Saturday, 25 August 2012

Before I go... The adventures of Mumps...


If there was one thing that Mumps couldn’t stand it was being bored. Being bored was boring. Being bored was worse than boring. Being bored was like having to do something boring with nothing to do, which was why it was worse than boring.

Mumps needed something to do; the only problem was he’d done everything. He’d watched the shadows run across the ceiling, listened to that buzzy fly buzzing around his room for the millionth time, he’d even tried singing. But there’s only so much singing to do; especially when you don’t know the words. He’d played with his toys until they’d stopped being toys. Toys were only toys when you were playing with them and having fun. As soon as they aren’t fun any more they aren’t toys any more either they’re… Mumps couldn’t think of the right word. Well, he only knew about sixty, so instead he made one up… ‘Tollypoos’. Yes, when toys were no longer fun they were tollypoos.

Mumps smiled a self-congratulatory (smug) smile to himself. He might not know many words, but there was no shortage of words in his head. He wondered how many words he could invent if he looked around his room and named the things he didn’t know the word for. Like that thing his mum sat on sometimes, that thing with legs (he knew they were legs because his mum was always going on about him lifting his) now what should that be called? ‘Bumrester!’ that was it, it’s a bumrester. Well, it did exactly what it said on the… now what were those things called? Oh yes, ‘Clinkypots’.

Tollypoos, bumrester, clinkypots – three new words - not bad, although Mumps thought it was a lot more as he couldn’t count either. Making up new words was exhausting but at least it wasn’t boring. Oh well, that was enough, and with that Mumps fell into a deep snoreytime.

Let the aDveNtuRes begin.

An intermission...

We are parking up for a week or so, taking time to find out where we are going. So for a few days and just a little more this blog is closed.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Food, glorious food...

I was just contemplating how, in these lacklustre and often grey days, food has become of real and increasing importance to me. Knowing what I'm going to eat is my whole life – no, not really my whole life, I exagerate, but a chunk of it. I think could understand it better if, as in those days of long-ago, I had to go out to hunt and forage for my sustenance but all I have to do is pop down to the supermarket.

Mind you I manage to turn a supermarket visit into a hunting and foraging adventure, carrying my basket as if it were a collecting sack, keeping my eyes peeled for that elusive prey… a bargain or two. It isn’t the buying of the bargain, the marked-down item, which excites me; it’s the thrill of making something that tastes great from and for almost nothing. It makes me feel good to know that I’ve made something beautifully tasty for pennies – after all it’s what everyone is trying to do these days; just look at Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (such a hard name to remember how to spell).

Hugh, I have to admit, is a bit of a hero of mine. I love his approach to food - he cooks it rather than chefs it; making sure that he uses it all, and where he can he grows and kills his food himself. It’s hunting-gathering with organisation and at home. Of course it helps if your home is as beautiful and grand as River Cottage, but I genuinely believe Hugh has it right; which is more than can be said for most of the other TV chefs – Jamie, Raymond, Pierre, that ridiculous and annoying Blumanthal bloke and of course not forgetting the overly-aggressive fcuking idiot that is Gordon Ramsey.

Hugh celebrates thrift, making delicious food from cheaper cuts, using leftovers in delicious ways, encouraging experimentation. Such a shame that he went to Eton.

My God, just listen to me – I should get myself an ‘I love Hugh’ badge!

Of course, I mastered the ‘scrag’ cuts of meat long ago and can make a soup from, well almost just water and some wilting veg. But without Hugh I don’t think I’d have taken the leftover cold stuffed breast of lamb on Tuesday and then slicing it very finely, tossing it with some home-grown baby tomatoes, rocket, finally splashing it with a little rosemary flavoured olive oil. Nor would I have served it with my yard-reared sack-grown crushed and peppered new potatoes. It made a really great lunch from almost, and for almost, nothing.

Last night I cut a long pocket into a piece of belly pork that I bought for two quid and had divided into three meals worth. I stuffed the pork with leek greens, red onion, and sage and onion stuffing (basics stuffing 15p from Sainsburys). Then I sewed the pork back up with string and bunged it in the oven until it was crisp and succulent. I served it with frozen sweet corn and a few tiny, crisp, roast potatoes and onions. Fantastic and all for under a quid for two portions!

You may have noticed that I’m not calorie counting, life’s too short to fixate over ultra-healthy eating and a lettuce leaf is… well, a lettuce leaf – besides the wine will get me before the food ever does.

Mind you, there are a few downsides to my obsession for food bargains. Our freezers are, and keep getting, fuller. Also, I can’t bear to throw anything away; it makes me angry with myself when I let even half a pepper go over.

Oh well, it’ll soon be soup season – and everything goes into my soups. Goulash soup with ribbon noodles anyone?

Thursday, 23 August 2012

School sports...

Now that the Olympics are over and the fuss of the opening ceremony (which I for one was not sure about) has gone away, the excellent musical party at the close is complete, and the as yet undisclosed cost of the whole shenanigans (somewhere between a tenth and a quarter of this years NHS budget, dependent on which figure you believe), we can all sit back proud that Team GB didn’t let the side down.

Team GB won 65 medals, 29 of them gold. The medallists came from all over Britain, from all sorts of backgrounds but over a third (37%) of the medal winners were from private schools, which educate just 7% of the population. It seems that what we’ve always known about MPs is just as true for Olympic medallists – if you went or go to a public school you have a better chance of winning.

Of course there are lots of reasons for this. Many of the sports that we did well in are sports that are mainly for the toffs – sailing, fencing, equestrian, shooting and of course rowing. You don’t get many council house kids learning to fence or having their own show-jumping pony; they might learn to shoot, but generally on the streets or in the army.

As for the other reasons; well, the selling off of school playing fields hasn’t helped, kids playing on X-boxes and eating pizza, and a strange breed of ‘right-on’ teacher have been actively discouraging competition since the late seventies in state schools, so much so that it hardly exists in schools these days. Right-on.

When I was at school – an uncomfortable mix of public and grammar – competition was everything, encouraged, demanded. Run, jump, push, hit, X’s versus Y’s (our two form year groups), house versus house, boy versus boy, year versus year. Win or lose you had no choice but to compete on and off the playing field; and if you didn’t - well you endured the wrath and jibes of a succession of ex-army games masters… you ‘orrible boy.

