in the fridge the evening before to keep her fresh whilst he’d mopped up all that blood. What a mess she’d made; her blood splashing the cream wall tiles with thin red ribbons, pools of it landscaping the lino covered floor. It’d taken him most of that night to wipe down the wooden work-surfaces. He'd polished the black enamel cooker to a gleam and scoured the Belfast sink until every morsel of matter and skin was gone; scraping away the last of thickening blood with a pink and silver Brillo soap pad.

Who said he never cleaned up after himself?

He lifted her out of the fridge and carefully placed the dinner plate upon the table. It would be better to have a model to work from. Humming, he picked up the knife and began to cut.

Time for art to imitate life - he’d never carved a pumpkin before.

Friday, 29 October 2010

Meet Rocky Springsteen…

Just look at him, all red and sitting on his rock, claws ready to nip off the finger of any prying hand that comes a’prying just that little bit too close, invading his personal space.

I bought Mr. Lobster in Boston from the Paradies Shop (yes Paradies and not Paradise) for $16.99 back in 1998. It really was a whistle-stop tour – into Boston for the day, a single night, and out and off to Philly the next morning - back to the UK two days later.

I remember many things about Boston, but two things that stick in my mind particularly vividly are the immaculately painted clapboard houses of the suburbs and the wealth and variety of the lighthouses of the islands – Calf, Moon, Deer, Spectacle, Gallops - in the water below as we flew into Boston Harbour and on to land at the General Edward Lawrence Logan International Airport.

I like Mr. Lobster surrounded by his marine mates; a pink starfish, an orange seahorse, and something yellow that could be a crab, some rare type of jellyfish, or a drowned plastic bag (I was going to write condom but changed my mind). He strikes me as a typically American lobster; a Republican, a Baptist, a gun toting, right to protect ma property (in his case a big blue rock), nuke the…well everything really, including crayfish (a distant relative), rootin-tootin, baseball watching, salute the flag with his hand (claw) over his heart (Lobsters do have hearts, but no arteries, and their blood is grey), kind of good and regular all round American shellfish, crustacean, guy.

I call him Rocky Springsteen – well it seemed to make sense at the time; but then I had drunk half a dozen bottles of Sam Adams. I had Lobster for dinner in Salem that night too; it was delicious.

Sorry Rocky.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

An autumn spell…

It’s such a colourful time of the year, above and below.

Skies on crisp, clear, days washed with the shimmer of the sun caught up in cloud and contrail, reflected on an early morning mist, swept into the silk scarf distance of the coming day.

I can almost smell the delicate colour in the air; cinnamon and peaches, sugared candy floss, toffee apple, walnuts; lick your lips, taste the heady almond fumes. This time of year for fair and show, a playtime all around, about, and all a tumble too.

Is it not good? Could it be any better? Careful, don’t breathe in too much - too much will make you giddy.



And all around the dropping of the leaves all well-made-up for season’s ball with rouge, and paint, and fire; sweetened by a summer's sugar, bid dance in winds to twirl and spin, as whirligig, each in its own unfurl.

Come join the dance and spin, a single chance, invited in, kick up those leaves as a child long past time, laugh into skies and wonder at the sight. Drink deep the air and grin; who knows when another like this will ever come again.

Above our heads, beneath our feet, a final show of flush and rage, as autumn cocks a snook in jester hue, then falls and cloaks the ground exhausted, crisped and used, awaiting rain and winter grey, as Mr. Punch is finished with his play.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Ruminations on a treasure map…

They say no man is an island, although there’s always the Isle of Man, but maybe that is the exception that proves the rule.

Now from that starting point this post might go in any number of directions. I could write about the Isle of Man, its parliament, the Manx triskelion or tre cassyn "the three legs", the symbol of the island and interestingly enough also of Sicily- and that gives me even more choices – Rolf Harris, The Godfather, Jake the Peg, the Mafia – which could lead me to Gypsy fortune tellers, horses heads, false legs, prosthetic limbs, exoskeletal and endoskeletal, transtibial prosthetics - the artificial limb that replaces the missing part of leg below the knee, transfemoral - the artificial limb above the knee, transradial - the artificial limb that replaces the arm below the elbow, transhumeral - the artificial limb above the elbow…

Or I could focus on the exception that proves the rule, quoting exceptions; for instance the Penguin. The problem with the Penguin is that there are other exceptions - Ostriches, Emus, Kiwis. I think that you can guess the rule. And from here I could go marsupials, hat manufacturing in the nineteenth century, ancient and celestial units of measurement…

No man is an island. That’s the thing with blogging, sometimes you start out at one point and end up at quite another. It’s like following a treasure map, only you don’t know what the treasure is until you find it, and when you do find it it might not be treasure at all, or what you expected it to be, it could be transtibial, or there may be no it there at all. Of course from here I could go on to continue with my currently reoccurring theme: Pirates - by way of Long John Silver, not having a leg to stand on, Pretty Polly, etcetera, etcetera, ecetera.

I don’t know why Pirates are a theme at the moment - they just keep on cropping up, and now that I come to think of it – isn’t there a leg theme beginning to develop with the Isle of Man, false legs, Long John Silver? Isn't everything interwoven, synchronistic, and did a butterfly just beat its wings by my ear? But I digress; I shall stick to ‘No man is an island’ as written by John Donne who went on to finish that particular nugget of wisdom with therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee...’ - almost as cheering as limb loss.

