Thursday, 31 July 2014

On stopping blogging…

I feel an excitement with my blog. It's the not knowing what I will write, the trepidation of having to push out a few words no matter what, the fact that sometimes what I may write may get a reaction – or not.Yes, the excitement is still there.

Of course for a while it hasn’t been a daily thing; it’s been sporadic, a bit stop-start in its coming. That’s more to do with situation rather than lack of excitement or the will to blog on, I’ve simply not been around.

I’ve recently found that summer is best spent summerising, so that is what I’ve been doing and Wales is not exactly an internet friendly zone for me; so no blog on the days that I am there. It doesn’t mean I’m not thinking blog though, and any number of ideas pop in and out of my head all the time and I really do mean to get them down on the virtual paper machine… but it’s a beer and sunshine thing.

I really must tell you about the butterflies, write about those goblins up the road, maybe even get to the beach and build those frogs I’ve been planning.

But it’s summertime. Oh, those crazy, hazy, lazy, days…

Don’t despair though I still have plenty to say and, with the winter coming sooner than I want to think about, I might very well say it. One thing is for sure, for better or worse this blog will never stop completely (well, not until I die) so stick with me and ride the silver bullet - or not.

The choice is all yours.

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Forbidden Planet…

I’m not going to go on about Robbie the Robot or even about how Forbidden Planet remains the best science fiction film I’ve ever seen. No, I’m going to start with Dame Wendy Hall, the woman who more or less invented multimedia and hyperlinks on the web. She was the castaway on Desert Island Discs at the weekend and stated that within the next twenty years or so it would be commonplace for internal devices to link us permanently to the web. A chip in the brain, an implant behind the ear, a little something that will give us all the answers whenever we want them without having to rely on a machine to access them.

I’ve heard of this before and there was a time, not that long ago, when I might have scoffed at the idea. Not now though, I’m sure that it will come. After all, I never expected to make phone calls from my car or to be so reliant on a small hand held screen for the management of my life and to be with my friends, and of course I was never going to give up vinyl for compact disc,

When biological linking to the internet does come I wonder what will it will be like to have all that knowledge inside you? Well, game shows are going to be pretty pointless aren’t they? Why watch a programme where the contestants get every question right, always win the million pounds, and everyone, including you, knows the answers anyway? Exams will be a breeze. No need to revise, in fact no need to get an education beyond how to use your internal internet device. We’ll all be able to diagnose and treat our own ailments, defend ourselves in court, know the how to get from A-B without sat-nav, maybe even make a decent curry if we follow one of the millions of recipes that will be in the cookery book inside our heads.

There’s a danger though, let’s call it the Forbidden Planet effect. If Professor Morbius couldn’t cope with the collective subconscious and knowledge of the Krells, then might we, faced with the sum total of all human knowledge - all the good, bad, and downright evil - not share his fate and sink into madness, despair, and self-destruction?

Who knows? Maybe it’ll just be kittens.

Will I have the chip? I’m thinking about it,

Saturday, 26 July 2014

The watering...

Off to that other place again leaving my pots and plants behind. The sun is still baking, so that means that Holly, my daughter, will need to do the watering and keep all my little darlings alive. The bench, badly in need  of a coat of paint, will have to wait and now the world can stop for a couple of days.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Going nuts...

I have a twisted hazel in a big pot in my front yard. I’ve had it for years allowing it to twist away, the big green leaves curling as if burnt by the wind although they are perfectly healthy. Most years it manages to bear a few hazel nuts and if I’m lucky I get to them before the squirrels.

When I bought the small tree I had no idea that it would bear fruit and the first time I found a nut I was really surprised wondering, as I found it lying in the gravel, where it had come from. As I said, it usually manages about four of five nuts a year, well it isn’t a very big tree, but this year there seem to be lots and, as it’s only July, they are pretty early in forming.

In fact lots of fruits are out of sync this year. Perhaps it’s the result of the long hot summer we’re having, but the blackberries are already on the bushes and the elderberries aren’t far behind.

Anyway my hazel nuts made me think of the old nursery rhyme. The one that tells children that they can gather nuts in May when of course they can’t. The nutting season isn’t usually until the autumn, but as a child I remember looking for nuts in a hazel grove in May and being very disappointed not to find any.

It seems that you can’t even trust nursery rhymes to tell you the truth.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Lesson for today…

You see these things all the time, inspirational sayings, bon mots for the social media generation. Usually I ignore their throwaway chirpiness, not really believing either the sentiment or the silliness of most of them.

I like this one though. It was posted a couple of times on Facebook this morning: “It’s a good day to have a good day.”

