Friday, 27 May 2011

Little Duckington - a reprise…

So after all those weeks in Little Duckington with all the intrigue, romance, mistaken identity, affairs, even the odd murder, this is where they all end up. In the bathroom in a large glass tube like so many ordinary rubber ducks before them, waiting to be picked up and played with – waiting for the chance to swim and quack, gamble and dance, sing and go off down the pub for a pint or two once more.

Who would have guessed that these are the very same ducks who led such wild and interesting lives for such a short while not so very long ago – Dilly, Dolores, Dilly, Dani, Dennis, Dunny, the Dave’s, Colette and Claudette Canard, even poor Father O’Mallard.

But, that’s the way with soap operas. One moment the whole nation watches or listens, the next they are gone. Brookside, Crossroads, Eldorado, Triangle, Mrs Dale’s Diary, all gone, no longer with us, deceased, almost forgotten in the unstoppable wake of ‘Stenders, Cora, Hollyoaks, Emmerdale (not Emmerdale farm you notice, they don’t farm much in those parts these days - too busy killing and raping), and Doctors (whatever that is).

Oh, sometimes they are revived. Who could forget the short-lived return of Crossroads in 2001? It didn’t really take off, but then what is Crossroads without Miss Dianne, Sandy and his wheelchair, Meg (who seemed to crash planes almost weekly), and the lovelorn, tea-cosy hatted, Benny?

Others, like Triangle, will stay sunk beneath the seas of time for ever hopefully. Just whose idea was it to make a soap opera about a ferry travelling between Felixstowe, Gottenburg, and Amsterdam anyway? Didn’t they realise that the North Sea is a trifle dreary, and the weather often a little more than inclement?

More recently, there was that awful, weird and thankfully short-lived soap Echo Beach. Set in the Cornish Town of Polnarren it fumbled along almost without plot whilst Echo Beach’s’ sister show, Moving Wallpaper, described the trials and tribulations of writing and making Echo Beach. What a silly idea – even Jason Donavan couldn’t save it.

Soap and rubber ducks, they seem to go together so well and who knows one day Father O’Mallard might step out of the shower to find that his murder was nothing more than a dream. Maybe it’s time for the return of Little Duckington, or at least the occasional special episode…

Who knows?

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Catching up with my past...

I bumped into my past on the M6 motorway yesterday, not literally I hasten to add. I was driving along in pursuit of yet another straw to cling to when, out of the corner of my eye, I saw something that took me back to a time when I didn’t need straws. Back to when my future was an ocean to be sailed upon and not a stagnant pool to flounder upon, maybe even drown in.

At first, I wasn’t sure what I’d seen. In fact I almost didn’t see or remember it at all. But there was something about the line, the slant of the lettering which unlocked a dusty corner of my mind. So speeding up a little to catch up with the van, I drew alongside and glanced across. I'd been right, there it was. On the side of the van was the logo I’d designed for a Midlands based engineering company over thirty-five years ago. My past had caught up with me, or rather I'd caught up with my past.

For a moment as I looked at that logo, I was a long haired young man in jeans and a purple paisley shirt again. Nervously showing my designs to the managing director of Roltech Engineering on a dark November evening in his factory in Smethwick. He’d built the business up himself and was justifiably proud of it. He had strong ideas about his logo and wanted something simple, bold and modern, not fussy, easy to read - solid and workmanlike like himself.

At the time his company was making ducting sections and raised mezzanine flooring. It was doing okay and Mr Roltech (I can’t remember his name) wanted a logo to use on the side of his fleet of two vans and in the catalogue he was planning.

It was my first freelance design job. But Mr Roltech seemed to like my designs and asked me to produce the artwork for his catalogue pages. Back then there were no computers, so each evening for the best part of a week I spent my time pasting together the artwork in my little studio in the converted loft. Sometimes I worked into the early hours with my scalpel, rotring pens, rub-down lettering and cow-gum.

How simple it had all seemed back then. An opportunity arose, you grabbed it, made something happen, and got paid for it – and the work of those few evenings paid well, almost a months salary and I enjoyed it.

I can’t remember how I picked up that freelance job, but it was the first of many. I loved doing freelance, but it was never quite enough to give up the day job - and then one day I became either too busy or too old and didn’t chase the work any more. How I wish I’d carried it on now, if only for the satisfaction it gave me.

Okay, the Roltech logo wasn’t great design and it was never going to get a design award, but Mr Roltech liked it very much. I’m really pleased that the company (which has expanded massively and now makes all manner of gantries for the mining industry and suchlike) is still using it without change over thirty-five years later.

Perhaps I should have charged more.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Sentimental fools...

Someone who should know better and just happens to be my oldest daughter posted this status on Facebook the other day and it kind of set me thinking, the way that often statements that make no real sense do. The status was as follows:

is sad that old fashioned sentiment is mostly dead!

Old fashioned sentiment! I ask you - what on earth is that? It seems to me that old fashioned sentiment is very much a modern invention, more marketing than anything to do with genuine feeling.

In the past people were too poor and too busy staying alive for sentiment - there was work, war and death, and that was about it. I doubt that there were many miners who had time to ponder their luck and reminisce about how lovely their lives were down t’pit – basking in the light of a flaming fire as it cast a rosy glow of warming satisfaction over their old fashioned chintzy company hovels.

