Growing down the centre of my ring finger, left hand, is a groove. A neat, one millimetre wide, one millimetre deep channel running from the cuticle to the distal edge or tip of the nail. In fact beneath the cuticle to the proximal fold. Its beginning, physically presumably lies just beyond this in the nail root under the skin at the base of the nail. Temporally it lies around sixty years in the past.

My cousins lived on the edge of the village. Where I had motor vehicle exhaust to breathe on the way to school or shops they had the odours of pig muck, silage clamps and occasional whiffs of grass and foliage. My back yard was flagged in part and cinders for the rest, surrounded by a six foot wall which, when rather than if, you climbed it and dropped down the other side, left you in cobbled streets lined with smoke blackened terraced cottages. You walked through their overgrown garden, hopped the slack wire fence and landed in ‘the field’. The field was a neutral space between habitation and country, a DMZ between village and farmers. From a child’s perspective a huge swathe of grassland swept up the hill to Mr Ward’s farm where the country proper started, cows grazed and splatted, pigs rooted, chickens clucked, a cockerel crowed and men with tractors and odd machinery still walked and worked the land before farming became the loneliest job in the world.

The grassland was mowed and managed off to the right of the field but the left was generally left long in a meadow, hide and seek played, dens made in it, wild flowers picked, but not Mother’s Die, just in case. You probably know this as cow-parsley, but where I grew up it was Mother Die or Mother’s Die and remains so in my head still.

Down the field from where Ward’s land began to the bottom road where my Auntie’s house stood ran a track.  It wasn’t paved or tarmac covered. At some stage someone had casually, lazily and without much thought for anything other than trying to get a grip in the wet for poor quality 1950s tyres scattered a thin intermittent layer of loose chipping over the sandy ground. Not the fine graded chippings you got on the driveways of the bigger houses lying off country roads in the distance, but the odds and sods left over from the process, ranging from cricket ball size chunks to tiny lentil sized grains.

Compaction by farm vehicles, cars and feet had, over the years, compressed this into some sort of  surface marginally more traversable for wheeled traffic than grass and mud and sand, but only marginally. What it did provide in summer was a fast, bumpy, exciting go kart track for the enterprising children of the village. When I say go kart, stop right there with the Lewis Hamilton visions and skip back a few generations to odd planks of wood hammered, occasionally screwed if there as an adult involved in the construction, together with filched pram wheels and, if you had a Barnes Wallace among your constructors, a steerable front axle! One of the locals was a revolutionary designer and had a steerable rear axle but this was felt to be a design flaw rather than a promising innovation.

If my Uncle John was around, the rules were, generally to stay in sight of the rear window and no off roading to gain more speed before hitting the track, and one driver, one passenger max at a time on the descent. This was more summer bob sleigh territory than motor sport. Power was leg and gravity. Approved safety wear was; boys in shorts and shirts, girls in summer dresses, no helmets, no elbow pads, knee protectors, or any other protection come to that. My uncle was in the house that day and so we should have been okay and obeying the track safety rules. But you know how it is, two people max meant people waiting at the top, a long wait as pushing and pulling the finely crafted machine uphill was much less thrilling than riding down. So driver, navigator, rear gunner and engineer/supernumerary noise maker rapidly became the standard crew. We were all getting tired and near to calling it a day but one last death defying ride seemed to be required. Pretty sure Peter was driving, I think I may have had the ‘brake’, it was a piece of wood you hauled on but frankly I don’t think it was connected to anything. We decided that just going a bit further up would be fine and perhaps to extend the experience for the probable last run of the day, a short(ish) pre track grass hill run in would be best.

It certainly got the speed going although there were ominous squealing noises coming from the axles almost immediately. Progress was held in check a little by the dry grass on the slope but as we negotiated, a loose term, the entry onto the track proper that residual braking disappeared and we seemed to leap forward. Not just the axles were squealing by now. I knew we were fine in a straight line, we would bump and trundle our way down the hill and come to a more or less dignified stop where the hill ran out, the chippings were deeper and the emergency brakes (feet) could be safely deployed. Unfortunately we had joined the track higher up than the position we normally started from and our recce had been faulty. This meant that we joined the track at an angle and had therefore to apply steering correction to stay on the track. This automatically set up a slight yawing motion on the loose surface , but in addition we had to immediately counter steer as the track took a sharp opposite turn to the place we normally began our descents.

