Sunday 23 December 2018

Roses at Christmas

Normally I might be scouring the countryside for a bit of holly and mistletoe . . . this year as the garden seems to be putting forth a new batch of red roses (?!) we'll have them instead.
Climate warming . . . it's just an untruth, Mr Trump, isn't it?


Friday 21 December 2018

The longest night

Thanks mainly to our super Workaway, Chris, the HotHouse garden has been shorn to almost tidy. This year we finally bought a chainsaw - after many years of looking at them in DIY places and deciding they were far too scary. It's been used every day for about two weeks and has thus well and truly been a GOOD BUY.
I saved the bonfire lighting for the winter solstice night. We didn't dance around it or sing but just watched the hissing flames ride high into the inky sky.
It feels a little cheaty this year as we've only had one very slight frost and daytime temperatures of  early autumn. Roses are making a come-back and the artichokes are still in full leafage. A few misguided birds have started singing hopefully in the early mornings and the pear tree has put forth a few tentative clumps of blossom. Still, one always forgets what January, February and March can come up with . . .



Monday 17 December 2018

Secret life of inanimate objects.


Meanwhile, in a  small overlooked Southern French village, two innocent chairs are about to fall victim to exhaust-pipe attack.

Friday 14 December 2018

Phase number 25? Misplaced post

Oh. I'm in the process of going back over all old posts and amending the appalling spelling/grammar, etc, as I want to make a blog-book. This post was from about nine years ago and has time-travelled to the 14th of December 2018. I don't know how to move it back so, this bit of history will stay here.

For the boy person, or maybe not really boy anymore, there have been major changes over the summer and he has grown up a lot. Walking to college he now keeps the obligitory distance from his mother as we approach the place; saying 'Its time for snugs (bedtime) is well out of the question and nick-names. Nope.

Note the parrot on computer.

Thursday 13 December 2018

Me at eighteen - or so

I remember the dress; it had come from a jumble sale a few weeks before and was being worn for the first time for the wedding of my boyfriend's sister (I think). Odd, but I can recall nothing at all of the day, just the getting ready to go and wondering vaguely what it would be like to marry Andrew and inherit his family.
A few months later, I'd gone on to art college and they'd sailed for Australia so the vague wonderings never became more than that . . . Probably a good thing.
I googled him once, just out of curiosity to see where he's ended up in life, in fact, I've just opened up another page and had a look again, and  . . . think I found him. CEO of some wealth management fund. Wow. Somewhat different direction from an art foundation course in Bournemouth, if it is him. I would swear it was his nose - rather a fine example of one, but the rest, hmm . . .
Some people look almost the same as I recall them from at art college - friend Ray, for example, give him a 1980s shaggy wig and yep - same person.
If we could time-travel . . . to slip into my eighteen-year old skin for a day and recall what the day was actually like.
In fact, that's the subject of my latest 'work in progress', a novel called (at the moment, anyway) The Panto-horse end. The story of a woman who meets her demise while filling in for someone as the back end of a pants horse. After arriving in 'Pendingville' she is invited to visit various stages of her life, to reflect on her mistakes before possibly going on to Heaven, back to Earth - but not necessarily as herself - or to another place called Perpetuania.

An extract:

The lino tiles were dirty. Surely in a hospital, hygiene would have been a priority? 
   Marion suddenly wondered why she was staring at the floor anyway. Sitting up, she found she couldn’t. She stood instead, but as a human T-square. Her shoes were missing, tights splashed with dark stains. Hobbling around in a circle, she strained her head upwards looking for signs of hospital activity. Nothing.
   Along the corridor a few yards away sat an elderly man in a brown suit. Marion advanced slowly towards him. He turned at her approach and nodded a hello.
   “What were tha doing at th’ point then, lass?”
   “The point?”
   “When tha ceased to be, like.”
    “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.”
   “Aye, Southerners often find me accent a bit hard ‘ont ears.”
   “No, not that. You said, ceased to be.”
   “Oh, aye . . . when tha left t’ Earth.”
   Marion studied the creased old face. She must have stumbled into the psychogeriatric ward. His brown, watery eyes looked back at her with compassion, and he shook his head as his gaze fell to her waist.
   She followed his eye-line and saw the cloying stain centered around gashed fabric. With shaking fingers she investigated further. A wound gaped: fleshy pinkness, wet . . . things. The sword?
    The old man regarded her calmly. “Tha’d be reason then. Knife were it?”
   Marion tried to straighten up, but the panto horse shape stuck. Somehow, she felt calm: shock of course.
   “Sword, actually.”
   “Oh. Tha’d be from further back then, duck. Them clothes look right modern though.”
   “There be all sorts in ‘ere, from all over time, like.”
   Marion eyed him warily; poor old sod, wandering mind . . . like her uncle.
   “Where’s the matron of this ward?” she asked. “Did you see who brought me in here?”
   “Matron? You just appeared like they all do . . . Fiiiizt, splat.”
   “Fiiiizt, splat . . .” 
   “Aye. One minute, empty corridor, next, person wriggling on’t floor.”
   Marion opted for a grubby orange chair next to the old man. This was obviously going to take some time, but what about the wound? Why wasn’t she on an operating table already?
    “Why are you here, then. . .”
   “Bill,” he said, and stuck out a veiny hand. Marion clasped it briefly: cold, really cold as if he was . . . dead.
   “Marion. So . . .”
   “Oh, aye. Sorry, forget what I’m about t’ say sometimes. I’m on parole, well, guidance, if tha likes.”
   Images of her new acquaintance, masked and pointing a trembling gun at a post office worker filled Marion's mind.
   “What did you do?”
   “It’s what I have to do, still . . . t’ get back.”
    “I don’t follow you.”
    He wheezed gently as he looked at her. 
    “I died. Fell off a cliff at Whitby and ended oup ‘ere. They said if I work though my life’s sins and make good, I can go back . . . to Marge.” He sighed and scratched an ear. “S’pect she misses me. Well I ‘ope so – mind, that Reg Sutcliffe were always lurking about, waiting for me t’ keel over.”
    As Marion sought through the spaghetti of questions in her head, a door opened further up the corridor. A woman leant out, clipboard in hand.
   “Marion, . . .” the head bent as she checked the board, “Smith. This way please.” She disappeared back into the room and the door thunked shut.
   The old man patted Marion’s hand. 
   “Off y’ go, Love. Just tell them the truth. It’s quicker that way.”
   Rocking herself forward, Marion stood clumsily, and made her way towards the door with the grace of an arthritic speed-skater.
    At her knock, the door opened and the woman ushered her in. Marion lifted her gaze as high as she could and looked around the room as the woman checked for something in a filing cabinet. 
   She had expected some sort of clinical office with a medical poster or two; this couldn't have been more different. The room’s 1970s orange wallpaper was part sunlight-faded to beige; flies buzzed about a macramé lampshade and ancient cupboards towered, a mess of papers sprawling from their doors.
    “Take a seat, Mrs Smith,” said the woman, now seated behind the desk. She had found a file and was inspecting its contents, a small frown on her freckled face. Marion carefully lowered herself into the chair, removing a friesian-coated cat as she did so. The animal stood blinking and flicking its tail, before turning reproachful green eyes towards Marion.
   Marion stared as words struggled to form.
   Slapping the file to the desk, the woman scooped up the animal and deposited it outside the office door.
    “Room five hundred. Now! Sorry about that,” she said, on returning. “He was doing quite well, really, considering he wanted to come back as a Persian.”
   “To come back?”
   The pale blue eyes regarded her steadily. 
   “He was run over on London’s Tottenham Court Rd – life number nine. Did you not realise we deal with animals too, up here?”
    “Up here?”
    A small sigh escaped the thin lips: “The after-life. Now, if we can move on? I have two other cases to deal with before lunchtime.”
    A memory inched its way into Marion’s steaming mind: herself aged about five, pulling at Father’s sleeve as he read a newspaper.
   “Mmm, what, Tinky girl.”
   “Where do we go when we die?”
    He had lowered the paper and turned those deep grey eyes on her. 
   “Heaven, if you are a good person, Hell, if you are bad.”
   “Where is Heaven?”
   After pointing vaguely in the direction of the attic, he had raised the paper again: information complete and child dealt with.
   Marion became aware that thin lips was speaking.
    “I said, you are presently in Pendingville.”
   “Did you not receive the pink form?” The lips pursed. “These staff sometimes . . .”  She pulled a sheet of paper from a drawer and slipped it front of Marion. “Here.” 
   Marion must have misheard the Heaven bit, and Pendingville was some satellite New Town near Bracknall or somewhere.
   “Is this the general hospital?”
   The woman appeared not to hear, busy with the file.   
   Marion lowered her eyes, trying to take in the words on the paper. 

    Welcome. Please read the following to insure your passage into Heaven will be as trouble free as possible. Fill in all blank spaces, sign and date. You will be assigned a guidance officer during your initial briefing.

    “Why am I not actually in Heaven?” asked Marion, as she allowed the surreal words to imbed themselves in her mind, pushing out the hospital idea. 
   “You have certain issues that need to be addressed,” said the doctor as she stood up and crossed the room. “Also. There are other factors which need explanation.”
   Reaching up, she grasped a toggle and pulled; a rolled-up chart rattled into place. 
   “Right,” she continued, tapping the poster with a biro. “Here, is Earthly life,” she traced the pen up to the top. “Heaven . . . and down here, Hell.” The pen moved opposite Earthly life. “And here . . . Purgatory, or Pendingville as we renamed it. The Boss thought it needed to be a little less . . . Gothic. Of course, there are other destinations but we’ll explain about that later.”
   “How long will I have to be here?” asked Marion, wincing as her back started to complain at the unusual angle.
    “After my brief look at your details, I would say about six Earthly months.”
   Marion’s hazy mind cleared. “Six months! But what about doing the house up? The kitchen’s about to be refurbished.”
    The woman put up a hand to stop the anxious flow.
    “Mrs Smith. You are at stage one – acceptance of the fact that you are in fact, dead. Your kitchen is no longer of any importance.” 

