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.