Tuesday, 26 January 2016

When I go bonkers...


What a great word ‘bonkers’ is. It makes you smile as you say it and although it’s really an insult, it’s actually quite inoffensive. Say it over and over – bonkers, bonkers, bonkers, bonkers, bonkers, bonkers, bonkers, bonkers, bonkers – and it gets even funnier. Say it too often though and it will probably drive you bonkers. Say it to music and the sky’s the limit, innit.

The Oxford Dictionary states that the origin of this delectable word is unknown, although it probably started being used in the 1940’s. Well, it does sound a kind of ‘chocs away’, ‘bandits at three o’clock’ kind of word. “I say old chap, Ginger’s gone completely bonkers just look at how close his Spitfire is to the…. (BOOM). Oh dear, it looks like poor Ginger’s bought it.”

If I’d had money on it I would have said that it was a made-up word. It would be nice if it had been one of Shakespeare’s, “He's bonkers that trusts in the tameness of a shrew”, failing that either Edward Lear or Lewis Caroll. But sadly none of these can lay claim to 'bonkers', although it is attributed to Caroll in a few places on the Web as this:

Mad Hatter: “Do you think I’ve gone round the bend?”
Alice: “I’m afraid so. You’re mad, bonkers, completely off your head. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are.”

But no, it seems that this quote is from the 2010 "Alice in Wonderland" movie and therefore Tim Burton – who didn’t invent the word either – came up with this one. I’d love to know who actually did invent ‘bonkers’ though and how it came to pass into everyday usage. If it was invented in the forties by a very small boy then the inventor might still be alive. Of course he’d be in a straight jacket, unable to remember his invention, absolutely bonkering bonkers, but alive nonetheless. Now that would be bonkers.

Anyway a quick burst of nonkers on bonkers.

When I go bonkers

When I go bonkers
I’ll carry conkers,
An old car honker,
A fluffy pink monster.
I won’t get sponsors,
Nor be awarded honours,
But a trip to the doctor’s,
Might conquer my bonkers.

Saturday, 23 January 2016

Death of an unknown man...

I was listening to PM on Radio Four yesterday when a report of an unidentified old man taking himself to the top of a hill on Saddleworth Moor to lay down to die came on the radio. Nobody knows who he was; he just got off the London train, went for a pint and then wandered up on the moor to lie on the ground until he ceased to exist. Of course my mind buzzed with questions, but as I listened to the three minute report I found myself keying this verse. I have no idea why, it wasn’t an experiment as an experiment requires planning and intention, it just happened almost automatically as I listened to the newsreader stating the facts. It was done by the time the report ended and I was left wondering where it had come from and why.
  
Death of an unknown man

I traveled from London on the day of my death
Train on a Friday
To Indian’s Head.
A pint at the Clarence
Then hard up the hill,
Darkness descending
To lie down with my ills.
It was wet, it was cold
I was done, I felt old.
Don’t ask who I am,
And don’t question why.
I am my own man
I’ve chosen to die.
Now as I lay me down to sleep
Shrouded in my mystery
I know this hill my soul will keep
As I become old history.

Friday, 22 January 2016

A bad night...

I had a bad night last night. The dreams that visited me colluded to tangle my fifteen tog duvet and threw all four of my soft plump pillows onto the floor. I must have woken five or six times and it took me an age of counting to fall back into slumber. Yes a very bad night for poor, poor me. Maybe I should try sleeping on the streets.

There's a romance around living on the edge. In our world we have it all so very easy in so many ways; we get soft, self satisfied. I ease my conscience by giving to charity, cry sometimes when I see the injustice and pain in the world. It makes me feel better about myself, and I usually sleep soundly at night, all the realities of poverty and pain going away until the next time I am so ungraciously reminded that I am supremely fortunate to have been born into a country that has so much. There is a part of me that wishes to walk in their shoes, but it's that part of me that sees romanticism in everything. I wouldn't last a week without my cosy bed and central heating and yet I still sometimes walk past the rough sleepers in our own cities and move past as quickly as I can. I must be a monster because, there but for the grace of a God I don't believe in, go I.

Once when I was in India I saw a young girl, no more than seven or eight, carrying a small roll of thick polythene along the road. She was clutching it to herself like it was the most valuable thing in the world. I asked the driver why she was carrying the polythene and he replied that it was her shelter and at night she would find a place, wrap herself in it and try to sleep. To her it was the most valuable thing in the world. It was her home, perhaps even her life. I didn’t know what to say, so I said nothing.