All those fighter pilot films where they lose control and the camera is thrown from side to side for a bit before flicking into a slightly nauseous spiralling motion were what happened next, without the benefit of being in a padded cinema seat. I have no idea how far we got down before it all became blurry then scrapy and painful but it felt like section two of the descent went on longer than section one. We all had cuts, grazes, a bit of gravel rash and bruising but I remember thinking as my finger went under the rear wheel somehow, that that felt a bit worse than the rest.

We limped ignominiously into the house. I was most definitely crying. Cuts and bruises were nothing new, but I was most decidedly of the opinion that nails shouldn’t be sticking up like that and there seemed a bit too much blood to come out of one finger. My mother soothed most minor bumps and she was there, but I knew I’d been right that this was bit more than a simple plaster job when I was wheeled before Uncle John. John was a nurse and although by then very high in the local mental health hierarchy, retained enough of his wartime nursing to be quite capable of dealing with this. He always had a bit of a scary authoritarian feel to him for me, but that day he was so brilliant for a small child in pain and more importantly worried about things being different than they should be. It was only a nail of course but it had been ripped from the quick and bent back at a weird angle. He cleaned it without killing me, talked to me to distract me, flicked the thing back into place, which I can assure you hurt a tad, and dressed it.

My mother hovered wanting to ask all those questions mothers want to ask and that I was not sure I wanted to hear the answers to.

‘He’ll be fine. It might come off but I don’t think so. Keep an eye on it, but I think he’s probably going to have a bit of a minor mark grow down the nail. It might be permanent but nothing to worry about.’

He was right. The nail stayed on and the damaged bits grew out. All except for that little groove nobody except me notices, but which reminds me of sunny childhood summers long ago, and also reminds me that, even though it was scary at the time, it came from fun and childhood isn’t or shouldn’t about being cocooned in cotton wool.


July has been a quiet month.

For writing at least.

Life however, has been hectic.

Yes there has been the rollercoaster that was the Euros, although the fairground ride crashed a little earlier than the final for me, when the Welsh eleven suddenly looked down and realised how high they were and crashed out in the quarter finals.

And then England.

It’s a good job I’m not a football fan is all I can say.

So there is the British and Irish Lions tour, if eight cobbled together matches can be called a tour. When I started watching Lions tours they were three months long and comprised twenty four games. Now that’s a tour.

Away from the ‘when I were a lad’ appreciation society moments however, real ‘real things’ were happening. My daughter finished her degree and got a 2:1, well done her, and we moved her out of her Uni house, having to fit around various Covid scares (without fruition I am pleased to say).

Her graduation ceremony has been on/off ever since, depending on the balance of rising Covid case numbers versus ‘we need the cash’ cries from Rishi et al. Currently the University says it is on so we are having the travel, who is going to attend – only two allowed, what to wear, debates.

She is currently working in a (probably) interim job in the nearest town and as public transport is patchy at best and she does not yet drive (lessons underway) I am spending a fair amount of time in unsocial hours taxi work.

Meanwhile my son continues his home education and time zone shifting – he appears to be running on something approximating US Central Time at the moment and that is time consuming for me, whatever zone I am in.

The local child catcher (actually a very charming and helpful Elective Home Education official bearing no resemblance whatsoever to the stereotypical wannabe Education Welfare Gauleiter from a neighbouring Authority who threatened everyone he met with legal action) has called, and ensured that I have not buried my son in an unauthorised planning development on the premises (not sure which is the greater sin in the local authority’s eyes, breach of planning regulations or murder).

Ah yes – the PS5!

How could I forget the great triumph?

Well it was at the end of June rather than in July but for these purposes it counts.

The great quest continued after my cri de coeur in the last post, and at stupid o’clock BST one morning I managed to download an android phone emulating app and snag an Argos middle of the night drop and defeat the security on my account which didn’t want me to spend 450 quid on a gaming console in the middle of the night at my age (trust me I didn’t want to either but that, apparently, is what being a father is all about). It popped up on ‘collect’ rather than deliver but given the speed with which these things sell out I said sod it and pressed on. The next afternoon, and only fifteen miles away, we collected the gleaming cup that was the PS5.

Personally, having watched it in action, I couldn’t tell the difference from the PS4, but hey that’s me and rampant consumer capitalism for you.


