Monthly Archives: October 2008

Unexpected

The laughter of a child
Sunlight filtered through leafy branches
A wave’s deep breath and crash on shingle
The first sip of a pint
The crescendo to the chorus
Kicking through fallen leaves
The strategically placed banana skin
A smooth pebble on the beach
A dew-tinselled spider’s web at dawn
The hug, freely given
Sky – the world’s biggest free art show
A dog’s unconditional welcome
The anticipation of a journey
Colouring in a picture
Forgiveness in the teeth of heartbreak
Friendship renewed
Stories spun and jokes shared
Falling into water
Falling into bed
The silly dance in the kitchen
Tears for no good reason
Yearning for something more
Travelling hopefully

The glory of God appears
in unexpected places.

October 08

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School daze

First piece written for the Revival Media podcast – October 08. I’ll post an mp3 once it’s available ….

School days, they say, are the best days of your life.

Which isn’t a cheering thought when the dog’s eaten your homework, the school bully has discovered your middle name is Sebastopol and you’ve just encountered quadratic equations.

And anyway, what do THEY know? THEY might have gone to fantastic schools and then embarked on a career as a traffic warden, or a ballpoint pen tester, or a call centre operative flogging acrylic sweater debobblers. In which case, school might well have been the best it got.

But some of us have found the education system a bit of mixed bag – some fantastic teachers, others with the inspirational qualities of a cold bowl of mushroom soup. Brilliant memories of larking around with your friends, discovering the wonders of the world you’re growing up in and seeing if it really is possible to eat three cream  crackers without a drink of water.

Then again there were always those scary incidents where you couldn’t see your essay because of the amount of red pen on it, the exam papers where you reached the end with a sigh of relief only to discover two more questions on the back and 30 seconds to answer them in, and those occasions when  the facts you thought you’d learned had simply gone on a brief tour of your brain before discovering an exit somewhere and escaping to freedom.

The good thing is that however rubbish or brilliant your school days were, you actually never stop learning. In such an amazing world, there’s always something new to discover … even if it’s the 101 different ways it’s possible to lose your TV remote …

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Floral displays on busy roundabouts

Whose bright idea was it to sponsor floral displays on roundabouts?

What ARE they for?

I haven’t seen large numbers of pedestrians strolling out to examine the abundance of colour at their local traffic blackspot. “Derek, why don’t we take a walk down to the A37 intersection with the B3104 and check out their pansies?”

And don’t try telling me they’re for motorists … there you are, trying to make sure you’re in the right lane, attempting to spot the right turn-off and avoid being mown down by Porsche-driving wide boys with their headlights on in broad daylight and “-oh look, there’s a pleasing display of bedding plants brought to you courtesy of Winthrop and Pollock, Solicitors and Commissioners for Oaths, how thoughtful”.

I don’t remember the Highway Code advising: “Check mirror, signal, manouevre, pull up at dotted white lines and appreciate herbivorous borders …”

Make ’em flat, make ’em green, that’s what I say.

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The distilled wisdom of Brandon Cummerbund

Recently discovered in a dusty trunk filled with pith helmets, stout walking sticks and a large quantity of Gentlemen’s Relish were the accumulated advice and sayings of Victorian wit, man about town and amateur taxidermist Brandon Cummerbund … A man ahead of his time. Or behind the elephants, with a spade.

Always check your greenhouse for baboons. If you find one, let it out carefully as they have a thing about compost

Tumble-drying is best done by a machine

It is possible to get over-excited about cheese

Toast has its uses in hand to hand combat

A walrus does not make the best of pets. Better to start with something smaller.

Warning: grass cuttings can become unstable if allowed to accumulate.

A mint in your pocket is worth two in your glove compartment.

