Sunday, 30 September 2012


You can't tell a book by them, apparently. Previous readers will know I'm a pen geek. Well, I'm a notebook geek as well. (All right, I'll come clean. I am a giant stationery geek. My favourite shop is Paperchase. End of.) I have a collection of notebooks, some of which are very old. I realise that there is no such thing as the perfect notebook, although I spent a long time searching for this Holy Grail, convinced that one day I would find it and never have to look again. Then I found out that some people had collection of notebooks on the go, a la Doris Lessing. I embraced this concept wholeheartedly, not least because I realised that it licensed me to have a wide variety.

In 2000 I went to Australia for five months, having escaped from Pensions. Before I went, I read Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines, as a sort of preparation. (If you haven't read it, do so immediately. Go on. I'll still be here when you get back.) In it he describes the French notebooks he uses on his travels. Before his trip, he finds that the manufacturer has stopped making them, but manages to find a supply and Stocks Up. I was made mournful on reading this - I had never seen one of these notebooks but I Wanted One. In Australia, I stayed with friends in Melbourne for two months and then set off around the rest of the country, in the traditional backpacker way, armed with a rucksack and a long-distance bus ticket. I was not a traditional backpacker however, being older and in possession of funds that would allow me to take a plane if I wanted to. Gosh, it's a big country. The low point, travel-wise, was the 21-hour bus journey to Alice Springs (can't for the moment remember where from - could it have been Darwin? And why didn't I take a plane???).  On arrival at each place I made a beeline for the museums and art galleries (after finding a bed for the night, that is). Again, not your typical backpacker. After being amazed by many exhibits in the Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, (including a room full of stones suspended by a web of ropes from the ceiling)
My first Moleskine, with black
Pilot Vball 0.7, to show size
I trotted into the shop and there, in front of me was a large display. I nearly passed out. Yes, there were the notebooks whose passing I had mourned in England - the famous Moleskine. With trembling fingers I picked one up and opened it, discovering a pocket in which there was a little leaflet giving their history. An Italian company had taken over the manufacture. In these interweb days, I would have looked them up on reading about them and discovered this beforehand, but such was the slowness of those times that I had to travel to a different hemisphere to find one. Reader, I bought one. And made my travel notes in it . I have not had such a perfect notebook moment since.

Speaking of covers (which I'm not, yet) here's one of my favourites.

this notebook
Now I am venturing into the world of the art journal, I have been enjoying my cache of stationery. I came across this notebook. Goodness knows how long I've had it. The price is still inside - £1.35 - so I bought it after 15th February 1971. I had used it at some stage, as some pages had been removed. It has blank pages of reasonable quality so I thought I would use it as an ideas book. Not with that cover though.  I remembered covering textbooks at school and thought I would just make it a plain brown wrapper but I couldn't find any brown paper. So I rummaged through my Collection of Things and found:

a gift bag
some bias binding
a gift bag (forgot to photograph it before I took it apart) and some bias binding. (I have no idea why I have bias binding. I have not used bias binding since about 1968. It is entirely possible that I bought it because I like the term bias binding.)

And - after only a little cursing - I have this:

To those of an artistic bent, it will not be impressive. But the idea that I would take a notebook and alter it in any way is a new and exciting one to me.

Thanks for reading. See you soon.

Saturday, 29 September 2012


I am a pen geek. I love pens and own an inordinate amount of them. I have High and Particular Standards, depending on the job in hand. I am very fond of pens which come in many colours. I have many sets. Here are some of them:

Sharpie plus Pilot projector markers


Staedtler Triplus Fineliner plus Triplus Color (sic)

Ain't they purty?

Staedtler 326 washable fibre-tip

Gosh I enjoyed that. More another time...

Thanks for visiting - see you soon.

HAHAHA - did you think you weren't going to get a musical interlude*? Shame on you. Here it is

*I do know that an interlude doesn't come at the end, but I seem to be stuck on the term. Oh look -  it doesn't come at the end now.

Friday, 28 September 2012


...of previous apparently wholehearted approval of The Hills is Lonely. Have now read more. It has not stood the test of time, sensibilities-wise. Some of her language is unfortunate. And I'd like to make it clear that the bit I was laughing at was the bit about her being up a tree to escape the cow.

