December; The Garden Poised #wintergarden #garden

December and into January in the garden is a pause in all the action. Images repeat with hope pricking slowly through the cold hard soil.

This poem I hope captures some of that pent up energy, twitching on the start line, awaiting the gun

Wherever we place our faith, in God or nature or another’s face

Once verdant boughs now sad skinned wraiths begrudge permissive youth its place

December’s death has gripped the land, once luscious leaves just left to rot

Brittle skeletal, hope’s becalmed in our lost Eden that God forgot

We fight the urge to hurry past, desert cold Earth under pleated sky

 And turn away from its last gasp, all dry and seer where no cloud will cry.

Yet stop we must, hope’s always there in amongst this season’s dying

It draws us close, it makes us care as life prepares for a new year’s living.

Spring forecloses on Winter’s debt, enough to pay for Summer’s lease

Succour comes borne on a breath that turns the key for each year’s release.

mind you, Dog doesn’t care…

Posted in gardening, poems, poetry | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Complaining #poetry #poem

What is it about complaining?

You approach the counter

Already rehearsing your clever, witty rejoinder.

Then, confronted by the hapless helper

With a smile and a ‘can I help you?’

All leant during role play

On the training away day

Where they forgot to hand out contacts

That hide the fear in his eyes,

You explain your dilemma.

Soberly, clearly, beginning to give some lee way.

This could be your son.

But

He slips and lets go a ‘who told you that, sir?’

And ‘it’s not company policy, sir’

And off I go

Skywards

Fuelled by

Justified indignation

And a righteous grievance.

Pontificating,

Gesticulating

Oscillating

Humiliating

Me.

It gets me nowhere

All humanity gone and

We’re back to role play.

Bugger it.

The smug pacifying but immovable shop assistant in polyester and gel

Versus

The grumpy old man in anorak and incoherence.

Posted in poems, poetry | Tagged , | 14 Comments

When I’m Cleaning Windows #writephotorevisited #suevincent

A return to one of Sue’s Prompt for #writephoto back in January 2018

Serge readied himself to knock on the door. It was an impressive piece of oak. ‘Just nod and smile, ok? She’s not keen on anyone new.’

Darren shuffled his feet. Serge thought him an odd lad. Sometimes he seemed shy and nervy, like now; at others he was full of himself.

‘If she asks you a question, let me answer it.’

He knocked.

Somewhere inside the house a dog barked and was stilled. Then a door could be heard to open and close and finally, after what seemed an age, the door itself began to move. It was on a chain and Darren could see a rheumy eye appear in the gap, stare at him, then at Serge, before the door closed again. Another pause and then the door opened fully.  A short ancient lady, in thick grey cardigan and woolen slippers peered out.

Serge smiled broadly. ‘Morning Mrs P. Come to do yer windows.’

‘Of course. Who is this, Serge?’

‘Darren. Me apprentice. Good lad. Hard working. Always…’

‘He knows the rules?’

‘Course. First thing I explained. Don’t yer Darren?’

Darren looked confused; he’d been told not to speak, hadn’t he? After what seemed like an age, the old lady nodded. ‘Your money is in the tin.’ She turned and pushed the door shut.

Serge let out a breath and then smiled at Darren. ‘Ok, let’s get this place done. All these bloody crittel windows take a bloody age.’

The two men unloaded the ladders. As the stood by the outside tap for the first bucket to fill, Serge said, ‘Rules. One, clear the sills with a separate cloth; she doesn’t like soap on the sandstone, says it stains. Two, don’t use a squeegee as it doesn’t get into the corners of each little pane of glass. Three, the two windows at the top, round the back, are outside our arrangement so leave them.’

‘She do them herself?’

‘No idea but I doubt it. You’ll see they’re all grown over anyway so you’ll get scratched to pieces if you try.’

Darren picked up the bucket and looked up at the front façade. ‘How many windows does this place have?’

’47.’

‘Geez. Better get on with it.’

‘You do the side and start on the back and I’ll get these sorted. She likes these especially clear as they are the best view.’

Darren pulled a face. ‘Pretty crap if you ask me. A school and shops.’

Serge smiled. ‘No, the view in; she likes people to admire the house.’

Darren lent his ladder against the back wall and looked up. The gable at the top had a double window, which, as Serge said, was covered in rose stalks and creeper. A lovely large red rose grew out in front of the left side. His Mel would like that rose.  He could just pop up and slip it in the bucket when they left. The work of a moment.

When Serge heard the short scream and the thud he feared the worst. Hurrying round the back, he found Darren lying on his back on the grass, a rose in one hand and a look on his face that spoke of surprise and bewilderment and, yes, terror.

He looked up; it was clear from the placement of the ladder and the height it had been extended to that Darren had been at the topmost window; the forbidden window.

Carefully he bent to his colleague. ‘Anything broken?’

Darren shook his head.

‘What did you see?’

‘It was awful. Hideous.’

‘A body?’

He nodded.

‘Dead?’ He’d often feared what might be up there.

‘No, worse.’

‘Oh god. A prisoner? Were they tied up? Chained?’

Darren shook his head. ‘Far worse.’

Serge frowned. ‘What? Tortured? Mutilated?’

‘Dancing.’

‘Dancing?’

‘Mrs P. Dancing. Naked.’

Serge patted Darren’s shoulder. ‘There are some views no one should see.’

Posted in #writephoto, creative writing | Tagged , , | 9 Comments

There’s Still Time #blogbattle

This was written as a response to the latest #blogbattle monthly prompt which can be found here.

So many of man’s innovations have their roots in accidents. Penicillin for instance. One, however arose from a circularity, an accidental glimpse of a future that became its own self fulfilling prophesy.

The advent of technology that captured moving images had changed the world in many ways, from the earliest forms of film, through television to live broadcasts. As the twenty first century gradually moved towards its second half the superspeeds used to capture those images increased exponentially.

Desmond Halloran worked for a small start up, in a dusty corner of southern Oregon that had once been green and pleasant but, since the ravishes of climate change bit had become brown and desiccated. Des had two passions: old TV footage of historic events and designing new ways to improve the images seen on the latest screens, especially the personal air monitors that created plasma-effect images for the user in the air which could both be seen and seen through. Having sent a piece of thought to his co-mind, he pulled up a problem he’d been working on. ‘Deli, have a look.’

