Saturday, 15 June 2019

Past and present

Some folk don't like to look back at the past - done, onward, next thing, but there must be a reason for us to have this incredible ability to store images, thoughts; replay whole tracts of time in slightly 50s Technicolour.
I feel we should consider the past fascinating - good and bad. You learn from things you have done, improve (hopefully) and mature as a person; replay the exhilarating, sometimes difficult, exciting, and just heart-warming times - meeting the significant other, birthdays, pregnancy and birth, Christmases, your child's first bike ride, the success of a project, particular concerts, moving into a new house, observing a garden take shape, and a million other things.
On the subject of new houses and gardens. This is a before and after of the terrace of our new (1975 villa) house back in 2011 - and now on the day I write this post - 15th June, 2019.
What a difference some plants make, as Dinah Washington sang . . .
The first thing we did after roughly moving belongings into place was to find a metal-working person, put up a structure and plant vines. It's all a bit out of control now being somewhat live and let live gardeners but it is a wonderful sight when the roses are out, and the terrace becomes our dining and sitting room during the spring and summer.
Maybe when we have moved to something a little smaller, wherever that will be, I will recall those hot days under the vine leaves; days of salad, chat, accordion, fan whirring and dogs stretched out on the warm concrete.






Wednesday, 12 June 2019

It's old . . .

Well-used words at car boot sales, no doubt all over the world, for justifying an exorbitant price tag.
In this case at our local 'vide-grenier' - (literally emptying one's attic) where Mark homed in - being a buyer and hoarder of just about any type of musical instrument - on a once-possibly noble Zither.
The guy swaggered nonchalantly over (think you can do this) and proceeded to point out the instrument's qualities. 
'It is old' 
Yes, it certainly is but not in a good way.
'It is in excellent condition - works perfectly.
No, it doesn't. The strings are untunable and someone appears to have poured a pot of white paint over it, scrubbed ineffectually and then added a rough line of black around the edge to complete its renovation.
Mark and I exchanged glances, trying to guess what the price might be. I suggested it might be worth purchasing it for a more experimental form of jazz - sort of thing where two people and a dog might be the audience. We agreed it would be worth relieving him of the object for about five euros, so he wouldn't have to repack it in the van. No one else within a radius of about a hundred KM would have bought it other than us. That was for sure.
"Vous voulez combien?" asked Mark.
The reply of thirty euros was somewhat surprising. We walked away after employing another useful car boot phrase - 'we'll have a quick look around and come back'.
What one of us should have said was, 'What? thirty euros for that? are you insane? But we are English, somewhat pathetic and perhaps didn't want to spoil his illusion that he did have indeed a very old and unusually-restored item on his stall. 
Sadly, it will probably end up at the tip at the end of the Vide Grenier season when it could have featured in some weird and inventive art music piece. 


Thursday, 6 June 2019

Green light

Moving ahead!
My novel, Hoxton, now has a book deal with the wonderful, Tartarus Press.
As they specialise in 'literary supernatural/strange/horror fiction' I know my characters will be well at home in their catalogue.
Still some way to go with edits, etc, but looking forward to the time that my work will be out there.

Detail of a London map of 1775 featuring St Leonard's church (center - ish) where a lot of the story takes place - although set in 2072 . . . Mind, with the way everything seems to be going, London could possibly re-resemble this map by that time . . .

Pic - Mapco/David Hale.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

While cleaning out the loft . . .

I found a box of old college stuff that I hadn't looked in for certainly twenty years - think it wasn't opened in the move from our last two places.
Ah, the days before photoshop etc. I recall buying the mackerel and stringing them up with fishing line (appropriate), and the many times Toby had to smoke cigarettes and look faintly surprised as if waking from a dream that was in fact some bizarre reality. Think that was it - no idea. Lost in the heavy fog of time . . .


The picture below features me (in skirt - rare occurrence) and friend Mal, and yes, they were real boots - t'was the 80s . . .
I can't remember the reason for the dots but the picture did win a large format Polaroid camera in the yearly Polaroid competition. Not that I got to keep the camera - think it was amalgamated into the art college equipment store.
Happy days of messing about with set building, paints, cameras, clothes, and fish, with no idea of what I might do later in life . . .


Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Day out in Toulouse

It wasn't a day out as such - more a few hours wrapped around a RDV at a clinic but it was a beautiful day and exploration of a city was an interesting idea.
I don't really know Toulouse despite numerous visits - we used to stay in The Grand Balcon right on the Place du Capitol when we were vaguely thinking amount a move to France. The hotel was amazing - about fifteen quid a night with lumpy old beds and ancient plumbing; sadly now revamped into something classy and the rooms more like 150.00 quid a night.
Arriving on the train early in the morning, I wandered the quiet streets ending up at The Capitol where a group of Japanese women tourists were having a sing, lead by one lady with a ukulele.
After a hot choc at a café that should have the award for the most 'bof' manageress in the whole of South-West France I walked on to the Abattoir art gallery which was closed for the day but spent a long time watching the rolling Garonne pass by. It struck me that the water I was observing would at some point later that day be arriving in Bordeaux where my son currently lives. And I texted him as much, him being a muser too . . .

A number of tents had sprung up along the main boulevard near the art gallery. I gave some money to a small boy who was sitting with a broken bowl in hand, then asked him where the family were from. Albania, he said.
Rather disturbingly, just on the other side of the fence from the tents the already manicured municipal gardens were being re-planted. Slightly wrong priorities?


I found a street I hadn't noticed before which was full of shops selling wildly unnecessary items but I did love this glass jelly fish lamp. . . 


Then it was time for my RDV with a neck specialist. I've had this thing for nearly thirty years now, and have been huffed at, almost jeered at and generally been ignored as it's a small but niggly pain that seems to stem from virtually nothing, and has just got worse over time. THIS doctor was a revelation. He spent about half an hour carefully listening then did lots of thorough examinations and pinpointed where the pain is coming from. Sadly, nothing much can be done but at least I know what it is; it's not life-threatening and I can go back and see him after another IRM scan which I, oddly, rather like - see some post, way back about being in one of these machines.
After this, I found a tiny little lost-in-the-70s Indian restaurant and enjoyed onion pakora, fish curry and 'delice' de mango for about nine euros. Needing a sit down rather than walking, I went back to the river and water gazing - amazing quantities of river weed covered in tiny white flowers or shells? difficult to tell at a distance. On the other bank, huge works were happening, including re-pointing the kilometres of Toulouse pink brick walls - massive scaffolding with about six people working.  


the Monika Indian restaurant

a bit of repointing

very tenacious ash tree

On the way back to the station I noticed this fabulous bit of late? Art Deco and this recently repainted 'Guggenheim' 50s car park. Not just the city of the 'rose' brick. I shall return and explore further.


Tuesday, 7 May 2019

garage visits, cheese counter-stress, banners, stoicism

I think I've always been a latent Stoic - perhaps just never actually put a name to a mostly-omnipresent character trait.
During a particularly stressfull time a few months back, a friend mentioned having a look at the stoic philosophy which I did but then promptly forgot all about it as other stresses joined the first one - my mother dying being a particularly huge stress.
About two weeks ago, I was preparing to do supper and idly prodded youtube into action to see what the algorithms might have decided would keep me entertained/distracted, or whatever.
Amongst: Permaculture studies, Have I got News for You, A Different Bias (excellent YouTube channel for discovering what is going on in the Brexit nightmare), Professor Bogdanor, etc, up popped a talk on Stoicism. I was instantly fascinated and started thinking about some of the key elements that had first been 'invented' by greek philosophers such as Marcus Aurelius (plus being an emperor . . .).



             (photo wikipedia)

It all made so much sense. In a totally boiled down summary: don't worry about what you have no control over, and do your best to aid yourself in things you do have control over; be grateful and consider how wonderful it is just to be. 
Easier said than done? I tried it out with some everyday stresses - unfathomably complex letters from scary bureaucratic bodies; our huge garden that is gradually turning into a desert, and the fact that our concrete water capture thing is cracked; worry about things I have absolutely no impact on - like rainfall.
The letters . . . less worrying. The garden . . . well, the guy may come and look at the concrete thing- I've tried enough times to get him to come. If not, I'll try someone else, mulch more and use town water if I have to. Worrying about it is totally unproductive and won't change anything other than add to my forehead wrinkles.
Rainfall. Hm. Really nothing I can do other than continue buying virtually no plastic in the hope that everyone else will too, and eventually governments will realise that climate change and wiping out bio-diversity is THE problem and that WE as humans have to do something about it.
Talking of which, on a minor tangent. I did take my home-made sheet-banner to the houses of parliament and managed to tie it to a police barricade. No one removed it and quite a lot of people took pictures, so I hope in some microscopic way, I might have made a difference.
Very interesting man in the picture - he's been standing with his STOP plastics banner for several months now. And when he's not doing this he's cleaning up his own garden and locality, and noting the incredible difference it makes - how the insects start coming back, the birds, the general cycle of nature.

