23 October 2017

Proud

Is our son, Ian, on the threshold of  a dream? Everything seems to  be moving in the right direction.

Sixteen months ago, he and his chum Henry had the bright idea of launching a Facebook page dedicated to delicious vegan cookery. It has attracted great interest with many thousands of visitors dropping by.

Publishers got wind of it and Ian and Henry were approached by several big name publishers to produce a recipe book That book is now at the editorial stage pending its big launch next spring. 
The Facebook page has now transmogrified into a polished website with links to a You Tube Channel, Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. The guys are giving it all their very best shot and if it should all go pear-shaped tomorrow I would still be very proud of the effort, imagination and energy that Ian has put into this venture.

They seem to be pressing the buttons at the perfect time when many people are moving to plant-based diets. Several famous figures from film, music and sport have embraced veganism in the past couple of years and there are undoubtedly many good ethical and health reasons for following that dietary direction.

To visit the new Bosh! website, go here.
Co-incidentally, Ian and Henry featured
 in "The Guardian" this very day

22 October 2017

Guilty

How do I plead? I plead "Guilty" your honour.

Though I did spend six weeks in Ireland in the summer of 1974, visiting amongst many other places  the youth hostel at Killary Harbour, I did not have a ghostly encounter there. That was all a fignent of my literary imagination. Ludwig Wittgenstein was buried at the Parish of the Ascension Burial Ground in Cambridge in 1951 and that is where his mortal remains have remained ever since.

When it comes to ghost stories, there is one fundamental problem. There's no such thing as ghosts. It's all utter balderdash, a legacy of dark medieval nights and the troubled dreams of our ancestors. No genuinely haunted houses, no poltergeists. If you are attracted by such things then I am sorry to disappoint you. It is all utter nonsense. Pure make-believe.

I have a theory that those who claim to "believe" in ghosts find the idea stimulating. Ghosts get the heart racing. They add a delicious frisson of mystery and uncertainty to the ordinariness of everyday life. In other words, many people actively "want" to believe in ghosts. This fanciful desire blinds them to the overwhelming evidence that it's all poppycock but I guess it's a welcome distraction for many.

Writers of ghost stories and makers of ghost films are very fortunate because they are tapping in to a massive audience of would-be believers. This is something I find very disconcerting. To think that I live amongst people who readily lap up this drivel. They are probably the kind of people who might also turn a lecherous reality TV show host into a national leader or blindly allow themselves to be led into a dangerous fantasy world called Brexitland.

Yes your honour, I am guilty as charged.

21 October 2017

Timelessness

Memoir - Part 3
In the middle of the night I needed to urinate. I fumbled my way to the light switch but alas the power was off. Then, like a blind man, I felt my way through grey darkness to the bathroom beyond the bunk room. Outside thunder rumbled somewhere over the ocean.

When I returned to the dormitory, my eyes were becoming accustomed to the pale light of pre-dawn. I noticed that the door into the kitchen/communal area was ajar. And what was that aroma in the air? It was the slightly acrid smell of cigarette smoke. Remembering smoking experiments by one of my brothers, I recognised the brand - Woodbines. Perhaps one of the German sisters couldn't sleep but when I squinted into the kitchen I could not make out a figure yet I uttered the word "Hello" with an inflection. No one replied.

I clambered back into my down sleeping bag and gradually went back to sleep. Beyond the marine horizon a blanket of white electricity briefly illuminated the sky.

When I woke, the German sisters were preparing to leave. They were bashing about in the kitchen and seemed filled with the joys of springtime. Once dressed, I joined them and we ate a little breakfast together. Thankfully, there was no more mention of Wittgenstein as sunlight bathed the green linoleum floor. Outside the surface of the fjord sparkled.

Soon their bags were packed and there was some friendly farewell cheek pecking before they left - just as the warden arrived in his battered  Fiat 127. He offered them a lift back to the main road and of course they accepted. Goodbyes were waved even though we had exchanged addresses.

Now I was on my own. One more night at Killary Harbour. As the morning weather had taken a turn for the better, I planned to spend my day exploring the nearby coast.

A day of seals and gulls, scrambling over rocks and ocean vistas. From the white beach at Glassillaun, I swam out to some rocks and returned to bask in the sand, turning yet more pages of "The Magus". Hours passed by but I didn't speak to anyone until I got back to the little harbour opposite the youth hostel where I struck up conversation with a couple of local fishermen in dirty yellow oilskins. They specialised in lobsters but after gutting it, they kindly sold me a silvery pollock, explaining how to steam the creature. I was starving.

