Sunday, 28 December 2014

Over and out...

An informal way of saying 'bye'. 
Often used in the armed forces, followed by a salute. 
Also works well with a wink... ;) 


So: Over and out... ;) 

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Next Christmas already...

With this Christmas fast disappearing - even more quickly than the leftover turkey - I am already beginning to think about next Christmas.

Well, time on my hands does that to me and between now and mid-February I am going to have plenty of that. Yes, there's a void to fill until my new shop opens next year and I need to find ways to fill it.

Of course there will be some gardening, a bit of decorating, and the daily chores, but I also want to develop a new product range for next year.

I still have a head full of Christmas though, so today I had a play with my next year's charity bauble and came up with this. You can see what it is so I won't insult you by describing it, but I have to tell you that it isn't easy getting that pine tree inside the glass globe and it's even harder getting the glue in place to stick it firm so that it's upright.

Anyway after much thinking and swearing I managed this one, and once you have done one the rest will follow... I hope.

Friday, 26 December 2014

Boxing Day - Marley's visit...

So here it is another Boxing Day. A day for cold meats, bubble and squeak, and pickles; not that I need a pickle this Boxing Day, I’ve had enough of those, even, a couple of years ago, a visit from my own Jacob Marley.

Yes, Boxing Day, a poor cousin to Christmas Day itself - a relaxed day, a not to worry day, a day for reflection.

Sometimes I’ll dip into a book and often it’s A Christmas Carol by my good friend Charlie Dickens. I’ve read that book a dozen times at least, so usually I just flick through reading my favourite passages. It seems to me that A Christmas Carol contains everything you need to know about being a decent human being, everything you should aim for, not just at Christmas but at any time of the year. There is so much truth in it, so much to take note of, it might be a blueprint for happiness. Of course happiness isn’t easy but we all have to strive for it, or at least I do. So I just flick through reading my favourite passages and think about what they mean to me.

A long time ago I was asked to think about what people would say about me at my funeral, asked to imagine the conversations they were having. At that time I wasn’t sure that I liked what I imagined hearing and I’m not sure when I hear them in my mind today that I like them still. But at least my imagined comments are a little better these days than they were back then.

Of course it’s all in my mind, and I could be wrong, but I’ll keep working at it. After all, who wants people pleased and relieved at your demise?

Who indeed Jacob, who indeed?

So, if you take my advice begin with the end in mind and remember Marley’s warning. Oddly, I think I may have a lot to be thankful to him for - poor, hopeless, devil.

Happy Boxing Day, try to find a little time for reflection and remember what Scrooge said to the spirit of Christmas to come: "Men's courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead.”

Thursday, 25 December 2014

Christmas Day 2014...

Each year Holly and I squeeze into a supermarket photo booth and make a Christmas photo for Gaynor - Holly's mum and my wife.

Years ago it was easy, years ago there was Woolworth's and their booths were pretty big. Mind you, Holly was much smaller then and so was I. We've been doing this since Holly was two, but these days we really struggle to fit into the booth. Either the booths are smaller or we have grown, although I think it a combination of the two.

It has become a tradition, like ringing the silver bells became a tradition today. Sometimes we get funny looks as we don our Christmas attire, and the sight of a really fat bloke and a tall stick of a young woman emerging from behind that little grey curtain has at times led to a few puzzled faces.

We have all sorts of photographic quality and we've taken them in all sorts of booths. It can be very hit and miss. It's worth it though and I really like this one. We look happy, don't we.

Yes, what a record we all have of Holly and I at Christmas - and why not?

Yes, why not?

Happy Christmas Day everybody. I hope it is a happy one for you.

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

Advent calender 24 - Christmas chores....

Noel!

So that’s it, Christmas Eve is upon us and with it a chapter of my life ends. The Emporium on the Downs (nee Trader’s Outlet) closes today. Yes the poorest management I have ever encountered eventually managed to mismanage the store out of business.

Still, every cloud has a silver lining and in the New Year I open my new shop in the old Altrincham Post Office. Do not fear, the glass painting will continue.

Meanwhile my chosen one has cleaned our house from top to bottom and even the upstairs lounge, which we rarely use, is dust free and sparkling. It’s the biggest and lightest room in the house and we really should use it more, maybe we might play a Christmas game of Scrabble on Christmas afternoon.

Christmas is a funny old motivator. I suddenly need to do all those jobs that have been hanging over my head for months. loose carpets get nailed down, wonky doors get unwonked, old candles get thrown away, even that piece of hallway paneling that keeps dropping off gets fixed.

"Hot dog!"

So many chores, so little time. But hooray, we are ready at last! The chores are done, the final Christmas tree, the one from my shop and tree number six, has been re-erected and decorated; the Christmas presents have been rescued from their hiding places and wrapped; we even have the smell of homemade mince pies wafting from our very tidy kitchen.

Life is good and all is well, Christmas can safely come now. I really hope it’s quiet one.

Noel and God bless us, every one!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Advent Calender 23 - Lost Christmas cards...

Ah, the humble Christmas card. They say almost nothing when you receive them, but speak volumes when they don’t arrive. Not getting a Christmas card from somebody who you have known for a long time can mean any number of things. They could have died, fallen on hard times, or maybe even fallen out with you.

I think my mother used to measure her popularity by the number of Christmas cards she received, may even have pitied others who didn’t receive as many as she did. I don’t get cards from her any more. I don’t send her any either. What would be the point given the man she lives with and the fact that I have been ordered to have no contact with either of them?

A lot of my family have stopped sending me cards since the man I mentioned pushed it just a little too far and showed his true colours again. He’s not a man to disagree with you see. Funny the way people side, even when they must know the truth about his behaviour. It isn’t exactly a one off and everyone must have seen it at some time or another. Why use not sending a Christmas card as a weapon though?

Oh well, we still have plenty of cards to hang along our stairs; cards from people and friends who know us, even some from people who like me for who I am.

And that will do for me.

Merry Christmas.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Advent calender 22 - Aunt Fanny on a rock bun...

I am reliably informed by my wife that when it comes to wrapping presents I am about as much use as her aunt Fanny on a rock bun. Now, I have never met my wife’s aunt Fanny and I have no idea what possessed her to sit on a rock bun (I’m not ever sure what a rock bun is or if aunt Fanny exists) but when it comes to wrapping presents I have to admit I am less than thrilled by it.

There was a time, many, many moons ago, when wrapping presents seemed like an enjoyable and worthy way of spending a few hours. The paper would fold, the ribbons would match, and even the sellotape behaved itself. These days though, I have become all fingers and thumbs, my time is more limited due to a need to sleep, and they don’t make sellotape like they used to (other brands of sticky tape are available).

On the subject of sticky tape, why is it that it always curls back on itself and sticks to my fingers instead of the paper, just where does the end disappear to every time I put it down for a moment, and why does it fold back on itself, sticking tape to tape, rendering it useless?