I remember seeing people wrapped in blankets and asleep just off the main streets in Bangalore. Not a few, but scores and scores. In cities all over India when night falls thousands of people hire blankets from the blanket Mafia, a group of street vendors who hire out dirty blankets by the night. Their customers settle down in the streets in an attempt to get some sleep and keep warm to survive the night. They call these blanket hirers sleep vendors and they are highly organized and officially nonexistent. The sleep vendors divide the pavements and public spaces into quadrants and when night comes their customers arrange themselves into blanketed townships of bodies. Some of these people have come back to the same spot every night for years. They call it home too I guess.

It’s easy to see the sleep vendors as making money out of other people’s misery. But they provide a service when no other options exist. I don’t applaud them, but at least they are doing something that helps; so who the hell am I to judge them as I toss and turn in featherbed luxury?

Here in the UK we have thousands of people sleeping rough in our cities. The problem isn’t on the same scale as many other parts of the world but we are a very rich nation and empty buildings abound in our streets. Five minutes walk from where I live is a huge old YWCA Hostel. It’s been shuttered for at least 10 years and stands like a magnificently empty citadel when it could shelter hundreds. Of course it is scheduled to be converted into luxury apartments at some point, but would it really be so hard to open it up a few to let people sleep there out of the wind and cold at night until then? I’m sure there would be volunteers to help. I might even volunteer myself.

My mind often goes back to that young girl in India carrying her roll of polythene. I wonder did she survive and what she is doing now. I didn’t know what to say then, and I don’t know what to say now, so I say nothing.

No wonder I can’t sleep at night.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Death of a goldfish…

The bowl was small, but big enough for a single goldfish. It was home. A watery sphere where on most days food would alight on the water without the effort of the hunt. It was safe. No big fish to eat little fish, no currents to sweep away; a couple of litres of goldfish tranquillity sitting on an old veneered sideboard.

Inside his world Billy the fish swam around and around. Sometimes pressing his fishy face to the glass, other times bobbing to the surface to gulp the stale air trapped inside the bowl. Of course his name wasn’t really Billy. Nobody had bothered to name him. He was just fish, but any creature without an identity seems wrong somehow - at least it does to me. Not to everyone though.

Billy didn’t notice the change at first. There was nothing to see, no obvious modification to his watery world. The first he, or it could have been she (fish are so hard to sex) felt of his impeding death was a tingling in his gills and a soreness around his already bulging eyes. The water smelled wrong, it tasted wrong too. It felt like water, it looked like water, but it hurt and burnt. He floated to the surface then sank down again, listing to one side as the change began to take effect. His tail flipped and then flipped once more as he sank to the bottom where he lay panting. His gills worked hard in a last desperate attempt to survive as he flew to the surface and failed to leap out of the water. Whatever was eating into his shiny golden body had won. He turned upside down on the surface before sinking once more to the bottom where he settled like a lump of carrot. If he’d only known he was alive, he may have felt his death. But do fish really have any understanding of their own mortality?

After a while Billy’s body rose again to float on the surface like some very unsatisfactory resurrection for a very small fishy Jesus. It was two days before anyone noticed him rotting on the surface, by which time his glinting shine had dulled to grey, his eyes had become a milky white and all signs of his small life had dispersed into the poisoned dead water. The smell of the bleach was hardly noticeable now, the only odour dead fish. Of course nobody noticed and nobody cared, and that was only part of the problem with this particular nobody.

After nobody cried at his passing he was unceremoniously emptied into a different bowl, white porcelain this time, and flushed away as if he had never existed. Just a small life, in a small world, doing small things to pass the time, so small it shouldn’t have had any impact on anything at all. But sometimes it’s the nothings that start the ball rolling and before you know it there’s an avalanche on its way.

And so the death of one small fish became the start of a big, big future. Of course not for Billy the fish, just for nobody really.

Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Abilene...

I was never really one for model kits. I did once make an Airfix submarine, well almost. I gave up when I glued the propeller in place badly and the damn thing wouldn’t go around. Today I was reminded of my kit by all this debate about Trident submarines. It seems that the propeller doesn’t really want go around on them properly either.

It’s been suggested that it might be best to have nuclear submarines in the water without the nuclear bit; in other words no warheads on board. What a deterrent that would be, a big underwater boat with a few sailors doing hornpipes and pretending to be dangerous. Mind you if we didn’t tell our frightful foe that there were no warheads on board then the deterrent would still be there. Take it a stage further and we could claim to have all sorts of weapons and, if we were very clever, there’s a very good chance that we would be believed. After all, there has to be some clout in being a world power for all those centuries.

