Friday, 30 September 2011

Heart of glass...

This is not an advertisement

I lied. Actually it is.

I don’t know if you knew this but one of the ways I spend (waste) my time is by painting glass. I’ve been doing it for years and used to sell the odd glass in my much beloved kiosk on Bangor Pier in North Wales.

I gave up the kiosk a few years ago but I’m still painting glass. I enjoy the challenge of lining the images and writing the messages, then carefully flooding and flowing the blended paints, highlighting my creations with iridescent pigment kindly brought back from the States by friends as you can’t get them in the UK.

When I’ve finished painting I bake the glass to fuse the pigment to the glass and make it fully washable.

Wine glasses, beer glasses, cocktail glasses, tumblers, vases, tealight holders – whatever you'd like and personalised should you want it.

But enough of that. Just look at the pictures you’ll get the idea.

I'm going to use Friday to show you some of my glass. I hope that you like it, and if you want me to make you something just let me know. I'd be happy to paint it for you.

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Woodcuts, drawings, and the illustrated man…

Waking up as a woodcut was just fine, almost expected really what with all the woods I’d not been able to see for the bloody trees recently.

It was the goldfish that bothered me. Just how the hell had a goldfish got into my mouth whilst I was sleeping and where the bloody hell was my tongue? And isn’t that a koala next to that damned fish?

How Kafkaesque. You go to bed as one thing and wake up as another.

I guess when you live in a comic book world becoming an illustration is inevitable.

I’ve always been full of pictures, choc full, all wanting to be out and abroad – cats and dogs and houses and birds and monsters and clouds and the sea. Sometimes my fingers fly in the haste to let them out they shout so much. I call them doodles, but they are really thoughts, thoughts made real on paper, canvas, glass, sand, cardboard, old receipts, and junk mail.

I’ve been drawing all my life. I probably started in the womb, tracing patterns with my half formed fingers on my mother’s flesh. Sometimes I wonder if my marks remain like ancient cave drawings in the dark. I even have a full body tattoo. It's just hard to see because it is under my skin, etched there by my life.

We all start out as artists until one by one drop by the wayside as we convince ourselves the marks we make on paper aren’t the right ones and suddenly we can draw no longer.

Ask a room full of children to draw a house and they will, bold and brash and colourful, paying no attention to the reality of a house at all. Their houses come from their minds not from their eyes, they don’t care if the house they draw doesn’t look like a house. Why would they?

What pictures I have inside me - the illustrated man.

What pictures you have inside you.

Draw them.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Thought for the day…

I sometimes listen to thought for the day on the radio, positive tales from positive people who can take the most negative of subjects and turn them around so that by the time they’ve finished their five minute slot I’m left with an unexpected smile and a warm glow that isn’t explainable by booze. Well, not just booze alone.

These speakers seem to be able to put a shine on anything. Even death isn’t that bad once they’ve polished it up, pointing out that it’s the life lived that counts, not the ending; which is a little like saying that falling from a plane is a lot like flying – at least until you hit the ground.

I wonder what Death thinks about that as he wanders the world with his egg-timer and scythe? They say that all publicity is good publicity, but maybe Death would prefer not to have a positive spin put upon his life’s work – if that’s the applicable terminology for what Death does. Besides, maybe Death wants to be dreaded, perhaps that’s his preferred self-image, his raison-d’etre, the legend he’s built up over an infinite number of lunchtimes – supposing that Death does lunch.

By the way if you ever bump into Death and he mentions that ‘we must do lunch some time’ – run like hell.

And what about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse - War, Famine, Pestilence, and er… Death again.

What do they think about each of their own particular brand of grey cloud being relined with a veneer of silver by some inspirational speaker on breakfast radio? I don’t think that Famine would be too keen, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t do breakfast, and I’m almost certain that War and Pestilence hardly ever remove their helmet visors and slip on a pair of rose tinted glasses. As for Death, well, I’ve already done Death to – um, death.

Mind you, as I’m back on the subject - interesting that Death works well both on his own and in a team. I hope he has that as a key skill on his curriculum vitae along with harvester of souls and ‘long grass scythed’. Well, it never does any harm to have a back-up plan just in case dieing should go out of fashion at some point. After all who knows what they’ll come up with next.

Now I’m sure that if you look hard enough you can see the positive in just about anything. But sometimes looking for the positive can be such a negative experience. Geeing yourself up to pretend that you really don’t mind all the disaster that’s happening to you because - ‘what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ is so not so. My guess is that it all depends on your definition of strong. So if your definition of strong is a cringing, wobbly, sobbing, hysterical, ball of despondent, deflated, panic - then I guess that particular bon-mot might just work with me.

Anyway, here’s my thought for the day for all those multi-denominational, well prepared, positive spinners on morning radio. Please keep your positive thoughts to yourself, you may be about to cause Armageddon.

Spin that shit shiny if you can.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

The mothly management meeting…

I found these three on my kitchen table, not really the best place to find a group of insects having a good old mandible wag, but rather than swat them I decided to listen in and become a human on the wall to find out just what went on at the insect management meeting.

The fly, the hover fly, and the moth gathered together for a meeting. No, they weren’t playing in the cup this week, nor were they in anybody’s soup, but the hover fly was buzzing to get on with it, the moth all of a flutter, and the fly – well he was in the chair, which was obviously a wing chair, so called the meeting to order.

First point on the agenda was sugar. There simply wasn’t enough of it around the house since the entire family had gone on a diet on the advice of the government who had declared everyone obese and hiked the price of all foods thus promoting good health, if you discounted those that starved. The hover fly suggested that one of them should speak to somebody about it, read the riot act perhaps, maybe the moth as he had no self interest in the sugar matter, preferring leaves of one type or another, and might be seen as neutral. After some protracted debate it was decided to park the issue, consider the best course of action, and carry it over to the next meeting.

