Tuesday 3 September 2013


A movie in the making

So it’s September the harvest is upon us and autumn beckons. This summer has been viewed through a time-lapse camera, London with its all consuming consumerism, conflict and conformity, work with its want it yesterday attitude and the salty squeeze of a holiday has conspired to keep me away from the cottage.

The city is busy exciting and hectic but sometimes for those of us with a natural bent, seasonally quite stagnant, the changes signalled by a state of dress and the amount of tourists attacking the attractions with digital weaponry. In sharp contrast, a few weeks of summer in the countryside makes all the difference.

I’ve been rushed and pushed through some of my favourite episodes, helpless before the onslaught of the seasons scheduling. Hints of promise and glimpses of what was to be were badly edited, cutting straight to the faded grandeur of some of my most reliable stars.

I caught the opening scene, summer lapped at the country lanes with its gentle waves of long grasses bennet and blossom, the garden filled with young green starlets ready and willing to please in their up coming roles. Swifts swallows and house martins took their place in the food cue, even the occasional optimistic bee started visiting the set, the next instalment was sure to be award winning but I missed it. 

No catch up TV or rewind facility just fast forward, so suddenly verges had receded being engulfed by hedgerows turned into untidy tsunamis. The lupins and delphiniums had let stardom go to their heads, loosing their colourful fresh complexions and being brought abruptly back down to earth. It was fortuitous that the slow spring had held back those plants that I had nurtured from seed and though only in a supporting role at the moment, show promise.

It is easy to miss the importance of the supporting cast and this is how it is with the fields, for some reason they have stole the show for me this year. Green and pleasant, turned to warm and welcoming before sadly jump to the last episode, cut and print. Mighty machines are shaving and plucking them, leaving golden straw bricks or perfect pills where once the thick scenery shone out. These are piled high to form oversized stacks or left to cast old fashioned shadows over the stubble.

There seems no time anymore to enjoy these fields and the fantasy’s we created there as kids, the giant building blocks were castles walls that we hid from our enemies behind, the haystacks monuments to prove your bravery by jumping off them.  Now they are gone as quickly as they arrived, yet more monstrous machines are invading the lanes and shaking the house to the foundations, making their noisy way into the fields to plough with surgical precision, peeling back the surface ready for new growth.

I'm being optimistic here because with all this fabulous summer weather the reviews have been good so a lot of the plants have come back for an encore and with all such successes I know there will be a sequel coming to our eyes next year, so look I forward to the spring previews.

Sunday 23 June 2013

London Calling

It’s been a strange few months of hospitals, high streets and an awful lot of hooha. Poor Dom was taken ill and spent a week in a medical facility that seemed a million miles from anywhere but especially from here. This unforeseen sojourn sadly for him coincided with the bank holiday, the only free weekend before a very busy period. Work has been intense and a little surreal as I’ve spent the last week or so installing an indoor garden in a studio in Covent while yearning for my real little garden in Belleau. Oh and on top off all this, we’ve moved to a new flat in London

London is a place I still love, but like with any long-term relationship it’s sometimes soured by familiarity, all those cute nuances that you found so appealing at the start of the romance annoy the hell out of you now. It’s a city that sucks you back in and sucks away any amount of patience you’d built up being away from it.  All I could think while trying to move around the West End was for a city of hurry up there sure are a lot of lumbering people here.

It’s very unusual that I’m in London at the weekends so I’d forgot how it operates, people go about their business with intensity and no small amount of showmanship. As I travelled into town in the early mornings to work, I passed through Regents Park, watching the exercising tribes, the joggers, the skaters, the cyclists, all, almost sweating but not enough to spoil the designer sportswear. The dawdling young created a slalom course to the runners, while they moved their legs slowly but kept their thumbs in shape with rapid ‘textasising’.  

Then on to the heart of the city with the coffee shop chains serving the early rising tourists or the late to bed revellers, the tired looking traders trudging head down to work while the traffic tunes up for its noisy opera of revving engines and hooting horns. I must admit all this activity gave me teensy tinge of sadness, that is the memory of youth and the good times had.

I went out last weekend, watching the nectar rich bars delivering buzzing and bumbling drones with uneasy, queasy flight paths to the fast food stops to pick and then puke their greasy choices onto the ever-growing mounds of litter.

