Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Haiku For A Sunday Morning


Woke early today

Full of snot and self-loathing

Roath Park calmed my soul.



  









Sunday, 7 October 2012

Write On
















"In all sorts of areas of our life, we enhance the quality of our lives by going for the slow option, the path which takes a little bit of effort. Sometimes, we don't spend an evening watching Kim Kardashian falling over on YouTube: we read a book. Sometimes, we don't just push a pre- prepared meal into the oven and take it out some time later. We chop and prepare vegetables; we follow a recipe, and we make dinner from scratch, with pleasure. We often do this because we love people, and think they are worthy of our effort from time to time. Sometimes we don't get in a car and get to where we have to go as soon as we possibly can. We open our front doors, and go for a walk in the spring sunshine and feel better for it.

Perhaps that is the way to get handwriting back into our lives – as something which is a pleasure, which is good for us, and which is human in ways not all communication systems manage to be. It will never again have the place in people's lives that it had in 1850. But it should, like good food or the capacity to take a walk, have some place in our lives from which it is not going to be dislodged. I want to know what people are like from their handwriting – friends, intimates, acquaintances, strangers, and people I can never and will never meet. I want everyone to maintain an intimate and unique connection with words and ink and paper and the movement of hand and arm. I want people to write, not on special occasions, but daily."

I love this article - an extract from Philip Hensher's book The Missing Ink: The lost art of handwriting (and why it still matters).

Do you like your handwriting?

Did you write anything today?



Monday, 20 August 2012

Dear Diatribe




















 Dad in 1947, aged 16.


I think the main reason I got so rhapsodic over my brother's impassioned reaction to the demise of his cat was that, at the time, I'd been busying myself reading my dad's old diaries.

I'd found a pile of them at the back of a cupboard when I was emptying his house last year. The ones from the fifties and sixties were pocketbooks, too small for any properly interesting disclosures, but the ones for 1970, 1971 and 1973 were A4, one page per day - plenty of room for fascinating revelations from a time when I still thought the words "happy" and "families" went together.

I'd put the diaries to one side until I felt strong enough to delve. The trouble with Dad is that even now, with him ten months dead, the thought of him still makes my flesh crawl. If I give him any headspace at all, he gets in there and I end up feeling all wonky.

He was, it has to be said, a keenly unpleasant man. Self-centred, dull and eternally furious, my father had few redeeming features. He had to be right, whatever the cost. Anything he didn't understand, he ignored, which meant it stopped existing. He went through life apparently unaware other people had thoughts or feelings. Beyond maudlin self-pity or anger, he would not or could not express feelings of his own. He had four modes of communication: sulking, shouting, sneering, or pontificating.

"Sorry" wasn't a word he used. It is a struggle to remember him saying anything pleasant about anyone. Appreciation for things people did on his behalf? Nope - it was entirely his due. Laughter? Rare, and frequently cruel. Smiles that lit up his whole face? Jog on, dreamer. Once or twice, maybe, for special occasions, but more often than not a "smile" deserved those inverted commas - it was a facial contortion more resembling a snarl. There was no hesitation to rip into anyone who failed to meet his exacting standards, and yet on those multitudinous occasions he got it wrong, we all just had to button up.

Truly, at some point, this man had had a personality bypass.

The diaires, I hoped, might show a side of him that he'd kept hidden from the family - the human side, the caring husband and father, full of the love and humour he'd repressed in real life.

I rolled up my sleeves and waded in, looking for clues.

Foolish me.

Here were three years' worth of diaries charting that time when his youngest child, the apple of his eye, was growing fast and off to school for the first time; his eldest daughter was blossoming into womanhood; his teenage son was becoming a man. His wife, recently recovered from postpartum psychosis, was putting in hard graft day in day out to make the house they'd just moved into a home.

Um, yeah. Imagine a man who does nothing, sees nothing, feels nothing, keeping an extensive journal of the minutiae of his daily activities, oblivious to all that stuff. It is three years' worth of drear, recorded with obsessive attention to detail, about all the wrong things. From a man who genuinely believed he was literary.

There are no highlights. Most of the time (as he saw it) nothing happened. If anything did happen, it was recorded in the same flat, emotionless tone as everything else.

The diaries are as soulless as the man.


  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

A few samples.

Topical issues warranting a rare expression of personal opinion:

 ... After my meal, we watched TV, a rather depressing programme about women's position in society. I thought it would be good, but it was full of cranks and frustrated women howling about equality, by which they mean dragging everyone down to their level. Who wants to have no more identity and individuality than cows? Thank God 'He and She' followed, to put things in perspective. Bed at 11.15pm.

Pet worries:

 ... Sooty, the black cat, came in after a 2 day absence. He is not well, and I think his jaw is broken. He can't eat. We will just have to wait till tomorrow to find a vet. Went to bed at 12.10am.

Family events:

 ... My mother phoned in the early evening to bid us all farewell. She leaves from Heathrow Airport tomorrow to start a new life in Australia. Got to bed 11.50pm.

History in the making:

I struggled with queries the rest of the morning, and went home for lunch in time to see Princess Anne and her husband leaving Westminster Abbey and returning to Buckingham Palace. It was a colourful spectacle, and Anne looked pretty, for once.

Real life drama:

 ... We saw an interesting road accident. A couple, old enough to know better, tried to cross the main crossroads against the lights. An oncoming car picked them up on its bonnet and tossed them onto their behinds like a couple of rag dolls.

Spousal support:

... After serving my dinner, Kath took herself off to [Weasel]'s school, to attend a meeting discussing first communions, or some such nonsense.

Bereavement:

... For the rest of the evening we watched TV, except when I phoned Kath at 9.10pm. Her mother died this afternoon at 2.34pm, and Kath seemed very sad. I went to bed at midnight.

And another ordinary day, just like any other:

...Up again at 5.45am, and got away with the normal routine. I caught my train comfortably and got to work at 8.30am. The weather was bright and clear, but, for the first time, there was a real wintry snap in the air.
I had a really good day's work. The mail was good quality, and we had no interruptions. I cleared 118 parcels. I left the office at 4.15pm, and got home at 6.10pm. I had to move two cars to get out of the car park.
Kath went for a driving lesson today at 4.30pm. She had not arrived home when I got there, and [eldest daughter] was looking after the dinner. Kath came home at 6.20pm. We had a visit from Barbara across the road to apologise for her son Matthew's having given [Weasel] a nasty bite on the cheek.
After dinner, I read [Weasel] a story, then went up to finish the ceiling tiles in [eldest daughter]'s bedroom. It was a fiddly job, and I took a couple of breaks, for tea & TV, but finished it off by 10pm. Kath had a go at the Fablon, but couldn't get much done. [Son]'s friends turned up again, with a tape recorder, which kept them amused all evening. I drove them home at 10pm. We got to bed at 11.25pm.

