Random Musings: A year ago this weekend

A year ago this weekend husband and I travelled to Cardiff on a planned city break. Our younger son was at university there and we looked forward to spending time with him and continuing our exploration of the city. We had booked tables at restaurants to take him out for good feeds. We also packed running gear to enable us to take part in the Bute Parkrun on Saturday morning. For reasons financially careful husband would justify, we went by train rather than driving.

Rumours were circulating in the media of some sort of proposed lockdown – whatever that meant – in response to a virus spreading from China. When our son told us a day or so before the weekend that he was feeling under the weather we decided to bring mostly empty suitcases that he could pack what he needed for exam preparation, returning home with us for an extended Easter break. I did not like the thought of him struck down in his halls of residence, alone and unwell. Husband and I had both recently suffered a particularly nasty flu that left a lingering cough it took weeks to shake. We didn’t want our son suffering as we had without support.

The weekend did not go as planned.

Eating out on the Friday night we learned that all restaurants in the city were being closed down, effective immediately. Staff at the Bella Italia we had booked – mostly empty which was highly unusual – had been invited to help themselves to perishables from the kitchen, that would otherwise go to waste. Already the impact of fearmongering could be felt in the emptying streets that were usually thronging with loudly partying tourists.

We learned the next morning that all Parkruns had been cancelled. We ran in Bute Park anyway and were amazed by how empty everywhere felt. Streets were devoid of people. There was little sign of traffic. Our hotel was the only place that would feed us on the Saturday. Our son walked back to his halls that night through a city that had unexpectedly grown feral. For the first time he reported feeling unsafe, the homeless the only others around and they actively shouting abuse as he passed by.

It was a sunny weekend so we had walked down to the harbour area where families were enjoying the spring air. It was the city centre that felt eerie, the few people around scurrying from proximity.

We packed our son’s essentials on the Sunday, leaving his room ready for his return. Since then he has been back to Cardiff just for an afternoon, last September, to move his remaining belongings to the room booked for the next academic year. Foolishly, we believed the assurances that teaching would be happening in person rather than remotely. It didn’t happen and his rented room has served only as an expensive storage facility. Nevertheless, when the media reports of students confined to halls aired, we were grateful he remained here with us.

On the weekend of our escape – for that was how it felt at the time – we boarded a mostly empty train to Bristol encumbered by our many bags and suitcases. From there we learned that trains were being cancelled without notice, including our connection. We watched the ever changing departure boards carefully and decided to catch a train to Swindon from where we could get a bus home if necessary – assuming they were still running. In the event our daughter, who had travelled from London the day before, was able to come rescue us in my car.

And lockdown began. The reports from around the country made me thankful my little family had made it home where we could be together. I felt comforted that we had each other and lived in a rural location.

There were initial benefits. The roads emptied. The skies cleared of contrails. The weather stayed mostly fine. I own a bike and was able to enjoy long cycle rides along routes normally besieged by fast moving motor traffic. I ran regularly and built up my stamina to tackle lonely half marathons. We have long had our grocery shopping delivered and this continued, albeit with regular replacements of certain staple goods that caused more amusement than hardship. We were lucky.

The months dragged on. The lifting of the first lockdown was not a return to freedoms we had never before considered at risk. We ate out twice before deciding being treated as a biohazard spoiled the experience. I discovered that wearing a mask brought on panic attacks. I carry a lanyard announcing my exemption but being unable to read others’ expressions upsets me. The only place I felt welcome – until it was closed again – was the town gym I joined when my local facility introduced measures that made attendance unappealing.

I look back on how life has changed. With travel curtailed it feels as though we have gone back a century. It seems only the very wealthy leave their home environs – that they may still travel abroad with impunity. Meanwhile husband’s car is taken out only occasionally to ensure it still functions. We venture as far as leg power can take us.

I worry at the legal powers given to the police to ensure compliance. I wonder if these measures will be revoked when – if – we are allowed to roam free again. The latest pressures coming from on high revolve around the new vaccines. With threats of travel bans for the non compliant, and eternal mask wearing, I harbour a fear that last year’s trip to Cardiff may have been my last holiday, my last enjoyable visit to a restaurant.