Best never to secure anything, except for a temporary measure, with an elastic band

Pencil drumsticks are at their most effective if not sharpened to a point

The reviving qualities of cucumber should not be underestimated

What goes up must come down, unless you are a tennis ball adjacent to a garage roof

Lino may struggle to be stylish, but its ability to be easily cleaned is admirable

Chim-chimerney, chim-chimerney, chim-chim-cheroo … particularly on Thursdays

Any travelling funfair close to a dental surgery should beware the use of candy floss

Country ways: I used to think stubble-burning was a kind of extreme sport version of shaving

Some days I mourn the decreasing use of … tongs

Extremely dangerous, but great to listen to – that’s Salmonella Fitzgerald

The cracked pitcher goes longest to the well. And never gets picked in the baseball team.

If it’s possible to be non-plussed, why isn’t it possible to be plussed? Why is a boxer invincible, yet an effete gentleman unable to be vincible?

Is the opposite of a mangrove a womancopse?

One mongoose is enough. Two will argue and three can cause explosions.

Some days I mourn the decreasing use of … pac-a-macs

Eeny, meeny, miny, mo. At least, that’s what I tell the milkman.

Tonic water isn’t always. However, the bubbles have some entertainment value.

Angels prefer not to dance on the pointy end of a pin.

Cushions can be hugged, but rarely reciprocate.

Mildew is as mildew does.

Much can be achieved with six pomegranates, a ladle and a small volume of 19th Century French poetry

Some days I mourn the decreasing use of … ink wells

If fell walking is a description, rather than a pursuit, stick to taxis.

A study of knots has much to commend it.

Never allow hedgehogs free rein in your lilo factory.

Cod liver oil has many benefits, but do fish take human pancreas juice? One would doubt it.

Magnificent beard, vicar, but why did you dye it orange?

Never discuss secrets near a tree. Whorls have ears.

O sole mio. But rarely in Grimsby.

A pocket knife has many uses, however a gentleman foregoes fish gutting in the presence of a lady.

Mulligatawney soup should be compulsory during Lent.

Tremulous, she was, quite tremulous. But with a right hook like a pheasant.

Perambulation is the mother-in-law of bus strikes. Note it well.

Allow a badger to sharpen your kitchen knives, and a pigeon will soil your birdbath.

‘Once I was afraid, I was petrified … ‘ – the cry of the Jurassic forest

Pecan nuts squirrel. Good for the pecan.

Take a bowl of meat stock and add a quart of strawberry jelly, two buttons and bookmark. Simmer until next door’s cat starts yowling, then pour down the nearest drain. Be grateful you didn’t have to eat it.

I have yet to see a convincing argument why quoits should not be an Olympic sport

The art of conversation should be a subject taught for school examinations

Sometimes only a mallet will do

Finding time and space for breathing is a necessary nuisance

Ironmongery can delight the soul. A specially curved fork is wonder to behold.

I was beside myself with rage when they diagnosed schizophrenia.

Too much thinking can exasperate the brain. Too little may congeal it.

A little anchovy paste spread on the nose will certainly excite comment.

Many a man has been denied greatness for want of a good pair of shoes.

Some days, I mourn the decreasing use of … spats

A tiepin can be a mirror to a man’s soul

There’s a place for us, a time and space for us. Walthamstow, 4.37pm, Tuesdays.

Selflessness is an attractive virtue, but don’t ask anyone to spell it.

She was to hats what pigs are to laundry mangles

Anger may conceal a generous heart. But not usually.

A stout umbrella is a friend in many a dire circumstance.

Beware the toffee hammer. It may be small, but foolish is the man who underestimates it.

Too much genetic modification may yet give us the brussel trout.

Approach the sun with similar caution to strawberry jelly – it is only safe when set.

Many a pig with an itch has become pork scratchings.

Delirium tremens. Plus support. £6 on the door.

Go placidly amidst the stuff and things.

Brut force – an army powered by after-shave.

Need mystic tooth cleaning? Find a transcendental hygienist.

Whispering grass? Speak up a bit, man.

I was Monty’s Carlo.

Matron – someone’s disturbing the peaches.

A moustache is all about trimming.

I mourn the decreasing use of … blotting paper

A twig may, in extreme circumstances, be used for cleaning teeth. Never one’s own, of course.

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The cocktail stick: an appreciation

What can one make of the simple cocktail stick?

