Monday, 30 September 2013

Pants on fire...

Liar, Liar, your pants are on fire.

‘You’re a bigger liar than Tom Pepper,’ he used to say. At the time it never occurred to me to ask who Tom Pepper was; small children simply assume that adults know what they are talking about and I just thought that Tom Pepper was someone he knew. As it turned out he wasn’t, he didn’t and it eventually transpired that he was a bigger liar than Tom Pepper could ever have been.

But who was this Tom Pepper of his well-known, oft repeated, always accusing, bellowed saying fame? He said that there was a Tom Pepper Championship that awarded a medal with the words ‘You Liar’ engraved upon it for being the world's best verbal deceiver. Of course this might have been another lie that told to me as a child, he always was able to lie through his fraudulent teeth. He used to scare me by telling me that if I was awarded the medal I’d hang.

Some say that Tom Pepper was hanged for his lies and if you go across the border into Scotland he changes his name to Tam. Aliases and deceits, false names and falsehoods, it seems that Mr T. Pepper is not to be trusted at all. So just who was Tom Pepper? Brian Clough seemed to know: I once heard him use the phrase in a TV interview.

Others say that Tom is a character in a Mark Twain tale? “...the renowned Tom Pepper, who was such a preposterous liar that he couldn't get to heaven and they wouldn't have him in hell.”  Maybe he’s the same Tom Pepper that’s mentioned in a Napoleonic naval expression; the Tom Pepper who, according to nautical tradition, was kicked out of hell for being a bigger liar than His Satanic Majesty himself. He could of course be Thomas Culpepper, executed under Henry VIII for allegedly being the lover of Catherine Howard. Thomas protested his innocence to the end, but he wasn't believed, hence he was a ‘liar’. Funny (not ha-ha) but (like him) I know how it feels to tell the truth only to have people turn your truths to lies,

Perhaps he’s the - not very good - racing tipster for The Sun who borrows his name from another tipster in the Daily Herald in the fifties, or the confidence trickster from the Border regions who had a period film made about him many years ago, or Harry Featherbe, alias Tom Pepper, who drowned bringing one of his DJs to shore from the almost farcical Pop Radio station Invictor, or a computer programmer from Des Moines, Iowa, best known for his collaboration with Justin Frankel on the invention of the Gnutella peer-to-peer system, SHOUTcast and Ninjam – whatever they are.

Tom Pepper was a liar; he had been all his life. When he uttered his first cry, he lied to the midwife. Maybe he roams the wide world round, searching for release and until he learns to tell the truth, he's forced to range the seas.

I wonder if you know who Tom Pepper is, I think I do… and so does he.

Gutelmalan dawn...

Palm trees, misted mountains, a blood red sky... and was that the call of monkeys in the distance? Am I still dreaming?

No, not the tropics or the sun rising over a Guatemalan mountain - just the view from the window of my tiny bedroom in Wales as the day begins.

Seven on a Sunday morning although it felt much earlier, let’s put that down to the time of year, after all sunrise is always at five or six o’clock isn’t it? It’s late September, beginning to get later in the year, that time of year when I begin to find it hard to wake up, harder still to get up early and not waste half the day. Still, the rosy glow of dawn crept into my open curtained room dissipating the darkness and gently waking me.

Early morning confusion, no idea of the time, only that it is almost daylight confirmed by the crowing cockerel along the lane at the farm. I need a pee. So, getting out of my cosy bed I stumble towards the bedroom door – and there it is… the dawn.

What a view. Maybe I am still dreaming.

Friday, 27 September 2013

Global warming, the religion of recycling and bloody bin day...

 I don’t think I’ve written much about Global Warming. I’ve mentioned it in passing, but I’ve never had an all out writing rant about it. So here goes…

It seems that the inconvenient truth of global warming has rather inconveniently stopped just as everybody had begun to buy into it. According to newspaper reports the world's top climate scientists have been told to ‘cover up’ the fact that the Earth's temperature hasn't risen for the last 15 years. A report, to be published soon, is expected to address the fact that 1998 was the hottest year on record and world temperatures have not yet exceeded it.

The scientists have so far struggled to explain why this is and politicians in Belgium, Germany, Hungary and the United States have raised concerns about the final draft. Of course they would do wouldn’t they? After all global warming is a big money spinner, allowing them to up the price of energy, petrol and bung loads of ‘green’ taxes on all manner of things from factory emissions to holidays abroad.

It’s all part of the new recycling religion which so many people have taken to with the fervour of doomed Christians about to be fed to the lions…

Praise be the green bin,
Praise be the grey bin,
Praise be the black bin,
Praise be the blue bin
And all the waste caddies
For ever and ever,

Amen indeed, just how many bins do I need anyway? I have four big bins and two caddies, need a degree to understand when and which bins to put out, and I spend an awful lot of time separating my rubbish into cardboard/paper, tins/glass/plastic, garden/food waste and non-recyclable. When I go to the tip there are at least ten skips for various waste types – metal, clothes, cardboard, wood, electrical appliances, batteries, computer screens and televisions, oil, rubble - the list goes on and on, a quick trip to the tip usually taking upwards of an hour.

Now don’t get me wrong, even without global warming recycling and waste reduction is a good thing. But it’s a bit of a worry when the authorities monitor what you put in your bin and charge and fine if you bin incorrectly.

Hardly surprisingly there are bins everywhere. Walking along my road this morning was like running a particularly smelly obstacle course. Discarded and forgotten plastic wheelie bins were everywhere. Bin day was Wednesday, so just why there were still so many bins around is a mystery particularly as some of them were black and blue and it was green and grey week… I think.

