Sunday, 23 December 2012

Happy Christmas Wishes!

In wishing you all a Happy Christmas,
I thought I'd take the opportunity
to remember two more Grandfathers
in my family line.

This, sent from the front, during the First World War,
by my Great-Grandfather, William Benjamin Butler, 
to my Great-Grandmother, Edith.
This, painted by my own Grandfather, Asher,
towards the end of his long life.
A Very Happy Christmas
Every good wish for 2013! 

Thursday, 20 December 2012

Something for the Journey

When we set off on a journey through parenthood, most of us have little more to guide us than a few verbal directions. And the problem with verbal directions is a significant one. More often than not, people who know where you're heading, having trodden the route themselves, attempt to get you to your destination via their own wrong turnings, past long demolished landmarks. It's a confusing time. So confusing, in fact, that you'll soon be thumbing your way through handbooks filled with theories and bullet-pointed lists on how to put one faltering foot in front of the other.

For most grandparents (usually those who haven't elected to become providers of half-remembered directions) the expedition is less of an ordeal. If undertaken correctly, the way through and around grandparenthood is achieved in a series of small steps, unexpected stop-overs and a reintroduction to the wonders of art. There will be little hands to lead you in any number of merry dances, and episodes of razor-sharp logic, to which you will respond in ways that are both delightful and surprising...especially to yourself.

My daughter bought me The Summer Book by Tove Jansson for my birthday, last month. It's not exactly a tome, so I've no real excuse for taking so long to read it. But I finished it this morning, and I know that it's a book I'll be keeping close at hand as I progress through grandparenthood. I won't say more than that. Well, I will actually. Read it!

Monday, 10 December 2012

You can call me Ga

Today we received a special 'thank you'
from Speckly Woo!

Notice the envelope is addressed to Nanny and Ga.



When the twins had their first stab at calling
me Grandad, it came out as Ga, and now all
three girls have settled on it.

I think there's a certain charm about the word, 'Ga'.
Of course, when the twins are both
vying for my attention, there are choruses
of Ga, Ga! On occasion, I have to remind myself
that this is their name for me, not a reference to
my mental state...yet.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Don't sabotage with standardisation

In response to our Education Secretary's curriculum reforms, the former Children's Laureate, Michael Morpurgo, recently stated, "It is really important that focusing on things such as spelling, punctuation, grammar and handwriting doesn’t inhibit the creative flow. When I was at school there was a huge focus on copying and testing and it put me off words and stories for years." He was warning against stifling a child's creativity with an overbearing emphasis on academic rigour.

Colourful, but has clearly misunderstood the importance of artistic convention.

Of course, it's important to have the tools to facilitate expression and to communicate ideas clearly, but I find myself rejecting the argument that creativity should play 'second fiddle' to the instillation of academic rigour. If that's the case, the clarity and insight of storytelling in a child's early artwork surely comes under scrutiny? And, if we accept that creativity can only flourish in the florescence of formalisation, what sort of creativity are we settling for? When a child's imagination is in full flow, it's nothing less than sabotage* to inflict the rules of grammar and punctuation in the interests of standardisation. Rules should be introduced with the greatest care, to ensure that a child's work is the best it can be, with the minimum of compromise.

I know from my own experience that young minds deliver the most wonderful scenarios without pausing for breath. Colour and content usually gets blended to produce some delightful impossibilities that punch far above any set grammatical weight.

Surely, what we need is balance. I know there are a number of you out there who are writers and/or teachers. How do you see it?

* Sabotage: deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct (something), esp. for political or military advantage.

Friday, 7 December 2012

Tales of Turbos and Automated Tellers

When Prince Charles was asked how he felt about becoming a grandfather, he quipped, "How do you know I'm not a radio station?" Very Goon-like, I thought. And so it was, the rest of my morning continued on the taut edges of surrealism.