Sunday 2 December 2018

If sun-loungers could talk

Left: "Bollock's innit. Y' sit out there - rain, sun, blizzards 'n shit, puttin' up viv all shapes and sizes then soon as y' get a bit manky, that's it. Bastards. Could 'ave repaired me back leg - bit 'a gaffer tape, a hose-down, job's a good'n."

Middle: "Oh, I don't know . . . one can get a little tired of the pool-crowd - continually being splashed with Prosecco and Ambre Solaire, and, quite honestly, I could have done with occasionally being left to get a tad manky. Bleach does such appalling things to one's epidermis."

Right: "Uh? Sorry. Miles away. I was just remembering the afternoon when the swingers came. Should have seen the water - surf's up! and the mess afterwards . . . Course, I experienced it first-hand you might say. Any of you ever had a threesome occurring on your slats?

Far right "Oh, shut up."

Monday 26 November 2018

A step back in time

While in Dorset visiting Mum, my friend had kindly booked us a night in a Swanage hotel - mainly so we could walk the coastal paths, draw and yak to a great extent, but very sadly she couldn't make it at the last moment. So, I went on my own as refused to reimburse her . . . Bastards.
Anyway, I'd never been to Swanage, despite living in the county for some years, and a small break from the hours drinking tea, listening to surreal phrases and filling in photo albums with Mum was a welcome, if I'm honest, prospect.
A rain-laden wind was hacking its way around the buildings as I got off the bus, forcing me to explore the town's cafés, my favourite being an untouched-by-time bakery/eatery on the seafront with old pine tables, misted sea-view windows and more unhealthy food that you could shake a toasted tea-cake at.



I had a pastie and wrote poetic rubbish while half-listening to various local's conversations about groins (beach), landslides and Christmas, after which the rain eased off (love this expression) and I was able to go out and explore the almost people-less town.


Swanage has an atmosphere of still being in the 60s, somehow. Perhaps it was the old shop fronts, untampered with from the 20s, 30s and 60s, with occasional 70s and 80s makeovers, hardly any chain shops (hurrah) except Oxfam book shop (excellent) and Smiths (horrible, as they all are). I did all the charity shops, walked along the sea front, up into the backstreets and marvelled at the curve of the bay and huge cliff face jutting out into the ocean.
I was surprised that the tourist office didn't have lashings of Enid Blyton's works as apparently she used to holiday and write there, and there was no 'writer's trail', mention of where she stayed etc; maybe it's more of a summer thing.
Actually, I just checked and found that she often stayed in The Grand Hotel where I went in search of food the same evening after checking the scarily expensive menu of my hotel. I hope she experienced better nourishment than I did - a very odd long, white platter containing a veritable mattress of undressed salad and a trail of packet and jar seafoods . . .

Back to the day - After my coat could absorb no more rain, I walked up to the hotel and found my room which was cleaner than bleach, bland and featureless but with a stunning sea view and A BATH!
Aforementioned meal eaten at rival hotel, I read, watched a bit of TV, had wonderful bath and fell asleep lulled by the sound of crashing waves and strange plumbing noises.
Nine hours sleep! Unheard of.
I woke to a slightly calmer day and the sun rising between clouds casting intermittent silver rays over the sea.
My coat was a little dryer so I donned it (and other clothes) and walked out to the coastal path and onto the beginning of the rounded, treeless hills, rather reminiscent of the Yorkshire dales and similarly dotted with sheep and lowing cows.



                                                      The house I would rather like . . . 

Back for breakfast - excellent buffet, heavy on the fruit options which was great but my choice of Eggs Benedict was nasty to say the least - cold white muffin, chunks of cold ham, rubbery egg and gloopy yellow . . . stuff which tasted like emulsion. Maybe that was the recipe, followed faithfully.

I packed my bag and walked back into town, this time along the coast path as the waves were less ferocious and explored further; took tea in a 1920s bakery which had undergone an interior re-fit in the early 80s but still had the beautiful original shop-front with metal lettering and art deco glass windows, and absently-mindedly looked in a few estate agent shop windows.
Well, if Brexit happens, the French government fails, and the right get in, I/we might get thrown out and have to re-consider life on the rock. Swanage? Probably not. But most interesting for a day's investigation, thinking time, drawing, writing and appreciating that some places have the courage to stay as they are and not succumb to Starbucks, Nero's, Subway and all the rest of it . . .


                                           The house we probably could afford (35,000 pounds!)


