Friday, December 31, 2010


The pianist Alan Clare was at a party when a guest approached him and asked if he'd play a request.

"Why yes," said Clare, "which song is it?"

"That's What You Are."

"That's What You Are? I don't know that one."

"Oh, you must do. It's been on the radio and everything."

"Well, can you sing a bit of it and I'll see if I can pick it up?"

This is the song...

Have a good New Year, all.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Taking stock

A friend recently told me that she reckons that I engage with real life as little as I think I can get away with. Which is a devastatingly accurate assessment. Particularly as at the time I had just been caught doing something I shouldn't have and was temporising wildly with a view to bullshitting my way out of the corner I'd painted myself into*. I'm not awfully good at engaging with real life.

I think that I have been kidnapped and replaced by alien beings intent on spying on humankind. Having scared my workmates silly by being mellow and festive and stuff all Christmas Eve, I spent the day itself being avuncular at my family, topping it all by crying buckets at the ending to "How The Grinch Stole Christmas."

Which both lead me to the matter in hand.

Why am I writing any of this?

Some people blog because they're creative people wanting to work creatively and a blog is a good way of building a portfolio or practising their crafts or sharing and testing ideas. Some of the people in my blogroll are proper writers and poets, artists and authors and pretty damned good they are, too. Other people are instinctively chatty and sociable and use their blogs as just another social network, like the equivalent of having a chat with people while you're at the laundrette. And others are just exploring, wanting to know what this blogging business is and how it works.

I started blogging a few years back primarily to get a pile of lousy work-related stuff off my chest rather than continue to internalise it and do myself any further damage. Counsellors often suggest keeping a diary or journal of things that have hurt/annoyed or delighted because it helps to provide context and perspective and can also be a record of progress. I'm crap at keeping a diary but keeping a blog turned out to be within my powers, which is how the other blog came about. And that's mostly done the trick for me. This blog was always intended, in so far as I had any intentions at all, just to be a commonplace book where I put odds and ends, possibly for future use. That has changed over time - apologies to those of you who have been occasionally dismayed by the fruits of a combination of insomnia and a natural inclination to melancholia.

Which brings us, eventually, and about time too, to the matter in hand: "the blogging malaise."

I'm one of the people who's been complaining that blogging's been a bit of a struggle lately. And I've worked out why I'm struggling:
  • Time is a factor. As I've said elsewhere, there's only so often you can complain about a repetitive failure before the complaint becomes a repetitive failure in itself. Our train services are lamentable; icy pavements are slippery; some library managers couldn't run a bath - how often do these things need saying? Once, if at all. So the bar needs to be constantly reset.
  • I've lost my anonymity - I now have an audience. That's sounds a bit ungrateful; I don't mean it to be, I'm pathetically grateful that anyone bothers to pass by and have a read. It's just that there's a lot more freedom in scribbling on the wall of a virtual bus shelter for your own amusement. I'm more than happy to concede that freedom in return for the interplay and commentary.
  • And this is the one I've been hedging round: I really have lost my anonymity. Over the past year, both as Kevin and the bloke he masquerades as in real life, I've been taking down walls. I'll be honest: for me that's very scary indeed. I live with the constant fear of the Wizard of Oz moment where somebody pulls back the curtain and says: "oh look, it was only him all along." Hence all the flannel and walls and barriers and stuff. Well, some of you I'm friends with in real life; some of you are cyberbuddies with both of us; and some of you even know what address to use should a world-wide glut of dancing ladies need to be distributed to the poor. You'll have to forgive me for being nervous about that, it's in my nature. But I absolutely wouldn't change it, thanks for being friendly.
All of which change the dynamics of posting to my blogs. There are a series of self-limiting factors to be negotiated: topics I can't write about because however heavily-disguised the confidences, they're still identifiable if you have the context; comments or stories that could compromise desirable outcomes, that sort of thing. And I have to be a bit more careful about not frightening the horses unnecessarily because if I've learned nothing else over the years I've found that people in the blogging community worry about each other. None of which are insurmountable challenges.

So I'll be carrying on blogging in 2011 (online community starts gnashing teeth). I've no idea what I'll be withering on about, all I know is that it's going to be a year full of big changes and surprises whether I like them or not.

There are a few people I've lost contact with lately or who have left the blogosphere. In some cases it's because they've found new and exciting things (and people!) to do. For other people the causes are changes in circumstances and/or health. In any case, if you happen to be reading this make sure that you pick up one of those virtual sacks of best wishes in the corner over there.

In fact, there's a sack each for everyone, so don't go away empty handed. I'll try and make a better fist of keeping in contact with what everyone's doing and engaging with realities, including this virtual one. And you can nag me if I don't.

Has someone been putting something in my tea...?

*Well, you're wrong. But I'm not going to tell you what it was either. Serves you right for going straight for the smutty stuff.

Friday, December 24, 2010

An old bloke's memories of Christmas

Christmas is that funny time of year when we choose for the usual "natural" order of the way of things to be seen through the distorting mirrors of sentiment and holly. When people who go out of their way to avoid each other all year get together in the spirit of goodwill to all men to compare scary jumpers. And others stress themselves to the nines to get a bit of turkey on the Christmas plate.

We are no different. Most of my family lives nearby so it's fairly convenient to get together and - importantly - to be able to drift off and do our own things for an hour or two rather than getting too santaclaustrophobic.

The day, inevitably, starts with the rituals of opening the presents. This is the bit I like. I'm seriously not fussed about getting any presents myself (which winds people up no end), I like the giving bit for the opportunity to feel a bit smug about myself. I drift over late enough to have missed my niece's opening most of her presents, which isn't a deliberate avoidance, just the difference in time clocks between a nocturnal old bloke and a tiny tot. My presents will have been deposited with my parents and they'll have spent Christmas Eve stacking everybody's presents neatly just where anybody can accidentally knock them over and get them mixed up again. It's a tradition, we don't spoil it. The next half hour is a confusion of pass the parcel, Danger UXB and the conveyor belt round of The Generation Game. My dad will have shaken all the parcels to see if they rattle: we don't do the piece of Lego in an Oxo tin any more and all bottles are wrapped up to be bottle shaped.

My brother will have taken temperance wine with the clergy of several parishes and will be spending the morning with his Beano Book.

Being children of The Empire, before they knocked it down and turned it into the brutalist seventies slums of Hulme, we wave our Union Jacks during the Royal Speech and say things like: "King George's stammer's got better" and "Does Queen Mary know he's wearing that?" while wondering what's on the other channel.

