29 May 2005

Two boys and several girls

Our eldest son used to smile and bounce and chuckle while his dad was crashed out.

The baby above left home today. He has moved into a rented bungalow with his fiancée. All day they ferried possessions in boxes, peeling his life away from here. From the sidelines we watched as he sliced off chunks of his existence and put them in his car.

These two make a great pair and we wish them happiness. But events like this are tinged with sadness because they represent the end of a long period of dependence and life as a family. They will need to work out their way of living together and coping with the trials life brings. Over time they will uncover the people they really are.

Buying a first house is now almost impossible, the cheapest one-bedroom apartment here will cost over $250,000. Just as well I bought our current house ages ago, prices have outstripped incomes by a mile. Twenty five years ago I borrowed three times my annual salary, now that factor would have to be fifteen times! Almost unbelievable isn’t it? So today the young people rent while they wait for their inheritance.

The new breakaway family already has a head start, family and friends have generously chipped in, helping with all the necessary furniture, appliances and utensils. It’s up to the youngsters now to make a home of it.

I watched him grow from defenceless baby to 6 foot 3” adult in twenty three rapid years, then he’s gone. But I should not complain, I did just the same. I look forward to seeing my boy put into practice the skills he learned observing his mum and me. Cheer up though, I am sure we will see them often. They are only three miles away after all! This weekend it’s our twenty seventh wedding anniversary so we all meet up again Sunday for a meal out. (There is a saying about good behaviour shortening a life sentence. Maybe it illustrates why I haven’t been let out yet).

As for our younger son, he knows he’s well off at home so we still have his outrageous antics for entertainment. He is a funny, exciting, enthusiastic and optimistic guy. Most evenings a different car pulls up full of giggling young women to whisk him away to God knows where but he always comes home. The girls love his company and he has an army of great friends. He lives a full, fast life and tells us he loves us. He reminds me a lot of me when I was young. I’d rather he didn’t leave home yet, I’m not ready for that silence.

“Who do girls like, they’re boys.
Always should be someone you really love.”

Blur - Girls and Boys

28 May 2005

Bumble bees

I waited ages to catch this little rascal but he was still too quick for me! Here is an interesting fact sheet about my little friends the bumble bees. I like them even though they startled me.

26 May 2005

My head hurts

This nest box is a source of danger. There are a couple more pictures of my garden here to remind me I must mow my daisies.
I am flat out on the grass when I start to regain consciousness. My forehead feels like I have been smacked with an iron bar. I feel sick and my vision is definitely blurred. Gingerly I touch my forehead expecting to find crushed bone and a gaping hole. Instead I discover a Himalayan-sized lump.

I stumble from the garden to the house, pulling an ice pack from the freezer in the garage on my way. I don’t dare check a mirror so I sit silently white-faced in the lounge with a throbbing skull and aching pride.

Last thing I remember I had my ear to the bird-box listening for signs of life. An incessant drone told me the occupants were certainly winged but not feathered. To confirm the point a worker bee dropped from the trees and hovered, before disappearing through the entrance hole. Moments later another arrived and then a third.

I have no problem with these little guys but out of respect for a whole boxful I backed off. Just then the tiny hole spat forth a cloud of fifteen or so bees. By this time I was several feet away but when they veered towards me I turned and ran instinctively. Normally I am very aware of my precise location on this planet but somehow I had strayed unwittingly within twelve inches of a clothes-line post. Blissfully ignorant of my proximity to this fifteen foot scaffolding pole, I launched blindly at it with my head.

The sickening thud knocked me out cold.

"Your head is bent out of shape.
But your feet are on the ground."
The Walkmen - Bows and Arrows

24 May 2005

Death in the park

The lunchtime park was glittering and heavy with the sweet scent of mown grass. Office men and women smiled and flirted over rolls and coffee under the open arms of spring oaks. She neither saw the trees nor felt the sunshine. The bench slats pressed into her spine like a surgeon’s knife. Today was like every other yet unlike any other. He had let himself out in the night.

Her larynx was hard and brittle. She made no sound as tear rolled after tear. A jet twinkled overhead, a tiny silver bullet streaking lives across the blue void. She stood up stiffly and walked. Dire Straits spilled from an open-top Mercedes, queued at the lights. ‘... do the walk of life..’

Their love was the first and last. His fingers learned a tender touch on her skin, never practiced before, born only for and because of her. They slept and awoke, laughed and wept in harmony. He held her the way she needed. He knew without asking.

