Undertow by Genesis, from the album “…and then there were three…”, 1978

The curtains are drawn
Now the fire warms the room.
Meanwhile outside
Wind from the north-east chills the air,
It will soon be snowing out there.

And some there are
Cold, they prepare for a sleepless night.
Maybe this will be their last fight.

But we’re safe in each other’s embrace,
All fears go as I look on your face -

Better think awhile
Or I may never think again.
If this were the last day of your life, my friend,
Tell me, what do you think you would do then?

Stand up to the blow that fate has struck upon you,
Make the most of all you still have coming to you,
Lay down on the ground and let the tears run from you,
Crying to the grass and trees and heaven finally on your knees

Let me live again, let life come find me wanting.
Spring must strike again against the shield of winter.
Let me feel once more the arms of love surround me,
Telling me the danger’s past, I need not feel the icy blast again.

Laughter, music and perfume linger here
And there, and there,
Wine flows from flask to glass and mouth,
As it soothes, confusing our doubts.

And soon we feel,
Why do a single thing to-day,
There’s tomorrow sure as I’m here.

So the days they turn into years
And still no tomorrow appears.

Better think awhile
Or I may never think again.
If this were the last day of your life, my friend,
Tell me, what do you think you would do then?

Stand up to the blow that fate has struck upon you,
Make the most of all you still have coming to you,
Lay down on the ground and let the tears run from you,
Crying to the grass and trees and heaven finally on your knees

Let me live again, let life come find me wanting.
Spring must strike again against the shield of winter.
Let me feel once more the arms of love surround me,
Telling me the danger’s past, I need not feel the icy blast again.

A Moment

What makes some events stick in your memory and yet others just fade away? Often it’s the unimportant things, or sometimes things you’d rather forget, that remain while stuff you really want to treasure, like the gems your children do or say as they grow up, just fades away.

Here’s one of those unimportant things that still seems strangely vivid…

We’re heading up MG Road, Anneke and I: East Fort, Chalai Market, towards Secretariat and then Napier Museum. Two kilometres down, two more to go. It’s late morning on that shadeless street; the sun is searing. The air is thick from four lanes of grinding, honking lorries and buses, taxis, tuk-tuks and motorbikes. We need to almost shout and yet not breathe too deeply. Amongst all the workaday traffic an out-of-place, anonymous limousine pushes past and later, a multi-axelled, foreign-tourist-gawping coach.

She’s vibrant, smart, pretty and tanned. The boys stare. The girls pretend not to see. I wonder if they think I’m her father, if they notice me at all.

It’s July, hot and incredibly humid. Our skins glisten with sweat. We should have taken a bus but there’s so much life out here; so much to see and drink in.

We’re picking our way over gap-toothed, ankle-twisting pavement. Past rough, hand-made wooden beds, fake watches and felt reindeer, sarees and brass goddesses. The smells.

We’re just chatting, wondering about everything unfamiliar around us.
And then, out of the blue, “So what brings YOU here?” she asks, catching me completely off guard.
“Huh? Oh. Well. You know… I wanted to do something meaningful, did a Google search, found Sebastian, read their story and now I’m here!”
“That’s not what I meant. Why HERE? Why Trivandrum? Why NOW?”
I look at her. I don’t really know you. What will you think? Who will you tell?
“Oh… It’s a long story.”
And like a ricochet, “What was her name?”
I’m knocked aback.
“How d’you know there was a woman?”
“OF COURSE there was. There ALWAYS is! Though I did wonder if it might have been a man!”
I smile and start to speak but she doesn’t really hear me: it’s her story she wants to tell.

MG Road

Cara Dillon

The Streets of Derry – Cara Dillon with Paul Brady

There was a time when I had a television. One of the series I loved watching was “Transatlantic Sessions” where a bunch of folk musicians got together to play some beautiful music. If I remember correctly, it took place in a large old Perthshire house, and the sessions were interspersed with views across the gorgeous Scottish countryside. I have followed Irish lass Cara Dillon for a number of years and saw her once, in concert. She has incredible talent and is quite stunning. Here she is with husband, Sam Lakeman, and fellow countryman, Paul Brady.

After the morning there comes an evening
And after evening another day
And after a false love there comes a true love
I’d have you listen now to what I say

I swear my love is the finest young man
As fair as any the sun shines on
But how to save him, I do not know it
For he has got a sentence to be hung

As he was marching the streets of Derry
I own he marched up right manfully
Being much more like a commanding officer
Than a man to die upon the gallows tree

What keeps my love, she’s so long in coming?
Oh what detains her so long from me?
Or does she think it a shame or scandal
To see me die upon the gallows tree?