Of course, whole industries have sprung up around global warming. Just how many solar panels did you see on the roofs of semi-detached houses ten or fifteen years ago? And even Michael Fish wouldn’t have gone to watch a movie about the weather prior to global warming.

Most of us think that the weather is changing and that it has something to do with CO2 emissions - but is it really? The Romans made wine from grapes grown in vineyards in Lincolnshire, less than two hundred years ago you could skate on the Thames, and I remember hot, hot summers and cold, cold winters when I was a child over fifty years ago. Back then most households only had one bin and recycling hadn’t even been invented. Mind you, we returned our glass bottles, reused jam jars, carried groceries in wicker shopping baskets and ate all the food we bought because waste was a sin and food wasn’t cheap.

I don’t know if the globe is warming or not. I know that I think the climate is changing, but I’m not sure. All I can do is listen to what the experts report. You know the ones I mean. The ones that told me that my computer would grind to a halt when the clock edged into the year 2000, the ones that were telling us just fifty years ago that cigarettes were good for us, the ones that told us that the world was flat and the sun revolved around the earth.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

How shit...

We will soon live in a world where adventure and danger don’t exist. A world where trees are legally declared too tall for kids to climb, the sea decreed too full of water to swim in, where kites are banned for being too close to the sky and fishing hooks outlawed as dangerous weapons – after all one of those could take somebody’s eye out.

Yes, the worrisome, worrying, nay saying, killjoy, humourless, bureaucratic, tiresome, do-gooding, heath and safety police have struck another blow in their attempt to make the world a less interesting and greyer place to live – or maybe I should say exist.

No, not conkers this time (as if that wasn’t bad enough) this time it’s the turn of the VW camper van to be murdered by silly, unnecessary, pen-pushing legislation.

Apparently Brazil is the last place in the world to still produce the ‘bus’. Now I thought Brazil was one of those rough and tumble countries where builders worked without scaffolding, knives were big and sharp and openly worn on belts, children killed snakes and rats with catapults and campfires were demanded by law when camping. Not so! Apparently Brazilians are as adverse to risking close shaves (see what I’ve done there) as we have been made by years of government scare-mongering about everything from salt to creosote.

Yes, it looks like another bit of our freedom has been lost. All over the world hippies, surfers and middle-aged men too sensible to buy a Harley will shed a tear. VW said it has made the decision as it can’t change production to meet the new Brazilian laws which insists all new vehicles must have air bags and anti-lock braking systems from 2014. Air bags and anti-lock braking systems on a campervan with a top speed of 60 with a fair wind, at a push, and with a wing and a prayer… I ask you? Besides, over 10 million Volkswagen Transporter vans have been made globally over the past 63 years and the accident rate is no different to any other vehicle, far less than most.

It’s their retro look, that ‘back-to-basics’ driving experience and the ‘not quite safe’ element that make dreamers like me everywhere want one. I’m not looking for safety, I’m looking for a little bit of acceptable danger… a camper van represents freedom and fun, it’s about adventure and chance, there’s a magic and charm to them that you don’t get with many vehicles. It’s the open road, making people smile as you drive past, it’s about the insecurity and the anticipated knowledge that at any moment you might break down.

A campervan shouts Bob Dylan, Beach Boys, Grateful Dead. It says ‘Surfs up!’, ‘Just go man!’, and of course ‘Let’s get the band back together!’ Apparently Steve Jobs even sold his in the ‘70s to buy the circuit board to build the computer that launched Apple - I mention this because it seems to say something important... I’m just not sure what.

In Brazil it’s used to haul the mail, by the militia to transport soldiers and by undertakers to carry bodies. It’s a school bus for Brazilian kids, a cheap group taxi for busy workers. They’re converted into food vans, popping up on street corners and serving corned beef hash lunches to starving gauchos - they even use it to deliver construction materials to unscaffolded builders on building sites.

They’ve not made a van in Germany since 1979 - the van no longer met safety requirements and European regulations - and with the South American operation gone what is going to happen to our dreams now? Even camper vans won’t last for ever.

Will we stop dreaming?

Like I said, we will soon live in a world where adventure and danger don’t exist. How shit.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Why am I still blogging?...

Now that's a good question.

For some reason I found myself flicking through my old blog posts late last night. Well, not exactly flicking and when I say old blog posts I mean posts that I wrote a while back when the world wasn’t quite the same as it is today. Yesterday and beyond then, day after day flashing up on my screen, my thoughts and actions, doodles and jottings back and back like naughty, lovely, deformed, spiteful, nice, happy, spitting children.

I only flicked through a few hundred of the soon to be fourteen hundred posts I’ve managed to drag out of my tortured artistic soul. As a body of work it’s impressive, so long as you don’t linger too long and focus mainly on the sheer volume of words rather than the content.

Of course, my posts these days are shorter, no longer the pocket novellas that they often used to be. It’s a conscious thing – my readers (such as they are) probably aren’t going to read more than a couple of hundred words. Why would they? I try to keep it to 250 words these days, but even at 250 my entire blog contains 350,000 words minimum and I’m often far more garrulous than I plan to be. This post alone is 544 words, so 284 words over my self imposed limit, well over double in fact.

I still only have 58 followers and can’t remember the last time a new one popped up. Still, being read at all is something of a miracle and I guess that with a total of 143,000 page views (over 100 per post) at least somebody is stumbling across it if only to immediately move on after reading a sentence or glancing at a picture.

