Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Counting my blessings

So here I am on the last day of the year, counting my blessings, and looking back at the year.

Best thing is that Mum has completed her chemotherapy, after her cancer op in the spring, and is well and returning to her old self. Mase has done a great job of staying positive and taking care of her during her recovery. Happily Toby and Romy are both fine and doing well too... somewhere in Central America catching some rays and culture.

Turns out that Lorraine is someone to whom being nurturing, and emotionally generous comes as naturally as leaves do to a tree. I am very lucky. This year too I became a Godfather to Oskar and Klaudia, an event I found surprisingly moving. I continue to be blessed with many friends, and it would take many, many blog entries to do them all justice.

In 2008 I laid the foundations for a different life. My move to being a freelance writer continues to be sustainable, and I have balanced interesting, often well-paid work with being able to spend time on what is important to me. I have completed and submitted a coherent collection of poems; I'm halfway through the second draft of my children's novel - which seems to me to be the best thing I have ever written - and I have other bits and pieces up my sleeve, and more projects to push on with in the new year.

In a year of ground work it seems appropriate that I've had success in my spiritual home of Guernsey. My poetry about the island has been exhibited in St Peter Port, published in magazines and an anthology, even been driven around the island in a Guernsey bus. Also having a poem chosen to be in the (not yet published) anthology of Auschwitz poetry felt very special too.

I have appeared on BBC Southern Counties radio, after literally being seized off the street as I walked past the station, and followed up this lucky break with a piece about childlessness. I have twice featured on the BBC website this month too - including this today.

So it has been an interesting year, in which I have worked hard at things that are important to me, and have been surrounded by the affection and support of friends and relatives. My blessings are many. I am a very lucky person.

And if you've dropped by to read this blog over the year... Thank you, and Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Mum's birthday

Up in Edgware for Mum's birthday. Slept heavily due to my sniffy man cold, but up late to have breakfast of toasted crumpets and coffee with Mum and Mase. Getting up is a much more protracted affair now for Mum and Mase due to their little Salty kitten, who is unbelievably vocal and gets in the way of everything. Nice little thing it is though.

I gave mum a present of Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time which is strange birdsong music composed and first performed in a Gulag during the second world war, with its first performance in the camp, with Messiaen playing a piano to an audience of prisoners and guards. We listened to this birdsong-like music for a bit before we drove off to Stanmore for some lunch a the Weatherspoon's pub.

All pretty cheery and enjoyable, and some good beer to boot. Excellent to see mum being able to enjoy a glass of wine again. Reminiscing and chatting over pies, and a couple of drinks was good fun.

Snoozy afternoon and watched TV in the evening. Toby had sent Mase some Battlestar Galactica DVDs - I'd never seen this before but it turns out it is a fairly new series (from 2004) and is pretty good fun.

Then an early night, after a cheery chat over a lemsip with Mum.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing day

Awake at a ghastly 5am thanks to my kitten. Balefully waiting for dawn, and once the sun rose, it was a beautiful clear day. Off to see Janet and Ken for a brunch of eggs benedict and bucks fizz. Both on good form, and awaiting the family descending on them at some point tomorrow. They gave me decorative little picture made of petals, which was very thoughtful.

Then I lurched off to the shops to pick at the bones of the doomed retail economy and returned with three cushions. Slept heavily on my sofa with the kitten squeezing into the crook if my arm like some kind of hot waterbottle. Got up and walked to Lorraine's place and had cold turkey and bubble and squeak and home made pickled onions, which Pat had made, which was all rather nice and watched The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe on TV, which I enjoyed more than when I saw it first.

Then Lorraine and I went to the Eddy to meet Anton and Brian, where we had a large festive drink enjoying the Eddy's faintly disreputable air. All very friendly though, and the barmaid walked over to Lorraine to check what kind of whisky she wanted, calling her "baby doll" which made us all smile.

Below Boxing day sunshine walking down to town from Janet and Ken's house, St Nicholas Parish Church (where I was on Christmas Eve). Being disreputable in the Eddy (playing with my new hat)... Brian and Anton, Lorraine, and me.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas day

Woke up early at Lorraine's house. Beth, who is 17 going on 7, loudly and comically insisted everyone get up for the opening of presents. A cup of tea then into big present opening session, with Beth, Lorraine, and Lorraine's folks Pat and Maureen. Santa was good to me this year (and not angered by my impersonation of him earlier in the month). Lorraine got me an adjustable beard trimmer, and a digital radio, Beth and Sam got me the new Alice Russel CD, Lorraine's folks a nice cup and shaving gel, Anton, Anna and the bairns got me a Spork (a combination fork, spoon and knife) for outdoors purposes, and self inflating cushion for when we're walking and need somewhere to squat, a book on Brighton Architecture and walks, and some coasters made from the centres of old LPs. All jolly good stuff.

After a big breakfast, and people chatting to various family members by phone (I spoke to Mum and Mase), we all drove off to Beth's boyfriend Mark's house. A warm welcome from Richard and Glenda, Mark's folks, and his grandmother Phyllis, and brother David. First drinks of the day. They were putting on a very brave face, and making the most of Christmas, despite the fact that Glenda tragically lost a sister (who was only in her 40s) only a few days ago. Promises to go for beers with Richard, as Beth and Mark raced two battery powered Grannies complete with zimmer frame.

Then Lorraine drove me and Pat and Maureen down to the sea, for a quick breath of air, and a glimpse of shafts of sunlight pouring through the clouds over the sea.

Back to my house, just as Calliope was phoning the RSPCA to complain about being left alone over Christmas, for some stollen cake and make sure the cat had food, before driving back to Lorraine's house where after we all mucked in chopping vegetables of all descriptions. And Lorraine and I sat in the kitchen having a few cheeky drinks, as what became a wonderful traditional turkey Christmas dinner was pieced together. After eating heroically, we all settled down to watch the new Wallace and Gromit on TV (A Matter of Loaf and Death) which I did, sipping a delicious glass of port.

Walked home in the evening through the quiet, almost carless streets. And spent the last couple of hours of Christmas at home with Calliope purring on my lap.

Below Wallace and Gromit, peerless Christmas entertainment on the BBC.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Gloria the spider

I am hopeless at wrapping presents, and this process lengthened by Calliope pouncing explosively into the middle of everything from time to time. Anton told me about a wrapping service that you could choose either to have things wrapped perfectly, or - for blokes - wrapped badly to make it seem that you have done it yourself. It's worth considering.

Off to St Nicholas parish church for a carol service for young children with Anton and Anna, and my Godbairns. Met Lorraine near the church having just dropped her parents Pat and Maureen at the Church. Klaudia sat on my knee for most of the service, covertly drawing and playing with Lorraine next to me. Father Robert told the nativity story from the perspective of a large spider called Gloria, who lived in a crack in the stable and was startled to hear Gloria in Excelsis!

Later Father Robert produced a big fluffy spider which he invited one of the children to add to the church's traditional nativity scene. Anna asked me to take Klaudia to get a candle from the back of the church and take it down the aisle to the Father. On our return, and because I happened to be sitting by the aisle, I had a good view of the long stream of little children walking past holding their candles, their faces softly lit. Something about that, and hearing old Carols, was quite moving.

In the evening went to another party in Lorraine's road with her pals Angie and Pat in their now traditional Christmas Eve party. We grabbed a cab and went to Anton and Anna's house armed with two bottles of Blanquette bubbles. Excellently Brian was there too, and we had a wonderful supper of pork shoulder, and loads of lovely food, rounded off with a chocolate fountain. A very cheerful evening.

Back late to Lorraine's place, laden with presents from Anton and Anna, after a rather welcome walk home. Feeling very Christmassy indeed.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A welcome lull

A day to regroup. After a long chat with Mase, and Mum who was being "dogged" by Salty the kitten, went early into Brighton to finish off some Christmas shopping. Spoke to Anton, as I did so, who persistently wanted to discuss football. Bought a few last things, feeling a surge of cheeriness and relief as I finished.

The shops are already offering half price offers, and gearing up for the sales (and there will be some fabulous bargains for the shopper). There has been an underlying desperation in the shops this Christmas; the Titanic orchestra is playing festive tunes. Everything is okay for me financially at the moment but there is such a mood of general apprehension it's hard not to get drawn into it.

Home and I found that there was a smidge of work come through on the hogsite, which I did quickly - and also that I had been contacted again by Giles from the BBC website - so I sent him a few opinions about advertising.

A nap with the cat, then happily insulated at home, watching Frasiers on DVD.

