Silly Season Selfi-shness

Here we are in the midst of the holiday season; overpriced, wet [now], crowded and frustrating [airports and traffic queues].

Schools are out, parliament is out, railway networks and road systems have chosen to upgrade or get repairs done as usual.

At the seafront in our nearest town the beach was thronged with families on Wednesday, so that finding a small space where we [GrandOffspring and I] could plop down long enough to construct a teeny-weeny sandcastle proved problematical. We’d already had a bus ride, done lunch and visited the funfair [a serious blow to the granny purse] and this next activity was sandwiched [see what I  did there?] between expenditure of industrial proportions on the rides and the obligatory ice cream.

For a brief rest [essential for grannies] we sat on a bench, where I was asked by a smiling young woman to take a photo of her with her husband and two small children-which I did, taking an extra one for luck. She thanked me, whereupon GrandOffspring was moved to ask me if the woman was my friend.

In these times, a request to take a photo is a refreshing breeze wafting through the forest of selfie sticks that crowd into every popular view. I read this morning that an unseemly scuffle broke out at The Trevi Fountain in Rome between two rival selfie-takers competing for the best spot [ fisticuffs at the Trevi Fountain ] and I remembered when, a few years ago whilst being escorted around The Alhambra Palace in Granada it was nigh impossible to photograph any of the inner courtyards, fountains and architectural marvels owing to a posing woman and her doting husband, who insisted on draping her coiffed and made-up body over everything and snapping all angles.

There was also last year’s visit to Venice, during which hoards of excited teenage girls were selfy-ing themselves to death on every bridge, corner, fountain, square, path, archway and step, taking up their ‘model’ poses with a leg bent out, chin up, breasts stuck forward and lips duly pouted.

My nearest and dearest know only too well that I am phobic about having my own photograph taken and that few images of myself exist since about 2003 [when Husband and I took the plunge into matrimonial decorum].

You have to wonder why this self-obsession has taken hold, why this desire to show oneself off at every opportunity is so overwhelming. I have a modest collection of grainy, black and white photos of previous generations of my family and something they have in common is that they are all taken whilst everyone is engaged in some kind of activity. There is a picnic, a walk, playing cricket on a beach. There are uncles with trouser legs rolled up, aunties with skirts hoisted ready to paddle, people eating ice creams and children batting at makeshift wickets.

This is why, when I photograph my own grandchildren I like to capture them doing what they do, not posed. Maybe the selfie fashion will die a death one day-I can only hope…

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A Sorry State

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I know I’ve nailed my colours to the mast on a previous occasion but despite eschewing political views generally I’m posting this week in a brief return to the UK’s most bitter, divisive and hackneyed topic of leaving the EU.

It will be no surprise to regular readers to learn that we are Europhiles, Husband and myself. We make frequent and lengthy trips to Europe and have done for many years. These expeditions are for leisure purposes but I’d have to include education within the leisure definition, since discovering hitherto unvisited places, viewing landscapes, towns, villages, architecture, galleries, learning history, seeing what is grown [and what grows!], how people live, where people live, what they grow in their gardens, what is in the shops, meeting people and conversing [or trying to]- these benefits are more compelling than any sun-soaked Spanish beach can be.

We have grown addicted to exploration of our near neighbour countries. Is there any other continent as divers as Europe? Our cultures, cuisines, music, languages, customs and even weather systems are vastly different and this is what makes it a magnet for tourists from other continents.

Yet the EU knits countries together without loss of culture, language or any other individualism. Together the countries are stronger. Together they can work towards shared goals, combat human rights atrocities, be a louder voice on the world stage. They can deal better with mass migrations using a coordinated approach and consider difficulties over climate change or environmental problems.

So about half of the UK population has been duped into believing that this benevolent organisation is bad for us. They have been fooled by a few meddling, bullish, selfish individuals who are interested only in the furthering of their own careers at the expense of the greater good and by the gutter press whose main aim is to peddle hatred and spread jingoism.

The process of leaving has been left to an inept, disorganised and disjointed government who’ve no clue how to progress except by ‘carrying out the will of the people’. But we can surmise from their hints about stockpiling that things are not going well.

Marvellous.

This summer, as we experience one of the worst droughts since records began and know that our own food production is bound to be reduced we learn that supermarket stocks should be reserved and that shortages are going to be a certainty. Add to this the likelihood that ports will struggle to process imports and that those firms large enough to re-locate are beginning to do so [eg financial institutions to Germany]. Add again the numbers of immigrant workers quitting in droves, leaving horrendous voids in National Health Service personnel, the agricultural workforce, hospitality and elsewhere.

