A Dog’s Breakfast of Linguistics

Driving towards the Spanish border and San Sebastian I am attempting to reclaim, renovate and restore my rusty Spanish, a language that’s languished unused for a couple of years. A few words and phrases float in- ‘Si’ ‘No’ ‘por favor’ ‘gracias’ ‘lo siento’ ‘la cuenta’ ‘cervezas’ and ‘banos’. All the essentials. Then I get to wondering what the word for breakfast is and it becomes an irritation. I can find the German word-‘fruhstuck’ but I’m frustrated by Spanish breakfast. This is absurd, mainly because we’ve no need whatsoever to be ordering breakfast in Spain.

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We locate a site with great mountain views and stretch legs by plunging down a steep, bendy road towards the sea. The weather has turned hot and muggy and by the time we’ve returned and got some chairs out the first drops of thunderous storm have arrived. Rain continues until bed time but by morning it has all cleared and it’s bright, sunny and fresh.

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A convenient bus ride takes us into San Sebastian via Monte Igelda [where our site is], stopping at the ancient funicular en route. After locating the tourist office we follow a suggested walking route around the city which takes in major plazas, the waterfront and important landmarks such as the Basilica. We stop for tapas lunch at ‘Tapas Santana’, where a sumptuous display of tapas dishes fills the counter and hordes crowd in. I look at the menu and there it is: desayuno-breakfast. Of course!

Husband waves me to the counter to order, although I’m not ready, not well enough rehearsed in my renaissance Spanish. I muddle through aided by the kindness of the waiter and we are rewarded with a delicious lunch.

We leave next day for San Juan de Gaztelugatxe and get hopelessly muddled when our new SATNAV decides the best route is along unmade mountain cart tracks, but at last we find a sensible coast road, albeit winding and tortuous. The terrain here resembles the Amalfi coast but with fewer tourists even now at Easter time. After a number of glitches, including a near-death experience on the motorway when a bendy bus decides we are a pesky nuisance and attempts to do away with us, we arrive to San Juan de G, a destination better known as a location for filming Game of Thrones than for scenic or religious significance. It is, however spectacular.

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The tiny church of San Juan, dating from AD890,  is perched upon an island rock accessed by a winding path across a stone causeway. The path down [and up!] is steep and arduous. But plenty of people of all ages, sizes and fitness are tackling the walk. Remembering the Tiger Cave Temple climb in Thailand we decide this is a doddle, which it isn’t, but we make it down and up.

It is only a stone’s throw then down to Bakio, where a perfectly nice, free, well-serviced aire awaits. Here is surfing galore so of the many vans parked up a lot are typically bohemian and strewn with the paraphernalia of the sport.

Leaving Bakio we head off towards Comillas, the steady drizzle strengthening into steady rain, which continues throughout the day and is still dropping relentlessly when we arrive to our selected site. On into the evening it rains…and rains. Next morning it is still raining. So the rain in Spain is not restricted to the plain, clearly…

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February Fiction 2

 

In Part 2 of ‘Lewis’s Basement Herbs’, Lewis’s mother’s mood becomes relaxed until the two receive an unexpected, early morning visit which is less than welcome…

 

