Sunday, 31 July 2016

Search for the inner pirate...

I’m on the Lizard in Cornwall, miles from anywhere and almost as far down as you can get on this ancient island of ours. It’s a Celtic place, a place of history, legend and strangeness and for me it’s a place of Long John Silver and pieces of eight. I’ve told myself that I’ve come looking for the inner pirate in me. But really I know that the pirate in me is long gone. Being a pirate needs energy and fire and I no longer have either.

I don’t know where all the pirates have gone. I’m sure that the last time I was here - over thirty years ago - that that there was a pirate or buccaneer on every corner and you couldn’t go to the beach without stumbling across a smuggler or an excise man. Wrecks and wreckers were almost a daily occurrence and under the hill, any hill, all the hills, King Arthur and his army were sleeping waiting to rise and save Kernow and the rest of the land if they could be bothered.

I expect that the dragons are still there in the caves on the beach. But I wouldn’t know. My knees won’t take the walk down the steps to get to them. There are still serving wenches in the Inns and the cider and beer is still good though – well It’s a sitting down opportunity - but I no longer expect to come across a black dog or Will o’the Wisp on Bodmin Moor at midnight. Anyway, by the time midnight comes I’ve been asleep snoring in my chair for at least a couple of hours.

I’m not the only one to have changed. Cornwall has changed too.

At a glance Cornwall looks just the same. Big skies, big sea and a myriad of tiny lanes to get lost in. But somehow it seems more manicured and all the old tumbledown cottages are now old and tumbledown in the most perfect of ways. Everything seems to be a marketing opportunity, whereas before it was just there and you stumbled across it without a tourist information leaflet to tell you it was there but not how much it costs to get in.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still having a good time. But the satnav stops you getting too lost so you never find that old lady selling cream teas for a shilling in the garden of her country cottage or meet that fisherman who sells you fresh mackerel on the beach and chucks in a bottle of grog for free just because he can.

Oh well, I still have a few more days to find my inner pirate.


Friday, 29 July 2016

Mr Shouty shouts some more...

Remember Mr Shouty that wholly fictitious character who bears no resemblance to any person living or dead? Well, he’s been up to his old fictitious shouty games again – doing that coercively controlling thing, bullying, making threats and generally intimidating people he shouldn’t want to intimidate. It’s almost as if he wants to alienate everyone he’s ever known in the fictitious world that he lives in – family, friends, even strangers.

Wait did I say ‘almost’? That’s exactly what he wants because then he will be totally in control, well totally in control of Mrs Shouty as nobody else will have anything to do with him these days. Even fictitious people won’t tolerate a bullying shithead for ever…

Mr Shouty is thinking. It doesn’t happen very often, but then he is asleep so maybe his subconscious is taking over.

Mr Shouty is thinking about a world where he’s nice. A world where people like him and don’t shuffle in corners when he turns up. A world where, instead of people avoiding him for his racist, sexist, bullying, really quite mindless views, they engage him in conversation instead of walking away before he makes then throw up.

He’s at a party in a garden and everyone is happy and having a good time. It’s his party and people have come because they want to see him and each other. He’s happy and they are happy too. Nobody dreads being there in case he loses his temper because somebody doesn’t agree that the sky is green, or the world is flat, or that all animals should be kept in cages, or that children should be seen and not heard (SLAP!). Nobody is worried that he may start hitting people and shouting at them for one of his imagined self-deluded reasons.

In this dream his family love him because he is a good person, husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, he’s a friend.

Yes, in his dream he isn’t a selfish cunt for a while. (Sorry I did try to find another word but none would do and it is Mr Shouty’s dream not mine.)

At first he likes it but then he begins to become uneasy. Wait a minute! People are having a good time. People are laughing and enjoying themselves. People are talking to each other without arguing. This isn’t right! This is dangerous! How can he be in control if he’s not shouting at everyone, setting them all against each other and generally making them do what he wants them to do with his threats and intimidation?

STOP! He screams and wakes himself up.

He’s shaking and in a cold sweat. The way he gets when someone stands up to him or asks him to leave in a shop for making a scene. He’s terrified of what he’s been dreaming. What if it were to become real? Who would he be then? Not the BIG MAN he is now, he’d be weak, he’d be nothing.




Mrs Shouty picks up the phone with her hand, carefully avoiding the strings Mr Shouty has attached to it over the years and calls the police. ‘I want to report a terrible crime,’ she says through her puppet mouth, ‘some people have been upsetting my husband by standing up to him and that will never do officer.’ After a few minutes of lying and crocodile tears she puts down the phone. ‘They’re on their way.’ She says.

Mr Shouty rubs his fictitious hands together and smiles.

What a nightmare they are.

Thursday, 28 July 2016


There are not a lot of pictures of me. I'm not comfortable around cameras thanks to my childhood and my bog standard looks. I like this one though and I'm rocking the hair.

Keeping the stone...