Christmas dinner coincides with the slice of monarchy. Despite my protestations that I'm happy enough with a chip butty and please, please don't stress yourself out so much, it's always a full turkey and trimmings. These days my dad's on cooking duties and he does a seriously good job of it, better than I'd manage. And he gets himself dead worried about the whole business. Mind you, if I tried juggling all that lot I'd be a sobbing wreck in the corner of the kitchen.

And then we relax.

Have a good Christmas, everybody. Look after you and yours.

Monday, December 20, 2010


Damn. I've broken me walking stick.

I'll *have* to buy that Malacca cane now!

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Yuletide log

My parents have caught my mood aright. This is the verse to the Purple Ronnie Xmas card they've sent me:

"I hate Xmas Compliments
I hate Festive Cheer
My Yuletide Log has melted
Into Yuletide Diarrhoea"

Thursday, December 16, 2010


Visiting friends for a meal and a fillum I felt I had to excuse the walking stick.

"Knees a bit dodgy," I explained.

"Probably sensible in this weather," they replied.

When did we get this old?

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Experiments in sound

I've been wondering why the volume on this laptop keeps slipping from my default setting of Very Quiet Indeed.

I turns out that there is an undocumented* volume control knob in a position to be moved by my loins. While one has to question the thinking behind the design, I have to be pathetically grateful to find that my loins are still capable of moving anything.

* I'm male and I work with computers and librarians. Of course I don't read the documentation!

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Grey Sunday

Last night's rain has frozen on the pavements and odd patches of snow still litter the garden. It all looks a tad bleak. Even the blue tits and the robin are hunched up in their dufflecoats. Most of the goldfinches that usually adorn the garden have gone missing for the duration, though the duration of what quite escapes me. Winter has definitely come early: the Mahonia has all but finished flowering; most years it's at its peak at Christmas, providing a rich source of nectar and unseasonal insects for the tits and blackcaps. I'll have to put out sugared almonds.

The sensation within the family at the moment is my dad's pineapple. He decided he was going to do that thing where you grow new pineapple from the green bits at the top of a shop-bought one (mine's on the landing). The one he kept has grown apace, September's new spurt of leaves having pushed the plant off the back windowledge. He's now got it on the floor in the front bedroom, the better for us to marvel at the thing. For it is now flowering. A small pink pineapple on a stick, full of flower buds and wonder. We don't yet know what you need to fertilise the flowers and set fruit, it'll be interesting to see how it goes. I just hope it's not like a Bramley apple, needing two more plants of different varieties to set a crop.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010


It's been snowing in Manchester. Not the deep and crisp and even sort of snow. Just that typically-English light dusting, just enough to make it treacherous underfoot. People walking down Deansgate like so many Lego men. That sort of snow.

A bunch of us were crossing Lloyd Street when a middle-aged pig on a bicycle heaved into us all, shouting: "Get out of the way you fucking morons!" Which was a bit much given that most of us were halfway across the road before he'd even got to the junction and turned right into the road. He was a bit taken aback by the pedestrians' volley of well-meaning advice, though most of it would have been anatomically impossible, even with the best-greased of bicycles.

Sunday, November 28, 2010


I'll be glad when I can take this moustache off at the end of the month. In some lights it makes me look as if I'm going prematurely grey.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

New balls please

The dress code for The Gabba press box this week states: "Shorts are okay but collared shorts must be worn and no thongs."


The swimwear section's the most eagerly-awaited part of Test Match Special.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Barren wastes

Me and my muse appear to be having an estrangement at the moment. Which is unfortunate as I've got a ton and a half of stuff needing to be turned into deathless prose, most of which is, unfortunately, work-related. There are project outlines to sketch out; a couple of training plans; some presentations and a couple of articles, hopefully for publication. Which is all usually just fine, I can just jump in there and get it all done in next to no time, in between swearing at telephones and drawing rude things on people's newspapers. Except that I can't. Over the past few months the well has been running increasingly dry and I really don't know why. The ideas are still there and I can still come up with one or two sentences or phrases that will hang an argument on the bannister but actually writing them all up coherently is definitely a serious struggle lately. Given that I am, essentially, an ineffectual dreamer this is a bit of a blow. Being able to share a vision with people who have drive but less imagination is my sole defence against the charge of fecklessness. I have no easy answers. And I have a difficult relationship with reality in the first place. There's no actual antagonism, it's just that we share so few frames of reference we find it difficult to connect amiably. But I wouldn't like anyone to be cruel to it; I like to see it dressed up and looking its best for the occasion.

Must try harder.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kamera Kapers

Martha Raye in Hellzapoppin. Great fun.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Secret ingredients

I've been tagged (agh!) by that Scarlet Blue. (I blame EmmaK.) The question is: what is my secret recipe for a perfect partner? Actually, the literal question is "what is my secret recipe for the perfect man" but self-praise is no recommendation. So I'll concentrate on a perfect woman...

  1. She must be able to cope with being surrounded by books. Quite a lot of books. By any objective measure rather too many books, but she wouldn't say so.
  2. She would need a love of old black and white movies. At the very least she would be delighted by a Pabst double bill or a season of RKO horror movies.
  3. One of us needs to be able to drive. It isn't me.
  4. She would need to be able to cope with the fact that for all the talk and blather I am, allegedly, one of the world's most uncommunicative men.
  5. Freckles would be nice.
  6. She would be able to remind and coax without my deciding I was being nagged.
  7. I have views on the heptagon formed by a woman's nape, shoulder girdle and spine...
  8. ...and the jugular angle of a lady's jaw.
  9. She would be a good cook but would allow me my moments in the kitchen.
  10. And she would laugh easily at the daftest of things. We would giggle uproariously at the small ads in the paper.
There we go. Any of you who fancy having a go who haven't already been tagged, well consider yourself tagged.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Something for the weekend

I like how Durex now has a range of condoms labelled "Extra Large," moulded for a really snug fit for The Insecure Gentleman.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Like you do

I once had cause to throw a rose into the English Channel. You don't need to know why, it doesn't take a lot of scratching of my surface to uncover a rich seam of cloying Victorian sentimentality. Any sensible practical person would have gone out on a boat or ferry and dropped the rose off into the briny somewhere along the way as they leant against the railings. Being neither of these I decided it would be a good idea to take a walk along to the end of a very long breakwater. In a south-westerly gale. Half an hour later, what was left of the rose managed to land in the water and the job was done.

