Tuesday, 30 December 2008

December Sunset


The year 2008 is at it's sunset, so it seems apt to post a photograph I took yesterday of a December sun setting over the Hampshire countryside.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Christmas Wrapping

I never saw myself as a rapper. Slim Siany? No, not me, I'd never get the hang of such foul language in public (my mother might be watching). But I quite like wrapping gifts. Although admittedly when you have 3984763984765 begillion to wrap, it is tedious and an annoying chore.

This weekend I did a Christmas present wrapping service for donations to Cancer Research Wales. It was good fun actually, and even better to think of money being raised for a good cause. We were set up in a shopping arcade in Cardiff City Centre, and were quite busy, mostly with guys (sorry) dumping a load of gifts and looking as stressed as a size 6 pair of jeans being squidged onto Kerry Katona.

It was actually quite random to see how much people donate too. I was astounded by the generosity of many, I mean seriously taken-aback. And then (and I know you shouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth but) disappointed with others. Having said that, it ALL counts, no matter how big or small, and as I said it restores your faith in humanity when most are so generous with what they give.


I also now appreciate even more the wonders of selotape. What an invention. Where would we be without it?

Cancer Research Wales

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Homemade Mince Pies



Forget all those woeful sighs,
Feast on some nice mince pies!
Maybe pour a glass of wine,
Unleash it onto, your waistline.

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Music Picks of 2008

An end of year list, because I am a musical nerd and enjoy compiling these kinds of delights. So nah. Anyway, this list is for the best new musical albums I have heard in 2008. They're not in any particular order, because that's too difficult again.
It's been an odd year for me, as I haven't bought as many records as I normally do, and thus haven't listened to some albums I would have liked to have got my ears wrapped around.

Martha Wainwright - I Know You're Married...
Vampire Weekend - Vampire Weekend
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Hercules & Love Affair - Hercules & Love Affair
Lindstrom - Where You Go I Go Too
Devon Sproule - Keep Your Silver Shined
REM – Accelerate
NEON NEON – Stainless Style
Spiritualized - Songs in A&E
No Age - Nouns
Portishead - Third
Fuck Buttons - Street Horrrsing
Sigur Ros - Með suð í eyrum við spilum endalaust

I've probably listened the most to Martha Wainwright's album, due to my inherent obsession with all things Wainwright connected. It's an excellent record, as ever very much recommended. It was also great to see REM back to form with Accelerate, their best album since the criminally underrated New Adventures on Hi-Fi. And it was good to see Portishead return to the scene with Third. Their last album was 11 years ago, incredible. And they didn't disappoint with this new record. Hoorar.

Vampire Weekend were new to me, but their album is ace, and one of the few acts that gets regular airplay on Radio 1 that I actually enjoy. It's pop-up beat-rock-ivy-league-without being overly quirky into naffness or even worse, pretension. Actually, Fleet Foxes' folk-haunting-rock have also been given a bit of Radio 1 play too...had better watch that. Super band though.
A new discovery was also the folksy Devon Sproule, who was at the Cambridge Folk Festival this year. And she rockz. (On an entirely unrelated note, I also think her name is rather cool). Speaking of names, Fuck Buttons is possibly my new favourite name for a band ever. The best electronica album I heard was probably Lindstrom, well, it's one of the most listened to. While Hercules & Love Affair are still ridiculously far too unknown in the UK.

I enjoyed the new Sigur Ros album, but it does kind of merge into their last record somewhat. But I've just plonked (technical term) them into the list on reflection. Their film from 2007 Heima, was amazing though and definitely worth watching for not only some fantastic live performances but for some quite breathtaking cinemaphotography of Iceland.

I beg to the musical Gods that 2009 will bring a brand new Kate Bush album.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Walking on Tightropes

Sometimes I feel I am pretty much walking a tightrope. Every day. There's a Rufus Wainwright song, Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk where Rufus sings about lessons for walking on tightropes. He's not wrong.

And then today, I actually see someone walking a tightrope. For real. And playing the violin (quite nicely) at the same time. In fairness, this is one impressive talent. This man needs fame and fortune from Britain's Got Talent. Move aside Paul Potts, a singing embryo and a Hitler impersonator playing the spoons whilst painting a replica of the Sisteenth Chapel ceiling.

Tightrope walking brings me nicely onto my favourite film of 2008 (and I seriously doubt I will see a film from now until the 31st of December that will better it). It was Man On Wire, the documentary about the wonderfully eccentric, yet genius Frenchman Philippe Petit, who decided to tightrope walk between the tops of the WTC Twin Towers in 1974. It's a fantastic film, filled with moments of poignancy, suspence, disbelief, wonderment and humour. Petit is part insane, but mostly part genius. He is a charming, exuberant character, who adores and embraces the slightly bizarre in life with such gusto, he makes you glad to be alive just watching him. And this passion he bursts with for wire walking, is so evident, you begin to feel it too.

Director James Marsh does such a great job with this film. Interspersed with interview clips of the main people involved, are footage and clips from Petit's exploits in the 1970s, along with little reconstructions. It all gels marvelously. There's also some insightful footage of the construction of the towers, which make you appreciate the creation of such magnificent structures. And where Marsh possibly achieves the most is the fact the fate of the Twin Towers is never mentioned. We all know what happened. There is a strong poignancy there, it is all dealt with dignity. But the subtlety is perfect. The film is a testament to the greatness of the city itself.

Philippe Petit is not subtle however. And neither was his achievement. It's an incredible story, and an incredible film. What he did was almost a piece of art work, even if it did result in his arrest. We're all walking tightropes sometimes, but Petit's lesson is to embrace life and follow what you have to do.

See the trailer for Man On Wire here.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Humbug

Jingle Bells, Santa, Frankincense & Myrr,
Yes it's *that* special time of year,
Christmas, Christmas, it's always the same,
Shopping frenzy, busy, insane.
Peace on earth? There's not much merry,
With a scrum to buy the last cranberry.
Panic buy, as if the world will end- But!
It's only one day the shops are shut.
Homes covered in lights to see,
Tinsel plastered over the tree,
A smorgasbord of endless plastic,
It all looks rather drastic.
And seeing the cake that's over iced,
What's this to do with Christ?
Running around, and trying to jape,
Decorations ruined, from years of selotape.
Packet puddings, it's a bit of a cheat,
Mountain of food that no one will eat.
It's so great, have some wine,
Everyone's having the best time.
Around TV festive specials we group,
Or Shakin' Stevens on a continuous loop.
Once December 25th is over, forget details,
It's off to the shops and scrums, to 'enjoy' the sales.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Buddy Holly lives in Cardiff



Today's random crappy graffiti. And apparently Buddy Holly is alive and well and living in Cardiff. Nice. Better tell Peggy Sue.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Problem Parents


Smallest book in the world: "All the Times My Dad Didn't Lose His Rag"

Over the dinner table Sunday night at my parents' house, Dad pipes up with: "Oh you remember that time I argued with that bloke."
Actually Dad, no I don't....there are far too many times to sift through over the years to remember individual occasions...