I had to fetch my car from the garage, after the turbo failed earlier in the week. The price tag was, shall we say, 'otherworldly'? Prior to driving it home, I stopped at the bank to withdraw some cash. As I stood there at the ATM, wondering if it would actually dispense the few pennies remaining in my account, a voice from behind me stated, "We must be mad, standing here."

I turned to see grinning face, waiting for a response. I couldn't muster one, so the man continued, "Chap was held up here, at gunpoint a couple of days ago." Then I remembered, there had been an item on the local news, although I don't remember any mention of a gun. "He's welcome to my last few pennies," I said, "I've just had a new turbo fitted." The grin disappeared, and the man's gaze narrowed. Perhaps I should have made it clear that it was the car that had received a new turbo. As I walked away, I swear he waiting for me to suddenly accelerate into the distance.

Just before lunch, I was sorting through a few photographs, when I came across one that may well have captured the very moment that winter drained the last drops of colour from autumn, in rather the same way that turbos drain the last copper from your bank balance.

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

That's Entertainment

Speckly Woo has been on number of school trips in recent weeks. The Big Draw at Salisbury Cathedral, a visit to Parish Church of St. Margaret of Antioch, the resting place of Florence Nightingale and, on Monday, a chance to bake reindeer biscuits, courtesy of Waitrose. All in all, an interesting and stimulating range of activities.

I tried to recall a moment from my early days at school, that didn't include sitting with a finger on my lips or standing in the corner of the room. Then it came to me, my first experience of magic, close up. It was at about this time of year and some seasonal entertainment had been arranged in the hall adjacent to our school. Before we were let loose on the cakes, buns, and lemonade, we sat in quiet rows to witness the wonders of a real magician. We all oohed and aahed as kids do on such occasions, as bunches of flowers were produced and playing cards disappeared. Then for the big finale, which involved fire. Yes, real fire, only feet away from innocent young children. I think the object of the exercise was to ignite some accelerant or other, clamp a lid on the receptacle, then remove the lid to reveal something wonderful. We would all drop our jaws in unison, and send our entertainer on his merry way with an enthusiastic round of applause.

Unfortunately, upon removal of the lid, the only wonder was that the hall didn't burn down. Flaming debris flew into the air before cascading all around the poor man's feet. The accelerant flared to eyebrow height, something that provoked a good deal of arm waving and stamping of feet.

I have no recollection of what happened next. Someone gave the instruction to tuck in, and we dutifully complied.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

How Do I look?

I celebrated another birthday a little over a week ago and, touch wood, I'm feeling fine. But how do I look?

 Picture by Immy, SW's little sister.

Well, on the down-side, I could probably do with gaining a little weight, undertake a serious search for my missing leg, consult an Ophthalmologist, and tackle the mould that's growing on my ears. On the plus side, my hair has regrown, I'm smiling and surrounded by all my latest ideas. I just need to figure out what they are. Nothing new there, then.

Monday, 3 December 2012

Tied up in Knots

There's something heartening about the sight of children getting their heads together. Whether they're attempting to solve a riddle, crowding over a rare 'find', or simply concocting something designed to trip up the adults, the huddle is the formation of choice.

SW's birthday gathering

Bunching together is something we tend to steer clear of as we grow up, unless we're participating in one of those bonding exercises, so often central to team-building awaydays. More often than not, we're happiest within our own carefully created spatial parameters, although there's nothing quite like the high street sales for turning off our inhibitions to a point where we feel ready to join the scrum.

Sunday, 2 December 2012

SW at Six, with Scooby Snacks

Speckly Woo will be 6 years old tomorrow, 3rd December. I'm not going to spend time scratching my head, wondering how we got to this point so fast. For one thing, I might get a splinter.

So, although tomorrow is the big day, there's a party going on this afternoon. Around twelve children and as many adults, should ensure a busy atmosphere. I know that SW's Mum has been extremely busy with preparations, and as she's already posted a picture of the cake on Facebook, I'm going to share a sneak preview with you, here. Don't worry, SW never looks at my blog. It's just not 'Scooby-Doo' enough for her.