A lad should know his strengths. I have a facility for turning high melodrama into low farce.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Dabbling in the leafmould

I haven't re-ignited my love affair with Autumn but I have, at least, recovered a fondness for it. To celebrate the realisation I started the day with crumpets laden with my sister's home-made rowan jelly. I supplied the rowan berries a couple of years ago; this year's crop is in my freezer ready for her. It's a good job that I got a couple of bags full when I did: on the Sunday the tree was ablaze with orange berries, with odd bits of green leaf poking out here and there when the wind blew, by the following Saturday there was nary a one to be seen. Half a dozen blackbirds scoffed the lot, in between chasing each other noisily round the branches. I also have the Himalayan rowan, Sorbus hupehensis, which the blackbirds generally leave alone and which are usually festooned with pearly white berries right up to the middle of January when the mistle thrushes finally cotton on to them. They'll find meagre pickings this year as the blackbirds have scoffed the lot already. Some or other wise old weather-beaten sage would read much into this. I just think the blackbirds had a good breeding season and raised a brood of greedy hooligans. For some reason all of them ignore the roadside hawthorn just down the road and every Spring we're treated to a red and white confection of haws and mayflowers.

Each morning is heralded by a cacophony of starlings, with the robin and the wren chucking in their two penn'orth to make sure we don't forget they're around. Between the motorway, the airport and things with feathers there's not a lot of hope for a quiet life round here.

In the garden long enough to fill the bird feeders, plant some more bulbs and set to digging out some of the brambles. If you live by a railway line brambles, rosebay and sycamores are a fact of life. Years of experience have taught me that a sturdy pair of gardening gloves covered by a thick pair of acid-proof latex gauntlets (my brother's in the chemical industry) give me a good enough grip on a bramble stem to be able to drag the plant out of the ground with my only getting two or three deep scratches. A similar arrangement works for weeding through the gooseberry bush.

A short interlude while I watch a mixed tit flock arrive in the garden. Coal tits are harbingers of winter round here. The pair in this flock are freshly-moulted and finely dark olive grey with pale pink bellies. There's only four or five long-tailed tits, which is a bit of a worry as there was a family flock of fifteen during the summer.

I should enjoy it while I can, I suppose.

Saturday, October 23, 2010


It was a hard week at work. Mind you, they're all feeling like hard weeks at work these days. I'm getting mard. Plans for an early night and a bit of kip were dashed by the party a few doors down. They'd put the dogs in the garden out of the way, so we had a whole evening's yapping from the dogs, understandably miffed that they were missing out on a good thing. The party spilled out into the garden just after 2am and the fight started in earnest just before four. How delightful.

Went round to my parents' for lunch. My dad's first try at shin beef and dumplings. The lad did good. My niece called round and, with all the impatience you'd expect of a five year-old, decided she was going to wear her Halloween ball outfit because it made her look like a princess. I suggested Princess Dracula. She gave me A Look.

"Do you know what your son just said to me?" she asked my dad. I know I'm in deep shit when I'm "your son" or "your brother."

And I'm not to call her Frankenstein's granny either.

Despite it being a fairly sombre sort of day I didn't much fancy getting out in the garden but the work needs doing. I spent a hour in the rain cutting back the clematides that festoon the old lilac tree, more for the sake of saying I've done something useful this weekend than very much else.

The phlox and pelargoniums are still game, despite the weather, and the back garden is awash with crocus and Sweet Williams. Much to my delight, I find that the cyclamen have seeded themselves into interesting new places under the currant bush at the bottom of the garden.

It's not so bad.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

All muck and cobwebs

"You'll have to watch out for yourself," said my mother. "It says here that homes across the country are going to be invaded by sex-crazed spiders."

I'm going to have to stop her reading newspapers.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


Over the past few weeks I've noticed that the media and web pages I'm reading keep making slighting comments about Nick Clegg's conscience. I find this dismaying. This is, of course, more proof, as if needed, of the increasing delinquency and barbarism of the modern age.

We were always taught not to speak ill of the dead.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Waiting for the wardrobe

The Disputed Toll by Heywood HardyThe answer to the celebrity puzzle in today's paper was "Stan Boardman." Next week there'll be a quiz about Dan Leno.

The express train on my home line is once every half hour. My local stopping train is once an hour, five minutes after the previous express. Someone in their wisdom decided it would be a good idea to schedule a rail maintenance freight train in that five minute interval. We watched it chug past the station, all eight minutes' worth of it. Then we got on our train and waited ten minutes for the signals to clear for passage.

Thursday, October 07, 2010


There is much in this life that depresses me. The idea that any part of Salford could be re-named "MediaCityUK" provokes a long howl of despair.

They'll be making tripe trendy next.

Sir Jos Fosdyke would be spinning in his grave.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010


Well, at least Blackjacks still leave your tongue bluey-green.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Les parapluies de Manchester

A random selection of music to do the washing up by threw this one up as the first song.

Don't forget your wellingtons.

Saturday, October 02, 2010


Much though I get on reasonably well with women on a general level once every so often I'm reminded that they're not like the rest of us. A case in point: freckles.

A chap will see freckles on a lady's face and think how attractive they are. They may even have to make an active effort to avoid the word "cute."

A lady looks in a mirror, sees freckles on her face and slaps on a couple of layers of warpaint to obliterate them from view to make herself look "more attractive."

Not like the rest of us.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Looking at the state of the living room - those piles of books here, that pile of DVDs there, the layer of dust on the mantlepiece (I only dusted it last month, I don't know where it all comes from) - I wonder, yet again, if this place couldn't do with the occasional bit of attention by one of those strange chaps with the lumps on the front. Not to do the cleaning and tidying, well not necessarily anyway, but to look disapprovingly or to need to sit down somewhere, that sort of thing. I know how it feels: there have been times in my life when I could have benefited from somebody saying: "you're not going out like that!" or "I think you're over-thinking that one," or, more usually, "you know that thing that you said you were going to do? Did you remember to do it?" Of course, this would need to be said in a gentle and loving way as I don't respond terrifically well to nagging. Mind you, I'm told I don't respond terrifically well to such requests made in a gentle and loving way, either, though I suspect the personal agenda of the source of that opinion.

Anyway, it's all looking a bit untidy at the moment.

