Thursday, 31 March 2011

Footprints from the past…Tia and Misty.

It’s funny how the past remains even when you think it long gone.

These are Tia’s footprints, uncovered when the builders ripped up the flooring in our kitchen earlier this week. She always was a mischievous cat and so dainty, a lilac Burmese, slightly mad and full of frogs.

I’d forgotten all about her making this trail of footprints until I saw them again. She just wouldn’t stay out of the way when the concrete was poured, making her marks then spending the next hour or so frantically trying to remove every last speck of the setting substance from her tiny paws with her rough, pink tongue. I think she found it all very confusing.

They remind me a little of those pictures of dinosaur footprints that you sometimes see in National Geographic, an echo from millions of years ago captured in the rock that was once just mud for some gigantic creature to lumber across.

Tia wasn’t gigantic, she was petite. We were her pets for almost twenty years, she our first cat. Tia was Misty’s predecessor; poor Misty so very young when she was killed by a passing car on that drenching wet Welsh Friday afternoon last year.

Sometimes it feels like a million years since the tiny kitten of twenty years ago danced tag around my feet, and aeons since Misty dived bombed me from the top of the kitchen cupboards, making me jump and spill my coffee.

These long hidden footprints of my lost feline love bring them both back to mind; and I try so hard to keep it clear of them. I’m practiced at keeping them away, I've become used to ignoring the glimpses I still see from the corner of my eye. These days I hardly ever bend to pick up the dish that’s no longer there at nin-nin time; even though I often want to.

I keep thinking about getting another, but not just yet and sometimes I decide (again) that I never will. The new floor should go down next week and these last remnants of Tia’s existence will be hidden once more - out of sight, out of mind as they say.

Out of sight, out of mind? Well, maybe. I wonder how long it’ll take me to forget them this time.

She had such delicate paws

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

I'm not posting today...

I wasn't going to post today. Oh, I have plenty to write about, there's a lot going on at the moment, but I think I need to process it carefully before putting it out there in full view. I couldn't manage it though. I tried and then gave up.

To not post on a weekday is very hard for me. I rarely post on a Saturday and sometimes, particularly recently, I allow myself not to post on a Sunday - but a weekday?

It's all part of the ritual you see and increasingly rituals are important to me. Don't worry, I haven't developed OCD or anything, or at least I don't think I have, but routines are, as I've already stated, important. They give me a sense of being. I find comfort in their familiarity, their repetitive sameness.

I guess it's a process thing really. I'm a big fan of process as long as it is open to development and change. I can't abide ritual for the sake of it, those annoying processes that remain set in stone simply because they have always been done that way. Maybe that's why I don't really like organised religion, although I do believe that some things are hard to improve on - like making Stilton, or producing a really good wine. Mind you, even when you follow the process there are usually variances - how much sunshine was available to ripen the grape, the weave of the cloth that the cheese was wrapped in.

Following a recipe is a ritual, not that I do it very well. Sometimes I take it a little beyond the slight variance in the basic ingredients and end up adding something that isn't in the recipe at all. This usually means that any dish I cook always tastes a little different from the last time, particularly if I've added something unusual like anchovies to a bolognese sauce .

Now, I think that this experimentation is a good thing, but Gaynor is constantly telling me that you can't do that if you have a restaurant and that people expect the favourite meal to taste the same each time they order it. I sometimes counter with the repetitive blandness of the McDonald's experience, but in my heart I know she's right.

I've developed a really strict process for cleaning my teeth which involves three different types of electric tooth bush, two different mouthwashes, and those fiddly interdent brushes. I time it all to the second - sixty, fifteen, thirty, sixty, thirty, sixty - you can guess the order yourselves.

I even have a ritualistic approach to logging on to my computer - what I check first, where I go and in what order and I'm particularly attentive as to how I delete my e-mails.

Yes, I know what you are thinking, it does seem a bit odd, perhaps even a little sad. But I don't think that I'm the only one; there are so many rituals in all our lives.

Take the driving process. Where would we be if we didn't look in the mirrors each time we pulled away from the kerb, or didn't bother to check the outside lane before overtaking on the motorway? We'd probably end up in surgery with some surgeon performing an operating ritual on us, if we were lucky that is. Perhaps that's why they call them procedures.

And what about pre-flight checking the aircraft or even the well rehearsed process for putting on and inflating your life jacket that the flight attendant performs before take off? I don't know about you but I find it very reassuring and I'm always pleased that I know exactly how to do it. I still watch though, just in case - and to be polite of course.

Please, thank you, you're welcome, excuse me - a verbal ritual that really makes a person stand out, particularly if they never say them. I still open doors, and let people go first. Sometimes I'm there with the door in my hand for ages, smiling and nodding as one after another people go in and out without a word of thanks. I call that one the the durman ritual, because you have to be a bit of a 'dur' to do it. That's me though, King of the Durs.

Life is all ritual. We are born, we live, we die. It's all part of the process and we have no choice but to follow procedure. The process steps might vary, we may not all follow exactly the same procedure, but there's no getting away from the ritual.

There, I wasn't going to post today, but I did. Perhaps I won't post tomorrow instead.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The bells, the bells….

Three months on, three months of huge humming dehumidifier, three months almost to the day of our New Year burst pipe disaster, the builders arrived to begin replacing ceilings, ripping up floors and fitting new units.

We had to wait for the walls to dry out you see, hence the three month wait. For the last three months we have had to listen to the drone of a massive blue machine sucking the water from the air twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week and according to the timer it has now been running for 1,493 hours even though sometimes, mainly meal times, we’ve turned it off for a few minutes in a fruitless attempt to keep our sanity.

Not quite as bad as the continuous ringing of bells, but I am beginning to feel a little like Quasimodo as well as looking like him.

Still, I’ve never been one to despair and today the builders came and the work began. It would all be over in a couple of weeks.

Until they began lifting the kitchen floor that is.

Underneath the laminate floor they found ceramic tiles, underneath the ceramic tiles they found a layer of 22mm chipboard, underneath the chipboard they found the original floorboards. The boards were soaking wet and moulding, the water had penetrated the top layer of flooring, permeated through the grouting of the tiles, soaked into the chipboard turning it to soggy dust and settled on the surface of the floorboards where it had lay festering like a murky layer of primordial ooze.

The smell of damp hit me like a dustbin full of toadstools. How did I know it was full? Well, there wasn’t mush-room inside.

No, not even Lonnie Donegan’s immortal line from ‘My Old Man’s a Dustman’ could manage to bring a smile to my lips.

It is all going to have to be replaced but before that can be done the floorboards need to be dried out and that means…

CLICK – huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum- huuum…

The Dehumidifier is back on and the big blue hummer is back.

Sanctuary! Sanctuary! I must have sanctuary!

Monday, 28 March 2011

Coming to my census…

Here they are, my census forms. Quite a lot of them, aren’t there?

Yes, yesterday was ‘D’ day, the 27th of March, census day and (as they say on the envelope) my response is required by law. So, being a law abiding citizen I filled in my census forms - both of them. Yes, I’ve just discovered a new downside to having two homes.

