Tag Archives: thinky thoughts

Picau-ar-y-maen – Welsh cakes

One of my favourite childhood memories is shearing time. I grew up on a sheep farm in the middle of Wales, with my grandparents next door and my aunt, uncle and cousins across the field. Some mornings throughout the year we’d be woken up early to get dressed in overalls (the only thing that will keep the clothes of a bunch of kids marauding across the Welsh countryside relatively clean) and wellies, and head out up to the top of the farm to round-up the sheep, bringing them down to other fields, or into the pens in the paddock if it was dipping or shearing time.

I never remember being told it was shearing day, just that I would wake up to the sound of hundreds of bleating sheep, the odd rattle of corrugated metal sheet fences as they were shuttled through the pens, the sharp smell of sheep shit and wool heavy in the morning air. My brother and I would dress in an excited flurry, hopping out the door with one welly on and overalls flapping, desperate to watch.

Sheep farming is a solitary business, and it takes more than one man to shear a flock – there must have been some complicated schedule around the village, because neighbours would come to help on our farm, and my grandfather to theirs – sort of like one of those barn-raisings you see in the movies, but with less singing and dancing. And a lot more sheep.

Everyone would be enlisted – the men to corral the sheep and do the actual business of shearing, the wives to gather and roll the wool and pack into huge, oily hessian sacks tacked up between fenceposts. When I was very young I remember being allowed to climb onto the roof of the land-rover to jump on the sacks and pack down the wool, but this was soon deemed too dangerous, much to the disappointment of everyone under the age of ten.

Instead we’d be enlisted to peel a mountain of potatoes and veg in big buckets outside my Grandmother’s front door, and help prepare for the big meal to feed the army of helpers.

Welsh cakes were a fixture of the day, thick with butter or sugar. I still associate them with home and shearing, and I bake them every St David’s Day as a token offering – along with a bunch of daffodils in a vase on the table – to my Welsh blood.

But it’s when the summer starts to turn to autumn that I make them now, and today with the rain sheeting down and grim, and because I’m feeling a little homesick, it was the perfect opportunity to make them.

You can buy them in M&S, and some supermarkets, but you’re missing out on their wonder if you don’t eat them when they’re homemade and warm from the pan.

Here’s the recipe, that I copied from my mum’s hand-written recipe book. I add more fruit and spice though, since I love things fruity and spicy (wink wink nudge nudge) but it’s up to you how much you put in. Traditionally these were cooked straight on top of the stove, no need for a pan, but sadly I’ve never actually made them like that, despite having both a stove and a coal-fired rayburn back home in Wales.

  • 8 oz self-raising flour
  • 4 oz butter or margarine
  • 3 oz mixed fruit and/or sultanas
  • 3 oz caster sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/2 tsp mixed spice

Sift flour, sugar and spice and mix well. Rub in margarine.

Add fruit and mix well.

Beat egg lightly and add. Mix to a dough (if it’s too dry add a bit of milk)

Roll out onto a floured surface till about 1/4 inch thick.

Cut out shapes. As you can see from the pictures above, mine never turn out particularly neat (probably because I use more fruit than the recipe calls for, but, meh, it’s a price I’m willing to pay) – but I use a round cutter about 3 inches wide). Lightly grease a frying pan with margarine/butter – if you can use a cast iron pan even better.

Heat pan over medium heat, and cook cakes for approx 3 mins on each side.

Watch carefully, they burn easily! I generally lose a couple to the burning, but I eat them anyway, because waste not want not eh? You can eat them with butter or sugar sprinkled on, but I think they’re best plain, hot from the pan, and with a nice cup of tea. Eat whilst curled up next to an open fire if possible, in a nice comfy chair with a good book if not.

How To Build A Boy

Having been single for a faintly ridiculously long time now, I have more and more time to think about what I want in a relationship, should one come my way. “It’ll happen when you least expect it,” say the people in relationships, the people who think they’re qualified to say so since their singleness ended 6 months after their last relationship ended, or in the aftermath, when they were too whiplashed and reeling to be ready.

