As part of trying to get out more I decided to go visit the parts of East London where there’s always at lot of street art, just to see what lockdown, covid, BLM, crap politicians Trump, etcetera has stimulated.
There were some covid/NHS inspired images
And a few that aimed at BLM issues
But mostly it feels like the artists just wanted to paint and maybe get some generalised frustrations off their chests
In 1975 I left home for Bristol University to study law. When there I lived in Hall about two miles from where I studied. My only ways of commuting were the bus (too expensive) walking (too slow and no I wasn’t about to run) or cycling (too… well you can decide)
There are many things that the casual visitor might have noted about Bristol in the mid seventies – its grotesquely rebuilt centre following war damage and a surfeit of grey on grey concrete; its links to a glorious engineering past with the recent return from Uruguay or some such of the SS Great Britain built by Brunel; the availability of cheap, potent cider that the locals mixed with orange squash and blackcurrant cordial to mask the less than palatable taste (when first experienced, this kind of illegally still-brewed concoction has one remarkable characteristic for a liquid: as soon as you’ve drunk it you feel as if all the moisture has been removed from your body; you’re not so much dehydrated as completely unhydrated); the propensity for it to rain with an unnecessary generosity of spirit;… and its hills.
Oh those bloody hills. Why did Brunel spend his time on state of the art railways and steam ships, mobile hospitals and bridges when levelling the bloody hills would have served a far better engineering purpose.
Perhaps I should recap how students were housed both bank then and now if the Vet’s recent experiences are a guide. Every first year student was meant to be offered accommodation in one of a variety of Halls of Residence. Broadly these were split into two: Goldney, Clifton Hill House and Manor Halls were on the same elevation as the University buildings; Wills, Badock, Hiatt Baker and Churchill Halls were not. Thus it was I found myself in A block of Churchill Hall, some many feet away from and at a considerable height above the Wills Memorial Building where all life so far as a law student was concerned took place.
To travel between one’s abode and place of learning required (a) a car – nope, you’re right that wasn’t happening in my sliver of the space-time continuum and for several adjacent parallel universes next door (b) a bus journey – ha! You think I’m made of money? (c) on foot – an option but one requiring you to leave before you returned from the previous days’ lectures or (d) the bicycle. Of course running had a supporter amongst my intake but he was a card-carrying loon who ate radishes, recited the contents of furious if somewhat monosyllabic pamphlets on the perils of a heavily protein-dependent diet and advocated gravel shampoo and dry humping for a clear complexion and an aesthetically pleasing Marxist disposition. He also studied French and Stupity. It was rumoured he came from Droitwich.
It had to be my bike. Having brought on the train from home, I confronted issue number one. At school i could carry my books in a pannier or rucksack. Here, an adaptation to my bat-mo-wheel was necessitated. Lawyers like words, especially the printed variety and one humble book does not suffice. Oh no, we were required to own ‘tomes’ of the stuff. My school satchel proved to be about as useful as a gauze condom. I invested in a proper grown-up briefcase which whatever it lacked in style and eye-catching fabrication, it made up in size and substance. A bit like a Volvo.
I tried carrying it by hanging it from one side of the handlebar but that merely ensured I described perfect if rather redundant circles. To reach my lectures I needed a method of porterage that allowed for a linear progression.
The answer was both simple and depleting of my grant monies (do I hear a Millennial weep? Oh yes, sweet child, we had grants; none of your loan malarkey. I’m a baby-boomer after all, how else could I have ensured it was all spent out by the time you were considering tertiary education?).
I bought a metal carrier thingy that attached on the back above the rear wheel. With the benefit of a strong elastic strap said tome-holder was held in place and we were good to go.
Back tracking slightly I should explain I did physics to O level at school. I have only a few, rather vague memories of it: the teacher’s name was Hucker, to be forever known as ‘Alf’; he failed to seal the tube thing when he released bromide gas into what was meant to be a vacuum thus ensuring the whole of the science block was evacuated for three days; and while I know he taught, I never really grasped (a) the difference between centrifugal and centripetal forces, (b) ditto inertia and friction and (c) what was terminal velocity. This is relevant, I think but since this all made as much sense to me as does its tail to a cat I cannot be sure.
