Author: Bladud Fleas

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

Today, a bit about trombones

Out in the car this morning, I caught about two minutes of an interview with someone whose name I didn’t catch but he was asked to play something on his trombone. The piece took about twenty seconds, he was thanked for coming on, and the two presenters moved swiftly on to something completely different and I returned to my USB playlist.

Driving along, I thought of an old movie I’d found on Youtube a few years back. Paris Blues stars Paul Newman and Sidney Poitier. It also stars Louis Armstrong as band leader, “Wild Man” Moore, but essentially playing a version of himself. It’s about American jazz, and musicians playing in Paris clubs. Sidney Poitier appears cool, as he always did, holding a tenor sax, but they gave Paul Newman a trombone!

The slide trombone is a peculiar instrument with a bumbly and rude sound. It’s distinctive though. Yet, I’d guess, not being a musician myself, oddly unappealing for a chosen instrument. I wouldn’t know why a person would take it up, unless they arrived too late and it was the only thing left in the horn box apart from a tuba. The guy from the radio did say his was lying around the house having once belonged to his older brother. We never heard why the brother had it initially but we can infer he abandoned it. I also wonder if it’s hard on the arm. At first? I wonder if, like tennis elbow or housemaid’s knee, there is a medical condition known as trombonist’s arm.

Yet, more yet, I might say the trombone was one of the reasons jazz appealed to me after decades of listening to rock music: from heavy to prog., through folk and country, across punk and new wave, and into indie. Despite all those names, it was almost always two or three electric guitars, a drum kit and vocals. I still have an ear for it but it is, to me, the genre in the corner, surrounded by a lot of wet paint. Don’t ask me why it remains so popular. I listen for nostalgic reasons only.

I’m trying hard to think of any trombone involvement in a rock song. If you know, please let me know. Meanwhile, here’s John Coltrane’s Locomotion, featuring a solo by trombonist, Curtis Fuller,


top image: photo still from “Paris Blues” (1961)

bottom image: Curtis Fuller

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More Stoats (nature notes)

What did I say?!

It had been a strange and frustrating journey home this evening. I set off in good time but my fellow drivers had other ideas:

First, there was an HGV struggling up a very steep hill. No problem on most days as it’s served by a dual carriageway. However, a guy two cars in front, driving what looked like a perfectly able car, barely managed to go faster than the trucker.

Secondly, I came across an unexpected tailback. It was caused by a stationary horsebox – not the trailer type but one of those pantechnicon things which always seem to be driven by a middle-aged, mumsie-looking woman in a gilet and head scarf. Sure enough, a woman seen matching that description – though minus scarf (it was warm) -could be seen on the other side of the road waving down traffic. God knows what that was about; maybe she’d misplaced her nag.

Following this, I managed to get behind slower-than-the-speed limit no. 2 but after a few twisty bends, the road opened up enough to pass. A couple more twisty bends and I was behind an old banger – slower-than-the-speed limit no. 3. It was an MG open-topped death trap, emitting a stench of two parts burnt oil to one part raw fuel, each time the driver shifted gear.

Finally, we hit another straight stretch where I passed safely. All in vain: around the next bend was a Romanian HVG barely touching 30. The speed limit for the road is 60mph.

Fortunately, it wasn’t too far from the cut through, a narrow country lane, where I spotted a stoat a week back. I turned into the lane and cruised about a mile from where the stoat was seen when I saw a group of animals scurrying along in the distance, tight into the verge.

I took them for partridge initially as there is a lot of game bred in these parts. I slowed right down as I approached them as birds are unpredictable, but then the group suddenly turned a right angle and I could see they were definitely stoats. One hundred percent.

Four of them, running across the road, leapfrogging, and playing what could have been stoat tag. I’m guessing they were siblings. What is the group noun for stoats? What do you call them at birth? A litter? A kettle? I don’t yet know.

The lesson of this tale to take away is not to get irritated by delay. It’s just time’s way of presenting an different experience. Had I not been held up, I’m sure I would have passed by long before the stoats happened to cross. It was a rewarding sight.

The Foreign Bloke

a flash-fiction piece

“Minding my own business, I was; jest popped out for a drink; the missus’s sister come visiting and I can handle a woman’s company, but two in the bush, you get my drift? I always sez, it’s for a man to decide whether he wants it or no. So, I sez, I’ll go for a snifter, my sweet, and give me regards to yer sister! So, I’m enjoying my lonesome with a glass and it’s slipping down peaceful, when this chap’s come over and what if he don’t settles besides me and bends my ear over a story ‘bout this man he met in a place like this. What a peculiar sight, sez he, I’d never believe it but it were true. It wasn’t that I doubted him, nor any word he spoke, it was jest I couldn’t understand everything he said, his accent, see? He was some foreign bloke.”

