Last cuddle

Posted 30 January, 2012 by pengedad
Categories: encounters, London

“I am not carrying you the whole way,” I say to the youngest as we make our way to the station. “I will give you one last cuddle and then you’re walking.”

“Oh, don’t say that,” says a woman sitting propped up, her lower half in a sleeping bag, against the wall of the viaduct. Strands of gry hair poke out from under a dirty woollen hat, her face is flushed livid red. “There’s no such thing as a last cuddle.”

Her voice is warm and affectionate as smiles up towards us. Her manner is a marked contrast to her circumstances. I find it hard to know how to respond. In the end I do so only indirectly by addressing C: “there’s always more cuddles to be had, but you are still walking the last bit.” He smiles and reaches up, standing on tiptoes. The complaining stops and the tears transform into smiles.

I feel bad for otherwise ignoring her. I glance back as we move off but she looks unconcerned.


On Returning from a Short Holiday

Posted 25 April, 2011 by pengedad
Categories: family life, observations&reflections, travels

The sun came out in the days we were away. The trees along the street became a little fuller, greener, in our absence. Now, from over a fence, unseen, bubbles the sound of children at play. The house is still here, as we left it. No door or window has been forced, no pipe has burst, no meteorite has struck.

If our stay had been for longer than a weekend then there would have been the inevitable pile of post waiting on the mat, some welcome but much less so, and a fridge demanding immediate replenishment. If we had been abroad and even more deeply out of touch with the flow of life-as-usual then there would have been all that news to catch up on: the stock market up or down, the state of the health service, the latest shocking crime, the scandals, the celebrity misadventures, the various forecasts and harbingers of global doom.

Only a long weekend. Not long enough for much to alter but the bittersweet taste of change is still discernible. A purer sort, perhaps, without the imposition of practicalities like having to go to the supermarket or finding a current newspaper. From normality to vacationeer and, then, back again. How much of the significance of any period of travel, whether for business or recreation, to resort or cottage or campsite, is marked by this experience of returning home? The experience of contrast, where the familiar is now tinged with some sort of fresh difference? As we open the door the boys push past and run up to their rooms squealing and tumbling, glad to be home, embracing its familiarity. Making sure that their faith in its certainty has not been misplaced. But after even this short time away it all seems to them refreshed, novel, available for rediscovery like forgotten toys from the attic.

I breathe a sigh of relief, too. It is at moments like this that I notice my centre of mental gravity. Notice as well, however, that there are changes nonetheless, inner ones. I know now, for example, that I do not enjoy camping, even the sort of glam camping we have just done. Not on the cold mornings at any rate, not when it takes the supposedly romantic woodburning stove two hours to get hot enough for a cup of tea.

All this reminds me of watching Mr Ben as a child. A city man dressed in pinstripes and a bowler hat who would set out to work at the start of each episode, passing the children playing their make-believe games,  before finding himself irresistibly drawn into the mysterious costume shop on his route. He would be tempted by some costume that the owner, a man with glasses, a fez and a paternal air, would invite him try on in the changing room. Mr Ben would then emerge through a hidden door into a fantasy-world where his costume became the vehicle for some daring adventure.

A study in quiet rebellion against the conformity demanded of his class and the yearning for carefree childish things. At the end of each episode, Mr Ben would walk home along his familiar street. This time the children in his street would still be playing, though now as characters in sympathy with his latest journey. Cowboys and indians; cops and robbers; knights and dragons.

Transportation and return. Though, as far as I can tell, none of the children in this Mr Ben’s street are playing at camping in a freezing field.

Christmas Diary, Part II

Posted 30 December, 2008 by pengedad
Categories: Uncategorized

Christmas Day went surprisingly smoothly, all things considered. The boys didn’t wake too early and sonofsoulcompost, when he did come downstairs, respected the injunction about not opening stuff right away. He took the prospect of having to defer wanton ripping of wrapping very well, barely any protest – I didn’t ask any questions.

The turkey turned out fine despite being given the minimum of attention this year. When it comes to the big bird I tend to follow Delia myself, but my brother, who dropped by mid-morning, has decided to push the boat out this year and told me that he had spent half the night preparing his according to the latest Nigella.

