Saturday, 28 February 2015

Tax disc 2016...

I had to tax my car today. Online of course. No visit to the post office required. It almost broke my heart.

Over two hundred and fifty quid to drive on potholed roads with so many roadworks that you spend a fortune in extra petrol on detouring, so much traffic at such a standstill that you lose days of your life simply sitting behind the wheel going nowhere, and the bloody police with nothing better to do that pick you up for going thirty-five in a thirty mph speed limit when there are no houses in sight, no other cars within two miles and it's four o'clock in the frigging morning anyway.

Two hundred and sixty-five quid and they don't even send me a sodding tax disc to display on my windscreen.

Well, bugger them, I've made my own!

Thursday, 26 February 2015


I love the places where the sky meets the sea and the sea meets the land.

It's the linear aspects that hold my attention.

Sometimes it is so hard to ignore the lines and concentrate on the movement. But for me it's the movement that counts, the way the wind seems to blow the light around,and the way the light seems to bend the wind.

Of course the seagulls seem to have mastered it all - land, sea, and sky. They strut around on land, soar in the air, dive deep like white arrows into the sea - and all for food.

Sometimes I feed the gulls with bread. I know that I shouldn't, but I love to watch them swoop and catch it mid-air in their long yellow beaks or dive down to the water to snatch it up before another can get to it.

Long lines of white moving seamlessly between the lines of land, sea, and sky. All caught in the movement, all moved by the wind.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Snow at sea...

I painted this after a winter’s walk. The storm, far out at sea, seemed to be a turmoil of colour and movement. I watched it, clicking away on my camera, for a while and realised it was moving towards the headland where I stood watching. The wind stiffened and suddenly I could feel the snow in the air even though I couldn’t see it and the wind picking up my scarf like a tatty tartan flag even though the sun was still shining.

It didn’t take long to get to me and then, in a strange mix of snow and hail, I was walking as quickly as I could away from the approaching darkness. The car  a warm welcome relief when I eventually reached it.

Back home, I immediately sketched out what I’d seen in pastel on canvas and later, over the course of a couple of days, tried to capture in oil paint what I’d seen and more importantly how it had felt.

I think I nearly managed it.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Lizard limerick...

Meet Fred my tin lizard. I brought him back from Antigua many years ago and now his sits on the warm orange kitchen wall at my cottage. Some days, especially on freezing cold ones like today, I think how nice it would be to be a lizard basking in the sun. Of course lizards are naturally cold blooded creatures, and I have a lot hot blood running through my veins, sometimes more often than is wise, but is there anything as cool as a lizard lounging?

I think that in many ways the lizard life would suit me. A cold blooded animal doesn’t need to use internally generated energy to regulate its body temperature, so I would need far less energy than I do at the moment. Not that I have that much energy to spare in the first place. Yes, because of my damned human mechanism I need to maintain my body temperature within a certain range, regardless of the temperature around me. This requires lots of energy that I get by gobbling down lots of meals. If I were a lizard I wouldn’t need to eat as often as I do, maybe just a single meal every few weeks. So I wouldn’t be fat and I wouldn’t be sweaty, which might mean I could pull the lady lizards.

As for habitat, cold blooded animals thrive in remote areas like small islands and even deserts where food is too scarce to support warm blooded creatures. An island would suit me just fine. Imagine having an island pretty much to yourself like a lizard Robinson Crusoe. I could be the lizard king; how cool would that be?

Best of all the cold blooded brains of lizards tend to be less complex and use less energy than warm bloods. How great it would be to not have to think about all the crap that I do think about, like food and energy bills and blogging and feeling cold and soap operas.

Of course there are downsides to being a lizard. Women scream if they see you on the ceiling and tell their men to knock you down and stamp you to squish, cats chase you just so they can pull off your tail (mind you it does grow back), and if you are really unlucky you might become a tasty snack for a passing seagull. But what a colourful life it would be. From the tip of my tail to the ends of my sucker toes I’d exude colour like a lizardly rainbow – and that would be good enough for me.

Anyway, here's a limerick about Fred the lizard.

There once was a lizard named Fred,
Who loved to bask on his bed.
His bed was concrete.
Wait! It was the street!
And that’s why Fred is now dead.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Summer bulb roulette…

I haven’t blogged for a while. I don’t know why, maybe I don’t have much to say at the moment or maybe I just don’t need the stress. Today though, I have been thinking forward to summer and it made me want to tell you about it.

