Ian Whybrow

…coming soon…

April 27-28th, 2013. Aberration

April 29, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

As an old geiser glugs limply from its oozy bed, so I … up without much fizz at 7.00, after an unusually eventful weekend. Today, I am resolved quietly to tidy the shed.

A last minute dash to The Tricycle on Friday evening to catch The Paper Dolls was a disappointment;   too sentimentally kiltered towards cabaret  and too brash and camp-showbizzy to evoke much feeling in me or Ann, and certainly not a tragic one. Returned to a phone-message from my accountant, wondering politely but not without peeve why I wasn’t at home to get my VAT and house accounts done.

So Saturday was given over to paper-shuffling, spread-sheets and shopping as well as to finishing “The Footballer from Outer Space.”

Man, that story has been a struggle. The donnee was fine – boy offers assistance to crash-landed alien who morphs himself via the Thought-Way into Wayne Rooney-as-imagined-by-the-boy; but not quite perfectly in that, because he comes from the dark side of the Moon of Urd, the alien has no concept of colour and as a result happens to have bright blue skin. Taking that idea somewhere both footballish and  plausible – and also in language that might mean something to a nine year-old  – proved more difficult than I anticipated. Anyway, thirty or so draft later …

Sunday morning called for a compensatory outing; we settled on Grey’s Court near Henley. It was well worth braving the chill wind. Set among beechy-wooded hills that really do roll above the Thames Valley, it’s the sort of manageable-looking Tudor mansion that encourages visitors to see themselves living there – if only they could afford the insurance. We had heard that it belonged to a grand-daughter of Henry Irvine and wondered vulgarly how he, even as a successful actor-manager could have generated the necessary funds for the place. Ah, no – it was Chemistry, not Art that raised the readies. And the spirit of Lady Elizabeth Brunner, who hung on there until she was 99 still lives in the place that is furnished as it was when she died – comfortably as well as elegantly.  You really felt that at any moment she’d appear and invite us gawpers to a cup of tea, a sticky cake and a natter by the warm range in her kitchen.

There’s an impressive ice-house in the grounds, as well as lovely walled gardens full of blossom. Made you wonder whether the original owners of the house actually slipped the ice, spotty with tadpoles and duckweed, into their lemonade … or simply used it only to keep things cool.

I’ve never seen a donkey-wheel before. It looks like the sort of treadmill that you see in engravings of 19th century prisoners doing hard labour and was devised to draw water in barrel-sized buckets up into a vast lead tank for the household. That gets you thinking, too.

The rest of Sunday was passed zonked out on the sofa until MOTD2.  Oh, the strain on the eyes and nerves.

And so today, an aberration:


Today I tidied up the shed.

Twas either that or lie in bed.

I could have read my book instead.

It’s possible I’m off my head.

April 26th. A Change in the Weather.

April 26, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I’m starting a campaign

To spell rain not raign

But rainge.

Then it seems to rhyme nicely with


For a change.


And as the bittern bombleth in the mire…

Home after an exhausting couple of days in deepest Suffolk, one of which was spent at the bird sanctuary at Minsmere. The place is by all accounts celebrated for bitterns, marsh harriers and bearded tits. Of the latter, my friend John and I were not the only human representatives but of the winged variety, twitter came there none. The thing about this habitat is, as John – a serious birder – reminds me, that it offers opportunities for cover. And birds tend to take these opportunities. In other words, they keep out of sight.


So while you can see quite a lot of waders like avocets and redshanks and lapwings and egrets and herons, etc  – that’s because they are wading.


The chances of seeing something that is the same colour as its reedy home are limited and require patience. Right.

Still, if you settle for long enough in a hide that promises bitterns, there will come – eventually – a sudden ffzzzzshhh, the sort of sound that can be generated only by the synchronised movement of twenty pairs of weatherproofed elbows in fricative collision with a similar number of khaki-coloured nylon waistcoats, as expensive binoculars are brought up to eye-level in unison. “There’s one!” And far off there’s a flurry, a flash, of orange where gulls or barnacle geese are wheeling in vast numbers. And that’s it. That’s your allotted glimpse of bittern, matey. You didn’t expect it to stand booming in front of those reeds just there, did you? Well yes, I did, actually.