I wonder if this would qualify as a Scooby Snack, in Shaggy's eyes?

According to Wikipedia, "In Scooby-Doo! The Mystery Begins it is revealed that Shaggy made up the recipe which includes sugar, flour, dog kibble for texture, and other ingredients."

I think I'll check Monty's dish before I have a slice. You can't be too careful.

Friday, 30 November 2012

Concepts and Consequences

An elderly neighbour told us a story today, about her 5 year-old great grandson. He had just written a letter to Father Christmas, asking him to bring him something nice on 25th December, and his mother noticed that he’d addressed the request to Father Christmas, and God.

Mother: “Why have you addressed your letter to Father Christmas, and God?”

Son: “Well, if Father Christmas can’t get the things on my list, God might have more luck.”

It’s little gems like this that started me out on my blogging adventure. As I had written a newspaper column that recorded my experiences as a father, so I had it mind to blog on the experiences of being a grandfather. But blogs have a tendency to evolve, and mine has done so in a way that’s mirrored a great deal of my own personal development during the past three years. Square Sunshine has become a vehicle for my photography, poetry, comment and opinions, and it now seems a world removed from the original concept. So, I’ve decided to try and get this blog back on course, with a tighter focus on what it means to be a grandfather. But where will I put all the other stuff?

Well, having recently stepped away from my editorial role at Poetry24, (although I’ll continue to observe from a distance, as a Co-founder) I should have more time on my hands, which I intend to use in setting up a new blog that will launch sometime in 2013. More later.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Somewhere over the rainbow...

Do you have Leveson lethargy? Have you lost your enthusiasm for the endless edicts on energy? Perhaps migration is moving you to madness, or you’re just simply not in the mood for more negative news?

There are a number of effective antidotes, but I highly recommend investing in the mind of a three year-old. This morning, during a short visit, our twin grand-daughters lost themselves in a game of chasing rainbows. We have a clear glass paperweight on our windowsill that projects tiny rainbow patterns around the room, courtesy of the early morning sun. Such inventiveness and pure delight at patches of dancing colours.

Yesterday, Imogen showed me her latest drawing. I learnt that the simple black shape amongst the red-edged clouds, was a bird. “That’s wonderful,” I said, “and what does a bird do?” Without hesitation she flapped her arms all around the kitchen. “Ah, but how do we know it’s a bird? What does it say?” Again, no hesitation, just more circuits of the room, flapping, and calling. “Bird! Bird! Bird!” she said, “like that.”

Monday, 5 November 2012

A Day of Chocolate Wrapped in Gold

(pretty puppy stage)
Remember Monty?

Well, while I was

looking up at this beautiful display this afternoon,

(awkward adolescent stage)

he was doing his own thing.

Friday, 26 October 2012

The Big Draw

It's been a 'full on' kind of week. In fact, it's been a 'full on' kind of three weeks, during which time our daughter and family have been without a kitchen, so nowhere to cook, and no laundry facilities. Consequently our small abode has been serving, alternately, as Mrs Woo's washing enterprise and a fast food restaurant. The clothes horses have been straining under the weight of unfamiliar wardrobes, and if our cooker could speak, it would be asking to take early retirement in a shady corner of the nearest recycling centre.

But yesterday we were treated to a little cultural interjection. We, the grandparents, entertained the twins while our daughter headed off to the Salisbury Cathedral Education Centre, where SW  was taking part in the Big Draw. Run by The Campaign For Drawing, the event was one of many nationwide, designed to "…raise the profile of drawing as a tool for thought, creativity, social and cultural engagement."

While we were watching Dumbo, playing shops, hosting dance competitions and mediating to prevent an escalating feud between Sylvanian families, SW and her mum were kneeling in a cathedral…making art.   