Grail: tick

Golden Fleece: Next maybe?

(racking my brains for other legendary quests to add in here, I innocently searched online using a well known Internet Search Engine, which shall remain nameless, but Google it if you are interested). Any combination of ‘Mythic’, ‘Legendary’, ‘Quest’, ‘Grail’ yielded millions of hits, all of them about ******* online games of various types. Thousands of years of western, nay, world culture wiped out in the stroke of a trivial gaming obsession signifying nothing. There is an irony here whose true import currently defeats me.

I have the urge to go and write something profound and very pretentious.

I may lie down and weep.

The Best Person to Decide

‘How many today?’

‘I haven’t counted yet. Hundreds.’ She said.

“Said” actually implies something more positive, more certain, more involved than the way she spoke. “Sighed” might be nearer, but may be too polite, too slight in its ability to depict the awful weight those words carried.


‘I’ll cook. What do you fancy?’ I tried to put a bit of a smile in the way I asked. I don’t think she wanted smiles.

‘Anything. Nothing. Look you get yourself something. I’ll pick at something later.’ She started rummaging in the bag of papers she’d brought home tonight. ‘I’d better start. They’ve got to be with the exam board in a couple of weeks.’ She dumped a pile on the table. ‘And I’ve still got lesson preps.’

I went into the kitchen and left her to it. I would prepare a Bolognese. I’d do enough for both of us and I’d freeze the rest if she didn’t want it.

I’d had a bit of a hard day myself, but you couldn’t tell a teacher that. It was interesting seeing what went on through the looking glass. When I had been at school I can’t say I had much respect for teachers. Some I liked as people. Some I liked for their ability to convey a subject’s innate value. Some combined both feelings. The majority didn’t hit either mark. Many were just plain average Joes (boys only school, one female teacher and she was the most macho of the lot of them). Many were completely useless.

Just as “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way”, so all good teachers were alike but each bad teacher had their own particular way of making the day a misery.

The onion was going clear in the olive oil; I added the chopped garlic and looked for the oregano and basil.

I hadn’t seen Rebecca teach of course so I couldn’t tell what she was like in class. I’d seen the amount of lesson preparation she did, had  looked at the materials, talked over some of the curriculum she had to teach and ideas for engaging the little buggers. It all seemed as good as it was going to get given the weird concepts of what kids need to get on in life that passes for educational policy these days. But I’d ever seen the performance part. The bit where she tried to turn the theory into the messy practicality of imparting knowledge and enthusing kids to learn, to see that knowledge was only the first bit of learning, of knowing how to gather information, how to analyse it, how to use it and its products to do other things; how to think.

She’d practised run throughs of new material on me. They seemed cool. I learned some things. But I wasn’t thirty mixed ability, mixed enthusiasm, mixed aggression fifteen year olds. I liked learning new stuff. I loved Rebecca. I’m pretty sure a few 15 year olds would as well given half the chance, but that didn’t necessarily encourage the mind set for learning.

The minced beef was browned and I rummaged for passata in the cupboard.

I held the bottle aloft in triumph.

‘Do you want a bit of Bolognese love?’

I listened for a reply. Nothing but frantic paper rustling.

I poured the sieved tomatoes into the pan and put the water on to boil.

She was grading. Not papers, but pupils. This was like a meta analysis of someone’s evidence for life. Government dictat had swayed from exams, to exams and course work, to exam like assessments and back to exams over the decades but this was different. This was Covid induced surrender to the idea that “the best person to judge the pupil is the teacher.”

I put the spaghetti into the largest pan we had, the water roiling in its eagerness to consume the pasta. I’d always dribbled a little olive oil in with it until I’d watched an Italian chef on an online channel use quite a lot of rude words about that idea. So I just shoved the strands in and went to put the garlic butter into the bread for a quick oven heating.

I stuck my head through the door.

‘Ten minutes love, if you want to eat.’ I said. She grunted noncommittally and dropped another set of marks onto the pile of those who had been weighed in the balance. I grabbed a piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano from the fridge and wondered about what was going on next door.

Rebecca was stressed with the sheer volume of work at the best of times. The obsessive paperwork proving the prep work had been done, plus all the weird governmental obsession with various and multifarious metrics meant there was little time to actually teach. I wondered if the box ticking, hoop jumping and goal setting actually made weaker teachers better enough to balance out the drag on the better teachers. I couldn’t see it making any difference to the stinkers. They would always find a way to win the battle with the pupil.