It made me stop for a moment and think. I thought: ‘Yes, I can buy that. In fact I’d go even further and say that every day is a good day to have a good day.’

Well, given the fact that a lot of the time, particularly over the last few years, bad days, often of my own making, have been there in self-created abundance. So, I was a little surprised to find myself smiling and thinking that even the bad days are a good day to have a good day. The wet days, the cold days, the I've just had some bad news days, the I'm broke days, in pain days, tired days, bored days, my partner has split days, even my cat has just died days, should all be good days to have a good day.

It's hard I know, but it’s worth trying because ultimately none of us know how many days we have left or when our last day will be.

So, we might as well try to enjoy them all. After all, even the bad ones must have some good in them..

Here endeth the lesson for today.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Summer wine...

Wine and sunshine, what more is there? The heat of the sun is making my wines bubble away merrily as they move towards full fermentation, the sunshine making them shine, the heat helping the alcohol along.

The Elderflower has been going two months now, the carrot about six weeks, and the honeysuckle three weeks or so. They’ll all be okayish to drink by Christmas and I’m looking forward to a Christmas Day tasting.

Next comes the elderberries and blackberries for the red wines I’m planning to make. They won’t be around until the end of August and the wine won’t be ready until the spring. Yes, wine is a slow old process and needs a bit of planning. Still, I’m learning as I go and enjoying the process, apart from the laborious sterilisation of everything. It’s a bit like the chemistry lessons when I was at school, except there are no exams to take and no stink bomb smells hanging around the room.

I found that five litre still water bottles make excellent demijohns. All you have to do is carefully cut a hole in the top and fit a filter. They cost about a quid in the supermarket and I use the water to make the wine. I started by buying two online for about eight quid and then I realised that they were just still water bottles with a filter fitted. Fit a filter yourself and, hey presto, a demijohn for free.

Oh well, we live and learn.

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

A bit of a stew...

So just what is this motley crew, a medley of mangled vegetables or a feast in the making?

Yes, my vegetable’s appearance may not quite be up Sainsbury standards, but at least I know that they haven’t been coated in chemicals, washed in a solution of industrial grade detergent, and they certainly haven’t been zapped by radiation. Odd shapes they may be, but it isn’t because they are mutant veg, it’s simply the way they turned out – or turned ip in the case of the turnips.

My first small crop of veg, including some baby carrots, onions, shallots, turnips, peas, and a few French beans that didn’t quite make the photo call. A healthy enough crop, if not the most photogenic, and destined for a tasty beef and beer stew with - fresh from the garden - herb dumplings and crusty bread.

Once prepared who cares what they looked like? All my own backbreaking work - love, sweat, time, tears of disappointment and frustration - layed before me in a bowl of stew.

So was it worth it all the effort?

Yes, the stew was totally delicious.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Anne Frank...

“People can tell you to keep your mouth shut, but that doesn't stop you from having your own opinion.”

I'm unable to not comment any longer. It makes me feel bad, like some sort of collaborator or one of those informers that sent Jewish people to the concentration camps in the war. But comment I must ,despite what anyone might think.

I read Anne Frank’s diary at school; well, everybody did. It was expected as part of some sort of post-holocaust rite of passage, even though the war had been over for twenty years. It made me very sad. Years later I made the pilgrimage to Amsterdam and her house to soak up her pain. That made me even sadder. 

Since then I’ve watched the films about boys in striped pyjamas and fiddlers on the roof, read the books - ‘is it safe?’, and listened to the survivors of the holocaust recounting their tales. I’ve even seen my Uncle Len’s photographs of Belsen – real pictures taken by him – snapped as he helped liberate that terrible place from the Nazis.

Awful. Dirty. Despicable. Too much to bear. It left the whole world guilt-ridden and attempting to make amends.

And then this. 

How did the people that suffered so much become the people inflicting suffering? Taking away another people’s pride, killing innocent children, stealing their land, sneering as they do it. 

It sounds too familiar. How is it justifiable?

No matter what the past, how can this be justified?

Two wrongs can never make a right. War is still war, murder still murder, and greed still greed.

I wonder what Anne Frank would make of it? I think that she would have lowered her pretty, dead, head and wept.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Very, very frightening...

I'm one of those people who love a good thunderstorm. I don't know why, as far as I am aware I wasn't born with thunder and lightening; although there are a few who might believe that I should have been. There's nothing like an electrical storm at night and, as our weather in the UK changes, they get ever more pyrotechnically spectacular.

As a child I used to watch from the landing window in Kings Close, my sisters cowering in their bedroom. I often wonder what I looked like as the lightening lit up my maniacal face. Yes, I was grinning and with each clap of tumultuous thunder my grin became ever wider. Strange.

