Monday, 28 February 2011

Out of work station...

Here it is. AKH HQ, my centre of operations, the place where it is all going to happen.

It looks just like any other ordinary desk, a bargain at £34.99, but it is much more. This desk is my command centre. These days I think they’re generally called work stations - or in my case out of work stations.

I put my out of work station together without much difficulty and just the teensiest bit of swearing. No matter though, from here I’m going to find a new job and it’s my work station that’s going do it for me. Well, not literally obviously, but it’s going to help.

Just how on earth does anyone without a work station or at least a computer manage to find a job these days? Everything to do with getting a job is on-line – searching for a job, applying for a job, mailing a cover letter, uploading a CV. Today I had to scan something to support an application. Last week I optimised my CV - whatever happened to looking in the paper and writing a letter?

Looking for a job is a job in itself and sometimes it seems harder work than working. So I really needed somewhere to do it properly. I was undertaking my activities in the kitchen, but Gaynor wanted her work surface back and to be honest I don’t blame her. My job hunting stuff was beginning to take over and (as she rightly said) we do have all that space in the cellar.

Of course it won’t all be job hunting down here in the AKH HQ bunker. From here I’ll be rambling my witterings, scanning my scribblings, developing my skills, finding the answers to my questions, opening my mind, sending out my messages, networking, socialising, shopping, playing, and generally getting on with the business of whatever it is that needs to be done at the time.

AKH HQ - down in the cellar in my very own bunker - just like Winston Churchill.

Maybe I’ll get a sign made up and put on a suit and bow tie to go down there. I don’t think I’ll bother with the big cigar though.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Touching the moon…

A few years back I went to Cape Kennedy or is that Canaveral? I never do know. All I know is that I went with a group of work colleagues who I’ll probably never see again, a good time was had by all, and I touched a piece of an almost forgotten childhood dream.

It was strange standing on the launch pad where as a boy I’d watched the Apollo missions take off from our old green sofa on the even older black and white TV. Even stranger seeing the landing module I’d drawn so many times in junior school.

The wild excitement I exhibited at touching a small triangular piece of moon rock in an exhibition case at the Kennedy centre with my bare fingers was almost embarrassing - no, not almost, it was embarrassing. But I didn't care - I was touching the moon.

I even got the chance to sit in a blackened corrugated capsule from the Gemini Rocket. It was tinny and tiny, but I was a spaceman at last! God knows how anyone could sit in there for even an hour, let alone for days in the emptiness of outer space. Just how could anyone sit on top of an exploding bomb in a tin can and be hurled out into the unknown?

Such brave men those astronaughts.

Back then we were all going to be astronaughts, spacemen as we called them. Back then the moon was just a stepping stone to Mars and we were all going to travel to the stars and live in space stations high above the Earth or on the Moon like in Space 1999. Of course none of it happened, but for a while back then everybody believed it could and even would.

So here we are almost 40 years on from the Eagle landing. 1999 has come and gone and we don’t even go to the moon any more, let alone live on it. Space exploration seems a distant memory, the stuff of science fiction once more and not the almost reality it almost was. All the spacemen have grown up and become bankers, engineers, accountants, postmen, failed artists, doctors, and no more capsules parachute down into the sea to be picked up by waiting US warships.

‘They’re down!’ We’d cry as we huddled around the television in the living room.

On the NASA website it states – ‘At the core of NASA's future in space exploration is a return to the moon, where we will build a sustainable, long-term human presence. As the space shuttle approaches retirement, NASA is building the next fleet of vehicles to service the International Space Station and return humans to the moon, and possibly to Mars and beyond.’

I hope so, although I don’t like the sound of the ‘possibly’ in that last sentence. It’ll be too late for me though. I’ll never explore strange new worlds, seeking out new life and new civilizations, boldly going where no man has gone before. But at least I was there when it was real and exciting, marvelling at the grainy pictures coming all the way from the moon, living, eating, and breathing the excitement of a space travelling future – what have today’s kids got to compare that too?

At least I touched the moon - and I don’t just mean that piece of rock in the exhibition case.

Friday, 25 February 2011

To Kindle or not to Kindle...

I buy too many books. They are generally trashy horror, slash, mystery, murder, zombie, haunting, pot-boilers - although I do have an unread Umberto Eco somewhere and some ‘three for a fiver’ Dickens classics.

The space (or rather the lack of it) at the side of my bed is a monument to cheap literature and underneath the bed it’s even worse. There are some books buried in there that haven’t even been written yet. They lie mysteriously waiting for me to drag them out and read them.

Books. They are such a conundrum. I hardly ever read a book twice so why do I feel that I can’t be rid of one once I’ve read it? Surely I could pass it on, sell it, take it down the charity shop – anything just so long as I don’t throw it away. That would be a sin and I’d be doomed to the fires of a book-devoid hell forever.

Some books have to be kept. Like my hardback illustrated Edward Lear (On the top of the Crumpetty Tree the Quangle Wangle sat, but his face you could not see, on account of his Beaver Hat.), but how can I account for my Guy N. Smith’s ‘Night of the Crabs’?

I’m thinking of buying an e-reader simply so that I don't have to pick my way through book debris to get to my bed to read. I do most of my reading in bed and sometimes the weight of the book, held high above my head, becomes unbearable. This is particularly true of Stephen King hardbacks - I can never wait patiently for the much lighter paperback version.

Bed reading is particularly hard at the beginning and end of a book. The pages at the start and finish simply don’t turn or hold as well as those in the middle, and I’m constantly losing my place or dropping the damn things. The number of times I’ve woken up with a folio on my face or a tome in my ear.

Yes, an e-reader would solve all of this. A single page and light as a feather. No ‘around and under’ bed storage problems. All my favourite books in a single place in an environmentally friendly (arguably) format. A good read at a fraction of the cost and without having to leave the house to go to the supermarket or one of the few bookshops that still remain in business these days.

It’s a persuasive argument - Guy N. Smith’s ‘Night of the Crabs’ in a Kindle edition on Amazon is just £2.15 whilst a brand new paperback published in 1980 will cost you £127.95 (that's what it says).

I’ve got a lot of reading coming up (it’s an education thing) lots of books, big ones! I don’t think the bed will take it. Maybe a Kindle really is the answer – it’ll store 3,500 books, has battery life of a month, a dictionary, you can choose your font, change the text size - the devilish device will even read out loud to you!

