Friday, 22 May 2015

Back alley...

This is the cobbled alley that runs along the back of my house behind my garden gate and that's my wisteria hanging over the wall. It's a tucked away place that gets the sun from early morning to mid afternoon and its hardly used at all. The bit that you see has been tidied and swept by myself, weedkiller put down, and generally prepared for an experiment.

Those cobbles are 120 years old and will have seen coal being delivered by horse and cart, baker's boys on bicycles, washing hung out to dry, maids stealing kisses from their farmhand boyfriends in the moonlight. There's history in them and they deserve respect.

Some years ago this alley was completely overgrown, a jungle that you could hardly walk through. A group of neighbours, including myself hired skips, bought weedkiller, and got out their brooms and shovels and completely cleared it over a couple of weekends. It was immaculate and we all enjoyed a very good barbecue in the alley the evening that we finished.

It was good to be able to use the space, nice that we all got together to enjoy it.

Over the years it has stayed pretty clear of the jungle. But some people tip their garden rubbish into it and then seem to wait for ever to move it. I want to change all that. I want to make it a place for people to enjoy.

I've decided to start with my own bit of alley and get some pots planted up. I'll plant easy stuff at first, nasturtiums and bedding just for some colour. I may put in a pot of runner beans and a tomato plant or two. I could even hang a couple of baskets on the walls. But whatever I do I'm hoping that my neighbours take notice and get with the vibe. This little lane could be a truly beautiful place.

Of course it is open to the public as a thoroughfare, so there's a risk of vandalism and thoughtlessness. I'm hoping that people will respect it for what it is though. I believe that most people will delight in it.

We'll see how it goes. Watch this space.

Backyard May...

The backyard is doing well this year. The summer bulb planting looks like it will be a success and the seeds I dotted here and there are coming thorough. Of course, I have no idea what I planted where or even what I planted, but that just adds to the joy.

I'm really pleased with the way it is looking. I've been focusing on making it interesting, a little bit magic, and I think, at long last after almost 30 years, I'm just about there. There's really no reason not to make the most of any outside space. It doesn't have to be big - all you have to do is make it personal to yourself.

Sitting out in the afternoon with a beer in the sunshine, listening to the fountain in the pond and the wind chimes, watching the blackbird family shoveling meal worms into their beaks to take to their young - well, it's my idea of heaven.

A little piece of heaven in my backyard.


Sometimes you are in the right place at the right time.

This little bee buzzed around my allium plants in the front garden yesterday as I sat on the bench in the sunshine. All I had with me was my phone, so I lifted it out of my pocket and snapped and snapped until he was gone. When I looked at my pics there he was in full flight, his tiny wings moving at hundreds of beats per second.

It gave me quite a a buzz.

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Lazy Luna...

Luna chillin' on the wall in the sunshine this afternoon. She was there for a couple of hours before wandering down the alley for a stroll. Gotta love the life of a cat.

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Jupiter's eye...

I have a new obsession, sempervivums, also know as hen and chicks or house leeks. You’ve probably seen them on rockeries and when I was a boy I remember them growing on the roof of my granddad’s pigsty in his garden.

Hardy sempervivums are called houseleeks because there is an ancient tradition of growing them on the roof to ward off lightning and bad luck. Their Latin name Sempervivum tectorum translates as 'alive on the roof'. Their common name (houseleek) is derived from the Anglo Saxon word Leac meaning plant - so sempervivums were the original house plant.

Having a houseleek on your roof ensured prosperity and protected the family members against death and witchcraft. The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne ordered all his subjects to grow houseleeks on their roofs. The Vikings connected this plant to Thor, the Norse god of Thunder. It was also associated with the Roman God Jupiter (known as the Thunderer) and it’s commonly known as Jupiter’s beard and Jupiter’s eye.

With all this to go at I thought I’d give them a try. I’ve bought a few nice specimens over the last few weeks and am awaiting delivery of a collection of 25 different sempervivum baby plants. Even so, I really believe that you can’t fully understand any plant until you have grown them yourself from seed; it’s meant to be easy so I’ve also ordered a pack of 250 seeds which should prove interesting.

I’m trying to grow them on my walls and today, as an experiment, planted a couple in some moss on the roof of my shed. I’d like a wall of these beautiful succulent things, a living wall full of reds, greens, browns, and yellows.

Interestingly, a couple of hours after I positioned them on my shed roof there was a huge clap of thunder.

