Friday, 31 December 2010

Goodbye 2010


Goodbye 2010, here's your last sunset. I’m not going to miss you, you’ve turned out to be the worst of years, few highs and far too many lows. You brought too many endings, too many goodbyes, far too much change – and mostly simply because.
No, I’m not going to miss you as you shuffle out and die, or shed a tear at your passing, or let a small enigmatic smile slip across my face like your shadow. Instead I’ll raise my bow-plucking fingers to you and dance as you die.
I have your passing planned. I’m going to take a long bath and wash each and every scrap, every last shred of your dirty, dusty, trail, from me and watch you swirl away down the plug hole. I’m going to put on new clothes, never worn, never seen by you, putting them on like an armour so that you can’t pierce me further, you’ve made so many holes to fill and heal.
I’m done with you 2010. I’ve set an outside fire to burn you off, there’s no escaping. I shall stand around the flames watching the smoke of you disperse into the sky and drink you away without a toast. No songs at your passing, I hope never to bring you to mind again. Maybe I’ll spit into the fire and curse you as you die.
If I had the power I’d kill you myself, but you’re dead anyway. To be sure though I’m burning mistletoe and feathers and salt; there’s no turning back, either for you or for me, and I’m not toasting you out, or your brother in. 2011 may be a better companion than you but I’m not sure I trust any of you any more.
See what you have done?
So here I am at the end of your reign a changed man. How changed, I don’t yet know but I feel it coming, creeping over me cold and hot, sad and joyous, bitter and hopeful.
Where now? Only time will tell

Thursday, 30 December 2010

Holly's Robin

What with one thing and another it’s been really hard to post to WAWL over the last few days. I’ve had connection problems, the days have been samey, and if I’m honest my enthusiasm has been low – it has been one of my least joyous Christmas times, and I know that it’s been hard for lots of you also.

I’m finding it almost impossible to post pictures, and a post without pictures is a rare thing for me. Often it’s the pictures that drive the words, only occasionally do the words drive the pictures. I may have mentioned this before but I have films running in my heard as opposed to those people who have pages turning and those others who have columns of numbers. So to write without pictures is very hard for me.

The picture I want to upload in this post is a photograph of a Robin taken on Christmas morning by my daughter Holly using her Christmas present – a Olympus SP-800UZ a 14 mega pixel, 30x optical zoom, 3.00’’ wide LCD monitored little beauty.

At the end of the day it ain’t about the camera though. It’s about patience, light, talent and luck.

I think she was just lucky with this one.

(hope it uploads)

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Mince Pies…

The sky is flat and grey, everything is damp from the rain, birds lethargically peck at the damp seed in the feeders - all so different from the crispness and excitement of just a few days ago, before Christmas had been and gone.

Perhaps it just goes to show how quickly things can change – one moment it’s a rich mixture of spice, fruit, nuts, and rich wine, and the next........ all crumbs.

I might bake some more. I hope that I still have the recipe.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Leftover days...

I don't know what happened to yesterday.

It’s that time again, the in-between time; the time between Christmas and New Year’s Day, the leftover days, the last few dregs of the year.

I don’t like these days, they’re uncomfortable, unsettling - like that big black bird in the tree. No time to do anything much, too much time to do nothing, but nothing much to do.

Leftover days, so full of leftovers - leftover wrapping paper, leftover Christmas pudding, leftover crackers, leftover turkey, leftover promises, leftover hopes, leftover dreams – leftovers. What a funny but accurate word.

I don’t know what I want to do, I don’t know what I want to eat, I don’t even know what I want to drink. I feel like leftovers myself, out of step with everything around me.

No not quite. I seem to be in step with the weather. The once white snow has gone, all turned to slush and lethal ice with rain, the sky’s a leaden grey, and the wind today has chilled the last of Christmas out of me.

I think I’ll lock the doors, light the fire, pour a drink and pretend there’s still a little poetry left in the season.

Uncomfortable times. Leftovers from my past? My present?

That bird up in the tree though.What's he looking at? Let's hope it's a glimmer of something bright in the distance. Let's hope it's coming our way.

Saturday, 25 December 2010

My Christmas message...

Don't worry I'm not going to go on about sport, although you could skate on our lane the ice is so thick. I just wanted to say that I've had a great Christmas day made particularly special by the Tree Creeper that visited our feeder this Christmas morning. Even the Long Tailed Tits turned up to wish us all a merry Christmas. I feel blessed.

Presents opened, fabulous dinner done and washed up, we now await Doctor Who. How perfect this day has been.

The temperature is dropping again, the sheep grazing in the fields across the way from the cottage look like they'll need their fleeces tonight. The sky is on fire, such a contrast to the world of white beneath. It's so cold the breath hangs like smoke in the air after I've walked away from it, the icicles that hang from Elsie's cottage are three feet long, and there is no sound - even the birds are silent.

Good day, such a good day, and more wine to come - perfect.

A very merry Christmas to you all and I hope that your day has been as good as mine.


Friday, 24 December 2010

Blue Santa...

This is my oldest snow globe. I’ve had it over forty-five years, since I was a child. It was bought as a Christmas present for me by one of my uncles or aunts, I’m not sure which one though, I had a lot of them. When I opened it that Christmas morning all those years ago, tearing off the paper without reading the gummed label to find out who it was from, I felt on seeing my present both disappointed and confused.

I have lots of Santa snow Globes, all dressed in red, but this one was different. It’s made entirely from plastic, as most things were back in the sixties, but Santa is dressed in a very sickly shade of light blue instead of vibrant red. I have no idea why he isn’t dressed in red. I know of no tradition for light blue Santa’s. Pre Coca-Cola Santa was usually dressed in Green, before that he wore furs, and of course he started his career in Bishop’s robes. Yes, the light blue robes are a puzzle and I often wonder about them. As Santa’s go he strikes me as odd generally, with that Christmas tree slung over his shoulder rather that the sack of toys we all know so well, and those toys which seem to be hung from his belt like a poacher’s plunder are peculiar too - a clown, a ball, a doll, a trumpet, and a spoon… a spoon? What does it all mean?

Maybe it’s an attempt by some sixties marketing man to change our view of Santa, or it could be linked to some sort of merchandising, or perhaps the designer was high on LSD? Perhaps it’s a secret. Anyway, I guess I’ll never know.

Thursday, 23 December 2010

News from Wales - Robin wars

Believe it or not I have three Robins all trying to be the owner of the space around the meal worms that I've put out on the feeder for them to eat during this bitterly cold snowy weather.

Robins are not quite what they seem. They look so cute, but they are really territorial, staking out the boundaries of their kingdoms and then defending it with their all.

The fights they are having are horrendous.

I came down this morning to see two of them fighting a duel with pistols whilst the third laid a trap for the other two by suspending a small piano from the Holly tree above them. I soon put an end to that, shooing them all off and removing the piano from the tree – well, it was dangerous.