That last one there being my Mum's 50th birthday, incidentally.

(While I'm sure she would've said "no fuss", she probably didn't mean for you to take it quite so literally, Dad.)



  * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Hang on a minute. "Sooty, the black cat"?

We only had two cats. Did he actually need to remind himself which one Sooty was?

Yes, he clearly did. This is why, when I saw my brother expressing normal human sentiment in a normal human way about a sad cat thing, I was greatly moved.

Moved, and very relieved whatever Dad had is not catching.



Monday, 30 July 2012

Viva Fluffy




















My phone rings.

It's my brother.

My spidey-sense immediately tells me this means trouble.

"Hi Weez. How are you? Good. Right, listen. Last night, I had to sleep downstairs on the sofa because Mia wasn't feeling well and she got into bed with Deb. Fluffy was outside the French doors asking to be let in, which is not like him at all. I told him in no uncertain terms to go and use his cat flap. I even put my hand through it to see if it was working. But he was still outside when I went to sleep. Then in the morning, he was lying down just inside the back door..."

He falters, takes a breath, continues.

I listen to his hurried, throat-constricted outpouring with a sinking heart. There are no prizes for guessing where this is heading.

Yes, the king of beasts, Fluffy the Great, Fluffy the Terrible, is no more. Sleek and beautiful and blessed with a monstrous personality disorder that could whisk him from tender and loving to A&E dangerous in under a second, he in came through his cat flap while my brother slept, lay down, and died.

"Not a mark on him," my brother says. "He'd been fine that afternoon, watching me build a fence. He looked so peaceful lying there in the morning with his little paws crossed - I didn't realise. I thought he was sleeping. He always slept like that. He wasn't even that old..." His voice cracks. "I need your advice, Weez. How do we tell Mia?"

Why he is asking his childless younger sister how to break the news of a bereavement to his 5-year-old, I don't know, but I am deeply touched.

"I mean, do we just bury him and tell her later, or do we do a little ceremony with her there? Would that upset her more? Fluff was her absolute favourite person in the world."

I think back to when my childhood pets died. I didn't witness any of the garden burials, but Dad meticulously carved gravestones out of breezeblocks - "Blackie 1957-75", "Tigger 1976-93", "Billie 1981-91". It was one of the nicest things he ever did.

"I think it's good to have some sort of ceremony," I say. "She's old enough to understand about death, right? I mean, she lost her grandad last year, so she knows what it's about - that that person's never coming back? So a proper send off's a nice idea, and I can't see any harm in including her in it - in fact she'd probably feel a lot worse for being left out now. This is what rituals are for - to help you deal with the big stuff that happens. It's a good way of saying goodbye. You can make it really lovely. It's also a great way of showing her it's ok to be sad about sad stuff."

(This is a lesson I'm only just starting to learn.)

"Yes, yes, you're right. Good, that's what I thought," says my brother. "Ceremony it is then."

"I'm really sad about Fluffy," I say. "He was awesome. I'm so sorry."

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

I email a few days later to ask how it went.

He replies:

We had a lovely thank you ceremony for him and put him to rest in a lovely white casket tied with white ribbon and decorated with pictures and words from Mia and all of us.  He never like to be far from us, so we chose a quiet corner of the wild field near our house where the dog walkers never go, and laid him to rest in a very deep grave which took me several hours to dig (thick hay grass & roots, stones, clay etc).  Very sweaty work.  I will try to make a stone for him like Dad used to, but am suffering from cat grave digging exhaustion. 

He had a good life, he was loved, despite viciously scratching the kids for no reason and pooing on the lawn (not to mention the fleas).  Maybe having such a long tail makes you have a short life?  Who knows?  My cynical side says him going this way saved us a lot on vet bills.  But we miss him and things feel a bit empty and lonely around here without his funny character.

Mia was sad for her Fluff, despite his faults, despite being directly on the receiving end of Fluff’s issues.  He seemed like one of those odd gifted people who have no common sense, but are highly intelligent.  He really seemed to love us all and bond with us in a way unusual for a cat.  He never lost his inner kitten.  She would play with him with string and would collapse with laughter.  She also thinks cats come to the shops with you, run around the block in a race against your scooter (always winning in the last furlong),  she thinks they always sit near you, but not on you, wherever you are inside or out.  

It was really right to do the ceremony.  She seemed to really respect this tribute and it eased her sadness, was a happy time, not sad.  We're all looking around the house, missing him being there and wishing we could have known, so as to not take him for granted, made more of a fuss of him, made him feel special, which he was.

Peebro X

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

My brother's fantastic.

This is a tribute.



Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Walkabout



No two ways about it - the first half of 2012 was shit.

Working six day weeks, when most of the time I didn't feel like leaving the house at all.

Dad's car being stolen from outside my flat in February, then turning up three weeks later burnt out. With three boxes of Dad's books inside, an irreplaceable collection gathered over a lifetime - his bequest to his brother. I'd been meant to deliver them, but hadn't found the energy.

Easter weekend, when I abruptly found out Tesco's Guy was, in fact, a very treacherous friend, the kind of person a Weasel wouldn't choose to hang out with at all.

The subsequent adjustment to life without a playmate. Rebuilding shattered trust. And, with a sudden lack of pleasant distraction, the shockwaves of bereavement finally hitting me like a punch in the gut.

Alone, alone, alone, and with a horrible 'ashes scattering' weekend looming.

Did I need a holiday?

Fuck yeah.


 * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Day One:

Job's finished until September. Working for a university ROCKS.

Get in my new car and get the hell out of Cardiff.

It is raining - hard - and I wonder if there is a word for that moment's lull you get in the rain-noise when you pass under a bridge on a motorway.

First stop - Travelodge Warrington.

It is nicer than my flat: there is a vast bed, a telly, a bath. You can walk distances in here.

Ponder the feasibility of living in Travelodges for the rest of my life.























Day Two:

Brief detour to explore Warrington. Don't actually make it into the city centre as distracted by a bridge over the Manchester Ship Canal. It is fascinating. Stop to take photos. Worry that I am unusually excited by bridges.

Onwards up the M6. It's still raining.

Tiredness can kill. Take a break.  Is it just me or do those signs loosely translate as Buy stuff in our shop or YOU WILL DIE?

The CDs I made specially for the journey are skipping.

I'm sure the M6 didn't use to be this long. Now it is raining even harder. If it carries on like this I will need an ark, not a Suzuki Ignis.

Arrive in the Lake District. Am meant to be camping but instead go straight to the hostel whose details I'd prudently jotted down before leaving Cardiff. The road there is flooded, but passable.

