Sunday, December 24, 2006

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Other times. Different places.

On the Tuesday, we left at about 10.30 to go to Evora where, according to the information, it was Market Day. The day had dawned dull and cold and there had been rain in the night. I was achy and cranky when we parked the car just outside the walls. No sign of a market, just a few stalls selling pots. We went in through the Parc (1866, it said, set in the black and white paving tiles that are everywhere). The Mercado Municipal, too, was closed for restoration. Evora is a superb, intact, old city – enclosed by walls in an area about a mile across. A great 12th century gothic cathedral sits on top of the hill in the middle and there is a 16th century university as well as many more fine ancient churches and buildings among the steep warren of cobbled streets. There’s even a Roman Temple of Diana, so far back does the continuous inhabitation of this town go.

At one end of the main square, there's a marble fountain in front of a big church and at the other, a grandiose bank. In between are four-story, white painted buildings, mostly small shops, with filigree ironwork balconies and painted mouldings. The north side is arcaded with heavy stone arches to shade the shop-windows and whenever we've been here before, we’ve always gone into the Café Arcada.

Inside the doorway, on the left, it had a tabacaria and news-vendor. Facing that was a counter selling cakes and sweets to the noisy families, the students, the lovers and the daydreamers who would take their time over a coffee at the tables which stretched half-way down the deep interior. Further inside, steaming urns of soup stood on a long zinc bar which ran down the left-hand wall over glass-cabinets holding soft drinks, beer, fruit and sandwiches. In this part of the café, in the gloom, old men would pass their afternoons with a glass of wine while they talked and argued together or idly turned to watch television. The only decorations were enlarged black and white photographs of forties-style tuxedoed musicians playing behind music stands with the script ‘Orchestre Arcadia’ written on them – memories of bygone glories, perhaps. In the evenings, we ate simple meals there, brought by a waiter in an open-necked white shirt, black waistcoat, scruffy shoes and a tea-towel tucked into the waistband of his sagging trousers. It was one of our favourite places in Portugal. Now, it has changed. Now, it has become a symbol of all I loathe, despise and detest about modern life. Now, it sells lifestyle.

Gone is the tabacaria, replaced by a stone wall of mock-neolithic art. The cake counter is still there but now no-one lingers over their coffee – sharp-eyed waitresses make sure business stays brisk. Inside, after you pass a sign saying ‘Please wait to be seated’, you don’t find the zinc bar or the shambling waiter any more. The photographs are still there, surrounded now by smart tables where American tourists can eat - safe in the knowledge that the food will be as wholesome and familiar as it is in Kansas City. Gone, too, to who-knows-where, are the old men.

Why DO tourists stand out so? They wander bewilderedly. They carry maps, their wives walk two paces behind, wear silly holiday clothes and carry all their money, credit cards and passports in pouches strung over their bellies. They can't help that, by their very presence, they must change the nature of a place. But why must they turn them into what they left behind at home?

We drank a quick espresso there, paid the euro for it and left in a hurry. We had lunch in a café in a nearby street. The waiter was friendly, the rest of the customers (all men) were noisy Alentejans and the food was good, simple and cheap (grilled fish, salad, boiled potatoes, red wine, bottled water – about 17€). Didn’t drink any wine but felt picked up by then.

Back at the casa, we hadn’t been there long before there was a knock at the door and the owners had arrived to visit. Clare was first through the door, small, dark hair, green waterproofs, brown riding boots. Her husband, Anthony, tall, grey, red sweater, followed carrying gifts for us of two jars, one of home-made jam, the other of home-grown honey. They are both frightfully, terribly, posh and Clare told us her family owned this farm. They say they spend about a third of the year here and, when in England, are from Wiltshire. Judging by their accents, they are probably from most of it. They will be back on Thursday bringing a chap who wants a long-term let on this place – once he’s checked for ‘light pollution’ – he’s an astronomer. After they’d left, Salvatore, Maria and Chico’s son, brought us in a basket of logs – no doubt on La Pincent’s orders. Mme. soon lit a bright fire and we spent the evening reading and eating the rest of the cheese.

Wednesday, walked the dogs down over the dam again, lost them as usual as they chased rabbits through the garden of the other cottage that stands over there – the one we’d like to buy. After lunch, (omelette, fried potatoes, salad, white wine), drove through Igreginha (Little Church) around to Vimiero and back over heathland with hawks, buzzards and shrikes through Vale de Periero. Houses for sale in each but neither are what we’re looking for. Be nice to find out what they are worth, though.

The sun is setting spectacularly as I write this on the terrace with a glass of Licor Beira next to me. Overhead, ragged clouds are tinged with rose and violet against a dulling blue sky. Then, a swathe of heavy purple and below to the west, ribbons of orange and gold lighting the far distance. The bent old shepherd and his black dog collected the sheep about half an hour ago. Now, all there is to be heard of them is just an occasional call of a ewe or a lamb and the gentle ringing of a collar bell. The first cricket has begun whirring and one or other of the dogs barks from time to time. Evora’s lights have begun to sparkle on the horizon and there is the faint smell of wood smoke. Supper of salami, olives, bread and red wine and then an early night.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Faking it

I killed a man
Called One-eyed Chan
In a bar-room in Manila
I went ashore
With my forty-four
And blew his brains out on the floor
His girl cried out, “You shot my love,
You dirty low-down killer.”

It isn’t true
I’m telling lies
I’ve never looked into the eyes
Of anybody with a gun

Then once when on
The Amazon
I met a man named Sailor John
We used to eat
Dead monkey meat
Rotting in the jungle heat
It made him sick
He died one night
I buried him. He’s gone.

I made that up
Another lie
I’ve never seen a person die
Or dug a dead man’s grave.

