The Choice

Another rainy day, another epic battle. I was still at Primary School and visiting my Mum’s house for the weekend. None of my friends were playing out so I’d turned my bed into a scene from World War Two, and was well into the desperate defence of a beach somewhere, when my Mum came in. She was holding a brown paper bag in one hand and a five pound note in the other.

My Mum probably came into my room half a dozen times in all the time I lived with her so I knew this was something important. I sat on the edge of the bed, ignoring the small avalanche of plastic soldiers, and waited. Holding out the objects she asked me to choose which one I wanted. Five pounds was a lot of money to me. My pocket money at that time was 10p per week. Imagine what I could buy. Sweets. Comics. More soldiers. I felt light headed.

I looked at the brown paper bag. It was a rough rectangle, about the size of a toaster on its end, but other than that unfathomable. What could it be?

Mystery bag or five pound note? What would you do?

I took the mystery bag.

Inside were brand new paperback books. 8 of them. The Adventure Books by Enid Blyton. There were no books at my Gran’s house and the ones at school were dog eared and smelled funny – besides reading at school was a good way of getting beat up.

I can’t honestly remember how I felt but within minutes I was reading them, emerging myself into another world; meeting new characters; sharing their adventures. It was the one of the greatest gifts I ever received.

Soon came The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings; Dune and the Adventures of Conan the Barbarian. Countless books followed; countless worlds; countless characters. Each night I would curl up in bed and read another chapter. I still do. To this day, one of my greatest joys is to buy a new book. I love the weight of it, the smell, the clean pages. Most of all I love the anticipation of what it will contain, until the moment I open it up and step into something wonderful.

(Thanks Mum)


In the old, old stories the protagonist often embarked on a long, long journey; a quest for meaning, for answers, for a sense of purpose. A few years ago I had my odyssey.

Up until the age of 11 I lived with my gran and grandad. My gran was very protective. She’d lost her own son, Billy, when he was 3 years old and the same thing wasn’t going to happen to me. When all the local kids were playing on the green in the summer evening, I was in bed, the bright sunshine trying to push through the closed curtains. Even during the day I wasn’t allowed to play with “those” children so I recreated epic battles with my soldiers in the tiny walled garden or on the couch next to my grandad.

At the weekend I stayed with my mum. I loved going there. I had near total freedom to do what I wanted; drink milk straight from the bottle; take my meals up to my bedroom; go out whenever I wanted; stay out until after dark. It was glorious. I’d see my mum between adventures; she would smile, tell me a joke, and then tell me to go play. I rarely went in the Living Room.

I spent most of my time either in my bedroom or out with my friends exploring the most dangerous parts of the urban sprawl I grew up in – particularly the Waggies; the wagon repair yards, full of huge abandoned sheds and long neglected rolling stock . As I grew older that didn’t really change. I think my mum preferred it that way.

When I started secondary school I moved into my mum’s house permanently but I didn’t see her much. I’d get up early, catch two buses to school, and then let myself in when I got back. I’d hear her come back from work and she’d shout me when my tea was ready. I’d take my meal back to my room and carry on with what I was doing. At weekend it was much the same.

Various men came and went and then one stayed. I desperately wanted a dad but he wasn’t interested. I became a ghost in a house I didn’t belong in.

On my 18th birthday I was thrown out.

Nearly 40 years later I got a phone call from my mum. She hadn’t long to live and she wanted to see me.

We had kept in touch over the years. She’d come to our wedding, there had been Christmas visits and birthday phone calls but at this point we hadn’t seen each other for six years; partly because she now lived in Ireland, partly because neither of us wanted to.

So I planned my Odyssey. Every detail. It was something I needed to do alone. I even had a soundtrack – Hotel Ambient by Moby. This would be my time for answers. The final reckoning.

I drove to Stranraer in Scotland, took the ferry to Larne in Northern Ireland, drove to Letterkenny in Donegal and stayed in a hotel.

The next day I drove to Fintown, a tiny village on the banks of Lough Finn, to a white house nestled in the arms of the Bluestack Mountains.

I spent 10 hours with my mum and we spoke of nothing of consequence. When it was time to leave I went for the usual awkward hug and she clung to me and cried. There was nothing left of her. Eventually I drove away.

For most of the journey back I was numb. Karen insisted on meeting me at Stranraer (even though it took 6 hours and four train rides). I’m so grateful that she did. We drove home to the music of Moby.

I didn’t get my answers. There were no explanations. Just an end. And maybe that’s OK.

A Cow Named Steve

Everyone has their stories. A Cow Named Steve is a collection of mine. This is the first.