So there you are. The future looms, stretching away in a long queue for dwindling bags of potatoes or a desperate trawl through the internet for ever scarcer blood pressure tablets. Meanwhile triumphant Brexiters delight in goading ‘put up and shut up’ style posts, calling those of us who are heart-sick ‘remoaners’. These are the very people who will be squealing like stuck pigs at the empty shelves in the supermarkets when it happens.

If there were a way to buy EU citizenship I would be doing it-but I can only claim a Maltese great grandmother in my heritage, which I don’t suppose will do. I am so very sorry, Europe for the ignorant foolishness of my country. Please may we continue to visit?

An English Forest Weekend

The New Forest, in Hampshire, southern England featured in a lot of my childhood. We were all three born in a village on the edge of it. My father travelled across it every day for work in Southampton and we went often for picnics and recreational activities like those family cricket games of the fifties or accompanying scout camping trips.

Of course as children we were accustomed to seeing the animals of the Forest roaming free and were used to marauding bands of ponies invading our garden and enraging my father, who would storm outside in the middle of the night with objects like biscuit tins to bash and banish them from his precious vegetable beds. They always returned-until cattle grids were installed across all the entrances to the village, when to my immense disappointment the night visits ceased.

What a contrast East Anglia seemed when we re-located there! Even as a young child I was shocked at the impoverished fenland landscape, my mother compounding the sensation by telling me I’d have had my own pony ‘if we’d stayed in The New Forest’.

I was not to return to live next to The New Forest for another nineteen years, during which time it had altered considerably and had begun to assume its reputation as a tourist magnet.

Nowadays the Forest has National Park status and is thronged with visitors of all nationalities. Cheffy restaurants, trendy hotels, gastro-pubs, tea shops and costly gift emporia have proliferated in the towns and villages but it remains, to us a precious resource that we still love to walk, cycle and camp in.

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What better location to spend a weekend celebrating an anniversary and birthday? We park up, go for a hot, dusty cycle, return, shower and make for the convenient station where we take a tiny train to yachty Lymington. Here there are ferries to the Isle of Wight but we are interested only in the Lobster and Burger Bar where we feast-but not on burgers.

Next morning we have guests expecting breakfast:

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And we retreat inside the van until they give up. The ponies, cows, donkeys, deer and pigs of the Forest are a delight but need to be treated with caution. The Forest roads, terrain and flora are all theirs and humans must bow to their superiority, whether it means waiting in a traffic queue for them to shift from the centre of the road or going the long way around to the shower block on the campsite.

After another sweaty bike ride we get ready and set off to The Pig, favourite for Sunday supplement features and writers of restaurant columns.

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I’d say we aren’t The Pig’s average customers as a quick glance reveals that few would have travelled here from the camp site-many will be staying in one of the artfully ‘shabby chic’ rooms or have arrived in convertible sports cars, their pastel sweaters slung casually around their shoulders, their stilettos tap-tapping on the wood floors.

It’s nice, although the food is not quite as stunning as I’d been led to believe. But outside the gardens alone are worth the visit, immaculate, symmetrical veg beds and a path leading to a voluptuous pond area.

Next day we BBQ with old friends and enjoy a good gossip under the shade of the pull-out. All good!

Two Memorable Summers

The summer of 1976. Long, hot, dry days. A summer that stretched on in an endless, sweaty haze punctuated by occasional fires, hosepipe bans and exhortations to ‘bath with a friend’.

I was still in the early years of my career, although I’d switched jobs and had moved from a school in a 3 story tenement building in Stockwell to a light, airy, leafy special school [for ‘delicate’ children] in Putney where I was responsible for all of twelve children in a huge classroom. I loved everything about my new job, from the joys of working with such a small number of children to the social life of the staffroom; from the three delicious meals each day, [cooked on site] to the convenience of living a twenty minute walk away. I’d moved from Wimbledon to share a flat in Putney with a girl who’d begun working at the school at the same time.

One wall of each classroom in this modern building was glass, giving a view on to landscaped grounds but in a hot spell heating the rooms to oven temperatures in the afternoons. Our gregarious, eccentric boss, who had a gammy leg and was given to gesturing wildly with his stick, instructed us to take the children outside under the trees, a directive that we were only too delighted to follow. These were sick children, suffering from a range of conditions that included chronic asthma, heart problems and cycstic fibrosis. They flopped down under the trees and slept while we worked on our tans, having given up all pretence of holding meetings or making teaching aids.

By the time the long summer holiday came I’d acquired skin the shade you would expect from a long sojourn in a tropical location-and remember this era pre-dated any enlightened warnings about sunbathing.

