Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Last doodle 2015...

A slow day yesterday and then I couldn't sleep.

The pen just seemed to fall into my hands and, once I had some paper, this emerged. Some of it is conscious, but most of it isn't and now when I look at the finished doodle I see things that I never realised I was even drawing at the time.

They say that doodles are a window to our subconscious. Well, I'm fine with that because it isn't what I see when I close my eyes that bothers me, it's what I can't see and remains inside that gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Signing off for a while. Take care, because they are out there you know.

Tuesday, 29 December 2015

Dying days...


What a sweet and sticky recipe. The dying days of another year, finished with a haze of sherry drenched worry and the same old promise to do better in the future, with no more idea, after another twelve stretch, who I am, even less so in so many ways. Lassoed by my own sweet flailing, it’s just the passing of the days, the tuneless, turning tunes of my days of pointless railing.

The daily disasters of the world, other people’s lives, numbed and numbered by my own self concerns. Money to charity no longer eases; it might as well just burn. Uncomfortable and itchy in my own old skin, still nothing pleases and pointlessness my ongoing chant, repeats. It’s that time of year once more my dearest confidante.

Draw closer, like a Winter's tale I tell myself the New Year brings less deranges, changes, damages, favours, saviours, away in a mangers and better behaviours, but I know that I’m flavouring it with too much sweetness. After a well meaning start I’ll be beaten and beating it all over again, such is the way of men. Or this man anyway, with nothing saved or savored .

The cast cat struggles to lift his wings. Mind willing, spirit and will dipped in mire he stares at the moon mewling to cold white fire and remembers when the world was cream, each lap a fall towards a dream. On hard wooden platform stands he, wishing what he wants to be. He stands, and stands, and stands, but still his iron wings can’t fly. His flying days are done unfortunately.

Monday, 28 December 2015

Miracles…



This is the season for miracles – virgin births, flying reindeer, God on earth, fat men coming down chimneys, angels, talking animals, John Lewis' Christmas ad and Michael Bublé’s Christmas special.

Miracles or thaumaturgy as they call it, thaumaturgy meaning ‘miracle’ or ‘marvel’; the capability of a magician or a saint to work magic or miracles. Now I’ve been living in the age of miracles all my life, and I’m not talking Saint’s bones or rusty nails. Miracles have been made commonplace, it's just that we don't recognise them as such and the people that make them happen probably won't be made saints; that seems to be reserved for the religious fraternity.

Yes, the age of miracles is surely upon us. What was once seen as supernatural is now completely natural. The lame man is made to walk again with robotic prosthetics, the deaf are made to hear, people are raised from the dead daily and the blind are made to see again.

Not only that, but men have walked on the moon, ordinary people fly from one side of the planet to the other as if it is nothing, bananas and strawberries are available all year round, we can talk to each other even when we aren’t together, lots of people live to very old ages – a hundred isn’t that unusual any more - and cities can be raised to the ground without the use of a single trumpet.

Miracles indeed; it’s almost like all those biblical miracles we were fed for centuries were pretty ordinary when compared to what mankind has become able to achieve, things once held in reserve for the Saints, great magicians and God. I’m sure that we could part the red sea if we wanted to and to be honest, with everlasting life in some form a real possibility and given that we can overcome most things these days, I don’t think there’s much of a need for saints any more. Sorry saints, particularly those on the waiting list, but technology and knowledge have replaced you.

Of course, there are still many more miracles which need to be performed. We need to be able to control this strange weather we have helped create, feed every mouth on the planet, find new planets for the overspill, sort out this world’s climate quickly, find cures for any number of diseases, live together in harmony, the list goes on and on. But given how far we’ve come in a very short time, just a couple of hundred years in the main,  I’m sure that most, if not all, of it can be done.

No, we don't need those old miracles any more and we certainly don't need any more saints. There are well over 10,000 and Pope Francis made 813 new ones on just one Sunday in 2013. Well I hope we don't anyway, I really do, because the alternative is to trust in God and his track record isn't very good.

Sunday, 27 December 2015

Letter home...


Dear all,

I'm weird.

It’s that introspective, retrospective time of year again. A time to take stock and to take a long hard look at yourself, at least it is for me. It won’t lead to any resolutions about losing weight or becoming teetotal on New Year’s Eve, but it will help me to understand myself better, maybe even to make some readjustments, some tiny repairs to the jumbled mass of weirdness that I am. Time, maybe, to call the police again.

Simply using the word weird implies that there is a norm. Well, from someone who has not been ‘quite right, not normal, peculiar’ (as my parents put it) all my life I’d like to take issue with the idea that there is a norm. Sorry folks, but the people that think they aren’t weird are just about as weird as weird can be.

Normal’ is simply a set of conventions, rules, expectations, and doctrines driven by fear and an expectation that we must all conform to what society (whichever society that may be) expects us to. If I had been born into a Pygmy tribal environment in the 19th century it would have been ‘normal’ to wear shrunken human heads on my belt and eat my enemies for dinner. If I were Japanese I wouldn’t be normal unless I frantically gave everybody I met a business card. I won’t even talk about religion, but suffice it to say that telling some guy all the bad things I’ve done and then saying a few words of repentance wouldn’t make me feel any better about myself.

The truth is the world is weird and each and every one of us in it is weird too. This is because we all create our own worlds, are each are own world, and in reality it is only our own view of the world that makes another person’s world seem weirder than ours. Of course there are extremes, dangerous violent extremes, cold empty extremes, but in the main most people share some sort of commonality and our weirdness is simply defined by what someone else finds acceptable.

Well, I’ll define myself any way I want if that is okay with you; because frankly I don’t give a flying fuck about what you think about me.

Saturday, 26 December 2015

Boxing day blues...

I bloody hate Boxing Day. It’s literally an empty box of a day with nothing to offer but the leftovers of Christmas dinner and mounds of ripped wrapping paper bursting out of the bin. Of course it might be different if I had lots of family to visit or to come to visit me, but I don’t, that was put paid to that one Boxing Day three years ago and that particular saga still goes on. Sometimes I wish Boxing Day really was about boxing so that I could get a few punches in, but sadly it isn’t.

In fact just what is Boxing Day about? We don’t have servants any more, so it isn’t a day for giving out Christmas boxes as it was in the past and apart from the football, the sales and the bloody hunt there really isn’t that much too it. I can think of nothing worse than watching a bunch of men kicking a ball about in the freezing cold, wandering around John Lewis with hundreds of angry bargain hunters, or standing around waiting for a bunch of red jacketed blood lusting toffs to ride past on there way to killing a defenceless fox.

This Boxing Day is a particularly bad one as it’s damp and dour and raining with not a hint of crispness in the air and certainly no snow. It’s not even worth the effort of going for a walk. The A55 is flooded so we can’t get to Wales an as for those two turtle doves, well there’s not a sign although there were some blue tits in the lavender bush at the back.

Bloody boring, that’s Boxing Day. Perhaps I’ll get my gloves on and start a fight; after all it seems to run in the family.

