Thursday, 28 November 2013

The big race…

Sometimes I look at myself in the mirror and ask: “How did you win that race?” You know the race I’m talking about. That first race, the one that really is a matter of life and… well, not death really, let’s call it ‘not being’. Yes, that first race we all experience but none of us can remember - the sperm race.

In the words of the mighty Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life; “Every sperm is sacred. Every sperm is great. If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.” Now that’s a laugh, and of course it’s meant to be; billions of sperms get wasted over the course of a man’s lifetime. To be exact, if he gives rise to the average 2.6 children, then around 524,000,001,997.4 of them are simply a waste of a cell.

Yes, the average male will produce roughly 525 billion (that's BILLION) sperm cells over his lifetime and lose at least one billion of them per month – whoops! A healthy adult man can release between 40 million and 1.2 billion sperm cells in a single whoops.

Imagine it, a billion sperms cells all lined up for the big race… on your marks. Get set. Go… and they’re off!

The odds of being the first past the winning post are incredible. Sometimes I wonder just who I beat to get there? I imagine million upon million of alternate ‘me’ all lined up and ready to go. Some of them would be blonde, others dark, redheads, mousey. Some taller, others shorter, all shapes and sizes and over fifty percent of them would be girls potentially. In fact they’d have all sorts of potentials; scientists, murderers, priests, plumbers, artists, professional footballers, hookers, actors, thieves, drug addicts, maybe even the odd world domination dictator or two.

Of course there would be the defectives as well. But the strong would outweigh the weak. Even so, I find it really hard to believe that I was the strongest contender. Somewhere in there could have been a David Beckham - which would have pleased my father - or another sperm (probably a girl) who wouldn’t have argued back - which would have delighted both of them. Unluckily for them though, it was me that pushed my way forward and, probably through luck plus a bit of cheating, came out on top to win the gold medal of life instead of nonexistence.

Whoops indeed.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Is it a bird? Is it a flying cow? No it’s…

I thought I was weird and could come up with a weird tale, but browsing the web this morning I bumped into this picture of a horse.

“If I were a man… If I were free to tell her of my real feelings, for a girl like that, I’d even give up all my super-powers!”

Okay… I knew immediately that this was Comet the Super-Horse. How did I know? Well once, many, many light years away I read comic books morning, noon and night spending all of my pocket money on them. I must have read thousands of the things, I devoured them, every last CAPITALISED WORD!!! The stories were at best outlandish and often complete nonsense. But what fun they were. These days I wonder if the writers weren’t high on some drug given to them by a being from the Fifth Dimension, or Aliens sent to confuse us earthlings, or maybe they were just plain silly. Whatever the reason, some of those stories were way too wacky and none more so than the tale of Comet the Super-Horse.

Super Horse didn’t come from Krypton like Krypto (Superman’s Super-Dog) and Beppo ( his Super-Monkey) who was a test animal of Jor-El's (Superman’s father) and ended up on Earth. Super-Horse wasn’t even like Streaky (Supergirl’s Super-Cat) who gained his powers from a radioactive experimental antidote to Kryptonite that Supergirl was working on. I’d always assumed that Comet the Super-Horse was a horse from Krypton that belonged to Supergirl before she made her escape and the planet exploded. But that wasn’t the case at all. Just how wrong can you be?

I did some digging and what turned up was even weirder than most of comic book stories I’d read. It may have been written in the psychedelic sixties but is that any excuse for unnatural relationships?

It turns out that Comet is not from Krypton at all. He first appeared in Action Comics #292 in 1962. Supergirl had been hit by Kryptonite rays and was falling to Earth. Out of nowhere came a white horse with superpowers that saved her life. Now bear with me please. Comet was originally a centaur named Biron who was in love with Circe the sorceress from Greek mythology. When he saved her life, she agreed to repay him with a wish. His wish was to become human. Which she did, but she gave him the wrong potion (actually it was switched by a baddie) and instead of a man, he was turned completely into a horse. (Are you with it so far?) There was no antidote to the potion so, as a kind of consolation prize, Circe bestowed super-strength, telepathy and immortality to Biron the horse.

So far all pretty believable, at least to a seven year old boy, but then Superman receives a summons for help from Prince Endor of Zerox. The prince needed a flying horse for some reason so Supergirl and Comet made the trip. Zerox was a planet of sorcerers (as so many planets are) and by way of thanks Prince Endor granted Comet a wish. Now luckily magic had changed since Biron was first turned into a horse, and Prince Endor could now reverse the spell.

Quick more drugs! Comet would not have super-powers and would turn into a human on Earth when a comet passed through the solar system. Upon returning to Earth, a comet just happened to enter the solar system and Comet became human. Comet gave himself the name “Bronco Bill2 and soon bumped into Supergirl in his manly form. And this is when she… well, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. But suffice it to say that kissing and hay was involved. In a later story old BB (aka Coment the Super-Horse, aka Biron the centaur) had a bit of a fling with none other than Superman’s girlfriend Lois Lane. Of course neither of them ever knew that he was a horse - or at least if they did they never let on.

And that’s the tale of Comet the Super-Horse. Sorry I just had to share it with someone.

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

An afternoon in the Korova Milkbar...

Today has been busy, busy, busy, with hardly a moment to spare. Between glass and words and unexpected last minute drops I've hardly had a second. Certainly no moments to consider what to write in my blog today. Strangely, busy or not though, I found myself thinking about my days in Oxford. Not the university you understand - although I did do a year at Oxford Brookes - but the city itself. Town as we called it.

Going to town was always an adventure. You only went to town if you had something planned, even if it was just buying a new pair of stack heeled shoes, and that made it memorable. I have lots memories of going to town - the bus from the Town Hall, the museums and galleries, the botanical gardens, the river, the market, concerts and cakes. Oxford was all hustle and bustle, bikes and beauties, fights and fictions... and The Odeon Cinema.