The death toll has, of course, been high. On a personal level this plague brought forward the deaths of my elderly parents. What cannot yet be enumerated is the ongoing cost to the many who, for now, remain alive.

Jobs have been lost and others created – not necessarily in chosen specialisms. Fear has polarised opinion, at times dividing family and friends. Unable to get together as previously, mental health issues are exacerbated. With healthcare focusing on Covid, other potential illnesses – some of which will bring forward deaths – have gone untreated.

Husband works from home now, something he railed against at first, missing the office camaraderie. We get used to so much when choice is removed. We adapt as best we can.

I read of rats invading empty office spaces. I read of scams being run by those eager to profit from others’ fear. I hunker down and nurse the injuries my body suffers, probably from over exercise – my way of coping with anxiety induced by so many changes. I watch more TV now than I could ever have imagined – a way to fill a dark evening. As one who lived by the mantra of making the most of every day as it could be my last, this past year feels a waste of what is limited time alive.

Only hindsight will tell if the reaction to Covid has been as cataclysmic as it sometimes feels.

I wanted a memento of the year. To forget is to lose the chance to learn. I chose a book – no surprise there – and was also gifted a furry companion. My cuddly plague nurse, pictured below, never fails to make me smile.

My review of the book, Spring Journal by Jonathan Gibbs, will be posted tomorrow. For now we continue this stymied existence through strange and concerning times.

Book Review: Coasting

Coasting, by Jonathan Raban, was first published in 1986. This edition is from Eland who tell us, ‘For the price of a good bottle of wine our travel books offer inspiration for passionate exploration – in the company of authors who really know, and who know how to tell it.’ The author of this book is pleasingly self-deprecating without sacrificing his obvious abilities. The tale he tells is of its time and place yet offers wider understanding of the psyche of the British. This should be essential reading for those who cannot comprehend why Brexit happened – who talk of lies believed as if those who disagree with their point of view are somehow lacking in cognitive ability, who rail against politicians without digging deeper to understand what matters to those who vote for them.

On April Fool’s Day, 1982, Jonathan Raban set sail from Fowey in Cornwall to circumnavigate the British Isles in a two-mast sailing boat kitted out as a one-man floating home. Travelling widdershins, his plan was to stay close to shore, stopping off regularly to meet with locals and gain a feel for the places where they lived – research for the book he was planning. He had never before taken charge of a boat. A retired naval commander spent a fortnight teaching him the basics. The rest he learned from books and then experience.

The journey ended up lasting four years – four circuits. Ashore, the media were covering: the Falkland’s War, the Miner’s Strike, Diana fever. Many of the British people he encountered had more prosaic concerns. Unemployment was rife, traditional jobs disappearing taking with them a way of life generations in the making. In their place came tourism – Britain as a theme park for increasing numbers of foreign visitors. Opportunities were in service rather than manufacture.

The author is the son of a war veteran turned CofE clergyman. He was educated at the same minor, public school as his father – an inexplicable parental decision given what he had to endure there. Coasting is as much memoir as travel journal. The personal reminiscences are skillfully woven into the stories of storms at sea and encounters on shore. There are also pleasing asides detailing other gentlemen’s sailing adventures over several centuries. Raban is far from the first to have decided time at sea would offer a welcome escape from a life stifled by the practical demands of finance and family.

There is much humour but also insight on offer. The writing is well balanced between details of shore time adventures and the challenges of life at sea. Raban comes to view familiar places through the lens of a tourist, albeit one who wishes to delve beneath the surface of photographic memory making. It is the views of the locals that interest him along with his own reactions to their insularity.

Evocative and entertaining, this is travel memoir that peels back the veneer of Britain to expose the preoccupations of its people. Although evaluative it is written with understanding and generosity. A reminder that change is inevitable but will likely be railed against. An engaging and recommended read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Eland.

Book Review: The Alchemist

The Alchemist: A Fable About Following Your Dream, by Paul Coelho (translator not credited), tells the story of a young shepherd who consults a gypsy and then meets an enigmatic king. The boy is encouraged to follow his dream which involves abandoning his nomadic existence in Andalusia and seeking treasure at the Egyptian pyramids. Along the way he is robbed and beaten. He must find work if he is to continue his journey. He opens himself to the possibility of omens and must decide when to share what he learns from these.