These days, when I'm able I watch from the top floor of our three story house, gazing out across the chimney pots to the dark distance beyond, I still have that fixed grin. I love the potential danger, knowing that it is unlikely that a bolt is going to hit me, and never - hardly ever anyway - twice. Even so, the house two doors down was once struck by lightening and the sandstone window ledge still bears the scar, the dark mark of an electrical burn, where the bolt took a bite out of it.

I love all kinds of lightening, sheet or fork, and I dream of seeing ball lightening floating somewhere out there in the ether. A friend of mine once saw ball lightening in his house - lucky bugger - how I envy him. For me, the boom of the thunder is best when they make the house tremble and I was taught to count between boom and flash, working out how far the storm was away, although I have no idea how many seconds gap equates to what distance.

Sadly I haven't seen that many spectacular storms over the years. I can easily sleep through them, my snoring so loud that it drowns out the thunder, I am so used to thunderous noise. There was one back in the sixties over the market, another thirty years later on the M5 where lightening was striking the ground, over and over again, in the fields both sides of the motorway, and one real stormfest in Philadelphia which went on for hours, multiple lightening strikes zig-zagging on the horizon far above the hills in the distance.

They say that Thor is the god of thunder. A blacksmith, the trade that was the profession of my family for years. perhaps that explains my affinity with thunder and lightening, who knows?

Thunderbolts and lightening... very, very frightening? No, not for me.

Saturday, 19 July 2014


I have a problem, it’s not a big problem and many might see it as a positive, but it’s beginning to worry me a little as I don’t quite know what to do about it. My problem isn’t easy to explain, but I’ll do my best. My problem (or at least one of them) is impulsiveness, or rather the lack of it.

Some of my friends seem to be able to buy the things that they want simply because they want them rather than need them. Some buy new cars when the car they already have is perfectly good. With others its clothes or watches or holidays or technology, and they buy these things not because they need them, but simply because they want them. Sometimes they even buy these things when they can’t really afford them, relying on luck, good fortune, or even loans to allow them to make whatever it is they just ‘have to have’ affordable.

How I envy them.

If I ever decide that I must have something I usually spend so much time debating why I don’t really need it that I lose interest and don’t buy it. I debate these things so well that I always end up arguing myself into a corner and deciding that not only will I not buy it but I never wanted it in the first place.

How I wish I was an impulse buyer.

My idea of an impulse buy is to purchase a new shirt in the sale because I like it and know that, although I have other shirts, I will wear it until it falls to threads. Even so, I end up feeling guilty for buying ‘yet another shirt’ for days afterwards when in reality I don’t own that many; although my wife might not agree.

No, extravagant I am not. I only buy stuff with money I already have and that I really - and justifiably - want or need. I have no credit cards, no debts, and I’m sure that because of this my credit rating will be extremely poor, which I am told should worry me but doesn’t.

Of course there are days when I want to wear a Rolex or drive an Alfa Romeo Spyder, days I’d love to trundle off in my Volkswagen campervan or take off in my speedboat. Days when I think I’d really like to have these things, although I did have a speedboat for a while until I realised I didn’t really need it. These are difficult days spend debating with myself, trying to justify why I need these things - whatever they may be.

And then, when I don’t  allow myself to buy them, both winning and losing the argument simultaneously, I feel guilty for not buying what I didn’t really need or want even though I wanted them for a while.

Yes, there really is something wrong with me.

Friday, 18 July 2014

Far too hot for Nelson Mandela...

My first courgette and three varieties of beans. How boring am I? It's Nelson Madela's birthday, someone has shot down an airliner, and it seems there are more pedophiles in the UK than you can shake a shitty stick at.Despite all of this I decide to drivel on about my far too large courgette and the handful of various beans that I've manage to crop so far.

It's not that I don't find other matters important. But what with the heatwave and everything I really don't want too push my brain too much and have to think about difficult stuff. Yes, I think that what the Israelis are doing is despicable, Cameron's new cabinet both a betrayal and a joke, and the bedroom tax a complete and utter failure - as we all knew it would be just like the window and salt taxes of the past.

Courgettes and beans that's the thing. An easy option to save me having to get on my high horse and canter away with a rant.

It's far too hot for that kind of thing.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A loveliness of ladybirds...

The hot weather in Wales seems to suit the ladydids just fine this year. So with nothing else to do on such a lovely day I went on a ladybird hunt, just like the ones I enjoyed when I was a small boy.

