Here comes winter

Sitting and listening to the trees and the sea. I have a heater on. Outside is getting stormy.
My 5 minute “poem” – I am no Ted Hughes! I attempted to shape it like half of a fallen leaf.

Splendid, noisy waves.
Unabashed and unapologetic.
Unlike the withering, dessicated leaves’
Whip and rattle this evening
In time with the strengthening breeze
Besieged boughs shudder
Their hospitality withdrawn
And summer is over
Hibernation beckons
Nature remembers
She is a visitor
Counting days
The elements

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.


More a note. Hoping to form a poem of it sometime.

No sooner have I settled at a desk, or on a step, to write
I hear some argument in the street or from the garden.
Shared now, sadly, by the people who shout.
Shout to greet. Shout when departing and each moment in between.
Why pay for the mobile phone which dominates their day
It seems unlikely they cannot be heard. Far away.

I watched a programme set in Lahore. From there to Mumbai.
The poverty was a sin. Shrink wrapped in miserable heat.
Yet the cruelest strain was the absence of silence.
Still people manage to create, breed, sleep and eat.
Privacy must be borne from fatigue. Sound blind
Not deaf but unable to hear. Senses calcified. Ossified. Paralysed.

No sweat forms on their skin, there is no crust. Nothing cracks.
The temperatures crackle and another generation wither.
Within their shadows I sought solace to cool my envy and my pity.
All the while the people who shout continue. Shouting at their phone.
Shout about money, confirmation, deliveries. In need of medication.
Pointless, noisy declarations. In a silent town. Shouting even while alone.

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.