Stained glass window by Speckly Woo

Unfinished work by SW's mum.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

Swinging Cats and Bearskins

If I had to choose between cats and dogs, dogs would win on points. I mean, I like the look of cats, well, most cats. I like the way they move. I admire that certain aloofness and the seductive purr. I don't like the way they wail in the middle of the night, having forgotten their key. I don't like their habit of leaving pernicious presents in flower beds and vegetable plots, for others to grab unsuspectingly whilst weeding. And news like this, doesn't help either.

Dogs probably clock up just as many negatives, so it must be a childhood experience that's responsible for tipping the scales. I would have been about six or seven years old, and had been sent to leave a loaf of bread at a house in our village. The house, at the end of a rough track, belonged to a middle-aged woman and her brother.

My instruction was to leave the loaf in a bread bin, on the bench, in a lean-to shed that adjoined the house. The shed was only lit by a small window above the bench, and it took a while for my eyes to focus. I stepped, gingerly, towards the spot where a white enamelled bread bin had been placed. I lifted the lid and set the loaf down inside.

As I was making for the door, something caught my eye. Now, given the array of odd objects that were scattered around the shed, hanging from nails, or strung up with binder twine, I wasn't that surprised to see a Guardsman's bearskin just out of the shadows, at the opposite end of the bench to the bread bin. Wow! I just had to get my hands on it; maybe even try it on. I reached out and raised it by grabbing two handfuls of fur. My mind was full of me, as a soldier, as a tall uniformed Guard at Buckingham Palace. I felt a surge of courage, invincibility even. Until, that was, the bearskin unfurled in my grasp, grew swiping claws, and attached itself to me, screeching and crying with a ferocity that shook dust from the ceiling.

I've never been exactly sure which of us had been most frightened. It may well have been the cat. I remember the thud as it ran headlong into the door I was so keen to shut on the whole episode.

I wonder if it actually outlived its owner?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012


Our daughter and her family welcomed a new addition to their number, this week. 

I wonder if you can guess what it is?


No? Okay, I'll give you a clue. He's called, Monty.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

A Day at the Zoo...m

Well we stayed all day and I'm gettin' sleepy
Sittin' in the car gettin' sleep sleep sleepy
Home already gettin' sleep sleep sleepy
'Cause we have stayed all day.

We been to the zoo zoo zoo
So have you you you
You came too too too
We been to the zoo zoo zoo
- Julie Felix

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Working Title

What an encouraging lot you all are. A number of you have suggested that I produce a book of poetry for children. I'll tell you what else you did. You made a little bell ring, somewhere at the back of my mind. And it didn't stop ringing until I dug out a draft I was working on back in 1984!

Here's a cropped scan of the cover, complete with a typically 'off the cuff' and badly scrawled working title, and one short verse.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that quite a bit of the material hasn't dated that much. That's to say, the world may have changed, but children still observe it with the same degree of clarity and frightening logic.

Three things have inspired me to give it a go. (a) Your enthusiasm for 'The Gap' (b) Rediscovering my old MS, and (c) A wonderful performance we saw at the Cambridge Festival, by Paul Cookson. His wonderfully funny book of poems for kids, Pants on Fire is a delight. His readings from it, had all of us laughing, not just the kids.

 Paul Cookson in full flight, at Cambridge, 2012

Here's another daft one I wrote 28 years ago, with an inspirational five year-old buzzing about the place.

Dad took his clothes off at the beach,
He turned all red and white.
He doesn't always look like that,
His trunks were just too tight.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

To Dream

It seems to me there was a time when dreams and aspirations occupied a very personal place in our adult lives. They were things we held close. Often, we clutched them so tightly, they formed the kernel of our being, cushioned by the soul and driven by the heart. It was a time when, against all odds, a dream usually remained a dream, still prized and treasured even when unfulfilled.

