March

Walking Badger made tricky by an inability to drive and park a car anywhere.

Snaps of pylons and a lost glove as much visual interest as I could conjure up. Lovely walks, however. Even though I am now wheezing!

Herd we go, herd we go, herd we go…

Airlines once produced adverts extolling their customer service. Those adverts are now very dated and so misogynistic that – in my head – they blend together with memories of “’til death do us part” and “Love thy neighbour”.

A period – as I recollect – of unchallenged bigotry and industrial unrest . And yet I miss something from that time: the notion of the “customer” in the traditional sense. The concept that people aspired to make a product or offer a service which you prized and would pay for.

Halcyon days. Banks had money and Building Societies were building things. Now Bankers have money and Building companies hold society to ransom. We used to travel to buy “things”. Such things as shoes and “records”. Records, it should be remembered, were how music was purchased and shared. Radio played songs which we read about in magazines and purchased in Record shops. All very sentimental. Not “innocent” times, however. The cells of our prisons and some of our graveyards are host to the dirty little men who twiddled those records. Perverted little pedophile Pied Pipers.

It seems nothing was as it seemed. We had anarchists who now sell butter and have property portfolios. We trusted Politicians, more or less. We disagreed with the “other” party depending on whether you were “left” or “right” – socialist or deluded. Authority was maligned but respected.

We are all, continually, moving inexorably towards something worse. Things do improve. Lives often get better. The thing which exercises us, which eclipses aspiration, is the fear of disaster. Impending decline and fall. Similar to what happened to our Empire. Take your eye off the ball for a cup of tea and the next thing you know people are exercising their right to destroy our established way-of-life.

Standards were set during this time. We had travelled from a majority of the nation In Service through National Service and arrived at a nation which provided Services for it’s people. Crucially, equally divided amongst it’s people.

And my – how we appear to hate that. How much the benefactors have been brainwashed into lambasting the very Services which struggled and evolved out of those confusing times.

Nothing is as-it-seems any longer. Television programmes are frequently never watched on a television. Records are not heard – they are broken by Billionaires earning record amounts of cash.

A millionaire is now hardly worth singing about.

And airlines? Well airlines now drag you bodily from their planes and make jokes about cancelling your flights.

That unspoken bond between customer and proprietor? If you are very lucky they might leave a phone number for you to contact them and leave a message. Be careful, however, those calls are charged for and often never answered. It can all add up and “Every Little Helps” them to make even larger profits.

We now count only as a “Herd”. That is how corporations “monetise” us. Income potential per viewer. Number of clicks. We are no longer even measured or valued per-capita. Our heads are no longer of importance – only our clicking fingers count.

At least it saves us from trudging along to those shops. Those shops where we used to buy things. Now we have all the time in the world – time saved not travelling to not buying things. Aren’t we all enjoying our liberation. Aren’t we?

How did this happen? Didn’t we almost have it all?

Nope. Nothing like it.

Los Gatos

The Cats

I arrived in the walled town early in the morning. Autumn was giving way to a frozen Winter. Around the ancient walls a stubborn mist stood guard over white fields tethered by withered vines.

There were no cars permitted within the boundaries. The local workforce had been paid in part with wine from the bodegas which were the sole industry within this high valley. Their basement excavations had hollowed the foundations and turned roads into vaulted arches. This was where they stored their vino. If a road collapsed it would reveal a bloody stream of red wine and shattered glass. The pulse of a subterranean giant sleeping off the excess of too many parties.

Within 50 minutes I had strolled the extent of the town battlements and witnessed the frozen siege set upon it from all sides. I turned my attention inward. Looking for the people and the shops I found only darkened streets and cobbled roadways, grand wooden doors and chipped shutters.

I met nobody. No shops were open and the market took place on Wednesday. This was Tuesday. No sounds escaped the thick walls of the old houses. I smelt no cooking and I saw no smoke rising from any chimneys. The town was in suspended animation.

The town lay on a hill. A teardrop shaped slice of land surfing from the clouds to the valley floor with the Church standing alone at the highest point. For such a small settlement the Church was magnificent. The doors were lined with rows of religious characters. Saints and the suffering sinners. Scholars and priests. Miracles and offerings. In dark wood and in strict hierarchical order. Religion has such a rigid class system.

