21 July 2017

Poem

I wrote this poem earlier this week - specially for Jenny's "Poetry Monday" feature in her blog - "Procrastinating Donkey". I was remembering a painful time long ago and simultaneously thinking of Sue's daughter in Australia. She has recently separated from her boyfriend of many years. We all think of love - whatever it might be. We all want to love and be loved. It's the secret undercurrent of everything. Well, that's what I think anyway.

My apologies to the APA? Are you a secret member of it? (APA = The Anti-Poetry Army).
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20 July 2017

Norma

Norma moved into our street when she was four years old. Next month she will be ninety two. 

She married a Czech refugee towards the end of World War Two. He was called Pavel. They had just one child - a son who must have been pretty brainy because he became a vet with his own animal practice near Preston in Lancashire.

I often talked with Pavel at his garden gate but in the last few years of his life dementia was taking a hold. In contrast, Norma has always been as sharp as a pin, even as her body was failing her. She had both hips replaced and needed a mobility scooter to get out and about. 

She was fiercely independent and it was only in the last year that she needed carers to support her. With Pavel, it was the brain that let him down but with Norma it was the body.

Recently she became so physically weakened that she ended up in hospital. She will never go back to the house where her mother died and where she lived for eighty eight years. After  temporary care in a local residential home she will transfer to a more permanent home in Lancashire - not far from her son's house.

The other day her favourite handyman was clearing out her house ahead of its sale. I asked him if he'd give Norma a "Good Luck" card from me and he agreed so I bought one at the post office and wrote a nice message inside it. 

Yesterday I received a return message from Norma who is passing time and getting a little stronger before she moves over the hills to Lancashire. Here's her note:-
Where indeed have all the years gone? It's not every day that you get a fluent  little letter from a ninety two year old woman. Hell - when she moved in to our street not one family owned a car and the milk was delivered by horse and cart. Nobody had central heating but every house had a coal fire. As Norma leaves us a piece of social history also departs. I am sorry that I have no photographs of her.

19 July 2017

Adlestrop


Adlestrop

Yes, I remember Adlestrop -
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.

The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop - only the name

And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.

And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.

By Edward Thomas (1878-1917)

- written after an unscheduled stop
at a rural railway station on June
24th 1914 - six weeks before the
outbreak of World War One.

18 July 2017

Stranded

Last weekend we were at a big family party. It was an afternoon event out in Lincolnshire and it was held in a rambling old vicarage owned by one of Shirley's aunties. What a marvellous place - so spacious! And what a marvellous spread of food her auntie provided - including huge joints of tender ham and beef, melt-in-the-mouth Lincolnshire new potatoes, dressed salads and homemade lasagne.

She is in her early seventies and divorced. She has two sons. One of them got married and moved away but the other one - now around forty five years old - still lives at home with his mother. He never moved out and still works in association with his father who is a major landowner in the area, overseeing several arable farms. Hence the big house.

With the son, it is as if the train pulled out of the station but he was left at the platform. You could say that life passed him by, This may be linked to his parents' separation but whatever the reason he sleeps in the same room he slept in when he was a schoolboy.

It is a phenomenon I have noticed before - grown up children still living in the family home. I  can only imagine the tensions that this must sometimes cause. The son or daughter frustrated by what they may see as their failure to catch the train and the parents being reminded on a daily basis that their chick failed to fly the nest. It's not what you expect when you bring a child into the world. You must sometimes wonder - what did we do wrong?

Of course nowadays an increasing number of grown-up children continue to live in the family home simply because of financial pressures but this was never the case with Shirley's cousin. He had the economic power to move away and make a new life. I don't know if he ever had a girlfriend or indeed whether or not he is a gay man in denial. But looking in from the outside I find the situation rather sad.

Not only is he stranded in the vicarage but the years are ticking by and the die seems well and truly cast. It is unlikely that anything will change until his mother departs this earth and even then he'll probably continue to rattle around in that big country house surrounded by the ghosts of old times and lost opportunities.

17 July 2017

Climbing

I wouldn't want to be a rock climber. I am too much of a coward. The idea of falling from a rock face gives me the willies. However, I can "get" the appeal of rock climbing. Your body versus the rock. Mind over matter. Edging patiently upwards. Your fingers seeking handholds, your feet seeking footholds. The adrenalin pumping. Aware of the danger but determined to make it to the top.