This summer is the longest and hottest in the UK since that heady season of 76. And while I may not tolerate blistering sunshine as well as I could in my 20s I continue to love hot weather. I love soft, still early mornings and long, light, balmy evenings. Yes, the garden is dry. The grass is golden and crispy. Bumble bees have taken up residence in the lawn, tunnelling underneath the decking. The come and go in a relentless, dedicated relay, circling drunkenly before they make their inelegant landings then disappearing into the grassy tunnel.

As yet we’ve been spared a hosepipe ban, unlike 1976. I no longer loll around in the sun and am more likely to be walking, cycling or gardening. To relax I’ll seek out some dappled shade and settle with a book. I’ve become a conscientious user of sun cream and wearer of hats. We eat dinner with the doors wide open and a view of the river at the lowest it’s been since we moved here, flowing slowly and exposing islands of weed for hopeful moorhens to pick over.

Some day soon it will be over, this hot spell-and autumn will be upon us. But for now I’m going to enjoy every day, just as I did 42 years ago.

 

Festival Blues

At home we do summer things. We throw ourselves into our usual music festival preparations. The preparations are less absorbing than you would think. It is mostly paperwork. Of course-these days it isn’t so much paperwork as virtual paper, though there is still ream upon ream of it. Veritable cyclones of emails, requests for certificates, requests for risk assessments, requests for electricity checks, requests for this and that.

The potential stallholders drag their feet; attachments dribble across the ether, some up-to-date, some not.

In the council chambers a woman sits thinking up more demands. At the eleventh hour she has a brainwave-we must hire 17 portaloos. The public lavatories adjacent to the site are not enough for the needs of the thousands who will be flooding through our gates. We hold an emergency meeting, form our response, write to the chamber-woman, explain that we cannot, now go ahead with the festival since the £1000 required for portaloos is beyond our tiny fund. Chamber-woman relents [this year]-then demands we hire a qualified electrician to place a plug in a socket for the dancers in the square.

The festival week arrives and somehow it begins to take shape, the huge marquee erected in a morning, the various components arriving and being installed.

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An unexpected turn of events at the Football World Cup means that England is to play a quarter final match with Sweden on festival Saturday. A mood of disquiet descends among us. ‘They’ll come afterwards’ I say, since the match is at 3.00pm.

On Friday evening we are ready-and they come. ‘Saints of Sin’, the headlining band bring a substantial following of loyal fans, which is encouraging. We feel optimistic. The ticket office is kept busy and many more than usual purchase weekend tickets.

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Saturday dawns fine-continuing the heatwave we’ve enjoyed for a couple of weeks. We open at midday and the musicians get going, attended by a trickle of festival goers. It is eerily quiet. A woman berates us for the lack of attendees, demanding to speak to our ‘head office’. I’m confused. Head Office? I explain that she still has the entertainment and that we are only a community, charity event; that we are all volunteers, that there is no ‘head office’. Enraged, she abuses the security staff and is barred for her pains.

Those that have drifted in are mostly enjoying themselves and it is calm in the sunshine on the quay, a smattering of drinkers at the tables by the bar tent, a handful of people sitting inside the marquee.

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On Sunday, as usual we have to allow free entry due to an ancient by-law and as usual many take advantage and choose this free day to attend. But not as many as normal. An elderly man complains ‘I don’t understand why it’s free today and it was £7 yesterday. We had Ozzie Osborne when we went to Donnington’. I explain the by-law. I explain that we are a charity, not-for-profit event. He understands.

The low numbers don’t make clearing up any less tiring and it has been a long. hot weekend. A few days later we know what we suspected. The takings are down so far that next year’s festival is less likely to go ahead.

We are England fans too, we festival volunteers. Ours is not the only event to have been scuppered by the scheduling. It is only a minor tragedy. But it is ours…

The Ghastly Gathering…

Veteran regular readers of this blog may recall that here in our family residence we collect and curate an esoteric and hideous assembly of keepsakes [more here. ]

Our most recent expedition, which involved 15 countries threatened to be fertile ground for additions to the naff shelves.

A  nervous, hasty flit through Albania yielded nothing, owing to our not having stopped long enough to forage but since Northern Greece and The Peloponnese had been our goal it seemed fitting to acquire a suitably awful object derived from there. How appropriate, then to arrive at Nafplio and discover a wealth of such items! Nafplio is a veritable hotbed of ‘gift’ shops. After some deliberation we settled on this:

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-A fir tree, a church and an egg-timer all in one, it is also a fridge magnet! Were I ever to become a habitual user of egg-timers what better place to keep it than on the fridge? Sadly though I am neither a user of egg-timers nor is Husband a devotee of fridge magnets [a small collection of these was unceremoniously dumped many years ago when Husband confessed his abhorrence of them] so this cunning little object resides on the naff shelves, nestling among the other horrors.

