Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Ghost story…

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

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

Knock, knock (who’s there?)

I open the door to no one.

“Come in.” I say.

And they do.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

The share button…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ian liked it too.

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

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

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

Monday, 29 October 2012

What a cutey...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 28 October 2012

Clock change day…

Five-o'clock and it’s dark.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yes, it’s all so bloody confusing.

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

Saturday, 27 October 2012

Every story ever...


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

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

Friday, 26 October 2012

The laundry room...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Tea-light holder frenzy...


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

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

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

Oh well, I can dream.


Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Duck Soup…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What I know?

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

Monday, 22 October 2012

Preoccupied...

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

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

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

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Bowie is dead…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe one day we’ll get to hear them.

Saturday, 20 October 2012

National Geographic...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, 19 October 2012

Emmanuelle...

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

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

Sylvia Kristel Dies.

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

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

I have three distinct memories of Emmanuelle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Bring on the beer...

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Bring on the balloons...

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

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

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

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

What, what, what? I don’t know.

Bring on the balloons.

Monday, 15 October 2012

A disagreement and Cromarty Fisherfolk...

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

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

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

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

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

I wonder if he ended up talking to himself?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Without diversity the world is a poorer place.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Swatch out...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, 13 October 2012

Jam jar madness...


Here we go, the bloody EU again – just what is this latest rubbish about? We can't re-use jam jars for packaging jam to sell? Just how are school and village fetes, car boots, jumble sales and the WI going to cope? Yes, our friends in Europe have decreed that re-using jam jars breaches health and safety rules. I can see the posters now:

JAM KILLS! Don't sell jam in re-used jars... by order of Europe.

Always swift to act (remember the inquisition?), legal advisers to Britain’s Churches have sent out a circular informing people that whilst they can reuse jars for jam at home or to give to family and friends, they can’t sell them or even give them away as raffle prizes at a public event. What a shame, I’m always pleased when I win the plum and pickle jam instead of the toilet roll cosy in the shape of a crinoline lady.

The Women’s Institute is also advising its 210,000 members that the re-use of jam jars is verboten, interdit, vietato, interzis, forbjudet, and very naughty… although that probably won’t stop those naughty, naughty ladies (well, have you seen those calendars?)

The FSA (F’ing Silly Arses Food Standards Agency) said the rules had been introduced because there was a risk of chemicals leaching out of old jars and contaminating food.

After researching long and hard the only report of ‘Death through Jam’ I could find was this one. It was translated by a machine, but I’ve left the errors in because its fun… and yes it could only happen in A’stralia mate!

BLOKE DTED AFTER HAVING EATEN JAM. MELBOURNE.
December 11.

JohnFrederick Flint, a labourer, died at Merriman's Creek yesterday shortly after havingeaten some jam. Ilis mate states that healso intended to eat jam, but havingnoticed that it had a peculiarly bitter tasteho did not swallow any of it. It is suggested that the jam contained poison Atinqurst was opened at Sale to-dtay, and adjourned for a week, to enable the police tonurpue their enmiiries. The contents ofFlint's stomach have been sent to the Government Analyst for examination.

“Mmmm…” (strokes chin and puffs on pipe) “Perhaps it was a contaminated jam jar Watson?”

“No Shit Sherlock.”

“Well there could have been Watson; you know how these Aussies are about cleanliness. They’re all convicts you know. Maybe they didn’t wash and dry the jars, then sterilise them by heating them thoroughly in the oven on a low heat as advised on the WI fact sheet.”

“Elementary Holmes?”

“No, alimentary my dear Watson.”

Apparently Kate Moss, who makes damson jam out of fruit from her Cotswolds estate, and the Duchess of Cambridge, who keeps pot to give away to friends (sorry that should read pots), are up in arms - skinny and jam free arms as may be.

Mary Berry went even further, saying: "This is absolutely bloody stupid. It is just going too bloody far. We are bloody encouraging people to save bloody money by using bloody fruits to make bloody chutneys and jam, and if they have to buy bloody new jars it will bloody become much too bloody expensive. It’s bloody daft.2

Of course, Mary’s bloodies are mine for emphasis and also as a rather clever play on words around Bloody Mary (the drink - Have I spoilt it by explaining?) Mind you she’s got a bloody point; pristine jam jars from Wilkinson’s will set you back two quid a piece and guess what… YES, they still need to be bloody sterilised.

