Sunday, 15 January 2017

Photos from Brittany

Last July Jo and I took our bikes on the ferry to France. Starting in St Malo, we cycled across Brittany. After a few days of cycling and camping, we reached Auray on the other side of the peninsular. The countryside we saw in between was vast and lovely. We stayed in some interesting places, like the excellent Pear Blossom House in Mur-de-Bretagne. That's run by an English couple who have a massive collection of sci-fi novels, Mucha-inspired glass lamp shades and a son who's growing up bilingual. After cycling for 6 hours up French hills and down Breton dales, it was a relief to get to such a welcoming place. We were that relieved that we simply went for a pizza and didn't even see the lake till the following day. Anyway, there are some pictures from that holiday below.

Mimi and Jo on Condor

graffiti along the St Malo to Dinan voie verte - these car-free green routes can be brilliant for cycling, especially if you want to avoid busy roads - in this case the voie verte runs along an old train line

more voie verte graffiti, this time inside an old station 

the Fete des Remparts in Dinan

pretty sure they're cooking endouille - offal sausage that's a Breton specialty - after trying it for the first time the taste kept coming back to me when we were cycling through the manure-scented countryside 


action Jo


a heated baguette vending machine in Mur-de-Bretagne

someone's back yard

a posing idiot by the canal we rode along near Pontivy

the view from that canal, or the Blavet

a shoe shop in Auray

buying tomatoes in Auray

back in St Malo, we visited the cathedral

Thursday, 29 December 2016

My Top 10 New Year's Resolutions

I'll list ten resolutions here. There could be more. Probably there will be fewer than ten to which I'll properly apply myself. 

There might be little point to New Year’s resolutions. Trying all year long or at least being equally interested throughout the changing of the seasons, day-in/day-out: that would seem to make more sense than pinning all of my hopes on one idea struggled after at the end of one period of 12 months, in order to get my hopes needlessly up and then miserably down again through the beginning of the following period of 12 months. It doesn't have to be like this, you say, quite reasonably. I don't need to agonise over self-improvement in this futile way.

However, regardless of whether or not I see the pointlessness inherent in the "quit chocolate biscuits" (never!) or "buy flowers for my god-loveit mum more often" (hopefully) brand of new year's wish-hope-prayers, I'm going to put down 10 resolutions here. The reason for this is not only to bore the pants off of you, though I apologise dearly for my blatant, unabashed infatuation with the timbre of my own soppy speech. The reason is probably that I find it helpful to set myself tasks. Life seems to be more boring when I'm unoccupied. Also, the clean slate nature of the date 1st January appeals to me. So do nudity and sunrises. My phone number is available on Facebook.

I'm sure this is where I should include a quote from holy scripture to show that making a new year's resolution is a 3,000 year-old habit that has stood us ever-progressing water apes in good stead up till now. However, even the infinitely malleable first line of the Tao Te Ching: "The tao (way) that can be told is not the eternal Tao" needs quite a lot of bending and persuading before it fits into my "make goals and work towards a smiling, profile-picture-ready you" mantra. 

In the beginning there wasn't a resolution, there was an action. A resolution is just an idea of action. My favourite kind. For now the plan is to create these vague targets so that 12 months from now I can look back with what will probably be a mixture of disappointment and pride. Also, when the time comes to review this nonsense I'll have a chance to do another blog post. On with the resolutionning:

1. go a week eating only what is produced in the local area
In Guernsey this surely will mean eating only non-processed food. That's meant to be healthy. Mercifully, butter will be on the menu. I already buy a lot of veg from Terry up the road, who grows lovely carrots and sells them along with the produce of his grower friends. This resolution will take that habit into overdrive. I know how to live on the edge.

2. practise languages I've learned 
It amazes me how readily they disappear from my memory, these languages that I spent quite a lot of time studying and picking up by loitering near foreigners. I want to spend at very least twenty minutes a week studying either Mandarin or German. That's so little to ask as to make the question a bit silly. Twenty minutes a week on each language seems reasonable. 

3. progress in languages that are new to me
I'm determined to learn more Guernsey-French, although this is a laughable waste of time to certain friends of mine. I'm also determined to do things in spite of other people's opinions, a sure sign of madness that I welcome. Progressing in this area will mean attending the pre-arranged sessions where a handful of the few remaining speakers of the language meet, as well as setting up some kind of learners group. Hopefully something called 'ch'est mon tour' will be got going very soon, right Joe Martel? I'd also like to pick up more French, Portuguese and Spanish. Not too much to ask.

4. read 52 books before the end of 2017
This will mean keeping a list.

5. at least have flights to Taiwan booked for some time in early 2018 by the end of 2017
I miss that place and the people that reside there.

5. be healthy
The older I get, the more value I put on this. I want to swim as near to everyday as I can manage, cycle around to places I want to visit (and to work, too). I'd like to breathe better. Not smoking lately has definitely helped in that whole pulmonary area, but I'd like to walk a bit taller and feel a bit more secure health-wise. I kid myself this is nothing to do with vanity.