(150 words)


The city of Bath has a modest art museum. Its exhibits are not exceptional but it is a gallery and it’s a good place to experience something other than work for half an hour of a lunchtime. After many visits over a long time, I get to see the paintings as you might old friends. I see their familiar sides and then they reveal other things about themselves.

I hadn’t really taken in this funny little painting before, by Rex Whistler (not to be mistaken for the guy who famously painted his mother; that was the American artist, James McNeill Whistler). I snapped it on the mobile phone, it’s easier than describing it in words but I’ll do that as well.

It shows two guys sitting at a table upon which are two quite different drinks. Judging by the glasses, they look alcoholic so we can assume they’re sitting in a bar or pub, though the view out of the window behind them suggests the room is upstairs. Maybe a private room in a pub, or an hotel bar. The signs outside the window behind them don’t appear to be in English, so which of the two men is the eponymous “Foreign Bloke“?

It soon struck me that this painting would make a good prompt for a flash-fiction piece. Actually, galleries are awash with paintings which are ambiguous enough and intriguing to be fiction prompts (rather like The Girl With The Pearl Earring – a whole novel was inspired by that one).


Rex Whistler died in action in 1944, after the Normandy landings. He was a tank commander in the Welsh Guards Armoured Divisions. He was struck by the blast of a mortar shell whilst running between his incapacitated tank and the one following behind. When they recovered his body, there wasn’t a mark on it but his neck had been broken.

During combat service, he was an unauthorised war artist, stowing his brushes in a bucket hooked on the side of the tank. There were official war artists employed as serving men in WW2. It seems a very strange assignment to me.

Rex Whistler, artist 1905 – 1944 (wiki)

The Luddite and The Intellectual Hermit

A Luddite and an intellectual hermit walk into a pub.

“What will you have, gents?” asks the barman.

“Possibly an aversion to the deceptions of progress,” the Luddite replies.

“Sorry, sir,” says the barman, “we don’t do those fancy cocktails.”

The Luddite

Sorry, that’s a bad twist on an old joke. Two things recently had me thinking about the way of the world today. First was an announcement that the team I work for is invited to experience the developments of another team involved in producing virtual reality solutions. In case we are in any doubt as to what this involves, the email included a couple of images, one showing a scene which could be a screen capture from a very dull video game, and the other some bloke, looking blindly towards the ceiling, wearing a set of Oculus type goggles.

Unusual for me, I can’t raise much curiosity or enthusiasm for the prospect. In my imagination I can predict the illusion of experiencing being on the inside a very bad video game, the trick being the screen’s eye view adjusts according to feedback from the relative position of the goggles. As with a magician’s trick, when you work out how it can be done, it loses all potency to be awesome.

Or, to put it another way, reality does the trick way better: the scene around us is brilliantly rendered, and it all moves about precisely as we move our senses relatively to it. The only thing is we take it all for granted and there’s no smack about the chops moment, no “awesome!”

Though really I feel my slight aversion to this stems from a building annoyance that “expert” people in my field are surrendering their imagination to the machines, and we are obliged to follow suit. I’ve met those now who can’t visualise from concepts and basic drawings – they need to see the 3D model. Visualisation was once an essential skill in the job. In a generation, it will be obsolete.

The Intellectual Hermit

I saw another inspiring article in the news yesterday. It was about hermits. Real life, modern day hermits. Haven’t you ever once in your life contemplated a life as a hermit?

The story focuses on two quite different hermits. The first is Christopher Knight who, in 1986, aged 20, took himself off to a wood in Maine, USA, never to be seen again for 27 years (actually, he did meet a lost hiker once and exchanged a simple “hi”). He lived in a tent, stole what little he needed to survive and thus he was caught in a trap by the police investigating these thefts. He said his decision to hide away was a desire to be alone, free of the world. There was no incident, traumatic, shameful or otherwise, in his previous life which caused this; it was just in his nature.

The second hermit is the Christian, Sara Maitland, who lives alone in a self-built house on a moor in Scotland. The reason she gives for her chosen lifestyle is ecstasy. Solitude is “total joy”, she explains. You know, I can relate to that.

Even so, I don’t think I could handle it for a prolonged length of time, never mind a whole lifetime. It’s not the risk that solitude can easily tip over into loneliness; you could just pack it in and move back. It’s the physical hardship which appears to come with it – working for survival. Unless, like Knight, you steal.

An idea then came to me about intellectual hermits. In his poem, To Althea, from Prison, Richard Lovelace, incarcerated in Gatehouse prison for political dissent in 1642, around the time of our English Civil Wars, writes the final verse,

Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage:
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
If I have freedom in my love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone, that soar above,
Enjoy such liberty.

I can’t think of anymore to add to this notion of freedom, in love, soul and mind, except let us contemplate that thought for a while.