Oh my sweet summer child, I think. Such ignorance. Such innocence. I am the traumatised veteran of singleness. You don’t know man. You weren’t there.

Because the thing is, the longer you’re single, the more you think about WHY you’re single. It grows like a lengthening shadow until it consumes you and it’s pretty much all you’re thinking about, when you’re not filling your quota of daily thoughts about sex or if you locked the door and when is bin day, anyway?

It’s easy, when you’ve been single a while to let your ideals run wild like an overgrown garden. You watch too many romcoms, you read books where people meet and a choir of angels sing, their souls reach out and embrace and there are fireworks in the sky and everything is bloody beautiful. Being realistic is hard. Thinking about the give and take and the daily things that annoy the hell out of you, even in the person that you love, is difficult. He never remembers if you locked the door or when the bin day is, he’s always thinking about sex, argh!

So I could easily say that my ideal man would be kind and curious and funny and honest and passionate. He would never lie or mislead me. He would make me laugh till I cried but he would try his best to never make me cry tears of anything but laughter. He would have books – books and books and books – dog-eared with the tops of pages folded and bits underlined that he thought were funny, or interesting, bits that he was desperate to tell me about. He would never make me feel stupid or small or ridiculous for the things I liked or was interested in, the clothes I wore or the music I listened to. He would get on well with my family because he’d love them and they’d love him, but he’d also understand how important that is to me. He’d think that making a baby together is the most amazing thing two people could do, mixing up our genes in a little oven I’d carry around in my belly and making another whole living person with thoughts and ideas and loves and foibles, and isn’t that amazing?

My perfect man would sing while he cooked and drove the car and pretty much every moment in between. He’d love growing plants and painting the walls bright colours and books about vintage motorbikes. He’d dance like he literally could not keep still, hike mountains and climb trees and oh, incidentally, he’d look like Kit Harrington.

I could say all these things, if I was putting together some kind of shopping list, but the truth is the only thing I want in a man, is – other than all-important attraction and connection that is a necessity, as amorphous and invisible as that is – kindness.

I want a kind person, because all the other things come with it. A kind person will want to make you laugh, just to hear the happiness right there in your voice. A kind person will be curious, because kindness is a by-product of curiosity, because looking at the world and asking questions and trying to understand is hard, and cracks you wide open, and other people’s joy and sadness gets in, which makes you kind.

A kind person is curious, and looks at the world and asks questions and tries to understand, and it cracks you wide open which makes you vulnerable, and they know how it feels to be bare, the fontanelle-soft bits of your soul laid out at their feet, so they will always support, never mock, because they are wide open too.

A kind person is honest, because they are curious, because they look at the world and ask questions and try to understand, and it cracks them wide open, and they know the pain of deceit but it hurts like a deft knife between the ribs every single time because they are shaken to the core with the understanding that not everyone is wide open, not every one is looking and asking and trying to understand.

And a kind person is passionate, because they are curious, and honest, and because looking at the world and asking questions and trying to understand cracks you wide open, and things get in, little things, under your skin and wiggling into your heart when you lie awake at night, until you can’t help but learn more, or try them for yourself.

And a kind person is ambitious, because they are curious, and passionate, and honest, and they look at the world and ask questions and try to understand and it cracks them wide open, and they want to do better, to achieve everything they can in this life. They know that regret does not make you kind – regret turns you inside out until you can’t see the world anymore, to ask questions, to understand, to care.

A kind person loves, because they are ambitious, curious, passionate, honest. A kind person looks at the world and everything in it and it cracks them wide open and breaks their fucking heart with its loveliness and its sadness, and they understand that this is it. This is all we have. And it may be huge but it is not endless. So they love, because they understand how rare and wonderful it is that we even exist at all, even as tiny single blips of light in the universe –  but to orbit another, to be part of a family or a group, a solar system of tiny, brief, flickering lights, is nothing short of magic.

