Monday, April 30, 2007

Grounder


Some numbers are nice, dear reader, like 69. Some are horrible, like 666 for example. I'm just back from a trip to the nord-ouest of Scotland. It was decidedly 69, not a mention of 666.

Ian, the dogs and I left Edinburgh on Friday 27th April, quite early. It was grey, here, even misty and quite chilly. After a brief st
op at Tesco to buy some drinks for the journey and to return some rotten oranges and lemons, we headed West and Loch Lomond.

The Loch was as beautiful as ever. A walk along the shore, a photograph or two taken, a few moments gazing at Ben Lomond..
. Feel the peace, brother. Before moving on, a walk through Luss was in order. Election fever had gripped the village. I saw at least one political poster, sadly, advertising the SNP. It really did spoil the look of the place, though, to be frank, electioneering of any kind, on behalf of any party would have spoiled Luss. I'm feeling like a bitch, today, dear reader, so I'll claim, true or not, that obviously only the SNP didn't care about ruining the beauty of this fabulous wee place.

Time to press on, with a brief stop at Rest And Be Thankful to enjoy the vista.

Before long, bellies rumbling, we found ourselves looking for some lunch-time goodies in Inveraray. The Co-op provided crusty bread, soft cheese, tomatoes and a wee drop of orange juice. We took the food to the edge of the loch for a rustic, al fresco feast. The eating was a pleasure, the drinking, slightly less so. The orange juice was housed in one of those vile bottles, a strange
device facilitates the exit of the liquid into ones mouth, not too dissimilar to a washing up liquid bottle. One can suck or squeeze. Either is acceptable, though both is a vulgar experience with juices shooting into the gob.

Which do you prefer, hen? Sucking o
r squeezing?

Our next port of call was Dunstaffnage Castle, though only brief, before heading on to Oban and an ice-cream. April should be a cool month, my little maid. The latter half warmer than the first, yes, but 20ºc? It's never right! The first day of my Spring holiday, I'm suffering from heat exhaustion, eating an ice-cream and turning lobster red!

Oban is a very popular
tourist spot. Scots come for a week or two or just a weekend. Others stay a while, some are just day-trippers. Like us. Who'd joined us last Friday, I can't be sure. There were many British accents to be heard and just as many foreign languages.

I'm beginning to recognise the Polish language when I hear it, now. It's actually quite beautiful. Sounding quite slavic, though not as harsh as Russian. There
were quite a few Poles in Oban, working hard. It's strange, hearing Britons complain about Poles coming here and stealing their jobs. I might ask which is more common in the UK, idleness or xenophobia, bird, but I really can't be bothered with the debate.

Heading North from Oban, we crossed Loch Etive on the Connel Bridge, passing Castle Stalker before reaching our destination, The Ballachulish Hotel, Ballachulish. Very exciting for me. A lochside view... And! Our room featured a four poster bed. I'd never slept in one before! Exciting! Nice to be surrounded by wood when you're in bed, my love, and four long lengths, to boot! To add to my excitement, a jacuzzi bath. J'adore the bubbles, like bathing in champagne!

We ate in the hotel that evening. Very good food to be had after drinks. A campari soda for Minge, gin and tonic for Phyllis. I love campari. It tastes like pomegranates. A super bottle of shiraz accompanied our dinner. I was so drunk, I couldn't take a pudding. Yes, I could hardly believe it myself.

I like pudding. It's a word interchangeable with dessert here in the UK. In the United States of America, it means custard. And th
en they go and call Mr Whippy frozen custard! Strange, bizarre, fabulous. J'adore it. One thing, though, that I'm unsure about, don't know if it's fabulous or not, is the inability of Americans to pronounce the h in herb. What's that all about?

But I digress...

I slept like a baby that night, my love. We got up reasonably early, ab
out half past seven, got washed, dressed, took the dogs for a short walk, just enough to do some yellow and brown before returning to the hotel for breakfast. I hardly eat a thing most mornings. Yes, I know breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but I usually skip it. Breakfast at the Ballachulish Hotel was designed, I think, for a dinosaur - a hungry dinosaur! I picked at the offerings, indulging in porridge, muffins, toast (with butter AND jam), yoghurt, fruit, fruit juice, coffee, potato scones, fried eggs, grilled tomatoes, fried mushrooms, pancakes... I ate like a pig. I opened my mouth to speak and began to grunt instead. Then I considered the beauty of a nose ring.

A full day was ahead of us, so a big breakfast was a good idea. A gigantic breakfast, though, was not. My tummy was sore, I was so full, and before long, I began farting like a Slitheen.

Heading for Ardnamurchan, we crossed lochs on bridges and ferries, stopping, here, there and what felt like everywhere, taking photographs of the beautiful scenery, sometimes with my constant companion, the Buddha, sometimes without, sometimes going off for a walk, sometimes standing still. A leisurely drive along the southern coast of the Ardamurchan peninsular brought us, within a few hours, to the Point of Ardnamurchan and a lighthouse, supposedly the most westerley point of the UK mainland. In fact, it is not. The most westerley point of the UK mainland is Corrachadh Mòr. A tour of the lighthouse was a must. The views from the top were outlandish. We were so lucky with the weather.

The peninsular is beautiful. In my opinion, the most beautiful part of Scotland, even more so than the well known and captivatingly beautiful places such as Eilean a' Cheò, Saint Andrews and The Black Isle. Unsurprisingly so, though, really, as the West of Scotland has some of the most wild geography to offer: Sea and freshwater lochs, islands,
mountains, plains. What was surprising, to me, at any rate, was the level of population. I imagined an area of Scotland practically abandoned. Although by modern standards, for a rural location, Ardnamurchan's population is far from sparse. Villages, hamlets and farms appear in quick succession along the B8007 from Salen to the Point of Ardnamurchan. A wonderful life is to be had, I'm sure, if that's your bag, though don't expect even the basics such as radio reception, telephony and gas, let alone broadband internet, mobile telephone reception and the wonders of a local supermarket. Run out of milk, and you're buggered, hen.