End of statement.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012


often find life funny. I believe that the only reason I managed 25 years in the pensions industry was that I was expert in finding humour in most situations. Well, perhaps not most - that might be rose-tinted reflection. I finally managed to extricate myself from Pensions (as it was known), with a nicely negotiated redundancy package. In the customary and embarrassing speech inflicted on leavers,  my manager said that an unexpected bonus of accompanying me to meetings with clients was the amount of laughing we did in the (usually long) car journeys and that she had had no idea Pensions could be so funny. Which was nice. Some twenty years earlier, a previous manager had said to me "Really, Small*" (not public-school formality - it was a nickname. It was a nickname-heavy establishment.  One of my colleagues was known as Horse and he was unwise enough to make it plain he didn't like it. Hmmm. Perhaps not so far from school) "you speak to me as though I were an amiable buffoon." I remember looking at him and taking just that little bit too long to lie and say I didn't think of him like that at all and he harrumphed off. As he regularly asked me to go and buy wrapping paper and then use it on various family presents, I felt entitled to regard him how I wished. Actually, I liked him a lot and I really didn't mind the present-wrapping -  it was better than manually calculating GMPs (don't ask).

(*Has this mode of expostulation fallen out of fashion? Billy Bunter was always saying it "Oh really, Coker" usually followed by "Ha! Ha! Ha!' yelled Bob Cherry. And "well, really" was a favourite of my mother's.)

In the last week I have found myself laughing out loud whilst on my own in cafes twice. (Gosh, what a dreadful sentence.) That is quite unusual - I might find something funny but I rarely hoot about it if I am alone. The cause of the first was a picture in last week's Guardian. As one of you knows, I laughed so much I stuck my finger in my coffee. The second time was caused by a rereading of The Hills Is Lonely. I read all of Lillian Beckwith's Hebridean books many years ago and I remember I loved them, but I had forgotten quite how funny they were. Are. There are only a few books which have made me laugh out loud and at the moment I can only bring one other to mind - the glorious, bonkers, perfect Uncle Fred In The Springtime, by P G Wodehouse (especially the bit about entering the Empress of Blandings in the Derby.)

I had considered having Charles Penrose with The Laughing Policeman as the musical interlude, but I've always considered it rather chilling. This isn't a song, but it makes me laugh. And the subtitles are a nice touch.

I couldn't leave you songless, though. Here you are. On Monday I shall be singing this with the Sheffield Singing for the Brain group in the Crucible. Yes, really. 

Thanks for being here. Back soon. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012


I've been back to the seventies. Musically, but when music comes the memories come with it. Something - I don't know what - put me in mind of Althia and Donna and their glorious hit Uptown Top Ranking. Here's a picture of my copy!

Gosh, I've just posted a picture of a record. Next thing, I shall be posting a poor-quality video of it playing on YouTube. No I won't. Someone else will have done it already.

Anyhoo (sic - American) it took me right back. Apparently it was released in 1977 and got to number 1 in the Hit Parade (oh how I miss that term) in February 1978. I thought it was earlier but the interweb tells me otherwise. Not to mention the date on the record. I like to think that I was ahead of the game and bought it in 1977 but I really don't know. What I do remember - vividly, sharply and with a stab to the heart - is the effect it had on me. I had no idea what they were singing about and I don't think I ever did (until yesterday when I Googled the lyrics) but that song bypassed my brain and went straight to the viscera. It was wild. It made me jump up and down. It filled me completely. I wasn't well-versed in reggae - possibly my only exposure at that stage would have been Desmond Dekker's The Israelites (or "My Eyes Are Alight" as the mondegreen has it. Do you know about mondegreens? Another time.) I was more of a Roxy Music/Pink Floyd/T Rex/Jethro Tull/Blondie sort of girl. Perhaps I somehow knew that two women (and they were young - 17 and 18) singing reggae was unusual. Perhaps it was that one of them wore big glasses (I would have seen them on Top of the Pops, but possibly not initially). Perhaps it was those horns. Perhaps I did understad the lyrics on some level. All I know is that it electrified me. And still does.

Here it is then - I chose the clip of them on TOTP so you can see them, but it doesn't beat putting your own copy on your own record player (yes, I still have one) and dancing round your front room in your nightie, like I've just done. And wining up your waist like billy-o.

Thanks for listening - see you soon...

Sunday, 23 September 2012


Gosh I don't know what's come over me. As you know, I've been blogcruising and yesterday I wandered into the world of art journalling. I knew about it through the very talented Butterfly at Words and Pictures, and now I've had a good old rummage in the cyberworld.

