Saturday 30 November 2013

You know how to whistle, don't you?

Oh, but I don't! I mastered all those other important things that you have to learn early on in life, like how to ride a bike, swim, play the recorder and pat my head at the same time as rub my stomach and I must say, none of them have come in very useful since. So maybe whistling wouldn't either but, still, I just wish I could, in case one day I have the urge to join in with Otis, Bobby McFerrin, that B&Q advert with the Peter, Bjorn and John song, or serenade the local robin.  I can do the oral gymnastics required to make a bottle-neck sing and get a thick blade of grass to shriek like a banshee between my thumbs, but I couldn't do a Roger Whittaker impression to save my life, even if I did grow a beard (which is probably more likely, given my age).

How do you do it?   “You just put your lips together and blow” says Lauren Bacall in 'To Have and Have Not', making it sound simple, but I pout and puff and all that happens is... well, something like this...

One day I will whistle, I will.

I bet you can!

Thursday 28 November 2013

Dear John

I caught a discussion on BBC Breakfast yesterday about the price of show tickets. Never mind the second mortgage needed to see the Monty Python reunion, it was guest John Robb, the writer, journalist and musician, who held my attention. Here's a man in his early fifties, with a distinctly severe haircut,  in a jacket just as sharp, open neck black shirt and big-buckled creepers... and he looks great. You can see he's getting older (as we all are) - he's more lined with a heavier brow and a little rough around the edges.  That's fine, it suits him.

I don't subscribe to the idea of being an old punk; those days are over and, the way I see it, they were meant to be short-lived.  Can't see the point in trying to look exactly the same as I did decades ago - apart from anything else it seems to lack imagination. However, I love to see someone getting older without completely losing their edge, and I reckon John's doing that.

It's about how you age, isn't it?  It inevitably brings more creases, but that doesn't mean you stop ironing them out of your clothes. You don't have to start wearing shapeless trousers and beige anoraks, unless you really want to, of course. Not every man could (or would like to) carry off the John Robb look, I'm sure, but I'm so glad someone can!

And, personally, I love to see a few age lines on a man's face.

'We don't stop playing because we grow old, we grow old because we stop playing.'
George Bernard Shaw

Monday 25 November 2013

In pictures

Remember that walk last week?  I went that way again this afternoon; took my camera this time.

I don't have a lot to say today so, if you like, just come with me.

Telegraph wires criss-cross the sky like tramlines.

I look over the bridge for ducks - can't see any.

The Christmas tree lying on the grass makes me think of a wounded animal (with green fur).

No, I don't know what he did... but I'm curious.  Bet you are too.

I just like this...

...and this.  I notice it's been freshly painted,

unlike this basement window.

 It's not even 4pm but the streetlight at the top of the hill is glowing against a heavy sky as I walk back.

Nearer to home, there's a Still Life with Traffic Cone.

Back here now, and someone's just left a boat - a boat! - outside my house.  It had a flat tyre.  I think he's going to pick it up in the morning.

Sunday 17 November 2013

Walk with me

Out the front door, turn right, past the rest of the red brick terraced cottages, the two big detached houses, and then the crinkle crankle wall. I love its curves, designed to economise on bricks and help fruit trees flourish by providing a sun trap in each of its concave spaces. There are around 50 of them in this county alone, twice as many as in the whole of the rest of England, apparently.

Aerial view of a crinkle crankle wall

 On to the corner, turn right again, I'm near the top of the hill and the wide path slopes down in front of me. What a view.

A beautiful big crow swoops across from my left, its flight seems more languid so close. I stand still while it flies directly over my head, I can feel the ripple in the air from its wingbeat and I get a thrill from its proximity. It lands on the roof of the nearby house and I watch as it drops something large and brown from its beak and tries to figure out a way to eat it. It looks like the remnant of a roof tile but I guess it's a very stale piece of bread. Or toast. I could watch this lovely creature all day.

