Wednesday, 30 April 2014

A cool cat...

With all the grimness in the world I have to say that my cat Luna helps. Nothing seems to bother her. Ferry and plane disasters pass her by, celebrity sex scandals bother her not a jot, the goings on in Coronation street mean nothing to her, and as for the football.

Luna lives in a world of calm and eating and sleeping, getting only the teeniest bit agitated when she wants to be let out to play or when she gets soaked to the skin by rain and rushes in for a good rub dry and a tummy tickle. I swear she only goes out in the rain so that we towel her dry, she purrs and purrs so loudly. Not even that yappy little dog down the road upsets her, she just sits on the wall and teases.

In the evening she sleeps on the sofa, at night she sleeps at the end of the bed, her white hairs leaving behind a trail of evidence.

There’s no doubt that Luna is a calming influence and I think some of her easy going attitude may be rubbing off on me. My world gets calmer and calmer, I eat, I sleep, I go out in the rain, only rushing in for a…

No, best not go there.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Fat people…

Let’s face it, all really fat people are jolly and cuddly and nice. You only have to look at The Laughing Policeman, Father Christmas, Billy Bunter, and Fatty Arbuckle to realise that.

Of course that fat old policeman (he's always on our street) may not be quite what he seems and on the take, Billy Bunter was a greedy bully, Father Christmas sneaks into children’s bedrooms, and Fatty Arbuckle – king of the silent comedy – was a murdering rapist.

Which brings me to that jolly, cuddly, smiley, nice, Sir Cyril Smith chappie; a smudged blend of them all.

There was a time when good old Cyril was everybody’s favourite politician, a real character in a world when there were a lot of characters in politics. He was all over the TV; singing with Don Estelle, appearing on Clunk Click with Uncle Jim, even showing up in a Bananarama advert. Yes Cyril was one of the good guys; a self made man, working class to his corpulent, corrupt, core, and a knight of the realm to boot forsooth.

He lived with his mother (an office cleaner), his illegitimate brother and sister, Eunice and Norman, and his grandmother in a one-up one-down cottage in Rochdale. He was fond of describing himself as "illegitimate, deprived and poor". What he didn’t say was that he was an obese (which was obvious), homosexual (which wasn't), bullying pedophile, preying on the innocent boys he claimed he was helping.

Of course there is nothing wrong with being fat or homosexual, but as far back as the 1960s Smith was spanking and sexually abusing teenage boys in a hostel he co-founded, bullying them into doing whatever he demanded. That can’t be right can it? Nor can it be right that despite numerous allegations and complaints over the years the authorities did nothing about it.

I encountered Big Cyril, as he liked to be called, on a train once. I was just twenty and on my way from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. In those days trains had compartments and he almost filled it with his body, legs stretched out akimbo in front of him. The train was packed, and for a moment I considered sitting in one of the seats opposite his huge bulk. But as I went to open the compartment door he shot me such a look of warning that I changed my mind and spent the short journey standing in the corridor.

Up until that time I’d always thought him okay as far as politicians went. But I changed my mind that day. There was something unclean about him and - maybe it’s just my mind adding even more grime to the experience - he reminded me of a bloated feral rat, like the one I was reading about in the James Herbert novel that was stuffed into my pocket that day.

Of course there will be those that will defend him. Those that ask why all this only came out after his death. Those same people will probably say that the men making these accusations are only doing it for the money. I don’t care what they say. I say strip his knighthood, burn his records and books, prosecute the people who, through complicity or silence, are as guilty as he, ridicule, pillory, and tarnish his memory beyond even the glimmer of a shine.

I really hope that Big Cyril Smith is rotting in his own shit alongside his old crony Jimmy Saville in Hell, and I make no apologies for it.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Bacon and beans...

Somewhere between The Archers and growing runner beans I seem to have lost my way. Whatever happened to that angry young man who was going to set the world on fire with his big ideas. Now it seems that rather than angry, I’m just slightly grumpy and a little tired of being even that. Turns out those big ideas of mine weren’t so very big after all.

Maybe it’s a mid-life crisis as I slip towards old age, but I can’t help feeling a little peeved that I didn’t achieve a lot more. Oh, I’ve done some things; had a more interesting life than many I suppose, but I always imagined that I might do something, even one thing, that was truly great.

Twenty two years ago today Francis Bacon died. As a teenager I discovered his work and, whilst at first it repulsed me in lots of ways, I soon understood what a master of the paint he was. I remember feeling very sad when he died. He didn’t really start painting until his mid-30’s, not knowing if he could paint well enough he made a living out of interior decoration. It wasn’t until he found a theme, which in my mind is simply meat, that his real work began, and just look at what he achieved.

Now, I’m no Francis Bacon but I can paint a little and if I could find my theme who knows what I might come up with. Maybe if I tried I might find whatever it is that seems to be missing for me at the moment.

Maybe instead of meat, vegetables, with just a hint of bacon, could be my theme.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Two sinking ships...

The last letter to be written on the Titanic was sold for £119,000 at auction yesterday.
The letter was written by survivors Esther Hart and her seven-year-old daughter Eva just eight hours before the ship hit an iceberg and sank back in 1912. The husband of Esther and the father of Eva died when the ship sank. The letter only survived because it was in the pocket of Esther’s husband's coat which he gave her to keep warm.

