Friday, 25 May 2012

Crisis averted.



It's nice to work with nice people. In fact – it's amazing to work with nice people.

Half an hour ago:

I pick up the telephone and dial the number for work.

"Hello there, it's Alistair. I'm afraid I've got a problem on Sunday and I'm not going to be able to get to work on time. It looks like I'm going to be at least an hour late."

The reply?
"No problem. Get here when you can. Okay?"
No questions, no recriminations, no sound of breath being slowly exhaled and no impression given that when the phone goes down comments would be made behind your back. Just straight to the point and that's it. I know that it will inconvenience at least three people but I also know that they won't mind. You'd do the same for people like that if the shoe was on the other foot wouldn't you?



See you later.


Listening to:

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Fat Cat Political Debate




A late night TV debate show..........

Govt spokesman  " ......and you call your members out on strike when only 32% of those elegible to vote did so and by doing this you will inconvenience millions of members of the public and put in jeopardy the fragile economic recovery of the country. It's disgraceful! Frankly that's why we need to change the legislation governing Trade Unions in this country - to prevent just this kind of madness."

Union spokesman " Let's be absolutely clear here - we're not going on strike. We have simply balloted our members as required by law and based on their voted instruction stated that we are prepared to go on strike because of  your failure to talk to us to resolve the situation. Let's remember too that our members didn't cause this recession. It was caused by fat cat bankers who frankly have remained badly regulated, highly paid and obscenely over-incentivised by bonuses and, by the policy of YOUR government, have been insulated and protected to the extent of even getting tax cuts when our members are losing their jobs. And as for the voting policy of the union - isn't that exactly the same method as voted you into power? I don't hear you complaining about that 30% vote being disgraceful...........or calling for it to be changed......."

Tory Man appears to be having a fit.

Cue laughter from the audience.

Alone in my living room I cheer and punch the air.

Listening to:

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Fear and loathing dans le jardin



I'm sitting enjoying my morning coffee on the step at the front of the house which is wide and comfortable in the (fairly) early morning sun. I decided to bring the coffee here a few moments ago when I was filling the birdfeeders on the apple trees at the back of the house and the old pear tree at the front. I've conscientiously fed the birds around the garden for years and we now have a prodigious menagerie of various species that like us enjoy the benefits of living here.

I can never quite make up my mind whether the birds rely on or predate on our efforts as a bonus. Certainly they manage to get through huge amounts of seeds and nuts and assorted bits and pieces from the kitchen laid out on the wooden bench on the patio or from the feeders. Although I filled the seven feeders just the other day every single one was empty this morning. I picked up the large white lidded bucket from the side of the patio door as I left the kitchen and realised that the seed we have is almost finished, and finding the peanut feeder at the front of the house is also empty I'm going to have to buy more of them as well. Like most things these days even peanuts don't cost peanuts anymore.



I like our garden. It's big but not too big, shabby in places and tidy in places. The big pear tree, the oldest in the garden, sits just left of centre on the far side of the front lawn and its tallest branches stretch over the sunken drive towards the high hedge that separates us from the local Bowling Green. I enjoy driving beneath the oldest tree in the garden every time I leave or come home, especially when its branches are heavy with fruit. Yes, I like the garden the way it is – tidy but not too tidy, shabby but not too shabby. A bit worn and definitely a bit lived in but generally comfortable and fit for purpose. A bit like me in many ways I suppose.



Of course I should really do some work out here is what I'm thinking. We've recently scarified all the grassy areas twice in a vain hope of removing the moss that seemed to be the biggest part of the lawn and I really need to start feeding the grass with a feed and weed combination. I love the feel of grass under my feet and often walk barefoot when out feeding the birds. The moss made it feel even more luxurious but it didn't look great hence the scarifying. The problem is that ever since we've done that bad weather has stopped me from starting the next phase. I really should weed between the paving slabs in front of the house or in the borders and under the windows too but although I love the garden, I hate gardening - well for the most part anyway. I suppose retrospectively I quite enjoy the gratification  and results of having worked in the garden, so now I'm pondering where to start – is it cutting the hedge, cutting the grass, doing the weeding or the feed and weed – when my next door neighbour appears. Oscar, his large black dog, comes over towards me, tail wagging. He would be running but his tail is wagging so frantically that it seems to act like an air brake and he's actually moving only slightly faster than a walk, giving me time to put down my coffee cup before he gets here to push his happy face towards me for a bit of meet and greet. The neighbour gives a wave and asks if the dog is disturbing me and gets a wave and a negative in return. Meanwhile Oscar has pushed himself between my knees, turned around with his back to me and sat down even though his tail is still thumping wildly which makes his whole body comically vibrate. I bend over him and play with his ears, stroking and scratching his head, neck and shoulders while he nuzzles my hand as he slowly calms down.

