Call me Tardy…

Call me tardy, but prizes for guessing what these hands are doing?  Yes, for anyone in the Whitby Know, there’s good reason to gather at the harbour’s edge at low tide on a bright late May morning…

And these guys can’t afford to be tardy at all. They have a job to do before the tide comes back in…. Here they come….

Any workman knows it’s important to arrange your materials ready to hand…

…before setting to work. Gently does it…

  Of course, they’re building the Penny Hedge. This is an age-old tradition (dating back to 1159) in penance for not only hunting a wild boar but also for murdering a monk who chose to protect the poor hunted creature.  The Abbot was all for dishing out a far harsher punishment, but, before dying, the gentle soul only requested the construction of a hedge which could withstand three tides… The whole ceremony takes less than half an hour. Just time for the finishing touches….

…and a photo-shoot…during which one of the descendants of the wicked blows the horn three times…

And we’re all cleansed. Pity we couldn’t say the same about current world affairs. Still, a bit of light relief does wonders for one’s sanity…

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Do It Yourself? Wasn’t me, milord….

What else to do on an autumnal May afternoon than try a spot of DIY? In any case, I’ve got my Boy Scout cap on and am set on doing my good turn for the day. This doesn’t altogether preclude my prejudice against embarking upon a traditional province of men. Thus, in contrary mind (my wont), I’m up for it all the more. My egalitarian father (with ideas way beyond Jeremy Corbyn’s) taught me to use a drill and also that a rawl plug isn’t just a convenient improvisation for a witch’s hat on a peg-doll. I’m all for getting the job done when it needs doing, and far too mean to pay a handywoman.

So I hunt around the house for some of that squeezy white stuff which isn’t toothpaste and is used for tidying up shower areas. Bathroom and kitchen sealant, I believe it’s called. Duly, I find a huge tube of the stuff, big enough to clean a giant’s teeth, or rather, to glue them together so that he or she can’t gnash at any passing beanstalk. I take it to the bathroom and having dutifully ensured the area is clean and dry and that my hand’s steady and sure to produce a pure line, I begin to squeeze the handle of the very convenient gun in which it is ready-mounted. Then I squeeze. And squeeze. Harder until my hand hurts with the effort. And squeeze. Nothing. Aha! I realise that the layers of tape that the previous squeezy-white-paste-that-isn’t-toothpaste-user had placed over the nozzle after the last usage must have allowed in some air, and dried rock solid. The contents clearly must be expunged before the fresh soft moist stuff is available. Diligently, I poke it all out until there’s some nice gooey stuff ready to erupt, keen as a racing greyhound before the crate lid opens. Thereby lies, or rather splats, the trouble. I don’t know how it happened, milord, but the more I try to control the tube the more effusive the large vocabulary of the sealant becomes – such as, ‘look here, would you like me to go here?’ and ‘What about a nice patch here?’ and ‘How about I cover these nice shiny taps with a layer of white gunge, don’t you think it would add gravitas?’ Oh.

Within less than 30 seconds the Brighten-Up-Shower Project has morphed into a Damage-Limitation-Serious-Destickify Project. All I can say is, good job I have an apron on. Oh, and that this stuff doesn’t solidify at least for the first six minutes. Oh, and that the serious DIY expert’s hand-cleaning gunk removes the goo from your skin (although I’ve a suspicion that the skin on my hands is reduced to a layer of filigree pastry after this little escapade).

I put everything away and have to confess that my handiwork wouldn’t really pass muster with a B & Q employee. Never mind, I think. I’m a creative. And the Lord knows (well, he might if he existed) I am blessed with the ability to think outside the box, or, in this case, the squeezy tube. What else could this useless-fit-for-the-bin-implement be useful for?

A substitute dog?

An alternative bunch of roses?

A rabbit to scare all rabbits from the rhubarb patch?

Or an objet d’art as a progression from the original concept (see the original blog post….)

Who knows? I don’t. Though I do have an idea that I should be looking out a local handyman’s phone number, or writing that poem I’ve been meaning to write all day…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A match-head, a cauliflower and a coffee spoon…

Has she, you might well ask, finally fallen off her trolley? What possible connection could a match-head have with a cauliflower and a coffee spoon? I guess you could ask the same question about mugwump, mint sauce and Eton mess. There lies the beauty and the depth of the English language and poetic resonance, even for those of you who find resonance somewhat hard to swallow…

But swallow this…a tall story, or rather not such a tall one, about a cauliflower. Sewn last autumn (date imprecise) and allowed to mature in the balmy soil of a North-East coastal garden… Lo and behold! April 28th. A wonder of genetic engineering…possibly the smallest cauliflower ever grown…there must be a prize somewhere (Guiness book of Records?). And here it is. Note the matchstick planted beside it, to prove the size…

And if that doesn’t convince you, note the coffee spoon and the match-head beside the joyful little flower…

Anyone fancy sharing cauliflower cheese tonight?

