Sunday, 30 September 2012

Age of consent...

Young teacher, the subject
Of schoolgirl fantasy
She wants him so badly
Knows what she wants to be
Inside her there's longing
This girl's an open page
Book marking - she's so close now
This girl is half his age

I don’t usually comment on these things, but listening to someone say: ‘You just have to look at him to see he’s a pedo; he should be hung’, really raised my hackles… and by the way stupid that should be ‘hanged’.

Obviously it isn’t great when a young woman runs off with her teacher; it’s probably upsetting for her parents and means the end of his career too I expect. And no, I wouldn’t be happy if my daughter or son were in either of those positions. But it isn’t new, we don’t have the full background, it certainly doesn’t warrant hanging and I for one question if he deserves any punishment at all. Now, there will be some of you out there that brand me a pervert for this, but let’s start by looking at a few facts about the age of consent.

Anne Bolyne married Henry VIII at 12, and yes I know that was a long time ago.
Shakespeare’s Juliet was just 13 (yes I know, she’s a fictional character), but before 1875, in my grandmother’s lifetime, the AOC was just 12 in the UK.

Up until 2002 it was 14 in Russia.
In the USA it was 10 until 1900.
Today in Austria, Italy, Germany, and China it’s 14.
France and Denmark it’s 15.
Most of Eastern Europe it’s 14.
Spain and Japan it’s 13.
In Angola it’s 12 and in Tunisia it’s 20, almost on the shelf then by Japanese standards.

Outraged? Bear with me.

Seems to me that the age of consent is just a number grabbed from the air and I’m sure that we all know some very mature teenagers and some incredibly immature thirty year olds (like the female who made the ‘hang the pedo’ comment). Incidentally up until the Victorian times gay sex was punishable by death; I expect that she'd have thought that a good idea too.

I don’t know where the line should be drawn on consent. I’m very intolerant of paedophilia and think that paedophile’s should severely punished, it’s the worst of crimes, but drawing that line is so hard to gauge. In Portugal they make a judgement call; although the age of consent is 14, the legality of sexual acts with a minor between 14 and 16 is open to legal interpretation since the law states that it is illegal to perform a sexual act with an adolescent between 14 and 16 years old "by taking advantage of their inexperience". I’ll leave you to decide what inexperience means.

Of course the age of consent doesn’t apply as yet in this latest tale, we don’t know if the couple have had sex or not, and why should we? What business is it of ours? Besides, most (yes most, and 32% even admit to it) teenagers in the UK have sex before the UK legal age of consent of 16, perhaps a case for lowering it?

Maybe it’s the age difference that causes such outrage and those silly calls to ‘hang him’ from those very stupid people. Well, she’s almost 16 and he’s a young-minded 30. Is 14 years really such a difference? I know couples with 14 years between them, and so what? Since when did a forty-five year old man going out with a thirty-one year old woman cause any fuss at all? It’s not always the same for the woman/man ratio though; especially in the eyes of other women, something I’ve never been able to understand.

Apart from being very silly, maybe falling in love, betraying trust, running away – as lovers often do – has anyone really done anything wrong? Well, he is (was) a teacher. So would it have been okay if he was a builder? Well, he did abduct her. What bundled her up, gagged her, and drove her to a lock-up somewhere? I thought they went to Paris on a bit of a jaunt. Did he beat her up then? Was he disrespectful to her? Was him coming back, pretty much of his own free will, just some cynical ruse?

And what about the reasons behind it all – Were they happy at home? Was her relationship with her stepfather a good one? Was he happy with his wife?

Listen, I don’t think, although I can’t be sure, that either one has done anything really wrong. She’s not 16 but neither is she twelve and I don’t think this will turn out to be a paedophile grooming story. As for the rest, well only time will tell. The only thing that I am sure of is that he shouldn’t be hanged regardless of what he's done and particularly if his only crime is falling for the wrong right girl.

Hang me if you like.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

Cookery and cats...

So, when all else fails post a picture of a kitty - here’s Luna to grab your attention.

Yes, I’m having an attack of ‘blogger why bother’ (BWB). It’s a regular occurrence, so I’m used to it, but I don’t know why I can’t shake the damned thing off when it gets into my system. After all, if I know when it’s coming, so I should be able to deal with it. Take a pill or something; maybe turn around three times widdershins whilst mumbling a Native American chant or have a few stiff drinks... Margaritas probably.

The thing is with BWB it has two main causes:
Firstly – the daily struggle to find anything to write about.
Secondly – the lack of response to what I write when I struggled to find it in the first place.

Oh, I’ve covered these topics before and quite recently too, so I see no need to bother you with going into the detail. But it does leave me wondering just why I bother and why you don’t. Not in a bitter or annoyed way you understand, more an ‘I’m seeking to understand and improve’ way.

Sometimes I find myself asking just what I am doing wrong. I keep my posts short, I write about a range of things (all me centred admittedly, but a range), I make sure each of my jottings has something to look at – a photo or doodle or some such thing, I publicise what I’ve written – unashamedly and brazenly sometimes. But still I seem to be tailing off. Its not like I’m asking for applause or praise, but it would be nice to know that I sparked a memory or a thought in somebody sometimes. I do don’t I?

Perhaps I’m just rubbish?

Maybe I should do what the others do. Have you ever clicked ‘next blog’ at the top of my blog site and kept clicking? I have. You have to click for quite a while, or be very lucky to find much more than family and baby snaps, pictures and words about pets, shabby chic shit, and inspirational sayings about pretty pink lives collected from the internet.

Perhaps I’ll write about cookery and cats instead.

That’s it a cooking cat… that might do it.

Anyway, that’s that out of my system. Back to Luna - here she is in front of our first fire of the season. The flames fascinated her, she watched them for hours and then rested her head on the fender and fell asleep in the warmth. After a while a spark jumped out, only just missing her. She jumped quickly back, before deciding that it would be fun to play with the red hot ember. I got to it just before she singed her fur.

Silly kitty - I wonder if she knows a good curry recipe?

Friday, 28 September 2012

Shades of grey…

The world of black and white seemed so much simpler somehow. Of course it suited some programmes; Coronation Street was all the more real for the stark black and white treatment, All Our Yesterdays suited shades of grey, and as for The Black and White Minstrel Show - well, need I say more?

Of course there were some programmes where black and white broadcasting didn’t quite deliver; football matches were hard to follow (stripy kits worked, but twenty-two men in grey on a grey pitch somehow didn’t), the legendary Pot Black (obviously) and then there was... Captain Scarlet.

Yes, this is the voice of the Mysterons and at times Captain Scarlet really was a mystery. It wasn’t the story lines - basically a single story about miffed Martians (The Mysterons) initiating a succession of reprisal attacks against Earth and being countered by Spectrum, an international security organisation. No, the plots were simple enough; it was the characters that were the problem. You see, each character was named after a colour – hence Spectrum – and wore a uniform to match his name… well, sort of.

The main character, Captain Scarlet - or Captain Very Dark Grey as he appeared on our black and white television screen - was just one of many Captains and it could get very confusing.

It wasn’t too hard to spot Captain Blue (or very light grey) as he had blonde hair. But the rest; Captain Ochre (not quite as a light grey as blue), Magenta (a bit darker than Ochre), Brown (almost as dark as Scarlet), and Grey (sorry, they were all grey to me) all had black hair and looked very similar - especially from behind. Lieutenant Green (I always wondered why he didn't make Captain) was tonally much the same as Magenta and Brown, and even the evil Captain Black (who was dead and the puppet of not only Gerry Anderson but also the Mysterons) was the only one who was on occasion pretty easy to distinguish; except in shadow (which was where he usually skulked) unless his eyes were glowing of course.