So, stoicism.
I, possibly like most people, had a vague idea of what it meant - be stoical about this or that . . . but investigating further made me wish to attempt to become a stoic.
I think what clinched it for me was standing in the cheese-counter queue at the supermarket. 
Being a French store, there were about two hundred different types of cheese but the woman in front of me - on hearing that the particular type she desired had been subject to 'rupture of stock' - decided to become very belligerent. This produced nothing other than making the assistant very uncomfortable and giving herself more stress-lines - she had a very fine crop already. I wanted to say, 'For Christ's sake just have a slice of Cantal, or Tome de brebis, or a bit of cheddar - (yes, they sell it), or one of the other two hundred choices. What the F does it matter?' But instead I just wondered about what the caves are like where roquefort is produced, and watched the sparrows that seem to have taken up residence in the supermarket roof space.
Ok, easy enough to feel smug about someone else ranting about nothing, but what about me?
On cue, my new-found stoicism was tested at the Renault garage the following day.
The car was just going to be 'looked at' for a quote after failing its MOT. I had been expecting the mechanic to say 'come back in an hour' and had prepared myself to write in the local café. But he said it wouldn't be ready for at least three hours. Normally, I would probably have huffed internally and thought about how annoying this would be as I would have to waste time walking back home, or try and get a lift back from someone, but this time I just thought, OK, I'll walk back a different way. So I did. And got lost down by the river but noticed the springtime wild flowers, a woodpecker, an old guy tending his magnificent vegetable plot and some wonderfully artistic graffiti. These things were in no way remarkable but they did seem to take on a sort of remarkable-ness because I had chosen to make this a soulfully nourishing time, even if the in-tray didn't get as sorted as it should have been and phone calls would still have to be done, etc.
So, will it last?
I think so - maybe with some careful mental 'topping up' everyday. The 'professional' stoics have a phrase - negative visualisation, where you take a little while every day to imagine how less good our personal life would be if, say . . . if we hadn't found one of our lovely rescue dogs, or I hadn't bothered to plant grape vines that shade our house in the summer, or made friends with someone important to us, or taken that very memorable hike with our son last holiday, and so on. Or much bigger things that have been really life-changing - supposing I hadn't answered the phone about thirty years ago which led me to take on a job which then led me to meet Mark and in turn produce our son . . . The point being that any negative feelings sloping about will be discarded as you consider these positive elements.
Time to do the washing up and consider the rampaging beauty of the yellow banksia rose from the kitchen window while doing so.

Monday, 29 April 2019

Water party

This is what our local hyper-planet of largely un-needed stuff is proposing at the moment.
Fete d'l'eau - water party, Fete de actually being wordage used in French supermarkets to drag you in and spend money on special offers/seasonal goods/bulk buy, etc - not impromptue water fights and people dressed in scanty bathing attire.
Fete de vin in the autumn I can sort of relate to - time of the grape harvest, local wine companies making space for their new influx, a certain celebration of the wealth of different wine types, etc. Even though we might only buy a couple of bottles it's quite interesting to look at the wooden boxes stamped with the producers' names, and gawp at how people could possibly imagine spending three hundred euros on one bottle . . .
The pig (fete du cochon) fete is vile: lines of cooler cabinets filled with everything from brains to trotters, where fleets of customers pick through the mountains of cling-wrapped/poly-trayed pink  items before loading up their trollies, without the slightest thought, I imagine, as to where it has all come from . . .
There are many other fetes de whatever, but a water fete is the first I have seen, following on closely from the Jesus-emerging fete - marked in acres of chocolate rabbits and chocolate anything else remotely Easterish.
A fete celebrating ideas for conserving water might have been nice - water filters, household devices for reusing water, a small talk illustrating where our local water comes from, tap water tasting. . . Nope. This was just an excuse to push as much water in plastic bottles encased in plastic packaging as possible. And the REALLY stupid thing is, we have a major mineral water source just down the road a few km away which used to sell bottled water in the local supermarkets until the corrupt local council managed to close it down. Happily, for us, you can still go there and fill your own bottles which is great.
SO. And I know I've gone on about this before . . . but, what about, the local, or nearest other source - not somewhere in Italy or Scotland, could provide a couple of huge water dispensers in the supermarkets where you could take your bottles back and refill them for say, 10 cents a go?
Possibly not as simple as I imagine, but better than container lorries of plastic water bottles being driven from hundreds and thousands of kms away just so we can have a choice - if we even need one anyway, most people, at least in this planet-sector, being blessed with sanitary drinking water.
Mark read me some extraordinary info from the Guardian this morning re the amount of plastic water bottles used in one year.

