Monday, 30 April 2012

Little cherubs - hell's angels...

Mikey: “I spy with my little eye something
beginning with ‘C’.”
Tony: “God, heaven’s so f**king dull.”
Cherubs confuse me. You see I have no idea what they really are. Are they small angels who grow up to become large angels, or are they stuck in chubby child mode for all eternity?

And another thing - just what is Cupid? Is Cupid a cherub? He certainly looks like one, but wasn’t he Roman and do all cherubs have the option of a bow and arrow instead of a lyre or trumpet?

And just how can they fly with those tiny wings? Maybe they are the bumblebees of heaven and like bumblebees shouldn’t be able to fly - but just do. 

Otto: “You don’t need to be cute to wield a whip…
Louder my pretty little pigs!”
Yes, cherubs are a bit of a mystery to me. They crop up a lot in Renaissance paintings and adorn swirly Baroque mirrors and chairs, but who decided that they should look that way - horrible, petulant, chubby, children. You know the ones, the ones with the pathetic parents who give in when they cry for yet another ice cream. “I’ll scream and scream until I’m sick.” Go ahead be sick then.

Angels? Nasty little devils more like.

Marge: “Smile you bitch or I’ll chop
off your other hand too.” 
To confuse things even more I guess what we think of as cherubs aren’t cherubs at all. They’re actually putti, putto in the plural - a figure in a work of art depicted as a chubby male child, usually nude and sometimes (often, usually) winged. Putti, putto… what terrible words. Reminds me of play-doh.

So there are no female cherubs, sorry putto, then? They are all male. Well, somebody should have mentioned that to the Victorians. The Victorians made these creatures even worse, wrapping them up with sentimentality and prettiness and bringing them out whatever the occasion. Birthday, weddings, funerals – no holiday celebration complete without a cherub or two. Christmas cards, gravestones, wedding cakes, Valentines… or was that Cupid again?

Stan: “So I ain’t gonna make it as a
porn star…floristry it is then.”
And what is the attraction with a chubby male child without any clothes on got to do with religion anyway? No, don’t answer that – I don’t even want to open the map, let alone go there.

I can just imagine God can’t you? “What shall I do today? I know I’ll create a second grade angel. One that looks like a boy (no girls allowed, not after that apple thing), carries too much weight in all the wrong places, doesn’t much bother with clothes, and although he shouldn’t be able to fly – can. Now what should I call him? A cherub? A putti? Cupid?”

Cherub, Schmerub. I’ll stick to fairies I think.

Sunday, 29 April 2012


Warning... This post starts with "when I was a boy"...

When I was a boy if I wasn’t drawing fish, I was drawing rockets. Outer space was the most thrilling adventure of the day, and we were going to the stars - we really were.

So how did we get here? The space race gone, moon landings done with, and Mars still a distant planet where no man has ever walked.

Even that most boring of space programmes, the working shuttle programme, is no more; the shuttles shuttling off to gather dust in various American museums (sorry couldn’t resist). Shuttle Enterprise, the first orbiter built, will tour around, Discovery will go to the Udvar-Hazy Center, Endeavour will go to the California Science Center in Los Angeles and Atlantis will be displayed at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor’s Complex in Florida.


The shuttle never quite caught my imagination in the same way the Gemini and Apollo programs did. Part of it is my age – I’ve known better. I was five when Telstar was launched, and that opened everybody’s minds and imaginations to the promise of space travel. Even my mum and dad were excited by it all, at school we talked about nothing else. It even caught my gran’s attention: “It’ll come to no good, it’ll change nothing in the end.” She’d say. Who knows perhaps she was right.

Up until then space travel had pretty much all been science fiction, but Telstar and the space race changed all that. Suddenly we could blame Telstar for the poor weather, then the Russians, then those silly Americans for landing on the moon.

And perhaps there really were Aliens after all… "Klaatu barada nikto" 

By the time the shuttle came along I was in my early twenties and in my mind it was already all over. The shuttle just a plane that flew into space, not the exciting streamlined, fine-finned, rockets of my boyhood imagination. Yes, they said it would mean space travel for all, our ticket to the planets of the future, the building block of a new orbiting world high above the Earth – but it didn’t happen, and I never really expected it to. Yes, even then I knew that it wasn’t really going anywhere – certainly not to Mars.

Retrospectively, I understand the role the shuttle played but even so, a part of me (the boy part of me) says 'good riddance’ - let's get on with proper space travel now. Let's go to the stars in those flying saucers that we all know the major the governments have hidden in hangers in deserts, forests, and under ice caps all over the planet - finding, stealing, or trading for them with aliens.

What really does come next I wonder?

Strange to think that I’ve lived through pretty much all of the great space adventure from Telstar to… well what? It feels like nothing. Is it nothing? It can’t really be over can it? We were going to the stars, man was going to live on the moon, we were all going to travel to work in cars that floated – even if we were never really going to teleport.

The boy in me wants to believe that one day I'll ride a hover scooter, once the ancient Egyptian anti-gravity secret is allowed to be made public. The boy in me wants to find little green men on Mars. The boy in me wants to spend his days drawing rockets with fins, satellites with sticky-out aerials, and flying saucers.

So on such a wet and windy day that’s what I did.

Saturday, 28 April 2012

Fishing and glass painting...

Whenever I get stuck for ideas I go fishing and paint fish and despite the world of glass being slow at the moment (so slow it might be static soon) I’ve painted a few fishy pieces recently -  here's a large bowl, I guess it might sell some day.  

Fish? God knows why – I’m certainly no fisherman.