I know. I know… what about the thrill of opening that first page, the smell of the paper, the tangibility of its solid reality, the rustle of the pages, the dust jacket. Ah yes, The Dust Jacket, the most annoying piece of paper known to man! Guaranteed to rip, and crease, fall off, and eventually get lost under the bed leaving the poor stark book naked in its dowdy paper-cloth lining and gold lettered spine title.

Birthday’s coming up. Maybe I’ll get more than a book this year.

(By the way -that picture really is the pile by my bed and it goes back yards.)

Thursday, 24 February 2011

When you tagine the tagine...

So just what is a tagine?

Tagine is a spicy Moroccan dish, which is named after the special pot in which it's cooked.

The traditional tagine pot is made from heavy clay and sometimes glazed like my spectacularly orange beauty. It consists of two parts - a base unit that is flat and circular with low sides, and a large cone or dome-shaped cover that rests inside just the base during cooking. The domed cover is designed to ensure that all the condensed flavour returns to the bottom of the pot, making the dish flavoursome and tender.

Want one?

I’ve wanted one for years but could never quite justify the expense given that we have pots and pans and slow cookers and clay ovens galore. So imagine my surprise (I love that phrase) when I wandered down an aisle in Sainsbury’s a couple of weeks ago and saw one for a tenner. Half price! A good big one! And in orange! Even at full price it was a bargain, so I picked it up, put it back, almost bought it, then didn’t - but in the end Gaynor insisted (as I’d hoped) and the not so little orange beauty was mine.

Yesterday I used it for the first time. I waited so that I could do my research. Basically a tagine is a stew and you can put just about anything in it. I consulted our ridiculously extensive library of cookery books and the web and eventually amalgamated Mary Berry, Anthony Worrall Thompson, a Moroccan cuisine website, and my own instinctive chef’s ability to make a recipe all of my own.

This is what I did.

I took a pinch of every exotic spice I could find in the cupboard – paprika, cumin, ginger, cardamom, turmeric, chilli, cinnamon, nutmeg, cayenne - a teaspoon of some stuff called Egyptian Dukkah which had been hiding at the back of the cupboard unopened for years, a big spoonful of honey, some vegetable oil, and simply mixed them all together to make a marinade.

Then I got some quite cheap stewing lamb, removed the fat and bone with my very sharp knife, cut into chunks and placed it in my bowl of marinade. I stirred it around, covered in a poly bag and chucked it in the fridge overnight. When I took it out of the fridge it was beautifully dark, aromatic, and marinated to perfection so I fried it in some oil (I was tempted to use chilli oil but didn’t) on a high heat until brown and then dumped it into the base of my tagine.

On top of this I added: a chopped clove of garlic, a chopped red onion, and two chopped shallots which I’d already fried in oil until transparent. Then a roughly chopped carrot, some quartered dried apricots (soaked overnight), some flaked almonds, a tablespoon of honey, some freshly sliced ginger, a bunch of roughly chopped coriander, a small tin of plum tomatoes (chopped), half a tin of chick peas, three quarters of a pint of lamb stock (Knorr) and a big pinch of salt.

Then I slapped it in the oven for thirty minutes at 180 degrees, and reduced the heat to 120 degrees for a further two hours. About forty minutes from the end of the cooking time I removed it from the oven and added some rustically cut sweet potatoes.

I served it with boiled rice and pitta bread, but you could use couscous if you prefer.

It was a real hit. Even Gaynor who is highly critical of my cooking (she thinks that fives years at college learning to be a bit of a cook makes you a chef. No, don't worry, it's okay - she never reads my blog, it's just another thing she's highly critical of) said it was delicious and I quote ‘the best thing I’ve ever cooked’.

Dead easy. Go on, get a pot and begin to tagine the tagine.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Half full or half empty...

Ah, the eternal question. Is the glass half full or half empty?

So half full or half empty? I don’t think it’s always that simple.

What glass? You know the one. The one that makes you feel good or bad dependent on… well, dependent on so many things really.

I guess that some of you might have me marked down as a half empty sort of chap and admittedly sometimes not only is my glass half empty but the glass has been ground to dust and scattered to the winds - but I don’t think I'm half empty at all. Apparently only optimists see that the glass is half full, whilst pessimists see the glass as half empty. Well, not in my experience. You must have heard it a hundred times, I know that I have, and everybody is keen to decide if you are a ‘half full’ or ‘half empty’ type. Yes, I guess that some might say that I’m a bit on the pessimistic side. But really isn’t it down to circumstance and what’s going on at the time? Nobody is half full all of the time, or half empty, and I defy anybody to be pessimistic on a sunny day in the Carribean, particularly if they are on holiday.

Project managers on the dozens of projects I’ve worked on over the years always seem to believe that the glass is twice as big as it needs to be. Well, that’s project management for you – optimistically pessimistic to the last. I once worked on a project with a consultant who, when asked his opinion on the glass half empty or half full conundrum replied; ‘let's examine the question, prepare a strategy for an answer, and agree a daily rate...’ On that same project team was an entrepreneur who saw the glass as undervalued by half its potential, and a Service Management type who told me that next year the glass capacity would double, be half the price, but cost me 50% more for him to give me the answer.

Rather than a pessimist I prefer to think of myself as a realist and therefore the glass contains half the required amount of liquid for it to overflow, which is pessimistically optimistic – but it can happen. Sometimes though the cynic in me (the one I borrowed from Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca) pipes up and wonders who drank the other half anyway. Philosophically (and I do have my moments) I’m pretty sure that it's not even about whether the glass is half empty or half full, it's whether there’s anything in the glass at all. Whilst the manager in me doesn’t care either way so long as the ensuing discussion will give me ten minutes to figure out why my bloody powerpoint presentation isn’t working.

I remember my daughter asking when she was younger, you know the age, the one where every sentence is a question:

“Is that glass half full or half empty Daddy?”

“Sweetheart it's whatever you want it to be, so long as you let daddy have five minutes peace and quiet to read his paper.

I don’t really like a mess so sometimes when I see the glass it looks dirty, so I wash and dry it, then put it away in the custom oak, etched glass cabinet that I built myself using only hand tools. Other times I worry - will the other half have evaporated by the next morning?

Logic tells me that that when the glass is in process of being filled then it is half full and when it is in the process of being emptied then it is half empty; and where its status in terms of being filled or emptied is unknown then the glass is one in which a boundary between liquid and gas lies exactly midway between the inside bottom and the upper rim, assuming that the glass has parallel sides and rests on a level surface, and where it does not then the liquid/gas boundary lies exactly midway between the upper and lower equal halves of the available total volume of said glass. Phew!

To counter this logical explanation my aspirational Buddhist self says – “don't worry grasshopper; remember that the glass is already broken.”

