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Thursday, May 31, 2007

Petty comforts: major irritations

No matter the pressure. No matter how pressing the circumstances. When something has to be done: I can find something else to do.

For example: the house. Selling? Not selling? Packing to complete? Flights to be booked? Finances to be sorted out?
Probably. To be done now? Definitely.

But on the other hand: what was the name of the artist who painted ‘Fallen Idol’? Perhaps not Victorian. Later? What’s the point in having the internet if it can’t tell you the things you want to know? However long it takes.

Past tense. Took. Never let it be said that I idled when a minor point of information was eluding me. So. Problem solved. The painter’s name was John Collins 1859 – 1934
http://www.victorianartinbritain.co.uk/biog/collier.htm for more information - though thinking about it, who on earth would want to know any more about him? However, finding the artist was the easy bit: every piece of information about him mentioned his painting ‘Fallen Idol’ but none of them illustrated it. Nothing daunted I eventually found a copy of the painting in a book on ‘Standard Copying Techniques for Artworks’ – and I used to think that trying to find something in the Guinness Book of World Records was the ultimate Odyssey in digressions! I now realise that youthful addiction to that cornucopia of essential trivia was but proper preparation for the mind boggling expanse of the irrelevant that the internet represents.

God bless it!

The illustration is not quite up to standard, it is, after all just an illustration to show how to photograph an oil painting, but it’s the only one I can find. By the way I didn’t realise that Collins was the artist of the rather haunting painting of Hudson after he had been set adrift with his son by mutineers. That painting is in the same class as The Childhood of Raleigh – and I mean that quite literally as those paintings together with ‘When Did You Last See Your Father’ were the sort of art which hung in our classrooms and corridors when I was a kid. Ah yes, in those halcyon days when I still had some sympathy with the Royalists as opposed to the Roundheads and could read ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ and think that Sir Percy was quite right in rescuing the oppressed aristocrats from the clutches of the revolutionary rabble. How times have changed and the ‘right but repulsive’ have won out against the ‘wrong but romantic’ brigade! I put it all down to reading ‘1066 And All That’ at an impressionable age.

It is now well into the afternoon and my solicitor is proving to be very elusive in confirming the date for completion. The rain is hammering down (so the Pathetic Fallacy is at full strength) I have just come back from visiting Ray who looks as though he is at the end of his life and am feeling thoroughly miserable. Brown Pickfords’ boxes sit Warhol-like by the window and I am subdued into inactivity when there is so much (So Much!) waiting to be done. All it takes is one small phone call which stubbornly refuses to brighten up my day.

Patience is not one of the virtues which characterises my approach to life and is something which I am used to encountering in allegorical paintings and soppily moralistic poems rather than exemplifying in quotidian action. This typing is a form of displacement activity masquerading as patience and it is wearing a little thin.

Something, as a notably selfish and dead Prince of Wales so helpfully used to say, must be done!

The evening now and a most unsatisfactory end to the day: no one called I had to do the phoning to find out that very little had happened. That’s not the point: the point is that I should have been told that nothing was happening.

I have taken the plunge and booked Pickfords to come and get the rest of the stuff on Tuesday. The house should be denuded by midday and ready for the buyers to take possession and for us to . . . uh . . . find somewhere to live!

Such larks!

Reality is nibbling at my feet and when completion becomes a fact I fear that it will start gobbling down my psyche whole!

We’ll see.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Creeping forward

Stress, they say, is inevitable when you are selling your house. I am beginning to see that this is an understatement.

As we get nearer to some sort of conclusion we also, paradoxically, seem to get further away. Perhaps the proximity of completion is so tantalising that the rush to the money is frustrating to the nth degree when there is the slightest delay. A new date for completion has been suggested and within hours changed. Everything is waiting to be finalized; all sorts of people are waiting for the ‘go’ signal to be given; boxes are waiting to be filled; forms waiting to be signed; flights booked and final checks (and cheques) completed.

And the call hasn’t come.

The final invigorating injection of adrenaline which comes with the prospect of the single ticket to Spain getting closer is being denied me! The contracts were supposed to have been exchanged today, but the mortgage company obviously wasn’t able to guarantee the money which is needed a day earlier because of the change in the completion date. I am assured by my solicitor that this delay is nothing to worry about, but I come from a tradition of reading swathes of the corpus of English Literature, and solicitors get (arguably) the worst write up of any group of professionals in the pages of novels and short stories. But, to quote someone or other, I defy augury. I believe in solicitors’ integrity and I know that there is a reasonable excuse of her not phoning me and that tomorrow everything will be sorted out and the timetable for departure will be finally settled.

Enough already!

Now that things appear to be moving towards their monetary conclusion, my attitude towards the house has changed.

I remember when I moved from my flat to this house that the acceptance of a new way of living was immediate. I was no longer a flat dweller; I was suddenly a fully fledged member of three bedroom semi suburbia. Now, in my mind, I have left this house and am living somewhere else in another country. The practical obstacles to this belief (i.e. I am still in my house in Wales) are mere irritations: I want the reality now!

The final packing is taking place and the problems of moving out and away, rather than out and in, are beginning to show themselves. All the little things that you merely transfer to the new house, perhaps putting them in the car, in my case are generally not worth packing. Take, for instance, cleaning materials; tea towels; rubbish bins; bottles of wine; brushes and pots; fridge magnets and all the little things that make a house into a home. What am I going to do with them all?

I suppose that I should resist the temptation to pack everything and sort it all out when I get to Catalonia. I have gone through the ordeal of sorting and putting in storage and there should be very little to pack now. Anyone who thinks that has wilfully chosen to ignore my magpie tendencies to amass. Just that, ‘amass.’

In theory we have one week to get ready to get everything ready and out. This is a sobering thought.

By tomorrow I will be more jocose and serene.

Or not.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Country Art

Jane is a deceitful liar.

My apologies to all those called Jane – I do not mean the first comment as a generic condemnation of all those called Jane, but my faith in technology has taken a serious knock.

As Dianne and I set off (eventually) to get to the ‘New Beginnings’ exhibition of art being held in Mill House, Whitebrook, Monmouth we (eventually) got the TomTom to accept a route and felt we were in the safe hands of the TomTom voice of ‘Jane.’ [Not the best metaphor I’ve ever used!]

We were sadly abused and became aware of this fact when the narrow, grass rutted, single car width lane petered out into verdant nothingness! The Voice then had the impertinence to tell us (after much reversing in small spaces) that we were at our destination when we patently and obviously were not.

The post code was re-entered and the machine promptly told us we were three miles away from our objective. This seemed strangely encouraging because the place we were in, half way up a hill side, seemed the wrong place for a water powered ex-paper mill.

Our arrival at the right location provided many opportunities for untrammelled envy. The house itself is superb and a wonderful background for the paintings – which are in every room (including the loo!) The rooms themselves are generally, and in detail, well presented and desirable living spaces. The kitchen is the sort of place that only exists in fashion magazines and . . . I really should be speaking abut the art.

Ceri’s paintings, quite rightly, have a good position and are shown to advantage. The range of paintings on show is wide, but with an emphasis on representational art. The variety is wide and the quality of the exhibits is not always consistent, but there is enough here to satisfy most artistic appetites. The prices range from a couple of hundred pounds to six thousand and above. A fair range and it was good to see some of David Carpanini’s etchings on the walls – good to see one of the artists some of whose work I own, making every effort to increase his popularity!

By the time we had drunk our tea and coffee and I had consumed two pieces of cake we were ready for lunch. Following suggestions we eschewed eating in Monmouth and followed half remembered directions to The Stone Mill Restaurant and in no time at all we found ourselves in England. This was wrong. Very wrong.

Our importunate return to Monmouth and a revived faith in the geographical omniscience of Jane speaking through the beating of the tom toms led to our driving steadily towards England again! We took dramatic decisions and ignored the Voice and followed the signs for the village in which the restaurant was located. Allegedly.

It was only when we were both (well, I was) on the brink of turning around and going back that we saw the restaurant. Its location is absurdly picturesque surrounded by picture book houses with impossibly pretty gardens.