Now don’t get me wrong, I can be as sentimental as the next bleeding heart (as I am sure that you are aware). But I find it hard to believe that anyone who had lost their nearest and dearest in the first world war (or any war come to that) would look back on the experience with any degree of old fashioned sentiment. Even those old fashioned pastoral farm workers - up at five in all weathers to work twelve hours shifts of hand-tooling, back-breaking labour, returning home to a family too large to feed and a consumptive wife - might find the countryside just a little less idyllic than Constable sentimentally painted it up to be.

Yes, the past was work, war and death - a daily struggle with no room for sentiment. Still is in a good proportion of the world.

It was probably Mr Charles Dickens who invented old fashioned sentiment - what with his Great Expectations and Old Curiosity Shops. He certainly invented our sugar-plum view of Christmas. Before ‘A Christmas Carol’ it was all yule logs (as a necessity to keep warm) and as much sorrow-drowning alcohol as you could manage to consume before falling asleep in the unheated room you shared with six others. Toys and even play were a Victorian invention. Prior to those enlightened times children were too busy working up chimneys or in factories on Christmas day to unwrap their non-existent presents or eat their non-existent sweets and Father Christmas was still in Holland putting coal into bad children’s shoes.

And then along came the bloody Pre-Raphaelites, all long hair and poetic sentimentality, and that led to all the overly-sentimental pictures of cute spoilt brats and even cuter sad, protective doggies that the Victorians loved so much.

Yes, the Victorians have a lot to answer for. Not only did they sentimentalise life (whilst visiting prostitutes, contracting syphilis and drinking gallons of gin), but they were also responsible for the popularisation of greetings cards - that other driver behind the trumped-up miasma of nonsensical sentimentality that we seem to believe has existed throughout history.

Before the Victorians there were no Christmas or birthday cards, nor any Valentine’s and congratulations cards - but even the Victorians would have found it hard to believe some of the ridiculous cards available to us today. These days there’s a card for everything, and if there isn’t – well, you can simply design your own on-line with a printing batch of one.

‘Happy Divorce’, ‘Welcome Spring’, ‘Glad You Two Have Got Together’, ‘Happy Grandmother’s Day’, ‘Happy Birthday to my Dog’ - all invented by Hallmark and the rest of the card companies to get us to part with our cash and drive the misguided belief that ‘saying it with a card’ is somehow better than a phone call, text, e-mail, hand-written letter, or even a face-to-face conversation.

So, am I sad that old fashioned sentiment is mostly dead? Well, I don’t believe that it ever existed, but if it had the answer would be a resounding ‘No!’

Monday, 23 May 2011

Dogs that bark, birds that sing…

Ho hum, another day doing what I do these days and it gets really hard to find anything worth blogging about with all the stuff that isn’t going on around me.

Oh, the rest of the world goes on – although there was almost a hiccup with the world and the end of it last week. Turns out to have been a bum steer, an erroneous tip, yet another misguided religious fundamentalist getting it totally wrong yet again. They’re all the same regardless of doctrine or creed.

Of course, there are things happening. Another Icelandic volcano with yet another unpronounceable name is spluttering out yet another nasty ash cloud. Kathy Kirby - my Dad’s favourite - died yesterday at the age of only seventy-two; she was the highest paid female singer of her generation and very pretty with it. Oh yes, and Bob Dylan will be seventy tomorrow. Ryan Giggs may have had a few 'not quite as discreet as he would have liked' away games allegedly (or aren’t I allowed to write that). Blackpool and Birmingham are out of the Premier League (yawn), and those misguided whales have left that loch in Scotland, and it appears that the one that died wasn’t stranded at all.

Yes, things are happening – just not for me, and as always in times like this I find myself focussing on the minutiae just to stop the bigger picture (which at the moment looks like a very dreary landscape by somebody who has lost all the bright colours from his paint-box) from flattening me completely.

You can probably tell that I need to get out more - a lot more. Small things have become very important, ritual something to focus on, silliness a way of feeling better about things - and of course it is that gardening time of year.

As you might expect both my front and back gardens are pretty tidy at the moment. I’ve even begun raking the gravel into patterns at the front of the house again - and the hanging basket and pots are all getting watered daily. The gnomes out back are dusted weekly and the fish pond cleaned out fully almost as soon as required, even the wisteria is being carefully kept within the confines or the space allotted it. I’ve bought a solar powered light string to hang from it and the lights look like tiny dragonflies. I can hardly wait for night to fall – they make me smile a little. Well, they do say small things please small minds, and I’m sure that I can feel my mind shrinking.

Small things please small minds because they tend to take your mind off that big picture, the dreary landscape I mentioned earlier. They distract me -- and so to the point - dogs that bark and birds that sing.

Not a real dog, but my new doorbell which barks like a small terrier when the button is pressed – yap, yap, yap, yap, yap – yap yap yap – grrrrrr - yap, yap, yap, yap, yap – yap yap yap.

And my bird, it’s a blue tit actually. Well, when I say blue tit a not-quite-lifelike resin rendition of a blue tit with a motion sensor embedded inside it. I keep it on the step by my front door and each time somebody steps onto my porch it sings a song to let me know I have a visitor. First I get the tweeting early bird warning, then the barking dog announcement that somebody is at my door. It is all very effective, even if it is a little tacky (well, quite a lot actually). It makes me feel a little better, brighter, it lightens my mood and that’s what counts there days.

