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Wednesday, 30 December 2020

Looking Forward

It'll soon be the end of 2020 and if I have a resolution for next year, it's to live life to the full. All the limits that have been placed on our lives this year have really brought this home to me. There have been things that I wanted to do that I couldn't do which, it struck me, I could have done in the past but didn't. Never again, I hope, will I say to myself, 'next year, perhaps', when I could do whatever it might be sooner. 

Near the top of my list of things to do is to go down to Kent and Sussex again. I think I've said before that I want to visit the shingle at Dungeness at least once and I'd like to revisit Virginia Woolf's house in Rodmell. I have friends down there (and in and around London) I'd like to see. I'd like to go to London, too. I want to go to North Wales - this has been the first year for almost thirty years when I've not spent at least a fortnight of my life there. We've never owned a 'second home' there but have often thought of emigrating in the past - perhaps to somewhere near Porthmadog. We're not likely to do that now and in a way I'm pleased we didn't. If we actually lived there, where on earth would we go if we wanted to get away from it all?

I'm not getting too excited, though. I'm not a toddler anymore: I know there's more to  life than listing all the things you want and getting them. And there are still dark days ahead, even if the government gets everything right for the next few months. If their record so far is anything to go by, though, that's highly unlikely. 

It may be, of course, that when it does become possible to resume our ordinary lives, the things I actually want to do will be the simple things: browsing in second hand book shops, visiting a coffee shop, having friends to stay. And it would wrong to say that our day-to-day experience through the tiers and lockdowns has been all bad. I didn't realise I enjoyed cooking as much as I did. I have no intention of traipsing round supermarkets again if I can possibly get stuff delivered. We've used a lot of delivery services (a mix: some local, some not) and see no reason to stop so doing. It seems to be good for us and good for the businesses involved. For example, we've started getting milk delivered. Milk delivery services, I believe, have done really well this year.

That's all still in the future, though, and if 2020 has taught me one thing, it's to be circumspect. We're going to be washing our bananas here for a while yet.









Monday, 28 December 2020

Billy Elliot

I watched Billy Elliot last night. It always chokes me up, all the way through. So much so that, in a way, it's wrong to say I watched it. I had to keep going out to recover my equilibrium before coming back for more. 

I think a lot of people say this about the film. I touches so many nerves. Here's a young person driven to a particular creative outlet. At first his father tries to crush the person he wants to be, much as the government is simultaneously trying to crush the miners. The father fails, the government succeeds. The father comes to see how wrong he was about his son. After all, all he ever wanted was the best for him.

Just to write about the film chokes me up... There. That's better.

The end is almost unbearably good. What struck me this time, listening to the swelling of the Tchaikovsky as Billy prepares to go on stage, was that good classical music can get you like that without you having to watch Billy Elliot.  

What turns people on to classical music? One of the great things about music is that you don't have to read a handbook to make it work. All it requires is that one gives it one's full attention and keeps listening. With classical music, like reading novels, you have to stick with it, even when the going gets tough. The appreciation of classical music used to be taught at school but was ditched many years ago. And if people aren't turned on to classical music, ballet, art, etc. then there'll be no audience for the real-life Billy Elliots of this world, which would be a tragedy. 





Thursday, 24 December 2020

Carol Time

The other day, North Stoke was asking readers to share their favourite carol. As I told her, I have a few. 'In the Bleak Midwinter' by Gustav Holst is one of them. Another is 'Good King Wenceslas', although the words to this are quite ridiculous. Where does one start? Who takes logs to a man who lives in a forest? I could go on, but I won't. It's not the words that capture my imagination but the tune. It's quite haunting, I think. 

You may know all this already, and my apologies if you do, but it was originally titled 'Tempus Adest Floridum' and it dates back to the 13th century. Sung in Latin, it's a Spring, rather than a Christmas carol. It came down to us through a Finnish collection of songs, published in 1582. A slightly less sacred but more carnal version appears in Carmina Burana.


The words were translated for the Oxford Book of Carols, in 1928. I love the way old Latin texts bring the past alive and so often reach out to the present when you translate them:

Spring has now unwrapped the flowers,
Day is fast reviving.
Life in all her growing powers,
Towards the light is striving.
Gone the iron touch of cold,
Winter time and frost time,
Seedlings working through the mould,
Now make up for lost time.

