Saturday, 28 March 2009


Tonbridge Castle gate-house and gift shop

ALBANY: Ask him his purposes, why he appears
Upon this call o' the trumpet.
HERALD: What are you?
Your name, your quality? and why you answer
This present summons?
EDGAR: Know, my name is lost;
By treason's tooth bare-gnawn and canker-bit:
Yet am I noble as the adversary
I come to cope.

William Shakespeare (King Lear. Act V, Scene III)

WHEN I WAS A YOUNG BOY spending my summer holidays with my father's parents in the Medway Towns (that sounds better than Gillingham, Kent, somehow, in 2009 when Gillingham is one of the dodgiest parts of Britain) my Nan Eldridge would wake me at five in the morning, and after I returned to my box room from the outhouse there would be a bowl of hot water and a bar of soap and a towel on my nightstand. I would dab at my face, I don't recall brushing my teeth (we were English, after all), get dressed (short trousers, no matter the weather) and head downstairs again in time to join my Nan at the door. We'd wave goodbye to my grandfather (he had lung cancer and didn't get out much) and walk to the coach station. It would not be six in the morning when we got to the office to present our already purchased tickets.

I believe Nan would have had a cup of tea long before she'd wakened me, for she would have prepared one for my grandfather. I remember buying small cartons of milk at the station, which would be my breakfast. Nan would be carrying, as always, a nylon mesh bag and there were paper-wrapped shapes in it. Our lunch. Other passengers on the day trip would arrive, present their tickets and congregate at the door of the bus we were to take to some stately home, some Norman castle, some ancient cathedral, some museum, some circle of very old stones, some gorge, or perilous cliffs. The other travellers, for the most part, would be English OAPs (Old Age Pensioners) like my Nan (about the age I am now). I don't recall anyone from abroad on the tours, and I think all English children shunned such activities for a seaside holiday with their parents.

My Nan (who had the rather grand name Charlotte Caroline Victoria Crow Eldridge) once told me that her father had taken her to the same places she took me when she was my age. That would have been before 1910 and I'm not sure how they travelled, possibly by train as there were a few members of her family who worked for the railway companies. They lived in Battersea and would have been conveniently located for day trips. My great-grandfather John Lavender Crow, who I met not long before he died, was a tiny man, a compositor in London, not reaching five feet (neither did his daughter, Lottie, my Nan, when she was fully grown). My great-grandmother, Jessie Caroline Moon Crow, was even smaller, a retiring woman who preferred to suckle whiskey from a bottle in her kitchen rather than entertain her visitors. The Moons had come up from Somerset, by way of the poorhouse, when Queen Victoria spanned the globe.

Nan knew a fair bit about the places we visited, and I think she must have visited some more than a few times. I cannot imagine my father being trotted off to Salisbury or Ely Cathedral to look at some old tombs and plaques, but his sister might have enjoyed that sort of thing. I should ask her, she has outlived him by many years, lives in Australia now.

Once the coach was on the road, before seven o'clock in the morning, everyone, ourselves included, would unwrap their lunch packets and consume everything. That was expected and I noticed people still doing that when I was in my late teens on a number of tours with my mother when I was at college in the Medway Towns. The last coach tour I took, a two-week rather upmarket affair around the United Kingdom, was quite different: I was the only person not an overseas tourist (Americans, Canadians and people from the Antipodes). That was three years ago, and I was the only person eating on the bus. I'm not sure it was permitted. I didn't venture drinking on board. That posh trip would have been more fun as a moveable feast, but people have weak stomachs nowadays, bus windows don't open, and the operators don't want to be cleaning up vomit along with the crumbs.

I liked the cathedrals best, as did my Nan. We'd read the engraved markers, no matter what strange language they might be in, and admire chipped toes and cracked noses, and Nan would explain how the positioning of the limbs of the outstretched knight, his statue atop his tomb at least, indicated important things about him. His armour might feature a cross, a crusader. There would be coats of arms and standards and mottoes.

I nearly always bought the guidebooks available at the attractions we visited. I also saved tickets and leaflets, and anything that was free that interested me. I even collected leaves and seed-pods. I had a little camera that took horrible pictures, black and white as I couldn't afford colour film and processing. Nan couldn't figure out the camera, so I'd take pictures, out of focus, of battlements and Horse Guards. I wrote up a little journal some days. I did not make up scrapbooks, I just boxed my souvenirs.