A sliver of wood, with a sharp point at each end, it can, surely, only have been invented by someone interested in making it into the Guinness Book of Records for the longest splinter on record.

Rumour has it, though, that it first made its appearance in New York around the time cocktails were invented: possible the roaring Twenties, or the wheezing Thirties, maybe even earlier, in the tubercular Teenies. Famously used for the ubiquitous maraschino cherry, it was seen as something to twirl coquettishly while twinkling over your Harvey Wallbanger, or whatever.

Now more commonly used for the humble pickled onion, its star has somehow waned, one suspects. The pickled onion has plenty to commend it – notably the sharp vinegar tang, and the first crunch when you bite into it – but it’s hardly as sophisticated as an exotic cocktail.

Other environments in which the cocktail stick has been spotted include:

1 Stuck in little sausages, or pineapple and cheese at retro Seventies parties
2 Stuck in Oranges, with small sweets skewered upon them, at church Christingle services around Christmas time
3 Er, that’s about it

Possible future uses could include:

1 Providing a cut-price bed of nails for hard-up circus performers
2 A cheap, recession-friendly mini Jack Straws game
3 As toothpicks for the risk-takers among us

A&E departments around the world probably all have tales of casualties admitted with a part or whole cocktail stick jiggling merrily in the internals somewhere, and they’re certainly sharp enough to qualify as javelins for any passing leprechauns.

More recent times have of course brought the plastic cocktail stick – multi-coloured but just as sharp.
If you have any printable experiences to relate involving cocktail sticks – do let me know.

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10 matters of key national importance

At times I worry that some of the things I write about border on the trivial. At other times I worry that I may have the gift of understatement. Most of the time, I don’t worry much at all.

But occasionally I have to set myself writing tasks.

Here are some possible subjects I may be exploring over the coming days. Or ignoring entirely.

1 Cheese and its place in the cosmos
2 Cocktail sticks: a social history
3 Why kangeroos cannot pass wind (it’s true – I saw it on QI the other day)
4 Can you get a loan from a bottle bank?
5 Are cardboard clothes just an impossible dream?
6 Where exactly is Stoke Poges?
7 Kazoos and the jazz dynamic
8 Why carpets signal the end of civilisation as we know it
9 Nectar of the gods, and the stuff the gods rejected
10 A celebration of celery

Feel free to comment if you have pearls of wisdom on these vital issues. Or just poorly considered rubbish. Comment is free, after all.

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One man went to mow

One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow. One man and his dog, went to mow a meadow.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’d query the value of the dog. It would tend to scurry about, getting in the way and not generally being much use in the mowing department. Unless, of course, it was a trained mower and was able to give the man a break from time to time. It could, at a stretch, be a highly skilled mower and thus render the man’s presence pretty irrelevant.

Maybe the dog had poor eyesight and so needed the man to take him to the meadow, get him sorted with the mower and turn him round at each end. Sort of a guide dog, in reverse.

Then again, maybe he was just there because of the song. But you don’t get too many popular songs or nursery rhymes with an entirely gratuitous animal planted in it, just to make it scan, but of no relevance to the action. Hickory Dickory Dock, for instance, has the mouse in a fairly central role. Running UP the clock before, of course, running DOWN again following the striking of the hour. Hardly peripheral.

Three Blind Mice, again, features the rodents in a strongly central role – admittedly sharing some of the limelight with the farmer’s wife – but clearly not stuck in on a whim as merely hapless victims of the knife-wielding maniac with a disturbing hobby of collecting mouse tails.

Mind you, you are tempted to wonder exactly why the mice are blind, and what this adds to the scenario. “Three blind mice – see how they run”. With extreme care, one would presume, with a fair bit of bonking straight into bits of furniture. And was the farmer’s wife performing her tail removal in a carefully planned operation, rodents in hand, or wildly slashing at them as they scampered past? In which case a meat cleaver might have achieved more, you’d have thought.

One man went to mow, went to mow a meadow. One man and his mouse, went to mow a meadow. Now there’s a idea to conjure with.

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