My Dutch ancestry is keen to share and would suggest that we both pay for the glass and share the content - but I will have my bottom half first if you don’t mind. And my magician self covers the glass with a cloth which when removed shows the glass with the full half at the top and the bottom half full of the mystery of nothingness.

I once had cause to complain to customer service (in Mumbai I suspect) about my half empty/full glass and was told by the service agent (Patrick) that he agreed that my glass was half full/empty, and that he would do anything in his power to fill the glass up at no extra cost. Later another Patrick called me back and informed me that after a full investigation it seemed that I had mistakenly received a half full/empty glass but had only paid for a quarter. Therefore I had received a half full/empty glass at the price of a quarter-full/three-quarters empty glass and that I should consider myself very lucky. Patrick finished by telling me that any further complaints might result in me having to return the half full/empty glass at my own cost, with no guarantee of any refund. I asked to talk to his supervisor – but was informed by Patrick that Patrick, his supervisor, was busy/on holiday/on another call/in a meeting (please tick as applicable).

Rick, a friend of mine, once told me that there is not such thing as nothing even in a vacuum. So therefore, the glass is not empty at all - it is half-filled with water and half-filled with air – and hence, fully filled.

I once worked for a boss who discussed this question at length during a board of directors meeting and then convened a committee to research the problem. They assigned tasks for a root cause analysis, put together a three slide presentation and then discovered that they couldn’t find the glass and the liquid that it held ( ‘wouwah’ apparently) had vanished also. It didn’t matter though, it was all within budget and it really was an excellent root cause analysis document – good stuff team!

Whilst I ponder that damned glass, my damned dog just wonders if he can either eat the glass or will I throw it for him so he can bring it back to me. On the other side of the room, pretending to be asleep, my cat carefully considers why the glass is only half full (or empty)... and is it a trick... or poison perhaps...

What does it matter anyway? All this questioning – half full, half empty, can be a dangerous business, and eventually it’ll get to you like it did to a friend of mine who had to go and see my analyst who, using the power of suggestion, asked me, sorry him - "Is the half-empty/half-full question really that important to you? I mean... really? Think about it. If fact, let's not. Let's set that particular issue aside for a few moments and talk about what's really bothering you."


Waiters don’t seem to have any worries about the half full/half empty question. For them it’s simple, they have no doubts - if it is half full or half empty it needs filling to the brim again, just the way I like it. And that about sums it up - it’s not about whether the glass is half full or half empty, it's about who is paying for the next round!

Anyway, that's not my glass. My glass was bigger and it was definitely full when I left it.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

We are not amused…

I like to think that I have green fingers. It’s a family thing. I come from a long line of growers, so this year I’m going to grow everything from seed.

I planted up a few vegetable seeds last Friday – some peas, sweet corn, tomatoes, peppers, all in small pots and trays. Maybe I'm a little early but as I’m going to start them off indoors, maybe not. I’ve placed them on the windowsill in the upstairs lounge where they’ll have plenty of light.

I also set some seeds for my Mother-in-Law (who resembles a shorter version of the Queen) whilst I was about it. Well, she has a garden going to waste. It isn’t quite as big as the one at Buck House, but I have time on my hands and she needs more interests to keep her mind busy and the Alzheimer’s at bay.

She took them home and as instructed carefully placed them on her kitchen windowsill. She’s been checking them since - every two days or so to see if they need watering also as instructed.

She seemed a little worried when I told her that we would be growing plants from seed.

‘We are not much good with plants’ she said.

I checked my seeds this morning and there was nothing through as yet. Well, what did I expect, seeds don’t germinate in just a few days, it usually takes at least a couple of weeks. Later, I popped around to Her Majesty’s (I’m good like that) just to see how she was and guess what - her peas and sweet corn are already through, even the peppers are showing signs of germination.

Maybe it’s the fact that her house is as hot as a greenhouse twenty-four hours a day, maybe it’s the other fact that she’s over-watered them, maybe she has the green fingers and not me after all. Or maybe, just maybe, I was right all along and she really is an old witch. Anyway what seed wouldn’t jump to attention with the Queen watering its pot.

Whatever the reason I think it’s true to say that; ‘We (that’s me) are not amused’.

I’ll keep you updated. Her Majesty and I (M’am as I call her) are planning to grow the peas in a piece of guttering at crown height on Her fence. It should be an interesting experiment – perhaps I’ll get a knighthood.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Still life with cats…

I love the still life paintings of the Dutch and Flemish old masters, particularly the three J’s - Jacob Gilleg, Jan Davidszoom de Heem, Jan Weenix. I’m fixated by the fruit and dead fowl, flowers and skulls, the tumbling silks and deep dark backgrounds especially when illuminated by candlelight.

Chiaroscuro. Even the word sounds deep and mysterious - the use of light and dark, shadow and flare, to achieve a heightened feeling of depth.

We often light candles at the weekend. The warm glow is so soothing, the flicker of the shadows so intriguing. They seem to take the ordinary and make it extraordinary, twisting, casting silhouette and reflection, changing the fabric of their surroundings, making new worlds out of the everyday.

Sometimes as I watch the flames, the golden light from the burning wick, I’m transported, fixated – slipped into another landscape. Grinning cat with angel wings, drawer cabinets full of secret wishes, twisted waxen blooms, dead petals fallen in a glass, cat things hanging in the air. A new world caused by candlelight, almost everyday – but not quite.

Chiaroscuro. Surreal? Probably. Fanciful? Definitely. But look closely. There are still life paintings everywhere – even on your sideboard, just look.

Sunday, 20 February 2011

First signs…

So here she is my first narcissus. I’m not going to say much about her. I think her beauty speaks for itself. Look at the delicacy of her petals like the edge of a floating summer dress, colours vivid yet subtle and so fresh with the honest audacity of youth. A pretty girl at her first dance.

That’s it. No more words. I’ll leave you to look. Spring is coming.

Friday, 18 February 2011

Tales from the A55 - the Badger run...

I’m off down the A55 this evening. I call it the badger run. It might sound a bit ghoulish but I’ve taken to counting the number of badgers that I see dead on the side of the road along my regular sixty mile or so stretch.

I feel sorry for badgers. I remember a time when they were a rare sight. These days you can't drive even five miles west, let alone sixty without seeing a dead one. A few weeks ago I counted six - maybe it’s better to be scarce. Just what makes them walk slowly out in front of cars and the speeding trucks of the A55, surely they enough noise to warn them of the danger? Maybe they’re suicidal, or hard of hearing, or a little blind, or maybe they really are stupid as the talking badgers of Narnia.

