Saturday, 28 February 2015

Wombling Free

Here's a picture I took at Teignmouth last week that gives a clue to where we're heading today, the sixth weekend in a row that I've been away from Klaus the Knaus. Things quieten down considerably from next week onwards - unless someone has other plans and tempts me to do something else that's exciting.  I'll probably be game.  It pays to be a flexible friend.

We're off to Wimbledon for a party, a 50th just a few weeks in advance of my own celebration of miraculously surviving for half a century in spite of being one of the most accident prone human beings on the planet.  For a few years I lost touch with e-Laura, the birthday girl, an old schoolfriend. Happily we're now reunited thanks to Facebook and have met up a few times. To now, it's always been without Louis so I'm quite excited about showing off my product of degenerate single motherhood.

I thought we could head off early to check out the most famous haunt of the Wombles and see if we can spot one.  Wiki tells me that they are a global species and do not necessarily restrict themself to South West London.  Keep your eyes peeled! I was chuffed to discover that there's a Cousin Yellowstone.  I'll look out for him among those grizzlies later in the year.  'Are they those knitted things that live on the moon?' Louis asked after I'd mentioned that they had pointy noses and liked recycling.  He begged for mercy as I tunelessly sang their theme song to provide another prompt.  No, he's never heard of them.  Seemingly this is something else that I've missed from my parenting agenda.  It needs to be put right!

Friday, 27 February 2015

Crime and Punishment

Up this morning bleary eyed from reading into the wee small hours after an extremely busy day.  Not the novel written by someone with a difficult to pronounce Slavic name beginning with 'D' as today's title might suggest. All my life I've steered away from Russian literature for no other reason than the books seem to be unfeasibly fat and written in the smallest print known to man.  No, over the last few weeks I've been reading   Injustice and now have been alerted by the library that I can't renew the book any more times.  If  I don't give it back on Saturday they'll start fining me and that will never do.  As accounts of law cases are not my usual reading it's been hard going but so worthwhile.

Clive Stafford Smith, a lawyer who's a far cry from the fat cat variety, is a  hero of mine.  He and his charity Reprieve represent people around the world who've been convicted of capital crime for peanuts when compared to the fees of those corporate types. I heard him speak a couple of years ago when he told the story of Kris Maharaj, the subject of this book.  He's been in a US prison since 1987 for a double murder in spite of substantial evidence  that suggests that he did not commit the crime.  Although Kris is no longer on Death Row attempts to overturn his conviction have to date been unsuccessful seemingly because of the Kafka-esque nature of the US justice system.

I've always been against the death penalty on the basis that I don't hold with that eye for an eye stuff. Two wrongs can't possibly make a right.  I've also felt that  that it would be so wrong if just one person was mistakenly executed.  This book demonstrates that as the US justice system stands it is likely that many go to their death legally under-represented in a system that is mightily stacked against them if they're charged with a capital offence.  It seems that if you're poor and uneducated you haven't got a cat in hell's chance of getting off especially when those who sit on the  jury in capital cases have to be in favour of the death penalty .    It's a fascinating read that has made me  cry at times.

After finishing this tale I have two things to say to the American people.  We all want people who've commit crimes to be sent down. I'm pretty sure that's a given.  But it has to be the right person who's convicted.   And when I punish my child for naughtiness I do it with sadness.  To inflict pain on another, even when it's justified in terms of retribution isn't a cause of celebration and glee.  I finish with a quote from the book from the Sixth Century BC philosopher Anacharsis.  Sadly it still applies in the 21st century.

Laws are like spiders webs.  They will catch the weak and the poor, but would be torn to pieces by the rich and powerful.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Mr Hall's Balls

No luck in finding hidden treasure to sell on in the charity shops of Totnes yesterday lunchtime to boost my Five Pound Challenge profits. Bah! Maybe it was because I was accompanied by Mr Metrosexual who was putting me off.  As a result of all that hill walking my tummy felt as empty as my shopping bag. Time for a little consolatory snack!

Totnes has a plethora of little shops and a lovely market on a Friday. There's rich pickings to create a reasonable priced lunch that knocks the spots off a limp supermarket sandwich.....or Scotch egg.

In fact I didn't even realise that I liked Scotch eggs until I tried the offering from Hall's, a butcher on Fore Street that's so traditional it doesn't have a website.  These are lush.  Beautifully seasoned beasties made out of good quality ingredients.  There's no designer food price tag here either, as this little sphere shaped feast set me back just a quid.   Some days they're even more sublime than others. They're freshly made on the premises and are sold warm.  Yum!

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

A Frock and a Fruit Bowl

Confession time again!  There has been a little off-piste spending here, some T-shirts to replace some tatty ones.  I can't be looking scruffy can I? After all I have the reputation of van dwelling sophisticate to keep!  For some time now I've also been looking for some lacy frou-frou garments to complete the layering look that I favour.  Asda had just the thing for a tenner and like a shopaholic I bought three in different colours.