In '92
I took the view
That mining was the thing to do
And then the price of silver soared
I sold off all my bullion hoard
And bought a seat upon the board
Of companies investing in
Oil and gas and coal and tin
More and more the money poured
Into my banks in Liechtenstein
Where interest gathered
Mine, all mine

I lied again
Another fraud
Dear Lord
I don’t know what is real

I think I kissed
A girl called Kate
Who had an Argentinian mate
Whose tattooed ears and braided hair
Made him welcome everywhere.
Kate was charming and I’m sure
She would have let me kiss her more
If only I’d been rich

I’m not a liar
Or a fake
Just don’t take…
It seriously

Do you remember when we met?
I hope you do ‘cause I forget
I’ve been so many people that
I can’t remember where I’m at
I try to do what’s right, all right
It’s harder in the depths of night.
As everyone who knows me knows
I’m true as true as true can be
So long as people all agree
That I know them and they know me

copyright akc 2006

Wednesday, November 15, 2006


Valencia was beautiful. The streets are lined with grand buildings covered in elaborate carvings and encrusted with balconies edged with fancy wrought-ironwork. Shops selling high-quality goods are everywhere and, especially in the evening, people swarm among them filling the pavements, bars, cafes and restaurants with noise. I spent a day in Placa de la Reina, the open square in front of the cathedral, while Mme. went shopping. As I arrived, I was straightaway accosted by one of the gipsy women who beg there. She was small, slightly built, was wearing the typical long skirt, shawl and headscarf and carrying a photograph of her bambinos, which she kept thrusting at me as she pleaded, in the faint sobbing voice they use, for money to buy bread and milk for them. A few steps later, another began entreating me with the same patter. They are persistent and it’s hard to know whether to sympathise with them in such an affluent country as this.

I sat on a low stone wall and watched the world go by. Two young lovers sat on a bench facing each other, cross-legged, knees touching. The occasional knot of Japanese tourists walked past, looking as bewildered by everything as they always do. I suppose the culture is so different from their own that they can’t appreciate subtleties. Yesterday, for instance, during a service in the cathedral, a Japanese girl was posing in mock prayer to have her photo taken by her boyfriend, oblivious to the offence she gave to the worshippers. Still, to be fair, there’s a relic in a glass box behind the altar, of San Vicente the Martyr. It’s the skeletal remains of his left arm, neatly sawn off just below the elbow. And I’ve seen the displays of piety it inspires among the throngs of Catholics who look wistfully at it but I can’t see the point, either.

Three buskers; clarinet, alto-sax and accordian, played a free-form jazz version of Jingle Bells. At about two o’clock, the square’s occupants began to switch sides. The sun had moved from warming the pavements outside the cafe’s on the west side so it was the east side’s turn to get the customers. In the summer months, the opposite would be true as the eaters, drinkers and loafers fled the afternoon heat of the east to the cool solace of the west’s shadows. I sat at a shiny steel table and ordered a beer and a seafood paella.

Another beggar arrived, an old man. This one lifted the bottom of his jeans to display his leg, with a hideously yellowing wound on it. But he had a dog with him that I felt sorry for so I gave him a euro. A couple more beers and nothing much happening. Cock pigeons cooed, strutted and posed around their hens and were disdainfully ignored. Petunias belied the time of year by blooming in the flower-beds. Orange trees were laden with fruit glowing as if they were Christmas decorations. Church bells lazily tolled the quarter hours. Taxi-drivers dozed in their cabs waiting for fares. Groups of families and friends pulled tables together – the women all gathering together at one end so as to exclude the men from their chatter. I tried to scribble more notes but gave up when I couldn’t come up with anything less cliched than ‘honey-coloured’ for the stonework of the cathedral so went back to the hotel for a nap.

That evening we went to the circus. In England, circuses have all but died out thanks to animal acts being deemed Politically Incorrect. I’d wondered if the same would be true here but, if I’d thought about it, the fact that the bullring was the venue should have reassured me.

This one was a magnificent affair – with a proper Ringmaster and attendants and programme vendors dressed in gold-braided uniforms as if they were the Prussian Cavalry and at least a couple of thousand of us were packed into the Big Top, set up on the blood-soaked sand in the centre of the arena, to see it. First up was, of all things, a contortionist. She writhed, wriggled and twisted so that her limbs seemed ready to burst from their sockets. I’m glad I never married one now. Thoughts that used to make my mouth water now make my eyes water instead. It’s not that the urge lessens with age.... just that I’m not as bendy as I used to be. We laughed at the clowns’ antics, marvelled at the dare-devil tumblers and acrobats, gasped in awe-struck amazement at the death-defying feats of the high-wire act. We loved the massive, docile elephants, cheered oddball Professor Blick and his assorted performing dogs, thrilled at the Cossacks jumping on and off their galloping horses and, best of all, admired the pride of lions and Bengal tigers and their fearless, glamorous, whip-cracking, high-heeled, long-legged, scarlet-sequinned and top-hatted trainer. You just have to have animals in a circus. Without them it’s like sex with your socks on.

Afterwards, we walked back through still-crowded streets towards the hotel – a white-painted wedding-cake of a building, formerly a ducal palace. We called in at a nearby bar for a brandy. Now then... Spanish brandy is a favourite of mine. People who think themselves connoisseurs sneer at it, considering it to be an inferior version of the French stuff. What they fail to realise is... it isn’t supposed to be French.... it is a sweet, fragrant, caramel-flavoured liquor in it’s own right and should only be appreciated as such. Even better, here they dispense it in huge balloon glasses and you get at least three times the amount compared with bars in France. Anyway.... this bar was an exclusive sort of a place. With its own doorman, even. Inside, it was all low lights, marble floor, dark wood, leather and brass in a room full of well-scrubbed men in cashmere and women flaunting their tightly-trousered behinds in expensively tailored suits. They were listening, or dancing, to a duo on electric guitar and bass playing well-worn rock standards. If you can picture in your mind a bar in downtown Atlanta with a couple of good old boys trying to do Flamenco in phonetic Spanish... you’ll get an idea of how out of sync these two sounded. Un-authentic. I bought a Havana, trying to fit in, and smoked it as nonchalantly as I could manage. Some places you feel at home in, some you don’t.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Going, going...

These beautiful creatures, full of life and menace, are high on a church near Boston, Lincs. They were carved in about 1390 by a craftsman whose name we'll never know.