There have been signs of spring despite all the rain; a smattering of sunshine and long-tailed tits skittering around the feeders in Wales. I’ve put up another couple of nesting boxes in the holly tree and I have the scratches on my arms to prove it. Going up the ladders to fix the boxes has become a major challenge it seems, but if I get a pair of nesting blue tits – or even sparrows – it’ll be worth it.

Back at home my thoughts have turned to summer planting. I like to grow from scratch rather than raid the garden centre for an instant garden and this year I am trying something I’ve never really tried before. Over the last few weeks I’ve been planting summer bulbs. I’ve planted so many and in so many varieties that this morning, when I was positioning the latest couple of hundred, I kept meeting the couple of hundred I planted last week.

I didn't realise that I'd bought so many, they covered my garden table and only cost a tenner. Most of my bulbs have come from discount stores or pound shops and because of my lack of a planting plan I have no idea what is where, how the back yard will look when the bulbs come into their own, or even how much in total I have spent. This is new for me and I feel quite excited at the ‘risks’ I am taking.

The only rules that I've used are to plant in odd numbered clumps closely together ignoring the instructions and making sure that the smaller bulbs (oxalis, sparaxis, alium) are at the front of the border, taller ones (callianthus, homereia, ixia) behind them in the middle, and the lilies and really tall stuff at the back. I’ve also planted a few ‘specimen’ bulbs in strategic places, pots, and baskets (Peruvian daffodils, trailing begonia, tuberosa, mirabilis, crocosmia Lucifer).

I’ve lost count of how many bulbs I’ve planted, even forgotten some of the varieties as I foolishly didn’t keep all the labels. It’s a bit like playing gardening roulette and I have no clear picture in my head how it will look.

Of course I will still grow my sunflowers (some things can’t not be done) but I’m hoping that my experimental bulb garden will pretty much take care of itself. Time will tell I’m sure, but if they all come to flower it should at least be a colourful backyard this summer.

Friday, 13 February 2015

The price of fish…

Last night was one of those nights when I knew that going to bed was going to take me a while. A combination of evening hospital visiting, eating late, drinking red wine and the tragically early death of Steve Strange all combined to make my eyes stay open longer than is ever good for me.

I’ve always thought of Steve Strange as the Malcolm McLaren of the New Romantics. If not for him there probably wouldn’t have been any Spandau Ballet or Culture Club, there certainly wouldn’t have been Visage. Good thing or bad thing? I don’t know. I was a little too old for New Romanticism although of course it affected the music I listened to and the clothes I wore in my twenties. Poor Steve, he was only fifty-five, just a couple of years younger than me.

When I can’t sleep I sometimes doodle and when I doodle I often doodle fish. I’ve been doodling fish doodles since I was five and since my teens if I doodle a fish I usually get a touch of the Breugels. Oddly I never set out to doodle fish, they just arrive and once I’ve started even if I try to doodle something else it ends up quite often looking like a fish. Yes some of the fish in this doodle aren’t really fish at all – but then again of course they are.

I remember watching a report on the TV about the new romantics in the late seventies or early eighties. The clubbers from Blitz all dressed up in their finery - Dracula and gladiators, nuns, East End teds and posh boys. A not quite grown-up fancy dress really and when I saw boy George I remember thinking ‘look at that and the price of fish’ - a saying that I’ve never really understood but seemed so apt.

Anyway, it was about three before I went to bed. I fell asleep almost immediately and dreamed of a Breugal landscape and a man with a fish painted on his face.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

A penny for them...

Today has been one of those days that if you were to offer me a penny for my thoughts I'd have been overcharging. I don't know what it is that is making me feel so flat and grey, certainly the weather - also flat and grey - isn't helping but it doesn't usually make me feel so empty and listless.

Nothing is flowing and I spent the day trying to get on with things only to find that I wasn't getting on with them at all. It didn't turn out well. Perhaps it's the time of year. Perhaps I need a new challenge. Perhaps I just need to buck my ideas up.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Fading roses...

I’m not a rose devotee. Somehow there’s something about their lushness that makes me feel that they are a little too showy, a bit too blousy for my tastes.

I don’t really like their perfume either It's too heady and cloying. I prefer the smell of wild mint or sweet peas.

Then of course there are those thorns. I’ve been spiked and torn so many times I should know better by now, but it seems that I never learn and, quite stupidly, keep the gloves off until the blood flows free.

It’s only when they begin to fade that I really warm to them. It’s almost as if as they fall from vigour they take on an ethereal beauty that they didn’t possess in full life. The petals, slowly turning and fracturing with browned paper edges, look softer somehow; more delicate than they were in the fresh high colour of youth.