‘Goodz stuffz!’ The fly buzzed proactively. Smiling his well practised smile, the one that if you peeped behind it was full of poison and disease.

Next point on the agenda was light. The moth complained that since the continued rise in electricity prices that electric lights were not being left on frequently enough. This meant that he had very little to be attracted to and therefore had lost all purpose, after all what is the point of life if there is no light to flutter around? Morale was definitely low, which would not be tolerated. It was agreed that somebody at some point would write a paper on this and bring it along to a future meeting probably as a three slide presentation containing a problem statement, an action plan, and a disclaimer disclaiming the problem statement and the action plan.

In the interim an announcement would be issued, distributed on flyers and the antranet communicating that morale was to rise by 86% (a figure that all three agreed was a jolly good one) from eleven the following morning.

‘Good work team.’ The hover fly declared. But then sucking up was in his nature, it was how he’d risen up through the ranks. After all, not so very long ago he was just another insect on the graduant scheme.

The final point on the agenda was the ‘meat of the matter’ as the fly, who had climbed his way to the top of the dung heap by doing what fly’s do best – talking and eating excrement, so succinctly put it. The fly, the hover fly, and the moth talked around this meaty matter for forty minutes or so until deciding that none of them really understood the issue well enough to draw any conclusions on either what the matter with meat was, or if meat were matter at all. It was decided to invite a vegetarian and a particle physicist along to the next meeting as Highly Paid Consultants to shed some light on the subject. This of course set the moth off talking about agenda point two again, declaring that if only there was some light to be had he’d be happy and the hover fly asked if there were any biscuits and they all got on to the sugar thing again.

The poor moth fluttered on with his argument, knowing that he was no match for these two, wishing for the days when all of the management team were moths.

‘I agree.’ He said, although in his fluttering mothy heart he knew that he didn’t and worse still he knew, that they knew, that he didn’t.

And so it went on for hour after hour, the three of them debating and arguing the issues, going off at tangents, and grinding their own particular tiny insect axes to absolutely no avail and with no conclusion whatsoever until AOB (Any Old Bullshit) was reached.

It seems to me that insects aren’t as clever as they are cracked out to be, not even when they hold high flying management positions. They’re all buzz and no action, they flit around from one thing to another and despite their 360 compound eye view of the world they really don’t seem to see very clearly at all.

Just like people really.

Maybe I should have swatted them when I had the chance.

Meeting closed.
Date of next meeting: Whenever.

Monday, 26 September 2011

How you gonna have a dream...

Where would we be without our dreams?

A friend of mine sent me this picture as a reminder that shadows aren't always murky places and in many ways it is where are dreams come from.

Where would I be without my dreams?

Oh, I’m not talking about those dreams that I have most nights. The ones where I’m lost in a strange city with no money and I’ve lost my laptop, or the one where I’m locked out of my room in a big hotel and I suddenly realise that I’m completely naked. I’m not even talking about the one where I’m lost on Mars with a thirsty creature stalking me for my moisture. No, I’m talking about the dreams that I had when I still believed that all of my dreams would come true.

My dream as a boy was to become a successful artist. I was going to say famous but fame equates to celebrity these days and at no time did I ever want to be a celebrity.

Of course I didn’t become famous, and whilst I doodle and sometimes attempt something a bit more ambitious my conscience won’t allow me to describe myself as an artist. Well, not in the way I dreamt of being an artist with a garret high above the smoking chimneys of Paris, my brilliant canvasses stacked ten deep against the wall, smoking a Gauloise as I paint a voluptuous reclining nude, twiddling my beret for luck, splashing paint here, chucking paint there...

I think that there may even have been a time in my very early teens when I dreamt of being a film star, I guess everyone does. But by the time I’d grown there wasn’t much call for trench-coated gumshoes in a black and white world and besides with my looks I was more suited to playing the villain. Sadly I never did get a part in any of the school plays, only the very pretty and wealthy ever did at my school, so my acting dreams were dissipated even before I had a chance to dream them let alone make them a reality.

My dreams were never big despite what my dad said, and I never did get that beach buggy or illustrate a children’s book. Perhaps that was the problem - perhaps my dreams just weren’t big enough.

It all seems an awful long time ago now but some of my dreams did come true. Not the ones I’ve mentioned, but other dreams collected along the way. And of course I’ve had my share of dashed dreams and it never fails to surprise me how quickly a dream once attained can so easily becomes the norm and boring. Worse still is how some dreams become the stuff of nightmares with use and wear and experience.

I still have dreams though and I still chase them, albeit a little more slowly than I might once have, and I still hope that some of them come true.

So, where would I be without my dreams? Perhaps if I’d never dreamed I’d have become an accountant in a steady job and solid investments, or maybe I’d have joined the navy and seen the world, perhaps I might even have become the blacksmith I dream of being now. A life of honest toil and order, a quiet life without the need for dreams.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Back in the sock drawer…

Out with friends and colleagues last night. A year on. Exchanging tales and escapades, remembering japes and tragedies. Long gone, but still around clinging to the corners of our minds, meeting up for a few beers every now and then.

I wore my passes. Putting them on like a chain of office, a badge of authority to speed me on my way. I kidded them that I never take them off. In truth I haven’t worn them since my final day, lifting them over my head and burying them in my sock drawer, right at at the back, to be put away for ever.

Well, not quite. I put them on again as I left the house and strode down to the station to catch the tram to Manchester. How strange, as soon as they were on I felt like the me I was back then. That old me, the cheeky chappy, rude, and loud and always up for a laugh.

Tall tales, embellishments, and just a few white lies. Building the legend where none exists, gilding the lily that faded long ago.

A pigs ear from a silk purse.

Still, it was good to see the old faces. Not everyone was there, but they were remembered as we snatched back a few hours of our past. Good to put my identity back on for a while, wearing it like a mask and only taking it off when I arrived back home, peeling it from my face as I lifted my cards from around my neck.

