Wednesday, 27 August 2014


In a fit of rage I have just thrown a laptop in the bin.

Very therapeutic.


It was to be a grand adventure - the Mini Madam and her friends camping in the paddock.

The kids were given a free run (within fiscal limits) round Sainsbury's, purchasing sausages, burgers, chocolate brownies and other goodies. After a meal which featured Chocolate Orange segments as its starter, followed by burgers and ketchup, they settled into their campsite for the duration.

The Mini Madam lasted till about seven, then appeared indoors, complaining that the wind made a horrible noise.

Her tent mates were more intrepid, lasting another twenty minutes, before emerging to spend the night indoors.

I lay long awake, listening to the wind's song, a cold north easterly lullaby.

Monday, 25 August 2014


I have a lanyard on my boat which I pull for luck, every time I return from the sea safely.
I do it in remembrance of a friend of mine who sadly died, prematurely young, and in honour of the joy and urgency of living, brought forcefully and poignantly home to me at his requiem, and which was the immediate call to me to get on with it and  buy my scruffy old boat.


Dying with you would be a good laugh.

Sunday, 24 August 2014


I get a letter asking me to advise on life's purpose.

Here's my reply.

You’re asking ME the purpose of life???????
You’re having a laugh.
I’m just a fellow traveller as baffled as anyone. All I have learned is that happiness is inside one’s own noodle. But as to putting it into practice. That’s a whole different ball game. I wish it were different, but I reckon I’m as prey to circumstance as anyone I know.
If you want a view, I see happiness as nirvana. Nir va na. Never blown off. That’s what the three words mean (as I understand it).  It makes sense to me. A state of mind, entirely capable of joyous appreciation of what is, even when what is seems to consist of what is negative. The infallible, immovable ability to take delight in what there is to delight in, rather than concentrate on what apparently preoccupies as harm, hurt, pain, dislike or other negatives.
Easy to say.
Very, very hard to do.
If I have a life quest, having moved my mind from depressive to merely aberrant but without the depression (itself a proud boast), achieving that unshakeable equilibrium is it. And this is where zen and its paradoxes come in. Seeking it can’t get it. Trying at it defeats it. Attaining it is by letting it be. “It” doesn’t exist anyway. Preferring it self defeats. Puzzled? Me too, brother.
I keep living, finding kindness a help to me more than others, finding silence a comfort, finding that the more I think to define myself the harder it is, and finding the state of happy being as bloody elusive as ever.
And then....................
In the field of grass a single flower.
The copper beech everyone said would not grow, grows.
Shit stinks gloriously.
A pigeon emphasizes ridiculously its third syllable of five, over and over.
Swallows consort about the season on a wire. Time to stay? Time to go?
I see mice, a rarity, but a symbol of the season.
The beech hedge smells of nothing but beech.
This wine tastes great.
My legs carry me - a miracle.
I am joyful. I am sad. I am angry. I am tired. I sleep. I wake. I sleep again. I wake. Miraculous, when you think about it.
My thoughts come. My thoughts go. Some stay. Some go quick. Trains of thought in an endlessly open station.
But just look at how much better off I am than the man screaming in the agony of dying. Ta, life.
And for the man screaming in agony before death - not yet dead.
Life. It just bloody goes on all around no matter what silly fuckers like you, or me do. What we really ever control is zilch.
In short, I’m as puzzled about life's meaning as you.

Saturday, 23 August 2014


Perhaps I was wrong.

When I was a kid, and looked up to see a v of birds, crossing a wide East Anglian sky, they were geese, or swans.

Now, in the profound, rouged evening skies above Laytham, they are gulls.

When I was a boy, they were called seagulls. Now, they are ubiquitous and are just plain gulls. Ever ingenious, they have copied the geese and their aerodynamic flight tactics. And in they come from shore, ever ready to trawl new inland food sources.

How do they know where to go? The corporation tips which are now their homelands stink, so that is obvious. But there isn't a farmer ploughing anywhere, without a gull entourage.

The skies these last few evenings have been full of v shaped gull commuter trains. The commuters silent, absorbed, well fed.

I look up, hoping for geese. I get gulls.

Friday, 22 August 2014


I've been winding my son Jed up about his newly allocated university accommodation and how he was not going to afford to feed himself. Having failed to persuade him to keep a couple of sheep or cows on the lawns of the halls of residence, I exhorted him to go to Church, as old ladies would take pity on him and feed him up, inviting him round to heavily calorific tea parties, sunday lunches etc. Unfortunately he was having none of it. When I thought about it afterwards though, I did think it was actually a rather good idea. If I ever hit rock bottom I’ll start going to church regularly.
It is the time of year for crumble making, and I made the first of the season today, Plum and Pimms, with a porridge oat based crumble, as I have discovered that all things flour and bread make me ill. Had a large portion tonight, with thick double cream. Bloody delicious.
The greengages are just getting ripe too. And this year, we’ve a tree full. My God, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into them.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014



One of my more arcane Mastermind subject choices would be the history of South Georgia - a product of an over developed Shackleton mania. So it came as a surprise when this rather unknown episode in the history of South Georgia's exploration and habitation came to light. Spicing it is its protagonist's own story. A thrice married radio artist, he was the voice of Dick Barton, Special Agent. During wartime, he was a  naval officer who constantly complained that his talents were not being used. And his love story was one of steadfast determination on the part of his third wife, Venetia, a commitment to loving someone who believed themselves unlovable. He first set eyes on South Georgia as an apprentice merchant naval officer and later went there, leading expeditions to map its inhospitable mountainous terrain. Duncan Carse, born in 1913, died in 2004. His bust, by Jon Edgar, for which he reluctantly, truculently sat, is an artefact of the South Georgia Museum, at Grytviken. Ten years on, here is his South Georgia testimony.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014


