Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas

and best wishes to everyone out there in blogland for the New Year

....meanwhile, high above Tranquility Base a lone figure races through the void....

Friday, November 30, 2007

Genetically Modified

I am sitting awake at just after four in the morning and would probably be a whole lot better off asleep.
I am thinking about the clothes that I wear like a second skin.
I really only have two modes of dress recently. An unlike Einstein in every other respect I think that it is from him that I get the idea of wardrobe. Mind you it could be from the guy that Geoff Goldblum played in ‘The Fly’.
I have my work mode uniform and my jeans and black t-shirt. Buy two of everything and you never have to think about what to wear. Goodness only knows what people think when they see me in the same clothes week after month but I care little …. no hang on that’s not true…. I care for my appearance once and then I don’t like to think about it again.
This month I have had some disasters though. Jeans that have been with me since the mid nineties have bitten the dust and my school shoes, shoes that I hoped would see me to retirement, have sprung. I have been raggedy arsed and poorly shod. In addition the strategy of lining my pockets with plastic bags in order to prevent items falling through the holes led to a night having to search a whole beach for my car keys.
I have been forced to bite the bullet and lash out on a whole new wardrobe.
Well at least that’s it for another decade. Provided that I can figure out where my umpty pairs of black socks wiggle off when the washing machine door closes.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Just stepped Out For A Minute

I guess by now people whose blogs I am normally all over like a bad rash must be beginning to wonder why I am so silent of late. Correspondents who drop in here from time to time must be wondering why I haven’t sent a note in the last fortnight likewise. For those of a nervous disposition, the ones I stand among, by way of a half arsed apology I offer this. I am afraid that my life in the real world is rather hectic at present and I am getting a bit flaky round the edges.
The spare time that I usually have to chew a thorn or pass the time of day is eroded to the nub just at the minute. I seem to be coming home and passing out for the few hours that I used to use for all the good things in life.
So if I don’t seem to be there quite as much as usual please forgive me.
To quote a man who used to make guest appearances blowing up hot water bottles on children’s TV “I’ll be back”.
Its just there isn’t a lot spare in the next three to four weeks

Saturday, November 24, 2007

An Embarrassment Of Riches

Never looking the gift horse in the mouth may well be a general piece of good advice, but every now and then someone uses the entertainment of this sentiment to stiff you one.
I am beginning to wonder whether She Of The Townhouse shouldn’t have checked the teeth and gums of what had the appearance of a very generous offer just a little more carefully.
While not wishing to dwell on the size of Bob The Other Builders latest erection, I am afraid that this is where my tale must start. He has a few acres you see. A few acres down in the valley. Acres that are encumbered by trees standing in the way of development. Or rather were encumbered. It seems someone has been offsetting their carbon footprint on real estate that had been cleared for development and so it now has been cleared for development…ummm if you see what I mean….
With an enthusiasm worthy of a man who has finally rid the third runway forest of environmental protestors, he has laid siege to the trees that would otherwise impede progress. And, as is the way with these things, he has some logs.
Ever generous ( and I mean that quite sincerely, this is a tale of generous spirit if nothing else) Bob The Other Builder gave She Of The Townhouse the heads up for a load of logs. Knowing that she possessed a wood burning stove he asked what part of The Old Walled Town she would like a few unloaded in.
Now you see the thing is the local council can be funny about this kind of thing. OK they have passed a planning consent that allows him to obliterate an ecoforest. This doesn’t mean that they are going to grin and bear him dumping fuel willy nilly in the middle of a medieval walled town outside a house with a small back yard. So she asked if he could leave them outside my barn. In my car parking space. Where my car usually goes.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Vanity ?

For the past twenty three years I have taught computing, mathematics, and science at YsgolJB in varying proportions. I have taught each subject at key stages 3 to 5 and have been responsible for four separate A levels. Some of my ICT students have also gone on to take special papers beyond A level. In every subject I have taught it has been a good fortune to see my students succeeding at the highest levels.

I have overseen the expansion of my main subject from a curiosity in the corner of a science laboratory to a Key Skill seen as vital to success in all subject areas in a large comprehensive school. Over the years this has put me in charge of several expansions in the size of my department. Recent major challenges have been the smooth transfer from a late Victorian style building to a purpose built school, along with the introduction of ICT as an academic qualification to the majority of key stage 4 students. This has meant that my department has built from a one man band operating mainly at lunchtimes to a diverse and dedicated group of full time and second subject ICT teachers, each one of whom it has been privilege to guide and work alongside.

The above though is what you might expect. I have a background of experience, and some successes to feel pleased about. I can bring that to the table, but then so can many others I am sure.
As well as academic and pastoral responsibilities of a teacher I have always found that it in taking students on for the extra mile there are rewards beyond.

I have introduced and led a Duke Of Edinburgh award group at YsgolJB. As helping me to share my own passion for the outdoor and mountain experience, it has allowed me to see students develop self reliance and self confidence. The satisfaction gained in sharing this kind of experience with students more than repays the effort you have to put in.
This also allowed me to develop my own mountain leadership skills and qualify as a welsh mountain leader. The award has also allowed me to work closely with colleagues in other schools, sharing joint expeditions to the Scottish islands.
Trips abroad. I have served as teacher / deputy leader on fifteen trips outside the United Kingdom, taking students to Germany and France for weeks study holidays. Working, and sharing the fun. Guiding students (and indeed staff) through the perils of the ‘hypermarché’ and Euro Disney. Quite often reflecting on the fact that you could really do with a little more than five hours sleep before the next tour of duty starts. I am fluent in spoken French.
OOSH. Now what on earth does that mean? Out Of School Hours. Grant money enabled us to keep study facilities open at YsgolJB after the end of the school day and as well as maintaining a presence in an IT room overseeing project work in a variety of subjects I was able to focus on helping students improve coursework in maths for GCSE.
These last three, along with other experiences have of course shown me the value of going further. In teaching I feel that we are rewarded by what we give. The relationships and empathy that you build with students are what enriches the joint learning experience. Academic excellence is rooted in this I am sure. If I could give a third referee it would be my students over the years, many of whom correspond regularly from all over the world.

In my personal life I am a keen astrophotographer and a published amateur astronomer. I have a passion for photography and am a member of Conwy Camera Club. I enjoy the challenge of the mountains in all their variety. I am training to drive HGV vehicles. I grow my own vegetables and I am proud of my garden. I read extensively on a variety of subjects and write for pleasure. I walk the dog twice a day and have a hectic family life. I hold a BSAC diving certificate but prefer snorkelling and free diving. If you give me some raw ingredients I can cook up a storm.

Oh yes! If I have to, I can conjure up a science experiment from brown paper, string and patches.

( I am brushing up my CV )

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Feel Good Factor

Once every month I have a private indulgence……..ALL RIGHT! Enough of that sniggering at the back….you there….see me at the end of the lesson.

Hey you can tell I have been doing a little light teaching this week cant you.

Let me start afresh.
Around the middle of each month a copy of Astronomy Now magazine appears in the Hallett’s Mountain post.
After divesting it of its outer plastic cover I always turn eagerly to the amateur astrophotography pages at the end. While there are superb pictures by people of real talent I am ashamed to say that my immediate aim is to find a couple of pictures that I can scoff at and compare unfavourably with mine. Its just envy of course. I never take the time to send any of mine in so any mockery that I posture is just sour grapes.
A month ago I changed my habit though. I felt that my picture of the occultation of Leo was probably up their street. I also remembered that from the cloud variations I had seen that there probably were not many people who could compete. The window in obscurity that I was lucky enough to see was pretty lucky and the event had quit a limited geographical extent. Reader, I sent it in.
So with solitary feigned boredom I disrobed (enough of that sniggering I told you earlier) the virgin (stop it!!) December issue of my magazine on the kitchen table and with nervous fingers fumbled straight to the relevant section at the back. Imagine, dear reader, my delight when my eye fell upon an image of the moon and Venus and then again my disappointment when I realised that the credit underneath the photo wasn’t mine. Not only that but the fellow had missed the burst of starlight that I had seen. While still a good picture I was quite miffed! My gruntle had been decidedly taken away, and just for once the idea of a stiff letter to the editor, possibly even a liberal use of underliners ink, seemed to fit the bill.
Then my phlegmatic side kicked in. I like Astronomy Now quite a lot and decided not to let one editorial faux pas by someone who was obviously on a short term contract spoil my enjoyment of the rest of the magazine.
And so it was, that as I left page nineteen, with its speculations about the activity of martian volcanoes, and turned to page twenty the lower mandible truly hit the deck. There was my picture at the bottom of the page. Along with it, lacking really only the superfluous description of an arse being scratched, lay the content of my post.
Well! You could have knocked me over with a cheesy wotsit.
I am a published amateur astronomer. My picture. My words.
I modestly texted everyone I know.