They were soon back though, this time with hand grenades, sub machine guns, and something that looked suspiciously like a rocket launcher. One of the Robins let rip with the launcher narrowly missing a passing thrush, it would have taken him down without a doubt.

I had to stop the conflict before it escalated into something far worse than a fight over mealworms and weapons of mass destruction became involved. I did have it on good authority (Blue Tits) that the Robins had access to both nuclear and biological weaponry, and I couldn’t risk that.

So, rather than invading their territory and taking action I simply removed the mealworms. If they were going to fight, then they didn’t deserve them. They needed to learn to share.

For a while I thought it’d done the trick. But this afternoon when I returned from the horror that is Christmas shopping, I noticed a number of strategically placed sparrows in the bushes, each with a bow and arrow.

I think one of the Robins may have taken out contracts on the other two.

Nature can be so cruel.

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Waiting for Wales…

The weather continues making everything it touches magical with a fog delivered frost. Even the dullest stand of trees is beautified by the hard rime. Icicles grow longer, surface ice thicker, and Christmas comes closer.

We are meant to be going to Wales today, but there’s been more snow so we don’t know whether to attempt it. I think we are waiting for Wales to let us in.

----------------------------------------

Later – we did and we got here. I’m so pleased.

Christmas can begin now.

Tuesday, 21 December 2010

JJJP Book 8 – Autobiography and the losing of a tongue...

For so it was written - before the alliteration was the word.

Some say that Smudge began his terrible life as a character in a novel. What novel nobody can say with certainty but chance, cheating, circumstance, journey - and of course repeated, random, repetition were at its heart - black heart though it was.

Those same some that said say that Smudge escaped from his novel by inventing himself on the pages of three other and different books – a book of recipes, another on gardening, and lastly an autobiography. He journeyed within each, but soon found he was no chef and each time he planted a flower or vegetable, it wilted, died, or simply failed to appear at all. Autobiography was his only way to reality - so he took it.

There is only reality. Life is reality. Death is reality. Reality is reality. It is all reality. Even unreality is reality.

And so started Smudge’s metamorphosis; from fictional character in a crumbly, crumby, crummy, novel to real-life character in his ‘have his cake and eat it’ autobiography. A nothing nobody from nowhere was to become the ‘Life of Smudge’ and in-so-doing create the reality of his life. Smudge gained strength as he moved from page to page, inventing and reinventing himself over and over until, feeling that he had reached perfection, was beyond improvement, unable to get better, he eventually arrived in the real world (wherever and whatever that may be).

Immediately Smudge began to travel his travels.

He journeyed far, wandered wide, explored all available atlas annotated avenues alphabetically - Algeria, Bhutan, Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Fiji, Guadeloupe, Hong Kong, India, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Luxembourg, Mauritania, Nepal, Oman, Peru, Qatar, Romania, Suriname, Tanzania, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Wales, Xizang, Yemen, Zimbabwe – and at one point Turkey.
















The Dervish had fought in the Great Uprising, fighting the Oppressors, challenging the establishment, sticking it to the man; and unfortunately ending up on the losing side. It is never good to be on the losing side, there is no glory in it, no prize, no victory. To lose is by definition to be unable to find: to fail to keep, as one’s temper; to fail to see, hear, or understand; to fail to have, get, etc; to fail to win; to cause the loss of; to wander from (one’s way, etc); to squander, to suffer, at worst to have taken from one by death, accident, removal, etc.

In short to lose is a big deal, a bum hand, a house of cards. The Dervish’s deck was stacked against him. It was always on the cards. The Oppressors played with a loaded deck, with cards up their sleeves and the upper hand; the Dervish was lost in the shuffle. Calling his bluff, they tried him as spy and dealt a wild card, cutting off his tongue before leaving him to die dusty in the deserted desert dust.

It was Smudge who found him, bloodied, tongueless, and verging on the verge of death. It was Smudge who found him, battered, broken, almost lifeless, and on the edge of slipping beneath the veil. It was Smudge who found him, defeated, damaged, drained, deranged, and about to cross over to the other side. It was Smudge who found him…

...and it was Smudge who brought him back.

You can follow the Ju-Ju Jesus Peanut on Twitter - search and follow and you shall find -@JuJuJesusPeanutS


Monday, 20 December 2010

Yet another Christmas tradition…

Back in 1996 when Holly was two, we both put on our warmest coats and popped down to the photo booth in Woolies to have our picture taken.

Holly was wearing the crown that she’d made that day at nursery school and I had a Santa hat stuffed in my pocket. We were going to take a special picture, a picture of us both dressed in our Christmas headgear as a Christmas gift for Gaynor. I pulled on my hat, and…well, I never could resist pulling a funny face.

Gaynor loved the small framed photograph and ever since then Holly and I have continued to put on silly hats and faces and squeeze into what seem to be ever smaller photo booths. Pulling our hats from our pockets we pull the curtain and swivel the round stool into position. Five, four, three, two, one - FLASH! Then we wait for the thin strip of photographs to pop out of the slot in the side of the booth. Why does it seem to take so long?

It hasn’t always been easy. Finding a frame small enough is always a challenge, and as the years have gone on it’s become a real struggle to fit both of us into a booth - then of course there’s that ‘what if I see one of my friends’ thing to worry about as Holly has got older and finding headwear that she’s prepared to even consider wearing gets increasing hard.

We’ve worn all sorts of hats – paper, Santa, elf, reindeer antlers, tinsel - I’ve even worn a fireman’s helmet and a pirates hat. I look a complete idiot in most of the photographs, no who am I kidding – I look a complete idiot in ALL fourteen.

Fourteen. Can it it really be fourteen?

I look an idiot and Holly, on the other hand, has always managed to look beautiful - regardless of headwear.

This year we decided to give up the booth, well it really was getting a squeeze, and Holly has very bony knees and elbows. So this year we took the picture ourselves using the timer on my camera, then printing it out on the printer.

Just look at us wearing our Christmas headbands. Do I look silly? Well, I still can’t resist pulling a funny face – as if I had any other.

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Ice and arse…

Snow and ice, they have the power to transform everything, make everything look beautiful, make even the safest places dangerous.

I walked out of the front door this morning and found the world transformed. The snow, still there, had frozen overnight and everything sparkled with crisp ice crystals. Our porch post, normally a plain gloss black had transformed into a lace work of ice, intricate patterned crystalline tracks covering its reflective surface.

The path shimmered, a blue-black ice river. I slid towards the gate and along the slippery road, icicles hung, bumper to road from cars parked on the glassy kerbside. It was cold, deeply cold.

And across in the park every thistle, twig, and stem glittered with icy diamonds fit to fashion into a crown for the ice queen herself. No sign of the cold letting up, no sign of the cold snap thawing, she’ll be around a while yet.

I bow to the brilliance of her creativity – and slip and fall on my arse. She got me again.

Saturday, 18 December 2010

Cheesey Christmas cards...

What would Christmas be without clichés and cheese?