My Grandad rarely spoke to me. He wasn’t unfriendly he just never seemed to see me. My memories of him come in polaroid images, set pieces, tableaus. They are vivid, almost real. They look like this.

He sits on the right hand side of a two seater settee. There is a lace doily over the brown fabric arm and on top of that is a metal tray which is prevented from slipping by two sprung sides which clamp it in position. On the tray, which is coated with a non-slip image of somewhere in Spain, is an ashtray; a box of Swan Vestas; and a packet of 20 Park Drive. Later a glass of Hirondelle or a bottle of Guiness (with glass) will appear. Every day. But only one.

He returns home weary from a day’s toil. He is wearing a flat cap; a modest jacket; and worn, black boots. The smell of the sewage works clings to him like a grieving widow. He eats his tea off a larger non-slip tray with another picture of somewhere in Spain. It’s Friday, so it’s fish. Finney Haddock.

He perches on a padded stool in the tiny kitchen of the first floor flat which overlooks Manchester. Through binoculars he studies commercial flights coming in and out of Ringway whilst listening to air traffic control on a battered transistor radio. He can identify any type of aircraft. His favourite is the new Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. He thinks it’s the future.

He patiently builds a model of HMS Victory, complete with rigging and tiny cannons. It takes him hours and he is content. At regular intervals he shoos me away. It is the only gift he ever buys me.

He sits again in his spot on the settee watching racist and misogynist TV programs. We just called it “telly” back then. I kneel using the other seat to recreate World War 2 battles with plastic soldiers and tanks. He reacts to neither.

There’s another picture. It is not mine. He is a sergeant in the Royal Artillery.  He is in a Jeep somewhere in France. He is moving with his unit when they are ambushed by a Tiger tank hiding in a ruined church. It destroys a couple of Sherman Firefly before they silence its guns. On that beautiful sunny day he loses his 4 best friends. He makes no others.

Resolution Revolution

Yes, I’m sorry, it’s one of those posts but I’ve had a creative dry spell for five months and I think that’s long enough. So, while I’m making all sorts of unrealistic resolutions for this new year (which I’ll give up by the time you read this), I’m going to get back into all things art & design.

There was a brilliant piece in the Guardian Magazine (issue 14 – 1 January 2022) about self-improvement and how January is probably the worst time to make big changes (or little ones for that matter). It turns out that most of us like to plan the “new me”, which gives us the warm and fuzzies, but few of us follow through with our plans because, well, we don’t want to. And It may be we could be trying to change the wrong things anyway.

A five month dry spell has been torture for me. I think I had built up false expectations of creative success (whatever that means) and forgotten the joy of just making stuff. It’s nice to have an audience who appreciates what you do and to you, the very small audience that enjoys my doodles and ramblings, thank you. However, I think I would make stuff even if no-one saw it, in fact, I probably did before the Internet arrived.

I’ve had to remind myself it’s the joy of following an idea, leaping on it, and dressing it up in fancy dress that brings delight. It’s the accidental splashes of colour; the smudges and the mess, that often leads to something wonderful. It’s the odd combination of words; the mixing of media; the childlike joining of odd things that lead to life-giving moments.

So. Join me in blowing a raspberry at the World and to creating stuff – just because.


29 Years

So, this weekend marks our 29th Wedding Anniversary, which means I’ve been with Karen longer than I haven’t been with Karen. I was 28 on that fateful day when the Outlaws caught me, close to the Rochdale border, and I first learned the meaning of the term hog-tied. Best day of my life.

So, I want to pay tribute to my Glorious Redhead, my Northern Lass, my Well of Infinite Patience.

First of all, she’s beautiful. I often find myself staring at her across a coffee table while I probably should be listening to what she’s actually saying. She still manages to take my breath away.

She’s smart. I mean proper smart. BA, MA, MBA, and a bunch of certificates for clever stuff down the years. Not just book smart, though, she has a quick wit and the gift of discernment and very sensitive BS detector.

She’s brave. She goes to sketchy places in the world to share her faith and to teach others. She sits with strangers who are being racial abused on a train and then tells a carriage load of drunk football fans what she really thinks of their behaviour. She jumps off buses to break up fights. She literally stands between bullies and their victim. She cries with the broken and comforts the lost.

She a great cook. I eat like royalty. She makes a massive mess. Totally worth it.

She’s creative. She’s played princesses and paupers on stage, as well as characters from history and real life. She once dyed her hair bright orange for a part and walked around looking like a Belisha beacon for two weeks. She makes beautiful art, creates powerful videos, and teaches amazing crafts. She sings like a lark. A lark with laryngitis but, hey, you can’t have everything.

