Saturday, 22 August 2015

Decorated city

I can’t remember when or why we decided Lisbon for a holiday, except a city seemed a good idea and it’s somewhere none of have been. Whatever, it was a lucky choice, a beautiful city, on a perfect scale.

I’d found a flat for us to rent for the week on line, in the same way that we did it a couple of years ago when we went to Zaragova. Once again, I chose well or we got lucky. A light, simple, cool space tucked away within walking distance of the whole city, with views across the river Tage.
Lisbon is a decorated city. Many buildings (including the one we stayed in) are covered with patterned tiles, the metro stations have detailed tiled artwork, and in a modern day reflection, there is ambitious, skilled graffiti and street art wherever you look. And it’s a city built on hills, with steps and precipitous alleyways and winding lanes, small shady squares and secret courtyards. Getting lost was inevitable, but we learnt to pinpoint a landmark and head towards it, zigzagging and doubling back as the eccentric layout demanded, but always making it to somewhere we recognised well enough to get back to base from.

We also found that Goldie has a far better understanding of topography than the rest of us, and an effective way to engage a teenage boy in what was essentially a series of city walks was to tell him where we wanted to explore on that outing, and then follow him. Not that he didn’t get lost, but he has the confidence, focus and competitiveness to make sure he got us where we wanted to go in the end, and the rest of us were happy to follow on, drinking in the surroundings.

Coffee was a big part of the week, and I’m going to have to do some kind of painful detox I think, although I seem to be tolerating the caffeine fairly well – haven’t slept for more than a couple of hours at a time for weeks, but that’s not too unusual. I loved the coffees we had – 50 cent espressos that are as an effective a mind altering drug as anything legally available, and big glasses of coffee with milk, alongside custard tarts or light sponge and cream cakes.

A couple of times we left the city for beaches, on one occasion a well heeled resort some distance from the city where we found a bay with a deep, calm pool of water. I swam and floated and revelled in the salty deep glory of it for a long long time, loving that I was in the sea, in the sea. Another day we went across the river to the far coast where the Atlantic crashed onto a sandy beach. It was too shallow and too rough for swimming but I waded out and let myself be knocked over, submerged, repeatedly.

But it’s the wandering around the city that has stayed with me. I love London, but I kept thinking of how blocky, how masculine, how built to impress with power it is, compared to this pretty, decorated human scale place. 

Monday, 10 August 2015

If you've got to go somewhere, better go somewhere far

Summer came back. This weekend we did go camping. We met up with friends who live only about an hour away, but still with busy lives that means we don't see enough of each other. Finding a small quiet camp-site in between our two homes worked well. A local pub provided meals to take away, complete with proper plates and cutlery, and we drank bottles of beer and watched the light drain from the sky. In the night I left the tent and spent some minutes being newly astounded by the density of stars visible in a clear night sky. I would have liked to lay down on the grass and fall up into them, but Snake and Goldie and our small dog were tucked up in our temporary canvas home, and I chose being surrounded by the closeness of them to an astral adventure.

In the middle of last week Snake and I went to Norwich to see some bands he likes, including one called Casual Nausea. Can you imagine? Whatever you're imagining, it was worse. We'd arranged to meet up with a friend, and in the lovely pub, devoted to punk and appropriately accepting of difference, we also got talking to a man who recognised Snake from his jacket, which he'd spotted at Latitude. We went home with our friend and slept on his floor and apart from the truly awful noise that the bands made, it was a good night out.

I'm old for nights out and sleeping on floors though, and the rest of the week felt long. I even had to pass on the opportunity to meet Ms M's new man, although I'm extremely curious about him. But I managed to submit an application for a job that is way out of my league, but that the impressive man who I meet with to make me more impressive says I can do.

Since I first saw The National in a tent at Latitude in 2010, I've had a ticket to one of their gigs in my possession for the majority of the time. I've seen them in Brussels, and Edinburgh, and London, and at Latitude again, and a strange small town on the south coast, and in London and London and London. But they are inactive at the moment, and it's been a while since I've held a ticket. Then this week, a new project call El Vy was announced - Matt's voice and lyrics, with a sort of dance-y electronic band thing going on. I now have a ticket to see El Vy in December, and another cog in my life has slipped into place.