Titanic memorabilia is big business and the fascination with the disaster never seems to stop. A menu from the day of the disaster was sold for £76,000, while a violin played as the ship sank went for £900,000; and if you can’t afford the real thing then you can buy a reproduction Titanic memorabilia pack on ebay for a few quid. There are dozens of Titanic memorabilia collectors all scrabbling for bits and pieces of historical grief.

Of course it’s not just the Titanic. Bits of the First and Second World Wars, Belsen, Pompeii, and any number of tragedies from the past are sold by auction houses. It seems that other people’s misery is a real money spinner.

With the recent South Korea ferry disaster, a ship crammed with hundreds of teenage students, I wonder if in years to come there will be memorabilia of this disaster for sale. If so what will it be; boarding passes, the belongings of the students, the pictures taken by the dying kids on their phones jut minutes before they drowned? Or, in lieu of letters written on Titanic letter-headed paper, will it be the text messages sent by the dying students to their parents?

I hope not. These are so sad and harrowing.

Shin Young-Jin: "Mom, I'm sending you this now because I'm afraid I might not be able to say it later. I love you."

Mother: "Why..? I was wondering why you weren't checking the messenger ..."

Mother again when no reply: "I love you too, son."
Student: "Dad, don't worry. I'm wearing a life vest and am with other girls. We're inside the ship, still in the hallway."

Father: "I know that the rescue is under way, but shouldn't you be waiting outside the rail? Try to get out if you can."

Student: "The ship is too tilted. The hallway is crowded with so many people."
Student to parent: "There are few people on the ship, can't see a thing, it's totally dark. So there are few men and women, women are screaming and we are not dead yet, so please send along this message."
The father of teenager Shin Seong-hee: "I know the rescuers are coming but why don't you try to come outside?"

Shin: "No – I can't move because it is tilted too much. Moving is more dangerous."
Student to parent: "I am alive; there are students alive, please save us quickly."
Student to a group chat entitled 'Theatre Club': 'Love you all for real. Looks like we really are gonna die. If I've wronged any of you, forgive. Love you guys.'
Brother of victim: 'Keep calm, don't panic, take your time, stay sharp, and do as they say. Just act fast as they tell you to. When data works contact me again, your brother.'
Student: "The ship ran into something and it's not moving. They say the coast guard just arrived."
Brother: "Don't panic. Just do what you are told to do and then you will be fine"

Thank God there weren’t mobile phones on the Titanic and maybe it's best that they don't find any wreckage from Flight MH370.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The beach monsters cometh...

It’s been a while since I stumbled across anything on the beach. Somehow my Dali giraffe still eludes me, although this might have become it I guess. No matter, I was happy enough to see this visitor cranking its way along the sand the other day. Of course when I say happy, that’s a purely relative term.

Even though it is the start of the beach monster season, it isn’t everyday that you bump into a sea tank, one of those horrible semi-machines which harvest humans from coastal settlements for reasons that are never made clear in one of my favourite books by John Wyndham. The Kraken Wakes, if you’ve never read it, then you probably should. The premise of the tale is that aliens come to Earth and inhabit the deep seas, managing to change the currents and melt the polar ice caps. The world is flooded with people living on closely guarded islands as the sea tanks continue to spirit away any survivors to suffer God knows what fate. I won’t tell you how it ends; it’d spoil it; although the UK and the US publications have different endings, with the UK version not being quite as bleak.

This little monster wasn’t as terrifying as all that. Maybe its waste wood and rubber pipe legs, plastic baker’s tray body, and traffic cone top head appendage give it a sense of quirky comedy that a real monster from the deep simply wouldn’t possess.

And I don’t think this chap eats people.

I know, I know, why would anyone waste their time on a thing like this. Well, lets just say I have the time and leave it at that shall we?

I really must read The Kraken Wakes again. Perhaps I’ll try to get hold of the American version, I quite like a bleak ending.

Friday, 25 April 2014

A sunny day...

A sunny day, a deserted beach, and the mountains of the Llyn in the distance – what more is required?

Of course climbing down the pebble bank was tricky, climbing back up even harder, but it was worth it for the solitude, the smell of the sea salt, and the light aircraft taking off and landing at Caernarfon airport. Of course, it’s really more of a landing strip left over from the war than an airport, but everything counts in North Wales. Three thousand years ago the Iron Age fort, the fort of Lleu the hero and warrior, stood proud above the waves as fishermen in coracles caught sea bass on cat gut lines. These days it’s a sea battered hillock, rising above the scattering of 1930’s bungalows and asbestos chalets.

The beach at Dinas Dinille is an out of the way place with dunes and salt marsh; the sort of place you might come to fish for sea bass or to watch the warblers in the reeds. On a sunny day it shines, the pebbles making a rocky rolling sound as you slide, feet falling away of their own accord beneath you, to the sand below. When the tide is out the sands stretch for miles, and there’s an overwhelming sense of space. The air is so empty and the emptiness so great that sometimes I feel that I am rushing away with it. Big sky, vast sea, and a beach that stretches away to the distant Lynn, across to the lighthouse of Llanddwyn island on Anglesey, and far away into the horizon.

