Saturday, 31 January 2015

Due back...

How well I remember the pressures of getting my books back to the library on time. Failure to do so would incur a fine and I dreaded the thought of the humiliation of having to pay that. The fine was only a few pennies, but there was something about returning books late that seemed so very wrong.

So I know how Sir Jay Tidmarsh must have felt when he realised he hadn’t returned a school book 65 years after first borrowing it. He found the long-forgotten copy of Ashenden by W Somerset Maughan as he cleared his shelves. Last week he returned it to Taunton school library along with a £1,500 donation to the school library - what a top toff.

Not so university professor, John “Jack” Foster, from Queen’s University, who was spared a fine of more than £8,500 after discovering he was in possession of a library book that was 47 years overdue.

Sometimes I've wondered whose hands my library book has passed through. Not national treasure and Rolling Stones legend, Keith Richard, who admitted recently that he still owes fines for books he borrowed and failed to return to his local public library in Dartford when he was a teenager. At 15p a day – plus interest and admin fees – he could have been hit with a bill for around £3,000. But of course he wasn’t, most libraries have a maximum fine of a few pounds, mine is ten.

Unfortunately the days of the library seem to be numbered. My local library is closing so that the council can sell off the very valuable land to build some more half million pound apartments. The same council is closing the main library up the road and moving it into a space half the current size which will be manned by volunteers - sad days indeed. But then library usage has dropped fast due to the internet and, at a personal level, whilst I still hold a card I haven’t been to a library for at least two years.

I’m a big fan of electronic readers, but I wonder about our children. There is nothing better than sharing a picture book with a child as you read it a story and for many financially struggling parents the library gave them this opportunity. Once, when I was going through a very bad time personally I spent many evenings in the library reading whatever took my fancy and keeping warm because I didn't want to go home, and I’m sure that there are lots of people that look on the library as a kind of sanctuary, particularly elderly people on their own.

There has to be a way to finance these great public places, even if it is with a small lending fee and higher fines. If we don’t and they go, there won’t be anywhere to take back those books you never returned.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Bourbon biscuits...

Late last night I found myself lured to the tin of biscuits we were given for Christmas by my mother-in-law. Just why this happened I’m not sure, but it could be that I am trying to ‘lose a little weight’ which invariably means I am tempted by all the things I would not usually think about. You see, I’m not a huge fan of biscuits although I prefer them to those awful cookie things that seem to have encroached upon us from the USA.

Of course in the United States, a ‘biscuit’ is a savoury quick bread a little like a scone, and sugar is not used in the dough. Yes, I don’t get it either, particularly as biscuit is from the French word 'bescuit' derived from the Latin bis (twice) and coquere (cooked), hence ‘twice-cooked’ as all good biscuits should be; real biscuits need to have a snap and a crunch you see.

Anyway, I digress - back to the biscuit tin. Most of the goodies had gone. All that was left were a couple of oatcakes, a few custard creams and all (yes all) of the chocolate Bourbons. Of course this was no great surprise as I don’t believe that anyone actually eats Bourbon biscuits. In fact, I can’t understand why biscuit companies insist in making them and putting them in their tins.

The Bourbon was invented in Bermondsey, South London, in 1910 by Peek Frean, the company who gave us the Garibaldi. It was originally called the Creola, until either Mr Peak or Mr Frean decided it would be more appealing if the name was changed to that of France’s guillotined royal family. Well remember, they named the Garibaldi biscuit after Giuseppe Garibaldi, an Italian general and leader of the struggle to unify Italy. So we probably got off lightly. After all, they could have called it the Botha Biscuit, the Kitchener Krumble, or even the Mafeking Malt.

But I digress once more, back to the biscuit tin. Just who eats Bourbons, anybody? In my experience they are always the last in the tin and invariably end up out of the tin and into the bin. Is there a Bourbon biscuit retirement home somewhere where all the millions of unwanted Bourbons go to moan about how unloved they were throughout their biscuity lives?

One last thing. Just what are Bourbons meant to taste of? It certainly isn't Bourbon as in the alcoholic beverage. The biscuit bit has the colour of chocolate, the cream stuff in the middle could be chocolate, but when you bite into it it tastes nothing like chocolate. I don't know, but one thing is for sure - next time I'm getting to the biscuit tin first.

January snowman...

Well, we had a little snow and, being who I am, I couldn't resist making a snowman at the front of the house. I collected the snow from parked cars and, whilst he was only two feet tall, I was quite pleased with the little chap sitting on the bench by the time he was finished. I think a couple of people were quite surprised to see this grown man in his late-fifties building a little snowman with not a sign of a child in sight. But then why would I want to grow up? It's what I do and who I am.

I didn't give him a name. But I did give him a carrot nose and a paintbrush in his hand. Perhaps I should call him Leonardo da Wintry.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Favourite words…

When I set out to record my top ten favourite words I didn’t realise that it would actually turn into twenty. Ten simply wasn’t enough, even twenty was pushing it; I even had to leave out flange, such a lovely word. Words are very personal things you see, and favourite words can say an awful lot about a person.

