Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Null Points for the Eurovision Song Contest

It was odd to have a conversation my folks at the weekend and to find them all stoked up about the Eurovision song content. My folks don't get excited about much apart from every five years when they replace the lavatory seat so this was quite something.

A kind of distant memory stirred in me at those three words - Eurovision Song Contest. I recalled funny hurdy gurdy voices distorted now as if underwater from a long way away, using expressions such as "null points." There was a dim sense of shame and defeat as the German jury came in to deprive the UK of the points it needed to win.

Buck's Fizz won Eurovision quite a few years before this picture was taken - Man Alive

Some psychologist probably has a theory that helps us deal with the Eurovision song contenst. There are four stages of Eurovision - belief, disappointment, shame and displacement. When you are a certain age you actually want your country to win. Later on you feel disappointment when it doesn't. Soon afterwards you realize that winning is more embarrassing than losing. The song contest, you soon realise, is that dorky Trainspotting/coin collecting club you were a member of at school. You want to forget it ever existed. You blank it out.

But when it comes to one's parents the psychologist will be confounded. They never left stage one of belief, bordering on stage two when the United Kingdom inevitably lost. No chance, now they told me - the song contest is dominated by the disparate parts of the former Yugoslavia which all vote for each other and are hell bent on delivering Blighty a good kick in the Balkans.

Frankly this surprised me as I couldn't imagine the Serbians enthusiastically voting for Bosnia and Croatia given that they were lobbing grenades at them a few years ago, but I let it go.

"So who won?"


"Um right."

I winced as my mother compared the Swedish entry to Kate Bush as you really just can't compare Kate to anyone. Then my folks proceeded to get all sentimental about a group of Russian grannies who took second place.

It appears they were talking about Buranovskiye Babushki. Now call me cold hearted but I find it hard to warm to a group of aged peasants in period costumes. Maybe I have read too many Tolstoy novels but it's hard for me not to be weirded out by Russian peasants, not least because the only famous Russian peasant  I can think of was Joseph Stalin, a not altogether nice all round dude.

Nor was my parents' complaint that the United Kingdom never wins Eurovision exactly accurate. I remember Brotherhood of Man and Buck's Fizz, albeit a few years ago. When Rolf Harris filmed his show from our school hall, showcasing his big ol' didgeridoo, Brotherhood of Man were the featured band. I recall their Rolls Royces outside our beat up school hall and the smug superstars emerging in fur coats as if they were the Rolling Stones after they followed up their Eurovision success with one hit. And that was it. And who ever thinks about them now? Well me - obviously. But just because I'm on the subject.

Bucks Fizz were more successful but nobody ever took them seriously. The United Kingdom last won the contest in 1997 with Katrina and the Waves.

André Claveau at the 1958 Eurovision Song Contest in Hilversum

Apparently the UK's 2012 entry was by someone called Engelbert Humperdinck who was 76 and I had last heard about in 1976, although what appeared to be repeated botox treatments made him look - well like a tortoise of indeterminate age.

And the contest was held in Baku - which is nowhere near Europe when I last looked. Apparently most countries don't want to win it because it costs a fortune to host it the next year.

America is blithely oblivious to this weird time warp competition. I can't say I miss it but there's something curiously reassuring about it, like coming across the arm chair you used to sit in as a kid. I sometimes find it odd that my parents never change with the times. But, in saying that I'd be way out of my comfort zone if I turned on the webcam one day and they were bopping round the coffee table to Rihanna.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

An Unlikely Victory for the Cornish Pasty

Back in the day when men were men and sheep were nervous and we had better things to do than farting around with blog templates, there were Cornish pasties.

The pasties were made by the womanfolk of Cornish tin miners who toiled in damp and hazardous conditions underground. They could be dangled down on ropes and were hardy enough to withstand the deprivations of nature.

The Cornish Pasty Association cites references going back to the reign of Henry III in the 1200s. But the pasty with its crust became a mainstay during the heyday of the tin mines.