Though do expect to find half the people living there are not Scottish, let alone local. Most of the folk with whom we spoke were from Wales, England and Eastern Europe. Why this is, je ne sais pas. One might go back as far as the Highland clearances for an answer, but the real question to be asked is why the return of the Scots to such places is easily matched, in
numbers, by peoples from far and wide.

From Ardnamurchan, we retraced our steps (well, our wheels) as far as Salen, then travelled North on the A861 to Mallaig. The B8007 is a single track road, peppered with passing places. Courtesy is a must on such byways. One might not expect passing places on an A class road, but they were surely to be had.

Mallaig is a pretty little harbour town. Its existance has everything to do with shipping, from fishing boats to ferries. Its size can be explained by the coming of the railway in 1901. After a delicious poke of fish and chips, washed down by a can of Irn Bru, we followed that railway to Glenfinnan. I thought of Brian. "He should have come here on his Scottish odyssey," I said. As members of the National Trust for Scotland, we got to park in their car park for free, though, sadly, the shop and visitor centre was closed. A short hike of five or ten minutes up a wee hill afforded us views of the Jacobite Memorial and the viaduct, as seen in various Harry Potter films, used by the Hogwarts Express. Other film fans might be aware that Connor and Duncan MacLeod, from the Highlander series, were born in Glenfinnan in the sixteenth Century.

Then the midges came out. Unseasonably warm weather is great at midday, but when the sun goes to bed, Mr and Mrs Midge come out to play - and bite! Back in the car we went and off to the hotel via Fort William with beautiful views of Ben Nevis on the way.


The next day was basically our journey home, though we did this, after another mammoth breakfast (with the Buddha) in much the same manner as our journey to Ballachulish, stopping at a myriad of different places along the way. First, a forest walk on the approach to Glen Coe during which we found Signal Rock and Mary found a herd of deer to chase. Then Glencoe village to pick up some provisions for lunch which we took in the middle of Glen Coe itself. Fantastic views of the highest peaks speckled in snow. Curious to look up at snow, dear reader, when you're sat on a deck-chair in a short-sleeved shirt in full sunshine. From Glen Coe, we drove across Ranoch Moor and on to Crianlarich for an ice-cream, then Stirling, then home.

I slept like a log!

By the way, I've just come across this article on Wikipedia: Eating a grounder. I feel really upset, my lamb.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

The people's flag is Fib Sunday

Same sex partnerships, dear reader, and welcome to Fib Sunday!

And what a fabulous Sunday it is. Well, it was. I'm just in the door, mon amour, after a wee trip up North. Blazing sun, temperatures in the twenties and scenery to die for. Back in Edinburgh - low cloud, mist and decidedly chilly.

Makes even the most optimistic of people consider suicide. Yes, I know! What do I know...?

Fib Sunday is late, yes, and I'm a whole twenty four hours late in playing Haiku Saturday. I'm sorry, so sorry. Please forgive me. I don't want to hear, I don't want to know, please don't...

If you don't know what Fib Sunday is, or indeed, what's going on, click here for the original instructions. They're really sweet and with no bitter aftertaste!

In brief:

1) I take the topic as given in last week's final entry, write a Fib and give a new topic.
2) Your reply to the topic is in the form of a Fib in the comment section.
3) You then supply the next topic.
4) The next visitor replies with a Fib on the newly given topic and then provides a new topic and so on...

A Fib is a six line, twenty syllable poem with a syllable count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8. The only restriction on a Fib is that the syllable count follow the Fibonacci sequence. An example of a classic fib:

One
Small,
Precise,
Poetic,
Spiraling mixture:
Math plus poetry yields the Fib.

Last week, Phyllis left us with same as Brian's. Now, does this mean same as Brian's is the topic or is the topic the one as left by Brian previously...?

Frump Friedkin and the greasy doughnuts that ate a hole in the chocolate covered tarpaulin hiding Brad Pitt's frozen banana hammock.

Brad!
No!
Stop it!
Banana...
...takes the greasy rings.
Not Frump's brown length, undercover.

Next topic:

Deepest red.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Science

Medical science - what a world of wonder, dear reader!

Your very own wee Minge seems saved from the perils of fatal death, all thanks to Dr Wendy, some chemicals and her firm belief in the power of pineapple. Yes, pineapple! I fibbed, today, at the hospital, telling her I'd been eating it every day, just as she'd advised.

So if pineapple hasn't cured my tongue - what has?

When I was young, I had a chemistry set. Recommended age group - twelve and over. I'd have been about eight or nine years old. My brother would have been seventeen or eighteen. He, once suspended from school for causing a fire in the science lab, me, home on a school day all thanks to chickenpox.

"Let's be chemists!" decides my brother.

Out came the box of tricks. The tubes. The powders. The liquids.

But the contents of the box were not enough for my brother. So we raided Mum's cupboards and the larder for bicarbonate of soda, salt, food colouring and bleach. A mad potion was brewed, yes, and in a tumbler it went.

"Drink this and you'll change," said my brother.
"Yes, from alive to dead!" shouted Mum as she came in from the back garden. "Put that down!"

I did as I was told.

The only other experiments I ever did with my brother were the lighting of our farts with a cigarette lighter and making slug soup. Slug soup was easy. There were only two ingredients: slugs and salt. Jamie Oliver would frown upon our recipe, though. The slugs were organic, yes, and there was no added fat, but the salt was cheap and nasty table salt, definitely not posh Maldon sea salt.