A nice surprise was that Carl called. He is talking about coming down in January. Great to hear from him. His business, which co-ordinates home carer visits, is going well. His health is much improved, and generally he sounded pretty chipper.

Intermittently hearing from Lorraine, who was busy collecting her folks, and spending a small fortune in Sainsburys. Also talked to Beth.

I emailed Maria Rivans, whose work I really like. I saw her pictures about two years ago at one of Brighton's Open Houses exhibitions. Some of her collage work is wonderful. I always thought I hated collage before I saw her stuff. I have nurtured the idea that I'd ask her to do the cover for my poetry collection. I want to own one of her works next year, so I can stare at it in the candle light listening to the riots outside.

Below some abstract looking photos I took during the Burning of the Clocks, of fireworks and blurred lights.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Historic drinking

Up to London this afternoon, after a little work. I will have to do a little more on the hogsite over the holidays: but it's manageable.

Being continually jostled on Oxford Street for a couple of hours wore my Christmas spirit to a tattered rag. Being lurched into by a small, drunken Big Issue seller who proceeded to hurl abuse at me for my rudeness was almost the last straw.

Things improved drastically walking down the Strand and Fleet Street, where I went to meet Bob in Ye Old Cheshire Cheese. While I waited for him, I fell into conversation with three young Australians, a girl and two boys. One called Tom had left Manchester two years ago and moved down under. He loves it there. All very cheery, which quickly restored my festive spirit. Bob appeared and we stayed with my new friends for half an hour or so. They were very young and it made me feel quite paternal, especially as the younger lad was not used to drinking very much.

Then Bob and I left, to complete our historic drinking popped into the Olde Mitre Tavern established in 1546. It was very busy but we managed to find a seat in the corner, and from there sat speculating on how the scene before us might have changed over the centuries.

Tangentally, Bob observed that many of the drinkers were lawyers and that lawyers often have interesting noses. Bob trains lawyers from time to time, so he is an authority on this. And an examination revealed there was a concentration of interesting noses in the room.

While we were involved in this important field research, Mick Ginty, an old friend who I'd not seen for years appeared, entirely randomly. Mick was looking well, and now lives in Rickmansworth, and works for Dell. It would have been bad manners not to pause for a couple of drinks with Mick before hurrying off in search of a curry, and allow Mick to rejoin his pals.

One was found at Smithfield Tandoori, and it was my second light and non-greasy curry in the last few days. The food was good but the lighting (mostly candle light) was so dim that it was almost impossible to read the menu.

Below a snap of Regent Street, which was not quite as furiously busy as Oxford Street, so I could pause to take a snap without being jostled.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Burning of the clocks

Woken up at four in the morning by a mugging in the twitten. I don't know who was mugged, just heard a lot of shouting, and running and a demand to "give us everything". I sprang out of bed and phoned the cops, but everyone concerned had sped away before I had reached downstairs. Laborious descriptions needed, while I stood naked in the dark and the perpetrators legged it. How did I know it was a mugging? I looked out of the windows to confirm nobody was around or hurt. Silence returned and I went back to bed, later hearing two policemen quietly talking and checking the twitten.

All seemed like a dream by morning. My house is like Tom Bombadil's house in the Lord of the Rings, the bit where the hobbits are told to heed no nightly noises.

A lovely slow day. To lunch at the Sussex Yeoman with Lorraine and Cath and Hywel, who is over from Iceland where he works as an archaeologist specialising in Vikings. Interesting to hear what he's up to, including finding traces of early Viking farming - which is rather contra to their fearsome image. A nice roast there, I had Sussex venison, which surprisingly wasn't deer.

In the evening out to see the Burning of the Clocks, which lights up the darkest night of the year in Brighton. I love this, and it really feels like putting the old year to rest. With marchers carrying their clocks, samba drummers and tens of thousands of people out to watch. Went with Anton, David (Anna's dad) Lorraine, and Tash. And we repaired afterwards to The Cricketers for a Winter warmer.

Below various clocks, a blurry abstract shot, the final pyre, part of the crowd lit up by firework flashes, Lorraine and Tash.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

To Lewes

Slunk lazily out to buy fresh bread and the newspaper, which Lorraine and I ate toasted, munching happily on the gold sofa with the cat sitting happily between us. Only the thought of putting my cheque into the bank motivating me. However once in the throngs of shoppers in the North Laines felt energised and very cheery. Managed to buy several presents quite quickly, so suddenly I feel in control of Christmas shopping, which is a fine & dandy feeling.

Lots of music in the lanes as usual, including one excellent and funky group of drummers and percussionists lurking by Infinity foods who appeared to be busking for the sheer joy of it. Sometimes Brighton can lift you up like no other place I've lived in. We bumped into Anton and David, his father in law. Anton briefly insulting my beard before we moved our separate ways.

Later in the afternoon went to Lewes, and the Lewes Arms to have an enjoyable drink with Matty boy and his nice sister Tash. I have mentioned the Lewes Arms here before. It is a great pub with lots of history. Matty was off to the traditional yearly reunion of head boys of his school. And heard more about his plans with Graeme and another guy to buy a second hand Rolls Royce. My suggestion that it should be sponsored by Rizla as it would be a joint roller fell on deaf ears. Tash looking incredibly fit and well, and she is training for the modern pentathlon and has set her heart on the next Olympics... Crikey. She is doing fencing, riding, swimming, running & shooting, and swimming. Made me feel exhausted just hearing about it.

From there Lorraine and I, eating on Tash's recommendation, went to a modest Indian restaurant called Chaula's Indian Cafe. The food however was splendid, really nice home made tasting food there, healthily cooked and full of fresh ingredients. Simply the best curry I've had for a good while.

Then chugging home on the train to be reunited with the gold sofa, and a hungry Calliope. In the course of the evening a strange all black cat melted in through the catflap. I'll have to turn on the magnetic bits now, so that only Calliope can enter. Later I went into my yard, and was surprised to see Calliope gleefully rushing this larger black cat. I think my little weasel will hold her own, especially when she gets older.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Putting on the swank

Up to the London again for lunch with First Matie and Graeme for the inaugural self-employed Christmas lunch. Went to the Kensington Park Hotel, and had rather a nice lunch in the Park Terrace Restaurant near some plaster telamones (although without quite such a glorious view as suggested on their website). Graeme looked top in a matching cravat and handkerchief, his smart hunting waistcoat, and nice jacket. I think he needed a monocle though. Kate in a lovely green dress and glamorous high heels. Even I dug out a tie and jacket. Lots of white wine and rather nice food. I had a pea based soup, turkey Christmas themed main course, and a pear tartan for afters. All good. After, we lurched out across the road to a pub for an absolute bloody final, after Kate in no-nonsense mood, asked the staff for the location of "a decent boozer".

One abf in the pub, discussing speech writing and politics, amid general teasing and cheekiness, before painlessly back to Brighton.

Home at sixish, to - yippee - find one of my long-awaited cheques on the mat. A Happy Christmas from the Gods of Freelancing.

Then met Lorraine, where we went to a buzzy Battle of Trafalgar for a cheeky beer, and a full debrief of the week. Then we bought fish and chips from Sing Lee and watched three episodes of Frasier on the trot. All good.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Reference this!

Spent the day doing referencing. Attributing, in Harvard style, every quote or source I'd used in the massive hogsite. Seven hours of this multi-window nitpickery made me feel like smashing laptop through my study window, bellowing "reference this you ****ers!" into the Twitten. Again this wouldn't have helped local reputation, so I'm pleased, in retrospect, that I didn't.

Seven hours later I warmed up a bowl of bean jar, nerves in shreds. But I had finished! Took a call mid bean jar, and found Calliope, tucking into it when I turned round. The weasel.

However, barring one or two quick tweaks this is me done for the year... So hooray for that. Have work lined up for Jan too... So all well. But waiting to be paid as I have outstanding billings well into five figures now.

Then slipped up the road to babysit. The children very sweet, Klaudia was asleep, and when I told Oksar to go to sleep too, he simply did so at once. Amazing child. Won't last though. Watched my new guilty pleasure Star Trek Voyager as Anton and Anna went to a nearby party.

Spoke to Sophie today, who was rushing from somewhere to somewhere else after drinking, which she doesn't do very often. She is going to a Buddhist retreat over the weekend. Also spoke to Lorraine who had delightedly sneaked off early for Christmas shopping like a truanting schoolchild.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

French flair and floods

Up to the smoke this afternoon to meet my lovely French client Jeanne. We met in the Royal Opera House restaurant. A lovely building to wander around. I was five minutes earlier than Jeanne and I stood out on the terrace looking down on the bustle of Covent Garden below.