Evidently I've gone through some sort of mild depressive episode over the past couple of months. Which is strange as I haven't felt depressed. Tired, yes, but then I have been over-flogging a couple of dead horses. Pissed-off, certainly, but if being pissed off was a key diagnostic for depression then most of the country outside the City of London would be under the doctor for it. And yet... There are things depressives do and I've been doing them. Such as fretting about official letters that won't go away when you put newspapers on top of them and then just turn out to be sales pitches for new gas boilers or new ways of paying your electricity bill by selling your children to utility companies. Or worrying about the local train services - ha! I might as well worry about the state of the customs depot on Krakatoa. And somewhere in one of those four piles of books on the sofa is the book I think I'm reading at the moment. Odd little things that you don't notice yourself until they're dug in as habits but which somebody else might quickly pick up on and challenge. Or not, as the case may be (I've had feedback on that one, too!)

I'll just have to be more careful. All the evidence suggests that we're going to be entering a Winter of dismay, I'll just have to take care not to bring too much of it home with me.

Note to self: buy some Harold Hare comics and a crate of cream soda.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Inkwell impery

I'm hoping to start catching up with myself some time soon. Ish.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Damsons in distress

The cold snap has arrived and I've wheeled out the slow cooker again. Chickpeas, carrots, leeks and walnuts: a stew on day one, a vegetable accompaniment to sausages on day two and soup on day three. Nothing special but at least comfortable.

I think I've taken the last of the fruit from the garden. I've put a big bag of rowanberries in the freezer for the family jelly maker (my sister). For the most part it's been a productive year. The pear and the fig disappointed (badly-timed frosts put off the bumble bees and chalcid wasps) and the damson has underperformed again (frost and exposed site; I'll have to sort something out over the winter). So I had enough damsons to be too many for everyday use and not enough to start jam-making with. I didn't want to waste them so I had a bit of a think. In the end I decided to make a sauce, a keeper for in the fridge.
  • A dozen or so damsons
  • Some vegetable oil
  • A small red onion
  • Two or three hot green chilis (Jalapeno or, if you're up for it, the hot sweet ones that you get in Asian markets)
  • A good-sized lemon
  • Cinnamon
  • White wine vinegar
Stone and quarter the damsons. Finely chop the onion. Coarsely chop the chilis. Gently stew them in the oil with about a third of a teaspoon of cinnamon until the damsons have broken down. The skins will start to colour the pan. When it becomes a violently rose pink it's ready for the next step. Grate in as much lemon rind as you fancy then add the juice of the lemon. Let it simmer for a few minutes until it's quite thick then pour it into a sterilised jar. Deglaze the pan with a splash of wine vinegar and top the jar up with it.

It's kept a week so far. Hot and tart, it's a nice add-on to a cheese toastie.

(I'd always wondered how a Turkish restaurant I know got such an interestingly-coloured chili paste.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Mystery tour

A felicitous mishearing on the train:

"We will shortly arrive at Lancaster. This train will then become the service to Bahrein and Morecambe."

Sunday, September 12, 2010


The small niece-child was telling me a phenomenally-animated version of Alice In Wonderland. We had the white rabbit and falling through a strange hole in the ground; then we had to eat some sweets to get through a very small door and we met queens both white and red. I was enthralled.

I still don't believe the Blues Brothers went to the Mad Hatter's tea party, though.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Blue Lamp

In the ceaseless war against crime Greater Manchester Police are utterly ruthless. Not only do they deploy attractive young policewomen with huge brown eyes to the Piccadilly Gardens patrol...

...they put them on horseback.

I was nearly arrested for drooling.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Learning with father

Overheard on the tram:

"Daddy, what's that blue light for?"

"That shows when there's an emergency."

"What's the green light for?"

"That's an ejector seat."

"Oh. Then what's that red light for?"

"When that's on you can talk to the driver and he'll tell you off for pressing that big red button on the door."

"What happens if you press it and ask him for sweeties?"

"He tells you to fuck off."

Monday, August 30, 2010


I'm quite fond of the work of Neil Innes and have been since back when he was with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. His songs have a depth of impish wistfulness which appeals to me. The combination of his sometimes beautifully poetical music with slyly off-kilter, occasionally even sinister, lyrics and delivery are always worth a second or third listen. His dark songs are very dark indeed, though always with an element of "let's take the piss out of the bogey man" to be found somewhere. And his straightforward let's-be-silly songs are an utter joy. It's a nice day, so I thought I'd share.

His stuff for "The Rutles" was spot on. In fact, that was part of the problem: it was too spot on, the songs are Beatles pastiches rather than parodies. But they did the job they were supposed to do and they're fun to listen to. He could always do a good Beatles; have a listen to Montana Cafe.

"The Innes Book of Records" and collaborations with one or other of the Monty Python team gave him free rein to romp around and show his versatility. Here's a selection of goodies:

  • "My Little Ukelele," a nice, but definitely not slavish, George Formby number.
  • "UFO Shanty," not trad. arr. Grainger. Come on, K9!
  • "Cats Don't Like The Rain," one of my favourites. I think the music's beautiful and the lyrics sneak up on you.
  • "Down That Road," inspired by all those Inspirational Ballads, complete with cynically-manipulative descending chords, that used to get sung all the time by blokes with lots of teeth on "Stars On Sunday."
  • "Mississippi Moon," has a very obviously Stan and Ollie vibe with touches of Leroy Shield's incidental music which then lurches into the vocal equivalent of a Krazy Kat Kartoon.
Here's a video version of "Godfrey Daniels," a multi-layered absurdity. And, like all the best absurdities, worth having a think about.

I did mention sinister, didn't I? Here's the video to "Down That Road." The world was a dark place long before Royston Vasey...

And lastly, well here's a treat. A daft and deft delight.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Still on the subject...

Lunch with my cousin. We've not seen each other for over a decade and have never really been particularly close. Lunch is an affable enough affair, we chat about this and that and catch up with family ailments. He's a nice enough chap, though not without his eccentricities.

It's quite a disturbing event all in all.

I've never been fond of mirrors.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Midnight matinee last part

Camp as Christmas but all's well that ends well!

Midnight matinee part eight

Midnight matinee part seven

Midnight matinee part six

Midnight matinee part five

Midnight matinee part four

Friday, August 27, 2010

Midnight matinee part three

Midnight matinee part two

You can sing along with this scene...

Midnight matinee part one

Monte Carlo (1930)...

Monday, August 23, 2010

The mirror crack'd

Standing in the Co-op, buying a People's Friend and a tin of pineapple chunks, I'm bemused by the conversation behind me. A girl and two lads, all in dark "first accountancy suits." They were talking about the gossip mags on the rack, all boasting pictures of Abby Clancy, who is Nursing Heartache over Peter Crouch's Infidelity. Or as we used to call it: footballer's girlfriend pissed off at his dicking about.

"I mean," said the girl, "if you had a girlfriend like that would you go an sleep with a prostitute?"