I often wonder about the blue potion we made in the kitchen in the early 1980s. I wonder what it really would have done to me. Penicillin was discovered accidentally. Perhaps my brother and I had invented a cure for something. We'll never know.

One thing I do know, though, is that the potion would have had more of an effect on me, I'm sure, than the (non-existant) pineapple.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Kingmaker

Bonjour ma petite fille!

Politics and politics alone seems to fill the air this afternoon. Boris Yeltsin's funeral has just taken place, a lady with whom I exchange pleasantries when out with the dogs is scared Alex Salmond might soon be Scotland's First Minister and France's kingmaker refuses to back Royal or Sarkozy.

Interesting, in the first round of the Presidential election in France, they had an almost record turnout, approximately 85% - the highest level since 1965.

But why? And why do elections here in the UK attract so very few voters?

Here, around election time, people are often heard saying, "I'll not bother voting. What's the point? All the parties are the same."

All parties, all Presidential candidates are not the same in France.

M Sarkozy, a self-confessed Anglophile and admirer of Tony Blair, is a modern day Margaret Thatcher. He proposes bringing radical changes to France, the way the french machine works and how it's administered. Distinctly right wing changes. Limits on immigration, a tough stance on delinquents and limiting the role of the state.

Mme Royal, offering France her first woman President, leans decidedly to the left. She offers increases in spending and the role of the state, promising the citizens of France the ability to rely on it, playing a sizeable role in their daily lives.

Similar questions faced Britain throughout the 1980s and 1990s. They were finally answered and laid to rest in the 1997 general election. With no more questions left, there are fewer and fewer Brits prepared to answer with an X in the ballot box.

M Bayrou claims he cannot publicly back Royal or Sarkozy as they veer to the extremes, which is true. Never did a British political leader and/or party receive such a resounding endorsement as Mr Blair and the Labour Party in 1997 - because they recaptured the centre ground. Difficult questions had long since been answered. Britain was about to enter a new phase of compromise, centrist policies and a middle way. France needs to settle some pretty important questions like the role of the state, taxation and spending before she, too, can enter a similarly accommodating phase. Meanwhile, there is real and necessary debate in the country.

Britain is on a set course. France could go anywhere.

Who will win? They will decide.

Sarkozy is seen as volatile, unbalanced and more concerned with money than people. Royal's reputation is for putting the needs of France and her people first, regardless of cost. That cost worries some people along with her lack of experience in national politics.

It's going to be an exciting few weeks, dear reader.

If Bayrou's followers split between Sarkozy and Royal and if Le Pen's loyal band attach themselves to Sarkozy, Sarkozy will be France's next President. This will be followed by M Sarkozy's policies being implemented by government and rioting in the streets of France. Mark my words, bird, I forecast the fucking future.

It's all a bit messy, n'est-ce pas?

Gestern









Gestern, im bilder...

I went into the city for my monthly oral check-up. I have to go back to the hospital today or tomorrow. The Doctor who treats me would like me to have a second opinion. So I'm nervous, fractious and scared for the next forty eight hours.

On arriving, I saw a woman waiting for a bus. She wore training shoes with gold detail. Seeing a ninety year old woman wearing trainers is one thing, but ones with gold detail is another! The rest of her outfit was extremely well coordinated, including a baby blue bag for contrast.

From the hospital, I took a walk along Princes Street, finding a bin on fire.

A couple of CDs were purchased in Virgin. Hailing from the westcountry, I was unashamedly drawn to a Wurzels single. The first track features Tony Blackburn, so I'll ignore it, but track two, Combine Harvester, is a delightful reminder of my boyhood. I've played it a few times since yesterday and sung along.

I bought a funky egg timer in Frasers, then popped to the top floor for a coffee and a slice of trashy lemon meringue pie. J'adored it.

Then it was time to take the bus home, enjoying the blossom in the city as I made my way to Lothian Road.

I'd only been home for a couple of hours when Ian returned home from work. We didn't hang around the house, but went immediately for a walk with the dogs across The Meadows and Bruntsfield Links, stopping for chips on the way. Mine came with white pudding, Ian had breaded scampi.

When in a state of melancholy, the filling of the mind with anything but the matters at hand is a good idea, dear reader, at least until one has mustered the strength to cope.

Express

Take a look at this, dear reader:

HOW THIS ONE GREAT LAND LOST ITS SOUL

The Daily Express says Saint George's Day should be an occasion for patriotic celebration.

The words of that stirring wartime song There’ll Always Be An England have acquired a tragic poignancy. For there is no longer a real England – not the England that was once renowned for its gentleness and humour, its decency and sense of history, its rich language and inspiring landscape.

Decency, indeed? That's rich, coming from a man who also publishes The Daily Star, owns Television X and who has previously owned several pornographic publications such as Penthouse, Big Ones and Asian Babes. The tragic poignancy is that a man who cultivates the debasement of women, men and the sexual act imagines the cheapening of society and the loss of formerly held values was instigated by the government and not by the likes of him and his peers, men who seek to make a fast buck from we so-called victims, regardless of consequence.

Richard Desmond, now a supporter of the Conservative Party, once gave a £100,000.00 donation to The Labour Party, the current object of his hatred. The Labour Party were unwise to accept a donation from a publisher of porn, a man who changes his political opinions like the wind. The donation did the Labour party no favours, both in relation to the benefactor's erratically changing political views and the nature of his business. Similarly, the SNP recently accepted half a million pounds from Brian Souter, a horribly homophobic bigot. The SNP were insane to accept this gift. It's done their credibility no end of hard. If the Scottish people go forward on Thurday week to elect an SNP executive, the result will be seen as a referendum, not only on independence and the UK Labour government, but on the acceptability of homophobia and the hatred of minorities. Expected, though, I think, as the SNP is all about hatred. But I digress...

