Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Cheese and cucumber...

The salad days are here; at last my toms have grown to a size where they can be sliced and my first cucumber has finally arrived. Perhaps I’ll eat them with a nice piece of white Stilton. How I love cheese, especially white Stilton or a very mature Cheddar.

Cheddar, Gorgonzola, Brie, Cheshire, Danish Blue, Wensleydale, Parmesan, Edam - I wonder just how many types of cheese there are in the world? The French are meant to lead the cheese stakes with three different cheeses for each day of the year. Mind you, we British have 700 named cheeses – that isn’t to be sniffed at.

I once visited a cheese farm in Holland and bought a huge Gouda and an even bigger Edam. The two Dutch staples were taken home where they lasted and then languished for months before the remainder eventually being thrown away. In America I found it hard to find a decent cheese. Most cheese tasted like plastic and shone like wax. I’m sure that they have good cheese in the States, but I still have no idea what Monterey Jack should really taste like.

Not everyone likes cheese and there’s no cheese made in Japan, where it seems that cheese isn’t big – surprising given that they eat pretty much everything else including whale. I hear that the cheese made in Bhutan is unbelievably rich and creamy. It isn’t exported and it’s a bit of a trek to get it so I doubt that I’ll ever taste it other than in my dreams. In my nightmares I’ve eaten Casu Marzu, a Sardinian cheese containing live insect larvae – maggots to you and I.

Just why would you eat maggots knowingly? Perhaps, I’ll save my cucumbers and tomatoes and eat them in a sandwich with the crusts cut off.

All I need is a sunny day.


Monday, 29 July 2013

Ducks, ducks everywhere and not a....

There are times when my mind turns to the wonder that is the rubber duck.

I didn’t know about this particular ducky tale until a friend pointed it out to me. I’ve seen a couple of rubber ducks washed up in the tangle of Hell’s Mouth in North Wales over the years but have never stopped to examine them closely. I've often wondered where they may have come from and this could be the answer.

Anyway, here’s the story of the ocean-going rubber ducks and their incredible journey.

They may only have been toys - only meant to bob up and down the bath - but an armada of 29,000 plastic yellow ducks, blue turtles and green frogs broke free from a cargo ship 15 years ago and went on to float halfway around the world. Since then they have traveled 17,000 miles, floated over the site where the Titanic sank, landed in Hawaii, even spent a few years frozen in an Arctic ice pack. Some made it to Britain and were initially spotted on beaches in South-West England. Even been found as far north as the Hebrides.

While the ducks would have been a loss to our bath-time fun, their high sea adventures have proved to be invaluable to science as scientists tracked the floating plastic ducks around the world’s oceans charting the changing currents and learning how they affect climate change.

It’s believed that over 2,000 of them are still caught in the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, a vast stretch of water between Japan and southeast Alaska. This spinning churn of seawater catches anything that comes into it in a whirlpool for years and years, maybe even forever. Imagine thousands of rubber ducks churning around and around in a whirlpool of water for over 20 years. Just think of it, thousands of rubber duckies floating on the ocean. Journeying and washing up on the shores of Hawaii, Alaska, South America, Australia and the Pacific Northwest. What an adventure and how wonderful to find one of these rubber ducks.

These days they have largely faded to white and have the words “The First Year” stamped upon them. Next time I’m on Hell’s Mouth I’ll keep my eyes peeled.

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Big blue sky...

Want to know something really surprising?

For the first time in a really long time I think I might be feeling happy. Yes, feeling happy. Content with my lot, pleased with how things have worked out, not angry or bitter by what life has thrown at me or raging against fate, luck, chance and a host of other circumstantial obstacles which life has put in my path to trip me up along the way.

It’s a nice feeling. Yes, nice! Nice that the Black Dog that always sounds in my distance has been muzzled, his bark silenced. Nice that my demons, who’ve buzzed around my brain forever, have gone back to whatever hell they came from. Nice that the storm of grey clouds, which permanently hung over my head clothing me in the threat of a storm, may have actually turned out to have any number of silver linings. Nice, nice, nice, nice, nice, nice, nice.