"I dunno," said one of the lads, "she looks a bit ropey in that picture."

"She's upset, she's not going to be looking her best."

"Well, I dunno..."

I looked at him. He looked like a badly-filled hot water bottle.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Sunday singalong

Come along now, you all know the words!

Probably not really trying

There should be more to a mid-life crisis than a pot of tea...

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Operation Errol Flynn

When my grandfather was pinned down by sniper fire in a banana grove in Burma I wonder if he ever imagined I'd be sat here watching a train called "The Spirit of Osaka" taking Chinese white goods to what used to be the Empire's largest industrial park.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Biting the hand that feeds you

I don't mind the squirrel taking all the hazelnuts from the top of the bush before they're fully ripe. After all, I can't reach them so they may as well be doing somebody some good.

I do object to the furry hooligan barking at me for twenty minutes while I'm in the garden.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nuts in August

It's not so bad.

After an interesting day at the office and a long drag of a commute it's nice to find the back garden filled with lilies and then while away a good half hour pigging out on green hazelnuts picked fresh from the tree.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


As a last-minute nod to the weekend necessities of the domestic hearth I've just cleared out shelves two and three of the fridge. I had decided that there was no room in my life for anything with a "best by" date of 19 Sep 99.

I suppose I'd best sort out the little drawer in the bedroom next...

Friday, August 06, 2010

Let's parler franglais

I've long since stopped trying to fathom out how, or if, my mind works. For whatever reason, I was reminded of this hoary old chestnut on the bus home tonight. I expect it was told by Stainless Steven or someone of that vintage, back when the menfolk in their audience had a smattering of French after their participation in the first unpleasantness...

The lady two doors down has been taking French lessons and she's getting to be a bit of a bore about it. She keeps dropping phrases into her everyday conversation to show off a bit. Anyway she got her comeuppance the other day. She'd written a note to the coalman saying:

"Voulez-vouz donnez-moi un ton de nutty slack."

So he wrote her a note back.

"Certainments, madame, do you want it a la carte or cul de sac?"

Saturday, July 31, 2010


It would be churlish to complain about the noise from the children's party down the road, so I won't.

I've pigged out on blackberries and apricots and strong Cheddar cheese laden with blackcurrant ketchup. Green tea with rose petals. A young Annie Lennox bopping away with the Tourists.

My life may be a hollow shambles but it's comfortably accessorised.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Pop idol

I remember my sister's first Radio One Annual. It was the year after the Summer Of Love.

There were feature articles on Joe "Mister Piano" Henderson, Bob Monkhouse and Ken Dodd.

On the plus side there were photos of Judy Driscoll and Nancy Sinatra that I can still dredge up from what remains of my memory at the blink of an eye.

Friday, July 23, 2010


The entrance to the station was decorated by a line of plastic flowers, a dead frog and a home-made notice depicting a photograph of a tortoise with the caption

Answers to the name MM
If found please ring...

The platform was dotted with bumblebees intoxicated on privet blossom and littered with the remains of many moths.

Mother Nature had had a bad morning.

Heroes and villains

The mark of a good hero, they say, is the quality of his villains. Well, up to a point, Lord Copper. I'll grant you that the mark of a good villain is often the quality of his hero but I think the reverse is a largely modern phenomenon. There doesn't have to be a single mirror point of antagonism for the heroic ideal to be displayed against. More often than not, in both legend and literature, quantity not quality is the measure of the hero.

The rise of the arch-enemy is largely a post-Great War thing, amplified and simplified after the Second World War. In times of massive change and widespread uncertainty there is a primal need for simple explanations for conflict and the war against Hitler, and the horrors that came to light, could be presented as a straightforward fight against a single, coherent evil, whatever the messy realities. Ever since then, Western culture has sought to satisfy the same craving, whether in its politics, films or literature. And when no good-enough villains defined good-enough heroes we created and celebrated anti-heroes to fill the void.

But what of Holmes and Moriarty? They were Victorian, weren't they?

Indeed they were. How often does Moriarty actually appear in the works of Conan Doyle? Really? You'd be surprised if you didn't already know (and if you don't already know you'll just have to go and read them, won't you?) Professor Moriarty was created as the villain who would kill Sherlock Holmes; he was the author's instrument of murder. Conan Doyle, being no fool, knew that it would be beneath both author and character for Holmes to be bashed on the head by a passing cut-purse. Holmes could only be credibly destroyed by a creature of equal stature. And so it came to pass. When Conan Doyle finally, reluctantly, resurrected Holmes he did not also bring Moriarty back to life as well. He had served his purpose and would only be an infrequent back-reference in future stories. Only in later incarnations did the hero require the recurring villain.

In these modern times it seems more rational to pit man against man or monster than to have him battle unreasoning fate. Which doesn't mean it's right.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The evil of banality

The parade of human history is littered with the faces of people who have done horrible things. Accompanied, as always, by the songs of the Greek Chorus; "he was so ordinary..." "you'd never have thought to look at him..." "he was a model neighbour..." Unremarkable people do remarkable things and they may be for evil as easily as for good. Perhaps more easily: "you'd never have thought to look at him..." could cover a multitude of sins. When they are brought to justice, by court or by history, even the worst of them turn out to be ordinary human beings. Crumpled, grey and empty. Even the most charismatic of them are rendered mute by the camera's eye, entirely missing that vital spark that sometimes only the photograph will reveal. The emptinesses of their existence drives them mad and makes them think they are God. And if God's existence can mean so little, why would the lives of lesser mortals pass mention? And so, unremarkable people do remarkable things. The grey bureaucrats of Kafka and Orwell strike terror and the parlours and morning rooms of genteel England are littered with the corpses of the stabbed and poisoned.

But we love our bit of terror.

Those sensationalist shocks and those lashings of the Grand Guignol. Those delightful moments of terror that give us our adrenalin rush safe from accompanying danger. We like our demons dressed up in the costumes of pantomime, our villains bedecked in hi-vis personae. We can hiss and boo with childish delight because it is safe to do so. We are the magpies chafing a passing cat: we know the danger and we know we are outside its reach.

But every so often...

The baying crowd gathered at the execution of the latest monster.

"Have your moment!" cried the monster. "Have your thrill! You cannot kill me! I am you!"


On the intersection with Deansgate a crowd had gathered.

A man lay on the floor, moaning and rubbing his leg. A bicycle lay on its side. Another man stood by, concerned at the well-being of the injured. A pedestrian had been crossing the road by the green crossing light. A cyclist, ignoring the traffic lights, sailed through and collided with him.

