Friday, 30 November 2012

A man goes to change a light bulb...

It used to be so simple. The light bulb would go, although where to I have no idea, and you’d go to the cupboard, fetch out another and put it in. The only thing that you had to worry about was if it were a screw or bayonet fitting and as all of the fittings in our house were bayonet that wasn’t a concern at all.

These days though… well, there are so many fittings and so many different type of bulbs to have to manage - low energy, LED, strip, halogen, screw, push, toggle, clip. The list just goes on and on. Add to this that I’m quite lazy when it comes to replacing a dead bulb and some sort of minor catastrophe (of the gloomy, dark, kind) is bound to happen in our house at some point.

Let’s start with the hall and landings. Now, we have a lot of hall and landings, and they are lit by a series of double wall-light fittings that require very small bayonet type bulbs. The candle ones won’t do because they are too tall. So, round, dumpy ones, about the same size as an alligator egg, are required. There are so many of them needed to get all the wall lights fully functional that each time a count I come up with a different number, and if they were all on at once it would be far too bright. So I usually run with about one-in-three functioning. Of course these means that at times, when a bulb blows, one of our landings is plunged into darkness with all the mumbling swearing that goes with this particular inconvenience.

Then there’s the kitchen. We have no ‘main’ light in our kitchen, relying instead on over and under cupboard lighting which is more than adequate when they are all fully functional. Of course this in itself is a problem, and a few years back we had to replace all of the lighting units at great expense because we found that the strips that we needed couldn’t be replaced. Yes, I know it sounds crazy, but the long, thin, strip lights that were fitted were intentionally non-standard by a couple of millimetres and when the company that sold us our kitchen closed, never to be heard of again, we found that we were progressively moving towards the dark ages as each non-standard strip died. We were down to two of sixteen before we took action.

Even the replacements, which are a standard size, are hard to get hold of; and as I write this particular rambling two strips are out under the wall cupboards and all of the in-display-cupboard lighting is dead. It’s almost like living in a Victorian kitchen, but without the lard and rabbits. In fact, gas and candlelight would probably be brighter.

Then the other day, the final remaining light in the bathroom went with a pop and the tripping of the breaker switch on the fuse box. Our bathroom lighting is recessed halogen, and there are far too many of them. It makes the dazzling, stark, whiteness of the bathroom unbearable when all the fittings are working. Consequently we only have one of the six recessed lights working at any one time and of course when this decides to die, as it did the other day, there are all sorts of consequences which involve… well, I will leave that to your imaginations.

Just how we came to have so many light fittings is a mystery, but at any one time if we were to turn them all on, they’d be at least a hundred bulbs of various shapes and sizes burning merrily away in our house – even more at Christmastime. Let there be light? Yes, let there; but I long for the days when all bulbs were standard and lighting was about seeing rather than ambiance. Mind you that did mean the ‘big light’ wouldn’t it and I shudder at the memory of that.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Cracks in the pavement...

So here I am with a little time on my hands, an opportunity to blog a few words, and guess what? I find that I don’t really have that much to say. Maybe I should forget this whole blogging thing and concentrate on something else. After all, maybe I’ve said pretty much everything I had to say; or maybe I’m just looking hard enough?

There was a time when I saw potential everywhere. It was in every pile of washed up detritus on the beach, the rain falling down a windowpane, the clouds in the sky, even in the cracks of the pavement. These days I seem not to be able to see it as easily and for some reason I’m tuned out to all that potential at the moment. Maybe I’m just tired, because I have to tell you I am feeling a little tired these days, or maybe I’ve just lost the knack.

I sometimes walk along the street, taking care not to step on the cracks between the paving slabs, and a gust of wind will grab me or a leaf flutter by and for a second or two I think that I might have something; but then the wind fluffs out and the leaf just blows away leaving me wondering what it was I was beginning to think. I spend a lot of time beginning to think only to find that maybe my ideas have fallen down between the pavement cracks and disappeared into that place we all knew as children but can’t quite remember any more.

That could be it; maybe I’ve got lost between the cracks in the pavement, taken my eyes of the path for a moment and tripped myself up, slipping down to whatever lies beneath.

Or maybe I’m just growing up.

I hope not. 

Friday, 23 November 2012

Pen pals….


I haven't posted for a while. I could say that I've been busy, had a lot to do, or that I've not had anything much to say; and whilst these excuses reasons are true, it's mainly because I haven't had the heart. If you leave a comment on my blog you'll notice that it will require approval. I've never felt the need to do this before, but the world wide web is a big web and it crawls with spiders. There are some very self- obsessed people out there. Self obsessed and angry.

I had a pen pal once, back in those dark and distant days when you actually did use a pen and write on paper. I remember my pen was full of turquoise Stephenson’s ink and the pen had a rubber pump thing inside so that the ink could be drawn from the bottle.

How innocent the past was. I applied to an ad reading ‘Pen Pals Wanted’ that I found in the back of a comic. Think about letting your kids do that today. It wouldn’t happen for fear of who they might pen to - my God they could get anyone! Anyway, my pen pal wasn’t a forty-six year old man living with his mother and his collection of specialist magazines. No, my pen pal was nine, named Clive, and he lived in Clacton.

It soon became apparent that I had little in common with Clive. He was a great football fan and avid collector of football cards He would insist on going on about both, in letter after letter, asking me if I had any ‘swopsies’ despite me explaining that I didn’t do football in any shape or form. The more he wrote about football the more he insisted that I should follow it, get myself a team, even support his beloved Tottenham Hotspur.

I just kept writing about the books I was reading, my stamp collection and Dr. Who and as the weeks went on he got more and more irate, demanding that I get myself a team and write about football. He made all sorts of threats; he’d write to my school and tell them I was ‘one of them’; he’d tell the police I was a loony; he even threatened to stop writing to me. I only wished he would stop, but instead he wrote more frequently, two or three letters a week; goodness knows where he got the thruppences for the stamps.

Eventually his letters became really abusive, calling me all sorts of names and threatening me with violence from his dad/brother/pals/gang and after a while I stopped writing. But Clive kept up writing his no longer football-full, thrice-weekly, abusive letters until eventually I stopped reading them and threw them away as soon as they arrived. He was beginning to scare me; not the threats he made, but the rage with which he made them, simply because he couldn’t get his own way and control me.

Eventually the letters stopped, he probably moved on to abuse another pen pal. I’m sure that he went on to be one of those seventies teenage football hooligans that destroyed spectator football for a while, going to the game for the violence rather than the sport. Anyway, from what I knew of him from his letters he was totally unpleasant.

I suppose that these days that you might call him a Troll. I should have learnt my lesson that first time.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Frost...

Up early this morning, brrrrr… to the first real frost of the winter season. I had to scrape my car windscreen and windows to remove the ice and it  really was ice, pretty hard, and not just a sprinkling of frost. Out in the back yard, in what I call cold corner, that place that never catches the sun, a few fallen leaves had acquired a sugar coating of fine icy crystals. Such a clear blue sky and the air like pins in my nostrils. More to come I guess; I think that it might be another cold one this year.

you better...