Fresh from the sea, it was one of the loveliest fishes I have ever eaten. I found salt and pepper and some "Jiff" lemon juice in the kitchen cupboards and ate this pollock with some instant macaroni cheese I found in the bottom of my rucksack.

That long evening there was nobody to talk to. The warden had gone home and there wasn't a pub for miles. 

A couple more chapters. Another mug of tea. Half an hour at the water's edge staring across the fjord. Then back into the dormitory. Once again it was time for bed. In the morning I would continue my journey through Connemara and down to Galway City. Apart from anything else, I desperately needed to get to a grocery shop.

I don't know what it was that woke me in the middle of the second night but again I detected the faint sickly whiff of Woodbine smoke. Suddenly, a chair scraped on the kitchen floor. Silently, I unzipped my sleeping bag and again got up, feeling for the light switch. For the second night running - nothing.  Someone coughed and I edged apprehensively towards the connecting door.

It creaked open.

In the shadowy half-light I could see someone sitting at the kitchen table. A silhouette. He was bent over in the position of a child scribbling away at a school desk. The room felt icy cold and involuntarily I began to tremble.

"Hello," I whispered.

The figure ignored me at first and then he turned - simultaneously inhaling on his cigarette. The orange glow of the tobacco momentarily lit up his face and I recoiled ever so slightly, struck by the darkness of his deep set eyes and by the unsettling  seriousness of his demeanour. His head had surely turned too far like that girl in "The Exorcist".

He didn't say a word - just gradually bent back into his "writing" though there was no paper on the table and he wasn't in possession of a pen or any other writing instrument. It was as if he was simply miming the process of writing. Scratching away manically at the surface of the old pine table.

It was - how shall I say this - very unnerving. Who was the man at the table?  Instinct told me I had to get out of there. I grabbed some clothes along with my boots and ran out into the night, cowering behind the lobster pots waiting for dawn to rise over the Galway hills. And when daylight finally came, I plucked up courage and crept back into the hostel but the man - whoever he might have been - had gone. I know this because I checked everywhere.

When the bearded warden reappeared in his little blue Fiat close to seven thirty, I asked him about the mystery guest. 

The Bearded One stopped in his tracks, just shook his head and in his thick West Irish brogue asked rhetorically, "Why do you think I don't sleep here?"

Though I pressed him, he wouldn't elaborate and to this day I have no idea what occurred in the Killary Harbour night. There is no rational explanation. It was not a dream. And in spite of my natural scepticism about such matters, I know that  the hunched writer at the kitchen table was really there. I didn't dream him. Of this I have no doubt.

20 October 2017

Ludwig

Memoir - Part 2
Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951)
Trudging along the lane, I must have looked like a tortoise or perhaps a giant hermit crab - with my home upon my back. There was everything I needed in that rucksack - sleeping bag, tent, gas burner, kettle, clothes, toiletries, books - everything. But back in those days there was no camera. I espoused a half-baked philosophy about living in the moment, not photographing it.

A thin drizzle drifted about me from the nearby Atlantic - or was it a sea mist? I marched onward, enjoying the weight upon my shoulders. I passed the tumbledown ruin of a squat stone cottage - perhaps a monument to the Irish potato famine.

No vehicles passed by. There was just the sound of my footsteps on the tarmac in the dank afternoon stillness.

As the drizzly mist slightly lifted I reached the brow of a hill and looked down upon Ireland's only fjord - Killary Harbour. It reaches inland like a grey Norwegian serpent. To my left, a hundred yards along  and nestled by the shoreline, there was a little wharf and a small cluster of buildings. I knew that one of them was the youth hostel though once it had simply been called Rosroe Cottage.

It was here that the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein worked on his treatise "On Certainty" in the summer of 1948. It seemed a strange choice  Crafting complex sentences, shaping intricate academic theories at a place where men gathered lobster pots and occasional dolphin pods sheltered from Atlantic storms. It was far away - on the very edge of Europe.

The bearded warden led me to the men's dormitory. It was spartan with bare floorboards and limewash walls. There were just four wooden bunks. It was mid-week and though it was the beginning of summer,the warden informed me that nobody else had reserved a bed for the night apart from two German females who were of course in the women's dormitory on the opposite side of the kitchen/communal area.