The Dance Of The Hours

Returning to the mountain around two this morning, a black velvet studded with fusions diamond gems greeted my delight. The sky was clear and the air was still. Perfect for wandering through the cosmos and my imagination.
I am hoping to see some good meteors. The annual Leonids are good for a few nights either side of the 17th of November.
So there I am. Half inside a thermal sleeping bag. Lying back on a deck chair. A couple of thousand pounds worth of digital trickery beside me staring into the inky abyss and wandering the lanes between the stars.
Pointing my camera at Gemini first. My sisters birthsign so a good picture here might suit her for Christmas. A gorgeous red Mars hangs right in the middle, like an internally illuminated ruby tossed between the twins.
On to Cancer, and in my own faint constellation Praespe, a tiny little beehive of stars shines steady.
Then Leo. He strides the darkness over Garvie’s leap and the old church. I ought to return to this when there is some moonlight to illuminate the foreground. Perhaps in a couple of weeks. In the meantime Saturn decorates the lions belly like a little fleck of yellow butter.
I am reluctant to lose the warm cocoon that I am in but The odd wisp of cloud is about now. Already I have been an hour out and things are moving round. The meteors are eluding me as well. So I put away the toys and just take the chair and my Ajungilac a little way down the track to see what I can bag with the binoculars. Moving away from the house lets me look more to the north and west.
Even though I know the sky well it takes a little while to get my eye in. After a quick scoot through Orion it is on to Taurus where I tick the crab nebula in passing and wonder if leaving the camera at the house was a mistake. Still If I had tried for the crab I would feel I had to get the telescope out and then another hour would pass. Sometimes you have to just look and wonder.
Looking past the Pleiades, a gorgeous little cluster of sapphire stars I would like to find Aires and Triangulum this would give me a galaxy that borders on naked eye visibility but the pattern is hard to pick out for some reason. These are faint constellations and by now low in the sky so I have probably missed this tonight.
And then my eye is caught by something new, As I wander round the W in Cassiopeia a patch of light around a bright star doesn’t seem quite right. I think I know what it is but even so …Lets see. Cassiopeia, Perseus with its double cluster of stars grouped together but just beyond that. Using the binoculars I realise now what is wrong. I had spotted Comet 17P/Holmes a couple of weeks ago. It was flagged up on many astronomy sites and I even got a picture that I was pleased with, but this is much bigger. The corona now seems to be rivalling the size of the moon, nowhere near as bright of course but it is an amazing sight. Like someone had tossed a little bag of exploding flour around a star. Indeed I must check just which one the bright magnitude star next to it is. Beautiful. In fact it is so good that I should get my camera back out and try, the chance might not come again tomorrow night and in a few days the moon will wash some of it out.
Looking at the sky though, I can see that there is no time for this. Bugger. The cloud is now racing over from the west and there are only few minutes left before a veil is drawn across infinity. Just time in fact to look over my shoulder and admire Venus rising in the east.
And now it’s five in the morning. I have been out there for three hours. Time, I think, for a coffee and a few hours sleep. I imagine you all tucked up in those warm beds. Riding your night trains. Think then of me while I inhabit the parallel universe.

Free tours. Next one leaves just after dark.

Friday, November 16, 2007

And Found

Once the Royal Automobile Club had determined that I hadn’t actually had a breakdown and wasn’t in danger on the side of a motorway they declined to rush to my assistance beyond putting me in touch with a locksmith.
“£270 pounds call out , can be there by nine p.m. sir.”
Politely declining his generous offer I tried another approach. The local Ford garage.
Again a very nice man.
“Well on that model it’s an electronically chipped key so we will have to tow it in, break in to the car and get the serial number. Unfortunately we don’t keep any record linked to the numberplate on a database. Its going to be around £370 pounds sir.”
“No that’s alright sir, you use any expletive that you like. I am sure I would in your position”
The whole of the carefully squirreled Hallett Christmas fund was slipping away before my minds eye. After the events earlier in the day this was not so much adding insult to injury as turning the knife and kicking me when I already felt down. Perhaps the great Moo Moo really had deserted me and I was truly alone in an unforgiving universe.
Clutching at a desperate straw I reasoned that I would be quite prepared to work hard for three or four hundred pounds. So I trudged to the big shop. Taking care to avoid aisle 13 I bought a torch for £5 and a second one just in case that one ran out a bit quick.
Trudging (hmm I like that word) back to the pitch black beach I found a suitable stick. I dragged the stick and made a line from the dunes to the tide. Walked a couple of metres to the side and sweeping the torch back and forwards trudged (it was sandy what can I say) back between the tram tracks. A small pool of light in acres of darkness.
And I continued thus for several hours.
Reports of UFOs and ships lost at sea for the night must abound by now, and I expect there will be a write up in The Weekly Witter. I went through various levels of weeping frustration and hysteria. I dragged my stick and swept the torch back and forth. I offered a prayer to St Jude ( the great Moo Moo is seldom offended).
Eventually, unbelievable even now, I found them!
I found a small bunch of keys on a beach a mile long and half a mile wide in the dark!!
Tonight I am buying two lottery tickets, the numbers I shall be using are……..

Thursday, November 15, 2007


After a day of desperation and despair the dog and I were both glad. As a welcome aside from our usual turn around the woods we enjoyed the freedom of the lonely strand. Several miles of windswept golden sand, stretched wide between the dunes and low tide. Giving him the freedom to career around like a lunatic and allowing me to speak away the cares of the day to the Marram.
A lucky find, a half filled bottle of coke, gave us just what we needed. This serendipitous toy delights us both. I throw it soaring high over the mid tide ponds. Asbo skims the surface of the water like a furry black exocet, returning it again and again. Until eventually the gloom of the evening turns our thoughts to the prospect of what we might have for tea. Grinning like a pair of fools, covered in sand and soaking wet, we climb back through the dunes and return to the car.
And in an instant my manic rollercoaster day takes the plunge to a new nadir. Somewhere out in the gathering darkness, caught between the tides, are the only keys to the car and the house……


Friday, November 09, 2007

Asda Man And The Perils Of Aisle 13

She has always been a bit over familiar that one. You may remember
last time, when she tried to sneak me her mobile number. I am afraid to report that now she has gone too far. I have seldom seen a compliment go so to a girls head in such a foolhardy fashion. Why really, I barely went beyond a polite thank you.
I mean she was kind enough to point out that the fine ale that I was sneaking past the baleful glare of the security guard (I am blessed with nsuch youthful looks...) was on a ‘two for one offer’. Very kind indeed. But lord help us, she then went on to point out that I would now have enough to share with a friend.
The hussy.
I gave her a stern look that Paddinton's Peruvian aunt Lucy would have gazed upon with the female equivalent of avuncular affection. Practically inviting herself up to my mountain for some drunken orgy like that. Even assuming that such a thing ever happened. Ahem.
After ticking her off soundly, I gave her name tag in at the customer service desk I can tell you. And a piece of my mind to the lady who was obviously looking after the seat while the proper manager was away being important. On reflection I wish he had been there, things would then have been settled in a prompt and positive manner. You see the kind of thing that can happen when men turn their backs.
Anyway, here we are a few days later and they have sent me a letter. Not a word of apology mind you, nor any kind of reassurance that the minx has been summarily dismissed. Oh no.
In fact I am not sure that I like the letters tone at all, there are quite a few words in it that I am having to look up but the whole thing has note of what I believe is acronised to BDSM. Most odd for a superstore, even in this day and age. Phrases like ‘personal restraint’ and ‘self discipline’ spring off the page …..
Lord knows what I am going to do if she catches my eye next week.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Season Of Mists

Some days Hallett’s Mountain becomes an island. An Island high above a primeval swamp. A swamp populated with strange monsters. Monsters whose call echoes through the mists of the valley below. Strange crashes and groans as they brush aside the forest.
Then of course the sun comes up and everything gets a little clearer. The mist fades away and reveals the train running deep in the valley. Speedboats preparing for early water skiers glide minuscule but noisy far below. Lorries grumble along the A470 creaking out the turns in the road.
Camp bow wow and the jackhammer roadworks add their own notes to my soundscape.
I sit high on Garvie’s leap and watch the world wake up.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


Last night, She Of The Town House and I watched spellbound. In an ancient celtic roundhouse, Eric Maddern drew stories spun like gossamer from smoke around a camp fire. He wove them in to tales of kings and queens. He led us down deep dark forest roads. He charmed animals to speak in the tongues of men. He travelled the veil between the living and the dead in tale and song.
If you ever get the chance….