Jeanne arrived with chic hair. How can hair be chic? Is the question I have since asked myself. But it undeniably was - and probably one of those sinister French things. We sat in the restaurant, squinting into the low bright sun above the square. Good to see her and chat briefly about projects we will work on next year, which will make a nice change from diseases.

Then off to Richmond, where I waited in one of my favourite pubs The White Cross, for Mex and Sarah. Waiting I got absorbed in a book of poems, and then looking up saw that the river had flooded and the pub was islanded. Trapped in a pub! The horror. I bought another beer to steady my nerves.

Took a while before the water abated and Mex was able to enter, although one guy rolled up his trousers and waded across, clearly the victim of a raging thirst. We had a nice drink, and were soon joined by Sarah, who was perky. Lots a gossip and a good catch up, before we went to a chrunch-busting GSK burger, as Mex had a voucher. Fraser's doing well in the agency he has established, while Mex has just got a new webby job with Current TV, a new TV channel founded by Al Gore. So all well.

As I had drank rather a lot, due to acts of God, I fell asleep on the train going home. Found myself awkwardly sitting near Lorraine's ex-husband and his partner. I looked in their direction for a bit, but appeared to be shrouded in invisibility, or maybe it was the beard.

Home to a delighted Calliope. I watched a couple of Frasier episodes, while the kitten, who'd been waiting for a fight all evening, nipped the tip of my nose and set about me with gusto and arched-back side springs.

Below two not terribly good photos: a ladder climber who shouted at me, as I took a photo, you look like a man from a web site! No idea what the skirt wearing wobbler meant, perhaps it was my nifty new hat, but clearly uncannily accurate. Love the face of the guy in the bottom right hand corner. The view from The White Cross window.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

A little time on my hands

Not working today. So went to the Disney store to buy a Minnie Mouse dress and ears and some species of Wall-E toy for my God children. Then crept down to the gym for a light session. I feel Victrian maidenish and wussy, but it was better than nothing.

This followed by a happy and relaxed afternoon. The smell of Guernsey bean jar wafting about the place, which Calliope and I enjoyed later. Listened to my backlog of podcasts, watched some Japanese music videos on You Tube which Toby had sent me.

Chasing Calliope around the house with a vacuum cleaner had given me the idea of creating a cartoon last week. So as I was at a bit of a lose end...

Below: behold the Sucky Monster!

Monday, December 15, 2008


A spot of Santa action this morning at Tumble Tots in Hove. Off to Hove with Anna and my God son Oskar in the car, listening to the Shoe Babies tape. Struggled in the side room into Santa Garb (which I'm pleased to report was fairly roomy) but opted not to don the random Pirate boots.

Big ham that I am, I loved it. I found myself grinning underneath my false beard as I waved at all the kids. I think the children enjoyed it almost as much as me, though were one or two who were a deeply dubious about the red-clad Brian Blessed tribute act.

But it was a rather polished ho-ho-hoing performance even if I say so myself. I asked the toddlers if they had been good, and sat about watching them tumbling about over their equipment and their mats, from the comfort of my throne in the corner. Then handed presents out to them. Some of the children creeping forwards as if Santa were some kind of wild animal in a cage.

A big bell ringing exit, with instructions to leave mince pies out for Santa, and carrots for the reindeer... followed by a quick change. Slipped back in again, with nobody over four recognising me.

After this a quick haircut, followed by a trip to the back cracker, and shopping, taking the opportunity to sport my new hat. It is cold, and I heard on the radio that it had been a colder start to the Winter than it has been for about 30 years.

Also chasing payments - the omens suggest that the doubloons are being readied, thank goodness.

Below me with Oskar, and the lovely Tumble Tots ladies. And proof, if any were needed, that red is not my colour.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Minimal migration issues

The kitten stood on my face at 5:30. After a difference of opinion about this, I lay awake listening to her exact terrible reprisals against the Christmas tree downstairs.

After big bowls of porridge, Lorraine went off shopping steadily working her way through her list, while I got down to work. After a while, my mobile phone suddenly began to die - not a good idea if you work for yourself. At the Orange shop a young man showed me phones until he realised I looked glazed and was going to have a nosebleed. I opted for a Sony Ericsson same as last time. Good choice, he said, as migration issues are minimal. Thank God, I said.

Then met Lorraine again for a defrosting coffee, and to The Eagle pub, which Lorraine's pal Caz runs. They share a hairdresser, and found that they are sporting identical haircuts and looked like brother and sister. We scarfed a late Sunday afternoon roast beef meal which I accompanied with a restrained pint of IPA, which reminded me of Dave my grandfather who was partial to an Randalls IPA in Guernsey. Caz drifted by from time to time, handing out flakes and singing.

Then into Mad Hatters for hat business. Had a nice chat with the owner, who (unsurprisingly) remembered me going in there with the Cat with the Hat. Meanwhile Lorraine bought a little red hat. It always feels like a scene from the Marx Brothers when there is a good deal of hat play. I came away wearing the hat of a connoisseur: a nice green felt hat with a wide brim.

Home again, and talking to Mum and Toby who both sound cheery. After Lorraine left, I split the evening between working, and periodically trying on my new hat. Calliope seems not to like it.

Avoided Match of the Day today, as Chelsea infuriatingly squandered their chance of taking leadership of the Premier league, drawing to West Ham. Sometimes I hate football.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Dastardly drinking

A slow start to the day. Cold, with rain lashing the windows as I worked at a strange new poem. Went out to buy bread in a cold rainy gale. Bumped into Ken by the station cashpoint, who was gloomily contemplating a trip to Axminister to see some of his family.

Returned home to cook Lorraine a large breakfast. Then took an emergency fish call from Lakshmi whose fish (species unknown) was feeling a bit moby dick. I enjoy my role as remote fish doctor.

Feeling slightly sneezy and man coldy but rallied heroically to go shopping. There are sales everywhere and an undercurrent of desperation in the shops. Bought bits for my God children, and saw a bargain charcoal grey coat for myself. First coat I'd bought in years.

After these labours went to a little pub with Lorraine to quaff pints of bitter. Then more shopping again to buy cushions. Lorraine is not really a drinker, I remembered, watching her knock over a display of nasty ornamental ducks. Stopped at The Caxton on the way home for yet more drinks surrounded by our big bags of shopping. I was feeling very Christmassy as I listened to Lorraine's increasingly lively opinions about education and other things.

As I guided Lorraine home, I felt rather dastardly as she was a bit drunk. I popped out to buy a chicken, and when I returned she was doing some washing up, appallingly badly. I banned her to the sofa where, after crying at bits of the X Factor final, she slept soundly with Calliope sitting on her head. The perils of drinking eh?

Yay! Quoted here in the BBC News Magazine.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Gripping the mince pie

Friday... So that would be when the work comes in then. Actually not bad work, and clearly briefed, and it didn't break my holiday mood too much. Among other things, I wrote four little case study monologues: two men with erection problems, and a man and a woman with glaucoma. Ye Gods.

Broke off after lunch of miso soup (a packet job but organic, and with no poisonous MSG) to climb up the hill so Anna could tell me what I needed to do in my forthcoming role as Santa, and to give her an overdue birthday present.

I have been practicing my "ho-ho-ho" (not something you could get away with in - say - Brooklyn) and have opted for mellow and rich as opposed to booming. I don't want to create a team of little Santaphobics, who will begin to loathe Christmas, drop out of school, and end up assassinating Archduke Franz Ferdinand or something just because of a Wrong Santa. It's a responsibility.

My Godchildren Klaudia and Oskar both spontaneously gave me big hugs when they saw me. They are very cute. Klaudia had been an angel in the school nativity play this morning, and she had with her Sasha, a little girl who had been the innkeeper. The three children were very lively, fuelled by a stealthy harvest of Christmas tree chocolate decorations. Also the kittens Pinkie Barbie Ariel and Lenin the kittens were barging about the place too, all this milling about forced me to maintain a masterful grip on my mince pie.

Got a nice note from Randolph, a writer I met at Janet's gathering last weekend. I've suggested we meet for coffee.

Actually fiddled with a poem this evening before Lorraine came by, and we sloped off for a quick curry and a couple of beers. Brighton full of people tonight, and many of them were part of works Christmas parties. After popping into the Cricketers which was packed and shouty. Our usual curry house was full too. So we scooted along Ship Street with the fresh blustery wind coming off the sea to the second choice place where we were soon tucking into the poppadums.

Disappointingly, cloud cover prevented me glimpsing the full moon, which was supposed to have been the largest for a few years. We walked home under the big web of Christmas lights around the clock tower, which was being tossed about in the wind. A curiously lovely sight.