Of course, I like word games – scrabble, hangman, word search, call my bluff, although I’m not very big on crosswords – and words are powerful things. I hate it when I am lost for them which appears to be getting more frequent these days, sometimes forgetting the simplest of words and occasionally using the wrong won.

I’m not sure what my twenty words say about me, but I’ve written down their meaning and then tried to describe what they really mean to me which isn’t quite the same thing. Reading them back it seems that there are a couple of themes. Either I was a highwayman in a previous life or a bit of a Casanova, either way, given this collection of words, I think I must have a touch of cad (another favourite of mine) running in my veins.

Here they are and while I have your atttention, what’s your favourite word?

1. Flibbertigibbet
- a flighty or whimsical person, usually a young woman.
- I can smell perfume and powder as I write this.

2. Kafuffle
- a minor or meaningless tussle or fight of little consequence.
- sounds like a sneeze in an old Keystone Kops movie, except they were silent.

3. Comely
- pleasing and wholesome in appearance.
- pleasantly plump, full-lipped, young women drinking cider on a summery day.

4. Jiggery-pokery
- deceitful or dishonest behaviour.
- as it spits from my mouth it conjures up pictures of dark rooms and magic spells.

5. Serein
- refers to rain falling from a cloudless sky.
- the sort of rain that’s a fine, light drizzle, typically after dusk, just before I spot that unicorn.

6. Dalliance
- a period of brief or casual involvement with something or someone.
- I’ve had my fair share of these – enough said?

7. Gongoozle
- To stare aimlessly at the water, particularly a canal in Lincolnshire.
- I’m a gongoozler. I could stare at water all day. It Bamboozles and hoodwinks - 2 others I love.

8. Onomatopoeia
- the act of creating or using words that include sounds similar to the noises the words refer to.
- ‘pop’, ‘boom’, ‘squelch’ - I love the shape and sound of it makes as my mouth and tongue work hard.

9. Gusset
- a second layer of cloth sewn into a piece of clothing to make it larger, stronger, more comfortable.
- a very comfortable, soft, warm and woody word that always makes me smile.

10. Palaver
- prolonged and tedious fuss or discussion.
- cor blimey guvnor I’ll just fetch me barrer, chim chimmeny!

11. Swoon
- a fainting spell or a state of ecstasy or rapture.
- pretty maidens falling at my feet - what more could I ask for?

12. Fez
- a hat in shape of a truncated cone made of red felt, often with a tassel.
- just like that… Tommy Cooper and Casablanca.

13. Moist
- slightly wet.
- another word I find hard to say without grinning.

14. Debauchery
- excessive indulgence in sex, alcohol, or drugs.
- wench, bring me more porter and make sure not to tarry! Now where did I put my rapier?

15. Floppy
- tending to fall down or hang; loose and flexible.
- such a friendly word (now that the discs are no more), makes me think of fluffy bunny rabbits.

16. Haberdashery
- small items used in sewing, such as buttons, zips, and thread.
- I love a long word, especially one that smells of dusty, dark shops with lots of shelves.

17. Shenanigans
- secret or dishonest activity or maneuvering, high spirited behaviour, mischief.
- makes me feel like dancing a jig whilst drinking a pint of Guinness.

18. Quixotic
- extravagantly chivalrous or romantic; visionary, impractical, or impracticable.
- that’s me – just call me Donkey Heighty!

19. Turpitude
- depraved or wicked behaviour or character.
- me again.

20. Hullabaloo
- a loud noise or a condition of noisy confusion.
- my natural state, but with a hint of Disney.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Going dotty...

I think that I’m going dotty. The strangest things keep popping into my head; take dot-to-dotting for instance. I think that we must have all done a dot-to-dot puzzle at some time, they were in all the comics; even if they were pretty pointless as a puzzle.

I wonder what Vincent Van Gogh thought about dot-to-dot books, were they even around back then, and do children still do dot-to-dots I wonder? I guess that they must. I know when I was young I seemed to spend a high proportion of my time following the numbers and joining them up to find out what the picture was. Of course I could usually tell what it was before I started, but that didn’t stop me slavishly following the process.

I think it was dot-to-dot that got me interested in drawing, making an image appear on the paper was great, a bit like those magic painting books where the picture appeared when you brushed the page with water.

Of course, when I tried drawing for real I found that it wasn’t as easy without the dots. I could still see what it was before I started and for years I slavishly tried to draw exactly what I saw. I even used to make dots on the paper before I started drawing, positioning the key points and then joining them up with lines. It’s a common technique and one that I was taught at Art College years later.

Anyway, somewhere between the dots and my subject I became very dissatisfied. Even when I tried to join up all the dots it usually didn’t look like what I wanted it to. It would look like the thing I was drawing, but I was left with a feeling that it wasn’t what I wanted it to be.

I think that’s what happens when you slavishly try to draw what you see. It’s like that silly idea that when children ‘colour in’ they mustn’t go outside the lines. It’s outside the lines where all the good things happen and if you let yourself have a little freedom, who knows what you may create.

