Monday, 21 December 2009

Winter Solstice celebration.

Away with you, you evil spirits that hide in the orchard, our Mistletoe and songs will see you off, our noise and cheers rise up into a crown of thorns. Good health, wassail!
Today we tapped into our Pagan roots, toasting the shortest day and also planting and dressing a tree. The tree we chose for our Solstice party was a Glastonbury Thorn, also known as the Holy Thorn. Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea, Jesus' great uncle, visited Glastonbury during a grand tour to spread the word of Christianity. He brought with him a wooden staff that had belonged to Jesus, after climbing Wearyall Hill he thrust the staff into the fertile soil where it took root and threw out branches that burst into leaf.

Unlike Hawthorn which flowers once a year in the Spring, the Glastonbury Thorn is known for it's twice yearly blossoming at Christmas time and again at Easter.

Scraping back the blanket of snow, we cut into the earth to prepare the planting hole, which thankfully was an easy dig. Moments later a noisy chorus of crows cut the crisp air with their hoarse greetings, nineteen birds bowing and tail fanning in the thin branches of a Lime tree.

A small procession brought the Thorn tree to it's planting hole, across an untrodden crust of snow and towards the pitching sun, that on this very day falters on it's axis, barely climbing high enough to brake the knotted boughs of the apple trees down in the nearby orchard.

We dressed it's branches with coloured ribbons, threaded sweet wrappers and even a cat's toy mouse hung from one of it's thorns. We sang ancient songs of the Green Man, a Winter Solstice poem was read out and we drank to the health of the tree, sampling our own homemade Summer fruit Cassis. Pouring some on the roots of our tree in true Wassailing tradition, we filled ourselves on cake, mince pies and ice cream.

And so we turn the corner, each day now getting longer as we wait for the Crocus flowers and Primroses that herald the beginning of Spring. Happy Winter Solstice everyone!

Saturday, 12 December 2009

The life and times of an ambivelant football suppoter (Part 1.)

Shearer - who used to be a couple of forms below me when I was at school.

I can count on one hand the coldest moments in my life, I have also just realized that I could easily ramble on about the times that I have been unnecessarily cold, so I will... soon, but not now. After all this piece is football related.

Going back to my early teens, I had a friend who was only marginally less passionate about Newcastle United than his own mother, who I vividly remember shouting and screaming at the TV screen during live matches as I cowered on the sofa. She barked instructions at the players, wailed in pain if the 'Toon' conceded a goal, the Brazilians couldn't hold a flame to this woman if Newcastle scored a gooooal!! The front room exploded in a sudden release of raw emotion, and all this between feverish bouts of ironing.

Around the same time my friends parents took me along to see Newcastle play against Wolverhampton Wanderers. I don't remember much, we were standing right down at the edge of the pitch and there were no fences at the time, football heroes tackled within a couple of arms lengths, and I think Newcastle lost that game. And yet all I could think of was how cold I was!

I was never that keen on football, and to this day I remain only casually interested. For years I came accustomed to what must be some of the most passionate fans in British football, 'The Toon Army', making their way to St. James Park, the football stadium in the center of the city, spilling out of near by pubs in a river of black and white that snaked through the streets towards the home of football.

Jump forward twenty years plus and add to that a change of cities, swapping Newcastle for Cambridge, bring my own football mad son into the equation, and that river of black and white has become but a distant memory.

The Magpie has been replaced by the Canon of the 'Gooners', Arsenal.

Not having a football mad dad to gain inspiration from, my son has turned to a good friend of ours who is a fervent follower of Arsenal. Brain washing?, call it what you will, but my son is football crazy and loves Arsenal. I feel like an unbeliever in the Houses of Holy, slowly being worked on until I fall under it's spell.

Monday, 7 December 2009

A fresh face at the London Comic Book Mart

Superman Vol. 39, No.308 - 'This Planet Is Mine'

That fresh face was mine, a wee lamb set free in a cage full of old lions, fixated on taking my green ass to the bank.

This is only my second foray into the monthly 'free for all' of the London Comic Book Mart, the last time I came was a very short visit with my family in tow. I didn't really get a chance to look around, my 10 year old son thought he had died and gone to heaven, understandably so, surrounded as he was by so many trading cards, which is his weakness. My wife, on the other hand, was slightly disconcerted by the sight of so many pale, shabbily dressed men thumbing through boxes of grubby old paper. I was out of there before I had a chance to acclimatize.

Superman Vol.41, No.338 - 'Let My People Grow'

So, jump forward a month and I was back again, fresh off the Cambridge to Kings Cross train. Was I showing my naivete?, I was excited, I was hopeful, and I had a very modest list of Bronze age Superman titles that I felt certain were there just waiting for me to pick up.