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Merely a mere…

 

 

 

 

I’ve just been out in a driving hail storm. Yet only days ago I was sauntering along beside Scarborough’s lovely mere, gazing at waterlily leaves…

…and making conversation with the local residents…

   I even imagined I was in deepest Africa, when there seemed to be a crocodile just submerged… Of course it turned out to be a rotten boat or something…but then writers are allowed to let their imagination run wild, aren’t they?

It seems, though, that even the most creative of us find it difficult to “feel” different temperatures…i.e.  when it’s cold we can’t quite imagine warmth, and when it’s warm, as it was only the other day at the Mere, it’s hard to imagine the hail against your skin. Yet we have knowledge, don’t we, and can recreate in our minds how it might feel. Which is exactly what you have to do when you’re trying to climb inside the skin of a character in a novel…we have to be that person, so that the reader can gain as much of an insight as they can and BELIEVE in them. I guess that’s the advantage of taking notes wherever you are, stashing away a whole raft (‘scuse the pun) of scenarios, so that you have the detail to hand to provide the authentic character and the authentic scene…

Just trying to figure out how I can use an old rotten boat that resembles a crocodile…

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Review: His lute is a time capsule…

My Lute is a Time Capsule by Dr Richard Wood. (published by Undead Tree Publications, 2016)

Ever tried to imagine what materials go into the making of a lute? Wood, of course. But Wood, the author, lets us into a deeper world of gossip and fascination when it comes to restoring such an historic instrument.

Wood’s collection of musings is a cornucopia of contemporary cuttings presented more or less as they were (or could have been) in real life during this talented individual’s forays into the craftsmanship of lining, and thereby reinforcing, the instrument’s delicate body . Through the centuries, any paper or strip of fine material could have been pasted inside the 2mm husk for robustness, resulting in a revealing body of social history and wit.

A perfect volume into which to browse, with anecdotes and short tales, leave it on a coffee table for a perfect companion with whom to while away an hour or so. Wood’s snippets range from wry conversational style to letters to the editor, both humorous and serious, some of which have been published previously in national newspapers. Topics vary broadly from jazz and the poisoning of Litvinenko through to the world’s biggest egg. Sociology and politics and just plain daftness add to a wonderful blend, all bound together by Wood’s unique glue!

Profits from sales of the book are donated to Freedom from Torture, so there’s a feel-good factor even before you start.

However, one word of advice: if you have any guests staying and leave a copy in the loo, don’t forget to cross your legs – you may have a long wait until they re-emerge!

You can purchase a copy from Amazon here.

 

 

 

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Oh no, not more holiday snaps…

If any of you have yet to explore the small Balearic island of Menorca, if I were you, I’d get planning. I was there last week, for the third time, as it happens, just the perfect time for a trip when most of the tourists have gone but the weather’s still plenty warm enough to swim in the sea. And rest assured it’s not merely sunshine and sand…

There’s Ciutadella for a kick-off. Lovely old city with plenty to see and do…

dsc08629…with the odd funny fella thrown in…

dsc08645…not to mention the annoying tourist who is always in your way…whoops, only joking! She’s a friend actually…

dsc08648Then there’s all that wonderful Talyotic history. You can visit the museum in Ciutadella…but much more interesting are the sites…(about which I have already written the odd poem, including one in my pamphlet Taking Responsibility for the Moon)

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dsc08705  dsc08793

The above fine example of a naveta, or tomb, is said to date back to between 1000 and 800 b.c. Note, the small portal with the grill is aligned directly to the sun’s rays. Apparently one hundred or so corpses were laid here, with various material “aids”, such as bracelets and spearheads – the usual suspects! In addition, folklore has it that the missing stone (at the top) was due to a squabble by two giants over the same girl…I think I feel a poem coming on…

And if you’re bored of history, there’s plenty of coastal walking, too, which at this time of the year isn’t too hot…

dsc08740…particularly with all those shady glens and olive trees to swoon over….

dsc08768  Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

 

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Blog Action Day an’ all that…

Forgive me, I’m climbing on my soapbox again. Well I have to join in with  worldwide Blog Action Day, don’t I? Especially as I’ve just had the privilege of attending a live reading by Linton Kwesi Johnson, thanks to the dynamic team up at Teesside University. Who else to flag up world action where it counts than the quintessential Kwesi Johnson, who came to poetry and the spoken word through a fundamental sense of injustice, i.e. racism?

