All posts by adrienne

Easter’s not a yolk…

DSC07465It’s that time of year again. The bunnies are busy laying eggs and the hens are looking fluffy and cute, and you can see that Spring Magic is working its mischief because my brain seems to have become almost entirely unplugged. Yesterday I turned up for a two o’ clock meeting at 3 pm, and today I forgot to take the fish from the freezer to make the fish pie. I blame it on the novel writing, the fantasy I step into and forget to step out of when I’m supposed to be doing things.

So, with Easter visitors imminent and feeling particularly virtuous (as I have cleaned and tidied and hoovered and mopped the kitchen floor), I decide to prepare the ingredients  for the evening feast, for which I am chef extraordinaire.  Broccoli, carrots, Dijon mustard, lemon all come piling out of the fridge, the position of the white wine noted, and yes, two eggs to hard boil and chop for the pie. Arms full and, momentarily turning my back from the eggs placed on the work surface, I hear a ceremonious roll not dissimilar to an avalanche (and if you believe that…) followed by a resounding splat as one egg plummets to the floor, followed in quick and irretrievable succession by the second.

DSC07465The floor is wonderfully clean, but nevertheless these eggs will not now be going into the fish pie, I fear. However I can’t help but laugh heartily. Worse things happen at sea, my dear ol’ Mum always says, and yup, there’s been some awful stuff in the news lately, which makes a silly mistake an irrelevance. And actually quite funny. You could say that I’m now a couple of yolks short. Which, of course, is not a yolk at all.

Unexpected Disaster in the Booking Area

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There I was, just settling into a Sunday night viewing of The Night Manager, the Other One just finishing off the clearing up after a satisfying feed of paella, when I hear this almighty clunk. Actually less a clunk than a bang-crash-wallop, as if Something Major has happened. I remain glued to Tom Hiddleston playing Pine in detecto-aerobics with the dastardly Richard Roper (Hugh Laurie), assuming, perhaps a little unkindly, that the Other One has, for the second time this week, fallen foul of the open and grizzly-jaws-door of the dishwasher and landed on the floor, maybe taking a rather large iron frying pan with him. On the screen, the action’s cranking up; some daft bat seems to have hung herself over a man. Of all things! And during International Women’s Week…
Suddenly the door of the living room swings open. The Other One stares at me.
“What are you doing?”
“Are you OK?” I ask, eyes riveted to the screen.
“Course,” he says. “That bang…”
“Thought it was you…”
We look at each other. Surely Pine hasn’t landed through the window into a room upstairs?
The Other One somewhat uncharacteristically leads the way upstairs, muttering something about burglars.
“Try my study,” I suggest from the Rearguard.
Before us is nothing short of a scene of devastation worthy of John Le Carré. A landslide of books and papers across the floor, a bookshelf three feet lower than it ought to be, and a desk half demolished (well, it was only one of those self-assembly units you can buy from somewhere that will remain nameless). Worst of all is my most precious possession – a classical guitar bought for me by my father when I was fourteen years old. I inspect it for damage; fortunately it’s only scratched – which is bad enough, but hopefully it won’t interfere with its lovely tone. We lift off the offending shelf, ripped from, I have to say, its rather flimsy mountings.
“An accident waiting to happen,” I grumble.
Beneath the shelf are the remains of a peace lily.

DSC07415Crushed and shredded. Do I have to spell out the metaphor…?
I return to the intrigues of Pine and Roper. And the next morning I draft a poem downstairs at the kitchen table, while, miraculously, the shelf fairy reinstates the bookshelf with new stronger brackets.
All I can say is, thank goodness for TV catch-up.

Pottering about on the beach…

Selkie4

Writers and artists seem to suffer from an insatiable appetite for the mysteries of the sea, as well as many others living in these islands who are simply looking for a sand and sunshine fix. Who, I ask, can rely on the latter, on this north coast? However, there’s plenty to enjoy, even in February, given the benefits of a warm coat – this tree trunk, for instance…Selkie6giving rise to the literary musings below…

Tree trunk

Beached on Whitby’s tide

a selkie stretches out

the length of a whale

nose to tapered tail, curving,

the arms clutching the self,

this temporary grounding.