There are 196 countries in the world today, only 9 of these have a nuclear capability. The big five are the United States, Russia, China, France and the UK. These are all members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty or NPT, an international treaty whose objective is to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and weapons technology; in other words not to let anybody else in on their game. Outside of this exclusive club, but possessing nuclear weapons, are India, Pakistan, North Korea and probably Israel. The rest of the world including Australia, Canada, the rest of Europe, Japan, the entire continent of Africa have to rely on ordinary weapons, poor things.

Just think about it. Most of the countries in the world have no nuclear weapons or nuclear submarines to launch them from and I don’t see the Germans or Australians quaking in their boots or waving their arms in dismay - and as for Switzerland... In fact some countries, South Africa and some former Soviet countries used to have nuclear weapons but don’t any longer - so why all the uproar over Trident?

Here in the UK having weapons of mass destruction is a source of national pride for many, a reminder of a time when we were a world power and player; days of Empire, Dunkirk spirit, defending our waters, good old Blighty and all that. Of course this no longer applies. We are not a hugely serious player in the world any longer, at best we are an influencer and we can influence without the need to possess bloody big bombs that nobody is ever going to use. In recent years pretty much everything we’ve done as a nation in terms of getting involved in military action has been less than a success, some might even say a disaster.

Not once have we had cause to rely on our hugely expensive and not at all used nuclear arsenal, not even our submarines.

From what I hear on the news it sounds like the main argument for Trident isn’t as a deterrent it’s about protecting jobs in the shipbuilding industry. How can that be right? We either need these things or we don’t and given that our real enemies probably aren’t nuclear wielding superpowers any longer then why would we need to continue to build these things to haul nuclear weapons around the globe or even at all? It makes no sense.

It seems that we are on the road to Abilene here, a paradox where a group refrain from rocking the boat (or should that be sub?) believing that everyone else wants to go there, when in reality nobody does and everyone ends up in a place that none of them wanted to go to in the first place. I’ve been to Abilene many times and each time ended up wondering why I allowed myself to go along on the trip in the first place. Well, I don’t want to go there again and neither should any of us. Perhaps it’s time for us to stop needing weapons we don’t really need at all, perhaps we should get off of the Abilene road.

Monday, 18 January 2016

Imaginary friends...

Did I have an imaginary friend? When I was a very small boy there was a boy that visited me sometimes although I’m not sure if he was imaginary or something else. He didn’t speak, he left that to me. In fact he hardly ever showed himself and when he did, as is always the way with me, he flashed into my line of vision and then flashed out again. Thinking about it, most of my real friends over the years haven’t been so very different; flashing in and out of my line of vision, not saying much, drifting away eventually.

Of course there are a few that remain constant one way or another, but friendship is a strange affair. It requires common ground, physical, experiential or attitudinal, preferably all of these or at least two out of the three. Rarely do you make a friend without common ground. Do you ever, is it even possible? I can’t answer that question; I’m too judgmental, quick to take a dislike, too fast to measure and weigh. Besides, I’m wary of the friendship thing. I tend to take these things too seriously and when they go or end, they take a small part of me away with them.

So, did I have an imaginary friend? You know I really can’t remember. I wonder if he remembers me? 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Talking weather…

Did you notice the snow? Of course you did. We British are experts on the weather and don't miss a thing. The fact that we don’t really have very much of it doesn’t stop us commenting and sharing our knowledge to anyone who will listen. On an extreme weather scale we’ve hardly registered until recently. Even now it’s mainly rain and the associated flooding that is moving us into a whole new area.

We do get the occasional storm, we even name them now. We’ve had Barney, Eva, Clodagh, Desmond, Abigail and Frank. Gertrude is next and Katy, Mary, Steve and Wendy will follow at some time in the near future. But most of them will probably amount to little more than some blown out umbrellas and a few big puddles. Perhaps that’s why we have given them such nice friendly names. We are more Postman Pat’s Windy Day than The Wizard of Oz in the UK.

I can’t be sure but I think we are some way off the tornadoes and hurricanes that rage across the Caribbean and the United States, even our lightening seems a little flat when you compare it to the electrical storms you get in other parts of the world. Maybe it’s because the British God doesn’t like his thunderbolts to be too devastating, okay to strike the occasional tree but not destroy a village. After all that wouldn’t be cricket would it? Our UK weather is generally bland and predictable and there’s one thing we can guarantee - our summers won’t be too hot. We may have a hosepipe ban or two and the reservoirs may get a bit low, but I don’t think we are likely to see hundreds of cattle skeletons scattered across our fields anytime soon.

