Monday, 22 December 2008

Sheep Music: Border crossings circa 1978.

Seen near here - mad cyclists, woolly creatures, ramblers and certifiable families out for a drive in the country.

'Happy when it rains', or equally as groovy, 'Nine million rainy days'! Any other suggestions for the perfect sheep music playlist?

Beyond Kielder Forest, where the nitro-arable greens slide up the hunched muscle of the borderlands, where the buzzards circle over cloud shadows, the motorway gives way to 'A' road and everything gets a little 'outback'. A feeling of disquiet creeps up on driver and passengers alike. If you you break down here? Oh my! A bronte nightmare of menacing fat bellied clouds, curtains of rain, nagging winds, evil goats with twisted horns, bruised heathers, dry stone walls and hundreds of sheep, peopling the landscape. It's actually quite beautiful. The border between England and Scotland is marked by a simple slab of stone on the side of the road, which apparently still reminds travelers in several different languages that in England we drive on the left. A Scots hawking spit away is a village that goes by the name of 'Deadwater', famous for being the birthplace of the river Tyne, ie it's a wee bit squelchy underfoot, as it is anywhere around here within say 200 miles!
It's also an amusing place name which conjours up dust devils swirling in the heat, outlaws, bounty hunters, gunslingers and plinky plonky pianos in wild west saloons. A far cry from this grey and woolly borderland. I remember going on car journeys with my parents from Newcastle to Edinburgh, cocooned in the back seat with a window out onto this dramatic landscape. My dad would have his classical music on, I'm not one for classical, but somehow it was the perfect soundtrack as I looked out upon the vacant faces of the craggy bottomed sheep, chewing, chewing! I followed the pit of my stomach that lurched from throat to pelvis on the rolling big dippers, the broken white lines on the road would suddenly disappear in the rise and fall or round snaking hairpin bends. Watching sheep, listening to symphonies, smelling leather upholstery, exhaust fumes and feeling car sick. Always feeling car sick! And then it rains, it always rained! If sheep listened to music what would they choose? I think it might just be The Jesus and Mary Chain.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

A wheelbarrow full of words.

Nude magazine, issue no.14

The cold spade is hanging in the dark shed, dried earth clinging to a new blade. The wheat is growing in the quiet turning of hours, short days spreading out to new beginnings, a new year. The gardener is away washing the seeds and soil from his tired hands, wrapping up the frayed laces and tucking them down inside his boots, toes pointed together they sit in a dark corner by the door. Waiting for January's Aconites, Wintersweet perfumes, bright Snowdrops on dark February days and the early Helebore's hanging beauty. So, Christmas is upon us, the house has been brushed through, the tree is leaning in the garden waiting to be dressed and between bouts of preparation I find time to skim through the bookshelf pulling at books, magazines and comics that I want to return to, or wish to catch up with. Here are a few of them.

Comic- Pull Shapes, issue no.1
Gardens Illustrated Magazine, August 2008.
Fruits, The excellent book about wacky Japanese street fashion.
Comic, I kill Giants, issue no. 6(of 7)
To See Every Bird On Earth by Dan Koeppel

Friday, 19 December 2008

Meadow dreaming.

A blaze of winter sun slants under a curl iron clouds and highlights a bent frame stooped over a taught line on the ground. I am working my way slowly backwards, scoring regimented drills in the soil a trowels width apart. A Green Woodpecker jerks back my wandering thoughts, an explosive call repeating across a calm sky, moments later two Waxwings fly over, their shrill calls are unmistakable. Unfortunately they don't stop, and I watch their small silhouettes disappear over the far buildings and under my breath I quietly urge them to return. These striking birds from Scandinavia drift south in hard winters seeking out berry crops. Despite the fact that that it is December, and for me at least, the last working day of the year, we are sowing a wildflower summer meadow,which was a huge success last year. In fact it won us a very smart Tivoli radio when our letter was published in Gardens Illustrated. Standing here on this table top of soil in winter, the warmth of the summer sun beating down on the back of my neck seems like a lifetime ago, a field of bright lozenger poppies sighing in the heat, a drone of busy insects over a haze of ripening seed heads. For two days a volunteer(Jessie), and myself hand picked all the dried seed heads, a back breaking task but so worth it.