"There are hundreds of stories about the evolution of the pasty's shape, with the most popular being that the D-shape enabled tin miners to re-heat them underground as well as eat them safely. The crust (crimped edge) was used as a handle which was then discarded due to the high levels of arsenic in many of the tin mines," the association states.

This morning a newspaper I once worked on in the south west of England declared "Victory," on its front page. It was declaring the Government's climbdown on its plans to introduce a tax on Cornish pasties and other hot snacks after critics said the uppity crew of Eton educated boys who are in power today were targeting the working classes and their snacks.

Apparently pasties will no longer be taxed, as long as they are still hot.

It's curious that the victory of the humble pasty over the disdainful elite should make such headlines at a time when kids are being massacred in Syria, but news is as much about escapism as it is news.

I have something of a soft spot for the Cornish pasty as it reminds me of family holidays in St. Ives, although the pasties invariably seemed to contain something crunchy like grit and the meat was a curious grey color as if a convenient rat had been passing when the makers were stirring the nefarious ingredients.

No matter. Like haggis the pasty is a part of British culture. As a kid I was always fascinated by the ruins of the tin mines that clung precariously onto the edges of the Cornish cliffs. A scene from the bodice ripper Poldark would come to mind when there had been a tragic accident down the mine and the womanfolk would rush weeping to the coast.

My fond memories of Cornwall come rushing back, not that I appreciated it much when I lived nearby. Maybe it was all those infernal stories about pasties that I was forced to write.

Friday, May 25, 2012

How to Build the Perfect Urban Garden in 10 Fool Proof Steps

It's very hard to believe that in a short space of time this front bed will soon be an urban paradise.

Even harder to believe given that it got really hot and humid and I downed tools to find a beer after I found a mosquito the size of a rabbit feasting on my arm. Now a thunder storm is coming over which ties in rather nicely with my motto "if you don't succeed at first, give up."

The house in the backgroound belongs to our smug neighbors BTW. They always succeed in mowing the lawn in diagonal lines while I'm lucky to get the mower anywhere near the grass. They have neat plants in the beds. Nothing too daring or fancy. They flower right on cue. I'm sure cloning was involved somewhere down the line. I prefer the organic and random approach. The four foot tall dandelion plant may have been somewhat ungainly but it had a flower on it didn't it?

If we start rooting out creatures that look different to us the next thing we know we'll be driving Edward Scissorhands out of suburbia. Do we really all want to be the same? Why the drive to be the perfect neighbors next door? I have theories about folks who have strimmers on their Christmas list.

Contrary to common belief I used to have an interest in gardening. I saw my white and purple rock garden as a triumph of serene art over the prosaic nature of everyday life. The whites twinkled out there in the moonlight by the tinking water feature.

But successive in-laws saw fit to rip up my efforts (yes the size of my violin grows with every word written). Perhaps then I should have stormed outside screaming about the defilement of art and how the Nazis burned books en route to the Final Solution. Probably they didn't understand. They did spend a fair bit on landscaping to be fair.

But instead I grew peevish. The dreams of a perfect garden shrank to a small kernel in my head to the extent that the motion of weeding became as remote as a moon walk off one of Saturn's little known satellites.

My retreat from being Suburban Man was complete. I was lazy and worthless and labelled as such. My solution was to grab a beer and to look up the Picture of Dorian Gray.

Still I realized there is a luxury in self-reproach. When we blame ourselves we feel no one else has a right to blame us. That and the fact that "conscience makes egotists of us all."

So perhaps the answer is to be found in unconsionableness because only then will be cease to be egomanicas. More practically the answer is in gardening. We can only bring about transformation when we learn to hate the weeds, loathe their coarse stems and raggedly heads, wake up in a cold sweat with our hands round the necks of thistles like war veterans who wake up choking an imaginary enemy.

And if some guy with scissors for hands comes anywhere near my new look front yard he'll be driven out of the neighborhood.