Once home Lorraine and I ended the working week looking at my Christmas tree lights, sipping a tot of Greek Metaxa brandy (me) and sloe gin (Lorraine) as Calliope batted a bauble around the floor.

All well.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Hungover, I got up at five to get water. The kitten, after following me to the kitchen and back, took this as an invitation to rub her mouth on my lips with repulsive regularity. I felt too sordid to do anything else other than submit to this violation. Thankfully this eventually abated, and she fell asleep draped over my neck like a vibrating scarf.

A limbo day spent waiting for copy feedback which never came. Slipped off to the nearby supermarket to buy some veggies if only to say that I had at least left the house.

Woolworth's closing down sale featured heavily in the media. There is affection for Woolies. Even I, zero brand loyalty personified, liked it as a kid. It had airfix kits, and toys, and pick n mix sweets to be trousered. I remember bolting from the Neasden Woolies having stolen a single sweet, feeling horrendously guilty. I've never been cut out for crime.

Dipping into the poetry collections I bought yesterday, and listening to Arvo Part on my gold sofa. The new collection by Seamus Heany called District and Circle, hasn't yet buttered any of my parsnips, and collections by Nick Laird On purpose and Kathryn Simmonds Sunday at the Skin Launderette both seem worth reading.

Got a nice note from Joan, including this view of Ontario this morning from her house on Deviation Road.

Below This is what a proper winter looks like...

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Kate and Matty in The Bull's Head

Up to the smoke this afternoon, as it was another non website day. Curiously, I felt a sense of excitement about being in London. The Thames looked like liquid metal as the train rolled across the bridge to Victoria station.
It was noticably colder in London than Brighton. Went for a brief walk around Victoria, rubbernecking at some new buildings, before tubing west to Chiswick. Got off at Turnham Green. And was struck by the purple sky and silhouette of chimneys on the road I used to live on before moving to Brighton. It feels good to have moved on.

I really like Chiswick, and I was on some kind of pilgrimage as I wandered about old haunts. Paused to buy three books of poetry, and the Children's Writers' and Artists' yearbook 2009. Then my feet led me down to Strand on the Green and the Bull's Head - where I met a cheerful and relaxed First Matie for a long overdue beer.

The Bull's Head is my old local pub, so I am always happy to go back there especially in Winter when it's not swamped with tourists. It's a boon that Kate and Matty's appartments are now virtually next door. Heard about her recent trip to Tenerife, and plans for radio plays, and about her burgeoning freelance career. Then bumped into some friends of Kate's, before Matty arrived. Not seen Matty boy for some time either, and we ate pies to celebrate. He is going to replace The French Bloke in the agency I did some work for recently (the FB is moving on to another one) and seemed in fine spirits.

Also met Jess, Matty's new flatmate, and talked to her about astrology, and David whose favourite poet was Edward Thomas. I seemed to be holding forth a bit. But eventually the yarp of the seagull grew strong in me, and I snoozed my way home to Brighton, wishing I had my specs so I could read all the books I'd bought.

Got a note from Giles at the BBC saying my comment would be on the news site soon, which is fun.
Below a view from the platform at Turnham Green. Just liked the stumpy cutback trees, and the gorgeous colour of the sky.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Catching the big fish

Talk about a lightness of being. Writing so much about health issues as I have been lately is gloomy work, and being free of it again today was wonderful. What to do with all this time? I feel so free. Chillax is the answer.

To that end, and already festively plump, I went down to the gym for an albeit rather mild-mannered session. Pottered briefly in the North Lanes. Once home, I discovered that I have been contacted again by Giles from a BBC website, asking for a comment on the Argos adverts so I sent him something (which I've also put on my daywork blog).

This afternoon I sat down to watch the only David Lynch film I'd never seen: Eraserhead. This was his first movie, made with scraped together cash over a period of five years, and it is amazing. So many Lynch tropes are in place - the parallel world, the weird stage, curtains, and the general unexplained air. There is a thread in Lynch which is like Samuel Beckett, and this is his most Beckett-like film.

It's a Freudian nightmare. The protagonist Henry Spencer visits his girlfriend and after a disgusting scene where during an awkward meal where Henry has to carve a little chicken and it begins to gout blood and twitch, it becomes clear that his girlfriend has had a premature baby. They are forced to marry and mother and baby move in to his dingy hellhole of an apartment. It transpires the baby is a disgusting mutant which cries all the time, and eventually forces its mother to abandon it. Henry is left with it, its body swaddled tight with its repulsive head poking out. There is lots more increasingly disturbed stuff in the movie, but it is unforgettable and shot through with a dark slow comedy.

Then I caught up with some correspondence, while watching the noble Chelsea ease into the next round of the European cup (despite an earlier hexing "good luck" call from Anton) thanks to the return of the mighty Didier Drogba.

Rereading Catching the big fish last thing, which is Lynch's book on creativity, consciousness, and meditation. He is so elusive. Here's what he says about Eraserhead:

Eraserhead is my most spiritual movie. No one understands when I say that, but it is.

Eraserhead was growing in a certain way, and I didn't know what it meant. I was looking for a key to unlock what these sequences were saying. Of course, I understood some of it; but I didn't know the thing that just pulled it all together. And it was a struggle. So I got out my Bible and I started reading. And one day, I read a sentence. And I closed the bible, because that was it; that was it. And then I saw the whole thing as a whole. And it fulfilled this vision for me, 100 percent.

I don't think I'll ever say what that sentence was.

Ah well then. You've got to love Lynch. I'm a sucker for enigma.

Below Henry Spencer played by Jack Nance (who also played Pete Martell in Twin Peaks). I learned that he died after getting into a fight in a donut shop in 1996.

Monday, December 08, 2008


So having sent copy off for the website at 10:30 this morning, after an appalling 5:30am wake up call by the kitten, suddenly I was free from thinking about terminal ailments, blindness and sexual dysfunction for hours on end, which was nice. Waiting now for a round of hogsite revisions, but the most arduous part is over.

Instead my thoughts turned to things of a festive nature. Later in the day Anna sent me a text asking me to be Santa for Oskar's "tumble tots" group next week. I'm sure I can ho-ho-ho it up with the best of them, so I readily agreed.

I decorated the Christmas tree, which made Calliope literally go mad with excitement, and tear about in the branches, attacking baubles, tinsel, branches and me with with gusto and impartiality. She got so carried away and fighty that I had to ban her. In protest she hared out into the Twitten into the path of a concerned cat lover, who promptly phoned my number which is on her tag. I opened my door and they were about a yard away. This same lady later phoned me again, to explain that cats need injections and offer other unasked for advice. Turns out she had lost a cat lately and so I think was a bit sensitive about seeing apparently unsupervised young cats driven to the edge of frenzy by baubles.

So imagine my delight when Calliope disappeared this evening. The woman had made me so paranoid that I began to imagine 17 excruciating cat deaths. I called Lorraine who said I should walk about calling her name in a high pitched voice. So I wandered up and down the dark Twitten and neighbouring streets doing so. Unsuccessfully as it happened, but with my local reputation for eccentricity at a new high for Calliope is strange name to be trilling into the night air.

Eventually she reappeared, but not before Lorraine had driven around to help in the kitten tracking.

Below a festive kitten.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cups of good cheer

Basil, one of Lorraine's cats pawing me awake in the night. Half the people I meet these days are actually cats. Or fish. Went with Beth off to the excellent tropical fish shop: Maidenhead Aquatics. Fish decisions are not to be rushed, so we spent quite a long time browsing all the gleaming and lovely fishes in the library of tanks. She bought two albino corys and a male and female guppy. Everyone hoping these poor soles will cling onto life.

In the afternoon off to two parties.

The first was at the other end of the twitten, which was a great opportunity to talk to lots of the pale denizens of the twitten. As I walked in with Lorraine, there were three young ladies singing a song about skeletons, which was a good omen. It was hosted by Louisa, who it turns out is almost my astral twin, being born two days after me in the same year. Really enjoyed talking to everyone as it was a very friendly gathering. Brighton is a good place. Lorraine enjoyed herself too, despite being an interloper from beyond the twitten. Met neighbours I didn't even know I had.

Then off to Janet and Ken's soiree, which was also great fun too and had many of the usual suspects there. Glugged quite a bit of wine, and felt rather cheery, as I had some excellent conversations over cheese platters. Not least with Ken and Janet, who are staying in Brighton over Christmas so I will be sure to sprint in to see them at some point for one or two more cups of good cheer.