It makes me want to breathe deeply.

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Looking for mermaids...

So off we went in search of adventure and Cribinau, a small tidal island off the south west coast of Anglesey between Porth China and Porth Cwyfan where, in my imagination, the mermaids sing as they comb their hair.

The island can only be reached on foot at low tide and when we eventually found it, the postcode wasn’t recognised by my sat nav (maybe not surprising for an island church) the tide was in. We parked the car by a stile then ambled the length of the beach towards the 13th century church in the distance.

As we walked, the rocky causeway became more visible with each step. By the time we drew level with the island there was a narrow path of rocks leading out towards the island.

‘Just call me Moses,’ I quipped as we walked between the waters on each side of us. Seagulls flapped into the air as we reached, then climbed the steep stone staircase, setting down our armchair explorers feet on the totally deserted island.

It was an empty, quiet, and beautiful place; a small island of peace in an already peaceful setting. I didn’t hear any mermaids singing, but the sound of the breeze in the grass and the glimmer of the sunlight on the waves were more than soothing consolation.

We wandered around the crouching lime washed building, peering in through the tiny windows at the shadowed silence inside. It was a mystical place, a place where fishermen and farmers, milkmaids and merchants, blacksmiths and bailiffs were baptised, married, then finally buried, a place to stop and draw breath, a place to wonder at, a place to just think.

And that’s what I did.

I didn't find any mermaids though.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

The Patron Saint of America…

Now that’s what I call a kebab.

So here’s yet another St George’s Day. Yes I’m one of the one-in-five who know that St George’s Day falls on April 23. We’re a patriotic bunch us English, a quarter of us don’t even know who our patron saint is. Try asking an American who’s the patron saint of Ireland and they’ll tell you - but Saint George? Mind you, ask an American who’s the patron saint of the USA and you’ll probably get the same answer as you did for Ireland.

Of course Saint George was actually Turkish and a Roman Soldier.

And the patron saint of scouting – dib, dib, dib, watch me woggle.

Yes, (sarcasm alert) us English are so patriotic, you can tell by the dozens of red roses being worn on the streets and the hundreds of red and white flags flying above them. You get more patriotism at an England football match than on our national saint’s day, and that’s saying something - I don’t quite know what, but something.

Just what is being English all about these days anyway, what is it that sparkles in the precious jewel that is our England? Are we about Yorkshire pudding, Blackpool, dialects, Cheddar cheese, and honey still for tea? Or are we more chicken tikka, Benidorm, chav chat, rubbery Cheddar cheese made in Ireland, and Big Macs?

Even St George is an imitation of the real thing. He never set foot in England and was only adopted by us because the story about him slaying the dragon was very similar to an old Anglo-Saxon legend. To make his English link even more tenuous he’s also the patron saint of Lithuania, Portugal, Germany, Greece, cities including Istanbul, Genoa (not really, she’s just an acquaintance), Venice, even bloody Moscow - and you can’t get less English than Moscow; except for maybe the USA.

No wonder I’m so confused. I’m not sure if I’m meant to be British rather than English these days; perhaps if Scotland vote ‘yes’ it’ll help clarify who we are a lot more than who they are, because they’ve always known - well, the kilts are a dead giveaway.

Maybe I’m expected to be a European. Why isn’t that an European? God forbid I’m ever a European… or an American. Oddly that is an American.

Oh well, English, British, European, American… Cry ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George!’

Just who is the bloody Patron Saint of America anyway?

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

As mad as a basket of...

Frogs. I'm worried about frogs, frogs and insects.

I have a dilemma. You see, for a man with so little to worry about, I worry far too much. It’s the little things that worry me these days – unfinished business, unwatered plants, unwanted tasks that I keep putting off – and of course the bigger things too; sometimes I wonder if I’m looking for a meaning to things when of course there is no meaning, no pattern, just randomness living the lie of order. Perhaps that’s why I wake at first light, my head buzzing with tiny worry insects. Tiny, tiny, worry insects: but an early morning buzzing nevertheless.

So that’s part one of my dilemma. The flipside, as is so often the case with dilemmas, is what takes place after I’ve woken up to my early morning insect plague.

I dream.

I dream short dreams one after the other. It’s almost like those public information films I remember from the sixties – almost, but not quite. Watch out there’s a frog about!

At times I can almost control these dreams. It’s the half-waking state; they call it lucid dreaming I think. Other times, as is the way of most things, I’m in control for a minute or two and then the unexpected happens and I find myself on a tube train without my trousers, in an embrace with somebody I really shouldn’t be embracing, or wading waist high through a field of frogs. This happens more frequently when I’m in Wales, perhaps it’s the country air or maybe it’s the sound of the frogs - sorry sheep – bleating.

A field of green-brown frogs bleating and jumping in the early morning light.