Herb and plant that, winter long,
Slumbered at their leisure,
Now bestirring, green and strong,
Find in growth their pleasure:
All the world with beauty fills,
Gold the green enhancing;
Flowers make glee among the hills
And set the meadows dancing.

Earth puts on her dress of glee;
Flowers and grasses hide her;
We go forth in charity–
Brothers all beside her;
For as man this glory sees
In the awakening season,
Reason learns the heart’s decrees,
And hearts are led by reason.

Through each wonder of fair days
God herself expresses
Beauty follows all her ways
As the world she blesses;
So as she renews the earth,
Artist without rival,
In the grace of glad new birth
We must seek revival.


Whatever we believe as individuals, I think there's something in there for everyone.

Happy Christmas!



Wednesday, 23 December 2020

Getting Ready for Christmas

I've just read an account written by a young Muslim man who, separated from his family, has found himself for the first time among people who are celebrating Christmas. It's doing the rounds on Facebook. He decided to get into the spirit of it. The long and short of it is, he is astonished to find that Christmas is a full-time job that starts sometime in the middle of November. If you're not putting up lights, you're hoovering, presents always cost a bit more than you expect, etc., etc. You get the impression that the poor guy is already on his knees. And he thought all you did was buy people presents and stick up a tree. It's very funny and very touching.

I know how he feels, although I refuse to do anything until December. You can never get everything done. If you think you have, then it only takes a moment's reflection to come up with either something you've forgotten or something you ought to do that you hadn't previously thought of.

Today, I've got to

1. Deliver local Christmas cards,

2, Make more mince pies,

3. Sort out two or three last minute presents,

4. Put away the Tesco delivery that's coming later,

5. Put up a few decorations I've not got round to putting up yet,

6. Hoover and dust,

7. Do whatever it is I've forgotten or whatever it is I haven't previously thought of, that I really ought to do.

What I must NOT forget to do tomorrow morning is take the frozen chicken out to defrost, which I bought not for myself but for the only meat-eater in the house. The poor thing weighs 1.45kg (the chicken, that is).  The internet tells me I should put it in the fridge, 5 hours for every 450g.  I make that just over 16 hours (well, 16.11 reoccurring hours to be exact). I can then keep it up to 24 hours in the fridge before cooking it. I plan to move it from the freezer into the fridge, in a roasting tray covered in clingfilm, very early on Christmas Eve morning, with a view to putting it in the oven perhaps 10am on Christmas Day. Any advice from more experienced chicken roasters will be gratefully received!

*

This is another short film I put together as a result of exploring my immediate locality during lockdown. The days were longer then and the leaves still on the trees. Why this hill is called Zebra Hill has intrigued me ever since I saw the name on the map. You can click on the little box in the corner to see it 'full screen'... 





Tuesday, 22 December 2020

Looking Up

Yesterday, not for the first time, a much-vaunted astronomical event turned out to be invisible from our house on account of it being cloudy. Late in the evening,  I glimpsed a faint glow shining through the cloud-cover where the moon was supposed to be but otherwise the view from the back door was of uninterrupted murk.

I told myself I wasn't missing much. It might be pretty to look at but, really, the fact that two planets appear, from earth, to be next to each other is neither here nor there. It probably seemed more significant centuries ago, when the earth was believed to be the centre of the universe. It's the sort of event that's of more interest to astrologers than astronomers. There are more thrilling things to look at in the sky at night - so long as the clouds hold off.

I try to make a point of looking up at the night sky every day. It helps me keep my feet on the ground, I think. If I don't have time to spot a few constellations, or see if I can make out, say, the double star in the handle of the Plough,  then it's a sign that I need to slow down and make time for such things. Constellations, of course, are as fortuitous as conjunctions but I enjoy spotting them. Now and again I try to learn new ones but it's a slow process.

We're lucky here, in that the sky is usually very dark. We live on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales, which has just been named an international dark sky reserve. Sometimes you can look up from our garden and make out dark clouds in the heart of the Milky Way or see -if you know where to look- the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye. 

Of course, these days you can see amazing  astronomical photographs taken by various space probes. There's a particularly humbling one that I saw recently. It was taken by the Cassini probe and showed the earth as a distant dot peeping over the massive rings of Saturn, looking much like Venus looks from Earth.

