Taking Stock(holm) #holidays #sweden #stockholm

In 2009 the Textiliste and I holidayed in Stockholm as part of a cross Scandi break. This is a repeat of a 2015 post based on my journal and memories

So what springs to mind when Stockholm is mentioned? Abba? Socialist utopia? Large tax bills? Neutrality? Nobel Prizes? Herring? I suppose all of these.

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The first impression however is  of water. It is everywhere. And how visual the city is. Lots of quirky views, a mixture of buildings and styles. What Stockholm has managed well is to redevelop itself gradually, keeping a lot of the old and interspersing it with bits of new. Sure, you’ll never please everyone but it opens to a visitor without an excess of anything. Of course if you don’t get bombed you don’t have to rebuild in a generation. So far as ensuring a nicely balanced set of municipal architecture is concerned, remaining neutral during a major world war has a lot to recommend it.

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In summer 2009, we stayed in the heart of the old city on Gamla Stan – an island that houses the Royal Palace – in a quirky hotel carved out of an old warehouse. The First Hotel promised a view of the water from every room, only in our case that was via one of those mirrors you use at the end of your drive to see round a blind corner. I didn’t take to it, in all honesty. Which perhaps explains this rather bitter commentary in my journal on the behaviour of another guest:

There’s something universal about certain actions. Namely, you do not steal another man’s toast. You’re in a hotel, at the buffet and the toaster pops up. Do you (a) assume another guest planted said toast and will return; or (b) the hotel mysteriously knew you were coming and set the toast to cook, just in time for your arrival? So when my toast has been half-inched (I know who you are you Scandinavian Medusa) I am rightly pissed off.

As you’ll see this sort of incident rather coloured my view of Stockholm.

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It is easy to walk Stockholm though we orientated, as the guide book recommends, via a boat trip. I’ve done this in cities the world over: Paris, Berlin, even New York, you name it and, increasingly, I find them boring. I tend to sleep. Which I did here so I don’t really know if this one was any good. All part of my antipathy to being on water I suppose.

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We did end up at the Town Hall, which I described thus:

– a huge, turn of the 20th Century red brick edifice – a cross between a Gilbert George Scott Power Station and a Venetian Palace which was more impressive inside.

We were most taken with the Gold Room – where the Nobel Prizes  were formerly dolled out – utterly O.T.T. And a mosaic frieze that was done in 10 months, the rush leading to a few errors, as I recorded here:

Mind you, the artist made some mistakes – a rider loses his head in the ceiling. Possibly St Eric, patron saint of Stockholm – not a recognised saint, but revered by the Swedes. Recent research suggests he was killed in a drunken brawl – the first binge saint perhaps.

We had to visit The Nobel Museum, a homage to conscience. Alfred Nobel invents dynamite, realises he’s done more for safe-breaking and general mayhem than any man before or, until the A bomb, since and leaves his money for a load of prizes esp the Peace Prize. Now the Peace Prize is fascinating, reflecting the studious care with which the Swedish panel asserts its world view. It is, necessarily, highly political and is a very good test of one’s prejudices – if you think the prize worthily given, chances are you think the recipient is potentially a freedom fighter; if not then they are a terrorist. But it  has done good and for that it is to be applauded. I could have spent a lot longer here.

We stopped for an unpronounceable Swedish cake – I thought it smelt of Chanel perfume, the guide book said cardamom. It tasted rank. But then Eccles cakes probably represent something repellent if you don’t know them.

I liked the Cathedral though in a rather half hearted way apparently

The Cathedral is, externally, unimpressive and inside its plaster walls having been removed reveal original preserved brickwork – it looks recent not 350 years old. It’s plain, in a  Lutheran way, with some fabulous adornments. George and the Dragon feature highly – the dragon being Denmark – also a neat little painting of a freak light effect in the April Sky on 1530 being much more accessible than the enormous ‘Last Judgement’ opposite. 

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a model, sadly but this is how it would have looked..

The best though we saved for our first full day – the Vasa Exhibition. This extraordinary piece of nautical ego set sail as the Leader of the Fleet in the 1630s and sank within a mile of its maiden voyage – something about not taking account of the weight of cannon when designing the lower port holes so in rushed the water. This fine vessel was lost in 30 metres of water, presumed rotted away but in the 1950s, with diving techniques much improved the sea bed was checked and some of it was found just beneath the surface. A major operation was undertaken to expose what was left and, amazingly a huge amount was revealed. It took 7 years and the Swedes had to invent many new techniques, but they brought it to the surface.

