nostalgia

Five Questions Answered

Chelsea Owens has tagged me to answer five questions. Here they are,

1. How much chocolate is too much?

I remember the first time I set foot outside Britain, I was on a boat. This was lucky as I wouldn’t have wanted to get my shoes wet. We took the ferry to Holland and onto Amsterdam. Apart from being offered mayonnaise whenever we bought chips (French fries) on the street (in England, it was only ever salt and vinegar) the most amazing cultural shock was that they had actual chocolate shops! Imagine, a shop only selling chocolate.

Now, this wasn’t dainty, little selections of chocolates in a pretty box, like we have now, nor was it offering any number of wrapped branded chocolate bars. The chocolate they sold was presented as big blocks and slabs. From a distance these looked like whole cheeses, and when you told them how much you wanted, they’d actually cut your piece off with a kind of cheese wire, weighed it and wrapped it in butter paper.

There was white chocolate, caramel chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate and all sorts of added stuff to chocolate, nuts and fruit and things. I liked the white best at the time. I’m not saying there was too much chocolate though, in terms of calories and artery clogging saturated fats. There was just a lot of information to take in for a boy fresh out of England.

2. Who would really win: Batman or Superman?

As a kid, I loved super hero comics. There was a specialist shop at the end of our road which sold, amongst other things, imported comics from the States. I know there’s been plenty of movies made in the intervening years but I haven’t really kept up.

The answer to this question is, I think, Batman. He’s a billionaire whereas poor old Clark is having to hold down a job as a lowly reporter for some regional rag. I bet he hasn’t even got gym membership as part of that employment package.

Batman is also tech savvy; he’s got all the gadgets, he’s even got a laboratory. He’s even got somewhere in there where he can change in and out of his bat suit. What’s Superman got? A public telephone booth! There’s not many of those left when everyone has a cell phone. And he must get through a lot of suits, ripping them off like that. And he wears his action clothes under his day ones at all times? Boy, how his suit must stink.

If I remember right, Superman’s ability to fly – or at least leap tall buildings – comes from the fact that his home planet is massive and the difference in gravity is immense. Like when those guys hit golf balls on the moon and they couldn’t find them because they’d probably hit them clean into space. Well, all the time they were fooling around, their bones were disintegrating because the body didn’t need or want to carry around that amount of skeleton anymore. So, Superman, after a year on Earth, would be as puny as any human.

Anyway, Batman has a crystal of green kryptonite tucked into his utility belt, just in case.

3. Why is it always the last place you look?

This is incredibly important. I have learnt the hard way and never again.

I once lost my keys, found them, and then, probably high on success, just kept on looking. It was four days later that I arrived at the conclusion that my efforts were pointless. Had I mislaid my keys again in that period, it might have not been wasted time. Unfortunately, I knew they were in my pocket all the while.

4. What is the airspeed velocity of an unladen European swallow?

I’ll have to admit I didn’t know there was a European swallow. I bet they don’t realise it themselves either. I guess after Brexit we won’t see them ever again. European birds! Coming over here, eating all our flies, sticking their mud nests on the sides of British houses…. (sorry, UK political satire).

I wonder what they would be laden with if they were not unladend. Tiny, little suitcases. What a marvellous thing nature is.

5. Where would you go to find The Meaning of Life?

Well, the best answer I can give is – follow this blog!

But, ha ha, no, I can’t be so brazen and to give you false hope too. Besides, I can only offer the meaning of this life. Mine. You’re better off reading Douglas Adams where the short answer would be Earth.

It may be irrelevant but it’s a fact that at the end of my first job interview, which took place a whole year before HHGG was made public, I was tested by two impromptu questions. “What happens when water freezes?” and “What are six sevens?” I must have given satisfactory answers because I got the job but I now know that to the second I should have said, “Surely, you meant to ask, what are six nines?” because that is the meaning of life, folks.


The idea now is to nominate five bloggers and provide them with five new questions. This is like opening a can of worms: who to choose, who to leave off, will they want to, will those I haven’t chosen really really would have wanted to?