At the time turning up at my weekly house meeting in the chem-lab and reporting on how many house points I’d scored to cheers or jeers, or running eight miles in the pouring rain whilst wading through a muddy stream in only shorts and your running vest on a winter’s morning, or getting kicked to shit in the scrum of yet another rugby practice on a Sunday afternoon, seemed so normal. It was just what you did. If you didn’t then you were a misfit, something to pick on, ‘out of school’ as the boarding boys termed it.

For those that couldn’t or wouldn’t do sport, well there was always a term in Coventry or death by radiator and toilet – your head flushed away then tied to a scalding radiator until you begged for mercy. All good character building stuff.

Fortunately whilst I hated PE, detested football and cricket, and didn’t have a tennis racquet, I was pretty good at rugby and never wimped out on the Moreton run, always crossing the torrent of the river by the rope rather than the bridge and getting a single House Point for the soaking.

Happy days, but I got by.

Here’s the thing; almost to a man the boarding house boys at our schools were good sportsmen and I remain convinced that it was because they were in a kind of prison. Whilst us day boys were home watching telly or down the pub drinking and meeting girls, they were spending their evenings in the nets, lifting weights in the gym, scrumming against the scrumming machine, playing squash. If my school was generally competitive, the boarding house boys were uber-competitive, even competing over who… actually I’ll leave that bit out.

I often wish I’d kept sport up after school. I enjoyed it most of the time and, unlike the inactivity I enjoy now, activity never did me any harm. But then as I often say: “If wishes were horses, beggars would ride” and my dad could never have afforded to buy me a pony.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Stormy sky...

I walked home in a bit of a rush this evening. No, it wasn't what was waiting for me when I got there it was what was threatening to break above my head. Stormy skies, looked like I might get drenched and, as always, I was unprepared; no umbrella, no coat and I was wearing flip-flops. There's nothing worse than wet flip-flops in the street, on the beach - yes, but not on the street, not when you're rushing, not when you're whistling.


I don't know why but as I rushed along in my flip-flops, well at least doing my poor impersonation of rushing, I found myself whistling; the words of a song popping into my head as I whistled and rushed. 'There may be trouble ahead. But while there's music and moonlight and love and romance. Let's face the music and dance. Before the fiddlers have fled. Before they ask us to pay the bill and while we still have the chance. Let's face the music and dance.' 

Maybe it was the threat of rain; 'there may be tear-drops to shed' - who knows

Funny how one thing triggers another thing. 

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Jellyfish and repetition…

Repetition seems to be my fate. Sonya, a Facebook friend of mine, posted this picture of a jellyfish over the weekend. Just look at how close she came to stepping on the gelatinous lump.

Yes, Jellyfish Encounters of the Third Kind. First – seeing one in the sea. Second – seeing one on the beach. Third – stepping on one.

There I was just about to launch into a blog about my jellyfish encounters when I realised that I might have done it before. I was going to write about how I once found a huge Lion’s Mane jellyfish; washed up on a Cornish beach, brought down from the arctic, an eight feet lump of fly covered yellowish jelly. And how a couple of years ago mingled with the bladder wrack on Whistling Sands, I blundered into thousand on thousand of tiny Saucers thrown up on the sandy shoreline, the sea full, the beach covered, their delicate pinkness turning to dull grey in the warm holiday sunshine. But when I checked back I found that, yes, I’d written about it before.

Just a couple of things - I think that I’ve dredged my experience and memories close to their apparently very shallow depths and that it might be time to stop. Secondly, it confirms my belief that everything is a loop, the same things happening over and over with only slight variances to distinguish them – well, that’s my belief anyway, my reality; probably a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, no jellyfish stories of the past then… apparently I’ve already done them HERE (just click).

Repetition; the fruits of a life spent too safely, never stepping on the jellyfish for fear of getting stung.

Monday, 20 August 2012

Adventures and Mumps...

What are you looking at with that expression that might mean anything on your funny face? Seems to me that you might be saying… what do I do next?

If you want my advice, I’d advise that you don’t – not ‘do next’ (you have plenty of ‘next’ to ‘do’), but ask for my advice. Just why would you want my advice? I don’t give advice you see. I may give you an opinion if you were to ask, but you’d need to be prepared for the opinion I gave – I make it a rule to say what I say you see. Think you could take it big little guy?

NEVER TOo what?

NEVER TOo SuRE maybe.

No, I don’t give advice; I don’t think I have much advice to offer. Oh, I have plenty of ‘life’ experience, I know the pitfalls, where and things are going to go wrong, what to do, what not to do – but only in the confines of my very small set of careful experiences and half-empty adventures.

Adventures, now that’s a laugh! I don’t have adventures, but then if you ever get to read this blog you’ll see that. Ad-ven-ture – a three syllable word that is much bigger than nine letters long and should never be coloured grey.

Anyway back to you. What do you do next? If you want my advice (which of course you don’t and I don’t), my opinion let’s call it - it would be this.

Don’t get trapped in the grey day-to-day. Think bigger than that. Have a-d-v-e-n-t-u-r-e-s.

I don’t care if you never own a house, a car, or a safe grey suit. I don’t care if you don’t go to University, become a doctor or a lawyer, holiday three times a year in your villa in Corfu. I don’t care if you never buy me a Christmas present, find time to visit, like or dislike me. I don’t care if you wear dirty sneakers, have tattoos and piercings, shave your head. I don’t care if you are straight/ gay/both, have god(s), no god(s), vote. I don’t care if you never marry, have children, invite me to a party. I don’t care you see, I simply don’t care.

In my opinion; LiFe Is tOo sHorT, and by doing what’s above you will MaKe It To0 LonG. It’ll become tiresome, boring, predictable, mind-numbingly day-to-day samey sameday – and before you know it you’ll keep doing it anyway because it is all that you know and then you will die.

So what should you do? How should I know? Do what you want I guess.

But in my opinion… experience as much of life as you can before deciding what you want from it. And if you never decide - well, I don’t care. Eat, drink, have fun and party, travel to places that people tell you not to travel to, try everything, meet everyone, wait for the one – and if it turns out they’re not, just find someone else and keep looking. Keep moving until you feel you’re ready to stop, then keep moving some more until you’re really sure you’re ready to stop. Be someone, even if you are nobody. Be yourself, even if others don’t like it. Make the right choice for you, rather than the right choice for somebody else.