Square boxes I can just about manage at a pinch, but give me anything that has curves or even a few uneven sides and I may as well be trying to wrap an elephant. Sometimes I feel that I am wrapping an elephant. I overstretch the paper making it tear so that I have to patch it back together with sticky tape and I always cut the paper to the wrong size. If I cut it too big I have to cut off the ends which always seems to make them ragged and if I cut it too small I find myself joining on another piece which is rarely satisfactory.

Labels are another problem. I start by writing nice loving messages with a festive flavour ‘Happy Christmas darling, from your own special Santa’ and then (after the first ten or so and a few more glasses of wine) end up dashing off meaningless nonsense – Blinky, winky, winky, woo – love snogger xxx.

Then there’s those stick on bows that really aren’t stick on.

No matter how I try I can’t get the backing paper off without removing the sticky as well. I usually end up sticking them on with doubled over sellotape which means that they invariably fall off as they sit patientlyy under the tree waiting to be unwrapped.

Maybe this is why for the last few years I have delegated most of my present wrapping to my daughter (God bless her).

Well, if it’s good enough for Santa…

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Advent calendar 21 - Yule fox...

I was up early this morning. Well, I think it was early, it's so hard to tell with the dark mornings and too short, short days. Anyway it was early enough for me to catch a fox sneaking around in our front garden. I have no idea what he was doing, but he barely stopped to wish me a happy Yuletide before he shot off across the road and disappeared up a driveway.

Back to the country house I expect.

So here is another Winter Solstice and Yuletide begins. From here-on-in the days should begin to lengthen, at least in theory with today being the shortest day. It won't seem like it for weeks though.

That's the thing with the winter darkness. It's cumulative. It builds up in your mind until you think that it is never going to be light again and that the sunshine was just a trick played on you by some goddamned awful god. The god of winter, the King of Yule.

Time to fetch the Yule Log to keep his darkness away.

Of course I can't fit an entire tree into my fireplace like they did in the old days. But I have picked my Yule log from the stack of logs in the cellar and it will be burning on Christmas Day to keep the dark spirits at bay. Actually I have picked four or five, well it really isn't that big a hearth, and I will keep them burning all day long on the day of days.

As for the fox. Well he's welcome to come in and lie by the fire, but I think he'll have to fight Luna for it first.

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Advent calendar 20 - Mistletoe kiss...

Who would you most like to kiss under the Mistletoe? Years ago my sixteen year old self would have answered immediately Miss Taque.

Miss Taque, or Helen as I came to call her, was our school art teaching assistant. She was training to become a teacher at a local college and for a couple of months was sent to my school to get a little experience. I had what you might call a bit of a crush on Miss Taque, but of course I was a schoolboy and she was a teacher and at twenty or so, a real woman.

I watched her from afar for weeks. So many weeks that, as Christmas approached, there were only a couple left before we broke up for Christmas and Miss Taque went home never to return. It had to be done.

I found her in the art room at morning break. She was tiding away some papers. I walked up to her, reached into my pocket, and took out the small piece of mistletoe I’d bought from the greengrocers on North Street.

‘Christmas kiss Miss?’ I asked nervously holding it above my head.

She smiled and much to my surprise kissed me. It wasn’t a big kiss, but it wasn’t a peck and I carried that kiss around with me all over that Christmas, keeping it close to ward off the cold.

I bumped into her a few months later on the Aylesbury bus and we went for a coffee like you do. We got on well and I saw her a few of times after that. We met for a drink in Oxford, went to the pictures, and wandered the art galleries. It was fun for a while, but it wasn’t going anywhere and then one day it just stopped as we both moved on.

Sometimes I wonder what might have been. There was only four years between us, but at he time it seemed like a generation. I’ll never forget my mistletoe kiss though.

Advent Calendar 19 - Text Santa...

It was Text Santa night last night and, what with one thing or another, I didn't get time to post my blog so here it is now.

Text Santa is such a great way to give to some important charities, an easy way to make a small difference. For a long time I tried to ignore TV fundraising because I didn't like having my faced rubbed in other people's misery so that I could be guilt-tripped into donating.

Then one day I realised that being guilt-tripped is a good thing. How else was I going to be forced to donate a little cash to people who need it far more than I do so that their lives can be improved.

I support a few of these events and charities now, not a lot but enough to ease my conscience and to make me feel that I am doing my bit, at least financially, to help others. This year I decided that any money I made from my deconstructed snowman baubles would go to Text Santa. I sold a few and that's where the money went.

So if you bought one thanks. You have helped make a difference.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Advent calendar 18 - Ding dong merrily...

It’s unlikely that you’d ever hear me humming a hymn, but there is something about a Christmas carol that changes all that, something that sets it apart from other hymns. In fact, I don’t think of carols as hymns at all, just jolly good songs to be sung at Christmas.

Maybe it’s the themes; after all you need to look hard at some of them to find much religious content. God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen always reminds me of drinking in the pub for some reason, I Saw Three Ships is basically Greensleeves reworked for Christmas and The Holly and the Ivy is based on a much older, much more pagan, song.

As a not quite teenager I was in the school choir. I got drafted in for some reason even though I don’t think my soprano voice was that good. I guess I helped make the numbers up. After all, you can’t have a choir without lots of choirboys otherwise it wouldn’t be a choir; it’d be a trio or something. Anyway, being in the choir was a real pain in the arse. Far too much practicing in lunch breaks, more thwacking on the back of the head with a hymn book that was good your constitution, and of course being in the choir was seen by some of the other boys as not really rugger-bugger.

I guess you could say that I was an enforced choir boy, Shanghaied you might call it.

Yes, I hated it. But that all changed at Christmastime.

The Christmas Carol concert at the local church was fantastic in so many ways. For me it was the end of school and the start of Christmas. Well worth the weeks of practice and the long droning service itself, even to a not at all religious twelve year old it was beautiful. I have the fondest memories of standing in the choir stalls with my hair neatly brushed singing Gaudete and the Coventry Carol in a candlelit and holly decked church. For a few minutes, as I sang my heart out, I almost believed.

Yes, it seems my dong was truly dinged merrily for a while; and then my balls, which were on high, dropped - and that was that.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Advent calendar 17 - The meaning of Christmas?...

I have no idea what Christmas is all about, I expect it means different things to different people. For some it’s a religious festival, others a chance for a rest, give gifts, gluttonise themselves, share time with family and friends, get drunk, argue, watch TV, remember Christmas past, maybe even do nothing at all.

There’s no right or wrong to Christmas. It really should be a time to do as you please, to spend it any way that makes you feel different to the rest of the year. I’ll probably do much the same as any other non-working day. Have a few drinks, eat too much food, watch some terrible television, moan about this and that. But somehow it will be completely different because after all it will be Christmas Day, the biggest day of the year.

Between you and me, I really do like Christmas. Even though most Christmas Days have disappointed me and a few have turned in to a nightmare. I’m an old softie at heart and that time of year is magical; especially for the children as they say. I don’t really need presents, despite what my wife would tell you. But as long as I have a few drinks, some nice scoff, and a good book to read I will generally be happy.

