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Topics - Gyppo

The Bar & Grill / Dreamtime: The parrot in my pocket.
February 05, 2023, 08:11:13 PM
    WARNING:  There's a little over 1000 words here, so allow yourself time to read it.


    I swear there were no drugs or alcohol involved.  I've never needed hallucinogenics to have strange dreams.  For a long time I always believed all writers minds work this , but apparently not.  I must say I'm glad it doesn't happen all the time.




    My eyes were feeling a bit tired this afternoon -  too much screen time - so I lay down for a while and closed them.  I fell asleep, which doesn't always happen, and had one of those bizarre day-time dreams.  Over the years I've noticed that the day time dreams are usually very different from the night-time versions.  Usually more bizarre and pointless.  The night-time versions can usually be linked to something I've been worrying or thinking about.  Sometimes they even show me a way forward from whatever the problem has been.

    But sleeping in the day seems to latch into the most bizarre and inconsequential thoughts and tries to link them together.  It's a bit like the times I sit down to clear out the odd notes on scraps of paper which have accumulated in my pockets and on my desk.  Sometimes I can't recall what made them noteworthy at the time of writing ;-)

    Anyway...  Today's dream involved a red and green parrot.  A sizeable parrot, proper 'Pirate Sized', not one of those neat little crow-sized African Greys which some Yuppie types have living free in their flat.

    It started in Bevois Valley, a local area which used to be famous as a run-down area with all sorts of dodgy and semi-legal businesses.  It used to be said that you could get anything in The Valley if you knew where to look, or indeed if you stood still long enough for the more shady denizens to notice you ;-)

    Cheap knock-offs, illegal weapons, cars and motorcycles whose owners hadn't even had time to tell the police they'd been stolen, willing women with the associated social diseases, etc.  Drugs, definitely.  And contract killings were hinted at, but never proven.  Plus some gratuitous violence.

    But there were also long established genuine businesses hanging on despite the odds.

    Therefore it was no surprise to see a stunned or doped parrot propped up on the outside display of a secondhand shop, its wings secured tight against its body in a plastic carrier bag, head sticking out of the top between the tied handles, and feet through the bottom, legs tied together with  a couple of turns of rough hairy string.

    The shop owner saw me looking and sidled out.  "I think he likes you, he's ignored everyone else all morning.  If you can take him away now he's free to a good home."

    A few minutes later I was walking up out of the valley with the parrot tucked into the poacher's pocket of my Cammo jacket, with it's still dopey looking red head peeping out through the side-vent.

    He was a very quiet parrot, not a squawk or cuss word leaving his beak, but beginning to take an interest in his surroundings.

    I had convinced myself my eldest daughter would like him.  (In the  real world this wouldn't happen, She's really uncomfortable around birds.  Loves watching them through the windows, but that's as close as she gets.)

    Then there was one of those odd time-slipping moments you only get in dreams.  I was back up on the main road, waiting for a bus back home.

    At the bus stop there was a man with a disabled daughter, who sat on the wall alongside him.  She was about ten tears old, a vague little blonde creature, with scrawny and floppy legs - cause unspecified - and I wondered if perhaps there was something dodgy about the duo.  He was looking for someone to help him get his daughter on the bus and other people in the queue were avoiding them.

    The bus was a double decker, so I helped them on to a downstairs seat, and promised to help him get her back off when they reached their stop.  This involved me going a few stops past my own destination, but it was a pleasant day for walking back the half a mile or so, through a favourite stretch of woodland.

    (This dream was playing fast and loose with the local geography.  All the bits were pretty much spot on to look at, but they'd been rearranged to suit the dream-logic rather than reality.)

    I went and sat upstairs on the bus and checked my pockets, in case the man and his daughter were a pick-pocketing team, but everything was as it should be.

    The parrot was having a good look around but nobody else seemed to notice the red head and bright green neck sticking out of my jacket.

    A few miles later I went back downstairs to help the odd pair off the bus, at a location which truly isn't on that bus route but it made sense in the dream.  (Interestingly enough it was in an area we call The Bird Aviary, because all the streets are named after birds.)

    At this point they vanished from the dream.  Not in a spectacular puff of smoke or anything dramatic, they just ceased to be there and this didn't bother me at all.  But I did check my pockets again ;-)

    I walked through the woodland, quietly enjoying myself, and the parrot wriggled out of my pocket and flew up into a tall tree.  He perched there, ignoring my efforts to coax him back down.  I was thinking my daughter would be upset, and probably think I made it all up.

