Thursday, March 25, 2010


Having focused attention on Jock the Westie in this blog quite a bit recently, it's only fair to redress the balance by posting a few snaps of Sprocket the Patterdale. Never heard of this breed? - neither had I before buying him. Apparently Patterdales are named after a village in the Lake District where the Lakeland terrier was crossbred with some other terrier mutt (probably a Staffordshire bull terrier, though it could have been a sabre-toothed tiger) to produce the perfect burrowing-animal killing machine. Basically, they're hunters. And enthusiastic diggers. And nearly always black - though Sprock's obviously brown (or red, as doggy experts define it). Far as I know, they're not recognised by Cruft's or the Kennel Club (or whatever the official governing dogs' body is). Unsurprisingly, they have an enthusiastic following with a few tribes of mental retards in the American backwoods (ever seen the film 'Deliverance'?) who keep gangs of them for poaching and (illicit?) badger hunting. Had I known all this beforehand, I may well not have have bought the brute. But I did. So that's it. Lumbered.

Unlike Jock he doesn't come across as being cute and cuddly, he's aggressive towards other dogs (but not bitches) so he has to be kept on a lead most of the time (he escaped once and beat the living daylights out of Tommy, the hamlet's 'boss' dog) and he has a horribly unattractive bald tail (the result of microscopic bugs buggering up his hair follicles as a pup at the run-down kennels where he was born). But despite all that I think he's fab. Absolutely adorable. And he's a bright spark. Damned intelligent. Coochie, coochie, coo.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Totally confused

Makes a pleasant change to have sunny evening dogwalks back again. Last couple of soirees we've hopped in the dogwagon and driven up the 'lightning tree' area to have an amble around and catch the sunsets before returning home for supper. There's a small herd of cattle up there. White ones. Five or six cows, one bull and about ten playful young 'uns. They're a timid bunch and mainly keep their distance. However, they're fascinated by Jock. Because he's white they seem to think he's one of their own so curiosity overcomes fear and one or two of the braver ones come right up to the fence to check him out. Totally confused. Similarly, Jock seems to think they're rather big Westies so, unlike Sprocket, he doesn't run away and start barking. Leads to some interesting confrontations.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Springing into action

Just read that Oscar Wilde apparently once opined "conversation about the weather is the last refuge of the unimaginative". So, just to prove him right, I'll scribe once again about the meteorological conditions that have recently prevailed in our remote neck of the woods.

The snow appears to have disappeared. But this might just be temporary. Couple of years ago it reappeared at Easter. So I hesitate to say winter's over. Mind you, spring does seem to be kicking at the door. Snowdrops are out and daffs are budding. Also spotted some white violets round by the woodpile. Well, when I say 'woodpile' I really mean 'big empty space where the woodpile used to be'. Just a few logs remain and I'm hoping they'll see me through 'til the warm weather returns. But just to be on the safe side, I've ordered another half cord from neighbour Christian. That's roughly a couple of small vans-full. Costs about 70 quid. Damned expensive but it's a matter of life or death. Doesn't grow on trees y'know (an old joke, but I like it). For the first time in months the kitchen and lounge stoves are out. I'll re-light 'em tonight - the kitchen one for cooking and the lounge one for telly watching. Roll on when they don't have to be lit. It's like burning money.

Last couple of nights have been noticeably warmer (warmer than freezing, that is). Threw caution to the wind and slept without my sheepskin flying jacket. First time since about November or December. Even opened the boudoir windows and dangled out the duvet and pillow for a much needed airing. And, yesterday morning, I actually had a bath. First time this recently installed item has been used. Survived the ordeal relatively unscathed. Felt ridiculously clean afterwards. Quite unnatural for a bohemian recluse. Think I'll stick to showers though. More economical. Thinking about it, that's probably seven or eight showers and one bath in the last six months. Not bad for winter. (Er, just in case anyone starts tut-tutting about my apparent soaping infrequency, I'll have you know that I bath in the sink. So there. Bit tricky for a shortarse comme moi to get the old feet up so I stand one-footed on a brick.)