Thinking about it though, it isn’t that easy. I’m in crisis. Which way do I go from here? Do I go on to follow the road leading to the metaphysical poets, write about fleas, abrupt openings, paradoxes, dislocations, argumentative structure, and conceits? Do I go down the path of bells, writing about the fact that the crack in the Liberty Bell was caused as it was forged in the foundry by uneven heating and not at the instant of some great American historic event (I don't know which one of the two though), thus dismissing a romantic notion that seems to have become lodged in my head from God knows where? Or, in my generally pig-headed way, should I dismiss the map altogether, trusting to my pig-headedness, and rely upon my internal navigational instinct that (given that it isn’t very good) could take us all absolutely anywhere – to the edge of the world, even to the gates of Hades and across the River Styx itself; led naked by the hand of a Boschian flightless bird?

I was talking in the virtual world with a fellow blogger early this morning; let’s call him MAWH, and he hit on something about my blog. I knew that he would, he has taste, sensitivity, he’s a twenty first century John Donne - abrupt openings, paradoxes, dislocations, argumentative structures, conceits, fleas. My blog (I told him between him and me) isn't a blog at all; it’s a piece of art, a statement, an installation. I think it should win the Turner Prize or at the very least I should turn the blog into a novel about the blog – but I digress once more.

No man is an island? Maybe si, maybe non.

‘Myself’ is a country, an island that I am only now beginning to explore, and I’m doing it through this bloody blog. As JD (he of flea fame) said, ‘No man is an island; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main’. I may not have a map, I may not always follow the most direct route, but I’ll get there in the end - wherever the end may be, and you are the main - thanks for continuing to read my rubbish.

And what the hell was that about?

Perhaps I should have stuck to Jake the Peg after all…or marsupials. Tie me kangaroo down sport.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Why I'm not a comedian...

You know sometimes I wonder, I really do.

I’m quietly making a list of things that I might like to become, just for fun, simply to pass time and my other half (not the other half that resides in the black room at the bottom of my soul, but the other half as in what we have started to call ‘my partner’ these days so as to avoid any annoying stereotyping) says in an incredulous voice as she peers across my shoulder and brushes my hand away so that she can more clearly see what I am writing.

‘Comedian? On your ‘Things I Would Like to Be’ list is comedian? You want to be a comedian? (well, it is on the list dear) A comedian who tells jokes, a joker? (Well, yes that’s the general idea if you're a comedian). But you aren’t funny.’

Not funny? But, isn't it all about being able to make a woman laugh, the way to her heart, or would that be a carving knife? Either way it seems to explain the wilting look I'm getting. So I'm not funny (my informed audience has spoken), but I am a fool like all jokers, and that’s a start. With great restraint and despite wanting to tell her that if I'm not funny neither is Michael McIntyre (he manages to make her smile just a little - smug git) and that even I can shout whilst pacing quickly up and down the stage whilst skipping, and being very tempted to prove my funniness by the slight breaking of wind (which always brings a smile to my face) I don’t; instead I just give her a funny gurning faced look at her as she continues (goes on).

‘Comedian. You? Don’t make me laugh.’

I only wish I could, and by the way that comment rather negates the point of being a comedian, a comedian is meant to make people laugh, so a request to not make someone laugh isn’t really much of a request to a comedian, it’s a bit like asking a concert pianist to play ‘chopsticks’. Not that I do requests anyway (at least in my head) and not forgetting that according to my wife, I’m not funny even though it’s on my ‘rather foolish list’ as she went on to call it.

Foolish? Probably. Rather. Raaather! As Terry Thomas, with an excess of nudge-nudge, wink-wink, would say.

I didn’t want her to read my list anyway, in fact I don’t want anyone to read my list. Comedian is probably one of the jobs that I've listed that I could do at least a bit - if only I had some jokes, a few funny mannerisms, a catch-phrase, a natty blue suit with a cerise shirt, a few cutting remarks and that other thing, now what is it? Oh yes……………………Timing.

Thinking about it I do have a couple of those things – the funny mannerisms, the cutting remarks, a face just made for gurning (in fact I gurn without moving a facial muscle). No sharp suit or cerise open-necked shirt, but then I might as well wear a jester’s hat given that so many people think that they can treat me like a fool. Anyway, I’m not sure cerise is my colour and what would my catch-phrase be? ‘If you’re expecting a comedian, you’ll be disappointed then’ or ‘I’m not funny, my other half says so’ or ‘I’m warning you, laugh or I’ll break wind’.

If she’d (sorry my partner of no indicated gender) had seen the other things on my list she’d probably buy me a joke book and book me into a comedy club. After all, I don’t think I’m ever going to be a pop star, a pilot, a priest, a politician, pirate, puppeteer, puppet - and that’s just taking the P’s.

Maybe that’s’ another one for the list - P-taker. I could probably do that. It’d be nice to be the ‘taker’ rather than the ‘taken’ for once. Oh well back to the Punch and Judy stand. Which will it be this time puppet or puppeteer I wonder?

Monday, 25 October 2010

The big light...

Impossible to dodge the rain this weekend, a few minutes of safety in sunshine and then from nowhere – black, black, skies. It was almost as if somebody was turning the big light on and then off again. On and off, on and off – I’ve always hated the big light.

Turn the big light on.” My dad would say and with the flick of a brittle, black, bakerlite switch the room, which only seconds earlier was muted by the evening glow of the black and white telly irradiating softness from the corner of the room, was transformed into a stark, shadow-free, nowhere to hide, illuminated cell that any self-respecting Gestapo interrogator would find… ‘interestink, very interestink.

Torture. And to build on the extreme discomfort of the bright, white, spotlight above my head, bearing down on my boyish face, my dad would switch off the telly, turn on the shiny plastic walnut pattern radio, sit back in an armchair with his copy of the ‘News of the World’ humming tunelessly along to ‘Sing Something Simple’ and the Cliff Adams Singers. Those opening few bars filled me with dread – ‘Da, da, da, da, da, da, sing something simple as time goes by, sing something simple, just you and I’.