Lewis’s Basement Herbs

Part 2

He waited for her to tell him to go to his room, to remind him of the ‘no TV’ sanction or to say it was bedtime, but she began to watch the next programme, a sport games show, not her usual choice. He noticed that she was smiling, another unusual event and once or twice she sniggered in an uncharacteristic way. At the end of the programme she turned to him and asked him to fetch a bag of crisps from the kitchen, which he did; one for her and another for himself. She tore into the crisps then requested the biscuit tin, helping herself to at least four, an unprecedented action. She sighed, wrapped her arms around him and kissed him, telling him what a good boy he was. Lewis grinned. The herbs must be making her feel better.
During the course of the next week Lewis sneaked a few more bags from the herb garden box and stashed them in his bedroom. When the tea caddy ran low, he topped it up with the herbal mixture. Life became more relaxed as he bathed in his mother’s benevolence and her tranquil good humour.
It was still dark on a school morning ten days later when Lewis was woken by strong light through his thin curtains, the sound of vehicles down in the road and heavy footsteps running into the building. He looked out of his window to see several police vehicles, their lights blazing and a number of police officers scurrying around, some of whom were accompanied by dogs sniffing the ground and wagging their tails. Soon the sound of their feet was echoing in the corridors and along the narrow balconies of the block and he could hear shouts and the banging of doors. He pulled a hoodie over his pyjamas and went out to the living room just as his mother appeared from her bedroom, wrapped in a voluminous towelling robe. It was five o’clock.
His mother was beginning to speak when their door was hammered by a loud knock and a voice calling, “Police. Open up please!”.
Lewis and his mother exchanged puzzled looks before she went to the door and opened it. A policeman, bulky in a yellow vest, with items hung about his waist and holding a leash attached to a laughing, wagging spaniel stepped into their small living room, filling it.
“I’m sorry to get you up but we have to search each flat I’m afraid.” He looked around. “It won’t take long and we’ll try to leave things as they are.”
Lewis thought he’d like to pat the dog, which looked friendly, but the policeman’s brusque manner was discouraging. The boy’s mother drew herself up into a statuesque stance, arms folded across her stout chest and scowled. “Officer! We are a law-abiding household. You won’t find any drugs in this flat!”
The policeman nodded. “I’m sure you’re right, Madam. But it’s procedure and as I say we’ll be out of here in a minute or two.”
The dog was whining and pulling, tail whipping to and fro like clockwork. They were in the tiny kitchenette in three strides, the woman and the boy following to lean in the doorway while the dog yapped and stood up with paws on the worktop, excitement vibrating through every hair of his curly coat. The officer turned to the woman. “Dog seems to be interested in your containers, Madam.”
Lewis’s Mum frowned at the policeman and pushed her arms higher over her bosom. “I don’t have anything except food in there-sugar, sweeteners, coffee and tea. That is all.”
The Officer withdrew a pair of gloves from his pocket. He took a caddy from the shelf, opened it and looked inside while the dog jumped beside him, barking, whining and wagging. The officer took another tin down, peered in and replaced it. He went for the third. Lewis heard his mother grunt in disapproval then the dog went wild, leaping up at the tin and barking in a frenzy. The lid was removed and the policeman shook it before sniffing the contents. He turned to the woman, tilting the caddy towards her.
“I’ll be taking this tin, Madam. And I’ll have to ask you to accompany me to the station. You might want to get dressed first. I’ll wait out here.” Now that the thrill was over the spaniel lay down on the floor, head between its paws.
Lewis’s mother’s mouth hung open as she stared at the officer. She tried to speak but no words came out. She frowned at Lewis as if begging him to help. After a moment she gathered her wits. “And what about my little boy? I can’t just leave him here you know. He’s only nine years old.”
Lewis licked his lips. He felt hot. He glanced at the policeman then at his mother, then back at the policeman. He cleared his throat, prompting them both to look at him. “Wha…what is in the caddy?” he stammered. The policeman waved the tin at him. “I believe this caddy contains an illegal substance, young man. Do you know anything about it?”
Lewis felt his face grow hot as he studied the laminate flooring. He mumbled, “Herbs-it’s just herbs.”
They were both staring at him now. He could feel their eyes on him, turning him to stone where he stood riveted to a fake knot in the plastic floorboard. “I put some herbs in the tea caddy” he managed to whisper, risking a sideways peek at his mother, who was gawping at him as if he was an alien. The policeman strode back into the living room and spoke into his radio.

Lewis led them down the steps to the basement room. Behind him he could hear the dog wheezing as he strained at the leash, enthusiasm rekindled at the prospect of more discoveries. As the boy reached the bottom of the steps and stood before the door with its frame of light, he felt a sense of loss at this, his own private retreat exposed to others’ eyes. He bent to swivel the numbers and pulled the lock open. The policeman, dog panting at his side, touched his arm. “Alright son, I’ll take it from here” and he reached in front of Lewis to pull the door open then he and the dog went in.
Lewis’s mother fixed him with what he had come to think of as the death-stare. “What” she hissed, “have you done?”

The new house still seems vast. Lewis’s new, bigger bedroom looks out over their small patch of garden and sometimes he just stands at his window smiling. Today he can see his mother sitting out on the patio and he thinks he’ll go down and offer to make her a cup of tea because this always makes her hoot with laughter. Nowadays she calls him her ‘lucky star’ for getting them this new home, away from dangerous gangs and threats, away from graffiti and basement drug manufacture. Once Lewis had convinced the police of his innocence, he and his mother had needed to be whisked away from the flats to avoid reprisals.
He wanders downstairs and outside to the tiny garden, his favourite part of the new house. His mother has sat down again so he perches next to her. “Mum” he says, bestowing on her his most guileless smile, “I’d really like to grow something in our garden, like we do at school. There’s a space at the end by the shed. I know what to do. I can grow some herbs. Please will you let me try? Please?”