It was interesting (and brilliant!) to hear a little of his journey through politics and human rights as well as his personal journey through creativity and literature. This is a guy who I’ve long revered for his persistence, and his courage to stand with his head above the parapet….because isn’t it so easy just to keep your head down and pretend the less acceptable side of life might go away?

You might wonder why a white middle class gal like me would be so concerned about black human rights…after all, I was grammar-school educated followed by a three year stint at university, not to mention further years of post-graduate study. What gripe have I got?

The answer is clear. My gripe is that I’m human. And I have the compassion and vision that accompanies an ability to put myself into other people’s shoes… Linton Kwesi Johnson was the child of the Windrush generation. I was the child of people who fought in the second world war, people who’d suffered at the hands of Europe-wide politics and greed, and who lived in poverty.And when I say Europe, I’m including Britain.

The community amongst whom I grew up were farm and factory workers, each with their own small battles, and yes, I remember walking to school in the rain wearing cardboard in my shoes when the soles had worn through. So maybe I didn’t need to step into other people’s shoes after all…

I had the impression from Kwesi Johnson that to some extent he’s handed over the baton with regard to racial battles. Certainly things have come a long way since the 1985 Brixton riot. But it’s an unpalatable truth that prejudice in the UK is still an issue, especially in the light of the Brexit vote; white against black, black against white, second generation immigrant against new immigrant, the issue against Jews, against women, against gays and transgender, not to mention disability and age. Reminds me of John Lennon’s immortal words of protest no time for fussing and fighting (We can work it out, The Beatles.) Maybe prejudice is a natural part of the human psyche…maybe it springs from a fear of what we don’t understand, a fear that something will come and steal what we have, plus a strong natural bent to lay the blame for our ills directly at someone else’s feet. Basic psychological instincts moulded by a culture that has lost sight of more authentic values of care and compassion.

If we had any insight, we’d not only try on other’s shoes for size, we’d also pull on their smelly socks in order to at least try to understand how they feel and begin to try to improve things further. Maybe we should start right now by turning towards a stranger and giving them a smile, whoever they are and irrespective of their external appearance.

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Gung-ho about the bung oh…

Here I am at last, back from France, and if you ask me about my summer, please don’t mention the bung…bit like mentioning the war in our house at the moment, but seeing as it’s now been mentioned…

Perhaps I could be very artful and tell the story from the bung’s point of view, though I’m not sure the consequences would be suitable for children, even though the narrative idea sounds kind of…well…childish… Oh well, isn’t it true that we adults do sometimes behave in a manner inappropriate to our age? But then, who the heck’s judging…. Probably my adult children, I imagine, when they read this.

It began with arrival in a dark, dark wood near Saint Laurent Sur Sèvre, place of pilgrimage and odd English people who go walking in the rain…

dsc08278Yes. I said rain. First day out, land of pilgrimage or not……we got so wet it seemed like the choice was either to join the missionaries….

dsc08287…or to venture further south in search of sun…and it wouldn’t be the first time we’ve done that…so off to St Pons, it is. Interesting place, bung or no bung…After all there is a dungeon which almost spells bung…

le-pons-le-donjonWe did have a great meal in the square, listening to live music…but then it was back to the tent, and not only had we no bung, which meant sleeping on the ground, but also some people had arrived and decided to park their caravan within an inch or two of our tent, even though the campsite was almost empty. Children and strangers coughing are not on my list of lullabies. Anyone know why people do such things?

Anyway,  the poor lonely little bung spent a long night in a bag somewhere in the bowels of the car, while…well…I won’t go on…needless to say, there was little sleep had that night… and the following day we headed off for Jonzac…dsc08309

…an interesting town, though not all the inhabitants are pretty…

dsc08316The main thing was that we managed to find a mobile home to rent for a few days (obviating the need for the bung) at a great site called Camping les Castors

The site was very French, great pool and close to the town. There were also some lovely walks around, plus the sun was shining. Things were definitely looking up. Apart from  the poor bung who was languishing somewhere…

dsc08318There were some great concerts in the hall next to the mairie, and also some interesting art about. Then it was time to set off for our house-sit…

dsc08436A week of dogs, cats, chickens and a great swimming pool, plus a chance to explore Chef Boutonne (meaning source of the river Boutonne, not the chef with the button) and Melle. Go if you can. Interesting place!

