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Dear Dave Cousins … (A letter to the only man I’ve ever truly loved)

Dear Dave,

Once upon a time two little girls grew up listening to their mother’s music. Their mother was a Strawbs fan. In Somerset, Berkshire, West Africa, Norfolk and many, many other places in between, the Strawbs provided the soundtrack to the lives of those little girls.

I was one of those little girls. St F was the other.

In The Gambia, when I was eight and St F was three, I sneaked into my mother’s record collection and played Strawbs, From the Witchwood and Grave New World over and over whilst reading the lyrics.

In Gothenburg, five years later, trapped on a small boat with nothing to do and nowhere to go, we listened to Nomadness and Burning for You. Later, sailing that same boat down to Nigeria, St F would join me on night watch and we would sing all the songs we knew from those albums to keep ourselves awake and scare away the night terrors. I don’t want to spoil you though, Dave. It wasn’t all about you. We did throw in a bit of Steeleye Span and The Yetties too. And we did a mean version of Barry Manilow’s Copacabana. But, mostly, it was about you.

In 1980 I turned fifteen and in a junk shop in Norfolk I found a battered copy of Bursting at the Seams. That was the beginning of my own Strawbs collection. I still have that LP. The sleeve is much Sellotaped but the disc remains scratch free.

I won’t bore you with all the times that you, and Tony Hooper, and all the other Strawbs, past and present, impacted on our lives – I think you get the picture – but can you imagine the shock and awe of finding that our move back to the West Country meant that we were living just up the road from you? Our (much) younger brother was at the same school as your sons. I’d be waiting to pick him up on my motorbike when you’d pull up in your car to collect your boys. I’d watch but I never approached you. Like the Magic Mountain Music man, I’m really rather shy …

Then, joy of joys, you and the band got together and performed in the village hall! Oh. My. God. St F and I were beside ourselves! We danced, we sang and, at the end, Tony Hooper called us over and wanted to know how two twenty-somethings knew all the words to all the songs. Sadly, the conversation was cut short by outside influences and, like a couple of Cinderellas, we were dragged away by forces out of our control. All the way home I kept thinking ‘Please don’t let that be it. Please don’t let that be the only time I see them.’ But it was. For about twenty years.

Fast forward to 4th March 2015.

We were late, you’d already started.

‘Aargh! No!’ squealed my sister and pounded up the steps into the venue with me thundering along behind her. We made it into our seats for the closing bars of the first song.

There you were. And there we were. St F and I looked at each other and went, ‘Eeeeeeeeeeee!’ because we’d finally made it to one of your gigs. The set was short because you were sharing the bill with two other acts but we sucked up every minute and, when you got to the final number, Lay Down, and invited the audience to sing along, we did you proud. We were word-perfect – of course.

In the intermission, I spotted you at the bar. Swerving some neighbours from our village who’d come to hear the songs of Wishbone Ash, I said ‘D’you want a drink?’ to St F and shot off without waiting for her answer.

‘Dave,’ I said, amazed at my own temerity (But I was several whiskies in). ‘Have you got a minute?’ And, bless you, you stopped and smiled and said, ‘Yes.’

It mattered to us, Dave. It was great that you and Chas Cronk and Dave Lambert signed my CD but it was fan-bloody-tastic that you came and sat at our table!

‘Aren’t you going back in to see Carl Palmer?’ you asked and we shrugged.

‘Nah, we only came to see the Strawbs.’

‘But, he’s very good.’

‘I don’t doubt it.’ I shrugged again.

There was no one to interfere this time. The whole evening was an early birthday present for me. St F got the tickets as a surprise and our friend Rude Girl had sprung for us to stay in a nearby hotel. We were unfettered and, thanks to you, at ease. While everyone else was next door listening to Fanfare for the Common Man, we swapped stories and drank a bit and, when I confessed I’d not heard of the album Prognostic, you went over to the merchandise table, got a copy and gave it to me. I don’t think the gift came easy, you were gone a while. It seems the man in charge of the merchandise may have been less than keen to part with it.

‘Did you get into trouble for that?’ St F asked, indicating the CD.

‘Yeah,’ you said.