The relics of our past are still around us – such as the mon­archy or the village green –‑but they have been robbed of all meaning and vitality, becoming little more than heritage landmarks in a place without a soul.

In essence, yes. The village green is thankfully no longer the venue for throwing rotten fruit and vegetables at fellow villagers locked up in the stocks. The monarchy's influence on the state seems, mercifully, to lessen with each passing year and the fairytale of their perfection has broken down since the realisation that members of the Royal Family are, in many aspects, just like the rest of the population: they have affairs, they take drugs, they even play bingo. They are not gods.

The country of Shakespeare echoes to the babble of a thousand foreign tongues. The land of Elgar is held hostage by the thud of the rapper’s boom-box. The stiff upper lip has been replaced by the wail of victimhood. A land that used to be known for its lack of crime is now scourged by gang violence, shootings and stabbings.

A babble of a thousand tongues? Babble implies that all other languages are inferior to English a rather simple Anglo-Frisian language rooted in the Germanic tongue brought by invading settlers to the British Isles from various parts of modern Germany. Such a claim, brought by a newspaper with a poor grip on the rules of spelling, grammar and sentence construction is, at best, ridiculous, at worst, embarrassingly rude. And of the original Britons who spoke a collection of Brythonic languages? What might The Daily Express think of them? I dread to think.

Beauty and excellence in the arts are not, have not and never could be limited to the past. Amidst his contemporaries, Elgar himself would have been viewed as either a conformist, dragging traditional classical and orchestral music into the twentieth century or as a visionary.

If I might steal from Wikipedia:

In 1899, at the age of 42, his first major orchestral work, the Enigma Variations, was premiered in London under the baton of the eminent German conductor Hans Richter. It was received with general acclaim, establishing Elgar as the pre-eminent British composer of his generation. This work is formally titled Variations on an Original Theme; the word "Enigma" appears over the first six measures of music, which led to the familiar version of the title. The enigma is that, although there are fourteen variations on the "original theme", the 'enigma' theme, which Elgar said 'runs through and over the whole set' is never heard. Many later commentators have observed that although Elgar is today regarded as a characteristically English composer, his orchestral music and this work in particular share much with the Central European tradition typified at the time by the work of Richard Strauss. Indeed, the Enigma Variations were well-received in Germany.

Rap/hip hop music is as adored and as hated as classical music was one hundred years ago, as it is today.

The stiff upper lip might well have been replaced by a wail of victimhood, though whether a culture of pretence is better than a culture of acceptance and realism is a matter of debate. Any psychologist, psychiatrist or counsellor would encourage victims of crimes and of tragic events to face them, to accept them, not to sweep things under the proberbial carpet. A change for the better, I think.

I'm not sure there was ever a time when England was known for its low rates of crime. The numbers of Victorian prisons still in use, up and and down the land, surely speak for themselves, as do all the stories of smuggling known to every school pupil, the transportations and notorious hangings of the eighteenth, nineteeth and twentieth centuries. And the world's most notorious crimes, the murders of prostitutes by Jack The Ripper - do they speak of a land that used to be known for its lack of crime?

I think not.

Saint George's Day should be a day for patriotic celebration, yes, but not a day for racism, lies, xenophobia, wallowing in the past (glorious or otherwise) or for denial. The Daily Express' rude sense of superiority is, in my humble opinion, quite sickening. It might have been acceptable in the 80s, hen, but not now.


Sugar

Sugar's sweet, but your kisses can't be beat. Whatever you've got, it's good enough for me, dear reader. Boys say (they say) I'm good enough to eat. Manger. Whatever you want, you've got, because you've knocked me off my feet, my lamb.

I'm hungry for your sweet love. I need you here tonight. I'm crazy, I'm burning up.

I can't help it. I'm captivated by your honey, dear reader.

You've tasted honey, you've had the rest. Well here I am, come on and try the best. No chance! Won't let you get away, no way. Whatever you need from me, I'm going to let you get your way, bird.

I'm waiting, can't get enough! So move your body close. I need you, I won't give up.

I can't help it.

This...

...and that.

Don't say it's like a fantasy when you know this is how it should be, dear reader. You kiss me, I'm falling. Can you hear me calling? You touch me, I want you. Feels like I've always known you. On a night like this, I want to stay for ever. On a night like this, just want to be together, my little maid.

Now I'm getting closer to you. Hold me. I just can't be without you. You kiss me, I'm falling. It's your name I'm calling. You touch me, I want you. Feels like I've always known you. On a night like this, I want to stay for ever, my lamb.

Seems I've known you a lifetime. Now it's time to make you mine, on a night like this.

You kiss me, I'm falling. You touch me...

On a night like this, I want to stay for ever. On a night like this, just want to be together. On a night like this, bird.

Monday, April 23, 2007

George

Happy Saint George’s day, dear reader!

And what a day! People in England will be wearing red roses on their lapels, flying the Cross of St George from every available flagpole and singing Jerusalem in Churches from Berwick Upon Tweed to Penzance.

But is that a true picture? How is St George’s day really celebrated in England, if at all? And if not, why not?

When I was a boy, which wasn’t that long ago, my little maid, England’s national day passed largely unobserved. No mention on the television news, nor in the press and not once did I ever exchange a, “Happy Saint George’s Day!” with a fellow Englishman.