Oh, I’ve caught fish with nets in rock pools, even tried my hand at beach fishing; snapping my rod with my second cast. Of course I bought another, but after losing a fortune on weights and floats and hooks, without a single bite decided that fish could be bought from the supermarket. A pity really, even a mackerel or two would have been a triumph.

The only time I really caught a fish it was with a stick, some string, a piece of bread and a safety pin. It’s true, a largish Chub; more accident than intention really – and I wasn’t even watching. I was alerted to my catch when my stick began to move towards the river. Grabbing it up from where I’d left it I pulled - and out of the water came my fish. I stood watching it gasp on the side of the river not really knowing what to do. I was on lunch from my summer job, thirteen or so, and had taken my sandwich away from hustle and bustle of tomato pricking down to the woods where the river flowed.

I remember the silver and green against the dark red soil as the fish flipped and struggled. I took the pin from out of its mouth and found another smaller fish - a minnow - on the line. The chub had come in to eat him and became stuck on my pin. Big fish eat little fish they say and there was the proof slowly dying before my eyes. Well, what could I do? I let both fish off the hook and threw them back into the water. The minnow hit the water first and tried to dart away, but the Chub was quick and with a single swoop swallowed him whole.

Big fish eat little fish... well, la-di-da and RIP.

Anyone want to buy a bowl? It's going begging (Get it, Begging bowl? Well, blow you then!)

Friday, 27 April 2012

Contents may vary...

Well I warned you... contents may vary.

I was going to write about cherubs, yes cherubs, but it'll have to wait. You see Mr. Blog Post is sat in his corner with an empty head - yes he is I've checked. No ideas, no real thoughts, nothing, nothing, nothing. I've asked him why but he doesn't know. He just stares at the magnolia painted wall blankly, so I'll do my best (forgive me) to have a go.

Of course it hasn't been an easy few days for him what with one thing or another. The change to his home an interfacing nightmare. He can't find his home page, he may have to change his browser - there's even a chance that he may have to up sticks and move to another country. Yes, another country - a bit like a Borrower picking up sticks and finding a new home. Clickety-click pick up sticks.

So no blogging insights tonight, nothing important, more of the same, a holding post by any other name... and who's to blame?

Well, blame me Alphonso, or AKH - it's easier that way and to be fair... it generally is my fault although I hate to admit it.

Anyway, a couple of posts ago I told you about my seeds, 'contents may vary' it said. Well, perhaps the flowers will look like these.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Food of the Gods...

Cold, wet afternoons - grey skies, grey television, grey blanket covering and keeping me warm - baked beans on toast for tea. Ah, baked beans, the foodstuff of memory.

My childhood was spent watching Blue Peter and eating beans on toast for tea. I think that I must have eaten beans on toast at least four times a week, maybe more. I loved them. Baked bean juice soaking into the buttered toast, slightly burnt toast, it had to be a little bit burnt – it tasted better. A couple of times a week I’d have spaghetti on toast, but baked beans were my favourite. Once in my teens as an experiment I tried a baked bean/spaghetti mix – never again, definitely a one-off gastronomic experience.

Back then Beanz really did Meanz Heinz, I guess there must have been other brands - but supermarket own brands were years away. I do seem to remember that the Co-op on the high street sold beans in light blue labelled cans, but the beans were pale, the juice all watery. Smedley, down at the little shop, sold Heinz – letting us buy our beans on tick as he wrote it down in the little red A6 exercise book, all to be paid for on a Friday - the same day as the Friday man came around with his black book.

They claimed to have 57 varieties, but I didn’t believe them – Smedley only had about 15 on his shelves and that included salad cream, ketchup, and oxtail soup.

The cowboys on TV ate beans. “Fine beans and bacon” they’d say, eating their beans from tin plates sitting by the chuck wagon, beans cooking in a hanging pot over the campfire. The cook’s name was always Chucky and he had a grizzled white beard and the injuns, or rustlers, or coyotes, or horse thieves were never very far away.

Yes, a million housewives every day (and Chucky) opened a tin of beans and said…well, you know what they said, and of course beans could be added to any dish to stretch the meal a little further – for when your kids bring their friends around unexpectedly.

These days I put pepper on my beans, occasionally vinegar, and dependent on my mood Worcestershire sauce – never ketchup though, beans and tomato ketchup aren’t complimentary for some reason. For a while I liked cheesy beans – I probably still do. (now there’s a thought!)

We get our beans from Aldi now, Aldi own brand and they are delicious, not enough salt, but then nothing has enough salt these days. I don’t have them for tea any more (unfortunately), but when I have a slight hangover or I’m feeling down, late sleepless nights, when I’m feeling snacky, beans on toast are my choice - real comfort food, the food from the grey blanket days of my childhood.

Yes, baked beans on toast – food of the Gods.

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Instant garden...

Well it had to come I guess; my yearly blog about planting seeds although this year I am very late to the party. This time last year my seeds were seedlings awaiting planting out. Not this year though. I planted some seeds last week and when I say some I mean a few. No, I don't think that my garden will be quite as magnificent in what I like to think of as its tropicality this year.

You never know though, maybe my nasturtiums from last year could reseed themselves - there are small beige seed pods everywhere and perhaps the Canary creeper will return. Either way, I've seeded a few sunflowers, some beautiful lilac sweet peas, and a mixed packet of what the packet describes as mixed climbing annuals. Unbelievably I planted them on Sunday and by Monday the first seed was through and here we are only three days later and they are pretty much all up. I know it's hard to believe but it's true. I think that the kitchen work-surface, the one with the radiator underneath, must think it's a propagator.