Mind, nothing was better than his gem of a quote later on. "The Sound of Music...I expect those kids are all grown up now."

No Dad. Kids in films remain the same age forever more. "I know kids in films stay the same age forever..." he replied to much laughter. Stop digging dad! (But don't change. Ever. I'd miss the comedy).

Sunday, 30 November 2008

Gabriel Yared Came to Wales

Gabriel Yared performed a concert at the Millennium Centre on Friday night. Accompanied by the world class BBC Symphony Orchestra of Wales, Gabriel played a selection of his beautiful scores for films such as The English Patient, Betty Blue, Cold Mountain and my personal favourite, The Talented Mr Ripley. It was a heartfelt tribute to the late film director Anthony Minghella, who collaborated with Yared for many films.

When I first became seriously interested in music, it was through film and soundtracks that this love grew from. I must confess I was never much of a classical music fan either, until I started watching more films. One of the first classical composers I began to appreciate was Beethoven, (rather alarmingly you might say) because of Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange. I guess this makes me rather Alex-esque. But I promise I am not into 'ultra-violence'.

But soundtracks awakened my love of music. Which had always been there, but had been lying dormant. The Talented Mr Ripley holds a special place in my heart, both the film and the musical score. I saw it in the cinema four times, the most I've seen any film. I loved it. I loved everything about it. I was still relatively new to the whole film studies world at the time of its release, still in school, and had only been watching Hitchcock films for a few years. I saw a Hitchcock film in The Talented Mr Ripley, the themes, the imagery, the characters. It also introduced me to the books of Patricia Highsmith, whose novels on cold, calculated yet charming villains struck something within me that I liked. She is my favourite author, a master of suspense - in book form. And of course, Hitchcock turned Highsmith's Strangers On A Train into a wonderfully enjoyable film, still one of my all time favourites.

Anthony Minghella was a very good director, and it is sad that he died so young. The Talented Mr Ripley was Anthony's best film in my opinion. The English Patient won all the Oscars, Cold Mountain probably had all the hype but it's Ripley that's the most interesting and striking. The critics didn't always like it, and most people I knew who saw it hated it. But it had a superb cast; Jude Law and Matt Damon are fantastic, the Hitchcock type blonde in Gwyneth Paltrow, the ever brilliant Cate Blanchette; it was fairly and well adapted from the novel, and above all was lusciously directed by Minghella. His love of Italy and music seeps through into the film, drenching it with his passion; you'd need to have a heart of stone not to appreciate it and feel that too. Minghella was a talented director, and passionate about music. He was, from all accounts, a thoroughly decent and nice guy too. It is tragic that he died so young when there was so much more he could have created and brought to the world.

Yared created a beautiful soundtrack for Ripley, one that was perfect for the film. I would love to know if Yared was or has been influenced by Hitchcock's collaborator Bernard Herrmann, as the use of violins and strings for the Ripley pieces evoke that sense Psycho did. Perfectly apt for characters losing their minds, striking and cinematically effective. But Yared also captures Italy so beautifully, in particular the Sorrento-type coast where the film is set, just as much as Minghella did with the visuals. Close your eyes, the music takes you' dreamily back there. Both the film and the music had a huge influence on me. Along with David Lynch's collaborator, Angelo Badalamenti, Yared is one of my favourite film score composers.

It seems incredible, to watch Yared play at the piano, such fantastic music, to think he is also a self-taught musician. A seemingly humble and modest guy, Yared came on stage in jeans, a crumpled shirt and trainers, hardly looking like the Oscar-winner he is but it did not matter. He spoke so eloquently about Anthony Minghella, about how close they were and what a loss he was when he passed away in March.
Yared ended the night with a small independent piano piece he wrote for Anthony, and it was emotionally charged and heartfelt. He said Anthony was his soul mate, played the piece, took his applause and left the stage in floods of tears. I hope he comes back to Wales, and I look forward to his future film scores. For Anthony Mingella's watching parents, it would have been a fitting tribute of beautiful music; the combination with film that has such a power to touch people everywhere. It is an over-used cliche, but Anthony Minghella does live on through his films.

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

Bearded Man



Sat right across from me,
Drinking hot, steaming tea,
Munching on a tasty bun,
Whilst reading pages of the Sun.
Blackened fingers and thumbs,
Covered the table with crumbs.
Forgive me whilst I scan,
Every detail, Bearded Man.
Letting out a disgruntled groan,
Trying to text with his phone.
And another long, wary sigh,
The cake-counter catches eye.
Right now I'm your biggest fan,
You there Mr Bearded Man.

(Drawing and poem by me)

Monday, 24 November 2008

My first portrait

A drawing of me by my good friend.

I've never had anyone draw me before.

Am I really that bizarrely bug-one-eye-bigger-than-the-other!?

Sunday, 23 November 2008

TV, well it's a bit boring isn't it?

I was channel hopping the other night, which sadly doesn't actually involve any hopping, because if it did it might help solve the obesity crisis across the country/globe.
Since the birth of digital boxes, ITV, BBC and Channel 4 now seem to have 34985793487 begillion extra channels. But there still never seems to be anything on TV. Other than reality TV, Jeremy Kyle-style chat shows, cookery shows, house/DIY series and er soaps. I remember back in t'day *cue Hovis ad music* when there were only four channels (well, five really we had S4C in Wales), and I used to manage to watch a considerable amount of televisual delights. Admittedly most of that involved Scott & Charlene in Neighbours. And Mrs Mangel. I loved TV. It was the first thing I thought about waking up, and the last thing I thought about going to bed every night (apart from rugby of course).

But in my channel hopping daze the other night, I am sure I found on separate channels, on the same time, about five different Police shows. I mean real Police. Not Heartbeat, Midsummer Murders or er NYPD Blue (is that even still on!?) type "dramas". So, we had Police Interceptors (eh? What are they intercepting?), Traffic Cops, Cops on Camera, Police, Camera, Action!, The World's Scariesty Scarified Police SCARY Videos of TERROR to SCARE (or something, the guy had a very scary dramatic voice anyway).

I was thinking if I hung around long enough I'd see 'The Antique Cop Show - Where aging ex-policemen are valued by Fiona Bruce' and 'Songs of Police - Graham Norton presents Andrew Lloyd-Webber's new search for a lead in his new WestEnd Police Musical: 'Clink-side Story''. Or 'I'm A Celebrity Policeman Get Me Out of Here'. Hang on, that's already on....

But where's the choice? I'm turning into my father when I pleaded to him to get SKY TV back in the 1990s. "You get more channels, but it's just more bloody rubbish!" he moaned, sounding like one of the Old Gits on Harry Enfield. He was being more Larry David than well Larry David. Maybe I'm just getting old. But still not old enough to enjoy Last of the Summer Wine.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Christmas is on its way...