Boxing Day Blues

So the Christ child’s day is over
Santa’s been and gone
Presents in piles will soon be dust
The end of the Christmas fun.
The turkey awaits deliverance
In sandwiches, curries and pies
Leftover pud hardens in cake tins
Chestnuts wrinkle and dry.
Decorations and lights go unnoticed
The tree is beginning to sadden
The fridge is full of too much food
Singing Santa does nothing but madden.
It’s raining outside not snowing
The crackers have each been pulled
That’s a crow outside not a robin
The wine has all been mulled.
My Santa hat is discarded
My ho-ho-ho all done
The mistletoe has lost its kiss
It’s the end of the Christmas fun.
And Boxing Day is upon us
Most anticlimactic day of all
It’s almost the time of between week
Four days of lethargy and sprawl.
But don’t despair at the situation
The New Year is yet to come
In 364 days it’ll all be returning
And as always we’ll all succumb.

Thursday, 24 December 2015

That time of year again...

How long does it take for something to become a tradition? Is it a tradition if you do it twice of does it take five, ten, even twenty times?

Well, it’s that time of year again and our little traditions continue. The decorations were up before the 12th (Gaynor’s birthday), we’ve boozed up the mincemeat for the pies and have taken the 20th photograph in the photo booth. Holly and I have been doing this since she was two as a present for Gaynor and it’s become a tradition.

The booth is more of a squeeze than it once was and my hair gets greyer each year (hence the hats) but I really look forward to it. It’s a father and daughter thing I guess. Holly does all of the organisation for me these days, the hats, the instructions, pressing the button, so different from that day twenty years ago when we took the first one and she could sit on my knee. I don’t think my knees would take it now even though Holly is very slim.

To be honest though we haven’t changed that much; I’ve got older and uglier, Holly stays beautiful and the tradition continues. It's framed, wrapped and under the tree and will be, as always, the last gift to be opened Christmas morning.

Can't wait. Merry Christmas to you all.

Monday, 21 December 2015

The ice queen...

I can’t remember the last time I saw frozen washing hanging on a washing line. As a child the back gardens were full of icy clothes made into stiff corpses by the icy winter cold. You could hear the ice crack if you took the clothes down and tried to fold them, and then the ice would melt leaving cold puddles on the floors. These were the days before tumble driers and central heating radiators. The washing would sit on a maiden in front of the fire or hang from the ceiling on a wooden frame and the house would smell of damp clothes and wouldn’t dry for days.

Anyway, I've written a poem about those dark days where electricity was paid for at a shilling a time and a single coal fire heated the whole house, well one room of it.

I've called it The Ice Queen.

The Ice Queen

I remember the days of frozen washing
Days of childhood captured in icy cloth
Winter, how bitter it became
Each drop of water made frost
Inside on the window pane
Outside hanging on the line
Running with garden sticks
The starched collars of shirts made ice
With the breath of the ice queen
Inside my heart sharp icicles
Too frozen for it to hurt
I beat the frozen clothes till they bled.

Sunday, 20 December 2015

Seven songs 7...

So this is the last of my seven songs and it feels like I've left so many out. What should I choose? Massive Attack, Unfinished Sympathy; Kate Bush, Cloudbursting; Scritti Politti, Absolute. Moby; Extreme Ways; Soul to Soul, Keep on Movin’; Elvis Costello, Shipbuilding; Curtis Mayfield, Move on Up.

This list could go on and on…

This is so hard that it almost hurts.

I don’t know how the Manic Street Preachers stole into my heart, but they did one day a long time ago and left an indelible mark on it. Of course they were like the punk and excitement I missed out on for one reason or another. They felt dangerous and I like a little danger, so long as it’s safe. Really I should never have listened, but I had to.

They made me hurt and I realised that hurting was okay, good if you could handle it. I had hurt a lot over the years and there’s a time when you need to let it go, or at least just accept it and move on. Funny that a band from Wales could speak to my deep rooted sadness and let me explore it as if it were just another part of me and nothing to be ashamed of. Motorcycle emptiness was just the start, but the melancholic remorse of the sound got into my very bones. Of course, I’ve never owned or driven a motorcycle but I understood the basic imagery, I guess we all do.

I was shocked when Ritchie went and still hope that he’s still out there, but if he’s not, well he was always going to be a self fulfilling prophecy – aren’t we all?

Maybe the Manics weren’t generation terrorists after all, but they sang about vulnerability and retrospective vision in a way that meant I had to listen; so much better than being comatose and they helped me work it through in a way that maybe Ritchie didn’t.

God speed Ritchie, see you later and thanks you helped a lot but last minute and at the end it’s the lovely Elizabeth Fraser and the Cocteau Twins. I know that you won’t mind.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Seven songs 6...

I almost made it into the nineties for a moment then, and if I had I would have chosen Ian Brown’s track F.E.A.R which was recorded a handful of years before Rise, the single released by post-punk group Public Image Ltd in 1986.

The song was written by John Lydon of Sex Pistol’s fame and, whilst I missed out on punk through being a little too old to really join in, I was captured by this wonderful song about apartheid in South Africa and Nelson Mandela. It wasn’t that theme that grabbed my attention though, nor the reference to Northern Irish RUC interrogation techniques, it was the sheer anger the song contains. Whichever way you look at it, this IS a rebel song.

I’ve always felt like a little bit of a rebel, even if these days I do it from an armchair through shouting at the television, but I’ve had my moments and in general it was those moments that moved me on. Now, I could be right, I could be wrong, but to my mind rebellion goes hand in hand with different thinking and eccentricity which according to my daughter is strangeness. Maybe she’s right; I don’t find it easy to conform, I am uncomfortable with authority, and mindlessly following groupthink in order to have a quiet life makes me angry. It always has despite how it sometimes might have appeared.

In the words of My Lydon, anger is indeed an energy and if used effectively can help to change the world to make it a better place. Without anger there is acceptance and that is what, in the main, governments and the status quo wants. I know this may sound like leftist talk but it has always been the angry young men that have made a difference. Now I’m not young any longer I suppose I should just accept and shut up, but I can’t and indeed I won’t and more to the point why should I?

May the road rise with you.


Friday, 18 December 2015

Seven songs 5...

Out of the seventies and into the eighties, bypassing the musical revolution that was punk, although I though long and hard about God Save the Queen by the Sex Pistols. It missed out because I really came to it after the event, so it impacted my life hardly at all at the time.

1984, post punk, the era of all those New Romantic bands, George Michael and a lot more besides. I have to admit to a liking for Duran Duran and early Tears for Fears is fine as is early OMD, early Adam and the Ants, early Human League, early Heaven 17 and all of Scritti Polliti and New Order. But it isn't any of them on my list.

No, this is a little known although critically acclaimed band from Glasgow who are so sparse with their album releases that it is no real wonder that nobody much has heard of them. Four albums in almost 20 years isn’t much to speak of, but the first two albums, A Walk Across the Rooftops and Hats, are both masterpieces to my mind. They are the soundtrack to what became a very troubled period in my life and they have always spoken to me of those troubles.