Early tomorrow morning the four of us get on a plane and fly to Lisbon for a week. I can't properly remember why Lisbon except it is a European city none of us have been to and we love European cities, and it has water and art and hills and sun and history. And I like that when I say we're going to Lisbon for a holiday people who haven't been look at me like I've made a mistake, but everyone who has been seems to have loved it and immediately suggests something we need to eat while we're there.

I've just thought, the Norwich pub we spent Wednesday evening in was called the Owl Sanctuary, and Twin Peaks (which Snake and our girl are seriously working through the box set of and I'm catching snippets of) keeps referencing the owls not being what they seem. Bloody owls.

El Vy - Return to the Moon 

Monday, 27 July 2015

Everything I love is on the table

It's not that life hasn't been going on as it always has done, just that it's been hard to focus on it for the spinning and noise of these months.

This weekend, there was a plan for me to take Goldie and Young Boy M to a camp-site on the coast, a little over an hour from here. That didn't happen because of very heavy rain that led to the friends that had gone on a day before being flooded out of the tent and heading home. It's still raining now. I'm very grateful that we had such wonderful weather last weekend for Latitude, that we have been able to change plans and be largely inside for this cold and blustery and extremely wet couple of days. On Saturday, in between running Goldie and the girl around and doing laundry and shopping on the market and in Aldi for food and cleaning the bathroom and cleaning the kitchen and thinking through the mental capacity act with a friend following a panicked phone call, I slept. I haven't been sleeping well at night for a while and this felt like catching up, stocking up.

I still managed to get enough sleep that night to dream, and I dreamt about an owl watching me from a tree. Because I've had a series of owl dreams I half heartedly googled their significance, to find all the usual stuff - wisdom being the one I'd like to adopt, although that's tempered with the knowledge from a Hindu friend that in parts of India an owl is a symbol of foolishness. But also death, change, intuition. I decided to go back to doing my own interpretations, based on the significance that any presence might have for me. Except I can't think of one thing that owls mean for me, except that they keep cropping up in my dreams.
                                                                                                                                                                    On Sunday morning I went into our small town to meet Ms K for coffee and to catch up with lives, or the bits we share. Another friend wandered in and joined us, and Snake turned up. After a while, we walked down to the cathedral to look at an art exhibition and, and came across person after person who we knew and who engaged us in conversation. Given my preference for anonymity and resistance to small talk, this could have been worse than it was. One person who I've known for a while but who doesn't know Ms K asked if we were sisters, which I loved for its insight - we look nothing alike, but she lived with my parents for part of her adolescence, and in some essential way that comes from the knowledge of that experience, we do have a familial link. We also got introduced to somebody who had just returned from a week long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, which, weirdly, is something that Ms K and I have previously discussed doing and which we both reacted to in a "we must do this" way. I really do want to do it, and I don't fully understand why. Something about the pilgrimage appeals, the path trodden by thousands and thousands of people since the middle ages, although there is no religious driver for me. Anyway, we will look into it, and maybe next summer or the one after we will actually do this thing.

When we finally escaped from that mixed blessing a of small town living, with it's risk of repeated social interaction with people part known, we came home, ate some thrown together pasta, and I put some stewing steak and vegetables in the oven before we headed off to spend some time with my parents. My father is looking well, 9 weeks into a regime that sees him have chemotherapy 3 times a week. He is hopeful he is coming to the end of this stage of treatment, and there is a return of the optimism that got lost for a while. My mother was her usual vague, kind self, directing Snake to the brown teapot, at which he said, very sweetly, given that it was an indubitably blue teapot "now, I see that as blue". My mother acknowledged that it was indeed blue but said "I always think of it as brown because of its shape". And I know exactly what she means. Her blue teapot is the shape of a brown teapot.

We came home through a ridiculously cold and rainy July evening to the smells of a stew ready to be eaten, and spent the evening watching episodes of Twin Peaks, something that was originally on television in the year that Snake and I were first getting together, and which we're now introducing to our children.

There's all sorts of challenges and potential hidden in this week, and more rain forecast and already - at 6am on Monday morning - I can feel the protection of the weekend slipping away. But it's very good to have that grounding of family and ritual and plans and shared understanding as a basis for immersion in the wider world.

The National - Don't Swallow the Cap

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Life's a game

We went to Latitude. For the last 9 years I've spent a July weekend in Suffolk parkland watching music and poetry and dance, political and social debate, comedy and art, with a whole load of randomness scattered throughout. Every year I've loved it.

It helps that it's set in the most beautiful parkland, sloping and wooded, with a wide long lake and lots of hidden corners where you can stumble across a band playing Balkanise wedding dances, or the worlds smallest museum of small things at any time of the day or night. It helps too that it's only about an hour from home and we know countless families who go from here, and so Goldie can join a tribe of teens and indulge his passions for high energy music and loud comedy while I spend hours drifting off in the poetry tent or discovering new bands. And this year it helped that the sun came out and stayed out and being outside for 18 hours a day before catching a few hours sleep under canvas (?not canvas - nylon?) was exactly where I wanted to be.

Highlights for me this year - James Blake being eery and intense as the sun went down. Ezra Furman and the Boyfriends on a small stage high up in the woods - 2 very different people, both of whom I respect enormously, had recommended I see him, and they were right. Simon Armitage reading an hour of his poetry. The Manic Street Preachers singing Design for Life, because it's a song that my good, dead friend Bal associated with me and him somehow, and I needed to dive away from friends and deep into the crowd to sing and cry along with it. Songhoy Blues, Seasick Steve, Tom Robinson. Owen Jones on the politics of hope. And our good friend Carrie became part of a choir put together by Gareth Malone and sang on the main stage as part of a hundred voices.

And I got to spend a lot of time with Snake, which made me realise that in fact that's not something we've done for a long time. And while it hasn't totally steadied the earth beneath my feet or restored my focus, it was lovely to mooch around with him, allow him to introduce me to new stuff (he's far more adventurous than me when it comes to music) laugh (he always makes me laugh), find a worn out sofa in the wood and curl up on it with him. I few weeks ago I was loudly protesting to a friend that there was nothing wrong with my marriage, that all elements were fine, and it felt over these few days that yes, that's true, but not much use if we never see each other. We need to find more time.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Put a little something in the lemonade

I absolutely understand the end of currently but I will miss that weekly prompt. Particularly at the moment when life is a little chaotic. Thank you to Ot and Et and Kale and Beans for the years of hosting. I came across some wonderful people through it, too.

So, self discipline, self motivation and just write - what's been going on?

I have completed 4 interviews for the research I'm doing, and each one was a revelation and a delight, I learnt stuff, I felt a huge fellow feeling as a worker with similar experiences, I felt extremely grateful for their time and willingness to explore difficult issues. Then I had to listen back to the tapes and realised that I am in the background murmuring "yeah, yes, yeah" at the rate of about once every 5 seconds and do I really do that and how annoying must that be?

At the weekend Romeo and Juliet was performed in the Abbey Gardens, our town park, and a big group of us went along with blankets and picnics. Some of my lovely friends had made the most delicious food - big, still warm calzone. Parmesan and anchovy biscuits. Pork pies. Salads and cheese and a Pimms and strawberry jelly. Lots of prosecco, Lots of red wine. Beer and cider and ginger beer.

I wasn't drinking, on the basis of still having a hang over from a night with the remarkable Ms B. But everyone else imbibed freely, which was good really, because the production was... well, it was an amateur production, and good on them for the huge effort that had gone into it, but really, it wasn't great. I did have a moment of thinking that maybe there should be some sort of Shakespeare Police who monitor performances to prevent harm to Shakespeare, because I was quite scared that this could put people off for life. My girl was with me, and I was so glad that she'd seen the play before and loved it.

Anyway, the not great performances added to the general hilarity, and I wonder if our behaviour - eating, drinking, stifling giggles, throwing food at each other, and one perfectly timed comedy fart - was not more Shakespearian than what was going on on stage. But really, we were (with the exception of the girl) in our 40's and up, and should really have behaved better. But I'm glad we didn't. I needed the thoughtless stupidity of it.

On Sunday evening I cooked for Peel and her girl. Pork ribs in a marinade I threw together from what we had and it worked infeasibly well - lemon juice, olive oil, soy sauce, garlic, a little tobasco and a tin of anchovies. We ate it with rice and peas, and kale steamed then stir fired with onion, garlic and ginger, and lots of butter. I relished everyone hoovering up food, nibbling bones and soaking rice in the cooked juices, and I will try to recreate it all at some point.

One more day of work and then a week off, with a wonderful festival over the weekend. I have had less time to think about it than in previous years, but this morning, looking at the website, I am feeling it again, that annual "we're on our way to Latititude!" feeling. Summer and family and friends, music, poetry, constant surprise.

The National - Fake Empire