Colonel White, Doctor Fawn and of course Destiny, Symphony, Melody, Rhapsody and Harmony (who were girls, unimportant and interchangeable to my boyish mind) were easy to spot… but the rest? It really was a guessing game and made Pot Black (which was actually one black, one white and twenty grey balls on a grey table) look easy to fathom.

Just the same, I watched all thirty-two very confusing episodes of Captain VDG.

A few years later, when we became the proud owners of a colour television, I watched a few of the episodes again. Captain Magenta was actually Captain Pink, Captain Blue’s blue uniform was the colour of a boy baby’s romper suit and Captain Ochre was dressed in a suit that looked like it had be coloured with the contents of the same baby’s nappy. It really made me question the manliness, or rather marionetteliness, of the characters. I also discovered that Captain Black looked a little green around the gills and that the five female Angels were actually a lot more interesting that I’d previously thought.

Back then I’d sometimes wish that I had the Mysteron healing power of "retro-metabolism" (the ability to return to life, even after suffering fatal injuries) like Captain Scarlet did. I even think that I bought the comic (TV Century 21) for a while. Well, there wasn’t much else on TV in those days, we only had three channels and one of those was BBC2. It was still better viewing than today though, even though we are in the real 21st century now.

Oh well, cue the moving O lights... 
This is the voice of the Mysterons
     O    O
        O     O

Thursday, 27 September 2012

A post a day...

So Google is fourteen and Andy Williams is dead. Just another day on planet Earth I guess. It causes me a bit of a dilemma though; which, if either topic, should I write about today?

That's the thing with regularly blogging, it isn’t about the words, words come easily enough, it’s what the words are about that seems to be my issue.

Yes, I seem to spend an awful lot of time wondering what my blog should be about, sometimes even hoping for something catastrophic to take place simply so that I can have something to write a few measly words about.

Talking of measly (Ron that is) there’s always J.K. Rowling’s new book. She’s a bit late to the 50 Shades party, although I kind of wish it had been she who had written the already infamous 50 rather than E. L. James. Children’s wizardry to adult fornication – expspankmeanus! Of course I’ve read neither, but the reviews of Casual Vacancy say that it’s an okay (if dull) read despite some of its themes – rape, self-harming, drug abuse; not much magic there. Mind you, J.K has always looked just a trifle pissed off to me, a bit of a misery - although God knows why given that she’s one of the most read authors on the planet and responsible for so many wand accidents… careful Harry it’ll take your eye out (the wand that is, this isn't 50).

So, Mr. Andy Williams has booted his pail. I don’t quite know what to say, you see he was the burglar who crept into the living room between Pot Black, Call My Bluff, Alias Smith and Jones, and Kelly Monteith. Just an American crooner really - and there were plenty of those to go around at the time with Perry and Bing - but as soon as his show came on I couldn’t not watch it. You see, his show had style – schmaltzy, polished, sanitised, pseudo-psychedelia in a ‘V’ neck sweater style - but definitely style. Cashmere. Of course, his show was of its time, so different from the Britain I remember in the late sixties and early seventies, which was grim and grey and unsatisfactory in so many ways. His show was clean and smiley, just like Andy. Yes, I liked it I think. I can even forgive him that last spinning dance, the Cookie Bear and The Flying Silverman Brothers... I can’t forgive him for the Osmonds though, the Osmonds are a curse on us all and Donny and Jimmy are the spawn of the devil. Mind you, he did introduce the U.K. to The Jacksons which seemed like a good thing at the time… pity the way it turned out.

And Google turns fourteen today, a nasty stage in any boys development. It’ll be interesting to see how Google grows up now that it’s reached puberty. Yes Google, you are misunderstood and it really is ‘not fair’; as any number of angsty Kevin’s would tell you. Perhaps you spend too much time watching porn… you’ll go blind you know.

There you go, another one done. I can get in with worrying about tomorrow’s now.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Model aeroplanes...

I was rubbish when it came to making model aeroplanes, glue everywhere and I didn't have the patience to wait for the 'decals' to float off in that saucer of clean water they recommended. I always managed to crease them as I lifted them out and there’s nothing worse than a creased swastika on some Fokker or other.

My dad on the other hand was meticulous and insisted on 'helping'. His helping was to do it for me and he got huge pleasure from building a foot long Lancaster bomber with rear gunner and everything. It was my job to paint it. He wasn't at all pleased when I decided to paint it purple and white – I couldn’t understand why. After all, self expression is what it is all about isn’t it?

Airfix – well, with all that glue, it was a high likelihood and combined with those tiny pots of paint no wonder I ended up with badly made, very bright, psychedelic planes hanging from my bedroom ceiling on bits of fishing line.

The instructions used to drive me crackers too, what with those exploded drawings and yards and yards of tiny text. Most times, a few numbered steps in, I gave up and trusted in my own ability to work these things out. It led to some very interesting models and a couple of times I even managed to use some of the injection moulded plastic runners, you know the ones that the ‘real’ parts were attached to. I usually managed to break a couple of key parts detaching them from those runners. Maybe I should have used a modelling knife to cut them away rather than twisting the part around and around until it eventually broke free leaving half of the part behind.

Yes, the world’s best modeller I was not and then I discovered flat-pack furniture – but that’s another story.

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Talking pirate...

Aaaarrrrgggghhhh! By the time I got to hear about Talk like a Pirate Day it was almost over. Avasssstttt! It seems like I miss a lot of things these days, maybe I should avast more and stop living my life quite so retrospectively - savvy?  Oh well, too late now I was well and truly scuttled. Shiver me timbers though, talking like a pirate for the day would have been such fun me hearties.

Pirates were one of the four play staples (sorry about the innuendo madam) when I was of an age for playing. The other three being cops and robbers, spacemen and of course cowboys. These days, with the inexplicable demise of the western series on the box (which isn’t actually a box at all but flat these days), I’m not sure that there are many cowboy kids around which makes me wonder just who the Milky bars are on.

I guess there may be a few spacemen (Buzz Lightyear or Doctor Who related play characters) and I expect that when kids play cops they are very polite, only carry guns in hostage situations, and spend most of their time writing up reports back at the station. The poor robbers on the other hand are probably victims of society from broken homes who take illegal substances on prescription, wear hoodies, rap and meet regularly with their social workers. Whatever happened to Raffles?

Of course back then we could all talk fluent pirate, cowboy, cop, robber and spaceman at the drop of a hat, bandana, eye-patch, swag-bag, mask, or helmet. Yep, we were all multi-lingual lingo-ists back then.

 Ahoy, me Hearties, batten down the hatches you Bilge-sucking dogs or I’ll pass’ee the spot, thar’s a posse of Sheriff’s men waiting in the Last Chance saloon pard and a rope with your name on it a’hanging in the jail-house, affirmative mission control – stop -  am firing boosters now – stop - we have ignition -stop, it’s a fair cop guvnor I’ll come quietly…

Anyway, you get the idea.

Sometimes I wonder what kids today do play, or if they play at all. It must be hard to have fun playing Eastenders or Grand Designs, and I’d have no idea how to make a game out of The ‘X’ Factor – maybe you just dress flamboyantly and screech into a hairbrush. Perhaps they pretend to be Gordon Ramsey, whipping up a soufflĂ© from ingredients ‘borrowed’ from Tesco and shouting the ‘F’ word at their friends.

