Saturday, 22 September 2012

life on a tropical island

Yes the Caribbean, tiny rock island, actually coral,  we took r&r in Miami where there seemed no shortages. When we first arrived on the island we were put in a hotel in chalets with roofs of sea grass board painted green, much like holiday cabins but nicely appointed and there on 2nd night I met my first scorpion, it was around four inches long and pink and ran across the roof.... we soon learned not to put boots and shoes on without tapping them out first, next one I met was a smaller threatening darker one on the tiled bathroom floor, it waved pincers at me and raised a nasty tail in my direction,  but in 4 years there none of us got stung, when we were moved to an expats bungalow we were more careful on eradication of pests! An upside of the hotel stay was the presence of  hummingbirds taking nectar from a hibiscus bush outside the kitchen window, tiny iridescent jewels with wings so fast you couldn't see them!

Wasps were called 'marie bombers' and we had a lot of run-ins with them, usually my oldest got stung as he was more 'outdoorsy' than the rest of us, one got him on the eyelid when he was swinging high up into a tamarind tree, but apart from swelling and turning the eye black and blue, and blood curdling screams,  it was no worse than a UK wasp sting(which son now avoids like the plague!) These bigger foreign wasps had long dangling legs and built big paper nests on buildings' overhanging roof corners. If you left these they came to resemble diamond shaped Star Wars ships with a long single connection to the roof To the annoyance of the wasps their growing nests were easy to dislodge with the broom! Which we did, until we met the termites....

Termites ate your house infrastructure such as the roof beams! Eradication meant moving out, covering your house in a sealed tent and filling said tent with poison gas .....termites left dirty trails up the walls from the ground so on a whitewashed colonial style bungalow you could see where they'd been ! 

Ours entered an integral shed of garden tools and ate the broom, leaving the rows of bristles on the floor, then moved onto and ate the handles of the garden shears we'd brought from England.  They then marched indoors through the air conditioner unit (though quite how I was never sure, as they came in the night) and up the wall into the roof. it seems at that point they left again because in our roof was a large 3 foot scaly green lizard of the iguana type,  perhaps he scared the termites off, though I think iguanas are vegetarian! We spotted a similar iguana living in a hole in an organ pipe cactus by the boundary fence, occasionally the two would get together in what seemed a dispute over territory and then the roof rattled...

We had most trouble with bites from ants, there were lots of tiny brown ones by the post box with a vicious sting/bite It's formic acid they inject and it stings and itches like falling into a bed of vicious nettles. Other larger ants cut green leaves and then walked along in procession carrying the bits over their heads like parasols, fascinated the children! 

makes me realise just what a wealth of experiences we had overseas...

Now I just grow orchids.....tell you about those one day!

Friday, 31 August 2012

an artist at CAT

I have just returned from one of my favourite places...CAT.. that's the Centre for Alternative Technology in mid-Wales near a slightly sleepy town of great charm and irredeemable spelling... Machynlleth. (It has a great Wednesday market even if you can't pronounce it)

Here we had an arts trail around the renewable energy centre built in the 70s in a slate quarry go here if you are curious and want to know more...

They were celebrating the Festival of the Future- #festivalofthefuture- with artists,stalls of crafts, hippies, workshops and 'renewables'. To educate and inform anyone who came along, hoping to change attitudes and have holidaymakers from places like Birmingham carry away with them some of the ethic of this charming place. These people had children in the main and CAT is a wonderful place to fill little minds with the joy of the world and the need to take care of it.

My bit was as an artist this time,  but I've been a CAT fiend for years and recently gave up on a Masters programme in Renewable Energy in the Built Environment that simply no longer filled my heart. So as an artist I took my charcoal and drew.
Now CAT has managed woodlands and stacks cut logs for winter fuel, I wondered what these logs had seen and experienced when they were tall trees, so determined to draw on the cut surfaces, not something Ive done before... I'm an inveterate doodler on bits of paper, book corners and in tattoos on my own skin,  so would wood be any different as a surface? I used charcoal and chalk as harmless mediums that wouldn't cause fumes when the wood achieved its final home, in a fire! And I researched extensively the kind of things that would have crawled under, walked through or flown over mature trees.

Quickly I filled the available log surfaces with sketches and doodles, then went on to draw on the decking in a huge poly tunnel I had been allocated . A giant stag beetle emerged to be redrawn a dozen times after endless families in wellies had tramped over him! The children thought it fun when told they would be taking parts of my drawings home with them, on the soles of their boots!

Slate raised beds , fig leaves and dried rhododendron leaves all became canvas as did tiny wood shavings, with mini-doodles of ladybirds, squirrels and birds as little 'take-homes' for the small fry.  The artist also had a wonderful day as the project morphed into something beyond the original remit.