As I flicked through the contents of my virtual life a number of thoughts popped into my mind: firstly some of the stuff I’d written wasn’t too bad and a few of the photos, drawings, and collaged images that I’d used to help along the words were rather good. Secondly, my life seems to be a cycle and in some ways my blog is a diary; often coming back to the same themes at the same time of year. Oh, what a creature of habit I am. Thirdly, I realised that even though it might not sparkle all of the time, or be read as much as it once was, it’s an interesting window onto my life… if only to me.

I don’t always manage a daily post these days, I couldn’t deal with that particular pressure any longer, and I think that I’m becoming boringly repetitive. For now though, I’ve decided to keep at it and churn out a few thousand more words. All those 350,000 words could have equally arranged themselves into a couple of decent sized novels instead of my blog. But for that I’d need a plot and (if you’ve ever dipped into my world) you’ll know that I’ve lost that.

So they you have it. My regular soul search to decide whether I should continue to blog, or not to blog, yet again decides that I should, that I must; if only to satisfy and feed my own ego.

Yes, it’s still all about me.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

The end of the fair and Dr Beer...

Sunday morning and the fair is gone as if it had never been. It'll be back next September bringing along its thrills and magic, but for now the Sunday Morning bells of St Mary's will be ringing out at Priest End where Doctor Beer's house used to be. Still is I guess, not that he'll be there. No, he'll be long dead.

I remember another September Sunday, another September Sunday long, long ago and a visit to the doctor.

I can’t say that I enjoyed visiting Doctor Beer, but then I can’t say that I didn’t enjoy it either.

Doctor Beer was our family doctor. This meant that when one of us was ill, (two sisters, no brothers), my Mother would threaten us with a ‘visit to Doctor Beer’. Not much of a threat really, the slightly gloomy surgery in his half-timbered house at Priest End held an odd fascination for me, and there was always a dish of orange and lemon boiled sweets on the dark oak side table in the waiting room.

I remember the long walk to his surgery from our small house at the other end of town. It always seemed to be autumn and dark, and there was always the smell of bonfires and fireworks in the air. Perhaps I only ever got sick when summer was over and the air had turned to damp, or perhaps it’s simply one of those odd tricks which memory plays.

Either way I liked the surgery with its huge open fireplace and in an odd, slightly terrified way, I liked Doctor Beer.

One evening, it was wet and dark outside (as always), my mother decided that my sore throat and headache was worthy of a visit to Doctor Beer. She bundled me up in my heavy coat, scarf, gloves and balaclava and we walked through the rain the mile or so to the surgery. The waiting room was almost empty, one old woman, one old man and a young mother with her baby, and as usual it was lit with the single standard lamp and the tiny two bar electric fire inadequately set in the huge brick fireplace. The fireplace ran along almost the entire length of one wall, the floors were huge black oak planks of varying widths and on the fireplace mantle Chaucer and his pilgrims made their holy way to Canterbury.

I loved those flat wooden figures. There must have been twenty of them, friars and millers on donkey and horseback, the odd pardoneer or two, a strage foolish clown and in the lead Chaucer himself in a huge grey floppy hat and dull green coat upon a dapple-grey mare. Each figure had been keyhole saw cut from a piece of softwood and painted by hand. The workmanship was exquisite and they were obviously very old. I often thought about stealing one of the figures, probably Chaucer. I even imagined stealing them all and taking them home to display on the red brick tile of my bedroom windowsill.

In the end I slipped that clown into my pocket, I couldn't resist, I wish I hadn't, but I did.

More fool me, as that bloody man would say. I wonder who the Autumn People took with them this time?

Saturday, 21 September 2013

Last chance for Thame fair...

Saturday morning in Thame and the Autumn People are gathering ready for the final night of the fair.

It's warm, unseasonably warm and there's a strange smell of burning paper in the air. No, not paper something else, a smell I can't quite place. A smell like old churches, gunpowder and cooked cabbage. Not a good smell, not a good smell at all.It drifts across the years and along the high street.

I know he's here somewhere, the Autumn Clown, he won't want to miss the last night.

Look at the others, slack faced and hungry, crumpled beings waiting for the darkness and the deeds to begin.

"Roll up, roll up. It's all the fun of the fair, the greatest show you've ever experienced. Ride on the Ghost Train, dare the Mighty Centrifuge, gallop away on the Carousel Horses. Roll up, roll up. Your last chance to become part of the greatest show on Earth, Heaven and even Hell. Roll Up!"

I don't think I'll roll up this year, I don't want to go to the fair after all. I think I'll lock my door and pray instead.

Thame fair at night...

Aww, fuck!

I'm not looking again tonight. What if he sees me watching? What if he...

Friday, 20 September 2013

The Autumn People...

I checked in on Thame on the webcam again late last night. The town was quiet. Well, it was always a sleepy place. I refreshed, the cobbled together camera, built from an old Android handset running some time lapse software and hooked into an office WiFi, refreshes every thirty seconds or so, and there he was, bold as brass, tottering on his spindle legs and holding the marsh light in his hand. Was he daring me to come and talk with him again?

He looked up, as if he were staring directly at me. Down the wire and through the years . Just what did he want of me this time? What did they want? What was left for them to want?

The Autumn Clown... that damned Autumn Clown once more. They always send him in first. It’s his smile I think. That smile could make a rattlesnake slip back under his stone, a vicar turn to the demon drink – and it did, way back then it did. Just seeing him again made what little soul I have left shiver.

The Autumn People are back. It must be their time again.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Thame fair...

There's nothing so magical or mysterious as a travelling fair coming to town... well maybe the circus, but a fair comes a close second.

Don’t worry, it won’t last much longer. I can’t go on talking about mellow fruitfulness for ever and now that there’s the smell of smoke in the air I’ll soon forget that autumn is here.