I think I must have had fresh meat written across my forehead, for my fellow mart goers were at times obstructive, blocking access to the boxes I wanted to look through, and when I finally maneuvered into position, a grasping arm would reach across me and block my vision, it was like being at a weekend car boot sale.

I paid £4.50 for one title that I later found at another dealers table for a pound, my knowledge and mileage in comic book collecting showed itself only too clearly.

Superman Vol. 36, No. 279 - 'Menace Of The Energy - Blackmailers'

I'm making it sound like I had a terrible time, but in fact I now know that I want to try again, to be more bargain savvy, not to limit myself and to experiment a bit more, to sharpen my elbows, and most importantly to make sure I avoid standing down wind from the bloke who hasn't washed behind his ears in God knows how long!

You know, I thought Superman wasn't that popular, you could have fooled me! It seemed to be that I was forever stuck behind his biggest fan.

Superman Vol. 34, No. 256 - 'The Dagger That Ripped The Sky'

My modest little wish list comprised of a handful of issues from 1977, to be more exact I was aiming to bag no. 307-10 of Superman, penciled by the Spanish born artist Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. This modern master of the medium had moved to New York via Argentina, and worked for DC comics between 1974-82.

Before coming down to London I had made a search of artists working on the Superman books, and this man's pencils stood out a mile in my estimation. I came away with issue no. 308 from February 1977, entitled 'This Planet Is Mine'.

So, what do I take away with me? A thirst for more, one eye on e-bay, a London date set in my diary and a new found appreciation of classic comic book artists.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Battle of the Super/Hyper Powers!

Strangled by his own cape!, at the hands of the smooth talking Vartox. What style! Thigh length leather boots, hot pants, hairy chest and a handlebar mustache. Lana Lang can barely contain herself, as old flame Vartox puts TV sportscaster, Steve Lombard on ice with his amazing super, forward slash, hyper powers.

What Lana doesn't realize is that Vartox is being held against his will by the inhabitants of Tynola, and he has arrived on Earth after being granted permission to bid a final farewell to his friends.

He has used this opportunity to seek the help of Superman, and together they concoct a plan to fool the inhabitants of Tynola, by entering into into a mock battle in the skies above the alien planet.

Brylcreamed Vartox puts on an impressive display of Super/Hyper Powers, including the amazing remote controlled punch and his deadly cape strangling techniques, which almost get the better of Superman.

It takes a potent power charge of pure hyper energy ( that's an electric shock to you and me ), caused by a conversion of his own molecular structure to bring down the Man of Steel. Can Superman regain his strength? Can Vartox escape? Will these Superheros triumph? And what are these Tynolians up to? Unfortunately I can't answer these questions until I get my hands on issue no.357 of Superman from 1981. The hunt is on!

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Rain, thorns and a little green flame

Plip, plop, plip, plop! As we moved with due care and attention, back and forth along the muddy floor of the greenhouse, avoiding the reaching arms of potted Salvias and the fleshy tendrils of bare roots around our feet, there came the now familiar sound of rain as it shed from the fish scale window panes and into the gutter line.

We organized our precious tender plants and waited out the weather. Natures dark shapes rowed under smoke clouds and bright Cotoneaster berries hung in heavy tresses on the college boundary, the garden was glazed in rain water.

Spades thrown into a trailer ready for action, the tractors engine rattled into to life before powering forward into the murk, it's little green flame hood flickering in a damp world.

The green man sleeps in the thorns, his eyes pressed shut against the thicket, a Hedge Sparrow flitted into view and briefly gave away his resting place. We gathered great clods of earth on our feet, spreading seed on our passage from compost heap to college entrance. The thought of heavy perfumed Hyacinth crowns lifted our spirits and kept us locked into our day's duty.

I chose the Irma Thomas track 'It's Raining', not just because of the inclement conditions, I chose it because it popped up on the latest edition of the bikeshow, and it brought back memories of a mix tape that a friend in the U.S had given to me. She was a bean pole of a gal' that worked in a crystal emporium on the New Jersey shore. She had a dry sense of humour and a keen nose for Blues and Jazz.

I was down in her book as 'little Peter no phone', basically because I was staying in a boarding house and living somewhere between the bar and the swimming pool. The Chrystal cave where she worked tinkled and glittered, and breathed to the sounds of Mother Earth and New Age. Along with other classic cuts on my mix tape was this gorgeous track by Irma Thomas.