Not the actual crow.
(pic: Anemone Projectors)

A middle-aged couple, dressed from head to toe in a mossy green the same hue as the shadowy patches in the verge, stride towards me briskly, heads down. I start to open my mouth to greet them as we pass each other, but their faces remain determinedly fixed to the ground and I don't continue with my acknowledgement after all. Tourists, probably. Only tourists here make such a huge effort to pretend you don't exist. Everybody else looks up, smiles and says “Hello!”

Down to the bottom, through the gate, over the bridge and into the main street. The pub looks welcoming and I could just fancy that goats cheese dish advertised in curly writing on the board by the steps. I notice Helen inside, she looks out just as I glance in and we exchange silent salutations through the glass.

Onwards and I pass the fancy shoes and handbags shop which I've never been in. A bright pink, almost fluorescent, tiny satchel in the window catches my eye. I like it but I think it's probably for a child. And there's no price on it, nor on any of the items – not on the leopard spot court shoes or the shiny gold sandals. You know what they say about shops which don't display prices: if you can't see how much it is, you can't afford it. I keep on walking.

A shocking pink version of this.

There are prices on the items in the window of the adjacent gallery, but I still couldn't afford them. I like this gallery, though; it's full of wacky sculptures, weird things like baby dolls inside bottles and hares with incongruously long ears. It also houses some original signed prints from Bowie album covers and right now his Hunky Dory face, framed by the golden hair and clasping hands, looks on distantly from behind the wide window.

A man in a hi-vis jacket is walking towards me, checking his phone, puts it back in his pocket, looks up and catches my eye as we pass each other. His are sparkly blue, lively eyes, set in a pleasant face; I return his warm smile and they linger on me for a second. A subtle, vital, extra, second, just enough to notice, betrays an appreciative flirtatiousness which makes me feel a sudden frisson of excitement. It's just so nice to receive a little attention, to feel I haven't quite yet joined the brigade of the invisible, although I know those days won't be far off. I take this moment, meaningless though it is, and enjoy the brief boost it provides.

I say "Afternoon!" to the short fat lady with the little white dog and then, further on, the tall man and his wife looking in the window of the estate agents. "250,000!" she exclaims in disbelief.

On into the Post Office with its papery smell and racks of Haribo sweets, greet the staff and bid farewell to my parcel of artwork, then retrace my steps back home.

My mind is free as I smile at the party of pensioners coming out of the Old School, and pass the time of day with the man I seem to see every time I walk this route, the one who always wears a grey raincoat and looks like Mr Price from 'Please Sir!'

That's him, on the right.

It's an uneventful walk but somehow it feels like more: a thumbnail of my life, a snapshot of my small world. As I stroll past the oak tree and a huge group of rooks take off from its big dark boughs, I almost feel like writing about it.

Tuesday 5 November 2013

I am not human

There isn't that much in life that really irks me - a few odd little things such as washing up saucepans, women with high squeaky voices (step forward Sharon Osbourne / Yoko Ono) and trying to get the last bit of margarine out of the tub. Just lately I've added something else to the list: this disturbing trend for the anthropomorphism of inanimate objects in labelling.

I feel patronised. I'm not a child, you don't need to use baby talk when you speak to me, and likewise I don't need my Savoy Cabbage to personally instruct me how to try it or explain how to keep it (or ought that to be him/her?) in the fridge.

I'm sure the postman feels the same about this package...

It's the use of "I" and "me" that's really bugging me.  It was fine in the fantasy context of  'Alice In Wonderland', and 'Eat Me' dates have been using it as a quirky little brand name for decades. However I fear this tendency to use the first person when it's not a person at all is getting more widespread; it's just another part of the whole dumbing down process, isn't it?

I mean, tell us what to do with things and where they fit by all means, but please don't pretend you're a speaking cabbage or a literate box. Next you'll be stamping little smiley faces on grapes and god knows what directions you'll put on the loo paper rolls.

Some bright spark will then start attaching helpful voice recordings to products like our morning cereal. “I'm lovely with milk poured over me, just don't let me get soggy!” we'll be told by Sharon Osbourne, disguised as a cornflake, in her most irritating falsetto. If that ever happens I may just have to reach for the Domestos to wantonly ignore Yoko's “Don't drink me!” plea.

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