The boy recognises that he must choose between regarding himself as a victim or an adventurer. Although looking to his future, to fulfilling his quest, the importance of living in the present is often reiterated. The boy learns from every experience, including that a universal language exists to enable deeper understanding of self, other people and place.

The fable-like narrative is spiritual but not favouring any particular religion. Rather it encourages the reader to take time to observe surroundings and engage with nature.

I was somewhat put off the story by the buried treasure aspect – despite the obvious metaphor – and the repeated references to God. I enjoyed the appreciation of nature and the boy’s acceptance of setbacks – how he reasoned in order to find ways to continue. The story of his journey, personal and practical, is a device to pass on the author’s perceived wisdom. I wonder if he regards himself as the titular alchemist.

This wasn’t the tale I expected when I requested the book based on its many rave reviews. Although offering occasional nuggets of wisdom, I found progress slow in places. Evocative and smoothly written as it is, I am reluctant to recommend.

The Alchemist is published by Harper Collins.  

Monthly Roundup – May 2019

May turned into a month of short breaks away from home as my husband had an unanticipated four week lull between work contracts. We made the most of his free time to book some last minute holidays. Thus I have done a great deal of walking but not so much reading.

I posted reviews of thirteen books over the course of the month: eleven fiction (one translated), a poetry collection, and one non fiction title. I attended no literary events.

As a break from bookish posts I wrote about my trip to Wales and the hotel we stayed in.


Random Musings: Wanders in Wales

For anyone interested, my short breaks in London, Edinburgh and Appleby are recorded in pictures on my Instagram.

In anticipation of the trip to Edinburgh – planned as my elder son’s uni accommodation needed to be cleared for the summer – I read a book set in the city that has been lingering on my vast TBR pile.


In the Blink of an Eye by Ali Bacon, published by the Linen Press

I also read two other books I have been meaning to get to for some time. I feel privileged to be sent so many titles ahead of publication but this does lead to a situation where picking up books I have purchased feels almost like an act of subversion.

 

The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau by Graeme Macrae Burnet, published by Contraband
The Accident on the A35 by Graeme Macrae Burnet, published by Contraband

I reviewed a double bill of fabulous fiction from Salt Publishing – both of these titles are well worth checking out.

 
Haverscroft by S.A. Harris, published by Salt
Good Day? by Vesna Main, published by Salt

Two heavily promoted titles from the bigger publishers were enjoyed – Tiger more than Plume. I suspect Plume will appeal more to the author’s demographic; certainly it is getting column inches in the mainstream media.


Plume by Will Wiles, published by 4th Estate
Tiger by Polly Clark, published by riverrun

I highly recommend both of the following titles from smaller publishers.

 
A Devil Comes to Town by Paolo Maurensig (translated by Anne Milano Appel), published by World Editions
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, published by Granta

I reviewed one non fiction title which led me to respect hardworking midwives, and all on the NHS frontline, even more.


Hard Pushed: A Midwife’s Story by Leah Hazard, published by Hutchinson

I posted three reviews originally written for Bookmunch

   

Being Various, New Irish Short Stories edited by Lucy Caldwell, published by Faber & Faber
You Will Be Safe Here by Damian Barr, published by Bloomsbury


The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus, published by Penned in the Margins

Finally, I updated my post on Literary podcasts to include those I regularly enjoy listening to when working out at the gym.

As ever I wish to thank the publishers who send me their titles to review – the arrival of a book parcel makes my day.

My thanks also to those who share my words across their social media platforms. Your support is always appreciated.

Book Review: Not Quite Lost

Not Quite Lost, by Roz Morris, is a travel diary written with an underlying sense of fun. Each of the places the author visits is recounted as a series of anecdotes such as one might share with a friend on a night out. It is a wryly humorous account of the author’s travels, mainly in the UK out of season. She is drawn to places with a quiet history, which she seeks out and shares. The stories are packed with an eye for the unusual in people and place. What could be seen as an unpleasant walk, a challenging drive or disappointing accommodation, becomes an adventure when viewed through her droll and enquiring lens.