However, I don't think any photograph can be quite as thrilling as actually seeing things for yourself, even if the images you can see through binoculars or a cheap telescope are nothing like as detailed. You never forget the first time you see the rings of Saturn or the moons of Jupiter, even if all you can make out are tiny, silvery shapes and dots.

Oh well, I just hope the clouds hold off this evening. Conjunctions may be neither here nor there but, come to think of it, I wouldn't mind taking a look and they'll still be pretty close together today.

*

On a completely different tack, musicians are finding it tough these days. There are no gigs to be had. Here's a video of friend Fliss playing with the band she's in, Joli Blon. They were playing as part of a streamed benefit for the Betsey Trotwood music venue in London.






Friday, 18 December 2020

Books I've been Reading

Having more time on my hands than usual over the last few months has given me more time to read. Like John at By Stargoose and Hanglands, I thought I'd share a few of the books I've been reading. 


1. The Diary of Virginia Woolf, Volume 2.



One thing that's really kept me going these last few months has been Virginia Woolf's diaries. I find her an inspiring character. She wrote all sorts of things: diaries, letters, essays, novels... all as well as running the Hogarth Press with her husband, Leonard Woolf. If she were alive today, she would probably be an avid blogger. Her diaries are remarkably varied: one minute she's spending the evening deep in intellectual conversation with, say, her friend TS Eliot, another, she's recording trivial details of day-to-day life. My favourite, by far, is from 18th August, 1921: 'I hear poor Leonard, driving the lawn-mower up and down.' I found this very amusing, although I'm not sure why. I suppose we often imagine famous people doing the things they're famous for, as if they had nothing else to do, when in fact the vast majority of their lives are spent performing the same humdrum tasks as everyone else. 

Reading the diaries of others, I think, is probably a good way to get through periods such as this when one's own life is restricted. Woolf's diary, in particular, probably resonates with me not only because I love her novels but because many of her diary entries are written at Monks House, a cottage with a garden in a village - a situation not unlike our own. When they think of Woolf, people often think about her mental health and suicide. Doing so leads people to misrepresent her. Yes, now and again she's ill, but the Woolf that leaps out from her diaries is a positive, cheerful character. 

2. Migration by WS Merwin


WS Merwin, one-time US Poet Laureate, is a poet with a very distinctive voice. When you've read a poem or two, you get to notice his quirky, slightly Surrealist sensibility whenever you encounter it. Migration is a big book and it's packed with poems. This, one of the shortest, is a good advert for the whole:

SEPARATION
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
WS Merwin






3. The Complete Short Stories Volume 2 by JG Ballard


I'm currently dibbing in and reading these at random. A man finds a seashell on a beach which takes him on a journey through time. A man refuses to leave his house on the slopes of a volcano, despite the obvious terrifying signs of its imminent eruption. What became of Leonardo's Crucifixion, stolen from the Louvre in 1965? Leonardo never painted a Crucifixion: Ballard invented it and then told the story of its disappearance.

Some of these stories contain the seeds that went on to grow into novels. Some are shocking or experimental. Others are more straightforward - you never know quite what to expect when you start reading one! There are 56 stories and the whole runs to 775 pages.



4. This Other London by John Rogers


When you walk round with John Rogers, you realise what a many-layered city London is. Walker, writer and film-maker, he's a mine of information on everything from Iron Age settlements under the runways of Heathrow Airport to the course of the Northern Outfall Sewage Pipe. He'll tell you, to choose a random example, that a terraced house in Tulse Hill was built on the site of a Victorian observatory where the earliest experiments in spectroscope technology took place (spectroscopes detect the chemical composition of stars). Did you know that Van Gogh once lived in SW9? I didn't. Intriguing reading.

I should add that anyone who only knows Russell Brand from the tabloid coverage of his comedic excesses will be surprised to meet the sweet guy who wrote the Foreword.

I've embedded a short video below which John Rogers made to plug the book.











Thursday, 17 December 2020

Walking round London

Today we got round to watching the latest John Rogers film. One comes out every week, normally on Sunday night. They're generally walks around parts of London, or round the countryside around London. I find them quite addictive. He's very informative and good company with it. I usually arm myself with a hot mug of real coffee and a couple of segments from the week's Terry's Chocolate Orange.