I grated some of the cheese and checked the clock. Time to test the pasta. I didn’t adopt the Sweeney’s method of hurling a piece against the wall to see if it stuck to it, although that way no doubt still had it adherents.

My teachers had not been particularly aware or bothered about how I interacted with them and the school system. I was quiet and not problematic. That let me sit just above the middle of the pack for most subjects, below in some and near the top in a few. This largely depended on how confident and capable of controlling the class the teacher was. If I could concentrate and they inspired I would fly. If they were on the look out to pick on someone to cover the fact the class was a mess I slumped. I was lucky I guess, the ethos was to learn and only a few bothered with the idea that allowing pupils to “express themselves” was of paramount importance. It was my fellow pupils ‘expressing themselves” that bothered me most of the time.

I’d been at the front of the peloton, just behind the teachers’ pets in junior school. Until the 11 plus which as an IQ test of sorts. I was top of the school and nobody, least of all the teachers, liked it or believed it.

I continually did better in most exams than I did in class with teacher assessments.

The steam billowed up from the colander before I returned the pasta to the pan and poured the Bolognese on top of the pasta. I stood it to one side, snatched the garlic bread from the oven and put the butter and lemon zucchini into a serving dish.

‘Ready if you want love.’ I smiled.

She looked up, hurled the latest paper down on the decided pile and stood up.

‘Sod it. That little bastard’s done nothing all year anyway. Let’s eat.’


I took my daughter to the train station on Saturday and she went to England to meet a University friend for a meal.

She was very careful to make sure she had her mask with her, that she didn’t hug her friend, they did air hugs instead, and that they were as responsible as they could be about how close they got to other people.

The rest of the UK however, seems to have given up on the idea of social distancing and bothering with recommended practice.

On the station few people were wearing masks, and I can understand that in the bright sun on an open platform with no buildings in sight, that in itself was okay. I wasn’t wearing one myself. But when the train arrived, many people boarded it without masks, which is a requirement. While we waited people stood talking to friends up close and personal, no two metre distancing, still the separation distance in Wales, and obviously not the same household and how many exclusive ‘bubbles’ can you inhabit?

When I picked her up later the same (lack of adherence to) rules were in evidence. Talking to her she was amazed that there were people on the train with no masks. And no censure. People had them hanging loose from one ear, more concerned with being able to put it on to avoid any censure (not worth the bother apparently).

In England there was no evidence apart from mask wearing in shops that there is or ever had been any Covid. The great English public have apparently abandoned their conception of what a metre is now they have left the EU and the ownership of a mask absolves them from any other measure designed to thwart the spread of the disease.

In one way this reassures me that we are not yet about to succumb to a form of draconian dictatorial stroke from the sinister offices of Dominic Cummings. On the other hand it makes me wonder about what the future holds for us in a winter return to the spread of Coronavirus.

If this laissez fair, not to say lackadaisical approach to Covid works, why did we destroy the economy? The problem is how do we work out what worked and what didn’t if the evidence we are given from Government statements and ONS survey bears no resemblance to adherence on the ground? Interested parties are notoriously keen to claim credit for solving a problem with tinkering measures that had no effect on a situation.

Analysis of this virus and the responses to it need to be free of politics, career progression and drug company profits, if we are to work out how to react to repeat waves of it and any new pandemic threats.

Given human nature; what are the chances?


My son went fishing yesterday.

He went with a friend, all socially distanced of course, all legal; rod licence, day ticket, two fish take away.

I confess I didn’t think he’d need the latter permission. My memories of fishing were of hours of tedium as you sat there not catching anything, getting bitten by midges, getting soaking wet or sunburned. If you ever did get ‘lucky’ the boredom was punctuated by flashing moments of; how do I get the hook out of this thing, how do I not get bitten (Pike), cut, (Perch) by this thing and then releasing it back into the water without drowning myself.

Nothing we caught was edible – I fished in the canal and grotty ponds, no fly fishing or expensive clean fast flowing spinning rivers for me. This was the 1960s and early 70s and waterways were mostly cheap waste disposal systems for industry farms and local yobs of all ages. Water management was barely acknowledged as an issue. So lead, mercury and sewage were some of the less harmful additives to the diet of most ‘freshwater’ fish in many parts of the UK.