How do you like the new template BTW - I got bored with the last one but I'm not sure about this one either?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Oh and there was Mumford and Sons

One of the biggest problems I find adjusting to normality after the A-Z challenge - what the hell normality constitutes - is I keep thinking of bands I should have included.

The trouble is we are all collectors at heart. We are pale faced philatelists with fat knees trapped in our parents' basements greedily collecting our empires of stamps. When the lights come on and someone enters our foul lairs we grasp each tiny stamp into our pasty arms, determined not to give away a single one. At least metaphorically speaking.

From the outside we may put on a rather nifty act of being cool, calm and sophisticated. But inside we are screaming maniacs being pushed down the aisles of Lowe's at a breakneck speed on a cart like the kid with the bike in The Shining screaming: : "I want to collect garden gnomes."

And if they come with cute fishing rods, so much the better.

So tonight I found myself wanting to add Mumford and Sons to my collection, even though it had long gone.Gosh I am sounding like a character from a Nick Horby novel.

I instinctively like these guys and not just because they're English and have a name that should be over a store in a sepia photograph. They have a kind of farmer's boy with cello chic and look like they would be rather good fun down the pub. Not that I have done any research this time. They could be manic depressives for all I know who want to spent all night talking about the Corn Laws of 1804. This is probably a bad example as I have something of a passing interest in the Corn Laws of 1804. Is there a Corn Laws chat room? Back to the basement.

Anyhow I have no idea what Little Lion Man is about but I instinctively know it's my theme tune.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The nature preserve - a world away

I'm not sure I used to be a virtual person. Quite probably I used to be a real one. Now I'm not so sure.

Today I will be developing a new website for a client. And reading an article about forthcoming changes by Google and what they mean for SEO. From there I will be synthesizing and publishing a piece on my professional blog about what this means to the slaves. By this I mean all of us who are enslaved to Google, Facebook and Twitter as surely as the mill workers in the 18th and 19th centuries were slaves to Arkwright's spinning frame.

Part of me lives on on this blog but I'm not sure which part. What was euphemistically coined the World Wide Web back in the day has taken away much of our world.

It makes me wonder if we develop web personas; if we talk to people in a certain way in cyberspace and then struggle to relate when we meet them. Or maybe we struggle to relate period.

Last night I met some people from my former newspaper. We exchanged the inevitable jokes about rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic and about how one day it would be just another page in cyberspace, perhaps sooner than anyone cared to recall.

And when the conversation fell silent we sought solace in our laptops or in searching feeds on our Blackberries.

All of which makes me wonder how we lived when the world was lit only by fire. How we clung to each other with just the stars to light our way, how the night seemed immeasurably long and our lives run with the seasons.

In some deep place I had a romantic notion of the Middle Ages, picturing the Pilgrims winding their way to the shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham lit only by the Milky Way

Inevitably, my shallow perceptions defied reality,. Some time ago I wrote about Graham Manchester's book A World Lit Only by Fire in which he described a world of dangerous medieval villages where the locals would as soon butcher you and eat you as they would welcome you; of a world where nuns and monks spent most of the time copulating; of a world of short life spans and disease and filth, so at odds with the idea of knights and round tables and damsels in distress.

Between the desire

And the spasm
Between the potency
And the existence
Between the essence
And the descent
Falls the Shadow

Sir Walter Scott has much to answer for I fear. TS Eliot - less so.

Conscious of a loss of identity and just an indefinable sense of loss generally as I drifted past the lonely planets out there somewhere in hyperspace, I sought solace in nature.

Hoffler's Creek is only remarkable in its unremarkableness. It's a small urban park but it feels far away from the soul numbing strip malls. Yet it was a beautiful May morning of gusting breezes and bright sunshine. The pull of nature was too powerful to resist. I abandoned my laptop and headed for the road less traveled, a dirt track with the silent waters to my left and the teeming woods to my right.