Maybe I should buy an aquarium and some tropical fish?

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Scumbles II – around the corner…

Remember that scumbled panel? Well, the more I look the less I see. He’s here though you know, they all are. Who would have thought that Breugel was up there, just above my head, scumbled onto the bottom of my wardrobe? Disney’s there too, and Goya, Donny Darko, Edward Lear, Sayuri Ichijō, Richard Dadd, and of course Dali.

I have to sneak up and catch them out of the corner of my eye. Hard to work out what I’m seeing. Well, you can never quite tell what’s just around the corner can you?

I’ve never really liked life around the corner. You know, that life that takes you by surprise, the unpredictable kind. I prefer roads that are straight and easy to follow. Roads with good, clear visibility way into the distance - as far as the eye can see and then some. Corners are dangerous. Anything can be around the corner, it’s an unfathomable place.

Once in my youth I was walking along the high street and, turning the corner, almost fell over a woman who lay on the pavement coughing up blood. An ambulance was called and as I walked quickly away I noticed the bloody footprints I was leaving. Another time, not too long after that incident, I turned a corner to find my girlfriend kissing a friend of mine. She wasn’t a girlfriend for long after that although he remained my friend until he died. On yet another occasion, not so long ago, I turned the corner into my road just as a car ran over my neighbour’s cat. The driver didn’t even stop, so I picked up the broken body of poor old Tesla, carried him over to my neighbour’s house and broke the bad news to her.

Around the corner can be an unexpected, frightening and often bleak place. Oh, good things can be found there too. I’ll never forget tuning a corner on holiday in Santa Cruz to see a wonderfully blue sea and a huge white wave crashing thirty feet against the cliff-face wall. Generally though there are monsters around my corners – blood and betrayal and death.

Anyway, they’re here – like the TV people they’re beginning to come through. Little by little they’re coming into focus, becoming clearer, stepping into view from around their various corners – ‘Y'all mind hanging back? You're jamming my frequency.’

I hope I can still run fast if I need to.

Saturday, 21 May 2011

The end of the world is nigh...

So, today was meant to be the Rapture, and as I sit here at 7.00 pm writing this, it doesn't look like the world is going to end after all. So we can all breath a sigh of relief and go about our business. Well almost, there's still a few hours left although it was meant to happen an hour ago. I didn't even know that the world was going to end until my daughter Holly mentioned it the other evening in passing. She didn't seem that bothered by the news, just another event in an eventful world - besides there was her hair to sort out ready for the weekend, because if the world was going to end she wasn't going to have messy hair for the occasion. Heaven forbid!

It made me think a little. When I was a kid it seemed like the world might really end at any moment. The Russians hated the Americans and the Americans hated them right back and we all knew that they had thousands on thousands of nuclear missiles pointing at each other and at any moment it could all kick off and that then we would all be toast and the world would be destroyed.

I vaguely remember, aged 5, the Cuban missile crisis. For a while there it looked as if the world might really be finished, and although it didn't, it came pretty close. From then on the end of the world was only just around the corner, ready to happen at any time, and I often thought that growing up in those uncertain days of what has come to be known as the 'Cold War' accounts in part for what seems to be my generations fatalistic approach to things, their acceptance that we are all helpless to do anything about anything really.

Or perhaps that's just me talking for myself. It might sound silly to young people today but living under the constant threat of nuclear holocaust did rather taint our lives back then. Hardly a day went by without somebody talking about the bomb - wanting to ban it, or news of another nuclear test out in the desert or on some far off pacific island, or warnings that we had moved from defcon four to defcon three and that the Doomsday clock was now set at three minutes to midnight.

It seemed that when I was growing up nuclear war was imminent pretty much all of the time. It's different today. Oh, there are still wars and the threat of terrorism seems ever present, but I don't think we live waiting for the world to end with the press of a single button any longer and I truly believe that for the forty years or so after the second world war ended, up until the collapse of the USSR, we really did expect the world to end at any moment. It may not be a safer world, and the world still might end at any moment, but if it does it'll be because of a comet or a plague, maybe divine intervention even. But it won't be because somebody decides to push a button in Moscow or Washington - or at least I hope not.

Friday, 20 May 2011

Doodle for the moon...

Here’s a doodle I did for a friend. I think she liked it. It’s hers to do with what she will. I made the charm for myself though. Well, you never know when you might need one.

Moon Charm

Osiris, Mawu, Bendis, Min,
Rhiannon, Mani, Arma, Sin,
Candi, Isis, Tanith, Juna,
IxChel, Selene, Heng-O, Luna.
Khonsu, Thoth, Somi, Cerridwen,
Arianrhod, Danu, Annit, Mên.
Aega, Ishtar, Diana, Mani,
Andromeda and Coyolxquhqui.

Gnatu, Zirma, Mah, Dae-Soon
Name charm chant by light of moon.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

A red shoe, the matrix, Catherine Bush, Madness...