The book opens with news of a demolished childhood home, which leads to an on line journey back into Morris’s own history. She investigates the property’s provenance and recalls her personal experiences as a resident. This sets the tone for many of the following tales. Wherever she stays, even if only for a few days, she wishes to understand the background to her surroundings, and how it came to be whatever it is today.

There are a few journeys abroad: to Paris where the language barrier renders her and her typically voluble partner mute; to Mexico where they get married without understanding a word that is being said; and to Italy where she experiences an earthquake whilst in the company of friends. These stories have been honed in the telling, affecting experiences turned into entertaining tales.

Travels around England are less traumatic but no less engaging. Some of the adventures occur due to a reliance on public transport, others are set later after a car has been acquired. This freedom to travel anywhere, and to stop at will, provides a new set of challenges and ensuing escapades. These are exacerbated when a Satnav takes them on routes best avoided by a not fully confident driver.

Encounters with tour guides, locals and other tourists provide snapshots of stories whose end the reader is left to ponder. The author prefers roads less travelled and observes the surrounding scattered history as she passes through. She recounts incidents that defy explanation, the strangeness of people and their predilections. The cryonicists of East Sussex were particularly weird.

Morris is a successful ghost writer seeking new experiences. One of these occurred when she successfully auditioned as a dancer for a commercial. Although challenging it proved that she could rise above her self imposed limitations. This inspired her to write more under her own name.

The final chapter details the places the author stayed in each of the tales recounted. Given the stories she has told the appeal of these is somewhat dubious. What is clear though is the fun to be had when determined to seek out possibilities. I laughed out loud many times while reading these recollections, and now look forward to enjoying my own next adventure armed with a fresh perspective.

Stories from Paris – Guest Post by Alex Christofi

Today I am delighted to welcome Alex Christofi to my blog. Alex’s first novel, Glass (which I review here), was longlisted for the Desmond Elliot Prize and won the Betty Trask Prize. His follow up, Let Us Be True, was published this week (my review is here). In this guest post he shares his thoughts on five real places from the book, and the stories from them that he had to include.

 

While researching my new novel, Let Us Be True, I became fascinated by the history of Paris. Wherever I looked, there were incredible stories to be found, of pioneering gardeners, hidden wine cellars, put-upon architects and bloody clashes in the streets. A few of these stories I couldn’t let go, and they made it into the novel: here are my five favourites.

1 – The Tour d’Argent

Overhead, the clouds bruised and cracked. There was a brief flash of lightning, the thunder inaudible behind the glass. He was in the world’s oldest restaurant, eating duck with a stranger who had just punched him in the head.

This Michelin-starred restaurant lays claim to being the oldest restaurant in the world, purportedly founded in 1582. Their speciality is the pressed duck, which was traditionally eight weeks old, fattened for fifteen days and then strangled, to retain the blood. The wine list is also 400 pages long. It has a great literary heritage, having been referenced not only by Marcel Proust and Ernest Hemingway, but also the 2007 Pixar animated adventure Ratatouille.

2 – Nanterre

Ralf followed the road, hoping to ask someone for directions. Next to the cleared land of the building site was an improvised town, laid out in rows to give the impression of planning, of order – a place where great pride and care presided over mud and scrap metal.

Nanterre is a fascinating place, though a little off the tourist beat. Once an improvised slum (a bidonville or ‘jerrycan town’) housing poor Algerian immigrants, who sometimes found it difficult to rent in the city either because of the cost or because of the prejudices of
landlords, the University of Paris bought a site there and built a huge brutalist campus, a little like the Barbican, but uglier and easier to navigate. The Nanterre campus would be one of the epicentres of the 1968 student protests, which spread and developed over the course of the spring into full blown riots and a general strike, bringing the whole country to a halt.

3 – The Tuileries

‘You know what they do to silk moths?’ said Elsa. ‘They boil them alive and unravel the whole cocoon using tiny looms.’
‘I didn’t know that.’
‘No. All sorts of things have happened here. I think it’s untoward for a garden to have so much history.’