    A fat blonde lady turned up with a pushchair and I recognised her.  She was the woman who had been wandering the estate years ago looking for a parrot which had genuinely escaped from her flat.

    She volunteered to go home and bring back her now empty cage and set it up with some food in the hope the parrot would fly down and go inside.

    I got fed up with waiting for her, and after a few more minutes of standing there, with my left arm held out like a falconer calling his bird back, I decided I'd had enough.

    I muttered a fairly untypical "Fuck you then," and walked away.

    Then I woke up and found myself laughing and decidedly disorientated for a couple of minutes.

    After a cup of coffee I decided to write it all down whilst it was still fresh in my mind.


   As a writer I'm used to chasing thoughts into strange places, some of which make sense later.  I also tend to dream in colour with quite detailed visualisation.

   But there is no way I would ever try to stuff a live parrot into my jacket, even if the pocket is big enough for a pheasant or rabbit.

   There you go, I feel much better for clearing it from the 'in-between worlds' part of my brain.

The Bar & Grill / Write Both. (Decision making.)
February 04, 2023, 05:44:32 PM
   Write Both.  (Decision time.)

   This is more for the novelists and short story writers than the people who write non-fiction articles or manuals.

    One of the questions my writing students used to ask was a strange one.  But then so were some of my students ;-)

   Q:  If your character is faced with two equally valid choices to move the story forward, how do you decide which one to use?

   A:  The answer is either very simple, or a bit more complicated.

   If you like to agonise for hours over this kind of choice then you can simply do just that, let the choices bubble and swirl in your mind until one emerges as a clear victor.  Sometimes letting your subconscious decide overnight whilst you're sleeping will produce a clear winner.

   If you're more pragmatic and want to 'crack on', I see two choices.

   1)  Let your mind run forwards a bit until you can see the consequences of both choices.  This may well tell you one of them is a dead end.  In this case choose the survivor and write on.

   2)  But sometimes both of them will suit the general flow/thrust of your story.  In this case there's only one real answer in my mind.


   Write both.  Do your thinking 'on the page' - even if it is technically a screen -  until you have two tangible written examples to work with.  At this point the way forward is usually clear, or at least a bit clearer.

   This works because, by having it on the page, you are seeing it as a potential reader would see it.  When it's just an image in your head you are filling in any gaps or woolly half-made decisions with a mental background a reader won't have access to.

   Save the spare workings though, and stick it in your 'ideas folder' because it may well trigger something useful later.  Especially if you're writing a series character, who will often have to face similar situations in more than one story.  But putting it aside like this will 'turn it off' mentally, so it doesn't keep nagging you as a 'what if?'.

   Casting out the spurious 'choices' can be surprisingly liberating if you've been feeling stuck.

   This is the point where someone in the class usually raises the issue of productivity.  "What's the point of writing something which you'll probably never sell?  Wouldn't it be better to sift things through in your mind and only work with something which feels like a 'dead cert'."

   These students tend to be the ones who either can't/won't make time in their lives for writing, or have a deep aversion to the physical effort of writing.  Usually it's the former, and they have something else they'd rather be doing.  You may be surprised how many prolific writers find it difficult to 'get started' when the 'real world' is calling.

   In a perfect world, we wouldn't write anything which doesn't sell.   But this world isn't perfect.  You can write a piece which everyone except your targeted publisher declares is wonderful.  Or you can write something you hate, where every word is hard won, clawed painfully from your mind  but the publisher loves it.

   You can learn something from every word you write.  It's all part of that lifelong apprenticeship.

   Thinking on the page helps to clarify things, and the more you write -  over the years  - the more easily your words will fall into that potentially saleable groove.


   In summary.  If you're really unable to decide the way forward, write both.  What does a few extra hours here and there matter in the whole of your life?


The Bar & Grill / A WTF moment.
January 29, 2023, 05:56:57 PM
   A WTF moment.

   A few years back my Eldest and I were in  the waiting room at the hospital outpatients department.  One of my visits for some scan or other, and she was my driver.  We'd logged in and were waiting to be called.