And then there’s snow. Snow is a rarity in the UK, which is odd really given that we are pretty far north and parallel to Labrador where they have very serious snow indeed. A light dusting divides us British into those that can’t wait to build a snowman and those who dread going out in their cars. Of course our snowfall rarely merits either the excitement or the angst, but a few flakes of the white stuff and it seems that everyone has to post a picture of it on Facebook with supporting text that either decries or celebrates this amazing weather event.

Meanwhile in the rest of the snowy world it is business as usual. The roads don’t grind to a halt, schools don’t close and people even go shopping in their cars. Life goes on just as it goes in most of the world in extreme heat, winds, rain, lightening, storms and just about every other weather that this world can throw at them with hardly a comment.

The British have been living in a meteorological Eden with our temperate climate, sheltered by warm water streams and wind systems for a long, long time. But things are changing and we need to be much better prepared for extreme weather in the UK. If we get the worst of it we are all going to have to change, after all we are not a huge country and our population is large and dense. Extreme weather events could be more catastrophic in the UK in terms of destruction and death than it would be if we had a smaller, more scattered population.

That will really give us all something to talk about.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Wunderkammer...

Thoughts, pictures and words all generated by chance, a 'Wunderkammer' of objet trouvĂ©

I have to ask where do my thoughts come from? They pop in and out of my head with such frequency and seemingly so little connection or pattern that it seems that everything in my head is random. Maybe it’s just electrical impulses, generated by who knows what discharging themselves like tiny lightening bolts deep inside my brain? Perhaps it’s just my rubbish spewing forth. Maybe it’s an illness.

Today I’m playing a game, an experiment if you like. I’m not the first – the Dadaists, Burroughs, Dali, Bowie and Warhol - to name but a few - have all played the random game. The image of bottles and heads has no purposeful thought behind it, just an internet cruise picking up small island images at random, at the drop of my hat, internet doodling as the finger of chance points to this and that and moves on and on again.

So, no reason for bird, baby, giraffe or Mr Punch; the wine bottles simply a useful foil to display a glittering array of heads. The words are even more randomly chanced. Generated automatically by the internet in an electrical online poem generator and then polished a little by my own electrical outbursts simply to make them agree and fold with the image.

It seems to work, at least as much as most of my outpourings do. It looks like creative thought, it sounds like considered creativity, but it’s basically random chance with not much consideration at all. Perhaps that’s really what creativity is; something outside ourselves that forces us to follow, to make some sort of sense of the randomness. We are polishing the turd ourselves and perhaps the consciousness of logical thought would kill that creativity, who knows?

Anyway, enjoy; it has little and everything to do with me.

Quite glittering on the sea

Very brilliant above the water
I chew with rabid vapours beneath the wind.
Wait. That feeling will come.
Strange and humming in the air,
Head in the sand above the towers,
Awakening, lusting, vanishing,
Quite glittering below the waves.
Divine electric snares in blue
I tighten my wig,
A punch is coming.
Penniless, hopeful, fading slowly.
A baby’s sour breath, 
With nothing to lose. 
To what ending? 
Such a sad, bad, madman 
To fly from his bottle home 
And never catch up again.
Very brilliant beneath the water,
The life of a lunatic;
A vagrant squatter,
And therein lies the trick.
The meaningless of words
Would turn pure thought to drifting turds.



Friday, 15 January 2016

Tree of knowledge...

Today is Wikipedia Day, the 15th birthday of the modern day tree of knowledge. Since Jimmy Wales and Larry Sanger (yes, they sound like they should be writing musicals) launched the online encyclopedia in 2001 it has become the fount of all knowledge for just about anybody who is curious about anything. 

Of course with its millions and millions of pages there are bound to be a few glaring mistakes, even more than a few maybe, with claims that up to six in every ten pages has factual errors. Of course Wikipedia works really hard to make sure that what it publishes is true and factual, but some real hooters have slipped through the Wikipedia net.

In 2006 Wikipedia stated that Robbie Williams eats domestic pets in pubs for money. It has also reported that David Beckham was a Chinese goalkeeper in the 18th century, Sinbad – of Brookside fame – is dead, the Duchess of Cornwall's Christian name is Cow-miller, a yacht crushed and killed TV presenter Vernon Kay, Alan Titchmarsh has written and published a new version of the Kama Sutra and that Tony Blair worships Hitler.