Sunlight slanted in and out of the eaves and tall purple flowers danced by the silver water. The sun and wind put me in mind of a day in Ireland so many years ago, by the fast moving waters of a creek on a day when the clouds moved fast in their pools of sunlight, the boggy mountains basked in the rays and I spied a jolly azure boat lying bottom up by the water. The moment was no more remarkable than any other. But it lived with me somehow.

Gazing at the white herons over the marshes I was reminded how it is possible to find redemption in nature. We may feel lost but we only need to reach out and touch.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Passing on a Kreativ Blogger award to lucky you

I recently received a Kreativ blogging award from  Mina Lobo at Some Dark Romantic who is clearly my favorite Goth mom of all time; although to be fair I'm not sure I have met any others.

Lust, bitterness, & despair look great on her, apparently. Of course it looks great on all of us once we reach a certain age. Just as Brut 33 smelled good on us when we were 15.

So thanks Mina. I don't receive many awards, probably because I can be too lazy to pass them on as is correct etiquette in polite blogging society. Indirect thanks to Tracy for giving the award to Mina.

The rules are I have to pass this on to six (oh so lucky - you will hate me in the morning) people and say 10 things about myself that nobody knows. It's hard to narrow it down to six deserving bloggers, even harder to find 10 things about myself that I haven't bored folks about on numerous occasions on Brits. OK so one can but try.

1 - Betty Manousos - Cut and Dry - Betty is officially the world's nicest blogger. She spends ages saying positive things on other people's blogs (even mine) and posts pictures that make me nostalgic for the Devon coast.

2 -Jayne at Suburban Soliloquy - Jane's blog is so highbrow I sometimes have to read her posts twice. I feel like reaching for the dunce's cap and I passed my 11 plus (I think).

3 - I Know, Right by Jennifer Fabulous - No shortlist is complete without Jen on it (obviously).

4 - Mollie at OK in UK - Mollie is sort of me in reverse. She's from America but transplanted in an extreme part of England.

5 - Robyn Alana Engel - Life by Chocolate - Make a point of not reading her dating ads. from men posts at stuffy formal functions because you will a - get an inferiority complex re being a man and b - people may not be very impressed when you wet youself in public.

6 - Abi at Happy Frog and I - heartwarming stuff that will remind you of how completely stupid you were in the Eighties and that your affinity for Doctor Who is bordering on dorkdom.

And 10 things folks may not know about me.

1 - I convinced my daughter I was the first man on the moon by showing her photographs of Neil Armstrong and telling her a stone from the garden was a moon rock. She now thinks I am a pathological liar.

2 - I only lie when my lips move.

3 - I always wanted to be a top musician but failed the recorder rest and had to make do with banging the triangle in the school play.

4 - I didn't talk to anyone for my first three years of school but spent six months convinced I was a helicopter. Yeah I was really weird for a while back there.

5 - The Eighties didn't look great on me either. But I had this sad delusion I looked good in pointed pixie boots, skin right jeans with red stripes, a yellow string vest and Sun In sprayed in my hair.

6 - I had an odd addiction to the novels of Thomas Hardy when the rest of my class hated his guts.

7 - I support Liverpool because the school bully tried too force me to support Manchester United.

8 - I am the only journalist in Britain to ever interview a suicide bomber. Unfortunately he didn't tell me his intention at the time and I had erased the tape by the time everybody got interested.

9 - I once had a conversation with Emma Thompson on Hampstead Heath without realizing who she was.

10 - I have an aversion to revealing secret things about myself.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Hermitage Castle - A Cauldron of Evil

I lost my enthusiasm for microblogging Monday. A cold I have had for more than a week took a turn for the worse and I ordered the world's smallest violin in the hope of sympathy if not symphony.

Still, my last post about solitude brought hermits to mind, and by implication one of Scotland's most frightening castles.

On the bad lands of the borders which were bathed in the blood of the English and the Scots for centuries, Hermitage Castle rises out of the mist beyond a treeless beck. Its dimensions are still staggering, even though it's a ruin.

The castle stands in an area that was the key to the control over Liddesdale and the border area during the Scottish and English wars. Its history is steeped in torture, misery, witchcraft and blood.

