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":-

14 February 2018


Some people think that blogging is a waste of time. However, excellence in blogging can be very prestigious - attracting national or even international recognition. 

Here's just one example.

Over in The Cayman Islands, the governors of a new secondary school were mulling over possible names for their institution. They had already rejected "The Rod Hull and Emu Memorial School",  "Tax Haven Academy" and "Dreams Can Come True Grammar School" when the Chair of Governors looked over at Winston Brathwaite who was chuckling about something on his laptop.

"What ya doin' Winston?"

"Why? Me looking at a blog site from dat lil place dey call Wales."

"Not dat Goin' Gently one? Me lovin that too!"

Anyway, one thing led to another and the upshot is that by the end of the governors' special meeting they had agreed unanimously that the name of the new secondary should be "John Gray High School" in honour of the greatest Welsh contributor to the blogosphere. If you don't believe me please look at the accompanying pictures. The camera never lies.
John Gray High School - winners of the Cayman Islands
inter-school rack and field competition

13 February 2018


In Bangkok there's a zoo. I visited it one afternoon. As well as expected animals  like Asian elephants, seals and penguins there were animals that I had previously  never heard of. Most of these came from the jungles of South East Asia and of course the continuation of nearly all of these species is now threatened.

One of the animals I saw was a binturong, sometimes called a bearcat. Binturongs may be found throughout South East Asia, including Sumatra and Borneo. There are at least nine sub-species of this animal.

Though binturongs are not especially agile, they spend the majority of their time in the branches of trees. They enjoy long periods of inactivity. They are omnivores - foraging for whatever they can find to sustain life - including smaller mammals, insects and jungle fruits.
The adult creature's  strong, bushy tail is nearly as long as the head and body, which together can range from 28 to 33 in (71 to 84 cm) with the  the tail being 26 to 27 in (66 to 69 cm) long.

The binturong is normally quite shy, but aggressive when harassed. It will initially urinate or defecate on a threat and then, if teeth-baring and snarling does not deter the threat, it uses its powerful jaws and teeth in self-defence. When threatened, the binturong will usually flee up into a nearby tree, but as a defence mechanism the animal may sometimes balance on its tail and flash its claws to appear threatening to potential predators.

The creature's natural lifespan is around twenty years though some captive binturongs have lived longer than that.  They have very few predators. In fact, you will not be surprised to learn that the main threat to their existence is loss of habitat through deforestation.

I am happy to live on a planet that still hosts binturongs. I would be much less happy to learn that they have all gone the way of the dodo and the Tasmanian tiger. Frankly, there are too many people on this spinning sphere and not enough binturongs. Save the Tiger! Save the Rhino! Save The Blue Whale! Save the Binturong! For more information about the binturong please go here.