Thursday, 30 June 2011

No shit Sherlock - a study in scarlet…

This is the intruder that popped up in my garden. No, not a swamp adder - no speckled band here, but a plant - a poppy of some variety to be exact.

Now, I’m no Sherlock Holmes but even I can recognise a plant out of place, so I researched it in the big book of plants that sits by my Meerschaum on the mantle and as always when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.


Papaver Somnifereum, the most recognisable type of opium poppy, bright red with a crossed black centre, a real study in scarlet. They can be four or five petal if a single flower variety or many petals on top of each other if it is fancy or multi-petal. This is of the four petal variety, the most dangerous of all, with a deadly seed pod and pale green, cabbagey foliage. It must have blown in on the wind and the thoroughfare at the back of the house is full of them.

What’s that my dear Watson? Alternatively they may have been brought here on the soles of the feet of a tribe of Amazonian Pygmy Indians, carrying blowpipes and intent on mischief of the darkest, direst, intrigue? I somewhat doubt it my good fellow, and it is a capital mistake to theorise before you have all the evidence. It biases the judgement.

Good heavens! Who would associate crime with these dear old homesteads? Opium in the alleyway, who’d have thought the opium dens of Limehouse would take a turn in this road? Perhaps I’ll make some opium tea, a seven percent solution to cure me of this damned ennui. After all, chance has put our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and the solution (seven percent or not) is its own reward.

Now Watson, the game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come! Fetch me a kettle and my trusty violin – and remind me, just why aren’t you wearing any trousers this morning? Is this one of those instances where the reasoner can produce an effect which seems remarkable to his neighbour, because the latter has missed the one little point which is the basis of the deduction. And yet, poppy tea has been used for thousands of years and is still used by some classes as a remedy for pain, an aid to sleep, a cough suppressant, an intoxicant, and even as a mild relaxant – although my preference is for Morphine or maybe a little Cocaine.

It is true, I have been guilty of several monographs. They are all upon technical subjects. Here, for example, is one 'Upon the Distinction between the Ashes of the Various Tobaccos'. In it I enumerate a hundred and forty forms of cigar, cigarette, and pipe tobacco, with coloured plates illustrating the difference in the ash. On experimentation with this tea however, I found it to taste quite bitter and some might find the taste completely foul and horrible, but then one doesn’t usually drink it for the taste, but for the effect.

The opium poppy contains Morphine, Codeine, Papaverine, and Thebaine and by grinding the seeds in a pestle and allowing the resulting powder to soak in water a tea can be made. This tea can cause any number of effects from a state of very light relaxation and sleepiness to an overpowering sedation, that is if the nausea doesn’t get to you first. Of course death is a possibility if enough is taken, although I haven’t come across it in any case as yet.

Yes, a strange and potent death lurking in the alley, now let me see….

So good to be active once more, my mind rebels at stagnation. Give me problems, give me work, give me the most abstruse cryptogram or the most intricate analysis, and I am in my own proper atmosphere. I can dispense then with artificial stimulants even poppy tea. But I abhor the dull routine of existence. I crave for mental exaltation. That is why I have chosen my own particular profession, or rather created it, for I am the only one in the world - an almighty arse!

Yes, so good to be active once more.

Hark, Watson! Is that a hound I hear baying in the distance?

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Thoughts from a telephone pole…

Finer feelings? Us gulls don’t have finer feelings, well us Herring Gulls don’t that’s for sure, and as for the sea – give me a good big rubbish tip any day. ‘Why starve in the air when waste ‘n leftovers are there?’ That’s what they say in the adverts anyway and I agree with them.

Yes, I’ll eat anything, and I mean anything, and as that other tagline says - ‘Green bread and the dead, keep a gull fit and well fed’.

Fish? Why would I get myself all wet and cold trying to catch a stupid, wriggling fish? For one thing I’d get my feathers drenched, for another I can’t remember the last time I even bothered looking for the sea, and finally… just what is wrong with taking a nice juicy lapwing chick? They’re very tasty and full of nutrition and you hardly notice the bones after a while.

Sometimes I go into town for a bit of fun and dive bomb those stupid holiday makers as they eat their chips. You should see them jump and flap, it’s bloody hilarious. Once I stole a sausage roll right out of the hand of a toddler, she screamed for so long that I thought she was going to explode. I swooped her again and gave her my best vomit drop. You should have seen her face. Made me laugh so much I almost… No, not almost, I actually did, all over her dad’s bald, red head. Served him right for trying to swipe me with his stupid Liverpool shirt.

Gah-gah-gah… kyow, kyow, kyow. Still makes me laugh when I think about it now.

Anyway, I’d rather drink from a drain than the sea any day. Have you tasted seawater? It’s full of salt. I can drink it if I want to, but there’s something so much more sophisticated about a Chateau Sewere 2011. It has such a delicate bouquet and a wonderfully lingering after taste.

Not a lot to see today, not a lot going on, but then I come here to think really. I find a telegraph pole the ideal place to mull things over.

Now let me think…The only true law is that which leads to freedom’.

Gah-gah-gah-gah-gah-gah - Jonathan Livingston Seagull my arse.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011


Is this taken in some tropical paradise? An island where I can only take my favourite eight records, a book of my choice, the Bible, Shakespeare, and a single luxury to keep me going? Is Man Friday just out of shot dressed in a rabbit-skin cloth and smiling that ridiculous over-white smile of his? Or maybe the admirable Crighton is about to serve me a glass of coconut milk mixed with ship-salvaged rum, as I take a nap in my hammock before my dinner of red snapper grilled upon an open fire?