Now they know that in our main home the three of us wander around in nine rooms (excluding bathrooms, toilets, halls or landings and rooms that can only be used for storage such as cupboards), and that five of these rooms might be bedrooms. I say might because one is Holly’s play room (not that she actually plays these days) and the other’s our upstairs lounge. But they ‘might’ be bedrooms if we wanted them to be - but then so could the dining room, living room, the room without any designated use in the cellar and the landings.

I didn’t include the utility room in the room count, I don’t know why exactly, but I thought that if I wasn’t including the bathrooms then it probably made sense not to include the utility room. After all, I don’t think I could get a bed in there – a hammock or two maybe, but not a bed.

They also know that I am in good health, apart from my knee and my back (not that I mentioned it on the form, there wasn’t any space to list my ailments – major or minor) and that we have gas central heating. Why they would want to know about our central heating is a mystery to me but I’m sure that it’ll be of interest to someone in the ministry of hot air or whatever department is in charge of producing graphs and pie charts depicting typical central heating types across the UK. I wonder if there’s more solid fuel in the North whilst the South has more electricity… not that I’ll know for another hundred years.

I was very tempted to put ‘no central heating’ because at some point (next winter maybe) energy prices will be so expensive that we might as well have none because we won’t be able to afford to use it. Similarly they now know that we have access to two cars, but with fuel prices on an ever upward path we soon won’t be driving anywhere in either of them.

I struggled a little with the religion question. I know that I didn’t have to fill it in but it seemed tardy not to, particularly as it was the only choice I had on the whole form. So I answered Pagan. Well, it’s about as close to the right label as I can get. I do believe in a creative force, I do believe that we are all part of the same life experience and I do believe that there are more things in heaven and earth, but I’m no Jedi – so Pagan seemed about right.

I hope they appreciate my runic characters.

They will be able to work out from question 26, 27, 28, 29, 30 and 31 that I’ve recently become unemployed, although this question isn’t asked directly. I wonder why not? Surely they could have just added ‘are you a sponger?’ to question 26 and dispensed with the other five.

Perhaps they just like playing twenty questions or maybe they’re shy - or I wonder if they actually think that it really isn’t any their business? I can’t believe it’s the latter, after all they seem very keen to know how many visitors were staying overnight on the twenty-seventh of March 2011. Unfortunately my visitors were all away that night, so I couldn’t include them. I usually have around twenty or so most evenings, which is why we sometimes use the bathrooms as bedrooms and the big cupboard has two sets of bunk beds.

My Welsh cottage census form was very keen to know if I could understand, speak, read, or write Welsh. I had to rather ashamedly tick the box stating ‘none of the above’, I don’t think good morning, good evening, thank you or I’ll have a pint of beer please really counts. Dyw un iaith byth yn ddigon.

Google it, you'll see what I mean.

I suppose that if I could write in Welsh I’d have filled in my Welsh census form on the other form which they sent me, the one that is printed in Welsh. The one I didn’t use and that will go straight into the recycling bin. I’ll leave you to debate the environmental, cost, waste issues versus the identity, first language, independence issues. It really does seem a bit silly to send me (an English second home owner) two more census forms that I actually need to record my family’s occupations, ages, educational achievements, employment status, method of work transport, available cars, religion and of course – type of central heating (by the way the cottage has propane, so I had to tick 'other').

Well, at least that’s done for another ten years and I can rest secure in the knowledge that I’ve done my bit to ‘help tomorrow take shape’ - whatever that means.

Mind you, given that the tomorrow I've just helped shape is a hundred years away I don't expect I'll see it. The good thing about my future is that it comes a day at a time, my time, and that gives me chance to shape it any way I want.

Now, what sort of central heating shall I have in my future? Wood burner anyone?

Friday, 25 March 2011

On new love…

Spring, a time of renewal, a time for life to shake itself and rise again, a time for love, a time for growth - romance is in the air.

Here’s to the pink that flushes our view; the pink that grows to chase away the winter darkness. The cherries that blossom, the warmth that fills dark empty lungs, making us hum again to a love song.

Is that a blush upon your cheek, so pink and warm and fleeting? Could that only be the reflection of the setting sun making your eyes shine and sparkle? Is it the weather? Is it the time of year? Is it love?

Oh you lucky pair to find such fun.

This spring moved me once, raised more than a knowing smile; but too many springs have dulled my appetite, too much blossom choked me with its sweetness.

I know where I stand on spring with its fluffy pinkness and rising sap. I still remember its action on my blood, my senses alert to the buzzing of newly wakened bees, the birds in couple flitting through the trees. I’m sure I laughed at silly, gambolling lambs leaping in the air, and felt the pull of the rushing water as the sleek pink salmon rushed towards a spawning. I remember well - but now…

I find romance illogical; lambs are meat and salmon is a filling for my sandwich. There is no blossom to cloud my eyes with pinkness, no warmth to flow blood faster. I no longer hum, bees just buzz around and blossom is a flower that falls, turning to brown upon the floors.

But that’s just me, and time. For yours is the pink, not mine.

Oh lucky pair to find such fun.

Enjoy your spring - long may it go on.

Thursday, 24 March 2011

In a hard place...

Oh, if only life could be simple. I seem to be in a hard place at the moment, or maybe I should describe it as a number of hard places. I was driving out of Pwllheli last weekend, and looking across into a field I'd passed a thousand times before I saw this stone.

Now this isn't the first time these stones have crept up on me out of nowhere to startle me with their brooding presence, and it always leaves me wondering how I missed it before. Was it even there before I saw it and did my seeing it make it real?

Is anything really there before you see it? Do we have to see something, really notice it, to make it real?

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

Sometimes I wish I were a stone. Stones don’t get touched by the things going on around then, the people who are around them. Stones don’t have to worry about the way the wind is blowing or the rain that’s falling, the heat that’s waiting or the chill that’s coming.

Stones don’t have to try, they simply are.

If I were a stone I’d stand in my field and just be. If I were a stone I’d turn my back. If I were a stone I’d not hear or see and have to hear or see. If I were a stone a stony me I’d be.

Stones don’t have to be, they simply are.

A stony me, I’d not be needing or knowing. A stony me, I’d never be for caring. A stony me, I’d be not ever chancing. A stony me, with no song and no dancing.

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

Perhaps, I don’t want to be a stone after all.

Maybe I’ll just deal with my complicated life, notice the things that make it complicated, make them real and let my heart melt the stone around it.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

What about the workers

Do we still have workers?

When I say workers I mean those cloth capped, overall wearing, union card carrying, Player’s cigarette smoking workers that used to walk along my street, on their way to the factory at six in the morning when I was a boy.

According to that most ubiquitous of things; a new survey, seventy-one percent of Britons now regard themselves as middle class. Only a generation ago (that must be me then, or am I at two generations now?) it was around twenty-five percent and the other fifty percent or so considered themselves workers, or working class as we all called it back then.

