Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Wings, soporific and stoicism

For want of a new photograph or two this pigeon from the archive must do.

In blank moments before sleeping a sure soporific I have found is to  to plan a formal address.  The first few clichéd words suffice, accompanied in my imagination by  a pompous and rather patronising tone of voice. Thus: 
                                    My friends ...
                                    My dear friends ....
                                    My lords, ladies and gentlemen ...
                                    Workers of the World, Oppressed multitudes, Downtrodden, Wretched of the Earth, join me now in one mighty roar of protest, one cry for freedom, fairness, f.....
Sleep invariably follows.

"Never complain. Never explain." has always seemed to me  to be a good piece of stoic advice, and one which I try to follow  daily as I grow older. However sometimes explanations press forward. Why for example are you  walking about the house stiff and upright as a pieceof  lead piping, with an  unsmiling expression not far removed from the rear end of a Chieftan tank ? And if you explain that every time you turn  your head, it feels as though someone has struck you with a hefty chunk of mountain, while at the same time playing one of The Rolling Stones' more exuberant pieces at full volume? Well, you have ignored one part  of the maxim in pursuit  of the other. Some stoic!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Storm, mulling and ready made slogans

From the archive. Just a leaf, a symbol of introspection. Although leaves have been flying past the windows all day, one at time, to use an expression of Auden's, "on urgent voluntary errands", the majority, held by still vital juices, have remained on the branches. It is a persistence reminiscent of  the great storm of1978, when, by supporting the force of the wind, like sails, the leaves contributed to general devastation. The forecasters missed that one. Determined not to repeat the mistake this time round, they  spare us no detail of impending disaster.

A time for mulling over favourite subjects. For example, how little we still know about physics, dark matter, dark energy, anti-matter, multi-universes, that sort of thing!  I read reports of scientists studying particle behaviour in The Hadron Collider, and imagine for a moment, a breakthrough moment when in a gap in the fabric of this universe we glimpse for a moment, some one rather like you or me looking back at us, laughing.

Time also for the odd beef. Current one: ready made jokes and slogans. Worst of the lot the current fashion for variations of the wartime poster, "Keep Calm". What mindless creatures are we reduced to!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Flu, arse over? and Neck

A week ago struck down by a jab-defying bout of flu, I have refrained from blogging, for fear of communicating the virus to the computer. A week's growth of beard stands as testimony to an impact which kept me from the news desk.  Ensuing hallucinations  were, interestingly,  computer related. When I closed my eyes a screen invariably appeared laden with drab icons. Clicking them resulted in little little action mostly lethargic. Until I realized that the screen was on the inside of my eyelids I began to think that the device needed an engineer. One lasting image: a girl is swimming across a stretch of blue sea. She turns and raises an arm in greeting.

Arse over .... Thanks for your observations. My feeling is that the expression is flexible. Several variations come to mind. I did not invent "arse over elbow". I cannot remember who used it in my presence. But it appeals because of its graphic potential, suggesting a chaotic tangle of limbs.

Although I do not as a rule make a habit of discussing complaints, I should now add that the stiff neck which has features here and elsewhere, returned with a vengeance as I began to recover from the flue. The result: a human lamppost. Rigid neck muscles are now gently relieved by pain killers and anti-inflamatories, add a new and painful dimension to the sick room. Enough.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Spider, viola and arse over elbow

A stray viola seeds itself in a crack in the pub wall. I take the photograph nearly a month ago. Today it is still there and has been joined by another in the angle where the wall meets the paving.

Against the greenhouse door a spider is hard a work weaving its web. Though a lifelong  arachnophobe I have recently taken every opportunity to photograph the creature. As a result I am little less worried by the sight of the them. I take several shots wondering if the spider, which stops and starts as I proceed, is aware of a  hovering a eye a few centimetres from its domain.

This post is as they say arse over  elbow. I posted  it yesterday on my other my other blog One Fine Day by mistake   On One Fine Day meanwhile  I clicked "publish" half way through a story when I meant to click "save". So be patient and understanding when you read this. I will tell you when the story on One Fine Day is complete.