It was easier when TV was all Dixon, Rawhide, Fireball XL5 and Captain Pugwash. You knew where you stood and how to play the game. For a while we all played Noggin the Nog - ‘fair iz moi flyun shop?’ - but we tired of that pretty quickly. Another time we were all Daleks with sink plungers and ‘sore throat’ voices. You didn’t need to be much of a linguist to be a Dalek, ‘exterminate’ was about all that was really required.

Yes, I could ramble on for hours about the games that I used to play, but I won’t. Instead I’ll leave you with this, a saying I used to say all the time back then when playing pirates… ‘Ye can swab the poop deck, but ye can't poop on the swab deck.’ Well, it always used to get a laugh. See you all in Davie Jones' Locker me hearties.

Monday, 24 September 2012

15 minutes…

A blogger in the city of Madison, capital of the U.S. state of Wisconsin (population 236,9010), brought this to my attention - so I can’t claim to be unique in posting about this ‘happening’. In fact bloggers everywhere are probably posting about it. I don’t think Andy Warhol would have minded my un-uniqueness though, after all he ripped-off everyone, everything and variant repetition was what he made his money from.

Warhol was and is such a pop idol – Brillo, Monroe, Elvis, the electric chair, Velvet Underground, soup cans. Icons, that’s what he was all about - icons and celebrity and he became both. Personally he leaves me cold. Oh, I get where he’s coming from, the tongue in cheek making art from the ordinary, art being art because Warhol says so, everything being unique even though the next one is exactly or almost exactly the same. But I think Duchamp did it first, better, with more honesty and humour and just look where it has taken us… everything is art. Not that I give a splash in a ceramic urinal about that.

Anyway, the world’s biggest purveyor of soup, Campbell’s, recently released special-edition cans of its famous condensed tomato soup bearing labels giving a huge wink to Warhol’s soup can paintings. Yes, actual cans of Andy Warhol soup. Ironic really, The Campbell Soup Co.’s recognition of the Warhol images is a big change from its initial reaction – back then the company considered taking legal action but decided to see how the paintings went down with the public first. Of course, the art world and the public (at least some of them, the more ‘out there’ ones) embraced the cleverness of it all - just like they were supposed to do. Then in 1964, Campbell commissioned Warhol to do a painting of a can of Campbell’s tomato soup as a gift for its retiring board chairman, Oliver G. Willits. Warhol (as in holes) was paid $2,000 for the work.

We can’t get these cans in the UK and we don’t have Target stores - where they are being sold for just 75 cents a can. Originally Warhol sold his soup can prints for $100 (Dennis Hopper was one of the first to purchase one). In May 2006 his ‘Pepper Pot soup with torn label’ sold for $11.8 million.

I went to the Warhol exhibition in Edinburgh a few years ago and saw the soup can ‘originals’, but like I said, Warhol leaves me cold. You see I know that it isn’t the soup cans that fascinates, it’s the question behind them – “Just why would anyone want to do this in the first place?”

Warhol on Campbell’s soup cans, what a reversal and what a brilliant idea, I expect they were sold out before they'd had their 15 minutes. I wonder, if I could buy the special edition Campbell soup cans would I open and eat them, or hang them from my living room wall?

Sunday, 23 September 2012

That fireball, the one I missed...

I had a day away from the old blogola yesterday.

Well, why not? Increasingly I feel that it isn’t that important if anyone reads it and why would they? The other words are going okay and each word I write improves the way I write the next one – at least I hope so – so I’m not going to stop completely I don’t think. Anyway, here are the words I should have posted yesterday, but didn’t.

Zeus, or Jove, or Jupiter or some other god showed up last night hurling fireballs across the sky. Of course I missed it. I always seem to miss these things, well not quite always, but usually. If it isn’t the weather it’s the timing, and last night it was the timing. I didn’t even get the opportunity to call the rossers and inform them we were being invaded by aliens or some such nonsense.

“Police inundated by terrified callers as meteor lights up the sky across Britain.”

Really, terrified callers? How easily us Brits must terrify then. Now if we still dressed in skins, carried spears and didn’t have the benefit of hundreds of year of astronomy and physics I could understand it – but terrified callers, I ask you. “Eyewitness reports of a large fireball travelling from northern Scotland to southern England at around 9.40pm yesterday - Some phoned police fearing plane has crashed - People described a bright ball of fire moving across the sky with a large tail - Hundreds of people took to Twitter to report sightings across the UK.”

I really should follow The Met Office where, last night, some anonymous weatherman chappy tweeted: 'Hi all, for anyone seeing something in the night sky, we believe it was a meteorite.'

Yes, a meteorite, a fireball, a not-very-often-at-all event… and I missed it.

Funny thing is I often, almost usually, pop outside for a few minutes on clear nights and look up into the sky just in case I catch a falling star (and if I did, then yes, I would put it in my pocket). Not last night though, when some anonymous astronomer chappy at the Kelder Observatory tweeted: 'Of 30 years observing the sky, fireball best thing I have ever seen period.' I was fast asleep in my bed when it zoomed overhead at around 11.00pm allegedly.

Did he really need that period? Wouldn’t a simple full stop have done? Anyway, I missed it.

It’s amazing to think that a chunk of rock not even as big as a house brick could cause such a spectacle, a chunk of rock that probably came from somewhere between Mars and Jupiter and had been whizzing around in space for thousands of millions of years. Yes, half a house brick, hurtling through space for thousands of millions of years and popping into our atmosphere, finally going out in a spectacular blaze of glory just as I was going to bed.

It was spectacular, beautiful, astounding, awesome, breathtaking, glorious and seen by hundreds, perhaps thousands of people.

Not me though.

Friday, 21 September 2012

What, no Kate?...

Okay, let’s start by getting one thing clear from the get-go – I am a huge Kate Bush fan and just why she hasn’t been nominated for the Mercury Prize this year is a mystery to me. The Mercury Prize shortlist includes Django Django, The Maccabees and Richard Hawley - but there's no place for Kate.

Plan B, one of the few well-known names nominated, is on the list, but Kate is a surprise omission despite her being the bookie’s favourite prior to the announcement of the shortlist. It was certainly an unwelcome surprise for me because I had money on her. Oh well, There Goes A Tenner (see what I did there). In fact female artists barely register in this year’s Mercury awards with only two - Lianne La Havas and Jessie Ware - making the list.

In a year when album sales are at a record low, some have said that the latest Mercury Prize shortlist is a reflection of Britain's ‘floundering’ music scene. Mmmm, they could have a point there, apart from Plan B and Richard Hawley the rest might be described as ‘relatively unknown’ (unlike Kate). But then, the Mercury has never exactly been a celebration of commercial success and this year’s bunch are (what shall I call them?) interesting. Amongst others they consist of alternative Leeds quartet Alt-J (∆), ‘quiet storm’ singer-song writer Jessie Ware, soul-singer Michael Kiwanuka, South London band the Maccabees (one for the cider drinking students there), obligatory jazz band Roller Trio and Django Django, who sound like they should be a jazz band and whose nomination was described as ‘a bit surreal’ by the Django’s guitarist-vocalist Vincent Neff. I wonder just what he meant; surreal in a ‘how did that bloody happen?’ kind of way, or surreal as in a masterpiece by Salvador Dali?

