19 December 2018


On the street where we live.....

So this is Christmas 

And what have you done? 

Another year over 

And a new one just begun 

And so this is Christmas 

I hope you have fun 

The near and the dear ones 

The old and the young 

A very merry Christmas 

And a happy New Year 

Let's hope it's a good one 

Without any fear

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Let's hope it's a good one
Without any fear

John Lennon -

Happy Christmas (War Is Over)

With very best wishes from all at Casa Gibbs.  Apologies if we didn't send you a physical card, but we actually don't have postal addresses for everyone any more....

Keep in touch,

With love and best wishes from us all...


(Supporting Alzheimer's Society)

16 December 2018


Take This Waltz....

Café Leopold Hawelka.  We are welcomed. Warmly.  Günter, son of founders Leopold and Josefine (seen in the poster on the wall behind him), shakes us by the hands. We haven't met since 1978 but his affection is genuine, despite the fact that neither of us remember each other....  Having travelled with 10,000 Rangers fans, one or two of whom like a drink, we were conscious that the bars might be boarded up, but no.... We are welcomed.

And I remember the place, and delight in the coffee, and the faded comfort of the stained walls and posters.  It isn't surprising it is popular. Everyone has been here. Klaus Maria Brandauer, Elias Canetti, (to name but five).

Leopold and Josefine opened their first Café at Bäckerstrasse 9, in 1936.

Then moved to Dorotheergasse, 6, in 1939, and apart from the inconvenient interruption of the War, they have been there since.  Kaffee Alt Wien, survives, swathed in cigarette smoke, and like Hawelka its stained walls support posters and pictures covering a particularly Viennese way of life....

Ay.... Ay, Ay, Ay

Take this waltz, take this waltz
Take this waltz with the clamp on its jaws

Sated, our driver,

Takes us to our hotel, and from our window,

We gaze out towards the fog of Westminster....

Brooding on what has become of us.....

Ay.... Ay, Ay, Ay

Take this waltz, take this waltz
Take its broken waist in your hand
This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz
With its very own breath of brandy and Death
Dragging its tail in the sea

Outside Vienna is pale. Today is grey and cold.  A man on a horse gazes at the Opera House.  It is Franz Joseph I, who, at the the age of 84, blew the whistle that kicked off the First World War.

Yes, Vienna is a city of contradictions. The road to the airport passes massive industrial plants, pumping fumes into the grey air. The Wheel in the Prater still tastes of Orson Welles' tainted penicillin. The Chancellor, or Prime Minister, is 32 year old Sebastian Kurtz, also Chairman of the Austrian People's Party (ÖVP), and now President of the European Council.  He is a right-wing populist who was elected on an anti-immigration manifesto and is supported in power by the far-right Freedom Party.  

Mistuh Kurtz - he dead?

Ay.... Ay, Ay, Ay 

Take this waltz, take this waltz 
Take this waltz it's been dying for years 
There's an attic where children are playing 
Where I've got to lie down with you soon 
In a dream of Hungarian lanterns 
In the mist of some sweet afternoon 
And I'll see what you've chained to your sorrow 
All your sheep and your lilies of snow

But everyone we meet is courteous, kind, tolerant.  The thousands of keen football fans who swarm in the city, frothing cans in hands, roaring their support for their heroes, cause riot police to don their armour, but no trouble arises.  

No, it is a beautiful city, and the Hapsburgs created spaces of great elegance.  We dance through the Albertina

Stroke the delicate fur of Albrecht Dürer's Field Hare,

And admire Gustav Klimt's Portrait of a Lady with Cape and Hat, who turns her dark eyes away, 

Now in Vienna there's ten pretty women....

Ay.... Ay, Ay, Ay

Take this waltz, take this waltz
With its "I'll never forget you, you know!"
This waltz, this waltz, this waltz, this waltz ...
And I'll dance with you in Vienna
I'll be wearing a river's disguise

Egon Schiele's Self Portrait in an Orange Jacket shows his graphic skill, and perhaps some of his anguish, and for some reason makes me think of Schubert....

Though on this visit we visit the house where Mozart lived, in a warren of narrow alleys in the old centre.....

Not far from the great Gothic selfie of Saint Stephen's cathedral....

With its twisted elders on the pulpit,

And I'll bury my soul in a scrapbook,
With the photographs there, and the moss....

In the Belvedere, we see more Schiele, and Klimt's masterpiece, The Kiss,

The dazzling colours and exciting texture almost obscuring the figures themselves.

And you'll carry me down on your dancing
To the pools that you lift on your wrist

In the Lower Belvedere there's a room full of mirrors.  Somewhere to reflect.....  To take a self-portrait framed in antique opulence.... A confusion of the past and the future....

Outside, in the winter streets, Christmas is coming.  Bright lights decorate the sky,

And back in the Kaffee Alt Wien we take comfort in the warmth, and welcome, of Viennese hospitality....

At the stadium, Rangers lose the match, but the spirits of the visiting fans are still high at midnight.

Thank you Vienna.  

I love Europe.  Despite all contradictions.  I love travel.....

It's all that there is

Ay.... Ay, Ay, Ay 

Take this waltz, take this waltz

It's yours now. It's all that there is

Take This Waltz

by Leonard Cohen

(after Garcia Lorca)

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]