Phone call from my brother - his tent has blown away. He is not happy. He is shouting. He has no trousers on.

In the background, the kids are crying, his wife is hysterical. He claims a small hurricane whipped through their campsite. Everything they have is drenched, all their clothes, everything. His trousers are too wet to wear and his spare ones are soaked. Without trousers, the holiday cannot continue. They are going home immediately.

I suggest they stay at the hostel tonight in order to utilise the drying room. He concurs, grudgingly.

I lend him my tracksuit bottoms. A nice cup of tea soon fixes everything.























Day Three:

The family have gathered, today's the day.

Mum died in 2005, Dad in October last year, but due to the family's lack of imagination and failure to properly communicate, there are no memorials and instead we are just going to throw them into a lake.

Dad's parents had a house nearby in the 60s and early 70s, so most family holidays were spent here. Dad loved it (free holidays!); Mum less so, seeing as she didn't care for Nana, hated the rain, hated the cold, hated the hiking and the bugs and the poor-man's picnics, and would much rather have been propping up a bar by some hot exotic beach, but she didn't get a say in the matter.

The Lake District is NOT my choice of location to scatter Mum. Nor is it entirely Dad, as I feel, what with him being a Gillingham-born Customs & Excise man, part of him belongs in the River Medway. Mum, I feel, should be with her parents. And a little bit of both of them should be buried in the garden of the house in Kent.

(I have got round this problem by secretly asking my brother in law to decant some of their ashes into separate jars for me to deal with later. He doesn't mind, as he is currently driving round with half of his dad in the boot of his car while the other half is in his sister's cupboard in Scotland.)

At a car park by the lake - about 20 people have turned up for this event, so parking is an important consideration - we discreetly do the deed.

Dad turns the water a strange milky colour, then quickly disperses. Mum clings grimly to the bank, like she's trying to get back out.

There are too many people there to say goodbye properly. The atmosphere is too lighthearted. I find myself wondering out loud what it'd be like if the water rehydrated them and they started to reform, like a Grow Your Own Parent kit.

We linger for a bit, then go and wander round Keswick in the rain.

Later, we retire to a pub for a meal, where the language barrier prevents the person from Bristol from having a conversation with the Cumbrian barman.























Day Four:

Sick of the rain. The roads are flooded. My coat is not waterproof after all and my hat smells of wet dog.

Everyone goes home.

After waving goodbye to my brother and his family, the last to depart, a sense of relief spreads through me - I am alone here in Cumbria: my holiday starts at last!

Drive around aimlessly, feeling miserable. Park at the top of a dramatic mountain pass and cry a bit. Being alone here in Cumbria is not as much fun as I thought it was going to be.

Have a nap. When I wake, the sun has come out. That's more like it.

Revisit the scene of the scattering, and am appalled to see the lake has receded and while Dad has mostly gone, Mum is now quite literally high and dry in the middle of the car park.

Go and climb Cat Bells to stretch my legs and think about this problem.

Watch a sheep take a prolonged and clearly deeply satisfying scratch on a rock. It helps settle my mind.

But then am startled to be flashed by an elderly man who stops to engage me in idle chitchat.

I have never been flashed before, especially not half way up a mountain, and am not sure if my eyes are deceiving me. But yes, that's definitely his cock, and yes he has definitely manipulated his shorts during our brief conversation to ensure his entire Benedict Cumberbatch is in full view.

Some people are really fucking weird.

Rattled, I take my dignity to a pub to watch England crash out of Euro 2012, then spend the night in the car, keeping Mum company by the lake.


 
  




















Day Five:

There is no such thing as Monday morning here. I breakfast in the sun outside a cafe surrounded by peaks and soak up the tranquility.

Bid my mother farewell and drive the long way, via Seascale, to Barrow-in-Furness.

The sun is still out and I fall in love with the big sky above Walney Island.

Idle the day away there, mooching by the beach.

At a remote and deserted layby next to the sea, I watch the evening fade into night. There is a lovely sunset. Stars come out. Two young rabbits emerge to play in the road.

It is peaceful. I like it.


Day Six:

Time to head east. I have a ticket for Stewart Lee tonight in Hull. I bought it because I have to be in Scotland on Friday and Hull is sort of on the way to Scotland and Stewart Lee is brilliant and I have never visited Hull before.

After a pleasant drive through Kirkby Lonsdale, where I mistake Yorkshiremen for Italians because I can't understand what they're saying, and York, which I would stop and walk round if I didn't hate paying for parking, I arrive in Hull.

It is Tuesday, mid-afternoon. The sun is out, and every pub's beer garden is doing a roaring trade.

I check into my hotel - not a Travelodge, unfortunately, but similar - and enjoy the facilities (electricity, running water) the way only a person who has slept in their car for two nights can.

At the Stewart Lee gig, I laugh so hard I spill my Bovril.

In the foyer afterwards, he is signing books, but I am too scared to go and talk to him as he is too clever and too beautiful.















 Day Seven:

Steal as many pastries from the complementary breakfast buffet as possible.

On checking out, decide to ignore the art galleries and other multitudinous cultural offerings of Hull in favour of visiting the Humber Bridge, thus fuelling my fear that I am overly enamoured with bridges.

Imagine my delight when I get there and realise you can not just walk under it, you can also walk across it.

Walk across it.

Walk back.

This comes with an added bonus. Having set myself the mission of visiting every county in mainland Britain before nicking back off to New Zealand (for nicking back off to New Zealand is what I will surely do, one day), that's Lincolnshire done.

Cruise up to Bridlington in scorching sunshine. Why did no one tell me the Yorkshire coast was so beautiful?

At Flamborough Heads, a family are just leaving and offer me their £3 parking ticket, which is good as I hate paying for parking.

"We thought this place were somewhere else," the man explains. "Somewhere with a ramp down to t' sea."

"But we've 'ad an ice cream, so it wasn't a wasted journey!" his wife adds brightly.

It is a lovely spot, high on a remote cliff, all wheeling seabirds and crashing surf, but I feel miserable and unsettled. Restless. I want to move on, but I don't know why. Hell, I don't even know where.

At a roundabout on the road heading north, I'm distracted by the sight of a group of travellers, complete with horses, and head down a side road I didn't mean to take. The road leads me to an RSPB reserve - Bempton Cliffs.

Hours later, as the sun dips below the horizon, I leave, tired, sunburned and totally blissed out.

This place is my new favourite place in the world. There are gannets and guillemots and kittiwakes and razorbills. And, from a distance, I have SEEN MY FIRST PUFFIN.

A lifetime's ambition fulfilled, by accident, because of a group of gypsies camped by the road.

I drive to Scarborough, high on life and elegant seabirds, get a Chinese takeaway, and bed down, en voiture, on North Bay.