The reason I’ve done this is, in honesty, because I enjoy writing about anything and mostly bloggers need prompts like oxygen. So, in the spirit of writing and prompting, here are five questions open to any writer. Please leave a ping-back or comment below, if you like, and we’ll check it out – that’s guaranteed.

1. A Can of Worms: what would that look like? Literal or metaphorical, I’ll not mind.

2. If you never threw any clothes out ever, what would be the worst mistake found in your wardrobe?

3. Can you compose a haikiddle or riddku (that’s a riddle in haiku form, in case you don’t know) to describe something in your room? I’ll try to guess what it could be.

4. As the motto of the USA is “In God We Trust”, should it adopt a dynastic monarchy, or similar, instead of just letting the people decide its leader?

5. Is it a good idea to take potatoes to Mars?

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Smorgasbord Me

Blogger BeetleyPete is currently showcasing some of his favourite followed blogs. It’s interesting to see what ideas bloggers have and I am inspired to give this one a go as it could be fun. (As I think it may be to promote authors, and as I am not one, I will just keep it to this place.)

The request is to write 100+ word responses to five of the 52 prompts listed. For an extra challenge, I dialled the Random Number Generator 1-52 to select the five questions from the list.

12. What is the one ambition that you still have not achieved?

I know the permanent answer to this is a peaceful departure. The old joke which tickled me on hearing went,

“When I die, I want to go like Grandfather, dying quietly in his sleep – and not like his passengers, terrified and screaming behind him on the bus.”

I wonder how we would be if we all knew precisely how and when we would die, whether it would be worse or better, psychologically. Of course, we don’t until near the very end and so we convince ourselves it’s best not to know, and so there’s hope. It’s difficult to view it any other way.

45. What is your favourite vegetable and how do you like it prepared?

I love veggies, and don’t really go in for favourites, but I will say Asparagus. They have to be fresh, and they cannot possibly be too fresh, which means growing your own. Once they’re cut, the sugars begin to starch up and they lose that desired sweetness. The season is quite short in England though, about six weeks, and then the plants need to revive and replenish. Fortunately, we used to grow them and will try to do so again soon.

We’ve tried all kinds of ways to prepare asparagus, and all sorts of dressings, but we always liked simple steaming, and a dollop of yellow butter and freshly ground black pepper over to serve.

They make your pee smell funny, that’s about the only downside.

3. Tell us about your craziest experience.

Looking down the list of prompts, I see this could also be the answer to question 14 because my craziest experience has to be a recurring dream. We all dream but the idea is that we shouldn’t remember them upon waking; this, I’m told, is the healthy option. As a rule, I can’t recall my dreams but during two, separate periods of my life, I have experienced troubling recurring dreams. The latter one in adult life, I can probably explain was triggered by stress. It’s the earlier one that’s a puzzle.

I had it from before I can properly remember much else of my life and came often up until the age of about seven when it completely disappeared. It was a very intense and abstract dream, beginning with just a long sensation of passing blindly along a passage or tunnel. Then suddenly, I’m aware of being in a room full of regular geometric shapes: pyramids, cuboids, cones and cylinders. I am perfectly still in this space though not calm. Then the dream ends. That I can remember this vividly after so many years adds to the mystery. I wonder if it has anything to do with the naturally forgotten experience of being born.

42. What is your favourite music genre and why?

I’ve had so many, I might have had them all. My most recent habit is Jazz though it’s a big field and I can’t say I love all Jazz. The thing I like most about it isn’t so much the composition as the instrumentation. I got into Jazz as an antidote to electric guitar bands, in particular Indie rock/pop which was indistinguishable from any other rock/pop to me. The sound of Miles Davis exquisitely soloing a muted horn was instantly attractive, as was a Joe Morello drum solo, an Oscar Peterson-Count Basie piano duet, and a Dan Berglund augmented double bass intro.

I’ve always loved Jazz, to be fair. I was brought up in the period when Jazz was the go to sound for incidental music on movies and dramas. It was in the air, as much as pop music is now – but it had no longer been youth music and so I had to get youth out of the way first and become educated. Now I like to hear lots of different music but I’d probably put Jazz top of the list.