Never mind – several marsh harriers turned up, obligingly, one male as pale and brightly marked as a butterfly and causing even hardened twitchers to admit to never having seen anything like it. To think that in 1971 there was only one known breeding pair left in the country. But they like it here, see,  without any farmers shooting at them.

The other thing that’ll stick in my mind was the jolt we all got from a little bird called a cetti warbler. Serve us right for not ever having heard of it. His call was so loud that you could have sworn he had sat on your shoulder for a second and shouted in your ear. He was terribly hard to spot – but he couldn’t resist showing off with a few more tracer-bullets that exploded close by – and suddenly there he was, clinging to a reed in text-book pose. A small brown job.

You wouldn’t have heard that in England twenty years ago, says John.

Global warming, I say.

He nods.

Very companionable, birding.

April 23rd Romans and Dragons

April 23, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Just remembered. “The Glove” it was, that dreadful Browning poem. And it starts with “Heigho!” not Hey-Ho. I’ve just re-read it – and it was just as irritating as I misremembered it.

On Sunday, we had an outing to something that might have been equally annoyingly bogus-antique, a festival to celebrate St George’s Day even though that’s actually today. It was run by English Heritage at Wrest Park, a place neither Ann nor I had never previously heard of, let alone visited. Still, more sunshine and the promise of a pleasant walk in pastures new inclined us to risk the traffic on the M1 and give the Wrest Fest a go.

The crowds! It was teeming with families steering togged-up small boys waving polystyrene swords. And it was utterly enchanting, with tons of inventive things for children to do; a small boy’s dream with plenty of explosions and opportunities for rough stuff and hurling assorted missiles. There were pretend soldiers everywhere, from Redcoats to 15th century Yorkists, to Romans, all hanging out in tented encampments, sorting out their impedimenta, crushing almonds and grinding corn, sewing sandals together, scoffing olives with fish sauce on unleavened bread. The Romans were easily the best, shiny and eager to pass on what


100 men in a cohort, matey?

That’s not the score.

Centurions only commanded 80

But 80 Romans look like 20 more.


Oh, there was a dragon, too. When we saw him somebody was spraying WD-40 on his wings, trying to pep him up for his annual knockabout with St George after a small boy had shot him down. Turns out that Georgie Boy, our champion and patron saint, was something else that the Romans did for us – he being a Greek who joined the Roman army. QI?

20th April. Ultimata.

April 21, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I’m a fairweather gardener and today is perfect for it. Ann has ordered a cull of unwanted trousers and brown poetry paperbacks. This includes, serendipitously, a virtually unread and very brown Complete Browning. Was there ever a clumsier, more irritating opening line than “Hey-Ho! yawned one day King Francis!” Out you go – and take your clever-clever dramatic monologues with you!

We pile a few things on the floor and on the bed and have a bit of a snap about what’s worth keeping and what needs to go. And who’s going to want this stuff. And no, we can’t just chuck it; that’ll have to go to Oxfam. Etc, etc. But all in all we do quite well and soon we’re in a mood for tidying up the garden.

Browning – the browning version…


The kids next door are great. They always give you the big hello , especially now that they can see over the fence.

Laide: What are you DOING?

Me: Weeding.

Laide: What for?

Me: Ah.

Laide: I hate weeding. I like planting things, though.

Giacomo: (stage whisper) I can see his bum.

Laide: Don’t be rude.

Giacomo: Ask him to get my ball.

Laide: He’s just got it for you.

Giacomo: IAN! Can you throw my ball over. There it is. There!

Me: I know where it is. It’s where it was two minutes ago. And you’ll have to wait a bit. I’m busy.

Giacomo: I’ve had that ball since I was born. Go on.

I carry on digging and he delivers his killer-line. I have rendered it into verse that Mr Browning would be more than chuffed to have come up with:


Throw my ball back one more time!

Shouts Giacomo-next-door.

Go on, PLEEEZE, or we’re not reading

Your books ANY more.

April 18th. Eastward, Phew!