Canon Michael Tristran, of Portsmouth Cathedral, said: "On realising this was not a belated April Fool’s joke, I was very anxious, not only from the fundraising point of view for all our churches, but also because it goes against the green agenda of recycling."

Holy strawberries Canon Mikey, good point . When I was a boy we used to collect beer and lemonade bottles from rancid ditches, take them back to the pub and claim the 3d deposits. It never did anyone any harm - other than the odd touch of cholera and occasional dysentery - and it saved the clutter of all those bloody plastic recycle bins that we are forced to fall over these days.

Used jam jars dangerous? I ask you. What will they come up with next; a ban on singing Jerusalem?

Friday, 12 October 2012

The magic roundabout...

I guess most of us have watched that bit in the film where the villagers gather in the town square, flaming, guttering torches in hand, greasy smoke floating into the damp night air. High above on the mountain the castle, in darkness except for a single light in the tower, casts a shadow over the town. Lightning flashes and, as if on cue (which of course it is), the villagers move as a single body along the road shouting ‘Rhubarb!’ and waving their fists in well-rehearsed ‘Grrrrrr’s’ ready to deal with the evil that lurks above.

Usually it’s Dracula or Frankenstein and his Monster, occasionally it might be a werewolf, but generally it’s some sort of creature of the night. Don’t worry I’m not going to move on to a rant here, and I’m done with Mr. ‘Clunk-Click Every Trip’ - at least for now.

I noticed the first fallen leaves of autumn today. Oh, I’m sure that they’d fallen long before I happened across them, but the stiff, cool breeze that had sprung up overnight sent them dancing and racing in front of my feet as I plodded my way along the road. I plod a lot these days, the spring in my step seeming to have lost its ‘doingggg’. Yes, it felt very ‘autumn is here’ this morning, only just here though. I watched the red-brown leaves scuttling away like squashed insects, looked up into the pale blue sky, the purple edged, not-quite-white clouds, and breathed in the slightly smoky air.

Zebedee… ‘doingggg!’

Zebedee? Where did that come from? Of course The Magic Roundabout was always the harbinger of autumn; Eric Thompson turning up every October to remind us that Halloween and Bonfire Night were on their way and that Christmas would follow closely behind; pumpkins and fireworks, Dougal, and Ermintrude the Cow.

I was probably a bit too old to watch The Magic Roundabout by the time it turned up on my childhood TV, but I used to enjoy those five minutes just before the six-o’clock news. They really were quite magical even though I can’t remember a single storyline. Mind you there were a lot of storylines to remember; something like 450. I didn’t realise at the time that the programme was French – Le Manege Enchante – nor that the English stories were different from the French ones. It was Eric Thompson, father of Emma, who wrote the English version, delivering it in his downbeat, subdued and very dry-humoured way. I’m not even sure if Zebedee, who always reminded me of Salvador Dali, even said ‘time for bed’ in the French version, he probably said ‘Oh-la-la, poo-poo moi’ or something else typically Gallic around the smellier bodily functions.

I was still watching in my twenties, way back in the early 1980’s. Mind you by then I had a daughter and two step-daughters to watch it with me. They loved it too, it really was timeless. I think the BBC ran it until 2000 or so and then a few years later Channel 4 started showing a CGI version, which I’ve never seen, but can’t believe it’s as charming as the original.

Well, well just look at that... Frankenstein’s castle, rhubarb, squashed leaf insects, Halloween, Christmas, Dougal, Ermintrude, Salvador Dali and Zebedee. See what a few fallen leaves can do.

Time for bed…doingggg!

Thursday, 11 October 2012

If the hat fits…

Ever since the accusations about Jimmy Savile I’ve been thinking long and hard about the whole thing, particularly in light of what I believe about the Megan Stammers and Jeremy Forrest case.