The food was excellent and reasonably priced. Certainly good enough to irritate both Ceri and Toni when we regaled them with stories of culinary delights!

No good news about the house but a ‘Good luck’ card from the putative buyers. It seems that the completion date of the first of June is now not a realistic date.

We wait and wonder.

Monday, May 28, 2007

A dull day!

There ought to be a system whereby, if one has to deal with illness during a Bank Holiday, there is a voucher issued which one can cash in for an equivalent experience at a later date.

Poor old Toni Took To His Bed to sleep off the effects of a lingering bout of cough/cold/sore throatitis.

I took the opportunity to read the Ryszard Kapuściński book in the Great Journeys series. As usual his writing was engaging and eminently readable even though (as usual) his subject matter was less than easy. His writing on Africa spanned a long period and seemed to be an unending sequence of discomfort, malaria and dictators! But witty and piquantly amusing.

It was with real shock and disbelief that I then read in the Indy on Sunday that Kapuściński had been denounced (posthumously) as an informer for the Polish communist regime. This is something which his widow vehemently denied and, I have to admit, after years of reading (and teaching!) his writing I want to agree with her. His writing shows such a sympathy and intelligent critique of the human condition that it is difficult to believe that the liberal attitude that personified his writing was all an act.

I shall reserve judgement and hope that clarification of his involvement with the Secret Police will reveal that his involvement was limited to the bureaucratic necessity for a foreign correspondent to visit the Secret Police before a visa was granted.


I hope.

There is a Victorian painting which my grandmother had called “Fallen Idol.” I remember it as a rather dull painting of a couple who didn’t seem to be very happy. It was a painting which fell far short of what one could expect from the title. My ideas of idols were real rather than metaphorical, built on the more lurid stories in the bible (the Old Testament of course) where idols were connected with considerable naughtiness and even more considerable retribution by the good old vengeful god of the best stories. The painting (I think) showed a distraught man and a contrite or guilty woman; though thinking about it, I suppose it could have been the other way around, but now Kapuściński is part of that sad narrative. Thinking about it, I think that there was a companion piece to that picture so that they formed a short of very short story, but I can’t remember it. Another case of having to ask Aunt Betty if she can remember.

I don’t think either of them had the quality of Awakening Conscience by William Holman Hunt, and I wonder if the two paintings were later than Victorian: I must have a little hunt on Google to see if I recognize anything! If nothing else I can meander happily through what Google thinks are moralistic paintings: you always get a few unexpected treats from a computer’s idea of culture!

Tomorrow I go to Monmouth and a glimpse of Ceri’s paintings in a very elegant setting.

And a decent meal with Dianne I trust!

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Reading in the rain!

Sorry folks! As I pointed out yesterday, my late night watering of the plants ensured the lousy weather today.

It is just a British aberration to look at weather in a particularly anthropomorphic way? We always see personal spite in the way that the allocation of fine weather is allocated to the population of the world. And when it comes to the correlation of wet weather and Bank Holidays, I’m sure that there is a doctoral thesis somewhere that points out just how unjust the quantity of sunshine has been over the years.

I have now completed my reading of Richard Dawkins’ book ‘The God Delusion.’ It is a beguilingly chatty description of an approach towards atheism. Leaving aside his shameless self publicity it is a stimulating rallying cry to those ‘closet’ atheists who either hide their atheism or flirt with a romantic yearning to believe in belief to come clean and profess their stance without ambiguity or mendacity.

It is a well argued book which, as Peter Thomson said of one of the few of my second year essays that he got to read, “I am persuaded by agreement to consider perceptive and intelligent.” ‘The God Delusion’ is a book which demands a response and not one which uses the facile escapism of ‘belief’ to justify a point of view. ‘Belief’ is a term which he clearly sees as a term for intellectual laziness and he takes the deadly aspects of the consequences of belief and entertainingly (if chillingly) illustrates them with memorably grotesque examples.

A worthwhile read.

Penguin has found a new way to garner new money from old goods by repackaging travel snippets in a new series of shortish paperbacks called ‘Great Journeys’ – around the world in twenty books. These books are priced at £4.99 and for that price you would expect rather more exhaustive proof reading than is apparent in the first of the books I’ve read, ‘Fighting in Spain’ by George Orwell. This volume comprises an extract from ‘Homage to Catalonia’ with a few pages of ‘Looking back on the Spanish War.’ Orwell is always worth reading, especially in his non fiction work and these extracts are compelling. Orwell takes a non sensational approach to the horrors of that disgraceful conflict and in his conversational style invites the reader to share his seemingly reasonable perceptions.

The series ranges from Herodotus, through Mark Twain to Ryszard Kapuściński. They are a series of books which I look forward to reading, especially as I bought the lot for £15 from my book club! This is a site worth looking at for those books which you suddenly realise you cannot do without. The address is:
http://www.thebookpeople.co.uk/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/catalog_10001_10051_100 I only hope that you are hooked and spend as much as I have over the past few years!

We had Fideuá for lunch hampered, as usual, by the lack of decent fresh fish at Tesco – though whether one would want to buy fish after the devastating documentary on the way that supermarkets treat their food (see:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/supermarkets/story/0,,2085224,00.html) is open to debate! I eventually ended up buying frozen sea food and fresh chicken – it’s always a compromise! The end result, however, was one of the better Fideuá that I’ve made. Toni says that I will get even better when I am established in Catalonia and have all the requisite fresh food to hand. I noted that he did not suggest that he would be learning how to make the damn thing! I think that he expects me to sit, metaphorically, at his mother’s feet; write down her recipes like a faithful disciple; practise making them and churn them out for the rest of my life!

I have to admit it is tempting as his mum is an exception cook and her dishes are always appetising!

Today and tomorrow are the calm before the storm. I expect real information about the house on Tuesday which should take the form of a realistic date for the completion for the house sale. Then the real fun will start!

Although, to drag professor Joad once again into the conversation, it all depends on what you mean by fun.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

What day is it?

"When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere." John Wyndham.

This Saturday is not very much like a Saturday. There is an air of the Dead Sunday about it: sullen skies; oppressive silence; lack of people and that air of weary lassitude which characterises the resentment of a myth inspired day of rest. But Saturday it is. I know because yesterday was Friday.

You get into a different mind set when it’s Sunday. A lazy waking followed by morning mouth cup of coffee and an interminable internal debate about how (sometimes why) to wash yourself. Should it, one asks oneself, be bath, or rinse, or shower? Deep questions. This can sometimes take you up to lunchtime and beyond.

However: it’s Saturday. And that is completely different. But it is a Saturday which links the day after tomorrow to a Bank Holiday Monday. So, on the points rating system of how much credit to give individual days it changes its character. A Saturday before a Bank Holiday Monday is more akin to a Free Friday (a very high points score) because whatever you do today, however excessive you might be, you’ve got a day to recover and you still won’t have to go to work on the next day.

It also makes next week a Short Week: so if you get into the mindset that the day when you start work in the week is a Monday, you will be a day out throughout the week because you’ll be thinking that the Tuesday you start work again is a Monday, and the Wednesday is a Tuesday and so on until it’s suddenly the end of the week on a Thursday which is actually a Friday. If you see what I mean.

The whole of today has had that repressed feeling as if it was trying to be something else. Perhaps it’s to do with the weather which is humid and trying to make its mind up about whether to rain or not. It tried a few tentative drops and then couldn’t be bothered to make anything of it.

It is my personal belief that the weather is trying to force me to water the plants even though we have been promised rain tomorrow.

I do not have the strength of will to deny unsuspecting water-wanters their little drink. But I also know (in the scheme of things) that watering the plants tonight will ensure rain tomorrow.

For those people who value fine weather during a Bank Holiday weekend, I apologise.

The music may be Weill, but I like it!

[This is actually the Blog for Friday 25th of May]

Second time lucky for Alison and me: we arranged to have a meal and see an opera and this time we made it to a performance which actually took place! This was one up on the Zombies concert which we had to leave because of the band being stuck somewhere on the M4 in the second broken down van.

