Monday, 28 December 2009


Yuletide gaping void of lack,
Causes recollecting back.
Imagination, rampage wild,
Transformed into, wretched child.
Tis season jolly, bright and gay,
But rotten, forgery, and cliche.

Seeking Ghosts, threads entwined,
Hidden in corners, of the mind.

Intense stillness hangs around,
Suspending body, quiet sound,
Stinging cold, yet inside warm,
Want tomorrow, yet feeling torn,
For arrival fast, is such a boon,
Yet means all is dead, far too soon.

Bombarded with, seasonal finesse,
Overwhelm draining, to excess.
Suffocating spend, gorging glee,
Leaves me polar, numb, empty.

Cheer tarnished, excitement dent,
Expectation greater, than event.
Sudden dawning, sharp like knife,
Innocence lost: lachrymose life.

Despite all efforts, to re-create.
Gasping for air, reluctant, too late,
Like a drowning soul, struggling for breath,
We cling to memories & fade to death.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Sianzmas

On the first day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
A cartridge in a sharpie.

On the second day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the third day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Three sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the fourth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Four Thora Hirds,
Three sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the fifth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Four Thora Hirds,
Three Sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the sixth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Six words a-playing,
Four Thora Hirds,
Three Sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the seventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Seven Wainwrights singing,
Six words a-playing,
Four Thora Hirds,
Three Sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the eighth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eight post-its-sticking,
Seven Wainwrights singing,
Six words a-playing,
Four Thora Hirds,
Three Sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the ninth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Nine Sianzbots dancing,
Eight post-its-sticking,
Seven Wainwrights singing,
Six words a-playing,
Four Thora Hirds,
Three Sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the tenth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Ten hours a-gyming,
Nine Sianzbots dancing,
Eight post-its-sticking,
Seven Wainwrights singing,
Six words a-playing,
Four Thora Hirds,
Three Sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the eleventh day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Eleven tweets a-typing,
Ten hours a-gyming,
Nine Sianzbots dancing,
Eight post-its-sticking,
Seven Wainwrights singing,
Six words a-playing,
Four Thora Hirds,
Three Sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie.

On the twelfth day of Christmas,
my true love sent to me
Twelve gins a swigging,
Eleven tweets a-typing,
Ten hours a-gyming,
Nine Sianzbots dancing,
Eight post-its-sticking,
Seven Wainwrights singing,
Six words a-playing,
Four Thora Hirds,
Three Sharpie pens,
Two Hounds of Loves,
And a cartridge in a sharpie!

The 12 Delays of Christmas


Sunday, 22 November 2009

Beauty of the Decayed

I remember the day I became interested in Photography.

I had always been engrossed by art and film, always finding them rather magical in a way that almost seemed sordid. As if receiving such pleasure from a film screen or canvas was somehow naughty in its frivolity. But it was not until I was visiting MOMA in New York during my year out before University, that a fascination in photography ignited instantly. There was a Cindy Sherman exhibition, her untitled film stills, and it captured my imagination so strongly, that I left New York that snowy January in 2001, dreamily determined to purchase an SLR manual 35mm film camera as soon as I got home. It was like someone had switched on a light in my brain, or rather, pressed a shutter release and captured the split second my life had been opened up to a whole new world of expression. Only this image of myself did not upset me at how fat my brain had gotten around the intrigue zone.

Despite Cindy being one of my early main influences, I became fascinated with a different branch of photography. One of the main themes of photography theory that captured my own interest, like a snapshot, during University, was the theme of death and decay - the strong bond between the medium and the idea of death.

One day I was surfing the Internet for random online photography galleries, and stumbled upon, quite by accident, a series of photographs taken of and actually inside, a derelict former asylum. I felt a strange buzz of excitement in my stomach, a thrill of viewing something that seemed to make my eyes smile and my heart awaken. There just seemed to be something so beautiful in the images of empty buildings, decaying walls, a true athesthetic in the empty and abandoned. You could sense the aspect of danger - was the building out of bounds? Was the building likely to disintegrate and collapse at any moment? It was almost like looking at stills of a horror film. Only it was real.

Aside from the quite magnificent victorian architecture of the photographs, the images of abandoned, random objects - a decaying shoe, a broken chair, a coat-hanger with a former patient's name covered in mold - hit me with such a melancholy and tragic force, I felt like I had been punched in the stomach. The sight of a solitary object forgotten about, amidst a decaying building of emptiness, seemed to contain a lost story forever, confined to a past abandoned. It also highlighted the incredible way photography tends to raise more questions that it answers. Who did the object belong to? What was their story? The connotations floating around, simply because it was an asylum, were mammoth. High emotional intensity, tragedy, pain, suffering, and yet maybe also hope things turned out ok.

After I finished looking at the photographs of the derelict asylum, I knew I had found a new love, and I quickly discovered that many photographers felt the same way, dedicating themselves to the exploration of decayed urban buildings, an entire medium on its own. I knew I had to try it.

When I began taking my own images of abandoned buildings and objects, it raised much a bemused face from others. Particularly if I was out with them and spotted a derelict building. I would have to photograph it. I could almost see what people were thinking - why can't you take pictures of nice things? But to me the beauty in the decayed goes beyond what is simply in front of the eye. Nothing excites me more than an abandoned building. It doesn't have to be a hospital, or even big, but any building that has been left to ruin. The images become a record of things about to be demolished or disintegrated.

As Marc Augé wrote, looking at ruins makes you contemplate time itself - periods that seem to transcend record and exist in their own world, absent from our consciousness. It makes you aware of your own existence, your own pointlessness in the grand scheme of things. And it is something that can only possibly be recaptured, or examined through art - and in this case, photographs. The image of a decayed building, a dead moment, symbolising a dead place - beauty in the time that has been lost, the inevitability of life. And death.

My images of urban exploration.

Friday, 6 November 2009

Graphic Growing Up

I grew up with books. They were like little bound and papered siblings. Officially my childhood home was made with bricks, but it may as well have been built with 1960 retro Penguin paperbacks (with terribly convoluted undecipherable titles and communist russia style graphic design covers). I thought all families had their tea alongside shelves of Lenin's biography, all washed down with a sip of Pinter.

But one particular book series I grew up with, both confused and delighted me more than any other. My parents had few graphic novels, but being stalwart Guardian readers, they did have the wonderful work of Posy Simmonds, the Guardian cartoonist, illustrator and writer extraordinaire.

Posy's books captivated me. One on level, they were cartoons, even a child could read and enjoy the drawings. On another, they were highly satirical accounts of the political/social climate in the 1980s. It wasn't until I re-read them as an adult that I really appreciated how ingenious the jokes and observations were. But what fascinated me particularly was that the Wendy Weber books seemed to portray my very own family.

Wendy Weber, the protagonist, the mother of the middle-class family, resembled my mother exactly. The hair, the glasses, the clothes. As if that wasn't enough, Wendy's political leanings and behaviour seemed to echo my mother exactly. Even Wendy's reaction to dog mess fouling the pavement mirrored my own mother's obsessional crusade against dog droppings on the street. Wendy was married to a Polytechnic lecturer, George; my own father was a Polytechnic lecturer. George's intellectual ramblings seemed to portray my Dad's own waffling (I never understood what it was my dad taught. And admittedly, I am not sure I do now). Wendy's mother looked exactly (and behaved) like my mother's own mother. Benji, the youngest Weber child, resembled me in my tom-boy phase - the same hair and rosy cheeks. And fascination with finding the word "bottom" hilarious.

And yet it continued. The Weber's network of friends and family seemed to resemble relatives or other people my family knew. Jocaster, the rather laid-back eldest daughter of the Webers' friends the Wrights, resembled my own eldest sister (although she will possibly not speak to me again if she reads this).

The similarities were so great, even though I knew the book was a cartoon and fiction, I was partly convinced Posy knew our family. The only element missing was the Welshness. So much of what she wrote seemed to be what I was growing up around. A lot of this is due to Posy Simmonds' fantastic way of capturing the essence of real people, of the way people really talk, as apposed to cliches or melodramatics we often see in TV or film.

Posy is the consummate observer of the world, an Alan Bennett of graphic novelists - traveling on buses and sat in cafes observing people around her, picking up characteristics and conversations. Read her latest graphic novels and you can see how much her finger is on the pulse; the teenage characters talk like real contemporary teenagers, just like her 1980s characters spoke so much like the people around me at the time.