The millstone edges west of Sheffield are a mecca for rock climbers. People arrive at these edges from all over the country and indeed from other countries too.
Yesterday I was out there again and with it being a sunny Sunday afternoon, the rock climbers were out in force with their ropes and chalk bags, carabiners and hammers. It is a fraternity but there are plenty of female rock climbers too. They are lithe, light and muscular and they hug the rocks they ascend. Rock climbers belong to a sub-culture with their own vocabulary and shared goals. They know what it means to cling to a rock just as much as mariners understand what it means to face a storm at sea.

You may have expected me to snap some pictures of the rock climbers. You were right.

16 July 2017

Dilemma

Did you know that every day, yes every day an estimated 5500 children - mainly babies - die in eastern and southern Africa? They die from diarrhoea, malaria and malnutrition. Most of these deaths could be prevented. £1.5 million could certainly help hundreds of babies to live.

Meanwhile in England, a baby who is more or less brain dead has become an international  cause célèbre  with even The Pope and Donald Trump muscling in with tacit support for the parents of little Charlie Gard, The parents seem unable to accept that the kindest thing to do would be to remove Charlie's life support. Desperately, they have been clutching at straws. More than £1.5 million has been raised via crowdfunding to pay for their campaign and experimental medical treatment that will never provide the miracle that Charlie's parents are clearly seeking.

The case has been all over the TV and press. But I would ask this - when did we last hear Donald Trump and The Pope speaking up for the dying babies of Africa? Where is the current TV and press coverage of those "cases"?  Are we saying that the lives of all those African children matter less than the life of one helpless, brain damaged baby who relies on machines just to exist?
 Two babies

15 July 2017

Butterfly

On Thursday I enjoyed a ramble in the lee of Millstone Edge to the south of Hathersage. This is not far from Over Owler Tor or Surprise View. It doesn't take long to drive there from our house.

Millstone Edge is fascinating because of the quarrying activity that happened there in the past and the way in which Mother Nature has since reclaimed it, softening and disguising the evidence of stone industries. The very name Millstone Edge speaks of the countless millstones that were hewn and shaped there. Later huge blocks of stone were cut from the edge and transported on a little railway to the head of The Derwent Valley where they were used in the construction of two great dams.

Of course, I snapped several pictures on this ramble under the edge but in this post I am sharing just one of them. It's a photo of a comma butterfly seeking sustenance on a clump of yellow ragwort. The scientific name for this once rare butterfly is polognia c- album. It is easily distinguished by the scalloped appearance of  its wings and on its underside you will find two white marks shaped rather like commas.





































This is what the British Butterfly Conservation Group have to say about the comma:-

"The Comma is a fascinating butterfly. The scalloped edges and cryptic colouring of the wings conceal hibernating adults amongst dead leaves, while the larvae, flecked with brown and white markings, bear close resemblance to bird droppings.

The species has a flexible life cycle, which allows it to capitalize on favourable weather conditions. However, the most remarkable feature of the Comma has been its severe decline in the twentieth century and subsequent comeback. It is now widespread in southern Britain and its range is expanding northwards."

Underside of the comma:-

14 July 2017

Shortlist

Here are the five pictures that I have selected from the geograph Week 27 picture of the week nominations. Please look at them and give me some feedback. Which would you pick as the winner?
A
 B
 C
D
 E

13 July 2017

Water

Nowadays, when we visit airports, we are not allowed to take bottles of water beyond security screening. Any water that is discovered is automatically dumped in a waste bin. You will often see air passengers guzzling from their bottles as they approach security.

It wasn't always this way. The worldwide restrictions were introduced in 2006 and were meant to be a temporary measure following a failed plot to use bottles of soft drinks to bring potentially explosive liquids on board a North American bound plane.

When air passengers reach what is known as "airside", beyond the security screening process, they will often seek out bottles of water from airside businesses and restaurants. These bottles are generally sold at extortionate prices but people need to be hydrated during flights so reluctantly they pay the high prices demanded.

I very much doubt that the expensive airside water bottles are ever tested for possible explosive liquids. I bet they are just brought en masse to the airport businesses in delivery vehicles. It has all become a massive con in my view - fleecing innocent air passengers.

On Monday of this week, I went into a discount shop called "Home Bargains" and bought six 250ml bottles of still water for 79 pence - around $1 US and yet at the airport in Lanzarote just one 250ml bottle cost me 2.75 euros - about £2.50 or $3.25 US. It is all a disgraceful rip off.