Monday, October 29, 2007

The Dark Arts 5

As British summer time gives way to GMT again I bet that a few of you out there in the interwebby spaces between my life and yours were pleased with the extra hour in bed. Probably unable to see any obvious downside to the prolonged snooze. Pity then the poor amateur astrophotographer. When all the others are grabbing shuteye and being smug, I have to get up an hour earlier than usual to get the same shot as the day before. I preferred the darker mornings.
So at four a.m. today I leapt like a salmon from the stream of unconsciousness. Dashing to the window it was with a special joy that I noticed that yesterday evenings rain had washed the sky to crystal perfection, leaving stars laser sharp. Mars and Venus both hung like exotic diamonds and the three quarter moon, hung high, was providing the perfect lighting for landscapes with stars. All this I observed aloud as a special treat for She Of The Townhouse, who shared the special joy of the hour with a hippopotamine grunt from the pit of those less fortunate than the early riser. Not that she is like a hippo you understand, its just the sounds.
I skipped lightfoot to the car. Loaded the ‘special equipment’ and left hot hooved for a mountain rendevous. It constantly amazes me how few others are around at that time of day, the roads were clear all the way to Tryfan but as I progressed deeper in to the mountains it became increasingly clear that thick cloud was going to blight the photographic prospect.
I am trying to build up a small portfolio of pictures for an exhibition you see. Constellations with a mountain backdrop, perhaps a noteworthy building or two. But these are tricky blighters to take. To get the shot you need a mountain in the right position in front of you, a constellation that you want to photograph and a reasonable amount of moonlight. The moonlight, if you are lucky, will illuminate the landscape. Being far weaker than sunshine it will allow you to take a long exposure (say 10 to 20 seconds) and have bright shiny stars as well as a clearly recognisable scene.
If you are lucky the conditions for this are right on three or four nights a month.
This morning though the cloud messed up the whole thing.
Giving up on the mountains I drove around for a while and eventually noticed a clearing sky over Llyn Gerionydd, a lake above the Conwy valley. Quite by chance I snapped this.
The cloud at the end of the lake has a little dispersed light from the valley town of Trefriw the only other light is moonlight.
I shall certainly be staking this spot out again.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Feed Me More Seymour

From top to tail the Old Walled Town is filled with men fiddling with shining white erections. Gentle reader, save for that elegant googletrap I shall stray no more into the unsavoury side. Unless of course the un of savoury is sweet, in which case you may still read on unperturbed by unwholesome appetites. Take care though if you are on a diet, then it might still be a good idea to avert your eyes. I appeal not to the baser lust today but rather to the would be glutton.
You see its
food fest time again.
Last year the Old Walled Town played host to a food festival that swelled its population from half a dozen spinsters, the other bloke from the pub, me, and the dog to a seething mass of tens of thousands of visitors. I had never seen the streets so full, or indeed the traffic at such a standstill.
I fondly imagine that buffalodickdy would be impressed, even with his far grander experiences of humungous chilli cook offs.
Every corner, every car park and every nook and cranny will be filled with things to eat and drink, most of them exceptionally good. Nearly all, save alas for the beer tent, will be generous with free samples and the skilled freeloader that I have become in these situations, is hoping to waddle home after undoing a notch or two on the belt.
There will be cold meats and hot roasts. Cheeses and pickles to tickle. Dishes of fishes and muscles for sure. Sausages from Edwards grilling. Thai, Indian, Malaysian, Burgers in baps, medieval authenticity in root vegetable form, and sweets from around the world. All this and demonstrations of culinary buffoonery that would make Nigella cringe (serves her right for the sheer awfulness of what she gets away with on the television).
A town that is running down for the winter will be alive in every quarter from the crack of dawn until the last drunk passes out in the street, and so on for the whole weekend.
I shall be sweeping back and forward through this bounty. A Homer Simpson like cross between a Dyson and a lawnmower.
Let battle commence.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Dark Arts 4

I really must try and come up with a few more original names.
Right then, this weeks Astro Experiment is a photograph of the central region of the great nebula. If you want to see this yourself then the naked observer (it happens, what can I say…) will need to be standing facing south at around 5 in the morning with a decent pair of binoculars. Find Orion’s Belt and the fuzzy patch half way down his sword will reward you well if you look at it for a few minutes.
A dark southern sky will help. You might also prefer to wait until January when you can see the same thing as you come out of the pub, but at a far more reasonable hour.
The photograph I have taken of course relies on a few hundred quids worth of telescope and camera as well as a little experience setting the whole thing up.
So what is it? This is a region of far away (and long ago) where we can see the great Moo Moo making stars. A stellar nursery if you like. Gravity squashes huge clumps of Hydrogen together until they eventually ignite and stars are born. We see the clouds lit up from the inside by the magic of nuclear fire. Okay that’s a little simplistic as an explanation but if you are interested beyond this then Google knows far more than I (look up M42 Great Nebula).The picture has had the red element pushed up a bit to bring out more detail.
Now I know that there are plenty of perfectly good and far better focussed photos of this nebula all over the net but this is the one I took. And, I might add, froze myself to the bone doing it. Still, its tremendous fun even with your clothes on…..

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Hells Angel 1 (A Note From Ordinary Life)

I am still rummaging in my drawers for a picture!

Stepping way out of sequence I am going back to the first half of the 1970’s again.
john.g and kev ( who you probably can’t read..) both have recently written great posts full of biker nostalgia that put me in mind of my own life as one of the Brothers.
My earliest bike was an old BSA Bantam that my father left behind. I think we got it working once but I was only about eight at the time and my mother was never really going to let me die so young. I think that Melissa and I probably filled the oil tank with plaster before it was pronounced dead.
It wasn’t until I was able to race from house to lake, through the vineyards of the Entre Deux Mers that the bug truly bit me.
In the summer following I did a deal with my grandfather, who foolishly promised me the sum of ten pounds for every O’level that I passed, little realising that this would leave him out of pocket enough to purchase a brand new moped.

Paul and I had joined a local boxing club. I can’t imagine what possessed me, as far as I remember there were no girls there. The idea of being hit by someone else and having to connect with them in return, or rather more preferably first, meant that it was a very short lived affair. I think I enjoyed the training and the running round the hills in the dark. I might have done it as a favour to a friend to make a viable number for the trainer. Anyway…
Paul came down from Kingswood on his Puch MS50 moped, I hopped on the back, and we both went back up to Longwell Green for practice in pugilism.
And then, when I was able to cash in my grandfathers obscene generosity, Paul was ready to pass on his moped. So I bought it, thereby saving myself enough money to also go hitch hiking round northern France.

Placed on the centre stand, you pedalled like mad for a few seconds and then the angry wasp of an engine burst in to life. Burning a petrol and oil mixture that you had to blend yourself at around 35p a gallon. Helmet on, though the law was still a little lax on this point I think, and then push forward use the hand gear change on the left, throttle on the right and off in to the clear blue exhaust smoke. Pedal backwards if you really needed to brake and fingers crossed that nothing fell off.
Ah the joys of two stroke motoring. That bike and I covered a few thousand miles but I was never able to get the fuel oil mixture quite right. I stripped the head and everything downwind several times to clean sticky filthy black carbon deposits from the pipes leading out. I learned that cheap electrics vibrated themselves to death so the police would pull me time and again if I went out at night. I never could get the back light to last more than about half an hour and always had a handful of bulbs in my pocket. I found out about chains and tyres and the dangers of stripping your splines (a very nasty business madam). The mechanical skills that I, by the necessity born of poverty, acquired fixing that bike have served me well ever since.
We whizzed around Bristol and Bath. We climbed and descended the Cotswold escarpment getting metal pinging hot on the way up, catching flies in our headlamps on the way down. We travelled over the Severn Bridge to university together, though the seventy mile journey was a little unrealistic for such a small bike. We went in the guards van to London and traced the capital in times when you could still swing over and park at the side of the road.
I also had the first of two biking accidents. A true ‘sorry mate I didn’t see you’ in which I sailed over the bonnet of a complete tosser chap who pulled out without really looking.
After about three years we parted company as I forsook mopeds for a proper motorcycle with real foot change gears. The last I remember it was stashed somewhere in a barn by Dick who thought at the time that his wife Jean might like it. It may well still be gathering dust there. I know she never rode it.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Couch Potato