I think that I am now at a point, given the mounting evidence against this very clever man, that I've made my mind up and I don't give a shit that he isn't here to defend himself. As I see it - lucky for him, and a shame for his victims.

I'm pretty sure, after watching the documentary, that Uncle Jim did the things that these women claim he did. I'm also pretty sure that some, probably all of them, weren't comfortable with it at all. Whichever way you look at it, it seems that Mr Savile was a manipulative serial rapist and I have to say that it has long been mooted that he liked far too young girls - surely everybody had heard that, it was whispered when I was in my teens.

Or did people really just think that he was just a little eccentric, no harm in him, a bit of a card?

I think another description might be monster; we’ll have to see; after all there hasn’t been an investigation yet. What is coming across the more that I look at it though, is that JS must have been a sad, lonely figure who couldn't form or didn't want real relationships. The sex might have been a way for him to pretend that he was a 'normal' red-blooded male when he probably wasn't, and by all accounts he liked it over with quickly. I don’t know what he was but I do know that he worshipped his mother, liked to wrestle, was outrageously camp in appearance and seemed incapable of growing up - a bit of a National Treasure really.

And a knight of the realm don’t forget.

I hope they ask a profiler just what he or she thinks about Jim.

In his defence, the times were very different back then. Lots of women married at sixteen and were serial mothers by 20. People were out at work in pits and factories at 15. You grew up quicker in the sixties and seventies, and of course a couple of generations earlier and those same teenagers would have been dead in a trench somewhere in France.

Yes, times were very different back then. I think we tend to forget that, in the world we inhabit now, our children are coddled and middle-aged adults live at home until they can save up enough money to buy a one room flat and when they do leave home they spend their time playing video games and eating pizza . Not too unlike Jimmy Savile really – which is worrying.

Context is everything, and I’m sure that all of the above will be used in Jimmy Savile’s defence as context for his actions. Even so, what JS did was very wrong in my mind. It isn’t just about what he did, it's also about the way he used his position to access it along with the serial nature of what he was doing. If he'd made a mistake with just one girl, even maybe if he’d had feelings for them all, I might have to think a little harder. But he didn’t, he just repeatedly abused lots of probably silly, certainly scared, feeling obliged, too-young teenage girls and the times in which it happened makes no difference at all. Nothing makes any difference for what I have no doubt he did.

On the Paedophile scale, with Jeremy Forrest being a one and Ian Huntley a ten, I’d put Jimmy Savile at an eight at least.

No, there's no excuse for him at all; deceased or not. Pass him the paedophile hat; he deserves to wear it.


Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Blue light…

Don’t feel like writing much today.
Instead here’s a photo I took on my way
home this evening.

Looks like autumn’s here again.
Someone was playing a violin.
I didn’t recognise the tune.

They played so well.
I stopped to listen for a spell.
Standing looking at the sky.

Then I took this picture.
See that blue from the lamp yeah?
Tesla electricity maybe.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Fuzzy felt man...

It’s a fuzzy old world. Not particularly warm, but definitely fuzzy and somehow it seems to be getting fuzzier every day. It’s an odd experience for me, everything used to be so sharp, ordered, neatly arranged. Even when it was random it wasn’t really, I think I was just pretending that it was - it was just a little busy really, busy and confusing. These days it’s like walking along in a television picture that isn’t quite tuned, all the edges are blurred, things that I thought were absolute aren’t. It’s almost as if the lines of absolution have been smudged, rubbed at by somebody with one of those grey grainy ink rubbers that, if you rubbed long and hard enough, would eventually go right through the paper. I wonder if I rubbed away at the edges I could get them to unblur again.

Tell me this. Why when people say they are going to do something, will definitely get back to you, why don’t they? You see in my old world that’s what I would have done. I thought it was what everybody did. But increasingly I find that I was wrong and people and things aren’t what I thought at all - and it’s fuzzying my world up. Even more (I was going to put worrying, but I’m not sure that it does worry me any longer) unsettling (yes that’s the word) not only is my world becoming fuzzy I’m beginning to fuzzy into it, blurring at the edges, not really trying to stand out from all the fuzzy crap around me. In some ways it’s a comfort, knowing that you can’t do much to control the television picture, letting it blur, blurring with it, becoming part of the blurred background of the picture rather than the picture itself.