Beach, roots and age

Saturday 21 September.  Playa de San Sebastian. Holiday memories, assisted by photographs hang on. But don't think we have a beach holdiday. We have the beach but not the pain. We visit the beach to swim and leave it when we are briefly sunned and dried. But today I return to take a photograph. It is noticeable how people rather than  lie flat out and sizzle on the sand like sausages on a barbecue, stand around in small groups in their half naked state and talk.

This morning at home for two weeks, I begin to tackle the  vegetable beds. Bindweed has encroached from the building site next door. I take pleasure in the slow work of loosening soil and picking out the insidious roots. The thickness and intense white of the bindweed roots make the job easier. Earlier the bell-shaped white flowers have usurped the stakes originally intended for sweet peas.

For various reasons people nowadays enquire about my age. I respond with the modest admission of someone who has run up a reasonable score in a cricket match. I think I must have been six when my age first became a topic of interest to me and it seems to others. Six was a bench mark to leave behind, I remember;  seven one much to be desired. How old are you? Six and a quarter. I would say...six and a half...six and three quarters. Nowadays the sense of achievement in entering an age group is revived, but longing for the next birthday is rather less intense.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Persicaria, debonair and falling leaves

Persicaria at Groombridge Place
A trilby on his head, a cigar between his lips and his head held high, a blind man is led by his dog on the pavement Mount Pleasant.

In The Grove I stand beneath the big oak on the corner as leaves weighed down by the water and encouraged by heavy drops of rain fall vertically around me. They fall at regular intervals as though prescribed by a mechanism.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Disobedience , optimism and Alice Monro

"And I said to the waves, don't dare come up any further. And just look..."

As I pick end-of-season, swollen bean pods I notice one brave and hopeful bean flower among the drooping leaves and drying stems.

At a time when it appears to be out of fashion it is a boost for the short story to know that Alice Monro who has written nothing else but short stories has been awarded The Nobel Prize for Literature. The few of her stories which I have read strike me, because some tend to be on the long side, to make it a little harder,  for anyone who wants to,  to define  what precisely is a short story. She has been described as the Canadian Chekhov and seems to be almost as prolific as the Russian.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Me, seven and time

Finding that I can take a photograph of myself drinking a cup of tea in front of the computer by using the computer's web cam I do so. Why not?

A child holds by a string a floating balloon in the shape of the number seven. A troop of children follow. From this I deduce that a birthday party  is about to take place probably at the pizzeria down the road.

Some people I know have no time for time. They take pride in not wearing a watch and in not knowing what time it is. Maybe there is something wrong with me, but I am lost without a watch and plan and mark my actions to a large extent by the time of day. It matters to me that my watch is accurate and keeps that way.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Shadow of a dove, danger and harvest

Shadow of a collared dove.

In the doctor's waiting room, a mother addresses her two year old by his full name - almost a literary device: "Carter Jarret, you can't do that." Surely the name of a character in a novel, perhaps the very novel which I am trying but not succeeding in reading. " Listen to Mummy. No. It says Danger. Don't play with the fire extinguisher."

In the Farmers Market I note with awe and a little guilt the price of vegetables and that chard, butternut squash and chillis  are still waiting to be harvested in my garden.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Sunset, note and hole in pocket

Sitges. Sunset over the town.

Back home.  These words in a child's handwriting on a piece of  stained, ornamented notepaper lying face upward exposed to the weather for anyone to read.
 Dear Uncle Lardy
 Your my hope
 My uncle
 My friend
And I love you
 Sentiment straight from the heart and impossible to invent. A true story in 15 words.