5. If you were to become invisible for a day what is the one thing you would do?

I have a mischievous character and a healthy amount of curiosity – and I also live in a town which boasts about the excellence of its cctv security below its welcome signs – so such a thing could be like all the Christmases and birthdays happening at once. My immediate thoughts, however, are overwhelmed as to what I could do.

As a foodie, I may find myself in some unaffordable restaurant – unaffordable to me but not them – sampling my way through the menu. Maybe get into a West End show gratis.

I feel a lot of obvious things might actually be disappointing. Peeping into any person’s private life, for instance. I’ll probably stick with a bit of free grub.


inspired by and borrowed from Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Looking Back: The Hour Glass

The longer he lived, the more his life took on the metaphor of an hour glass, its sand slipping away, quickening, now greater below than above. Unlike the glass, there’s no way of resetting life.

He saw his moments, those grains, as equal, not one larger than another. The highs and lows, the same now: irrelevant. Somewhere beneath the pile lay his childhood, a happy time only he knew. He imagined that when the last grain had dropped, the family would pack it away amongst his other miscellanies. Until a time when it’s rediscovered and its meaning completely forgotten.

(99 words)


Written for the Carrot Ranch Literary Community Flash Fiction Challenge Prompt.

“In 99 words (no more, no less) write a story about a character who looks back. It can be a metaphorical reflection or a glance in the rear-view mirror. Who is looking back, and why? Go where the prompt leads.”

An hour glass can be considered in different ways. Someone may see it as a metaphor for life, another may see it objectively, a device to measure an hour by utilising gravity, some may see it as just an anachronistic curiosity.

Similarly it could be said for a fictional story, I suppose. An element of autobiography, an observation of another’s view, a simple play around with a common trope. Perhaps all of these and more.

There isn’t a glass large enough to hold all the grains of our imagination. Still, once it’s gone, it’s gone. Write it all down.

A Personal History of Time in Four Objects

Early on, I had a bedside alarm clock: a round, wind-up thing with hands of luminous pale green painted on by poor factory workers, and who might have succumbed to disease and died before their time for their efforts. It seems a high cost to allow strangers to see the time without needing to turn on a light.

Someone then gave me a travel alarm clock. I had yet to travel and had no prior thoughts of doing so being, as I was, not quite ten years old. It seemed an odd contraption: the square body of a wind-up clock attached to the lid of a hinged box by another hinge, so that the three hinged parts could fold in and enclose the clock part. Opened out, it formed a triangle with the base of the box being the base of the clock. The alarm, I remember, wasn’t that loud. Perhaps it’s quieter where people with travel clocks go.

I bought myself a radio alarm clock. Some mornings it would wake me with the sounds of the show before the Breakfast Show; other times I’d be woken by static. The tuning was unreliable and the threat of it malfunctioning on important days kept me awake at night. Then the cat took it upon himself to chew the aerial off. It was just a length of wire hanging down and it must have aroused the cat’s curiosity and so he bit it off gradually by degrees. He never touched the mains cable which also hung down with it. Curiosity didn’t kill that cat, not that time anyway.

The personal tablet is the Swiss Army Knife of the age: if you need something doing, someone has probably devised an app to do it. For it, the alarm clock is a cinch. You can be woken by any number of pleasant or hideous ringtones, or you can choose your favourite song, but be mindful that this can become like Bill Murray’s morning in Groundhog Day; it’s probably better to select “random” from a given playlist. Or you can have the radio. You can have the radio broadcast out of Toronto, Timor or Timbuktu. Be aware that it’s likely not to be first thing in the morning there.


inspired by the brilliant History of the World in 100 Objects by Neil MacGregor (BBC)

In Future This Blog Will Be Closed On Wednesday Afternoons

In preparation for our house move, I loaded up the car with accumulated garage rubbish and we headed off to the dump (aka “the tip” – official name: Civic Recycling Centre). Damn us if the thing weren’t open.

Lots of other people were caught out too, enough to alert us something was up before we even reached the gates. To be fair to the dump, they’ve always been closed on Tuesdays and there’s a dirty great sign by the gate which says so. The thing is, these days, in England, we’re just used to everything being open whenever we need it.