We were always collecting something in our newspaper-lidded jam jars which we pricked with holes and carried around with strings we'd tied around the jar lip. If it wasn’t ladybirds it was grasshoppers, snails, beetles, centipedes, even tiny green frogs.

We’d wander for miles looking for specimens; turning over rocks, carefully parting the grass to watch for the leap of a hopper, or lying by the water looking for the flash of a frog.

Once collected and counted we’d let our miniature menageries go with a mixture of sadness and joy as the little creatures scampered away – very, very, slowly in the case of the snails.

I stuck to the garden for my Welsh ladybird safari, searching the pots and hedges, examining the walls and the trunks of trees. Within an hour or so I’d found over forty and then the heat, and the promise of an ice cold beer, brought my hunt to an end, so I set them free in the shade beneath a mock orange bush.

My very own loveliness of ladybirds, gone in an instant… but fun whilst it lasted.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

Backyard in July...

My backyard looks magical this morning. Ah, July, the start of the slow run up to fall. Yes I know we call it the autumn, but in so many ways it is the fall. My yard isn't going to get much better than this and soon the growth will tip it over the edge.

Oh well, I better make the most of it while I can.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Alcoholic ginger beer recipe...

The brewery in the corner of my kitchen seems to be taking over; in fact some might say it is becoming industrial strength. Bubbling away in various containers and bottles are assorted country wines – carrot, elderflower, honeysuckle – and more alcoholic fizzes than a pop factory.

It hasn’t taken long for me to get into my latest hobby. I’m improvising my equipment; brewing small amounts in two litre water bottles, making the first fermentation of wines in catering size mayonnaise buckets with lids, using five litre water bottles with air locks bought from Wilkinson’s for demijohns.

My latest experiment is alcoholic ginger beer brewed with cheap still water in the water bottle, so no equipment needed. The bottles are food grade plastic and sealed, so no need to sterilise them before brewing. Best of all it’s ready to drink in a week and at 4% proof isn’t a bad beer at all.

If you fancy making some, this is how to do it:

The brew:

- ½ tsp brewer's yeast or a good tsp of general bakers yeast
- 225g caster sugar
- 1½-2 tbsp finely grated fresh root ginger (no need to peel)
- Juice and zest of 1 lemon
- 1 or 2 good tbsp of honey

The brewing:

- Empty water from bottle into a clean (sterilised with boiled water) jug.
- Add the yeast to the bottle* (see warning below).
- With a funnel, pour in the sugar.
- Mix the grated ginger with the lemon juice, honey, and a little of the water. I use a screw top container and give it a good shake to mix.
- Pour the ginger mixture through the funnel into the bottle.
- Now fill the bottle about ¾ full with water, put the cap on and shake the bottle until all the sugar is dissolved.
- Top up the bottle with the still water, leaving a 2.5cm gap at the top, to allow for production of gas (of which there will be plenty).
- Cap the bottle tightly and then place it somewhere warm or in the sunshine.
- Leave it for a day a two but keep your eyes on it. Let out the gas carefully a couple of times a day.
- After five or six days your beer should be ready.
- Place the bottle in the fridge for several hours to stop the yeast working.
- Once the beer is thoroughly chilled, pass it through a fine sieve (if you can be bothered) or pour gently to avoid the sediment.
- Drink and enjoy!

Use plastic bottles rather than glass to avoid explosions. A really active mixture can produce lots of gas if left for longer than 48 hours, so do remember to let it off regularly.

Happy brewing!

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Urban goldfish...

There’s something about a parade isn’t there? Big or small, throw in a marching band, some singing girl scouts, a decorated float or two and you have the perfect recipe for smiles; particularly if the sun shines.

Altrincham Festival parade has been a bit hit and miss the past few years, but I always stand on the street and watch it and it has to be said that this year’s was better than average.

For me it was the bicycling goldfish; slightly surreal with a bit of Japanesey thrown in for good measure, I almost forgave the cyclist for being on bikes. I stood watching them weave along The Downs, swimming in the air, and almost managing to forget that they weren’t real.

Lost in the moment I was; I seem to do that a lot these days.

Friday, 4 July 2014

A small moment in time…

You can go through life thinking that you’ve seen just about everything and then something tiny occurs that makes you realise that there is so much more to see. New things happen all the time and they don’t have to be big things either.

I’d never heard of the hummingbird hawk moth until a couple of months ago when I saw an article in one of the online papers which reported that this year was a particularly good year for them. The report mentioned that many people were mistaking them for humming birds, which we don’t get in the UK, but of course the moth is much smaller, about two inches across. The newspaper photograph of the moth caught my attention for an instant and then I moved on never expecting to see one of these lovely hovering creatures.

