Sunday, 30 January 2011

Great garden birdwatch...

It’s all in the taking part and this weekend I took part in the RSPB’s Great Garden Birdwatch.

All I had to do was spend an hour watching the birds that came to my garden over a one hour period and simply record the highest number of each bird species I saw the garden at any one time. Couldn’t be easier really.

I loaded up the bird feeding station with all sorts of delicacies on Friday night when we arrived in Wales, using a torch so that I could see what I was doing. I hung, scattered, and filled dishes with fat balls, peanuts, sunflower seeds, suet, mixed seed, mealy worms, breadcrumbs, rice, niger for the goldfinches, sliced apples, dried cranberries, and some crushed digestives. If that didn’t bring them flocking then I didn’t know what would.

I set the alarm for seven o’clock – I wanted to be sure to get the early bird, you know the one that catches the worm and at nine o’clock I was sat in front of my kitchen window with my pen and paper ready to start recording (well it was a frosty morning and the bed was very snug).

The birds soon began to arrive. Our duelling robins led the way, followed by the marauding starlings that constantly dive bomb the feeders, squawking and flapping and fighting over the bacon rinds. Blue and coal tits flew to and fro and a pair of great tits appeared once or twice. A male and female chaffinch pecked seed from the drive, whilst dunlins, blackbirds and sparrows hopped around picking up the seed that the starlings had greedily grabbed and then lazily dropped.

By five to ten I’d seen (at any one time together) 3 very territorial robins, 3 blackbirds (2 males and a female), 6 mixed starlings (2 iridescent adults and 4 plainer younger birds), a pair of chaffinches, 5 tiny blue tits, 2 coal tits, 3 dunnocks, 4 house sparrows, a pair of collared doves for a couple of minutes, 2 great tits, a magpie, a wood pigeon, a jackdaw, a brambling, and with 2 minutes to spare a single goldfinch turned up to feast on the niger seed. Hurrah!

Not bad. It would have been nice if the group of long tailed tits we see sometimes had dropped in, and a miracle if our Christmas day nuthatch had shown his beak. Funnily enough 2 long tailed tits did arrive about an 3 hours later, but even so not bad, not bad at all.

We’ve fed the bids right through this bitter winter. It has cost a fortune, but I’m pretty sure that the birds I saw my Great Garden Birdwatch hour are the same ones that have been constant visitors since last October, well as sure as I can be. Let’s hope I’m not alone and that that bird numbers haven’t dropped too much when the results are in.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Blocked blog...

There’s no blog post today, well not as we know it Jim. No picture or drawing or theme. No carefully crafted words or message. It’s getting harder to keep it going, more difficult to find things that I want to post and share. I think that maybe the wonder in this wonderful life could be wearing thin. Fewer things seem to excite and interest me at the moment, or maybe I’m not looking as hard or even at all. Typical of my luck, just when I needed to look harder I can’t see.

Bloggers block? Have I the dreaded bloggers block?

There's nothing I know of as worrying as bloggers block, a blocked blog just won't do. Maybe it's just a Friday thing and the weekend will flush it away.

Fingers crossed.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

Woolly thinking...

With my pending employment situation I was thinking of becoming a wool merchant.

I remember a school trip down to the wool yard by St. Mary’s Church. All of us (Mrs. Mathews’ class) were crocodile marched the mile or so from John Hampden so that we could take a look at the huge asbestos sheeted barns full to the brim with fluffy wool bales. The merchant himself was a fat, jolly, chap who drove a Bentley and lived in a huge stone house that was built in the sixteenth century.

Farmers from all over the county sold their wool to him. This was the wool that would go to the mills to be spun into yarn for our mum’s to knit our grey school jumpers. This was the wool that would make the sailor’s thick warm socks as they caught the cod for our cheap fish and chip suppers on a Friday night. This was the wool that made the tea cosies that my Gran popped over her teapot to keep her tea (leaves not bags) warm as she waited an hour or so for it to brew properly.

It was the early sixties and wool was still the valuable commodity it’d been for thousands of years and always would be. Everything was made from wool – cardigans, carpets, coats, slippers, caps, balaclavas, cushion covers, rugs, blankets - my dad even had woollen swimming trunks.

Yes, wool was valuable – but then someone invented synthetic fibre and in a single year (1966) the wool price dropped by 40% and has continued to drop ever since.

I hear that wool is worthless these days. My farmer friend keeps Jacob sheep and their wool is only worth a penny per kilo. On average a single sheep produces three kilos of wool per shearing, so it costs him more in electricity to shear his sheep than he makes on the wool; and of course that’s not including the time and the effort it takes. Hardly worth wrestling the sheep to the ground so that he can shear the wool away from the skin.

So wool is cheap.

So why is it so expensive?

I heard on Gardener’s Question Time this weekend that sheep’s wool pellets are being sold as slug repellent - it works apparently. The slugs don’t die, but the wool irritates the little slime bags as they move across its surface and they go elsewhere. You need a lot of pellets do a few pots, and at £10.95 for a three and a half litre tub it’s an expensive way to be slug free.

Sheep’s wool makes great loft insulation, but at £110 for twelve square metres it’s nearly eight times as expensive as man-made fibre.

You need ten balls of wool to make a medium size sweater and Merino wool costs £4.95 for a fifty gram ball, so it’ll only cost you around £50 to knit one.

Wool is cheap.