With rucksack propped against my bunk, I went for a stroll along the lapping shore. Returning to the little grey harbour I met the German girls sitting silently amidst jumbled lobster pots looking out to sea. They were sisters and one of them - the taller one - was a Philosophy student in Heidelberg. She spoke English with amazing fluency and it was she who first told me about the Wittgenstein connection. I can't remember her name any more but I can still picture her animated blue eyes.

She seemed almost obsessed by Wittgenstein and claimed to have read just about everything he had published. She was starry-eyed and could recite entire quotations but to tell you the truth I kept switching off. Clever linguistic gymnastics were never my cup of tea. The other, prettier sister remained quiet, in the shadows of her sibling's brilliance, occasionally fingering the ends of her blonde pigtails.

That evening as the wind picked up and rain began to lash the youth hostel's windows, we shared a simple meal together. I had bacon and soda bread. They had cabbage and a small bag of potatoes. After ten nights of camping, I felt I was sitting in the very lap of luxury and that simple meal was like a feast. We washed it down with enamel mugs of sweet tea as the kitchen's striplights flickered ominously.

"It must be the storm," I surmised.

Later, lying on my bunk in the men's dormitory, I read another chapter of "The Magus" by John Fowles while fantasising that one of the German sisters, preferably the quiet one, would come to join me but of course the door never opened and before too long I drifted off to sleep, listening to rain, happy that I wasn't again ensconced in my little orange tent on the edge of some lonely thicket.

TO BE CONTINUED

19 October 2017

Memoir

The tale that follows is true though forty three years have passed by and of course as years disappear under the bridge, memory has an increasing capacity to distort what really happened...
Killary Harbour, Ireland with the youth hostel on the right
There is a road in the far west of Ireland that wanders around squat hills and across ancient boglands all the way from County Mayo into the wild north of County Galway. In early June, back in 1974, that is where I was heading.

I stood on the outskirts of Westport with my thumb pointing hopefully at the billowing sky. After half an hour, an old black car pulled up. It may have been a Humber or perhaps an Austin. The driver was a Catholic priest called Father Stoker. He was bound for Galway City via Clifden where he had some church business to wrap up.

Father Stoker was well into his seventies with straggly white hair and stubbly whiskers to match. I noted his slightly bloodshot eyes and the golden signet ring on his left hand. We had twenty miles or more to travel together and Father Stoker, clearly a genial sort of fellow, was glad of my company for at least part of his car journey. He had a few tales to tell and he was keen to hear what I had seen and done since arriving in Ireland ten days before.

At the county border on the N59 there's a little settlement called Clog. I kid you not. It was just as we were leaving Clog that  Father Stoker asked where exactly he should drop me off. Studying my map, I explained I wanted the Lough Fee road just south of Derrynasligaun. He chuckled at my pronunciation.

"But that's in the middle of nowhere!" he declared. "Where are ye heading after that?"

"I'm going to the youth hostel at the head of Killary Harbour."

For some reason, the car suddenly decelerated. Father Stoker gripped the steering wheel tightly, staring straight ahead before building his speed back up. Ahead, a pair of crows were picking over the flattened carcass of a dead rabbit but they flew off as the old black car approached.

Father Stoker didn't speak another word until we reached the drop off point. I heaved my bulging rucksack from the back seat and leaned back into the car's upholstered interior to thank the old priest for the lift.

He grabbed my hand quite tightly and as he did so I noticed  a curious symbol engraved on his golden ring. Perhaps it was Celtic. His cheerful demeanour had changed. With his rheumy eyes locked upon me he whispered, "Mind how ye go young fellow. Mind how ye go!" And then he released his grip.

I waved as he drove off, leaving me at a blustery road junction far from anywhere.  A rusting sign swung from an old post - "Hostel 2", meaning I had two miles to march with my Famous Army Stores rucksack - all the way to Killary Harbour.

TO BE CONTINUED

18 October 2017

Hardwick

Hardwick New Hall (Wikipedia picture)
For the past few days, I have not been feeling too well. Bunged up with cold and not able to breathe easily. Some might call it "man flu" which is in my view a dumb and rather sexist way of describing a genuine male ailment.

On Sunday, in spite off my poorliness, Shirley I drove out of  the city. After passing through Chesterfield, we arrived in the north-east Derbyshire parish of Ault Hucknall. We parked near the eastern gates to an old country estate.
After donning  our boots, we set off through the gates and along a lengthy driveway. The temperature was pleasant for October and sunshine was beginning to burn off the early morning cloudiness. Sheep observed us from the trees.