These days I’m not really interested in drawing exactly what I see. It’s a struggle because I’ve spent so many years following the dots and staying inside the lines, but I try. When I draw (which isn’t as often as I should) I’m happy to experiment a little, giving myself a freedom to draw what I feel and not worrying if the shapes aren’t exactly the same as the reality.

Like my life these days I don't follow the dots, I'm outside the lines, and I'm happy to just watch the picture appear. Maybe that’s what creativity is – freedom to do it your own way.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Time for tea...

There comes a time in every man’s life when alcohol just isn’t enough - or rather it all becomes too much. So, for one reason and another I’ve decided to try and reduce my alcohol intake and alternatives have had to be sought.

Obviously cigarettes and class ‘A’ drugs are out of the question; as are sweets; as one of the reasons for this little escapade of mine is that I’d quite like to lose some weight. I did consider exercise, but on reflection accepted that at this point, at least for the moment, anything other than a little light gardening is pretty much out of the question.  So, after much consideration I hit on something that might be just the thing - and that thing is tea.

Yes, tea. It’s time for tea.

Although I’ve never been a tea fanatic I’m willing to try anything to get me through 'one day at a time' as they say. I have taken my PG tips and Typhoo black for years, but the three sugars I take with it are hardly going to do much for my ‘losing a bit of weight’ regime. After much thought about coffee (another thing I’d quite like to avoid) I bit the bullet, threw macho caution to the wind, and purchased some peppermint teabags.

Yes, peppermint teabags, the tea old ladies drink.

I understand that peppermint tea helps you to relax. Not only that but if you drink several cups a day it is rumoured to fend off hunger pangs. I’m not sure how useful it is as an alcohol substitute but, as I’m only cutting down not going teetotal, I don’t think it can do any harm.

The funny thing is I quite like it - and the green tea and lemon teabags I’ve been experimenting with too.

Of course this is just the beginning. With the warmer weather coming I will be growing my own mint to make a blend all of my own and, as my G and T’s will be strictly limited, I’m sure a lemon or two will make it into my nice new glass cup and saucer. So, there you have it. I have become a gentleman who takes tea. Before you know it I’ll be grating a ginger infusion and getting my hair dyed lilac.

Whatever next, chamomile?

If you know of something tea-good please let me know.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Monstrous families...

Of course one of the big questions in the playground when I was a boy was which are you, Addams Family or Munsters?

Yes, the two spookiest TV families to come out of America were all the rage in my sixties childhood. We ran around arms outstretched pretending to be Lurch or Herman or waved imaginary capes and pulled vampire faces as we became Grampa Munster or Uncle Fester. It was such fun being a monster, and these TV monsters were so different from the monsters on Doctor Who or the real ones that hung around Manchester preying on young children.

Of course, there were similarities between The Munsters and The Addams Family. Both shows had a spooky Gothic house and featured families of horror-movie characters straight out of a Hammer film. They were so not the way America was generally portrayed in Peyton Place and Doctor Kildare. Their world wasn’t perfect; they were misfits in the buttoned-down suburban community they lived in, they were struggling for acceptance. Maybe that’s why I found them so fascinating. I often felt like I didn’t fit in or belong either.

I watched both and soon saw that the two shows were quite different in tone and characterisation. The Addams Family were wealthy eccentrics (well, they did first appear in the New Yorker magazine in the thirties) who spent most of their time at home; a kind of monster aristocracy. The Munsters on the other hand, were a blue-collar family with Herman going off to work each day with a peck on the cheek and his lunchbox. They were more your everyday friendly family of legendary monsters and one of them, Marilyn, wasn’t even a monster at all.

The theme tunes underlined that too. The click-click trendiness of the Addams Family song compared to the jaunty up-beat swinging guitars of The Munsters. Yes, The Addams Family were altogether ookie, maybe just a little too ookie for me with their hip New York ways, addictions and strange psychoses. Mind you it wasn’t just TV horror families who had issues and pretended not to.

The Munsters on the other hand were laid back Californian hicks and of the two I preferred the Munsters. Herman was a goofy friendly giant whilst Gomez was more sinister. Lily Munster was pretty sexy, but Morticia was overly sexy to my schoolboy eye; not that I knew much about monster women or what sexy was back then. And when it came to the kids – well, I didn’t like Pugsley at all.

Perhaps because he reminded me too much of myself.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Counting crows...

Well not quite, as the closest I got to a crow was a jackdaw.

Today was the day of the RSPB's  Big Garden Birdwatch. I've taken part in it a few times and, as I was at the cottage in Wales, decided to join in again. The bird watching at the cottage is usually pretty good, unlike at home where we are lucky to see our tame robin or the pair of blue tits who live in the alley, so I always try to make sure that I'm in Wales for the count.

The recording rules dictate that you only count and mark down the highest number of a single type of bird seen at once in your garden at any one time over the space of an hour. Of course there might be many more that the 7 greenfinches visting the garden that I was able to record. But how would I know if they were different to my magnificent seven? One greenfinch looks much the same as another to a point.