I guess I’m just the big kid I always was at heart.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Advent calendar 15 - Angels...

I think when it comes to angels I stand firmly in the corner of disbelief. I’ve never seen one, never heard one, and if I have angel guardian guarding me - well, I’d be very surprised. Of course if there were angels I doubt that they’d have white wings like a dove, or carry harps, or sit around all day on a cloud.

No, if you think about it the whole idea of the traditional angel is preposterous although they have appeared in works of art for thousands of years.

Angel-shaped beings turn up in ancient Mesopotamian and Greek art and were probably the inspiration for the popular Christian image of angels. The Renaissance painters seemed unable to paint a picture without dropping an angel in it somewhere – or even worse a cherub, one of those midget angels I detest so much.

Of course there are many who would disagree with me. There are stories of unexplained rescues by spirit beings throughout history and these miracle happenings are a part of every culture on Earth. In America, where there are no gullible people, a recent Time Magazine survey revealed that around 69% of Americans believe in angels, 46% believe they have their own guardian angel or angels, and 13% of Americans believe they have encountered an angel or, at the very least, a supernatural being.

Actually, now I come to think about it, I did once see an angel type creature standing at the bottom of my bed. It was smiling, but I prefer to believe that it was a dream, a shadow, or a piece of undigested potato; and of course I was very young so it could have been a burglar for all I know.

If there are angels then I’d prefer them to be like Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life rather than like the archangel Uriel with his flaming sword. Clarence might forgive me my sins but I think, particularly after writing this, that Uriel might not take such a kindly view.

Oh well, off with my blasphemous head.

Monday, 15 December 2014

Advent calendar 15 - Deconstruction...

It seems that chefs are deconstructing everything these days. A steak and kidney pie becomes braised beef, sauteed kidney, creamed mushrooms, all served on a platform of filo pastry.

For pudding the humble and much maligned trifle is transformed into a fresh fruit sorbet, gelatin gin custard, and a spun sugar topped with a gingered brandy-snap.

All very clever.

So I thought that I might have a go.

The thing is I'm a glass painter and not a chef (well not a chef in the strictest sense even though I'm a very creative cook), so I though balls. Christmas tree balls, and deconstructed a snowman instead.

My snowman is served in a clear glass bauble with hat, carrot nose, stick arms, coal eyes and buttons all hand crafted by myself. The remaining snow is beads of polystyrene; it even has a knitted woolen scarf.

Deconstructed or melting? Who knows. Either way I really like it and I think that next year it'll be one of my personalised bauble products.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Advent callendar 14 - I wine a lot...

Christmas without wine would be far worse than Christmas without snow. I can live without snow, but without wine? No, I don’t think so. I drink red and my chosen one drinks white. So, there’s none of this sharing a bottle nonsense and once a bottle is open… Well, let’s just say it would be rude not to.

I’m no connoisseur, I can tell the difference between a Merlot and a Cabernet, but I’m not fussy. I drink for the fun of it rather than to taste, swill, spit and then go on and on about chocolate, loganberries, beech smoke, with just a hint of sun dried peasant sock.

We stock up a little at this time of year with a few bottles of plonk, some fizz and one or two bottles of the pretty good stuff for the day itself. We keep it down in the cellar in the wine rack that used to be three times the size until we realised that two thirds of the holes would always be empty.

Mind you, I do like having a cellar, even though most of the time the wine has all been drunk. I love saying (rather pompously) ‘I’ll just pop down to the cellar to get another bottle of the Nuef de Pape de Compte de Plonk. It’s a 57 you know, so full of variety’.

Oh well, it makes me happy and so does the wine and I do tend to wine a lot.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Advent calendar 13 - Snowmen...

When I was young I seemed to spend most of the winter waiting for it to snow, of course most of the time it didn’t. I have memories of many Christmas Days where it rained and a few when the sun shone, but the best Christmas days were the ones when it snowed.

There weren’t many of these, but when I was lucky enough to awake to a blanket of white it seemed that Christmas really was that magical wonderland so often promised in the songs that played on our old fake walnut radio. After all, what is Christmas without snow or a walk in a winter wonderland and what point is there in looking out if the snow isn’t deep, and crisp, and even?

When it snowed Christmas was transformed. All the kids on our estate would gather on the large grass quads, toys and presents almost forgotten in favour of snowball fights, sledging with homemade wooden sleighs and, of course, the need to build snowmen.

The snowmen we built were huge, often eight or nine feet tall. We’d start by rolling a ball of snow up and down the snow covered grass until it took five or six of us to push it along. Two or three boys would make a smaller ball and, when we were happy that we’d used as much of the snow as we could, the smaller ball would by manhandled (or rather boyhandled) up onto the larger one.

The head, a much smaller ball, came last and sometimes snow had to be gathered from neighbouring gardens to make it. Lumps of coal, carrot noses, stick arms, appeared from almost nowhere and then we’d take off our scarves and knot them together to make the longest scarf we possibly could. Finally, someone would rush indoors to borrow their father’s hat, although these were usually trilbies and not the top hats that we all invariably drew on our homemade Christmas cards at school.

By the time we’d finished, often hours later, our gloves would be covered in ice where the snow had melted, then frozen again, and our balaclavas would be discarded with the warmth from all that exercise.

Sometimes we’d look at the snowman for a while and then break into ‘sides’, one at the top of the quad, one at the bottom, the snowman in the middle and we’d hastily build snow walls, throwing our snowballs from behind them like hand grenades in one of the war films we watched at the Saturday matinee.

These days, old as I am, if it snows even just a little I’m out making a snowman. It doesn’t matter how small he is or if he has a hat or not, I just can’t resist making a man out of the snow.

Advent calendar 12 - Choooo-choooooo!

It’s a complex and complicated time of year. So much to do, the clocks ticking and Christmas rushing towards me like a steam train all belly full of fire. How will I ever be ready? How will I not let people down? 

Yes, it’s a complicated time and to cap it all less than two weeks before the big day my wife Gaynor goes and has her birthday.

Every year this happens, as if buying Christmas presents wasn’t enough, and this year it’s even more high profile as it is a big birthday, a very big birthday. Not that you would know looking at her.

I think it’s fair that I sometimes get mistaken by people who don’t know us for Gaynor’s father; bloody annoying but understandable. She has weathered our lives well, while I on the other hand…

Yes, it's a big one and I am staggered and pleased to say that we have been together for more than half of those years; amazing, given that we are both more than a little nuts. Anyway: Happy Birthday to my long suffering wife. I am a lucky man I think.

Choooo-choooooo!

Thursday, 11 December 2014

Advent calendar 11 - Ho,ho,ho...

Father Christmas? For a moment there he almost had me. He’s so totally believable, of course you have to want to believe and what small child doesn’t want to believe in a friendly old man who brings you presents? Ho, ho, ho and all that. I think the clue is in the name though: ‘Father’ Christmas. Even so, it still took me quite a while, years and years, to work it all out.