A hole in the right hand pocket of my much used (though not for fishing) fishing jacket betrays that it is where my notebook plus Parker ball pen and Pental retracting pencil with eraser, normally reside. This garment, virtually a set of linked pockets held together by a zip is important to me. In it I  can accommodate apart from the equipment already mentioned: glasses, camera, telephone, catapult, Ordinance survey map, Swiss army knife, telescope, magnifying glass,  laser gun, folding invisibility cloak, and a worn copy of Scouting for Boys. The last mentioned items are imaginary but not the hole which is currently being repaired by the mending service called Retoucherie de Manuela in The London Road.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Early moon, swallows and bronchial peace

Greeted by a full moon above the road into Sitges it is tempting to take advantage of the photo opportunity.

Swallows gather at this time of year preparing for their return to Africa. In front of the balcony the air is full of the  agile little birds swooping and gliding. Over the sea they skim the waves finding insects even there. In previous years I have watched while in the sea at wave level  while they flew round me. This year I see  them face to face.

No one wants a cough on holiday. The pharmacist next door to the hotel provides a medicine called Pazbronquial, bronchial peace, a perfect description of what I need. The head cold disappears in the sun and the cough barely intrudes.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Two doves, yeti and wisdom

 Two more collared doves or probably the same as I posted earlier on top of an ornate street lamp.

A thin middle aged man is showing off in the beach. He has minimal bathing attire, and very little hair on top of his head, but otherwise is hirsute from neck to the tips of his toes. He attracts the attention of the younger members of my family. Later I learn he is known as the Yeti of Garaffe, a small town down the coast. He arranges himself on the sand like a work of art, unfolding and spreading towels like carpets. He has a page on Facebook, but I recommend no one to look at it.

In the window of a shop in Sitges  specialising in tea is a packet in English with the words: Tea is liquid  wisdom. Just add hot water.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Perspectives, owl and sunsets

Perspectives. I took a similar photograph last year but luck and experience have improved this version.

An unexpected and  present from my friend Artur Duch. A small book called Los Más Bellos Cuentos Zen incorporating El Arte de Los Haikus. I have always loved the stories told by Japanese Zen masters and the 17 syllable poems known as haikus. To read them in Spanish instead of English probably throws extra light on material inevitably based on translation from the Japanese. But what I like most about the book is the library mark on the fly leaf, which shows a perch  constructed of the letters Duch between two lines. On the perch sits an owl. When I draw Artur's attention to this he says that his name Duch is the Catalan word for owl. I am deeply touched.

People looking out over the sea as the sun set hold telephones up to photograph the glow in the sky and the red  and gold tinted clouds. On the screens the sunset is repeated again and again and brighter and brighter as the light fades.

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Agave, prawns and vibrations

 Evening in  Sitges with agave.

Among tapas on offer are fat, peeled prawns wrapped in thin strips of potato and deep fried.

The stainless steel railing, (as in the photo) which follows the edge of the  pavement along the entire length of the beach picks up up vibrations of waves and passing people so that if you hang on to it you  can "hear" the sea and the tramp of feet with your hands.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Perch, wisdom and feral cats

Handsome street lamps on the sea front make an ornate  perch for ringed doves.

Aged 80 you feel free to say want you want but what is there of value left to say?

Once again the pretty swimming pool in the hotel is ours undisturbed by other guests. Its surroundings are exotic, banana and date palms, bougainvillea, pomegranate trees and hibiscus,  and living among them three feral cats, the remains of a family of four or five kittens which were there last year. As soon as we arrive the cats look affronted at the intrusion and vanish into the undergrowth.

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Composition, bocadillos and scene-setting

 Composition. Legs, feet and shadow on the sand.

Among my favourite Spanish words is bocadillo. It refers to a sandwich but one usually consisting of a generous filling inserted in a crisp bread roll.  My favourite bocadillo filling?   Lomo, a slice of  freshly carved pork loin.