The mixed pack, bought in the sale for 10p at Wilkinson's as usual, contains all sorts by the look of the picture, or as it proclaims...

A wonderful selection of vigorous and colourful annual climbers, providing colourful cover for
trellis and fences. Or, use to screen unsightly areas of the garden. Contents may vary."

Contents may vary...

I'll keep you posted... exciting isn't it.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Le vieux renard...

Sometimes I feel like I'm living in a film where there isn't a plot and the next scene is simply going to happen regardless of the story. The director has left the building, the camera has been left to roll, and the actors never even bothered to learn their lines.

Not that I can talk, I haven't learnt my lines either and I'm finding it increasingly hard to stick to the plot. Not that I'm losing it (the plot that is)... well, at least not in a big way or any more than usual, it's just that I find myself staring into the mirror each morning and wondering if I turned it around would I be behind it or would there be just the red oxide backing. And then I wonder if I were to turn it back to face me would I see the silver behind the glass staring back and nothing else? And then I wonder... am I really here at all? And to make things (the plot) even more intriguing - one of my shoes feels empty sometimes.

Of course this should not be taken literally as really happening; but then it should not be taken as not really literally happening either. No, let's call all of this a work of fiction shall we? The plot to a short film noire screened at Cannes to an almost empty cinema. It didn't win any prizes and was soon forgotten.

Like yesterday and the fox... Roll them...

He shambled around the corner, a bag of bones… limping? Maybe. Stiff for sure, almost tripping over his paws stumbling and confused. For just a moment I saw a dog, a dingo? No, it had to be a fox. But foxes are red aren’t they? And aren’t they creatures of the night? Not this one. This one was grizzled, almost grey, his brush no brush at all, more stick, a sparse few hairs randomly sticking away from it. Too dazed to be sly, desperate and out and about in 10am daylight and not knowing why, what, or even where - by the way he absently looked around him.

He stood not five feet off regarding me with rheumy eyes and I looked back in much the same way. Empathising, sympathising; he and I the same - out of place, a little lost… off balance with the world.

Then off down the alley he went, called by something in the distance of his mind or perhaps just needing to move on. It doesn’t do to stay in the same place too long, so limping through the rubble he was gone, an alley away and I walked on.

An old Alzheimic fox; leaving me with thoughts of cubs and Reynard and mystery beasts appearing on the moors without explanation for a moment or two before slipping back to whenever.

An old grey fox… perhaps I imagined him.


Monday, 23 April 2012

By George...

"By George" it’s St. George’s day, although you wouldn’t know it; just where are the St. Patrick’s Day style celebrations?

We really should celebrate that young Turk a little harder, a beer or two, maybe some dragon’s blood. “By George” perchance is a corruption of "by Jove" which entered into usage some time in the 1500s as a way of invoking God without actually using the word "God", which was considered blasphemous - bit like “Gor Blimey!” and “Oh, Heck!" (well almost). Jove, of course, actually was a God, Jupiter by another name, but then we’ve never really minded blaspheming foreign Gods and even better he was a Roman (that'll teach the invading buggers).

“Bugger Bognor!” as another George (a king this time, not a God) - George Frederick Ernest Albert, King of Great Britain, Ireland, the British dominions beyond the seas, and Emperor of India, more snappily known as George V - was alleged to have said on his deathbed. Apparently he didn’t but he should have... I just love it when someone’s final few words make no sense at all. I think I’ll simply say: “I am perplexed. Satan Get Out.” Although, now that I come to think about it, that one’s already been done.

I haven’t really known many George’s, although my Grandfather, Billy, was actually George but didn’t go by his first name Monica - or was he a Fred? Anyway, at school I don’t remember a single George. There were plenty of Andrew’s and several Barry’s but no George’s. Whilst on the subject of Barry and George though (see what I'm doing here?) Barry George was convicted of stalking and killing Jill Dando before having his conviction overturned (although he preferred to be known as Freddie - a bit like my granddad). George Barry on the other hand was a Scottish Minister and author of a History of the Orkney Islands in the mid-1700’s, so probably spent much of his time declaring “By George” in a heavily accented Scottish brogue whilst drinking whisky and knitting sweaters.

The top ten George’s are almost all American unsurprisingly: 1. George Burns, 2. George H. W. Bush, 3. George W. Bush, 4. George Clinton, 5. George Clooney, 6. George Foreman, 7. George Gershwin, 8. George Hamilton, 9. George Lucas, 10. George Michael, 11. George Orwell, 12. George Peppard, 13. George Segal,14. George Stephanopoulos and 15. George Will.

(Addendum - yes Martin there are 15 here... the numbering gives it away.)

Not a Frenchman in sight - no Georges Braque (perhaps it’s that unnecessary ‘s’) or a single Mexican; George Lopez - another comedian, actor and talk show host. Nice to see three American presidents in there though; including the charismatic (sarcasm emoticon required) Bush boys; but how could they overlooked that most famous president of all George Washington? And as for the others: a boxer who will be remembered for his grills, a number of good looking heist actors, a comedian (three if you include aforementioned Bush boys), and one very good modernish composer.

Britain barely gets a look in with George Orwell (who was actually an Eric) and the infamous Mr. Michael whose full name is actually Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou; and just who the hell are George Will and George Stephanopoulos anyway? Oh, I see that they’re journalists (thanks Google) – so much more famous than let’s say… George Best, George Stephenson, George Formby, George Sand, George without his Gilbert, George of Famous Five fame, and the political charlatan who is George Galloway - to name but a very random few.

Oh yes, and Boy George…By George!

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Rivals slam...

