Wednesday, November 5, 2014

taste of travel

Shaftsbury Street evoking Thomas Hardy
British WW1 Tank,
In this entry we travel from Bath UK to Bosham via the Tank Museum at Bovington.

Winding out of Bath in fog, tree fingers seeming to stir the swirling vapour, to Shaftsbury where in the fog I'm transported back to my love of Hardy novels where characters encounter new truths amidst mists. The taste of black sausage at breakfast
does not confirm a memory. It's pleasant, almost biscuit like experience amid a delicious breakfast well earned after cleaning the flat this morning but the tang of coffee allures. So many years ago did I like coffee? Yes but not that much. Am I yearning for an unchanging self but then there would not be room for growth. I am eating black pudding as a visitor and not as something I eat, or could choose to eat as part of my everyday diet. Here is a dialogue between selves and memories the interwoven layered self framed in beliefs about past, present, identity and future.

At Bovington I recognize firstly the names surrounded in red for Ministry of Defence, once I belonged to this family and had a place within its hierarchy. We pass the HIVE and I remember how these places came to existence in 1990 in the lead up to the Gulf War for service families. The crack of gunfire and the shape of tanks and the grey green of NATO establishments, that sense of impending war and living with the threat of attack.

Some take me back to a boyhood of AIRFIX models as my fingers hold a memory of glue and carefully placing the gun of a Sherman and Lee Grant or Churchill in its plastic turret. Then in the tank Museum ( I always wanted to go there as a boy but it was too far away when I could not drive) I confront a shape that arcs across my memory and my feeling. These are figures in respirators and NBC suits and my body remembers the smell and feel of those suits, the rubber encounter on my face, my fingers recall changing the canister in the tear has filled room as we carried out 'buddy buddy checks' and the old Cold War is present once again. Once again the Air Force which often I dream about returns to front of consciousness, appearing from the mist of the mind.

Later in the Pub at Bosham with the taste of English Cod in my mouth I recall that it was in this pub that on the day before my 18th birthday I was challenged here as I bought beer. Was I served or not, I can't remember and I must have been with Frank and Paul after Mass or a visit to the church to light a candle to our Lady of Walsingham.

Again and again, as memories telescope in familiar landscape here in West Sussex where I grew from a boy with endless dreams and fantasies, castles of the mind, to the war of secondary school, the illness of dad and his spiral into death, being found by God, the embrace of religion but also the outer landscape of boats and birds, grey skies and ploughed fields, cycle rides and friendships, that sense of a long history of which I was a part. The colour of trees the shape of roof lines, fences and doorways suggest the dreamlike and misty nature of memory.

Ancient paths of cobbles at Shaftsbury     

Lines and Buried Lines September in Bath UK

Lines and buried lines recounts a visit to Bath. After so many years I see the city afresh as an Australian rather than as a young air force officer just married on his day off from RAF Lyneham, civilian civilization after a week of immersion in the front line of service life.

I make my way across the city stretching out my legs still cramped after flying across the world and now moving my body across space and time.  Initially I am chilled but soon warm in the hazy early morning light of Bath. I feel the pull and push of the body climbing and descending, negotiating roads and narrow pathways bracketed by lush summer vegetation.

I let my eyes run across lines and angles. I notice the symmetry of rectangular classical windows broken at the centre of each tall house, a window with a classical arch. Stopping to look I notice sameness and variety and how another street carries the theme yet changes the design. Those on the wide straight road are more richly ornamented. The classical columns arise from the flat vertical and often margins have playful displays. Here is a city that in its 18 c clothing displays a love for the rational with the irrational places on the boundary. Light and straight lines the emblem of an enlightenment.

I note the square paving stones now eroded by feet and weather into irregular shapes. Against the houses there are undulating lines and colours of cars the symmetry suddenly broken by a car facing the other way.  Cast iron railings in deep black against the light colour of the stonework.

The predominant stonework provides a canvas for a still life of shapes and forms, flowers and stationary cars yet suddenly interrupted by the long curving sweep of a bright dress as a young woman cuts diagonally across the road, a comet like movement of red cutting across the orbits of cars and lorries their path determined and expected.

Hidden away are flats beneath the houses, some dark others alive with red geraniums and other flowers, steps garnished with lichen winding down to their doorways.

Along the way my eyes are being drawn to road names and other names written in black script on stonework. The typeface is above all else a reminder of another age that lives in writing since its so unfamiliar when compared to the way that we make words today for display on signs and shops. Some incised into the stonework others painted denoting a commitment to preserving this plain upright script.

Paths lead downwards to the river, to a riverside sports field, and church spires thrust upward towards irregular clouds as I stretch my neck to look. Everywhere is the fine vertical wire to deter pigeons and gulls. Then almost by accident to the old Green Square station of the Somerset and Dorset railway, a beautifully proportioned face to the square and then through walkways to see the curve of the canopy that once enclosed trains that traveling onwards would have to reverse. I imagine them resting here like steaming war horses, sleeked with sweat replenishing their energy after an arduous battle.

This is the line my great grandfather, probably with too much loyalty to his community living in Glastonbury bought shares in. I doubt if there was ever a dividend. Yet it's satisfying to walk along the tracks of the old trains across the bridge and to imagine the excited echoes of children and adults crossing the land for summer holiday specials. The curve of the train canopy now enclosing a market is most satisfying. It's a kind of birthing chamber and not just a place to protect travelers. Here is an enclosure, yet one that is glass a cathedral from which trains arrive and depart an inside outside place so very unlike aircraft terminals.