I don’t know when I completely stopped believing that the man who left my Christmas presents wasn’t a fat, jolly, white-bearded man in a reindeer sleigh, but was instead a bad tempered control freak who would really rather not have bothered. Of course the clues were there again for me to see – a reel-to-reel tape recorder when my three or four year old self would have rather liked a toy Teddy. Surely Father Christmas knew I desperately wanted a yellow Teddy Bear with a black button nose?

Most children have a favourite toy; something that they grow up with and cherish for ever. Often it’s something brought to them one magical Christmas Eve by that most magical of beings in his bright red suit, a teddy or a stuffed giraffe, a knitted kitten, maybe even a tiger, a special something never to be forgotten. I don’t remember having a toy like that; I hardly remember any of my childhood toys at all. Perhaps it’s me, but I don’t think it is. For a moment though, he almost had me.

Father Christmas? You know, I think that mine didn’t do his job properly, not properly at all. Ho, ho, fucking ho.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Advent Calendar 9 - Going crackers...

It was only thirty hours or so, but it was enough to almost drive me crackers. I felt lost, unfulfilled, without purpose, adrift on a sea of empty loneliness. What am I talking about? The loss of a loved one? A break up in my life? A call from the doctor informing me that I had only days left to live?

No, it was worse than any of those things. For almost a day and a half my internet has been down!

The phone was buggered too, but that hardly mattered. Who uses a land-line these days anyway? But the internet? Access to the world of online shopping, banking, gaming, friending - now that was quite a different matter. It felt like that time my XR3i wouldn't start. I might as well have had my bollocks drop off that day.

Fortunately I don't really need my bollocks these days, and of course I still had some access to the web via my phone. But there's nothing quite like a keyboard to get a man all riled up, and when it comes to blogging, well, the phone just doesn't do it for me.

Those thirty hours dragged and I suddenly realised just how much I've come to depend on the internet for so many things. How did I ever exist without it?

And thinking about it, I really can't remember.

Advent calendar 8 - Deck the halls...

Well the halls are decked and the fairy lights abound. I always like it when the decorations are up even though I'm sure that after a few days I'll no longer notice them.

It doesn't usually take long for me to get tired of all the clutter and it's always a relief at 12th night to get them down. By then I'm feeling a little claustrophobic and ready to put them away for another year.

For now though the Christmas spirit is upon me.

Ho ho ho.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Advent calendar 7 - Chinks...

Of course what would Christmas be without a few drinks? 

Well, today is Sunday and as usual my Sunday afternoons, particularly the ones where the hail and rain freezes on the windows, are made just a little warmer with a Mojito or two.

Today's Mojitos were particularly required as we spent most of the early afternoon putting up Christmas decorations. Over the years my joy at doing this has become less with each passing year and today - to be perfectly honest - I almost couldn't be bothered at all.

Thankfully they are up now and it won't be too long before we are taking them down.

So with that I formally declare the time of day to be Mojito time! Please feel free to join me.

Here's what you need...

70ml white rum
Mint Leaves
Lime wedges
25ml sugar syrup
Soda water

Here's how you do it...

Crush the mint in your palms to releases the aromas and place at the bottom of the glass.
Chop lime into slices and place on top of the mint.
Add sugar syrup on top of the mint and lime.
Muddle gently to release the lime juices.
Fill your glass 3/4 full with crushed ice
Pour in white rum and soda water.
Stir everything together well, sugar rim the glass, and garnish with a lime slice and mint sprig if you can be bothered.

Chinks!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Advent calendar 6 - And what will poor robin do then poor thing...

Well, the North Wind has blown today, it's been bitterly cold, and when I got up this morning the little robin, who visits my back yard occasionally, was perched upon the rotary washing line.

I'm not sure what he was doing there. Maybe the walls surrounding my tiny garden offer him some protection from the cold, maybe he came to peck at the meal worms I leave out for him, or perhaps he simply came to say hello.

He always seems to turn up when I least expect him and it wasn't until quite recently that he began turning up at all. In over 25 years living in this house I'd never seen a robin in the backyard, and then this one appeared just a  few months ago, dropping in a couple of times a week for a few minutes or so.

Some people believe that when a robin visits and perches by your side that it's the spirit of a departed loved one bringing you comfort. Well, try as I might I can't think of a single departed loved one who would come and sit by my side, let alone offer me comfort. In fact most of the living so called loved ones wouldn't turn up either, not that I'd give them the chance.

The robin keeps coming though and, regardless of why he comes and who he might be, I'm always pleased to see him. There's something about his bright read breast, his soft snowy grey underside and his delicate red-brown back that seems to fit very well into my backyard. He makes me smile and, if I'm honest, he does give me comfort even when the coldest wind seems to blow.

NB- He was back again this morning.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Advent calendar 5 - Broken things…

The shop windows are all lit up with sparkling lights and wherever you look, behind the plate glass windows, Christmas trees and white wicker deer abound. I always stop to look, I can’t help myself. Maybe it’s the glitter attracting the magpie in me, a   watching magpie waiting for his chance.

I seem spend a lot of time looking in from the outside. I always have done, not in a Peeping Tom kind of way you understand, but I am fascinated by the interior of things. When I was a child I was constantly taking things to bits – my toys, scalectrix cars, torches, my Uncle Mick's new indicator light, clocks, I even pulled the stuffing out of my teddy bear once to see what made him tick. 

I kidded myself that I was trying to find out how things worked and that I’d be able to put them back together again. In reality though, once I’d broken into a thing it stayed broken. It got me into all sorts of trouble.

It remains a problem to this day and I’ve lost count of the number of watches and clocks I’ve broken after first prising off the back just to check. What I am checking for I have no idea, but there always seems to be a spring or a cog that ejects itself a la James Bond the minute I gain entry. It’s almost as if they are waiting to escape. Springing the spring one might say.

Anyway, a fixer I am not. I’m that man who went in search of a tiny leak in the bathroom and ended up destroying it so badly that it had to be replaced. I’m that chap who tried to get the boiler working and practically blew us all up. I can make things, but don’t ask me to unmake them. If I take them apart I never know how to put them back together again and usually I don’t want to. Time is not always the healer people pretend it to be you see. Particularly when the guts of the clock are hanging out for all to see. 

Sometimes it’s best to leave broken things broken.

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Advent calendar 4 - The Christmas shoe...

‘Bold in Ballerinas’. Yes, Cinders you shall go to the ball.

The everyday has such stories to tell if only we walk slowly and take the time to notice the little things that might show us a bigger picture. Of course, with my knees I have little choice (a blessing), but I see so many people rushing when they really could take their time, with a tut on their lips as they avoid and pass my snail like pace. Sometimes it feels like their whirlwind is trying to suck me in and drive me along to the march of their drum. Well, I’m past all that – I really can’t and won’t be told what to do; no matter how hard they hit the snare.

