Tuesday, 30 September 2014

A trip to the cottage - nine magpies

I’m not a great fan of Magpies, I think I may have mentioned this before, but I do respect them. My relationship with them is long-term even though magpies, to my mind at least, are bleak creatures. Crows may be bigger and more complicatedly carrion, but magpies are everywhere and undaunted by terrain, habitat, or thundering juggernaughts. And of course, as everyone knows, they must be saluted when seen singly no matter what the circumstance.

The farmer who had the field where we used to keep Chester didn’t salute them. He really hated magpies and used to trap them in baited cages. Sometimes he’d catch three of four in a morning and dispatch them in the afternoon with his tractor’s wheels. He said he did it because the magpies killed young birds in their nest, which of course they do, but I couldn’t help feeling sorry for them. It’s their nature, they can’t help it and I felt uncomfortable with the level of his crushing cruelty.

They are a bird full of contradiction, regarded as ill omens in most people’s minds. They may look black and white but if you manage to get close up to one they have feathers that shimmer like petrol in a puddle on a winter’s day. Their croak is harsh and brittle even though they look like they should sing with an up and down movement of the tail, like a wind-up bird in a musical box. They should be graceful; but there’s nothing graceful about the way they tear at a chunk of roadkill be the side of the road, arrogantly standing ground until the very last minute before flying away.

Despite all of this, they fascinate me and that is why when I saw nine on a telephone wire last weekend I took note to write about it here. A group of magpies is called a tiding, a gulp, a charm, a tittering, a parliament - I quite like a charm. A charm of nine magpies, of course it’s nine for a kiss in the nursery rhyme, although in the late 1700’s seeing nine magpies was associated with a trip to hell. So, a kiss or a trip to hell? Hard to choose really and one can lead to the other I seem to remember.

Anyway, after I saw the magpies I took a walk to where they were sitting and underneath the wire I found a few feathers and took them home as a charm. I hope that they don’t bring me bad luck.

Monday, 29 September 2014

A trip to the cottage - spiders...

I suppose I should start with the Spider, well it does seem a very good place to start.

We arrived at the cottage on Thursday evening just as night was falling and three full days ahead of us to do whatever we chose. At this time of year, mellow fruitfulness and all that, my first duty on arrival is to perform the bath check. This consists of turning on the light and checking the off-white bath for spiders; a task I am not at all bothered by, although I did once have to catch and set fourteen of the little lovelies free outside.

On this occasion there were only five and four of them were deceased, dead, and no longer with us. The remaining spider seemed in fine fettle and very much alive, rearing up on his back legs as if to say ‘come on then if you think you’re hard enough!’ Obviously I was. No spider, not even this gladiator with four kills to his name (I assumed), was ever going to get the better of me.

Now usually I pick them up in my cupped hands and transport to the back door and freedom. There have been times I’ve taken two or three at a time, jiggling my hands up and down in an attempt to stop them tickling me. Not this time though. This time I got a beer glass and a piece of paper – this was one huge spider.

It didn’t take long before he was safely inside my pint pot. I have to say that he didn’t seem pleased, so I quickly and carefully slipped a pound inside the glass for scale and took a couple of pictures. Then, after nervously retrieving my pound, I set him free by dropping him into the dark over the stable door knowing that (like Arnie) he’ll be back. Well, they don't call them house spiders for nothing.

Later that same evening we found another spider almost as big in the living room and again I had to fetch my beer glass. I must be losing my touch. Not Luna though who seemed to enjoy playing with her through the glass of my Old Speckled Hen pint pot.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

A good place...

I’m always surprised when I wake up in a good mood but increasingly I’ve noticed that I do. I don’t know why this is, but I like it.

There was a time, and it lasted for quite a while, when I woke up in what can only be described as deep despair. There were days when I didn’t smile at all, days when I didn’t want to get out of bed, days when the thoughts that passed through my head were less than sunny. Of course this mood crept up on me slowly, like a night beast stalking its prey, a black dog maybe. Too much uncertainty, change, disillusionment, followed by a long period of not knowing who I was any more - and suddenly I was down deep and unable to get out again. I functioned but that was about it. Of course I realised at the time I was depressed, but I’m not one for doctors and prefer to deal with things myself.

Then slowly but surely I felt a little better each day. Again I don’t know why and it wasn’t a quick thing, but gradually it happened and I began to get a little perspective back. Waking up and wanting to get out of bed was such a good feeling, noticing that it was a sunny day a bit of a revelation and a relief.

I wouldn’t say that even now I’m the cheeriest person in the world all of the time and I still have days when I’m fed up. But then don’t we all? I do know that I don’t want to go back to where I was ever again and I try really hard not to let anything or anyone take me there. Self-protection is the name of the game these days and I manage it by chucking away the rubbish that some people try to deal me and focussing on the good things around and about me. It isn’t hard, but in many ways it is the hardest thing I have ever had to do.

So why am I telling you this? Well, if you are in that baddest of bad places I just wanted to say that there really is hope even though you won’t believe me. If you know someone who’s down I’d say to give them whatever help you can and try not to do anything to make things worse. The people that really didn’t help me were the ones that insisted on being destructive and selfish when they knew that I was in a fragile place. They won’t get the chance again.