Two things before I turn to my topic of the day. First the post contains images of nudity. In fact lets get that out of the way straight away, I am so warm here on Halletts mountain that I am at present typing to you both in the garden and in the buff. Second, yes the picture that I hope is above this note is of the rear end of a dog. Without going in for the kind of hands on experience that leads a fellow into hot water it’s the best picture of a dogs arse that can muster. I could have provided a snap of ‘mist coloured mountains’ as you will see this would be just as appropriate, but that Knofler fellow used it once and ….look if you had paid attention years ago you would know why it chokes me to be reminded of that song.
You see it all started with a brief moment of inattention on my part. As I went to open the gate leading up the last quarter mile to the house (and by the way, check out the squarey little picture thing, I got a couple of good pics of the house last week…ummm Sal..I’m going Corbett again…) I left the car window open. Well it’s a warm day here and I was trying to keep cool.
Asbo, perhaps not the best behaved dog in the world, spotted an opportunity to express his inner wolf. Followed by the debris of a carrier bag and vegetables that I am hoping to use for a feast later on he exited the car at high speed through the window. Neglecting to pay any attention to the difference in shape between he and it ( I fear here for the dogs bollocks (claim googletrap)), with a mighty high pitched yelp, he set off towards the upper slopes of Hallett’s Mountain, leaving me dumfounded. His quarry, to whom he devotes many waking hours of thought, are the sheep that continue to decorate the wilderness until the first frosts bring them back down to valley farms. So as the dogs arse disappears into low cloud I am forced, admittedly by my own stupidity, to pursue.
We rush over the fence. We clear hummocks of fell grass over the big field. We hurdle a stone wall that must be nearly a metre and a half high, and we set of in earnest over the open ground. After about twenty minutes I have been up to my thighs in a sticky bog, my clothes are filthy, I am covered from head to foot in peat and slime, and I am cursing the ancestors of the dog back several generations.
High on Craig Celynin the sheep are far from worried. They have a fair idea of our relative strengths and weaknesses. They are judging the curses and barks from the mist below them, and are running a book on the likely outcome.
And then a minor miracle. The dog and I burst out of the low cloud somewhere above Maen Pen Ddu into golden sunshine. Asbo looks back at my filth ridden form and throws in his paw. He sits down, rolls over in a submissive gesture and grins. We laugh at each other.
On the way back to collect the car and the shopping, I am secretly very pleased. I have just run nearly two miles through a vertical distance of at least 500 feet. I have also run the dog to ground in the process. Okay it was adrenaline fuelled, but its better than I thought it would feel.
By the time we get back to the house all those little endorphins are making me feel quite mellow, and without a qualm I have discarded my clothes in a heap. As I cool down at the end of the day the mist is breaking up and I sit preparing for our next adventure in warm sunshine and a birthday suit.
Later tonight Asbo and I will be joining the crowd in Paris for the rugby. We will be joining it from a comfy chair, well provided with beer and salty snacks of course. Attending via the magic of television. But its nice to know that we aren’t a pair of couch potatoes.
Bring on the dancing girls…..

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Dark Arts 3

I do have moments of doubt. five o’clock in the morning is a pretty unforgiving hour when there is no need to get out of a warm bed at all. Still, the celestial wheels are turning and the next chance I get to see this one I will be a decade hence facing sixty. Not to say that sixty is a great age you understand, I shall look forward to it as I have every decade, and so until the great Moo Moo embraces me.
So. Its five o’clock and I am stumbling around my kitchen, scratching my arse, connecting equipment, and making a cup of tea. Asbo grunts and gives me the lazy eye. Blind pugh grunts.
Outside it is cloudy. Bugger!
But as I look to the west I can see stars through the thin cloud and figure I might get lucky.
Tonight my target is a grazing occultation.
Regulus, The Little King, Principal star of the constellation Leo, is going to play its own game of kiss chase with the moon.
If this cloud clears I should see it disappear as the moon crosses its line of sight, and then reappear a few minutes later. Unlike the childhood games of kiss chase where I was too shy to pursue golden haired Gail, I have now learnt that if you stick at it, in astronomy at least, you can get lucky eventually.
Fingers crossed then, I set up my camera on a tripod. Switch on a computer next to it and start exposing. Ooer… No the point here is that I want to photograph three, arguably four different objects. The light face of the moon, very bright. The shadowed face of the moon from which I hope to see faint detail of the grey seas. The star Regulus which is the faintest object I expect to see, and also Venus which I hope to be just inside the rectangle.
Even without the cloud, realizing them all in a picture is optimistic.
As the moon creeps through the ecliptic the cloud gives tantalising windows on the dance. The blinding moon, massive in perspective to the star, eventually swallows its light, occluding.
And now it’s a nail biting wait for the photo that I really want. I want to catch the star as it comes over the darkened limb of the moon. To catch the exact moment that it reappears. I want to see the tiny dot of light as it blinks over the lunar mountains.
The interval drags. I ought to be able to figure it to the exact second but there are so many factors. In fact even with an accurate clock, a precise location and altitude there would be an interval of uncertainty. One that can be used to measure the gap between crags on the moons horizon. Oh heck, I am not that good. But I really do want to catch the moment. And then suddenly the cloud thins right out. The moon is hanging in a crystal sky and Venus is as bright as I have ever seen it. Its in the frame.
Using binoculars on a second tripod I watch the faint new moon, cupped in the brightness of the old. Afraid to blink even.
All of a sudden its there! Click. A laser sharp pinpoint of alien fire sweeps across unimaginable billions of miles, trips a light fantastic over the arid mountains and photons that left on their journey in 1930 spark a synapse and a small piece of digital magic. My imagination outraces Einstein’s speed limit and in an instant retraces the path.
I didn’t expect it to feel this good!

Saturday, October 06, 2007

A Proposal

So following on from that, I propose to honour my old friend by promoting "Mucky Minnie Night"
Sort of like 'speak like a pirate day'. All you have to do is don the ears and bow, go out to the pub / club / etc and pronounce the words;
"Gee Mickey you're so big"
using the appropriate accent.
Get a photo or a video of course and stick it on a website, blogspot, youtube...
Hmm I wonder what day of the year would be best.
I have a hankering for the 31st of January myself.
I put the motion to the house....

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Too Good To Miss

I feel that now that he is dead (and I shall leave Cath the young lady concerned anonymous) I can reveal that my mate Dave once persuaded his girlfriend to don a pair of Minnie Mouse ears with the spotty headband.
His ultimate aim was to have her stand in the bedroom and in a high squeaky voice proclaim..
"Gee Mickey , you're so big!"
What this did for either of them, or ultimately thier relationship, I don't know; but he was fooloish enough to spill the beans to just a few of us one night in the pub....

Apologies to Stephanie

Sunday, September 30, 2007

Ordinary life 9(b)

So I decided that while I looked for my true vocation, I might as well go back to college and explore the fallback of being a teacher.
Physics has always been a short supply subject and after having a short test on my internalisation of Newton’s work I was in. I was a few years older than most of my fellow students, I drove a large motorbike. While there was only one girl studying Physics there were plenty doing English and Drama.
After a year I had accumulated enough points to be qualified to teach Physics, Science and Drama.
Towards the end of the year, the admissions tutor, the one who had been chauffeured by me since he lost his license, called me in to his office.
“Look here Meredic,” he peered over his half moon spectacles, “are you serious about getting a job or not?”
I assured him I was, indeed the very next week I was on my way to Colwyn Bay to claim a post teaching Physics.
“Yes, yes…. hmm look do me a favour would you. I have an old friend at working in Llandudno. It seems they are looking for someone who can teach Computer Studies. You know how to use one of them don’t you? Oh yes, get your hair cut and lose the sandals as well would you.”
My dismal handwriting had forced me to use one of the new fangled word processors all year or face having my work rejected.
I affirmed and by teatime I was walking out of the headteacher's office with a job, and a promise of promotion to head of department on completion of a satisfactory probation.
On a far long lost September morning, nearly a quarter of a century ago, I started as head of computing (second subject Physics) with a budget of £25,000 pounds. Far less than the significant fraction of a million that I waved back in the labs, but still enough to kit out a room with BBC model Bs…..

“No I’m sorry Mr Hallett I think you might have misunderstood. The annual budget for your department is £250.00, I think you may have missed the point….the decimal point that is.”

I was stunned by the poverty of the situation. Only three computers in the school and a budget that wouldn’t even buy half of another. One word processor. And in addition it seems that my predecessor had spent the lot on text books featuring Pascal, Liebnitz, and Babbage. The history of computing up until the 1970s was written eloquently in those days and formed an important part of the curriculum!

Before making the best of it, I asked the then Head of Science what I would have to do in order to teach A’level physics. The world of computing in schools seeming another possible dead end.
“Well,” he said, “I would have to die first and then the Head of Physics would have to go as well.” I guessed that I wasn’t going to make much progress teaching physics!
This eerie conversation sticks in my mind even now, as within eight years both of them had passed on.