I met budding small artists who showed me holiday exercise books full of meticulously drawn robots and animals, and who asked the inevitable question of did I have permission to draw on the floor!
We discussed the inadvisability of felt pen on walls and cream carpets and dangled the possibilities of chalk on the patio slabs and barbecue charcoal on the decking, parents listened in, nodding approvingly.
When the heavens opened we were warm and dry with the crops of grapes, green beans , figs and cucumbers, and the stag beetle got himself drawn in numerous poses!

CAT is quite my favourite place, there is peace and harmony here and inspiration, with a deep desire to care for the world. You can follow them on Twitter, friend them on Facebook or visit their website and share their gallery or blog.
And stag beetles rule...ok?

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Gold, silver, bronze

I'm sure you've noticed, its the Olympics..
Today we won several useful pursuits like clay pigeon shooting (maybe they could practise on the real things so prolific in my city!) and double slalom, otherwise known as 'two men in a boat' (or having a session of white water rafting in the -not- Grand Canyon)

On pursuit bikes the girls didn't do so well, how do you get disqualified on one of those? And how do you pursue on a bike, surely something our city bobbies should get better at....
Come to think of it using Boris bikes instead of the supercharged carbon fibre things, that seem to break when you peddle too hard, ''oh the steering's gone...'' might be more of a challenge....I can see it now, races in weaving between lanes and avoiding traffic islands, scaring the hell out of motorists,  jumping red lights and fixing punctures! We 'd be bound to win something, even if it was a prize for travelling too close to the bike in front, on a surface resembling my sitting room floor. Seriously our cycling men have done so well!

Tonight it seems more ordinary stuff calls, like speed swimming, front and back, not allowed those long suits anymore that take half an hour to put on, cost a lot and rip with one misplaced fingernail!
I'm never good at back swimming, I weave all over the lane and quickly become a hazard to other water users, then bang my head on the pool end...that's about as efficient as my reversing straight into a parking place,  tho my parallel parking is second to none... even in the dark I can squeeze the Ford into a tiny space, but looking down the line of cars afterwards, mine is the one with the bit sticking out, always the one parked slightly sideways with the wheels turned round like a cartoon!

So what else is for viewing delectation tonight?  Have to honestly admit I've not been swimming, there's no class on thursday, it was tiring enough just watching competitive swimming after yesterday's class re-creation of tsunamis and sinking liners! Our usual tutor, skinny as a rake and with boundless enthusiasm was down in London, attending the 'real thing' (as a viewer I add, not a participant' ) so we had a substitute teacher... and thereby hangs a tale... there was no slacking, no time to think, no gentle waving of arms, one move into the next, punch, jump, kick, each music track had its own series of moves, I will never 'move like jagger' in a pool full of water, and we had jogging in between ...jogging in water that is (cue muffled laughter)  we finally collapsed when she asked, no demanded, that we hold hands and run in the water at speed in a circle, then change direction. This was her cool down exercise, I crawled home!

So I was supposed to bike today but the championship Brits kindof put me off, I wasn't prepared to face other bikers re-creating a Bradley Wiggins scenario on the cycle track that runs round the City's horserace course.... and then it rained. Sadly I am a fairweather biker unless I get caught miles from home...

Oh I've forgotten the boxing, hard to explain to the grandchildren that it's acceptable to punch people as an Olympic sport but not at nursery school!

So what else have we, I seem to have missed the BMX trials, that was serious red button stuff, doing things you're really not supposed to do with what passes for a bike (Lets see them try that on a Boris bike lol) while the Beeb watches on, serious late night stuff that! Was there tiddly winks, sumo wrestling/ did I miss those too?

Time to cease being facetious and go and heft a watering can like a weightlifter.  The BBC choice of athlete for my height/weight shape was a Hungarian shot putter, says it all I fear (track and field tomorrow now theyve re-surfaced the venues and I have late shift work)  because despite the rain today stopping my re-creation of the Tour de France, the geraniums are still demanding their evening drink..

Cue G&T or a glass of milk!
Well done Olympians

Sunday, 22 July 2012

birds exit -stage left

warm and sunny today, all the sash windows open to the narrow cobbled street, birds tweeting out their summer song and a bunch of gulls circling a tall derelict building nearby, as if it was a true cliff!

 Birds, dear birds, seagulls even, though so far from the sea you're having a laugh, this is a derelict building not the white cliffs of Dover! What has possessed you to nest up here, and more to the point why do you have to circle and scream at 5am every morning, Sundown I get or even perhaps mid-afternoon, but please shut your beaks at 5am! 