I bought this wonderfully cheesy snow globe in a dollar shop in New York which probably explains why the snowman has a Red Cardinal on his arm instead of a Robin. Brrrrrr…it looks cold in there doesn’t it.

The male Cardinal bird is brilliant red all over and found anywhere the Eastern US. They’re a type of bunting and don’t migrate, so they look stunning in the snow and are associated with Christmas, appearing on Christmas cards much as own Robin Redbreast does.

I’ve never seen one in the wild, but do remember seeing them on Christmas cards in the cheap boxes of cards my Mum used to but from Woollies each year. I often wondered what the bird was, and why a small crested parrot (for that’s what I thought it was) should have anything to do with Christmas and Christmas cards.

Those grey-backed cardboard boxes of cards were very mixed, the cards were usually really flimsy, the glitter always fell off, and the glue on the envelopes tasted awful and never stuck. The subject matter was even worse - stagecoaches, Victorian carollers, sixties cubist Santa’s, nativities with huge-eyed children, piles of presents, leg-out skaters, and of course the North American Red Cardinal bird; just about the cheesiest collection of Christmas icons imaginable.

Just why a Northern Cardinal should turn up in a box of Woolie’s cards is a mystery to me. Perhaps the cards, or more likely the designs, were imported.

The Cardinal was always one of the cards that never got sent. The bird, pretty or not, would end up as one of the cards that remained in the box forever, an orphan with no home to go to - unless of course we were really desperate, or disliked someone so much that we just didn’t care. Every year I’d lift the dusty box lid to find the Cardinal bird along with the cutesy mouse in the stripey nightcap, the badly photographed close-up of the blue Christmas bauble, and the terribly drawn poinsettias and Christmas roses.

Those old boxes of cards make my snowman look sophisticated by comparison. Anyway cheesy or not, I like my dollar shop snowman, whizzing through the snow on his sled, a piece of holly tucked into the brim of his hat, scarf flying behind as he whizzes. I even like his pet cardinal bird as it perches on his hand, merrily chirping away, as they both rush towards Christmas.

They may be a clichés, but at least they’re having fun.


Friday, 17 December 2010

Happy birthday blog...

Hard to believe but 'What a Wonderful Life' is two years old today! It seems longer and simultaneously it seems like yesterday, either way two years and 634 posts later I can hardly remember writing this, my first post.

Gosh!

I'm in e-space! Here I am with my very own blog and the future opens up in front of me in ways that I could only have dreamt of just seconds ago.

So many questions flood my head. What do I write? Is my spelling up to it? Will I be able to entertain? Will anyone read me? And how on earth does this all work?

Questions, questions, questions. Maybe over the next few weeks I'll get the answers
.

Well, I still don’t have the answers, in fact I think I'm further away from them that ever I was two short years ago - but for those of you that read me, and for Flora who got me started.

Thanks.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

How to make a Christmas wreath...

My neighbours have a Christmas wreath on their front door. I noticed it when I arrived home last night. It’s quite a nice wreath. They bought it from the florist in the village for twenty quid – a bargain!

Anyway, it made me remember the Christmas wreaths I used to make each year when I was a kid. I usually made two, one to hang on our front door and one for my gran to hang on hers. I used to really enjoy making them. So last night on a whim I decided to make a wreath for our front door at home. It was a real Blue Peter moment – I was going to need a wire coat-hanger, some thin wire, a selection of greenery – ivy, holly, fir, yew - a few pine cones and some ribbon.

The coat-hanger was easy. I found one hanging in my wardrobe surprisingly enough. Taking a pair of pliers I untwisted it at the top to make a single piece of wire and then re-twisted it back together, shaping it to make a large wire hoop about fifteen inches in diameter. I felt just like John Noakes. This was what I was going to attach my greenery to.

We have a brick wall in our back garden which is covered in ivy. I always used ivy as the base to my wreaths as it’s easy to twist around and around the wire frame, so I cut about a dozen two foot lengths. When I brought them indoors I found a ladybird on the underside of one of the leaves, I guess she was hibernating, so I took her back outside and placed her back on the ivy.

Back indoors I carefully wrapped the ivy around the wire frame, attaching it firmly every ten inches or so by twisting one of those ties that come with sandwich bags as I couldn’t find any florist wire in the cellar. The ties worked really well, and in a few minutes I’d covered the wire frame all the way around for the first time. Then I repeated this five more times, slowly covering the wire and building up the shape and density of the ivy.

Now I needed some colour and other winter foliage to add interest. A little walk was in order. Taking my Roy Cropper shopping bag and a pair of scissors I scurried along our road snipping off bits of greenery from the neighbour’s gardens as I went. Within five minutes I had a bag full of holly, yew, fir, and some lovely variegated holly courtesy of the Welsh Baptist church at the end of the road.

Back in the house I cut my greenery down into small floret like pieces and carefully intertwined them in my ivy circle, fastening them with my sandwich bag ties.

It was looking pretty good, but it needed something else. In our upstairs lounge we have a large basket of pine cones by the fire for decoration, a few of them was just what I needed. Going upstairs I choose half a dozen or so from the basket, brought them back to the kitchen, and (again using my sandwich bag ties) wired them to the frame.

Finally I rifled Gaynor’s bag of Christmas wrapping stuff and borrowed some wide red ribbon with gold stars on it. It took me ages to fashion a decent bow, but eventually I managed it and wired it to the bottom of my wreath. I used some plain red ribbon to make the hanger, stapling it firmly in place around the top of the wreath’s frame.

I bumped into my neighbour Barry this evening as he walked up his path. He didn’t say anything but I did notice him shoot me wreath an admiring glance and it didn’t cost me a penny.

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

A traditional Christmas…

Christmas traditions, I guess we all have them. No, I’m not talking about the stuff that most of us do like sending cards or humming carols on Christmas Eve. I’m talking about those idiosyncratic, family, sometimes odd and very personal traditions that evolve and stick around for a while, sometimes forever.

You know the ones I mean, the ones that make you wonder if you have OCD or are maybe taking Christmas tradition just a little too far. As an example – like when my neighbour popped around one Christmas morning and I jokingly beat him with a holly bough declaring ‘It’s a tradition!’ when it patently wasn’t and I was just getting him back for his bloody barking dog. Or my traditional yearly insistence that we all wear our paper Christmas cracker hats throughout our Christmas dinner, which traditionally leads to Holly going off in a huff and refusing to help me with the traditional mountain of Christmas washing up.

Yes, those traditions…

Remembering the silver sixpences that my granny used to put in the Christmas puddings each traditional Stir-Up Sunday I tried it one year. My Mother in Law, to her surprise, was the lucky recipient of the traditional tanner and once the choking noises had stopped we all had a traditional game of ‘hunt the sixpence’. We never did find the coin, which was probably just as well – I think that she may well have swallowed it.