I’m hoping that I never have that badness eat into me ever again and I’m constantly on the lookout for it. Of course, like my funny face stones in the picture I go through all sorts of emotions daily but generally there are more smiles than frowns, sadness, or looks of fear and I’m going to keep it that way regardless of what it takes.

Yes, I’m in a good place now.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Evidence of autumn...

Well it seems to have arrived right on cue. There was a real chill in the air this morning and that, along with crisp emptiness that makes the birds sound like a tinny recording of themselves when they sing, seemed to say ‘autumn is here’. I wouldn’t call it mellow fruitfulness though. It didn’t quite feel mellow and if there was fruit to be had I couldn’t see it. Maybe autumn wasn’t here after all, as they say ‘one swallow doesn’t make a summer’.

Evidence is what I needed, evidence of autumn.

Creeping out of the yard gate and into the deserted entry I wondered what I might find. Would autumn be everywhere as if someone had flipped the autumn switch overnight and plunged us into a world of mists and bonfire smoke? Of course I was hoping to find spiders. You know, the big hairy ones that are everywhere this time of year apparently, real monsters big enough to eat a chicken whole. But the only spider I saw was a tiny pinprick of a creature sitting in the middle of his dew free web. I couldn’t even find one of those orange autumnally bloated slugs that seem to appear just after the summer has left as if they had sucked up the last of the sun and were storing it in their gooey bodies to get them through the winter.

Yes, perhaps the report of summer’s death and the arrival of autumn had been grossly exaggerated.

It was then that I spotted what I was looking for. A little further along the alley tucked up against a neighbour's back wall was a neatly swept pile of leaves. Now these weren’t ordinary leaves, and they weren’t M and S leaves either, these were definitely autumnal leaves. It was their colour that gave them away.

Mind you nature can be tricky, and she makes some leaves red and brown all year around without the need for autumn. So to be sure I picked up a handful to check for the rustle factor. The leaves felt dry and crisp in my hand and when I scrunched them they made a very satisfying dry rustle. These were indeed the first leaves of autumn. I bent to scoop up another handful and as I did a huge brown arachnid, one of those fabled spiders I’d read about in the papers, leaped towards me and clung to my hand.

That was evidence enough for me. So gently flinging the huge thing off my hand (I am not afraid of spiders you understand) I beat a hasty retreat to my back gate and safety once more. I had found autumn. That pile of swept up leaves was just the harbinger of things to come. Watch now how quickly the leaves will turn.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Little rituals...

It’s the last day of summer, a time when once, all over the country, people would gather to recognise the change in the seasons and take part in rituals of one kind or another. Ritual is part of what makes us what we are and most of us, even if we don’t recognise it, take part in them.

I am without doubt a creature of habit, tied to my daily routines and bound by the small self-generated rituals that have become a necessity for my existence. I get up at pretty much the same time each day even though I don’t need to, my bathroom routine (which I won’t detail) seldom varies. My early morning is a pattern not quite set in stone - checking mails before coffee, then looking at Facebook and a blog or two before tackling the watering and the washing up. After that I make my lunchtime sandwich, and so my day progresses without radical deviation from my routine.

Strangely though, I am not a lover of formal rituals. I see them as binding habits implanted in us by outside influences in order to keep us quiet when really we want to break out and scream ''No more''. Religion, education, organisations of any kind rely on ritual to keep us within their accepted boundaries and then we go on to invent our own rituals which locks us tightly into a whole range of self imposed habit. Weddings and Christenings leave me cold with dismay, and even Bonfire night has lost its appeal now that I’ve grown older. Easter never was on my list, and a more ridiculous set of rituals I can’t imagine.

Yes, ritual, ultimately, is for the mindless although it seems to be the chosen behaviour of the sane.

Madmen on the other hand, true madmen (I’m not thinking OCD type behaviours) hardly ever adhere to ritual. Their lives are a series of random and unexpected events that rarely form patterns or are even repeated. Of course you might argue that serial murderers who follow the same pattern for each kill are mad. But are they if they can control and repeat a sequence of events time and time again? That seems to be the act of a sane person to me.

Maybe ritual is an attempt to control the madness, a magic spell to stop us from simply living an animalistic life driven by needs and temperature and breeding patterns. Even animals have rituals they must follow at times though. Maybe at a cellular level we are hot-wired with ritual and only those without it are truly free?

And if that is the case then I think that it must be grand to be a madman.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The wine making continues...

The wine making continues, am I repeating myself? If so it'll be the wine... Hic! 

Today, with a little time to fill, I re-racked my Elderflower, Honeysuckle, and Carrot and moved them on the clearing stage by adding finings. As usual the need to sterilise everything was a pain, but there is only one way to do this and of course it has its perks. The racking process involves siphoning the wine into a clean and sterilised demijohn and after that is done there is at least a glassful of wine left in the bottom. If you are careful, very careful, you can pour this into a glass and, although it is a bit cloudy, you can get the feel for how the wine is coming along.

So here it is, my verdict, although generally my wines would be well appreciated by the inmates of any prison in the country.

Elderflower: Dryish with a good elderflower taste, just a hint of sweetness but rich like honey; which is hardly surprising as I used honey in it. It has a warm, but light colour and seems to be pretty strong. It needs to mellow, but is passable or should that be pissable. It smells rather than has a bouquet but a few months more could sort that out.