The un-winnowed seed has been stored in the four corners of the Bothy. Books, charger leads, secateurs, gloves, random socks and other assorted objects of daily life have spent some time lying submerged in buckets of dusty seed, until today. Once winnowed, the fine volcanic black poppy seed feels icy cool when a hand is pushed into them, and falls away from the fingers like loose silk when removed. After sowing comes the waiting and the hoping, that and a combination of luck and decent growing conditions will help bring a flood of meadow flowers to life.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Capes, masks and tights.

My brain has been wiped, deleted, reformatted and is now permanently hooked up to an ever expanding world of fancy dress Superheroes, Elseworlds, cartoon characters and Aliens aplenty. Every one of my days is seen through super saturated gossamer, every conversation I have is drawn into smooth balloons of perfect letter forms. I plug myself in to hours of podcasts devoted to these 'other' worlds, I read other peoples rants, ravings and reviews in blogland, I check solicitations, keep tabs on upcoming releases and gladly open up my wallet when they are. In short, I read and collect comics. I doesn't seem to matter that I don't understand half of what is going on, in the Superhero Universe it does help if you've been reading for a couple of decades or more. For a newcomer there really is only one option when faced with shelf upon shelf of titles, and that is to dive straight in. All these characters caught up in cosmic battles, good vs evil, have been fighting personal ones as well as they struggle to understand themselves and their place in the Universe, as we struggle to understand and follow a multitude of weaving threads that tie together a bristling ball of story lines, pieced together by many artists and writers over decades into the vast intricate jigsaw known as 'continuity'.

Even long time readers need to read and re-read to understand half what is going on. Comic fan favourite writer, Grant Morrison, is known for his non linear story lines and immense knowledge of the medium, and for the newcomer his pen can scare you away, making you feel utterly confused. Other hurdles that need to be overcome are the overblown events that stretch out over an entire year in weekly issues, the use of pointless dialog where quite often none is needed, sometimes the artwork in the panels can be over busy when depicting action sequences when a simpler more sparing use of space would do. And lastly, if like me you are pushing the post forty year envelope, entering into a shop full of toys, cards and comics can feel a bit daunting. One day some pre-pubescent punk kid at the comic store is going to ask me if I want him to put my purchases into a brown paper bag. "There you go Sir, no one need ever know".

Moan, moan, moan. You would think that I didn't like comics, but like an Apple Mac obsessive that bitches on and on about the mother company, so it is for me with comics. I seem to be buying more and more every week! I mean where else would you find men in spandex and silly masks empathizing with each other in hero worthy heart to hearts. Where else would you find a Superhero dog with it's own cape, ready to serve and protect the citizens of Earth when his master is in need. Where else would you find a Silver Surfer of the spaceways, a tormented lonely figure soaring through the galaxies on an endless quest to save his home planet from Galactus, the destroyer of worlds. If you're more interested in small press comics and zines and Superheroes aren't your cup of tea, then the good news is that demand for underground comics is growing and so is the scene. In London there is an underground comic stall at Camden Market, a fair that can be found at Hand Made and Bound, and also coming out of London is the UK's only weekly radio show about comics, Strip!, which is on Resonance FM. There's no denying it, once you've got the bug the biggest problem that you will have to face is storage!

Monday, 15 December 2008

Music in the landscape...

The Grove.

But first a little history lesson, so if you are sitting comfortably I shall begin by correcting a mistake that I made in my last post. The house with the black bell that is a mere stones throw from our greenhouse, and is situated within the grounds of the neighbouring college, is called The Grove, and was the former home of Emma Darwin, the wife and cousin to Charles Darwin. Following the death of Charles she bought the house and moved in with her daughter during the autumn of 1883. Around the same time, the sons Horace and Frank built and moved into houses with land on either side of The Grove, forming a Darwin enclave

Sigur Ros-on stage in the landscape.

And now for some music. The other thing that I failed to mention was that our little musical get together was in part a homage to the Icelandic band Sigur Ros, whose film Heima documented an unannounced tour of their homeland in 2006. Taking in a variety of unusual venues, most of which were outside within the landscape. The result was a truely moving film that connected the band to its roots, the people of Iceland and its stunning scenery. Words like 'life changing' and 'mesmerizing' have been banded about since the release of Heima in 2007, and in my personal opinion that pretty much sums it up. Some of you may not warm to the music of Sigur Ros, which at times can feel cold and melancholic and will also unleash a clamour of fuzz and noise, bombarding the brain and leaving you blown away. To dive in and expose yourself to the rich visual and musical palette of Heima really is the only way to find out.

Saturday, 13 December 2008

A pulpsfromthebothy production presents...