I’d stopped bothering with the traditional Yule log by that time. No, not that chocolate covered roll thing that traditionally I always buy and that nobody likes, wants, or eats; the one that traditionally gets thrown in the bin sometime during early January. I’m talking about the real Yule log that I once tried to keep burning throughout the twelve days of Christmas only to find that our tiny fireplace simply wasn’t big enough and eventually, after two sleepless night, a dozen sacks of logs, and a roaring Christmas chimney fire attended by a not very festive fire brigade, I gave up on.

Not all traditions have been allowed to wane in my house though. On my insistence we still hang up stockings on the end of our beds on Christmas Eve and open them together as a family early Christmas morning, all huddled together on our double bed. I can never wait to see what Santa has stuffed into my stocking – chocolate money, shaving foam, an apple, a tangerine, socks, a lottery card, a walnut. It’s traditional for naughty children to have their stockings filled with coal and one of these Christmas mornings I really am going to fill Holly’s stocking with a couple of lumps just like I’ve always traditionally threatened.

Downstairs, above the living room door, we still hang our traditional artificial plastic Mistletoe, even if there isn’t much kissing going on under it these days. And of course, being a traditionalist I frequently raise the Wassail bowl, blessing just about everyone and everything that I can find with wine and beer - it’s a grand tradition that one.

Disappointingly, there are no more letters to magically send up the chimney to the North Pole since Holly decided that Father Christmas doesn’t exist. Traditionally this happens as children slip into their teens, and it isn’t until much later that they discover that they were wrong all along and that he really does. I’m considering posting a letter to him myself this year. I don’t want much – some traditional peace and quiet, perhaps a new purpose in life, maybe a major lottery win.

On the quite scary OCD side of tradition that I mentioned, I have a few rituals that I am compelled to perform at Christmastime.

- I must read ‘A Christmas Carol’ cover to cover the week before Christmas every third year - next year is a reading year.

- I must be the first awake really early on Christmas morning and shout ‘HE’S BEEN!’ at the top of my voice to wake everybody else up.

- I must peek out of the curtains and say ‘It’s snowing outside’ regardless of what the weather is really doing - snowy, sunny, or raining as usual.

- I must rush downstairs to see if Santa’s mince pie, large brandy, and Rudolph’s carrots have all been snaffled. Invariably they have, despite the fact that I hate the taste of raw carrots.

- I must toast the holly wreath that’s fastened to the back door, make a sweeping bow, and with a shout - ‘Wassail’ – down the contents of the Wassail cup, thus officially declaring Christmas open! Did I mention that Wassailing was a grand tradition?

Of course, nobody else is interested in my rituals at all, but I like them. I’ve been doing them for years, they’re a tradition. I’m getting better though. I’ve managed to stop leaving the muddy boot-prints and fabricated reindeer poo all over the kitchen floor, and I think that this may be the last time that I’m going to need to wear my Santa hat throughout Christmas Eve, even for my traditional Christmas Eve bath.

I’m not the only one though. Apparently it’s very unlucky not to have the Christmas decorations, or at least some of them, up for December the twelfth. This is because the twelfth is Gaynor’s birthday and that’s the way it’s always been (end of ), which is of course perfectly okay with me despite always being told that it was very bad luck to put your decorations up before the twelve days of Christmas began – whenever that is.

Anyway, traditions change as we all know. Shops and even households are putting their decorations up at the start of December, some even earlier.

Decorating the house is a ritual in itself. I don’t decorate the tree, traditionally that’s Gaynor and Holly’s job (end of), and traditionally our Christmas tree decorations are white (also end of). It’s my job to hang the hundreds of Christmas decorations that I’ve compulsively collected over the last couple of decades from the wooden beams of the cottage. Traditionally I use only traditional brass drawing pins, and by the time I’ve finished my thumb aches with all the pressing, so the tradition is that I have a glass of brandy to take away the pain. ‘Wassail!’ I shout as I knock it back. I did mention that Wassailing is a grand tradition, didn’t I?

After the day itself I traditionally spend Christmas meaning to get on with doing some jobs, but never quite getting around to it. Traditionally I promise myself that I won’t lose my temper, not even once, and traditionally don’t quite succeed – well, twelve days is a long time. And then it’s all over and time for the most important tradition of all, taking down all those decorations which took such an age to put up. The decorations MUST be down by Twelfth Night- whenever that is. This is not simply a tradition it is the law – failure to comply resulting in twelve months bad luck.

Traditionally I do this at speed, and traditionally always manage to forget something, leaving it hanging until after the deadly day. Last year I overlooked a Christmas Elf that was hanging by the front door. I didn’t spot him for weeks, and when Gaynor eventually did she told me to leave him hanging there to ward off the bad luck. He’s hung there all year - and it still didn't work.

I wonder who I’ll forget this year. Maybe Frosty, or perhaps it’ll be my robot Santa or even Marley’s ghost. I’m bound to forget someone - after, all its all part of the tradition.

Oh well, not to worry -‘WASSAIL!

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

JJJP Book 7 – Alphabetic order and a whirling Dervish…

‘Roll up, roll up, Mr Smudge proudly presents the greatest show on earth, the most spectacular spectacle in the world, the most breathtaking performance on the planet – Mr Smudge’s Miraculous Marvel Show. Featuring The Flying Fellinis Two, The Amazing Zorro, The Somewhat Disappointing Zero, The Mighty Strongo along with his miniature elephant Tara, and (as the poster erroneously declared in a phrophetic printer’s error) Many Other Superbo Stuff!’

And so to the CIRCUS…TaDAAAA!!!

Smudge’s Miraculous Marvel Show – so much more than a simple circus. More a religious experience, a spiritual journey, a sensory epiphany; ‘Miracles performed daily’, twice daily in fact, a matinee and an evening performance for all the crowds to see. My how they 'ooohed', were awed with their 'ahhhs', my goodness how they gasped, 'gasssppp'… and the Ju-Ju Jesus Peanut was the star of the show, top of the bill, headlining headliner.

Soon the show was all the Ju-Ju knew, understood, could even remember. Month after month, week after week, day after day, it was his all, his only, his life. He couldn’t remember a time before the show, a moment preceding the performance, a glimpse of what had come in front of the entertainment. It was all theatre, and the Ju-Ju was the crowd-drawing, applause-creating, money-making, centrepiece that made the circus so seriously successful. Smudge smiled – The Ju-Ju was truly his.

Flinchinggg!

There is only theatre. Life is theatre. Death is theatre. Theatre is theatre. It is all theatre. The circus; a large arena for the exhibition of games, feats of horsemanship etc; a travelling show of acrobats, clowns etc; a company of people travelling round giving displays etc: had been redefined. It was now a life changing, soul uplifting, ecstasy inducing experience of euphoric effect edging on the ecumenical.

Day in, day out, the Ju-Ju performed his miracles inside the big top. The singing sausages floated and sang, dead ducks quacked and flew, floundering fishes grew legs and walked, bread was made to toast and jam, the fallen were raised, the risen were made to float on high, the crowds did all at once spontaneously combust to resurrect in mass baptism as the Soaking (ah, the Soaking) vanquished the fire - and a small pea was made to soup for all, whilst a small girl rode a lion.