So when he came back with his allotted Rainbow Trout I was impressed, proud and, at ten o’clock at night, not a little exercised by having to remember how to descale, gut and fillet a trout. I had done it (okay we got some brown trout out of clear streams in the hills occasionally) but when I thought about it, the last time I had cleaned and cooked a fish fresh out of the water was about 40 years ago. Now fish haven’t changed but my memory, dexterity and patience have.

However, he’d done his bit, now I had mine to do. I was sort of hoping for a father son moment where I showed him how to deal with what he had brought home. The mighty hunter however had (and I apologise for this) other fish to fry. So off to the PS4 he strode leaving me clutching one slippery piscine trophy staring most accusingly at me in a dead, vacant sort of a manner.

The upshot is we now have a couple of trout fillets in the refrigerator ready for cooking, when he arises. I confess I have seen neater bits of filleting. I’ve done neater bits of filleting, but for a late night stab (I’m sorry about this) at a half remembered skill, not bad. I hope. Of course the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. I’m recommending caution as we eat. Read the small print on the packet about some bones may remain.

At the moment he is full of enthusiasm for fishing and he has plans to be a regular. I’m wondering if we should perhaps engage in a few more trial runs before major investments. Initial enthusiasms do have a habit of wearing off. On the other hand, if it takes I guess there are worse ways of spending hours outdoors getting wet and sunburned.


I was having a cup of coffee this morning while trying to compose an email to a friend about a military history quiz he had set. So engrossed had I become in trying to draft the email in a way that didn’t upset him further than an earlier comment had already, that I was surprised to find the Radio 4 programme I had supposedly been listening to had ended. I started to get up to switch the radio off – I know, a radio, a bit of a giveaway as to my ancient status. Even more so when you realise it is an insurance replacement for the one stolen in a burglary c1995. It was advertised as a ‘ghetto blaster’, not something that sounds very acceptable nowadays I suspect. Still works though, along with the inbuilt cassette player/recorder. Get back to me in another twenty five years and check if this computer is still working.

Anyway, when the continuity announcer gave the title of next programme, I sat back down again. Homeschool History is part of the BBC’s approach to helping parents fill the gap left by the closure of mainstream schools in reaction to Covid-19. I’d heard a lot of fluff about this initiative but not caught any of it. The announcement had me worried even as I sat down: ‘Join Greg Jenner for a fun homeschool history lesson…’ The word ‘fun’ in this context in my experience tends to mean anything but ‘enjoyment’ and usually messes up the subject involved; be it science, maths or history, the usual victims of this faux cheery approach.

In the event it was sort of okay. There was a little too much of the gee wizz approach, what a teacher of my acquaintance used to call the ‘WOW’ factor, in it for my comfort. There were sound effects to emphasise jokes and ‘amusing’ points and the usual attempts to make incest, murder and brutal battles ‘fun’. This approach (the WOW factor made such an impression on the teacher I mentioned that they actually imported the word into lessons all the time, with hand gestures, with bemused looks from the children in response) makes me cringe.

Now I know I have a problem in that I am on the autistic spectrum* and don’t always easily understand the appeal of some neurotypical interactions but why does ‘fun’ have to equal crass humour? The ‘story’ being told was that of Cleopatra. That’s another thing by the way. Why are we still telling history through the lives of great men/women? Good to pick her rather than Caesar or Mark Anthony I suppose but why reduce Greek/Macedonian and Roman imperialism to individuals? I thought we had moved on from this approach. Anyway, her rule, fight with her sibling/husband and manipulation of and by Rome for control of Egypt is surely gripping enough without interpolations of the equivalent of whoopee cushion effects?

Now I am obviously wrong as Mr Jenner and co have made a reputation and a lot of programmes based on Terry Deary’s Horrible Histories books. So this approach works.

Or does it?

There have been a lot of books sold. A lot of programmes made. But how much actual history has been conveyed. And what type of history? I haven’t read or seen a lot of them. Some, but the approach as you will have gathered drives me crazy. It’s like having a really annoying uncle, someone who was told a long time ago he was amazingly funny and great with kids, probably as a wind up, who now insists on reading you your favourite book but with his own added fart jokes. I talk to parents and they extol the virtues of these books. I talk to the kids and they go: ‘Nah mate. Silly.’