‘What’s up, man?’ Des?’ co-worker, Deli Signirina shifted in her seat to peer at the grainy image floating in front of Des. ‘You not enhancing?’

Des smiled. No one looked at old original film anymore, not now they were capable of reint – or ‘reinterpretation’ – to show how they would look had modern panreal techniques been used. ‘See, I needed to revista (or go back to source), otherwise all the edges are gone. Look, see.’

‘Geez, man, that’s guts!’ (Guts = disgusting).

The black and white film showed the moment when John F Kennedy’s head exploded with the assassin’s bullet. ‘I was trying to see if I could capture the bullet. This is…’

‘Yeah man, that dude Kennedy. Why’d you want to do that?’ Deli peered closer.

‘Conspiracy yeah? If I can slow it, I may be able to work back, track it and prove where it came from. But then…’ he swiped the air, vortexing the image so the scene expanded into a series of stills. ‘See these are the original individual captures. I then decouple the ones around the bullet’s journey and…’

As Deli’s jaw hung open the frame that caught the moment of the bullet’s impact laminated into a series of separate images. The genius of the programme Des used meant that the single image broke into all the images that ran between the previous still and the next one, fracturing the time.

Deli raised her hand and moved the line of pictures back and forth. ‘I’ve never seen that.’

‘Me neither.’

The ‘that’ in question were a sequence that sat between the previous capture as the bullet entered the frame and before it hit the right side of the President’s head. Instead of a string of consistent frames there were interspersed fifteen blank screens.

‘How can they be void? That never happens with laminates.’

‘They’re not.’

Deli looked even more confused. ‘But…’

Des shook his head and pulled the first blank into the centre of his imaging. He then swiped it as he had the original. ‘This is the highest res we can achieve here.’ The blank fully laminated into a set of blurred images.

‘Is it corrupted? I’m what’s it showing?’

‘I’ve been through them all and eventually I got to this.’ Des wiped across a blur of dozens of individual laminates, stopped and backed up. The selected image was still blurred but this one had a shape. A figure in some sort of white suit or overalls appeared to be holding something.

Deli met Des’s gaze. ‘Is that person… thing holding the President’s head?’

Des nodded. ‘If I had to make a guess, he’s holding it in place so the bullet hits.’

Deli ogled at Des and then laughed. ‘Hey, you shopped me?’ (Shopped – used a fake image to confuse).

‘Nope. This is as is. No fixes. Something super fast, like faster than anything we can comprehend ensured that John F Kennedy was hit by that bullet.’

‘But what… no, that’s madness.’

Des agreed. But he’d lived long enough to see enough improbables become commonplace. He shut down the images, letting his imagination do its thing, a form of mediation used by creatives to pull ideas into the brain’s cortex. Something nagged and he went hunting through other famous dramatic live action films. Later that evening he pulled up film of the tank man in Tiananmen Square and narrowed his eyes. A similar set of blank images came into focus and while the laminates were similarly blurred, he managed to discern what looked like similar white suited figures around the tank driver. In the end he reviewed dozens of iconic moments that had been captured live over the previous eighty years and in several his efforts revealed similar blank inserts. He took them to his cohort. Piers offered the suggestion that the security sector had access to even faster resolution lamination and what became an historic investigation commenced.

A few hours later the head of the CIA called an emergency meeting of the security council. As the group assembled via their virtual meeting spaces, the presence of three strangers clad in white coverings and shimmering oddly raised some expected surprise. Crank Johnson called the group to order. ‘I’m not sure I can explain this but these gentlemen have come with a proposition.’

Steve Premberton, head of Homeland Security growled in his usual blunt way demanding to know when it was within protocol to allow strangers to join one of their meet ups.

Crank nodded at the truth of Steve’s interjection. ‘Noted, Steve, but the thing is we can’t stop them. I tried. My cohort are all…’ his face gave away his struggles, ‘suspended. As in they’re in some sort of suspended animation.’

‘Are you nuts, Crank? That’s a…’

Audible gasps gripped the feed as one of the figures disappeared out of shot and instantly reappeared alongside Pemberton who barely had time to begin to stand before he froze and sat down, staring ahead.

A voice at once smooth and toneless filled the audio. ‘Mr Johnson, if I may. Earlier today an individual uncovered time line manipulation which we had hoped would never occur. He doesn’t yet know what it is he has discovered but even as we speak his discovery is disseminating, including to your organisations. Unchecked the wild speculation will cause a crises of the sort you have never seen.’

Another voice interrupted. ‘How can you say that? Who are you?’

‘We can say it because it’s a scenario we’ve modelled extensively since the original and egregious timeline manipulations were made. Even as we speak the future is unpicking and in less time that you can conceive all your and particular our futures will be different. We considered merely ‘redirecting’ Mr Halloran’s researches but he has proved that our attempts at realignment have not worked and we are therefore implementing plan B. Openness. And you all are to be at the centre of this change.’

Crank leant forward. ‘What he means is we have a lot of work ahead of us.’

Raina Sparks emerged from the group. ‘Who they hell are you to tell us what to do?’

The white clad figure replaced Raina. ‘It happens I’m your descendant, fifteen great granddaughter, but my task is to explain a little about the future and what’s happened.’

‘You’re a time traveller?’

‘In effect, yes. And a previous visitor decided to play god with certain previous events causing chaos, so…’

‘What events?’

‘The proximate cause was the reinstallation of President Kennedy’s time line.’

‘You’ll need to explain.’

The picture of the meeting cleared, causing each attended to check their connection. In its place a speed up distillation of Des’s discoveries played out, with a commentary from the visitor. ‘What you’re seeing is exactly what Mr Halloran predicted. The figure is ensuring the President’s death. The previous visited had saved his life.’

Raina’s voice cut in. ‘Why the hell would you do that, if someone saved him?’

‘Because, by living the history manipulator ensured a nuclear conflagration, the desolation of most of Europe, an economic collapse and the virtual destruction of democracy. It almost ruined the space time programme that unraveled the mysteries of time travel.’