Anyway I give you probably my favourite Blue Nile track, an ode to Glasgow. Ladies and gentleman I give you Tinseltown in the Rain.


Thursday, 17 December 2015

Seven songs 4...

This could, maybe should have been David Bowie and just about any of his songs from Hunky Dory. But it isn't and that's because something happened in 1972 that set me off on yet another road again.

I think that sometimes we forget those fragile and fleeting moments that, in an instant, click us into a new person. It seems like I got stuck in the Seventies, although to be honest things were moving so fast it wasn’t really stuck at all. Perhaps that’s the way with your teenage years should be as you struggle to define who you are. Maybe you are meant to move on quickly, morphing and changing as the world around you changes which each new discovery and disappointment.

Anyway, after what seemed like years stuck in the doldrums with Yes, Dark Side of the Moon, Tubular Bells, Greenslade and Tangerine Dream I emerged into the light one evening when Roxy Music hit The Old Grey Whistle Test; much to Bob Harris’ discomfort. He hated them and I thought that they were great, a pastiche of everything I loved from science fiction to Humphrey Bogart. They were strange looking, their music sounded other worldly, the machine that Brian Eno fiddled with looked like it had come out of a Gemini space capsule, it was Telstar all over again but with a more stylistic commentary.

The first Roxy Music album was a revelation. It was such a blend of nuances and styles not least of all because of Eno's influence. Everything about the early Roxy, from the covers to their clothes, the music to the lyrics, meant that it shouldn’t have worked, but it did. There’s not a single track on their debut album that I don’t love. From the noisy cafeteria opening of Re-make Re-model through to 2 H.B., The Bob, Sea Breezes and Bitters End, there isn’t a boring moment on the album. For me though, the shiver down my spine track is Ladytron. The song’s distinctive instrumentation, including an oboe solo, liberal use of the mellotron, some heavy guitar breaks, a lot of processing of the other instruments by Brian Eno’s VCS3 and tape echo and a complete break down into chaos at the end of the track still has me hooked.

Perhaps it was that chaos that really attracted me because by the time Eno had left the band and Roxy had moved beyond their third album - Stranded - I’d lost interest and moved on again.

  

Wednesday, 16 December 2015

Seven songs 3...

The year is 1971, Sunday 28th March, 5.00pm in the evening to be precise; it’s Pick of the Pops time. There’s still the horror of Sing Something Simple to come afterwards, put off homework to do, school the next morning - starting with a three mile cross country run - but for now everything is Poptastic Pop-Pickers as the chart run-down begins.

Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman begins to dash through the charts in fine style as always whilst I sit with my finger paused on my cassette recorder; (record) 35 - I Think I Love You by The Partridge Family (stop, yawn), (record) 31 – Rupert by Jackie Lee (stop, urgh), (record) 25 – Granddad by Clive Dunne (stop, I’m losing the will to live), (record) 22 – My Way by Frank Sinatra (stop, snooze) and then suddenly straight in at 21 (record) Dave and Ansell Collins burst like a breath of fresh Caribbean air onto the radio and I am suddenly and immediately converted to reggae.

"Double Barrel", released by Techniques Records, part of Trojan Records, went on to top the Jamaican and UK charts that May for a couple of weeks. To this day I still have no idea why he was the magnificent double u o o o or why he wanted to enter the shack at the back of his baby’s soul. I have an inkling that they may have been some kind of sexual activity going on, mush, mush, mush, mush, because he certainly wanted to be hit one time, ugh, ugh, ugh, ugh ugh and was practically begging her to break it up and to push your lips now.

No matter what the lyrics that Dave Barker shoutily sang, that tune turned me into Trojan fan and from thereon it was a reggae soul party all the way.

Good God, too much, I like it!

And I certainly did.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Seven songs 2...

I heard my next song for the first time under the bedclothes listening to radio Luxembourg on a tiny transistor radio. I don’t remember why I was under the bedclothes, but I do remember that Radio Luxembourg reception wasn’t very good, it would phase in and out, even drift away altogether sometimes to be replaced by some European chap speaking phlegm.

I was twelve going on thirteen when ‘Raven’ a new song by a group called Ambrose Slade crackled through the ether. From the moment I heard it I knew that it was something special. It had a hypnotic beat and a rawness that seemed dangerous and new at the time. Later I would find that same rawness in the music of the Sex Pistols, but this bluesy slightly raucous sound grabbed me immediately.

When Ambrose Slade changed their name to Slade it became the opening track on the 1970 album Play It Loud which I immediately bought. Raven was written by bassist Jim Lea, lead singer Noddy Holder and drummer Don Powell and was produced by the band's manager Chas Chandler who once managed Jimi Hendrix. Chandler was also responsible for Slade’s original skinhead image, a bit of a mistake in retrospect as their music didn’t suit the image as it wasn’t reggae and made them look scary as fuck.

Anyway, it must have worked for me and I spent my formative teenage years dressed in a Cromby and wearing sta-pressed trousers and loafers. Yes, this record was responsible for giving me an image, something that, although it changed and morphed over the decades, was important to me until recently. These days, I don’t give a toss how I look, I still like Slade though.


Monday, 14 December 2015

Seven songs 1...

So I’ve been asked to choose seven pieces of music (records as we used to call then) over the next seven days that, for one reason or another, have impacted me in some way. Seven isn’t very many and it will be hard, but my first choice is an easy one to make.

In 1962 I was eight and like most small boys back then I was deeply fascinated by outer space. Doctor Who was still a year away, but there were plenty of ‘B’ movie science fiction films at the picture house at the Saturday matinees, Dan Dare was available in The Eagle and of course Fireball XL5 was on our black and white, valve driven television. Add to this The Sky at Night, the space race between the US and USSR and as many Science Fiction novels as I could borrow from the local library each week and it was inevitable that the launching of the Telstar communications satellite would grab my attention.

I must have heard Telstar by the Tornados on the radio. I don’t know on what station or exactly when but it wasn’t long before a copy of the record appeared in the anodised metal record rack alongside the Dansette record player in our living room. Records were a bit of an investment back then and very precious, so there it sat alongside Helen Shapiro’s Walking Back to Happiness, Little Red Rooster by The Rolling Stones, John Leyton’s Six White Horses and a Golden Chariot and Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the bloody Shore,

It was the second instrumental single to hit No. 1 in 1962 on both the US and UK weekly charts and was written, produced and recorded by Joe Meek in his studio in a small flat above a shop in Holloway Road, North London. The other single was Acker Bilk’s Stranger on the Shore, which I hated with a vengeance for various reasons, but I loved Telstar as soon as I heard it.

There was something other worldly about that buzzing, whirling sound as it rose higher and higher. I could almost imagine myself flying around the universe with Steve Zodiac and Venus in Fireball XL5 as I listened. It was the first piece of ‘electronic’ music that I’d heard and it had me hooked along with the five million others who bought copies of the record across planet Earth.