Honeysuckle: A rich, deep colour, and quite flowery, but not in that German way. It is definitely on the dry side but needs to stand as there might be more sweetness to come. I didn’t really want to stop drinking this one, but again a few months will do it good. It smells of summer.

Carrot: If ever there was a dry wine this is it. It’s pale and light and I think that it may be deceptively potent. There is little taste of carrot, but there is a rich taste of the earth. It almost blew my head off and this one definitely needs some time to mature. It smells like Worzel Gummidge after a shower of rain.

So, all coming along well, in all three there is the distinct promise of flavour and there’s no doubt that the fermenting process has made plenty of alcohol. I was hoping for images of maiden aunts and vicars as I drunk it, but was instead temped to sing about the four and twenty virgins who came down from Inverness and that girl from Glamorgan. Yes, potent stuff and only after a single glass of the dregs of each.

I’ll leave them to mature (if I can) and let you know how it’s going when I bottle them up.

Meanwhile… I have a cherry wine to make.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

The grumps...

 I’m a bit grumpy today, not at all like yesterday. Yesterday was ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’, shiver me timbers. I spent some of the day talking like a pirate – dubloons, groats, Davey Jone’s locker, and splice the mainbrace ye scurvy knaves – and the rest of it thinking about pirates. To be exact I spent most of the day thinking about a pirate cat who I dreamed up a few years ago and who I thought I might write a few stories about but never did.

In my imagination Kit the Pirate Cat sails on the good ship name to be definitely be decided, but I think that it is either ‘The Dolphin’ or ‘The Tuna Flake’. Kit spends his days chasing the pirate rats that live below deck. The chief rat (who is definitely called Black Jack) is huge and is always laying traps for Kit. The ship is manned by a mismatched pirate crew including a one-eyed, toothless, boson, named ‘Salty Socks’,  who get into all sorts of scrapes with rival pirates, mermaids, native islanders, terrible storms, etc. They are always getting into deep water and are a hapless bunch, doomed to failure, but Kit usually, in his catty way, saves the day and ends up being fed cream and fish by the motley crew who mainly love him.

The ship’s captain, who may be called ‘Captain Scampi’ or ‘Captain Crabstick’, doesn’t like Kit one bit and is always trying to get Kit to walk the plank, although he never seems to manage it…

And that is about as far as I’ve ever got. I quite like the idea of ‘Kit the Pirate Cat’ though.

Anyway, now that ‘Talk Like a Pirate Day’ is over perhaps I’ll have a go at a Kit tale or two.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Back to the future...

So that’s it and I am pleased to say that this great nation of ours remains united - long may it continue.

Of course the whole independence thing is a delusion. Yes, Scotland could have voted themselves out of the United Kingdom but in truth it would have remained interdependent. How could it not? The world is an increasing small place and day by day everyone becomes more and more dependent on each other. What Japan or America or France does effects us all, how could Scotland think that it could ‘break free’? Independence is simply an illusion in an interdependent world of climate change, diminishing resources, and financial indexes.

The good news for the United Kingdom in all of this is that big changes are going to come out of this whole exercise. But then a re-evaluation is long overdue. Westminster is going to have to reinvent itself just like the monarchy has done since the death of Dianna. She was the Royal’s wake up call and the Scottish independence referendum is going to prove to be Parliament’s. The alarm clock has gone off and for once the politicians are going to have to listen.

The more I think about it, the more I think that a kingdom as large as ours run from Westminster is archaic and really not that much different from being ruled by a single monarch. Yes I know we have a democratic government, but in reality what does that mean? Are the needs and views of the Cornish being taken into account? And what about Lincolnshire, or even Yorkshire – although it goes against the grain to give Yorkshire any more big-up than they already give themselves.

Yes, smaller could be beautiful.

Why not a return to the old Anglo-Saxon kingdoms? It strikes me that they were a nice manageable size; small enough to be pretty inclusive, but large enough to manage as an interdependent whole when required. We’d need to sort out what our new kingdoms could control for themselves and what would be managed collectively, but in general it could work and the names conjure up all manner of memories and images: Wessex, East Anglia, Mercia, Wales, Ulster, Northumbria, Caledonia, and of course I’d be happy to have Cornwall and the Scottish Isles as separate kingdoms if they wished - not Essex though.

Each kingdom could have an elected ‘king’, with an elected ‘chief king’ replacing the Prime Minister. I’m sure that we’d all get on swimmingly and if it were to happen I’d be happy to be king for a while. Vote for King Andrewbert the Unprepared!

Of course I’m not serious about the king thing, just letting my imagination run away with me just a little. But I am hoping that Westminster has learnt a long awaited lesson from all of this. We came very close to losing a big part of The United Kingdom; some might even say that although Scotland remains with us (just) we are now less united than ever. Time to start doing something about that and the devolution of England could be the way forward.

We’ll see, but at least we know now what the political parties will be fighting and squabbling about in the lead up to the next election. Perhaps it’s time for them all to start trying harder.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

The crisp revolution...

I remember a time when crisps came in one flavour – plain. Of course they weren’t called plain because they had no need of a name as they were the only crisps available. They came with a little blue packet of salt that you shook onto your crisps which were often soggy as they came in paper packets. This was before ‘Ready Salted Crisps’ came along and when they arrived they caused something of a sensation.