Have a-d-v-e-n-t-u-r-e-s.

I think that you might get the idea by now.  Not advice you understand. Just my opinion built after years of not following my own advice – and if I don’t follow it, just why should you?

Anyway, that’s it my man. Take it or leave it. I don’t give advice and I don’t care - but remember… a-d-v-e-n-t-u-r-e-s. Now learn to spell it quick.

Let the AdVenTurEs begin…

Saturday, 18 August 2012

The Puckmobile - In the lighthouse...

As I walked across the rocks to the lighthouse, the fog that I still couldn’t see began to roll and swirl around me. It was chilly and wet inside the invisible grey cloud; feeling much  the way a whelk looks in its shell - clammy

“Brrr… I don’t like this stuff,” said Luna, “it feels like ghosts.”

“Ghosts… what do you know about ghosts?” I asked, thinking that Luna was right and immediately crossing through my thought about whelks with a big red pen.

“See them all the time, most cats do, don’t you?”

But before I could answer the door to the lighthouse opened and there stood Soft Mick silhouetted in the flickering light behind the open lighthouse door. His yellow sou’wester gleamed, then darkened in the unsteady light of the lamp. He beckoned, looking nervously from side to side, smiling then grimacing as the shadow of the lamplight flickered across his face – light, dark, light, dark – like the revolve of the flashing lighthouse lamp, except the lamp was dark, unlit and still. Just why wasn’t the lamp on? Weren’t there any ships at sea to worry about on this not foggy foggiest of nights?

“Come on in you haven’t much time, the fogs coming down even thicker. They’ll be here any minute; I want the door shut, locked, and bolted before they arrive.”

“I can feel them coming, can you?” Whispered Luna.

I could but I decided not to say anything; young cats can be skittish at the best of times, besides I didn’t know what the ‘they’ that were coming were and it was taking all my concentration and effort to climb the slippery steps to the door.

“Inside, inside. Quickly, quickly.”

I stepped through the door followed slowly by Luna. She didn’t see to want to go in. Eventually she gently snaked through the opening as Soft Mick slammed the door quickly behind her and then locked and double bolted it – top and bottom – before propping an old reed bottomed chair under the handle.

“There that’s better, that should do it. We’re safe enough in here, can’t be touched, they can’t get in, and won’t get in. We’re safe and sound and cosy enough. All we need to do is h’hold our nerve, no panic, and they’ll go away; they always go away. ”

“Was it you?” Luna asked.

Soft Mick scowled and, turning to me, responded.

“Tell it I don’t holds with talking cats, never did, never will. No more that I holds with lighthouse keepers cheating his muckers at cards then killin ‘em, then killin those selfsame muckers wives and families un all. No more that I holds with said lighthouse keeper – let’s call him Michael for want of a dif’rent name - putting the bodies in a old wooden boat, holing it high, pushing it out to sea for the rocks, and all with a storm a’raging. No more than I holds with the ghosts of aforementioned muckers coming back on the h’anniversay of their murders, to rage, and pound, trying to turn poor Soft Michael who’s a gentle-hearted man, but maybes an awful bad loser when it comes to cards in truth.”

I looked at Luna. Luna looked at me. The clock on the table besides the flickering lamp, ticked, and tocked, and ticked.

“It was you then.” Luna softly said, looking Michael straight in the eye.

“Talking cats! I don’t holds with them. No more than I holds with meddlesome strangers a’ knocking on my door uninvited when all I want is a little peace, no more than I holds with being ‘sponsible for the consequences of them knocking, nor of them winning at cards should they win - your deal, and deal that cat in too.” He passed over the well-worn deck, a deck which he obviously knew too well.

And then there came a loud knock on the door.

Friday, 17 August 2012

Head in a box and a head full of stars...

Wow! What a photograph, and no it isn’t mine I’m afraid, I only wish it was.

It was taken by David Kingham over the Snowy Mountain Range in Wyoming - I'm not even sure where that is. This is what he said about it:

"Last night I ventured out to the dark skies in Wyoming to see the Perseids meteor shower in all it's glory. I've been to a lot of dark sky areas but the stars at Snowy Range seemed brighter than any I've seen before. I photographed the sky for 7 hours and captured 22 meteors which I composited into 1 image. Please share if you like this!"

Of course I had my own Perseids meteor shower experience and this is what I said about mine afterwards.

Last night I ventured out into the too-ambient-light-bright skies of Manchester to see the Perseids meteor shower in all its glory. There’s a really bright street light across the road from my house and the glare from it was terrible. To make matters worse the shower was taking place not in the dark skies to my left, but in the Manchester lighted skies to my right, so even if I could have been bothered I don’t think I’d have got a half decent photograph.

I sat on my bench at the front of my house gazing at the hazy skies. The thin layer of cloud that had hidden the stars earlier began to drift away, and all at once the sky was clear - still glowing with ambient light, but at least I could see a few of the brighter stars above me.

I looked around; how wasteful my neighbours were - a dozen outside and porch lights glared back at me, a few of them had left their house lights on - away probably, others had spotlights illuminating their drives… and then there was that bloody billion watt streetlight to contend with.

It was useless, I might as well give up… and then I had an idea.

Going into the house I found myself a large cardboard box and with a sharp knife cut a hole for my head and another to use as a viewing panel. I looked at my ambient light reduction unit… this was never going to work. Still, it was worth a try.

So, back to my bench on my front drive, fifteen feet or so from the pavement, forty minutes past midnight and in full view of any passers-by I placed my head inside the box, tilted back my head and looked up at the skies. The glare, whilst not entirely neutralised, was much reduced and my box – or rather my  ALRU (ambient light reduction unit) was working!

Over the next hour I saw six shooting stars, three really bright ones, three quick darts of light and another caught from the corner of my eye. I watched a satellite high above my head traverse the deep-blue firmament and the more I stared the blacker the sky seemed to become. Each time I saw a shining shooter an involuntary ‘YES!’ escaped from my mouth; and within an hour I’d seen almost as many shooting stars as I’d seen in all the days of the rest of my life put together.