Actually, apart from Sinbad being dead, none of the other reported facts surprise me much at all; particularly Tony Blair worshiping Hitler. It does however make me wonder what truth is, particularly published truth. If it is written down somewhere with authority, claims to be fact and people believe it, does that make it fact and is any knowledge repository any more reliable that Wikipedia?

An expert-led investigation carried out by Nature used peer review to compare Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica’s coverage of science. The investigation found that there was an average of 2.92 mistakes per article for the Encyclopedia Britannica against 3.86 for Wikipedia. That doesn’t seem a big margin of difference to me when truth is often just a question of reported events. We all know how unreliable witnesses are, everybody lives in their own version of reality and what each of us sees, or thinks we see, is based around our experience of the world and our internal belief system.

There are people on this planet who believe that every word of the Bible is fact. I have to wonder what planet they are actually living on. Just how can they believe in talking bushes, virgin births, the resurrection, and all the other tales the bible purports to be gospel. If they can believe that Balaam’s donkey could actually speak, a few loaves and fishes could feed 5,000 and that Adam lived to the overripe old age of 930, then I can believe that Alan Titchmarsh is a sex guru, that Sinbad really has passed over to the other side after being crushed by the Kama Sutra and that Robbie Williams is partial to the odd guinea pig sandwich for lunch.

A lot of what is we are told is true and real, probably isn’t. I’m sure the version of modern history I was taught at school was very different from what they were teaching in India, Germany and the USA. In Russia people are alive and in photographs one minute and then they are simply not there the next as the are deleted from reality. I believe that William Shakespeare cut quite a dash and had a cute little goatee beard, we all know what he looks like don't we? But there are no confirmed portraits of Shakespeare drawn from life, so who really knows how he looked?

Fact is like a Chinese whisper. It starts out as one thing and ends up as another and that’s why the world isn’t flat any more, Mount Everest isn’t the tallest mountain in the world and the Great Wall of China can’t be seen from outer space.

Happy Birthday Wikipedia.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Know your nuts…

For as long as I can remember there were nuts at Christmas, of course the nutcrackers always went missing - only to be found down the back of the sofa in July - so strong teeth were a must. I loved those red string bags full of exotic wooden stones – Brazils, almonds, walnuts and hazels. In order my preference was and remains hazels, Brazils, walnuts and almonds.

I didn’t really believe that Brazil nuts came from all the way from deepest Brazil (as they do), but then I was told that walnuts came from Persia, almonds from Spain and hazel nuts were gathered by red squirrels from deep in the forests of a fictitious magical England that probably never existed outside of a Charles Dickens story. Even so, nuts are pure nostalgia and as a result I buy a bag of nuts every year and then find that they are still hanging around the following October still waiting to be eaten. This year though I’ve decided to change all that and eat the nuts I bought, even if I didn’t eat a single one during the festivities.

Now that the Christmas glut is over and my stomach can face them I’m actually doing quite well. I did try pre-shelled bags, but it really wasn’t the same; maybe it’s the fact that there’s no challenge involved. There’s no substitute for the crack as the nut yields to the cracker and each type has its very own sound as it cracks. Hazel nuts have a sharp pistol-like crack, Brazils have a high pitched maraca sound, walnuts a deep corky pop, and almonds an almost tinny snap. The cracking of nuts requires practice. You have to know where to place the nut in the nutcrackers, dependent on size and type, and pressure is paramount; squeeze the crackers too hard and you will be left picking your nuts up in tiny morsels whilst nursing a very sore eye.

- Hazel nuts are not a problem. They crack really easily and taste so wonderfully woody, unless of course you get one of those sneaky ones that look fine until you bite into them to taste that musty ‘I’m a dead nut’ taste.
- Brazils on the other hand are a cracking art form. Get in right and a wonderful oily Brazil is delivered to your hand in a single piece, get it wrong and you are left to nibble the nut out of several pieces of sharp shell which is not at all satisfactory.
- Walnuts can be easy to split down the middle as long as you take care. But I can’t help thinking of brains as I remove the nut out of the shell and, whilst I love them, they do taste slightly of dust.
- The almonds are always the last to go. They are not the ideal shape for nutcrackers and can be incredibly hard to crack. Even when I manage it I’m not at all sure that the effort is worth it. I think I prefer my almonds grated in cakes or toasted in a nice biryani.

Yes, I know I'm nuts. Of course I have still a bag of chestnuts waiting to be roasted on an open fire. I suppose I’d better get on with them before they turn to nut dust.