Oscar and I survey the garden in front of us amicably together and I ask his opinion about where I should start. Meanwhile my neighbour has disappeared only to return with what I heart – sinkingly realise is a lawn mower. Now, don't get me wrong, our neighbours are fantastic but if I had one criticism about them it's their garden. They may not look, they may not behave like fanatical gardeners but their garden just takes the biscuit. It is perfect. No really, I mean it. Perfect. There isn't a leaf, twig or a blade of grass out of place. Now I could be hypercritical and say that for me it's too ‘Parks and Cemeteries’, all short grass and perfectly trimmed edges but let's imagine that I haven't said that. It has all the symmetry and aura of one of those perfectly staged Japanese Gardens and makes mine look like a bombsite and now I feel that if I even start to do anything in the garden it's going to make me look like I'm just trying to stop the local authorities from giving me a garden ASBO* by bringing it up to the minimum legal requirement. {not that there is such a thing}


My neighbour looks over, waves again and asks if the dog is okay where it is. I smile through gritted teeth and wave, saying “Of course. No problem”. I pat the dog on the head and head back into the house returning a moment later with another coffee and Oscar and I resume our contemplation of the suddenly transformed into a disaster that is my garden. The shabby chic has disappeared, the birds have fled and somehow now it just looks neglected, the grass has grown, the weeds are enormous and the scarification has left huge patches where the remaining moss has died and turned brown. I look from my garden to my neighbours and back again and my heart sinks.

10 minutes later my neighbour collects his equipment and disappears around the side of his house having improved on the perfection that existed when he started. How does he do that?  I look at the two gardens. His garden is a colour photograph in high definition, mine a  grainy sepia one that's been neglected for decades.

I almost wish the garden was covered in snow again. Mine looked great then.


I stand up and walk forlornly towards the garden shed and its tools.



See you {much} later.


Listening to

The Sunday Posts 2012



Dedicated to my friend Scudder who passed away this week.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.

In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.

Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll.
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.


'Invictus'
By William Ernest Henley

Photo by Alistair

Monday, 14 May 2012

Scudder.




I found out my blogger pal Scudder died yesterday. We met through these pages as he was one of the first handful of followers of the blog and he found lots of common ground in my writing. Like me Dougie Buchanan was a sometimes curmudgeonly Scotsman always ready for a rant or two at whatever jerked his chain at any particular time and through our blogs we bantered backwards and forwards until one day he said "This is daft! Why don't we meet?"

So we planned to get together but as is often the case circumstances intervened and it was a couple of months before we were able to make it happen. In the interim we began to Skype regularly and continued the banter through e-mail and video conversations lasting hours. One of his e-mails told me matter of factly he had been diagnosed  that day with cancer and had been given a few months. Although shocked to the core, in typical pugnacious fashion he took it head on and was determined to see that Christmas with his new granddaughter. We met not long after his diagnosis and had a great time together. He was charming and personable and witty and with  a quiet but enormous strength of character and an sure dtermination that this ‘bugger disease’ wasn't going to stop him from enjoying his life, his beloved Ann and his family for as long as possible. He was determined to live, and live each day to the full. We talked almost all day and laughed much of the time. Cancer was a tiny part of what we spoke about. That was the significance he was determined to give it and the place it would have in his life.

Dougie continued to play his beloved golf with his friends, living up to his nickname with his high velocity ground hugging shots until chemotherapy meant he had to give it up when at its worst. Dougie initially responded well to the treatment and watched his grandchildren grow and played  some golf again. It was over a year later that he told me his disease had returned again  and become more vigorous and further chemo wasn't an option. He told me during another visit that he'd signed up for a trial of a new drug with a smile and a "nothing to lose, eh-no?" and this too seemed to work for a while.