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And now…

That though was where the real difficulties started because, freed of its preservative silt and water it began to fall apart. Since the early sixties a waxy water had been run over the remains and gradually it has stabilised and is increasingly on display. What an amazing labour of love. Stockholm is worth a visit just for that.

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Amazing craftmanship

We took in some other sites (and here’s what I wrote)

Skansen: An open air museum with buildings from all over Sweden …. housing areas where brown bears, wolves and elks live and breed. There are European bison breeding as well – they look well. The lynx, however, pace to and fro in that familiar, if tragic, damaged way animals have when upset by captivity.

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Norsike Musseet: …houses a range of displays across interior design, folk art, the Sami people, tableware and how Swedes celebrates various festivals. A liquorish all-sorts 

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Modern Art Museum: A shame this, with a random mix of works with little if any coherence and an audio guide utterly convinced of everything’s sexual context. His explanation of one surrealist work – two high heeled shoes trussed together like a chicken being roasted – was extraordinary as well as gynaecologically impossible and, after a time dull. 

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Stockholm has many beautiful places to sit, drink coffee and think or people watch or read. You aren’t hassled or hurried and you can be at your ease. You can eat well too if expensively.

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nomnomnom

The Oestermarket is now a rather posh Harrods food hall of a place but for both a glutton and a gourmand (such as me) heaven. But for all that, I wasn’t really in love with the place.

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coffee and a bit of a read… of my work emails…

We caught the ferry, overnight, to Helsinki. I should have expected to feel rather flat, facing a trip on water. That’s why I described the terminal as

… a tacky, sticky place which doesn’t aim to compete with the airport – the pound shop mentality at work…. Too much neon, too many own brand, no deli pretensions. Heavens I am a snob [ha, some self awareness].

There’s a lot to like in Stockholm. But for me Copenhagen and Helsinki outscored it on so may levels. This rather moribund feeling is reflected in this poem, written n the ferry

Stockholm

Stockholm wears its neutrality

Like a heavy top coat.

Many kings tried

To join in, and

Be a part of mad manic Europe.

Grandiose plans

Across several centuries.

They made Vikings heroes

So they’d have someone.

But today?

It knows,

It just knows,

It can’t,

And it can’t be bothered.

It’s settled for the life of a watcher,

A looker on;

While the rest of us

Smash each other to bits;

They smile on us

Like parents.

Bless, you have to let them go, don’t you?

And when we try and patch things up;

They present us

With peace prizes and their socialist altruism

To admire, envy even,

Knowing it’s as unavailable

As all those adult pastimes.

There’s this calm acceptance; a rising above.

I bet it’s cold on their moral high ground,

Looking down the map at the rest of Europe.

Smug b******s.

Posted in holidays | Tagged , , | 14 Comments

A Fine Surrey White

I’ve been walking with a few of my former law colleagues for a few years now, usually twice or three times a year. This Year of the Turnip has put paid to most of that (we had grand plans to visit Italy – one of our number is married to an Italian and was prepared to use both local knowledge and connections to facilitate our Grand Plans). That wasn’t ever going to happen so yours truly, who loves a map and a bit of planning came up with an 11 miles circular walk from the twelfth highest point in Surrey, some ten miles south of where I live, on the North Downs. Now don’t scoff – it’s a priceless 735 feet above sea level. It seems high enough when you’ve done ten of the eleven miles and the rain drops have begun to join together to create an horizontal water feature.

Anyway, we weren’t there for the stunning views…

It was the company and the undulating mileage. Really.

No Dog, though. Eleven miles is beyond the recommended max these days.

Box hill is steep. And chalk. Combine these with water and you have what in other climates and countries passes for a ski slope. The fact that none of us had to use the agreed warning ‘coming through!’ if we lost our footing was one of those minor miracles.