Something isn’t adding up.

Hand knitted school jumpers, cheap fish suppers, tea pots, asbestos, the wool trade – all gone or going, overtaken by change and new technologies, or too expensive and too much of a risk.

I know how that feels.

Perhaps I won’t become a wool merchant after all.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011


Well that's it. Last day in my office.

My desk's all cleared away, and only the video-conferencing monitor and the remote are left. My desk has never looked so tidy.

Up on the bright orange wall the old company values remain. For a while I lived my life by them. One business, imaginative, indispensable, respect and the rest of them. Symbols from a different world.

Out in the main office they're playing music, 'She's Leaving Home' by the Beatles. They play music all the time but it's the first time I've heard them playing the Beatles.

Almost time to go. I'll sit for a while longer then leave.

Last day in my office. Well, it had to come sooner or later I guess.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The show must go on...

But the show must go on. The circus and the circus people never cease.

Ladies, Gentlemen, boys and girls - for your attention, your bewilderment, your consideration, delectation, entertainment and fascination, general hysteria, intellectual jollyment, kaleidoscopic levity, magnificence, notwithstanding outrageous perfection, quite resplendent satellites trampolining unexposed, vibrant with extraordinarily yielding zeal… I give you…The Flying Fellinis, the greatest trapeze act in the world, high-fliers extraordinaire!

Ta Daaaaaaaaa!

They swung, they swooped, they flew, they leapt, the audience gasping at their glorious grace, goose bumped and gripped by their gymnastic glory, groaning, then grasping with every ground defying grapple and grip until….

Arghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!! Thump! Thud! Thlup! Thwack!


Sometimes no matter how good you are at a thing, how hard you try, how perfectly practiced, finely attuned, no matter the thousand on thousand rehearsal hours - your time runs out and things go terribly wrong. A single slip is all it takes.

And so it was on that fateful night, as the audience gasped and screamed and cried, the Flying Fellinis Two slipped, and fell, and were no more!


Bent, broken, bowed, and buckled the Fellinis lay upon the sawdust floor. They were the best in the business. People came from miles around to see them fly and Smudge was reticent to let them go.

“They must be mended,” he screamed at the Ju-Ju. “You will fix them and fix them good. Work your marvellous miracles, make them fly as before. Bring them back. Raise them. Bring them back!”

The Ju-Ju sadly shook his holy head and glanced towards the floor. There was nothing he could do. Even the hoodoo voodoo heart could not work that dark magic, they were too mangled, misshapen, marred, their mortality massacred. No magic, nor magnetism, might make them malleable.

They were gone.

“You fix them!” Smudge cried once more - then struck the Ju-Ju hard.

He fell to the ground and lay there, quivering, quaking, quashed and queasy, quelled by Smudge’s quickly questionable blow. Smudge knew not what he did, nor did he know what he had done; and had he known he would not have done it. But the deed was done. Amen.

The Ju Ju lay on the floor looking at the broken bodies before him. Their skill had not been enough to save them, and skill is only one small letter away from the kill that was their ending.

There is only skill. Life is skill. Death is skill. Skill is skill. It is all skill.

The deed was done and they were dead. Indeed if Smudge could have undone that deed, deducted it from delivery, decreased its destructive discharge, deferred it’s deadly due date, then he would have.

But it was not to be.

And then the whirling began...

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

Monday, 24 January 2011

Not quite, but almost...

January still has some way to go and my snowdrop pot is very nearly in bloom. My daffs are through, poking out of my home made bulb fibre, and one ridiculously early narcissus is in bud and wanting to flower – maybe next week.

I wander the garden looking for the damage of winter. Spaces where plants once grew, brown dead foliage, pots full of nothing when in other years things have over-wintered. The birds have pecked at my pots, looking for grubs and tossing the soil and seedlings onto the ground. The frost has cracked some of them; it’s even managed to get into the concrete of the drive, turning the hard surface to sand with the continual freeze and thaw of winter.

I struggle to find positives in the garden. It looks a mess and is continually damp. But my snowdrop pot is almost in bloom.

Not quite, but almost.

Friday, 21 January 2011

A moment with another me...

I picked my wife up from work a couple of evenings ago. It hadn’t been a great day; the weather was dull flat, that same grey that seems to have hung around since Christmas.

The car park was pretty full but I found a space to pull into.

As always I was ten minutes early and she was fifteen minutes late.

With nothing much else to do I just sat in the car thinking the usual stuff I think about these days, dull flat grey stuff - when out of nowhere a Thrush began to sing. I listened to its song for a while and then opened the window to hear it better, letting in the high clear notes and the cold clear air as well.

The combination of sound, bitter late afternoon air and (looking up) the wonderfully changing light that seemed to slowly seep from the grey flatness of the sky captured me and I found myself in the moment.

Yes, the moment.

You may know what I mean, that moment of tranquil quiet that sometimes arrives for no reason at all. That moment that you have no reason to feel. That moment when circumstance and concerns are almost forgotten as you’re carried away by something bigger, something as vast as the sky and as clear as the air and the birdsong.

I sat wondering at the colour, my sight filled with the vastness above, listening to the music, feeling cold against my skin, and then three small words appeared - drawn on the white board of my mind.

Hope. Springs. Eternal.

Hope springs eternal, corny I know but glancing up I saw another me reflected in the driving mirror - and he was smiling.