The Tuileries in the centre of the city might look like an oasis of calm, but they are probably the most eventful gardens in the world. Named after the roof tilers that used to work there before Catherine de Medici bought the land, the garden was the site of the one of the first hot air balloon flights. At one point, they were vast royal gardens, and the head gardener decided to grow mulberry trees to foster a domestic silk industry there. Robespierre had a weird secular festival there, burning mannequins that represented an idiosyncratic group of sins (one of them was ‘False Simplicity’). It was a Russian garrison after the fall of Napoleon, and was also, at one point, used to store artwork looted by the Nazis – a Monet was seriously damaged in a shootout during the liberation.

4 – the Pont Saint-Michel

A police van pulled up at the far end of the bridge, and another on their side, at the entrance to Saint-Michel Métro.

An innocuous bridge metres from some of Paris’s tourist hotspots, the Pont Saint-Michel was the site of a terrible massacre of peaceful protesters by the police. On 17 October 1961, men, women and children were peacefully protesting against the curfew that had been set for all Muslim citizens. The Algerian War had been going on for years, with atrocious violence on both sides, and trust between communities was at a nadir. Unfortunately, a sub-section of the police were right-wing nationalists – in fact, the head of police at the time was Maurice Papon, who had collaborated with the Nazis during the war to deport Jews. The police violently suppressed the protest, beating people with long white batons and throwing them off the bridge into the Seine. There is no official death toll, but estimates are in the dozens.

5 – the Tour Eiffel

He looked out at the city. The sun backlit the dark clouds in chiaroscuro and for a moment broke through, catching each drop of rain so that the sunlight fell not just on surfaces but everywhere at once, manifested endlessly through the air.

The Eiffel Tower had to turn up at some point, didn’t it? You can’t visit the city without the tower peeking through the gaps between buildings, especially now that it’s equipped with that bizarre light which seems to have been inspired by the Eye of Sauron. Paris is unimaginable without it, but when it was built, poor Gustave Eiffel was the most hated architect in France. In 1887, a group of writers and artists clubbed together to petition against it, competing to see who could hurl the best insult (my personal favourites are ‘tragic street lamp’ and ‘barbarous mass overwhelming and humiliating all our monuments and belittling our works of architecture’). How times change.

 

This post is a stop on the Let Us Be True Blog Tour. Do check out the other blogs taking part, detailed below.

Let Us Be True is published by Serpent’s Tail and is available to buy now.

A Bookish Tour of London

I wrote the following article for Structo Magazine as a contribution to their ‘tour’ series. After some consideration the editors decided it did not fit with their ethos: “Structo is dedicated to small independent presses, works in translation and writing that may not always be covered elsewhere.” I  support this ethos and hope to write for Structo in the future. In the meantime, I post my article here.   

img_20160504_112041786

Excitement in my rural Wiltshire village is rare. A mobile library visits once a month. To buy a book I must travel five miles to the nearest small town. This town also boasts a mainline railway station. It is my gateway to city life, to London and beyond.

My knowledge of London has been gleaned from books. Their stories paint pictures of places I dream of visiting, and it is to these that I am drawn when I plan a tour. My interest lies in the lives of the ordinary. History may be told by the victors, but it is made by the masses. If I visit a landmark it is to consider not the benefactor but those who built his pedestal.

Let us travel then to London as I view it through literature. I will avoid the tourist trails and the better known books. Others may seek out Shakespeare and Dickens, or the power hungry world of Wolf Hall. Included here are a mixture of more ordinary works, so if you harbour prejudices, set them aside.

paddington

Like Paddington Bear, I arrive in the capital via his eponymous station, empathising with his feelings of excitement and anticipation at the adventures ahead. Stepping down from the train into the melee of commuters, tourists and students, I am carried by the crowd to the ticket barriers. From here I descend into the bowels of the city. The warm air of the underground rushes up to meet me. Where to first?

Travelling the underground is an adventure in itself. I glimpse abandoned stations through flickering lights and wonder at their demise. I could read of this in Ben Pedroche’s Do Not Alight, one of the few non-fiction books to grace my shelves. I prefer instead to imagine Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, his monsters and saints, murderers and angels. I think of the tunnels explored in Anna Smaill’s The Chimes. I can almost hear her music in the whoosh and scream of train on track.

