Wednesday, 31 August 2011

Summer memories - the Minack theatre...

It's been a stormy August. The skies at the weekend reminding me of another August full of storms.

I’m off again - memory surfing as another summer passes without me realising another small ambition of mine.

It isn't much. I just want to see an open air production of A Mid-Summers Night’s Dream on a clear, balmy summer’s evening as I sip ice cold champagne and watch the clear blue Atlantic lapping the rocks far below.

That’s where she got the sand you know, the beach below – yes the sand to make the concrete that they used to build their open air amphitheatre high above the Cornish coast - Mad Rowena Cade and her gardener, Billy Rawlings – the builders of the Minack Theatre.

I’ve been there only once. Oh, it must be fourteen or fifteen years ago. A day trip out from my parent’s flat in Exmouth, Holly tucked safely into her car seat as we explored the most western parts of the British Isles. A long day but a fantastic one – all so tired when we arrived back at the second floor flat by Holy Trinity Church, almost midnight, Holly sound asleep as the church clock struck twelve.

We came across The Minack almost by chance and stopped to take a look and get a cup of tea. They’d stopped serving, well it was after three, but it didn’t matter as we happily wandered around this bit of the Roman Empire that never was.

Magnificent! Such a feat of determination and love.

We stood under the late afternoon sky and watched as a storm came in from the west, holding hands as the wind picked up. I only had film for the one picture, yes film, and by then the gift shop had closed.

‘We’re coming back.’ I said to Gaynor as we drove away. ‘We’re coming back to take more pictures and watch an open air production of A Mid-Summers Night’s Dream on a clear, balmy summer’s evening and sip ice cold champagne as we watch the clear blue Atlantic lap the rocks below.’

Of course we could do it any time - as long as the play’s performing (although any would do really), and the weather fine – but of course we never have. Small ambitions are like that. You have to wait for them to grow big.

Maybe next year it'll become a burning desire and then maybe I'll do it.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Back to black…

I spent the weekend sitting on a hidden bench above the rocks at Borth-y-Gest looking out to sea and watching the ever changing light on the mountains as the sun came and went, and the threat of rain came and went, and the warm sunshine came and went.

I must have sat for hours across a couple of days, observing the boats, the brave walkers dodging the tides as they trekked across the flats to Portmeirion, staring fixated at the tops of the mountains in the distance, sitting with my heart in my mouth for the families in flip-flops climbing rocks too steep and sharp and occasionally rushing to their rescue.

- And of course thinking about scribbling something down onto the blank open page before me. The white emptiness of that page is always so daunting.

I’ve taken to using a sketch book again. Not carrying it all of the time as instructed by my old drawing teacher when I was up at Oxford (polytechnic) but putting it in my pocket when I get a chance. Not that I ever really stopped carrying one completely, but the gaps between my outdoor scribbles have grown increasingly longer and longer.

I like landscape.

For years I’ve spent hours sketching in pencil, then agonising with a tiny set of watercolours over the exact mix of the blue of the sky or the pink of the sand, losing precious time - the light changing as I dither.

So this time and for a while I’m keeping it simple and going back to black pen, black ink, a brush, and a tube of pelican white. It’s limiting, but it makes you look harder and think. And you have no choice but to be bolder. It makes me want to keep it simple, both my subject and my attitude. No embellishment, no complexity, and no dither – you have to work quickly, the ink dries fast on paper in the wind. That’s what it’s like when all you have is black to work with.

Back to black. It’ll take a little practice, but I will get there.

Monday, 29 August 2011

More foraging...

We drove down to the end of the peninsula at the weekend. We do that sometimes, just to take a look at the isolation and ruggedness of it all. The view from Rhiw above Hell’s Mouth was as spectacular as always and the drive down as steep as ever.

They’ve built a new road to replace the one that got washed away in the rainstorms a few (five, six?) years ago and it has changed my map of everything. The one that’s in my head not drawn down on any paper - the real map, the one where I’ve logged all the things worth looking out for.

Even so, I still managed to find the hazel grove and for once I managed to get there before the squirrels. Within about an hour of happy foraging I’d managed to collect one and a half pounds of the lush green nuts, carefully bending the branches down to get to the ones at the top.

They’ll ripen indoors and in a few weeks will be delicious. I wonder if I can save them for Christmas?

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Luxembourg, Hilversum, and the twirl of a dial...

We had wet in Wales at the weekend. Not a surprise. It was forecast to flow in from the sea and it did. By lunchtime Saturday the rain was torrential just as we were out walking the lanes following Holly around on her horse.

The dark clouds gathered quickly rolling in off the mountains and down into the fields spooking the horses and bringing a chill that made me shiver.

The wind picked up, tossing twigs and straw in front of my feet as I walked - and then I began to notice a gentle hum. It seemed to be all around, in the air, definitely there but almost not, phasing in and out as the air grew heavier and the temperature began to rise making me sweat under my wet weather coat.