But aren’t badgers supposed to be wise? After all, Sergeant Badger (of Tufty Club fame) certainly seemed to have all the answers when I was a kid, and Mole (in Toad of Toad Hall) was desperate to see Badger because he was such an important personage that ‘though rarely visible’ was able to make ‘his unseen influence felt by everybody about the place.’

At one time badger blood was drunk to cure disease and during the Second World War and well into the fifties badger meat was eaten regularly in the UK and still is in Russia, China, and even France as Blarieur au sang. Who knows with the way things are going perhaps we’ll soon be eating badger meat again, apparently it’s a very red meat and tastes like a cross between beef and venison.

I didn’t realise it but badgers are members of the weasel family, Mustelidae, nor did I know that witches smeared badger grease mixed with herbs onto their broomsticks to help them to fly, or that a bridle made from badger leather will give you power over horses. One crossing your path will bring you good luck and if you hear one calling that will bring you luck as well. Badgers are also supposed to be able to change their shapes at will. They are the keepers of the stories and will teach passers-by which herbs and plants are good to eat.

So, with all this going for them you think they’d be able to do something as simple as crossing the road wouldn’t you? Even chickens can do that. Perhaps they need some help - but then there’s never a policeman around when you need one is there? I'm off down the badger run again in a while. I wonder how many I'll count this time?

Thursday, 17 February 2011

From Pottersville to Bedford Falls…

It’s not all Bedford Falls around here you know, would that it was, sometimes it can get distinctly Pottersville. I’m on a drive through Pottersville at the moment, oh I’ll come out of it, I always do, but right now it’s raining, the streets are grubby, and everyone I meet is a stranger – even people that I know, or thought I did.

Right back at the beginning it was Bedford Falls that inspired me to throw together WAWL. At first I tried linking to a quote from the film that almost shares the same name, but that didn’t last long. The film is too heart warming, and Bedford Falls is too good a place to be able to stay for too long. Sometimes you need a trip to Pottersville, dark and grimy though it may be, to make you understand what’s really going on. Maybe I stayed too long in Bedford Falls for my own good, who knows?

There, I’ve just passed the city limit boundary line. No going back now.

An inspirational friend of mine who lives just over the border in Lesser Blogfordshire, a little down the way from Bedford Falls and on the Pottersville limits, recently wrote that he admired my abstract flights of fancy and my ability to find something life-affirming to say – well I try, but sometimes the effort is great and often it’s all just polish on cheap plastic shoes when I’d rather be wearing the worn, old, leather ones that I’m used to.

Thinking about it, there are lots of people wearing those cheap shoes in Pottersville. It’s not that they can’t afford leather, they just prefer plastic. You know the ones I mean, you’ve met them. They seem to be okay, but when you look closely at them their shoes are a slight veneer of polish that barely covers the thin, plastic, substance beneath. They seem to sparkle but it’s all shine - the reflected light from a fluorescent tube, the glare from a headlight beam as the start-frozen rabbit is crushed beneath the speeding tyre. No sunshine. Not even a candle burning bright to guide you home to Bedford Falls.

These are the shoes of movers and shakers, smilers and talkers, slide pack presenters, glib answering, quick-thinking, self seeking, bringing things to life in a moving forwards, matrix driven, ticking off the actions kind of way - a way that the Pottersville council would admire. So much easier to ignore the poor citizens trudging around in the mud and rubbish, getting their shoes all shitty when your shoes are gleaming – even if the gleam is false.

I can still just see Bedford Falls from here. It’s a long way back and it’s getting smaller all the time as I drive, but it’s still there in the distance. Last time I was there the townsfolk were wearing shoes that were a little battered, heels slightly turned down with wear, but they had got that way because we were on a journey, one that we shared with the other residents of the town. Our shoes were just as polished as Pottersville’s plastic pumps, but underneath that polish was good sturdy leather, sewn up where it’d split and rubbed down to remove the scuffs, but good solid leather none-the-less, leather that would shine in the sunlight. The dirt of the day and the shit still clung to them, but it was never swept under the carpet and hidden. And it was never passed on for somebody else to pick up on their soles to walk away with, dirtying the pavement as they wandered through our town.

Bedford Falls? Pottersville? I’ve lived between the two and I know which I prefer. Drive on boy. Drive fast. Who knows, another Bedford Falls may be ahead far away from Pottersville.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Good at drawing...

'Good at drawing' - yes that has been my downfall.

Why oh why couldn't I have been 'good at surgery 'or 'good at house conveyancing'. Even, 'good at sticking bits of pipe together so that water can pass through them' would have been a more serviceable path to tread than drawing.

The problem began at junior school where I was always introduced as ‘Andrew, he’s good at drawing’ by my teachers. The headmaster even arranged for me to have my picture taken by the local paper - ‘The Thame Gazette’ – holding one of my ‘good drawings’, a pencil drawing of a peregrine falcon. They even wrote short article about my incredible drawing ability.

It wasn’t even a very good drawing, but it furthered the legend that I was - and you know what happens when you begin to believe your own publicity.

After that my fate was sealed. I spent most of my time drawing this and drawing that, sketching here and sketching there. My Saturdays were spent painting, my evenings were spent painting, it simply became what I did in most of my spare time and I’d find any excuse to draw. Everyone encouraged me to draw and ‘oohed’ and ‘aahed’ at my dexterity with a pencil, they even commented on how good I was at colouring-in; no going over the lines for me, and blocks of colour were nowhere to be seen as I subtly shaded inside the outline drawing of a young deer. I came from a drawing family you see - my uncle Charlie could draw, cousin Leslie could draw, even my Mum could draw the most intricate paisley pattern shapes freehand.

And so it went on. At secondary school I did pretty well at any subject where drawings could be included along with my written work – history, geography, biology, even chemistry; nobody could draw a vacuum flask as well as me and my retorts were to be marvelled at. Unfortunately subjects where drawing was unimportant, like maths, held no interest for me, so I didn’t really try very hard. My school exercise books were littered with comments like ‘excellent diagrams’ and ‘extremely good drawings of a dissected frog’. I once spent a whole week of evenings on a drawing of the Acropolis and then about thirty minutes writing the essay to go along with it. I got an ‘A’ and my history teacher (Primo) commented ‘the best drawing I have ever seen from one of my pupils’ – no mention of the scrappy, rushed, badly spelt essay though.