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Random numbers…

Today I was greeted by a poster declaring that ten thousand had been achieved.

Great news, ten thousand, a good number.

Back in 400b.c. The Ten Thousand were a group of mainly Greek mercenary units pulled together by Cyrus the younger to try to grab the throne of the Persian Empire from his brother, Artaxerxes II.

Treachery, in-fighting and land grabs, even back then. Does history teach us nothing??

But what of history, when this week is officially the darkest, most doom-laden week of the year with next Monday being regarded as the darkest day. There’s even a formula to calculate just how miserable we feel.

The formula for this day of misery is 1/8W+(D-d) 3/8xTQ MxNA.

W is weather, D is debt - minus the money (d) due on January's pay day - and T is the time since Christmas. Q is the period since the failure to quit a bad habit, M stands for general motivational levels and NA is the need to take action and do something about it.

Now mine didn’t turn out so badly, but only because my D is low and my (d) is what I can only describe as once in a lifetime. Looking out of the window though the W is foggy, cold and damp, and I can’t really remember Christmas taking place so have no idea what T is, my only small Q (red wine) is probably the only thing keeping me going at the minute, my M is at an all time low and (much as I need and want to) my NA is struggling to kick-start itself into motion.

All in all another random day and on random days I doodle, letting the almost unconscious act of scribbling decode how I’m feeling.

It all comes out one way or another – blue herons, red herrings, vampire hares, tree full, trifle, 10,000, W, D, (d), T, Q, M, NA - odd stuff for an odd day in an odd time. I either strongly agree, agree, neither agree or disagree, disagree, strongly disagree - but my doodles hold the answers.

Ten thousand, such a good number.

By the way it came out at 42.

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Waxing lyrical…

This isn’t my photograph. I only wish it was. It was taken by a friend of mine, a real skill as a landscape photographer - a talent, an eye for a picture that is quite unique. I shall call him Philip Morgan for want of a better name (or my own).

I guess we all know the excitement of seeing something unique and beautiful appear in front of us. That ‘it’ that captures our attention, making us wonder at the complexity of circumstance that has brought those objects, that light, these shadows, ourselves, together in a place at just at the right time, making us witness something wonderful.

Well, maybe not all of us. But those of us who are constantly looking know the thrill of seeing and how, eventually, that leads to the need to capture – and therein lies the rub, sometimes what you are seeing sees you back and... CLICK - Gotcha.

And here I go waxing lyrical again.

Photograph - Wolf moon rising.

Laid low upon this hill of black a wolf moon on the rise. Displayed in slender trunks of trees and fixed within the sky.

Shame show her cold eternity to every passer by, hard shining out a threat of gaze to snatch you in the eye.

Don’t see, take blind, just look away; a wolf moon in the sky. A wolf moon so to drive you mad, sound senses fall awry.

Once seen then no escape can be, for you, or me, we all must be full moonstruck; bedazzled for eternity, entangled in her mystery.

Caught low upon this hill of dark a wolf moon on the rise. Coldly kissed by slender sky, a trickster passing by; as caught transfixed and captured – click - as fixed within her eye.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

JJJP Book 9 - The show must go on...

...It was Smudge who found him… and Smudge who brought him back.

To lose one’s speech is terrible, to lose one’s tongue to the Oppressor’s sabre more terrible still. The Dervish’s voice was sweet, his tongue was very long - oh, how the ladies admired the timbre of his speech and his tongue’s long, lithe, lively, length. Now the crooning, swooning, voice was no more and his licker lay upon the ground abandoned, alone, annulled. Their loss drove him mad, insane, crazing the paving of his mind until it flipped like Smudge’s coin.


Unlucky Dervish, and poor unlucky ladies.

It is all luck. Life is luck. Death is luck. Luck is luck. There is only luck. Good luck, bad luck, the luck of the Irish, lucky charms - a rabbit’s foot, a horseshoe, chimney sweeps, a four-leafed clover, cross my fingers, cross my heart and swear to die, the sign of the cross, black cats crossing, cross my palm with silver…silver tongued… silver tongued…silver tongued…no tongue at all.

Yes, it was Smudge that found him.

The Dervish’s luck had arrived in the form of Septimus Seigfried Smudge - and it was all bad.

Those early circus days had been very hard, controlling the Dervish even harder. His madness grew, his temper raged, he whirled and span until his blood boiled over. His dander upped, his goat all got and goaded. These were the days of the alliteration – there would be no stopping him now, whirling his way into the air, a helpless helicopter of hellish, haemorrhaging, horror. Often he’d be gone for days, returning only when his terrible tempers had run their testy, tantrum course to temporarily terminate.

The reports of murder were never far behind, and Smudge locked the Dervish away inside a pen to spend his days like a caged wild animal.

Unlucky Dervish. Oh for the semahane and the mystic prayer, oh for his brothers as they whirled towards the sun, oh for the others, turning and spinning towards the light. The brotherhood of the Semaze, the Dervishes of the east, spinning ever faster, transported by ecstasy to fly up and into the sun in a final act of whirling.

‘The Semaze, the Semaze, on the roof of the semahane, high above the city, slowly spinning around and around until they spin up into the air and high into the sun to melt and fry and burn and spark. The children of light, each a holy flame, fuel for the furnace of the future. Watch them whirl, see them whirl.’

Oh how the maddened Dervish longed for his brethren.