Here, for the first time, I could hear movement. Turning to capture the attention of whoever was behind me I was confronted with a street full of cats. Hundreds of cats in various scrawny states of disheveled malice.

I have always liked cats and for most of my life a pet cat has been part of the household. Individually, they exhibit boredom and disdain. En-masse they appeared to me more like a pride descending on it’s prey. For a few seconds I was quite alarmed. They bore little similarity to the sleek animals I knew. Some were matted, some slightly bald. Tall, short, torn-eared, monocular, tailed and tail-less. Battered and tattered. All sinew and all looking at me.

The scouts arrived at my feet and I immediately realised there was nothing to fear other than fleas. They settled around me and waited – I presumed for food – but I had nothing to offer. There were so many I feared what might happen if I did pull some meat from a pocket. Leaning to stroke the head of a healthy looking, short-haired cat it backed away. They sought out human company but seemed unwilling to make contact.

“You have many friends. You cannot all enter the Church, I am sorry”

I turned to discover a middle-aged priest standing in front of a small doorway cut into the gates. He was smiling as he approached me.

“They will soon be distracted. It is a quiet morning. Soon the cooking shall begin and the washing. Then they shall forget you and move on.”

I asked if I might see inside of the Church. The priest paused a moment and informed me that there were now, regrettably, visiting hours to adhere to. The tourists were too numerous and their offerings too small to cover many of the associated costs.

He then smiled, ushered me toward the door and asked me to enter quickly before my friends snuck in.

The interior was remarkable. At such an early hour it was dark with only dim light skulking through the grimy windows. The atmosphere was of a smoky, rustic kitchen. It was smaller than I had anticipated. Countless Madonna and figures of Christ seemed to have been randomly scattered. The church felt very old. The pews were a mixture of styles and eras. The chandeliers and candles were an eclectic mix. All of this added to the feeling of entering a massive religious jumble sale.

In those first moments, however, I was reminded of the tale of the biblical Christ and I shared some of the awe which rural workers must have felt upon entering. Countless feet upon these stones. Stretching back centuries. I wanted some time alone and turned to ask the Priest if I might reflect a few moments. He appeared to have anticipated my request. I could see him reading through a visitors book. He indicated to me to take my time by raising a hand and smiling. “It is OK” he appeared to be saying “I understand”.

In those minutes spent in silence – preying atop an ancient Spanish town in an empty Church which belonged to an unfamiliar religion – I felt I had found a piece of the Spain I had read about and for which I might have been searching. I felt I had found a connection to a past. Rightly or wrongly.

I did not want to return to the mocking modernity of my world. Not for a while.

Outside, for the first time I could hear the collective mewing of the Cats. Perhaps, as the priest had suggested, they were saying their goodbyes as they set off to begin their working day.

Family time

I spent a lovely couple of days with Mum in the Scottish borders. She is having a short, well-earned break at a cottage we have visited a number of times over the past 35 years.

The weather was lovely and the lambs were jumping around full of energy. The real, baba lambs. Us “human” Lambs were all knackered!

I had a long and quite tiring walk on Sunday but it was a real pleasure. Especially when I came back to good food and wine. Thanks mum!! xx

The cottage is on the estate of the Polwarth family – I took a snap of their beautiful home as I went past one day.

Harden, Spring 2016
Harden, Ancestral and actual home of the Polwarth family who own the cottage. Spring 2016

Coming back from the walk I took this snap over the valley. The cottage is in the distance marked with a red dot above it on the horizon. A beautiful location.

Mabonlaw Cottage from Hardchesters
View toward Mabonlaw Cottage, Spring 2016

And a snap of the cottage from the foot of it’s hill, just as I arrived back.

Looking towards Mabonlaw cottage, Spring 2016
Looking towards Mabonlaw cottage, Spring 2016

Snippets. Best years of your life…

I was thinking what piece of reminiscing baggage I could offload after the nice post I wrote about my Nan. I could think of nothing. Then, speaking to friends recently, I remembered an incident from school. Not a fight in the playground or a failed exam. A very short and insignificant classroom lesson I had when I was well under 10 years old.

Actually, the only two, strong recollections I have from my time at Towerbank were being the only kid in my entire class unable to pay to go to school camp. I recall having to spend an entire week on my own with my primary school teacher. Alone. All day in class. I could feel her discomfort. Kids are inexperienced – not stupid.