They seem gentler, their thorns not as wickedly angry and their leaves, which were once such a distraction, superfluous almost as they fall leaving the stem naked and straight. They lose there scent too; not completely but it becomes more bearable as age dilutes, mellows, and turns it into an echo of the miasma it once was.

Anyway, I’ve hung these roses from a string in the cellar to dry. I'm hoping I've caught them before they fall. Who knows, they may retain some of their lilac or they may turn to a gentle grey. Either way - with beauty in such short supply - I think it’s worth trying to preserve some of theirs at least for a while.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The mysteries of the Orient...

The world is full of mysteries. Today the mystery that arrived through my letterbox was a stainless steel watch strap, purchased on ebay, and sent to me from ChinaGuangzhou to be precise.

Guangzhou (also known as Canton) is a mere 5,907.622 miles away from my house. It’s the capital and largest city of Guangdong province in South China. Located on the Pearl River, about 75 miles north-northwest of Hong Kong and 90 miles north of Macau, it’s the third-largest Chinese city and the largest city in South Central China and has a population of 13 million.

Of course I’ve never been there, but I would imagine that it’s a very different place to my own road, a place of intrigue and mysticism maybe, of Chinese Tongs and street gangs, a teeming metropolis where anything and everything is possible. You see I told you I’d never been there.

Anyway, the watch strap.

The watch strap is for a watch I rarely use and displays the time in two places simultaneously. It isn’t an expensive affair and it had been hidden away in a drawer until I came across it a few weeks ago. I hate things lying idle and - once I’d replaced the batteries - it worked just fine the only problem being that the watch strap didn’t fit comfortably. In reality I don’t suppose it ever did and I decided to replace the strap from the original black leather to a stainless steel bracelet.

I trawled ebay and soon found what I was looking for with prices ranging from twenty quid plus postage to an incredibly cheap £1.63 post free from Hong Kong. Of course for £1.63 (including postage) it had to be a pretty poor watch strap. But, as £1.63 isn’t even the cost of a cup of coffee, what had I to lose?

I sent for it prepared to be disappointed and two weeks later (today) it arrived. Much to my surprise I wasn’t disappointed at all. It’s a perfectly good stainless steel watch strap and, after a few clumsy attempts to get those pin things in place properly, it fitted both the watch and my wrist perfectly.

It’s a mystery how they managed to make the strap for the price, but there’s a bigger mystery to my mind concerning the postage. For me to send a small parcel across the road by Royal Mail it would cost me £2.80 second class. To send a parcel abroad (even to China) also costs £2.80 economy.

Firstly I can’t understand how it can cost the same to send a parcel 30 yards or almost 6,000 miles. Secondly how can postage be free from China given that the Royal Mail postman delivered my parcel and the cost of my purchase including postage was almost half the cost of UK postage alone?

Of course I’m not complaining, I got a good deal I think. But it does raise a lot of questions around the mysteries of our postal system and the mysteries of the Orient, eh?

Friday, 6 February 2015

Thursday, 5 February 2015


None of us can know what is around the next corner. Corners are tricky things; they hide what is around them and hide us from whatever is waiting for us around them. Some people don’t even want to look around the next corner, it frightens them; it’s the unknown element probably. I can understand that, I’ve been frightened by corners for most of my life.

These days though, after years of not wanting to venture around lots of corners of my life, I quite like corners. You see, although you never know what’s around them that something could be really, really good. Now I’m not saying that I don’t feel scared anymore when I approach the next corner, but I also feel excited. It COULD be something really, really GOOD.

It’s taken me years to get here though. To look for sunshine rather than cloud, then find that silver lining inside that cloud, accept that the silver is just as good as gold. After all who needs gold when you have silver?

Besides what’s the alternative? Living your life in a state of nothingness just in case the thing around the next corner is bad? Deciding that there’s no point, that it’s hopeless, before you’ve even really tried? Hanging back instead of walking forward, hiding yourself away, or worse still taking yourself out of the picture altogether so that you don’t have to think about turning the next corner?

When the path seems hard, harder than you think you can endure, just look for the next corner and rush towards it. Even if it’s not all good it’ll be different and that has to be better than nothingness.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Just parked...

Sometimes I take a photograph and want to keep it, so I park it here. It isn't often that we get snow, even rarer to catch it falling. I like this picture. It looks cold and it was. No coffee in the backyard this day then

The snow kept falling for a couple of hours, big flakes leaving a covering of white a couple of inches deep. The robin appeared on the wall for a while turning the whole scene into a Christmas card a month or so after Christmas and then it started to thaw. I didn't get the robin but I'm glad I managed to photograph the yard in winter.

Little men...