Oh well, at least my Jupiter’s eye will keep me from getting struck.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Lucky man...

Wet garden
I have a life that gives  me far too much free time. Consequently I fill it up and fritter it away. I always feel like I need to do something and then when I have something to do I often don't want to do it.

If I didn't know better I'd say that I was stressed or even depressed; but I'm neither, in fact I am pretty happy and content all things considered.

Here are some of the pictures I posted on Facebook last week. I post them here as part of my record of who and what I am. I don't know why I'm doing it or why I have been doing it for so long, but it is so much a part of me now that I don't think I will ever stop.

Anyway here are some of the pictures I posted on Facebook last week. I think that it gives an idea of how I spend my time. As you can see I am a very lucky man.

Garden path

Blue sky wisteria

The tree up the road
Mr Fish

Friday, 15 May 2015

Here’s looking at me kid…

Another me popped up on Facebook last night.

I almost recognised him; he was almost me. Even though he was dressed as an Egyptian dilettante with underworld connections. Yes, I was mysterious back then and my name was Mr Cairo.

That fake tan streaked and took weeks to wash off. Of course it was the eighties so it didn't matter, everyone was orange back then and I was at a big house in Edgbaston, a place I really had no right to be, but my chum Paul took pity on me and got me invited to the best murder party I have ever been to. When I turned up it was raining, but only above the door of the lovely house courtesy of a hosepipe. So theatrical… It has stuck with me all these years.

The party was great. I had no idea who dunnit, or where, or with what, 
but as I wandered around the house trying to lose my wife of the time so I could enjoy myself (cast as a nanny, much to her annoyance) I had a thought… There was more to life than I realised.

Just who was that masked man in the fez? You can't see his mask but it was clearly there. I don't know even now. What was I playing at and just how had I got to who and where I was back then?

Life is a mystery, as Toyah Wilcox almost said.

Anyway, that party was a turning point for me. For some strange reason I realised that I was meant to do more than drink mild and bitter and eat curry on a Saturday night. Mr Cairo slowly became El Grosso Fez, thanks to my buddy Glyn, and he has been my alter ego for all these years in-between and one who, at times, I have had to moderate.

Looking at these images of the past is like watching an old silent movie. I remember how I felt generally, the fun I had, my annoyance that my fun was limited, but I can't hear the words or remember all the characters so it doesn't help me to understand the story. Oh well, I guess I was lucky to have the chance to be there in the first place.

Strange how, on the flip of a coin (ffffflip) a whole world can change. Life is chance, death is chance, chance is chance, it is all chance...

That was the night when I believe I became aspirational, inspirational, a chameleon, comedian, Corinthian and a caricature – or some such nonsense. From council house kid to a surrealist dreamer all in the space of a single fantastic fireworky night.

Of course, it took me a while, far longer than it should, to grow into my new skin - there was baggage to lose all along the way - but eventually I made it I think.

So today I’m not sitting at the Blue Parrot sucking away at my hookah, nor am I about to board the Orient Express. But that night changed me and made me into a different person and for that I will be eternally grateful to almost all of the people involved that night. I’m pleased to have the pictures to remember me by (thanks Paul) and I will keep them here for all time. They make a difference and made me different.

And as El Grosso Fez always says (even when I try to shut him the fuck up), ‘Here’s looking at me kid.’

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Pennies from heaven...

Sometimes I wonder if there really is a supreme something looking after me. I know that there isn’t, but sometimes…

Here’s why.

Today I went to the supermarket to buy a bottle of cheap wine to make a beef stew. I knew that it cost three pounds sixty-five pence as I've bought it before. I had plenty of money on me, mainly notes but some change in my pocket, and I was pretty sure that I had enough change to cover it.

I am one of those creatures who hate breaking into a note unless I really have to. It’s one of those dreads like having to get petrol or putting a pound in a supermarket trolley. It has nothing to do with cost; it’s all to do with my mind. Even so I hate it.

Before I went into the supermarket I decided (in a very OCD kind of way) to count my change 'just in case'. Taking the coins out of my pocket I saw immediately that I had three pound coins and quite a bit of shrapnel; mainly five pence pieces and coppers. I counted it. I had three pounds and sixty one pence, just four pence short. But noooooo, four pence meant breaking into a note!