Each year I won the art prize, after school trips my drawings and paintings were exhibited in the hall on parent’s evenings, I illustrated the school magazine. Yes, I was good at drawing and after taking my art ‘A’ level it seemed only natural to go to college to study art. So I did. After that (give or take a slight change in direction from fine art to graphics) I worked in the graphics industry as a designer for a number of years, then as a manager of designers and artists, and on and on until I arrived where I am today - kind of nowhere - and all because I was ‘good at drawing’.

These days I wonder if I'm good at anything at all, I'm not even sure if I ever was. I keep telling myself to get out my brushes and paints and take it out on the canvas – I’m building up to it and some day soon who knows.

I'm thinking of trying a bird painting, but it won’t be a peregrine falcon. After all, look where that got me.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Romance is dead...

It was St Valentine’s day yesterday. It passed me by without a single paper heart, smoochy kiss, or even a loving smile. Life gets less romantic as time passes, besides it’s always struck me as strange that we celebrate a man who was beheaded for marrying couples at a time where marriage was outlawed so that men would become good soldiers rather than good husbands (although in my experience both mean going to war occasionally).

But then it’s probably no stranger than having Catherine wheels on Bonfire night (St Catherine was burned to death on a revolving cart wheel) or small children dressing up as vampires and witches on All Saints Day (Halloween), or not giving up chocolate for forty days and forty nights because it won’t stop raining (no, that’s not right is it? I’ve got that muddled).

Yes, yesterday was Saint Valentine’s Day - the day where young men everywhere rush to the supermarket to buy ridiculously priced red roses and good husbands take their wives out for a special meal (and do the driving so that she can have some wine – just in case).

I did neither. I didn’t even buy a card, but then it would be true to say that I didn’t receive one either. First time ever - how times have changed. Once there were cards and chocs and roses galore, candlelit dinners and fizzing champagne, balloons and teddy bears and sometimes I even did the driving.

‘For thy sweet love remember'd such wealth brings, that then I scorn to change my state with kings.’

Yes, romance is dead in our house. Well, perhaps not quite dead. I did buy Gaynor some longiflorum lilies (but only because I saw them, they were a good price, and they are her favourite flowers) and she did make me Valentine strawberry hearts (but again, only because the strawberries were a good price, she has sugar in the cupboard, and I like sticky fruit).

Just a few strawberries, some sugar and boiled water reduced to a syrup; taking care not to burn the mixture by brushing the edges of the pan with cold water continually - hardly any trouble at all, made in moments. Yes, just some discount store strawberries, dipped in this sweet, sticky mixture and left to cool and harden until the sweet red juice inside the toffee flows freely as the strawberry slowly cooks.

‘Sweets to the sweet, farewell! I hop'd thou shouldst have been my Hamlet's wife.’

Totally delicious, far better than kisses, more edible than a card, and - as I choose to see them as a gesture of undying love - a romance on a plate. Yes, as Shakespeare almost said: ‘If food be the music of love, eat on’ (or some other such nonsense). And best of all? I didn’t have to do the driving, so I got to drink my half of the bloody bubbly as well for once.

Yes, romance is dead in our house – but marriage lives on.

Monday, 14 February 2011

Dark birds, pale sky...

The tree was full of them. Thousand on thousand with more joining each and every moment. The chittering of their long sharp beaks filling the air, wiping out the sounds of the sheep and the farmyard vehicles going about their clumsy labour.

I just stood and watched, wondering why so many birds had decided to gather in this quite unremarkable tree and then, with a dull clap like distant not-quite-thunder, they took to the air as a single thing and were all at once gone. Throop!

Silence echoed around as the dark smudge spread on the grey-blue tissue sky.

Of course I was too far away to see the individual movement, from where I stood the sudden rise was smoke dissipating into the afternoon. I wasn't aware of the feathers, each quill individually drawn as the birds rose up. I couldn't see the flap of a single pair of wings, each a different twist of pattern in the air; like a series of stills from a black and white film.

Static blurs of movement, intricate patterns of life caught in a blown up photo and frozen forever.

I don't know why I'm telling you all this. I can't begin to think why you'd find it of any interest at all. But as the birds took to the air and scattered away to the vanishing day, and as I stood listening to the bleat of sheep and the drone of that tractor in the field the empty sky seemed to fill me up.

Where were the birds?

Friday, 11 February 2011

Signing on...

Just an old photograph, but I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be today. I’d love to walk along that beach, sand between my toes, just as the sun was setting again.

Antigua – another great holiday from far too long ago.

I signed on this morning. First time in my life. The JobCentre was a much nicer place than I’d expected – open plan, light, airy, very clean, quiet. The woman that saw to me was very helpful and professional; guiding me through the mass of paperwork I needed to sign; ensuring that I was aware of the contract I was making with them. ‘Are you actively looking for work?’ ‘Have you a CV?’ ‘You realise that you need to keep a record of your job applications and bring this along with you every fortnight.’ Fair enough. It’s no hardship to do these things and they aren’t asking for anything unreasonable.

Meanwhile only a few hours away the sea laps at the white sand of a palm strewn beach and the sun beats down on an azure blue sea.

Back in my car, parked in the grey, drizzled, side road, I look at the form detailing my attendance arrangements - Box 5 / 1st floor / cycle D, every Wednesday at 9.25. No worries, I quite enjoy routine - and it won’t be for long.

I love the feel of the warm water around my feet as I walk along the edge of the gently breaking waves. Small fish dart amongst the coral beneath the crystal clear water – red, blue, orange, yellow. A local man in a snorkel emerges from the sea with a harpoon. Large colourful, silver- red, fish hang from a rope belt tied around his waist. He smiles and asks if I want to buy some fish. Of course I do and pick two. Red Snapper. ‘Just grill them in a pan with some butter and garlic man. There’s no better taste to be had on the island.’

He was right, the fish tasted good. Fresh and firm and flavoured with the garlic and butter.

I wonder what fish he caught today?

Every two weeks.

I'm lucky.

Thursday, 10 February 2011

I don't believe it...

So it’s official. The work on our road which started over a year ago is now complete. I know because I have a letter telling me so. The big clue from United Utilities is in the heading which reads: Completion Letter - and then the name of our road, printed in a clear bold sans serif type.

It isn’t a very long letter it just states that the work on the drains is now completed and that they’d like to thank us for our patience and cooperation and that if we have the need of any further information to contact them on the 0845 number printed below.

The letter was delivered by hand by a nice young man who asked me if I had any comments or concerns about Project NCA 80015939, so I told him that it had taken far to long and he replied that ‘yes, everyone has said that’. It was so reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone in my Sherlockian observations.