As the people here grow colder
I turn to my computer
And spend my evenings with it
Like a friend.
I was loading a new programme
I had ordered from a magazine:

Yes, I know that friendship, my friend my computer, so easy to become close and only communicate through him and it seems that it’s even got to poor old madcap Kate. Well, when I say poor she’s actually stinkingly wealthy and I wouldn’t exactly call fifty-three old. As for the madcap thing – well, sanity is pretty relative isn’t it? I’m sure that compared to - let’s say George III - Kate Bush is practically without a trace of hysteria or in any need of therapy at all.

Yes, sanity is pretty relative which is partly what this post is about.

Even so, I never had her down as one of those people who would give up hill-running and the sensual world to live in the matrix, but then if it can happen to me then why not her? And vice versa - Blue pill, red pill Kate? You take the red pill: you stay in Wonderland. I wonder which magazine she ordered her new programme from - Horse and Hounds?

So just why am I wittering on about Catherine Bush for the second time in as many months?

Well, it was the red shoe you see.
The red shoe? You ask.
Yes, the red shoe, the red ballet shoe.
What red ballet shoe? You ask.

I’m glad you asked me that, it’s been bothering me since it happened.

I was wandering down to Sainsbury’s yesterday and as I went to cross the road by the Baptist church – glancing to the left and to the right, so as to be sure not to be knocked down by that proverbial bus, out of the corner of my eye I noticed a tiny red ballet shoe on the pavement. Now when I say tiny, I really do mean tiny, it couldn’t have been more that a couple of inches in length and bore the legend ‘So Danca’ printed on its inner sole. To all intent and purpose it was a miniature red silk ballet shoe - how strange.

So I reached into my pocket and snapped off a couple of pictures with my camera phone as you do - well, at least as I do.

Such a tiny shoe – to give you an idea just how small, those paviours are the same size as house bricks. It puzzled me. Just who could wear such a tiny shoe, and who would want to dance (ballet, tap, even ballroom) on the pavement at the end of our road?

Maybe that shoe was a kind of voodoo, maybe it stepped out of the matrix (red pill, blue pill) or maybe it simply dropped in from Wonderland or Oz – want to play ball Scarecrow? I don’t know. But like I said, it’s been bothering me ever since. You see, I can’t get rid of the image of a tiny porcelain dancer - a mechanised doll, given life by a programme bought from a magazine. In my mind I see her pirouetting along the pavement in the moonlight, a curve for her smile, a cross for her heart, and a line for her path. She’s moving like the Diva do, unable to stop until the shoes come off, the shoes making her dance until her legs fall off. That’s how she lost the shoe I think.

See… I told you it was relative.

That shoe’s gone now. I checked this morning. I wonder if the doll came back for it and I wonder why - but not nearly enough to wander along in the darkness to the end of the road tonight.

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Montague the moth…

Well he made it.

Remember back to last September when I told you about Monty, the elephant hawk moth? I rescued from a hungry thrush.

No? Well, you can see him as the huge caterpillar that he was and read all about it here if you like:

I don't regret a single day, and I'm not at all sure that (even without getting eaten by thrushes or hedgehogs) Monty would have survived that terrible winter we had.

Anyway, for the last nine months or so Monty has been safely cocooned in the lovely lemonade bottle vivarium that I lovingly made for him, waiting to begin the rest of his mothy life. It’s been a long wait, and over the last few weeks (unsure exactly when Monty would emerge) he’s been travelling to and from Wales with us at weekends in the boot of the car ‘just in case’.

Well, at long last it has happened. Yesterday Monty the leathery brown chrysalis turned into Montague the beautiful pinky-green moth.

I only just caught him as he emerged, there was no warning. One moment Monty was quietly hibernating inside his bottle on the kitchen work-surface whilst I moribundly tapped away on my keyboard, the next (with a slight rustle to catch my attention) he emerged in all his glory. I just managed to catch him laboriously pull the last of his thorax from his pupa, that’s him in his ‘coming out’ photo above.

Even though I knew that it would happen one day I still can’t quite believe that this fluttery, iridescent creature is my Monty. My Monty is the leathery, grubby, thing that now lies empty and immobile at the bottom of the bottle, not this magnificent furry wonder. It’s almost like someone has died – how strange.

So that’s that. Job done, moth reared. All I have to do now is set him free into the wide world and hope that a bat doesn’t eat him. I think I’m going to miss him.

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Five degrees North, Five degrees South…

Another grey day, the garden, almost too green for its own good, is dripping wet from the fine drizzling rain and I have to go out in it. Off to the dentist – just a check, a clean and polish, no root canal work to be done, no molars to extract.

I’m down deep in the dumps today, caught up in a fit of the sullens, moping around as you do when things go really slowly. Tired, bored - at a complete standstill, stuck and stopped, everything far too much effort all in all. Hardly inspiring, cylinders not really firing, I wouldn’t even bother to go to the ball. There, I think that you get the general idea; I’m a bit fed up.

Yes, I’m down in the dumps, fed up to the back teeth actually. I’m stuck in the doldrums, figuratively speaking. Oh, if only I really was; the place that is, not the mood. Stuck in the doldrums like A. Jones, the chap mentioned in my certificate pictured above.

My dad gave me that certificate; he rescued it from a skip. Just why anybody would want to throw such a wonderful thing into a skip is beyond me, the illustration is beautiful and the text all hand-scripted. I love the mermaids and the fish, the sailor tumbling into the sea, King Neptune on the ocean bottom, the cherub trade winds (one of them in a sailor’s hat riding on the back of a flying fish) playing tag with each other in the air.