These days only twenty-four percent of people describe themselves as working class and nobody at all describes themselves as upper class. Don’t worry, there are a few snobs still around, seven percent consider themselves to be upper-middle class (those will be the ones that went to public school then, mainly politicians I expect), twenty-one percent are lower-middle class and forty-four percent call themselves middle class – right in the middle of the middle or ‘stuck in the middle with you’ as Stealer’s Wheel once put it. Sorry, there’s no connection.

What a muddle the middle seems to be in.

If the well-known class sketch was shown today, Ronnie Barker would stand almost alone (despite the song saying the opposite) in his middle class ground, John Cleese would stiffly deny his own existence and poor Ronnie Corbett would become even smaller as his tiny, fading, working class voice would whisper: ‘I know my place.’

‘I know my place’. Well, we all used to.

So who are these new middle classes?

When I was a boy the working class man was everywhere and proud of it, it was the doctors, lawyers, teachers, bank managers and clergy who were the middle class. Shopkeepers and business people were suspect, as were general office staff and farmers; no matter how many acres they owned. If you worked in the council offices or were a district nurse you probably just edged yourself into middle classdom, but in the main the workers were everywhere; united and standing, never divided or falling.

Class seemed to be more prevalent back then, differences greater, but maybe it was just an illusion and we were all middle class all along despite the red flag flying high at the end of every labour party conference.

It never felt that way at school though, most of the other boy’s parents had a teasmade, some even had real maids, we just had a kettle and it wasn’t even electric.

Apparently when asked to bring along a symbol of their middle classness, a lot of people brought along their cafetières – well, that’s easy then. I wonder if the lower-middle class buy theirs from Argos, the middle-middle class from John Lewis and the upper-middle class from Fortnum and Mason?

So if we have all become middle class, even the plumbers (no surprise there really, they can all afford to drive BMW’s), the bakers who are all craft bakers now (what were they before then) and the lorry drivers whose cabs would put a four star hotel to shame, just who will man the barricades when the revolution comes?

If there is ever a revolution in this country I guess that’ll it’ll have to be led by the middle classes:

“What do we want?”

“Gradual change.”

“When do we want it?”

“Some time in the foreseeable future at a time convenient to all parties, preferably at the weekend before pilates.”

I think the cry of ‘what about the workers?’ has gone. These days those of us that do work (I’m not one of them currently) all have laptops, cars, flat screen TV’s, foreign holidays and expectations that the workers of two generations ago simply didn’t have. We’ve become middle class by a steady process of the acquisition of things, perhaps a little more education, but the feeling of where our root stock is from has almost vanished.

Even so and despite almost all of us considering ourselves middle class, Britain is the most unequal nation amongst the developed countries after the US and Singapore.

How can that be? I don’t know. What I do know is that if the revolution ever comes it will be caused by the have-nots rising up against the haves. Perhaps it isn’t so very far away after all.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Bully pigeon eats all the pies…

Grrrrrrr. Today has been one of those days us bloggers dread.

Not a supermoon day, or a Dennis the Menace birthday day, or even an ‘I’ve just stacked up my Kindle by downloading just about every free classic that isn’t written in the original German’ day (although I have). No, today is none of these things. Today is just an ordinary, boring, run-of-the-mill, not very much happening, no real news, about as exciting as watching the proverbial paint dry, get-up-and-then-go-back-to-bed-later day.

Not there is anything unusual about that. Most days are by definition of who I am somewhat ordinary, after all I’m not a paid assassin… unfortunately.

On that subject there are some people I’d do for free. Oh, don’t worry, if you are one of them you already know who you are, so you can stop wondering if you are on my list.

Neither am I the lead guitarist in a heavy metal band living the rock n’ roll lifestyle and throwing TV’s out of my hotel window. I wonder if the change to flat screen has diluted the excitement of all that? After all, there isn’t that much substance to a flat screen, not much to crash and explode when it misses some very lucky passer-by’s head by barely an inch. Or should that be 2.54 centimetres? Oh yes, I did some maths and some English today - but that’s for another time.

I did go shopping and I did plant up a few petunias - and of course I’ve already mentioned my Kindle which now is fit to bursting with The Prisoner of Zenda (Anthony Hope), Wessex Tales (Thomas Hardy), Lord Jim (Joseph Conrad), The Mysterious Island (Jules Verne), Ghost Stories of an Antiquarian - volumes one and two (M.R. James) and scores of other classic books that I’m sure I’ll get around to reading (or in some cases re-reading) some day.

So stuff has happened - but hardly anything worth blogging you with.

By the way when I say my Kindle is ‘bursting’ I use the word for effect rather than literally; my Kindle still has plenty of space, enough for at least another fourteen hundred books or so.

After lunch I Googled my Uncle Len who died last week and found that he had his own Wikipedia page. ‘Leonard James Webb (April 16, 1921 — March 19, 2011) was a British World War II veteran who was present at the liberation of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1945.’ I already knew this, and pretty much everything else on his Wiki page. I know a lot more about him too, but I’m saving that up for a post in the not too distant future – as a taster though: he had a red-black marble ashtray with a carved eagle standing on a swastika which he had liberated from Josef Kramer’s office.

After that, I sat in my Italianate courtyard (back yard) for a while waiting for the fish to come to the surface and eat the pond pellets with ‘spirulina and vitamin ‘C’ - for healthier more energetic fish’, but they never showed; which just goes to prove that vitamins and health additives don’t work - at least not on my fish.

By the way, we have five fish now. I went out and bought three pond shibunkins (‘red brocade’ as translated literally from the Japanese) last week. Perversely mine are not red or (as far as I can tell) brocaded in any way whatsoever; I have two blue-grey ones and a black and brown and as always they have proved impossible to photograph - which has rather spoilt my plans for the header picture for this post.

Yes today has been what they call in the world of journalism and blogging a slow day, a no-news day, the day when the silliest things get into the headlines and even sillier pictures are printed on the front page.

Well, he wasn’t a really a bully (there were no other birds involved) and there weren't any pies in the feeder (just some seed and a few suet pellets), but you have to grab people’s attention somehow don’t you.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Happy birthday Dennis...

'Look! Here's a new pal you'll enjoy - He's the world's wildest boy!'

‘Early in 1951, Beano Editor George Moonie, sub-editor Ian 'Chiz' Chisholm, and David Law, an Edinburgh born artist, began work on a new character whose name was inspired by the Music Hall song "Dennis the Menace from Venice".’

Ah, the Beano.

Yes, Dennis the Menace was sixty last week, hard to believe that Dennis the Menace is even older than I am. Dennis was the naughty boy that I always wanted to be, but couldn’t quite bring myself to risk all the trouble that becoming him would bring me. I was no Walter though. On the Dennis/Walter naughtiness scale (Dennis being a ten and Walter a Zero) I was probably somewhere in the middle or a little above, a six to seven maybe.

Gnasher, his extremely rare Abyssinian Wire-haired Tripe Hound, and Dennis's faithful sidekick didn’t appear until the August of 1968, around the time I obtained my two ‘Dennis’ badges and just before I stopped reading the Beano and moved on to ‘Fantastic’ with Thor, Iron Man, the X-Men, Johnny Future. I traded in Dennis’s naughtiness and Walter’s soppiness for super heroes in lycra tights and flowing capes rather than Dennis’s 'in your face' sweater - such is the fickleness of youth.