Imagine laying out half-litre bottles on the pitch at Wembley Stadium. You could fit 1.7m bottles on the grass, packed into a tight grid. Now imagine building up layers of bottles, covering the same area, to build a tower. To contain all the bottled water we buy each year, you would end up with a 514-metre skyscraper – 200 metres taller than the Shard.

Not something to be celebrated.

Leclerc's own emulation of the afore-mentioned plastic-bottle sky-skyscraper?

A slightly different fete d'l'eau in Cambodia.

Friday, 19 April 2019

Time for a new swear word on this planet?

Wonderful tad of editing . . . all swear words + Casino and Las Vegas by 'Roll the credits.

Desert golf course

The very phrase sounds somewhat unlikely.

The heroes in my latest novel arrive on Earth after they are given a lift by a space-debris clearing vessel. Unable to say exactly where they will be dumped they find themselves in a bald and desperately hot bit of Death Valley.
See extract below.
While I was studying a map of said city (and I have been there - not all ideas content based on Google maps!) I was curious as to what the very dark green areas within the city limits were - the rest of the colour pallet being mainly grey, beige, sandy, etc, as you might expect for a city built on a desert plain.
Golf courses.
I was fascinated and horrified, so then got completely side-tracked from the main story and spent an hour gawping at lavish, celluloid sites bragging about their golf ranges, pools, five star dining etc. How can this be allowed? Money, of course. But it's so extraordinary to more or less drape grass over sand, artificially landscape, and add elaborate water features/post modernist pilaster-encrusted buildings. In fact, the only 'natural' features might be the sand bunkers - but they are probably constructed with special white sand imported from elsewhere . . .
Even odder, I couldn't find anything much on the environmental impact of such places; tapping in: environment destruction by golf courses, and other attempts only produced one Guardian article and loads of YouTube videos of drone footage tours of the various SEVENTY or so Vegas courses, and films of grinning, overfed people taking a break from gambling and eating to stroll/buggy about on manicured grass.
Wonder how Lake Mead is doing these days.

Extract from 'Voice' - working title.

I’m still not sure where we are. 
No. I have no idea where we are. Ruby is sleeping in the shade of a scraggy tree – the only
one visible for some distance. It is intensely hot. Dry-hot. I feel worried that the
quantity of Bistanch’s version of water won’t be enough to keep us hydrated for long. The
arb, sun is high overhead and the silence is almost painful – just the humming of a breeze
through the needles of a vast cactus nearby and the maddening chirp of some lone insect.
Just as I’m wondering if the waste collecting crew might have misguidedly dumped us off 
onto another planet, a plume of dust announces the arrival of a vehicle. I stick out a thumb,
which is what I believe Earth-dwellers do, and wait to see if the driver stops. The truck
slams to a halt spraying sand and grit. A sandy-haired female peers out at me.
    “What in Heaven’s name s’yu doin’ out here?”
    The truth is probably not the best answer. Err, “. . . Our car got stolen . . . and we were
    “Don’t say! Where you heading?”
    This is difficult as I don’t know where we are. I think perhaps feigning death or at least
shut-down might be good but then she might just drive off and leave us.
    “The thing is, I can’t remember – think the drugs must have been really strong. And my
wife’s pregnant. You couldn’t take us to the nearest town, could you?”
    “Vegas? Sure. That’s where I’m heading.”
    “Vegas? Gambling, eating . . .”
    “Oh, yeah . . . and bariatric surgery.”
    “Right . . . what is that?”
    “Jump in and I’ll tell ya. Need a hand with yer wife there?”
    “No, that’s fine. Thanks.”
    I run over to Ruby, pick up the bags, shake her awake and harsh-whisper: “We’re near
    Las Vegas! Hurry, I got a lift – oh, and you’re pregnant.”
    Ruby stares briefly at me then scrambles to her feet. “What?”
    “I’ll explain later.”
    The woman signals to throw the bags in the back and to join her at the front. She
watches Ruby strap herself in. “How many months you gone, Angel?”
    “Just two,” improvises Ruby. “Thanks for this, it was getting so hot out there!”
    “Yeah, sorry, not much better in here. Air-con’s a bit on the way out. So, yer partner there didn’t remember where the car gotten stolen.”
    “Oh – it was Independence . . . do you live out here?”
    “Sure do. Don’t like Vegas. Used to live in San Fran but there’s more call for what I do out here. Got me a little place at Indian Springs, and a cheap city hotel when I need it.”
    “What do you do in Vegas?” asks Ruby.
    “Was ‘bout to explain to him – Bariatric surgery.”
     I glance around the grimy cab, note her weathered, brown hands.
    “You operate on people?”
    “Sure. Stomach reduction – biggest center for it in the states now.”
    “So, people come to gamble and get their stomach . . . shrunk?”
    “Stapled. Yup.”
    Ruby and I fall silent and watch the parched landscape zip past. I wonder why this woman is driving a truck, and ask her.
    “Bike got sand in the carburetor and wouldn’t start so Walt said to borrow this today. Hospital’s on the outskirts so I can park. Ya been to Vegas before?”
    Ruby leans forward and raises a hand. “I have, some years ago.”
    “Like it?”
    “It was . . . interesting. But I didn’t imagine I’d be returning.”
    “Ha! I’ll be getting out again soon as I’ve got enough to change direction.”
    “To what?”
    “Woodland burials.”
    “The way to go, honey.”
    I look out again at the beige nothingness of the desert.
    She laughs and slaps the steering wheel. “Of course not! Like I said, I’m outta here – back to Maine. Where I’m from. There ain’t no woods here, or much green, just the odd golf course – well, seventy actually.”