Crank pinched his nose. ‘But if that change changed world history, how did you know there was an alternate version?’

The white clad figure turned back to him. ‘There’s a lot to explain and not a lot of time to do it.’

Posted in #blogbattle, creative writing, miscellany, sci-fi | Tagged , , , | 10 Comments

Blog Battle, One Heck Of A Prompt

I try and do some short fiction pieces on this blog and for that, often rely on the stimulus that prompt’s give me. I still take part in Charli Mills’ weekly offerings at the carrot ranch but one of the others I enjoy is Rachael Ritchey’s blog battle, here. This year she and Gary have relaunched the concept and there will be the ability to craft longer pieces and, hopefully a certain amount of reader feedback. While that can sound intimidatingly it can also be incredibly useful. So pop over and enjoy

I will post my attempt in response to the January prompt above, sometime tomorrow. It’s sci-fi which is a departure. In the meantime, this is my first ever blog battle piece, from January 2017…

Rachael Ritchey has a prompt/challenge at her Blog Battle blog and this week it is to use the word ‘Thorn’ and a genre of fan fiction. No idea if I’m even close to complying with the rules but here goes 

The Whinging of  Odysseus 

Athena sighed. Bloody hell, would he ever get a move on? ‘Come on Odysseus, you’ve a home to get to.’ She tried cheery but in all honesty even her enthusiasm for this hulking sulking lump was dulling by the second.

Odysseus pointedly turned his back. ‘Go away. I’m not moving.’

‘Oh come off it, Odi, after all we’ve been through. You just need to cross the mountains and…’

‘Oh stop it, Pallas. I’m done with your ‘just one more horizon’ crap. I’m not moving an inch.’

Athena snapped her fingers and a warming fire started; a sumptuous piece of boar meat began roasting while succulent root vegetables peeled themselves and rolled into the ashes. She watched as Odysseus glanced at the feast, dribble appearing on his chin. Typical bloke, she thought, a sucker for a good meal and… She took the disguise of Calypso and nibbled his ear. ‘There’s afters too, you know.’

Odysseus pushed the God away. ‘It’s not about the meat or the, you know, other. I’m hurt.’

Athena stepped back and the fire and food vanished. He’d never rejected the Chomping-Romping combo before. ‘Hurt? You? You’re as tough as teak. You escaped prison with that tart, made a raft, swam for two days, dodged a bullet when Poseidon whipped up a storm, avoided Scylla and Ch…’

‘That was you, though, wasn’t it? It’s always you. One of you gods tell me ‘Oh Odi, you’ll be fine’ so I believe you and off I go and then I’m drowning or being chased by storms or snakes…’

‘Snakes? What snakes?’

‘Sorry, that was a different Odyssey. The point is, you lot put me in harms way and then don the old silver cape and rescue me. I bet you all go to that mountain retreat, sip a flagon of ambrosia and swap stories about how clever you are while muggins here is lying on a beach, spitting out a ton of sand and wondering when I’ll next eat.’

The fire and food reappeared. He waved it away. ‘I’m not eating, ok?’

‘You trying to starve yourself? Because suicide’s not in the contract.’

‘I know, I know. I’ll live on berries and stuff.’

‘Sure you will. Like you’ll survive without the meat fix.’

‘I’m not moving so get used to it.’

‘But you need to get home.’

‘Why?’

‘Why? What do you mean, why?’ Athena rubbed her face, accidentally taking on the guises of Mentor, Zeus, a minor footman from Troy and Telemachus as she did so. ‘You’ve undertaken a journey lasting years, faced near death what?  A dozen times. And now you ask why?’

‘I was busy, okay? Trying to stay alive, your honour.’

She dropped an arm around his shoulders, tempted to curse him to Hades and back but resisting. ‘Odi, Penelope is waiting for you. Your son too. It’s time you were home.’

‘You say that but, see, it’s been a while. Will she, you know, be keen? Someone said she’s been knitting a shawl for ten years. Doesn’t sound like we have much in common any more.’

Athena held his gaze in her own. She never really got his attraction. Sure there were the tatts and the muscles and the old bit of charm but he was rather frayed and, in truth, not exactly your bundle of fun. A bit whiny really. Plaything of the gods? More like the Immortal’s Burden. ‘Come on, what is it? It can’t be worries about the missus and I know you want to see your lad.’

Odysseus broke the hold she had on him and looked down. ‘I can’t walk.’

‘Can’t walk? Whatever do you mean?’

‘I.. it’s…’

‘Stop gabbling man. What is the problem?’

‘I’ve got a thorn in my foot.’

‘You’re kidding me. Let me see.’

‘Noooo. Gerroff.’

‘Don’t be a baby. Show me your foot.’

‘No.’

Athena swelled to the size of ten mountains yet even her awesomeness didn’t change Odysseus’ defiant expression.

‘Shan’t.’

She reached out and he slapped her away. She goggled at him. No mortal had ever slapped away a god, well not and lived. ‘Odi…?’

He couldn’t stop the tears. ‘I’m ticklish, okay? It’s my Achilles heel. I never could stand anyone near my feet. Ever when Calypso wanted to do that massage with the divine oils thing, I couldn’t handle it. Beginning of the end for us, that moment. Nothing to do with Hermes and her pleading. We were drifting apart when I stopped her toe sucking…’

Athena sniggered. ‘Oh she’ll hate it when I tell the gods it wasn’t Hermes charm that got you out. She’s been boasting about freeing you, like she’s some kind of sorcerer.’

‘Anyway, I’m staying put. That or you can carry me.’

Athena wobbled her hand. ‘That’s a possibility but not very manly. The suitors aren’t exactly going to run away if you’re carried in to Ithaca on a bier.’

‘God, a beer. What wouldn’t I give…’

‘Do you want a lift?’

‘Promise you’ll leave my feet alone?’

‘Promise.’

‘You don’t keep promises, do you?’

‘Nope but do you have a choice?’

‘I suppose if I stay awake…’

‘You’ll need something to keep you amused.’

Odysseus sat up, looking perky for the first time that day. ‘I do have an idea, actually. I thought I’d write a book. A real mother of a tome. An epic. About my journey.’