I stocked all the feeders well, even bought some specialist songbird seed to attract our feathered friends. A few years ago I did exceptionally well. All the usuals including long-tailed tits, and that year I also got a wren, a greater spotted woodpecker and, just outside of the hour limit but I counted it anyway, a nuthatch.

This year wasn't as spectacular as that but I was able to record 2 blackbirds, 3 blue tits, 4 chaffinches, 2 collared doves, 2 dunnocks, 2 goldfinches, a single great tit, a squabble of 7 greenfinches, 5 sparrows, 2 starlings, and a very faithful and almost always present robin. The jackdaw appeared on the hedge for a moment and there were lots of gulls overhead, but you are not allowed to count any birds flying over your garden. A pity really as there were two buzzards circling up high.

So that's that for another year. My results are posted on the RSPB website. I wonder what trends it'll spot?

Thursday, 22 January 2015

The greatest discovery since fire...

I don’t know where you stand on microwave ovens (not that standing on them anywhere is recommended) but for me they are one of those things I have as a required necessity, but hardly ever use. Yes, I know they cook things quickly and are very energy efficient, but somehow the idea of cooking my dinner in something resembling a television set doesn’t really appeal.

Of course, I’m a little too old to be a fully paid up member of the ping-and-ding generation. If I had my way we’d probably be cooking on open fires built into our fireplaces, and when it comes to food I really do believe that slow and steady catchy monkey. Not that I am recommending that you cook a monkey you understand, that would be cruel and probably illegal.

I have tried cooking in a microwave. Once I even made a microwaved ‘steamed’ pudding from scratch. Unfortunately it resembled and had almost the same texture as a lump of cement. Since then microwave ovens have been a tool to defrost and reheat precooked vegetables, rather than a cooking device.

This brings me to my point. We recently purchased a brand new and extremely shiny microwave as the old one had begun to, as they all seem to do, rust inside. The old one was old in microwave years, one of those microwaves where you set the heat setting, moved the time to the number of minutes you required, closed the door with a clunk, and sat back to wait for that ‘I’m ready’ ding. But at least I could use it.

The new one isn’t like that at all. The new one has programmes and requires a degree in electronics to make it do anything. I can’t work the timer, I can’t set it to defrost, and as for the automatic programmes – why would I want a programme to heat a fish finger? I have a perfectly good frying pan and don’t even eat fish fingers.

Today I needed to defrost some beef for a beef Bourguignon (that’s posh for stew in French). Do you think I could do it? Do you think I could work out how to set the bloody thing to defrost? Well, in words on one syllable: No I blood ee could not. In the end I had to put the meat on the defrost tray and wait, and wait, and wait.

It might be able to bake a potato in 4 minutes, cook a hamburger in 60 seconds, it might even be able to boil a 5-lb roast in 35 minutes, but the greatest discovery since fire?

I don’t blood ee think so.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Running out of juice…

Why did the orange stop? It ran out of juice.

I may have mentioned that I’m going through a lull, one of those times where my creative juices don’t seem to be flowing very freely. I guess most people don’t worry about these things, but I do. It’s almost as if my life is a bit less lived when I don’t feel the urge to create something. Of course I could always force myself, but what is the point of that? Forced thrills aren’t thrilling at all.

I’m sure that there are people in this world who wake up each morning full of the creative vibe and ready to create from the moment they’ve finished their muesli. These are the people that make it their business to be creative each and every moment of the day and who, sometimes at least, have huge success with their outputs. I’m thinking Picasso, Stephen King, David Bowie. They are (or were) fountains of creative juice that can’t be stemmed.

I’m not one of those. Compared to these, and so many more, I’m a trickle.

Of course they say that there’s a creative process. Is that really true? Surely process kills creativity; at least it does in my experience of being creative. Process, a series of actions or steps taken in order to achieve a particular end, is by definition ordered and planned and surely that isn’t what getting the creative juices flowing is all about. Isn’t creativity a little bit chaotic, anarchic, random, and isn’t that what attracted me to it in the first place?

Is it?

I suppose that it could be. After all, when making an omelette it’s no use cracking the eggs after the other ingredients have been eaten. Perhaps my approach is too random; maybe I should try harder and work to a method. Perhaps I already am, or maybe I’m too structured. What if the true creative cracks those eggs at the end of the process, what if he never cracks them at all?

I’m talking nonsense now I think. Even so, getting the creative juices flowing is such an effort sometimes, almost painful, so difficult. Sometimes it’s bound to be nonsense. Sometimes I find myself asking why I do it. Why do I even bother to try when most of the time it’s a struggle and all of the time it’s a disappointment?

The answer to that question is that I don’t know, I really don’t know – and if I don’t know then maybe I should stop.

Or do it more.

Perhaps that orange should have been clockwork; rather than relying on juice.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A short boat trip...

There really is no blog tonight. I could talk about the great job I've done cleaning the ovens over the last couple of days, or the weather (the bitter cold which has had me shivering all day), I suppose I could even moan about my health. But as I said there really isn't much of a blog tonight.