Even last evening he said he was happy. “Are you sure you’re happy?” She had probed for the hundredth time, her eyes racing across his face looking for a flinch or tell-tale frown. One hundred times she had asked since he walked in on her and out on his wife. Had he lied? He can't have been lying, because we knew unspoken thoughts, sick fear pounded in her head. His last sentence had included ‘cherish.’

For six weeks he had folded his clothes on the floor and kept his toothbrush in his pocket. Every day he had cleaned the bathroom to erase traces of his presence. He wiped his reflection from the mirror. His fleeting possessions had hovered over surfaces and were gone now. This was the morning he had vanished.

Too intense to persist. This supernova of passion, fusing flesh and soul had scorched everyone around them. Now the cataclysm had engulfed them too. The baking pavement radiated white heat and she whispered, “I’m breathing mercury.” Pavement cracks offered the only reason for her steps. Her limbs were pointless now. She implored a stranger, “Help me, I can’t get any air in.” No answer came.

In twenty years she might wake from this horror and the park will be empty, unless in her sleep she forgets to breath...

“Maybe you're the same as me
We see things they'll never see
You and I are gonna live forever.”
Oasis - Live Forever

21 May 2005

Mapping the known universe

Rand McNally folding laminated maps are beautifully developed creations. Fold them any way you like to get that all-important city squared up on the front, yet they faithfully spring back to shop-fresh configuration on demand. I have several but none can help me with my fear of the unknown. Recently I claimed a desire to try something new. There was a faint whiff of burning as I applied more thought to this. Is anything truly new and am I choosing it?

Rand McNallys are good but the ultimate journey planner would be some fabled life-map. But already the thought is flawed, if a map exists why plan for or against the inevitable? If all destiny is pre-ordained would it be possible even to alter the number of breaths we take? Inhaling just one extra lungful of diesel particulates may trigger the respiratory condition which carries us off. Or holding our breath as the truck passes could save us. The life-map is spread out before us in beautifully horrific detail. Do we genuinely choose our path or are the requisite number of breaths already programmed?

Proponents of either theory have compelling arguments. I favour free choice and influence with just a dash of pre-disposition. A drinker’s path is mapped with his first deep drink; a mountaineer’s course is charted with his first climb. Still their ultimate fates are not yet sealed. Opportunities will arise for them to reconsider their direction but if they are blinkered to choice heaven help them. What if they pick up a voicemail too late, “Knocked, you were out.” - Opportunity.

Frightening indeed if all that shocking knowledge of the future were available. What would be the point of aspirations? Why bother to nurture friendships? No need to save or insure. No gambles, no leap of faith, no risk, no time for grandchildren. Strike another day off the calendar, install a line of countdown code on your PC and check the remaining days with each boot. We are born and we will die. We should not dwell on it. No, better for all our sakes that we interact as if we were immortal. Living our lives in the subjunctive tense is the only way.

A little planning is fine though. To know where you are going, first you must know where you have been. Then you just might know when you arrive. Attach a strong rope to the known then journey towards the unknown. Steadily or headlong depending on your preference. I’m a cautious guy so I’ll make slow progress and take frequent backward glances. You may be impulsive, cut the rope and jump but I recommend you have a Rand McNally in your pocket.

I have road atlases of UK, France, Western Europe and USA (just in case.)

"She said 'I’ll show you a picture, a picture of tomorrow, there’s

Nothing changes its all sorrow.' Oh no please don’t show me!"
The Libertines – Horror Show

15 May 2005

The battery licker

Some people wander around seemingly oblivious to their surroundings. I think I see all that happens and hear every sound. I think of it as hyper-sensitivity, my critics say I obsess over minutiae. Perhaps I cannot apportion my attention correctly between the trivial and the vital. I make sure my stock of batteries includes at least twenty of the three types needed by various remote controls, yet for ten years I cut one hundred feet of grass every week with a rusty old roller-mower.

I liked that old mower, it had nothing to do with money. But when I decided it had to go I spent loads on a decent machine, added a strimmer, a hedge trimmer and a blower/vac. Something takes my interest and I do it to extremes. I do it differently. The picture of my Canon digital is taken by itself reflected in the pick-up of a guitar. Why?? I self-analyse extensively but I can't work out whether that composition is significant. But then does it really matter? I have a nagging feeling it should.

I'm guessing the battery in your smoke detector is one of those rectangular 9v ones which have both terminals side by side on one end. When it next needs changing, gently apply the terminals to your tongue. The sensation is sweet, metallic and tickling. Now unwrap the new one but before you slot it into the detector... yes, touch the new one to your tongue. WOW! this time it twitches violently and stings sharply. Now why did I try that? Because I was curious.