Sharp faces pushed forward into the icy streets on the morning of the 12th. Treaded peddles slowly turned, creeping car tyres eased gingerly along sparkling ribbons of tarmac. The pavements were sugared with frost and a constant procession of commuters focused on getting to where they were going, clouds of watercoloured orange draining down against the clock. With an after work music session to look forward to we spent the day de-icing the paths and cleaning out the greenhouse. Sleeping giants were gently nudged from their quiet hibernations, the heavy tubs of cropped Bananas and Daturas pushed aside and the drying tubers of Dahlias were packed together under the bench.

The beautiful perforated tiles that run down the middle of the greenhouse got swept and scraped of enough loose compost to fill a large wheelbarrow, revealing their intricate forgotten patent designs. As the mid section was cleared to provide a seating area for the musicians, clouds rolled over the glass roof, I hung my coat on a long piece of wire hanging from a roof truss by the door and it spun there slowly. The spooky winter moods of the Irish song smith, Fionn Regan, egged the spirits on as his brilliant album 'The End of History' played in my ears. Picking up my broom and bending forward I rubbed a clear line to the door at the far end. Pausing momentarily I looked through the glass towards a grand building of Cambridge whites, where a small black bell is recessed, a favourite view of the former home of the late Nora Barlow, the granddaughter of Charles Darwin.

Dark shapes of rose thorns crowned the gloom as the day folded in on the reflections of fairy lights that bounced back from this brittle shell. A trio of musicians emerged from without, tentatively moving around in the candlelight. Under their bowed wings magic instruments were tucked away inside soft bags of cloth, holding the treasures of aural traditions stretching back. As the camera rolled and a microphone recorded the greenhouse session for our film, 'Garden Stories', warm tunes wove together, making magic, casting spells, summoning the ghosts of horses that once stabled here. The area adjoining the greenhouse was once used for this purpose, but now holds two huge compost heaps in the open air. The rusted iron baskets that the horses would have fed from a hundred or so years ago lie at the foot of a wall of crumbling bricks, all that remains of that bygone era. With empty stomachs fueled on sticky slices of cake and fizzy wine, the festivities go on. Night birds with bows and a penny whistle shake Disney dust down on the little lights of bikes that quickly disappear, unaware of this music and the web of planets, slumbering on a bed of cloud above their heads. Music opens the door, and reluctantly I slip away...

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Thursday, 11 December 2008

On the dial

Cold and flu symptoms have blotted out the past few days, so I apologize for a lack of updates. I've been heaving myself from sofa to bath, struggling up and down the stairs and generally slipping in and out of consciousness between listening to and watching podcasts on my i pod. And one that I keep coming back to is 'The Rest of Everest'. Its a lengthy 'nuts bolts n' all' documentary following an American expedition to Everest in 2003, coming in at 110 roughly half hour episodes, it feels like you really know these guys by the time they've lead you with their cameras to Base camp and beyond. In fact it became a joke at work that whenever my colleagues asked where the climbers had got to, the answer came back that they were nearly always at Base camp. I have been following this film for a year or so and I am now currently flagged out, tent pitched and hunkering down with a rare and tasty plate of vacuum packed chicken at, you've guessed it, Basecamp! Episode 39 to be exact. The reason its taken me this long to get to this point in the film is that I go through phases with these things, and with 'The Rest of Everest' the onset of cold weather, icy conditions, big furry hats, scarves, plumes of breath meeting the chill morning air and balls of misletoe hanging in the crouched apple boughs, well it kind of goes with the territory don't you think? The highlights for me on these podcasts are the mealtimes(there's always something cooking), the Sherpas, who are always happy and busy, yabbering away in Nepalese, and of course the scenery, which is stunning and never fails to brighten up the little window on my i pod. So, if you're interested in being a fly on the inside lining of a large dome tent, watching a bunch of hairy unwashed mountain climbers sit around all day at Base camp, eating and scratching and waiting endlessly for the weather to improve, then look no further. Oh, and they do climb eventually!

Saturday, 6 December 2008

The Alliums from outer space!

Alliums at the Bothy. From left, David, Jo, Phil and Peter.