Sheer determination stretched that few months initial diagnosis to 3 years. He did live everyday to the full. He knew he’d been given a gift with his extra time and he made the most of it. He lived for the day and savoured each moment. He treasured those moments and made them special for family and friends right to the end.

Scudder and his granddaughter
Photo from flicker photoblog {creative commons licence}

Goodbye Scudder. It was an honour to know you my friend albeit all too briefly. See you on the other side if there is one.

Life is a gift.
Live for the now.
Perhaps that’s why we call now ‘the present’.

See you later.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

The Sunday Posts 2012



The evening slips you into it, has kept a place for you
and those wildwood limbs that have already settled on
the morning. The words you have for it are flyblown now
as the dandelion you'll whistle tomorrow into a lighter air.

But tonight, your sleep will be as round as your mouth,
berried with the story of sunlight finally run to ground.
You are all about tomorrow. The moon has your name
memorised: the curl of your back, your face, an open book.

'Your Face An Open Book'
By Vona Groarke

Sunday, 6 May 2012

A Balcony on the World



This is the final instalment of photos from our recent trip to Lake Garda in Italy. Sorry it’s taken so long – circumstances have meant time to post anything has been much reduced of late. Now however I have a bit of time at last and have it’s been nice revisiting the photos and the memories they bring.


As we stepped off the little lake boat that acts as a floating bus service around the edge of the lake that day and onto the jetty at Malcesine about 40 minutes from Riva Del Garda where we were staying, it was clearly a busy little place with lots of noise as tourists and locals jostled for position to get to the best seats on the emptying boat. The jetty was at the edge of a small harbour which was itself at the edge of a picturesque little square, lined with cafes, bars and restaurants and the typical shops you find in any tourist dependant destination. It was clearly signposted as a tourist spot by the prominent castle that towered over the sun-bleached pantile roofs of the old town circled about its base and guaranteed that it was going to be high on the list of potential stop off places within easy reach of the north end of the lake where we were staying


Even though I’m the kind of tourist who is always keen to support the local economy via the occasional delight of a judiciously placed hostelry or two, it was obvious that for the moment at least any idea I might harbour in that direction would have to be placed on hold as The Lovely G tramped determinedly off towards the nearest leather emporium. I hastened behind, determined to limit any potential damage on our fragile bank account but by the time I caught up with her I was relieved to find that she was clearly only in ‘browse’ mode rather than anything else. I was able to relax and inhale that amazing smell you get from new leather and which is almost overwhelmingly intoxicating when surrounded by the stuff. The heady effect of the leather shop we had just come into almost worked on me as I began to see several bits and pieces which could have been easily fitted into the suitcase for home but I managed to regain enough self-control to exit without splurging any dosh on those kind of holiday buys that you invariably regret when you get home with a ‘What the…? ‘  kind of feeling, divorced as you are from the effect of sun and foreign climes to carry you away on a raft of {expensive}enthusiasm. We’ve all done it and probably all still have some holiday bought ‘tat’ hanging about for no other reason than ‘It’s paid for so I’m going to get my money’s worth out of it!’.


A while later, after the narrow streets had completely confounded us and taken us in completely the wrong direction to our planned destination we turned and headed back up the hill and closer to the castle. The day had become hotter and although the narrow streets and high building of the old town gave plenty of shelter we kept walking past hidden little squares and satisfied tourists and locals enjoying a quiet drink or a bite to remind us that we were after all quite tired and getting evermore thirsty { ok – that may only have been me}. As we climbed, taking photos here and there, browsing in interesting we shops {ok – that might only have been her} and getting nearer to the castle we stumbled on a little bar/restaurant tucked away against the ramparts of the castle and with an impressive view from the terrace.




As we were guided to the white cotton covered table at the end of the terrace we passed a chilled cabinet of fresh fish and a screened off open air kitchen. That and the fact that the menu given had no prices on made me worry that we were in a place beyond our means.  We explained that we simply wanted to have a drink and coffee and the waitress seemed fine so while the Lovely G ordered coffee I opted for a glass of a local red wine. The wine, when it came, was amazing; full of flavour but not heavy and at just the perfect temperature. In fact so good that despite not having a clue as to how much it would cost I ordered another on finishing it.


There’s not much better than having a wonderful glass of something to hand while you look out on a stunning bit of landscape on a great day, especially with your nearest and dearest by your side and that’s just how the next hour of gentle chat passed before we paid a ridiculously small bill {Yes I was wishing I’d ordered something from that chilled case after all} and climbed the last few steps to the castle.


