Thursday, 30 April 2009

Hot Dog, Jumping Frog, Albuquerque

It’s been a funny old week; with a thousand and one things buzzing through my head and banging themselves repeatedly on the glass in an attempt to get outside. None have really settled.

That’s the problem sometimes when you’ve posted something you were very pleased with, like when I wrote the short story about Lois Lane – how the hell do you follow that?

So this week, where I had originally planned to bring you a short story I have in mind, I have instead decided to just muse on a few of the random thoughts that have rattled around the cavernous and mostly empty inner recesses of my brain and see if anything hits a familiar nerve.

Like music. I was thinking this week that the music industry needs a right kick up the arse. For years now it’s been complaining that music pirates and free downloads are ruining the music industry, when what they actually mean is that it’s cutting into their profits. Sadly they are almost entirely wrong.

What’s changed is our perception of music and how we interact with it: when I first started buying music it meant a half hour trip into town on the bus, followed by a walk around the shops looking for the best price, taking your 12” of vinyl home, placing it into your dad’s record player (basically a box with two knobs on the front), discovering their was a scratch on track 8 or that it was warped and repeating the process ad infinitum. By the time you finally had a record that worked you were determined to give it time to grow on you no matter what. Whereas today, when we can download whole albums from our computer we are far less inclined to give time to those 24 minute experimental jazz tracks we would have previously described as “a brave attempt to do something different”. Because it is less tangible, we are less affected by it. Still: now that we’re officially in a recession there should be something for the teenagers of today to actually moan about and, hopefully, a couple of new bands worth talking about.

Secondly, and still on the subject of music, I’ve been worrying about that woman off Britain’s Got Talent: Susan Boyle.

By now there will be few people outside of Martians and un-contacted tribes of the Upper Amazon who have not heard of her – but for anyone who doesn’t know Susan Boyle may well be the long-lost twin sister of Oscar The Grouch from Sesame Street and have been abandoned as a child and raised by wild Badgers…at least that’s what I assume from her personal grooming. Susan arrived on BGT wearing a dress that looked like it had been made from an old tent and surprised everyone on the planet by not sounding like a foghorn that had been dropped down the steps of a lighthouse.

All fair to her: and you shouldn’t go judging people on how they look – but I wonder at how much of this was set up for us as viewers. Did Simon Cowell know she sounded like that before hand? Very probably. What worries me more is that on these talent shows there is now a fad for people going on, being rubbish, and then shouting abuse back at the judges. It’s as if it’s equally good to be famous for being useless as it is for actually achieving something – as long as the end goal of being famous for fifteen minutes is achieved. I wonder what kind of moral yard stick we are setting for ourselves.

Thirdly: Swine Flu. Very serious, but I refuse to join the masses and start panicking every time someone pulls out a tissue. True: lots of people are very ill and some have died – possibly more: but it’s all just pissing into the Nile when you compare it to the amount of kids that die from malaria EVERY DAY in Africa. Maybe we need some perspective before jumping on the next Panic Bandwaggon?

Also: I was thinking about how photo-booths are no fun anymore now that they’ve gone digital. Back In The Day you used to have to sit there for four separate photos when you wanted to get a new passport – the only plus being that you could crowd all your mates into the booth for the last frame and take a fun picture. Now that the digital image is re-produced four times exactly the same we have lost our chance to do this: maybe I should start a campaign to bring them back?

I’ve also embarked on my latest madcap scheme and – being me – have attempted to start by throwing myself into the deep end marked “shark infested”

I won’t go into the details here – as you can view my “open letter to” on my new sister-site “Houses In Motion”, but if any of you would like to help I present the song titles below and you may feel free to comment on any or all of the below as to what immediate images spring to mind

Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft
What Did Your Last Servant Die Of?
Don't Be So Hard
A Million Miles
All This and More
Getting Nowhere Fast
My Favourite Dress
Something and Nothing
It's What You Want That Matters
Give My Love to Kevin
Anyone Can Make a Mistake
You Can't Moan, Can You?
All About Eve
Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm

I set up the second blog because I wanted to keep my arts projects separate from my usual random musings, but you should probably understand that it will be updated less often than this one.