It would help if all airports had water fountains in the waiting areas where you could drink to your heart's content and fill up empty plastic bottles. When flying it is so important to be properly hydrated. It could be considered a human right and yet airlines and airport businesses appear to have simply used the worldwide liquid restrictions to make more money for themselves. 

If I ruled the world, I would first of all investigate the rationality of maintaining the liquid ban and if it couldn't be lifted I would insist that every air passenger should be given a free bottle of water beyond the airport security hall. This would be paid for by the owners of those irritating duty free shopping malls they make us walk through before every flight. 

12 July 2017

Review

“She thought it was part of the hardship of her life that there was laid upon her the 
burthen of larger wants than others seemed to feel – that she had to endure this 
wide hopeless yearning for that something, whatever it was, that was greatest
 and best on this earth.”  - George Eliot, "The Mill on the Floss"

While in Lanzarote I finished reading "The Mill on the Floss" by George Eliot. Despite achieving an honours degree in English Literature and teaching English for thirty five years, I had never read a novel by George Eliot before. Somehow she passed me by. Yes - she - for the name George Eliot was just a pen name for Mary Ann Evans who was born in Warwickshire in 1819.

"The Mill on the Floss" contains strong autobiographical elements. It focuses on the lives of siblings Tom and Maggie Tulliver. Life presents them with a range of challenges and they battle for respect, happiness and financial security. The novel was first published in 1860.

I like to get lost in a book and there were certainly episodes in this novel where I had that feeling. The ending was especially gripping as Maggie sought to rescue her brother from the mill on the River Floss after it had burst its banks. However there were turgid phases where the narrator stood back from the plot and moralised or reflected upon the characters. I found several of these sections hard work and somewhat self-indulgent though others were fascinating diversions.

Set in Victorian England, the book reveals a great deal about the priorities and manners of middle class Victorians. From a socio-historical viewpoint, it is a mine of information. Life is governed by unwritten moral codes and shared suppositions. It is extremely difficult for the characters to act freely and simply be themselves. They are forever looking over their shoulders and weighing up how their actions will be viewed  by others.

With notes and a lengthy introduction by A.S. Byatt, "The Mill on the Floss" was six hundred pages long. Reading it with full concentration was a challenge but I read every single word. It's another box ticked but for me this work seemed far less accomplished than the best fiction of  Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy.

11 July 2017

Winner

Gadzooks! Jumping Jehosaphat! Stone the Crows! A couple of weeks ago, I shared the news that one of my pictures had been selected as the geograph picture of the week. It had been more than a year since I last received that accolade. Now just two weeks later another of my photographs has been named "picture of the week". It was chosen from 4,416 submissions.

The picture was taken from the rocks of Over Owler Tor - looking up The Hope Valley into the evening sunshine. In fact I already shared the picture with you in this post. Here it is again:-
The Hope Valley lies within The Peak District National Park. The chimney is something of an anomaly. It is at Hope Cement Works. Though you can't see it in this picture, to the left of the chimney there is a great hole in the landscape from which millions of tons of limestone have been quarried. It's alright having national parks but we need cement too so I wouldn't protest overmuch about that chimney.

When the next shortlist appears for me to judge I will again share my top five with you to elicit comments and observations. In the interim, it's party time here at Pudding Towers. Wench! Wench! Stop polishing my shoes and bring me another mug of tea ! "Two McVities' ginger nuts would also be appreciated!" - as the actress said to Ed Sheeran.

10 July 2017

One-sidedness

As we travel through life, we bump into strangers. Conversations happen with these people. Sometimes those conversations can be delightful. We exchange information and little anecdotes. Within an hour we learn a great deal about what makes them tick, what their priorities are, where metaphorically speaking they are coming from.

These exchanges should be balanced, mutual - like a game of ping pong. You say something - I say something. I ask a question - you ask a question. That's only fair - it shows respect for "the other".

However, in my journey through life I  have frequently found myself in situations where the conversation becomes very one-sided. After a while I realise that I am finding out lots about them but they are making no enquiries of me, showing little interest. When for example  I pipe up with, "Yeah, I've been to America too" or "I have two children myself" there will be a look of glazed disinterest and no follow-up questions. Some people seem to be wired that way.