Today, Royal Mail are issuing a set of stamps to celebrate England and Saint George. In Coventry, a re-enactment of the mythical slaying of the dragon is taking place. Tameside in Greater Manchester will look like a set for Doctor Who with the whole of Ashton town centre transformed into a mediaeval village. Visitors might wonder if they’ve been travelling in time.

So, the celebration of Saint George, bridegroom of Jesus, is gaining momentum, but by no means is it celebrated with the vigour, enthusiasm and sheer joy as other national patron Saints. Take Saint Patrick for example. The population of the entire planet is Irish on 17th March. People get drunk on Guinness (brewed in Dublin). Festivities in Dublin go on so long, it’s no longer a day but a festival, lasting almost a week. But it’s not just a day for revelry, there’s a serious edge, too, as demonstrated by Irish politicians who travel the world to promote and celebrate their country, their Saint and their Irishness. In England, Patrick is celebrated with much ardour, parades and festivals taking place all over the country. This year, one hundred and fifty thousand people turned out for Saint Patrick’s parade in Birmingham concluding nine days of festivities. But that’s as nothing. In comparison with the United States of America! Eight million people turn out to watch the Saint Patrick’s Day parade in New York City and the lights on top of the Empire State Building turn green – as does a river in Chicago!

Saint George's Day festivities in London are muted and won’t last beyond the night. Tony Blair will not be in Washington talking up England and Saint George. There will be no parade in New York City and the river in Chicago will not run red.

But why?

Perhaps the English should take a leaf out of Ashton’s book and go back in time…

England, with her historical record, might be embarrassed in celebrating her national day with a soldier, often depicted in battle armour, plunging his sword into an animal, blood spewing abundantly. Add to this the scourge of the skinheads on the terraces waving the flag of St George, the BNP’s use of nationalistic symbols, St George's Cross standing for England's attempts to overrun other countries by force and the fact that the man might not have even existed and all the English might want to do is cringe.

Oppressed minorities, when given the freedom to do so, enjoy celebrating their identity and often, with gusto. The Scots need not feel any shame in being represented by Saint Andrew, friend of Christ himself, and a man not known for killing, but being killed – and by Romans nonetheless! Aligning himself with minorities early on, St Andrew reputedly drew a saltire in the sky over modern day Scotland. The Pictish King (either Óengus mac Fergusa or Óengus II) declared that Saint Andrew was watching over them and if they won their battle, he would make Andrew their patron Saint. They did, and he is.

Until 1348, Saint Edward The Confessor was England’s patron Saint, the country’s only canonised monarch. Perhaps it’s time to move away from England’s shameful past and bloodthirsty patron Saint and a return to Edward the Confessor, man of peace, man of God, known to be able to heal the sick by touch and to have performed other miracles.

English people have always felt pride in their Englishness and from 1707, felt pride in their Britishness. With nationalism in Scotland on the increase, England should no longer feel ashamed in celebrating her national day. They are not letting Britain down by celebrating their Englishness, to the contrary, they are proving that difference works. As with the European Union, a collection of very different people can come together and still retain their individuality.

Vivre le différence, England and Saint Edward the Confessor!

Incidentally, although the date remains factually unproven, it is believed that this is also the day on which William Shakespeare came kicking and screaming into the world. Sadly, it’s also the day on which he died. How English can you get, my bird? I don't mean dying on your birthday, I just mean having Shakespeare born on England's national day. Yesterday, on the eve of Saint George’s day, I alluded to The Bard in Fib Sunday. Check it out! Fib Sunday is not a day, nor a state of mind, but a way of life, my love.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Goodbye Fib Sunday

She knows if she touches it, she'll break it, dear reader.

I wish that I was married
And all my work was done
Living with my ma-in-law
And sleeping with her son


Bubble and squeak, mon amour. And welcome to Fib Sunday.

If you don't know what Fib Sunday is, or indeed, what's going on, click here for the original instructions. Or if poetry's not your bag, try this, a gallery of men in kilts. It's really quite fabulous.

Oh, and by the way, I've recently learned to count to ten. Look:

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten. So confident am I, I'm thinking of resitting GCSE/standard grade maths. But not before I've mastered eleven to one hundred. It's the teens, they get me every time. Why can't it be oneteen, twoteen, threeteen...?

I might write to The Queen and complain. She's a good girl and loves the common people, always taking their side. You know, the lowly ranks, the Baronets and Life Peers.

Hark at me, veering from the subject at hand, my little maid! Fib Sunday...

In brief:

1) I take the topic as given in last week's final entry, write a Fib and give a new topic.
2) Your reply to the topic is in the form of a Fib in the comment section.
3) You then supply the next topic.
4) The next visitor replies with a Fib on the newly given topic and then provides a new topic and so on...

A Fib is a six line, twenty syllable poem with a syllable count by line of 1/1/2/3/5/8. The only restriction on a Fib is that the syllable count follow the Fibonacci sequence. An example of a classic fib:

One
Small,
Precise,
Poetic,
Spiraling mixture:
Math plus poetry yields the Fib.

Last week, Matty finished off proceedings with a poem about Anne Murray. Sadly, he didn't leave a new topic. The last person to do that was Anjou Wu with quality or quantity?

My superior and abundant response:

This
time
I know
it's for real.
Stories of our lives:
Lots of small cocks or one big one?

Next topic:

Cruel world!

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Jamku


Brian's upset, angry, even. I can understand completely, and so will you, dear reader, if you read the introduction to Haiku Saturday.

I love my daughters dearly and would only ask someone to look after them if I trusted that person implicitly. If that person then went and handed them over to a third party without asking me, even if that person thought the third party might be better equipped for looking after dogs, I would not be amused.