The cyclist lay on the ground, moaning.

The pedestrian stood by, apologising for the accident.

I wondered if it was bad form to kick a fallen man.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Magpie 23

close-up of a brass fire extinguisher

The boss was in one of his snitty moods. Which is a bit like saying that snow is cold and wet and that dandelions are yellow. You can't blame the scorpion for its sting so I generally went with the flow, which always seemed to annoy him all the more, which made it all worthwhile. So today the boss was in one of his snitty moods.

He approached my desk brandishing the big, brass fire extinguisher I'd bought just that morning. He flourished it at me, which was no mean feat as it was all metal and he's no weightlifter.

"And what is this?" he asked. Dumb, really, but there you go.

"It's a fire extinguisher," I explained.

"No, sir, it is not!" he declaimed. I think it was declaimed, it was certainly something beginning with D whatever it was.

"No, honestly, it is. If you look, it even says so on the label. The lettering's very distinct."

"No, sir, it is not a fire extinguisher. It is an anachronism."

"I'm pretty OK with anachronisms," I pointed out.

"This is not just an anachronism. It is a dangerous anachronism."

I have to admit that this wrong-footed me a bit. We didn't do temporal mechanics at my school and the Doctor Who revival has rather passed me by. I had another look, to be on the safe side.

"No, it's definitely a fire extinguisher. It's got instructions on what to do in case of a fire and everything."

"It is a fire extinguisher that you fill with water," he spat. He could have filled the blessed thing with two sentences. "That makes it dangerous. It would be deadly in the case of an electrical fire."

"Would it help if I promised not to set fire to any electricity?"

"It would not. What is it doing here?"

"Well, actually, I'd bought it for decorative purposes rather than in case of fire.We've a perfectly serviceable fire extinguisher on the wall over there and I've been fully trained in the procedure for running screaming out of the building if anyone so much as lights a cigarette, so we didn't need another one except for decoration."


"Yes. An objet d'art. Or, more properly, an objet trouvé."

"Objet trouvé? And where did you find this thing?"

"In the window of an antique shop. They were having a sale."

"This is intolerable! What if some unsuspecting person thought that this was for real? There could be a disaster."

"There's only you and me who ever work here. I know not to use it and you wouldn't use it even if it were in full working order. So where's the problem?"

"And where would you have this abomination for safekeeping?"

"I rather thought it would do over there by the roll-top desk, along with the sit-up-and-beg Imperial typewriter, the Bakelite telephone and Mrs. Edna Putiss."

"Mrs. Edna Putiss?"

"Yes, she followed me here from the bus station. Can I keep her?"

Sunday singalong

Saturday, July 17, 2010


Day eight of the hosepipe ban; the ninth day of torrential rainfall. Still, it's good for the garden.

I nipped out between showers and pruned back a couple of roses that had been flattened by Thursday night's deluge. Much to my delight I found some more seedlings of long-lost friends -- Echiums and California poppies -- and was also quietly astonished to find that the bottlebrush bush that I had written off as a Winter loss may still not have any leaves on it but has managed a bunch of flowers. I was very pleased. Much to my chagrin, I find that the rambling rose that I spent two years chopping down and digging out has risen from the grave. I have to be firm: it's a heartrendingly beautiful rose but there just isn't room for anything, however lovely, that grows eighteen feet in a season. I may let the railway have it in return for all those brambles and sycamore seedlings.

There are the usual mutterings about the hosepipe ban. And the usual justifications, together with pictures of empty reservoirs and threats to bugger up the North-West tourist industry. I have to wonder about the quality of maintenance of our reservoirs if they're so very, very low after the two wet and windy summers we had in 2008 and 2009. And while I can understand why all of last Autumn's flood water didn't get saved -- it's in the nature of flood water to hit and run -- I can't understand why more of an effort wasn't made to trap the Winter's melt water. There is was: all that frozen water not going anywhere for a month, nice and handy by the roadside and ready for picking up and dumping into reservoirs.

Too much effort or not profitable enough.

Pfah! The problem with market economies is the compartmentalising of cost. So long as it can be kept off my particular balance sheet I don't have to worry about it. Remember all the bleating about the cost to the economy of all those blocked roads and accidents and stuff? In a command economy the cost of leaving the ice where it was would be weighed against the cost of shovelling it up and shipping it to somewhere useful. Clear roads, filled reservoirs and people in paid employment in a recession, job done. Or else we could have had derivatives specialists and directors of merchant banks doing the shovel work as part of their community service.

There are times when one can almost forget the stultifying idiocies and evils of the Soviet system.

Some days the news is too peculiar for words

I have to thank Daveyp for pointing this one out.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Old black magic

It's not been a bad year for fruit so far. I had an over-sufficiency of blackcurrants. I off-loaded some on my parents but as I'd already taken a few pounds off their bush they were getting a bit fruit-packed. Especially as they're not supposed to be eating a lot of sweet stuff. I don't have a sweet tooth myself (he says, hiding the evidence of a tube of fruit pastilles I accidentally scoffed in one while shouting at the television news), so I've not been making tarts and the like. Picking at the raw blackcurrants is fine but let's be honest, that faint whiff of cat is always a bit off-putting. Then I had an idea, which is why I've now a couple of jars of blackcurrant ketchup. As always with me, the recipe is very approximate.

  • A pound or so of blackcurrants
  • Two or three or four chopped cloves of garlic
  • A chopped shallot, or a couple of chopped silverskin onions, or you can cheat and cop up a couple of pickled onions, which is what I'd have done had I been planning this
  • Oil for cooking; I used extra-virgin olive oil because that's what was on the worktop
  • White wine vinegar
Wash the blackcurrants and remove all the bits of stick, leaves and spiders and stuff because this is a vegetarian recipe. Gently fry the blackcurrants until the juices start to run. Now add the garlic and onion and cook until the onion starts becoming translucent. Add enough vinegar to cover the mixture and bring to the boil. As soon as it reaches this stage, bring the heat right down and let it all simmer gently. Now decant the mixture into sterilised small jars. You'll be left with a very messy pan with bits of caramelised blackcurrant in it. Deglaze the pan with a big splash of vinegar and pour this into the jars. Warm another tablespoon of vinegar in the pan and use this to cover the mixtures in the jars. Seal them and put them somewhere darkish for a couple of days.

After a couple of days you'll have a thick, dark purple spreadable mass. The cooking and the vinegar both bring out the sweetness of the blackcurrants (but it still comes as a surprise to me that the result is as sweet as it turns out to be). Spread on some bread with a bit of iceberg lettuce and crispy bacon and the job's a good 'un. It works well with a well-flavoured cheese, too.