Washed and shampooed the dogs too. Did it outside with a couple of buckets. Been far too cold to do it over recent months. So they've been a bit whiffy (they probably say the same about moi). They both hate being washed, which I fully understand. And they both roll around in the dirt afterwards which rather defeats the object. Still, has to be done. Next, I'll attempt to give Jock (the Westie) a haircut. Off with his thick winter coat ready for spring. Luckily Sprocket (the Patterdale) has hair that doesn't need cutting. Just as well 'cos he goes for your jugular at the slightest opportunity. I risk death every time I wash the blighter.

Makes a pleasant change to go dogwalking without blizzard conditions. Don't miss all that sleet and snow one little bit. And it's nice wearing just a single fleece without a waterproof topcoat and a couple of sweaters. And ordinary shoes instead of Gore-Tex commando boots. Been going up the 'lightning tree' circuit again now it's not so muddy. Noticed the sun's creeping back up that horizon at sunset. So the evenings are getting longer. So too are the mornings. I've noticed it's almost light now when Jock wakes me up with a bark or seventeen to be let outside for a wee.

Went up there a few days back with the mutts for an evening stroll and, surprise, surprise, it was sunny. Brought out the colours for the first time in yonks. Blue sky, green grass, purple trees, pinkish earth. Thought about getting my paints out again after the winter lay-off. Been far too cold for painting outdoors. Next day was sunny too so I decided to give it a go. Set up the easel mid-afternoon and sploshed away for about three hours before sunset. Scene changed dramatically as shadows lengthened which drove me bonkers. And if that wasn't challenging enough, the intricate detail of the trees' bare branches almost forced me to wipe the whole thing out, pack up, go home in a huff and give up this ridiculous notion of becoming an artist, part-time or otherwise. The final straw was when the easel blew over. Just managed to stop it landing face down in dried up cow poo. Bugger this. Walked dogs and returned home.

Sunny the next day so went up there again to give it one last go. Had to be late afternoon though so the shadows were right. Set up canvas and easel, squeezed a few colours from battered paint tubes and... it immediately clouded over. Everything went grey. Dammit. Then the wind picked up. Easel blew over again. This time landing in cow poo. Now I was angry. But determined. Parked car right by the easel and opened rear hatch so it acted as a windbreak. Picked bits of straw, grass and dirt from painting and attacked again. Wiped out all the pernickity detail rubbish of my original interpretation of the trees and went for a more expressionistic approach. Nothing to lose. If it didn't work, I'd wipe the whole bastard lot out and give up completely. Forget about trying to be a camera, forget colours, ignore detail, put away those pathetic little brushes and pick up some bigger ones. Think van Gogh, Kokoschka and Rauschenberg. Now go for the essence of what's in front of you. Make the bloody thing come alive and dance.

Sploshed away in a blind fury for about an hour. Looked like a bleedin' dog's dinner. Crap. Would have rubbed the lot out with the little amount of dirty green turps that remained in the jar, had Jock not knocked it over. Swore at the little git for doing so. Which snapped me out of my creative trance. Gave the poor thing a cuddle, and Sprocket, then chucked the arty-farty gear in the car, gave 'em a well deserved walk round the open fields (in slight drizzle), went home, slung painting in the indoor shed, fed dogs, lit fire, poured scotch and prepared evening meal.

Looked at painting this morning. Better than it was. I'm on the right track. There's something there but I don't know what. Still a long way to go though. Should really have gone up there again this afternoon. 'Cos it was sunny. But couldn't be arsed. I'll go tomorrow. Weather permitting. (Rats. Can't go. Just remembered I have to do some proper illustration work for a publisher who must be desperate.)

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Toad of Toad Hall would understand. And a few faded geriatrics with oil pumping through varicose veins. But nobody else. It's an affliction. Maybe an illness. And it's incurable. It's called classic car and bike-itis. Once you're hooked, that's it. You've had it. There's no way out.

The malady first hit me way back in the late '40s as a wee bairn watching my father ride in a motorcycle trial. Apparently a lump of mud landed on my ice cream cone which caused a few brief tears but did nothing to put me off my new found (and lifelong) fascination with the sounds and smells of two-wheeled, predominantly British, machinery. Then, just as soon as I could walk, while other kids were mucking around with Dinky toys and Meccano sets, I'd be spannering away in Dad's garage, secretly dismantling his prized Rudge motorcycle into thousands of component parts. Needless to say, Pater was not be amused.