I knew Santa had extra help, not even Usain Bolt could get around the world that quick. Are we all to be taken for fools?!

Monday, 17 November 2008

Worse Things Happen At Sea

Do they?
Well actually, they probably do. Look what happened to Titanic.

Now, I like boats and I love the sea. We went out on our friend's motor boat on the weekend, one of those rib boats that zip around fast with the air blasting your face. It's all rather a lot of fun. Or can be.
Safety first Captain, always; our friend is ultra prepared and he does all the safety checks - lifejackets (aye aye Captain), GPS (aye aye Captain), waterproof radio (aye aye Captain), ipod player (an essential! Aye aye Captain)...ecetera and so forth.

But sometimes you just cannot prepare for the unexpected. Unless you're that psychic scouse guy Derek Acorn (or something) on Most Haunted (maybe). We were pootling around Cardiff Bay - speed restrictions in some of the areas naturally, so nothing too fast. We motored over to Penarth, we motored over towards the sailing club, we motored around the barrage. All lovely, all rather nice and refined. We pass many sailing boats (many of whom the sailors give us stern -no pun intended- looks...there's a certain expression of distain. We have a mototboat, we are not *real* sailors, which is probably a fair comment). We pass small trawler contraptions, which look like they're about to fall apart, the weathered old men on them are sat there smoking with their woolly hats on; they resemble meaner Compos and Foggys off Last of the Summer Wine. Without the bicycle polo.

Just as we are heading homewards towards Mermaid Quay, we faced the sea's peril. Well, another motor-boat's wake in fact. I've been in rib boats before. Half the fun is zooming over the waves and ship wakes and the boat jumps up. Such tremendous larks. Only the larks got a bit too larky for my liking. The boat hit the wake and rose out of the water. I mean rose. High. The boat bashed back down onto the water with a hard smack and we were all thrown forward...."Eek!" we all cry. But before we even have time to think, the boat smashes into another wake and woosh - the boat is up higher than before. It must have looked all rather James Bond for anyone watching. Only it's not so amusing when you're actually in it. And Daniel Craig wasn't in sight.

The boat crashed back to the water and threw us in the back of the vessel forward with a violent force. I was lucky (no really) enough to hold myself up somehow and I only smacked my jaw on a metal bar. It hurt, but no big deal. My dad sat next to me though....he was bent double with blood splurting everywhere. At first I thought he was just throwing up (much joking had gone on prior leaving as he has a tendency to get sea-sick on round-abouts). He had hit his head and cut it open. There really was blood everywhere. My endless watching of TV hospital dramas must have had an effect because I didn't feel squeamish at all - who said TV isn't useful? The gash was nasty and we needed a first aid kit....but alas! There wasn't one on the boat! The one thing that wasn't on the boat, I hasten to add. So we had to use a glove to stem the blood flow. Make-do-and-mend, that's was what they used to say during the War. You live and learn.

So off to A&E, where I must praise the NHS for being quick and effective. No, really. For once I am not being sarcastic. There was no wait, we went straight through, had excellent service and brilliant doctors and nurses. The NHS probably does its job like this every day, and yet there are no Daily Mail headlines declaring: "NHS DOES JOB WELL". Shame. Dad was treated by an Iraqi surgeon, who was excellent. He told us how he was working out in war zones, and came to Wales because he had treated Welsh patients out in Africa (I love the idea of the Welsh Tourist board out in War Zones telling people to come to Wales, wait until they see Newport...). He was very experienced but had to work his way up in the NHS, pass more exams, including English tests. I wonder what the Daily Mail would make of this great guy, who was working his arse off; to be polite, courteous as well as perform a begillion tasks at once. Well, they wouldn't be interested in something so positive.

Oh what Navy Larks....I wish we had been going Dead Slow though....

Friday, 14 November 2008

Missing

He left the house on one dark day,
On his mind perhaps things did weigh,
Maybe not and his life did glow,
He never returned, we'll never know.

He looked older, but was only a teen,
At the chippie, he was last seen,
Grainy video shows him alone,
He disappears from frame into unknown.

Photos remain of his handsome face,
Last movements are a subject of trace.
Memories from those who loved him most,
His image, his person, is now a ghost.

Questions his family always do vow,
Just what does he look like today & now?
They suffer in their constant reviewing,
For not knowing what he is doing.

Amongst all that, dark thoughts of wrong,
Someone's foul hand, he is forever gone?
Nothing is answered, things left to rue,
What happened to him, I wish I knew.


(Many people across the country go missing every week. If you have five minutes to spare, please check out the Missing People charity web site here)

Wednesday, 12 November 2008

Bad Graffiti



Read what?

It seems bad form to instruct someone to read something, only then to spectacularly let them down by not providing any reading material. It's a broken promise, it's an anti-climax. Most of all, this is just plain bad graffiti. Does the author not realise the graffiti etiquette that must be strictly adhered to!? At least throw in a trip-esque mural representing a mis-spent youth.

Could you imagine the uproar if I did such a cruel thing on this blog? Demand my legions of readers here to read my musings, only to go all minimalist, and just leave an empty space. There would be chaos. The internet would probably implode with the huge weight of apocalyptic disappointment. (In my dreams)

But bad graffiti grates like a giant grate at a grating convention. I'll forgive incorrect spelling, and even *shock horror to the teachers amongst us* the misuse of the dreaded apostrophe (There's no excuse for signs and supermarkets though, but I'll stop there before I sound like a complete nerdly pedant, which I am, but don't tell anyone).
Bad Graffiti - don't do it kids. Just say no.

See images I took of good graffiti in Cardiff here

Monday, 10 November 2008

Cafe Melancholy


The cafe in the rain,
The people all the same,
Fixed seats to the floor,
Menus make my heart sore.
Tables coated in ancient grime,
It's really going back in time.

Come to Cafe Melancholy,
Serve with a smile and trying jolly.

Yellow pictures on the walls,
An old man to his paper, drawls.
Young worker dreams of being sacked,
Handling china already cracked.
Italian owner makes a sigh,
Of things and changes that go by.

Come to Cafe Melancholy,
Neon sign, attempt at jolly.

Sunday, 9 November 2008

It's Only a Game...

I hate losing. I am a bad loser. Losing is terrible. Wales lost to South Africa at the rugby yesterday. And yet...we should have won.

Whenever Wales lose, I always try to work out what is best/worst: to play well, compete and lose to a good team who had that more luck; to get well beaten by a team far superior; to narrowly lose playing badly and beaten by a better team; to lose by 60; to lose to a criminal piece of despicable refereeing.

Definitely the latter is the worst way. Possibly even worse than losing by 60 points. So I take crumbs of comfort from this moldy old biscuit of hope that is my optimism when it comes to Welsh rugby. It's somehow gutting to lose a match when you create opportunities but fail to take them though. Which is why I feel particularly peeved this morning, on reflection. All the Ifs and Buts come flooding out, but it's pointless. We lost. At home, the Millennium Stadium. End of. No loss is good in my eyes, no matter how many positives there are.