This isn't this weeks film - it's one he released a couple of weeks ago, which I particularly liked. There are hours of videos on his channel.  His adventures take in Epping Forest, the Chilterns, Boudicca's Obelisk, the lost rivers of London, exploring the edgelands...  Loads to watch. He's getting so well-known that occasionally, on his most recent walks, he bumps into a fan!




Wednesday, 16 December 2020

The Hard Drive in our Heads

The roots of this post go back a long way. It's a few years since I discovered  the fun one can have with the little figure on Google Maps. Drag it and drop it and it will take you just about anywhere, from the streets of Paris to the Pacific Coast of of America. For a while, until the novelty wore off,  I found myself taking random trips all over the globe every time I turned on the laptop. What struck me was that it instilled in me not a desire to travel but a realisation that most places, wherever they are, are very much alike. A residential street in Portland, Oregon looked very like... residential streets I knew in the UK. OK, the mailboxes were different and there were more wooden houses but otherwise the similarities outweighed the differences. It is the case that -with or without the pandemic- I'm not in a position to visit other parts of the world at the moment. Nevertheless, even if I were, I don't think I'd have much of an urge to. 

This year, like most people's, my world has shrunk. I can't travel to the Lake District, to Wales, or to the South Coast. I could resort to Google Maps but there's no need: I have an imagination installed on the hard drive in my head that works just as well if not better. It can take me anywhere. After all, even when you travel in the real world, the world you experience when you reach your destination only exists in your head!

If I close my eyes, I can take a wander round the harbour at Borth y Gest in Wales, sit in Virginia Woolf's garden in Rodmell, or swim in Conison Water - all things I've done in recent years. I still like the thought of going places and will go again but, much as they say your other senses tend to become more acute when you lose one, it seems to me that an inability to travel intensifies the imagination.

I usually have no trouble going to sleep. However, if I do, I've taken to going on imaginary camping trips. In the dark you might be anywhere. Instead of lying in bed at home I might just as easily be laid in my sleeping bag, wild camping on the flanks of Snowdon or somewhere on the Northumbrian coast. It has advantages over the real thing, too: you don't have to fill up with petrol, you don't have to imagine the cold and the ground can be as hard and soft as you like. 


One of the places I hoped to visit in 2020. It'll still be there next year!



Tuesday, 15 December 2020

Mince Pies, etc.

I've been meaning to get round to taking a photo of my mince pies. However... 

...it's amazing how short a time it takes for two people to eat twelve mince pies. I expected them to last almost a week. It actually took four days. I'll have to bake some more.

*

We had the gas boiler serviced today. The ground floor of our house is open plan. There are doorways but no doors. I adopted the tactic I used when the last gas engineer came, a couple of weeks ago (we thought we had a leak but, thankfully, we didn't). I blocked off the doorways into the area where the boiler is, this time with a polythene dust-sheet. The engineer wore a mask and I've left the outer door and the windows open. The two gas engineers have been the only people to come into our house since March.

As you've probably guessed, we aren't planning any big family get-together this Christmas! 





 


Monday, 14 December 2020

Cabin Fever...

 ...is something I don't suffer from, on the whole. I've stayed at home, now, for nearly nine months. There are times when I've had no choice but to travel but they have been very few and far between. I sometimes pop round to my mother's bungalow on errands but I only go in if it's absolutely necessary. I deliver prescription requests to the local surgery. I've used as much petrol in these last nine months as I usually use in three weeks.

The funny thing is, I seem to manage quite well without doing all the things I used to do. We're suckers for coffee shops and probably will be again. There's one in particular (Sip Coffee in Richmond) that we used to visit once or twice a week (well, three times, maybe). Some of the regulars had become quite well acquainted with each other and we'd started having monthly poetry and music evenings there. Obviously they're not happening at the moment - this is not the time to be cramming twenty people into a small room.

I do get out for local walks in the fields and hills round here. I'm well aware of how privileged I am and that my life is, in many ways, probably many city dwellers' idea of a holiday (in other ways it's not and the grimness of these days can be all too apparent). What I find interesting is that, not being able to go further afield, I've got to know the area immediately round about us more intimately. 

Some of the time I used to spend driving to work, etc., I've spent making short films set in this local area, just using the camera in my tablet and a sound recorder. This is the first one I made. It has the aura of lockdown around it, I think. Apologies to anyone who knows me from elsewhere and may have seen it already:




Saturday, 12 December 2020

All Change!