The first part of my ride to lectures was across ‘The Downs’. Sounds rather jolly, doesn’t it? Redolent of grassy swards and picnicking maidens twirling parasols. Bollocks. It’s an upturned saucer of land with as much to recommend it, between the months of October and April as the Sub Siberian Steppes. The English, with their penchant for understatement might have described the conditions as ‘chilly’ or ‘parky’. Trying to tack my way across, always apparently going uphill and into a wind that the Beaufort scale failed to capture adequately it was, to quote Haemorrhoid the Unwise from Shakespeare’s little known triptych plays, ‘The Proctologist of Upbottom’, absolutely fucking freezing.
Having reached the far side, life should have been easier. Ha! When has that old soar ever applied? Life just gets more lifey, a curious mix of the unexpectedly serene, consistently prosaic and recurrently excruciating. In my case I had reached Blackboys Hill.
The name maybe hints at the slaving past of Bristol. I know not. Certainly during the recent demonstrations, the crowds focused on deplinthing statues; on behalf of all cyclists, had they flattened Blackboys Hill they may have done everyone a huge favour.
All I can say for certain is it was steep, narrow and gratifying downhill. Well, in the morning one was grateful for its trajectory; the return journey didn’t make one love it more.
After the hill, came Whiteladies road which widened considerably but began to flatten out. It was one of those truisms that one learns as one enters adulthood that, however ‘on time’ one was when one left Hall one was somewhere on the ‘late’ spectrum by the time one had arrived atop Blackboys. So time management was crucial. Viz, you let go the brakes, pedalled all to buggery and hoped no one got in your way.
Perhaps, dear reader you can see where this is going? Our hero – me – is astride a fast moving free flowing machine which is anchored to the tarmac by a dead weight comprising Smith and Hogan on Crime, Winfield and Jollowitz on Tort and, on top, a couple of cheese sarnies for my lunch stolen from the canteen. As long as I minimised third party interventions, namely other road users but especially pedestrians and kept to as straight a line as the journey allowed all was well.
That wasn’t always possible. Of course it wasn’t. But if you take the number of journeys I undertook during this frenetic free-pedalling phase then the statistical size of those journeys that could fairly be described as ‘catastrophes’ are within statistically acceptable aberrational limits.
And what were those statistical anomalies aka accidents? Three spring to mind. Today I will share the first.
Pedestrian interface no.1. I am at terminal velocity, approaching the point when the Alpine Blackboys becomes the more Uplandish Whiteladies. The road begins to widen. I am using a number 24 double decker bus to slipstream and am belatedly aware that said charabanc is pulling towards the kerb. I have forgotten the bus stop.
It is make your mind up time, a double or quits moment. Brake, pull round the outside but lose precious momentum; or increase the power output, namely pedal furiously in the hope of overtaking the bus on the inside. Insanely I am confident in the latter as an achievable stratagem. What I haven’t factored into this equation is the overconfidence of one time-stressed passenger who, even as I make my choice, is tripping down the stairs intent on departing the bus swiftly.
Back then buses lacked such health and safety features as doors. You could jump on and off the back platform with a gaiety borne of youthful exuberance; indeed the conductor often, erm conducted you in such hair-raising manoeuvres with a jaunty ‘gerroff, pillock!’
To be fair to Pillock esq., he might travel that journey for a lifetime and not need to contemplate this scenario.
While my mistake was to fail to consider the possibility that Mr Pillock might be aboard that day, Mr Pillock’s mistake was to check forward, towards the approaching stop for potential impediments to his smooth suave exit, namely the concrete bus stop and awaiting passengers-to-be, rather than back towards an increasingly frantically pedalling head down pursuer.
If I’m honest while I spotted Herr Pillock’s internal descent I believed until the last moment that it would be him who stopped. It was only as he stepped off the bus that he heard (a) my squealing brakes belatedly trying to use friction to generate inertia (I think I have this the right way round) (b) my ‘oh fuck’ and (c) the communal intake of breath from the watching passengers-to-be standing on the kerb.
Thus rendered aware of impending doom he looked at me. He was so close I think we were beyond the ‘whites of his eyes’ measurement and had reached an ‘inside of his retina’ proximity.
Collisions, in my experience are many and varied. But they all have a ‘time passes slowly’ quality. That is until time catches up with itself when it tends to get very messy as metal, flesh, clothing, and more flesh intertwine to be shortly joined by tarmac.