From here, in my mind, it was just a step and a jump to A Clockwork Orange. The only film I've ever watched more than once at the cinema, three times, three afternoons, Monday, Tuesday and Friday, and each time I wagged school. Actually I wagged the whole week to make it look convincing and forged a letter from my mum saying that I was ill with the flue - UP YOURS STOSH! I was such a rebel.

I spent the afternoon humming 'I'm Singing in the Rain' and wishing I still had my old false eyelash.

Yes, there was me, that is Andy, and my three droogs, that is Dave, Ju-Ju and Sacha, and we sat in the Korova Milkbar trying to make up our rassoodocks what to do with the evening. The Korova Milkbar sold milk-plus, milk plus velocet or synthemesc or drencrom, which is what we were drinking. This would sharpen you up and make you ready for a bit of the old ultra-violence...

At least it did in my imagination. UP YOURS STOSH!

Make mine a milk plus drencrom droog.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Christmas dinner debate...

Here we go again. It’s Christmas dinner decision time. It used to be so easy. It was what that chap on the ads (Kevin somebody or other) calls a no-brainer. Christmas dinner was turkey with all the trimmings followed by Christmas pud - year, after year, after year, after year.

Christmas dinner, far too big, swamped in gravy and with half a dozen veg – including two types of potato and sprouts -  which nobody really wanted after all that chocolate.

Oh the joy of the turkey carcass and the imaginative ways to use up the leftovers... there’s nothing quite like turkey curry (thank God).

And then there was the washing up including that bloody great greasy roasting tin and all those plates and dishes. Even so, it was a simple choice; a no-brainer as I’ve already mentioned. Yes, it used to be so easy. These days things are far too fancy.

We’ve fancified our Christmas dinner, we’ve been doing it for years. Starter, main, pud, nuts and cheese, all great fun, but the debate and decisions that go before are a nightmare. It starts months before, the pondering, the wondering, the checking out of recipes and fare. Thus far we haven’t got beyond the starter and then only to decide that the grouse I fancied are not suitable - too tough (according to some) after a trial run, although mine was delicious and perfectly tender. I tried to persuade that we might try poaching them in red wine but no, too late… the grouse are off.

The main is something else. We’ve tried everything from venison wrapped in rabbit to goose lined with figs and lemon. We must have tried every bird available - often in combination - and pork, beef and veal in every possible wrapping and stuffing.

Christmas pudding is usually just that, and only nibbled at. But should it be sauce, or cream, or custard and just what should that custard, cream, or sauce be flavoured with?

The cheese and nuts are simple enough, although I’m always amazed given the bewildering array of cheeses laid out on the board, why there is never any Cheddar.

So as things stand we have no starter, no main, no agreement on pudding and only the cheese is certain (inasmuch as it will be made from milk).

Perhaps I’ll book a restaurant this year..

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Unfinished business…

I've spent some of this afternoon reading some of my unfinished stories and bits of my almost finished novel. I have almost forgotten why I began writing them, but on reading once more realise that some of my scribblings are pretty good. Perhaps it’s the distance, the time spent away from them – in some cases over ten years – but I almost feel the urge to finish them. Particularly my book.

I hate unfinished business.

Of course, the themes are neither light nor cheery. But there is something about it that is worth finishing I think – if for nothing else so that I may find out for myself how the story ends.

Here are a few words from the ninety thousand or so I’ve written so far…

I remember once - I must have been about nine - I stole a couple of cigarettes from my father’s packet when he wasn’t looking. He smoked like a trooper; cancer got him in the finish. He should have believed the warnings. I was in the yard having a puff, I thought everybody was out, but he must have come back, or he was never out, because I heard him opening the back door. I knew it was him, Clara hardly ever came out into the yard except to hang out the washing and it wasn’t wash day. He was probably going out to his shed, that’s where he kept his things, tools, fishing tackle, porno, that sort of thing. Anyway, I heard him coming and there was I smoking one of his fags stolen from his packet as bold as brass. If he’d caught me he’d have given me a hiding for sure - partly for smoking, partly for stealing but most of all because he could – and I didn’t want that to happen.

I tossed the cigarette into the bushes. It wasn’t much of a yard, but there was a bit of tangled garden at the far end with an old sunken-bath pond in the corner, rank with thick green slime. My mother, Rose, had insisted that my father put it in when the new bath had been fitted, the one with the lifting seat. She used to sit by it and doze in the sunshine that final summer, that last summer when the water was still clear. The yard was pretty overgrown now, he didn’t have the time for gardening any more - what with the pub and the bookies and the arguments with Clara, she was the woman he took up with after my Mother died, perhaps before, I don’t really know. Whenever it was I don’t think mum died of a broken heart as a result, they never got on. I was a quick thinker even then, I heard the door and tossed the cigarette into the bushes still alight, by the time he’d turned the corner of the house and into the yard the cigarette was gone and so was any evidence that I’d been smoking. He grunted something at me then went to his shed, fetched out his hammer and went back into the house.

Fucking great! I’d got one over on him. I liked to do that, it was a sort of hobby of mine. I’d won, he’d lost, I was the victor and he was the vanquished, even though he’d never even known that a battle was being waged. Once I was sure he was safely back in the house - I could hear him hammering in the cellar - I went to get my smoke back. I knew exactly where in the hedge it’d landed – detail is important - and I reached to get it.