You better watch out. You better not cry. Better not pout. I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town. He's making a list and checking it twice; gonna find out who's naughty and nice. Santa Claus is coming to town. He sees you when you're sleeping. He knows when you're awake. He knows if you've been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake! Oh, You better watch out! You better not cry. Better not pout. I'm telling you why. Santa Claus is coming to town.

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Christmas in November...

Well it seems like Christmas has arrived in its unannounced and not-quite-sure-if-I-should-be-here yet kind of way. The ads have been on the TV for ages, and the trees and decorations are gathering dust in the shops already. Mince pies seem to be a year around thing these days, but shelf after shelf of Christmas puddings have suddenly appeared in the supermarkets.

Yes, it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas and we’re only halfway through November. Perhaps at this point I should say “Christmas gets earlier every year,” or “I’ve hardly had time to put my bonfire out.” But I won’t. After all, we are all so busy these days that if Christmas didn't start early we'd never get everything done on time - and there is so much to do that there didn't used to be.

All over the country small towns are making big deals about the switching on of lights. The fact that an ancient Santa on a half-lit sleigh and a decidedly dodgy Frosty with a crack across his face can hardly be described as a lighting spectacular seeming not to bother them at all. Well, it is Christmas – almost.

Back in the town of my birth it looks like their Christmas lights are already on and the tall fir tree firmly in place. A small market town in Oxfordshire is what I remember; it’s grown somewhat since then, and all the fields I used to wander are now housing estates – yes, it may be a clichĂ© but it’s true. They still have the tree and the outdoor carol service to go with it though, so not everything has changed.

Every year we went to the carol service around the tree – all weathers, nothing stopped us, wrapped in old overcoats and scarves, wearing gloves and balaclavas knitted by my Gran. Sometimes the paths were so icy we had to hold hands to keep us from falling. Well, Christmas started later then. They were good times, singing all those old familiar songs about stables and angels and holly and ivy. There were always a few merry gentlemen around to join in with the singing, not least the local vicar.

I’m glad to see they still keep it up, particularly as there’s so little of any type of spirit around these days. When you find a drop or two you need to keep it going.

Anyway, Merry Christmas in November and only 36 sleeps till Christmas.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

The money bag...

The Chinese call it the Money bag.

Well listen up you flippin’ Chinese.

There are messages circulating claiming that December 2012 will feature 5 Saturdays, 5 Sundays and 5 Mondays, a combination of days that occurs only once every 823 years. The message claims that sending on the information will bring good luck to the sender. 

It’s perfectly true that December 2012 has 5 Saturdays, 5 Sundays and 5 Mondays. But, such a combination occurs far more often than every 823 years. The last time it happened was in December 2007 and the next time it happens will be in December 2018. In fact, any month that has 31 days will have three consecutive days that occur five times in the month. Such combinations are commonplace and occur each and every year.

Just goes to show that you can’t trust a Chinaman when it comes to numbers and probably explains why, when I order a take-away from Fu-Manchu’s down the road, I never get my prawn crackers.

Inscrutable? I should flippin’ coco.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

£6.6 million...


Sorry, I’ve tried leave it alone, but I can’t, so… that John Lewis Christmas ad.

Yes, the one with the two snow people, the one that tells the heartrending story of a snowman who goes in search of a perfect present for his snow person partner, the one with a little girl wistfully looking out of the window, the one that I have heard described on Facebook and other places as cute, and awesome, and lovely, and sweet.

Yes, the one that cost £6.6 million to make.

£6.6 million?

Yes, £6.6 million.

£6.6 million… how?

Well, firstly it was shot in New Zealand where, despite there being no John Lewis, there is snow around at the time they made the ad, not quite enough, but it was easy (if costly) to ship in a few snow machines then tickle it up by computer. Then of course there were the helicopters to transport the Styrofoam snowman, one of many that they used in the ad, to the top of a snowy mountain. That CGI robin probably cost a few quid, and the cost of shipping British road signs and a telephone box (which can hardly be found these days in Britain) to Auckland to make it look authentically British, can’t have come cheap

And, and, and… well, that’s just about it – over six and a half million quid well spent.

Well, I for one don’t think a few sugar-wrapped, twee, shamelessly sentimental, and (dare I say it?) slushy, ooo’s and arrr’s is in any way worth all that money. Besides, the ad is dull and predictable. Better that the snowman had found his love melted into a pool of water on his return. Better still if John Lewis had given the money to charity and then advertised the fact simply and as cheaply as possible on our screens for thirty seconds. That would have grabbed viewer and media attention just as well, and it would have been totally unexpected.

£6.6 million would have given every homeless person in Britain a place to sleep, a decent Christmas dinner, and even a pair of shoes this Christmas. It would have bought an awful lot of toys and treats for thousands of parentless kids. It could have done something for people in various states of ill health in hospitals all over the country, maybe even paid for a few operations. It might have heated quite a few pensioners’ homes for the Christmas holidays, maybe saved a few dying from hypothermia. The money would have bought an awful lot of schoolbooks, even kept a few more libraries open for a while. Need I go on?

Listen, I’m no Bob Geldolf, but John Lewis should hang their fucking heads in shame; they claim to be corporately socially responsible and then spend this huge sum of money to advertise a stupid beret, a pair of gloves and a scarf.

So stop billing and cooing at this silly seasonal nonsense. I hope that when you next see that ad you think about what all that money might have achieved. It isn’t cute, or awesome, or lovely, or sweet – it’s a criminal waste.

My advice – other department stores and shops are available, use them instead.


Monday, 12 November 2012

The thinker...


When I logged in to Google today it told me that it was Auguste Rodin’s 172nd birthday.

I once lived not too far from Philly and at weekends I used to drive into the city and go to the Museum of Art. It was free on Sunday mornings, and I’d wander around taking in the Monets and Manets, the Picassos and Dalis – they even had a Breugel.

Not from the Museum of Art is the largest collection of Rodin’s work outside of Paris. I avoided the Rodin Museum for ages, not being a fan of sculpture, but one wet day I wandered in and couldn’t believe that bronze and marble could be brought to life in quite the way Rodin had managed.

It wasn't the thinkers, or kisses, or Venus - it was the hands that got me most.

I spent a happy afternoon studying what appeared to be men and women frozen in time, some locked, others emerging from the stone and bronze itself.

How did they get there I wondered?

It made me think…

Sunday, 11 November 2012

The boy with a fish...


I almost missed it this morning, caught up as I was in my own thoughts and shopping for some ingredients to make flat breads. For a moment I thought that I had missed it, but checking my watch (which isn’t entirely reliable) against my phone, I realised that I had two minutes to go. I wasn’t keen on spending my two minutes, their two minutes, in a supermarket clinging onto a shopping trolley; so instead, I left my trolley empty and went outside to sit on the bench that was just around the corner.

The supermarket somehow seemed so disrespectful. But sat on my bench alone, cold and clear with light blue skies, a perfect eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, it seemed okay.

I have no idea why I remember. Perhaps it was the poetry I was forced to read at school – the Sassoon and Owen, the Rupert Brook… “and is there honey still for tea?” Or maybe it’s the two boys I knew at school who went off to become soldiers; one never to return. It could be Frank. It might even be those endless portrayals of the First World War on all those period dramas we all love to watch. Maybe, it’s just the building of the war memorials – in every village and every town across the land.