A. Jones (whoever he may have been) must have been a seaman on his Britannic Majesty’s ship Carlisle when it and he crossed the equator on the 24th of October, 1934. Seaman Jones was given this certificate in commemoration of his first crossing and it requires all sharks, dolphins, and Sea Monsters to treat him with the respect that is his due. What a brilliant thing.

Seaman Jones must have passed through the doldrums, located roughly between 5° north and 5° south of the equator on his journey. It’s a region of calm winds, centred slightly north of the equator and right between the two belts of trade winds, the place where both trade winds meet up and cancel each other out, blowing each other to a standstill.

I always thought that the phrase 'in the doldrums' came from the name of that area, but actually, it's the other way around. Back in the 1800’s, the word 'doldrum' meant 'dullard - a dull or sluggish fellow', probably derived from the word 'dol', meaning 'dull', and taking its form from ‘tantrum’ - that wonderful word meaning a fit of petulance and passion.

Sometimes when I’m deep in the dumps I go to the first floor landing and gaze at A. Jones’ certificate, imagining all the adventures he must have had. I wonder who he was and what he thought as he crossed the equator and was given his certificate. I imagine a party in the officer’s mess with singing and rum. Sometimes I almost feel that I know him and I doubt very much that A. Jones was a dullard. It always lifts my mood a little.

Yep, another grey day and time to trudge off to the dentist in the rain – no wonder I’m down in the dumps. Still, old Jonesy went through the doldrums and came out the other side. Maybe I can do the same.

Monday, 16 May 2011

A confusion of sherbet….

How can something so simple be confusing?

What am I talking about? Well, I woke up this morning thinking about sherbet. You know the stuff I mean, the stuff that came in a long cardboard tube with a black liquorice dipper.

When I was a kid we used to pretend that they were sticks of dynamite - and was there ever anything as impossible to eat the way that you suspected it should be eaten? The tube always went soggy, the sticky black liquorice always clogged up after the first suck, and inevitably you ended up with sticky black fingers and choking on clouds of sherbet dust.

I always ended up eating the liquorice straw and then knocking back the fizzy powder straight from the tube, getting a nose full of the fine sherbet powder that made me sneeze, then almost choke as the sherbet fizzed like a firework inside my mouth.Yes, simple but confusing. I even thought it was spelt with two r’s as in Herbert until spellchecker corrected me. What a silly Sherbert Herbert I am – as we used to say in the playground.

These days those soggy paper tubes have been replaced with hygienic plastic ones and the liquorice stick now has a black plastic handle. It takes a lot of the excitement away and is so not environmentally friendly, but the sherbet itself remains as addictive as ever, a kind of confectionary coke for kids – best not to snort it though.

I always thought that sherbet was an Indian word, something that came out of the Empire, but it is actually Arabic first used in Persia around the late 1500’s to describe a drink – sharbat. Maybe that’s why going for a few pints is sometimes describes as ‘going for a sherbet or two’. In fact there seems to be a real muddle around just what sherbet actually is.

It is either:

  1. A frozen fruit-flavoured mixture, but with milk, egg white, or gelatine added. No – that’s an ice cream.
  2. A drink made of sweetened fruit juice and diluted with water and ice. Isn’t that a Slush Puppy?
  3. A frozen fruit or vegetable purée, served either between courses to cleanse the palate or as a desert. I’d call that a water-ice.
  4. A fruit flavoured slightly effervescent powder, eaten as a sweet or used to make a drink.

That’s the one! We got there at last. See I told you it was confusing. I can’t even find out who invented it. The Emperor Nero is said to have invented some sort of sherbet but I bet that was of the Slush-Puppy variety, so I can only assume that whoever invented the sherbet for dib-dabs, lemon sherbets, flying saucers, liquorice flyers, and of course the sherbet fountain wanted to remain anonymous, maybe he was sherbet shy.

I was going to try making some but as yet I haven’t been able to track down any dried acidic acid or any tartaric and these, along with bicarbonate of soda and castor sugar, are pretty much all it takes. As I said - how can something so simple be confusing?

Sunday, 15 May 2011

My Eurovison song - I keep my heart in a bottle...

Eurovision, what fun! I couldn’t resist watching it last night – the costumes and skirts, the tumblers and fireworks, bad singing, bad songs, political voting, over excitement.

I went to bed my head full of Bang-Booms, La- La-Lees, and opera; and then I couldn’t sleep.

Sometimes when I can’t sleep I sing one hundred green bottles in my head. Yes, I know it is excessive but I don’t usually get past seventy-five or seventy before I drop off. As part of this ritual I picture the bottles lined up on the wall and watch each one as it falls, listening to the musical tinkle it makes as it hits the ground and shatters.

I don’t picture any old bottles either. I imagine old Victorian bottles, green and cloudy, like the ones I found in our cellars when we dug out the knee deep rubble. Old lemonade bottles with stopper-marbles in their necks, leaning patent medicine bottles, thick cloudy marmalade jars, even an old inkwell. I should really throw them away, all they do is gather dust, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Once I have found something I tend to hang on to it – it’s a bit of a nuisance really.

