24 May 2018

Clemency

On sunshine holidays and aeroplanes I often like to devour books. The holiday in Corfu was no different.

I took a book called "The Northern Clemency" by Philip Hensher, having spotted a copy of it when sorting out book donations in the upstairs rooms at my Oxfam shop. At 738 pages in length, it would certainly take some devouring.

"The Northern Clemency" is a novel - largely about suburban life in one of England's great northern cities. In fact that city is Sheffield and I could relate directly to most of the locations to which Hensher referred. With my intimate knowledge of a city I have lived and worked in since 1978 there were some minor jarring notes. For example, the author refers to the village of Orgreave on the edge of our city as a "town". This is where the great battle between striking coal miners and an army of police officers occurred on June 18th 1984. Nearly everybody in South Yorkshire knows that Orgreave was just an ugly industrial village with a big coking plant on its doorstep. It was never a town.

The novel spans some twenty years and follows the development of two families - the Glovers and the Sellers. They live on the same street between the suburbs of Broomhill and Crosspool. Hensher treats his characters with affection, revealing their differences and the things that make them tick as individuals. His love of humanity is palpable and though there is laughter to be found in this tome, readers are never invited to laugh at the characters. They cannot help who they are.

There are things I disagreed with - such as the way the miners' strike was portrayed - but this was a very readable and engaging novel. It's not heavy Literature with a big "L", nor is it filled with weighty philosophical notions. It is just about ordinary people rubbing along together, trying to be happy, trying to be true to themselves.

"Clemency" is not a word you come across every day. It means "mercy", "leniency" and "forgiveness".  Hensher shows clemency to his characters just as these inhabitants of the novel tend to forgive the mistakes and failings of others. Life is perhaps too short to be weighed down by the soul-sapping burden of habitual inclemency.

23 May 2018

Murderer

Habitually, I claim to respect all creatures and would certainly never harm a fly. In this sense, I feel I have unconsciously adopted a Buddhist attitude to non-human life. As a gardener, I always feel bad about disposing of slugs and snails but it has to be done. Often I just throw the munching snails into the green access lane at the bottom of our garden.

I remember a still summer day on a lake in Austria long ago. My younger brother, Simon and I had paddled a raft away from the shore. I had a length of orange sea fishing line with me - wrapped around a wooden "H". At the end of it were a dozen hooks. I put stale bread on them and threw the line into that crystal clear lake. I believe it was called Grundlsee.

Almost as soon as those hooks hit the water, a crowd of fish - probably arctic char - rose up from the depths below. Within seconds every hook had a fish upon it. I hauled my catch in - beautiful silvery creatures being rudely yanked from their aquatic environment.

They thrashed about alarmingly upon the floor of the raft and then I had no idea what to do. I think I was nine years old at the time. Frantically, I yelled to my two older brothers on the shoreline, "I've caught some fish! I've caught some fish! What should I do?"

Was it Robin or Paul who yelled back, "Bash'em on the head with your paddle!"? I don't recall but I do remember replying, "Bash em on the head? I can't do that!"

With the fish still showing their displeasure, we paddled the raft back to the lakeside and there our older siblings relieved the creatures of their misery. They were eaten for brumch in our caravan but I was still mourning their deaths and feeling guilty about what I had done so I refused the fish.

Wind forward fifty five years and we are in our first floor hotel room in Corfu. Every night some ten or twelve mosquitoes find their way into our little space. They are on the ceiling or in the bathroom or lurking in the curtains.

I have a rolled up a copy of "The Times" and I am no longer a hippy Buddhist lover of life, cradling butterflies or feeding garden birds - no - I am now a ruthless killer. I show no mercy as I whack the little bastards. Sometimes they are filled with blood. I crush two on the mirror and whipping a bath towel I bring stray mosquitoes down from the ceiling, pursuing them  to the bitter end. I feel elated with each death and deflated whenever they get away.

It's a nightly hunting expedition. Though I recognise the inconsistencies in my moral code and in relation to my usual attitude towards living creatures, I feel no shame in being a mosquito assassin. After all - what is the point of these whining little creatures that have brought so much distress to the human race? We are at war with these hypodermic devls and in Corfu I confess that I murdered them without regret.

22 May 2018

Back

Back home in Yorkshire now. It was a good holiday but there were some negatives. I might blog about them another day. But for today, I just want to share a few more photographs from our week on Corfu. That's one of the nice things about blogging - you can showcase images that might otherwise disappear into the digital ether - never to be seen again.

A blog can be like a personal journal - of life passing by - just like written journals that devoted diarists once scribbled in -  reflecting  upon their private lives and the world in general. When you have been blogging for thirteen years - as I have - the blog becomes a record of your life. You can look back and remember walks and holidays, family events and things you experienced. Increasingly, I find blogging very useful in that way.

Anyhow, five more pictures from Corfu...
Above - aboard the Pegasus heading for the island of Mathraki. Below - another olive farmer's shed especially for Meike in Ludwigsburg, Germany. She loves old ruins which may be why she quite likes me!
 Above - a simple meal we had in Ilias's Taverna in Avliotes. I can't tell you how utterly delightful my salad was - bottom left. It was called a "mixed salad" containing walnuts, pieces of apple, various green leaves, pine nuts, balsamic vinegar and olive oil - topped with thin slices of strong, flavoursome local cheese. I told Ilias it was the most enjoyable salad I had ever eaten. Below, all the directions you need in Agios Stefanos:-
Below - a shrine on the lovely clifftop walk between Agios Stefanos and Arillas. Perhaps somebody once jumped from here, momentarily hovering on the rising sea air like a bird before plummeting to... The End....

