Crossing Picture Rails and Rubicons

I have lived my life with picture rails; in rooms where plain white ceilings spill down the walls until they meet the thin, carved baton, below which the colour and character of the room flows. They were once in every room of my mother’s home, a late Victorian terrace, and over the years of decorating and maintaining it I developed a love hate relationship with them.

In the days of wallpaper they were incredibly useful, providing a neat straight line to butt up against, rather than attempting to judge the point at which plaster from the wall became the ceiling. They provided definition, a distinct “here one thing ends, and another begins” without the pretension of a dado.

But they were also fluted and fiddly – difficult to sand and prepare, tortuous to paint. This is particularly true in the current post wallpaper age when they are the last element to be painted, along with skirting boards.

Strong emotions to elicit from a piece of household trimming, you may think, but over the years I have done a lot of decorating.

It was a dislocating experience then, when some of the picture rails in mum’s house were removed during the recent complete refurbishment and rebuilding. The rooms look a little higher but this is offset by the feeling of bareness. I don’t live there anymore, I understand why they have gone, but I would have kept them.

That’s not the only Rubicon I have had to cross recently. Things hang from a picture rail, and not just pictures. In Bob’s room for example, suspended from hooks were storage for her tights and her teddy bears. There are a lot of both, I don’t understand why, but I know better than to question. The space above a picture rail on the other hand was sacred. It was part of the ceiling, and the only decoration there would be covings and ceiling roses. Nothing else.

Except Bob’s room is a box room, 10’ by 7’ with two small windows. Space is at a premium and that entire unused wall above the picture rail is a terrible waste. Necessity butting up against aesthetics – this time necessity won.

v2-0435The plan was to get Bob a cabin sleeper (bought in, not bespoke as I wanted to make). That would put her about  4 feet off the ground and bring the empty white space into play. I got to make something, so I was happy. The space is now partially filled with a set of bespoke shelves. The heretics have stormed  the citadel of truth, there are now things above the picture rail.


I went for bull nosed MDF from the shop rather than furniture board. Another  Rubicon crossed. Thus far MDF has been a banned material in the house. In general I don’t like it – sure it is smooth finished and easy to work with, but it sags under load, and I have little confidence in how well screws will bind and it clags up drill bits. In this build the screws are to help the glue go off rather than the primary pinning.

The reason for coming down off my high horse was time and the weather, This plan came together as while measuring what would fit in the room, and it became clear there just was not enough storage. There were only days between the end decorating and the delivery of new carpets and the bed, Anything I needed to build had to be in that window in the evenings after work. On top of that the weather turned foul and there wasn’t enough room in the workshop to manoeuvre 2m lengths of timber. It was a time to be radical so I threw all the principles of the bodging carpenter out of the window. Saving myself a soaking, tendonitis and myriad cuts and scrapes I got the shop to cut all the pieces to size for me, in the hated material.

Of course I did end up at the table saw, my approximate approach to measurement meant I had to take the uprights to my workshop to trim off a few mills. As I wasn’t going to trust my baby to sleeping beneath fixings through MDF I used some scrap spruce stock to secure the unit to the walls.

I think it works. Lets hope it stays up.

The very pretty light fitting is another little adventure – it is a discontinued item from Homebase, and we were tempted by the heavy discount on it, as well as the way it suits the overall colour scheme. Alas there were none left in England and Inverness was an awfully long way to go for a light pendant. TBH asked if we could take the display version and the jobsworth on the desk said no. I went back later that day in search of more radiator enamel. A lady with a more can do attitude sorted it all out, gave me a discount for it being unboxed and ex display, and then applied the 15% off everything that runs over a bank holiday weekend. In the end we got it for a third of the original price.


Of course that left us with the question of what to do with the old furniture. For now the cabinet/changing table and cupboard are staying. Bob is still young enough that the Humphrey’s Corner detailing isn’t offensive to her. The bed needs a new home, and we convinced ZedBee that she would like to change her cot bed for Bob’s one. That was quite a coup because ZedBee’s has a broken slat (repaired by me) and the headboard is covered in stickers. Bob’s old Humphrey’s corner cot bed is pristine. ZedBee’s old bed will find a new home with the local charity shop.

There was a bit of relief in all that.  Outwardly it was because the Humphrey’s Corner stuff is beautifully made and has lasted really well, but the truth is a little more personal. That furniture is from when my baby was a baby. When it goes it will be because she has grown out of the furniture and its chubby elephant detailing. Thankfully that is not a Rubicon I have to cross just now.


What The Eye Doesn’t See

Ok I’ll get my excuses in early, I’ve been tied up with another (very cool) writing contest and the deadlines clashed, my story for that sucked all the emotional energy out of me and so this effort for NYC Midnight’s Flash Fiction competition was a bit, well… meh.

But I’ve gotten in the habit of posting NYC submissions, so despite the embarrassment here it is as submitted. The prompt was a romance featuring an emergency room and a mop.