I looked for wires. I often hear the humming in them (I would have made a good linesman for the county) but there weren’t any and the hum was gradually getting louder.

Passing a field, out of the corner of my eye and through a hedge, I saw a large white shape. What was it? I hadn’t noticed anything before, but then I’d only walked this way a couple of times so I may have missed whatever it was - or perhaps it was new.

Coming level with the gate to the field I looked in and saw what was causing the whiteness. It wasn’t new. It looked like it had been there a very long time, or maybe it had always been there because in the centre of the field was a huge white stone pointing upwards to the ever darkening sky like an accusing finger.

I wasn’t sure, but it sounded like the undulating hum was coming from the stone and it was definitely getting louder.

I stood there looking at the stone open-mouthed, a little unsettled, sweating under my wet weather coat and listening to the hum which sounded like the noise I used to get as a boy tuning in between stations on the radio. Luxembourg, Hilversum, snatches of some strange guttural european language, the chattering of gremlins and imps phasing in and out of the ether. Longwave, shortwave, medium wave. The rise and fall of the whine interspersed with crackling static as I turned the cream bakerlite dial looking for something I never seemed to find and always knew I wouldn’t.

I sweated, watching the stone as it seemed to get lighter in colour, it almost seemed to glow, growing brighter as the whining hum grew louder as something turned the dial – Hilversum, Luxembourg, the chattering of imps and gremlins.


A flash from the stone, an end to the humming and the smell of electricity in the air. Just what was that? It wasn’t thunder. I didn’t see any lightening.

And then the rain began all at once and torrential.

I looked at the stone standing in the field as before, it wasn’t as white and it didn’t seem to glow any longer. I couldn’t hear any trace of the hum, the air felt calmer. I shivered, realising that the temperature had dropped again and that I’d stopped sweating inside my wet weather coat.

And then I sneezed.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Excessive wonder…

I heard about this wonder on the radio the other evening and it excited me so much that I decided to post about it and spread the word.

Now of course this means delaying my post about the standing stone that I heard humming at the weekend (yes humming - either electrical resonance or Radio Hilversum I think) but she’s such a surreal marvel - or at least she will be - that I just had to tell you about her in case you haven’t already heard.

To be honest though my stone and Northumberlandia, as she’s called, have quite a lot in common. To somebody not in the know they both seem so mysterious, so open to a world of wondering. Even to people in the know, like me, they both seem so wonderful. Mysteriously it really does remain a wonderful life.

Yes, I know I’m going on a bit but just as I wonder about that standing stone, (the one you have yet to read about, the one that hums in thunderstorms) I wonder what people will think of Northumberlandia in a few thousand years.

What will they think she is?

I wonder if archaeologists will wonder why those bonkers ancient English people (the ones that drove around in motorised wheeled vehicles in the latter stages of the Oil Age) created the largest replica of the human body ever to be seen on Earth.

I wonder if, as they look down from their orbiting cities in space and see her in all her glory, they’ll wonder just what was this reclining female figure a quarter of a mile long and weighing 1.5 million tons was all about? What was she for? Was she a temple, a burial mound, an offering to an Earth Goddess deity? Or perhaps that they’ll think her a pointer, a sign for those aliens from the stars, and I wonder if they’ll have turned up by then? Maybe they’ll even be in those orbiting space cities cohabiting.

Yes, I know I’m still going on a bit so if you really need to know the details:

In reality she’s simply a way of blocking out the mess of mining activity behind her, a screen if you like, and she’s made from slag from the mine. Yes, something beautiful is coming from the temporary destruction of the landscape, something positive and rather wonderfully in these times of cuts - she it isn’t costing the public a penny despite her costing almost two million quid to create. She’s funded privately without even a Lottery grant.

Her designer, Charles Jencks, calls her a ‘gateway’ and an ‘abstraction’. I call her a marvel of recycling, legislation, courage, vision, beauty and one hell of a surrealist statement. The very Dali himself could only be impressed I think.

Yes, those people in the future - I wonder if they’ll wonder about her like I wonder about that standing stone. Either way, one thing is for certain, she’s going to be wonderful - a real wonder of the world.

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Wild plums and mushrooms...

I went foraging last weekend. I didn’t set out to, but I found a damson tree flooded with ripe dark blue fruit hanging low in the hedgerow along the lane in Wales. Wild plums, it was too good a chance to miss so I collected a couple of pounds to make some jelly.

I didn’t have a muslin jelly bag so used a fine sieve to strain the juice of the cooked damsons before making the jelly. Obviously you don’t put the fruit into a jelly, otherwise it would be a jam, but the sieve worked just fine and I had a little over a pint of deep red damson juice to make my jelly with. It tasted very tart but the sugar would sweeten it up a little, not too much though, damson jelly is meant to be sharp.