11232069_10200724182623001_9093018128319354920_n

I travel first to Highgate Cemetery. Since reading Audrey Niffenegger’s Her Perfect Symmetry, I have been eager to take the tour detailed in her book. On east side and west I seek the graves of writers – Douglas Adams, George Eliot and Karl Marx are all here. The sense of history and the spirit of the place bring peace from the bustling, traffic-filled surrounds.

A short walk through Highgate and I may explore Hampstead Heath, scene of so many fictional murders. My most recent happened in Aga Lesiewicz’s Rebound, a chilling tale that causes me to glance anew at the Lycra-clad runners passing by. I visit Ladies Pond, climb Parliament Hill and admire the city stretched out below. I avoid the dark and quiet woods. The bushes may keep the cruiser’s secrets.

img_20160426_182120006

When I think of London I see the Thames. Travelling to the Embankment, I marvel at the feats of civil engineering which have reclaimed this marshy land, enclosing the busy waterway. I walk alongside the river and time travel to the eighteenth century. Kate Grenville’s The Secret River evoked a London life hard to imagine today: raw sewage-strewn alleyways; overcrowded and freezing lodgings; watermen working the muddy riverbanks ferrying the wealthy for a few small coins, becoming sodden so that delicate slippers may be kept clean.

M.D. Murphy’s Dark River Melody encapsulates the social conditions, inequalities and injustices of the Georgian period. Through it all runs the river breathing in and out; emanating life, power, beauty and menace; representing the unstoppable progression of time. It is an excellent evocation of the city and the bewildering variety of life that populates its streets.

I look across the water to Battersea Power Station and consider the continuing inequalities of today. Sarah Hilary’s Tastes Like Fear tells of run down estates just beyond the luxury flats that now grace this iconic landmark. I pass the beggars, the troubled who sit ignored. Since reading Richard Butchin’s Pavement, I wonder at their thought processes, how they channel anger at so much conspicuous wealth when they struggle to find food enough to live. We must hope that they will not choose to become serial killers as Butchen’s protagonist did.  

greenwichpark

Travelling east I visit Greenwich Park and the locations so vividly portrayed in Alan WiIliam’s Blackheath Séance Parlour. I see no great winged creatures lurking overhead but may still view the Ranger’s House, the Royal Observatory, St Alfege’s Church, and enjoy a drink at a recently refurbished Hare and Billet. I find that a Dartmouth Terrace still exists but it is not where the sisters would have lived. The original terrace was demolished last century following war damage.  

All cities exist in a state of flux. There are still many blocks of ordinary looking houses to admire, although priced now beyond the reach of the families for whom they were built. I think of Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave Is Forgiven, how the blitz of the Second World War destroyed so many homes and lives. I note the modern proliferation of luxury apartment blocks and ponder what it would take to drive these into the chaos depicted in J.G. Ballard’s High Rise.

foyles

I end my journey on Charing Cross Road. There are still many bookshops to enjoy but it is the site of Helene Hanff’s 84 Charing Cross Road to which I am drawn. It saddens me that this no longer exists. I take comfort in a visit to Foyles.

And then west to catch the train home. As I pull away from the station I pass back gardens and become Paula Hawkins’ The Girl on the Train. All journeys offer potential for a story, and all stories for a journey.

img_20150908_095544374

Book Review: The Foreign Passion

foreignpassion

The Foreign Passion, by Cristian Aliaga (translated by Ben Bollig), is a collection of prose poems that deliver a devastating critique of the cultural blindness on which contemporary capitalism relies. Unlike much of the author’s previous works, which were written from and of his home country, Argentina, this collection emerged from an eight month long European residency when he was a visiting professor at the University of Leeds, England.

Each of the poems offers a moment of encounter at a precise location visited during this time. These may be sites of conflict, rundown cities or bucolic landscapes. Also included are “centres of ‘Western’ culture that those from the edge of the world are told to admire.” The reader is offered a different perspective, the experience of place presented in concentrated phrases that culminate in a sense of what has been lost.

