Thursday, February 7

Ten years ago

I was in living in a dilapidated French farmhouse - rented on a two-year lease to use as a location for a series of short films about insects. As Location Manager, I stayed in this house during the non-filming periods to take care of it's sporadically bursting pipes and prepare things for the next shooting period. The house was so cold that it was usually warmer outside, I probably got rather too involved with village life. 

The month of February 2009 was eventful, I hosted a lunch event which was hijacked by several unexpected guests, an elderly alcoholic was trying to woo me, the village bar embroiled me in a web of secrets and lies worthy of several Eastenders episodes, I was press-ganged into joining a sports team,  I spent a week cooking for autistic people and somehow found time to pop home to the UK where my friend Ms Whiplash explained how her friends made household cleaning more entertaining.

Ten years ago I had only been writing this blog for a few months, I was amazed and delighted by wonderfully supportive commentary from bloggy friends like  Scarlet and LX -  it was their recent trips down memory lane that prompted me to make this one.

Monday, January 28

I swam in the ocean lake this morning

the sky was bright and sunny the water temperature measured LESS THAN THREE BRITISH DEGREES!!!!*

it was a bit like being electrocuted

or maybe galvanised

I came home and chiselled up all the awful old ceramic tiles covering the Boot Room floor,  filling several boxes with heavy-concretey hardcore then hefting them all outside by the back gate, then I mended all the broken things in the Boot Room and swept it all tidy and shiny. 

The Man came home and said

I see you took the floor up - that must've been nice and easy 

Friday, January 11

Yesterday an engineer came to sort out some wires in our house

He adjusted some components then there was a moment when he had to stand around and wait for information from the computer -  we made chit chat

he said, things are pretty quiet workwise this week so I'm taking tomorrow off, it's my kids birthday
Lovely I said how old?

Four-year old twins, twin boys

Crikey I said, were they a surprise or are twins in the family? 

They were a surprise when we saw them on the scan but the funny thing was that my daughter gave birth on the same day

Gosh, did you all go to hospital together?

No my wife was booked to have a cesarean in the afternoon so she was just getting ready for that, my sixteen-year-old daughter was in the next room, she'd been going on about having stomach pains and then they got worse so she came in to our room, I didn't even know she was pregnant. 


She was a big ... I thought she'd been comfort eating, her mother had died a few months before.  So my wife was getting her bag packed and my daughter was really shouting about her pain and I was Googling to try and see what she had and the only thing I could find with her symptoms was labour, and I kept saying that and she kept insisting she wasn't pregnant.  And then her waters broke and all I could think was that was a new carpet. When the ambulance arrived my daughter was on the floor on all fours and my wife, who was enormous, she was on the floor behind her, they were both yelling their heads off and the paramedics didn't know which one to help, luckily they had a midwife with them and she got my daughter sitting on the side of the bed and I went out the room for a minute, then I  came back in just in time to see my granddaughter's head coming out of my daughter and they  delivered her right there.

Did you have to get another new carpet?


We're just back from quite a long trip to Portugal, where we had an extremely carnivorous time, chomping our way through a meat parade of chicken, chops and steaks accompanied by mountains of very delicious chips.  

On our return we barely fitted through the front door. I headed straight over to the greengrocer's to stock up on cabbages, beans, peppers and artichokes, serving them up with dahl, hummous and baked beans. The affect on our systems has been dramatic and we are currently unfit for human company, even now we daren't stay too long in the same room as I'm pretty sure we constitute a fire hazard.

In the morning I head to the coast for a swim - curious to see if my internal combustion engine can propel me across the channel

Monday, December 17

They're tearing down the skull building at the end of the road

on Friday I was on my roof when I saw the skull being bitten off

people go on about it being a big useless eyesore and they're glad it's finally going but I found the building charming - in a creepy sort of way.

When they have totally flattened the 'useless eyesore' a block of  'executive apartments' will rise in it's place they will not be suitable for families or people with badly paid jobs.

Another building down the road used to be an office block, it was empty for years, drunks gathered on the steps to fight. One day the building was unlocked and opened. Without any apparent refurbishment the ground floor became an enormous bar selling pricey beer and cheap food, parties started at noon for no good reason, an art gallery popped up, bands played every night, the upper floors were let out to artists and people who wanted to use the big rooms for meetings, it was crowded with all manner of characters. The drunks that used to gather on the steps came in and earned a drink by collecting glasses, it was chaotic and messy and a lot of fun. Over the last few weeks the artists have been evicted and most of the building will be developed into smart apartments.