D-Day 70

Last night I returned home from a  few days in Normandy to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Operation Overlord, or in other words, D-Day. I just want to write about it here so that I can get it all down, to remember it later.

I had wanted to go for years to see all of the places that I’ve read about for so long, and to pay tribute to the people who performed such extraordinary actions. It took quite a bit of planning (organising what started as 12 and ended in 9 people) and there were so many issues right up until the last moment that at one point it seemed as though I wouldn’t be able to join my friends there, after all that planning, but in the end everything came together.

I have serious withdrawal symptoms now. Everything seems….smaller. In comparison to the things we heard about or saw or felt over there. It felt like an incredibly privilege to be there, seventy years on. Somehow, I managed to pick us an absolute corker of a campsite,  beautiful, friendly and full of lovely chatty people who were all there for the same reason.

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I can’t put into words how I felt to walk the peaceful, windy Utah beach as the sun came up on the 6th of June, or stand the night before in a field above our beautiful campsite with 30 strangers suddenly become friends, and watch fireworks illuminate the 80 km stretch of landing beaches on the coast laid out before us. 70 years ago to the minute, the paratroopers and gliders were landing, scattered in that dark stretch of countryside, attempting to take key causeways, bridges and roads that were vital to opening up the Normandy countryside and get the troops off the beaches as soon as possible after the landings began that next morning.

Utah beach was a beautiful, peaceful place on the morning of the D-Day anniversary, and it felt surreal to walk there and think about the chaos of the landings (even though Utah beach would have already have been taken by the time we arrived, about 8.30am). There were still quite a few bunkers and fortifications that we got to look at, with out resident military history student Nick to give us a guided tour.

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Walking further up the beach we came across a number of re-enactors (all French), and headed towards the museum at Utah where a ceremony was just finishing. As the few veterans came out and were applauded by the crowd I was very glad that I was wearing sunglasses because I was suddenly overwhelmed with the need to cry.

After Utah we headed to Sainte Mère Église, which was the key objective for the US Airborne in the early morning of D-Day. It’s also famous for the paratrooper John Steele who became caught on the church spire – a dummy paratrooper still hangs there to this day (don’t worry, he survived).

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This was a big deal for me, being a bit of an Airborne fangirl. The paratroopers were the elite and the job they did was a heroic one (imagine parachuting into battle, which incidentally, had never been done before, carrying everything you need with you, often landing right on top of the enemy). There was a great US Airborne reenactment camp at Sainte Mère Église which was brilliant to walk around.

1959313_547598648614_3441081316262783053_nHere is the frenchman dressed as a US 101st Airborne trooper who saw my Camp Toccoa  paratroop training camp t-shirt and said it “fit very well”.


10447076_547583179614_597051926459968413_nHere’s my reaction:

10403421_547583249474_6902248154812243127_nThe Airborne Museum was a busy but brilliant place (containing lots of artefacts and displays, including an original horsa glider) and I’m so glad I got a chance to visit it.

10402855_547598938034_5886257508318494606_nEverywhere you went there were people dressed in period clothing, 1940s music floating out across the countryside, the low throttle of distant engines that rumbled into C-47s and C-130s roaring low over your heads, jeeps and trucks and motorbikes everywhere.

10411775_547608129614_8608924875523143795_nAfter this we stopped off at Grandcamp Maisy, a German trench and bunker system that is still being uncovered and cleared. It was great to talk to the “owner” (if that’s the correct term), a passionate amateur who has dedicated his life to uncovering this little-known (and from what he explained to us, quite a contentious amongst military historians) position.

Also, here I bumped into an actual American dressed as a 101st Airborne paratrooper. He and his buddies saw my t-shirt and clicked their toy cricket (a little metal clicker that was given to the Airborne to identify each other in the dark) and I clicked back, which opened up the conversation. And I didn’t mind at all when he asked to have his picture taken with me…

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After this we returned home hot, exhausted and sunburnt for a great group meal in the barn with the rest of the campers and the owners of the site. There were a couple of birthdays so cake was passed around, and my lovely friend Marie started up a little whip-round for the kids that had been serving us food and wine all night.