I get spells like this. Times when next to nothing much seems to happen or catches my interest much. Mind you, I did read on the web today that Bangor Pier is going to try to get a lottery grant. I hope that they get it. It's a shame watching the pier dropping piece by piece into the sea. The council plan to make it into a tourist attraction again, even build some more kiosks. Maybe they'll even restore the jetty and run a ferry across to Beaumaris like they used to do years ago. If they do I'd like to take a trip on it.

I wonder if the captain would get bored? After all, Beaumaris can't be more that twenty minutes away even for a very slow boat. Backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards. I'm sure that there would be plenty to see, but after the first couple of hundred trips most things would be on repeat. Sometimes my life feels like that, not that I mind, sometimes I think I might even prefer it that way.

Oh well, that's that. Maybe I'll be a little more inspired tomorrow.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Bernie the bolt...

I don’t know why but I’d assumed that Revels had gone the way of Spangles, Fruit Polos, the magnificent Aztec Bar and been assigned to the great sweet graveyard in the sky. Then wandering around my supermarket today I found some on the shelf; not the packaging I remember, but Revels just the same.

Back in the late sixties and seventies I remember them well. An alternative to straight Maltesers, not quite a Poppet, definitely Galaxy Counteresqe, but nothing like a Smartie.

I remember the flavours well too, can even taste them as I write this - orange creme, coconut, toffee, peanut, Galaxy Counter and Malteser. I hated the coconut and lots of other people must have felt like me as Mars replaced them with coffee creme - which I also hated. At around the same time they also dropped the peanuts (probably a nut allergy thing) and changed them to raisins – much to my disappointment.

For some reason I have always associated Revels with The Golden Shot, that strange crossbow quiz show where Bernie shot his bolt to the instructions of the contestants… Up a bit, down a bit, up a bit, fire! Yes, we've all had fun with that since we grew up a little.

Maybe they were a Sunday afternoon treat, but in terms of treat they weren’t very treatful. The coconut was oily, the orange sickly, the Counters and Maltesers boring, and only the nut (later the raisin) was really enjoyable.

Perhaps like The Golden Shot it was all about chance; a kind of sweet Russian roulette. After all you never knew exactly what you were going to get next and if you were really unlucky it could be the coffee – YUK! It must have been about a one-in-six chance of coffee and the faces my sisters used to pull when they got one was really comical.  Sometimes you would get a packet that was choc-full of orange ones, other times a glut of peanuts, but never a plethora of the coffee - they were quite rare (thank goodness).

Funnily these days I love coffee flavoured sweets. If Revels were guaranteed to have lots of coffee ones I’d definitely buy them. But too many orange cremes? Well, let’s just say I’m not prepared to take the chance.

Bernie the bolt!

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Hubble bubble…

There comes a time when the aches and pains, the dry skin and pimples, the lethargy and fuzziness need to be addressed. So when I discovered an ancient magic potion in an old book I found it the attic covered in dust and cobwebs, a recipe for an elixir of youth - well, you simply don’t know until you try it do you?

The old leather bound tome claims that this ancient herbal potion can cure all sorts of chronic conditions and diseases. It encourages the circulation, purifies blood, strengthens the immune system, acts as an antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and antiparasitic medicine, it assists in even the most severe infections. It was even used to cure the plague!

The secret is in the medicinal combination of high-quality natural and fresh ingredients: Garlic is a strong antibiotic as is Onion, Horseradish is a purifier, Ginger is an anti-inflammatory, Chilies stimulate circulation, Turmeric fights infection and reduces inflammation, and Apple Cider Vinegar cleanses the arteries.

Of course, I added eye of toad and a dead mans finger, but only because I had it to hand. The recipe says that they are both optional.

All I have to do now is wait a couple of weeks and then knock back one or two liqueur glasses per day. Anyway, for those of you that are interested here’s what you need to do to make your very own Elixir of Youth. WARNING - This stuff is really hot so it isn't for the fainthearted.

- 700 ml apple cider vinegar.
- 4 Tablespoons cup finely chopped garlic
- 4 Tablespoons finely chopped onion
- 2 fresh chili peppers, the hottest you can find (I used Scotch Bonnets)
- 4 Tablespoons grated ginger
- 2 Tablespoons grated horseradish
- 2 Tablespoons turmeric powder or 2 pieces of turmeric root

1. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, except for the vinegar.
2. Transfer the mixture to a Kilner type jar.
3. Pour in some apple cider vinegar and fill it to the top. It is best if 2/3 of the jar consists of dry ingredients then fill to the top with vinegar.
4. Close and shake.

Keep the jar in a cool and dry place for 2 weeks. Shake well several times a day. After 14 days, squeeze well and strain the liquid through a strainer or better still a muslin cloth. Squeeze well so the whole juice comes out and pour into an old bottle, making sure there isn't a genie inside it first. Your potion is now ready to imbibe.

I wonder if it’ll make me howl like a wolf?

Friday, 16 January 2015

Oh, we're going to...

