Author: Bladud Fleas

Arts, Film, Books, Food, Design, The Outdoors, and Life. Have Ideas, Will Ponder.

The Tune Inside My Head

i. Internal Music

Every so often, out of nowhere and without apparent cause, I’ll get a snippet of a song come into my head. I’m sure it happens all the time to a lot of you out there too.

It may be a line or two, a riff, a solo, or a rhythm. Sometimes it’s obvious what the song is but occasionally I rack my brains to remember which song. That’s the fun part.

Other times, it may arouse my curiosity further: as to its origins, who wrote it, whether the version I know well is the original or a cover, who played on the record, and so on. And it doesn’t always turn out to be what I might have believed it to be.

ii. Dreaming

Though I don’t usually remember my dreams, last night was an exception. It was a crazy dream about going into town with a group of youthful mates, exchanging shoes with one of them (don’t ask me why?) and I remember having to run down the street in these odd shoes. I mean they were odd in their appearance – kind of oversized and woollen or felt – AND odd because the left and right ones just didn’t match at all: one brown with black laces, and the other green with white laces!

iii. A Song

Anyway, I rose out of bed singing in my head, these lines,

I suppose I could collect my books and get on back to school,
or steal my daddy’s cue and make a living out of playing pool,
or find myself a rock ‘n’ roll band, which needs a helping hand…

Of course, that’s an easy one to figure out but it still got my curiosity going.

It was probably among the first chart number ones I really took much notice of as I was beginning to listen to music more intently. On TV, it was mimed by Rod Stewart and The Faces, with the DJ John Peel having a cameo part, sitting on a stool playing a mandolin. This was all fakery.

It was a Rod Stewart solo song recorded with session men, and when it came to crediting the musicians for the album sleeve, he couldn’t remember the mandolin player’s name, only that he was with the band, Lindisfarne. It is Ray Jackson.

Okay, Ronnie Wood and Ian McLagan, both of The Faces at the time, played a part in the recording, but the others weren’t involved. Wood played bass as well as guitars, and the drummer was Micky Waller. Something new, at least to me, is a credit for a “celesta” (Pete Sears).

What’s a Celesta?, you may ask, and it’s a good question. But you’ve no doubt already heard one, quite clearly, and not realised it’s a celesta. It’s the well-known classical piece, The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The celesta is a keyboard instrument, looking a bit like an upright piano, where hammers strike tuned metal plates, or bars, which resonate against wooden blocks. Tchaikovsky loved its sound, it seems.

Unlike most pop songs I’ve ever heard, I think the lyrics to Maggie May are well crafted, intelligent and imaginative. A proper ballad. They are credited to Roderick Stewart which I wouldn’t have guessed simply as he has recorded a lot of cover songs. The co-creditor is Martin Quittenton who also played guitar on the recording.

At the time, Stewart was uncertain about the song’s worthiness and conceded to the record company’s preference for the session’s other cut, a cover of singer-songwriter, Tim Hardin’s excellent Reason To Believe, as his new single’s A-side. But radio DJs and the public had other ideas, and the single became a double A-side with Maggie May becoming the most air-played and, instantly, the more popular tune.

It was no.1 in the UK for five weeks running, and elsewhere too. It is also reputedly the highest selling single of all time featuring a mandolin, yet only credited as,

“…played by the mandolin player in Lindisfarne. The name slips my mind.”

I’m sure I can hear the celesta clearly around the 2:35 mark, coinciding with when he begins to sing those very lines I remembered above. No celesta in the tv studio though, nor are their guitars plugged in.

Nature Notes: A Quick One

Looking after our grandson yesterday afternoon, we did an impromptu picnic on the lawn after he helped out pulling up weeds and couch grass from the borders.

We’d laid out an old sleeping bag and were chatting away when I spotted a creeping critter like the one in the image, making its way steadily under my wife’s legs. It’s not one I’ve noticed before as I’m sure I would have done given its bright colour and distinct red tail. It was about half the size of my little finger, the yellow of a highlighter pen, with black lateral markings which only appeared when it stretched forwards in motion. It was fairly hairy all over but it had four stiff looking tufts, like tiny shaving brushes, along the forward part of its back. It looked designed for dangerous intent, despite its size.