Golden Wonder were first to introduce a flavoured crisp with cheese and onion in the 1960s. I remember it well and suddenly cheese and onion were the only crisps worth eating. At around this time the packaging improved too and suddenly crisps were both crisp and flavoured!

It was a crisp revolution at thruppence (1.25 pence) a bag.

Suddenly the floodgates were opened and every Smith, Walker, and Golden Wonder began to search for the perfect flavour for their crisps. They tried just about everything and each were greeted by 'oohs' and 'ahhs' by me and my schoolboy chums. The smokiness of smokey bacon was a revelation, my first taste of seafood was a prawn cocktail crisp, and when Smith's came out with salt and vinegar I thought that I tasted it all.

How wrong I was.

With only a handful of flavours the crisp industry had a 'gentleman's' agreement that ready-salted crisps were sold in dark blue packets, salt and vinegar in light blue packets, and cheese and onion in green. This all changed though when Walkers decided to throw the cat flavour among the pigeons flavour in the 80s and changed the colour of their packets to blue for cheese and onion and green for salt and vinegar. It still confuses me to this day – cheese and onion is definitely green.

I went off salt and vinegar pretty quickly and can't stand them to this day.

During the 60s and 70s, when I was growing up, the crisp market became increasingly competitive and the flavours more and more exotic including tomato ketchup, Worcester sauce, Branston pickle and sausage, even hedgehog – yes hedgehog.

Today crisps come in just about every flavour available and handmade kettle chips are all the rage. Lamb and mint sauce, maple-smoked barbecue, blue stilton, port and cranberry, sage and thyme, organic, beetroot, carrot, parsnip – you name you can get it.

Here’s just a few on the list. Feel free to pick your favourite:

Cheese & Onion
Roast Chicken
Prawn Cocktail
Ready Salted
Salt & Vinegar
Pickled Onion
Smoky Bacon
Tomato Ketchup
Worcester Sauce
Cheddar Cheese & Bacon
Sour Cream & Chive
Ranch Raccoon
Sizzling Steak Fajita
Pulled Pork in a Sticky BBQ sauce
Cheesy Beans on Toast
Chip Shop Chicken Curry
Hot Dog with Tomato Ketchup
Baked Bean  
Baked Ham & Mustard
Beef & Onion
Cheese & Branston Pickle
Cheese & Chive
Chicken Tikka
Ham & Mustard
Jamaican Jerky Chicken
Lamb Curry
Lamb & Mint Sauce
Roast Gammon
Roast Turkey & Stuffing
Spicy Chilli
Spicy Mango Chutney
Spring Onion
Steak & Onion
Toasted Cheese
Vanilla essence
Sour Cream & Spring Onion
Lincolnshire Sausage & Brown Sauce
Birmingham Chicken Balti

I won’t go on, but I could.

Mid-September yard...

September already and, despite the sunshine, there's a hint of 'to come' in the air. The yard has been tidied, the overgrown tumble of colour cleared away, and now I am ready for the leaves to fall.

What a difference a dry month and weekends away makes. Only a few weeks ago my yard was lush with growth, but without rain or regular watering that lushness soon turned to shrivel. 

Oh well, next year will be here soon enough.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

To like or not to like...

I’m trying very hard not to like things. Of course I’m not talking about the biscuit dunking, coffee, wine, beer and sausages kind of liking. Nor am I talking about my Downton Abbey, Archers, KC and the Sunshine Band, sitting in the last of the evening sunshine liking. I’m talking about Facebook liking, that little ‘thumbs up’ that seems to give approval without ever saying anything at all.

Facebook likes. It’s so easy for it to become a habit and a meaningless habit at that. I’ve found myself liking when liking is quite inappropriate. In the real world if somebody told me that they’d just split up with there husband I wouldn’t raise my thumb and declare ‘I like that’. I’d probably say something vaguely supportive instead. Similarly as a cat lover I would never like a friend’s cat being run over. But I must have done this two or three times in Facebook land – poor pussies.

It seems that like means something other than like in the world of social media, just what though is hard to define and that’s why I’m trying pretty hard not to like things. Mind you liking is far easier to like than disagreeing, or worse still agreeing but then being too lazy to respond at all.

And what about those likes which are there not because we actually like what we are seeing or reading, but simply as acknowledgement that we have seen it for somebody who might expect us to like what they have posted. I’m sure we all do it. I call this ‘the obligatory like’. Pictures of children and pets are great examples of this rather worrisome habit. Do I really want to see the same sleeping baby night after night - well if I did I’d get one of my own from the baby shop.

Yes, rather than simply hitting the like button when I see something that I want to respond to I’ve decided that I will try to comment instead. Of course there will be those that simply hate this, and to be honest I’m a little wary of it myself as I quite often, despite my best efforts, seem to say the wrong thing and, as honesty is a good policy, it becomes even more difficult… ‘Actually I’m not really interested in looking at a picture of your low calorie dinner. It looks like a pile of dog excrement.’

Not only this, but there’s my humour to contend with too (see above re: dog’s do).

