Tuesday, 30 November 2010
Monday, 29 November 2010
I’m not an engineer. I don’t work in metal although it has run in my family blood for generations. The closest I’ve ever come to welding is an aborted attempt to solder a lamp stand back together again. Sad really, particularly as I come from a long line of blacksmiths – the original alchemists, making and shaping metal out of base ore, moulding and forging the future on their anvils.
I popped in to see my Uncle Bob at his workshop last week. A frosty early morning start and a hunt for his location, worth waiting for though as behind the battered wooden door was a world straight out of my memory.
Machines. Engineering machines. Machines that cut and drill, shave and shape, bend and bevel. How I love those machines even though I have no idea really what they do. I love the handles and the wheels, the pulleys and screws, but most of all I love the smell. That smell is like no other; a pungent oil and metal engineering smell, slightly hot, slightly dangerous, sharp and clean.
I breathed it in, deep into my lungs, the smell nudging a memory and I was back in my grandfather's forge standing in the red glow of the charcoal, watching him twist a post for the church gate, listening to the clang of the hammer on the anvil, the sparks flying out into the air and cooling to a dull, hot, grey as the fell to the grimy floor.
“Stand back at a safe distance, stand back.” He said.
And I moved closer to see, enjoying the danger.
Uncle Bob makes gate and railings. Gates, railings, fire baskets, anything that can be made from metal, he’s a handy bloke, he mills new gears and ratchets from lumps of steel, setting his marvellous machines in motion and tending them as they make metal machined perfection. He’s well known in the area, trusted, called on to make the broken things work again, making impossibly complex fittings from two old fusty halves. Uncle Bob’s an engineer, a good one and as I watched him I thought, ‘Can he fix it?’ and replied in an instant, ‘Yes, he can.’
I stood and drank the mug of coffee Bob had made for me as his pet feral cat, well fed and kept warm in his workshop, ran nervously around. We chatted. I could almost feel the waves of contentment and pride coming from Bob as he showed me his machines, the boxes of hundreds of huge drill bits, the milling gear, the drilling machine, and all around the twisted metal swarf ribbons, sharp and curled and well remembered by my bleeding boy fingers in those days of long ago.
“Don’t play with them. They’ll cut your fingers to shreds.” He said, an echo.
I picked them up anyway, not minding the cuts.
Bob was a soldier. Engineers I think. I expect that’s where he learnt his trade. I remember him in his twenties, smart in his uniform, stood to attention. I remember the fishing rod he made from an old tank aerial. I remember him taking me fishing, then rifle shooting. I didn’t catch anything. I was a lousy shot.
Remembering I gazed around his workshop, envious - what a wonderful world Bob had created. This workshop, like a big shed crammed so full with machines, his toys, his livelihood, so tight on space, and every boy’s dream, every man’s desire – a mega-shed in which to play and make stuff.
As I drove towards my meeting and Bob disappeared back inside to stroke his cat and finish the railings that he was welding into place on Saturday morning, making ready for his two o’clock trip to quote for a gate that needed altering up by the old tennis courts I thought -- well done Bob. Well done Mr. Robert Duff, you self-made, content, clever and oh so very lucky man.
Sunday, 28 November 2010
Winter’s here, sudden and early, the earliest for seventeen years they say, and cold, very cold. The ground is frozen hard and there is snow on the mountains with more threatening. The clouds form quickly, huge stacked clouds with that strange yellow-pink cast that only snow clouds have.
And the leaves have gone from the trees all of a sudden, the few that remain brown and brittle, soon to mush to mould. I don’t know when they fell. I’m sure they were still on the branches last week, gold, red, amber - lighting up the landscape, keeping winter from turning his icy corner. Well, that corner’s turned. There’s no going back. He’s here.
Listening to the radio they say he isn’t going to be a particularly hard on us this winter. They say this winter is likely to be dry. Well, the trees, and berries, and birds show a different forecast. We’ll see who’s got it right their machines or Mother Nature. Either way the birds were everywhere this weekend, looking for food, needing water. We had four long tailed tits on our feeder at lunch, pink and white, long black forked tails twitching.
Anyway, I know who I’m putting my money on. Here comes the frost, the ice, the cold, and (if we are lucky) just the right amount of snow. I’d like a white Christmas, not too white, but waking up on Christmas morning to snow is such a magic.
Saturday, 27 November 2010
I am not a fan of Sir Elton John. In fact, I can’t stand his music. ‘Your Song’, ‘Rocket Man’, ‘GYBR’, and all the rest (particularly his more recent Disney rubbish) leaves me cold and I can’t even begin to comment on ‘Goodbye English Rose’. No, I’m not a fan, so despite this post’s title I’m not going to mention him.
This is my smallest snow globe. It’s about the same size as a thimble. I found it at a car boot sale one summer’s day in Exmouth,
Of course I had to haggle for her. I found her hiding away at the bottom of a chipped china bowl, buried beneath a mess of broken jewellery, keys, stopped forever watches, single earrings, French franc coins, and all manner of draw-tipped detritus. I offered ten pence for her. The car-booter wanted a pound. I offered twenty pence. She wouldn’t take less than fifty. I offered twenty five. We agreed on thirty.
If you look closely at the bottom left of the picture you’ll see some red. I’ve often wondered what it is. It’s raised and painted so it is intentional. I think it may be an item of clothing, not a scarf or gloves, and not a coat - it isn’t big enough for that. I don’t think it’s a handbag, it hasn’t got the shape, and I can’t imagine a ballet dancer dancing around her handbag except maybe at a ballerina’s discotheque.