There are hundreds like them on thousands of medieval parish churches in every county of England. Monsters and monarchs, saints and sinners, everyday people in an array of satirical, threatening, humorous and occasionally obscene poses. They date back centuries. They have been a free outdoor art gallery for generations. But they are disappearing fast. At least half have already fallen victim to wind, rain and air pollution and the rest are at serious risk of decay and disintegration.

This one is above a doorway on a neighbouring church. What is it? What might it signify? Who commissioned sinister beings like these, and why? Are they reminders of the beasts from Hell? Or a harkback to paganism? Who knows. Their meanings have been lost over time and now stand only as tributes to their artists' creativity, talent and imagination.

A face looking out eastwards from high on the roof of Burgh Le Marsh Church; across the Fens, over the Wash and onwards for ever. It has features similar to those of the Green Men that are found almost everywhere in Medieval carvings both here and abroad.

There is no effort being made to preserve exterior carvings like these. The structure and fabric of church buildings do receive a share of scarce funds for maintenance. Religious architecture is appreciated and preserved. But works of art such as these three above are neglected and will soon be gone forever.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

It's the OIL, Stupid.

Suppose that in your garden, you had built 5 huge bonfires; all the waste that you'd stored up for a year. And you were ready to set fire to one a day for the next five days. Then suppose a busybody from the Council came along and told you that you couldn't; because all that smoke and soot going into the atmosphere would be hazardous. And after you'd thought about it, you agreed with him.

Then, suppose he told you it would be OK if you made 6 piles instead and took 6 days over it. Because, by doing so, you would cut the pollution down by 20%. It's bollocks, isn't it? You'd still be burning the same overall amount, wouldn't you?

But that's the reasoning behind reducing carbon emissions to prevent 'Global Warming'. They say that, if we reduce usage of carbon-rich fuel (basically coal and oil), we'll prevent the planet from overheating and stop sea-level rises that will flood many areas that are currently inhabitable.

Now then, there are some who dispute: (a) that world temperatures are rising at all and (b) that, if they are, whether it's attributable to increased levels of greenhouse gases and (c) that the amount of polar ice that could be affected would be sufficient to significantly raise sea-levels even if it did melt.

But the point is, even if the Global Warming theorists are correct; how will reducing emissions back to 1980s levels (which is all that's being proposed) help matters in the long run? Britain, for instance, is trying to get emissions down by 20% (by 2010). Right. So it will now take us 120 years to emit the same amount we would otherwise have done in 100. Hardly allows enough time for the poor old Earth to get its breath back, does it?

Humans have only been using carbon fuels intensively since the Industrial Revolution of 1850. And in that short space of time, have already used approximately (some say) half of the earth's oil reserves. Even if more deposits are found and become viable, how much longer can they be burned - at the increasing rate with which countries' outputs are expanding? 100 years? 200? 500? I doubt it. So one way or another, all the carbon presently locked up under the earth is going to be released into the atmosphere - where it once was, anyway.

And then, 'Global Warming' will have happened and nobody will be in much of a position to care one way or the other unless they're all cycling around with windmills on their heads.

So what's the fuss about? Why are politicians telling us we've all got to be taxed to stop us taking an Easyjet to Prague or else we're all going to drown under the tide?

Same reason we invaded Iraq? Because the bloody stuff's running out? Surely not.

Friday, October 06, 2006


There are two types of flamenco. One, if you’re lucky enough to catch it, is the real thing and happens in hot little back-street bars where a man sings unintelligibly but spine-chillingly and, if you’re luckier still, people will be so moved as to get up and dance spontaneously. It’s great. It’s thrilling. But if non-aficionados are honest – not as enjoyable for us Gringos as the tourist type. The best of the tourist type, that is. And the very best of it is at El Cardenal, in Cordoba. It starts at 10.30 p.m. So there’s time for a couple of drinks first, as you wander down through the tight warren of the Juderia’s cobbled streets to the venue - the courtyard of the Bishop’s Palace, across the street from, for me, the most sensuous building in Europe; the Mesquita.

They show you your table, then lights dim. A youth walks onstage with a guitar and plays some classical stuff. Then a singer, then another guitarist, then another singer. I’d already started wondering whether this was really my scene. But then the dancers came on with high heels and tight and swirly Spanish frocks. Wow. Four of them did their individual spots – as soloists or in pairs - to a bewilderingly complex rhythm of hand-claps and the strumming of the guitars and the voices of the singers. Electric. Every gesture, every pose, each heel-click…. All the eye movements, the facial expressions… arms and hands twisting perfectly right down to the fingertips…. Dazzling. One word sums up the appeal of Spain for me and it was here in bucketfuls – Passion. It’s in the landscape, and the language as well as the people.

The principal dancers closed the show. First up was the girl. I used to think that it must be every man’s dream to marry a contortionist. Now, in my next incarnation, I want to spend all my nights with a Flamenco dancer. She was a beauty in a crimson dress that somehow revealed everything yet maddeningly contrived to show nothing. She moved around the stage fixing every man in the audience with her eyes and, at the same time, challenging every woman with them. It was a no-contest. The male half of the audience had suddenly discovered what sex really truly meant and the women knew they were defeated and would be in for an undisturbed night’s sleep unless they could somewhere find a shop that stayed open late selling castanets and red underwear. At the end of her dance, she stood at our end of he stage and transfixed me with a stare. Me. Nobody else. Just me. She lifted the frills of her skirt to her ankles and began her finale. Her back arched, her arms writhed, he torso shook, her feet moved faster and faster, her head never moved. With a last haughty look and a stamp, she strode offstage without a backwards glance. As a torrent of clapping broke out she might well have been backstage using Mae West’s line, "Honey, that wasn’t applause. That was fly buttons hitting the ceiling." Fortunately, lest Mme. sneaked a glance down there, I’d already discreetly covered my crotch with the programme.