At the bottom of the slope, the cutely named River Mole gushes merrily across our path. Those in charge have decided to have their fun with these things…

Which reminded me of a previous visit with my then newly acquired dog, Blitz, Dog’s predecessor. Like Dog he didn’t like water which I hadn’t learnt to that point. That I did at this particular moment when jumping onto the first stone and not being followed remains something of an embarrassment. As I tipped back and sideways, inexorably heading for the river I was conscious of a little girl watching me with rapt attention. As I surfaced, the little girl turned to her open-mouthed parent and asked ‘Why did that man do that, daddy?’ The parent decided to stick as close to his truth as possible. ‘I don’t know, darling, and neither does he, I think.’

For the record I made it safely. There were the odd wobble or five but nothing ventured…

Beyond the sanctity of the far bank of the Mole there is an enormous estate, which is reputedly the largest winery in the UK – Denbies Vineyard has 265 acres.

It’s Rose won some international award so it’s good. I believe.

I don’t drink wine so, meah, but my companions waxed lyrically (and frankly long) about it. The vines look nice.

The path we were on is part of the North Downs Way. England and Wales are criss-crossed with LDPs – long distance paths – often following ancient trading routes that followed the high ridges. In part the North Downs Way is also the Pilgrims Way which links Canterbury Cathedral with Winchester Cathedral. In 1986, my father was made redundant as was a friend from way back. Together they decided to set themselves the challenge of walking the whole of the Pilgrims Way, joining in with the North Downs Way where it starts at Farnham and continuing beyond the Pilgrim’s Way end to the end of the North Down’s Way in Dover on the south Kent coast. They chose this partly because they used to live within a mile of it, near where Dad had gone to school in Caterham. I joined in for a long weekend, not sure how I’d get on with these old boys. I loved it and this was the start of an annual walk with the old sod that covered many other LDPs over the next 12 years.

Maybe I was distracted by the nostalgia, maybe my mind was numbed by the talk of vintages, but I missed a turn and we reached a point that seemed to be in the wrong place. That’s the thing with the brilliant OS maps we have. If you know how to read them, they will get you out of trouble eventually. In this case I was right, in the sense that my missed turning meant we approached Denbies Farm from the wrong direction. Once I worked that out, it was easy to point confidentially to the right direction. The fact that, by the time I did the others were laughing uproariously didn’t spoil the satisfaction. Much…

Beyond the valley lies Ranmore Common, which is largely wooded, though the throbbing metropolis of the same name is rather pleasant and probably has a population of, rounding up, five.

In truth it’s pretty much the church and a couple of houses. My companions seemed oblivious to its beauty, but then they were all lawyers so that probably explains it. They do like talking, mind you…

I wasn’t being shunned; I’d just been watering an oak sapling… come on, I’m in my sixties, what do you expect?

After Ranmore we wended our way through a lot of woodland paths with few if any views. Eventually we emerged around Norbury Park where Marie Stopes of contraception and women’s health fame lived before she died in the 1950s. There was a lot of wall and green fencing so we never did get to see her pile and we were rather bemoaning our lot when we stumbled upon this little gem in the middle of nowhere…

Things were sogging off rather – Emma had gone shrub hunting – yep, same as me – and Chris took advantage of the free marshmallows and handy fire…

By now the rain had set in, making a dive into the river Mole look like the drier option.

The coffee bar turned out to be a godsend because the pub in Mickleham…

turned out to be shut. Ah me, thank you Covid.

So all that was left was to climb back up every one of those 700 and whatever feet to the National Trust car park at Box Hill and buy a rather delicious cheese and onion pasty. As one of our number said as they tried to cool down the roof of their mouth, the Germans must have a word for the inevitable burning that follows biting into a delicious looking hot pastry however much you’ve blown on it first; heissenschiessentongenbuggeren or something…

And for those who can’t get through a post without Dog making an appearance…

Posted in Friends, miscellany, walking | Tagged , , , , | 27 Comments

Bacon Sarnies And The Tivoli: Travels In Denmark #holidays

My repostings about my recentish holiday in Finland made me want to revisit my 2009 excursion to Denmark and Sweden (we went on the Finland and then Tallinn and I might take us there too). This though is me on Copenhagen…

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The aim of travel is to broaden your mind. With my levels of incompetence here and here, travel when attached to holidays usually involves unconscionable amounts of sitting, waiting to sort out my messes so my arse tends to broaden as my mind atrophies.

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I might look relaxed but you can bet there’s a worry in their somewhere… and what can I say about the stomach – I was still a lawyer?

