Monthly Archives: December 2012

2012 in review

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

4,329 films were submitted to the 2012 Cannes Film Festival. This blog had 45,000 views in 2012. If each view were a film, this blog would power 10 Film Festivals

Click here to see the complete report.

Another day, another dog walk

My dog has made me anti-social. Some might say more anti-social. The problem is that, like me, the dog is not anti meeting other dogs as such, he is just sensitive to the context and the type of dog. I would like to think, that in the latter case, I am more forbearing than he…

The problem with urban parks is that they are full of the kinds of dogs my dog might not like. It is hard to tell what kind of dog that might be; often I cannot tell until it is self-evident and far too late. I have started avoiding other dogs because it is easier. Often, I earmark a place as being suitable and empty of dogs and people. We begin our walk and then, lo and behold, it is like I have dropped an acid tab marked with a snarling set of canine choppers and we are surrounded by dogs.

That’s why today I drove out to the edge of the earth, although during the holiday period even the edge of the earth is busy with dogs. Still we managed to have a wild and windswept walk without encountering anyone too threatening. I took a few (rubbish) photos and the dog amused himself by doing his impression of a railer at Crayford greyhound track. He pretends he is wearing the red Trap 1 jacket, although he is actually wearing a green one with a red trim, and buzzes me at 25 mph, whilst I cross my fingers he doesn’t put his paw down a rabbit hole.

I thought I had lines from T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land in my head for a while out there today. The scenery was Waste Land ish and, because I took a short and muddy cut behind a driving range I found what must have been 2012’s quota of lost golf balls. Actually, the Eliot poem that mentions the ‘thousand lost golf balls’ is Choruses from the Rock. I have written about that before. I picked up 22 golf balls; there were more. Like the acid tabs marked dog, once you drop the one marked golf ball you can’t stop seeing them in the undergrowth or half-buried in the mud but if I hadn’t have stopped then, I would be there still. I threw the 22 back over the fence and high netting that was intended to prevent their escape in the first place. It was the opposite of returning them to the wild. I don’t know if it was the day’s good deed or not.

And the wind shall say: “Here were decent godless people:
Their only monument the asphalt road
And a thousand lost golf balls.”

On the way back to the car we were completely surrounded by dogs. Nightmare. Spaniels, terriers, puppies playing with footballs. If there is any time my dog is most likely to be anti-social it is when he has had his run and has his mind on a lie-down. I proceeded with caution.

One dog passed us, whining. He was a beautiful brown Saluki called Caspar – one of the Three Wise Men no less. He was, however, kept on a lead. His owner said he didn’t trust his recall, this was after two years. I pointed hopelessly at my dog who had slipped out of reach to greet a fellow, tethered, sighthound. ‘I don’t trust our recall after five,’ I said. We shared the brief moment of helpless embarrassment. These saluki and part-saluki lurchers are undoubtedly beautiful, but they are not of this world. They belong to camels and tents and following a star.

Following the star (at 25 mph)

Following the star (at 25 mph)

Trying to form a question in my mind

Not any question, but A Good Question. Most questions have already been asked by someone, somewhere, so I don’t imagine it will be a new question I come up with. But perhaps it will an old question framed in a new context. I don’t know, because I haven’t come up with it yet. When something floats around like this, just out of reach, in the ether, everything feels odd. I don’t sleep well. Snapshot memories come back vividly – they too are transformed by a new context: thinking about the same old thing but in a different way is a surprisingly challenging process. Thinking without words. This sounds impossible, but it can be done. After all, what else do we do before we can speak, as babies? Not think? Or after we have lost the power of speech through illness, age or accident. Not think? Of course we think, just differently. And because the majority of the world are thinking in language-based forms, those of us forced into a visual thought pattern are pushed to the margins of both the world’s and the world of our usual selves.

Perhaps you do it yourself, when you dream. Waking dreams are where good thoughts arise. I am hoping that the question will emerge from one of those in-between states, when it is ready.


Time Stands Still

I would not say it hangs, nor hovers; the former is too unpurposeful, the latter too predatory. Even when time seems completely still, as it appears out of the window this morning (is it morning?) it manages to pass anyway. How does it do that? Perhaps in the same unseen way I can stand quite still, silent, but my heart keeps beating; measuring out my unknown reckoning. I am still, but there is the counting down inside. One day, it will stop, the heart. For now, time is still, the heart beats some and I hear a new drop of rain fall. Or is it an old one?