And that’s my dilemma. In order to get to my dreams, which I usually enjoy even without my trousers, bleating frogs and all, I first have to put up with those pesky insects and let’s not forget – a careless cuddle can become a muddle! Just where did I put those trousers?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Potting shed heaven…

A chap can’t feel like a chap without a potting shed, and mine’s been a long time coming. Oh, I’ve had sheds aplenty over the years, but somehow they always seem to fill themselves with clutter. A shed specifically for the potting of plants is a luxury indeed, a statement that you’ve somehow reached a turning point in your life; a certain age - and it seems that I’ve grown into a chap of a certain age.

A shed is a sanctuary, a place to go when all else fails, a bit like a church. It’s a space to calmly contemplate, a place of peace, quiet, and order. Or at least it should be.

Just how a tidy shed gets messy is one of life’s great mysteries and I’ve never managed to solve it. Over the years my sheds have seemed to explode internally the minute the door has been latched for the night. A jumble of this, a mess of that – it’s a bloody nightmare looking for the charcoal, impossible to shelter from the rain inside the chaos of its bursting confinement. Swing a cat? Not even a mouse.

Anyway at last, courtesy of my mum in law, I now have a shed specifically for the potting of plants; I am a rich man indeed. No matter that it leans and that I have to travel a couple of miles up the road to access to it; it’s worth the short journey to lurk in the dimness and breathe in the smell of damp compost. Besides the vegetables I’m raising are being grown in her garden, so what better place for my potting shed?

Of course I had to clear it of rusting garden recliners, curtains, Christmas decorations, old roof tiles, and spiders first - most of which hadn’t seen the light of day since the eighties. But once I’d assembled my Aldi potting bench and manoeuvred it into place, it seemed to be a more than serviceable space, ideal really.

Potting is the thing to do when you’re not pottering, and somewhere between the two I should have a most enjoyable lark of a time. My dibber is at the ready, my seedling separator prepared, my compost blanket awaiting starter’s orders. All I need now is a portable radio tuned to Gardener’s Question Time, a bottle of port, a few wet late spring afternoons, and I’ll be in potting shed heaven. I may buy myself a gardening cap to wear whilst I pot away and I've even made a little wooden sign for above the door.

Potting, pottering, port, and a portable - what more is there to wish for?

Friday, 11 April 2014

Performing miracles…

Where to begin? Well, I guess that the beginning is best.

I'll never trust that Jesus fucker again. Five loaves, two fishes? I told him that there were 5,000 to feed, but he insisted there he could only see 5. He should have gone to specsaviours!

Another example of my odd sense of humour posted on Facebook to titillate or offend, I’m not sure which; it depends on where you stand on the Jesus thing and the ‘F’ word I suppose, but at least these days I won’t be burnt at the stake as a heretic. It struck me as funny at the time, it still does actually, but it didn’t get a great response. Maybe I should have just posted: ‘A pint? That’s almost an armful.’ Hancock quotes always seem to get a few comments.

Well, at least I tried and somewhere in those lines there is something truly funny. I can see why so many great comedians kill themselves though.

Religion seems to have featured a lot in my thinking recently. I don’t know why, there’s nothing huge going on in my life which means I need a god or anything. Well, not much unless you count the tick-tock of the clock as I rush towards non-existence or whatever else there may be.

Anyway, I did another one of those Facebook quizzes this morning. Yes, I’m still addicted; although it could be worse, it could be Candy Crush. Leaving addiction alone (see what I did there), this particular quiz arrived at the conclusion that I’m probably an atheist.

An atheist? An atheist! Jesus, I don’t think so.

In response I immediately posted on Facebook: “I am patently not an athiest. I believe that all things are part of a whole. Call that God if you will, but I call it The Church of the All Embracing Whale. Come worship the Whale with me - Brother Blue. Just inbox me your credit card details for membership (unfortunately we can't take Amex or Paypal). May the whale always swim in your ocean.”

Yet another nail in my comedic coffin methinks… That’s almost an armful now.

On a more serious note, I once almost believed that all the whales on Earth, collectively, together, might form God and by hunting them we might be killing the most powerful force in the universe. I don’t know why I thought this, but at the time, and for a while, it made complete sense to me. This was before that Star Trek movie with the whales I hasten to add.

I know. I soon shut up about it; I couldn’t take the ridicule and guffaws from my fellows. Luckily they didn’t section me and as a concept I still believe that there might be something in it. Let’s face it; it’s just as likely as Jesus feeding five thousand with four loaves and two fishes.

This made me remember eating tuna and cucumber sandwiches on long, boring, Sunday afternoons when I was a kid. Yum, yum, tuna and cucumber sandwiches with lashings of vinegar. Happy days? Well no, but the sandwiches were nice.

Perhaps that’s how Jesus did it.

The biggest bluefin tuna ever caught was caught this month by New Zealand angler, Donna Pascoe. Donna landed a 907-pound Pacific bluefin tuna; smashing the world record and, if she’d have been allowed to sell it in Japan, making over a million quid in the process. Of course she wasn’t allowed to sell. Only licensed commercial fishers are allowed to sell their tuna in New Zealand, so she’s stuffing it instead.

Now that’s what I call a waste of perfectly good fish, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall would have a fishy fit and wear a T-shirt saying so, after all that one fish would have made 1,769 cans of tuna and that’s 2,875 sandwiches.