We were lucky enough to meet Posy a couple of years ago, at the Winter Hay on Wye festival. She gave a fascinating insight into how she works - observing people, armed with a notepad and pencil. My mother was so excited to meet her, she practically spoke for 10 minutes without breathing, too eager to reveal to Posy how much the Weber book series had captured so many elements of our family's existence. Quite what Posy must have thought of our sheer enthusiasm is anyone's guess, but she chuckled heartily. Posy drew me a George and Wendy doodle, which is still one of my most treasured possessions, for I learnt to draw by drawing my own versions of Posy's cartoons.

Given Posy's penchant for using real people for character templates, I half expect to see my mother appear in one of her new cartoons. But then I guess, in a way, she already has.

Online gallery of selected Posy Simmonds work
Some of my cartoons.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

The Unattainable Bush

The winds may sweep forth and cry,
And moods a-wuthering, it is no lie.
The spirit dances, free and twirled,
Yet Dreaming of a Sensual World.

Our Lionheart doesn't yearn for much,
Just a Moment's Pleasure with her touch.

Oh such beauty, in such truth,
Melancholic of old and youth,
Song of love, swagger and joy,
Yet tender silk of conflicted coy.

Symphony of Clouds, disguise and ruse,
Wowing with Hounds and dancing Shoes.
Running on Gaffa with teasing smirk,
Yet Lionheart! He treasures her Work.

A tailor of velvet tones she sews,
A poet of being: ourselves she knows,
Our Lionheart reaches for the Pin to Push,
For mystical & knowing, unattainable Bush.

(Dedicated to Lord of the Lucans)

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

My Very Own Moondial

Television is often criticised for damaging children's minds, corrupting young brains, the source of all eville and wrong in society. Whilst it is true we perhaps watch too much television or spend too long sat in front of a computer screen, it is an injustice to think television cannot be educational or inspirational.

The other day I visited Dyffryn Gardens, a stately home in the Vale of Glamorgan with vast, beautiful gardens. The house is a typical Edwardian structure, a superb building to gaze at (if you enjoy architecture as much as I do). The gardens are a wonder, even to a gardening/flower ignoramous such as myself. Each section with a different theme, almost like outdoor rooms - my favourite, for example, is the Pompeii styled garden, with it's Roman-esque pillars and layout.

My parents used to take us to Dyffryn Gardens regularly when we were growing up, but I had not been there for years. Returning there was a sudden passage back to my childhood, reminiscent of Sunday afternoons; the exhiliration of running around on the grass of the gardens, elaborately ridiculous games with my sisters; the sensation of slight sadness that only Sundays seem to be draped in - that the weekend was on the wane, that the shackles of school beckoned, and that fun freedom was to be banished soon.

But most of all, I was struck with the memory of a tv show. Back in the 1980s, Children's BBC had a wealth of wonderful tv programmes, and the adaptations of books were most definitely my favourites. Two of my favourite books growing up as a child, were also adapted into enchanting TV series. These books were Tom's Midnight Garden written by Phillipa Pearce, and Helen Cresswell's Moondial. Both wonderful books and the two subsequent tv shows had a profounding effect on me as a child, and have stayed with me ever since.

Both stories involve supernatural, other-worldly occurances; both look at themes of time, of the past and history. These storylines captured my imagination, and possibly influenced my later interests.

But it was Moondial that I loved the most. A ghost story, a dark tale, where bad things happen in the world. It is a rather mature storyline, and rather sinister undertones. And I don't just mean the spooky music. I feel forever indebted to Helen Cresswell's superb writing.
Dyffryn Gardens reminded me of the house and gardens in the story. Every time we visited I used to pretend I was in the story, dreaming up my own ghosts and images of the past. The statues were the ghosts, whom would come alive if I stared at them long enough. I adored the pretence, the being the characters; all so much more interesting and exciting than myself. As most children do, I used to pray and dream that this other world would pay me a visit. I would stand at the gardens' sundial and pretend it was the moondial in the book, imagining the landscape spinning me into the past.

I saw the tv version before I read the book. The programme introduced me to a whole new world of the supernatural, of darkness. It led me to read the novel, which I devoured eagerly. Ever since, I have loved these dark themes. It was the forefather of my love for David Lynchian perspectives, that has influenced my view on the world through writing and photography.

All these memories came flooding back when I re-visited the estate. The walls are cleaner now, the gardens tidier; there's a visitor centre all shiny and new, but the mystic spark of the gardens is still there, the dreamy connotations amidst the creeping ivy and array of bony hand-tree branches, that something special existed beyond the mundane reality. Like in Tom's Midnight Garden, as I thought about my childhood, I was struck by the sad reality of time passing, of us all falling into the inevitable. And I was left to ponder the influence some fantastic television storytelling had on me, as I walked amongst the statues whose stony eyes stalked my movements, still dreaming of that something beautifully magical whispering amongst the leaves.

My photographs of Dyffryn Gardens

Monday, 14 September 2009

Lights! Camera! Action! If only it was that simple...

Forgive me, I hath sinned...and I've neglected my film watching of late. I have been known in the past to watch a film a day. Hour. Minute even (maybe stretching that a little). All I wanted to do was watch films. It was almost tempting to buy a wall of televisions, and have different movies on each screen at the same time. The next stage would have involved surgically implanting extra eyes onto my body to increase the movie watching levels. I await Apple to develop an iEyeEyei technology.

Then mundane things get in the way of my film nerdery. I shamefully began to lose opportunities to waste my life in celuloid fantasy to block out the pain of reality. Especially when I have t'interwebs to see to, post its to draw, people to annoy. However, the one positive of feeling flu-esque is that it gives me a good excuse to watch copious amounts of dvds.

This past week I have watched a begillion and one films, including what I believe is possibly the worst one of the lot. Even worse than SpiceWorld. It was a film that made my eyes bleed. It attacked my intelligence so much, it called it a plethora of insults before stuffing its head down the toilet. It was about as funny as a mass suicide of puppies (it was supposed to be a comedy). The name of this abomnination of a movie, is Burn Hollywood Burn. Imagine everything that could be wrong about a film, triple that by 10 Jim Davidsons and a Crossroads, and you have this piece. Even the title begs for correct punctuation. It is truly magnificently awful, it makes Neighbours look like a Dennis Potter adaptation, starring Ian McKellen and directed by Felini.

But it did make me ponder about the whole film-making world. Last week I photographed some film stills for a short film in Cardiff. Despite making films at University, it still always amazes me just how complex a process making movies is. You cannot beat seeing the workings at the coalface to really appreciate this. I found being on set fascinating. Even for a relatively small project, there needed to be a wealth of organisation, and a never ending stream of components.

It's not just the writing, the camera shots, lighting, the costume; it's the acting, the continuity, the attention to detail. There are money constraints, weather issues, location considerations. Make no bones about it, producing and completing a film is a rather difficult, intricate process. One that people take for granted as being easy, simply because it is in the media/entertainment industry. Which admittedly is a bizarre and surreal world at the best of times, but it isn't always as shallow as some of the plastic stars that often take all the limelight.

Good film (and TV drama for that matter) makes it all look simple. You don't at first, notice the cuts and edits, or the fact that one scene would take possibly hours even days to film. I used to love film editing during my degree for precisely this reason. Putting numerous pieces of footage from different angles together to make it all look as if it was simply happening in front of your eyes in real time, was a gloriously satisfying task. It really is like completing a jigsaw, only a moving image jigsaw with bells and whistles. It is also painstakingly lengthy, and made me appreciate the early masters of film direction and editing.

No one sets out to make a bad film (hopefully, anyway). Sometimes there is even a warped charm with a bad film or TV. You know it is bad but it is still enjoyable. Why else is Murder She Wrote so popular? It can't all be the lure of Angela Lansbury and her remarkable shoulder pads, as wonderful as she is.
It is often worth remembering that it is not always so easy to get all the correct ingredients to make a movie a good one, although Burn Hollywood Burn is so ridiculously bad, even I can't excuse it. And I fully admit to loving Neighbours.

Sunday, 6 September 2009

Unfathomable It

Is this it,
Unfathomable it,
Cruel mundane,
A heart to maim.

Every breath, the blood does drain,
Playing this damn waiting game.

In such maelstrom, amongst the fog,
In such vain, a useless cog,
For once the waiting will cease,
The ironing out, at the crease,
It all just continues plodding along,
No standstill, end, fuss or song.
Barely memory, hardly a sign,
Not even a shadow, a faint outline.

That is it.
Unfathomable it.
Otiose, but It.

A Torrid Void

The elation of curious feeling,
Certainly left me double-reeling.
Finally grasping that message sent
By so many, at last I knew it meant:
It made breathing more than to survive,
It was to be, exist, enjoy - alive.