Sitting in a bar in Puerto del Carmen, we sparked up a conversation with an older couple from Wolverhampton. I guess we were talking with them for almost an hour but as I left that bar I realised I had just participated in yet another of these one-sided meetings.

I knew all about their grown-up children and the marathons and triathlons their daughter had competed in. I learnt about the woman's sister in Cyprus and why they don't like Cyprus. I learnt about their apartment in Puerto del Carmen and how the resort has changed over the last twenty years. We learnt about Wolverhampton's famous football club and the great millionaire benefactor Jack Hayward who gave so much to the town and how the streets of that city thronged on the day of his funeral.

But they had learnt so little about us. They weren't bad people but they just weren't interested in our lives. They didn't know that we also have grown up children. They didn't know what we had done or do for a living. And when I interceded at one point that we lived in Sheffield, that piece of information was left hanging in the air, untroubled by further inquiry. It was all so very one-sided but in my experience not at all unusual.

I like to believe that I have a highly-tuned awareness of "the other". I am interested in other people's lives and know how to prompt  them to get the most out of them. During these sorts of conversations I show humility, not wishing to bang on about my own life, opinions or history at the expense of the other person. But it should work both ways. It should be balanced - not one-sided, not waiting for the prompts and questions that never arrive.

How about you? Have you also encountered this one-sidedness phenomenon as you travel through life? Or is it just me?

9 July 2017

Remnants

We will be heading home tonight - our pleasant sojourn in Lanzarote completed. This hotel has been brilliant though we have learnt that in a previous incarnation it was called "Spice" and was a swingers hotel. People with very liberal morals came to fornicate by the pool, and swap partners etcetera. I must assure you that during our stay Aqua Suites' guests have not been behaving in that pornographic manner. We have upheld the highest standards of decency at all times - as in a monastery or nunnery.

Before we go, I just thought I would share a dozen random Lanzarote pictures that you haven't seen before and then I will take a stroll down to the HyperDino supermarket for some bread rolls, massage oil, sardines and condoms. By clicking on the photos you will be able to enlarge them:-

8 July 2017

Zzzzzzz...

Zzzzzz...! If you are getting bored with my posts from Lanzarote, please rest assured that we are only here for a week and now we are getting to the end of this holiday time. We will soon be home and normal blogging activity will be resumed shortly. Please bear with me.

In the mid eighteenth century, Lanzarote witnessed major volcanic activity to the south west of the island. New mountains sprang up and a vast gooey lava field edged its way into the sea. Millions of tons of volcanic ash were spewed out and the air was thick with steam and toxic clouds. Today that area of the island is now the Timanfaya National Park - its establishment partly inspired by Cesar Manrique.
You pay ten euros per person at the park entrance and then you drive up to the visitors' centre. There you transfer to a coach and the bus driver takes you along a twisting route that curls through the heart of a volcanic landscape that seems as if it was created just yesterday. The lava field in the valley is like a moonscape of black, jagged rocks and creamy lava flows with holes and crevices. Unfit for farming, plants have found it difficult to gain a foothold over the past two hundred and fifty years. The last significant eruption was in 1820. In geological terms this is but a moment in time.
It was as folk are wont to say - an awesome spectacle.

We drove on to Playa Blanca and saw the lighthouse at Punta Pechiguero. Playa Blanca is very different from when Coppa's Girl (blog visitor) used to stay there years ago. It has become a sprawl of holiday villas and apartments reaching down to the shoreline. They are all white and look the same - little boxes made of ticky tacky. But the sun shines down and that's the main thing that many western European holidaymakers want.
Onwards to the salt flats and to the rugged coast at Los Hervideros before arriving in the tiny seaside village of  El Golfo where we ate lunch. I asked for grilled sardines and they brought me a pile of them - maybe fifty of the little blighters. A dozen would have been plenty. The restaurant cat enjoyed four or five of them under our table. I couldn't manage more than twenty. Shirley is a rather fussy eater and wouldn't even try one of the little fishes which you eat whole - eyes, bones, everything. We also had a  mixed salad and Canary potatoes with mojo sauces. The bill was not humble.
At El Golfo we also visited Charco de Los Clicos - a spectacular green lake below volcanic cliffs, trapped by a vast bank of grey volcanic sand.

We only had our hire car for two days but it allowed us to achieve a much better notion of Lanzarote's constituent parts and the rugged sunlit beauty that  illuminated Cesar Manrique's dreams. There is more to this island that might at first be presumed.