But I digress; the 12 albums in the running include favourite, Plan B’s multi-platinum selling Ill Manors, the first film soundtrack to be nominated. The judges seem to like this one a lot commenting that it was “a brilliantly visceral soundtrack to an angry, troubling and harsh picture of life on the underside of London in 2012”. Not a pretentious statement at all then, and not quite 50 Words For Snow either.

Another favourite, ex-Pulp man, Richard Hawley makes a second appearance on the shortlist with Standing At The Sky’s Edge. His fourth album, Cole’s Corner, was nominated in 2005 but lost out to transvestite warbler Antony and his Johnsons. There are two other male solo artists deemed worthy by the judging panel, Ben Howard and Sam Lee and another pretty much unknown (but dark horse) band, Field Music.

Simon Frith, who seems to have been chairing the judges since time began, said: "This year's Barclaycard Mercury Prize shortlist showcases a wonderful variety of musical voices, emotions and ambitions. There are eight debut albums on the list and four albums from more established artists. The sheer range of music here celebrates the abiding ability of British musicians to find new ways to explore traditional themes of love and loss while making an exhilarating soundtrack for life in 2012." 

Yes Simon, but no Kate; a bit of an oversight don’t you think? Mind you, it’s hard to please everyone, although it would have been nice to see Florence, Laura Marling, Hot Chip, Emeli SandĂ© , Kindness, Wiley, The XX (who probably left it a little late with their second album coming out just two days before the nominations were cast), maybe even Coldplay - at least most people have heard of them.

And I’m not the only one moaning about the no Kate Mercury Prize and left wondering if the competition has finally lost its way completely. The Guardian’s, Alexis Petridis points out that this year’s list is more easily defined by who's missing. “There's no dance music, no hard rock, no curveball, no Kate Bush and no representation of out-and-out pop music.” Petridis goes on to add: "A cynical voice would say that's probably because the charts are in a state of awfulness almost without precedent – they've been rotten before, but never this sonically homogenous – and a cynic might have a point."

Call me a cynic then because I agree. But what do those lucky few who have made it through to the shortlist, chosen out of over 250 albums by a mysterious anonymous panel, make of it all?

Jessie Ware, nominated for her debut album Devotion said: “It's the one that you really wanna get a nomination for. It's such a wonderful prize and it really is about the music, so for me to be a part of this shortlist, I really am over the moon.” I wonder if she’ll be sick as a parrot when (sorry, if) she doesn’t win.

Ex- wilderness survival teacher, Sam Lee, received a nomination for his debut album Ground of its Own. Sam’s album was inspired by his ‘adoption’ by late traveller writer and musician Stanley Robertson. “I think the people that I've learnt the songs from, the gypsy traveller community, I think it would be a recognition.” Okay, I see… I think.

Michael Kiwanuka, another debut album nominee with Home Again, claims that the prize underlines the importance of the album as a format: “That's the thing, I think it just makes people aware that you can still listen to something in a long-playing form. People think ‘I better check the album out, maybe, if it's nominated’, and then they listen to the album, as opposed to one track that they hear on a compilation, or something, or off iTunes.” Really? Isn’t that all a bit nineteen seventies and doesn’t he have a shuffle setting on his iPod? Mind you, Kate would probably agree.

Of course Kate, who wasn’t nominated, was unavailable for comment.

So, who’s going to win? Well, the lucky winner will be announced at the Barclaycard Mercury Prize Awards Show at the Roundhouse on Thursday, November 1. To be honest though, the Mercury is known for the occasional surprise and it could be anybody’s game despite the odds. Yes, anybody could win, but there’s one thing you can be sure of – it won’t be Kate Bush, unfortunately.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Hottle wottle bottle...

Hot water bottle time is on the way. There’s nothing quite like a hottle-wottle-bottle to keep your chilly toes warm at night. It sits there snug at the bottom of your bed, too hot to touch, and then later a cold rubber lump that you kick to the bottom of the bed because it feels like a slug.

In the days before rubber hot water bottles it was all warming pans and hot stones wrapped in linen. Then along came earthenware bottles with screw lids, I have a couple of these and I’ve even used them. I have a childhood memory of Corona lemonade bottles wrapped in towels being used to warm the bed on exceptionally cold nights.

Once my bottle burst, the rubber all flaky and perished; water soaked my bed and I had to sleep on the floor. Luckily it wasn’t too hot and I wasn’t scalded, although even now I always overfill and use boiling water despite what the instructions say. A leaking bottle is a dispiriting thing, you always find out too late and no matter how hard you try you can never get a replacement stopper.

Hot water bottle covers, a relatively recent development. I’ve had some great covers over the years – cats, elephants, even Betty Boop, but they all serve the same purpose as the old terry nappies my mum used to wrap our bottles in.

For a while, in my pre-teens, I had a Walter Hottle Bottle. I bought it from the local chemist, probably a copyright breach, but who cared. Walter was in a comic. He was a special, magic, hot water bottle that belonged to a boy called Charles. When Charles dreamt, Walter would come to life and take him on every sort of adventure imaginable. In his dreams, Charles met living snowmen, collected missing cuckoos for his clock, built sandcastles in the Arabian desert, met dwarves, even took a trip to the moon. There were no limits to Charles’ adventures because, like most young boys, his imagination was boundless. How I envied Charles.

Walter appeared in my sister’s kid’s comic; Jack and Jill. Of course I pretended not to read it, but when my sister went to bed I’d sneak it to my room and read Charles and Walter’s latest adventure. For some reason Walter always reminded me of a Dutch miller, maybe it was the blue hat and coat and the white trousers. To be honest he was a scary little bugger and if he'd have woken me from my dreamy sleep one evening I'd probably have screamed and jumped out of bed - or shit it.

Anyway, it’s that time of year again. I think I’ll boil the kettle.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Up the pole…

Here she is, out in the big wide world. Yes, Luna has started going outside on her own, unfettered and unchaperoned, without impairment, and free to do whatever she pleases. I’m amazed that it has taken her so long to discover that there is a world behind our walled yard. After all, she’s a cat; springing to the top of a seven foot wall can’t be that hard - can it? Particularly as there’s a handy raised pond and a conveniently positioned windowsill nearby to help her.

As usual though with Luna, she can’t do anything without getting into some sort of scrape. She hadn’t been out more than twice before she lost another of her rapidly diminishing seven lives.

Now, they do say that curiosity killed the cat, but wandering into a neighbour’s yard when their barky little dog was out was probably a little to much of the curious, a curious step too far maybe.

Of course the dog on seeing Luna did what dogs do and, as Luna had never seen a dog before, it must have come as a surprise to her when the dog began barking and gave chase. Rather than stand her ground and give the dog a good swipe with her claw Luna ran… and where did she run too? Twenty-five feet to the top of the nearest telegraph pole that’s where.

We found her, clinging on for dear life number four high above our heads. Fortunately a neighbour had already spotted her and had come to the rescue with ladders. I was tempted to rush indoors for my camera but, as my neighbour was already halfway up the ladders, I thought the least I could do was hold it steady for him - thus missing a fantastic blog photo opportunity.

She didn’t want to come down, but my neighbour managed it with hardly a scratch and what little blood there was should easily wash out on a boil wash. Back on the ground Luna decided it was time to come in. The shock had been so great that she needed half a box of cat treats and a long sleep to fully recover, leaving me to go back outside and take a photograph after the event. Not quite the same, but better than nothing I guess.

By the way, am I the only one who can see a face in that telegraph pole?

What next I wonder… 

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

'O' no, not again...

Here we go again, all change - out with GCSE’s in with EBaccs. Why can’t they simply leave exams alone and why replace them with something that sounds like it should come from a heavily forested moon a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?