Despite no longer reading Dennis’s adventures on a weekly basis I continued to dip in and out of the Beano, summer and Christmas specials, back editions, annuals – I even bought a couple of copies from the seventies a few years back. It didn’t bother Dennis though, he just kept on going and by 1988 his fan club boasted over a million members. For a short while back in my twenties I was one of them – nostalgia was important to me even back then. Was there ever a time I didn't yearn for yesteryear?

They’ve dumbed Dennis’s antics down a little these days. His dad no longer slipper’s him at the end of every episode and Dennis’s punishment is more likely to be to put on an apron and do the washing up. Corporal punishment seems to be frowned upon in polite society and Walter the softie has given up loving flowers quite as much as he used to and has found himself a girlfriend. Dennis still has his water pistol and catapult though, even if he’s not as scary looking as the Dennis I remember, less manic, a little more friendly.

I often think that Dennis was the original punk with that mop of black spiky hair and his black and red striped jumper. Dennis didn’t always wear that distinctive jumper, originally he wore a shirt and a tie. Dennis in a tie, can you imagine it? He stole that jumper a couple of months after first appearing in the Beano when he tied some rockets to a chum for a prank. When he lit the blue touch-papers with a match he sent his chum up into the air at such speed that it literally blew him out of his clothes. Well, what are chums for after all, and it was only a harmless prank and nobody was badly hurt – were they?

I loved the Dennis of my childhood. If the sign said ‘Don’t Walk on the Grass’ then Dennis would walk on it. ‘Wet Paint’ on railings and Dennis would remove the sign so that Walter would lean against them. ‘No Fishing’ and Dennis would be fishing in it, a big pile of fish beside him. If there was a banana skin handy Dennis would place it on the pavement just outside of Walter’s gate, and if there was a muddy puddle to ride through, Dennis would ride his bike through it just in time to cover Walter head to foot in the muddy water.

He always got his comeuppance though. Dennis never got away with it. The final frame always pictured his dad, slipper raised, ready to give Dennis a good 'thwacking'. Dennis's dad always scared me a little, just whose idea was it to give him an Adolph Hitler moustache?

Dennis was bad to the core, naughty beyond belief, more than mischievous, at the very edge of being a hooligan. But I thought he was great and I still do, even though these days he’d probably be served with an ASBO.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Daffodils and a death...

Here they are my old throwaways. The miniature daffodils I discarded a couple of years ago, tossing them across the way and onto the grass by the edge of the road, leaving them to rot under the hedge by the ivy. They were of no use, they’d stopped flowering, gone completely blind. Sometimes it’s best to give up trying, ripping them out and starting again was the only alternative.

And there they lay.

Ever wonder how those clumps of daffodils that appear in the most unexpected places get there? There was nothing last year, well maybe a few green leaves, I didn’t really notice, but then this year, a week or so ago, dozens of small yellow blooms appeared as if from nowhere. At first I didn’t make the connection, but when one of my old star daffodils managed to bring itself back to life I realised that these were my old throwaways.

Yes I know, sometimes this blog can read like an episode of the Archers with everything coming out for the best in the end. But I’m only relating the way it is. I’m not intentionally trying to be inspirational, or comforting, or throwing out a line of hope in an otherwise bleak and evil world. I’d much prefer it all to be gloom and dark and despair. It’d be easier if the daffodils didn’t flower again. But it really isn’t like that – despite Japan, and Libya, drugs, cancer, the acquaintance who committed suicide last Thursday on the fifth anniversary of his Dad’s death, leaving the contents of his home neatly boxed and a three page letter which included the hymns to be sung at his funeral.

For most of us, good things happen most of the time and we should always remember that privilege. Our lives are generally okay, sometimes bad things happen, but usually we get over them, recover and start again, just like my old daffodils. Even when it appears we have nothing left to offer, have given all we can, don’t have any colour left and will never flower again - we do.

Most of us, most of the time.

What a powerful thing nature must be when dead daffodil bulbs can rest, reset, and renew themselves and show such a beautiful display only a couple of years later. I threw them away when they weren’t ready to go and they came back.

It tells me something.

I wish Mike had seen the daffodils.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Wonder stuff, facebook, supermoon, and noses...

‘These streets used to look big, this town used to look like a city, these people used to talk to me. Caught in my shadow.’ - The Wonder Stuff

Facebook is a marvellous window to the world. I can only imagine what it brings to someone who is housebound or separated from all the people they love, their friends, by distance. I’m sure there are millions of stories out there that would warm the heart.

Yes I know that it can be a dangerous place too. But I think on balance it brings more good than evil.

I’m spending a lot of time on my own at the moment. No bad thing maybe. The weather has been good and I have wireless so I can sit in my Italianate courtyard garden, aka my back yard, drink my coffee, search for jobs, and network - sometimes even in the sunshine.

That’s what I’m doing now. It’s quite warm in the sun and I’m totally enclosed and alone, but even so thanks to the wonders of the internet, broadband, technology generally - I’m not. I’m actually out there all over the place communicating with people I know and even some that I don’t.

Facebook is such a great place to pick up bits of information and grab some memories. It’s a bit like going to a coffee morning. Liz posted a lyric to a song that I used to love this morning. ‘Caught in My Shadow’ by the Wonder Stuff. Barbara made me aware that it was the Cheltenham Gold Cup today, even posted a couple of tips. Steph reminded me it was Red Nose day (I’d completely forgotten), and Sharon (who I only met a handful of times) let me know that the world is set to experience the biggest full moon for almost two decades when the satellite reaches its closest point to Earth this weekend.

I love all things moon so this was interesting news to me. On Saturday the full moon will appear incredibly large in the sky as it reaches a point known as the 'lunar perigee'. It’ll be the closest it will have passed us since 1992 and will appear to be up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter in the sky, if we are lucky.

Sometimes it’s called a ‘supermoon’ and they have been linked to extreme weather events and other natural phenomena - earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. The last time the moon passed very closely to the Earth was on 10 January 2005, around the time of the Indonesian earthquake that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was also associated with an unusually large full moon and there were supermoons in 1955, 1974 and 1992 – all with a variety of extreme weather events which killed thousands of people.

All very worrying. It makes you think about Japan. We’ll see. I wonder if Barbara’s horses will come in.

Oh well, Time to put my red nose on.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Vanishing fish and more gnomes...

Well, I was going to write about our two new fish, but I haven't seen fin or scale of them all day. No, they haven’t put in an appearance and I haven't been able to get a picture of them swimming around in the water to illustrate this post.

We bought the fishes yesterday to celebrate the fact that I have cleaned out the pond, a disgusting and smelly job at the best of times but as I haven’t done it for years – well...

Anyway, we carefully released our two, as yet unnamed, lively white and orange comets into the crystal clear waters of our tiny pond and waited for them to begin to swim around. We waited and waited, but the pair of them just lay stock still on the floor of the pond.

“We’ll leave them alone for a while to get acclimatised” I said to Gaynor.