When was the last time you did something for the first time? I am a creature of habit stooping along between the high walls of my furrow. Occasionally I sneak a glance over the top and am scared by that glimpse of the unknown. I duck down and plod on. How many years are left of my allotted timespan? When the last day arrives will I regret a lack of ambition and curiosity? The older I grow, the less inclined I am to break out of my comfort zone. But paradoxically the less time there is left available to change my outlook.

As a young man I had hopes and dreams enough to make you cry. My obsessive, addictive view of life and my surroundings has given me a full and rich set of experiences to look back on. Even so I have a list of things I say I'll do tomorrow. Today I am considering how I can balance the familiar with the scary, how I can try something new for the first time. I am the battery licker.

"Daisy chains and school yard games
And a list of things we said we'd do tomorrow."
The Libertines – The Good Old Days

14 May 2005

Thirteen Senses

First time I had been to a gig at Portsmouth Pyramids and I was pleasantly surprised. This is primarily a swimming pool and leisure centre complex but has a conference/function room of about 2,500 square feet. Five hundred bodies were crammed in to see four young lads from Truro, Cornwall heralded in some quarters as the next "Coldplay." Acoustically the room is fantastic, loud, crisp and clear. And I mean loud - this evening I felt my pancreas vibrating with the deep penetrating bass!

First support came from 'The Aviators' who crunched out energetic modern rock with plenty of 1970s 'Cheap Trick' swagger. Next was a mundane outfit of unidentifiable European origin called 'Leaves.' They were pale imitations of early 'Radiohead' and failed to ignite the crowd.

"Thirteen Senses" trotted on at 10:00pm with cheery waves. They launched into a set consisting of the debut album plus a couple of new ones. The album is heavily produced so I wondered how the songs would come across live without multi-layered guitars and vocals. I need not have worried, the boys from the West Country treated us to great stripped-back versions of their repertoire, bolstered by their highly accomplished musicianship.

Wealthy families or a generous Label, either way the stage gear was impressive stuff. The very latest Mesa Boogie amps, top Gibson and Fender guitars and a junior Pink Floyd light show. Nothing complicated here just heartfelt soaring melodies which tug at your soul.

For the most part this was one of those gigs where you stand back and nod in appreciation at melancholy lyrics and haunting music delivered with passion and confidence. No heroics just an honest performance. Only with the finale of "Thru the Glass" did the crowd get moving. But then this evening was more about love and tears than sweat and beers.

"Come on, come on put your hands into the fire...
...pull up, pull up from one extreme to another."
Thirteen Senses - Into the Fire

12 May 2005


Ford Cortina 1.6GLX, a 1970s icon in Daytona Yellow.

When I drove this car, personal computers and mobile phones were confined to the pages of science fiction. Hi-fi meant indiscernible lyrics behind pops and crackles. Mars bars were eight inches long and town centres were deserted after 10pm.

Parents regarded swing parks as safe havens for their children. The worst that could befall them was having their sweets pinched by the local bully. Daisies grew all summer under skies of the deepest blue. We lay on our backs feeling the warm grass, talking about rock n' roll. Sally kept looking away whenever our young eyes met then fell about giggling with her friends.

Good strong men were in charge of the country. War hardly ever happened and TV was wall to wall gentle game-shows and cartoons. Boys settled their playground differences with fists, not knives. We skipped without embarrassment.

Evenings were long and happy. It never rained from May to September. Footballers shook hands. I heard from my pen-pal just three times a year. Postmen delivered mail the very next day, before breakfast. Eggs were huge with feathers stuck to the shell and carried soft orange yolks.

Tomatoes were crimson and marmalade tasted of oranges. Tinned pear halves came in juice or syrup. Custard was dark yellow and cream was good for you. Very few E-additives had been added. Apples were sweeter and crisper.

Cows only came in black and white, horses were always brown. Dogs never bit only barked. Bumble bees bumbled. Banks were honest, Post Offices only sold stamps and nobody spoke in the library.

Nothing in a child’s toy box needed batteries or a plug. We had no need for display screens, menus, drivers or operating systems. Depression was unknown, people suffered a breakdown in the privacy of their own home.

Telephone numbers were four or five digits. Only famous people were ex-directory. Coins were heavy and banknotes were long and wide. A chequebook made you feel important.

Who said "Nostalgia ain't what it used to be!" – I did!