Eventually with cruelty and chides the Dervish calmed - cooled, counterbalanced contravening chaos with contrived contrition; his fury never far away, but controlled.

Like a careful charmer charming a coiled cobra Smudge controlled him as only one such as Smudge would, could, or should… with fear, and threats, and fetters.

Only Smudge could control the Dervish… until one night, in the stable tent, he met the Ju-Ju Jesus.

Immediately the Dervish found peace. The hurts of the past were over. The Dervish, calm, free from pain, was filled with a deep quietness. He whirled no more, content to follow, as the Ju-Ju’s voodoo hoodoo undid the rage that lay tight in the poor Dervishes mad mind.

From that night forward the Dervish worshipped only the Ju-Ju Jesus – his devilish destruction of death and decease was ceased. Reborn - a declared disciple, determinedly devoted, decidedly dedicated, drastically driven by the will of his master.

The Dervish is made as the lamb in the field.

Peanut be praised!

But the show must go on.

It is all show. Life is show. Death is show. Show is show. There is only show…and it MUST go on.

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

Monday, 17 January 2011

Occupational Therapy...

I had cause to use my passport today. I wasn’t going anywhere. I just needed photographic evidence of proof of identity and, as I still have an old style driving licence, my passport is it.

The first time I travelled abroad, to Switzerland as a schoolboy, I travelled on a temporary British visitor’s passport bought for a few shillings from our local post office. I’ve had several passports since then and you can’t get temporary passports any longer (they were stopped in 1995). I’m not greatly travelled, but I’ve been to some places a lot of times, and a few others once or twice.

My most recent passport is three years old and only has two entries, a stamp admitting me into Philadelphia, and another to Hyderabad in India. How I’ve slowed down. At one time, only a few years ago, those visits were almost monthly events, weekly on occasion.

My passport photograph shows a somewhat dazed, washed out, puffy faced chap in a blue shirt with slightly windswept grey hair. It isn’t the me that I know, but it is a version of me and everybody that knows me would recognise me from it.

Interestingly when I turned to the details page - the page where my age, and sex, and place of birth are declared, the page that officially declares me a British Citizen and makes me even more official by giving me a number and displaying a facsimile of my signature at less than half size, not everything I expected to find was there.

I expected to find a statement of occupation. I don’t know why I expected to find it, other than I’m sure that it used to be there in my other passports, but it isn’t there in this one and (to my real surprise) nor is it in the one before (I checked). Apparently it hasn’t been required since 1984.

Isn’t it funny how you can be so sure of a thing only to find that it isn’t so at all?

I could go on, but let’s stick to passports and the non-requirement to state your occupation any longer and how it’s probably just as well given the state of my occupation currently.

It’s a pity really because on my next passport I was toying with the idea of declaring myself a ‘writer’ or ‘painter’ rather than the ‘Operations Manager’ I erroneously believed my passport has labelled me for the last thirty years or so.

Well, why not? I wonder if Van Gogh had ‘Occupation - Painter’ on his passport given that he only ever sold a single painting, and I wonder if Margaret Mitchell and Harper Lee put down ‘Writer’ as their occupation.

What allows you to claim that something is your occupation anyway? Is it the doing of it once, continually, or is it as simple as making money at it? What gives you the right to put your occupation down as clown, or private investigator, or visionary, or poet, or archaeologist?

I wonder what I’ll be putting in the now-non-existent ‘occupation’ box on my passport in a few years time.

I really wonder.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Fade to grey...

I woke up this morning to the sound of the wind whistling eight feet above me head and rain lashing, yes lashing, against the cottage windows. One of those days.

Normally I’m up early. Out and about pretending I’m busy, checking this, doing that - but days like this…well, what’s to get up for? So I turned over and dozed until I couldn’t take any more self-imposed guilt and got out of bed (after nine but before half past – shock, horror).

I looked out of the window towards the mountain.


Now don’t get me long there are some greys I love. The grey evening light after a thunderstorm, that grey shirt I wore in my twenties (the one with the lighter grey bands), that special grey the sky dips into just before dawn in early summer, the thousands on thousands of variable greys of a dapple horse, long grey shadows chasing the sun across the wheat on a hot day, soft grey hairs on a laughing woman.

Grey – there are so many shades of it.

I used to see in black and white. But those days are gone (praise God) and these days I see in shades.

But today’s grey was that that flat, flat, grey of disappointment. An insipid grey that drops from the skies and hides the landscape with an indistinct veil of washed out nothingness – ten percent black, ninety percent bland. Grey that’s without interest, shape, hope - even a way through and out of it.

Yes, the nonentity grey we all know and would like to ignore because it seeps into the spirits, dampening them, making me as grey as the grey air it makes me breathe.

A beige of grey.

I looked around. The sky was grey, the hills were grey, the sea was grey, the buildings were grey, the trees and fields were grey, everywhere grey people going about grey business. No chance of sunshine either.

On days like this you have to find colour inside yourself.

Cocktail time I think.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Pen and paper...

I wrote a letter the other day. A real letter on paper with a pen using words that were hand written. A personal letter to an old friend who doesn’t really do the web or e-mail thing.

I took out my good pen, the fountain pen with the gold nib I was given for 25 years something or other. Carefully I turned the ink chamber, filling it with the specially approved ink from the fancy bottle that came with my pen and began to write.

'Dear Dave...'