Smudge had never been happier. The Ju-Ju never more miserable.

Each night the Ju-Ju Jesus cried himself to sleep in the circus’s lowly stable tent surrounded by the circus beasts. His voodoo hoodoo heart, the cause of his interment, bled for his captors as he prayed for their forgiveness.

“Forgive them. They know not what thy do-be-do-be-do.” He sang.

The stable was his home, a reminder of where he had risen from. His cultivated G.M. stock found peace at last and he rested surrounded by the aardvarks, beetles, chi-wah-wahs, dromedaries, elephants, fishes, giraffes, hens, iguanas, jaguars, kangaroos, lice, mongooses, newts, ocelots, ptarmigans, quail, rattlesnakes, sausages, tortoises, ukaris, vicunas, xerus, yaks, and zebras. They were his friends, his allies, his compatriots; an alphabetically ordered cornucopia of the animal kingdom, a rich arrangement of beautiful beasts, a sensibly categorised list of ordinary organisms - and He was their saviour. Amen.

The circus people, a mix of freaks, convicts, charlatans and misfits, paid him little attention. Some of them where there through choice, some through circumstance, still others (as was the Ju-Ju) because Smudge had a hold, a grip, a closed, furled fist in their future fates… and one such of these was the Mighty Whirling Dervish.

“See him Spin! Watch him Whirl! He spins, he whirls, oh, how he spins!”

All praise the pious Peanut! Amen.

But wait…What says, utters, speaks, the Dervish?

You can follow the Ju-Ju Jesus Peanut on Twitter - search and follow and you shall find -@JuJuJesusPeanutS

Monday, 13 December 2010

Some winter visitors...

They came for the second time last weekend. The Long Tailed Tits, like a band of cheeky child pickpockets, pushing away the Blues and Coals and even making our valiant Robin hop into the hedge a while.

Such beautiful little birds, delicate in their pinkie greys and blacks, long twitching tails and heads bobbing. They flocked the new feeder station eight, nine, ten of them, pecking the balls of seeded fat, flying to and from the peanuts, a quick snacking feast along the way to wherever they were flying.

Only the second time they’ve raided, at least when I’ve been around to see, both times early morning. Each a ball of feathers on a stick, little thieving vagabonds, reminding me of the ghosts of birds with the delicacy of their colouring. Like tiny Japanese silk paintings somehow, deftly inked with a few seemingly simple strokes, all the colours of a winter's afternoon sky.

Winter birds, wintry in their look and nature. Here two minutes, maybe three, and gone leaving me smiling and reaching for my coffee cup, longing for the time they'll sneak back beneath the radar and fly in again.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Christmas snow globe 2...

So, what was your favourite Happy Meal toy? I think most people at some time have had a Happy Meal and some of the toys in them are really, really good. But my second Christmas snow globe didn't come with a happy meal and as far as I'm aware McD's have never given away snow globes in Happy Meals.

This globe is pretty rare, they only made five hundred and were sold directly from McDonald's Corporate - so how one ended up in a discount shop in Altrincham is a little bit of a puzzle. I bought it in the late eighties for three pounds. What attracted me to it, apart from the fact that I was snow globe crazy at that time, was the really good quality of the thing. The base is wood, the figures well modelled, and it’s a musical globe. The music box plays "Jingle Bells" and as it plays the tree inside rotates around to show the all characters around the tree. The snow inside is iridescent, so it’s a quite nice thing if you ignore the fact it celebrates Macdonalds.

I didn’t know who the characters were when I bought it, no that’s not quite true, I did recognise Ronald McDonald, but not Hamburglar, Grimace (the purple monster), Birdie the Early Bird, and two of the Fry Kids – a girl and a boy I guess as one is blue and the other pink. They’re wearing skates and look for all the world like they have been backed up against the tree and are surrounded by something hostile – red Indians, a pack of wolves, or maybe a group of vegetarians.

I knew it was a bargain the moment I clapped eyes on it and my only regret is that I didn’t but the other two that were in the shop. A snow globe just like mine in its original box sold for $265 last year on e-bay. There are a lot of serious collectors of McDonarebelia. They are happy to pay quite a lot of money for rarities. Happy meal toys are very collectable with some of the rarer ones selling for hundreds of pounds.

Sometimes I worry that I may have thrown out a fortune clearing the back seat of my car when Holly was younger – I definitely threw away some Dalmations which can fetch up to $50 a pup, a complete set will fetch as much as $5,000.

So, what was my favourite happy meals toy? Easy - my Bugs Bunny Superman

Thursday, 9 December 2010

Hard times and dead ducks…

Yesterday we heard, via text from our farmer friend Geronwy, that the ducks we keep in Wales had been stolen during the night. They were locked in Geronwy’s barn, but even so somebody got in and took them.

They were not quite pets, but we had decided not to cook and eat them, they were females and laid at least a dozen beautiful eggs a week. Our cakes, cheese flans, omelettes, and tarts had never tasted so good. Their brother, Huey (the bigger white one), wasn’t so lucky – we ate him many months ago. Well, he was a boy and boys don’t lay eggs. He made an excellent Sunday lunch though. Now I suspect that his sisters, Louise and Douise, are doomed to go the same way. Eaten by the thieves who stole them or by whoever they sold them on to.

I like to think that they have gone to a family that needs them. This I would not mind too much. I can understand stealing to feed your family. I can even understand stealing to give your kids some toys at Christmas. So if this is the case take our ducks with my blessing – but next time ask me please, and if you need a good recipe I have just the thing.

If on the other hand they’ve gone to thieving scumbags who just want money for booze, fags, drugs, or a university education – well you have a problem. The Ju-Ju is ever watchful and will wreak my vengeance. He is not a forgiving Peanut and He will take my revenge.

What a world, eh? How has it come to this, where ducks aren’t safe locked in their barns? The countryside is meant to be safe and country people as honest as the day is long. I’ve certainly found it to be so up until now.

Perhaps that’s it – these short winter days, or maybe it’s simply these hard times we live in.

These ‘pay for everything’ hard times where education is only for those that can afford it, those who have no need to worry about the cost or the end - our hopeful youth massively in debt even before they start.

These greed-driven hard times where we make our country jobless, over and over, expecting all to rise above, adapt, to behave like hearts of oak, keeping that good old Dunkirk spirit flowing whilst offering no real hope.

These impersonal hard times where if we want to find a job, get paid, bank, buy at the best price, or even find out our child’s exam results we must use the internet. Face to face contact is fast disappearing, even voice to voice is no longer the norm.

These ‘Big Brother’ hard times where good people, strong and trusted, are forced to lie, stand down belief, compromise and give up – or face the consequences.

And these hard times where two ducks, safe in their barn are taken and butchered for all the reasons detailed above and all the others that aren’t.

Two ducks waddling in the farmyard – quack, quack, quack.

