Wednesday 27 December 2023

Christmas Day 2023

Unremarkable but remarkable in it's unremarkableness; as most of the Christmas days have been that I can recall - contentment, lovely family, nice stuff to eat, dog walks, fireside, and wonderful and thoughtful presents. 

 Me in 'deconstructed' and wonderful coat that Ezra bought in a super 'frip' shop in Tours

Mark opening present of hand made leather chess board and case made by Ezra

Saturday 9 December 2023

London meanderings.

I've done many, many of these over the years; sometimes to do with a writing idea, or sketching but often just curiosity over how my native city changes constantly. 

Usually I find a room at the once incredibly cheap, St Atan's, hotel in Bloomsbury but even that modest place has become unaffordable. This time I found a generously low-priced Air B and B room on the boarders of Islington and booked it immediately, partly as the owner said it could share the secret of how to make white Marmite.

Taking a place in North London - more my childhood area rather than Eastwards which has been the case for several years due to for writing scenarios - I was excited to find a whole vast area I had forgotten, or possibly never visited in any depth. Canonbury was as I had imagined - full of elegant Georgian houses, little gated parks and rows of boutiques, but I'd never heard of the New River Walkway, something I noted in the flat's very excellent 'off the beaten track' London guide books. What an oasis of calm and biodiversity within London's sprawl - willow trees and a wandering path following a man-made river originally fabricated to provide drinking water to the area.   


                                                            Early morning, Canonbury

                                                               The new river walkway

Madness of Camden - but not as mad as Oxford St

a Hampstead back lane, and pub

I walked for hours with no plan, as I do, through the West End, on to Regents park with its joggers, dog walkers and groups of well-dressed Sunday strollers; and up to Camden - a mad tapestry of colour and sound, busier than I had ever seen it - and onto Hampstead, an epicentre of chique and spare cash. I did all the charity shops which were incredible! window shopped, drank tea when the cold became too intense and finished off a perfect day with a concert of experimental jazz in a church before returning to my lovely B and B room - which the kindly guy had upgraded to the whole flat as he was away, the only downside being that I never did get to learn of the white Marmite. Next time.

Sunday 3 December 2023

Read this, and then tell a friend to read it...

I haven't read a fat tome for a while, being rather occupied with many other things, but having the chance of more free time while away in the UK I entered a bookshop and had a quick browse - dangerous place. There were about forty books I wanted to buy immediately... I was about to turn and head for the Oxfam I had noted over the road as I had begun to feel overloaded with spendism - not a word? is now - when I noted the volume pictured below and felt compelled to buy it. I'm very glad I did.

I started reading in a café a few minutes later, and couldn't stop. It's a horrifying, fascinating, enlightened read; written in a playful but certainly not irritating way, with masses of factual, scientific stuff which I will have to read at least three times to remotely understand; a book written with real passion and humility, as if the author, even though a doctor himself, was learning so much as he wrote and researched; plunging into a dark and secretive world of non-food, pushed by huge companies with only one objective in mind: money.


Thursday 23 November 2023

Sheffield wanderings

London is my usual go-to wandering place but as I was visiting my lovely brother and his lovely family I spent a few days exploring somewhere composed of large hills and stone buildings.

They live on one of the seven hills of Sheffield, an hour and half walk into the city itself. The tram was an easy option but being now a dweller in flatter countryside I wanted to experience the calf-aching inclines. 

The views were inspiring: rows of brick and slate roofed dwellings, autumnal trees, and distant moorland hilltops. I sketched, ate scones and drank tea in various cafés, and enjoyed chats with folks about their gardens and or dogs.

The city centre itself I found less fascinating as many of the shops have been sucked in to the black hole - or rather glittering, white, Christmas bauble-infested nightmare that is Meadowhall. But I did buy some walking boots in an outdoor pursuits (what a lovely phrase) shop which were 80% off thanks to another consumer madness trap - Black Friday, even though it was Wednesday.

Some snaps of my meanderings.

                                                        V steep footpath towards town

don't miss the other sign - Battersea Cod's home...

Monday 6 November 2023

Done and not far off dusted...