Wednesday, 17 April 2019

What would happen if . . .

This morning I read a Guardian article where the columnist had tried NOT using Google for a week.
Of an age where he could recall life when phone numbers were mostly stored in his head and libraries were the go-to place for more generally unknown information, it made interesting reading. Especially the point that he finds it almost impossible to concentrate on anything for longer than a couple of minutes before something else occurs in his mind and a new search is started.
Of course I had to then look up - on Google what would happen if the Internet really crashed - the main premise of my post-apocalyptic novel.
I didn't actually get very far as after typing in 'what would happen if' I was fascinated to see the top searches appeared to be:

If everyone went vegan - I was pleasantly surprised by this one

If you didn't sleep

If Facebook was turned off . . . What, and what, what? That is more than worrying - 3rd question?

If the moon disappeared

If humans disappeared

If you hired two private detectives to follow each other . . . er, didn't expect that.

If America left Europe to fend for itself. Mm.

Then lots more major concerns that humans might consider: what if the sun stopped spinning, what if the Earth stopped spinning, what if there was no moon, what if it really is made of cheese (not really) etc.
And a more in-depth one: What would happen if the sun suddenly became a black hole without changing its mass . . . think we could probably imagine what would happen.
And just for fun, and that I should be doing a job I want to put off, I just tapped in:
Supposing that, and the 3rd answer (the first two were to do with missing trains) and found:

Supposing that the rat weights follow a roughly normal model.

Enough Google for now, I think.

Monday, 15 April 2019

Dog sub-blog, No 3

I asked if I could photograph this little fellow somewhere in Dorset - I think.
Somewhere at the back of my mind a similar image stirred, then I remembered this morning - a certain Star Trek episode called, Let that be your last battlefield, (thank you wiki) The below-pictured character was, I seem to recall, somewhat malevolent, unlike this Jack Russel, who appeared, on the surface at least, to be full of contentment and keen to greet strangers.


Saturday, 6 April 2019

On the doorstep

I lived in Dorset for about seven years and visited the county during many school holidays before that, but somehow failed to make the trip over to Brownsea Island.
Brownsea is the largest of eight islands in Poole Harbour and is reached by a cheerful little yellow ferry, the voyage taking about twenty minutes.
I think if I had visited during those years it would have become a regular haunt - with a National Trust membership as the fee plus the ferry return trip adds up. Or, perhaps it might have been worth buying a tiny boat and traversing the straight myself - or not - the swell from a larger vessel cutting across in the other direction was quite impressive . . .
Amongst many other historical facts on Wiki, I was interested to learn that the whole island was purchased in 1927 by Mary Bonham-Christie for 125,000 pounds, and as she was a recluse by nature, ordered all other inhabitants to re-locate to the mainland. Nice.
Nowadays the island is a carefully preserved nature reserve and home to many water birds, bats and red squirrels - not that we saw any. But we did enjoy the walk, the peacock flocks, the views of sparkling not-at-all brown sea and an excellent National Trust cream tea.
I had a sudden longing to live on a very small island as the ferry left - just the sight of those waterside houses - bit of fishing, tend the salt-brave plants, sit outside and watch the sun disappear over the sea's horizon and later listen to the wind buffeting the pine trees in front of a evening fire.