Monday, 30 November 2009

Gardeners' reading

Released from the snug embrace of the Bothy, food half digested, tea warming us from the inside out, a quick scan of the heavens confirms that there is a rare opportunity for a spot of apres reading and an 'x' of contrails in the sky marks the spot under which we should sit. Finally, we grab some upturned crates to sit on before disappearing beneath the lightness of print, losing ourselves between the weightless pages of other worlds revealed.

Jess has become entranced by Jenny Uglow's ' A little History of British Gardening', a potted time line of gardening practice, tracing the activities of keen gardeners from the Roman times to the present day. Delving into the lives of the common garden labourer , the Plant hunters, garden designers, Celts and their Vines, the Monks and their herbs, garden tools, flowers and much, much more.

David is engrossed in a fever pitched thriller set in the ancient city of Pompeii. Robert Harris, author of 'Fatherland' and 'Enigma', takes us to the rich, teaming settlements built at the foot of Mount Vesuvius. The story is set just days before the volcano is due to erupt, decimating everything in it's path.

As for myself I am following Mark Cocker's lines of ragged crows across the East Anglian landscape.

A fascinating picture slowly unravels, as Cocker uses both his gift for prose and his immense passion for this little understood family of birds to bring us closer to the Rook, Jackdaw and the Carrion Crow.

As gardeners we are blessed with 'crow time', when the last shreds of burnished daylight slip behind the silhouetted tree line and the loose convoys of noisy crows head back to their night time roosts. It reminds us of how detached we have become from natures rhythms in our increasingly urbanized existence.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

A head full of Twilight

The face of Edward Cullen seems to be following me, he is in my life. I see him in town, in the cinema, in my daughter's bookshelf and most annoyingly his protective, overbearing gaze reads my every thought. What am I to think?, how do I feel about the world Stephenie Meyer has created? I find myself drawn both ways, at once compelling but at the same this teenage fantasy of romance and feuding monsters repels me due to my age! However, my daughter on the other hand lives and breathes this world along with all the other 10-20 year olds across the globe. For that reason it would be more appropriate for her to continue with this post, so take it away daughter!....

When I first saw Twilight, I had never even heard of it. I was at my friend's house to stay the night when we had a sudden urge to watch a film. Most of her films we had already seen, except for one - Twilight. I was reluctant to watch it, but my friend was so enthusiastic, I decided to give it a go.

As soon as it started I didn't want to stop watching, something about it appealed to me. Maybe it was the calming music? Maybe it was the fact that I was also trying to work out what Edward and his family really were? I loved the flow of the film, the action and the romance. I loved the way Edward's eyes changed colour, and he was so strong and fast, but when the movie had ended I hated the fact that there were so many unanswered questions.

-Why did Edward's eyes change colour?
-How come Alice can see the future, Edward can read minds, but none of the other Cullens can do anything special?

I made a vow to myself to find the answers to all of these questions, and I knew how to start. The next day I forced my mum to take me into town and buy me the series as an early birthday present. The book answered my questions, and much, much more. When my birthday came I was given the film. I watched it with my family in the evening. My mum was loving it, my dad making really bad jokes, and me, bored out of my skull! After reading the book the film is slow, boring, dull and different. I strongly recommend that if you haven't already - READ THE BOOKS - THEY ARE FANTASTIC!!!!!!!

I read the others, and soon after, the film New Moon came out. I was so excited! My friend and I had agreed to go together for her birthday, and so we did.

As I walked into the cinema, the Twilight music was playing, I was hyperventilating. Unfortunately my excitement was drowned by half an hour of non Twilight related adverts. But when the film started, everyone screamed. I watched mesmerized and enchanted by the way they had changed the book. This was truly my favourite film ever - but still no way near as good as the book.

This film has brought war. War between Edward and Jacob. In twilight the choice is clear - Edward, but in New Moon when Edward - I can't even say it - is so horrible, most people will chose Jacob. Now there is:


I am definitely Team Edward - even after what he did. I have chosen him because of the way in which he treats Bella, the way he will do anything to protect her and his Je ne c'est quoi way about him. I have chosen to go against Jacob because of what he does later on.

I am really looking forward to the next two films - especially Breaking Dawn, and I hope that through reading this post you will all be jumping on your bikes to get the books!

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Full circle

Why am I so excited about ripping out all those wonderful late summer bedding displays? We spend the whole summer building up for just a few short weeks of full on floral fireworks. Giant Salvias, arching Sunflowers, Morning Glory's, Amaranthus, Tithonias, Bananas, Dahlias, Daturas... and the list goes on.

Months of weeding, watering, staking and tying up. And now we are shuffling our toes to the edge of Winters cold blank canvas.