Day Eight:

I LOVE THE SEA.

I love waking up by the sea.

I love waking very early, climbing out of the car, and going for a brisk walk under a blue sky along a long yet well-maintained yet deserted stretch of seafront in order to find the nearest toilet which happens to be in a charming and picturesque harbour, then buying a bacon buttie wrapped in a paper napkin and a steaming hot coffee in a polystyrene cup, and walking back again. It really perks you up in the mornings.

Scarborough is lovely. Almost too lovely to leave.

Back on the road, the rain starts at Saltburn.

Entering County Durham, the welcome sign says The Land of the Prince Bishops. Wonder if they couldn't do with a catchier slogan.

By the time I reach the Angel of the North it is absolutely pissing down.

Am faintly underwhelmed by Gormley's metal masterpiece, until I pause to read the information board on my way back to the carpark. For some reason, the diagram depicting its immense foundations moves me to tears.

Detour through Newcastle city centre solely to drive across the Tyne bridge, and there is nothing wrong with that.

Alnwick. Is this the prettiest place I have ever seen from the safety of my car while the rain is lashing down? Yes. Wish I had the fortitude and the wet-weather gear to stop and explore it.

It is also too wet for Lindisfarne.

On the A1 towards Berwick, traffic slows to a crawl as a sheet of pale brown water submerges a long flat stretch of road. All jolly fun and exciting, until the point where the road dips and the water is as deep as the headlights of approaching cars.

Hold breath, cross fingers, and plough on through, praying not to stall.

I am very relieved to make it, although the steam coming off the engine is alarming.

At the border, I pull over and wait for this stupid weather to stop. When I wake up, the sun is back out. Not only that, but I am abroad, IN SCOTLAND!

Consult the map, and work out a route that bypasses Edinburgh but takes me over the Forth Bridge. I've never seen the Forth bridges up close and find the prospect exciting.

Admit am maybe getting a bit too excited about bridges now.

Stop under the rail bridge and take lots of photos.

At Falkirk, as I gaze with admiration at their splendid Wheel, I am struck by a revelation - it is not just bridges that I love. It is structures. Feel reassured.

Stop for supplies at the huge Tesco at Bonnybridge. Ask the checkout lady what the weather forecast is for the next few days.

"Shite!" she replies, with far too much gusto. Her enthusiasm takes both of us by surprise and for the next few minutes neither of us can stop giggling.

Halt for the night in a layby overlooking Loch Lubnaig but it's raining too hard to see it.


















Day Nine:

Arrive in Oban too early to check into my hostel. Park up on a free bit at the edge of town, and do some exploring.

Instantly rewarded by the sight of a man in a kilt striding up the main street. The kilt is inadvertently tucked into the back of his knickers.

This is so brilliant I don't even care he's not being traditional.

Oban is not what I was expecting. It is meaner, and larger. It has a disturbing amount of metered parking. There are no free toilets.

But wait. What is this? A huge Tesco, just round the back of the railway station, hidden from the tourist hordes by Oban's unnecessarily complicated one-way system. Not only does it have free toilets AND free parking, but the cafe sells a perfectly acceptable mug of latte for a measly £1.40.

I know instantly this Tesco will be not only an emotional crutch but a spiritual home for my three days here.

When it is time, I check into the hostel. I have reserved a single ensuite room with a TV, which is in a separate building.

I go to the wrong building, and get the key stuck in the front door.

Later, I complete a driving recce of the wider area, and find the peaceful Ganavan Bay. Park there and read a while - Oban has worn me out with all its hustle and bustle.

At one point, look up to see there is a rabbit on the beach.

Repeat, a rabbit on the beach.

In the hostel I spend a fitful night, kept awake by the sound of drunks, speeding traffic, and loud vomiting in the street.


















Day Ten:

Today is a tennis day, but first there is the small matter of a Tesco cooked breakfast (including OJ) for only £4.75, plus a mug of latte for only £1.40, followed by a comprehensive examination of the charity shops in the high street.

Retire to single ensuite room with TV for a full afternoon and evening of Wimbledon, and it is bliss.

Afterwards, go for a stroll in the rain and find some hot pussy action.

Can't sleep, for the previous night's reasons, and also because the whole point of this holiday is approaching - my pre-booked puffin trip.

Am very excited.



Day Eleven:

OMG OMG OMG OMG PUFFINS!!!!

Up early so have plenty of time to get to Tesco before the ferry departs for Mull.

The rain has stopped and the crossing is scenic. Impressed by the fact not only does the Tesco open at a decent hour on a Sunday (unlike the ones I frequent in England and Wales), but the captain of this ship is, at just gone 10am, exhorting everybody via loudspeaker to have a whisky at the onboard bar.

I suppose it makes a change from the ubiquitous Irn Bru.

At Craignure our tour group transfers to a minibus and we are driven at speed across the island to the Ulva ferry landing. It is remote and pretty. We pile onto a brightly-painted little boat, and under blue skies chug to our first stop, the island of Staffa.

Staffa is lovely - a little lump of green in a sea of sparkling blue.

Unexpectedly, in Fingal's Cave, a man whips out some bagpipes and starts playing. The sounds it makes, with the sea, and the echoes, makes the hairs on the back my neck stand up. I am all a-tingle.

On top of the island, I bask in the sun and enjoy a picnic.

Staffa's not the main attraction, though. Staffa is merely a prelude to the main event. I am itching to continue the trip and cannot wait until the boat sails to the next stop - Lunga.

Let me put it this way. Lunga = puffin central.

Yes, there are other birds on this remote Scottish isle, but those other birds don't stare curiously at you from an arm's length away with their comedy markings and doleful expressions. Those other birds don't waddle around looking adorable not caring in the slightest that you are so close you could reach out and prod them. The other birds AREN'T FANTASTIC, LIKE PUFFINS ARE.

I have wanted to see a puffin up close with my own eyes ever since I joined the Puffin Club, c.1974. I loved the books, I loved the badge. I couldn't believe a bird could actually look like that, with that sad clown face and the weird Day Glo beak.

But they do.

Two hours, 300 photos.

Puffins are very addictive.

The rest of the day doesn't matter. I SAW PUFFINS.


















Day Twelve:

My waking thought at the Hostel of Doom is 'Let's get the fucking fuck out of Scotland'.

Pack up the car in lugubrious rain. A German couple get on the motorbike parked behind. They fire up, roar off, and a split second later topple into me and my car with an enormous bang.

The man looks sheepish and undoes the bike's front wheel lock.

I too hit the road (after a farewell trip to Tesco).

Wonder if there is a word for that helpless rage you feel while stuck behind a lorry or camper van for miles and miles of narrow, winding Scottish road.