When I'm overtly anxious, depressed, sorrowful, angry or generally feeling pathetic, I like to immerse myself in something, some methodical task where I have to do two things:

a) Concentrate on what I'm doing
b) Become an automaton

I know these things don't exactly sit well together, like claiming to be a gas and a liquid at the same time... But, hey, think of The Trinity. If God/Jesus/Holy Ghost can do it - why can't I?

So, ok, making jams, jellies and marmalade is perfect for times like these. I have to concentrate on getting amounts correct and following the recipe, I have to think, but I don't have to think for myself. I follow the same recipe every time and hardly ever veer from it.

My jam-making exercise, today, was not to cure a depressive state or to proverbially dry my tears. I just happened to have some frozen raspberries in the freezer. A good way to make space in my icy TARDIS is, surprise, surprise, to use things up. A kilo of raspberries do take up quite a bit of space. I now have room for more frozen chips and Quorn products. And ice cream. I'm not a health freak you know, dear reader. I'll now not have to wander the aisles of Tesco on Monday night wondering if this, that or the other will fit in the freezer.

The recipe is quite straightforward. Most, if not all soft fruit jame recipes are the same in that the ingredients are simply an equal measure of sugar to fruit and a wee drop of lemon juice. My Mum's recipe, the one I've always followed, has one simple addition or quirk. Two apples passed through a mouli. Mum got the recipe from an old friend and neighbour, Mrs Annie Hargreaves, from deepest Dorset. People from Dorset, especially the older ones, are obsessed with apples. Everything has an apple in it. Not sure why, perhaps only because they were once so terribly plentiful in the west country. The addition of the apple means an increaded amount of pectin in the jam, resulting in a shorter boiling time and a brighter, fresher jam. You'll love it, my little maid. If you don't want to go to the bother of mincing apples, though, simply use jam sugar with added pectin or buy neat pectin and add that, following the manufacturer's instructions.


You will need:
  • 1 kilo raspberries
  • 1 kilo granulated cane sugar
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 small cooking apples
  • butter
Method:
  1. Take a very small knob of butter and grease the bottom of a very large heavy based pan.
  2. Peel the apples, quarter and removed the cores.
  3. Pass the apples through a mouli.
  4. Into the pan, add the apple, raspberries, sugar, lemon juice and a further very small knob of butter.
  5. Warm on a low light until the sugar has completely dissolved.
  6. DO NOT boil the ingredients at this point.
  7. Once all the sugar has dissolved, crank up the heat and bring to a rolling boil.*
  8. Continue to boil for four to five minutes.
  9. When setting pointº is achieved, turn out the heat and bottle your delicious jam.
*A rolling boil is denoted by the inability of a stirring action to stop the jam from bubbling.
ºSetting point for jam is usually 105˚c. A good way to tell if jam is set or not without a thermometer is to let a wee drop hang off of a wooden spoon. If it does hang, it's set, if the drip falls like water, it's not. Another good way is to pop a saucer in the freezer before you begin making the jam. When you think you've got a set, pop a teaspoon of jam on the saucer and return it to the freezer for a couple of minutes. The jam is set if it wrinkles when you push it gently with your finger.

Friday, April 20, 2007

1970s


In keeping with my current 1970s obsession, dear reader, some old photographs. The first one is of my Mother posing on the step into our caravan. We were on holiday in Devon or Cornwall, I think. Possibly Cockington.



This is me with my Tupperware shape toy. I adored it and played with it far too far into my childhood. Probably until I was about eight. I just adored poking those shapes into the ball, pulling it apart and letting them drop.

Mum had lots of Tupperware parties in the 1970s. I adored being the host and passing around the sausage rolls. The parties were always organised by Sally Bishop. She died of breast cancer and the parties stopped.



Minge gets a bath.



My Mother and I. Notice the ornamental head on the wall, as mentioned in another post. The wire was for a baby listener that my brother had made. Yes, he made it. Clever stuff. However, he also made something similar in order to listen-in to people's coversations from his bedroom. He was desperate to know what people thought of him and if he was spoken about behind his back. A terribly insecurity.

Check out Mum's patterned dress!



This is my cousin Sue and I. I love her dearly. She spent a lot of time with us when I was young in order to escape from her horrid step-father. He made her life a misery.



My brother, Mark, in one of our many cancer wigs. Mum had a friend who'd been given them as part of her cancer treatment. Calling them cancer wigs was not very kind, then, but we did so nonetheless - and still do today.

I don't remember that television set being in the living room, but I do remember the day the colour one arrived and the black and white one was put into Christine's bedroom. Also, I have no idea who's being shown on television or what the programme might be.

Beneath the television is my Mum and Dad's wedding photograph. It's one of very few photographs of the two of them to survive their divorce.



That's me, outside the shop, Sandbanks, Poole. Britain's Orange County, apparently.



Les girls, l-r: Aunty Lil (Mark's Godmother), Mum, Aunty Barl (Mum's sister, Sue's Mum).

Look how Lil likes to dress so conservatively, even the Victorian lace edging... Then look at Mum and Barl! Tramps! Exposing their bras!

Poor Aunty Barl is dead now.



That's me, sat in my car, Herbie. It's Summer and I'm wearing a hat. I'd recently been stung by a bee on my ear. I simply refused to go out without a hat to cover my ears.



One of our earlier cars. There were six houses in our terrace. Back in the mid 1970s, we were the only people with a car. Now, the norm is at least two cars to every house.



Aunty Winnie, me, Mum. In our back garden. The scorching Summer of 1976.



Our neighbours - l-r: me, Audrey, my Dad, Mark (my brother) Ray and Paul. Read more about Audrey and Paul by clicking here, my lamb.