The letter goes on to say that they would value my feedback and that they have enclosed a short freepost questionnaire – which they didn’t, so I had to ring the 0845 number and request one. I hate to say this but it was delivered by an extremely pleasant young lady less than ten minutes later (they must have rung her immediately), so that rather spoilt my plan to rant about them not really valuing my feedback at all – they obviously do.

So here it is - well more Victor Meldrew than me actually.

Was I satisfied with the information I received regarding the work? Yes I was. You sent me a lovely letter every few days (or at least it felt like that) telling me that the work was taking longer that expected and thanking me for my patience, although I actually knew that it was taking longer than expected and I wasn’t bloody patient at all. I was bloody furious. At various times the work seemed like it was going to be completed in May, then July, then early September, then November, then definitely January (or maybe that was just me imagining the best, I generally do you know) so here we are, February 10, and at long last I have my Completion letter. Maybe I was a tad too optimistic back in those early days.

Do I understand the benefits of the work? Yes I do. Is it moist? It’s stopped a few houses at the other end of the road from having some water in their cellars every now and then. In terms of benefits to me personally though – well I expect the mile long walk on the many occasions that I couldn’t get a parking space outside my own home as most of the road was closed was good exercise for me. And let’s not forget all the other calories I must have lost cleaning and polishing the hallway floor, mopping up the continual dust and scrubbing away the tarmac marks brought in on the bottom of my bloody shoes. All my own fault, nothing to do with you, obviously.

Did I find that your representatives were always helpful, professional, polite and considerate? Yes I did; always a smile, a nod, and a sucky sweet. Even if they did cone off large chunks of the road each evening so that they could park their cars on arrival in the morning; and I’m not even going to mention the cigarette butts that they carelessly dropped everywhere. I particularly found their cheerful early morning whistling and shouting enormously uplifting as I hobbled the mile or so to my car which was parked three streets away.

Did you ensure access was made available for pedestrians and vehicles during the work? What in the name of bloody hell? No, there were times when you simply couldn’t walk the length of the road without clambering over cones and bits of rubble. For much of the time I was made to feel like a bloody prisoner from Cell Block ‘H’, what with all the bars and eight foot high steel wire mesh fencing that you erected. It was a very depressing and oppressive experience to walk down the path to be met by a steel barrier, almost a Berlin Wall of steel and concrete. If I wasn’t so very well adjusted I’m sure it could have had a negative effect on my outwardly cheery disposition.

Did you keep the public area safe, clean and tidy during the work? Sorry, but no you bloody didn’t! It was none of those things. It was downright dangerous and filthy, it looked like a bloody bomb had gone off. There was rubble and rocks everywhere. The pavement slid into the gutter and for months the paving slabs were uneven and cracked. People were tripping about all the time, even I (agile fox that I am) tripped on one occasion spilling the bloody shopping all over the road.

Do I believe the worksite has been restored to its original condition? In the name of Sanity, you’re having a laugh aren’t you? Before you began work on the road we had a nicely paving stoned pavement with sensible old kerbs. We now have an ugly black tarmac walkway with far too many dropped kerbings and overly long white line parking restrictions. You’ve made a nice old road into an almost impossible to park eyesore in my opinion - not that ‘that’ counts for much these days.

Did you correctly set my expectation about the level of disruption to expect? Please excuse my spluttering, I'm just choking on my own disbelief. Let's leave the fact that a few months work stretched like an elasticated waistband and became over a year aside. Let's forget the residents's meeting where you used the words 'Minimum Disruption', and lets not even mention that it was meant to be resident's only parking (fat lot of good those silly slips of paper did), stating that it'd all be over before we knew it. Let's leave all of that aside; but in no way did you prepare me for the noise, the mess, the earthquake-like cracks in the road, or the months of resettling required before you even began to resurface the road. 'Correctly set my expectations?' Oh, for Gods sake! I think I may throw up!

Do I feel that you met those expectations? I think that you already know the answer to that one, don’t you?

Overall how would I rate the work carried out on site? Dissatisfied.

Overall how would I rate my customer experience? It’s been a bloody nightmare – Very Dissatisfied.

Has the work improved my perception of United Utilities? Oh look – there’s a flying pig!

Apparently you welcome customer feedback and you’d like to know if I have any ideas that would help you to improve customer experience. Well, far be it for me to tell you how to do your job, but broadly I’d suggest that you to stop painting a best case picture and tell the truth about what could happen. My advice on this one would be ‘stop telling rose-tinted porkies’. Also, it seems to me that you underestimated the work required and the damage that you were going to do to the road and my advice might be ‘make sure you know what you are bloody doing and get it right my friend’. Lastly despite the constant letters, lovely as they were, you really didn’t tell us much at all. My advice would be ‘don’t treat me like a flaming idiot, I’m not senile yet you know’.

Well, at least it’s over. I don’t count it as one of the best experiences of my life and in many ways this last year has been like living through a Beirut terrorist attack; what with the flying stones hitting my car and the road full of cracks and three inch deep potholes. Our lovely irreplaceable paving-slab pavements have gone and the bloody parking is even worse that ever, I can hardly believe it. We’ve been living in a bloody exclusion zone for months, one side of the road unable to cross to the other (without climbing the barricades and risking those imaginary border guards), but at least it’s all over now and at least it was done with minimum disruption.

Yes, it seems to be all over but as you’d expect me to say ‘I don’t believe it!’

Victor Meldrew

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Conch, Caribbean Chill, and Christopher Cross...

I'm taking life far too seriously. Tried to force myself to lie in bed past nine this morning but had to leap out of bed at one minute past because the guilt was just too much for me. I even rushed my shower to make up for lost time!

It’s always been like that for me, I’ve never really learnt to relax completely so the few times when I have been totally chilled really stick in my mind.

Yes, I’m going to give you another memory.

Twenty or so years or so ago Gaynor and I took a day trip to St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Now, I know what you’re thinking; the Grenadines is much too far for a day trip, but we were on holiday in Barbados at the time so it was just a short hop across the lush blue Caribbean sea.

We set off from the airport at six in the morning in a twin engined eight-seater flown by a very competent woman pilot and an hour or so later were approaching the landing strip of St. Vincent. Back then it was just that; a strip, and as we approached from the mountains a cow wandered across the dusty runway and we had to steeply climb to miss the palm trees at the end of the runway and circle again.

I hated flying back then, but eventually we landed (me still shaking with fright - well it was a tight squeeze between those mountains) and were hustled through immigration control. A sleepy, dusty looking chap in a frayed uniform, gold epaulettes and a gun waved us through a wooden gate as he stood inside a rickety tin shack smoking a cigarillo. Real banana republic stuff and not even a passport stamp.