I hope you enjoyed reading this 2-parter. Comments, whether you liked the story or not are much appreciated. Normal blogging will resume next Sunday. Thanks for visiting!

Brief Encounter-with the Press

An interesting thing happened on the way to the library.

On Monday afternoon I set off towards our local High Street in order to attend my monthly meeting of our writers’ group, The Spokes, which meets on the third Monday of each month. The meeting date had taken me by surprise, being only two weeks in to October because the first Monday was the first day. The result of this was that my reminder email to our group was not sent until very late on Sunday night.

When I reached the High Street, market trading was well underway as usual for  Monday, but with the addition of a large, white, double-decker bus, next to which a small group of elderly people bearing leaflets was busy faffing around.

On the bus’s side slogans of the  ‘Brexit means Brexit’ type had been placed.

That the bus was parked there in my own High Street provoked feelings of outrage in me, so that I was taken unawares by the reporter and cameraman who stopped me as I walked further along trying to process what I’d seen.

The reporter proffered her fluffy microphone, ‘What do you think of all this?’ she asked. I assumed she meant the bus. ‘I’m furious,’ I replied, ‘about that bus parked in my town!’

You must understand, reader that in order to sacrifice myself on the altar of the media I had to overcome my total rejection of photos of…me. The cameraman’s lens was only a few menacing inches away from my face. Horrors!

The reporter continued. ‘What do you think about the current Brexit situation?’

‘I’m a remainer’, I said. ‘I voted ‘remain’ and I would still like to remain in the EU’.

She leaned towards me. ‘Nigel Farrage is in that pub’.

Nigel Farrage!!! 

For the benefit of overseas readers, Nigel Farrage was the former leader of UKIP-[The UK Independence Party], a virtually single-issue party devoted to the sole aim of extracting the UK from the European Union. Not only is Nige a Member of Parliament [currently some other cobbled together anti-Europe mob] but has also had the gall to take a place in the European Parliament! 

I frowned into the reporter’s mike. ‘I don’t even know what Nigel Farrage is FOR,’ I said. Then I told her they were all right wing scum. At this point they left me and continued up the High Street.

I went on into the library and to our writers’ room [we are The Spokes], which is on the first floor and overlooks the High Street. I opened the window to get a bird’s eye view and was joined by a fellow Spoke. After a few moments we were treated to this view:

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Farrage is the character slightly left of centre in his trademark trilby hat. A closer inspection of the scene shows that his motley collection of ‘followers’ [not many] is, on the whole elderly and a little decrepit looking.

Later Meridian news aired a snippet of the interview, cutting much of it. While I’d hoped nobody I knew had seen it, it became clear from social media that a lot of people had, which was mortifying. The camera had indeed been much too close for comfort. Ho hum.

But I thought of the chip paper analogy and felt comforted. And I did get to say my bit…

How do you Watch?

My maternal grandmother measured around four foot six inches in height and looked about the same distance in width. She was a complex character, at once merry and childlike but also prone to emotional outbursts. As a young child I adored her and loved nothing more than to snuggle up in her bed [once my austere, child-hating grandfather was up] listening to her nonsense rhymes and the funny stories that caused her to laugh with an infectious guffaw.

She ate an appalling diet of cream cakes, sweets and puddings, never moved unless she had to and lived to a ripe old age of ninety-eight.

She was also addicted to television, watching it for as many hours as it aired, which in those days was not twenty-four/seven but test card to close-down, when the screen would diminish into a tiny dot and disappear. She loved to sit on the sofa munching her way through a bag of sweets and watch whatever was on, distracted only by the sound of an approaching ice-cream van tinkling its jolly, summoning tune, at which she’d reach for her bag, withdraw a note and send one of us out to get a round in.

Spending time with my grandparents became trickier as I got older. The nonsense rhymes lost their appeal along with the long sessions of lolling on the sofa watching endless TV. One of her favourite programmes was ‘Peyton Place’, an American soap opera of the sixties which kick-started the careers of such actors as Ryan O’Neal and Mia Farrow. We children were not allowed to touch the TV buttons, on pain of the wrath of my grandfather, who also considered that the court drama ‘Perry Mason’ was too ‘deep’ for us.