I’ve also been thinking about my upcoming course in just under 2 weeks time (more of which after the event) and been looking forward to some cycling over the upcoming Bank Holiday – assuming it doesn’t rain.

Additionally I’ve been thinking about getting my hair cut again: but am not happy with my barber, as they have imposed an appointments-only scheme on Saturdays. It is against the fundamental laws of nature for men to make hairdresser’s appointments: one should turn up, assess the queue and then either sit there for hours reading magazines one has no interest in or go home and try again the next week: this is The Nature Of Things
Finally I have been continuing to attempt to write my novel, but struggling with writer’s block. My way through this at present is to try and sit down at least 2-3 times a week and write something – even if the end result is rubbish I should still have a starting block from which to run. To additionally try and break the stress of finishing what has increasingly become known as That Damned Novel I have started some work on my next project so that I can switch when I get really, really stuck.

So – that’s what’s been going through my head. Feel free to feedback on these thoughts or provide your own random dialogue on your lives. Sorry it’s been so random, but I’m sure you’re used to that by now!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

For Absent Friends

You probably wouldn’t have picked my Gran (father’s mother) to be longest lived of my Grandparents.

Four foot nothing and with less flesh on her than a Chicken McNugget she lived a sheltered life, not extending much beyond her husband, her family and her church. Anything new was “how do they think of these things?” and the science fiction posters on my bedroom wall would easily give her nightmares when she stayed over.

When we were kids we used to catch the bus with my mum and dad every Sunday and trek across to the other side of town. My Gran would have dinner ready for us after she returned from church (sometimes we would go with her, albeit slightly unwillingly). The things I will always remember about that back room: the two arm chairs both positioned in front of the coal fire, the smell of my Granddad’s pipe tobacco, a faded poster of some faraway place under the stairs, the small cool space of the pantry, the small knife and fork drawers that revolved out from the smooth wooden surfaces and the tick-tick-tick of the clock on the cupboard.

Sometimes if he was in a particularly good mood my Granddad (hereafter referred to as Little Granddad – the name we gave him as kids so we could easily clarify who we were talking about) would quote odd bits of poetry and laugh without explanation, “And the hooded owl went twit-twoo”, or take us out into the back garden and show us his goldfish: which he used to check every morning during the winter, breaking the ice to try and keep them alive.

In the afternoon the whole family would pile into my Little Granddad’s Robin Reliant. God alone knows how 6 of us fitted into that small 3-wheeler – it must have required some serious re-writing of the laws of physics

(picture shows a Reliant Robin of a similar make to my Granddad's)

If the weather was good we would sometimes go up to the nearby park, but mostly we would transfer over to my Nan and Granddad (mum’s side) for tea. .

Sometimes, when my parents wanted a night to themselves, we would stop over at my Gran’s – sleeping in the same tiny back room where my dad and his brother had grown up (though mostly we stayed at my Nan’s). In later years I always used to have to stoop slightly coming down the stairs so that I didn’t bang my head on the ceiling.

After my Granddad died in 1987we saw my Gran increasingly less. It’s inevitable: you get to that age in your life and suddenly its only birthdays and Christmas. Sometimes I would drive, walk or cycle over to see her and say hello and she would always be pleased to see me.

Every Christmas Eve I would drive through the heavy traffic to pick her up and she would stay at our house for a few days, using either mine or my brother’s room as a temporary home.

I remember one Christmas, the most miserable Christmas ever: probably around 1998-2000. We were all struck down with a bad cold and feeling like death. We were all convinced that Gran was going to die, upstairs in my brother’s bed.