21 May 2018

View

Housemartins wheel about in the stillness, performing their aeronatutical acrobatics with consummate ease. Diving, pirouetting and swooping, they head for their dun-coloured nests, expertly constructed in April under concrete eaves. Babies wait there with voracious appetites.They too will be masters of the air.

Calm is the sea. She laps about the crescent of the sandy bay, just whispering like a secret voice you remember from long ago. There across the glassy aqua plane rise the milky mountains of Albania. Twenty miles away, their outline resembles the body of a giant who has lain down to slumber upon the far horizon.

Closer and better defined are the inhabited offshore islands of Mathraki, Erikousa and Othonoi, They are separate worlds with their own histories, their own memories, their own serpentine paths weaving quietly to evocative ruins and to bays where fisherfolk once mended their nets. 

I am sitting on the balcony of Room 4 at the Nafsika Hotel in Agios Stefanos. Ahead, I can see the little white Greek Orthodox church on a bluff that overlooks the old fishing harbour - its defences now eroding with each cruel battering received when the waves are up and angry. 

To the north, dark green hills resplendent with ancient olive groves and Mediterranean pines give way to a small, jumbled Legoland of squat apartment blocks and holiday villas. They tumble towards the beach where two fat people are marching, overtaken by a runner with a dog.

My black swimming shorts and a blue, red and white striped towel are drying on the railing of our balcony and sitting on the circular  plastic table a recently emptied coffee cup. My walking boots rest beneath, reminding me of yesterday's hike over the headland to Arillas.

This morning's placid Ionian Sea is not one uniform colour or texture. There are shades and swirls and corrugation. It has its patterns and its colours that belie hidden depths where octopuses dwell about the wreck of some ancient trireme that had been heading home from the heel of Italy long ago. Today, there's a lone fishing boat out there, catching the light and so faraway it is little more than  a speck of whiteness.

It is May 21st 2018. Our last Corfu morning. Our first was twenty six years ago when the kids were little and played upon the beach at Kavos that Eastertime. Ian found an old fisherman's hat and Frances plastered her cheeks with vanilla ice cream. How many tides have ebbed and flowed since then? You remember it all like a dream, uncertain that it really happened at all. Meantime the housemartins continue their amazing aerial display as  ribbon waves surge and suck upon the shore  forever and ever.

Amen.

18 May 2018

Postcard

Olive  farmer's hut - north west  Corfu
We are alive and well and enjoying our brief sojourn in Corfu, Greece. I would have blogged earlier than this but the proprietor of our litttle hotel - Basiltus Fawltiopoulos - gave me the wrong wifi password. Yesterday he also served sweet white wine to  guests like us who had specifically ordered dry white. He explained that he had run out of dry and didn't think anyone would mind drinking the sweet.
We have had a couple of lovely walks and today (Friday) we took a service boat to an offshore island called Mathraki - population fifty outside summertime. We had three hours there and sitting alone on a long golden beach I stripped off ready for a swim only to be thwarted by the sight of jellyfish - both in the water and on the shore. A close escape.
It's getting late and the wifi, like Basiltus, is unpredictable so I shall just decorate this Grecian blogpost with a handful of images collected this week. Kali nichta!
Above Aghios Stefanos

14 May 2018

Lambs

Near Whirlow Playingfields, I spotted two lambs yesterday . One of the joys of springtime here in northern England is to see new lambs frolicking in the countryside. Who can avoid a smile or an "Awww!" when we see a lamb in a spring meadow?  

It's almost one o'clock  in the morning and I need to be asleep before too long because we are driving over to Manchester round about nine thirty - ready for our flight to Corfu. I guess I will be able to blog over there but I am not sure about this. We hope to have a lovely holiday.

Before I go, I shall leave you with two images of  yesterday's  lambs and bid you good night!

12 May 2018

Saturday

On Saturday afternoon we travelled up the motorway to Leeds. We were in a minibus with several local friends and acquaintances - on our way to watch "Sunshine on Leith" at The West Yorkshire Playhouse. It's a feelgood musical that I first saw in the form of a film back in 2013. I blogged about it here.

Before taking my seat, I had a little stroll around the area and snapped these two pictures:-
The window is part of Leeds College of Music and the stencilled picture outside the BBC building appears to be of Alan Bennett, a wry and gifted writer who is one of Leeds's most famous sons.

The musical was filled with youthful energy, cleverly choreographed dancing and familiar songs by The Proclaimers. We enjoyed it immensely. It received rapturous applause from the assembled audience.

Afterwards we were transported swiftly back down the motorway to Sheffield. Once back in our suburb we all sat down in our local Indian restaurant - "Urban Choola" and enjoyed a hearty  meal washed down with wine and "Cobra" beer. 

It had been a grand day out spoilt only by the Eurovision Monster on our television when we got home. That annual phantasmagoria is a monument to bad taste, hollowness and mediocre, instantly forgettable songs. The ridiculous winner came from Israel which - like Australia - isn't even in Europe. What a mad world!
"Sunshine on Leith"