“What is the probability of that happening?” I ask myself these days. In my old world, where the picture was crisply tuned high definition, the range was 0-1. It would or wouldn’t happen. In this new picture the range, whilst not infinite, is large, allowing me to expect any eventuality as I process incomplete and ambiguous data, accepting approximate values rather than the old absolutes I used to feel comfortable with. In reality even with all this fuzziness things will either happen or they won’t, it’s still a range of 0-1, but in between that 0-1 anything can happen, the outcome will still be the same but the journey is infinite almost and we might not ever get there and we might not even set off. Is the glass empty of full? Is there anything in the glass at all? Is it even a glass? What is empty anyway? It’s all fuzzy. Follow my logic? Fuzzy logic – messy, comforting, unsettling any outcome is possible. It’s like being not quite drunk all of the time. You expect nothing to happen but accept it when it does because it was always going to happen that way as soon as it happens. The glass tips over but the liquid doesn’t run away. Is it really liquid at all? Is that even a glass? Was it the glass that tipped or was it the world?

0-1 and almost everything in between. I wonder if I take my grey grainy ink rubber and rub away really hard I can make a hole in this picture and escape?

Monday, 8 October 2012

Not jam jars then...

Okay, time for a rant and today I have a choice, jam jars or the Classical Brits which I was stupid enough to start watching last night soon realising that I’d made a big mistake and that the whole thing was going to do nothing to improve my already dark mood.

Whoops! Looks like I’ve started so I may as well finish. Jam jars will have to wait for another day; Classical Brits it is then. Stick with me.

Listen if I were to say Russell Watson, Myleene Klass, Andrew Lloyd Webber, The Military Wives and Gary Barlow what would you say? Would you say the Classic BRIT Awards 2012 in association with MasterCard (yes, MasterCard not The Royal School of Music) or would you say what I said, which was:

“Just what the f*** are these Classical Brits about? Classical? Classical my a***... that blind bloke’s singing Amazing f****** Grace for pity’s sake, and whilst I’m sure that a lot of people think it a very nice tune - not me though, I f****** hate it - it's about as classical as my f****** a*** and as for the Phantom of the f****** Opera… well, since when was Andrew f****** Lord Lloyd Webber a f*******.classical great?”

Sorry about that, overcome with a bout of loutishness – well, I’d had a few wines and I was left up late alone - but I think that my points remain valid. Just give me a moment to calm down a little and I’ll attempt to be a bit more objective - well maybe not objective, but at least not as offensive.

Yes, Lloyd Webber, Barlow and Russell Watson; you have to admit that having that lot at the Classical ‘Anything’ Awards is a lot like having a bunch of dodgy cover bands instead of  the real thing at the regular (real) Brits.

And not only that…

“The Military Wives' choirmaster described the group's prize win at the Classical Brits as "the candle on the icing of a very large cake"...”

Mmm, I could say a lot about this but suffice it to say that a bunch of random women, hero’s wives or not, can hardly be described as a choir. As for that quote from their charming imp of a choirmaster, Gareth Malone, it’s a pity he didn’t wait for a stormy day and take that particular cake out for a walk in MacArthur Park.

“The group helped to round off the evening by performing another hit, the Diamond Jubilee Anthem Song. They were accompanied by the song's composers, Take That star Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd Webber who both played grand pianos”

I’m sorry but I struggle to find anything good to say about this sentence other than the evening was rounded off thus bringing it to an end. If I were to say anything else at all it would be an incredulous two word question… Gary Barlow?

By the way Gareth, better not let their husbands find out.

And then I spotted Sir Anthony Hopkins in the audience and couldn’t quite work out why; surely there where no fava beans to be had at this glittering celebration of classical musical achievement?