Plod on, plod on, my own pace, and if not to a drum then at least to the beat of my old heart keeping me in time with the music around me.

That shoe though.

That bold ballerina shoe with the black and silver bow buckle (size 3) discarded upon the pavement not five-hundred yards from my house. The shoe that even I, slowcoach and all, almost failed to miss as it lay on the pavement by the concrete wall surrounded by the last of the damp autumn leaves.

That shoe.

Just who did it belong to and how did they come to lose it?

Well, it is panto season and it’s always behind you so I don’t turn around - my mind immediately drawn to Cinderella rushing from the ball on the stroke of midnight, Beauty fighting off the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin stamping his way to Hell. But this was no glass slipper and, as far as I am aware anyway, Prince Charming doesn’t live on my road in his castle.

The Little Match Girl, The Snow Queen, Hansel and Gretel, Red Riding Hood - and the WOLF…

All the old winter tales come tumbling into my head and in a moment I am swept up by snow geese and carried away to the ice palace to play with the shards of a broken mirror like some old bloated Kay with a splinter in his heart.

Just a shoe that’s all. An old shoe probably dropped by the bin men as they heaved the rubbish bins to the waiting lorry. Just an old ‘Bold in Ballerinas’, size 3.

That splinter hurts.

I wonder?

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Advent calendar 3 - Frost...


The first real frost of winter settled upon us overnight, covering the cars in a white rime and freezing the sap in the flowers that have so valiantly struggled on past autumn. Well, it had to come didn’t it, the cold snap; it wouldn’t be winter without a touch of frost.

I volunteered to scrape the wife’s windscreen and I was surprised just how thick the film of ice was. Of course I neglected to wear gloves and by the time I’d finished scraping my hands were freezing and my fingers felt like icicles as I scratched the word 'Frost' in the white stuff.

Icicles, now there’s a thing. As a child I loved looking at the icicles that hung from the guttering above my bedroom window. They sparkled like diamonds in the cold white moonlight. Of course I wasn’t so keen on the ice that formed on the inside of the windows overnight, but those icicles were a little bit of magic in a world where I needed as much magic as I could get.

My bedroom was at the corner of the house and my bed backed onto an outside wall. On bitter cold nights I would put my hand on the wallpaper and feel the cold permeating in from the outside through the brick and plaster. No central heating then, no heating upstairs at all.

Those childhood icicles were magnificent, often growing to over two feet in length and I was always sad when the inevitable thaw came as they slowly dripped away to nothing. It was worth the artic atmosphere of my bedroom just to let those massive icicles form, which they surely wouldn’t have done if there had been heating upstairs. Every cloud has a silver lining they say, even if it is made of ice.

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Advent calendar 2 - Premium Christmas trees...

The old green wooden shed at the end of my road, up from the bowling green, adjacent to the Baptist chapel, the one that used to be a joiners but has stood empty for years, now has a new purpose in life. It’s become a reclaimed architectural and shabby chic furniture shed selling all sorts of bric-a-brac and other assorted wonders. 

I’ve not been in yet but I may pop in to see what they have on offer. Who knows, I may be able to pick up and Aladdin’s lamp and get myself three wishes (well it is the pantomime season) so watch out you-know-who.

Walking past the place this morning I happily noticed some very fine fir trees in the yard. Christmas tree vending has come to my road and for once I am pleased with change. That old yard has stood empty and unloved for far too long and I hope that whoever has taken it on does well with their trees and junk.

They’ve had a big hand painted sign made with a fat cheery Santa and the legend ‘Premium Christmas Trees available here’, which judging by the examples I saw, propped against the wall of the Baptist Chapel, is exactly what they are.

It really is beginning to look a lot like Christmas.

Monday, 1 December 2014

Advent calendar 1 – bubbles and hearts…

Here it is December the first. The countdown to Christmas has officially begun and Advent calendars everywhere will be opened as small children eat the first of the Christmas chocolate.

Those calendars come in all shapes and sizes from 1D to doggy treats to scented candles and bath bombs. I’ve never really been into advent calendars and I can’t remember having one as a child, but then my memories of childhood often don’t include everything that I know happened.

It’s a busy time of year, particularly in my glass painting emporium where it’s been Christmas for quite a few weeks now. I think, given that I am so busy, that I’ll need to keep blog words to a minimum (hooray you scream). But I’ll try to post my advent calendar image each day and if there are a few words, well that’ll be a Christmas bonus for you.

Sunday, 30 November 2014

Shine bright like a diamond...

It’s not everyone who has a day named after them. I don’t see any Tom, Dick, or Harry’s days around and Trevor is never going to get his own 24 hours of fame. Despite this, I hate my name. It’s so average, just why my procreating creators labelled me with such blandness leaves me shaking my head in despair; such a lack of imagination, such boring conformity. But I’ve said all of this before.

Anyway, it’s Saint Andrew’s Day today – Huzzah!

Saint Andrew is the patron saint of not only Scotland, but also Greece, Romania, Russia, Poland, Ukraine (for as long as it is Ukraine), the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople (that’s a mouthful) and Saint Andrew parish, Barbados - one of the eleven parishes of that Caribbean paradise.

I’ve been to Saint Andrew; it’s situated at the northern end of the island, past Bathsheba. It’s one of the more unspoiled parts with green rolling hills, dense vegetation, and Atlantic Sea views; some might even call it remote, if it’s possible to be remote on such a tiny island.

It’s been a while, but I’ll never forget getting lost and the road that we were meandering along suddenly going up and up until we came to a village that seemed to be perched on the top of a mountain in the clouds. Visitors must have been rare, because the older locals waved and the children danced along besides our jeep all smiles and braided pigtails. Barking mangy dogs ran along behind us and women in floral dresses passed bananas to us as we drove past their houses. I guess that they must have known my name was Andrew.

Shine bright like a diamond.



Saturday, 29 November 2014

Kerbside graffiti…

Here’s a small piece of last summer, a piece of pavement graffiti that I passed in one of my meanderings one sunny morning in June. I’ve tried to put it to the back of my mind since then, but somehow it keeps popping to the front.

Yes, here it is with all its mystery and symbolism, at least it’s mysterious to me and surely an image like that has to symbolise something. I don’t know what though, and therein sits both the problem and the reason it keeps preying on my mind; question after question tumble through my head and always without any answers.

Why would anyone want to spray an image of an aerosol can with the word ‘life’ beneath it on the kerbside? How did they do it and when? Was it a night time foray or a quick broad-daylight sneak attack? What does it mean? Is it a cry for help, a threat maybe, or is it just someone messing with my consciousness?

I don’t know, but I haven’t seen one before or since and it keeps bothering me. I need to know what it is before it drives me crazy. For a while I thought it might be a secret sign; a marker to some rave or party. Then I thought it might be Banksy working at another level and scale. Perhaps a clown painted it, a clown that lives in the drains a la Stephen King. I’ve even theorised that it’s a sign that vagrants sometimes use to point other vagrants in the right direction – this way to aerosol oblivion and life.