To be fair I have met a couple of children who have read and enjoyed them (though I have my suspicions they were saying so because their parents were present). I’ve met a lot more who have got them, been given them by teachers, parents, grandparent, aunts, uncles and family friends desperate to find a responsible present which also seems cool. Those books remain unread or flicked through and unremembered.

I was bought ‘1066 And All That’ by a much loved cousin when I was about ten because I was interested in history. It was too soon. I went off and did O levels and started on A levels before I came back to it one rainy afternoon. It was and remains a very funny take on history and historians. But you have to know history before it makes sense and you get the jokes. My feeling is that the Horrible Histories approach is trying to short circuit this process.

I worry this approach to history teaching is more about the ‘fun’ than the history. Those who don’t ‘get’ history will take the jokes and those who like history will either, like me, be put off the history, or get a really bizarre interpretation of what the subject really is about. Don’t misunderstand me; there was nothing ‘wrong’ about the history in the programme. The insight into Cleopatra being farther removed in time from the building of the Great Pyramid of Giza, than she is from us was brilliant. The view of late Roman Republican power machinations as solely interpersonal relations however was one that may take years at best to disentangle and in many cases will remain the sole, erroneous, takeaway point of the exercise.

That may not matter much if we are solely bothered about why the battle of Actium was fought, but if it reduces our approach to understanding current geopolitics to whether Donald Trump and Xi Jinping get along, we probably deserve all we get from our understanding of what history can teach us.

*Yes I do. Not self diagnosed, I have a note from a very nice consultant psychiatrist. High functioning but as weird as a fruit cake apparently – not the phrase she used, but you can read between the lines. It was a relief after all those years of wondering why I had to work so hard to understand what the hell was going on in normal life.


‘All the way up the valley was water.’

I grunted. I had told him that. Part of being a Dad is listening to your own stories, hearing your own thoughts, recognising you, being played back at you. It starts off being cute. A five year old telling someone about how electricity can’t leak out of a plug socket because the electrons don’t flow unless there is a circuit, makes everyone smile.

It takes commitment to listen to the same story for the twentieth time without the smile becoming a little frozen. Imagine that experience repeated for several hundred stories, aphorisms, ideas, thoughts, feelings, nuggets and gems of ‘wisdom’ and you begin, perhaps, to see why I grunted.

It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested. I was. I had been. I suppose I wanted him to tell me things I didn’t know. I loved finding out new things and, yes, repeating them with little or no embellishment to anyone who would listen. When I was young of course, that meant my mother and father most of the time. Yes, you presume correctly; the people usually who had told me the thing in the first place. Now that gave me an insight into the need for tolerance. I’d driven people mad too, so I should probably suck it up now.

‘Ships used to come all the way up here, even before there was a castle.’ He said.

I smiled as we walked across the flood plain. ‘How deep do you think it was then?’

We walked on to the bridge and he stopped half way over, looking upstream, the narrow, murky water below barely glimpsed through the grasses and reeds. Something moved through the undergrowth, the sound drawing our attention from the view up the valley.

‘Something down there.’ I said

‘Maybe a bird.’

‘Possibly. Too much noise for a water vole.’ That made me think of a new tack. ‘I wonder if they get mink here?’

‘Probably a rat.’ he said dismissively.

That was unexpected. It was a much more likely explanation than my flights of fancy.

‘What’s a mink?’ he asked.

So I told him as we walked across the bridge and through the gate.

He nodded.’ Can we go up the hill? I want to take some photos of the valley.’

‘Sure, it’s a lovely evening for it.’

‘It’s a lovely valley. When I came here with Huw in the floods, it was about five feet deep on the flood plain I think.’

He hadn’t let it go of course. He had his thoughts on the valley and the floods and he was going to tell me them regardless of distractions from mink, rats, voles or birds. To be fair he was answering my question. We walked up the side of the valley for a better vantage point.

‘That’s a storage warehouse at the base.’

A brick building, warm red brown in the evening sun, peeped from among the trees on a distant hillside.

‘I don’t think they’d have got ships that far.’ Small joke.

‘The tunnelling drained the aquifer before they built that.’


‘The water that sustained the lake here drained away.’

‘I think that might be the ammunition factory rather than a storage facility.’

He took another picture.

‘I’m done. We can go back now.’ he said waving his hand towards the bridge.