At school, history was my favourite subject. We studied British history for the most part, at least until I was about 15 when we did a year on the American Colonies. I liked the history of the British Isles best because I had often been to the places mentioned. My history master expected me to get his top result in the final exams, but I only just scraped by as the papers had mostly been on the American War of Independence and the period "back home" when that was going on. Hardly my favourite era.

When I returned to Bermuda after doing my bit at college in England, my boxes containing the treasures of my boyhood, my guidebooks and notebooks and dried leaves had all vanished. My sister had pitched them out for no particular reason, I was told. My mother wouldn't have done it, and there was only my sister who could have. I rather wished she had only stolen them. Twenty-five years later, while I was travelling in the USA, she stored the family photograph albums that had been left to me in her crawl space on wet earth and they were destroyed. I have no family photographs now.

In fact, I looked around the flat last night to try and figure out what was older than about five years. It was a short list: A grey tweed jacket that dates back to 1989, a friend bought it on the way to see the Berlin Wall coming down. There's a wooden box I bought at an antique fair in 1970 for £40, which was a great deal of money then, in which I keep my mother's birthday book which she started in 1937. I wear a gold-plated ID bracelet my father gave my mother some time before they married in 1947, one side reads "Mavis Lancaster" and the reverse says only "From Dennis" (to think they married!) which I never saw my mother wear. And there is one other less tangible asset that goes way back: My genealogy project.

As of last night there were over 980 names on my "Family Tree". I recently added my parents' first great-grandchild (had they lived) who was born this February of 2009, her parents live in the south of England. And I added, also, Ralph de Stafford, born 24 September 1299 in Tonbridge Castle, Kent, who is my 20th Great Grandfather. Ralph's father, Edmund de Stafford, my 21st Great Grandfather, born in 1272, had been made a Baron by King Edward II. Ralph inherited that title, but on 5 March 1351 King Edward III created Ralph the Earl of Stafford for being an outstanding personage at court and on the battlefields of France (he had a command at the Battle of Crécy in 1346, a battle our class had re-enacted in our history lesson). Ralph was also made Lieutenant and Captain-General of the Duchy of Aquitaine and a Knight of the Garter, an order founded in 1348.

Those noble folks married into all the noble families and I keep finding more titled ancestors, a favourite being Roger de Grey, Baron Ruthin, my 18th Great Grandfather, born in 1290 in Ruthin, Denbighshire, Wales. Note the French names: They were Norman families that came to Britain after the Conquest of 1066.

My father's side of the Family Tree is only back in the 1500s at the moment, and the best we have there are shoemakers of note, if not courtiers. My father used to say he was descended from titled people, but not in my research yet. Though aren't we all in Genghis Khan's remnant? The Earl of Stafford, Baron Ruthin, Baron Codnor, Baron Wilton and others are in my mother's side of the tree.

I'm sure my Nan Eldridge, who loved and encouraged my mother, even at the expense of my philandering father, would be delighted that my history is so alive through my mother. Nan started me on this journey into the past, begun on buses as a boy. She died in 1977, before there were home computers, never heard of the Internet, never considered genealogical research as a hobby (it is mine), but I can imagine she'd trot me off to Tonburton Priory where Earl Ralph de Stafford was buried in August of 1372 to look for his statue. She'd be able to tell something of his achievements from that monument, and might say: "Why, Ross, you have the de Stafford nose."

Sunday, 22 March 2009

Hit The Road, Jake!

Teenage Wasteland
It's only Teenage Wasteland
Teenage Wasteland
Teenage Wasteland
They're all wasted!
The Who (Baba O'Riley)

A NEWSPAPER COLUMNIST invited by the producers of a television news programme on ITV-1 (Tonight: Tough Love) to comment on the book "The Lost Child: A True Story" by Julie Myerson appeared to offer the opinion that Ms. Myerson should not have written a tell-all about her family's battle with her teenage son's drug-taking. The columnist said that newspapers these days were filled with the work of columnists, like himself, who prattled on about what they were doing or seeing, and remembering what they saw and did in the past. He seemed to be advertising himself, rather than offering a reasoned impression on the Myerson affair.