But she didn’t. She kept on going, still producing her own father’s ventriloquist dummies from time to time, still marvelling at how wonderful the modern world was, still writing her poems and enjoying her church and her garden. We kept joking that she would live to get her telegram from the Queen on her 100th Birthday (although I believe that this tradition is now sadly no more).

Gran died in late 2002 leaving an empty space in all our lives. I still think about her a lot, more than my other grandparents: but I still miss them all.

On the day of the funeral we went round to her house one final time and walked around it in silence. Everything was gone: my mum had hired the house clearers without telling us. Never again would I hear the tick-tick-tick of the clock, or stand in the doorway of the pantry and imagine my Gran reaching up to a high shelf. Never again would I see her, standing in the garden on a warm April day and admiring the flowers.

They scattered her ashes in the fishpond at the crematorium: the same place they’d scattered her husband all those years ago. She never did get her telegram from the Queen.

Happy 99th Birthday Gran: I still love you as much as ever and you are always in my heart.

On a final note: the below clip takes you to an instrumental cover version of a Genesis track that, for some reason, always makes me think of my Grandparents (I think it’s the gentle picture of rural England). Lyrics are reproduced below.

Sunday at six when they close both the gates
A widowed pair, still sitting there
Wonder if they're late for church
And it's cold so they fasten their coats
And cross the grass, they're always last
Passing by the padlocked swings
The roundabout still turning
Ahead they see a small girl
On her way home with a pram

Inside the archway
The priest greets them with a courteous nod
He's close to God
Looking back at days of four instead of two
Years seem so few
Heads bent in prayer
For friends not there

Leaving tuppence on the plate
They hurry down the path and through the gate
And wait to board the bus
That ambles down the street

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

The Zombie Chicken Award

Just a quick up date to say a big thank you to Lydia at the excellent Writerquake blog for awarding me the Zombie Chicken award. This has brought me much amusement.

Normally I don't pass these things on: but I thought that I would take this opportunity, in the spirit of encouraging exploits in Blogland, to recommend some relative newcomers whose sites are worthy of visit:

Friko’s Musings:
Delusions of Adequacy:
The Watercats:
Where’s My Effing Pony:

Keep on blogging in the freeworld!!

Monday, 20 April 2009


Sunday afternoon and the ironing is finished for another week. It’s chilly despite the clear blue sky and both my cats seem content to sleep inside. Tiny is hiding upstairs underneath the duvet; Furry is curled up on the sofa.

The street is quiet as I pull my bike past the security gate and lock it behind me and I’m glad of my thin waterproof jacket as I head off into the wind. Today I’m on a bit of a mission to complete the cycle route I failed at a few weeks ago (see Two Cycle Rides For The Price Of One) – so I take a road route to the other end and look for a suitable field that might lead to the abrupt ending. Sadly I see no signs of the Poetry Runners from last time but there is significantly more mud, so I am forced to take it slowly until I reach the other end.

I get home just in time to shower, change and open the back door for the still disinterested cats before settling down to watch Smallville (a recently discovered weekend treat)

About half-way through I notice that a wasp has invited itself into my front room and is attempting to mate, rather angrily, with my front-window curtains…or perhaps it is trying to commit suicide by repeatedly hurling itself at the glass: I’m not sure which. I decide to usher it gently towards the back door with the help of a small glass.

And that’s when I see the bike.

It’s a fairly solid teenagers’ mountain bike with thick stunt wheels and a black frame and it’s lying strewn across my front garden. I go to my front door and open it, but there’s no sign of anyone much in the street. A Police car comes around the corner and I attempt to wave them down for advice, but they either don’t see me or chose to ignore me: leaving me alone on my doorstep with the problem of the bike remaining.

I close my front door and open the security gate by the side of the house, wheeling the bike around. The front wheel is out of alignment with the handlebars, making me wonder if the reason it’s been abandoned is because it has been stolen and the thief saw the Police car or because the owner has been given a a newer, better bike free by the council and can’t be bothered to sell this one or take it to the tip.