When the bar filled up again at the next intermission, you were swept away. A chap in a Rick Wakeman t-shirt wanted to interview you for his radio show (but had broken his mic) and you were called back to the merchandise stand but, before you went, you thanked us for our company and you kissed my hand. I had told you about The Gambia and you’d laughed and said we were sad little girls. We’d laughed too but what you couldn’t know, and we couldn’t tell you, was that we were sad little girls. For all those years and, still now, we have only ever had each other – and The Strawbs. You will never understand – how could you? – but that’s OK. I get it. St F get’s it. You, Dave, gave us the stories, the music and the magic to take us away from it all. I fell in love with you back in 1972 when I was a skinny eight-year-old. I still love you now, you and all the Strawbs. But especially you. When you kissed the hand of a woman on the eve of her fiftieth birthday, you reached back to all those earlier Lorraines and, somehow, you made a difference. I know because I’ve been back and checked. I can’t explain but somewhere in a parallel universe is a little girl dreaming along to your songs and she gets her happy ending because she does get to meet her hero. And he is kind.

Thank you, from St F and from me. Take good care, come back next year and know that even if you don’t remember us, we’ll be in the audience singing along.

XXX

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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Another Tale of Two Titties

Although the world has moved on and the page three debate has gone quiet, I’m reblogging this because it makes some very valid and logical points about something that runs far deeper than bare boobs.

Sadie Hasler

I’m not sure what I’m crosser about. The fact that The Sun tricked us, or that it was only revealed that they had tricked us right after I had written a column praising them. Of course I was cross; I had used the very witty line “Lorks! No More Norks!” and then had to delete it.

Call me cynical, but when I heard that there was to be no more Page 3, I picked up The Sun and turned to page 4. I thought surely that haemmeroid-faced old Aussie wouldn’t bow to pressure from a feminist campaign, surely he’d think outside the box, and simply move his girls to another page, just to stick a massive antipodean finger up the tight behinds of the ‘sexless humourless braless glamourless men-haters’ who had been making a complete and utter fuss about nothing. But no tits were to be found.

To gauge the…

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Posted by on February 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

So Long and Thanks For All the Swimmy Things

So now, the Big Bang Theory is in doubt. As is the Big Crunch. A theoretical physicist called David Bohm is running around academia armed with something called ‘theoretical trajectories’ and, it is he who is bringing into doubt a theory that tries to answer the eternal question; what else is there? 

Really it’s a serious of questions, one feeding off the other –

How old is the universe? What was there before? Was there a before? Is there an outside of the universe? What if our universe really is one old breadcrumb that’s dropped down the back of someone’s toaster?

These, and many others I haven’t yet conjured up, are unanswerable questions. And, let’s face it, could we even comprehend the answers if we got them? Despite being a compartmentalised type that likes to quantify, penetrate, understand, I can live with the unknowable. But … But. There is an itch, deep down, in my brain.

I truly wish that before we die or after we die or, even, as we die, we could have a gnat’s blink of one moment of total knowledge. Wouldn’t that be mind-blowing? Literally? You would have to be separate from, or imminently leaving, the mortal coil, wouldn’t you? Can a mind ever shrink back from total understanding or are we likely to be found flat on our backs, eyes staring from their sockets, mouths gaping in awestruck Ooooohs? With a little dribble leaking from the corner of the lips?

Or is it just me?

One day, I am going to wink out of existence. Bits of me will remain forever. Bits of me will join the cosmic dust and will one day become part of some new whole – but it won’t be me. will dissipate. So, in that case, I think it’s only fair that I get to understand everything! Even with the risk of dribbling.

Won’t I be hacked off if it does happen and revealed before me, in blinding brilliance, writ large, like giant magnets on a celestial fridge door, are the numbers 42?

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2015 in Uncategorized

 

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To Prong or Not to Prong – That is the Question

Let’s toss a controversial opinion out there and see what debate results.

You may not be a pet owner. You may not even be much of an animal lover but would you seriously consider putting one these around a dog’s neck?

Image

 

Let’s be clear about this, those spikes are on the inside of the collar.

Pinch Collar

Like this.

Many people are using these things because they honestly don’t know better. Perhaps they’ve been advised by a dog trainer. The idea is to stop the dog pulling when it’s on the lead by inflicting pain and fear on the animal. A dog that is in fear, a dog that is in pain is more likely to become aggressive and then the dog faces further punishment. Might that result in a no-win situation for the dog?