So we did and went out shopping for an hour or two and when we came home the fishes were nowhere to be seen. The pond was empty. We looked and searched, checked underneath the overhanging rocks, even poked around with a stick. But the fishes were gone, vanished. Our pond was empty.

The ensuing conversation revolved around whether a cat or a heron had had them. We decided it couldn’t be a cat as the pond-side would have been disturbed and the cat would have left traces - and we had seen a heron fly over a couple of days earlier.

Gaynor was worried that the fish had slipped down the back of the liner, I laughed and said that they were comets and not bloody flying fish, she replied that I should have put some net or something over the pond, I said they were only bloody fish, she said that it was a shame for them and how would I like to be eaten by a big scary heron, I said that it was better than being pecked by a bloody hen, she said that I could get my own tea, I said that I’d do a better job of it anyway and that I fancied fish… and so it went on.

Well, these things happen don’t they?

Later, after we’d forgotten about the argument, we went out to the pond to mourn the sad demise of our fishes and wonder further what had happened. We turned on the light above the pond, looked down into the water, and there they were, our fishes, slowly swimming about on the bottom of the pond as if nothing had happened. A heron hadn’t got them, neither had a cat, and it certainly wasn’t an alien abduction as I’d sarcastically suggested to Gaynor whilst we were arguing. They’d been hiding, that was all.

We subsequently discovered a fold in the side of the liner where they can hide from view completely, and I (as instructed) constructed a fish safety device this morning in the shape of a rather fancy wire screen to stop any cats, herons, or alien beings from trying to abduct and eat our fishes.

I haven’t seen them all day. They’re hiding again, which is a pity as I wanted to get a picture for my blog. Oh well, at least you get to see a picture of the abseiling gnomes I bought today from the pound shop.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Gnome World...

Meet Brocklehurst, he’s my garden gnome. I named him after a gnome who appeared in a book that I read a long time ago when I was a boy. He flew on the back of an owl and lived in a hollowed out tree. I wish I could find that book now, I don't even know its title.

I have to admit to a real fondness for garden gnomes, there’s something about their silly expressions and those brightly coloured pointy hats that makes me feel good. Gnomes are guaranteed to make me smile and I think if people stopped referring to them as ‘naff’ or ‘kitsch’ and started seeing them for the good-hearted symbols of fun that they really are then the world would be a slightly brighter place.

Interestingly The Daily Mail reported last month that – ‘sales of plastic and pottery gnomes have doubled in the last year - suggesting that a new generation of homeowners are falling in love with the miniature figures’ , and Touchstone have a new film out ‘Gnomeo and Juliet’, so perhaps it’s beginning to happen.

I’ve carried a gnomish dream in my head for years now, well not so much a dream, more a plan really, and one I’d love to make happen. I want to create Gnome World.

Gnome World is a place for old and unwanted gnomes to retire to. It’s in the countryside, maybe Wales, and the World itself is enclosed within a small wood. Inside the wood live the gnomes in small groups or tribes dependent on size, activity, race, etc. So there’s a large pond surrounded by fishing gnomes, a garden full of digging gnomes, a sporty gnome pitch, a red hatted gnome village (Redhatterston), a rival green hatted gnome village (Gnomewich Green), a pipe smoking gnome area, and all the rest. In my mind the options are endless and Gnome World is a huge tourist attraction with raised decking walkways where families wander through the leafy wood taking in the wonders of gnomic civilisation that's all around them.

"Oh look! There's a gnome in a parachute hanging from that tree, and another climbing up that rock on a rope!" See, it's almost real.

People would (for a small yearly annuity of around twenty-five pounds - yes, less than fifty pence per week!) be able to retire their gnome to Gnome World and visit (at a twenty percent reduced rate entrance fee for retired gnome owners) whenever they wanted. Twice a year they would receive an online newsletter with pictures on how their gnome’s been doing, his health, what he’s been up to, romantic interest, any scuffles and arguments he’s had, court hearings, that sort of thing – a kind of personalised gnome soap. Your gnome would also send a birthday and Christmas card to his owner (Second class of course. Extra cards for additional family members are available at an additional cost).

And then there would be The Gnomerie Tea Rooms and Café, The Gnome-from-Gnome Gift Shop (selling gnomes and gnome memorabilia obviously), or have your picture taken with a family of life-size (over three feet high!) gnomes, and of course to amuse the kids we’d have the Great Gnome Hunt and in wet weather they could hand paint their own gnome in the Gnomic Art Centre (paint your own Gnome only £5.00).

Ah, Gnome World. As you can see I’ve spent a lot of time there. I could go on about it all day. Maybe one day my silly dream will be reality. I think it would work. How about you?

Here's some interesting facts about gnomes from our FREE Little-Gnome-Facts exhibition situated in The Gnomerie Tea Rooms and Café.

- Garden gnomes originated in Germany.The very first gnomes were made of clay and were produced by potter Philipp Griebel in Graeferoda, Thuringia.

- In 1847, 21 terra cotta garden gnomes made their way to the English estate of Sir Charles Isham, the 10th Baronet of Lamport Hall. See our full range of adorable terra cotta gnomes in the Gnome-from-Gnome Gift Shop.

- The world’s oldest garden gnome - Lampy - has been living at Lamport Hall for 125 years and is worth two million pounds. You can buy your very own Lampy copy in The Gnome-from-Gnome Gift Shop for only £11.99.

- In the 1870’s garden gnomes began to be manufactured in large numbers. Over a billion gnomes have been sold since then. You can paint and personalise your very own gnome at our Gnomic Arts Centre.

- In 1989, after the collapse of the Iron Curtain, cheap imitations were produced in Poland and the Czech Republic. Initially they were prevented from entering Germany by a law which allowed customs officers to confiscate them. All our gnomes are of the highest quality.

In the 1980s, the pranksters of the Gnome Liberation Front stole gnomes and sent the owners photos of them from landmarks around the globe. See some of our own gnome's holiday snaps later in this exhibition.

John Major’s father, Tom Major-Ball, manufactured garden gnomes after his circus career ended.

Yes, I'm mad as a hatter, a gnome hatter.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Kew Gardens in my kitchen...

Remember me telling you a couple of weeks ago that my office on the kitchen worktop was ordered removed by the keeper of the keys and that I had set up my out-of-work station in the cellar? Well my office has now been replaced by a miniature version of Kew Gardens as ever more numerous pound-shop mini-propagators appear where once my papers, phone and laptop sat.

My Excuse? Well, it’s that time of year isn’t it? Early spring - the time when you want to steal a march on nature and get your seedlings going good and early.

There’s a radiator directly underneath that piece of work surface and sometimes, when you can actually see it, we use it as a breakfast bar. It makes a marvellous heat tray for my seeds though, and amazingly I’ve had courgettes come through in less that three days and yesterday some lobelia in twenty-four hours! Amazing what a little heat can do.

It’s not much better in the upstairs lounge where my propagators stand in line all along the windowsill as my seedlings take in the sunshine. It’s the sunniest room in the house and you can almost hear them sigh with contentment as they grow and bask in the warmth on the second floor.