Our boss Jo has been hard at work making the Alien dolls, each one representing a member of the gardening staff. A second prototype UFO is still waiting to leave the drawing board, flashing dog collar and metal dustbin lids are in the offing. With such fine work and dedication having gone into making these cheeky little Aliens, I felt that it was only right that they were given a little back story. So if you are sitting comfortably, I shall tell you all a little story about the four Alliums that live on the Planet 'Pati pan Squash' in the 'Aster Andenken an Alma Potschke' star system. Having been shunned by their fellow Alliums and sent away to an isolated corner of the planet, overlooking the 'Arando donax' nebula, they live out their days studying a cache of rare artifacts brought back from Planet Earth. The story goes that a group of teenage Alliums were accidentally sucked into a giant Wormhole in the space time continuum, whilst killing time chucking moon rocks at the 'Argoos' delivery ships. After recovering from a temporary spell of blindness, incurred after being exposed to an unknown light source within a large sunken roundabout at a place called Luton, they ventured further afield with the hope of finding out more about this strange grey and primitive land. What they found was a country in the grip of the late 1970s. John Travolta was wooing the too pure to be a 'Pink Lady', Olivia Newton John in the film 'Grease', which had the school kids queuing round the block for multiple viewings, and families crowded round the TV watching 'Butterflies', 'Some Mother's Do 'Ave Em', 'The Generation Game' and 'Wonder Woman'. Adapting to the primitive ways of these simple folks, they gorged themselves on Fish and Chips and flat beer before returning to Pati pan Squash. With much excitement they tried to share their tall tales and many souvenirs that they had brought back from Earth. Unfortunately for them it did not impress the evil Lord 'Vinca Major', who was both wary and frightened of the possible effects that these discoveries may have to life on Pati pan Squash, and so they were banished to an off planet lunatic asylum and never heard from again. Years later, alone in a spiritual quest for absolute knowledge of Earth in the 1970s, the four Alliums, Jo, David, Phil and Peter were happily absorbed in their daily prays to a mighty Deity, the gardener's gardener, Geoff Hamilton, listening to Boney M, playing Atari video games, reading comics, role playing as Council gardeners and watching hours and hours of television. Until one day, Phil, who had been blessed with extra olfactory perception, picked up on the smell of toast coming up through the Wormhole. Following Phil's keen nose, they boarded a spaceship made from the salvaged parts of Morris Minors, Minis and Bubble cars, the 'SS Begonia Non Stop!' and set off in hot pursuit of an Earthly breakfast. They were led directly to the door of the infamous 'Bothy'. The mischievous adventures of this little team of Alliums it would seem, has only just begun!

'Garden Stories' film update

Its taken a fair degree of patience(we have none), organization(ditto), and coordination to get to this stage of the film making-process. And it is by no means at an end! After completing a time line for 'Garden Stories', which involved Jo and our camera girl, volunteer gardener and all round unwavering staunch supporter, Claire, sitting through 25 hours of unedited footage and making detailed notes in a small windowless room with a psychotic television prone to psychedelic mood swings, this low low budget magic carpet ride is about to enter the editing suite.

However, we still need to film our Alien sequence, and hopefully a 'live' Guerrilla Gardeners music session in our grade 2 listed 120 year old red ceder greenhouse, slated for the 12th of December. I hope to bring you more about that later, but for now...

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Planting bulbs

Nodding Magpies chuckle at our cold expressions on this grey morning and a line of naked Lime trees wraps around us, giving little comfort. With sackfuls of Spring bulbs and a small quiver of spades loaded onto a wheelbarrow we head out into the gardens. In my experience it is always like this when we plant bulbs, short days pinned down under milky skies, a pause between flowers, dampness in the air and waiting for rain. This year we have 4500 bulbs to plant, and if we are lucky the weather conditions will remain stable until the task is complete, cold is one thing but wind chill equals pain. During the winter months we are wrapped up in every available item of clothing we can find, thermals, overalls, long sleeved t-shirts, jumpers, waterproofs, more jackets, fleeces, thermal liner gloves, several layers of socks, woolly hats etc.., anything that will stave off the cold! When it gets into your bones theres nothing that will shift it except a slow slide into a deep hot bath at the end of the day.

So we boldly go, brushing from our shoulders the moats of floating dust, and folding ourselves in half against the ground we push these small memories of flowers beneath a cold blanket of earth. Once in the ground we quickly forget where we have put them, God knows how the Jays and squirrels remember where they have buried their Winter stores! When a days worth of planting is done we scrape thick chocolate wedges of mud from our boots, balancing against spade handles, chatting and laughing in the gathering dusk and checking our watches against black ribbons of crows flying off to their beds. In the warmth of the bothy, cold hands cradle steaming mugs of tea, overalls get kicked under chairs, brief befuddled key moments come and go before we make our weary way out into a world of dark shapes and streaming tail lights.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Heavy Vinyl

Now thats what I call album art!

At the same time as the rise of the New Wave of Heavy Metal I was entering into the chemical imbalance of mid-teens hell, I was, you could say, ripe for the plucking. Even though many would disagree with my early musical leanings, or even pity me, I can safely say that it hasn't harmed me in any way. I now have a wide range of musical tastes and will just about listen to anything. However, round about 1982/83 I was tuning in every week to the Friday Night Rock Show on Radio 1, presided over by Tommy Vance, the flying 'V' of the airwaves.

There's something very wrong with this picture, Rush, circa 2112.

With my index finger poised over the record button on a briefcase sized ghetto blaster I would tape the shows, and when caught short without a piece of paper to hand I scribbled the names of bands down onto a dwindling stock of old beer mats. Uriah Heap, Nazareth, Saxon, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Scorpions, Motorhead, Iron Maiden and many other band names have all drifted down with me through the years. It was also around about this time that I got my first Hi-Fi, a record deck with two small chip board speakers and no amp. I couldn't have been more happy, that is until I got a replacement with a very good amp that I still use to this day. Up until about 1986 the cream on top of this tall beverage of Heavy Metal noise was occupied by just a handful of groups, AC/DC, Scorpions, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Led Zeppelin and Rush were the ones that held my attentions, and Led Zeppelin and Rush sat at the top of this list.

The awesome 'Kashmir' from the monumental 'Physical Graffiti' probably launched a thousand trips to India and beyond.

My friend and I took to wearing denim jackets and tight jeans(ouch!), and sitting in my back yard in the summer months we would painstakingly embroider the names of our favourite bands onto the back of our jackets. How I wish I had that jacket now, lesson number one never get rid of anything that you will regret in hindsight. I can remember having perforated fingertips from pushing the needle through the tough denim fabric, my mum gave me a thimble, threads and plied us both with tea and cake, no doubt making appreciative noises over our handiwork. Fitted in around the edges of our masterpieces were an assortment of patches and pin badges which we bought from a cramped shop in the city, a dubious emporium of leather accoutrements, bullet belts, chains and t-shirts that gave off a keen fragrance of patuli oil and sweat.

Smashed guitars, dodgy set designs, blazing concert halls. Spinal Tap eat your heart out!

I also remember buying records from a shop called Callers Pegasus. This was either an early precursor to Tesco or it was deeply confused about its own identity, as starting on the ground floor you could book a holiday, on the first floor you could buy a sofa and a nice set of table and chairs before ending up on the second floor where a thin crowd of shoppers, mostly men, could be found flicking through racks of vinyl. Etched forever into my memory is the day I first laid eyes on the white outlines of the twentieth century man holding the Red Star of the Solar Federation at bay, a brilliant logo that for some reason was on the back cover of what is arguably the best Rush album, 2112. The lettering and album art was just as important at that time, and recreating those jagged Gothic letters or the swishy looping Whitesnake logo was quite a challenge to a young man when doodling on the inside of a school ring binder. The pimples, the greasy hair, listening to music and staring at record sleeves, in the words of AC/DC, 'Rock n' Roll Ain't Noise Pollution!'.

Lipstick and leather. Discovering new ways to play guitar and break an ankle at the same time.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Another bird stamp.

Stonechat on an Irish stamp.

I love Stonechats, they remind me of sea breezes, beach huts, gorse bushes and sand dunes. I can hear one calling in my head right now.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Rambling on and on...

Birds on stamps. Red Necked Phalarope, Iceland, 1989.

A Red-Eyed Vireo from North America. This one was on The Isles of Scilly, UK, about 20 years ago.

Minus money, car and time I rarely go birding these days, and if I do its likely to be a trip to a nearby park next a Tesco supermarket, with facilities catering to the unwelcome attentions of local vandals. Once every few years I spend a few weeks or months running the gauntlet of dog walkers, horse riders and kamikaze mountain bikers in an attempt to rekindle my semi lapsed interests. The lakes are too deep to attract anything more than a few fishermen, but despite the odds I have spent many hours tiptoeing around the reed fringed edges and surrounding fields in the vain hope that I would turn up something interesting. Unable to shift this need to bird I find myself obsessively counting the gulls on Jesus Green, small flocks of starlings on chimney pots, winter swirls of Redwings and mixed flocks of crows returning to roost over the college. Whenever I here a bird call my head swivels around instinctively, at home the bookshelves groan under the weight of bird books and the fading photos of rare birds that I ticked off in my twitching days lie at the bottom of a messy draw. My head is crawling with memories. Seabirds and waders on the North East coast of England, a kaleidescope of colourful warblers, thousands of Monarch butterflies that drifted across a road like confetti in a season spent following the bird migrations in North America, a Painted Bunting puffing out it's chest feathers against the clean mountain air as it freed sweet melodies upon the green mountain State of Vermont, and many more birdy moments, too many to mention here or even recall. So I hope you will forgive my obsessive compulsions and introspective ramblings, its only me birding from my rocking chair.