Nice!

So why, you may be asking?

Well it’s a number of things. Not least of all my realisation that the less I give a damn the happier I get. This and the fact that I now realise the end to my ‘career’ when it came was a blessing and not the disaster I supposed at the time. Then there’s my recent completely debt free situation – no mortgage and I’ve never done credit. I’m happy with my little shop even though I don’t make me much money painting glass, but I really enjoy it. At last I know exactly how where I stand in my father’s warped and pathetic eyes and most of all I’m not going to let anything or anybody take the sky away from me. They can’t, it’s simply too big and blue.

Yes, the less I give a damn the happier I get so I’ve decided to look forward to the rest of my life – you never know when it’s going to be over.

Just look at that beautiful sky.


Saturday, 27 July 2013

7.08

My back yard at 7.08 this morning resplendent in sunshine and new informative sign. Whether it's an instruction or simply descriptive I'll leave for you to decide.

What more do I need to say apart from the world is great isn't it?

Friday, 26 July 2013

Mink…

Driving along the sunny road on my way to Criccieth last week I was surprised by a heart-lifting and exciting sight. Out of the hedge by the side of the road, tumbling helter-skelter into the dusty kerbside, came four dark brown mink cubs which are sometimes called kits.

They seemed to be playing a game of leapfrog or touch-tag, but whatever their game was they were enjoying themselves, scrapping in the dust in the sunshine. I stopped the car in the middle of the road, got out, and watched them for the all too brief minute or two that they were in view. What a beautiful site, nature at its most natural.

They were probably descended from escapees from one of the mink farms that used to be in the area until they were finally banned in 2000. These mink were dark brown, a sure sign that they are from a line that has been in the wild for some time, maybe even the 1920’s when mink farming was at its height in the UK. Yes, they may have been almost domesticated once but I guess that they deserve to be called wild these days. Not native though; all mink in the UK are descended from the American mink.

Anyway, they showed off for me for a while then three of them disappeared back into the hedge, vanishing in an instant. The remaining kit stopped, stood up on his back legs and seemed to look around as if to say ‘where have they gone?’ Then he too slipped back into the undergrowth.

I continued on my way to Criccieth for a nice sandwich in the tea garden by the square, but the picture of those mink stayed with me for the rest of the day.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

Dead bees…

Our garden in Wales is full of dead bumblebees. We arrived on Saturday night to find twenty or so dead on the drive and over our long weekend dozens of others died before our eyes. I watched as they fell to the ground with a drone like a shot down Messerschmidt. 

Actung, actung! It was so upsetting. I put as many of them out of their misery as I could with a well positioned flip-flop and a twist of my foot on the concrete but it made me feel bad deep inside.

Luna, being a cat of course, was fascinated even though most of the bees were out of her reach as she was hampered by her harness. It didn’t stop her trying though and she caught a few. Fortunately male bumble bees are without sting and these were so on their last-legs (all six furry pollen encrusted of them) that they weren’t in the mood to put up much of a fight.

Apparently male bees frequently die in hot weather through exhaustion, literally working themselves to death in the heat. Or it could have been starvation; if there’s not enough nectar to go around that sometimes happens. Of course it could be just the other bees moving out their dead and dying, they do that to keep the nest clean. or maybe it was the bee disease that has wiped out a third of the bee population across the globe.

Whatever. They were dying just the same.

Bumblebee nests are uncommon, usually just holes in trees or the ground and not at all organised like honey bee nests. I watched a few of the bees, not really trying to find the nest but looking anyway. I have an idea where it might have been, but I left it alone. Let buzzing bees bumbling be is my motto.

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Royal baby...

Now, I’m not anti-royal, those days have long gone; in recent years I’ve viewed their antics with amusement, affection, even a little jingoistic pride. But was the nation really holding its breath over this royal birth or was it just another royal-centred media circus? Judging by the crowds that turned out a lot of people were genuinely looking forward to the birth, but I have to admit that I don’t understand why. Now don’t get me wrong I think it great that Kate and William have a child, I’m happy for them, but it makes not a jot of difference to most people – why should it?