With nowhere to hide on the bare ground, we swing our gaze across the silhouettes of trees and passing crows. So I think it must be the change, I enjoy the distinct seasonal shift.

There's no messing, frost tender plants must be pulled up and tucked away in the greenhouse if we are not to lose them to a sudden frost, and the garden comes full circle as we plan for the coming Spring.

Today was another day of dramatic skies, black clouds sweeping away East on a brisk wind. A brassy sun dropped quickly after 3pm throwing splinters of rainbow light on the gardeners tired limbs.

The sharp arrow of the weather vane spun in the half light of the compound and the interior of the tool shed glowed a welcoming glow. A brief chorus of clanks and clunks of tools being put away, a Robin sang and the slow squeak of the weather vane brought another day to a close.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

My Simpsons habit

Who's your favourite Simpsons character? Standard question really, the same one that could have been directed at anyone from any background of any age in the last twenty years. Note that it is assumed that you like the Simpsons to begin with.

Okay, maybe there are a few people out there who don't, but personally I haven't met any, although one of my work colleagues only saw his first episode last week, pretty good going for someone who owns a television. Not surprisingly, he enjoyed it.

The reason that I bring this up is not because of the long running TV show, but because of the comics which have been going on for nearly as long. I don't know why I wandered into my local Forbidden Planet comic shop, back in 1997, I know I felt out of place and slightly embarrassed about my age, I was 30 at the time, little did I realize that this is about the average age of a comic shop customer.

Once inside, I was confused and overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of comic book titles. I ended up looking through the back issue boxes where I found a divider labeled 'Simpsons comics'. I bought several back issues that day, including the first one that I laid my eyes on, issue no.21. The bright block colours jumped right off the cover, my hands felt cold and clammy, my heart raced and I felt that childish need to have, to own it now!

To the present day it remains my most consistent title that I collect, I even had a letter published in issue 93 in 2004. In it I referred to a storyline that ran in issue 11, entitled 'Fallen Flanders', in which Ned Flanders is abducted by the aliens Kang and Kodos whilst on a family camping trip.

The aliens create an evil clone of Ned and send it back down to Springfield. High jinx and evil doings ensue with Bart and Lisa hot on the trail to solve the mystery.

Cut a long story short, the original Ned is repatriated with the Flanders clan after Groundskeeper Willie fires a canon upon the alien spacecraft. In the meantime Ned's evil clone has seen the error of his ways, and realizing that there is only enough room for one Ned Flanders in Springfield he heads out of town in the direction of New York, off to spread some 'okely dokely' Samaritan goodness amongst the big city folk.

I've spread my comic reading wings since then and now pick up a whole bunch of different titles, the problem I face now is how to keep within an acceptable budget. One things for sure, my kids love comics, especially The Simpsons, and are already squabbling over who will inherit my ever increasing mountain of pulp.

Oh, and just in case you were wondering who my favourite Simpsons character is, it's a tied first place between the deliciously wicked Mr. Burns and the god fearing good neighbour, Ned Flanders himself!

Monday, 23 November 2009

Storm Light

... or ' More leaves, rain and a little more herb action'. Intrigued?, then read on.

Those naughty nagging winds have been whistling up our coat tails again today, throwing our trugs aside, scattering the contents and tearing the last shreds of golden dignity from the Beech trees. On the bright side this is probably the last leaf raking session of the autumn. No more bad jokes about leaves, no more looking for the lost set of leaf boards, the towering leaf heaps can now be left to gently shrink back into themselves, and no more dreaming up leaf sculptures in the mind as the rake tines scratch rhythmically across the ground.

In the last hour of the day it was hard to concentrate on our herb trimming duties as the sky went through a series of dramatic light changes. A layer of smokey 'blue cat' clouds tumbled across a golden anvil of light on the horizon and weighing down upon this was a thick stodgy cake of dark grey intent and wisps of paler grey cloud fretted through it like steam.

Every minute or so I stopped snipping with the secateurs to check how the spectacle was progressing. Half an hour elapsed, in which time my coat zipper was pulled up to a point just below my nose, I stood watching with my camera held ready in hand, but annoyingly the horizon fell away below an interference of buildings and trees. Damn it!, if only I could have knocked all the bricks and mortar out of the way for a clearer view.

Storm light, it was inevitable that the rain would surely follow, and with the first spays of water came a confetti of Black head Gulls battling against the strengthening wind. Just moments later the heavens opened and small line of gardeners could be seen running with their wheelbarrows towards the warm, dry sanctuary of the bothy.