Pass Loch Lomond, and drive down through Glasgow, failing to cross any bridges of note, so there.

On the M74, am so smitten by the loveliness of the surrounding countryside that I decide to stop at the junction 13 services to look at it properly.

The services are packed. The car park alone has the feel of a bustling resort. Do people come here on holiday?

Scan the map and decide on a route south-ish through the Mennock Pass.

Good decision - it's the most stunning place I've seen so far. Gorgeous, even in the rain.  Loads of pretty little cottages line the main street of Leadhills, and I make a mental note to check property prices when I get home. I could live here.

Wonder what all the people who do live here do for a living. Maybe they work at the services?

Dumfries: a shocking traffic jam.

Lockerbie: the smartest, cleanest, nicest public toilets in the known universe. And a quiet dignity to the town, like it took a collective decision to simply put the past behind it.

Carlisle. A petrol stop to fill the car, and the pump clicks off at £41.00 exactly.

I stare in disbelief.

The time I've spent fiddling around trying to round petrol pumps up to .00 pence exactly must amount to years, like sleeping does, or sitting on the toilet. This is nothing short of amazing.

Overcome by the urge to tell someone - MUST TELL SOMEONE - but the dour face of the woman at the till forbids me blurting this sensational news to her. Approaching a random stranger with the news is tempting but would surely class me as proper mental.

Decide it'll have to wait until I get home, where I can tell my colleague Scott, who I know will be just as impressed as me by this wondrous event, and will probably even be able to calculate the statistical likelihood, perhaps drawing a little diagram to help explain it better, and that is why I love working at the library.

Continue cross-country towards Keswick. It's all new to me from this direction and it's lovely.

I go straight back to Mum, and she's right where I left her, in the middle of the car park.

There's nobody about. I wish I had a shovel, but I don't have a shovel, so there's no other option but to scoop her up by hand.

It takes ages. The thing about cremated remains is that there is a lot more of it than you'd think. My fingers are sore (it's a gravelly car park) and they're freezing. But finally, she is all in the lake.

I construct a little stone heart on a sticking-out rock, with pebbles from the lake bed.

Sit and think a while.

Skim a few stones, until the rain comes down again.

Wade back out into the lake, and standing in the icy clear water, say goodbye to my lovely mum.

I get the feeling she's still sad about being abandoned in such a cold, wet, lonely place, but acknowledges it is at least better than a car park.

I start to cry. It's the first time I've cried properly for her since 2005.

I know she's not really sad about anything. How can she be? She's not here. It's just a bunch of ashes. They both are.

It feels good to shed uncomplicated tears of simple, straightforward grief. Everything before was tangled up with anger for my dad. He treated her so cruelly towards the end. What a bastard he was.

I cry until the tears stop. This is what I needed to do.

And it's done. All that - all this - is over now.

I walk back to the car and let my feet dry off.

Wonder where to go next, now I actually have the heart for it.

Head to Blackpool, of course.

Why not?







Thursday, 31 May 2012

My Time
















 Photo: The Burns Archive


Last night I walked through the park while the last tinges of pink seeped from the sky, and I thought of this poem:


Take One

Tonight I walked on the wood-smelling verandah;
in the treetops the starlings were slowing
their shrillness to an inconsequential whisper,

the geraniums giving out their sweet herbal smell
even after sundown in the late summer air;
boatmen were beetling over the bay, centipedes

out on some energetic inscrutable mission – and
I thought, this is my time. I don’t have it
for long, and the way here was never easy;

sorrow sat often like a beggar under a bridge
darkening its passages and corners, and some days
it moves so fast, this time of mine, I can’t catch it;

but whatever it does, while I’m here nobody else
can have it. They wouldn’t feel its kick,
nor understand the gleam in it eyes – and I do.


I love this poem, and strolling in the twilight for the first time in ages not only brought it to mind, but also reminded me of a person I used to be. A person who felt time's kick, understood its gleam.

This year, that person's been a distant memory.

I go to work (which doubles as my social life), and then come home and hide. Some days I distract myself with folderol, some days I don't bother. People I should phone, I don't phone. People I should email, I don't email. I can see the world from here, but have no inclination to join it. It seems pointless to try. I don't want company: I don't have anything to say.

The strangeness I've been feeling is down to, I think, being suddenly thrust into the role of orphan. It was bad when my mum died, but not like this. Then, the kick and the gleam increased tenfold. Life was too short. Now, all is dread or blank-faced monotony.

I didn't much like my dad but I'm sure as hell feeling his absence - at least he was there.

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I've asked around - "when you lost your last living parent, did you feel all weird and orphany too?"

The answer is always yes.

"After Mum died I did literally feel like I wasn't walking on the planet anymore."

"She didn’t realise quite how alone and bereft she’d feel, even in her late fifties as she was."

"I know what you mean about the orphan feeling - I must admit I do feel like that sometimes."

"I felt totally anchorless all of a sudden. Adrift."

Why does nobody talk about this stuff? This unsettling displacement when there is nobody behind you anymore, when the usual safety nets are gone?

 * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

I'm on my own now. Everything I do from here is down to me.

This is my time.

Some days, that simple fact is overwhelming.





Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Brief Encounter



















There I was, at my secret spot down by the river...



















...when suddenly it wasn't a secret spot anymore.



















He waited patiently for me to throw his stick, resisting all overtures of friendship.

What with the undergrowth to either side and the raging torrent ahead, there was only one way to throw it - back up the steep bank.

He raced after it, and kept going.

Then it was my secret spot again.




















 Bye dog, it was a pleasure to share your strange intensity for those brief moments.








Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Things To Do Before You're Eleven And Three Quarters


I found this list on the BBC's Newsround site.

Happily, and no doubt thanks to having had a child for a father, I was fortunate in that I completed quite a few of the activities within the recommended timescale.

However, this has not stopped me from wanting to do every single one of them again before I am 45 and a half*.

(And then every year thereafter.)

As far as bucket lists go, this is gold:

  • Climb a tree
  • Roll down a really big hill
  • Camp out in the wild
  • Build a den
  • Skim a stone
  • Run around in the rain
  • Fly a kite
  • Catch a fish with a net
  • Eat an apple straight from the tree
  • Play conkers
  • Throw some snow
  • Hunt for treasure on the beach
  • Make a mud pie
  • Dam a stream
  • Go sledging
  • Bury someone in the sand
  • Set up a snail race
  • Balance on a fallen tree
  • Swing on a rope swing
  • Make a mud slide
  • Eat blackberries growing in the wild
  • Take a look inside a tree
  • Visit an island
  • Feel like you're flying in the wind
  • Make a grass trumpet
  • Hunt for fossils and bones
  • Watch the sun wake up
  • Climb a huge hill
  • Get behind a waterfall
  • Feed a bird from your hand
  • Hunt for bugs
  • Find some frogspawn
  • Catch a butterfly in a net
  • Track wild animals
  • Discover what's in a pond
  • Call an owl
  • Check out the crazy creatures in a rock pool
  • Bring up a butterfly
  • Catch a crab
  • Go on a nature walk at night
  • Plant it, grow it, eat it
  • Go wild swimming
  • Go rafting
  • Light a fire without matches
  • Find your way with a map and compass
  • Try bouldering
  • Cook on a campfire
  • Try abseiling
  • Find a geocache
  • Canoe down a river


  • * June 17 2012

    Image credit:
    M.I.L.K. collection

    Friday, 6 April 2012

    Cutting Teeth



    Good Friday: the beginning of my first weekend off since January.