   Every now and then a nurse or doctor with a clipboard would appear through the swinging doors and summon the next patient.

   Our hospitals have long since stopped using Miss or Mrs, and tend to avoid the Ms prefix as well.  It's the same with the men, you just get your name with no prefix.

   "Frances Coe."

   We both jumped as if shot.  That's my female character, as many of you will know.  You don't expect to hear names spawned in your writer's imagination attached to real world people.

   Getting no obvious response the nurse called again, checked with the receptionist.  Daughter and I were bending our necks like a pair of prairie dogs, looking for a short dark haired woman with green eyes.  Well-established characters become part of the family and often get mentioned like friends.

   The toilet door opened and a very tall old man, dressed in a countryman's tweeds, walking with two sticks, came out, moving slowly towards the nurse.  (If I ever want to create an ancient Laird or similar he'd make a good starting template.)

   After he spoke to the nurse and they vanished through the doors my daughter spoke.

   "A Francis rather than a Frances.  What's the odds on him being here at the same time as us?"

         Roadside characters/ships that pass:

   It's odd to look back and think about the characters which have shaped your ideas about life.

   When I was about twelve I saw two old boys (probably at least fifty) sat at the side of the road near a local petrol station.  They were taking a break whilst their old side-valve Harley-D cooled down.  One of those magnificent old bits of kit which looked as if it had never been cleaned but would run forever.

   I struck up a conversation as boys often do, commenting it looked similar to my Dad's Brough Superior.  Whilst one of them just sat there tucking into his sandwiches and brewing up tea on a little stove the other one told me they'd owned it for years.  It was ex-US Army, 'traded for a packet of fags', and then he told me a wonderful tale how they had toured France not long after the war.  'Living off the land, camping out with our shelter-halves, etc.  A little money went a long way then, Lad.  Plenty of wine, French food, and fine French fillies glad to welcome an English ex-Soldier!'

   But the bit which really captured my adolescent imagination was how they had '...realised we had spent up and only had one hour to make the last night ferry back to the UK.  And sixty miles to go.  I wound the bugger up to the stop and we roared through little villages, scattering chickens and geese, and old men in berets on bicycles.  We waved at pretty French lasses and hurtled down the slipway shouting "No brakes!  No brakes!" just as they were starting to pull up the ramp.  We threaded halfway up the deck between parked cars before we managed to stop.'

   It may all have been an old soldier's tale, but I can still picture it as clearly as when I first heard it.

The trouble with newsletters, forums, or books  about writing is that there are only so many 'basic building blocks' to writing.  A lot of advice will be repetition.

It's in how we use that same basic info, the tools of our trade, that the magic emerges.  Every time I read something (okay, perhaps three quarters of the time) and think 'I already know that' I also ask myself if I'm actually applying that rule/principle to my own work.  If not, why not?  If I've tried it, and it didn't work for me, then I'm right to be dismissive as far as my own writing is concerned.  But that same tip which leaves me cold could be the breakthrough for someone else.

Some guidelines can be inspirational without being technically brilliant, and others technically perfect but as inspiring as cold porridge ;-)

The problem is we all - even the cynics - are still hoping to find that one magic tip which will unleash a whole torrent of creativity/productivity.  But we're unlikely to find it in a newsletter, no matter how good.

Writing which truly comes alive on the page comes from conviction, enthusiasm, and having something to say in the first place.  Without these everything else is just a box of tools.  The same tools that everyone has access to.  The same tools which are 'sold' again and again in newsletters.

People often comment that they've tried unexpected genres following a prompt of some sort and learned something new.  The keyword in that sentence is tried.

Without putting pen to paper or fingers to keys it's all just theory.

So discard any newsletters which don't inspire or at least make you ask 'what if?'  But if any particular one makes you feel like writing, follow the lead and see where it takes you.

Writing is one of those things that improves quite rapidly with practice, so skip fairly lightly over the theory, put your bum on your seat, and plough through your apprenticeship.

You know it makes sense.

    In Yoga there's a thing called the 'churning posture' which is pretty much what the name suggests, wherein you drink a pint of warm water and then churn your stomach to deal with constipation.

    But according to this snippet from an advert there is a mechanical alternative.


    'A stand mixer is a kitchen appliance that uses a motor to rotate the chosen tool (dough hook, whisk, beater, etc) in a bowel. The chosen tool will then mix the ingredients within the bowel in an efficient manner that is often better suited than mixing by hand.'

