Wednesday 29 April 2009

well dressed

We called by the Virtuous Well at Trellech the other day. We wanted to go and greet the spring. The Christian version of death and rebirth at Eastertide seems rather over-dramatic, what with all the beating-oneself-up about the Passion, then the celebration of the Resurrection. I mean, it's not as though we didn't know it was going to be a happy ending.

Still, whatever floats your boat.

B and I floated our boats, as it were, by celebrating the spring with a bit of well dressing. Look, here is a well dressed.

...the first time I came here, twenty years ago-ish, there was none of This Kind Of Thing going on here. I'd read descriptions of offerings to Welsh wells in Jan Morris' book on Wales; and of similar things in Ireland, elsewhere. It seemed like a nice thing to do. So I tore off some of the rags I always kept in the pannier of my motorbike (for you always need that sort of thing with motorbikes, at least my kind of motorbikes) and tied them up in the hawthorn over the well, wondering if the local population would take fright at the thought of frenzied paganism on the loose.

Time marches on, and there is now a lot of That Kind Of Thing about. The tree is quite heavy with textiles, as you can see in the first photo, including some rather eccentric offerings; there was a bra there, for one thing... and they are looking a bit past their best now after the winter's weathering and the sun's bleaching. Still...

...Ignoring my image, I peer down
to the quiet roots of it, where
the coins lie, the tarnished offerings
of the people to the pure spirit
that lives there, that has lived there
always, giving itself up
to the thirsty, withholding
itself from the superstition of others, who ask for more.

Ffynnon Fair RS Thomas

Sunday 26 April 2009


I'm grounding myself again after a couple of weeks in space. Some sort of space anyway.

We had our first camping expedition of the year, over in Pembrokeshire, and wandered around the Preseli Hills and joined the migrant warblers saying hello to spring. And swam (very briefly) in a Bloody Cold sea. It was very good, very therapeutic.

And then I had a job interview. It looks like a really good job, involving surveying wildlife, making maps, and stuff; I saw the advertisement for the job and thought "That job's got my name on it."

I took along a couple of my books to show them what I could do, and they made polite noises. I think they liked them.

The only thing was, one of the questions they asked me was about equal opportunities, and I sort of dried up and couldn't think of anything intelligent to say.

So all the way home, and for days after, I was worrying over it and thinking of great answers I could have given and didn't. Like the very simple "Equal opportunities is about being nice to people and jumping on anyone who isn't nice to people." Which may be simplisitic, but goes some way to covering the points arising.

O well, alea iacta est. Now I wait.

And get on with spreading the word about the book readings which are now just over a week away, and for which I appear to be i/c propaganda. Crikey.

Saturday 25 April 2009

radio interview

Here's an interview that Richard and I did on Dublin's Phantom 105.2, with Nadine O'Regan. All part of the getting-ready-stuff for the readings in a week or so. Very nice, Nadine was. And she likes the book. Good stuff.

Friday 10 April 2009


erm.... it's the only pic I've got with a fag in it, OK?

Peter Ashley, over on Unmitigated England, has put out a call for literary references to cigarette brands. It's the sort of thing that had me racking my brains, uselessly as it turned out, as, while I'm sure I've seen loads, none came to mind.

(What does racking brains involve? -I've racked home-made wine many times, siphoning off the clear stuff and leaving the gunk in the bottom of the demijohn. Rightly or wrongly, this is the image I get in my mind when I see a reference to racking of brains. Then I feel a bit queasy and have to lie down...)

I'm re-reading Margery Allingham's Campion novels at the moment, and stumbled upon this, in The Beckoning Lady. Appropriately enough, a little detective work is required. Can you identify the brands alluded to? -I've got an idea for the first one, but I'm all at sea over the others. Clue: published 1955

"...I wonder if I could trouble you for a cigarette, Mr. Campion?"
The thin man produced his case gravely and offered it to him. "Sailors," he said. "Or I have some Laymans."
South was grinning, but he was disappointed. "Thank you very much," he said helping himself. "I usually smoke Blue Zephyrs," he added shamelessly.
"Then you do yourself proud," murmured Mr. Campion, still very seriously.