Only thirty pence for my flirty, winky-eyed, Spanish ballerina – what a bargain. I don’t know why I so sure she’s Spanish, but I am. Maybe it’s the dark hair, or the red tutu, perhaps it’s the flamenco style headdress. Either way, when I proudly showed my thirty pence purchase to Gaynor she called it tacky, sniffily commented that my ballerina was obviously a tart, and then walked away in a huff leaving me open-mouth and bemused. Now tell me how can a tiny plastic woman inside a bubble of water possibly be a tart? And why walk off like that? Just how does woman logic work?
I’ve never pointed out the item of clothing to Gaynor, It’s probably best not to draw her attention to it. Who knows, she might get all huffy again. In fact, I’ve never mentioned Cristal (yes, I gave her a name) to Gaynor since I bought her. Instead I keep her tucked at the back of my highest display shelves hidden from criticism, my own little private dancer.
Cristal? You want to know why I call her Cristal? I named her after Linda Cristal who played Victoria Cannon in the High Chaparral. Well, boys of all ages have dreams.
Don’t tell Gaynor though she’d probably call her a tart and walk off in a huff.
Thursday, 25 November 2010
“There's no limit to what he can do. He could destroy the earth... If anything should happen to me you must go to Gort, you must say these words, "Klaatu barada nikto", please repeat that.”
I was going to write tonight about my boyhood obsession with robots, particularly with Gort - “Klaatu barada nikto” - it’s a phrase originating from the 1951 science fiction film The Day the Earth Stood Still. Klaatu is the name of the humanoid alien in the film - Gort is his robot. The line above is spoken by Klaatu in the film as a warning. I was going to use it to introduce the three wind-up toy robots I have on my shelf in the cellar and how I’m thinking of getting more - searching boot sales, scouring e-bay - until I have another of my collections.
I’ve mentioned before that I like to collect. You know I do, I’m currently making you endure snow globes, but I haven’t started a new collection for years and clockwork robots (of which I used to have many) seem like the right thing at this time – a link to my past, back to my childhood, back to when my world was still.
I spent tonight in the town of my birth with my parents and my uncle Bob and auntie Mu. Muriel, the youngest of my mum’s sisters and Bob her soldier husband, have lived and remained in Thame their whole lives whilst my immediate family have scattered to the winds like so much sand blown out-and-away from a badly made sandcastle. Thame is the place where I was born. It’s a nice town, pretty, changing but not changed at all. It’s the place where I learnt about growing and (I realise now too late) feel at my most comfortable. It has a feeling of home, familiarity, almost like it’s been standing still for me.
I haven’t returned much over the years, no more than a half a dozen times – a school reunion, a party, a few fleeting visits often ‘under cover’ without announcement - simply returning to my old memories on my own, a fleeting, incognito, drive through my past, looking for who I was or might have been.
"Klaatu barada nikto." There is no limit to what I might have done I tell myself. Yes, but you’ve reached your limit my other self replies – if only I could make my world stand still again.
Last night the memories flowed and fell from me, the laughter, shared recollection, misremembered disagreement, fun and follies - all welcome as I remembered my ‘back thens’. And as I sat in the Falcon, a pleasant pub and the only one that I’d not been in before, drinking beer in front of the open fire it struck me - how did I get so far from home?
Sometimes I think I’ve travelled far, come a long way, progressed, even reached for some stars and almost touched them. But most of the time I don’t. How did I get so far from home?
I have a robot upon my shelf. He has a key and if you wind him he moves robotically forward a step at a time. He clumps along with a whir, forwards, forwards, forwards, mechanically plodding on. There is no limit to what he might do - at least until his key winds down and he stops.
Perhaps he should go home.
Klaatu barada nicto…
Wednesday, 24 November 2010
I was talking with friends this morning about how annoying it is when you are driving and you see a good photograph through your windscreen. If only the windscreen were a camera lens. It usually happens on a motorway, usually miles from a service station and even when there’s a service station nearby it’s usually enclosed by screening trees so you can’t get the shot that you wanted. Well sometimes there’s only one thing for it and you have to pull to the side of the road, snap away oblivious of the traffic that’s speeding past, praying that the police don’t come along and book you. Well, I wasn’t going to let this one get away.
And that’s when another conversation started, one of my internal conversations.
Nraaaarmmmmmmmm - big lorry that.
I don’t quite know where I stand on God, and I’m pretty sure that he won’t know where he stands on me if he exists at all, but sometimes the play of light and space suggests that there might be something. It might not be a supreme being. It probably isn’t a being at all – but something’s at work. There are too many patterns and perfections for there not to be something.
Nraaaarmmmmmmmm – even bigger that one.
Maybe it’s simply billions of years of change - atoms and particles, Fermions, Quarks, Leptons, Bosons - all lining up again and again in new and inventive ways until they’ve managed perfection - a sort of particle evolution, order out of chaos. All chance, coincidence, and happenstance, or perhaps there really is something to this ‘God particle’ buzz, maybe the theoretical Higgs Boson and that Hadron Collider particle accelerator thingy in
Honnnkkkkkkkkkkkk – okay, mind your own business. I’ll only be a minute.
All chance and coincidence, Things lining up at the right time out of disorder, making order, and is there really any difference between High Physics and High Religion? Now, I know that religion rather obviously requires a real leap of faith, no evidence required, but Physics at this elevated level is theory waiting to be proven. It works mathematically, explains an effect, but nobody really knows if The HB really exists so isn’t that just as big a leap of faith?