Wet fringes sticking to foreheads, wet fingers curling round hot cups of tea and coats hanging dripping in the corner. A warm fug of laughter and chat rounded off the day.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Wind, rain and herbs

Winter gardening makes me feel a little isolated, not in a bad way, it's just that all that outward stimulus has been pruned back. The flowers of late summer are dying down, the exuberance of growth shrinks back into the ground and even the weeds appear to be stunted.

Fewer people pass us by, and the ones that do, hurry past and are less willing to stand and chat. I suppose that in our winter garb we look less approachable. Stubbly, pale skinned, muddy, disappearing under ever increasing layers of work clothes, we look more like survivalists than gardeners.

One of the nice things about this time of year is that we get to catch up with ourselves, clean the garden slate so to speak and reorganize things a bit. Seeds are ordered, projects mulled over, bulbs are planted by the thousand and Springs potential can already be felt!

In the past few days we have been sprucing up the herb/veg garden, so out went the Basil, Runner Beans, Sweet Corn, Pumpkins and Sorrel, the herbs got a hair cut and down came the Hazel wigwams.

Trimming the Thyme and Oregano is a lovely calming activity, the smell of fresh herbs clings to your fingers and the watery air is punctured by the sound of chuckling Magpies and the high thin calls of small groups of Redwings passing overhead.

Monday, 7 September 2009

Superwoman Reborn?

Supergirl Annual-2009

In a story about the secret origins of Superwoman, the scene is set at a mysterious and dark mountain, home to an ancient, vengeful God who doesn't take kindly to visitors, basically this God wields fire and brimstone in the form of deadly bolts of lightning.

So, can anyone help me out here? Superwoman met her end here several months ago, and in the first couple of pages of this story we witness the death of Steven Morrow, a hapless regular guy who picks the wrong beauty spot, in an attempt to get away from the stresses of his day job. We see him running away, frantically trying to escape, he knows he is being attacked by something he doesn't understand, and in his final moment he utters the word 'stahkklll'.

What?? Is that the mountain God speaking through him, is it comic book speak for AEEEEAARGH!!!, or has he seen the face of the God, and it's name is...'Stahkklll' Now, on the mountain lies Lucy Lane, naked, curled up in a fetal position, as if in a deep sleep. Did she not die, did the Superwoman suit save her, is the mountain God protecting her, is each victim the God claims feeding into her a life force, so that she can once again return?

I liked this story, I'm still liking Supergirl, although I'm not so sure about the Superbooks entering into Miabai's medieval world of magic, where soldiers ride around on the backs of giant flying squid, not sure I want to follow them there.

However, it seems both Marvel and DC are both following each other into the hocus pocus, not everything is as it seems world of magic, mmm... I'm going to withhold my judgment.

Monday, 20 July 2009

What's tickling my pink?

I strapped on an old pair of walking boots I hadn't worn in long time and strode off into to town with the intention of seeing how my feet responded to an unfamiliar environment. Mrs.K, the kids and myself are soon to be embarking on a 52 mile yomp across the South Downs, so I was on a micro dry run so to speak.

This wasn't really much of a test, a gentle stroll down the road would be a more accurate description, my feet responded well, although I will have to take thin socks as the old dogs did bark a bit. A few strides beyond my front door I stopped and chatted briefly with a friend who was bemoaning an ill wind that had wreaked havoc on the Hollyhocks in her front garden, and knowing my interest in all things musical she asked what I was currently grooving to.

So what is currently tickling my pink? What is merrily floating about in my head space? Well..

First up, from the Jayhawks are Gary Louris and Mark Olson who have teamed up to deliver some beautiful harmonies on their album 'Ready for the Flood', which was released at the begining of the year.

Next up is Neil Halstead, one time member of shoe gazing band Slowdive, and frontman of Mojave 3, has released a couple of solo albums of which this track is taken from his latest offering 'Oh Mighty Engine' on Jack Johnson's Brushfire label. It's a soft British country/folk sound, summery and ponderous. I really like it.

It's a brief dip into the daily whims of my ipod, a mere morsel of what shuffles through my headphones, but it's a start. Last up is Getz/Gilberto, a jazz bossa nova album released on the Verve label in 1964 by American saxophonist Stan Getz and the Brazilian guitarist Joao Gilberto. Call it easy listening, call it mood music for the cocktail hour, call what you want, but in my opinion it's a lush and timeless classic.

So this is where I leave you wandering the sugar white sands, staring aimlessly across an orange lit bar, twirling a cocktail umbrella between your fingertips and listening to the listless breath of distant waves lapping on the shore.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Cycling to Work

Inspired by the hardy bunch of cycle enthusiasts who set out each year on the 'Dunwich Dynamo', a London to Suffolk overnight run that ends up on the beach with a swim, snooze and a greasy breakfast, I decided to slip away from my usual car dodging frenzied route to work and opt for a longer, more winding and pretty approach.