In the good old days deciding if you were mad or not was easy. Firstly you might have hairs on the palms of your hands and if you didn’t then looking for them was clearly a sign. Foaming at the mouth was also a pretty reliable indicator that you had lost the plot. Too much self-pleasuring could also do the trick with the added bonus of making you blind to boot.

Apart from wearing a chicken on your head, bearing your bottom in a public house, and acting a little simple, walking around naked in public was another sure fire affirmation that you were bonkers. Of course seeing visions, hearing voices, shouting out profanities, refusal to swear allegiance to the monarch, even getting pregnant out of wedlock could, and often did, get you either locked up in an asylum or sainted. 

Well I have done all of the things above except the pregnancy one. So I’m pleased that times have changed from the days when thinking and acting differently to the norm clearly labelled you a madman or woman.

Madness isn’t the simple thing it used to be. Back then if you were mad you were mad. It was a blanket term to explain any form of strange behaviour, an umbrella to catch all sorts of ‘not right’ thinking and actions. Today thankfully we have a better understanding of the mind and what was once simple madness - by yesterday's definition - is a now a host of things from anorexia and autism to psychosis and schizophrenia.

It still carries a stigma though if you are bonkers. He's as mad as a hatter, a nutter, one sandwich short of a picnic, not the full shilling, out of his mind, a loony, crazy, ga-ga, a basket case. But who really has the right to decide who is mad and who is not? I think we all experience altered states of minds at various times that cause us to behave differently to the ‘normal’ us. I know somebody who bursts into tears and screams and rages at the thought of a spider being in the same room as her, another very calm chap who when he gets behind the wheel of a car goes from being a polite young man to turning into an absolute sweary bloody bastard, yet another who likes to wear make-up and women’s clothes.

They are all mad by the definitions of even a hundred years ago when all those cowardly madmen soldiers came back from the trenches with shell shock.

It’s society who decide what is sanity and what isn’t and each society sees things differently. What would happen if somebody turned up today claiming to be the son of God, an ex-footballer for instance? How would the genius who was Van Gogh be treated today? How would Grayson Perry have been dealt with in Van Gogh’s time? I doubt that Van Gough would be locked away these days and I’m pretty sure that Mr Perry would have been incarcerated back then. What about Einstein at the time of the Inquisition? Dali, Gauguin, Beethoven, Bosch, Agatha Christie, Tesla, Schubert?

We all have a little madness in us. It used to be seen as a stone in the brain and surgeons would try to cut it out. But when that stone is used for good and with creativity it is a wonderful freedom and it's only where it is used to do harm and cause destruction that it becomes a debilitating prison for each of us - and I've known both. Talking for myself I'd prefer to have it. I think a person needs a little madness. How else would we ever dare cut the rope and be free of a stunting and numbing convention?

Madness can be a kind of freedom and as Mr Humphries used to say with such gleeful aplomb - ‘I’m free’.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Graduation Day - 26/07/16...

It really was a great day.

Last word from Wales...

On our last evening in Wales I wandered across to the field directly across the road from the cottage to watch the sunset.

I usually do this if there's a hint of red in the sky. Sometimes the sunsets are spectacular, other times slow to build, but they are always very calming and there's usually something going on in the field.

I've seen rabbits playing chase, male pheasants fighting, lots of sheep of course, and once there was a pig who had escaped from his sty and decided to have a roll in the grass. A few years back some wags set fire to the field just before haymaking - what jolly got fun, bloody idiots - and the air ambulance has landed here a couple of times to take some poor person to hospital after an accident.

This time it was cows, well beef cattle to be precise. I always thought that cows were pretty harmless, but that isn't true. Our farmer friend has had his arm broken and been knocked to the ground and trampled more than once. They are particularly edgy when they have calves as these do, so there's no way I'd venture into their field what with me being a stranger.

One of the calves was show white, you can just see him to the right of the picture. I watched him play with the other calves, butting and chasing them, leaping into the air and kicking out his hind hooves. He was full of energy and darted from one side of the field to the other. I couldn't help thinking about that children's song by Tommy Steel 'The Little White Bull'. I used to love that song when I was a kid. It never struck me that it was about bullfighting despite mention of toreadors, picadors, and matadors - or at least if it did I never made the connection between that little white bull and the cruelty of the bullring.

I stood watching the sun go down and humming the tune of 'The Little White Bull' until it was almost dark as the white creature careered around the field without a care in the world. I wonder if he'll still be there the next time I come, or will he have been sold on to raise for beef?

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Evening sunshine thoughts...

A few days away in a place I once so loved and need to start loving again. I'm a fickle old sod and with me absence makes the heart, or at least my memory, less fond.

When we first came here twenty years ago it was such a magical place. So different from home, so green and full of the unexpected - lizards clinging to walls, tucked away standing stones, those funny little shops that sell those funny little things, pubs that sold beer at a reasonable price and didn’t have plastic New England cladding on their walls to hide the rough and honest stone.