St. Vincent was truly paradise, even the shark pool at the harbour. But we had to move on as the next part of our day trip was a tour of the Grenadines on a yacht.

Gaynor hates boats but I love them and we were soon sailing out to sea swigging Venezuelan beer from the bottles that our German captain had smuggled on board. He seemed a little dodgy, probably a gun runner, definitely a smuggler (he told us) and his only crew member was a really well-to-do English girl who’d run away to the Caribbean and was living in a tin hut on one of the smaller islands with her young son. She was 'never going back’, although the authorities were trying to deport her - all very high seas and romantic (lucky pair).

We sailed all day in the sunshine on the crystal-clear blue water; dolphins leaping up and out of the waves every now and then; past Bequia, Mustique, Canouan, and down to the Tobago Cays for lunch where we anchored up.

I don’t know the name of the small island that we stopped at, but it remains vivid in my mind because the beaches were covered with huge pink conch shells. Thousands upon thousands of them in huge piles.

This was one of the places that the local conch fishermen dumped the empty shells from their brightly painted fishing boats once they’d emptied them of the succulent conch meat.

We waded through the warm blue sea to the white beach and sat side by side amidst the mountains of pink conch shells watching huge green iguanas basking on the shells in the heat of the sun.

And that was it – total chill.

Those few hours on that island remain the most relaxed experience of my life. It wasn’t much of an island, just some scrubby trees, sand, the conch shells and a few iguanas; but for a short while I was without worries, concerns, no need to rush, no ‘something’ to do, nothing. Total relaxation. I was floating.

On the return journey the wind picked up and we had to shorten our final visit to Palm Island as it looked like a storm was brewing. Our German captain served us a white rum punch and hiked up the sound system to keep our minds off the choppy water. His choice in music wasn’t mine, a little too soft-rock-tastic for my tastes, but one song came on that summed the whole experience up for me; Christopher Cross and Sailing - schmaltzy and corny, true and beautiful, and I still can’t hear it without being taken back to the relaxed perfection of that day.

Before we left the island we picked up three of the conch shells to bring home. We still have them; placed besides the fire in the upstairs lounge where I listen to music - still pink, still full of the sound of the Caribbean sea, still full of that day.

Sometimes I put on my vinyl copy of 'Sailing' that I found in Oxfam and listen to the poetry of the words. I look at the conch shells we collected on that far away island that I can't remember the name of and try to recapture the quiet perfection that day.

But I never can.

It's not far down to paradise, at least it's not for me, and if the wind is right you can sail away and find tranquillity. The canvas can do miracles, just you wait and see. Believe me. Sailing, takes me away to where I've always heard it could be. Just a dream and the wind to carry me and soon I will be free…

And for that short while on that beach I really was free.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Saturday jobs...

I have my appointment on Friday. Well it has to be done, after all what’s the point of mortgage protection insurance if you can’t use it and I can’t unless I’ve registered.

I'm expecting it to be a little grim and I’ve got my black hoodie and trainers all ready. I spent some time in front of the mirror this morning saying 'innit' and 'dunno' and 'nuffin', shrugging my shoulders and gazing into the distance - so at least I'll be trying to fit in. No, that’s wrong. I’m sure that it’s not like that at all; it can’t all be stand-up comic stereotyping.

It got me thinking about my working life and my Saturday jobs though. My first Saturday job was delivering milk with my uncle Len. I was probably eleven or so. I can’t say that I enjoyed getting up at five o’clock in the morning weekends and holidays, shrucking on my duffel coat and going out into the morning air, but it was a job.

Later, in my early teens I progressed from the milk round to gardening work, first at the girls horticultural college at Waterperry (I’ve written about this before), and then at a big house (Saturdays and holidays) helping out the old gardener until he got knocked off his bike cycling home one day and was killed. What was his name? Old something-or-other, I'll never forget his face though. He taught me a lot about gardening.

Still later I went to work at the carpet shop inside what used to be the old cinema. It was strange spending my Saturdays in the same picture house where I used to watch Casablanca and Rin Tin Tin on a Saturday afternoon for a tanner. Ju-Ju worked there with me for a while and two less likely lads you can’t imagine. We used to measure the carpet and then cut it with a Stanley knife guiding it with a long carpet cutting block with a slot for the blade – sliiiiisshhh. I’ll never forget the sound of that blade, or the blood when Ju-Ju sliced the end of his finger off one day. We used to make sure that we never cut too short by always cutting far too long, this worked well until we were spotted and sacked for giving away hundreds of pounds worth of carpet. I wonder how many box-rooms were carpeted with our over generous measuring?

It didn’t matter though, this was the heyday of the Saturday job and a couple of weeks later I was working at Sheargold’s the ironmongers on the High Street. I liked working at Sheargold's, weighing out the nails on the scales, counting out the daffodil bulbs and dropping them into brown paper bags, putting the brooms out on display in front the shop window. There always seemed to be a Saturday job available back then.

Oh to be back then in the time of the Saturday job.

I got a message the other day from one of my ‘back thens’, a message from so long ago that I’d hardly recognise myself if I bumped into him in the High Street. Not a Sheargold’s back then, but a Lewis's back then - a Saturday job at college back then.

I started in the basement on china at Lewis's and, apart from a two week stint in ladies underwear, stayed in the plates and dishes for almost two years. This person had been reading my posts late at night and it made them think about the past and how, as we get older, it seems to become so much more important.

I know that feeling. I spend quite a lot of time in the past probably because at some point there comes a time when your future crosses the line and becomes shorter than your past has been. Maybe that’s why I go back so often - to live in my past for a while in the hope of slowing things down just a little, stopping the future from coming so quickly.

Of course you can’t really, and as I’ve said before – you can’t change your past, but the future is full of opportunity. There must be Saturday jobs to be had still.

Innit tho blud.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

The cat in the box...

Now this is hard to understand, but stick with it; after all it’s only a few minutes out of your life (lives), and you can always not have started reading it at all, or not have a computer, or maybe there are no computers, or maybe you didn’t live to turn your computer on – I hope not though, I don’t have that many readers.

Confused? Read on it gets better.

I listened to a radio programme about Schrödinger's cat last week. Well, I have plenty of time to listen to the radio, not like those other me’s at the office, foundry, hospital, bakers, space station, zoo, recording studio, watchmakers, abattoir.

