Thursday, 23 February 2017



Cranky's 'Kidling' has asked us to put something up which makes us smile, in memory of his mother who died on February 6th. Here's my one.

H.I. was thinking about her sister who also died recently, and remembered this plastic turtle which her sister's husband (also deceased) brought back from Germany after his stint doing National Service after the war. He thought his little sister in law would like it. She still does.

Wednesday, 22 February 2017

Someone to watch over you

Doris is on her way over. I wish I could welcome her from the cosy interior of a well-stocked Scottish bothie on a remote piece of high coastland, because she is bringing snow to them up there - well, blizzards apparently. She produces gusts of 80 mph I am told. That's what I call windy.

It occurred to me yesterday that I have a cold which has lasted all Winter. This has never happened to me before. It has gone on for four months now and because I know many people who have the same cold, I cannot decide if it is due to a particularly vicious microbe or the possibility that everyone's immune systems have been weakened by the appalling series of world events, culminating in the election of you-know-who. If the latter, then the cold may last for four years.

I had pneumonia when I was a child. It ceased to be life-threatening after a dose of anti-biotics delivered via a large needle into my arse. It came with a fever which lasted for one long night, during which I had many hallucinations and, when I was awake, produced bright, white rings of light behind my eyeballs when I coughed, and I coughed a lot.

Lawrie Lee's description of a childhood fever is the best I have ever read. In it, he describes faces appearing in the stained wallpaper of his little Slad bedroom as looking like 'gods gone mouldy'. Brilliant. I can see them now.

I had an experience during that long night which I will never, ever forget, and will never be persuaded that it was an hallucination.

By the side of my bed there was a chair which could be used for putting clothes on etc. At the height of my fever I awoke to see an old lady sitting on it, looking down on me and smiling. I did not recognise her, and it was only later that I thought of her as giving off light - she was glowing in the dark it seemed.

Ghosts are always depicted as glowing, but this is because your brain tells you that you are unable to see things in the dark, so you remember them as glowing. In fact, you just see things as if in normal light.

When I saw the old lady, I remember thinking that everything would be alright with her watching over me, and I slipped into a deep and dreamless sleep. In the morning, my fever had gone and I was well on the way to recovery.

It was my mother who suggested that the lady was my guardian angel.

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Cat got your tongue?

Hiroshima, 70 years ago. I could show you a lot more from a week ago.

What is the matter with us, that we cannot just understand that the children come first, and are entirely innocent of whatever adult conflicts destroy their families?

The older I get, the more I feel for the children of the world. We - or most of us - were so lucky.

Please, please, let's pass on some of that good fortune to the next generation, or is that too much to ask?

Monday, 20 February 2017


That is the trouble with ignoring all of your intelligence experts. You are forced to rely on your own limited intelligence!

I feel for half of the population of the USA right now - you mst be SO embarrassed.

Sunday, 19 February 2017


Do you remember a young person's book from the 1950s called, 'How Things Work'? Can you imagine a book with a title like that these days? Life used to be so simple.

Our family were not what you would call big readers. Father would read trashy cowboy books and Mother read bodice-rippers. We had no library in our large house and the closest thing to one was a small, glass fronted cabinet with a few hard-backs in it, chosen more for the appearance of the spines than the contents.

There was one heavy book in it called, 'The Home Doctor', and the nearest thing I got to a sex education was when one of my sisters suggested I should take a look at the part which covered reproduction. I did, and was none the wiser for it. I had to find out the hard way.

Another concept difficult to grasp in today's world is that of the travelling Encyclopedia Brittanica salesmen. They came to our house in the rich neighbourhood of Surrey on a regular basis and vainly attempted to pressure my father into believing that should he not sign up to collecting the volumes at a staggering cost of hundreds of pounds (paid in instalments over a period of years), he would be denying me a vital education and condemn me to failure in adult life. Maybe they had a point.

Aside from Oliver Cromwell's attitude toward the English literati, there is another reason why so few books remain from the 17th century. The fashion for shooting guns as a sport amongst the upper classes of the first quarter of the 18th century, coupled with the scarcity of plain paper, meant that the young men of the country houses which were grand enough to have a library would raid the books in them to tear out pages for use as wadding in the guns. You put the powder down the barrel, then some wadding, then the ball or shot, then some more wadding to stop the balls from rolling out of the end. One day's shooting party could get through quite a few books.

Samuel Pepys covertly admitted to ordering a copper-plate book of pornographic pictures which he burned in the fire out of guilt and shame after he had looked at it a few times. This book had to be ordered for printing and cost him a lot of money, but he was wealthy.

The next bit of desecration came in the 1960s, when dealers - and even anitquarian book-sellers - would carefully tear out the illustrative plates from 18th century books to mount and frame as pictures to be put onto walls. You still see them today, some hand-tinted with coloured ink, and they sell for next to nothing.