She’s Nanny Karen. She has made thousands of children’s lives better with her warmth, honesty, love, care, compassion and creative spirit. She has dealt with tears, tantrums, and tragedy. And everything else. She will never know how much difference she has made in their lives; how much better the world is for having her in it.

What do I bring to the table? Not much, maybe a fork, but I’ve been blessed to know her and I count myself lucky to share a life with my beautiful lover, companion, friend, co-creator and fellow adventurer.

Happy Anniversary, my Love.

Photo by Jenny Weinert


So, I’m stuck right now. Every time I sit down to do something creative I either mess it up or lose the will. It’s like I’ve lost the ability to draw, even things that I’ve been drawing for years, even the simplest doodle. If I try to paint, it’s forced. If I try to write, it’s flat and stagnant. Even this post is like moulding treacle. And it’s been like this for a month now.

I’ve read a lot of stuff about this in the past. How it’s a natural part of creativity, how the brain needs to rest, recharge, reboot, and how you need to just wait and normal service will be resumed.

But what if it doesn’t?

That’s a terrifying thought.


There are over 5000 species of dragonfly, that we know of, and they’re believed to be amongst the first winged insects to have evolved around 300 million years ago. They belong to the order Odonata which, in Greek, means Toothed One. Some live for a few weeks and others can live up to a year. Yonks ago, yonks is a technical term for a lot of time, dragonflies are believed to have been much bigger; fossils have been found with wingspans of up to two feet. If that were the case now I would be writing this hiding in a cave from our dragonfly overlords.

I first became aware of dragonflies on one of our early trips to California. I was buzzed by a big black one as I came out of church, so it was a rocky start to the relationship. It was more like an attack helicopter than a creature. As time went by I saw more and more, and marvelled at their aerobatics and iridescent colours. They were beautiful.

Years later, we spent a season running a camp on Thetis Island off the Canadian West Coast. When we arrived the site was overgrown and much neglected so we spent the first few weeks repairing just about everything. Once the John Deere was up and running I set to mowing the several acres which would become our games and recreation area. As I worked my way through the two foot high grass I was surrounded by a whirl of dragonflies. There were at least fifty of them. I was a little nervous at first but they never touched me. They filled the sky with bright colour and wonder.

In Celtic Christian spirituality there are “thin places”. Author, Eric Weiner, describes thin places as, “those rare locales where the distance between heaven and earth collapses”. For some it’s mountains, lakes and forests; for others it’s cathedrals, shrines and chapels. For me, it’s none of those things.

For me, an encounter with God is more like Kato from the Pink Panther films; God leaps out from the most unexpected places and surprises me; like Calvin with Hobbes he bowls me over. I find God in the string section of Massive Attack’s song, Unfinished Sympathy or, oddly, the bit in the film Batteries Not Included where the little alien thingies return to save the day as the wounded boxer blows his whistle (my eyes are tearing up now), or the bit from the Barcelona Olympics where Derek Redman’s dad helps him finish the race (look it up). God is wild and mischievous and unpredictable and, to be honest, a little annoying sometimes.

So, in a field, six thousand miles from home, surrounded by the most beautiful creatures, I encounter God. And, ten years later, in the corner of our attic, I unexpectedly encounter him again. What started as a blog post about a tattoo design and it’s significance, turns out to be a Thin Place and yet another rekindling of hope.

May God jump out from unlikely places and surprise you today, or tomorrow. Who knows?.


I’ve always wanted a tattoo. When I was young and part of the Spread Eagle Motorcycle Club (now a furniture superstore) four of us had a ride out to Blackpool with the intention of getting a tattoo. Nick went in first and when he emerged sometime later, tears were rolling down his face. The rest of us decided not to go through with it, got on our bikes, and rode home. So much for being tough.

Years later, and bucket lists come to mind. Mine is very short. I’d like to visit Iceland and Japan, and I’d like to get a tattoo. But if I did get a tattoo what would it be? I thought of the usual dragons, wolves and skulls, but I didn’t want anything aggressive. Other traditional designs didn’t have any meaning for me. So what would it be?

When we were in Canada I was fascinated by First Nations Art. The West Coast was the home, and still should be the home, of the Haida Nation. Their art is based on shapes and symbols that are 10, 000 years old and mostly depicts animals that live in that area – bears, eagles, orca, salmon. These creatures are rich in meaning and are used to create totems which often tell the story of a particular tribe or family. Which got me thinking. What is my totem?

The first one was easy. I’m a Manc (note for American friends – Manc is not as unpleasant as it sounds and is short for Mancunian, the term for someone from Manchester). A year after the tragic and senseless bombing of the MEN Arena I was sitting in a pub in Town (aka Manchester) having a liquid reflection, when I decided to have a worker bee (symbol of the city) tattooed on my arm. It didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would and, more importantly, I’d finally ticked it off my bucket list.