6. eat better
Biscuit addiction is no laughing matter and, as much as I adore a bourbon and cherish even custard creams, it has found a victim in me. Eating more whole foods and fewer sugary snacks seems to make me feel better. I'd like to try eating salads for lunch and over-eating less in general. Hopefully this will give me the shiny and healthy coat I've always wanted.

7. go to more local gigs
Something like one or two a month at least - I've neglected the local music scene, which happens to be very good, too much.

8. spend more time with my blessed family
I'm lucky enough to be related to some lovely people. I like the support they give me. I'd like to see more of them.

9. write more
By this point I should have written some kind of long-form fiction that I'm pleased to show other people. Let's see if I have something by 31st December 2017.

10. go one fortnight without drinking any alcohol whatsoever
I don't drink very often as it is, but I'd like to try this probably pointless challenge.

pictured: me kidding myself about vanity

Monday, 19 December 2016

This Weekend in London

This weekend we saw Adam & Joe's nostalgia-trip multimedia show at the BFI Southbank. It was fantastic. Jonathan Ross was there and walked very close to me. Jo (Dowding, not Cornish) sat next to Shaun of the Dead director Edgar Wright. I was polite and didn't ask her to switch seats. We didn't realise who this bearded man beside Jo was until Joe (Cornish, not Dowding) asked from the stage "is our mate Edgar here?" and their mate Edgar put his hand up.

In any case, the haphazard show included various bits of animation, with the creators in attendance, as well as a bit of karaoke performed by Adam Buxton. Clips from the pair's Channel 4 programme, as well as even older content, were screened too. An homage to Adam's father, Bad Dad, who passed away earlier this year, was not only hilarious but very moving. The atmosphere was a bit like a university reunion. There was a "remember that time we stayed up all night eating cheese?" vibe and I would pay to go again.

BBC 6Music era Adam & Joe
We also went to the Union Chapel, where we saw Sheffield's scruffy pop duo Slow Club. They were supported by Auld, a young British singer-songwriter who played unaccompanied, but used guitar, keys and beats at once, using pedals and loops. Slow Club were mesmerising and the Union Chapel is a brilliant venue in which to see a band. No alcohol is allowed inside the church, but there's a kiosk serving teas and coffees, as well as tea cakes and snacks like crisps and nuts. Usherettes wander up and down selling ice-creams.

The interior of the building is a stunning space. I especially enjoyed the stainglass windows, ornate ceiling and, of course the neon reindeer. Slow Club played songs singularly and together, with some fantastic vocal flourishes, before coming back at the end for a self-conscious Christmas encore that included an unplugged singalong. All in all it was a touching scene, especially the contrast of Rebecca Taylor's soaring, operatic vocals and the funny, down-to-earth comments she makes between songs.

Islington's Union Chapel
Sheffield's Slow Club

Finally, since Jo and I wanted to go to the cinema and It's a Wonderful Life and Muppet Christmas Carol were sold out and, I discovered with only mild surprise, Jo had never seen Die Hard, we went to see Bruce Willis on the big screen at the Prince Charles off Leicester Square. The big-letter message outside the building was "Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal".

It was a very entertaining way to round off the weekend. If you wanted a drink during the screening, fine German beers and cocktails were on offer. Within the Prince Charles's unusual auditorium the crowd cheered and quoted along with the yippee-ky-aying action.

"You've never seen Die Hard?"
Of course, regardless of any comedians, bands or films we saw, the best part of the weekend was meeting up with friends and family. It was an absolute pleasure to see Richard, Nia and (London's happiest, most well-behaved baby) Arienwen for dinner at the Latchmere pub in Battersea and to wander around John Soane's House with Jo's old friend Philip.

good food and ales at this pub, which is also home to a theatre
the visitor attendants at John Soane's House are extremely well-informed and chatty - also, one of them, who had an encyclopedic knowledge of Masonic/Bedlam-related facts, was wearing a fine pair of spats

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Mayakovsky by Frank O'Hara

The following poem was part of Frank O'Hara's 1957 collection Meditations in an Emergency. O'Hara was a central figure in the New York art scene of the early 60s, before his death at the age of 40 in 1966.

Keen viewers of the 60s-based series Mad Men might recognise the volume as one of the books that Don Draper reads. Considering that Draper's character is detached to the point of being a virtual stranger to his own wife, one would have to imagine that the poems from Meditations..., which describe anxiety and alienation, would resonate with him.

My heart’s aflutter!
I am standing in the bath tub
crying. Mother, mother
who am I? If he
will just come back once
and kiss me on the face
his coarse hair brush
my temple, it’s throbbing!

then I can put on my clothes
I guess, and walk the streets.

I love you. I love you,
but I’m turning to my verses
and my heart is closing
like a fist.

Words! be
sick as I am sick, swoon,
roll back your eyes, a pool,

and I’ll stare down
at my wounded beauty
which at best is only a talent
for poetry.

Cannot please, cannot charm or win
what a poet!
and the clear water is thick

with bloody blows on its head.
I embrace a cloud,
but when I soared
it rained.