With a couple of those under his belt (he did wear a belt didn’t he? If not how did he keep his trousers up?) I think Jesus could easily have fed the five thousand with 2 fishes. Of course he’d have needed five of the loaves baked in Portugal during the Bread and Bakers’ Party on 10 July 2005. A continuous loaf 1,211.6 m in length was baked over 59:30 hours. The massive loaf contained a total of 4846 kg wheat flour, 3029litres water, 242kg leaven, 121kg salt and would have made… Well, quite a few sandwiches.

Yes, that would have done it. Five thousand picnickers at the Sermon on the Mount (I know that isn't the same incident but call it artistic license) all fed tuna sandwiches made from two loaves and five fishes, albeit bloody big ones.

Perhaps there’s not so much to this miracle working after all.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

In the greenhouse…

The temperature in my bargain Aldi greenhouse was up in the high seventies yesterday. Not bad for plastic and tubular steel.

The seeds I bought from the pound shop are doing incredibly well, mostly growing into tall, strong plants in their pots. The runner beans and peas will soon need planting out; the iceberg lettuce won’t be far behind.

The turnips and beetroot are looking iffy, so I’ll probably sow some directly outside, and the coriander, Thai chillies. Chinese onions, and pak choi haven’t made an appearance yet. Even so I have high hopes for my oriental selection seed pack.

My snap peas and carrots are through and the twenty magic beans I bought from the garden centre for 15p are thriving. I call them magic beans because I forgot to make a note of the variety when I dropped them into the brown paper bag. Mind you, they are probably magic anyway.

My tumbling toms seem happy in their hanging baskets and for once the cucumber plants didn’t wilt off when I transplanted them. The courgettes and pumpkins will soon need potting on, so I’ll need to pick a patch for them to spread out in. I’m growing the pumpkin in the hope of being able to carve my own home-grown Jack o’lantern come November, fingers crossed that it manages a decent size.

Generally everything in the garden is rosy.

Of course none of this will change the world, but it changes my world a little. I feel much worthier when I am growing things, cleaner somehow, more useful, it gives me a sense of purpose. Mind you after I’ve weighed up the cost of the seed, the compost, and all the paraphernalia you accumulate around growing things ‘properly’ it’s much cheaper to go to Aldi.

They say that home grown vegetables taste better. I say so too, and I really bloody hope that it’s true because after all the time and effort, not to mention the backache and worry, there has to be some tangible payback other that a rosy glow of satisfaction in being able to say: ‘I grew these tomatoes.’

So that’s my greenhouse gardening news. Maybe my magic beans will grow as high as the clouds. I’d better sharpen my axe just in case.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Yell and high water...

I heard a couple of days ago that some of my friends jobs are 'at risk' as they say. Suddenly they are caught between the devil and the deep blue sea, some wanting to go but not wanting to lose their jobs, some not wanting to go at all I guess - but maybe having to.

I too have been at all at sea at times over the last few years. I’ve been between Hell and high water, that rock and a hard place, and yes, lost between the devil and the deep blue sea. 

Of course after all the turbulence, the choppy seas, I’ve washed up pretty safely. Maybe not where I thought I wanted to be, but certainly where I needed to be - I think. 

It hasn’t always been plain sailing along the way, but I can see the light on the horizon now.

Unfortunately it seems that for some the journey is just beginning as the ship that we were all travelling on continues on its way down to Davy Jones’ Locker. Even more unfortunately the real rats never left that sinking ship; instead they hung around and are steadily running it towards the rocks.

Make for the lifeboats chaps, women and children first.

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

More fillings?..

After a break of over 2 years I went to my dentist last week. I was summoned by letter with a reminder that I could be removed from their list if I didn't attend. Well, I did not want that, after all it is NHS.

I was expecting a bit of a bollocking, but fortunately my dentist's maternity leave, the fact that they hadn't been great at letting their patients know that they'd moved to spanking new and shiny premises, and the other fact that they'd lost my phone number in the move somewhow, all transpired to make it their fault and not mine.

Phew, that was a relief. I was in the clear, despite not bothering to chase my appointment up; I even received an apology.

My dentist is a very efficient young woman. Her white coat crackles with the sound of starch and she always asks about the toothbrush I am using. She really does seem genuinely concerned for my wellbeing, more concerned than I am myself actually, and she’s as gentle as possible when she scrapes and polishes away at my little toothypegs.

How different from my first visit to the dentist in the school playground circa 1962.

Back then the dentist visited us children in a big campervan affair with his surgery built into the back. He was one of the most dreaded school visitors, along with the nit nurse, the eye test man, the injection doctor, the speech thewapist, and the woman who whispered scary things behind your back to test your hearing.

Young girls would faint or throw up whenever it was announced in daily assembly that a visitation from any of the six horsemen was due. The boys would react to the news by acting even tougher in the playground, saving our tears for when got home. Our teachers would tell us not to be so silly and to pull ourselves together - it didn’t stop the need for buckets of sawdust in the school hall though.

Of course all dental treatment was free back then, courtesy of the National Health Service, and visits were a yearly thing.