And as if the big light and the Cliff Adams Singers weren’t enough - to make things even worse - I had school in the morning, didn’t have a clue how do my maths homework, double cross country in the first two periods - so there would be no time to crib from Watkiss or Pugh before maths in period three.

Okay, yes it was me. I did it. Pass me the confession and I’ll sign. Do you want my signature in tears or blood? Either is fine with me. Now just what is it you want me to confess to?’

Torture, torture, torture - how did I survive?

I don’t know, but I did.

Between the rainstorms last weekend the sun came out taking advantage of a few minutes of freedom as it broke through the clouds, shining its light on the landscape below. The colours were spectacular with contrast, alive with enhanced, pumped-up, natural pigments - and whilst a little stark, nothing at all like the 150 watt bulb of the big light in that living room of long ago.

And best of all there was no sound of the Cliff Adams Singers. All together now ‘Da, da, da, da, da, da, sing something simple as time goes by…’

Play this at your peril:

Friday, 22 October 2010

Misty and the snow globe...

Holly got a text from Goronwy our friendly Welsh farmer this week offering us a new kitten, a three coloured long-haired female - ginger, white and brown.

For a moment I almost said yes. I'm longing to have a cat around the house again; even it it is of the time-consuming, hairs-all-over-the-furniture, hair-ball throwing variety. I feel that life isn’t complete without a feline friend.

Then I thought about Misty, and as I remembered her I knew that it still wasn’t time. Besides I’m trying to sort my life out, simplify it - and having a young kitten around, whilst exciting, fun and guaranteed to make you go ‘ahhhhhh’ in a gooey, sticky, silly, voice at least a dozen times a day is hardly a life-sorting simplification.

Having a kitten around can be very complicated. Firstly there’s the litter training. Misty learnt this in hours thank Mu-Mu, but she was a quick learner. It can take months, years even - and then there’s the kitten games of hide-and-seek, run-up-the-curtains, shred-the-furniture, get-stuck-behind-the-radiator to put up with.

Kitten’s love to run away and hide, either in play or true scaredy-cat scaredyness - and in a big house it can be really hissing hard to hissing find them a-hissing-gain.

At first, during the night, we'd keep Misty contained in the kitchen where she could 'come to no harm', but despite this sensible and well thought through plan of action she still (as you may remember) managed to get into the sub-cellar under the kitchen floor resulting in me practically demolishing the house to get her out again.

And let’s not forget the stress and trepidation that comes with ‘first time out of the house’. It’s the stuff of nail-biting, nerve-wrecking, hand-trembling nightmare. We waited for three months before we’d gathered enough courage to let Misty out for that first time, and even then it was only for five minutes. It was extremely tense during those first few weeks as we waited and watched for her to come back home. She always did eventually, although sometimes we’d have to spend hours calling her name and tempting her with treaties in the pitch black, freezing, night only to find that she'd slipped inside hours earlier and was curled-up asleep in front of the fire.

Yes kittens tend to complicate, not simplify.

And of course then there was that final Friday; the one that I still haven’t written about yet.

So, no - thanks for the offer Goronwy but no new cat just yet. Even though I long to stroke, feed, talk cat-talk with, and write about his or her wonderful life - because it would be wonderful, I'd see to that.

I bought this cat snow globe on holiday in Exmouth in Devon about twenty years ago. I’ve never seen one like it since and until recently I never felt the need to give the cat inside the glass globe world a name.

This is Misty - she’s the only cat I have these days.

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Evening moon with tourettes…

Up on the hotel ledge I stand looking at the late evening moon as another piece of the world chips off and spins away never to be seen again. The rock I stand on no longer as solid as it turns to sand and tears beneath my feet. I watch it helplessly, the shrink, the implosion, the light upon the darkling sea, the loss and lost.

I know the words but I don’t want to say them. You know the words but you don’t want to hear them. But here are the words I don’t want to say and you don’t want to hear.

Who cares? It is only truth.

I wish I’d never, if only they’d, I can’t believe that, I’m lucky to have known, we might never, it shouldn’t be, you are the, it was such, we worked so, it was so, promise that you will keep in…

All these words – ‘I love you. I love you. I love you.’ She said and not just the drink. And all the other things said from the heart, honest, meant, and true from each around the table - and seemingly so easily to empty like a bottle of wine. No more jokes.


Time is a great healer. Time is a grand prover. It will take time for wounds to heal, same time for wounds to fester, poison, kill. The moon shines on as it always has and always will, dim parody of the beauty of the sun; but beautiful still the same.

And who know which words will be spoken next?

I love you?


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

New fish...

Our new fish bought from the fish emporium where we bought Shadow, a replacement for fairground Bobrob who passed across the waters a while ago now.

It was one of those things. One moment Bobrob was swimming around in the tank and the next he was a floater.

I brought the new fish home in a plastic tube; distorting and magnifying him, making him look like a fearful creature from the Black Lagoon when really he’s just a friendly fantail with slightly bulging eyes and slipped him into the tank.

I didn't tell anyone, expecting Gaynor and Holly not to notice, but Holly did - and how underwhelmed was she.

Still, It didn’t take long for Shadow to make friends with his new tank-mate. He’s called Chips, yes, Chips. Holly’s choice. Underwhelmed or not she still got to choose the name.

Shadow and Chips - perhaps they’ll become a regular feature. I wonder if they'll have adventures, maybe they'll discuss philosophy, fight, perhaps they'll talk about fine wines - who knows?

Now what shall I call it?

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Mysteries and miracles...