7 July 2017

Manrique

Seen at Toro - the Cesar Manrique house
Cesar Manrique was born on Lanzarote in 1919 and died here in a car accident in 1992. He was many things. He was an artist, an architect, a hell-raiser, a fighter, a sculptor, a photographer, an orator,  a leader and a visionary. Long before others were beating the environmentalist drum, Manrique was warning of the dire consequences of unrestrained development and fearful about where our planet was going. He wanted us to live a different, kinder way, cherishing Nature and actively caring for our world.

In the late sixties he was exploring the lava fields south of Arrecife, the island's capital,. He noticed a tree growing from what he called a "bubble" in the  sun-baked black rock. As he explored further he discovered other solidified bubbles. They were like little caves. He had always been fascinated by Lanzarote's volcanic heritage and after making his  discovery decided  that that was where he would make his home. He called in Toro.

It took years to complete. Above the subterranean lava bubbles he designed upper buildings in the simple Lanzarote style and began to forge a different kind of home, driven by his artistic and ecological principles. It was also his workplace and here he painted many abstract canvases - increasingly influenced by his observations of the island's volcanic geology. 
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Cesar Manrique
Toro is now the epicentre of the Cesar Manrique Foundation. We visited it yesterday before driving to another of Manrique's architectural masterpieces - Mirador del Rio which was carved into a lofty clifftop and looks out to the much smaller island of Graciosa. The view was quite breathtaking and even the windows in the clifftop cafe were stunning.

After a simple late lunch by the harbour in Orzola we headed back through a coastal plain of rugged lava fields towards Arrecife then home to Puerto del Carmen which is a rather tacky kind of town. Thank heavens our apartment complex is away from the main drag. The Aqua Suites make a pleasant sanctuary, just to the east of of Calle Cesar Manrique. I am not at all sure what the artist would have thought about having a street named after him in such a sprawling tourist town that appears to shun so many of his guiding principles.
At Mirador del Rio

5 July 2017

Arrecife

The capital of Lanzarote is a bustling little town called Arrecife - population 56,000. We caught the Number 3 public bus there this morning, straight after breakfast. I was delighted to discover that the place wasn't thronging with foreign tourists. In fact the heart of the town was decidedly Spanish in character with local old men playing dominoes under the canopy of a bar down by the waterfront and workers enjoying long lunch breaks in timeless tapas bars. Girls fishing with a red bucket and local men casting their lines into the harbour.
We visited an exhibition of postcards at La Casa Amarilla. It was a lovely little exhibition with soporifuc music playing in the background and enlarged images of the island from the very first days of tourism back in the 1890's when the local people eked out their livings in agriculture and fishing. Farmers would often use camels to plough their sun-seared fields and folk still wore traditional costumes on Sundays and at religious festivals. How sad that the age of the holiday postcard is now almost over as people turn to social media , e-mails and even blogs to send out holiday messages from far away.
We visited the fifteenth century Castillo de San Gabriel - a fortress which was erected by the entrance to the town's  two harbours  to ward off pirate attacks when trade between Europe and The New World was being established. After a good walk round we entered Cafeteria La Recova on Calle Ginés de Castro y Álvarez. There we ordered three tapas dishes with drinks. The staff were very pleasant and helpful and we were delighted with all three dishes but especially the small pieces of chicken in a tarragon and saffron sauce. Yummy!
At three o' clock we caught the bus back to Puerto del Carmen. To our dismay, three alcoholic gentlemen we had noticed down by the seafront were also on our bus. They were loud and smelly but they behaved themselves as the bus wound its way past the airport towards our tourist seaside town. It had been a real delight to visit Arrecife - a much nicer place than I was expecting. All the pictures were taken there.

4 July 2017

Idling

Lazy in Puerto del Carmen. Mushroom and cheese omelette for breakfast followed by slices of ripe papaya. Then lying idle by the pool reading our novels. It's a fifteen minute walk to the beach and there's a stiff breeze just now. It costs twelve euros to rent two sunbeds and a beach umbrella. You might not be able to put the umbrella up in the breeze. Maybe we'll just mosey on down with our towels, take a quick dip, dry off and come back up the hill. The gradient of the beach is such that we'll have to paddle a fair way out before we can swim. Life is filled with problems like this. In the meantime here's a bunch of pictures from around our holiday complex. 
The rare Lanzarote palm - Cleanus Lanzarotius