I have since bored countless students with the insight that my employment was in fact generated by the fact that I have very poor handwriting.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Ordinary Life 8(b)

Tiptoeing forward then.
What reasons are there to give up a safe, secure and well pensioned job in a boom industry? Here is a flavour of the kind of thing that took the shine off…

The work involved intense scientific scrutiny of small ( the size of a cotton reel) geological samples. Recovered at great cost from deep under the North Sea. Every few months a report was delivered to a large multi national, sometimes a government. It was delivering one of these reports that persuaded me that my real vocation lay elsewhere. I took SCAL 0087 (Silver Field, turbulent flow analysis :- Hallett, Lombos) to Statoil, Stavanger via Aberdeen.
My experience of Norway was this.
We landed in drizzle and low cloud, over a grey concrete city, onto a grey concrete runway. I was driven to a grey concrete hotel serving about a thousand types of herring. Alright as long as you are fond of herring. The view from my window, through drizzle, was another grey concrete hotel. I reread the report that I had been working on for the last half year. In the morning, following a fine breakfast of herring I was driven to some grey concrete laboratories. I presented my report and answered a few technical questions. After a fine lunch of herring I was whisked back to the airfield and before I knew it the grey concrete runway was swallowed by the mist. On the plane back to Aberdeen we had herring.
I am told that Norway is a spectacular country of mountains, fjords and the northern lights.

And so I went back to college to learn to be a teacher. Inbetween I fished silver mackerel from the now long gone jetty that loaded the stone ships.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Dark Arts 2

Last night, She Of The Town House, The Boy, Asbo and I lit out at sunset for a nearby island. Well strictly speaking an Isthmus I guess but for two or three days a year it is an island. Ynys Llanddwyn sits on the west end of one of the worlds special places. It keeps secrets old and new and has several summer beaches that are undiscovered by the madding crowd. I was on the hunt for some photos of the sunset around the ruins of an old church. The others were seriously in to picnicking.
A few years ago I was enchanted by the work of an astrophotographer called Mark Gaston. He works in the west of England and has some stunning pictures on view here.
I have always felt that North Wales has some potential for similar enterprise.
The photo above is of the familiar asterism the Plough, or Big Dipper if you prefer, the derelict church window is illuminated by moonlight. The orange wisps of cloud are actually sodium light pollution reflected from Holyhead.
It’s a start.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Is It Just Me?

A chance remark the other day caused me to ponder my life as an avid elastic band collector and reflect on progenitors of such behaviour.
In the past I have spent time, arguably more time than is good for a body, collecting pieces of wood that I thought were interesting.
One such you see above, garnered from a corner near the druids circle, just to the north of Hallett’s Mountain.
As I retrieved this little dancer from the bog I was transported back across time and space to a museum some time around 1979. I was reminded of Chocolat Dansant a print that I remain enchanted with, and hope to see in Albi once again some day.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Hymns and Aliums

Well there you go!

Meanwhile up at the old church this weekend, a widespread community came together to celebrate the harvest.
Although not a regular God botherer I do take an interest in the services that happen just a few fields from my house.
I hold the key to the church and sweep and polish it when occasion arises.
I was wryly amused by the three separate decorations that were going on around me.
You see someone had got in early with a few impressive cut flower displays. Prime spots it seems had been gazumped.
The latecomers came in scratching their heads and puzzling as to who could have done this as I swept the floor.
Later in the day, while I was grovelling around in a ditch (the reason for which will remain obscure) a third group turned up.
After a while I began to feel like I was living in the middle of an episode of The Archers.
Still, on the day all went well. We sang Bread Of Heaven twice with enough gusto to rattle the windows and sins confessed were forgiven.

Saturday, September 15, 2007


My daughter has requested that I remove the last post.
It was not my intention to cause her any offence.

Friday, September 07, 2007

The Dark Arts

Some time around stupid o’clock this morning I took the photo above. I make no great claims for it being great, it hasn’t been processed except to make it much smaller than the original meggerbites or whatever they are, but it is one of the first constellation shots with my new camera.
It shows Orion, Taurus and the Pleiades and mars all rising over Bob The Other Builders house. I had no idea that this was where they were stashed during the summer but there you go.
Now I am off for a big nap.
Cheers all.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Ordinary Life 6

apologies for it being a bit long for a blog post......

The films of Jaques Yves Cousteau, his voyages with The Calypso, had led me up to this point, to firmly believe that I was going to be a marine biologist. Thus it came as a minor disappointment to me to find that once again careers advice was steering me towards engineering courses in university. Coming to the end of my sixth form time I resolved that whatever course I did wind up in, I would have to live by the sea. Thus I looked at places like Aberdeen, Bangor, Brighton, and Plymouth, finally reaching Swansea in the alphabet and realising that it was the cheapest train journey from Bristol.
Swansea offered a course in Civil Engineering and Oceanography and this seemed to fit in at least partly with my ambition for the sea. So I went and stood on Swansea bay in a borrowed suit. Took off my shoes and rubbed the sand between my toes. Signed up pending results and the next three years were spent in Swansea.
I took with me the skateboard that I left my old school on and spent freshers week racing it from the hall to the refectory. I don’t know to this day whether she was impressed, or if it was just pitying amazement but it was as this ‘Skater Boy’ that I met my first wife, The Graduates Mother. School friend of a rugby fan who shared the corridor I was on, it was just three floors down to her room. By the end of the week, we were an item for the next nine years.
It turned out that the course I had signed up for wasn’t popular enough to be staffed or funded. Unfortunately I hadn’t been told. I was still a very naïve eighteen year old. In partial excuse I think its fair to add that my background was bound to lack the experiences needed to prepare me for university. No one in my family had ever been away to university. I was on my own, quite a long way from home short on advice. Rather than go back to Bristol and start again, which on reflection might have made more sense, I was swept up and emptied into a plain civil engineering course.
To give you an idea of how little I knew, I was unaware until results day that you could get different classes of degree. I had to ask my tutor to explain what my qualification meant. I think it shook him a bit. Maybe I should have read the small print.
There were pleasures along the way of course. I was particularly keen, a recurring theme, on a series of lectures put on by the maths staff. These were imaginatively entitled ‘Mathematics For Engineering Students’ but at the end of them there was an invite to attend some extra sessions that coincided with our free time and I was enthusiastic about these. Geology opened my eyes as well, and later served me well both in career and as an interest. Fluid mechanics and finite element analysis, both requiring lots of number crunching with a PDP11 computer. Indeed for many of us who were disenchanted with code 114 (theory and practical advice on reinforced concrete) or the British Steel Section catalogue (from which I once selected all the material for a large warehouse except a door), the computer lab became the drug of choice. Due to my earlier experience I had a reputation as someone who could actually make computers work. Provided I could be prised away from the Colossal Cave or Startrek of course. In these late 1970s the most sophisticated toy on the market was a pingpong game that you could plug in to you television.
I also learned to dive with air bottles and became, to my amazement, the captain of a University Sports team. My ability, still retained, to hold my breath for three minutes meant that was an Octopush goal scoring machine.
I stumbled through some of the courses, breezed the numerical ones, and at the end of three years left clutching a degree that I didn’t understand, and for quite a while couldn’t use either. It was that bloody woman again you see. Margaret Thathcer. First she took away the milk and then she shut down civil engineering. I graduated just in time for the political belt tightening that stopped local authorities and government agencies from building or in many cases repairing. This left quite a glut of engineering students with similar qualifications to mine.

In answer to the obvious question I guess, the buxom blond facing the camera is my little sister Melissa.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Right Dogs Breakfast

I have returned from 'the foreign' to two starving mutthounds. Free this year from the rigours of Camp Bow Wow, Asbo and Blind Pugh have been cared for by Axeman. One can only conclude that as he ran out of frozen pizza he must have held back a sack full or two of dog biscuits for himself. Both are looking gaunt and hollow around the eyes. Left un cared for this means that I will not only have Mitzi to answer too but the RSPCA as well. Oh well at least it should be fun.
After the early morning walk I am reminded of the joke about two bulls in a field.
As we prepare breakfast, Asbo jumps around the kitchen with the vigour and inexperience of youth. I prepare the biscuits, open the can of meat, stir in a little hot water, leave things to cool down for a minute or two, and then crush the can for recycling. By the time this is all done Asbo is careening from wall to wall and is practically eating the legs of the furniture.
As he hears the can descend into the green bin, Blind Pugh raises a sleepy eyebrow. He shuffles over to his eating spot and arrives just as the bowl descends for him. Minimum effort, same result.