Of course the cynic in me says that all this baby hype is the continuation of the royals reinventing themselves as popular, benign, almost ordinary people and in many ways that’s what they’ve almost become. Certainly the ‘new breed’ of royals are popular and friendly; a far cry from the royal family of only a few years ago when the nation was outraged, almost to riot, by the behaviour of the Royal family and particularly the Queen.

Yes, I think that the Queen, Charles and that bloody Camilla woman have much to thank Diana for. I’m no Diana fan, in fact I quite disliked her manipulative ways whilst she was alive, but I have to admit that she almost single-handily made the nation notice royalty once more; albeit not always in an altogether good way. Her troubled life with Charles, her tragic death, her perceived public scorning on her death by the Queen set the stage for a huge turnaround in Royal PR and for once the Royal Family realised that they had to try harder to be liked and began to change.

I’m pretty sure that t was Diana’s refusal to allow her two boys to be caught up in the Royal sausage machine which is her real legacy to the nation. Her sons are many of the things that Charles, the Queen, Philip and the rest could never quite manage: funny, humble, down-to-earth, immensely likeable, and most importantly human; or at least it appears that way. It’s thanks to William and Harry that the Royal Family is popular once more and they, my husband and I, bathe in the reflected positive feelings that the nation has for the Princes, Kate and now their son. I’m sure that it was all part of the big plan, at least in part, but the reality is that Diana forced into place the foundations of a new Royal Family, a family that seems to be not so different from most and one that the British public can begin to relate to.

Of course they remain immensely privileged, immeasurably lucky, and most people will never have the luxury and travel they experience as the norm. They are very different, but at least they are a little more open and human than they were.

I think that Diana saved the lot of them and I hope that the Queen is grateful to her.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

Tomato plant smell…

My first red tomato of the year, grand isn’t it? Unfortunately it isn’t much bigger than a pea; but it is round, it is red, and it is a tomato. Anyway, small is beautiful. Not quite a meal, but beautiful nonetheless and I’m sure that for the fraction of a second it exists as a taste in my mouth it will be exquisite.

The smell of tomato plants is number eleven on my top ten favourite smells. It’s a smell not quite like any other and so difficult to describe. Tomato plants seems to smell of greenness, of hot, hot greenhouse days and never-ending summers, of laughing freckle-faced girls with tousled hair and the deep cool calm of the riverbank in the shade. It’s lush, it’s alive and it clings to your hands for hours. It’s the smell of egg salad for tea, the sound of church bells in the distance, the taste of a sip of cider straight from the bottle; all of this in one tiny tomato growing from my tomato plant.

I can’t wait for the big ones to ripen.

Monday, 15 July 2013

A few words on Rembrandt...

Today is Rembrandt van Rijn’s 407th birthday, I know because Google reminded me this morning. 

I am a big admirer of Rembrandt. He’s one of those artists that could not only paint, but for a while made a very good living out of it. The fact that he died almost penniless, a deeply unhappy man, only goes to make me love his work all the more. 

His self portraits are my favourites. They are so honest and analytical. When I look in his eyes I seem to be able to not only see but feel his joys and pain. Here’s a man that’s know all the highs and most of the very lows. It’s almost as though he’s dissecting himself on the canvas using paint as his scalpel. I think that I can see every ache, every pain, each slight and deceit, the weight of his debts, every unconfessed sin, the loss of his precious collections, the breaking of his heart, even his darkest secret laid out in those rich earthy hues.

I visited the Reich’s Museum a lifetime ago and spent an enchanted afternoon in front of The Night Watch. What a true master he was, such a master that he’s one of that elite band who are known throughout the world by their first names only: Michelangelo, Raphael, BeyoncĂ©.

Sunday, 14 July 2013

Life 'n shit...

There are times when it all comes together and you see a purpose beyond the purpose that you’ve seen. I sat outside tonight looking at the traced crescent moon and the spreading contrails, the taste of barbecued ribs still on my lips and thinking how tasty those barbecue ribs were, listening to Luna's bell as she chased a fly a big smile on her catty cat face... and then it hit me again - fuck, isn't life great!