And yet it's like an eville curse,
To make the whole thing even worse.
For every up it's double low,
For every good, a harder blow.
Because this is severely blighted,
A futile exercise, damned unrequited.

So back forever, there I sit.
In that wretched woebegone pit.
Hope and good unemployed,
Nothing to fill a torrid void.
The barren solitude so great to fear,
Causes pain so copiously severe.

I kid myself that it never mattered,
But the crux of my being is shattered.
I am so cruelly blighted,
Damn you fucking unrequited.

Saturday, 8 August 2009

Edge Away

Edge Away; I am drifting off course,
Even the Cat's Paw seems quite the force.
Yet back here again, within my reach,
Returning to this cobbled beach.
Vaporous sounds, crashing and free,
This exquisite meeting of land and sea.

Edge Away; before I am found,
Before the hull is run aground,
Climbing down the perilous path,
From decades of erosion wrath.
Reaching point seems now a miracle,
Despite the state of this worn binnacle.

Edge Away; I am still raw,
Stepping down upon the shore,
Realisation no mean feat,
As shingle sinks between my feet.
The frothy tide submerges fast,
Awash my soul with memories past.

Edge Away; and yet catching sail,
Sun warmth smothers, dampening frail,
Glistening water, sparkle eyes,
Centuries of shadows float through skies.
Carrick band head nothing to fear,
The eyes, the warmth: she is here.

Sedimentary cliffs do crumble,
Through it all I will stumble.
The textured sea, it's moods and wealth,
Will always win, like life itself.

A rock, a timber, please let me stay,
I might erode, but as she'd say;
Haul her Wind, I'll Edge Away.

Monday, 6 July 2009

Uncle Bleddyn

"The very sight of a rugby ball was like a feast to a starving man".

When I was 10, I came home from school one day with a homework assignment. I had to write a piece on a famous Cardiffian. The second the task entered my ear drums, and the words diffused into my brain, I knew who I was going to write about. There was only one famous Cardiffian of any note or importance whatsoever as far as I was concerned. And that was Bleddyn Williams, ex-Wales, British Lions and Cardiff RFC rugby legend.

Wales lost one of its true sporting heroes on the 6th July 2009, when Bleddyn sadly passed away.

To say the term 'legend' is brandished around like a cliche, is in itself a cliche now. But in Bleddyn, Wales did really claim a gem, a sporting great whose name was mentioned in high regard across the rugby world, let alone in little old Wales. Bleddyn's rugby world couldn't be more different from the modern sport of Rugby Union. It was, as he used to say himself, a different world.

Regarded as one of the finest players ever, his achievements were great. From humble beginnings in Taffs Well, one of eight brothers, he went on to captain Wales, captain the British Lions, gaining himself a superb reputation for being the finest centre-threequarter in the game.

But he was my uncle. When I was growing up, Uncle Bleddyn had a mythical iconic status. A sport-obsessed kid, particularly rugby (I used to bring my rugby ball to bed with me after all), he quickly became my hero. I was told countless times by my Nan, by my father, by just about everyone, of the legend that was: Uncle Bleddyn. Nan would speak his name in the same regard as some kind of humble saint. At a time when Wales were languishing at the bottom of the rugby elite, Bleddyn's status only seemed more infallible, more awe inspiring. I thought he was wonderful, the grandfathery figure we seemed to lack in our family. He also drove a beautiful jaguar car and to this day I have always wanted one. Yet to meet him, such was his modesty, you would never imagine this softly spoken, articulate great uncle was such a world renown icon.

Uncle Bleddyn at a recent Cardiff match.

We would see Bleddyn at all the home Cardiff RFC matches, always there for every match at Cardiff Arms Park. Our seats were a few rows away from him and he rarely missed a game. I sat next to him as we watched Wales play France in the 2009 championship on a big screen at a Cardiff rugby club. Before the match started there was cricket on the TV, and he told me about when he used to play. There seems little he couldn't try his hand at.
When Wales went on to lose the rugby match, he turned to me and said, "Well dear you were right" He chuckled; I had claimed all throughout the match that Wales would lose. Whilst I was rather struggling to hide my disappointment, Bleddyn was pragmatic and as cool as a cucumber. But when Wales had scored a lovely try in the first half, his face had sparkled, and he had clapped with joy. I think I saw first hand the pure love he had for the game, the spark that fueled the passion. It was exactly his meaning when he had once written that after he had retired from the sport; "The very sight of a rugby ball was like a feast to a starving man". What an evocative image.

I have such fond memories of visiting with my family, our Uncle Bleddyn and his fabulous wife Aunty Vi in Cardigan. Aunty Vi, whom I secretly aspired to be, would never fail to entertain me with tales of Bleddyn's various experiences and friends, such as Richard Burton and Stanley Baker. There was one particular story I loved, of Richard bringing Liz Taylor to Cardiff so that he could watch the rugby, and Aunty Vi being left to entertain Liz for the afternoon. Or Sean Connery knocking on the Baker's home whilst they were there. To an impressionable child, this was glamourous brilliance. It was all part of the course for Bleddyn naturally, who would just sit back and let Aunty Vi regale us all, as if it was nothing at all. And let us not forget his brave service in the RAF during WWII, flying beyond enemy lines in true Kenneth More style. Sometimes you wondered if Bleddyn's life was, indeed, a film.

What made it more incredible for me was how many other people adored him. Complete strangers would strike up conversations by the very mention of his name. Faces would light up, eyes would twinkle. Bleddyn was special. Bleddyn made people happy.

There was an occasion when my father had taken me to see Wales play South Africa at the old National Stadium. Needless to say, Wales lost, and as we drudged out of the stadium and into the wet, dreary Cardiff night (Cardiff is always more gray after Wales lose. No matter what the weather), this pleasant elderly chap began chatting to us about the match. It didn't take him long to mention years gone by. "We need players with flair. We need class again. We need...another Bleddyn Williams." I looked at my dad excitedly at his very mentioning of the name and my dad smirked knowingly but said nothing as the man continued. "...ahh...there's only ever one Bleddyn Williams." The old man beamed. "He could beat a man! He could side-step off both sides!"
I'll never forget the sheer joy on this chap's face or that little conversation. It symbolised how much rugby means to us Welsh, how much pleasure we get, and especially, how Bleddyn lit up people's lives and gave them such wonderful memories.

In May 2009, we attended a WRU event for players at the Millennium Stadium. It was a lovely day, an occasion to celebrate players past and present. As we were leaving, we said our goodbyes and I looked back at Uncle Bleddyn, stood on the Millennium Stadium pitch wistfully. People were chatting happily, kids were playing rugby on the grass. The big screen was playing great Welsh tries from over the years, the sounds of the crowds' joy on the recordings ringing in our ears. The atmosphere was content, of a swell of pride - this was what sport was all about. Friends, family and enjoying yourself. And there was Bleddyn, amongst it all, cutting a dignified figure surveying all that was around him.
My sister and I were worried about leaving him alone but we need not have worried. Just that moment, he was suddenly surrounded by people, old friends, more fans, beaming at him, inviting him over to their groups. It seemed to sum up the man, a fitting memory of him. Ever popular, approachable and pleased to chat to people. He brought so much joy and pride to so many. And yet was always so modest about his achievements, always eger to stress how much rugby had given him. So many friends made, and great memories he himself had gained. And that is what I associate rugby with.

We have lost someone special, and he will be so dearly missed. With every rugby match I watch or attend I feel close to family members sadly departed, and Bleddyn left a lasting impression, that will remain with us all - even to those who never knew or met him. Rugby will always be a part of our families lives, and his name will always be synonymous with the sport. But I will remember him not just as a rugby legend, but as a true gentleman. Thank you Uncle Bleddyn.

BBC tribute
Wonderful article
Telegraph Obituary

Friday, 26 June 2009

Prescription Songs

If music be the food of love, so said Mr Shakespeare, then don't forget music can also be the medicine to ailments of the melancholic nature. Music can connect with our moods and thinking so effectively, it's a shame BT can't work out the secret formula and apply it to their broadband speeds.