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That night there was an awesome lightning storm at about 3am which was, frankly, terrifying. The ground literally shook and it felt like being in the midst of an artillery bombardment, the rumble of thunder and the flash of light was continuous for about an hour. Terrifying, but oddly fitting.

The second day we headed to Pointe du Hoc and Omaha beach, which was another vast sandy beach, though this time with rocky bluffs rather than the dunes of Utah (one of the reasons why it was such a bloody and long battle)

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From there we walked miles down the sand towards the path up to the American Cemetery. Though packed with visitors it was still an incredible place, moving despite the people and the noise and the hot, sunny day. We found the graves of the unknown soldiers particularly moving, and I got especially choked up when I stumbled upon a grave marked with the name of my little brother. It struck me suddenly that he, being twenty years old, would have undoubtedly have been called up to fight somewhere. It was staggering to see the white crosses and stars stretching on into the distance, and despite seeing it in photos and on tv and film nothing could accurately depict the place itself.

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There was so much I would have loved to have seen and didn’t get a chance to, but even this little taster was an incredible experience. Despite being fascinated with all the places that we saw, and the odd experience of being surrounded by re-enactors, it was still a very moving and emotional few days. The hot, sunny days on peaceful beaches and crowded villages both seemed to walk the line between commemoration of the lives lost and the unimaginable heroism of the men and women who took part, and the celebration of a country and people liberated. There were a few things that I felt could have been done better, despite how friendly and helpful the locals and the gendarmerie were – for instance there was so much that we would have loved to have seen but had no idea was taking place as there seemed to be no official website listing all the ceremonies, reenactments and events. But I can’t really complain. I’m in seriously withdrawal now. As my friend Tom mentioned earlier this morning, the things we saw and learned in Normandy for the 70th anniversary puts the details and drama of everyday life into startling perspective.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2013! Keep the change, ya filthy animal!

I can’t really complain. 2013 wasn’t too bad: I wasn’t admitted to hospital once, I didn’t lose my job or get framed for a crime I didn’t commit. However, I also didn’t win the lottery, become the lifetime face of Galaxy chocolate thereby furnishing me with a lifetime supply of Galaxy chocolate, or marry Michael Fassbender, so in summary, 2013 was a total bust.

Nothing much happened to me, but I did make a lot of stuff happen, which is probably better. I went on my first proper grown up holiday all by myself. I sang blues in a band.  I bleached my hair and lost a bit of weight, purely to see if I could, and I liked it, and I felt good. Being blonde is strange – people behave in a different way towards you, which makes you behave differently, and on and one, which is all just a bit strange. Builders and weird men are a lot more shouty, people look at you more, though I’m not sure if that’s something that people assume about blondes or the fact that a girl with short blonde hair and black eyebrows stands out a bit more, and also looks a tiny bit more like Miley Cyrus. And no, it’s not annoying at all when people point that out.

New York was a short but incredible experience. Sick of waiting around for someone to go on holiday with, either amongst my dwindling pool of single friends or one of those mythical  “boy-friend” creatures everyone keeps banging on about, I decided to just do it myself. What’s the worst that could happen? Many things, my compulsively anxious, pteromerhanophobic brain supplied. But none of them actually happened, thank jeebus.

Traveling alone is a funny thing, equal parts soaring pride and bitter-sweetness. New York is amazing, as I’m sure you all know, but every time I saw or did something amazing I wanted to turn to the person next to me and say “Wasn’t that amazing?! But there was no one there. Well, there were thousands of people there, but I was too scared and British to speak to them.