‘Okay. Puts the mockers on the oral tradition of story telling but why not. What will you call it?’

‘The Odyssey.’

‘Bit close to your own name, don’t you think?’

‘Well it is about me and my journey.’

‘God what an ego.’ Athena heaved him onto her shoulders, conjuring a portable table, paper and two pens for him as she did so.’

He kissed the top of her head. ‘I’ll make you the real hero.’

‘I know you will. You don’t think I’m suddenly going to give you freewill, do you?’

Posted in #blogbattle | Tagged , , , | 7 Comments

Flapping Heck #carrotranch #shortfiction #morganandlogan

Charli Mills is back with a new carrot ranch prompt

January 7, 2021 prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story using the contrasting prompts butterfly and stones. The two can be used in any way in your story. Go where the prompt leads!

‘Oh no, bloody buskers.’

‘We’re going home. Stop being a misery.’

‘I wouldn’t mind if they were any good. Less the Stones, more the Gravel. The

aural equivalent of grit in the ears.’

‘Didn’t you ever aspire to be something creative? Play an instrument, write a book?’

‘I painted a butterfly once.’

‘There you go, Logan. Yours could be a new school.’

‘Oh sure. My art teacher, Fosdyke, told me if it flapped its wings, the only wind it would whip up would be of the flatulent sort.’

‘You just needed encouragement.’

‘Or talent.’

‘That’s our flight being called…’

Posted in carrot ranch, creative writing | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

Travel Challenge: A Reflection

Doing the travel challenge makes me appreciate, once again, my luck to be able to travel and see many wonderful places. My views don’t remain consistent and some changes to my favourites are inevitable. Back in April 2015, I did the A to Z blogging challenge, taking a different country or town for each letter of the alphabetuntil I reached X. Then I was stumped, until I decided on this post. I think it’s as good a summary of some of my favourite places around the world, in no particular order until the last.

Xanadu: an idyllic, exotic, or luxurious place. X was always going to be difficult so I thought I’d give you my top ten places that I’ve enjoyed more than most and which haven’t already appeared in the list to date (and won’t squeeze into the remainder).

Sydney:

PhotoScan (2)
Iconic view of the Opera House, circa August 1998

We ended up here after touring Oz for 8 weeks back in 1998. Since then I’ve visited three times on business. It is beautiful. The Harbour bridge, the Opera House, the green and cream ferries ploughing the trade.

PhotoScan
The Lawyer, aged 8, demonstrating the best use of the Opera House

The hills aren’t ridiculous but give it the sort of topography that a city needs to have character. If a city is flat then it needs walls or canals to compensate.  The Rocks is (are) cool.

PhotoScan (3)
A view of and from the Rocks

The cricket ground a true place of homage. Even its business district has a neat compact charm. I don’t go a bundle on the beaches, mind – Bondi feels like it is its own pastiche. The zoo is quaint and Darling Harbour is all you would expect from a tourist rap but well done none the less. And if I do have a gripe, Sydney goes on for bloody ever: its suburbs frankly take the piss in spreading so far – not so much a sub-urban as post-urban. But the people have always been friendly, the food superb and there are few better ways to sped a few days than strolling around Sydney enjoying another sight or another easy going bit of banter. Go. But have energy; it’s vibrant.

San Francisco:

PhotoScan (4)
A classic view of the Golden Gate Bridge as the morning fog is gradually burnt off

This is beautiful. No, it is BEAUTIFUL. But that’s not the best thing. It has the best climate in the world. Stuck between the Bay and the Pacific is self regulates to 72 degrees every day (give or take). Cross the Bay Bridge, head through the mountains and watch the thermometer climb a degree a mile until your vital organs have melted. Ok, it gets chilly in the morning with the fog and it does rain a bit in January but for the rest I defy you not to enjoy it as a visitor.

more units design and K wedding 008
Pier 39, the sea lions. Boy does it stink!

True, I prefer variety but, at a pinch, I’d take this.  And the BEAUTY? Did I mention the beauty? Well, ok it is sitting on a time bomb and one day it will disappear in a pudding of liquefaction so don’t be there then. But the fact it sits between various tectonic plates means the city is made up of small vertiginous rippling hills, best seen in the car chase in Bullitt.

P1020563
oh those beauteous hills…

They alone are worth the visit but drive down Lombard, cruise the Presidio, enjoy the museums. Sniff out a bargain in Chinatown or something retro in Haight Ashbury (it’s now so post post post modern it’s come back on itself); taste the chocolate splendours of Ghiradelli’s or the sourdough along the quay.

P1020561
December 2013: the Coit Tower in the distance

And do find time for the murals in the Coit Tower – America as a socialist paradise, discuss. And Alcatraz is worth a visit but book.

Tallinn:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Up on the wall; it’s not as accessible as Dubrovnik but it has a more ramshackle charm

We ended one summer holiday here as a result of yet another example of dickhead tours in action. We planned to visit some Scandanavian capitals – Copenhagen, Stockholm and Helsinki (we’d already seen Oslo some years ago) before ending in St Petersberg. Unfortunately I forgot to get visas to enter Russia and only realised in Stockholm. By then it was too late. However as readers will know, dickhead tours’ USP is that while  the original plans may crater there will always be an alternative. Tallinn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The place is full of churches

We caught a ferry across the Baltic – millpond calm it was – and spent three days in the walled city. It is medieval with Catholic and Russian Orthodox churches, beautiful streets full of quaint and quirky buildings seemingly built one on top of the other with bars and restaurants at reasonable prices to suit any palate and pocket. Indeed a few too many booze tours and stag parties end up here so late nights are probably dreadful. But the daytime is a delight. One church, bombed out by the Luftwaffe in the 1940s was rebuilt by the atheist Russian backed government and is now a community centre and art space of much beauty.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The winter palace – and me…

Outside Tallinn the Winter Palace tells of a time of a different Russian domination, under the Tsars. This is a fiercely independent country which has enjoyed a renaissance inside the EU and NATO. Try it before Putin tries to take it back.

