Sunday, 23 November 2014

Five Randoms for Sunday

1. When I left the house at 11.30 this morning, I could hardly see through the windscreen for rain, wipers at full throttle.  Now I can see the Pleiades from my garden.  Isn’t weather wonderful?

2. The benefits of a third Heathrow runway are officially estimated at between 112 and 220 billion pounds, over a sixty year period.

3. I think I’m going to vote Green.  Look up their manifesto, then look up the Kippers’. 

4. Can we please rewind Christmas to about 1949?  A tangerine and a couple of walnuts will do me.  I want my Meccano set back though.

5. You can get used to anything, however frightful it might have seemed.

Monday, 10 November 2014

Is it over yet?

It must be, no bangs yet this evening. 

When I were a lad, bonfire night was the 5th of November, and lasted precisely one night.  (All right, it might have been shifted to the nearest weekend, but still, one night.)  And it was as much about bonfires as about fireworks.  Certainly the construction of the pile of the summer garden cast-offs was a drawn-out process, carefully engineered by my father to ensure maximised combustion when the time came.  (He was like that.) 

And when the time did come, nourished by a few splashes of petrol or paraffin, and there was that crackling skyward rush of flame and sparks and the fire grew from inside so that the edges of the pile became a black lattice against the fierce yellow interior, like streaks across the sun, and then the bonfire gently matured into a vermilion face-scorching glow into which you could thrust potatoes until they turned black on the outside and molten under the skins, and slap lashings of salted butter on them and deliberately burn your tongue eating them – well, who needed Standards or Brocks?

Of course, we did have fireworks too.  Wobbly rockets in milk bottles (which sometimes went haywire and spun off sideways); crackerjacks (which I hated because I was convinced they were chasing me); Catherine wheels (are they still called that?  I hope not, given the gruesome derivation); Air Bombs (unbelievably, the deputy scoutmaster once organised a firework battle, with these as handheld weapons) …  

I didn’t really like it.  The next days were much better.  My father would split open spent Roman candles, tip out the powder onto the drive and ignite it with a miniature display of sparks and colours that was better than the real thing.  My friend Mike and I once used leftover bangers to try and blow up a rotting tree stump in his garden – I think we may even have partially succeeded.   And I even used to enjoy collecting the rocket sticks.

I wrote here - gosh, five years ago! – about my best ever firework display.  I can’t recommend this approach though.


Thursday, 6 November 2014

Autumn isn't all brown ...

Just a few colours from around my garden today:

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

In Sickness and in Heat

A chance remark by Z, and a comment from Mike, has set off a chain of very early memories loosely around the area of ill health and bedroom fires.  The former is not a topic I’m terribly keen to pursue, because I’ve been getting enough of that at home recently (though everything seems to have settled down at the moment), but as Paul Simon put it, ‘preserve your memories.’  So:

Our first house, Watcombe Road, was heated entirely by burning coal, mostly in open fires, though there was a stove in the breakfast room (I think), which is where we did a lot of our living.  Central heating was a thing of the future; when we moved to the posh house in Stourwood Road when I was twelve, we were very impressed by the huge columnar cast iron radiators, even though I don’t remember them ever being much more than lukewarm.

Anyway, back at Watcombe, I tended to be a sickly child, and in those days the frontline defence against illness was to be kept in bed.  So Mike’s observation equating heated bedrooms with sickness rings a loud bell.  I think I ran through whooping cough, croup and chickenpox in fairly quick succession.  At that age, between about three and six, you don’t have a lot of expectations, so I don’t remember being particularly distressed by the symptoms, nasty though they must have been – it was almost a kind of normal.

What I do remember is the warmth.  Winter beds consisted of sheets, at least two blankets, and an eiderdown, all that being essential defence against the encroaching frost which painted intricate ferns on the windowpanes.  Sick beds probably had another layer or two, and the bedroom fire was lit!  I was allowed – encouraged – to draw, to look at pictures (I remember being given copies of ‘Illustrated’ and ‘Picture Post’ magazines, which was pretty advanced on my parents’ part, the equivalent of letting me loose on Mail Online today; of course, they may have been parentally edited), and to read: in fact I suspect my precocious reading ability owed a lot to being so ill so often.