I still can't fathom why Wales losing feels so personal, so against the grain of the natural order. If you are Welsh that is. I am sure my English rugby fan friends are chuckling into their cornflakes this morning. Just like we do when England lose.

Friday, 7 November 2008

Waiting

She stands at the window, outside looking in,
She watches the world, her head in a spin.
The people, the lives, are bustling en masse,
She wants it so bad, but can't break the glass.

She stands at the window, outside looking in,
The glass at her touch, feels cold to the skin.
She catches her reflection, a double-take glance,
Who is this person, who never had the chance?

She stands at the window, outside looking in,
Her decay is shrouded by a face mask grin.
No body knows of her utmost fear,
Concealed, frozen in an eternal tear.

Her demons, with their bony grip are rife,
As is the realisation, she's scared of life.
Tomorrow she'll return again, alas,
One more futile effort to break glass.

She stands at the window, outside looking in,
She watches the world, her head in a spin.
She watches. Watches. And Watches....
But never goes in.

Thursday, 6 November 2008

Gym Exploits

Dear reader, as you may know I spend rather a lot of time in the gym. So much time, I will soon be charged rent and will end up paying their council tax.
Anyway, I’m going to the gym today and I have to walk through the main hall to get to the gym itself, and there’s some bowls going on. Indoor bowls. I try to walk through. Big mistake. BIG MISTAKE. Forget hoodies, it’s grannies playing bowls you have to be scared of. ‘Cardies’ - call the Daily Mail, it's the new scare that will hit Britain! It is, apparently, the worst crime imaginable to sneak past at the back whilst a game of lawn bowls is continuing. By a fat old woman on a motorised scooter. I was stared out and feared for my life. They may have been carrying knitting needles and knuckle-feather-dusters.

Saving Bletchley Park

I read this news article this morning on the BBC web site on Bletchley Park

It's sad to hear Bletchley Park needed emergency funding. Bletchley is such an important part of British/European history - it was here famously that the German enigma code machine was cracked, a crucial twist in favour of the allies during World War II. Wars can turn on these kinds of efforts, and this was utterly integral towards achieving success. It also saw huge developments in the technology of computers; Alan Turing, the legendary Cambridge mathematician working there.
I have always thought something so important to our heritage should be protected and looked after so that future generations can visit and learn what people did for us and our freedoms. It's also a matter of respect of what people had to go through so that we could enjoy these freedoms too. Let's hope Bletchley continues to get the funding it needs to preserve an important part of our history.



Recently I visited a place called Rhydymwyn Valley Site, which is almost Wales' Bletchley Park, albeit of a different nature. Deep in the Welsh countryside near Mold in North Wales, Rhydymwyn is a small place but holds it's own importance to British war time history. It was at this site during the Second World War, that the British Government built a Chemical weapons plant. It was all kept such a secret, the area didn't feature on maps and workers were sworn to secrecy. It is now open to the public, having remained shrouded in mystique for so long, even after the war ended. It holds the rather amazing accolade of being the only British wartime installation that the German intelligence never ever located.

It is a fascinating place to visit; a large industrial area in the middle of rural landscapes. The long roads, now silent and empty, the overgrowing trees blowing in the winds...not only can you imagine the over 1500 people going to and fro their work, but you start to envision the small little 'town' feel the place must have evoked - not just the factory buildings themselves, but the canteen, railway station and other various buildings. You can see graffiti on the walls, names of workers, chemistry equations scribbled away because workers weren't allowed paper...If those walls could talk, you imagine the walls would have some incredible tales to tell.

But the plant has an important place in world history and scientific fields. Work here (research into methods of making enriched uranium for an Atomic bomb) involved some of the scientists who were later working on the Manhatten Project.
For a short while during World War II, Rhydymwyn was the most cutting edge of world atomic bomb warfare science. This is one of the many reasons there was such sworn secrecy surrounding the events at the plant.

It is chilling to think that factories with the intent of building chemical warfare were built, with the intent to cause much destruction and death. But sadly, that is the reality of war. But the fact this happened in Wales, to me, brings it all rather home to me. I find it incredible to imagine such a sleepy area was so crucial to the world's precarious predicament for that short period during WWII.
Rhydymwyn, like Bletchley is significant to our history and heritage, and these areas need to be preserved for future generations, reminding them of the cruelties of war, of our past, and essentially teaching the destructive way humans can treat each other. Teach, and learn from these mistakes of the past, so that they won't be repeated.

The rest of the Rhydymwyn photographs can be seen here.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Remember Remember the Fifth of November

Bonfire night. A celebration of a foiled plot to blow up Houses of Parliament, and we do this by...setting off fireworks! An intriguing tradition if you think about it, a free reign to act as roaming pyromaniacs for the night. It's not like we celebrate catching murderers by....well killing things.
As a kid, I loved Bonfire Night. One my favourite days of the year. I used to love making a 'Guy' to burn on the bonfire - usually raiding my dad's wardrobe for clothes to dress the Guy up in (often without permission). A strange tradition really, teaching kids to burn effigies on fires. One year I collected a load of  clothes and then thought it would be funnier to dress up in my dad's clothes and pretend to be him all afternoon instead. Luckily I didn't end up on the bonfire. 

One infamous bonfire night, my dad was letting off fireworks in our back garden. In my parents' infinite wisdom, they had planted a huge tree in the middle of the lawn (ruining most games and other jollies), so finding the right spot to set off fireworks wasn't always easy. Now, my dad, full of the joys of the occasion, had had one or two shandies before the firework festivities. Not really recommended. We used to have a children's plastic slide in the garden. Dad had a brain wave. So that all of us could see the fireworks properly, he would put the firework on top of the plastic slide, elevating the view, and set it off from there.

I am no science expert, but even I know plastic and fire don't always go well together. Dad set the firework off and it proceeded to set the slide on fire. He of course, was watching our faces up at the house and we were all shouting and pointing at the slide - which he took for a sign that we were enjoying the show. Luckily he soon noticed, the pungent smell of burnt plastic that now engulfed the Cardiff suburbs sky, was probably a give away. He had burnt a large hole in the slide. It had that wonderful melted plastic consistency - a bit like Michael Jackson's face if he stood too closely to a spotlight. The slide was never replaced, and remained a childhood staple for years; I used to get my leg trapped down it on regular occurrences. I think dad was secretly proud of this burnt monument - a testament to his skills as an firework entertainer.

Of course this November 5th, we wake up to a new President in America. Despite what some think, it matters very much here. We breath a collective sigh of relief as we welcome Obama into the Presidency, although part of me (the sadistic part) will miss Palin's Pearls (of Wisdom).

Although I approach the euphoria with a wary heart; it is not that dissimilar to the hype surrounding Tony Blair in 1997, and with all the emotion after that incredible night when New Labour finally ended 18 years of Tory rule, it does feel now rather a let down. But let's hope Obama can change some things around. He will be a breath of fresh air. Good luck to him.