So, it happened, the Kickstarter for Londonia to audiobook achieved its goal, or rather we did; the amount was realised with some last minute help from wonderful friends and family. Now the packing up of the rewards starts, and then the real project begins with recording, editing and adding of music/soundscape  which will take some time. 

I'm taking a computer break as much as possible for a while as I've been staring at a screen far more than I should have been in these last few weeks resulting in some unwanted bodily protests.... So next blog, in a while... cheerio.

Thanks to all of you who supported and helped me through this interesting but at some points very stressful and self-doubting escapade. It'll be worth it. The audiobook will be extraordinary!

Wednesday 1 November 2023

Another glimpse into 2073

Madame Caruso, a wealthy dame from the Cincture, sits in her drawing room with time on her hands and antique Ikea items to find.

Sunday 29 October 2023

Friday 27 October 2023

6 days to go...

Not to the end of the world, and nothing important on a scale of events going in the world on as I write, but, in our little household, fairly important. 
The end of our Kickstarter crowd funder is looming, along with a more ramped up polite request for money . . . we've come a long way, the sum now over 2,400 but there's still a fair bit to find. It's been a lot of work and still will be with all the 'rewards' to prepare and post such as the hand-stitched CD covers - and making up of CDs and bigger artworks. But it will all be worth it, and I know the end result will be an audible treat packed with drama, mystery and humour surrounded by a rich tapestry of sounds and music, and, of course, the marvellous voice talents of Steven. 

Below, an extract of myself reading the part of the story where Hoxton, our heroine, visits the rather creepy, Bert-the-Swagger, in search of 'antique' 2020s smart phones for her pampered Cincture clients.

                                                    My Londonia style CD covers.

Tuesday 24 October 2023

Meaningful presents

We have a huge colony of blue tits in the garden, enough that they pretty much queue up outside the one nesting box we attached to their favourite tree in the front garden. I found another box in a vide grenier (boot sale) recently but we still need more - especially as I read that the tit family are one of a few birds that actually eat processional caterpillars, therefore we need to add more homes to the pine trees in the back garden. Given more time we could make some . . .  or not . . . or I could give in and buy some from the scarily expensive local garden shop. Then our lovely friend, Louise, came back from the UK with a present for us and our bird population. 

This is an exceptional object - made by her mother's boyfriend - exclusively from old recycled bits of garden sheds and other collapsed garden edifices. How marvellous. I love the added decoration of a painted butterflies, ornamental stick, and the fact that it's a two tier logement allowing two feathered families to inhabit the box. Think he should start building tiny houses - I'd buy one. 

Friday 20 October 2023

Making a soundscape

14 days to go with our Londonia to audiobook, Kickstarter campaign, and it's looking good with over half the amount raised. THANK YOU! to our lovely backers!

Mark - pictured here with one of his smaller pianos :0) will be in London today making recordings of the Thames, pub interiors, and backstreets (avoiding present day giveaways of sirens, traffic etc - no mean feat!) to add into his Londonia soundscape for the audiobook.

Looking forward to the rich tapestry of the end result!  Link below if you'd like to support our atmospheric glimpse into 2073.

Monday 16 October 2023

Dog, I and lad road trip

He's not a lad anymore (25) but our road trips started when he was - around eight or so.

We had a free day so perused the map for a short while pinpointing a town we knew nothing about, not too far away but with some potential interesting stops along the way - probably not the usual things folk stop for: castles, famous monuments, prettiest villages of France, etc; rather, abandoned quarries, desolate unused railway stations, abandoned railway lines, and lakes, in case it was still warm enough to swim.

The town chosen was Bressuire, between Poitiers and Nantes. We stopped to give the dog an airing at an actually very pretty and interesting village called Curçay sur Dive atop a hill with panoramic views of the Anjou and Torraine landscape. The most interesting part was a small field at the top of the village where many species of vine had been planted in rows with accompanying notices describing the types of vine, age, original region, wine produced etc.


Dog aired, we moved on to Bressuire via Thouars - a town I think I have blogged about before which is a strange melange of faded grandeur and desolate concrete infested buildings/vast car parks. I don't think we gave it and its rolling countryside enough chance and will return to re-explore.

