Tuesday, 31 July 2012

My Old Kit-Bag

Trying to think of packing songs. Eliza Doolittle was the best I could manage on one cup of coffee.

For those of you who can remember as far back as the 5th July, you might recall that I'm actually on a road trip.

I completed part one (yellow), but needed to wait on job news before heading north.

I've had a lovely three weeks. Met the lovely Morgen Bailey and Colin Doney who are helping to organise booQfest. Went to cabaret at The Picturedrome. Bought some fish, watched some birds. Got my feet muddy and bought a hat. Rediscovered a love of vinyl. Rang the bells for the Olympics and watched the opening ceremony on TV.

Had some great visitors. Walked into the kitchen one morning to find a giant wood pigeon! It went a bit mental, battering itself against the French door. So I walked up calmly and opened it. At which point the pigeon stopped panicking, looked up at me, hopped onto the door frame, hopped down, and casually walked off across the lawn! Crazy birds. 

That was followed by a giant dragonfly.

You can't really tell from the picture, but it was longer than my hand!

That went out the door, too.

Then there was cheeky Mr. Rabbit, who snuck under the fence and sat sunbathing and eating mum's plants. 

Plus, whilst cleaning out the birdbath, I found a feather from my favourite bird - the Jay. Never found one of those before, and it's from the gorgeous blue flush on its wing. Felt rather privileged.

My Lucky Feather

Best of all, saw my nephew doing his sailing. It rained all month, it's raining now (even hailed yesterday!), but for those six days it was glorious sunshine - not a cloud in the sky!

Day Four - Windsurfing
So, tomorrow I'm setting off for the wonderful Mikron Theatre in Marsden, Yorkshire, where I will be back to my day job, doing something a little less literary related. It's always a pleasure to work with these guys, and I'm looking forward to helping them develop their strategy for the coming years.

Doing a workshop there on Thursday, then heading up to see a Yorkshireman in Scotland on Friday. An old friend I haven't seen in a few years. Apparently there are some stunning waterfalls where he is - can't wait to see them. He was the guy who first got me into standing stones, shamanism and all things lucid. Kindred spirit.

Need to get back down south for booQfest in September. I'll be at Northampton Library from 2-3pm on Sunday 16th September. Come along and say 'hi'.

As I'll be on the road for the next couple of days, busy with work, and possibly without internet once I reach Scotland, there is likely to be a bit of a drop in posts. I may schedule a few if I have time, but perhaps take this opportunity to explore the archives.

Ta'ra Northants, hello highlands...

Saturday, 28 July 2012

Dear Danny Boyle...

(Image link to The Bolton News)
What can one say?

Other than 'thank you.'

That was truly spectacular. You managed to combine everything that the UK stands for: top-class period drama, music, technology, and Glastonbury Tor!

Kaos sign language choir, the Windrush, the Suffragettes and a rousing round of Elgar... didn't think our jaws could drop much lower. As @ChrisBryantMP tweeted:

I love that Britain is multi-everything. And proud that every country in the world knows it. Only sorry some Tories don't see it that way. 

I would have loved to see the look on Cameron's face during the NHS section (watch here). I think the commentator said that many of them were actual NHS staff - I was hoping they'd wait for him in a dark room backstage. "Dear Mr. Cameron, come and meet the performers..."

Loved the way they combined the NHS with the literature section through J. M. Barrie, who wrote Peter Pan and donated all proceeds and rights from that to Great Ormond Street Children's Hospital.

Another wonderful highlight was Daniel Craig (as 007) and the Queen! I bet he waited all his life to deliver a line like that. Can't think of any other circumstance than a Diamond Jubilee Olympics where that would have been possible. Absolutely wonderful (watch here).

The other point at which I was jumping in my seat was when they unveiled Tim Berners-Lee. The reason this man is so incredible is not just the fact that he invented the World Wide Web but, far greater than that, he refused to patent it, instead entrusting it to a group of companies (W3C). The ethos of this group is that: 'The World Wide Web Consortium decided that its standards should be based on royalty-free technology, so that they could easily be adopted by anyone.'

If Berners-Lee had decided to patent the technology, this would mean that every time you accessed the Internet, or any company that provided access for you, would be liable to pay royalties. By not doing that, we have a global Internet where knowledge and ideas are communicated much more freely.

That truly is an incredible thing. The fact that Danny Boyle recognised this, and paid tribute, brings a tear to the eye.

This is the third time that the UK has hosted the games. Back in the country where the modern Olympics was founded by Dr William Penny Brookes in 1850.

The UK has hosted the games three time - 1908, 1948 and 2012. The first time, 22 countries took part. The second, 59. This time around - 204!