I seek them out sometimes, always surprised, occasionally amazed by the variety of their form; the boy with the fish in my old home town, the foreshortened Unknown Soldier on the harbour in Pwllheli.

It always seems to be about the First World War for me. The rest (I’m sorry to say) doesn’t really come in to it. The Second World War is close, but it seems far too jolly with all the beer and air raids and fighter pilots – of course I know that it wasn’t, but it’s those black and white films you see; David Niven and Dickie Attenborough, Mrs. Miniver, even ‘Allo ‘Allo. Oh, I know it's wrong, don't worry.

And all these new conflicts - we don't call them wars any more - brave... without doubt, heroes... many. But they are almost there through choice, particularly these days all these years in. They must know what they are getting into... they still give their lives though.

Yes, it's all those far too young men of The Great War - pulled from fields and schools with promises, fear, patriotism, then shoved into trenches and made to charge... that’s what I think of when I remember.

As I said - I don’t know why I remember, but whatever the reason, I’m glad that I do.

Friday, 9 November 2012

Following the arrows...


Deep in the land of dreams last night I watched Bryan Ferry perform a Stockhausen piece using only a line of paperback books as an instrument. The way he made each dog-eared penguin sing had to be heard to be believed. Later I was complimented by a girl I went to college with. I hardly spoke to her at the time, tongue-tied youth that I was back then, but she said nice things as we drank our coffee. A helicopter ride was meant to happen, but at the last minute the flight got cancelled and instead I was given a new pair of shoes and found myself walking home following the arrows instead.

Following the arrows; it was a game we played at school. Someone, usually anonymous, would chalk out a trail and when you came across one... well, honour and curiosity would mean that you were duty-bound to follow.

I’ve no idea how many trails I followed as a boy. Sometimes they would just fizzle out leaving you searching for the next arrow on grimy walls and dusty pavements, other times they were so long and protracted that you’d have to give up in order to be home for tea in the fading evening light – or the bogeyman (or Nappy) might get you. It was a great game to a ten year old boy and his friends. On Saturday mornings, before the matinee at the pictures, we’d often go in search of a trail.

One half-term holiday I came across a clearly chalked trail; none of my friends were around that day and I was left to kicking heels in the sunshine on my own. I was bored, so for something to do I decided to follow the trail. It was a long one, taking me through Gas Alley (quick in case the vampires are out early), past the Two Brewers and through to the park. Whoever had made the trail had taken a lot of trouble, the arrows were well spaced so that you could, with ease, see the next one not too far in the distance. A huge arrow pointed forwards at the ornate park gates, quickly followed by another indicating that the trail went into the woodland walk - which was really just a narrow litter-strewn stand of scrubby trees which at one time may have provided Victorian trysters with a little privacy.

I followed the arrow into the trees. The ground was a shamble of last year’s leaves and strewn waxed-paper Kia-Ora cartons; the arrows continued, not on the ground, chalked on the trunks of the trees instead. At the end of the walk the trees filled out into a small coppice containing a few larger trees and one huge beech at its centre. The arrows led me to the beech tree and carefully drawn on its grey-green trunk was an arrow pointing skywards.

Well, long story short. I climbed the tree, following the arrows higher and higher. It was a dizzying climb and when I reached the uppermost branches I found them decorated with old, broken dolls. Written on a thick branch was this question: “Did you bring me a present? Love Nappy”

I scrambled down and ran home. Even now I still don’t like dolls.


Thursday, 8 November 2012

Old man in the woods…

The old man stepped into the trees, he wasn’t really old at all, he’d just lived a long time and when you live a long time you realise that whilst there is reality, it doesn’t mean much at all.

The trees were as real to him as anything else, as real as the stick in his hand and the cap upon his head. It was a comforting feeling wandering through the trees, reality seeming to matter less and less the further into the trees he shuffled. He counted the trees as he walked - one, two, three, four, five - it reminded him of past times, a walk in the woods on a sunny day, climbing trees as a boy, chopping trees as a man.

Sapling to oak and inevitable decline. Just too many winters, but just as many summers too; he reminded himself.

Confusion? Well, why not? The world was a confusing place; red, green, black, white, boy, man, girl, woman… what a lot to take in, to process through dimming eyes and softening brain.

“Take the trees every time.” He thought.

The love was there, although sometimes hard to grasp and often too easy to misinterpret; but as he walked through the trees, he could feel the love that had long ago planted the acorn in this shady wood. One, two, three, four, five - it reminded him of past times and her laugh.

From tiny acorns, oak trees grow. And with that recognition he smiled.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Float...

Firework night has been and gone, the silence outside the night before last almost deafening - not a whiz or a bang, a crackle or a boom. Strange I’d almost got used to living with the soundtrack to a war film - and then all went quiet like a ceasefire.

Quiet - my turn now.

Going outside, in the not-quite-damp, we lit our sparklers, making shapes in the dark evening air. It was fun. Just a few cheap fireworks, enough to celebrate something I’d almost forgotten. Funny how those bits of wire, bending with the heat of the phosphorous, can bring a smile to your face.

We used to light Lucifer matches, one after another and straight from the box; different coloured flashes of light, hand-held till they burnt the end of our fingers. Rockets in pop bottles, penny bangers in bottles too (dangerous but spectacularly noisy), Catherine wheels, volcanoes, thrup'enny Roman candles .

Not this year though.

This year it was lanterns; four for three pounds, holding the thin paper carcase high in the air, lighting the burner and waiting for the hot air to fill the paper balloon. Wait and wait, a slight rise, then the gradual float up into the sky and away. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. Our own totally silent paper star floating high above as we three watched until it was gone, out of sight.

Up, up and away, all with our own thoughts and hopes floating in our heads.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Another Guy Fawkes night...

Another mask, another Guy Fawkes night tomorrow.

The fireworks have been going off for days and as I write this yet more bangs and screeches shatter the peace outside. Now don’t get me wrong, I love fireworks and always have; but I still believe that Bonfire Night should be celebrated on just that – Bonfire Night, November the 5th.

Tonight I wasn’t going to blog about how now would be a good time for a new Guido Fawkes to appear on the scene, what with this mess of a bunch of political idiots of all parties we have at the minute. Of course if a new G.F. were to appear the Special Forces would get him before he’d even chance to even order his gunpowder or semtex or whatever; they have intelligence you see.

Yes, he’d be branded a terrorist and locked away forever. I doubt that they’d hang, draw and quarter him though – just why do we burn poor Guy on the bonfire, shouldn’t we dangle him from a rope, drag out his stuffing, and pull him to pieces instead? And just how would he get in? It isn’t as if the cellars under the Houses of Parliament are accessible these days, not like back then when you could rent them as storage or warehousing.

When I was a child the story of Guy Fawkes was shown on Blue Peter every year it seemed; nice black and white drawings of men in big hats and John Noakes telling the tale. I think GF came across as a hero; at least he did to me. I wonder if he was meant to, I wonder if today they’d tell the tale of an anti-government terrorist intent on bring down the government, a murderer with no conscience. I rather think that they would.