06 May 2005

Hotel California

Some of you will know of my alcoholism from my comments left on your blogs, others will have realised from my last 2 posts. I haven't blogged directly about my addiction before but I should take advantage of my confessional mood before it changes. For the record I last took a drink on 9th September 1993.

When I admitted my alcohol intake to my doctor he told me to 'stop drinking before it stopped me.' One hundred and twenty units a week for the previous ten years had taken its toll. He signed me off work for two months with 'nervous exhaustion.' I had a lot to deal with. I was in a high pressure sales job, I had abandoned my mistress, the love of my life and returned to my wife. I needed to stop drinking to minimise the damage to my health. I walked home from the doctor with a pain in my side, short of breath and sweating profusely.

I closed my front door to the outside world and pulled out two fresh bottles of whiskey. I cracked the tops and upended them into the kitchen sink, watching with an air of detachment as the fiery amber liquid slipped from view. Next I collected twenty four cans of Carlsberg Special Brew lager from the refrigerator (for the uninitiated that's 9.2% by volume - suitable for tranquillising rhinos.) I sent them the same way as the whiskey then poured two pint glasses of water and settled into my armchair.

I had just ditched around £50 of alcohol, a ration that could have lasted me about five days. I drank eight pints of water that first evening and sat upright in bed all night, unable to sleep. The next night I drank water, and the next, and the next... Eventually I slept the sleep of the dead. During the days I shook and sweated and shouted and screamed. My boys and wife gave me a wide berth while I snapped and barked at every minor irritation.

Three weeks went by and the bathroom scales barely registered one hundred and forty pounds. I had lost twenty eight pounds in weight. No one at work saw this exorcism taking place. I asked for no help and no one offered me any. I sweated the poison from my system, doubling up with stomach cramps and eaten up by a craving for booze. Yet I persevered. Three weeks became six and soon I felt ready to start work again.

Over the next twelve years I learned to live without the numbing reward of booze. Now I avoid all contact with bars and parties. It's easier that way. People know I am an alcoholic who doesn't drink any more and I think they respect that. I hope so.

 You never recover from this disease you just enjoy remission for as long as you can. The Eagles sum all this up rather well in their haunting observation on alcoholism, "Hotel California" the lyrics are powerful.

"You can check out any time you like,
but you can never leave."
The Eagles – Hotel California

Old red eyes

Here I am about 18 years old. I remember lying against this beer tent at a steam rally. I was hardly able to stand.

I thought this was enjoyment, I was probably wrong:

~Lying in bed after a skin-full with the bed slowly revolving. Getting back up and pulling on clothes so I could stumble the streets for an hour to speed the return of sobriety.

~Lying on a sofa with our lady lodger in 1982. Swilling gin from the second bottle and watching daylight creep through the crack in the curtains at 6am.

~Hurrying to the hospital to see the birth of my second son at midnight. Running because I was too drunk to ride my motorcycle.

~Taking no vacation for fifteen years as money spent on a holiday would have been a preposterous waste.

~Running out of salary with three weeks of the month still to go, so taking a cash advance from my credit card to balance the budget.

~Undertaking important afternoon sales interviews through a haze of booze and peppermints.

~Lying in hospital for two weeks with broken bones after a big motorcycle smash.

~Losing all rational thought and judgement.

~Drinking sherry (of all things) by the bottle.

~Promising to take a day off yet knowing I would call in at the store to get evening supplies.

~Having a heavy night out with drinking pals, but unzipping a couple more cans when I got home in the small hours, just as a night cap.

~Not stopping when I felt drunk but continuing until I passed out.

"It's a one-lane highway straight to Hell ...
And I driven it so many times, you can bet I know it well."
Slobberbone - Stumbling

04 May 2005

Love and Music

I own up that my childhood was grey and bland and I harboured a bitterness for most of my adult life. How can you show love if you feel unloved? It has taken me to age forty seven to figure out that expressing love is a beautiful thing.

Parents should raise children with loving discipline. Teach them right from wrong, correct them, reward them but never ever ignore them. Tell them you love them and ask their opinions. Make them matter. I grew up in my parents’ house, they never told me if they loved me. I still don't know and guess what, I don't care any more. My mum died and I never heard her use the word 'love' in any context. My dad remains insular and unresponsive.

I married in 1978 but off and on from 1982 to 1986 I had an intense affair. My up-bringing had left me ill-equipped to handle the emotional battering it dealt out. I relied on alcohol to numb me so I could live under the weight of the dilemma. I could not resist the pull of my mistress because I believed I was experiencing the fullest love I ever had or would. When I knew that destruction of my life and my family was near, I chose to follow my head not my heart. Yet even then I couldn't accept the decision I had made and regressed into a world of denial, rewarding myself for giving up love by drinking every day until I passed out.