Holly through the final of a National poetry competition, from five thousand to final fifteen as it turned out. She did really well. As they said the standard of those teenage poets was so very high. She didn’t win, but the attention from the audience was stunning as she spoke her poem - softly yet harsh and simply. The winner was the last to perform and from the moment she started rapping and dancing the whole room seemed to know that the game was up. Yes, she was good – but Holly was better. Well, I would say that, but I'll ask her if I can post it.

Meantime and anyway between the poetry I thought. Poetry’s like that; it makes you think. Here are my thoughts brought into line by what I was listening to.

Slamin stylee… one

Bringing sugar, laughter, loss, and hope
From all over to Peterborough the poets came
Wording rhyme and reason, rap and punch,
So caught up in that hurricane,
They really were a diverse bunch.
And all of this was after lunch - you understand.
From everywhere, everwhat, it seemed,
All kinds of kids with different thoughts
Reading, speaking, pulling out of air
Dressed in hats and skirts and jeans and shorts.
The words flew scattering everywhere.
Whilst the Harley bikers drank downstair – you understand.

Slamin stylee… two

It was hard to sit still, so hard to sit still, sittin still was an ill like no ill, it can’t be helped by no little pill. And when I say ill I mean sick. Sick like a night out, bein chased by the Bill, taking that upliftin pill, looking for somebody to fill, somebody to kill. Yeah sick, sick in the head. Right? We all knows them kinda nights, where there ain’t no lights, an the darkness bites, when your sight ain’t right. Still… I - ain’t - sittin – still… Still, what else is to do around here?

Slamin stylee… three

She stood like a flame,
Bright and bold and beautiful,
Spitting her words to the world
Like a word machine gun.
Did I get you?
I think I did.
Roll-over and die, play dead.
Stop living.
Don’t breathe.
Shuffle off that mortal coil thing.
Laugh aloud
And then be dead.
Did I get you?
Yes, I thought I did.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Moustachioed men…

A moustache can say so much about a man. With a glance it can define him as a cad, an eccentric, even a dictator.

Who’d have thought that Charlie Chaplin’s funny little comedy moustache, so popular at the time, would go on to become such a symbol of hatred and oppression when worn by another man. So much so that nobody really sports that type of moustache any more... well apart from Russel Mael that is.

At my school most of my teachers sported moustaches. In fact the headmaster’s nickname was Stosh because he sported an Errol Flynne just beneath his nose (there’s a smutty joke in there if you want there to be) and the assistant headmaster, Ronnie, had almost a Hitler style postage stamp but as it was grey it seemed okay. Clibbo had a beard, the English Master (Jenners) a magnificent black handlebar, Primo (History) a whisp, Stinks (Biology) a Mexican bandit, Gilbey (Music) a runaway train, Aw, Henry! (Latin) a pencil lip... even Matron had the suggestion of a full bar above her fulsome pink lips.

And some of the upper sixth had them - as only they were allowed - but all of us boys left the fluff to grow beneath our noses for as long as we dared before being ordered to shave it off. I was never very successful, but even today I would love to grow a moustache. I dream of a long wiry Dali that I would wax and twirl in the way of all those screen villains from the silent era - you know the ones, the ones that tied young ladies to the tracks in front of approaching trains or onto conveyor belts in sawmills, the ones who wore stove-pipe hats and cloaks.

Unfortunately though I just can’t seem to manage it, and on the occasions that I’ve tried I’ve given up after a couple of weeks unimpressed by the rate of progress. Anyway, I’m not sure that my face is the right shape; my nose too flat, my lip too straight, and if I were to try again it would probably (definitely) be grey. Yes, I guess that I am doomed to be tacheless... but maybe, just maybe, I’ll give it one last try.

Watch this space…

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Two in the morning ponderings…

I’m sure that I’m not the only one waking at two in the morning with that annoying list of failure on one side and the 'to do's' you don't want to do on the other.

Yes, two in the morning waking and pondering on the mediocrity of my existence when by now other men of my advanced age had discovered continents, written great works, painted dusky maidens on South Sea Islands - even gone to the stars.

Two in the morning waking and considering the grinding repetition of same old same old, the uncertainty of it all, and the needing of numbness and the dark.

Two in the morning - how I hate that time.

There's a woman I know very slightly who is the probably happiest the person I've ever seen. Her name is Janet and it seems that nothing can get her down; not death of loved ones, or lack of money, or drudgery, or cruelty. Janet is a happy soul, one of those happy souls blessed with the ability to accept because, in all honesty, she doesn't think much as her apparatus for thinking isn't really very effective.

Sometimes I watch her delivering the free papers in the rain, a big smile on her face because she's going back to her council flat to eat pie and chips and watch Corrie on her old, non-flatscreen TV in colour. Sometimes she whistles as she walks, sometimes she hums or la – la’s, old tunes barely recognisable. She whistles and walks and hums and smiles and probably sleeps right through the night. No two o’clock waking for Janet.

Two in the morning and I am thinking, thinking, thinking when I should be sleeping, sleeping, sleeping. Counting backwards from a thousand in threes, naming islands from A-Z… Antigua, Bardsey, Crete, imagining myself sitting on a rock looking out to sea and trying to fool my subconscious into setting me free from worry. Anything to keep that big black dog at bay; that two in the morning baying dog from the Isle of Dogs… Guernsey, Haiti, Iona

Sometimes I wish that I had not been born with all these brain cells.

Maybe I think too much.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The picture I never bought...

Sometimes you need to follow your heart, your instincts, your gut. I wish I'd had the guts to do just that a few years back, I'd be a happier and wealthier man if I had.