I’d never made damson jelly before but jellies and jams are all pretty much the same, one pound of fruit to one pound of sugar, a little water, some lemon juice, and a knob of butter to disperse what jam makers call ‘the scum’ - such a horrible term for the tiny sugar bubble froth that forms on the top of the jam.

The important thing is to boil the sugar and fruit mixture on a high heat until it reaches the setting point, 105 degrees centigrade no more and no less and then to pour it into sterilised jars whilst it’s still warm. My damsons made about one and a half pounds of jelly. I’ve made blackberry and strawberry jam and now damson jelly over the last few weeks and I know I’ll end up giving most of it away.

As a bonus though, when I was collecting my damsons I bent down to pick up a fruit I’d dropped and noticed some mushrooms growing in the field behind the hedge. I didn’t make jam with them, I just fried them in some garlic butter.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Childhood wonder and my ghost…

This doodle popped over this morning when I was least expecting him, a reminder of what I must have been – all startled wondering eyes and not quite hiding behind two too open fingers, surrounded by the inky black and talking to my ghost.

Childhood - such a wonderful time in every sense of the word.

I can’t quite remember when I lost my sense of wonder. In fact I can’t quite remember if I ever had a sense of wonder at all. But I must have, or something very close to it. Otherwise why would I have been so excited on those so far too few Christmas Eves when Father Christmas remained reality? And wasn’t I going to travel the world and see all the Seven Wonders of the World? And what about the conversation my pre-school infant had with that pallid boy-ghost behind my parent’s bedroom door?

‘I know you’re there ghost.’ I confidently whispered. ‘You might as well come out. There’s no point in hiding. You don’t frighten me.’

But of course he did and how was I to know that only the pyramids remained?

Back then it seemed that there was a thin dividing line between wonder and fear – one I used to often cross whether I wanted to or not.

Even now I still wonder at Jimmy Braham’s ability to jump that ditch, too wide and full of water, and the fetid fear as I landed waist deep in the stinking, black, mud, already knowing what my mum was going to say and do when she saw my bedraggled self safe home. Me in my brand new reversible anorak (blue and black), the one that’d she’d bought especially for the field trip to Swanage. Sometimes it seems like I’ve been landing in that mud ever since.

The first time I saw the horses racing across my bedroom ceiling my eyes almost popped out of my head in wonder. I could hear the beating of the hooves and smell the horse sweat, even feel flecks of mud from the galloped-up turf. I lay listening to the sound of the whips as the jockeys urged their rides to go faster. It was only after the twentieth time that I wished it would go away, becoming fearful that it wasn’t a dream after all, but rather a premonition of something still to come.

‘Faster, faster, faster’, the jockeys cried as they whipped and kicked their horses.

Yes, childhood is such a time of wonders, mysteries, and fears. At least it was for me.

I’ve tried to keep my child eyes in, keep them sharp and clear these long years and some of the time I’ve managed it. My imagination stays hard and bright, my sense of the silly raises its ridiculous painted head every now and again, and of course I still believe in Father Christmas deep inside my childish heart.

But it isn’t so easy to tell the ghost that I’m not scared of him any more, and it’s getting harder to have the courage to even attempt to jump that ditch. And as for the horse race - well, it turned out to be a premonition after all and I’m still running.

Yes, I know you’re there ghost. You might as well come out. There’s no point in hiding. I’ve spotted the devils hiding in the darkness and I now know who you were you see.

You were me.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Rose tatoo...

I’m not a big fan of roses, never have been, they are far too showy for my tastes. Too flowery if that makes sense. The petals seem to drop the moment a shower of rain appears and of course they are always full of nasty brown-red earwigs. They scratch, need pruning too often, and attract greenfly, blackfly, rust, and mildew like no other flower I know.

No I don’t like roses and would never plant one.

So I was surprised to see this appear on my rockery in Wales a few weeks ago. A single tiny red rose, perfectly petalled and complete with minute thorns on the stem. I have no idea where it came from or what it thinks it is doing in my rockery, but it’s been there six weeks this single flower and shows no sign of fading yet.

It reminds me of a tattoo. Perhaps I should put a sign beneath it in blue italic serif script. ‘Mother’ it would read, like the tattoo I once saw on a sailors arm in Brighton when I was a boy.

I’ve thought about pulling it up but to be honest I haven’t the heart. It isn’t doing any harm and it does brighten up a corner where nothing else seems to want to grow. I’ll just leave it I think. Leave it to lead its solitary single bloomed life until eventually its petals fall to the rocks beneath.

My single mystery rock rose. I have to admit to a growing affection for it.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

Dali carrots with attending avocado...