On that first visit the dentist decided to fill one of my milk teeth. I don’t know why he bothered as it fell out soon after, but fill it he did, drilling without anaesthetic and telling me that it wouldn’t hurt. Well, it did hurt, it hurt a lot, and the taste of the shiny amalgam in my mouth was terrible. I’m sure I saw smoke coming from my mouth as he drilled into my gum, and I think I caught a glimpse of delight (which I would later call sadism) in his eye. He didn’t offer me a rinse, just passed me a tissue to mop up the blood as I staggered away from his torture chair, casually shouting for me to mind the step and to be sure to take a lollipop from the jar by the door as I closed it.

It was a while before I went to the dentist again. Somehow I managed to miss his yearly visits through various stomach or head pains; once I even spent dentist visit day up a tree in the park. Oddly, despite my long, long spell of non-dental attendance that is the only filling I’ve ever had and, as my dentist told me last week, my teeth are fine. 

Sadly, my gums are another matter.

Monday, 7 April 2014

A trip to the post office…

I had to go to the post office to post a parcel the other day, but first I had to find it. Whatever happened to those imposing brick and stone buildings that used to sit proudly on high streets resplendent with flags and bunting and rows of bright red pillar boxes standing to attention on the pavement? They were easy to find back then, very apparent in their post office glory. Of course the trio of telephone boxes and the postmen’s carrier bikes, leaning against the post office wall, helped. These days forget posting a parcel, it’s more like a game of hunt the parcel.

Where did all the post offices go?

Of course the postal service isn’t what it was. No longer is it at the very heart of industry, finance, and trade in the way that it once was. For one thing there’s e-mail, for another there’s the bloody competition with their white vans and their knock and run deliveries. I hate those bloody cards informing me that they called but I was out, when I bloody know I was in.

Oh, for the days of Her Majesty’s Royal Mail when the postman had shiny brass buttons and a military style cap, the days when a trip to the post office was an exciting adventure full of anticipation. It seems that our Main Post Offices have become so ashamed and shy that they’ve gone into hiding, tucking themselves away in supermarkets, bookshops, and mini-marts. I’m sure they’d turn themselves to invisible greyness if they could.

Not like the old days. I remember when my town’s post office had shiny marble floors and the pens at the counter were full of real, rich, dark blue ink. There were always plenty of knowledgeable staff in suits and ties and nicely pressed skirts, and the ceilings were immensely high. The side counters were stocked with official looking forms – applications for temporary passports, dog licenses, post office savings accounts, and both television AND separate radio licences.

It was an oasis of peace and order, not unlike the town library or the post office’s big cousin the bank. You entered its hallowed ground with the doff of your cap and a smoothing down of your Fairisle sleeveless pullover, self consciously going through the large oak doors as if you were on camera – which of course you weren’t back then.

Any deviation from the not very long queue was met with horror by the horn-rimmed, tightly permed, counter assistants, and running around inside would result in a slap across the head from your mother her half-hearted punishment often followed by a jolly good thrashing from your father when he got home from work for causing such embarrassment.

Ladies wore hats to buy their stamps, men tapped cigarette ash into brown bakelite ashtrays whilst waiting for car tax documentation to be checked, bow-tied senior clerks frowned suspiciously at you over metal framed specs, and all information was imparted in secretive, nervous whispers. It was all jolly, jolly, good and you didn’t go to the post office without having a wash, combing your hair, and polishing your shoes.

Yaroo chums! Yes, back then it was like living in an Enid Blyton novel, and the post office was a mysterious, slightly frightening place run by Nazi sympathisers… Schnell, schnell, actung, and Fritz!

Despite the huge cream fans that whirred above the customer’s heads in summer, and the big brass, overly ornate, dolphin knocker screwed to the post office door, my clearest memory of the post office was the polished brass posting box that was set into the wall outside. For years I believed that there was a class system in operation with ordinary people posting their letters into the second class slot and the posh people posting their letters into the first. Maybe that’s where the Nazi connection came in.

It was quite a while before I realised that it wasn’t a status thing and only about the type of stamp you bought. By then I must have posted dozens of my parent’s first class letters by second class.

These days the shiny copper posting box has been painted, the copper all hidden beneath a coat or two of dark brown paint.

Drat those Nazis.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Manchester marathon...

I make people shout; I don’t know why people shout at me, they just do. Perhaps it’s a knack I have, or maybe when people look at me they see a big red flag and become bullish. I really don’t know, but sometimes it seems that I’ve spent my whole life being shouted at by one person or another and if I’m honest I’ve become very tired of it.

Maybe I don’t express myself very well. Sometimes when I say something it comes out wrong or my tone is wrong or my attitude is wrong or the words I use are wrong or, although I don’t think that there’s anything wrong with what I’m saying, others think that what I’m saying is wrong and then they shout at me.

Here’s an example.

You bloody runners get on my nerves. I’ve spent most of today turning around as most of the bloody roads have been closed so that people, who should know better, can run on roads which should be for cars not people. Just why you are allowed to do this is beyond me. Surely you can run in a big park. As for why you do it, well it takes all sorts, but my belief is that you just like lycra and sweat. Anyway you completely buggered my day with your stupid, selfish activities and I don’t care if it was for charity.