My family - l-r: me, Kenny, Mum, Christine, Lorraine, Mark, Dad. That tree, in the left of the picture, got so big, it touched the house. So in the mid 1990s, it had to come down.



Not sure when this photograph was taken, but it's possibly the day of my Christening. Mum's at the back, half her face missing. The man on the left is George Thompson, my Godfather, to the right is Violet Mills, my Godmother. I'm sat on Aunty Barl's lap. The only people from this picture still living are Mum and I. Hang on! No! I think I can see Mark, there, too. Near the curtain. He's definitely alive!



Me, Christine, Mark. In the front garden. Mark's clutching Pandy. He was stolen from me a few years later. I never got over it.



Mum and I. I look only weeks old. Mum still has the same hair style. So do I.



Minge and Kenny. Those curtains! It must be 1972 and they were old then. They finally came down in 1981 after my Father left us. Lots of things changed in 1981.



Oh, God! My brother and I... But check out the Roman wallpaper! Hideous! And our fake leather sofa (plastic) with orange cushions. How 70s can you get, dear reader?



Aw! Washing Minge in the sink! I loved that, apparently, always making a fuss about the bath, but lapping up washing in the kitchen sink!

Gosh, check out the old Ascot water heater (referred to simply as the ascot), the old brass tea caddy and the pipes for our automatic washing machine! I loved the washing machine. Mum said she'd sit me in front of it if she needed to do something and I'd be hypnotised my the washing going around and around. One time, she lost her fags, couldn't find them anywhere. Then she noticed brown specks all over the washing in the machine. I'd put her fags in with the washing! There was a wee rubber opening in the window of the door. I was known to poke all manner of things in there, most notably, a five pound note! A lot to lose in the 1970s!



Friends - l-r: Doris from Portsmouth, Win Clarke, Mum.

What on earth was going on?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bitch

Some bitch has tagged me!

What is the earliest memory you have as a child? Think far back.

It's my fourth birthday. I've just woken up. I'm in Mum's bed. Dad's away. I don't have my own room. My bed is next to my parents' bed. But I'm not in it. I'm in with Mum, safe and warm. Mum's been teaching me the time. I look at the wind-up alarm clock on the bed-side cabinet. The clock itself is almon shaped, like an eye. The face is circular, adding to the eye effect. The big hand's on the twelve, the little hand's on the eight. I just know it's eight o'clock. I nudge Mum. Her perfume is very r
eassuring. Even now. "Is it eight o'clock?" I ask proudly. Mum nods and reminds me it's my birthday. I scream with delight. My excitement at knowing the time made me forget my long awaited birthday.

What is a special memory you have about someone? It could be a grandparent, family friend - not including your parents - that you knew as a child. What do you recall about them that makes the memory special?

Aunty Holcroft. Strange, I've never known anyone to address someone like that, before or since, Aunty followed not by a forename, but by a surname. In later years, I called her Aunty Beatrice, though no-one else did. I should imagine this was quite rude of me, but I did it nonetheless.

Aunty Holcroft was the sweetest, kindest, most gentle woman I've ever known. And so patient. She worked in the dinner-centre* at my school. Even in the most horrid of situations, she never raised her voice.

My special me
mory is of each and every Wednesday afternoon. She would come and visit my Mother. I'd come home from school, arriving about half past three. By twenty past four, she'd get the bus to Kinson. Mum and I would walk across the busy road with her and wait at the bus stop until the number ten arrived.

On returning to my house, Mum would present me with a huge bag of chocolate bars, left by Aunty Holcroft. She wouldn't give them to me in person. Why, I've never been a
ble to work out. She wasn't shy. I knew she was uncomfortable with me thanking her for them, too. As I grew older and recognised this, I stopped. I felt bad, but, I think, she felt better.

I must add, too, th
at when I was somewhere between the ages of nine and eleven, the teachers at my school went on strike. Not all day, just at lunch time. So all the children had to go home. If I'd have walked home, I'd need to turn around to go back again as soon as I'd arrived there. So, instead, I went to Aunty Holcroft's house for lunch, just a five or ten minue walk away. It was fabulous. She really spoiled me, letting me watch the television while I ate. And a cooked lunch, too. The first time I ever remember having had oven chips was at Aunty Holcroft's house during the teachers' strike.

What was a favourite game you played as a child?

Families. Or Haunted House. Just rôle playing games, basically, but I loved it. A
ll girls - and me. So much more fun than Armies, War or football. Serena Coombs, Dawn Norman, Rosemary Watts, Sarah Hubert and I. You'd have thought, dear reader, that I'd have been Father, me being the only boy. No. I wasn't allowed! Nor did I want to be. I was usually baby to Serena's big sister. A lot of fun. Being spoon-fed with a pebble for an eating utensil, grass for a bib and water from a muddy puddle for a wash made for a messy play time.

Oh, and we used to make birds nests out of grass clippings once the tractor has cut the school lawn. For the birds, of course. Just wee rings of clipped grass. Imagine the look of disappointment, dear reader, when we realised, time and time again, that they weren't being used. And we were being so helpful.

What was a memorable trip that you can recall being a little kid and what did you do that makes you think about it even now?

Going to Austria in the Summer of 1979. My sister and her then husband lived in
Dortmund. He was in the Royal Artillery Mounted Band (though there were no horses to be seen) and stationed in Germany for four years. My sister, the fool, loved him dearly, although he treated her terribly. But that's another story.

The simple plan was to drive to Dortmund, meet up with my sister, her husband and his parents - then drive south. A European road trip, if you like. I don't think road trip was used as an expression in 1970s Europe, though I may be wrong.