It’s because of Telstar that I got into Kraftwork, Tangerine Dream, Roxy Music and all those lush electro-pop groups of the eighties. I still love electronically created music, but Telstar will always bring back memories of playing spacemen and robots in the playground and of course Fireball XL5.

LISTEN HERE

Friday, 11 December 2015

On Ærra Jéola…

There is something strangely comforting is this dark time of year. Fires are laid and lit, soup and stews are made, doors are locked tight against the winds outside, and beer is drunk.

It’s a time to stay warm and to sleep as much as possible as we have been doing for centuries. It’s the time of the solstice, the shortest day and longest night, but for now we are in the Ærra Jéola (the time before Yule); a time to tell tales of heroes and ghosts, a time to draw together for safety and God knows we need safety in these trouble and dangerous times. But then I guess there has always been trouble and danger, it isn’t a new invention.

The month of Ærra Jéola is a time to take stock of the old year and look to the new one, a time to turn your back on the troubles of the past and think about the future and prepare. The Wild Hunt rides in the skies led by the mighty Odin, the pagan Anglo-Saxon Modranicht sacrifices are made ready for the tupping of the maidens. Feasting, drinking, and sacrifice are what this time of Dísablót expects as the Dísir and Valkyries walk amongst us once more. Set ablaze the Yule log to keep the dark ones at bay, sacrifice the Yule goat and spit roast Sonargöltr the Yule boar for the great horned hunter god is returning and he must have his meat.

But watch, for the Lord of Misrule creeps into the Great Hall with his madness and cackle, scattering the mummers before him and pissing on the great fir tree which keeps the life in this dark time. He will curse brightness, given birth on the long night of darkness and blighting the next year’s harvest if he will. Pull on your masks, follow his lead and do his bidding for all must be well until Herne the hunter returns. The mountains will glow with him, the plains will glow with him, hear the voice of the waves with the song of the strand, announcing to us the sun is reborn. Son of the Great Mother of the Land of light hasten thou to our land, thou Lord of Warmth, thou Lord of Light, Golden Sun of hill and mountain.

All hail! May the procession begin! Let there be joy!

Wednesday, 9 December 2015

Paper hats…

Paper’s brilliant isn’t it? It gives us something to read, a quick way to scribble down a list or a reminder, patterns on our walls, containers to keep our food in; it’s everywhere, almost unnoticed and ever present.

I’m amazed by the amount of paper we put in our blue bin each week and at Christmas we seem to generate a paper mountain. I wonder what Christmas would be like without it? What would we wrap the presents in and how would we make paper chains? What about those Christmas cards and the envelopes they arrive in? What about the stamps? How would we give a bottle without a paper gift bag and what would we use for gift tags? Christmas without crackers, no paper crowns or cheesy jokes – I don’t think so. Paper serviettes with robins, paper Christmas tablecloths, don’t worry I draw the line at paper plates despite not having to do any washing up. Christmas is a real paperfest, I’m not even going down the delivery box route, but I wonder how many boxes Amazon send out at this time of year?

Here’s to paper, probably the most important invention of all time. Without it how would we have passed on ideas, recorded important events, what would we be using for money?

Of course technology is changing everything, letters, books, financial transactions and I’m pretty sure that electronic wallpaper will be along at some point. But I can’t see Christmas and gift giving going away, so paper is with us to stay even if it just in the form of paper hats.

Tuesday, 8 December 2015

A Christmas past...

1977, I was twenty and studying (if that’s what you can call it) for a Graphic Design degree at the University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton Poly as it was then. I’d been at Oxfordbrooks prior to that where I’d given up my ambition to be a fine artist in favour of my new ambition to be an illustrator. Young men are like that, chopping and changing with no ultimate plan.

At the time my dream was to illustrate covers for the Radio Times, something I never achieved, but the cover of the Christmas Radio Times that year was so very special and I was so taken by the image of a perfect village inside a Christmas tree landscape, that I could aspire couldn’t I?

Of course, the Radio Times had always played an important part in my life around Christmas, not just for the superb illustrations it contained throughout, but as a Radio 4 fan for the plays that would be broadcast over the Christmas period. I loved a good ghost tale and both Radio 4 and BBC 2 had plenty at that time of year. Ideally, when I wasn’t working on Radio Times covers, I would have become an illustrator of ghost stories… another ambition I never achieved.

I remember that the 1977 Christmas edition was the first double edition ever and covered both Christmas week and the New Year television. Even so it still only cost 26 pence, but of course it only listed BBC TV and radio programmes and not ITV, you had to buy the (by comparison trashy) TV Times for that.

Both the Radio Times and the TV that year were classics, Morecambe and Wise topped the ratings with their final show for the BBC. It was the one with Penelope Keith, Elton John and James Hunt as the main guests and the South Pacific finale featuring all the BBC newsreaders and presenters including Eddie Waring.

That Christmas Day I remember the BBC News reporting the death of Charlie Chaplin when he passed away on Christmas Day aged 88. It was also the year of punk although the Sex Pistols’ success in the charts was frowned upon and hidden and they weren’t on the TOTP Christmas Special as they should have been. That year Paul MacCartney and Wings topped the charts at Christmas with Mull of Kintyre and even performed the hit single on The Mike Yarwood Christmas Show. Peter Benchley's The Deep (a book I read and a film I saw, but can’t even remember the plot now) had been top of the film chart since Christmas Eve, although the Boxing Day ‘must see’ film was something called Star Wars; not a very promising title.

It all seems such a very long time ago now. The Radio Times isn’t the publication it was, the free TV mags, online and built-in schedules put paid to that. The once great publication rarely contains an illustration these days and of course it covers all of the myriad of TV stations available. I can’t even remember the last time I even picked one up to browse, let alone purchase. These days the Christmas edition of the Radio Times is just another TV schedule and not the exciting, long awaited (at least for me) publication it once was.

Sometimes I long for that world with just three TV stations and those two (quite separate) TV channel publications. More that this though, I yearn for the days of the illustrated Radio Times Christmas cover even if I never got to illustrate one...

Or is it the days of my youthful optimism and hope that I want to return to?

Monday, 7 December 2015

As the world turns…

How much I miss as I rush about my daily life, focussed on crossing the road safely, watching where I step, intent on not bumping into other pedestrians and avoiding the inevitable idiot on a bike riding along the pavement. My eyes are usually either on the ground or just a few feet above it when there is so much more of the world above my head.

Yes, I rarely stand and just watch the world turn. It’s hard with all that involvement and interaction to stand outside and just take it in, let it flow into you. Today though, as I stood at the crossing watching the little red man and waiting for the rushing, honking cars to stop, something made me lift my head. It was a gentle sound at first, a soft whoosh, and looking up I saw in the distance three V’s of birds. As they got nearer, crossing each other’s paths and then separating away again, the whoosh grew louder and then turned to a thwack, thwack, thwack, like the beat of a hollow drum.