There are mysteries and miracles all around us as I found out when I visited St. Bueno’s church at Pistyll - on a whim, to cheer myself up this morning.
Cheer myself up’ did I say? Well, maybe not. It’s one of those typically Welsh gloomy places, you know the ones – the ones where you start out with at least a little optimism and very quickly sink deep into the slough of despond.
And it was very gloomy today – gloomy, wet, and windy.
As I walked past the murky waters of what I instinctively knew to be an ancient fishpool (built by the monks for the raising of earthy tasting static trout) I felt that I was in one of those odd, out-of-time, faraway, gloomed and gloomy places.
The church is on the north coast of the Lleyn peninsula and was one of a number of stopping-off points for pilgrims on their way to Bardsey Island. There’s a 12th Century font, the remains of a medieval wall painting and to my surprise (such a surprise that I laughed out loud as they say) parishioners have revived the tradition of celebrating Lammas and the church floor was strewn with rushes. To be honest it made the church look more like a stable than a place of worship but it added a certain something (I’m not sure what though - potential fire risk?).

I was looking for the grave of the actor Rupert Davies who played Maigret in the 60’s; he’s buried there. I remember the series well - Sunday afternoons in front of my gran’s old black and white telly eating Garibaldi biscuits and drinking tea, waiting for him to light his pipe with that flaming match, eyes sparkling as he inhaled the pungent shadowed pipe smoke (cough, cough, cough).
I didn't find him though; the wind and rain beat me off and the graveyard is on a steep hill. So steep that I slipped, fell in the mud, and gave up looking. Instead I found this at the bottom of my tumble – an old tomb cover camouflaged and splashed with lichen’s. Incredible patterns, a whole continent of countries on a tombstone map. There really are mysteries and miracles all around us even on the gloomiest of days (keep smiling - that's my motto).

Monday, 18 October 2010

On such a dullish day…

I went for a walk this lunchtime. Not far; just along the road and around the corner. I needed some air, wanted to feel some space, lose the dullness of the day. I get like that sometimes.

It’s that time of year, of life; sunny one minute, big black clouds the next, the threat of the storm at any moment at the drop of a hat or a leaf. Walking under big trees, leaves falling in the breeze, struck by how quickly things change. Where was the green? When did these browns arrive to oust them?

I cut across the little park, the light playing on the leaf strewn grass, grey squirrels playing in the branches. I doubt it play, probably about some serious business; gathering, scavenging, staking out old territory, warning off predators - me, that jay, a passing cat. Squirrels no more play than scamper; life is far more serious, harder - no time to play for them. Their scamper only a silly word we give to their reality of running to keep alive, keeping away from all the things that want to maim and kill them.

Through the park, down the dirt track lane at the back of the houses sitting on the brow, then back out and onto street just as the sun cuts through the leaden blackness of the heavy metallic sky catching the pavement with a ray, passing light across the wet black tarmac - as all at once the path blooms into life.

Colour on colour on colour – scarlet, ochre, yellow, pink, vermillion, orange, brown - a natural confetti mix of colour and shade. Just leaves; strewn as if some strange wedding had taken place only moments before my arrival. The old Green Man pledging his troth to a Dryad maid with a wink and this bright carpet of leaves – left as reminder of what had been before.

I laugh aloud to see such colours strewn about my feet and brightening, lifting up my life for just a passing moment on this, and such a dullish day - and is this rain upon my face?

I get like that sometimes.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

The Department of Don’t

‘I must not chew boiled sweets. I must not chew boiled sweets. I must not chew boiled sweets. I must not chew boiled sweets. I must not chew boiled sweets.’

Apparently you don’t chew boiled sweets. Boiled sweets must be sucked and not chewed. I don’t know exactly when this law was decreed but apparently everybody knows it and it must be followed. How on earth I have got through my life crunching on pear drops (my favourites but guaranteed to cause an asthmatic an attack apparently), lemon sherbets, humbugs, and candy twirls without prosecution is beyond me. I guess I must have been lucky.

Yes, everybody knows that boiled sweets are for sucking and should never be chewed – it is law.

Who makes these unwritten laws and why would anyone feel the need to follow them? Is there a learned body somewhere whose sole role is to invent laws about seemingly unimportant aspects of our lives; like how to eat a boiled sweet? Maybe there’s a whole department focussed on the boiled sweet issue. Maybe their brief stretches beyond mere boiled sweets to all sweet types and they spend their time making policy on how different types of sweets should be eaten. Maybe they’ve even written a paper on it.

Item 1. Ice cream should be licked and not sucked.

Item 2. Ice lollies should be sucked and not licked.

Item 3. Chocolate should be nibbled and not allowed to melt in chunks in the mouth.

Item 4. Chewing gum should be chewed at the side of the mouth and not the front.

Item 5. Sherbert should be dabbed and not scooped.

Item 6. Liquorice laces should be eaten in lengths and not balled.

Item 7. ... Well, that's the boiled sweet thing.

And so on and so forth.

Where does this stuff come from because it isn’t just sweets? ‘You’ can’t do this and ‘You’ can’t do that is everywhere – perhaps there’s a complete department of nay-saying jobsworths somewhere in Whitehall, the Ministry of Can’t or the Department of Don’t, dreaming up new things to stop us having even a little fun - ‘Don’t step on the grass, No ball games allowed, Walk don’t run, No eating on the bus.’

Will the grass really wither and die if I place my foot on it? That big empty field over there, what is it for if not to kick a ball around on? Tell me, just when does a fast walk become a run? What no eating - not even a boiled sweet? And whatever you do – don’t mention the ‘I’ word, you know... the geographical place!