Sometimes it’s as if a little devil gets inside me prompting me to comment on those religious posts that sometimes pop up and say something witty about the crucifixion.  Something like: ‘That really makes me cross’ or ‘You’ve nailed that’. Worse still are the ‘share this if you love your niece/daughter/dad/dog/tapeworm’ nonsense that some people find so necessary. Of course I would take the tapeworm option every time just to keep it in the family

Back in gladiatorial days the thumbs up meant ‘life’ and the thumbs down ‘death’. Thinking about it maybe that’s why Facebook invented the like button in the first place and why they omitted to give us a dislike button. Better to dumb us all down with a ‘thumbs up’ card than to have to referee a whole bunch of thumbs down fights to the death.

Oh well, I’ll give ‘comment only’ a try and see how it goes. Failing that it may have to be silence.

Please like this post.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Violin face…

After watching the proms a new expression has crept into my vocabulary. It’s an expression used to describe someone that is concentrating so hard, or that is so caught in the moment, that their face seems to be afflicted with some sort of muscle spasm and otherwise normally featured, even beautiful, people are transformed into contestants from a gurning competition.

I call it violin face; an over emphasis of joy, angst, sadness, or chin ache that proclaims the professional violinist is feeling deeply for his art. Just why do violinists pull such strange faces? Sometimes it looks like they have constipation, other times diarrhoea or even (God forbid) a stroke! Just what's going on?

We’ve all seen it. From Yehudi Menuhin to Nigel Kennedy, Vanessa Mae to Scala, Basil Rathbone to that Cumberbatch chap, they all pull those funny cartoon faces whenever the pick up their instruments. Even that bloody smug AndrĂ© Rieu runs the full emotional spectrum from A-B whenever he’s on the fiddle.

It seems that concert violinists must feel things far more deeply than the rest of us. Or at least that’s the way it looks judging by the range of expressions that pass across their faces when they’re playing. I can’t imagine a car mechanic or a plumber contorting their features to represent their innermost feelings as they fit a new tap or change a spark plug. Even most actors appear a little wooden when compared to Nicola Benedetti in full violining flow.

So, next time you get the chance look out for violin face, it’s arguably more entertaining than the music. Perhaps that’s why Lettice Rowbotham was such a hit on BGT? Of course it could equally have been her thighs.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Hand writing…

I sometimes wake in the morning to find words written on my hand. Often they are fleeting thoughts jotted down the evening before in an attempt to capture them before they slip away. I know that tomorrow those thoughts will be gone; lost in a mixture of sleep and wine and with no paper to hand skin is the thing – I always have a pen in my pocket.

Other times these jottings are the plots of dreams from the night before which, half awake, I scribble onto my skin to remind me of the tale that was unfolding in my head just before I awoke. Of course rarely do either make any sense the next day – just what does ‘we a cham glagotory’ mean?

Even when I can decipher my handwriting, what seemed so profound the night before - so worth pursuing - usually seems flat and uninteresting in the cold light of day. I’m sure that the television programmes of the past seemed fresh and meant something to the viewers of the time, but do I really want to expand upon that premise? Just where does it go from there? So why did I write it on my hand in the first place?

Occasionally though I pluck something out of the air or ether that is worth building upon, although I often struggle to remember even a quarter of the thoughts that were running through my head at the time. The ‘notes’ folder on my computer is full of documents transcribed from my hand. Single lines which read ‘cabbage patch doll life’ or ‘A-Z of alphabets’.

All this stuff caught up in the lines and pocks of an aging hand; forgotten not once, but again and again until I don’t know where they came from or even who wrote them. Yes, despite my attempts at reminders it can be a little disconcerting. It’s particularly worrying when I find something on my hand that I don’t remember writing at all. Sometimes I wonder if another me wrote on my hand whilst I was asleep, tattooing my palm with his thoughts not mine and leaving me to find them.

Sometimes there are whole missals: ‘Can you hold this for a while? It’s a homespun pile. It’s my blue guitar and when you touch it, it dies.” No, I don’t know either. I don’t even play guitar, let alone own one and most of these words aren’t even mine they’re someone else’s.

It happened again last night and when I awoke this was written upon my hand. I think that it’s verse. Maybe it’s mine, maybe not. How can I tell?

Sometimes at night
(Late in the bottles),
I think
Of what if and what offals
And the guts of my life slips.
(Twenty pence a pound).
As I sniff at the troughfulls
Or truffles.
It depends on the stand
And the day
And how I may
(Or how many I have to say).
My woffal.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

End of the season...

I think that we might be seeing the last of the warm, sunny, days. With the autumn coming quickly now, and the wet weather it often brings, I took the opportunity today to bring in the last of the summer's veg and start the tidying up process ready for the winter.

I was surprised just how much there was left to gather in and the beans and tomatoes, even one of the courgette plants, are still going strong. But the remainder of the white onions, carrots, turnips, cucumbers, parsnips and shallots needed to be harvested because, knowing myself as I do, if I don't do it now they will rot on the stem and in the ground.

Not a bad crop. I managed a pumpkin, although not a very large one, but the purple sprouting broccoli and sweetcorn were a dismal failure. The beetroot, which I thought had also failed, actually turned out to be fine and my peas, long gone now, were pretty good as well. But it is my beans that I'm happiest with, both runner and French, and some variety I'm not sure of but which taste delicious.

So that's it for this year bar the shouting. I'm not going to bother with a few things I tried this year next time, but I'll definitely grow beans, tomatoes, onions, and carrots.Anyway, that's it for my veg reports for 2014 (I think that I hear you all sigh with relief) and now it's time to make a stew.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Talking out of my arse...