    Now there's a good reason for never buying a secondhand mixer  ;-)

    Nice to know there's a choice of tools though.

    Gyppo (Still cringing a little at the thought.)
Apparently this display is in an independent bookshop in Wiltshire.  My librarian informant tells me the writer of the other book, 'How To Kill Your Family', saw the meme and immediately emailed the shop, saying "Thankyou very much for the free extra publicity."

This picture.

Left click to enlarge if you haven't seen it before.

Word Play / Sick-making lack of punctuation.
January 15, 2023, 08:46:05 PM
My eldest took this picture earlier whilst out and about.  You may need to zoom in, but would you fancy the product on the second line?
The Bar & Grill / The Flickering Flame.
January 14, 2023, 11:37:54 PM
   The Flickering Flame.

   I occasionally light a small candle to mark the passing of someone I respected or admired, even if I never met them in everyday life.  Mum used to do this, and it seems I've inherited the habit.

   It's a strange and eclectic collection of people who get this final accolade.

   A while back it was for Mike Hoare, the mercenary leader.  The old bugger lived to be 100, which is a rare thing amongst those who followed his trade.

   Most recently it was for Harry Patterson (Jack Higgins), the writer.  I couldn't help thinking it was also for his regular characters, their slow development over the years suddenly halted.

   As Mum once said, "The old order changeth, always.  And the new have to find their own way.  The light shines in both directions, if you let it."

The Bar & Grill / The curious elasticity of time.
January 14, 2023, 05:24:15 PM
January is always a strange month.  They all are in their own ways, but I've lived through enough of them now to realise there's one consistent feature in January.

The first few days seem to crawl by, and then, suddenly it's the middle of the month.  It's as if a whole week has been surgically removed from the calendar.

I've no idea where they hide it, and I doubt very much if I can get a refund.

The Bar & Grill / Pre-Loved?
January 13, 2023, 08:57:41 AM
   What is wrong with the phrase second-hand?  Or refurbished, if it's really true and not just a cosmetic wipe over with an oily rag.

   Nearly all my computers have been secondhand.  I've never owned a brand-new motorcycle.

   When I see adverts for pre-loved washing machines and other domestic appliances I find myself in the same position as female pilots flying inverted.  Its a 'crack up' situation.

   Does anyone really love their appliances?

   I've become rather attached to some long lasting appliances/machines, but love is going a bit far.

   Look at it this way.  If you  marry a widow or divorcee she may well be pre-loved, let's hope she was, but I doubt if you'd use the term.  But you probably wouldn't call her second-hand either.

Take a book, song, film title, or just an everyday phrase, which makes you pause for thought.

I'll start with the Bruce Lee film, Enter the Dragon.

Strikes me as being a particularly hazardous/unwise enterprise.
     My ex-wife was asthmatic.  She generally managed very well, but occasionally some smells or fumes would trigger a particularly bad attack.

     We were riding my motorbike and sidecar up a steep and very twisty Cornish hill, on a narrow two lane road,  carved between two rock walls with nowhere to pull off.  We slowed to a crawl behind a very smoky lorry.  Suddenly the poor lass was bouncing around on the  seat behind me, desperately trying to get her puffer from the top front pocket of her jacket.

    I slowed down even more to give her a fighting chance, praying she wouldn't drop the thing.  She had the presence of mind to rip off one glove for a better grip and wedged it down the back of my belt for safety.

    Seeing a gap appear between us and the lorry the utter prick in the car behind started beeping his horn and kept trying to pass us.  There was enough traffic coming the other way to make this a very unwise move.

    I head the sound of the puffer, followed by two more quick spurts, and a gasped "I'm okay now, as she leaned back in against me.

    The lorry meanwhile was still belching out black smoke so I dropped even further back.

    Matey behind was going ape with the horn.  So I pulled a trick you can do with really old bikes,  I manually retarded the ignition which let me ride even slower.  With a sidecar you can ride at less than walking pace without worrying about falling over.  We chugged majestically up to the top of the hill, the stinking lorry several yards ahead by now, and an impressive tail of frustrated car drivers behind us ;-)

    When we found a pull-in I stopped and let them all by.  For a few optimistic seconds I thought Matey was going to stop as well and remonstrate with us.  But he thought better of it.