It’s everywhere this silliness. We all know people who’d thrive in the Ministry of Can’t, they’d love to work on the ‘sweet problem’ – spending their lives proving that there are designated and correct ways to eat confectionary and then putting in systems and checks to ensure that nobody strays from procedure, wasting their lives proving that they are right about things that simply don’t matter.

Poor them.

There’s nothing more satisfying than the rush of flavour and the sound of the crunch as you bear down on an orange twist – and no self-opinionated, over-inflated, pompous, I-can-prove-it-with-this-diagram ass from the Department of Don’t (no matter how clever he thinks he is) is going to deny me that small pleasure – or any other come to that.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Johnny Depp...

Avast there you curly screw!’ I bellowed, waving my twine-tied wooden sword, plastic patch over one eye, red paisley handkerchief tied tightly around my head.

The junior school play – and I the pirate captain, the lead no less; picked, not because I had a full beard or a wooden leg, but because I had the loudest voice. And I’d managed to get the opening line wrong – AGAIN!

The play was called ‘The Lonely Bard’, said ‘Lonely Bard’ being a ship, and I, as I’ve already mentioned, the pirate captain. I’ve no idea what his name was or what the play was about but I’ll remember the opening lines for as long as I live; or at least until the Alzheimer’s gets to my long term.

Captain: ‘Avast there you scurvy crew!’ (Draws the attention of sailors to a dilapidated old ship docked in harbour.)

Captain: ‘Beshrew me heart it goes against the grain to leave the old ship. The Lonely Bard, a rakish craft when new and well suited for my purposes when I fled from justice in my native land.’ (Sailors look at each other and mumble.)

So, the plot so far - Nameless pirate captain is running from the authorities in ship called Lonely Bard. The ship is old, no longer seaworthy and he’s trying to persuade / press gang / bribe a few honest sailors (Peter Fry, Malcolm Talbot, Teresa Davies) to steal another ship, become pirates, and sail away with him on a pirate adventure. Captain, despite having loudest voice, seems not to be able to remember further lines even with constant whispered prompting from Mrs Beatty sitting in wings with script. Captain tries to distract audience away from his inability to remember lines by waving wooden sword around profusely hitting Malcolm Talbot over eye and causing said eye to bleed even more profusely than the sword waving.

The End.

The audience went wild applauding as Mrs Beatty and Miss Evans rushed the blood smeared Malcolm off to the office to make use of the school first aid kit and contact his mother - presumably by semaphore or passenger pigeon as very few of us had a telephone back then. I was still taking encores and bowing when Mrs Hicks (the headmistress), with a face as black as a Jolly Roger, entered the hall, dragged me from the stage, and off to her office for a ‘talking to’.

After tears and explanations, excuses and apologies, and of course the ‘talking to’ I emerged from the office no longer wearing my patch or headscarf and with my sword locked safely away in Mrs Hicks’ storage cupboard where it could: ‘do no more damage’. It appears that despite my brilliant method acting Mrs Hicks felt that I wasn’t cut out to be an actor and simply having the loudest voice and a wicked way with a wooden sword wasn’t quite enough to get me into RADA or the RSC.

Beshrew’ - what a funny word; I haven’t trodden the boards since.

Sometimes I wonder what life would have been like if I’d remembered my lines (it couldn’t have been the onset of pre-pubescent Alzheimer’s could it?). Could I have become a great character actor if I’d not almost removed poor Malcolm’s eye with my sword? Would I have grown to be a standing-ovationed Falstaff, or a Fagin, or even a Fu Manchu? Could I have been in westerns, or gangsters, or maybe - just maybe - swashbucklers? What if I’d been given a standing ovation not because I managed to bloody Malcolm’s eye, or because I had the loudest voice, but because I’d moved each and every child in the hall to tears and laughter with the brilliance of my acting ability – suspending their disbelief for a few minutes with the my dazzlingly believable performance.

What if. What if. What if…

Maybe I should have had the leg removed in true method acting style – that’s what Johnny Depp would have done.

Oh well -- I bought this snow globe recently at a market stall. It reminded me of my brief and unsuccessful acting career – as dead as the pirate inside it.

Now how does it go? ‘Beshrew me heart it goes against the grain…

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Pots, plants, and planning…

Even with the warm sunshine of last weekend there was no disguising that autumn is here. Time for some forward planning and for the first time ever, as the summer garden dwindles to gone, that’s what I did.

I usually plant bulbs for the spring but don’t really bother much with autumn and winter planting – well, when I say ‘much’, I really mean ‘at all’. This year though I’ve decided it’s time for a change – well, when I say ‘decided’, I really mean had change ‘forced on me’.

Rather than just plant the bulbs that I got from the Factory Shop (two twenty-five packs of mixed daffs and narcissus for three quid instead of £1.99 each – a real bargain as each pack had twenty seven and twenty nine bulbs respectively) in pots and wait for the spring, I planted some cyclamen (four for £1.99 at Home Bargains) to give some autumn colour, and some winter pansies for -- well for the winter. To hold it all together I also planted a few variegated ivies and some small conifers in the pots to add a bit of height and interest.

I got this idea from a poster at the garden centre explaining: ‘how to add height and interest to your autumn and winter pots’, although I like to think that I’d have come to this master plan myself. What forced my hand was the ‘six mixed ivies for a fiver’ offer at Lidl and a couple of ‘special offer’ yellow green conifers at the garden centre for less than two quid each.

The Factory Shop, Home Bargains, Lidl? The times are certainly changing. Time was I’d buy my plants from ‘The Posh Garden Suppliers – highest prices guaranteed’.

Still, I expect that they’ll grow just the same and all-in-all I’m very pleased with how my planned, planted, pots look. Square pots by the front and back doors, an ornate pot by the gates, troughs on the raised beds, woven hanging baskets hanging - all potted, planted, planned, and ready for the autumn and winter and spring. I even planted miniature narcissus in the baskets.