Now it was the guy dancer’s turn. He had long curly hair – a mite too greasy, I’d say – with Che Guevera’s eyes, Jerry Lee’s scowl and Elvis’s sneer. He stood in a Matador pose for a while; tensing his legs so that muscles trembled through his tight black pants and loose black shirt. Well, I suppose you could say that he was OK in a magnificent beast sort of a way if you like that sort of thing. Mme. certainly thought so, I can’t recall seeing her so thrilled with anticipation since the day we ordered the first automatic dishwasher. He could dance, though, I’ll give him that. He leaped, he kicked, he stamped to the rhythm, his feet becoming blurs of high-heeled black and silver. He barely looked at the audience, knowing that he had them exactly where he wanted them, safe in the knowledge that there was hardly a dry seat in the female half of the house. As far as the men were concerned, a contemptuous curl of the lip told that, if we had any complaints, he’d be happy to dispose of them later. Outside. With flick-knives. It wouldn’t last long and I felt confrontation was probably unwise unless I was happy going home with my cojones in a freezer bag.

Go some time. You’ll love it.

See it here at : or follow my link

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Somewhere Warm

"Here he is! This must be him. Look, coming over the dyke."

Ghislaine crossed quickly to the window and, peering through the slanting rain, could make out a dark-blue car bumping along the muddy, rutted track that arrowed through the cabbage fields towards the house. "Oh dear. Looks as if he’s driving a Jag." She patted some straying strands of her hair into place. "Hope I can handle him."

She was waiting for him as he slithered to a stop, hiding her nervousness behind a gentle smile. "Hello, I’m Ghislaine Colley. Thank you so much for coming all this way. Is this your first visit to the Fens?"
"Hi. Moss Bennett." He reached behind him to haul a briefcase from the back-seat. "Yes it is. Is the weather always like this?"
"Mostly." She beamed brightly at him as she shook his hand. "Come inside."
He followed her through a passage into a dimly-lit sitting-room, where the scent of burning incense made him dab at the corners of his eyes.
"I’ve made some tea, I’m sure you are ready for a cup. Do you like camomile?"
"I’ll try anything once. Aah ha, so this is it then?" On the table, resting in the plush gold lining of an open guitar case, was a gleaming crimson Fender Stratocaster. "OK if I take a look?"
"Have you brought the money? Is it the amount we arranged?"
"Yes, it’s all here," patting the case, "I wouldn’t normally. But seeing as it’s you and everything. I thought I might as well."
Ghislaine touched his arm reassuringly, "drink your tea first and we’ll look at the Strat soon."

He sat on a low armchair covered in an old flower-patterned sheet, the briefcase resting on his knee, balancing his tea-cup awkwardly. Ghislaine knelt beside the fire, feeling its comforting warmth on her back.
"How strange that you should sit just there," she said, "it was Bud’s favourite place, you must have been drawn to it."
"Yeah, bet that was it, eh? I was right gutted when you told me he’s...," he shifted, looking for the words, "you know, no longer with us, like."
"It’s all right. You can say it. Dead. I’m used to it now."
"Thanks. But I guess he’ll always be with us in his music, right?"
"Oh yes, he’ll never go away. Not really. Not from me, anyway."
"Well, OK. Sorry and all that. How long since he went would it be now? Didn’t hear much about it at the time."
"Just two years. He didn’t want there to be any fuss. So I buried him quietly. In fact, that’s why I chose you to sell his guitar to. I didn’t want the publicity with a local dealer."
"But he was never all that big over here anyway, was he though? Just America and Japan, wasn’t it?"
"And Europe. But no. For some reason, he couldn’t break through in this country. After the band split up, he could have got little gigs, small venues. But his heart wasn’t in it so..," she let her voice trail off in a sigh.
Moss sipped his tea slowly, as if trying to think of something more encouraging, "Guitar Hero, though, wasn’t he, eh? Legendary wasn’t he? Some said Clapton was better. But my dad used to say you can’t play the blues with a name like Eric. Hahaha.. he was only kidding though. Why couldn’t he have gone back to the States, your old man?"
"Money", she shrugged, "that’s all. Needed money to get a tour together.. just never quite happened. There were a few false starts.. promises that might have come off if he’d been willing to believe them. But he’d been ripped off too many times before. He’d lost his trust."
"So it never happened, then?
"No, and that’s how we finished up here. He always promised me he’d buy somewhere in a warm climate. But this," she felt herself shivering and moved closer to the hearth, "was all he could afford."

She stood, stepping lightly over to the table and taking the Fender out of its case. "I play it sometimes, would you like to hear?" She plugged it into a little mustard-coloured amp and perched on a stool facing him, her long legs crossed. "I can’t do the solos Bud used to play.. well, I can.. but…," she tuned the strings, "…anyway, this is something he used to like." She began to play, looking into his eyes, her hair falling over her face.
"That’s ‘Little Wing’, isn’t it? I recognise it from records my dad used to have. But you play it a hell of a lot more gently than Hendrix did. Did you ever meet Jimi?"
"Thank you. Yes, when I’d just met Bud and the boys. But I knew him before, too." she smiled inwardly at the thought. "Here," taking out the jack and handing it over, "hold it. Let it speak to you."
He took it gingerly, studying the nicks and dents on the front, the wear on the frets. He turned it over, where the paint had worn away down at the corner – the bare wood polished smooth by contact with Bud. "It must mean a hell of a lot to you, I’m surprised you want to part with it."
"Well, yes. It is a sad day. But I think it’s what he would have wanted for me."
"And there’s a letter with it, you said?"
"Oh.. yes. When I very first looked in the case it was there. His very last words to me, I suppose. You’ll need that, won’t you."
"Yep. So as to be sure that this is the one and only, you know, genuine article and all that. Provenance, we call it."
"Wait, I’ll fetch it. I’ve left it upstairs."

As soon as she’d left him alone, Moss stood up and held the Strat like Bud did in the photos on the album sleeves; legs wide apart, left foot forward, leaning over its neck, close enough to kiss it. Wishing there was a full-length mirror on the wall

In the attic, with its familiar smell of acetone paint and wood shavings, was Ghislaine’s workbench. Scattered on it were screws, cover plates, volume-knobs, a metal Fender ID plate she’d made and stamped herself, bits of tremolos and pickups that she’d begged borrowed and bought from online auctions and shops and collectors all over the world. There was a lathe and chisels, planes, sandpaper and saws, as well as the pieces of rosewood and alder she’d had sent over from the USA. A couple of guitars she’d worked on already were on stands – waiting for a little more work on the frets and more ageing to the backs to make them exact, beautifully faked, replicas of Bud’s.