“The Oscar-winning actor attended the awards alongside Dutch maestro Andre Rieu, who picked up the prize for album of the year for his interpretation of a waltz Sir Anthony wrote many years ago. Rieu - known as the king of the waltz - dedicated the award to Sir Anthony and said: "He is the greatest actor we have now on this planet. Tony, thank you for this fantastic waltz and thank you for your friendship." …”

Dear God, just what planet is this fiddler Andre Rieu on? It certainly isn’t Earth. Now I rarely use the word surreal outside the context of art, but Andre Rieu and Anthony Hopkins? It’s a bit Mr. Nasty meets Mr. Overly-Nice (although I’d have no idea which should be which), and whilst I admire Sir Tony’s acting ability it’s a bit of a stretch to call him the greatest actor on the planet. Still, I’m sure that the cheese string king of the schmaltz knows his actors; he certainly seems to do plenty of acting when he’s on stage pretending to play. Even so, I wonder just where Sir Michael Gambon would tell him to shove his fiddle.

Apparently the Duchess of Cornwall was due to be there but she had to pull out due to a middle ear infection and sinusitis which was probably a blessing and one of her better decisions. Maybe, given that it was her ear that was infected, one should wonder if one’s Horseyship hadn’t previously attended one’s Military Wives’ rehearsals shouldn’t one.

Bet you didn’t try to conduct your baton her way, did you Gareth.

Other than that, 20-year-old, embarrassingly awkward, pianist Benjamin Grosvenor became the youngest ever male winner at the event, taking the critics' choice prize. Russian conductor of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and young Vladimir Putin look-a-like (shirt on), Vasily Petrenko, took the best male artist prize for his work on five albums. Violinist Nicola Benedetti, also up for full membership (think about it) with the female violinist soft-porn appreciation society, was handed the award for top female artist for her album Italia and - surprise, surprise - in this Star Wars 35th anniversary year, the Lifetime Achievement Award went to John Williams…no gratuitous album peddling there then.

John, who decided to send a pre-recorded video instead of attending (very science-fiction that), also received a ‘stunning tribute’ of his own music played by the London Chamber Orchestra.

Stunning? I wonder if they mean as in sent to sleep?

By the way, did I mention that Gary Barlow and Andrew Lloyd-Webber both played grand pianos? Yawn…

Oh well, perhaps I should have done jam jars after all.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Keeping busy…

Oh, I keep busy you know.
Distracting myself with all sorts of things so that I don’t have to stop and look at myself or my life too closely. I can fill up my time easily enough; I could fill my life just as easily. A bit of this, a bit of that – some cooking, some writing, blogging and drawing, the painted glass, a smidgeon of gardening, taking care of the cat, going to bed early and sleeping. A much better life than most; most don’t even have a home.

I used to travel a fair bit. It got tiring sometimes but I usually enjoyed it. I once went to Twin Peaks, well not quite Twin Peaks, Cedar Rapids in Iowa. But on one occasion, the first visit of many, it seemed as if it actually was Twin Peaks.

Captain James T. Kirk will be born not too far from Cedar Rapids in 2233. Riverside, Iowa, to be exact, but on the night I arrived it was raining, the wind blowing the wire strung stop lights noisily backwards and forwards above my head as I rode in the dimly lit cab to my hotel.

Cedar Rapids smelt strange. Sweet and sickly like chocolate and vanilla mixed with vinegar - and was that a whiff of bones and offal? We stopped at the railway tracks, a freight train passing to the ringing of bells. The train seemed to go on forever, mile on mile of freight carriage each with a different smell; the bells never stopping until the sickly sweet caterpillar had passed.

A huge factory dominated the city, if 250,000 souls do a city make. I was in the cereal capitol of the world. Quaker Oats, General Mills, Ralston Foods and Post all had factories in Cedar Rapids and I soon learnt that, because of the cereal and dog food, it had different scent each day of the week. Some days I could smell Captain Crunch, other days the rankness of wet doggie treats. 

The hotel was a 1970’s time capsule, heavily patterned carpets, curtains and wallpapers in just about every shade of brown and burnt orange I couldn’t be bothered to imagine. It was late. I ordered a couple of beers and a club sandwich. It didn’t take long to chug the beers and eat the plastic bread, and so I decided it was time for bed.