I grew a few carrots in my borders this year. Not as veg really, more for the frondy green foliage for use as a backdrop for the French marigolds I planted.
I like mixing flowers and vegetables, it creates an interesting texture to my planting.
But stuff gets out of hand as August progresses, so yesterday I decided to dispense with them and pull the carrots not really expecting them to have any edible root.
So here’s what I got – Dali carrots. The most twisted surreal carrots I think I’ve ever seen, all mine to be arranged to make my surrealist kitchen landscape.
I’m not sure that I’ll eat them though, what if they taste of something other than carrot? They could taste of giraffe or tiger or even melting clocks. Well, you know what us surrealists are like – anything is possible.
I call it ‘Dali carrots with attending avocado’
I am a jaynius!

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

And now for something completely different...

As a teenager I wanted to be different. I guess most of us go through that stage of not wanting to be the same as all the others, not wanting to conform, not wanting to be a sheep.

‘I want to be different!’ I can hear the echoes of that particular frustrated cry even today, the weakness of my rebellion still ringing in my ears. I think it really meant: 'I don't want to be my dad'.

Well that didn't work then.

Once in an act of outrageous outraged pique, I walked out of the school speech day because I wasn’t allowed to be awarded the book I’d chosen as my Art Prize. I’d picked Monty Python’s Big Red Book and my headmaster didn’t think it was quite the kind of thing that Lord Longford (yes Lord Longford, anti-porn campaigner and supporter of Myra Hindley) would feel comfortable passing over to me as my prize.

Well what did he know!

I stood up, thrusting back my chair and almost knocking out the teeth of boy behind me. Then I stomped to the front of the hall, past the stage and an open-mouthed Lord Longford, breezed out of the main doors jauntily whistling the Red Flag and letting them slam shut with a bang behind me. I wasn’t going to let the ‘Man’ tell me what I could or could not be presented with. I was different and that proved it.

Of course it didn’t and I wasn’t. What I was really was a teenage boy who’d made a bad choice of book given the type of school I attended, the headmaster’s view that comedy was somehow only funny if a Goon was involved, and of course the strangely warped ideas of the politician doing the presenting.

Ironically the headmaster’s son went on to write the music for Blackadder, the Vicar of Dibley, and worked with most of the Python team - at the time though he seemed so ordinary, so very un-different.

Of course I realise now that really I wanted to be pretty much the same as everyone else – same general look, same possessions, same aspirations. Oh, maybe I had a go at introducing some slight variation to my peers attempting to make myself stand out. My light brown hair was sometimes red and sometimes black, my clothes a little more flamboyant that the usual uniform. I worked at having different ideas about things like art and politics. I had four piercings (all in my ears of course), and I even tried to be into bands other than Deep Purple and Led Zep like Bowie and Roxy Music.

And it seemed so important to be different back then.

Looking back on it now though what seemed so important was really so unimportant and I realise that none of it made me any different at all. Not even that time I shaved off a huge chunk of hair on one side of my head just to be different, just to be out there sticking it to the man.

Actually it was an accident, but I managed to convince everyone that it was an act of indignation and rebellion.

How cool was I? God, I was so gloriously different!

I was watching a documentary on the TV last night. It was about seven dwarves, real ones, who were appearing in a pantomime (I bet that you can guess which one) and I suddenly realised how awful it must be to be really different. Suddenly that whole different thing, so wanted by teenagers for generations, seemed something to be avoided, not courted.

I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with being a dwarf, but it came across that they felt very different and generally found it really hard. Such a pity, because apart from their size they were pretty much the same as everyone else – same ambitions, same fears, same needs, same wonder, same silly drunkenness.

It made me ask the question; just how different would any of us really like to be? Would we like to be dwarves, or have no arms and legs, live locked in an internal world unable to communicate, or any of the other terrible differences that we could have to bear? I don’t think so.

Maybe none of us want to be that different. Maybe most of us simply want to be the same.

Maybe that is what that teenage thing is all about – a period of experimentation with difference before admitting that the comforting inclusiveness of sameness is what we really need and want.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Cucumber fight...

One of those days I’m afraid. One that started far too early in double darkness and didn’t get much better as the day passed away, even though the sun was shining. Still, it’s hard to have negative vibes about cucumbers; I’ll have a good try though.

Here’s my cucumber plant before the mildew got to it. I think we had five or six before the dampness of the summer did it in. As with everything home grown in small quantities I doubt that it made much or any economical sense, but then not everything is economics, some things are just as a try, or a wish, or even just because.

Why not?

I find myself thinking that a lot lately – and then making a relatively short list of ‘why’ and an almost endless list of ‘why not’. Yes, if I took into account economics, sense, and justification I think I’d find myself doing nothing at all and according to my ‘why not’ list and the early morning whisperings of the double darkness that’s probably just what I should be doing.

But then if somebody hadn’t drunk the rancid grape juice there wouldn’t be wine, and if Columbus had made a ‘why not’ list then there wouldn’t be any America would there? Mind you, and on the up side, that would have spared us all from Robert Mondavi and Californian white.

