Brave Companion of the Road

Brooke and I have been together for fourteen years. She has been at my side as youth and vigour have slowly failed us both, and I have nursed her through the ailments that inevitably plague a classy French dame.

After all the years, the dents and the damage, the four times around the earth we have driven together, the overloaded trips to the tip which broke my back and her suspension, she is still willing and eager. Somehow there is no group of people too large, no burden too great for her to carry.

We know the end is nigh, we only travel a few miles together now at the weekends running errands and ferrying the kids. She starts up first time, every time. In deference to the spiders that live in her wing mirrors we don’t drive too fast anymore, but we remember all the speeding tickets.

She’s quite partial to Celine Dion, so for her sake when we are alone together I’ll belt out It’s All Coming Back To Me Now at the top of my lungs and she’ll accompany me with squeaky springs.

As for the name, well what else would you call a Blue Laguna?


Disney Magic and the Eight Rules of Queuing

Sleeping Beauty's Castle - Disneyland Paris

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle – Disneyland Paris

We got lucky. There was a window in my work schedule; it coincided with the end of the kids summer break. That was itself a couple of days after everyone else and suffixed by a couple of teacher training days when they would not be required in school. In contrast the great mass of European kids were back at their books. We took a chance and took Bob and ZedBee to Eurodisney.
There is a predictable rhythm to theme parks: arriving later in the morning than the original plan; developing a strategy of what to see and when, based on locations and show times, and then into the rush and stop of queuing a half hour or more, riding for a couple of minutes and then on to the next thing.

A queue that lasts that long has its own internal rhythm. Arrange a large group of people in a snake and they will not only see those who are immediately fore and aft, but also everyone in a sequence ahead in the line and behind, to the distance of one row. So while you’ll see the same backs all the way round, you’ll be side-on to a whole gamut of others for the length of a trudge.

More than anything it means you can observe queuing etiquette, or more often its lack, and as no one does queuing like the British I feel in a position to judge and comment.

Just so that we are clear on this here are the rules:

1. DISTANCE – Maintain a small, clear distance between your group and the group ahead. The group behind is responsible for maintaining this distance. Each group has clear air dedicated to it, which moves with them.

2. CHILDREN – Children should be kept within the group boundary unless they are especially cute toddlers in which case limited roaming is allowed, but not so far that it suggests bad parenting. Toddlers with a mop of curly hair are allowed to go further. Children can hang off the guide rails as long as they don’t impinge on another group’s space, and they don’t cry when they fall.

3. CONSISTENCY – Maintain a set separation, don’t let the gaps grow too big – no greater than one stride. While this makes no difference to the eventual time anyone gets to the end of the queue it is an important emotional step for everyone to feel the queue is making progress.

4. COMMUNICATION – No cross group communication beyond rolling eyes at others’ lack of etiquette or sharing tired smiles as the queue stretches out. Tutting at the behaviour of others is permitted, but should not be done in collusion with another group.

5. QUEUE JUMPING – No pushing in. Ever. A significant sub group can hold places for the rest, this should be no more than 50/50, so 2 people cannot queue on behalf of a total group of 5. Adding more people to the queue than you committed in the first place is taking the piss.

6. FOOD – No eating of anything that smells, spills or makes a mess, or which will incite the children of other groups (e.g. ice cream). However small snacks are a sign of good preparation. If you have prepared well don’t gloat, this is unbecoming.

7. ABSENCE – If your entire group leaves the queue you lose your place. Except at the supermarket where it is acceptable to leave your basket to get one extra item from the shelves, however the person behind is entitled to move past you to reach the till if you take too long.

8. KISSING – No heavy petting. Get a room.

We got lucky because in general the queues were short, but it still meant we observed most of the rules of queuing being broken.

Most annoying was (1), and that in a very short, five minute, queue for Space Mountain. Everyone else was grabbing places for the fireworks and this thrilling ride was remarkably clear. There was an elder man and two teenagers behind us, let’s assume brother and sister. Bob, who is nine, and I were doing roller coasters while TBH and ZedBee (seven) were at Autopia. Brother from the following group was pressing up too close to Bob. Disney had worked its calming magic on me by then so I wasn’t in a mood to hit him, I just pointedly moved Bob away. The elder man noticed this after the second time and interjected himself between the younger man and us. Not a word was spoken. In fairness there was something in the younger man’s air that suggested social etiquette may not be his forte, so beating him into a bloody pulp may have been prejudicial.