I think it's safe to say that people have been updating people for millennia, calling through the stalactites into the cave next door, talking over back fences, scratching marks into wet clay, writing letters and, now, books and blogs. And there are columnists who are content to write about something they saw in the street on the way to the market (or behind the woodshed as a child), and there are thousands who are happy to read this sort of thing. A good reporter on the human condition and scene, one who writes well and entertains along the way, and even educates, is probably doing more for humanity than the scientist who writes the great tome on something obscure that might be wonderful in some way, but that is beyond comprehension to all but seven Oxbridge dons.

One of my sisters reads only two kinds of books, and she reads a great many of them, and rereads them. My sister likes memoirs of people who were abused as children (physically, mentally and sexually) and the true stories of serial killers. Mass murderers, a single killing in a moment of passion doesn't do it for her; but dozens of hookers beaten to death and dismembered by a single and determined monster … that's reading entertainment. My sister recently told me she'd read about some poor children who, she strongly felt, were abused because the parents were naturists. The suffering youngsters went to nudist beaches and camps on family outings. For Pete's sake, it's not as if the parents were Jehovah's Witnesses. Or French. So far as I know, my sister was never physically or sexually abused, or taken to a nude beach. However, abandoned by our father in the year of her birth and growing up in a fatherless environment might be some sort of emotional abuse if you get the right psychotherapist on the right day. If you are taking notes for a thesis: My sister is so morbidly horrified by the sight of blood that she cancels appointments over and over when her doctor requests that blood be drawn from her for some sort of test. Go figure.

The shelves in the booksellers are full of tell-alls, grim crime stories and celebrity biographies. I'm assuming that these things sell, to occupy so much space on the display racks.

Julie Myerson's son, Jake, was a normal 15 years old, apparently, perhaps a bit spoilt, but by the time he was 17 he was skipping school and spending most of his time stoned on marijuana. Jake's parents, professional people, his mother a writer and his father in local politics and a magistrate, first thought a little grass was the same little grass of the 1960s. However, Jake was smoking skunk (some sort of super-strong ganja) and doing just about nothing else.

In the interview with Jake on "Tonight: Tough Love" he protested his parents' protests and said that, yes, he was smoking spliffs most of the time (and still) but, for example, he sat out in the garden and read "Ulysses" while he was off his face. Which made it okay in his bleary eyes.

Jake's parents, worried most for their two younger children (early teens), and after Jake smacked his mother upside her head so hard that he ruptured her eardrum, told him to leave the house and they changed the locks. He's still "out there" as he shows no willingness to not take drugs (he said he wasn't an addict because he knew he could stop any time he wanted). Jake's parents did help him find accommodation, and he doesn't look like he's missing meals, and he seems to be enjoying his 15 minutes of fame. His complaints are expected, almost scripted for him.

One of the concerned therapists on the television programme said that now that Jake's drug use and violence towards his mother were public knowledge, his privacy had been invaded. What if he was applying for a job one day and his prospective employer recognised him as the kid who'd wasted his youth smoking spliffs (even if reading Ulysses)? What if he wanted a scholarship for schooling? What might a girl who he fancied think if his name rang a bell?

You know something: If I was hiring someone and they'd been a drugged layabout, I'd kind of like to know that, and I'm guessing the boy wouldn't offer it in his CV. What if I was hiring a teacher's aide, or a sub-editor, or a lab technician … I really should be entitled to know I was getting someone who was honest enough about his past (and currently sober, thank you). Is a druggie driving a primary school bus all that different from a serial killer driving one?

Should parents tell their teenager to leave the house until he sobers up, change the locks? I say: Yes! Jake's parents had two younger children, his father is a magistrate, in theory if they had let him stay they were allowing drugs to be used on their premises and were breaking the law, and Jake had been violent. By his own admission Jake had been a total slob and something of a wastrel (Ulysses will do that to you). He also admitted that he'd stolen money from his parents to buy his drugs, saying: "Doesn't everybody?" It seems reasonable to me to treat children as apprentices in the family, not management and certainly not as members of the board of directors.