I moved to this neighbourhood because of it's weirdness. That skull building was like Lurch from the Addams family, ungainly, huge and instantly recognisable - the arty party office block was our Uncle Fester. The new apartments when they are in place will be as dreary as Brian and Jennifer from The Archers*

*the Archers is the UK's longest running radio drama - a tale of eternally weary, hard-working, beige-wearing country folk

Thursday, November 29

The London bus was late

the queue in the bus station was chatting among itself. A jolly-looking Irish man was talking about his bad experience with the rival bus company, I asked him if he was aware that a third bus company had started up, the stop for that one was just outside the bus station

Jolly-looking man regarded me as though I'd suggested he pick through litter bins for his lunch

Outside the bus station??? - that sounds very dodgy  

I didn't have time to rebut this because he got busy telling me that if I was even thinking about taking the train I'd better not fall asleep or someone would be stealing my bag and nipping off at Swindon.

And now the whole bus queue started catastrophising about how the entire  fabric of society is in tatters but he shouted above them

and you know what ... I say DO YOU KNOW WHAT???? and this is true because I know it is. The whole police force is taken up with looking at Facebook and Twitter these days, looking for anyone that says something that might upset someone, you can be getting murdered or burgled in your beds, call the police for being murdered and no-one will come but you say something on Facebook and they'll be round mob-handed to clap you in irons   

we fell silent.

The London bus pulled into the bay, I said - Look Hurray! it's a double-decker! 

Jolly-looking man gave me another of his looks, he said I always stay downstairs, I don't want to get my head chopped off by a bridge

Friday, November 23

Stripping the beds today

and full of the joy of being in possession of a new washing machine, I did the job really thoroughly and took the under-underslips off the pillows. Shaking out the last one produced a fat queen wasp, she bounced off the bed and crawled sleepily across the floor

Wednesday, November 21

I parked the car

and started hauling grocery shopping out of it. Distress noises from another vehicle engine caused me to turn and watch two young men getting their car stuck in the cul de sac outside my house, it's tough to turn a car around there, being on a steep slope, even if you manage the manoeuvre it ruins the clutch, residents just reverse themselves out and back all the way down the road. These boys were university freshers, Boy 1 had a smart new car and just passed his test, he got out of the drivers seat so that Boy 2 who passed last week could show him how to do it, he made some weedy revs, took the handbrake off - the car lurched forward and stuck itself into a lampost with a smashing big sound

Stunned Silence    

the boys got out of the car 

One of our neighbours is a huge man who really loves Jesus, he normally wears a dayglo gilet and carries a placard but today he was without these accessories, so the boys though he was a proper grown up, the Jesus Man was pointing at the car, telling them how it was eternally bonded to that post now and he was starting to get a bit loud about The End of Times, the boys looked close to tears.  They couldn't see me because I am a woman, I said would you like me to get it out?   Boy 1 finally spotted me and said Yes Please Sweetheart in the way that men used to speak to secretaries in the '70s so I got in the driving seat, revved it off the lampost and Evel Knievelled backwards to the end of the road -  that's how a Sweetheart drives

Monday, November 19

The washing machine repair

started promisingly, Benny was positive 

It's a broken bog-wangler and the thrush is worn out, I'll order the parts and be back Friday, we'll have it going again in no time...  

Benny disappeared, returned at the end of the week ... with bog-wanglers and thrushes but could not fix the machine ... I tried to put a stop to the mending ... very grateful for efforts but washer has done sterling service etc. .... probably time to get a new one .... Benny refused to be defeated. Rudi was sort-of-here too, trying to hang a door while under the influence. It was like I was trapped in one of my unhappy dreams.

I was also distracted by their physical allure - How could these two men be in the house at the same time, their admirably large bellies and too-small t-shirts, both men showing off ample arse-crackage  - and both men unbelievably smelly.

Benny has  been back twice more, each time a little smellier and each time he unpicks the washer a little more, calls a mate and tells me he'll be right back.