Floated nicely down the hill with Lorraine, who'd chatted to loads of people all night too. After she went home, I happily watched match of the day, as Calliope blundered madly around the walls, into the branches of my Christmas tree, then bursting from there to knock over my guitar and a glass, and spend the next twenty minutes bolting in and out of her catflap with dead leaves in her mouth.

In short, all well.

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Had a nice mooch through Brighton with Anton today. Dropped into the drum shop on Trafalgar street and chatted to the owner and timidly tapped all kinds of drums and percussion instruments. Then up to the guitar shop where there were some splendid guitars. I was gloating over several but tore myself away before I did something rash. Then we mooched on through record stores where Anton pursued his vinyl fixation, and was searching for something new and exciting to listen to. We didn't find anything, but it was fun anyway. We drank hot chocolate in Red Roaster. The chocolate there is so thick it is like some kind of runny mousse. Or at least a mule deer.

Back home in the afternoon for a snooze and then did a couple of hours work on the dratted hogsite, before zooming off to Lorraine's in the cold, after scoring some beers and sorbets. Lorraine lives in a street where many of the neighbours are friends, and her pals Sarah and JD put on a curry night, where all the guests brought boozes and an Indian dish of surprising quality. Lorraine took one of her justly famed dhals.

Lots of fun, and some really nice people. I was talked to most people. Brighton is so very arty, it rocks. There were teachers, a translator, a journalist, two designers, a banker, a sculptor, someone who worked in an agency. Also JD (pronounced jhee-day as he is of a French persuasion) who has lots of early street art examples and memorabilia in his house, which was interesting to see.

Really enjoyed this injection of new people, after being cooped up in my study for what has seemed like ages. At last a bit of playtime.

Friday, December 05, 2008

All work and no play

Up at seven and at work almost instantly. Fortunately the other job I was given yesterday proved easy, so I had finished that by 8:30. It often happens this way... You read the brief and go to bed. And overnight it's all processed by a team of homunculi with rolled up sleeves inside your brain, and bingo you've got the solution to hand the next morning.

Then working on the hogsite all day, which is tantalisingly close to being finished, but still needs more work over the weekend. It's like gripping a wet bar of soap. At lunch did a spot of shopping, including buying a late pressie for Anna, and a pastie which I ate looking at the sea.

Worked on steadily in the afternoon. Until my brain refused to do anymore. The Gnome sent his CV through for me to look at. A great job, and we had quite a long chat. He's doing fine, and sounds more optimistic and full of beans than he has done for a long while.

Sat about playing guitar, which Calliope resents, for a while and driving myself mad trying to use the music notation software.

Off to meet Lorraine in the evening in the Tin Drum for a couple of evil polish beers and some linguine and meatballs. Home feeling braindead. Watched some Nana Mouskouri on BBC4. What a funny little thing she was in her big specs, and odd clothes. Lovely voice though. Lorraine phoned her mum as she had been a big Nana fan in the seventies.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Mum finishes her chemo

Mad Dog released back into the wild: a dark morning, with rain and seawind surging down my twitten. Quite pleased to close the door on the day, after I'd waved him off, and be in the warm working on the hogsite. Noticed a forgotten tie and a lingering soapy smell as evidence of Bob's passing through.

Best news of the day was that I spoke to Mum and Mase, and Mum has been told that there will be no more chemotherapy. This is very good news, and she is looking forward to gradually returning to what passes for normal in our family. So a vast yippee! all round.

Got a distress call from Betsy at the FB's agency, and I agreed to do a few lines for them on concepts, which I worked on this evening on top of the hogsite work. It all adds up, but all work and little play is making me feel dull.

However have downloaded some music software called Mozart, and am writing my song down, just to see if I can do it. Wonderful how it will play what you've noted back to check if it's right. It's a good way to learn more about music too.

Lorraine around this evening for a reviving glass of gin and tonic after what sounds like a hideous work week.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Hot dhansak

Dratted footnotes. Gah. The hogsite is putting years on me. But the end may be in sight.

Other than working had a nice evening with Mad dog who arrived at 5 and fought steadily with Calliope all night. We went off to play pool (my dismal form is maintained) and Bob thrashed me. Then had a cheeky couple of beers.

Went for a curry at the usual place, Bob sternly (and he can be stern about these things) ordered a vindaloo (already the hottest curry on the menu) and told them in an intense way to make it a very hot one. As he forked into his vindaloo, he said disappointedly that it was medium. Meanwhile I had ordered a dhansak, halfway through this I realised they'd mistakenly made the dhansak violently hot instead. It was tasty, so I persevered. Later this led to dyspepsia throughout the night, which led to the cat waking up and cavorting around my head at three in the morning, as the pit of vile acid that used to be my stomach churned.

Returned home to listen to the Chopin album Bob had bought me, while the kitten had a rematch till they'd happily exhausted one another. Meanwhile I discovered that Chopin had written the funeral march.

Below Calliope just about to fall asleep after a long session of impromptu typing, manuscript biting, wire worrying and so on.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Hogsite day

I woke with Calliope, who has decided 6:30 is the new 7, rubbing her unspeakable, cat-biscuity mouth into my face. I was really thirsty but was unable to drink my bedside glass of water as the kitten had been lapping at it all night.

Nice email from Catriona Stares from Guernsey telling me which of my poems is being used on Guernsey buses. I'm going to try to get a copy of one of the posters. Catriona is doing a great job of stirring things up in Guernsey artistically at the moment.

Off this morning to Surrey for a three hour meeting with my pharmaceutical client to discuss the hogsite with the pleasant young Jamie, my contact, plus a saxophone playing strategist called Kay. Took a taxi through the countryside from Redhill through Reigate and beyond, and it is really beautiful and full of trees. The meeting was in a massive corporate boardroom despite there only being three of us, and it went far better than I could have expected. I came away with some clear guidance, and the realisation that I was almost there with this first stage of the project. Yippee. I bumped into someone from my old agency there too, which was nice.

Back to Brighton via nippy train platforms. Once in Brighton I bought a hot Cornish pasty and ate it at home watching Calliope monkey about in the Christmas tree.

Chatted to Mex this afternoon who is going for an interview tomorrow for one of my old charity clients, and Bob called too to confirm he will be staying tomorrow. In the evening I went up the road to babysit Klaudia and Oskar (who peeped not) while Anton and Anna went out for an evening meal to celebrate Anna's birthday today.Talked to Lorraine too who is back from a short course, and was feeling tired and slightly fed up.

Playing about with my new song tonight. Annoyingly Calliope keeps jabbing her paws onto the fretboard though while I'm playing. Then looked at my Roger Dean book again. I'm really enjoying it and it is making me want to do visual stuff again.

So many things to do, so little time. But I might be able to have some Peter Kenny weeks soon, which will be fantastic. I am itching to get on with more of the Skelton Yawngrave stuff.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Dragon's Dream

Ate my own bodyweight today: a large breakfast in a local pub, then back home for a big Thanksgiving feed cooked by Mase. Tanya and Robert mum and Mason's pals came around too, and we had a fun afternoon despite Tanya talking about boiling frogs in socks in the Philippines. Socks? Yes hessian socks. Then Lorraine started talking about the uses of leeches and maggots in medicine, which put me right off my turkey for several seconds.

Lorraine and I went home, and we were greeted ecstatically by Calliope, who had clearly given me up for dead after staying away last night. And after Lorraine left, the kitten superglued herself to me for the rest of the evening.

Over the kitten's head read Dragon's Dream, the new book by Roger Dean. He famously did the Yes covers I poured over as a teenager, but he has also had fascinating approaches to interior design, and architecture which are still way ahead of their time.

In the seventies Dean had a book called Views, which sold millions, and influenced me immensely... Not so much in terms of what he was painting but it was one of the first artists I could really relate to as a teenager who told you how he went about his craft, and how something drawn could become something fantastical and three dimensional in the real world.

Dragon's Dream is a gorgeous book, and his colour choices are often wonderful. He has followed his natural, futuristic vision and made it pay via album covers, computer games art, stage set design and so on. Dean is trying to get a movie made too, and I hope it comes off.

Below a Roger Dean image.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

On the buses, on the trains

Received an email this morning saying that one of my poems is going to be in a Guernsey bus, like an island version of poems on the underground. It would be lovely to see it, but unless I invest in a pair of incredibly powerful binoculars, that won't happen till next year.

Cheerfully off with Lorraine to London see Mum and Mase in Edgware. En route, Lorraine left one of her bags on the train, with clothes make up and so on in it. And we didn't realise until we had arrived.