Having a domestic day here.  Shuffled the seating round in the living room this morning. The effect was partially successful.  Isn't it funny how when you have a plan,  problems and possibilities you didn't foresee crop up as you go along?  With settee one at an angle, the coffee table just won't "go", etc. And we have to get things just right. My partner, G, uses a wheelchair and can only manage a few steps without one. When the first lockdown kicked in in March, we'd secured a grant and were just about to have a stairlift installed. With our staircase this was going to be a whole day's work for three people. Since having people in like that would be a very bad idea, the project has had to be postponed. We've evolved workarounds though, and life as it is is comfortably liveable for both of us for now, I think.

I can now sit on the other side of the room. Since we've hardly been anywhere for several months this is actually quite exciting! I can now see out the window when I sit in the living room and G can see the Christmas tree.  Until today it was the other way round. (Yes, I realise that sounds quite comical. It is).

Had to have a good hoover round of course. There was all sorts underneath the settees, including a ball of shredded paper no doubt made by a mouse the cat had brought in. Once it was all sorted out, I made a big pot of coffee, sat in my new location and typed this. I'm going to get off because, if I do, I might just have time to make some mince pies.

I was writing the other day about a bizarre flying saucer hoax from way back in 1967. As a result, Bonnie left me a great link to a news story I'd missed about an Israeli ex-security chief who claimed Trump was in touch with aliens. It put me in mind of a short film I've always really liked - liked so much, in fact, that I've shared it here and there on the internet many times! Apologies to any readers who've seen it before. There again, like me, perhaps you never tire of watching it:



Is baking always this messy? I include this photo for the amusement of more experienced mince pie makers than myself. 


Thursday, 10 December 2020

Christmas Tree

 This afternoon,  we decorated our Christmas tree. Lights, baubles,  tinsel, angel on top. 

I was going to make some mince pies,  too,  but that will have to wait until tomorrow. 



After Long Silence



 
I got given this book as a school prize back in 1975. I had to choose it from the limited number of books available in the local department store. The poetry section was not particularly big, as I remember. Being the nearest thing available to the things I was interested in, it caught my eye. It cost £1.75. As it happens, I’d bought quite an interesting book. It’s viewed as an oddity by many critics: a book that says at least as much about the editor, WB Yeats, as it says about modern poetry of that time.

I picked it up yesterday for the first time in a long time. It struck me it had been a while since I'd read any Yeats. I turned to the first poem in the book he'd selected from his own work. I was interested to see what of his work he wanted his readers to read first. I immediately realised that although I've owned the book since 1975, and have dibbed into it quite a lot over the years, I'd not read it before - at least, not with a receptive mind. It's called After Long Silence:

Speech after long silence; it is right,
All other lovers being estranged or dead,
Unfriendly lamplight hid under its shade,
The curtains drawn upon unfriendly night,
That we descant and yet again descant
Upon the supreme theme of Art and Song:
Bodily decrepitude is wisdom; young
We loved each other and were ignorant.

It hit me between the eyes - not least because it more-or-less spoke thoughts I'd been thinking  recently. And it's one hell of a poem, too. 


Harold Montgomory Budd (May 24, 1936 – December 8, 2020) 

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

The Aliens have Landed?

I am easily fascinated by urban legends, harmless hoaxes and the like. By that, I don't mean I'm gullible: it takes a lot to convince me that something strange has really happened. What I mean is that I'm interested in the forms they take and in our need to perpetrate them.

I'm not sure if the Utah Monolith can rightly be described as a hoax. It seems more accurate to describe it as a work of art. The host of imitations that have cropped up around the world since it appeared, though, are a typical hoax-like human reaction to its discovery.

Perhaps it's because I was writing recently about the 1960s and the difference between then and now that I found myself thinking of a story I saw on the TV news when I was small. All I can recall is a scrappy, visual memory of a group of policemen and other serious-looking officials breaking open a flying saucer to reveal an Ever Ready battery. 

A search of the internet quickly filled in the missing details. This was the 1967 British flying saucer hoax. I was nine at the time. A group of engineering students made six small flying saucers and distributed them in one night across Southern England. The design was ingenious: to maintain the unbroken surface of the outer hull, the electronic sound effects inside each craft could be switched on by simply turning it over. They were arranged in a line: locations included a golf course at Bromley, a housing estate on the Isle of Sheppey and a paddock in Winkfield, near Ascot. If it really had been an alien visitation, it's interesting to speculate what impression the visitors might have formed of Earth's inhabitants.