As I move the bike I mentally add it to the ever-increasing list of Odd Things Abandoned At My House – which so far includes several assorted burnt-out mattresses (back garden), several large concrete fence posts (same location), half a car and a jar of pickles (attic), a plastic cat-kennel (thrown over the fence) and two chickens.

I consider my options: clearly I can’t keep the bike because I have no legal right to it – plus how will I know if someone comes to claim it that they are the owner? There’s no way I’m going knocking on doors to see who the owner is – the last time I did that (when I found the two chickens in my garden) I got a mouthful of abuse for my efforts at offering assistance.

Ever since I moved to the area I have had problems with the Scumlords Of The Apocalypse (or Them Two Doors Down, or just THEM). I had to buy a security fence to stop them urinating on the side of my house and climbing through my garden when they were drunk, I regularly have to drag my washing in when they have their Annual Burning Of The Evidence in the back garden and have had to have all my windows shut tight in the middle of summer because at 4am they have decided it was funny to sing at the top of their voices.

They were responsible for the Chicken Incident as well as much drunken throwing of rubbish into my front garden (remember, they live two doors down so are within easy reach of a bin).

Then, about two or three weeks ago, they had one last bonfire, threw a cat kennel over the fence into my garden and were gone. The house has been empty ever since, but I refuse to get my hopes up too high as the last time it was empty another branch of the same family moved back in and things carried on much as they had been before.

So a thought occurs: whoever was abandoning the bike thought mine was the empty house. It’s possible. Pretty much every front garden has abandoned bikes lying out late at night, seemingly with no fear of theft. This is mostly because, as suggested earlier, they get everything given to them by people like myself who are stupid enough to go out and work and pay taxes.

Eventually I phone the Police and advise them that there is an abandoned bike in my garden and would they mind coming to pick it up: reasoning that if the owner does come back to claim it and are legitimate then they will be willing to make the trip to pick it up. The Police are not keen to make the journey on a warm day like today and ask me where my nearest Police station is. I explain that the nearest station (barely 1 mile away) is closed to the public and the next nearest is the other side of town.

The same patrol car that passed a few minutes back returns and parks a few doors down. I go out to speak to them and immediately there’s a ready supply of nosey people standing in their doorways wanting to see what’s happening. The bike is too big for their car, they explain. A van has been sent.

The Police car sits there not doing much: the two women inside ignoring my attempts at conversation or enquiry: so I go back inside and wait for the van. Finally it arrives and takes the bike away.

All of this happens at around 3pm on an otherwise quiet Sunday afternoon. By 8pm when I close my curtains and go upstairs to do some reading no one has come to knock on the door and ask about their property.

From which ending you can read whatever conclusions you want.

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Blut Ant Thunter

On her recent post "Seven Deadly Sins" Honour (The Art of Practice) mentioned a competition to write a short piece of fiction based on Creatures of the Night, as well as her recent successful publication (about time too!).

I am still considering my options on this, but thought I would bring you the below as a piece of fun in the meantime (please by no means take it seriously):

The door creaked open and the figure in the alleyway took a step backwards. The woman in the doorway was not what exactly what he had been expecting. True, they had told him that she had a face that had launched a thousand ships: but he hadn’t thought they’d meant it literally, and when they had spoken about mountainous breasts he hadn’t actually thought there would be snow on top.

She was standing in the doorway with more curlers in her hair than seemed feasibly possible. Her arms were dug firmly into her sides and looked in need of a good ironing. As he took a nervous step backwards she raised an eyebrow with all the ominous impact of a seismograph recording a pre-shock, or snow grumbling on a mountainside as the sun starts to melt it.

‘Well?’ she demanded, her gums moving the cigarette around in her mouth with well practised ease.