Great views continued through the next while as we explored every inch of the castle of Malcesine – a favourite place of Goethe when he toured in the area. The castle is ruined but well maintained and is a picturesque venue for weddings and functions as well as having museums of culture, history and geology on-site. The views over the town and the lake are, of course, outstanding and the walk down from the keep through the old town is a photographer’s dream.


I was quite sad to leave, more so because it was our last day here and like the end of all holidays, the final ones are always the fastest.




Still - there's always the next time.....

See you later.

Listening to:

The Sunday Posts 2012



If you think you are beaten, your are
If you think you dare not, you won't,
If you like to win, but don't think you can
It's almost a cinch you won't

If you think you'll lose, you're lost
For out in the world you'll find,
Success begins with a fellow's will
It's all in a state of mind

For many a game is lost
Ere even a play is run,
And many a coward fails
Ere even his work is begun.

Think big and your deeds will grow
Think small and you'll fall behind
Think that you can and you will
It's all a state of mind.

If you think you are out-classed, your are
You've got to think high to rise
You've got to be sure of yourself before
You can ever win a prize.


Life battles don't always go
To the stronger or faster man
But sooner or later, the man who wins
Is the fellow who thinks he can.


'It's all in a state of mind'
By Walter Wintle

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Sleepy Time.




I roll over in the dark not knowing what time it is but knowing with complete certainty that I will have to get out of bed. The curse of getting older seems to be that nocturnal visits to the loo are commonplace. While that's as may be it that doesn’t mean I have to like it, especially since it’s not my insomnia that’s wakened me or is keeping me awake but my bloated bladder. At the side of the bed the alarm clock taunts me with its tick, tick, tick – counting down the seconds to when I can't take it any longer and will have to head for relief. It’s not fair; the bed is warm and the room is, well the room is almost baltic as we say over here and I know I’m going to freeze despite going and coming back in jig time. Sometimes you just know that you’re more sensitive to cold than others and this is one of those nights. I’m snug in bed. I’m warm and cosy.

Bugger!

I groan and test the temperature by sticking a foot from beneath the covers, hoping that the icy tip of my nose is lying to me. Christs teeth! It’s freezing! I decide that I can wait a while longer. Maybe I could even get back to sleep.

Ten minutes later as I pull the flush on the toilet I shiver and silently berate myself for not getting up when I should have – and for sleeping in the buff.  If I’d got up I’d probably be warm and snug back in bed – maybe even fast asleep! The thought doesn’t make me feel any better. I wash and dry my hands and close the door behind me, making my way back to the bedroom by the low glow of the night light on the upstairs landing. {Is this yet another sign of getting older I wonder – that I prefer to have a night light on for my nocturnal avoidance of a stubbed toe rather than suffer the momentary harshness of a newly switched on ceiling light?} I reach the bedroom door and in the gloom Jess’ eyes spark catty disapproval at being disturbed yet again by my return. I give her a withering look in return but she’s closed her eyes to my insignificance and, with a disparaging sigh, cooried closer in to the Lovely G.


I grope my way along the foot of the bed and a few steps later slip gratefully back under the covers. Not too gratefully mind you as somehow the bed has become freezing in my short absence and, while I normally love getting into a cold bed, tonight it’s murder.  I slide myself back towards the warmth emanating from the Lovely G but make the mistake of expecting a warm reception. Instead I get a groan and a dig in the ribs as she pushes me away, still deep in sleep. Frustrated, I move back to my own side – and the cold.

Jings!

An hour and a half later I’m still trying to get to sleep. Time needles me as it escapes from the clicking clock again with it's taunt that I have to be up for work soon. Beside me Jess and the Lovely G both purr contentedly and I seem to have lost most of the duvet - all the warm bits anyway. Morning creeps in through the slit of the open window as I grit my teeth and pull the duvet determinedly tight around me and try to force sleep on myself but I know it’s not going to work. It’s still freezing out there.

And I have to go to the toilet.

Again! 

I hate this getting older lark.................

See you later.

Listening to:

The Sunday Posts 2017/ Hush Hush

Hush, hush, time tae be sleepin'. Hush, hush, dreams come a-creepin'; Dreams of peace and of freedom, So smile in your sleep,...