Should Julie Myerson have written the book? It's not one that I'll read, though my sister might. It's not just a tell-all as many parents must have out of control and abusive children under the influence of drink and drugs, and one hopes there might be good advice in this book. The television and other media publicity has people talking. It's Reality TV in another form, of course.

Jake Myerson, with his grubby copy of Ulysses might end up on the telly in the Big Brother house if the BB producers are smart enough to make him an offer. And eventually he can do Celebrity Rehab when we're all heartily sick of seeing him. After that, perhaps he'll apply somewhere to be a sub-editor. If he's honest by then, he'll have an honest CV, an honest attitude, and an honest-to-goodness chance to have a better life. If he doesn't get sorted out, he'll be smoking his spliffs on the dole and insisting he's no addict because he doesn't need them and can quit any time. Just like that.

Sunday, 15 March 2009

Rocky Road

And the LORD God said,
Behold, the man is become as one of us,
to know good and evil.
Genesis 3:22

ACCORDING TO THE SYNOPSIS in the Radio Times, the young girl, only thirteen, had been raised in a family that pretty much kept apart from the world. She was home dwelling and home taught. She had never heard of the Beatles. And she was going away from home for the first time, with her older brother to visit his digs at his college in Derbyshire. There she would bear witness to the saving power of Jesus to his friends and partygoers.

I figured I would watch Deborah 13: Servant of God for a few reasons, and primarily because at the age of 22 or 23 I became a Servant of God for a season. Actually, for longer than the thirteen years of Deborah's life, twice as long on the books, if not in the pulpit.

One now feels rather horrified that a child only just in her teens lives in so narrow and shallow a space. It is all very well to recommend looking only forward, along a ginnel with the light of Eternal Life twinkling at its far end, but it now seems to me that we are meant to open a few gates on the way, to gain knowledge by experience, not just by so-called faith. Do the gods want us to pass on surpassing joy, not knowing creation personally, and should we dash along the passage dressed in our sad rags and faces into the waiting arms of something indistinct if bright?

Young Deborah is already a parrot. She witnessed in her home area in the southwest of England to some scruffy teenagers, and she witnessed to the programme's presenters, and then she witnessed to people when she spent a few days with her brother away from home. The very same lines, word for word. Deborah said that we are all sinners and going to Hell, and that one who tells a little white lie is as much a sinner as a paedophile.

I recall very well young mothers holding their toddlers to the microphone on the platform during Fast and Testimony Meeting once a month at the Mormon chapels I attended. The mother would say a few words and prompt the wee child to repeat them: "I know that God lives, that Jesus is the Christ and that he lives, and I know that Joseph Smith is a prophet of God…" I don't think one should teach a parrot, I mean a child, to say: "I know that…" but to think: "I wonder if…"

Deborah, Servant of God, believes emphatically that the Earth is not billions, or even millions or many thousands of years old. I was not surprised to hear: "Dinosaurs lived with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden." She does not believe in Evolution.

The Mormons - I should write of things I am aware of, so I'm not talking about Buddhists or Australian Aborigines - believe that there was a literal Creation, no Big Bang, and that the Garden of Eden was located in what is now Independence, Missouri. Were there dinosaurs in the Mormon Eden? Perhaps not. Someone once parroted that the many dinosaur and other ancient fossils were in our rocks and sands because they had existed on other worlds from ours and the gods (plural) had used those materials to construct our world. I rather like that idea.

There were dinosaur footprints preserved in former mudflats, now stone, outside the little town in southern Utah where I once lived. They may have been deposited there within rocks in October 4004 BC, or at least more nearly that date than millions or billions of years ago, having come from a no-longer-useful planet on the far side of Kolob. Kolob is the planet on which our God dwells. Yes, a charming notion. A devout Mormon should believe it.

When Adam and Eve were given their notice in the Garden, they moved nearby to Adam-Ondi-Ahman in Missouri. I'm thinking they were glad that the dinosaurs were already in those recycled rocks, not wandering with them. How did Deborah's dinosaurs die, and when? The Great Flood is my guess, but I didn't hear that for sure on the programme. Can you picture Noah with his clip-board looking around and asking: "Is T-Rex on the boat?"