At first I found it hard to make the pen work. It seems that my fingers are more used to tapping when I make words these days and the horizontal movement required to form words through handwriting simply wouldn’t come. I persevered though and soon, through the magic of ink on paper, my fingers loosened a little and the words began to flow.

'Do you remember that time when we both...'

How different from keying, how liberating.

Not easy though. I hardly recognised my handwriting after years of simply signing my name, but even that began to improve as I got into the swing of drawing letters and words. The old flourishes weren’t quite as well formed as they used to be and the mistakes were a pain - squeezing in missed letters isn’t easy on paper.

'and then old man Jenkins picked up his hat and...'

It didn’t take me long to get into it and soon I began to enjoy the physical experience of making something with my hands, something that I could hold, actually pick up and read, something that I’d made myself to send off in an envelope that wasn’t simply a card - Happy Birthday, Best Wishes, Good Luck, So Sorry.

'Did you ever find that fiver? How did...'

All those years at school learning to write – ‘Andrew’s handwriting needs to improve, the hours of practice to perfect joined up, the pride when the teacher commented in my exercise book ‘good handwriting, well done’. Does it matter any more? Does anybody care if you have good handwriting?

'I still think of Sarah and Melanie, the twins...'

Popping the letter (5 pages from a writing pad – recycled of course) into the envelope was a real pleasure. I was even looking forward to licking the seal on the envelope and the stamp until I realised that you didn’t need to do that any longer, they are both self adhesive.

'Best Regards...'

It took me back to thank you letters written to distant relatives, enforced by parents to scrawl at least a page, and those other letters, the ones proclaiming undying love, the job letters, the day to day business and bill letters of daily life. The letters of just a few years ago.

I can’t remember the last time I received a letter, a proper one. Not a notelet or a card, an e-mail or a text, but a full blown folded paper letter full of words and news and kind regards.

Can you?

'P.S. Write soon...'

Thursday, 13 January 2011

Tidying up…

I thought that I’d better get on with it. No use in putting it off any longer. Today I started clearing out my office. Well, when I say started I almost managed to complete it. Herculean tasks are often not as big in reality as in the mind.

The drawers were easy, the top two at least. The top two are so shallow you can’t get much more than a stapler and a few pens in them so they were relatively tidy. I found a few surprises – a photograph of me from twenty years ago, a card from the mother of a chap that worked for me once thanking me for being a good boss to him, a lucky monkey charm I won in a Long Island bar. Things I’d almost forgotten, almost but not quite.

The bottom drawer proved to be more of a challenge. It’s deep and spacious and over the years has become a sort of post box for all that correspondence I needed to keep for a while, but not forever. Of course a while became a longer while, and then an even longer while, until I began to think that my drawer might really keep my correspondence forever.

Forever? Silly me.

It took me hours to sort through it. I even unblocked my shredder (the one that jammed ten months ago, blocked with documents of high sensitivity) so that I could cover my tracks and keep my secrets a little safer. It felt like I was shredding my past, feeding myself into the machine and watching it all go as if it had never happened.

Maybe I was.

The cupboard was easy. Behind its clever sliding door it was mainly full of precious things that I wanted to keep and stored there for safe keeping. Important stuff – my rubber duck collection, my set of Arthur Mee encyclopaedias, my easy button (that was easy), my help button (alert, alert, helpless incompetent asshole in the vicinity), my bullshit button (bullshit detected, take precautions). Stuff collected along the meander of the last thirty years or so, a meaningless certificate, some photographs, a dozen assorted phone chargers, my plug adaptors (US, India, Europe), my doodle pads.

I wondered where that hair brush had got to.

I filled four big black bin bags with rubbish, paper mainly, documentation of things I’d worked on - personality and management style assessments, old notebooks, diary pages, papers on this, papers on that. A lifetime’s important activity, all not so very important now – shredded and awaiting recycle at the local centre.

All that’s left for me to do is pick up my boxes and bags, tidy down my desk, and unbalance my balance stones. I’m giving them away if anybody wants one, well some of them, some I really have to keep – the ones that hold my soul.

It’s only an office and I’m not quite gone yet. It’s still mine for a week or two, some time left to enjoy it - but I’m ready.

At least -- as ready as I’ll ever be.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Started stories - another one...

Sometimes words just pour out of me. I don’t know how it happens it just does and suddenly I have something in front of me wanting to become something else. A story, a book maybe? I don’t know. Sometimes I pursue it, building on the theme until I run dry, usually I don’t though – best to avoid disappointment.

I’m not going to count the number of started stories I have hanging around the place. They all have starts, some have ends, a few have ends but no middles, mostly they have starts, middles, but no ends. It really is a dilemma because when one of these ‘starts’ pours out of me it absorbs me and for a while I even believe it might come to something until it doesn’t.

Here’s the latest. I know how it progresses from here for a while, but I don’t know about the middle, and I have no idea about the end. I do know it’s about a journey, but I don’t know where journey’s end is or what happens on the road along the way.

If you read it and you know how it progresses please let me know.

Maybe I should get on and simply write it, just let the words pour out and see where it goes.

I don’t know.

What do you think?


Hi. I’m Tobias. Tobias Pilgrim. Tobias Adam Pilgrim to give you my full handle, but most people just calls me Tobe. Yeah, it was my Dad’s idea, Dad was a real joker. Sorry? Oh, you don’t get the joke. Well, don’t worry you will do, you’ll work it out. Stick with me.