They were quickly discovered. This being 1967, the police were called in and the armed forces mobilized. The army blew up a saucer found at Chippenham. If this really had been an alien invasion, I dread to think what effect this might have had. Another was X-rayed by the police and another sent to Aldermaston. The authorities did try drilling into one of them, only to find themselves squirted with a foul-smelling mixture which some news-sources described as flour and water and others described as pig-swill. And that's one of the things that's so interesting about these kind of events - the way that as soon as you start telling the story, different versions evolve and the details become uncertain. It's interesting, too, to think that most people watching their TVs at the time probably thought the authorities had done the right thing. In fact, looking back, the authorities were as susceptible to the paranoia circulating at the time as everyone else. Possibly more so.

And how things have changed. If this happened now, it's possible that people would just say 'Oh yeah, it's one of those land artists' and move on. The aliens would be left jumping up and down, dodging golf-balls and waving their arms in an effort to attract attention.




Tuesday, 8 December 2020

Early Riser

Yesterday was, for me, the last day of the autumn term. I like my job a lot but, however experienced you are (or aren't), constantly endeavouring to engage the interest of others is hard work. After five or six consecutive weeks of teaching, however well you're doing, you have a sense that you were probably doing a better job in week two.  I'm sure all teachers know that feeling. And it's hard for the students too. 

I do have quite an easy time of it - I teach people  on a one-to-one basis about sixteen hours a week. I've been working online since the first UK lockdown. Nevertheless, I was still pleased when I closed the browser on my last lesson of the term. However much you like your job, there comes a time when you need a break.

I didn't do very much yesterday. after that. I didn't even write a blog post. The end of term always gets me that way. It takes a few hours for the reality to sink in - for the next few weeks I can choose what to think about most mornings, for most of the morning. When I teach, I teach in the mornings so I was also looking forward to a lie-in and not having to set the alarm on my phone until 2021!

As it happens, I was woken at 5.30am by my other half, snoring. I got up and went downstairs. I allowed myself to get absorbed in the internet for a while. I made my breakfast - a cafetiere of hot, black coffee and a bowl of porridge with golden syrup and banana. I ate the porridge then wrote this, while drinking the coffee. It's now just gone 8.30. My mug's gone cold. Strange, how time flies early in the morning.








Sunday, 6 December 2020

The View from the Window

It's almost four o'clock and already getting dark. Outside, I can hear the patter of rain. For some reason, the combination of rain and looking out the window at the grey sky takes me back to the sixties and the early seventies. I've no idea why: perhaps, when I was 12 or so, I used to lie on my bed looking out of the window a lot on wet days. 

It's got me thinking about just how much things have changed -or not- in my lifetime. If you go back through different eras in history, things looked very different. Elizabethan men wore doublet and hose. Their counterparts in the 18th century wore wigs and frock coats. Victorians dressed, well, like Victorians. And so on. Me, I've lived almost two-thirds of a century and I've spent my entire adult life dressed in jeans and t-shirts (not the same ones, I hasten to add). There have been minor variations but, otherwise, things seem to have stayed very much the same. One can dress flexibly, too - people think nothing of referencing things that were in fashion 40 years ago (punk, for example) in what they wear.

Despite this, when I look back on my childhood, what I remember feels very different to the present. The huge difference, of course, is that today anyone who can afford it has decent central heating. I know there are those less privileged than myself who don't but these days I never have to climb into bed telling myself it'll warm up in a few minutes, or wake up feeling the cold air on my face and having to steel myself to get up. I've forgotten when I last had to sit on a cold toilet seat. (Years before it was even worse: I remember my mother telling me how she sometimes had to break the ice in the water jug in her bedroom). 

Then there's the technology. I remember once, in the days I've been talking about, wanting a transistor radio for Christmas. I was fascinated by radios. I didn't really want to listen to it. I wanted to take it to bits to see how it worked. I remember thinking I ought not to dismantle it too soon after Christmas - it seemed like a sure way to get into trouble. I decided I'd have to keep it a while before I did the deed. I get a sense of deja vu these days whenever I see the credits to the original Star Trek series roll. It takes me back to those days. I remember watching it back then and thinking that, somehow, the technology that went into the cathode ray tube TV and my transistor radio would morph into the technology that created the likes of the Starship Enterprise.

