Recent events have left me more tired than usual. This week I’ve gone back to work and I’m feeling the combination of missing my family (who I’ve been with all day, every day for the last two weeks) and a general sense of being knackered.

Yesterday morning I stood in line to pay at the petrol station and slowly zoned out while listening to the music being played. It was a French pop tune, which was an odd thing to be played in an English petrol station. That, I thought to myself, makes a nice change. The next song was French pop too, then the DJ came on and he was speaking in French.

Instead of reasoning that someone had decided to change the working day by streaming a French pop channel instead of the usual banalities of Jack FM or BBC Radio 1 or 2, I started a spectacular mental drift that had me believing I was in a French motorway service station. Where, I wondered, were we going? Were the family in the car? Had I brought enough Euros?

Just as soon I snapped out of it and was on my way back to the real world.

Much later, as I was putting my son to bed I picked up a book and read a letter written by Michelangelo to his father, complaining about how his assistants were ripping him off.

It was that sort of day.


Bedtime reads

Because our family routines are a little topsy-turvy at the moment I've been in charge of Jude's bed time stories. He's too young to understand what I'm reading but since most of my parenting knowledge comes from watching 'Three Men and a baby' many years ago, I know this is unimportant. So, I've been reading some of the slimmer books on the shelves.

We started last week with 'Exercises in Style' by Raymond Queneau. This is a fascinating little book telling the same, very short story over ninety times but in different style. Jude liked the Italian style best.

Then, we moved on to 'Letters from a Lost Uncle' by Mervyn Peake. This is another odd read. Peake tells the tale of an adventuring uncle writing back to his nephew from the snowy wastes of the world. The uncle is either a fantasist or the whole story is more a fantasy story than I first took it to be. the story is written on a typewriter, on yellowed paper and pasted onto pen and pencil sketches. It's not just a good read, it's also a beautiful and rewarding piece of art.

Since we read that in two days we've now moved on to another Mervyn Peake book called 'Boy in  Darkness.' One reviewer on Amazon describes this as "... definitely not a book for children." Good job Jude doesn't understand then.


Tom's Midnight Garden

Tom's Midnight Garden by WJCruttenden
Tom's Midnight Garden, a photo by WJCruttenden on Flickr.

I was talking about this book to my daughter the other day and decided it would be a good idea to get a copy. Then, on a visit to my folks, I found I had bought one, quite a number of years ago if the price is a good indicator.
There's something wonderfully spooky about this story. I'm looking forward to going back into its world.


Rational moments

A good test of being a rationalist, rather than someone who believes in superstition, is when a loved one goes into hospital for a few days to have an important and dangerous operation. I'm not praying for them to be better, I'm trusting in the doctors and nurses and in the person themselves, to do the right thing and pull through.

This doesn't mean I'm not affected by what's about to happen. Quite the opposite.

The idea of people praying for someone I love is sweet and well meaning. It just doesn't make any sense to me. So, watch this space.


Over at the Claypools

It's always nice to get a mention from someone you respect. There's a piece from the talented Loren Claypool here about his contribution to my voice/music/still haven't quite agreed the name of it project.

Loren's site has a link where you can buy his album 'One Feather Shy', which is one of the most beautiful and inventive guitar (only) albums I've ever heard.


The was an old poet from Flite...

I’m writing a poetry course. It’s fascinating work and I’m learning a lot of ideas and techniques that are being fed back into my poems. I did publish my poems in a separate, anonymous blog for a while but took them down before anyone I knew found them. I have two very harsh critics of my own work, one of them is writing this. If I can get something past both of them it’s a good day.

BBC Radio 4 has introduced a new series called ‘Poetry Workshop’ which is described as a landmark series that “taps into the excitement and pleasures of writing and reading poetry”. I love poetry. To me it’s a wonderful, mind altering drug that, unlike some mind altering drugs, doesn’t leave you naked in an allotment at 5:00am. I like to read a poem and savour it, like a shot of good whisky. ‘Poetry Workshop’ should be my cup of herbal tea but it left me dazzlingly uninterested.

Part of the problem might be that the medium is wrong. Poetry on the radio doesn’t work for me. You can’t linger over a line, or control the pace of a poem because you’re not in control. You can’t see the shape of it or appreciate an enjambment (if it’s a rare example of an enjambment that’s worth making). The whole half hour sounded like a group of detail obsessed, middle class academics picking at the bones of a possibly beautiful but definitely dead animal. I don’t like this and I am a detail obsessed, middle class academic.

Is it possible to have a programme on poetry that appeals to a wider range of folk, that isn’t dumbed down or elitist? I don’t know, but I’m going to try and make one.



The Organic Cat by WJCruttenden
The Organic Cat, a photo by WJCruttenden on Flickr.
A few weeks ago I had to do something grown up and responsible. I had to take our beloved house cat, Tinker, to the vet’s one last time.

Tinker was originally my wife’s cat. Rescued from a horrible death and given a caring home. Unfortunately, she discovered quite soon after giving Tinker a caring home that she was allergic to cats and that Tinker was exacerbating her asthma. When I came into the lives of these two the cat was kind enough to accept me and eventually we all moved in together only for me to find I was allergic to cats too.

The sensible thing to do was get rid of the cat. But we didn’t. When our daughter was born there was a high risk that she too would have a similar allergy but we persevered. The cat was part of the family, and we couldn’t contemplate losing her unless there was hard evidence she’d cause the baby harm.

It transpired that we should have been more worried for the cat. As the baby grew she wanted to play and Tinker revealed how much she disliked children, running off to hide whenever Freya shuffled or toddled in her direction. It had been children who had tried to drown her when she was first rescued after all.

In our first house, before we brought children into the mix, Tinker started well. She went out, she created her own territory and she brought us presents: voles, mice, birds and unidentified body parts. I got surprisingly good at rescuing the unharmed animals and releasing them to a hopefully safer place. But then neighbouring cats started domineering and Tinker began coming home with cuts and worse.

When we moved into our current house things were quite different and gradually she retreated to living in a wardrobe. Having a litter tray in the kitchen was bad enough. Having a wardrobe full of cat hair was terrible. Having this once happy cat reduced to a fraction of her life was worse. Once day she went out and came back with a damaged back leg. I took her to the vet and we discussed the possibilities. We gave her a few weeks on medication to see how things might improve, but they did not.

So, I took her to the surgery and stroked her head while the pre-med slowly calmed her down to sleep. I continued talking and stroking her as the fatal dose was applied and I manfully held it together until the point where I had to say good bye. Then I found I couldn’t speak.

Once I got home I tried to explain what had happened to my daughter. Rather than talking about ‘cat heaven’ I gave her a straighter version of events and explained, with tears in my eyes, how our great friend wasn’t coming home again and that “mummy might be sad because Tinker was her friend for a long time.”

Freya, who had been looking terrifically sad until now suddenly piped up with:
“Can we get a budgerigar?” But after some quick reflection she added, “I’ll draw a picture of a cat to make mummy feel better.”

Now there is no litter tray in the kitchen, no cat hair anywhere, but there is a picture of a cat and a lot of happy memories.