No, I wasn’t going to blog about Guido tonight but the fireworks outside meant that I couldn’t stop myself - filling my head with Blue Peter drawings and Guy Fawkes masks cut from comics and pasted to card.  How I enjoyed stuffing dad’s old clothes full of newspapers and balancing the Guy, resplendent in comic mask, on top of a far too big bonfire in a far too small back garden.

Does anyone still do that I wonder?

Anyway, I’ll be celebrating tomorrow, November 5th. I have some sparklers and a nice hot punch to toast old Guido. I won’t be burning him though, or hanging, drawing and quartering him; to me he will always be a hero.

Saturday, 3 November 2012

The country of the past...

Every story ever told.

Ah, the country of the past. It's where we all live isn't it? It’s a good place to visit but not the kind of place to get trapped in; well, at least it isn’t for me.

Of course, the size of that country depends on how much past you’ve had, whether it was good or bad, if you want to visit there and tarry for a while. For some it’s a long difficult journey to get back. For others it’s no journey at all; it’s like slipping from one room into another through a door that always remains open.

I’ve taken you here before haven’t I?

A long time ago I was driving a road at night. I’d been driving for a long time, crossing east to west across the country, coast to coast, cold sea to cold sea. I’d nearly reached my destination when at once I realised I’d have to stop and rest for a few minutes, despite the handful of miles that remained.

We’ve probably all had that feeling that our minds are wandering into sleep while we are at the wheel, the fraction of a second when, warmed into comfort by the hum of the wheels on the road, the snugness of the car interior like a comfy cocoon around us, we know that we have lost the road for a moment and dropped into the darkness of a brief unconsciousness.

I’d done the usual things: turned off the heating, opened the window, raised the volume of the radio and switched the music to something raucous and banal instead of the soothing voice of a Radio 4 presenter. If I’d had a coffee then I’d have drunk it, a cigarette and I would have smoked it. Best to stop and rest, just for a few minutes; the lanes were coming up and they were dark and narrow and I might not have the same fortune I’d had coming down the winding mountain road.

I knew a place to stop - the familiar lay-by set back from the road overlooking the invisible night time sea. Just a few minutes; some time to rest my eyes and lose the feeling of imminent dizziness which phased in and out of my head

Pulling in I turned off the engine and cut the lights. It was dark and peaceful. Just a few minutes to rest my eyes… and I was gone.

I awoke hours later, the sun rising over a flat grey sea. Disorientation hit me and I scrambled for the door and stepped out into the cold, grey dawn. My car was surrounded by birds. Gulls and rooks, starlings, even the odd thrush or two; and up in small tree, more than a bush but not quite a oak, sat a large brown owl.

We stared at each other for a while, some strange intelligence passing between us. It was as if he knew something about me and where I’d been. His eyes blinked twice, then he opened his wings and glided, swooping low and away, sending up the other birds in a scatter of the early morning light until I was quite alone.

I got back in the car, drove those last few miles and as I travelled a certainty settled on me. I knew that as I’d slept I’d travelled to the country of the past, slipped through that door which for me is not often open and the owl had come back with me to remind me of something - just what though I can’t quite remember - and this single thought:

“The country of the past; I’ve taken you there before haven’t I?”


Friday, 2 November 2012

Old Speckled Hen...

No blogging for me tonight. Instead I'm drinking what has become my favourite beer. You have no idea how excited I become when I happen across a pub that serves it on draft. There used to be one in Wales, high above the sea on the cliffs at Morfa Nefyn, but alas they no longer sell it.

Old Speckled Hen was first brewed in 1979 in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, not too far from where I used to live, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the MG car factory that used to be there. 

For a while back then I drank it in the Six Bells, my occasional local at the time. These days I buy it in bottles or cans, enjoying every last mouthful of the rich, brown nectar.

Old Speckled Hen took its name from an MG car which was used as a runaround for workers in the MG factory. Over the years of service, the car somehow became covered in flecks of paint, gaining it acclaim in the town and earning it the nickname "Owld Speckled 'Un", translated into Old Speckled Hen for the magnificent brown ale first brewed by Morland.

I love it, and with that I'm off to drink some more of it from my favourite glass. 

Yes, you and this blogging disease of mine are keeping me from my beer.


Thursday, 1 November 2012

Happy birthday L.S...

An even shorter post tonight as I'm hoping not to draw too much attention to myself.

So:

Happy 
125th 
Birthday
Laurence
Stephen 
Lowry

See, it wasn't all matchstalk men and matchstalk cats and dogs.


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Ghost story…

I wanted to write a ghost story in under fifty words. In the end I managed it in thirty-two. Here it is, you may need to read it twice and think about it. I hope that you like it…

Another Halloween, I expect they’ll be knocking at the door again, all those ghosts of mine.

Knock, knock (who’s there?)

I open the door to no one.

“Come in.” I say.

And they do.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The share button…

Just because you have a cute son, daughter, nephew, niece, grandson or granddaughter it isn’t a good reason to plaster pictures of him or her all over Facebook. Apart from the fact that they are out there for ever, can come back to haunt or be used against the child in a future that none of us can see, it’s also dangerous.

You know, try as I might I can’t find a picture of Jimmy Savile as a child on the web. There must be some gathering dust in a family album somewhere; all dark leaved sugar paper and photo hinges and, although this isn’t my point, better there than on Facebook. If there had been pictures of him as a child posted on Facebook they’d be all over the papers by now, just so we could see the evil in the eyes of the Savile brat… and we would see it wouldn’t we? We always do: ‘you can see he was always odd, just look in his eyes,’ we’d say.

And of course as I said yesterday; you can’t tell a Hitler, a Sutcliffe or Thatcher simply by looking at a childhood photograph. That sweet looking kid could just as easily grow up to massacre his classmates as become a medal-winning hero.

But there’s another much more important point I want to make that might make us all think twice about posting pictures of cute, sugar-dipped, children on the web.

Now, I’m not one to overly worry about these things for myself, after all I’m an adult and throwing me out there on the web for all to see is my choice. If it draws negative response and nastiness, even abuse - which it has at times - I think that I’m big enough to handle it. After all, it is my choice and I am an adult.

Unfortunately when we post pictures of young family or friends they have no choice at all, nor are they aren’t old enough to do anything about it. There they are for every aspect of the world to see, even paw at should they wish to.

‘No, it’s only a picture.’ I hear you say ‘It’s only there for my friends and family, there can’t be any harm in that, can there.’

Yes, you’d think not; but what about the ‘share’ button?

Not so long ago a mother posted a picture of her daughter on Facebook. Jessie and her friend looked so cute dressed in their Manchester United kits, so sweet with their sunny smiles; her Facebook friends were just going to love it.

One of Sharon’s friends, Annie, who was a learning support assistant at the same primary school where Sharon worked, liked it so much that she shared it with her Facebook friends too and they all loved it as well, commenting on what pretty girls they were and how cute they looked in their United football kits.

One of Annie’s friends, Maxine, who used to work with Annie as a teaching assistant at another school, shared it with her Facebook friends and suddenly hundreds of people were seeing these two innocent girls in their Manchester kits on Facebook.

The comments flew. How cute, adorable, gorgeous, so grown up, so pretty and full of life – like – like – like – like – like – like - like.

When Maxine, who was now a teaching assistant at a secondary school in Sowham, shared the picture of Jessica and Holly it went to her good friend Ian.