 

Tide will lift and carry her again

slash her against cliffs

bully her back out to sea

a plaything of riptides

like so many, these days.

 

Right now, she lies like sorrow

abandoned, noosed with coils of ivy

dead as winter.

Yet here, almost brazen,

tell-tale leaves of the predator,

broad, green, and,

even from her own skin

authentic spikes. Pine, I think.

 

There’s no timetable here,

no self-conscious essence of fate,

though a golden bough trails, too,

luring hope,

unconscious of a finite future,

the symbiosis of some forgotten lore

that may survive awhile

before the selkie surrenders to decay.

 

 

Boas Festas! Madeira, m’dear?

It’s extraordinary the lengths some people go to when they hear that we’ve arrived in Madeira for a week…

DSC06855aTo the left, old Funchal, and on the right the city as it is today just before Christmas…

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DSC06869Vibrant and full of colour, especially at night…

DSC06885 DSC06887 DSC06892 DSC06917 DSC06919There’s much to see, from the old fish market and the famous fruit and veg stalls…DSC06927 DSC06930

DSC06934  …to the incredible variety of street art…

DSC06938…including the doors of the old town participating in the scheme artE de pORtas abErtas… http://www.arteportasabertas.com/

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…oh, and yes, that bun is a door knocker…

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The gathering of nine artists at the Arte Moderna is worth a visit, too, although unfortunately the contemporary art gallery seems to have up-sticks from the old fort to somewhere out of town.

DSC07042…leaving behind some scrap metal…

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It might be easy to forget the harsh realities of life here, though. Having talked to the locals, it seems Madeira is still gripped by economic problems and unemployment.

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However, there does seem to be a certain amount of local resilience.

Who else would paint a trompe l’oeil on a parking meter…

DSC07036…complete with corny joke… “free reading”?

DSC07037I decide to strike out from the city on one of the famous levada walks. No other takers in my party, because of the hairiness of the route, and I have to admit there are one or two slightly dizzying moments, but actually the walk along this irrigation channel is beautiful…

DSC07011 DSC07013Did I say “walk”? I meant climb. One minute I am looking up at the cable car. The next, I am peeping between the trees way above it. Well, maybe not a minute…more like two hours…DSC07015 DSC07017Then I kind of lose my way and follow a mule track up into a village, of whose name I am still dubious. There, I am greeted by a guardian angel, well into her eighties I imagine, who disappointingly informs me that there is no café or any other facilities in the vicinity, but she will put me onto a bus. Where would I like to go? That’s a good question. But the Jardim Botanico seems a safe bet…

DSC07019 DSC07027 DSC07028 DSC07034Later in the week, we catch the bus up to the equally renowned Tropical Gardens, with their famous basket rides…          DSC07068  DSC07070 DSC07071 You tow the punters down, then you have to bring the baskets back up again… A lucrative business, I guess… DSC07074Actually, I love these gardens with their tall trees and sculptures…

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 …orchids and Japanese garden…

DSC07123In addition, there’s a fabulous collection of African sculpture…

DSC07096DSC07099DSC07104I think I feel one or two poems coming on…

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DSC07087 Lovely pots, too…

DSC07132And dragon trees…  DSC07141     If you get the chance to visit the island, take the time to visit the Nuns’ Valley…

DSC07229Is there really a village down there?

DSC07231 Our trip is drawing to an end, so we head off to Camacha on the bus, taking in a less vertiginous levada walk which includes some lovely wild flowers…

DSC07274…a recycled bicycle hedge…

DSC07260…and more very fine orchids growing in pots on the terrace of the café at which we finally arrive, hot and thirsty…DSC07277Temperatures ranged from 28 degrees to 17. Needless to say, it’s slightly cooler when we land back in Leeds…

There is still hope…

With so much horror in the world at the moment, it was my privilege and thrill to have  faith in human nature restored on Saturday afternoon with a visit to Esk Valley’s hydro-electric generator on the River Esk.

DSC06834 - CopyNamed “Eureka” by local school children, and, of course, famously because of the Archimedes’ screw which is the project’s basis, this is a work of dedication, perseverance and perspiration…

DSC06831 - Copy (2)It was fantastic to watch the sturdy blades strutting their stuff, such a simple idea, using the power from our recent rainfall to generate green electricity for the equivalent of 45 homes.