"You Are Now Leaving Eden"

We've had a great many documentaries, films and programmes on Darwin and evolution this year as it is the great man's 200th birthday and 150 years since The Origin of Species was published. Deborah doesn't watch television, though she has a computer with an Internet connection. She might benefit from seeing and weighing the evidence for a literal creation and evolution.

Today I watched Jurassic Park III with a friend. I'd seen the first two films. This one is actually rubbish. For one thing, the dinosaurs created by computer animation are too solid-looking, too beefy, and too toothsome. I much prefer the beasts in the first film: pale and ghost-like at times, the frightened viewer fleshed them out. Whether we shall ever clone dinosaurs might just be decided in my lifetime, it may well happen in Deborah's. Back to Eden. Or back to the Rocks? Will it be time for another set of gods to grab great clarts from this Earth and smack them into a ball and set it spinning in the back of the beyond?

At the end of the day, I certainly don't say to Deborah: "You are all wrong!" What I would say is: "Look about you! Leave the alleyways of Earth and stand under your God's wide heaven."

What do I believe? That there is matter, I could call it rock, and it adheres and repulses and all sorts of forces act on it and through it. I believe this substance, in its various elements forms and reforms, gets reused and recycled. Ashes to ashes. Big Bang to Big Tree to Little Acorn.

I was on the bus the other day and while reading the Metro newspaper I noticed a young man a few seats ahead of me reading a glossy magazine intently. When he got off at a stop before mine I realised it was someone I'd seen before. A fellow with Down's syndrome. When I got home I sat on the sofa to relax a bit after chasing around Alnwick, and Cailean came running up to me indicating he wanted to play. So I said: "Get a ball for me to throw. A ball." And Cailean ran into the kitchen, rummaged through over a dozen different toys in his cage and hurried back with one in his mouth, his favourite ball.

The lad on the bus, Cailean and I are all made of rock, Joni Mitchell's star stuff. And we are all thinking creatures. I don't believe the act of thinking is a product of bits of rock rubbing up against each other, I believe in a spirit that inhabits all things, that becomes a soul in any individual, man, boy, dog, dinosaur. I think the spirit is a finer matter. Rocks are recycled, the spirit flows. I'd like to think that when the spirit is a soul, that soul might sometimes, if not always, reappear intact in another rocky combination. Then I really would be Napoleon.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

High Tide and Low Batts

Cailean (centre) 8 March 2008
THE MEN IN TOWN seem to recognise immediately that Cailean is a male dog. They bend down, scratch him around the ears, and say: "Hello, son …" which I think is a particularly charming way of addressing a dog. I tended to call him "baby", but have recently switched to "kid". He's no longer a baby: Cailean is a year old tomorrow, 8 March 2009.

The women in town nearly always take Cailean for a female. Now I know he's lost his goolies, but his todger is intact. Of course, said todger is nearly out of sight as Cailean has very little clearance from the ground. He also squats to pee, unable to easily salute fire hydrants and utility poles. A miniature dachshund thing.

It's the children who could care less whether Cailean is a boy or a girl. He is, foremost, a "sausage dog". Toddlers hardly able to frame a phrase seem to know that they're meeting a sausage dog, and it's often for the first time. I think parents must read about them to their young children, show pictures. The sausage dog is awfully cute.

Fortunately, Cailean has a lovely nature and adores children. He's very fond of the extreme-aged as well, and all in between. He does, for some reason, take a minute to click with a few people, and he's not much for fox terriers because there's one in the village who has made barking threats on a number of occasions.

Cailean at two weeks, March 2008
Cailean had four siblings (a brother, Billy, and sisters Ruby-Roo, Lucy and Delilah) in his litter, and has a number of half-siblings in other litters. Cailean's father, Buttons, is a stud. Cailean looks like Buttons, a black and tan, though there's just a hint of his mam's red fur here and there below the surface of the black.

Cailean at ten weeks, May 2008

I have been lucky in that Cailean was house-trained within a very few weeks of coming to live with me, and we've had perhaps three "accidents" in the past nine months. As he sometimes stays alone for four or five hours if I'm out and unable to take him with me, I expected we might have puddles when I returned. So far, not at all. He holds his water. The two or three untimely widdles came when visitors arrived and Cailean was that overjoyed to see them, so just a wee trickle.

