Ian Whybrow

…coming soon…

July 29th 2013 Disillusioned of Metroland

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I always thought that if things went wrong at IKEA, management would surgically segment the problem and have it shaped into a neat solution before you could say flatpack. Nothing so designer-Swedish. When one of our standard lamps caught fire in February, we took it back to Neasden (what they call Wembley) to the Returns Dept. Three months later they told us that it had been sent to a lab in Sweden for examination… but only after I’d spent ages on the phone trying to get connected to someone in the know. Five months later – no sign of the lamp; no-one can tell me where it is nor will anyone take responsibility for having lost track of it. I’ve had at least a dozen empty assurances that someone – always someone else – is on the case. I fired off another email to Backline Services this afternoon and was again assured that I’d have news by the end of the day. And guess what.

This on the day when the chaps sorting out the cellar walled up the stop-cock for the mains-water supply pipe and a very nice chap in Suffolk sent an estimate for a little bit of painting and decorating for my mother-in-law: for a mere £1550.

You could say it was a consolation to get a nice crop of fat goosegogs off the little bush I grew from a shoot I got rooting by layering. But by heck, there’s a painful price to pay if you haven’t got a stout pair of gloves on when you pick em.
Still, the man from British Gas is coming to check out the boiler between 8 and 1.00 on Friday week. He is. He said he’ll definitely be there.

July 28th 2013. Distractions

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Up betimes on a cooler day than of late –  but a surprisingly bright one after the much needed rain.

In the ivy and the many-branched, long dead crab apple where the bird feeders hang, waves of sparrows, tits and finches gather and retreat with a whirring and clattering that’s palpable even through the closed window of the sitting-room. What stirs them at intervals is the spotted woodpecker. A playground bully, he comes periodically, leaning back like a raptor to show them his fiery rump, flapping and then hammering at the peanuts.

This is an irresistible distraction from what I should be doing, which is answering my mail and getting myself organised for the drive back to London. It’s been a week of distractions, mostly of a pleasant sort – heaving and digging in the garden, doing a bit of proof reading. Not much original work.

Peter, the gardener came early in the week, armed with a battery of flails and slicers. He attacked the hedges and helped me rip out the dead honeysuckle from the front of the house and then to pile up the mountain of rubbish. The heavy little shovel that he employed to get after the taproot of the honeysuckle turned out to be a ferreting tool – and he, generally cheery but a bit taciturn, became suddenly voluble, regretting the fact that his new partner won’t let him keep them when in the old days – “I was working, mind …” – he and his brother were hundred a week men when it came to rabbits.

Change made him melancholy and he talked of his pregnant daughter’s partner. “Twenty-two year old he is, sposed to be a painter and decorator like, but he’s never done more’n a couple or six weeks’ work in his life. Me and Venetia, we fixed em up with furniture’n stuff to go in their new place in Kington, like. And what does he do? Buys hisself one of them Playstations. He sits up in his room all day playing on it. I don’t understand it. Anyway, my daughter says not to bully im when I tells him what I thinks. I don’t get it. That riles me so much I won’t have im in the ouse.”

Personally, I’d pop a couple of ferrets up his shorts. Or a greater spotted woodpecker.

July 23rd 2013.

July 24, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

Thunderstorms as we headed north-west for Herefordshire – but not for long.

I’m slightly deflated by a gentle refusal from Guy to take up some ideas I have for songs – my head has been full of them for a few days. He’s beyond working speculatively and I don’t blame him. But I do hope I shall – one day soon – bump into a composer who’d like to work with me. I can’t think of anything that gives me more of a buzz.

So when a children’s writer (a Little Wolf enthusiast) in need of a plug dropped me a line to ask if I’d say something complimentary about her work to help get her going – she caught me in the vein as it were. I understand perfectly how she feels. We all need help – and a bit of luck – to get things rolling

That reminds me that an Iranian woman emailed me via the contact box on my website to tell me how much she liked Little Wolf. I had already had a little exchange with her, telling her that I was surprised to hear that the small brute had been translated into Persian. So just to prove it, she has emailed me the text. Iranian copyright laws are not quite in line with ours, she says – so I doubt whether I shall see any royalties.

July 22nd 2013. Les, Prince Thingy’s Birthday and a Persian Little Wolf

July 24, 2013 - Filed under: Blog - Leave a comment

I was in Colliers Wood, spending the hottest afternoon of this July heat-wave with my inspirationally brave dear old chum Les who has cancer. In spite of having felt particularly grim for ages, he invited me over for lunch. We did what close friends do – slagged people off, told each other secrets, had a laugh – and, as I discovered later – just as the Duchess of Cambridge was producing her son, he was showing me – with undistracted joy and pride – highlights from videos of his daughter Freya’s wedding, that – regrettably – I missed for various reasons. The highlights included his own very funny and brilliantly-timed speech.