Terra Nova came up trumps on the pre performance meal: sitting outside (in May!) {in Cardiff!} [relatively warm!] in the jutting ‘prow’ of the first floor looking out at the Bay. The Moroccan Shank of Lamb on mashed potato with al dente vegetables was juicy, spicy and tasty. And if the beer was too expensive, it was just preparing us for the cost of the glasses of wine inside the Millennium Centre!

Once again, the delight of being in an operatic venue in Cardiff which was not The New Theatre was almost overwhelming: space, comfort and a decent acoustic makes every performance a success for me when I remember my suffering in The New!

The imaginative double bill was ‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle’ coupled with ‘The Seven Deadly Sins.’

The opening narration of ‘Bluebeard’ sets the imaginative tone for the opera emphasising the symbolic nature of the entertainment which may be taking place ‘inside or out’ of the head of the observer. The set reminded me of those eerie pictures of The Titanic: a wreck at the bottom of the ocean, but some objects surrealistically still in place – incongruous and unsettling. The picture on stage that we are shown is of a wreck: rubble litters the floor and a grand chandelier lays an angled, magnificent skeleton of crystal stage left. Stage right the series of doors that Judith, the hapless new wife of Bluebeard, sets herself to open. These doors are vast, recalling the intimidating portals of banks and insurance offices: portentous and belittling.

The intensity of the music is concentrated by the focusing of the singing on two characters as they move uneasily and unsteadily around and through the wreckage on the stage. As each door is opened, knives, flowers and jewels are produced with considerable dramatic effect from the floor where they have lain unobserved by the audience.

Whether the action is an exemplification of a fairy story or the dramatic presentation of a worrying psychology it is fair to say that it is not ‘realistic’ and the Expressionist form of acting which Sara Fulgoni and Andrea Silvestrelli adopted was in keeping with the intensity of the musical experience.

The singing and orchestra were excellent and the theatrical devices employed during this shocking one act opera were genuinely exciting; an enthusiasm which was reflected in the audience response at the end of the opera.

The interval was forty minutes long which gave a luxuriously long time to sip rather than gulp the large glass of expensive red wine that was waiting for us. Never let it be said that operas like these did not press the right buttons to activate a whole incestuous strata of Cardiff society and the number of familiar faces was almost comforting!

By the time we returned to the auditorium the front of the stage had been encased in what looked like shiny white plastic with four holes cut into it and a flight of stairs in the centre.

The opening of the ‘Seven Deadly Sins’ illuminated a stage scattered with irregular white wedges. These wedges feature in every scene of this sung ballet and are combined to provide the central plinth for the finale as the Anna are subsumed into the clawing mass of the participants on stage.

The male singers were ‘caught’ in their holes on the structure which jutted into the orchestra and spent their time watching the action or turned to the audience and, lit from below, looked like Halloween manikins as they sang.

The dancing from Diversions was mesmeric. All of the audience who were not German speaking (thank you Alison!) had to make the difficult decision of whether to glance at the surtitles and miss some of what might be happening on stage or watch the amazingly athletic performances on stage and miss the ‘sense’ of what was going on. I opted, more often than not, for the stage where the action was an interpretation of what the words were rather than a literal exposition.

This was a relatively short piece and was greeted with a storm of applause – quite rightly too!

Although the two operas taken together only lasted an hour and a half, I felt that we had been given a very generous evening’s performance.

And I got a lift home (thank you Bryn.)


Who could, in all conscience ask for more!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Time to think back!

I put the dish washer on too soon.

I wandered into the kitchen clutching a bowl and a spoon and with a pang of regret I heard the churning sound of a working machine. I shrugged inwardly because I don’t like dirty dishes lying around looking untidy.

A missed opportunity. The machine was too far into its cycle to stop, I’d just have to wait for the end. Damn!

Then I realised that I could, actually, wash the offending crockery and cutlery. And that came as a revelation. With that revelation came the realisation that I could dry them too. And put them away! Clean, uncluttered surfaces. Nice.

But it doesn’t alter the fact that my first reaction was, “Machine started: too late.” While I still have the capacity to wash dishes, my mind set has virtually eliminated the possibility of manually washing them.

In the same way; if I think that there is something wrong with the car then the only alternative is the taxi. What about buses and walking?

I like healthy(er) flat horizontal chips, but you just can’t buy them. I seem to remember my mother making them by cutting up potatoes. Why does that never occur to me?

Weren’t windows cleaned using newspaper and vinegar? These are commodities I am never without; yet dirty windows sullenly obstruct sunlight because I do not have the requisite can of task specific spray solvent.

At one time even quite small electrical items could be taken to a corner shop and be repaired. Now the only item which most people ever consider repairing is the car. I am sure that it is cheaper to buy a complete computer printer than it is to replace the ink cartridges that it needs.

My parents’ Hoover Keymatic (one of the first off the production line) lasted for years and when my parents bought a newer model I was given the old one and that lasted for years and years more. Nowadays you half expect white goods to evaporate after a few years; and you feel positively immoral if you have a washing machine which has reached its fifth birthday.

It’s a different way of thinking. A way of thinking that perhaps I will have to get back to.

I do not pretend that life in Catalonia is going to be the same as life in Cardiff. My house in Spain is not going to have the spaciousness of my home in Wales. Things (in ways that I can only guess at) are going to be different and I may have to revisit ways of living which are buried deep inside.

The selling of the house has moved on yet again. In the next two or three days we should have a more realistic moving date.

As I am not sufficiently old enough to have full control over my money I have a financial adviser to rip it out of my spendthrift hands and the meeting tomorrow is designed to ensure that the money from the house sale spends the least amount of time possible in any bank account I can get at!

The meeting tomorrow was also a wake up call. At first the meeting was going to be held on the Monday after the provisional date for completion and, as Phil asked, “Where will you be then Steve?”

Where indeed!

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Turn your faces to the wall!

So Plaid is actively considering going into a coalition with the Tories. To hell with the Lib Dems, they will go into coalition with the Prince of Darkness if it offers them any sniff of power; but Plaid and the Tories – well!

These prancing politicos dignify themselves with the sobriquet of ‘Rainbow Coalition!’ Quite apart from the facile link that these, these, scrabbling rodents hope to create with rainbow coalitions which united against totalitarian forces in Europe, it is interesting to take their little metaphor and see what it can tell us.

The rainbow was the symbol of hope painted on the sky after a merciful god had obliterated human kind except for the drunken, incestuous Noah and his family. The glittering promise that god wouldn’t do it again. Possibly. And such a nice group of people in which to place our hope!

I do hope that the political parties are not urging a comfortable consumer driven electorate to look back at the devastation of the past and look forward to a promise filled tomorrow with Plaid, Lib Dems and the Tories leading us to the Promised Land!

The rainbow is an optical illusion: the colours - who has ever truly seen all seven? What is the difference between indigo and violet and blue? It’s all down to the diffraction of light – light with spin! A way of seeing, bringing into colourful focus something which is all around us. And where do the political parties fit into this image? Distinct colours or all working together in the blue/indigo/violet melange?

And our pot of gold at the end of this rainbow? No, we suddently remember that it’s a myth. And if there was a pot of gold then it would be fiercely guarded by a foul goblin of some sort. Ah, I begin to see why the rainbow is an effective description!

The one thing that a rainbow does do is create a grandiloquent gesture and write its own magnificence on the heavens.

The unprincipled lunge for power as the quicksilver of authority and big bucks tempts the grasping fingers of men too long away from the drug of command is truly disgusting to witness. I feel an active contempt for the grotesque pantomime which is politics in Wales at the moment.

Rainbow? Let them have it. There’s more enterprise in walking alone in the rain.

My arch bitterness is probably explained by the continuing saga of the house. The survey is in and there are some aspects of my dwelling which the surveyor has highlighted, but, and this is the crucial part, he has not made any stipulations or lessened the value of the house. In other words the house is still good value for money as far as the mortgage supplier is concerned.

The days slip by and the provisional date of the first of June seems too near to be a realistic possibility.

