21 February 2018


How Albert knew where our house is located, I shall never know.

Shirley had left for work at seven thirty. As usual I rolled over and promptly went back to sleep with John Humphrys and Mishal Hussein still rabbiting away on Radio 4's "Today" programme - courtesy of the radio alarm clock at our bedside.

Some time after eight, I was disturbed by a rhythmical brushing sound on our bedroom window. I thought it might be a pigeon and tried to ignore it. But that became impossible. Wearily, I donned my dressing gown and edged back the curtains. 

And yes - you have already guessed it - staring right back at me was a big green giraffe's head. Albert had come to call. He was standing on our wooden decking below but with his long neck he was able to look in through our first floor window which I promptly unlatched.

"Good morning," said Albert. "I thought I would pay you a visit."

For some reason, I was panicking in case our neighbours spotted Albert. I ran downstairs to let him in, forgetting that at fourteen feet tall with long, gangly legs, just getting inside a suburban semi-detached house might prove very challenging.

I opened our French doors and Albert ducked as low as he could go but he still managed to smash the light fitting in our dining room as he skidded on the laminate flooring.

"I'm terribly sorry. It was an accident."

There was glass everywhere. 

I ushered him into our hallway. Such a tight squeeze through the dining room doorway with me pushing from behind but finally Albert could stand up comfortably with his feet at the bottom of our stairs and his head up on the first floor landing. 

I mounted the stairs to talk to him.

"This is the first time I have been in a human house," said Albert. "You have lots of things."

I asked him if he wanted a drink and something to eat.

"Yes please Neil but I only eat leaves and I only drink water."

I went back downstairs for a bucket of tap water and some branches from the bay tree that grows outside our back door. Albert was delighted.

"Mmm...delicious. Thank you."

He wanted to see photographs of my family, asking innumerable questions and he wanted to see my Times Atlas of the World - again asking so many questions that my brain was befuddled. Albert was especially interested in Africa, keen to know the names of all the countries which he repeated after me, all fifty four of them from Algeria to Zimbabwe.

"Oh-oh!" said Albert. "Can you get that bucket? I need to do a big doo-doo!"

I ran upstairs and got back just in time to catch an enormous steamy giraffe turd which emerged from  Albert's anus like a young crocodile slipping from the banks of  the Limpopo. The smell was quite noteworthy.

"So sorry," he said. "I normally just drop my doo-doo on the ground."

"No problem Albert," I grinned. "When you've got to go, you've got to go."

I was speaking from personal experience.

20 February 2018


I was about to press the "Publish" button having written the third instalment of  the story of  "Albert The Green Giraffe". However, having sifted through the various comments the story has received so far I decided at the last minute to pull the blogpost.

You see, Albert's story is a true one. The events to which I referred really happened. 

I thought that I could trust visitors to this blog to accept the story at face value and yet the comments are imbued with disbelief and thinly-veiled mockery. I even had previously trusted blogging friends like Lee and Jennifer accusing me of smoking mind-bending drugs. Arizona immigrant Catalyst even suggested "waccy baccy".

Such remarks are extremely hurtful. As a former member of the teaching profession, I have lived a largely blameless life and have certainly never dabbled in any recreational drug activity. If discovered such behaviour would have been professionally disastrous so a long time ago I chose to avoid any contact whatsoever with illegal substances. In that direction, if I ever sinned at all it was through quaffing pints of foaming Tetley's bitter which I should point out, remains entirely legal in this island nation's pubs.

Other doubters made annoying quips that undermined my self-confidence and made me almost regret deciding to tell visitors about Albert in the first place. However, I am very aware that a handful of visitors were genuinely happy to accept the story at face value and to them I forward my respectful gratitude.

Now I have a quandary. Should I continue with the true story of "Albert The Green Giraffe" or simply store it in my memory bank where  nobody else will see it? No one likes to be the target of mockery and doubt. Some of the comments made me feel like a medieval peasant sitting in the village stocks. And yet through it all, I remembered Albert and smiled. They were such special days.

19 February 2018


Have you ever ridden on a giraffe? If you have you will also know how invigorating such an experience can be. The second time I met Albert, I got to ride on his back, my arms wrapped round his neck, intent on survival.

It was two days after the initial meeting. I waited in the clearing where I had first met Albert. Grey American squirrels frolicked around as rooks cawed from the treetops. A jogger in a bright fluorescent vest ran by. Where the hell was Albert?

That's when I heard the chuckling. Albert had been watching me from the undergrowth all the time. I just hadn't seen him what with his green pelt and all.