First impressions of the Bressuire were ones of the same faded grandeur and eclectic mix of post war/70s/80s buildings but with a more thriving atmosphere than Thouars - the main street being full of fairly up market chain shops. Soon, architectural detail, faded or otherwise, disappeared in significance as lunchtime arrived. Having decided against a picnic, we'd assumed we'd find a nice old fashioned bistro with cheap menu - sadly not. There seemed to either be plasticky, over-lit bars or a choice of two very expensive restaurants towards which well-dressed people were heading. One was fully booked anyway and the other, 28 euros for two courses - prices have certainly gone up . . . that used to be a relatively expensive evening eatery experience. I stopped trying to find an excuse for why we should go ahead and treat ourselves as the mental sum became around 70 euros for lunch - and the dog wasn't even included in  said treat.

The bakeries were shut. I had a banana and some cashew nuts in the car. Then we noticed a kebab place. The right choice, 8 euros a head with some spare meat for the dog, and the most smily restaurant owner I can recall.

Dog preferring wheely suitcase path

Fuelled, we decided on a walk to the factory area near the station, pulled mainly by the site of a bizarre blobular - new word - metal water tower. The station has had much revamping with new areas of planting, benches, sculptures etc, slightly spoiled by the glowering form of a vast abattoir at the top of the hill. We passed by feeling guilty about the kebab and then followed a path back down the hill and into a lovely and contrasting area of meadowland with winding brook and young willow trees. The town and region have spent much on this area, re-digging the river into its wandering shape and thus recreating previous wetlands and helping biodiversity, and probably feeling guilty in turn about kebabs and all the other stuff that starts its product life from the scary abattoir. 

The path continued into the grounds of the impressive and in parts crumbling castle/chateau that looks over the town. More money spent on gardens, metal structures and potagers of unusual vegetables and fruits. The grounds were lovely, enhanced further by a troop of handsome black goats (gated away from the edible stuff). We passed through the entrance gates and back into the melange of over-the-years architecture and searched out a cup of tea in the previous fully-reserved brasserie overlooking the very magnificent town church.

it was time to return to household chores and angry neglected chickens. I had saved them a pitta bread though, so all would be forgiven.

Thursday 12 October 2023

Dog and I road trip

Too many jobs to do; too many protesting body parts, so I decided to take a day off - with the dog. And, aware that this period of crazy late summer weather will end any day, I was keen to get a last wild swim in.

The dog doesn't really appreciate the road trip idea but sits upright on the back seat, eyes fixed on the road ahead - so maybe she does, difficult to know. We headed north with lakes in mind - the sea is my biggest pull but that would be a serious dawn to dusk road trip. About half an hour away is the lac de Rillé, a large area of water, part bird observing place, part human enjoyment - fishing, small boats etc. I'm never sure if you are allowed to swim there, but have done.

Rillé's South end

On the way we stopped at a favourite small walk of mine passing by the moulin de scée and its clear little river, so the dog could undertake the morning doings in some undergrowth, then on to Rillé where we walked the lake's ragged circumference, ate sandwiches - well, I did, and peered in at various access points in which to enter the placid water. There were too many fishermen however, and I'd forgotten my flip-flops so was unsure of what lay beyond the reeds. 

                                              The new bird observatory structure at Rillé

Feeling deprived of the swim I decided we would investigate the lake at Hommes, just a few KM away. This was easier - set up for swimming but as it was October, not a soul about. So, the last wild swim of the year was a placid, warm, smooth swim, none of the battering and oh, so wonderful waves of Brittany on our recent trip there. But non the less, a lovely close to the season - unless the weather continues in its worryingly hot trend. I already feel the thought of one-more-swim sitting at the back of my mind.

Hommes was a tiny village devoid of cafés or at least open ones. We had a quick explore then drove on to Savigné sur Lathan a small town which was mostly being dug up for G5 cable laying... it must have had an illustrious past as there were the vestiges of a town wall, moat and a few majestic houses but now it appeared beyond quiet and rather more crumbling than repaired. I sat on the bar's terrace for a while anticipating a cup of tea but no one appeared so we left, did a final tour of the empty streets and returned home, sand still between the dogs toes and in my shoes from the beach at Homme's lake.

                                                             This town needs vegetation....


                                                                    Tired and sandy dog