They’ve been saying that GCSE’s have been getting easier year on year for ages. Too many passes, too many high grades, too many happy and proud children and parents.

Well, we can’t have that can we… it’d never do would it? I know, let’s go back to the future and instead of students working towards a qualification in a logical and systematic way, having to complete each step of a journey towards qualification, let’s bung it all down to a three hour examination at the end of a very long and complicated two year course.

Let's put the whole thing in the hands of memory and rote and not recognise any need for a deeper understanding. After all, we're all good drivers after we've passed the test so surely maths and English are just the same.

That should sort the wheat from the chaff, the men from the boys, the clever from the dull. Yes, lets go back thirty years to the days of the ‘O’ level and the CSE, let's go back to the good old days where you could waste almost two years not learning a thing and then cram it all in the month before the final exam and still pass.

Yes, I was at school in the days of the ‘O’ level, and back then you could do just that. I knew boys who did almost nothing during the two years leading up to the exam and then ‘crammed’ the month before. Many (at least those whose parents could afford it) even hired a cramming coach who groomed them ready for the exams a few weeks before they sat it. I even knew boys that found ways to cheat in the exams. None of them were ever caught and not a one of us ever ‘split’ – it simply wasn’t done. And of course there were always the ‘O’ level aid books – books that gave you the essential bits of Chaucer or ‘Tess’ required for the exam so that you had no need to actually read the book.

For some exams were easy – they breezed them, hardly breaking into a sweat as they sat on a hard wooden chair for hours on end turning over exam sheet after exam sheet. Others went to pieces. One very bright boy was so scared of exams he flunked the lot; there was another who always fainted whenever he entered the exam room. ‘O’ level time was shit and most of us were scared shitless. It was two weeks of hell, with your whole life resting on a couple of hours and the turn of an exam paper booklet.

I loved history, always got good marks, was top of the class three years running and even won the lower school history prize. I thought I knew my stuff and so did everyone else; but on the day of the three hour exam something went wrong – I lost my nerve or forgot everything I’d once known… and I failed. I’m not talking a low grade here, I’m talking a fail, an ‘F’. All the great work I’d done in the two years preceding that day counted for nothing. I might as well never have studied history, never have written all those essays, never won the lower school history prize. I was a failure… an ‘F’.

I passed other ‘O’ levels, not brilliantly but okay, but I never re-sat my history ‘O’ level. I didn’t have the heart. I was an ‘F’.

I ignored history for years after that, pretending it hadn’t happened. I gave up on something that for years I’d found fascinating and which brought me real pleasure simply because for a few short hours in the school hall I panicked and lost my way.

Monday, 17 September 2012

The end of the barbecue season...

Well that’s it, the end of another barbecue season. We managed a few along the way, both here and at the cottage but I don’t think we’ll get another – the evenings are too chilly. We barbecue at the drop of a hat. All it takes is a single ray of sun and we’re out there smoking everything up. I think our neighbours think us a bit mad, sometimes we barbecue for nights on end - they may even run a book on how early in the spring we’ll start this time.

It doesn’t seem five minutes ago that we were lighting our first back in April and now it’s time to put the barbecue away for another year. Once I’ve emptied it of the water from last night’s rainstorm that is.

Over on the other side of the world, in Australia, my sister is just about to start her barbecue season. They’ve just traded their gas barbecue for a charcoal fired beast of a thing made out of ceramic. It really is a monster, very expensive, but it seems to do everything and I guess that if you have guaranteed sunshine throughout the summer, prawns as big as chickens, and a barbecue culture nation then you’ll eventually get your moneys worth.

Run the advertisement…

"The Kamado weighs 103kg [that’s 17 stones!]. Ceramics are heavy. The reason you want to break your back dragging one of these things home is simple: Food grilled on it tastes great. You can grill, you can sear, you can smoke, you can use it as a pizza oven, and it all comes out better than anything else you’ve grilled. Really. Better. So much better. The egg is sealed, so it ends up functioning as grill and oven at the same time, locking delicious moisture inside, and it gives you incredible temperature control. Once you dial in the controls, you can set it at a certain temperature and by golly, it will keep that temperature until the charcoal runs out."

By golly! Yes, it does sound good and such a change from gas fired which isn’t really barbecuing at all.

I don’t get gas fired barbecues and I’ve never cooked on one. I’ve eaten food cooked on them though and to be honest you might as well have cooked on an electric griddle or fried your sausage and burger in a frying pan.

Yes, there’s something about charcoal smoked food that adds to the flavour – perhaps it’s the carcinogenics…

We've tried barbecues of all types and sizes over the years, including one that I bought for a hundred quid that sounds a little like a small Kamado. That did everything to by golly, you could even barbecue indoors – not that we ever did. The problem was, like gas fired, it didn’t taste barbecued for some reason. Oh, it was very healthy (the blurb said so) but I missed the tar and smoke. It’s ended up in the shed somewhere gathering dust in our barbecue graveyard.

For the last few years we’ve been barbecuing using a stockpile of small dish barbecues we bought at Aldi or Lidyl (I can’t remember which) for £1.99 and a few more of exactly the same design which we bought at Asda in their end of season BLOW – everything must go – OUT sale for an incredible 50 pence each. Well, they were too good a bargain to miss and they work a treat when there are just two of us. They don’t use too much charcoal, don’t burn for days, and as long as you are happy to eat and cook in relay (which we prefer) are big enough and last long enough for a few courses. Sometimes I leave one out to rust over the winter and when spring comes, if it's gone too far, get another from the cupboard ready for the cycle to begin again.

Oh well, that’s it for another year. You know I really should get off my arse, clean out that rusty old barbecue and put it in the shed, there’s probably another season in it at least.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Raven's feather...

Halloween is on its way, the nights get darker and last night we set alight our first open fire of the season, the wood smoke wending its way up our chimney and out into the air.

The full moon and witches and spells.

A while ago I visited an old place on Ynys Mon. A very old place and in the centre of the chamber I found three black feathers. I did a little research and this is what I think it was that I found – a spell to undo wrongdoers. Now what shape the retribution for the wrongdoing takes is up to the person who has been wronged; they must find three black feathers and place them on the wrongdoer’s person or in or under their pillow after the ritual is made.

If I believed in this mumbo jumbo I’d recommend this to a friend of mine who says they need help – just how it finishes would be up to them. Of course I don’t, not really; although full moon is tonight and it’s on the full moon that the ritual is made.

Maybe, if I can’t sleep I might seek out some candles and stand out under the moon with my camping stove. After all I still have the feathers from Bryn Celli Ddu and it can’t really do any harm.

Can it?

Click for my pictures of Bryn Celli Ddu and the feathers.

Raven’s revenge ritual.

Take candles and place them in a circle around. Sit in the middle of it and whisper:
"As I light these candles let this ritual begin"
Place your hands on the ground in front and chant:

"Oh Raven by your feathers black,
help me in one quick attack.
Oh Raven by your feathers black,
help me in one quick attack.
Oh Raven by your feathers black,
help me in one quick attack.”

Next run the raven feathers in turn around above the candles for each time you chant these words.
"Infused be these feathers o' black,
by my desire for this payback.
Infused be these feathers o' black,
by my desire for this payback.
Infused be these feathers o' black,
by my desire for this payback."

Then rise from your circle and go to a cauldron or pan.
"O' raven black as night can be,
I summon thy essence here to me."