Certainly looks tropical doesn’t it?

Wales I’m afraid. Yes my other little garden in Wales just last weekend which, when the sun eventually showed, was tropical not only in its foliage but in its heat and humidity too. So hot that I fell asleep in my chair and drifted across the ocean, nautical mile on nautical mile, to wash gently in upon my special place.

Sometimes the idea of a desert island seems almost too attractive. No wonder it pops into my dreams so frequently, so frequently that I often fall asleep almost listening for the lap of waves, the cries of seagulls, the smell of the coconut palms upon the warm tropical breeze.

My special place – my very own desert island, I think I’d do okay. I’m pretty practical so wouldn’t have much problem building a shelter, just give me some palm trees and an axe and I’d have it done in a jiffy. I’m sure that I could spear fish with a little practice and I’m a dab hand at the barbecue, so food would be no problem – as long as I had some matches to start me off, or a magnifying glass and some paper.

Yes, I’m pretty sure that I could look after myself on my desert island, marooned and isolated and not washed up at all. It’s the building of a raft that might be an issue. Well, not so much the building of one, but actually bothering to do it in the first place. Would I really want to escape my splendid isolation in my tropical paradise and return to what is laughingly (well at least in my mind) called civilisation? Probably not.

As the Admirable Crighton found out - on his desert island he was pretty much king, but back home he was the mirrored opposite - pretty much nothing. Better to be a big fish in a small pond and all that - better still to be the only fish.

On my desert island I don’t have to answer to anybody other than myself. Nobody to tell me or trick me, lie to me and manipulate my feelings, nobody trying to get whatever they want from me regardless of consequence. On my desert island I can pretty much please myself with only mealtimes and the weather to contend with. No responsibilities, accountabilities, expectations, roles to play, unwanted pedestals to be hung from and I don’t need to find a job. I have a job as king of my island, and anyway I’m far too busy to even think about finding one - besides with no internet it isn’t even possible.

No internet. Well yes, I miss a few things. But I know how to ferment fruit to make cider, and although I’m not able to blog I keep a journal, and I paint. I paint and paint and paint until I’m pleased with what I’ve done, not worrying about what other people think as there isn’t anyone around to judge my work. I’m my only critic and I think all my paintings are FANTASTIC even the ones I paint after a few glasses of mango cider - especially the ones I paint after a few glasses of mango cider.

Happiness, peace, relaxation, relief.

And then one day a ship passes close to the island and (as old habits kick in) I light my beacon on the hill and I’m rescued. Floods of tears fall down my cheeks as I’m rowed from shore to ship, and of course my rescuers see tears of happiness whilst I feel tears of deepest sorrow and regret.

Why do I do it? I’m programmed to do the responsible thing.

Maybe I just won’t build a beacon in future.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Back yard jungle…

You may remember earlier in the year that I tidied up my postage-stamp back yard, or as I prefer to call it - my Italianate garden. It gets the sun early in the morning but by early afternoon the sun has pretty much gone and the side walkway doesn’t get any sun at all. That’s the problem with tall houses, they block out the light as the sun moves. Mind you we get the sunshine at the front in the afternoon, but that’s another story.

Still I’m not complaining too much. The back yard – sorry, ‘Italianate garden’ is a private haven with its all enclosing six foot walls where I happily sit drinking my early morning coffee without fear of observation. Not that there’s very much to observe, but I really like that feeling of privacy and solitude.

Of course planting is a bit of a problem and to be honest I haven’t really bothered very much for a while. Well, it is very shady and not a lot will grow in shade, at least not the vibrant oranges and yellows that I love. Or at least that is what I thought until I decided to try a few seeds that I found right at the back of the seed drawer that were left over from the cottage.

Nasturtiums, courgettes, canary creeper, parsley, marigolds, carrots, sunflowers, chives, busy lizzies, beetroot, sweet peas, tomatoes, hollyhocks, even a few almost dried up seed potatoes. I just bunged them all in not expecting them to do anything much at all and to be fair a lot of them didn’t, but then the seeds were very old.

The gardening experts call this type of garden, where you plant flowers and vegetables together in borders, a potage garden. No, not a pot garden that’s something else altogether and requires a cellar or loft, tin-foil, hydroponics, lots of lights. No, this is a potage garden, a mixed-use growing system, a mash-up as it might be called these days.

Of course it couldn’t possibly work. Far too many growing problems - too much shade, not enough light, the soil isn’t great, and of course there are the neighbour’s cats and an army of snails to contend with. No it wouldn’t work; nothing could possibly grow with all that to contend with.

But I was wrong. Most of it is doing pretty well. Oh, the carrots are just foliage and the tomatoes may not ripen, the courgettes have been tiny (and delicious) and the beetroots may never win a prize – but the marigolds, the hollyhocks, canary creepers and the rest are all doing well and my nasturtiums are magnificent (ooh, errr, missus!).