Monday, 3 November 2008

It Smarts

Despite the humour I did feign,
I cannot deny you caused me pain,
Time moves on and you don't care,
Yet hurt is still very much there.

The wound feels like it's rubbed in salt,
And yet I don't feel it's your fault,
You had the head fuck to a tee,
But the problem here has to be me.

You have moved on with life's flow,
The sadness I feel you'll never know,
I'll slap you but also won't,
I hate you but also don't.

The pain you caused can never mend,
And this you'll never comprehend.
For in this mess I do drown,
And worse of all I let you down.


Sunday, 2 November 2008

Today's photo of the hour. 
It never ceases to amaze me the courtesy people have for one and another...I was rambling along a lovely woodland on Caerphilly Mountain and stumbled upon this delightful message to the masses. How poetic. Future generations are left with this heartfelt and in-depth prose. Unless a Gary Glitter-y personage wrote this and it has an entirely different meaning...

And now that means I have to tag Gary Glitter. I never thought that would occur in a hurry.

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Pinch-Punch-First-of-The-Month

Another month is over, another new one begins. 2008 is entering it's twilight weeks, soon destined to nothing more than the dust of history books. The year has, and is, going fast. But on the other hand, it seems like a millennium ago when Big Ben chimed twelve and we welcomed in the new year, and all it's anti-climaxes. The summer never really got going, the sun refusing to leave its blocks, whilst the bitter cold has gripped our skin and bones with its icy claws over the past few weeks, reminding us we really are in winter now.

I used to love this time of the year as a kid. Hallowe'en, Bonfire Night, then the always enjoyable run-up to the madness of Christmas festivities. Yet as time passes they all fade into insignificance; a barrel of anti-climax, which I always felt but always managed to conveniently forget. 

One Hallowe'en in 1992, we visited my Nan in the midlands, and it is still possibly the most terrified I have ever been in my life. I had always been convinced this large, spacious, cold house on the top of a hill was haunted. Ever since I had known it. It looked slightly odd, looming, had a spiky feel. We visited that Hallowe'en and it was even colder, darker, and more atmospheric than ever. And this was before I had seen Psycho to corrupt my young mind. 

During the evening, my sister played the violin - a violin that had once belonged to our dead grandfather. My Nan made a passing comment that she hoped he could hear it...she thought he could. A passing comment became cemented in my brain, filling me with an excitable terror, and I became convinced he was there. Haunting. 

Later that night, with the eerie echo strains of the violin still in my ears, I snuck downstairs and put on the TV. The BBC were showing Ghostwatch - a now infamous TV programme, that convinced a nation that Michael Parkinson had become possessed. Of course, we all know now it was not real. It was the Blair Witch Project of its time. But as a 10 year old, already scared by the idea of ghosts and ghouls, I was petrified. But I couldn't stop watching. Car-crash TV. I believed everything - here was a real life ghost vigil on TV, a scary ghost named Pipes terrorising. It could happen here. To me.
I scampered up to bed and hid under the duvet covers. I was shaking with fear. I honestly do not think I have ever been as scared as that since, not even when I saw Celebrity Re-Hab on cable. I didn't sleep at all that night. I was convinced there was something in the room with me (there was....my sister, we shared a room). There were shadows crawling the walls, knocks and bumps on the floorboards; the wind was howling around the house, engulfing nooks and crannies. I could still hear the echos of the violin, straining from somewhere in the pits of my fear.

In a way, I miss that. I miss believing. The utmost terror wasn't admittedly, fun, but at the same time it was more excitement than being a boring skeptic. A skeptic's world is rather flat and colourless. I try to believe sometimes, but...it's just not the same. I miss a good haunting. Do ghosts exist? I have yet to see any hardcore evidence. I saw a 'ghost' once, and it was a bizarre experience, but was it real? Was it actually a ghost? I cannot trust my own foolish imagination. But there's a lot about the world, our brains we still do not understand....that's a given...

Friday, 31 October 2008

Gyming It

Spotted in the gym today - the woman who works out on the cross-trainer whilst munching on a chocolate bar. I kid ye not.

Big Pit & and thanks to Thatcher


I went down a mine the other day. Not that it was a working one. They don't exist anymore, not since Thatcher popped along with her armored handbag, and kindly raped the Welsh Valleys. 

Big Pit is now sadly a museum although a terrific one; you're taken down into the mine and shown around by an ex-miner, themselves becoming rare species alone. You have to wear hard hats, you have to carry gas masks. Everything and anything with a battery or electronics is confiscated. You descend in the mine-shaft, which eerily carries you underground against the soundtrack of the drip-dropping of water, the echos and screeching of the mechanics. Underground you see the cramped conditions, you see the harshness, the dangers. Most of all, you paradoxically see the darkness. It is a black blackness that you can only imagine in your deepest and darkest nightmares.

That's it. 

That's all that's left of the coal industry in South Wales. A tourist museum. There are traces of what was once there, something I touched upon in my Valleys photography project. You see run down towns, now struggling communities; areas that were once bustling and thriving, now dying on their feet. And for what? To save money? Money that now has to go back into these communities for benefits and dole? Thanks Maggie.

Thursday, 30 October 2008

Ow

Yesterday I came here and said,
'Don't let a plank fall on your head'
For it'll get too late
for fixing a broken gate.
Today I come here to say;
When trying to get out the way,
Of a falling saw off the sill,
Don't step on that nasty drill.

Ouch.

A Random Box (of Rubick's Cubes)


Carrying on from the theme of stumbling upon such random things, here is a photo I took in the summer. I was doing a little photography project on the South Wales Valleys, and frankly, it is a hot-bed of brilliant, bizarre occurrences. 
I was walking down a small side-road when I noticed this box just sat on the wall. There was no one else around, naturally. I approached and snapped a pic, and as I inspected the box I realised it was....a box of Rubick's Cubes. Of all things, perched on a scabby wall, a box of Rubick's Cubes in the depths of the Welsh valleys. Why, how, or what? And why do I, of all people, keep finding these things?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

A Garden Fence

When putting up a garden fence,
Always use common sense.
You're sure to always fail,
If you use the wrong nail.
Try to use your strength and will,
But it's wise to try and use a drill.
And the law books say, I'm sure I read,
Don't get a plank of wood on your head.

Fed Up

I am fed up.

Not the good kind of fed up, like eating a good meal or gorging on my favourite food - ice lollies (washed down with jack daniels).

No, this is the fed up with life feeling, that stuns your brain and engulfs your body with malaise. But on the other hand, there is a burning itch to do something; ants in your pants, you can't sit still. Restless. But I do not know what to do. I am a model aeroplane kit without the instructions, a self-assembling IKEA shelf without the screws, but a similar wooden existence. 

I might become the first person in history to die of boredom. What's the point? I don't use any of my so-called talents for anything. No good, not even eville. It's all a big waste, it's the dripping of a tap that no one can be bothered to tighten; that's my life. 

