Friday, 30 May 2008


Further to the woodpecker picture, we have a new visitor to the bird feeder. I'm afraid rats who try it get shot, but this field mouse is much too cute for that. He manages to shin up the post, but has evolved a daring freefall exit, which involves clutching his nuts and diving off the feeder like a stunt mouse into a convenient bushy herb underneath.

Wednesday, 28 May 2008


Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Andy Fairweather Low

To an Andy Fairweather Low gig in our local theatre on Saturday. Andy is not immediately recognisable as the wry-smiling, mod-idol lead singer of Amen Corner that many people remember (Bend Me Shape Me, Hello Susie, (If Paradise is) Half as Nice). I don't just mean that he is 40 years older; I mean he doesn't look quite like you would expect an older version of his younger self to look. And then he sings in that characteristic, melodious but slightly strangled high-register, and you know him instantly.

Andy is a self-effacing giant in the world of rock and roll, a musicians' musician. Still remembered mainly (and fondly) for Amen Corner's three brief years and for his 1970s solo hits like the hauntingly worded Wide Eyed and Legless and the funky Reggae Tune, he has played with a long list of greats, including Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, George Harrison, BB King, Bill Wyman, Van Morrison, Linda Ronstadt and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters. He has performed and recorded with Eric Clapton for over a decade, played a leading part in The Concert for George in 2002, and most recently released a superb, bluesy album, Sweet Soulful Music, in 2006 - his first solo album for 26 years.

As the gig progressed, it dawned just what a stunning guitarist, songwriter and singer he is. Supported by his band, The Low Riders - Drums, Paul Beavis (Thea Gilmore); Hammond Organ, Richard Dunn (Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Gene Pitney, Neils Lofgren, Van Morrison); Bass, Dave Bronze (Procol Harum, Dr. Feelgood, Clapton, Concert for George) - this was a treat. On stage and at the signing session afterwards, Andy came across as a pleasant, modest bloke with a dry sense of humour and a genuine interest in his audience. A lot more dineable than the average rock star, I doubt he's ever smashed anything at the end of a performance. We have tickets for Clapton in a few weeks time, but I suspect the belting intimacy of Saturday's gig may prove to have been the bigger treat.

Andy Fairweather Low is touring Wales, England and Scotland until August. Tour dates here. If you have the chance to see him, you really won't regret it. A new album, The Very Best of Andy Fairweather Low - The Low Rider, is released on 23 June. We haven't stopped playing it.

Addendum: AFL's web site has some good tracks on. Find them here.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Tits, Peckers and Nuts

I watched two rabbits yesterday evening which were so engrossed in some curious ritual behaviour that they were oblivious to me a few feet away. They would lollop along for several paces, then turn and crouch, facing each other with their noses almost touching, and stay like that for ten seconds or so, before repeating the whole exercise. This didn't quite fit with usual rabbit mating behaviour, which involves a degree of breathless chasing and resting, before the male stops a few yards away and squirts a jet of wee over the object of his desires. Apparently the female's reaction to this varies; she either shows complete indifference or takes flight and scampers off.

This is not a pulling technique I ever tried. I'm fairly confident, though, that it would have triggered the 'flight and scamper' response, like most of my other chat-up attempts.

I didn't have my camera with me and anyway, depending on what the rabbits had in mind, snapping them might have seemed prurient. Instead, here is a picture, also taken last night, of our local woodpecker looking for nuts. The unattractive metal post is intended to deter rats (they still manage to climb up); the string to deter crows, which otherwise fly off with the entire feeder. Any suggestions as to what the tit is saying are welcome.

Friday, 16 May 2008

It's Another World

The Social Secretary arrived back just now worried that the car was low on fuel. "It's on the reserve," she said, "and that won't take us any distance, now fuel prices have gone up."

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Simon Cowell and Pot Noodles

Like any apprentice old git, BT regularly sounds off about use and abuse of language. I know language evolves and all that guff but I think, like the pool of human knowledge in a post-apocalyptic society, the vocabulary of individuals may be shrinking.

There are lots of reasons why it might; narrowing educational syllabi, syllabuses or syllabus; fewer people reading; TV; pot noodles; Simon Cowell; text-spell; rap; or the inability to walk through a shopping mall without a mobile in one hand and a bottle of branded water in the other. I wonder if this first generation of bloggers may turn out to be a golden one, blogging Blogging's swan song.

I know few things are more irritating and arrogant than whingeing about people's use of english. Just because I prefer ruh-search to reeee-search, forr'ed to four-head, doesn't mean I'm right (although; There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her four-head. And when she was good, she was very, very good, and when she was bad, she was whore-head).

But I can't help minding. It's my beautiful language too, and they're using it like an ashtray.

Anyway, this piece of BT doggerel is for riders who are not readers. I'm sure they'll thank me for it:

How to Tell a Ménage from a Manège

In the days of the Raj
Gents knew a ménage
Was the way the French spoke
Of a bird and a bloke.

In that fastidious age
They knew a manège
As a general rule
Meant a riding school.

So a 'ménage a trois'
Was three people cuddling
Not three schooling rings
(It's all a bit muddling)

The problem, of course is
We'll be inviting troubles
If we keep schooling horses
On French married couples.

Monday, 12 May 2008

British Superbikes

To Brands Hatch yesterday for the delayed first round of British Superbikes. A month ago we shivered in this:

Waiting to see if we could get our tickets refunded, we ate hot doughnuts and sheltered from the blizzard behind a handy ice cream van. K's boyfriend slid out entering the car park. All in slow motion, but at least he can say "I crashed at Brands".

The rescheduled meet couldn't have been more different:

We parked ourselves on the South Bank, drinking in the heady smell of hot castor oil, hot sun cream and other people's weed. And it was a fine day's racing, with Shane 'Shakey' Byrne storming his way to a stunning win in the first leg, and looking to win the second, after working his way up from about 9th, before the race was stopped.