According to the Myserious Britain website the castle has attracted legend and dark folklore throughout its history, even before its construction in the 1240s.

Before this citadel was built the area may have been the retreat of a holy man or a group of holy men as the name suggests.

The most famous tale a character known as Bad Lord Soulis who owned the castle in the Middle Ages. he was said to be a practitioner in black magic who was responsible for the disappearance of countless local children, who met a foul fate under the thick stone walls of Hermitage Castle. To help him in his nefarious dealings he had an assistant familiar known as Robin Redcap who bears some similarities to the Red Caps who haunt the border regions.

The evil assistant had promised his lord he would not be harmed by forged steel or ever be bound by rope.

But Soulis met a terrible fate. Eventually the locals rebelled and went to the king, who agreed he could be disposed of. They took him up to Nine Stane Rigg, a stone circle crowning a nearby hill top, wrapped him in lead and boiled him in a brass cauldron:

The Boiling of Bad Lord Soulis
On a circle of stone they placed the pot,
On a circle of stones but barely nine,
They heated it up red and fiery hot,
Till the burnished brass did glimmer and shine.

They rolled him up in a sheet of lead,
A sheet of lead for a funeral pall,
They plunged him in the cauldron red.
and melted him lead bones and all.

Many ghosts are said to stalk the ruins of Hermitage Castle.

"It is said that the screams of the victims of Lord Soulis can be heard and the oppressive atmosphere is sometimes blamed on his roaming spirit. One visitor complained of being pushed by an unseen force while near the drowning pool by the chapel" Mysterious Britain stated.

Move Over Greta Garbo - His First Sentence

Like so many other things Microblogging Monday got knocked off track by lunch. But here's the good news. Jackson formulated his first sentence today.

Here's the bad news. It was "leave me alone."

Clearly a life as an artist or a writer beckons. As writers we rather like to be left alone. Like once on an organized press trip when I decided to give the tour a miss and instead lost myself in a labyrinth of streets in inner Jerusalem. There's a curious pleasure in being hopelessly lost in a strange city wandering the dusty streets of antiquity. The pleasure is only exacerbated by the feeling a panic that creeps up on us when we turn a corner into a dark and squalid looking street.

Inevitably I worked my way east in this divided city to the place where a wall separates Jewish and Islamic Jerusalem. The Dome of the Rock was my beacon but when I reached the checkpoint an unamused looking Israeli border guard wouldn't let me through to see the mosque. His demeanor suggested I would be shot if I even tried to take a photograph.

The upshot. Nervously I handed my Canon to some Muslim kids who took a picture for me. They didn't run off with the camera but the picture was poor.

I thought about doing the English routine with the border guard. "Look I'm English. We helped get you into this mess."

Instead I just sloped off and got lost again. I have no idea what this has to do with Jackson's first sentence anymore.

I don't recall my own first sentence. I just hope it wasn't a life sentence.

Tattoos - What's the Point?

A number of people have walked into Starbucks sporting tattoos. With one notable exception they all looked awful.

I really can't understand tattoos.Why pay money for excruciating pain only to look worse than before?

The only thing I understand less than tattoos is smoking. Why pay lots of money to puff your lungs out and die a horrible death? At least crack addicts get high I'm told. Global legislation is clearly needed in this area. Smoking should be banned everywhere apart from in France because the French manage to look cool when they smoke.

Everybody else just looks like a red neck.

Sadly there are times when I find myself surrounded by people with tattoos clutching mitfulls of dollars for Marlboro Lights. There are the times when I remind myself never to go back to 7-Eleven,which is misnamed because it appears to be open all night.

I'm not totally anti tats; occasionally you see a tasteful one - a butterfly on a shoulder or a celtic design.

But all too often they tend to blur into a big green smudge on over white skin. Like a bruise. And who wants to wear their hurt on the outside?

Misheard Lyrics

Bonnie Tyler was a hard egg to crack

I tried to piece together a couple of lyrics from the song but failed miserably.