Two ducks killed by these hard times.

Short winter days? I hope it may be so.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Memories of old Christmas trees...

God the price of Christmas trees! Un–fircone–believable!

We bought our Christmas tree at the weekend, a six-footer, a traditional Norway spruce, a nice bushy one. Twenty-two pounds and fifty pence seems a lot to spend, but considering that a Nordman fir (which I insist on calling Norman) was almost double that - well, I had to get my wallet out and be grateful.

Every year I talk about buying artificial; a really good one, none of these supermarket nine ninety-nine jobbies. I’ve seen some constructed (as they advertise them) trees at our local garden centre that are so real that they make the real trees look like plastic, but then at a hundred quid plus a time so they should. Mind you if I put my sensible head on an artificial tree would have paid for itself within four years.

Thing is, no matter how it looks it would still be artificial, and there’s the storage to consider. No pine needles to vacuum up though; but nothing to burn on the fire after Christmas is over, and of course no beautiful, sharp pine smell to fill the room. I love the smell of Christmas – but that’s for another post.

We always had a real tree when I was a kid. Sometimes it wasn’t very big, bought from the greengrocer on North Street for five bob. Five bob, twenty-five pence - hard to believe now. We’d spend hours decorating it with silver tinsel and foil covered chocolate sweets – soldiers, Santas, reindeers, the whole caboodle, and the ancient glass ball decorations that belonged to my mother’s mother.

“Don’t break that one. I’ve had it for years.” She’d warn. And then one day someone did, me probably - the pink, blue, and cream of the carefully painted sphere of glass in shatters on the carpet. I think she cried, my dad shouted. It was a special thing I guess.

Every year my mum would tell me about the pine branch my dad had cut for her and how she had decorated it lovingly with paper wrapped matchboxes and cotton reels. When they were first married they lived in a caravan and had no money, it was the best they could do, and it was freezing in that caravan. But they still had a tree. It’s the most romantic story I have ever heard, trying to keep warm in a caravan with a Christmas branch. Hard to believe that it happened now. Perhaps her special ball had something to do with that time, I don’t know.

Later, when I’d left home and flown, the first Christmas tree of my ‘adult’ life was bought from Ironbridge market one cold, frosty, Saturday morning for three quid. We spent ages choosing it, Titiania and me. It needed to be small enough to fit in the back of her Fiat 500. We drove it with us that first (and as it turned out our last) college Christmas back to Oxfordshire fully decorated to spend the holidays at home. What a drive that was, the tree, the ice, the getting lost - then home for Christmas, us pair, for the first and last time.

Still later I bought an artificial tree in a Birmingham department store (Lewis’s – the tree was state of the art) for forty quid (a fortune). It really was a very good one and we used it for years, piling the presents under the silk fir boughs. But eventually the longing for a real tree became too strong again and I ventured into town one dark morning and bought one on the market. I had to bring it home on the bus which caused quite a stir. They didn’t come wrapped in white netting sleeves back then and I got chucked off the bus. I walked the last three miles to Perry Barr carrying the tree in my arms, they were completely numb when I eventually arrived.

The first Christmas tree we bought in Wales was from outside the Florist in Pwllheli. We liked its shape, it wasn’t too tall or too wide, our first ‘Norman’ I think - and it was very reasonably priced at eight pounds. It was only after we got it home that we wondered if the chap who I’d asked about the price of the tree (and who took our money) worked for the shop at all or was just an opportunist bystander.

I dream of going out into the wilds and finding my own tree. I don’t mean buying one from a forest, choosing it and then having it cut down by some forestry lad with a chainsaw. I mean going out into the wilds with my own saw and cutting it myself.

Stealing it if you will.

In my imagined tree stealing expedition I walk into a moonlit glade surrounded by tall pines and there in the very centre, lit by moonlight, is my tree all glistening with frost and sparkling with winter magic. On the top of my tree, where we would place our special star once I’d dragged it home, sits a robin singing his heart out in the moonlight – and then it begins to snow.

Every year I plan to make this dream come true, but instead I buy a tree; complaining about the price, and bring it home to stand in our green tree-holder pot, filling it with a gallon of water so that the tree will last and not drop too early. Each year is different and I like a different tree each year, a real one, those artificial years didn't quite feel right. I like to have a small part of nature in the house - some greenery from the forest, the spirit of Christmas maybe inside our Christmas tree.

So, we have our tree bought and ready for this Christmas. All that remains is to dress it with our own special baubles, bows, and birds, as we do each year… and that’s yet another post I think.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

JJJP Book 6 - To the circus…


A Ju-Ju’s jouney is never easy.
There is only journey.
Life is journey.
Death is journey.
Journey is journey...
Out of the Random will come the cake, and with that the alliteration actually ended.
From behind the stoic stony stones of solitary solitude stepped Smudge. It had been a long time since Flavius and Smudge had last met and the old wounds had not healed. They stood facing each other, man to man, face to face, ego to ego, each daring the other to make the fist move, take the first step, start the ball rolling.
Yes, the alliteration had ended (well almost) but the ‘three phrases where one would have sufficed’ had only just begun.
Years previously Flavius and Smudge had been partners. They had put together the biggest, bestest, baddest, circus the world have ever seen. All life appeared in their ring, Strongo and Zorro, the Flying Fellinis, clowns and tumblers, elephants and snake charmers, vanishing acts, knife throwers, murderers, bearded ladies, unicorns, dwarves – and of course Katie Cake the fattest female flirt on earth.
Both Flavius and Smudge fell deeply in love with her, finding here bountiful beauty irresistible, her gorgeous giganticness a magnet, her lovely lardiness a turn on. In short they were both smitten, ensnared, pierced with Cupid’s arrow.
Yes, they both loved Katie but she loved only cake. It ate away at Flavius and Smudge destroying their friendship, setting them against each other, dividing their once singular singularity. They became sworn enemies, both wooing Katie whilst she ate cake. They tried everything to win her – cakes and fancies, biscuits and bakes, chocolates and confectionary, but all to no avail. Katie continued to love only cake and their unrequited love continued to eat away at the love struck pair of showmen, impresarios, cirqueologists.
Inevitably, predictably, eventually the situation turned their friendship sour like a lemon, bitter like a pill, acid like a drop - and they went their separate ways. Flavius went his way to find the Lost Islands where he was born (or rather his way for the Lost Islands to find him), and Smudge the other way to create a bigger, better, brassier, Flavius-free circus.
Katie meanwhile ate cake and married a baker. The marriage didn’t last long. Katie ate all the cake and the baker had nothing to sell. His business was in ruins, on the brink of failing, at the edge of catastrophe - so he divorced her.
But neither Smudge nor Flavius ever forgot Katie…
Years before when they were younger men a stranger had come to the circus. He had great power, could work miraculous miracles, make marvellous marvels happen. He was the Holy Ju-Ju, keeper of the hoodoo voodoo heart, he was the chosen Peanut and he had made Katie’s cakes sprout wings and fly into the air.
Oh, how she had clapped her hands in glee, smiled with delight, danced with joy.
Perhaps the Holy Ju-Ju was the answer? Whoever had him would have great power. Whoever controlled his miracles might still win Katie’s heart.
And there we have it. The story so far, the tale to date, the legend laid out in essence…