Work has been a funny old thing this year too: it was pretty heartbreaking to leave the studio building I’d worked in for the past 5 and a half years, and even more so to leave the people I’ve worked with for that time too. But our studio went on hiatus, and I was installed in an attic office for one, like Miss Haversham surrounded by mouldering Peppa Pig merchandise. Saying that, I actually love my little office, and my job, and even all the Peppa Pig merchandise which is not in the slightest bit mouldy. Working alone has its low points: the most human contact I usually have in a day is with the night security guard on the desk downstairs, whose name I don’t know but have decided is probably called Marcel, and who sometimes tells me to have a nice evening in a lovely, avuncular security guard sort of way. But on the plus side, I get to sing along to questionable music choices without fear of mockery, and generally just get on with shit. I am master of my domain. Unless my bosses pop in or shit gets heavy, in which case I am merely the caretaker of my domain.

I’ve drawn a lot more this year, developing my style and the sort of things I want to draw. I’ve met some great people on Twitter (another result of minimal human contact on any given day) and some cool people in real life too. I’ve been commissioned for some great little jobs (which reminds me I’ve got to do my buggering tax return) and got to work on some pretty cool projects in my day job too (Peppa Pig Big Egg Hunt egg! Peppa Pig stamp!)

2014 is shaping up too: in an attempt to see me through the post-Christmas slump I’m planning a trip to Iceland (can’t decided between summer or later in the year, to hopefully catch the Northern Lights). I’ve got a couple of projects in the pipe-line, fingers crossed. And who knows what else?

If anyone knows Michael Fassbender, give him my number, yeah?

Dear John…

Dear John Bloedom. Or Blaedon. Or Bladon,

I can’t make out your surname, sorry. Is that an ‘m’ at the end, or a flourish on an ‘n’? I wish I knew. You could have been a bit more careful when you signed and dated the first page of the book I just bought. But I’ll forgive you. I do quite like your writing – my name starts with a ‘j’ too. It’s a horrible letter, I can never get it to look nice, like you did.

I know you were in the army, or the navy, or the airforce because the book (As You Were) was an anthology or American verse and prose for servicemen in WW2. But were you the John Bloedom from Colorado? Or maybe the Blaedon from Ohio? I used this thing called the internet to try to look you up, it’s amazing, you’d love it. You can find out almost anything on it – any information you could possibly want – but we mostly use it for looking at cat videos and being mean to each other.

I wish I knew how old you were, what you looked like. I wish I knew why you went to war. Were you conscripted? Did you choose where you wanted to go, sign-up, brave and bold and bulletproof? Did you fight because you thought there were some things worth fighting for? Or because you could? Did you feel you ought to? Did your mother cry when you shipped out?

Did you lie about your age when you enlisted? Were you barely more than a boy?

Were you scared? God, I would be.

You were probably younger than I am right now. That makes me feel sad.

I used to get quite homesick, when I was your age. Don’t tell anyone, but I still do sometimes, a bit. I wonder if you ever did, too.

Did you carry this book with you through the war? It looks in very good condition. Maybe you took it with you to places you’d only read about before, specks on the map with names like Youks-les-Bains and Messina, Gavutu, Saipan.  Did it shiver in your pocket in a  foxhole? Come ashore with you on some distant beach?

Or did you have my Grandad’s war: years away from home but never on the front-line. A chance to see the world and meet new people, to swim and dance and drink and one day, come home, as someone new.

Did you keep the book pristine and careful, a reminder of home and a life without khaki and musette bags and artillery? Did it comfort you, when it got hard?

Or perhaps you didn’t read it because it was too difficult. Imagining a world carrying on out there without you -the thought of cars running and people buying and selling and mowing their lawns and waving hello – made you feel like you’d just swallowed a grenade that was going to explode outwards one day.

Did you have a wife? A girlfriend? Children?

I’m sorry you had to do what you had to do.

Do we have anything much in common? Would we have been friends, if you’d been here and now, or I’d been there and then? I’ll never know who you are. You could have been anyone. Perhaps you were no-one in particular.

I’m no-one in particular. But I have your book. I’ll try to take care of it, like you did.