Nraaaarmmmmmmmm click – that looks to be a good one.
What do I know anyway? Like I said I don’t know where I stand on God and I don’t really have much of an inkling about particle physics either – as Holly and her ‘A’ level physics homework will testify. I only got out of the car to take a photograph of this lovely early winter’s end of day. But as I stand here, traffic rushing past, I really do get the impression that something is going on. I only have to look up into the sky to see that.
Nraaaarmmmmmmmm click – last one.
God or particles? What’s the difference? People have been killed by both. Talking of which, it’s time to get back into the car. Off we go.
I didn’t want a debate. All I wanted was a photograph. Next time I stop I’ll try not to think too much about it. Perhaps I won’t even stop at all. No, that’ll never happen – there’s too much momentary beauty, be it metaphysical or physical, design, chance, or coincidence, to let it slip away unnoticed.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
It is all repeated repetition.
So, back to the desert and beyond towards the keeper of the cakes.
Poor Cow Poke, he wasn’t a bad hombre, in fact he was in general a golly-gosh, giddy-up, god-goggling, graciously good hombre. Perhaps a little burnt bad around the edges, but generally gratifyingly good. It wasn’t his will to be grudgingly guiltily guided by that grubby, greasy, grandiose, god-forsaken, gloriously grandstanding Count Flavius. It was all circumstance, kismet, fate, chance. Yes, chance. You remember chance - there is only chance. Life is chance. Death is chance. Chance is chance. It is all chance, and after all Flavious had Sonia and The Cow Poke’s only chance was to use the Ju-Ju to get her back. The Cow Poke was sorry, seriously sorry, sadly shamed, shaky, scruples sacrificed - but his love for Sonia was sacrosanct.Flavious wanted the Ju-Ju voodoo-hoodoo and in return he had promised to return Sonia. So this was no time to hang around – they had a boat to catch. They journeyed by foot, by giraffe, by parachute - through snow, and wind, and rain. They traversed the dusty deserts, manipulated many mountains, ran rolling river rapids, sailed several salty seas - until at last they came to the
Nobody knew when or how the
It is said that where there is a will there is a way. But will is like time and chance. Life is will. Death is will. Will is will. It is all will. Sadly this ‘it is said’ does not apply to the Ju-Ju. His will, whilst wholeheartedly wholesome to others must never be willed as weapon against the Ju-Ju’s enemies – even Flavius. The Holy Peanut must never use the hoodoo-voodoo to save himself – so it is written, and said, and sometimes drawn - Amen.
Flavius danced his devilish dance of joy when the Cow Poke delivered him up the holy kernel king. At last the hoodoo-voodoo heart was his and without a single, solitary, seconds hesitation he released Sonia who, with an excited ‘Neeeeeeeeeeee’, wormed her way all over the Cow Poke as worldly worm women will.
The deal was done, hand-over complete. The Cow Poke had his Sonia, Flavius had his Ju-Ju hoodoo-voodoo heart, and everyone was hilariously happy… But just at that joyous juncture, that meaningful mirthful moment, a familiar figure emerged from behind the stoic stony stones of solitary solitude. Who is this? This may change everything or nothing.
I repeat. It is all repetition…
Monday, 22 November 2010
Sometimes out of nowhere the clouds seem to come tumbling in all at once.
They tumbled in this weekend, a combination of all sorts that I prefer not to talk about in detail, but for a while things got very stormy, almost to the point of no return. Big, black, brooding clouds that suddenly opened up into some terrible weather.
My sky is rarely clear. I wish it wasn’t so, but I’m not one of those lucky people who seem to be surrounded by blue sky and the few clouds that do appear for them are mostly small, white, and fluffy. There are always dark clouds threatening on my horizon. I’ve often wondered why, how my bad weather started.
I’ve been in some bad weather for a while now. Oh, I have an occasional sunny spell - but most of the time things are overcast, grey, rain on the way or already arrived. The storms have become more frequent, gales practically the norm, and the squalls are almost constant - their clouds scudding across my horizon. Yes, my general synopsis is generally falling rapidly, visibility poor, moderate to rough, occasionally gale force 8, variable later – so, not the best of forecasts. Oh, I’ll come through it eventually I expect. Don't they say that every cloud has a silver lining?
Looking out across to sea I saw the storm approaching - big black clouds in the distance, the thin line of blue overhead disappearing rapidly as the front rushed at me. Sea, deep blue to black, and relatively still. The calm before a storm maybe? The sky continuing to darken as it enclosed the wide horizon and made it smaller. That’s the thing with storms, they draw you inside, diminish you - make you smaller and less full size. Storms take away control, whipping you into their frenzy, toss you around until you become a part of them and you can’t stop. You’re in a loop. You want to break out but you can’t, you’re stuck.
Laughter. Sometimes that does it. Laughter and the so-meant-to-be-angry gesture cautiously tossed onto the thick pile of the rug so as not to break and spill. Yes, laugh! The storm is gone.
Above the quickly changing sea a ball of rainbow light appears. It hangs gently for a minute or two shimmering in the distance and glowing from an internal source it lightens, shade on shade, through to white before fading completely. It isn’t a rainbow – there is no bow, simply a ball. Perhaps - after all, a silver lining.
A silver lining? I’ll keep my weather eye open, who knows when I'll need one again.