Then I heard the honks and, as always, I was taken somewhere else. I'm never quite sure where that else is, all I know is that it makes me feel good, at peace somehow.

High above my head were hundreds of geese going wherever geese go at this time of the year. I’m not sure what type of geese they were, but it struck me that they were late and in a hurry. They could have been Canadian, barnacle, brent or greylag, I couldn’t tell from the ground with them silhouetted against the sky, besides even if I could have seen them properly I’d probably still have struggled to know which geese they were.

The red man turned to green twice while I stood looking up into the air. The drivers in their cars must have thought me a lunatic staring up into space by the side of the road. It look a long time for the birds to pass over, but eventually they were gone, just a few specks in the distance and then nothing at all. It left me wondering if they had seen me or if, like me on most days, they were far too busy focussing on where they were going and what they were going to do when they got there to look down at that speck of me on the ground.

And so the world turns, both theirs and mine.

Saturday, 5 December 2015

Gin and tonic...

My blog tonight is brought to you by gin and tonic which will explain why it is so short. Life's too short to be blogging when there is gin to be had. A small mention to ice and lemon who put in a cameo appearance.

But before I go:

A bartender drowned in a tidal wave of gin and tonic when a case exploded, he was Schwepped away.

I thank you.

Friday, 4 December 2015

Rocking around the Christmas tree...

What is it about Christmas songs that make them so infectious? I can normally remain calm in the face of most tunes, but stick rocking around the Christmas tree on the gramophone and I’m singing along before you can say Winter Wonderland. Maybe it’s the memories that they bring back, all I need is a few bars of that Nina and Frederick classic Little Donkey and I’m back in the living room of a sixties council house watching cartoons on a black and white television with the big light on.

The thing about these songs is that an awful lot of them should be (are) totally naff, but somehow we forgive them their jingling bells, background choirs, brass bands and silly jumpers. Of course it ain’t Christmas until Noddy screeches it is like some demented Santa, but when he does we all screech along with him. If Roy Wood says that he wishes that it could be Christmas every day who are we to disagree with him and if Greg Lake believes in Father Christmas then we all do, don’t we.

Cliff has his very own Christmas smorgasbord of Christmas ditties; Millenium Prayer, Saviour’s Day, Mistletoe and Wine; he really knows how to get God into my non-denominational Winter Solstice. David and Bing (the most unlikely pairing of all time) croon away about a little drummer boy, Paul McCartney pipes on about some plumbing problem that needs fixing, The Pogues belch out a sweary fairytale and John and Yoko claim that war is over, which it patently isn’t.

Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Bing dreaming of a white one, the Wombles womblimg a merry one, Shaky shaking up a merry one as well, Bruce bringing Santa to town, The Goodies warning Santa not to touch them, Aled (who’s obviously high) walking in the air and Chris Rea probably just about to set off on the long drive home for Christmas.

I don’t know about you, but I love and loathe these tunes simultaneously. I understand (yes it’s the money) why everybody from Elvis to Mrs Costello, Micky Bubbles to Bobby Zimmerman, James (The Godfather) Brown to the not so summery Beach Boys and even Alvin and the Chipmunks have all released Christmas albums which repeatedly perpetuate the same twenty songs or so, but I do so wish that they wouldn’t.

Lastly the worst Christmas song of all time in my view is Do They Know it’s Christmas? Despite it being very worthy and doing a lot of good it leaves me feeling depressed. The best on the other hand would be well…. IT’S CHRISTMASSSSS! Right Noddy?

What’s yours?

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Bully for you...

What’s in my head today apart from the usual mash of glass painting, food, Chistmas and confusion? Well I guess that there are two subjects that keep popping to the front of my mind, Lady C and the decision to bomb Syria.

At first they seem to have no connection, but I can’t help but see the word bully in my mind when I think about both of them.

Firstly, bully for Lady C. What a despicable woman to treat the others in the camp the way she appeared too. Even accepting the careful editing by the program makers in order to make it as interesting as possible, there was no disguising the real anguish she caused to almost every member of the camp. Her attitudes, words and approach brought just about everybody down and there’s no doubt she was the catalyst for the rifts that formed. She wouldn’t be wrong, she wouldn’t be questioned, she name called and abused, and she believed she had some kind of divine right to do so. Add to that the evil eyed looks, her claims about her own intellect compared to the others, and her total lack of concern for anyone but herself and I see the classic bully. I’m glad she’s gone and I hope that’s the last I ever see or hear of the bitch.

The Government decision to send in the bombers yesterday leaves me feeling as beaten up as Lady C’s victims in the jungle. What a stupid move. Bully for them and their need to posture and play with other people’s lives. If they wanted to find a way to create more ISIS sympathisers intent on martyrdom then they’ve managed it. No matter how good our missiles are at only seeking out the baddies, innocent people will get killed and their kin will want revenge. There are so many bullies in this piece that I am left reeling. Cameron with his stupid actions and statements, the politicians who voted with him, the military, and of course Isis. The list goes on and on. Surely the politicians must see that they are playing directly into the terrorists hands and delivering what they want - a reason for a united Muslim war on the West. I only pray that there is another plan in hand that the public aren’t as yet aware of, hopefully a united approach to deliver us out of this madness.

So there we have it; bullies to the right, bullies in the centre, bullies to the left, bullies above and below and no chance for the public to vote out Lady C or to vote down the decision to send in the bombers; best that the public are voiceless, better still if they were silent; well not this blogger.

This turmoil of a world might be surrounded by bullies, held captive by bullies and run by bullies, but they’re not running me.

Wednesday, 2 December 2015

Absolutely gorgeous...


I spend a lot of time observing and listening to people these days, well when I say people it is mainly ladies, ladies who lunch, ladies who shop, ladies who talk incessantly about pretty much nothing. How I hate the ones who stand in the main aisle, blocking my shop and talking drivel. I don’t care who’s died or what you are having for Christmas dinner, I don’t care about the dress you just bought, I don’t care that your dog feels the cold, I don’t care, I don’t care, I don’t care!

I need to calm down, but honestly it’s enough to give you Tourettes. Not that screaming profanities at potential buyers is great customer service, so I try my best to hold back and mainly just think the things I want to say. It’s hard, but so far I think I’ve got away with it, although you never can be sure, you know how things slip out when you aren’t paying attention.

There are two words that come up in these ladies conversation so frequently that I spent today counting the number of times I heard them spoken out loud. Of course their are other words attached to them; absolutely, sooooooo, and dahling being just three, but these two words are the most frequent of flyers. The first of these words is CUTE and today this was said out loud within my earshot sixty-seven times, which is almost ten times an hour.