Which bits hit where are difficult at this distance to recall save to say the point where my handlebars joined the front fork did appear to smite him in what might be describe as adjacent to the testicular region.
Happily if oddly neither of us was hurt. Well, not in a life changing way. Well, not me anyway. I had a cut knee and his shirt seemed a little dusty. Even more oddly the conductor berated him for not looking where he was going while the pedestrians were inclined to the view I was to blame.
Looking back the fact he didn’t so much as berate me let alone belabour about my head with a mashie nibblick is one of the miracles of the 20th century. He had to be in shock or perhaps he was focusing on the fact that while he might reasonably have expected his balls to have dropped at the onset of puberty and stayed down, he now found they had been rammed back whence they came some 25 years earlier. We all experience those deja vu moments, but perhaps awaiting a reprise of the descent of his scrotal sack was taking all his concentration or indeed he too might have been awaiting his own little miracle, something akin to Moses appearing from above with an ‘are these yours?’ cheeriness.
I was allowed to go while he made his way, somewhat wider of gait that earlier towards his destination. I picked up my bike and contemplated what might have happened to it. Apparently nothing. I was good to continue my cycling odyssey. Oh dear, was Bristol ready for this?
Granta Personi was a chameleon: those who knew him called him ‘toymaker’; those who didn’t, but benefited from his model-making expertise called him ‘genius’; and those bereaved by the application of his uniquely crafted weaponry called him ‘monster’.
Granta lived for his work. He hand-tooled beautiful mechanical devices, using only wood and twine. The children who received a ‘Granta Gift’ cherished them for their clever tricks and their carers for their robust construction and the modest prices he insisted on charging. Many such models would be loved into adulthood and bequeathed to future generations to enjoy afresh.
But there was another side to Granta. His placid uncomplaining nature made him the perfect uncle, but his amoral indifference to the lives of those from outside his lakeside town made him highly suitable for the role that was to make him comfortable, loathed and hunted by the forces of law and order across many national boundaries.
Never one to resist a challenge, Granta was tasked by the mayor of his small town to use his skills to craft a unique weapon for his passion: boar hunting. Granta exceeded the brief by building an all wooden dart gun that was small, powerful, accurate and robust.
When the mayor proudly showed off his new ‘toy’ to one appreciative guest who had visited to enjoy some hunting, he had no idea that the guest was a member of a significant crime syndicate. The guest, Trillo, was intrigued by the weapon’s apparently innocuous construction and lack of anything that the now ubiquitous metal detectors would reveal.
“Who made this?”
“Ah that’s Granta. A one off.”
“He’s a gunsmith?”
“No, a toymaker.”
Trillo pondered this stroke of luck. After debating with his superiors he had a terrified Granta kidnapped, threatened, tortured and propositioned. Could he build a totally anonymous and undetectable, yet fully functional weapon?
Granta thought through the logistics and developed three prototypes, the final one, in the shape of a small wooden doll that delivered a deadly wooden dart capable of piercing both a human skull and most Kevlar was perfect for his new clients. They took it and tried to replicate it, but, without Granta’s skill the copies were never as satisfactory as the original. No, the syndicate would have to retain Granta for themselves.
Granta understood the commission was one he wasn’t meant to reject. And indeed he didn’t want to. If whoever was the intended target was from outside his region, it didn’t interest or concern him. And the parochial life Granta led suited his paymasters. An untraceable system for collection and payment was devised and refined so that, by the time the world awoke to the novel way in which assassins delivered their terminal messages, Granta was once more just a small time model-maker, lost in the mists of his lakeshore home.
Granta’s ‘Pinocchio’ – nicknamed for the way its deadly dart resembled the original’s nose – became the weapon of choice for the syndicate’s dispensers of justice. Infinitely variable in design, undetectable by all security systems, small enough to be secreted in a handbag and capable of being swiftly burnt to remove all evidence, the violent way the ‘nose’ exploded from the model’s head to deliver its message never failed to bring about the desired impact. The syndicate’s local successes led to its being commissioned for bigger and better paid projects, its infamy spreading rapidly.