A few years ago, disillusioned with the inevitable summer heat we experience here in England, we opted to cross Scandinavia by earth bound transport and chose as our stopping off point Denmark. Ok, we flew there but after that it was trains or boats or Shank’s Pony (that’s an old expression my dad used when he meant walking – who was Shank or Shanks, I wonder. Well, I clearly don’t wonder much because frankly I can’t even be bothered to open another tab and google him/her/it. The Archaeologist will know and put it in the comments – he really is an excellent resource).

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Lost? Me?

Anyway, Denmark. What did I know about Denmark? Mermaids? Casual approach to sex? Bacon? Not sure if all these are linked somehow – David Cameron might know (here if you’ve not caught up with the ‘alleged’ exploits of our apple-cheeked ex PM).

I was looking forward to decent bacon. Makes a change for the usual crap served on the continent which they laughingly call breakfast. I mean there’s nothing to it. Continuefast would be a better name for the sparse droppings you get. Hard boiled eggs (please, these are like stomach IEDs); dusty cereal in which a raisin performs the function of a five pence coin in a Christmas pudding with everyone praying they are the one to find it; or cheese. For pity’s sake you can’t eat cheese for breakfast – that’s like sharing underpants, it’s just gross. So the civilised Nords had to do something better, didn’t they? I mean it’s bad enough relying on their immaculate English to get by without having to resort to one’s own nation’s breakfast to find a suitable level of sustenance to start the day.

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Do I have to be in one of these photos? Really? If you ever start a blog don’t you dare post it!

Back tracking to the beginning, the flight was fine – on time and I didn’t share my own bit of personal space with anyone else hanging over the sides of the armrest (ha, who am I to judge?). I don’t ask for much but spending an hour or so at ‘Guess Your Neighbours BMI’ is not my idea of a good start to a holiday.

That’s when the first small hiccough occurred. The hotel hadn’t heard of us. There are knowing looks between the long married and there’s THE LOOK and this particular LOOK spoke of many similar trials and some seriously hard to shift emotional scar tissue. ‘It must be a mistake.’ If she can do the LOOK I can do the VOICE – a commanding timbre that has shaken many a incompetent minion to the core of his/her being. Despite the fact that all this did was reinforce the stereotype of another British holidaying knobend, the delightfully fragrant receptionist kept smiling and allocated us a small cupboard until our room – now found but booked, or so they said, from the following day – could be made available. As a quiet female voice put it ‘I thought they were an hour ahead, not a day?’

To defer the moment when we actually saw the reality of our temporary home, we left our bags and went for a wander.  Our hotel was close to the Tivoli Gardens so we thought we’d have a dander. In my journal I describe it thus

‘like a full scale toy, part paste boulevards making Paris’ seem pokey by comparison’

What on earth did I mean? I remember the place was full of other tourists and a lot seemed to be British, which was disappointing. But this brings back no memories whatsoever. Anyway the next entry describes the harbour which was:

‘… full of small fish based restaurants. We are seated at one sweet little place, the sun is still high even at 7.30pm – what do you expect, I suppose…’

Leaving aside the eccentric grammar this does remind me that we enjoyed the extended sunshine and the fact it was mostly sunny when we were there. The lifestyle was essentially al fresco and relaxed as this suggests. We wandered off to find the mermaid. She was small, much smaller than I anticipated but quite stunning for all that.

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Very glad she wasn’t next to us on our flight

All told we spent three nights in Copenhagen. One morning we set off by bus to find Louisiana an out of town, modern art facility with a significant collections of culture. Bit of a liquorish all sorts really but some notable pieces in a wondrous setting, south of Seeland overlooking the placid sea. We saw ancient American carvings, weird pictures from Warhol, lumpen pieces of steroidal sculpture from Henry Moore and a somewhat smug display about green energy and how buildings can be designed for a future without oil – which in truth seemed more a way for major architectural practices to advertise their wares.

Back in Copenhagen the rain fell – apologetically but without embarrassment. We ate in Christiania – a kind of artist retreat modelled that would have been better if it hadn’t been quite so self regarding. I climbed a curving tower at Our Saviour’s Church – the stairs are on the outside – and admired a mizzly panorama that many more worthy and certainly more devout than I have enjoyed – while in the distance the huge Oresund Bridge told of a modern world beckoning.