Shortly we arrived at the two old halls that sit in the heart of the Hardwick Estate. There's Hardwick Old Hall and Hardwick New Hall. The former building was constructed in the early sixteenth century and the latter much later in that same century.
The initials "E.S." can be seen on the parapet
As we approached Hardwick New Hall, up on the stone  parapets somebody's initials were dominant - "E.S.". Who could that be? It was Elizabeth Shrewsbury - otherwise known as Bess of Hardwick (1527-1608). It was she who ordered the construction of Hardwick New Hall and no expense was spared. After all, she had become the second richest woman in England after Elizabeth I. By 1590, she could afford whatever she wanted. The building is partly notable because of the amount of glass that was used in its large windows. At the time, no other residential building in the world had lavished so much space or money on glass windows.
Bess of Hardwick's coat of arms in stone on the roof of the new hall
Partly because of the admission fees demanded by The National Trust and English Heritage, on this occasion we did not venture inside The New Hall or the ruinous Old Hall. Instead we continued our ramble through the country estate and back to the car. Soon we were quaffing refreshing drinks in "The Elm Tree Inn" in the nearby village of Heath.
St Mary's, Sutton Scarsdale
After this I took Shirley a mile further north to see the shell of Sutton Scarsdale Hall. A  service was just finishing in the adjacent St Mary's Church so we went inside. The vicar, whose name was Roy, kindly gave us a mini guided tour of the building. What most impressed me was the ninth century Saxon tombstone embedded in the floor with its symbol of a primitive scythe. It was very kind of Roy to talk to us and nice to meet a man who has a passionate and intimate knowledge of his local history - in particular the church and its historical associations.

By the time I got home I was, as my mother would have probably said, jiggered. What with the cold and everything, I had almost overdone it. A sensible person would have been spending the day resting on the sofa with a warm lemon drink and a box of tissues. Perhaps next time we will pay the hefty admission fees required to enter Hardwick New Hall. I shall start saving.
Shirley in the woods at Hardwick

17 October 2017

Consideration

Should a poem need explanation? Perhaps we really do "murder to dissect". After all, a poem isn't an extract from a washing machine manual. It isn't a financial statement. Some people think that poems are there to be decoded, translated, examined like specimens in a laboratory. I don't agree with or approve of such a mechanistic approach to poetry.

Nevertheless, I should like to reflect on yesterday's poem. And first of all I say thank you to Jennifer in Florence, South Carolina for attaching the curious word "liminal" to my first picture. It's not a word that is in everyday use. This is what a dictionary has to say about it:-
And yes. it was easy to see why Jennifer might have  seen the edge of the sea as such a place - a sort of limboland.

I thought of the lugworms as earthbound and of the seabirds as heavenly, soaring up into the blue. The human figures in the poem are therefore at a "boundary" between land sea and sky and perhaps also on the threshold of their own future with the past behind them.

There's a deliberate circularity in this poem as the end focus is again upon creatures that live at the edge. Like the shadowy human protagonists there is a connection between the worms in the sand and the birds. They also have a relationship.

Poems will often concern themselves with the very sound of words - echoes, half-rhymes, full rhymes and repetition. I wanted the personal pronoun "I" to stand alone in the fifth line - solitary upon the shore and in the ninth and tenth lines - "Along the margin/ Of that bay" I was consciously nodding to William Wordsworth and his "Daffodils".

Regarding the eleventh line, human life with all its baggage can be burdensome don't you think? We are forever "weighing" or assessing the "burdens" of memory, hope and conscience that we carry. In this we are dissimilar to  the lugworm and the seabird whose lives are more elemental, more driven by the moment. For them it is much easier and simpler to live in the liminal zone.

"Sky" in the second half of the poem chimes with "I" and "fly" in the first half.. "Shore" rhymes strongly with "soar" to seal the poem. There are plenty of "s" sounds to suggest the sound of the sea upon the sand and I like the image of those lugworm coils. I thought of "Spew their little coils" and "Pipe their little coils" but instead opted for "Leave" which has less anthropomorphic association. 

Sue said she never thought she would read a poem about lugworms. I am just pleased to have made a poem that contains lugworms. They are hidden from us in their burrows like the truth and the happiness we seek. There but not there in the liminal zone.