And I mustn't forget the food. I remember eating a pretty basic diet of 'British food' during my childhood. It wasn't so many years since rationing. I also remember how things changed: yoghourt and muesli came on the scene. At first everyone thought they were for 'cranks' but they caught on. Not for the first or last time, the 'cranks' had the right idea. I remember the fascination when my auntie cooked 'Boeuf Stroganoff'. Then came the Vesta curries: little bags of dried, exotic-sounding food - the sort of thing you imagined people eating in spaceships. In no time, all sorts of sloppy-looking food with lots of bits chopped up in a sauce started to appear. Before we knew it, our diet had become rich and varied.

I may be painting a picture of  what was a stable world in many ways, but that's only by virtue of the position I was in at the time. There were those beyond my world who wanted to change it. I grew up to find myself agreeing with them. One of my enduring childhood memories is of being told to stay in because an anti-Vietnam march was passing through our town. I remember, next day, walking to school and seeing U.S. GET OUT OF VIETNAM painted in huge letters on a brick wall by the main road. 

There seemed to be a naivete about those times in the world I inhabited. The adults I met always seemed to be saying 'you can't stop progress' in a way which suggested they wanted to but weren't going to be the ones rocking the boat. Most of them seemed to be happy living a way of life that was familiar to them. It was as if it seemed, to them,  that there was no reason to change it. I suppose most people leading a secure life in any age feel that way.  But, of course, it was about to change. It was an analogue world, in which data was still held on index-cards. Margaret Thatcher was an MP but not yet PM. Climate change and the environment had yet to hit the news. I may still wear t-shirts and jeans and the view from a bedroom window of a grey, December sky may be much the same, but the world we live in now has changed massively.


Footnote,  26/12/20

I've just been reading an interesting article about technological  innovation and cultural stagnation (eg,  in musical styles)  in the 21st century. https://thequietus.com/articles/13004-mark-fisher-ghosts-of-my-life-extract

Saturday, 5 December 2020

From Barry to Bach

Blue sky this morning, with just a few wispy clouds. It's good for morale,  to see the sky after all the overcast weather we've been having. We're just sat drinking coffee. Earlier,  I was listening to Bach. G's now got Barry Manilow on. G and I  have very different musical tastes. 

The way we all like different music is intriguing. I've come to appreciate Barry a bit.  I certainly respect his skills - he's a great musician. But I don't get what I want from him. He leaves me if not cold,  then lukewarm. 

I spend a lot of time with my Bluetooth headphones on.  I wouldn't impose my tastes on anyone.  Recently,  it's been Throbbing Gristle.  Before that,  James Chance and the Contortions. Then there's the Bach.  I look for different things to listen to, settle on something for a while,  then move on. I do come back to the things I like most but I like to think of music as a journey full of surprises.  The things we can do with noise. 

And the results can be overwhelming.  Music is a powerful drug. I was going to say it can be so powerful that I'm surprised repressive governments haven't banned it but, of course,  at different times and in different places,  they have. Music was tightly controlled in Britain in the time of Cromwell. The Soviet Union kept a close eye on what its composers were doing. Even Bach was warned to not make his church music too invigorating.

I think I'm right in saying Indian classical music specifies certain scales for different times of the day.  There are things you play in the morning and things you play in the evening. It has always seemed a great idea to me. If you've jobs to do in the evening when you feel like putting your feet up,  there's nothing like the throb of a heavy beat to keep you going. 

Coffee break over. Barry's 'This One's for You' has come to an end.  I'm now going  to go and get the Christmas decorations out. Talking of music,  Christmas is a great time for it.  As a music teacher (which I am)  I never tire of teaching people to play carols. Every year,  there are children I teach who,  struggling to read music in November are fluent readers by January.  It's not down to me - it's the 'Christmas effect'. Whatever you feel about Christmas,  it's certainly a time when music serves a real purpose in the community. People who are learning to play instruments or enjoy singing suddenly find they're in demand!

Did I say Barry Manilow leaves me lukewarm? I  take it back.  I've just watched this. Wow!  Is there anyone who doesn't like 'Copacabana'?