It‘d landed in a bird’s nest. There were three tiny pink, featherless birds in the nest. I don’t know what they were; I’ve never been big on natural history. I can’t stand those boring wildlife programs on the television, but the cigarette had set fire to whatever the nest was made of, twigs and grass and stuff, it looked like it was lined with feathers. The tiny birds were squeaking and the burning nest was causing quite a bit of smoke. I suppose I could have put it out if I’d wanted, but I didn’t want, so I didn’t. I picked my cigarette out of the nest and watched. It was very interesting, the birds fluttered their tiny featherless wings as their pointed yellow beaks opened and closed, opened and closed as they squealed for help. I watched the birds suffocating and I kept watching until the fire burnt itself out. It wasn’t a blaze and there were hardly any flames, it was the smoke that killed the birds. A bit like my dad really, it was the smoke that did for him, that was years after Clara was killed. She fell, a terrible accident. I finished my smoke and left the nest where it was smouldering.

I saw the mother fly to the nest later from the kitchen window. She was brown, quite large with a yellow beak; she kept flying away and flying back, flying away and flying back and making this loud squawking noise all the time. A mother’s love knows no bounds. I’d won. I’d got one over on my dad and, just as in all wars, there had to be casualties. The birds were in the wrong place at the wrong time. They should have been more careful…

Friday, 22 November 2013

Fifty year old dreams…

There are two big fiftieth anniversaries today and I’m struggling to decide which one had more of an impact on the world. The first is the assassination of John F. Kennedy in that motorcade in the heat of a Dallas afternoon by a lone or multiple gunman/men.

The second is that today is exactly fifty years to the day since the first episode of Dr Who was broadcast and small boys all over Britain were changed forever... I am a Dalek... Exterminate!

There’s no doubt that the world lost a great politician in Kennedy, but so often the promise and sparkle of politicians turns to disillusionment and lackluster. I think that it’s pretty likely - given what we now know about Kennedy’s private life and business dealings - that he may well have turned out to be just another disgraced president if he had lived. It seems that none of them can really outrun their election campaign propaganda without falling over.

Dr Who on the other hand, apart from a brief fall from grace in the eighties, has not only lived up to our expectation but gone on to inspire generation after generation. We learned to make Daleks from egg boxes and washing up bottles as a result of Dr Who and many young physicists and scientists have become what they are as a result of watching the time travelling doctor.

One day one of these Dr Who inspired brain-boxes will crack time travel and we will have the opportunity to travel back in time and try to save Kennedy. It probably won’t change anything – apparently time is like that – but it does we will probably all be disappointed by another politician’s inability to deliver on the dream.

Perhaps time travelers and politicians are one and the same after all - not really able to change much of anything.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Why I hate Parma Violets…

I woke up this morning convinced that I‘d been eating Parma violets and I suppose in a way I had. I’d been dreaming of eating them you see. The funny thing is I could still taste them after I’d woken up. I’d never eat Parma violets through choice - not even in my wildest dreams -  I can’t stand the taste of those horrible little lilac pill things; they taste like sucking on chalk that’s been soaked in old ladies perfume or worse.

The dream memory of the sickly, cloying, powdery taste really took me back though. Parma violets seemed to be just the thing to give my first love, crush, want-to-be girlfriend - a packet of Parma violets, so smelly sweet, and in return the hope of a peck - even a smile would have done.

Hilary Payne nodded her head from side to side and smiled in a very smiley way. It made her look nice. Of course it probably really meant that she was slightly simple. But she looked like Looby Lou - Andy Pandy’s playmate - wore ribbons, and for all I knew slept in a basket. Hilary sat opposite me in class at infant school and I never tired of watching her nodding her head from side to side in time to some internal rhythm, lost in some tune that I couldn’t hear. I could hear my teacher though as she shouted for me to stop gazing at Hilary and to pay attention to the board.

How embarrassing, the other boys ribbed me for months in the playground. Even so, I bought a packet of Parma violets and carried them in my pocket for weeks, waiting for the right moment to present them to her.

It never came, so eventually I eat them myself, forgot her, and moved on.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

Outsider Art...

 “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.”

- Pablo Picasso -

I watched a programme about outsider art last night on BBC1. Outsiders, in this case, are people who have no knowledge of art history or what good or bad art is and who are, in many cases, challenged by some mental disorder. I suppose they would once have been called lunatics. In last night’s programme their conditions ranged from autism to a UFO-obsessed Romanian refugee, a schizophrenic Italian war veteran, and an 80-year-old sex-mad Russian woman. A mixed and mixed-up bunch I guess, but the one thing that had in common is that they made art and very good art it was too. 

Their art must be coming from inside without outside influence from trends or style, galleries or dealers, competitions or funding. Their art, which was often repetitious to the point of near mass production, was beautiful, disturbing and gripping – an expression of themselves without thought of an audience. Their art was somehow true.

It got me thinking. As children this is how we all create art – drawings – at first. Other people’s input causes us to think we can do it and continue, or that we can’t and stop. We give up, or at the very least alter how we create, as we lose our childish enjoyment of just doing. Lunatics don’t know or care what others think. They just do because they are compelled to and enjoy the result.

I wish I were a lunatic.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Anders writes a book...

I really should do a little more with my writing. What a Wonderful Life is all very well but given its limited audience and eclectic nature it’s hardly a work of substance. It tells a story, but that story is so fragmented and esoteric that I often wonder myself where some of the roads have come from and where some of the turns are going.

Perhaps I should have another go at writing a book, or finish the one I’ve almost finished but never quite.

It isn’t the writing - words are pretty easy to come up with – it’s keeping the attention of the reader beyond a few hundred words. You need that ‘what happens next’ excitement to keep the pages turning from start to finish, and to do that over the length of a hundred thousand words novel is no mean feat.

For me, the big problem with writing a book is that it probably needs a story and, as everyone knows, that requires a start, middle, and an end. I’m sure that I could do that, but it isn’t the way I generally do things – I often start in the middle, end at the start, and sometimes I don’t even begin the end. I’m more of a ‘daub of middle’ here and a ‘splash of start’ there kind of a guy, rather than a straight line chap.