I was going to try this on a sausage butty but when I opened the packet they'd gone all furry. I had that bachelor moment where you reckon that a hot grill would burn all the fur off but then common sense took over. So the blackcurrant ketchup works quite well with a last-minute Co-op pork pie.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

When Diana Dors ruled the world

My dad was playing on the swings with my small niece.

"Dinosaurs were very, very big," she said.

"Yes they were," he agreed.

"They were HUGE. And very, very fierce. Dinosaurs were very, very big and really fierce."

"Ooh yes."

"I've seen a dinosaur's bones. I saw a dinosaur skeleton. We went to the museum and we saw a dinosaur skeleton. It was huge. And I touched its claw. But it was all right because it was only the skeleton."

"Very good. Did it have big teeth as well?"

"It had very big teeth. But I wasn't scared: there aren't any dinosaurs any more. They died out. They all died out a long, long time ago."

"Well, that's a relief, isn't it?"

"It must have been very scary when you were a little boy, with all those dinosaurs running around."

Thursday, July 08, 2010

Fantastic Farewell

Been here.

I'm knocking on fifty (but look years younger). I've spent the evening sitting in the rain on a park bench singing my heart out to a particularly cheesy rendition of "The Wonder of You" being sung by a Dead Elvis impersonator as the audience debates whether or not Frank Sidebottom's older kid brother should kill Little Frank (a cardboard puppet) so that he can go into a paper mâché sarcophagus and join Big Frank in the afterlife.

It doesn't get a lot better than that.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010



Crisps and mince.

However did the Scots not invent that first?

Friday, July 02, 2010

Sunday, June 27, 2010


I'm a bit over-run with marjoram and lemon balm at the moment, which is no bad thing. I literally can't sit in the garden without having to sit on a bunch of one or the other, which is rather lovely.

A friend asked what I'd use lemon balm for in the kitchen. Most lemon balm recipes involve fish but my friend is a vegetarian and I'm no fish cook. I use it a lot in tisanes (a load of crushed leaves and a teaspoon of honey) but usually I just snap a few leaves off to chew absent-mindedly. I thought I'd have a go at putting together a sauce for pasta using it.

It works well with a white sauce with a little (very little) bit of wild mushroom, the flavour infuses the sauce but you have to look for it to realise that it's there. Not a hard sell, I know! All you have to do is make a simple white sauce (or cheat and use a half-tin of Campbell's condensed cream of mushroom), warm it through until it's more-or-less ready then add a handful of finely-shredded lemon balm. Stir it through, give it half a minute on a very low, or even no, light and then stir in the pasta.

I didn't manage to come up with a sauce that didn't involve cream, which is a bit of a shame I feel. The truth of the matter is that even if you leave it to the very last minute to add it to an oil-based sauce some of the flavour's still cooked out. Which still left me with a pleasant little herb sauce:
  • Some extra-virgin olive oil
  • Some garlic (probably a couple of cloves) not especially finely-chopped, it'll be flavouring the sauce but also providing the texture
  • A couple of button mushrooms if you really must
  • Two large handfuls of marjoram, tear off the leaves and chop the stems up finely
  • A large handful of mint (a small handful if you're like me and have been lucky enough to have some black mint growing in the garden), tear the leaves up and chop the stems very finely
  • A handful of shelled walnuts
  • Pasta of your choice
Warm the olive oil (be careful not to heat it too fast or it might burn). Chuck in the garlic and cook it gently. Cook the pasta, throwing a handful of walnuts into the water a couple of minutes before the end (to blanch them). When the pasta's nearly cooked it's time to put the herbs in with the garlic. Fold the herbs into the oil until it's wilted. Then fold in the pasta and walnuts. Stir it all together to make sure that everything's had a touch of everything else then serve and eat.

It's a bit nice, honest.

Still not got a lemon balm recipe sorted, though.


I should have mentioned that you can, if you want, spice this up a bit by adding a bit of pickled Jalapeno pepper. It has to be pickled because if you're adding chili to this you also need the bite of the vinegar. Or you can change the vibe, in a nice way, by adding some finely-chopped dill pickle. Some salted capers doesn't hurt, either.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Probably being too honest for my own good

The youngest relative has returned to the topic of my marital status. I think we've agreed that she's not setting me up on a blind date with either the Year Three teacher or the mother of one of the girls in her class. I don't entirely trust her not to try and get around the agreement though.

"So why aren't you married?" she asked.

"I like being miserable on my own and I haven't found anybody who would want to be miserable with me."

"Oh well. If you just want miserable you may as well get yourself a baby. They're dead miserable, honest. All they do is cry and scream and eat and cry and poo and cry a bit more. And they wake you up in the middle of the night so that they can cry and scream and poo."

"I've known women like that," I admitted.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010


a camera manBack in the old days, cameras were mechanical devices. You pressed the button and a mechanical iris engaged to set the width of the lens diaphragm and a shutter opened and closed at the required speed for the exposure. A Leica made a lovely, gentle hiss (I borrowed one once) and my industrial-strength Zenit made a loud clunk. Possibly because it was made out of the combine harvesters that were remaindered during the Kazakh famines of the 1930s. The Zenit was the entry-level SLR; it was about a quarter of the price of the next cheapest model on the market.

It's all digital now. Which is good in lots of ways: I get to see the pictures there and then and I can tidy up the exposure without the use of chemicals and red light bulbs. No moving parts, unless you count my finger.

So why does everyone's digital camera go clunk?

Monday, June 21, 2010


In an interview in London I was once asked what was the best cultural event I'd ever been to. I answered that I'd seen Shakespeare in Stratford; von Stroheim in Edinburgh; opera, dance and all sorts of theatre but the single best cultural event I'd ever been to was a Frank Sidebottom gig in a working men's club in Timperley. The audience were all grown-ups with all the cares of the world about their shoulders but for a couple of glorious hours they were allowed out on licence and were eight years old again, laughing and singing and joyful in their tomfoolery.

This is by way of an entirely inadequate thank-you.

Godspeed, Chris.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

From the observatory

My small niece has an unerring sense of logic. She is also cursed with her uncle's gift of commentary.

She had popped in at my parents' house, as is her wont, to cadge rather a lot of toast off my dad. And a bit of cheese please. And some more toast.

"You know how my dad supports Man City..." she said, "well, I support them, too. But I shouldn't really, should I? When I came out of my mummy's tummy I was in Middlesborough, so I should support Middlesborough, shouldn't I?"