No one even reads this crap.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Best. Sign. Ever.


When out and about on my jaunts and whimsical wanderings, armed with only my camera and a bottle of pop, it never ceases to amaze me the very bizarre and wonderfully random occurrences and things I discover. More often than not, there's a great deal to chuckle about too.
I found this sign in Talgarth, Mid-Wales. It is a tiny town in the middle of Welsh wilderness, you can half imagine the music from Deliverance as you stroll down the street. But it houses one or two little gems like this sign, which I have decided is probably one of the best signs I've ever seen. When was the last time the phrase 'car transporter' was used since 1970? I would have liked to have seen a sign on the house next to it 'Car transporter, please hit this house'....

Monday, 27 October 2008

Driving Miss Sian

I love driving. No, I do. I'd do it all day long if I could. 

But parents and cars do not mix happily. It is not a natural union. My dad hates driving with a passion, he treats driving as a battle between man and car - and will not leave second gear. He even went into second gear from fifth doing 70mph on the motorway once. I needed a change of under-crackers when that occurred, I can tell you that.

Tonight we went out for a meal. Mum drove us there. Big mistake alone, as she never goes over 10mph (bless her), but that wasn't the main issue. Coming out of the drinking establishment on Caerphilly mountain, mum attempts to maneuver out of the car park space. She wasn't blocked, there were no cars parked next to hers either side but there was a car behind. Easy. Surely.
I think she thought she was driving a tank. That had no windows. Or steering. And that she was blind. And deaf. With her hands tied behind her back. Needless to say, there was a 7,938 point turn, without the turn element. 20 minutes later, I ordered her out of the driver's seat and reversed the car out in about 30 seconds.

Maybe she had had a long day.

Tiger, Tiger

















No, not the nightclub. The animal. Here I am doing my David Attenborough impression....only at Chessington Zoo/Theme Park last week instead. Given I actually sometimes try to be a photographer(!), this is not exactly the best photo ever....
I do wish I could go on safari one day, see the animals for real. Real, real, as opposed to zoo real, which isn't too real at all. Although at least they aren't those (lying) cartoons. And are alive. I found the Natural History Museum in London last August rather troublesome on my conscience. It all sat very uneasy, like John Candy standing on tip-toe on my knee. All those stuffed animals, beautiful animals...yet all dead. If I want to see dead animals I just go to the frozen aisle in Tescos. Perhaps the taxidermy reminds me too much of Norman Bates from Psycho. And we all know about him.
But how wonderful it would be to see the animals in their natural habitat on safari (and also have my own TV show....).

Tigers and Lions are my favourite animals. Closely followed by giraffes. There's nothing more comical than a giraffe, and I do not just mean aging, lanky ex-tennis stars. There's something about those long, impossible looking necks. I am also fond of monkeys. Perhaps I relate to the cheekiness. I like gorillas too, probably because they remind me of my dad. 
Monkeys and gorillas....there is something in their eyes....they are thinking, they contemplate. Hell, if you gave them a laptop, they'd probably write better blogs than me. Their hands are like human hands. They ruffle their brows in confusion, they play and laugh with their brothers and sisters. Now look at those animals and tell me how Creationism is the reality and not evolution?

Overheard in Bristol

Autumn afternoon
A Bristol street
"yeah but no but yeah but no"

October sun
beaming down
"yeah but no she had big wangers..."

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Nick Drake

I love Nick Drake.

Few musicians have moved me quite like the singer who tragically died way too soon in 1974. He was only 26. His music is beautiful, melancholic, rich, whilst the lyrics are often heart-wrenching. His songs haunt you, his voice sounds often weak but yet still the message is strong. The guitar playing is intrinsic and precise, and yet the melodies seem so simple.

Nick suffered from depression, and poured these depths into his songs. They reflect on the sadness of the passing of the time, they concentrate on the evocative way the world is drenched in melancholy. It is the struggle of some in a life that they cannot fit into, they struggle to reach for the surface. Delicate, brittle, fleeting. It is a hopeless fight.

My favourite Nick Drake song has these lyrics.

Place To Be

When I was younger, younger than before
I never saw the truth hanging from the door
And now I'm older see it face to face
And now I'm older gotta get up clean the place.

And I was green, greener than the hill
Where the flowers grew and the sun shone still
Now Im darker than the deepest sea
Just hand me down, give me a place to be.

And I was strong, strong in the sun
I thought I'd see when day is done
Now Im weaker than the palest blue
Oh, so weak in this need for you.


Nick Drake

This is something, I wish I had written.

Saturday, 25 October 2008

Parents+computers= desk rage

My dad has a computer. He bought his first 'real' PC in 1995. When I say real, I mean a modern computer with Windows (which to father, were only contraptions to look through a house wall). I remember the occasion well. It took him approximately 4,9382 weeks to make the purchase, and double that number in visits to PC World. Rumours had it they gave him his own parking space in the car park and suicide rates of PC World workers in Cardiff rose by 98%.

Poor dad isn't a natural at technological advances. He struggled to show me how to use the VCR when I was 4, but the most thing I learnt was how to swear; "bloody hell...bloody machine". A year later, I was showing him how to use said machine to record an episode of Dad's Army. This was an important landmark in my life. I realised parents weren't good at everything, in fact, they could be damn awful at things. It was to prove an understatement of the millennium when it came to anything electronic coming into contact of my parents.

In fairness, dad has learnt a lot. When I think at how his caveman approach to computers has developed in about 14 years. Now he has the stone-age approach. I.e. error message flashes up, and he reaches for the stone club from his lair. Since the dawn of the internet, dad has become a fully fledged silver surfer. He would never admit it, but he bloody loves the internet, even if it does take him an hour to type out a web address. But I have seen the love in his eyes when the word 'Google' is uttered.

Problems are minor but nevertheless pesky. Usually he has just minimised 342 windows, and doesn't know how to maximise them. Sometimes he has moved a file (but the "COMPUTER DID IT! I DIDN'T DO A THING!" I love this phenomena. If computers really did do these things on their own, I suggest Scotland Yard arrest a few million machines for all those unsolved crimes that are floating around). Other times he's accidentally changed the layout on screen and becomes convinced the entire hard drive is wiped. Some occasions I am sure he just forgets to switch the something on (insert joke about switching his brain on here).

However, years have been taken off my life in dealing with his 'computerial issues'. Being the youngest sibling is a curse. You get lumbered with parental problems of the technical type that the elders seem to escape. The phone will ring, I will answer. "SianthebloodycomputerisbrokeIcantaccessmyemailsIcantgetontheinternetThisbloodymachineImbloodyfedupofit!" "Hi dad, I'm fine thanks for asking...."
Things can rarely be solved over the phone, no matter how small the problem. Anyway, there's only so long you can listen to your own father's heavy breathing as his blood begins to boil because he can't find 'File' and 'Save As'. You can hear the clicks of the mouse, they sound like he is shooting a pistol against an iron door (perhaps he is). The typing sounds like he is punching the keyboard (he probably is). Subtlety, thy name is not father. Sometimes I think he has swallowed a raging, deranged pit bull, cross-bred with a psychotic steam engine in a genetic experiment gone horribly wrong. "I fucking hate this machine. I hate computers. This fucking thing."