This morning, and not for the first time, my wife informed me that sometimes I talk out of my arse. To be honest I was pleased with the ‘sometimes’, because increasingly I find myself talking nonsense, starting a sentence with no idea where it might eventually end up. This equally applies to my writing.

On this particular occasion I was talking about ventriloquism and what a great act an arse ventriloquist would be. I have no idea where this thought came from or how it escaped from my mouth, but it did and once it was out there was no going back.

Arse ventriloquism, I purported, would be a sensation and pretty easy to do. No need for voice throwing as your back would be to your audience, all you needed to do was drop your trousers and start talking in the type of voice a ventriloquist’s dummy’s bottom might use. Of course you’d need to tailor it to sound really arsey, but with my temperament that wouldn’t be too hard and nobody would see my mouth moving as I told my arse jokes…

“Did you know that women with fat arses live longer than the men that mention it?... Hindsight is a great thing; I love looking at pretty girls bottoms… It’s been many moons since I was last arrested for indecent exposure…”

I went on to inform my wife that perhaps I could audition for ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, yes by this time I was on a roll. Just imagine Simon Custard’s face as I showed him my bum and started talking out of it. I’m sure That David Wooleychums would love it, and as for the rest – well, who’s really arsed?

Perhaps I could even sing out of my anus. But what would I sing as I twerked along to the music? Groove Amada’s ‘I See You Baby (Shakin’ That Arse’) is a little obvious, but how about ‘We All Stand Together (The Frog Song)’ by Pull MyCartknee?- Bum, Bum, Bum. Bum, Bum, Bum…

Of course performance of ‘Derriere Music’ is nothing new. Le Petomane was the stage name of the French Flatulist (professional farter) Joseph Pujoi, who could ‘sing’ La Marseillaise through his sphincter and in modern times Mr Methane keeps fart art alive. Of course neither of these great bottom performers actually spoke out of their arses, but Monsieur Petomane could make his bum say ‘sausages’ in half a dozen different languages.

So, as you see after reading this, my wife is quite perceptive and overly generous. Not only do I talk out of my arse, I write shit as well…

Friday, 12 September 2014

A leopard and his spots…

So not murder then, no not murder at all. Manslaughter, yes; but out on bail awaiting sentencing in about a month’s time; murder must mean something else in South Africa.

Do they never learn?

The first time I saw Oscar Pistorius on the news he reminded me of a cheetah as he flashed around the running track on his blade legs. I had to admire his drive and ambition. In his place I might have hidden myself away and spent my life watching TV. Here was a very determined and focussed man, a man to be reckoned with when the need arose. In retrospect, and as it’s turned out, he had more in common with a cheetah than I realised at that time.

The cheetah can move faster than any other land animal and has the ability to accelerate from 0 to 100 km/h (62 mph) in three seconds – so it’s quick. The cheetah is also a unique felid, a one off; its closest relatives are the puma and jaguarundi of the Americas. It’s notable for modifications in the paws, and is one of the few cats with only semi-retractable claws. In other words the cheetah’s claws are always half out. When hunting, it runs down prey easily and almost every facet of its anatomy, even its camouflaged pelt, has evolved to maximise its success in the chase. Its purpose is to kill and survive through speed and wits – even though most of its predators are stronger.

Clare Balding wrote recently after Pistorius lost the 200m in the last Paralympics to Brazil’s Alan Oliveira, who beat him with only a few yards to go: “Pistorius was furious. Funnily enough, I did not think his behaviour after the 200m was odd. Just interesting. I have seen plenty of sportsmen react badly to defeat and for him to blame the length of Alan Oliviera’s blades was petulant and unsporting, but it wasn’t odd – except that it came from him. The stranger thing was the way he appeared at the medals ceremony the next day. The look was very ‘Clark Kent’. Oscar’s hair was gelled flat, he was clean shaven and wearing black rimmed spectacles. He bowed his head on the podium, saying clearly with his body language, ‘I am contrite, I am humbled. Please still love me.”

I know it’s an obvious thing to say, but it seems that Pistorius is a pretty good actor (I’ll leave you to crack the Oscar joke).

Just how this man has not been found guilty of murder is beyond me. His former girlfriend, Samantha Taylor, who dated him for 18-months, says he made her sit on a naughty step and would drive at 200mph after he flew into a rage with her. She said she feared he would kill her and even once hid his gun. She also claims that she was left with bruises and scars after he bit and pinched her.

So, Pistorius is cleared of murdering his model ­girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp because the judge has ruled that premeditation has not been proven. Apparently there was only circumstantial evidence of an argument and uncorroborated witnesses' statements count for nothing. I may be oversimplifying, but he shot four bullets through a bathroom door at ‘someone’ who was cowering on the other side. At close range and given it was an unprovoked action, how could he not foresee and want their death? In my book that is murder regardless who he believed the victim to be or not to be.

I still see a cheetah when I look at Pistorius, although now he is in the dock and not on the running track. This time when I look though I not only see a creature of great speed, but I also see a wild killer determined to win at any cost who keeps his claws half drawn at all times and uses his colouring, class, and even tears to camouflage the heartless killer he really is.

It seems the likes of bullies like Pistorius will never change their spots and nobody really expects them to. We should all hang our heads in shame.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Some more rubbish...