To his credit, my father reassured her that it wasn't compulsory. The child is of mixed parentage - Lancashire and Yorkshire. It's quite funny listening to her talk as she's got her mother's Middlesborough quirks like "cayek" for "cake," but all with our southern Mancunian accent.

A little later, her mother wanted to know why she hadn't eaten her dinner. My dad owned up and got a rollicking for it. As the fur subsided my niece turned to him and said:

"Don't take any notice. Parents get like that when they're old. They go all yaddadadayaddayadda. They can't help it."

Giving the anti-histamines a workout

I'm taking a breather from the garden, give my eyes the opportunity to stop itching. (Shameless attempt to coax sympathy from his audience).

I'll say this much: it's a productive garden. I've filled a wheelie bin full of weeds and the garden still looks like The Land That Time Forgot. I've had to trim some of the hazel bush so that I can get into the back garden without stooping. Hazel is worth growing for the smell of the leaves alone. The various geraniums, lemon balm and marjoram are as boisterous as ever.

Getting down to do some weeding I'm assailed by a combination of scents and the buzzing of bees and hoverflies. The roses are a treat; at one point the path is fringed by 'Zephrin Drouaine,' with its slightly lemony fragrance, one the one side and dog roses and 'Ballerina' on the other with purer but no less delicate scents. It's a pure accident but one I enjoy.

Talking of accidents, I discover seedlings of California poppy under the gooseberry and Echium pinnatum at the side of the path near the roses. It's seven or eight years since I last grew either. And wild arum, which I've ever grown and haven't seen locally, has popped up underneath the Buddleia at the bottom of the garden.

Part of me tells myself that the garden's an undisciplined mess. And it is. But I do enjoy it immensely.

Saturday, June 19, 2010


We need to celebrate friendship more often. This is for everybody who needs a cup of tea and a hug.

Sunday, June 13, 2010


It's pouring down outside so the planned foray into the teeming mass that passes for my garden has been postponed awhile. Instead I decide to have a go at making a bid for domestic godhood.

  • I shall tell people that the living room window is in that state so that the baby goldfinches don't injure themselves by flying into it.
  • I have glared at that spider's web. Twice.
  • I have applied Febreeze to the dust on the living room floor. According to the advert on the telly my living room shall now become awash with teenage girls, all giggly and excited. It has to be admitted: the only way I could even manage the energy for so much as a conversation with a roomful of teenage girls would be for me and they both to be under the influence of chloroform.
  • Some damned fool thought it would be a good idea to wash the quilt in the bath. Seeing as how this is a single male household there's not a lot of point in having a row about it. It's a hike and a half to the nearest laundrette and there's no buses that way on a Sunday so it's arguably the only way to get it done. Most of the procedure involves beating the quilt with a stick until it stops moving. I did consider steam-cleaning it but then I remember that last time I ended up having to get a new shower curtain rail.
  • I may do the washing up.
Did somebody say ironing? It is to laugh!

Monday, June 07, 2010

Don't mention the Armada...

My small niece is looking forward to her holidays.

"You can come with us," she tells my mum.

"No, I can't," explains my mum, "I don't have a passport any more."

"You don't need a passport. We're going to English Spain, not Spanish Spain."

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Intimations of mortality

Advert on the telly:

"The definitive punk anthems collection. Buy it for your dad for Father's Day."

I'll be the one in the corner sticking safety pins in me zimmer frame.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Hello hello

For some time now my local railway station has been kitted out not just with new tannoys but also induction loops for hearing-impaired people. Presumably this latter is to fulfil obligations under the disability acts. Neither seems knowingly attached to anything and we certainly don't get any announcements but it's good to know that we have an equality of access to no information about our train services.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Probably nothing that couldn't be cured by a kind word from a beautiful woman

The train into work got stuck at signals awhile. I'd been staring at something on the embankment for a good five minutes before I realised what it was. It was an elm sapling. I can't remember when I last saw an English elm. When I was a kid the main road was an avenue of old elms, green and sticky with sap in the July sunlight.

I do miss elms.

On the way back home I got the bus to Manchester. I was followed onto the bus by an epicene figure in a white safari jacket. I wondered if he was Death. I chose not to ask.

A few stops down, a pink Mazda cut up the bus. It was the shade of pink I've only ever seen in NHS children's spectacles.

The chip shop further down the street turns out not to have a window blind as I'd imagined. It's a sheet of brushed vinyl pop art wallpaper in faded bullseye pattern.

A gaggle of young girls get on, gaudy in thickly-applied make-up, each with a mobile 'phone clamped to one ear. In my day young ladies were quieter and more demure weren't they? No, of course not. I remember a Sicilian hillside raucous in bawdy song. One of the girls bawled down the 'phone that they were "going lindyhopping." I expect it means something different these days, like dance music.

Next come four mockney diamond geezers. "Just three stops to the Chinese, mate. How much? Is that for all of us?" Welcome to the unsubsidised provinces, mate.

No one was sick and nobody died and the driver got out of his cab to help a lady carry her pushchair off the bus.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Happy holiday!

Saturday, May 22, 2010


Was it only last week we were on a frost warning?

It's been fairly warm this week, though yesterday it was also distinctly thundery (or it could be that work had given me a headache). The daily commute provided plenty with which to be distracted and it would have been churlish not to have been. Over the past few months I had come to the conclusion that the lady with the nice bottom who travels on my train had lost weight she could have done with keeping. The removal of the winter anorak midweek confirmed my fears. The summer skirt still had that hypnotic sway but there is less substance to the allure than there should be. The black high-heeled pixie boots just emphasised the loss.

My garden is currently a riot. Mostly of weed seedlings, with herb Robert and willowherbs jostling for space amongst the horsetails. Midway along the path is a patch of nipplewort seedlings. I'm inclined to leave them alone for prurience's sake. "What's them little yellow dandelion-y things?" "Them's nipplewort." We do what we can for the tourist industry. Littered amongst the foliage is a profusion of feathered hooligans. The goldfinches have gone a bit quiet, which means they have young to feed. The spadgers paraded the first batch of baby sparrows the other day and very welcome they are, too. The noise from the bottom of the garden suggests that the blue tits have decided to grace one of the six hitherto-unused nestboxes. The seventh has been used alternatively by wood mice and bumblebees. We should be OK for gooseberries and blackberries this year.

A jobbing gardener has stuck a flier through my door. I know of his work. His idea of gardening is to prune magnolias in March. I'll stick with the weeds, thank you.