Occasionally Granta would hear tell of some famous leader’s untimely end at the hands of an assassin or terrorist or freedom fighter and understand that death came via a ‘Pinocchio’. He would listen to the news-reader’s approval or approbation, with equal indifference and retire to his workshop to consider his next commission.
While assassins were caught and terrorists exposed, the anonymity of the mysterious maker of these tools of death caused increased vexation amongst the powerful and the moneyed. How on Earth were they to stop this?
Granta’s grandniece, Delpi loved her uncle’s pastel-coloured house, nestling the water’s edge. Its dark cool rooms held a myriad of toys and machines to delight and intrigue the young mind. And as Granta grew old he enjoyed letting the little girl roam around after school finished or when she stayed during the holidays, bringing some much needed life to the old drear building. While he worked and she played he told her stories, both real and imaginary. One day, after a particularly brutal multiple killing of a royal family had been in the news, each member relieved of their existence by a Pinocchio, he recounted the old fable of the woodcarver and the animated doll whose nose grew when he lied. “Please, please uncle, make me a Pinocchio!”
Sweet thing, he thought as he turned to his old lathe and crafted a small figurine for his Delphi. She was asleep when he finished his task and he propped it by her bed for her on waking. Tired and rheumy-eyed, he poured himself a large beaker of the local spirit and took himself to bed.
When Delphi awoke she found the gift. As she inspected it, she realised with growing horror that her uncle had made the wrong doll. No, this wasn’t right. She wouldn’t allow this. Hurrying to his room, where old man slept she cried, demanding he fix things, repair his error.
As he refused to stir the increasingly agitated girl grew in her desperation to wake him. “Please, Uncle, please.”
Nothing. His old lips fluttered in his deep sleep, sodden with the ancient spirit.
The might of thousands and the wealth of nations over more than a decade failed to stop Granta, the anonymous, yet malevolent force behind the ‘Pinocchio’. It took Delphi seconds to lift her Pinocchio, with its unwanted liar’s nose, above her head and bring it down with the frustration of disappointed youth, just as the old man turned his head and peered blearily at the small girl.
The beautifully tapered and varnished nose had no troubled passing through Granta’s outer ear, ear-drum, his inner ear and into the brain’s soft tissue.
Death wasn’t instant. Granta had enough time, as gore blood seeped out of the newly crafted hole and ran into his mouth to realise the irony. Another ‘Pinocchio’, another death. As Delphi cried and the world sighed, Granta died.
This story has been tailored to the latest #writephoto prompt
Some years ago, the summer vegetable period produced a glut or courgettes which with the mountain of tomatoes led to what the children dubbed, in a tone of voice that might have better announced a zombie apocalypse, The Year Of The Ratatouille.
We cut back on courgettes after that, but now they have grown to physical adulthood (the jury is out on personality and intellect) they, and their partners have encouraged us to seek peak courgette.
We’ve had monsters…
We’ve had custard marrows…
We’ve had yellow…
And we’ve had tigers…
And still they come.
Today, I decided it was time to combine my excess courgette harvest with my default culinary escape – I made a cake..
So I give you the courgette, banana and chocolate loaf.
It was super. Let’s be Frank, because Frank is a perfectly pleasant alter ego, and say you do not taste the courgette. At all. Even a smidge. But it does make for a delightfully light moist (I really do get the squeaky heebeejeebees with that word, but it does describe the end product) cake.
This is what you need and the how to stuff…
This is what is left after No. 1 son persuaded me to go on a bike ride with him and then found out what I’d baked earlier. He does like to save us from ourselves, that boy.
I have, at last decided to bite an awkward shaped bullet and publish some of my poetry. I have a title (see above), a cover (below) and enough poems to warrant its being called a ‘book’. Publication date is still a little vague but over the next month or so.
This little piece is to ask if anyone fancies a copy with a view to reading and reviewing the same when it is published. Ditto if anyone would like me to do a guest post where I’d happily include a poem and some Q&As or whatever you fancied, even a bespoke poem on a theme you chose (why am I suggesting that? I’m mad!).
To whet your appetites – or put you off totally – here is one of my selection….
Tomorrow I will be announcing something about my poetry dilemma but before then here are some pictures from the July garden. At the end, after the customary piccy of Dog, there’s a poem, based on another famous poem, this time by Kipling and based on the English Garden.