Wednesday, 13 January 2016

Half time...

Sometimes, often when I am least expecting it, the knowledge that I am at least more than halfway through my existence comes a knocking at my door. I don’t like the sound of that rat-a-tat-tat but, being a realist, I think it highly unlikely that I will live into my hundred and teens.

I suppose that I should take heed, but somehow instead of encouraging me to do better, it makes me even more carefree and excessive. It even makes me want to howl at the moon, just to see if anyone howls back.

Time passes so quickly, and I’m finding that as I get older the years and months pass ever faster as though they are speeding up to be done and reach the finishing line as quickly as possible. I’d like to slow it all down so that, if I can’t live longer, I can at least live in slow motion. But life isn’t a film, and it’s not like the moon waxing and waning and then waxing all over again.

The best I can do is live life to my fullest until the wane really kicks in, which may not be to everyone’s approval and isn’t without risk, but I am increasingly okay with it. Well, as okay as I can be at the moment.

Half time

I could have caught the moon,
Still could, well maybe half.
Half life on the line,
Half full on the vine,
Half empty with bull,
Half fat and half full.
What’s in that glass?
Halfway through it all,
Stumbling in half light.
Half mooned,
Half marooned,
I’ve gone beyond half time.
Half through this marathon rhyme,
Putting up half a fight,
I see through half an eye
That it’s half and half all right.
Half of what I used to be?
I smile with half my witless wit.
Reaching for the half moon,
And that’s just the half of it.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Unicornucopia...

We all need a little magic in our lives, but I'm not sure where I stand on unicorns. I’ve always thought that they were mythical creatures - unlike mermaids who are definitely real - but like most myths how can anyone be sure that they don’t have some foundation in reality? It’s all a bit mixed up really and the internet hasn’t helped, there are pink, fluffy unicorns all over it.

Real or not I feel some sympathy for the poor creatures. Everybody expects these magical beasts to do things like vanishing into thin air, flying, purifying unclean water, shedding tears that heal and cure blindness and even shoot flaming stars from their eyes. In reality at best they are just horses with a horn stuck in the centre of their foreheads.

I guess that some people would think it great to have a horse with a long twirling horn between its eyes, but I'm sure that most unicorns would see it as a bit of an inconvenience. After all they are very sensible creatures. If they were some sort of horse then they would eat grass and hay and wouldn’t really need a bloody great spike to spear their prey; although it could be useful for picking apples out of the branches of trees I suppose. There may be some self-defensive benefits, and unicorns are said to be fierce, but horses can run very fast and failing that can always kick the shit out of you with their hooves.

Then there's the medicinal properties attributed to pretty much all single horned creatures like Rhinos and Narwhals and errrrr... I can’t think of any others. Unicorn tears and their blood are pretty good as a medicine apparently. Good for love potions and guaranteed to make a man both fearless and invincible. But it’s the unicorn’s horn, ground to a powder, which seems to be what people really wanted back in the day.

A unicorn horn, or alicorn, could cure anything including rubella, measles, pox, fevers and pains, the monks of Paris would sprinkle it in drinking water and give it to lepers. It was an antidote for poisoning from scorpions, vipers and dragons. It had powerful wound healing properties and was a sure-fire defence against catching the plague. It was a top class aphrodisiac and often used to test the virginity of young girls – only a virgin could catch a unicorn and if a non-virgin tried the unicorn would trample her to death.

In general a unicorn horn was a pretty useful thing to have around the castle even if it did cost ten times its weight in gold.

For an animal that nobody alive has ever seen or found any remains of they seemed to have been pretty popular and numerous in the past. They are a number of mentions for unicorns in the King James Bible and apparently refused to get on the ark; they are found on the ancient seals of Babylonia and Assyria and have royal approval from our very own Queen who has them all over the place on her coat of arms. They even named two gold coins after them in the 1400’s: the unicorn and the half-unicorn.

Of course, I’m not exactly sure where rainbow unicorns stand in all of this but they were around long before Pillow Pets. The earliest record of unicorns in Western literature belongs to Greek historian Ctesias in the 5th century BC. He described unicorns as having a white body, purple head, blue eyes, and a multicoloured horn—red at the tip, black in the middle, and white at the base. Mind you he was perpetually stoned on magic mushrooms.

So, were unicorns real or not? I’m afraid that may always remain a t-horn-y subject. Sorry for being so uni-corny.

Monday, 11 January 2016

Cold day...