Computer-rage. It can make grown men cry. Although...it is possibly worth it to hear your own dad turn around to his mates in the pub, and with a smile that could only be matched when Wales beat England at rugby, he proudly proclaims much to the adoration of his audience as if he has returned from the battlefield as a war hero; "I learnt how to cut and paste today."

Why is it so?

Why can I conquer the world one moment, and yet cannot barely muster the strength to breathe the next?
Why are there times when I feel 10 feet tall, and others I feel 10 centimetres?
The extremes play with my head.

Some days, the world seems an endless sea of opportunity - stretched out before me like a golden dream; welcoming me with soft hands that beckon me into this perfect existence. Everything fits. The t's are crossed, the i's are dotted. There is nothing in my path, nothing that is, but sunshine, warmth, colours, the possibility.

But.

Some days, the world seems an endless pit of blackness, bombarding me, engulfing me at every angle. Bony fingers reject my every move, my every thought. Nothing works. The pieces are scattered around, but none belong to the same set. Nothing fits. I do not fit. Before me lies a plethora of obstacles, I am paralysed. I fall before I even make my first step.

Is this the same place? How can it be so? But the major question I cannot fathom, I cannot decipher, I cannot solve, remains on my lips. Is the one even worth the other? I am left in no-man's-land.

Friday, 24 October 2008

Sian hath murdered sleep

Insomnia is the disease that has the power to turn sane people loony, and loony people (me) even more insane.

I cannot sleep. It's as if my brain refuses to sit down, it's kamikazee, it's too proud to thrown in the towel. So it soldiers on like a dying horse, determined to get to the finish line. I don't have any comprehension over what this finish line my brain feels it has to aspire to, but something tells me this destination is rather far away in space and time. It's like the 100 Years War, only less fun.

I must have had about three hours sleep last night. Then I was awoken to an apocalyptic wail, that stunned me into action. For a split second I believed I had arrived in Cold War times - this was the four minute warning wasn't it? The world was about to implode, a boom, a flash of light, and then we'd all crumble into dust. O the humanity! For that split second my confused head was half terrified, half contemplating: "I'm too young to die. There's too much I haven't done....like eat a kebab." There was a small percentage of me that worryingly, didn't give a fig. Not that I had a fig to give to anyone anyway, and why would they want one?

Thankfully, I snapped out of my daze. And realised the desperate cry that had filled my ears was just the greedy, fat cat wanting to be fed at 5am.

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Heroes

When I was a wee lass in pigtails, I had so many heroes and idols, it would quite possibly take me a day to list them all down. And then I'd forget some. It would read like one of those gaudy, Friday night-filler TV shows '100 Top Hundredy Hundreds of Hundredy Lists - with Anthea Turner & the cast of Hollyoaks'. (Incidentally, I never had pigtails. Too girly)

It would probably be quicker to list the people who WEREN'T my idols. So I guess that leaves Maggie Thatcher and Will Carling.

But I think it's intriguing to see who I worshipped and adored way back then. Mostly actors, comedians and sportsmen and women. My first heroes were from watching copious amounts of television - step forward French & Saunders, Julie Walters, David Jason and Victoria Wood. I wanted to be French & Saunders and Julie Walters AND Victoria Wood. All in one. A giant concoction of comedy genius. I would act out little plays entirely on my own, invent characters, impersonate everyone and collect accents. With just my Roland Rat teddy as an audience.

Athony Hopkins became one of my favourite actors, mostly because he was Welsh and swaning around being famous in Hollywood, conquering them with his acting genius, wooing them with his charm and ability. As a Welsh person. In my eyes, this was the epitome of cool. I snuck downstairs one cold, autumn night at my Nan's house during half term- a house I was already convinced was haunted, such is the way my foolish imagination worked(s) - I turned the TV on and saw Silence of the Lambs. I was about 10, and became instantly terrified. I had nightmares for weeks. And all I saw was the opening credits.

I was also sports obsessed, and adored a whole host of rugby players, tennis players and athletes. They were Gods. Non-human specimens who I looked up to as if they would solve all world ills. When they lost I would be devastated, it felt a sheer injustice, a terrible crime. I cried many a time after a defeat, as if it was a personal insult, a personal wound. I would try to emulate them. I would spend most of my non-TV watching time kicking my rugby ball around the garden and drive of the family home...and onto the roof (we had to get the window cleaner to retrieve it on more than one occasion). The hydranger bush was my scrum machine. The tree was a defender I could side-step. I was Wales and playing the world. And winning.

During the summer months, I would be playing Wimbledon. The wall was always Steffi Graf, and naturally just like Steffi Graf the wall always won. The kitchen back door would be open and I'd be hitting away against the side of the house, with the sound of mum's 1960s black and white TV blaring as she watched the real Wimbledon whilst cooking the tea. "Game, Becker...." boomed the TV set. Then a *rapturous applause* of which I dreamt was really for me, naturally.
I would confess here I used to also love playing football (must to the distain of my father) and I would admit I thought Gary Lineker was the most wonderful man on the planet. For about a week. But we shalt never speak of that.

When I was a teenager I became interested in film, and in particular Alfred Hitchcock. I saw Psycho, quite by chance on television one night, and I was captivated instantly. It was the filmic equivalent of being slapped in the face. Hitch had reached out from his grave, grabbed me with his podgy fingers and had shaken me senseless. Where had it been all my life? Where had this entire world of insane, black humour and suspense been? And a dead, sex obsessed, fat film director, with an outrageous sense of humour and ingenious macabre outlook on life, became my hero. No wonder my parents looked so bemused. I am still not quite sure what it is so specifically that I adore about Hitchcock films. The atmosphere, the sense of threat, a dark underside to life perhaps. Things not quite being what they seem. It's a theme I've always been fascinated with, something that my enjoyment overflowed into other mediums like my own photography. Or the plays of Harold Pinter. If.
I. Could. Cope. With.
The. Pauses.

*pause*

But it was a discovery in a particular music artist that has had the biggest impact on my adult life. Step forward, Rufus Wainwright. Words cannot fully describe how much I love Rufus' music. It is textured, layered, gorgeous. Caviar for the ears. Listening to Rufus is often like bathing my head in velvet clouds, his beautiful voice massages my brain as I get swept away on little musical journeys. And his lyrics are poetry. Heart wrenching, intimate at times, there is a beauty so great it often makes me want to melt away with the sadness and exquisiteness of it all. And yet his songs can also be hugely uplifting, they fill you with so much raw joy it makes you glad to be alive. Right at this moment, I cannot imagine the world without this music. And I wouldn't want a world without it either.