Last Sunday I planted some ipomea quamoclit cardinalis seeds. They were one of my ten pence bargains from Wilkinson’s 'Fantastic End Of Season Sale!' last year. Did you know that 'The Romans were probably the first to cultivate their favourite plants across the Empire, whilst much later Plant Hunters of the 18th and 19th Centuries collected specimens from across the continents' ? Well, that's what it says on the seed packet.

This particular ipomea variety is native to South America and sub tropical so I didn’t really expect much of a result. Even so I planted the seeds in small individual ice cream pots, the ones with the re-sealable lids, and placed them on the radiator in the upstairs lounge. This morning, only two days later, two of my twelve seeds had germinated!

I’m almost tempted to call it a miracle, but I shan’t. After all, I’m not quite ready to be canonised - I think that you have to be dead first.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The servant’s privy…

I tidied out my garden shed yesterday. Well, when I say shed it was once the servants outside privy. It still has the remains of the lead pipe on the back wall, chopped off at the ground, the one that fed the water to the high level cistern. My next door neighbour still has his in tact, pipes and all, and a metal cistern enclosed in a wooden box with ‘Invictas’ printed on the side in script face. It even has the dangling, rusty iron chain that you pulled to make the toilet flush.

The house has always had inside plumbing, but the bathroom wasn’t for the servants. There are little telltale signs of the difference between servants quarters and family quarters all over the house. The top floor where the servants slept has a pine banister whilst the other two floors are mahogany, the roof rooms have cast iron fireplaces, whilst all the others have oak, mahogany and marble, the rooms where the servants worked and lived have no mouldings or ceiling roses, whilst the main rooms are quite ornate. All small indications of a lesser status I suppose.

When we first moved into the house there was even more of the past in evidence, a huge limestone cold slab in the cellar for keeping meat fresh and a massive iron copper for boiling the water for the washing. The copper was built into a square brick oven with a space for coal or wood and a cast iron door with a heavy metal latch. The fire would boil the water in the copper and there was a second fire-brick oven to the side for baking bread. In the scullery the walls were made from white glazed bricks and there was a huge enamelled sink in one corner by the back door. There were even a few redundant gas sconces remaining on the landings and a couple of brass pull knobs for the servants bells by the fireplaces in the living and dining room.

Our neighbours still have the original servant’s bells, all numbered in fading blue-inked handwritten script, high on the wall of the kitchen, and one house further down the road is rumoured to still have the original range, plate-warmer and all.

Now the thing is these aren’t very grand houses. They are just a row of very early Edwardian town houses, terraced glazed red brick, grey slate roofs, three floors and cellars. But back in the early 1900’s most of the house owners had a couple of servants living in, a cook and a maid usually, sometimes two maids making three in all.

It’s odd to think of those teenage maids creeping out into the cold on a winter’s evening to use the privy in my back yard. I wonder if a ghost or two still does.

Well, if they do, at least it’s tidy for them now.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

Fobbing me off...

I heard on the radio today (radio 4 so it must be true) that research shows that ever individual has an average of just under two keys on their key ring that they have absolutely no idea what they were for. Dead keys - keys that used to unlock something, maybe still do, but the holder simply can’t remember why they had them.

Now, I don’t know why anyone would want to undertake such research or why Radio 4 would report it, but it sounds about right. For years I’ve carried around huge bunches of keys, half of which I’ve no idea what they are for or even if they ever unlocked anything at all.

This is particularly true of desk keys. Desk keys are generally without personality or differences, they are usually too small and fiddly and far too annoyingly boring to ever be noticed on a key ring. So after a few years, a change of desk, a matching cabinet or two, you usually have at least six keys which look pretty much the same, that you have never used, and that you simply can’t be bothered to remove. This is the road to key fob ruin and a very large bulge in your trousers.

We all know that getting keys onto a key ring is relatively simple process, but getting them off again is almost impossible and guaranteed to have you swearing and cursing for hours as you break nails, inset the edges of various denomination silver and copper coins, and thrust the ends of ridiculously sharp kitchen knives into the devilishly impossible puzzle that is the metal key attaching ring. Oh, the trauma of trying to wiggle keys off a key ring.

I don’t bother any more. My bunch (oo, er, missus) just gets bigger and bigger as my life rolls on.

I’m an adder you see. Instead of removing old keys when I get a new car / shed / house / desk / padlock / boat - I simply take the new key, ring and all, and add it to the old ring. I’ve even inherited whole bunches of keys and added them to my existing bunch until eventually I have a bunch of keys so big that it doesn’t fit in my pocket, dangles to my knees when the car key is in the ignition, and takes me half an hour to find the right key to let myself in my front door - and when I combine, I usually combine the fobs as well.

And just why are they called key fobs anyway? I always thought that a fob was a vest pocket to hold a pocket watch. Not that I have a pocket in my vest, not that I wear vests anyway, I'm not Gregory Peck (unfortunately).

I think that it’s time for a key cull.

It's hard though. My bunch of keys tells the story of my life. Look closely, you can see 'me' in their metal. They tell a tale, my tale, the places I have lived and worked, my interests, who I've worked for, the car I drive and the car I don't drive any longer, my passion (some say obsession) for rubber ducks, my secret drawer.

Oh well, there's nothing else for it. Last week my trousers fell around my ankles with the weight. Now where did I put my hacksaw and pliers?

Friday, 11 March 2011

Just another Friday...

Just another Friday? Well maybe for me but not for everyone. For some this Friday was full of grief and loss, death even.

This world, it’s never still is it? I don't pray much but I'll make an exception today.

I awoke to the news of this sudden earthquake in Japan and the aftermath of the resulting Tsunami’s and whirlpools - unexpected, catastrophic, terrifying, destructive. I could go on with awful word after awful word but I won’t.

Einstein said; 'In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.' But it's just so hard to see where the opportunity lies when disaster happens.

Sometimes I am amazed and shocked by the uncontrollable nature of our world, and I'm even more amazed and shocked by people's ability to pick themselves out of the wreckage and move on.

I often think about the tens of thousands of Jews who survived the concentration camps and how, left with nothing, they went on to build new lives for themselves in far flung corners of the world.

I can't go into our corner shop without feeling admiration for the hard working Asian family who keep it open almost around the clock. The old man fled Idi Amin's Uganda, leaving with almost nothing and starting again in a strange, cold country where everybody spoke a foreign language.

My neighbours across the road, an ancient Italian couple, were forced out of Libya many years ago and came to live a quiet and separate life in Hale. I know they have seen real horror, but you would never know it from Maria's friendly wave and Julio's polite nod as they pass by.

But perhaps the most shocking thing about all the disasters that happen, that we watch and read about on the television and in the papers, is how very quickly we forget and move on to the next one.

If disaster struck me, an earthquake, genocide, a military coup, a forced exodus. If I were to be thrust into the whirlpool to be spun and spun not knowing where or even if I would ever be still again, would I be able to stand up afterwards, recover from the nausea and build a life once more? Have I the strength and courage?

I like to think I have, but I really do wonder.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Fifty-four…

Another Birthday, my fifty-fourth.