   Today - 2nd January - simply didn't happen

   I got up around seven, knowing damned well that I wasn't really awake, but nature was calling.  I had a drink, took my stay-alive pills, went to the shops because there wasn't enough milk to make porridge, and then came home.

   Spoke to a couple of neighbours I've not seen since last year ;-)  Saw an empty house showing that yet another one had moved away.

   I checked for emails, none, and decided that I felt so dislocated from reality that I might as well go back to bed for a while.  Sometimes my pills do this to me, unless I've a strong motivation to press ahead.

   I got up again a few hours later, still not really with it, and had lunch.  The plan, such as it was,  had been to make bread in the afternoon and restock the freezer.  But the baking spirit wasn't moving me at all, and - total clincher here - there was still a day's bread in hand, so I just lounged around, reading, and fell asleep again.

   One of the glories of being retired from regular work is that you can just go with the flow - more like a slow circular eddy - on days like this.

   By 7 pm I'd caught up with myself, made an evening meal, and now the bread is proving, the mixer put away again, the kitchen is cleaned, and there are still no emails awaiting my attention.

   Sometimes it's enough ;-)


The Bar & Grill / Thought For The Day.
January 01, 2023, 07:21:11 AM
It's an old Hippy saying, which always seems particularly apposite at the start of a New Year.

"Remember, every morning.  Today is the first day of the rest of your life..'
   Hythe Ferry (End of an era, and a handful of memories.)

   I  nearly went on a boat trip today.  Seriously thought about taking the last trip of a local ferry service, which is shutting down on New Year's Eve after running for longer than my lifetime.   The reason cited is the rising cost of diesel and falling passenger numbers.

    But I decided that nostalgia was best left to memories of the original ferry, rather than the rather mundane modern catamaran based 'water bus' which replaced it many years ago.

   We used it to cross to Hythe, to visit my Dad's Mum, who lived there.  Initially in a caravan, and later in a house.  My Uncle Jack helped to build the house, along with several other properties along that street, and I thought it fascinating that he'd built their home.  Jack was a hod-carrier and occasional bricklayer.

     But, back to the Ferry, which was foot passengers only, but always had a few bicycles on board.  (It saved a long loop along the banks.)

   The Hotspsur, which used to ply between Southampton waterfront and Hythe, on the other side of The Solent, was a proper boat, with a 'below decks', and an upper deck where a little boy could run to the front.  (Not allowed or possible on the catamaran.  I could lean over and watch the stubby bow rising and falling against the generally small waves, and revel when an occasional bigger splash surged up through the fancy woven rope fender and sprayed me.

   These 'rainbows dancing o'er the bows'  were magical things whenever the sunlight was just right..

   Mum would hover nearby and probably worried I'd fall in.  But in reality the sides were too high for a little lad to get over without major effort.  And even as a small child I wasn't stupid.  Imprudent on occasion, but not stupid.

   The crew, who were generally large and slightly scary looking men to a little lad, gruffly chivvied me away if I got too close to the gaps in the sides where the ropes for the mooring bollards were located.

   At the bow end and the rounded stern there were 'Carley Floats,' wooden life rafts  which were clamped to the deck,  Ready to be released by a crewman if the boat sank.  With rope loops along the sides and thickly varnished wooden slats.  Inside the wooden framework was something buoyant, possibly a big slab of cork back in those days.

   Memory tells me each float had a little plaque which claimed it could support 16 people, but I wouldn't swear to that number now.

   Dad said that in the Royal Navy the floats were known to support far more men than the nominal rating, and could save the lives of a 'whole parcel of men, in the water, but holding onto the ropes until help came'.  He knew about this stuff from practical wartime experience.

   The floats generally served as seats, and on a sunny day Mum would sometimes serve up a little picnic during the crossing.

   There  was an inside cabin, where people would huddle when the weather was bad, and sometimes it was rough as hell out there on that short crossing, and the stubby little boat would bounce around and roll quite alarmingly.

   The crossing was generally protected by the land on either side, but occasionally the wind and waves would funnel along the gap and things grew 'interesting'.  It never seemed to bother the crew, although I believe crossings were sometimes cancelled if it was deemed too rough,  Just as with the larger ferries on the longer Isle of Wight crossing.