That’s the thing with this blogging habit, you find yourself covering the same old ground time and time again; at least I do. Some of the repetition is seasonal, hence my current Autumnfest, some of it’s cyclical – popping into my mind and triggered by a smell or a memory…

And so we come to Thame Fair again.

Late September is the time for Thame Fair which, when I was a boy, was the greatest show on Earth and still might be for all I know as I haven’t been for years. In my mind I can still smell the onions and candyfloss, hear the sirens of the rockets, remember that inquisitive feeling… just what does go on inside the boxing tent?

Thame Fair – running right through the high street, upper to lower, lighting up the towering Georgian buildings, higgled and piggled, one on top of the other, a river of flashy fun for all to enjoy. Roll up, roll up, come to the Fair, come see the the greatest show on Earth…

This year Thame Fair has its very own webcam - an opportunity for me to visit my childhood without having to make the journey back. On early school mornings I’d wander through Butter Market and watch as the rides arrived, erected by oily men in oily clothes. In the evenings I’d visit the fair and spend my two-and-sixpence and win a goldfish or ride on the horses of the Grand Carousel.

I haven’t been for years, but I’ll be watching the fair through the webcam. Here’s the fair at 8.30 this morning, well a small part of it. They’re busy setting it up, those oily men in oily clothes, the fun will start tomorrow night.

If I see anything interesting I’ll let you know.

Wednesday, 18 September 2013


For years I’ve had a problem sleeping, waking up frequently and sometimes (often even) not being able to get to sleep at all. I tried everything; counting sheep, drinking wine, warm baths prior to bedtime, listing A-Z’s, drinking wine, self hypnotism, hot milky drinks, reading, drinking wine…

None of them seemed to do much good. I’d find myself not only counting the sheep but naming them, the A-Z’s would bother me (Well, can you think of an island beginning with X?), I really don’t enjoy milky anything, and I found myself reading well into the early hours, sometimes till dawn, only to fall asleep an hour before I was due to get up with a book covering my face.

Nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa, nyaa – damned alarm!

The wine had an effect occasionally, and the hypnotism worked but gave me such surreal dreams that I tossed and turned all night. Of course these were in the days when, for one reason or another, I was – as they say – stressed.

My stressing was caused by two things in the main; work, and then more latterly, not having any. I’m not sure which was worse; the bullying pompousness of my know-nothing new colleagues and boss towards the end of my career as they tried to work me out of the equation, or the void of having no purpose and identity when they eventfully did get rid of me.

Anyway, that’s all past now and these days I have a new sleeping problem… I can’t stay awake.

These days I am relaxed. I’m not absolutely sure why, but considering myself semi-retired may have something to do with it. Not caring that I no longer have position and authority (not that I ever really did) may be a factor too. Perhaps doing something I enjoy helps and maybe it’s because I really try not to care about anything or anybody unimportant to me any more. I just let the bloody lot wash over me… and I never set the alarm.

I can fall asleep at the drop of a hat. In part I’ve taught myself to do it with relaxation techniques. But on a chilly evening with a roaring fire, sitting in a candlelit room with a glass of wine or two already down the hatch it’s pretty hard to stay awake even if it isn’t yet even nine o’clock.

It annoys my wife, but the cat doesn’t seem to mind me getting old,  She falls asleep at any time of day and she's not even two - sleeping in her hammock bed slung over the radiator. Gaynor doesn’t complain about the cat… so why does she complain about me?


Monday, 16 September 2013

Bouquet garni…

It’s that soup and stew time of year and yesterday, as I boiled the chicken carcass from our finished roast dinner to make a stock, I went out in the pouring rain to pick myself a few herbs to make a 'garnished bouquet' (as the say in the French) to flavour it.

I’ve had a successful year with my herbs. The six in one pack of seeds I bought from the pound shop all grew well. Parsley, oregano, dill, thyme, chives and some strange stuff that looked like some sort of pea that wasn’t a herb at all. I think it may have been white alfalfa; it certainly wasn’t the sage I was expecting. Well, it was the pound shop and it could have been worse, it could have been marijuana.  

I couldn’t find any fine kitchen string so tied it all together with a plastic twist. The bay leaf came from the tree in the front garden which is still going strong despite the hard frosts of the last few years.

I’m going to make a chunky chicken and vegetable soup with the left over chicken and whatever vegetables I can find in the fridge. Of course my soups, stews, and stocks wouldn’t be quite the same without my home grown herbs to add that little bit of freshness and zing. But I bet they'd taste even better if I'd mistakenly gown some pot and tied it into my bouquet garni as well .  

Note to self:    Get around to drying some of those herbs before the winter comes.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Tin Tin Tin…

Well, you have to do something on a wet Sunday afternoon while the roast dinner is cooking.

Of course, just like my beach creatures, he isn’t built to last and will be back in the toolbox, the bathroom and the kitchen bin by midnight. He’s just passing through, only kept together with double-sided tape, a couple of sticky pads, a few strategically positioned magnets - but for now he’s Tin Tin Tin, the Souperdog.

He doesn't bark much although he does make the occasional clang and there's more spring to his tail than to his step.

As for breed, well I guess he's a bit of this and a bit of that. More mongrel mate than a pedigree chum.

Saturday, 14 September 2013

Candle time...

There’s no doubt that we are slipping into autumn quickly now. My back yard is going wild in a last minute spurt of over-indulgent growth; the nasturtiums taking over, snaking everywhere, filling every space with their lush oval leaves. I expect I’ll have to soon start trimming it all back ready for the winter, before it simply turns to rot.

Early autumn, the last of summer.

