11 December 2018

As Time Goes By.....

You MUST remember this......

December 12th, 1984.  Your mum and Joy came up with you by train from Bristol.  Dad took a little time off for lunch and then drove us over to Hemel Hempstead Registry Office....

You remember?

This was you, Amanda, when you were little....  Way before I knew you.  Cheeky thing!

And still those cheeky eyes, years later.  Where was this one taken?  PonzaGiglio?  Even I don't remember where this was.....

But I remember this one.  Almost our first meeting.  I think it may have been your birthday.  So March 5th, 1979, or 1980, perhaps?  In the garden of your little flat in Via Livenza, in Rome?  And look, there's Effie and Nicola, and Chris Warde-Jones in the background.....

And then we went for a Christmas holiday to Greece, staying on Syros, but stopping for a while in Athens.....  At least I think this was Athens.  I recognise your jacket.  Do you remember my cords?

Then we really got together, and moved out to Trevignano Romano, to the van Kessels' villa, in Il Quadrifoglio, and bought our first little car, a red Renault 4.....

And drank lovely Tuscan wine, from Vincenzo at Val di Cava, Montalcino, and laughed so!

And looked after the cats, with Bear, and Monks.....

And in the summer we swam in the pool, or in Lake Bracciano, and sat in the garden by the palm tree in the sun.....

You must remember this 
A kiss is just a kiss, a sigh is just a sigh. 
The fundamental things apply 
As time goes by.

And then, in those long summer holidays, we tootled about France with our tent, feasting on tinned cassoulet and baguettes.....

And then what happened?  We tied the knot!  That's what happened next....

And when two lovers woo 

They still say, "I love you." 
On that you can rely 
No matter what the future brings 

As time goes by.

And flew off to darkest Peru, to Lima, and Machu Picchu, for our funnymoon. moneymoon....honeyspoons......  What larks!

Moonlight and love songs 

Never out of date. 

Hearts full of passion 
Jealousy and hate. 
Woman needs man 
And man must have his mate 
That no one can deny.

And then, in the wink of an eye, we were three, then four, and now look at our girls!  Hannah, and Sarah.  Where did the time go?

And do you remember this?  May 19th, earlier this year?  A really lovely day!  When Hannah got married to Cameron?

And then this morning, a bright December morning, with frost on the ground, we walked out on Nomansland Common.  You must remember this....?

Look at us now!  Look how we've matured?  Is that the right word?  Like wine, we've aged.....  (Though maybe I am corked?)

It's still the same old story 

A fight for love and glory 
A case of do or die. 
The world will always welcome lovers 

As time goes by.

Fond memories.....

Happy Anniversary, little one!

As Time Goes By......

(music and words by Herman Hupfeld)

In support of 

Alzheimer's Society

7 December 2018


Nothing is what it seems.....

I am staying at the Palace Flop House, Whitstable.  Don't ask.  But, trust me, it's OK.  

It could have been worse.....  

I could have been staying at the Premier Inn.....

The Duke of Cumberland was full.  

Or so they said.....

There's a touch of the Caribbean about Whitstable, 

if you look hard....

And there's a spooky, Dickensian fog about the place as well.  I am buzzed by paraplanes near the Old Neptune.....

A pub that reeks of pitch and pine, not built for the flying age....

The machines rise, their motors sadly contrary to their imitations of the birds....

But they are almost the only things that move in this eerie dusk by the muddy shore.  

I am transported....

There are reasons to be in Whitstable.  One could be to pay tribute to Peter Cushing, famous for his appearances in various Frankenstein and Dracula films, (though possibly best remembered for repeatedly trying to get due payment from Morecambe and Wise) who lived here until his death in 1994.  

Another could be to indulge in the quintessence of the sea, by eating oysters.  A yellow tractor scurries about on the mudflats carrying baskets of the molluscs to the trucks on shore.  I watch, the salt spray mingling with my saliva....

Sadly the Royal Native Oyster Stores, incorporated by the Royal Free Fishers and Dredgers in 1793, is closed, but I find Wee Willie Winkle busy at the shuck in his kitchen and a poem comes to mind:

"A loaf of bread," the Walrus said,

"Is what we chiefly need:

Pepper and vinegar besides

Are very good indeed—
Now if you're ready, Oysters dear,
We can begin to feed."

But what is this?  Here I am in Whitstable, and what do I consume?  

Aw, Shucks!  My filter-feeding bivalves have swum here from Carlingford!

(They are delicious though)

(And I did buy, and eat, them in Whitstable.....)