Fifty-four winters and fifty-four summers, how can that be? It only seems like yesterday when I was a cowboy shooting the injuns with my Lone Ranger six-gun. Whooooosh! There goes my life rushing by.

Hard to believe that almost a third of my life has passed, well maybe a little more than a third, but life expectancies are getting longer. Anyone in their teens today has a very good chance of living well into their hundreds and there is a growing scientific opinion that some soon to be born, perhaps born already, may never need to die at all. Science and technology are moving so fast.

The oldest recorded living human was Jeanne Clement who died in 1997 aged one hundred and twenty-two years, not a bad innings as my dad would say. I’m not sure that she played cricket to the last though. Some creatures live even longer than Jeanne. There’s an Antarctic sponge that has been alive for over fifteen hundred years, koi carp can easily live to reach two hundred years, Adwaita, a giant tortoise, died in 2006 aged two hundred and fifty-five, there was a Lobster caught off the coast of Maine who had been in the water for one hundred and forty years, even those horrible, hairy tarantula’s live to be over a hundred. Brrrrrrrr, nasty creepy crawly blighters.

Whooooosh! There it goes again

What if we could live forever like the Hydra, growing to mature adult than back to polyp over and over in a never ending repeated cycle that has the potential of eternity. What if we knew their secret?

Today has been a day of meandering and wandering, a good day on the whole, enjoyable in a laid back kind of way. It started with a guilty half hours read in bed before getting up, there was a MacDonald’s double cheeseburger lunch, some fun presents and then a little Italian we know for dinner.

And all the messages and mails, phone calls and cards. Happy birthday boss - and I haven't been their boss for years.

Time’s passing. That’s okay. I’m not sure I want to be downloaded onto a computer, or clone a replacement me ready for this body’s death. If they ever discover the secret of the Hydra I don’t think it’s for me – all that growing up then growing down again.

No, I quite like the sound that my life makes as it rushes along.

Whooooosh! There it goes again.


Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Peace, love and understanding...

Peace, love and understanding - and as Nick Lowe asked ‘what’s so funny about it?’ Well nothing at all as far as I can see and all three are so very hard to find even at the best of times, and these are not the best of times by any stretch of my very stretchable imagination.

No indeed, there’s not much peace going on in this neck of the woods currently. What with one thing and another things are a little fraught, and when that’s the case it’s hard to feel the love that surely must still be lounging around the house somewhere, eating chocolate and blowing kisses.

What we all need is a little more understanding, of ourselves and of each other. I know this. It makes complete sense, What we all need is to give ourselves a break. What we need is to take a chill pill, chillax, act like a fridge and cool it.

But that means understanding and understanding takes time that I haven't got, what with all the mails and application forms, the trips to the jobcentre, the disappointment of the rejection letters, the hopeful enquiries that lead to nothing, and all the day to day trauma of teenager - marriage - life - stuff.

Is it any wonder that I don’t feel much peace, don't have time to love, that I'm focussed on sorting rather than understanding? Act like a fridge and cool it? I’m too bloody busy worrying my life away to even look in the ice compartment!

Why am I telling you all this I wonder? Why aren’t I taking pictures of the sky, or telling you about my daffodils, or even doodling one of my doodles (a thing I haven’t done for ages) and then trumping up some gibberish to go with it? Well, apart from the fact that I don’t seem to have much else to write about today I know that I’m not the only one. There are others in this select band – the readers of my blog – who are feeling this way too, and a problem shared is a problem halved or so they say.

You are not alone my friends.

Peace, love and understanding to you all. How perfect life would be if I could only find all three and bottle them as a refreshing drink. I’d make a bloody fortune. Completely free to my friends of course - want one?

Oh, I can feel a doodle coming on…now where’s a pen and paper?

Ah, that’s better!

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

WARNING - This post may contain fabrication…

So it’s Fat Tuesday again, the day when you eat as much rich and succulent food as possible because tomorrow is the beginning of Lent with its forty days of bread and gruel. That’s what the pancake thing is all about. People used to use up their eggs, milk and cream by stuffing themselves full of pancakes before the fasting began. Very sensible I say, waste not want not.

Whenever I think of pancakes an image of a one stuck to the ceiling springs to mind. I think it’s from an old Laurel and Hardy film, or maybe a Popeye cartoon, but whatever it is I can’t watch anyone tossing a pancake without saying: ‘careful how hard you toss it, you don’t want it to stick to the ceiling’. I once said this to a chef at a quite posh restaurant as he tossed some crepes at the table. I don’t think that he was very amused because when he set fire to the brandy he made sure to get the flames as close to my head as possible. Ouch! My eyebrows.

Now, I’m not a huge fan of pancakes but once a year I guess I can bear to eat a couple, particularly if they’re served with vanilla ice cream and maple syrup or better still Amaretto. As a kid my pancakes used to come served with a sprinkling of caster sugar and a squeeze of lemon juice. I could never quite understand why the lemon, it didn’t do much except make you pull a squinty face and poke your tongue out, and then I found it was a religious thing. The lemon is meant to signify the vinegar that Jesus was given on a sponge as he hung on the cross. So there’s another puzzle solved. I still don’t quite understand why we don’t simply put vinegar on our pancakes though.

In 2040 Pancake Day will fall on the same day as St. Valentine’s Day. What an opportunity for the supermarkets and card manufacturers. You’ll probably be able to buy all sorts of hybrid goodies - a Pancake Day/Valentine’s Day frying pan in the shape of a heart, ready mix batter that is coloured red, a valentine’s card in the shape of a pancake, a dozen red pancakes in a heart shaped box, a wooden spoon with ‘Batter Me’ or ‘Stir Me or maybe even ‘Whip Me’ inscribed on it in flowing script; the possibilities are endless.

The world’s largest pancake was created on August 13, 1994. It was 49ft 3in in diameter and weighed almost 3 tons. It was made and flipped in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, England.

Okay you’re safe now, I’ve finished. That’s enough about pancakes. There is one untruth hidden in this post though. One little porkie pie, something I made up, an untruth, a fiction, a fabricated deviation from the actual. Anyone want to have a guess what it is?

MAWH - In a dark corner of Lesser Blogfordshire: RADIO TIMES DAY

MAWH - In a dark corner of Lesser Blogfordshire: RADIO TIMES DAY

Monday, 7 March 2011

Thanks Dad…

Oh dear, my poor chimney. It’s been deteriorating for a while now but the ice and wind this winter finally finished it off. Every weekend I’ve been finding large and larger chunks of mortar on the gravel in front of the cottage. And then, a couple of weeks ago there was a huge thump on kitchen roof as something clattered down in the gale force winds. Of course I had to take a look and there it was; a chunk of mortar almost the size on a small car. Something had to be done before either more serious damage was caused or the chimney fell down altogether.

Calling my friendly local builder I was a little surprised to find that the repair was going to cost me fourteen hundred quid (with scaffolding and the removal of all rubble but exclusive of VAT). Even with scaffolding (and of course the rubble removal) fourteen hundred quid for a bit of cement seemed a little steep so, as I do in times of direst trouble, I turned to my dad for advice.