The figure seemed to regain his composure, adjusting his black velvet waistcoat and cape and offering his best smile, ‘Goot evenink’ he announced in tones as smooth as silk, ‘Eye am a wampire ant eye vant to trink your blut’

The woman sighed, removed the cigarette from her mouth and blew a cloud of smoke into the air, ‘Oh not a-bloody-gain’

The man looked a little shaken at this reaction, but having come this far was determined to keep trying, ‘Qvake in your boots voman!’ he continued, his voice dropping a whole octave until it sounded like someone doing a voice-over for a particularly bad horror film, ‘Eye em a wampire!’

‘And you can stop doin’ the stupid accent as well’ the woman retorted, ‘You’re Elsie Craddock’s eldest son Neville. Known you since you were five year old I ave, and you’ve never been further afield than the next village’

‘Ewe dwo not understandt’ Neville the vampire responded with all the rigidity of wet celery, ‘Eye em eh wampire: eh being of pure ewil: and eye vant to trink your blut’

‘Yeah yeah’ the woman responded, ‘I ‘eard you the first time…only you’re about forty years too late if you’ve come round here lookin’ for virgins. Besides: the girl you’re lookin’ for moved out about a month ago’

‘Oh’ Neville looked suitably abashed at this, ‘So you’re not Delores then?’

‘Do I look like a Delores?’ The woman paused and peered a little closer at her would-be corruptor, ‘Ere, are those fake fangs?’ she asked. Neville just looked shamefacedly at the ground and didn’t respond. The woman tutted loudly, throwing the burnt-out cigarette into a gutter, 'I don't know' she said, 'Ever since that bloody Anne Rice novel you young impressionable types think you can just go around sinking your teeth into anything you like' she sighed again, taking a moment to pity the poor man, who by now was quaking in his immaculately polished shoes, ‘Look: Neville – I can see that this is your first time and you’ve done your best, so it probably won’t help your social standing much if you go back empty handed so…’ she took a deep breath, ‘you can take a pint or so if you must’

‘Really?’ Neville responded, his eyes shining with renewed hope
‘Really’ the woman confirmed, ‘only hurry up about it, cos the news is on in ten minutes’

The woman moved out of the way and gestured for Neville to go inside. He nodded, pausing slightly on the doorstep, ‘Do you think…’ he asked shyly, ‘do you think…you could try and pretend to be afraid?’

‘Don’t push your luck sonny’ the woman replied, ushering him inside. As she pulled the door shut behind her she paused for a second and glared at the moonlight as if defying it to argue with her, then she smiled to herself, the pale glow of the stars reflecting off her nicely polished fangs. It really was better than take-away she thought, and closed the door with a slam.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Destination Anywhere (or two bike rides for the price of one)

Friday evening and the sun is shining, the birds are singing and everything in the world is All Right.

Well – no actually, it isn’t: it’s been a really rubbish day mostly comprising me sending increasingly angry emails to people who are affecting my ability to leave on time thanks to being so ludicrously inept at their jobs that they make George W Bush look remarkably unlike a bag of spanners (NB: just incase this is not Universal Slang a “bag of spanners” is a phrase used here to denote something particularly useless. I have never understood entirely why, as one would assume a bag full of spanners to be quite useful in the right circumstances)

Anyway – and veering swiftly down the road of sensibility and clinging tightly to the corner of focus – I finally get out of work about fifteen minutes late: not too bad when you consider that I’ve spent the whole day feeling like I’ve been re-incarnated as a Dung Beetle (IE everywhere I look there’s a huge pile of shit to be devoured)

As it’s such a nice day I decide to take the long way home. Recently I’ve been Embarking On An Epic Journey Of Exploration on my journey home and whereas Stanley was quite willing to trek half way across the southern hemisphere just to ask the most bleeding obvious question of all time from Dr Johnson (the only other white-man for 3,000 miles, yet his opening gambit was “Dr Johnson, I presume?”) I have to settle for finding a safe country-road route that will lead to the bridge over the main road that lies between me and my house.