Nothing is what it seems.....

But I digress.  My true reason to be here is to pay homage to David Rodney Aubrey Pearce, (otherwise known as DRAP)  who for 33 years taught English at my school, so was, in part, through his early involvement in my love of literature, responsible for what I am becoming (though I hold no grudge!)  

He died almost exactly two years ago, and, in belated homage, I have come to this modest seaside town clutching his wonderful book of poems, entitled The Street

David was born in Whitstable, and would recognise much of its quirky geometry, and signs of the past.  His poems take their title from a narrow promontory of shingle, shell and pudding stone which stretches a mile or more out into the sea here, entirely submerged at high tide, but enticingly exposed at low water.

Sheppey's bluff across the bay
Is sharper in the evening ray,
While eastwards to Reculver towers
The stacked onset of darkness lours,
And lights around the estuary
Half ring my patch of open sea.
Nor light, nor dark, nor sea, nor land:
Between uncertain worlds I stand.
One day, not now, I may not hide
From Time's encroaching, Night and Tide.

David was not only my teacher.  He was a friend, and a very good friend of my parents too.  He was also, in later years, a joint founder of the Graham Greene Birthplace Trust, which now enables an annual Greene-fest in Berkhamsted.  One of the last times I saw David was at a rare showing, at one of these festivals, of Dr Fischer of Geneva  (1984) a tv film of one of Greene's stories, starring James Mason, Alan Bates and Greta Scacchi.  Greta, in person, was with us at the screening, and it took an immense presence of mind for David to elude the sinuous advances of the diva.....

I don't think I could have resisted.....

Respect....!  Such mindfulness!

So..... I'm in Whitstable:

Pocked limpet rocks and puddingstone; concrete
Debris of the 'Invasion' scare; starfish
Stiff orange-fingered in the shallow wash - 
Are my boyhood remembrance of 'The Street',
Which at low tide thumbs our a mile to meet
The sunsets firing over Sheppey hills.....

David Pearce
'The Street', Whitstable
29th September, 2014

In the morning it is time for quiet contemplation and prayer, and I find myself seated in the chapel of St Edmund's School, Canterbury, just up the hill from Whitstable.  Here, just after the second world war, David was a pupil.  We stand to sing an advent hymn, and I hear his voice beside me:

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night,
And death's dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel

Shall come to thee, O Israel.....

Nothing is what it seems.....

In Memoriam, 
David R.A. Pearce

September 24th 1938 - November 11th 2016

[All pictures taken on my iPhone between 14.47 and 15.23 on Tuesday, December 4th, 2018]

28 November 2018

I'm So Glad I'm Standing Here Today

A Propos of Very Little.....

There were times, I remember

Had to fight just to hold my head up

Those times when even my friends

Tried to make a fool of me

There were things that my heart attacked

That they just couldn't see

Some said, "I was hopeless

Mind tangled in the night"

Strong hearts just keep goin'

That is why I'm still standing here today

Come together, raise up your voices

This time my song of love and life won't go away

I'll sing forever here in the sunshine

I've lived to see the sun break through the storm

I'm so glad, I'm standing here today

And the world just seems to forget you

If you remember sunshine

Even on your darkest day

Just follow what your heart says

And you will find the way

Some said "I was hopeless,

Mind tangled in the night"

Strong hearts just keep goin'

That is why I'm still standing here today

Come together, raise up your voices

This time my song of love and life won't go away

I'll sing forever here in the sunshine

I've lived to see the sun break through the storm

I'm so glad, I'm standing here today

This time my song of love and life it won't go away

I'll sing forever here in the sunshine

I've lived to see the sun break through the storm

I'm so glad, I'm standing here today

I've lived to see the sun break through the dawn

And I'm so glad I'm standing here today

Joe Cocker

I'm So Glad I'm Standing Here Today

written by Joe Sample and Will Jennings

28 October 2018


Nostalghia for the Medici, et alios.....

October in Tuscany.  It's cold.  In Volterra the wind is high, shivering down the deep, narrow, stone streets.  The Medici (Masters of Florence) have taken over the Piazza dei Priori to film the second series of their selfie fest [a political family drama set in Florence in the early fifteenth century. Cosimo de Medici finds himself at the helm of his banking dynasty when his father, Giovanni, dies suddenly.....  Starring Richard Madden.]

We came from Pisa, where a combination of one-way streets, road closures, pedestrianisation and general impassibility set me up me to accumulate around 100 florins in taxable offences.....  A small price, perhaps, for a view like this.....