Now, I could bang on for some time about my history with Art, so I won't. Suffice it to say that although I would describe myself as a creative person, I would not describe myself as an artistic (in the visual art sense) one. I do, however, like writing - the physical process, I mean. I love the feel of pens in my hand and the experience of making marks on a page. So when I came across a process from DaisyYellow called slow journaling (sic - it's American),  as demonstrated by Leslie Herger, I found myself desperate (I do not exaggerate) to try it. So I did. And I took some pictures, because I realised that a) it's nice to have a record; b) for me, it took away the fear of messing things up, because I would have a photo of the stage before and c) BECAUSE I CAN (cf iPhone).

So I'm going to be very brave and post them. Oh - one other thing. The idea of doing this with words of my own was too much for me in a first attempt, so I took as my text the fine Scottish song Ye Canna Shove Yer Granny Off A Bus (my phonetics). There are other verses, but they lack the high moral tone of verse 1, so I have not used them. Ready?

Stage 1
Stage 2

Stage 1 - draw boxes with wavy lines

Stage 2 - write words and go over outline of boxes. For those of you who like pens (and if you don't, I'm sorry. I mean I'm sorry you don't like pens) I used a Pilot V5 hi-tecpoint 0.5

Stage 3
Stage 4
Stage 3 - paint over with watercolours. 

Stage 4 - go over outlines messily with Sharpies to match the watercolours. Nearly. (My own idea! Not to do it messily, though.) NB I don't know what's going on with the text here - I can't get it to space properly - sorry.)

Stage 5
Stage 6
 Stage 5 - realise that watercolours were too strong and text now more difficult to read. Experiment with using Sharpie to go over text, whilst subliminally altering message. Put in arrows so people know where to go when reading.
Stage 6 - go for it with Sharpie-ing and add more helpful instructions.

Stage 6

Stage 6 - admire my handiwork and nearly drink paintwater instead of tea.

Stage 7 - realise there are two Stage 6. Er - Stage 6s. Sixes. Stages 6. Whatever.

So - the result is far from perfect but I had fun doing it and learned a lot. Ooh - musical interlude.

Thanks for reading. And remember what not to do with your Granny.

Saturday, 22 September 2012


Tammet, not Tammett.



I've been cruising the blogosphere. Cruising is perhaps not the mot juste - the blogosphere is a vast, invisible place without a map, and I've only dipped my toe in the water -  haven't even got a boat yet. However, my forays have been fruitful, in that I am beginning to be clearer about what I like in a blog:

1) It's got to look appealing to me. If it's crowded. with huge chunks of text all over the place, flashing images and adverts, I'm not going to read it, however interesting the content.

2) If it's written by an English person (sorry British - I do hate that term. And even more, its ugly abbreviation Brit. Ugh. Actually I can see rapids ahead - I will change that to a person whose first language is English. That still sounds hazardous to me. Good job I'm wearing my life jacket.) it's got to be written in good English (and, for the avoidance of doubt, I consider American English to be a separate language) - spelled correctly, correctly grammarised (go on...) and with a fluency that makes for easy reading. Does that all sound like I'm a candidate for the BNP? I sincerely hope not - all I'm trying to say is that for me, the use of language is important and as I only speak one (which is embarrassing), it's English.

3) I like pictures. The quality of some images is astonishing. I've never been much of a photographer, having come of age in the era of SLRs, fancy lenses and huge price tags. Although I had mobile phones (American translation - cell phones. See? Separate language.) the cameras were poor and hardly worth using. A few years ago everything changed when I got my first iPhone (seriously - everything) and I had a decent camera with me at all times, so now I take more photos that I used to. I'm not very good at framing images, but I've still managed to take some that please me. My favicon is a picture I took at Biddulph Grange Gardens.

Ever been there? It's remarkable. And if you ever have the misfortune to find yourself transporting four teenage boys to Alton Towers, Biddulph is not far away and you can while away some time. It's mysteriously compact.