I called the lift and when it arrived I found it already occupied. A young man in the biggest checked flat cap I’d ever seen stood in one corner of the brown leatherette clad box. He touched the brim of his cap which was almost as big as a dustbin lid and smiled. “Going up sir?” He asked. “Twelve,” I responded. He stepped forward and pressed the button. We began to rise. With each floor the light in the lift seemed to get dimmer. By the time we reached the 10th the lift was almost in darkness. It stopped. “This is me sir,” he said as the door opened.

I hate the way Americans call complete strangers sir. I find it disrespectful. I waited. The door seemed to stay open for far too long. Just when was it going to close? Please let it close I thought and it was then that I had my Twin Peaks moment.

Across the way from the lift on the landing was an open door. Beyond the door was a concrete room, brightly lit, grey. A middle aged woman in a blue checked smock was aimlessly mopping the concrete floor.

She looked up as the man in the cap approached her. “Keeping busy?” I heard him ask as he reached the door to the concrete room. He turned, touched his cap and smiled: “Be seeing you sir, enjoy your evening,” he said looking directly into my eyes. That cap was far too big. I thought about what might be under it and decided that I didn’t want to know. Then he stepped across the threshold and into the concrete room. I heard a gasp. The lights in the room went out as the door slammed and closed behind him.

It was as if time had started up again. The lift doors closed and it started to rise. I was shaking all over, confused about what I’d just witnessed. Had I really seen anything at all?

I went to my room and locked the door. In the distance the railway track bells rang and the wind howled. I could smell vanilla in the air.

“Be seeing you sir.” He’d said.

I hoped not.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Creosote afternoons…

So, whilst I’m on the subject I might as well continue.

Freshly mown grass, sterilised milk straight from the larder, the oily smell of rain when it fell on parched summer pavements, the cloying fragrance of trimmed privet bunched upon the pavement, melting tarmac.

Are you coming with me? Is it a sunny summer afternoon for you? Do have your plastic sandals on? Maybe the paddling pool is out, the smell of warm soft inflated plastic and slightly cloudy fluoride tainted tap water flashing in the sunshine. There’ll be a sickly yellow ring on the grass for weeks after your dad eventually gets around to letting it down. You might hear a push mower in the distance, a flymo buzzing, the snip-snip-snip of hand-held hedge clippers - a whistle with another thirty feet to go. Can you feel the warmth of the heated pavement slabs upon your bare feet? Look, even the old spat-out chewing gum stuck to the road has gone to a sticky goo - don’t step in it whatever you do.

“Put your shoes back on, you’ll step in glass and cut your feet to ribbons.”

A fire siren, must be a fire. Don’t worry this isn’t the war.

And the tarmac on the road outside your garden gate; has it melted in the heat, a shimmering floating ghost hazily drifting above it? And will it never rain, the wet heating the pavement until it steams that smell of heat and petrol? And can you hear the clink of teacups, your Nan indoors in the cool and sipping lukewarm tea topped up with milk from the thin bottle of sterilised milk that forever sits upon the kitchen table?

And lolly sticks from cider ice lolls dropped on the hot pavement, collected and made into whizzers, fingers gently criss-crossing five to make them firm, then flinging them through the air to smash to smithereens as they hit the ground.
 
Are you there? Are you still with me? Can you smell the candyfloss of a summer fete?

Breathe deeply, and somewhere you will smell the creosote as men and boys, stripped to the waist and holding dripping brushes paint sheds and fences trying to avoid the burning splashes. Is it your dad, your uncle, brother, mate holding that brush and humming? Doesn’t it stink? Doesn’t it smell great, that rich, heady aroma of coal and tar and gas towers and summer’s afternoons. I still have his creosote. It still smells the same.

“Careful Frank, you’re splashing it everywhere. If it gets on the flowers they’ll die.”

Of course they banned it in 2003, Health and Safety, illegal both to buy or use. Didn’t stop Frank though; he had enough put by for a few years shed and fence painting. Not that he ever got to use most of it. They said it might give you cancer – like sulphided wine, and radiated eggs, and rare red meat – but only from ‘a lifetime's daily skin contact with creosote’, so not like cigarettes and in the end it wasn’t the creosote or the cigarettes at all. Just bad luck, he hadn’t smoked in thirty years..