On Christmas Night I opened the window of the back bedroom, fully. I looked at the Moon with the children and showed them Jupiter which was beyond bright, close to, at the Moon’s right hand. The clouds swirled around and over the pair, coming and going, creating that oil on water rainbow effect like a puddle at a petrol station. I thought about that book, The Moon’s a Balloon. *Robert Morley or *Derek Nimmo, some raconteur or wit at any rate. I’d never really understood the title before but it made sense looking out of the window with the children, watching Jupiter, and the Moon drift upwards in the clouds.

The window would not shut properly. In time, all the windows here will have to be replaced. Earlier on Christmas Day I had travelled past some fine windows that were once replaced: over twenty years ago, now. I knew the person that made the replacement frames. Those frames, the windows, have outlived their carpenter, by more than twenty years. Maybe that’s why some people have a Christian faith – to avoid that fate – the one of being outlived by inanimate objects. I can’t see it for myself, even if it is all wrapped up in a story about a carpenter called Jesus. One day I might change my mind about that, the greatest of all hedged bets. I hope not. In the meantime, perhaps I will outlive a balloon, at least.


*Turns out it was David Niven.

As I edited this I saw the odd phrase that would stand as evidence of the passage of time. One day modern people will laugh at the once prehistoric habits of filling our internal combustion conveyances with fossil fuels and Derek Nimmo will be, sadly, long forgotten…

More Grey Skies

This morning, rain falls from them. Yesterday, we had a brief respite. Although I have passed flooded fields and roads over the past few days and have dreamed of being flooded myself we are not as likely to suffer the fate of so many others round the country. Having water plunging through your home must be a terrible experience.

The extended family have not always escaped the rising waters; some years ago my sister, Finky Wink, was flooded in her basement flat in West London and my Aunt and Uncle have been flooded three times in as many months in the West country. My father lives in an old water mill. Every year they watch the water cover the garden and creep up along the path to the house, but rising sea levels or not, whoever sited the mill (mentioned in the Domesday Book) on a very slight elevation had it right and the River Stour has never once made it through the door.

My own garden is a sea of mud. Wherever mud is not plastered, I can see a persistent moss green invading. It has spread up the wooden planter, over the paving and onto the fences. Whenever the dog goes out there, he returns up to his elbows in it and traipses it all over the floor. I wish he had galoshes to give the mop a break. Given the demented way he leaps out there and comes back with mud spattered all over his face, I swear he has mud fever. He is not the only one.

These photos are an attempt at a visual antidote to the unremitting grey, rain, damp green and ubiquitous mud out of my kitchen window. They were taken on yesterday’s walk. It’s given me an idea…



Boxing Day Dog Walk

A man with a face like his wife left him

A kitesurfer heading out to the North Sea

Down there, a washed-up elephant’s tusk.

Dog-walkers that talk

near Half-built houses,

in the wind, the waves, the flood.

The regulation shouty man

The disobedience

A sickly, coughing dog.

Oystercatchers – one on a rock

Whilst ringed plovers prattle

On. The man and boy

Give caution the bird

Combing the beach

& I pick one exploded red balloon

(with a twirly silver tail)

From the thorn bush


Creeping round the back stairs

My turning Pagan came too late in the day to cancel this lot.





Why Picture Perfect Christmases Make Me Want To Vom

Because there is no such thing. Although Christmas is nominally ‘Christ’s Mass’, to celebrate the birth of Jesus, it is an entirely human construction and where there are humans there is always sweat, some tears and occasionally blood. We may distract ourselves from this unsavoury fact with glitter and gloss and the gift of giving, but underneath it all, somewhere, lies stress and teeth gnashing; if not for you, then definitely someone sitting not too far away…

I am not against having a holiday during the *darkest, shortest days of the year. I am not against bringing something of the outside in, and brightening a room with pretty lights. I am not, when push comes to shove entirely against the giving of presents, but as a pagan at heart I wonder if it is actually the Yule Festival I should really be celebrating.

This is the last year I am playing the Christmas game (and that is only because it is too late to get out of it now). From now on, the whole exercise will have a back to nature Yule theme and for that reason I am never again going to spend a day of my life staring at manufactured crap in overcrowded shops as the obligation to buy for people I feel I hardly know bears down upon my shoulders. For those of you I do know, and love, perhaps we can come to some Secret Holly King arrangement…

I am bowing out now because I am not good at it and it makes me uncomfortable. My children don’t believe in Father Christmas any more either, so at least some of the pretence/magic can be dropped with honour. It’s time to embrace wassailing and the battle of the Holly King and Oak King. It’s time to burn the Yule Log and not wrapping paper. It’s time to be and not do. You see, that’s why picture perfect Christmases drive me mad, because they shout, look, look what I can do. See how I can wrap beautifully (I can’t), see how I can pour the perfect drink (all my glasses are smashed). Look, look at my beautiful tree (the children decorated ours yesterday, imagine…), look, look at my Wonderful Life. This post is not jealousy, it is just that I know a lot of it is not all that it seems and I know what putting on a show can cost people. Of course, every life has its sadness and woes and there’s nothing wrong with just putting that all aside and enjoying the company of friends and family for a few days in the depths of winter; it’s just that I believe we don’t need the thick layers of artifice and rampant consumerism trowelled on top.