Even so, it’s an interesting internal debate or should I say fight? I seem to spend an awful lot of time beating myself up before doing anything. Ladies and gentlemen - in the red corner pessimist me boxing at a really good listing weight… and in the blue corner optimist me with hardly any listing weight at all (or even a bucket to spit his broken teeth into). Sometimes I wonder why optimist me just doesn’t stay out of the ring altogether, it’s obvious that he’s going to lose.

I wonder what it is that makes you an optimist or a pessimist? Is there some sort of Harry Potteresque sorting hat that calls the shots before we are even born, or is it a magic art that we learn through experience like potions or the care of magical creatures?

Optimistic creatures explain positive events as happening because of themselves (the cucumber seed grew because I and I alone planted it) and see these events as evidence that more positive things will happen in the future (I will have dozens of cucumbers from my single seed) that will lead to more good things happening to them of their lives (so many that I will be able to open a cucumber shop, feed the world, and in the process make my fame and fortune).

Pessimistic creatures, on the other hand, think in the opposite way. They believe that negative events are caused by themselves (the mildew is my fault because I watered too early and too much), they believe that one mistake means more will come (and it’s bound to spread to the tomatoes, the rocket, and then the potatoes), and mistakes in other areas of life are inevitable (this will lead to all the crops in the Western world failing and ultimately global starvation and then the end of the human race).

Of course with my cucumbers I have fallen between two stools, an image to conjure with regardless of your interpretation of the stool word. Yes, I have some cucumbers. I have some cucumbers today – but not tomorrow and not as many as I would have if I’d proceeded without the intervention of the mildew which I, in all likelihood, was the cause of. I can’t help thinking that I really did over-water, or not water enough.

Oh well.

Apparently, according to experts in the field (is that a cucumber field I hear you ask), it’s possible to overcome the effects of the sorting hat and make yourself an optimist simply by willing it so and taking a positive approach.

Maybe I’ll give it a go.

Fight on. Ding-ding. Round two!

Monday, 15 August 2011

Breath back...

So there we are.
That time of year again.

Fields of gold everywhere and combine harvesters and tractors laden with black round bales of straw slowing the traffic, making the world wait as they bring in their precious loads.

Straw is such a useful by-product, although I’m never really sure of what. Is it wheat, or barley, or rye, or is it all and any of them?

I remember angular straw bales stacked high in the fields. You don’t see that so much any more. These days the straw is collected into huge round wheels, like the rollers of old steam engines, then poly-wrapped in black or light blue plastic.

I like the round bales on the landscape, although I’m not so keen when they are stacked in their plastic like a dark spreading spot.

I sometimes find it hard to breathe. I’m not talking simply physically, sometimes I feel enclosed as if there’s no space around me. Not wrapped in black plastic like a bale of straw, but not at all free either. I’m not particularly claustrophobic but if I were I imagine it’d feel like that hard to breathe feeling. I don’t like it and I’m always relieved when it passes.

It was on me as I wandered through the close cropped field, trespassing but up to no harm, trying to lose myself in the straw and the day for a few moments, trying to get my breath back. Nothing much happened.

I breathed in.
Nothing much happened.
I breathed out.
Nothing much happened.

Enclosed and heavy until some crows in the distance of the hill flapped their way slowly up into the warm air catching my attention as a breeze blew a whistle around my legs, the stumps of the straw scratching at my bare ankles whilst the wind turbines far away turned and whirled and turned until my breath came back.

Better, I stood breathing in the air for a few moments then decided not to trespass any longer and walked back to the lane.

Just a bit breathless, nothing to worry about.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Sunshine shouts...

I hardly bought a single plant from the garden centre this year, sprinkling seed here and there instead and hoping that something would grow. I didn't plant any sunflowers in the back borders though.

But there they are, half a dozen of them standing proud amidst the general riot of courgette leaves and sweet peas. Proud and yellow and they seem to be shouting: 'Look at us. We made it.'

Yes, the bird seed I put out for the birds in my back yard last spring has paid dividends. Whilst we hardly had a single bird visit the feeder some seed must have somehow escaped, either wind or wood pigeon, and seeded itself in the border beneath. Here’s the result, a happy burst of sunshine from nowhere like an illustration of the sun out of a children’s book.

I have no idea what variety this is, but I really love its wavy petals. Maybe next year I'll separate out the different seeds in the mix and pot them up just to see what grows.

Well, it'll give me something to do and if I get any wheat or barley at least I'll have something to eat.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Lost England…

Bloody rioters, I saw around 80 coming towards the block of flats that I live in last night. I got in the lift to escape to find it full of blood, so I packed some bags and me and Alan stayed at his mum and dads over night.

My cousin posted this on Facebook this morning. It made these riots real for me, so much so that despite not wanting to that I feel that I can’t leave the events of the last few days and nights uncommented on, not even as I wander in the sunny, rose-tinted, fields of WAWL.