I am communicating with a man in Catalonia who is setting up a new school in the area and there might be a possibility of work in connection with a summer school that is being established in Catalonia. It is all starting to become more real and, I have to admit, I am looking forward to plying my profession once more!

Fingers crossed!

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Here we go again!

Oscar Wilde and James Abbott McNeill Whistler are renowned for their sparkling wit as they verbally sparred with each other. For most of the time, however, they simply abused each other; good old fashioned insults; out and out insult.

The Welsh Assembly building in Cardiff Bay is an elegant an eloquent statement in slate, wood and glass of a concept of ‘openness’ which it was hoped would characterise the government of the country.

The behaviour of our political ‘masters’ as they feel power slipping away or tantalizingly within their grasp beggars any insult that Wilde and Whistler might voice.

The bunch of posturing inadequates who strut their parochial political stuff in the Bay invite derision and contempt.

If I hear just one more politico tell me exactly what ‘The People of Wales’ meant when the voted in the recent elections I shall do something reckless; like taking these self appointed teachers of the electorate seriously. Well, perhaps not that drastic.

Plaid now has the balance of power. God help us all!

I am old enough to remember Plaid when they were an honest to goodness old fashioned nationalist party – and by definition, therefore, a right wing organization. I am also old enough to remember the Tarsus moment when the party finally realised that Wales was actually a left wing country and for them to have any chance of power they had to suddenly become born again socialists. So they did.

They are thriving on a half baked general concept of what being Welsh is all about. They play with ideas of nationalism masked in the words of hard headed economics but underpinned with emotional inanities which would be destroyed if the same hard headed economics was applied.

Take, for example, the Welsh language.

On my father’s side of the family, my grandfather was a Welsh speaker who actually taught by great grandmother to speak English using the South Wales Echo. On my mother’s side of the family, my great grandparents stopped talking Welsh to her daughters after number three. The succeeding daughters (including my grandmother) were brought up as monoglot English speakers! I was brought up as a monoglot English speaker and the appallingly inept Welsh classes through primary and secondary school did not encourage a bilingual approach!

Welsh has been something of an irritation in my life: both real and perceived. Plaid’s emphasis on the language has changed over the years – not, I’m sure, in reality; but definitely in the way in which the importance of the language has been presented to the mass of English speaking voters who would have to support the party if they were to stand any chance of gaining power. In my area Plaid have distributed a leaflet solely in English so attract the vote and lessen the fear of those who don’t speak Welsh.

A quarter (?) of the population speak Welsh: the vast majority do not. An essential component of a clear national identity (according to Plaid) is the language. The vast majority of the population are therefore excluded from a real identity with the country.

When I was going to vote in the recent election, the polling station was in my local primary school. This school has been changed from a local primary school for the area into a Welsh language medium school for a much wider area. The parents in this area see this Welsh school as a way of ensuring that their children do not go to either of the local secondary schools but rather to a Welsh language secondary school which is clearly perceived as a more attractive alternative to the English language schools. As I made my way to vote the pupils for this school were making their way towards their classes. What was significant was that not one single child talked in Welsh. Not one. English was the language of the home and English the natural language of the pupils. Welsh here is merely (or essentially) a way of escaping what are seen as sub standard schools.

I do not blame parents, they must do what they see as the best for their children; I do blame a hypocrisy which suggests that the ‘choice’ of Welsh is a disinterested one. Welsh is being used as a cynical tool for advancement.

I find myself remembering the views of anti-apartheid activists in South Africa who asked the regime, seemingly counter intuitively, not to destroy the apartheid system, but merely to make it work! Of course it couldn’t; it relied on lies and hypocrisy to work.

The attitude towards the Welsh language by our political masters is also one grounded in hypocrisy and fuelled by a deeply dishonest tokenist approach. If Welsh is important, or essential to our concept of what it means to be Welsh, then it is of overriding importance to make Wales bilingual as soon as possible. Quebec has laws which make it illegal to display a notice in a shop window which is only in one language. Why do we not have the same laws here?

The simple answer is that, apart from the major urban centres, Wales is not a rich country. The language is in a desperate state and needs immediate expensive resuscitation. If the real cost of making Wales a bilingual nation were put before the people of Wales with the tax implications clearly outlined, the measure would be rejected by the monoglot population overwhelmingly and no political party is prepared to carry the can for that.

So we will continue our expensive (but containable) compromise of spending just enough to show willing, but never enough to do something meaningful.

So back to Plaid. What do they do? Make deals with the Lib Dems? Sad. Add the Conservatives? Suicide. Go with Labour? Emasculation.

I sincerely hope that they get what they deserve: the trappings of power without the real power that gets things done; the ability to speak to a wide audience of people who won’t want to listen to the ideas that they truly hold.

The minnows of Wales.

God rot them!

Funny old memories

[This is actually the Blog for Monday 20th May]

Back in the 60s there was an excellent series called Mr Rose which had, as I recall, a very catchy title tune which I have totally forgotten but would remember instantly if someone played the first few notes. I think. This series concerned the very unrestful retirement of a Chief Inspector of Police who was constantly called away from his retirement activities and encouraged to solve intractable police problems. The character was played by William Mervyn, a rather avuncular looking cove who made the series worth watching, playing one of those omniscient Holmesian detectives who always made sure the episode ended with a real conclusion!

The series was brought to mind as Claire called in and found me – deadheading the luxuriant vegetation of the garden. How quintessentially Mr Rose! All things considered I think that it would have been more satisfactory if she had brought a tricky problem in education for my unique perception to elucidate.

Or perhaps not.

I think overall I was just pleased that the things that I had read and seen in the wonderful make believe land of the arts actually occur in real life. To think that I have reached the stage in life where my quiet world can be rocked by an interruption in deadheading!

I suppose that deadheading was really displacement activity to take my mind away from the Week of No Return. This is the time when the various checks and searches should come to some sort of conclusion. By the end of the week the provisional-provisional-provisional date for completion should have lost one of those ‘provisionals’ and become a little more real.

This morning the man from Pickfords came to shake his sorrowful head over the mass of possessions that seems to have spontaneously generated itself in the house. I am not the sort of person to carry on a jocose existence living with the minimum of the necessary impedimenta of civilized living. It is bad enough that I have had to make do with Tesco pauper line crockery and the deprivation of my library. It is amazing how life’s little necessities find their way back into a materialistic life! They slip through worm holes in space and time and bank accounts and nestle comfortably in available niches in a house, making it back into a home!

I don’t know whether it is going to be easier or harder to weed out the Things Not Wanted On Voyage this time around. The fact of one relatively small suitcase (no matter how manoeuvrable) and the limited weight allowance of a cheapo flight are going to concentrate the mind wonderfully when the final exit from the country is made.

I think that Toni is right when he asked the carefully calculatedly innocent question of, “Where are you going to store all your books in Spain?” I think in the short term we are going to have to have some sort of local storage. I wonder if Catalonia has the equivalent of Big Yellow Storage. I certainly hope so. It would solve a certain number of pressing problems. This is all in the future.

The very near future, I hope.

Oh yes, and I’ve just remembered the tune from the TV series ‘Mr Rose’ “da da da da diddle dum dum da da da da.”

Funny how things come back to you: I wonder if there is anyone out there who remembers it too.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

It's the damn waiting!

How cruel is fate that I am cursed with a Spanish football supporter? At least the English leagues have had the good grace to be at an end now, but the Spanish league just goes on and on.

I have to admit that even I have a sneaking interest in what team actually does win La Liga. It seems incredible that at this stage of the season there are four teams that have a reasonable and realistic chance of winning the Spanish League. I am, for obviously reasons, supporting Barca, but they have made it much more difficult to win. Madrid (the Real version) only has to win all their remaining matches and they are champions. Barca has the easier set of matches to play, but their form in recent weeks does not inspire confidence.

The one thing which is encouraging is that this evening Barca won their game six nil. Surely this must mean something. Doesn’t it?

I dread thinking about Toni’s reaction if Barca loses out on the league title!

Next week will be an interesting one for the progress we are (or are not making) on the selling of the house.