Sunday, 21 November 2010
Okay, I know that I go on about the bargains I buy from Wilkinsons’s but this weekend I had another – a packet of fifty mixed onion sets for two pence, that’s a ninety-nine percent reduction. Yes, two pence! I bought two packets. Fourpence for one hundred onions, now that’s a bargain.
I’ve never really had much luck with onions and I think that I may have discovered why. I’ve been planting then too late, waiting for the spring to plunge them into the soil when really I should have been treating them like a daffodil and planting them in the autumn. All I had to do was read the packet, but of course I didn’t and now that I think about it that makes sense, after all they are a bulb really.
I’ve planted them in the same soil and pots that I used for my outdoor tomatoes now that they are completely over. I’m not sure how successful I’m going to be but to be honest if I only get twenty onions out of it I’ll be hugely in profit and very happy. As I’ve said before there’s nothing quite like home grown anything, even if home grown crops don’t always look as good as supermarket bought.
I’m going give it a go anyway, there’s nothing to lose. I may not know my onions very well – reds, whites, Spanish, shallots, or how to grow them, but it’s worth a try. I’ll let you know how I get on.
Friday, 19 November 2010
So this is the snow globe that I bought in
Pure tourist joy.
We walked up the Eiffel tower and had a coffee, took a boat along the Seine by night, floated past the scale model of
For those few days I dreamed of being an artist like the ones who hung their tacky paintings on the railings by the side of the
Almost a dream now, so long ago.
I’ve no clear idea why my Parisian honeymoon should pop into my head today. I expect it’s because today is a day for memories. Today another part of my life was placed in my recollection box along with Paris - places and people, good times and bad times, friends and rivals.
Last day today. Not the same building, a handful of the people I crossed pens with remaining, but still the
Almost a dream now, so long ago. I shall miss it. I shall miss them.
Oh well, we’ll always have
Thursday, 18 November 2010
I filled up with fuel this morning (early morning jaunt to
No caps? No hoods? And is that together or either/or? And why not? After all garage forecourts are invariably the windiest places on earth. Why shouldn’t I protect my ears with a hood, or, cap, or a Stetson for that matter? If I put on my Stetson (not that I have one) and pulled it low over my eyes would I be refused petrol? And on what grounds? Are hats as dangerous as mobile phones are to petrol pumps, (which isn’t dangerous at all), and just what about that eating thing?
This is blatant Hatism.
I stood at the pump, nozzle in hand, remembering my grandfather who (when he was living) wouldn’t have been seen dead at a petrol pump without his cap, or anywhere else outdoors for that matter. He was never to be seen without a sensible flat tweed cap, at a nice jaunty angle, on the top of his flat tweed head - unless of course he was driving a sensible steam engine in which case he would wear a sensible dark blue denim engineman’s cap.
And what about my uncle Len who always wore his duffel coat in the winter – Hood turned up over his head all monklike! Well, it’s blooming cold for a milkman at four in the morning. Would he really be expected not to wear the coat’s hood when he was filling up his milk float? (not that he would have needed to as it was powered by 24 car batteries).
And what about our postmen and policemen, nuns and beekeepers, brides and bridegrooms, soldiers on home leave, sailors on shore leave, mortarboarded teachers on continual leave, and those men who deal with radiation leaks in science fiction films from the 1950’s? Will they all be expected to take their hats off before filling up too?
Time was when everyone used to wear a hat, or a cap, or a headscarf, outside. So what changed and just what did happen to all those hats?
I remember a high street full of hats, not everybody wore one, but Dr Beer wore a Fedora, Steve Cummersby a Trilby, an awful lot of men wore flat caps, and it wasn’t unusual to see the odd bowler – especially on market days with the farming folk were in town. For years I wore a school cap, and most mothers seemed to wear headscarves most of the time. Nearly all of the older ladies wore hats (mostly shapeless) for shopping, and no self-respecting woman would be seen at a wedding unless she was sporting some whimsical head creation made from feathers, flowers, and a little lace bow.
It seems, if I remember correctly, that all this started to disappear around the time of the Beatles. Up until ‘The Fab Four’ came along everyone had worn hats all, of the time, for hundreds of years! Perhaps it really was ‘Hats off to Larry’. (Google it)
Recently I’ve noticed a lot of younger people have started to wear hats again. Well, when I say hats I mean a collection of various tea cosy type things, mountaineering gear, strange dead animal affairs with ear muffs, and of course the inevitable hoody hoods from down da hood, blud, hoods. Problem is most of the time they seem to be wearing them indoors, hardly the done thing for a chap. Whilst baseball caps, all the rage a few years back with both youngsters and politicians alike, now seem to be the headwear of choice for sixty-something men who accessorise them with trainers.
So, you can’t wear a hat at the petrol pumps because the cameras won’t be able to record your face. How like Big Brother to introduce a ban on hats. What will it be next I wonder?
I wonder how the invisible man will get on in this new hatless society. Even without his headgear the cameras aren’t going to be able to see him. Perhaps we should start wearing bandages when we fill up at the pumps.
Wednesday, 17 November 2010
Remember my pumpkin? The one I spent hours carving just a couple of weeks ago for Halloween? Well here he is this morning just before I scooped him up into a plastic bag and dropped him into the bin ready for the bin men to cart away. May he sleep in peace.
That’s the thing with vegetable art, it isn’t permanent. Not that I mind, I actually like the impermanence. That’s why I make my beach creatures. I spend hours making them only for them to be washed away by the next high tide. I don’t mind. You see, the fun is in the creating and not in the creation itself. Once it’s done, it’s done for me. I’m not saying that I don’t care if my work self destructs or disappears but maybe in many ways it’s better that it does.