While I can remember exactly where I was when the news of the death of this so-far unnamed prince’s great granddad broke, I somehow doubt whether I shall be around to watch his coronation.

Still, the day of his birth means a great deal to me, since I was able to share some unforgettable moments with Les during the course of it.

July 21st 2013. Among Fords, Steads and Leighs

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Doubled my run this morning, taking advantage of another cool start to the day by chugging past Liston church and carrying on up the hill in the direction of Glemsford. It was unusually quiet among the rolling fields of wheat and barley and I found myself troubled by ghostly pursuers – pattering dogs, maybe? Spectral cyclists? It took a while to decide that the noise was made by the soles of my trainers in contact with recently melted and re-set tarmac.

For the first time in years, I have found myself inventing songs. A feeling of well-being, some rhythmic pounding and my recent reunion with Guy Fletcher have triggered this. A bit of fallow has been turned and some deep-lying seeds have surfaced. Could be just weeds – but you never know.

We continued our Suffolk idyll with a picnic in Polstead after a visit to the village art exhibition. The place and the event were equally charming. The Art group is obviously thriving here in this exceptionally pretty place perched on a hill. Its church is sited below the famous pond and up another hill. It looks south over a picturesque valley towards the tower of a sister church at Stoke-by-Nayland and is obviously cherished and well used. When we arrived, a mother and son were just back from Hadleigh with a gnome carrying a lamp to keep a just-buried grandpa company.

After a fruitless and frankly half-hearted search for Corder Cottage, home of the killer of the parish’s most celebrated murderee, Maria Marten the molecatcher’s daughter; and without seeing the site of the poor thing’s demise – the famous Red Barn – we headed for a rival beauty spot – Kersey – splashed through its pattering ford and headed back to Sudbury via Boxford. More splendour – but no sign of a ford this time.

A quick plug for Polstead Art Club and the Summer Art Exhibition:

Forget Maria Marten, red barns

& rape and pillage;

There’s still plenty happening

In this very special village.


July 20th 2013. A Dry Run and a Visit to Flatford Mill

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Took my customary trot, this cool and clouded morning, out of Long Melford and along the Stour, now crowded with invasive reeds, up to Liston church. Shiny greens have turned into something less intense and confidently sappy, and all along the hedgerows parched grasses prickle among sticky-buds and drooping swags of anaemic mallows. There’s very little blossom – but at least drought-busting pink blackberry flowers are prolific.

A Promise

Parched, the nettles, bedstraw, ragwort,

Jack by the hedge & meadow peas;

But bright among the beard & bindweed

Wink the flowers of blackberries.

A slightly different earlier version that I posted on Twitter had “wind” at the start of the last line but I like the accidental change of letter. Being an inexpert typist has its advantages.

To Dedham for an outstanding lunch in The Sun- a plateful of the most delicious osso buco I’ve ever tasted. From there to East Bergholt and Flatford Mill. My mother-in-law asked me who Willy Lott was. I’d never thought about it but guessed that he was simply the chap who occupied the cottage that features in a number of Constable’s best-loved paintings, including The Haywain. That turns out to be pretty much how it was. How splendid to be immortalised by – and for ever basking in – the glory of the world’s most illustrious millpond.

Some Have Greatness Thrust upon Them

A humble farmer, Willy Lott

Might easily have been forgot

But for his cottage. It stands still –

Next to the pond at Flatford Mill.


July 19th 2013 Alarmed and Excursioned

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The chaps from ADT turned up and fitted our new security system. We needed one. The insurance people said so. And now we have large notices everywhere advising burglars of same.

Just in case the crooks are not fully on message with this one, I’ve had a military-looking chitty stapled to the front door, reading:

Attention All Unwanted Visitors

Now B.O. all you burglars!

As you can clearly see

We’ve gorn and got you covered

And that’s C/o ADT.


Should do the trick. And that’s YET ANOTHER interesting thing that has happened since yesterday when I went and

(a) Bought several new shirts

(b) Had lunch in Notting Hill with Robert Mann and chatted about a trip to Machu Pichu and the Galapagos Island

(c) Met Guy Fletcher after an interval of over forty years at his posh office in Berners Street, found out what the Chairman of the PRS has to do and chewed over an approach to a tasty little musical project.