On Hermits – why this man became a hermit at 20 (BBC News stories)

To Althea, From Prison (Richard Lovelace, 1642) – (wiki)

images: “Occulus” wearing guy (top) and Sara Maitland, in Scotland (below)

Save the environment, curb your blogging addictions.

You may have noticed I haven’t been blogging this week. This is because I am saving the planet, for our kids.

Not really.

It’s just that I’m in full time employment for now, it’s summertime and the light evenings are long and beautiful, and I have the garden to sort out.

I did read a funny news article this morning concerning our collective internet use and its effect on global greenhouse gas emissions. Apparently, a research group has calculated the total carbon dioxide produced by online pornography is equivalent to that of Belgium. I wonder why Belgium; did they show up in data as being particularly interested in streaming erotica? Of course, to get a decent any handle on the seriousness of that statement we would first need an idea as to whether Belgians are light, heavy or moderate web users; it might be bad, then it might not be as bad as all that.

They say that all of the global internet use accounts for 4% of global carbon dioxide emissions and we should cut back. The greed for ever higher quality is unnecessary. No doubt most of what goes on with the internet is unnecessary. Take Facebook.

But it is hypocritical to look down our nose at scrolling kitten portraits, images of moody landscapes captioned with pithy statements in Helvetica 32pt white font, gifs of strangers doing silly things, over and over, silly gifs of people doing mundane things, over and over, etc., etc., without regard to our own unjustifiable addictions, abuses and wastefulness of the online resources.

Crudely worked out, if everyone cut back by 25%, the impact might drop from 4% to 3% – of course, I have no idea how the red hot throbbing machinery of the internet works in reality. Maybe the burners have to keep firing full blast regardless of fluctuations in use. But at least there’d be a slow down in future demand, if not a levelling out.

The end is coming, I can almost sense it.


Porn Produces Same Amount Of Carbon Dioxide As Whole Of Belgium, Study Finds (The Independent, newspaper)

Colour me blue, or green, or anything you like.

Prof. Brian Cox’s recent documentary series, The Planets, on our solar system neighbours was brilliant though short and sweet. It’s on the iPlayer for the best part of a year so watch it if you can. It’s mind boggling and it makes me think how could there possibly be life anywhere else. As for humanoid aliens, especially ones which speak fluent English with American accents, no chance!

As I watched it n the BBC app, it threw up some other suggestions I might like and one of those is a documentary about colour. I watched two episodes and it’s okay, maybe a bit superficial scientifically but entertaining and well produced (link below).

The funny thing about colour is it probably doesn’t exist. Or, I should say, it didn’t exist until life developed eyes. And not all eyes: the earliest eye probably only distinguished between light and dark; then there are eyes which only see in monochrome shades. Even the human eye is limited, only able to detect light within the band known anthropologically as visible light. Only some critters, it is thought, see beyond that.

And even within the so-called visible light, different people see different colours. This idea came home to me this week when I was looking over a drawing with a colleague. It showed a floor plan of a building where each of the rooms was coloured corresponding to its use. A key to the side of the drawing explained what each colour meant bit there were so many room uses that some of the colours were indistinguishable at a glance.

My colleague pointed to a room and said it wasn’t clear what kind of room it was; it could, he said, be either one or other shades of green. This struck me as odd. I couldn’t determine which type of room it was either but to my eyes the colour was definitely one of the two shades of blue.

Admittedly it wasn’t lapis lazuli, more the colour of a clear morning sky with a little pollution. But it wasn’t green, no way. Or was it?

I had an odd notion that I could reproduce near enough the exact colour by mixing primaries, blue, red and yellow – pigments, not light, of course. But then the colleague would agree it was mixed perfectly, but he would still see it as green.

So, remember, when we’re visited by those little green men from outer space, they might actually be blue. Or, quite possibly to their eyes, deep x-ray-ultraviolet.


image (top): No. 61 (rust and blue) by Mark Rothko

Colour: The Spectrum of Science (BBC TV)

Nature Notes

It’s a funny thing I’ve found when noticing nature: as soon as you see an unusual animal, or plant, and identify it, you begin to see them all over the place. And a good thing about my drive into work in the mornings is spotting wildlife (and other animals).

This week, a stoat crossed my path (I don’t know if that’s ominous, like a black cat or something). Now I think I’ve seen the likes of this critter cross my path many times before but usually in a flash, and I’ve supposed it to be a weasel; a small, thin brown blur and it’s gone before you know it, into the grass or hedgerows.


The difference between a weasel and a stoat.

My country uncle once explained it to me:

“While weasels are weasily identifiable, stoats are stoatally different.”