I’m old enough to remember when shops and stores were closed all day on Sundays and shops would close for Wednesday afternoons, and banks, bless ’em, would shut their doors mid-afternoon, Monday to Friday. Weekend banking? Not a chance.

The thing was that this wasn’t really a problem for most of us as the situation was quite clear. Shoppers had a responsibility to mind the time and, if they missed the shop, they only had themselves to blame. It usually meant opening a tin of something, like it or lump it.

I have noticed whenever holidaying in Wales and Spain – in certain parts, at least – you can’t find a restaurant or gastropub (or whatever the Spanish equivalent of that is) open on a Monday. Sundays is normally dead being the Sabbath, so avoid going on a short break anywhere over a Sunday and a Monday, unless you want to eat McDonald’s.

What’s my (serious) take on this?

Well, for a long while I’ve kind of missed the spirit of the quite Sunday (early closing Wednesday was sometimes a pain in the arse). There was something ineffably calming and peaceful and ordered about Sundays. I mean, it wasn’t ever a religious thing for us but if that’s what it takes, so be it. A sabbath made for man; I quite like it.

Aunty on Animation

It would seem that the BBC of late hides its lights under the bushel of its online only output – the iPlayer.

Following on from the very worthwhile bio documentary on British DJ David Rodigan and Reggae, another documentary caught my attention, another perennial interest of mine: stop-frame animation.

With CGI, stop-frame animation is likely seen as a niche and probably quaint pursuit. When it can take years to produce a five minute film, the first question on unsympathetic lips must be, why bother? It’s like the audience I was in, listening to an Oxford busker perform a longish piece on a didgeridoo. He was, as the didge goes, very accomplished but I overheard a boy whisper to his friend, “Uh, I can do that on my Casio”. I guess you get it or you don’t.

And so it is that stop-frame animators, to the informed at least, have the status of artisan and artists, not mass produced manufacturers of cartoons by computers.

As the programme explains, there is something quintessentially British about British animation historically. I think it’s possibly because there are no rules but also, as explained, there is no money. Anyway, I love it.

Here’s a couple of my favourites featured for those unable to view BBC iPlayer. If you can get it, the link is below.

This is from Osbert Parker’s Clothes (1988).

In this animation, he used a collection of vintage clothes and props laid out across his apartment floor in a sequence planned from a storyboard.

As with any stop-frame technique, the clothes are slightly rearranged before each subsequent shot – you get the picture.


Joanna Quinn is an amazing draughtsman. Such exquisite drawings and detailed expressions on her characters’ faces.

This is Girls’ Night Out (1987) about a group of Welsh factory workers visiting a male stripper event.

Click on either image to see the clip.


Secrets of British Animation – BBC iPlayer

Radio Days

I’ve been watching a BBC iPlayer programme about Reggae and David Rodigan. Rodigan is the white, Oxfordshire born guy who “looks like a dentist” and has dedicated his long career to promoting Reggae music in the UK and, it appears, all over the world. He is much respected in Jamaica too.

I remember Rodigan on the radio during the 80s. He would be on the car radio, broadcasting out of Capital FM, a new commercial station for London. It brings back good memories of driving through the city in my first car, streets tinged with the orange glow of low pressure sodium lights, and maybe some reflecting drizzle, and the radio, with Rodigan, emitting this swell of warm, exotic, heavy rhythms and beats interspersed with reverberating, and sometimes intriguingly incomprehensible, soundbites and jingles. And Dub and “Version-Excursion”.

I had heard Jamaican music before this. My uncle’s fabulous collection of records included The Wailers’ Catch A Fire at about its time of release. There was, very occasionally, ska and reggae records in the pop charts earlier too. One memory I have is from Junior School, sitting near the front of a coach for an educational trip and being kept waiting for some reason. The coach driver turned on the radio and the first song we heard was Desmond Dekker and The Aces, Israelites, and my friend and I tried to sing along. Yes, it was a bit get up in the morning wantin’ my breakfast; me ears are alight; and you’re too beefhead, but I remember it well.