Ironically, the adult moth it would become is a most inconspicuous one. It is the Pale Tussock Moth, a moth whose grey colouring is perfect camouflage against tree bark.

The caterpillar was likely looking for a place to pupate. It does this under old leaf litter where it overwinters. A nice fact I found is that the caterpillars sometimes feed on hop leaves and the old hop pickers of Kent, in SE England, knew them as Hop Dogs.

The hairs are rumoured to cause skin irritation though I didn’t know it at the time and felt no ill effects after rescuing it from a potential picnic blanket tragedy.

I had no camera available so this is a stock shot, sorry, the best I could bear to find on google.

How Not To Land The Big One

I was hooked on this little article on famous writers on angling from, a blog I follow (link below).

At one point in modern times, and maybe it still is, angling was the biggest participatory sport in the UK.

My own participation in it was brief and unsuccessful. I had an Uncle who owned a shop which sold anything he thought he could turn a profit on, and one day he bought a wholesale lot of short, split-cane fishing rods and boxed fishing reels preloaded with line. My mate and I bought a set each – we were about ten or eleven then – and not believing in instruction of any sort, headed for the tackle shop to buy bait, hooks and floats.

Our approach was similar to any kid’s approach to buying sweets from a sweet shop: we shopped with our eyes and asked what we could buy with the coins in our fist. We left with a pint of maggots in a plastic pot, and the most colourful of floats. We also bought mean looking catapults from the shop but with no intention of using them to disperse bait.

Over the course of several excursions, neither of us caught a thing. Whether it was hours spent by the canal, by ponds or lakes, casting near or far resulted in not one bite. But I eventually landed a fish though oddly it wasn’t hooked. Somehow it had tangled itself around the line and was secured tight. I pulled it in and it was a job getting it free. The maggot was still pierced on the hook. We let it go, as you do, just before a man on a bicycle arrived and asked to see our permits.

Permits? He was a water bailiff and it turned out we had been poaching all this time without knowing it. He sent us packing and that, I think, was the end of that little hobby.

Dead Men of Leisure on their Love of Fishing (Lit Hub)

Smarter Technology For A Dumber Mind

In the local Museum In The Park there is a small room marked “Collections”. In its centre is an antique, glass-topped, mahogany display cabinet with a stack of drawers below. The glass topped display features pages from nature notebooks: drawings and watercolours of plants, pressed ferns and flowers etc., but it is the closed drawers which interest me.

I love these small local museums: they are usually unattended and this invites me to nosy around and be tangibly involved with the exhibits, something you may not feel free to do in a national museum.

How many visitors open these drawers? Not many, I bet myself. Sliding the uppermost one open, it reveals a collection of small seashells in little boxes. The next one down has larger shells. I go for broke and pull on the bottom drawer thinking, who would bother crouching down to try this if they wouldn’t even bother with the top ones? It doesn’t yield to any amount of tugging. It’s not locked as there is no keyhole; the antique wood has expanded over the years and has wedged its drawer tight.

I try the one above which opens with difficulty. It contains prehistoric tools: an array of delicate looking needles, flint arrow heads and spear heads, scrapers, a great stone axe blade, and a huge, smooth pebble-like stone blunt at one end which looks as if it may have been a mallet or a hammer. There are several pieces of antler, horn and bone too but it’s not clear what these were for.

I stare down at the tools, imagining the minds of the people who made and used them, how their intelligence, perception and awareness compared to ours. It’s easy to believe they were inferior minds, naive, childlike in comparison to us but back home, looking into this, I find it might not be true.

There is an academic school of thought which hypothesises man’s intellectual capacity peaked millennia ago and has since been in decline. Even in early hominids with smaller brain cavities, analysis shows these brains to have been as complex as modern man’s.

What’s to blame for our intellectual decline? Well, ironically, probably tool making. The more advanced the technology we use, the less intelligent the user needs to be.

Nature Notes: Regular Ramblings

It’s September in England, seasons of mist and mellow fruitfulness, and its colours are beginning to show. Here’s a beech tree, but you probably knew that. They are so numerous around our woods, it wouldn’t surprise me to find it’s our county tree.

