Sunday, November 29, 2009

A bit of a headache

I used to get migraines quite frequently: about once every six or seven weeks. At the risk of tempting fate, I've not had a 'real' migraine for a few years (one of the very few positive side-effects of the anti-depressants I was on for a few weeks). I can't say that I miss them.

I once had an argument with somebody at a conference who said that they wouldn't wish a migraine on their worst enemy. I would. In fact, I think that everybody should have one migraine in their life, if only to put paid to the fiction that a migraine is "a bit of a headache." Each person's migraine is an individual nightmare. No two seem to be the same. I think most of us get the completely disorienting pain and nausea, and the agony of somebody's driving a rusty tent-pole down from the top of your head right through your palate. After that we seem to get a variety of scary experiences.

I'm slightly synaesthetic as a matter of normal course. Nothing spectacular, and certainly nothing as interesting as the reader who told the Radio Times:

"To me Thursday evening has always been pale pink with a faint green stripe growing broader towards nine o'clock. I am sure that all your readers will be thrilled to know this."

In my case I usually just have a slight blurring round the edges between sight and sound: some sharp sounds have a vague visual component, a bit like a flash of light caught in the corner of your eye or. If I'm really tired they might translate into a momentary flash of some dark amorphous shape, a bit like the negative version of the shape you see when caught unawares by a bright light. During a migraine this was amped up to the max, to the extent where some noises almost became a physical assult.

I'd know I was leading up to a biggy by the signs. At the time I was sharing an office with Jimmy Huddersfield; whenever his 'phone rang I'd get a jab in my head (at the parietal/post-orbital boundary) and a messy navy-blue rectangle would sort of hover about three feet away to the left. The idling of a bus engine was vaguely orange. When the migraine proper kicked it all I could do was lie down, close my eyes and watch the firework party, in between mopping myself down and wiping up the sweat.

These days, touch wood, I just get the preliminaries. The worst I get is the dizziness provoked by high-contrast repeat patterns at the periphery of my vision (think shopping centre designer vinyl flooring). I reckon that's bad enough.

My sympathies, for what they're worth, to any of you who suffer the real thing.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


The small niece has been regaling us with song. She started with an entirely passable (and word-perfect) medley of Half-Man, Half Biscuit songs (including exactly the right cadence for the lines "I'm going to play Pat Boone/On the county bassoon"), then gave us the naughty schoolchild's version of the Spiderman theme and finished off with a lusty rendition of "Jingle bells, Batman smells."

"Who taught you these?" I asked, knowingly.

"My daddy," she beamed.

I can't help feeling territorially offended. It should properly be the uncle's job to provide the irresponsibility in the tot's life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Letting the side down

Catching up with Monday's incoming mail I find that the RSPB has sent me an Urgent Albatross Appeal.

If there's not a spare one in the airing cupboard I'm afraid I'll have to disappoint them.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Just because...

Sunday singalong

And keeping the running Kurt Weill vibe...

Friday, November 20, 2009


Presented as a public service...




Saxe Blue

Chinese White

Purple Madder

Silk Green

Tyrian Purple

Primrose Yellow

Raw Umber

Burnt Sienna


Donkey Brown


Crimson Lake

Cobalt Blue

Persian Blue

Naples Yellow

Raw Sienna

Hooker's Green

Indian Yellow

Prussian Blue

Lamp Black

Paris Green

Vandyke Brown

Duck Egg Blue

British Racing Green

Pansy Violet

Scarlet Lake

Sap Green

Venetian Red

Yellow Ochre


Salmon Pink


Japanese Imperial Purple

For some unaccountable reason I have an urge to dig out the Oxo tin full of pastels...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

When was the last time you saw bice?

Back in the old days, back when hedgerows were fringed with the scent of Riley Elf and Jowett Javelin, small children would occasionally be awarded a paint set. In them days a paint set was a gaudy bit of tin tray holding a confectionary array of teeny-tiny tablets of watercolour paint, each one exotically-labelled. There would be Gamboge, an earthy orange fire that did the business for ginger toms and ice cream cones. Chinese White, always the colour of colouring-book paper, would be there, too. As would Silk Green and Primrose Yellow and Purple Madder. And Bice.

What was Bice about? It wasn't Olive Green, because that was over there next to the Raw Umber. Bice wasn't quite brown, nor green, nor yet yellow. It was that strange not-quite khaki that you only ever saw in paint boxes and the stairwells of government buildings that had been redecorated under the Utility Mark in the forties.

I haven't seen Bice since the early seventies. Nor yet Silk Green or Chinese White. Nor fiery, exotic Gamboge. They have gone the way of all things. We must enjoy our Vermillions and Burnt Siennas while we may, we shall not see their likes again.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Under the weather

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Layers of regret

A friend. a good friend long since passed from us, once got more than usually annoyed with me when in her cups two hundred miles away and rang me in the middle of the night to give me an ear-bashing. She had decided, quite rightly, that in my timidity and cowardice I was damaging the feelings and self-esteem of a very attractive Scotswoman. And so I was and did.