A fruit bowl has been on my legitimate shopping list for a couple of months now.  I'm bereft of one after putting most of my pretty ceramics in storage.  But I'm fed up with having nowhere to put my apples and oranges so I've been on the lookout for something to enhance the interior decor of the motorhome.  In vain I've been scouring charity shops assisted by helpful sales assistants who, bless 'em, have foraged in their store rooms and then presented me with some of the ugliest offerings known to man.  Finally, finally I found this in Voyage, a fairtrade shop in Teignmouth, a clever and useful bowl made out of metal door locks.   It's just the thing that makes me yearn for my soldering gear so that I can have a go myself.  Also it's virtually unbreakable, a good thing when you have two of the clumsiest people in the world living in a confined space.

Although my fashion photography skills don't do it justice, here's my birthday dress that I mentioned the other day, a charity shop buy for a fiver.  My friends persuaded me that purple was my colour and anyway it wasn't really purple rather than a shade of blue, a colour that features large in my wardrobe. It's just the shape of frock that I wear all the time and I love the black lace overlay.  It won't be something that I wear once but will do for special occasions into the future.  Louis has given his approval and pronounced it pretty so it's passed the first hurdle.

Monday lunchtime saw me in the charity shops of Ivybridge trying frantically to get a headstart on the Five Pound Challenge.   Alas most of the things that caught my eye were outside budget or cannily priced. There was a gorgeous tan leather bag for four pounds, big enough to hold a file, that held promise.  Alas, the student nurse who was with me spotted it first, just the thing that she'd been looking for. It would not have done to throw her to the floor and wrestle it from her.  I am caring health professional after all trying to promote the idea of compassion in a newbie and  not Mick McManus.  So no potential profit but dignity preserved.  I'll see what bargains Totnes can offer at lunchtime today instead.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Dilemmas for a Grey Girl in a Grey World

Today's Bank of Piggy post comes from Pike Place Market in Seattle, a place that I'm really excited that I'm going to be introducing to Louis. It's a wonderful vibrant place that has stalls groaning with beautiful fresh produce and crafts and wonderful little cafes. I've had fish and chips there that match the best I've eaten in Britain. To add a bit of drama the fishmongers put on a bit of a show whilst selling their wares, throwing around the fish that they sell with a bit of funny banter thrown in whilst they do so.  Heck, it keeps those tourists like me happy!  I've also just found out that, in amongst the shopping areas, there's low income housing with community space. The money popped into Rachel, for this is what this apparently famous pig is caused, goes towards funding some of the social ventures that go on in this shared space.

Believe it or not this is not a travel post.  I've diverged for a good long paragraph.  No this one is about First Direct, part of the HSBC group, whose alleged tax dodging shenanigans are a far cry from the ethically based venture that I've just spoken about.  Now I've banked with this company for years.  Should I stay or should I go in a pique of protest about this poor behaviour? My dilemma is that they've given me excellent customer service and I'm not alone in my experience.  Consistently they top customer service ratings charts.   There's no waiting about for hours for poorly trained people to answer my calls.  Their friendly, knowledgeable staff are there in a flash and its rare that I'm moved between departments.  In all the years there's been one cock up and it  was sorted out immediately.

I written before about the dilemmas posed by personal dealings with big multi-nationals.   In this ever shrinking world we have little choice about doing so and indeed often actively favour the big guys. What I'm trying to work out in my head is whether HSBC has really gone too far this time. Then I'll feel obliged to take my custom elsewhere.  There's an inner reluctance to do so though. I see the potential for enormous amounts of stress if my telephone experience is poor and there's loads of hassle involved with transferring accounts.  And after all that there's no guarantee that underneath it all, my newly appointed bankers, even those who profess to be ethical, will be behaving themselves!

Monday, 23 February 2015

Wot No Fat?

So what do six luvverly ladies staying is a very posh seaside apartment for the weekend get up to?  Of course there was some good food and alcoholic fizzy pop involved, that goes without saying.   And lots of giggling for we're a funny lot. We also went shopping mainly around some  charity shops that were rather productive in terms of what they yielded for our wardrobes. Spiky Kate found the dress that she's going to wear to meet the Queen next month!

I'll 'fess up to my own purchases properly in another post. One of the things I bought though was a dress for my birthday party next month, one spotted by my friends that I might not have bought if I was on my own. It was a mere fiver.

It was a tight fit but fit it does, just. That's okay though because today marks the start of a concerted weight loss and exercise plan so that I don't go into the second half century of my life in a blubbericious state. The girls thought they'd help the process on by giving me a body wrap so a roll of cling film from a cheap hardware store was added to the supplies.

Take one slightly oversized tummy and slather it in a mixture of warm cooking oil and sugar, ingredients chosen in lieu of posh equivalents due to their availability in the sparse holiday home store cupboards.  Wrap tightly from knickerline to bra-line tightly in cling film and then a towel. Lie victim under a duvet on a sun lounger by a oil radiator on high for a good forty minutes while the rest of the group take the piss and drink champagne.  Unwrap and force to drink a pint of water to 'remove toxins' in lieu of her own glass of fizz.  Soak her in a luxury bath tub to get rid of the sticky oil residue that she had to run herself as everyone else was getting a little too merry to be arsed to do it. Apparently the whole treatment would have cost many pounds in the type of fancy beauty salon that I've avoided like the plague for the past forty nine years.