Ian liked it too.

I wonder why, in a world where we can’t even take pictures of our own children being angels in the school nativity, we feel it’s okay to post their pictures on Facebook? Why would we want the world to see our children, wouldn’t it be better to keep them close, send pictures privately by e-mail? Children aren’t kittens, which is another story, but how can we be sure who’s going to look at our pictures and how can we know what they are thinking as they look?

Of course these things happen, but after the police had arrested Ian Huntley they found the picture of Jessica and Holly in a folder on his computer. The folder was named ‘Share’.

Note: I was told this by a very old friend who is in a position to know. He also told me that this type of targeting is common. I see no reason to disbelieve him, but true or not it still should make us all think.

Monday, 29 October 2012

What a cutey...

I really can’t get enough of those cutesy baby pictures that people, usually women, are constantly posting on Facebook. Isn’t he cute? Isn’t she adorable? Well, yes he or she is. I’m so glad you shared it with us all. Cute babies and toddlers are so uplifting, guaranteed to make us smile and leave the house with a renewed spring in our step.

Anyway, here’s another cute baby. I love his silly haircut and those sweet little lips. They look just like a sugary kiss don’t they? And just look at his adorable little romper suit and those gorgeous little socks. What teeny-weeny feet he has.

I bet he’s bright, he won’t miss a trick I’m sure; see the way he’s concentrating on the photographer. It’s all just too adorable.

I think he’s going to be a handful when he grows up, he’ll break a few hearts. That young man is sure to make his mark I think. Any baby as cute and cuddly as that is bound to go on to do great things.

I wonder if Facebook had been around back in 1890 if his parents would have posted pictures? I bet their Facebook friends would have been all bill and coo, leaving comments on how cute and gorgeous he is; just like we all do today.

Unfortunately though, for Mr. and Mrs. Hitler, Facebook was over a century away.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Clock change day…

Five-o'clock and it’s dark.

Why should it be that no matter what, whenever the clocks are about to change, it seems like a surprise despite it happening twice EVERY year? Today is my day, and today is that day when everything is slightly wrong - clock change day; how I hate it. It feels like time is blurry, even running backwards a little, maybe forwards too quickly; how can sixty short minutes make such a difference to how I feel?

It makes me feel as if I'm living underwater.

It started badly. My routine was tipped, topsy-turvy, into a cocked hat by the rearranging of time and the changing of the clocks, my usual Sunday routine undone by the change back to Greenwich Mean Time. I got up too early and started my day knowing that all day I would think that it was later than it was, which will lead me to open the RED earlier than I should, eat my meals at all the wrong times, and go to bed far earlier than my usual 10.30ish.

So, my routine all messed up I found myself outside of Tesco at 9.30 waiting for them to open. I didn’t mind much as I’d been awake since the old 4.00am (5.00am) and, after trying and then giving up on going back to sleep, up at the new 7.30am (6.30am). Eventually they opened, and I purchased what I needed and then went home to prepare lunch before realising I hadn’t even had breakfast.

Overwhelmed by these sixty minute differences I turned on the radio to listen to the Archers to find that I’d missed it – either too late or too early I have no idea – and when Radio 4 announced that it was two-o'clock my body and the light outside told me something different. For some weird reason as I switched the lights on at three o'clock I felt that I needed to run a bath. Usually I never bath before eight. Did I mention I hate this clock-changing thing?

Of course darkness will come earlier as winter begins to settle in. I’d prefer lighter evenings, keep UK time on Summer Time, especially in winter when it starts getting dark around 4pm. This of course would mean that the Scottish, being so far north, would have a daylight problem due to the fact that the sun wouldn’t rise until almost 10am. But they could always vote themselves a different time zone and who cares anyway?

The idea of British (including Scotland) Summer Time was proposed in 1907 by William Willett. He campaigned to move clocks forward by 80 minutes in 20-minute increments at the beginning of spring and then go back to Greenwich Mean Time in the autumn. Now that would be messy don’t you think? Moving the clocks 4 times; nobody would ever remember what time it was and we’d all be running on different times like the church-clock timed villagers of the past - where each village ran to church-clock time with each clock differing greatly.

Summer Time came during 1916, an Act of Parliament defining the concept of Summer Time and GMT+1 started in the spring. Double summer time was then introduced during the Second World War and lasted until July 1945. By the 1980s countries in western and central Europe decided to coordinate the date and time of their clock changes. Pity we didn’t go with them and run on European time, although I’m sure they will tell us too eventually.

I’d like to see a return to the wartime double summer time plan, the clocks going forward by one hour throughout the whole year and then forward again one hour in spring and back one hour in autumn - I think.

Yes, it’s all so bloody confusing.

Oh well, Five-o'clock and it's DARK, and so it begins…

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Every story ever...


Tonight I'm posting this. It was posted by one of my Facebook friends, Dumitru Catalan, from Romania. I wish that this was mine, such skill and artistry is rare. It speaks to me in a thousand languages, a Breugel Tower of Babel on the road to the Mill and the Cross. Hieronymus Bosch on his way to the Garden of Earthly Delights. 

When I saw this I began to see stories, all the stories that will be ever needed, all the stories there are to tell. I may share a few over the next weeks if you'd like. Let me know and I'll start to dream them.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The laundry room...

It’s like a scab that I can’t stop picking and before it’s over it’s going to bleed.

Last night I watched a programme about the BBC and their handling of the Jimmy Savile rumours and the subsequent dropping of the Newsnight programme that would have exposed his for the monster that he was. In my mind I call it the Jim Fix-It campaign.

It’s going to come out that there was a massive BBC cover-up and expose a 'turn-a-blind-eye' approach to an institutionalised paedophilia and rape network at the good old BEEB.

Almost as bad, it seems that the BBC Fixed-It so that their shiny charity working DJ remained the saintly icon that they’d always advertised him to be just so they could show a few tribute programmes they’d already scheduled.

There’s more to come: Garry Glitter, Freddie Starr, a host of BBC employees, all type of institutional oversight and cover-up. Who and what else I wonder? If ever there was a time when this nation of ours was going to have the cosy blown-off its Saturday afternoon-tea teapot then this is it.

I watched the TV programme into the early hours, listening to ex BBC people justifying why they did nothing. ‘I thought he was joking’, was a phrase often repeated, ‘who would have believed me?’ another. I looked very closely at those icons as they spoke. Covering arse? Pre-managed outrage just in case they are implicated - maybe found out - who knows?

Savile, Glitter, Starr - no real surprises there. But what is to come? The police are building evidence in preparation for making arrests.

As my dad would say: ‘It’ll all come out in the wash.’

And I’m sure that it will but not before a very big bag of very dirty BBC laundry is dragged, screaming denials and justifications, into the laundry room.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Tea-light holder frenzy...


Yes, I'm still there at the glass-face producing my own little piece of kitsch and twee. This time it's tea-light holders; twenty-five tea-light holders at a fiver a time to be prexact. They are for a ladies-who-lunch annual dinner next week. One for each of them placed inside a cream organza drawstring bag for them to take home as a memento, a keepsake, a little bit of my imagination - such as it is.

No two the same was my brief, and there are no two the same.