Now I know they are no longer called seagulls, because they've migrated inland to ploughed fields and school playing fields, there being no fish left in the sea to catch, but they are still a rude species called Larus Argentatus. Here they sit atop a building in the middle of a city miles even from a farmers tractor or a groundsman's mower, let alone needing a telescope to see the sea, even from up there. The daughter fell over laughing at the prospect of seagulls using telescopes to find their way back to the sea. These birds seem to be the avian version of a couch potato, nipping into city bins for an early bite rather than braving the waves far away, for an ever decreasing supply of minnows, (have you felt that sea temperature lately-is it surprising?)

  Perhaps they're pretending to be city flying rats or pigeons, nasty creatures clinging to old buildings despite netting and rows of spikes, spreading their acid guano on statues and ancient walls. Those in my city have got the most terrible feet! Yes FEET, ever seen a pigeon with a foot and a stump, its a gross sight and still they limp around the tourists begging for chips and cast off burgers! I cannot see the point of these birds, they have no natural diet in a city, eating corn that  batty old ladies leave out in piles. Perhaps they too should move along out of the city...the pigeons not the old ladies...

And talking of birds in wrong places, having woken with the dawn chorus of gulls-on-roofs what did I find but two giant purple wood pigeons raiding the garden bird feeder, seed level visibly dropping as they gobbled. Small robins, even blackbirds waited anxiously on the wall top for these behemoths to fill up and leave. 
Who told them this was a 'wood'? Yes there is a tree, just one, but also lots of walls and houses, car parks and yes derelict 'clifftops' .... but they return every morning and while they shovel seed down their beaks at a rate of knots 'other 'birds' may starve' (ref Izzard)  because I'd have to stop putting seed out at all-ever- to discourage them. Maybe if I am sneaky and supply food for the less wrongly placed birds, only at ground level, wood pigeons might go elsewhere, as they need a large take off and landing space.

 Maybe they could join the gulls in the next building, go raiding city bins,  wouldn't add to the dawn chorus as these woodies are silent thieves, they really think I don't know what they're up to...
'move along wood pigeons, nothing for you here, go back to your woods...'

I suppose we should consider these 'migrations' as adaptations, but they are turning into raucous, thieving, Quasimodo modifications that I do not appreciate... and just where have all the starlings gone.....

cue for a song and an exit

Saturday, 7 July 2012

blackbird and gilgamesh

if you read my last post I was longing for summer and warmth in June, I rewrote a Shakespeare sonnet in honour of the sun, but where is that sun, days roll on and we haven't got it yet, well into July, nights drawing in and all that... and the office is talking about Christmas, heaven preserve us. NOT YET PLEASE

I heard a good bit on the radio the other day about why we aren't having a summer, the jet stream being too low and sitting still, same reason America is frying in a never ending heat wave. In Texas a friend told me it was too hot to live, even the roads were melting! Now I've lived in Saudi Arabia, that was a place too hot to live, if ever there was one, but right now I'd be happy to be back there and grab a bit of their sunshine.

The answer the weather presenter said was to have a good hurricane, which would then knock the jetstream back where it should be at this time of year, but this doesn't look likely any time soon, as it's turning into a quiet season for hurricanes and whats a 'good hurricane' anyway, aren't they always bad?
I think this might just be a bit of a simplistic, one size fits all diagnosis as to why people are investing in ark technology again.  Its really quite hard to plough through the whys and wherefores of jetstream science  but the met office is doing its bit to get us interested on u-tube  .....

As for the ark.....  I was curious when a friend said all that biblical flood stuff was a myth... so with trusty Google in front of me and never being a fan of knowledge black holes (and just having returned home on foot through a deluge of epic proportions) I began to study flood myths...  My local library looked at me like I was potty for requesting a copy of the epic of Gilgamesh or the myth of Deucalion. they didn't have the story of the Hindu god Manu either....(all good flood related stuff)
 For those interested  have a look at for starters. Don't give me rubbish about Wiki either, if an article is well referenced then Wiki is as good a place as any to start.(Then you move on to other sources)

What did transpire was thoughts by early-but a bit ignorant- 'scientists' on a world covering flood,  brought about by finding layers of seashells on tops of mountains. This is apparently recorded by long ago Chinese scribes but could easily have been told by non-writing oral tradition cultures  long before that.
These days we take for granted information freely available to us that the earth moves, (oh yes really it does!) but to an early man this wasn't anywhere near as obvious, so he thought the sea had just rolled in and covered the hilltops!