Yes, I do have photos of the process. No, I'm not going to display them online.  I have dignity to maintain.  You'll just have to make to with this Chad-like pose that I adopted whilst I was waiting for the magic to work.  And work it did!  I lost a total of seven inches off waist and hips.  Even though I suspect that the effect was due to dehydration and my girth would be reinstated pretty rapidly that's impressive.  I've been given the roll of clingfilm just in case I'm tempted to repeat the procedure myself in the comfort of my own home!

Sunday, 22 February 2015

The Five Pound Challenge!

Last week's episode of Saturday Live on Radio 4 got me thinking.  It featured a young guy called Alan Radbourne who'd turned £1 that he'd found in a car park into over £20,000 in just a year. He started off buying a bottle of washing up liquid and doing the dirty dishes for his mates as they were leaving their university accommodation for a donation.  He then wheeled, dealed and worked to grow that quid. By doing so he showed that you don't need a huge initial sum to start a business or invest.

Yesterday I set a similar challenge for the girls.  As we're all working professionals we decided the start up capital could be higher - a whole fiver in fact.  I set off to the charity shops to see if I could find something to sell on Ebay.  Alas!  My search was in vain.  Nothing caught my fancy sufficiently for me to be confident that I could turn a profit.

I was itching to get started so did something rash and foolish.  Recklessly I 'invested' a pound in one of those 2p pushing machines in an amusement arcade on the pier.   That's after telling Louis that feeding coins into one  of those things is a very stupid thing to do.  Nowt good can come of it.

Except that it did.  Coins cascaded into the collection area with a satisfying chink.  Instead of feeding them all back into the slot as I normally do, for after all it's really just a bit of fun,  I popped my winnings that amounted to £1.10 into my purse which now weighs as much as my head. That's a two per cent return on my initial capital in just a day!

I'm starting day two in pole position with £5.10.  Please be reassured that I'm not heading back down the pier ever again in the next year.  Or heading off to the gee gees.  I'll be taking my initial investment and those ill gotten gains and seeing if I can find a secondhand something in the South Hams charity shops this week that might grow that money a little bit more.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

Sea View Two

I have been very stressed lately. There, I've said it!   Sometimes the picture that I paint of my life in Blogland does not match the reality. The image that I've created of a grey girl chilling in a picture perfect van is an illusion. For weeks and weeks, night after weekday night I've been bringing work home with the hope of  getting to grips with paperwork. Studying and nice stuff has been put on the back burner.  But last Friday at 8:10pm I finally caught up.  The last overdue notes were done and letters had been dictated   However when I got back to work after my long weekend on Wednesday it was nose to the grindstone again. Determined not to get behind again I didn't finish the notes, emails and letters that a day's work had generated until 9:30 in the evening.  Don't even go there if you're thinking about giving me lessons in time management. You'll get a drubbing.  Sometimes lack of staff and unprecedented spikes in workload mean that any amount of clever planning just doesn't cut the mustard.

What has saved me from going bonkers is going away for weekends, leaving the work behind and relaxing.  This is the fifth one in a row that I've been away.  I've escaped, just down the road this time, to Teignmouth for a girlie weekend.  It's Salty Dog's birthday and six of us have rented an even swankier holiday home than last week's at Brighton.  Here's two pictures of the view from the living room.  Somehow, my phone kindly monochromed one for me.  I'm not at all sure how it did it but it was a happy accident.

Lou and I only had a brief glimpse of the murmuration, a synchronised flight of hundreds of starlings around Brighton's burnt out West Pier.  The lovely  Passenger sings about them before being called a knob by his girlfriend.  Yesterday though their Devonian cousins put on a display around Teignmouth's pier that we watched for the best part of an hour.   It was a great start to what is likely to be an amazing weekend.

Friday, 20 February 2015

Free Fish!

Did you know that since December the  Microsoft Clipart and its image library is no more?  It used to be my favourite resource, aside from my own phone camera, for sourcing pictures for my blog.  I'm uncomfortable about using pictures that are not copyright free as I live in fear that some fat cat image owner will get angry and take my motorhome as recompense!  Using the microsoft site used to be my guarantee that I would not end up homeless and could sleep well at night - except for the times when there were other causes for insomnia of course!

For the last month or so I've been using the images on Wikipedia which I've been attributing to the provider in accordance with the instructions.  However I've just found an article on the Coastal Creative Reprographics website which gives links to seventeen other places where I can source copyright free images for nowt.