Ultimately though, I really have no idea what it’s about.

Let me know if you do.


Friday, 28 November 2014

Black Friday rant…

So Black Friday is upon us. Sounds ominous doesn’t it, a bit like Bloody Sunday, Blue Monday or that other Black Friday, the one with all the cars which really isn’t just a Friday but any bloody day where there are roadworks. 

Of course, this Black Friday is really the old New Year’s Day Sales brought forward - this is before they became the new Boxing Day Sales you understand – all in line with yet another imported American custom. Thanks Wallmart.

Yes, the day after Thanksgiving is Black Friday in the US, the day when every shopping mall in every state turns into a small version of Hell and the National Guard are called out to control the crowds of would be paying looters. Having lived through the experience ‘stateside’ a couple of times, I was quite pleased that we didn’t have it. But alas! It seems we can’t escape the madness any longer and this year, for the first time that I remember, black Friday is all the thing in the UK.

Hoorah, we now have Black Friday! Whistles and bells and la-di-da-di…

There was I just getting used to Trick or Treat (that rather enjoyable Halloween impostor) and along comes: Baby Showers, Prom Nights, Tuxedo Weddings, Leader Debates and all that other American stuff. Not only that, but Waitrose (that most English of gentile supermarkets) are claiming that one in six of us Brits celebrated Thanksgiving yesterday. Thanksgiving? Yesterday? Did I miss something, and just what was it that all those British people were giving thanks for anyway?

I see no Indians! Sorry, Native Americans.

Yes, the Atlantic really isn’t the barrier it once was and somehow, what with all those celebs and their Mid-Atlantic accents, our British identity is getting slowly washed away by the waves of that particular stars and stripes sodden ocean.

Our traditional festivals are disappearing to be replaced by stateside’s rough equivalents. Harvest Festival, Halloween, Shrove Tuesday, May Day, Swan Upping, and our glorious bank Holidays may soon be a thing of the past. If we are celebrating Thanksgiving, surely Labor Day, Martin Luthor King Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day (yes, we really should celebrate our own defeat) are just around the corner. Just what will this do for Bonfire Night and will Boxing Day - a day that even I have never really understood in celebratory terms - be embraced across the pond as we have embraced Black Friday and so much other needless crap?

I doubt it.

Meantime we’ll continue to drift on our tiny raft towards what were once the American colonies until one day soon, instead of wishing each other Merry Christmas on December 25th, it’ll be Happy Holidays so as not to offend. I know, here's an idea -  how about Uncle Tom Cobley and All Day?

Well, we might as well whilst we are about it.

Mmmmmn? Maybe, Black Friday is blacker than I had at first thought.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Big rocks and small rocks...

There are many milestones over the course of a lifetime. Marriages, births, first loves, children, but not all milestones are big things, there are small milestones as well, the riding a bicycle, learning to whistle, the first day at school type of milestones. I guess you could call them big rocks and small rocks. But sometimes even the small rocks can seem pretty damned big to a child.

I think that the biggest milestone of my life to date has been learning to tie my own shoelaces. It was such a big rock at the time even though now it seems such a pebble now; like telling the time and knowing my left from my right. These days with Velcro, zips, and elastic tying your laces hardly seem to matter, but when I was a boy it was pretty much all laced shoes, except in summer when it was side-buckled sandals. Of course, before I went to school it was okay that I couldn’t tie a bow; my mum could always tie my laces for me. But once at school it became a nagging need, something, that if you couldn’t do, made you obviously and publicly stupid in the eyes of everyone who could.

Over and over, for hour after hour, I’d try to manipulate those laces into a bow only to manage knot after knot. I don’t know just how many times I almost got it, only to tangle and fail at the final crossing and pull of the lace. Driving me was the fear of my primary school teacher who had taught Victorian children and believed that if you could not tie your own laces then you should be stood in a corner and pointed at until you could.

All that pressure on a four year old made my fingers fumble, and of course the ‘help’ my father gave me didn’t help much.

I can’t remember exactly when it all slipped into place. But like most of these things I suddenly found myself, rather miraculously, with one perfectly tied lace and another which was passable even if it was only a half bow. After that, and with only a few minor setbacks, it was all plain sailing in the lace tying department. I must have been almost six.

These days I struggle to tie my shoelaces, but not because I can’t make a bow. These days it’s my back that has become the sticking point.

I’ll never forget the elation and relief I felt on the day I managed to tie my own laces for the fist time after music and movement in the school hall. It was one of those milestones that should mean very little, but at the time was the difference between shame and pride, stupidity and cleverness, ridicule and simply being left alone.

It didn’t end there though (well, it never does, does it?) Not far behind the tying of laces the challenge of the school tie was just a few short years away.

But that is another story.

Monday, 24 November 2014

No time Toulouse…

Being brought up in the sixties and seventies and having an interest in art means that I think I’ve always been aware of Toulouse Lautrec.

His Athena posters of Parisian dancers were everywhere back then and if that wasn’t enough there was Monty Python and the ‘no time Toulouse’ sketch.

Well, it's in perfectly common parlance.  No-time Toulouse. The story of the wild and lawless days of the post-Impressionists.

But I digress.

Today is the 150th anniversary of the birth of Henri Marie Raymond de Toulouse-Lautrec-Monfa or more simply Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, a French painter,printmaker, draughtsman and illustrator who led a very colourful and theatrical life in Paris in the late 19th century. He made exciting, elegant, provocative images of the decadence of Paris in those times, often on cardboard, brown paper, or tablecloths.

He’s one of the legendary post impressionist painters alongside Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin – and what a dilettante bunch they were with their missing ears, syphilis, sultry teenage South Sea island mistresses, and of course funny top hats.

Lautrec was vertically challenged, a short-arse, the result of a combination of childhood ailments and rumoured in-breeding. But that didn’t stop him painting big. I love his circus painting most of all. He captures the movement and the light, the excitement, the mystery and the sex perfectly. I can almost smell the horses in the ring and hear the crowd applauding.

I learnt a lot from those paintings with their squiggles, blots, scribbles and flourishes.

Unfortunately though, not enough; I can’t paint like him and I never did run away to the circus.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Grrrrrrrr....

My blog tonight is a picture of an adorably cute Christmas kitty. Yes, when in doubt, just stick up a picture of a fluffy Luna kitten in a Santa hat.

That’ll do it every time.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Let sleeping cats lie...

Here’s a picture of my cat Luna asleep in her radiator hammock, so snug and warm and doing no mischief at all. It’s that time of year when I’m afraid the dark mornings and even darker nights keep her indoors more than she’d like and on some days, when there’s nobody around the house, she hardly gets out at all.