Baths are welcomed. My dachshund Aleks also liked to be bathed. Cailean enjoys the shower spray, quite hot water, lots of pet shampoo and then conditioner. I heat a bath-towel and wrap him in it after the rinse and rub him dry. This appears to be the part of the process he likes best. Then he's wrapped in a blanket and he usually kips for a few hours with the heating on if the weather (and the flat) is cool. Grooming is easy too. Aleks did not much care to be brushed, but Cailean will sit below where I keep his brush at least once a day and look up at it. I do as ordered.

We travel about in cars and on the bus. In both cases Cailean looks out of the window a good deal of the time, but if he can catch the eye of someone on the bus he'll do the "cute sausage dog" and we soon have someone cooing over him. That's more fun than looking at castles, sheep, cows and great rolls of hay.

Cailean, aged one year, March 2009

Cailean weighed just a few ounces at birth, less than three pounds when he came to me aged seven weeks. He's heavier than a sofa now; at least it seems so when he wants to be lifted onto the bed. I think he's probably around twelve pounds. He's sleek like a seal, and looks not unlike one at times with the long, mostly black body and abbreviated limbs. Short legs notwithstanding, we walk every day for an hour, sometimes more. Cailean also enjoys running around the fenced-in garden of some friends down the hill from us. He's active in bursts, and enjoys sleeping soundly for hours afterwards. He actually watches the television from the end of the sofa, and will bark if there's a barking dog on a programme. Other animals quacking, mooing or bleating have no effect on him.

This June we are going on our first holiday away from Amble, to a lodge in the Scottish Borders. Just for a few days, but it should be fun for the boy. It will be nice for Cailean to galumph around on the grass, and there are many acres of forest to walk through apparently. Cailean may meet his first red squirrel. Will he bark?

Tomorrow, on Cailean's birthday, I'm hoping for weather fair enough for our usual Sunday morning walk to the once-weekly open-air market on the far side (which is ten minutes' walk away) of Amble. There are at least two stalls featuring pet supplies and I thought I'd let Cailean pick something for himself. I shall get bread and vegetables and look in the book stalls and shall be proud to have the best little dog in Amble by the Sea.

Cailean glows like a Midwich Cuckoo. 7 March 2009

BEFORE I GO I must wonder if a sign of spring is the sudden failure of all the batteries in my flat. It was the digital camera first, then the "Bark Free" electronic device that sounds if Cailean barks indoors (he doesn't now, it took a morning to train him) starting winking at me, and this was followed by the television and DVD player remotes. I trotted over to the minimart with a list of the batteries I needed and then the telephone screen started flashing "Low Batts" instead of the date and time. Back to the corner store for a few more batteries. I know it is time, too, to change the batteries in my smoke detectors. Fortunately, my mobile telephone can be recharged from the mains.

As for me, the sun is above the neighbouring rooftops now and shines into my courtyard, and into my front room. Soon enough there will be natural light in the kitchen and on the back porch in the late afternoon. Cailean likes to sleep in any puddle of sunshine, indoors or outside, and I like to join him. The daylight lengthens considerably every week. We've had snowdrops, the crocuses, irises and hyacinths are blooming now, and the daffodils and tulips should flower within a week. Eight weeks from now there may be bluebells in the wood. My batteries are definitely being recharged.

Monday, 2 March 2009

Glancing in the Street

SEEKING A BETTER VIBE, some positive energy, an improvement in my state of being, a more pleasant outlook, greater creative forces to work with, I could have hired the village Feng Shui team to come and rearrange my flat, change my textures and enhance my colours at home. However, I pictured the consultation ending with a report reading simply: "You should change your locks. Your flat is twinned with hell. There is no other hope or help that we can offer."

I have another way of getting myself feeling in the pink and perky and it does not involve astronomy or geography or pleasing aesthetics: I hitch Cailean up in his harness and head out into the weather. Luckily, that weather has improved a good deal in the last fortnight and we've been able to return to the River without risking being stuck in mud or a sudden snowstorm. Walks in town are nicer too without the rain, hail, sleet and snow falling off the overhanging rooftops carrying all manner of last summer's birdshit down like glacial deposits onto the passers-by and their dogs.