But you don't have to be a music expert, buff, or connoisseur, to have it as a part of your life. One of the wonderful things about music is it's accessibility to everyone, even if you (okay, oddly in my book) only like one tune out of the plethora of musical delights that life offers. Music affects us all.
Sickeningly loved-up couples nearly always have 'their' song. People will often lay down lists of certain musical numbers they want at their funeral (or wedding- maybe the same song, not much difference in occasion if you ask me). Random songs will be held dear to people for the memories it brings back. Shops, bars, galleries etc...they often have music blaring out to provide an atmospheric soundtrack for buying, enjoying or just simply annoying. Is it any wonder road-joggers are all plugged into their ipods as they pound away the miles? Ok it relieves the boredom but there's no doubt the right tempo-track can boost flagging muscles. Music is everywhere. Songs can take you to dreamy worlds and new adventures, it can help you sleep and keep you awake. By jove there's not much it can't do. Aside from your laundry, unfortunately.

What I particularly enjoy about music is how it can lift my mood, accompany my moods, soothe my soul. When I am happy, I want to sing along out loud to certain pieces of music. It makes me more happy (it may make the neighbours vexed, but you can't have everything). Music can be invigorating. It fills my heart with little quavers and crotchets of energetic delight. It might remind me of lovely memories, enabling me to experience part of that time again.

When I am blue, I often want to listen to nothing but depressing songs. True, it can make me feel more depressed. If that is humanly possible. But often than not it will actually lift my spirits (eventually). I even have a special playlist in my itunes for the occasion, entitled: Songs to Die To.
There is something comforting in the knowledge that feeling blue is quite a normal, natural human emotion. Others have, and are, feeling it too. And there is (if seemingly a little warped) a reassuring sensation that you're not alone. There may be different reasons, but the emotions can be the same. It's similar to why Shakespeare is still relevant for study now (despite many kill-joys demanding it isn't). The language may be old, but humans still suffer the same slings and arrows of outrageous mood swings and emotions today as humans did hundreds, thousands of years ago. Music is no different. It's just we are lucky enough to now have the t'interwebs to express to the world our delight/disgust/obsessive natures [please tick where applicable] about it all. (We're also unlucky enough now to suffer X-Factor-type-reality-shows, but let's not fall down that particular boulevard of Zeleb-broken-dreams)
As a child I was haunted by The Beatles' Eleanor Rigby & She's Leaving Home songs. Sgt Pepper was the main album that I grew up with, my parents being avid Beatles (and not much else) fans. (Imagine my shock when I grew up and discovered that other bands than the Liverpool four existed. It was like opening a musical Tutankhamun's chamber of treasures) I first remember hearing them when I was about 6, and even then they seemed to fill me with a strange sensation of sadness. I registered the songs made me feel curiously reflective and were highly evocative, but I had no idea what this response was or meant. But I understood music could make you feel things.

Here are a few of my favourite, most melancholic songs, pieces of music so sad they have often driven me to tears. No mean feat for an emotional retard such as myself. But I go back to them time and time again. And they never fail to pinch me sharply, whether to realise things aren't so bad, or simply to reflect on the fact life is a bit of a bugger at times, but it happens to us all. Sometimes they oddly make me feel more alive than ever, that life is so fragile and beautiful it is too difficult even comprehend. (I'll be videotaping plastic bags in the wind next......)

Nick Drake - Place To Be
Elliott Smith - Needle In the Hay
Johnny Cash - Hurt
Nico - These Days
Rufus Wainwright - This Love Affair
Robyn Hitchcock - I Saw Nick Drake
Radiohead - Street Spirit (Fade Out)
THE BOWIE - Warszawa
Tracy Chapman - Goodbye
The Beatles - She's Leaving Home
Eels - I Need Some Sleep
Rufus Wainwright - The Maker Makes
Sufjan Stevens - Romulus
Elan - At the Edge of the World (This is based on The Challenger disaster)
Kate Bush - The Coral Room

I could list hundreds more. Of course, when all fails, a loud blast of Kate Bush's Running Up That Hill never fails to lift my mood. That song is my personal life-smelling-salt. This is mental viagra of the most potent kind. Sod anti-depressants, just prescribe Kate Bush.

With-a-thank-you to my musical muse the lovely Jon

Sunday, 31 May 2009

Have a Happy Hay-On-Wye Time

It's that most, wonderful time...of the year!

No, not Christmas (thankfully). It's summer festival time, a period of a few months when the media go music-latest-band-mad. Newspapers are packed with photographs of music revelers basking in sun...or wallowing bravely in mud and torrents of rain. And the obligatory retro-comeback star (a la Shirley Bassey) in wellies.

But as much as I love my music (don't get me started on how much I adore Rufus Wainwright and how he re-seals my wounded soul), my favourite festival is actually one of the book variety. The 2009 Hay-On-Wye literary festival comes to a close, and once again I am left counting down the days to the 2010 festival.

Hay-On-Wye has always been a favourite jaunt of mine. My parents took us there frequently as kids on rainy Sunday afternoons when we had exhausted all the local castles and museums. Admittedly, I probably wanted to go to Disney Land if I had had the choice, but I am glad for it now. It was at Hay I realised as a kid how much I loved books, or rather how much I adored a good story.

The Hay-On-Wye Festival reminds me a lot of Wimbledon. No really. And given how much time I spend wandering the grounds of SW19 trying to spot Cliff Richard and Virginia Wade in her pink cardigan, I probably see more tennis at Hay than I do there. You've got the Pimms, the odd queue, the cravats and the DelMonte Man hats. And the celebrities.

There's something about these events that seems to nurture comedy value and entertainment. They seem to harness a microcosm of British eccentricity that makes me feel all warm inside. If you ever start believing the exaggerated claims the country is 'going to the dogs' (thought we were a nation of dog lovers anyway so why should that be an issue...), go to an event like the Hay festival. It reminds you that quite the opposite is true.
It is a photographers' and observer's dream. Personally, this is aided by being accompanied by Mother, who never fails to provide me with amusing interludes. We had only been in Hay five minutes before Mother quipped "Oh! I need to remove my fleece! Never known it so hot. Not on a Sunday."
Not to mention her hyperventilating at the sight of Monty Don strolling towards her, Mr Cool-Clark-Gable-esque, a train of adoring ladies agog at the vision of him. I guess he's the Zack Efron of the middle-aged-gardening world, he didn't even need to wield his parsnips. But I will remember to bring a brown paper bag for Mother to breathe into next year. Or an oxygen cylinder.

Hay gives you an opportunity to see writers, philosophers and politicians, people who often don't scale the dizzy heights of the media attention because they're not in the Big Brother house (yet). Although you do get stars of TV and film too. Where else can you stand next to DJ Jo Whiley in the bap queue (Mother: "She doesn't look like a media personality. Tsk."), and then watch Jane Asher floating by, with Mother commentating LOUDLY: "I was so very upset when she split with Paul!". You learn that Richard Madeley possibly needed a shave that day, or that in real life, Melvyn Bragg resembles Columbo.

Amongst the various eating establishments- I recommend the homemade Welsh cakes, simply exquisite- the little stalls selling fascinators to elderly ladies, or literary-themed merchandise (a hatstand quoting the entire works of shakespeare anyone?), and the grassy areas where you can laze and read away to your hearts content, you can sit and chill. And listen. One of the things I enjoy most about the Hay festival is the people watching, overhearing delightful snippets of random conversation that are so sparkling, they could be part of an Alan Bennett monologue or a Zoe Heller novel.
Two older ladies heading towards the Jenni Murray book signing queue are overheard saying loudly one to the other: "Have YOUR periods stopped now?" rather mockingly as if the one couldn't join the others' gang unless she was menopausal. Or one lad to another: "There's that politician....David Cameron" Labour MP Ed Milliband didn't look impressed as he shifted by the fudge stall. "Pimms Jeremy?" said one cravated middle-aged chap to his friend in a snazzy baige blazer. "I never say no!" replied the friend enthusiastically before pausing. "Apart from earlier. Actually, I'll say no again". "Sammy wanted to come," one trendy young lady said to her equally trendy friend. "But she said she's seen enough of Stephen Fry on twitter to last a lifetime". Oh it was a never-ending wonderful stream of consciousness....

But aside from the comedy aspect, there is a lot of evocative and thought provoking material on offer. As there should be. You share the appreciation in the genius of words and language, an art form into itself. And I must admit, I find the Hay Festival inspiring. Melvyn Bragg's talk on his autobiographical fiction was both heart-wrenching and emotionally draining; he spoke so eloquently about his experiences in writing about topics that had affected him, and it was fascinating. It was also extremely close to the bone, and touched me a great deal. Zoe Heller's warm and sparkling wit combined with a down-to-earth personality was impressive and motivational. With a few titters, I learnt from Susie Dent that Nottingham used to be called Snottingham. The astronomer Royal, Martin Rees, spoke of the possibilities that perhaps, our brains are not designed to ever comprehend the universe in its entirety - leaving my own (already confuzzled) mind spellbound and enlightened. To see Alan Bennett in the flesh, one of my favourite writers was a real joy to behold. Even Mother was about to pass me the brown paper bag to hyperventilate into, her turn to chuckle at my expense.