I was going to say that there is no rioting in this pleasant, imaginary, Bedford Falls land of mine. I wanted to say that I’ve been able to keep it out. But of course there is and I haven’t, and the fact that I’m writing this means that the animals have escaped and are even now looting the Building and Loan. No doubt Mr Potter is rubbing his hands in glee-filled satisfaction as Gower’s pharmacy is stripped of its medicines, Martini’s bar of its bourbon and beer, and the residents of Bedford Falls flee their homes in terror.

God what a mess. This doesn't fit in with my idea of being English at all. It doesn't even fit my idea of being human. That poor man with the backpack surrounded by hyenas, and those stupid mindless morons on the TV news claiming that it’s it is fine to rob simply because they can, and off course those murderers in Birmingham.

I remember the riots in Handsworth in the eighties. I was even foolish enough to cut across the park one night and take a look from a safe distance. That was a mess too, but it wasn’t like this – this has the feel of mindless anarchy whilst back then I’m sure that I felt an undercurrent of organised anarchy, at least at first, and by some. I really can’t decide which is worse – or if there is any difference at all.

Somebody else on the TV last night, a rather stupid somebody said: ‘We are taking our taxes back.’ I wonder if they even know what tax is or care that at least some of it goes to help people who really need the help. Anyway, taxes are one thing, iPads another, but lives?

England my England.’ Where is our pride now?

Enough! Enough! Aghhhhhh!

What to do I wonder? There are places in the world where examples would be made; a few televised looter executions, the odd hand or two chopped off in a public place.

What to do? Should we? No, that wouldn’t be very English either, would it? I pick and choose I guess, I tolerate. I’m English after all.

You see, I love Banksy’s imagery but hate the actuality of it. I sing along to ‘Anarchy in the UK’ but want it to remain just a song. I admire the vision of Anthony Burgess, his Clockwork Orange, but would prefer it to remain as just words on a page. I don’t want it live on my TV, outside my home, in my city, or even in my country. I don’t want it at all. Who would?

Enough, obviously.

And we live in a country where the lamb joints in Sainsbury’s are security protected and light and heat are becoming a luxury. And we blame the police and the politicians and the banks. And most of all we blame the yobs who are doing all this. But should we really be blaming ourselves for letting our country slip away from us?

I don’t know, I really don’t. How did we get here? And where are we anyway?

Perhaps then, this is no longer England. Perhaps we are now all living in the same place and the world has become that ‘one big melting pot’ that Blue Mink sang about so sugar-sweetly back in the seventies. Well, no sugar here - and such a pity that the melting pot itself has melted, letting this nasty mess of basest humanity feed the fire that was always underneath patiently waiting to become a blaze.

Yes, it seems to me that England is gone and our country has lost its identity. We are just another part of the world in turmoil - Baghdad, Beirut, Birmingham, it’s all the same.

It’s all nowhere.

Where do you want to live?

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

A sniff of autumn and summer jam…

Don't worry, it's just jam and everyone loves a tryer, isn’t that what they say?

As I left the house this morning (suitably suited and as prepared as I could be) I think that I caught the first sniff of autumn in the air despite it still being summer.

Opening the front door, the unmistakeable freshness of an autumn morning enveloped me with its crisp, clear headiness. ‘But it’s only August.’ I thought. Well, the seasons do seem to be changing. Spring was early, the daffodils in bloom in February and we picked our first blackberries last weekend, immediately turning them into jam with the last of the strawberries. Does that make it a summer or autumn fruits jam? I have no idea, but it tastes good and that what counts.

Maybe autumn isn’t a season at all - maybe it’s a state of mind or a country or just a feeling that slips in to settle on us when we are least expecting it, like a chill, or disappointment, or getting older.

I don’t know if it’s autumn or not, but if it is then I’m not ready for it just yet. I’m a tryer you see, and there are times that it still feels like summer and there is always jam to be made and hearts to be painted on vodka clear glass. And that’s what counts.

Summer in my jam and still some summer in my heart. Yes, that’s what counts.

Monday, 8 August 2011

No bloody camera...

I was down in Wales again at the weekend but this time without my camera!

'So where did these images come from?' I hear you ask. Truth is, I stole them from the WWW as a reminder of what was and what might have been if only.

Yes, I left my camera on the kitchen work surface and it wasn’t until I arrived in Wales and began to unpack the car that I realised. The realisation that I was camera free left me awash with emotion. I felt a quick moment of photographic nakedness, some not quite passing annoyance with myself, followed by a deep spasm of self realised stupidity.

Stupid, stupid me. I had no camera. What was I going to do?

So I gave it some thought and decided that it was going to be a wet weekend anyway (or so the radio announcer on Radio 4 had said) so there wouldn’t have been much in the way of photography to be had. Good rainy day pictures are few and far between, so no worries. I wasn't going to need a camera, not in the dismal greyness of all that wet, Welsh rain.