I was once wandering around the
Now, I’m not saying that I’m not interested in the monetary value of a piece of art, but surely that isn’t the only way of judging its value - and who was that said ‘a man who knows the price of everything, knows the value of nothing’ – or at least words to that effect?
Maybe if all art was less permanent, more transient, made not to last and instead made to decompose, we might appreciate it for its real value rather than some dollar value that someone has somehow attached to it. I’m sure that Breugel didn’t paint ‘the fight between carnival and lent’ thinking that one day somebody would pay thirty million dollars for his picture.
Art is about more than money.
Just a thought, and probably not one that Andy Warhol or Damien Hirst would share.
Tuesday, 16 November 2010
Quack. Quack. Quack.
Flavious was a waiting waiter. He waited for the Ju-Ju to appear, longingly languishing, listening long and hard for clues of the coming, watching for the miracles to commence once more.
News of the resurrection of the dead ducks had followed fast on the heels of the singing sausages and other miraculous events and then, then, then – well, notably nothing.
Nonexistent, negligible, news; notwithstanding nearly no noise normally noticed around these things followed – or rather, didn’t. Flavius grew nervous. His nerves were wracked to the edge of wracking. Breakdown - before blithely, blissfully, belligerent, was now a blatant, blasphemous, possibility. Where had the Holy Peanut gone? There was only one thing for it; his Peanutness must be found.
Fortunately Flavius’s fabric held an ace up its slippery, seesaw, schizophrenic sleeve. He had the Sonia and where there was the Sonia was the ‘Neeeeeeee’, and where there was the ‘Neeeeeeee’ was a lonely Cow-Poke. The Cow-Poke would do anything to get his Sonia back and Flavius fortuitously flipped flush, forcing fortune, flashily fixing (fairly?) his fabricated hand. He’d won her fair and square - if any game in which all players cheat can be called by such a lab
el. Either way he’d won her - and in the way all things in his florid, flaunting, Flavius life, he’d willingly wonderfully won. Won by chance – and cheating.
Cheating is very much like chance. Life is cheating. Death is cheating. Cheating is cheating. It is all cheating. Amen.
My how the Cow-Poke loved his little ole Sonia – when the Count stole her away, beating his Four with a Royal Flush, he almost went plum crazy. Finding the Holy Peanut was his only chance of getting her back. At the camp far away on the lost islands the Cow-Poke did a dastardly deal. The Peanut personified presented, preferably perfect, praised, pacified and without prerequisite in return for his beautiful Sonia. No questions asked.
“Dead or Alive?” the Cow-Poke determinedly declared, dreamily distracted, devoid in his devotion of the lovely Sonia.
“Alive!” Count Flavious screamed. “I need his voodoo-hoodoo Cow-Poke. It iz all for meeeeee!” All Flavius wanted was the voodoo-hoodoo, it would bring him great power. Fishes would fly, dead ducks would quack, sausages would sing. The Peanut must be his and he needed him alive.
The desert is a big and lonely place. As the Cow-Poke walked mile on mile, many miles on many more miles, on more and many more miles, on maddeningly more and many, many more miles, on mile, after mile, after mile, after mile, after mile, after mile, after mile - more miles than he could even matriculate, each mile across the shifting sands, his thoughts turning to Sonia, to the ‘Neeeeee’ that he had coming to him, the mathematics mounting mile on meandering mile.
And then ahead he saw the Holy Ju-Ju – but then we know that already don’t we. That’s the thing with time. Time is a shifting sand on which no man can gain firm footing. Time is what we have too little of. Time is what we are running out of. Time is what we are all running away from. Time is like chance. Life is Time. Death is Time. Time is time. It is all time. Amen.
All hail the Holy Peanut and beware the keeper of the cakes!
You can follow the Ju-Ju Jesus Peanut on Twitter - search and follow and you shall find - @JuJuJesusPeanut
Monday, 15 November 2010
I know nothing about photography. I did a little at college but all that messing around with putting the film in the camera, mixing the developing and fixing chemicals, using the enlarger, and that depressing red light in the dark room. It really didn’t do it for me. And of course there was the getting the subject in focus thing, and the getting the contrast right thing, and the aperture thing, and the shutter speed thing – for me it was an all far too many things to be bothered with kind of thing.
Anyway photography wasn’t art! And I was there to study art.
It stayed that way with me for almost thirty years I’m afraid and as a result I have no photographs of all the places I’ve been – New York, Barbados, Paris, Slough, Edinburgh, Lapland, Bardsey Island… I have no pictures of the big events – first steps, day at school, fiftieth birthday, no anniversaries… I have no pictures of loved ones going about their lives, none of Tia, none of Frank, no friends, none of me.
Well, I don’t mean none at all, but not enough, and those I do have are in paper wallets stuffed inside drawers or even worse, in forgotten films or throwaway cameras still waiting to be developed. I have a few events professionally shot – our wedding day, Holly’s school photos – and some snaps that I’ve taken along the way, but I wouldn’t exactly call it a body of work. Even when digital cameras came in and photography became so much less hassle and cheaper to the point of cost free, I still didn’t really take much interest.
And then along came blogging and my world changed. It started with me taking pictures on my phone to prompt or illustrate my ramblings, but soon I bought a small digital camera with a higher pixel rate so that I could get better shots. Before long I found that I couldn’t comfortably go anywhere without a camera secreted somewhere about my personage. At times I looked like one of those sad old men that you sometimes see walking down the high street with a camera strung around… No, that is me. I am one of those sad old men.