Once upon a time it was very common to see dogs in choke chains. I know that the dogs we had when I was a kid all wore them. The idea with those was that when the dog pulled, it choked, therefore, the dog would stop pulling. None of ours did. The dog went on pulling and choking and pulling and choking. It is now known that choke collars are responsible for all kinds of terrible injuries from a crushed windpipe to blindness. Now imagine lining the inside of one of those collars with a row of spikes…

Defenders of prong collars (AKA pinch collars) will say that when used properly, these will not cause injury. They will also say that they are a gentle method of controlling and correcting your dog. Others will say ‘I didn’t even know these things existed.’

Well,they do exist and they do cause injury. Sometimes it’s a physical injury that you can see and sometimes it’s a psychological one – either way prong collars offer very few positive outcomes when weighed against the risk and I am working with a bunch of concerned citizens to get them banned in the UK. If you are of a mind to, come over to the Banning of Pinch Collars on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/377732549034419/). If you’re from the UK sign the petition, get info on writing to your MP, join others in emailing the sellers and manufacturers of prong collars. Make like a Quaker and bear witness – tell the world about this questionable but legal form of dog control. For it is legal in the UK – unlike Quebec.There is a fine of several hundred  dollars if caught using one (see thenormaldog.blogspot.co.uk). Good old Quebec. Let’s spread their enlightenment.

Are these legal where you live? Do you want them to be? If not then use the power of your keyboard and get the word out there. Dogs need strong, assertive, caring, educated owners not spikes. In the last couple of days, because of pressure from communities like Banning of Pinch Collars, both Amazon and eBay UK have reviewed their policies and found that prong collars contravene their own rules on animal welfare. They have undertaken to stop selling them. Which other suppliers could you email? How about manufacturers like Herm-Sprenger? Can we get them to see our point of view?

The prong or pinch collar is an anachronism. If we must ever see one, let it be in a museum of the macabre alongside the rack and the iron maiden. Not, NOT on a dog.

If you have no strong view or, if you believe that there is a place for such a collar then don’t just read what I have to say, check out these links;

http://www.adogsview.net/Types-of-Collars.html

http://tarastermer.wordpress.com/2008/11/25/prong-collars-and-why-i-do-not-recommend-them/

http://www.dogstrust.org.uk/mediacentre/newsreleases/pr14prongcollars.aspx#.U0SbyqhdUpc

blogs.rspca.org.uk/insights/tag/prongcollars/

It may not seem much but getting these collars banned is a step along the road to better animal welfare and, as the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Life Without My Dog

He’s gone. My beautiful, big, black best friend has gone. This is going to be a very short post because my heart is in so many pieces and I have cried so much I can hardly see.

Eric was always unpredictable – there was something wrongly wired in his head. Also, he had a problem with his eyesight that must have been frightening for him. I managed him with help from my sister, St F and a brilliant trainer called Brendan but as time went on he became more and more unstable. Finally, after he bit me, we consulted Brendan and the charity he came from and agreed that if he couldn’t cope in the home I’d given him, he couldn’t cope anywhere. In effect, he was too dangerous to re-home so …

In the few hours I had left with him, I fed him peanut butter and cheese and blew bubbles for him to chase and I kissed his nose many times. I told him over and over that I loved him. But you know when St F came to take him to the vets (she refused point blank to let me go along) and I walked him out to the car, it wasn’t enough. I just wanted to hold him forever.

 

His bed is still in my kitchen. His giant muddy paw-prints decorate the floor and the plastic bottle that I filled with treats for him to chew is safely stored in a cupboard. I miss him, I miss him, I miss him.

I don’t regret knowing him. I don’t regret a single second of being with him. I love him and I wish it could have been different but at least he had fun. He had love. He had security. And I had him.

I will have another dog, another rescue dog, because however heartbreaking it may be, there is always need for softies like me but, just for now, I’m going to sleep holding the collar I made for Eric with his I.D disc on it.

I love you, Eric

 
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Posted by on February 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Two Dry Days In A Row

Yes people, we have had two days without rain! A weekend of aridity after Friday’s wickedly mischievous wind pushed tiles off St F’s roof and sent them hurtling to a soft landing in the ankle-deep mud where her garden used to be. Neighbour’s fences relocated to parts unknown and satellite dishes that once looked to the sky for input were left dangling and swaying on broken stems. The woods are unsafe to enter as possibly fifty trees have tipped into unstable poses, some leaning against their friends, some prone in the leaf litter. The rain-blasted fields could absorb no more water and shrugged the run-off down to the river which rose up and swallowed the road – again. Electricity came and went but still, St F and I managed to turn out a special Valentine’s meal for Medusa and Semtex and their significant others who had come to stay. They had to stay. The village was cut off from the outside world.