It certainly is a lesson in geography watching them all go past. My favourite facts learned are:

  • Paraguay is the only country in the world where the national flag is different on each side.
  • Bhutan was the last country in the world to get television, legalising it in 1999.
  • Brazil is the largest (population wise) democracy in the world.
  • There is an independent Olympic flag under which athletes can still participate even if their country does not, or if their nationality is in dispute.

Also, it's the first time that every country has included female participants.

That last one was fantastic to hear. It means that the Olympics really has done a lot to encourage the equality of women. 

The other immense occurrence was the lighting of the cauldron. Right the way through, the country was speculating who it would be: David Beckham, the Queen - someone even tweeted: "Please let Joanna Lumley light it with a cigarette." 

When Muhammad Ali appeared, we all wanted to make him an honorary Brit for the night. I would have been happy with Shami Chakrabarti, it was fantastic to see her carrying the flag.

The nation was expecting one person to step forward. Instead, we got seven. All young, talented athletes nominated by former British medallists. Incredible symbolism. We were all there speculating over celebrities, and instead we got the stars of tomorrow (watch here).

Danny Boyle, sir, you are a legend.

Look at me waffling. I'm so British. Couldn't care less about it until it happens, now I'm completely obsessed. Slightly upset to be heading off to a place with no TV next week.

Loved this:

In the movies, one might notice British characters have a tendency to talk in one of three stock accents - "English gentleman" (eg Hugh Grant), "Scottish/Irish hero" (eg Mel Gibson) or "Cockney chimney sweep" (eg Dick Van Dyke). But in reality, the UK has a rich mosaic of many different accents...
A three-tier class system is synonymous with the UK to outsiders, at least among those who boosted Downton Abbey's international audiences...Yet [Peter] York believes the UK is no more class-bound than, say, the US - simply better at signifying how the system works...     

The English are British and lots of people think the British are English but that annoys the Scottish and Welsh because although some think they're British and some think they aren't and some think they are but don't want to be, they all agree that they definitely are not English...

For many Britons, initiating conversation with strangers on public transport ranks as a breach of etiquette not far below commission of High Treason...

To listen to a conversation between Britons about their careers, say, or educational histories, an observer from a more forthright culture might be forgiven for assuming the participants were morbidly depressed. Chances are they'd be wrong. Self-deprecation is an inescapable part of British discourse. The only socially acceptable way to talk about one's achievements is to diminish them...

It's always fascinating reading about your country in third person.

Proud to be British?

Well, yes, I suppose so. I mean, we have our faults, but on the whole we're not a bad bushel of apples.

Has this unbridled display of nationalism been prompted by the Olympic games?

....GAH! Yes, goddammit. Yes. Alright? Leave me alone. I have a flag to wave.

Well done everybody. It was a lovely ceremony.

Mitt Romney - naff orf.

Friday, 27 July 2012


Just had a nice picnic down the local sailing club where my nine-year-old nephew is busy becoming Ben Ainslie.

Just to draw everybody's attention to something: 

Just over two weeks ago, I was up to my ankles in mud (see thunderous sky above). Three days ago, summer suddenly arrived. I now have a golden tan and shorts on (blue sky below).


More than a little.

A wee clippy wip below.

Still, surprises are sometimes nice.

Last night I was sitting there wondering what to do with myself, when a lovely text arrived.

"Are you home?" it enquired.

"Yes." I replied.

"Pub?" it asked.

The lovely Ms. Harri was back in town for one night only. Wonderful to catch up. I did break the drought with a glass and a half of bubbly for Mam's birthday, but by then I was back getting giddy on E numbers. I think something might actually be wrong with me. Is sobriety a recognised condition? Can I get counselling?

She asked whether my not drinking was payback for the months I endured her not drinking. I said I honestly couldn't remember her not drinking, I think I was drunk at the time.

Village life. We're such a cultured lot.

View from my room of Hollowell Reservoir.

My Ding-a-Ling

Well, it's not often I'm out of bed at 7am, but I'm trying to get into the 'limpic spirit.

As part of the 'it's not just about London, it's about the whole country' jive, some bright spark decided it would be a good idea for everyone in the UK to ring a bell at 8:12 in the morning. Doorbells, cowbells, morris bells, bluebells - whatever bells you've got.

Nobody's quite sure what the significance of 8:12 is - other than angry neighbours. Would have made more sense at 20:12, before the opening ceremony. Still, who am I to pull a Romney?

My nephew taking a break from the water.

As we have a church just up the road, it seemed like the most appropriate place to find bells. Even my wee nephew had a go. Kind of crazy to think that the last Olympics to be held in the UK happened the year before my mother was born. May not happen again in my lifetime.