I rubbed shoulders with the young and desperate to be different, as long as you’re in a gang of similars that is. In my day it was no less tribal but I was a part of it. On Saturday though I noticed something, the invisibility of the grey moving unnoticed between the flocks of the coiffured and quiffed. Watching these older wraiths silently slipping past the noisy preened and pickled made me feel I had some sort of 6 sense until I had the awful realisation in a Bruce Wills fashion, that behind the beard, beneath the hair and under the Paul Smith jacket I was one of them

Age can be a strict tutor, the lesson the realisation that I have nothing to offer but memories, nothing to give but bad advice, a man out of place and out of time, ‘why’ instead of  ‘why not’ ‘who’ instead of ‘its you and of course you can come in’ late but not in the fashionable way.

However, it wasn’t always like this, there was a time as a young club promoter when this town felt like mine and I just chose to share it with everyone. Wrists ached from nameless handshakes, lines were jumped and drinks were free and free poured, not a door closed or a bar dry but this is a game you have to keep playing, nobody saves your place in this queue.

It’s a marathon and a sprint, a tough race to run, you have to train endlessly with smiles and all the latest styles. You have to push and gush, check your emotion in with your bespoke jacket and always look like you could spend a packet.

There was of course the winners and the losers, the losers boozed and oozed charm but didn’t hear the alarm and clung to the ship while the winners left with the rats for their careers and sneers.

Admiration turned to aberration, not dinner party material but strangely still cocaine fuelled dinner party conversation. A middle class medal to be worn until the kids wake up and the business trip calls.

It’s amazing how quickly high on hope can become high on dope, a little pick me up becomes ‘should we pick him up’,

Wide eyed with wonder becomes wide eyed with powder and no matter how glamorous the surroundings the toilets soon were the best seats in the house.

The phone rang like tinnitus, pleading for attention and a place on the guest-list no matter how pissed. Their demands ate answer phone tape and fuelled phony friendships. 

If childhood is remembered through days, youth or at least the impression of it is recalled through nights, nights where music played, lights flashed and threw possibilities in and out of focus, but maybe age isn't so bad as I can say thanks for the memories but an even bigger thanks for the safe haven I now have to reminisce from.

This is dedicated to all those who didn't make it.

Thursday 2 May 2013

Spring Break

I’ve been waiting for Spring before I stuck my words above ground, but what with the delay of that and the fact that melancholy had seeped into me like treacle over the winter, filling my veins and slowing my pace, four months have shot past before I’ve used my computer for anything but work.

Now I’m not one to wish my life away but I was so glad to see the back of 2012 and to be honest I’m still not sure the Mayans did get their dates wrong, the world kept turning but there were times last year it felt like mine was ending but more of that in a later post.

Late though it is, Spring has been doing its best, stabbing at Winters hold with its knife of colour, the blade is still quite dull but seems to be sharpening now with everyday that goes by, bringing more and more coloured highlights to the cuts from below while lengthening the days by peeling back the nights. However, winter hasn't quite given up, healing the wounds with an occasional covering of snow or washing them clean with an icy downpour or two.

I seem to have often talked about weather and it's odd behaviour over the last few springs, but possibly this is the new norm and not odd at all. I think the term is ‘global weirding’ not about hot or cold, wet or dry, just the crazy pendulum swings between them. Anyway the daffodils on our front verge, usually as predictable as can be, took forever to come into flower this year and then rushed through their glorious golden grin in a week and are now brown and battered. I think from the look of things we may be leaping over spring and landing feet first in summer, but lets wait and see.

Some wise soul told me that we’re a month behind, which seems about right but with a couple of sunny weekends at last, I’ve finally mown the lawns, planted a few plants and visited one of my favourite seasonal markers.

It was good to see that even my old friend has finally got into the spirit of things and is bristling with leaf buds.

This old tree sits in the Lady Hills. Now why these fields of lumps and bumps, dips and scrapes has this name I don’t know, but I used to visit them in another life, where, the hills seemed as high as mountains and the dips as deep as gorges and all of it  a long way away from home in Aby.

There was a story told about the fairy ring that sits on the higher plain that it was the site of a child sacrifice, the victim’s handprint still frozen in a stone at its centre. I’m sure this is just one of those things made up by kids to scare other kids, probably started by one of my siblings in fact, but whatever the source, it certainly used to work on me, many a time did I dally too long and had to race the night home, chased by my own beating heart.