   There was a plaque screwed to one of the walls which read, 'This vessel is licensed to ply only in smooth waters.'  Looking back I assume there is a legal wave height or wind speed when smooth ends and 'troubled' begins.

   Sticking out to one side of the captain's bridge house there was one of those spinning devices, an anemometer, with four cups which measured wind speed.  It fascinated me.

   There was also a proper 'below decks' down a steep ladder where Mum hated to go.  She came down a couple of times to keep me company, and to make sure there was nothing to hurt me, but after that she stayed 'above'.

   My claustrophobia hadn't kicked in at that age.

   It was a fascinating place,  The inside of the hull was covered with thick paint, and I could see all the metal framework, steel plates,  and the massive rivets holding it together.  I loved being able to see how the thing was put together.  The deck down there was covered with some thick non-slip stuff which felt like tarmac.

   There were long bench seats bolted to the curving walls, and a sturdy rail down the centreline so that standing passengers had something to hold onto.

   By scrambling up onto the wooden seats I could just about see through the sometimes smeary portholes.  These were fascinating in their own right, held shut with massive brass wing nuts as big across as the spread out fingers of my little boy hands.

   If the boat was swaying a bit the portholes would periodically dip under water, and I was fascinated how green it looked when the sun was shining through.  Almost black on cloudy days.

   One day I saw a perfect picture, the green waters sliding past halfway up the porthole glass, and a big seagull hovering against the sky.  (If I was an artist I could probably still paint that scene from memory, it's still so clear, sixty plus years later.)

   I remember Mum came down to check I was okay one day when  she saw a 'rather furtive' man follow me down into the otherwise empty lower deck.

    He was talking to me and I didn't like him at all.  He may have been harmless, but when Mum appeared, looking a bit 'berserker pale', with her grey eyes stormy, he quickly slunk back back up on deck.  Looking back, and comparing it with other occasions when I felt similarly uneasy, I think this may well have been a near encounter with 'the dark side'.


   When we reached the other side of the water the trip was a  long way from over.  There was, and still is, a long pier, and a little electric train to take us to the land.  Inside were wooden slatted seats, once again thickly varnished like the Carley Floats.  Sometimes we walked, footsteps drumming on the planks, and other times we rode.  I have a feeling Mum didn't like the confines of the little train, except when it was raining.

   Occasionally we would see Uncle Jack, on a rare day off from labouring, fishing off the pier.  He never seemed to catch anything except the occasional small harbour crabs, and I've long suspected that a real fish would have spoiled the peace and quiet of his day out.  Sometimes we'd recognise his fishing rod, tied to the pier railings, next to his folding chair, but Jack wasn't there.

   Dad always reckoned that those were the times he was either in the pub, having 'a leisurely half', or going about 'some other business'.  Dad always suspected Jack visited a local woman occasionally on his 'fishing days'.  Their mother, an obsessively religious woman, would have been horrified.  But from an adult perspective I suspect she simply 'chose not to  know'.  She unbent just a little in her old age.

   As I got older I sometimes used to race the little train.  It wasn't fast, and with a few yards start, and nearly busting a gut, I could keep pace with it provided no-one walking on the pier got in the way.


   There is one other  story connected with that ferry.  I was there but too young to remember it personally.  But it became part of the family legends and I heard it retold often enough that I can picture it. as if I was watching...

   Mum and Dad had a bright magenta tandem, with a kiddy seat on the back.  Facing forward so I could see where we were going.  Mum said it was a proper racing tandem, with dropped handlebars, skinny wheels, and lightweight tubing.  A serious speed machine.  Very different from the hefty-tubed and fat-tyred 'touring tandem' they owned later.  They'd cycled the long way around to visit his mum, but decided it was worth hurrying to try and catch the last ferry that day.

   The man at the pier  entrance said they wouldn't make it, but waved them through without charging for a 'pier toll' ticket.

   Mum says they 'fair flew' along the pier, but halfway there they heard the ferry siren, signalling it was about to leave.

   "Dig in", said Dad. 

   They dug, and skidded around the right angle at the end onto the steep ramp leading down to the ferry jetty.  Totally ignoring the 'Cyclists Dismount' notice.  The ramp had wooden slats nailed across it for grip, and Mum swore that instead of bumping they just 'buzzed' under the wheels, like a cattle grid being crossed at high speed.