Then yesterday evening, as I sat in my backyard drinking elderflower fizz, I noticed a hummingbird darting around my flowers. A hummingbird moth had appeared from nowhere and for a minute or two sucked nectar from the pink flower I don’t know the name of but which grows everywhere in Wales. I reached for my phone and fiddled with it trying to get the camera to work.

Too late, the moth had moved on.

Thinking that it might reappear for a second sip at my flowers, I fetched my camera and twenty minutes later my patience was rewarded. It only stayed for a minute or so, just time enough manage to get this.

Snap. A small moment in time. I’m really hoping it comes back again.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

The smell of summer...

You may have noticed that I’ve been posting a lot about gardening recently. Well, at this time of year it seems to be what occupies my time, this mad seasonal enthusiasm before the end of summer brings it all tumbling down with a final spurt of excessive growth.

Yes, I’m a fair-weather gardener, the type of gardener who, once September at latest is done, hangs up his trowel and hibernates until the spring arrives. I’ve never understood this cycle. I enjoy growing things but obviously not enough to sustain me over the winter months. I really must try harder - which brings me to my sweet peas.

My sweet peas were planted way back in February in pots that overran the kitchen worksurface and got in the way when we were preparing our winter soups and stews; ‘a nuisance’ my wife called them and indeed they were.

Now, over four months later, those same nuisances fill my back yard with a pungent sweet fragrance each day, their colours as diverse and subtle as autumn sunsets. I find myself rising early just so that I can sit outside and breathe in their heady fumes. Their smell reminds me of something, although I’m not sure what, and it probably doesn’t matter. That aroma is enough in itself.

I should have grown more. I should have grown them in strips just two inches apart and three deep in the tray so that I could plant them out in blocks rather than individual seedlings. Ah, the wonder of hindsight.

No matter. There’s always next year.

Wednesday, 2 July 2014


Okay, they might not be much, but they are my first.

My first cucumber, tomato, and green bean of the season, small and not quite perfectly formed, the first of many I hope.

Unfortunately, not all of my vegetables are going as planned. The beetroot has some strange disease, the carrots are iffy, the pak choi has bolted before we could eat it all, and so far the courgettes, that were a triumph last year, are a disaster.

Not quite what I planned if I'm honest.

Hopefully things will get better and I will actually get some pumpkins on the huge plants I've managed to grow. Maybe I'll even get a few turnips and parsnips.

To be honest I'm thinking that a trip to Aldi would be easier than the dozens of hours I've spent tending my vegetables. Oh well, at least the peas are growing well.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Telling what it is...

So Rolf, as I feared, is guilty as charged on all counts. Unfortunately, there’s no shadow of doubt and I’m sure that there will be plenty more skeletons to tumble out of this particular closet. I think that generally the nation is shocked that this loveable icon turns out not to be so loveable after all. For my part I can hardly bear to write ‘Rolf’ without putting ‘Harris’ after his forename; as if this small formality will undo the ache of lost faith in a childhood role model.

Rolf Harris seemed, in many ways, so normal; so unlike that other child molesting monster Jimmy Savile. Harris wasn’t a strange, aggressive loner, he was a family man. Away from the celebrity spotlight, he’s been married to Alwen, who he met at art school, since 1958 and both she and his daughter Bindi seem to have been at his side throughout the case. I wonder what they are thinking and feeling now? What will their next moves be? Whatever they decide, he’s ruined their lives as well as his own and who knows how many others? New accusations pour in from the UK, Australia, and New Zealand almost hourly.

Of course, we all have many sides to our natures, multiple personalities, some of which we carefully hide. But most of us don’t get the opportunity to build the person that we’d like to be, rather than the one that we are, in front of an audience of millions. Most of us can’t fool all of the people all of the time and we are pretty well known to those around us, or at least as well known as we allow ourselves to be. Even this is changing though, in this social media driven world it’s easy for each of us to invent ourselves in our own chosen image.

Many of us are fooling ourselves, and everyone else, most of the time. Super celebrities like Harris, with publicists and stylists to help them along; seem to manage it all of the time… almost.

Perhaps that is part of the problem.

They say that you should never believe your own publicity; I think that Harris did. I think that he genuinely believed he was one of the good guys and forgave himself for all the wrong things he’s done. His performance in court, and the insolent honesty with which he answered some of the questions, was that of a man secure in the belief that ultimately his good image would triumph over his awful reality in the eyes of the jury.

Fortunately not even a rendition of Jake the Peg was enough to pull the wool over the juror’s eyes and ultimately they did see past the performance to the thing that lurked beneath.

Can I tell what it is yet?

Yes I can, and it’s not a pretty picture.