The surveyor’s report should now be complete and with the mortgage company. We will have to see what comes from that.

We wait.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Worth remembering.

Four pieces of metal.

That’s all they are really. Now polished to a gleaming newness, recovering some of the effect they must have had when they were awarded over ninety years ago. These were the visible marks of the grateful country which did little to make real the Poison Dwarf’s platitude of making it a fit place for heroes.

My grandfather’s, Willy John’s, medals from The First World War now are properly presented. Framed so that they can travel to Spain safely and can be hung so that, together with the etching by Archie Griffiths, I can have strong reminders of my home.

Medals for war are like those neat, tasteful, carved tombstones that stand in serried ranks in the fields of France: acceptable tokens which make bearable the unbearable reality of what occurred in the rat infested muddy trenches and the unbelievably bloody battlefields which saw almost an entire generation of British humanity wiped out.

The anger that The First World War engenders is something almost visceral in someone like me, born thirty years after the armistice. What it must have been like for my grandfather who survived both Battles of the Somme, but saw his friends and comrades wiped out, is unthinkable. He carried his deafness from the sound of the guns as a physical memento from the conflict, but what he carried in his mind defies comprehension.

My father always described me as “the most belligerent pacifist I know” and argued constantly with me about such concepts as a “just war.” We never agreed, though I think that he would be wryly amused by how far my religious scepticism has come to match his own views! His version of Humanism has strongly influenced my own moral development, but my residual “Anglican Atheism” has always made a whole hearted commitment to Humanism difficult.

I share with Aunt Bet a – “love” isn’t the right word, perhaps “devotion” might be more appropriate – for the poetry of The First World War. In an anthology like “Men Who March Away” edited by Ian Parsons you can trace the changing attitudes of poets to the progress of the war and the bitter reality it forced some people to accept.

Perhaps poetry is the nearest that I can tolerate the human, emotional implications of an obscenity like The First World War. I could never, for example, bring myself to visit the war graves of the continent: I would find that unbearable. I know that for some it is a cathartic experience and it brings home to them the full horror of the conflict, but it is not for me.

My grandfather never talked to me about the war and rarely to my father. He never spoke of the apocalyptic horrors that he must have seen and he kept his stories at a ‘human’ level.

One incident he did tell my father was when my grandfather was sleeping in the trenches and he was forced awake because a rat was eating his finger. As my grandfather jerked his hand away, the rat came with it, his fangs embedded in his flesh. My father told me that, as my grandfather recounted this story, his look of horrified disgust made it seem as if the incident had just occurred.

For my father, as for me, this little tale of piquant disgust, has exemplified the unnatural horror of the whole conflict.

Whatever ambiguous feelings towards The First World War I may have, I recognise that my grandfather volunteered in 1914 and saw the whole bloody conflict through to the end. He survived against the odds and in spite of people like Haig.

His example is a good one to take to Spain, especially to Catalonia where people like my grandfather fought against the fascists.

An example to live by.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Does it last?

The traditional murk of May has driven me to the Body Shop.

One comes home to Wales from Gran Canaria full of optimism from the glut of vitamin D coursing round the bodily system from the excess of Spanish sunshine. One hopes that the supply of that essential ingredient for happiness will at least be partially availability in ones home country. Fond hope!

The early season tan won by selfless snoozing in unrelenting fine weather begins, visibly, to fade! Ohime! (As I think I once read in Monteverdi’s score for Orpheo as that unfortunate could not resist temptation and looked around.) What is to be done?

The only ethical cosmetic alternative was to throw myself on the mercy of the ruthlessly cosmeticised harridans of The Body Shop. There my whimpish bleatings about the diminution of the intensity of the tan were met with the instant offering of the Balm of Gideon, or to be more precise, Coconut Butter. This unguent was only offered after a sternly mascara eyed votress of the temple looked at me narrowly and asked if my tan was real! I didn’t know whether to take that as a compliment or a foul insult! Was it, to her eyes, a tan of such profound depth that it could only have come from a bottle? In which case the hours spent risking skin cancer did seem to have been well spent!

I now waft my way around smelling faintly as if I had had one too many holiday cocktails utilizing a liqueur that I would shun to have in my drinks cabinet! The things one is prepared to do in the name of personal vanity!

Talking of vanity: now that I have had (in theory) one of the fastest CRB checks (11 days!) in the history of the world, why has no agency called me to work? Are they as shocked as I am? The story of my CRB check is rather like the argument of whether light is composed of waves or particles. It all depends on how you look at it.

I signed the application form on the 12th of March; it got on the CRB system (according to the CRB) on the 1st of May; my agency in Newport had been checking the progress of my CRB at various points before the 1st of May. Two assertions: mutually exclusive. Take your pick. I have my own prejudices.

And how!

I once again entered the realm of Specious Justification (last used for the purchase of the telephone internet gadget) to allow the splurging of money I can ill spare on a new set of telephones. I blame the near monopoly purchasing power of Tesco. Though thinking about it, that can’t be right, monopoly power usually means the increase in prices rather than making certain items juicily attractive. The set of four phones bought seems incredible value and I’m sure that the low price means that someone somewhere is being ruthlessly exploited. Though, of course, one hopes not. And one generally decides not to think too closely about it. Except for the nagging guilt which plays around the borders of one’s moral consciousness.

As if.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Bloom and Bust!


Few questions are troubling the gardening world more than that of the non flowering lobelia.

Young plants purchased more than a month ago are still refusing to bloom. In a gardening scenario reminiscent of ‘The Tin Drum’ they are refusing to mature and burst into their accustomed colour.

I feel cheated and degraded. It is almost as if I have been forced into a simulacrum of a ‘real’ gardener being obliged to wait for the colourful end results from the boring green plant.

My form of gardening is instant. If I buy a green plant it is because it is within days of blooming. This concept, which I believe is common in the gardening fraternity, of waiting for results is abhorrent to me.

The early purchase of lobelia was forced on us by the monochrome appearance of the garden at the beginning of the house selling season. Action had to be taken to turn a potentially colourful garden into an actual one and, from our experience, bedding plants like lobelia offered drifts of colour at reasonable cost. I took on trust that the tufts of vaguely herb-like growth masquerading as lobelia would actually turn into the flowering plant in double quick time. Even with all my vast gardening experience, how cruelly was I deceived!

The lobelia has grown, nay, flourished. Fronds reach eagerly for the sky in a green profusion. But that is not why they were bought; where, is the cry, where is the colour?

At times like this one brings to mind the resounding prayer of that notable African, Saint Augustine (the theologian, not the travelling chancer acting on the whim of a suspiciously Angle struck pope) who said, “O God I believe; help thou my unbelief!” If one of the major Father Theologians of the Church can find himself beset with doubt and come out the other end, then it behoves me to hold fast to the course of nature and believe that a profusion of flowers will burst forth from the unpropitious profusion of green which mocks expectation at the moment.

Talking of faith, I have also deadheaded the chrysanthemums in the fond hope that there will be a second growth. These chrysanthemums were the ones bought to replace the mini daffodils which bloomed for a cruelly short space of time. The flower heads of these chrysanthemums, which I’m sure were ‘forced’ gave a brave display for a few weeks and then seemed to rot on the stalk. Deadheading them was like squeezing blancmange and most unpleasant. I did notice one shy bud head showing a few tentative petals which seemed to bear no relation to the colour of the first display. Strange are the ways of commercial nurseries; I wouldn’t put it past them to spray colour onto flower heads or inject ink into the stems to obtain the colour they want. I will wait and see what the real nature of these over excited plants actually is.

Forced plants pale into insignificance with my recent experience in the Jobcentre.

As part of the mandatory reassessment after six months of unemployment an interview with an adviser is a requirement.

Having missed one appointment I was able to make a replacement appointment for the next day, i.e. yesterday.

My arrival for the interview was delayed at the door by the security guards who could not find my name on their lists. Eventually they indicated that I should go to the first floor to the adviser.

My arrival on the first floor was also an occasion for delay because the security officer was engaged somewhere else and it is necessary to report to security before you actually meet anyone. (This emphasis on delay will become important soon, don’t worry!)