We left home in the very early hours of the morning, 02:00 or 03:00, I think. Wh
ich was quite normal. This was going to be a camping holiday, something we'd done many times before. In order to take an early ferry to The Netherlands, Belgium or France, depending on where we were going, we had to have left Bournemouth not long after midnight. The drive to Dover was about five hours in those days, though now, I believe it can be done in two or three.

I loved driving through the night. Well, being driven. Father would have drunk gallons of tea (coffee w
as far too Tory for him) and popped a couple of Pro Plus tablets. I'd usually sit on the back seat, in the middle with someone either side of me, "...in case there was an accident..." No-one considered using the seatbelts provided.

This time, for the first time, we were holidaying without Christine and Mark, one of my two sisters, one of my two brothers. Just Mum, Dad and me. And Aunty Winnie - my Mum's dear cousin.

I thought I'd be sitting in the back of the car, all alone, Mum up front. Maths was never my strong point. Still, at least I could stretch out to sleep. But no, Mum sat with me in the back of our Datsun Cherry. Aunty Winnie sat in the front seat. Dad smoked throughout the journey, p
ractically chaining. Mum and Aunty Winnie smoked, too, though not as many as my Father. These were the days long before air conditioning in cars, certainly in British cars - and the windows remained tightly closed. The inside of the car was thick with smokey fog. How I didn't have cancer by my teenage years, I'll never know. But I was used to the smoke and to the clatter of knitting needles. I looked up to see the lights of Poole in the distance, realising, for the first time, perhaps with enough years behind me, that it was Poole, not Dover, Plymouth or France. I didn't have to ask anyone what or where it was or if we were nearly there yet. I rested my head on Mum's lap and with the knitting needles singing me a tick-tock song, I drifted off to bye-byes.

That, strang
ely, is my favourite memory of the holiday. Our journey to the ferry. I felt so safe, so warm. Never experienceing the same fears of sleeping alone in my own bed at home. I think, perhaps, because I knew Mum wasn't going anywhere. She'd always stay with me in my room until I'd nodded off to sleep, but I always knew that once I was asleep, she'd leave me. Here, in the car, choked with smoke and with the noise of the engine, I slept like a baby.

I didn't wake until three o'clock the next afternoon. I had no idea where I was. In some strange bed, in some strange house.

"Hello?"

My sister, Lorraine, came in to see me. Phew! She told me that Mum and Dad had
gone to Hohenseeburg with Aunty Winnie to put up the tent. Lorraine provided me with some decidedly continental snacks. Including chocolate milk. Yes, like drinking chocolate, but cold.

The rest of the holiday was much like any other. My Father drove for hours on end, never needing the toilet and not caring if we did. The car windows only being opened i
n order for a passenger to vomit. Knitting. Arguments between my parents... One of which nealy lead us to being killed! Sure, so I'm putting my foot on the drama peddle somewhat, but I really thought so at the time...

We were ever so slightly lost. Dad's temper was as wild as all hell. Much shouting. Next thing, we're approaching a road with two buildings, one on either side and some kind of pole impeding our way. Dad never swore, but he did blaspheme. Often.

"Christ. Jesus. Bloody hell. God Almighty. Jesus Christ al-bloody-mighty."

None of these spells helped us.

As we slowed down, soldiers came out of the wee buildings. They had guns slung over their shoulders on straps. Dad was scared, so he stopped. Perhaps not the best of ideas. The soldiers' reaction to our stopping was for them to take ahold of their guns.

More blasphemy.

And then the car was put into reverse.

Mum and Aunty Winnie screamed, so I joined in. As I said, Dad never swore. At least, not in front of me. All that changed this day.

"Shit."

The soldiers came running at us, aiming their guns at the car. Dad stopped again. We weren't exactly surrounded, I don't think we were seen as a threat, but a couple of them stood at the back of the car, two at the front and a third gestured to Dad to wind down the window. As the smoke poured out, the soldier began speaking wildly in German to my Father. No-one in the car spoke German (well, Auntie Winnie did, but that's yet another story). Dad said he didn't speak German.

"What are you
doing here? What do you want? Turn around! Go back!"

We did. It seemed we were approaching Germany's boder with Czechoslovakia.

Some of the soldiers were smiling. A pity that, in the 1970s, no-one used the term Schadenfreude.

I loved that holiday. Apart from the French children at a German campsite. They spat on me and stole my kite.

I learned my first German in 1979, just basics like danke, bitte and guten tag. The following year, I mastered the art of ordering eight bread rolls in a bakery! It would be another ten years until I'd reached my pinnacle with Fotze.

Did you ever fall in love as a child?

That all depends on how childhood is classified. In black/white terms, I suppose this is under the age of sixteen, but I don't doubt that most people have been in love before their sixteenth birthday, so I'm not sure how to take this.

You are the darkest childe.

I think I had crushes on various men as a child, some of my Father's friends and even perhaps my former brother-in-law, but drearily for Minge, I was never in love as a child.

Not to my knowledge, in any case.

Is it possible for a prepubescent child to be in love, my little maid?

I'm tagging:

A Novelist
JAG
Dert
Gab
Rand
Conor
Enda
Brighton David
American David
Cheeser
Alan
Matty
Brett
Dan
Nomad
Lewis
Brian
Bill
China
Michèle
Zona


What utter fabulousness, dear reader.

*Dining room.

Zimmers

Warhol


Turn yourself into a work of art, dear reader. Go on, you know you want to! Enlarge the finished product, pop it on your wall and the next time the vicar comes to see you, you can brag that you were a friend of Andy Warhol.

All men of the cloth love Warhol.

Click here. Go on.

All thanks to A Novelist for alerting me to this fabulous site!

Thought for the day: you are more interesting than a tin of soup.