Ah sweet Hay. You tempt us with your literary treats and do not disappoint. You make us want to dive into a swimming pool of books and gorge ourselves on shakespearean prose. I've seen the festival grow from a small town affair held in the village school, to a major world renown event. I'll even forgive all the 'making Hay' puns. And the cravat-action. Forget Christmas, I wish it could be the Hay Festival every day.

See my 2009 Hay Festival photos here

Friday, 22 May 2009

"I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them." - Diane Arbus

Thinking back at when I studied photography, *cue Hovis ad music* and yes I can remember that far back, there are always one or two images from prolific photographers that particularly re-appear in my mind's playback facility. Whether I liked the photographs or not, their power or impact obviously tattooed themselves into my subconscious.

One such image was Diane Arbus' photograph: Child with Toy Hand Grenade. It's bizarreness intrigued and fascinated me, I wanted to comb every inch of the print with my eyes. But it also made me want to stride down the lecture room, pull the slide out of the machine and throw it out the window into the path on oncoming escaped wildebeests.

A photograph that draws such a conflicted set of emotions certainly put a firework up my artistic undercrackers. The scrawny boy is pulling a gruesome face, he looks utterly strange; he's stood in an American park, his stance is odd and uncomfortable, his clothes ruffled. He's holding a toy grenade in a bizarre fashion, he looks agitated. Everything about the image seems wrong, and yet a lot of it seems right too. It's an image I've never forgotten, and I've never truly deciphered why I loved and yet also pretty much despised it.

It was with joy that I saw this very image at the National Museum of Wales, Cardiff, last week, where the Diane Arbus exhibition is on display until August.

Diane is one of the most famous female contemporary photographers in the world. And a controversial one. Her images capture people, normal people in settings and surroundings we all recognise and relate to. Yet her talent was in making the normal look...anything but. They are packed with connotations and tensions.
In fact, some of the profiles make the subject look out of this world; it is as if Diane had uncovered a rock from an undiscovered land and released it's alien inhabitants scuttling into our society. It is this conflict of normality and the bizarre that draws and yet also repulses you. They are a fascinating insight into the (alleged) less desirable members of society, highlighting the way people mask their reality, as well as displaying the fact that appearances are deceptive.

Some claimed Diane's images were exploitative and demeaning. And you can understand this view point, particularly with her set of 'untitled' images, of people with mental disabilities. You begin to question the reasoning, whether the subjects were able to make a judged decision over allowing their images to be taken.
You even begin to question your own feelings to feeling this way. Am I being demeaning and patronising towards the subjects by questioning Diane's reasoning in the first place? Quite probably and very possibly. Which for me, makes the images all the more interesting.

But what draws me in particular to Diane's work is not necessarily the photographs themselves, but her ideology behind it, her thoughts on photography as a whole, on how she wanted to use it as medium. As soon as I read her thoughts and quotes, it was as if two loose and lost wires in my head had finally become connected again, allowing the circuit to flow.

'I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them.'
'My favorite thing is to go where I've never been.'
'A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.'

These particular quotes struck such a chord, the internal mind strings have been strumming along ever since. Whilst I am obviously no where near Diane's level (she being Everest, me being a mole hill in the back garden), I've long been fascinated in photographing the unusual and in particular the abandoned, inanimate objects that people have dumped or disregarded. I have always been interested in how photography reveals nothing and poses more questions, something which I explored extensively in my 'Memories of my Nan' photography project. And I like nothing more than discovering new places or things/objects under your nose to snap.
I love photographing things people wouldn't normally, 'conventionally' want to photograph. I particularly see a melancholic beauty in derelict buildings, which to me, is actually as picturesque as a Brecon Beacon landscape. An image of a derelict building conjures, to me, so many emotions and questions and possibilities, it makes my imagination water. And yet nothing is ever answered. Tantalisingly.
To read Diane's thoughts was an odd and yet wonderful experience. I now don't care how bad or good I am at taking an image, I enjoy viewing the world this way, and it is reassuring that we actually all see things so differently. Otherwise life would be so 2D, and we might as well jack it all in and become Zelebrity-Zobsessed-Zombies. [Pretentious mode/]

It is sad Diane committed suicide so young, like many talented artists and musicians (and alarmingly like so many of my idols), you are left wondering about the work that was never done, just as much as the wonderful achievements already accomplished.

Go and see the Diane Arbus exhibition. It is a remarkable set of images that will have a lasting impression on anyone who sees it. And you may well find yourself feeling rather conflicted. You may chuckle. You may want to cry. You may feel turned off. You may feel inspired. Just don't try to throw any images out of the window and towards any stampeding wildebeest. Or if you do, just don't tell anyone where you got the idea from and let me photograph it.

BBC article on the exhibition in Wales.
My Memory Photo Project
Urban Exploration - My derelict asylum images

Friday, 15 May 2009

A Battery Life For Me

Lately I have noticed something that has increasingly taken control of my thoughts, something more annoying than the media's obsession with MPs expenses, and something more additively obsessive than Twitter (don't get me started on that alluring, genius web 2 concept that is the siren of social networking).

No, my life has been taken over by another kind of life. That of the humble battery. It's been there a while, tinkering away in the back of my subconscious...a running process in the system. I think it began when I purchased my first (and only so far, I am proud to say) iPod. This was in about 1789, when iPods were clockwork and you had to carve out your playlists in slate.
It wasn't long into my iPod ownership that I became rather intrigued by how long the battery would last with continuous useage.

It was important to me, I felt at the time, that I could last a whole day away from the sanctuary of a plug socket or USB port, to be able to listen to Rufus Wainwright, REM and Kate Bush for the entire duration. Yes, even whilst still in lectures, to block out that inconvenient noise of someone talking about something. Music was a big part of my day. It was an absolutely calamity if I couldn't listen to any. Even if I actually, well, couldn't listen to my iPod, I still had to have a full battery. I still had to have the peace of mind that I could, at any time, whip out the little magical white box of musical delights, and hear Bonnie Tyler rasping out her gravelly best. Or melt away in the melancholic beauty of Nick Drake as I trudged through dreary Trefforest. If the mood so took me.

I began doing what all good obsessives do. You Google.

Google is to us obsessives, what crack is well crackheads. You Google battery life and discover 8634567890 begillion ipod users with 97766544 trillion different tales of either wondrous, or despicable battery experiences. This has the effect of both reassuring you, but also annoyingly showing what you could have: "BilboBaggins69 says 'I got 7,976 hours of battery life out of my iPod last week...and it made me dinner'", as well as filling your every pore with terror with tales of woe: "DottyComDotCom says 'My battery lasted 2 minutes before it was completely drained and the world imploded into apocalyptic meltdown. Even Beezlebub turned up and prodded me with pitchforks".
But mostly it makes you paranoid, so you do not reach any other conclusion than a state of sheer panic. Well, you do if you're tragically pathetic like me. You start using your ipod and monitoring the battery use/wear. I'd catch myself counting how many hours worth I had had, it was on my mind constantly. Was this normal? Was this defective? I think I even dreamt I was a battery hen.
When I went to Australia, I spent so long stressing over what I would do if my ipod battery ran out during the 12 hour flight (because obviously, there's nothing else to do on a plane. At all. Ever), that I didn't even get around to using the damn thing.

Slowly but surely, I soon got over this. Mostly because I realised these devices were there to be used, and mostly because I realised I was being a complete daftie.

But this obsession has returned with vengeance. It's leaner, it's meaner, it's fitter. It's the battery life obsession GTi with go-faster-stripes. In december I upgraded my mobile phone, and in a moment of sheer reckless lunacy, I plumped for a 3G phone. Probably due to my obsession with t'internet (but that fixation is an entirely different rambling essay for another day).

Battery life now rules my own existence more than ever. I use my phone for everything. It's my watch, it's my alarm clock, it's my music player, it's my communication to the outside world via text, via t'internet, via emails (I don't speak anymore, I only use the medium of mime or URLs). It's where I use twitter to tweet about what fascinating sandwich I am munching on, which thrills the world. It's where I take little comical photographs of whimsical daftness when I don't have my camera on me. It's where I can play games, and scan barcodes and find out my GPS position. It's even my flashlight in the dark. When someone rings me it plays a favourite tune, which I then will often sit back and enjoy so much, I'll forget to answer. Ok, put it this way, I bloody love this phone and can't cope without it (okay, I can. Just).