Some years ago I was in a gallery shop in the town where I live and I saw an oil painting that captured me completely. It was large and well-painted and stunning in its composition. I’ll try to describe it but my memory will probably have changed it - embellishing it here, deadening it there. It was a self portrait of a bearded man sat on a stool to one side of a mirror, painting. Nothing remarkable in that I suppose, but there was a second figure in the painting, a semi-naked woman and this woman was sitting on the artist’s shoulders as he painted. No that isn't it, Google couldn't find it, but this one is nearly as good - although there is nowhere near as much naked flesh and sex on show.

That other picture though whilst purely figurative was so surreal in its composition and subject. I loved it and I wanted it.

I recognised the artist. I’d seen a television programme about him a few months previously whilst we were on holiday in Looe. Robert Oscar Lenkiewicz was one of the South West’s most celebrated artists although unfashionable in art circles. He tended to paint on a large scale, usually in themed series looking at hidden communities like vagrants, the mentally handicapped, and prostitutes or difficult social issues including suicide and death. He kept the bequeathed corpse of a vagrant in a box in his studio and had affairs with all of his female models. They adored him, even though he was self-obsessed, indifferent to them and his eleven bastard children, and of course an alcoholic who never paid tax or kept any records of the sale of his works.

When he died, aged sixty from a heart attack, he had £12 cash in his possession (having never opened a bank account), and owed £2 million to various creditors. Despite this he owned a library that was devoted to art, the occult sciences, demonology, magic, philosophy, metaphysics, alchemy, death, psychology and sexuality which was sold at Sotherby’s for over a million pounds.

Yes, he was fascinating man, living the madcap life that everyone assumes an artist must lead and in many ways I wanted a small part of him. Anyway, back to his painting. As I’ve said I loved it - so much so that I wanted to buy it. It was a high price tag for me at £3,000 but worth every penny and I did have that amount (or just about) in the bank sitting around waiting for a holiday or something.

I should have just done it - bought it and be damned, but instead I asked my wife’s opinion… suffice it to say that it was too big, too expensive, and too…well, too rude. So I didn’t buy it, except in my mind where it remains ‘my’ painting. I knew it was wrong, I knew that I should have bought it, but a holiday in Barbados was required.

Then a few years after my costly Barbadian tan was nothing but a pasty memory, I heard that L (as I thought of him, never quite remembering his name properly) had died. Along with the sadness I feel whenever a great painting talent passes it also crossed my mind that ‘my’ painting’s value would immediately increase threefold. If only I’d bought it instead of lazing around on a white sand beach for a couple of weeks.

Then last week a friend whom I’d told this story texted me to tell me he’d seen ‘my’ painting hanging in an Alderley gallery priced at £55,000. It was definitely ‘my’ painting, he recognised it from my description.

I thought about going to view it, take a long longing look at ‘my’ painting and let myself wallow in the ‘what could have been’… I though that I might even take my wife along.

But in the end I didn’t have the heart.

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A few thoughts on handwriting:

I was jotting down a few words on paper today when a thought occcurred to me: is there really any need for anybody to learn to write any more?

Does anybody write any more?

I’m not speaking about putting words into sentences with commas and full stops, they’ll always be a need for that I think (think, not know), I’m talking about handwriting. You know that stuff that we all struggled with at school where we picked up a pencil and learnt to draw the alphabet, getting ‘b’ and ‘d’ around the wrong way and getting confused between kicking and curly.

My gran used to write in the most beautiful copperplate writing, I think everybody of her generation did. Even I was taught to take pride in my handwriting, repeatedly drawing curve patterns before we were even allowed to start trying to write joined-up. Same pattern over and over again, like a wave, like a wave breaking. I could almost hear the whoosh of the sea after a couple of hours or so of wave after wave.

For a while at junior school our hew headmaster insisted that we all write with italic nibs and learn to write in an italic style. I can’t remember how long it lasted but I do remember that it was hard and that I never fully mastered it, although something must have caught because my good handwriting is full of flourish and slant.

I’m one of those people who can write very nicely when I want to, although my ‘best’ handwriting is really me drawing letters – well it goes with the territory. At my worst my handwriting is a lazy, messy, indecipherable scrawl which even I can’t read back at times. If I write a shopping list you can guarantee that when I get to the shops not only have I forgotten what I wanted but I can’t read my list either – for some reason the letters have turned into just a series of squiggly, runic, jottings.

I have lots of thoughts on handwriting. Handwriting is such a personal thing. It can say so much about you as a person. There are whole police departments who do nothing else but analyse it. Does our personality influence our handwriting or does our handwriting influence our personality? Is handwriting art?

So what about the future? There’s almost no need to pick up a pen these days; the keyboard is the new pen and paper, e-mail the new letter (and no wonder with the price of a stamp), lists are captured on your phone, notes are no longer left for you; you simply receive a text instead, even love letters are 'hearted' on Facebook. Kids do still learn to write with pens on paper at school but I really do wonder for how much longer.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Call my bluff...

Frank Muir - such a lovely man. I must blog him I thought the other day, some of my happiest memories are of watching him spout nonsense on Call my Bluff - if only I'd known at the time that nonsense is often much closer to the truth than the truth can ever be.

Back in my teenage years when we were the first people on our street to have a colour TV, I’d spend many a happy hour watching pot-black. I remember it in black and white, but when we went colour it was a completely different experience. I think that Call my Bluff used to be on after the snooker. Presented by Robert Robertson and with team captains Frank Muir and Patrick Campbell it was a wonderful watch, too good to snog through and sometimes I even knew the words. The teams were made up of anybody they could get I think and I remember actresses and actors, sportsmen, journalists - all telling lies or truths about the word on the card.

