Category Archives: Uncategorized

#54 Jump-start

There is a #53. It will describe a trip to Treherbert, ex-coal mining Valleys town in South Wales where J & me took a trip to see how life goes down there, and research for a screenplay I now seem to have abandoned.

Today, however, is DAY #ONE of trying to write again. I would like to be knee deep in another screenplay but, until inspiration hits hard, I will practice here. I’m going to pull up a photograph and start there.

Look:

Dawn laser-ing through our window a few days ago.

When you live with someone, mornings are shared – tea brought, mutual state of exhaustion discussed, sleep left by the sandman noted.

While J was away, mornings were lonely moments where getting out of bed/washing/feedingmyself&kids/dressing/getting out the front door became suffused with that grey tinted mild sorrow that being alone and coping brings.

*I typed mild horror and it self-corrected to sorrow. Either is right.

We now live high above the city in the part of a Victorian house that was once the roof. Few houses on our street have converted their lofts so, from a distance, you can recognise our house because it looks like it has had a shed craned onto it.

Our shed affords us a wide view of the south east of Bristol. It is not a wonderful view, but the benefit of height means the minutiae are removed – what we see are blocks of colour and birds, the weather in wide-view, morning river mist rising from the Avon, the distant Lansdown hills curving toward Bath.

#51 Cycling and painting

My son and daughter were with me this weekend gone. We were supposed to be surfing down at Saunton Sands. The sparky woman at Walking on waves said the sea was as flat as a pancake, that she’d happily rearrange. Anytime in the future. No problem.

I put tagine in the slow cooker, made a picnic, packed water-colour materials and bikes in the car and drove over to Monkton Combe, by the Dundas Aqueduct.

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Even though they’d fought, and farted at each other while I’d sorted the parking ticket, my two were suitably impressed and calmed as we cycled beside the canal across the aqueduct. There’s a ledge beneath the balustrade that we all wanted to clamber over onto, but didn’t.

The air was soft, a light breeze scented with the sweetness of rotting leaves, the sun gradually breaking through dull clouds. Wood smoke hung in the air next to various narrow boats. The steeply banked woods on the opposite side were mostly sycamore, their outward facing leaves blushed carnelian. A drunk stumbled onto the path from the hedge. He clutched a can of Tennants’ Super-T and looked confused as we breezed past. The river ran parallel to us in the valley below, but in the other direction, south west to Bath.

My son led the way at first, his legs somehow pumping twice as fast as mine, front wheel twitching as he scanned for minor off-shoots from the main path to scramble over. My daughter followed, cautious eyes taking in all the details, cataloging, defining. We passed under a beautiful road bridge, Winsley hill road from Limpley Stoke towards Bradford on Avon.

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Just beyond, an elegant conservatory filled with geraniums looks down upon the canal path. The kids passed by oblivious. There were various hired narrow boats abroad on the water, some filled with lively chatter, some more morose. We branched off by the lane to Turleigh, down to the river, to picnic. Here, for half an hour, my children turned on each other again over their sandwiches, cookies and Doritos. While they traded tired insults, a dragonfly hovered nearby, a kingfisher shot upstream and several trains trundled along the elevated branch line at Freshford.

We ploughed back across a deeply grassed field and rejoined the canal path. Soon enough, we crossed our second aqueduct at Avoncliff. We descended the embankment and rode through the tunnel and up the path to The Cross Guns pub. I realised the last time I’d been here was 25 years ago. I’d signed up with the school cross-country team and, as a perverse end-of-term treat, our coach arranged that we would do a night-run along the path ending here. A single lemonade all round. Huzzah.

I don’t think it’s much changed. A traditional-style pub, all horse brasses and stone walls, fires roaring. There’s a large benched garden terraced down to the river. Nice enough on a hot day, maybe, but there was a shadowy, forlorn feel to the place today. The river is met by a minor brook here. The water is shallow and reedy, perfect for the ducks that my son fed most of his ice-cream to.

We cycled back up onto the aqueduct, returning the way we’d been, now actively searching for a subject to paint. My daughter chose the first boat we came upon, named Topsy. I unpacked our materials: a small A5 Winsor & Newton pad, three portable water colour kits, pencils, brushes, a rubber and sharpener.

