Twelve Photos

How representative of the experiences of the last year can a collection of a dozen photos be?

I set a couple of rules.  One photo per month, to the best of my recollection, not previously used in this blog.

What sort of year can this have been….?

Click on a picture and you’ll see the full caption…. and the whole photo.

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The End of the Hiatus

You’ve probably noticed, I’ve had a little break since Christmas, a bit of a hiatus between post 699 and 700.  It wasn’t really a plan, but the result, probably, of feeling a little jaded and regrouping for a few days.  But as New Year relentlessly follows on from Christmas, we all have to face those dismal opportunities to reflect on the 12 months just about to finish, and feel the pressure to make something different happen for the coming 52 weeks.

I dislike the fakeness of it.  We can make a change, or remain the same on any day of the year, or at any moment during the day; instead of sitting wondering what to do next I could do something I’ve never done before now; I don’t  have to wait until an arbitrary moment as the page turns in a calendar.

There are many people who wonder that while I usually spend Christmas in Scotland, I very rarely spend Hogmanay there.  Isn’t Scotland the best place for New Year’s Eve? they ask, and I always have to say that I prefer not to.  It always feels like a rather forced celebration to me, and perhaps more significantly, it goes on for far to long.  I much prefer to go to bed at the usual time and then get up fresh and early the next morning.  Where’s the pleasure in being sleep deprived and a bit hungover after staying up longer than you really wanted to?

If pressed, I would say the New Year’s eves I remember best are the less elaborate ones, of going to a late afternoon showing at the cinema, a cup of tea with friends and then home before all the drunk people hit the streets, or the year I was sitting in my car in the tube station car park, listening to the radio as Big Ben struck midnight, waiting for a friend whose flight had been delayed, or the two years I went to Red Square in Moscow, because I could walk home afterwards, when the crowd started throwing fireworks and smashing shampanski bottles on the cobbles, or of being with friends having a nice dinner, glancing out of the window at the fire works in Prague or Edinburgh, raising a glass and then retiring to bed.

This year I shall be with friends, and I’m hoping for sun on January 1, as the South African amongst them is planning a brai.

Don’t be constrained by the conventional calendar constraints!

Happy Christmas

It's not too late for a Christmas tree photo, is it?  Inside The Dome, Edinburgh, January 2

I’m approaching the end of my second year of this blog, and this is post number 699, an otherwise insignificant number, but one as good as any other to remark upon.  It reflects that since I began on January 4, 2011, I’ve missed some days, but not many.

I’d like to thank you all for sharing the experience of reading and writing with me, and I hope that you will continue into the new year, with whatever that will bring for us.

In the meantime, I wish you all a very Happy Christmas, and I hope it brings you happiness, health and good company.

Surprise Visitors

IMG_1128When I was planning my drive north for Christmas, I predicated all my plans with a cautious ‘depending on the weather’, recalling a couple of years when the snow and ice blanketing the country had made my journeys stressful white knuckle rides, even though I had followed the prevailing recommendations and kept to main roads and stocked up with a blanket, a hot flask and a shovel.

As it has turned out, we are laughing at the thought that snow might be a bit of an inconvenience this year, as much of the country is drowning below unprecedented levels of rain and flood water.  But I’m well trained, so although the shovel was a little superfluous in these conditions, I did equip myself with more food than would be normally necessary for a single day, as well as my flask of hot water, just in case.

And how hideous it is to drive in torrential rain, across roads shimmering with surface water, beneath the wheels of lorries throwing up oily spray.  I was boss eyed by the time I had completed my journey, the thrum of the windscreen wipers on double speed echoing inside my head long after I had arrived.

The idea of some nice calm quiet snow is very appealing, and I remembered this morning at Wellspring House a couple of years ago.  A Big Storm had been threatening for a couple of days, and we had been tracking its course on the news and weather sites, hearing that Washington DC was to be closed down in anticipation of its arrival and feeling relieved that we didn’t have to go anywhere if we didn’t want to.  The snow fell during the early evening and through the night, and I had been woken in the small hours by grinding noises and flashing lights, which turned out to be a local man, gardener in the summer, snow shifter in the winter, clearing the main drive to the house.