So why am I waffling, boring you with my tales of unexpected plant growth in my dingy back yard? Well, I may be in danger of boring you still further with my home-spun philosophies but it strikes me that some things that seem unlikely or even impossible aren’t. My seeds grew in the shade when really they shouldn’t have really grown at all, and one of the sunflowers is almost five feet tall already. Everywhere is green with floppy leaf and although I may not get red tomatoes I do have some nice yellow flowers on them. I feel almost happy sometimes sitting out drinking my coffee in the mornings surrounded by all that lush greenery.

I feel like I’m in a private shady jungle. Maybe I’ll pick up my machete and wander off deep into the undergrowth never to be seen again. Like I said, some things that seem unlikely or even impossible aren’t - perhaps I’ll find a triffid.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Wind in the wires...

Storms, how quickly they build this time of year. Just a little sunshine and a slight rise in temperature seems to set one in motion. What is it they say? Three days of sunshine is always followed by a thunderstorm? I’d like three days of sunshine, even if a storm follows – besides it is Wimbledon fortnight, so it’s bound to rain.

Not that I don’t like rain. I love the rain, watching it that is. Sometimes, when you get that warm rain, I stand in it and allow myself to be soaked. Once, on holiday in Barbados, I stood in the rain of a tropical storm. I sheltered under a huge tree and after a couple of minutes my skin began to burn. The sap of the tree was poisonous, and I had been drenched in the stuff. God it stung for hours.

Storms, how exciting they are. I love a good storm and the rain that it brings with it.

Sometimes when I stand and watch that huge rain a storm brings, listening to it thumping on the road, I think: ‘I love the rain, I wish it would rain forever.’ But of course I don’t, I hate that droplety, drizzly rain that seems to go on and on making everything damp and cold.

A good storm (what a strange term) is such a satisfying thing, clearing the air and leaving behind that wonderful washed and washed away smell. One seemed to be coming the other evening. The sky went black as soot in the far horizon then quickly moved across the sky blotting out the blue as it moved towards me. The temperature dropped to a shiver and the sounds of the evening dulled as the leaden air expanded.

I stood in our road watching it form, listening to the numbness it was creating.

Now standing in the centre of the road isn’t a good idea. But as I stood there I heard above my head a gentle hum. The telephone wires were singing. It was a strange undulating whine, high then low like a badly tuned radio. I listened for about three minutes and then it was gone, fading quickly and quietly to silence. I’ve heard that sound before, always before a storm when the wind begins to whip up. It’s called Aeolian vibration – what a magical name. Aeolus was the Greek god of the winds and ruler of the island of Aeolia. In the Odyssey, he gave Odysseus a bag of favourable winds to help him on his journey.

I stood waiting for the rain to come, listening to the Aelian vibration, wondering if the storm would bring favourable winds or those other winds – the ones that blow the hope out of our sails, the ones that blow the stuffing out of you.

I waited, the wind in the wires humming.

The storm never did come. It blew over, and as the sky lightened I stood and wondered if I’d heard anything at all.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Rainsticks, lottery wins, hands in the desert…

With too much time on my hands, increasingly I spend more of my time thinking about winning the lottery. Sometimes it looks like the only way forwards is that lottery win . You know the big one - the one that will change my life forever and give me more options than you can shake a stick at.

What would I do with so much money that everything feels like it’s free? How would it be to have such a vast fortune that I never needed to really touch the capitol of my winnings and only spent the interest accumulated? Where would I go, what would I see, where would my whim take me?

The Euro Millions stands at 105 million this Friday. I’ll buy a ticket, I don’t always bother but as I'm talking of whims, sticks and standing…

Standing by the side of the fireplace in our living room is a three foot long stick that looks like a crude baseball bat. When you pick it up it makes a noise that sounds a little like gently falling rain and for that reason it’s descriptively called a rainstick.

We’ve had it for years. Frank bought it for Holly when she was very young. I can’t remember where from though.

Basically a rainstick is a long, hollow tube made from dried cactus partially filled with small lava pebbles. Inside the stick are hundreds of cactus thorns arranged to spiral down its length. Someone with far more patience and as much time on their hands as me, hammers each one in so that when the pebbles drop they catch on the thorns and make the falling rain sound. The longer the stick, the longer the fall of pebble rain – ours lasts about twenty seconds, quite a short shower for the UK really.

They were first made in the deserts of northern Chile and used by local shaman as a totem to make it rain. I shake ours sometimes to bring me luck, not that it seems to be working very well – still you never know.

I really don’t need a rainstick at the moment to make it rain – it’s raining as I write this - but back in the Atacama desert where it’s arid and dry, the Hand of the Desert, a surreal sculpture by Mario Irarrazaba, points upwards to the sky despite being fifty miles and a very hot car ride away from the nearest town.

And there we are full circle, back to the lottery. If I win I’m going to take a trip to the Atacama, have a local taxi drive me out to that sculpture and take a photo of it for my album.

Why? Well, it reminds me of the lottery hand pointing to the sky - ‘It could be you’.

Let it be me.

Sod the rain, I’ll shake my stick for luck.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Dali doodle…

This doodle didn’t start out to be Dali, it didn’t start out to be anyone at all really. I was on the phone doodling away with my fountain pen, when one of those faces that I always seem to be doodling when I’m on the phone started to appear.

I glanced down as the person on the other end of the line went off on one of their long and tedious monologues. As I looked closer something about the nose, the chin, those eyes looked familiar - now who was it? And then I realised that through some subconscious message from my inner mind I’d drawn someone that (with the addition of that famous waxed moustache) was probably Salvador Dali.