Mum is close to being finished on the chemotherapy. And it will be really great when this happens, but she is doing fine despite being somewhat worn out from all the treatments, and dealing with Salty the kitten. All white except for its tail. It has very pink nose and ears, and lets out an affronted lamb-like bleat when you pick it up. He lives in the lap of luxury, and has many toys and is constantly tempted with dainties, which may explain its round belly.

In the afternoon, I had a nice chat with Mason in a cafe while Lorraine bought replacement makeup and clothes. Mason slipped away to buy her another one bottle of perfume too, which was very kind. Then he drove us back home to have a big Mexican feed and chat about stuff, and we all sat about by the fire watching some old episodes of Frasier.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Orange eye

It is the sign of being a hypochondriac that my NHS doctor actually knows who I am, and is very friendly to me. There was a taciturn trainee mountebank in the room, so my doc went to great lengths to make sure everything was pukka. In passing I mentioned that my eye was sore and I got the full orange eye dye treatment and examination for corneal scratches etc. while I told them about the glaucoma pages I've been writing lately.

Then to the pharmacy with a baleful orange eye. There a senior gentleman was explaining that vegetarians tend to look pasty, and it makes them more susceptible to flu. Back to work on a few pages of the hogsite: a smorgasbord of ailments today from arthritis to ulcerative colitis. Turned on the radio: a programme about ailments in the 17th century. Some days are themed whether you like it or not.

After finishing for the day at 4, I called the Cat with the Hat, who I've not chatted to for some time. He was very cheerful about Obama and inviting me down to his house to eat ducks. Also called The Gnome who is now in consultation after being let go from the agency. Really felt for him, but I think it will be a really good to have a new start, and to bring out his resourcefulness. We'll meet up soon.

Thinking about Alice Russell and wondered what it would be like to write a song for her. I haven't really written a complete song before but one just popped out fully formed. Lorraine said the chords sounded like Radiohead, which wasn't what I was going for. Fun.

Lorraine around this evening and we snuck out to a busy last-pay-day-before-Christmas Battle of Trafalgar for a cheeky beer, or as Lorraine put it, to wash the week away. Then went home to eat pizzas. I added a large sliced chili to mine and proceeded to have lively hiccups for some time.

And so to bed.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

A random rhinoceros

Lunchtime went to look at children's books. Imagine my horror after writing a book about a dapper skeleton all year to see a new, prizewinning book about a dapper skeleton detective called Skullduggery Pleasant. Bastards. Bastards. Had a look at it, and it seemed excellent. Fortunately the similarities are superficial, but still galling.

Bought James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl which I read for the first time this evening. Lovely stuff. This on the first page made me laugh out loud.

"Then one day, James's mother and father went to London to do some shopping, and there a terrible thing happened. Both of them suddenly got eaten up (in full daylight, mind you, and on a crowded street) by an enormous angry rhinoceros which had escaped from London Zoo.... Their troubles were all over in a jiffy. They were dead and gone in 35 seconds flat."


And also I bought Michael Rosen's Sad book which, like the Dahl, is illustrated by Quinten Blake, which is quietly wonderful. A book about sadness, with very little text and lots of pictures, inspired by the sadness of losing his son. Just fab. And the end is satisfying, yet unresolved just like sadness itself.

Otherwise did some more hogsite work, and had a fairly chilled day. Had a conversation with The Gnome this evening, as there are going to more redundancies at my old agency and he may be one of them. It is all so stressful and horrid. Made me feel very grateful, that I have nothing to do with that nest of earwigs any more.

Below the cover of Michael Rosen's Sad Book.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

A jar of delights

Calliope now consistently wakes me at 7. I find having a kitten stand on your head purring loudly is infinitely preferable to a blaring alarm.

Got a text from Beth saying that Sushi the Siamese fighting fish had expired. I called her briefly feeling vaguely responsible. I have no idea why her fish are dying as in my fishkeeping experience she had done everything right. It brings the child out in Beth who got the tank as a 17th birthday present. Having named all of the fish, she takes each loss hard.

Actually made some good progress today on the hogsite and felt that, it might actually end one day. A glimmer of hope as I rewrote copy about erection problems. Also spoke to nice folks in the FB's agency to ensure I will get paid for that job.

Had a Guernsey bean jar on the go, filling the house with earthy beany warm smells. The comforting aroma must have inspired the kitten too, judging by the way she had to be restrained from climbing into the hot oven when I opened it. She gobbled a sample down and, although this may have been a political move on her part, it made me feel happy. It was one of my better bean jars and I had two bowls of it with white pepper and thick brown bread. A proper winter warmer.

Anton and I due to be out again tonight, but he had to cancel as he felt ill, which I was quite grateful of. Quietly lurking about this evening, and reading The Box of Delights by John Masefield which is a wonderful and Christmassy children's book I often read this time of year. It is not entirely successful as a book and the plotting unusual but the way the magic weaves itself into the story is wonderfully handled, and it is full of Christmas too. If you never read it, you'd be mad not to do so now.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Alice Russell

Slipped free of my website shackles this evening to go out with Anton and Lorraine to see lovely Alice Russell at Brighton Komedia. It was the first night of her new tour, to promote her new album Pot of Gold and she and her great band, featuring writing partner TM Juke, put on a splendid show as usual. Acoustics very different there to when Anton and I last saw her last at the Concorde 2. But an excellent show with several promising new tracks, as well as my favourite Hurry On Home, which always reminds me of moving to Brighton. She also did the best version of Gnarls Barkley's Crazy I've ever heard. Very mixed crowd of old geezers like myself while Lorraine bumped into some of Beth's schoolfriends there. Alice is not really a diva, in the sense that she seems really approachable and likable. Someone shouted out ironically that she should be on X Factor. Which although quite funny, must also have been galling to someone of Alice Russell's ability.

We all really enjoyed the night out, and I felt sorry for Anna who missed it. After Lorraine left, I ended up with Anton having an enjoyable late beer in the Eddy.

In other news. Somewhat troubled by my role as freelance tropical fish consultant, as one of Beth's fish, Larry the neon, croaked, and apparently Sushi the Siamese fighting fish is looking a bit rough round the gills.

Below some blurry shots of Alice last night, and the video fo the immortal Hurry On Home

Monday, November 24, 2008

In need of a cure

Diseases all day. As I write this interminable website, I'm trying to focus on how it will pay for lots of Skelton Yawngrave time, and I should be really positive about it. Popped to the gym later, but all manly vigour was sadly absent.

Cheered by a note from Nev reminding me of an agency Christmas party on a Cowboys and Indians theme. We went as cowboy plumbers with big wigs, tashes and white overalls drinking our Guiness out of Butch and Sundance mugs with spoons in. It was all Nev's idea. And jolly good fun it was too.

Also cheered by calls from Anton and Lorraine. We're all going out to see nice Alice Russell tomorrow night, which will be top.

Too numbed to do anything, I watched House tonight for the first time, and thought it had some excellent dialogue. Curses, even my downtime is about diseases.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Siamese fighting fish

A spot of freelance topical fish consultancy today: the result was that Beth bought a gorgeous scarlet male Siamese fighting fish and three tiny neons for her new aquarium. As well as the fish, Beth also scored an unendorsed plastic SpongeBob SquarePants snail called Gary.

Once these were installed, Lorraine and I finished off painting her bathroom and toilet. And Lorraine drove me home, where I had a quiet night, chatting to Mum Mase and Toby, and thinking about work.

I wrote the following poem some time ago about being trapped by boredom, and the petty cruelties boredom can lead to. Boredom, as I have mentioned before, is an emotion I rarely experience. However the work I have been doing over the last month or so has, uniquely, made me feel trapped in my study.

Siamese fighting fish

bored stupid in my box room,
I taunt the fighter in its tank.

Betta splendens, a scarlet flag
unfurling from Java fern;

a murderous Narcissus
who falls madly for my mirror.

in the window my reflection
gloats over the rain-soaked suburb.

the fish aborts its mission.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

A new broom

Today was a Doing Things day. Lorraine had a bathroom and toilet that had been stripped and waiting for paint for some months, so I suggested we simply did it. Off to B&Q where I ended up buying a new broom, while Lorraine bought paint. Then back to her place for a couple of hours of filling holes in walls with polyfilla, sanding painting and so on. I quite enjoyed standing about with cups of splosh, a copy of The Sun rolled up under my arm, and my trousers revealing the top of my posterior in the approved workman style. Also gave me the opportunity for coarse jokes about standing on stools in the toilet as I rollered the top of the walls. All in all a much-needed break from staring at screens and thinking about serious medical conditions. Painting walls is very therapeutic.