Stockholm:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Stockholm is water is Stockholm

As I said above Stockholm was on the same itinerary as Tallinn. By contrast it vaunts its many years of independence and liberalism openly and in Gamla Stan, the island housing the original settlement and the Royal Palace (with easily the most ridiculous household troop of any nation I’ve been to) it has a tiny jewel that warrants two days on its own. It had a Tintin shop, for goodness sake – the ultimate exemplar of civilisation at work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The model; if this is as it was, Wow!

Highlights include the modernist tapestry in the town hall, the exceptional Vasa, a ship that sank on its maiden voyage in the sixteenth century and lay buried in silt in 30 metres of water in the harbour until being discovered in the post war years and then, amazingly, brought to the surface and preserved. Stunning, gobsmacking. Oh, and do visit the Nobel museum. For a man who invented one of the most deadly of explosives, dynamite, Alfred Nobel has done a lot of good with his cash. The history of the peace prize made the visit for me.

Bristol:

2014-10-25 16.23.54
Brunel’s quite breath-taking suspension bridge

My alma mater, where I met the Textiliste, as I sold memberships of the law club during our freshers week in 1976. I remember the utterly beguiling blue eyes, full lip-bordered grin and a scarf that was twice as long as mine. We took our time falling in love but we didn’t stop once we started. You might say the same with Bristol. It is hilly and tiring and in places still shows off its scruffy history but it has corners of beauty and joy.

2014-10-26 13.24.32
You get some sense of the hilliness; a bane of an undergraduate who walks everywhere.

The university buildings, built with tobacco and slave money display the sort of grandiose splendour you would expect. The suspension bridge is completely stunning. The docks and the SS Great Britain tourist traps worth the time.

2014-10-26 15.33.29
There’s a lot of street art…

But wander Clifton, drink coffee, take in the Downs and the camera obscura, sniff out food and fashion in St Paul’s, find a Bansky stencilled on a wall and you will soon smoulder into a love affair that lasts a lifetime.

Cork:

97140026
So old this is black and white… and the cheapest film at the time!

Ireland 1978. My degree done the Textiliste and I headed for Southern Ireland and a hitch hiking holiday from the ferry port at Rosslare to the  Ring of Beara and Bantry Bay. We camped; we shared cars with fussy Germans and wacky Norwegians; we stood at a bus stops and discoursed on the existence of God with a George Clooney lookalike, pissed to the point of grandiose articulacy.

97140027
was I really this skinny – the scenery is stunning too!

We encountered generosity and suspicion, good nature and outright hostility. We ate simply, slept when the sun went down until it came up and saw the greenest, most beautiful countryside imaginable. I was too young to enjoy it fully, too old to feel entirely at ease and I knew that I needed to go back and do it justice. One day soon.

Amsterdam:

Amstedam is canals and cannabis cafes, or so the theory has it. But it is also bicycles and book shops. It has an architecture that repeats but is never quite the same. It is slow and at ease with itself and tells you, as does Venice how to work a city without cars. The Dutch are a fabulous people, ireverant and generous. They don’t do shame in the way we do across the channel. Take the nipple: in England the nipple today has the status that a homosexual man had in the 1950s – anxious to stay hidden, unsure and if displayed in public liable to generate sniggers or trigger anger; in Amsterdam the nipple is out and proud – it knows it is both repected and loved and, best of all, broadly ignored. What is not to like about a city, a nation that can embrace the nipple and make it feel welcome?

Bruges:

DSCN1142
A happy family Christmas break 2007

Ah Belgium. Name ten famous Belgians? Old joke. In Bruges it has answers to any questions asking ‘what is the point of Belgium?’ Like Amsterdam it has canals, like Tallinn it has a vibrant core that has a historic integrity. It is home to the most fabulous of chocolate shops and cafes.

DSCN1171
Just love this scene – very Bruges

It serves 400 varieties of beer, many flavoured (‘your usual arrowroot and cardamom Pilsner sir?’).

DSCN1145
Er and you were 15? What on earth were your parents’ thinking?

Go at Christmas for the market – Europe does many a Christmas market but Bruges is excellent – and enjoy the crisp air and the ice show that is stunning; even Bill Murrray in Groundhog Day would struggle to learn these techniques.

DSCN1185
Just superb

And now, with Eurostar so efficient (mostly) it is a hop, skip and jump away.

Tobago:

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
And when it rains…

We’ve been to several Carribean Islands over the years but Tobago takes a lot of beating. It has rainforest as well as beaches. I wasn’t expected to ride a bloody horse which, believe me, is a definite plus. And it stimulated a lot of poetry. Frankly apart from the Turks and Caicos which was a complete disappointment, each island we have been to – Barbados, Antigua, St Lucia and Trindad – has offered something for the visitor if you want relaxation, some sights and a lot of cocktails and time to read – which, coupled with kid’s club is all the incentive I needed for a holiday when the sprogs were d’un certain age. And here’s a poem – I feel like a Vogon, forcing this on you but, hey, who’s writing this?

Sonnet of Sand

The Disco Junk thrums past, a rainbow

On the puckered sea. Rock-like skulls,

Guano iced, are parliament to trilling gulls

Eyeing the coral fish, flashing their tarty show.

Cinnamon frosted babies, paint the beach

With plastic spades; eyeless parents, basted

For spit roasting; happy to have wasted

Their nurtured cash on dark staining their peach

White flesh. Seven days of frantic relaxation,

Spent anxiously checking for zebra stripes,

Are reward for a year’s dead-eyed toil. Gripes

Are banned; they have their compensation

In the form of a booze-induced coma

And the first stirrings of a melanoma.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
A Parliament of gulls

Sarf London:

2014-05-06 17.19.53
Brockwell Park; the pond, the walled garden where Shakespeare is performed in the summer and a community garden carries on the year round

Home. Heart. Peace. Safety. A bed that knows me. An oven that does my bidding. A space to write and a garden to grow. Streets that fit like worn slippers. Parks that envelope you in parental-like hugs. Nodding acquaintances. Easy access to the best, most culturally diverse place on the planet bar none (on yer bike, New York, you ain’t close).

DSCN1222
Me and my loyal companion – the much loved, now departed Blitz – we always enjoyed an ice cream

Weather rather than a climate. Tolerance in human form. If I could live anywhere at any time it would be here, now – unless the Textiliste wanted to move then I’d go.