Pots are good. Pots can be moved when summer begins and replaced with bedding, they are versatile.

Plants are good. Plants grow and blossom – unless you let the insects and slugs get to them first.

Plans are good. Planning gives you something to work towards, something to look forward to, an aim.

Pots, plants, and planning – there are some answers in here somewhere. I’ve just got to find them that’s all.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Sonnet to Sonia...

Hi, Meet Sonia.

Sonia is one of my reoccurring doodles, a bit like a reoccurring dream but not and moreso. One minute she isn’t there and the next she’s squeezed herself out of my subconscious, crawled down my arm, and dripped onto the page from my pen.

Sonia’s been around for at least ten years in one form or another. The fist time she appeared she was a lot darker, more disturbing. For one thing those little man dolls that dangle all around her were once skeletons .They’ve spruced themselves up a bit, and these days they’re almost ‘exec’ in their suits and blank-look faces, much better than the bones they once were, their deadheads grinning with empty sockets and slack toothed maws.

She’s lost the corpusculent, blotched, blood stained skin that she once had. But the rah-rah skirt and her striped top remain constant - and although she’s had different hair styles at times, she’s more woman and less banshee than she used to be.

She must be softening (in the way an over-ripe cheese softens) in her old age.

Sonia is the Cow Poke’s sweetheart, despite much of her being mainly wormy and slithery and that silly, spring-curled hair-do. I don’t know why the Cow Poke finds her so attractive, after all she’s self replicating. I can’t stand self-replication personally. Making everything and everyone around you a replica of yourself, the same, no difference - bending the whole world to conform to your will. No wonder everything turns out bland. Surely you must have known that it would - but then it's easier that way isn't it.

But I digress. Note to myself: avoid internal conversation.

Sonia. Spawning herself from the Twinty-Twee, over and over, repeatedly; she has the most annoying scream… Neeeeeeee! But then love is blind so they say, and he loves her a-plenty to write her poetry. Yes, love is blind for all to see – explaining perhaps her telescopic occularity.

Now, THAT’S got me in the mood…

Sonnet for Sonia

From fairest creature my desire increase,
That thereby Sonia’s blush might never die,
But as the riper she does in time increase,
Her wormed heir might bear her memory:
But thou contracted to thine own all -seeing eye,
Feed'st thy light's own flame with self-substantial fuel,
Making more of famine where still a famine lies,
Thy self thy foe, to thy sweet self too cruel:
Thou that art now the world's foul ornament,
And only herald to the plagued spring,
Within thine own bud growest thy discontent,
As, dangling curls, dost replicate and sing:
Pity me, pity - forsake the Twinty Twee,
To Eeeeeeee world's due, thou scream’st repeatedly.

Penned by the Cow Poke with a doff of his Stetson to W. Shakespeare

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Simple is better...

I am so quickly coming to the conclusion that simple is better.

As a case in point this is my trusty and much used stovetop expresso maker. It’s small, was very cheap (under a tenner), simply made - so there’s very little to break, it’s easy-peasy to use, and, oh yes, it brews a better cup of coffee than the huge electric device that broke after less than a year and cost – well I won’t tell you what it cost.

Yes, simpler is better. When I want a coffee all I do is unscrew the aluminium base, fill it with water, spoon some ground coffee into the colanderised coffee chamber, re-screw the pouring coffee pot chamber back onto the base, and stand it on a lighted stove.

Five minutes or so later and voilĂ ! Perfect coffee.

The Moca Expresso (that’s what it’s called) was invented in 1933 by an Italian named Bialetti. The water is heated by the stove flame and as the water molecules gain momentum (kinetic energy) they collide with each other. As the temperature builds so does the kinetic energy, and there are more and faster collisions which increases the pressure in the pot, forcing the water upwards, through the colander coffee chamber, and up into the pouring chamber. The thick cast aluminium pot is made to withstand the additional pressure - that’s why it has that distinctive (and structurally stronger) ten sided shape and isn’t simply round.

Simplicity itself – well as long as you ignore the science.

As you can see I’ve had mine years, I had to make a wire mesh thing to get it to stand on the stove easily, but it works well and my Moca Express washes clean in a minute.

Simple is better.

I’m really going to hang on to that thought and see where it can take me.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Percy the pig...

Here he is, my friendly pig. He always comes to see me when I pass, looking for his apple. He’s such an intelligent pig.

When I was a very young boy, pre-school, the highlight of my visits to my grandfather’s house in Lincolnshire was feeding the pig in the brick-built sty at the bottom of the garden. All the country people kept a ‘home’ pig back then, fattening it up throughout the year and taking it to the butchers in the autumn for slaughter ready to cure, smoke, salt, pickle and press ready for Christmas.

He was invariably called Percy. He always loved to have his ear scratched. I don’t know how many different Percy ears I scratched as a boy, but several. My granddad would stand me on the pigsty wall so that I could watch him eat his turnips, mangel wurzels, and kitchen scraps all mixed together in a swill. Pigs were cheap to keep, a recycling machine, and at the end of it provided such good meals throughout the winter.

Black pudding, brawn, pickled trotters, crispy scratchings; none of the Percy was wasted - my grandmother, a trained cook, made sure of that.

Then one day when I visited there was no Percy. His sty was vacant, his metal trough empty - my granddad couldn’t get a licence.

The authorities, not content with stopping home slaughter years before, now required ‘home’ pig owners to buy a licence and undertake regular inspections before they could keep a pig at home. They claimed that it was about hygiene standards, food regulations, the welfare of the pig – but it put a stop to home rearing, something that had gone on for hundreds of years.