Yours,

Jemima

AsYouWere

Feminism, landladies, and a general air of WTF

I’ve had a bad week or two: no running water, a flat on the first floor above what has now turned into a large, expensive cess-pit, a landlady who quite literally doesn’t give a shit about our plight (since she has the luxury of a working toilet in her home).

There’s a special kind of misery that comes when, after a two-hour roundtrip to a scummy leisure centre for a shower, you return to your flat and really notice the heady bouquet of a toilet that’s not been flushed, a washing machine full of damp washing and a sink full of dirty dishes and scummy water that have been sitting there for days. Not to mention queuing up for the one skanky toilet in MacDonalds that’s open at 11pm weeknights.

HOWEVER, I have (so far) received zero rape threats. Ditto for death threats. Or messages about bombs being left outside of my house. So it’s all relative, right?

Here are some people who HAVE received rape/death/bomb threats this week: female journalists; female authors; female MPs; female campaigners. Notice the thing they all have in common?

If you know me even a little bit, you’ll know that I’m partial to the odd feminist rant. I’ve even been told to “tone it down a bit” once or twice, which sort of just has the effect of dumping petrol on the banked coals of my righteous feminist anger. It’s not like I go on about it. It’s not “Hi, I’m Jemima, nice to meet you, doesn’t the patriarchy just make you want to scream? Let’s read feminist literature and talk about the US’s increasingly worrying stance on abortion and women’s reproductive rights!”. I try to keep it internal until I know you just a little bit better, don’t worry.

Like my experience this week, it can be utterly flabbergasting to be reminded that there are people in this world who operate on entirely different wavelengths to the majority of the population. When you come up against someone who doesn’t behave in the ways that we’ve been taught by both our parents and society in general, it can totally floor you. The overwhelming feeling is one of injustice – that it is completely and utterly unfair that these people should be allowed to behave in this way, and get away with it, when the rest of society plays by the rules. Basic rules, such as not shouting threats and abuse at women on the internet, or maybe, behaving with some empathy when you’ve forced the tenants you are responsible for to live in a flat that stinks of shit.

I have to state that in no way am I comparing my week without plumbing (as miserable as it was) with the horror of being told you need to, you are going to, you WILL be raped. But both situations this week have left me with the same feeling, which can be summed up as: WTF.

Seriously: what the fuck? What makes a man think it’s okay to say these things to a woman? Does the thought of Caroline Criado-Perez campaigning for something like putting a woman on a banknote offend you that much? Is it the thought of a determined and opinionated woman sharing those opinions that outrages you? Perhaps celebrating and respecting a female role model fills you with anger?

Or is that you hate women so very much that just the thought of glimpsing one -perhaps on a piece of paper in your wallet as you’re paying for some hula-hoops and a copy of Misogynist Monthly- sends you on a Hulk-esque rampage? If so, wow, you might want to join a monastery because there’s roughly 3 billion of us booby-humans walking around out here.

It’s a fucking bank note, for chrissake. It’s not that big of a deal. I know that the Queen’s on there, and that Darwin is about to be taken off, and I want to say maybe….Elizabeth Fry was on there, at some point, maybe? But other than that, I could not tell you who else is on there. It really doesn’t bother me, and if it’s the kind of thing that bothers you, then, well, I just don’t know what to say about that.

That’s not to say that I disagree with Caroline Criado-Perez’s campaign in the slightest: famous female Brits should absolutely be represented on our currency and I’m grateful that there are people who are willing to work to make it happen. But, just like those opposing same-sex marriage, I cannot fathom how your life can be so utterly calm and sorted that you could whip yourself into such a spittle-flecked frenzy opposing something that – like Jane Austen on your fiver- really has no impact on your life whatsoever. Even if you disagree with it, well, that’s fine. You’re allowed to. I disagree with Big Brother and boob jobs and most everything Robert Downey Jr does but, call me self-centered, I’ve got a few more pressing things to do than send threats and abusive messages to Channel 4 and Katie Price and Robert Downey Jr’s agent.