But. But. Saturday dawned bright and dry with blue sky. It was still a little windy but I could go outside and remain upright so that was a bonus. St F and I celebrated by taking the dogs out for a run.

Eric has a girlfriend, a black spaniel called Madge. And he loves her. As they’re both rescue dogs, they’ve both had ‘the snip’ so it’s fairly certain that their’s is a simple and pure relationship. Eric is a very Alpha male so his interaction with other males is all about dominance but with bitches he’s better behaved – sort of. He’s got a strong prey drive. All he wants to do is chase things. Deer, pheasants, bicycles, joggers – and Madge. This is a good thing because Madge lives in a flat in a nearby town where she doesn’t get to run free (because she’s a sod to catch) so, when she comes to stay with us, she has a lot of pent-up energy. And she runs faster than Eric who will tire long before she does. And she’s a feisty little creature who will give Eric what for if he annoys her too much. Perfect.

There is one drawback to this happy image of two furry, black smudges haring around on a hilltop and that’s Eric neglecting to watch where he’s going. So intent is he on catching up with the smaller, speedier Madge, he fails to notice the vulnerable humans in his path i.e St F and me. Twice now he has bundled into me and then trampled my body into the ground. I don’t know if I should blame Eric or Madge or maybe the unseen shade of Alfie the original Doberman cannonball. (Int Life Brilliant?) Is he laughing in the shadows of the hedgerow and whispering to Madge, ‘Go closer to the people. Lead Eric towards his family. At full speed. Snigger, snigger?’ Is it his revenge for the flashing reindeer antlers that Medusa forced him to wear one Christmas?

Meantime, Ernie the collie, oblivious to ghostly dogs and high-speed canine romance stares at St F from a short distance away.

‘Throw the ball,’ his expression says. ‘Throw the ball. Please throw the ball.’

Flat out exhausted

Flat out exhausted

Back home after chewing up the kindling, and ensuring that I have to grub around the carpet for splinters of wood to light the fire, the lovers retire for the evening. Note that Eric is no gentleman. He gets the bed. Madge gets the floor. However, he’s so whacked from his outdoor exertions that he won’t stir – not even if I walked through the room banging cymbals together – and he won’t know when I call little Madge up on the sofa. Ha ha ha, serves him right.

That was the first dry day.

Sunday was warmer, sunnier and almost windless. I went alone to the hill with spaniel and Doby. The grass in the field had sprung back to vertical after the hammering wind and rain had flattened it. Deep, shimmering blue arched over the landscape and reflected itself in the sea encircling the headland. The dogs chased up rise and down dip and I found a boulder to sit on where I could watch a buzzard circling below the quiet clouds. After a while, Eric tired of the chase, leaving Madge to pursue an annoyed and vocal pheasant who had a safe head start, he came to stand by me.

Quiet communion. Woman and hound sharing a small moment of peace. Then it was my turn to chase Madge around the field. Seems she didn’t want to go back on her lead.

Has Madge gone home? Oh. I could have caught her, you know. If I'd reallt wanted t...zzzzz

Has Madge gone home? Oh. I could have caught her, you know. If I’d really wanted t…zzzzz

 
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Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Nicki Daniels, Calamity Rae, Le Clown and Me.

I came across the blog A Clown on Fire by chance. It seemed a vibrant, popular place so I hung around a bit. I wasn’t massively into Le Clown’s posts, as such, but the comments section was usually worth a read so I ‘followed’ him. One day, to my surprise, he awarded me a badge for making his favourite comment of the day and I was chuffed to bits but … I don’t know, it all seemed a bit too ‘clubby’ for me. I’m not into stroking egos – not even my own – so I was never more than a casual visitor to A Clown on Fire. Don’t get me wrong, it all seemed above-board and pleasant enough (if a little too … crude at times) and I was very jealous of his ultra-slick site with its huge following and I wanted to understand some of his magic. I even liked his Facebook page.