Quite apt really given that the surrealist artists used lots of techniques including sensory deprivation, hypnotism, automatic writing, and drugs to tap into their subconscious minds, bringing out images from deep inside and dragging them, kicking and screaming, into the open.

It’s a strange place in there, inside the subconscious. Anything can happen. Up is down, there is no distance, perspectives are distorted, objects morph from one thing to another, time flows any-which-way it chooses, people long gone wander around, or float, or fly, or become a steam train coming through a fireplace. Yes, it’s a very strange place indeed.

Anyway, by the end of my telephone call there was Dali on my post-it note, the egg from ‘Metamorphosis’ floating above his head and a melting clock hanging from his moustache.

And then from the silly part of my subconscious mind came a thought – ‘What would Dali have for breakfast?
Why breakfast surreal of course.’ It answered.

Yes, I groaned too. But the subconscious mind must be obeyed so that is what I drew - a bowl of Dali breakfast surreal with burning giraffe, goldfish tail, melting clock and added vitamins.

The subconscious certainly has a lot to answer for, maybe next time it can draw out the winning Euro Millions numbers for me.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011


All the bloggers that ever blogged are probably blogging the Solstice today. Well, why not, it isn't every day that you get a full-blown Pagan festival to chant about.

I was awoken at five this morning by the sound of somebody, somewhere distant but not too far way, practicing scales on a piano. I glanced towards the curtained window expecting to see the sunshine pouring in but it wasn't. It was almost as dark as night. If the sun was out there he wasn't shining. Perhaps he'd been replaced by a darkling, perhaps the winds had carried him off and left an imposter in his place. Shaking the last of the dreams from my ears I peeked out of the curtains.

'So here it is.' I thought. 'Another Solstice and, true to form, no sun to be seen.'

Solstice, literally meaning the day the sun (sol) stands still (stice), the longest day and the shortest night, the culmination of the suns daily rising, higher and higher until, on this day, it seems to stand still in the sky.

Midsummer, the day of St. John, Litha – a time to greet the sun with chanting, to light the bonfires, leap through flames, drink the health of the honey moon in mead, adorn oneself with flowers and herbs to chase away the devil.

Probably not today though. Looking out of the window, the chords still playing in the distance, I’d never have guessed this day was this day. The sky a silver-grey flat, clouds almost indistinguishable as they scudded across the monotone of the horizon. There was a definite chill in the air and the smell of dampening rain to come later. 'Maybe I should have built a bigger bonfire or picked a posy of St. John’s Wort to chase away the Devil?'

As I reached for my glasses the piano stopped, a final note fading to silence. Maybe whoever it was had been heralding in the day and with the lack of sun had simply given up - or maybe they just couldn't sleep perchance to dream.

Me neither now.

Time to be about and dressed, another summer solstice here, but not for long, from here the nights grow shorter. 'Winter begins its slow return.' My cheery thought for the day.

Whatever is dreamed on this night, will come to pass."

Well, somehow Midsummer wouldn’t be quite the same without a smidgeon of Shakespeare. I hope the bard was right though and tonight I dream of winning the lottery. That is, if that insomniac piano player doesn't start up again and keep me from my dreams. A midsummer's dream... now where did I put those ass’s ears?

Monday, 20 June 2011

A failure to communicate…

In this modern world where communication is so very easy why does really communicating appear to be so difficult? It can’t be that there aren’t enough ways to communicate, after all what with with e-mail, texting, mobile phone technology, videoconferencing, social networking and the rest there are more ways than ever to talk to each other.

Maybe that’s the problem, or at least part of it. There are so many ways to communicate that don’t actually involve meeting with the person you want to communicate with that sometimes its easier to take that option. I know I do, and I do it increasingly.

These days it is so damned hard to get away from it all like we used to do what with the always available expectation that people seem to see as the norm. Of course a lot of that is self-driven. I find myself checking for texts every few minutes and whenever I sit down at my computer the first thing I do is check my e-mails and then Facebook. But then and again increasingly, I think most of us do. It’s a very brave (or an incredibly rich) man who doesn’t carry a mobile phone around or use e-mail.

Odd really, DUR when there were no mobile phones, no e-mail or texting? I do, after all I come from a time when there wasn’t a phone in the house let alone one in my pocket, a time when if you wanted to talk to somebody you had to pop around and see them and people popped around all the time. If you wanted to communicate with somebody who was a long way away then you’d send them a letter written by hand and posted in an envelope. It was only in emergencies really that you might go to the phone box and make a call, and if something was really urgent then you may even have sent a telegram (stop).

Generally back then though you met people face to face. Of course we all had more time then, more time for ourselves and more time for each other and of course life really was much simpler and people talked for the fun of it and not simply because they wanted something, wanted you do something, or wanted you to buy something.

Well, not all of the time at least. Back then people spoke for the pleasure of it, to pass the time of day. Or at least that’s how I remember it. Perhaps it’s just rose-tinted glasses, but I suspect it’s not. More time, simpler, less demanding, less I want it now because not only could you not have it now, you couldn’t have it at all because it simply wasn’t there to be had and more importantly NOBODY EXPECTED IT TO BE.