Impressive ivy 


Birches - I think

A relaxing peacock

A tree's life

View from the departing ferry

Saturday, 30 March 2019

The last farewell

Goodbye Mum.


I had, like most people, been dreading the funeral.
Everything had been prepared - plot chosen, flowers ordered, words written, music decided on, catering arranged (thank you Ysanne and Greta), people invited . . . but the actual reality of seeing the person in a coffin, or rather just the coffin and imagining the person - Mother - inside, is a very different thing to all the more straight forward and mostly unemotional organisational stuff.
The day arrived, bright and sunny, and from the moment I stepped onto the gravel drive of the woodland burial ground I knew it was going to be a joyous occasion - of course tinged with much sadness, but it was impossible to feel really gloomy surrounded by so much springtime beauty.
At this particular burial ground the service was conducted in a little thatched barn - led by (thankfully, the funeral director had suggested using 'a professional' to 'glue it all together') Rob, a particularly eloquent, thoughtful and humorous celebrant - and included part of Mum's choir singing Mozart, Mark playing Ravel, Delius and his own piece dedicated to her - The Periwinkle Waltz; my poem, and words from old friends.
After the service, we walked up to the grave - a plot I had chosen as it had views of distant hills and magnificent oak trees - Rob spoke, birds sang and it was all just perfect.
Oddly, I didn't sob - I normally howl at all funerals, even at people's I hardly know. It just all seemed rather remote to me. I think probably as I'd sort of said my goodbyes after her first stroke and she became a different person; then followed all the years as she went slowly downhill which was fairly distressing. The last few weeks - see a few posts back - were utterly awful as she struggled on in hospital. Maybe that's why it was a relief to know she was finally resting in a beautiful wild-flowered place that I would visit with many happy memories of her from earlier years.


Up on Win Green Hill. A poem for Mum.

I wonder if within time’s fabric, certain memories still exist
Not just in my mind but in a sort of actual time
Do we still walk up on Win Green Hill? 
Where larks dive in a never-ending sky?
Or swim in Hampstead’s placid ponds
And clamber over rocks in Kimmeridge Bay, 
And after, drink tea in the ex-post-office café?
Do we brush through the ferns in Epping Forest?
Smell the summer roses in Regents Park 
And observe the waves from the Isle of Sark?
Watch Star Trek in black and white
Listen to our three records at Seymour Court
Pick raspberries at Greenhill Close
And stroke the nose of the neighbour’s horse
I think we do
The nocturnal house at London Zoo
The dark and mossy Highgate Woods
Its oak trees’ first springtime buds
The sand and sea at Canford Cliffs
Salty skin and tired limbs
The pause halfway up to observe
A brave scabious nodding flower
A darting lizard 
Old Harry Rocks
The Isle of Wight
The opal sea.
These treasured living memories.

Thursday, 21 March 2019

Stop Brexit

The planet is falling apart. We need to stick together to find BIG solutions to BIG problems.

Sunday, 17 March 2019

Birthday walk

We nearly didn't as the sky was uniform grey and rain approaching. But we did - quite a long one directly from the house and no car involved. Think I am going to start a series of 'deep topography' walks taking in the landscape surrounding our house and town. There is always so much to discover, appreciate and re-appreciate just in the familiar territory.
Today, I was drawn to look closely at lichen - what weird and wonderful stuff - the wikipedia definition:
A lichen is a composite organism that arises from algae or cyanobacteria living among filaments of multiple fungi species in a mutualistic relationship.

Also on the walk we nearly tripped over a large oblong slab of stone with names and dates engraved within the fissured granite surface. I vaguely recalled someone telling me years ago that there was such a thing on top of the hill crest from Limoux to the next village but I couldn't recall more than. that.
We were enlightened a little later by an elderly man driving on the back road to Limoux who stopped to admire the hounds. Apart from obviously being impressed that we had done the longish circuit he asked whether we had seen the stone slab - dedication to Jean de Brunhoff's great grandmother, (he being the author of Baba the Elephant). Ah . . . that's what it was . . .

We arrived back in Limoux just in time to witness the Arago Carnaval group's very, very strange 'theme' - each group present on the morning of their 'sorti' a mini theatre production of a few minutes - something usually political or something referring to local happenings; occasionally cultural, almost always bawdy with lots of sexual references, fake breasts/backsides, fresh fish, leeks, nuns' habits, men dressed as prostitutes . . . etc.
This particular theme with live Star Wars soundtrack played by the carnaval musicians (mostly brass and percussion) involved the unearthing of some sort of space ship? out of which appeared a very small and curvy woman with nowt on her top half except a few strings of beads, a masked man and the dummy of a baby . . . err. I asked various people if they had a clue to which they said, "beh . . . non."
Anyway, it seemed to go down well and everyone disappeared into cafés to drink pastis. We went home to make lunch and celebrate the rest of Mark's birthday and drink tea.