I've been following audio clips of the Dunwich Dynamo, recorded by the iPhone wielding participants of the ride, made possible with a handy little app. downloaded onto the phone called 'audioboo'. Posted online, these little minute and a half audio blogs expose you to the build up, the half way pit stops, the twitterings of birds as dawn breaks on the road, and the sounds of early morning waves lapping on the shore at Dunwich.

The thought of cycling that kind of distance for me is hard to imagine, the longest I have ever ridden is a 26 mile return trip to the Wicken Fen nature reserve north of Cambridge, a trip that I remember for the flat, cold, featureless landscape, and the pain felt in my leg muscles that are more tuned in to brief 10 minuite cycle rides around a small market town.

So today was a heart stopping 20 minute ride that took in the famous 'Backs' of the Cambridge colleges, the quiet path that curls past the University Library and onto a car free cycle motorway that skirts along open fields, crosses a real motorway and ends up at a little village called Coton.

I took the picture above because the air was full of Skylarks, so you will just have to imagine them when looking my photo, which I admit doesn't inspire much. Oh, and there was a herd of cows in the distance which you can't see either, but you can see two trees in the foreground which look at a bit lonely and add an air meloncholy to the view. Okay, you've got me, it's a boring photograph of an empty field, but it beats looking at cars. You can listen to the audioboos of the people who rode the Dunwich Dynamo here and view before dark and after dark photos on Fliker here

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Unnecessary plastic objects a go go's.

We have been invaded!, but there's no need to run outside and check the sky for fleets of UFO's, no need to arm yourself against hordes of laser gun toting little green men, because these aliens come in peace.

Or should that be four hundred pieces, that's 80 individual characters that come in 5 juicy colours. Crazy Bone go go's were invented by the Greeks some several thousand years ago when children played with Crazy Bones made out of sheep's knuckle bones.

They invaded our modern world in glorious technicolour when they were given away free with McDonalds happy meals in the early 1990s and have been irrupting on and off the scene ever since. The latest incarnation is the series 3 'Evolution', which are sold in lime green foil packs of three. Our house alone is heaving with these little plastic fellas, my son currently has 63 of the initial 80 characters, my daughter has 68, and I am ashamed(maybe!) to say that I have 18.

For those of you with more sense and resolve to resist the endless pleading and begging from the Go go-holick kids in the family, I salute you! I have to say that I like them, I don't like the fact that they are so expensive, but they are very addictive. I dare say that some clever artist/sculptor will create an impressive artwork out of them that wouldn't look out of place in the bright and airy confines of the Tate Modern, and if they do I'll be one of the first in line to go and see it.

In the meantime, get the kids to bring you breakfast in bed, wash the dishes, sweep the floors, empty the bins, give you a massage, trim your toenails do their homework... It's amazing what they'll be prepared to do for Go-go money.

Just remember that it's a form of addiction, so don't leave your wallet/purse lying around unattended, you have been warned! For some lovely photos on Flicker, check out this photo pool, well worth a look.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Comic books under the coffee table.

Many moons ago,when Tarzan swung across our TV screens in glorious technicolour, when weekends were organized around playing in the street with your mates, throwing ourselves behind walls and hedges to avoid the imaginary bullets of the Japanese army, or the whistling arrows of the Apache Indians.

On Saturday mornings I'd take a small fistful of silver coins to the newsagents and buy a disgusting drinks' concoction called 'Dandelion and Burdock', half a pound of sweets and a couple of comics. Moving up in the world from the Beano and Topper to the war comics like Commando, before being caught in the steely gaze of a Superhero brandishing a colourful shield, Captain America.

And so we come to the present day. Last Wednesday I was checking out the previews of Thursday's comics on the Marvel website, and I got stuck on something called 'Agents of Atlas'. I have only read the first few pages as I've missed the first couple of issues. I'm happy to report though that I will be heading down to Brighton next week where the illusive missing issues are waiting for me at 'Dave's Comics' shop. This title looks like a lot of fun and the artwork is very nice.

Did anyone with the vaguest interest in Superhero comics not buy Flash Rebirth no.1? Down at my local comic shop there was a big stack of them on the shelf, so I grabbed one. Then I did something that I haven't done before, I asked a member of staff if there was a variant cover. Yes there was, but they had only received one copy in the shipment, luckily it hadn't been sold so I said I'd take it.

Due to a slight mistake at the till I payed £3.15, instead of the whopping £9.99 that I should have paid. How much, that can't be right, can it? They bagged and boarded it for me before I left the shop, needless to say I haven't read it yet!