I felt that if we were to obtain something dreadful anywhere it could be Bulgaria, judging from the appearance of its towns and shops. Belogradchik’s fortress and stunning rock formations are not universally known and the surrounding few cafes and gift shops are few and a little desultory. The coffee and snack selection was underwhelming. But a tiny shack with artisanal stuff yielded this:

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I am at a loss to explain what it is-or what the significance may be, as no explanation was forthcoming-or at least not one that we were able to understand. In the context, however of the naff shelves it is perfectly at home.

The greatest prize was won in the wonderful Market Hall of Budapest, where the first floor houses a plethora of magnificent souvenirs so that we were almost spoilt for choice. Once we’d spotted this particular item [shown below] we were in no doubt that it couldn’t be bettered. There was a range of Russian dolls but Husband, a die-hard Rolling Stones fan took a shine to this portrayal of his idols, looking as little like their namesakes as Lady Gaga to Saint Theresa:

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Sir Mick, here on the Russian doll bears a passing resemblance to Jon Hurt. And I can’t help wondering what Keith, Charlie and Ronnie would have to say about their diminished status-Charlie in particular since he has dwindled almost to nothing and manages to surpass only the tiny guitar-doll:

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And yesterday I was able to add another new contribution, kindly donated by Offspring, a gem gathered from a visit to Rome:

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Lovely!

 

Last Gasp-Germany

There is much to love about Germany; black forests, picture perfect , historic towns, grand rivers bordered by gorges and fairy-tale castles, exciting cities like Hamburg and Berlin, charming, engaging and eager-to-help citizens. But not the motorways-oh no. The motorways are strings of roadwork-riddled tedium, clogged with miles of crawling, wheezing lorries spewing fumes and large, gas-guzzling speed machines reduced to inching along with everyone else.

The drive to Wurzburg was one such journey, with roadworks every 10k and frustrating traffic queues at every junction. And once we’d arrived there was further idiocy from the Tom Tom, which led us around the city in ever decreasing circles with no sign of the camper stop, even though it was flagged on the tiny screen. At that point when we were about to give up I spotted the parking place-beneath the bridge and by the river, a smattering of vans and motorhomes in position.

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But it was perfect. And at the end of the parking lot was a restaurant serving German favourites, fat sausages, pork cutlets and servings of sauerkraut-an antidote to the annoyances of the day. Across the river the lights of Wurzburg twinkled and now and then a seemingly endless barge chugged past.

Next day we set off across the idiosyncratic footbridge into town.

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Wurzburg is home to ‘The Residenz’, [more here], a baroque folly of huge proportions which Husband visited many years ago in a previous life, BM [ie Before Me], and of which he has eulogised on a number of occasions.

Since we are not great breakfasters we strolled the picturesque town a little and settled on coffee and apple strudel at an outside table on a pleasant corner before tackling ‘The Residenz’. Our coffees came though not the strudels. We waited, expecting a slice to appear and after a few minutes two large, rectangular plates arrived laden with warm, sticky slices of strudels, pots of ice cream, pots of cream and a small heap of fruit compote. This is how you know you are in Germany-they are not into skimping where desserts are concerned.

We waddled along to The Residenz and yes-it is an impressively large edifice, matched by a suitably sumptuous interior that reminded me of Hampton Court-boudoirs within bedchambers within salons within chambers, the lot embellished with more golden curlicues than you can shake a stick at. The vast, ornate stoves in the corners of every room took my eye but of course with high ceilings and rooms of such size they’d have been essential.P1050621

The gardens were as expected, formal, dotted with statues and fountains and a labour of love.

Next morning we were off again, following the Main River to Ettelbach, a jolly town where pigs seem to be a theme. The heavens opened on to our riverside site but the expedition was drawing towards the end as we headed on to Belgium, Luxembourg and Calais.

Back again at the new camper park adjacent to Calais’ ferry port the evening sun beat down and we took ourselves to the sea front for a last supper while the ferries came in and went, disappearing over the horizon into a pink, candy floss sky.
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Waiting in the ferry lines and seeing the arrivals pouring down the ramp gave me a pang of regret, for while I was looking forward to going home and familiarising myself with our house I knew I’d miss the thrills and spills of exploring.

So it was ‘au revoir’ Europe. Can’t wait for next time…;)