It’s all there. On the memory stick that holds every report I ever wrote and the ninety thousand words of my novel - the one I began when I was so alone in Philadelphia. Those cards could open every door – Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham, Scarborough, Reading, Slough, King of Prussia, Cedar Rapids, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. The miles those cards have travelled, the plane rides they have taken – from Gracelands to Mysore, New York to Honfleur.

Me young to old, hair dark to grey, face planed to puffy.

Put back in the sock drawer.

It was good to see my friends last night.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Cheese and Bradbury…

I dream.

Sitting in my dining chair, clutching two skulls – one vaguely humanoid, the other definitely not. Phobos dimly illuminates the landscape around me as I sit somewhere on Mars, inflatable skeleton space suit, pointy head, and scared expression.

Something is crawling towards me across the red dust of the Martian surface. Something that I can’t quite make out as it moves between the rocks and rivulets left by the long past vanished Martian rain. There’s dust in my throat, red Martian dust. My mouth is dry. I'd give anything for a drop or two of that Martian water, anything.

There it is again. A glimpse of segmented body, the shimmer of light reflected on bloodied bone. Is that a slime trail? Can I really hear the clicking of dripping mandibles in the oxygen less air? Just how am I breathing? Am I breathing at all?

Am I already dead?

I dream on.

The lump-faced satellite in the empty sky above looks down seeing what I cannot see. I hear it searching, searching for something in this red desert, searching for something that it must have to stay alive.

And suddenly I know what it is searching for. It's looking for a drink, moisture - and the only moist thing around here is me.

I scream.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Egg balancing, photographing dreams, and faster than light…

And it was one of Holly’s blue eggs.
Oh well.

Today is the day for the balancing of eggs, the time of the equal night, the autumnal equinox, that day in the year when the length of the day and the length of the night are as equal as possible and eggs will balance on their ends.

Well, if I can balance stones than it stands to reason that I can balance an egg - right?

But it should be easy peasy. Particularly on this special day when eggs will balance on their ends as all things reach equal and the special gravity caused by the equinox is applied as the sun crosses the celestial equator and moves southward in the northern hemisphere and reaches solar noon. The point directly above the balanced egg, the one that marks the location on the earth when the sun is directly overhead, is known as the subsolar point and it only occurs on the equator during the September equinox. At this time the earth’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the line connecting the centres of the both the earth and the sun making it the perfect time for the of balancing eggs.

Bored yet?

As well as the eggs, Persephone returns to the underworld to live with her husband Hades, dogs do bark, wolves do run, eagles do swoop, and the minotaur doth clash with the Sphinx whilst deep underground the gnomes will feel the tremble as day battles night.

Time to mix magic to protect and make secure, time to reflect on failure and learn, time to await the coming of Mabon and the winter preparations, time to respect the impending dark and give thanks for the sunlight, time to balance eggs.

Yes, the half and half time is here and eggs will balance on their ends as the first day of Autumn arrives.

Today man can photograph his dreams. Today neutrino particles move faster than the speed of light. Today everything is true. Today man thinks and physics, in her infinite wisdom, makes it happen. Today I can balance eggs.

We are living in our own dream. A dream where a single solitary egg balances, end up, upon a careful balance of stones.

Maybe if I dream hard enough I’ll be able to balance an egg in that dream.

Perhaps I’ll even photograph it if the whizzing neutrinos don't knock it off first.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Life on Mars…

I was always good at pretending, so good that even today I'm pretending all the time I think.

When I was a kid I could instantly become whoever I wanted - the Lone Ranger, Robin Hood, Superman, The Man from U.N.C.L.E., The Milky Bar Kid - anything I could think of and anyone I wanted to be.

I don’t remember when the pretending started. Maybe it started even before I was born, inside my Mother, inside the warmth of her body. I may have pretended to be a fish or a star or a rumble of thunder – things that I should have known nothing about. But maybe I did even then, who knows. Perhaps my pretending started before I was even conceived.

Later, during those fleeting years of freedom where each day was a wonderful opportunity to pretend be whatever I’d seen on the television the night before - Fred Flintstone, Steve Tornado, Torchy, Michael Miles, I perfected my pretending.

And then came school. By this time I was such a master of pretence that I was even able to pretend to myself that I liked it. I pretended to my teacher that I was a good pupil, and it was only after realising that pretending I knew my seven times table wasn’t going to help me in mental arithmetic tests that I gave up pretending school was fun. So, instead I pretended that it didn’t bother me if I got the answers wrong.

Because I grew fat I pretended to be funny. Of course I wasn’t. Oh, I made people laugh, but looking back it was more tragic than funny. You’d never have known it though. Pretending had become what I did. I sometimes wonder if Tony Hancock was doing the same thing, pretending to be funny when really he was tragic. Tragic inside, I think he must have been.

Later, when I’d slimmed down again and gone off to ‘O’ and ‘A’ levels I pretended to be a rebel – spouting communist doctrine and taking on the establishment by singing the Red Flag instead of hymns in assembly. I pretended that I didn’t care that the boarding boys were so privileged and looked down on me. I even pretended that I didn’t hate them.

At college I pretended to be cool, cool in a seventies kind of way – smoking, drinking, talking bollocks, for a few weeks I even pretended to be a punk, pretending that I thought it was okay to spit and have safety pins in my shirt. I even pretended that I thought the graphics course I was on was more fulfilling than the fine art painting course I gave up. See I told you I talked bollocks, even today I still pretend that I made the right choice.

College was followed by work and marriage and children. By now I was so good at pretending it was easy to appear to be everything that people expected me to be whatever the situation. I got so good at it I even began to fool myself into believing I wasn’t pretending at all.

So, washed away on a wave of pretence, I fathered and husbanded, managed and developed, coloured and chameleoned my way through my pretend life pretending to be everything I wasn’t.