Along the path I cross in front of the old Holy Trinity Queen square and try and remember the name of the priest I met at St Stephens House who went to serve his title there. Now the church is closed down but still retains that sense of mystery within and the old Anglo Catholic perfume of hassocks, incense and romanticism lingers in my memory as from a previous life, an incarnation and identity I once inhabited. 

Blocks of stone hold up railway sweeping diesel snakelike across the city intertwining with river. Arches of bridges and straight lines of the old railway bridge. Then the uneven path along the river beside narrow boats some humming with life to power the generator others paint peeling and up for sale. Old bicycles, black plastic bags filled with who knows what, a shrine with flowers by the bank to someone who perhaps drowned there or worse. It's not a bank of the river I would like to frequent at night.

The bright tourist heritage city is moored alongside a poorer community. I step into the road to navigate past a group of people waiting for the Baptist community centre to open and steady steams of people part to make space for the Big Issue seller and his dog.

Lines, some high like the railway and it's horizon, others low like the river and others enclosed by the old Kennet and Avon navigation with locks like doorways inviting another kind of travel a path of water. Other horizons are high houses, church steeples and the St George's flag flying above Bath Abbey as church and state are woven together.

At night as we return home from a restaurant a huge electrical storm and slanting sheets of rain and under street lamps the regular shape of paving stones is highlighted.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Night walk swimming in the sound scape

Cups fly in formation across this Bosham cottage wall

A reflection from a stay at Bosham in West Sussex September 2015

I step out into the night diving into darkness from the pool of light from this ancient house well rooted in earth on this rough track that extends like a stream of stone into this tilled field where in daylight rooks caw their ownership. The night sky full of stars covered with the light mist of human light from southern cities yet stars still strive for attention, the philosophical gaze of wonder, humility and appreciation, the taken and released breath of appreciation.

I feel my body take on the rhythm of the walk on deserted roadways conscious of shadows of fences and hedges, homes and cars. Autumn perfumes of trees and plants greet my passing, honeysuckle like the glimpsed perfume of an elegant older lady passing by.

I notice my breathing deepen and my body shifts to lift my feet higher to avoid tripping. I sense a kind of smudge about my body as if I am swimming yet blending with this warm darkness, that I can release into this flow of eddying moments of time.

The pub at the crossroads acts like a compass with lights casting pools of radiance across the space where ways converge and part. Beyond this point there is only darkness and I suspect this is a dark night village. Lights of cyclists arrive silently followed by hazy shapes of riders. On homes tiny red and green lights show to deter thieves. Squares of brightly etched windows shadowed onto the pavement.

the distinctive Sussex shingle

These cottages which have stood here while generations have come and gone escorting the trackway which has no official conclusion since the tides which rise and fall like the breathing of an ancient creature provide the demarcation. Tonight at low tide a calm which magnifies a laugh from some distance away, the cry of a bird. The calm water reflected by stars is like a bowl of water utterly still holding all around it in stillness. The pungency of weed and pools of salt water remind me that this is a harbour where sailing boats laze on the mudflats or stand like sleeping horses on blankets of shadow. This water which seems to this bystander motionless, is a distant relative of the sea at which it does it's bidding each day like an old family retainer still entrusted with greeting guests.

I return, my steps echoing where the houses become coterminous with the narrow path, I turn now switching on a modest torch to prevent my tripping and into this narrow beam of light my feet appear one by one like fish darting forward for food. The tone changes on reaching the lane and now looking up through shaggy hedgerow reaching above me the stars are framed anew.

sea, steel and wood in an aging alchemy
Stopping I hear a passing rhythmic train, the distant tongue of traffic and tracing a path through the stars an aircraft far above heads to its destination descending from dark skies to the arc lights of its terminal. So far away it's as silent as a glider or the wing of an owl wheeling above to survey the rook tended rows of this field. The slap of shoes on pavement now crunch on gravel as if I stood on the shingled shore now two miles distant. Perhaps the beach followed me home, hiding in the shadows. I bid it goodnight. Taking a breath with mouth opened wide and lifting arms to the skies arching my back in animal like stretch I prepare to be embraced by the lit house, the hum of conversation and the tang of tea.

Symphonies of water at Thirlmere

This entry is from a walk in October along the banks of Thirlmere in the lakes. Its a beautiful setting and below the water there were farms and homes now submerged......

Water dripping from trees, hanging like pearls on foxgloves by the path. The tapping of water dripping on my hat reminds me of being in a canvas tent. Watery mud squelches under foot a full unfolding movement of sound as foot lands and rolls and is removed.

The soft and rich and regular soft sound of waves lapping on the the steeply shelving pebble beach of this lake. Far beneath no doubt is the path of a beck that ran steeply down the valley past houses and carefully stone walled fields. Now the rain runs down the ends of stone walls that have been severed long ago that reach no where. The wound poulticed by moss. Water and wind in pine trees and blowing through the air to touch my face.

Each beck along the winding path by the lake is perceived as a distant music and when we reach the water held by the banks and shielded by bracken and fern a complex symphony of sound. If we had ears to hear each beck experienced as flowing water would sound unique since the fall and amount of sparkling water, the shape of bank, the shielding of bracken and the exact arrangement of granite pebbles would announce its signature. The amount of water at any moment must also vary offering mysteriously even more of a musical signature. The ear is too untrained to hear much more than a constant roar, akin to white noise as moment by moment in unrepeatable time this repository for much of northern England's drinking water is replenished. Beauty and utility for once are in agreement.

As I look out on a white expanse of water stopped and rippled by wind and rain bounded by the sturdy walls of the dam and the castellated walls of the the pump house and the tower that houses other machinery I wonder at the tiny Lakeland streams that will flow from taps in homes large and small. Will those who bless, fill and take this holy communion be touched by the sheer improbability of it all?