Here are just  a few of the things I think about on a daily basis that worry me more than who’s on my banknotes or the thought of two people who have a sexual organ in common committing to share their lives (and sexual organs) with each other:

* Did I leave the oven on?

* Pyroclastic flows

* Mega-tsunamis

* Regular sized tsunamis

* Robert Downey Jr

* Teenagers

* My landlady

Again, this is not to say that I don’t wholeheartedly and quite vocally support gay marriage and the fight to make it available to anyone who might wish to partake of it. It’s just that I think it’s an issue that has nothing to do with anyone who is not gay and considering getting married. Along with pretty much every feminist issue ever, I would so, so rather not HAVE to support it. Because it shouldn’t be an issue.

Those shouting out against feminists seem to think that these women (who’ve “stuck their head above the parapet” and “need to be put in their place”) are man-hating she-Nazis who are gleefully enjoying this whole thing.

So, misogynistic anti-feminists, here’s something I’d like to say to you: this is not FUN. This is not a HOBBY. There are quite literally a billion other things that we would rather be thinking about and devoting our energy to. This is not our problem, it is yours, and the way to make it go away is to make it not an issue.

Just as there would be no need for police without crime, firefighters without fire, and complaints to my rubbish landlady without the bodge job she did on the flat in the first place, feminism is a response to sexism – a reaction to the problem, and not the problem itself. If you want to stop this whole thing, if we’re annoying you, well, you know what to do.

Ball’s in your court, dickwads.

Cosmic rebates

Everybody goes through those times I suppose, when not much of anything can give the day-to-day of your life a sort of trudging backing-track of misery, or loneliness. You can hide it quite well of course, because it’s nowhere near the surface. It squats at the back of your mind like something dark and heavy, and taints the edges of your day, worries the edges, frays the ends. There’s nothing to put your finger on, nothing to blame, which adds a nice bagpipe-drone of guilt to the the whole affair.

It’s not depression – not quite that. It’s just….hard to breathe deep.

But then, sometimes, if you’re lucky, the universe can thrown something so bloody fantastic at you. And it’s small and insignificant and won’t change your life. You might not even remember it tomorrow, but it might help you through the right now.

I’m trying to make a real effort to see these things. It’s easy to be blinkered enough, especially in the city, that you don’t notice them passing you like little lay-bys on the hard shoulder. And it can be anything. The other night I was feeling pretty crappy, when, walking along Carnaby Street in the evening rain, I noticed the blue neon lights reflecting in the puddles at the exact moment that ‘Sound and Vision’ started playing in my headphones. “Blue blue, electric blue!” sang Bowie. Bloody brilliant, I thought.

My first summer of university my friends came to stay with me, back in Wales. We hiked up Cadair Idris, swam in the lake that was carved ages ago by a glacier like a bowl beneath the summit, then drove home for a barbeque in the front garden. We ate fresh fish and drank cider and watched the sun set out to sea, over the dark blue smudge of Ireland (the conditions are clear enough, once in every fifty years or so, said my Grandfather). That night we stuck our heads out of tent flaps into the night to watch a meteor shower above. An utterly perfect day.

There’s a 1930s bath-house in Rotorua on New Zealand’s North Island. I spent three evenings there, nine years ago. I floated on my back in their open-air pool heated by the natural hot-water vents of that volcanic area, my two best friends beside me, Glen Miller piped out on the speakers, watching the steam spiral up into the starry sky.

Once I was walking to work along Regent Street when a coach full of six-year old schoolkids pulled up at the lights. Their sheer bloody joy when I waved back at them carried me along for an entire day. Imagine, being that genuinely giddy, just because someone waved at you, I thought. I can just about remember when life was that small and simple and days came one at a time, with no worrisome future to pull you back down.

That’s what it’s about, I think. Finding the little things, stand-alone moments with no past or future. That’s what being a child is, living your days with no notion of consequence or understanding of how cruel or stupid or unfathomable life can sometimes be. But it can still throws these little gems your way, every now and then. The trouble is keeping your eyes open wide enough to catch them.