Anyway, last night I don’t think I’d even smashed twenty bottles before I was asleep – and then I dreamt of bottles amongst other things.

I remember waking up and scribbling something down in the book I keep by the side of my bed; the one I use to catch my dreams before they fade and when I woke up this morning this is what I found.

Maybe it was the echo of those terrible Eurovision Song Contest lyrics, particularly the Eastern European ones - all doomed love and bitter struggle, or maybe it was something else. Like I said - once I have found something I tend to hang on to it. Who knows, maybe I’ll enter my night time scribbling as next year’s Icelandic Eurovision entry.


I keep my heart in a bottle.
It’s red, full bodied with an interesting bouquet. Iron and anger, and as for the aftertaste – it goes on for eternity. Spit it out quick. It might infect you.

I keep my hope in my shoe.
Hidden away and close to the ground. Holding me up when all else has failed – always there but not always apparent, warm and distant but mine at least.

I keep my thoughts in a book.
Invisible ink, faded to nothing, lilac and blue, and black, and red. Written in code but missing the cipher - locked down shut with a key lost long ago.

I keep my memories in a suitcase.
Dusty and dark, on top of a wardrobe. Flashes and bits and covered in stickers. Places I’ve been, people I’ve known. Never reaching for the handle I leave it alone.

I keep my love in a blanket.
Faded and worn, threadbare in places. A small cold bundle stuffed in a corner. Guarded, discarded - too lost to unwrap. Awaiting the day it goes in that suitcase.

I keep my heart in a bottle.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Scumble World…

On the wardrobe above my bed, directly above where I lay my head each night, is a painted panel. I scumble painted it years ago, building up layer on layer of alternate gold and cream paint in a random way to make an understated pattern. I don’t really know why I did this, after all nobody really sees it. It his hidden out of sight until someone lays on the bed, an invisible detail, just another of my whims.

Over those years, on many a sleepless night, I’ve looked at that panel long and hard and I realise that when I painted that panel I created another world, one that I have got to know quite well, one that nobody else knows, one that is completely personal to me alone. I may have told you that I see pictures everywhere – drawn in the sand, positioned in the branches and leaves of trees, in the clouds, even in the shadows that pass over my moonlit wall. Pictures are everywhere for me. I can’t escape them and I don’t really want to and hidden in my scumbling are pictures.

There’s a whole world in there. The Scumble World.

Over the next few weeks I’ve decided to share my scumble panel picture and the world within it with anyone that’s interested. I thought it would be interesting to see it developing, my thought processes, how it changes. Maybe I’ll even let you know what is going on, tell you who this and that character is, let you know their stories.

I don’t know how long it is going to take – it will take what it takes, but I’ve made a start. I’m not inventing, I’m merely emphasising what is already there, letting that locked-in world come out into the open.

Look carefully in the bottom right hand corner, Scumble World is just beginning to emerge.

Burning giraffe...

‘God is really only another artist. He invented the giraffe, the elephant and the cat. He has no real style. He just goes on trying other things.’

Pablo Picasso

Well he should know, after all he experimented all his life, trying lots of things - symbolism, expressionism, cubism, surrealism; more ism’s than you can shake a floopy, melting, surrealist stick at.

When I was at college I was criticised by my year tutor for having no definite illustrative style, no two drawings were drawn in the same style. One time I would draw in a realistic style, the next time something else, the next still something else. I was made to feel that making things in a different way each time was wrong and that I should develop a recognisable style. I was told that I wouldn’t get far without one and that I should focus on making my work instantly recognisable. I didn’t though.

These days I doodle - and this day I doodled a burning giraffe, a Dali giraffe.

Dali’s Burning Giraffe painted in 1937 is a puzzling picture. The main figures are two strange, segmented, female forms and in the distance is a giraffe with its back on fire. He first used the burning giraffe image in his 1930 film L'Âge d'Or (The Golden Age) and it appeared again in 1937 in the painting The Invention of Monsters. He described the image as “the masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster”, believing it to be a premonition of war. But then he was Dali and as he always said: "I am Dalí, and only that" - so what else would you expect?

Dali’s ‘Burning Giraffe’ is for some reason indelibly etched into my consciousness; so much so, that I often find myself doodling it without even knowing I have a pen in my hand – and those flames are catching, they pop up (or rather burst) into lots of my doodles.

So, I am AKH and only that and this is my Burning Giraffe. I’m not sure if it is a ‘masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster’ but it could be – here’s a rhyme about it.

Dali’s giraffe
I doodled a giraffe,
On Dali’s behalf.
I was only hoping to make him laugh.
But my carafe,
Always empty by half,
Caused me to make an awful gaffe.
He thought it was naff,
More calf than giraffe,
Dismissed it with a sneering ‘pfaff’!
Now I’m not on his staff,
My creation rechauffe,
Perhaps I should have doodled a graph.

Well there you go then. I hope it made you smile and at least I didn’t call it a masculine cosmic apocalyptic monster - only because I couldn’t get it to rhyme though.

Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Those pebbles and the great god Araldite...

About those pebbles I slipped full into my pockets at Hells Mouth.

Those beautiful grey-blue speckled pebbles, pitted and smooth all at once, tiny pieces of mica or feldspar glittering on their surfaces. Matched and picked with an idea in mind, carried back home and placed in a careful pile.