Now don’t get me wrong. I realise that an earthquake or a threatening phone call from the police can change this all at the drop of a hat - and I’ve experienced both in the last few weeks so I know what I’m talking about - but there was a moment tonight when I was almost ‘at one’.

Quite what almost ‘at one’ is I’ve yet to work out, but I suspect that it was probably with myself and if that is the case then it won’t last so I better grasp it while I can. 

Or maybe it will.

What was it an old friend facebooked me a couple of days ago when I asked the question ‘If I wasn’t me who else would I be?’ Oh yes, he replied: “Quentin Crisp, Salvador Dali, Dylan Thomas...I think there's a part of them already in you...not a bad start!”

Not a bad start indeed, but perhaps a bad finish, who knows?

“When one burns one's bridges, what a very nice fire it makes.” 
“My mother protected me from the world and my father threatened me with it.”
“There is only one difference between a madman and me. The madman thinks he is sane. I know I am mad.”

All true, all so very true but not for now. Just which who said what I’ll leave you to ponder. Anyway, who really needs thirty pieces of dirty tongue-licked silver anyway?


So tonight it hit me again… fuck, isn't life great! And each day it seems to become more true, at least at the minute. That is more than he’ll ever have.

Friday, 12 July 2013

Blogging hot...

It’s far too hot to even think about blogging. Not that I’m complaining, I’m not. I can’t remember the last time we got a run of hot weather like this, particularly in July. It must be like this if you live in California; up to the warmth in the mornings, off to bed in the warmth at night and in between warmth... and then the rumble of an earthquake.

It’s probably coincidence, but my back hasn’t been quite as achy over the last week or so, and I’ve definitely felt brighter in myself. Not that I fully understand that silly phrase; where else would you feel anything at all but in yourself? You can’t exactly feel much out of yourself now can you?

Yes, the sunshine and warmth has made me feel a little better. I’m happier, less stressed, even a teensy bit optimistic for a change. Of course that will all change when the big storm arrives and you can be sure that it will; hot weather is always followed by a storm. Just the other day I saw the lightening conductor seller walking along our road for all to see and he’s always a clear indicator of storms to come.

For now though the weather is fine and hot, much too hot to even think about blogging. So here’s a picture of my cat watching another cat on television instead.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

The barbecue people...

They call us the barbecue people; I’ve heard them as they pass the house, the barbecue people with the white cat on a lead. They nod at each other and smile. I don’t know why people think it odd, after all eighty percent of the world cook on open fires, often in the open air, and I’m sure that at least some of them have cats on leads.

We barbecue at the front of the house. Well, that’s where we get the sun in the evening and there’s nothing nicer than sitting outdoors in the sun eating your dinner. We keep Luna on a lead when we barbecue in the evenings as we don’t like her out at night and she likes to be with us. We use a small 2 person barbecue that we bought in the sale at Tesco for a pound, we bought six actually. It’s just right to cook a couple of courses, and is very economic with the charcoal.

So, that’s the explanations out of the way; although why I feel the need for self-justification is beyond me. After all, we’re serial barbecuers, not serial killers.

Tonight will be our seventh consecutive barbecue since the sun put his hat on. What a week of glorious food. We’ve made and cooked lamb koftas in pitta breads with mint and yoghurt dip and couscous, barbecued rolled mackerel, pork piri-piri with rice, paprika chicken kebabs with a Greek salad, barbecued sweetcorn, peppered rump steak with a vegetable kebab and crushed Jersey potatoes, ginger marinated prawns with sweet chilli noodle salad, shar sui pork strips with satay noodles, we even made cheeseburgers one evening. Tonight it’s a mixed fish kebab with prawns, cod, salmon and monkfish that’s been marinating overnight in garlic, ginger, chilli and coconut milk served with lemon and coriander couscous.