I lied, the breach of (8) was the worst. A late teen androgyne and his girlfriend in the queue for RC Racer had me really wound up. He would periodically feel the need to crawl all over the girl, face chewing and dry humping while I stood behind with both Bob and Zedbee trying to distract them from the spectacle. This was before the Disney magic effect, and I am still a little alarmed by how vividly I imagined beating him into a boneless mass and kicking his oversexed skinny arse to one side of the queue. I hope the ride gave him a brain hemorrhage to keep whatever damage was in there already company.

Luckily for him TBH was not there (she was off on the Studio Tour and being Fast Pass ninja), he would have had a lecture at least, and more likely a sharp elbow in the ribs rather than my imaginary bodily harm.

But there were also moments of queue joy – the Australian family ahead of us in the lengthy wait for Crush’s Coaster displayed impeccable behaviour, and the cutest toddler wondered around the seemingly interminable line for Ratatouille (well worth it, we went twice, but the second time on a Fast Pass).

There are some advantages to TBH not being born on this sceptered isle. The queuing rules are not in her blood and breath, nor the intense British reserve. My problem is Lucknow blood born in Britain. For those that don’t know Lucknowites are ridiculed all over the sub continent for their excessive, absurd politeness. Two could stand in front of a door all day saying “you first”. Blend with my Britishness and … well you can guess the rest.

In a competitive positioning exercise like finding a place to watch the parade or the fireworks my combination is a terrible disadvantage. I’d concede space, passive aggressively fuming at the lack of reciprocation. TBH on the other hand is the expert in the art of the shuffle, edging slowly, inexorably into better and better positions. So one evening for the fireworks we were right up against the fence, with no one immediately ahead of us, and we were right at the front for the parade too, a place secured while I and the kids were off enjoying rides (a flagrant breach of the sub clause to rule 5). Zedbee got a high five off the White Rabbit, so I didn’t make an issue of it.

White Rabbit

White Rabbit

The ridiculous to the sublime came on the last day. I’d earned some Dadmiles ™ queuing for an hour in the rain to reserve a slot at the Princess Pavilion so the girls could meet an actress in a big dress. The timing slot we got was the last possible one before our train home, it had worked out swimmingly. I rejoined the family in the queue to meet Mickey, which benefited from being housed in a cinema which was playing a loop of old cartoons. It was the quietest, calmest queue of all the ones we encountered, and surely a model for hour plus waits in peak season.

We turned up at the Princess Pavilion, exactly on time at the beginning of our slot, only to learn there was a further hour of waiting. I was fuming. What is the point of make people queue to reserve a time and then making them wait again? (I should note my job title at the time: Director of Planning and Performance – I hate poorly designed processes).

The staff saved the day, they listened to our plight and with a little shuffling whisked us in the side entrance and to the warm smile of Aurora (Sleeping Beauty), who was wide awake and utterly charming. It could have been a disaster, but the moment was saved. Kudos to the staff and a reprimand for the people who do the flow dynamics and capacity management at Disney Head Office.

We made it to the train, which ran all the way to St Pancras without needing to change. It saved us from hauling cranky kids off one train through a station and waiting on another, but it also meant we were with about 1500 people of whom about half were waist high, over-sugared, tired, excited and sad all at the same time. I had my Ipod which drowned out the noisy kids behind us, and our own brood were so exhausted they fell asleep quickly. Alas TBH was kept up by a chattering monster who insisted on announcing his progress on Ipad games throughout the journey.


Sleepy Zedbee

There is of course a coda of chaos. We were sold a digital download of the picture with Aurora, but given no means to actually access it. At present the email I have from Disney says there is no such service, which indicates I have been defrauded of the princely sum of 4euros. Let’s see how they recover this one. Fingers crossed for a free holiday.


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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.