Years ago when Bath's public library was just over the road, I heard that an original first-edition of John Wood's 'History of Bath' was in the lending section there. Not the reference section where it should have been, but the lending one.

I went into the library and asked for it and to my amazement they went into a back room and returned with it. I signed for it and took it home in disbelief.

It is a wonderful and huge, leather-bound tome with great fold-out illustrations made by John Wood himself, and is of inestimable value. I spent a few days marvelling at it before putting it on the shelf with the rest of my books, then forgot about it for a couple of years.

One day it called to me from the dusty shelf and - saturated in guilt - I took it back to the library, fully expecting a massive fine along with a non-custodial sentence if I was lucky. I had to do the right thing.

"I'm sorry," I said as I placed the book onto the desk, "but I have had this book a very long time."

The librarian was speechless for a few moments, then she almost cried with joy, saying that I was exempt from all fines because they did not expect to ever see it again. I got the feeling that someone may have lost their job over my abuse of the system.

John Wood's original book is now under lock and key somewhere, and if you want to look at it they give you a pair of white gloves and lock you in the room with it. I have since bought a facsimile copy and it cost me about £150.

So my misdeed may have saved that book, and for that I feel strangely (and probably unjustifiably)  proud.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Cable-tie misery

I keep meaning to have a mini-rant about cable-ties.

They are such strong and useful things that they are over-used. The last time I used them was to attach H.I.'s banner to the railings outside her exhibition. They can withstand any wind and are also virtually vandal-proof against anyone who has not arrived armed with a stout pair of scissors.

They come in all lengths and thicknesses, and are now used by the police as emergency restraints to the wrists and ankles of violent felons.

As their name suggests, they were originally designed to securely bundle together lengths of cables in ducting or wherever, but - as with duct tape - were found to be very useful for all sorts of other applications, not least restraining elderly relatives. Duct tape can be used in conjunction with cable ties to prevent the elderly relatives from screaming for help. Another good use for duct tape is as a method of bikini-line waxing, but without the wax and at a fraction of the cost - so long as you forego local anaesthetic.

Local councils use them to attach notices of parking suspensions or planning applications to lamposts, but - and this is where the rant comes in - they NEVER cut off the spare 8 inches of plastic tie which sticks out from all four corners after the notice has been attached.

The person who takes the notices down when the event is over must be a different one to the person who puts them up, because he/she DOES have a pair of scissors or clippers to cut them off.

After he/she has cut them off - and this is where the rant gets heated - they are left on the pavement where they fell, probably because it is not in the person's remit to pick them up and dispose of them tidily. That is probably the job of the road-sweeper, or whatever they are called these days.

There. I have said it at last.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Jackson Pollock robot

There is an old, traditional paint shop here in Bath called Davies, where I think I might be able to buy some lime-fast pigment to colour some chalky white mortar which I will pipe into the joints of a tufa grotto with an icing bag. Yes, I really get paid to do this stuff.

If you don't use lime-fast pigments with natural lime, the colour can completely disappear overnight, and then I would not get paid for doing this stuff.

I was going into Bristol yesterday to get these pigments from a store which I have used for years, but because I was traveling in from the M4 side, I switched on my satnav to guide me through all the roads and roundabouts which have been built over the last few years.

It all went well until it told me to take a left to my destination when I was halfway over a section of M32 flyover which had been built after my satnav was programmed. That was when I gave up and carried on home to Bath on the A4.

My Garmin satnav is constantly telling me it needs an upgrade, and yesterday it made its point on the M32. An upgrade, they tell me, is simple. Just go to their website, plug in the device and download. The trouble is that it would cost £190 - more than a new satnav, and I always seem to have an alternative use for the £190.

The Davies paintshop is very Victorian in appearance, probably because - like the cobbler's boots - it hasn't been redecorated since 1890. Well not deliberately anyway. Some time in the late 1960s (I guess) it became fashionable to mix your own colours in-store, using a colour chart and various tints added to the can of blank paint.

The paint can is then bolted into the metallic jaws of a large machine which seems to be based on the 'bucking bronco' or bull-ride attractions that you sometimes find in Texan bars, because after the can has been bolted on, you stand well back and hit the switch. The jaws and can shake and shudder in an extremely violent, asymetrical, centrifugal paroxysm in order to mix the paint and tint thoroughly.

Over the years, it is obvious that there have been many occasions when the operator of Davies's machine has not made sure that the clamps have been properly and securely tightened, because the walls and floor within four feet of it are covered in thick layers of multi-coloured paint which has been spectacularly chucked around by the mixing robot before anyone could get near enough to switch it off.

You know that feeling of dread no-return as you start to enter an automated car-wash? I bet the paint mixing staff get the exact same twinge of fear when they turn it on.