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Then, having managed not to accidentally murder any of the aforementioned animals, it was off to just north of Pornic, where we found a great one-star campsite, cheap, basic and wonderfully clean and friendly with the most fantastic restaurant just round the corner…

dsc08461There were however some poignant reminders of war…the rocky teeth designed to put off invaders…

dsc08452…numerous pill boxes…

dsc08459 and reminders of the blockships and deaths of various navy personnel during the second world war. Difficult to move on from when you’re aware there’s still the same old stuff going on all over the world…

However, on the brighter side, there was an interesting tradition of fishing…

dsc08491…fantastic engineering…

dsc08496…fine calibrated sun dials in case we really needed to know the time…

dsc08514…all the moules you can eat…

dsc08544…and fabulous sunsets…

dsc08466    dsc08549…oh, and in case you were wondering, this was all courtesy of a fully sprung airbed…yes, the prodigal bung had returned and all was forgiven. Well, nearly…

 

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Eye Watering stuff…

Any novelist will tell you that the prospect of not working on your novel is far more alluring than actually sitting down to write it. In fact I’m sure I’ve touched on this issue previously. Over the years I’ve heard all sorts of brilliant and successful writers (A.S. Byatt amongst them) extolling the virtues of housework, interrupted only by the pleas from their agents to get on and write the b………. thing.

So, one day, when indulging myself with one of my too frequent moanings to a good friend about not being able to get on with my latest literary ramblings, the idea came up that I would retire for a week to a flat just north of the Scottish border for a self-styled writer’s retreat. Great! I would get so much more written there

Blog 1 Ayton

In my excitement, I failed to remember two things: one that it’s a writer’s affliction to be curious (and enthusiastic) about absolutely everything, and secondly, quite often (and in my case, read that as extremely often) writers like to walk and think at the same time in order to plan the next literary steps.

I packed the car and beat it past the Angel of the North and the Farne Islands, past Berwick and over the Scottish border to find my allotted accommodation in a quiet village. Oh, and the occasional red lion…

Blog 3 AytonInternet was available, which may be a good or a bad thing, depending on one’s willpower. Mine was worthy of an Olympian Gold. Neither email inbox or Facebook were accessed prior to at least one p.m. Writing was done. Then exploring had to follow. And I’m not talking virtually. Out into the real world of…well, old cigarette machines, if you must know…juxtaposed poetically with rails for the disabled…

Blog 2 Ayton I soon got into the swing of things and headed for St Abb’s Head with its nonvertiginous sheep…

Blog 14 Aytonand the beautiful coast around Coldingham Bay…

Blog 4 AytonI couldn’t resist a trip round Berwick-upon-the-famous-Tweed, with its fortifications and moving borders…

Blog 6 AytonBlog 7 AytonBlog 8 Ayton

DSC08237…which over the centuries we have made such an effort to cross…

Then there was this particularly swanky spiral staircase…

Blog 10 AytonWith the aid of a book of walks, starting point Coldingham village, I managed not to be in front of that laptop for quite a bit of the week. I saw red deer, blue butterflies, any number of wild flowers including my favourite…harebells…not to mention a couple of beautiful inland lochs.  I even came across this…

Blog 11 Ayton…a stone, carved out to make room for a vinegar rinse into which visiting families in the time of the plague could drop coins to disinfect them in return for food from the villagers. Enough to make your eye water…

Blog 5 AytonAnd if you don’t believe me and you remain convinced I was slaving over a hot laptop and not walking that lovely coast at all, I even managed a selfie…sorry about the grimace!

Blog 12 Ayton

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Silent Water

I feel as if recent events have silenced me. Somehow it’s all been too shocking, too disappointing. Gobsmacked is the word for it. I thought it was a Yorkshire word, but a quick google claims a Scottish heritage. Of Northern origin, any road. In any case, it expresses the feeling. Silenced, with an edge that’s both ugly and plainspoken, with a vague wryness.

So, as usual, it’s in water that I seek solace and try to recover my voice.

Whitby Harbour, for instance…

DSC08018 compressed…which instantly reclaims all those old metaphors of safety and the danger of the wild open sea. And all those wrecks just beneath the water out there. Which is a bit like Europe at the moment, isn’t it?

Then I turn inland…to Mallyan Spout….oh, no, my poetic brain’s pumping with the long fall of droplets from top to bottom…

DSC08025 compressedMaybe I could settle for a small water in the middle of the open moor…transmits a kind of peace, doesn’t it, this silent water…though I’m trying to ignore the storm clouds….

DSC08035 compressedOne way or another, we’re all going to have to face up to the future…

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