Sunday, 10 March 2019

Night night, mind the bugs don't bite

It's what Mum used to say.
I can recall the slanting triangle of light in my dark room as the door closed and sleep beckoned.
I've been saying it to her for the last two weeks as she has lain in a hospital bed, death beckoning.

I suppose I've never really dwelt on what the actual end of her life would be like - not perhaps something any of us care to spend much, if any, time thinking about.
I got the call over two weeks ago from her nursing home. 'She's had a stroke and the ambulance is coming'. I booked a flight and arrived at the hospital on a drizzly early evening, to find she was no longer responsive to voice or touch - as far as it was possible to know.
Mum was made of tough stuff. That, I never doubted, but I never would have imagined that she could have survived for eleven days once fluids were stopped. Yes. They do this. I'd always thought that once Palliative Care is decided on that the person is made comfortable and just fluids are given intravenously. But, no. Everything stops and it's just a matter of time . . . and in Mum's case, a very long time.
My cousin, and wonderful human being and retired nurse, came in every day and shook her head in disbelief at Mum hanging on. One of the things she could never understand in all her nursing career, and I totally agree with this, is why people cannot be helped to go when nothing else can be done. Apparently, if Mum had been moaning and thrashing about, they would have been able to inject a little opiate-help into her system but because she was deemed to be 'peaceful' nothing could be offered. As it was, I had to endure her dreadfully slow decline each day, hoping desperately that she wasn't aware of anything, other than earlier on perhaps, some of my heartfelt words of thanks to her for being an amazing mother, happy recollections, poetry readings and the touch of my hand in hers.

So, this morning at 4.00 am, I felt nothing other than relief to hear the voice of a kindly ward sister informing me that she had passed on. Of course, the reality will hit, but for the moment I'm just glad to be able to arrange the funeral for her - a willow coffin in the very beautiful woodland burial ground which oddly and happily is just very close to where she was born and lived for most of her life.
Yesterday, feeling at some very low point, I decided to take the afternoon off from the hospital and went to Bournemouth to look at the sea. I walked along the cliff path, felt the very blustery wind, observed the zipping clouds and gazed at the green restless sea; after which I had a cream tea in the wonderful old Miramar hotel looking out over their lawns and sea view. It seemed a fitting way to honour Mother as the sea and cream teas figured very highly on her list of favourite things.
Afterwards, I returned to the hospital and sat for a couple of hours talking to her and reading before leaving with the words at the top of this post. Did I know it might be the last time? Maybe. Maybe she had finally realised it was time to go.


Eight years of voyaging backwards and forwards to two different nursing homes. Good times and sad times; time spent with Mum on wheelchair walks along the river, trips to the sea, around town and museums; time spent with my lovely and generous cousins who have put me up and cared for me over these years; time exploring this beautiful bit of Dorset where I lived as an adolescent.
The end of an era.
Goodbye Mum.

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Serious shit

We are in it.

While travelling from France to the UK recently, I was struck more strongly than before - possibly as I my trip was concerning nothing of absolutely no frivolity (refer to next post when it eventually appears) - of how current human life seems to revolve around shopping and acquiring stuff. And most of it being plastic-centred.
Stansted's airport's shopping maze just said it all really with an unintended pre-apocalyptic message. I bought a banana encased in its own wrapping and travelled on, noting the Central Line had been entirely taken over by Apple's latest marketing strategy, and eventually arrived at my destination.


I stood in Boots yesterday after going in search of toothpaste (nothing at all available in a metal tube, of course) and felt very frightened by the shelves, aisles and displays of mostly totally unnecessary products. I've felt this sort of creeping worry for years but yesterday it was more of a looming awareness of some unpleasant end of the way we choose to exist, and not as far off as most of us might think.

Below, an extract from, The Mad Dog Café, part three of a trilogy I wrote back in 2013, in part concerning the state of play regarding overconsumption. Cameron has gone to stay with his hoarder parents and sister in Scotland.