   The mooring ropes had already been slipped and the ferry was idling away from the jetty.  The crewman had just slid the gangplank aboard.

   "Hold that plank!"  Dad bellowed, in his best foreman's voice.

   The ferry crew saw the tandem charging at them, with a fiery little redhead at the front and his 'tall Amazonian wench' leaning over him from behind, seemingly hell bent on either boarding or diving headlong into the water.

   The plank was shoved back out, the ferry idled a little closer, the skipper sticking his head out through the side window, and they slammed to a stop on the deck.

   The crewman picked up his ticket machine as casually as if this was an everyday event and cranked out a couple of tickets.

   "Never had to make a pier head jump when I was in the Navy," said Dad, "But this will be a story to tell my boy when he's older."

   Many years later I  asked Mum if she'd felt scared, seeing the ferry pulling away.

   "Not really.  Your Dad always knew what he was doing."

The Bar & Grill / My head has shrunk ;-)
December 31, 2022, 11:50:16 AM
Or that's what it felt like.  No, I haven't had my hair cut.

My damned headphones broke.  One earpiece just fell off and dangled from the cable.  It was strange sensation, listening to music and then suddenly losing the input on the left ear.

I've no idea how old they are, but they've been around for years.  Ideal in that they are the 'over the ear' variety, (I truly don't like earbuds), with a decent length of cable.  Long enough that I can get up from my desk and reach stuff on the shelves without pulling the plug out.  Short enough that there's not festooning black coils of it to trip me up, or get under the sliders of my chair.  Heavy enough to sit steadily on my head without wobbling or sliding, but not feel like a lead hat.

I can possibly mend them, but now the plastic has snapped I can see there's always been a weak point there and the other side is showing signs of following suit.  Time to move on, I think.

But I don't fancy modern cordless ones.  (I might love them if I tried a pair.)  Nor do I want to spend three figures for recording engineer quality.

Any suggestions as to a good make and model?

I'm currently using my old backup pair, which provide a  surprisingly good sound, but are cursed with a ludicrously short cable.  Fine for audiobooks, but it barely reaches the tower of my computer.   If I spin around to see what Alma is getting up to behind me the phones are ripped off my head.

They're also a little bit too lightweight.  But they'll serve a turn for now.

Looks like I'll be buying myself a new year present.


Been doing the annual tidy of really old files and found this from way-way back.  When I was a teenager an old boy in a New Forest pub told me this, and I've passed it on a few times over the years since.  So many years that now I'm the old boy ;-)



'Candling' Rabbits.

Most people have at least a theoretical knowledge of using a ferret to 'bolt' rabbits from their burrows, driving them into purse nets pegged over the holes. This can be a very practical - and profitable - way of controlling a pest and getting several good meals.

But some people don't like handling ferrets, seeing them as nasty, smelly, vicous brutes. They needn't be, but that's a different issue. What I can tell you is that many a gullible 'townie' has listened to the following with every appearance of belief.

"Well, Boy, if thee want's a more gentler way of 'arvesting they conies (old rural name for rabbits) get yourself a tortoise and a short candle. One of they night light things is ideal. Baint no use using a torch though, it needs that little flame to do the trick proper like.

"Fit the candle onto the tortoise's back - I can sell thee a nice little custom made 'arness to hold it steady - light the candle, and put the tortoise gently into the rabbit warren .

"But thee must be patient then, patient as an 'eron waiting to catch a fish, and very still, and very quiet, so thee can hear the scuff of the rabbit's claws as 'e moves around. What's goin' on underground is this...

"The rabbit can smell the flame and smoke - which is why a torch is no good - and it makes 'im restless like, and when the tortoise gets near enough Mr Bunny starts moving away from the smell/flame. But 'e don't panic like 'e would with a big fire underground. Oh no, 'ee just backs off slow-like and if thee listens, careful-like, tis simple to figure which hole 'e be likely to pop out from.

"'Cept 'e don't exactly pop! The secret is 'e comes out arse end first and can't see thee until it's too late, so it's either let 'un go if the beggar's too small, or knock 'im and pop 'im in the sack for supper.

"Then all thee 'as to do is wait 'alf an 'our or so for the tortoise to follow 'im out, check the candle for life, and send 'im down another 'ole.