Yes, I must have looked odd – a middle-aged man sat on a bench in the darkness with a cardboard box on his head, loudly exclaiming ‘YES’ every now and again. I must have looked like some sort of strange cardboard alien - but it didn’t matter.

I was seeing and living magic.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

The end of the world...

Even when you think it’s the end of the world, it usually isn’t the end of the world - well at least not for the first few times.

If you’re lucky, your world won’t end too many times and you might just get away with it - who knows? 

If you aren’t so lucky, then your world will end so many times that you'll simply stop caring whether the world is ending or not. Who needed the world anyway?

Of course one day your world will really end, and it could happen at any time even for those lucky ones whose world hasn’t ended over and over  - so many times, too many times. 

And then there are those even luckier ones whose world has never ended at all, children usually. 

The seven year old daughter of a friend of someone I know slightly recently died of cancer, her world ending as worlds sometimes do. For her it really was the end and for a while (and only a while I hope) it’ll be the end of her mother’s world as well, and her dad’s and grandparents, brothers, sisters, aunt and uncles even. 

Her world is gone, whilst many other worlds remain untouched. It isn't about fair or unfair, right or wrong, good and bad... it just happens. Worlds end all the time, but even though the world is ending piece by piece, unit by unit, dream by dream, hope by hope, all of the time around us – most of the time we hardly notice.

Yes, the world is ending all of the time and it's best not think about it until you have to.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Half dreams...

There was a moment or two this just-before-dawn morning that I though that there might not be a blog post today. If you blog you may recognise that moment – the one when you feel that you have absolutely nothing to say that you haven’t already said.

For me that moment usually takes place as I wake between five and six o’clock – yes I know, it is kinda sad that my first though should be of blogging – but I only think about it in order to flush away the half-dreams that litter my mind for that hour or so before waking.

Half-dreams, I dread them more than absolute nightmares; at least most nightmares are far away from reality (I’m talking now about the ones with monsters, not the ones when you wake up and find yourself still married to your ex-wife… actually, now I come to think about it…

Anyway, back to half-dreams. My half-dreams are usually composed of my to-do list, the things that I know I need to do but keep putting off like tax returns and paying insurances that I’m not even sure I need. My half-dreams are about what I have to do that day, a long or short list, but in my mind a struggle, a Herculean task that is simply too big and hard to complete. My half-dreams are about feeding the cat, making sandwiches, bringing up more boxes from the cellar, painting glass, writing words.

I toss and turn in that awful place between waking and sleeping, lifting my head to see how many minutes past, how many minutes left – I don’t want to get up, I’m still tired, sleep would be nice – but those half-dreams become more and more urgent, more pressing, more real, until I have to give in and – with a feeling of absolute dread – I get out of bed.

Of course within moments usually the half-dreams have gone, or rather been put in perspective; put away for another morning. Things aren’t as bad as they seemed in that half-waking world - with effort all those things that so bothered me (as I tossed and turned in not-quite-sleep) seem doable; some of them already done, the work of moments. But I’m not fooled – I know that they haven’t gone; it’s just their turn and they’ve fallen asleep, they’ll be back when I begin to wake; making me twist until I have to get up again.

Yes, half-dreams; the ordinary made dreadful with close introspection and the analysis of a fearful subconscious mind – give me a good full-blown nightmare any day… as long as it’s not about ex-wives.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Waiting for the man...

As rambling as this post threatens to be - Morning Glory grown from a packet of cheap seeds. One of those packets that I keep at the back of my seed drawer until the time is right and this year the time was right and the seeds germinated and grew. I’ve tried to grow Morning Glory before but without success, so I’m pleased to have about a dozen or so plants twisting and winding their way up the sunflowers and trellis in my yard.

They are related to the bindweeds. As children - out in the fields in a time when children were allowed to roam miles from home despite the perverts and muderers – we’d pick the large white flowers, grasp the greenery at the stem, pinch, and out would fly the flower – tumbling to the ground like a fairy parachute.

“Granny pop out of bed!” we’d cry; and that was the name we called them by, ‘’Granny pop out of beds.” I know now that they were a type of convolvulus, ipomoea; the largest genus in flowering plant family Convulvulaceae, with over 500 species.

Back in the seventies selling the seeds was banned for a while as the seeds contained mind altering substances, LSD actually. Apparently all you have to do is grind the seeds in a mortar and pestle, mix with water, and you are away. Really away. Maybe that’s why it’s one of the ingredients in the fabled elixir of life and why the Aztecs fed it to their sacrificial offerings. Even the root is used as a Voodoo charm to ward away impotence, so all-in-all a pretty useful plant.

The flowers only open in the morning, closing tight as the evening falls, so it’s strange that the Greeks call them moonflowers – perhaps they re-open by the light of Luna, I’ll have to check on the next full moon.

I’ll sit outside in my yard in the moonlight sipping my ipomoea tonic, uplifted and watching as the fairies fly by in their ipomoea flower bonnets, waiting for the man.

Yes, “We’ll grow sweet Ipomoea to make us feel much freer then take a pinch of Schemeland and turn it into dreamland.”

See you later Mr. Harley and by the way... it works.

Monday, 13 August 2012


Sunday afternoon threatened a storm. One of those hot, close afternoons when you can smell the rain in the air, and then you can’t, and then you can again; rumbling thunder high above - like somebody moving a heavy chest of drawers in the flat above you.

The only time I’ve lived in a flat was in America, King of Prussia to be precise; a flat in a block that looked liked it had been built by a team of Soviet workmen without the slightest trace of humour. To call that building grey was to give it far too much colour, to call it flat and featureless was giving it hills and rolling dales. Whoever designed that building did it with only a ruler and a graphite pencil – no Bezier curves, compasses, or watercolour washes for him. Flat, grey, no-nonsense utilitarian was the order of his day; I’d have hated to see what he wore in bed.

The flat, or apartment as I guess I should call it, was comfortable enough - two bedrooms, two baths (one en-suite) a large lounge, a kitchen diner, a walk-in closet where I used to finish drying the washing I did in the basement laundry, and air conditioning; the noisiest air conditioning that can be imagined, noisy and centrally set by the building so that it could never be turned off – the heating in winter was just the same, but that’s another tale.