Friday 23 November 2018

Different species of humans

Yesterday, after listening to a fairly typical adversarial slanging exchange from the house of commons I walked down the hill to visit Mum in her nursing home. The hate and smugly rehearsed retorts still in my mind, I entered the home and discovered it was one of the volunteer activities-lady days.
I greeted Mum, who asked me where I had come from as if I had green skin and antenna, then sat down to watch the activities commence.
This lady is a marvel. She has been coming to the home as a volunteer for seventeen years. Seventeen years! Without pay, because she wants to help brighten the lives of elderly people. And she does. On non-activity days, the sitting room is a sea of blue carpet dotted with the individual boats of plastic-y upholstered chairs each containing a mostly silent home-inhabitant waiting for the next cup of tea.
I'm not saying the staff don't care - they do, but there isn't much time to anything more than wheel or hoist the residents to the loo or pass on a few bright words before having to move on to the next necessity.
While I helped her round up spongy, brightly-coloured balls, arrange hoops and re-locate a bean-bag target practice I thought back to the House of Commons; to the seats full of heckling MPs and bitching heads of government/apposition who are supposed to be to be 'looking after the interests' of the British People. Do any of them really care? Or is it just about power and personal political positioning?
It seems to me that we could do with more people in power who actually have an interest in helping fellow humans; like our activities lady - no judgement, no questions, just a genuine desire to make things better for other people.

Tuesday 20 November 2018

Christmas, train delays and enforced socialising.

Sorry, another (minor) rant, but I am feeling somewhat jaded by a four hour unintentional wait in Alton and Woking due to disruptions on the Waterloo line.
Woking . . . never had the pleasure, or otherwise, to investigate the town centre so am doing so in a slightly dispirited way due to dragging suitcase around and feeling nasty from possible take-away tea poisoning.


                                Rather worrying sculpture in Woking's shopping district

Lots of usual UK high street shops, many, many chain restaurants, small plastic potted christmas trees suspended from shop fronts, the biggest Superdrug I've ever seen containing vast swathes of sparkly landfill and, Poundland. I have just spent five minutes looking vaguely at phone charges as I failed to pack one for my travels but can't imagine that something electronic costing a pound would actually work so have bought one from a bored-looking youth sitting on a stool at one of those shopping-mall 'islands' of more stuff that's not actually in a shop - whatever they are called. An open-air shop? except it's in shopping mall air.


                                                                 Do I have to . . .

Brexit has forced Christmas even more into the spotlight this year. There's a palpable air of festive desperation in the shops - let's forget the political chaos and forge ahead with total green, red and gold indulgence. Plan your perfect Christmas lunch, tree, TV watching schedule. Do it all NOW. Except the shops appear somewhat deserted - at three o'clock in the afternoon I would have thought they'd be under shopping-siege.

Finally, back on a train.
The youth assured me the charger would work, and indeed so far it does plug into the phone but there's no plug socket on this now-delayed train to try it out with. Ah. Train is moving. Everyone is settling down with tablets, computers and crisps happy in the knowledge that finally we will be reaching our destinations.
Nope. We have arrived in Eastleigh and are now apparently stuck behind a broken down freight train.
An hour later.
The freight train is irreparable. We are all being asked to get out and wait until something else happens. A feeling that I am in some weird purgatory has mantled itself about me. I will be forced to live out this afternoon of Woking-exploration and investigation of Eastleigh station. Forever.
I have joined a queue in Platform two's café where a slight air of rioting over the remaining sausage rolls is noticeable.
No - wait. News of a train that might be going to Bournemouth. Mass surge over to the Cross-Country train (different train company - Please, please, France DO NOT privatise!!!) I squish on with everyone else and we wait in the corridor next to the loo which looks surprisingly like a bad Dr Who set. Eventually the train moves, and, as humans do in times of minor chaos, start interacting.
The woman next to me and her friend have both just taken their girls up to perform in a dance event at the ex-millenial Dome. Another woman has been to stay with her daughter in Islington, and another a shopping trip to London. We chat about trains, the new Queen film, joke about the loo door swishing open as various of us make use of the facilities, and it's . . . nice! I borrow one of their phones as mine has died, blag some water from another, sweets are passed around and eyebrows raised at the young couple engaged in passing the time without talking . . .
If the shared train mess-ups hadn't happened we'd have all been sitting silently prodding away at screens, safe in our own individual spheres.
An hour later at Bournemouth, two of the women and me are going to share a cab. We find one, carry on talking, now about London and the cabbie joins in at my mention of Muswell Hill.
He: "I was born there."
Me: "No . . . so was I!
When the other ladies get out we continue reminiscing over life in Muswell hill, our respective schools, lidos, that sort of early concentrated orange juice, the first Sainsburys on the Broadway, Saturday morning pictures at the Odean, cafés, pet shops, the view over the rest of London at night . . . When he drops me we realise our mothers followed exactly the same life-pattern - leaving London to start a new life in Wimborne, only a couple of roads from each other . . .
We exchange a last few 'wow, weird' comments, he gets my case out and I gratefully enter my cousins house to be welcomed with tea and suggestions of hot bath, soup and electric blanket. Things that might have seemed part of a faraway dream while waiting on Alton station's freezing platform nine hours ago.

Sunday 11 November 2018

Autumn walk on Armistice day.