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I filled our jars with water and we began.

My son focussed on mixing the right brown for the water, which he then flooded his page with. He painted a solid black boat which soon sank beneath more brown. Eventually, twenty minutes later, just before giving up, he painted another black boat with blue windows.

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I proceeded in the more traditional way of sketching first.

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The roof is partly fictional as I was sat down, and couldn’t really see it. I then spent about an hour adding colour and ended up with this.

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Not accurate, not awful.

My daughter took her time and steadily added layers of colour. Even though she was sat beside me, she painted a side-on view.

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I love her trees.

All together:

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The sun glowered at the far end of the tunnel of overhanging branches, the temperature had started to drop. We headed back. I pinched the drying paintings between my fingers, two in one hand, one in the other, steering the bike on the balls of my palms. Mistakenly, I pointed out a rabbit in a field that we’d already passed. My son turned to look, and plunged into brambles and nettles. Some tears. A cuddle.

A heron stood motionless a few feet from the path, not threatened by us. The drunk from earlier had made barely any progress in the three hours or so since we passed before. Again, a question seemed about to form in his eyes, then dissolved. We glided back over the first aqueduct, slowly enough to discern the mottled white and black neck of another static heron. The path fell away from Brassknocker Basin marina, down towards the car, its fan heater and home.

#49 Part two: Lacock Abbey’s response

Dear Jonathan Gardner

Thank you for your email regarding your visit to Lacock Abbey.

I have reviewed the incident with our House and Collections Manager who manages the Abbey after she discussed the matter with the volunteer you met and the duty staff who was there on Sunday.

I am sorry you had a disappointing visit to the Abbey, the volunteer you met on Sunday was talking to two other visitors when you came into the Hall, which is the exit from the Abbey. The Abbey has a long and complex history, as I’m sure you will have discovered, and we have planned a roughly chronological route, starting with the oldest part which is the Cloisters, through the house and finishing the Great Hall. We feel this displays the Abbey in the best way but also, since it is quite compact it minimises congestion. We’ve found this route helps visitors enjoy the Abbey most.

When you stepped into the Hall, our Volunteer, broke away from the couple she was talking to, to explain you had come in the exit and ask you kindly go in through the Cloisters. (We get one or two folk doing this each day and they are asked to do the same.) That request, for whatever reason, broke down into a situation I know neither of us would have wanted and our volunteer, thinking it may help, put her hand out to try and calm you down, but this clearly backfired on her and was obviously the wrong thing to have done.

I am very sorry that this came across as inappropriate to you, we want everyone to have a great visit here. There was a misunderstanding, our volunteer misread the situation and we are all sorry for upset caused and hope you do come back and see us again sometime.

Yours Sincerely

Graham Heard
General Manager

[I’m not sure how much this address my complaint.
Feel like the shoving has been entirely misrepresented.
Any thoughts? – Jon]

#48 The front garden

After Ron’s death, new neighbours moved in upstairs. After a time, they set to work on their front garden.

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Essentially, they hand-rotavated the borders, massacring flowers and weeds alike. When I first came upon what had happened, I felt sad. Another part of what Ron had left, gone.

I photographed it again a few weeks back. It has changed without anyone doing a thing.

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It’s got fuller since, joined now with a large stand of borage.

Ron’s hands planted the flowers. They were cut down, but their seeds dwelt invisible in the soil and rose up legion, even stronger than before.

How to insert a line break into WordPress (!)

For an unknown reason, I’ve returned to poetry. It’s something I did a lot as an adolescent. Maybe I’m regressing into that self-obsessed self. Possibly.

Anyway, when writing poems, it’s nice to be able to insert a line break to differentiate stanzas. Until today, I hadn’t been able to do this. No matter how many times I press return, WordPress has ignored this and displayed the text as a single body.

To intentionally insert a line break, switch the writing mode from ‘Visual’ to ‘HTML’, and paste the following where you want a line break:

<br style=”height:4em” />

Ta da.