So what am I pretending to be now? As it is, and because I try hard not to think where my mind wants to go, I skim over the surface or who I really am. And most of the time I get away with it. Besides pretending is easier. But really I’m still that little boy, fastest draw in the west, pretending to be a gunslinging bandit in his garden ghost town. I haven’t changed, I’m just the same.

Perhaps I’m not pretending at all, perhaps the pretend me is the real me and the me I think I am is really just me pretending to be me.


Who shall I pretend to be today?

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Above the rooftops...

Such a beautiful sunset last night - shimmering pinks, purples, blues, the golden fire of the setting in the distance.

All I had to do was look above the chimneys and rooftops to see another world, a different perspective.

It felt good for a few minutes, lifting my eyes from the ground and my shuffling feet, remembering the days when my head was constantly in the clouds and flying.

I used to watch the sun setting above the market square as I walked home from school and imagine that I was in a Flemish painting.

It’s all very well being ‘grounded’ but it appears to me that being on the ground constantly, never looking up to see what could be, is dull. Mind you, and on the other hand, dull is generally safe, no fear of falling and no fear of going too close to the sun and burning.

It seems such a very long time since I flew. I wonder if I were to keep looking up for long enough I’d fly again. I wonder if I could get to the billows, and would they be pink when I got to them? And what if I reached out and touched them, would my hand be made pink too as the damp vapours intertwined it?

And would I go on and set my course for the heart of the burning Breugel sun, or fall to be dashed upon the cobbled market square?

Who Knows? I guess I’ll just keep shuffling.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Black pen, red blood, dreams...

Black pen, red blood, but at the end of the day it’s all thought.

I picked up a book last night for the first time in a long time. Oh, I’ve been reading, but kindle rather than paper and with the coming darkling nights a good tale seems to be in order.

There’s nothing like a good tale to add to the chill of these lengthening evenings - tales of the circus, tales of boyhood past, tales of murderers and tattooed men, and mystery, and life on Mars, and the whistle of a steam train as it rolls on into the dark black night.

Dark tales, strange tales, Ray Bradbury tales - tales of thought to make me think. I can hardly wait. One hundred Ray Bradbury stories in a single tome, three inches thick, a pound in weight, a thousand pages long - an autumn’s worth of wonder to make me dream my dreams.

I'll tell you about them when I have them. Not the person who gave me the book though. She's away on Mars with the murderers and tattooed men, mocking at my boyhood past, ignoring the circus as she rides to the whistle of a steam train as it rolls on into the dark black night.

'Come on, shorts. We'll take a walk.' One day perhaps.

Yes, black pen, real red blood, but at the end of the day it’s all thought - and dreams.

I think that I can hear the doodles coming.

Monday, 19 September 2011

Conkers and beech nuts...

I know I predicted the fall of conkers before the end of the month but I found some beauties at the weekend. Here they are - the first conkers of the year. Well, at least my first conkers of the year. I’m sure that they’ve been collected much earlier than this by someone else, somewhere else, but am I alone in thinking them early?

I love the word conkers. It rhymes with bonkers and seems to reflect exactly what the game does – one conker conks another until only one is left. And what about those spiky green cases that they come in? They remind me of some sort of deadly bludgeoning instrument from the middle-ages or the kind of helmet a Breugel man-fish might wear.

Talking of hats, I also happened across a beech tree at the weekend and all around it on the ground were the largest beech nuts I’ve seen since childhood. I just couldn’t resist and collected a handful, using my teeth to peel back the long three-sided pod to get at the meaty nut inside. They aren’t very large but they taste like nothing else – not quite a hazel, not as firm and rubbery as a sweet chestnut – a little like a pine nut I guess.

Conkers and beech nuts - the stuff of childhood autumn afternoons and nursery book tales read to me by my Gran around a smoking coal fire. Even now I can’t look at a beech nut case without thinking of a fairy hat - every fashionable fairy should have one.

Anyway, the conkers have fallen. Long live the conkers!

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Butterflies without wings...

I was wondering yesterday why so many people are frightened of spiders. It seems to be the commonest of phobias, particularly in women.

I can't say that I like them, but I don't have a fear of them. I regularly move from them out of the bath to the back door in my hand to avoid the screaming of my women.

I don't mind, it seems a shame to kill them.

My first recollection of a spider was when I was a small child of three or four. I used to love turning over the stones on the rockery to find out what was underneath. I remember slugs, and worms, deep red millipedes, yellow centipedes and of course spiders. I'd catch the creatures in a jar and keep them for a while before setting them free - well boys were like that back then.

One day I turned over a big stone and a spider the size of my hand scuttled over it. I remember it gave me quite a start, but I chased after it and managed to get it into my jar. I kept that spider for days, catching flies for it to feed on before I let it go.

I guess that fear of spiders resides deep in our racial memory. An echo from a time when probably all spiders were poisonous and liable to make you sick or even kill you with their venomous bites. In some parts of the world that still applies, so it makes sense to avoid the redback, the black widow, the brown recluse, or the funnel-web. But in this country our spiders are little more than butterflies without wings.

Ink, a crease in the paper - spider to butterfly, butterfly to spider.

Yes, that's all they are - butterflies without wings. Nothing to be scared of. Remember that next time you find one in the bath.

Friday, 16 September 2011

A jar of autumn to trade…

I love these quiet early autumn evenings, blank verse all around, words tumbling from each and every direction to subtly rhyme long after the moment’s past.

So softly blue then quick-to-yellow-pink skies. A chill in the air and the smell of last-life leaves. That whiff of over-ripening and almost rotting fruit. These are the evenings when I want to whistle. There’s a resonance to the air, not quite an echo, shrill and sharp, a birdsong in the still. On these evenings a whistle moves a long, long way – who knows where it could settle.