April 19, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Welcome to Essex



Up betimes and to Rochford, Essex, on the 8.32 from Liverpool Street in a carriage to myself. The tide from Southend is flowing the other way, evidently.

The catholic primary school I’m visiting in this dormitory town is welcoming. I knew it would be by the flavour of the chats I had on the phone with the Deputy Head, by the friendliness of the Irish caretaker who picks me up at the station and by the attentiveness of the Head and her Head of Govs in their patient attempts to get me online.

I’m early and before I know it, my morning-session with Years 3 and 4 has been stretched into a two-hour job. I am putty in the hands of a bit of blarney about the particular difficulties – in spite of their bursting to meet me – of this group of kids. The wind blows outside while the sun burns bright and raises the inside temperature to tropical. As I turn puce, the teacher calls a timeout for a run-around. Phew.

Later, it’s – What new words have they come across lately that you might slip into your stories? Stent, is it? Ah, stench! That’s a good one. Anyone know what it means? A fart? Well it’s the result of one all right. Now now, we didn’t need a demonstration. Thank you. Any other good words? Conflict. I like that one …

And so it goes on. I work my way through the age-groups. The oldest kids are stretched out sideway, making it hard for me to get them focused, so I have to tap-dance to keep their attention when they’re hot and sleepy after lunch. Some of them bend like old tulips in a vase. I have to order the outside doors open and let the wind blow papers around. Later, a boy whom I have winkled out of the back row for poking his neighbours and distracting them, surprises me by coming back later and giving me a hug. It flicks across my mind that he might be fitting me up for arrest, but it’s just a flick – and, as the Head tells me later – it’s the only way he knows to say sorry and he hadn’t realised at the time that I was the bloke who wrote the Harry books.

I finish the day with five and six-year-olds who are all up for dinosaur moves, some robotics and doing the Bossy Sister. They put a bit of zip back into me. There’s another three quarters of an hour signing to go. A touching number of children turn up not with books but with small pieces of coloured paper for me to autograph. The hugging boy brings me his pirate story to read and write a comment on – and then I’m back on another roomy train, imitating a clapped-out tulip meself, but knowing I have to face the scrum on the Metropolitan line in forty-odd minutes’ time.

The upshot of this demanding day is that I have another school willing to give my Read a Book and Raise a Reader trial a go. Whoopee.

April 15th Chitty Chitty Dig Dig

April 15, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Spring hath sprung a little bit.

Time to give me spuds a chit.

And to ask the garden Fates

Not to make me Earlies Lates.

Ah, moved to verse by sunshine and the signs of life in me Earlies. I wish I could remember what they are, though. Now I come to look at them again, they’re a bit on the puny side and I feel that if I could address them by name, they might perk up. Will they make it, once I tuck them under my undernourished soil: that’s what tortures me? Should I stock up on derris powder and fleece in case the frost returns.

Nah. Who do they think I am, Monty Don? They’re getting eight to ten weeks to tough it out by the goosegog in the corner next to the shed. What’s the worst that can happen? That I have to splash out one-fifty on a bag of Essentials down at Waitrose, that’s what.

But it’s no good, this shrugging cynicism about these little beauties. The fact is that whichsoever goeth forth to multiply, he shall be plated, blessed and anointed with butter, yea, crown-ed with parsley.

Bright & Earlies

April 13 Veni, Verdi e Altrui

April 14, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I wonder how my grandfather would have reacted to receiving the message I have just received from my grandson:

Dear Grandad, I have got 32 Giga bites on my ipod.
Ted xx


Up betimes to pack my DJ and dress shirt for our event at St Alban’s Cathedral. We (Harrow Choral) will be singing all day and half the night with Harrow Philharmonic and Stanmore Choral. We’re to perform the almost unknown Messa per Rossini by Verdi and eleven of his chums (ex-AC Milan players, no doubt).

The rehearsal turns out to be a tense match: Chorus vs Orchestra. There are at least 200 of us so we outnumber them by at least three to one but then they have five formidable soloists on the bench. The contest bears comparison with the current FA Cup Semi between Millwall and Wigan that some of us B2s are considering trying to get a squizz at in some obliging local hostelry during the hours between warm-up-knockabout and kick-off.