Here's the picture. S'alright, innit?*

4) Although I don't particularly like blogs which have a lot of personal detail, such as a litany of the doings of small children, I do like to get some sense of the writer. OMG!* We haven't had a musical interlude yet. Hang on. Try this

5) Did you like it? Point 5. There should be a point 5, otherwise we'll only have four points, and that would be unsatisfactory. I much prefer uneven numbers - 3, 5, 7... If they are primes, so much the better. Did you hear the readings from Daniel Tammett's Thinking in Numbers on Radio 4's Book Of The Week recently? Cracking. I rushed out and bought the book. Oh, oh oh! I've just remembered he has a blog. Let's see if it meets my criteria. Or helps me set new ones.

Thanks for reading - see you soon.


Friday, 21 September 2012


Mary Beard recommends blogging four times a week. That is how I was going to open this post - and indeed, I see that I have done so. Then I thought I'd better check that's what she actually says. She doesn't. Such is the delightful caprice of my memory. I was once convinced that I remembered everything exactly as it was, and sadly events often confirmed that I did, which is a dangerous situation. When one is Often Right, it is easy to slip into Invariably Right, then hubristically headfirst into Always Right Without Exception. Back to MB. What she actually says, in her introduction to the second collection of her blog posts, All in a Don's Day, is that her rule for herself is "...two posts a week, rain or shine...". As I admire her tremendously (cf wrens) I was going to follow her rule, but now I've confused myself by not remembering the rule correctly. I could choose to go with 4 times a week, but that now seems uninviting as it does not bear the imprimatur of the excellent Professor Beard.

I know some people who post every day, as a sort of challenge, and I can see the attraction of that -  sitting down every day to write, whether you know what you are going to write or not. (Not necessarily sitting down, of course. And not necessarily not knowing.) Here's a daily blog I love: Boo Hewerdine's Blog Thing.

Speaking of Boo Hewerdine, I saw a 2003 documentary about Richard Thompson the other day. Well worth a watch if you are interested in the processes of a singer-songwriter, the history of electric folk, or would just like to hear dear John Peel's voice again. Time for a musical interlude? Here's Meet On The Ledge. Stills only, but evocative. Pass the joss sticks.

So I don't know how often to blog. Perhaps I'll just see.

Thanks for joining me today. I hope you will join me again. Whenever that is.

Monday, 17 September 2012


I like birds. I like looking at them as they go about their business. I often imagine myself as an eagle, soaring over fields and rivers, resting on mountain-tops. I never imagine myself as a wren. I admire them tremendously, but their tiny lives are fraught with danger.

Time for an educational musical interlude - hurrah! We'll have Steeleye Span singing Hunt the Wren. Gosh, I got distracted on YouTube and instead we have the Clancy Brothers (and the Furey brothers, apparently. What good value.) in a fine example of singing without breathing whilst wearing heavy sweaters. Here they are.

I once went to a zoo in France. I confess to a liking for zoos, even though it's cruel to cage animals etc. I was born and brought up in Bristol, home to a very fine zoo and, of course, the BBC natural history department, so I developed a sense of ownership in the world of looking at wildlife, in that way that is so comforting to a child. The French zoo was run-down and terrifying. There was a large enclosure containing all manner of avian life, which was open to humans. I noticed the vultures about half-way through. Part of me knew that vultures eat dead things, not live tourists, but the part of me that goes round screaming "we're all going to die!" wrestled the sensible part to the ground and propelled me, stiff-legged, to the exit. Toute suite. The zoo also had a scary bear, that rocked back and forwards, measuring the jumping distance out of his sunken home. Put me right off zoos for a long time.

Some birds are huge. Here is a picture of a jabiru:

It's massive. Adult males can be 5ft tall and can have a wingspan of 9ft. Don't panic, you are unlikely to meet one unless you live in South America. If you do live in South America, steer clear, especially if you are on the small side. Or are made of straw.

Thank you for meandering with me today. We may return to birds as there is much more to say - I haven't mentioned Sepulchrave, Earl of Groan, for instance. Well, I have now.

Sunday, 16 September 2012


This is my first post. Thank you for reading it. I can't pretend I'm not nervous, but perhaps no-one is reading this, so in a tree-falling-in-the-forest and one-hand-clapping sort of a way, perhaps I'm not nervous.

The title of my blog says it all - I have given myself licence to ramble. Naturally, I am struck dumb by this width and depth and the range of potential subjects.

Two of my friends are very fine bloggers, so you could do worse than check them out, if you're already bored.  If I've done it right, they should appear somewhere over there....

Gosh, I'm exhausted. I'm going to try publishing this now and see if it works.

Did you make it this far? Thank you and hello