Could I thank everyone for continuing to show such patient interest to my poor notes. Thankfully now I shall be able to catch up with you all again.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Deedle eedle ee dee dee

The men from Meridian are down on the beach early. I guess that if they left it a couple of hours they would have to film with the obligatory wavers in the background.
They have recorded Joe raising some lobster pots and now they are back at the cove. Jim Miller is giving them a hard time.
“So tell me Jim, have you seen many changes in the village?”
“Buggered if I know…..” He has answered their every question so far with this alone, but suddenly he changes tack.
“You know what,” he speaks a Dorset burr that has been turned on a lathe, one that I will spend the first week back on Hallett’s Mountain wearing out like my southern tan.
“You know there’s only half a dozen of us left in the village. All they others is new comers. An’ I’ll tell you this, they don’t know bugger all.”
Jim punctuates a most of his conversation with expletives.
“They don’t know bugger all at all.
You know they comes down here from I don’t bloody know, and the first thing they does is buy one of they wax jerkins. After that it’s a pair of green boots, a thumbstick with a ‘V’ Shaped notch in ‘im, and pretty soon a black dog of some sort or another. Then they’ve got the fucking cheek to call theyselves country folk.
Well let me tell you, they aint a single one of those bastards been fifth in a tin bath in front of the fire ever in their lives. Or walked to school with holes in their shoes.
Somehow I can’t see this being used in a feel good nostalgia program about men making their living from the sea.
Later on, Jim and I review the encounter back up at the duck pond.
“You see Murtoch,” this is what he choses to call me most.
“You see Murtoch, they all comes down here lookin’ for the village idiot but the truth is he’s the one you bring with you. Fancy a drink you ole bugger?”

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Bad Mothering Sunday

My Other Little Sister carefully balanced another pint of Tanglefoot on top of the first one she had drunk. This was followed by several more. Until we figured that she had probably managed to secrete around a gallon somewhere around her person.
Then she had a packet of chicken flavoured crisps.
Later she was dizzy and quite a lot of the beer fell out.
You really have to be very careful with meat related snack food in the summer.

Still on my holidays. I will take care of comments and catch up with the usual suspects in a week or so.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Market Day

As my sister and I got in to the car it was with great delight that I was able to observe to Jim Miller that barely making it as far as the duck pond by seven o’clock made him somewhat of a lightweight. On Tuesday you see I had been late on parade and he had raised a stern avuncular eyebrow. The very idea that Mr Miller should once more call me a slacker propelled me from my bed at ten to six this morning and so, after an unsuccessful forage for puffballs on Bindon Hill, I was ready good and early for Dorchester market.
Indeed so early that many of my favourites were still setting stall and my sister and I were forced to look at selections of rusty tools and various ‘bad mother’ items.
I enjoy Dorchester market for its selection of food. It can generally be relied upon to put a few treats and novelties on the table.
For tea today I have had the following.
Asparagus, steamed and with melted butter. Not bad but I was sad to see that the asparagus had been flown all the way from Peru. I only spotted this on a sneaky label after I had got it home.
Some little gourds, green and about the size of a large orange. These I boiled, scooped out and refilled. Removing the seeds, I chopped the flesh with bacon, tomato, onion and garlic and enough cornflour and butter to make a thick mix which I used to refill them. I covered the tops with a thickness of grated cheese and then shoved them under the grill for a few minutes.
Next the great chieftain of the meatball race. The British faggot. Made on some farm nearby, according to the label. These with plain boiled potatoes, a little savoy cabbage and some tomato and onion gravy.
Natural yoghourt, with figs and passion fruit.
Local goats cheese.
Finally some coffee and walnut cake with a cup of coffee.
I made that six courses.
For some reason I now seem to need a snooze.
Just a little whisky to help it all settle I think.

I apologise for not visiting everyone I usually comment on at present but the holiday internet is restricted to a few minutes a day. It's partly therapy....

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The Tears Of St Lawrence

Last night we sat and marvelled at a universe endowed with so much beauty that it seems churlish not to have some faith in a guiding hand..
Under a blameless sky we sat on the beach waiting for the stars to come out and exalt the sky. We were not disappointed.
First Jupiter, then Saturn, followed by Antares, Deneb, Vega and Altair. Shortly before ten in the evening the stars lay before us, sprinkled like diamond dust on black velvet.
From Sagittarius, rising from the gentle sea, the milky way climbed high over our heads, sweeping through the summer triangle back, through Cassiopeia. Like a clotted mist (?good lord what is he on!?) with patches of coal black darkness hiding the centre of our local galaxy. Jupiter’s shining trail reflected south across the deep marine.
Somehow we clung on, suspended between the warm chalk cliff and infinity rising.
And as we sat there, bewildered by our own small insignificance, the tears of St Lawrence fell around us.

I was gobsmacked.
Thank you Great Moo Moo. Thank you for blessing me with such a time and such a life.
As for the rest of you, if you find yourself under a dark clear sky tonight for goodness sake look up.

Once again I apologise to the people I usually comment on or reply to. I am on my holidays and have very limited access to the interweb.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Here Be Dragons

Do you ever think that the future has echoes in the past? It seems to me that there have been a few times in my life when this has happened.
Some time in the September of 1966 I first registered an awareness of the country that has been my home for the greater part of my life. Even then, at the tender age of seven, I sensed somehow that it would be important to me.
Earlier that year Upton Cheyney school had raised the grand sum of £12 10s 6d at the summer fair to acquire the latest in cutting edge technology. The schools first ever television. A 405 line VHF special. Music movement and mime on the radio was never going to be quite as good.
In the early September the whole school was gathered round the box and we watched the Queen and Prince Phillip cross the Severn bridge. Cutting the journey time from Bristol to Wales from hours to minutes. Of course at the time the motorway stopped dead at the far side of the bridge, but by the time another 15 years had passed that was sorted out. The Severn bridge was one of the wonders of our world.
A bold student teacher, who to my shame has lost his name in the swamp of my memory, built half a terms work around that bridge.
Soon, on a grey and windy morning, the dozen students in my class took a trip. Mr Cooper, the head teachers husband, had an old ambulance that served as a school minibus. We all piled in to the back, four each side on a bench and four down the middle on an old physical education plank. Niceties like seatbelts and health and safety were a thing of the distant future.
Crossing Bristol from east to west without incident we arrived at the car park and viewing platform at Aust service station. A service station! There was another exotic beast. I am not sure we actually went in but can you imagine, a huge restaurant dedicated to the needs of the hungry thirsty road user. This was so far removed from our simple village experience that it was like another planet. There were still houses in Upton Cheyney using a communal pump for water back then. I don’t know if we felt like African villagers dumped in New York but it was definitely in that area of experience.
From the viewing area, we walked down to the footbridge over the toll booths, marvelling at the half a crown (what an anarchic sum!) that cars were paying to cross the river. On to the path beside the main bridge deck itself and we formed a straggle tailed crocodile that waddled and huffed against the wind until we had passed the first huge tower, and were at last were standing 90m or so above the river Severn in the middle.
From here among the other wonders of geology, geography and engineering a line of distant shapes could be seen.
The rain swept mountains of Wales emerged from the obscurity of a childs imagination, and started to become real.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Faithful dog Tray passed on last winter after a long and curiously deaf life. So my sister decided to leave her eldest with the responsibility for choosing a replacement. This particular nephew, is a handsome Adonis who towers over my mere six foot. Small surprise then that he should have alighted upon something equally large crossed with a Great Dane.
Jesus it’s a massive dog!
I mean think of a huge dog and then double it and you will probably be on the slip road of the right track.
She Of The Townhouse, The Boy and I are staying in Bristol for the first week of our holidays. In return for a free week, we get to look after the beast and its pocket-sized companion. The former graced by the name of ‘Iddy’ and the latter ‘Onion’. She also leaves a cat called ‘Sock’, some rats that give She Of The Townhouse the creeps, and a couple of guinea pigs, as well as various aquatic creatures, and plants that we have to try our best not to kill. All in all we shall be lucky if none of them have to be hidden away and excuses invented.

On Saturday night we returned from the pub just before midnight. Ears ringing to the legend of Rock The Billy and, speaking personally, none the worse for a gallon of cider.
“Oh my god! Dad you’d better come and have a look at this.”
* here I feel I should introduce my daughter, now to be known as “The Graduate”*
We all crowd around the sitting room door, the room where Iddy has spent the evening.
Well that is to say it used to be the sitting room. From what we could remember, having seen it earlier, it had some reasonably attractive, albeit worn, leather furniture. There was a table and some wooden chairs a fruit bowl and … oh you know. The usual kind of thing.
Since we left for our evenings entertainment though, something strange has happened. Someone has dumped a huge amount of furniture stuffing and a large skip full of builders rubble right on top of the nicely patterned rug. Clearly several fly tippers have mistaken my sisters sitting room for a layby.
They must have had a fright though. Sitting in the middle of the debris, grinning from ear to ear is an exhausted canine leviathan.

When she gets back from even further south, I am going to suggest that the dog is renamed Telford. It seems a shame to waste such a talent for civil engineering by using a diminutive of idiot.

Apologies to the people i usually comment on. While I am on holiday I am getting occassional access for half an hour in public libraries! Normal service will be resumed in three weeks!