Then there are the characters. Books need characters and they have to be believable. Even the characters I know in the real world are so unbelievable that they could never hold-up in a story and I’ve never known any inscrutable Chinamen to base my villains on – so that might be a challenge (as problems have come to be known).

Of course the biggest problem (sorry challenge) is plot. Sticking to the plot might prove to be a bit of a problenge. It isn’t in my nature to follow an entirely logical path, or even a bit logical, so I might fly off at tangents and introduce all kinds of inconsequential thoughts as I write. Still, I suppose that is what an editor is for. It doesn’t help with the big plot problem though. To write a book you have to have a tale to tell in the first place and preferably a good one.

They say it’s best to write about what you know. Given that I know practically nothing of interest to anyone other than myself that might prove to be a bit of an issue. I do have my blog though… Ah yes, I can imagine the blurb on the back of the jacket now…

Anders ‘Cloggs’ Van der Hoogte writes a blog he’s cleverly called ‘What a Wonderful Life.’ Anders has attracted a lot of followers to his blog - both real and phantom - and when his real followers start getting killed off in mysterious circumstances Anders decides to investigate. Could the killer be one of the phantoms? Anders sets out to track them down one by one and get to the bottom of the mysterious killings. Is it a really a wonderful life or could someone want Anders dead?

Oh well, we’ll see.

Monday, 18 November 2013

The real Rupert...

Is it just me or is there something not quite right about Rupert the Bear? I’m not talking about his appalling dress sense, or the fact that back when he was bear coloured, before undergoing the Michael Jackson treatment and becoming white, he actually did look very bear-like despite the yellow checked trews. Yes, there’s something vaguely sinister about Rupert and the company he keeps.

Take a look at the scene above. At first it looks like an everyday scene of a human bear thing pulling a sleigh with a small black and white dog on it. Nothing strange in that, just pop down the wood the next time we have snow and you’ll see what I mean. But look closer, closer still and it all goes a bit surreal, as surreal as any painting by Bosch or Dali. This isn’t a children’s illustration, this is a vision of somewhere else, and a very dark somewhere at that.

Do you see the black crow of death at the top of the picture, and what’s that swinging from that branch – a monkey dressed as a Dutch boy? A pig, a rabbit, and a badger in smoking jackets and minstrel trousers climb the hill, whilst a naked Siamese and equally undressed brown dog look dumbly on. Small statue-like children watch the scene unfold, their faces stern as if in trance. Have they been mesmerised? And why is that girl in yellow smiling in that hysterical fashion? Is that a grimace of fear or the smile of lunacy? Maybe it’s just too much for her to take in and keep her sanity… or maybe she’s Rupert’s winter sacrifice.

A miniature cowboy sits in the fork of a tree wearing high-heeled shoes borrowed from his mother. The same tree half obscures a wild-haired-dark-thing of dubious origins wearing a red bow tie. In the background an ashen faced pierrot backs into the shelter of the bushes. Perhaps he’s afraid of the red-capped miniature elephant wielding that wicked looking cane; the one he took from the priest who’s praying for forgiveness in the church in the village below. All is quiet in the now empty village as the snow falls silently and evening comes upon the dark, dark wood.

Why does Rupert look so happy? Or is that a look of triumph?

ROAR! Let the slaughter begin!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

500 words...

As I keep nagging my daughter: to be a writer you have to write and to my mind that means writing at least five hundred words a day. Five hundred tiny words; preferably strung into a semblance of sentences and paragraphs, preferably with an attempt at punctuation - although this becomes increasing personal and more difficult to define the more you put words to the page.

Five hundred words. What’s so hard about that?

Since starting this piece I’ve already written 81 words, and I haven’t really said very much at all. So, I ask her, what is so jolly difficult about getting down 500 measly words? Although I don’t actually use the jolly in this conversation, jolly is just a word for writing down to make it appear I’m educated or living in the 1920’s.

I’m not feeling creative. I’ve got writer’s block. She says.

Writers block? What’s that? Do you think plumbers get days when they aren’t inspired to fit new taps? Do they get plumbers block do you think? And what about surgeons, do you think that they have surgeons block?

Awfully sorry Mr Height, no operation today. I simply can’t perform it. I have surgeon’s block.

Surgeons block my arse. Well no, hopefully not that.

See, I’m already up to 215 words and I haven’t even got started yet.

Of course, I’ve already written almost six hundred words today. I had an article about the Ashes tour in Australia to get out. Thank goodness I wasn’t gripped by writer’s block just as I was about to start writing it. I’m so pleased that I was inspired enough to be able to cobble together an article about cricket – a sport I know practically nothing about – and not miss my deadline…

Writing is a job you see. As Hemingway used to say at dinner parties: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” 

Or alternatively as Dan Poynter once wrote: “If you wait for inspiration to write; you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.” (smiley face)

I could go on with the quotes for the rest of my five hundred. But the point is: writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration. If you wait for inspiration you’ll never do much writing and if you don’t do much writing you’ll never be a writer. The clue’s in the title you see. You don’t become a writer by not writing.

Well, I’m at just over 400. So I guess it’s time I started winding it up, rounding it down, and generally getting out of your hair.

I’ve been writing for a while now. The more I do it, the more I have to do it. There are times that I question why I do it, and other times I don’t need to question why at all. Some days it’s all I can do to string a few ‘not very good words’ together, other days the words simply pour out. I just write.


Saturday, 16 November 2013

A few minutes out of time…

They say that time passes and they are right. Time does pass. But I often find myself wondering if time passes at the same rate all the time or if, as I suspect, it’s a movable feast slowing and speeding dependent on… well, I’m not really sure what it’s dependent on.