Today I can’t stop snapping. I have a pretty good camera that does stuff. It has a good zoom, a great lens, settings to fiddle with, timers. I have tripods to stand it on, a bag to carry it in, brushes and wipes to look after it with. I even have a filter! My latest toy that I still don’t know how to use properly, but the first of many I expect.
I still know nothing about photography - I like shooting into the sun, love the slight blurriness of an out of focus image, like the effect of moving the camera as I snap happily away. They might not be great photographs in the purely photographic, sharp image, perfectly shot, clearly captured sort of way, but they work for me.
Maybe photography is art after all.
Sunday, 14 November 2010
There’s no mistaking winter’s nip and our Holly tree, which was covered in berries last weekend, has taken a battering from the winds. Now most of the berries sit on the ground like pools of beaded, bobbled, blood. What will we do to decorate the halls now I wonder?
The birds have come back to the feeders in numbers after an early autumn where they hardly bothered at all with the food left out for them. There must have been half a dozen tits on the feeder by the kitchen window this morning. Losing the berries will be a blow, a little less food to peck out when the softer fruits have gone.
I know I go on about the weather, the seasons change, but isn’t it in all of us? Isn’t it built in as a memory of the time when weather and season would determine if we ate or if we went hungry? I wonder how most of us would exists without supermarkets? It wasn’t so long ago that most of what we ate was either grown or reared by ourselves. I wonder how many of us could feed our families if we really had to provide, growing our own vegetables, keeping and killing our own animals.
Yes, no mistaking winter’s nip. It looks like being a hard one. The birds are going to need a little help this winter they can’t go to the supermarket; they can’t even grow their own food. Birds rely on the weather and seasons. If they are lucky they eat and if they aren’t they don’t.
Thinking about it, it’s no different for the majority of people in the world really. I wish it were as easy to put out food for them.
Friday, 12 November 2010
I guess inevitably in any collection as cheesy as a collection of snow globes there has to be at least one fairy. In reality I have several, but this one is my favourite.
She’s a reject from the snow globe stock I once sold from my kiosk on the pier. If you don’t know about my kiosk – I once had a kiosk on
You can’t see it very easily in this photograph but at the base of the glass sphere there’s a hairline crack from which the water is very slowly escaping and evaporating. It’s taken three years to lose enough water to cause that air pocket you can see above my fairy’s head. Eventually the globe will be empty of water and my fairy will sit upon a dry, grassy, tuffet.
This poor fairy is flawed. Maybe that’s why I like her best of all my fairy globes.
Over the years I've come to love imperfection. I've learned to like the slightly worn patch on the arm of the sofa where Holly used to rub her hand when she was little, the scratched to splinters table leg where Tia used to sharpen her claws, the chunk out of carpet at the bottom of the stairs where Misty pounced on her imaginary mouse, the hole in the beech work-surface where Gaynor plunged the knife. Imperfection has a certain beauty. It makes things real, gives them an edge, has a pleasing solidity and everydayness about it.
In Japan, the very best Karesansui Zen gardens have intentional imperfection implanted. Despite the careful placing of the rocks, the raking of the gravel, and the trimming of the perfectly formed trees, a few fallen leaves are always left or placed on the gravel, a fallen rock is left on its side and not placed upright, dead branches are left exposed and not removed.
Beauty is made more beautiful by imperfection. My favourite glass, in a set of six red wine glasses, is the one with the air bubble in the stem. I hate the uniformity I find in supermarkets; the sameness in size and colour of the fruit and veg, the standard length of the shrink wrapped sprats – in nature fruit and fish are rarely uniform, that's part of their beauty. I really don’t mind that one of the buttons on my favourite shirt doesn't quite match, in fact I love it - it’s that difference that makes that shirt my favourite.
I don’t want things to be perfect. I don’t want things to be replicas of each other. I don’t want people to look the same way, act the same way, think the same way. I want difference. I want imperfections.
They say that it isn't a perfect world. It’s usually used as an apology, when things go wrong, with a shake of the head. One day my fairy globe will be empty of water and the imperfection of the hairline crack may cause the glass to shatter, a small world destroyed by a small imperfection.
Oh well, even when the globe is gone, her world shattered, she'll remain - and isn't that what really matters?
Thursday, 11 November 2010
I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like to be at war. I’m lucky to have been born into one of those generations who have never been caught up in war and battle. I’ve never been conscripted to fight for my country. I’ve never experienced the loss of loved ones to bombs and bullets in streets and homes.
I’m writing this during the two minutes silence. It seems a fitting way to spend the time. I’m contemplating my good fortune. I’m too old to have to fight now - never even came close to fighting really. No wars for me. I’ve got away with it. Eighty-five years ago, sixty years ago, maybe just last week if I'd joined the army, it may have been a very different story.
I’m spending these two minutes remembering those that didn’t get away with it, thinking about those brave others that won’t. I’m wondering if two minutes, one hundred and twenty seconds, is really long enough to honour all these heroes.
I’m thinking of Frank. Remembering his stick, Akabar, a ‘gudgeon. Frank the national service soldier, proud to do his time, but ready to fight if he was needed to.
I’m thinking of Uncle Alf and an afternoon spent on the cricket field, the bombs going off all around us as he remembered his friends killed in the Great War.
I’m thinking about Wootton Bassett. Soldiers carrying a casket draped with the Union flag - crowds lining the streets in respect.