I couldn’t believe it. I was going to have to break into a twenty for the sake of four pence. I began to sweat and get dizzy (not really, but it adds drama to a fundamentally everyday story). What could I do to avoid it? For a second I considered begging (not for drama, I really did). Quickly giving up on that idea I instead checked every single one of my sixteen pockets twice. I must have looked like I was doing a jig, but to no avail. I was going to have to break into a twenty and receive all that horrible chinking change and all for a measly four pence.

I was still a couple of hundred yards from the supermarket when (I don’t know why) I decided to keep my eyes to the ground just in case I found a coin or two. I knew it was very unlikely - my luck doesn’t run like that - but I hadn’t gone ten yards when I spotted something on the pavement... A shiny silver five pence piece. You can’t imagine the irrational joy I felt. The day was saved; the gods had smiled on me. My face broke from frown into a splendid, almost lunatic, smile as I made my way into the supermarket to make my purchase secure in the knowledge that I would leave with my notes intact and, as a bonus, I even had a lucky penny in my pocket.

I relished feeding my coins into the self-service till. I slotted them one at a time, waiting for each of them to register before putting in the next one. It took a bit of time, but it left me with a warm glow and a tremendous sense as satisfaction and when, three or four minutes later, I saw the amount owing display turn to zero I smiled.

Maybe this proves that there is a god (or goddess) after all.

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Click and...

So far so good; we still have a health service, Scotland is still with us, we remain in Europe, and my human rights have not yet been abolished. I guess we’ll have to wait and see how the new government does.

Yes, I’ll give them a chance before complaining. Tesco on the other hand have had there chance and blown it.

A couple of weeks ago I bought a new TV from Tesco click and collect. It was great value, good quality, and had all the bells and whistles my mother-in-law could ever need and, as it was to replace her old one, I clicked and waited for the e-mail telling me to collect.

The email came the next day telling me the TV was instore ready for collection. So off I went to the Altrincham Tesco which is just down the road with plenty of car parking which is why I had it delivered there in the first place. When I say ‘off I went’ it should read ‘we’, my mother-in-law came to drive and my daughter insisted that she was going to do the installing when we had got it.

When I arrived at the desk at the Altrincham branch I was told that it wasn’t there. I gave them my order number and was told that there was no order under that number. I remained calm and asked the lady behind the counter to check by name. She did so and told me that the TV had been delivered, just not to the Altrincham store. It had been delivered to Hale instead.

Now the Hale store is a tiny urban affair with no parking and Hale is one of the hardest places to park. Even so I thanked her and said that it wasn’t a problem and that we would collect it from there.

So off we went to get our TV. We had to park over a drive while I went in the store to get the TV and when I was eventually served I was told that my TV hadn’t been delivered there either. I wasn’t quite as calm by this time and the chap dealing with it said that he’d investigate and call me later.

An hour later the Hale store called to say that they’d had my TV all along and would I like to pop back to collect it. Of course by this time my helpers had scattered to the wind, so I asked them to deliver it to me rather than waste my time on yet another visit. They reluctantly agreed and a little over an hour later it was delivered. Apparently it had been stored in the wrong place and the chap who delivered it, the duty manager, said it was his fault because he put it there and, although he was stood by me as I discussed the missing TV with his colleague, he hadn’t realised.

Hadn’t realised? Was he asleep?

Of course I rang Customer Services and complained about the fiasco I had been subjected to. They were very apologetic, but said other than making management aware there was nothing that they could do. Now remember, three people had been driving around the area for over an hour on a wild goose chase that really wasn’t their fault. I felt a sorry was not good enough and emailed my complaint which led to a £20 refund as ‘a gesture of goodwill’.

A couple of days ago I received a mail asking me to write a review of the TV and my experience with Tesco. Of course I did this, rated the product, price, and packaging very highly, but commenting that my shopping experience ‘was one of the worst I had ever encountered due to delivery mix ups’. A fair summary I think.

Yesterday I received an email telling me my review had been moderated. Now, moderated should mean toned down in some way (not that it needed toning down). So I was surprised on reading it to find that it said, ‘Our staff has read your review and values your contribution even though it did not meet all our website guidelines. Thanks for sharing, and we hope to publish next time!’

So not moderation at all, more like downright censorship.

It is disappointing that there are some organisations that can’t come clean about what really happened. With no negative reviews just how are we to gauge how well they really did? Tesco, it seems, want to see the world through rose tinted spectacles and they want to be seen as are a great company giving great service, even though my experience was very different. Unfortunately – just like the spinning politicians – I won’t trust a word they say in future.