Just how wrong can you be? I'd forgotten that Radio 4 announcements only apply to the south of England.

The weather was great - warm and sunny, despite the rain that was forecast for the rest of the country. Still, a bit of good weather doesn’t mean that there are going to be any great photographs to be had does it?

So there I was early Friday morning, outside the cottage and drinking a cup of coffee when the field mouse arrived on the raised bed by the gates. He nibbled around the seed dropped by the birds from the feeder, then leapt up onto a big rock, stood on his hind legs, and kind of did a little stretch in the sunshine.

‘Just look at that.’ I thought. ‘He’s dancing. Now where’s my camera?’


Later, as I watched the setting sun, glass of wine in hand, I was relieved that it was just an average sunset. No flares of luminescent requiring my photographic skills, no fluffy pink cloud sky causing me to snap off a picture or two.

And then a single paraglider appeared high above, silhouetted against the deepening orange of the setting sun – so I immediately reached for my camera.


I went to bed a disgruntled, slightly worse for wear, camera-less, mess and only too aware of the opportunities I’d missed. Still, tomorrow was another day and with luck it’d be grey and rainy and I wouldn’t miss any more shots like the dancing mouse and the lonely sunset paraglider.

I awoke to brilliant sunshine and the suggestion that we go to Anglesey for the day. So that is what we did - some shopping, an impromptu picnic by the sea, and a wander along the rugged cliffs. I should of know better being camera-less and all.

The shopping bit was fine, no camera required - but some hours later as we drove home I tried not to think about how the Stenna Line catamaran had decided to arrive and do a really tight 360 degree turn just a few hundred yards from where we were sat eating our picnic.

I also chose to ignore the memory of the magnificence of the huge, now defunct, Anglesey Aluminium chimney pointing straight up into the bluest of skies as a flock of sheep grazed lazily in the verdant green and flowered meadow of the foreground.

I put the group six or seven comma butterflies playing in the bright yellow gorse bushes of the Penrhos Coastal Path, chasing each other in circles then landing in an almost choreographed grouping completely to the back of my mind. After all, who needs a photograph of performing butterflies?

And not once did I think about the brooding stone watchtower etched against the brilliant sky on the hill at the entrance to the coastal walk, or the old boathouse we stumbled across on the magnificent rocky beach - all stone arch and rusted iron railings.

Lastly I did not remember that standing stone in the field. The one with the single crow perched, solid black against a brilliant azure, on its very top - or was it a chough? I couldn’t really tell without my zoom.

And so it went on.

Last night as we walked back from Pooh Stick Bridge on yet another warm, fine evening, third in a row despite the forecast of rain I chose to ignore the Speckled Wood butterfly that landed on a leaf not a foot from where I was standing. I didn’t even see the wild butter-and-eggs, snap dragon, toad flax that’s flowering on the walls along the lane and will probably be over in a few days. I even decided that I wouldn’t look above my head despite the buzz of the engine strapped around that bloody paraglider’s shoulders – yes he was up and out there again.

No camera. Never again, there’s simply too much to miss.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

A wing and a prayer...

I have a project on the go, actually more than one, three at least. Well you have to have something to get up for in the mornings don't you.

Don't worry, I don't have Gant charts for them, or AIR logs and to be honest I haven't even done a decent cost benefit - just a wing and a prayer and a big heap of hope.

Anyway, part of this project requires me to make stuff. I call it product, but in reality it's really just my whims and foibles made solid and purchasable.

This is some product that I'm working on. My take on fridge magnets. I call them Face Magnets.

No two the same, each one unique and guess what? You can have any face you want.

Ridiculous? Definitely but as Milan Kundera said: ' Mysticism and exaggeration go together. A mystic must not feel ridicule if he is to push all the way to the limits of humility or the limits of delight.'

I'll take the delight please.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Thinking clouds...

It’s a long time since I did a sky but the calm of the evening air in Wales last week just had to be captured as lazy line of luminescing clouds drifted through the atmosphere.

Time to reflect.

Time to wonder.

Time to think.

Thinking clouds. Now that feels so good, and who knows where it may take me?

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

Albatross - 800, 1, and 6…

The Albatross, Mervyn Peake's illustration for the Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner by Coleridge. There's a certain harmony with it, something I relate to.

I think in theme terms I may have somewhat lost my way with my blog, or maybe I was just fooling myself for a while, pretending that it was a surreal, multi-layered, enigmatic journey to a destination that even I wasn't sure of.

My albatross maybe, or then again maybe not at all, not at all.

A bit of doodling, some creative writing, things that popped into my mind for no reason, my take on things, an opportunity to explore, a game I was playing with myself and anyone else that was brave or misguided enough to read.

Well, here I am some 800 posts later and it turns out it's just my odd, old ramblings after all as I try to say something when I’m not sure that I really have much to say. An albatross if ever there was one to shoot down from the sky.