So today I bring you a beautiful picture of silvery fish.  I don't have to tell you that it comes from the Pixabay website. With 270,000 free images it's the biggest featured.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Singing to Remember

One of the services that the Alzheimer's Society provide is Singing for the Brain for people with dementia.    So that I could tell those that I work with what it's like, I attended a session once on a Friday afternoon.  I enjoyed it so much that it felt like a jolly. I really believed that I'd bunked off early and wasn't undertaking a bit of work related research at all.   It felt like I was having a proper singing lesson and even though it was evident that many people attending had significant cognitive impairment they were still able to participate in the activity to the full. The bit of the brain that remembers music is often preserved long after other memories have faded.

A friend of mine shared this on Facebook yesterday and I am pleased to be able to pass it on.  It gives a taster of just how wonderful and life affirming this activity is.  Ian Calvert, the vocalist, was inspired to write the song after seeing how dementia impacted on the life his own father in law and other members of his family.  The choir is made up of members of  Plymouth Singing for the Brain groups. Please think about  spending a few pennies and   downloading the song from the link here . In doing so you'll contribute to the work of one of my favourite charities.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

Cows, Zen and The Art of Falling

Back at base now in my snuggly over the cab bed.  I was woken up to a right kerfuffle this morning.  A herd of cows had escaped into the campsite and were surrounding the van. Unfortunately it was still too dark to get a shot of the proceedings so you'll just have to believe me.  Now it's light and they've been shooed off by a couple of men.  Let's hope that they're back in their field having breakfast.

So with the absence of photographic evidence this doesn't seem newsworthy enough to take up a whole post.  I'll have to think of something else.  Ah yes!  We came across  an alleyway with the wonderful name of Crocodile Walk on our long stroll around Brighton with Charlotte and Chris on Monday. It was near a school - or was it a sixth form college?  If so, surely the students there are too old to have to walk in a two by two formation.

A purposeless sign there was creating the hazard it warned against.  It made us laugh.  Just being. Very zen!

Tuesday, 17 February 2015


After reading my post about the Hunterian Museum the other weekend, Charlotte my niece decided  to foster my interest in the macabre further.  She thought that I might like to see Brighton's very own collection of dead things. They're housed at the top of a bloody great hill in the Booth Museum.  Here for starters is a Tasmanian Devil with my very own Devonian Devil. Can't decide which species is nastier or fiercer!

Back in the 19th century Edward Booth decided to demonstrate his keen love of nature by shooting at least one example of every species in Britain. He  then stuffed them and mounted them in 'attractive' display cases, sometimes with a few of their eggs for good measure.  He even went so far as to rear gannets in his garden so that he could pop them off when their plumage was just right.  Whilst waiting he practised using his guns on passing postman.  I'm not sure that he was a very nice man.

As well as travelling around Britain in his quest to take pot shots at anything that moved he also travel further afield. Here's one that he killed and mounted especially for me. I think I might have refused the grisly gift.  Those hummingbirds that I saw sipping sugar water from feeders in the Appalachian mountains were far prettier alive!

Now here's Louis' favourite exhibit, the skeleton of a Dodo. This one, for certain, didn't meet its maker at the hands of the founder of the museum as the last ones were killed in the 17th century.  Obviously though if the last of the species had been around during Mr Booth's lifetime he would have almost certainly have gone out with his shotgun to see if he could hunt it down!  There's other skeletons too including gigantic whale ones.  Let's hope that they died a natural death.  A little voice inside says that this might not have been the case.

In the midst of all the carnage there were a few exhibits that I found pleasing.  Here's a near
perfect example of a fossilised fish......

....and a huge piece of beautiful gypsum with its crystallised fingers.

I was also taken by the toad in a rock and the ugly merman, the creations of hoaxsters.

In spite of the dubious methods used to create the collection, it's definitely worth a look.  Here's a beautiful piece of brain coral to finish with. Now that's another species that thankfully most agree is much better off in a natural habitat.

Monday, 16 February 2015

A Day at the Seaside Starring Charlotte and Chris

My gorgeous niece Charlotte from Books Overlooked and her equally lovely boyfriend Chris complained yesterday as they were expecting to feature in my blog post yesterday and I didn't mention them. And I thought that they were media shy! Anyway let's rectify this today with some photos from our very traditional day out at the seaside.

Here's Louis looking for those hag stones again.  Everyone found one except me! One of Louis' favourite find was a pebble where the 'hagging' process wasn't quite complete and you can see the light through the thin layer of remaining rock.

Here's one of my own beachcombing finds though.  I was drawn to the unusual markings on this pebble and then I realised that someone had been have a laugh with some sharpies.  There's an instagram address on the bottom.  I'll get in touch with the artist when I have a mo' and see what happens.

You can't go to Brighton without going on the pier can you?  We spent some tuppences in the arcades, ate rock and drank cider in the sun.

Louis and Charlotte rammed each other, a lot, on the dodgems.

We promenaded down the seafront towards Hove.  It was a beautiful day for February and lots of people had the same idea.

We joined the peeps sitting on the beach and ate fish and chips.  I met up with String, a university chum who I hadn't seen for twenty five years.   There was a bit of catching up to do.