In order to accommodate the varying water levels from the river, a gearing system is in place…

DSC06836 - Copyand an automated penstock also to increase or reduce the flow…

DSC06838 - Copy…too much water can be as problematic as too little…

Much care has been taken, involving local wildlife and fisheries organisations, to include an elaborate fish pass for fish moving upstream…

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Apparently fish can use the Archimedes screw to travel downstream, unharmed by those daunting-looking blades. Now they have several alternatives for migratory travel, leaving as little danger-time as possible (delay by the fish in deciding the route can result in becoming a tasty meal for predators).

It’s a high-tech system, controlled remotely, or by the power house on site. All in all, highly impressive. And scarcely interfering with the environment at all…

DSC06842 - CopyFor more information, head to the website: http://whitbyeskenergy.org.uk/

One week on…

Friday, one week on from the terrible events in Paris, and still trying to make sense of it all…

Titles

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if
whilst idly turning pages
in an anthology
absorbing titles and maybe
the shape of a poem,
though not the essence
or its density or detail,
or if,
whilst wandering through a gallery
gazing at the small print beside paintings –
the name, the date,
and passing the frame
with only the vaguest impression of colour,
blasted by the hurry of our own small needs,
but leaving behind
points of light, the point
of those magical brushstrokes,
wouldn’t it be wonderful if
we might come to understand
what it truly is
to be human, the complexities
and, perhaps, how we owe it to ourselves
to pause, to delve a little, to learn,
like now, thinking about
the world
and all its rage
and titles that say something
but are only a small indication of the whole
inclining us to prejudice:
Syria, Islam, Daesh,
Iraq, Refugee, Terror.

Rocking up at Kinver Edge…

You know when you’ve been meaning for ages to visit a place you’ve heard about but just haven’t got round to it? Well, this is where I went the other week…

 

DSC06705 compNot look very enthralling? In actual fact, it’s a fascinating little patch of history in the Black Country called Kinver Edge. A red sandstone ridge into which are built some rock houses (now controlled by the National Trust).

Originally an Iron Age hill fort, people began to inhabit the carved out rock houses further down the hill from, it’s thought, between 600 and 700 A.D.

As the years went on, they were, like everything else, “modernised”….

DSC06712 compHow’s that for a natty little front door?

And inside, quite the Des Res…stairs an’ everything…

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DSC06716 comp DSC06719 comp Actually, if you go along yourself, you’ll see that at one stage these “houses” were kitted out with beds and tables and stoves. It was possible to keep perfectly warm in winter, especially as the average temperature of the caves only varies between 12 and 14 degrees. Outside were kitchen gardens, and the inhabitants kept pigs and chickens, for a self-sufficient life-style. Only trouble was, there was no running water or sanitation and the powers that be decided that the houses were no longer habitable by the 1950’s, so the last of the residents finally moved out.

Thought be the inspiration for Tolkein’s hobbit’s residence, there are lots of opportunities for the imagination to run riot here, and if you grow tired of standing in a fusty cave, there are miles of woodland in which to walk and views in all directions from the top. For us, it was well worth a diversion from the M6!

Have you been to Another Place?

DSC06762 compBefore summer is officially over, I at last manage to make it across the country to Liverpool’s Crosby Beach to see Another Place, Antony Gormley’s faraway figures contemplating…what? Time? Space? Distance? “This was no exercise in romantic escapism,” Gormley states on his website. Rather, “the idea was to test time and tide, stillness and movement”. He certainly does that, despite the crowds on a Saturday afternoon…

DSC06754 compIn the midst of ordinariness, there’s a deep feeling of calm and otherness here, which induces contemplation. Something almost magical.

Gormley states that he wanted to “somehow engage with the daily life of the beach”. He also attains that. His figures, however, are not only for gazing at…

DSC06760 comp…they also seem to be participating in a range of activities, from volleyball to being jumper-minder.

DSC06755 compIf they were real, these strange “people” would be arrested for nudity (such is the fickleness of the human race).