Anyway I arrived in the US in the hottest, most humid, late September on record; a hot 90+ degrees with 95% humidity. Hot and sticky? Melting into a puddle of tepid glue more like; the very worst type of weather for me. So despite the noise it made I was glad of the air conditioning, even though it kept me from sleeping half of the night and more.

Then there came one night, or rather early morning, when I just couldn’t take it any longer. Rushing to the kitchen drawer I drew out the screwdriver I’d bought from the dollar shop in the Mall and, returning barefoot and bare-chested to the bedroom, stood in front of the bedroom air conditioning unit ready to do battle. I must have looked a pretty sight; near naked and clutching a small screwdriver, snarling at the air conditioning unit underneath the big bedroom window.

Heat or no heat I had to get some sleep, sticky or no sticky that unit needed to be stopped. The unit was a long, thin affair directly beneath the window where I’d often stand at night, watching the electrical storms on the hills far away in the distance – no time for that tonight though. Tonight I was the scourge of noisy air conditioning, dismantler of rogue units, Vlad the destroyer of too-loud machinery.

Reaching down I unscrewed one of the half-dozen ventilation grills that formed the top of the unit. There had to be a control knob under one of them or at least a fuse, a wire to cut, a condenser to rip out. There was nothing under the first one, or the second and third, and I decided to start at the other end as logically the controls, if there were any, would be at one end or the other. I unscrewed the grill and lifted it off and suddenly there was movement as hundreds of sleeping ladybirds were disturbed. They fell to the floor and crawled away, others flew off, still others climbed up onto the (obviously ineffectual) insect screen – up the curtains, along the walls, up to the ceiling, down behind the unit, dozen on dozen. An army of bright red ladybirds crawled across the beige carpet, the off-white walls, the bright-white ceiling, like hundreds of tiny drops of scattering blood.

I never did manage to turn the air conditioning off, I just got used to it; and the ladybirds were with me the whole seven months I spent in that apartment, crawling across the surfaces, turning up inside the bath, in my coffee mug. I once opened my book and found one squashed flat between the pages.

They became my companions, my friends almost, and each time I’d bump into one in the flat I shared with them, rather than them with me, I’d greet them with a friendly hello. They never replied though, and I guess in many ways that’s a good thing.

I hadn’t thought of them for years until on Sunday, sitting in my yard, eyes closed, sticky and waiting for the storm to come, they popped into my mind as sometimes things do, the whole memory rushing back clogging my mind for a moment or two. I smiled; and as I smiled felt a tickle on my hand. Opening my eyes I glanced down – and there crawling across my hand was a red ladybird, all black spots and shiny red shell.

“Hello” I said. I didn’t get a reply though.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Soft Mick...

“I smell sea.” Said Luna.

I didn’t initially, but then opening the window I could. A slight tang at first, but getting stronger as we moved closer to the warm glow in the distance. Another trip to the sea, and was it the same sea as before? I didn’t think this was the same road, but on this journey anything could happen. I knew that by now.

“I wonder if we’ll meet that girl again.” Luna pondered as she scratched at her ear. I hoped that it wasn’t fleas, fleas in the Puckmobile would be a Hell, no escape in its cramped confines. “I liked that girl even if she was a bit melty and then went all disappeared on me."

I wasn’t sure that I wanted to meet her again though; she was too sure of herself, she seemed to have all of the answers when all I had was questions and not very good ones at that.

The light was growing brighter and in the distance I could see what looked like chandeliers hanging in the almost night sky, bright and brash, the kind of thing you might find at a sixties party or maybe in a harem. “It won’t be a harem though,” I said to myself, “and even if it was with my luck I’d get to play the eunuch.” Luna sniggered a kitten snigger besides me, perhaps I hadn’t said it to myself after all – she didn’t seem short on the ways of the world though.

We were almost there, I could tell by the sound of the waves crashing on the beach below. I drew up on a hillock and, stopping the van, put on the handbrake and scrambled out.

I knew this place, I’d been here before. This was Penmon Lighthouse, close to the village on the south-east tip of the Isle of Anglesey, Ynys Môn in the Welsh, I’d never seen it like this before though – all lit up by chandelier, and such funky chandeliers to boot. Maybe it was a festival, a Saint’s day or something; I hoped that there would be beer involved.

I stood looking out to sea as the night got even darker. Luna must have know I was wary because looking up at me, the moon making her small white face even more translucently white, she said: “Just go with the flow. We’re just got to where we were going, enjoy – it looks like we got somewhere good.”

I smiled down at her, she really needed to improve her English.

“Soft Mick will be here in a minute.” She sighed.

“Soft who?” I replied. But before Luna could answer my question the lighthouse’s foghorn began to sound below.

“I can’t see any fog.” I muttered, and from high up by the lighthouse light a voice called in-between the rhythmical blart of the horn.

“There’s always fog, it’s just that sometimes you can’t see it. Now come across, before the tide comes in.”

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Out of the cul-de-sac...

It took me a while to reverse back from the cul-de-sac, I managed it though, a little stop-start-shuffle, a bit like a quickstep, but I managed it. By the time I got back to where I turned into the cul-de-sac lane it was getting dark; maybe that was why I didn’t recognise the road that I’d reversed back onto. Must be the dusk making everything look different. Dusk did that didn’t it? Changed things, made some things look bigger and others look smaller, shifted by the grey light – not quite light but not yet dark. ‘The most dangerous time of day to drive, neither night nor day.’ My dad used to say.

The most dangerous time of day, or was it night? Nether-night I call it.

Taking the Puckmobile out of reverse, and pushing the long gear stick up into first, I moved forward. No, I didn’t recognise this road at all. The nether-night had succumbed to quite-dark now, moonless. Long purple shadows jumped out on each side of me as I drove along, large coloured moths, attracted by my headlamps, flew at me as I pushed forward, tigers and greys and whites. Most veered off before they hit the shine of the headlamps but I knew that when I eventually stopped I’d find a few gooey lumps stuck to the glass.

Bats skittered above me, puddles splashed diamonds as my tyres passed through them. No, this wasn’t the same road at all. This was a road to somewhere else altogether.