Now don’t misunderstand me. I’m in touch with lots of people through these new ways of communicating that I wouldn’t otherwise be in touch with - although that probably says a lot more about me than it does about the way we communicate. But e-mails and statuses, and worst of all bloody text messaging which allows you to invade another person’s life without any reference to what might be happening in that person’s life as you send your bloody text. Texts can be so insistent and they are so easy to misinterpret or react to. At least with a letter you can choose not to answer it, you can even decide not to answer your phone, but a text? A text is so inconspicuous whilst at the same time having such (suck) potential to cause offence and before you know it you’re into a text battle, trying to blow your opponent out of the water in a battle of texted responses.

I’m telling you all this by way of an admission really. I’m in the online, impersonal, communication trap and recently have had cause to regret it - the text battle to end all text battles with no winners. Mind you even talking failed, so I guess you’d say that what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate, as Paul Newman once said.

Thing is, communication is hard. It requires two people to want to talk, to try to agree on things, to see each other’s point of view and yes, I know – that just isn’t going to happen is it? Oh, I know what drove me to this sorry state – my texts, e-mails, phone calls are generally from somebody who wants something from me, wants to sell me something, or wants me to do something I’m either not ready, or at all sure that I even want to do. Hardly ever do I get any sort of communication from somebody who really just wants to have a chat and see how I’m feeling.

How many times do I pick up the phone and hear something like - ‘Hi, I’m Alice. I’m calling to tell you all about our new product.’ And I reply - ‘That’s very interesting Alice. Can I ask you a few questions?’And of course I can’t, because Alice isn’t there at all she’s just a recorded message. Now Alice might have something quite meaningful to sell me, I may even want it, but because she’s just a recording and I know from previous experience that she wants to sell me something I don’t even bother to listen.

And that really is the problem. Most communication is made in the wrong form and usually it only takes into account the needs and wants of the sender, the receiver is just – well the person you want to do something.

Of course sometimes I actually do get a call, text, or e-mail from somebody just wanting to let me know that they’re there (thanks to those that do this) but I get more pushes than enquiries. Mind you, it seems a little different in the countryside. In Wales people will stop for a face-to-face chat at the drop of a hat and still be chatting an hour later – albeit in Welsh.

Generally though, I’m sad to say, most communications - calls, texts, e-mails - have a purpose, a sting in the tail, either a ‘could you’, a ‘would you’, or a ‘you must', or even a combination of all three - and frankly, increasingly and very often, I can’t, I won’t, and I’m not going to.

So I guess that you could say that what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.

Thanks Luke.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Smile please…

Here they are my sixties dad and mum, all dressed up in their promenading gear. Blazer, tie, and well shined shoes, with mum in headscarf to keep away the breeze, and high heel shoes. She’s carrying the raffia beach basket that probably held our swimming gear and some sandwiches, cheese and cucumber or luncheon meat (Mick's meat named after my uncle Michael who loved it so much).

Everyone swam in the sea back then. The beaches packed with dads in rolled up flannels and vests. Mothers huddled in cardigans, trying to stop the sand from flying into the sandwiches, keeping the jug of tea safe from the tennis ball cricketers. Many an hour I’ve spent on the beach in a force eight gale without a ray of sun, blue with cold and shivering inside a wet towel.

I’m not sure where this. It could be Skegness, but more likely Morecambe. We went there for our summer holiday sometimes. Morcambe and a bunk-bed bedded room at Mrs Cheetham’s guest house - out all day and in by eight, a shilling in the meter for the electric.

That’s my sister Caroline, stripy blazered and pudding basin bobbed, casually observing the world from her collapsible plastic pushchair. My younger sister Della, wasn’t born yet, but may still be in this picture. I’m not quite sure.

So where am I? Again I’m not sure, but wherever I am it’s a pretty safe bet that I’m short-trousered, white sandaled, pullovered, shirt and tied and short-back-and-sided.

We’d walk along the prom trying to avoid the seaside photographers who pounced from nowhere, dropping sharp-toothed grinning monkeys tethered to too long leads, upon your neck. Rabid monkeys maybe, fleas at least. They terrified my with their manic chattering, and the photographers, all smiles and Brylcreem, would chase after you barracking: ‘It’s only two-and-six. You can pick up your picture from the booth tomorrow’. I don’t think we ever took them up on their offer.

I wonder where I am? Maybe I’m taking that picture.

‘Smile please.’

Friday, 17 June 2011

Fly or fall...

It’s that time of year. The eggs have hatched, the fledglings fledged, and the chicks, now teenagers, want to see the world - and anyway their parents are getting really fed up with feeding them. Sometimes enough really is enough.

The family of blue tits in our bird box are no exception and were out and about last weekend. Three chicks in all, fluffy and dull and just able to fly from branch to hedge and back again. One, the smallest, still not able to feed itself was tended by an ever busy parent moving to and from the feeder and back again, scraps of suet in its beak.

Birds seem to be such good parents, but it’s all just instinct and survival. There’s no love or affection, and as soon as the young ones are able the parents leave and the youngsters are left to fly or fall.

It wasn’t just young birds in the garden last weekend. The goldfinches are regulars now and for the first time a couple of siskins have appeared, feeding alongside the finches from the thistle seed feeder. At first I wasn’t sure what they were, having never seen one before, but my trusty pocket book of birds soon put me right and I was able to identify them. Such a thrill when a new bird appears for identification alongside the chaffinches, thrushes, robins, blackbirds, doves, great and blue and coal tits, dunnocks, sparrows and the occasional tree creeper.