And there also, sitting in an old sofa, happily watching a Tom and Jerry cartoon on TV, was Bud himself.
"Did he buy it?", he asked, grinning.

"Ssshh, turn that down," she told him in a mock-stern whisper, "you’re supposed to be dead you know. He’s still downstairs. You forgot the letter."
Bud shook his head, "oh man, no, did I? He hasn’t sussed us, has he?"
She took a sheet of paper - an old handbill for the Marquee Club - from a drawer, picked up a pen and gave them to him.
"No. But here, dear. Do it quickly now." She rested her forearms on his shoulders, stroking his once-red hair as he wrote, ‘My dearest darling Jizzie, by the time you read this, I will have gone to wait for you in a better land. My old guitar is all I can leave you, and my hope is that it gives you as much love as it gave me. Peace, Bud xxx’.
"Will that do?"
"Oh, Bud, I do love you. This should do the trick. You always said you’d buy me a house in a warm country. Only the two more of these to go and you’ll be able to. You are wonderful."
"It was all your idea, lovergirl."
"And put this out until he’s gone," she took a half-smoked joint from his ashtray and pinched the lighted end between her fingers.

Moss had put down the guitar and was waiting for her. She handed the letter over and he glanced at it briefly, "look, I know we said fifty on the phone. But, really, I’m taking a bit of a punt with this. How about if I offered you forty-thousand?"
"Forty? I really don’t know about that, Mr. Bennett. We had a firm agreement. I’d have to think."
"Well, forty-thousand pounds is still a lot of money, you know."
"I’m not sure. I don’t know what to say without asking Bud."
"Bud? What do you mean ‘asking Bud’?"
"Oh, I never do anything without him. I told you." She thought quickly, feeling a tiny thrill of hate for this silly little man and what she was doing to get his stupid money. "For me he never goes away. Wait. I know. Let’s go outside, I’ll show you."
She led him out of a side door, past tumbledown outbuildings, to a sheltered place under a high bank where a circle of seashells surrounded a cairn of white flints.
"This is where he talks to me."
Moss looked from Ghislaine to the stones and back again and shrugged. The rain had turned to freezing drizzle and the ground was soaked. She took a silk scarf from her pocket and spread it on the grass, took his hand and twined her fingers tightly through his. As she knelt, she pulled him down beside her, their shoulders touching so that he could feel her warmth.
"When I’m here, I can feel his vibe. I’m sure you feel it too."
A damp chill was seeping through the knees of Moss’s freshly pressed chinos but he nodded anyway.
"You do, don’t you?"
He nodded again, more convincingly this time.
She closed her eyes and tugged at a cheap silver necklace, hung with little glass stars. "He’s saying he thinks fifty thousand is very fair. He says Jimi Hendrix’s are fetching over a hundred."
"Well tell him, with all due respect and everything, he wasn’t no Jimi Hendrix." A cold trickle ran down his neck. "And can we get back inside now?"
Ghislaine composed herself and closed her eyes again. A seagull made a swooping pass overhead. A curtain twitched at an upstairs window. Minutes went by.

"Alright," she said, finally, "he said to tell you it’s got to be forty-five grand or it’s no deal."
Moss looked agonised. But she knew he wouldn’t have come all the way out from Birmingham if he hadn’t known that the price being asked was far less than he could get at a good auction or from an American collector.
"Forty-five? Look…I..."
Ghislaine made as if to turn back to the cairn.
"Oh OK then," he muttered, wiping rain from his eyebrows, "tell him he’s got a deal. Let’s get back into the house."

The cash was stacked on the table, in bundles of fifties. Beside it was the Fender, back in its case.
"Well, I’d better be going. Nice to do business with you."
"And you too. You won’t forget our agreement though, will you? You must keep the guitar for a year before you let it go."
"No, Mrs. Colley, I won’t. Besides, you know how to drive a hard bargain. I’m going to have to keep it a while, anyway, before there’s any profit in it for me."

She watched him climb back into his Jag and gave him a wave as he drove off. She felt an arm being slid around her waist. "Bud! Careful. Wait until he’s out of sight."
He laughed, "Oh, he’s well gone, he won’t see me. Well done, girl. Specially with the stones moody, I had to chuckle at that. Now, let me see the money."
"I didn’t enjoy that, Bud." She shook her shoulders, ridding herself of the memory, "I think I deserve a treat now. Why don’t I nip to town and get us some champagne?"

In the Land Rover, she felt better and was humming to herself as it bounced through the mud. Until, ahead of her, she saw a car, stopped at the bridge. She recognised the number plate, MOS 5. She pulled up behind it and climbed out. Moss wound his window down. "Mr Bennett," she said brightly, "not having problems, I hope."
Moss had the letter in his hand. Bud’s letter.
"Is anything wrong? Can I help?"
"You might just say so. Yes. Something was niggling at the back of my mind. It made me get this letter out and look at it. Just to confirm it. To confirm whether the Fender is the genuine article. Or not."
"I’ll give you bloody ‘and’, Mrs Colley."
"Whatever do you mean? What is the matter with you?" She felt a chill of apprehension. Bennett looked ready to explode.
"You’re going to have to turn round. We need to go back to the house, that’s what’s the matter."
"But why?"
"This bloody letter, that’s why."
"What’s wrong with it? It’s got Bud’s signature on it, hasn’t it?"
"Oh yes, it’s Bud’s handwriting all right. I checked that. I’m not that stupid."
"Well what’s wrong then? Tell me."
Moss ground his teeth. He spat the words out.

"It’s dated today!"

"Oh Bud," she groaned.

copyright akc 2006

Sunday, August 06, 2006


All the rainbows in the sky
Start to weep and say goodbye
You won't be seeing rainbows anymore.

Setting suns before they fall
Echo to you that's all, that's all
But you'll see lonely sunsets after all.
It's over, It's over, it's over
It's over

(with thanks to Orbison/Dees)

Sunday, May 28, 2006


"Did you grow these yourself?", someone asked me. I know what they meant but it would be foolish for me to pretend that I did. I stuck them in the ground and nature did the rest.