It’s her lazy time of the year and she sleeps away the days as well as the nights. But I’m sure she’d rather be out roaming her world, the one that runs from one end of the road to the other and across to the houses on the other side. A small world where generally she can find her way home and return in pretty much one piece most of the time (I pray it continues). Yes, there she is asleep in her hammock without a thought in her head apart from her next meal, her next poo, and the robin that teases her sometimes in the back yard.

Of course this wasn’t the blog I was intending to write tonight. There is something far more important than a sleeping cat on my mind. Something I need to get down but haven’t yet thought through well enough and haven’t so far been able to distance myself so that I can write it as honestly and unemotionally as possible.

So, for now let’s allow sleeping cats to lie, so to speak. I'll keep the cat in the bag just a little longer.

It’ll wait.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

Temptation…

The first of the wine I made last summer is bottled at last. Six bottles of clear, strong, honeysuckled sunshine. Of course, I’ll be waiting a few more weeks for it to mature maybe even a few more months. I might treat myself to a bottle at Christmas but it’s best to leave homemade country wines a year at least I’m told.

That’s what they say – I’m told…

I did allow myself the tiniest taste, saving a savour of the last of the precious liquid from the demijohn. In a single word the best way I can describe it is earthy, if I were to elaborate I'd say earthy and strong, strong and warm, almost whisky like. There was no 'just a hint' of anything, it’s a good honest wine full of the hedgerow, rich, pure and clear and mellowing up nicely.

Yes, best left for at least a year they say…

The colour is good, the bouquet heady, it's deep but not too heavy. I’m not sure if I should serve it chilled or at room temperature, I guess I need try it both ways and take it from there. 

I won't be drinking it for a while yet, but I suppose that I should label it up, date it, and put it in the cellar to stand. I really enjoyed the drop I borrowed, it was so interesting, but I can wait a few more weeks, a few more months. Those bottles look so tempting, but I can take it.

A whole year, and it’s only been eight months…

I can resist anything but temptation.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Candle jars...

With Christmas rushing upon us I though I'd better get on and make some products to sell.

These hand-painted and unique candle jars come in a variety of designs, with a metal heart, handle, scented tea light, and red gingham ribbon, they are all ready for me to personalise or write a message of your choice on the back.

At only £7.99, including personalisation, they're a great little gift which will be appreciated for years to come.

Mmmm... Not bad. Maybe I should be an advertising copywriter.

Oh, I was.

Sunday, 16 November 2014

Pies...

I'm a big fan of pies. Steak and kidney, beef and ale, chicken and vegetable, minced beef and onion, meat and potato - you name it and I'll eat it.

Of course my wife Gaynor makes her own pies, blind baking the cases, filling them with a mix of wonderful fillings, then carefully lifting them from the pie dish.

These are Chicken, leek and mushroom with a rich chicken veloute sauce.

Pie Heaven every time.


Saturday, 15 November 2014

Comets and Clangers...

With news of the Rosetta spacecraft’s recording of the Philae comet it looks like Oliver Postgate was right all along and small worlds really do whistle and sing. Of course the Philae comet lander looks as if it’s about to go into hibernation when the batteries fail - but controllers say the mission was 'total success' and that the craft sent back all of its scientific data from surface of the tiny piece of rock.

‘All’ of the scientific data? Well, maybe not. As soon as those batteries die the dustbin lid shutters will slide off and out will come the pink knitted Clangers to gather up their latest bit of space debris and get on with their tiny pink lives..

Yes, the probe missed the Clangers in their metal armour, didn’t have chance to sample the soup Dragon’s green soup from the soup wells inside the comet, couldn't hear the beat of the metallic wings of the Iron Chicken,or see the Froglets whoosh away inside their Top Hat spacecraft. Somehow the Rosetta’s probe managed to miss the music trees: the ones the Clangers harvest for their musical notes. It even missed the cotton-wool cloud that floats over the little world, releasing musical raindrops onto the dusty surface below.

So not all the data then, scientific or not. Mind you it did manage to record the Clangers as they waited under the surface for its batteries to die. 

There’s no mistaking them. Just LISTEN.

Thursday, 13 November 2014

No man's land…

I watched the new Sainsbury’s Christmas ad last night. It beautifully recounts a moment in history that really says something about the nature of war and all those involved in it. I’m pretty cynical about those cutesy Christmas ads, but this one really is something else. It’s a tiny docudrama that tells the tale of two young soldiers, an Englishman and a German, who forge a brief friendship at Christmas and how the gift of giving is what Christmas is all about.

Of course there’s a gloss to it, it’s a little over-sentimentalised, but all the horror is still there and there’s no product placement, no cynical attempt to sell, sell, sell, based on the story that unfolds.  

The First World War must have been so terrible for all those men in the trenches regardless of the side that they were fighting on. British, German, French, what difference did it make? They were all just men and boys caught up in something they had no control over and certainly didn’t have part in causing.

Men and boys away from home and loved ones, frightened and uncomfortable, lost in so many ways.

I guess most people were aware of the story of the Christmas no-man’s land truce before this new Sainsbury’s ad; a brief break in the fighting to play a game of football on Christmas Day. Most of these types of story are myths like the Mons Angel, but in this case it’s all true. All along those deep trenches of the Western Front back in 1914 men stopped firing at each other, sang carols together, met up, even played a game or two of football and became friends for a few brief hours.

Of course it was all unofficial, not sanctioned by the governments of any side involved and it wasn’t universal, some men kept shooting. It all depended on where on the front line you were. The following year the military forbade it, although some ignored the order and kept Christmas with each other still. But by the Christmas of 1917 the combination of orders from above and the sheer level of bloodiness and despair meant that the Christmas truce stopped happening and the killing went on despite the sanctity of the day. Such a shame, but then that whole war was a shame in the truest sense of the word.

Look, I could go on about how this advert is still selling Sainsbury’s brand. I could suggest that it’s just Sainsbury’s sticking it to John Lewis. I could argue that selling anything on the back of such a bloody conflict can’t possibly be right, even a pound bar of chocolate with all the profits going to the Royal British Legion. I could, but I won’t. The advert really got to me and I think most people will come away with the right message rather than the urge to dash to Sainsbury’s to buy overly expensive goods.

I hate to say it, but I admire Sainsbury’s a little for doing this.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Andrew the glass man...

So this will be my last Christmas in my little shop. Fate and fools have worked against us and Christmas Eve will be our last trading day. It's been a real experience and I have met some real characters, some great business people, and even a few nutters along the way.

One day I may write the book and tell the tale of how this shop and the glass painting I did there kept me sane when my head was very much wanting to shred itself and how I learnt more about human nature in just a couple of years than the rest of my cosseted life put together. I shall miss my tiny corner; I've spent a lot of hours hiding away in it, had a great time along the way, and made some real friends.

There are now a dozen of us left on the ground floor, but we all prepared for Christmas and we are sure that it will be a good one. The trees are up, the piped carols will soon be playing, we will even be laying on some mince pies and mulled wine.