What the Eye Doesn’t See

In the aftermath of a death the feelings of four hospital workers come out into the open.






There was blood all over the floor. Marco wheeled the bucket in, pushing against the long handle of the mop. Superbugs had changed the game from a simple swipe of the mop to a process of infection control. He didn’t mind. It lifted his work from the lowly domain of the janitor to something that had meaning and consequences.


It also meant he could spend time working around the slumbering Dr Arden. She was slouched in a plastic chair, still in blood spattered scrubs, in a corner of the room. A stray hair fell across her face. He itched to brush it away, but his hands weren’t clean.


Her life had real meaning and she threw herself into it. The maintenance office gossip had her dedication as the cause of her divorce. Marco shook his head at that. The desire to do things well mattered.


Quietly, taking care not to disturb her, Marco wheeled the bucket of bloody water away and began the spiral of disinfectants.






Someone had left study books under the lip of the desk. With reception quiet now the grieving family were gone Jeanette flipped it open, idly going through the pages of tables and charts. It was some night study course. She sighed. Another person with false dreams of making a better life.


She looked down the hall to where Marco was busy cleaning. He had no such absurd ambitions. He had been in the same job for years, methodical and precise; kind of attractive too. What was not to like? Neither of them were young anymore and he was a steady guy. She had flirted with him a couple of times but she guessed he was shy, he hadn’t really noticed.


That was a good thing, she decided. Less likely to mess around. He was considerate too, working with care around the Dragon so he would not wake her. Jeannette would have to make a move. Time was passing them both by.


He seemed to sense her looking, which made her blush and turn back to the book. Behind her the coffee machine hissed and clanked. She looked over her shoulder and suppressed a groan. Anthony, one of the paramedics, was ogling her. There was a perfectly good coffee machine by the ambulance park, but he insisted on coming all the way over here with the excuse the coffee was better.


He would want to talk, and there was no work she could hide behind. She stared at the book, hoping he would go away.






He’d brought in the gusher. Running beside the gurney keeping pressure on the wound he’d twisted his ankle and run through the pain. No one had noticed. His next call out had been a false alarm, the passing time had not been enough for the boy.


At least it was Jeanette’s shift on reception, and at this time of night no one else was around. A little playful banter would go down well with his coffee and shake the gloom of a life lost.


Jeanette seemed to be engrossed in a book. He put the coffee cup on the counter and peered over to see what it was. The contents made no sense to him. “Management on the horizon Jeannie?”


She gave him the mock scowl he found so endearing and pushed the book away. “It’s not my book. Why are you hanging around here anyway?”


“Just came over for the best coffee and smile in town.”


She took a swipe at his coffee cup. He whisked it away before she could connect. “You’ve got your coffee. You can whistle for the smile.” The coffee splashed over the edge of the paper cup and onto his hand. Anthony yelped and dropped it. “And now you’ve got neither.”


He backed away, heading for an empty cubicle and a sink. Marco was cleaning up down the hall. Running cold water over his scalded hand he called “Marco, spillage in reception.”






A shout jerked her awake. She looked around, trying to place herself. She had sat down for just a moment when the boy had been wheeled away, and from the looks of things she had fallen asleep. Elspeth took a couple of deep breaths. There was nothing more she could have done.


There was a cleaner busy in the room, he gave her a shy smile and she responded with a tired one of her own before standing up and trying to ease the stiffness in her neck. She needed a shower and fresh scrubs to see out the rest of the night. Most of all she needed coffee.


Anthony was drying his hands on a paper towel as she got to reception, and there was coffee all over the floor. “What happened to you?”


He shrugged “A little accident.”


She shook her head in disbelief. “You can pull a boy out of a gang war, but you can’t hold a coffee cup?”


“Just clumsy, I guess.” His tone turned sombre. “I heard we lost him.”


She bristled, the boy’s loss was hers alone to bear, but she’d seen Anthony hobble on a bad ankle beside the gurney and couldn’t turn her anger on him. She looked back down the hall; she had tracked bloody footprints across the floor. “Hey,” she called out to the cleaner. “Deal with this already.” She kicked off her soiled shoes and stalked off.




Marco hurried over with his disinfectant floor wipes. Jeanette leaned forward over the desk and whispered. “She had no right to talk to you that way.”


Anthony watched her closely, realising in that instant where her interest lay.


Marco gave her a friendly smile. “It OK, it’s my job to clean up.” He looked over to where Elspeth stood by the coffee machine. Anthony read his expression as well and backed away around the spilled coffee. There was no way he was getting involved in this mess.




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The Steady Dissolution of Edges

With enough time, lichen and moss even stone can fray.


A little HDR drama to start with.


I sometimes worry that like me the girls can be quite happily lost in their own little worlds.



Pillar detail in a more faithful rendering.


These were shot at Fountains Abbey on our annual road trip to Lytham.