The book opens with an introduction by the translator. In this he talks of why we travel and what we seek, musing that the tourist goes in search of authentic experiences which are no longer there, often due to tourists. Few go to view everyday existence.

“Their culture is of no interest to the international traveller in search of untouched nature or examples of aboriginal cultures, in both cases very often (re)constructions specifically designed for the tourist market.”

He discusses the impact of globalisation and what this means.

“the exportation of work practices now unacceptable in developed countries either to distant countries or to less visible zones in the country itself”

“These regions dispensible yet indispensible for the functioning of the global capitalist system.”

“Aliga’s poetry focuses precisely on that which is left over or remains”

The poems are presented in both Spanish and English. None is longer than a page yet each packs a powerful, poignant punch.

I was particularly taken by ‘natural life’ in which the author is on the M62, Leeds-Manchester. He passes fields, “natural life in the midst of the profit civilisation”. He views plot after plot containing lifestock and closed up houses where:

“the inhabitants do their work, alien to the dozens of vehicles that fly by each minute. Inside each machine that passes this oval of land at a modern-day speed, the members of the family last a second, like figures from an old movie, and disappear for ever.”

The prose style of this collection made for straightforward perusal allowing concentration to focus on content. There is much to consider.

“We travel to come back different, to lose on the journey our reason and the ingrained habits of the mind. We return, full or empty, to mend the holes in our words”

What Aliaga seeks is an investigation of culture, a “resistance against the erasure of lives and histories excluded by neoliberal capitalist narratives and policies.” The paradox of his work is that he is aware his target audience is unlikely to be reached.

“For he who sings while
his children burn alive, because he doesn’t know, he doesn’t
notice the smell.
[…]
For them I write, those who
won’t stop to read.”

Contemporary capitalism relies on societal collusion. These poems provide a succinct and important reminder of the cost.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Influx Press.

Sun, sea and sand

It was lovely to get away for a few days this week, to enjoy a change of scenery and some down time with my boys. It was also lovely to come home afterwards for a rest. Holidays are fun but exhausting, does that make me sound ungrateful? I am not, I enjoyed our time away immensely. Now though I need to catch up on sleep and on thinking time.

Whilst away I did not manage to read or write, what I got instead was activity and conversation. We made the most of spending time together without our usual distractions. I need to mentally process all of this as I resume the rhythm of my everyday life. My batteries have been successfully recharged, it is now time to move forward.

Booking a few days on the coast in February was always going to be risky weather wise. After the storms and floods of recent weeks I did wonder how we would cope if we were confined to our hotel by the elements. In the event we were lucky and spent much of our time away walking and enjoying the long, sandy beaches and promenades in glorious sunshine.

1970419_3996762293520_1454556608_n

The south coast of England is a popular place for retirees as well as holidaymakers. As I do not like crowds I tend to avoid the more built up areas. On one of our walks this week we ended up in Bournemouth and I was reminded why. It was my husband who accurately noted that the irritations of walking through noisy, crowded streets filled with slow moving pedestrians left us feeling more drained than the five mile walk to get there. We were happy to return to the tranquility of the peninsula where our hotel was located.

My daughter had chosen to stay at home so I had my three boys for company. They made good use of the hotel facilities with my elder son joining my husband in the gym while my younger son braved the cold to swim outside despite the wind and evening rain.

1932281_3993089281697_553875685_n

It was accepted that I wished to relax at times, even though I could not find sufficient time to write coherently. I have come home with a notebook filled with words which I hope I will be able to use in subsequent posts. I have so many plans and ideas swirling around in my head. I feel mentally replenished.

I also feel physically over fed. The food was delicious and plentiful, there seemed little point in not indulging while I had the opportunity. My husband and elder son were particularly appreciative of the various chefs’ skills and I will review our restaurant experiences in other posts. Suffice to say here that these were highlights of the trip.

How different this was to previous experiences of eating out when my children were younger. I wonder if my own lack of imagination and skill in the kitchen at home has resulted in a family who can value variety of taste and presentation when it is offered. Even my younger son was willing to try new dishes on this trip. Our evening’s out were enjoyed by all.