And then when dawn came, the air was clear and very soon the sun emerged and illuminated the crunchy white landscape.  I took the photo before anyone came to spoil the smooth snow just outside the front door.  Soon the necessity of a walk or the building of a snowman, or the throwing of snowballs would churn up the surface, and overlay the animal prints with the cleats of sensible boots.

I’m no tracker, so I’ve no idea what sort of creatures these were which came up to the house after the snow stopped falling, nor what they were looking for, but I love how neat the tracks look, and  the fact that one of the animals came up the path rather than across the flower beds, and that they all seemed to approach the front door, albeit sideways.  Were they all there at the same time, I wonder?

But a few moments later, when the normal traffic of life resumed, all the traces were gone…..

A Little Bit of Festive

IMG_0016I thought you might like to see a slightly festive shot from the archive.   It’s in Iquitos in Peru, a town accessible at the time of my visit, by only either air or on the river.

I have no idea why there is a dolphin on top of the fountain, or indeed if it is a dolphin.  The Santa hat and scarf might be because it was November, but the idea of wearing a hat in such a hot humid place in the middle of a rainforest is a bit odd.

The ubiquity of the paraphernalia of northern cold climate Christmas iconography is very puzzling, isn’t it?  Why do you think that is?

A Touch of Humbug

There are news reports this week that retail receipts in the High Street, especially in London’s West End, are poor for the Christmas season, and that once again we may not have to wait until the new year for the sales and price reductions to entice us into further spending.

I’m not a big shopper; I regard it as a chore rather than a leisure activity, and the sight of rows and rows of merchandise usually sends me straight back out of the door heading for a coffee.  You’ll not be surprised to learn that I, along with many others I suspect, have been an enthusiastic user of the internet for unavoidable shopping.  I left a few Christmas things a bit too late for delivery, so yesterday I hazarded a trip into the West End for a precision strike on a couple of shops.

After years of working in the area, I know most of the routes around, and from point to point, avoiding any need to walk along the hideousness of Oxford Street.  First stop was Marks and Spencer.

There are some things which are guaranteed to annoy me, but which I seem generally to forget about in between times.  This might sound like quite a good thing; but it also means that when I inadvertently put myself in the way of them, they aggravate me even more, because I forgot about the need to avoid them.  The Marks and Spencer shoe department is one of those things.  I wandered in there because I need some new slippers, as my old ones were soaked and beyond recovery after my recent domestic plumbing drama.

But as soon as I found the slippers, there it was, that thing that drives me mad.  The shoes are arranged on shelving stands, the small shoes on the top shelf, where the short people with little feet have to stand on tippy toes to be able to see them, while the large shoes, generally worn by taller people, are on the bottom shelf, meaning that in order to see them I would have to get down on my hands and knees.

No sale there then, and I’ll continue to use my British Airways issue slip-ons until they completely disintegrate.

And so I went to have a few moments respite and a cup of tea, only to be confronted by another pet hate.  The man sitting behind me slurped his way through a box of food, his face barely six inches from the table, his elbows splayed wide on the table.

Bah.

‘Hawthorne & Child’ by Keith Ridgway – A Review

I got this book on the basis of a recommendation from Isabel Costello and her literary sofa, and after hearing the author read some extracts at an event a couple of weeks ago.  He read very well, in a beautifully mellifluous tone which accentuated both the pathos and humour in an extract about one character’s obsession with the death  of a racing driver and the evil of Tony Blair, and I wanted to know more.

So, what of the whole book?  Hawthorne and Child are a couple of police detectives apparently straight out of the central casting mould of buddy cops, different from each other, but complimentary, who’ve worked together so long, they know all of each others foibles.  We first meet them as they embark on the investigation of a random early morning drive by shooting in a street in north London.  A standard opening chapter for any detective novel, a murder, the preliminary gathering together of the obvious clues.  But that is the only thing about this book which resembles standard detective fiction.

