Thursday, 15 November 2012

Strange how strange

Ten years ago I lived just a little way up the road from the youth hostel where I am now. It's strange how strange the town seems to me. It isn't that the town has changed particularly. I guess it's more the realisation that my memories are pretty patchy.

The journey here on the train from Liverpool Street was depressingly familiar if only for the generically grubby experience of being on a London commuter service. First there is the depressingly repetitive and meaningless pattern woven into the seat fabric. I couldn't decide if the blobby pattern was of a turkey drumstick, or a pig nose to nose with a mouse. Then there is the splotchy pavement pizza pattern of the floor covering, artfully concealing any actual pavement pizza. Finally there's the view from the window.

I'm glad I no longer participate in the London rat race. A little reminder goes a long way.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Their today they gave

And some there be who no memorial have;
Who perished are as though they’d never been.
For our tomorrows their today they gave,
And simply asked that in our hearts they'd live.
We heed their call and pledge ourselves again,
At dusk and dawn - we will remember them!

Monday, 29 October 2012

Flaying once more

With Hallow's Eve fast approaching, I'm flaying once more. First the crown is sliced open, then the guts are ripped out. Taking a scalpel I trace my devilish pattern across the skin, finally with tender care I incise the wounds, rending skin from flesh to reveal the pumpkin's inner demon.

This ram-horned devil will be going to the Myrtle Tavern, who're holding a pumpkin carving competition. 1st prize = £50 in beer tokens. How could a pumpkin serial carver resist?

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Contagious commuters coughing

For years I commuted to-and-fro via the London Underground, squeezing into jam packed carriages, holding a book betwixt myself and the horrid hoards. Too short to steady myself by holding onto the hanging straps, and too mild-mannered to muscle my way to a seat, I generally hogged a position in the doorway, where I could lean against the door and sway with the movement of the tube. At each station stop, I would step backwards off the train and side-step out of the way of those needing to disembark, allowing everyone else to board before once again taking my doorway spot.

There's an art to deciding where on the platform to wait: away from the entrances to the platform, yet close to one of the destination platform's exits, whilst being mindful of which parts of the train would already be crowded on arrival.

There's a joy to deciphering the London Underground map, being able to plot the most efficient route with a single glance. With the map you can work out the various possible routes, and weigh the number of stops versus the number of interchanges for each option, but only experience can inform you of a proposed route's relative merits. At some stations the interchange might be as simple as going from one side of the platform to the other (Victoria-Bakerloo at Oxford Station), whereas the interchange at other stations can be involved to say the least, as this cutaway of Bank shows:

Bank Monument Station Modernisation Cutaway

Eventually my delight in my ability to slide through the Underground as slickly as a silverfish slipped away. Too many trips spent crushed up against sweaty armpits. Too many times trapped in a tin-can with contagious commuters coughing, sniffling and sneezing.

So these days I'm a bigger fan of Harry Beck's iconic Underground map than I am of the Underground itself. It has always seemed to me that Beck's map could never be surpassed, but today I was wooed by Dr Maxwell Roberts curvy version:

It has re-ignited my desire to travel via the Underground. This map makes me want to slide along its sinuous routes and follow its curves from end to end.

Friday, 10 August 2012

Cooped up

This is the latest blog entry to be converted into an animation, based on Fettered.

I wrote this during a train journey, returning from London to Leeds. A number of railway metaphors seeped in, as the feeling of being cooped up in the carriage reminded me of similar emotions during cancer treatment.

Monday, 6 August 2012

This is your life (the animation)

I have begun a new project, taking some of my blog entries and turning them into animations. This is the first, based on Retreat.

When I'd finished it and watched it through, I had an uncanny moment where I almost expected Eamonn Andrews to come in with a red book and say "Harry Caper, this is your life!"

It is strange to think that I wrote Retreat over two years ago, about events that had happened two years earlier than that. It highlights to me just how far I've come since then, and yet serves to remind me how immediate and powerful those emotions still are.

Monday, 16 July 2012

60 years of separation

In April I had a response from an advert I'd put on Gumtree outlining my services as a family history researcher. The gentleman had been placed in a children's home at a very young age. He had no memories of his birth parents, and while he'd been successful in tracing his mother's family he was keen to know more about his father.