Anyway, we still use these hills for sledging in the winter, the occasional picnic in the summer or for me chatting to the tree all year round.

Now he’s a great listener so good in fact to that rudely I’ve never bothered to ask what type of tree he is, as usual always too busy am I talking about myself.

He seems to have grown for purpose, roots twisted and exposed forming an ergonomic seat perfect for surveying the landscape from his vantage point on the top of the hill, branches drop low for shade and close enough to hear your whispers.

The land next too him drops away into a scrape, which he stretches an arm over to hold the rope swing that dangles over the drop. No one seems to know, or at least own up to tying it on there but it has had various guises over the years, even at one point having a comfy carseat attached. 

On this particular occasion as I chatted away to him, I thought this tree so old what tales he must have to tell, stories of hope and honour, dreams and deaths, lives lived or those full of regrets. These secrets kept with a hush of his leaves, or struck dumb within winters freeze, or shook with a golden sigh to the floor, I do wonder if all this discretion is rewarded, who does he tell his problems to.

Does a memory have a memory of you, as you have of it.  

Friday 28 December 2012

A sound proof box

I never knew his real name for a long time, he was dad to me and Mac to everyone else, including mum.

What fragments of his early history I do know about came in fractured conversation greased with dripping and washed down with cold tea.

His mum had died when he was two, a loss that came back in watery memories every now and then. My grandfather, apparently a bit of a rogue, was a little man who got about quite a bit, which was surprising as he had been left with only one leg after a mill accident.

Dad would talk of his early life in the 'big house' although the only memory I can recall him telling me was that he and his sister were forced to eat fruit cake, the dislike of which stuck with him all his life.

This time of plenty didn't last long, he and his sister were split up, my grandfather, who if he'd ever had any money had managed to lose it, took Dad with him to the slums. In this abject poverty he looked after his young step brother while his sister stayed in relative comfort.

Dad told a story of when he had seen her sitting on a float in a Catholic parade and had excitedly shouted, 'that's my sister', a policeman had clipped him around the ear for daring to talk like that of his betters.

We know he'd spent time as a youth running with the gypsies, because he wrote a book about it but it was only recently we found out he had lived rough on the railway sidings, anyway more of all that in a later post. 

It may have been love at first sight as far as dad was concerned but mum said she couldn't believe  her eyes when she first saw him, long hair, baggy trousers, a beret and sorely in need of a wash. Well they did get together and had three kids and moved to the country.

It was a misdiagnosed mastoid that created a series of events that meant my dad would never hear my voice, he never realised this but it was probably a blessing in disguise.

My sisters tell the story of when they were all sitting around the table one night when dad suddenly let out a scream and began thrashing around like some crazed drunk before crashing out of the house to be found dying in a lane.

As they lived in the middle of nowhere, it was too late to get him to a major hospital but they managed to get him to a small one in a town close by. The doctors saved his life but had to take his hearing to do it, a decision Mum had to agree to over the phone.

In those distant days support systems weren't really available or at least not dared to be asked for, a stiff upper lip and a strong cup of tea featured just as heavily on prescriptions as pills and potions. 'Tough Love' was  a major part of any form of rehabilitation, something mum had been told to do when Dad had finally come out of hospital. She told me the story of  his first time being faced with traffic without being able to hear it, he was terrified to cross the road but she crossed without him, watching from the other side, while he cried like a lost child stepping in and out of the road, while she stoically followed orders and didn't go back to help him.

 Anyway all of this hardship had made dad practical to the point of awkward and praise was still on ration from the war. Living in the slums and streets also gave him a very matter of fact view of the home, tidiness didn't really figure and even though he was a creative man, aesthetics of the house were never considered.

We didn't have lampshades, as he said what's the point of covering the light and this coupled with the fact that he didn't like net curtains either, 'windows were for looking out of' meant we lived in a bright light box that all who walked by could observe us in our natural habitat.

When it rained no brolly for him, he would just fashion a hat out of a carrier bag, quite resourceful but not much fun to be seen with in the street. In the winter he would take the red hot poker to the soles of his shoes to make them more grippy and if it was hot his shirt would come off where and whenever. 

We used to go to Hull quite a lot when I was a kid, this is in the days when we could begin the journey from Alford by train, before Mr Beeching had his way and closed the village  stations. I always loved the excitement of these trips much more than the arrival at the destination, because just like dad I didn't like my Nan that much either. 