Souvenir time! I bought Louis his first piece of art, a laser cut paper creation from Mars Miller at Papercutz.

And my keepsake from our mini-break away?  Well I might not have found another hagstone but I do have a bit of the West Pier!

Back to our place for pizza, garlicky treats and vintage Viennetta.  Here's Chris at last helping Louis set the questions for a Kindle based quiz! A perfect end to a near perfect day. We'll forget  the bit at the end of the afternoon that went a bit pear shaped!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

A Bit Bigger Small Space Living

Good morning one and all!  I'm writing this  post as the darkness of night is fading, to reveal a sea view. Yay!  It's reminiscent of the amazing Chillida painting that  grabbed my attention on our Barcelona trip last year.   Someone told me about the AirBnB website that offers something different from the usual run of the mill holiday accommodation.  For same cost as a moderately priced hotel room we've got the run of someone's home in Hove for the next three nights.  The owner lets her flat out when she spends time abroad and makes a bit of cash in doing so.  It's meant that Louis and I have got the chance to experience living together in a proper brick built abode complete with conventional indoor plumbing. Seems like a win-win situation all round to me.  We're so pleased with our home from home that we'll be using the website again to book accommodation in Vancouver later in the year.

So what's being back in a conventional living space like? Well I have to say that this one bedroomed flat feels gigantic! Louis immediately hunkered down into the enormous sofa to watch telly  when we arrived.    I'm enjoying having walls that have interesting stuff to look at hanging around.  This picture and the driftwood sculpture festooned in fairy lights are particularly pleasing.

I used to think that I 'needed' a three bedroomed house but now I'm not so sure.  Living in a compact and bijou motorhome has  helped me to re-evaluate this belief.  Sure, it will be lovely to be able to enjoy  the beautiful space in my Brixham home for a while but when Louis has grown up and flown the nest I smaller space livng may beckon again.  This property, that has lots of clever storage solutions and a sense of light and space has demonstrated that this idea is entirely feasible.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

1 Corinthians 13

Photo: Cambridge University

Happy Valentine's Day to one and all!  I had to pick Louis up from school yesterday early as he was feeling unwell.  Roses were being sold for a quid each in reception  that could be delivered to a favourite teacher.  Now there is one who's caught my eye but I resisted the temptation.  Acting on impulses  like that would enhance my embarrassing mother status into unacceptable realms and we can't be having that!

I thought I'd go with a post about love in its widest sense today and turned to the Bible, a book that remains dear to me in spite of having no faith with a name these day. Here's a passage that's well-known and a popular reading a weddings.  It gives just a tiny glimpse of the mind blowing wisdom contained in the scripture of one of the major world religions and is spot on when it comes to defining a state of being to aspire to.

Friday, 13 February 2015

I've Got One Like That!

Photo:  Design Milk
My home has an amazing feature in common with the wonderfully clever Sharifi-ha House in Tehran. I too can rotate my living space to reflect whim or the seasons.  All I need to do is check that the battery has got enough juice, make sure the awning is down and everything is packed away safely. Then it's just a matter of reversing backwards and forwards and hey presto! My outlook changes.

Photo:  Design Milk

Unfortunately,  I haven't got room in here for a swimming pool!

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Big Jars II

This is the second post in a week that has featured big jars.  No body parts today so the squeamish need not look away.  No this lovely video provides a metaphorical reminder on how to live a meaningful life. Chocolate is of course compulsory!

Wednesday, 11 February 2015


It's coming up to Valentine's Day and I have plans!  I'm going away with a gorgeous man for a long weekend to play house in a swanky pad  just off Hove Seafront.  Oh okay, things aren't quite what they seem.   My male companion is a head shorter than me, eleven years old and yep, you may have guessed, it's my son Louis.  We making a half term trip to catch up with his cousin Charlotte from Books Overlooked.   So not a romantic tryst but it's guaranteed we'll have fun.

But let's be seasonal.   Here's a post with a gooey theme.   Please listen to this beautiful version of an old favourite.  I bought the  single by Dire Straits in 1981.  Who'd have thought that thirty four years could fly by so quickly?  In my experience it's rare that a cover version cuts the mustard. I'm thinking in particular of all those  over-orchestrated sanitised versions  of Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah where the  original's rawness has been lost.  However Passenger's version of 'Romeo and Juliet' with just the right amount of melancholic sweetness is spot on.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Beautiful.;..but Difficult

