Friday, 26 August 2016

To every thing there is a season

The author choosing between champagne and water and dreaming of the new and the old in his imaginary landscape.

Two years into Retirement

It’s coming up to two years since I retired from teaching and since April I’ve been increasingly getting into writing as my prime retirement hobby. I’ve written dialogue and many shorter prose exercises, some for competitions and some for my eyes only, and I’ve also kept this public blog going for two years as a way of disciplining myself to meet deadlines (I now try to publish blog entries five times a month!) Since August 1st 2016, though, one particular writing project has been dominant such that my “domestic Tuesdays” (see Wasted time….) are becoming writing Tuesdays, as are all other working days. Sally is becoming Domestic Goddess to give me the luxury of trying to commit an idea I’ve had to paper. The germs of the idea were planted a long long time ago. But it’ll be a long journey before any of it is seen outside the immediate family….
Skipton Castle: inspiration for one of the locations in my magnum opus

Cul de sacs, red herrings and acres of detritus

I think it was Thomas Edison who first coined the notion that worthwhile inventions come from 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. I’m beginning to understand that at first hand now. The experience of writing is a turbulent glide over a meadow where you suddenly slip in mud, feel like you’ve twisted your brain’s sense-muscles but set off again, determined and eager before getting knocked over by cannonballs of embarrassment, picking yourself up and immediately becoming the Gold-Medal-Winning Olympic Champion of the Sport of Writing before falling down a pothole made of marshmallow and liquid treacle toffee. Wings on your heels and a stink bomb up your nose. And woe betide you stop and read what you’ve written with anything like objectivity. Painful. But then the main idea, the spark – the flash – the concept that got you started niggles at you, pleads with you, begs you and you return to the whole mystifying shebang with cockeyed optimism. Fun. Weird fun. Keeps me from causing mischief in the streets.

Life Advice

From The Bible’s Ecclesiastes Chapter Three

To every thing there is a season
and a time for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build up,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to lose,
a time to keep and a time to cast away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Time to get on

with telling Raydan’s story of The Akolyte Wars which has plot(s), characters, themes, settings (maps), and needs a coherent style. Question: where will that come from I wonder? Answer: more perspiration…. 

Friday, 19 August 2016

Bastille Day 2016

St Pierre Livron in France

After Margaret and Pascal’s wedding (It’s all I have to bring today) and exploring Bessines-sur-Gartemps (There goes the baker) Sally and I took the train further south to Caussade near Toulouse. Maggie Lancelot met us there and drove us through small towns snuggled in verdant countryside to her stunning house in St Pierre Livron. On four levels the structure of Maggie’s house is a slate-topped, rock-hewn tree-house, surrounded as it is by miles of forest, forest, and more forest. The sound of birds and crickets was a perpetual background to our amiable chats about the past, the present, the future, politics, family, friends, literature, cinema, holidays, hobbies and all topics between.

Maggie's house in St Pierre Livron

French Food and Drink

Being in France and staying with a fellow foody, it was heaven to enjoy:
  • lush wine
  • scrummy food including local cheeses, fresh fruit, prosciutto, chicken, mushroom risotto, salmon in sorrel sauce, chickpea salad, burgers that melted in your mouth, potatoes, roasted peppers, asparagus, green beans, salads galore

Through the rain....

The first morning we woke to the tropical sound of rain pattering through the trees, rain soaking the forest floor, rain softening the valley, but through the rain the calls of birds continued – magical. It dried quickly and it was fascinating to visit the bustling town of Caylus, the nearest place to shop, and visit the fresh food market – fruit, vegetables, cheese, fish – all pleasingly displayed. Caylus is a medieval be-shuttered hamlet with boulangerie and boucherie.

Zadkine's Christ

The sturdy Church of St John the Baptist houses an extraordinary crucified Christ by sculptor Zadkine, gruesome but awesome. Notice in the collage below how it dwarves Sally.
St John the Baptist church in Caylus with Zadkine's Chris

Shabby romance

Why are peeling walls, coloured shutters and deserted medieval streets so glamorous? Even the dark and murky public pissoir in nearby St Antonin seemed functionally quaint. In Britain these things would seem grotty but in Europe they have the gloss of utilitarian shabby romance.
St Antonin

Journey to Albi

The journey to a day out in Albi wound through fertile countryside, along roads and boulevards, up hills, alongside rivers, over bridges, through forests, past limestone cliffs and fields of sunflowers. Towns like Cordes-sur-Ciel are perched on impossibly high outcrops.

Echoes of the Great Sept of Baelor

Albi was like a set from Game of Thrones. Saint Cecilia’s cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Cécile d'Albi) is the largest brick-built cathedral in the world with many highlights:
  • the massive organ case
  • the painted vaults with azure blue background
  • the sky, earth and hell images on the Last Judgement painting
  • the side chapels with their differently-patterned muted-in-colour geometric designs
  • the elaborately delicate rood screen
  • and the soaring ambulatory
– all combine to take away your breath.
Inside St Cecilia's cathedral

Spectacular view

Walking round the outside of the building, up and down monumental steps, in between corridors of brick that make you feel inconsequential, you reach a viewpoint looking over the formal gardens of Berbi Palace (Palais de la Berbie) and a great place from which to see the city’s spectacular bridges. Our final stop in Albi was to the Saint-Salvi collegiate church with its odd statuary and peaceful cloister.
Saint-Salvi, the view of Albi's bridges and one of the many wrought-iron Sacred Heart crosses in towns throughout the region

Volatile times and dignified ceremony

During this trip, back in the UK the Prime Minister changed (David Cameron to Theresa May) and Boris Johnson became Foreign Secretary. It felt like we were living in a strange bubble of unreality. More so when on our final day we learned of the attack on a Bastille Day fireworks party in Nice that killed at least 85 people and injured many more. On July 14th morning (the morning before the attack happened) Maggie took Sally and I to the Bastille Day commemoration in Caylus, a respectful ceremony attended by many: soldiers with bayonets, fire marshalls wrapped in rope, be-medalled veterans, the Mayor and his family – and many townspeople and us – assembled in the square with a portable amplifier to play La Marseillaise, raise and lower flags, march, salute, parade and lay flowers. French patriotism at its most solemn, a ceremony performed twice, once at a general memorial and once at a memorial for the dead of the First World War. Lots to wonder about, lots to contemplate – at the time and, after the news of the Nice attack, regularly since.
Bastille Day in Caylus 2016


What else do I remember about the last stage of our trip to France? We watched Truly Madly Deeply as a tribute to the glorious (late) Alan Rickman and, in a bit of a drunken stupor, the eccentric French film Bienvenu chez les Ch’tis. I loved re-reading Charlotte Brontë’s bonkers tale of a very complicated woman, Lucy Snowe, Villette and I began compiling a written glossary of the ideas I have for the fictional fantasy world I have been inventing since April (Wasted time….) An abiding memory, though, will be playing Bananagrams and being mightily impressed with Maggie’s speed at forming words and switching tiles to form new words…. Bananagrams – an Olympic sport one day? Many thanks to our gracious and generous host for a tranquil break deep in the heart of Europe.