Her little terrace house was totally different from ours, immaculately clean with a giant don't touch sign written with her eyes over everything. She had walls and walls of cuckoo clocks imprisoned behind glass that called out to me to free them, something mum read from my twitchy longing looks making her even more anxious around my nan. She became the child again when she was in her presence, listening to how I should be brought up, her constant berating of my dad and of course how different things could have been if she had married one of her more suitable suiters.

Anyway, on one of the few trips Dad did come on, he decided to get me to partake in one of the activities he had loved when he was a child, I guess in the hope of toughening me up. Ignoring my protests he forced me to follow him around one of the the huge industrial buildings on the docks and onto a tiny ledge that hung over the uninviting swirling brown water of the Humber. It seemed miles high and miles to the other end of the building as we shuffled along with our backs pressed against the wall fear gripping me all the way, I definitely don't remember seeing the fun in it anyway.

Both mum and Dad had a strange lack of any sort of fear of the water, which even though I could swim never had the same appeal to me as a child especially in the brown coastal waters that they adored to swim in even in old age. It always terrified me that they would both swim out until you could barely see them on the horizon leaving me nervously scanning for them from the shallows.

Dad was deaf but definitely not dumb, reading, anything and everything, poetry to pulp fiction and in later life writing too. He used to say you can learn something from every book even if its just how not  to write them. Its funny how people treat those with a disability but as dad was also a very strong man who lip read perfectly, many a person regretted their actions.

My lack of reading was one of the things from the extremely long list of subjects we would go head to head on and to be fair something I regret now, in fact a lot of his words of wisdom still stab at me, leaving the dull bruise of 'I told you so' but don't get me wrong not all of his words were wise or even thought through. Never a fan of me bringing curries home he once told me that the reason I was so tall and Chinese people were small is because they ate that muck and not proper food.

If he had any passion for food it was his passionate dislike of 'foreign food' because he thought it looked funny even though he would happily munch down the most disgusting English fare even if it did look like the trophies from a slasher movie; pigs trotters, tongue, tripe, kidneys, black pudding, this hideous dried blood was something I never ate even when I did eat meat. They always had this with another revolting concoction that mum called 'tomato gravy' for Saturday dinner based around tinned tomatoes, they would suck it down while dad shouted at the wrestling on the telly. 

Dinner was at that time in the middle of the day before it was usurped by lunch, but no matter the time, dad didn't believe in formalities, he never sat at the table, preferring his lap and the arm of his chair as a napkin.

We always had huge meals usually being meat and two veg, though even this wasn't completely straight forward, he always had to have the mashed potato lumpy and dry before mum added the butter and a dash of milk to make it smooth and delicious.

There was always dripping or talk of it. I liked it in a sandwich or as a treat on toast, but I think dad had it running through his veins. It always amazed me that when he was a kid all they seemed to eat was dripping and now I'm no expert but there must have been meat somewhere in the equation to get the dripping in the first place.

We would each have a tin of Oxtail soup on the rare occasions we had a snack style meal. Dad would have a large glass serving bowl for his, which he would fill with torn up pieces of bread until there was no liquid left,  just a brown bready gruel. I have to be honest here and say this wasn't just him, I loved to do this too.

He also had a bit of a thing for ginger nut biscuits which he took to work stored in his large  coats pockets, which was great for me as I would steal them, obviously being careful to leave enough for him not to notice. 

Now even though dad was very specific about food, the kitchen was just somewhere he walked through and dumped his coat when he got home from work, but on the very rare occasions he had to cook, he would make chips, huge fat ones that would be brought into the living room for us to admire before we stuck them between two pieces of bread for our butties. 

Now as you can imagine Dad and I argued a lot, disagreeing on everything, but we often fell out over his competitive parenting method. He would always tell my brother and I that we wouldn't be as good as our eldest brother, who was a shining star in the army.  My other brother took the bate and joined the navy working his way through the ranks to become an officer, I on the other hand didn't bite and went to art school. There never seemed to be a flicker of pride when I got my A levels and of course Art college was just somewhere I went because I didn't want to work, but it was only in recent years that I found out from people who used to work with him that he took all my pictures in to the factory to show them and boasted about my exploits.

One of the most telling things that he ever said to me was 'if you ever stop rebelling you're no son of mine.'