That was the thing with this journey. Wherever I thought I was going, I wasn’t. Whenever I tried to get somewhere, I arrived at a different destination. It was almost as if the Puckmobile was in change, not me at all. Hey, who was I kidding - in charge – me? No, I might be driving, but someone or something else was driving our destination.

“Just go with the flow.” Luna purred from the dashboard where she’d curled up earlier. “We’re going where we are going, just enjoy - who knows we might be going somewhere good.”

Somewhere else, somewhere good; I concentrated on the road ahead trying to avoid the moths, following the bats, just going where we were going, the purple shadows jumping out in front of us, running alongside for a second, then falling away behind. It was like being trapped in a Harman-Ising cartoon, all I needed was for Bosco and his friends to jump out of the bushes.

Enjoy. Enjoy? I needed to know where I was going, needed to feel in control. I wasn’t some smug white kitten with nothing to lose, some flighty feline wanting to know the ins and outs of big wide world. I was, I was… actually, just what was I?

Flighty? The ins and outs of the world?

And then up ahead I saw a glow.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Same day, some day…

Somehow and somewhere this week I missed a day, well when I say missed it, lost it would be more accurate. It kind of evaporated into the ether. I think it might have been last Monday that I lost… or was it Wednesday? I seem to remember Tuesday, but Thursday was my Wednesday and until my wife told me that it was actually Friday today - and not tomorrow - last Wednesday evening (which was actually my Thursday)… well, I’m sure that you can understand my dilemma.

There was a time not long ago that my outlook calendar informed me where I should be and for what and at what time, hour by hour, synchronised and alarmed though my phone, and all kept in my trusty paper book too – just in case. I could tell you my exact movements for at least three weeks to come, and some things were scheduled months in advance and set to repeat, and repeat, and repeat. I knew who I was seeing, for what, face-to-face, teleconference, or video, which city, which continent, flight times, mileage, delays, traffic jams… it was such a busy life.

The thing is these days I’m just too laid back - hence my lost day.

These days I have my ‘routine’.

It hardly ever changes - get up at 7.30, feed the cat, make a coffee, read my mails, maybe apply for a job or two, read some blogs, check Facebook, make some comments, make a sandwich, pack my bag, walk to my Wonderful Wacky World of Glass, fulfil my commissions (if I have any), eat my lunch, write a blog article, maybe write another, walk home, have a beer, listen to the Archers, upload my blog, check Facebook, if its my turn - prepare dinner, take a shower, have a glass of wine, check my mails, eat dinner, wash up, respond to my mails, have a glass of wine, have a glass of wine, watch the news, have a glass of wine, clean my teeth, go to bed, read, go to sleep, wakeup, go back to sleep, wakeup, go back to sleep, wakeup, go back to sleep, get up at 7.30.

Ah yes, routine – how mind numbingly comforting, soma for the overactive underactive mind, deadening, soullessly samey… but rather pleasant actually.

Maybe I had two Mondays, who knows? Oh well, what does it matter that I missed a day? After all, did I really miss that much?

Thursday, 9 August 2012

It will make you blind...

“The peak of the Perseid meteor shower is set to happen on Saturday night and Sunday morning, August 11 and 12, 2012. Watch it under your local night sky!”

Anyone ever read Day of the Triffids? I did when I was in my not-quite-teens and what a book it was. I went on to read all of John Wyndham’s books in a matter of weeks – what a story teller. I borrowed it from the Library, a bright yellow cover with a strange creature standing by the statue of Eros in London. I loved that cover, it was so very fifties, so arty-handy-drawy. The librarian told me to take good care of it as I left – they’d had that book a long time and it was from the adult section.

I won’t go into the plot in depth but it opens with a fantastic light show in the sky, hundreds of shooting stars. The Earth is passing through the tail of a comet and the whole world and its scabby dog turn out to watch the spectacle - and the next morning… they all wake up blind. Add a few semi-intelligent man-killer plants, mass panic, and the complete breakdown of society and all at once you have one hell of a good yarn.

Well… this weekend the Earth passes through the tail of the Swift-Tuttle comet, and we will see the Perseids - meteors traveling across our night sky at over 200,000 kilometers per hour. The best time to see the Perseids will be around 2 a.m. on Sunday morning, although there will still be the odd one or two around until August 22.

So look towards the constellation of Perseus, in the northeastern sky. The number of meteors you will see should be upwards of 60 or more an hour. But don’t blame me if need a white stick when you wake up in the morning.

And the book I borrowed from the library? Today that book would have been worth around a £1,000. Maybe I should have hung onto it, just told the librarian that I’d lost it and paid the two shilling fine.

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Must be the weather…

I’m finding it hard to settle to anything at the moment, having to make an effort to get on with anything, squeezing out words rather than watching them flow, picking up my pen to scribble out a doodle only to put it down again

Must be the weather – that’s what my mum would say… must be the weather.

Of course I guess most people would agree that the weather really can affect our moods. Sunny days can make us feel good, rainy days (and Sundays) always get us down, and people in California smile all the time, and Norwegians are miserable drunks who quite often top themselves.

We’ve all heard of SAD, some of us might even suffer from it, but as with so many things it’s all in the mind, which doesn’t make it any less real, but most of us are no more emotionally powerless against the weather than they are unable to put on a hat.

Or so they say…well, maybe.

How does snow make you feel? For me it’s all cosy duvets and open fires; it makes me feel snug and nostalgic - or at least it does at first… but then it turns to sludge and I feel cheated. The fog makes me feel mysterious – I put on my trench-coat, lower the brim of my fedora, light up another Strand and hang around on street corners… well, I’m just that sort of a guy. I’ve never been arrested though, or at least not yet. Storms make me excited. I love the smell of the electricity in the air and I can watch the flash and fork lightening for hours. Even the rumbling tremble of the house, as the thunderclap claps, makes me feel great. It’s the potential danger I think, anything can happen in a storm – IT lives! High winds are pretty exciting too; watching the world whip up and whirl, listening to the sound of lost souls screaming through the trees, the thrum of the TV aerial on the cottage roof. And there’s nothing as serene or beautiful as a deep hoar frost on a cold, sunny morning. A white, jewelled alien world – where’s Jack?