During stays longer than a couple of days I’d feel an urgent need to get out and away from the endless hours of television, although the soulless estate the claustrophobic bungalow occupied was not over-conducive to walking. I’d wander the identical streets and stare into the windows of the shops in a small row called ‘The Cut’. At last, in an area of wasteland near to the estate I discovered a diversion that would take me as near to heaven as a pony-mad child could be: a riding stables. Thereafter I spent all my pocket money riding and any other time cleaning tack, mucking out and volunteering my services.

Grandma would be astonished to see how many channels there are on TV now and even more amazed at the ways we can view; recorded, I-player, Netflix and the rest. But what astonishes me is that despite the plethora of footage of one sort or another, how little there is that is worth devoting any time to. Since we returned from travel we’ve watched a so-so detective serial, some historical drama and the news. We almost never watch anything on commercial channels except for the channel 4 news.

The future of TV is even more uncertain as the young turn away in favour of alternative screens, gaming and interactive viewing. So It’s unlikely I’ll follow in my grandmother’s footsteps, few as they were!

2016? Sleep on it…

Christmas-yes it’s lovely, yes it’s festive. There is a warm, fuzzy glow everywhere-in the shops, in the pubs, in the cafes, along the streets and in the homes. We decorate, we shop, we cook. We send cards and receive them, exclaim over seldom contacted friends’ messages, speak to long-distance relatives. We deck the halls. We peel, chop and baste. We make table decorations, lay out crackers, pass things around, pour drinks, make toasts, watch the Queen/don’t watch the Queen,  play games, hand out gifts, open gifts, watch TV’s lack-lustre, festive offerings, crash out, wake, get up and begin again.

We eat too much, drink too much, feel bloated. In the mornings there is a swathe of last night’s glasses bearing dregs, demanding to be washed; and chocolate wrappers festooning the surfaces along with crumbs and pieces of nut shell. The dishwasher groans as you heave open its door, its bulging contents demanding to be dispersed.

I look forward to Christmas as much as the next person, preparing and anticipating but then when it comes all I really want is for it to be over. It belongs to children, this winter celebration with its pretence of magic and if you’ve access to a small child there is pleasure to be got from their enjoyment-otherwise there is a tendency towards anti-climax.

Nobody should wish their life away, especially when what remains is dwindling but 2016 needs to be behind us. It has been the year the world turned grim, forgetting any lessons history should have taught and returning instead to crude, emotions-led political decisions, territorial feuds and downright bestiality.

I’ve said before that I don’t do resolutions but planet earth needs to do some. There is an alarming deficiency of concern over climate change as we are about to be plunged back into over-reliance on fossil fuels. Genocide and brutality abound within and outside of conflict zones and how on earth is any of this to be tackled if we exacerbate hostility to foreigners and visitors by cutting ourselves off?

Though not a fan of cold weather I’m feeling introspective at this, the dormant part of the year. Yesterday the frost painted a stunning picture of a tree on our bedroom window, reminding me that there is still a lot to love about the world around us if we choose to preserve it. In winter nature reins in, hibernates, repairs and prepares. We should do the same, appreciate and cherish what matters the most. So I’m not going to feel guilty for spending time doing very little; for watching the garden birds or staring at a view or sitting quietly and thinking-because it’s just me doing what the season dictates and having a dormant spell until spring rushes in and stirs everything up!

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Happy New Year, Anecdotage readers-here’s to better things in 2017!

 

It’s No Joke

The news that Terry Jones is suffering from dementia is terribly sad. What a miserable, cruel illness dementia is-swooping down on anyone from any lifestyle or walk of life. In Terry Jones’ case, [as in Terry Prachett’s], targeting a giant of an intellect-a genius with words and humour; a person who made his living from the spoken word, from comedy.

I was a teenager when Monty Python’s Flying Circus hit the small screen. The humour was fresh and surreal, unfathomable to our parents, which made it even more irresistible to me and to my friends. There had been a few attempts at this kind of bizarre comedy before, with shows like radio’s ‘Round the Horn’ and ‘The Goon Show’ or TV’s ‘Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-in’ although it was American, but nothing that resonated with us on the scale of Python; nothing as zany, dreamlike, weird and downright hilarious.