Plants are coming to an end, leaves begin to fall. Down by the bowling club a rogue hop plant has run amuck creeping across the pavement. Small beer in the scheme of things - a single snap of cold and it’ll be gone - but for now a dream of foaming winter ale.

Up on the park the first dead leaves have fallen still. Reaching deep in my pocket to fill my jars - brown and yellow and red, to cut to hearts an autumn shred.

High in the spreading chestnut tree the conkers are coming despite the tree’s brave green. By my measure the first brown nut will drop, bounce, and be stringed, before this month is out. Low mist above the wetted grass this morning - white and wispy, playing hide and seek in corners, trying hard to avoid the coming sunshine and a vanishing.

Not a butterfly in days and quiet bees. Just when did I last hear their busy buzz or see a flutter of red? Have they gone already in early autumn days? And my yard littered with nasturtium seeds, small and wrinkled like shrunken heads - last limping flowers fade from brilliant orange to puce, so soon to fall and turn to wither.

Oh, if only I could catch this in a kitchen jar or two - this early autumn feeling. I’d take them down from my secret shelf to smell the last of this year’s warmth in the coming cold and winter’s evening.

If only I could jar this early autumn, press down the silver lid, pop in the cork - and sell it on in Boots or even Sainsbury’s. What a trade that would be.

I’d make my starry fortune for sure.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

No more heroes any more…

I was thinking about my boyhood heroes last night. I don’t know why, but suddenly I was trying to remember who they’d been.

It often pops into conversation, the boyhood hero thing. Names get bandied about over a few pints – Sterling Moss, Bobby Moore, Freddie Truman, and someone will invariably comment that whoever it is was his boyhood hero. They’re usually sportsmen these boyhood heroes that get spoken about in the pub.

Interestingly, or maybe not, I’ve never had any sporting heroes probably because my interest in sport has always been passing at best (as in my brief and glittering stint as a loose-head prop for South Oxford colts). Of course my friends all had sporting heroes. Most of them grew their hair long and staggered around after swigging a mouthful or two of cider in an attempt to emulate the footballing drunk who was George Best.

I of course drank the whole bottle and recited Dada poetry at the bar.

My heroes didn’t do much sport. My first were fairly predictable- Robin Hood, The Lone Ranger, William Tell, the three (or four) musketeers, Guy Fawkes. I’m not sure how Jimmy Clitheroe got into the picture or for that matter Johnny Morris, but for a short period of time they were my heroes too.

Later as I moved towards my teens it was film stars, but not the ones of the time, my heroes were from the past. The greats - Bogart, Cagney, Trevor Howard, Peter Lorre - even Bella Lugosi was there for a while, before being replaced by Vincent Price.

Weeks later, as I began to think about shaving or at least wearing the great smell of Brut (splash it all over), the film stars were followed by pop star heroes - Bowie, Ferry, Bolan, and Barry Blue. Yes – Barry Blue… Hot shot, what a luck, someone gonna make you stop – yeah. Hot shot, got a lot, wonder when you're gonna drop – yeah. La-la-la-lei-lei lei-la-lei-la-lei-la-lei ... sorry, got a bit carried away there.

Of course for a long as I remember there’s been Bosch, Breugel, Dali, Tanguy, Ernst - but I’ve always viewed them more as role models than heroes, which probably says something about how I view reality (reality, there is no reality - reality is whatever you want it to be) or something.

At sixteen, seventeen at latest and almost before it had begun, the whole boyhood hero thing was over. I didn’t have any heroes any more, or as the Stranglers so eloquently put it a year or two later I didn’t have ‘No more heroes any more’.

Just what did happen to Leon Trotsky I wonder? For those seven weeks of summer including a school run Christian holiday to Dorset back in 1972, Leon was my real hero - even though I knew practically nothing about him. And then he was replaced by Che.

Well, better to die standing, than to live on your knees.

Boyhood heroes - where do they go I wonder? Did I wake up one morning and find myself hero-less, or was it a slower thing - my experience of life and the gaining of knowledge stripping away all the glory clothes that heroes must wear in order to be heroic?

Where is that beret? My trench coat? When did I last paint a lightning flash, blue and red, down the centre of my face?

‘We’ll always have Paris.’ But of course we didn't.

‘You won’t fool the children of the revolution.’ But of course they did.

And as for Leon – well he got an ice pick that made his ears burn.

All for one and one for all?
No more heroes any more?

Well, at least I still have my friends.
After all - I have many a friend in Casablanca, but somehow, just because you despise me, you are the only one I trust.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Autumn tomatoes...

My two potted tumbling tomato plants are still going strong despite the onset of autumn and the lack of sunshine. If anything the tomatoes are ripening better in the gloom than ever they did in the summer. We’ve had dozens this week alone, and each morning the plants seem to be full once more with small, sweet, cherry tomatoes. It’s almost as though the tomato fairy comes each night and replaces the fruit we’ve picked from the plant that day.

There’s a myth that Andy Warhol’s mother served him tomato soup as lunch for over twenty years and that’s why he painted Cambell’s tomato soup cans. I don’t know if that’s true or not but our tiny tomatoes, some no bigger than a pea and even the largest no more than the size of a large grape, are absolutely delicious and full of that sweet acidic tomato taste. They are firm, juicy, and as red as an auguste clown’s nose.

Which reminds me, the autumn’s here - it’s been creeping in for days, leaves turning to brown, the fruit going to ripe and over on and off the branch. There’ll be bonfires soon, and mist, and fog, and fireworks.

Autumn auguste clowns - the circus will soon be coming to town.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The conversations of Mr. Cat…

Hello people things. How very lucky you are to be reading this. My wisdom knows no bounds and I am about to impart a little of it to you.

No, there’s no need to thank me just yet - later maybe, and preferably with fish.

Let me introduce myself. I am Mr. Cat as you’ll know if you managed to read the title of this post. Today I’m going to try to help you all understand why cats are the supreme beings in this universe which we so generously share with you lesser creatures - the mice, dolphins, pigs, donkeys, dogs, and of course you lot.