Have you ever woken with an hour or so remaining before you need to get up and found that the hour turns into several as time slows down as each few passing minutes feel like a full sixty?

When you are in a rush, short of time, do the hours fly so fast that they seem like minutes?

I used to have an old spinning top, a hummer. The type of top boys used to have in a world where electronics were still relatively new. The more you pressed the wooden handle the faster it went, the louder it hummed. I’d press the handle up and down, up and down, up and down, up and down, making the top spin faster, the hum grow louder, up and down, up and down, faster, louder, faster, louder, up and down until my hand hurt and I let go, allowing the top to spin free.

Spinning free, I’d watch the top steadily spin round and round, mesmerised by the blur of colour - red, green, yellow, blue, yellow, green, red - entranced by the undulating hum. For a few moments I was sure that time was standing still as I watched and listened, listened and watched, inside the vortex, out of time, alone save for the spinning of the top as the wolf chased Red Riding Hood and the woodsman wielded his axe and granny hid beneath the covers pretending the world had gone away and time no longer existed.

Time no longer existed.

I watched it all until the wobble began and with that wobble time slowly started to creep back into the room and fill my head. Slower and slower, the hum becoming quieter and quieter, until the wobble became a bump, the top falling over and skittering across the lino floor to hit the chipped, white skirting board with a clatter.

Time was back.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Looking for reindeer...

It was almost a full moon last night, one of those moons that surround themselves with moisture, the type that shimmer in the air - an almost winter’s moon shining through the leaves in my back yard, reminding.

A long time ago, so long ago that it almost isn’t true, I used to open my curtains on winter’s nights and watch the moon as it passed across the sky framed by the big black square of my window. It wasn’t the moon I was interested in, although I’m sure that I sometimes saw the man in it wink at me, I was looking for reindeer. Of course I never saw them, they probably passed after the moon had moved on out of frame or didn’t appear until I’d fallen asleep. But it didn’t stop me looking. Night after night I’d watch, year after year, convinced that one day I would see a reindeer-pulled sleigh pass across the face of the moon.

One time I saw a big old owl flap his way skywards. I’d often see bats flickering this way and that across the moon. I’d trace the moths as the scuttered their way up the glass, out of the top window as they flew towards the light. On windy nights fallen leaves would blow like dark snow across the glowing circle. Sometimes real snow would fall and the moon would be just a glow in the sky, and once – with loud honkings and the whoosh of wings – a ‘V’ of geese, out far too late, passed across the face of Mr Moon.

No reindeer though, no sleigh, and no Santa.

It was years before I found out why.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

It's not a compulsion...

I’m still balancing pebbles you know. It’s not a compulsion, but it’s a close run thing. I can’t pass a pile of pebbles without trying to balance at least a few.

I was tidying the front garden at the weekend and, instead of removing the dead bedding and pulling the weeds from the gravel, ended up spending an hour or so concentrating on balancing a few of the hundreds of pebbles that have made their way from the sea to the small square of gravel at the front of my house. It isn’t a compulsion you know, stacking one 'unstackable' thing upon another 'unstackable' thing in a semblance of order and balance.

It wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing but, in a lifetime of doing what I wasn’t supposed to be doing, I hardly think that it counts.

I soon had a few finely balanced stacks and paused for a moment to wonder why I did this thing that isn’t a compulsion. But almost as soon as I started thinking I got lost in the stacking process. So I put it from my mind and carried on stacking and balancing.

It isn’t a compulsion you know.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013


There are nights that I still miss my old Teddy Bear and I haven't seen him for over 45 years. I expect he was cheap, maybe somebody had owned him before me. But he was my only friend for a while when I was very young. Yes, I don’t know where he came from, but for years he really was my best friend. On dark, cold, nights I’d lay upstairs listening to the television and the shouting below, hanging on tight and clutching the softness of his cotton stuffing in my hands.

Ted (I had no other name for him) was always around when I needed him - which was often and more than I could say for some.

But then one day he was gone. I’ve never been completely sure just where he went. But there’s a good chance he got caught up in one of the pogroms that sometimes happened on Saturday mornings to satisfy my father’s need for control. The doors and windows would be flung open even on the coldest of days, draws and cupboards gone through, emptied, and all unnecessary and useless things (at least to him) thrown into the ash-covered metal dustbin or piled into a heap in the large back garden to be burnt that afternoon.

Sometimes it was just the sideboard; other times a complete room, and a couple of times a year (usually spring and just before Christmas) it was the turn of the whole house to be ‘cleansed’. Top to bottom he went, removing anything that offended his easy to offend eye. He never asked; never once cared that his ‘worthless’ might have been another’s ‘treasure’.

“It has to be done. I can’t stand all this clutter!” He’d shout - and all for no other reason than he could and it made him (if nobody else) feel better.

My bedroom seemed to be ‘turned over’ more often than the rest of the house. Eventually I gave up asking where my fossil collection had gone or why my paintings, carefully taped to my cupboard so as not to mark the wallpaper, had been removed. Instead I simply gave up. Books, toys, marbles, my mallard’s egg, all vanished over the years after one or another of his manic ‘cleans’.

Well, “it had to be done” didn’t it?

These days I don’t allow myself to hang on to things. Ultimately everything goes one way or another eventually. Of course I keep them close for a while. But when they go I just shrug my shoulders, move on, and tell myself that they were nothing; just rubbish really, unnecessary, a clutter, no loss.

Sometimes though, late at night when I’m worried or tired, I still wish I had my Ted to cling to.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Dead thrush...

I wouldn’t call my life predictable or boring. I wouldn’t call it empty, routine or as dead as a doorpost. But when you really have nothing new to write about other than the frost that formed on the cars the other night you really have to wonder just where your life is going.