That’s funny! there’s blood on my chest
oh yes, I’ve been carrying bricks
what a funny place to rupture!
and now it is raining on the ailanthus
as I step out onto the window ledge
the tracks below me are smoky and
glistening with a passion for running
I leap into the leaves, green like the sea

Now I am quietly waiting for
the catastrophe of my personality
to seem beautiful again,
and interesting, and modern.

The country is grey and
brown and white in trees,
snows and skies of laughter
always diminishing, less funny
not just darker, not just grey.

It may be the coldest day of
the year, what does he think of
that? I mean, what do I? And if I do,
perhaps I am myself again.

Frank O'Hara, erstwhile curator at Museum of Modern Art and unofficial poet laurette of New York City

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Reading about Aleppo

Kanye's been pictured meeting Trump, but all of a sudden I'd like learn about Aleppo. We're all, of course, concerned about London's rise in teen moped crime, but let's hear about Aleppo. Not Michelle Obama, nor anyone else, is deserving of the label an "ape in heels". Still, Aleppo? Though you can buy living succulent necklaces on Etsy, my mind's somehow on Aleppo. Despite my urge to buy having reached Christmas Eve levels of hysteria, Aleppo's got me distracted. I can read or think, but I'm basically useless.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Photos from Haworth

In September we went to Haworth in Yorkshire. It was home to the Brontë family in the nineteenth century. We visited the Parsonage, which was their home and is now a museum to their often very sad lives. The place has a bit of a feel of death and unrequited love about it. Notable exhibits were Charlotte's tiny dress and impossibly miniature-seeming shoes. People were smaller then, evidently. Also, apparently the dress has shrunk a bit over the course of 150 years.

Jo and I listened to this audio drama in the Parsonage's churchyard. It definitely added to the atmosphere of the place, since it was well-written and had good sound editing.

Apart from the Parsonage, there are lots of old-fashioned looking shops in Haworth. This chemist sells bath salts (like Epsom salts, not the designer drugs) and other potions and lotions. There was a sign in Japanese by the door warning about the uneven floorboards.
We went to the tourist information office, so that we could plan the route of a walk we wanted to take through the countryside back towards Hebden Bridge (where we were due to take a train back to Manchester). We were directed to a path that runs alongside the old railway line, where some of the film The Railway Children was shot. Jo has seen this film and spent a lot of the walk describing it to me. I now feel like I've seen it.

The man in the tourist information told us about the Tour de France's 2014 visit to Haworth's cobbled streets. He then spoke about the vast numbers of Japanese tourists who visit Haworth. He made them sound like a nuisance, which seemed odd for a man employed in the tourism industry. According to this man, Japanese people are particularly interested in, and indeed travel around the world to Yorkshire in search of, sheep. He expressed bewilderment at this. The tourist information office at Haworth does, by the way, sell postcards on which pictures of sheep are printed beside Japanese characters.

view from the tourist information centre - there's a lovely view from that cobbled street, trust me

one of Haworth's many independent shops - there wasn't a chain store in sight

view from a cosy pub which I'd recommend if I could remember what it was called

on the walk through the country to Oxenhope, where we literally got on the bus to Hebden Bridge - again, there were good views all around - not  pictured: streams, railway lines, dales and sheep

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Cherish Anger

If I want to go on getting all self-righteous on the roads, shuddering to a halt in front of motorists so I can gesticulate wildly in a poor attempt to mime "I dislike you and the way you drive" then I must stop spending time with other people. It's making me go soft.

I sit there, seeing them (the same kind of them who populate the cars at which I direct my irate, improvised traffic signals: new to me, as yet nameless, neutal-looking folk) as they talk or smile or otherwise enjoy themselves. They're hard to hate at these moments.

Perhaps they're just now, like me, expressing a fondness for a nice cup of tea or in the next moment they are, again like me, getting excited as the conversation turns to that programme on the Baltic Crusades or how comfortable socks can be. Seeing these relatable, human sides of their character is good, and then it's swiftly slightly disturbing. This unexpected feeling's hard to place. Maybe I'd no longer flick the vees at them simply because they got near me when overtaking.

Life is confusing like this. Getting to know someone definitely makes it harder to treat them like a complete fool - the idea that they could, though appearing to be human, actually be made of straw and powered by mindless impulses ceases to be plausible.

We discuss the merits of ginger in biscuits and the point at which coffee intake gets to be a bit much (the nauseous-shakes stage). At this point I decide I wouldn't want to lose my temper. Perhaps it's just context. The road is, helpfully enough, not a tea parlour.

This is all probably only too obvious to everyone else. For my part, the revelation that I should get to know people before slagging them off for not indicating is stunning in its brand-newness.

There is a definite need to remain focused: when you see that wrong is being done, and you know you should act to create change, then it's essential to hold on to your anger. In these cases it's important to cherish rage, since it could be a force for good. However, shouting "you almost killed me, you twat" at anyone who happens to drive near me, whether they're a little old lady or a hair-trigger ignorant ultra-violentnik, or both, this is not the best use of my energy.