Wednesday 8 April 2009

Becoming Drusilla - the paperback launch

At last! I've got a small pile of advance copies of the paperback, and very nice it looks too.

Richard and I are doing a very short tour in May. I just got confirmation of the Bristol venue yesterday, so it's time to post something up. And here it is!

Tue May 5th: The Winding Stair Bookshop, Dublin, 7:30

Wed May 6th: Birmingham City University

Fri May 8th: Green Room, The Tobacco Factory, Bristol, starts 7:45, reading at 8:15

...after our reading in Bloomsbury last year went down so well, we thought we'd repeat the dramatised reading thing, with Q and A's for those with Q's to A. Or whatever.

Hmm, is that it? -I guess so for now. I'm sure I've left something out. Time will tell.

Twinkle the hamster

...ok, it's not a hamster. Or Ben Miller.

Here in Schloss Marland, we're an easy-going and democratic crowd. We discuss things and occasionally bicker about them before resolving what to do about them.

Opposite the cooker in our really-quite-spacious kitchen is where Twinkle the hamster lives. Sometimes she runs around in her wheel, sometimes she gratefully accepts root vegetables and carries them away to her little cardboard box. Sometimes we put her in her hamster ball, and she rumbles around the flat, bumping into things while we sluice out the wee and poo in the bottom of her cage.

She's a nice hamster, but we do not generally consult her when there are decisions to be made. We'd probably feel something was not quite right if something big happened in our lives and she called a press conference.

Still, she's a nice hamster, and we like watching her.

In this Age of the Sleb, we have got used to people who are on the telly thinking that, because they are on the telly, their thoughts are worth listening to. Thus Ben Miller, who performed in the episode of Moving Wallpaper described here, has spoken out against the sort of people who disapproved of its portrayal of a transsexual character and her treatment on the show. Just to remind you, the episode functioned simply as a platform for the airing of 'jokes' at the expense of the transsexual character, without any sense of authorial voice suggesting that this sort of thing is not on.

As you will see from the link, Ben's analysis of the situation is not done well; but perhaps we may be surprised to find it done at all...

He says,

"While on the one hand I would hate to feel that people were offended by comedy, I also think we have to realise when we are offended by something that other people are not necessarily offended in the same way, or that that doesn't necessarily mean that that material shouldn't be shown.

"It simply means that we have found it offensive and quite often that is simply a necessary function of comedy."

Funny, I though there was more to comedy than that.

I like that phrase "we have to realise...". We? Somehow, I don't think that white, middle-class, male Ben Miller has been at the receiving end of much, if any, of the sort of offensiveness that he's defending.

Just to make it clear, as one who has looked closely at the way these things work: if you find something offensive, it is because you find it offensive. So far, so good. But it is not the place of the person who perpetrated the offence to tell you that you are wrong to find it offensive.

But then, I do find Ben's analysis more than a bit shaky; Moving Wallpaper, on the evidence of this episode and despite what Ben appears to suggest, is emphatically not cutting edge comedy. Sub-Benny-Hill sniggering, perhaps. Not cutting edge. Not comedy. Sorry, Ben, you were just caught out doing something shoddy. To own up and apologise properly would be the decent thing to do now. But that is perhaps too much to hope for? Though I don't imagine there will be any further series of this lamentable stuff. Which is a result of a sort.

Anyway, we've heard from the one of the monkeys. I wonder what the organ grinder is going to say?

Sunday 5 April 2009

save the magpies

All the trees on the street had big yellow signs attached to them, warning that the tree surgeons would be at work on Friday. I was presented with a dilemma; the magpies have nested in the tree at the front of our house, and while I like magpies because they are lively and exuberant, I also feel protective of the songbirds who nest in the neighbourhood.