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But overall, yes, I’d go back

Our final day, before an early train across the said bridge, took us to the Botanic Gardens and then the Copenhagen City Museum. I was just getting to grips with the 19th Century transfer of powers from an absolute monarchy to a democracy when I was unceremoniously shown out. Apologies but no embarrassment: Denmark in a  nutshell.

I wrote a poem on the train as we left Denmark for Stockholm.

Copenhagen

Some cities are blond.

Berlin is bottled, rather faux.

Barcelona has its Gaudi streaks

And Paris its ice-cold indifference.

And Copenhagen?

A froth of insouciant openness

 A light haired Scandanavianism.

Tivoli, frivolity

Mad punks and mer-people.

They have three bikes for every person

And yet they’re just so sane;

Calm reflective, dreaming spires of a people

Attitudes piercing the sky.

 Cool Copenhagen,

Cafe culture.

Even when the porn is free

There’s not a boob in sight.

Careful, self-controlling, orderly;

It should be repressive

But it isn’t:

No jay-walkers

Because you just don’t.

No litter

Because you just shouldn’t.

No swearing

Because you don’t need to.

I’ve had fun

Without trying

Because I just could.

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

Mr Dandy And The Milkshake #flashfiction

Millie waited for her father at the back of the class.

‘That’s all. 500 words by Tuesday, okay?’

Millie wondered why they all groaned. Were they hungry like her?

As the class filed out, she eased forward to her father’s desk. He looked up. ‘Hi, kiddo. I just need my bag. You okay to do a drawing?’

Millie nodded. This was the best bit. Her stomach rumbled.

‘Hungry? Won’t be long. Here,’ he pressed a stick of chalk in her hand as he hurried out.

She’d done this before, drawn pictures on his special wall. Last time it was Mr Dandy, the stick man. He was nice. She scratched him and his hat and then a cow and a glass. Finally she drew the door and waited.

When her father reappeared, he smiled. That man again. Distracted, he wondered why she only drew him on this blackboard, and didn’t see Millie as she wiped away the little milk moustache.

Posted in children, creative writing, flash fiction, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 12 Comments

Death And The Harvest #blogbattle #shortstory

‘Are you awake, Mrs Pelligonium?’ Doctor Crimson Atak kept his eyes on the monitors. He wasn’t surprised by either the lack of response, nor the messages conveyed by the myriad machines. He nodded to the nurse on the other side of the bed and spun away. As he moved past a young sandy haired man dressed in an almost identical fashion to him – white shirt and tight rolled sleeves – he paused. The younger man looked nervous, however, unlike his senior colleague. ‘Well?’

Doctor Humphrey Stewe hated being put in the spot, especially by someone like his boss. ‘It’s…’ he looked away; the intensity of the other’s gaze proving to be too much.

Crimson didn’t hide the disappointment. ‘What’s the problem, Humph? Classic case I’d say. PVC. No hope of recovery, leaving aside the huge cost to the hospital…’

‘No hope?’

The senior man waved a hand dismissively. ‘Minimal. You’ve seen the stats. You’ve applied the protocol, yes?’

Humphrey nodded unhappily. The famed algorithm developed by Atak and others. Genius, people called it, its accuracy within disappearing fractions.

Crimson continued, his right foot tapping arrhythmically, a sure sign of his building irritation. ‘Her signs are within standard deviations and the parameters allow, with two certifications…’ he paused, his brows beetling, ‘… we can begin, the harvesting.’

All Humphrey could do was nod. He felt rather than saw the nurse busy herself, feigning disinterest. She’s listening to every word, he thought. I wonder if she knows, too; does she feel it? He watched the senior physician meander between beds, each one occupied by a patient, each in a coma. He couldn’t help feeling…

‘Doctor Stewe. Bed six…’

Humphrey dragged himself back to the present, fingered his stethoscope nervously and hurried. The senior nurse looked up, clearly perplexed. ‘I don’t understand, Doctor?’

‘What’s up?’ Humphrey tried to sound more confident than he felt.

‘She’s waking up?’

‘Sorry?’ Humphrey’s eyes darted from the nurse to the patient and back. The figure in the bed, a forty something victim of an unprovoked assault seemed inert to him.

‘He’s showing signs of regaining consciousness. But Doctor Atak…’ she hesitated.

‘Yes?’