Monday, 24 November 2008

Little Red Tractor

Steering towards a tractor sized memory, circa 1976.

On a small fruit farm in Denmark behind shelter belt hedges and a squat farm house, where row after row of trees ran away from the eye, a little red tractor busied to and fro with boxes of ripe apples and plums. It was sometime in the mid Seventies that my family spent a short time here. The kitchen fizzed with flies, Abba played on the stereo and my sister and I were given colourful fly swats to amuse ourselves with. This rural idyll came wrapped in a sweet fog of apples, and if the sun shone, which I'm sure it did, it nestled in a thick crown of orchard hair and filtered through a large jar of marbles that radiated confectionery swirls across the floor.

The present day garden toy equivalent with power steering.

The real treat of these visits was the chance I got to ride pillion on an jolly red Massey-Ferguson. With my tiny hands gripped round the steering wheel, the huge rear wheels biting into the ground, my ears would rattle to the sound of its throaty engine. In a near perfect tractor driving memory I can recall the needle on the speedometer bouncing wildly and ineffectively round the dial as the horizon lurched drunkenly on the end of the tractor's nose. Throughout, the old farmer kept a strong controlling arm on our progress.

I don't want a car, give me a reconditioned Massey-Ferguson FE 35!!

These early driving memories have given me a life long love of tractors that remains undimmed to this day. I now get to play on a little green John Deere, but if I were to win the Lottery tomorrow, the unnecessary luxury that I would treat myself to would be the Massey-Ferguson of my dreams! I'd park it in the driveway, take it on the supermarket run and beetle back and forth on my daily trek to the college gardens. Luckily for the environment I don't think there is any fear of this fantasy becoming a reality!

Friday, 21 November 2008

Stink it up!

By eck' luv y' smell gorgeous! Okay that isn't what the wife said to me when I returned home from work today, but she did comment on the rustic aroma lifting from the fibers of my big woolly jumper. No not manure or wood smoke, but Rosemary. My eager family flocked around me in the dim glow of the kitchen for a good sniff as a wintery burst of hail pebbled against the windows. It's at this time of year that we chop back the Rosemary hedges that we have planted around the college properties. Halving them in size by just under a metre using a pair of hand shears is vigorous work, and it kept me warm for most of the day in the cold wind. Every year when we do this job we manage to draw people in by their noses, screeching to a sudden halt on their bicycles or causing them to perform abrupt u turns on the pavement. Grabbing at the scattered trimmings on the ground and bundling them together, they ask if they may have some for the pot, eyes all a glimmer! Yes, yes and yes we say again and again. One year, after giving an old overgrown Rosemary a harsh prune, I trussed up the trimmings like a Christmas turkey before strapping them to my back. Wandering off into town to do a spot of Christmas shopping, I ended up in an art and crafts shop, Primavera, opposite Kings College. As I walked in I became aware of the customers stares and delighted comments as the shop filled with a heady vapor of fresh Rosemary. It wasn't long before the manager of the shop approached me and asked if he could have the Rosemary off my back for his Christmas window display, in return he would give me a nice hand made coffee cup. One early Christmas present checked off the list and I was back out on the streets of Cambridge shuffling along under strings of sparkling lights with a triumphant smile on my face. If you can't find any stray rustic gardeners with large bunches of fresh Rosemary about their person, then why not grow some, it makes a very nice hedge and it grows quite quickly. Or Neal's Yard have some nice products to put you in a rustic frame of mind.

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Loo views

Those quirky people from the Innocent drinks company posted a wonderful link for loos with a view, take a look, it should put the colour back in your cheeks, it did it for me! Unfortunately my cloud photo that I took above the college today is not the view from the gardeners loo. We have a tiny window in our netty which is above head height behind the toilet and looks out onto an apple tree, a portion of the canopy is framed which means I can watch the birds foraging for insects. Not quite the panorama of my dreams, but it beats a windowless toilet. It seems there is a bamboo toilet at the summit of Mount Sinai, I've been up there and I never saw it, all I remember were lots of wailing Japanese tourists and yes, a very beautiful view.