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Ordinary Life 5

Bottom row, second from left.
Careers advice then led me on to study Pure and Applied Mathematics, Physics and Chemistry at A’level. While I don’t regret the latter I still wish I had studied something apart from Chemistry. I had a flair for languages then and I think I would have done well in A’level French. At the time this was seen as ‘too far outside the box’ when students at A’level tended to be pigeonholed. I guess they still are. The divide between arts and sciences in particular is still a prejudice that lets down school timetables in my opinion.
Once again I was a relatively undistinguished student, relying on my natural ability with subjects and things mathematical to coast me through the exams, eschewing the extra that hard work might have given me. Not that I ever saw virtue in hard work for its own sake.
I came top of my school in Physics, did as well in Mathematics but was a poorer Chemist. It just seemed like a tedious series of observations that could only be learned parrot fashion to me at the time. With the exception of organic chemistry, which by its nature was more amenable to analysis from first principle and calculable result. I suspect this aspect was what gave me any dignity that a grade D deserved. I can see more merit in it now.
As well as A’levels the school was enlightened enough to offer a series of short minority courses. I learned a little of the history of modern art, how to program a computer, conducting orchestral scores, taking and developing black and white photographs, lateral thinking, and I came again to enjoy my own artistic efforts. I can see roots of many of my adult interests in these courses and the early experience of computers shaped a lot of my life.
I left my last exam on a skateboard in the June of 1977.
I didn’t leave the school entirely behind on that day though.
I had split up with a girlfriend of about two years before Christmas.
On the eve of my eighteenth birthday I was enchanted by someone new. Francine, a young French student a year or two older than I, was doing her years study abroad. She was partly employed by my school to practise language skills with O’level and A’level students. She showed me sweet romantic nights in her Bristol flat. Introduced me to music and love. She took me to film clubs and fed me French treats. We smoked Camels under the open window, along the back of Ravenswood Road, and listened to the sound of summer in the city.
After just a month her father came to drive her home to Paris. At the time this was an insurmountable distance. By the time she came back in to my life I had foolishly found someone new. We had made no promises beyond birthday wishes but I still feel I let her down.
Years later, when I became a teacher myself, it occurred to me that we might have made a scandal in the papers.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

“You utter woodlouse!”
Blind Pugh doesn’t say much, but when he does its usually important.
“I’m sorry old boy”
“You heard, I called you a woodlouse.”
I decide that I had better listen to what he has to say and try and placate him.
“What seems to be the problem my dear fellow?”
“And you can stop all that ‘dear fellow’ Wind in the Willows crap.”
He is more annoyed than usual, something has clearly riled him.
“You know damn well what the problem is. The only warm sunny day in the whole of July so far and you have to go and mow the bloody grass.”
“Errm I am sorry,” I stumble by way of an apology, “its just that the summer visitors will be here soon and I haven’t …
“Spare me your pathetic excuse me. I am pawing a letter to my solictitor. And if you come one blade of grass closer to this apple tree I am going to ring ‘DogLine’.”
I expect he will get over it by tea time. His bark is usually worse than his bite.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Scouting For Boys

Worry not, its not going to be a gay paedophile item. Really just a short observation on the legacies of Baden Powell and a reason that he is probably now rotating merrily in his grave.
Sesiwn Fawr on the weekend and with all those fine bands I hope you will forgive my lack of a post for a day or two. North Wales own mini Glastonbury is going from strength to strength, I was knackered!
I view of the fact that She Of The Townhouse was working the South and I was sitting in the North we agreed to meet at the venue, set up camp and repair to the main stage by eight in the evening. I wanted to see Steve Earle doing his stuff.
For this reason I was left in charge of preparing The Boy and collecting The Friend.
Now The Boy is an experienced camper. Just turned fourteen, he has been a scout for some years now. He is used to working his checklist in to a rucksack. As I also had to prepare food, collect equipment, and sort out pets I was secure in the knowledge that I could leave him to it.
He came home from school as I loaded the car. Loaded it until it grunted I might add. There was no way I was leaving that bloody kitchen sink lying there on the deck. After about three quarters of an hour I called him to see if he was ready. Almost finished he chimed from the bathroom. It transpired that preparation so far had comprised having a pooh!
As he emerged from the pit of foul despair I did my best Roger Moore Eyebrow twitch. Allowing this to express the strong emotion I was feeling in regard to the lateness of the hour and the diminishing prospect of seeing the singer songwriter that was my headline act for the Friday night.
Before long though, he emerged from the front door, ruc-sacked and ready to rock. Time wasted earlier was made up and we set off.
As we set up camp, a review of The Boy’s packing revealed that his scouting experience had enabled him to ensure that he had most of the weekend essentials. That is to say he had his book, and his Nintendo DS. I remember that She Of The Townhouse and I remarked at the time that this would be both practical and useful. It would enable him to sleep comfortably in a wet field and keep warm to boot. The lack of a sleeping bag, airbed, torch and a raincoat, would surely be overcome by items of such utility. If he got bored with the DS he could always use the illumination from the screen to read his book.

Some time well after midnight we returned to our tents with our ears still ringing from the specially reformed “Mafia Mr Hughes”. These being the local headliners, on after the aforementioned Mr Earle, and an excellent new band Trans Global Underground.
We were tired and ready for bed.
Sitting on the stool outside his tent, rain dripping off the end of his nose as the rest of us tucked up warm The Boy presented a description of misery seldom seen expressed outside a Dickensian novel.

After 5 minute we took pity on him. My years of experience camping with teenagers meant that I had one spare of everything. I swear there was a tear in his eye.

Truly The Magoo is strong in this one.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Ordinary Life 4

I have been in some doubt about how much I can write here.Just brief notes, the book will of course reveal all!

Some time late in 1973, at a school christmas disco, Christine and I tried to figure out how best to shuffle all the extra noses and teeth. We weren’t kissing with confidence but it was a start.
A few months later, Susan the professor ( though she was only 14 at the time you understand) gave me generous access to her vest and its mysteries.
Then, just after my fifteenth birthday, I was again dropped into another new world.
I took part in a school exchange with a student from a small village near Bordeaux. For a glorious month, I lived the life of a French boy. Shared his family, his cigarettes, his friends, his moped, a new world of food. I learned a language, driven by necessity beyond the ‘plume de ma tante’. I made a friend for life. I learned a passion for a country and a language that overtook my interest in astronomy.
While I was there, his elder sisters friend Chantal, took me aside one drunken evening, and I lost my innocence with no regrets.

Archbishop Makarios had a spot of bother in Cyprus, and Lord Lucan dissapeared. I took, and passed, a mathematics O’level a year early and then a year later passed ten more subjects, the one in which I had made a dramatic improvement, beyond expectation, being French.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ordinary Life 3

In 1970 I went to secondary school. Again a step into a larger world. Because of the system I was now mixed with students from a wide area of North East Bristol. Five miles and two buses from my village home, I was exposed to wonders new and little understood.
To go back a little, my upbringing wasn’t sheltered; at least I don’t think it was, but the opportunity for certain experiences were limited by its rural remoteness. Not everybody had a car in the sixties. There were only four telephones in the village, ours being the phone box along the road. Going to school on the outskirts of a city of millions was big! Suddenly there were other kids that could do maths.
I think I rose to it, although I floundered in sport, the only one I did well in was the high jump, but then you might expect that of an eleven year old who was narrowing his gap with being six feet tall. Physically I was poorly coordinated. Academically I was firmly B stream. Except in science and maths where I found it simple to excel. I was fascinated by languages eventually taking Latin to improve my prospects! Along the way though I was lazy. I couldn’t get of my arse to have a passion for geography, the history I was taught seemed dry despite the efforts of castle builders. It took me many years to come back to these with interest. Perhaps my greatest surprise to myself was learning French and some of the knock on effects that this had.

I was still felt very shy around girls. Looking back now I can see that there were plenty that were interested. Most of them couldn’t wait long enough for the penny to drop though. The prospects for a teenage fumble at the glamrock discos of the early seventies were grabbed by bolder souls than I, and so for most of the first four years, girls remained an exotic mystery.
1975 saw an end to all that.

Pardon? Oh yes, Top far left.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

A Stroke Of Fortune

This is going to have to be quick of course (fear not ladies, not that quick). I just had to pop in here first and tell everyone before I nip down to the patent office. Einstein schmeinstein! We have made a discovery that could revolutionise housework.

She Of The Townhouse has been away again. In the last fortnight she has been flitting backwards and forwards to the capital overseeing a change in leadership.
I beg your pardon? No no! Not those buffoons. I’m talking about Rhodri and Ieuan. Don’t think for one minute that the heart op was a coincidence….look I’m going a bit Corbett already. This has all got nothing to do with our discovery. The point is that She Of The Townhouse is on the road and Axeman, The Boy, Asbo, Blind Pugh and I have been left to fend for ourselves…… again.