We never return to this murder, as each subsequent chapter focusses on a different set of protagonists; sometimes Hawthorne and Child are central, sometimes peripheral.  It feels like a loosely connected collection of short stories, as there is no central narrative thrust which runs through the book.

Maybe it’s about the impossibility of always being able to know a complete narrative of anything in real life, and of turning on its head the expectation that a novel will present a coherent story arc, and the mystery of other people and their stories; or maybe it’s challenging us to try to make sense of the unrelated fragments, making us aware of our need to make up or complete partial stories.  Or maybe it’s all taking place in Child’s imagination.  I’m not sure, and I suspect that is at least part of the point.

The writing is very clever and beautifully done, with wonderful phrasing and rhythm which worked so well at the reading, and it is this which kept me going towards finishing the book.  The sense of place, of the peripheral areas of north London is also recognisable and fully realised; but I couldn’t help but feel a bit let down at the end when the book simply stopped.

The main gift it gave me was to make me think about what I find satisfying in a book; yes, it’s about language inventiveness, vocabulary and rhythm; and yes, it’s about place and rounded characterisation, but I also want narrative tension, because without that itch to know what will happen next, it is far too easy to put the book to one side and to read something else instead.  As with any collection of stories, I don’t think it would matter what order you read the chapters in Hawthorne & Child, as one does not follow on from the other; it’s just that together they build up a picture of time and place.

I might be imagining it, but is there a mini trend at the moment for books of loosely connected stories to be published as novels?  I’m thinking of  Girl Reading by Katie Ward, which I enjoyed, and A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan and The Slap by Christos Tsiolkos, neither of which I managed to finish.  Could this be because the commercial market for short fiction is so weak?  What do you think?

Delicate By Sunset

IMG_2732I’ve enjoyed reading the definitions of ‘delicate’, the photo prompt for this week especially after looking at the picture which accompanied the prompt itself, a particularly noxious looking combination of green leaves and pink grapefruit segments doused in oil; ‘delicate’ would have been the last word I would have used to describe it.  Maybe my understanding of the word diverges from the common usage…..

I am reassured that my Oxford English Dictionary has confirmed my view.  It is fine in texture, soft, slender, slight, of exquisite workmanship, and (of food) dainty and palatable, (or colour) subdued or subtle; easily injured, ticklish, deft and avoiding the offensive or immodest.

So, not a word easily associated with grapefruit under any circumstances.

So instead, I offer you seaside grasses by sunset.  They are soft and slender, so might qualify as delicate, even if they are not fragile, bending as they do to withstand the wind spreading their seed to continue for the next season.  It’s all in a delicate balance.

Conversation as Currency

There is an anecdote in Richard Ellman’s biography of Oscar Wilde which has been in my mind a fair bit recently; at least, I think that’s where I remember it from.  and even if the story isn’t true, or I have not recalled it correctly, it still has a peculiar and compelling relevance.

Graham Greene recalled meeting Oscar Wilde in Paris when Greene was a very young man and Wilde was near broken and in exile after his release from prison.  They spent a congenial time together in a café bar, and Greene was gratified, but very surprised, at how Wilde entertaining was, that such an eminent man would be so gracious and engaging in conversation with young strangers; until he realised that Wilde was paying for the drinks Greene bought him in conversation, the only currency at his disposal.

A fair exchange.

Framing

IMG_2914Very pleased yesterday to have collected my newly framed limited edition Gillian Holding print from the framing shop.

I spent a long time choosing the frame, trying to decide between a bright contrasting elaborate designs of various colours and something plainer, simpler and less showy.  I’m pleased with the simple gold look.

The man on duty when I collected it couldn’t stop himself from commenting on the colour of the hair, not particularly favourably.  I told him that was the thing I liked most about it.

I’m pleased that the glass provides the reflective surface of the original work which is covered with a layer of shiny resin; and there I am in the shadows taking the photograph.

Now I’ve just to select the perfect place to hang it…..

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