Butterfly mask by SW

Today, I hear people airing their dreams on a daily basis, declaring their innermost imaginings out loud, scattering pieces of their plans like so much conversational confetti. Ironically, it’s usually those who have the least realistic prospect of realising their dreams, that air them most convincingly. It’s a shame, on so many levels, to witness that which is so precious being downgraded to mere wishful thinking. Once your secret hopes and goals are out, the box they came in is filled with the much less durable sense of expectation.

Yet, when a child recites a ‘wish list’, we are entranced. Our spirits are lifted and we’re reassured to know that they have the ability to hold the seeds of dreams. Then we pray that they don’t let go too soon, or too easily.

Monday, 30 July 2012


This weekend was an important first, a true family occasion that involved a little travel, a lot of fresh air, around 15,000 good spirited people, an eclectic mix of musicians, at least one giant willow fox, over-developed Olympiads on stilts, Pimms in the sunshine, tents, sunsets by special order. And here are the photographs to prove it.

Yes, it’s been a while. Seven years and three grandchildren since our last visit. Now the little ones are old enough to share in the fun too. A fabulous, family festival that we hope to make a habit of enjoying in the coming years.

It was all over far too soon.

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Fire and Headstone

As the smoke curled under the beech canopy that separates our daughter’s garden from the dense woodland beyond, I had no regrets. This was a necessary cremation. Yes, the uninvited Datura stramonium, along with its hallucinogenic properties and fatal toxicity, was well and truly torched. According the Royal Horticultural Society, burning is one of the safest means of disposal, after the seeds have formed.

I’ve been reminded that the plant is steeped in folklore, and perhaps I did disturb the balance a little with my actions, as the electricity went off shortly after the fire died down. Although the upside to that particular twist was a trip to our favourite pub for a family lunch.

En route home from the pub, I decided to visit a local village churchyard. No, not to seek sanctuary from ancient curse of the murdered thorn apple, but to check the details of a headstone. When she first moved to the area, our daughter spotted a familiar name among the ranks of weathered stones, during an exploratory walk around All Saints.

She had accidentally discovered the last resting place of her 3 x great grandmother, Emma Gregory. I’ve checked and double-checked our family history records, and everything fits. Emma was born in Poxwell, Dorset, in 1832, and married Asher Gregory in 1848. We know that she and her husband moved to Hampshire some time after 1881. Asher had previously worked as a farm bailiff, but in 1887 he was the tenant farmer of a local manor farm. Sadly for him, 1887 was also the year of Emma’s death, aged 55.

I intend to plant something pretty in Emma’s memory…and to ease my conscience a little over the blessed thorn apple.


WHO DIED MARCH 19th 1887




Saturday, 21 July 2012

Blogs and Boredom Thresholds

On the eve of this blog’s third birthday I’m pinching myself, ever so slightly. I really didn’t think Square Sunshine would put up such stubborn resistance to my low boredom threshold. But it’s the nature of the medium that refuses to accept the limited attention span of a writer. The endless promise of fresh starts, as and when I’m ready, has been the key to my continued posting this far down the road.

A few of you have been visiting from the outset, and you will have witnessed the changes. I’m avoiding the word, evolution, because that suggests to me, something more substantial than a long series of written texts about something and, more often than not, nothing.

I started out strong on grandparenting, but soon discovered how easily the space could be transformed into a gallery for my snapshots. I flirted with poetry, and entered a period when I couldn’t stop writing - and posting - the stuff. I’ve delved back to my childhood, recalled tales I thought I’d long forgotten. I’ve shared episodes from my past and, unwittingly, I’ve painted a kind of picture of me and my life. A sketchy representation of a much longer journey in the real world which runs parallel to – and sometimes touches – blogland.

How will I be marking the moment? Well, following a little tidy up and a lick of paint, things are set to continue in the Square Sunshine for as long as there are things worth writing about. But I can't guarantee a theme. Except maybe the one from The Avengers. I've always liked that.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Mixed Doubles

It must be Wimbledon fortnight.