Let’s start with July 1st and let’s see how things change as the month progresses
After a short spell in the suburban desert of North Surrey, I was lucky enough to live in the depths of the New Forest, which, for those of you not familiar with the intimate details of England is one hundred square miles of National Park close to the south coast nestling between Southampton and Bournemouth. It’s pretty flat, covered in a lot of heather and bog with the odd smattering of trees, its own unique population of indigenous ponies and much other wildlife only found there. People holiday there; many aspire to live in its relatively secure and secluded bosom. My parents moved the family there in their forties and for them it was the best decision ever.
I was twelve.
My view on that decision? It sucked, like being force fed unripe lemons while listening to a duet between Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan singing ‘Happy’.
As soon as I could I took myself to Bristol, to University. Glory be. People. Stuff to do that didn’t involve being bitten (unless the biter was another consenting adult). Places to get to easily. Buses that ran more than once a decade. I loved it but it was a student love affair and when that ended something died with it. Just a little.
I moved to London. I was terrified. I had no clue how I’d cope. I assumed I’d be there while I established a legal career and then move to suburbia where I was born, become a commuter and join local clubs and societies and be generally rather English and pretty parochial.
And then I got my bearings and I fell in love. Hook, line and sodding sinker with the place, with its multitude of contradictions, its failings, its dirt and pollution, its crowds and delays, its antiquated transport system, its oddly disturbing smells, its ugly buildings, its…
… bloody everythings.
I’m a city boy; that was established in the first weeks of October in 1975 when I went to live in Bristol. But more than that, after 40 plus years here I’m a Londoner. I’ve visited other great cities in this country and in Britain and around the world. Some are stunning, in my top ten: Edinburgh and Paris; Sydney and San Francisco; New York and Cape Town…
But none beat this gritty old city. Why? I’m not sure. It’s walkable, that helps. It’s certainly green. But I suppose at root it’s not the buildings, the open spaces, the culture, the museums, the galleries, the sport… It’s probably the people. It wouldn’t be what it is without its shifting, shifty, shining, shabby populous. I consider myself a lucky lad, unless I’m being cut up at the lights, or forced to share someone’s three week old armpit on the tube….
‘Fed up with lockdown, though she’s ridiculously excited she’s got a hair appointment.’
‘What is that all about? A hair cut? Sheesh!’
‘You’ve got none to cut. Mum always said her hair was her crowning glory.’
‘What’s yours, Logan?’
‘I’ve not given it any thought.’
‘Mine’s my knees. I’ve always thought they were rather finely sculptured.’
‘Seriously? Knees have to be man’s ugliest feature.’
‘No, that has to be elbows. Awful things. Come on, what’s yours?’
‘If I have to pick, then my intellect.’
‘More like your crowing glory, then.’
This was written in response to this week’s prompt over at #carrotranch
July 30, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that uses the phrase “her crowning glory.” (Thanks to Anne Goodwin for the prompt idea.) It can be in the traditional sense of a woman’s hair or applied to any idea of a best attribute. What happens if you play with the meaning or gender? Go where the prompt leads!
Grit McNoniface was a lowland troll. Unlike their better known highland cousins, lowland trolls were smooth skinned, hardworking and small. Indeed, they were so unlike the stereotypical image of a troll, that they were often mistaken for a pixie or a sprite. If you want to wind up a lowland troll, then tell it it reminds you of a stone sprite. At that point the most likely reaction is very troll-typical. They want to eat you and if you happen to be soft skinned and under one foot tall then you’d be advised to runaway.
Grit left home when his lack of hair and distinguishing warts made him a laughing stock. Eschewing the rolling hills and caves he headed south to seek a small safe space to pass his days. After journeying for what seemed an age he alighted on the Benefice of St Boniface. Here he found a small aperture in the back of some stone steps, perfectly sized and well hidden. He untied his kerchief, took out his hammer, chipped a couple of granules off the stone tread to rub in his forehead for supper and withdrew to contemplate his lot and practice a form of barnacle Pilates much favoured by stone based life forms.
Years passed and the incumbents of the Order came and went, never caring much for the occupant of the space beneath the steps. Whatever it was, was clean, sang with a mellifluous tapping tone and regularly restored the stability of the steps by the assiduous introduction of grit.