Yes, we’ve been all over the globe foodwise in the last seven days. The food has been great but I have a barbecue top tip for you all that is out of this world. It’s simple and delicious and you won’t believe it until you try it.

My barbecue top tip is…(wait for it)… Barbecued Banana!

Just take a banana in its skin and put in on the barbecue. Turn it once or twice until it is black all over and just oozing moisture. Remove from the heat, slit the skin lengthways and eat the banana with a spoon. I serve with vanilla ice cream and maple syrup. Trust me, it’s bloomin’ heaven.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Big yellow courgette…

Courgettes, I grow them every year and every year, at some point, they succumb to the mildew. Not this year though, well not yet. I have a few strong and healthy plants grown from seed planted on edge in small pots of compost. I’m pleased that they’ve made it. I love them as plants and not just for the vegetables. I love the luxurious leaves, dark green and shade making, and the glorious yellow flowers.

I can’t wait to slice and batter my first courgette, or fry it in a little salted butter, or boil some slices for a couple of minutes and pepper them, or grill them on the barbecue, or stuff them with rice and lamb and spices, or…

Yes, courgettes are so versatile; you can even eat the flowers. But not this one, this one I’ll keep for gazing at for as long as it’s in bloom.

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Cool cats, sunshine, riots...

At last the sunshine has arrived and if the forecasters are to be believed it is going to stick around for a while yet. After a hot night, it was already warm when I woke up this morning at seven o’clock. By half past I was sitting in the backyard having a cup of coffee with Luna. Of course Luna wasn’t actually drinking coffee, but it was pleasant just sitting there watching her trying to find some shade under the table to keep cool in.

It must be hard staying cool with all that cat hair on your body. It made me wonder how sheep managed to keep cool before there were farmers to shear them. You know the wild sheep that must surely have once roamed our green and pleasant land. Imagine wearing two or three sweaters or a fur coat in the blazing heat, it can’t be a pleasant experience and most animals, regardless of the climate they live in, are covered in hair, or fur, or wool, or some other equally heat retaining covering. Oh, I know many animals have summer and winter coats, but it’s still a coat and who’d want to wear even a light coat on a day like today?

It’s so much nicer to take off a layer when it’s too hot, put on a layer when it’s chilly; to be stuck with a single layer regardless of the temperature must be a trial. It makes me pleased that I’m not any other kind of animal.

Of course the heat affects us all differently and I’m waiting for the riots to start. You know the ones, the riots that often kick off during heat waves in this country. I remember one summer in Birmingham cutting through the park in the dark to watch Handsworth burning. I must have been mad; it was a dangerous place to be; gangs running through the street looting, cars blazing in the roads, plods with shields acting in that officious vacant way they seem to be so good at. I didn’t stay long. It was literally too hot for me, so I cut back through the park and found some shade of my own.

Monday, 8 July 2013

Swifts and summers...

The heat of the day gone, I sit outside in the slight warm breeze and stare into the sky.  Just an empty blue sky on a warm summer’s evening. No, not quite empty. High above the swifts dart their black arrow bodies pointing upwards as they glide deftly past each other and, missing every time, screech warnings of their passing. Higher still the contrails of aeroplanes crisscross the cloudless emptiness; gleams of silver vapour slowly dissipating into the blue.

I sip my beer.

Back on earth a teenage girl of around nineteen passes by dressed almost only in a thought, behind a hedge a neighbour’s newspaper rustles as she turns the page, the family across the way dine al fresco on their doorstep and a sultry mother in her summer frock leans lazily cross-legged against the doorframe as she watches the day dissipate.

I take another sip of my beer, trying to make myself invisible and remembering other sunny days, interpreting these few moments in my own way as this world joins with those others as they all become one.

I love summer.

Friday, 5 July 2013

Crispy Jesus...

Jesus turns up everywhere doesn’t he? Sometimes I think that he’s almost as well known and recognisable as David Beckham. True, you don’t see Jesus in many fashion magazines or in TV ads, but then you don’t see Beckham hanging on church walls or miraculously appearing on crisps. Well, at least not yet. Although it’ll probably happen at some time when Beckham is canonised and becomes Saint Becks.