To be fair I've always been a sucker for misheard lyrics. I spend a good half decade wondering why Bonnie Tyler was singing "it's a hard egg." as opposed to "It's a heart ache."

And why in Message in a Bottle did we have to know from Sting that: "A year has gone since I broke my nose."

I was at one in my crusade against felines when I thought "Rock the Casbah" by the Clash was "Stop the cat box."

There are websites devoted to misheard lyrics. The name of the website derives from a famous misheard Jimi Hendrix lyric in Purple Haze. "Scuse me while I kiss the sky."

This lyric was so often misheard that Hendrix would sometimes simulate kissing a male band member on stage.

The most popular lyric on this site today relates to the "Addicted to Love" by Robert Palmer which doesn't have quite the same ring to it if you mishear it as "Might as well face it, you're a dick with a glove."

Introducing Microblogging Monday

Microblogging Monday is a concept I invented about five minutes ago in Starbucks. It's a radical experiment that's based - frankly on boredom and the need for a distraction before doing real work.

Instead of the normal concept of a daily blog - if one is really stretching it as during the dog days of the A-Z challenge - you make numerous small posts.

Anyone who uses Facebook or Twitter will be familiar with the concept. But these microblogs are a bit longer than status updates which I find have become increasingly prosaic.

(Ever wondered why you are spending time reading why Becky Brown, who you last spoke to at the third grade school dance, has been listening to Biliel Jean by Michael Jackson and is feeling all lonesome?).

And do you give a flying?

To be fair the music at Starbucks rocks today. This is a great track but I have no idea who the singer is so I will try to glean a handful of words and Google it for ya.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Wish You Were Here? - the Karni Mata rat temple

American streets have a unique quality about them. It's a kind of quality that makes you look out of the window and wish you were somewhere else.

On the brightest of days I have imagined the sun falling on my face as I look over the cataracts of the Nile at Aswan, the small feluccas cutting in and out of the sparkling water, and Venice and the red roofs of Florence or the venerable islands of Greece rising from the seas of antiquity.

But there are some tourist destinations I draw the line at. Namely the Karni Mata temple at Deshnok, in Rajasthan, India.

This Hindu temple was built by Maharaja Ganga Singh in the early 1900s as a tribute to the rat goddess, Karni Mata.

"Intricate marble panels line the entrance and the floors, and silver and gold decorations are found throughout," states National Geographic.

I'm fine with the panels, less fine with the presence of 20,000 rats who hang out here and are considered sacred.

"The legend goes that Karni Mata, a mystic matriarch from the 14th century, was an incarnation of Durga, the goddess of power and victory. At some point during her life, the child of one of her clansmen died. She attempted to bring the child back to life, only to be told by Yama, the god of death, that he had already been reincarnated," National Geographic stated.

It seems Karni Mata cut a deal with Yama: From then on all of her tribespeople would be reborn as rats until they could be born back into the clan.

It sounds like a bad deal to me. But the folks at the temple seem to be cool with it, providing the rats with tasty food and even sharing their bowls at time and feeling honored to be bitten by the aforementioned rodents.

The place could probably use a couple of cats.

Now I don't have a phobia about rats. I'd have a nice clean white or black one as a pet. But the scenes from the temple threaten to turn me into Mr OCD on acid. Seldom have I yearned so much for a tin of bleach and some latex gloves. Give me sterile American subdivisions, baby.

Still all this pre lunch talk about rats has me thinking about phobias. A lot of people are rat phobics and I know some people who would not be able to watch this video.

What's your phobia?

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Cold beer and Romans

It has been some time since I have written my novel, either in this format or any other. Still the writing group concentrates the mind and demands respect. And the next meeting is looming. There have been a few chapters not published on Brits between then and now. I suppose I don't want to give it all away, for fear that Salman Rushdie or Ian McEwan will steal my work.

Or maybe not.

O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?