Luckily this time my stoat decided to stop halfway across the road to look me over. The thing I noticed most about it in those couple of seconds was the black bushy end to its tail. When I had a chance to google it, I found that the black tail end is the surest way to tell the difference between it and a weasel. Weasel’s tails are stubby and hardly noticeable, and no black bits.

The weasel is the UK’s smallest carnivore so I’ll assume the stoat is our second smallest carnivore being just a couple of inches longer at around 10″, nose to tail. Even so, it preys on rabbits and can tackle an adult, no problem. Another significant difference between them is that stoats tend to hunt during daylight hours, though I’m sure I’ve spotted weasels during the day too.

So, now I’m on the look out for stoats and I expect to see thousands of them all over the place. See if I don’t.


image: Margaret Holland via Wildlife Trusts

Doing Almost Nothing for the Environment

Last weekend, firing up the Mountfield, I took aim and cut as graceful an arc as I could with a mower having a fixed wheel on each corner. We are “wilding” part of our front lawn and I was striking the dividing line.

It’s a trend. Now that we’ve started, we notice quite a few gardens have done it, many with an advanced growth of red poppies, cornflowers, and daisies. I expect there are other wild plants in there too though too short and too far away to see.

To speed things along, ready seeded turf can be laid, or you can sow wildflower mixtures from a seed packet. It’s much more interesting to watch how things develop by nature, I think, though there is a temptation to give it a helping hand. Of course, some intervention is necessary to stop the dominant weeds taking over, like dandelions. Though it can be a very useful plant – and not that unattractive I think – a lawn full of dandelion heads gives the ready impression of a neglectful gardener rather than a wilding one.

Already after seven days there are swaths of clover, buttercups, clumps of violet flowers – which I think are curiously named “self heal” or “heal-all” – and those ubiquitous small daisies kids sometimes make bracelets from. The grass itself is also putting up a variety of seed heads which normally wouldn’t see the light of day given regular mowing. Nature is having a small field day.

The point of this, and the reason we’re doing it, is the first hand experience of not seeing the normal quantity of insects here these past Summers. There are a number of uncertain reasons for this: unduly successive cold and wet Summers, excessive and discriminate use of “pest” controls, exotic diseases, trophic disruption and habitat loss.

Where have the bugs gone? Remember the Summer’s when you had to wash down the car windscreen after a jaunt through the countryside? I tell you, I can drive practically all Summer without needing to do this now.

Understandably, humans have a innate aversion to insects and for agriculturalists and gardeners historically they’ve been enemies no. 1, 2, 3 and beyond. Yet many insects are crucial to our survival, and all of them play important roles in a self sustainable ecological system. It’s fair to say we cannot know if the removal of any one seemingly insignificant bug has a big knock on effect, perhaps quite literally the butterfly effect.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what happens to our third of lawn left uncut – apart from digging out any rogue dandelions. And I don’t have as much grass to mow weekly, which is a very welcome bonus as well. Every bit helps.


hey, that image is not my wilding lawn but something I’d like to achieve.

A Ghost Story #writephoto

Along that passage we share with presence
unseen, only knowing they’re there and perhaps
where they’ve been, by the scent of dankness, like
dew on old earth, or stone dust; by the motes
which twist in the morning’s beam, and a shadow
glimpsed where one ought not to be; when hairs
stand up upon our neck and our limbs grow
inexplicably chill, then, for a long
moment’s passing, all of time stands still.


written for Sue Vincent’s Daily Echo #writephoto prompt – “Open”

The Unfathomable Workings of Memory

“Warner!”
The name just popped effortlessly into my consciousness like a long forgotten disc might drop randomly onto the platter of a mechanical jukebox. It made me feel like dancing…

He used to be this guy I worked alongside decades ago and, up until now, I could only remember him as Tom. His face, however, remains as a composite of several similar faces I have met over the years and will stay so, unless I happen to see him again. It’s unlikely and as the passing years have grown long, soon I’m wondering if he is still alive. I believe there’s a good chance but probably I’ll never know.

I did try to Google his name and scrolled down, as much as I could bear, looking for a recognisable face amongst the endless mugshots of strangers. Unless you’re searching for the bleeding obvious, search engines are an utter disappointment now, a complete waste of effort. Too superficial, populist and trivial. Like the arm-banded kid too afraid of the deep end.

The point about Tom, why I remember him, albeit vaguely, is that he was a rare deep guy. Even in the twiggy branch of the knowledge industry in which we were employed, he impressed me with his erudition and free-thinking. He was an interesting guy to talk with.

But how and why does the memory do that; why does it play such games. I hadn’t forgotten his name, as I thought for years, it was just misplaced somewhere in the grey matter. Buried. And, yes, jammed: I could almost sense a physical blockage and the frozen cogwheels up there if ever I try to recall a name or a word. Memory is a mysterious function but I bet Tom Warner would understand something about it.