I could watch them all day, even the greedy rooks that sweep down to take the bread we throw upon the hedge, scaring all the smaller birds away with their size and aggression.

So there you go. The young birds are on their own, I wish them a fair wind and that they fly rather than fall.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Red moon and my first eclipse...

So just why is it whenever a celestial experience takes place it’s always bloody cloudy?

It doesn’t matter where I am, as soon as the moon or sun is about to eclipse or a meteoroid shower is about to fall the clouds gather and suddenly all chance of spectacle is obliterated.

Bloody, bloody, bloody UK weather. Bloody, bloody, bloody moon. Bloody, bloody, bloody everything. Even the moon doesn’t trust me enough to put in a bloody appearance (literally).

Of course the rest of the world saw it just fine. Just look at these fantastic shots taken by my facebook pals Andrew Casson in Gran Canaria (above) and part of a set taken by Liam Reeve in Adelaide (below) – what stunning pictures, a big thanks for letting me borrow them.

Yes, bloody UK weather.

Back on July 20th, 1963 I remember standing in the school playground clutching a piece of glass that I’d held over a candle for seemingly hours, allowing the soot to build on its surface until my fingers burnt. The whole school, class by class, neatly lined-up in the playground waiting for the solar eclipse.

We’d been building up to it for weeks. Learning all about what total eclipses were, how an eclipse of the moon can only happen on a new moon when the moon passes in front of the surface of the sun, how we shouldn’t look directly at the sun even in an eclipse or our eyes would be burnt to cinders and how in earlier times people had been afraid that the sun would never return after the eclipse that they killed goats and virgins afterwards as a symbol of thanksgiving to the gods. Well, it was 1963.

There we stood, a group of young umbraphiles, waiting for the sun to shine no more. Only ten minutes to go. The girls were giggling, us boys pushing and shoving – all waiting for the whistle that was to be blown signalling the start of the eclipse.

And then the clouds came.

They seemed to blow in from nowhere, but soon the sun, which had been fully visible just a few moments before, became a hazy ball hanging in an overcast sky. The whistle blew loud and shrill and long, the pea revolving like a tiny moon caught inside the silver tin of the whistle.

We waited, watching the sky intently, candle soot glass held to our childish eyes. Oh, I saw something or at least I imagined I did, a shadow maybe passing over the blur in the sky, the slow darkening of the playground around us; but nothing like we’d been promised, not the magnificent flaming corona that Mr Ennis (keeper of the moon whistle) had spoken about so vividly and with such enthusiasm.

And then it was over and clutching our glasses in soot blackened fingers, we trudged back into class to rote our eight times table.

Last night’s eclipse started just before nine and was over just after ten. As usual I didn’t see a thing. The red tinged Moon that appears as she travels through the long cone-shaped shadow that the Earth casts in space didn’t show for me.

Probably just as well. I feel angry enough with things without a red moon adding to my fury.

Oh well, there’s another lunar eclipse in October. Perhaps we’ll get clearer skies next time.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The inner saucepan...

Even though we have a dishwasher I seem to do a lot of washing up. Not that we’ve always had a dishwasher, we’ve only had one for the last three years or so and we’ve only started using it regularly over the last few months.

For years I thought that I enjoyed doing the washing up by hand and mostly it was true. But when there’s a mountain of it, like after a full roast, I’m pleased that we’ve started using our dishwasher - despite the time it takes and the hum it makes.

Most times though I still wash up by hand. I find it almost relaxing, slipping on my marigolds so as not to burn my hands and plunging the dishes into the steaming, soapy water. The glasses are never quite as gleaming when washed by hand though, and some of our pots are a little too large for them to fit into our slim-line dishwasher.

The other day when I’d finished washing one of our largest stainless steel pans by hand I caught a glimpse of it on the drying rack. The constant heating and cooling had tempered the inner steel colouring it permanently with a rainbow of colour. It was quite beautiful.

Now I know that this might seem strange and simply a further affirmation of my - well let’s call it eccentricity shall we, but I picked up my camera knowing that there was something worth snapping inside that saucepan.

And there was. Inside that saucepan was a whole new shimmering world, an Aurora Borealis of scratched and flashing metal. It seemed as if another wholly separate universe existed inside, and I wouldn’t have been at all surprised if the Starship Enterprise had flashed past as I snapped off a photograph or two.

Gaynor thought I was quite mad and perhaps I am, but just look at the results. Incredible. It’s all there if you look hard enough. Worlds inside worlds.

Perhaps that’s it. Perhaps our entire universe is simply the scratches and marks inside a great big saucepan. Just think - maybe one day we’ll all be wiped away by a torrent of bolognaise sauce.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

The walk, the sky and St Ceidio…

We could see the chapel etched against the sky as we climbed the hill. I’d seen it from the road below five thousand times or more but never once thought to go there - after all it was just another chapel, one of so many chapels in Wales.

Reaching the summit we opened the chapel gate and walked into the graveyard. What a view, the sun shone on the blue sea in the distance, cloud shadows chased across the distant mountains, and all around the green of pasture, wood, and hill.