I wonder if these ladies know the derivation of the word. They use it all the time, perhaps assuming that it’s one of those old Anglo-Saxon monosyllables like fart. In reality it’s a fairly recent term. CUTE is a shortened form of ACUTE, which means sharp (like an acute pain) or clever (‘sharp’ also means smart as well). In the 18th and 19th centuries CUTE, which was initially written with an apostrophe in the beginning to stand for the missing ‘A’ wasn’t complimentary and it wasn’t until very recently that it came to mean attractive, pretty, or charming.

Anyway I hate the word, it’s an acute pain in the derriere as it seems to be used to describe everything from knickers to kitten ornaments, cup cakes to fluffy bobble hats; at least it does in the emporium of delights where I spend so much of my time.

The second word is even more overused. Today I heard it uttered one-hundred and twenty-seven times (GASP!) and that word is GORGEOUS. Women seem to say this word for no apparent reason at all usually prefixed by ‘Oh’ and ‘isn’t that’. Men on the other hand hardly use it, perhaps they know its derivation or maybe they just can't find anything to say it about. Gorge means ‘throat’ or ‘narrow channel’, thus a gorget is a piece of throat armor, and a gorgias was a neckerchief. The use of these fancy, colourful neckerchiefs gave rise to the word gorgayse, which meant ‘dressy’ or ‘showy’ and again was often used in a dismissive way, for instance: 'She is so gorgeous that her milliner is surely rich and her dressmaker a millionairess'.

Cute and gorgeous, just goes to show how times change. It's interesting that these two overused words both started out as meaning exactly the opposite what they are meant today. Still, that’s women for you, insult them and they'll still read it as a compliment.

P.S. Ladies - this is all extremely tongue in cheek.

Tuesday, 1 December 2015

Telly time...

Here we go again, December first and the run down to Christmas. It hasn’t been particularly cold, there’s hardly been a frost and leaves still cling to the late autumn trees. Christmas is on its way, but with the warmth of the weather you’d hardly know it.

I have mixed feelings about Christmas, I really enjoy the lead up with the scurry of present buying, the decision making process concerning food and beverages, and of course the hanging of the decorations, but when the day actually arrives it’s often those things that lead to such a feeling of anticlimax.

We always buy each other too many presents which means we spend ages ripping off whole forests of paper and then making the gifts into small mountains of nuts, alcohol, socks, pants, books and whatever else Santa has brought in his sack. These mountains get moved into bags and then sit in the hall languishing for days. Eventually, months later, they make their way upstairs and just before Christmas are deposited in drawers and cupboards ready for the process to begin all over again.

Food and drink play a big part in our celebrations and the meals seem to take weeks to plan. In reality Christmas dinner is just another roast, no different from a Sunday lunch, but it seems to take on a life of its own with an ego of gargantuan proportions. By the time it’s on the table I often feel that it would be so much better to buy a ready meal or even order in a pizza. Of course it isn’t helped by the fact that all the early morning bubbles, pre-lunch sherry, and cheeky beers whilst cooking, have gathered together to confuse time so that everything hangs in the balance until the very last minute before it needs to be served.

The decorations are fine once they are up, I even quite enjoy hanging them and of course it’s my job to sort out the lights. But by the time Christmas Day is over and Boxing Day arrives I am ready to rip them down and shove them back in their boxes in the cellar. Of course this isn’t allowed, so on Twelfth Night we have the panic of hours of decoration removal before the stoke of midnight to avoid the bad luck that enters the house should a single tinsel star be left hanging.

It may sound from all of this that I don’t like Christmas, but nothing is further from the truth. I actually quite enjoy it, I just wish that it could be a little simpler and not such a fuss of panic buying, last minute present wrapping, and mountains of washing up. Thinking about it I would actually like to sit down and watch some telly one Christmas afternoon.

Forget the presents and dinner. I think that’s what I’ll aim for this year, some telly time.

Monday, 30 November 2015

30 days in November 30 and final...

Today is the last day of 30 days in November, which is just as well because today is the most facile day of them all. What airhead dreamed this one up I wonder? Today is:

Stay at home because you are well day

What an absolutely ridiculous idea to have a day promoting skiving, playing the wag, throwing a sicky, bunking off, wagging it, skipping work, dodging the boss. It’s okay to take time off work because you are genuinely unwell, but taking a day off when you are perfectly fine requires a holiday to be booked otherwise to my mind it’s fraud, taking money under false pretenses and should be punishable by death at the very least.

Excuses, excuses, excuses, I’ve heard them all over my thirty years managing people and some made me angry while others made me smile. You have to accept some of the everyday excuses like getting up late because the alarm clock broke, missing the bus, car break downs, the bus not arriving, my child/partner/other relative is ill or in the cells, I had to go to my granny’s funeral, and my all time favourite passing the buck excuse - being picked on at work. Now, these may sometimes be legitimate excuses for not going into work, however using the same excuse 3 or 4 times a month did tend to try my patience. Just how many grannies can one person have?

On top of that you have those excuses that it hardly seems credible that anyone would attempt to make:

“My son’s hamster got loose and I had to look for it.”

“I was asked by the police to be in an identification parade.”

“I had to do jury service and only got the letter when I got home last night.”

“I dyed my hair and didn’t like the colour.”

“I lost me memory, but it’s back now.”

“I lent my car to my brother and he hasn’t brought it back.”

“I can’t find my keys / shoes / wallet.”

“I had no clean underwear.”

One I particularly liked was made by an otherwise pretty reliable employee who told me she wouldn’t be in because it was too windy and she didn’t want to cross a high motorway bridge.

Oh well, happy days, thank God I no longer have to listen to excuses from employees who might as well told the truth in the first place. I'd have forgiven them - eventually.

Sunday, 29 November 2015

30 days in November 29...

Today is:

Electronic Greetings Day

I’ve been skipping most of the paper cards for years. In fact I wouldn’t bother if it weren’t expected, all they do is clutter up the place and gather dust. Besides my mother in law has this annoying habit of reading and counting them all and then saying things like: 'I see that you didn't get a card from cousin Gertrude this year, I did', or 'only thirty-seven cards this year, last year you had thirty-nine'.

So fluffing what, and just what have our card numbers got to do with her anyway? But then she picks up my personal mail if it is lying about and reads that too like some sort of cold war Stasi agent. What she thinks gives her the right to do this is inexplicable, but she does it anyway.

Fortunately she doesn’t use email or texts, so her future in surveillance (spying) is limited, as at some point I’m sure that I will turn away from paper altogether. Just think of the multi-level advantages if everyone just stopped sending cards to each other (some of whom are people I hardly ever see and sometimes don’t even really know or like). We’d be saving some trees, saving some money, saving the postman’s poor old legs, saving my mother in law from knowing too much (which can be dangerous even if you are Stasi) and saving ourselves a lot of time writing and addressing all those endless bloody cards to people who don't really care.

Sorry if I'm sounding like a Smith's greatest hits CD, but honestly what difference does it make?

And of course on the plus side electronic greetings can be so much more than a scribbled signature and a meaningless, almost illegible bon mot. Electronic greetings are multi dimensional and can be creative with text, photos, videos and music. Just think of how lovely it would be to receive a greeting of fluffy kittens singing silent night or to send a video of your dog destroying the Christmas tree and eating all the presents.