Friday, 4 December 2020

Remembering a Mountain

It's raining. Cold, wet days in early December are no fun. I prefer it when it gets even colder and the water's frozen. Somehow the cold then doesn't feel so unpleasant. Fortunately, I don't have to venture outdoors today. The only times I've poked my head out of the door I've immediately drawn it back in again, like a snail burrowing back into its shell.

It's strange but although I don't feel like going out to the dustbin in this miserable weather I do quite like the idea of setting off on a walk across the moors. Jumper, scarf, coat, an umbrella. A muesli bar in my pocket. Walk to the top of a hill and stand staring into the clouds, the rain stinging my face. I've done it often enough. Once, I found myself in North Wales with a group of friends. We were intent on going hill walking but the weather was against us. Torrential rain, the sort that turns roads into rivers, had driven everyone indoors. We were staying in a youth hostel at Ogwen. There was a shelter outside for people who, like us, arrived early. We found it packed with young people, all quietly sat reading paperbacks. We decided that sitting in the dry reading books was not our style. We resolved to climb the local mountain, Pen Yr Ole Wen, come what may. The weather was wild but not, we decided, dangerously so. We trudged up the wet scree in our waterproofs, hoods up and gloves on. When we came to rocks and had to scramble over them, the water ran down our sleeves and out through the bottoms of our trousers. When we finally came to the summit-ridge the blast of wind that met us was so strong we had to crawl to the summit. It's one of the most memorable afternoons I've ever spent on a mountain. I wouldn't have missed it for the world. When we got back to the shelter everyone was still there, dry if not warm, still reading their paperbacks. I think we all felt a bit smug. 

I don't think I'm going to get off on a walk today, though. That's another thing you have to contend with this time of year. If you want to go somewhere, you've got to get on with it and go, otherwise all of sudden you find it's getting dark.

G, my partner, has been Christmas shopping online, on-and-off, all morning. I think we're determined to get everything we usually sort out sorted out a couple of weeks in advance. I have visions of the supermarkets and the online delivery services many people have come to rely on these last few months buckling under the strain of Christmas plus covid. With luck, it won't happen. Nevertheless, I don't fancy three days living on baked beans and pasta.









Thursday, 3 December 2020

The First Post

Does anybody read the first post on a blog? Probably only a few people, which is a shame, since it's probably one of the places the writer had most to say - mainly about what motivated them to start a blog.

I'm not sure I've anything earth-shattering to say, though. It just feels like a good idea to type out the things that are on my mind.

My partner and I live in a village in the North of England. Not much happens here, which can be a good thing. It makes going for a walk across the fields into a great event which, of course, it is. Great things do happen from time to time. The rains come and the rivers flood. A few years ago, the Tour de France came past, not far away. However, most of the time very little happens to disturb the still surface of day-to-day life.

Take today. Like millions of other people I've been working from home. I only really work part time and I split the hours up - just a few, each morning, most days. I don't know where we'd be without the internet. Health problems have forced us to isolate ourselves from the world as much as possible since March. So far, so good. We're lucky that we have the resources, for now, to do this effectively. What it's like for those whose personal circumstances make it impossible to stay out of harms' way doesn't bear thinking about. Thankfully, with the vaccine roll-outs on the horizon, it looks like an end to this particular horror-story is in sight.

Lockdown started back in March and, since then, very little has changed for us. It hasn't been as difficult as I thought it would be - in fact, not a lot has changed! There have been times when we've felt like going out but the feeling passes. It's strange not eating out - but then I've quite enjoyed preparing all our food at home these last few months. 

One thing that has really helped both of us to get through this has been watching Inspector Montalbano on TV. I'm sure we're not the only people to escape the uncertainties of everyday life this year by transporting themselves daily to Montalbano's Sicily. It's a magical place, one minute almost too real, the next, dreamlike. The characters are great, too: Mimi, with his all-too-human weaknesses, the intriguing Ingrid and Fazio, a walking encyclopaedia, with his meaningful looks. Then there's Catarella who struggles with his words, is the butt of jokes and yet is not only a  whizz with the computer but also often intuits or provides the solutions to the cases. I've never enjoyed a crime drama series quite as much. Thankfully, every episode is available on BBC iPlayer.






Of Lighthouses and Lagoons

We recently returned from a holiday in Cumbria. We stayed for a week on a caravan site in Haverigg. The site's situated on the edge of a...