Memes. Dawkins characterisation of viral transmission of ideas, phrases, gestures. That was the really unsettling thing about fatherhood. Seeing yourself part replicated, however imperfectly.

‘I’m done. We can go back now.’ My father reverberated, words and gesture across the decades. The building blocks of syntax, concept and movement flashed before me. Him to me, me to the grandson he never met but whom he shaped by onward transmission of more than genetics. How far back did it go? A shudder ran through me.

‘You okay Dad?’

‘Yes thanks.’

We turned and walked back down the way we had come, and there was a repeated scream form the trees ahead.

‘What’s that?’

I scanned the tree line but couldn’t see anything.

‘There it is!’

His young eyes outranging mine easily.

‘What is it Dad?’

I stared as he pointed me in right direction.

A large white blob sat near the top of a tree.

‘It’s a bird of prey. Looks too bright to be a buzzard but it’s big.’

He took a photo and as my brain caught up with what I as seeing it flew gracefully across the valley to another stand of trees, silently, majestically with two powerful beats of its wings.

‘What is it?’

‘Barn owl’

‘In the day?’

‘It’s late and they do hunt in daylight sometimes.’


I thought about telling him of the reputation owls have, especially in Wales, as birds of evil portent. Of Blodeuwedd in the Mabinogion and her fate. But I stopped. Some memes don’t need passing on. Some prejudices however ancient and unintentional need an antiviral.

‘It was wasn’t it? Let’s go home and show Mum.’

‘Really cool flight, so quiet and big.’


  1. ‘Those ships must have been shallow to get up here.’


My son and I went for a walk yesterday evening. It had been a hot and humid day and a thunderstorm had rolled close by without actually hitting us. It had however cleared the air a little and the evening was glorious with blue sky, golden sunshine and light friendly clouds. We walked through a field where two horses, a piebald and a chestnut, spend their days grazing, bickering slightly and trying to second guess what the people who walk the public footpath offer them. We offered gentle affection, stroking, patting and soft whispering praise. I don’t feed them. The owners no doubt know what they want the pair to eat and while the odd carrot or apple probably wouldn’t be an issue, if everyone does it, you can seriously upset a horse or pony receiving a balanced diet from its owner.

This pair is in great shape and while I, and my family who walk with me to see them, would undoubtedly get fun and satisfaction from feeding them, we have to think of the horses’ welfare. So affection, pats, attention, fine, but extra food, no. I wish I were so disciplined with my own diet!

The field this pair is in is great for giving them balanced natural grazing. When you walk through the field from the lane you drop down a short bank and walk to a brook that marks the field boundary. The low lying ground is something you rarely get any more; it’s a water meadow. It floods with heavy rainfall during late autumn winter and early spring and the area supports an abundant array of plants and herbs in addition to grasses.

As we walked on after saying hello to the horses, we crossed the brook, climbed the bank of the flood plain on the far side and looked inland up the valley. We started talking about how the growth and plants on the flood plain were different from where we stood on the shoulder of the valley. He told me all about how this land had been an inlet of the Severn estuary and ships had rowed up to the Roman capital of the Silures at Caerwent.  We talked about how the medieval castle, now landlocked, would have been on the banks of a quite significant marsh and river in medieval times. He knew the water flowing down the brook had produced a large intermittent lake even after the drainage of the Gwent levels. We discussed how the digging of the Severn railway tunnel had hit the aquifer that supported the lake and the pumping that kept the tunnel dry had drained the water more or less permanently, meaning the lake only reappears infrequently now.

We took a long time for a walk of a couple of miles but it was great to hear him so knowledgeable and full of enthusiasm about so much local and regional geography, history and economics. If we’d sat him down in a classroom and tried to stick all this in his head he would have been very resistant and learned virtually nothing. Letting him experience the geography first hand, look stuff up online, discuss it, read pamphlets from Cadw, connect it with one of his great interests, trains and then put it all together in the field has done wonders for his interest and is confidence in his own abilities.

What a great way to spend an evening.

Plus we got to talk to some horses!


My daughter, still on release from University thanks to the response to the threat of Covid-19, and not going back until at least October, has now decided to relieve her boredom by gyrating and muttering, she alleges musically, to herself around the house. It is not unusual to find her in unlikely spots stepping left and right and sliding and waving her arms about.

I am told this is in response to something called TikTok.

I’m playing with you here. I know what Tik Tok is.

