The Wild Frontier

Last time we made the long trek to Croatia we were still using a tent, which means it was very many years ago. It seemed intrepid then, to go so far; but although the roads were basic the camp sites were beautiful, the people welcoming and the produce wonderful.

There are still hundreds of roadside stalls selling local fruit and vegetables and home-made concoctions but Croatia has developed a great deal since our previous visit, with efficient roads, signs and facilities in abundance. Having previously stayed on a few islands and seen Dubrovnik we chose to go to the Unesco site of Plitvicka, an area of outstanding natural beauty with lakes and waterfalls. At this time of year, with the snow-melt water cascading down everywhere under a faultless blue sky it was spectacular, exceeding all expectations and only marred [as the day grew later] by the hoards of selfie-takers, tablet-snappers and those who consider themselves ‘serious’ photographers in that they must use a tripod for every shot. There were also, near the end of our chosen trail a number of coach parties, mainly Japanese-some of whom had chosen to wear face-masks for their day out, an inexplicable sight in the pristine environment of Plitvicka.

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Next day we were off early, continuing through the inland part of the country which is quiet and beautiful, a backdrop of mountains and occasional lakes but precious little tourism. All tourists want Croatia’s coast [which, to be fair is dramatic and beautiful, too]. Then we were back on the coastal highway ourselves, spending our last night in Croatia in a small, seaside village and enjoying an uproarious evening with another British couple, sitting outside by the Adriatic, the sound of the waves an accompaniment.

We sped off again in the morning, south towards Montenegro, a new country for us. At the border we bought our obligatory motor insurance-fifteen euros for a scruffy scrap of paper-, made deferential noises at the officials and set off towards Budva, whose alleged reputation as a mini version of Dubrovnik is a little exaggerated. In all of the books, websites and information that we’ve amassed there are no places whatsoever mentioned in Montenegro so all we had was a dubious site I’d discovered on the internet somewhere around the back of town, the location of which we’d programmed into Mrs Tom-Tom with more hope than confidence.

‘700mtrs’ said Mrs Tom-Tom as we stopped in the first car park we found. 700 meters to the camp? In the midst of the city?

We drove towards it. I spotted the edge of a caravan between the houses of the street. We drove round the corner and through a gateway and parked under the olive trees. Yes, it was basic. No, not everyone would have wanted to use the shower [although it was clean]. But it was a twenty minute walk from the old, walled town of Budva and best of all it was safe and secure.

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While Budva cannot hope to compete with Dubrovnik it is nevertheless a pleasant and attractive old town. having strolled through the narrow alleyways and visited the ‘Citadela’ we found a seaside bar, bought a beer and sat to watch Budva’s population enjoying the evening sun. What would our next day’s travel involve? I’d read enough about the perils of Albanian roads to give me nightmares! We were about to discover it for ourselves…

 

 

What a Card!

Just as the sending of holiday postcards has [mercifully] almost completely died out, the sending of Christmas cards is a dwindling occupation, according to recent news articles. Reasons given include the cost of postage and the rise of popularity of social media.

In our household we still send cards, although in a true portent of how life will become in the future, the number of cards we must send has reduced.

Among those of us [mostly older] who uphold the tradition of sending cards there are various methods of acquisition, from those who manufacture their own-from family photos or recycling last years’ to my own preferred method of buying charity cards. The purchase of the cards is probably the most pleasurable part of the process, since many of the major charities’ cards are sold by volunteers in our local library along with wrapping paper, gift tags and so on.

I am sorry to say that my criteria for choosing are not altogether altruistic in the sense that I tend to choose by design rather than choice of charity. This year, for example I was much taken by a design featuring a shelf of books on winter and Christmas-related topics. Steering clear of anything religious I eschew biblical scenes such as the night sky over a fictitious Bethlehem, camels, three ships or whimsical stables. I also reject ‘humour’ in the form of comical Santas, reindeer or snowmen in cartoon poses. I don’t like glittery snow scenes either.

It must be tricky for card designers to produce originality nowadays. Old masters are acceptable, as is anything well drawn or a stunning piece of photography.

With a few exceptions the writing of Christmas cards is not a task I enjoy. The exceptions are the cards for people with whom I have little contact apart from this. There is a friend from student days, a friend from single-dom days [whose card, by tradition must be from one ‘Archers’ character to another; this year it was from Lilian to Justin-a story line only die-hard Archers fans will understand].

In an unprecedented effort, this year’s cards were written early in the month. This was in order to apprise those of a Luddite nature that we have moved house. There are few of them, now-friends and relations who do not use email, let alone social media.