Firstly, we cats are vastly more intelligent than you humans. In fact most animals are smarter than humans. Not dogs of course, but even wood lice are smarter than humans. You won’t catch a wood louse wasting his time inventing anything, they’re far too busy scuttling around under damp logs and contemplating time to invent. In fact the wood lice control time and without their constant focus time would not exist at all. I bet that you didn’t know that did you? Just how did you think they disappeared so easily?

Secondly, you are so completely reliant on tools. You even need tools to eat your food. Now I’m no fan of pigs, but how many pigs do you see eating their dinner with a spoon? Pigs can eat anything without a single metal implement being involved.

The list of animal superiority is endless, the proof irrefutable.

Elephants have better memories than those computer things you rely on so much. Squirrels can gather up to 250 nuts in less than 3 days - enough for a whole winter - whilst you have to go shopping three times a week at least. Dolphins can do a complete and elegant 360 in the air and underwater and you can’t really do either. All animals, even the dumbest dog, can sense danger a mile away whilst you lot walk straight into it. Even those nasty sharks can smell dinner at vast distances, unluckily for you.

So just what exactly makes you lot so great? You’ve destroyed the earth in just about every way possible and eventually you’ll destroy yourselves. And when you eventually manage it at least some of us animals will survive, even if it’s just the bacteria hurtling through space on the broken fragments of the planet.

You may have been to the tops of mountains and to the depths of the oceans, you may have even learnt to fly eventually, but you had to work so hard to get there. You may think that landing on the moon was the human race’s greatest achievement, but we travelled the galaxy long before you were even a twinkle in evolution’s eye.

Animals are superior to humans and most superior of all is the cat and just how do I know this?

Because - I - am - a -cat - stupid!

Now fetch me my fish.

Monday, 12 September 2011

The day after - autumn leaves...

This evening I drove to an appointment that never was. Well, it is, but not until next Monday. Yes, I got the day wrong again. I do it all the time.

Yesterday was 9/11, I didn’t get the day wrong and I didn’t forget, I just thought that it was better to focus on something else on this dreadful anniversary and wait a few hours before writing down my thoughts.

So today is the day after 9/11.

For many that lost loved ones in the attack this would probably have been the day that they began to lose hope, began to feel the pain that will stay with them for the rest of their lives begin to grow. The emptiness, the panic, the fear, and all those other emotions that must have washed over them in waves as the horrible truth began to clarify out of their fading hope.

How awful that must have been, I have no idea how those wives, mothers, husbands, brothers, fathers, friends, must have felt the day after 9/11. I could try to imagine but really don’t want to - my imagination is very good.

Yes the day after 9/11 must have been a very bad day for those who were left behind.

As I drove towards my ‘not appointment’ I glanced out of the car window and saw a young father holding his young son out into the gutter so that he could walk and kick-up the leaves that were piled in the road. The boy couldn’t have been more than eighteen months old and both father and son were laughing. I could hear them even in the roaring wind, even through the closed car windows.

They were having such a good time, father and son playing together - playing together the day after 9/11.

Seeing those two so happy made me think of all those people who died that day and I wondered how may fathers played with their sons the day before 9/11, how many mothers went shopping for shoes with their daughters, how many brothers had a beer, how many sisters went to see a movie together.

The wind outside the car drew stronger, blowing up some leaves and lifting them into the air to fall to the ground below. It made me think about those that chose to jump rather than burn. I told you my imagination was good, or bad dependent on the imagining.

All those people.

If only they’d turned up a week too early - or better still a week too late.

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Mirror, mirror...

I love making things, I love experimenting, turning one thing into another, taking something quite ordinary and making it just that little bit special.

Anyway, here's my take at a Renee Mackintosh inspired mirror.

Charles Rennie Mackintosh was born in Glasgow in 1868 and did just about everything arty. He was one of those creative all-rounders - architect, designer, water-colourist, sculptor. He was one of the main designers in the Arts and Crafts movement and the main influencer when it came to Art Nouveau in the UK. He was pretty unique and there's no mistaking his work. From here came so much more, his simplicity and the spareness of his work is probably why we have Ikea today.

I like the Arts and Crafts movement. They saw art in everything.

Saturday, 10 September 2011

Lovecraft Dali dream landscape with figures...

12.30 am - Asleep for only minutes and I have to get up to doodle a dream I’d just had.

Well, actually only half a dream. I never should have had that conversation about H.P. Lovecraft and Salavador Dali with the woman in a wheelchair at the shop.

Maybe I shouldn't have eaten that cheese either.

Odd isn’t it when you strike up a conversation with a stranger not because you want to but because you have to - well, she didn’t give me much choice really.

Sometimes I forget that I’m closer in age to old people than young people, sometimes I forget that I’m not very far away from being old myself, and sometimes I just forget.

Another sign that I'm on the road to... now where is it?

Anyway as the conversation progressed I began to realise that I had very much in common with the woman in a wheelchair despite the ten years or so she had on me. We read the same types of books, enjoyed the same type of films, both had an interest in surrealism – I was going to say ‘penchant for’ but that would have been too Dali.

Who would have thought that two strangers would be standing in the shop discussing the merits of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, agreeing that Ray Bradbury’s ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ is probably the best story ever written, pondering if Salavador Dali’s work was more influenced by the early fantasy writers or Breugel, and agreeing what a great film the 1936 version of H.G Wells’ ‘The Shape of Things to Come’ is.

So back to 12.30 am, the early hours, awaking from a dream where strange huge creatures with multiple waxed moustaches moved thunderously across a flat, twilight landscape littered with tall conical towers shaped like traffic bollards and dripping with melting clocks. Cold and barren and always two o'clock despite it being evening, shadows lengthening as dieing stars burn out their tired existences in the leaden sky above.