It’s what for some reason we call an app. Why the word program was deemed unsuitable anymore is beyond reason, although the difficulty some of the tech generation have with pronouncing two syllable words may have had something to do with it.

It’s basically Vine with a slightly longer play run.

If you don’t know what Vine was – 6 second vids – you’ve probably seen the YouTube compilations of kittens falling asleep, dogs chasing their tails and raccoons eating garbage; all that remains of Vine since Twitter bought it and killed it in a desperate search for a profit.

There was obviously a huge market for Vines, hell, even I liked them.

Instagram no doubt had a hand in the death of Vine with a 15 second video app, which stole some creatives, but it never made the hit Vine did. Possibly because:

In stepped with much the same idea. You’ve heard of musers right? No?

Not surprising – they got bought by ByteDance, a Beijing company who already owned …

TikTok., started by Chinese business people, was big in the West, Tik Tok was five times bigger in Asia.

They ran together for a bit, then Byte Dance merged them under the Tik Tok brand. Fifteen seconds is your limit and the world went mad for it. ‘Lockdown’ was a blessing for them and teens and wannabes (my aging daughter is 20) have gone crazy for it in the quiet of having to pause and not be distracted by actual real life.

I’m not suggesting the Wu Han outbreak was a marketing plan by Chinese tech entrepreneurs, that would be a little bit crazy, even for a devoted conspiracy nut (which I am not by the way). It was however a great opportunity. A void to fill.

So my daughter substitutes Hegelian dialectic with Tik Tok dance, and an oblique reference to Darwinian competition in international soft power relations and I go slightly demented.

In the meantime, my son, a big Tik Tok fan via You Tube compilations and challenges until a few weeks ago – curiously enough the same time my daughter started her syncopated rhythmic circuit training – now scorns it and her antics. He is thirteen and I had presumed the target age range for the app. Maybe they have already jumped the shark. My daughter looks as if she is practising to do just that.


Photo credit: <a href=”″>Christoph Scholz</a> on <a href=””>Visualhunt</a&gt; / <a href=””&gt; CC BY-SA</a>


Photo credit: Nambian47 on / CC BY


My daughter is home from university at the moment.  She would be in any case at this time of year, as it is the Easter vacation. This time of course it is different and she came down early just as the University was deciding to suspend lectures for time indeterminate, sine die as we used to say before Latinisms fell out of favour. I drove up with my son (glad he came- we couldn’t have carried it all without him) and we packed her stuff in the car and came back via a motorway surprisingly peaceful to navigate. We made one pit stop which was like a scene from Night of the Living Dead. Vacant, staring individuals shambled aimlessly around an almost deserted car park and inside there was one food outlet open. People were observing ‘social distancing’ even before it had become a thing, staring at each other in dread as they moved in a weird Brownian motion about the concourse. We didn’t stay long at the best little mortuary in Worcestershire and decided to try for a meal at another services further along. They made the first one look lively. Everything was shut, and this was well before the Government mandated shutdowns.

Eventually we found one that was open for takeout food only. So we took it out and then realised the guys due to shut the motorway at eight o’clock for roadworks had jumped the gun by nearly an hour and we had to drive back a junction to get round them. Thank guys. Helpful.

We got back home with cold food for my wife and considerable irritation for all concerned.

I suppose on reflection it was good training for what was to follow.

My daughter brought something else back with her, no, not Covid-19, but another virus: ‘Dalgona Coffee’. This is a South Korean recipe for a coffee drink and should you wish to know more or make it yourself I can suggest you start your quest here with the BBC

Being over the age where viral internet fads have any traction, this one had passed me by. Now I have ‘helped’ make it for her I am eternally grateful that age has inoculated me against such folly. Whisk instant coffee, sugar and hot water together until it is a frothy cream and spoon over hot or cold (as desired) milk and spend the next fifteen minutes wiping goop off your upper lip as you try and drink the milk through the goop. As one enthusiast says – it’s like an upside down Cappuccino. But I don’t want my cappuccino to be inverted; I like it as it is.

So what has all this got to do with writing? Probably not a lot, except that hiding away tapping on a keyboard is one way I can avoid all the whisking, frothing, spooning and washing up afterwards that this particular viral infection entails. My writing productivity has increased dramatically since I learned how to make a ‘Dalgona Coffee’ and, more importantly, learned how to avoid making it.