For sheer economy of effort and fitness for purpose, these flowers are unbeatable. I had a whole thought process ready to put on the blog about natural phenomena being more powerful than anything mankind has produced.

Now that I've seen these images, the argument seems redundant.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

5 DOs and 5 DON'Ts

Ten handy tips for newcomers to help you to fit in straight away.


Carry a couple of tasty dog snacks in your pocket. It's expected.

Plan domestic emergencies well in advance. Plumbers and electricians here like plenty of notice and follow-up reminders before they will mend leaks or fused circuits urgently.

Commit to memory all possible routes to Skegness or Boston. (Essential for assisting bemused delivery drivers, completely lost through bridge/road closures, asking for directions every time you mow your front lawn.)

Mow your front lawn at least as often as you clean your teeth (or tooth). It's expected.

Keep in mind that "dyke" is a verb as well as a noun (i.e. "I've dyked myself"). It saves vital seconds when calling out the Emergency Services while your car is filling up with water.


Wash your car. If it isn't sufficiently mud-spattered, oncoming tractor-drivers will mistake you for a recent incomer or, worse still, a tourist, and force you off the road instead of making room for you to pass.

Complain about Lincolnshire sausages being gristly. That's how they're supposed to be.

Ask what 'chine' is either. Just eat it and pretend to like it. Ditto re: gristly.

Stare at the tourists. They think it's cool to dress like that where they come from.

Ask anyone over 40 how they are. Unless you really really want to know. I mean really really really want to know.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Backwards and forwards with the tide

200 years ago, before huge public works drained 40,000 acres of fen, the land my house is standing on was a saltmarsh. 1000 years before that it was dry land and sea level was 20 feet lower than it is today. Experts say the reason the sea has risen might be because polar ice-caps shrank from about 300 AD to 1300 AD. Global warming? Nobody was around at that time to call it such. Does call into question the current panic over rising world temperatures, though.

Either way, settlement patterns - Iron Age, Roman and Medieval - confirm the varying outlines of the coast and man's attempts to work new land and to stem the tide. A distribution map taken from the Domesday Book of 1086 shows much the same pattern of villages as one drawn up today. And, as a rule of thumb, the size of a parish church as it relates to its village now is much the same as it was when it was built - showing that we haven't spread ourselves about much for a thousand years and the reason for some places being more desirable and prosperous than others is the same now as it was back then.

Things have changed over the last few decades. Changed patterns of rural employment mean that ambitious local youngsters move to other areas of the UK for work. The vacuum is filled by older people coming in - people escaping from crime-ridden, multicultural, chav-infested cities and bringing with them capital and pension incomes not earned in the local economy. Instead of stretching boundaries to make extra opportunities, the emphasis is on preservation of what was put here by previous generations. Our landscape and landmarks were functional to the times when they were created. Now they exist almost independently of their original purpose and their value is in the contribution they make to the attractiveness of the area.

This church has seen the sea lap at its foundations and recede again. It has survived the Black Death, the Reformation, the Civil War, the Iconoclasts and competition from the Non-conformists. In its Victorian hey-day, it would have held three services every Sunday as well as Masses during the week. Previous vicars lived in some style at the rambling vicarage nearby. One of them is commemorated in the glorious stained-glass East window and a lavish brass plaque records him leaving the Parish to become Bishop of Zanzibar.

Nowadays, the present incumbent is based in Spilsby and has ten such churches in his charge. Services are held twice a month for a dwindling band of, mostly, elderly widows.

How much longer can the church hold out? How long before this entire area goes the same way - or completely becomes a living-museum?

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Hold the front page!

Wednesday May 17

Today's the day our weekly paper, the Spilsby Standard hits the streets. It's eagerly awaited not, as is unkindly said, so that residents can check the obituary columns to see if they are in them, but for the sensational local news items. This week's edition is no disappointment. Here, verbatim, is the report of just one of the cases faced by our ever-alert Emergency Services:
Wedding ring had to be cut off
Fire and rescue teams had to cut a woman's wedding ring off because it was causing her finger to swell.
The incident happened at Woodlands Fishery, Spilsby, just after 5pm on Friday.
The fire crew used ring-cutters to help the woman who was not injured.

There we are then. Dramatic or what? In other news, Magistrates have ordered psychiatric reports on Mike Jolkin for a series of hoax 999 calls to HM Coastguards. 18-year-old Mike had joined the Skegness Lifeboat crew on March 1st fancying some excitement but the boat had not, so far, been launched. Elsewhere, Partney is looking for a "new tradition". Apparently unfazed by the contradiction in terms, Partney bigwigs are seeking a replacement for the ancient Sheep Fair which had been held since 1086 but folded for good three years ago due to lack of sheep.

Meanwhile, East Lindsey Council is set to attract more visitors to the area through a novel and, given our weather and sea conditions, very brave idea of a Beach Cinema. People will sit in deckchairs on the sand while films are projected on to a giant screen located on a ship moored out to sea - with councillors apparently oblivious to the comic potential of the idea.

And there's also a full-colour picture of the line-up (self excluded) at our last Friday's Open Mike Night, together with correctly spelled names. You read it here first!

Sunday, May 14, 2006

Food fads and brainy beans

Sunday May 14

Had salmon from Scotland, peas from Spain, potatoes from Egypt, strawberries fron Italy, wine from Madeira and Chile for dinner last night. Probably enough in food-miles to shrink the Polar ice-cap by a couple of yards. What can I do, though? Despite living half-way between two great fishing-ports; Grimsby and Boston, and smack in the middle of the UK's largest veg growing area, local produce is near impossible to come by. Yet you can buy sushi in Tesco's in Skegness.

Well actually, that last statement may or may not be true. I haven't, strictly speaking, been in the Skegness Tesco. And to be fair, the metro, loft-apartment aspiring, everything-is-the-new-black, lifestyle-victim culture hasn't penetrated this far yet. The nearest sushi outlet I'm truly aware of is at Kings Cross Station - standing ready to serve the Capital's arrivals as they arrive and departures as they depart. But still...