The New Year will be a new start, and I'm going to relaunch with a new energy. My customers remain great and I'm planning to continue not too far from where I am now. It's a better position, more central, and I'm excited by the change and challenge; I've even bought an apron embroidered with 'Andrew The Glass Man' to start my new venture. That's me, Andrew The Glass Man these days, and I'm perfectly happy to remain so.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Penguin...

There hasn't been much in my head over the last couple of days unless you count the refusal of Robert Plant to reform Led Zeppelin for five hundred million quid.

It would be wrong to compromise his artistic integrity but I can't help thinking that all that money could have done a lot of good for the less fortunate in this world.

His decision, and why should he care about Cancer or Ebola victims? Rock music, after all, has nothing to do with charity. It's all about sex, drugs and rock and roll.

Bob Geldof seems to manage both though Planty.

Maybe you just didn't think about it.

No, not much to write about other than a has been rock god I never really liked letting his old mates, his public and (as Sir Bob might agree) the world down. So instead here's a picture of some random kid dressed as a cute penguin. Doesn't that tug at your heartstrings people?

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Lest they forget...

I don’t know why I sit here deep in the wine glass, far too late at night, on the eve of Armistice and wondering where my eighteenth birthday present ended up. It wasn’t much, but then I knew we had no money, and a gift of something I’d for so long admired and wanted was more than good enough for me.

It was a First World War shell lid, the piece they screwed down at the bottom of the shell. Some Tommy had made it into a soldiers cap adding a copper peak to the brass, two cap buttons, and an old French copper coin inside the cap on what I assumed was the detonator. It’s not the one in the picture, but it was close.

I often wondered if that poor soldier made the thing while he sat in the trenches up to his knees in mud and rats, or if it was something he brought back to Blighty. Maybe he fashioned it a convalescent home for wounded soldiers, perhaps he never made it back at all and it was brought home by a friend.

‘Off to college,’ his mouthpiece said. ‘While you are away we’ll keep it safe for you.’ She said.

Safety? A new concept then.

Anyway like my fossils, the bird’s eggs, my paintings, the National Geographic, the pier, the grandfather clock, my hope, it went the way of all things that were mine but really his. In sat on their mantelpiece for years after I was given it. I can’t understand why I simply didn’t ask for it back or just pick it up and take it.

Perhaps I just knew that it was never really mine.

These days they call this things Trench Art, collectible, quite valuable. Perhaps that was it. Of course it’s a long time ago now, but there are some things that – lest we forget – aren’t forgotten. I wonder where it is now?

Friday, 7 November 2014

John Lewis time again...

So the new John Lewis is here. I know, I know, it’s cute, it tugs at the heartstrings, that little boy is adorable, and everyone loves a penguin.

Yes it is all so cute, so adorable, so lovely, and all so completely bloody cynical.

The ad is basically a sales tool for Monty the penguin merchandise. Nothing wrong with that you might say, ads are meant to sell product, and you would be right. What I think is very wrong is making a not very well-made stuffed penguin into a ‘must have’ gift and then selling it for £95, a staggering £185 if you want Monty’s practically identical girlfriend Mabel (both typically John Lewis names) so that the two of them can remain a couple.

Let’s not be fooled, this ad isn’t about love, or sentiment, or nice deeds at Christmas. It’s about grabbing as much money as possible for as little as possible. If you look carefully at the ad you’ll see all the John Lewis penguin products you could wish for. You are being manipulated, brainwashed to need these things.

Are people really this gullible? Apparently yes they are. John Lewis sold out of Monty toys within hours of the advert launch. Just who is so naïve to allow John Lewis to tug at their overly sentimental heartstrings in order to sell them such tat? Who would pay almost 100 quid for a toy that you could pick up for less than a fiver in any discount toy store?

Many people are saying that this ad is the best ad yet. Well, I guess it depends on your perspective, your definition of best, and if you don’t mind being taken for a bloody fool by a major store who should know better.

I can imagine grandmothers all over the county tutting as they blow a couple of weeks pension on these cuddly toys, but doing it anyway as little Ben, Grace, Charlie and Fleur will simply adore their very own Monty and his sweetheart. Yes, the little darlings really must have one, so the old dears will part with their money and then wander home to a cold flat that they can’t afford to heat.

But it doesn’t end with cuddly cloth penguins. The soft toy is only part of the Monty range. John Lewis has produced 39 pieces of Monty merchandise including umbrellas, onesies and cufflinks, which also sold out within hours along with those shabby Monty toys.

It seems the world is Monty mad. Well, mad anyway.

As for Sam, the rather strange seven year old boy in the ad, it seems to me that the poor boy needs help. It’s fine to believe that his penguin is real - an active imagination is a good thing - but his concern with his toy penguin’s love life is, well to be frank, a little unsettling. Not only is that penguin in need of a bloody good wash, but is it really normal for a seven year old to fixate on a penguin’s sexual needs?

This is boy who may grow up to seek love with a little too much passion, a boy that might become addicted to romance, or a stalker, a serial philanderer, a sex addict, maybe even something worse. He’s well on the way to becoming a voyeur as he watches the penguins make whoopee with that strangely over-interested smile on his face - and all because his parents spoilt him by buying him an overpriced stuffed rag penguin one Christmas.

Yes, there’s a moral in this: don’t pay £95 for a cheap cuddly toy, make an ass of yourself, and send John Lewis laughing all the way to the bank. If you do your child may grow up to be one of those weird people who hang around farmyards watching the chickens mate.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

A few fireworks…

What a week for fireworks, well actually what a couple of weeks. Just when did Bonfire Night start in October and go on until mid-November? Bonfire night with all its gunpowder, treason and plot is on the 5th of November, otherwise what is the point of having it?

Bonfire nights in my boyhood were such anticipated affairs. Everyone would build a bonfire in their back garden, stuff a motley selection of old clothes tied together with string to make a Guy, and save pocket money for weeks for a few fireworks.

Sometimes I’d plonk my guy in an old pushchair and go penny-for-the-Guying it. It never occurred to me just how wrong it was to burn an effigy of a Catholic, even a Catholic terrorist, despite Blue Peter telling the story with sketchy drawings every year.

Such an exciting event; if I were to rate special days back then Bonfire Night was only just behind Christmas, in front of my birthday, and Easter limped along miles behind like a damp squib. Even Halloween, which was nothing like the trick-or-treatfest children enjoy today, beat Easter by a crooked mile.

Bonfire night was so exciting - the flames, the smell of burning tyres and wood, volcanoes, Catherine wheels, baked potatoes, and of course the sparklers. How I loved sparklers.

This year, and for the first time in many, we set off some fireworks in my mum-in- law’s back garden. They were very good, not overly large, but sparkly and banging and whizzing and splattering. I didn’t feel the same thrill and excitement I did as a boy though – except when it came to the sparklers.

Last night holding my sparkler in hand, a big grin on my face, I was a boy again standing in a council house back garden, watching a burning heretic go up in smoke, and eating a baked potato.

Yes, I still love sparklers it seems.