I can feel him coming out from the Necrominicon, the Outer Gods and at their head Yad-Thaddag.


Fast out awake and up, down to the kitchen reaching for paper and the brushes and pens that are always to hand even at this time of the day.

The rule is the first paper to hand. This time the back of the tax man’s letter informing me that he will be sending me a letter, about a letter he will be sending me, about the tax return he requires me to fill in before I can get back the money that he has overcharged me.

I should really use a sketch book but the rule is first paper to hand, and anyway a sketch book would tighten my doodles into a knot of trying.

Flimsy, grey, recycled paper, weave too open, liable to buckle the minute liquid hits the surface. Red wine and black ink, brushed in a hurry, splashed with tippex, ten minutes to capture a dream that would be gone by morning.

Ten minutes to capture my Lovecraft Dali dream (dish- dash). Ten minutes to record my Lovecraft Dali landscape (scribble - scratch). Ten minutes to record then back to bed.

May the Great Old Ones grant that the night-gaunts leave me be.

Friday, 9 September 2011

Purple light and snakeskin…

Life’s an adventure, a walk along a path that twists and turns as it leads off in this direction and that, light and shade, darkness and sunshine. Sometimes it’s hard to see very much at all, other times everything is illuminated in a flash of brilliance so bright that it might almost blinds you.

I was wandering through a tangle of trees and bushes last week trying to avoid the blood bringing brambles, looking for hazelnuts and anything else that I might stumble across.

It was dark in the trees, the moss and last years leaves beneath my feet spongy. As I looked up a flash of sunlight hit the trees above my head, sending my eyes to purple-lighted blindness – and with it I stepped back into a memory of boyhood.

I used to ramble like this a lot, almost daily, after school and weekends, holidays and high days, all weathers, on my own or with my friends, mile after mile, across the fields and through the water meadows, up the hill and down into the coolness of the dips, into the trees and under the bushes, always looking, always learning, taking in everything that I saw in that way that only small boys seem to be able to do.

It must have been safer back then. I was allowed to wander from seven years onwards, out at eight and back by seven, on schooldays out straight after lessons, then home by six.

Watching the steam trains leave the station, waiting for the owl to fly from its hole, lifting the fallen log to see the family of mice beneath – the mother all bared teeth and squeaks. Once I saw a lightning bolt hit a tree, not setting it on fire but shearing off a massive bough. Another time I watched a swan chase a dog into a ditch where it lay cowering long after the bird had gone. I watched the red moon and the blue, the rutting stag and the darting weasel, and the adders basking in the sunny sand along the lane – dozens of them large and long and lazy. I didn’t get too close, adder bites were deadly, two or three and you’d be a goner.

I remember picking ladies slipper for my mum and coming across a single blue corncrake bloom by a stream. I remember eating beech nuts, hazel nuts, hot sweet chestnuts baked over a daylight campfire in a tin can - apples, blackberries, wild strawberries, a baked trout pierced through with a stick, although it could have been a roach for all I knew.

Exploring days of long ago, life’s adventure just begun. No fear of the road or where it may turn. Light, shade, darkness, and sunshine all the same. Well, it was safer back then.

And then my eyes focussed once more, the sunshine gone, snatching my boyhood memories with it.

Stepping out of the trees and onto the hard-top of the lane I looked down at my feet. A length of blue-green lay on the road. An adder, its yellow head flattened beneath a flattened body. Its red-orange innards squashed around it as if it’d been outlined by a child with a box of crayons, a cartoon of a snake and no more deadly than a child’s drawing.

Yes, life’s an adventure, a walk along a path that twists and turns as it leads off in this direction and that, light and shade, darkness and sunshine – and if you are unlucky a messy ending.

Thursday, 8 September 2011


Once again there’ll be something special in the night sky tonight – a star is going to explode millions of light years away from us. No that isn’t a picture of it to the right – that’s a picture I took by mistake when I dropped my camera in the grass. I like it though, it’s a nice image.

Anyway, astronomers have predicted that we will be able to glimpse the brightest supernova since 1954, and as long as the sky is clear it’ll be visible all over the country. Just look to the bottom of the ‘handle’ of the plough as it gets dark and there it will be… KABOOM!

Of course as I write this the sky is black and it’s pouring with rain. Typical, I’d like to have seen that.

It’ll still be there though above the clouds, although it won’t really. That star exploded a long, long time ago. We are seeing the star as it was. It isn’t there any more - all we are seeing is the light from the star which has taken all this time to reach us.

Can you imagine that - a star exploding?

I wonder if there were planets orbiting that star, I wonder if any of those planets were inhabited, and I wonder if the creatures on that planet were intelligent enough to know that it was coming or if it was a complete shock.

A world or two annihilated in a couple of seconds.

Maybe I don’t want to see it after all.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Eating hedgehog...

I’m sure that the countryside used to be so full of hedgehogs that you couldn’t walk across the green at night without kicking one by mistake, sending it rolling and tumbling into the bushes. I seem to remember that there always seemed to be a dead one by the side of the road every hundred yards or so, and every single house on our estate had its own family of spiky creatures which they dutifully fed each evening with white-sliced soaked in milk.

I don’t know where they've all gone. These days they seem pretty scarce, so scarce that I almost couldn’t remember when I last saw one.

Hedge pigs my Gran used to call them, what with her being of Romany blood and everything. She used to claim that they tasted delicious, a cross between pork and chicken, but I doubt she every really eat one. Mind you, she did know how to cook one – gut it, wrap it in clay, cook in the embers of a fire, then pull off the clay taking the spines with it. I don’t know, maybe she made that up to.

At one time they were eaten by country people in France – stewed with shallots and garlic. But then the French also eat horses, snails, and the odd song bird or two.