Back then I could frequently bump into Welsh Elvis in the High Street, but I haven’t seen him for years. The ancient little man in the mini-van, kept together with baling twine, who drove the roads at a maximum twenty miles an hour and smiled and waved at everyone he passed has long gone. Tin roofs on tin buildings are hard to find these days. Beach huts in Abersoch sell for £120,000 (yes, just last month) for a few planks of painted wood sitting on the sand and just where is the nephew of Clough Williams-Ellis who sold me logs, has he gone the same way as his missing fingers?

Ah, the heady days of my middle years when I could walk miles on the beach, climb hills without a puff being lost, and still had a little wonder left within my not so sullied soul. My old neighbours are gone. I was probably the last person to speak to Will (goodnight Will), I was certainly the first person to know that he was definitely dead when I checked his pulse the following morning as he lay cold in his bed.

All things must pass they say. As one door closes another opens, or as those annoying snake-lipped management types always proclaim with a lizard smile, ‘Embrace change and be open to it. Your job is to make yourself redundant’.

I feel more redundant each day, so I’ve done a good job boss – not that you ever were you know.

Back here I still remember the strange lights in the skies dancing on the clouds on a hot summer’s evening, the thrum and spark of the stone in the field beneath my hand on midsummer’s midnight, the hare that ran down the lane and leaped the garden wall, a drift of sheep drowning me in our front garden when I left the gate open, my first nuthatch one Christmas Day, mushrooms and blackberry jam, sunset on sunset on sunset. I remember. It may seem like a fuddled dream, but I remember.

I have reached a place in my life where I have too many choices and the hesitation of age that makes me reluctant to make them. The strange man I once nodded to on New Year’s Eve who carried a lamb in his arms like Jesus and became my friend is ill. Geronwy, such a good friend to us all. The weeds grow between my flags, the gravel path is half hidden by wanton daisies and my fence is gone, blown away by the spring gales and leaving my little hideaway open to full inspection.

So, here I am; the prodigal son returned. Not that I’m particularly prodigal (whatever that is) or anyone’s son these days since my fall from a shitty grace.

It’s time for some decisions.

Garden on graduation day...

Up at five-thirty and into my suit and biggest and best white shirt. Today is Holly's graduation day and I don't want to let anything spoil it, particularly not me.

First I did the washing up with a tea towel inventively clothes-pegged to my shirt in case of splashes, Then I made a coffee and lifted the kitchen window blinds. When I looked out of the kitchen window I couldn't believe it. The rain overnight had made everything brighter, like somebody had been splashing paint about.

Now I know I hand a hand in making this, just as I know that Holly has something to do with me. But in the end, although you might be a catalyst, things grow into beauty and value of their own accord. I certainly know that Holly has. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

Caught in a moment…

So I’m in Wales for the first time in a while, months in fact and a strange and sad few months they have been.

Those months have made me realise that no matter how hard you try or the plans that you make, life is random - fine in a single instant and a shitty mess the very next moment. No point in pondering on it, you just have to accept it and get on.

I used to think that I could make things happen, control my life, make it run to a plan. What a grand and confident fool I was. It isn’t us that are in charge, it is fate or karma or chance or whatever you want to call it, but certainly it isn’t us that controls the next moment – if anything at all really can and does control it. Perhaps the next moment is like a wind - stirred by the wings of a single imagined butterfly - that grows into a terrible storm to come crashing in on an unexpecting life to snatch it away in the moment.

I’m lying in my bed in the roof of our scruffy little cottage in Wales. It’s hot, really hot. The end of a long sunny day and the heat still hangs in the air. The bedroom smells dusty with bottled up heat and it’s quiet, so very, very quiet. Even the electricity wires outside my window are still. No sound from them as they lie in the heat tonight. I’m hoping for a breeze and perhaps a storm to cool the air, rain thrumming on the roof, the wires humming with thunder and lightning. I don’t know if it will come. I can no more control the weather than I can control the next moment of my life.

Something screams in the empty space of the distance. An animal of some kind meeting its end on the end of a predator’s talons, or the sound of an unsuspecting soul passing quickly and suddenly in a dark and unexpectedly short night. Simply a moment for the screamer as the screamer’s time runs out. I shiver, not with cold because it is still hot, the rain not coming, the breeze not stirring the long grass outside, the wires remaining silent. Perhaps it was that butterfly that screamed, the long imagined silent scream of a final flutter caught in a moment.

How I wish those wires would sing.

It’s still half-light outside, a glow in the distance in the place where the sea lies beneath the deep red cloud and the lighthouse stands. The full dark won’t come until later when the moment of those bleak early hours brings me some sleep and darkness I hope.

Bring me that next moment.

If I’m lucky there will be a next moment and that moment will be a good one and the one after that, and after that, and after that until all those moments add up into a long and good life. But there’s no guarantee. Fate may have already started me on some other journey. Karma may have decided it’s time for me to pay my dues. Chance may be about to roll me an unlucky number. That butterfly may have flapped her last and final flap of those delicate wings. We just can’t know can we?

Where’s that rain? I need it to come and gently pitter-patter me to sleep.