Like so many things, you discover one genius and it can often lead to more. Since I found Rufus, it has lead to more beautiful musical discoveries. Like his wonderful sister Martha, a fantastic singer-songwriter in her own right. Charismatic as ever, just like Rufus, that pair should be taking over the world. The talent of the Wainwright family never ceases to amaze me.

But just some of these artists that have touched my life since the Rufus infection include: Jeff Buckley, Ben Folds, Elliot Smith, Nick Drake, Belle & Sebastian, PJ Harvey, Beck, Air....and possibly my favourite (non Wainwright) artist - Kate Bush. And when I read that Kate likes Hitchcock and films, it all seems so amazingly circular and beautifully RIGHT, which in a world that seems so random and bizarre half the time, is a joy to behold.

But there are many, many more. They have given me a soundtrack to my existence, have lifted me when I am down, have sometimes fed a need in me to hear soulful sadness and internal pain...and most of all, have given me such rich enjoyment that has changed my life.
This is, essentially, no different to my heroes as a kid. It illustrates to me, how much I have grown, and how much in some ways, I haven't actually changed...I still love French & Saunders and Julie Walters, after all. How much have I changed, from that 10 year old who lived for imaginary rugby matches in the garden, or who dreamed of being on the stage dressed as a battleaxe old granny with a northern accent and comedy crooked false teeth. To rapturous applause. The things may be different. But the emotions are not.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Random Beginnings....

I struggle to determine my earliest memory. My head is swarmed with cloudy scenes and flashing images, that have no timescale, no sense of coherence or purpose. All things considered, it somehow seems apt.

Yet there are several particular scenes that spring to mind when I close my eyes and let my mind drift. My childhood seems a random concoction of 80s bad clothes, wonderful games with my sisters, Lego, Neighbours, my mother’s huge Owl-esque glasses, my Nans, my impersonations of just about anyone, my dad’s random rages over innocuous driving occurrences, and political tensions on television.

But if I concentrate really hard, and I mean really hard now, not like in school - when 90% of my brain switched off and dreamt of fame and fortune, 5% thought of impressions I could do of the comically attired teacher parading in front of me in orange pantaloons, while the remaining 5% concentrated on sleeping with my eyes shut – certain memories begin to stand out, they begin to form and play out again in my head.

One is watching Wales beat Australia on TV in the very first Rugby World Cup in 1987. It was the third place playoff; small red-shirted mullet-wearing men running around on screen colliding into a load of yellow-shirted mullet-wearing men, also scampering around the park. There were possibly some moustaches in there somewhere, but definitely very tight shorts. Arms and legs were everywhere. Absolutely nothing makes any sense, naturally. It seems trite perhaps, yet this was the first stepping-stone towards the brainwashing on my small unaware, developing brain, something that can only be described alike to a cult or religion. It has remained in my life ever since. Rugby: a nerdish and obsessive ritual that has, at times, completely and utterly dominated my life and moods. And probably seriously affected my health too. In fact, there is no ‘probably’ about it. I know it has.

A small memory that springs to life in my head is one of my Nan and I sitting in the front room of her house waiting for mum to pick me up. I do not know how old I am but it was before I started school. I am sat on her lap, her arms wrapped around me tightly but affectionately. Her bony arms and hands look thin and weak but are deceptively strong. There is an overwhelming sense of warmth, her clothes are so very spongy and colourful, and there is a powerful not unpleasant smell of perfume and washing powder. She talks soothingly and rather randomly, while I just listen tiredly sucking my thumb. Her white haired head bobs around as she natters away, her brightly coloured big jewellery clunks at every movement. That warmth is so strong.

The image suddenly leaps to being home, and an overwhelming sense of sadness. Sadness that I have left my Nan, alone, while I return to the mad-house of children’s voices and games and my parents’ political discussions. I just feel so sad. It seems so unfair. I worry my Nan might now be sad and lonely, and it hurts so much but I am not aware of where. But I know the pain is there.

I do not know how old I am in this memory, but I am small, and dressed up as Charlie Chaplin including the little false moustache and bowler hat. It is my cousin’s birthday party. Who decided that I was going to this party in cross-dress, as a dead silent movie star who resembled ever so slightly Hitler, is a minor mystery. The party was certainly not fancy dress…I suspect my parents thought it would be a hilarious idea and I, ever loving the excuse to dress up and perform, be someone else for the evening, was only too glad to play along. It was probably my idea anyway. I am met with plenty of attention and love it, but am terrified at the same time. The torment of wanting to be the centre of attention and thriving on it, yet at the same time also feeling terribly shy is battling away inside my tiny body. But at least, I feel, I am not me. I am pretending. It feels better that way. People can laugh, and it’s nice, an instant approval. And I am not me.

Another recollection is sitting in the back room floor of our family house, eyes glued to the TV (again), sat next to both my sisters who were also riveted to the small colour television on the shelf above the huge box of assorted and multi-coloured Lego. On the screen was the Space Shuttle, flying up into space, huge plumes of smoke bellowing from the rockets majestically. Yet the news had just been broken. Tragedy had struck. The shuttle had ‘exploded’. And now we watched the footage. The shuttle suddenly seemed to break up violently in front of us, smoke expanding everywhere, debris springing off, large balls of fire and the rockets jetting off on their own. But mostly white smoke. So much of it! Thick, white and grey clouds engulfing the image. It seemed to engulf my mind. The camera pans out and there’s no more Shuttle, just a bizarre giant Y shaped smoke stream against an ironically beautiful crystal blue-sky backdrop.

The sense of shock and terror still bites my stomach, even now. I was four years old, an age where everything was big, everything was loud, but everything was also exciting. Yet the security of the world around me had suddenly been thrown into disarray. The TV coverage cut back to the astronauts walking to their shuttle, smiling, waving to the crowd. But now the crew were dead. My lasting memory is of my sister Anna, two years older, and along with our eldest sister, newly obsessed with anything Space and Shuttle related. A teacher was onboard, a civilian, one of us. Anna turned to our mother and asked if the astronauts were dead. She refused to believe they were. Maybe they survived? Maybe they could be rescued? I didn’t understand. One minute the astronauts were walking and smiling and now they weren’t? How was this so, how could this be. It is something I have struggled to comprehend, even to this day.

I guess I could continue reminiscing about random memories forever. But these are the main ones that seem to stick out most vividly and frequently. It intrigues me what I can and cannot remember.

Are we not made up of memories? I have certainly often thought so. They are, essentially, all that we have - a never-ending DVD of our lives, and occasions. A permanent photo album of moments passed. Not much can wipe them from our hard drive brains. Not much can determine, consciously, what we remember and what we don’t. But on our death beds, we will lie back and let the images flood; close our eyes and suddenly the backs of our eyelids become small cinema screens to what we have done, what we haven’t, who we have met, who we have lost. Who we are.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Why?

I am not sure I know either....