Alas. The battery is as weak as Wales' attempts to qualify for the football world cup. It makes a pocket calculator look like the NASA control computer. O the woe and disappointment! And yes, the frustration and annoyance that this causes means all day I am keeping an eye out for a plug socket, trying to ration my texting, planning my useage. I get stressed out. What if I am walking home, with no juice in the phone, (rhyme not intended this time honest) and I fall over and break my leg!? What if I am out in my car and I break down with only the Bates Motel nearby!? Even worse, what if I see something hilariously comical and can't share it!? This isn't right. How can the manufacturers do this to me, in this supposed technological-driven world we live in? Kraftwerk lied to me, we are not the Robots.
My spontaneous whimsical texts and tweets have to be...well...spontaneous! Otherwise I'll be turning into a manufactured communicator. For the world desperately needs to know that I am sat contemplating making a sculpture out of paperclips, that I like to chuckle at the chocolate-eating-whilst-exercising-woman in the gym, that I like my plums, or that I can see a man picking his nose in Starbucks.


Then again. I could just actually buy a watch and talk to people in person. And have some perspective. Now there's a notion.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

A New Poet, And Downcha Know It

The new Poet Laureate was announced recently. For a split second I was alarmed. Duffy!? All she's done is ride around on a bike sounding like a demented goat in some very un-droll Coke advert.

Who would want to be Poet Laureate, writing nice about a royal?
At least this latest literary news, diverts flu and Susan Boyle.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Don't Talk to the Hand. Coz Only My Publicist is Listening.

What a cliche. I can't even believe I'm about to say it. But here it is: It seems a damning indicament of the current celebrity-infatuated-media world we live in, when you read a news article on the BBC web site like this.
The story itself is alarming, with the behaviour of Police during the G20 protests needing, unquestionably, to be scutinised. A woman was hit by a policeman, and questions need answering. Was it necessary, was it a breach of regulations? It needs to be dealt with, and this isn't my issue.

But you do worry when you see the words 'Max Clifford' involved. And this is the rub. Why does Ms Fisher need a publicist? Is she planning on carving up a nice little media career for herself? Zelebrity Come Protesting On Ice. Are we to see her on the front page of Heat magazine next week along with 'G20 Star Favourite Hats' pull-out? Just weeks after we saw a rather peculiar media frenzy over the (admittedly very sad) death of a reality TV 'star' famous for...well, having no particular talent whatsoever, it makes you wonder how on earth we managed to reach this very strange point. It is so strange a point, it's not even pointy anymore, but interactive, digital and submerged with botox.

Imagine this bizarre celebrity-obsessed-culture had been so dominant during the 1950s. Perhaps Rosa Parks would have refused to relinquish her seat simply in order to achieve that elusive two book deal, calendar, album record and possibly a spin-off sit-com 'On the Buses'.

Let's go back further. Guy Fawkes might have tried to blow up the Houses of Parliament so that he could get a place on 'Ye Olde Bigge Bretheran', 9070910 inmates in Ye Workhouse, watched 24 hours by passing peasants and gentry, who threw rotten vegetables at the evicted dweller every Friday night. Tasks involve 'who can not catch thy pox'. Or achieve slap and tickle with the bawdy wench.

I bet even Chaucer wished he had had Gok Wan to advise on what sandals to address thine pilgrims in (who were all dying to know what diet he was on). His little known 'Ye X Facctore Britons Wyth Talente' Tale perhaps got lost in translation on Thy Memoree Styck (a twig) on it's way to Canterbury. Which was a shame, as the Wyfe of Bath could knock out a cracking rendition of 'I Wylle Syrvive: As long as ye hath mine pybliciste'.

BBC article

Saturday, 11 April 2009

I Loves Life I Do, No I Do

It's a little like when you've drunk too much of the fizzy pop and extras, the dregs of night have long turned into the early roots of morning, and you suddenly have an epiphany that you absolutely love to pieces your best mate/s who stand over the toilet of a Cardiff drinking establishment yacking their guts up. "I loves you y''re bloody great you are...".
Suddenly everything you hate about the world (which is really everything), that you've been copiously moaning about all evening, is a distant memory faded into oblivion. And isn't life wonderful.

Until the hangover. Then it's full-steam ahead back to Shitsville.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

10 Things I Learnt This Week (which I already knew but never remember)

1. When it is raining, do not wear long trousers. Unless you want to wade around like you have piddled yourself for the rest of the day.

2. Spending 84957y98347658934576 hours straightening your hair is a waste of time when the weather is tempestuous. Just accept the Wurzel Gummidge look is the new black/grunge-Kate-Moss-latest-thing.

3. If you go to bed late, and wake up early, you will feel like you've been run over by a herd of stampeding, hungry Vanessa Feltzes.

4. Fathers+computers = a migraine for me the size of New Mexico.

5. Paper cuts are the most painful injury known to man (aside from stepping on a plug). Amputation must be the only cure.

6. The Apprentice. Well. It's a bit boring isn't it? There's only so many times you can hear the words 'at the end of the day' before you begin to want to put your head through a mincer.

7. Spraying too much Deep Heat into the atmosphere makes one come over a little queer. But I normally see bouncing giraffes, admittedly.

8. When the bath upstairs starts leaking through the ceiling, it's a good idea to stop taking showers. Unless you want to be Frank Spencer.

9. Battery life rules my er life. Phones and iPods....ARGH bane of my life. They can send men to the moon but they can't make a battery that lasts longer than a T&T (tweet and a text).

10. A Pink Lady is not a proper luncheon, no matter how partial I am to munching on one.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Thatcher Infirm(ary)

I was bemused by this news story. An infirmary in London has been named after our former-love-her-or-hate-her, Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

It was opened by Prince Charles. It must have been like a collection of all the people I most admire. [insert smilie contraption here /Sarcastic Mode]

Now, I wonder if the Thatcherism ideals will rub off on the health care? Will Welsh patients get told the ward is closed down for cost cutting measures? Will milk be banned? Perhaps anyone ill turning up will be told to pull their socks up, and that it's their own fault they are ill....

BBC news story, complete with delicious video footage.

Monday, 23 March 2009

Driving Miss Crazy

The other day I decided to go to London. The coach I travelled on was driven by Nessa from Gavin & Stacey. Well, she sounded like her. Ten minutes out of Cardiff and there came a little tap on the microphone, which jolted me from my early morning doze/daydream of world domination.

"Elow. And welcome to da" I didn't realise I was sitting on a web site. "'Ere are a few rulez like. Smoking - NO! Don't do it." Was this a new government health warning? Ironically I saw her slouched against the side of the bus with a fag drooping from her lips before we set off.
"DRINKING is not allowed. Alc-wholic." Again ironic, she sounded a tad squiffy herself. "Dere's a toilet on board. Which you can use." Nice of her to allow us to isn't it? I was expecting a bucket on the side of the M4. "We 'ave everything on here to cater for yewer needs. A fire extinguisher, first aid kit." EVERYTHING I have ever wanted. "Oh. There are seat belts. WEAR 'EM!" I felt for my safety more if I didn't fasten mine, I can tell you that now. "Da seat belts are there for a reason, you know." No shit Sherlock. She'll probably tie us up in them and abandon the bus in Newport, cackling manically.
"Sit back then." She pauses dramatically. It's a pause Harold Pinter would be proud of. "Let's see if I gets you to London."

I had no idea there was an 'if' involved in this contract I entered into. You could tell she was smiling as she said it. I must admit, I uttered a little prayer under my breath. And I don't even believe in God.

Luckily I did make it to London. My sanity however, only just got there, having been squished next to a 56 stone Alfred Hitchcock-alike coughing and sneezing for three hours. He was like a walking noro-virus-Daily-Mail-scare-story-super-bug. When I got off the bus I resembled an old crumpled BHS sock recovered from behind the radiator. That had been there since 1989.
I played Dolly Parton loudly on my ipod to seek revenge. He didn't look like a Dolly-man. Although I must admit giggling when the man suffocating me, made comedy trumpet sounds blowing into his hankerchief. Those kinds of sound effects are usually only ever heard on whimsical Carry On films.

I'd miss the comedy real life throws up at me really, no matter how much I complain about it...

See my photos of London here.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Confirmed - I Like Trash

The other day, I took a photograph.