Entering the chapel through the storm battered door we moved into another world. This wasn’t just another Welsh chapel - this was a place of history, a piece of the ancient past. Not built in the 1800’s by some Welsh temperance minister as I’d expected, but built in 1264 and dedicated to Saint Ceidio. St Ceidio was once Prince Ceidio of Gwent. He settled across the way in the distance at Llangeidio, just north of his mother's hillfort on Carn Fadrun and built a church. Sainthood seems to have been easy path to tread back then, anyone that built a church seems to have been canonised.

The vaulted ceiling was high, the pews old and scratched. On one a single flake of confetti, a heart - remains of a recent marriage? 'Still in use then.' I guessed. The simple windows needed no coloured glass to decorate them, they were full of the sky and the fields and the sea. This was a quiet place, a place to retreat to on a stormy night, a place to pray if praying is your business.

Amazing to think this had been here all along, minutes from the cottage, in full view whenever I passed. And what a pleasure to discover it at last, almost a thrill in a world where thrills are few. Perhaps I need to get a life.

We looked around and left, shutting the door carefully behind us so as not to let the birds in as the note on the door requested, then retraced our steps through the ancient gate and back down the lane. Downhill was so much better, easier to tread, and as I walked back down the lane I felt pleased that I’d climbed close to the sky to visited Saint Ceidio’s. I’ll be walking there again I’m sure.

Monday, 13 June 2011

The crossroads...

So up to the crossroads, the sky in the distance blue and clear.

Edern, Nefyn, Dinas, all marked then onwards up the hill to Ceidio, ducking into the deep shadow of the lane as we climbed.

I love this time of year. The hedgerow at its best - red campion, foxglove, ragged robin, white daisies, deep green, bright red, almost lime grasses whichever way I look and looking back the dapple of the lane painting pictures on the grey of the chipped, cracked tarmac. What a day for pictures. First a Monet, now a charcoal sketch by artist unknown.

It was one of those roads where the grass grows in the centre, a green stripe of life against the pour of chippings and tar - part road, part track, but in any case not exactly a thoroughfare.

Small brown butterflies ducked in and out between us as we climbed. High above darting swallows swooped, collecting a late lunch on the wing, and everywhere the buzz of flying insects and the raze of grasshoppers.

What a day.

And walking on, my breath coming in short shallow gasps as we climbed, the promise of the sky to come.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

An afternoon stroll…

It’s there all around us. It’s just that sometimes it’s too easy to forget or to simply stop looking - the worries and squabbles of the stupid day-to-day taking away the sight, lost in the cause and effect patterns we wrap ourselves in - hiding the important and making consequences from the inconsequential.

I guess that some might look for the bigger picture in religion, others in love. I glimpse it sometimes in the ordered randomness of the natural world.

We went for a walk on Saturday afternoon. Not a long one, only a few miles. Along our lane, across the crossroads at the top, up the hill to the sky, then back again. I’ll be telling you all about it over the next few posts, starting with the Monet painting I happened upon at Pooh-Stick bridge. That's it above, he hasn't signed it but I can see his hand in the composition.

Five minutes stroll from the cottage, along the bursting hedge bank lined dapple of the single track road, through the shade, then down the dip to the stream, is Pooh-Stick Bridge.

Pooh-Stick Bridge. The old stone bridge where we used to race sticks when Holly was a girl. We’d drop the sticks one side of the bridge, then race across to the other to see whose stick would come out first, watching them race as they tumbled their way along and through the water. We’d have to do it again and again till one of us got bored. These days when we cross the bridge in the car, Holly and Gaynor still say ‘Pooh Stick Bridge’ for luck. I gave up a few years ago when I realised that nothing was going to change the way my luck was running.

The bridge must have been there for hundreds of years, the stream hundreds, maybe thousands more. I stood looking down into the shallow water, watching the play of the sunshine on the water’s surface, the gentle framing of this lush June’s growth of green, the rich mud of the stream bed and the bubbles bubbling their way to the sea a mile or so to the west. It was beautiful. Nature’s painting as clear as any Monet, as intricate as a Breugel, as puzzling as a Dali.

I watched the ever changing canvas, looking then looking and seeing more, until I became a part of the picture, at one with whatever it was and is. All thoughts of squabble and problems and worries gone - lost in the water and the sunshine for a few minutes.


‘If only it could always be like this.’ I found myself wishing.

We tried to play Pooh-Sticks, Gaynor and me, but the water was too shallow and the current too weak, so we carried on with our walk, climbing the rise towards the crossroads and on towards the sky.

Friday, 10 June 2011


Like a migration of glowing insects my solar lights. They usually make me smile, silly and simple and just a little tacky.

Solar lighting - what a miracle of science and so cheap to buy, the pound shops are full of them. Solar magic for a pound, glowing in the darkness bringing light.

Thursday, 9 June 2011

The two days...

You decide what this is about. I don't really know. It's one of those doodles that just appear on the pad when you aren't expecting it to.

I have no idea why bad day is small and good day is big and I have even less idea what the two days in the box is referring to. It's one of those subconscious things I guess.

Normally I'd add some colour, but I can't be bothered today.

Any way here it is: 'The Two Days' lump it or like it, or should that be here they are, lump them or like them?

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

King of frog fools…

Here he sits the king of frog fools, playing his euphonium to his own tune in a world of his own making, listening to everyone else’s discord and missing his own melody, not knowing music from the scrape of chalk on board.

Poor him, poor u – as some would say or thumb. All his own fault for being a fool.