It's also doubly impressive that my nephew had the energy. He's halfway through a six day water sports course. Done sailing, now onto wind surfing, which he's really good at.

How does it go again? Up...and down.
Up...and down...

It's certainly good exercise. Haven't rung bells in years, though I started when I was just a little older than my nephew. One of those things you never really forget how to do.

Still, done our bit. Go Team GB!

Guilsborough's 2012
Olympic Bell Ringing Squad

If you'd like to hear what the bells sound like, there's a video on my Armistice Day post.

Saturday, 21 July 2012


I'm currently giving myself the heebies reading Different Seasons by Stephen King. Mentioned I'd read Shawshank Redemption the other day. Now getting towards the end of Apt Pupil. Wow. That is wrong on so many levels it's hard to know where to start. Full evaluation later, but I've managed to make it even creepier with this cute little night light, £6.99 from WHSmith.

Allows me to read late into the night, up here in the attic. Problem is, this little monster:

Every morning and most of the day. Cock-a-bloody-doodle-doo to you too, you fowl beast. I sense Coq au Vin for tea.

Moving swiftly on. Had a fab night out last night with my new friend Morgen. Went to Fanny's Summer Cabaret at The Picturedrome (how strange) in Northampton. Awesome acts including Rosie Lugosi the Lesbian Vampire Queen, Tina C (who totally rules! - we are all valid.) and the Haraam Dance Troupe.

I took the opportunity to indulge in Pixywoo.  I love that site, but I've never been artistically gifted. Had a bit of a go, all the same. Tried an Urban Decay one, using cheaper shadow and different colours. I hate wasting the good stuff on trial and error. Think it worked quite well though.

Then I went freestyle and plied the glitter. Didn't quite work so well, but I thought the blue eyebrows were a stroke of genius.

In the end I went for something a little more demure. A dash of Urban Decay and a slathering of green glitter. £4, Claire's, bargain.

The other thing I learned to do was - finally - tie a Windsor Knot. This is something I've wanted to learn for yonks, but every YouTube video I found sent me totally cross-eyed. I'm not very co-ordinated, so instructions tend to lose me fairly quickly. Then I found this guy! He's totally brilliant. And look - I did it!

It just looks so much better than a regular knot because it's symmetrical. Très smart.

So, that was all good fun. Topped it off with my favourite trilby and an ironed (gods forbid!) shirt. Didn't shape up too shabby.

It was a fun night, though a distinct lack of feather boas. Quite a swanky place in fact. I stayed over, despite being sober. I really must do something about that. Two months today without alcohol. That can't be good for you!

Perhaps I shall celebrate by sobriety with a Pimm's later...

Other news: it's my mum's birthday next week. So I stopped off at the garden centre on the way home and bought her two new friends. They're called Butterfly Koi, and she's named them Admiral and Skipper (types of butterfly). I've documented their moment of freedom.

They disappeared rather quickly beneath the surface due to a slight pump issue we're having, but we think we've fixed it so hopefully we'll see them all again soon.

Now the fun is over, I have some serious work to get on with. Just over a week to go before I don my professional hat (not a pinstriped trilby) and go talk strategy. Then up to see my dear friend in Scotland - undisclosed location, I'm afraid, due to some psycho hose beast who's after his nuts on a plate. I'm looking forward to the juicy gossip. I fear little has changed in the years since I last saw him.

Did manage to start writing again the other day, too. 3.6k! Most I've written fiction-wise in months. Fingers crossed I'll get a lot more done oop norf.

Hope everyone's having a wonderful weekend.

Saturday, 14 July 2012


(click to enlarge)

I've become a bit of a twitcher of late (a bird watcher).

Despite it having rained for as long as I can remember, there are still plenty of birds visiting our garden. We're incredibly privileged to live in a spot of countryside with a diverse range of wildlife. Some of my favourites are listed above. More about them, with links to the people who took the photos, as I'm not that gifted - or that fast - with a camera:

Jay: This is my favourite of all the British birds. Perhaps because it's so rare to see it, and perhaps because of that electric blue shock of feathering on the wing. I always associate spotting a Jay with good luck. Apparently there are many types of Jay, and this one is the Eurasian Jay. Another fact about them is that they're great mimics and will, apparently, taunt their prey (smaller birds) by mimicking their cries! A little gruesome, but still doesn't lessen my appreciation of them. We have one that visits the garden. It's only started doing so in the past week or two. I've never seen one so close up for such a length of time before. 

Magpie: Many people don't like Magpies - I think, again, because they have a reputation as carnivorous and opportunistic. And for being thieves - flying off with anything sparkly. There's also the folklore: one for sorrow... I've never had that problem. When I was little, I couldn't pronounce my Aunty Helen's name. To this day, she remains Heron and I'm her Magpie. So, even when I see one Magpie by itself, there's always two of us. Joy.