The runner beans that poked their heads through last week are already showing signs of conditioned reactive behaviour similar to that of the sushi-eaters. They're about 8 inches tall now and on dull days like today, they open their leaves wide to catch as much sunlight as possible. On warm bright days, their leaves close in, touching at the tip, to conserve moisture.

Interestingly, this is almost the exact reverse of the behaviour exhibited by tourists weekending in Skegness - who expose as much of their bodies as they can on sunny days and then have to cover them up to protect their sunburn when it clouds over. Is this a sign of rudimentary intelligence in both species?

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Life as we know it

Saturday May 13

Was pretty much dreading last night at the Village Hall; Open Mike Night - for the cream of local talent to show what they can do. The thing is, however much I tell people that the blues harp is only for playing blues on, they don't listen and I knew for sure that I'd be asked to play Morning Has Broken or something just as ghastly.

Yep, did get a few requests for stuff I can't do... but I got through OK. Others on the bill included a couple of 9 year-olds doing card tricks, a bloke reciting a poem about his shed, two sisters singing songs from South Pacific, a woman reading poetry from a book and the good old boy from up the lane on his melodian. The star, though, was a lovely woman from across the road on keyboards and vocals who kept the whole thing running through sheer panache.

All great fun. But what would really have made it excellent would have been if more people had've switched their TV's off, got off their sofas, and come out to mingle with real people - and rediscovered what pleasure there is to be gained from real-life and the warmth of friends. Think back over the best times you've ever had. Were any of them spent watching TV? Nah.. I once heard it described as something you'd stay in for - but not go out to.

Reality TV is a contradiction. A deceit. 20, 30, 50 years ago, maybe, watching TV was like looking through a window at a world beyond. Now it's sucked people through the glass. Lives are being defined by the lifestyles projected to them. The fate of soap characters - caught up in lesbian affairs, domestic violence, euthanasia, racial inequality, child abuse - colours and defines attitudes in everyday life. The standards of acting and entertainment - full of canned laughter, glossy sets and a jingle to emphasise any minor point - look pathetically amateurish to anyone unused to TV. Then there are the manipulative priorities given to what the TV companies define as news.

But still it is the most influential character in many people's lives. Passive people, that is. And the Passives are winning through sheer weight of their indifference.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Liars leading donkeys

Wednesday May 10

So much for Blair's extra £bns and his '24 Hours to Save the NHS' campaign. Lincolnshire Hospital Trust, which closed 5 wards last year as part of its, err, improvements programme (sic), is now even deeper in debt and thinking about closing its night-time Accident & Emergency facility at Boston Pilgrim Hospital to save money.

If it does close, it will mean a 40odd mile trip to Lincoln for about 120,000 people living out here if they're unco-operative enough to suffer a medical emergency after 6 pm. At the same time, Lincolnshire Trust is going to "ration" care given to smokers and the obese. Not for breathing and weight issues even (yet). Get this... for hip and knee replacements and hysterectomies!

Unbefcknglievable isn't it? I don't believe a single word this bunch of lying incompetents say. Not on waiting lists, employment figures, inflation figures, education results, crime figures, immigration numbers... Passing legislation, doling out money to Civil Servants, spinning the results is the easy bit. Their problem is that they can't actually run anything. Getting the bloody thing to work properly is a hard trick and this lot aren't up to it..

When you are elected to a Council, officers will fawn over you - calling you Councillor, Chairman, Leader or whatever and laughing like drains at the merest of your jokes. It's a flattering experience, especially for many people who come from humbler backgrounds than the senior officers who are being so deferential. Inevitably, the officers will be more skilled in their fields than mere 'amateur' members so that it takes nerve to query them when they give advice. But most members remain entranced and so are led to approve staffing and tax increases as the solution to every problem. They go native. Same thing in spades happens to Ministers - plus they have%

Sunday, May 07, 2006


Sunday 7 May

The Pasadena Roof Orchestra, at the Embassy tonight, weren't the limp 30s pastiche I was half expecting. Yes, they wore dinner suits with carnations in their buttonholes.. OK then, the singer DID sit on a chair at the side of the stage between solos. But it swung like hell (no stupid.. the music not the chair). Mostly Irving Berlin, Woody Herman and Ellington stuff with the original arrangements, great harmonies and rhythms and with a modern-day oomph. Those who missed it (a lot.. there were acres of empty seats) need to get out more.

Last night was a Taste of Things to Come - at the Hundleby Inn (No Smoking). They have a notice saying patrons can "feel free" to smoke out in the carpark. Well thanks a million. It was pissing down with rain. Ah well.. I shan't be going there again, anyway. Too nice.

"Enjoy your meal, luv?"
"Yes, it was very nice thanks."
"What about the music?"
"Very nice!"
"And the view from your table of the sun setting over the Wolds?"
"Very nice indeed."
"As nice as the fire-eating topless waitress who brought the dessert trolley?"
"Oh yes, just as nice."
"Complimentary wine, coffee, liqueurs and de-luxe Belgian chocolates to your satisfaction?"

"What about when the Massed Bands of the Royal Marines marched past playing 'Anchors Away'"?
"They were nice."
"Nicer than the multi-media re-enactment of the Battle of Winceby with live cannon rounds and real blood?"
"No, not as nice as that. Nice, though."
"Did you enjoy it when the toilets exploded, spraying ordure everywhere?"
"Yes, that was nice."
"You didn't mind having to change tables when the Fire Brigade sprayed toxic foam over you, I hope?"
"They were very nice about it."
"Thank you. Always nice to see you, please come again."

Friday, May 05, 2006


Friday 5 May:

My runner beans began to poke through the compost today. I reckon each bean makes a plant that gives around 80 pods - say 8 beans to the pod = enough to make 640 plants next year. Or let's say 320 if we eat half and sow the rest. Pretty good going, either way. Soon be enough to plant an acre... then 320 acres the next year and so on and on. The whole world could live on the damn things in no time.

The electrician came today, too, to mend the hot water system. He's about 40 and last time he came I discovered that I knew his father from when we were kids - he was apprenticed to my Grandad as a plumber. Quite a big coincidence - this was back in the City and what must be the odds against us both moving out here and running into each other?