Schrödinger's cat is a thought experiment, best described as a paradox, thought up by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935. Schrödinger was friends with Einstein. I would imagine that their conversations weren’t very easy to follow – Einstein going on about relativity and sticking his tongue out and Schrödinger parrying with entanglement and multiple universe theory

Schrödinger's cat demonstrates what he saw as the problem with quantum mechanics being applied to everyday objects. I can’t begin to understand it, except in really broad terms, but apparently atoms and particles behave in ways that larger objects (like cats) don’t seem to. For instance some particles can be in two places at once and occupy two different spaces at the same time, others can occupy the same space as another particle simultaneously, still others aren’t there at all – but are.

Yes, I know it’s all very confusing.

Anyway, Schrödinger's thought experiment presents a cat that might be alive or dead, depending on an earlier random event (the leakage of some radioactive substance). The cat is inside a box along with the radioactive device and when it is opened the cat appears to be both alive and dead at the same time. Now of course this can’t happen - can it?

Well, according to quantum physics at a sub atomic level it can, so if it can happen in the sub atomic world it should be able to happen in the real world at a real life, full size, level – and who knows, maybe it does.

Schrödinger put forward the theory that at the time of opening the box the cat is both alive and dead because both outcomes have happened simultaneously simply because the opportunity exists; and at that point reality divides in two – one reality becoming the universe where the cat is dead and the other the universe where the cat is alive. So one reality becomes two and another universe is created. His view was this could happen over and over with universes splitting away continually around the various multiple outcomes of entangled random events, creating an infinite number of universes.

Imagine that our lives are splitting into different paths at each decision point or event creating different universes as they split, over and over, infinite realities, infinite opportunities, infinite differences.

Somewhere I’m a great painter, best seller writer, handsome, dictator, priest, paraplegic, mathematician, thin, poet, stillborn, athlete, bald, scientist, train driver. Somewhere I am anything and everything and nothing at all – and so are you.

Comforting? Scary? All those other selves thinking that they are the only one, except I know that I’m the only one and they know with equal certainty that they are the only one(s). How can there be more than one of me, more than one of you?


Okay you can stop thinking now. I told you that it was hard.

I bet Dali got it though. He called the photograph above Atomicus - just see those cats divide.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The great leveller...

It was seven-thirty this morning that the earthquake hit. My bed shook for a full thirty seconds, the dog across the road began to bark, my book fell from the bedside cabinet to the floor and there was an ominous rumble from the road outside the house.

Earthquake! Earthquake!” I shouted leaping out of bed whilst my wife just looked up at me shaking her head in erstwhile disbelief.

Apparently it wasn’t an earthquake at all, just the huge levelling machine that they are ‘doing’ our road with. Yes, the ‘doing’ of our road continues well over a year since the ‘doing’ commenced.

It’s nearly finished now, just another week or so, hence the appearance of the great leveller. The great leveller is a huge machine which scrapes away the surface of the road, removing all the bumps and lumps, potholes and patches, making the surface smooth and flat ready for the new road to be laid.

The appearance of the great leveller, like an earthquake ready to destroy and flatten everything in its path and sparing nobody, got me thinking about the other great levellers in all of our lives. You know the type of thing I mean. Those things that no matter how rich and powerful you are, what car you drive, who your parents were, how much you know, where you live, hit us all at times like an earthquake leaving the great leveller to come along and flatten us all regardless. Making us smooth and ready to face whatever new road is about to be laid.

Death, illness, loss of a pet, losing your job, the break up of a long relationship; they are all great levellers, bringing us all to the same place, giving us each a common understanding of some other’s situation. Of course there will be differences, different strengths of earthquake, more or less damage, different types of road – wider, narrower, shorter, longer, motorways, ‘A’ roads, ‘B’ roads, tracks – but broadly they are all pretty much the same, shared experiences that help us to understand each others situation, making us humbler than before.

All we have to do is survive the great leveller and try the new road. One thing’s for sure, it’ll be different from the old one.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Rabbit and Rooster...

Today is the start of the Chinese New Year and this year is the year of the Rabbit. Oh why, oh why, couldn’t I have been born in the Year of the Rabbit instead of the Rooster like I was?

Apparently people born in the Year of the Rabbit have it all. They are articulate, talented, and ambitious, and virtuous, and reserved, and have excellent taste. In fact they are so damned good that the list of their plus points just goes on and on; not only are they universally admired, trusted, and usually very lucky financially, but they seem to have no downside other than they like a good gossip. Even then they are tactful and generally kind, so it doesn’t usually amount to out and out bitching just friendly speculation and some minor tittle-tattle.

Worst of all though is that these bloody perfect Rabbits, with their long pointy ears and sticky out teeth, hardly every lose their flaming tempers. Damn them! They’re clever at business, conscientious and never back out of a contract. They are totally trustworthy, goodie-goodie, smiley, got-it-alls. Sounds to me like they’d make good gamblers, especially as they have this uncanny gift of choosing exactly the right thing, but they don’t gamble. There are more lottery Rabbit winners than any other sign, but oh no, not them. They are too good to gamble, they are conservative and they are wise, not like us poor Roosters.

Yes I admit it, I’m a Rooster; born in 1957, the year that Harold Macmillan became the Prime Minister. He was a Rooster too. People like hapless Harold and me, Rooster people, are deep thinkers. We’re pretty capable, and some might say talented, but we try for things that are way beyond our capabilities and end up deeply, doomy, disappointed when we fail; which we invariably do.

Often we’re a bit eccentric. Actually a lot of us verge on the stark raving bonkers (but if you read my blog then you already know that), which is probably why we seem to often have quite difficult relationship issues with others. Our problem is that we always think they we right, but only because we usually are! Outwardly it might seem that we get on well with people, but we’re frequently loners and although we give the outward impression of being adventurous, we are actually pretty timid. So to hide our basic inadequacies and hatred of everyone around us we run around being busy and getting things done whilst our emotions, like our fortunes, swing very high and then very low, smashing to the ground in a pile of shattered debris.

Poor us.

Yes, Rooster people like me are bi-polar, argumentative, bolshy, introverts who are usually selfish and far too outspoken. On the up side we are almost always interesting and can be extremely brave when we have to be – or so I am told.

Up there with the great and good in their wonderfully perfect fluffy bunny Rabbit world are people like Angelina Jolie, Tina Turner, Albert Einstein, Leon Trotsky, Frank Sinatra, and my old friend Orson Welles. Whilst down in the dumps scratching around with us Roosters in the dirt are Emperor Akihito, D.H. Lawrence, Goldie Hawn, Errol Flynn, Peter Ustinov, who were all cocking at their own doodle-doo to some degree or other, and of course me – and it’s all about me.

Oh well, Rooster or Rabbit it’s better than being a Snake.