Best of all, those lovely electronic reminders means nobody need ever be forgotten. Not even my mother in law... Mores the pity.

Saturday, 28 November 2015

30 days in November 28...

Aujourd'hui c'est:

French toast day

French toast, yes or no? It's also known as gypsy toast, Spanish toast, German toast and good old eggy bread as we call it in Blighty. This delicacy of a snack is made from bread soaked in beaten eggs and then fried in butter or oil. There are loads of variations and you can eat it topped with fruit, bacon, beans, dripping in syrup or jam, thickly spread with chocolate spread or peanut butter, or you can just eat it au naturel. It’s best to use stale bread because the staler the bread the more it will soak up the eggy mixture without falling apart. Personally I’m not that keen on it, but that’s just me. No offence to the French, not that it’s really a French concoction.

It’s a very old dish, a Latin recipe book dating from the 4th or 5th century mentions bread soaked in milk and later eggs joined the milk mix. It had loads of fancy names in the various European courts: suppe dorate, soupys yn dorye, tostées dorées, payn purdyeu, and was widely eaten all over medieval Europe.

So it appears that French Toast isn’t French at all and predates the founding of France, which might explain why the Germans and Spanish lay claim to it too. According to legend it was dreamed up by an American and the modern French Toast was invented in Albany, New York, by an innkeeper named Joseph French. He created the dish in 1724, and advertised it as ‘French Toast’. But Joe French was grammatically challenged and didn’t use the required apostrophe, hence the whole world thinks that French Toast is a French delicacy and Joe doesn’t get the credit for his egged bread concoction.

It’s strange how these misconceptions come about. French fries were actually invented in Belgium where potatoes were being fried in the late1600s. Of course the French also lay claim to them, but what’s in a name? I was in America when the French refused to join in the Iraq war and suddenly French Fries became Freedom Fries overnight as many American restaurants and hotels refused to use that particular ‘F’ word. That all seems a bit silly now in the light of recent terrible events in Paris.

So there you have it, French toast in a nutshell. I wonder what it tastes like smothered in Nutella?

Friday, 27 November 2015

30 days in November 27...


As an antidote to Shopping Reminder Day, Black Friday and our consumption driven society today is:

Buy nothing day…

Strangely, it’s also Black Friday, and all across the buying world people are going mad trying to grab a bargain. It started out as an American thing, the day after Thanksgiving when stores slashed prices to the knuckle. Of course where America leads we follow and Black Friday is now firmly with us in the UK. The scenes in some stores last year were unbelievable, people running amok, knocking others down, snatching, grabbing and fighting, smashing the very things they wanted to purchase and all to save a few quid and the certainty of knowing that they won.

What is this compulsion to spend, often on things we don’t need or want? There was a time years ago when I might have been able to answer that. I used to love a bargain, but over the years I realised that those bargains I bought were often of little or no use to me. I once bought a hundred sets of oil paints because they were a bargain. I still have them, but most of the oils are now so dry I don’t think they’ll ever make it onto canvas. I’ve lost track of the numbers of pairs of shoes I’ve bought only to almost immediately find them uncomfortable. Even food bargains don’t appear to be the bargains you think they are at the time. We regularly clear our freezers of bargain items that we’ve forgotten to eat in time or simply didn’t fancy after all.

Can you remember the last time you spent a whole day without buying anything? I can, sometimes I can go days without buying anything at all. Of course that allows for their being food in the fridge and a well stocked wine rack, but I haven’t bought shoes for well over two years and I aim to use things until they break or completely wear away. The computer I’m typing this on is over twelve years old and kept together with sellotape and elastic bands and my phone is two years old, relatively new by my standards. I’d still be using my previous one but it literally fell to pieces in my hand one day after eight long years of service.

Of course there are things we all buy that are an ongoing cost, particularly in these technological times: wifi, phone contracts, TV licences, car transport and increasingly these things seem difficult to live without. But it wasn’t so long ago that I didn’t have any of them apart from the BBC TV licence and, as the old adage goes, I didn’t miss what I never had.

Sometimes I long for more simplicity in my life, the 'less of stuff’ life that I knew as a child. But I know that it’s far too late for me for that to ever happen. I am consumed by consumerism as most of us are, not as much as some, but enough for it to over complicate my life and make me miserable sometimes. But it's all so easy, everything is available at the click of a mouse from films and books, to groceries and gadgets. The pursuit of things doesn’t drive my life, but I still buy things I don’t need simply because I can. I know that I’m in a fortunate position to be able to do that, but maybe a bit of austerity is good for the soul.

Maybe buying nothing, or just less, is the answer.

Thursday, 26 November 2015

30 days in November 26

Here’s a day in November you may like, today is:

Cake day

Let them eat cake? Well, why not, cake is such a comforting food although I’ve never been a huge fan of the Victoria sponge and I detest chocolate cake. In all honesty I really prefer pastries and biscuits, but I will have a slice or two of cake occasionally. I’m partial to coffee and walnut, love a morsel of lemon drizzle, would never turn down a really good ginger and have been known to partake in a slab of rich fruit cake at Christmas.

Some people though would dine on cake morning, noon and night given half the chance. But be careful, cake has its dangers. Take what happened to my old friend Katie Cake for instance…





The Tale of Katie Cake
(or the eruption of Cakeatoa)

Katie Cake, oh Katie Cake,
All she ever did was bake.
Up with dawn all wide awake,
Setting to with no mistake,
As though her very life at stake,
Nor any rest did she ever take,
Although her hands did pain and ache,
Of other food, she’d not partake,
And water too, she did forsake,
She baked until her legs would shake,
Her tiny eyes turned red opaque,
Her mouth would bleed and knees did quake,
The tips of her fingers began to flake,
She mixed so hard her arm did break!
Eating everything that she did make,
Far, far more than she should intake,
Sponge, chocolate, soft cheesecake,
Jam and icing and cream so fake,
Coffee, lemon and cherry fruitcake,
Her baking was a big mistake,
Consumed too much to tolerate,
It gave her such a bellyache,
Her tummy groaned like an earthquake…

And then poor Kate exploded!

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

30 days in November 25...

Today is:

Shopping Reminder Day

Oh the joys of Christmas shopping. The crowds, the hustle and bustle, the wandering from shop to shop without a clue what to buy and then finally, the grabbing of stuff in a frenzy of panic buying. How very apt that today is Shopping Reminder Day because as yet I haven’t bought a single thing. Of course it doesn’t help that my wife’s birthday is just twelve days before Christmas, so I have double whammy panic.

Shopping Reminder Day, not that any of us need reminding with just one month left until Christmas and so much left to do, so many presents to buy. This day is a stark reminder of all the shopping I haven’t done, and how little time I have to do it. Less of a celebration, more of a horrifying epiphany, a wake up call to do what I always promise myself I will do and shop early. 