I’ve been sat here the best part of an hour and a half now. Just sitting, looking around, this way and that. I’m pretty sure I’m not waiting for anything, pretty sure I’m not waiting for anyone either. But what would I know? You see I don’t know how I got here .One moment I was – well I’m not exactly sure, but the next I was sitting here on this milestone by the side of this road.

One thing I do know though is that before I arrived here, dumped down like a hikers backpack on this stone, I was somewhere else, somewhere else entirely. I just don’t remember where. I don’t think I have amnesia, well not completely; I remember my name, my Mum and Dad, my age (thirty-six), my birthday (February 3rd). I remember the town where I was born – Milford, a nice little town not too far from the city but far enough way for it to still be in the country, my dog ‘Chokie’ and how he likes for me to throw him a stick so that he can jump in and fetch it. I remember that my collar size is sixteen and I take a size nine shoe. I remember that I broke my arm when I was fourteen, that I can drive, but not what car I drive, or even if I own a car at all.

Yeah, I remember a whole bunch of inconsequential stuff. But the big stuff, the stuff that really matters, the stuff that if I could remember it would tell me how I got here and maybe even why, I simply don’t remember. I’ve been trying for the last hour and a half, sitting here on this stone, but I simply don’t remember any of it at all.

Somewhere between ‘whatever and wherever’ came before this stone I seem to have lost something. If only I could remember what.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

A Norse numeral of a day…

Today is 11.1.11

When I looked at those five singular numerals, palendromic in their symmetry this morning, I was immediately reminded of Nordic runes; and runes, from a very early age, have always connected in my mind with a small Northman King.

"Listen to me and I will tell you the story of Noggin the Nog, as it was told in the days of old..."

May Odin bless Oliver Postgate creator of Noggin the Nog. Noggin is one of my earliest television memories along with Ivor the engine. He died a little over three years ago. He created Noggin, Ivor, the Pingwings, Pogle’s Wood, Bagpuss, the Clangers.

What a strange world we lived in back then when a cartoon Viking King travelled the lands of the North, where the Black Rocks stand guard against the cold sea, in a flying ship, filling our black and white living rooms with mystery and just a little fear. I remember the opening music, a bassoon playing a few singular, clear and booming notes, and being instantly captured, transported to the world of Noggin, Nooka, Nogbad the bad, Thor Nogson, Olaf the Lofty, and Graculous - the strange green bird that to this day, whenever I see a Cormorant, I’m reminded of.

It was always winter in the lands of the North and for some reason it always seemed to be winter when I was watching – at least in my memory. Winter or late autumn; steaming Heinz beans on toast for tea in front of the fire in the living room, my plate placed upon the old green stool and me cross legged behind it focussed totally on that tiny glowing square of black and white screen. "Listen to me and I will tell you the story of Noggin the Nog.” And I did.

At night, before getting up to play at being Noggin the next day, I used to dream that I was Noggin in his leather winged flying ship, sailing above the lands of the North, playing out my saga, doing great deeds, and married to Nooka my Eskimo princess.

I played and dreamt of being Noggin for so long that I’m sure that I must have almost become him. Who knows, perhaps for a while I did; protecting the cold and frozen North from dragons and ogres and Nogbad the bad.

Today is 11.1.11, a Norse numeral of a day, but I don’t really need a reason to write about Noggin the Nog. Noggin, King of the Northmen is reason enough.

I wish I were him still, living the Sagas of Noggin the Nog, King of the Nogs and the People of the Northlands. I’d jump in my flying boat and sail away into the frozen distance never to return.

Monday, 10 January 2011


Okay, so I’ve missed a couple of posts recently and some of the features that I’ve been featuring don’t seem to be featured any more.

Well, I’ve a lot on my mind at the moment what with burst pipes, life decisions, my cold, and all the other stuff that seems to go around and around in my head these days. Its not that I’m not thinking ‘blog’, I am. It’s just that thinking blog and then making it happen are two decidedly different things. I find my blog goes best when there are lots of things going on around me. It goes particularly well when there are lots of good things going on around me. Unfortunately at the moment this simply isn’t the case. There isn’t that much going on and what there is isn’t great. Even the skies are grey.

‘Why don’t you do something about it then?’ I hear you say - well not actually you, but that metaphorical you that is actually me pretending to be you.

And the answer is I am. I’m trying all sorts of things. I’m trying to work my way through all this change that’s happening to me with a clear intention of getting to a better place at some time in the not very distant future. I’m trying all sorts of things. I have all sorts of ideas – some very sensible (like applying for jobs) and others not nearly as sensible (like maybe training to become a chimney sweep).

A side effect of all of this is that WAWL might see a few changes this year. I don’t know how it’s going to change other than to say I’m expecting it to be more of a journal than it has been. I also think that it might be a little more of the moment, well when I say of the moment I mean of ‘my’ moment, and probably a bit more ranty than it has been. I think sometimes that WAWL reads too much like an episode of the Walton’s, a quite dark episode admittedly, but there's a cosiness about it that I’m not sure I am going to be able to maintain.

I tell you all this not as a warning, but rather so that should it happen you aren’t surprised or disappointed or angry and go off and read somebody else’s blog instead of mine.

Anyway, who knows? I’m damned sure that I don’t. Only time will tell, and as long as you keep reading and commenting I guess I’ll keep writing.