“Salagarian.” Robert Robertson would solemnly declare in his precise, clipped tone and off they would go; Frank with his slightly camp lisp and Patrick with his not quite controlled stutter.

The premise of the competition was simple. There were two teams each made up of three team members who would take it in turns to tell you what the word on the card meant. One of the explanations was true the other two were false. The opposing team had to guess the right explanation to gain a point.

“Salagarian.” A vegetarian who only eats salad – no cooked vegetables.

“Salagarian.” A twelfth century Turkish pirate vessel - a little like an Egyptian dhow.

“Salagarian.” A native of Salagaria - a tiny district of the Russian Steppes.

Frank’s bow tie would almost twitch with anticipation and when Patrick delivered an incorrect answer he would beam as Patrick spluttered and fumed.

There were interesting characters on quiz shows back then and it always struck me that what made them so interesting was the fact that they’d seen interesting things and lived through interesting times. Perhaps it was the war, or perhaps the fact that they’d travelled in an age when travelling meant more than booking a flight on the internet. Maybe education had something to do with it – schools had names and school songs and universities were not at all universal. I guess some of it was privilege, some of it living through depression and war, some of it sheer hard work; but whatever it was they were the type of people to respect for their achievements. I can’t imagine Simon Cowell ever being on Call my Bluff.

I’d love to see the show resurrected. I’m sure it would be a hit - perhaps I’ll write to the BBC and request it.

Frank Muir died years ago in 1998, somehow I missed it. I only really remember him for Call my Bluff, but isn’t that enough?

“Salagarian. A twelfth century Turkish pirate vessel - a little like an Egyptian dhow… or is it?”

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Sunday boredom...

I've never swooped down a long, curving, banister, to fall all-a-tumble in a heap at the bottom of the stairs - and to my knowledge I don't know anyone who has. It occurs to me that despite so many people claiming to have done this act of derring-do, not many have really tried it and I doubt than any other than the truly stupid or incredibly stupid would really try it.

This, of course, is now your chance to tell me all about the time you actually did ride the banister monorail, managing to miss the pain that is the newel post at the bottom, and miraculously avoiding tumbling to your death in the hallway below (remember this admission will make you either truly or incredibly stupid).

Of course most of the boarders at my school claimed to have done it at some time or other (banister bashing that is - I believe it was a wizard wheeze) but then most of them claimed all sorts of things most of the time including cloaks of invisibility and being able to converse with snakes... or was that Harry Potter?

I did once ride a tin tray down our stairs at home when I was a very small boy of four for a dare (thanks cousin Ian), but only the once - I tumbled into the front door, ending up with a bloody nose and barely managing to hide it from my mum.

The house I live in currently has a great number of stairs (48 from top to bottom to be precise) with landings, half-landings, and bannisters a-plenty. None however that I would want to ride due to the forty foot drop the the hallway below (I can almost hear the 'thlumpf' as my body hits the dark wood laminate flooring).

No, no banister bucking for me, no handrail hugging or stair surfing - not so walking up the bannister though. As you can see here I am climbing the bannister wearing my cloak of invisibility. For some reason my shoes seem impervious to its magic, probably because they are made from a very special kind of leather, tanned from the hide of a dragon. I'm aware that one of my laces is undone but don't worry I'll be careful, I'm just hoping that I don't meet Mary Poppins coming down on my way up.

I know... sad isn't it.

Sunday boredom is such an empty thing.

Saturday, 14 April 2012

Disappearing goldfinches...

It’s that time of year when the watching of birds is almost compulsory. So I was a little disappointed not to see the goldfinches in Wales at the weekend. There was plenty of thistle seed in the feeder but the goldfinches never appeared. Strange, goldfinches usually can’t resist thistle seed, still patience is a virtue so I kept watching. I watched on and off for the few days I was at the cottage – tits, robins, blackbirds and thrushes, greenfinches, chaffinches… but no goldfinches.

On my final morning I decided I’d top up the feeder just in case they decided to come when I’d gone and guess what? The feeders perches were missing, they’d become brittle over the winter and snapped off. No wonder the goldfinches weren’t turning up, they had nowhere to land and perch while they pecked at the seed. The picture was taken last year when the feeder was almost new, it’s a lot more battered now, the results of the winter storms and at some point the perches just went.

I fixed the feeder, drilling a couple of holes and making new perches from wood. I watched for them but they still didn’t come – and then I had to leave.

Gaynor’s in Wales this weekend. She tells me the goldfinches have returned, they are beautiful she tells me, there have been four she says, apparently they are there all of the time from early morning to late evening.

It’s nice to know they are back.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The cosmic coffee cup...

A friend sent me details of this:

… Good SF and Fantasy written in less than 140 characters? Impossible! – Or is it? Take the challenge, take part in the @BSFA’s TWEETFICTION TWEETSTREAM

A competition. Now, I rarely take part in competitions, considering the disappointment of losing (after total conviction that I would win) not worth it.

On the occasions that I have been tempted almost all have ended in grumpiness and that awful feeling of embarrassment that I find so hard to shake off, having to sing La-La-La out loud whenever the embarrassing failure pops into my mind in order to drive that all-too-easily remembered feeling of ridiculousness away.


Of course there was a time in my early life when I seemed to win all the time. Competition at school was encouraged back then and not frowned upon, and any competition involving ‘making’ or ‘drawing’ I’d usually win. One year I won the Christmas log competition with a wonderful scene of reindeers and holly, white glitter snow, and a curly red candle - almost Narnia in miniature perched upon a hollowed out log. It was so good that one of the Dix twins told my teacher that I’d bought it at the local gift shop; his brother confirmed this saying that they’d both seen me buy it. Of course it was untrue, I had made my log, but it wasn’t until my teacher visited the shop and confirmed that they didn’t sell Christmas logs that I was fully believed.