The other was a project to talk about what your Dad did as a job. I never knew my father and I never missed him. I spent most of my childhood living with Nan and Pa. I liked them – they were good people and kind. I had no “issues” living with them. They were decent, honest people. Pa was always my Dad so there was a “father figure”. Whatever that means.

I told my teacher this. I said “I don’t have a dad”. Millions of kids don’t. Many through illness. Some through accidents but the majority simply because Mum never wanted – or got – the useless sack of shit that you knew, secretly, your real “Dad” was.

So when my time came to make my short speech the teacher intervened. She announced that ‘Christopher’ could not tell us anything about his father. She informed them this was because he did not have a father. He was “illegitimate’. She spelt it out. There was no murmur or comment from the kids. I find it incredible now to think I was the only one in this position but as recently as the early 70’s this was still a taboo.

So, instead, I spoke about my Grandad.

Nothing much was said except outside by one other boy. I cannot recall if it was Craig or Kevin – for some reason I know it was one of them. He said that the real word for illegitimate was “bastard” and that I should say “bastard”. It do not recollect any malice. It was not said in a nasty way. Whoever it was simply had an older head than mine and was repeating something they felt made them sound “grown up”.

I did not know this word. So I asked at home what it meant. My Nan smiled and said it was such an ugly word and I should not use it. She said I was a “love child”. I still feel better when I think of that.

My friends never again discussed it. I was never taunted. It never became an issue.

Except that over 40 years later when discussing school and listening to how my friends loved those years – I recall it. Which surely says something.

Snippets. Snatches of memory.

I was reading an article discussing the archiving of the internet.

Once it was an ambition of several organisations to archive the content of everything we put online. This, however, is fanciful. Content changes continually and rapidly. Content is generated to be different for each viewer. Databases and algorithms and sales metrics alter and change what is now a very plastic medium. It is not an internet of published texts which can be indexed easily.

People try, however. And in the spirit of remembering I may write short pieces about people or events. They may be archived. They most likely will not. The internet is full of scraps and junk so these snippets are unlikely to matter to many people. They matter to me.

I would like to write about my maternal Grandmother. I never knew my father but I was close to mum’s parents and spent many years growing up living with them. Their names were Charles Lamb and Helen Lamb (nee Pennycook).

My nan was always called “Ella”. She was very short in height and quite stout. That was when I knew her. In her youth she was very petite. Her wedding dress is testament to how slender she was. A waist equivalent to my thigh.

As a young woman she danced ballet. I only know because she told me – almost whispering – on a couple of occasions. Talking about yourself and doing what I am doing here – discussing it – was to be frowned upon and treated with suspicion. It was a different time and different values.

Her brother Jim had a dance band which practiced in the attic of their large house. She came from a reasonably affluent family. Sometimes dances were arranged in the attic. This would have been in the late 1920’s through to the 1940’s. It must have been wonderful.

Sadly, Jim drank too much and had a short life. He had two sons – Ronnie and Brian – my mum’s cousins. Jim’s decline was reflected in the decline of the family’s fortunes and by the time I knew my grandmother she was living in a small flat in a tenement basement. With my “Pa”. The family business had gone and the family had drifted apart.

Nan had three children. My Uncle Bill was the eldest and he died in 1969. My Auntie Eileen did not live long, either. They all had children. My cousins still all live within 30 miles of me but we have little contact. It happens.

Perhaps the reason I reminisce on this family history is that a piano store based in Joppa, where I grew up as a young boy, is in the news today. It is selling all of it’s 300 pianos. From £300 to £40,000.

My nan played piano. Rarely, by the time I knew her. We had a small, iron framed upright piano which was kept in her bedroom. I recall her playing Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky. Especially Tchaikovsky. And she played it beautifully. However, she did not play it often and when she did I could sense loss and some sadness. Even as a very small boy I could sense this in the music.

Which was not how it made me feel. It brought me great joy and great pride. To this day I feel emotional when I hear a performance of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #1. And for that reason I am providing a link to one of my favourite pianists performing the piece – a woman of enormous talent – Martha Argerich. As I type this tiny recollection I am struggling not to shed a tear. I still miss her very much:

Martha Argerich and the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, 1975

Perhaps, some time in the future, an archive will be read and it will be noted that Ella Lamb played Tchaikovsky on the piano, with some gusto in spite of her diminutive size and it brought tremendous pleasure to those who heard her play.