But Rodigan made me want to buy the records: Johnny Osbourne, Pablo Gadd, Barrington Levy, Burning Spear, and Black Uhuru are a few names who come to mind and, of course, Gregory Isaacs and Dennis Brown.

It pains me sometimes that I don’t listen to enough music now. In my youth, I’d immerse myself in music and into my 40s, I’d still be listening almost daily, and my very first blog venture was musically themed. Reggae is just one of the genres I loved to hear. I’m going to try listening to more music again. New year’s resolutions!


Reggae Fever: David Rodigan (BBC)

When the dishwasher breaks down – & other first world problems

It’s a poor day which doesn’t teach you anything.

In the course of a week in which we relearnt washing dishes, old-style, I learnt how our white goods try to communicate with the outside world with what little apparatus they possess. You know those little coloured lights on the door front which are there to tell us how far through its cycle it’s reached and when to put in more salt? The machine also uses these to cry for help! Or maybe to say it’s not feeling too well, and why.

And so, with the second of three little green lights on and a flashing red one, our poorly machine was telling anyone who could understand it that its water heater had quit working. I learnt this not from the instruction manual – a book of very small intellect – but by watching Youtube, the fount of all knowledge – and quite a bit of baloney too. Following the convincing expert advice and practically stripping the machine down to a skeleton, I hefted it onto its side to remove the plinth, as instructed. Only then I saw what looked like a trap door underneath. Curiosity being stronger than inclination to follow advice, sound or otherwise, I popped it open and there was the kaput heater alongside a couple of accessible pumps. The lesson; never follow advice blindly, however expert it may seem.


Now, I’m not one who’s averse to the odd mindless chore. Actually, I think you can make an art out of most of them with a little spirit and dedication. As a kid, the jobs of washing up and drying up fell to Dad and me. We’d be pretty democratic about who got to do what, arguing who it was who did the washing up last time and whoever put up the best argument got to dry. There was no other alternative to the tasks other than buying new pots and pans each mealtime. I can’t even say we dreamt about dishwashers then – despite having a machine that washed clothes, somehow one for dishes never crossed our minds. We simply got on with it, after every meal. Sunday roast dinner was the worst!

Yet this past week’s washing dishes by hand has told me the manual method isn’t up to the task. For starters, hands can’t handle hot enough water, the bowl cools down way too quickly, and it’s completely unsatisfactory on anything made of glass, like glasses. Best of all, a dishwasher makes a convenient cupboard for storing all those unsightly dirty dishes, making your kitchen look more like those featured in Homes & Gardens.

No, easily best of all is enjoying your meals and then just sitting on your bottom afterwards, enjoying the thought of that meal, ideally with the remains of a bottle of wine.

So, with fingers crossed and a quick offering of prayer to the patron saint of dishwashers, St. Bonaventure, I put back together our machine with a new part in place. It seems to like it: it’s showing only one green light now which I know means, “Thanks, pal!” and I say, “Please, don’t mention it, mate!” You have a friend in a dishwasher.


St. Bonaventure – Patron Saint of Dishwashers

A Tin Opener

In Britain, before the can, there was the tin. I mention this only because, I think, in America it is a can whereas we seem happy to interchange between tin and can now, although for a long while it was only a tin. Some bifurcation in English probably occurred with “tin can”.

When I was a kid, a lot of food was bought in tins, mainly because domestic freezers weren’t in common use. “Pudding”, as dessert was then called (and still in our house referred to as “pud”) invariably meant opening a tin of fruit, divvying it out into bowls, and pouring on a serving of evaporated milk, again from a tin.

Tinned fruit favourites were apricot halves, sliced peaches, pear halves, mandarin orange segments, pineapple rings, and fruit salad (sometimes labelled as fruit cocktail). All of these fruits were canned in a sweet syrup presumably made from fruit juice and sugar. All in all, it was extremely calorific.

Other foods I remember my folks buying in tins were beans, peas, soups, ham, corned beef, “pink” salmon, “red” salmon, sardines, and tuna. And not forgetting the SPAM!