Eventually, I decided to find my adviser myself and approached an individual seated before the obligatory monitor and asked if he was my interviewer. He was, but then he said that, “As you are five minutes late you will have to fill in a form.”

I thought to myself that I had been dreading the bureaucratic legacy of a fascist state in Spain that I was to face when I moved, but here, on my own soil was bureaucracy gone mad!

I will not dwell on the unseemly behaviour provoked by what I regarded as the ludicrous behaviour of my ‘adviser’, but suffice it to say that I was asked to leave and escorted downstairs where I wrote a three page complaint about my treatment. I have to say that this was the only negative behaviour I have encountered in the Jobcentre and I trust it was remain as a uniquely unpleasant experience. In the poor guy’s defence, I suppose I join a very motley crew of unfortunates who have had their interviews terminated and been asked to leave.

Ah well, I suppose it’s another box to tick in the ‘1000 things not to do before you die’ book!

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Music and fire!


After a day of unsurpassed and relentless depression (none of which was my fault for a change) it was a delightful relief to go to a concert of the popular Cardiff choir, Cantemus. Their concert was held in their traditional home, Tabernacl in The Hayes.

The programme was an adventurous one with items ranging from the composer who is virtually their patron saint, Bach, to the modern and trendy composer Arvo Pärt.

The concert opened with an electrifying call of “Komm!” the opening word of “Komm, Jesu Komm” by J S Bach which filled Tabornacl and made the most of the generous acoustic that the venue affords.

The choir is comfortable with Bach and they clearly enjoyed the almost playful antiphonal intricate nature of the piece. There was strength in depth throughout the music with the confident voices of the sectional choir responding and blending with musical satisfaction. This was a long testing piece which the choir took in its stride.

The first Arvo Pärt work was Solfeggio which Robert Court, the engagingly friendly conductor explained, was basically a C major chord fragmented and explored by the sections of the choir. The music had the languorous and expansive feel of Pärt’s popular symphony, but the ease of the piece is only achieved by the exposing the members of the choir who have to be spot on with each of the musical notes. And to a large extent they were: they were well advised to put this piece after they had had an opportunity to warm up with the Bach.

The other piece by Pärt was an enjoyable (and at times enjoyably ludicrous) musical setting for the boring genealogy that, as Robert Court pointed out, you skip in the reading of the bible. This setting, which at times reminded me of an American Black spiritual, was fascinatingly repetitive in the best traditions of Philip Glass!

The pieces by Heneghan and Lawson, settings of Shakespeare and Christina Rosetti respectively, suffered by their proximity of their more famous neighbours. They were slight, but pleasingly effective.

The second half of the programme opened with Elgar pieces written for choir competitions. They explored various techniques in vocal expression with tricky demands for the singers. Serenade was, for me, the most engaging of the four pieces and the choir responded with informed enthusiasm to them all.

The two pieces arranged by Robert Court brought us back to more familiar ground, and you could sense the relief of the audience at finding something they knew!

Dafydd y garreg wen gave an opportunity for the solo voice of David Leggett: his voice was mellow and soothing, though there was a nervy tremolo barely suppressed.

Court’s version of Wiegenlied was mellifluous and textured and he was not afraid to draw some assertive strength from his singers.

The Evening Hymn was something of a disappointment with Tabernacl’s wheezy organ accompanying an uninspired chunky piece of bog standard church singing.

This was a concert that deserved a full audience, from a choir that I have seen develop over the years so that now they are attempting things that would push a professional group. Long may their individual members have the unselfish commitment to continue a fine tradition.

Talking of fine traditions there is another one developing if you look for it.

Sullen eyed, slouched against a wall, radiating menace and threat they stand. On corners, in doorways, under arches they lurk. And ordinary people have to run the gauntlet as they go about their business, sensing the silent, resentful emanations as they shudder their way through that invisible barrier that surrounds those lonely individuals. They stay at their peripheral posts of rejection, clinging to the outer skin of buildings, seemingly unable (or unwilling) to enter, like claustrophobic vampires banished to their mural boundary. The smokers!

They are the new unclean; the lepers de nos jours; the outcasts; the Outsiders – literally. As you move around town you forget that all (all) enclosed public spaces are smoke free. What betting shops are like now beggars belief: do the punters now see clearly what a futile waste of space and time they have been subsidising?

Every few paces you see a surrealistic incongruous vignette as the inside is made the outside: the manager and the bank teller; the maitre d’ and the cleaner; the beauty consultant and the cashier – all forced into the sunlight to indulge their filthy habit, trying to look unconcerned, invisible and, above all, warm. Fat chance!

I’m beginning to find it quite threatening. These people really do look as they don’t belong and don’t want to belong to what’s going on around them. They seem like resentful aliens barely tolerating the lesser breeds without the law by whom they are surrounded.

My plan would be to have a Smoke Exclusion Zone around all the public buildings which fall within the new smoke free regulations. This Zone would be wide enough to include the whole of the pavement which runs along the shop fronts etc. This would eliminate the lonely cancer factories which obstruct entrances and exits.

¡No smokeran! as La Passionaria would have said!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Tempus fugit!

Anyone looking or poetry in a garden should try deadheading after a short holiday. That will soon cure them of romantic notions of the ‘lovesome thing’ sort.

What appeared to a thriving and healthily colourful garden was riddled with the decaying petals of exhausted blooms.

With trusty trug (not a phrase one uses every day of the week) near at hand I proceeded like the Great Flower Avenger wreaking havoc among the slowly blackening remains of once proud flowers.

I seriously think that Cardiff have instituted the regime of green bins to encourage floral hygiene in the gardens of the city.

Perhaps we are on our way to encouraging the evolution of a generation of gardeners who will have the specialised mutation of the thumb and index finger becoming the digital equivalent of secateurs.

Watch the hands!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

The price of nothing!


















I wish I loved the Human Race;
I wish I loved its silly face;
I wish I liked the way it walks;
I wish I liked the way it talks;
And when I’m introduced to one,
I wish I thought "What Jolly Fun!"
Sir Walter Raleigh

No, not that Sir Walter, the more modern one.

These immortal lines suggested themselves to me as I found my self intimately cheek by jowl with my fellow humans on a plane from Gran Canaria to Bristol this morning; very early this morning; very, very early this morning.

By their shufflings in their seats may ye know them! When you fly with Thomson you begin to appreciate the inches difference in seat separation in planes. Thomson seems to think that most of their passengers are emaciated dwarfs. I can now, from painful physical experience tell that benighted organization that this is simply not the case.

If you are six foot or over then travelling by charter airline is little short of the United Nations’ definition of torture.

For people of height, the airlines rely on the hardy nature of the patella to make travel possible. Every shudder of the aircraft is transmitted through the back of the seat in front via the knee; this, in itself is uncomfortable – if the seat in front is occupied then the pain level begins to rise.

In a modern, cost conscious aeroplane people are squeezed together in a way that makes the normal sardine tin look like club class fish packing. This unnatural proximity of flesh with hard plastic demands a certain restraint on the part of the sitter towards his kneemate.

Some people seem to think that they exist in an exclusive comfort zone on a plane, independent of other people’s sufferings. They develop a particularly unthinking form of Saint Vitas’ dance where their selfish writhings are translated into levels of physical discomfort not usually found outside the wearing of cheap sandals (ah the voice of experience!) for the poor sufferers behind them.

A few of the truly godless utilize the Armageddon button on their seats and activate the recline mode. Here the ‘normal’ pain of abrasive knocks is augmented by the crushing force of a backwardly mobile seat.

The two women in front of me for the trip to Gran Canaria (May they rot in the most hideous pit of hell!) seemed to take a ghoulish delight is seeing how deeply they could bruise my lower extremities, positively bouncing their leprous bodies against the back of their pestilential seats. The only form of defence is attack and this can only take the form of smashing the top of the seat in front back to an upward position (very difficult to accomplish without making it look like an open declaration of war) to using the knees to stop further incursions into your space (very difficult to accomplish without making the knee cap look like a rickets riddled wreck.)