Place the feathers in boiling water.
"Infuse, unfurl and mix good and well,
create your power as I cast my spell!"

Take each candle in turn and pour SEVEN drops of wax from each candle into the boiling water.
"Black on black, my powers to ill
the one who dared cross me, this is divine will"

Finally take his name written on a paper and drop it into the boiling water.
"Burn the skin scorch the flesh,
wipe away all that's left.
Black on black, blood of red,
taunt them from within their head.
Until their will cannot survive,
and then my peace, shall be revived."

Take the mixture and pour it onto a patch of clear moonlight, and close the circle.

Saturday, 15 September 2012


Sometimes, no matter how hard you run or try to hide the past catches up with you.

Now if you have a past filled with dark deeds, pacts with the devil, stolen fortunes, that sort of thing then the past catching up with you might be a bit of a problem. Of course if, like me, your life has been a series of ‘nothing much happened’ then the past catching up shouldn’t be of any concern at all.

But then there are the memories and the mind to contend with.

Isn’t the mind marvellous? It allows you to put things away and forget them if you want to. They don’t even have to be bad things. Just things that maybe hurt a little too much, things that you were too tired at the time to deal with - silly things like long ago lies and betrayals, slaps, and slights, and slanders. Best forgotten, best wiped from the database, erased; painted out of the picture like some disgraced Russian cosmonaught found drunk in charge of a space station.

Far easier to store it offline, archive it. The thing is though, along with all the bad the good goes too, locked away in that dusty room marked ‘forgotten’ - gemstones hidden in sealed boxes alongside all the shit. Well, you can’t pick and choose which bits to keep when you shut the door on your past can you? And if you throw away the key, so that you can never be tempted to open it again, it can’t be again unlocked can it?


A lock-picker dropped in to see me today, not quite unannounced, but sudden enough so that I couldn’t hide behind the shutters. A bit of good from a time labelled bad, one of those gemstones that got mixed up in the mire. She found me not quite sober and not quite in charge of the space station, but she didn’t seem to mind. A coffee and a chat and some butterflies fluttering in the darkness of that dark, mothy, room.

In the end nothing to be scared of; different but not really changed and not marked with a big ‘R’ for regret - although I’ve some small ‘r’ regrets. It felt fine. I liked it.

I’ve pulled the door to again now, but I’m not going to lock it. I may pop in from time to time and take a look around, look for the shine beneath the shit.

Anyway, it’s on my list and at last I can remember the snow.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Grains of sand...

Look. Grains of beach sand magnified by 250 times. So beautiful. Quartz, fossils, shells, amber. There are more emeralds by weight in sand than in all the emerald set jewellery in the world, more long dead creatures than in all the graveyards on the planet.

Just think, that yellow, orange, white, grey, black stuff that gets between our toes and slips inside our picnic sandwiches when we are on the beach are really individual grains of beautiful perfection.

It makes me wish I had a powerful microscope, one with a bright light an adjustable brass eyepiece, I'd shovel the sand off the beach into a bucket and take it home to see what I could see. Whole worlds on my glass slide.

I'd travel the world looking for the perfect beach, looking for the perfect sand, examining each grain and gasping in wonder at the tiny beauty of it all. The Caribbean, Iceland, Bognor, the Seychelles - anywhere and everywhere a beach is to be found. Volcanic, glaciated, sedimentary and the rest; each different, each wondrous in its own way. Just look at the pictures... a beach just off a coral reef maybe? A long expanse of sand on an African beach?

Yet another reason to win the lottery.

Thursday, 13 September 2012

That urinating dog...

Or ci basio dwr gwaedlyd as the Welsh say.

I received a letter the other day, a letter from the power. No, not THE POWER - the power… you know, the electricity people. It made me think.

What a silly phrase ‘Electricity Outage’is. Yes, that’s what it said on both the letters that were posted through my door, one in Welsh and another in English. For clarity I read the English, otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to understand it; my Welsh being only a ‘good day’ , a ‘thanks’, a ‘beer’, and various oaths and swearwords - Ti’n llawn cachu.

‘Outage!’ I ask you, what they really meant was there wouldn’t be any electricity, a planned power cut, not an ‘Outage’. I wonder if when the electricity is on that they call it an ‘Inage’… I doubt it. Pen pidyns.

Anyway they went on to say ‘Hysbysiad I dorri cyflenwad trydan.’ No, it isn’t swearing (although it might as well be) it simply means ‘Planned interruption of supply’ in Welsh. So it came as no surprise when they turned off our electricity that morning. They’d planned it you see and taken the trouble to inform me in two languages - one of which I didn’t speak. They said that it would be off for almost five hours, but as it turned out it was only for three; not long, only a few hours, but as the voice on the radio suddenly cut mid sentence I felt an immense sense of abandonment (well, a bit – I do tend to exaggerate and yes, I am a bit of a haliwr).

‘Important and vital remedial and construction work. There is no need to be concerned, it is a routine operation.’ So that’s what they called it and I was not ‘at risk’ at all. Reading between the lines though I could tell that I was in imminent danger; for all I knew they were upping my voltage and the next time I switched on a light it would be me that would glow and buzz and not the light bulb.

 ‘There will be no need for our engineers to enter your house, but they may need to close the road for a while to attend to the overhead cables.’ Ti’n llawn cachu, I thought. Yes, close the road so that they can remove the bodies in unmarked vehicles; and it won’t be engineers who enter the house; it’ll be a clean-up squad in white paper suits.

There I go again… exaggerating (I can be such a uffar gwirion). Even so, our electricity comes through big fat wires that hang from tall wooden telegraph poles, no underground supply here, the real thing, real electricity that can fry you in seconds; you only have to read the warnings on the relay stations that are dotted all over the place. That isn’t lightning that’s hitting that stick man you know… pppffftttt and pisho bant!

As I’ve already said: it was quiet without the radio – too quiet. I’ve been listening to the radio all my life; BBC radio 4 to be exact and although I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: I’ve gained more knowledge from Radio 4 than ever I did from my formal education. I like nothing better than to listen to a radio play, making the images move in my mind; allowing the news to inform me; the programmes on geology and history educate me; the comedy - I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue, Just a Minute - amuse me.

Mabe I’m ti’n llawn cahu, but I guess I’m not the only one that feels they’d be better suited to another time. Oh, I get by in this modern world of mobile devices, computers, and social networking, but give me the radio and a couple of movies down the picture house each week and I think I’d be a very happy bunny. Ah, for a sleeveless pullover and a hat to pop on before I go out - and no need for telly not even BBC1.

For a few hours though I had no electricity, no radio. It felt very quiet (repetition); and er (hesitation) as I boiled water in a saucepan to make a cup of tea, an even bigger pan so that I could wash up – using a match to light the gas ring and not the electronic ignition. No toast, the toaster wouldn’t work; despite my dropping the bread in and popping it down; you see, just like Gary Numan’s friend our grill’s electric (deviation).

And then the radio came back on and I didn’t have to think anymore. Thank heavens for electricity, it makes things so much easier. I’ll paid a mallu cachau now.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Spell seeking…

Getting into the place isn’t easy these days. There used to be a time when getting in was easy and getting out was the problem, my head full with all manner of glory and nonsense. But these days it’s getting into that elusive state that seems so hard. Fettered by the mundane that’s me most of the time. Of course time in Wales helps, although it’s still too easy to just do the things I always do and not push at the door.

So, I take myself off on a jaunt, a pilgrimage if you like. I’ll start with the sea though.