I don’t know why but for a few seconds then Misty popped into my head. She often does, sorry.
I can’t say what it is like to be at war, I’ve no experience of it. I’m not even sure that I could stand even two minutes of the fear that war must bring. What must it be like to live at war for days, weeks, months, even years? What is it like to spend your life waiting for a bullet to rip through your helmet and into your head, wondering if you’ll step on a mine and get blown into a thousands pieces and be gone?
I have no idea.
But here’s someone that did.
Dulce et decorum est by Wilfred Owen
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame, all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys! - An ecstasy of fumbling,
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And floundering like a man in fire or lime. -
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, -
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Wednesday, 10 November 2010
Haircuts - Oh, how I hate them. From the very first the idea of having my hair cut has filled me with dread.
It wasn’t too bad when my mum used to cut my hair with nail scissors, but from the tender age of four or so I was taken to the barbers on
There were two chairs in the barbers. Both were dark red leatherette, with a central single chrome leg that swivelled and adjusted. The chairs had armrests and stood, bolted to the light blue Marley tiled floor, in front of a huge single, silvered, mirror. Two large, white, individual, porcelain sinks stood beneath the mirror, and the glass shelf under it was stacked with combs, sprays, Brylcreem, hair tonics, and packets that Charles, with a wink, called ‘something for the weekend.’
As you have probably gathered, the barbers left quite an impression on my four year old mind, not least of all because I’d seen an electric chair in a movie on TV one night when I’d been forgotten and stayed up late. Of course I was too small to comfortably sit in the barber’s chair - but Charles had a board that hung from the chair back. He’d place this across the arms of the chair for small boys to sit on - thinking up ways to murder them as he snipped away their excess locks. It was cold, hard, and uncomfortable.
‘Don’t fidget or I’ll cut your ear off.’ The serial killer barber would say.
I hated the way the hair slipped down the back of my neck and into my shirt, despite the green cotton cape that Charles insisted I wore. I hated the snip of the scissors which threatened to remove the mole on the back of the neck. I hated the smelly, sticky spray from the rubber pumped diffuser that Charles sprayed onto my hair after he’d finished.
As soon as he held up his mirror to show me the shortness of the back of my short-back-and-sides, I’d jump down from the chair, thrust the two bob my mum had given me in his serial killer hand, grab my coat and practically run out of the shop.
“Nothing for the weekend then?” Charles would call - making the old men reading ‘Weekend’ and ‘Racing Times’, who sat on the line of wooden chairs placed against the wall laugh at me.
And so it was about every couple of months until I was twelve when - HALLELUJAH - long hair suddenly became the thing. I just let it grow, occasionally snipping wildly at an untidy over-long tress.
‘Get it cut or take a months worth of double DT’. My form teacher would sometimes mumble.
I did a lot of double DT’s.
Then, at around the age of fifteen or so unfortunately, fashion changed once more. Hair was short again as we all donned Crombie overcoats, Doc Marten shoes, and stomped around trying to look ‘ard’. For a while it looked like a return to the serial killer was going to be the only solution… but then I discovered the Ronco comb.
The incredible Ronco comb hair trimmer was a small hand held comb with a razor blade inserted inside it. You simply combed, whilst it cut. What a blessing; no barbers required and worth putting up with big bald patches that always appeared when I got a little too close to my scalp. These days you’d call my miscuts ‘tram lines’ - either way I didn’t mind, they weren’t as bad as a trip to Charles the serial killer.
After that I never looked back; self-cutting, self-shaving, self-colouring my hair right up until the late seventies (a Bowie red, a Ferry black, an accidental shade of Mrs Slocombe lilac). It was around this time that I returned to the professionals to get my Brodie poodle perm. How cool was that? Answer – not very. Fortunately my perm was short lived - but the teasing, streaking, blow-waving of the next few years meant that I needed to return to a hair-dresser (unisex not serial killer) to get that trendy New Romantic look. How cool was that? Answer – not very.
There was a spell, around the time I sold out my art and became a ‘Manager’, that I was required to return to getting my hair cut short by a barber. I still hated the hair down the back of my neck, and the sprays; but worse still was the chit-chat. The inane mumblings of the pretty, if over made-up, young woman in pink leggings and grey leg warmers were almost as bad as the stony serial killer silence of pasty-faced Charles – and almost as threatening.
‘Been on holiday? Do you like George Michael? Does my bum look big in this?’
Answers: No. No. Yes. Although I wasn’t required to answer.
Eventually I married a woman who had once trained as a hairdresser. I like to think that it wasn’t the only reason I married her, but as time goes on it seems to get closer to the top of the list as others drop away and become null and void. She cuts my hair now - under protest, and only when I really can’t put it off any longer, that ‘either get it cut or buy some ribbon’ time. I still hate it. I still wriggle. I still blow the hair out of my face frantically as she lets it drop onto my nose – sadist! I leap up the minute she’s done, rushing off to shower and change all my clothes - just in case there’s a hair or two hiding about my person waiting to make me itch and wriggle
The conversation revolves around ‘sit still’ - ‘stop that’ - ‘don’t fidget or I’ll cut your ear off’. And it’s become my job to sweep my hair up afterwards, but at least there’s no spray, and best of all - I’m never asked if I’d like something for the weekend.
Tuesday, 9 November 2010
It was the miracles that were the problem.