‘He told us to prep him for harvesting. The relatives have certified…’

Humphrey swallowed. He didn’t want to be the one to tell Atak. The nurse, a wise and calm woman with two decades of experience met his gaze. Neither did she, he surmised. ‘I think you’d better postpone the prepping, hadn’t you? It may be a blip.’

‘An error?’

He wanted to smile. Yes, he thought, one of those antiquated things that weren’t meant to happen – couldn’t happen – if the algorithm was correctly applied. Instead he turned away. ‘I’ll be with Mrs Pelligonium.’

Humphrey Stewe was a rational man with methodical if ponderous thought processes. He’d no more believe in the supernatural as he would put his underpants on his head. Mrs Pelligonium had been the opposite: a mystic and medium who seemed to him to be the kind of exotic creature that only appeared in books. Yet, the stream of visitors attested to how she had changed their lives with her extraordinary insights and spectacular predictions.

He sat, glancing around the ward. The patients were testament to the multiethnic, multicultural environment they inhabited, yet each patient had two things in common: a condition that the latest science predicted would deteriorate rapidly and a donor status that, on death, meant their organs could be used – ‘harvested’ as it was glibly and ghoulishly called – for either saving other lives or necessary or desirable research. Since Humphrey had joined the team he had been stunned at the speed with which patients moved through the necessary stages to the end, yet none queried it.

In truth Humphrey, until the arrival of Mrs Pelligonium hadn’t given the arrangements much thought. Now, as he sat alongside the inert woman, other thoughts and ideas intruded. He became increasingly certain there was greater consciousness in those patients than the machines and the application of the approved processes showed.

‘What do you think?’ He no longer thought it odd to have these internal conversations with his patient.

‘I told you I’d sort it out. It ends here.’

He looked at her face. Still, peaceful and, apparently comatose. Had anyone else heard her? That nurse, maybe?

‘No, no one else has your abilities, Doctor. They’ve shut their minds. Watch…’

Humphrey looked up, just in time to see a junior nurse lurch back and scream as the patient in bed six, began to sit. He pulled out the IV drip and turned his head slowly to stare at Humphrey. There was something not entirely right about it.

‘He’s not yet fully awake. You must protect him until he is. They will try and eviscerate his corporeal form but you must stop them.’

Humphrey couldn’t move; he felt rooted to the spot. Other nurses and another junior doctor had appeared and were trying to ease the patient back into the bed, trying to make him lie down.

‘Humphrey, you said you wanted to help,’ the voice, soothing yet demanding filled his head.

He nodded and stood. As he moved down the ward, taking his time, he heard more voices from the patients he passed, some angry, others confused but all of them determined…

The doors to the lobby banged open and Doctor Atak paused, framed by the low light from the corridor.

At the moment Humphrey saw him, the voices stopped. He had the clear impression that each of the patients were staring at the doctor even though none of them moved. Humphrey shivered as he became aware of a sensation apparently emanating from the patients. Unbridled hate towards Atak, mixed with a determination for revenge.

Humphrey stood in front of the patient in bed six. It was the eyes, wide open yet empty. Then the man smiled and Humphrey knew. This man was no longer a body to be reaped; he was a weapon, and that sweet old lady held the trigger.

Written in response to this month’s #blogbattle prompt, the word ‘exotic’

Posted in #blogbattle, creative writing, flash fiction, miscellany, short story | Tagged , , , | 14 Comments

Inside Out #carrotranch #flashfiction

‘Morgan! Where are you?’

‘Hang on, I’m… what’s got into you?’

‘Nothing.’

‘So why do you sound like you’re being mugged and why are you standing on a table?’

‘It’s… there… oh god! It’s coming…’

‘A spider? You’re an agoraphobe?’

‘Arachnophobe. Can you…?’

‘Squish it? Sure. I…’

‘Nooo. Just get it outside.’

‘What is an agoraphobe?’

‘Can we do this later? Please take it outside but don’t hurt it.’

‘You want me to use kid gloves?’

‘You can use lead-lined gauntlets if you’ll just take it outside.’

‘First tell me. Agoraphobe? Or I’m not going outside.’

‘Exactly.’

‘?’