P1020716
we do get snow; and when we do, the world becomes magical

Well, unless she wanted to move to North London. That would be intolerable.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Multicultural moi! Sorry for the egregious appropriation (no, not really)
Posted in miscellany, travel | Tagged , , | 24 Comments

Travel Challenge – The Results, Day Ten

You kindly followed me through ten days of travel pictures, guessing where each one might be. I thought I’d put you out of your collective miseries/make you punch the air with a ‘Yes, I was right’ with a follow up.

Day ten was

Not too hard this, from a post in 2018. The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, part of three and a bit week holiday I took with my lovely spouse in1988 – love her pink trousers and red boots! BTW, my fallible memory had us in Kenya for the Serengeti and it’s in Tanzania. The fact – having checked back – is we were in Kenya when we visited. You could back then it seems…

Doing A Safari

The trip took us from Tanzania to Kenya and on to Mauritius. It was fantastic and I recorded my memories of it in this post

kenya-two0039

In part one we were in Tanzania and we had had a wonderful time; our guide, Moses took us to the Kenya border to meet our Kenyan guide. Once again I’m not sure I remember his name correctly but it was something like Joshua or Completely-Miserable-Sod-for-Two-Days-and-Then-Fine.

First though we had to cross the border which involved a palaver and some Shillings passing in Masonic handshake ways. When in Rome and all that…

Once across, the roads, which up to that point had been baked and rutted mud and which, Moses informed us, were only comfortable if we travelled at 57 miles an hour – he was right – became the smoothest of tarmac… for ten miles. Once away from the border and the chance of a bit of National Braggadocio, it reverted to the packed red dirt that was ubiquitous in this part of the world.

kenya-two0035

It took a day to find out why Joshua had the grumps. He thought we were all related to royalty and had been gifted the wealth needed to visit Kenya. We dissembled which made it worse. In the end we accepted that, for him, it was easier if he thought we were Empire scrounging free loaders, with a penchant for silly jewelled headgear and a dodgy German ancestry – which I guess in a sense we were (not the German bit, of course). Once we had our roles clear, it was all smiles.

Joshua knew his stuff. We were soon in the Serengeti and whereas Moses let the images do the talking, Joshua explained the habits, the life cycles, the threats – poaching then was a great problem that, sadly hasn’t gone a way – and the personal stories of a number of the main creatures.

kenya-two0036

For instance did you know that this:

kenya-one0018

The Rock Hydrax, is the Closest relative to this:

kenya-two0010

The African Elephant? Sounds like bollocks but I did check that on Wiki and, yippee, my brain isn’t yet total mush.

kenya-three0002

We did have to spend some time visiting the indigenous people, the Masai, who were lovely but I have yet to participate in one of these visits and not felt totally intrusive. That and I just can’t pogo like the Masai men; and I’ve pogoed to the Clash, been showered with the Stranglers’ bodily fluids while doing the up and down jumping bit and, well, you get the picture.

kenya-three0001
See the guy on the right? Amazing. I was in awe.

Cue music btw…

Anyway, Joshua led us on some fabulous game drives. And I learnt one thing very quickly. If there was one creature that stunned me here, it was the cheetah.

kenya-two0024

We saw many, mostly dozing in the partial shade.

kenya-two0025

They slinked, they stretched in ways that would make an Olympic standard Yogi split himself with jealousy and they were the fastest things I’d seen until the Vet stood on an eviscerated mouse, left as a gift by one of our cats: once she realised the gloop oozing between her toes was intestinal, she really moved. What particularly blew my mind was the camouflage.

kenya-two0029

This has to be the best photo we took all holiday. Can you see the cheetah?

kenya-two0031

Here’s a close up.

kenya-two0030

Yep, the Textiliste nailed this one, damn and blast her.

Two other memories stand out from this point on the trip.

kenya-two0023

The first was the sheer vastness of the migration we saw – we managed this picture of the meander of thousands of wildebeests, zebra and buffalo but nothing prepares you for seeing it live.

kenya-one0022

You could watch it for hours, unfolding across the plains.

kenya-three0003

The second was the scent of the frangipani blossom.

kenya-two0008

We were staying by a lake where the hippos came out at night to graze on the grass by the river banks. We were told, under no circumstances to leave the path back to our hut after dinner.

kenya-two0009

Getting between a hippo and the water was a recipe for disaster. Needless to say, we stuck close in the pitch dark as we clutched each other and the feeble torch we were given. Half way back, a thunderous roar rent the air, much like a jumbo jet warming up. This was followed shortly by a smell that can only be described – well, I would if I had the adjectives to do justice to something so rotten and putrescent. A Hippo fart is like a Trump press conference: incredible, unpleasant and gargantuan in the way it leaves you gasping for oxygen.

But really there was so much wildlife…

kenya-two0011
kenya-two0020

Oh I forgot the Stranglers…

Now they were wild… Where was I?

kenya-four0002
kenya-four0001

In the Serengeti we saw so much; talk about spoilt. Hunting dogs

kenya-two0041

and ostrich

kenya-two0033
kenya-two0028
kenya-two0027

exotic giraffes; apparently these guys are also bankers being related to the Rothschild scion (Giraffa camelopardis rothschildi) – who knew?

kenya-two0004
kenya-two0003

more lions

kenya-two0023
kenya-two0038
kenya-two0037
kenya-two0040

various antelopes and deer

kenya-two0032
kenya-two0001
kenya-two0026
kenya-two0022

and elephants and birds and a monkey and a croc and…!

To say it felt a wrench to drag ourselves away would be an understatement but we were off to see Nairobi and, from there the Aberdare Mountains and Treetops. Next time…

Posted in miscellany, travel | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Travel Challenge – The Results, Day Nine

You kindly followed me through ten days of travel pictures, guessing where each one might be. I thought I’d put you out of your collective miseries/make you punch the air with a ‘Yes, I was right’ with a follow up.

Day nine was

During a delightful month I spent in New Zealand with the Broker, my son, at the end of 2014. This is from the World of Puzzles in Wanake which I featured in this post…

As we drove south from Franz Josef Glacier it became apparent that what the South Island is good at is excess. Mountains, lakes, empty and perfect highways, foliage. Boy does it do foliage and is it green. Like a rainforest here on the west coast.