Shout away.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

So about that plane…

I wonder what it is that makes us want to believe in conspiracy theories. Is it an inherent longing to make things more exciting than they actually are, or do we just enjoy distrusting authority?

I've been holding off blogging about that plane. I wanted to see if it turned up. Today the Chinese have reported signals from the black box recorder in the Indian Ocean. Another false lead, I wonder? 

Diego Garcia is a tropical, footprint-shaped coral atoll located south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean. It is part of the British Indian Ocean Territory and rented by Britain to the United States. The US Navy operates their Naval Support Facility, a large naval ship and submarine support base, from the island. The remote island has a runway long enough to land a Boeing 777. Interestingly, the runway descent was programmed into the home flight simulator of the pilot of the missing Malaysia Airlines plane, although the data was subsequently erased.

Philip Wood, a passenger on the lost flight, supposedly pinpointed the island when he allegedly uploaded a black photo with a message claiming he was being held prisoner by unknown military. Flight MH370 was under 'suspicious cargo' surveillance by the Russian Main Intelligence, 20 of the passengers work for a company which specializes in futuristic warfare and technology, Island residents of the Maldives (647 miles north of Diego Garcia) reported seeing a huge low flying aircraft heading South at 6.15am the morning after it 'disappeared' from radar.

Of course Glen Miller was shot down by his own side, Marilyn Monroe was taken out by the CIA, Area 51 is choc full of alien spacecraft, and Elvis, Shergar, Lucky Lucan, and Ritchie from the Manic Street Preachers are sharing an apartment somewhere in Rio. As all of us conspiracy theorists know, all governments are corrupt, they possess weapons of mass destruction given to them by aliens and if you remove their masks they are all lizard men underneath. Even so, a lot of conspiracy theories have turned out to be true despite attempted cover-ups.

The CIA really did have a mind control project and they did run drugs in LA, the asbestos industry managed to cover-up the substances link with cancer for decades, The Gulf of Tonkin Incident, which led to the escalation of the Vietnam War, never happened, and let’s not forget Watergate or Karen Silkwood.

Only a few decades ago we all trusted the banks. After recent banking revelations it’s easy to believe that The New World Order, a group of the world’s elite who have caused all the major wars for the last 200 years, is actually true. Some of these bankers will go along to Bohemian Grove where strange meetings, attended by the richest and most powerful men in the world including former US presidents, take place. These meetings happen in the Californian woods and a giant stone owl is worshipped by the all male congregation. It doesn’t ring true does it? Well, unlikely though it seems the Bohemian Grove meetings have been investigated by CBS and NBC and all of it is true.

For my part here’s my very own conspiracy theory on Flight 370, try this one to hang your hat on.

Perhaps, as originally reported, the pilot really was a terrorist and perhaps he was taking the plane on a suicide mission to Diego Garcia, intending to crash it into the naval base which houses nuclear submarines and stealth bombers. Perhaps, somewhere between the low flying and switched off navigation equipment, he got lost and had to carefully ditch the plane into the sea. Perhaps the rest of the passengers and crew were already dead when the plane glided into the calm sea, killed by the pilot with a lethal gas. Perhaps, after it was down, he found a way to sink it without leaving any floating debris. Maybe he simply opened a hatch or two.


It’s been almost a month since Flight 370 went missing and nothing has been found. I don’t know what the truth is, but it seems odd that a Jumbo Jet can disappear without trace in this age of satellite technology where we can track a single shark, metre by metre, as it makes its way across the Atlantic.  If nothing changes soon I guess Flight 370 will become just another episode of Mysteries of the Unexplained and then forgotten. Who knows, maybe the people on that plane are still alive somewhere. Personally I hope that they find something. I’d like to know if those people are alive or dead. But in terms of what happened, beyond it being something very strange, I think it very unlikely that we’ll ever know for sure.

Friday, 4 April 2014

Infinity, cats, toast, and chickens…

Sometimes, late at night, I find myself pondering the imponderables.

How big is infinity, which came first the chicken or the egg, is that cat alive or dead inside his or her box, what persuaded the chicken (not the egg) to cross the road, just why does toast always seem to land butter side down, and of course: is there life anywhere else in the universe?

Yes, I don’t sweat the small stuff. I’m strictly a blue sky, helicopter view, million dollar question sort of chap.

Sometimes I worry that we might be alone, really alone, the first world to sustain life, perhaps the only world that will ever sustain life. What if we really are a one-off? Some massive long-shot that wasn’t in the plan, would that mean that there wasn’t a plan, and would that mean that without a plan there was no God? If there was a God.

It makes my head spin, not literally in an Exorcist sort of way, but that spinning, flashing thought thing where your mind races from one thing to another and you begin to see lights in your head, bright, bright lights and deep pulsating whirlpools of darkness, a kaleidoscopic internal picture show taking you to infinity and beyond…

Or is that just me?

Anyway, I wish I had the answer to the extraterrestrial life question. It would make it all so much easier to bear knowing that we are not alone, that we are probably not just an instrument of some all-powerful being, a game that Somebody or Something enjoys playing.