This was written in response to this week’s #carrotranch prompt

October 8, 2020, prompt: In 99 words (no more, no less), write a story that includes kid gloves. A prop in the hands of a character should further the story. Why the gloves? Who is that in the photo, and did he steal Kids’ gloves (of the Kid and Pal duo)? Consider different uses of the phrase, too. Go where the prompt leads!

Posted in carrot ranch, creative writing, flash fiction, logan and morgan, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

And Finnally, Mad Music And Murky Meals: #finland

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And this is the last Finnish post, or should that be the Finnish Line? Lots more pictures and some ott weirdness

Why is it that, miles into a Finnish forest my phone had 4 bars of signal, 4G too whereas at home in south London it has nothing, nada, buggerall, zip? Are we rationed? Do the Finns have something we don’t? Maybe, I mused, as yet another email buzzed in my pocket, it’s the Nokia legacy. Not that we noticed much of that once huge company. Well, other than one of the two national sports being phone throwing, as long as it is a Nokia. Prescient really because I often wanted to toss my Nokia as far as I could.

(The other sport? Wife carrying.

Naturally)

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a long, long drop….

We drove south from Kuppio and Eevantalo, intending to enjoy a couple of days near Mikkeli, on the shores of Lake Saimaa, the largest lake in Finland.

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It was a decent drive, the roads aren’t bad – there’s little traffic in truth – though there isn’t a lot to see beyond water and trees.

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But one thing stood out on our route – The Museo Mekaanisen musiikin (mechanical music museum) near Varkaus. Believe me I’ve done weird but this is up there.

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Partly it is the exhibits, these extraordinary machines that produce mechanised music using normal instruments but mostly it was mine host, a cracked German expat with a deep antipathy for Germans, Brexit and anything politically correct.

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We laughed – a bit – we cringed – a lot and we had a quite splendid two hours.

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If you do wander into this part of the world then do visit.

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Just make sure you take a thick skin with you.

It seemed wrong to leave, oddly disloyal but the eco lodge we had booked into called us so off we set.

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The lodge we were allocated was perfect. Idyllic really. On the lake, with trails and bike paths everywhere it promised lots.

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During our first day we took time out to drive to Suomenlinna which is a chocolate box of a castle that sits in a lake and once guarded the Swedish-Russian border. It was worth the detour though, once again the fact we were out of season even in mid August threw us rather with a number of cafes and restaurants already shut.

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At least, we thought, we had the eco-lodge and the promised fine food.

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the wall of the restaurant in the eco lodge: yep, plastic ducks as decoration – you need to be Finnish to understand.

Hmm, we hadn’t banked on a storm, nothing particularly wild, that took out our power. Goodness are we dependent on power. And how are we spoiled in the UK with the sanctity of our supplies. I can’t remember a power-cut longer than two or three hours. Here it lasted 27 hours and was still counting when we left.

On the upside the toilets flushed. On the down we had four meals by candle-light with an increasingly frazzled waitress. We lost the boat that was tied up to our private jetty before the storm hit. But we did take some lovely shots of the 6 of us as couples.

In the end, despite the lovely scenery and plentiful time to read, it was good to set off south again and hunt out some power to recharge phones and ipads. If I didn’t know it before I am now fully aware that on a self-reliance scale of ten I barely make first grade.

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Still I do appreciate my good fortune. It was a lovely holiday, especially with the whole family and other halves in tow. Now they are all in their 20s that is something of a treat.

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How To Dance And Other Poetry #booklaunch

On my tour of the blogiverse to launch my poetry book, The Sincerest Form of Poetry, I’ve reached Ritu’s blog, But I Smile Anyway. She’s managed to make me explain how I came to write a poem in praise of my marriage and, by extension, my delightful wife. If there’s romance in your soul then pop over here and have a read…

Posted in book launch, guest post, poems, poetry | Tagged , , , , | 9 Comments

Writing In Fractals

I walk a lot. Mostly with Dog, come rain or shine. Sometimes I let my thoughts run free, more a mental ramble really. At others I have the radio on, BBC Sounds, some podcast an Audible book. And occasionally it is music. I watch the sky – cloud patterns fascinate me, as I anthropomorphise them if I can, finding stories amongst the vapour. Other walkers are another focus for my attention; if they are walking towards me I smile, just a little, more a smirk and add a bit of a nod. If they make eye contact I’ll ‘morning’ or ‘afternoon’ them as appropriate. I haven’t studied the results but most people react a little, usually positively. I don’t expect them to – why should they feel any compulsion to make any connection with me, a total stranger, even if Dog seems to minimise my weirdo status a fraction.