We found this rather wonderful place a few months back - an unsung nature reserve of interlocking lakes and natural woodland. Long may it stay unsung as there are no cars, ice-cream vans or crowds. It's not mentioned as a place to visit at our local tourist office and the vague attempts at fencing suggest whoever owns it would rather people stayed out.
Today it was exceptionally beautiful in the autumn sun: majestic tree reflections in the calm water, a new carpet of gold and yellow leaves and many water birds including herons, moorhens, winter-sheltering cormorants and a colony of white egrets.
Also, wonderful to see was a veritable village of bee-hives which we had to pass (gingerly) a few bees lazily buzzing around their respective edifices. I don't know whether this place might have been ex-gravel pits or is a series of natural lakes but I think it will become a regular haunt through the different seasons.



                                                                      Egret colony


          And as if a quiet reminder of what this day commemorates - a field of autumn sunflowers we passed on the way to the lakes.

Friday 9 November 2018


Christmas rant time.

8th of November and our local BIG supermarket already has all the festive calories well on display. I tried to find last years rant and can't but I'm sure it was nowhere near this early.


           Cardboard Big Ben of After Eights - or, some creepy and messianic battleship Galactica?

So, After Eight Mints are dominating the territory this year in this particular shop - maybe some ironic statement on Brexit? I just looked up where After Eights (Nestlé) are actually made and was surprised to find they are still manufactured on British soil - Halifax and not within the scary-looking Swiss Nestlé plant somewhere on the edge of Lac Leman.
Hurrah for British products and come the great cutting of the umbilical cord from the EU mother ship (Hopefully Not!!!) at least that will be one export the rest of the world will be raving to buy. Except A 8 mints are obviously as British as Alpine horns, Muesli and Helvetica Font are.


What I found so extra-weird was there were actually people fondling packs of NEW Christmas A 8 special editions: strawberry and mint, cat-liver and gravel flavour, etc, and then placing them in their trolleys. In early November.
Why not some heavy seasonal marketing on Butter Nut squash, VitC-providing citrus fruit, hearty soup ingredients? Well, obviously not quite the same money-raking-in as cruise-ship size display of chocolate from basically one manufacturer.
It's all so sad. Could be quite exciting in a twisted, consumerist way if none of this was allowed until say the 15th of December. Imagine the mayhem as shoppers climbed the wavering cardboard display stands, hurling tens of boxes of Nestle soft-centres into the hands of their waiting family members and/or already bulging trolleys.
Oo. I'm quite cross today. Think I'll head out into the rain for a dog walk then come back and eat some of Mark's home-made pumpkin pie.

Tuesday 6 November 2018

The lowest point, climbing back up and the occasional usefulness of mosquitos.

I never thought I would say this but, last night a mosquito saved my life (to the tune of 'last night a DJ saved my life'). Well, not exactly - saved my life, but turned the positivity back on.
It's been a crappy couple of weeks due to emotional things; too many articles read on the looming chasm of crap humanity seems to be peering into; Brexshit, Trump, and the final straw, a feature on the fact that the Box Moth, which has destroyed just about all of our indigenous Box trees is now moving on to Cypress trees/hedging. Added to the fact that I had the worst cold/possible flu I've had for years, well I was feeling fairly grotty.
After trying to get to sleep for two hours I was just dropping into a cocoon of warmth and drowsiness when I heard a noise that shouldn't be present in early November - a mosquito looking for a last blood feast before? dying? hibernating? feeding up the next batch of offspring? I whacked the air around my head for a while, as one does then got up knowing my sleep had well and truly been disturbed. I stood in the bathroom for a moment looking at my groggy reflection and then started laughing. The final absurdity. The lowest point. Then I knew it had to be time to find the metal rungs stuck into the side of the mental well and start climbing.
This morning, the vile cold is well entrenched - possibly flu (three jumpers on, hot water bottle trapped in the layers and I'm still shivering but the gloom seems to have moved off along with the rain that poured last night.
Such a strange thing the mind. I'm lucky to have one that generally springs back to half glass full after any bad times. It might be a trigger of a walk, a bit of digging the garden, a kind email, or the fact that Nigel Farage only had a vote of 18% confidence on a Britain-wide survey/Channel 4 survey I saw earlier this morning while doing the washing up. Whatever . . . it's good to feel I'm back in my own personal leak-free (mostly) boat and rowing the right way.


Saturday 3 November 2018


Spot the difference.

The Lorax, by the inspirational Dr Seuss was first published in 1971 and is apparently one of many banned children's books in the USA - too subversive, the wrong message, anti-consumerism. I think he had incredible powers of observation, possibly the ability to see into the future?

We must have read The Lorax to our son Ezra about two hundred times and we/he never tired of it. In the early 90s the message was all too clear especially for someone like me, being involved in the shoddy world of advertising as a stylist.
I worked with companies who produced the equivalent of Thneeds - useless, of-the-moment items that would be produced in sweat shops to then be added to land-fill as soon as the interest wore off/the items broke/or were deemed to be 'so last year' or actually, month, more likely.
I've just read a review of the Lorax film. The story, from this account would have poor Seuss weeping in his grave - sugary, pathetically unfunny jokes all the way through, the message lost under a whumph of Hollywood 'business as usual'.
The book should be brought back and be issued as standard early-school reading along with subjects such as: where food actually comes from, how to cook it; how to garden and nurture food-plants, how to reuse what you have, and how to adapt to a possibly very near world where what colour your next smart phone will be is of absolutely no consequence.