When I had my pier shop I made weather indicators to sell – a bargain at £4.50. I skilfully drilled holes in pieces of old slate that I'd just found and picked up on the beach. I hung them from a piece of knotted Hessian string - six knots, one for each fathom. It was the label that did it though; it told you how to use my Wonderful Welsh Weather Indicator. All you had to do was hang it outside your door – if it was dry the weather was fine, wet and it was raining, cold and it was chilly, hot and it was warm…you get the idea. They sold like hot cakes.

Thinking back to those afternoons on the pier, surrounded by sea and mountains, I think I saw more weather there than anywhere else, before or since. It was the space I think and the huge open sky; nowhere to hide – just me in a glass terrarium surrounded by the elements. One afternoon the wind got so bad I was scared to open the door for fear of the wind blowing all my wind-chimes into the wave whipped sea. I got soaked as I dashed to make my escape – the waves breaking over the pier boards. Another time it was just the rain - torrential and November cold, I dashed the length of the pier to the safety of my car - the Narnia dash I called it... all those old lamp posts one after another. And then there were the sunny days, those beautiful languid sunshine days. Happy times...

There I go again… drifting away. See, I told you I couldn’t settle… must be the weather.

Now where’s my hat?

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

At its best…

What a surprise. I think I may have caught it at its best this morning. I sneaked out, and there it was all alive and blooming. Of course it’s been building up to it for weeks and suddenly here it was – my yard at it’s best, only just for a moment... my moment. BIG KISS!

Just look at it; the hollyhock, the ipomoea I grew from seed, my wall trained nasturtiums, the aubrietia, pansies, sunflowers, cosmos, geraniums, salvia, and all the rest. Even my tomato plants are turning red.

It is all a small wonder. SMILEY FACE!  

It won’t last of course, with august arrived it’s all downhill from here. Soon everything will get just that little bit too lush, the flowers will start to get too big and go over too quickly, the slugs will start to rally and chomp and the blackfly will get too many for my spray… and then its Autumn. B'RRRRRR!

But all that is to come. For now I’ll just sit out in the morning and drink coffee, sit out in the evening and drink wine… and enjoy.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Strymple 10...

“Please prove you're not a robot” it asks. Well, I’m pretty sure that I’m not, but you can never be sure can you? After all, what is the nature of reality and sometimes my actions seem to be so repeated in the most robotic of ways. Anyway, I key in the words and numbers it asks me for; sometimes they seem so prophetic (dedend sads, loser 121, Ashowl 0), but not today… “strymple 10” is all I get.

Ah, the good old Strymple 10, now there was a robot to rely on.

I consider making the fictitious Strymple 10 the subject of today’s blog and reject the idea. I love robots, but they aren’t to everybody’s taste. I do take time to search out an old picture of one of my wind-up robots though; one of what I laughing call my collection, although I only have four – I was sure that there were more once.

My plastic red robot seems like a good candidate for the Strymple 10 and my head fills with exciting thoughts of starting a proper collection. In a flash I’m on e-bay checking out what’s for sale; some really desirable copies from Japan and a few nice originals.

In ten minutes I clocked up 160 quid in ‘buy nows’, I didn’t buy though. Well, I don’t have that much disposable income and where would I keep them?

You know you’d find somewhere...” That tempting voice inside my head whispers, and he’s right; I would. I’d find somewhere and I’d get real pleasure winding them up, watching them walk across the kitchen table, playing robots. Will I never grow up?

I decide that I might put a few silly bids on some e-bay robots. See what I get. But it isn’t really a decision, just another ‘could’. I still might though; find one that appeals and bid a quid, taking care I’m not stung with the P and P, and knowing that later – when I can get online – that’s just what I’ll do. I’m like that - a bit sad.

“Please prove that you’re not a robot?”

How about I prove that I am?

Sunday, 5 August 2012


I'm not going to go on, nor am going to write what has already been written, use words that have been used by far loftier and far more able writers than myself.

All I'm going to say is: Today is the 50th anniversary of the death of the most beautiful woman to have ever lived and like so many others I miss her.

I wonder what she'd have achieved if she'd lived.

Saturday, 4 August 2012

The journey continues - in the cul-de-sac...

I’ve been thinking about taking off on my travels again. Seems like I’ve been a long time stuck in this cul-de-sac… thing is, I’m not quite sure where it was all going so parking up for a while seemed like the right thing to do. A good idea - as they say just before they enter the haunted house to get out of the rain.

No haunted houses here though, plenty of rain overnight, but no ghosts, no ghoulies, not even a will-o-the-wisp. I wasn’t expecting much from the cul-de-sac, and to be honest I wasn’t disappointed. There was just a hedge and a lot of overgrown undergrowth at the end of the lane, not even a turning point. It was the turning point, or rather the lack of it, that was part of the problem… it was going to be a very long reverse.

Another part of the problem that led me to the cul-de-sac was this: because I was on the road daily for a while, if there was something else I felt that I wanted to write about, I didn’t; and I was missing the variety, the freedom of spontaneous composition. There’s nothing quite like just writing an opening sentence and then going with it, waiting to see where it leads – it’s a journey all of its own. So, I’m toying with the idea of making the Puckster’s travels a weekly episode on my blog – like Misty the cat, and the Little Duckington of long ago. Who knows, the Puckmobile may even take a little jaunt to see how the ducks are getting on.

Well, it is my road-trip and it is my road.

Luna’s still with me of course, asleep in the back of the campervan and there on my Luna clock above the dash. She had a bad night last night, a terrible dream about flying teapots pouring scalding hot tea on her fur and where the liquid touched she melted like a candle. I know it was only a dream but it shook her up quite badly and for almost an hour she couldn’t speak at all; the dream knocking all of her words from her – all she could do was meow. So, it looks like we both had bad dreams last night, what with my dream about the planes colliding and that awful warehouse – funny that both of us should dream of disaster from the air. I hope that it isn’t portentous.

Anyway, the journey continues, well almost, I’m still enjoying it and the things I’m discovering along the way; even though I still have no idea where I’m going.

Oh well, let’s get the old fella into reverse gear. Come on Puckster, this may take me quite a while.

Friday, 3 August 2012


Hello peeps. There, that's got the cheery stuff out of the way. I woke up this morning, the sunshine pouring in through my window with the happy thought that sometimes I wish that I’d lived through something great and terrible.