It occurred to me that I haven't written a lot about living in the van lately.  That's because there isn't much to tell. Aside from less space there's no huge difference to living in a house, most of the time that is.  I cook study, parent, read, entertain friends, sleep.....all the things that I did in a brick built home.  
I'm sometimes reminded that it's not quite the same. With a drastic temperature drop overnight in the early hours of Sunday morning, the motorhome dumped the contents of its tank.  So I had no water yesterday morning. The outside tap was frozen too so I couldn't even fill the kettle. I've now sussed the procedure so that the next time it happens it won't be a big deal.  I've also added 2 x 5 litre  water canisters to the kit on board to use as emergency rations.  Never again will I be in a situation where I have to forego that life giving early morning cuppa.
Salty Dog came by last night, stir crazy from setting up her new business and seeking respite in my rural neck of the woods.   We ate most of the contents of the fridge and drank Prosecco on a school night. And we helped Louis with his homework, analysing 'Blessing' by Imtiaz Dharker.    Thought provoking but way trickier than anything that I had to unravel at the age of eleven.
The skin cracks like a pod.
There never is enough water.
Imagine the drip of it,
the small splash, echo
in a tin mug,
the voice of a kindly god.
Sometimes, the sudden rush
of fortune. The municipal pipe bursts,
silver crashes to the ground
and the flow has found
a roar of tongues. From the huts,
a congregation : every man woman
child for streets around
butts in, with pots,
brass, copper, aluminium,
plastic buckets,
frantic hands,
and naked children
screaming in the liquid sun,
their highlights polished to perfection,
flashing light,
as the blessing sings
over their small bones.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Deaf as a Blooming Great Post

Every time that I get a cold my world goes eerily quiet. I sometimes get my words in a muddle and say that my Fallopian tubes are blocked but that's not the case.  If I hadn't had mine removed in a medical emergency they'd be in an entirely different place in my body.  No, it's my Eustachian tubes that get bunged up. They link the upper respiratory system to the ear.  Currently my deafness is partial but in the past its been near complete. My ability to lip read is pretty poor and my interpretation of what others are saying can get very flawed indeed.  People were once mistakenly served all sorts of weird and wonderful potions when I worked in a bar and decided, maybe erroneously that hearing loss was no barrier to working.   As the infection that causes the blockage in the first place starts to get better, I can start to hear again intermittently if I hold my nose, shut my mouth and try to blow air out of the body.  I was surprised to learn that this procedure has a name, the Valsalva Maneouvre.  A kind of Heimlich one for the ears maybe?  They both remove blockages after all.  I'm having no joy at the moment but look forward to the time when the air breaks through with a satisfying pop.   In the meantime I'm stoical about the situation. Sometimes it doesn't hurt someone who works with people with disabilities to walk in their shoes.

Sunday, 8 February 2015


Photo: Stone Cold Crazy
What do two Essex girls do when they meet up?  Go shopping for designer handbags or shoes? Paint themselves orange at a dodgy tanning salon? Or might they even get their bits bejazzled? My friend, Calamity Jane reckons you can do a roaring trade in the Basildon area if you're prepared to stick sequins on someone else's jubblies.

Aril from Gnat Bottomed Towers and I decided to buck those stereotypes and do something completely different.  We met for the first time ever yesterday in the foyer of the Hunterian Museum.  It's housed in part of the Royal College of Surgeon's gaffe in London's Lincoln's Inn Field and is a shrine to 18th century body parts of man and beast.

Back in those days John Hunter must have had some vinegar left over after he'd finished pickling enough onions to last a year. Handily he came across a severed penis and an amputated foot with a big corn that he thought would look nice in jars.  And what do you know? He was hooked. Soon he had preserved so many grisly remains that his mum got fed up and told him to get them out of her house as they were doing her head in.  So he gave them to the RCS.  I think that's how the story goes. Then again I might be making it up as I go along.  If you read Aril's version of events you'll get a truer picture.

Aril and I peered into those jars, yabbered about all sorts and wondered about the stories of the  people those bits and pieces had come from.  The most haunting exhibit? Possibly any one of the 200 year old foetuses or the skin from the lower part of the face of a wee boy with smallpox. The lower eyelashes were still attached.

After all that thought provoking stuff it was time to lighten up with beer and cider in a pub where John Hunter probably had a pint after he'd dropped off his specimens.  Thanks Aril for a lovely day out.We've already hatched a plot about where to go to view other oddities later in the year.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

First Class?

Whilst buying air tickets last week a frivolous thought struck me.  I could use some of that £900 saved by changing our transatlantic route to upgrade to club class on the way home. Lou and I could wallow in one of those great big chairs eating posh nosh with proper cutlery. It is my birthday trip after all.  My inner meanie came to the rescue just in time and told me that we can do a lot on holiday with that extra £600. It'll easily pay for our entire time in Vancouver. So sadly we'll be joining the scrum at the back of the plane.

I didn't think I'd   be roughing it  today though on my trip to London. You'll find out what I'm up to in the Big Smoke tomorrow. I've only gone booked myself into the first class carriage for a measly £8 extra for the return trip on South West Trains route from the West Country. So what do I get that's extra. A complimentary cuppa? Some tempting nibbles? Perhaps a newspaper? No there's none of that. Just a bigger seat in a freezing cold carriage with no buffet service at all let alone any freebies.  What did I expect? This is budget first class!

Friday, 6 February 2015

Boy and Bear will Not Be Communing

My head is busy, busy, busy at the moment.  Lots to do and think about.  I needed to catch my breath for a moment by looking  at a serene scene and found this monochrome beauty by Indonesian artist Elicia Edijanto. Bears happen to be one of my favourite beasties.