He looked around and he saw her coming
And she was dressed all in woollen fine
The weary steed that my love was riding
It flew more swifftly than the wind

Come down, come down from that cruel gallows
I’ve got your pardon from the king
And I’ll let them see that they dare not hang you
And I’ll crown my love with a bunch of green

Bold Jamie

Oh rise up my darling and come with me
I want to go with you and leave this country
To leave my fathers dwelling, this house and the land
So away goes Jamie, his love in his arms

They go over hills and the mountains and glens
Travelling all through the night in the mist and the rain
But her father has followed and has taken his men
And he captured poor Jamie, his love in his arms

Now home she was taken, her room she is bound
While poor Jamie lies on the cold stoney ground
And he knows all the while before the judge he will stand
For the stealing of nothing but his own true love’s hand

In the cold hard iron his hands they are bound
Handcuffed like a murderer and tied to the ground
And the goaler tells Jamie “last night I did hear
That your Lady will hang you or else set you clear”

But the judge says “this young girl being tender in youth
If Jamie is guilty she will tell the truth”
Then the radiant beauty before him did stand
“Oh I’m happy to see you my bold Irish lad”

But the father cries out “Lord have pity on me
For the man came to bring disgrace to my family
And he stole my only daughter, all part of his plan
And if you don’t hang him I will quit the land”

But the daughter is crying and begging is she
“The fault isn’t Jamie’s, the blame lies with me
I forced him to leave and run away with me
And I’ll die if I can’t save my bold Jamie”

“Good Lord he has stole all her jewels and her rings
Gold watches and amber, all my precious things
And it cost me a fortune in thousands of pounds
And I’ll take the life of Jamie before I lie in the ground

“Good Lord I gave them as a token of love
An when we are parted I’ll have them removed
But a true lovers token wear on your right hand
And think of me darling when you’re in a foreign land”


IMG_0767-001 This is what I’m working on at the moment. The handrail is original but I’ve renewed the baserail and am putting in spindles to stop any kiddies falling through the gap. I went to a proper timber shop for the materials where they planed the spindles down to size and machined the baserail from standard stock. OK, it’s not particularly refined but it’ll do! There are a huge number of angles to cut – all at 41.9° – not only the spindles but also the fillets between them at top and bottom. A quick estimate comes to seventy-eight of them! Also, there have to be careful calculations and checks to make sure all gaps are even. Ah, so this is what I learnt that trigonometry for, forty-four years ago! Talking of school, the handrail is oak and reminds me of old wooden desks. I love the natural appearance and feel of it and will see if I can get away with leaving it untreated.

Old Loo


Old Loo

The old toilet pan from my blitzed bathroom seems to be taking root outside. I haven’t managed to dispose of it yet and part of me doesn’t want to. I’m getting used to seeing it outside my back window – it adds a bit of frivolity, quirkiness, fun. I’m seriously tempted to keep it. Maybe not there; maybe somewhere more out of sight, planted with red geraniums.

The Dead Drummer

The Dead Drummer, Thomas Hardy (1899)


They throw in Drummer Hodge, to rest
Uncoffined—just as found:
His landmark is a kopje-crest
That breaks the veldt around;
And foreign constellations west
Each night above his mound.


Young Hodge the Drummer never knew -
Fresh from his Wessex home -
The meaning of the broad Karoo,
The Bush, the dusty loam,
And why uprose to nightly view
Strange stars amid the gloam.


Yet portion of that unknown plain
Will Hodge for ever be;
His homely Northern breast and brain
Grow up a Southern tree.
And strange-eyed constellations reign
His stars eternally.

House Project at 12 Months

IMG_0723 I moved into my house exactly 12 months ago – boy, time flies! I’ve been busy renovating it so that I can eventually rent out rooms and then go off working in Nepal or Cambodia – it involves replastering, new wiring, plumbing, bathroom and kitchen – in fact pretty much everything! Time might fly but unfortunately, progress crawls. I wish I was a lot further along the road than I am but there’s still much to do. It’s a big project and I’m slower than I used to be.

It isn’t easy when there’s just one of you. I admit that I’ve had occasional help from my son and daughter and from friends, for which I’m hugely grateful, but most of the time it’s just little, old me. For a while, my friend Gabor came round a couple of evenings a week. He was keen and not only did he help with sanding down and painting but his visits encouraged ME to be productive too. But he’s moved away now and so not much gets done in the evenings. Weekends are when work tends to happen but it’s hard to keep focus and maintain enthusiasm for such a length of time… I’m struggling but I won’t give up. Writing blogs? Social life? Pah! That’ll have to wait.