Frank in his vest painting the shed, a beer by his feet.

That’s where I am on this sunny summer’s afternoon; where are you now?

Friday, 5 October 2012

The bobbet tin…

Screws, nuts and bolts, nails, hooks and eyes, tacks, panel pins, washers, the odd rivet or two – who of us doesn’t have an old biscuit tin somewhere, almost too heavy to lift, and choc full of odd bits and pieces collected over the years?

We’re magpies us men, or at least I am. I simply can’t bear to throw away that ‘one too many’ screws supplied with the flat pack chest of drawers or all those bits you don’t really need when you put together the kitchen units. You start with an old tobacco tin, but soon progress and before you know it you have a two-litre plastic ice-cream tub full of red rusty and whitely calcifying metal. Whenever I need something to fix another something I usually end up looking in the same place eventually; “I’ll look in the bobbet tin,” I say.

Yes, I call them bobbet tins. I don’t know why, but that’s what I call them.

My dad buried one in a field once; not a plastic ice-cream tub, there weren’t any back then, but a round floral biscuit bobbet tin, Huntley and Palmer’s probably. Bits and pieces he’d ‘borrowed’ from the Morris’ works at Cowley where he worked building the Morris Minor. The factory police were calling around, searching houses for nicked components. Apparently pilfering was rife and engines were ‘brought out’ to order. One chap, Tinker I think his name was, was rumoured to have brought out a complete Minor, piece by piece, under his overcoat. I don’t think they’d have worried too much about my dad’s tin of springs and nuts and bolts, but it was probably better “safe than sorry” he said.

My granddad, a blacksmith, had all kinds of metal paraphernalia in tins and boxes all around the forge, covered in oil and black with soot. What a treasure house for an eight year old boy, a surprise under every workbench, a miracle on each shelf. After an hour or so of exploration and meddling, I’d re-emerge into the light up to my elbows in grease and muck to be sent off to the washhouse to clean up with my granddad’s big tin of strong smelling Swarfega. Now then, was it orange or was it green, or as my granddad would have said “Naw than, werrit orange or werrit green?” Either way, it did the trick. I felt the proper little workman as I smeared my hands and arms with the strongly smelling stuff. I can smell it now even if I don’t know what it smelled of… and it was green, definitely green.

Whenever I open my own tin of bobbets in the cellar, turning over the metal things and getting my fingers darkly stained with reddened rust, trying to avoid the sharp points of the nails and screws, looking for that washer that never seems to be quite the right size, I remember that foggy morning my dad and I buried his guilty tin in a farmer’s field, still smell the hard metal of my granddad’s forge and the Swarfega in the wooden washhouse.

I hardly ever find what I’m looking for, and if I do it’s always at the bottom of the bobbet tin with all the dust and debris. I lift my fingers to my nose and breathe in the smell of old metal and old past and stand remembering… and it always seems to take me ages to try to find what I am looking for.

I wonder why? 

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Heading south...

The geese flew over yesterday.

When I hear the geese above two things happen, as they thrupp and honk their way to wherever they are going. Firstly I smile and then I’m up with them in my mind flying along to wherever they are going and always in my imagination it’s somewhere by the sea – sand, long reeds, warm breeze, sunny.

I think the geese have the right idea.

Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Last of the garden...

Quick, catch it while you can: the last rays of my sunflowers, the last sunflowers of the season. Outside, through the window my little garden, so colourful and green just a few weeks ago, is riding out its last as well. The blackfly have won over the nasturtiums, kissing them with their blackness, and the last couple of weeks, all wet and blow, have beaten down mostly everything else to a sodden mess of damply decomposing brown.

Hard to believe this straggly stuff is the seeds I so carefully planted back in the spring, opening up my seed drawer before the frosts had passed and hoping.

Oh well, soon it be time for the tidying away, the pulling of plants and the planting out of my foxgloves ready for the spring pinkness. Perhaps this year I will do what I always promise and put away a few plants in the cold-frame. Who knows, I may even save the chocolate cosmos.