The four-wheeled bug hit a bit later, out in Gibraltar (I was an army kid). Used to panic Mum by disappearing for hours on end. Eventually I'd be found sitting in the front seat of 'Uncle' Jock's Humber estate car (looked a bit like a Tudor cottage on wheels), going "brum, brum", totally immersed in the wonderful aroma of Axminster with leather and all the fascinating clocks and dials on the beautiful wooden dashboard. Somehow Dad's more contemporary Morris Oxford wasn't quite the same. Seemed boring in comparison. And it's been the same ever since. Modern stuff just doesn't do it for me. Old stuff does.

Being hooked on classics is illogical. They're unreliable, spares are like gold dust and they're utter rust buckets. Total rubbish, in other words. I know that. But, like all true classic buffs, I don't give a monkey's. Give me an open road, a sunny day and a choice between the latest Japanese rocket bike or an old British banger and I'll choose the banger every time. Mind you, when standing in a pool of oil blowing dirt out of a main jet or trying to coax a spark from a whiskered plug miles from anywhere, I might regret the folly of this decision. But then, that's the risk you take with classics. There's a far greater sense of achievement when you eventually reach your destination. Just ask Ted Simon who famously trundled off round the world on a battered old 500 Triumph (documented in 'Jupiter's Travels' - an excellent book). And then ask that actor fella Euan MacGregor and his sidekick who, even more famously, did the same thing but on flashy BMWs with a full support crew. See who has the biggest grin.

I digress.

Anyway, yes, it's a disease. And there is no cure. I've tried cold turkey. But that didn't work. Went without my regular fix of classic car and bike mags a few years back, hoping I'd break the habit. But then I'd spot an old Austin Seven in a car park, or an oily Velo Thruxton or Beeza Goldie parked outside a pub and that'd be it. I'd immediately start drooling. Worse still, I'd often start tampering with bits and poking about, then get caught in the act by a worried owner, ending up trying to think of some garbled explanation for my compromising situation (usually horizontal underneath the machine in question) which, with luck, would only just save me from being arrested as a suspected thief.

I was rather hoping that my move to France might do the trick. Certainly stopped me buying my regular mags. I could, of course, get them sent out by subscription but my iron will scotched that idea (ahem, somewhat mysteriously, Old Bike Mart continues to land in my letter box bi-monthly - old habits die hard). Trouble is, there's an abundance of French classic bike and car mags available at the local newsagent. Don't understand a word of what's in 'em but that doesn't stop me buying the odd one or two occasionally. Then, like addicts do, I feel guilty. And stupid too as I feverishly look up weird French words in the dictionary, like 'echappement' (exhaust), 'embrayage' (clutch), 'boite de vitesses' (gearbox) and 'chaine' (chain - I guessed that one). It's a good way to learn French though. One never knows when these words just might come in handy.

However, I didn't allow for the internet. Distancing oneself from British newsagents by emigrating is one thing, but resisting the temptation to look up British classic bike and car magazine sites, not mention the dreaded eBay, is quite another. My laptop 'favourites' list is peppered with hundreds of these damned things. They constantly beckon me. Like sirens luring ships onto rocks. It's a nightmare.

Take this morning for example. There I was, quietly minding my own business, when a splendid, 25,000 mile (yes, that's all!) P4 Rover 100 lept (leapt?) - er, jumped - out at me from cyberspace. Up for grabs at eight and a bit grand. Brilliant! Then a magnificent 250 Greeves Anglian reared its ugly (ugly? - you must be joking!) head. Yours, mine or anyone's for just 3.5k. And as if this wasn't enough, a delicious 500 AJS trials plonker suddenly appeared right before my very eyes. Priced at a very reasonable 4,750 quidlettes. Aaaarrrgh! It's all too much! This really is hell.

The only solution is to storm out of this cyberspace sweet shop, disappear into the garage, get out the spanners, connect up the newly charged battery and fire the dormant Beemer (a fab '88 R100GS) into life after its winter slumber. Then set about fettling the front forks of that scrumptious ex-works Greeves (an ex Mary Driver '63 TES - woohoo! lucky moi!) that's snoozing in the lounge (indoor shed, rather). A man has to learn to be satisfied with what he has. And so does a toad. Now where's me spanners...?