Looking back now it must have been a really professional looking log and those spiteful Dix twins must have been very jealous, but even now I’m embarrassed by the whole event.


Anyway, the tweeting competition - good SF and Fantasy written in less than 140 characters – 134 to be exact as the other 6 were needed for the hashtag. I decided to enter, God knows why, and tweeted and e-mailed my entry, receiving an e-mail back from a Martin Potts (the BSFA treasurer) thanking me and telling me my entry had been noted.

NOTED! Well in that case of course I’ll win. How couldn’t I? My entry has been noted no less. I will be the winner! Unless, of course, the Dix twins put in a complaint to Martin Potts and scupper my hopes.

Here’s my story – I was wondering what would happen if the Creator needed to make a cup of coffee. Where would he get the power to do it? Maybe it would need a lot of power, and what would be more important to him good coffee or our universe? Here it is in 134 characters exactly...

'Supreme Being. On. No turning off now. Well, a universe is one thing but coffee’s coffee. Bye universe… smell the aroma! Tea anyone?'

Well, at least I tried… La-la-la.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Clowning around...

Clowns, for many years they simply made me laugh. Our family outings to the circus didn’t seem horrific at all, the clowns just men with silly painted faces who did ridiculous things with buckets of water, buckets of paper, squirty flowers, big falling-over shoes, collapsible cars, and stupid amazed expressions when everything that could go wrong did go wrong.

No, I simply didn’t know I was meant to be scared of clowns until I began reading Stephen King and the rest of the ‘clowns are scary’ brigade. Suddenly every drain held a clown waiting to grab me by the legs, Chucky’s teeth were going to tear into my skin, and that floppy clown in Poltergeist was going to pull me kicking and screaming into God knows where through a wardrobe – “don’t go into the light”. Dolls had always been a slight problem thanks to M.R. James and his haunted dolls houses and any number of ‘Tales of Mystery and Imagination’ on TV hadn’t helped, but clowns thankfully were just men in silly clothes.

I remember Coco the clown coming to visit our junior school to teach us about road safety - painted face, checked suit, flower and all. Technically, Coco wasn’t a clown but an auguste, that fool of a character who is always on the receiving end of the buckets of water and the custard pies - he still looked like a clown to me though. Back in 1960 he’d been involved in a serious road accident and this prompted him to devote himself to the promotion of road safety awareness in children, hence his visit. I can’t remember much about it, just an old guy with a painted face and a strong European accent who talked to us kids about looking and listening, both ways of course, and never to run out from behind parked ice cream vans. I got a signed photo though.

Perhaps from behind that painted mask of a face he was really luring us onto the roads to be devoured by speeding lorries, maybe he was going to pedal past on his unicycle and push one of us in front of a car, maybe he would drive up to us in his collapsible car, rev the engine, and then the car would gobble us up - could it be that he was really a road demon from outer space sent to collect the souls of children for the ringmaster of the lost souls circus?

Noo, this was long before Pennywise, Krusty, and that most evil clown of all Ronald McDonald. Coco was just an old man doing his bit for society – nothing to be scared of.

No… clowns are fine, there really is nothing to be scared of… (careful, he’s behind you.)

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Parallel ship...

A picture of the A55 and if you look closely you’ll just see the mast of a ship sticking up above the sea wall. Not the best picture I grant you, but the best I could get as we crawled past the shipwreck yesterday afternoon.

The A55, such a great road until it isn’t and it doesn’t take too much to make it isn’t. Wide loads and overturned caravans have cost us hours, breakdowns are frequent, last year there was a threatening suicidal jumper on a pedestrian bridge (he didn’t though) and of course there was that time it flooded and we never made it to the cottage and had to detour and stay at my mum’s on Anglesey. It was closed again last week. A ship, MV Carrier, got into trouble in the storm and was washed parallel against the sea wall at Llanddulas last Tuesday just by the jetty where they load the ships with stone taken from the quarry on the other side of the road.

Since we started coming to Wales we’ve played a game based around the boats that fill up at the jetty. It’s simple enough; we predict whether there are any boats loading at the jetty, whether any are waiting for the tide to turn so that they can come into the jetty and how many lights are going to be out in the three long tunnels after the jetty.

For a while we also tried to guess whether the man at the roundabout would be cooking his tea… but then he put nets up at the window, so that stopped that (killjoy).

We play the same game on the way back along the A55, but with a slight variation as there aren’t the tunnels so we guess how many seagulls will be standing on the walls along the curvy bit which now has a 30 mile an hour speed limit.

Yes, I know that road very well having travelled it thousands of times.

Sometimes, by the tunnels, the wind is so strong off the Irish Sea that it can sweep you across the road in a gust. Once a deer sprang out of the darkness and bounded over our bonnet missing us by millimetres. We know every short cut, every alternative route, but by and large the A55 is a good road.

The ship that was flung onto the rocks last week was so badly holed that it is going to have to be broken up to move it, a spectacle to slow the traffic for as long as it takes; about 10 weeks estimated. It proves the power of the sea, making me realise that behind the sea wall on the A55 is a monster that we will never control. Broken and holed, that once proud ship is now just a pile of scrap beaten by a force it couldn’t control or even avoid.

Draw your own parallels.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Easter in Wales...

Arriving Thursday evening first job was to put out food for the birds. They were there in minutes. Blue tits are nesting again in the bird box, great tits, robins, chaffinches and doves – the usual suspects.