Of course with just a month left I’ve failed again, but this year we are definitely not going to buy too many gifts and spend all of Christmas morning unwrapping presents we don’t need/want/like. This year I’d like to spend half an hour present opening and then hit the fizz. But then we say that every year.

Of course Christmas never quite works out the way you expect. Something usually comes along to blot the snow white landscape, a culinary malfunction, a forgotten important something or other, a raging madman in your kitchen. Well at least that last one is pretty unlikely this year and I’m determined not to let anything else get to me. Let’s face it; although it’s an important day, it isn’t important at all. It’s just a day like any other and it’s us that gives it some deeper significance based around whatever you think it should be.

Of course this doesn’t mean I don’t want a great day and a very merry Christmas; I do. But if it isn’t quite as great as my unrealistic expectations expect then so be it. I’m sure I can deal with it just as long as I get that gift buying sorted out.

I guess it’s time to start shopping.


Tuesday, 24 November 2015

30 days in November 24

Today is:

Celebrate your unique talent day

Now there’s the rub. Just what is a unique talent and even if you have talent is it unique? Look I don’t juggle, I only wish I did. I’ve always been okay at drawing, but that doesn’t make me Rembrandt. I can string a few words together, but Shakespeare or Bradbury I’m not. I can cook a little, but I’m never going to be awarded a Michelin star. I like to sing, but I will never attain a number one record. I have green fingers compared to most, but I doubt that I would win any prizes for my marrow.

I think it fair to say I have some talent in a number of areas (some might claim a Jack of all trades and master of none) it gets me by, but do I have a unique talent? Just how may people can claim that? 

Of course we are all unique, made up of our interests, skills and experience and these days you don’t seem to need much of any of them to be admired by the public. There are plenty of people in the spotlight who seem to have no talents at all but who are paid fortunes for their celebrity alone. Does having a large well-publicised bum or being married to a footballer count as a talent? Well, it seems so given the accolades that are strewn on people with no talent other than a smile and the ability to eat bugs and worms.

What about liars? Some people are very talented at lying and pulling the wool over people’s eyes. Their talent isn’t a good thing and it definitely isn’t unique, there are plenty of lying cheats around, but should they throw a party each time they get their own way from screwing somebody over?

Not all talents are good and maybe shouldn’t be celebrated. I’m sure that the Tyburn hangman was very good at tying knots and the keeper of the dungeon in the Tower of London was a very talented torturer. The brains who worked on the Manhattan project were obviously talented physicists and the terrorists who shoot passenger aircraft out of the air are very talented marksmen. Which brings me to serial killers; if your unique talent is that you are very good at murdering people and not getting caught is that really a reason for applause?

Maybe you have to be first to do something well before you can claim to have a unique talent. Of course the problem with that is that it’s only unique until somebody else starts doing it and you know how these things snowball; just look at hula-hooping and yo-yoers.

So maybe rather than celebrating our ‘not at all likely’ unique talent today we should simply be taking stock of who we are and trying to get a bit better at what we are good at.

Maybe I should try juggling.

Monday, 23 November 2015

30 days in November 23...

Today is:

Fibonacci Day

Numbers, numbers, numbers, numbers. At school, I was never very good with them, times-tables and all that shit. At senior school I hated maths lessons, couldn’t do calculus and never passed my O level maths. I’m better these days, after a lifetime of dealing with them, I even passed my GCSE equivalent with top marks. I ‘get’ numbers now and I can see how the universe is just a string of numbers put together by numerical sequences.

Today we celebrate the Fibonacci sequence - a sequence of numbers where each number is the sum of the previous two. It might sound like the title to a Dan Brown novel but the sequence is hidden in the most common things around us: in plants, animals, the stars, computer language, even the human body.

It was first identified by Italian mathematician Leonardo Bonacci, aka Leonardo of Pisa, popularly known as Leonardo Fibonacci - hence the Fibonacci connection (which could be Dan Brown’s follow up to the Fibonacci sequence).

Fibonacci was a clever guy; in his book Liber acaci, Fibonacci posed this puzzle: if there are a pair of newly born rabbits - male and female - in a field and if they are able to produce another pair of rabbits in their second month of life, how many pairs of rabbits will be there after a year? Well you do the maths, but my guess is an awful lot.

Apart from asking deep meaningful questions about rabbits Fibonacci, born in 1170 in Pisa, was also responsible for making the Hindu-Arabic numerals the norm in Europe, explained the use of zero, provided ways to convert between currencies and different measurements, and described how to calculate interest - a bit of a know-it-all banker then.

Looking at the sequence in nature you could be forgiven for erroneously seeing the hand of God in the orderly way it progresses. Many people like to see God in nature and use this as a reason to prove his existence.

Personally I can’t understand why, out of the chaos came order and nature makes things orderly in order to make them work; and when I say nature I simply mean the natural order of things not some imagined supernatural being. It’s a cellular arrangement thing, a numerical sequence, a pattern and I think that we should leave the hand of God firmly where it belongs: on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

30 days in November 22...

Today is:

International aura awareness day

I don’t know where I stand on auras having never seen anyone with a rainbow, or even a halo, surrounding them. Of course if the people who make Ready Brek are to be believed it’s easy to achieve. A bowl or two of gooey instant porridge and we are all set to glow like a resident of Chernobyl.

These days Chernobyl is more theme park than nuclear disaster zone. You can take tours of the area which includes a visit to the Nuclear Power Station, a little sightseeing of Reactor 4, a visit to Pripyat (the highlight of the trip apparently) and sightseeing of  ‘The Dead (Ghost) Town’ with its swimming pool area, Ferris wheel, amusement park, river boats, abandoned buildings and school. Unfortunately, due to the hazardous radiation levels around it the village of Rossokha, a cemetery of military machineries, is currently unavailable, which is encouraging.

Of course, it’s all perfectly safe or so they say. At the end of the tour you pass through the Dytyatky check-point where your radiation is checked and you are deactivated. Of course, along with your camera to take pictures you are allowed a personal dosimeter to measure exposure to your very own personal ionizing radiation.

Chernobyl  was over 25 years ago now and since then ‘Disaster Tourism’ has become quite the thing. You can get tours of New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina or visit Eyjafjallajökul which erupted in Iceland in 2010, and there’s still plenty of destruction to see at Bikini Atoll, the site of the first nuclear bomb test, if you can get a diving permit. Belsen draws almost half a million visitors each year, the 9/11 Memorial Museum has had four million visitors since it opened in May 2014 and of course tourists have been visiting Pompeii to see the ashes since the volcanic eruption happened in 79 AD.

Now I don’t know how you feel about disaster tourism, but as far as I can see it isn’t so very different to slowing down on the motorway to stare at the crash on the opposite carriageway. I’m sure that there’s an argument to say that it’s all very worthy, that it’s history, that people go to show respect rather than out of idle curiosity, but if I’m honest I think that is mainly nonsense and I have to question what it does for your aura.