December 2012

stone train

Stone trains.

Big. Ugly. Long. Boring.

Necessary, I’m sure, but tedious.

Of course I’m entirely biased, because if anything wakes me at 3 a.m. on a summer’s morning, when the windows are open, it will be a stone train. That I can guarantee.

To add to that, I will also be certain not to get back to sleep until five minutes before the alarm is due to go off.

And it’s always the case that if our local crossing barriers are down on an occasion when it’s really important to get to the other side, the cause will always be a stone train.

I’m not a fan.

Lately I’ve seen a few (it’s not the same one) that have been lightly bombed. In the spray-can sense that is. And that fills me with glee. With their big flat sides they make a great canvass and it seems a shame that such enhancement has to be illicit. It would make the world more a interesting, and illustrative, and less grindingly gruesome, place if someone routinely jazzed-up these dull, ugly behemoths of the rails.


book 003

So I left my cap on the train. Pah!

Sure it was an Adidas one that cost a few quid, but I never liked it that much. It had the newer 3 bar logo on it which is a right load of gash, even more so when you think it replaced the classic trefoil design.

Besides I had another. The thing is it was a cheap Primark special that I bought five years ago to wear whilst constructing a garden for the RHS show at Tatton Park and not to care if it got trashed.

The trouble is that it looked like all of those things.

So I decided I must get one that didn’t look like it had been stolen from a tramp and coincidentally I came across this one the very next day.

Life Is Good is not just a statement, but is actually the brand name. Not one that’s particularly known in the UK I’d say, but they claim to produce “environmentally friendly clothing for environmentally friendly people”, plus they do good work for kids in need.

All of which sounds fine to me

These things I only learned later.

For my mind the linking of an image of a fisherman with the words “life is good” was enough to make me want to buy it. Because the last 12 months have been pretty fair, especially coming after three quite awful years and within those months the very best of times have been when I was away from it all and fishing.

And even more so when Little Boots was doing it too.

Well it wasn’t to be. I didn’t win The Guardian’s short story competition. The fact that I was blogging about my entry whilst the issue featuring the winners was sitting beside me, unread, is quite amusing. Still, at least it means I can now publish my entry here.

A camping trip? I wasn’t convinced this was a good idea. Particularly as the friends we were planning to go with are seasoned veterans who’ve been taking their kids camping since they were tiny. They even take them to festivals for goodness’ sake. We on the other hand hadn’t been since long before our child was born. Still, I swallowed my reservations and we started to put some ideas together.

A soft launch. That’s what was needed to initiate our return to camping. A soft launch. So we chose a site close to a small Wiltshire town, about an hour’s drive away. That way we could easily get supplies, but also jump in the car and get home if it all went wonky.

We’d go for a long weekend and our friends would use that as a springboard for their two weeks down in the West Country.

It sounded like a plan, but two things worried me, one slightly, the other much more so. Would Little Boots enjoy camping? And how would we fit everything in the car?

The first question was probably redundant. All children love haring around outside with the freedom that not being bound to a house brings. No, it was the car-packing that was wrinkling my brow. In the past we utterly filled the car with kit. True, it’s not a very big car, but even scaling back we now had to fit in another person, albeit a small one, with their gear. What’s more we’d chosen the site specifically because it had on site fishing. So we also had to squeeze a certain amount of tackle in.

Eventually after some planning and some cramming we were off. Not for long though because we had to stop for provisions and bait, which were somehow winkled into the car.

It was a glorious morning and we were very soon sailing through Wiltshire.

Though highly excited our sprog nevertheless accepted with good grace my attempts to bore the pants off us all with discourses on burial mounds, standing stones, Silbury Hill, white horses and ancestral racehorse grooms who worked on the Marlborough Downs.

On arrival we found our camping comrades had been on site a short while and were busy unpacking. I envied them their trailer and topbox as I looked at our car oozing people and belongings like an over-ripe tomato.

It was, I guess, a soft launch.


Over the last few months I’ve been doing a bit of writing.

First I put a ten-page entry into a sitcom competition run by Shortlist magazine. Alas, so did a large number of others and I didn’t make the cut.

Next I entered a travel writing competition in The Guardian. Results aren’t announced till next year and I have no real expectation of success, but I enjoyed writing the piece, so it wasn’t a pointless exercise.

A few weeks back I hastily scribbled a piece for the weekly travel tips, that paper runs. The subject was autumn walks, but as I attempted to submit it (half an hour before the deadline) my computer decided it didn’t like their site. So it was never submitted, but it is here in case anyone is stuck for an idea on how to get the kids out into the woods –

Having trouble getting your children to go on an autumn walk?

Soft ground means that now is a really good time for spotting animal tracks and making casts of them with your kids. Put some Plaster of Paris, a bottle of water, strips of cardboard and a few paperclips in an old ice cream tub and tuck it in a rucksack.

Look for animal tracks at the edges of paths and particularly where creatures have been making their way through fences and hedgerows. The margins of rivers and ponds are also good places.

Once some footprints have been found, make a loop with the card strips and paperclips and place it around them. Mix the water and plaster in the plastic tub with a stick and gently plop it into the cardboard circle. The lower the temperature, the longer the plaster takes to set, so unless you are prepared to hang about, it’s a good idea to do your casts on the outward leg of your walk and pick them up on the way home. Be careful to prise them up gently.

If you do leave them for later it adds to the fun to camouflage them with leaves them so that no-one else can find them. But be sure to leave a clue or sign so that you can find it yourself. A leaf threaded onto a stick makes a good marker.

Back home any mud can be cleaned off using an old toothbrush, and the casts can even be painted to bring out detail.