So, what stage am I at? Well, there’s still no bathroom but I have at least now got bath, basin, loo, shower and taps on order, and it should all arrive in a couple of weeks’ time. I still I haven’t chosen the wall tiles though, and they have to go on before the bathroom can be fitted. I’m hopeless at choosing things – whatever it is it seems to take me forever. Friends tell me they simply visit the showrooms, make a selection, and load up! For me, with no car, just visiting the showrooms is an ordeal. And once I’m there I seem to lack the imagination to picture things into my home.

However, the upstairs is nearly complete, decoration-wise. I’ve finished painting the stairs and landing which was quite an ordeal due to the height of the stair-well. A lot of ladder moving and precarious balancing. It’s not the colour I expected it to be – I thought it would be a kind of muted dusky-pink but it’s turned out a lot brighter than I expected. A LOT brighter! Friends have described it as “Gay Cerise” and “Camp Pink”! It certainly didn’t look so bright on the colour chart. Perhaps I should have bought a sample pot to try out but I’d already tried too many and rejected them all. It’ll have to do. It’s durable paint so it’s quite expensive and the cost to change it, and the effort too, would be just too much, so “Camp Pink” it remains. Perhaps I’ll grow to like it!

I painted the bedrooms a very light greyish-creamy-white paint called “Snowdrop White”. The colour is OK but the quality isn’t. Retail paint is dreadful these days – it contains very little pigment so you need more coats to get a decent depth of colour. With “trade paint” you only need two coats at most. Obviously I only learnt this after a bulk-buy of the shop stuff! And then I discovered that it marks very easily, so I ended putting a coat of trade paint over the lot – all three rooms. Maddeningly I then found that the trade paint was just as bad! Aaaarrrggghhh!! This particular paint is flat matt, and looks fine until you rub against it when it kind of polishes up and goes shiny. Well, tough (or rather, not).

I’ve gone through several iterations with the paint on the woodwork too. I won’t bore you with the details. I don’t think I’m being over-fussy, I can accept less-than-perfect, but so many things have turned out not as good as I’d hoped. I know that everything will get knocked and bumped as soon as the place is lived in but I’d like it to start out looking good at least.

I employed a plumber for a few days and now have radiators installed throughout, but no gas boiler yet. There’s no point putting one in yet because there are no hot water taps or shower to test it on. Not having water in the radiators does at least mean that I can easily take them off the wall to paint behind. I’ve also had the gas meter moved from the kitchen to an outside wall – a right palaver to organise and expensive too, but it gives me a bit more flexibility in kitchen layout. The gas will have to be re-connected when the boiler goes in. The kitchen, needless to say, hasn’t been started yet.

I’ve asked the excellent Romanian guys who did my plastering to come back in a month’s time to do some non-plastering jobs – like the tiling and the bathroom installation. I can do all that stuff myself but I’m just too slow. I’ll get them to put up a fence on the boundary too even though it’s my neighbours’ responsibility, and have them cut back the neighbours’ ridiculously-huge over-hanging trees which dominate my garden, create near-permanent shade and draw all the goodness out of the soil. It’s not as if I can sit under the trees either – they’re filled with generously-shitting pigeons! Pigeons love to empty their bowels in dense, dark, hideous, inconsiderate, insensitive, thuggish Leylandii, or so it seems.

I had hoped that the house would be finished by the end of this year but there is still the downstairs and kitchen to do. Unless I get myself more organised, that prospect is looking increasingly remote. I’d better get those tiles chosen…

IMG_0705 IMG_0707 IMG_0713 IMG_0714 IMG_0715 IMG_0716 IMG_0717 IMG_0720 IMG_0721 IMG_0724 IMG_0725 IMG_0727 IMG_0728 IMG_0730




I have in front of me a photo of a little girl from El Salvador, a real little cutie. She’s eight years old and Plan-uk are suggesting I sponsor her now that my previous little girl is eighteen. Plan is a children’s charity, working with some of the world’s poorest, and not connected to any religious organisation, political party or extreme ideology. Just protection and ‘building a better future': health, education, equality, empowerment.

When I sponsor her my money goes to her community, not directly to her family, so there’s no bitterness or rivalry between sponsored and not. I get a personal connection with her – we’ll exchange a few photos, drawings and letters which, I can tell you, are absolutely wonderful to receive.