I believe you could buy anything in a tin in these days – even a steak and kidney pie! – but you had to draw the line somewhere. Tinned potatoes? Unless you were expecting a nuclear attack and preparing a bunker, tinned potatoes or almost any root vegetables, seems unnecessary.

Celebrity frugal cook, Jack Monroe, is in the news saying we shouldn’t be snobbish anymore about tinned food. I’m not sure it is, or was, snobbery though there must now be a case for revisiting the tin what with all the bad news about plastic waste. Surely the quality of food in a tin need not be different from similar food in a carton or plastic container.

Come to think of it, in our kitchen, some tinned goods have never gone away. Tinned tomatoes are a better product than fresh in our climate, and are always chosen for chillis and bakes in preference. Tinned beans, though not quite as good as dried, are far more convenient. And lately, being fed up with disappointingly dry, fresh grapefruits for breakfast, we have been buying tinned grapefruit segments in juice – now a store cupboard essential. Along with succulent tinned prunes, and a spoonful of natural yoghurt (albeit still from plastic tubs), it makes a perfect breakfast first course.

I draw the line at tinned tuna though. Such a noble fish, and expensive too, ruined by boiling it ready for the tin. It’s simply not the same product as fresh; it ought to be banned.


Stop being snobby about tinned food (Telegraph)

It’s raining in Baltimore

It is.

Even though I am in England – it’s raining here too though that’s never surprising – I checked the weather out in Baltimore. Drizzle. Isn’t that the worst kind of rain? It’s hopeless trying to dance in it. A bloody insult, I call it.

I began this post by considering its title to be, It’s raining in Gloucestershire after that Counting Crows song. It’s a funny thing with Americana that when you try for the British equivalent, it just doesn’t sound right. I blame history: we simply have too much of it. We were hey-nonny-no-ing with pig bladders on sticks centuries before Bill Haley rocked around his clock. It’s not easy shaking off a first impression.


Plans thwarted by weather, I had an extra half hour in bed, thinking about things. Like,

Why do we Follow, instead of just remembering who the good ones are and thinking, “hey! I wonder what they’ve been up to recently?”


I thought about Relaxation and became aware that though I was recumbent on a good mattress and with my head on a comfortable pillow, I wasn’t completely relaxed. I noticed a tension in my muscles between the shoulder blades; for some inexplicable reason, I was unconsciously lifting my upper back imperceptibly off the bed. I practice a little yoga so I’m used to monitoring the old bod for unnecessary tension and managed with some mental effort to switch the offending muscle off.

Relaxing, or the process of it, is quite frightening. It’s psychological. It is essentially overcoming the fear of letting go, akin to falling. I find the biggest hurdle to fully relaxing is around the chest, all that physical apparatus which deals with breathing. Though there’s plenty of scope to let go of the unnecessary tension, it feels to me like I might stop breathing altogether and won’t be able to start up again. Nonsense, of course, but that’s the treachery of the thinking mind.


Now if you ever plan to motor west, travel my way, take the A road that’s the best
Get your thrills on the A-Thirty
It winds from London to Land’s End, less than three hundred miles, give or take a bend
Get your thrills on the A-Thirty
Now you go past Camberley, Basingstoke, and Egham…

When I was small, the family would head in the car to Cornwall for our regular annual holiday. From NW London, we’d pick up the A30 somewhere south-west of our house and it would take you all the way to the far edge of the country. It’s not called Land’s End for nothing. This way is mostly defunct now as you’d be mad not to hit the motorways, M4 and M5, but you’ll be hard pressed to find the poetry in those.

I was attempting to fine tune the version then I remembered Billy Bragg’s parochial parody of Route 66. As small as we are, I’ve no knowledge of Shoesburyness or why it would be anyone’s destination. It must be part of the parody.


I nearly forgot to say I downloaded an app to tune guitars and the last thing I did before getting into bed last night was tune the guitar beside the bed. It was easy, but what was more amazing was it hardly needed any tuning. Maybe there’s hope yet.

Now if you ever plan to motor west……🎵

A13, Trunk Road To The Sea – Billy Bragg