The only solution is consideration, and, believe you me, that adjective was not one which sprang to mind when surveying the passengers of the flight that I was on. The behaviour of a group of repulsive females will have to wait for a later blog when I have recovered my self sufficiency and irony!

So, the delayed flight was a nightmare with no possibility of even a light snooze with the jitterbugging cretin in front of me. The horror reached its apogee with the announcement from the captain as we were reaching Bristol that there was a possibility that poor visibility would necessitate our landing in Cardiff. The irony of that, with our car in the Silver Car Park in Bristol, is too poignant to go into!

Luckily a safe Bristol landing and an uneventful (if tiring) drive to Cardiff; unpacking, washing started, a quick bath and bed for a few hours, soon made life worth living again. You’ll notice that I have not made any snide remarks about the twenty three degree difference in temperature between Gran Canaria and Bristol.

Some things are beyond irony!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Wot larks Pip Old Chap!


How neatly a cynic might look at a hotel buffet as a symbol for life: a seeming profusion of exciting elements soon reduced to tasteless monotony by familiarity.

Perhaps that is being a little harsh on the Hotel Neptuno buffet, but neither Toni nor I could distinguish by sight or taste the chopped fruit displayed so appetisingly to our view yesterday. We have begun, after a very few days, to pass slighting comments about the quality of the food. If we had been here for a fortnight then I am sure that we would have been eating in surrounding restaurants.

That about sums up our approach to the hotel in general: it promised more than it delivered, and it takes somewhat less than a week to discover this.

Last night we, eventually, went to the Yumbo Centre and had a glimpse of the entertainment on the centre stage. It did not look to be of the quality which would have made us regret our late arrival. We were just in time to hear a long legged nonentity sing a Madonna song badly. The seated audience were suitably restrained in their acknowledgement of her slightly desperate attempts to stir them into frantic expressions of delight.

We reeled away to have a drink in ‘Hummel Hummel’ which actually had people in it! From our previous visits (for silly old nostalgic reasons) we had spent our time consuming the drinks and wondering how the hell the place made a profit, and if it didn’t then just what was going on. We are ever of a suspicious turn of mind. But, that evening – full of people. When I say ‘people’ I mean that the tables were filled by what looked like a convention of ageing (perhaps retired) bank managers and accountants. I wonder what they told the folk back home about their holidays. The stared at their drinks and at each other in faint surprise which increased when they noticed the fairly unaccountant-like picture show at the back of the bar!

Our wander around after the first drink led us to a serene Liam, resplendent in a sheer blue gown outside ‘La Belles’. Our continuing circumperambulation of the Yumbo discovered to our bemused view all sorts and manner of folk. I wonder if their mummies knew what they were all up to. Hmm!

Indolence took away my determination to complete the blog yesterday and bed seemed the much more enticing possibility. And so it was.

Our morning cooking session was enlivened by Toni throwing himself into the foaming brine for the third (3rd) time this holiday, something of a record given the low temperature of the water! I shall say nothing of the lack of immediate facilities which prompt so many reluctant swimmers to embrace the waves!

Another excellent lunch which always throws into relief the rather lacklustre meals waiting for us at the hotel. This valedictory lunch was made especially poignant because of the location: a perfect view of the beach and the rolling waves and the sun, mother, the sun. I wondered why my usual depression at this stage of a holiday, to wit, the last day, was not so intense as usual. Then Toni said those immortal words that I have waited so long to hear, “At least you don’t have to go to work when you get back!” How right he is.

What I do have to go back to is the continuing situation with the house which does not get any better. I also have the never ending problem of my CRB. But with the CRB at least I have opened a file, which is a sure sign of things resolving themselves in my favour [see also: HSBC; Starlight Blinds; Insurance Companies; and other too numerous to mention] or at least giving me a moral victory.

When we finally arrived back at the hotel, we were just in time to see the Gay Pride Street Parade. This was scheduled to have finished at least an hour earlier, but you can just imagine the prissy fussiness of determined Queens at the start of the parade!

Well, it certainly didn’t give Rio a run for its money but there were a few moments of high camp visual fun. I was on a balcony three storeys up so my photos all have a slightly detached feeling but I’ll post some of them anyway. Never let it be said that cultural pursuits were ever far from my heart!

The fact that we have had an extra day in the hotel to compensate for the departure time of two o’clock in the morning has made all the difference. We have not had to leave the hotel by midday. We are at the moment shouting abuse at the television while watching the travesty of natural justice that is the Eurovision Song Contest. The Balkans and the unreal countries of Eastern Europe have hijacked the competition so that any country west of Austria will find it impossible to win. At present the poor old United Kingdom has obtained null points. We should, as a point of high policy at once leave this cosy little Eastern enclave of racial voting and establish a Eurovision Song Contest of the Real Countries where, with any real luck, someone will vote for us!

Such bitterness over something as pointless as a song contest is rather sad but I really do think that there is some sort of lesson to be drawn from this farrago of nonsense, but I am too depressed to bring it into print.

Roll on a two hour wait in the airport!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

But one doesn't do that!


I have reverted to childhood. I am peeling. How shaming. This is because of the British predilection to throw oneself at the sun at every opportunity. For too long, too soon. I fear that copious amounts of the magical Boots lotion for we devotees of helial overdose will prove to be ineffectual in this late state of epidermical abuse! Ah well, I will learn my lesson as I walk and slowly shed showers of dry skin in my wake. This is one time that we should listen to Australians. You don’t see that sentence printed very often do you?

The meal in Oscar’s was a chequered affair. The meal was substantial international cuisine and while I rather enjoyed the heavy handed approach to food, it wasn’t entirely to Toni’s taste. We made the fundamental mistake of assuming that the selection of starters would be fairly traditional; they weren’t. This was fine for me, but the extensive use of cheese meant that I had a rather liberal meal before my main course! It’s an ill wind etc.

After Oscar’s we went to Hollywood in the Yumbo Centre and had copious amount of alcohol which helped us to cope with the procession of humanity that minced, flounced, paraded, walked, ran, limped, sashayed, tottered, glared, argued, drank, minced and processed across our shocked vision. There is something about a gay of a certain age and the slightly too young clothes that he affects to wear that is infinitely almost depressing. But gentle ludicrousness adds to the joy of nations and it was a pleasant (sort of) time as the pasado passed.

This evening has the first of a series of free concerts in The Yumbo: one hopes for the worst!

Well, the concert has been dismissed in favour of ‘resting’ after a strenuous meal. We are beginning to perfect the practical ways to ‘rest.’ No holiday is complete without filling in your ‘I-spy’ book of resting. We have rested in hotels, cafes, swimming pools, pubs, beaches, the sea, restaurants and in our imaginations – we can do little more!

The story of the house continues to depress. I have virtually given up the real expectation that the present buyers will go through to completion. I suppose it is good for one to get the ‘dark night of the soul’ experience in house selling over and done with so that one may move on!

One can hardly wait to get back!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Bring on the bling!

At last I have succumbed to the prevailing cultural imperatives in Olde England (or at least Weary Wales) and decided to dip my elegant psyche in the dominant mode of dress of the majority of my fellow citizens and ‘bring on the bling.’

It is my accustomed pleasure to indulge one of my many passions by buying a ‘holiday watch.’ As the name suggests, this entails my spending a relatively small sum of money on a relatively vulgar timepiece, the outré nature of which is only allowable by the appellation of ‘holiday’ to it.

This vacation has been plagued with a veritable plethora of vulgarity in the form of watches that even I, in holiday mode, have baulked at the releasing of sums (however small) on the mind numbingly inept design which passes for fashion in the watch world nowadays.

Swatch (god bless it) has always produced a watch which passes all the tests that I apply to a possible candidate for purchase. They tick all the right boxes: luminous, second hand, numbers, day, and date, waterproof. This tick list can be thrown to the four winds if something of elegance and flair catches my fancy. Nothing, however, has rustled the money in my wallet, until today.

Our usual (late) departure for the playa was made even later by the hurried preparations for Toni’s birthday.