Of course I know where my life is going ultimately, we all do, but up until I reach that point I can’t say that I have much idea how it is going to run. Not that I mind. I’ve never been one for wanting to know what the future holds and fortune tellers scare me in the same way visits to the doctors do. What if you find out something you don’t want to know? Once you know a thing there’s no unknowing it – better to live in ignorance than fear maybe.

Anyway, I don’t know if it was the frost that caused the young thrush that I saw on my morning amble to nowhere to die. It was a very young thrush - so late in the year - and it didn’t have a mark on it. If it wasn’t for the fact that thrushes do not sleep on their backs on garden paths I might have believed it to be asleep. Of course it was as dead as that famous Norwegian Blue – not resting or sleeping, but as dead as that doorpost I mentioned. Although just why a doorpost should be deemed dead I really have no idea.

I’m sure that the poor thrush hadn’t visited a fortune teller. I’m sure that his or her death came as a surprise, living its life in ignorance without fear until the end. I only hope that the poor thing didn’t die from flying into a doorpost or that seeing a dead thrush is a harbinger of doom.

Monday, 11 November 2013


By popular demand (well almost) here's a Luna update.

With the colder weather Luna has taken to sleeping a lot. She's not fussy where, any bed or box or bag will do - but she's particularly fond of this hessian bag.

It's interesting to see how her names have developed since she got us. Starting out as plain Luna she now has a diversity of names:

Loony Lou
Lou Lou
Lucky Luna
Lucky Luna Loony Loo
Miss Luna
Miss Lou Lou
Kitty Lou
Lou Lou Kittykins (lost your mittens?)
Treaty Cat
Treaty Lou
Loony Cat

I'm sure that none of these are the name she calls herself and on the nights of the full moon she won't answer to ANY of the names we've given her. I expect on those bright moonlight nights she goes by here real name.

I wonder what it is?

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Drawing maps...

I quite liked geography at school. It wasn’t the learning about the far flung countries with strange sounding names that I enjoyed, it was the map making.

Of course, when I say map making I really mean drawing maps, because that was what we seemed to spend an awful lot of time doing.

Now copying maps by eye, from atlas to exercise book, might not seem very exciting. But with each squiggle and curve I might have been creating a new bay or headland. To say that my maps weren’t very accurate is a bit of an understatement. If I didn’t quite like the shape of a place I’d change it to make it look more artistically pleasing.

My Sahara Desert was bigger than actual, but it did have a very nice shape – a camel’s head shape which I felt was appropriate. France seemed a bit too square to my mind. But I soon improved that particular nation of smelly cheese and even smellier perfume by giving it a nice squiggly edge down the right hand side. I’ve no idea what this did to the boundaries of the surrounding countries, but I expect Germany invaded, Switzerland remained neutral, Belgium didn’t mind (so long as they had beer) and Italy didn’t make much of a fuss - just in case they had to fight.

My Iceland was a triumph. What fun I had making each inlet and spur, peninsula and outcrop look like one of the trolls which I was sure inhabited the depths of that snow-bound land. Forget the geothermal energy, geysers and the fishing fleets at war over cod - it was trolls for me every time.

Of course my geography teacher wasn’t quite as keen as I on my topographical flights of fancy. He pointed out, quite correctly, that ships would run aground and explorers remain for ever lost if they were to follow one of my maps. Of course he was right. But what’s a few hundred miles here, a few hundred there, the odd unexpected island, or the occasional watery channel (where no watery channel should be) amongst friends?

My school report that year read: Geography – “Andrew works hard and seems to like the subject. However, he must stick to reality rather than letting his artistic skills over embellish what is already there.”

So, that’s been my problem all along; and I'm pleased to report... still is.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

Very, very frightening...

A huge clap of thunder, then a storm of hail clattering on the parked cars burning the road white with marble sized hailstones. I’ve never seen or heard a hailstorm like it. Traffic stopped, people ran for cover, a sparrow was knocked out of the air to fall to the ground below.

Of course I didn’t see it fall. But I’m sure that sparrows and all manner of birds are knocked from the air by unfavourable weather conditions all the time. If there is a God, and he really does see every sparrow fall then he must have his work cut out given the billions of birds on the planet. Maybe he makes the hail move around the birds - after all he works in mysterious ways doesn’t he?

The thunder and hail were mysterious enough for me this afternoon. As I said, I’ve never seen or heard anything like it and (although I didn’t see it) the lightening was pretty spectacular too.

Luna was out when it started, but with the first roll of thunder she flew in through the door and cat-howled around the house as hailstones drummed the skylight on the top floor landing. Yet another mystery, the thunder doesn’t ever bother her and she likes to watch fireworks from the window, but there was something about the beat of the hail that unsettled her.

Very, very frightening.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Magic & Sparkle...

 It must be nearly Christmas, the ads are on the telly again. The new Marks and Spencer ad has grabbed my attention this time, not for the cost - although I expect it ran to a handful of millions - but for the semi-porn, slightly pulp-horror storyline.

Christmas, a time of sweetness and light, comfort and joy, angels, wolves, witches, falling down manholes and being chased by blood-splattered playing cards apparently. Now I’m not adverse to weird gothic spookiness or scantily clad young women, but this reads like one of my more wacky cheese-directed nightmares.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood would have loved this filmella.

Scene 1:
A white dog runs down a dark cobbled street and disappears down the steps from The Omen. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley - dressed up for the winter weather in best M and S - runs after him. She spots an open manhole and, instead of steering clear like any sensible person, clumsily falls down it. It seems the dog wasn’t a Westie at all, but a white rabbit pretending to be a dog; whilst Miss Huntington-Whitely is Alice. As she falls and falls nearly all her clothes fall off too. Careful! But when she lands in the snow she’s luckily dressed once again. Phew!