A tryst of lovers, the rivals rivalry, a stony-hearted woman, cake, a man driven mad with loneliness, another by lust, a search, a kidnap, a journey, an exchange, neeeeeeeee… and all to end up here on the Lost Islands with the toss of a coin…
‘Flichinggggg!
Smudge had won and Flavius had lost.
There is only story. Life is story. Death is story. Story is story.
It is all story - and when the holy Ju-Ju awoke, his fate had been decided. Amen.
To the CIRCUS!
You can follow the Ju-Ju Jesus Peanut on Twitter - search and follow and you shall find -@JuJuJesusPeanutS

Monday, 6 December 2010

Can you tell what it is yet? Wasps and Daleks…

I’d forgotten that it could happen but last Thursday, for the fist time since Kings Close and childhood, ice formed on the inside of my bedroom window. It used to be a regular winter event when I was a child, there was no central heating back then in the time when spaghetti only came in cans and Saturday night television was usually worth watching.

Yes, I remember Saturday evenings in front of the telly eating tinned spaghetti on toast for tea and watching programmes that didn’t require me to vote for some wannabe pop star or ‘B’ list celebrity. All I had to do was watch the show and be entertained.

I’m not entirely sure what a makes ‘B’ list celebrity, but back then the presenters of those Saturday evening entertainment shows (and they were proper shows) weren’t known as celebrities; stars maybe, or TV personalities, definitely entertainers - but not celebrities. They were too nice to be celebrities, almost friends.

It seemed all you needed was a guitar, a reasonably good singing voice (preferably accented, any accent would do – Irish, Australian, South African), a beard, the ability to whistle, nice knitwear (cardigans or sweaters, preferably Aran) a rocking chair, a wobble board, maybe a paintbrush or two - and you were on your way to stardom.

Now that ‘X factor’, ‘I’m a celebrity’, and ‘Strictly’ are all coming to an end or ended for yet another season (hurrah), how fondly I remember those ‘celebrities’ of yesteryear who shared our living room on freezing cold, spaghetti slurping, Saturday evenings. They achieved what our open-coal fire never seemed able to quite manage, warming the room with songs and stories as they put on a show - and what shows they were. Not that I have anything against today’s programmes, they’re fine in their own way, but there was something so comforting about watching Val Doonican rocking away in his rocking chair murmuring about eternal butterflies of love, or Ralph splashing about with a pot of black paint or didgeridooing a sunrise, and Roger… well, Roger just whistled a bit really.

Rolf Harris, Roger Whittaker, Val Doonican - the entertainers who filled our telly screens with a mixture of song, sentiment, humour, variety (can you tell what it is yet?) and whistling. It seemed so much more entertaining than the cutting comments, crocodile crying to wring a few more votes from the audience, and even the pretend petty squabbles between the even more pretend judges aren't as entertaining as Rolf singing about the Court of King Caractacus.

My Uncle Charlie was an entertainer. He loved to sing and play piano, he was a genius on the harmonica, whistled like a bird, and when Rolf introduced the world to the Stylophone he very quickly mastered it, he could even play two at once – in harmony.

Charlie used to carry a Stylophone with him everywhere he went and halfway through his cup of tea he’d take it out and begin playing the theme music to Dr Who. It was magical, like having a thousand wasps and a Dalek inside a kitchen size matchbox - all buzzing away in tune, trying to get out.

‘The Blue Danube’, ‘Moon River’, ‘Amazing Grace’, ‘Dambusters’, Charlie could play them all and would, as he walked along the high street to Holland’s the Newsagents to sort the morning papers. Sometimes I’d hear him pass our house; six-thirty in the morning, frosted breath hanging in the air like white smoke. I’d peep from behind my bedroom curtains, scrape away the crystal patterned ice with my blue-fingered hand, and watch him perform to the moon, or a stray dog, or the first of the early birds - up to catch worms and peck the tops off the frozen milk bottles. It didn’t matter to Charlie though. Any audience was better than no audience. Not that he needed one really, Charlie played for his own pleasure.

There goes our Charlie.’ I’d think.

He’s on my mind a lot at this time of year. I often walk into a room to find him on his own practicing his harmonica, or perfecting some complex staccato jig on one or another of his Stylophones. I remember him at the family Christmas party up at my Gran’s. Charlie would play Paddy McGinty’s Goat, or Jake the Peg (he’d dress up leg and all for that one), or ‘Durham Town’ (which he whistled much better than Roger Whittaker ever did), or ‘The Theme to Doctor Who’.

Charlie’s entertainment was a part of our Christmas day, like Uncle Len’s cheating at cards, or Uncle Ian drinking too much (all of the) Whisky. He never made it to stardom, but he was an entertainer; much better than most of the hopefuls on ‘Britain’s got Talent’. I’d have voted for Charlie. He knew how to put on a show. He had the 'X' factor.

Crystal patterned ice on the inside of my bedroom window - I’m Jake the Peg – Wasps and Daleks… Can you tell what it is yet?

Me neither, but I hope you enjoyed it anyway.

Friday, 3 December 2010

Christmas Robin…

Between now and Christmas I’m going to post some of my favourite festive snow globes. I have a lot of Christmas globes - Santas, Snowmen, Christmas trees, Angels, Reindeer – all sorts.

Here’s a Robin sitting on Holly leaves. The Robin unsurprisingly only became associated with Christmas in Victorian times. The Victorians practically invented Christmas as we know it. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol, and Prince Albert are probably responsible for most of that invention, but the idea of sending Christmas cards was dreamt up by Sir Henry Cole and John Calcott Horsley who printed them for him. The Penny Black postage stamp had revolutionised the postal service three years earlier and this made the sending of Christmas cards both easy and popular and the streets were soon full of postmen delivering cards.

The postmen wore a red tunic as part of their uniform and were soon nicknamed Robin Redbreasts after the birds. They often worked over the Christmas Holiday and even delivered presents and cards on Christmas Day, and this association soon saw the Robin with his red breast portrayed on early Christmas cards, often with a letter held in his beak and started a popular Christmas image.

Of course Robins are about all year round, often singing throughout the night in the summer and being mistaken for nightingales. But during the winter the red of their breast makes them stand out against the stark winter surroundings persuading us they are more frequently seen in the winter and furthering the Christmas bird association.

There are many superstitions about the robin, even where it chooses to perch when singing is believed to forecast the weather. If it sings on top of a bush the weather will be warm, if it sings from within the branches then rain is on the way.

It’s also thought to be extremely unlucky to kill the bird, not least of all for the poor Robin, and if you kill one you will never stop your hands from shaking again. Another belief is that anyone who breaks its eggs will have something valuable of their own broken.