I found this one creeping across the cottage drive in Wales on his way to steal the mealy worms from the bird feeder no doubt. It was a real treat to see him, like I said I almost couldn’t remember the last time I saw one. Isn’t it odd how some creatures seem so common and then seem to become so uncommon? I see dead badgers everywhere and I thought them unusual as a child and as for foxes – well there’s hardly a street in the area where I live where they don’t raid the bins at night.

I wonder where all the hedgehogs are. It can’t have been the gypsies can it?

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

What I did today...

Hand painted beer glasses that can be personalised for that perfect gift.

Let me know if you want to know more, because I'll be telling you anyway!

Monday, 5 September 2011

The now…

All my posts start somewhere although I’m not always sure where that somewhere is. It could be an idea or some words or a photo or a doodle, but they all have one thing in common, they are all made in the now – even the ones that are in my past or my future.

According to some knowledgeable people animals have no memory of their pasts and no concept of the future, they live entirely in the now. Quite how this explains the migration of salmon, eels, swallows, caribou, penguins and the host of other animals who seem to remember migration routes, or the herd of cows wandering to the field gate at the same time each evening because they know that milking is in their near futures is beyond my ability to understand - but in the main I think animals generally do live in the now.

I write a lot about the now. In my fiction, my reality, even in the way I handle the past and wait for my futures – I was going to write ‘plan’ instead of ‘handle’ but of course none of us can really plan beyond the now – and it’s funny how the past and the future colour my interpretation of my now.

So, to understand and grab onto the now let’s start with the past.

I guess most of us would say that we have a skeleton or two in our metaphorical cupboards – I know that I have. Those one or two things which I’ve done that I’m not very proud of, those things that I don’t even want to admit to myself, things from the past that make me embarrassed. You know the ones. The ones that we all push into that cupboard at the back of our minds, locking the door and leaving them to gather dust.

Our skeletons - all rattling bones and fleshless calcium.

Things from the past, old done things, things that we wouldn’t repeat and wouldn’t do now, things long gone, done, dusted, and best forgotten if only we could.

We can’t change the past, just like we can’t see the future. Oh, we can adjust the future a little based upon what we are doing now, but the future isn’t totally in our control and our past is gone, without effect, unless we allow it to continue.

Why don’t we throw open the wardrobe doors and let those skeletons run away? Just look at them as they lope along. Funny old things aren’t they?

Why don’t we give ourselves and everyone else around us a break and live in the now?

Why don’t we forget what has gone and stop using it to predict what will happen? History has little to do with the now. The future has little to do with the now.

Why don’t we stop trying to say what will happen by looking at what has happened. The now is now - it is all that there really is.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

Evidence of summer…

Despite what people seem to think there was a summer and I for one remember more sunny days than wet ones. Maybe that’s because I’ve had (too much) time to sit outside for the first summer since my school days, or maybe it’s simply because I choose to see what little sunshine there is as being brighter than it deserves.

Anyway, here’s evidence of this summer, the sandal marks on our tanned feet - made in Britain with finest British sunshine. No holidays abroad again this year. Oh well, one – day – again - perhaps.

We must have lived in our flip-flops all season long - good for the soul but not so good for the soles. My favourite flip-flops are getting pretty battered, but they’re old friends - how can I throw them away? I’m wearing them now as I type.

Looking out of the kitchen window the sun is shining again. Summer struggles on, but there's that autumn feeling all around.

Time for another coffee. I think I'll drink it in the back yard.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

A daisy smile...

I saw these daisies growing by a seawall late in the season and decided to photograph them. They're not at their best - their petals all crumpled, their greenery on the turn, but still they make me smile. Pretty aren't they.

I could write about many things today, after all it is a special one, but instead I've decided not to write much at all. Today I'll just concentrate on the daisies, so simple, and bright, and full of hope - and smile. Maybe they'll make you smile too. I hope they do.

Friday, 2 September 2011

Foraging follies...

Okay, lets talk mussels. No, not my muscles (check the spelling), but the ones I found at Borth-y-Gest last weekend clinging to the rocks in their thousands.

Now as you know I am an avid forager, and these muscles looked so good I couldn't resist even though I have a love hate relationship with hard-shelled shellfish. I love them and sometimes they hate me.

I should have learnt from the fresh clam spaghetti that made me ill a few weeks ago. But they were bought from Sainsbury's and weren't fresh from the sea. These shellfish were. So I picked a couple of dozen, took them home and cleaned them, removing the beards and barnacles, scrubbing then until they shone like gems and rinsing them in cold salted water before cooking them in garlic, wine, cream, and parsley.

They all opened. They all looked fine. They tasted delicious.

So why was it that I found myself all at sea in the early hours of the next morning?

As always Gaynor was fine, just as she was with the Sainsbury clams. Just what have shellfish got against me?

I'm not giving up though, the next time I may be luckier.

Or dead.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Being unimportant...

We hardly had time to gather together the picnic things and throw them into the boot of the car before the rain came. We knew it was coming of course. The mountains in the distance had been disappearing into the grey for twenty minutes, maybe more, the seagulls gliding overhead turning whiter then whiter still as the sky dripped and dropped dark blue ink into our sightline.

Across the estuary the weed glowed - yellow green, almost to lime - the cottages by the aerodrome flashing whiter against the darkening dunes.

Sitting safe in the car we watched.

Looking to the mountains as the grey rain fell in the distance, all streaked smudges of charcoal and chocolate with a splattering of white wash ink, the rain crashing upon the roof of the car, the water water-falling down the windscreen.

Behind us the rain was still to arrive, the hillside burning with sun bright colour – yellow, green, vermilion, and the lush rich purple of the heather. A light aircraft landed in the distance on the almost island. ‘I bet they’re glad to be down.’ I thought.

Watching the weather in a big landscape under an even bigger sky makes you feel so small, a tiny spec of inconsequentiality amidst so much space at the mercy of whatever, whoever, decides to hurl at you.

And sometimes it’s good to feel so unimportant - that way life is quieter, despite the impending storm.