I have written before about there being many more than four seasons.
It is mouse season - the time when the temperature changes inevitably but not yet fully towards autumnal, and sensible mice make a beach head assault on country house interiors.
We have a mouse (or mice as it turns out) in the house. Seasonal arrivals. I caught one last night in a trap and showed it a new life elsewhere. But more droppings today indicate that our mouse guests are not yet fully gone. When we first moved in, there was a time when I was alone a lot in the house, doing building, restoration and decorating work. In the cold winter house, without any working heating, I would sit in the kitchen in a thick workman's jacket and a hat and have my packed lunch. The mouse would come out and scrounge a crisp or a bit of sandwich - his lunch. He was bold as brass. Terribly small. But bold. I didn’t have the heart to kill him. He and I shared lunch together. Eventually, as our moving in date came, he had to go. I bought my first humane trap. I’ve had a soft spot for mice ever since. Humane traps it is still.
It is also the very start of the season for crumble making, and I made the first of the season today. Plum and Pimms, with a porridge oat based crumble, as I have recently discovered that all things flour and bread make me ill.
I had a large portion tonight, with thick double cream. Bad as anything for me, say those who are guardians of my dietary conscience. Bloody delicious, I say.
The greengages are just getting ripe. And this year, we’ve a tree full. My God, I’m looking forward to getting stuck into them.
Already I am feeling that the change in the season is one to relish.

Sunday, 17 August 2014


A  quest for silence can be a consuming thing.

I wonder if it was that which took me here?

Strange, now, to think that the destination, if that is what it was, was with me all along.

Saturday, 16 August 2014



Onions. Sweat em.
Fry some pancetta in with the onions.
Add slices of chorizo.
Dust whole pan with pimenton de la vera. Dolce.
Add tin of baked beans. Tin of chopped toms. Blast of tom paste. Dab of water.
Sugar - a bit, or the toms will go all bitter and twisted and that is a waste of life for anyone, tomatoes included.
Stir etc.
Pretend you are cooking, when you are just really making something to eat.
Fry two eggs - or three if you are me.
Serve eggs on top of chorizo stew.
You could have crusty bread but I can't as I have discovered that bread gives me narcolepsy.
Cheap. Good. Very enjoyable with a glass of wine.

Friday, 15 August 2014


I owned one. I was fourteen. A tandem stood rusting outside a house on my paper round. Eventually I took courage, and knocked on the door and asked the man if he wanted to sell it. It belonged to his daughter, away at University, but when she came home, he promised, he'd ask. Then one day, he stopped me. "Still want to buy that tandem?" I offered him £15 and he took it. It was a Claud Butler. Vintage. I guess about 1930. Hub brakes. Cross over chains . As heavy as a skip. But my best friend and I had a whale of a time on it. We were both racing cyclists in a local club, and we could have the tandem, heavy though it was, up to a good 35mph or more. We used to take it out after school onto a dual carriageway where, at about the same time every evening, a chap on a Honda 90 would be commuting home from work - Wymondham to Norwich, about 9 miles. He was our Derny. We'd tuck in for the nine miles, grit our teeth and hang on for the distance and then try and outsprint him on the final downhill for the City sign, getting up to probably 45 mph or so. He clearly was tickled, and would tuck down, urging the Honda to exceed its meagre power output. Sometimes he won. Sometimes we did.  Norwich - A Fine City. That's what the sign said.  The sign's still there. Everything else is just memory.

I've been looking at tandems on ebay.
Mastery and intimacy are opposites.

Are men ever destined to balance them?

Thursday, 14 August 2014


How much silence do you like in your life?

I like a lot.

I've all but given up on radio, music or story in the car. Five odd hours to Plymouth. Many driving hours through work. Silent. No phone. Just my own thoughts.

Ditto daily space for it. The burble of my home life is a beautiful music. The conversation of friends is a treasure. But the appreciation of these things is heightened by a practice of silence, long and regular.
The more silent you are, the more you hear. Not just external sound, but the sensory experience of the ebb and flow of your own thoughts, and with acceptance, contentment with those. The hum of memory. The gentle music, if only you listen for it, of the perfection of selfhood. Not a moral perfection, but a physical, ontological, universal perfection in which one sees the distraction of duality, and one's own merger with the universal. Silence amplifies the sound of one's own edges. I choose sound as the descriptor here, as, aptly, sound seems harder to trace as a distinct temporal or spatial thing than objects. And so with the soul, if that is what you must call it. Hard to see its start or finish in time or space. The soul can be heard, in silence.

Silence breeds appreciation, when well used.
Silence contains contentment, when well practised.
Silence reveals one's own truth, when well absorbed.
Silence promotes peace, when willingly embraced.

The more silent you are, the less you realise you have to say.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014


Today, I saw two wood pigeons. So what? One was dead. The other was standing vigil over the body and, in my opinion, clearly grieving. Animals, I believe, have just as complex an emotional life as we humans. Of course I have no scientific evidence for this, but close observation of their behaviour bears me out.