I'd love them, those ladies, to end up arguing over which they want, grabbing at one another's hair and smearing their bright red lipstick; better still if it ended in a food-fight, plates and custard flying. A tea-light holder frenzy.

Oh well, I can dream.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Duck Soup…

A child of five would understand this. Send someone to fetch a child of five.

Someone I know (not a child of five) posted this poster on FaceBook this morning and for a moment it almost made me smile. Actually I did smile, not too much and not for long, but it certainly prompted me to comment: “I want to live in a Marx Brothers film”. What wacky  mayhem fun that would be. After all, humour is reason gone mad and it’d be quite an exclusive club I imagine. Mind you, I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member.

It took me a while to work out that the duck who looks like a duck is meant to be Zeppo, even longer to remember the name of the fifth brother, Guppo, and me such a Marx Brothers fan.

Marx Brothers fan? Thinking about it, I don't think I’ve ever watched a Marx Brothers film from beginning to end. Oh, I’ve started to watch them, dipped in halfway through, but I’m not at all sure that I’ve sat engrossed, watching one cover-to-cover. Talking of books, outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside of a dog it’s too dark to read.

For me, Animal Crackers, A Night at the Opera, Horse Feathers, Monkey Business, even Duck Soup are really just a mish-mash of Groucho’s cigar, Harpo’s harp and Zeppo’s hilariously unfunny hat. A single film where plain old ladies - I never forget a face, but in your case I’ll be glad to make an exception - fall in love with Groucho and Harpo honks his horn because he’s a deaf-mute (Honk-Honk and not really – how un-PC is that!)

Even so, it seems that I’m something of an aficionado in my mind despite not really knowing very much about their films at all. Interesting… It leads me to question if I’ve ever really watched Frankenstein, Casablanca or Citizen Kane? Did I ever see Basil Rathbone solve a single mystery as Sherlock Holmes? All that late night television wasted. I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns a set on I go into the other room and read a book.

I wonder how many movies I think I’ve watched when I haven’t really watched them at all? I wonder how much of my life is what I think I’ve done rather than what I’ve actually done. Movies? Who told you I was in the movies? Watch me carefully, I hardly move at all. Life? The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.

A legend in my own lunchtime? Well art is art isn’t it? Still, on the other hand water is water. And east is east and west is west and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce they taste very much more like prunes than rhubarb does. Now tell me what you know.

What I know?

Oh well, I’ve had a wonderful time, but this wasn’t it. I really must watch Duck Soup.

Monday, 22 October 2012

Preoccupied...

We’ve had some spectacular sunsets over the last week or so, but I’m sorry to say that I missed them all, busy with other things. Well, when I say busy maybe preoccupied would be a better word. Yes, preoccupied – occupied with things that happened before whatever is happening now, like the sunset.

Over in Wales, whilst I sat being preoccupied, another spectacular sunset was taking place. I missed that one too. I don’t get to Wales much at the moment; another of the downsides of my preoccupation. It’d be nice just to stand in my usual field and watch the sky burn then gradually fade to dark.

Just look at it - magnificent. It looks just like something is sucking the sky away. I wonder where it’ll end up.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Bowie is dead…

Bowie is dead. Well, not actually dead but as close to dead as any musician can be if the papers are to be believed. David Bowie, one of the greatest composers to have ever lived hasn’t written anything in six years apparently. Instead he stumbles around New York just managing to pick up his daughter from school. He’s even started calling himself David Jones – well, it is his name.

Of course Mr Jones is no Beethoven. No he’s far more versatile than that, reinventing his musical style every few years and mastering it all. I have nothing against Beethoven, in fact I love his work, but most composers tend to stick to a limited sound range, the range that they are comfortable with for their entire career. Beethoven pretty much did, they all do. I said THEY ALL DO.

Take the Stones; they’ve been churning out the same song, over and over, for the last thirty plus years. Oh, the Beatles seemed to try, but of course they couldn’t stand the course.

Innovative, fresh, new – from Newley-esque to New romantic, Pomp to Punk, Soul to Salsa  he’s tried it all. Just where would he go next? Gangsta? Well, wherever he is it’ll be good, it always is.

Not writing? No he’ll be writing, humming away in his head. It’s like breathing to him. How would he stop? If I were to stop blogging (please, I hear you whisper) I would still write, maybe not publish, maybe no even compose, but I’d write in my head - tales, thoughts, opinions. I don’t really have a choice.

No Bowie is still writing songs every day, even if they are about picking his daughter up from school.

Maybe one day we’ll get to hear them.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

National Geographic...

Back then it was called The National Geographic Magazine. I started reading it in the school library when, instead of a full colour photograph, a border of oak leaves surrounded some lines of serif text describing the content of each issue. It took me everywhere, to the jungles of Borneo, the bottom of the Pacific, even to Mars. I’d pore over it for hours, marvelling at the incredible artistry of the photographs, the detail of the wonderful descriptions. I felt like an explorer sometimes as I climbed through the pages and up Everest in my mind or crossed the murky waters of Lake Titicaca in my imaginary reed canoe.

I learnt more about geography from those magazines than ever I did from Ronnie Moore our geography teacher with his dry picture-free text books and ancient map of the world which showed the British Empire, even though the Empire was long gone. Yes, my lunchtimes were never boring and you would usually find me up the Amazon or wandering across the Gobi.

Much later, long after I’d left school, a miracle happened. For no reason at all the National Geographic started tuning up at my home in darkest Birmingham. At first I though it might be a promotion, but when they kept on coming I began to wonder if maybe it was an error, a mistake by the Post Office or The Society themselves – well, with a circulation of around four million readers it was perfectly possible. It didn’t stop me ripping off the polythene wrapper and devouring the magazine though. I really looked forward to seeing each yellow-edged, glossy, full colour, cover when it popped through my letterbox every month, even though I didn’t know where they came from.

Eventually though, some light was shed on my phantom subscription. An old mate of my dad’s had given him the National Geographic as a Christmas gift and my dad, who only read the sports pages of his paper, had transferred the subscription over to me and then forgot to tell me. Well, I didn’t mind at all and for a few years I was surrounded by giant pandas, visited Vesuvius, New England in winter, dived down to see the Mary Rose; I even used some of the articles as inspiration for a series of paintings of grinning American farmers.

Then one day the Geographic stopped arriving. I waited a while to see if it would start coming through again, but it didn’t. My adventures in the world of National Geographic were over. I though about mentioning it to my dad, but felt a bit awkward to ask - perhaps my dad’s friend had hit hard times and cancelled the subscription, maybe they’d fallen out, perhaps he’d even died. So I left it and carried on with my life exploration free and adventureless.

A long time after I mentioned it to my mum on the phone one day, I don’t why, maybe the mystery had become too much for me, I was never very good with mysteries. I was surprised by her answer and more than a little taken aback when she told me that my dad had transferred the subscription to my teenage nephew. I didn’t say much as she went on to tell me that they didn’t think I’d mind and supposed that I didn’t really bother to read them anyway. Supposed? No, only cover to cover, each and every word. No I didn’t read it, I lived it actually.

Apparently Alex, my nephew, was really interested in animals and countries and all sorts of stuff, and he did so like the pictures. Yeah, so did I.

