Monday, April 18, 2016

There And Back Again - again

Going back to Britain is not the same as it once was.  I suppose that is a truism as, how could it be when I have spent the majority of the past few years outside the country of my birth.
     It used to be that I felt a certain amount of excitement to ‘go home’ because of the people I knew I’d meet; the places I would be able to revisit; the shops that I miss so much, and the culture that used to be an important part of my life there.  All of those things are still reasons to enjoy my return.  But it is not the same.
     I know that it’s a cliché, but the bloody weather really does get me down.  I mean, it rains here in Spain and we have cloud and the winter is cold and it can be very windy.  But, and it is a very big ‘but’, on most days you get to see the sun.  It may not be very strong, and you may not see it for very long, but you do see it.  And that is important.  Very important.
     I have not had the courage to check the weather forecast for Cardiff for the next few days.  It may be that the weather will be a delightful surprise for me and I will relish it all the more for being unexpected.  If it’s what I fear, then friends and culture and shops will have to do.  And ‘do’ they will.

I think that I have left it far too late to trawl through the libraries in Cardiff in the hope that some institution will have the obscure journal, or at least the obscure article that I am finding so elusive at the moment.  This is for my ‘research’ for my final piece of work in my Open University degree.  

So, if you know of anywhere, or indeed if you happen to have a complete run of the Gazette des Beaux-Arts going back to 1982, then do let me know.  The article I am interested in is by A. S. Fuchs, and is snappily titled, “The Virgin of the Councillors by Lluís Dalmau (1443-1445): The Contract and its Eyckian Execution.”  It’s in volume 99 and on pages 45-54 – nine pages of what I am convinced will be eminently quotable stuff for me to us.  Just if I can get my eyes on it.  I live in hope!

Well, the above was written days ago, just before I actually went to Cardiff.  Why, you may ask, have I written nothing since, while I was there?
            Good question.  To which the answer is capitalism.
            Let me explain.  In this modern world of ours, the Internet is not a luxury reserved for technology geeks – at least not entirely – but is something that all of us build our lives around.  Probably we do this to the extent that we don’t actually think very much about the Internet, we just use it.  Which is fine and dandy, until you find that you do not have access.  Which is were capitalism comes in.
            The hotel group I was using has the phrase “Wi-Fi throughout the hotel” in a massive banner outside the building.  And, indeed it does.  

What is not made clear is that you have to pay for it.  A disgrace, but there you are.  Nothing is for nothing in this harsh world (unless of course, you are a banker or developer or a member of the Conservative Party) and if you want ‘it’ you have to pay for it.  Which I duly did.
            And still couldn’t get access to my blogspace.  I even wrote a daily screed and then spent fruitless moments (I am a hasty sort of person) trying vainly to get the thing to upload.  But it didn’t and so I am now returned with little in the way of literary effusion to show for my short stay in Cardiff.  So I will summarize.

I arrived on Wednesday afternoon and immediately went to the branch of Lidl which was at the end of the road on which the hotel was situated.  And got something of a shock.  The same sort of shock I had when I went into the London, Kensington branch of Tesco and discovered that there was a whole range of foodstuff set out temptingly for me on the shelves that had never been seen in the Tesco in St Mellons.  I suppose you have to have some knowledge of Cardiff and its suburbs to grasp the distance between the social aspirations of Kensington and those of new St Mellons, but take it from one who knows – they’re vast!  So, in much the same way, I was interested in the differences there were between the Welsh and the Catalan take on what a consumer would want.
            Much of the stuff was common, but it was in the details that the differences became clear.  Suffice to say that I took a half-price bottle of 20 year-old Tawny Port to my friends’ house that evening.
            Where, it turned out, I was not expected until the following night!  However that merely meant that I had two evenings with my friends rather than one!

The next day was largely taken up with the funeral of my aunt, which was the reason that I had come to Cardiff in the first place.  This went well, if you can say that about funerals, and it was good to see members of my family.
            My Friends Part II – Now It’s Dinner Time, made a good end to the day with much talk, excellent food and a small glass of Tawny Port with some delicious and creamy Stilton cheese.

The next days were taken up with visits, including one to my last remaining representative of my parents’ generation: my father’s younger sister, my aunt.  Although she is not at all well, it was an excellent visit and one of her comments stayed with me so clearly that I wrote a poem about it. 
            If you wish to read that, or any other of the drafts of a range of poems that I have written, please go to

When I attempted to go to the local leisure centre for a swim, a clearly embarrassed lady asked for my age and, on being given it, announced triumphantly that I could swim for nothing!  As I have previously made slighting remarks about the impossibility of getting anything for nothing, I can only excuse such blatant hypocrisy by stating that I had paid Cardiff Council Tax (and all its other manifestations) for decades before moving to Spain, so I feel that the council has been richly repaid for their moment of generosity.  For which, by the way I am sincerely grateful!