There was a blackbird nest in the ivy on a garden wall overlooked by our kitchen window; for a few years running, we watched the blackbirds' to-ings and fro-ings, and their valiant dive-bombing of the magpies that occasionally marauded their way in, looking for the eggs.

Finally, though, it was not the magpies that put paid to the blackbirds' nest. It wasn't even the local cats. It was the aspirational neighbours, who had the ivy ripped down and replaced with a wooden fence, to go with their wooden decking, wooden shed and wooden castle-thing-for-the-kids.

So there are worse things than magpies.

I had a word with the chaps with chainsaws. They agreed to leave the tree alone; indeed, they are obliged to not work on trees with active nests in them. Which must be a problem, this late in the season.

It was fun watching the men swinging around in the trees. Quite fancied having a go myself.

On the climbing of trees, we bumped into Kayle Brandon in IKEA the other week, when we were in there buying frames for my pictures. She it was who organised the Feral Food thing at the Cube in Bristol that I got involved with. She told us that she was having a tree climbing event in Ashton Court, for National Tree Climbing Day or something. Interesting idea. Tree climbing is not really a group activity, in my book. Unless you're a tree surgeon, of course.

Friday 3 April 2009

dumb fucks

an evening in front of the telly

Every now and then in this blog I refer to stuff that happened to me when I worked for P&O, and when I took them to an Employment Tribunal. I try not to do it too much; it would be nice to put that sort of thing in the past, and move on.

Sadly, That Sort Of Thing is, it turns out, always with us. The war against stupidity is never-ending. We just have to keep fighting it, don't we? It kind of reminds me of the Anglo-Saxon attitude to life, where they thought that Fate would get the best of us in the end, and what counted most was how well you fought against it, making an ending worthy of a song.

I don't have a telly, though I know that there are lots and lots of channels out there, and presumably whatever talent there may be is spread bit thinly across the airwaves.

There's something on ITV called Moving Wallpaper, a title presumably intended as an ironic reference to the way that some people will make, and other people will watch, any old crap. The other week, there was an episode which centred around a transsexual character, Georgina. You can still watch it, if that kind of thing floats your boat, here.

The show is centred around a group of hack writers for a TV soap. The odious manager employs a new writer, who turns out to be a transsexual woman. The other writers go on strike. After a while, when odious manager and rest of the cast have got bored of making offensive comments about Georgina, she is sacked and roars away on a large motorbike. Everyone else goes back to work together. End of episode.

So what is the point of this episode? Apparently, it is no more than an opportunity for the cast to say things like this about the trans character:

"Mister No-dangles"
"A walking GM crop"
"Never work with children, animals or trannies"
"You're about as good a producer as George is a woman", and so on and on...

Presumably we are intended to laugh at this stuff. That first one on the list, for instance. They start off with the name of a song called "Mister Bojangles". Perhaps you know the song, in which case you can appreciate how smart they are with what they do here. They change it to "Mister No-dangles", which cleverly suggests (smirk smirk) that the trans character has had her male genitalia removed, but is still really a man, hence the "Mister" bit. And he goes and gets his tackle cut off!

What a laugh! It must be funny, as someone wrote it down intending it to be laughed at, and then someone else read it and agreed that it was funny, and then an actor learned the line and spoke it to the camera, and I guess they thought it was funny too.

Funny old world.

Scarily, though, it did ring quite true. The attitudes expressed by these people were really very similar to those I encountered among some of the crew of the Pride of Bilbao. The Neanderthal part of the crew, to be fair, but Neanderthals are people too. Sort of. Indeed, the 'funny' things the Moving Wallpaper crowd said about and to Georgina were very similar to what some of P&O's employees said to me; had there been a camera on board recording them, they could have blended effortlessly into the show. For instance, one humourist came up with this little gem about me: "When God made man it was Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve". That is easily as witty and funny as that Mister No-dangles malarkey. The Daily Mail evidently thought so too, as they adapted it as a headline. And the Daily Mail knows a thing or two about what's right, what's wrong, and what's funny, doesn't it? The idea is that somehow the trans character is not real, and so it's OK to say and do what you like to them. Where the show strays from reality is in its version of a happy ending; everyone's had a bit of a laugh, and so Georgina is conveniently sacked. Disappears. End of Georgina. End of story.