I'm hoping to see one or two on our Yellowstone trip and organisation is progressing well - now I've handed it over to my very able American friend.  She's planning our trip to coincide with the end of our stay so that we can watch some rutting elks! She's suggested that we hire a mini van to camp in so I expect it'll be my first experience of driving 'stick-shift' free.

Now I've heard those grizzlies see us as below them in the food chain so I'm all for having a layer of metal rather than canvas between us and them at night.  Safety will be paramount.  Louis will not be nose to nose with a bear with his face smeared with honey, I promise. Here's one we're heeding!

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Family Guy and Other 'Filth'

Photo: John Snape
My boy is leaving childish things behind, well some of the time anyway. He is still rather partial to sleeping with his muslin, 'Clothie' that has miraculously survived since babyhood.  He shamelessly snuggles up to Bart, his cuddly Yellowstone bison too.  When I peep at him in the Land of Nod he sometimes doesn't look too dissimilar to his innocent baby self.  Bless!

Yet things are changing, of course and sometimes not for the better.  He came home the other day and told me about a sexual act that he'd heard about in the playground.  Bejesus!  I didn't know about that kind of thing until at least my late teens.   It's not something I could possibly put down in writing without visibly reddening.  'Gee, Louis!'  I remonstrated. 'I'd have been embarrassed to talk to my mum about stuff like that.'  'I'm not' he replied matter of factly.  A few days later he proceeded to share with me a cartoon clip from 'Family Guy';  Now I've got a dirty sense of humour  and it was right up my street though not exactly age appropriate viewing for an eleven year old.

I've thought long and hard about how to deal with this in a world that is way different to the 1970's Britain that I grew up in.  One way would be to react angrily and give Lou a right royal telling off. But I'm a realist.   Even if I ignore the problem it's not going to go away.  So I've come to the conclusion that I prefer my son to share with me.  At least I know what he's being subjected to and can have my own say.  Some filters on electronic devices are handy too although not altogether fail-safe or, in my experience practicable.

One of the things that I'm trying to instill in Lou is why it's important to be selective about what he watches or listens to.  Once images of extreme violence or pornography have been viewed, I'm warning him that they might stick around as unpleasant memories for a very long time adversely affecting his behaviour and interactions with other people.  Best not look in the first place is my maxim which I'm repeating quite regularly.  We adults need to take this seriously too.   I got cross with someone who watched the video of  the ISIS hostage  Moaz al-Kasasbeh being burned in a cage.  Just imagining human suffering and degradation is enough.  We do not need to experience things first hand that are likely to mess with our heads if we don't have to.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Oxysaurus Stew

Recipe time again!  Let's have one  that doesn't involve setting fire to the place shall we?   It's that time of the year when the cockles of the heart and just about every other part of the body needs to be warmed comprehensively.  There's nothing like a good old fashioned stew on a bed of buttery mash to hit the spot.  Here's my version.

Freshly hunted or a pack of oxysaurus tail pieces (see below)
Six rashers of streaky bacon chopped up
1 bottle of yummy red wine
1 sliced onion
1/2 bag of carrot sticks leftover from Salty Dog's party - chopped up a bit
The remainder of a pack of  mushrooms in the fridge - chopped up sufficiently finely to disguise the fact that they're in the recipe (to prevent childish cries of 'I don't like mushroom!')
A good glug of Lea and Perrins
Ditto balsamic vinegar
1 good tablespoon of jam
1 tin of tomatoes - swished with hand to break up.  Make sure that you make a right royal mess in the process.
1 litre of beef stock.
Salt, pepper and paprika to season

  1. Tell eleven year old that you are off out to kill an oxysaurus, the last remaining dinosaur living in Britain that needs to be legitimately culled to stop it trampling our wheat crops.  Whilst he's looking the other way sneak into Morrison's and buy a pack of ox tail.   Tell child that ox is an abbreviation of oxysaurus.
  2. Get all serious and say 'Well okay, it isn't really dinosaur tail.  What creature does it come from?'  Pooh-pooh the answer ('Ox') and disclose that it really comes from a cow.  Shake head in disbelief when child who has been brought up in rural idylll says that cows don't have tails. Prove that they do by showing Google Image picture.
  3. Seek out recipe online on which to base own creation.  Discount any that use an entire bottle of wine.
  4. Two evenings before cooking start to drink the wine.  Continue the next night and tell yourself that you'll save the measly 'half cup' that recipe calls for.  Express amazement when entire contents of bottle end up in tummy.  Decide that this particular ingredient is no longer required. 
  5. Brown meat in pan.  Why do I snigger as I write this?  It wouldn't hurt to add the bacon at this stage at well.
  6. Pop all the ingredients in the slow cooker.  Note the sneaky replacement of the wine with the vinegar and a good dollop of red jam.  Saves that alcohol having to burn itself off, doesn't it?
  7. Cook on low for about 10 hours in a slow cooker
  8. Gaze in wonder at the alchemy that this method of cooking can create.  Decide the recipe might have been even better if the pearl barley and dried mushrooms lurking in the cupboard had been added.
Enough for a greedy mum and boy.  Leftovers to be blitzed to make delicious beefy soup!