Scene 2
RHW turns up at what appears to be a wake with David Gandy at the head of the table wearing a top hat and a really slimy, slurpy smile. Of course, the food on the table isn’t just any old food and the plates and candelabras probably aren’t just any old plates and candelabras - well, it is M and S. But that’s still no reason for Rosie to nick a bag. In answer to this act of theft, a really scary woman in red chucks a load of playing cards at Rosie which turn into playing card people covered in blood and chase her.

Scene 3:
Rosie, dressed in red (like red riding hood perhaps... yawn) is harried by the shadow of a wolf for a second or two for probably no reason other than they had a wood cut-out available. Then, in an act of tragic discontinuity, she then arrives at a gingerbread house. Stepping into the house, a talking picture out of Harry Potter does absolutely nothing at all. Suddenly (hands up in mock shock) she stands on a rug and is whisked away - no oven for her this time - and incredibly all her clothes fall off (almost and again) revealing that she likes red underwear the ideal present for every man’s wife or civic partner – not. She presses her breasts together for no reason but it does look nice, and suddenly Errol Flynn appears on the carpet behind her. They fly off together hugging hard and smiling dreamy smiles until they arrive at some strange looking place that appears to be covered in dust from a nuclear fall-out.

Scene 4:
Rosie lands and from behind a tree steps a Tyrolean swineherd. They are joined by a woman with short grey hair, an even greyer, shorter outfit and Yoko Ono with really big hair but no John. Wait, this is Oz, I get it now, and off they all skip down the sparkly yellowish brickish road until they come to a big green door. Does Shaking Stevens live here we wonder. They ring a very cheap white plastic doorbell and a bloody huge Helena Bonham Carter head appears. She looks really pissed off - like somebody has hidden her cocaine - so Rosie clicks her red heels together in a Nazi salute (this girls is a real fan of red) and suddenly steps out into the 'real' world from a Punch and Judy tent.

Scene 4:
Helen Bonham Carter wanders down the road dressed for a funeral. The dog (or is it a rabbit?) is in her arms. Is she going to eat the poor thing? No. She passes the dog back to Rosie and wanders back to whatever bar she’s wandered out of.

Magic and Sparkle?

Gothic and Porno more like.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Mackerel And Windy Hedges…

We all go through our mackerel sky days.

“Mackerel in the sky, three days dry.”

Ah, the mackerel sky. How well I remember them above the ocean as an almost young man out to catch a fish or two in a boat with foil-strung lines. I used to think them a portent of something special. I didn’t know what - good weather, a storm, maybe a cosmic event. Generally it meant nothing, as these things seldom do, and generally I came back without any fish, though once I caught a bucketful. I'd love to see a mackerel sky so rainbow-coloured as the king mackerel fish that flapped in my bucket that day.

“Mare's tails and mackerel scales, make tall ships carry low sails.”

Mackerel skies are named for the patterned skin of the skin of the fish. I caught this one above my sky watching field in Wales, the one I stand in sometimes watching the sun go down. On windy evenings I stand close to the hedge with the sheep, sheltering from the wind and watching the vast sky above - brilliant red sunsets, pink fluffy clouds, the deep yellow of an approaching snowstorm and mackerel skies.

A mackerel, or buttermilk sky is a sky freckled with altocumulus clouds. It’s pretty rare and an indicator of moisture and instability at the mid levels of the atmosphere. Rainshowers or thunderstorms often follow; but whilst it is there it’s a beautiful sight – especially at sunset.

“Mackerel sky, mackerel sky, never long wet and never long dry.”

Mackerel skies never stay long nor the rain that can follow - but often doesn’t. It’s a patchy period of uncertainty, something to get through - taking in the beauty, the good, living with the sadness of the grey and the rain if it comes. Don’t worry, the instability will firm up. It won’t last, it’s pretty rare.  

You get through mackerel skies.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Why I like the rain...

I’m one of those people who like the rain. Give me a summer storm or a gentle spring shower and I’m happy. A winter’s rainy day makes me feel insular and protected, an autumn storm on the very edge of comfortable danger. 

Of course I’m not so happy when wet weather spoils my day with a continuous deluge, and wet weather in Wales can bring me to the edge of cabin fever, but in general I like the rain. I think I must be a pluviophile, although I generally keep my clothes on.

As a child I loved puddles as all kids do I guess. I’d stamp through the water in my Wellington boots sending huge splashes showering outwards from my rubber-booted feet. When I became a teenager I’d trudge my way to school in a sullen downpour and stop at Cuttle Brook Bridge to gaze into the swirling brown waters below. Rugby was better on rainy days. There was something so liberating about skidding and splaying in a field of mud. I think that I’d have enjoyed life as a pig. 

The rain made me feel more alive, sharpened my senses, woke me up to a new set of experience,

For years I walked everywhere, as I didn’t drive, and getting soaked to the skin was just one of the things that happened. I liked the soddeness of it all, the rain driving into my face, the soaking dampness of my hair. Sometimes I’d be so thoroughly wet that it made my smile in a Gene Kelly way.

I must have been in my late forties before I really started using an umbrella.

These days I’d rather watch and listen to the rain from indoors. When the rain drums on the roof or dashes against the windows it seems I become a sailor in the storm, or a lighthouse keeper, or a crofter on a remote Scottish Isle. The sound of rain makes me imagine, it relaxes me, soothes me, lulls me into security – false or not, I don’t know or care.

I look out on the street light, the rain sparkling on the glass of the windowpanes, and see diamonds. In daylight the rain smeared glass turns the world to an impressionist painting, out-of-focussing the world, blurring and blending it until it becomes softer and easier to take.