The details tell me that she is one of three girls, living in a house made of adobe with a shingle roof and an earth floor. Water comes from a river, they use a pit latrine and the nearest health clinic is thirty minutes away. But she doesn’t go to school “because she has an impairment”. “She is suffering an impairment that affects communication”.

I look at her smiley face, hands thrust into pockets of her skirt, skinny legs ending in shoes much too big, and just think “how could I not?”


Winter Song

Winter Song, sung by Zee Avi and Kina Grannis (a Sara Bareilles & Ingrid Michaelson cover)

This is my winter song to you
The storm is coming soon
It rolls in from the sea

My voice, a beacon in the night
My words will be your light
To carry you to me

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love…

They say that things just cannot grow
Beneath the winter snow
Or so I have been told

They say we’re buried far
Just like a distant star
I simply cannot hold

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love alive?

This is my winter song
December never felt so wrong
‘Cause you’re not where you belong
Inside my arms

I still believe in summer days
The seasons always change
And life will find a way

I’ll be your harvester of light
And send it out tonight
So we can start again

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love alive?

This is my winter song
December never felt so wrong
‘Cause you’re not where you belong
Inside my arms

This is my winter song to you
The storm is coming soon
It rolls in from the sea

My love, a beacon in the night
My words will be your light
To carry you to me

Is love alive?
Is love alive?
Is love alive?

House Project at End of Year

It’s been a while since I wrote about my house project but now, the 31st December, it seems as good a time as any to give an update. I moved in on the 25th of May so this is seven months down the road.

Lounge with part-stack of skirtings

Lounge with stack of skirtings and totally legal lighting!

To say that the house occupies my every waking hour would be a gross exaggeration but it’s a big part of my life. It feels a bit of a millstone round my neck, to be honest. I have so much to do, organise or decide upon that it sometimes gets me down. Often I have to force myself to make an effort to get going and distraction comes really easily.

First bedroom to be painted

First bedroom to be painted

It’s cold now but thankfully the winter here in middle-England has been mild to date. Very wet, cold, windy, but not often below zero. Fingers-crossed it continues. I still have no central heating but cope by taking a couple of portable heaters from room to room, depending on where I’m working. It takes time to warm things up and some forethought, and the cold air between rooms is uninviting. I can think of plenty of excuses!

So, what progress? The biggest thing is that I’ve had all the rooms, bar the kitchen and dining room (my room), re-plastered. The two guys, Viktor and Claudiu (from Romania), did a very good and careful job. They embedded a fibreglass mesh everywhere so any future cracking should be minimal. The finish is very smooth and straight. They completed late November after being here three months on-and-off. I will admit, though, that I was relieved to have the place back to myself again after so much upheaval and dust.

The electrical wiring, which I’m installing myself, is coming along. I’ll get it checked and certified by a professional – have no fear! I’ve painted the ceilings of the first two bedrooms and have put in lighting fittings. Like the heating, the electrics can only really be finished once the decorating has been done and that’s a long way off.

"Bathroom, sort-of"

“Bathroom, sort-of”

I’ve been fitting skirting boards – there was a stack of over 100 metres of them in my lounge at one point! I’ve only done two rooms so far so the pile is still big. They have to stay in that room because, until I cut them to length, at five-and-a-half metres they’re way too long to get up the stairs!

In one of my better decisions I got the guys to halve the depth of the airing cupboard. A lot of hammering and rubble, but there’s now more room in the bathroom for a radiator and perhaps the heating boiler. The tiles have been hacked off and the walls re-plastered, but the old bath, basin and toilet are yet to be removed.

Painting – I’ve finally chosen a colour for the bedroom walls – “Snowdrop White” by Crown, which is a very pale gold-white shade. Now that I’ve painted the first bedroom with one coat I’m not sure that pure white is right for the woodwork – another dilemma!

There are three big jobs coming up – redoing the bathroom, refitting the kitchen and installing the heating. They all involve plumbing and a lot of disruption. The jobs are all inter-related in some way and need design choices to be made. I won’t do the work myself – I have more than enough work with the electrics and especially the redecorating – I’ll have to get tradespeople in. It all needs careful organising and, without a car, it’s not easy getting to places to choose fittings. But, I suppose, I’m making steady progress. Onwards and upwards!

Bedroom Two - replastered but that's all. 120 metres of copper pipe waiting to be installed.

Bedroom Two – replastered but that’s all. 120 metres of copper pipe waiting to be installed.

 Bedroom 3, primed walls, skirtings going on

Bedroom 3, primed walls, skirtings going on

Hall, Stairs and Landing - two rooms' equivalent of plastering

Hall, Stairs and Landing – two rooms’ equivalent of plastering