Albert bent down and with his big blue tongue, he gave my face another rough lick.

"Nice to see you again Neil. Do you fancy a merry jaunt?"

Wiping the giraffe spittle from my face, I said, "What do you mean? A merry jaunt?"

"A romp. A canter. An outing or what did they call it in Africa? Yes! A safari!"

I was none the wiser but Albert splayed his legs and instructed me to "Get on board!"

It wasn't something I had been expecting but it would have been ungracious to say no. With some difficulty I shuffled up Albert's spine and following his advice embraced his neck.

Albert stood up and twisted his head back "Christ Neil! You weigh a ton! Are you ready?"

Not knowing what was about to happen, I said, "Yeah! I'm ready!"

And then we were off. At first the pace was gentle. We moved along the woodland path with Albert dodging overhanging branches. Then we reached a long slope that descends to Limb Brook. Instead of galloping down, Albert chose to slide down on his arse, yelling "Whee!" as I bounced up and down like an amateur jockey in a steeplechase.

Albert crossed Limb Brook with one mighty stride. Then like lightning we were up the opposite bank, through the trees and out into a big, green clearing which .I recognised as Whirlow Playingfields. He waited at the margins and scanned the open area but there was nobody else around.

"I love this place!" he laughed.

Then he went galloping around in the deceptively leisurely manner that is typical of giraffes in flight. Lord knows how fast he was going but I was hanging on for dear life with my buttocks bouncing painfully on his spine as I tried to press my feet into his furry green shoulders. Futile. It would have been better with a saddle and stirrups but bareback riding was scary. I was terrified of falling off.

Finally I had to cry out, "Stop Albert! Please! Stop!"

He pulled up in the middle of the sports ground - right in the centre of the cricket pitch.

"Did you enjoy that?" asked Albert breathlessly and I had to explain that he had frightened the bejesus out of me and that my sore bottom felt as if it had been kicked repeatedly by a donkey.

Albert sounded crestfallen and offered an apology before promising to cut out the crazy galloping from now on.

When there was a break in the traffic we crossed the A625 and lolloped through the entrance to Whirlowbrook Park, hiding in the trees at one point as a couple of joggers trotted by.

Past the duck ponds and the old hall then out through the back of the gardens.

"Keep your head down!" Albert advised as we dodged branches in the beech plantation. 

Then back over the bubbling Limb Brook and on to the long path that leads to the moors. I was starting to enjoy my vantage point and Albert's more leisurely pace. Soon we were out on the moors,  gambolling through the heather and the gorse. When grazing sheep looked up they did so with astonishment but there was hardly time for them to run away. No sooner had we appeared than we were gone. I have trudged across those moors so many times but that day, high on Albert's back, it felt as if I was flying. It was a huge privilege.

At Lady Canning's Plantation, Albert stopped for a snack of deciduous leaves from the topmost branches. His long blue tongue gripped entire bunches which he masticated briefly before gulping  them down his long neck. "God! I love sycamore!" Albert confessed.

To be continued

18 February 2018


Once upon a time there was a green giraffe called Albert. He lived in woodland not so far from here. When dog walkers or joggers passed by, he simply stood stock still and blended in with the woods like a chameleon. 

Not many people knew of his existence. In fact, the day that  I first met him, I could have easily walked on by but I stopped to take a photograph of a squirrel. That's when I saw the background move.

I scrunched up my eyes and did a double take. Yes. there was no doubt about it. Blending in with a swathe of unkempt holly bushes and giant rhododendrons  and the green moss on the tree trunks there was - no it could not be, could it? - a green giraffe.

With trepidation, I tiptoed over to him. I know this may sound stupid but when I was but a few feet away from his spindly green legs, I looked up and said, "Hello!"

To my astonishment and after a deep exhalation of aromatic giraffe breath, the lofty creature whispered, "Hello!"

"Do not be afraid," I said, for I could sense that he was equally nervous. "I won't harm you!"

Then with a self-concious and slightly mischievous chortle, he said, "And I won't harm you!"

We both tittered and this seemed to break the ice.

He bent his long neck downwards. He was snuffling my hair in the same way that a dog gets to know people. Then, much to my surprise, he suddenly licked my face. It was as if I had just been sandpapered. 

"Urgh!" he exclaimed. "You taste of soap!"

Again we both chuckled.

I told him my name was Neil and he told me his name was Albert. At that first meeting, I didn't wish to unnerve him by bombarding him with questions. Of course there were many things I  wished to ask. After all, it's not every day that you meet a fourteen foot giraffe in the woods - especially a green one. But I didn't wish to put him off through interrogation.