Suddenly there are young lads wearing shorts and t-shirts and goose-flesh, and the Geordie girls will have bulging, bare midriffs before the month is out. The hell with that: I can wear my sunglasses and do some serious people watching.

I get to sit in the sun in the Town Square, sheltered from the wind off the North Sea by some prickly bushes and my corduroy jacket. Cailean stretches out on the concrete bench beside me; he loves any sunshine and sprawls about to maximize the exposed skin on his little body. I rest my head back and watch the first tourists of the year. I'm guessing they are from the Continent: The Euro currency is strong against the Pound and people can come over from Amsterdam on the ferries to examine our castles and eat our national dishes (curries and kebabs). Certainly the folks I see trying to puzzle their way through the historical plaques on the Square are past middle-age and hardly fashionably dressed. Polish or Romanian, perhaps. I wonder what they think of our homeless waifs selling "The Big Issue" outside the minimart: Youngsters dressed in their national clothes from Eastern Europe and not particularly fluent in English. Except to call out "Big Issue! Big Issue!" It seems curious to me that our homeless folks have to commute here.

With the sun on my face I watch the skateboarders and roller-bladers on the cobbles; they have not so much a slide or a glide as an obstacle course. It must loosen one's teeth over time. And I compose songs with promising and catchy titles like "Angels are just Birds of Pray" and "Love is a Mindfield" and make plans to write a murder mystery featuring Agatha Christie's Parrot (a Herculean feat, by the way).

I also get annoyed at things I hear over and over on the telly, read in the papers, or just come across. For example, how often today have I heard someone state: "This comes at a time of heightened tensions between…" You can fill in the dots, North and South Korea, India and Pakistan, Israel and Anyone. For Pete's sake, I think heightened is normal anywhere east of Calais, and in Croydon or Liverpool or Glasgow.

And how about all those bloody "Holy City of…" places? I stew over those. A Holy City is one that we should not bomb, but a site where the locals feel free to wreak havoc on each other and so many golden shrines. Martyrs require fresh blood like so many sacred vampires. Holy Toledo, Batman!

And, as the sun gets me almost warm, I think of all that flaming global warming business. Did you read this morning in all the papers "glaciers are melting faster than previously thought". Who did the thinking in the first place? Who is thinking now? The sea level is rising, Holland's fucked, and there will be palm trees in the Cairngorms. If not next year ... then this.

The ordinary people of England, not just the seasoned newscasters (whatever that means, take 'em with a pinch of salt, perhaps?), can say and do some pretty amazing things too. I heard this conversation between two little old ladies on the street by the Town Square:

"I tell you, Vera, the pill my doctor prescribed was too small and plain white, and it couldn't possibly help my trouble."
"A big coloured one would probably be much better for you. I'd go round to his office and demand one, Hilda."
"Think I will."

Well, that's the National Health Service sorted out!

Today was the limit, however, as poor Cailean and I, and quite a few others, were startled, horrified, disgusted, when two slovenly women smoking cigarettes walked down the main street dressed in fuzzy pyjamas and open, raggedy dressing gowns, and worn slippers. They stopped outside the frozen foods shop, dropped their fags on the pavement and wandered in.

I have seen women dressed like that in public places before: Tackier casinos in Las Vegas. I'm not sure that the expression "slag" even covers those ghastly women on Queen Street. It was after noon, by the way. Our homeless people are better presented in every way.

The day was not a complete loss: When I was ready to leave the Town Square I left Cailean on the bench for a second and picked up two empty plastic Ribena drink bottles that blew across the cobbles near us. When I returned to lift Cailean down I saw something shiny on the seat next to him. It was a 5P coin. I think that would be called Instant Karma. It did not end there. Outside our little Post Office I spotted two more coins on the pavement, a pound and another 5P. I took my Karma, totalling £1.10, added another 40P, and with the £1.50 bought a "Big Issue". Doing my bit for the homeless problem.

There was no note from Feng Shui on the door of my flat suggesting I move, and just the pleasant fragrance of citrus blossoms inside.