Dali Desert 2...

Just another version.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Dali at eleventy-one...

Had Salvador DalĂ­ not died at the age of 84 in 1989, he would have been 111 today. Yes, Eleventy-One - what a surreal age.

Since I was a boy Dali has held a fascination for me. It isn’t simply his mastery of painting, it’s his mind, the way he thinks, and how he starts off at one point and ends up at a completely different destination altogether, a destination that is altogether strange.

I find it hard to talk about Dali in the past tense. He’s all around me in everything I think and do. Of course I don’t possess his talent or his great showmanship. I’m not a master in every aspect of art from theater design through to poetry, photography, performance, and all the other areas he was simply a master of. 

Tricia's brown-eyed version
No, I’m really just a small bug of a Dali crawling across an infinite desert watched by an eye with a curled and tweaked moustachioed slash; as you can see from the image I have created for this most auspicious of days.

No, I'm no Dali, but in everything I do I ask: ‘How would Dali see this? What would his reaction be?’ And this consideration makes me feel special - like he was.

Happy Eleventy-first birthday Salvador may you have many more of them.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Aquiligia 2015...

My first Aquilegia of the year and she is a beauty. Over the years I have grown hundreds of these and each one is different. It's the cross pollination, they find it so easy, jumping from variety to variety and creating new ones as they go. Each year I wait to see just what colour that plant, the one that I've waited two seasons for, is going to be. I am never disappointed.

If I could only have one packet of seeds, on that fabled desert island that is so often talked about, it would be a packet of Aquiligia McKana. From that single packet all things would possible, every colour, size, and shape imaginable.

Mind you if I ever do get shipwrecked I might do better planting something to eat like potatoes, not very pretty though are they.

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Election day...

I started the day with this post on Facebook.

The problem with political jokes is that some of them get elected! Here’s a few to get you laughing on Election Day regardless of how you vote…

Unlike a lot of people, I’m hoping that Cameron will get an overall majority. I reckon a Tory government is the only way we’ll get the real Spitting Image back on the telly.

What’s the difference between Ed Miliband and Ryan Giggs? One’s a fading left winger who’s upset his brother. The other is a footballer.

Nick Clegg walks into a bookshop and asks for a book on coalitions. The storekeeper says, ‘It's over there on the left... sorry, I mean the right... No! I tell a lie. We sold out.’

Nick Griffin has accused Nigel Farage of having racist immigration policies. If you ask me that's the pot calling the kettle... Actually, never mind.

So Alex Salmond resigned and Nicola Sturgeon became leader of the SNP. Which joker told them that leaders have to be named after fish?

Natalie Bennett is praying that Green Party voters don’t confuse the recycling bin with the ballot box in today’s election.

Leanne Wood said last week that Plaid Cymru supports the NHS because it has no vowels.

I really hope that you make your way to the booths to place your vote, it’s important. Not like the two bees who buzzed in through my window today with little pieces of paper in their hands. "Excuse me," one said, "we're a bit lost. We're looking for the pollen station."

So how am I voting? Apparently I exactly match the profile of the type of person who spoils their ballot paper. Yes, I tick all the right boxes.

Well, it might be a dark day dependent on who gets in this time around. I've thought long and hard about it and have come to the conclusion that none of the parties are ideal. In fact none of the parties are even halfway towards ideal. The problem is I don't trust any of them. Still I must vote so I have made my mind up.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Dawn chorus day...

It was International Dawn Chorus day yesterday, the day when people are encouraged to go out in the wild and listen to the birds wake up. I was in Wales and luckily for me all I had to do was open the windows of my bedroom in the roof and listen.

The first bird started cheeping at a little after four, followed by another, then another and by half past four the world was alive with the sound of birds as the dawn began to break. I lay wrapped up in my duvet and listened. All I could hear was birds and the occasional bleat of a sheep.

Occasionally I'd get up and look towards the trees at the back where a lot of birds had congregated. I recognised a thrush and a robin, a blackbird or two, but to be honest I'm no expert on birdsong so as for which was singing what I really didn't have a clue.

I must have listened for an hour before falling back to sleep, lulled by the elaborate whistles and cheeps of nature and when I woke up again the sun was warming, the performance over, and I was freezing. I hadn't closed the windows.