Sunday 28 October 2018

In my next life...

I'd like to be a musician, or possibly a dancer. If, we get a choice in such things, and I do believe in some hopeful, abstract way that one's soul might return to this wonderful and messed-up place we call The Earth.
I think I've been a reasonably good person, so far - at least enough not to return as a dung-beetle, a leech or a self-obsessed, narcissistic, country-ruining politician. Hopefully.
Over the years I've photographed my incredibly talented (I am allowed to say that, even though I am British, as it's true) pianist husband in his various groups. Working at a Conservatoire now, he has been fortunate to meet several wonderful fellow musicians and I've visually recorded them all, with various degrees of success. I have a degree in photography but also have an inbuilt tendency to feel fear at any sign of new technology, so the workings of my Canon have been mysterious for a long time.
So, yes. Being a musician. I have been, to a very small extent - sang in a rock band, played snare in a samba group, but to really have that deep musical knowledge I regard through the lens as I snap away at their postures and expressions, suspended somewhere in another world of music, is something else.
Which instrument in this imagined new life would I choose? Probably the cello, or double bass, maybe a bass bassoon. Something with a woody resonance that creeps through into your core. Alas, in this life, I'll probably have to make do with singing a few covers, or perhaps my own stuff - novels and songs. Why not?
Here's a bit of a blues song written years ago when Ezra, aged about four (now twenty) became obsessed with train journeys. and asked me if we could go on that Dirty Train to Wallsall. I presume we must have been standing around in Birmingham New Street at the time. Can't recall now.

I'm on a dirty, dirty, dirty train to Walsall, a dirty, dirty train to Walsall.
Man, it is so far and there ain't no restaurant car, I'm on a dirt, dirty, dirty train to Walsall.
Lord, I'd give my soul for a hot bacon and tomato roll, I'm on a dirty, dirty, dirty train to Walsall,
etc, sung in a mournful blues façon.

Anyway, back to the real thing and here's some photos of Mark playing with talented colleagues: flautist, Julie and percussionist, Julian; and in another group, Viola player, Yesault.

And possibly my favourite photo: Mark, Yseult and dancer, Yuko.

Sunday 21 October 2018

Bonjour, Toulouse!

Yeah well, it wasn't exactly the same numbers as the London Stop-Brexit rally but a few of us Brits in Southern France got together and with permission, bien sur, of Toulouse Mairie, were allowed to make our own small version in the main square.
A few hundred leaflets handed out, much tweeting/Face-booking, and poster holding later we acknowledged it had been worth doing. All the French who had stopped and talked with us were either for Britain remaining within the EU, or happy to discuss the subject, sometimes not really knowing much about it.
The poster announcing that London is officially recognised as the Fifth biggest French city, just before Nice, was read many times with many very raised eyebrows.
No one told us to get off back to the rock and apart from one bloke on a bicycle who methodically made one of the A5 leaflets into a paper aeroplane, curled his lip slightly and threw the dart at us, there was no animosity, no slavering Frexiteers, just polite and supportive interest.


I knew there was a reason I kept the Carnaval hat.

Saturday 13 October 2018

Permaculture and making soil

As an antidote all the crushingly depressing news surrounding us on all media, I opted for re-exploring the subject of Permaculture; something I find fascinating and hope-inspiring.
A few Youtube videos later I felt encouraged to attack our summer parched garden. I'd already made heaps of cuttings from various attempts at an autumn cut-back and had been considering where to have a large bonfire without setting fire to any trees.

Supposing I didn't do a bonfire, let alone several? Or drive a car load of green stuff to the tip.

After watching one truly amazing gardener dumping all his green vegetation along with cardboard, paper, kitchen waste, pine needles, etc etc, I emulated this - not very correctly - but with what I had.
The idea is to not disturb the soil by much digging and turning but to add moisture and rotted down plant material so that you actually leave new soil to develop as the debris gradually breaks down.

The more serious Permaculturists - if that is a word - do a lot more preparation than I did; one guy driving to his local forest, felling semi-rotten trees, hauling them back and burying them in trenches and then covering it all with grass cuttings, leaves, compost, etc, etc.

In a piece he had prepared earlier (hello, Blue Peter) he planted young lettuce plants within the foliage mulch and you could practically see them starting to grow enthusiastically. His garden was a truly beautiful tapestry of plants, vegetables and fruit trees. Ours is a windswept, ragged thing with some nice bits I've managed to keep watered enough over the very long, hot dry summer. It'll be an interesting experiment to see if my mulching attempts bear fruit, or at least potatoes bigger than marbles.

Another film I saw was called Greening the Desert. Geoff Lawton 's extraordinary project has taken some of the driest desert spots in the world and has turned them into living, green spaces. The before and afters are incredible: literally sandblasted areas of rock made into functioning food-producing gardens. So, if it can be done on an inland desert I should be able to improve our Southern France patch of land.