The evenings are upon us quicker too and with each passing day it’s getting cooler, the temperature dropping to cold with the vanishing light. A fire’s already been lit in the hearth in the living room and the central heating flicked on for an hour or two when a jumper isn’t quite enough to brave the halls and kitchen. The candle time has come.

Yes, it’s becoming cosy - early mists, the last of the blue skies, the slowly turning leaves, a smell of drifting smoke, rain sparkling on the window glass, the whipping winds coming out of nowhere and with the lighting of candles the promise of winter on its way.

Candle time.

No worries, there's plenty of light if you know where to look - no matter the time of year.

Friday, 13 September 2013

Living in a soap...

When I was little I wanted to be an astronaught despite the fact that back then the pilots of the Gemini space capsules were sitting in what was basically a tin can with a bomb beneath it. Yes, those early astronaughts had a dangerous job to do; not all that dangerous compared to some though. The most dangerous job is not, as you might expect, astronaught, bomb disposal expert, steeplejack, or Formula One racing driver. The most dangerous job seems to be having a role in one of the UK’s most well known soaps.

The average life expectancy of a UK soap character is 52. In the real world in the UK it’s 80. Staying alive in a television soap opera is not easy, deaths in soap operas are almost three times more likely to be from violent causes than would be expected from a character’s age and sex outside of the world of television.

During Coronation Street’s long life, there have been 146 deaths, ranging from natural causes to murder, disasters, accidents and the occasional suicide. May Hardman was first when she died alone at number 13 from an inoperable brain tumour on 30th December 1960. Sunita was last when Karl Munro removed her breathing tube – allegedly. But that won’t last long with Karl still at large.

A character in EastEnders is twice as likely as a character in Coronation Street to die during an episode. But who cares? They are all so bloody miserable they deserve to pop their ‘cats and dogs’.

Emmerdale is even worse for its frequent and dramatic deaths, coming second only to Brookside among British soaps. Remember the plane crash in 1993 that killed all the passengers plus four key characters and what about poor Tricia Dingle who was killed when the woolpack’s chimney fell and crushed her?

Brookside must have been the most dangerous place on earth to live. In the twenty-one years that Brookside ran for it clocked up an enviable death count of 72 humans, six dogs, six chickens, two rats, a cat, and a goldfish!

So, what are the key messages for aspiring soap stars here? Well, it seems that characters in soap operas lead very dangerous lives, even more dangerous than deep sea fishermen and professional stunt men. Most people suffering from a life-threatening disease have better five year survival rates than soap characters.

I wonder… could the exaggerated violence of soap world and the dangerous lives of soap characters be contributing to our perceptions about violent crime and death?

I’ll have a think about that one. I can feel a rich vein of blogging material coming on…

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Piles of money…

On the polished oak surface of our hall table sits a lone penny. It’s right at the back by the almost redundant landline telephone, just next to the unused letter rack where we keep the takeaway menus as nobody seems to send letters these days. It’s been there for ages. I’m not sure how long; but I’m not talking weeks or months - I’m talking for as long as I can remember. I don’t know how or why it got there, but there it sits doing nothing, only moved and shuffled from here to there when we feel the need to dust. A lone penny just sitting doing nothing, a single penny without much value at all - perhaps that’s why it’s there.

It’s not alone. In the kitchen at the side window - the one that has no view other than a brick wall - right in the corner of the window frame, sits a pile of coins. Like the penny it’s been there for ages, years at least, an unattended pile of coins – a small stack of tuppences, pennies and a single pound. It must belong to one of us. But there it stays, almost without ownership, forgotten in the corner by the glass.

Upstairs in the bedroom there’s a dish that is full of small loose coins gathering dust. Some of the coins are American, others Indian, but within the global mix are perfectly pocketable UK coins - all they need is sorting.

There are loose coins at the bottom of ALL of my wife’s bags. Not that I’ve looked. I just know.

My car has an ashtray full of copper.

I find pennies and five pences, tens and twenties at the back of drawers all the time. I’ve no idea how they get there. Maybe they roll into them on their own.

There’s even a small elastic-banded bundle of nine old pound notes in the draws at the top of the third floor landing.  They lie forgotten (far too late to change at the bank) a remnant from past times - just overlooked for some unremembered reason.
I wonder if I were to search all the nooks and crannies, each drawer, every pot and dish, the backs and sides of sofas and chairs, just how much lost and forgotten cash would I find in our house – three, five, ten, twenty or more pounds?

Lost, orphaned coinage - some almost too small or worthless to be noticed, others made invisible by familiarity.

The UK has a population of around 61 million people. Since the average number of people living in a household is 2.36, the number of households is therefore approximately 26 million. If each house and flat and mansion has just a single lost or unattended penny inside it somewhere that’s £260,000. If, like me, it runs into a pound or a few it’s £26 million minimum! Money that could be doing something useful and not simply gathering dust.

It makes you think doesn’t it? 

Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Painted pebbles...

Whilst I didn’t get around to doing much of the sketching I promised my inner artist whilst I was in Wales, I did spend a lot time looking for pebbles.

I know it ain't art but it’s been in my head to paint some pebbles for a while now. I’m not quite sure why, sometimes I seem to have no choice in these matters. The idea pops into my head and then – at some future point – I find myself doing it. Of course we all painted rocks as children, didn’t we? Finding our pebble and then painting it with whatever took our fancy - bright blue, yellow and red powder paints splattered all over the stony surface in a variety of suns, flowers and fishes - only to be left outside to wash and fade in the rain.