    I've been doing six-day weeks at work, Tuesdays to Sundays.

    It feels strange to have a whole uninterrupted day to spend at home.

    I look around my flat, and notice it's a mess.

    I pull everything out from under the bed. I will use this time to reorganise things, tidy up, biff some stuff out to charity - basically make space for everything that's been piled up around the edges of the room since December.

    'Everything' being all the stuff I brought up from dad's house.

    He wasn't one to entrust memories to memory, my dad. When I went through his cupboards after he died, I found bags and bags of old letters, cards, notebooks, diaries, official correspondence, school reports, receipts, checklists, photo albums (strictly annotated and filed in date order), and all categories of general bumph.

    He'd also kept every single letter I wrote to Father Christmas, every one of Father Christmas's - ie his - replies, and, lo and behold, there in his bedside cabinet, safe in a matchbox, wrapped up in tin foil, were all my milk teeth (courtesy of the Tooth Fairy, of course).

    Mum was just as bad: letters, cards, postcards, recipes, shopping lists, souvenir brochures, invitations, orders of service, photos, programmes, knitting patterns, newspaper and magazine cuttings, anything to do with any holiday she'd had including bar chits and booking info, back copies of Woman and The Lady with Princess Diana on the front, commemorative pull-outs of royal weddings and royal births. Simply, anything at all she'd thought might come in handy one day, or couldn't bear to throw away. And, mysteriously, a solitary copy of The Daily Mail, dated Tuesday June 27 1978.

    It was all there at the house. Mementoes of their whole lives.

    So, by extension, mementoes of my life too. Which are now cluttering up my tiny bedsit.

    I open a bag. It contains a stack of yellowing letters in small, neat handwritten envelopes, and a fragile, dusty scent.

    It is the smell of childhood - Mum, Dad, the house I grew up in. Old-fashioned perfume, clean laundry, hot dinners, musty carpets. Comfort and safety.

    For a few seconds the past grabs me and freezes me to the spot.

    Then the present reasserts itself. I remember I'm kneeling in my flat, surrounded by plastic bags and tattered shoeboxes. I blink, shake the memories out of my head, and randomly select a letter to read.

    "4.10.97

    Dear Kath and Peter,


    It's time that I dropped you a line as I don't look like getting a visit in. My trip to Dover is off, Marie having left her Zombie state for one of agitation, prowls the house continuously I'm not welcome and take the view that I am well out of it.

    When you rang about Celia I was in the throes of "samonella poison?" caught during a holiday in Torquay spent my holiday in nappies not eating anything but dry toast. Worse followed, nothing would shift the bug + I became bilious, I ended up in a nursing home. Recovery has come now I'm in the throes of a great clear up. Paul + Margaret are having a blitz in the hope that I will agree to sell up..."

    It is from Mum's oldest friend, long dead, and is mostly comprised of complaints. As I read it, I can hear her rasping Benson and Hedges voice, much too raucous for her tiny five-foot frame. I feel her cold hand patting my forearm as she dishes out her own brand of no-nonsense, unwanted advice. I see her grey-blue eyes crinkling into a knowing smile, and her sharp little nose. Formidable as a pensioner, I can only imagine how she would've been as a young woman - I heard she once clonked a suitor hard over the head with a stiletto heel.

    Aunty Joyce, once terrifying; but not any more.

    I replace the letter and delve deeper into the bag.

    "19.10.60

    Hello my darling,

    I had just got through packing your parcel yesterday, when the front door bell rang. Opened it to find your mother on the door-step, without the car. Found out later why she came without warning. You've guessed I suppose by now! Monday evening in Cheltenham crashed into another car while parking, said she was only backing at 5 miles p.h. when the car behind her was parked in the 'no waiting' on a slant. The road was wet, lights blaring at her, semi-dark. Did rather a lot of damage to their car, to say nothing of the other car, which she said looked in an awful mess!! There wasn't a policeman around, only a young cadet, who didn't seem terribly interested as he was off duty.

    However it did get reported, and is now the hands of the Insurance Company. By the way, she never did see the chap who had his car battered!! A nice surprise for him no doubt!!

    You can imagine the horror that struck her when she thought of having to tell Reg. Monday night, said she couldn't sleep a wink, having nightmares. I should have told you she was on her way to do some baby-sitting for Sue. And something about an electric kettle she wanted to hand in to a shop in the Promenade when all the trouble started. Sick with worry, she came on the train the following day. That is how she came to be on the door step! She looked ill with worry, she would be visiting Reg on Thursday, with the car she hoped. But he has got to be told, because his name is on the Insurance. That is only after 9 months driving, you know he won't take that lying down! I tried to cheer her up the best possible way I could, must say, when we saw her off at Cardiff this afternoon she was looking much better! The over-night stay here bucked her up, got a lot off her chest.

    You will be pleased to receive two small bills from me, can't say you haven't been expecting them!!!!!!!

    Thank you darling for your delightful letter which came this morning. Glad you toned your drawings down, the post was late this morning, as it happened your mother was sitting opposite me, while reading it!!! I shared the events of your return journey with her, said it was a great pity the train never got in on time for you to get your connection. Couldn't believe there wasn't any waiting rooms or refreshments on the scene. Said you must be on the old side of the station, if you walked right through to the new part, would find things very different. Have you done that? Apparently knows the station well, it is very large. Hope you won't mind my passing on what she said!

    There is not much I can tell you about Reg, he has only been there one week. Nobody likes him very much, that is nothing new is it? He thinks the people there are a lot of 'morons'!! Guess he will be acting like one on Thursday, when he hears the news that is in store for him!! Poor Cis!!

    What do you think of our poor News Chronicle? It is all Daily Mail now, worse luck!

    Have just looked at the clock which tells me it is time for bed my love. I'm afraid I've been rambling on again, hope you will be able to understand a little of what I've been writing about. Pray don't scratch your head and think, what the devil does she mean!!

    Until tomorrow then, I'll sign off.