As dusk falls the streets are busy with visitors hurrying away.....

And then, in the dark, the university, where Galileo - and his feathers - studied the nights, the city is quiet....

And the Campo dei Miracoli is silent and deserted.

The Medici rose to power in the early fifteenth century.  They came from a region north of Florence, initially were doctors (hence the name), then they became wool merchants, then, deftly employing double entry book-keeping, they became the most powerful bankers in Europe.  Having gained wealth, and prominence, they trumped Florence and ruled the Grand Duchy of Tuscany until the death of Gian Gastone de' Medici in 1737.  In the meantime, they produced three popes and two queens of France.  Their intermarriages with other rich families, and their sponsorship of the arts, meant that for centuries they shaped the development of Tuscany and beyond.

Not that they ruled everywhere....  Siena, fiercely Ghibelline (supporting the Holy Roman Emperor) as opposed to Florence's Guelf stance (on the side of the Pope) was a rival, partly also because of the difference in the sources of their wealth - Florence being a mercantile trading city, while Siena relied on agriculture for its economy.  They weren't friends, anyway, and in September 1260, at Montaperti, ten thousand Florentines perished at the hands of the Senese and a further fifteen thousand were taken prisoner.

Today, Siena is peaceful, and an Aperol Spritz in the Campo is a pleasure that neither Guelfs nor Ghibellines can diminish, though we are only days after the horse of the Giraffe contrada died in agony after a fall during a special run of the Palio to commemorate the centenary of the end of WWI.

Not far away, dominating the val d'Elsa, is San Gimignano, famous for its towers, but also a renowned spot on the via Francigena, an ancient pilgrimage route from Canterbury to Rome.  Like Pisa, Volterra and Siena, there are tides of visitors, washing through the streets and sights in the chilly October sun, admiring themselves against the stone walls, and leaving a little of their wealth behind.

San Gimignano produces a lovely white wine, known as Vernaccia, and the town has installed a fine tasting bar in the ruins of the Castle here, the Vernaccia di San Gimignano Wine Experience.  The centre was created by Consorzio del Vino Vernaccia di San Gimignano, a consortium which brings together all winegrowers producing Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG, the first Italian wine to obtain the Appellation of Origin in 1966....  The world, almost suddenly, seems a better place.

As night falls the day trippers fade away, bussed back to their cruise ships or modern hotels, and I wander the cool dark streets, silence cloaking my footsteps,

As the moon rises above the medieval towers.

In the morning, it is still October, and though the Italian sun shines there is a cold wind.  We head for Monte Amiata, at 1,738 metres (5,702 feet) the highest mountain in Southern Tuscany, a volcanic cone far mightier than any Medici.  I pay my respects to Andrei Tarkovsky at the ruins of San Galgano, one of the great Cistercian monasteries of Italy.  Scenes from his 1983 film Nostalghia were filmed here and I breathe the air of yesterday.... 

Further on down the road we pass the Abbazia di S. Antimo, a Romanesque gem said to have been founded by Charlemagne at the end of the ninth century.  Once this was so quiet and little visited that a Roller nested in the campanile, but now it is cared for and practised in and visited by many.

We approach the mountain, its twin peaks looming behind the restored Castello di Velona Resort Thermal SPA & Winery (where you could have B & B for about £300) which was a roofless ruin when I first explored this region....

This is the Tuscany, the Italy, that I love most.  I arrived here to stay with friends in August 1976, carrying a suitcase up the road from the railway station at Monte Amiata Scalo.  It was hot then, and somehow I lost the instructions of how to find my friends on the way up the hill.  But eventually I got there, first to meet Corrado, now in his nineties, and his wife Concetta,

And then to sit by the fire in an isolated farmhouse, dining on fegatelli (little intestine wrapped parcels of pig's liver flavoured with fennel) and drinking dark red wine.  

The area is dotted with villages, their church towers aspiring heavenwards.  Things have changed since I first came, but it is still a harmonious landscape that shows how man and nature can coexist.  There is no longer the braying of the donkeys first and last thing in the day, and there is less wood smoke drifting up from kitchen chimneys now, but wine and olives and bread and sheep's cheese are still the main products here.....  There are good things in life.... 

And the sun still goes down with a golden glow, leaving the world in the purity of darkness, filling me with Nostalghia

Nostalgia which circles round and round, like the coloured bricks and stones in the ceiling of the chiesetta di S Galgano.....

It is October.  It is cold, and the Medici are still filming their power struggles in Volterra.  

But nonetheless my heart warms with love for Tuscany.