There is something medieval and rather splendid about motorcycle racing. The riders, armoured like knights, belt hell-for-leather around the track on the limits of adhesion, locked in gladiatorial combat. Crashing out at speeds of up to 180 mph in a sliding, bouncing maelstrom of limbs and wheels, they are up and staggering to remount their machines, a triumph of courage and adrenaline over self-preservation.

The fans, watching the spectacle like Romans in the Colloseum, would seem almost obscene, except that most of them are limping, leathered, tattooed ex-bikers themselves, who know what it is to be catapulted along the tarmac. Beer in hand, women in tow, they salute winners, losers and brave fallers alike with the mannered applause of spectators at a village cricket match. There is no safer crowd on earth.

Brother Tobias wasn't made of such stern stuff. Whenever he came off and well-meaning bystanders rushed to assure him that his bike was all right, he was inclined to reply, "Bugger the bike. It's me I'm worried about."

And yet....every year the onset of summer brings a fresh, mid-life urge to return to two wheels.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

Multi-storey parking

A cheque for £100 arrived yesterday. No covering letter. But I worked out eventually that it was refunding of my car insurance excess, for an 'incident' that happened nearly two and a half years ago, in December 2005.

What happened was this. A 17 year old was driving a tractor/loader towing a 28 foot steel flat bed trailer. The hydraulic brakes on the trailer had been disabled, and the loader's brakes were defective. Loading spikes were deployed in front. As this lethal combination started to descend the very steep scarp slope of the North Downs, the driver had trouble getting it into gear. As a result the unit began to free wheel. In front of it was a white van. As the tractor and trailer gathered speed, the van driver spotted what was happening and accelerated to keep ahead of it. The pair went faster and faster, until they were doing probably 60 - 70 mph.

At this point they met the Social Secretary coming up. In a sunken lane, there was nowhere to go. She stopped. The van stopped. The tractor and trailer didn't stop. It catapulted the van over the bonnet and onto the roof of the car, then pushed them both another 100 feet or so down the lane. When it came to a standstill the Social Secretary squeezed between the roof and the seats and exited via a rear door. The van driver slid down from his first floor parking space. The cyclist who had been pedalling up behind the SS (and who would have been pulped if she had not been there) was glad he was wearing Lycra. The tractor driver was charmlessly monosyllabic and unapologetic, in a way that only arrogant little 17 year old shits driving the equivalent of a tank can be.

It has taken all this time, and a threat of a court case, for our dogged legal team to persuade the other parties that the Social Secretary was not in some way responsible for the accident. No proceedings were taken by Kent Police, presumably under the misapprehension that the journey being undertaken was 'for agricultural purposes' - thereby excluding it in law from all the usual provisions of driver qualification, MOT, fitness of braking systems, etc. - and to save paperwork.

Quite why under British law agricultural vehicles, which are now as big as trucks and can travel at 40 or 50 mph, are exempted from all normal safety checks and standards beats me. In the event this tractor's particular journey did not satisfy the legal definition of an agricultural one in terms of either distance travelled or purpose of trip, although it did not seem neighbourly to point this out to the Feds, nor in our own best interest to effectively render it uninsured.

She always was a neat parker, the SS.

Tuesday, 6 May 2008

First Cuckoo

Friday brought those harbingers of summer, the first cuckoo, the first ram raid getaway vehicle, and the first braai. The ram raider tore up the field in the small hours, aiming to elude any pursuit, although in the event there wasn't one - presumably because a sole attending squad car had to decide between chasing the raiders or minding the un-emptied cash-machine they had left sitting on the pavement. Saturday, Sunday and Monday brought more braais, and we are now being molested by sausages and foil-wrapped fish in our sleep. Brother Tobias threw himself into the spirit of things with a heat-induced thirst and his new red wrap-around mirror shades from Lidls, waking amnesically in a beery, garlic-flavoured pool of drool for another day of recalling and regretting the previous night's witty remarks.

Saturday saw a mass breakout by the crossbred sheep in the field behind. The owner was otherwise occupied, so the Social Secretary and I rounded them up and persuaded them to jump, one by one, back through a hole in the fence, before repairing it with bailer twine. Sunday brought the first wasp and an outbreak of ants in the kitchen. By Monday the new generation of quad bikes had hatched, and were tearing noisily up and down the hill in their flashy display ritual.

It looks like another hot day today, and I see the farmer is out already doing something with a sheep. Everywhere sap is rising; the first tendrils of the tardy ash uncurl aloft, burgeoning foliage luxuriously burgeons above the broad sward, the blossomed pear tree leans to the field, etc etc.

Saturday, 3 May 2008

Burial Most Royal

A poem by BT's mother. The Isles of the Sea, in the Firth of Lorn, are where St Columba first landed from Ireland. The grave of his mother, Eithne, is on a little hill outside the sanctuary area.

Burial Most Royal

He brought her to the Islands of the Sea,
That royal daughter of the Leinster kings,
And buried her outwith the sanctuary -
An Abbot's ruling had ordained these things.

But I believe Columba thought it meet
And right to lay her reverently down,
With many misty islands at her feet,
And bracken at her head a golden crown.

He left her there, the gentle, good and wise,
(Praying, I think, that God would show her grace)
Wrapped in the radiant light of seas and skies,
And with the sunset's glory in her face.

Moyra Macleod

Friday, 2 May 2008

When Size Matters

Bob: "I want to watch a movie, but I've seen them all."

Me: What about all those videos I bought in the charity shop. There's loads of goodies you haven't seen."

Bob: "I don't like videos."

Me: "Why not?"

Bob: "They're too fat."