I loved it, and developed an unhealthy penchant, for a while,  for crying sick when I fancied a day off school.  (I once tried dipping the thermometer into my tea, but that got rumbled.) 

But it also gave rise to perhaps my earliest nightmare, certainly of the lucid, waking kind.  (You know the ones: you’re awake, everything looks and feels normal, but something’s out of kilter, things are happening that shouldn’t be – and then you wake up properly.)   It was triggered by something I’m sure was called the Steam Kettle.  This was filled with water kept at a simmer, presumably by some sort of  paraffin burner, with a long neck which gently emitted steam, to keep the air humidified through the night.  I’d probably been looking at giraffes, or dinosaurs.  You can guess the rest.

Monday, 27 October 2014

Doo-wah doo-wah doo-wah …. I’m in Heaven!

I know I’m behind the curve, because millions of my readers, especially in the USA, have already bought it, but just in case you haven’t (and assuming you can recognise proper music when you hear it)  ‘Cheek to Cheek’ by Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga.

About five decades separate them in clocktime, but no more than a beat in music.  They meet in opposite directions: her maturity, his youthfulness; his maturity, her youthfulness.

It’s had me dancing, in my body and my soul.  Am I showing my age?  I do hope so.

Saturday, 25 October 2014

Caravans considered carefully

My relatives have a static caravan at Hayling Island.  It’s about twenty years old, and even they admit that it’s falling to pieces and will eventually be condemned on H&S grounds.  This year they’ve been down there just twice: in the Spring to open it up, and this weekend to shut it down.  It was the same last year. 

“Why do you keep it?” I often ask.  “It’s not exactly value for money, is it?”   (The site rent isn’t negligible.)   The answers aren’t what you’d call rationally focussed, ranging from “The walk round the Creek’s still lovely”, through “It’s interesting to see how the place changes”, to “We’ve been going to Hayling (Reading-by-the-Sea, it used to be called) since we were babies.”

This is why the title of this post is an oxymoron.

You may recall that I too have a static caravan, in south Pembrokeshire.  (New readers, if you’re brave, click on the label at the bottom.)  I’ve been there just twice this year.  I have excuses, but shamefully this is the first time since 2002 that I haven’t gone down to mothball it for the winter.  I had to sub-contract that to Joseph (who’ll do it probably better than I would have).  But I miss it.  There’s something about ingrained rituals that leave a hole in your psyche when they’re broken.    

And “consider carefully” doesn’t meld with “miss”.  Rationality and emotional intelligence are hard to reconcile.  I can’t put in words why this is so, what it is I miss  – the joy of arrival and opening it all up; the ever-shifting constant sea; fallen leaves on the patio; long shadows of neighbouring caravans at sunset; the rabbits, robins and partridges.  I’ll have to try and pull together some photos.  In the meantime, I’ve paid next year’s rent.

Thursday, 23 October 2014


I’m indebted to my brother for bringing this to my attention, and also suggesting the punchline.

It seems that not enough cases of dementia are being diagnosed: only about fifty percent, apparently.  Now you might wonder how exactly they go about counting the undiagnosed cases – but that’s not the point right now.  The point is that the NHS has a solution.  For the next six months, GPs will be paid £55 for each new case they identify. 

That’ll get the stats up to where we want them.

Now I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that there are any unscrupulous doctors out there, but it does set a bit of a precedent, doesn’t it?  My brother nailed it when he visualised a cartoon (which would have been worthy of the late, irreplaceable David Austin*):

Patient to doctor:  “I have absolutely no memory of offering you £60 not to diagnose me with Alzheimer’s!”


* Austin did the pocket cartoon in the Guardian for many years, right up to his early death in 2005.  The paper wisely opted not to try to replace him.  He took no prisoners. Perhaps my favourite of the few I can remember was in about November 2002, during the lead-up to the Iraq War.  Several generals are in conference, looking worried.  One of them says:  “But – what if he really has got WMDs?”