You know, we’ve been in our new home almost seven months and I haven’t explored the local area that much. Now that I’m not working (again), I ought to get out some more, so I put on my boots this afternoon to go for a little stroll in the trees…

Along the way, I had this idea that I might do something regular to improve my nature knowledge. I don’t know if this’ll work out or peter out but I’ll give it a try. Each outing, I’m going to focus on a few things and see if I can work out what they are.

I ought to dig out a decent camera for the job. I have four but haven’t used them for years (one, an analogue 35mm SLR, I haven’t used at all – it’s mint! – but I’ll not be using that). For this trip, I had to use my phone – it’s all I had – it’s more hit and miss than point and shoot, as the bee photo below shows. Click the images for a better view.

First up is a bit of flora and fauna combo. The plant has the wonderful common name of Meadowsweet. It took a little bit of searching but the leaves gave it away. Its scent gives it away too, apparently reminiscent of germaline, but like a numpty I didn’t think to sniff it – I’m still a novice at this game. It’s medicinal too. It contains salicylic acid which was synthesised in 1897, called acetylsalicylic acid, and sold in pill form as “Anadin”.

The handsome fly feeding on its nectar probably didn’t have a headache but it wasn’t so easy to ID. I hadn’t realised there were so many hoverflies around. I think it’s Meliscaeva cinctella, and what’s more, she’s female. She really ought to have a common name to easily remember her by but maybe she’s too good for one.

Now why is it so difficult snapping a bumblebee? The leaves are more or less in focus but try as I might – and I did – the bees were a blur. What caught my eye was the striking mustard coloured thorax. I think they are Tree Bumblebees (bombus hypnorum), and not at all rare. Yet they were only first discovered in the UK as recently as 2001, and now they’re everywhere, except on the Isle of Man. Coming soon, Manxies! It’s an extraordinary bucking of the trend for beekind populations, a positive story.

Here’s a better image of one I swiped off the internet (credit: Stephen Falk).

By the way, my lot were sampling the sparse flowers over clumps of Comfrey. These were also known in olden times as “knitbone” and used in poultices to heal sprains, bruises and painful joints. However, it contains an alkaloid toxin which, absorbed through the skin over time, can possibly wreck your liver.

More next week…

The Builder Of Bridges #writephoto

a flash-fiction piece

“What’s down there?,” you ask. I’ll tell you.

Down there is curiosity, insight and awareness; but down there, for me, I’ll confess, is ego and pride.

For I am the Builder of Bridges. Though all you see is a simple means of getting from here to there, a journey so facile it’s over before you’ve paid it any mind. And even if you do slow a pace and look out over the parapet, what do you see? A scene which bears little relevance to your world at that moment. A world apart, merely a view, somewhere, down there. You might see far but you see very little.

“And the Hole?” Be brave, be curious; you must descend it to know…

Behold, the Bridge is not apart from the environment but a part of it. Look how the stones grow from the Earth and blossoming into its three Arches, the sweep of their curvature belying their physical strength, like graceful Atlas cradling the Firmament. See how the old world now embraces the younger pillars, the caress of passing waters, the hug of the road; how the very atmosphere clings to its lofty curves, how it assists the sounds of nature: a ripple, a footfall, the breeze rustling the leaves, a songbird.

“So, why is the hole so small, so narrow?” It’s a fair question, I’ll grant you.

I can only say that the fewer people that know of it, the sweeter it’s rewards will be. And, really, can one such as me, the Builder of Bridges, afford more ego and pride than I already have? The hole is the size that it ought to be, I’ll not say more.

(273 words)

written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt.


a flash-fiction piece in six sentences

Having missed my bus this morning, I’ll walk on to the next three stops where a “Fare Zone” badge atop of a pole tells me that I’ll save a few centimes.

At the tube station, at last, and a perusal of the map informs me that it is Zone 6, and I need to cross all the other zones to get to my destination which, ironically, is also in Zone 6 but way, way, way over on the other side.

Checkpoint Charlie: You are now leaving the American Zone.

I miss my stop, having zoned out a bit there…

My ticket, no longer valid to backtrack along the line means I am arrested by the transport police – or the Stasi, or the Gestapo, or the Feds – and I am cuffed, marched backwards towards an anonymous grey car where I am forced into the back and a bag is placed over my head.

Beyond this place, there be dragons.