    All my love, darling -

    Kathleen

    xxxxxxx

    PS Has your parcel arrived?

    PPS I love you, more and more each day

    PPPS Not going to worry darling about the money. I know you can only do your best.

    And again, love Kathleen xxxx"

    I never knew this bright, chatty woman who was to become my mother. I only knew a defeated facsimile, an empty shell.

    I turn the envelope over in my hand. There is Mum's unmistakeable handwriting - the careful loops, the backwards slant - inked neatly to my dad's billet: Flowerpot Inn, Norfolk Street, Kings Lynn.

    I don't want to read any more letters.

    In another bag I find a small blue velvet box. It contains Mum's rings - engagement, wedding, eternity - and Dad's gold signet ring, worn smooth by time.

    I slip the rings on, and stare at my hands. They look so much like my father's.

    I ponder again how crazy it is that we are here, then suddenly not here. Abruptly, and with dizzying randomness, we spring into being, and then we die. From nothing, to nothing. And for most of us, almost unceasing irrelevance in between. It makes no sense at all, when you think about it.

    I squeeze as many boxes and bags as possible back under the bed, and stack the overflow neatly in a corner.



    Friday, 24 February 2012

    Adventures In Crime-Fighting



    I am woken by an early morning phone call.

    "Hello, this is PC Name Redacted from A-Cardiff police station. I'm calling because we recovered some stolen property overnight, which included a pair of binoculars. There was a pair of binoculars inside the car you reported as stolen on Tuesday, wasn't there?"

    "There was indeed," I say. "In fact, there were two pairs. The car belonged to my dad who died last year, you see, and he used to like a bit of bird-watching."

    "Could you describe the binoculars?" Constable Redacted enquires keenly.

    "Um, they were binoculars, really. Black. No idea of the make. One pair was quite big and heavy, and the other pair was smaller. The big pair was old, the small pair more modern."

    "Did the smaller pair have a cord to go round your neck or anything?" he asks, feigning casualness.

    I hesitate. In a court of law, this could be construed as a leading question. I do not want my quest for justice to be tarnished by dubious evidence. The theft of a 1990 Ford Escort Eclipse from the road outside one's property is, after all, a significant and heinous crime.

    "I think so. I can't really remember. Yes, it might've done."

    "And did it have a pouch, some sort of carry-case?"

    "It would've been in a plasticky leather-effect pouch with a fold-over, erm, thing. Pretty sure of that."

    His breath quickens.

    "Could you come up to the station to have a look?"

    "Well I could, but it'd take me a while to get there - I'm on foot."

    "You don't have a car?"

    "Er, it was stolen."

    There is a pause, in which I can actually hear him cringeing.

    "Oh my god, that was so stupid, what a stupid thing to say, I'm so sorry, I'm really sorry."

    "That's okay."

    "Shall I bring them to you?"

    "If you like."

    Ten minutes later, he arrives clutching a large brown evidence bag. He produces the binoculars with a flourish and an expectant grin.

    "Nope," I say.

    "Not yours?" He looks stunned.

    I shake my head.

    His face falls, his shoulders slump. He looks so deflated, I wonder if I should give him a hug.

    "Oh. I really thought they might be... ah well, never mind." He turns to go. "It's just that - well, binoculars..."

    I nod sympathetically.

    "I honestly thought..."

    "Yes."

    He sighs. "Oh well. Thanks anyway."

    "Well, thank YOU," I say. "Bye. And good luck with, erm, everything."


    Tuesday, 14 February 2012

    Some Things I Love

    1. Guerrilla crochet



    This stuff melts me, it totally melts me. Click here for more on this particular instance of genius. Then do a Google Image search for 'guerrilla crochet', then 'yarnbombing'. Go on, it'll cheer you up.


    2. Yoghurt coated ginger



    Some people (*waves at LC*) do not understand why, or even how, things are coated in yoghurt but me, I do not question these things, I just eat 'em.


    3. Parks



    Parks are lovely. I live opposite one. How cool is that?

    (I also love squirrels.)
    (That is not a yoghurt coated piece of ginger, by the way, it is a peanut.)
    (Also, that is not my park, it is St James's Park in London. Although Cardiffian squirrels are a touch more formal, it has to be said that Roath Park is miles better than St James's Park.)
    (...Although Roath Park fails on the pelican front.)


    4. The Beatles



    Nuff said.


    5. My job



    I'm back at the library. It's all right. My colleagues are fabulous, but enough about them.


    Some things I don't love:

    1. Valentine's Day



    This year's, anyway. Maybe next year's will suck less.



    Sunday, 5 February 2012

    Keiran Breaks



    He weaved, staggered, and fell.

    Lay face down in the mud, silent and still.

    It was 8.35pm, dark, very cold. I was close to completing a lap of Roath Park (up round the lake and back, 50 minutes, my post-work stroll); less than a minute away from my front door.

    On the other side of the road, a man smoking a cigarette outside his house watched impassively.

    A flicker of anguish, a moment's hesitation: what do I do?

    I approached the prone figure.

    "You all right mate?" I enquired.

    He rolled over and tried to sit up; fell down, lopsided. Beamed a great big goofy grin.

    "Yeannghuhnnnmm," he said.

    "Want a hand up?"

    A nod. He grabbed at my outstretched arm; I hauled. He flopped back, giggling.

    "Frrrrannahaff."

    "What?" I said.

    "Frrrrannahaff." He gestured for both hands. I held them out. "Wnnn. Two. Thrrreee... frrrrannahaff."

    A two-handed heave got him back on his feet, where he swayed precariously.

    "You pissed," I said, "or something else?"

    I didn't really need to ask. Up close, he stank of liquor.

    "Immallrite," he assured me. "Jussbinnn, yanno, snnabbrrff."

    Perhaps early twenties. Ordinary clothes. Ordinary hair. Ordinary face.

    "Right," I said. "Where you headed?"

    "Swwwchrch."

    "What?"

    He gathered himself, took a deep breath. "Shhwhichch," he enunicated.

    "Whitchurch? You're going in the wrong direction, mate. Whitchurch's not this way."

    "Ysssitizzz. Sssthatttway." He flung an arm out in the general direction of Newport Road.

    "Okay. Tell you what, let's walk together for a bit, down to the corner where the library is. Yes? Is that all right? Come on then. Can I tell you something? I was walking along behind you just now, and I saw you staggering about all over the place. And I thought, 'that bloke's going to fall over any minute and then go to sleep on the cold wet grass and nobody's going to notice him until the morning by which time he'll have died of hypothermia', and to be honest I didn't think that was a great idea. And then you did fall over - like, you totally fell over, splat, right there in the mud. Yes! So it's like this: I don't know you, but it's now my mission in life to get you away from this park so you don't fall over again onto the grass and die of hypothermia."