I’ve never said much about the darkness of this, but it was a year to the day last Saturday that Misty was killed and I got that call from Gaynor in Wales. An hysterical, sobbing, hard to understand call that took me minutes to interpret and will take me forever to fully realise the meaning of.

Only a year? I could have sworn it was longer.

Anyway, here are the details - well some of then, the ones that are laser etched onto my mind. I remember pulling in at the cottage, leaping out of the car, and looking down into the carrier bag laid carefully on the concrete by the back door. There she was, gently enclosed, wrapped in white plastic, a cold trickle of dried blood running from her nose, fur still wet with rain and almost alive apart from the total lack of movement.

It was torrential that day and I drove so recklessly to get there as fast as I could. I was lucky to have stayed on the road, I skidded twice.

It wasn’t Misty in there though, just the furry thing that she moved around in.

Holly had put her in that bag to keep the rain off, and it was Holly who lifted her out of the road and brought her home that last time - such a very brave thing to do.

And we walked up the Lane to the farm, a procession of four, heads down in the pouring rain that masked our tears. Misty lay lightly across my outstretched arms in a Tesco shroud as we trudged our grey way up to the farm that she had sprung from.

And Geronwy, ever practical, digging the grave for me to gently place her into the dark. I had to get down on my knees to do it and my trousers, caked in mud, never did feel clean again despite all the washing.

And afterwards we placed a paving slab over her remains to mark the spot and keep away the foxes and trudged our grey way home in silence.

And a year, it can’t be, can it?

And yesterday was the six months anniversary of my finishing work, a short six months, the time flying, without me seeming to achieve very much. Half of that same year since Misty’s death, a long year and a short six months, how can that be I wonder?

Just how does time work?

The time between events seems to speed and slow dependent on something other than time, driven or slowed by something else altogether. Misty seems to have been dead for years, but I only left my job a few weeks ago. The first tentative post of What a Wonderful Life seems only a short while back, but here I am stumbling along posting my eight hundred and first bit of nothing and nonsense.

Yes nonsense - because it really makes no sense this time-passing-linked-to-event rather than the ticking of a clock or the Earth spinning around the Sun. Perhaps it’s about loss or joy, pain or relief, or maybe a short circuit in the electrical wiring of our brains – but it really makes no sense.

And sometimes I feel I’m in my open boat, cast upon the sea, delirious through thirst, made mad by the sun, watching the Albatross of my blog circling high above me.

Eight hundred, one, and six, but really a start, an end, and a whole new kettle of fish.

This Albatross. I wonder if my back is strong enough?

Monday, 1 August 2011

'F' to forget...

Ah, the sand and the beach and the seagull’s cry.

Yes, memories are the treasure that we must protect, and I've lost so many that they become more precious with each day that passes. So many memories lost, pushed to the back rooms of my mind to gather dust, filed under ‘F’ for forget.

‘F’ to forget - if only I could.

So, Whitby… Haven Holidays in the day when they were small and so were the people around me, making me big and important and dressed in white and faded blue. Intense and trying, hard to please, and oh so quick to call. A typical stupid twenty-something-boy-man with too much care and too little of everything that makes life work apart from vain hope and imagined invincibility.

Not much changes apart from a redefinition of hope and the knowing fragility that aging brings.

No photographs even kept. Swept away with the dust, to hide under the dark of the carpet I've wall-to-wall fitted in the back rooms of my mind.

Filed under ‘F’ for forgotten or failed, all the no good times, those nothing to smile about or remember days - and then just recently a reminder came in words so true and simply right it caused a clarity I’d forgotten I’d possessed.

‘I remember yearly hols to Whitby - beautiful place and good times :) and finding pebbles with holes in to make a necklace and playing cricket on the beach which we had to trek down what seemed like a mountain to get to - and Dracula!’

Ah, yes… and Dracula! I remembered too.

Golden fossils which I still keep and hard driven winds and the pub at the bottom of a hundred steps and caravan cooking and dancing to a lone guitarist and wandering, wandering, wandering…

Look out! The rocks are falling!

And just in time I step back and escape the crushing. Bloody jet planes overhead setting up a tremble. I barely avoided the huge falling rocks, but they came later anyway along with the knowing that, as everything and always, holidays never last.

Oh for a stony necklace loosely strung, and for cricket where I made them run, and that hard down walk to a rocky beach that such small girls could barely reach, and laughter, smiles, and Dracula, and Jet, and rope, it seems so far.

And for a moment it all floods back, fish and chips, and silly laughter on wet days playing ludo and a caravan so full that it was too close to being closer.


Look out! The rocks are falling!

Get back to the nether rooms of my mind to gather dust, filed under ‘F’ as the stone stringed necklace clatters to the floor. All out for a duck.

But of course they never quite will. :)