It was cold when I woke up. I was sleepy, out of sorts with the world, not sure of today or tomorrow and even yesterday seemed somehow out of focus. It was like the way you sometimes see a distorted reflection in a rain drenched side mirror or catch a slight movement out of the corner of your eye when you absolutely know that there is nothing there, an unoccupied space which was occupied up until you noticed it empty.

I didn’t know anything was wrong, well no more than usual. How could I? I’d been asleep and dreaming and still wasn’t quite awake. I was cold though, cold and unsettled on another Monday morning and just about to get on with another day. Only today wasn’t another day. It was the day. The one that I always knew would come, but believed never would and suddenly everything was wrong and couldn’t be quite right ever again.

The news travelled from upstairs in a slow rush brought quietly on the voice of a messenger girl who couldn’t understand the meaning of her declaration. She told me the news. I heard it but I couldn’t hear it. My ears vibrated with the words but my brain could make no sense of them. What? What? What? I looked at the floor. What? Who is this to be telling me this? What? And then my mind opened to the meaning and my soul, such as it is, trembled and wavered and the tears began to trickle as my anger turned to sorrow and back to anger again. What? And out of the corner of my eye a flash of blue and yellow and then that space was unoccupied and empty again as the old man shivered knowing that the stars would look very different tonight.

Friday, 8 January 2016

Curious…

It did nothing but rain in Wales for six days. Even when it stopped it didn’t, a fine mist taking over from the stair rods that had been steadily falling on the cottage.

Of course inside it was dry, so we hardly went out and I began to feel like a bear hunkered down for the winter.

The central heating packed in, so my bed was heaped with duvets so heavily that it was a struggle to power-lift my way out of bed to go to the loo and the tapping of the rain on the roof, which is where the bedrooms are, was both incessant and very safe in its enclosing.

I’d like to say it was miserable, but it wasn’t, it was really quite comforting, heating (or lack of it) and all. Of course we could keep warm with our back-up heating and there’s an electric immersion heater for water, but it did make me realise how coddled we are in this world of instant everything. It was a reduced reality, or as close to it as I’ve been and I wonder what it would be like to live even more simply.

I’m no Bear Grills, but of course there’s an upside to what I consider to be stepping back into what could be viewed as discomfort by some. I watched a murder of crows fly across the fields one wet morning, black on the stark deep grey of the rainy sky. It made me feel peaceful in a way that contact with people can’t. There was no need for interaction, no expectations, but even so I felt that I was part of the world that those crows moved in. It seemed that I was living for a few days in small episodes and this was one of them. There were others, maybe driven by the slightest of inconveniences and challenges, and it made me feel more real as I drifted on a sea of ‘no matter’.

Time to do nothing is a great thing if you can allow yourself to do it. I stayed in bed and read until almost ten some mornings, drifted aimlessness from place to place for no other reason that I could and wanted to, doodled for hours and hours creating worlds within worlds on paper and canvas, lost in a perfect moment with no past or future just the scribbling of the pen. It left me wondering why I’m compelled to pick up the pen in the first place and hoping that there’s there a reason for it, a purpose yet to be revealed other than therapy.

Anyway, all that cooped up led me to take my doodles a little further. It was a curious time (isn’t curious a lovely word) and I was curious to see what would happen if I added colour to my doodles; so I did and changed from paper to canvas. This is acrylic on canvas, quite pleasing but I am beginning to wonder where am I going with this and is it still a doodle? Perhaps I'm taking this doodling thing too far.

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Lone Rangers...

 I used to play cowboys and indians. I’d get up each morning, slip into my jeans, check my waistcoat, put my cowboy hat on my head and strap on my twin holsters and guns. How I loved those guns with their silver bullets – kpaow, kpaow, bang, bang, you’re dead. Hi -Yo Silver awaaaaayyy!

Of course it was all play. I just wanted to be the Lone Ranger for a few hours. Nobody really got killed; there was no blood, no agony, no grieving families and friends to attend to. I defended my camp with boyish enthusiasm, but my guns were just toys, as lethal as a stick of liquorice or a sherbet dab bought from Smedley's corner shop.

Now, I look back on those days fondly, but also with a sense of unease. I spent so much time tracking down and shooting my baddie and goodie friends in play I wonder what would have become of me if, later in life, I’d had access to real guns. Would shooting people, killing them even, have seemed perfectly reasonable, particularly if they had encroached on my territory or been bad, giving me reason to shoot?