I bought him in the United States. I don’t know why. But something about him cried out to me – a kindred spirit perhaps? I spruced him up last weekend relaxing in the sunshine, spraying over his old flaking grey with an antiqued bronze, making him kingly once more - a thin veneer of tacky paint to mask the fool within.

For a week, long ago in my messy past, I started to learn to play the euphonium. A big silver swirled thing with keys and a mouthpiece and a huge black drawstring bag which didn’t quite cover it to carry it home in. My, how the crowds did point and the lorry drivers toot as I made my way through town, head bowed and ashamed in my new school uniform. As ever the fool I gave up before I’d even begun, fooled by my own foolish imaginings. Poor king of the frog fools – we might have played with the Royal Frogomonic.

Where’s his crown? He hasn’t one. His fool’s kingdom only inside his head, his crown imagined. He’s a fool not a king and has been for all time. Maybe one day he might wake up and find the reality he needs but for now he remains a fool, imagining grand but a small fool as all fools are, two feet tall and feeling it. Not quite frog, a touch of human. Like some creature from an episode of Doctor Who in 1970, and if this foolish frog king had a voice at all it would probably have been made by Roy Skelton who died today.

I am a Dalek, croak – amongst other things.

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

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Click the last one - purple.

Worth the wait…

For ten long years and more the apple bird-box sat in the holly tree empty of birds. These days the once vibrant colours are dulled, a crack is developing down one side, and some boring insect has lived up to its name and bored a few holes on the underside of the faked fruit.

My posts seem to get shorter then shorter still, colours dulled, cracked and full of holes. Perhaps that’s a good thing? I don’t know. I doubt it matters much, I don’t think there are too many people waiting breath all baited for them to hit the web.

Ten long years of waiting, clean as a whistle and no expectation of that ever changing. Until, with a flash of yellow and blue and a tweet, out it flew to gather food for the hatchlings that surely must lie within. And then another; a pair, as you would expect.

Worth the wait?

I wonder how many young will fly from that apple?

Monday, 6 June 2011

Not dancing...

I don’t have the energy today.

Sometimes things can become so focussed on a single moment that wider reality slips away and in that instant the moment becomes the norm, all the reality that there is.

Sometimes, dependent on your viewpoint (who you are, where you are standing, whose side you are on) multiple realities may in that instant coexist side by side diametrically opposed to each other and the other, and other.

I slipped into these realities on Saturday afternoon whilst photographing the glass spheres that are the water reservoirs for my hanging basket. One moment all was the pink of a daisy, the blues and the sun-shimmer of the glass and next…

All I wanted was some time to reflect, a little peace and quiet, some forgetfulness away from the routines that even now drive me. I should have kept my phone switched off. Still, at least I no longer dance.

I won’t explain. I don’t have the energy.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Vorsprung durch Technik and other ravings...

I heard on the radio the other day that the Germans have decided to pull out of nuclear power in light of the recent Japanese disaster. There I go, sounding like a newsreader again. I don’t get it though. When did Germany last get struck by a tsunami or even have a major earthquake? They don’t have volcanoes, so surely the biggest natural disaster likely to happen in Germany is a bit of flooding. In which case build the nuclear power stations on higher ground and whilst they are about it, away from the sea.

Now I know this would be a challenge, after all you need an awful lot of water to cool a power station. But I would have thought that a nation who invented motorways, the zeppelin, rockets, and bratwurst could have engineered something – after all ‘Progress through technology’ as the advert says.

I guess now that the rest of Europe, including us, will all have to ‘consider their position’ in light of a tremulous public who complain about the cost of energy on the one hand, but don’t want ‘dangerous’ nuclear power or ‘unsightly’ wind farms on the other.

Moving on - where do all the shoes by the side of the road come from?

I had occasion to travel a hundred miles or so very early this morning by motor car. I never did understand why the word motor was necessary in this description although it is a little better than automobile (which is meaningless to me). Anyway, on that single journey I passed no fewer than nine shoes by the side of the road including two, about twenty miles apart, which I am convinced was a pair.

What is happening? Does somebody suddenly get bored of the car journey and lob their shoe out of the window for a bit of a larf? Is it the shoe fairy? Is there a secret society which as part of an initiation rite, secretly secrete shoes along the public highway?

It’s almost as puzzling as the 'orange glove on the beach' mystery.

Lastly, why am I constantly being interrupted by youths from Liverpool knocking on my door and setting off my tweety-bird to sell me dusters and dishcloths at ridiculously high prices? Why don’t they purvey their goods in their home city, and don’t they realise that I have a dishwasher and a fantastic dusting mitt that I bought from the pound shop for… well, for a pound.

They always look so offended when I say ‘no thanks’ that I’ve taken to carrying all manner of cleaning equipment with me to the front door when I answer it, just so that they can be sure that I’ve really got one of whatever it is they are selling.

Actually I bought two dusting mitts from the pound shop, one for each foot. I use them to polish the flooring in the hallway, my own invention. I wonder if that goes some way to explaining all those roadside shoes? Maybe house, or rather car, proud drivers are replacing their shoes with dusting mitts and polishing their walnut veneer dashboards whilst driving along, carelessly discarding their shoes out of the side-window in the process.

Foot mitts, like orange gloves for the feet - orangenhandschuhe für die Gebühr - ingenious, eh? I bet I could teach those Germans a thing or two.