Visiting granddad wasn’t the same after that. Percy’s sty remained empty, the kitchen scraps went in the bin. Thank God my grandmother kept chickens.

Friday, 8 October 2010

Funny how things change...

I was bought this snow globe by an old friend many years ago now.

It’s a bleak thing – a stream, some leafless winter trees. It has a button that can be pressed to turn on the sound of the wind and an echoing owl calling far away in the distance, adding to the desolation. There are a few lines by Basho the Japanese poet etched into the silver stand: ‘Winter solitude – in a world of one colour the sound of the wind.’

I used to find this globe soothing. The sound of the wind and owl were comforting, the bareness of the trees beautiful and sparse, the stream enchanting, the words of Basho meaningful.

These days though I find the whole thing disturbing. I can barely look at it - funny how things change.

Partly it’s because the water has ‘bloomed’, becoming tainted and discoloured by algae that has spoiled the cleanliness of the simple scene. I won’t ponder on that statement for too long, it would take me somewhere I don't want to go just now, and besides it's far more than simply the colour of the water.

What I once found interesting in the globe I now find unsettling. For me this globe has come to represent something sinister, an ending. I used to think of this globe as dreamlike, these days it's nightmarish. I can’t bear to look into it. When I shake the snow I think of radioactive fallout. When I look in the stream I see pollution. The sound of the wind is desolate, the owl cries out in pain in a wilderness. It’s diseased. Wrong.

I don’t want it around me any more. This is the last that anyone will ever see of it.

I have buried it in a place that only I know and I’m leaving it there. I don’t want it haunting me forever.

It is the snow globe isn't it?

Funny how things change.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

Doldrums - a poem with palindromes...

Today is national Poetry day. I know because it was mentioned on radio 4 this morning as I drove along the M62.

Apparently we should all take some time out to read a little poetry on this very special day. Of course being me I had to go one better and decided that to celebrate this earth shattering event that I would write some.

I tried throughout the day, rhyming this, metering that, but nothing would come – I almost began to think that I’d gone all Paul McCartney. It was as if my 'oh so' poetic nature had deserted me leaving me on a far too flat sea stuck in the doldrums.


Well maybe some wouldn’t call it poetry, but if I read it it then it counts and you can tick the ‘done’ box on the ‘did you read a poem on national poetry day?' box.


Sometimes when I’m stuck in the Doldrums

Waiting for the breeze, a wind to fill my unfurled heart

I think of palindromic symmetry

Words for wind, a deed to make a start…

A dog, a plan, a canal, pagoda

A Fool, a tool, a Pool - LOOPALOOTALOOFA!

A dank, sad nap. Eels sleep and ask nada.

Are we not drawn onward to new era?

Mr. Owl Ate My Metal Worm.

Do geese see god?

Model truth: turtledom.

"Do nine men interpret?" "Nine men," I nod.

Strap on no parts.

I, Rasputin, knit up Sari.

Strays simple help, missy arts.

I'm a lass, a salad, new end alas as salami.

So I’m out of the Doldrums

Wording the breeze that fills unfurled heart

The magic of palindromic symmetry

A spell for the wind – stratagem, megatarts.

You may tick that box now. National poetry day over. Job done.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Pick up sticks…

When I’m out walking the beaches I can’t resist picking up the sticks washed up by the sea. I’ll often fill a carrier bag or two, taking them home and storing them in my shed.

Sometimes I use them as kindling for a fire, enjoying the magical blue flames that the dried salt conjures. Other times I make things from them, once a mirror, another time a replacement fence – quite rough that one, just some interwoven sticks in front of the old fence. It looked good though.

This time I thought ‘fish’.

I must find something better than a button for the eye though.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

A pot of positive...

This is the pot where I’ve planted some sunshine ready for next year.

It doesn’t look much like sunshine at the moment but when we are through the winter and the soil begins to warm this big pot of home-made bulb fibre it will blaze with the yellows and oranges of over sixty daffodils and narcissus. At least that is my hope.

Yes, they are planted much too closely together, but it will be such a picture - as my mother would say.

I’m planning for the future, waiting for my nasturtiums to finish and the seed pods to dry. It’ll soon be time to collect the seed from this season’s flower heads ready for next year, placing each type in a small paper envelope and sealing it with sticky tape. I do this every year, sometimes with success, sometimes with hardly any at all. But you never know what can happen unless you try, this year I’ve had some fantastic Scabious from last year’s seed.

And I’ve cut my strawberry runners from the parent plant and they seem to be doing well. In a few weeks time I’ll pot them on and put them in a cold frame, well it can’t do any harm to protect them a little from the winter’s frost. I’ll plant them out in the spring. I may try growing some in hanging baskets next year, and I’m going to try a couple in empty plastic water bottles which I’m going to hang in my greenhouse – once I’ve erected it.

And why all of this? I often wonder myself. I guess I'm just getting on with it.

Maybe it’s to feel part of that cycle that nature moves to. Maybe it’s about creating something beautiful or in the case of the strawberries delicious, from almost nothing. Maybe it’s about feeling useful, able to make something, anything, happen - something simple and easy and good. Or maybe it’s about planning for the future and having something to look forward to, hope for.

Truth is – does it matter why? I'm just doing it. It makes me feel better. Isn’t that enough?

An anonymous commenter on my blog left this for me last night, a quote from ‘the late great Stephen Bruton’ as my anonymous follower put it -

"'...what makes you grow old is replacing hope with regret…'” and Anonymous went on to warn "Be careful. Keep the balance. Or it will eat you up inside."

Brrrrr.... Time to plant some more daffodils I think.