"Tis the most relaxin' form of 'untin' I've ever known. Let me know how thee gets on wi' it. And if thee want I can sell thee a young rabbitin' tortoise, specially bred for the job, a real steady worker."

The Bar & Grill / The Enunciation Apocalypse
December 29, 2022, 01:37:20 PM
Scary thought...

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The Bar & Grill / Irish Folk Songs and the Literal Child
December 28, 2022, 10:10:10 PM
   Irish Folk Songs and the Literal Child

   The is much in Irish Folk songs to confuse a literally minded child who loves words.  Fortunately I had parents who were patient enough to answer my questions,  often with other questions to help figure out what I was really asking.

   I try to do the same with my Grandaughter, and believe I did so with my girls.

   Dad worked with lots of Irish labourers, and apart from the few who were truly bitter and twisted they were, by and large, a cheerful lot who  often sang whilst working,  Back then most of the heavy work was pick and shovel, or laying bricks or tarmac, and nowhere near as much relentless mechanical noise to contend with.

   Having picked up a mixed bag of songs Dad sang the ones he liked whilst digging in the garden, or sawing logs,or riding his motorbike, and occasionally as lullabies for his 'little man'.

   Some of them puzzled me immensely.

   Take the song Finnegan's Wake for example.  A simple enough tale of a drunken hod carrier who fell from the ladder, banged his head, and they assumed he was dead.

   I'd seen hod carriers scrambling up ladders and sliding down again, at breakneck speed on piece rate, so I knew what was happening.

   But the line 'They carried him home his corpse to wake' totally threw me.

   "Dad?  How can you wake a corpse?  He's dead, not just sleeping."(Although in the song it turned out Finnegan was merely stunned, and revived when they accidentally spilt some whiskey on him.)  "But they didn't know that when they carried him home, did they?"

   That was the day I discovered 'wake' had more than one meaning,  And, as a bonus, that the disturbed water behind a moving boat was also called a wake.

   Fascinating stuff for a big-eared, eternally curious little 'Word Hoover'.


   Then there was another one which triggered many questions.  The 'moonshiner's song'.  Dad really liked that one.

   "I'm a rambler, I'm a gambler, I'm a long way from home,  And if people don't like me they can leave me alone.  I eat when I'm hungry, I drink when I'm dry, and if the moonshine don't kill me I'll live till I die."

   I'd never heard of moonshine as illegally distilled liquor, so equated it with moonlight.  I loved moonlight, I used to sit up in my little bunk at the end of the caravan  and watch the moon, and the shadows from the trees, etc,  It was magical, but...

   "Dad?  Is moonlight dangerous for adults, but safe for children.?"  (There was even a tune called 'Dangerous Moonlight', which was a reference to the 'Bomber's Moon' of wartime, but I wasn't particularly aware of that at the time.

   "Not as I've noticed.  Why?"

   I explained, Dad answered, and another mystery was solved, and filed away.  I was quite struck with the idea of living a moonshiner's life.

   Onto the next question, from his little Logic Monster.

    "Dad?  Surely everyone lives until they die.  Nobody can die before they die".

   Dad explained that one by saying the man in the song was saying a few glasses of whisky, or even a lot, wouldn't kill him.

   "Then why doesn't he just say so?"

   "Because song writers and poets like to wrap things up, instead of just saying it straight.  Sometimes the straight words don't fit the tune very nicely."

   I vaguely remember thinking that song writers and poets must be crazy.

   Then we tackled the big philosophical statement contained in the song.  One which made sense to me then, and still does to this day.

   'And if people don't like me they can leave me alone.'

   At that age I'd already realised that some people didn't like me, and that many of them, contrary to the common sense espoused in the song,  didn't leave me alone.  In fact they would seek me out in the playground or on the way home from  school to tell me just how much they disliked me.

   Why the constant repetition?  Did they think I hadn't heard them, didn't believe them?  Did they think I was stupid or slow?

   I avoided people I didn't like, but some of them still sought me out.

   If people didn't mean what they said, why say it?  And if they did mean it, why waste time and breath saying it over and over?

   Looking back I can see that most of my family understood my questions and made a pretty god job of answering them.  I was very rarely just fobbed off, and they knew damned well that if they promised to explain later I'd come back and remind them.

   I'm still deeply suspicious of many song lyrics, but now I tend to have fun with them.