#45 Cakes of Portugal No.2 Pasteis de nata

Monday, 27th July – Carcavelos bus/train station

Cake no.2: pasteis de nata

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Pasteis de nata, or pasteis de Belem are now familiar on smart cafe counters in Britain. Their delicate, buttery pastry and vanilla custard filling are a more refined foil to our custard tart. The pasties de Belem are esteemed as the epitome of this cake. They originated in the Belem monastery, and they continue to be produced in a large cafe/bakery nearby. Sadly, I didn’t get the chance to join the queues there.

I found my first one in Portugal here

IMG_1923at a kiosk at Carcavelos. That it was extremely cheap was particularly welcome, as we had blown €80 at the worst, most overpriced restaurant staffed by the most obsequious waiters the night before – restaurante quinta farta pao. Don’t ever go.

The kiosk was humble and perfect, staffed by a cheerful old woman who, being on the short side, had a stick and a stool to assist in reaching things.

The cake.

The outer texture of the pastry was quite dry, flaky, but didn’t just disintegrate. The upper was quite burnt/caramelised.

Interior: very runny, unlike others I’ve tasted. More like custard you’d get with pudding. There was another taste in addition to the traditional vanilla, not sure what, maybe nutmeg.

Great expresso.

Coffee aficionados will note that most expressos are classed by me as great. On holiday with two kids, all fresh coffee is great.

#35 Llangynidr

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A day out, a journey into the past.

Grimebusters rarely venture far from Bristol or Bath, but I agreed to clean the carpets of a beautiful holiday cottage in Llangynidr, Cae Bach today. Llangynidr is a village I know from my teenage years, and it was a pleasure to return, do a good job, and then be rewarded with time to wander the banks of the River Usk.

I caught my first fish here. A brown trout which, like Salman Rushdie as a child with a kipper in The Satanic Verses, I painfully struggled to eat successfully.

This was also the first river I swam in. After my GCSEs, a group of us stayed in a cottage by the river, and waded out across the brow of the nearest strongest falls. I remember being acutely conscious of the dank weather, my acne-d shoulders, the moss that yielded beneath my feet. The blinding, euphoric nerve-storm of plunging into the void beneath the cascade.

I didn’t have time to linger. My daughter had a half day, and I needed to travel back in good time. I ran parts of the beautiful river path, took a few short cuts and jogged back along the Brecon canal, conscious of who I wished was with me, and how blessed life can be.

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#27 A moment of sadism

The students sat in a grey classroom. Ignore the fact that it is actually painted light green. It is almost square, filled with utilitarian grey rectangular desks, and the students are doing exam practice. The effect produced is of a grey room. The students have being doing exam practice for the last three months. Solid. Outside the classroom, there is a corridor that surrounds a sunlit quad, and in that quad, a mother duck has nine ducklings. While the class warmed up to a Monday morning’s study, the caretaker came into view through the glazed door and opened another door onto the quad. He had slices of bread in his hands, which he broke into small chunks and threw to the duck and her ducklings. There was a frisson. Somebody pointed out the ducklings were outside. The sweet, trilling whistles of the ducklings seeped into our room, seeming to beckon us to them. It was a natural thing to do, to go and see them. Even the lads, normally so inscrutable and resistant to emotion, were itching to look. I stood up and opened the door. “Come on, let’s have a quick look.” The teenagers did not need the normal cajoling, and hustled out of the room. A light wind frisked through the corridor, the sound of the ducklings was distinct and clear. We clamoured against the windows of the quad and gazed out at the gentle scene. A mother with her young- nine trembling clusters of brown and lemon curd-coloured feathers. A powder blue sky hung with armadas of billowing clouds. Sunlight on every surface. For about ten seconds, we were free. We had been absolved from the monotony of exam prep, our minds tethered to the prescriptive tasks, the cramming before the final judder of the educational conveyor belt. In two weeks, the class will be spat out and left to fend for themselves but, for now, a moment of respite and shared wonder. ”Get back into class, there’s exams to be prepared for!” A voice of authority. The deputy head. It was uncanny that she had managed to glide unnoticed toward us, like a graceless nuclear submarine. Strangely, our moment of wonder had provided the perfect smoke-screen behind which she had got within range, then loosed her salvo.