Downpour, shower, torrent, deluge, cloudburst, sprinkling, smatter, squall, cats and dogs, nice weather for the ducks…

That’s why I like the rain.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Curtains, paintings and gunpowder plots...

Another of those days when I struggle to find something to say. I was thinking of telling you why I hate people who call curtains drapes. But equally I’d struggle to write another sentence about the subject. I do, however, hate curtains being called drapes almost as much as I hate a sofa being called a couch. 

I could, I suppose, write about those paintings found in Germany. Fifteen hundred or so works by artists including Picasso, Renoir, Matisse and Chagall hidden behind cans of rotting food in a dingy German flat. Until their discovery the paintings were said to have been lost to the flames when Allied aircraft bombed Dresden in 1945. The owner of the flat has no real identity – no social security number, no genuine passport, has never paid tax. His father was a member of the Nazi party and spirited the paintings away before they were burnt as degenerate art. I wonder just what they are worth? A single Picasso can be worth up to £60million. A Matisse £30million. In total they could be worth billions.

If I were a screenwriter I’d be writing the script for the film now – the paintings that is not the curtains. A film about curtains would probably be quite dull, unless of course it was a Torn or Red Curtain.

There’s always Gunpowder and Plot, with tonight being bonfire night. But to be honest I’ve done that to death and I don’t find fireworks as exciting as I once did. I’m surprised that there’s never been a film about Guy Fawkes, well apart from the 1923 silent historical film directed by Maurice Elvey. There has to be a great blockbuster movie in that story surely? It has everything – religious terrorism, executions, bombs, political intrigue – just throw in a little love interest and a smattering of sex and it’s a winner.

That’s two potential movies in the space of a single blog post, not bad going. Maybe I should try writing screenplays. I can see it now ‘Curse of the Mutant Couches’ or maybe a comedy ‘Pull Yourself Together!” Ooooh matron!

Monday, 4 November 2013

Bus ride to ordinary...

It's hard going back thirty years or more. Trying to recapture the you that you were is like trying to see your old face beneath the caricature you now see each day in the mirror. Remembering how you felt and why you felt that way is even harder, pinpointing all this to less than a couple of hours a haystack needle hunt. My mind tells me that it has to be done though, so here goes.

I once loved Elizabeth Fraser, just for a lifetime and of course it was from a distance, only a few yards, but a 
distance nonetheless as she sang and swayed in the basement of a Birmingham club as the pearly dewdrops dropped and as I watched her hypnotic swaying. Five pounds and eighty minutes or so of passionate adoration and then a bus ride home. Edgy, smoke filled, sticky floored, reel to reeled, big haired boy thug happiness. Her diminutive swirly swirl, her immaculate voice as pearly as dewdrops dropping again, so far away from the mundane existence I’d trapped my silly self into.

Wait, it wasn’t so bad really. But it wasn’t what I’d mapped and I knew that I’d fallen into a falling into, something so comfortable that the sticky treacle of the comfort kept me from moving.

Not moving, easier than pushing a way forwards.

I’d like to say that those eighty minutes of far too hot green leather jacket listening, booted black and grey pad straightjacket trousers, made all the difference. But they didn’t. So I just loved Elizabeth from my few yards of distance whilst the twins twanged their guitars and life and laziness made those yards into light years. Pink, orange, red, as I blew a faint kiss towards her pallid face then ambled out of the sticky floored club, her voice still soaring in my ears, to catch the number 63 bus home to Perry Barr and ordinary oblivion.

I still love Elizabeth, but the choices we make reveal the true nature of our character, more’s the shame.

It is far too easy to walk away from danger isn’t it?

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A bit of a pun...


Saturday, 2 November 2013

A peaceful place…

Just sometimes you are in the right place at the right time. This was the right place and the right time and I just managed to catch the rainbow in the trees by the church before it dissipated and vanished into grey.

One day I shall cross the field to visit the church that sits at its centre overlooked by the mountains on one side and the sea on the other. It’s a barren place in winter, a windy place in spring, a picnic place in summer, and a place to watch the waders in the autumn. A peaceful place - and we all need one of those don’t we.

Friday, 1 November 2013

The Jesus boy...

Quite a year for trick-or-treaters. We had a fantastic menagerie of young devils, vampires, ghosts, ghouls, witches; even a nine-year old boy in a suit and bowler hat carrying a briefcase who told me he was a banker. That made me smile and when he told me that he was my worst nightmare I had to agree, after all bankers are the devil’s spawn – and that’s been scientifically proven Dr Frankenstein.

To balance the banker, a couple of knocks later we had a lone young Jesus at the door. Dressed in white robes with rope belt and homemade beard I might have asked him if he’d confused Halloween with Christmas until I saw his bloodied crown of thorns and the red tears pouring from his eyes. I was tempted to give him a loaf and a fish but I didn’t have any handy and gave him a bag of sweets instead. ‘God bless’ he said as he turned and walked down the path.

They came in tens and dozens queuing along the path from our gate to our door. They came in Shakespearean witch-themed trios, ghostly whitewashed duos, a foursome of dead pirates from the Caribbean. They came with bags and cauldrons, sacks and buckets, bowls and dishes – they came and took just about every sweet we had in the house. But best of all they came; they afforded me such amusement.

In total I counted around fifty of the little monsters over a couple of hours, and that excludes the parents standing at the gate many of whom had dressed for the occasion.

My pumpkin light lasted long after the last cry of ‘Trick or Treat’ had echoed away into the night. Going outside around midnight, to blow through the pumpkin’s eye and extinguish the candles, across the street I thought I saw the Jesus boy wandering along the road. But when I looked closer it was just the shadow from the street lamp shining on the pavement.