    He laughed, delighted. "Snnzzzarra bnffffgh!" he said.

    Holding hands while we walked seemed to help keep him upright and moving in more or less a straight line. So I held his hand.

    "So you had a good day then? I've been at work," I said.

    "Haddafffkknntrrrible day."

    "Oh. How come?"

    "Snngggk fnmmnnfff brrgabb ahnnmy plllomm grrnnn," he explained, gesticulating wildly. "Vggg snnrrfff hrrrggn schmmmip. Work! Huh."

    "Right. That's no good, eh. But really, you should probably try and avoid getting so pissed that you fall over in parks when it's cold like this. Just a suggestion."

    "Hmmm. Sarrra brnnnbrr kagggrrr. Julike Shakessspeare?" he asked.

    "I love Shakespeare. Why?"

    "Grgnnn fffnn smmnn twff."

    "What?"

    "Smnnn pnfnn amnn, bffarrr snnnn studyttt."

    "What?"

    He shook his head, rolled his eyes; tutted, comedy-style, at my ignorance.

    "Mnamm snnnpple bzznnkit. Astral vibes!"

    "Astral vibes?"

    "Yzzzz. Wheeeeee! Sssnff barp. Whazz yr nnmmm?" he said.

    "Weasel. What's yours?"

    "Krrrrrn."

    "Well it's lovely to meet you, Keiran, on this cold, damp February night here on Roath rec."

    "Ssfunny, underrrrthetrees, ssrrtfarapppp! Like a tube!" He chuckled.

    "Um, yes."

    "Dzz funny, treeees. Heeehee! Whzzzyr nnmmm?"

    "Weasel. I just told you that, pay attention. Tell you what Keiran, would you like me to give you a lift home?"

    He stopped. Turned to look at me, appalled.

    "Arrrafffgnnn! Snggnnff!" He shook his head firmly.

    "I can assure you I won't kidnap you, or kill you, or even molest you. I kind of just want you to get home safe and sound. The lying in the mud thing, remember? Getting you away from the park so you don't lie on the wet grass and die of hypothermia and all that? I'd be quite happy to drive you home, just so I'd know you got there okay. Because - and let's be honest here - you are pretty fucked right now. Frankly, I suspect that, if I let go of your hand, you'd fall straight over again. In fact I've never been more certain of anything in my life."

    He flapped his spare hand dismissively. "Shnnnffff. Llllbeallrittte."

    "Okay. How about I put you on a bus then? There's a bus stop there, see?"

    "Nobus. Nobus. Sallllrttte."

    We waited for the traffic lights to change. He did a little dance, wobbling alarmingly. I kept a firm hold throughout in case he plunged into the road. Passers-by stared.

    "Astral vibes! Snnabbba fmmm knzzpp! Mmmnnmbrrpp schlmm. Bin drinkin frrr two days!"

    "Two days? Jeeezus. Come on, let's cross the road."

    "Hadmeetingatwrrkk, ysee. Onnnwenzday." He paused. "Uhhhhmmm, shhhhdddnnt rillybeee tellinnn you this."

    "You can tell me if you like. I don't care. I'm not going to tell anyone, am I? Who am I going to tell?"

    He squinted at me, suspicious.

    "Rrrrryou a mmrrrri pmmmm huwww?"

    "What?"

    "Rrrrryou a mrrrrrrrrri pmmmmm huwwwwww?"

    "What?"

    He smirked. "Iseddd, rrrryou a mrrri pmmm hu?"

    "Are you insulting me?"

    "Nnnnnoooo! Ishjustthattt mmm dnnna skkrrgg gggrrgggowww. Smawww brrrgh strastronomy pmmartttt."

    "I see. Well, it doesn't matter. Hey, there's a Tesco, how about some food?"

    "Nnnnnn." He careered into a shopfront and bounced off. "Heehee! Snnnearlywalkdintothat!"

    On the corner of Albany Road, I made him stop and sit on the wall outside the ex-church that is now Rainbow Bargains. He leaned backwards to look at the sky, and kept going. Just in time, I grabbed his jacket.

    "Whoa there, steady Eddy! You nearly went over then. I'll just sit here with you for a bit if that's okay?"

    "Ssskay."

    I slipped an arm behind his back to support him. He slumped into me, head resting on my shoulder, smiling benignly.

    "Seeethat?" He pointed at the moon. "Thassa moon."

    "Yes," I said.

    "Hvvvyoueverrrseen it up close?"

    "Well, I've only ever seen it from about this distance, really. Why, did you go there once on an astral vibe?"

    "Dnntbesilly. I meannnthru a tellllssspoke. A telespoke."

    "I've looked at the moon through a pair of binoculars, but never a telescope," I said. "Do you have a telescope?"

    "Nnnnnnuuhh." It was clearly a stupid question. "Ijussss usesssmmmmoneelse's tespeloke."

    He pointed again, shaking his head in wonder. "Look. Look!"

    "It's very beautiful," I said.

    "Iss lvvvvly. Youcnnnnseeallthhhecraterssssanevrythnnng with a teskelope." He sighed.

    We sat on the wall and gazed at the heavens for a while, his head pressed against mine, his arm flopped over my shoulder. Like moonstruck lovers. My arm ached - he was getting heavier and heavier, and his balance could still not be trusted - and my bum was getting cold. People walking past shot us nervous glances.

    "Can I put you in a taxi?" I asked eventually. "I don't mind paying for it."

    "Nnnnn!"

    "It's just that, now you're away from the park, I'm a bit worried you'll fall in the road and get run over."

    "Yrrrrllynicettmeeee. But immmarite. Look!"

    And he leapt up from the wall and did a little dance. "Astral vibe! Yeeeee! Ssfkkin bubbssnnkkff! Isssthamoon!"

    "Hmm. Okay. But how are you going to get home?"

    "Llllget home. Jussswalk, ssssokay."

    I looked around, hoping in vain a policeman might appear to guide him the five long miles back to Whitchurch, or at least keep him safe until he was sober.

    "You promise me you'll get home all right?"

    "Illlget home allrite. Prrrrmmizzz. Snnot fffrrst tmm idunnit."

    He lurched off up Albany Road, then reeled back.

    "Dunnfuggetttolookatta moon. Ssjuss upthere look. Sssslovely."

    "Okay. It is, I will."

    He shook my hand, patted my shoulder, shook my hand, and gave me a hug. Took two paces back, tried to focus on my face, leaned in unsteadily, and shook my hand.

    "Bye Keiran," I said.

    "Bye, uhmmmm." He nodded thoughtfully. Waggled a finger. "SsseeyouonnnMars."

    * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

    When I got home I discovered Astral Vibes is a band and my jacket was covered in mud.