Wednesday 10 October 2018

Air surfing

I often wonder whether birds really register happiness when flying - like we do when say being propelled along by waves, sliding down a snowy hillside on a sledge or parachuting - not something I've tried...
Today, during a very windy dog walk in hillsides above our town I was sure of it.
The large colony of crows that inhabit the forest on one of the higher hills were all out from the trees this early dusk: diving, swirling, rolling on and in the thermals and gusts of wind. I've often seen them flying sedately from one perch to another, cawing to each other. This was so different. Unless I was reading it inaccurately - and who are we to really know - it just looked like a totally fun bit of time with no great reason other than the pure pleasure of flying.


Friday 5 October 2018

Brilliant Brexit information

The hothouse blog doesn't usually enter the world of politics much - it's not that I don't care, it's just I like rambling on about other things.

However, having immersed myself at some fathoms lately in the Youtube ocean, Brexit has become a total fascination - and horror. I use to watch the odd video - a Ted Talk, a documentary about plants, space, permaculture, animals - all sorts, however, over the last few weeks my viewing, or rather listening while I do household stuff has become about 80% Brexit issues-orientated.

We're always within history being made, if that makes sense, but this feels so bald, so utterly real, so incredibly . . . stupid.

Being a speculative fiction writer a lot of my brain is occupied with future possible worlds; probably half of me exists in 2072's London after some massive internet breakdown has occurred. Which, I do feel is highly likely at some point - goodbye blog. There are reasons I feel compelled to get this into a book form . . .

We have so many greater issues to worry about than wether Britain can scoop back some warped idea of its great past, the main one being, how we might as a race, continue to survive if we keep abusing this planet at such a rate. We are so much more likely to find answers and make a difference if we work together, not fractioning ourselves off and possibly encouraging other countries to do the same. Why was the European Union set up anyway? Largely to prevent further wars breaking out.

We are totally interwoven into Europe - maybe it's not perfect in all ways but only a peek into some real information reveals how protected the small grey rock actually is, and what the Hell will happen if we try to undo all this complex knitting of rules and structure that has been put together over many decades.

Above, one of many excellent videos made by Graham Hughes - Three Blokes in a Pub, featuring himself; the amazingly informed, Jason Hunter, and various guest speakers, all of whom have been fascinating to listen to and are experts in their own fields - if you like this, find the video featuring the medical scientist. Such knowledge!

If information like this had been available at the time of that choice, I feel the government might have been actually using the wasted time to address things that really need addressing and several billions could have been saved for schools, the health service, renewable energy technology, countering pollution . . . If anyone out there still has doubts about what might be beyond the potential cliff edge, binge-watch these well-researched and generously-offered films.

A link here to help them continue their work.

Monday 1 October 2018

a nice cup of tea

Funny how drinks can taste so different according to where you are and what you are drinking them out of.
The cup of tea below was partaken of in a small roadside bar about half an hour from home after an incredibly long journey on many small back roads.
It was only Yellow Label - the tea you dig out when all other tea possibilities have been exhausted, BUT, after a six hour drive, and drunk out of a wonderfully chunky hotel-ware cup, with lorries zipping past it was pure heaven.
I would have done the boring motorway route from Bordeaux after re-installing the lad (see last post) back into his art school life and flat, but as part of the back bumper seemed to be flapping off the car, and, being a story-inventing type person, I could see the thing finally detaching itself to crunch into someone's windscreen - not good. So, after a brief look at a massive scale map, and as usual, not gauging distances, I set off across country and got lost, and re-realised how long driving on small roads does take, especially as French road speeds how now been dropped to 80 from 90 kms per hour.

Still, I saw many wonderful things such as a newly planted forest, unsung and beautiful village churches, llamas, donkeys, distant vistas of the pyrenees, a man walking a pig on a lead, Toulouse-brick pigeon houses, newly ploughed undulating fields, wind-ruffled lakes, and all the different architecture of each region I passed through, rather than three lanes of traffic and the occasional road bridge.
Also, I avoided all dismal motorway service places and stopped in a small grey stone town called Lectore I had visited on the lad-dropping off trip last year. It seemed the same, and I did pretty much the same thing - had a drink and wrote him a letter - something we forget to do back at home when normal life encroaches.
So, despite a sore-ish back, I'm glad I took the longer, slower route. It gave me time to reflect on the happy summer time we spent with the lad, our respective projects to be started in this new phase of the year, appreciation of the landscape I was passing though, and the realisation of just how good a cup of tea really can taste.