Almost like I’d never been away but truth is it’s been months since I was here last and didn’t the garden show it. It isn’t a big garden, but I have a lot of pots and the holly tree had dropped what seemed to be a ton of leaves. So, weather much better than forecast, we set to with the broom and shovel and a couple of hours here and there it was soon tidy if nothing else.

I scattered some seeds, all sorts – my trusty nasturtiums, sunflowers, lobelia, mimulus, others to – all bought from Wilkinson’s in last years sale. Time was when I’d do much more but I don’t know when I’ll be here again and through the summer it was hard enough to keep things alive being a weekend visitor, so it would be impossible now. No, the seeds are on their own and I’m not even considering bedding.

Talking of beds I’ve slept really well the last couple of nights, waking only once instead of the hour on hour I’ve grown used to.

I haven’t done much. Read a little, cooked a little, met up with an old friend for an hour, drank some wine and beer, allowed Gaynor to drive me around – we brought her car not mine, hers is better with petrol.

In my mind I’m thinking that maybe it’s time to come here. Sort the cottage out. Put in a wood burning stove and an aga, build an extension maybe, erect a summerhouse, get broadband. It’d make sense. We don’t need much and there’s an Aldi in Porthmadog.

Is there a plan in there somewhere I wonder? I don't know, I really don't. One part of me says run, another part of me says keep trying. Maybe I should just run and try somewhere else.

Anyway, the weather was okay most of the time apart from today and that was for driving back anyway. When next I wonder?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Django and the knights who say ni...

I continue to take an interest in what jobcentres across the country call my JobSearch.

“How is the JobSearch going?” They would ask with a ‘Yes, we know’ look in their eyes, already shaking their heads with well-trained empathy. They asked me so often and I got so tired of being asked that one day I simply went in and said that I wouldn’t be back.

They were very good about it. After the thank-you speeches, the presentation, and a few bottles of bubbly they let me go wishing me well in my JobSearch with three cheers and a resounding chorus of for he’s a jolly good JobSeeker. Of course any allowance I was entitled to had been handed over long ago, but they said that they would miss my fortnightly visits just the same. It was people like me, they said, who made them feel so special and important.

I still seek that elusive job, the quest of quests, a brave knight alone on his JobSearch - battling dragons, slaying giants, searching the e-world and filling in on-line applications. It’s become my very own Holy Grail.

Each day I check my e-mail for the automated response that the job boards send me. What a wonderful and baffling way to start the day… so many jobs, so little detail of what they expect, or alternatively too much detail right down to the type of shoes that they would prefer you to wear. Whatever happened to the idea that bringing somebody in from another industry can be of benefit to a business?

Ah yes, must have fifteen years experience in the electroplating of apostle teaspoons, a degree in electroplatometry, and whilst being a real apostle is a distinct advantage, not a necessity.

And then today I thought I’d found it, the Job of Jobs, something I knew about… Job Title: Django/Python Developer.

At last a job I could do as I’m both a big fan of both Django Rheinhart and Monty Python. No matter what they wanted developing in these two fields I was sure that I could deliver it.

Of course as ever it wasn’t quite what it seemed. Rather than referring to the gypsy jazz guitarist with the withered fingers as I’d assumed, or the anarchic group of comedians I first discovered in my early-mid teens (finding them completely different until they became completely the same) the ad referred to a Django/Python Developer with in-depth development experience in a corporate environment, excellent working knowledge of HTML/CSS, JQuery/JavaScript, and relevant experience working NIX and XServe/OS X Server… and I wasn’t even sure if I had a NIX worth NIXing.

How disappointing, or as I put it at the time ‘Bummer’. I felt like cage full of unwell parrots – probably Norwegian blues. Just for once it seemed that my love of cafĂ© society and the comedy of the ridiculous was about to pay off… but no, my hopes lay dashed once again.

Django and Python… Jazz swing with the knights who say ni… Oh well, I can dream.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Gonks and Twonks…

Okay who remembers Gonks? That’s one on the left.

If you are were a child back in the sixties you will. We all made them, Humpty-Dumpty type characters with woollen hair, felt noses and button eyes. You could make a Gonk from anything – your dad’s old check trousers, your mum’s apron, your sister’s favourite pram blanket. They came knitted, felted, sewn and stuck-ed, woolly pom-pom hatted, McGonked, Dai-Gonked, Silly-Sally Gonked.

God knows how many Gonks I made in sewing class back in junior school? Whilst the other boys did woodwork, I made Gonks.

I made Gonks because I hated Mr. Ennis and he hated me. I made Gonks because I’d rather have eaten worms than listen to Mr Ennis tell me I hadn’t sawn straight, had bent my nail, had no aptitude for woodwork at all. I made Gonks because I hated football because Mr. Ennis ‘took’ it, I would have given it up completely if I'd been allowed to because of Mr. Ennis – although up until then I’d quite enjoyed it.

You see – Mr. Ennis was a bastard. So I made Gonks to spite him.

Actually, as it turned out I was pretty good at woodwork, not so good at football, but very good at rugby eventually - but I was also pretty good at making Gonks which made me a Twonk in Mr. Ennis’ eyes.

And I was a Twonk, still am, and I’m proud of it. By the way, that's a twonk on the right.

‘You’re a Gonk making Twonk’ he used to say before putting me in goal.

‘And you are a total bastard.’ I didn’t say as I refused to even attempt to save a ball. Oh well, at least he made me spend my time making something out of nothing rather than playing football which is… well, just nothing.

Yes, I’m a Twonk - I think that I'll go and make a Gonk.