(It is my way: my problem is that I actually like women very much. When I find my feelings moving from friendship to passion I'm afeared of ruining a friendship by saying something stupid and scaring the poor woman to death. I find it vanishingly unlikely that my feelings would be reciprocated and am consequently very hard work indeed and Extremely Trying To The Patience. The one time in my life that a woman has literally thrown herself at me in a fit of passion I thought she'd slipped on her high heels and that the subsequent tears of anger and frustration meant that she'd hurt her ankle. She reminded me of that for years.)

My friend on the 'phone had seen enough the previous weekend and wasn't going to shilly-shally any:

"Hello love, are you OK? Why are you ringing at this hour?"

"Ooh, you do annoy me! I've decided you need a good talking-to. Are you listening? Next time you see her this is what you do..."

"Oh. Right. Thank you for that. You know, if I'd ever done that to you you'd have given me a thick ear."

"If you'd ever done that to me you'd have deserved a thick ear. Now have you been listening to me? What have I just told you?"

And so on. For another half hour.

I don't know how we got into the habit. I'm not even sure which of us did it the first. Every so often when we'd get together one, other or both of us would bring along the current object of affection for approval. At the first opportunity, one would lean over to the other and whisper: "Well? What do you think?" We'd been doing that for a dozen years before I realised it myself.

My friend was a wonderful mixture of keen intelligence and apparent innocence. As wild as little strawberries, she was a humanising influence on me and she recognised that the attractive Scotswoman was both a civilising influence and somebody who'd put up with a bit of my routine stupidity without indulging me in it. And when I got that last, consoling, kiss on Blackfriars Bridge I realised, too late, that she was dead right.

My friend managd better. We all knew when she finally found the elusive "Mr. Right." As they told me stories of their adventures and their plans for adventures to come I leaned over to her, winked and whispered: "He's the one."

"Oh yes? How are you so sure?"

"You let him call you 'babe'."

Losing somebody at sea is a strange thing. It sounds like carelessness and there is no ceremony of closure. I find it difficult to let go at the best of times and the fantasy of its being an unfortunate happenstance with a happy ending was a difficult one to chase away. How long was Alexander Selkirk on that island? In my dreams I'd have a million-and-one questions, nearly all of which would already have been asked in wearisome and/or distressing detail. And in my dreams I'd just ask the one question: "have you time for a cup of tea?"

In a sane and just world she'd be surrounded by cats and kids and empty yoghurt pots with odds and ends stuffed in them. It isn't and she isn't and it is to be regretted.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Mirror, mirror...

One of those days where I realise that I've stopped playing at middle age as I'm fast approaching it.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Friday singalong

I've spooked myself: while chatting online with somebody about David Bowie records I suddenly realised that the singer from The Flying Lizards reminded me of somebody I used to know.

You can't fight fate...

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Splish, splash, splosh, little autumn showers

I'm fairly lucky in that despite all the recent rains we're not overly likely to get serious flooding round our way. We're close enough to the Mersey in its juvenile stages for to get the necessary drainage. Which isn't to say that we get off entirely scot free: the roads are like rivers due to the council's cutting the corporation gulley suckers out of last year's budget. Each roadside grid is like a small, oily lagoon.

If I get the chance this weekend I'll have to tip some of the water out of the baskets and containers in the garden. My usual problem is under-watering the poor beggars; I don't think this will be an issue in the next week or two.

It's been a funny autumn out there. Everything seemed to stop flowering for a week in early October and I thought that was it until the winter shrubs kick in. Then, one by one, flowers started to pop up at random. All the roses are now in full bloom again, as are the snapdragons and sweet williams, and the fuchsias are doing better now than at any time so far this year. Really odd, but rather nice.

witch hazel and Olearia More disappointing are a couple of recent casualties. I had a really splendid witch hazel, just in sight of the living room window. For some reason that's died a death. And over the past two weeks the Olearia that had been doing so well in the far border has pegged out. A pity.

I'll have to grub both out this winter and have a think about what to put in their stead. I fancy some oriental poppies and a load of fennel.

Monday, November 02, 2009

End of Part One

Just after the hit radio show "The Burkiss Way" and before "Whoops Apocalypse," here we find Andrew Marshall and David Renwick writing the nice, genteel, drawing-room comedy that we just don't see any more...

Sunday, November 01, 2009

True romance

My mother and father:

"Now what are you doing? I'm trying to read the paper."

"I'm holding your hand, love. Doesn't that send a thrill of excitement through your body?"

"Not especially. I hope your hands are clean."

"You used to like me holding your hand when we were courting."

"If I let you have two free hands you'd have eaten all my sweets."