Of course before I left Wales I stood for a while by the field and watched the sun set.

Yes, those sunsets have begun again with the cooling of the evenings and the light fading so much quicker and earlier. I love this place with the long cottage in the distance, the crows sitting on the telephone wires as they caw to the sky above. I love those funny grey clouds bobbing on an ocean of orange-red. It’s a peaceful place, a place where nobody can touch me; somewhere I can be alone with my thoughts if only for a while. A place of refuge and tranquility and when the sun is going down, especially when it leaves behind something as spectacular as this, I stop worrying about the fools and idiots and simply breathe.

The frame is a whimsical notion. It seems to sum up what I feel when I am there. A moment in time like a photograph, a snapshot of a peace I know won't last, but at least I can experience for a moment. A calming moment in a beautiful place, my special place that I often go to even when I'm not physically there.

So, there you have it, some more of my rubbish which you can never understand. I hope that you are reading this.

You won't win.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The end of Summer...

So that’s it, the end of the summer and what a great summer it’s been. I’m sure that we must have had wet days but if we did I seem to have managed to dodge most of them. Of course, sharing my time between Cheshire and our tiny, dusty cottage in North Wales has helped this whole process along and summer has seemed like one long holiday to me. Four days in the shop, three days on the beach, three days in the shop, four days on the beach; all-in-all it worked out pretty well.

With time to do it I suppose I could have cut the hedges, instead we spent our time re-exploring our part of Wales. Going back to beaches and places we haven’t visited for years was a real treat, almost like discovering them all over again. Bardsey Island, Aberdaron, Porth Neigwl, Abersoch, Porth Colman, Bangor Pier, Port Ysgo (the beach in the picture above), Borth-y-Gest… Almost a different beach each day with cowrie searches (you can die if you don’t find one and if you find thirteen you have to stay on the beach until you find another), the watching of waves, the sound of the breeze in the sand. Butterflies, birds, hedgehogs at night, the bright moon in the crisp night sky, and almost twenty years of memories.

Food and alcohol played their part too. Well what would life be without wine? Picnics with hard boiled eggs and home grown tomatoes eaten from benches overlooking the sea, rolled and stuffed breast of welsh lamb roasted crisp in our dilapidated oven and served with roasted potatoes, crab and prawns, bread and soft French cheese, pasta and meatballs, sweet and sour fish, cider and beer, wine and beer, wine and cider, and black coffee – but only when I had to.

Yes, a good summer. One to remember I think in a world where it’s far too easy to forget how beautiful the scenery is and the fun of just walking along a sunny beach. Now it's back to the real world (well realish) with all its routine and getting there on time. Of course we'll still be coming to Wales, but not as frequently as of late; summer has gone you see. So, see you next year summer, here comes the autumn.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

To the beach...

After being told that I should get a job and start living in the real world yesterday, I want to share this thought with you.

My job is to make the world I want and deserve a reality and always has been. 

Fortunately through hard work and good fortune I can live in the real world that I want without having to work long hours and feel stressed any more. It is called planning. You may have heard of it.

So to that idiot who called me on the telephone yesterday to impart such pearls of wisdom I say: thanks for the advice. People such as yourself are full of it but I'm off to the beach instead.

Have a nice day.

Friday, 5 September 2014

A voice…

‘Be a voice and not an echo.’ I don’t know where I read this but it’s stuck with me pretty much all of my life and having my say has become something of a necessity for my well-being. Perhaps that’s why I don’t really do politics or religion; I don’t want to simply echo somebody else’s view without thinking it through from my own unique and, at least to me, precious perspective.

As I child it seems that I was always being told to be quiet, to shut up, to be seen and not heard, and for a while fear kept me quiet. Not for long though, I soon realised that if I didn’t have a voice I’d be nothing more that an echo and echoes fade away quite quickly. So instead I took the blows, as Sinatra would say, and since that time I’ve made it a principle to tell people what I think even though it can be uncomfortable and risky at times. Over the years I’ve lost count of the number of times I have sat in meetings unable to bite my tongue.

These days I mainly voice my thoughts through my blog and Facebook, which can also be a little dangerous. Sometimes I know I appear to be completely off my trolley and I also know that I’ve upset people occasionally with my posts. Whatever I say though I try to make sure that it’s contains some clarity, reflects my beliefs and opinions, and is honest. I even try to include a little humour where I can.

Of course one man’s honesty is another’s insult and truth, as we all know, can be a bitter pill to swallow. But it has become very important to me to be able to say what I feel, believe, and (most importantly) want to say, without someone telling me to be quiet, shut up, stop talking rubbish, or that I’m being insensitive or offensive. Humour is another matter; my funny can be pretty dry, and I can easily understand how a lot of people don’t get it. Although it doesn’t stop Eddie Izzard do it? Maybe I should put a little (h) as a warning when I’m being funny for the humourously challenged out there.

You see one man’s rubbish is another’s wisdom and like truth that can be another bitter pill to accept. Similarly it takes quite a lot for me to take offence and I really don’t believe that you have to say nothing in order to be sensitive. I say what I think, write what I want based around my experience of my world (my real world no less), and won’t shut up when I’m told to. Why should I? I have the right to my voice whether you approve or not, just as you have yours if you care to use it.