Will David’s lyrical question ever be answered, and will we ever resolve the life on Mars thing? Not to mention the moons of Jupiter.

Okay I’ll mention them. At least three of the four moons of Jupiter - Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede - could be likely candidates for life. Of course the Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (JUICE) is on its way, the first large-class mission chosen as part of the European Space Agency’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program. I don’t know much about the ESA’s Cosmic Vision or JUICE, but I do know that it won’t be launched until 2022 from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.

Now, despite the mission seemingly being named to solely produce a catchy acronym, I’m hoping that they find something. Jupiter and its moons are almost a mini solar system in their own right. Three of those moons have water and seas under their surface ice; one even has its own magnetic field, another internal heat. Maybe under that ice, deep in the water, there really is life - strange extraterrestrial fish slowly swimming in the murky waters.  

It’ll be a long wait. But if they do find life, any life, that one big question will be answered. Extraterrestrial life within our own solar system has to mean that life can occur almost anywhere, and that will mean that we aren’t alone and maybe there really are other intelligent beings somewhere else.

Best of all, when that day comes and the fish are found, only the cat, infinity, chickens, and the toast mystery will be left for me to ponder.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Summer boys…

There are a few places in my life that I don’t go. Hidden places, best forgotten places, long ago lost summer places. Ah, the boys of summer. Weren’t we all that once?

Look this isn't her, but it could be. There’s nobody on the road and nobody on the beach. I’m swimming in the salty sea back then, making for shore, too far out. Hell, it’s far too rough; any of those ten feet waves might knock me into the rocks and kill me. No sunshine, just the huge grey waves. What was I thinking of? That summer I didn’t give a toss lost between relationships and trying to impress with my too tight white cotton shirts, no money, and little boy shoes.

Well, I guess that you had to be there to be there.

A long time long ago, a big smile, but these days I wander and wonder.

Rollerball, caravans, sandy bay, and I see her. Her head’s thrown back, her hair shines in the sun as she laughs and looks over the top of her sunglasses. No, I don’t wander down here often. That summer is best left out of reach, dead and buried like one of us ended up, the other discarded like an old sneaker lace.

Yes, best not to visit those strange times to drown in that strange summer sea. I try not to look back; I really try to never look back. It was a long, long time ago and I don’t want the waves to lift me and throw me against the rocks all over again.

Was it a dream? I wish. Somehow I got lost in the swimming - all of us lost somewhere in that sea.

Yep, you had to be there to be there - I guess.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

The dust that fell to Earth...

It's quiz time again. Can you guess where in the universe this is to be found?

I awoke this morning to find my car covered in dust from another world. Not an outer space type world, although it did resemble another universe as it lay on the black bonnet of my old Mazda 6, but a desert world. The Sahara desert to be precise.

It’s not the first time I’ve got up to Sahara dust, it happens every once in a while. It wasn’t just me either. The poor old prime minister’s car was also covered in fine dust outside No 10 after overnight showers, so we at least have something in common.

Poor old London too, air pollution reached level 10 - danger, danger - on Tuesday and the Met Office advised people with lung problems to avoid strenuous exercise, even healthy adults were told to take it easy outdoors. I better find my smog mask quickly.

How incredible to think that Saharan dust can be lifted by twenty mile an hour winds, reaching altitudes so that it can be carried thousands of miles around the world. Caught in rain droplets in the clouds, it falls to the ground when it rains, the water evaporates, and a thin layer of dust is left behind.

I wonder what’s in that dust; are there tiny fragments of mummy wrapping, silt from the Nile, camel droppings from nomadic caravans, nonexistent palm dust from oasis mirages? Maybe there are even tiny flakes of the binding of Encyclopaedia Britannica’s carried by Bob and Bing on the road to Morocco - who knows?

Tiny particles of the past of another continent smearing the surface of my car. It makes such a pleasant and romantic change from Welsh mud.

I wonder when the frogs and fish will begin to fall?

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Cry wolf!...

My wife got me again.

Well it is April Fool’s Day and of course I forgot. This time the toilet was overflowing and coming over the top of the seat. Of course I rushed up the stairs when she called me in a panic, muttering complaints and accusations about ‘things’ being flushed down the toilet and it getting blocked. She even turned on the bath taps to make it sound realistic and stood looking so very agitated outside the bathroom door, seemingly staring at the fictitious overflow.

I pushed past her, expecting to see water everywhere… and she burst out laughing. I’d fully expected an hour of unblocking followed by another hour of mopping and bailing out.  

Every bloody year! She got me again. What is wrong with me?

Of course, I laughed with her, not least of all with relief that the toilet had not overflowed after all and had just been a jolly jape. Mind you, I’ll have nightmares about it for weeks. Overflowing toilets already appear in my catalogue of nightmares, along with locked hotel room doors, lost cars, keys and wallets, and wandering around strange cities stark bullock naked apart from a very small traffic cone.

Talking of nightmares - I wonder how many people had real a real crisis today and on rushing for help were met with ‘Yeah, April Fool. You don’t get me that easy.’

I really hope that my wife never has any kind of emergency on April Fools Day. Just imagine what I’ll say and do if the toilet really did overflow next year.