GoogleMaps have led me to believe that the only possible route is to go a very long way out of my way or to try and find a footpath that leads across the fields – but its sunny and my partner is away, so I have no particular rush to get home.

I set out: deliberately turning the wrong way up a road with the word “Hill” in the title. It turns out that the makers of this particular outlay of tarmacadam were not joking – but the views are lovely. Sadly it is at this point that I realise my camera phone is at home – so I can’t share the images with you on this occasion.

Turning back to my usual route through the country lanes I realise that my opportunity to do this is becoming increasingly limited: from November our offices are moving to a much more built up area and I will no longer have access to nearby countryside as an alternate way home.

Most of these roads I know pretty well – I used them for training back in 2000 when I was preparing for a charity bike ride – however, I have to stop and ask two horse riders for help with finding a way through. They recommend an old bridle path (IE path for horses) as a potential route, so I follow their directions, sure in my head that their words “If the horses can manage it then your bike should be fine” will turn out to be erroneous at best.

Sure enough I find myself on a bike-proof dirt road full of horse manure and bumps. I decide to walk – adding half an hour onto my journey as I follow the two mile route. The countryside here is wide and open, the fields full of the promise of the summer to come. A small group of trees overhang a pool in the middle of a clearing and I pause to wonder how many eyes have seen this view before.

Finally, and just when I think it never will, the path turns back into a road and I find myself on the bridge I was aiming for: feeling sad that the path is too unsuitable for regular travel.


Sunday morning and I’m up early. Again it’s a bright, bright, sunshiney day. Someone I work with (I wouldn’t go so far as to say “workmate” as that would imply some level of friendship) has been telling me about a path that is open to cycles not far from my house, so I am determined to find out where it goes to

Anyone outside of the UK may not be familiar with the name of Dr Beeching, but his name is infamous amongst British Train Spotters – as it was his decision to close many of the smaller train lines that existed through the country.

The rights or wrongs of that decision are still hotly debated amongst those that care, but either way it has resulted in a network of public paths that follow the routes where the trains used to run.

I cycle the four miles to where the route begins and turn onto it. It’s a long, straight route with few turns or variations: to be honest I don’t enjoy this kind of cycling as much as I do the twists and turns of the mountainous roads – the endless straight road is much harder mentally.

As I cycle down the route the first of a group of runners come in the opposite direction, followed shortly by a few more. It’s only after the third or fourth group that I begin to realise that they are all part of the same group.

My first clue is the small green booklet they carry in their right hands: four sheets of A4 paper folded in half with a green cover. A range of possibilities flashes through my head: it could be instructions for the route they are following, it could be a record of times and speeds.

My favourite explanation, however, is that they are all keen Amateur Poets who have decided that the best way to enjoy poetry is in the open countryside on a sunny day just after a brisk 10 mile run. The folio in their hands is clearly a collection of poems: perhaps self-penned, perhaps famous. As they push through the dirt and the stones some of the Running Poets seem unable to wait until they reach the other end and consult a quick iambic pentameter for inspiration to keep going.

Sometimes as I cycle I pass under a bridge; fashioned from fading iron. This is where the mud is usually at its most cloying – trying to hold my wheels back. Sometimes I have to swerve quite violently to avoid an unseen pot-hole. Above me I can hear the distant sounds of the traffic – it is the only noise that isn’t natural.

Finally I reach the other end: only to find myself with a conundrum. There is no obvious route ahead. The path ends in a dead end, with only an empty field to the left. At the edge of the field two other riders stand, equally bemused by events.

After a brief discussion I turn around and head back the way I have come, leaving the path at one of the bridges. The roads here are empty save for the cry of the birds, but already I can see the signs of civilisation ahead of me, calling me home.

This kind of navigation, following your nose, turning left or right on a whim or even following someone that looks like they know where they're headed, is something i've come to refer to as "Zen Navigation"

You might not always end up where you intended to - but the results are always pleasing