For his part, Grit came to realise the motto live and let live worked fine for those either over three foot high, blessed with razor teeth or a psychopathic disposition. What worked for members of the order, didn’t work so well for a gravel rubbing, soft shelled troll with a preference for early days (trolls sleep during the day) and petunias. He fought constant battles with large spiders, rodents of all kinds, ant colonies and the occasionally stupid bird who decided Grit’s aperture was perfect for a nest.
In a way, those battles, that need to maintain a Qui Vivre at all times kept Grit going. He watched as time, tide, abrasive footwear and his small hammer took its toll on his home under the steps, never reaching any conclusion about their gradually diminishing thickness. Trolls live a long time, but even so they have a mortal coil off which they will eventually shuffle, and Grit felt sure he would teeter over that particular precipice long before the steps gave way.
One morning in June Grit was awoken by the most thunderous cacophony. Bits of grit, old mortar and stone rained down on him as he hurried to collect his meagre belongings. It appeared everything was about to collapse.
Outside Brian Tonsil sucked on his vape and shook his head. ‘You’ll ‘ave to take ‘em out. We’ll get some new ones from Bob’s.’ Brian was foreman at Tonsil Construction who had just been awarded the contract to convert the now redundant Monastery into a Spa And Deep Wellness Revitalisation Environment. Ripping out the obviously dangerous stone steps was in the first phase.
As the crowbar lifted the middle step, destroying in one easy swing decades of home building, Grit stared up at the sunlight flooding in. He did what all trolls have done down the years when confronted with sunlight: he turned to stone.
Brian leant forward and peered into the small space that the sweating navvy had exposed. He bent and picked up Grit, brushing dust off his horrified face.
In the same moment that life ebbed away from Grit, Brian smiled. ‘Must be a good luck charm,’ he chuckled, as he pocketed the small figurine. ‘I’ll give it to the missus.’
This was written in response to this week’s #writephoto prompt
‘Charming. Just because I don’t move much, doesn’t make me sedentary.’
‘So why are you here?’
‘I’m a standing stone.’
‘Keeping in mind this is just a thought experiment, why are you a standing stone?’
‘I don’t like rolling. No
‘No, sorry, that was a little joke. I’m a homage stone.’
‘You don’t believe me?’
‘Put yourself in my position, for a moment. I get a call telling me there’s this … this… someone… has taken up residence on the moor, buried up to their knees in sand and covered themselves in an artificial rock-effect shell and lichen. Everyone has tried to talk that someone down without success so it’s my turn. When I ask I’m told they’re a homage stone. That’s a new one on me so perhaps you might explain.’
‘If I do, will you leave me alone?’
‘All I can promise is I will report back. It’s up to the park authorities what happens next.’
‘They’ll not get rid of me. They can’t go digging me up.’
‘Not my call. So homage…?’
‘Yes, right. See, there was a stone circle here, once and someone removed one of the standing stones. Tragic it was so over time I came to realise it is my calling to replace it, and so re-complete the circle. I’m a homage to the Stone That Was.’
‘According to the records, there were three missing stones.’
‘Exactly. There are three of us. Basalt…’
‘Hello, I’m Basalt!’
‘And me. Rock.’
‘Geez, you’re all bonkers.’
‘Now look here. We’re not doing any harm. We’re meeting a need. We’re correcting a wrong…’
‘You’re three middle aged men who…’
‘Sorry… two men and a woman, dressed up in painted polystyrene, covered in mould, stuck in the ground in an area of outstanding natural beauty who are pretending to be rocks…’
‘Don’t you believe in diversity?’
‘You’re not rocks…’
‘We’re presenting as land formations. We’re entitled to call ourselves what we want to. Who are you to decide?’
‘Ok, ok. You’re a couple of shovelfuls short of a gravel trap but I’ll make my report and then the park authorities will implement plan B.’
‘Yes, didn’t I say? Tomorrow the first school trip will be allowed in. Teenagers. I understand that they’re going to be encouraged to scratch their messages on the rocks. A new approach to art.’
‘Of course if you were human that would be assault, but really it’s just a little light graffiti, given your impermeable carapace.’
‘But you can’t let them do that.’
‘Live and let live. That’s what I say. Mind you, I’ve seen the little treasures and if I were you, I’d be off to find a safe space, pronto. You know what they say?’