My dad comes from that time when you did everything yourself. Not only did you clean your car by hand, but you serviced it yourself and if it broke down then you repaired it yourself. I even remember (aged 8) helping my dad change the gearbox of his old Cortina at night, by torchlight (I was the torch holder).

Yes’ I think it would be fair to say that my dad is one of those men who ‘has a go’. I think that he learnt it from his dad who grew his own vegetables, raised his own pigs, shoed his own horse, and built his own steam engine. What was pointing up a chimney compared to that?

‘There’s no need to call someone out. You can do that yor’sen.’ My dad would mumble when a neighbour called the glazier to replace a broken pane, or the plumber to fix a leaking tap, or the nuclear engineer to close down the reactor that was about to go… well, nuclear.

I too will have a go at most things (I think I learnt that from my dad) but a combination of my bad back, poor cementing skills, and a not very good head for heights, didn’t exactly have me rushing for my trowel. So as I’ve already said, I rang my dad for advice.

‘There’s no need to call someone out. We can do that our’sen.’ My dad said down the phone line. Really? Yes, we can can’t we. I can’t, but together I believe we can.

So this Saturday at ten prompt my dad, dressed in his overalls, arrived with a boot full of buckets, wire brushes, trowels and levels and we set to work. My ladder system (the one that has four locking sections to make it into a platform or even a ‘L’ platform) was ideal to reach the chimney. All I had to do was rest it on the flat roof of the kitchen and then place the upturned ‘L’ on the flat roofs of the bedroom dormers giving me, with a little moving around of the ladders, 360 degree access.

Our 'setting to' involved my dad mixing the mortar, bucketing it up to me on a rope, and me up on the ladders slapping on the sand and cement. It wasn’t easy and progress was slow. My dad mixed and carried, climbing the ladder again and again, and towards the end helping me with the tricky bit where we needed to nail on the board to get an overhang so that the water would drip away from the stack. I’d never have managed it on my own, definitely not in the time. In fact I probably wouldn’t have started on my own at all and just payed the friendly builder his fourteen hundred quid or even let the stack crumble away to nothing.

It took six hours, two sacks of ready-mix mortar, some PVA, a lot of fiddling about, and a big pinch of determination. I really didn’t like standing on the platform when we did the front edge, but dad was there holding the ladder steady and telling me not to step back.

So, maybe the finish isn’t perfect, the look a little rustic, but it’ll do the job very nicely and it is a very old cottage in the country. Once it’s sealed and painted it’ll look just fine, and at twenty quid for materials it’s a good bit cheaper than getting somebody in.

Fourteen hundred quid. Bah! We did it our’sens didn’t we dad.

Thanks, I’d never have done it without you.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Conundrum...

According to a friend of mine I’m a conundrum, which means that I’m either a riddle whose answer is or involves a pun or unexpected twist, or I’m a logical postulation that evades resolution, an intricate and difficult problem.

Well, I’m certainly intricate. There are so many layers to my onion skin that you’d probably never stop crying if you began to peel me, although I don’t think I’m difficult or a problem. I do try to evade resolution though. But then I’ve really worked hard at my own legend over the years, ensuring that my story will have at least a few unexpected twists before it comes to an end.

I think I’m relatively logical, except when I choose not to be, and if you read this blog regularly then you’ll know that I’m a bit of a riddle. In fact that’s the whole point of ‘What a Wonderful Life’ really. It’s there to show the many layers of me.

Now don’t get me wrong. I’m not special. We all have lots of layers, but with some of us they are easier to see because we show them off rather than hiding them away inside.

WAWL is full of layers, and puns, and twists. Some of them are easily seen, some so deeply hidden that I’m not even sure that I could find them all. What seems real often isn’t around here, and what is real is often so well hidden in intricate layers that it goes unnoticed.

My blog is in part an experiment in making the unreal real. It isn’t about trickery but it is about suggestion. Here, I’ll give you an example: I came across a photograph on the net that so much reminded me of my mum that I used it an a post about my mum. What is interesting is that although it isn’t my mum my mum believes that it is and even remembers the day it was taken and the detail of the objects surrounding her.

Now I’m not going to give away all of my secrets (no great legerdemain ever does) but WAWWL is full of these puns and twists if you know how to look. Things that evade resolution, clear and simple things that are actually intricate and difficult and intricate and difficult things that are actually quite clear and simple.

Perhaps my friend is right. Perhaps I’m a conundrum after all.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Ne'er cast a clout...

Is it late winter or early spring? It feels like winter (bitterly cold and a thick white frost this morning) but looks like spring. The crocuses are up and my twisted hazel is covered in pollen drenched lambs tails.

I can feel it coming on. That gardening thing. I’ve think that I've mentioned it to you before. Around this time in early spring I start to think of plants and seeds and cuttings, and before I know it I’m off to the garden centre for some big bags of compost. Yes, I can definitely feel it coming on.

The temptation is to start too early at the first hint of sunshine. I’ve done it before, putting plants into cold frames and baskets long before it is sensibly sensible, sometimes I’ve even got away with it. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s still winter, that frosts are likely even in May and sometimes into June. But I’m an optimist when it comes to gardening and can’t adhere to ‘Ne'er cast a clout till May be out’ which I’d always thought was a gardening phrase but turns out simply to be a warning not to leave off your coat until the end of May. It just proves how wrong I can be.

I came across this bee at my mother-in-laws this morning. I didn’t expect to see him. In fact I didn't see him at first, but there he was bumbling around, the first bee of the year busying himself with collecting crocus pollen. He must think that winter’s over.

He realy should be wearing a coat.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

A small plan…

Sunshine! Yes, some sunshine. Not much and a little thin, but enough to tempt me down the steps, out of the house, and into the back yard (or the Italianate garden as I like call it) to tidy up.

It didn’t take long. Well, there wasn’t much to tidy up really – a few dropped leaves, a couple of weeds, and of course the inevitable cat poo.

My little garden at the back of the house was one of the compromises I had to make for so much space indoors. Sometimes I regret it, but not often. It’s a very private place; completely walled with a pond and a wall fountain. It used to have electric lights, green and yellow. I may get some again so that in the summer we can have an impromptu barbecue like we used to do.

Before Wales (B.W.) it was a riot of colour in the summer. It’s amazing how much you can cram into the tiniest raised bed, and off course there were lots of pots and baskets. Since Wales I haven’t bothered much but I think I’ll give it a go again this year. I may even try some strawberries and maybe some salad. A few lettuce, spring onions, radishes, maybe even a couple of tomato plants. And I’ll definitely grow a sunflower or two, tall and huge and yellow.

It’s a haven really. I should use it more, spend more time outside, look after it better, it’s a good space. Maybe I’ll encourage the birds, hang a few feeders, even sort the pond out, maybe get a couple of fish to replace the poor old fellah who died this winter after more than fifteen years of loyal service.

After all, it gets the early morning sun and sometimes I used to have breakfast out there. Perhaps I shall again. Coffee, croissants and home-made strawberry jam.

There. I have a plan!