“You were up till when?”

“Well, gone midnight. After I had prepared it it had to soaked in brine.”


“Yes. Nigella guarantees it to keep the thing more moist than anything else so I’m giving it a go this year.”

I am not convinced about the brine idea. I recall something from school about osmosis, whereby fluid will cross a semi-permeable membrane when solutions of differing concentration lie either side. In short, water (and hence, I reason, all that beloved moisture) will bid adieu to the bird and end up in the bucket.

Maybe I am wrong. She can’t have made it up, surely. But then perhaps celebrity chefs have to vie with one another to do something distinctive, offbeat or a bit strange, to leave a unique mark on the commonplace turkey. I try to picture Nigella in her beautiful, festive kitchen with her perfectly manicured hand up a turkey’s back end. But then I think she is probably having goose, much more classy I have always thought.

You know, I am not sure the brine made any difference in the end (based on a confidential third party report), but for some with these things the journey can sometimes be more important than the destination.

Christmas Diary, Part I: The Return of the Man

Posted 25 December, 2008 by pengedad
Categories: family life


Hard Times in Toy TownIt is Christmas Eve. The children are in bed, peacefully asleep, the youngest because tonight is no different to any other at his age, his big brother because Father Christmas doesn’t come if you are awake.

Father Christmas. I have been propagating this myth in his mind ever since last Christmas. Only he doesn’t know it is a myth yet, does he? I wonder if I should feel a little guilty. True, it is a fun myth, a source of benign wonderment, a little bit of God-lite. I am aware, though, that the temptation to invoke its moral aspect has been hard to resist, the “he only brings presents to good little boys and girls” line. Not that it works terribly well in sonofsoulcompost’s case I have to say. In fact, over the last couple of weeks I have been having to fend off a few tricky questions about FC, things like, “how does he get down the chimney when he is fat and our chimney is narrow?” and, “if he is carrying all those presents won’t he wake the children up when they should be asleep?”

The best I have been able to come up with is, “well, he does it by magic, you see.” And so I dig a deeper hole with my metaphysical shovel. How long will it withstand sonofsoulcompost’s Empiricist doubtings, I wonder? He is only three so I am bound to have a few years left. I could have an Inquisition, I suppose, but that does seem a little extreme.

But I do like Father Christmas. I have missed him all these years and I am glad he is back, even if I have had to reinvent him. Now I think of it I must remember to write a thank you note from me and the reindeer for the glass of whisky and the mince pie.

Did I say “me”? I will have to watch that in future.

Shameless Plug

Posted 14 May, 2008 by pengedad
Categories: Uncategorized

It is now out there and available for purchase!

What is? I sense you thinking.

Why, Issue 5 of One Eye Grey, that penny dreadful for the 21st cntury, of course.

And so at last the tale of the Toll Raven is told and at its dreadful truth revealed. Go and buy it now, if you dare. No, better than that, buy lots and encourage your friends, family, pets, passing acquaintances, the man who reads your meter, the owner of the disembodied voice who whispers to you at night to forget the diet and eat chocolate instead to do likewise. And if you dare not, try buying it anyway but, instead of reading it yourself, perhaps pass it unnoticed to someone else and see if giant, hairy demon comes to crush them under its hideous, clawed foot.

Play your part in making OEG the cult success it deserves to be. And help make me famous in the process.

Soulcompost, over and out.

What Ho!

Posted 6 May, 2008 by pengedad
Categories: London, tall tales


“Now then, I wonder what this thingy does.”

With the pens and various items of desk furniture arranged, rearranged and arranged once more for good measure, Bertram Toaster turned his attention to the small dark wooden box with the red button on its top and metal grille set in its front. Specifically, it was the red button that had seduced his attention. Weighing it up, and even though the new job came with the sort of salary that would have brought a fond tear to the eye of Great Uncle Marmaduke, the new mayor doubted that his power and influence extended to being able to conjure up a nuclear strike all by himself. The button, he felt, would be safe to try.

After a second’s delay, a familiar voice emanated from the contraption. Like one who has just heard his winning string of lottery numbers read out over the airwaves, Toaster sat upright with joyous surprise.