Last up is 'The Amazon' from Dark Horse Comics. Reprinted and recoloured from the original series published twenty years ago, the story follows a reporter on his quest to solve the mystery of a missing American timber worker in the Amazon basin, and a series of strange events following his disappearance.

What's nice about this book is the stifling atmosphere that it invokes, the script is good I think, and you get to see some of Tim Sale's early artwork. I liked the lack of adverts which allowed the story to flow, and a couple of pages at the back are given over to the artist and writer in conversation about the creation of the comic.

So all in all, I'm glad I picked this one up. Still no sign of me slimming down the amount of titles that I'm pulling, and it seems that I may just have to start reading Captain America, thanks to a glowing review from London Loves Comics.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Hyacinths on the Fen

For one weekend only, timed to coincide with the clocks moving forward, a small fenland farm on the outskirts of Cambridge opens it's doors to the public.

Stretching out over a 2 acre site, the row upon row of Hyacinths lie like candy sherbet, earthed up against the black fen soil.

Old Mr. Ship holds the National collection of Hyacinths, some 200 varieties, some of which are hanging onto their very existence, thanks to the efforts of this one man.

In a cold wind that whistles across a flat patchwork of fields, long straight farm tracks and deep ditches, a small group of people follow the old boy around like lovelorn puppies, hanging on to his every word.

Stories, knowledge and passion flows out of Mr. Ship in abundance, a rare breed amidst a field of rare breeds, stopping periodically between the rows, he picks a few flower stems to pass around, making sure we have all noted the shape of petal, the history of each cultivar and the subtle differences in the perfumes.

Dutch nurseries cultivated 2000 varieties in the 18th century to service the flamboyant needs of the Victorians, today only a small remnant of those original cultivars remain. Who would haver thought that a windswept 2 are plot in the Cambridgeshire fens would hold such beautiful gems, teetering on the brink of production.

Every word Mr. Ship speaks is snatched away in the wind, melting with the rain into the damp dark earth beneath our feet. It's all in his head, no books, no thesis, no dreaming spires.

Between bouts of hail and heavy showers we take shelter under the corrugated metal roof of an outbuilding, drinking tea out of polystyrene cups, chatting and buying plants off the back of a tractor.

A small group of Linnets bounces across a loose hedge at the far end of the field. A few brave souls brace the elements, walking between the lines of flowers, marking down their 'wants' on a yellow order form.

As we leave with armfuls of gaudy blooms, the dull thud of a shotgun scatters the crows and we back track along an endless narrow farm track deeper into nowheresville.

Looking over my shoulder I see the ribbons of Hyacinths receding into the dirty puddles and slanting showers, until all I see is wet ditches and a rough road slicing through the black fen.

Monday, 23 March 2009

The flower man cometh.

As we fill our barrows with fresh mulch, a tight muscle of darkening cloud hustles in on the strengthening wind, whipping the loose wood chip and dry soil at our feet into a dizzy whirlpool. Propping ourselves against our shovels momentarily, we look up and nod, murmuring with begrudging gratitude the arrival of a period of scrappy weather, the wet release of a sudden downpour, the west flank of the mainland shouldering a series of nagging westerlies pulsing in off the Atlantic.

The north west through the mid west U.S is beginning its week with a taste of severe weather, thunder storms, flooding, snow and possible tornadoes. How's that for spring weather? From this point on in the gardening calender we will be seeing multiple plant species coming into flower. Over the past week or so, carpets of Anemone 'blanda', white Wood Anemones, neat cushions of purple and white Violets, statuesque Crown Imperial Lillies warming against the white brick buildings, and over this weekend a rash of Snakes Head Fritillaries have come up through the old orchard and into the little path side meadow.

Planted in the mid 80's, each year they expand their range a little bit further afield. One of the jobs that I carry out on a weekly basis is to pick a bunch of flowers for the Presidents office. Today I went for the spring posy option, nipping out the long flower stalks from the established clumps of Primroses, cutting the fresh growth from the flowering Current (Ribes), the pink and purple flowers of Lungwort (Pulmonaria), and the cream and yellow trumpets of miniature Daffodils.

The result is very pleasing, fresh, and above all else hopeful.

Friday, 20 March 2009

Southern Magnolia Blues.

Resting up in the dappled shade of a handsome Magnolia grandiflora, a retro style 'easy rider' found a perfect partner in this stunning tree. Native to the South Eastern United States, it can reach up to 30 meters in height, and it's cream flowers open up to to a whopping 30cm across, intoxicating the thick summer air with a sweet perfume. Here it is, our pride and joy, on UK soil, on a bright March morning, the state tree of Mississippi. I think it deserves some Delta Blues to make it feel at home. On the top is John Lee Hooker with 'Boom Boom', and below is Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones with 'Hootchie Cootchie Man'. Enjoy!