I read about the spree killings in America, so frequent that they hardly register any more, and dismiss them with a shake of my head in dazed bewilderment. How so great a country, a country purportedly built on freedom and respect for others, can allow these massacres to keep happening over and over and over again is almost unbelievable.

Today is the 7th of January. To date, just seven days into a new year, 147 people have been killed by guns in the USA and in the last 10 years 280,024 (well over a quarter of a million people) have been killed by guns in the USA. To put that in perspective only 24 Americans have been killed in the same period by terrorists. It would seem that America has a much more deadly enemy that ISIS and all the other terrorist organisations intent on destroying them, and that enemy is themselves.

Of course these deaths include suicides, but without access to a gun – so much easier than that bleeding to death in a bath or jumping in front of a moving train – I wonder how many people may not have taken their own lives.

It seems that nothing will ever change. So many Americans totally believe in their right to bear arms, so many of them want guns in their homes and want their children to know how to use them. Just how many Lone Rangers are there in America and how many baddies are there for them to kill, and are they really baddies? One person’s bad man can be another person’s saviour. It’s all about what you believe and think.

Looking at the gun situation in America and knowing that it isn’t going to change, is probably only going to get worse, I’m horrified. No wonder the president of the USA sheds tears at his hopeless inability to make any real difference. How must he feel as a leader? How must he feel as a father and a human being?

I have no answers, I have no wisdom to impart, all I can do is sit on this tiny island of ours and pray to any god that will listen that it never comes about that my neighbours will one day all have guns in their homes. With the state of parking on our road it would only be a matter of time before the shooting started – and no, I’m not joking. It doesn’t take much to light a fire in a man's mind and a man with a gun... well suddenly you have kpaow, kpaow, bang, bang, you’re dead and Hi -Yo Silver awaaaaayyy!

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Rambles and doodles 2105 - 2016…

Whoops I almost missed out an ‘e’.

I’ve been away as a few of you may have noticed. A few days away from the real world, time to take stock, have a think and consider what I need to do to make things easier for myself.

Of course rather than do that, I drank, slept more than usual and generally just wasted my time doing nothing and literally doodling my way into 2016.

On the stroke of midnight I found myself pen in hand and thinking (to paraphrase rock legends The Who) meet the New Year, same as the old year.

Well, what did I expect? Repetition is what I do! I’m an old dog and new tricks are not to be learnt. It’s just my medicine, taken daily, over and over, in the false hope that there is a cure - and I know that there really isn’t. Big fish will eat little fish, we are all puppets, don’t go into the woods, you can run but you can’t hide and even the Ju-Ju Jesus can’t save me; not from the old year that’s passed and certainly not from the new one to come.

Of course last year taught me nothing. Well, I may have said this before, but what did I expect? I upset and angered some people by saying and writing what I honestly think and believe, even had the police around for saying my piece and not giving in to bullying, overbearing family figures. And at the end of 2015 I found myself asking myself out loud as Big Ben bonged and the fireworks flew on the telly, why do I do this? Why don’t I just stop and give myself a break? Why don’t I just give in and seek a less angst ridden path? Actually, why don’t I just throw away my saintly cross, shut the fuck up and let the ship flounder on the rocks?

Why indeed?

The truth is that I don’t know. I pretend that it’s because I have no choice, but of course I do. I may not know the why, but I do know that at the end of the day it’s all about me. For good or bad it’s always been about me and if I stop telling people what I think, pointing out an alternative view, simply give in to what people want and be silent; then just who am I? Not me I think, and perhaps if I did stop then I wouldn’t even exist. I still hear the echoes of the past. You see little boys should be seen and not heard, but I haven’t been a boy for a very long time and I don’t think I was ever supposed to be little.

Sometimes I start to believe that it would be easier to just STFU and be quiet. Other times I even think that I should. But with great power comes great responsibility (as someone once said) and although I have no power and am certainly not great, I do feel a responsibility and I have felt that responsibility all my life. I feel responsible and that makes it my responsibility to try to…

Actually, I have no idea what I am trying to do or why and what I’m feeling responsible for. But the Quangle Wangle must have his hat along with a hook to hang it on.

Anyway it’s a new year. If I were sensible I’d resolve to turn over a new and calming leaf, to shut up, stand down, move on and give myself a break. I’d make myself stop feeling responsible and just shut the fuck up. But I’m not going to. I’m going to keep taking my medicine, regardless of who I upset and how it upsets my own sweet applecart. I’m a creature of habit you see and without the blessing of repetition I might just lose my way and God knows where that would take me - although I might end up in the woods, and I don't want to go there.

Happy New Year chums.