I placed the receiver back its cradle wondering if Alex was, at that very moment, building an igloo, perhaps white-water rafting the Colorado River on my National Geographic. What could I say? It was my dad’s subscription to do with as he pleased. I wasn’t so much miffed as… well, it would have been nice to be asked; I wasn’t quite ready to hang up my crampons or take off my flippers.

I still read the National Geographic, I don’t subscribe but occasionally buy a copy when an article catches my eye and when I’ve got a spare fiver, and there’s always the doctor’s waiting room. Talking of doctors, Alex was officially made a doctor today, not a medical one, a doctor of countries and animals and stuff I think. I also like to think it was the sacrifice of my National Geographic that did it. After all, I didn’t bother to read it did I… Oh, well at least Alex got a doctorate out of it.

Friday, 19 October 2012

Emmanuelle...

The problem with what I still call the Web Wide World is that it springs news upon you when you are least expecting it, sometimes news that you don’t want to hear.

Today, whilst looking for something completely different, my eyes were caught by one of those news items that they disperse within the text. Generally I don’t notice these things but my eye was drawn to two words ‘Sylvia Kristel’ and from there to the third word of what turned out to be a very sort sentence - ‘Dies’.

Sylvia Kristel Dies.

For a moment the clock on the wall stopped ticking and I was seventeen again, a memory of rattan chairs and puffy nipples flooding through my consciousness as, for a brief instant, I remembered the excitement of being young with a world of possibility in front of me. Reading on I was surprised to see that Sylvia was only a handful of years older than me. I’d always thought of her as the older woman, worldly wise, an ingĂ©nue – perhaps because she was Dutch or maybe it was the hair - but as it turned out she was just twenty-two to my seventeen when she starred in Emmanuelle. No difference at all really.

Back then Emmanuelle had seemed so racy with its mile-high, lesbian, oral, group sex, rape scenes – all heavily censored and simulated of course in blurred soft-focus long shot. It was erotica really, hardly soft porn, these days even the soaps are nearly as graphic. But it caused a sensation back then; the film was even banned in France for a while before becoming the country's highest-grossing film of all time

I have three distinct memories of Emmanuelle.

The first was a trailer I saw in the interval of some other film excursion, The Three Musketeers or maybe Carrie, before I even saw Emmanuelle. The words ‘Coming Soon’ in big letters appeared on the screen, to be followed by ‘Emmanuelle’ in that distinctly cursive typestyle... the cinema erupted in howls of laughter.

The second happened on the day I plucked up the courage to go see the film. I’d skived off school with my girlfriend and we’d caught the bus into Oxford. We were patiently queuing in our furs and tatters outside the Odeon, all ready for the two o’clock performance, when who should come out of the cinema after watching the eleven o’clock? No other than Chunky Gould, my English master, raincoat discreetly folded over one arm. He looked at me, and I looked at him as he mumbled: “I think you’ll like the first film better than the second.” The first film was Confessions of a Window Cleaner, and I didn’t – but I was never reported for skiving.

My final memory is of being on another bus one morning when the inspector got on. This was some time after I’d seen the film and become a fan of Sylvia. He asked to see my pass, which I gave him not realising it had expired the previous day. After ticking me off and taking the 1/-3d fare (which I had to borrow) he removed the pass from its plastic see-through wallet only to find a naked Emmanuelle I’d cut from a newspaper hiding behind where the pass had been. He went scarlet, passed back my pass and scuttled away down the stairs.

Hard to believe that the beautiful young woman in that old cutting is dead; sixty is really no age at all. Apparently Emmanuelle dogged Sylvia all her life and she appeared in several of the increasingly tawdry, pornographic sequels - not ‘Emmanuelle and the Last Cannibals’ though. Years after she told a reporter: "I was on a train and I couldn't jump off. What is it they say? Be careful what you wish for."

Be careful what you wish for, advice I’ve somehow never been able to follow.

Twice divorced and with her money gone - lost to alcohol, cigarettes and cocaine addiction - Sylvia spent her final years in a small apartment above an Amsterdam cafe. She tried her beautiful hand at painting, a second career as an artist; she could paint a bit and lived on the modest proceeds, supplemented by money from the occasional television interview. I like her paintings very much.

I can’t explain how or why I feel the way I do about Sylvia Kristel and Emmanuelle, perhaps it’s a right of passage thing. It’s all wrapped up in a time of my life - well, in a time of my life when I was having the time of my life. If only I’d know it at the time. Anyway, another small piece of my youth gone; goodnight Sylvia, sleep well.

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bring on the beer...

Instead of worrying my pretty little head about what I am going to blog about tonight I am instead going to concentrate on these three beauties which I bought from Sainsbury on special at £1.00 a bottle.

The standard India Pale Ale is 3.6%, the gold 4.1%, and the Reserve 5.4% and just look at those wonderful colours. I'm in for a treat.

I don't hold with warm bottled beers so have had these, and two other sets of triplets (having spent the tenner I won on the lottery and given the spare pound to the chap that used to be a manager who generally sits by the shop entrance) in the fridge all day, so they should be nice and cold.

My favourite beer glass - long, tall and shapely - has also been in the fridge all day.

Now, I know that I must drink responsibly - the government says so - so I'm taking extra care when pouring not to irresponsibly spill any, although I'm saddened to say it looks like I may be going to exceed the 3-4 units a day recommended by the UK Chief Medical Officer. I do hope that Dame Sally forgives me, but professor or not I think I know better than she what my needs are.

Oh well, another end to another rather tiresome day - bring on the beer.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Bring on the balloons...

Today is one of those days. I couldn’t believe the strength of the wind when I left the house this morning. It whistled and gusted, picking up the fallen leaves and tossing them into the slate grey sky… wait a minute, didn’t I blog about this last week?

Like I said, today has been one of those days; they all are. Sometimes it feels like my life is on a loop, replaying the same day over and over with slight variations, over and over and over and over. I find myself focussing on things that I wouldn't  but do; like the rain which was cold and wet, a sure sign that winter is on its wintry way and Father Time, on the house at the end of our street, spun around and around as the gusts knocked him this way and that. Father Time, fallen leaves…if only I could look up and see some balloons.

It’s not a loop, I’m not stuck in a movie or lost in a time warp in the twilight zone; I’m just in a bit of a rut. I’ve been here before and eventually something comes along to get me out of it, something new, or a shock, a catastrophe, maybe even an ending. But ruts have never held me for long, although this one seems to be the longest and deepest to date.

I’m even beginning to wonder if this blog is part of the rut, holding me in by keeping my interest and feeding me with a lukewarm feeling of almost achievement. If only I could… if only I could what? And that’s part of the issue. I seem to ask that question all the time and each time I end up with that same old ‘what?’

What, what, what? I don’t know.

Bring on the balloons.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A disagreement and Cromarty Fisherfolk...

I got caught up in a bit of a storm last night, a discussion between my daughter and her beau about the use of language and how it might be easier if everyone pronounced all words in exactly the same way. Of course this debate took place through the medium of texting, not that texting was even a word a few years ago, but, as The Jam once said, this is a modern wowld.

Anyway, it got me thinking about how language has changed over the last fifty years or so and how some worlds, and the words that went with them, are gone 4ever, never to return.