Tuesday, 3 February 2015


Photo:  Pen Waggener
I am at that stage of a cold where my need for paper hankies is never ending and I'm stuffing huge numbers of them up my sleeves and in my pocket when a bin isn't handy.  If I'm not careful some of them will lurk around  until laundry day, disintegrate in the machine and cover my black clothes with a faint covering of snowy tissue particles.  They're a right pain in the arse to get off again.

We had a brief flurry of the real stuff yesterday.  Great clumps of snowflakes were hurtling towards the car on my journey home up the A38.  Even as my 50th birthday approaches, I get childishly excited about the stuff.   Perhaps Lou and I would have to hole up on the campsite for a couple of days making snowmen and throwing snowballs?  My excitement was short lived.  Alas, the 'blizzard' ceased after ten minutes and I awake this morning to the usual shades outside of blue, brown, grey and green.

Isn't every snowflake supposed to be unique?  'Bollocks' I thought  to myself as any distinguished philosopher might.  There's been so many falling in so many places across the world that this fact couldn't possibly be right. I only had to go to Wiki to confirm that my thinking was correct.   In 1988, an atmospheric researcher, Nancy Knight found two that were identical.  Now that's my type of science!

Monday, 2 February 2015

Project Restoration

I found an article on the Guardian's website moving.  It recounts  the thoughts of  a supermarket delivery driver in one of our big anonymous cities.  What restores his faith in humanity is being given a tip by some elderly folk in a run down tower block after being treated insensitivity and rudely by others who were in a much better position to make a similar gesture.

The life of me and my lad is, in the main, cocooned with love and kindness.  We have the support of lovely friends and family who watch out for us.  In spite of their own significant difficulties the people on my caseload in a rural older adult mental health team show consideration towards me and are appreciative of the job I do.  It is easy to forget a lot of the time that there is cruelty and neglect in the world.

Of course, there is though    I'm deeply saddened by the murder of the kindly looking journalist Kenji Goto.  How could that have happened?   Occasionally I come across overt and insipid evil in my own journey in life and despair at the behaviour of humans.  Carl Jung had the idea that we are reluctant to acknowledge our own evil and instead project its shadow on others so maybe I'm not immune from having the finger pointed. Yet, I try my best to be benevolent and am resilient enough to take action when nasty things happen.  And thank heavens I still believe that the vast majority of my fellow men are intrinsically good.  It's all too easy for those who are constantly beleaguered themselves or work with those where suffering at the hands of others is rife  to become jaded and hardened and lose sight of the idea of the inherent goodness within others and themselves.

So my challenge for the week is for all of us to go out there and try in a small way to restore the hope of another human being with an act of kindness or wisely chosen words. As it says at the top of my blog. 'There is a crack in everything. That's how the light gets in.'  There are many who are broken but that might make the job easier. 

Sunday, 1 February 2015

I'm Going to Have a Bath!

We braved the weather warnings yesterday and for three hours, drove northbound, a journey interrupted only by a stop at Bridgwater services where we picked up breakfast in M&S.  Lou chose sushi, his current favourite food that isn't sugar based. 'This is gorgeous' he said drinking directly from the plastic fish that came with his California rolls.  'Have some!' he offered.  I declined.  Call me unadventurous but I see soy sauce more as a seasoning than a beverage.

And so we've ended up on the outskirts of Tamworth and are staying in a real house.  We're with our friends, Paul, M and twelve year old Josh, Louis' oldest friend.  Paul, his dad had a stroke last summer but is making great guns now.  His speech has come on a treat and he's back to driving and at work.  Ever the therapist even off duty, I noticed that he can be a bit lop sided in task performance, using his left arm instead of his poorly right one.  He says that his mates are on to it and are nagging him too.

I've known these people for the long haul.  They count among my nearest and dearest.  We've been together through some brilliant times and supported each other when life  has been tougher.  In our twenties we partied, as you do.  Now entertainment is more sedate and   our younger selves would have be scathing.  We made inroads into Josh's Christmas jigsaw and filled a big gap in Louis' cinematic knowledge by watching ET together.  M and I cried when he went back to the spaceship. The boys scheme together, eat chocolate and play fight.   Paul cooked us a curry and was really chuffed that he chopped an onion independently for the first time.  Having been incapacitated myself a couple of times over the last few years, I know the meaning of achieving small milestones.

This morning I'm going to have my first bath in three months.  It makes me sound like a dirty minx but I'm not.  Personal hygiene hasn't suffered by living in the motorhome.  It's just that the arrangements are much more basic.  The luxury of internal plumbing is much appreciated.  Then after breakfast we're taking the boys out to have a Nerf gun war before we scurry home back down the motorway.  It's a lovely weekend doing normal stuff with friends.  Six months back we didn't know that this would be possible ever again.