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Drab, moi?

Clouded Drab

Ever see a man cycling along the road pulling a moth trap behind him in a bike trailer?, you have?, well that was probably me. I've set my nocturnal base of operations up in the gardeners compound, and my little actinic light trap is at this very moment dueling it out with the adjacent car park lighting and the low temperatures. Fingers crossed!

Common Quaker

Last night was my first go this year at running my trap overnight, and I was pleasantly surprised this morning to discover three moths resting amongst the egg boxes inside the trap. Actually I nearly missed one which had cunningly hidden itself between the base of the light fitting and the underside of the trap lid. Lesson 1, check everywhere!

The amazing invisible moth turned out to be a 'Clouded Drab', great name eh? One of my favourite moth species actually, and in my opinion not so drab. Your first thought is of a dark, unremarkable moth, but it has some nice fine line work, a rich chestnut bloom to the wings, an indistinct grey dusting (clouded?) and an overall rough texture which belies it's comical name.

The other two occupants were both Common Quakers. Both photos above were taken in March 2006. I'll try to post this weeks shots over the next few days.

Monday, 16 March 2009


Small Tortoiseshell on plum blossom.

Well it's officially sprung, that most eagerly awaited of seasons is upon us. Today was a day for parading about in our t-shirts, and a day for feeling in much need of a tidy haircut. The lawn mowers hummed in the sweetly scented Spring air, and professor Yaffle chuckled loudly to himself as we mulched, weeded and spruced.

Crocus fire!

During the lunch break I disappeared down to the orchard and compost heaps to try and stalk the first butterflies of the year, of which their were a fair few. Fluttering about on the warm dry ground and up in the plum blossom were Comma, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and Brimstone.

Tiny pollen coated beetles inside a sun warmed Daffodil.

I crawled along on all fours, squirming on my belly, tut-tutting at the restless Comma's as I attempted to get near enough for some decent photos, but they were having non of it. At one point a Comma landed on my head, I felt it's wings beating, and as I looked on the ground in front of me I could see my shadow, a camera in my hand and a butterfly on my head!

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Last night's catch.

I had the moth trap running for a few hours last night. With these mild overnight temperatures there is always a chance of catching something, even this early in the season. This was the result of my efforts. One moth, I wasn't disappointed as I didn't expect to catch anything in such a short space of time.

This little guy is a 'Hebrew Character', so called for the distinctive markings on the wings.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Favourite books - part 2.

Christmas 1976 I opened my 'big' present to reveal a green plastic banana board with narrow roller skate trucks and red wheels. Other small presents scattered beneath the fairy lights and glowing pine needles contained the safety gear, a bright yellow helmet and a crude elasticated set of pads.

An old photo of this momentous childhood memory exists in one of my parents photograph albums. I can just about remember doing 180 degree kick turns on the sloped driveway, lying down on my back and whizzing downhill, 'coffin' style, or looking on in horror as the ball bearings trickled out of the wheels and onto the rough tarmac.

In 'The Answer is Never', Jocko Wayland charts the skateboard's history, from crude toy with clay wheels in the 1960's, through to the huge global industry that it has become today. Part document of skateboardings evolution, from the search and destroy antics of the Z-Boys, a bunch of renegade surf rats who patrolled the dirty water breaks of Venice and Santa Monica(Dogtown), to the mass media frenzy of the X games, and part personal journey from the wilds of Colorado, where Weyland began riding a wooden half pipe with only the birds and animals for company, to the 33 year old attempting to jump a set of steps on the streets of New York.

I suppose for me it was a guaranteed interesting read, but because skateboarding has helped mold and change popular culture in so many ways, be that in music, design, art, sport or fashion, there is much to enjoy in this book for everyone.

A lot of heart has gone into putting this book together, and Weyland's passion and understanding for the subject matter breaths through every page. Even if you never step on a skateboard or attempt to paddle into a breaking wave, you can always connect with the reckless immediacy of youth and dream of what it must be like to fly, to break the bonds of gravity and exist completely in the briefest of moments. No history, no future, just water, air and concrete.

I still ride today, even at the age of 41, kick turning back and forth on the concrete quarter pipe at the local skate park, where my young son puts me to shame as he 'drops in', launching himself down a six foot wall of sloping concrete. I can only marvel at such fearlessness and accept what these old unforgiving bones refuse to do.