I’m obviously in something of second childhood, wandering the beaches of North Wales looking for a pebble to paint, and I was rather hoping that the pebble itself might inspire me; calling out ‘look I’m a fish’ or maybe ‘there’s a dragon hiding inside my stony heart’. As it happened all the pebbles looked pretty much the same, no screaming and crying about the entities to be found hidden inside them, so it was up to me and the paint to turn them into something more whimsical.

I was hoping for something a bit tribal, mystical even. As it worked out two of the pebbles seemed to turn themselves into owls and the other into a cat without too much interference from me. I'm not sure if these fun or tacky, but I'm not too unhappy with the way they turned out. I may even make some others perhaps in bright blues, yellows and reds - a variety of suns, flowers and fishes – tribal of course.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Sketchy sketch...

Before I went to Wales I wondered if this time I’d actually get around to doing some sketching. It’s always my intention and I usually have a sketch book or two in the boot of my car in order to make my intentions good. This time I took it a little further, buying some new pencils – from H’s to B’s and back again – and a smart bound A5 sketchbook. I was all set, nothing could stop me now.

Of course the strange thing about sketching is that no matter where you are you can’t seem to find quite the right thing to sketch. There’s always something not quite right - the trees, the flatness of the light, the wind, the rain, the sun. Any excuse not to start sketching. After all I know that nine times out of ten I’ll be disappointed with what I draw and will end up throwing the damned thing away. Even the tenth is only kept as evidence that I had a go.

My sketch books start out fat and end up thin, my pencils slowly but surely migrate to that mysterious place that all the pencils go, my patience runs short and my intentions run dry.

Here’s the one I kept.

Monday, 9 September 2013

Dreaming, sleeping, slipping...

Of course, not everything is exactly as it seems. Things that you think are permanent and solid can slip and slide into something else, something that you don’t and can’t recognise unless you look too closely.

It’s all about the masks isn’t it? Those masks that people wear to make them appear more acceptable, believable, honest. The sleepy cunning smiles of pretend innocents who have lived a life so full of lies that the truth is not even a memory. Sweet old liars living in a world sculpted by wishful thinking, self righteousness, convenient Alzheimer like forgetfulness, uninformed opinion, habitual habit. Such a pity… and pity? Well, at times that’s what I feel although most of the time it’s disgust.

Don’t worry, I haven't lost sight of the sunshine. It’s only a ponder; something to mull over now that the nights are on the cusp of autumn and starting the drawing in. It’s not real, just a sleeping slippage really. A dream.

Sunday, 8 September 2013

The tales I didn't tell...

And so for now I leave Wales behind after a few small adventures which I shall fondly
remember. I haven't recounted them all over the last week or so but there are a few that I'm sure will appear in my blog at some point in the future.

I could have told you about how I queued for over an hour, in good humour and fine camaraderie, at the Castle Fish and Chip Shop in Criccieth and how my fish and chips were well worth the wait.

I might have related how the women in Llithfaen, up the mountain and into the fog, seem to have an unusual amount of facial hair and strongly resemble their husbands in lots of other ways.

There’s a tale to be told about Fort Belan, built in 1775 on the spit of land by Caernarfon airport, and how one day I hope to visit this castellated fortress that was erected to keep marauding American pirates out of our waters.

There’s the lesser spotted woodpecker and the nuthatch that both posed for a photograph at my feeders just as I had placed my camera on the kitchen table indoors.

I could have told you about the cutting of hedges and the placing of our new bird box high in the holly tree and how I managed to place it at the jauntiest angle, although I’m sure the birds won’t mind next spring.

I might even have written about the weasel that ran in front of the car, narrowly escaping death, the walk we took to the last thatched cottage on Anglesey at Church Bay and the long and treacherous reverse I had to make when I met a hay wagon on a narrow and winding Welsh country lane in need of a passing point or two.

Ah Wales! Parting is such sweet sorrow, particularly with the magical mists of autumn about to clothe you anew in its earthy hues and the stunning sunsets that I know are yet to come.

I’ll be back though, I’ll be back.

Be seeing you.

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Return to Portmeirion...

Every few years or so I get the urge to visit Portmeirion. I’ve been three or four times and each time I go I’m surprised by how something so higgledy-piggledy and architecturally disjointed can be so pleasing to the eye. I think that the bright colours of the painted buildings help and the terracing of buildings that Clough Williams Ellis decided upon adds interest and drama.

There’s no doubt that the place is certainly not typical of a Welsh village or any village anywhere come to that. It’s made up of bits and pieces from all over the place – France to China, Ancient Greece to Aberdeen - although most of it could be described as Italianate.

Clough Williams Ellis, the designer and builder of Portmeirion picked up bits and pieces everywhere and Portmeirion is full of found and donated ‘bits’ of other buildings. What C.W.E. couldn’t beg, steal or borrow he mocked up, and much of the village is more film set than solid.

Perhaps that’s what I like about the place. It’s real but it isn’t real at all. Many of the buildings were shells until fairly recently and some bits of it are made out of painted hardboard. It’s a place out of place, although it sits very comfortably in the landscape.

There’s more than a touch of the surreal around Portmerrion. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see Salvador Dali pop out from behind the Watch Tower one evening brandishing a lobster, twirling his mustache and declaring that he 'iz ze Dali!'

Now that would be a dream come true.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Lighthouse for sale...

I’m fascinated by a lot of things – clouds, campervans, cats – and that’s just the c’s. One of my longest lasting fascinations is lighthouses. I find it hard to be within a few miles of one without being drawn to it on a visit. Of course it’s an interest I share with a lot of people; lighthouses seem to be one of those things that capture people’s imaginations. Perhaps it’s the thought of the loneliness of the lighthouse keeper, one man against the sea and the elements and all that.