2014-12-11 14.41.52
see, mountains lakes and green stuff.. what’s that little bit of yellow?

In fact it is too green. See the yellow? Broom. Beautiful. Lots of it. Lupins too (did you see them in the last post?). The thing is none of this colour is indigenous. It was all introduced by the white settlers who wanted to make NZ a little Britain or Austria or wherever. Odd, yes? If you see pics of rainforests they’re bursting with colour.

A bit of history. Before the Europeans, NZ had no land mammals. Yep none. I think they might have had a bat or two but that was it. I heard the Maori, who it is thought came over from the 13th century on may have brought pigs but they were farmed and not allowed out. Basically the birds ran NZ. Big flightless buggers like the Moa and the kiwi and all sorts. So pollination was done mostly by birds who don’t need to be attracted by colour like insects. There’s a bit of white (Manuka for example, which provides loads of honey for instance). I don’t know if they had bees too; maybe but the lack of colour is fascinating hereabouts.

Now we, the Europeans but especially the British, are buggers for knowing everything and getting it wrong (please look out in comments for the Archaeologist correcting me here – if he does he will be right). In Australia we stopped the Aborigines from their managed burn of the under grasses causing massive and explosive forest fires of the eucalypts. Here we brought in domesticated animals but also rats off ships and deer, rabbits and chamois for hunting (the rabbits were such a success they were devastating everything so we had a great solution – to introduce the stoat (a type of weasel) because they caught and killed rabbits back home. Stoat are awesome survivors, eating damn near everything even their own young if the food is short so what did they do? Chase rabbits? No fear; they looked at all these naïve birds and thought ‘I’ll ‘ave some of that, chum’ and nearly wiped them out.

We did the same thing with plants and grasses and trees (the Wilding Pine is a real nuisance apparently) so today a lot of time and effort is spent trying to curtail the immigrants and protect the locals (UK politicians would feel at home here just now but without the justification).

They farm Kiwi eggs; a new born have a 5% chance of survival; a one year old Kiwi an 85% chance. They work bloody hard to undo the wrongs of past generations.

Much the same as the Waitangi Commission seeks to restore fairness to the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (see my earlier post). Basically we thought we’d taken sovereignty over the whole land, even while accepting we would pay a fair price for any land acquired; for the Maori it was like a management contract – they’d continue to own it for their descendants but we’d buy management rights. Never was anything more ripe for misunderstanding; never was it clearer that the Europeans knew exactly what they were doing (not).

2014-12-11 17.11.11
Lake Wanake, on the way south

Our drive south to Queenstown was long, wet at the start (well, they do have 300 days of rain a year on the west coast) and sunny later. We stopped at Haas Township, a bit of a two horse town but with a gem of a possum shop. Another aggressive introduced species, the possum has a lovely warm soft pelt and either on its own or melded with Merino wool is divine. Of course we just browsed!

We stopped a few times. At Wanake we had a strange experience in the World of Puzzles.

2014-12-11 15.49.28
Silly man
2014-12-11 15.46.41
Oh you’re not meant to see the steps!

2014-12-11 18.07.49
above Queenstown
2014-12-11 18.08.24
and in panorama

The stop overs were worth it.

Queenstown isn’t exactly aimed at the culture vulture. Decent coffee, nice riverside restaurants but basically it’s the home in the South of the outdoor sports. And here Le Pard Cockup Holidays came into play again. My carefully reworked itinerary, in my head, had us driving all day to get here (400 km after all) and then starting this morning with a bungy jump. Only according to the actual itinerary the bungy was yesterday. So we awoke to a knock on the door from our B&B hostess to say our van was here to take us to the start of our Routeburn walk. I frantically checked the paperwork and sure enough I’d got it wrong. We’d missed our jump. To say the Lawyer wasn’t best pleased is an understatement.

Still never daunted we set off on our tramp and boy was it worth it. I had to put up with a degree of grief. He said it was deliberate and I had ‘bottled it’. I mean it is only the highest in the world at 134 metres so why would I have even half a second thought?

The jungle like setting, the tumultuous torrents and the gorgeous mountains really speak volumes for themselves. So, Wordless Wednesday, two days late.

2014-12-12 09.53.06
2014-12-12 10.19.00
2014-12-12 10.19.03
2014-12-12 10.42.06
2014-12-12 10.52.07
2014-12-12 11.19.57
2014-12-12 12.17.10
2014-12-12 12.37.56
2014-12-12 13.56.33
2014-12-12 14.01.53

The boy done good.

2014-12-12 15.01.45

And after? What do you do if you’ve tramped all day?

2014-12-12 19.47.57
2014-12-12 19.27.25
2014-12-12 19.27.12

You experience the one cultural delight Queenstown has to offer. When Brian O’Driscoll, the most capped Irish rugby god and all round awesomeness arrived in Queenstown during the 2011 world cup he headed straight for Ferg Burger. It is an institution.

Posted in miscellany, New Zealand, travel | Tagged , , , | 20 Comments

Travel Challenge – The Results, Day Eight

You kindly followed me through ten days of travel pictures, guessing where each one might be. I thought I’d put you out of your collective miseries/make you punch the air with a ‘Yes, I was right’ with a follow up.

Day Eight was

A set of Gormely-esque (though in fact not by the said artist but one Peter Burke, I think) statues that stand on the Thames embankment at Woolwich in South East London and which also happens to be the start of one of my favourite long distance walks, the Capital Ring. This is a 78 odd mile circuit that rings around London and follows as closely as it can the parks and green spaces and riverbanks that make London such an enjoyable place to live, if you have your legs, a canine companion and decent-ish weather.

Here’s one post from Novmber 2018 of the start of the Capital Ring taking in Woolwich. For Dog watchers, he features, if that tempts you to read on…

A week or so ago, I wrote about a wander with the APE when we did a section of the Capital Ring, a circular walk around London that aims to take in as many of the green spaces as possible as the route snakes from east to west and then crosses the river Thames to go back west to east.