By coach to the cathedral and then there’s a twenty minute brawl while Ian-from-the-Phil – a chap without the benefit of a costermonger’s vocal cords – attempts to get the singers into their allotted positions up on to the towering stand while the orchestra tootles and teases and scrapes as oppositions always do. My friend Dave and I are placed as centre-backs just in front of a line of B1s and alongside some fit-looking A1s; and the rest of the B2s are laced in a 2-3-4-5 formation among the B1s on the terraces below. I’m pleased to be next to Dave whose sight-reading is spot-on, and to see Peter and Simon just in front to my right, each capable of dazzling footwork when it’s called for the pair of them offering protection from any unexpected onslaught from the opposition forwards, particularly the brass and percussion.

Peter Barker and Simon Williams beef up midfield during rehearsals
There’s the usual nervous chatter: This is going to be pretty awful. We should have had an extra rehearsal on Thursday – That kind of stuff. Some wag tries to console us: Yeah, well, look at it this way; at least we can only give the second-best performance EVER. Still, once we’re off, we start shifting the ball about among ourselves – from basses to sopranos to altos to tenors – pretty darned fluently and occasionally with a bit of swagger.

Visitors drift into the nave and stop to listen and applaud. The music makes little children howl like dogs.

Four hours later, John Wyatt, our conductor, dismisses the band and the women and turns his winning, toothy smile on us men. Can we tighten up our Lacrimosa, give it a bit more bite? Knackered though we are, it is difficult to resist someone bearing more than a passing resemblance to Ken Dodd especially when he he’s effortlessly funny and has a penetrating tenor-voice to match the man from Knotty Ash. We dig deep and try to give John what he’s after. Are those tears of happiness in his eyes?

It is miserably cold and wet outside. Normally Ann and I would while away the hour twixt now and ‘formance-time, with a wander round the market or a pop into the Peahen. Neither appeals for long, so we creep back to the cryptoid Green Room for a read and a snooze in the warm with lots of ladies doing their knitting and catching up in their bookclub homework.

Charles and Sarah have braved the weather and trained all the way from Chelsea via West Hampstead to support us, so we get changed early and meet them in the Café Rouge for a pre-Do drink. Their support rests not only with copious glasses of an amusingly plummy Malbec but, come the interval, with high praise for the music. There’s proper friends, bach.

Home at 11.30, dog tired and too late for Match of the Day – though come to think of it, we’ve just played a blinder of our own.

April 12th Up Pompeii and Round Mindshapes

April 12, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Ted, my just-9 year-old grandson has been sleeping over for several days and real life has set in. My normal quiet routine – of writing and doing admin and occasionally breaking off for a whizz to Waitrose or a trip to the gym – has been scuppered.

The up-side of this rude awakening has been the provision of an excellent excuse to pop along to the BM to view the Pompeii Exhibition. Having been warned by his mama that Ted would probably stick with it for no more than half an hour, Ann and I were apprehensive but thanks to Marmite sandwiches and a squirt of apple juice administered on the tube, and what with the digital guides supplied by the museum for which the boy appointed himself mentor to me and his grandmother, he was keen to work his way through all the exhibits.

The experience was terribly educational in an unexpected way. Whilst Ted gave no outward sign of having taken on board exactly what Pan was doing to the nanny-goat he took pains to point out to Ann and me that Pan was half goat and that was why they were shown to be so close – which is exactly how the Romans must have looked at it. He took a surprisingly restrained interest, as did nearly all the children in the room, in the flying phallus and the others with bells on, not to mention the one that doubled as an oil-lamp. And he appeared to experience no frisson at seeing the calcified corpses of the family that had been struck dead in the same instant by a cloud of super-heated gas. Rather, he explained in passing, as one does to children who might not be expected to have a full grasp of the narrative of a tale experienced together, that they were a family and that they were dead.