Having said all that I am a sucker for some glitter, all year round and although it’s beginning to look a lot like a non-picture perfect Christmas… it’s Yule – ok?

A recycled birthday owl

A recycled birthday owl

*In Australia this will make no sense.

On Mothers

I am thinking, as I write, specifically of Sally Roberts, the mother of the boy named Neon, who is in the news for refusing to allow her son to undergo a course of radiotherapy for a brain tumour. She has since been overruled by a judge, a man, who has said that her judgement may have gone ‘awry’. I am also thinking about Nancy Lanza, the first victim of her son’s massacre in Newtown, USA. And then because I am a daughter and a mother I realise I am probably thinking about myself.

Mothers are women who have children and each of us approach the state differently, I suppose: some of us adopt, some foster and some give birth. There are still others, a few, who steal or borrow, or simply refuse to return. And then there are the step-mothers of fairy tales, who lurk in the wings with a basket full of shiny apples, leaning on a stick. We should all aspire, perhaps, to the image of the Madonna: a beatific face that dandles a well-behaved boy child on her lap. Surely a Madonna would not run away with her sick child and hide from the doctors; surely a Madonna would not be gunned down by her own son; surely a Madonna would not make the commonplace mistakes that many of us make – on a daily basis. In terms of cultural references (and I can only write of the western tradition, another perspective would be welcome) a woman is there, like Eve, to transgress: to fall from a state of grace. The Madonna, exclusively amongst mothers, remains in grace because she has not fallen from that hallowed state to conceive in the sweat and mire of humanity. No, she has simply had a conversation with an angel.

Mothers blame themselves for their children’s mistakes. Or they do not. I cannot speak for all mothers. But for those that do, and the ones I know do, have a strong societal bias to overcome because when push comes to shove – we blame the mother. Fathers are absent, but rational, mainly. Some of them are absent because they are rational, allegedly. It is the mad mothers that they are absent from, not the children. Not the children. Women give up a lot to have a family. Like men, they need support to bring up that family, but if a lone parent is in town statistically it is more likely to be a woman. Mothers need emotional and practical support, as well as financial. The truth is, if one mother has to do it all, some of it will necessarily remain undone because there will simply not be enough of her to go round. This is not because we mothers are mad, bad and dangerous to know, but because bringing up one child is at least a three person job…

It takes a whole village to raise a child.

Societies, like ours, that continue to hold mothers up to public shame (not counting Nancy Lanza in the final death toll at Newtown, publishing every medical twist and turn of what should be a private court case) are perpetuating an archaic and repressive notion: that mothers are responsible for the way it all turns out.

Of course, we are responsible for some of it, but marching us off to the stocks for public excoriation via the media makes it more difficult to parent effectively and with sensitivity. I am not going to attempt to judge the actions of another mother in a blog post: I have no context within which to operate, unlike a High Court Judge, but I do note that there are noises about Sally Roberts being paid for her story by a paper (which makes me sad). Still, indiviudal cases aside, I believe the limited and stereotypical representations of women in our culture give many mothers an impossible image to live up to. Motherhood is a myriad state with many mixed feelings. It’s a curious notion and you wouldn’t believe it sometimes, but being a parent is yet another state of humanity, not grace. It seems to me is time to reinterpret the role and ditch both the Madonna and its modern incarnation the Yummy Mummy. (There is probably a parallel for today’s fathers too, I just don’t have the scope to think about that this morning.) What such a reinterpretation would look like I really don’t know, but I am sure that a shift in perception and imagery of mothers can only help us all bring up the kind of children the world needs right now.

A Victorian ‘hidden mother’

For more of these photographs, where the mother is there to keep order and provide succour to bored or scared children but not wanted in the tableau, her image presumably ruining the shot, go to The Museum of Ridiculously Interesting Things

The Truth Serum

This is a variety that I have not tried before, but the label spoke to my festive spirit (that lies beneath). I managed to rehome a small Christmas tree this afternoon. It is in a red tub. The last time I had a small Christmas tree in a red tub I lived on the eighth floor of a tower block in Hackney. For good or ill, there’s been a lot of gin under the bridge since then.

The Sipsmith

The Sipsmith