On reflection of it, I have come to the conclusion that I am a little odd. Well, I've known that for a while, but was in denial. (And people who know me will wonder why it's taken me this long to realise...)

When out and about, I often seem to find things that amuse me. These could be odd objects left behind or abandoned, silly graffiti that just makes me laugh, or just something bizarre and random. I like to photograph them.

I was out walking and spotted this discarded shopping soon as I saw it, I realised there was something about it that really tickled me. I wasn't exactly sure why, but I just knew it did. So I had to photograph it, even just on my camera phone, to preserve it's quirkiness before it disappeared off into the wind, or disintegrated by rain and other elements, never to be seen by human eyes again. The idea of that almost upsets me.

Which is why I realise I am rather odd. What is it about an unwanted shopping list anyway; a piece of rubbish, abandoned, completely obsolete in its purpose, that makes me so intrigued?
Someone once took the time out to write it, either in a hurry or with great thought. It was then tossed aside, or accidentally lost. You can see someone's handwriting. It is said you can tell a lot about someone from their handwriting. Who were they? What were they doing? Was it someone old? Young? Married? Divorced? Rich? Poor? Already a sea of suggestions and branches of interest begin to form. This is what fascinates me so much. The eccentric writing that makes comedy (well, to me) alternative words (Lard peas?), the question mark (questioning the existence of bread? I like to go for the rational explanation after all).

And I guess that is it. Irrelevant rubbish or garbage to other people, just isn't trash to me. They're intrinsically fascinating, because objects and items have stories. They're inanimate items, but they've nearly always got a human story connected to them. The idea of these stories being lost fills me with sadness, which is why I love photography's ability to capture and preserve such delights. And they are delights. You just need to think outside the box. Or the shopping list.

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Dial G for Genius

The BBC have recently produced an interesting documentary about Alfred Hitchcock, concentrating specifically on the English director's early pre-Hollywood works. Presented and directed by the comedian Paul Merton, it includes archive interviews with Hitch and present interviews with those who worked with him. Merton even copies the Master himself and puts himself into the archive footage, for his own little cameos. It's worth watching to see how Hitchcock was ahead of his time with his early films, which crossed the silent-film to talkie evolution, and how a lot of his cinematic techniques that we take for granted, were in fact pioneering.

The first Hitchcock film I saw was Psycho. I was about 14 or so, and saw it on TV, not really knowing what to expect, probably a little skeptical that this old, black and white film would probably just be rubbish. Because, well, it was old and black and white.

How wrong I was. Just from the opening titles and music I was freaked and yet strangely also captivated. The music alone was disturbing and unnerving. The rest of the film just engrossed me. But it was the infamous shower scene that both scared and delighted me with it's wonderful bluntness, shock-value, and yet I could tell this was special movie-making. The editing was incredible, each edit like a stab of the knife, the music shrilling your ears.
It left me knowing instantly that I loved Hitchcock. I imagine I am not the only Hitch fan who felt, when first watching a Hitchcock film, like I had been slapped in the face, grabbed by my shoulders and shaken, and left thinking 'where have these films been all my life!?'

Watching Psycho also made me not only interested in Hitchcock and the rest of his films, but it inspired me to study films, to read up on the meanings, the techniques. I had always liked movies, but it was Psycho that captivated me in a way further. This was a whole exciting medium that went beyond just pure laughs (well, like watching Ghostbusters) and could open up an entire new world of artistic exploration. And the more I read about Hitchcock and his films, the more obsessed I became with his themes and work. I wanted to make my own films. And I also became more appreciative of old, classic movies.

I am a lover of thrillers, crime-stories and suspense, so I guess it was natural that I would enjoy Hitchcock's films so much. Not to mention the dark humour his films contained, despite some rather disturbing or troubling themes that he was fascinated with. Similarly I think this is why I was drawn to Patricia Highsmith and her thriller novels, which I often feel are very much like Hitchcock films in terms of plot. Hitch even made one of her books into a great film - Strangers on a Train.

When you look at Hitchcock's early films, they are still enjoyable today, showing they can last the test of time. You can appreciate his techniques were pioneering, despite the limitations of the medium at the time. Despite my love for Psycho, Rear Window, Vertigo and his other post-colour films, it is actually his early B&W to the 1950s movies which I feel are his best. Blackmail, The Lady Vanishes, The 39 Steps, Shadow of a Doubt, Notorious, Strangers on a Train....

My favourite Hitchcock film is probably The Lady Vanishes. A claustrophobic, wonderful story of espionage, conspiracy and identity. It contains everything I love about a good story, with wonderful direction and great acting performances. It is a joy from start to finish. The Master of Suspense may not be for everyone, but he's certainly for me.

You can see the Paul Merton documentary on iplayer (for those in the UK) here.

Sunday, 1 March 2009

Well I loves the valleys I do

Spotted in Cardiff. Makes a change from the usual 'Clean Me' or 'I wish my wife was this dirty'.

Monday, 16 February 2009

Rugby Sentimentality (& I don't care how whimsical I am)

With the Six Nations rugby well under way, and with Wales beating England at the weekend (sorry had to mention that), I am often left to ponder the strange hold this sport has over so many people. I can't quite define what it is about rugby, that seems to route itself into the Welsh psyche so forcefully; an intricate web of randomness, that seems to signify so much to our identity.

No, I can't really fathom it out. But I can explore what it means to me.

Last week a video appeared doing the rounds on rugby message boards and emails, someone had compiled footage of great Welsh rugby tries and moments through the ages and put it to music. Some of the tries I had only ever seen once before, or possibly never. Others I remembered only too well indeed. Watching this internet video made me feel incredibly emotional. Yes, I was being a big girls' blouse, and began blubbering into my keyboard.

Rugby can be a beautiful game - flowing moves, darting runs, amidst hard knocks and bloody tough hits. This contrast of physicality and then sudden speed and free movement, it's a bizarre and yet remarkable contrast to the sport. Yes, rugby can be awful, dire spectacles, but at the same time, to me, a high scoring match can be just dull as a forward-battled mud-feast. And that's what I love about rugby. The contrasts - the big, the small, the knocks, the running, the kicking, the passing, the hard fought battles of attrition on some days, the free flowing try-a-plenty on another.

But watching the footage of matches gone by, I was taken back to my childhood. There was Scott Quinnell scoring a great solo try against France, and I was instantly taken back: 1994, my Nan's house, watching the match in her small dining room. I can feel the carpet on my feet, I can taste the lemonade on my lips, I can smell my Nan's cooking, I can hear my Nan squealing in excitement and the sound of her slippers jumping up and down on the floor. I can remember the moment so vividly, I can still feel that tingle of joy, the warmth of my Nan's enthusiasm. It's as if she is back again, alive and bloody loving it, living the moment. It's a bizarre and yet heart warming experience.

There's Kevin Morgan's try against Ireland: 2005, I'm taken back to watching the match on a big screen at a Cardiff rugby club with my dad, I can't hear myself think there's such noise, I'm in complete and utter disbelief that Wales are about to win a Grand Slam, something I never thought I'd ever see. There was such joy, I can only liken it to winning the lottery. No really. And I've never seen my dad so...happy. He's surrounded by all his best friends, guys who he has known for most of his life, friends he met through playing rugby. To see everyone else so happy just makes you feel so euphoric. Who needs mind-altering drugs with highs like that?

Of course, some of the tries were from an era before I was born. The so-called golden age of Welsh rugby, the 1960s and 70s. A time held in such high regard by someone like me born in the 80s and who only ever knew a plethora of losses, false dawns and heavy defeats, it seems to contain mythical properties. The losses and sheer disappointments I grew up with, have instilled in me an inherent pessimism in Welsh rugby that I can rarely shake. The lows were so low they were sponsored by British Coal (before the Tories disbanded it that is). And yet you always had that little glimmer of hope burning, you could never truly turn your back.

There is one particular try, scored by Keith Jarrett against England in 1967...the black and white footage isn't clear, but as Keith catches the ball inside his own half and streaks up the touchline for an incredible score in the corner, for a split second there is the grainy, shadowy figure of my grandfather sitting on the touchline. I have watched this try time and time again to catch a ghostly glimpse of the grandfather I never knew, who used to be a steward at the old Arms Park.

And I think this is why rugby means so much to me. Rugby is a passion of my father, and his father before him. It's a link to my past, a connection to times gone by that I either lived through or even didn't. Loved ones no longer here are somehow back with me again. In some strange way, I feel closer to the grandfather I never knew when there is a big rugby match on, than any other time in my life. This is why rugby will always mean so much, and will always play such a role in my life, no matter what I am doing or where I am. This is why you can never walk away, (even when we will fall inevitably dire again).