For Six Sentence Story on Girlontheedge’s Blog

Rules of the hop:
Write 6 Sentences. No more. No less.
Use the current week’s prompt word.
On Thursday, link your post…
Spread the word and put in a good one to your fellow writers 


The Safebreaker’s Daughter

a flash-fiction piece

They’ll tell you careers are chosen, but that isn’t true. Had her parents been teachers, she may have stood front of class. Or if doctors, she might been saving lives. Though the course isn’t always obvious.

She built safes. Her mother cracked them. Every one. She wasn’t good enough; mother made sure of that: ridiculing, taunting, laughing to her face.

“Where’s your mother?”

The detectives called again. Another unsolved burglary. She didn’t know, she lied, and they left.

She stroked the box in the corner. Safes were made to be broken into, but breaking out was a different matter.

(99 words)

written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge: August 29th

In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about the safebreaker’s daughter. Who is she, what did she do, and where? Go where the prompt leads you!

Adventitious: Word Prompt Challenge

a flash-fiction piece

He read books; he read avidly and consumed rapidly. His mind was a repository for their diverse ideas and random bits of insight. The adventitious influences helped him solve cases.

Take the one of the body buried in the wood. She had been seen there with her boyfriend, his whereabouts since, unknown.

The team had spent months doing the usual footwork. They spoke to everyone, and every interview corroborated the other. His initial suspicions of a conspiracy of silence eventually gave way to a deep feeling that they simply knew nothing of the boy’s escape. He became desperate for a break; the case was turning cold.

Then, one evening at home, cradling a glass of rum and perusing the rows of upright spines on his shelves, Housman passed across his mimd suddenly like a shadow.

But she shall lie with earth above,
And he beside another love.

His stomach knotted. “What if?”

In the morning, his sergeant and two uniformed men scoured the ground close to where the woman’s body had been uncovered. It took barely two hours to find the spot of turned earth beneath the rotting leaves; a shallow grave which the uniformed men excavated with ease. They’d found a second body.

The coroner, with the help of witnesses, would soon confirm his identity; he had indeed been the woman’s lover, and the cause of death had matched hers. The detective resisted a strong urge to shout for joy: the case was far from solved but he sensed there was a fresh breeze raising its sails.

the adventitious prompt came by way of the app’s push, “word of the day”.

Adventitious: (adj.) associated with something by chance rather than as an integral part; extrinsic; coming from outside.

the poetry lines are taken from “Along The Field As We Came By”, from A Shropshire Lad, by AE Housman. I came across it on the Poetry Foundation website last night.

I won’t be attempting a word of the day prompt every day, it would be too challenging, but maybe now and then, when the mood is right.

image by Sebastian Pilcher via

Six Books For A Desert Island #6

It proves to be an easier task than I expected, winding up of this series. The short story form has been a favourite of mine ever since I picked up a David Eggers’ Best of McSweeney’s Vol. 2 collection of American current and contemporary short fiction. It was a period when I went to the lending library regularly, a time before the iPad and ebooks for me.

Since that book, I’ve read quite a few short story compendiums and collections, some by one author and a fair number translated from different languages.

I’m surprised that in some quarters the short story is regarded as a lower form of literature. That’s nonsense! Give me a short story collection over a 600 page saga any day.

The Penguin Book Of Modern British Short Stories (Various Authors)

Why do I like them? I enjoy the variety within a single read: different styles, inventiveness, ideas, perspectives, genres – and sometimes written in different periods in literature. It introduces the reader to a variety of writers, some I may not have tried otherwise for their longer novels. If any story isn’t your style, there are others. I can dip in and out the collection at any time.

It’s not easy choosing one over the rest on merit so I’m electing to support the home team and selecting Penguin’s Book of Modern British Short Stories. It’s a varied selection featuring some renowned writers; it’s extremely good.

Other similar reads to consider;

The Door In The Wall by H.G. Wells

A brilliant collection by the old master of Sci-fi, futurism and fantasy.

Russian Short Stories, from Pushkin to Buida by Various Authors

Amazingly varied. An excellent introduction to Russian literature, one of the best for the short story form. Examples from the nation’s renowned names and a few we might not have known.

Best of McSweeney’s Vol.2 by Various Authors

Of course! Equally varied, entirely American (I think), one of the best countries for the short story form too.