Why is that? Is it a British thing with our supposed love of our pets that changes the dynamic: fifty year old man walking alone = weirdo/paedo/social inadequate; same man with dog = sweet old cove/social animal/harmless on day release?

Norwood Park, about 5 minutes from my front door

What I often fail to notice are the trees. I’m lucky to live in an area full of trees so I suppose it is the familiarity. Like a good mattress. Never notice until it’s gone. I’m very aware of the sick trees; we have a particularly virulent if not fatal Horse Chestnut leaf drop that clears the leaves off our Chestnuts by the end of September rather than about now; so I watch with a mix of sadness and concern each time the schools go back as the trees expose the conkers much earlier than nature intended. It’s a little caterpillar that eats the soft middle between the outside skin of each leaf. You need to look closely to find it.

But the healthy ones are just there for the bulk of the year, pretty much unchanging in terms of size and shape, giving a solid natural architecture to the background, softening the otherwise harsh horizons of suburban south London.

This time of year, of course, the trees begin to lose that invisibility cloak and share their striptease with us, casting their tired weeds into crunchy piles and mouldering puddings on the flowerbeds and paths, sticking to our shoes.

Today, in warm sun, I sat with a coffee and realised how lucky I was to have such phenomenally beautiful and complex structures around me, home to a myriad of small essential creatures.

I even thought about mathematics.

And writing. And poetry.

It’s all to do with fractals. I love the madness of fractals. Trees exhibit some of the qualities of fractals; so do Jackson Pollock paintings, those drip creations, splodgy irregular things.

What’s a fractal?

A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale.

Pixar, those amazing animated film people who’ve given us Toy Story and Monster, Inc amongst others can trace some of their success to employing fractal concepts in their animation – that’s what makes them so life-like and less wooden than previous cartoon formats.

Trees in my park, a wonderful esoteric painter, maths, some of the best animation in the last twenty years and the inspiration for a poem. It was worth stopping for a coffee and giving thanks for the silent splendour of those trees.

I found fractals dripping

from a tree,

lines of leaf-splods

that took shape from the chaos.

 That’s what nature does,

pulls tricks right under your nose,

blinds you to Her designs.

They’re always there, always have been there,

Hidden until you learn to read a tree;

A twig is a branch by any other name,

a tree a twig grown up.

You need to see the twig-child in the man-tree

to understand.

Everywhere you go, how far back you stand,

the tree is a twig on a bigger twig

on the biggest twig.

Twig, twigger, twiggest.

Fractals are everywhere,

sprouting from within to without.

Story-twigs, a word, growing to a sentence and a flash

all the way to a novel.

Step back

and the word is in the paragraph,

then the page.

Word, wordier, wordiest.

To write is to deal in fractals.

The child-word is in the man-novel,

if you look carefully.

Some still only see word-splods

unable to distinguish the essence.

You can learn, if you stand back,

give your imagination the necessary depth

and there is it, where it’s always been,

the novel you’ve always wanted to write,

only you were too close,

lost in splods.

Not that Dog cares…

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Ghost Story

‘Catch me!’

Just the wind in the trees. Another ‘fake’ memory, they’d have said.

‘Come on.’ She tugged at his hand.

She wanted to understand. He released the brakes of two decades.

‘Is this it?’

Was it? Twenty years of sea and bleaching. It had been new then. They had to explore it, didn’t they? That’s what boys did. Explore.

She ran her hand on the friable surface. ‘It’s amazing. Beautiful. Tragic.’

Beautiful? Tragic? No words can describe something that hollows you out daily. His finger traced some faded symbol on the hull.

‘How many died when she went down?’

Only one who mattered and he’d not gone down, not like she meant it.

He stepped back and looked up at the gunwale, now frayed like his memory. Jake’s face peering down at him. That last image, those last words. Then he’d gone, disappeared. Like a ghost.

He’d made it up, he’d been kidnapped, caught by the tide, runaway, they said. No believed him when he’d told them about the voices, the hands that had dragged Jake into the boat. Maybe it was right to say he’d gone down with the rest after all.

Posted in creative writing, flash fiction, miscellany | Tagged , , , | 24 Comments