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

Alien headspace

No sleep till Kandor! Braniac's motorhead rocks up at the Kryptonian city of Kandor. From Action Comics no.866 Aug.08, Brainiac part 1. Click on image to enlarge.

Starting download. From Action Comics no.869 Nov.08, Brainiac part 4. Click on image to enlarge.

The Coluan carousel head pigs out on Kryptonian data as Superman slogs it out inside Braniac's beautiful skull ship. The baddies always seem to have the best toys! This story line was one of those rare occasions when the art and story danced the Rumba and scored a perfect 10. Working their magic here were Gary Frank leading on pencils, and on this occasion Geoff Johns following on words.

Monday, 17 November 2008

My rubbish list

A constant stream of unwanted packaging and paper is jettisoned onto our streets, carelessly avoiding all the rubbish bins provided. It may be annoying to us, and you could say that it is spoiling our environment, but what happens to that discarded flyer, that note you wrote to yourself, to the milkman or a friend? A few words taken on an unplanned journey by a gust of wind nagging at that pile of paper in your recycling box. This flotsam of our busy lives floats around in the public domain waiting for someone with a bin liner and a set of litter pickers to find and pick it up. It always reminds me of something a Bedouin man said to me many moons ago, grinning from ear to ear he said "In Egypt we have a saying, ashtray all around!"
So without further ado here is my rubbish list, dated 17.11.08.

Two crisp packets, one Walkers salt & vinegar and one McOy's- flame grilled steak flavour.

One empty packet of Milky Way 'Magic Stars'.

Three empty drinks cans, one Red Bull energy drink, one Scrumpy Jack cider and one Fosters lager("I can see the pub from here!")

Two discarded lottery tickets for the 14th of October draw, three lines chosen as follows.. A. 4,6,7,9,14,19,26 B. 1,2,3,5,11,13,14 and C. 4,7,13,19,22,24,25.

One unused ticket for the Fez Club in Cambridge, ticket no.00167

One Kellogg's Nutri-Grain strawberry snack bar.

One Papermate flexi-grip ball point pen.

Four sweet wrappers as follows.. Bounty, Kit Kat, Maltesers and Wispa

One black sock.

Two right hand gloves, one large black and one small white.

One acoustic stage gig guide for venues around Cambridge in November( best band names from the list included.. 'Underline the Sky', 'Umbrella Assasins' and 'Allotment'.

One empty Kinder surprise toy capsule complete with instructions for building the missing toy, cartoon cat dressed in ice hockey kit with stick and helmet.

One complementary slip for Crowne Plaza- hotels and resorts, with the name 'Francis' hand written in pen in the top right hand corner, room no. 320.

One small printed note to students from the Junior Common Room, which probably at one point accompanied a gift of some sort? The note read as follows.. ' A little something to beat those week 5 blues.. keep smiling girls! And remember your welfare officer is there if you need her! Much love, your JCR xxx'

For those of you who just can't get enough, there is the Found Magazine website to satiate your daily needs. There is also a guerrilla movement of post it note freaks who put it out there into the wider environment, randomly leaving scribblings and doodles to be found in the strangest of places. As the great Gonzo himself once said.. " It never got weird enough for me!" Amen to that.

Science Fiction Flashback

In response to the most recent blog post by Chris Priestley, I have posted here an old blog I did before I had a blog, if that makes sense. I was spurred into action by some of the book choices in Chris' blog which also appear here. Chris has been doing some posts recently that highlight a few of his favourite children's books, they are well worth a look. Check them out here.

The front cover of the Ray Bradbury novel ' The Martian Chronicles' caught my eye the other day. Soap-like humanoid figures recline in a Martian landscape as if they were chilling on a back garden patio and wondering if the sun was going to disappear behind a rogue cloud.
That culty science fiction fifties vibe cast my brain backwards to a book I had read on a farm holiday in Portugal in the late 1970's. The book in question was H.G Wells' ' War of the Worlds' and I couldn't put it down. As the young farm boy shot his air gun at anything that moved, and the fat midday heat slumped down on the ripening oranges, I flicked over the pages and got lost. The martian ants advanced across the farmhouse floor towards the breakfast jam and small skinky lizards skittered out of view. HG hauled me between the pages where an asteroid-like cylinder disgorged huge tripod legged martians that lumbered over the landscape incinerating humankind with their laser heat rays. Outside the farmhouse, the homicidal chicken dispatcher with triple glazed vision and huge forearms went about her daily grind in the shadows of an out building. She deftly wielded her hatchet, letting the sun dry the blood down her thick rubber apron. It was a great book and an idyllic holiday, seriously it was!