Out there in the real world, this is often the desired outcome for people who don't like trans people. You have your joke at their expense, then you get rid of them. You can't laugh at lepers or black people or women any more, at least not openly, but at least you can Mock The Tranny. Can't you?

Didn't work in my case, of course. It ended in legal action, which I won. Because you should not treat people like that. And fortunately, the law, at least, recognises that. It may come as a surprise that some people actually need educating in the idea that you should treat other people decently, but evidently they do.

I watched this episode online. I had to sit through a few adverts. Let's see; there was one for a plug-in air freshener, one which had a bunch of lads sitting on a couch and engaging in extravagant displays of male bonding while watching football on the telly. Not sure what that was advertising - beer or something? And a trailer for a new James Bond movie. So the targeted demographic for this show is presumably closeted blokes who like their homes to smell like lavatories rather than each others' BO, and who have secret agent fantasies.

A bunch of dumb fucks, then.

Quite appropriate, I guess. And if you wish to infer that everyone involved in the commissioning, writing, approving and making of this episode is a bit of a dumb fuck too, then who am I to disagree?

-I've tagged this post with the terms "bigotry" and "transphobia", though I actually think that they're rather bigger words than the Moving Wallpaper team deserve. This little episode is just symptomatic of some mediocre attempt at cheap laughs. So I've added "dumbfuckery" to the tags. If it turns out to be a neologism, then you heard it here first. Thanks, Moving Wallpaper. Inspirational.

Thursday 2 April 2009


I'm doing some pictures for a new book by Geraldine Taylor. Here's the cover illustration, which is set in Fairyland (as mentioned in an earlier post). The song thrush, however, is modelled upon a stuffed song thrush in Bristol City Museum.

I finished the picture and got it scanned ready to add the words and stuff on Photoshop. And then popped it into a frame and down, along with a few other pictures, to the Natural Health Clinic on Cotham Hill, Bristol, where they are kindly allowing me to hang them this month. It's all good fun and a useful exercise, and so far people have said nice things about the pictures.

recherche du temps perdu

I've been very quiet recently. Thinking about stuff. The other weekend, I went up to Leicester for a little reunion party for the crew of Karen Bravo, a seismic survey ship that I worked on for a few years when I first went to sea.

When Toby (waving his arms around at the back there) put a Facebook group together for the old crew, I had mixed feelings about getting involved, however slightly. But I realised I'd forgotten just how good things were in those days, and what a nice bunch of people I worked with. As the years passed and I took to working in the engine rooms of ferries, I still met and worked with some really good people; but also some thoroughly unsavoury types- seafaring seems to attract the best and worst of kinds. And the last couple of years at sea were something of an never-ending struggle against bigots.

So it was nice to remember the good times. I signed up for the party, which used Tim's 50th birthday as an excuse. Hence the Leicester connection. Seafarers, present and past, converging from around the world to a landlocked Midlands city (though there was a canal close by....)

In a way, it was like returning to the crew mess after a month off and resuming the conversations and badinage that'd been left off on one's departure. Except that this time there'd been a 25 year break, and those familiar voices came from people who had doubled in age. Like me. It took a bit of getting used to, but we managed.

We talked about the stuff we used to get up to, always with strict adherence to Health and Safety regulations...

(...I recalled that, when I subsequently attended a survival craft training course at Warsash, I was shown a slide show of How Not To Do It, a chamber of horrors thing. Nearly all the ships involved had a familiar green and white paintwork. "Western Geophysical?" I asked the lecturer. He nodded his head wearily....)

"We've not changed at all," said Kev. In some ways we have changed radically, and possibly me more than most. But some things just don't change. It was an interesting experience. And we partied until long after midnight. That bit certainly didn't change.