I Rely Upon the Moon



The remnants of Hurricane Bertha are stuttering their way through the UK at present, and needing a night’s sleep I could not stay up long enough to head for the hills or set up the tripod in the garden, This was taken hanging out of the loft window while the wind tried to blow me into next week. Enough excuses: slightly blurry supermoon.

Feeling My Way


Another from Leeds Castle: a detail from the gatehouse door.

Studded Door

Studded Door

and then in the cellar there were these, to which also put me in mind of “A Sowing of Seeds”


Recall the ancient wine presses
Stacked up against the wall
My fingers in the ruby grain
Stained by centuries of juice and strain


Ruswa Fatehpuri

 IMG_9979_80_81although of course a barrel is not a wine press, there was a congruity to the image.

Marriage Material

Another hit for the law of unintended consequences. A dear friend, expecting to give my fragile ego a little massage, sent me a link to this article on Why Introvert Men Make Better Husbands. Regular followers will know I’m clinging onto the far edge of the introvert spectrum with my fingernails, so at first sight it would seem a playful and generous gift of reading.


It landed just in time to give me some material for the prompt on false assumptions, although this time not mine!


As well as being an introvert I am someone who gets infuriated by lazy thinking and sloppy writing. The article was so poor I began to think it might be trolling. I’ll deconstruct it point by point below, but overall it dwelt on the fantasy that all introverted men are some kind of Heathcliff / Mr Darcy amalgam: brooding, thoughtful, with deep currents of passion and intensity. The author (a man) was probably squirming in his seat in his self-projection as a dark haired, lantern jawed hero striding across the desolate moors while ladies in tight corsets mainline smelling salts and get RSI from fanning themselves.


It shouldn’t be worth my time or yours to take apart, but this kind of simplification and trivialization of personality types has consequences. There are implications for those of us who do not comply with norms, and do not fall into the soap opera stereotypes of easy relationships and instant friendships. Everyone needs to find their own accommodation with the stresses of expectation, and the requirements of their own preferences and personal strength and resilience.


The article also has a lazy interpretation of introversion. An introvert can with some concentration be outgoing, meet new people, show an interest in their lives, but at a cost of personal space and energy that will then require time in recovery. This is most likely to be alone. The point is not to look for the introvert dying of consumption in a lonely garret, but in the person who periodically needs to check out from company to recharge their batteries. And even that is a gross simplification. Introversion/ Extroversion are a range and continuum.


So now I get to indulge myself with some venting. Here are the supposed reasons introverts make better husbands:


  1. He’ll know himself better than most men you’ve dated


Not necessarily. To be extrovert is not to lack self-awareness, and just because the introvert spends time inside themselves does not mean they find answers. Being locked in an echo chamber of thinking, without objective outside input is probably more dangerous, and leads to more self-doubt and unproductive worry, than being in an environment which provides feedback and grounding.


  1. Because he spends more time thinking, he’ll likely spend more time thinking about you.


Possibly. But there is no guarantee the thoughts are productive and positive, they may well be a cycle of recrimination and examination that destroy a relationship rather than strengthen it.


  1. He’s less likely to cheat on you


The logic presented here is laughable. Introverts meet fewer people, and therefore the chances of infidelity are lower. In fact introverts may also form deeper bonds with the few people they choose to get close to, so ask yourself this: in the wrong headed world of this article, would you rather have an extrovert husband with lots of friends, but mostly at a superficial level, or an introvert husband who forms a few very intense friendships?


  1. If he does cheat on you then at least you know how he feels about you.


Only on the premise that he knows how he feels about himself, which was debunked in (1). The article presumes introverts are infallible.


  1. They’re better in bed


By this stage I was convinced this was trolling. The logic is that introverts think more, and therefore think about sex more, and are therefore better at it. I think about Motorsport a lot but I can’t drive a F1 car.


  1. They’re usually more reliable and less self-absorbed.


This is in open contradiction to saying introverts think more and spend time alone. Spending time in solitude and self reflection is the most frequent reason why I am late for appointments. That and choosing a route that means I won’t meet anyone I know and be forced to have a conversation.


  1. When an introvert enters a relationship, it’s because he believes he needs the relationship


Sigh. No. Not infallible. We get spoofed into wrong relationships just like anyone else, we misread signs (our own and those given by others) we make false assumptions, we have irrational responses. Lordy this man is an idiot.


  1. They make better fathers


No. No. No. How crass a generalization is this? Every child and every parenting relationship is unique. My kids crave my attention when I get home from work, and I need time alone to reset from being working guy to dad. That first half hour home is a torture for everyone because I want to be the person they can jump on, and yet I need my space first. How does that make me a better father than the guy who can be present for his kids instantly? This point is offensively wrong.



And so we find ourselves back at the point of unintended consequences. The article was not the gentle ego massage my friend intended, it was the gift of incitement and inspiration for a writer whose blog has been sadly neglected for a while, and needed some new content. Bravo and thank you, a gift of incomparable value.