And today is Doubles Day!

See what I mean?

Friday, 29 June 2012

Sepia Saturday: New balls, please!

Young Martin recognised that a new net, 
and considerable work by the ground-staff would be necessary if he was to progress to the finals.

I’m not so hot at predicting winners but, ahead of this year’s Wimbledon, I had a strong feeling that Andy Murray might, at last, experience an easier passage to the later stages of our hallowed, Grand Slam event in 2012. Perhaps the Diamond Jubilee/Olympic year had some bearing on my apparent foresight. After all, Virginia Wade pulled off an English victory in 1977, when the Queen had to settle for silver.

And guess what? Up pops Lukas Rosol (ranked 100 in the world), like a man possessed, to send Rafa Nadal packing before the spaniard could properly, obsessively, settle his drinks bottles.

On the same evening that a confident German football team succumbed to the bubble bursting Balotelli, the strange unpredictability of sport also played out under the retractable roof of Centre Court.

I wonder if, in all the hullabaloo, many heard Rafa say, "I'm very, very disappointed, but it's not a tragedy, it's only a tennis match." And if so, has the penny dropped yet?

Monday, 25 June 2012

Getting the Quoon to Pur tee

You won't be surprised to know that any association I may have had with Her Majesty, has been pretty remote. I've handled acknowledgements of landmark wedding anniversaries, celebrated by my grandparents. I believe I stood, on a grey day in the late 50s, and waved a small flag as she cruised through, joining the dots where patient subjects lived, to reveal no discernible picture.

Artwork by SW

I also had a strange experience, finding myself unable to turn right at a junction in Southampton due to the position of the royal car. For a few seconds, I had eye contact with the monarch. No doubt she recalls her own version of events when attempting to lift the mood in the company of overly-deferential diplomats. "Did I ever tell you about the time when I was stuck in the traffic in Southampton? No? Well, you won't believe it, but for a few moments, I had eye contact with Martin Hodges. Philip and I could hardly catch our breath…we were laughing so much."

Invitation from SW
Anyway, unlike our intrepid SW, I didn't follow up the completion of a flattering portrait, with an outright invitation to visit and 'get down' with the kids. SWs spelling is coming on in leaps and bounds, so I'm guessing that 'pru tee' is lining itself up for the urban dictionary as a term for having a 'knees up'.

*For WallLmac, read welcome.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Head and Heart

SW has been searching for a heart-shaped stone for quite a while now. Yesterday I turned one up, whilst digging. When I showed her what I'd found, she was delighted, and immediately took scurried off to wash it.

I resumed digging whilst SW sat nearby, handling the stone. I could hear the cogs turning, as I worked, and it wasn't long before she was engaged in a project of her own.

Eventually, I was directed to a spot along a grassy path.

The stone had become a head...

but, was she an outdoor girl, or

a party girl? 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

In the Country

So, it's been a fairly hectic couple of days, during which time, our daughter and family have exchanged

this garden

for this one.

There's a beautiful beech canopy, woven with birdsong.

Speckly Woo and her little sisters have already been

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

All Change

This week will see something of a landmark for our daughter and her family. After six years of living in the city, they're moving a little over 10 miles closer to us, to a house in the countryside.

They've prepared well for the big day and, are at present, living in what could be a contender for the Turner Prize. A series of arrangements, consisting of stacked boxes, reels of adhesive tape and incidental groupings of small objects, missing, believed lost.

Earlier this evening, I took the opportunity to photograph the house and garden.

In six short years, so many memorable events. Major among them, the births of our three darling granddaughters. Their first steps, first words will help to warm the place for the next family.

Tomorrow I'm going to dig up a clump of pampas grass, to transplant in the new garden. I believe this particular grass originated in my maternal grandmother's garden. I could be wrong and, if I am, pampas grass is a nice thing to have in the garden anyway.