“Good Lord! Is that you Shreeves?”

“Yes, sir, it is.”

“But I thought you had gone to bring succour your ailing auntie Doris in Clacton for the week.”

“Indeed that was my intention, sir, but with your unexpected election to public office I thought it prudent to be on hand for the first day or two.”

It struck the mayor that Shreeves’s capacity to second guess a situation and arrange to be “on hand” could at times be uncanny to the point supernatural. No one had been more surprised than Bertram Toaster to find himself installed in a plush office in the corridors of civic power that Monday morning; with the possible exception of that other chappie, of course. What was he called now – Livingroom? Mornington? Anyway, there had been no sign of the fellow that morning, only a box of Black Magic on the desk and card bearing the cryptic lines “Good Luck, You’ll Need It.”

The whole thing had been old Tubby Cameron’s idea, part of his great ‘masterplan’ he had called it. “Tell you what, Bertie, old thing,” he’d said one night over a late evening snifter at the Drunes, “Why don’t you stand for London mayor? You could be just the man for the job.”

They had been friends since they were boys in shorts at Beaton College and had continued to rub along even as their careers had subsequently diverged; Tubby into politics (at which he was making quite a name for himself, though Toaster had never really followed the antics and machinations of Westminster and was thin on the details) and himself into, well, largely staying on the good side of Aunt Agatha and out of holy matrimony. But Tubby had been most insistent, had told his old pal Bertie not to worry about a thing and to leave all the work to him and what he had archly called his ‘team’. And so here he now was: Mayor of London with a big office overlooking the river and a talking box from which the melifluous tones of the marvel that was Shreeves now spilt forth.

“Shall I come through, sir?”

“Excellent idea, Shreeves. Step forth into the sanctum.”

Shreeves shimmered into the room. Although Toaster had no idea what he was supposed to do now that he had landed the mayorship, he did at least feel assured that the sailing ahead, with Shreeves on hand to prepare the metaphorical G&Ts, could be nothing less than plain. With a sigh of almost feline contentment, Bertram Toaster reached for a nut cluster.

Soulcompost says: how; oh, how; oh, how did Boris get elected? I’m serious – how?

Party On, It-Dad

Posted 28 April, 2008 by pengedad
Categories: family life, Uncategorized


I was listening to John Humphreys the other day. Not on his usual Today slot where he pursues the unrighteous, the unworthy and the downright duplicitous with his journalistic sword of truth, but on his more empathic, sympathetic and, dare I say, touchy-feely Tuesday morning odd-slot filler before Woman’s Hour, On the Ropes.

Each week John interviews some poor unfortunate who has, at great personal cost, taken a stand against injustice or else suffered some terrible fall from grace. Some of the stories have been truly tragic, a few have had redemptive endings even though scars remain (I’m thinking here of his interview with the remarkable abuse-survivor whose name, I’m sorry to say, I’ve since forgotten), and one or two, like this week’s with lone mother Birgit Cunningham, are just poignantly sad.

Birgit, I learn, lives in a small shabby council flat up Ladbroke Grove with her young son. She’s close to broke, ekes out a living by working for a London publisher and, most nights, is just too tired from the demands of work and family and making ends meet to stay up past nine o’clock.

But – and this is why she’s sat in front of John – Birgit is no ordinary single parent. She once had a reputation for being one of the hottest items on the London and LA social scenes. An original It-Girl, her life a seemingly endless string of parties fuelled by daddy’s cash, cocaine and dieting. She is remarkably upbeat about it all, though; doesn’t regret a moment of it, not even a romance she had with Kevin Costner.

“So, how many parties would that have been each night?” asks John.

“Well,” replies the sanguine Birket, “four or five usually,” or words to that effect.

Sitting in the morning traffic, I try to imagine it. Before I had kids I didn’t go to that many parties a year; no, in two years. It’s different now, though. Children really subvert your social life. This past fortnight it’s been everyone in our NCT group’s third birthday. The parties are coming thick and fast. I can barely keep up with the social round. I’m exhausted merely at the thought. No doubt I’ll be plagued by nightmares of Kevin Costner in a clown suit as I crawl into bed at 9pm each night, high on apple juice and sugary icing.