Everybody wanted marvellous, miraculous, moments – mothers, musicians, muggers, mounties, mourners, madmen. Miracles meant metamorphosis from one state to another; child to adult, grade 1 to virtuoso, wrist to Rolex, freedom to incarceration, death to eternal life, chaos to tranquillity – everyone wanted marvellous moments of miracles.
But before we speak of the song of the sausages…
The Ju-Ju had been on earth for as long as he could remember. From the first, he knew that he was deeply destined, despite desperately declining divinity to change the world. It was the miracles you see. They just went off all around him.
From that very first awakening in the stable, his genetically modified hoodoo-voodoo heart beating hard against his genetically modified peanut chest, he knew that his life was not to be a simple one. Simplicity, so singular, so significant, sat shilly-shallying, sheepishly since some sixth sense signalled sainthood at the very least for the holy peanut. Amen.
Some are born miraculous, some achieve miraculousness, and others have miracles thrust upon them – and so it was with the holy JJJ. Everywhere he went miracles trailed behind him – fish would fly, dead ducks would quack, the faithless would find faith. His fame grew and soon he had many followers, finding fanatical fervour, flocking forward for faith. He had to get away. He knew that his fame and the miracles that he miraculously managed were beginning to be noticed by those that notice. His enemies were growing daily. He had to get away.
Out into the wilderness he wanly walked, he crept, he crawled; the hot desert sun beating down on his cactus crown until he could go no further; his hoodoo-voodoo heart heavy as he climbed upon the cross. Peace at last. He could do no miracles here; there was nothing to make miracles of. His heart slowed, each beat between taking longer, then longer, until the miraculous voodoo heart beat its final beat – Voodoomph! It beat no more.
Years passed; the Ju-Ju hung in simple, silent, solitude – dreaming, drifting, detached, and dopily devoid - until one day, a day like thousands of days had been before, he seemed to hear a voice from behind the place where he hung…
“Well lookie here. Howdy, Ju-Ju Jaysus. It’s taken me a while but I’m mighty pleased to find you. I’ve a message from Count Flavious… he means to have your hoodoo-voodoo heart, and I’m the one he’s sent to be a’getting it for him. You gonna come quietly, or am I gonna have to raise a ruckus?
It was the voice of the Cow-Poke, a voice that the Peanut had not heard in a while – he’d always known that he’d turn up eventually. The Ju-Ju felt the hoodoo-voodoo heart shuddenly shuddering in his peanut hoodoo chest - the miracles were about to begin once more… all hail the holy P!
Resurrection is resurrection - and in the distant distance dead ducks quacking…
You can follow the Ju-Ju Jesus Peanut on Twitter - search and follow and you shall find - @JuJuJesusPeanut
Monday, 8 November 2010
I won’t talk about my long lost collection of enamel signs, or my 1920’s Guinness beer label. I won’t even talk about the time two young children called Sarah and Emma removed my very rare set of Wills Cigarette,1907, ‘Merchant Ships of the World’ cards from the cube case where they were displayed and, in a panic when they couldn’t put them back neatly, decided to glue them back inside instead.
‘Skegness is SO Bracing’ was one of the posters on the stairwell of my college. It struck me at the time as a great piece of advertising, not so much because it almost single-handedly put Skegness on the British seaside resort map, but because of the whimsical nature of the ‘Jolly Fisherman’, as the figure in the poster is called.
It was drawn by John Hassall in 1908 as a commission by the Great Northern Railway Company for which he received twelve guineas. He based the fisherman on a shopkeeper, William Judge, who lived in Deal, the town where he was born. William Judge owned the tobacconists where the young John Hassal used to buy his pipe tobacco. Hassal had tried twice, without success, to join the Army and in frustration he left Deal and went off to
I could at this point bemoan my own lot, and his chanced-upon success, but I won’t. Unfortunately for Hassall he didn’t bother to mention to William Judge that he had used him as the inspiration for his ‘Jolly Fisherman’ poster and when it began to come to the public’s popular attention Judge, outraged, decided to sue for defamation of character claiming that he wasn’t at all jolly and that he never, ever, skipped.
How ridiculous you might think, but at the hearing Judge brought forward character witnesses including his wife and the preacher at the Deal Baptist church where Judge was a lay preacher. Both testified that he was not at all jolly and went on to say that not only was he not jolly but that he was a very sober character who hardly ever smiled and certainly never laughed. When his wife was asked if she’d ever seen her husband skipping she replied that he would no more hold his arms out and skip along the beach than sell a ploughman a cracked clay pipe.
That did it. Judge won his case and was awarded a very large amount of damages which Hassall had to pay along with all the court costs, hundreds of thousands of pounds in today’s terms which is a lot of twelve guinea commissions. It broke Hassal financially and he never recovered. He died in 1948, eighty years old and penniless.
There’s a moral here somewhere but I’ve always struggled to determine what it is. Don’t take up drawing as it can only lead to disaster? Never portray a miserable tobacconist as anything but miserable and a tobacconist? Steer clear of skipping sailors? Whichever way I look at it I always find that the court got it wrong. Hassall was using his artistic gifts to create a character that the public would relate to, in doing this he gave the character the appearance of a tobacconist who lived in Deal, there was no malice, no offence intended. Surely he was doing Judge a favour by portraying him as something more likeable and entertaining than he actually was, immortalising him in the hearts and minds of the British people for ever?
I still collect the occasional bit of ephemera. Here’s a favourite paper bag that my daughter Cloe gave me a present in. Wait a minute that chap with the pamphlets… it looks a bit like an eighteen year old me. Perhaps I should sue the artist.