I looked at them for a long time, practised arranging them for even longer. Balancing and placing before building them into one with Araldite - all hail the great god Araldite, the holy of all adhesives. Clear glass tea light holder carefully glued to the centre, removable lopsided lid allowing access for the flame. It feels so balanced in the hand this lid, good and solid - heavy too.

In part a freeform Japanese lantern, with a tip of the hat to a Neolithic burial tomb. My lantern, to set in my garden to glimmer throughout the night like the fires that were set high on the hill above the beach for a signal to ships on stormy nights - or to draw them in to a wrecking crew.

My own small piece of Hell’s Mouth - to light me on my way.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Big Ripple...

After all that sunshine the rain had to come. Always does. What surprised me is just how long we went without a storm, but when it came, it came hard. Blue to black in less time than it takes to lose a smile - then a drenching rain pounding the surface water on the lake.

Black water, ripple on ripple, crossing and crossing again. Can’t drag my eyes from that surface. Wondering if that is how it all started. Not a big bang at all but a single raindrop falling from somewhere into that blackness. Causing a ripple, spreading out and out and out from centre.

That lake, so still in the moment before, then raindrops hit water and ripple. I could watch that outward movement for hours, hypnotic movement - it draws me in, catches me up until I’m locked and caught in that big ripple.

I’m caught in this big ripple, can’t drag my eyes from the surface.

Caught in this big ripple, I'd been mishearing it for years so I guess I can claim the thought as my own. Still a red car in the fountain though.

Caught in this big ripple. Maybe we all are and what happens when the ripple fades to flat? Will an echo remain?

Monday, 9 May 2011

Pebble plans...

There’s nothing like a walk along Hell’s Mouth to blow all your doubt away – even if you have to dodge the sky darkening showers and even if the wind does whip the sand up into your face, scouring skin, stinging eyes.

There are more pebbles on Hell’s Mouth than on any other beach I have ever walked and their variation is infinite. Every rock on the planet seems to be represented and the colours – well, you couldn’t count them. I love the ambers and the reds, the ochres and the purple-greys, speckled, lined, mottled, dashed, but most of all I love the greens – from emerald to lime like mermaids eyes washed in upon a wave.

I watch the waves wash over them. Smoothed surfaces gleam, sparkling like the gems that some of them probably are and I decide.

This year I am going to do more with pebbles than build balance towers. Oh, I shall still build my towers, after all it’s relaxing until they tumble for the twentieth time, but this year I want to do more.

I don’t know what yet, I’ll have to wait and see but looking at all that promise on Hell’s Mouth it is worth careful consideration. Maybe pictures or sculptures, perhaps mobiles, could I make a pebble lantern?

I can feel a project coming on.

First things first though - time to fill my pockets.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

A skeleton went into a bar…

You may know that I am keeping a record of my dreams. Mostly my dreams are about my old job and the people I worked with, there’s usually some low building involved often a white building in ruins. Sometimes I’m in a fast car high above a city on a road without any barriers at night... and I seem to spend far too much time without any trousers on, or sometimes any clothes at all.

No stop. Don’t even try to analyse or picture it.

I used to have floating dreams but I haven’t had one of those for a while now. In my floating dreams I would move along corridors only six inches or so above the floor and (like the old daleks) I was unable to float up stairs.

Dreams – they are all to do with brain waves. It’s well known that we dream in 90 minute cycles. I know that I do because I wake up throughout the night about every ninety minutes or so after my initial ‘wake’ of four-thirty. I know that I’ve been dreaming and that my delta brainwave frequencies have increased to the frequency of theta brainwaves. I can’t exactly feel the rapid eye movement (REM which is characteristic of active dreaming not just a nineties band) but I think I can hear the echo of a flutter when I awake.

I've decided that as well as my record I may as well draw what I see. The surrealists did this, using self-hypnosis and drugs to access their subconscious in a waking state and often recording their dreams on waking - and if it is good enough for Dali then it is good enough for me.

Recently I’ve been meeting an odd character in my dreams, I used to meet a princess regularly but these days –well, that’s him with his head in that funny lumpy thing he calls an arm. Sometimes he’s there at the start of a dream and tells me what is going to happen, and at other times he pops up at the end of a dream to tell me to wake up. He’s not as awful as he might look despite his habit of flaring into flame every now and again, and he has a really bad sense of humour. He sounds a bit like Michael McIntyre, oddly though I can never remember the punch lines to his jokes (a lot like Michael McIntyre then).

Last night he told me a joke about a skeleton who went into a bar… anyone knows how it goes from there?

Friday, 6 May 2011

Lost followers…

So just where have all my followers gone?

Time was when I was getting hits and comments in abundance but now my pageviews are diminishing and comments declining. Even some of my oldest friends have deserted me it seems.

Why? I don’t think I’m doing anything differently. I think I still have something to say. Maybe they’ve just tired of me, after all the public can be fickle; just look at Edgar Wallace.

As Oscar Wide once said ‘There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about… and that is not being talked about’. Only in my case it seems to be about not being read.

So where are they? On holiday? In prison? Down the pub?

Or are they out there in their own personal wildernesses?