Cromarty, the stuff of late night weather warnings; I’ve heard all about it on the Shipping Forecast, it’s a wet and windy place by all accounts.

It also until very recently had it’s own unique dialect called Cromarty Fisherfolk, not an accent, a unique dialect which apparently had Germanic roots so there was no ‘wh’ and ‘what’ became ‘at’, ‘where became ‘ere’ it also had no ‘H’.

Last week the last speaker of the dialect, 92-year-old, Bobby Hogg died and with it Cromarty Fisherfolk.

I wonder if he ended up talking to himself?

Ten miles down the coast is another sleepy fishing village, Avoch, where another distinct dialect is spoken. This dialect now becomes the closest thing to Cromarty Fisherfolk, although it is very different. Think of that, two villages only ten miles apart speaking to all intents and purpose quite a different language.

“So what” I hear you say, and where is this going anyway? Or rather: “So at” I ear you say, and ere is tis going anyay?

My grandfather was born and bred in Lincolnshire and I could hardly understand a word he said. He’d use words that I couldn’t find in the dictionary, spoke in guttural grunts and snorts, and the nodding and shaking of his head seemed to play an important part in the way he communicated. I’m reliably informed I might have been able to understand him better if I’d been Dutch as the dialect he spoke was invented by the settlers from Holland who were his, and my, ancestors.

“Nar den, hoe jij ben?” He’d ask, “Hoe indeed?” I wondered.

Even then I could see that times and the way in which we spoke were changing, or rather vanishing as the older people died. I had a strong Oxfordshire twang as a boy; ‘milk’ was ‘moilk’, ‘girl’ was ‘goyl’, and in answer to the question of whether I was from Buckinghamshire I’d reply: ‘Bis oi Bucks? Bis oi baggery.’

Of course, I soon got this kicked out of me when I went to my semi-public grammar school, and I really do mean kicked out.

Even over my short lifetime (too long I hear you complain) language has been changing faster than at any time in the past probably . In some ways it is getting more interesting; new words are being invented all the time - innit - but in other ways language, particularly the way it sounds across geographies, is becoming bland and differences are disappearing.

In general, as the world becomes one big global village, and as people become more literate, the differences in cultures begin to disappear, with technology and the huge advances it has brought to communication being the driver behind the change. Most of the world read the same books, watch the same films and television, follow the same sports teams, drive the same cars, can speak the same few languages.

The world is becoming uniform and with that inevitably comes sterility and sameness, a grey world full of grey people saying the same grey things in a universal grey language.
Distance no longer matters. YouTube, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, mobile phones, texting, the ease with which we can fly to almost any part of the world; it’s almost as if nowhere is anywhere any more as places lose their identities and are absorbed into the bigger whole.

In language terms, one day we will all sound the same, use the same words, speak the same language, and of course understand each other with ease. Not that they’ll be any need to talk; after all when that day of total unison comes they’ll be nothing to talk about. People who agree generally just make noises.

One day we may all talk in Earthspeak, if we can be bothered.

Of course I’m overstating the case, but with each small loss of uniqueness the blandness creeps and we move towards a less creative future. Each time we lose something unique, like Cromarty Fisherfolk, a little bit of the colour of life vanishes, another Dodo is gone for good and Neanderthal man is cross-breedingly absorbed into Homo-Sapien.

William Shakespeare invented a new word each week or so of his adult life and once there were two Scottish villages only ten miles apart who invented their own individual dialects - ten miles beyond that there was another one, and ten miles beyond that another, and ten miles beyond that…

Without diversity the world is a poorer place.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Swatch out...

If you could see the rest of this picture you’d see a twenty-something curly-headed rogue, smoking an extra long Rothman’s, wearing an absolutely hideous shirt and looking decidedly puffy around the face – it must have been a heavy one the night before. I had plenty of those, still do.

Of course these aren’t my main reasons for cropping the picture (says he) so that all it includes is my hands holding something which is probably a fleece belonging to one of the three children who shared my life at the time - or rather let me share theirs.

Now, I’d like you to pay particular attention to my watch. See it? Sorry it’s a bit fuzzy but it was probably taken with one of those throw away cameras that came with free developing; you know the deal, you post off the Freepost envelope and two weeks later you get back 16 photographs of nothing much in particular, half of which were over exposed, out of focus, or half obscured with a big pink thumb. You don’t? Well, I’m getting old; it was all the rage back then.

Anyway, that watch… it got me into a lot of trouble one way or another, probably ended up changing my life; but for better or worse I’ve never really been able to tell. Life’s like that sometimes - something happens that leads to another thing and then, by snowball effect, you end up hardly recognising your life at all.

That watch is a Swatch, an eighties fashion accessory. ‘Fashion that ticks’ the hoardings said, one of the first before they became complicated and overly colourful. I seem to remember that they came in a number of basic colours, blue, red, white and yellow. I’m not sure about green, orange or purple but I expect that they did. Mine was a white one. I was very stylish.

One day I caught the strap of my Swatch on my desk drawer handle and it snapped. They had a tendency to become brittle and do that, so off I went to the Swatch shop in my lunch break to buy another. I don’t remember the exact details, but on my way I bumped into a work colleague who asked me where I was going, so I told her. She asked if she could come along too, as the strap of her white Swatch needed replacing also. I didn’t see why not, although we hardly knew each other, so off we went together.

In the shop I couldn’t decide between a blue strap and a red one. I wanted to jazz up my Swatch and thought that having a different coloured plastic strap was just the way to do it. Some time later Swatch hit on the idea themselves along with literally thousands of other colour-ways, but they weren’t doing it at the time. I ummed and I arred, but still couldn’t decide.

My colleague was thinking blue, and when I said that I couldn’t decide an idea popped into my head. Would she go along with it I wondered? No harm in trying, after all everyone loves a trier, so I suggested that she buy the blue strap and I buy the red and then we swap half a strap with each other giving us both red, white and blue Swatches (well, it was the eighties). I said I thought it’d look cool and she agreed. So we purchased our straps and went back to the office where we exchanged half straps and got on with our work making ads.

Anyway that should have been the end of it, but the world is complicated and intentions often misread. I won’t go into the details (they aren’t as dastardly as you might expect) but suffice it to say that the exchange of straps was interpreted as something more than a fashion statement by my colleague and I, being very male and quite bored at the time, allowed myself to get sucked into her fantasy until it started to become mine as well.

It’s a long time ago now but at the time… well, as I said these things tend to snowball, and before I knew where I was my life had turned upside down and I was given a couple of ultimatums by a couple of people and I needed to make a choice and I hate choices, always tending to take the easiest route for my own comfort, and that’s what I did on this occasion. Of course, and even so, in the end it didn’t work; they say that trust can’t be rebuilt, and I guess it was one of the nails in a coffin that I don’t like to admit I hammered together myself along the way.

She died a few years back, the girl with the other half of my Swatch strap. Breast cancer, I found out long after the event.

I’ve got into these types of muddles since. It seems I’ll never learn my lesson, but the Swatch strap exchange was so innocuous I couldn’t have know where it would lead. As the Swatch adverts used to say: ‘Time is what you make of it’. I wonder what I would have made of mine without my Swatch and that ridiculous strap, and I wonder what my life would be now if I wasn't such an emotional coward?