Monday, 4 October 2010

GCSE’s, bus stops, speeches, dreams - and wishes and whisperers…

A grainy picture taken at the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester last Thursday evening. I had to use the camera on my phone; we were told cameras weren’t allowed. It didn’t stop some of the other parents with their zoom lenses and flashes though. Still, it captures the moment and shows off Holly’s new red hair well enough.

There was music (piano, violin, flute) readings, photographic slide shows, a long promotional speech from the Headmistress. I already knew that Holly’s school was in the UK’s top twenty and that they had a 98% pass rate at ‘B’ and above for GCSE. All of the parents must have known, we're reminded often enough when we get the requests (demands) for 'donations'. But hey, what's another twenty minutes or so, especially when followed by another guest speaker, a woman who works for customs and excise and has an OBE, Tamsin Somebodyorother.

And then the girls filed up one by one to receive their certificates – all one hundred and eight of them.

Tamsin Whatshername’s speech was actually very good. Her messages were clear and she expressed them well - be yourself, follow your dreams, and have a go at what you want no matter what other people are saying that you should do – listen to your conscience, do what you think is right and ignore the whisperers.

I hope that Holly was listening as she sat there waiting to get her ‘certificate’ (not her certificate at all really, but a piece of paper ‘in lieu’ of the real certificates that hadn’t arrived in time). I hope that she was listening hard.

I was listening, listening to every vowel and consonant and wishing that Tamsin Thingummybob had been the speaker at my school back when I was sixteen and so full of promise and hope. Back then I could have changed my world, I could so easily have realised my dreams before I started listening to the whisperers; letting them have too much control, too much say, of and in me. It could have been so different if (back then in that time that lives on in my dreams sometimes) I’d followed those dreams rather than storing them up for now.

Don’t worry I’m not going to say ‘I could have been a contender’, but maybe I could - don't quite know a contender for what though.

I was still listening as Tamsin Whatdyermacallit finished her talk with this. I’d heard it before, it always strikes a resonating chord, and this time was no exception. I hate Mark Twain sometimes.

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Damn you Samuel Langhorne Clemens.

If only I’d known my dreams back then and what they could become. I know them better now, I know better now, but I think I may have missed the dream realisation bus. Maybe I’ve hung around for too long at the DR bus stop whispering with the whisperers, not listening to myself and listening to them instead.

As Holly shook Tamsin Whateverhernamewas’s hand and received her bogus certificate I made a wish, a few actually. I wished that Holly never gets held up at the DR bus stop listening to the whisperers, I wished that she knows her dreams, follows them, and dreams them into reality, I wished that she catch the trade winds in her sails, explores, dreams, and discovers, and finally I wished that I’d be able to still remember Tamsin’s other name when I got home.

Oh well, as long as my other wishes come true.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Some tangled string...

Just look at that tangle. How did it get like that? And so much of it – yards and yards. It must have started out all straight and neat, purposeful. Over time, getting muddled and messed and ending up in a knotted, tangled, mystery to be disentangled with patience.

Not even knowing how it ended up as it did.

How to unravel it? Tease out the knots and tangles and make it useable again. Useable will do, not as good as new, nothing could ever do that, it’s been too long on the waves - but of use, able to fulfil a purpose.

Maybe if I could find an end I could make a start.

Or a beginning.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Meet the band…

Believe it or not these four are worth around a hundred pounds each, considerably more as a set - not bad considering I bought them for under a fiver. It isn’t their value that interests me though; it’s the story behind them.

This isn’t just any old jazz band, these are the Jazz Hounds, the one and only original Jazz Hounds – Johnny (Dinks) Dunn on cornet, Sam (Almond) Thomas on percussion, Cole (Sax Boy) Hawkins on saxophone, and Mr. Willy (The Lion) Smith on piano, that’s him standing at the mike, they couldn’t fit a piano into the globe I guess.

They were the original band for the blues and jazz singer Mamie Smith. Later she had a much bigger band, but this is her original quartet. Back in 1920 Mamie was the first black blues singer to be recorded, and her version of ‘Crazy Blues’ sold over two million records for ‘Okeh Records’.

Mamie was a vaudeville singer, dancer, pianist, actress, and some say started out as agentleman’s companion’ back in Cincinnati, Ohio where she was born. Whether or not this is true, she certainly had a taste for the wild life and was no stranger to drink, drugs, and the weakness that would eventually lay her low, men.

When a young saxophonist, sixteen year old Cole Hawkins joined the band, Mamie couldn’t help herself. Despite at thirty-eight, being twice his age she started an affair with him almost immediately - dropping her pianist and lover of the moment, Willy Smith, like a hot sweet potato.

This didn’t please the Lion at all. Up until then Mamie had been his girl and he’d hoped that they were going to marry. What he didn’t know was that Mamie had been sleeping with Dinks and Almond on and off for years as well, and Sax Boy was just the latest of her conquests.

One night whilst the band was performing at Baron Wilkin's Little Savoy Club, Willy (The Lion) Smith stopped playing his piano and, knocking over his piano stool in his haste and frenzy, pulled a pistol from his black tuxedo jacket and shot young Cole dead through the eye. He was tried for murder in the first degree and went to the electric chair at the Almira correctional facility a year later.

Things were never the same after that. Mamie continued to sing with a new and bigger band, but as the years passed her fame and popularity faded and eventually her public forgot her. She died in New York in 1946 and is buried in Trinity Church Cemetery, just up from Harlem.

Sometimes when I walk past my snow globes I could swear I hear the sound of a jazz band playing and from somewhere in the distance, the dusky, answering, voice of a woman - ‘Now the doctor's gonna do all that he can. But what you're gonna need is an undertaker man. I ain't had nothin' but bad news. Now I got the crazy blues.

Play on you old Jazz Hounds you, play on.