Wood Pigeon: Without a doubt, we have the biggest, fattest wood pigeons in the county! I swear, I watched one get into the birdbath yesterday, and all of the water sloshed out! They are huge. But you can't help loving them. They're so dopey.

Woodpecker: We are extremely lucky to have not one, but an entire family, of Greater Spotted Woodpeckers who visit our garden. Usually they are an extremely shy bird, but these ones visit regularly. Each generation seems to get a little more confident. Red, white and black - stunning plumage.

Wren: Who doesn't love little Jenny Wren? She's one of the smallest birds in the UK. There is a classic nursery rhyme called Who Killed Cock Robin, which most of us know from childhood. But less well known is The Happy Courtship, Merry Marriage and Picnic Dinner, of Cock Robin and Jenny Wren. Even fewer people know of the pagan Cutty Wren.

Bullfinch: Finally, this little chap. He's not so common as his cousin the Chaffinch, or as glorious in colour as the Goldfinch, but I think he's my favourite finch. Tubby, plump and kinda bolshy. He sort of looks like he owns the place, even though he's only a few inches tall!

I like birds. They put on a show every day - never any annoying advert breaks (unless you count the squirrels - they're a bit nuts), always something good to watch. 


Sunday, 8 July 2012

Muddy Boots!

My muddy boots :)

Hollowell was a complete wash-out. Though still surprisingly well attended.

Check the black clouds behind the Mini stand.

And the mud...oh, the mud...

Sadly, the equestrian shows were cancelled on the Saturday after a shire horse broke loose and trampled a woman. The air ambulance made a dramatic landing in the central arena. They treated her at the scene and she left in a four-wheeled one. 

First time that's happened, and also funny how rumours spread. We were a row up when it happened and within half an hour the incident had grown from 'a horse got spooked and slipped in the mud' to 'a horse got loose and knocked down all the railings around a ride' to 'six people have been hospitalised and three discharged.' We were one Chinese whisper away from a fatality.

Other things I have learned this weekend:

  • Mules are sterile and can't reproduce. In the 60 rare cases recorded, they either give birth to a horse or a donkey.
  • The Spanish have a type of doughnut called a churro. It may be half the fat, but it's also half the flavour.
  • Although £3.50 is a ridiculous amount of money for five pieces of baklava, I am willing to sell a kidney to purchase more.
  • I would quite like a Giant African Millipede. I think they're charming. They hardly move and they eat veg. There's not much can go wrong there.

I also bought a hat. There was a stunning topper. I've been after one of those for ages but (although many would disagree) I have a small head, and they always come down over my nose. So I made do with this. Didn't quite match my butch black tank shirt at the time, but then contradiction is always a thing of beauty.

Not sure when I'll ever get a chance to wear it, but that's not the point with hats.

Anyway, today - whilst everyone else went down the field in torrential rain - I stayed glued to the telly for the Wimbledon men's singles final. Andy Murray and Roger Federer.

What an absolutely incredible match. And I make no apologies for it. I think it was Federer's year. There will be many more for Andy, I'm sure - he has played an outstanding tournament - but Federer... well, he's Federer. Grace, style, finesse and poise. Not only did he hold his composure throughout, but he did so to an entire Centre Court chanting 'Andy, Andy, Andy'. I hope it didn't tarnish the trophy too much. He truly deserved it. 

They did a slowmo promo of Federer a week back to the tune of Superstar by Lupe Fiasco and, maddeningly, I haven't been able to get it out of my head since. 

That aside, I am totally bereft. I have no idea what to do with myself. Over the past fortnight my arse has created a comfortable indentation in the sofa. Now it's all over. 

Terrifyingly, I have so much to do. Tennis allowed me to bury my head in the sand. I kept telling myself 'once it's over, I'll get on to everything...' Now it is over and I've just realised how much of everything there is to get on to.

The most immediate panic is that I have been invited to Morgen Bailey's writing circle tomorrow night at Poet's Corner (of all places! That used to be a pub in Cardiff!).

I'm looking forward to it, but I have to take something to read - and I'm dreadful at reading aloud. Makes me distinctly uneasy, but I need to practise before the lit fest in September.

The hardest thing is deciding what to read. You're supposed to take something you're working on. I've decided I might have a go at the first few chapters of the Nemesis Novel I've mentioned before. The one I just can't quite seem to end.

I think I'm having trouble ending it because I'm not convinced it's any good. Perhaps some feedback will help me to make a decision once and for all.

Deep breath...