Now then... my great grandfather, a factory hand, had 3 sons in around 1880. He made them all learn a trade.. one a printer, one a painter and decorator and the other, (my grandfather), a plumber. They all prospered and founded their own businesses. I've often thought about how much I owe to the old geezer's foresight because I've benefitted from the attitudes, and money, that came down through the generations to me. He sowed a kind of a seed. And if he hadn't, even the electrician who came to me today may well not have had the chance to learn the trade he's doing now, more than a century later.

It must be some kind of natural law. Probably what the miracle of the loaves and fishes is getting at. Things just multiply. So be good.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Spanish Plume

Thursday May 4

It's funny; you go all your life and you've never heard of something... then it turns out to have been around for years. Forever, even. Today, we're in a Spanish Plume! According to the weatherpeople, we get them regularly. Apparently, they're a chunk of hot air that come up from Spain every now and then and covers the UK in gorgeous sunny weather. Well who'd have guessed? Why haven't we been told before? Me, I think the whole weather forecast game is a scam akin to astrology and feng shui. They have to keep coming up with new and complex-sounding stuff to sound as if they know better than we do what they're doing.

Either way, though, it's a welcome change after the long cold start to spring - even the daffodils are still flowering and the leaves have barely broken on the hawthorn hedges. The local economy is dependent on tourism and farming, so it matters more to people here than elsewhere.

And weather is more visible to us out here than in the cities. We've got so much sky and, being so flat, we're aware as soon as we go outside, where the wind is coming from. In winter, when it's from the East - there's nothing much in its way between its beginnings in the Russian Steppes, gathering speed over the North Sea and into the Fens - where it howls and shrieks over the frozen dykes till it rattles our window panes as we huddle by the fire. If there's one place in the world a weather forecaster can hardly ever be wrong - it's here.. as long as all he sticks to saying is "tomorrow will be windy and changeable". Oh, unless there's a Spanish Plume on the way.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Detour to the pub.

Wednesday May 3

To the pub last night - with harmonicas. But first, the detour.

The little bridge over the River Steeping is closed for repair. Bridges round here are always closing for repair. Coming from a city, I've been used to plenty of road works - but there, the volumes of traffic mean that the Councils get them done quickly. Here, it's different. Our bridge has been closed for five months already and looks set to stay closed for a while yet. No urgency... a foreman and his assistant contemplate the passing of the seasons; brewing themselves tea and cooking breakfasts on a portable stove, while work proceeds at a gentle pace. In the three years we've been here, our one lane in and out of the village has had two other closures - both of them lasting for months and each requiring us to detour along farm tracks to wherever we're going. Last night, it was just a few miles out of the way along tortuously narrow lanes - but it was dusk and the hedgrows, just bursting with blackthorn blossom, were pretty and the sight of an early-rising badger scuttling along the verge made for a pleasant drive.

The pub itself is over on the coast... in a deserted spot along a narrow lane behind the dunes. When you get to the place where you can see the green neon 'Open' sign glinting through the dark, it's always a relief. It's the very last type of venue you'd ever expect to find in a quiet rural area like this. Atmospheric, energizing - a haven for hippies and scoundrels from every generation... the most supportive, encouraging, forgiving, diverse, friendly, creative and generous people you could meet. Andy was running the bar - I could tell as soon as I got out of the car and heard his 70s punk blasting from the stereo. Tuesday night is 'Open Mike' night but it kind of depends who's there whether I play or not. So last night I didn't get to... a band from Lincoln turned up and played some kind of urban-metal-folk or whatever and so I passed the night chatting to people I knew through the noise. I haven't been in for a while.. I should go more often... 'where everybody knows your name - and they're always glad you came'. So true.

I drove home through the back lanes in case any overly-vigilant police were out patrolling. Sleepy villages with their ancient names; Hogsthorpe, Sloothby, Welton le Marsh, Gunby. Quiet places for quiet people. Burgh le Marsh Church lit up like a beacon on its ridge on the southern horizon. Just a few lights still on in the houses... they don't stay up late in Lincolnshire. Not many, anyway.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Out and about

Tuesday May 2:

Difficult decisions over the May Day Weekend. Daughter was staying with us and we normally try to find something to do to entertain her before she goes back home - leaving us out of food and out of pocket. Despite it being a holiday, though, there was surprisingly little on offer. An amateur production of Return to the Forbidden Planet at the Embassy in Skeggie? Nah... I love that show, seen it many times... 'Shakespeare's forgotten rock and roll masterpiece' - like Rocky Horror but with better songs and a snappier and more literary dialogue... couldn't bear to see it being mangled by wannabees. Or the Tetford and Salmonby Scarecrow Festival (in aid of St. Mary's Church and the Community)? Don't think so somehow... doesn't quite get the nerves tingling and the juices running does it? Next year, maybe.

So just a trip to Horncastle for lunch. Mme. bought a waterproof hat from a market stall. Some people suit hats. Some don't. Mme.'s makes her look as if she's got her head stuck in a bucket.

As we crested The Wolds on the way, Lincoln Cathedral's towers could be seen on the horizon, about 30 miles or so in front of us to the West. And another 30 miles away on our left looking South, Boston Stump - the towering.. err.. tower of St. Botolph's, Boston, standing out over the flatness of the Fens. Each of them the biggest man-made features in the landscape... and both about 700 years old. What landmarks they must have been for our ancestors when this countryside was almost trackless. What monuments they are to the prosperity and concentration of wealth of those times.

I went to a service in Boston one Sunday a few months ago. There were about a dozen of us in the cavernous parish church - I hardly ever go myself but it's kind of disappointing that hardly anyone else does either. The clergyman was from Chattanooga, Georgia. Gawd knows what he makes of it... although he did have a stab at converting me to a regular attender. It is said that there are 365 steps to the top of the tower, 12 pillars supporting the roof - equal to the months of the year. There are 7 doors for the days of the week and 52 windows. There are also 24 steps leading to the library above the south porch, whilst on either side of the chancel there are 60 steps by which the roof can be reached; these steps indicating the hours, the minutes and the seconds by which our days are numbered. Scary or what?