Shops, friends and restaurants filled up other time, but I did make space for one visit that I had prepared for: a trip to the National Museum of Wales to see, once again, the Rembrandt portrait.  This painting had been on loan to the museum, then it was taken back, eventually sold and appeared to be out of reach.  But, the new owner (having paid thirty-five million quid for it) decided to loan it to the museum for three years.  It had to be seen, and I envisaged a sequence of three poem connected to its being viewed.  The first one has been written, the second in lying in notes in my notebook and the third is just a hazy idea at the moment.

            The portrait of Catrina Hoghsaet is a brilliant work and, considering how much Gareth Bale cost Real Madrid, seems something of a bargain – given that Bale is just going to decline and be finished in his career in a few years, whereas the Rembrandt (with careful conservation) will last into the next centuries.  Anyway, this writing is partly displacement activity to avoid the start of the work that will bring the other two poems into existence.

It only remains to say that on the flight to and from Cardiff, I was able, at no further cost, to get a seat by the emergency exit and so my legs were able to breathe!

Home in Castelldefels and I have decreed summer.  I rode back from the swimming pool this morning without wearing my thin coat; I have given up the undershirt; I am wearing shorts and I had a café con hielo – all of that for me, is like hearing the first cuckoo of spring, but for summer, if you see what I mean.  The next step is swimming in the sea.

And that might take a while!


Tuesday, April 12, 2016

How to fill time when you are really trying

There was a time when, if I had to wait for something, I would have a book with me and I would read.  It’s not rocket science.  A simple activity with built in cultural kudos.  But now.  Now things are different.

Having forgotten about the service for my car once, I took extreme measures (well I set the alarm) to make sure that I took the thing this time.  A very discrete alarm did go off and I found myself up and doing with enough time not to complete the quick crossword in the Guardian.

And now, I am stuck in Gava for two and a half hours while my car is done.

Luckily, there is a major shopping centre within walking distance of the garage where my car is being done and you would have thought that somebody with the mother-shopping training that I have had would find it easy to wander around picking up spoons that I have not intention of buying and ogling the piece of technology that I have to stop myself buying.  But no, shops are not enough!

I never thought that the day would dawn when I said something like that last statement.  My mother must feel that all her schemes of getting me to like shopping as much as my father hated it – like always meeting me in the Wedgewood Room of Howells and then asking my opinion on various suites of glass and china – have come to nothing!  That a child of hers could possibly find shops boring, or at least inadequate!  The shame of it.

But I came prepared.  No books: but a smartphone, iPad and MacBook Air.  Now you might feel that there comes a point where one is a little over-technified for a wait which is of such a short duration.  But I have been sitting here for at least three hours and only 40 mins have gone by!  So I have decided to write.

I do feel a little ostentatious sitting in the walkway, promenade, paseo, concourse (I knew the word would come to me if I exhausted all the other synonyms) but not as ostentatious as I would have felt a few years ago.  After all, how long have portable computers, the laptop (an apt description at the moment because all I have is a chair and no table) been with us.  A frighteningly short period of time for the universal adoption.  Now it is an everyday sight to see people tapping away in all of the most odd places.  And so am I.

Yet more time has gone by and I am still more than an hour and a half away from the car being ready.  I know that I should be reading, but I feel like being a little more active and so I am typing.  Though whether this is a more productive activity is moot!

Talking of activity, I am now going through the oh-god-what-have-I-left-out-of-the-essayI-have-just-sent-in syndrome, which is normal and natural for all students of the Open University once the TMA has been thrown (electronically) at the tutor.

There is a sense of melancholy loss on the forums, where people who have been working at their degrees for umpteen years now realise that they have completed their last tutor essay and that in a matter of months their years of study will be at an end.  A degree certificate is poor recompense for the loss of the welcome stress that doing a degree at a distance gives you.  Rather than being gleeful that the end result is within reach, people are sad that one of the ways in which they have regulated their lives will be taken away.  As I have been ‘doing’ my degree since the 1970s (admittedly there is a thirty year gap in my study!) I am in a different sort of position, but I do agree that it is a very odd feeling.

And I have to start packing!

The day after tomorrow I am going to Cardiff.  An aunt of mine has died and I am going to the funeral.  It is a melancholy thought that, of all my uncles and aunts there is now only one left.  It does remind you that my generation is the next in line!  These occasions are virtually the only time that I get to see any members of my family – but that comes with living abroad.