A group of friends and I decided we’d do another walk, this one comprising three sections, from the official start of the Capital Ring, on the river at Woolwich to near my home at Crystal Palace. It’s a fair way – officially 17 miles but with the bit at the start from the station, and at the end nearer 18. It’s November (who knew?), the clocks have done their falling back thing and so the evenings are ‘closing in’ as my gran used to have it (is it me but does the concept of ‘closing in’ seem a little sinister, like the siege is about to be mounted by winter’s monstrous forces of darkness or some such) so, any way, we didn’t want to be out in the dark, because, well, mostly because they shut the parks and we could be trapped.

Getting to Woolwich necessitates a two stage train journey that lasts about 50 minutes. On part one, into the City (London Bridge station to be precise) I knew I would be sharing with commuters. As would Dog. Now readers will know Dog is

  • well behaved
  • as cute as a chocolate fancy
  • curious

He sniffs. He’s also predominantly white haired and people who work in London are often clad in black or blue. A combination of his ineffable attractiveness, his need to sniff shoes and legs and people’s willingness to stroke him means… let’s just say that a couple of commuters left the train smiling but with an asymmetric herringbone pattern on the back of their legs.

My fellow walkers have known me for many years, all former work colleagues. Yep a group of ex lawyers, collectively an Invoice. The one way you know someone is a lawyer is his or her inability to (a) be punctual (b) use time wisely and (c) do as they are told. Consequently if we were to make the mileage I had to be ruthless, get them underway, hold them to a strict three mile an hour pace.

They settled into the cafe and began to reminisce. Buggers, the lot of them.

Eventually, twenty minutes and a rather decent cappuccino later we headed for the river through the former Royal Arsenal at Woolwich. This was the place where the British army made its weaponry and, when it was going abroad to some far off land to try and bring the benefits of civilisation to some dusty speck of the planet in the name of all that was good (the aggrandisement of the British exchequer mostly) the place where the troops would muster before collecting said tokens of peace (muskets, rifles, artillery and all things whiz-bangery) and boarding ships to set off wherever.

The buildings are rather splendid, now that they have been converted into museums and residential palaces; the sculptures, no doubt put up by the developer to show his cultured credentials, frankly bonkers; but the good thing about the walk is it takes you to the River.

The Thames here, just down stream from the barrier is murky, fast moving and pretty unappetising. The banks either side still have signs of the previously industrial past, mingling with the increasing amount of expensive penthouse accommodation. But for all the acne scars of pollution and uncaring commerce, I love it.

The walk officially begins at the Victorian foot tunnel – there is another at Greenwich,which I wrote about a while back with a short story here  – which is accessed by a set of stairs from the red brick rotundas on either side. If you do ever try it out then prepared to be spooked. It’s long, clad in those white glazed tiles that make you wonder if you haven’t stumbled into the longest urinal in Europe and poorly lit. Brilliant.

After the entrance you hug the riverside, looking at the troll-like shapes of the Thames flood barrier supports – if there is a tide that might cause damage upstream, huge hydraulic gates can rise and protect the expensive real estate of London. It’s an impressive piece of engineering, you can visit and see how it is meant to work and ponder, as I often do, whether  these things that have been built against a problem that has yet to happen (well, London has flooded, natch – in 1953 badly with the loss of many lives, for instance) will they actually work?

Our path cur across the access ramp to the Woolwich car ferry, the only ferry of its kind across the Thames. Only it isn’t just now, because both of the ferry boats are out of action. Shame. If you don’t mind a little queuing I used to like that crossing. Something oddly un-metropolitan about it. Like going to a Scottish island.

Onwards we trudged and after a mile headed inland for Maryon Wilson park. This is the first of several parks this one including a petting zoo and the first of many autumnal trees, the leaves, finally after weeks of waiting, turning to the yellows and golds we had been anticipating.

I was teased pretty constantly whenever the landscape turned especially urban and derelict or the parks were bland and scrappy. This is East London. South East London. It’s always been tatty. East of a city = poor because the prevailing winds blow the shit that way so the posh live to the north and west. London is no exception to that truism.

But I like grubby; it’s human, humane. The moneyed classes have always sanitized and sanctified their environments whereas the horny handed sons (and daughters) of toil have made do. They recycled and up-cycled long before it was trendy or planet-critical because they couldn’t afford to toss things away. So of course the landscape, including the areas that provided leisure, relaxation and a smidgen of fresh air would retain similar characteristics.

We plodded towards Woolwich Common, the spot where the musters of the armed forces took place during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Ahead was Shooters Hill, home of ne’er do wells, highway persons and footpads, but now part of Oxleas Wood and Common and a rather glorious mix of deciduous trees burnishing the horizon even on a gloomy morning such as this.

And as we sucked in air for what, my book told me, was the highest point of the whole of the Capital Ring at 410 feet above sea level we came on this splendid monument to an English Captain, a triangular folly named after a fort in India which the said captain captured and folly which was erected to mourn his passing. You can climb it nowadays (weekends when it’s open, sadly) and, weather permitting see across to the hills on the north side of the river basin and to the North Downs in the South (which isn’t as nonsensical as it sounds).

This folly thingy is Severndroog Castle. Such a splendid, Gothic horror of a name. It’s nothing like a horror, but still. We walked around the base. The dogs – there were two, Dog and faithful Lolly, who seemed to get on with each other with a studied indifference that meant we didn’t have to worry about them. Dog can be a bit precious with other dogs in attendance; Lolly is a Labrador so congenitally incapable of concentrating on anything except food. We stopped at a cafe for cake and a pretty crap coffee (shame, and I had so looked forward….) stared South to those North Downs on a murky ridge some thirty miles distant and headed off through the remnants of some ornamental gardens for a stately home long since pulled down.

There is something rather sad about the outlines left by such garden in the carefully crafted brickwork. Ladies carrying parasols are much missed.

Our paths wended south as we headed across the busy carriageway of the A2 and the Old Rochester Road and on into Eltham Park North followed by the same but suffixed ‘South’ Neat, grassy with good views back to the city but rather formless and lacking in character.

Good for routine dog walks and airing pent up children. We had more fascinating things to see and we needed to make progress….

So Onwards, Hand-Picked Elite!

Until next time…

Posted in miscellany | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments