Friday, 31 August 2007

Ambleside visitors lament

Found this entry in visitors book in the cottage we stayed in the lakes couldn't resist splitting it up into is all there and absolutely me I'm a blogger.

Visitors Book Entry Cottage in Lakes

When coming down stairs from the top floor,
careful of last step, it is a killer.
Husband’s leg in cast to prove it.
Also watch out for mat near toilet -
it has no grip,
likes to send you flying -
very dangerous, you need to get a grip.

Had problems parking,
too many cars,
not enough spaces.

By the way A&E in Kendal-
nurses and doctors great.
ASDA next door to hospital do family meal,
£10, very filling.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

Notes on Lakes, Poets and Constipation

Twenty-Five Things to do of interest and slight hazard in the Lake District

1. Arrive at your cottage and stall an over-laden Renault Clio as you climb a road towards it so steep you expect to have a nose bleed any minute. Do this whilst also being asphyxiated by the fumes emanating from the burning brake pads of descending cars.
2. On your second day take a local bus to enjoy the views and crash into a camper van on a road only wide enough for two fat sheep.
3. Sit on a small overcrowded ferry across Conistan to Ruskin’s House, note what you feel to be the lack of life rafts and the potential for hitting a troop of incompetent sea scouts in canoes. Ponder whether you could survive longer than Leonardo De Caprio in the freezing water, acknowledge that you would be no Kate Winslet and your heart will not go on.
4. Become trapped in Ruskin’s ice-house, admire the granite walls.
5. Walk along a narrow path (suitable for one skinny sheep) hacked into the side of a mountain. Note the absence of a handrail and the presence of severe vertigo. Turn back and beat yourself up over this weakness and add this to your list of many failures of courage.
6. Experience severe constipation due to the change in water and endless scones. Wonder whether the local hippy shop has a crystal suitable for constipation relief. Imagine the conversation with the shop owner about this.
7. Be trampled by Yorkshire day trippers in Bowness clutching tea-towels depicting a map of the lakes and fudge in boxes which have ‘Thank-you for looking after my cat’ written on the lid.
8. Climb onto a cottage roof to check the TV aerial connection as the screen shows only blizzards and you need to see the next episode of Waking the Dead.
9. Attempt the walk up the steep hill (known locally as ‘The Struggle’) to your rented cottage without the aid of oxygen and knowledge of the nearest defibrillator. Note the lack of ladies offering water at the half way point.
10. Overdose on sticky toffee pudding washed down with Pinot Grigio, beer and gin.
11. Cross the roads in Ambleside on a Sunday.
12. Risk being stoned to death by ardent ramblers for breaking the taboo of walking without clutching a little pole that you jab into the ground at intervals. We presume this is some mass attempt to aerate the grass on Lakeland fells and improve drainage.
13. Watch an American tourist, who whilst enthralled with the tour of Dove Cottage, inadvertently places her bag on a table.You’ve just put your bag down on Wordsworth’s card Table Madam, the guide comments in a very English understated manner. Her shame and mumbled apologies did not save her from being reduced to the size of a small amoeba in the eyes of her tour group and being sentenced to death by Preludes.
14. Sit for a quiet pint outside a pub and be initiated at length into the world of the Caravan Club by the alpha male from a family from Bolton. We are initiated into the dark secrets and rites of caravaning club such as the pulling weight of a Mondeo, touchable ceramic heaters and the precise configuration of his Elvis (or what sounded like Elvis). Wonder if after all their secrets have been divulged they are then forced to kill you. Being sandwiched between two caravans afterwards takes on a whole different paranoid experience.
15. Eat the melting hair gel of the cheerful good looking boy band type waiter which drops into the tapas in the bar full of trendy media type people. Trendy media type people on holiday manage to retain the look and aura of trendy media type people, even in the Lake District; they have a better class of poking pole, Gucci day rucksacks and talk about audience ratings and Baftas. They use Satellite navigation in their 4x4’s to find a tapas bar whilst we find it because we are not yet ready to attempt ‘The Struggle’ and need a sit down. We like poking down small dark alleys without the aid of a pole and thus locate the tapas experience without the aid of Sat Nav or even an OS map.
16. Go to the Pencil Museum in Keswick for the kitsch experience and actually find yourself fascinated by the whole graphite, pencil history business. Weigh yourself down with a variety of purchased pencils, charcoal, tinted charcoal, and every grade of H and B. Note that American astronauts were furnished with a biro that would write in zero gravity, the development of which took millions of dollars. Russian cosmonauts were given a pencil. (Note to self…there has to be a poem in that fact)
17. Sit and look at a mountain for hours as the light and cloud formation constantly alter how it seems but not what it is.
18. Understand why Wordsworth and Coleridge were always going out for walks given the tiny dark cottage they lived in and the stench of talo candles which must have pervaded it. Wonder if the long walks prevented constipation, the bowels of poets no doubt effect their output.
19. Look at Sara Wordsworth’s wedding ring and ponder why Dorothy Wordsworth wore her sister-in-law’s wedding ring that William had bought in France until the day of their marriage. She did not attend the wedding and took to her bed whilst the marriage was taking place. Does the comment by a friend ‘ She took to her bed’ = sulking.
20. Read an extract from a letter by Coleridge’s wife and think about the fact that despite being an undoubted genius of the romantic movement Coleridge refused to allow his depressed and sick wife a three year break from producing endless children, most of which died. She pleaded with him but obviously the plight of the oppressed and common man did not extend to women.
21. See Mervyn Peake’s original illustrations for Rime of the Ancient Mariner recently donated to the museum at Dove Cottage and be moved by their power and the overwhelming sense that both Coleridge and Peake understood the nature of madness and had looked it in the face.
22. Try and light a gas fire without significant blow back. Wonder if this could be a cure for constipation.
23. Hand feed heron’s at the wildlife’s centre ‘Happy Heron Hour’ without being impaled or carrying the marks of the stigmata on your palms for days.
24. Take a minibus tour with a lively lad called Tony over Hardknott Pass (the steepest road in England) whilst he is somewhat distracted by a dispute with the local council about his rates. Watch pale and frightened drivers stare wide-eyed as he hurtles towards them. A definite cure for their constipation no doubt.
25. Try to answer young Japanese girl’s question truthfully and in simple English whilst we examine Roman remains in driving rain and wind at the top of Hardknott Pass
.. and please to tell me is there summer in England, I bring only T- Shirts and I have to buy this in Kes Wick.’ She plucks at her baby pink
anorak with a rather disconsolate expression on her face.

Friday, 10 August 2007

The writers baggage ,Cumbria, Jake Polley and Sarah Hall

I am packing and I do not have the capacity to self regulate what I take as a car opens up infinitely more possibilities for over packing. There are no one in-flight bag and one suitcase in the hold restrictions on those of us supporting the English tourist economy. I am always suprised how much a Renault Clio can hold especially if you put your shoulder to the door. Fly swat, pith helmet, organza ball gown, pit boots, hoof pick, defibrillator, blow up target doll of Boris Johnson complete with darts, shredder (you never know when you might need to shred these days )and a chocolate fountain, Scrabble in English and Cyrillic script are all on my maybe list although one or two of these items might slip onto my definite list if I can find another square inch of space. The 'if room' list is fast being abandoned as there will be no room even for the definites at this rate. I have allowed space for friend and her luggage but luckily she is small boned and very flexible and I am presuming her bag will be equally small and neat, although why I should presume this shows my sizist thinking which I must curb.

I have never been able to pack, my mother was never able to pack and I vaguely recall my uncle squeezing a drum kit into the back of an old Morris 1000 once when going on holiday. My mother once told me her mother took the hall mirror on holiday to Skegness and her best tea service in case it was stolen whilst they were away and she was travelling by train then... given a car there is no doubt my grandmother would have been lashing the best settee on top of the car just in case. It must be a genetic thing, the drive to carry with you items that you might need given the extent of your lurid and unbounded of course a vivid imagination so necessary for a writer is the cause of all this.

Now that could be a question on writers carry more baggage than other people?...Someone phone the help line or the Facebook Obsessives Group (FOG)before I fire up Facebook yet again. I will go cold turkey on holiday and will give accompanying friend strict instructions to drag me past internet cafes and ensure that I don't start lurking around strange houses in the dark in a vain attempt to find some unsecured wi-fi.Second week will be spent with Jake Polley and Sarah Hall on an Arvon Course where hopefully I will ensure that my vivid imagination is channelled into other areas and all my extensive baggage is put to good use.
Here is a video of Jake reading his poem Owls from his second collection ' Little Gods'and an interview with Sarah Hall about her latest novel The Carhullan Army.

Monday, 6 August 2007

Facing up to Facebook,the Camera and Charles Simic

Oh dear god help me I have added a garden and a virtual bookshelf to my Facebook profile. I am beginning to keep a note of how many published writers or poets my friends seem to have whilst I have my hairdresser or did have before she deleted me for some reason which may or may not be connected with the fact that the last time I went to see her she was appalled at my attempts to cut my own fringe. I pointed out that it was getting in my eyes and it was only a few snips here and there. I kept to myself the thought that I was hardly likely to book an appointment with her at £25 a time just to have my fringe snipped. She pointed out that she wouldn’t begin to know how to write a decent poem or story so why did I think I would know how to cut my own fringe properly. We have been together for a number of years my hairdresser and I, we have a strange relationship which swings between honesty and marital bickering.
“I think I’d like my hair really short this time, almost cropped.” I demand.
“No, you’ll look like a bloke or a Nazi prison camp guard.”
“No I won’t, I think it would be quite funky especially if you put blonde highlights in it.” I stand my ground clear in my vision.
“No, you’re fifty-five you can’t do funky, whatever that is when it’s at home and you are not exactly elvin faced and as for blonde highlights ….”
There is a pause whilst she looks for the word she is running after but is defeated and just pulls a face into the mirror. Of course I am talking to her via the mirror I am seated facing. I stare ahead at the reflection of her sucked a lemon face.
“I just want something different I’m bored with my hair the way it is.”
She takes on a soothing tone as if she is trying to get a child to eat Brussel sprouts.
“It suits you like it is now, it just needs tidying up that’s all, I’m not going to do something you’ll regret tomorrow.”
My hairdresser always uses the word tidying when referring to my hair as if it is a teenager’s bedroom. I half expect her to snip old coffee mugs and apple cores out of it and pull unwashed knickers from under my fringe.
I give in of course as an hormonal tightly wound hairdresser with a very sharp pair of scissors in her hand is not easily defeated and I keep going back to her because she knows my hair and all its strange eccentricities. She also never asks me where I am going on holiday but asks if I think war is ever justified, is repressed anger a recipe for disaster or what do I feel about meerkats? She is a Fen hairdresser with brains and attitude.
However despite my returning custom and our discussions about life, love and the universe she has deleted me on Facebook. How does one react to this. I could just take it that as a twenty-something person she doesn’t want me having access to her profile or her world of friends.It could be an accident I tell myself ny way of consolation and then start to wonder why being deleted by my hairdresser is such a terrible thing.

There was an article about Facebook in the Independent on Sunday yesterday that pointed out that many young people are leaving this ‘social facility’ as it chooses to call itself as the wrinklies were beginning to colonise it. Anything that your mother or even granny can join and paste up their favourite music of Celine Dion or Pink Floyd is not worth belonging to.The article pointed out that perhaps the younger generation are beginning to value their privacy whilst we oldies are flinging ourselves headlong like lemmings into virtual spheres of intimacy.
Perhaps we are seeing the first fully monitored CCTV generation coming through, big brother can not only follow you re your mobile phone, credit card use, internet communications etc it can physically keep an eye on you. I watched a policeman the other night in town tell a group of boys to take their hoods down. He was restrained, polite even jokey but he obviously felt that the CCTV cameras in the Market Square, where they were grouped, needed to see their faces. They had committed no crime, had done absolutely nothing wrong but wearing their hoods up obstructed the cameras view of their faces, as he kept pointing out to them. Of course they knew that and he knew that they knew that but it was the game they had to play. My civil liberties head fought with other emotions. They did look an intimidating group but merely because there were about ten of them, most of them gangly with fags poking out from under noses that were still too big as their faces haven’t caught up yet. I know people who have had their sons beaten up in town (Fen Towns are less than quiet idylls on a Friday night). I had watched on the local news as CCTV helped convict some men of brutally assaulting some Polish men in Wisbech and I was glad that CCTV was used to convict them.

Big brother might have our best interests at heart; if the likes of the Wisbech Friday Night Fighters, a group who specialise in terrorising foreign workers are to be discouraged then in this instance CCTV may be a good thing. Of course CCTV is only as good as the people that use it, it is a neutral tool. Just as a gun or a knife has no morality, it is the user that endows it with a good or evil purpose, is CCTV a neutral tool?. A camera can watch as a policeman beats up a black suspect, as it did famously in the States, just as easily as it can monitor a group beating up a Polish man, a gay man, an Asian,a woman, a Jew, someone who happens to brush shoulders with a psychopath on a Friday night. If you are doing nothing wrong what have you got to be worried about? That is the usual defence of its use. Cameras can be made to lie, you only have to watch any Hollywood film to know that a camera can make boys fly on broomsticks and awks walk the earth.What I worry about is who keeps it all in focus, who wil have the final say on this is CCTV use subsumed into the democratic process. I don't recall voting for or against it either in local or parliamentry elections. How do I get my say in where and how it is used?I worry that Hitler and other dictators would have loved CCTV if it had been available to them.

My Space and Facebook are all scanned by powers that be for potential threats. American servicemen in Iraq are now banned from posting on Myspace as they were posting too many negative comments about the war which their friends had access to. Myspace has a young and predominantly working class demographic, precisely the demograph the Army would draw recruits from, they might not want future recruits being put off would they? Facebook on the other hand was started by and for college students and thus mainly officers are using it and therefore note Facebook is not banned by the US Army for use by the military. See this link that was sent to me by a friend. Why does that not surprise me. Youtube videos made by serving soldiers are also being scrutinised closely.

However in the era of easy access(in the affluent West at least)to the means of disseminating information via the internet quickly and globally the camera is big brother and also big brother’s restraint. I noted that as the policeman was telling the boys in my small town to take down their hoods one of the boys was videoing him on his mobile phone…it could have been on Youtube or photos of the incident on Myspace or Facebook a few hours later… the camera can cut both ways.

Listen to the poet Charles Simic read his poem Cameo Appearance to underline how the camera can be used to illuminate or hide things in the shadows, it is merely the servant of its masters.

I’m off on holiday now for a while. I may try and post from pastures new ie the lakes where I am intending to wander like a cloud or a bunch of daffs and then on to an Arvon course from which I hope to return stimulated and fertile with ideas, if not in need of a de-tox for my liver if past Arvon courses are anything to go by. I shall take photographs of any unsavoury or suprising incidents to post later or to blackmail people with depending on how I am feeling.