A few years later I bought a copy of Jeff Wayne's War of the Worlds musical score of which I remember surprisingly little, but with a little research it all came flooding back. The disco infused back-beat, Richard Burton's hypnotic narration and Rick Wakeman's 70s synthesized rock opera noodlings. It was amusing to read a 15 year old boys review of this album on Amazon. He gushes enthusiastically, putting it up there with the likes of Hyden and Mozart before ending in congratulatory tones with a "Well done Jeff!" It's a nice thought isn't it?, that Jeff Wayne is sitting there thirty years on, trawling through the Amazon reviews of his magnus opus. Another little interesting tie in is that Tomohiro Nishikado, yes him, the very famous Japanese video game developer, was so inspired by the tripod martians in War of the Worlds that he created an 'octopus' approximation that marched down the video screen in serried ranks towards the player's frantically blasting canon, which despite an inexhaustible supply of ammunition could only fire one shot at a time. In Japan, 'Space Invaders' caused a coin shortage which resulted in the production of the Yen being quadrupled.

John Wyndham, who was also influenced by the War of the worlds, created that wonderful post apocalyptic vision of the blind leading the blind through deserted streets where giant carnivorous plants shuffled around the fringes of the story. I never read 'The Day of the Triffids', but I did see the 1981 BBC adaptation which gave me nightmares at the time. The Triffids were fashioned on the tropical pitcher plant and were brought to life in true Doctor Who style by some poor sweaty bloke hunkered down inside it. Operating this multi story trunk of rubber around a little corner of British suburbia must have given him a lifetime's supply of "Did I ever tell you about the time when I....."stories to amuse countless strangers at drinks parties.Now let me see, I remember there was a bearded bloke who was the main character, and a female support who he fell in love with. The pair of them were sighted, which set them apart from nearly everyone else who were sightless. In the first episode we see the beardy guy lying in a hospital bed with his eyes bandaged. Unknown to him there has been a strange meteor display which turned my parents TV screen a sickly shade of green. This event rendered the viewers blind, by that I mean the actors in the story. In a scene that has repeated on me many times over the years, a few of the sighted survivors make contact with each other using flashlights from the top of neighboring tower blocks. If you happen to know of anyone who has the book, I would love to read it. I think I had a shirt just like his,bought for me by my mum in Marks and Sparks' probably, except mine didn't have a blonde girl with hoody eyes hiding behind it. The strange gun shot little scimitar shaped blades which severed the heads of the triffids.

Finally we come to a truly silly movie called 'Mars Attacks'. With more tongue in cheek references to War of the Worlds it's a no holds barred ray gun wielding romp. The martians keep setting up peace treaties and then massacre anyone who turns up. Using this tried and tested method they manage to wipe out both the United States Congress and the National Assembly of France.My wife was heavily pregnant with my daughter when we went to see this film. The constant barrage of ray guns and the "Akk Akk Akk!!" of the martians sent my unborn daughter into a frenzy. We had to pile all our jumpers and coats on top of her to dampen out the sound. Playing cowboy yodeling music to the martians made their heads explode, which was a huge relief! So ends my science fiction flashback. Another rambling pulp could sneek into your in box sometime in the near future, you have been warned!

Sunday, 16 November 2008

Private Eye

Once a week a trees worth of newspapers winds its way from the hushed and brushed confines of the Fellows drawing room out to the recycling bin via the arms of a fastidious cleaner, what is not known to many is that the gardeners keep a close track of this bundle of newsprint. Whether they are incorporating it into their regular litter picking duties or just making a quick fly by check in passing, its just possible that you may happen upon a gardener with his head deep inside a large green wheelie bin, searching for a disguarded copy of the Private Eye magazine, this is the treasure that we seek! With a victorious whistle and a deft Fred Astaire clickety clack of the heels, the latest issue of Private Eye is rolled up tight and shoved down a back pocket for a break time read and a chuckle.

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

shadow play

As we rake leaves into huge piles, a low winter sun filters through the garden projecting a wide screen of shadow play across the white walls of the college.

Hope you like these photos I took yesterday afternoon.