So then I got to thinking and to drawing. What else would represent my life. I came up with 31 symbols in 31 hexagons (like a beehive, see what I did there?), a cross and a dragonfly (I’ll explain those two in another blog post). It took a few years, a bit of pain, a bit of cash and a lot of antiseptic cream, but now it’s finished. It’s been a process of pilgrimage and self reflection and small courage, but now I have my totem.

The Waloo (a story)

Very few people have seen the peak of Spindle Mountain. It climbs so high that it pokes its head through the ever-present clouds that continually rain into the Huckaboo Lakes. The creatures who live on the lakes dress in large cones to keep dry and float on the giant leaves of the kidoo tree. They float gently and peacefully through life on a diet of hickory fish until, when they are as old as can be, they take off their cone and tumble gracefully over one of the many waterfalls. But their story is for another time.

Today we look high up, beyond the clouds to the highest place there is – the peak of Spindle Mountain. You will see there is a nest, as old as time itself, and on that nest there sits, in eager anticipation, the Waloo. The Waloo is a giant bird of great distinction with an even greater plume upon her head. Wondrous in colour she dreams of flying in the bluest of skies and though she has dreamed for many centuries she has never, ever, not one single time, taken to the sky.

The Waloo has read every book there is about flying and seen pictures of birds and flying machines and bees. She has even read the Book of the Air by Esua Wagglewings,  probably one of the most boring books ever written – as dry as the desert and as long as school on a hot summer day. She has also memorised the Bumper Book of Stuff that Flies and can recognise anything that flies by their silhouette against a sunset. All except the Waloo, of course, because the Waloo never flew.

The Waloo had been to Flight School and studied intensely the theories of aerodynamics. She had achieved a first in her Degree and had gone on to gain a Masters in Flapology. There was nothing that the Waloo did not know about flying and every Thursday would teach a course at the local university on the subject of Flight. There was no-one who knew more, but apart from a hop, a skip and a jump her feet had never left the ground.

The Waloo did intensive exercise three times a day to strengthen her wings which she preened and cleaned to cut down on drag. She tested her reactions by juggling crabs that clacked and snipped and rattled and snapped. She looked after her eyes and trained herself in observation; many would say that she could see a gnat blink from three mountains away.  She did all these things and more but she had never felt the wind lift her wings or rush past her face.

The Waloo had purchased, from Sebastian Silverstein (Suppliers to the Sky) the finest leather aviator’s hat that money could buy with an altimeter built in the side. It was beautiful, in purple and gold, with the emblem of an eagle with a crown on his head. It was made by master craftsmen for the elite aeronaut and the Waloo wore it every day but it was no more than ornament for it had never flown at all.

The Waloo was the Founder and President of the Society for all Things that Fly. Every month she would publish The Flyers Gazette and on alternate Thursdays she would show films of flying things, you know, birds and flying machines and bees. Once a month she would invite a speaker to talk about their experience of flight and once had even hosted the great air ace Fondly Trouserton-Hive. He was the only bee she knew with a walrus moustache. After the meetings were over she would retire to her nest and continue her dreams of soaring and gliding and swooping and diving – things that the Waloo, that lovely Waloo, would never ever do.


Generally, numbers mean very little to me. I have never been good at Maths, I didn’t get my GCSE until I was in my 40s, and I don’t seem to be able to remember numbers. I’ve had the same phone number for, at least, 15 years and I still don’t know what it is – cut to the common scene of me fumbling with my phone, trying to get to “me” on my contacts, whilst some kind of assistant is breaking a sweat in an effort not to roll their eyes or tut at me.

Then, I was reading an article which said their are 54 countries in Africa, which seems a lot, so I checked and there is. I won’t list them. Do you’re own checking. Oh, and there are 54 countries in the Common Wealth, apparently.

Next, I found there are 54 species of mustelids, which is my favourite family of mammals (mainly because they’re just funny), and includes the weasel, which the Bible tells us not to eat; the honey badger, which is one of the feistiest of all the mustelids (the wolverine is tougher but that’s probably because of the adamantium); and, the Japanese Badger, which may or may not be a shape-shifter depending on your mythological preferences.

There are 54 cards in a deck of playing cards if you include the Jokers, which seems a bit cheaty to me, and there are 54 coloured squares on a Rubik’s Cube (which I can do. Over a long weekend. With a constipated expression on my face and a wet cloth on my brow).

There are 54 articles in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which a lot more people need to pay attention to. Come on, People!

And finally, the M54, also known as the Telford Dual Carriageway, is 23 miles long and a spur of the M6. I have never driven on it.