Talking of crisps I wonder what Jesus’ favourite flavour was? Was he a salt and vinegar or a Worcestershire sauce man? In fact, was he a man at all or one of those alien beings who laugh at our potatoes? I doubt that he was big on smoky bacon, prawn cocktail or even scampi fries, what with him being King of the Jews and everything, and now that I come to think about it vinegar probably had some bad connotations for him. Maybe he was more of a ready salted kind of chap, or a roast chicken fan, or perhaps his favourite was Jesus onion…see what I did there?

Who knows? Perhaps Jesus miracled-up his own flavours: wine and water, ass and oxen, manna, and of course good old Egyptian plague flavour containing  blood and water, frogs, gnats, flies, locusts, emulsifiers and the odd artificial flavouring or two; like frankincense and myrrh. I was going to include donkey, but that’s probably already been done - even if we don’t know about it.

Anyway, whichever his favourite flavour was I bet Jesus could make five bags of crisps go an awfully long way.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Back yard watch update...

So my postage stamp backyard garden progresses albeit at a snail’s pace. Talking of which, and despite all the liberally scattered pellets, they still seem to be around in abundance. All colours, all sizes. Mind you, with all this damp weather it’s hardly surprising.

I haven’t much colour yet, apart from the snails, and my plan to go blue and mauve this year seems a little foolhardy in retrospect. It’s a shady garden most of the time and I really could do with something bright to bring it to life. Fortuitously a few of last years nasturtiums have regenerated themselves from fallen seed, a double boon as I’m hoping they’ll fill my cane wall with colour after the morning glory seedlings did so poorly.

My plan to work entirely from seed has come to fruition (well almost). But I find myself thinking about planting a few instant colour statements and I’m finding it really hard to resist.

Next year, if I am still here, I’m going to go fully orange. I have some beautiful marigolds at the cottage which I grew from seed and I think that a border of oranges and yellows would look stunning.

There I go again, this year’s yard not even in flower and I’m thinking about next year. Yes orange I think. It’s such an uplifting colour. Ommmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm


Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Smiles, expectation and revelations...

Fantastic expectations, amazing revelations? Well, not quite but I’ve decided to rush this out otherwise another day may pass without a blog post and those empty days are becoming too frequent for my liking.

Today started out to be about my postage stamp garden backyard but it seems I got sidetracked somewhere along the way and this popped out instead. I don’t know how this happens; sometimes I wonder if I know how anything happens and then, coincidentally, I remembered the postage stamps.

Anyway, fantastic expectations, amazing revelations - as Ian Brown so brilliantly comments. Yes, I have the fear again and this time the fear is fantastically, amazingly simple: I’m so scared of blurting out things that I should leave unsaid that I can hardly write about myself anymore. You see, I’m scared of losing you all, yes you, my readership without whom this blog is pretty much pointless even though I pretend that it is all for me and all about me.

Oh, I’m sure that you don’t have any fantastic expectations of me and most of my revelations aren’t that amazing to you, but I have fantastic expectations of myself in the truest state of the word – my expectations are beyond even my own belief - and the more I reveal of myself, chipping away layer by layer like an onion, the rawer I become. I’m scared that I may become so raw that I might make your eyes water and make you go away leaving me to blubber like a Laurel or Hardy.

I should have written about my long awaited yucca flower or something, anything at all to distract me from where my head keeps popping off to. I’m scared that the laughing policeman may get called, the Cheshire cat allowed to claw, Mr Punch to gloat (that’s the way to do it… that’s the way to show him Sylv), the clown to swallow me up and the queen to have my head - except she has already. I’m scared that free expression as revolution is just too hard for the fools to swallow, not allowed even, and that finding everything and realizing; and then telling will be my downfall.

Trapped like a spider in its own web in some room 101 of my own making? Yes, I have the fear and is there not for everything a reason? Riddle on riddle waiting to be revealed like a Mona Lisa smile.

I guess I could stop, and maybe I should stop here. Thanks for reading.