Meanwhile Sam was lurking about with his new girlfriend called Ash, and sporting industrial-strength love bites. He seemed very cheery and attentive, which was good to see. I also saw his little tattoo of two feathers on his wrist, which was actually rather cool.

Off in the evening to meet Lorraine's pals Jess and Andrew in an Indian restaurant called the Ashoka in Hove.

Jess works in a school with children with all kinds of special needs. She teaches a class of four kids, who are all in wheelchairs and only one is able to speak. It was inspiring to hear her talk about the school, and the children there, and she has invited me to visit. This is something way outside my experience, and it would be tremendously interesting to meet the children, and learn more about what goes on there. Andrew is an accountant, and I asked him how the recession is hitting from his viewpoint, and he said that however a business is doing it needs an accountant, and that actually most of his clients were still doing well.

Home in a taxi as it was a cold night. As I flagged down the cab, I bumped into Amanda whose cat-themed party Lorraine and I went to the other day and I asked how Anil was, and she told me she didn't know because they weren't together any more. Had to jump into the cab, at this point, but I was sorry to hear that.

Home to an excitable kitten and a warming nip of sloe gin.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Hogsites and octopus

Calliope alarm went off at a sensible 7:10 this morning. After I took her feet off my face, I peered out from my window to see the twitten thick with groundhogs. Yep. More slogging on the website for most of the day.

The work, however, is quite interesting. I have learned something about the workings of the eye. Apparently the aqueous humour in your eyeball is produced by a tiny gland called the ciliary body. All is well when the same amount of this fluid is able to drain away, through a little spongy drain called the trabecular meshwork.

But when the drain begins to get blocked, pressure builds up inside your eyeball and this begins to damage the optic nerve, which causes glaucoma. Glaucoma can be treated with daily eyedrops to keep the drains open, which is a good thing. Annoyingly the brain compensates for loss of vision so sometimes you only find out you have it when you have lost up to 40% of your optic nerve function. This is why eye check-ups are vital, and why I'm writing this part of the website.

After work I went to the gym and did what was for me a full-on workout, and I worked up a sweat. I am really pleased to be exercising again, and I do enjoy it. However the other side of the see-saw, my food intake is becoming a bit less disciplined as I am so cooped up doing hogsites (© pk enterprises) that I snack through boredom. I have developed an unhealthy liking for organic dates, which are a sweet as toffees, and probably just as bad for you.

Out late this evening to a Greek restaurant. Lorraine was taking Beth and Mark out for Beth's birthday, and I was invited too. Beth's speech, which I'd helped her with a little the other day, had gone down well, and she was doubly cheery. Lorraine had booked, but the restaurant was almost empty. But we drank some Mythos beer and were cheery over many and various Greek foods. Beth gobbled down an octopus leg, which surprised me.

I was left reflecting that in the UK people rarely suddenly feel a sudden craving for Greek food, as compared to say a curry. It made me wonder if this is a historical or cultural thing. Did peckish Trojans look up from their labours and think: you know what, I could murder a Greek tonight.

Ah well.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Low riders

I broke off at lunchtime from glaucoma, etc. for a nice half-hour massage at the Sundial clinic. These days there is little pain as the stored evils have been banished. She mentioned that, as I also carry tension in my lower back, next time she would release my gluteals. Because, she added, they are big muscles.

I was not sure how to take this, but I nevertheless enjoyed the mental picture of sliding out of her room with relaxed, low rider buns.

Had a conversation with my lovely French client who wants me to do lots more work with her next year in her new agency. I like working with her as she is always 100% professional. This is an arrangement which could guarantee a steady stream of activity next year - with plenty of time to break off and write about skeletons. Touch wood, financially things have looked fairly bright lately, in contrast to the rest of the world it seems. Being freelance at such a time is a good move, as you don't have all your eggs in one basket, and is why First Matie copied me.

I've been missing Skeleton Yawngrave. I did sit ups at home.

Lorraine banished from her house this evening as it is Beth and Mark's two year anniversary, and Mark was romantically cooking her lamb chops and couscous. They are 17 (or Beth will be tomorrow) and they are like a wee married couple. I bought her a card with a dancing hula girl.

I roasted a chicken, and Lorraine and I scarfed it and various veggies, as we watched England beat Germany in Berlin, which was unexpected and rather good. Chelsea and England Captain John Terry scoring the winner too, making amends for an earlier defensive howler.

Lorraine left for home, sniffling with a cold, to be there for Beth's birthday tomorrow. And I retired gratefully to bed only to struggle with Calliope who was persistently trying to sleep on my head. We agreed on a six inch exclusion zone but I ended up headbutting her everytime I turned over in the night. There has to be another way.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Opening envelopes

I have a fairly relaxed attitude to bills and official looking letters at the best of times. When the stars are favourably aligned, and I am bored, I will have a look at them. As I pay most things through standing order this is rarely alarming. However imagine my surprise when I opened a letter informing me that I had over £1000 in Standard Life shares, and have had for some time. Something which was news to me.

Obviously in the two or three weeks the letter had attracted dust and an incisor mark in the corner from Calliope, these shares must have plummeted. But still, a nice surprise. Trying to work out if it's best to keep hold of them till the markets rally or whether to offload them. I know nothing about shares. So any advice is welcome.

Otherwise a quiet day. Went to the gym early in the morning. I'm finding the weights fun and fairly easy. I must step up the cardio work, which is where the real health benefits are to be had, and I find more challenging. Had a brief discussion with Mase about weightlifting, and he passed on some tips given him by Arnold Schwarzenegger who he knew quite well at one point. It's all about the reps apparently.

Back to work, and into copy rage. It is the route to madness to be riled by copy comments, and all copywriters have to learn how to deal with it. But my copy goat was ambushed today by someone overwriting my copy with ungrammatical sentences, containing content which is not only medically wrong, but also illegal. Grrr. Fortunately this is not my client, just someone invited to comment. I have invited them to give me comments to discuss, not to rewrite the thing. I suppose it is nice that I have reached November before a bout of copy rage.

Spent the evening virtuously tidying my study which has become like a bomb site, not helped by the fact the cat continuously knocks over my bin so she can shred the paper inside or drag balled up bits around the house. But this led to a windfall. So virtue does pay.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Eyes. Eyes. Mince pies

Spent the day knee deep in eye diseases, with only the man from Tescos delivery and the cat to distract me. Pleased I had a check up lately, so can keep the details of glaucoma etc. in the realm of theory.

In the evening Lorraine and Beth came around to discuss a speech Beth is making at her old school. Beth seemed to know what she wanted to say anyway, but we had tea and the first mince pies of the year. Beth told me about seeing the Mighty Boosh who were rather good apparently.

While they were here, Calliope worked her cat door unaided for the first time. I had poked her outside to cool off after tearing about the place wildly. She rushed back inside to rub her face on mine, purring happily.

Spoke to mum and mase about Thanksgiving arrangements. Mason's American style Thanksgiving feed always signifies the onset of the festive period for me.

Watching a bizarre film as I type called Underworld Evolution, a preposterous gorefest of werewolves and vampires battling one another, which also seems to have Derek Jacobi in it. Must have been a nice little earner.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

A Sunday in Brighton

Up surprisingly early today. Went on a reconnaissance mission to a local car boot sale where Anna had made £80 the week before. Not a single thing I wanted there, but nevertheless interesting. Time to eye up things that I might be able to get rid of, as I have a hoarding streak and not much space.

Back to Lorraine's place to feed her cats Brian and Basil, one of whom had registered disapproval by being sick on the carpet. I checked Beth's aquarium. Then we walked down to the sea where dark clouds and patches of sun created dramatic light effects. Stopped at the meeting point for a cup of splosh, and a shared rock cake.

Walking home past the clock tower there was a horrid accident just behind us. The sickening thud of a body going under a bus. We walked back as Lorraine wanted to check (as a former ward sister she may have been able to help) but there was someone there doing the right things. Normally in emergencies I try to help, but this one I'm ashamed to say, made me feel shaken, and wanting to leave as fast as possible. Poor woman was trapped and mercifully unconscious as far as I could see. Quite a bit of blood. Thankfully, as we turned away the emergency services could already be heard approaching.

I then went to the gym again for another light workout and felt mighty fine for it too, while Lorraine did some ghastly work on a Sunday afternoon. I am actually enjoying going to the gym. Although am still amateurish and there are women half my size and twice my age lifting weights twice as heavy as me.