Its all very well her being a Grand Pooh Bah Of A Whole Celtic Nation but I am afraid that she is using it as an excuse to let housework and catering standards slip. Once more the dust bunnies are threatening to mutate into a new suborder. And we are having trouble changing the channel. A few of the takeaway cartons spilled as the fell off the pile on the arm of the chair, and now there is sweet and sour on the remote.
Asbo did his best but its not the same as having a woman around the place, the limits of his tongue are becoming apparent (he is much quieter and he doesn’t smell as good either, but that is of less relevance so I thought I’d leave that bit out of my main theme). We are forced to watch repeats of Pobol y Cwm on an endless loop that was recorded when The Mummy was in hospital. I like the idea that Eastenders is not the longest running TV soap that comes from the BBC stable but the six episodes on this tape are becoming a little tired with repetition, especially as we have to stand almost out in the back yard to watch them due to the fact that the volume is stuck on full. Still they do include a couple of references to the welsh world cup squad and we enjoy a laugh.

As she is due back tomorrow I thought it might be nice if we all chipped in and made sure she had a fresh Dyson. The old one is full again and we have to throw it away with all the others. This isn’t proving as expensive as I had feared last time I mentioned it. We were able to recover She Of The Townhouse’s credit card number from one of Axeman’s ebay forays and use it on the Tesco website so now we get Dysons delivered mouse to house whenever the old one runs out for nothing. Selflessly determined to help I decided to put the old one out for the binmen despite the fact that she had left it two floors up, rather than by the front door; where it would have been much easier. I must have a word with her about thinking of others when she finishes a job.
While I was carting it down the stairs I lost my grip and do you know what? On the very last bounce that pod thing where all the grease and slime finally wind up just broke off. I have been meaning to write to Dyson to suggest this as a feature for some time as I feel this could lead to a far more environmentally friendly machine. Plus there would be a nice little business for someone in the pod replacement market.
Don’t get too excited and run off thinking you are going to make it rich though. As I say there has been an important discovery, and this may just render the Dyson obsolete.
While we were scouring the floor for the envelope with our dinner money in it, The Boy spotted something new. Some of the bright red sauce from the last Indian meal we had, breakfast on Monday if memory serves, had congealed on the floor trapping a rather large wad of dog hair. The effect was rather like a small scrap of scarlet and black carpet. The colour scheme reminding me of one of those jumpers worn by Paul Michael Glaser in the second season of Starsky and Hutch.

*Ok hands up! Who said ‘Geek’....…I’m not going to go on until we sort this out…*

After a short period of experimentation we found out that we were indeed on to a winning formula. Left over curry sauce and stray dog hair make a remarkably good self assembling carpet. By its very nature the bits that are walked on most are the ones that get a free repair most often. The carpet has a sweet eastern aroma that we all agree reminds us of those stinking incense stick that She Of The Townhouse insists on setting fire to in the lavatory (posh) after 'the lads' have been in there. Plus it helps let you know what the weather is like. If the carpet is stickier than usual then wear a coat as it may be raining outside.

To summarize.
A self assembling, self repairing, vibrantly coloured carpet; that needs no cleaning, and does away with the need for airwick and barometers.
Our fortune is made!

Mush dash.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007


I suspect that anyone coming here to be appalled by the foul deeds of a man and his dog, or perhaps tales of dysfunctional housework must have been a tad miffed over the past couple of weeks. I am not sure what’s going on here on Hallett’s Mountain. And if I am not sure then what hope have you dear reader. I am always anxious to steer away from the fluffy kitten blog of course. I choose not to stray into other more worldly areas as well, as noted from time to time. I can only say that I have had my mind on womens underwear.
Mothers of small children, fear not. While I shall set googletraps in this post, I won’t cross the line. ……just don’t follow the links….
On the weekend I found myself faced with a dilemma that I was unable to refer to Miss Manners.
My guests, the honeymooners, had left, and I decided to spruce the old place up ready for the summer. I have to say that they left it shiny as a new pin. Spotless. And they cooked a very nice loaf of bread and left it in the kitchen where me and The Boy buttered it for breakfast. So. Before going out to mow the grass, a source of unfathomable male pleasure, I just stuck my nose in the other rooms.
The Tegan (I fear I am doomed to call her such, as I did it the first time by mistake and I am too embarrassed to admit another editorial mistake) was visited by her sister while on the mountain. The whole brood stayed up here for one night, so I thought it best just to see that they hadn’t left anything.
Staring at me from the right hand side of the spare bed, was an item of intimate feminine apparel. Laundered, I hasten to add, and folded in a manner that suggests that the owner was distracted, perhaps by a small child,just before putting them back in a travelling bag.
I was going to post them back through the door of the presumed owner when I paused for thought. There are several possible misinterpretations of such an action, and none of them really lead to a good outcome. Even leaving a note could overly complicate the situation, and besides what on earth could I write. Plus they might have been there for longer. Left by an earlier guest and overlooked by my pathetic attempts at tidiness. I don’t stray in to that room very often and the retrieval and folding could have been a polite gesture intended to prevent me embarrassing another soul sometime in the future. Or they could have been left there by The Boy… or one of his mates… circumstances that wouldn’t bear close scrutiny. The more I contemplated the lace trimmed little beggars, the worse it got.
Hallett’s Mountain is aware that there are internet sites on which second hand underwear sells well, but I have always felt a little uneasy about repeat visits. Besides which these were, clean.
I stuffed them in my pocket and continued my sweep, eager for something that I could perhaps sell on ebay.
A Couple of days later I was out walking the dog. While paused to exchange doggy pleasantry with the woman from the wine shop and her mate from the other side of the river, I noticed that Asbo was grunting and straining over the council flower bed. Delving deep into my pocket for a plastic bag I …… you’ve got there before me haven’t you…. Lest just say that I think we may be walking towards the Marina for a week or two until I know for certain whether the CCTV cameras were on.

I guess it could have been worse. Imagine if She Of The Townhouse had found them. Innocent explanation aside I shall be a lot more careful if faced with a similar situation in the future.

And ladies, please, try and remember where you left 'em.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Ordinary Life 2

This is quite scary folks. When you write down early memories they start to multiply, already I realise that what I wrote a day or two ago just scratches the surface of what I still carry from those times.Smoke me a kipper, I'll be back for breakfast...

One immediate big effect on me of the break up of my parents marriage, was that I changed school. My mother resumed her education and trained to be a teacher. Off every day to St Mathias college in Fishponds. For her to go backwards and forwards to college in Bristol it was much easier if my sisters and I went to school en-route. From the two classroom village school of twenty four students I was thrust in to the much larger environs of Bitton County Primary. Here there were four classes and more than a hundred students. Many of the students were quite rough and tough. As well as the children of farms and hamlets I was now mixing with the hoodies of the late sixties.
At the age of nine, I had the only fist fight of my life, with Earl Brailsford. We were pulled apart by the woman from Bitton shop. No real harm befell either of us but, the next day, I learned that whoever got to school and told the tale first, was the one that wrote the history.

While singing in the school choir it became clear that someone was rather beyond the description of 'a little bit off key'. The voices of the angels had been joined by a troll from under the bridge. After hearing a few of us in turn, Mr Field decided that I wasn't going to the Colston Hall to sing the Daniel Jazz. He robbed me of confidence in song and it has really never returned, save in moments of alcoholic bravado. I also remember, though thank God the full circumstances escape me, Pamela Harris being astonished at my pubic hair. Followed quickly by all her mates. I was an early developer in that regard.

In 1969 Neil Armstrong walked upon the moon. I watched this through a gap at the top of the stairs door. Unintelligible flickering grey shapes. I have a lifelong passion for space and astronomy. I now own thousands of pounds worth of astronomical equipment. I scored a full house when Magnus Magnuson asked an astronomy set. I even correspond with Patrick Moore.
I watched every scrap of Apollo long after it became tedious for most, and even now bore the pants of my students with tales of tinned heroes. At the age of nine I knew more of the moon than the country beyond my terrestrial vision.

I was a voracious reader, still am, loved mathematics, still do, but my writing was appalling and my boredom threshold low. For this reason it came as a surprise to find that I was one of the few that the dying eleven plus selected to go to the grammar school. If I had been just a few months younger, comprehensive education would have sent me much closer to home.

Some time along my way Margaret Thatcher came along and robbed the school milk. She continued, 'metaphorically' to do this to me for the next twenty years.
The currency changed from lira, sesterce and denarius to the new pence. The nineteen seventies arrived,and with them, a brave new world.