What, for me, makes this a success in public art is its ability to provoke, to raise questions. It gives us context. Where are we in time and space? Will we live beyond these figures? How might our environment change to alter them or alter us? Does it matter? Will it matter?

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Gadding about the Gower

DSC06687 comprLast week we decided to do a spot of walking in the Gower Peninsula. Bit of a busman’s holiday, considering we live in similar terrain. However, a change is as good as a rest, as they say, and I’ve never been there before, so we strike out…

DSC06689a compBlue skies, blue seas…what more could you want?

DSC06691 compWe head across the fields from Pitton Cross campsite towards Mewslade Bay, then follow the coastal path…

DSC06688 compr…along to Worm’s Head…

DSC06697 compThe tide is still covering the causeway, but already a hoard of tourists (or should I be saying swarm…it seems to be the rage…) are waiting to cross over to the Head itself. It’s a lovely spot, though busy here, as is the village of Rhossili itself. The view across the beach would have you thinking otherwise…

DSC06702 compWe skirt the edge of the Beacon, promising ourselves a different walk over the top for the following day, and manage a series of footpaths avoiding the road, until (miraculously…or perhaps I should bow down to the Other One’s map-reading skills) we emerge opposite the campsite. Just time to spruce up and drive down to Rhossili’s excellent bistro for some grub.

It’s a great area for walking and, apparently, climbing, too. We saw para-gliders, as well as families enjoying an old-fashioned day out at the beach. And a fascinating place for wild life. You can see seals on the peninsula, whilst the area is only a few miles from Swansea if you fancy a gasp of city life.

Sadly, the weather isn’t to be relied upon. After our long day we fall exhausted into our tent, only to awake in the night to the happy patter of rain. Moody blue clouds greet us in the morning and, ever the optimist, I inform the Other One it’s on the point of clearing. Which shows how wrong an optimist can be. With the energy of Whirling Dervishes the rain drops spin and fly into our ancient tent, pooling upon our pillows and soaking into our duvet.

Undeterred and thinking the weather might dry up, we set off for Broughton Bay, purportedly one of the wildest parts of the Gower (a couple of large caravan parks have been slung across the dunes). We take a soaking along the beach, during which time we only spot one other person, before returning to the sanctity of our little metal box on wheels.

We return to camp, inspect the lake inside the tent. I would cry “Abandon Ship!” had the metaphor been appropriate, but a sinking ship is probably a drier option. We pack the car, abandon the tattered remains of canvas in a skip, and, with the forecast of rain for the remaining days, head for the motorway.

Not, however, without the sobering thought that I, unlike those refugees in Calais and elsewhere, have an option to return to a dry bed and a washing machine.

Oh, was that summer?

Copy of DSC06663The fog’s so thick up here today I can barely see my nose.

“Don’t exaggerate,” says the Other One, pointing out the thistles in the field, “unless, of course, you’re under the illusion your nose extends beyond the dung heap in the farmyard, and even I wouldn’t say your nose is that big.”

I take a deep sniff. I can smell eco-cleaner (it’s cleaning day). Point taken.

But aren’t writers allowed to exaggerate? Isn’t that what fiction is supposed to do? But where does fiction meet fact in the novel today? When is the reader happy to suspend disbelief? And, who is to judge what is truth or otherwise?

Yesterday a potential editor pointed out that a certain situation in my new novel could not possibly happen, thereby destabilizing its premise. But actually, that situation did happen. To us. Except, of course, I’ve changed the characters, location, the plot….you know how it goes.

So how to convince a reader to enter a world that the writer creates and stick with it, for the sake of a good story? That’s the hard part. J.R. Tolkien managed it. So did J.K. And Bram Stoker. What about writers who write more realistically? Atwood, Dunmore, Gordimer? You can bet your bottom dollar, any novel I care to mention could be opened at a page where somebody might say, “that couldn’t happen”. It’s whether the reader cares whether it did or not.

So, my foggy day morphs into a lovely sunny day at the local garden centre…

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 …and my protagonist becomes a rather grumpy caterpillar named Cecil…

Copy of DSC06663Also, I think I have something in common with Pinocchio and might now just be able to smell that dung heap…