It was only such worthies as Leonardo (he of da Vinci fame) that raised the issue that these neat layers of shells and fish fossils found on top of mountains and miles from the sea were most unlikely to have been the result of an instant flood. And we know how such lateral thinking got him into trouble.

So we are left with our wet July, when the sun does come out the land steams. Greenery, weeds and all, heads for the heights. few flowers, less veg but leaves of giant rain forest proportions and a population of slugs and snails to match!

The garden blackbird already thinks its Christmas!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Shakespeare in modern

There is a lovely Shakespeare sonnet that, with the wind and rain howling outside the house and the sash windows rattling like fiends, makes me think of better summers!
...Such as '76, when I moved to live and work in the Caribbean and how it was as hot and rainshy back home in England as we struggled with life on our godforsaken lump of coral. Yes I know people pay good money to holiday in such places, but living there is never quite the same as a holiday! termites that ate the  brushes and brooms, wasps the size of dragonflies, black sand and endless scorching sun, shortages of toilet rolls and sugar and hurricanes...

So the Shakespeare sonnet... It was number 18, I wrote it on a spare page of my diary, next to a recipe for Indian salsa and my car insurance details... to remind me of warm summers and better times, now when I look at the month of June for dates etc , there sits that poem!
But it was disappointing... only  in that it was too long for a quick read, as one was checking a work schedule or making a dentist appointment!
So I decided on a translation into 'modern', not as in a text or tweet, but just the sort of English I might use
 and here it is ;


Are you like English summers?
perhaps not!
They're too short and not sunny enough,
Sometimes windy or too warm.
But you're perfect
Like the best of all summers
and that's how I will remember you

my apologies to the Bard, he was the best, so I quote the original in full below

Shall I compare thee to a summers day
Thou art more lovely and more temperate
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
and summer's lease hath all too short a date.
Some times too hot the eye of heaven shines
and often is his gold complexion dimm'd
and every fair from fair sometime declines
By chance of nature's changing course untrimm'd
But thy eternal summer shall not fade
Nor shall death brag thou wanderest in his shade
When in eternal lines to time thou growest
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see
So long gives this and this gives life to thee.

Ah summer where are you, its cold and wet tonight-again

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

stuff and romance

is it romance or the tour de France I wonder, both about as unattainable but perhaps as desirable as each other in their own way.
Truly we all need a bit of romance, it adds a spice to life, a shiver and a frisson, a reason to get up in the morning and view the day as something other than 'just another bloody day'
Is one ever too old? Should one just age (dis) gracefully... forget the romance, forget even the tour de France? Certainly not! But it doesn't just happen to you, now does it...

You have to be available for romance, put yourself out there as 'in the market'. radiate that certain something, be aware of the small subliminal signals given in return. I have to admit that I am somewhat dim on that latter score!
So what is it?  Traditional romance is flowers, small gifts, sweet words, thoughtfulness and a hollow feeling in the pit of your stomach that isn't down to missing breakfast! It's seeing the world through the proverbial rose tinted glasses,well just a bit.
 It is not sex per se, though it might lead there,  it's warmth, creativity, a dalliance they used to call it, a lot of talk, sweet talk and oh yes I can do that til the cows come home, that's my job! It's having time to think  how to please and be pleased.

Trouble is these days the world is in such a hurry and time is always so short. For the dreamy romantics time has to be put on hold just a bit, a case of 62 minutes lazily spooned  into every hour, before the doorbell rings or you have to go to work. I sometimes wonder where people find the time to be romantic and how often others around them will be tempted to stamp and shout.. 'hurry up'
 Folk are often romantic with their partner,  but you can be romantic with a stranger, even with someone you pass on the stairs, it depends how open you are. I think  it can take just one to be in the mood and spread that feeling, but its always more fun if romance is returned.

So tomorrow I will wake with the lark (more likely a blackbird in this city) take my cycle ride that yesterday landed me inadvertently in a torch procession,( #nothetourdefrance) and shout cheery good mornings to everyone whose path I cross. I will exchange greetings with the grumpy bus driver and smile dreamily to myself all the way to work, sniffing non existent roses and reading a Shakespeare sonnet. Thus prepared I will admire all the men in uniform at work, thinking positive thoughts to each and every.
 But on the whole women are by far the more romantic sex, so I may find that in the rank of ladies I work with, there are romantic souls too, who need to express this. It's more likely however that they will want to talk about recipes, paint their nails and argue about shift swaps...

 I will not be deterred, my aim tomorrow is to see the romance in the world I inhabit and benefit from its beauty and ephemeral nature! I will be listening hard for the tiny sound of another romantic soul to sigh with. Time enough to suspend pragmatism for a day- or two