He had a copy of his parent's marriage certificate which was our starting point. We knew from the certificate that his dad had been in the parachute regiment, but to get army records you need a death certificate and a date of birth, so that's where the hunt began.

The dates were all the wrong side of the 1911 census for that to be of any use, so the GRO Births/Marriages/Deaths Index was the way forward. By a process of elimination I whittled it down to a shortlist of eight possible birth records. With the sixth we struck lucky - the details matched the little we already knew. Armed with the date of birth I was quickly able to identify the correct death record.

The death certificate arrived today, and here we had our second piece of luck. A daughter was named as the informant. However an internet search told us that the address of the daughter was no longer valid as the property has subsequently been sold. Fortunately the daughter had a relatively unusual name. Searching the GRO Index I found a probable marriage entry for her, and discovered that the husband's name was even more unusual. Another trawl of Google ensued, leading me to the website of a church who have an organist of the same name. This was our third and final stroke of luck as his phone number was listed amongst the contact details on the webpage.

This evening my client called that phone number and spoke to a half-sister he never knew he had. She'd known about him but had been unsuccessful in tracing him. His half-sister is now ringing her other sisters, and tomorrow they're all going to meet.

Yesterday my client knew nothing of his father and had no blood relations. Tomorrow he'll meet three sisters armed with their family photographs and finally see a picture of his dad and hear all about him.

It was the advent of the internet that gave rise to the concept of six degrees of separation. How fitting then, that by following a tenuous trail of breadcrumbs across the internet, a family will be reunited across 60 years of separation.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

The rainbow race

A thunderstorm was just chasing away the last vestiges of sunshine as I set off home this evening. Driving down the hill the car was bathed in sunshine and drenched in rain as the two weather systems collided.

I caught sight of a shallow arced rainbow, across a field to my left, I could see where the rainbow hit the grass, the end drifting across the field as my perspective changed. Turning a corner I saw the rainbow race ahead of me, the descending arc seeming to hang low over the road.

With the windscreen wipers working overtime to clear the storm hurled rain, I peered out, trying to keep the moving end of the rainbow in sight, trying to see where it made earth fall. Then just for a second I saw the rainbow stripes glowing up from the wet road directly in front of me. A brief wave of light washed through the car, and the rainbow vanished from sight.

What an amazing day. Portents and Omens. They don't get any better than this. I wonder whether I'll be visited by a leprechaun delivering a pot of gold?

Sunday, 3 June 2012

Histrionics fade to history

A tang of ozone lingers in the air, even as the thunder cloud drifts west to plague others. Shaking our heads we reflect on the elemental fury we've weathered - who could have predicted it? We all survived intact, though bruised and baffled by the irrational force that upset our simple domesticity.

At least the stifling humidity has been blown away. Birdsong fills the air lifting our spirits. The tension that lined our brows and hunched our shoulders begins to evaporate, even as we work to repair the storm damage.

As the histrionics fade to history, our thoughts turn to face the future. May we modestly hope for peace, harmony and calm?

Thursday, 29 March 2012


Hard to believe we're only a few days on from the spring equinox. The clouds and breeze are absent, leaving us drenched in glorious sunshine.

Soaking up the heat, taking in the rays.


It's been a great opportunity to spend more time outdoors with Poppy who, depending on circumstances, is also known as Pops, Pop-tart, Popsie, Popsie-doodle, Popsie-diddler, Pop-master, Pop-tastic, Pop-noodle, Poppy-pops, Popsicle, and Monster-Dog:

Bemused by the barmy neighbours

Strike a pose, let's get to it

Favourite hiding spot

Captivated by the cavorting neighbours

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Quite animated

It's been an age since I last blogged. Plenty of water has flowed under the bridge, but the scenery looks much the same. I became a dog owner for the first time ever, when Poppy came to live with me last September:

At about the same time I became a share holder for the first time in years, a topic on which I've recently become quite animated:

So how did you get into GKP?

So tell me about GKP and the muppet business?

So tell me about GKP vs Excalibur?

So tell me about the GKP forum trolls?