Maybe I should retrace my steps, after all that’s what they tell you to do when you have lost something. Or check all my pockets, things are often about your person when you don’t expect them to be. For instance I lost my phone yesterday, I couldn’t find it anywhere. It was only when I mentioned it to the person I was on the phone to that I realised that I had it in my hand and was using it.

Maybe I’m losing more than followers… marbles maybe? Maybe that's why I'm losing them.

I suppose I could try magic. I could get my crystal pendulum and try to find my lost followers that way, or cut myself a dousing stick and wait for it to wobble. Or maybe I should just feel the love I have for them, maybe that will make them return.

Love you guys!

Or perhaps they are simply lost to me no matter what I do.

Well, wherever they are I wish them well and hope that rather than each of them being lost in a personal wilderness that they are lost ina personal Eden.

I’m off to find my marbles. I hope that somebody reads this.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Ebb and flow - it's getting to me...

I’ve written about Bardsey before. Bardsey Island or Ynys Enlli as it is known in the Welsh. The ‘Island of 20,000 saints’, lies 2 miles off the Llyn Peninsula in the Welsh county of Gwynedd. ‘The Island in the Currents’.

It's getting to me.

‘The Island in the Currents’. Sometimes I’ve stood on the mountainside on the mainland looking down and over to Bardsey and watched those currents whirl and flow in the sound. Often a whirling pool appears in the water, it’s a treacherous place to be in a boat and occasionally, in bad weather, the island can be cut off for weeks.

We were going across to the island half a dozen times but on each occasion bad weather caused the boat to be cancelled. We got there eventually though, one sunny summer’s day many years ago now, and found a place of quiet and emptiness surrounded by the sea and seals.

It’s one of those places that I go to when I can’t sleep. I wander the deserted beaches, past the sparse cottages, up to the lighthouse and look down the length of the island towards those deep, treacherous waters.

I’ve been going there a lot recently, as I mentioned - it's getting to me.

I’m in my own treacherous waters at the moment, tossed to and fro in life’s eddy and waves. I can see the whirlpool in the distance, coming slowly towards me, but as yet it’s still too far off to be dangerous. I can feel its pull though, dragging at me as I struggle to move in the other direction.

Who knows, there may be a friendly fishing boat along any minute now to rescue me.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Seedlings - a doodle...

I’ve not been wording much as warm wind blows his promise under door. The noisy whooshing memories lie dusting on the floor. These warm times out of season, ha-ha seen you before. As seedlings grow, then stutter and fail to grow no more.

I doodled this on a post-it pad. Sometimes simple really is better.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Koi carp and builders blues…

At last, after a long wait and a lot of drying out (the burst pipe disaster at Christmas) work has started replacing the buckled floors.

Fours months on and my kitchen and hallway are about to be returned to working order. We couldn't replace with the same - but so what?

Three men are upstairs sawing, hammering and banging as I sit at my desk in the cellar fiddling about with my computer pretending to be busy.

Outside three different men have begun to paint the outside of the house after the winter weather finally stripped most of the paint away from the window frames.

It is all go as they say.

I hate having builders and decorators in. They make me feel inadequate as I’m convinced that I should be able to do everything myself. Oh, I know that the floors are being replaced under the insurance, but the floors that they are replacing are the ones I laid myself and when they have laid the new floors I just know that they will look better than mine.

The painters and decorators make me feel cowardly. Surely I should be able to climb up a fifty foot ladder to get to the top windows to give them a lick of paint. After all it’s only three stories up, in the wind, with a paint tin in one hand and a paintbrush in the other.

And then there’s the noise.
And the endless cups of coffee.
And the happy singing and whistling.
And the laughter.
And the questions about how I want things when I really don’t know or much care.
And the fact that they are gainfully employed doing something that they are good at and I suspect enjoy...

and I’m not.

Bloody builders and painters, no wonder I have the blues.

The fish?

Oh yes. These are the fish at the garden centre that I wandered off to so that I could get away from the builders and painters. Koi Carp. Large ones. Reds, whites, golds, oranges, blacks, all glimmering-shimmering as if each one had swallowed a light bulb. They flashed and gleamed in the dark water, rising, going deep again, as they slowly moved around the pond.

I just stood on the Japanesey bridge staring into the water and thinking about - well just thinking really.

I watched them for ages then came away.

It is all go as they say.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

May Day doodle...

It’s May the first, May Day. The day when as a child we would dance around the May Pole in strictly defined weaves to the sound of John Summersbee's bellowed, mother-of-pearl accordion. Plaiting and binding, twisting and turning the gaily coloured ribbons as we skipped in-and-out and around-and-around like demented elves and fairies.

Long ago now, and as I remember it the sun always shone down on the May Pole back then. No May Pole today, some sunshine though - and I have a pen and paper to doodle on. Sat here automatically scribbling, waiting to see what pops out of my pen this time, I scribble a dark lost swallow then realise that hope's in trouble, beginning to flounder a little in a life of stormy seas.

Just my mood I guess, anyway here’s my May Day doodle.

MAYDAY, MAYDAY, MAYDAY, this is HOPE, HOPE, HOPE. MAYDAY, HOPE. Break. Position 52 25 North 013 33 West. My boat is on taking in water and sinking. I require immediate assistance. Three people on board, and we have no life-raft. MAYDAY HOPE, OVER."