Just the sea; waves crash against the jetty, clouds shadow the mountain, head lifts up to light blue clarity, a sparkle of foam on water, a wheeling sea-bird,  a run of green on the pathway, the cast of a rod and some quiet. But it isn’t here.

Back up the road then, and down to another beach of pebbles and wonder. The Rivals shimmer in the distance. I shield my eyes from the glaring sun and turn from the gusting of the wind, counting the pebbles on the beach before me and get lost in their vast numbers and cold like their smooth hardness. But I know it isn’t here either.

Off and along I go, past the purple heathered mountains – hazy and distant with rocks and boulders, the same sea a deeper blue, a family playing on the sand. A dog barks somewhere and turning I see the black crows lift flapping into the sky, following the contours and with the thrup of their wings they take me with them up into the sky and I fly.

It was always the crows, I should have known; maybe they can help - all I need is a name.

Monday, 10 September 2012

Rubber duck duck...

For those of you that have been reading my blog for a while you probably know that I like rubber ducks. Well, when I say like it’s more of a compulsion – they make me smile you see, but then who can look at a rubber duck without smiling? There have been times when I’ve been unable to pass a rubber duck without purchasing it and consequently I have quite a collection – a hundred or so, maybe more. Batman, Dracula, ducks in bikinis, diver ducks, burglar ducks, sailor ducks, flashing ducks, glow in the dark ducks, classic yellow, pink, polka dot, paisley - I suppose you could say I’m a sucker for a ducker, so feel free to say it even though you know that you shouldn’t because it’s a really silly thing to say.

I guess it all began at bath time back in the kitchen of my Grandmother’s house on Wellington Street. The small tin bath filled with boiled water from the kettle, a roaring fire, a rag rug ready to sit on as I was roughly dried with the hard old towels - and of course a Woolworths rubber duck to play with as I was scrubbed and soaped with Johnson’s coal tar soap. Saturday night was always bath night back then, rubber duck night I called it.

Later I’d try to hook a rubber duck as it floated past at Thame fair each September time, my dad balancing me on the edge of the stall so that I could reach out with my bamboo cane and hook a duck. It was exciting being out in the dark night, the flashing lights and the smell of candyfloss and toffee apples. “Got one!” I’d shout - the stallholder turning it over; ‘win’ he’d mumble with a scowl, passing me a goldfish in a polythene bag filled with water, a tight blue drawstring to use as a carrying handle. I dropped one once, the fish flapping and flipping in the gutter. To be honest I’d rather have kept the duck.

A world away now but I still like rubber ducks.

Well, it’s September again and last weekend on Thame Bridge, scene of many a fine adventure, thousands of rubber ducks were sent tumbling into the river (which is also imaginatively named Thame) in a rubber duck race. I wasn’t there but my cousin, Lindsey, posted this picture of the great release; just look at them splash into the water. They had better be careful though, that river is full of pike and one of them is almost four feet long. I know; I glimpsed it one summer’s afternoon hiding out in the shadow under the bridge by the reeds waiting for a passing duckling.

All those rubber ducks set free to wander where they will, maybe to bob and meander their way to the sea, across the busy channel, on to America, maybe even Australia.

I wonder where they will all end up? Lost for years in a bed of tall green reeds or maybe part of the detritus of a swan’s raft nest, some might even waterlog and - floating down to the bottom of the riverbed - become part of a silent underwater ducky tableau. Maybe some will even find themselves in a fairground swimming around and around forever as small boys poke sticks at them or in a silver-grey tin bath in front of the fire in my Grandmother’’s kitchen. Rubber ducks are like that, they pop up when you least expect them, in baths, in streams, far out at sea, in puddles on rainy days, in my mind. They make me smile; their job is to make us all smile. Keep your eyes open.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Jottings on a stormy night...

Some things can’t be forgotten they remain in your head no matter what. We had one of those raging storms on my last night in Wales. Not a long one; a few hours of rain and gusting wind, followed by forty minutes of terrifying howling - the driving rain bouncing off my window hard - and the cry of lost souls screeching down the lane.

Four o’clock in the morning and only a few children's wax crayons (thrown to the back of the drawer and left to flake and gather fluff and dust) to hand.

I scribble as I am sometimes expected to do. Outside in the dark, the lane turns to a muddy track as wagons, pulled by large sad horses, carry brandy up from the dead-of-night beach, wheels sinking axle-deep in the mud. Unmarked sheep huddle in the corners of small hedged fields and vainly bleat against the wind. Canvass flaps and, indoors (although not in sight) paraffin lamps gutter in the draught from the tiny cottage windows.

Time travel; caused by the wind and rain and the early hour; taking me back to this place a hundred, a hundred and fifty years ago. Another stormy night in my imagination; three-master rigs still being built upon the beach and barrels of brandy moved on up to the chapel high on the hill on some other stormy tonight.

There’s something about this place; something old, something passed, something not quite gone; almost (although not quite) a bridal charm. Perhaps it’s the surrounding of the fields hardly changed for hundreds of years, the mountains and the not too distant sea, the standing stones scattered all across the fields, that centuries old chapel high on the hill. Perhaps it's ghosts, shadows of another time, a record captured and sometimes allowed to rerun like an old film. There’s something about this place that takes me back to somewhere I have never been but seem to know and be comforted by.

Imagination or an echo? I don’t know, but I scribble on anyway until it is out. What else can I do?

Friday, 7 September 2012

The adventures of Mumps – Mumps meets a might-be monster …

Halfway through the most excellent snore ever, Mumps was wokey-up by something crawling across the end of his nozzle. ‘Probably that buzzy fly,’ he thought. But when he opened his eye it wasn’t a fly at all. Mumps could only open one eye, not because he was a pirate ‘Ah-haaa!’ but because the other was stuck together with sticky sleepygoo.

By the side of his sleeperbox stood a funny looking thing, and if Mumps hadn’t been quite sure that “There Are No Monsters” he might have said that that was what it was. Still, to be abso-defi-certain he asked anyway. Well, you never really know do you?

“Are you a monster?”

“Might be,” the might-be monster said. “What do they look like?”

“I don’t know. I’ve never seen one.”

“Do I sound like one?” Mumps listened and shook his head; he’d never heard a monster but he had an idea that monster might be all shoutybite and grumblegrowl like his mum was in the mornings sometimes.

 “Do I smell like a monster?” Mumps sniffed hard, which made his stuckedyup eye pop open. The might-be monster didn’t smell like poo, but then it didn’t smell noseynice either.

“Not par-tic-u-lar-ly…” Mumps answered; it was the biggest proper word he knew and he really liked it. “You just smell wet.”

“Well, it was raining just before you arrived.”

Raining? Raining in his Room? Mumps had never had rain in his room before. He’d had plenty of shadownasties and makeycries, but never, ever, rain. Mumps looked outside and around his sleeperbox. Now that he had both eyes open he could see that this wasn’t his room at all. This was outysidey!

“Where am I?” Mumps asked the might-be monster.

“One question at a time.” The might-be monster replied. “So; if I’m not a monster - just what am I?”

“Errrr… you……an…um…’ Mumps thought hard, so hard he could almost feel his brain creak. “Yes, you…… an…umm… a thingummyjig!

Yes, that was it. The might-be monster was actually a thingummyjig! Mumps smiled and tried to clap his hands at his own cleverness, but his hands missed each other and he just ended up slapping his arms with a flarff.

“Mmmm… a thingummyjig, I like that.” The thingummyjig said; trying out his new name. “I’m a Thing-um-my-jig.” He repeated, taking it slowly and capitalising his new title to make himself feel important and because -- titles should always start with a capital letter.