I'm putting this here so that I don't forget. Well, this is my record and if it isn't here then where?

I'm not one for spoiling myself, the parting with money is never easy, but for once in my life I have (in my eyes at least) gone mad. Yes, I've booked a holiday in a three bedroom beach house in Barbados in August for two weeks. No matter that my old beaten up Mazda 6 is on its last legs and our settees are becoming worn. Who cares if my income is fixed and times are hard? I had a little money put aside for a moment of madness and this moment has turned out to be it.

Of course I am struggling with my conscience. I could have left that money in my savings account getting practically no interest, better still tied it up for five years and made a few hundred quid. But we haven''t been on holiday abroad for over ten years and I'm not getting any younger. Besides this is Gaynor's fiftieth year (Gaynor's the wife that many people mistake for my daughter), our Silver Wedding Anniversary, and our daughter Holly's 21st - so what better time to splash out on what will probably be our last holiday together?

We honeymooned in Barbados, and when Holly was ten had a great family holiday there together. We stayed in apartments on Hasting beach, nowhere near as grand as this. Yes, it's time to go back, time to make that splash  with its plunge pool, Gibbs Beach at the bottom of the garden, maid and cook, terrace, wet bar, barbecue, air conditioning, turtles, I won't go on. I'm sure there will be lots to tell when we get there.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Back yard, January - here we go again…

I braved the January cold today and tidied my back yard. I vowed that the first dry day we got I was going to do it and, as today was sunny albeit bitterly cold, that is exactly what I did. It didn’t need much tidying really. The last of the fallen leaves needed picking up, the cobbles needed a sweep, some of the plants from last year needed a trim, but really that was that. Of course the edging needs re-cementing – a few of the edging blocks have come loose with the rain - but that can wait for a warmer day.

Why is it that the wind never blows until you have swept things into a pile? It seems he knows when you are about to pick it up and the minute you reach for the shovel – whoosh! I swear I heard one of my stone cats laugh as he watched me chasing the dancing leaves around.

I was surprised by what I found still going strong. Of course the bulbs are through and the snapdragons seem to be no worse for the frost. But I wasn’t expecting to find a camellia in fine leaf in a pot, particularly as it was potted two years ago and didn’t show any signs of life at all last year. My chocolate cosmos’ tuber seems to have doubled in size and is going to need re-potting this year. I really must find a nicer pot for it, the plastic one it’s in at the moment simply won’t do. And I’m really not sure what to do with the stragglers from last year - pull them up or leave them in - but I think that decision can wait until spring.

And that’s where I’ll leave it for now; an almost blank canvas waiting for the gardening brush to paint some sunshine onto my little back yard.

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

No excuse...

The thing with having plenty of time is that there's no excuse to put off the things that you haven't done because you have been too busy. I've been thinking about cleaning the living room carpet for ages; but thinking about it was as far as it got. Having a beige flat pile carpet is great in many ways, but when it comes to those frequent traffic areas - well, it ends up looking like a beige carpet with not so beige pathways dotted around the coffee table. Of course our love of open fires doesn't help, nor the dripping wax from the candles, and then there's the red wine...

Today I decided to man up and get the carpet cleaned. Of course I could have called a carpet cleaning company, but with time to do it that didn't seem right and besides, a man has to do what a man has to do.

As a child my mother would take our living room carpet outside and scrub it in the sunshine on the front lawn. She used 1001 carpet cleaner which, as the television ad jingled, 'cleaned a big, big carpet for less than half-a-crown'. Today wasn't sunny and of course our carpets are fitted, but that didn't stop me from using the 'old ways' to get our carpet spick and span.

Yes, no carpet cleaning machine for me. I plumped for spray foam from cans, a good stiff broom and our electric steam mop. My reason for doing this was that I couldn't be arsed to go to Tesco's, hire the machine, and then bump into furniture as I moved the unwieldy device around the floor. Spray cans and my trusty steam mop were far more flexible and, with the addition of a tough stain spray diffuser, a scrubbing brush and plenty of elbow grease and grooans, the carpet was brilliantly clean in a couple of hours.

A job well done, even if I say so myself and for less than a tenner. One thing though. I found myself whistling the 1001 jingle as I cleaned, and that hasn't been on TV since the sixties. Funny how these thing stick.

Monday, 12 January 2015


As it turns out my life has ended up pretty much as I wanted it to, well apart from the good looks and fame. My hand writing is nice though and I have a new idea every six minutes exactly. I don’t bleat like a sheep either.

Of course to get here has not been without its trials, tribulations and sacrifices. But life without regret seems to me to probably be a life half -lived and I’m pretty sure that my life has been three-quarter lived at least - even if a quarter of it has been lived inside my head.

Yes, a new idea every six minutes, sometimes even more frequently than that. That's 180 ideas a day, more if you count the slightly weird ideas I have whilst I'm asleep. A few more if you count the even weirder ideas that pop into my head when I am dreaming.

Here’s one.