So what about the Goldfinches? Well, after hanging thistle seed for over a year, and only getting one sighting of a single goldfinch last summer, my luck changed this weekend when four of them turned up off and on all day on Sunday.

In the old WAWL I’d have probably rambled on about how this might be a good omen, and how beautiful the birds were. I might even have broken into verse. Well it could be a good omen, and the birds are beautiful, but look at their faces – can you see something malicious in those red faced eyes, something ominous?

Night, John Boy.

By the way - Holly's photograph, not mine.

Friday, 7 January 2011


It’s Friday and the weekends coming. Of course after Christmas, we’re all thinking about cutting down on our booze intake this weekend, but a little Jelly wouldn’t hurt would it? After all Jelly is comfort food, children’s parties, summer afternoons, wibble-wobble-wibble.

Try his jelly that I make when I need comforting. It’s really easy, delicious, and guaranteed to make you wibble-wobble-wibble.

Blueberry booze jelly.

You need: 1 bottle of St. Helier’s blueberry cider (it’s really blue). 1 Blackcurrant jelly (I used Hartley’s). Some Blueberries. A little vodka (about 50 ml - I used my home flavoured blackberry and some strawberry vodka).

This is what you do: Break the jelly into cubes in a jug and pour in 100ml of the cider. Heat on high in the microwave for one minute. Stir until all the jelly cubes are dissolved. Add the rest of the cider to the jug. Add your vodka. Pour into any glass you fancy leaving some room for blueberries (I used vodka shot glasses). Pop in some blueberries (as many as you fancy). Leave to cool. Put in the fridge to set.

Also try these using white or red wine, or cider if you prefer. You can also substitute the wine or cider for lemonade or sparkling water but then I add 1/3rd of the liquid as spirit.

Tangerine jelly and Gin with fresh tangerine (white wine). Strawberry jelly and Vodka with fresh strawberries (red wine). Raspberry jelly and White Rum with fresh raspberries (red wine). Blackcurrant jelly and Brandy with fresh blackcurrants (red wine). Orange jelly and Dark Rum with fresh oranges (red wine). Pineapple jelly and Tequila with fresh pineapple (white wine). Lemon and Lime jelly and Vodka with fresh limes (white wine). Orange jelly and Cointreau with fresh oranges (white wine).

Of course you can try any other combination that you want. Have a play, it’s fun, and let me know how you find it.

Don’t wibble-wobble-wibble too much.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Twelfth Night...

I’d almost forgotten that it was Twelfth Night, what with one thing and another.

And then, walking back from Sainsbury’s at lunchtime I was almost bowled over by twelve drummers drumming their way down our street followed by a cacophony of squawking birds; swans, geese, hens, doves, two brace of colly (and for those of you that don’t know they are no more nor less than common or garden blackbirds), and a partridge.

To make matters even worse the street was choc-a-bloc with lords leaping about all over the place and some rather attractive ladies in low cut dresses dancing rather suggestively all around them. I was just about to ask a rather sensuous brunette to join me in a quick gavotte when I was almost trampled to death by a stampede of cows being chased by at least eight milkmaids who where slopping milk all over the place. I was quite drenched by the time that they’d passed and my opportunity to dance a round or two with the chestnut haired beauty had passed.

‘Odd’. I thought, and then I remembered that today is Twelfth Night.

Time to take the decorations down because, as we all know, leaving the decorations up will cause a disaster (or in my case yet another disaster).

It’s the tree-spirits you see, the ones that live in the greenery; the ones that live in the holy, ivy, Christmas trees, and other yuletide foliage that we decorate our houses with at this time of year. Now, I’m not sure if it applies to poinsettias or those ‘artificial’ garlands that most people seem to stick up these days, but the real stuff is full of those mischievous spirit mites.

You’d think they’d be better mannered given that we only brought the greenery into the house to provide a safe haven for them during the harsh midwinter days. Demanding that we return that greenery back outside to release them back into the countryside on the dot of Twelfth Night seems very ungrateful. After all it’s been scientifically proven that failure to do this does not mean that vegetation will not be able to start growing again, and spring (despite the various rumours to the contrary) will eventually return once more.

Mind you, they can be nasty little buggers. Mere superstition or not, if you leave the greenery in the house the tree-spirits will cause mischief around the place until they’re released. So I’ve taken down the holly wreath from the door and chucked it in the neighbour’s garden – well, you can never be too careful and I don’t want any more bad luck my side of the hedge.

We’ve baked a Twelfth Night cake for later, a rich, dense fruitcake with a bean hidden inside it. Traditionally it’s a runner bean but we could only find a borlotti, which might be traditional in Italy, so I hope that’ll do. If I get the bean then I’ll be King of the Bean and everyone will have to do what you I tell them. Fat chance of that happening but at least I’ll get to wear the paper crown and jump around a bit. I’m interested to see who’ll get the other ‘favoires’ in the cake - the clove and get to act the villain, or the twig and become a fool, or the rag and flounce as a tarty girl. Well at least that last one rules me out (I think).

Yes, tonight is the last chance to Wassail, so I’ll be going out and toasting the apple tree. The Yule log is almost burnt down to ashes now and if it isn’t gone by midnight then I’ll chuck a bucket of water over it. Christmas is well and truly over for another turn.