In 1986 I bought "Brothers in Arms" by Dire Straits. It turned out to be my last purchase until 1995. I drank, I shunned family and friends and I saw no point in music. I adopted a position of suspended animation. The world saw me walking and talking but I was angry, lost and bitter. I carried a hollow core in my belly. So you see in the words of Pete Doherty of the late and (by me) desperately lamented 'Libertines,' I had "lost my faith in love and music."
For nine years I sloped around in a kind of living death. I was in Rigor Mortis. Love and music seemed irretrievably lost. I barely opened my mouth to my family and offered them grim company. My life was devoid of love because I wouldn't let my wife and boys break through my stone wall. Eventually I stopped the yearning for my mistress. I ceased drinking in 1993 and over several years I learned to love my family a little. With sobriety came clear thinking and music edged its way back into my routines. I sifted through the years of releases I had ignored, discovering new bands who were already history. It was a start. Radiohead attracted my attention and I fell under the spell of their first three albums (forget the subsequent rubbish they released.)

There are now only two things that matter to me, Love and Music. Today music plays a vital part in my life. My admiration for the sweet simplicity of favourite lyrics is matched by the gut-wrenching pull of a pure melody. I listen to music several times each day picking songs to match my mood.

The morning commute is a time for fresh new indie rock and I am reminded that the worries and fears of the new generation are the same as my own. At lunchtime I close my eyes to the heartbreak of Counting Crows or Hope of the States. Going home I nudge up the volume on Kings of Leon or The Stills. If I get an evening alone I pull off the shelves whatever the fuck I want and play it loud. Immersion in the experience has to be absolute. I need to feel the sound-waves shaking my insides. The volume must drown out all distractions.

My tiny real world circle is now rich in love. I have two adult sons and my wife. But equally I have two deep personal friends who love me and I love them. But I am full of grief that there may be so little time left to enjoy them. I yearn for many more decades because I have regained my faith in love and music.

"If you've lost your faith in love and music
The end won't be long."

Libertines - The Good Old Days

01 May 2005

The pen is mightier than the sword

An unrelated image serving merely to send waves of calm over me.

I can’t think off the cuff well, I have to prepare. If I don’t I get beaten every time. So my approach to wordplay is 'cover every angle.' My previous posts have hinted at a difficult working relationship. Here we go then the big word fight I thought I would never win, anger and hate with words and language.

I settled my quiver full of adjectives on the ground before me. Each had been hand-picked from ‘Roget.’ Gripping one with forefinger and thumb I placed it in the bow of my noun. I let it loose and quickly reloaded. Her response was a verbal volley of stinging barbs. Ducking instinctively I heard the angry words rush over me, felt their wind. Hers seemed so well chosen, with the right emphasis and deadly accurate.

I patted my jeans, sure I had some reserve adverbs in my back pocket, hell where did I put them? Ah, they were up my sleeve. Would I have time to weave them around suitable verbs? The squeaking stretch of her catapult heralded another attack. I winced as a tennis ball sized insult took skin off my forehead. Wiping away the blood and fighting back tears of anger I threw a limp poetic phrase at her. It fell yards short and she roared laughter of disdain.

My puny ammunition was running out. I tried a bitter-sweet oxymoron which failed to ignite. Her almighty alliteration angled at me without warning. Now I was gravely wounded. I reached for my last palindrome in an attempt to confuse her but she brushed it off like so much waffle.

‘Pretentious arsehole,’ I heard her say as she pulled the pin on a fully-formed argument the shape of a grenade. It went off in my face tearing flesh and leaving holes. Moving in she tried to deeply crack my head with a split infinitive. I rolled over at the last minute and retorted with a gentle couplet. What had seemed so potent the night before now appeared lame.

She was gathering her remaining arsenal when suddenly I remembered sarcasm, that thunderous sledgehammer which pulverises simple, rational thought. It had been by my side all along and now I held its woody shaft a degree of confidence returned. She had had this coming for a long time and the heavy swing felt oh so very good as I smacked it into my palm in preparation then screamed:

“You have such a pretty face, how unfortunate that the whole illusion of beauty is shattered when you open your mouth!” The fifteen pound lump crunched into her skull and she fell dead at a stroke. I nodded slowly as I watched the remnants of her flimsy vocabulary scattering in the wind.

“I am one of those melodramatic fools
Neurotic to the bone no doubt about it.”

Green Day – Basket Case