As we begin to receive cards it is clear that the early writing formula has succeeded, with cards from the ‘once-a-year’ contacts plus a smattering of cards from our neighbours. Notable among these is a ‘home-made’ card from the single gentleman at number 2. He has already done sterling service as the basis for the character, Jeffery Marsh in my story ‘The Courtyard Pest’ [see last month’s posts for the story] and has much more potential for creative fact and fiction. The card, in a large manila envelope is shoved through our letter box. An autumn leaf has been glued on to a piece of gold card-clearly recycled from some packaging, although one corner of the card is missing as if torn off. There is some hastily scrawled writing ‘Happy Xmas’ in red, replicated as Happy New Year inside. Has he taken irony to an unprecedented level? We can only hope…

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Tales from the Red Carpet

Film award season is upon us. I must admit to a passing interest in the BAFTAs and the OSCARs in spite of myself. I’m not a fan of the hype, the ‘loviness’, the millions of bucks chucked at those whose earnings are already millions of bucks, the horrible, fawning adoration and blitz of papparazi resulting in tabloid, red carpet effluent. Then there are the ceremonies themselves; the over confident, self-congratulatory smugness of whoever is hosting, the simpering and the tearful gushing of the winners. On occasions there is a glimpse of a plucky loser as the camera pans around the glittering audience, applauding with as much generous enthusiasm as they are able to muster.

Sometimes I will have seen one or two of the nominated films. If this is the case it will either have been due to having read the book or because something about the story has grabbed my attention. This time I have seen ‘Room’, drawn by the fact that I’ve read it and that Mark Kermode, a reliable BBC critic gave it a ‘thumbs up’. Having initially been interested to see ‘The Lady in the Van’ I am now deterred by the [again reliable] remarks of my writing group members, who declared it ‘awful’. This is disappointing, in view of the fact that the writer, Alan Bennett is a national treasure.

This year I am intrigued to see that traditional story-telling appears to dominate the selected movies, rather than over-blown productions salivated over for their special effects. I can see no virtue whatsoever in resurrecting tired old Star Wars. Give me some gritty drama and a brilliant story and I’m happy-oh and the acting has to be plausible.

Of course, a film is about more than the plot or the acting. There are costumes, photography, direction, locations, ‘stars’. But for me the overriding element is always story line and while I am inevitably compelled to see a movie about a book I’ve read I will always come away knowing the book was better. Yes, ‘Room’ the movie was excellent and the best actor award well deserved but the book got into my head in a way that seeing the images never could.

I’m always surprised by how many people have no interest at all in fiction and I’ve a sneaking suspicion that most are of the male gender, but I may be wrong. Throughout all the years of my previous life as a teacher I never once encountered a child who didn’t love stories. What happens during the transition to adulthood to turn some people off reading them?

 

Snap!

                It is accepted that to be good at something, to excel, to be an expert-you must love that thing. You must have dreamed of doing it since childhood; have worked, or practised or studied at it in all your waking hours. It is true for great musicians, artists, sportspeople and of course, writers. But what if there is a pursuit you love, that you spend time on, you practise and you study-but you are, you remain, you continue to be completely useless at it?

                At school, for instance I was very fond of both geography and biology. In geography I loved drawing maps, shading in the contours and labelling everything. In biology I got enormous pleasure from drawing diagrams and again, labelling the bits. I’d spend time over these tasks, colouring along the coastlines in blue on a map, or shading in the joints on a skeleton. But it was to no avail. I bombed at both subjects and was [not unkindly] advised to ‘drop’ them like hot potatoes before ‘O’ levels loomed.

                So it is, nowadays with photography. I love photographing things. When walking in a new place I am rarely without my camera in my pocket-or more often-in my hand. I do, however have to have a compact, idiot-proof camera that will do everything for me except press its own button. I confess to no understanding at all of shutter speeds, lenses, exposures, filters and zooms [although I do have an excellent zoom on my little gadget]. I take snaps. I take many snaps of objects that have just gone past, or that are too far away for the camera to see, or are blurred or are in the dark, or are anyway, unrecognisable. But in this automated, computerised, digitalised age it matters not a flash, because that master capability exists-the delete button.

                These days anyone can have a go at photography and be ‘published’, [in much the same way as blogging]. Holiday snaps on Facebook must have become the new ‘postcards’. Myself, I’m not sorry about the demise of the postcard. They were a complete chore, a duty to be executed and got out of the way as quickly as possible. You had to choose them, buy them, get stamps. The shop selling the postcards might not sell stamps, or would sell stamps only of you bought cards from them. Then you had to think of something to write to Aunty Elsie or whoever. What could you write in that tiny space that would be interesting or amusing or informative? You could write in barely legible miniature documenting every moment of your vacation or you could use up the entire space with a vacuous ‘wish you were here’ kind of statement.

                No-I prefer the FB approach, except that due to an entrenched phobia about having my own phizog snapped I like to be behind the lens rather than the subject; and I get to be a published photographer –just like everyone else!