Over the years this has got me quite a lot of trouble but at the same time I believe that it has been key to whatever small achievements I may have made. Expressing myself, regardless of what people think, is something I am driven to do. I’d be no good at all in Iraq or North Korea (or alive); even America was a little bit of a struggle. I have to have my say; it’s a kind Tourettes, except I’m controlling it and not the other way around – at least sometimes.

Thank God I live in a country where freedom of speech is still given at least a passing nod, although I worry that increasingly the government and police try to dumb us all down and make our views as vanilla as possible. Or is that simply paranoia?

Well, it does run in the family.

Without wishing to offend anybody in particular: at least I’ve had my say and you can lump it or like it, I really don’t care. If you don’t like what I say then feel free not to read or unfriend me if you want, I’ll survive. You see you can only change my mind by presenting me with new information that I agree with – and if you can’t do that, then I really don’t need you to listen and I don’t have to fucking listen to you (h).

Oh dear, call the police, I swore again. See, I told you that I had a form of Tourettes.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Bad pennies…

Here it is empty and abandoned, the rot eating away its wooden structure, the paint peeling and flaked. Yes, here it is; my trusty old kiosk on Bangor Pier. I used to come here to play at shops, although halfway across the Menai Straits is a funny place for a shop. The wind was always blowing a gale, but me being me I only really remember the sunny days. I used to enjoy sitting in my very own miniature pavilion like a pretend George IV. I filled it with windchimes and handmade gifts, and occasionally I’d even sell something. Looking at it so unloved and unwanted on a grey September day - the sea lapping at the pier stanchions below - I felt quite sad; like I’d lost something.

Which of course I had.

Alan, the chap who sells wooden gifts from the kiosk at the front of the pier, told me that there are plans to refurbish my old friend. They’ve already repaired and patched up a few of the others and at some time it will be my kiosk’s turn. He didn’t know when, but it was ‘on the cards’ he told me.

On the cards…

For a moment I thought about contacting the council and asking to rent it all over again, maybe even buying that big terraced house overlooking the pier that the estate agent’s window described as having development potential. From my house on the hill I could look down on my tiny empire and in the mornings - come rain, shine, grey, or even snow - walk the boards to open my mended and polished kiosk of delights. Just a fleeting thought, that’s all it was. But it made me smile for a moment or two.

Of course, there’s never really any going back and to be honest my time on the pier ended quite badly. But then, anything involving my parents always does. After they’d muscled in there was nothing left for me in my kiosk but frustration and argument, and that was why it took me so many years to pluck up the courage to return.

So, last Monday I returned without fanfare and on a whim. I didn’t stay long, just time to walk the length of the pier and back and have a chat about old times with Alan and his wife Wendy. It seems I missed a lot of fun after I left, a kind of pier kiosk price war concerning crabbing apparatus and bait. Afterwards we went into Bangor Town itself, the first time in three years or more, and who should I see in the Carphone Warehouse, like grey clouds on a sunny day, but the dream thieves themselves - not quite Mr and Mrs Shouty, they are figments of my imagination and bear no resemblance to any persons living or dead. Maybe that proves that coincidence is always just around the corner and that what they say about bad pennies is true. Anyway, that night I dreamed about the pier. I won’t go into the details, but I did buy that house and rent my kiosk again and again it ended badly. In the morning when I awoke I decided that it would remain a dream.

Mind you... I have been known to change my mind.

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Not quite a Dali giraffe...

Hell’s Mouth once again, my first visit this year, and not as much wash-up on the beach which is unusual and, for me, a little disappointing.

The weather was glorious and I’d planned to build my Dali giraffe as a last act in a wonderful summer. My Dali giraffe a dream come true. I could almost smell it burning as I stepped onto the beach.

I looked around… What was going on? Where was all the usual rubbish that washed up on this magnificent beach? Hell’s Mouth without a tumble of flotsam and a tangle of jetsam - it simply wasn’t right.

Maybe it was because of the great summer weather and the lack of high winds that came with it. Either way, there were hardly any beach animal building materials to be seen. Sometimes after a storm you can’t move for washed up planks, plastic bottles, oil drums, and the odd bright orange rubber glove or twenty. But with no storms for a quite a while  now, the beach was practically detritus free.

‘Drat’, or something very much like it, I thought as I searched for the makings of the fabled giraffe. If I could only find five decent lengths of plank and an oil-drum my giraffe would soon become a reality. Even four lengths might have done, I’m sure I could have fashioned a neck from six or seven plastic bottles and a length of pipe.

After twenty minutes of combing all I’d found was a long steel spike and a motley array of twiggy branches. Not a single oil drum, no plastic bottles, not even a rubber glove was in evidence. Perhaps the beach fairy had come one evening and made the beach all sparkly clean.

Not to be defeated I decided that if there was to be no giraffe this time then the least I could do was try and make some sort of animal sculpture. So I did the least I could do and managed to contrive this rather pathetic fellow. His legs are twigs tied together with twine, his rather droopy neck a length of bendy pipe and his body some old washed up string. I call him ‘not quite Dali’s giraffe.’  The best that I could do in the circumstances I’m afraid.

I reached into my pocket for my lighter and then decided that he was too sad to burn. I could wait for the full giraffe to see my dream realised and a giraffe a la Dali blazing away on the beach. So I left him to his water bucket and walked away.