What Ann and I will remember, I think, are: not only the cradle – of course – from which the still intact remains of its occupant had been thoughtfully removed and confined to barracks; but also the drunk and piddling Hercules, with a belly as fat as you’ll see on a football fan on a night out. Then there were the touching reminders of a daily life brutally interrupted – in the preserved, carbonised remains of a 2000 year old loaf of bread, still bearing the baker’s mark and dishes of figs and olives; and amphora still full of fish sauce. We shall remember the pet dog turned to stone like one begging to have his tummy tickled – and the little dancing household gods who presided over the disaster without lifting a finger to stop it.

We almost topped this experience yesterday with a conducted tour of the new offices of Mindshapes in Chelsea, where Teddy was welcomed like a VIP and got the inside track on how Magic Town is being developed, on story-boarding, how characters can bedrawn and animated on Photoshop; coding, sound-layering and other mysteries.

I have just noticed a trail of orange- brown footprints leading to the white sofa where I’m sitting and the orange-brown hand-prints on the back of it. The footprints lead over the white carpet and up the three white steps to the kitchen. The boy is, as I write, back in the kitchen, excavating the bones of the woolly mammoth from a block of orange-brown plaster and giggling.

His nana thought this might provide a little harmless recreation.Hmm.


Boy in kitchen excavates mammoth

March 29 – April 9. Marcher Country Easter

April 9, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Herefordshire: a cold Easter family-weekend with a first cohort of children and grandchildren. It was what you might call bracing, taking all of two days with the woodstove glowing like a carbuncle and every available heater on max before any warmth could penetrate the perma-frosty walls of the house.

You had to be on your toes to dodge the heaps of scattered snow on the north side of hedges and walls but mostly the sun shone on Easter egg trails round Berrington Hall and Croft Castle and muddy afternoon-badminton in the garden.  What larks! What kisses and confidences from children still young enough to laugh at your jokes and sit on your lap asking questions and counting your whiskers.

Was I alone, I wonder in being unable to avoid taking the untimely death of the mighty and wonderful Richard Griffith as a personal warning – a bit like the gibbets dripping on your head as you crossed London Bridge in Shakespeare’s day – against the tide of chocolate and high-cal roasts that slipped daily down the gullet?

It was a consolation, though a small one, to retain the memory of the eighteen full-size Easter eggs that I somehow amassed at the age of twelve and consumed in less than 48 hours, unaided, with no obviously deleterious effects. I was quite proud of myself, I remember. The feat flew defiantly in the face of the natural expectation that I might share some small portion of my horde with my sisters and it also earned me a lot of grudging admiration from certain quarters. The not-unimpressed head-shaking incredulity of my dad floats in the room before me as I write.


Easter week brought the next family cohort and several aberrational excitements to our rural idyll: viz and to wit, a walk in deep snow over Hergest Ridge; a major police operation in pursuit of the perps of certain mysterious random stabbings in Hereford, Peterborough and possibly beyond; and total wi-fi silence. The shock of dramatic helicopter-buzzing, of cohorts of machine-gun-toting cops in the village, a chase in the Batch, three arrests (one of a bloke who was reported by one source to have been stripped to the waist and anywhere between seven foot and seven foot six tall) was nothing to the sickening discovery that Talk-Talk had abruptly and without warning decided to cut off my wi-fi.  Five solid hours on the phone over several days failed to achieve an explanation for this brutality and – because no Talk-Talk operative would put me through to anyone authorised to give me a MAC code and to remove the “tag” on my line – I remain even now unable to order up a replacement service. In the end, I have had to resort to Offcom to try to free the log-jam.  If that doesn’t work I may have to resort to You and Yours. Has it come to this?

Back now in H on the H with news of two great spirits gone: Mrs T and Thomas, the great pudding of a rescue-cat that belonged to Marie upstairs. I had mixed feelings about them both when they were alive and I feel no less ambivalent about them now that they’re dead. Still, you had to respect and admire them. Neither allowed themselves to be stroked. They both came up the hard way and made the most of their opportunities, though Thomas slept more. They guarded their territory fiercely against all comers and were expert prowlers and mousers, the pair of them. They’re sorely missed.

That’s put me in the mood for a plainsong piece that Stevie Smith often sang in public.

I look in the glass. Whose face do I see?

It is the face of La-ay-dy T.

I wish to change, how can that be?

Oh Lamb of God, change me-ee, change me.