Romans, 7. 24
In the days that followed it was always there; the crunch, crunch, crunch of sandals on the road on a crisp frosty day somewhere out in Essex where Epping Forest met the city.
Here the legions came down the hill, a relentless tide that represented the order of the new world, compared to the haphazard savagery of the old.
Or so they would like to think. "Picked onion sandwich anyone?" whined a legionnaire called Clive.And the ordered ranks split asunder and headed to the pub.
The Romans came to Britain in 55 BC. The tribes of this wild island had been providing assistance to the Gauls in modern day France against the might of Julius Caesar's army. Caesar, never one to let opposition go unpunished, decided to send his armies across the chilly wastes of the English Channel to teach the mysterious tribes a lesson.
In late August about 12,000 Roman soldiers landed near Dover. Like invaders before and since the famous white cliffs rose up to greet them, a citadel before the citadels appeared. Caesar saw the masses of tribesmen on the cliffs, their spears twitching in anticipation of a bath in the blood of the invaders.
Caesar changed his landing place and a fierce fight took place on the beaches that Winston Churchill would refer to centuries later when he declared: "We will fight them on the beaches."
 The Romans were forced back to fight in the cool pale water as the Britons stormed down the beach, writhed in war paint and screaming. Caesar was impressed with the fighting qualities of the Britons, but he vowed to crush them.
Caesar retreated but Britain's respite was brief. He returned the next year in 54 BC. with 30,000 soldiers and this time the Britons baulked at the idea of fighting Romans on the beach. Relentlessly the Romans established themselves as a military force in Britain, taking on the disparate tribes one by one.

But Caesar had left his back door open. As the Gauls rose up against the Romans in France, Caesar had to leave Britain to put down the rebellion in Gaul.

The Roman Army did not return to Britain for over 90 years when rumors of its wealth were brought by traders. In AD 43 the empire returned. The emperor Claudius sent an army of 40,000 men.

For almost 400 more years they stayed, building roads and great cities with bath houses and central heating. Today these ruins linger in remote fields picked over by seagulls or are built deep into the fabrics and street systems of England's cities. So went my crash course in the history of Roman Britain the night before my meeting with Moriarty.

I could understand the hubris of Caesar and Claudius' desire for wealth. I found it hard to understand what made grown men like Moriarty want to stomp around the empty roads of Essex on a chilly Sunday morning dressed as Legionaries.

Yet here he was on the train heading north, his leather straps hanging loose, his tin helmet adrift over his tousled hair.

"Why do you do this again?" I asked him.

Moriary looked genuinely surprised by my question for a few seconds.

"Because it's good wholesome activity on a Sunday morning."

"It is?"

"Yes but don't judge the chaps too harshly. Some of them are a bit odd."

And like a general who had defended his troops, he turned his lidded eyes to the remnants of suburbia that were scuttling past the train window as if to tell me the matter was closed and he would be entertaining no more questions. It seemed to be the story of Moriarty's life.

The world of a modern day Legionary is as complex as it is time consuming. It can cost thousands to deck out a Legionary while there is the small matter of clanking around Godforsaken locations and being laughed at by teenagers and kids.

Matthias looked suddenly mournful over his pint at the Cross Hands. For a start the waitress had made a fuss about his large shield that was propped up by the door and was talking in hushed tones to the manager behind the bar, a sallow youth of not more than 25 who was obviously going above and beyond the scope of his employment with her in the beer garden after hours.

Matthias' face twitched nervously. "It's not as if there is any respect for the Empire anymore," he said sullenly.

I had kept quiet for so far, the odd man out in this sea of armor but felt I had to add: "Not really since 410 AD."

The bar went silent and chilly and a couple of the Legionaries started shaking their heads slowly. I remembered too late that a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. The notion of Alaric King of the Visigoths and his barbarian hordes, sacking Rome, seemed too recent for some of the Legionaries to be able to adjust to.

One of them started muttering something about the Roman empire continuing for centuries afterwards but Moriarty cut him short. "Probably time to march again chaps," he said, amidst a general slurping of pints.

