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.

Monday, 10 November 2008

Eggs and sausage and a side of toast- Part 3.

The elusive Bothy, an underground hangout for hipsters, fashion freaks, film critics and a kaleidoscope of like minded avant gardeners with seeds in their pockets and flowers in their mouths.

A line of wet footprints tracks across the concrete floor where damp leaves have blown before, and now gather under chairs. An outlaw keeps watch over us from beneath a Cezanne print that was given away free in the weekend paper. The outlaw in question is the country music legend Waylon Jennings who sang of good hearted women and them good ol' boys that never meant any harm. Welcome to the Bothy. Old newspapers saved for the interesting articles stack and slump sideways, assorted seed packets, old boots with frayed and broken laces, damp waterproofs hang above our heads like sleeping bats and page marked half finished books slowly germinate words on the fertile floor. Up on a narrow shelf, and directly above the kettle's spout, sits a smart all weather 'Tivoli' radio which appears to be at odds with its cluttered surroundings. Next to a microwave that no longer works is an industrial sized marmalade tub, that rests like a winter store for a family of Paddington Bears, in shadow of a toaster's equivalent of Sizewell B. A mobile heater leans towards the floor on an uneven number of casters where a cobweb gently vibrates in the rising thermals. The forecast in the Bothy is for a rising fug and a deepening edge of damp coats edging slowly in from the east. The salvaged long mirror that hangs by the sink reflects dripping conifers in the yard and on any given day the Bothy plays host to half hourly congregations, kettle steams, laughter and animated conversation. If a menu board did exist for this, my favourite cafe 'of sorts', it would list just the bare necessities like cakes, tea, coffee, homemade jams and college fruits. Visitors often need to stand or sit wherever they can, we operate on an open door policy, although comfort cannot be guaranteed. The internet connection is dodgy, mobile phone reception is iffy and our single land line has mood swings. Aside from this the bonhomie and the camaraderie is just fine. Oh, and if you were thinking of paying us a visit, don't forget to to bring some extra cakes. See you soon!

Sunday, 9 November 2008

Crickets and a train, oh my!

Don't ask me how I find these but I will send you in the right direction to listen to them from time to time. I love listening to ambient field recordings, found sounds from the environment that surrounds us. I have managed to hit pay dirt with a couple of sites. First up is The Quiet American, enthusiasts from around the world send in their own recordings and post them here under the heading 'One minute Vacations'. There is an audio clip of a steam train moving through the Australian outback, find it here, dated November 5th, 2007. I advise you to listen with headphones, you only get a third of the intended audio without them. There is a PayPal donate button at the Quiet American website if you wish to contribute. Enjoy!

Saturday, 8 November 2008

moon with a view.

Superman prepares Supergirl for a little get away from it all 'one on one' time in Superman/Supergirl- Maelstrom no.1. I like to look at isolated comic book panels, giving each one time on it's own. I have friend that I hardly ever see anymore who now paints birds for a living. The warning signs were already there in his teens, whenever he came round to my house he would take field guides and art books from the shelves and spend hours just staring at each individual plate, eating up and devouring every last feather on the page. It was one of those things that I got from hours spent in the field birdwatching, the joy of exercising the eye, to really notice things, each slightest movement and detail mapped by the habit of constantly scanning. Even now I can't help checking rooftops, bushes, trees, fence posts and telephone wires for birds. This panel got me wondering how superhero capes would react to the lack of gravity in space? The artist here, Phil Noto, has cunningly framed the Earth with the curl of Supergirl's cape, maybe signaling to her regret for mistakes made and her need to care for the Earth's inhabitants?

Something I haven't done for a while is to set up my telescope for a spot of moon watching. The next full moon is on the 13th of November, so if the skies are clear and the light from an infinite number of galaxies wraps around the staggered chimney pots of countless silver rooftops, I will decamp to the back garden and scan its bright benevolent features for signs of life!

My favourite Tin Tin adventure, and rocket!

Panel to panel from The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite no.1, by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba. Incidentally there is a new series of The Umbrella Academy due to hit the comic book shelves very soon.

The tale of the fox that fell in love with a young monk. A lovely story from Neil Gaiman in the Sandman series called 'The Dream Hunters'. This is from issue no.1 which came out last week. The art is by P. Craig Russell.

To finish off this little post on moon related bits and bobs, try out this track by Mike Oldfield,
'Moonlight Shadow' was released as a single in 1983, from the album 'Crises', which I bought at the time. It has a green moon at the centre of the vinyl and I remember playing this track over and over, aaah, such soft innocent times!