I hate packing with a totally unreasonably high level of detestation.  This time I don’t even have to do that much, but, however small the effort – I resent it.  And the suit.  My all-purpose suit is not as smart as it once was and so as fitting, in all senses of the word.  I might attempt to buy a new suit when I am in the UK as clothing is usually cheaper there than it is here, but alas, I am no long an off-the-peg size and so I have to factor in adjustments and I’m sure that those can not be done in the limited time that I am there.  But, I have plans and it will be interesting to see if they come to anything like fruition! 

It’s at times like these that I think of Paul Squared who has probably already packed his case for his holiday in May.  Try as I might I can imagine no change to my essential character that would allow me even to consider doing something like that

There is now an hour to go before my car is supposed to be ready.  I wish I could believe that it will be waiting for me when I return to the garage, but past experience does not make me feel jocose.

Well time for a wander.  Tea, shops, lottery ticket and toilet.  That should take up some time!

Sunday, April 10, 2016

It all comes back to education!

There are always choices to be made in writing.  One of them is ‘topic’.  What do you choose to write about?

I have a couple of options.  The first would be the fact that I am, at present, eating my way through the most delicious raw cauliflower that I have ever tasted.  I bought it in Aldi, mainly I have to admit, because it was small and would therefore be consumed before I left for the UK on Wednesday.  I brought it home, cut off the stalks and broke the head down into bite-sized florets.  And I ate one.  A revelation!  I have always liked raw vegetables, but this lowly cauliflower took crudité to new levels of lusciousness.  And the cauliflower was something that I wouldn’t even consider eating when I was young.  Though that was always when it was cooked, after suffering the disgusting smell that accompanied its production.  And, though I don’t hold it against her (why should I, I never ate any of it) my mother boiled cauliflower until it was soft and always added a pinch of bicarb. to do . . . what?  Precisely?  Take away all of the vitamin content!  But even then, I loved to eat cauliflower raw.  For me, cooking al dente was perfection: an amalgam of the rawness that I loved with the fact that it was technically ‘cooked’!  Perfect.  Even my mum began to cook things al dente.  Who could ask for more?

Or I could talk about the article that I read in the digital edition of the Guardian that allowed survivors of religious extreme cults who had lost their faith to tell we readers how they now viewed the world – and the world that they had lost.  And that got me thinking about my own lost faith.

I don’t think, to be fair that ‘lapsed Anglican’ is ever going to raise enough interest to get the Guardian to open its pages to the searing stories of how, having lost their faith, the ex-Anglican were treated so very . . . um . . . reasonably by those who kept theirs!

Lapsed Anglicans do not write revealing fiction about how they trail guilt feelings instilled in them by fanatical Church in Wales preachers who . . . it simply isn’t like that.

One Anglican bishop to whom I explained that I was an “Anglican atheist” said, “Yes, well, there are a lot of you around!”  Not really the stuff that produces hard-hitting revelations about how the ingrained guilt of Anglicanism haunted me throughout my non-Anglican life!

Through Holy Week this year, I used the period as a time to write a poem for each day.  Not necessarily an overtly religious poem, but a poem, nevertheless, influenced in some ways by the week that I was in.  I did the same thing last year and I found the process strangely rewarding.

I have now published a very slim volume of nine poems: I count Holy Week as starting on Palm Sunday and I wrote two poems for Easter Sunday, hence the number.  The titles are: Assumption, Dress, Anticipation, Daddy Agonistes, Penultimate, Locked, Waiting, Set up and Offer.  There is a sort of poem in the succession of titles, but let it pass – I’ve ‘written’ two ‘found’ poems recently and that is more than enough!

My point, which I haven’t made, is that I get a great deal of satisfaction out of writing poems at such a time.  Whether there is the same satisfaction in reading them only time and an audience will tell!  But there is something produced and that gives me pleasure.

But there is an internal on-going conversation with myself about why I should find this week significant and why I should bother writing poetry during it.  The poems themselves, only go so far in getting towards an explanation.

There is a simple explanation of course, and that is that I am still basically an Anglican at heart, and the loose chains of a liberal faith are, in their way, even more difficult to break than those of a much more authoritarian one.  And that one day I will ‘return to the faith’ – indeed one of my friends tells me this with that voice of weary resignation that suggests that it is so obvious that it need not be stressed.  I think he’s wrong, but, time will tell.

So, on balance, I don’t think that I will write about cauliflower or faith – I will write about the Open University.

Today, I finished writing the last Tutor Marked Assignment that I needed to do in the last course of my degree.  Admittedly I now have to complete the long essay that accounts for 50% of the marks, but my last TMA has been written.

And perhaps I am still writing about cauliflowers and faith, because the Open University is an addictive sort of institution, with zealous (I use the word advisedly) adherents who suck knowledge out of courses with the same fanaticism with which I ate the vegetable.  Two people have already said to me, when I told them that I was getting towards the final end of my degree, “Of course, you’ll do another, won’t you?”

And, do you know, I just might!