Benny was back for the last time this morning, smellier than a wet dog after rolling in cow pats. I allowed him to try the one more thing he had really really wanted to try and then I said that we should let the machine rest in peace, he was almost in tears and wouldn't accept payment - he had failed. This required soothing noises and reassurance from me while trying to edge him towards the door - sort of humming and at the same time trying to pat him on the shoulder without actually patting him on the shoulder.

I have now successfully ordered a new washer.

Saturday, November 10

the washing machine gave out on Monday

our entire home is in a massive sulk; the dishwasher  stutters, a spring in the mattress pokes my ribs, our many-bulbed light fittings are reduced to a single live bulb each - I consider running away.

I call an appliance repair man then head to the reclamation yard. I buy a glazed door to replace a weedy wooden door - maybe letting light into the dark hallway will cheer me and the appliances - I think we are experiencing SAD.  I call Rudi, arrange for him to pick up the door from the yard and hang it No Problem, said Rudi, I meet you Friday 9am at the yard  said Rudi.

A long internet journey searching mattresses results in my order for a mattress filled with sheep wool, it is double my budget, I must protect this investment. I spend more money on a sheep-wool-mattress-protector.

At the bulb shop I spend nearly ONE HUNDRED POUNDS on light bulbs.

The mattress arrives - it is pristine, white and covered with little sheepy faces and woolly buttons, I protect it with the mattress protector - this too is whitely pristine and slightly shiny - too nice for our bodies, I turn the house upside down looking for a suitable mattress protector protector.

Friday morning 9am, I have walked a mile to meet Rudi at the yard, I wait, I leave messages.

I give up and start walking back home, a man dressed in a brand new camouflage oufit is marching behind me I can hear him shouting things to passing cars, then he is alongside me, he smells richly of pee and alcohol, he tells me lots of strange things. Before marching on, he shakes my hand firmly with his yellow and sticky hand.

Rudi calls at 10 I just turned my phone on,  it was dead, I been stuck in traffic, I will come now 

an hour later, Rudi is at my door with my new door, he smells richly of alcohol, he asks for a strong coffee, uses the bathroom and heads straight back out I just going to get my tools,  that is the last I see of him til 4pm

Wednesday, November 7

This weekend I visited my parents

and came away laden with apples from the tree at the end of their back garden.  

Whenever I visit 'home' I enjoy looking at the end of the back garden, a movie behind my eyes plays through all the transformations it has undergone.

We moved to that house when I was three, one of the end corners of the garden was a site of constant change as Dad built a series of swings and seesaws, climbing frames and rabbit hutches for us. The top picture commemorates the single occasion, during our childhood, that my brother and I sat peaceabley next to each other - we have clearly been bribed to do this with ice lollies but nevertheless ...

I can also see the excavations of our neighbours the Garthwaites, who were about to install a swimming pool.

By the following year I have grown plaits, the hutch has been replaced by a seesaw and lollies are not enough to induce my brother and I to share space nicely. The neighbours have finished their pool - I remember watching them enjoying it. That little wire-and-stick plot divider was soon to be replaced by a properly tall, un-peek-overable wooden fence, presumably because they finally got tired of my gazing over yearningly at their cool, watery fun.

There were also two apple trees at the end of the garden, one is long gone allowing the other to become fat and gnarly, it still produces an abundance of bulbous green cooking apples.

This evening I peeled and thickly sliced some of those apples, tossed them briefly in a bubbling pan of butter, muscovado sugar,  a little salt then transferred the mix to an ovenproof dish. I combined thick jersey cream with two egg yolks and vanilla essence, poured that over the buttery apples, sprinkled on cinnamon then popped in a low oven for half an hour.

Friday, October 26

a recent visit to the hairdresser

has gone unnoticed at home 

today, walking in town with a friend, we passed a drunk slumped on the pavement, he looked up at us, grinned, waved then he pointed at me and stage-whispered  

nice haircut

Thursday, October 25


I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell, 
but just coming to the end of his triumph
Jack Gilbert 2005

In between the 'mermaiding' and the Top Secret Job (which has now ended) I have been  making a cover for a coffin, it will be one of twenty-five customised coffins exhibited at the Liverpool Oratory from 1st - 18th November. 

The coffins are a new design from the koffin company; lightweight, biodegradable and inexpensive, the brainchild of Gina Czarnecki,  for more information about the project follow this link, 

The coffin decorations will be all be personal statements, some will be painted, others re-imagined as boats, cars and rockets or festooned with flowers.  My decoration is inspired by the Asafo flags of the Fante people of Africa. Asafo designs consist of narrative images interpreting a proverb, the characteristics of the tribe and it's allegiances, usually evoked using animal metaphors,  my 'flag' declares an allegiance with the elements of air and water, it also illustrates the sentiment behind Jack Gilbert’s poem ‘Failing and Flying’, the quoted lines are a declaration that any success no matter how short-lived is a triumph. A life well lived will be full of such triumphs.

Friday, October 5

My Top Secret Job has sprung a leak.

It has become known that I sometimes work as a cook.

People have been telling me all about their favourite recipes.  *

This is a regular occurrence and I'm often astonished by the number of youngsters who speak wistfully of tinned fruit and semolina 

Yesterday a man in his twenties explained his favourite pudding:

rice pudding with a layer of tinned mandarins underneath and baked meringue  on top

and then his favourite sandwich

white buttered bread filled with sliced shiny green apples and sliced Mars Bar

*The TSJ has nothing to do with food

Thursday, October 4

Still Mermaiding

This is my favourite swimming pool - a marine lake that gets refilled by the sea at high tide. The splendid autumnal sunsets have infused my swims with such ridiculous  romanticism that I've gone and signed  a promise to go there and swim at least twice a month until March

I have also booked a consultation with a mental health examiner

Friday, September 28

To escape my growing pile of rejection slips

I dashed to France for a hit of Mediterranean sun-and-sea and found the perfect slightly-difficult-to-get-to cove for my morning swims - just me, the fish and the sea-birds - until a boatload of Peeping Toms turned up.

Before France there was Derbyshire. Celebrating my father's 90th birthday. We hired a blazing-fireplace-cosy-cottage near Bakewell. There was a Grand Supper, my niece made a Bakewell Birthday Cake, the way we love our Bakewell Tarts (lots of Almonds, butter and sharp red jam) - it was truly delicious. Next day we visited Bakewell, a town consisting solely of tart vendors, each claiming to offer 'The Only Real Authentic Bakewell Pudding', two versions were sampled, the first was awful and the second inedible.

Mrs China has now been with us for a month. On Sunday she is moving to her permanent accommodation and I think we will both be relieved, she is still baffled by our rubbish disposal system and I can't understand her system of slippers and mats,  nor the systems of which things must see the sun and which things are not allowed to see other things.

I have come back to a little job which is a bit Top Secret - I drive to a massive aircraft hangar and unlock a series of doors until I arrive at a room where 214 objects have been collected, some of these pieces are worse than rubbish, others are worth millions (of which currency I shall not tell) I must unwrap these items, photograph them, say something about them and then seal them away - perhaps for ever.

Monday, September 3

I am trying to explain compost

my Chinese guest  is looking puzzled

any vegetable waste,  peelings, tea, coffee grounds ... put them in here  

I point at the kitchen waste bucket, she shrinks back in horror. Maybe I need to show more of the process, I pick up the bucket and beckon her to follow me up the garden, open the compost bin and tip the bucket  into it. She looks stricken 

Why would you do that?

It feeds the garden, the worms and insects break it down to make a rich soil - don't you feed your garden?

I feed my garden with yellow beans 


we have a Chinese guest this month

she looks absurdly young to be a professor of power electronics so naturally it's annoying to discover that she is only slightly younger than myself.

I watch her try to make sense of our house and her room. First of all we must address the FengShui, A mirror is immediately moved to a different situation

'The mirror must not see the bed  

I am asked to remove a small embroidered jacket that is framed and hangs on the wall as decoration

clothes must not be on the wall  

There is a large chest of drawers in her room, shelving and some hanging space but she doesn't want to use these, she has ordered a wire frame clothes airer

the clothes must see the sun  

In the kitchen my stove seems impossible and while she is struggling with my utensil logic she tells me that she can't switch on the lamps in her room, I describe the sort of switch to look for, miming the position and gesture to turn on and off, mime isn't enough, I use sound  - she finds this funny and I remember how differently cultures use sound for things, I am probably using the Chinese sound for 'frog' to explain 'light switch' and she thinks I am mad.

Before heading out to the university she gives me with a large red heart, resplendent in gold tassels and stuffed with  lavender, I am directed to put it in my car for good luck.

Saturday, September 1

I keep the front gate squeaky

it's an early warning system so I can decide if I want to answer the door -very handy with last year's Cheesey episodes and continues to be useful. I am currently avoiding Toothless Eric, several chirpy 'just-sign-here-to-give-us-a-direct-debit-donation' people and a spat of very young shark-skin-suited Jehovah's witnesses.

A few days ago the gate squeaked and clanged followed by a slobbery, panting commotion. I looked out to see a pack of excited small horses or maybe big dogs cantering around in little circles, they'd pushed to let themselves in but didn't know how to pull and let themselves out, a man was calling in the distance but he couldn't see them, some of the animals realised they could jump out over the wall until one bouncy Tigger remained making circles and yelping, wondering where his friends had gone. Tigger seemed to be smiling so I went out and wrestled the gate open amid his bouncy greetings so he could go and rejoin the herd.

Sometimes people figure out how to mute the squeak. One night, a human visitor arrived in silence and left an enormous turd by the side of the steps, I didn't notice for a few days because my tin watering bucket had been placed on top of it.

Friday, August 17

Nearly Emergencies

I returned to Bristol on Sunday.  The Man took the car out then he rang me

Did you notice the hairline crack - the one running halfway along the bottom of the windscreen?

I hadn't.  I arranged for someone to fix it

that evening the Man said

my arms are achey  

on Monday morning the GP listened to his body and said 

you seem fine but we'll just take some blood  to make sure

in the afternoon a text arrived 


keyhole surgery - three stents around his heart

on Friday afternoon his son brought him home.  

We  celebrated a week of not having an Emergency with roast chicken and sweet potatoes

Thursday, August 9

I'm in London on the top deck of a bus

someone is muttering in the seat behind me 

there is an odd burning smell 

the man is saying ow ow   OW!!! and then an extremely beery burp

seems to sort everything out

Monday, August 6

The Man arrived home with new hair

delighted that the barber he's been visiting for many years finally asked  -  

The usual sir?

He enjoyed the in-the-club feel of his 'usual' being remembered by the barber. Also he tells me that time saved on explaining means that he's in and out the barber's chair in ten minutes flat

How did you used to explain it?

I ask if he can make it shorter and look nice

Wednesday, August 1

a yoik is a nordic song

 it can involve a strong vocal projection akin to a yodel, the sound is intended to travel long distances so it can irritate the really far away neighbours. On Saturday afternoon I cooked Karelian pies* with Tuuletar, a Finnish band who demonstrated the yoik

The Man is a little hard of hearing - I can't get him to hear me if he's more than a couple of metres away from me - unless I yoik

in other news...

I've been commissioned to make a coffin cover - it's not the traditional sort of coffin and has a very particular shape.  

Today I downloaded the dimensions and started building a dummy coffin so I can construct a well fitted garment

Sunday, July 29

Best shot

KermesZ a l'Est on Taste the World stage making mitraillettes

shopping list

a big bag of big potatoes

20kg beef dripping

2 X deep fat dryers

a can of sunflower oil

lots of diced lamb

20 X eggs yolks

a lot of garlic

2 X jars of 'unsweeted' mustard

salt and pepper

many big baguettes


make audience chop potatoes

double fry in sizzling dripping

band prepare lamb kebabs shake maraccas and hoot horns

horn player uses electric wand to make mayonnaise while playing mouth organ

loud noise must be produced for duration of project

to serve

Wipe a cooked kebab through a 10cm slice of  baguette that has been
liberally spread with garlic mayonnaise - you now have a lubricated meat

cram sandwich with chips and more mayonnaise

you can be a little quieter now while you share the eating with a friend

KermesZ a l'Est also do this sort of thing

Tuesday, July 24

It's WOMAD time again

I will be operating the Taste The World stage*

a band of Balkan-music-playing-Belgians wish to make frites - the correct way 

Taste the World starts with a series of quests, today I must venture into the a part of the city devoid of homes, beard trimming workshops, and artisan bread shops. I drive my trusty steed deep into the land of wholesale fruit markets, timber yards, metal welders and ... the edible oil depot to collect 20kg of beef dripping   