Friday, 7 November 2008

Invisible landscapes

In the last few days a sludgy gloom has descended, temperatures have risen and a fine rain has been blowing gently across us in misty skirts, feeling somewhat like being attacked by a giant atomizer. All the lights in the main college buildings have been switched on all day, making the concrete glow and emphasizing the perpetual gloom outside. This slide into the first half of winter has an interesting effect on the gardeners who at the best of times feel like ruminants in the landscape. Melting back between the dark stands of trees, in November our shadows vanish and the wild birds and animals lose their fear of us. Heads down, the office workers scuttle from one warm building to another, and thrown into relief we undergo a mental shift, entering into a northern European mind set. We have no choice but to embrace the bare minimalism of a garden stripped down to its angular framework. Strange static squelches and whistles leek through from space as we spin the dial to re-tune to our internal landscape, where daydreams float under the movements of winter birds, and bright contrails that dart across the globe threaten to break the spell. It's not for everyone this internal journey, but I have already half welcomed its arrival by coating my snow white ipod with an electro ambient gloss of coolness. Beamed into the bright heart of my living pod are the following artists... Tangerine Dream-'Dream Sequence', Sigur Ross-'Takk', Boards Of Canada -'Music Has The Right To Children', Trentemøller -'The Last Resort', Brian Eno-'Music For Airports' and Northaunt with the tracks that I have so far, 'Horizons' and 'Autumn Cold'. As the atmosphere thins and the emptiness of space presses down on the garden, headphones are de-rigeur this season!

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

A place of departure.

Each of Jo Tunmer's paintings wakes the senses to moments lost in time, and allows us the chance to daydream, and to travel to places half recalled that you feel certain that you've been to before. That's the wonderful thing about Jo's work, they can be all of our lost moments.

Standing at the point of our departure, she captures the essence of being in the landscape, physically connects us to it, and at times leads us along diffuse paths and roads that play with a core need that exists in all of us, to see what lies beyond the horizon.

It is no surprise that her paintings are finding an ever growing band of devotees on both sides of the Atlantic. If you would like to find out more, then visit Jo's website here.

Monday, 3 November 2008

This notes for you!

Sharon Foo, from the The Raveonettes. See the original source of this image here.

During the course of an average day at work I usually have my headphones jammed permanently onto my head, occasionally I push aside the left or right ear piece to include myself in conversation, but at times it can feel like I've been caught in a fish bowl moment, mouths moving in silent animated discussion whilst I struggle to untangle all the various ambient noises. Tractors, traffic, music, podcasts, conversation and birdsong all clamour for my attention. A quiet life in the garden, more often than not it ain't! Because I spend so much time listening to my i pod, I find myself getting a bit bored with it's content, and as a result when I link it up to the mother ship it's usually for slimming down purposes and not for uploading some groovy new addition to the library. All is not lost though, as one of the benefits of familiarity is that there are always a few weightless gems that bobble up above the rest. Some of the recent highlights warming my garden head space are Will Johnson's album 'South San Gabriel', Andrew Bird's 'Armchair Apocrypha', and The Raveonettes 'Chain Gang Of Love' and their latest offering 'Lust, Lust, Lust', which came with a funky pair of 3D spectacles! This band has to be one of my favourites at the moment. They are a Danish rock & roll twosome who sing sweet harmonies over intense surf rock fuzzy guitar noise. They blend 50s and 60s rock & roll with the darker sounds of The Velvet Underground. They've got that sugar and salt spitting bubblegum Pulp Fiction that I like. I can imagine listening to this on an evening spent reading some old 'Strange Tales' comics. I say treat yourself today, everyone should have at least one Raveonettes album in their CD stack.

They don't make them like they used to. Find more of the above here


Sunday, 2 November 2008

Cloudbreak sequence!

The perfect wave in the sky.

Big hollow barrel in the sky!

Closing out!

Boom!, the wave pounds into the impact zone.

I took this series of photos last week over the gardens. For those not in the know, there is a famous surf spot in Fiji called 'Cloudbreak'.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Winter came early

An early end to the late summer tub displays. Salvias still in full bloom.

Carnage, waiting to be thrown on the compost heap.

Chopped back and ready for winter hibernation.

Tools of the trade.

Beautiful blooms going to waste.
Piled high.
Tractor loaded and ready for the off.

Embers of autumn fires lie scattered on the ground, not of the wood and smoke variety, but of the floral kind. Sheets of rain and hail last week gave way to clearing skies and tumbling temperatures. It was as if time had stood still, rain drops had frozen mid drip to my handlebars, the brakes had seized up and the gears wouldn't work, which meant that my legs spun round furiously on the pedals. Nowhere feels the change in seasons more acutely than in the garden, so the race is now on to bring in our frost tender plants before they get decimated. In previous years the Salvias, Dahlias, Daturas and Bananas kept on thrilling right to the end of November, but an early frost and forecast for a series of frosts has left us scrambling. What a shame. Ripping out our large tub displays that were still in full bloom was heart breaking. The greenhouse was cleared ready to receive these delicate souls, and so we have no choice now but to embrace the winter. The heater in the bothy has been cranked up and I've pulled out my Russian hat from storage. Winter related tales are now in the offing.