This year I’ve sought out the lighthouses of Anglesey: South Stack, Penmon, the twin lights of  Llanddwyn Island. I thought I’d done Anglesey, but then, driving down a side road on the way back from lunch at Church Bay, I spied on a ragged headland another lighthouse. It didn’t look as grand as Penmon or South Stack, but it did have cottages and there was a for sale board on the track leading up to it.

Point Lynas lighthouse on the north-east coast of Anglesey in North Wales is privately owned, comes with three cottages and is a snip at 1.3 million! It’s still in use, rented back to Trinity House for a peppercorn rent, so you can’t actually live in the lighthouse itself. Mind you, it does come with it’s own build in torch - the 1,000-watt lamp shines for nine seconds out of every ten, 24 hours a day and it’s beam can be seen for 18 nautical miles, so thick curtains required. The three cottages each have three bedrooms and two are rented - £350 a week in low season and £950 high season, summer and winter. They made a gross profit of £42,000 last year which means that you’d make all of your money back in 30 years. I'm not sure about the fog horn on foggy nights though.

Of course, manned lighthouses are a thing on the past now. There are no manned lighthouses any more, they’re all automated, but a chap can dream can’t he?

That’s it. I’m off to buy a lottery ticket, I fancy myself as a lighthouse keeper.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Cottage garden...

It wasn't a great year for my garden in Wales. the combination of heat and lack of watering really didn't suit and, as I wasn't growing cacti in my outside pots, not many of the seeds I sowed in March came to fruition. Of course some plants might have flowered in our absence, but does a flower not seen really exist at all?

It was always hard enough keeping them alive in hot weather when we were visiting every weekend. So there was no chance this year; as we've only been able to visit monthly and it has been a summer to remember and talk about in years to come. Hot, dry and not at all suitable for absentee gardening. Oh well, you can't have everything.

At least my longiflorum lilies didn't let me down. There they were to greet us when we arrived at the cottage and they bloomed magnificently right up until the day we left. I woke up to find the petals scattered all around their pot like plucked dove's feathers.

It was almost as if they had saved themselves until we would be there to see them, and then decided to leave as we did.

Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Halfway along the lane...

Halfway along the lane in Wales - down the hill and through the tunnel of trees - sits Poo Sticks Bridge. Well, that’s what we call it and always have ever since we first took Holly to race sticks from one side of the bridge to the other all those years ago. It isn’t a big bridge, just a stone arch with a stream running beneath it, just wide enough for a herd of sheep or a tractor.

After heavy rain the stream can become a torrent, whipping away our sticks and sending them tumbling down the bend to turn the corner and disappear. But usually it just ambles along and our sticks get stuck in the tangle of grass and dead wood that piles up by the place where the cows come to drink sometimes, loping down the muddy bank to stand in the water and stare nonchalantly, yet defiantly, up at you.

It’s a good place to come on a summer’s evening just to sit and watch the mountains in the distance or the shadows of clouds move across the fields. Of course if you sit on the wall you might find your pants full of ants or red spider mites when you get up. Generally though, we stand watching the swallows dart above the bridge catching invisible insects as they go. At dusk they are replaced by the odd bat or two and sometimes the owl I can hear from my bedroom window swoops to catch a mouse.

In the summer there are always dragon and damselflies at Poo Sticks Bridge; orange and blue and shimmering green. When I was a boy I used to think that they could sting, but of course they can’t. It’s funny the ideas you have when you are young, we used to call the flying red beetles that we sometimes saw ‘bloodsuckers’ and believed that if they landed on you they could drain your blood. Mind you, I believed a lot of things that turned out not to be true back then. I’m sure that there were more insects around though; moths and daddy longlegs, flying ants and ladydids. Apparently this year has been a good year all round for insects, a record year for cabbage whites and our huge buddleia,next to the cottage gates, has been covered with butterflies and massive bumblebees.

As we dropped our sticks into the water a damselfly landed on the bridge. For once I had my camera with me so I snapped it - such fine lacy wings, almost too delicate to see. I sat on the bridge watching it take in the warmth of the sun then it was off flittering away at what seemed like a hundred miles an hour. It was then that I noticed that my legs were covered in ants – ouch! Well, I did say that it was a good year for insects.

Tuesday, 3 September 2013

Tommy rot...

TOMMY ROT! Oh, how well I remember that phrase from my childhood. Of course, I have no idea who Tommy was but his name was bellowed around our house at the slightest excuse, usually whenever I said something that wasn’t agreed with - even when factual and accurate… Oh happy days!

Talking of happy days, let’s get back to Wales shall we and my reasons for remembering Tommy or perhaps more pertinently his rot.

Of course Wales wasn’t all exploration, adventure and magic. There are always jobs to be done before the winter sets in and some of these jobs simply couldn’t be avoided no matter how hard I tried.

The discovery of wet rot in the main beams of my gates had, I hoped, been caught just in time. Unfortunately I had forgotten the words of Confucius when he say “Alway use bess possible filla fella” and I’d used some cheapo stuff than I’d hoped to get away with but hadn’t. The damn stuff simply wouldn’t dry, despite the three weeks it had been left to get itself into some sort of drying order. Pound shops! You simply can’t trust them. There was only one thing for it – I’d have to buy the expensive stuff that worked!

To be honest, some of the excavations I’d gouged into the wood of my gates were more caverns that holes. It really did look like only the best would do. As Frank, my old sometimes sparring partner and sometimes chum, had warned me when he saw those gates “look after them”, expressing the view that they would cost hundreds of pounds to replace. Of course he was right. There wouldn’t be much change from six or seven hundred pounds to replace the fifteen foot double barred gates, and I was damned if I was going to fork out all that money simply because of a couple of inches of soggy wood.