“Please Mr Thingummyjig…” Mumps thought the ‘Mr’ might flatter the Thingummyjig - just as long as it wasn’t a Miss, Ms or Mrs - and persuade him to answer his question; “Where is this place?”

“This is the country of Nincompoop. I expect that you want to be taken to my leader. Yes?”

“No. Why would I want to be taken to your leader?”

“Because that’s what you’re meant say in situations like this. Now come on we don’t want to keep Hisself waiting. Hisself wouldn’t like that.”

And with that, the Thingummyjig lifted Mumps up into the air and swung him onto his hairy shoulders.

“Hold very tight please, we’re off to see the… actually, I don’t think he has a name either, but we’re off to see him anyway.”

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Soupe du jour…

A quick five minutes in my yard this morning confirmed it. Autumn is upon us and the summer is fading fast. Of course we might be fortunate and get that thrilling kick of a little Indian summer but it is only a matter of time before we tumble into another winter. The light said it all; and looking around at the leggy, playing-out plants franticly bolting in an attempt to seed, just look at the colonies of blackfly on my nasturtium leaves and the falling and failing flowers – well, yes… the game is up for another year.

I guessed, or rather intuited by the goose-bumps on my arms, that it had turned chilly when I got out of bed this morning and, rather than pulling on a T-shirt or even a one of my short sleeved checks, I decided upon a long sleeved Oxford made from a good thick cotton. Even so I may have to wear a jacket today and I haven’t worn a jacket for weeks. I’m not sure about the flip-flops either; the idea of wearing socks though is less than thrilling – I’ve enjoyed the air against my feet this summer even if they did get wet with the rain.

Yes, late summer or early autumn, either way soup-making time has arrived again, the time of year when nothing will do but a big bowl of goulash soup full of beef, peppers, potato, caraway seeds, and paprika. Now there’s a dish to coddle and cosset you through the autumn and fend off the approaching winter for as long as possible. I won’t give you a recipe, there are plenty out there, but here’s a tip: double the paprika and caraway and add a little vodka or kirsch, both if you like, but not too much kirsch.

I’m looking forward to soup season with its vegetables, chickens, broths, beans, puree and pasta. There’s a soup for every occasion, and a soup to use up any leftover and on-the-turn vegetable. So it surprises me that soup seems to have become the forgotten food, drifting into the past like men’s hats, cravats, and proper prams. Soup is ignored by most diners as a starter, rarely served as a main meal in the home, and restaurants seem to underplay them almost as if they are an embarrassment rather than the delicious, filling staples that they are; odd really, the profit margin on soup is huge and in these pinched times a good chunky soup a couple of times a week can help the budget stretch.

Convinced? Go on give it a go. Make some soups, serve them with crusty bread, grate in cheese if you like, and enjoy. It’ll keep you warm through the winter.

God, I’m turning into a cookery magazine!


Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Cloud watching...

It’s not often that you find yourself looking out from behind a cloud in the sky, but here I am, that’s me – or at least half of me. I’m not sure which half though. You’ll need to look closely to make me out, but once you have the eye the rest might follow. Probably best not to look for ears, looks like I’m not listening.

Yes, me in the blue sky the morning after that awful day of rain. Not warm, but not cold and maybe the promise of a little real warmth later. Maybe that’s what I’m looking for from my vantage point high above the ground, the sun. So off to the pub for a couple of pints of an excellent bitter brewed in the village just up the road, hand pulled and real, a treat. Some lunch with my mum and dad and uncle and aunt and cousin and wife and daughter and afterwards a bit of a walk on the beach, some sun and a lot of breeze, the mountains in the distance hazy, the wind whipping across almost completely still waters. Low tide, but not low enough to be able to walk out to the rock where the gulls sit waiting to dive for the silver fish that I know must live in the darkening sea beneath them.

We didn’t get to the crab pool rocks. My mum and dad couldn’t walk that far, but a stroll was enough, and looking up at the city of holes the sand martins had built in the sand-earth cliffs - darting and diving, in then out high above me – and looking up past the cliffs, gazing into the blue sky still further - there was I looking down on me.

The whip of the wind as the sun passed behind a cloud. Men and children changing out of wetsuits, picking up shoes, searching for buckets and balls, dragging their smart white speedboats out of the suddenly almost choppy sea. Five o’clock and shadows, my cloud gone; all picked up and included in the growing greyness of the sky. Time to go.

Anyone for a cup of tea? Perhaps another beer then.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Hibu Jelly....

There was an old chap from Pwllheli
Who concocted a gin-lemon jelly
It wobbled and shivered
Shook, trembled and quivered
As did he when it entered his belly.

Yes, it rained so hard on Bank Holiday Monday that I decided it wasn’t worth venturing outside at all, not even in the car, not even to go to the pub. It wasn’t just the rain of course; there was the wind to contend with as well. My part of Wales can be such a windy place, windy and grey and very wet. Of course on a good day it is a wonderland, but today was not a good day at all, one of those days where the electric lights in the kitchen are not turned off and one of those days where time is filled with indoor stuff rather than the other stuff like sketching, sitting on the beach, and whistling a happy tune.

What to do, what to do? Even the birds, who usually brave the weather to come to the feeders, resolutely refused to venture out - so no entertainment there.

Rifling through the fridge I found half a pack of wilting watercress and an hour or so later I had my version of vichyssoise which I had no intention of eating cold. I hate cold soup. Cold soup is wrong. Cold soup is as wrong as soft biscuits, potato waffles, and cheese string. No, I’d be eating it hot with an island of gruyere cheese on toasted French bread floating on the top and afterwards a simple mustard glazed pork chop.

That done I turned to the dry food store cupboard in search of pudding and entertainment. Honey, treacle, flour, Demerara, raisins, capers… ah, here it was… jelly; lemon jelly to be precise. Okay, time for some fun.

I like jelly; I always have since I was a kid. I guess most of us have happy memories of childhood birthday parties with egg sandwiches, lemonade, birthday cake (which almost always seemed never to get eaten), and best of all – jelly and the obligatory ice cream. My favourite jelly used to be strawberry or raspberry, but over the years my taste has matured through cherry and blackcurrant and these days it’s the citrus I like best. Lemon and lime, but not orange – orange jelly is like the Rowntree orange fruit pastel - unnecessary.

Anyway, back to my lemon fruit jelly - slightly out of date but perfectly serviceable, eight squares of tangy yellow wobble, bursting with flavour, all set to make a wibbly-wobbly feast. Yes, I love jelly but these days, just as I love the tangy lemonyness of the jelly, I like mine with a bit of a twist.

So, taking my jelly and breaking it into individual squares, I added a tiny amount of boiling water and stirred until I had a thick viscous liquid. I wanted as little water as possible because I was going to top it up to the full pint with Gin and Tonic – yes Gin and Tonic jelly… oh, naughty me. To the less than a quarter pint of water I added half a pint of tonic water, not diet – I hate diet, and not a cheap one, cheap ones don’t have enough fizz – then I added a quarter pint of gin and the zest from a lemon which I grated using my favourite grater.

A quick stir, a naughty taste, into the mould, then –brrrrrrr- into the fridge to set. Now for the hard bit… the waiting! Two hours and twenty checks later my jelly was set and the result was… well, let’s just say that not only did it taste good and look good it also had the effect of wobbling my mind and making me wibble… sorry, giggle.

Now, that’s what I call a party jelly.