While he was in the shower I wrote his two cards, packed his smaller present and blew up a colourful selection of balloons emblazoned with the inscription of ‘Happy Birthday.’ I also placed two numerical candles of his age (ah! breathe it not in Garth!) on his pillow. My idea of having a cake brought into the restaurant with the two candles blazing flamboyantly on top of a birthday cake was just too over the top for my reticent Toni!

As usual, Toni had failed to put money on his mobile so that the massed family of Catalonia would not be able to get in touch with him on his special day. The failure of his mobile was only really apparent when we had taken a taxi to Maspalomas, and by this time the bling had been seen and seized by my good self, so I was in what might be described as a ‘mellow’ mood, so I was not averse to hunting through the telephone shops of the area to refresh the penurious state of his mobile. Which we did.

My bling however, refers to a watch. A watch of transcendent vulgarity - in a way. It is indeed a trusted Swatch, but a Swatch with leanings towards the gaudy. I see it as a metaphor for the way that modern day Switzerland is going. To the dogs I hope and trust, ‘cos, as is well known, you can never like or trust a neutral, especially a neutral with the chequered past of that unscrupulous country.

The watch is gold with a golden strap and a golden face. The golden face is set with sparkling diamond cut plastic at the hours and there are the usual three small dials that indicate figures which mean nothing to anybody. The hands are large and luminous and there is a sweep second hand. To counteract the voluptuous nature of this gleam of gold the watch itself is set in translucent plastic – just to keep the wearer in touch with reality!

It is large, vulgar fun and just the thing for a holiday timepiece. Toni is consumed with jealousy and barely content with his presents!

Tonight to Puerto Rico and Oscar’s for what I hope will be a suitably opulent meal for Toni’s birthday night.

With Jonathan as part of the party it is highly unlikely that my fingers will be dextrous enough to add further to this daily record, so make do with what you’ve got!

I’ll drink to your health! Salud!

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Sun, Sand and Gadgets!



[This is actually the blog for Monday the 7th May – practicalities of technology made accurate posting impossible.]

My snobbery level is now reaching critical mass.

Travelling with my fellow citizens from Bristol to Las Palmas tested my love of humanity (in the abstract) by forcing my attitude to be tested by practicalities of sitting behind a be-ringed, metallic yellow haired, stick thin, flesh showing laced leather trousers wearing seat lowerer. In a Thomson plane (aka ‘Sardine Travel’) the correct approach to transportation in the airborne cattle trucks is never (NEVER) recline your seat.

The lack of space for the passenger behind you in the upright seat position means that any deviation from the vertical delivers swift physical pain on important extremities of the unfortunate traveller behind you. The bleached bitch in front of me ignored this basic precept of international travel and attempted to deviate from the upright. She reckoned without my stalwart knees, which, in spite of severe punishment restrained her deviational activity and hopefully ruined her expected expansive pleasure based on the misery of the Forgotten One behind her.

I dwell on length on this ageing (no ageism implied) brazen bully because she was a representative of the folk travelling to Las Palmas. The bejewelled, ¾ length trouser wearing brigade (just that bit too old to get away with their clothing) were out in force and, instead of lurking in the shadows and shunning the gaze of reputable humans, they confronted respectability with their shrieking encomiums to drink. The female of the species, with the sort of smooth, flawless complexion which is not achieved without industrial depths of concrete like make up and cantilevered eyelashes which defy all known laws of physics, behaved with the vulgar abandon usually confined to the more ruthless gangs of hen party terrorists.

In spite of having been given numbered seats for the flight, as soon as the departure gate was announced the vulgar herd jumped to the gate like the French and waited in line to wait to board a but to wait to depart to wait to enter the plane to wait to get to their seats to wait for departure.

Were one a politician, then looking at experienced travellers acting like brainless lemmings might encourage policies which predicated a complete lack of belief in the intelligence of the electorate. Wait a minute, now hat I look aback over the last ten years I do believe that I can see something which . . . let it pass, let it pass!

As this was a flight to Las Palmas it would not have been complete without its quota of queens. There they were, pastiches of stereotypes with their skin tight tee shirts, plane enveloping attitudes and a playful disregard to the boringly straight rules of in-board behaviour.

Add to this melange of chav and queen a sprinkling of school age kids extracted from their schools to join their squalling baby siblings for a cheap family holiday and you have the ingredients for three and a half hours of simmering hell.

It was, therefore, no surprise that although we had an entire small coach to take us to the hotel the requested repast in our room after our epic flight was not there.

There is, however, a real advantage to having a hotel room next to the Yumbo Centre: food at all hours! We ventured out past fornicating couples to find a perfectly acceptable café inhabited only by two policemen with charmingly camp companions which served much needed sustenance to we weary travellers.

We did not get to bed much before five am but we were up with the (latish) larks to get down to the beach.

Kiosco siete seems to have migrated nearer to the lighthouse, which is a good thing, but my feet still hurt from the amount of walking that we have done today.

The weather is glorious, but the water glacial. It is my personal belief that the Gulf Stream has indeed stopped or reversed itself. I was forcibly reminded of a youthful holiday when, on a blazingly hot August day I flung myself into Lake Windermere and had the exhilarating (if life threatening) experience of having all the air punched out of your body by the sheer inhumanly impossible coldness of British water. If the water does not warm up by a factor of ten, then Toni is not going near the H2O for the rest of the holiday!

First reaction to the buffet in the hotel is positive, which is more than can be said for the sub standard of the furnishing of the rooms. However, far be it from me to be impetuous in my judgements! Let bile simmer and mature so that the killing blow is all the more gruesomely fatal!

It’s not much of a philosophy, but it works for me!

[This is the actual point at which the blog for Tuesday 8th May actually starts – blame the hotel for not having a hot spot.]

Service is restored! To all my unique reader I say do not loose faith when all it takes is vast sums of money to compensate for the cheap hotel’s lack of a ‘hot spot’ to find an entry to the internet.

I am, as you know, the last person in the world to resent having to lay out more than a fortnight’s largess when a Jobseeker just to stay in touch!

However the money is nothing when compared with the unending delight of being close to all of human knowledge via the net.

For example, when cooking on the beach this afternoon and reading with increasing disbelief ‘Lolita’ by Vladimir Nabokov, I was searching for the apposite word to describe Nabokov’s style and could only come up with the phrase ‘jewel like’ when I knew that there was a single word which I should have been thinking of. Kiosco Siete on Maspalomas beach has what one might refer to as distractions, but thank god for myopia which renders all surroundings pastel blurs and only the printed page remains in focus when in close proximity to the eyes. I was therefore able to concentrate with some intensity and muse, as the word did not ‘come’ on the difficulties ahead of me when trying to form a vocabulary in Spanish!

I tried the old trick of explaining my predicament to Toni in an attempt to force my memory to come up with the appropriate word. All that achieved was an ‘old fashioned’ look from the aforesaid person and no word emerging from the neurons in the grey matter.

Reading recommenced and the irritation of not remembering the bloody word highlighted each sentence and my irritation increased with the frustration of fading memory. So I gave up. And, by magic, the word ‘lapidary’ sprang, as ‘twere unbidden to my mind. And I think that means ‘jewel like’ and if it doesn’t then there is no hope for my learning another language if I can’t bring to mind such quotidian words as ‘lapidary.’

Anyway to the hotel is hand.

The Neptuno is supposed to be a four star hotel. The room is barely acceptable with air conditioning but no facilities for making tea and coffee! The balcony does look out over the pool but tangentially and we have a much better view of passers by in the Yumbo Centre staring at the loonies who would willingly patronise a hotel with such a view!

The food is good. The breakfast fare predictable but plentiful with the tea undrinkable. The selection of flavoured teas is inexplicably wide until you notice the vast number of Germans partaking of the unpalatable liquid horror that constitutes that heavenly beverage known as tea. I have yet to partake of a ‘commercial’ cup of tea worthy of the name. There is a certain about of missionary work to be done when I arrive!

I think it fair to leave a final judgement on the hotel until the end of the holiday.

Though I can feel my mind closing, even as I type.