I think the thought was a left-behind from the dream I’d been having; the one where I found myself on a rain-dark street, dim streetlamps haloed in the mist, to the left a bleak tree-lined canal kept back by grey steel security fencing, to the right a row of tall, brick warehouses.  All a cliché I knew even in my dream, but dreams are like that; obvious whilst we are dreaming them, oblique when we wake.

I had no idea what I was doing there, but as I rushed along the narrowness of the windswept alley I noticed overhead 2 planes, a passenger jet and a small private plane, obviously on a collision course. I stopped and watched as they drew closer and closer together. When they hit there was just an explosion of light, no sound, only a flash, maybe they were just images projected onto the clouds, not solid at all - and then I noticed the helicopter.

It was flying underneath the planes and must have been hit by some falling debris as that too suddenly soundlessly exploded. I stood looking up wondering what was going to happen next (was it over?) and then the obviously expected happened, as it was obviously expected to do, and the debris began to hit.

Suddenly the alley was full of running people, soundlessly moving, all trying to avoid the chunks of steel, the sharp plastic shards, and the incinerating fuel which plummeted (and at other times languidly floated) from the dark sky above. I ran for a bike shelter and cowered inside watching as person after person was struck and fell. I felt helpless.

Then I was inside the warehouse; corridor after corridor, as the people from outside moved around me, stepping through the walls, passing through me and on to somewhere else. I tried to go with them but each time I tried the solidity of the wall stopped me dead. I felt a sense of loss and was jealous of these others who were moving on.

Then I woke, the sunshine pouring in through my window, and a happy thought that sometimes I wish that I’d lived through something great and terrible.

Who’d be a dreamer?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Hand shadows...

Shadows; that’s all they are really.

On cold winter evenings I’d drape one of my mum’s headscarves over my bedside lamp and, picking up my Arthur Mee volume six, try to make the hand shadow animals I saw illustrated there.

The butterfly was easy and with a little manipulation I could shape it into a passable bird. I managed the elephant, and then the llama was only a few finger-flexes away, as were the goat, the devil dog, and once I’d contorted the rabbit the kitten was easy… it was only the monkey that really got the better of me. The monkey was hard; a twist of the hand too far, the chatter of his teeth, his fez, all a little beyond the dexterity of my fumblesome fingers. I must have spent half the winter trying to get him to materialise on my wall, but with no luck.

For a while I lived and breathed that monkey, once dislocating my middle finger and popping it back in place myself, so as not to upset my mum - but he remained elusive; a hand shadow challenge I couldn’t seem to meet.

And then one wet night, three days before Christmas Eve I think it was, I awoke in my moonlit flooded room to find the monkey climbing up my wall alone. I watched, wide open-eyed, as it disappeared into the darkest corner of the ceiling, then rushed down to point and chatter, ridiculing me, mocking me for the useless boy I was. Shadow spittle flew from its filthy mouth, covering me with dry shadow droplets. I backed up and up until my shivering spine was hard and firm against the corner of my bedroom wall and sat hugging at my knees, flaying my head from side to side as he flew all around my room. Never once did he leave the surface of the walls and ceiling and floor. He was clever that shade, keeping to the margins, never once appearing in the solidity of the inner space of the bright and moonlit room.

I watched as he thrashed and soundlessly screeched, flew and silently jabbered, and then he was gone; vanished - my room a moonlit world of projected raindrop ripple, the shadow of the branches from the old cherry tree outside stark against the cheap wallpaper. It was the lack of sound that unnerved me most I think, the soundless movement, the unheard cries. I sighed a relief. But then, a nagging voice inside my head whispered: “He’s behind you!” like an echoed premonition of the pantomime my dad had promised after Christmas.

I slowly turned and as I stared at the wall where my shoulders had uncomfortably rested a moment before; there he was, as I knew he would be; his shadow hands resting weightlessly upon the thin fabric of my pyjama shoulders. I didn’t shiver; I was far too cold for that – a blue ice boy with his keeper.

He’s been here ever since, my monkey, clinging soundlessly to my back. Sometimes, I try to manipulate my hands, hoping to conjure him in the hope of forcing him from my back and bring him around to face me. Once, when I almost had him, I stopped when I heard my little finger crack, the bone fracturing in an attempt to make his chattering mouth appear from the shadow. But I couldn’t manage it, so I gave up: he’s still here, soundlessly clinging on.

Shadows; yes, that’s all they are really; quiet smoke where no smoke should be - and only sometimes do I dare to ask… whose hands are making them?

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Hydrangea days…

Just one of the hydrangea heads in my back yard, but whenever I look at the perfection of the blooms I’m taken back to another time.

Warning: the next sentence is - ‘when I was a boy.’

When I was a boy I had a Saturday job at a large house with a huge garden not far from the town where I lived. It was a twenty minute bus ride and a short walk from the stop, which was really just a post in the middle of nowhere; and on a damp Saturday evening in October it was a miserable nowhere to wait for a bus.

The gardens weren’t grand but they were large enough to be laid out, and at the front of the Georgian house was a screen of tall trees which hid all but the many roofs from the road. Off to the right of the house, leading from the drive to the main lawns, was a walkway flanked on either side by the most amazing hydrangeas. They grew so close together that they formed a tunnel hedge, and at over six feet high they were certainly imposing.

In summer they flowered white, pink, and blue. But as the autumn became almost winter - the trees beginning to be stripped to black by the wind, making the crow’s nests, high in the branches above, rock and fall to the ground -  the colour faded and they turned to the gentile washed-out of old brown paper, the sort that you find lining unloved dusty drawers. Hydrangea heads, old paper dry to crush and crackle in a young boy’s hand.

One of my jobs was to cut back these dried heads in the autumn and burn them on one of the huge bonfires that I and the gardener, Marsh, built behind the old stable block. What a noise those hydrangea heads made as they burnt, crackling and popping and giving off an aroma like incense and Indian tea.

I can smell it now, see the bright orange flames, feel my outstretched hands warming with the heat, and hear the cry of crows, the sizzle of burning hydrangea stems full of sap boiling on my bonfire.

Then dusk; a dark walk to the bus, and home for tea with a few bob in my pocket. It was as easy as that back then.