In our teenage get-togethers, alongside gathering to listen to music albums we re-lived episodes of Monty Python, crying with laughter again as we recalled each episode and able to recall every sketch word-for-word. I adored ludicrous sketches such as the two frumpy women in a launderette earnestly discussing John-Paul Sartre or the cheeky ridiculing of Morris dancing where the dancers slapped each other with a dead fish. Then there was the device of bringing parts of one sketch into another. A scene outside a bank would include a long queue of people in rolled up trousers wearing knotted hankies from a previous sketch [‘I’d like to tax people what stand in water’].

Later shows sought to emulate the alternative angle. ‘The Young Ones’, ‘The League of Gentlemen’ and ‘Little Britain’ followed in the footsteps.

Otherwise, since that time, apart from one or two, longstanding, notable radio comedies [‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’, ‘Just a Minute’] there’s been very little laugh-out-loud comedy on offer. Sit-coms become ever more tired. The channels churn out contrived panel shows featuring the same worn-out comedians peddling the same, stale, clichéd patter.

I still laugh at slapstick comedy and am easily able to enjoy the humour in a children’s entertainment such as Punch and Judy, which probably explains what a simpleton I am.

Each generation has their own set of beloved, cultural icons from music, film, literature and comedy. My grandparents had Charlie Chaplin, my parents had Arthur Askey and Bob Hope. I’m sure there are young comedians around who understand the challenges that today’s young generation faces. I know there are new sit-coms and every season a whole raft of new comedy movies, although as I’ve written before, the genre of American rom-com does nothing for me at all.

I’d say we are ready for a new, fresh approach in comedy-to distract us from all the nasty world events, if nothing else. But in the meantime I’d like to thank Terry Jones for all the sheer, unadulterated pleasure he’s provided over the years. Bless you Terry-you are a genius!

Whereabouts on the Podium do you Stand?

It is Olympics time. I was watching the women’s cycling road event, sucked in by the thrilling build-up as the competitors battled over the last few kilometres. There was a tortuous climb up a long, winding hill followed by a hurtling, nail-biting descent on a slippery road with more perilous bends, the roadside precipices looming at every turn. The leader, a Dutch woman had pulled ahead of the pack, shrugged off her nearest rival and was rocketing down in an exhilarating abandonment of caution. Then catastrophe struck as she hit the side, catapulting herself over the handlebars and on to her head to lie inert as the riders cannoned downwards past her and towards the finish.

My heart leapt into my throat. I remembered what a coward I was, whimpering my way down the mountain in Thailand and having to be nursed down over the ruts and chasms by a kindly Thai guide as the rest of the group swooshed down in a cloud of confidence. The camera continued to follow the Olympic cyclists, one of the commentators insisting we should follow the race, the other less sure, feeling much like I did that the catastrophic crash eclipsed any result that would ensue.

An American had taken the lead now, hotly pursued by a small group who closed the gap then at the very last they overtook her and the gold medal was won by another Dutch woman in an ironic turn of events. How must the American have felt to have the medal torn from her grasp in the last few metres? These are the stories you see less of during the coverage of the games. We see the triumphs, the excitement, the interviews and the joy. We don’t see the heartbreak and the disappointment.

Until I grew old-ish the only interest I took in anything Olympic Games related was to rail at the lack of proper telly. During the weeks that the games is on everything else-dramas, murder mysteries, historical documentaries, talk shows, music programmes, political debate or David Attenborough cavorting with primates-they all must make way for the ceaseless round of prattle that is the Games.

Nowadays I have an ambivalent attitude to watching sport. Sometimes it can suck me in [as in the cycle race]. Other times I’ll sit down to watch an event only to have my mind wander off on an event of its own-to the supermarket perhaps to ponder groceries or to the fridge to peruse the contents. My fingers may stray to the keyboard to play a round of Scrabble [I am engaged in a gladiatorial battle of almost Olympic proportions with a friend]. I might feel inclined to check emails or read a news website.

And where is the coverage of The Edinburgh Fringe event? At the very least it could be shown on a different channel!

The Dutch cyclist survived, albeit with spinal fractures and some other injuries-not least the disappointment of having crashed out at a pivotal moment. Since then there has been diving, gymnastics, tennis, swimming, shooting; some GB successes. The results, yes they are of some interest. The events themselves must take their chances and compete with emails and Scrabble.