Then, a woman called Nicki Daniels guest-blogged on his site. I read and liked her post so much that I went to her blog The Nicki Daniels Interview and followed it. Le Clown was full of praise for her and I agreed wholeheartedly. We were in accord until the great bearded hipster scandal. The Open Letter to Bearded Hipsters went viral. Le Clown left an amused comment. I left an amused comment but not all of Nicki’s readers were so complimentary and dragged her over the coals for all sorts of perceived crimes against humanity. Suddenly Le Clown was not so keen. He opened a discussion on his Facebook page where he and his followers basically pilloried Nicki.  OK, maybe some could find offence in the hipster post but I didn’t and I remembered that all over Nicki’s page the word humour is writ large. (Or humor, actually) The whole thing was totally tongue in cheek so why did Le Clown feel the need to join in this trial by internet? I asked him on his Facebook page. ‘Should we be throwing stones at a fellow blogger on a public forum like this? Or are you trying to disassociate yourself?’ Le Clown denied that he was trying to disassociate himself from Nicki and gave me a justification for what he was doing (I don’t remember exactly and I can’t now refer back, as you will discover). I said, ‘fair enough’ or something and left it. Not good enough. Le Clown commented again to tell me that Nicki knew what he was doing on Facebook, it was with her permission and he would never let anyone say anything harmful. I didn’t want to get into a row with the guy so I left it. I remained loyal to Nicki though. I still follow her now. I still admire and enjoy her posts but I don’t get to read them all that regularly because (as I have said in an earlier post on Shedward) my laptop is dying and I’m too poor to replace it. Thus I don’t go online as often as I’d like. And boy, did I miss something!

Aware that I’d neither seen nor heard anything from Le Clown for a while, I looked for him on WordPress. No joy, couldn’t find him. I went to Facebook. At the back of my mind I had a nagging discomfort about the way he’d done an about-face on Nicki and I wanted to see how his discussion of her hipster post had turned out. No joy. I couldn’t find him. Had he blocked me? I Googled A Clown on Fire and found, not him but a post on WordPress outing Le Clown as a narcissistic sexual predator! The blogger, Calamity Rae was another could-be protegé of Le Clown who’d been invited to write for his other blog Black Box Warnings which dealt with issues of mental health. Apparently Calamity Rae wrote about the awful abuse she suffered as a child and how she suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result, after which Le Clown began to make lewd comments to her via email.

Rae pulled no punches in outing Le Clown. She included screen shots of the emails, she confirmed that Le Clown had, as I’d feared, stitched Nicki Daniels up and dropped her like a hot brick and she also included confirmation from other sources that Le Clown had done this to many other women. In the comments section of Rae’s post, plenty of people, male and female confessed that they too had been inappropriately propositioned or bullied. Some even gave up blogging because they were afraid of him. Apparently.

I say apparently not because I disbelieve any of these stories (and those that have since been posted by other Clown victims) but because I haven’t seen Le Clown’s explanation or refutation and I’m just aiming for fairness. Le Clown has disappeared. His blogs and his Facebook page are gone. He has rolled up his tent and headed out of blogtown leaving a lorry-load of unanswered questions fluttering around in the wake of his hasty exit.

So why am I writing this post? Well … I too have an unhappy history like Calamity Rae and many others who have fallen foul of Le Clown. I don’t write about it as they have but, like them, I am aware of my vulnerability to people who groom and manipulate and bully. Would he have worked me out? I had vague misgivings already so I probably would have escaped but say I didn’t. Say I confided in him or wrote about my horrors on his Black Box Warnings and he then made sexual advances to me. What would I have done? Probably I’d have disconnected from him instantly. It’s very unlikely that I’d have amassed proof and outed him the way Calamity Rae did and I’m disturbed by that.

Rae, (I know this isn’t your real name) I am writing this for three reasons. First and foremost, you went on record as saying that you preferred public rather than private, secret support so here I am supporting you as publicly as I can. Also, I want you to know that I am in awe of how you have done this. You have my respect.

Nicki, my second reason for this post is you. I don’t fancy some sweaty bloke with last night’s chilli in his beard but if you want to admit to the world that you do then I’m really glad to read it. I didn’t agree with the punishment you got and I said so but only in a small way. This is me saying it in a bigger way.

My last reason for this is personal. I know a Le Clown. I have known him a long time. One day he’ll die and then I’ll drive a stake through the coffin. Just to make sure. But you know, he’ll never really die because he lives inside me and stories like this stir it all up.

 
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Posted by on February 11, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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