It seems that rather than me shaping my life, life has shaped me. I am the sum of all life has had to offer and thrown at me. I’m not even sure that I had much choice in a lot of it. Oh, I know that people say ‘it’s your choice’, but ultimately it often isn’t. There are so many factors that contribute to the things that we do and the decisions we make and ultimately – are we really making choices at all?

You go to a restaurant and you have a choice about what to eat, but it’s really just what’s on the menu. You don’t get a choice about whether you catch a cold; you either catch one or you don’t. You can go fishing but that doesn’t mean you will catch a fish, although every fisherman knows that he or she would choose to. I doubt that there are many people who would choose to be in an exploding building, or a car accident, or in that plane when the engines fail. But lots of people find themselves in that awful predicament.

Choice? I don’t think so. It’s the wind of life that shapes us. Sometimes a breeze, a zephyr, often a gust or a dust devil, occasionally even a hurricane, but no matter its force or even its direction there isn’t much we can do to stop it.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Not the first sign of spring...

I won't say that it's the first sign of spring, not just yet at least, I'm sure that winter still has a lot more to throw at us. But one of my snowdrops, just one, is starting to come into flower and another doesn't look to be far behind.

I'm growing them in a old clay pot outdoors and of the ten bulbs I planted only three so far have shown any signs of coming up, this one quite a bit ahead of the rest.

I wonder why that is? Just what is it that makes one bulb break through whilst another stays asleep in the ground?

I have a single daffodil too that seems to be in something of a hurry for spring. I can just see the bud forming, yellow petals beneath the shield of green, another early bird who I hope doesn't catch the worm - or at least the slug.

No, it isn't spring yet. But things are beginning to move in the garden. It won't be long before I'm seized by that dratted gardening bug all over again and what then?

Saturday, 10 January 2015

A secret lemonade drinker...

When you fancy a gin and tonic, nothing else will do. It's a simple clean drink and all you need is some Gin, Schweppes' tonic water, a slice of lemon and some ice.

Ice! Going to the freezer I found that there wasn't any.

Not to worry we have a second freezer in the cellar, but DISASTER! The Christmas drinkfest had depleted our second freezer of ice too and for some reason (probably the haze created by the Christmas drinfest) neither of us had filled those fiddly plastic ice-making bags and bothered to make some more. Now there's nothing worse than a warm gin and tonic (well there are lots of things worse but you know what I mean). What was I to do?

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and where there's a will there's away, and let's not forget (thanks Mr Shakespeare) that adversity makes strange bedfellows. At the back of the freezer I found some R. Whites' lemonade ice lollies. R. Whites' and gin and tonic - strange bedfellows indeed, but that should do the trick and cool our warm gin and tonics!

And it did. I broke a lolly in half, giving the chosen one the stick in case it choked me, and voila! Ice cold gin and tonic. The lemonade lolly even added an extra oomph to the flavour of the gin. Not bad for a quick fix.

I guess that's one way to become a secret lemonade drinker and not a bad one at that. I really must try the dance.

Friday, 9 January 2015

That’s that then...

Yes, that’s that then.

After over three year the Odd Glass Shop at the Emporium on the Downs (formerly Trader's Outlet or No 16 or Waterloo Mill) is no more. The corner where I painted my glass (surrounded by all manner of mess) is empty, my shelves are broken down and stored in my dining room, my remaining stock boxed and stacked in the lounge upstairs.

It’s a strange feeling not turning up for glass painting business each morning; I’d often do six days a week. I wasn’t busy, except at Christmas, but it was a way to pass the time and of course I am nothing without my routine.

I've no idea how many businesses set up and closed down over the three years I was there, but it must have been hundreds. Bike shops, jewellers, hairdressers, gifts, interior designers, pet supplies, ladies fashions, gents accessories, a florist, beauticians, vintage this and vintage that, bric-a-brac, cup cakes, artists, craft supplies, even a masseuse (wink, wink).

The traders themselves were a strange mixture of dreamers, entrepreneurs, rogues, lazy good-for-nothings, and talented creatives with a smattering of egotistical maniacs and the odd nutter or two. I’ll leave you to decide which pigeonhole I fit into.

The owners were of course a different kettle of fish altogether and a little fishy to boot. They were capable of some of the most incompetent and bad businesslike actions I've ever witnessed. Still, it takes all sorts and ultimately they gave me a place to develop my funny little business so (in true Bob Cratchit fashion) I thank them for that.

I shall miss my shop, I think I was there longer than any of the others in the end, but as the saying goes – as one door closes another door opens and I’m off to new premises next month to do it all again.

Thinking about it, I’m probably one of the nutters.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

A nail in Gods coffin...

I don't want to write too much about those awful Paris murders, there are people who can do that far better than I, but I fail to understand how a few silly drawings can possibly justify the murder of twelve people. I'm not easily offended, and I can't think of a single religious joke that is going to offend me, but then I'm not a believer.

Thank God.

Besides, we chose to be offended, it isn't a given. When I stop to think about it there are things that do offend me - child abuse, fanatical murder, a world where freedom of speech seems to be getting harder each passing day - I can get quite angry. Of course, I wouldn't murder for any of these things, but then I'm not a murderer. Allah is just an excuse.