When the final whistle went at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday, I could so clearly hear my Nan cheering happily and proclaiming her wish to crack open the whisky bottle and to dance the night away in celebration of Wales' win, it was as if she was there. She was there.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Overheard in the supermarket

Two old ladies in the house cleaning paraphernalia aisle.

Old Lady 1: Ooo!
Old Lady 2: What, what WHAT!?
Old Lady 1: Just look at that. Stainless steel cleaner.
Old Lady 2: What?
Old Lady 1: I know. An actual cleaner, that cleans stainless steel.
Old Lady 2: How marvelous! I used to leave the stainless steel to soak in soapy water.
Old Lady 1: I know! Isn't it amazing that they can do these days?
Old Lady 2: The world is filled with such fabulous things. Stainless steel cleaner, well.
Old Lady 1: I'm not buying any though.
Old Lady 2: No, neither am I.

Ladies shuffle off. Bizarre.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Snow? SNOW!? Snoooooow I tells ya!

Unless you went on holiday to the moon last week, or was in a coma, you would probably be rather aware of the snow that hit the UK. It was apparently the heaviest snowfall in about 20 years. And in a typical British way, the country went snow-mad, with a large percentage of the country coming to a complete standstill. You only had to look on Facebook to see that nearly every single status update had SNOW mentioned somewhere, or the white stuff, and they weren't referring to some Amy Winehouse shenanigans.

After about a day, you become tired of SNOW! being all over the news and media. Actually, after about an hour you do. Admittedly, in the rural areas or where it was heaviest, it was a relative big deal. And London had rather a lot, so naturally, the media were interested. London is the centre of the universe after all!
There's only so many "viewers' photos" of snow you can take. Or roadside reports from freezing looking reporters standing in torrid conditions and saying 'there's a lot of snow here'. D'uh.

But it became a political issue. The usual cries come creeping out from behind their Daily Mail-branded scarves and woolly hats. 'Why aren't there more measures in place to stop the country from coming to a halt whenever there is snow?! Typical badly prepared Rip-off Britain' Well probably because apart from Scotland, where they regularly get adverse weather, and I dare-say continue as normal as they're used to it, it would a waste of money. And we all know how much the people who moan about this hate the scandalous waste of tax-payers' money. I can see it now, millions spent on huge snow-plough trucks, only for them to be abandoned on the roadside for 20 years. The Daily Mail would implode with the disgrace, and link it to the fall of house prices.

Oh well, the snow has now melted and it's already being forgotten about. Although I can never work out who wants/prays for snow more....the kids, who want a day off school and to have a good play in the snow, or the teachers, who want a day off school and to have a good play in the snow?

Monday, 26 January 2009

A Blot

A blot on the landscape,
A smudge on a canvas,
A tear in the wallpaper,
A stain on the carpet,
A hole in the wall,
A crack in the glass,
A chip on the china,
A broken string,
A burnt-out fuse,
A bruise on skin,
A cancerous cell.

A soul who does not belong.

Thursday, 22 January 2009

Titanic Theories

A recent BBC web site article highlighted a study done at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT), where it was suggested that British passengers perished on the ship possibly because of their politeness over queuing.

Britons are apparently famous for queuing. The Wimbledon queue for tickets is one of the biggest examples of this, even now. I should know, I've been part of this queue many times myself. There is a queuing etiquette, queuing rules (printed out on a leaflet - so it is official), and it all must be obeyed. It's taken extremely seriously. And it works too, people don't queue jump. If they were, there would be an outrage of such astronomical proportions, that even the Daily Mail wouldn't be able to equal it.

I've been studying the Titanic for most of my life in my most nerd-esque moments. I've read most of the main books and articles, and it never ceases to amaze me the amount of new angles on the sinking/disaster, that emerge from the depths every so often. There are the conspiracy theories - it wasn't the Titanic that sunk! There are the pointing fingers of blame - the gates were locked in third class! There are the spells and witchcraft stories - there was a cursed mummy on board! There's also the claims the ship was structurally flawed - the rivets were faulty!

It's testament to the amazing power Titanic has to still interest us, that these theories appear so often. It was/is such an amazing tale, and utterly tragic too. That so many should not have died, makes that tragedy more painstaking. There are a plethora of Ifs and Buts, that if just one or two had occurred, the ship striking the berg may well have been avoided altogether. It all adds spice to a story that simply has every ingredient for the most dramatic recipe. And fascination with the luxury ship that sunk on it's maiden voyage shows no sign of waning.

However, while I welcome all interest in the subject, I do get a little wary of the new studies such as this one from Australia. Mostly because I don't think it tells us anything really new or enlightening. It is also based on a great deal of conjecture. The article mentions British politeness as opposed to Americans' being 'individualist', then mentions one gentleman putting his wife on a lifeboat and then dressing in his finest to die gallantly. This sounds rather similar to the infamous fate of First Class passenger, Benjamin Guggenheim - an American.

There was undoubtedly a great deal of stoicism and gallant behaviour that freezing cold night in April 1912. But from many different people, of different nationalities, of different social classes. This is one of the reasons why the story of the Titanic and her people have captured the hearts of so many for so long. Certainly there were different customs and etiquette then, but I raise questions over how big a factor nationality and etiquette had over passenger fate.

That so many people died on the Titanic was due to one fact - there weren't enough lifeboats. The second main reason in my opinion, is that the crew and staff (and even passengers) were completely unprepared for such an emergency. Surviving the Titanic sinking relied a great deal on luck, being in a certain position at a certain time, and in some cases, whether you were a woman or man. There was a 'women and children first' attitude on some parts of the boat, but not by all, again highlighting the ill prepared or perhaps random nature of the evacuation procedure.

97 years on from the most famous sea disaster the world has ever seen, and she still intrigues the world and raises debates. I find all the different angles and theories on the ship that emerge almost as fascinating as the ship and the story itself. Her place in the imagination of so many is truly unsinkable.

BBC Article

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

January Detox. No thanks.

January is an odd month. There's the anti-climax of a new year, which, after the build up of Christmas, can be rather depressing. There's also the cold; the harsh, dark weather can dampen your mood. You're left with the daunting prospect that there's still a few months to go of all this until spring.
It makes you want to hide under the duvet and hibernate for three months. With a dvd box-set of the X Files and an endless supply of tea. (I would slip out to watch a rugby match or two though...)

Themes that always seems to crop up in January however, are resolutions, and in particular detox. You hear it everywhere. 'I'll give up smoking'. 'I'll get fit'. 'I'll eat healthily'. 'I'll give up murder'. (Perhaps not the last one) But it's as if we eat so much in the name of Christmas, we try on the jeans on January 1st and freak out. It inspires us to realise this suddenly, something that we should have really twigged in July...when we tried to squidge into that bathing costume and instead resembled cottage cheese spilling out of bin liners. We need to lose weight. Or work out. Or whatever.

And then the dreaded D word crops up. (No, not Darlek) Detox. It's thrown about all year around of course, but particularly now. This is its special time of year. It can creep out of the shadows of organic food and health scares and take the centre stage. All the excess seems to make our bodies weary, all the Christmas sherry has seeped into our veins. All the mince pies have exploded onto our waistlines. We're tired and sluggish. So a detox is in order!

I didn't really care either way about the whole concept of detoxing until I stumbled upon the Bad Science column in The Guardian newspaper. I suggest a read of this Bad Science blog, or even better, buy his book. It was through reading Bad Science that I eventually stumbled upon this from Sense About Science, which basically debunks the detox myth. It states there is no scientific evidence to suggest 'detoxing' has any benefits whatsoever.

The author of Bad Science, Dr Ben Goldacre is a great champion of poorly portrayed science and how we are often being totally mislead by media perceptions of science reports and statistics. He writes concisely and well. I have also seen him speak at the Hay-On-Wye festival, and he is engaging and above all, makes sense. When you read his writings, you realise how scarily inaccurate a great deal of media reports are. You discover things like detox are a drop in the ocean in the entire schemes of things (scare mongering that should perhaps read). MMR, MRSA, Cancer 'cures', Cancer 'causes', mobile phone masts, fish oil trials on kids, health scares, homeopathy and herbal remedies, brain gyms....they've all been scarily (and in the case of MMR, dangerously) mis-reported. The list continues and it is large.

But Bad Science and Sense About Science write about these topics in depth and better than I could ever even begin. I recommend anyone take a look. It is seriously eye-opening.

Bad Science
Sense About Science