Ah, the Ruddock, as the Robin was once called, killed by the sparrow, forbearer of debt, tender of the Bethlehem fire, catcher of the crucifixion blood, our national bird, friend of the gardener, and oddest of all - undertaker. Some believe that if a Robin finds a dead body, it will cover it with leaves and moss like those poor children in the fairy story, Hansel and Gretel.

My earliest memories of the Robin are a nursery rhyme my grandmother used to sing to me whenever we saw one in her garden.

The north wind doth blow,
And we shall have snow,
And what will poor Robin do then? (poor thing)

He’ll sit in a barn,
To keep him self warm,
And hide his head under his wing,
poor thing.



Thursday, 2 December 2010

A small mystery...

Not all mysteries are big. Some are small. Others are a mystery only to the person who finds them mysterious. I have a mystery, not a very big one, personal to me but a mystery nevertheless.

I’m of Dutch descent, my family coming across from the Netherlands to settle in Lincolnshire early in the 19th century. I knew this even before I was told. I’ve felt a Dutchness in me all my life, a kind of memory. I remember windmills, grey open fields, the purple white clouds racing across the sky, skating on frozen canals, a woollen cap. But this isn’t the mystery, neither is it that when I attempted skating I found I could do it pretty well, or that I am drawn to windmills and the paintings of the Dutch masters, or my love of Edam cheese. My mystery, though simple, is something else entirely.

My mystery wakes me in the night and is often my first thought when I awake, popping uninvited into my head at the most unexpected times. It’s bothered me since I was a child, since I first saw them both, brass and kissing, next to the windmill by the small sailing boat on the shelf of the pink tiled fireplace.

Who are the little Dutch boy and girl and what is their story? We all know them. They are everywhere. Sometimes they are on skates, occasionally they’re yoked and carrying buckets or baskets - but usually they are just leaning towards each other and kissing or simply standing side by side just like they were in my mum’s brass double bell. They look so happy, so suited.

My mum used to collect brass, laboriously shining it with Brasso and old ripped-up sheets every few weeks or so, her hands turning black, the acrid smell on the creamy yellow fluid hanging in the air. She had a lot of brass, her collection proudly displayed on the fireplace – shell casings from the First World War, horse brasses, bells, miniature warming pans, Lincoln imp letter openers, crinoline ladies, ornamental owls and cats – and a collection of Dutch brass which I think was inherited from somebody in my dad’s family. There were three pieces that I knew were Dutch – the beautifully made windmill with the turning brass sails, a Hoeker sailing boat, and the mysterious boy and girl.

I’ve spent years trying to find out the story of the boy and girl but all I’ve turned up is the boy who put his finger in the Dike and ‘Hans Brinker; or, the Silver Skates: A Story of Life in Holland’. The little boy and girl remain a mystery despite them being everywhere; portrayed on plates and tiles, coupled ornamental dolls, modelled as figurines, salt and pepper pots, or sewn onto quilted cushions and antimacassars.

Who are they? What is their story? Deep inside I think I know, it’s part of that memory I was telling you about – the windmills and grey open fields, the purple white clouds racing across the sky, skating on the frozen canal, my woollen cap, a girl in clogs. Often when I awake from my dream I still feel the ice beneath my wooden skates, hear the rip of my blades as they race, feel the icy air on my cheek. I pass the windmills and the empty fields and see the pretty face looking up at me from beneath the ice. I know their story, each and every word. It isn’t a mystery at all. Maybe I should write it down.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Snap, Crackle, and Pop...

I don’t know if it is all the snow but I had porridge for breakfast this morning for the first time in almost fifty years. Porridge with honey and I quite enjoyed it.

The last time I ate anything like porridge was back in the late sixties when I nagged my mum to buy a packet of Ready Brek. Back then it was made by Lyon’s and advertised as ‘Central Heating for Kids’. I didn’t really like the cereal but really wanted to glow like the kids in the adverts. In reality I knew that I wouldn’t, but the possibility intrigued me. Maybe I should have tried coating myself in radioactive waste instead.

I’ve never been a huge fan of cereal but as a kid we ate it for breakfast and sometimes for supper before bed, Rice Crispies usually – Snap, Crackle, and Pop. Remember them? Snap, the one in the baker’s cap, has been around since 1932, Crackle and Pop joined him the year after. In Sweden they’ve changed their names and are Piff, Paff, and Puff! In Germany they’re Knisper, Knasper, and Knusper. Mexico: Pim, Pum, and Pam. Finland: Poks, Riks, and Raks. Canada: Cric, Crac, and Croc. Holland: Pif, Paf, and Pof, in South Africa they are known as Knap, Knaetter, and Knak, and in Thailand they're Bum, Tit, and Arse.

I was constantly being told on the TV that cereal, so full of sugar, salt, and various e’s was good for me - but cereal, despite the obvious dietary benefits and as all of us kids knew - was really about toys, the free plastic figures that came with the cereal (or did the cereal come with the toys)? It was the toys that decided what cereal I’d bother, nag, and mither my mother to buy for me - Weetabix, Corn Flakes, Crunchy Nut Corn Flakes, Frosties, Rice Crispies, Quaker Oats, Coco Pops, Shredded Wheat, Shreddies - never Special ‘K’ though. Special ‘K’ was brown worms for old people and didn’t come with toys.

I remember tearing open the waxed paper inner packet of a box of Corn Flakes, tipping them all over the kitchen table, and searching through it with my fingers so that I could find my Robin Hood, Friar Tuck, Little John, the Sheriff, Alan A’Dale, or Maid Marian. My mum was always furious, but it was the same every time. I just couldn’t wait for the figure to appear ‘naturally’ in my bowl. I just had to get my hands on it as soon as the box was opened, sometimes even before the old box was finished.

I loved the spacemen that came with Corn Flakes, and the busts of the Kings and Queens of England, and Sooty and Friends, and Thunderbirds, and the Tony the Tiger figures that came with Frosties… Theyyyy’re Great! Well, better than Sugar Puffs that’s for sure. At Christmas my mum would buy a Kellogg’s variety pack, small boxes of cereal kept together in a polythene wrapper, mainly because my grandparents would visit from Lincoln and my grandmother would only eat special ‘K’. Well I did say it was brown worms for old people.

These days there seem to be hundreds of different types of breakfast cereals, the supermarket shelves are full of them. They boggle my mind, but occasionally I buy a box of Crunchos, or Nutri-Good, or Spaceabix, or Woodflakes, anything that catches my eye. We have a cupboard in our kitchen where we put the cereals I insist on buying then tire of after the first bowlful. It’s a kind of cereal burial ground, where the old cereals go to die. Anyway, at the moment it contains some Muesli, two types of Granola, a big box of Crunchy Nut Flakes, and of course my porridge – all of which will end up as bird food eventually as it always does. Birds seem to love cereal.

It was Maid Marian by the way, but I got them all eventually.