Today someone I know put forward the view that those French cartoonist had been pretty stupid to poke fun at religion, particularly Islam. He said that they should have known that they would be targeted and killed. I found his view offensive, but I didn't kill him. He's entitled to his view even though I don't believe that people with sharp pencils and even sharper wits deserve to die for their doodles.

If belief can make men do the things they do in the name of some unseen being then I don't want any part of it. Oh I know that it isn't really about religion, I know it's more about the individuals involved, and I know that if it wasn't the good name Allah then these murderers would find another reason to kill. But for me it's just one more nail in God's coffin, regardless of the God. Mysterious ways? My arse. Jehovah, Allah, Jesus Christ, Vishnu - damn your names and the people that kill and maim for you in your names; to my mind you are no better than the devil - worse probably, at least the devil admits to his evil.

There, I wasn't going to say much, but I have. Maybe too much. Not enough to get me murdered though surely?

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Special sky...

I woke up this morning with the whole of the rest of my life stretching out before me. So that was a relief, especially as there was such a special sky.

There is something about a particular kind of winter sky that makes me feel so content and happy. I do know why, but it’s hard to explain. I'll try though and I’ll start with the sky itself.

In some ways it’s a storm sky; pink tinged, orange blue, a strange light making everything seem just a little bit more real, more solid somehow. There’s the slight threat of snow, although it’s usually rain, and the air seems empty, far emptier than it should. Sound carries and, even when there is no wind, the wind whistles somewhere. It’s the type of sky that makes me feel alive and I find myself outside staring up at it, a huge grin on my face with the whole of the rest of my life stretching out before me.

As for the why, well, that sky makes me feel free; free and alive in a life where anything I want to be possible is possible. Free to do what I want any old time if you like; but only if I want to do and I like. I have choice; choice because I am at that stage in my life where I have nothing to prove, nobody to impress, nothing driving me towards whatever it was I was once driven by, time to be me, the opportunity to develop my character, a chance not to care, or to care, or to be indifferent, or different.

It’s a sky full of not giving a hoot and caring about the things that are worth caring about.

It’s almost like being a child again; a naughty boy pretending to be ill so that I could stay off school at my Gran’s house, watching that same sky scud through the kitchen window and dreaming of skating on wooden skates along a canal in a long-ago Holland.

As free as the inland gull that drifted on the wind above my head this morning, bathed in the pink light of that special sky, above the chimney pots, far from the sea and caught up in the wind which wasn’t whistling even though it was.

See, I told you that it was hard to explain.

Monday, 5 January 2015

About the Welsh Moon...

So it's back from Wales and in the blinking of an eye all the festivities are forgotten as the real world comes crashing in. Fortunately for me my real world is pretty simple, even simpler at the minute as I wait for my new shop to open. Even so, my first night home last night and I found myself awake at four and then had the devil of a job to get back to sleep again.

Maybe it was knowing that now I'm home my regular routine will kick in - up at sevenish and not the lazy start to the day I (so quickly) got used to in Wales. I have glass to paint, words to write, gardens to tidy, carpets to clean, blogs to read and write, Facebook to trawl, holidays to plan, emails to answer. My goodness I am such a busy bee in my own relaxed way.

Yes, maybe it was that, or maybe it was that I didn't have the Welsh moon with me to ponder on.

The Welsh moon is different to the moon back home you see. He sits above the mountain and glows, his rays entering my bedroom window at the back of the cottage where I refuse curtains. Sometimes one of his moonbeams will creep into the corner of the room, the corner where the door is, and play (ice white) upon the polished dark pine surface, glinting on the dull brass doorknob.

That cold Welsh winter moon; he makes me feel so safe and warm and sleepy, I watch him sing from beneath my layers of duvets, at least ten inches thick and soft. Luna watches him too as she lies upon the covers and sometimes jumps down to the door to catch the white moonlight - making her crackle almost blue in the darkness.

The Welsh moon, he's always with me. All I have to do is think of him and he's there.

I still couldn't sleep though.

On New Year's Day...

New Year's Day in Wales, windy and wet, a day to stay indoors. The wind howls like the dog who bit me last night. He's beginning to loosen his grip now and the beer I am slowly sipping is flattening his hair.
I set my rocket soaring into the sky after midnight, green and blue to mark the passing of another year and not a bad one. The wind was so strong it blew my rocket over four or five times, but I got there in the end. Whooosh as my message was flown into the night sky.
Sometimes it's a lantern or a small fire, turning the flames blue with salt. Once I walked to the standing stone and listened to it hum. Another time I stood and watched until a shooting star flew over my head, just catching it from the corner of my eye. Some years I walk to the bridge and drop the message into the dark stream below.
Just another of my rituals, seeing the early New Year in alone with my New Year's Eve madness, then in to drink liquid fire until I fall asleep.
What do my messages say? Ah, that would be telling. But I'd rather dance to a tune of my own making after the songs have been sung and the bells are chimed out.
Yes, the New Year has started.