OK – not that interesting. I know … but I don’t get out as much as other people.

And what about THIS?

This highly unusual hieroglyph appeared on the worktop in the kitchen . I am considering having it decrypted by NASA or GCHQ, because I can’t BELIEVE it can be attributable just to an inadvertent nudge to an early-morning mug of tea.



July 18th 2013. Idling

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Never Mind the Stork

Talk about too posh to push.

How modish can you get?

They neighbours had their latest kid

Delivered by Wam!net.


Tour de Quoi?

Do I fancy cycling in the Alps?

Of that there’s little hope.

Because (A) I’d need to fix my bike:

(B) Where would I get the dope?

July 17th, 2013. Hands On

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The lads from the swamp are still here, hacking away to extend the sump in the cellar to the magical depth of 72 cms.  I’ve forgotten the other dimensions but indoor swimming pools come to mind.  At around ten o’clock, one of them stood dripping and miserable on our doormat with a cut finger that he held out accusingly as though I had deliberately infected him with my silt.

My instinct was to stall him outside the front door and keep him off the cream carpet – though to do him credit he was wearing just socks, albeit slightly damp and none-too-savoury by the look of them  – but maternal instinct got the better of my darling who marched him into the kitchen, put him under the tap  and applied plasters, Savlon and re-assurance.  Played,  Matron. He’ll probably be back tomorrow with his friend to have their boils lanced.


Blimey! Illustrated texts keep popping up in my inbox via Wamnet. No more the bi-monthly (if you were lucky) exchange of hand/typewritten mss , the dribble of stereotyped copies of sketches at various stages;  the plop on the mat of first proofs and corrected proofs. Away, the forked stick and the GPO.

The only thing is, the digital/wireless process, while it offers a certain instant satisfaction and reduces labour, sacrifices the old anticipation, not to mention opportunities for proper rumination and serious fine tuning.  Some of the occult or masonic sense of shared codes has evaporated. ..  In other words, a lot of the excitement has gone.

It’s still fun, though. And, as a matter of fact, a small boy with an adjective fetish sent me an actual handwritten letter today.  In very neat writing and in pencil to allow for a plenty of palimpsestic revision, he tells me he really, really likes “Meerkat Madness Flying High” (that bit of punctuation supplied by the management) because (sic):

“…it’s [yesss!]  really crazy when the hot air balloon went up in a burning, bazing, red hot, scorching, roaring, warm, ball of fire. I can not stop reading your wonderful, phenominal, epic books.”

Good old Miss Jones. Commas, apostrophes …  the lot! Phenominal, tick. Epic, tick.  So discerning.

July 16th 2013. Swamped

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The men came at 8.30 to clear out our muddy cellar in preparation for the Great Improvement of same. Hitherto, I had spoken only on the phone to the foreman, Peter, so his Wyatt Earp moustache came as a bit of a surprise. The others, almost certainly QPR season-ticket holders, were of a bulk and of the sartorial inclinations you would expect of  chaps commissioned to hoik tons of sludge in 30 degree heat.( Not only sludge but the rusting and sodden detritus of generations of inhabitants from our four flats.) In other words, they were hills of flesh dressed comfortably, mainly in tattoos.

I was alone in the house. The other part-owners of the cellar had places to go. Within minutes of the men’s arrival, several members of Neighbourhood Watch were exchanging hearty opinions about the heatwave with them outside the front door. Not quite water-boarding, this oblique method of interrogation – easily heard through open doors and windows – is equally effective. So, reassured that the locality was safe from a doing-over, they moved on, and the flow of things silted and alluvial from our lower depths began.

Seeing what came up on their boots alone seized me with all sorts of foreboding and particularly since ours was the only available toilet, since our stairs were unprotected and our carpet is of a delicately creamy hue.

By lunchtime the nightmare was (temporarily) over, though the hall is filled with bricks and breeze blocks. Job done, mate.  (And no call for the lav.) The lads were knackered. Dehydrated, presumably.


After this nightmare, it was a relief to brave the heat and head off for my appointment at the optician’s. Until yesterday I was mindful of the mote in my brother’s eye and prone to lack of consideration of the beam in mine own. But I had no idea that you could get one of these on the back of your eyeball. A nevus, she called it but only a small one, a freckle really; nothing to worry about.

I do worry, of course, but only a bit since she told me that I needn’t come back for a couple of years.  And she gave me a nice wiper without my even asking for one. Was she trying to distract me?  To protect me from anxiety?   Was she… wait for it … a Specksaver?