I was ignored after that. I wondered if I could broach the issue of Moriarty's falling ex wife in the train on the way back but his heavy brows seemed to say otherwise. I couldn't work out what Moriarty was doing with these Romans. He seemed to derive no obvious pleasure; he seemed like a man apart.

I abstractly picked up the local rag and tried to make out the blurry words between the beer stains.

Hackney Woman Arrested over Canary Death - I think that's what the headline said.

Monday, May 7, 2012

A-Z Blogging Challenge Reflections

Like those last minute days on the A-Z challenge, my reflections piece is soundly in the spirit of the hapless last minute, the coffee that slops over the sleeves of your rain coat as you run for the train.

So better, perhaps, if I wimp out and say I wholeheartedly agree with my good blogging pal Tim Riley.

I got fewer new followers than I hoped but more hits. My A-Z blog hopping was haphazard like a frog after a few pints of absinthe.

Of course I made some great new friends and received insights into new lives and new vistas. Of course it changed my life.

Will I take part next year? Probably not. I'm always looking out for a new thing and believe a concept is shrivelled up after the second time round. Tim had a great idea. I can't remember what it was but it was better than anything I could have thought up.

On to the next my friends.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Full Moon

Tonight there will be a "super full moon," the largest to be seen in almost 20 years. Sadly here in the city it will be obscured by street lights and wires and all of the inconsequential paraphernalia that relegates nature to a sideshow.

When I see it rising large over the buildings I will long for a grassy knoll far away in the countryside without a city wall where I can stand in the pale light of this lonely satellite.

Some people are affected by the moon. I have never thought much of this but I wonder now; I wonder if its light will illuminate a path somewhere.

 “The last full moon so big and close to Earth occurred in March of 1993,” Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington D.C. told USA Today.

The Super Moon will appear especially large because the moment of perigee—when the moon is closest to the Earth in its monthly rotation—will coincide with the appearance of a perfectly full moon, apparently.

It's hard not to look at the moon and to feel shiver run through your body or to imagine the features of a perfectly well known stranger.

But Shelley should have the last word because Shelley had a way with words, even if his moon was no super moon but a frail and lonely fragment in a cold sea of cloud.

To The Moon

Art thou pale for weariness

Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth, -
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?

Percy Bysshe Shelley

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Partially Wordless Thursday

I've heard a lot about Wordless Wednesday. I've never done it because I'm too full of...errr,um words, not to mention other things. But, given that the challenge has knocked the wind out of me like a sharp punch to the solar plexus, I thought "what the hell."

The problem is I just realized it's Thursday already. So where exactly has the week gone? Today I interviewed a pastor who started quoting Chaucer at me when he realized I was English. This was somewhat embarrassing because.

A - Chaucer was English

B - I taught Chaucer to high school students for a while.

I told him a lot of people mistake me for an Australian.

"But you sound like the Geico lizard," they will say.

"I think he's English," I will tell them.

"He's not Australian?"


There was a pleasant elderly receptionist in the office as I walked out.

"Are you Australian?" she asked.

Post challenge I wonder if it's tough to write once the discipline is taken away, I feel like Morgan Freeman in the Shawshank Redemption when they finally let him out of jail and he doesn't know what to do; sits alone in his apartment and contemplates suicide like the last person who they let out. Not that I'm contemplating suicide for any literallists out there; unless it's literary suicide.

That's why you need a plan in life. You need to be a Tim Robbins rather than a Morgan Freeman. But only in terms of the movie. In real life Freeman seems to be the man with the plan.

Anyhow - as it's partially, but not very wordless Thursday, I need to add a picture. The image above is the unspoiled beach I found last week at False Cape State Park. You can only get there on foot, bike or on a tram so there are no people with unpleasant tattoos, pitt bulls on dirty strings wearing knotted hankies on their heads.

Enjoy the silence.

I Don't Queue : Does That Make Me Unpatriotic?

I'm bemused by the scenes from Westminster today. People are queuing for 24 hours to see a wooden box. OK, it's a fancy box surround...