Wednesday 26 September 2018

The turning year

Difficult to imagine now but it was exactly a year ago we were slowly packing up our son's home-life to transfer it a few hours Westwards to Bordeaux - guitars, paints, clothes, flat-pack bed, pots, pans, etc.
This year it's a lot easier - a lot less kitchen equipment and a few more guitars.
I'm aware of a slight hovering melancholia but NOTHING like last time when it had felt as if we were winding up our parent lives too. A bit, 'err, what now . . .' Tons of stuff of course, work, writing projects, music, but a palpable sense of 'well, we've done our bit in this human existence-thing' was certainly present as we loaded the car, and hugely present as I had returned with the car, empty.
It's been a long and happy summer with the lad having slotted comfortably back into the family life almost as if he had never gone away. But now it's time for him to reconnect with friends and re-learn the arts of hand-washing socks, stretching food-budgets and living in a tiny space - as it should be.
He'll return however every few weeks or so with a foetid bag of linen and graze solidly stocking up on nourishment, and we shall look forward to that.
I was talking to a newish friend recently about the parent/offspring uni/work separation thing and how traumatic we had found it. She had leaned back against her kitchen dresser and rolled her eyes.
    "Christ, I couldn't wait for them to go! - both of them."
    "Really," I had said, slightly amazed at the fervour in her voice.
    "Y-es! Got my life back!"
I suppose in some ways that might be true - a few less meals to provide, less washing, less nagging about stuff, although these days he's realised that being adult does mean a certain responsibility and sharing of jobs - the emptying of the compost bin, no longer an annoying thing to try and get out of, washing up is just part of life, etc.
What else. Err, stuff does stay cleaner. And . . . Nothing really. He's great to have around. We laugh, walk dogs, cook and discuss life, politics and reenact bits of Tim Vine/Spaced/Black Books.
Yes. I will miss him again but not quite to that same visceral degree.


                                           Happy new term-time, lad of ours.

Tuesday 18 September 2018

A genuinely brilliant bit of acting

So much sex/romance in films is so robotic and un-erotic. I was quite transfixed by this performance - feel the chemistry!

Couldn't find a good clip in English but, hey! equally arresting . . .

Friday 7 September 2018

Small London wanderings

Very much restricted wanderings this time as I only had part of a day to explore my home town.

I arrived at my Air B and B at midnight - five hours after I said I would, due to a four-hour delayed flight and another hour standing around at Stansted airport with about two hundred other people all also wondering where their baggage had got to.
Luckily, the very lovely host was totally understanding, made me tea, asked what I was doing in London and showed me - after making me a hot-water bottle - to my lodgings - a beautiful garden shed. Actually, not a shed - more a recycled wood cabin with found 30s windows and tea-chest interior cladding.


I don't think I have slept better for months.
I lay there thinking how odd it was to be in a small wooden house in a Clapton garden within this vast throbbing city, and how really quiet it was and then I was out for eight hours - unheard of!

After my agent meeting the following day, I returned to the shed, had a rest, read one of Mark Haddon's short stories (excellent) and then walked a very, very long way and got lost (no GPS, thank you!) but it was an interesting getting lost, mainly around the Hackney Marshes area and ending up at a pub called The Approach near Victoria Park where a lot of my novel is set.
I met up with friend, Sophie, and we discussed life generally before yawning into our drinks and deciding that our respective sleeping places were calling.


The interior of a wonderful café called 'The Tram Stop' somewhere between Clapton and Hackney

The Hackney Empire. Somehow, I've never seen this/these buildings before! One of a few architectural symbiosis of old and new that, to my mind, works.


The Mighty St Leonard's Church, (from a bus) home of my Character, Hoxton.


                               Beauty salon on Kingsland Road.


One of a billion or so overlooked door and window lintel decorations in London

I'm not sure why I photographed these two edifices but I just liked their air of silent resignation to the next bit of decay and graffiti; respectively sitting under about 150/60 years of drizzle watching human-progress - or not.

Global-warming evidence near the Hackney Marshes. A very happy olive tree.


Top of bus-shelter debris. I saw quite a few surprising things on the bus from Hackney to Covent Garden - a credit card, shoes, a sandwich, books, glasses . . . Thrown up there from the street, or from the bus, passing biplane . . .
This bungee-rope must have been there for a decade or so judging by the moss that surrounded it. I once started a short-story about a man who lived on a bus-shelter roof. I might continue it.


                                           A tiny building which must be mostly a fireplace


                                    A wistful bulldog


Interesting bit of modern architecture encompassing London yellow brick, steel and glass.

A magnificent drinking fountain in Victoria Park - I loved the way the trickle has been designed to enter the little oval pool with a groove so the water returns to the base. And the pebbles! Wow.

A slice of rails, woodwork, ironwork, cables, brick and tenacious buddleias growing from wall-cracks

And back to the airport. I'm sure the duty free bit has expanded again to feature further meters of people thrusting bits of perfume-saturated white card at you; and even more chocolate/tea/booze and useless plastic crap than you can shake an advertising exec at.

There's always a spotlight area for a certain product halfway through the D-Free bit - last time I think it was Toblerone, and before that M and Ms? The current Giorgio Armani installation was rendered somewhat ludicrous by the 'no climbing' sign on the pretend boat-gangway.

I bought a small tin of Earl Grey as a congrats present for my son passing his driving test, avoided everything else, ate a very nice black-bean thing in Leon and settled down with a pot of tea to write my meeting notes out - just another member of the huge human colony perched on seats and taking Instagram pictures of their meals. We are a strange lot.