"You'll live here?"
    Andrea nodded. "Yes. It's fine, a room will do - somewhere I can shut myself off from everything and the parents. They're happy about it, someone in the house to help as they get older, and no overheads for me."
    "It sounds a good arrangement," said Cameron, shuddering at the thought. "What are you going to study?"
    "Philosophy and economics. I’d already done an Open University degree a couple of years back when I was beginning to question my blind faith. What happened rather clarified my thoughts."
    "Will you look for a job?"
    "Maybe something part time, but there's really no point."
    "No point?"
   "Cameron. Go back to your life and live it to the full, while you can."
   "Meaning what exactly?"
    Andrea looked at him with her large grey eyes, brow furrowed. "Don't you ever wonder where we are, us, the human race? Don't you feel everything has accelerated far too quickly?"
     "Well, yes I do, but we are rather cut off from what most people would think of as normal life. I suppose I don't dwell on it too much, we're so busy with the restaurant and everything, the kids . . . "
    "You should perhaps dwell on it. Just think about Kirkaldy for example – six supermarkets, six! in this relatively small town. Each supermarket is stuffed to the hilt with food, but not just food – choice. Choice. It's an evil word. We've come to expect choice of everything and the manufacturers use that, more and more, and more choice of things we don't need. Do you remember that first Sainsbury's?"
    "Not really, no."
    "Well, I'm older than you . . . Mother used to take me there when it first opened. I can just recall the yogurt section, there was one, or perhaps two brands, and they offered plain, strawberry and toffee, that was it!" How much choice do we need?" 
    "None really, we just make our own yogurt and add things to it."
    "Exactly. That's what people used to do. But it's most worrying when you start thinking about it on a large scale. Kirkcaldy. Six supermarkets, each with a yogurt aisle five yards long – Fife with a population of around three hundred and sixty thousand, shopping in probably thirty supermarkets each with five yard long yogurt aisles. Scotland, how many supermarkets, how many shoppers, how much yogurt?"
    "And that's just yogurt," reflected Cameron.
    "Yes," Andrea continued, "think of everything else apart from food. Cheap jewellery, televisions, toys, toiletries; mountains of plastic in each supermarket or electronics store in each town. The way the goods are produced, the water used, the pollution, the conditions people live in who make most of this stuff. The planet can't support this. Children need to be taught about real life, earth, plants, skills that have been forgotten, while there's still a chance."
    "You think it's too late."
    "We got lost somewhere. We reached the point and moved beyond it."
    "You mean it's all downhill from now?"
    "I think so."
    "So, when was the point we should have slowed down."
    "I often wonder about that. Probably before computers really took hold, perhaps in the mid-seventies."
    "We'd still be stuck with shag-pile carpets and terrible fashion."
    "It's not a joke, Cameron, our governments can't even unite to stop the production of plastic bags let alone nuclear warheads. Something is coming . . . look at the weather, how long ago did we see the sun here? Cameron, go back, grow your garden, teach your children, make something for a different future."
    "What are you going to do?"
    "Learn, write, teach perhaps, make a small difference if I can. I'll look after the parents, I don't have other responsibilities like you do." 
    "I said I'd help them clear things out, do some alterations."
    "It's not that easy, it would take months and they don't really want change. I'm fine in that room and they have money to do repairs, I'll deal with it. Go home."
    "We'll keep in touch, Andrea. It's so stupid that we never have done."
    "I've changed and I don't blame you for not wanting to know the old me. Yes, keep in touch, if you like."
    Cameron stood up, cold from sitting too long in the chilled room.
    "Come and visit."
    "No, I don't think so." She smiled a little, stood up and went towards the door with a pile of plates, an odd figure; a school teacher from the nineteen-twenties in her long dress and bobbed grey hair. 
    "Goodbye, Cameron."  
    Cameron went upstairs to the bathroom pausing on the way to look in the box room.  It could have been a monastery chamber with its white walls and single bed; the upside-down metal cross on the wall made it less likely however. On another wall hung a print of an apocalyptic John Martin painting, the menacing clouds and crashing sea, strident against the plain paintwork. 
    Under the window lurked a small desk covered with papers and books. Cameron glanced at the titles: World Economics. What is Faith? Panglossery versus Pessimism, Back to the Land, The Road. 
    A large semi-dismembered bible lay on the left of the desk, its pages scattered, some Sellotaped to the wall, paragraphs circled in red. 
    He left the room, suddenly aware of trespassing into a life, a life that should have been known to him, but was not. 
    He closed the door quietly, and went down the corridor to the bathroom. The light bulb had gone; Cameron peed in the semi-darkness, the room's cluttered contents lit up intermittently by a guttering street lamp. 
    He moved through the wreckage and looked out of the window. The rain still hammered down, the black silhouettes of the trees waving wildly.
    Andrea was right. He would go back, tomorrow, early; the parents probably wouldn't even notice.