We returned home to a daughter who had made good use of having a house to herself. Friends had been round, food of choice cooked, but she had not forgotten to care for our hens or carry out the other few tasks I had left for her. I missed her company but am happy to see her cope responsibly with independence.

I now have a weekend to get the house in order, deal with laundry and indulge my own needs. We also have the third season of Game of Thrones to finish. If we have time this evening then we will watch the final two episodes. I have been warned about the Red Wedding already.

Preparations

As often happens at this time of year, my life seems to have stepped up a gear. I have a long list of jobs that I need to complete in the next few days if I am to meet other’s expectations. I am not good at coping with obligations that I did not agree to but are presumed accepted.

After the initial wobble when December arrived and I realised that I could not realistically hide under my duvet for the entire month, I have been coping with the preparations for Christmas reasonably well. It will be very low key in our house this year, but the event will be marked. There has been some irritation from my children that I am not displaying the expected enthusiasm; sorry guys, I’m doing the best I can.

I had an added challenge this week as my daughter is attending a conference at a university 160 miles from our home. I have written before about my dislike of driving but, on this occasion, I had to balance my antipathy against the worry I would have to deal with if I sent her on her own by train. The compromise we arrived at was for me to drive her there the evening before and stay overnight in a cheap hotel to remove the pressure of having to complete the journey in a set time. This worked well and I actually rather enjoyed my time away.

With three children and a husband to consider, it can be hard to spend time with just one member of my family. Months can go by without this happening, although I have benefited from two such occasions this week.

On Sunday my husband and I had a meal out together, just the two of us. We do not have regular date nights so this was a rare treat. Admittedly it only came about because we had to bring my daughter home from a Black Veil Brides concert that was due to finish after the last train home had departed. As a trip to the city was necessary we decided to make use of the need to travel and park by indulging ourselves. I still had to cook a dinner for my sons before we left, but it was good to spend time alone with my husband. I almost felt young again.

The late return home after we had collected my daughter, followed by the need to get up for school the next day, meant that I had four hours sleep on Sunday night. This was not the best way to ready myself for the long drive on Monday evening.

I had prepared the family dinner in advance so that all my husband had to do in order to feed himself and our boys was to reheat the contents of a couple of pots. I was impressed on my return to find that they had been washed.

My daughter and I planned to eat on arrival, although I brought along a packed meal just in case we suffered delays or could not find a suitable eatery. I worry a lot about potential problems and feel better if I have contingency plans.

The journey up was exhausting. I am not used to having to drive in the dark and the traffic was very heavy. The unknown roads were confusing at times, despite the many maps and detailed directions that I had printed off. As I had to concentrate hard on my driving I needed my daughter to act as navigator. As a non driver, she struggled at times to understand what it was that I needed to know.

However, we reached our destination after about four hours and were able to walk to a restaurant from our hotel. After a delicious meal we relaxed for an hour or so before settling down for an early night. I slept better and for longer than I normally do at home.

The next morning we spent a pleasant enough couple of hours exploring the university campus before I left my daughter to find her own way into her conference. It was obvious from the many students on site that I was something of an anachronism but, having made the journey, I wished to see what the university had to offer as it is one that my daughter may consider applying to. She showed signs of irritation at my behaviour at times but coped well.

After a picnic lunch I then had to face the drive home on my own. Nobody seemed to have missed me and I was back in time to cook the family dinner. My daughter texted me to say that she was having an awesome time and had made friends already so I do not need to worry about her for the rest of the week.

My week, meanwhile, must continue apace. School finishes for the Christmas holidays on Friday and I still have letters and cards to sort as well as presents to wrap. With one week to go I am struggling to keep my mood up.

However, I am coping. I may not get to the gym as planned, or manage a walk this week, but I should be able to tick off all the essential tasks on my Do List. I also plan to do more writing as that is a guaranteed mood lifter. How grateful I am to have found this outlet for my vacillating emotions.

My house is a mess so I shall now tackle some chores before I face those festive tasks. I hope that your preparations are coming along as you would wish. One week to go and counting.

3692-med-school-and-tower-building-uni-park