Every morning they set out tables and chairs, hoist sun shades, brush the pavement, ready for the day's entertainment. A gentle routine like setting up the scenery and props for the performance of a play.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Surprise, unaccompanied and litter-free

Three days into our holiday comes my birthday. And with it a surprise. Over recent years it has been celebrated quietly by Heidi and me in Sitges far from the madding crowd. This year because of the number of birthdays counted by some since my arrival on earth, the crowd come to us. As far as I am concerned  it is out of the blue. We meet as it were by chance at the restaurant where Heidi and I usually have lunch.  My children,  Toby and Pippa, Heidi's children Jenny and Caroline, Toby's two children, Jacob and Jet, and Pippa's Josh and Rowan, Toby's partner Kim and Pippa's husband, Dom, Jacob's girlfriend, Lydia, Heidi and I all line up after lunch beside the sea where a passing stranger takes our cameras and captures the memory for several of us. Only Pippa's daughter, Giselle at present in Australia, can't make it.
 How do you thank members of your family for such a gesture? I rise to my feet and casting my eye round the lunch table provide a vignette memory of encounters with  each of those present. My notes are their faces which fortunately I can still identify. A speech, I think to myself, where  my notes are their faces.

Every year a busker performs in front of the restaurants opposite the sea. He is an Italian clarinetist (not a very good one, I think) who has hit on the idea of trundling around an amplifier on which he plays recorded versions of classical music, for example Mozart's clarinet concerto - and at moments which he considers appropriate, makes his own live contribution. This year for a couple of days the amplifier breaks down. What an improvement! The reedy voice of his instrument, unaccompanied, weaves in and out of the sound of the  sound of the breakers, bringing a sad, plaintive and above all genuine note to his performance. For once he has my enthusiastic support.

Litter is seldom seen on the beach. Every morning council workers clean and rake the sand. But most important, beach users belong to a responsible and considerate culture. One man lying on the beach near the spot from which we swim has a cone-shaped ashtray with a lid. The sharp end of the device goes into the sand.  When he has finished a cigarette, he stubs it out in the sand and drops the end into the open end of the cone, covering it with the hinged lid.

Friday, October 04, 2013

From the balcony, beak and Babel

Edge of the sea.

With its small, sharp beak a collared dove under the breakfast table spots  with its quick black eye and pecks up crumbs invisible to me.

Menus and "to let" signs in the busy parts of the town are this year for the first time in Russian as well as French, English, German and Spanish.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

In step, waiving and sounds and strange airs

It isn't long  after settling down before I begin to take photographs looking down from our balcony where the bright sunlight  casts clear shadows on the tiles of the promenade. The tiles our new replacing the narrow road that used in former years to intervene between our hotel  and the sea.

Among those who walk regularly by the sea from one end of the small beach to the other is a woman whose exercise involves raising her arm intermittently so that you don't know whether she is waiving or  just keeping fit. Not drowning but waiving.

Somewhere en route to the hotel I hear a repeated electronic sound. "Is it me?" Nowadays so many devices call us with information of one kind or another. "It's your phone".  "No it's not: my phone is switched off. At least I think it is." I pat my pockets. "But where is it? Have I lost it?"  More searching. Could I have swallowed it? But the noise stops. It couldn't have been me. Or perhaps it was and someone has given up trying to reach me.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Dove, blankets and sketchbook

A collared dove arrives on our balcony to greet us as we enter our room at the hotel. Last year such a visit was a rarity. Now as subsequent arrivals demonstrate the birds have multiplied. They are almost as common as the sparrows which used to pick crumbs from under restaurant tables, and which they have now to a large extent replaced. As this is the first holiday snap I take just over two weeks ago when we arrive in Sitges for our annual indulgence in luxurious living and what turns out to be a holiday of magnificent  surprises,  it will be the first in the series  of snaps which will follow in the next few days.

Our first evening meal outside Costa Dorada is  at the end of a cold spell  and what proves to be the onset of a heat wave. The proprietors provided us with blanket as the wind rises. What a pleasure to hear the waves breaking just a few feet away and yet to remain snug. Sitting in the open whenever possible is important to us. I recall the presence of blankets outside restaurants in Munich in the Spring. Nowhere else in my experience, but Heidi says that in Bavaria and Austria it is common practice.

Our friend Artur who is an artist holds up his Moleskin sketch book. "This is my camera," he says. We bring  him one as a present every year. He must now have at least 10.