Purchasing the hardener and filler from the company who claim “it does exactly what it says on the can” was only difficult because it meant me parting with some of my fish and chip money. Luckily Wilkinson’s in Pwllheli had some which, to be honest, was a bit of a miracle as usually they have everything except what you want. Arriving back home I mixed the gloopy muck with a thin band of hardener and within minutes (yes minutes) the holes were filled, the filler hardened, shaped, sanded and I was ready to paint. It really did do exactly what it said on the tin.

It didn’t take long to rub down the gates and give them a lick of paint. As I painted I wondered who Tommy Rot was.

Perhaps it will and should always remain a mystery.

Monday, 2 September 2013

Happy magic...

I wasn’t at all surprised to find that Llanddwyn Island is where the Welsh Patron Saint of lovers came to live so that she couldn’t be loved. Well, the Welsh are a complicated people and as St Dwynwen herself said “Nothing wins hearts like cheerfulness”. Of course, she probably mumbled this as she smiled madly away to herself, living her entire life on the island as a hermit like all the best saints do.

Dwynwen, let’s call her Dwyny, was one of the 24 daughters of St Brychan, a Welsh prince who probably deserved to be sainted for simply putting up with all those women around him. She fell in love with a young man named Maelon, but rejected his advances for any one of a number of reported reasons. (1) She wished to remain chaste (2) To become a nun (3) Her father wanted her to marry another (4) She was a bloke in drag.

Either way, poor old Maelon was turned to ice by a potion that Dwyny made him drink. Then, after a good old pray, Dwyny was granted three wishes. She chose that Maelon be restored, that all true lovers find happiness, and that she would never again wish to be married and spend the rest of her days alone on the island, playing with eels and chucking breadcrumbs around.

Mind you, I could see the attraction as I wandered the crushed shell footpaths that criss-cross the island. What a magnificently isolated place to live your life in isolation – eels, breadcrumbs and all. With its ruined chapel, Celtic cross, shrine, Christian cross, lighthouse, pirate's cannon, lookout beacon; there seemed to be something mystical and wondrous at each new turn of the winding path - probably because there was.

What a place; wondrous in the truest sense of the word... a place to wonder at. The island was formed as molten lava from nearby volcanoes tumbled into the sea. Pilots once lived in the tiny windswept cottages on the island, guiding ships into the Menai Straights from the stormy Irish Sea. Sailors were saved from drowning and brought to the island for shelter by the lifeboat that once set sail from its rocky shores on stormy nights. Even the Greek Gods once roamed the islands chucking about thunderbolts – albeit for the 2009 remake of Clash of the Titans.

As I walked back along the beach, counting steps to make the walk a little easier, I was a little disappointed that I hadn’t seen a mermaid or a pirate. It would have been nice to be chased by a giant or come across a small dragon in a cove - green smoke curling from his wide-flared nostrils - and it would have been great to glimpse an unexpected elf out of the corner of my eye. But all-in-all I was pleased with the peace of the place and I left Ynys Llanddwyn with a head full of happy magic.

Sunday, 1 September 2013

A puff of green smoke…

There are some places where the old stuff seems to still live on. You know the stuff I’m talking about, the ‘there might be elves, or pirates, or a dragon just around the corner’ stuff, the stuff of our childhood imaginings, the stuff that still keeps me looking for a puff of green smoke above every beach-bound outcrop of rock I see.

Magic. It’s everywhere if you look hard enough
I’d never been to Newborough Forest on Anglesey and really didn’t feel the need to go there. But then I stumbled across a picture of a lonely lighthouse and on investigation found that it, and another smaller lookout tower, are to be found at the far end of the beach at Newborough Warren on Llanddwyn Island. A lighthouse and an Island! I could smell adventure and I knew immediately that I had to visit. After all there could be a few pirates, even a giant or two, and couldn’t I just see a puff of green smoke from behind the imaginary rocks inside my head?

Llanddwyn Island (Ynys Llanddwyn) is a magical place, a narrow finger of land sticking out like a pointer across the Irish Sea. It isn’t quite an island, generally you can walk to it as it remains attached to Wales by a spur of rock and sand at all but the highest tides. It is almost an island though, surrounded by the vast views of Snowdonia and the Lleyn Peninsula in the distance.

We arrived at the forest gate, the sat-nav guiding us there without fault, and paid our three pounds. The forest was dark and cool and tall, a reserve for red squirrels (not that we saw one) with a winding sun-dappled track leading gently to the beach car park. After a camping stove hotdog lunch at the fine stone barbecue stands in the excellent car park picnic area we strolled along the magnificent wooden boardwalk to the beach.

To be honest this place was too good to be true. Too well done, too well kept, everything for an afternoon ramble had been thought about right down to the dozens of forest brown butterflies that fluttered about as we walked besides the meadow flowers along the deep brown bark chippings path. Down the steps and onto the sand - was that a pirate ship in the distance? Did I catch a glimpse of a mermaid’s tail as it shimmered in the sunshine before disappearing back into the bright blue sea?

The beach was long and sandy and in the distance to the right I could see the island and the two lighthouses on the stony outcrop of rock. We set out along the beach which was disappointingly practically shell-free; a flaw, albeit a small one, in the perfection of the place at last.

Along the beach and up the shingle and thirty minutes later we were there. We had reached Ynys Llanddwyn and a magical gateway stood before us. All we had to do was open it and step through… was that green smoke I could see in the distance, or did I glimpse the flutter of a Jolly Roger?

And down the road, not five miles away, the ogre sniffed and bellowed.