Then off to the Battle of Trafalgar for a good Sunday roast, and pints of Harveys, and all was well with the world. We were looking at all the pubs pictures and paraphernalia. Its large Elvis playing guitar, its pictures of naval battles and cricket players and so on. I wonder if anyone has studied the contents of pubs in Brighton, and made some interpretation about what it says about the soul of the city. Maybe I should do that. It was a lovely end to the weekend. After Lorraine went home, and I spent a dozy quiet Sunday night with Calliope snoozing on me as I watched match of the day.

Below a moment of darkness over the sea.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Mock turtle

Woke up feeling somewhat better today. Down to the patisserie this morning to buy bread. Everyone in the shop clustered around a tiny puppy. These small animals make everyone lose grip of reality, especially me. Was pleased to see they all washed their hands before serving me my chewy brown bread afterwards though. Then Lorraine and I had a slow breakfast of kippers and toast, and read the papers. Calliope, despite pushing her face at the plates, spurned kipper scraps afterwards.

Then as Lorraine went off to shop with Beth, I tidied up my front scrap of garden with the kitten charging about excitably with bits in her mouth, (see previous entry) and drawing coos of admiration from occasional passers-by. Kittens, like babies and puppies, are good icebreakers and should have been on the Titanic.

My roses are still budding and flowering. As I pottered about I felt a deep welling up of joy not to be working on web pages however.

Then off to the Library to join Lorraine for a wander through town passing a lugubrious jazz band in the Pavilion Gardens, before ending up in the Mock Turtle for afternoon tea and a scone. I love that place. It is the epitome of Englishness though it was owned I think by an Italian family, and now by an Oriental one. Bought some tickets to see the wonderful Alice Russell later in the month.

Walking back by the sea towards sundown, watched the river of gulls drifting westwards above the coastline as far as the eye could see. I've noticed this on many occasions, but where are they going? It's as if they are flying towards the dying sun. Today the startlings were out in numbers again too, preparing to settle under the piers.

A restrained evening watching the David Lynch film Wild at Heart. I'd seen it before, not my favourite Lynch film but has all his hallmarks, many of his usual cast favourites, and some great moments.

Below gulls making their way westwards, the edge of a great murmuration of starlings above them.

Calliope... the kitten in the twitten

A nice shot of the mad faced weasel today with a leaf in her mouth.

Friday, November 14, 2008

A different day

Decided to get a grip today. And I am feeling a great deal more positive. Plus I got good feedback from my client on the big job I'm doing, and I am delivering well before my deadlines so everyone's pleased.

Decided to take myself to the gym, and do something even if it was only five minutes.

Sat in the changing room for ten minutes trying every lock combination known to man on my combination lock. Eventually I stumbled on it and was able to lock my keys, phone etc. away. Then I remembered I needed my towel. Mysteriously, the same combination wouldn't work to open it. Another ten minutes trying that combination, and many others, while being given advice by various gentlemen. Eventually I realised you had to turn all the barrels in the same direction before the combination lock registered the code.

Sigh. It's the numbers. Meaningless things.

Managed to do a fair amount in the gym and felt much better for it - although pretty knackered.

Quite a relaxed afternoon, as I stopped working at 3. Then sent off my manuscript for poetry business competition, had a big tidy up and hoover, pushed cat through cat flap x10. She still not getting it, although can push herself through catflap enough to nip my fingers, but then will back through it to miaow piteously outside about not being able to get in.

Talked to Anton who had an out of proportion interest in some game Chelsea played in a minor cup competition during the week.

Lorraine around this evening, and we did the glorious Friday business: a cheeky beer and a curry. Brilliant. Beer is excellent if you don't drink much of it. And Lorraine is a splendidly relaxing person to do the whole Friday thing with.

Feel like a new person today.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Life is as tedious as a twice-told tale
Vexing the dull ear of a drowsy man
Shakespeare, King John, Act3 scene 4

God I'm bored. Days alone typing wads of copy, and having no energy at all due to stupid prostatitis, antibiotic horse pills etc. I loathe myself when I'm like this. And when I'm not feeling bored, I am feeling frustrated with being so run down that I can't go to the gym. Getting fatter by the hour.

First lot of erection copy sent off this morning. Spent the rest of the day getting my grey matter around the next tranche of ailments.

Spoke on the phone to Lorraine and my mum. Explained in some detail to both how bored I was.

There was an hour when I wasn't bored. I broke off for a walk down to a sea. It was smooth. Then I bought an egg cup. And returned home to talk to my kitten. I installed the new magnetic catflap, which only involved 2-3 bouts of swearing. Calliope hates it.

In the evening prepared an entry for the Poetry Business Competition - for short collections. So I'm entering Twister. For some reason you need to use a pseudonym. Mine was Paul Carey. I once had a dream where there lots of rubbish in the wind and people were saying to one another apprehensively "Paul Carey's coming" and pointing to a distant tramp like figure. On consulting the dictionary for dreamers I decided that Paul Carey was the name of my shadow. It was as good as any other pseudonym.

Still being aquarium installation hotline for Beth which is slightly less boring. She sent me a photo from her phone. It looks nice.

After preparing the manuscript, I tried to download a new audiobook from Audible. The site was achingly slow, and I got too bored to continue.

Went to bed.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

No life for a hypochondriac

Started the day watching this brilliant music video by Grace Jones, which Toby had sent me overnight. Simple but stunning visually. And musically pretty excellent too. As one of the 12 year old commentators said: Grace eats Madonna for breakfast.

Otherwise, left feeling that this is no life for a hypochondriac. Manacled to desk, slogging hour after hour on copy which encourages men to go to the doctor. And touches not only on erection problems but a whole world of other conditions too. These considerations broken only by a solitary call from Beth who was setting up her aquarium.

Emerged blinking into the outside world at 4:30 for some air and some shopping. Cooked a good old fashioned spag bol tonight, with loads of garlic and fresh herbs, and Parmesan. Lorraine came around, after going to her backcracker. I fed her and heard about a day of abominable meetings. We sat on the sofa in a braindead but companionable way, while Calliope flung herself at us from various angles.

Below Calliope hiding in cat flap box.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Men dying like the leaves

Up at 6:30 again thanks to the kitten, then an early start. More erection copy. Only a few more days this before I can get onto glaucoma.

Remembrance day today. Lots of stuff on the radio and TV about the first world war, and the Spanish flu pandemic afterwards which one expert was saying killed 50 million people globally.

Picked up my copy of The lost voices of World War 1 edited by Tim Cross. This had been given me by World War II poet Victor West who was a friend of mine but is now dead. The 11th hour always makes me think of Wilfred Owen's parents getting the dreaded telegram as the bells for armistice rang out in Shrewsbury, or one of my all time favourite poets Edward Thomas, when asked by a friend having enlisted in the Artists rifles at the age of 37 what he was fighting for, picked up a handful of soil and crumbled it between his fingers, saying "literally, for this." All that nobility lost, a generation of poets, for what seems today like the epitome of obscene futility. Edward Thomas, one of the most sensitive nature poets this country has ever produced, was killed by a random shell while fighting over a few yards of mud. Makes me think of Afghanistan right now. What the hell are all those half forgotten British boys from the Thames the Mersey and the Tyne dying out there for?

Victor was a POW in the second world war, and a teacher after it. I knew him for four or five years and had an enormous respect for him and what he had been through. It used to enrage me when people weren't respectful of him when he read his poems. He showed me several chapters of his memoirs and he had a very colourful life as a young communist before the war, and then fighting the Nazis and being captured by them in Crete.

Escaped for a bit of fresh air at lunchtime and bought a kitten collar. Then back home to work for several hours. Then sat on the sofa and woke up a little later with the kitten washing my face with its sandpapery tongue. Up the road to babysit for Anna and Anton as they went to Klaudia's first parent's evening. The teacher gave Klaudia a glowing report, which was nice to hear. Chatted for a while before returning home to drink redbush tea and lie low.

The last word should be Vic's.

The day we sank the 'Bismark'

The day we sank the 'Bismark'
was the 27th May 1941
and on Crete, the last day for us too.
The night before, the Company
numbered a hundred strong;
now we're down to twenty-two
The Major dead, soaking us
who laid him gently down
with bright arterial blood.
Now we can obey
that Verbal Order To Retire
that, living,
he would not accept.

"It must be in writing!"
He had stormed at the Colonel's runner
who shook, aghast. He'd been lucky
to reach us... Wouldn't try again.
Flung us last, depreciating rag of look...
doubled away to his own lonely death.
So all that morning
till weltering afternoon,
men dying like the leaves
that pattered down,
we had fought on beneath grim olive
under this madman whom we loved
until he died.

Victor West