I don't have anything much to write about today. So instead... Please accept the A4 sheet of little men I've wasted my time doodling and make up the words for yourselves.

There will be a story in there somewhere.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Never mind the bollocks...

I’ve always thought of Buddy Holly as the perfect boy next door, a bit of a goody-goody, verging on wimpishness even. But then I’ve never been much of a judge.

Today is the 56th anniversary of Buddy Holly’s death. I wasn’t even two when, as Don McLean sings, the music died before I was really there to witness what it was all about. All I really know about Buddy is that he had a girl called Peggy Sue and that he wore big, black specs and a light blue jacket.

I didn’t know that on January 26, 1958, Holly and the Crickets made their second appearance on the legendary Ed Sullivan Show. They were planning to perform recent hit ‘Oh, Boy’, but ultra-conservative wasp Sullivan ordered the group to drop the up-beat rock number and replace it with a slow ballad. Buddy lost it, insisting on singing ‘Oh Boy', Sullivan cut Holly’s two song spot to one and then decided to mispronounce the group’s name as ‘Buddy Hollett and his Crickets.’ He also instructed sound engineers to mute the line feed for Holly’s electric guitar.

It seems that rather than being the boy next door Buddy was really a rebel and oh boy did he rebel. Singing rough and loud over Joe Mauldin and Jerry Allison’s raw bass and drums, Buddy repeatedly turned up the volume of his guitar and played faster and faster. Strutting a cocky sneer that was pure Sis Viscous he let out a brilliant primal howl and then went into a hard-rocking machine-gun solo.

The episode is one of the earliest and best examples of rock’n’roll rebellion in the face of the bland corporations that controlled the music business and still do to some extent. It’s also an example of how far Buddy was pushing the limits of his music and his guitar to give birth to a new kind of sound. I guess Buddy was the Johnny Rotten of his day in Middle America’s eyes; degenerate and dangerous and not the kind of girl that Peggy Sue should be hanging around with at all.

Ironically, the performance was so well received that Ed Sullivan was forced to invite the group back for a third time. Buddy responded by telling Sullivan that they couldn’t afford him.

Never mind the bollocks Buddy - Listen here Rock on Buddy!

Monday, 2 February 2015

February doodle...

February, the runt month of the year, a time for purification – at least it was in Roman times.

The name itself comes from the Roman month Februarius which was named after the Latin februum, meaning purification. The Romans held purification rituals throughout February, the biggest being the ritual of Februa which was held on February 15 (full moon) in the old lunar Roman calendar.

It’s a clean month, cold and cleansing, a preparation for the spring, but not yet beyond winter.

Of course I have my own purification rituals, some of them not so pure, and one of the ways I get things out is through doodling. I used to doodle all of the time in meetings. It wasn’t always appreciated, although in reality I often didn’t even know I was doing it. In some ways it’s an unconscious action and often my unconsciousness drips out onto the paper.

Today, after I’d done the hovering, steam mopped the hallway and prepared our evening meal, I stopped for a few minutes to listen to the radio. As I listened I picked up my pen and doodled. I was thinking about February and how it would soon be time to start sowing seeds. My pen moved back and forth creating patterns, dotting here, drawing lines there, as I listened to the radio, thought about seeds and doodled.

I had almost no idea what I was doing as I doodled, listened to the radio and thought about the plants that would grow from the seeds I would soon be planting. It was almost hypnotic, the listening, thinking, doodling, my mind not really concentrating on any of it, my pen aimlessly moving on the paper, my mind drifting to spring, the drone of Radio 4 in the background. They were talking about wheat, as I thought about seeds, and made unconscious marks on the notepad I keep by my laptop, cleansing my mind with my doodling.

And this is it - my February doodle. I don't know what it is or where it came from, but I don't suppose it matters.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

A weighty matter...

I bought some fancy electronic scales today and weighed myself for the first time in five years. I wasn’t surprised, pleased, or disappointed by what they told me about my weight, but let’s just say I was grateful that they weren’t of the talking variety otherwise they would have screamed ‘Get off me you fat bastard!’

Of course in my youth there were weighing machines on every station platform, in chemists, there were even some on the high street. These were grand affairs with a slot for you to put your penny and a grey rubber platform for you to stand on. In those days bathroom scales weren’t very common and I don’t remember us having them as a child.

Anyway my new scales have shown me that by anybody’s standards I am clinically obese. I knew that anyway, the camera never lies, but by just how much I shall be keeping to myself and, instead of telling you my problem, I am going to focus on losing ‘a little weight’ and tell you how much I lose each month.

Of course if you like, and in the tradition of all summer fetes, you can guess my weight if you want.

Wish me luck.