Just then we saw two dogwalkers approaching along the winding woodland path. Instinctively, Albert edged back into the undergrowth , bent his head down and stood like a statue - as if frozen.

A wire-haired Jack Russell bounded towards me, sniffing inquisitively at my boots.

"Stop it Nipper! Don't worry! He won't bite!" said the older dogwalker who had a powdery white face and favoured blood-red lipstick.

It was a surprise that the little terrier seemed oblivious to Albert, standing no more than three yards away.

"Got any good pictures?" asked the younger dogwalker, noticing my camera.

"Just squirrels," I replied. She seemed unimpressed.

After they had  moved off, Albert said, "Thanks for not giving me away Neil. I am sorry, I have got to go now but may I see you another day?"

"Yeah. No problem," I smiled.

We made an appointment and just before Albert lummocked deeper into the woods he allowed me to take his picture. The resulting image is at the bottom of this blogpost. See below.

17 February 2018


Anyway. I photographed a section of  my crowd scene then made three copies.  First of all I just painted in the black and amber scarves:-
 Then with version two  I applied some colours, including skin colours before adding the black and amber:-
Then I used a colour called Payne's Grey - as suggested by my surrogate sister Donna (Peace Thyme) who resides in Evergreen, Colorado. First I applied a very pale wash and then experimented with different strengths of the single colour. Next I painted in the black and amber scarves:-
These experiments have been very useful. Thanks to Steve Reed (Shadows and Light) for suggesting this approach. I have decided to go forward with the version three idea using Payne's Grey. The experiment has given me the confidence to advance. I spent so many hours on the crowd scene that I was nervous about spoiling it. Now I feel I can do a good job as I move towards the finished masterpiece.

To see it all you have to do is to watch this space and wait about seven years!

16 February 2018


At my weekly choir sessions we have been learning a lovely song called "Come Hear The Call". It is a lilting warning song about the environment and the dangers of global warming. You won't find it on YouTube or indeed anywhere else on the internet. I know because I have already searched.

Here is the opening verse:-
Come hear the call, the groaning of the ocean.
Come hear the call, the crying of the wind.
Earth's very heart is breaking and my own soul it is aching
At the waste that we are making of our planetary home.

Anyway, before last evening's session the choir had been promised that we would have a special visitor - the composer of "Come Hear The Call" - a local fellow called Jerry Simon.

He came in halfway through the meeting - a dumpy middle-aged bloke in outdoorsy apparel. He sat near the front ready to listen to our rendition of his song. He appeared somewhat sad and uncomfortable with a faraway look in his eyes.

His presence lifted our performance and afterwards  in his quiet, matter-of-fact style he told us how the song had been born.

He was camping at Whitby on the North Yorkshire coast for he was attending the Whitby Folk Festival that is held in the late summer every year. He woke early and unzipped his tent door looking out on a calm North Sea but with "Come Hear The Call" already in his head.

He said he had never had an experience like it before or since and as he explained the song's birth he pressed his fists against his temples. It had been something he just had to get out though he didn't know where the song had come from. 

That morning he took his fiddle and a notebook down to the beach and sat there working on the song, trying to capture it before it went away. Then later in the day a fellow folk musician gave him some helpful support to truly nail the song. There had been something magical and mystical about the whole process.

I wish I could bring you a video clip of Jerry Simon or my choir singing "Come Hear The Call" but the best I can do is to give you this video of him singing another one of his songs - "I  Am Glad of All The Good Things In My Life":-

15 February 2018


John Gray is not the only blogger whose achievements have been recognised in the wider world beyond the blogosphere.

Take for example Graham Edwards, the brains behind "Eagleton Notes". When a used trailer company from just outside York were looking for a stolid, trustworthy name for their company, they remembered Graham's blog and plumped for this company logo:-
 A British contemporary gifts organisation also wished to be associated with quality and good taste so this is the name they came up with:-
Jennifer is of course the celebrity author of "Sparrow Tree Journal" which is created in an exclusive gated community in  Florence,South Carolina.

Back in northern England, in the murky back streets of Stockport, a dodgy motor engineer who follows "Shooting Parrots" online, decided to give his unscrupulous business a hint of quality. Hence:-

Meanwhile, blogging folk may wish to note that The Laughing Horse Blogger of the Year for 2017 has been appointed to the Senior Research Staff team at Oak Ridge National Lab where important work is currently being undertaken into the effects of global warming. One wonders if Keith (aka Red) will still find time to maintain his Albertan  blog, "Hiawatha House":-