By the way those rumours of there being five gold rings lost somewhere on the street seem to be erroneous. I took out my metal detector and searched for over an hour to no avail. I did however strike brown gold when I tripped over a carelessly discarded pear tree and fell face down in the road… SPLAT!

Damn those cows.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Fuzzy Face...

‘Thank you for holding your call is still in queue and you will be answered shortly.’

How many times do you have to hear that before you give up? I waited in all day for the insurance assessor to contact me as promised and when he didn’t I decided that I’d contact them as suggested by the Insurance company.

We all know what comes next.

‘Thank you for holding your call is still in queue and you will be answered shortly.’

Still it gave me time off from bucketing out water from our flooded cellar and allowed me a few minutes to play with my stocking filler ‘Fuzzy Face’.

Does anybody else remember this toy? I used to have one as a kid, although I’d forgotten just how frustrating it was. Basically it’s just a picture of a face under some perspex with a magnetic pencil that picks up iron filings so that you can decorate the face with fuzz. Hair, beards, moustaches, eyebrows, anything is possible – if only you could get that stylus to do its job well enough.

I’d say that Fuzzy Face is up there with my Etch-a-Sketch in the frustration stakes, along with those systems for making enlargement drawings using a wooden frame and a pencil, and of course those impossible ‘get the ball in the holes’ dexterity puzzles that came in Christmas crackers and used to drive me mad.

It’s the sort of toy that after three minutes you want to stop using but can’t, after five minutes you want to smash by stamping your foot on it but don’t, and after ten minutes want to get the better of and master.

At eighteen minutes and dozens of ‘Thank you for holdings’ later, just as I was about to give up on the call and just as I was also about to give up with my Fuzzy Face picture, I got through.

‘How can I help you?’

‘Any chance you can tell me how to make a Fuzzy Face moustache that doesn’t look like a blob?’

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Yesterday's post...

No post again yesterday.

I was thinking that maybe I’d write about the death of Nigel Pargetter and how fate throws us all to the wind sometimes. Nigel died trying to remove a New Years Eve Banner from the rooftops of Lower Loxley Hall, caught by a gust and falling to his death in the shrubbery below. Such a shame, he was such a nice man, a gentleman at its most literal.

I considered writing about the end of the Christmas hols and the start of a New Year and how I was going into it with a new found enthusiasm and positivistic gusto despite the death of poor Nigel. It seems that life isn’t after all an everyday tale of country folk. It’s a bitch even in Ambridge.

I was maybe going to write about how thirty years to the day a very young me started work at Dale House, Dale End, Birmingham as a general artist making ads and having some great times with some even greater people, and how I miss those times. I might even have recounted a tale or two – the fake medicals that we set up, the even faker bomb that closed the centre of Birmingham for a couple of hours, the smoking and drinking and strippograms that were almost monthly occurrences back then.

I was working on ways of combining these themes when were walked through our front door to the sound of gushing water coming through the kitchen ceiling, well what little ceiling there was left. We spent hours mopping up the water, clearing up the mess, taking stock of the damage – the floor, the units, the recessed lighting, the shiny stainless steel appliances. A burst pipe in the bathroom… thrown to the wind by fate again.

So sorry about not posting, but thank God I didn’t have a banner on the roof.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Dum de dum de dum dum dum…

Those voices in my head.

I can’t remember a time when they weren’t there living their lives in the background of my own life.

They’ve been around longer than me. I wasn’t there to hear them the first time they materialised into people’s kitchens and living rooms. I wasn’t there for the fire or those early years. But I’ve been around for a lot of it listening to their ethereal voices whispering about tragedy and success, talking over plans and fears, muttering threats and kissing cheeks.

They come from a world of ghostly mooing cows, phantom twittering robins, and a world where the creak of a farm gate moving on its rusting hinges or a tractor ploughing a muddy field can be heard but never seen. I can recognise each their disembodied voices and I know what each of them looks like even though I’ve never glimpsed them, even as shadow, out of the corner of my eye.

You might say that I'm tuned in to them.

Despite this though, I can’t always remember their names. Well, there are so many of them – Jack, Peggy, Walter, Nelson, Eddie, Shula, David, Phil, Dorothy, Polly, Jazza, Susan, Mike, John, Rory, and the hundreds of others I’ve heard on the fringes of my conscious mind over the years. I seem to know them as well as I know my own family, perhaps better than I know my family - after all I know everything about them. I hear their bedroom conversations, their private grieving, their lies, their curses. I know about their adulteries, misdeeds, opinions. I know how their crops and cattle and sausages are doing.

Their world isn’t like mine. Oh, bad things happen – deaths, fights, mental illness, even an awful rape – but generally, all in all, things turn out well, most problems are solved. The money is found, a home turns up, the addiction is overcome, the cows get better, businesses thrive, and Jennifer even forgives Brian.

It’s a quiet place in general, has been for the last sixty years.

A quiet place... Ambridge - how I would love to live there. Happy birthday. I hope that tonight's special episode isn't too alarming.

Saturday, 1 January 2011

First sunset...

It started with the lighting of the fire and the lanterns floating up into the blank night sky and finished with the first sunset of the year on the mountain overlooking Bardsey Island.

A good start and a good finish, even if the in between was a little unsatisfactory, mist and drizzle, closed shops and coughs.

Oh well, it's here. Let's get on with it.

And a Happy New Year to you all.