I park alongside a fleet of lorries, buzz a wonky doorbell and am let into the sort of reception area that shouts at you that the entire workforce is male    

Scraps of discarded bits of paper  decorate the carpet, I wait for a man in wellington boots to process my order, I pay, he disappears then returns with my box of dripping

are you using it to make casts?

today I learn that sculptural casting is a common use for beef dripping

*Taste The World is a kitchen on a stage,  musicians come here cook (or direct me to cook) and talk about what they eat back home - click tags beneath this post for previous on this event

Thursday, July 19

overheard conversation

I came across this in one of my old notebooks

Three women are sitting at a table under a tree outside a café, they have tea and cakes, one of the women is asked about her new boyfriend   

So what’s this man like?
He’s the hairiest man I’ve ever seen - hairier than a monkey
hairier than Robbie Williams?
I’ve never seen Robbie Williams
He’s really hairy
Yeah hairier than that – when he was in hospital the nurse drew back his sheets and screamed

I'm being interviewed in a hairdressing salon

between the sinks are small mountains of bosomy torsos and manly sets of legs

phantom limbs stick out - waving or drowning or kicking the air

one of our volunteers inherited the contents of a vintage shop, these mannequins will go in our sensory room

our conversation is overwhelmed by the religious service going on in the care home lounge which is also a coffee shop. The hairdressing salon-slash-office is a glass-walled cube within the lounge-slash-church-slash-coffee shop. 

when the congregation shut their eyes in prayer we sneak out to investigate the sensory room

it's along the 'willow' corridor

care homes use plant names so they don't have to say 'dementia' too much, other homes refer to patients with dementia as 'bluebells', the same way some people say 'fudge' instead of other, ruder 'f' words   
we stand in the doorway of the sensory room, it's empty except for a row of chairs and a rainbow-coloured-fibre-optic-disco-light 

we'll bring in herbs and then people will smell the mint and it'll remind them of sunday roast lamb dinners

I think of the willow people feeling the boobies and manly trunks when the mannequins take up residence

Friday, June 29

I'm basically a mermaid these days

recent trips to Devon have offered many opportunities to get in the water and in Britain it can be a bit chilly. My first sea dip in May made me dizzy and my hands felt like they'd been stamped on - for some reason this makes me feel heroic.

I've also been walking along the river Dart. Today I found a good skinny-dipping spot. Being naked seems to automatically join people into a sort of club, pleasantries are exchanged in a manner that doesn't happen in 'textile situations'*   

*I'm practising this new context for 'textile' since I discovered that's how naturists refer to people who wear clothing, such as this naturist report on a campsite on Slapton Sands

"...a really good site, with what must be unique co-existence in this country. Large field with views to the sea - top two thirds of site textile, bottom third naturist, with just an open post and rail fence to mark an informal division. No gates, and the fence is open to drive / walk round at both ends. Very easygoing and relaxed. All facilities, apart from a fresh water tap, are on the textile side, so need to dress to access them."

image: Barry Lewis - Natural Theatre Company in London

Wednesday, June 13

Cat repair person for hire

I've returned to Devon to look after a cat called Edna, I was here a couple of months ago. Edna was a gaunt, trembly old thing when I arrived but after just 10 days in my care Edna turned into a lovely shiny thing, her tembliness became bounce, she had plumped up nicely and her owners exclaimed with joy about the new, improved cat waiting for them.

I seem to have discovered how to work the cat reset button

I'm not saying I can mend a properly broken cat, my abilities lie in fixing those slightly manky cats, the ones that have gone a bit boss-eyed and keep forgetting to clean themselves, or the ones that over-lick one area of their body, also the bony neurotic cats that shiver for no good reason and I'm pretty good at eliminating asthma attacks. I've had no luck with dirty-protest cats like the Bum-Crayoner but I do think there might be a call for a professional cat-plumper-and-polisher (feline-smoother/cat valet?) - I'm working on my marketing for this new business

Thursday, June 7

In a room full of people. I am talking about mudlarking

a woman came over to us she unzipped her handbag and started rooting through it

I live at Walton-on-the Naze where the coast is full of shark's teeth - look I've got one in my purse
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