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- Break, Break, Break . . .
- Is it safe to . . .?
- On 12 Years a Slave . . . and the way we live now
- On a January Sunday, 60 years ago . . .
- Bugged . . .
- Search 60 going on 16
- Prior Mailing Archive
I cannot tell a lie, it was not Tennyson's rather gloomy poem that came to mind when I stood on the South West Coast Path and looked across the rocks and the sea into the distance to this - the lighthouse (yes, that one). Godrevy, off the coast of North Cornwall, is said to have inspired Virgina Woolf, although she chose to set To the Lighthouse in the Hebrides.
The only sort of break that I was thinking about was my own - an almost spur of the moment affair, travelling solo and on a very tight budget (which is far better than not travelling at all). I simply slipped across the county border from Devon into Cornwall, with the aim of visiting places new and others that are close to my heart. And I had the most excellent time, of which more anon.
But Godrevy captured my heart and mind; I could quite see why it had done the same for Virginia. It's a little off the beaten track but, if you are driving as I was, there's a National Trust car park and then it's just a short walk to the South West Coast Path - and all this natural beauty. Below me: rocks, crashing waves, seals splashing in a turquoise sea . . .
and there, across the water, cloud white in the sunshine - Godrevy Lighthouse. I spent, oh, who knows how long, just sitting on a flat stone at the highest point of the coast path and looking. With time out for the odd photo. It was the perfect spot in which to be absolutely still and in the moment; designed by nature for Buddhists.
Which made me wonder why so many of the people in the car park had set up their folding chairs and picnics in the car park, looking away from the sea towards . . . all the other cars. Why would you?
. . . step out from behind the curtain, after such a long absence?
Of all the events that might have caused me to scurry back to the laptop, the one that I would not have predicted was the reappearance of someone else - Kate Bush, to be precise.
The Dear Daughter had tried to get tickets for Kate's re-emergence. I tried to get tickets. No joy; sold out in just 15 minutes. We had to settle for the Guardian live-tweeting throughout the opening night and watching old video clips on YouTube.
And then, a couple of days ago, the DD sent me a link to an eBay page, where someone was selling a poster advertising Kate's first tour in 1979.
'Remember this?' said the DD.
'Would you like it for your birthday?' I asked, in a moment of madness.
'I've already got it,' she replied. And so she had. It had once adorned a wall of her bedroom.
'I think I've got one of these too.' Attached was a copy of a 1978 Christmas card, courtesy of the Kate Bush Fan Club.
In the 1970s, Kate was a significant presence in our house; well, her voice was, along with various Kate-related stuff. The DD was a HUGE fan; I was pretty much of a fan too. So we could not possibly miss going to see Kate on that first tour and we did see her - at the London Palladium. No frustrating hours spent endlessly reloading internet pages in those days; it was all very civilised: a phone call or a trip to the box office. And affordable tickets.
We loved every minute and, 35 years later, I was amazed at just how much I could remember of that concert. It was one of the high points of a year during which other things in our world were beginning to unravel.
'I think I've still got my ticket,' said the DD. 'I just have to find my Kate Bush memorabilia . . .'
I spent the rest of the day playing four of Kate's early albums (vinyl, of course). They belong to the DD but live here because I am the only member of the family who still possesses an ancient hifi with a turntable, so that I can play my substantial and much-cherished collection of LPs and 45s, not to mention EPs. I was transported back to our flat in Marylebone, still young(ish) at 31 - which seems very young when one is nearer 70 than 60 - and the mother of a daughter on the cusp of her teenage years. As Sandy Denny once sang, 'Who knows where the time goes?'
But I couldn't find Hounds of Love. I searched everywhere. I could see the cover. I emailed the DD.
'I think I had it on cassette,' she answered. 'What year was it?'
'Oh yes, I already had a Walkman by then.'
Ah, the refuse heap of technology.
But the disappointment of not bagging any tickets this time round in no way detracts from the wonder of being there the first time and seeing my daughter's face light up when Kate appeared. It was, almost, unbelievable . . .
There was one final email from the DD, normally a very private woman. 'You can blog about this, if you like.' So I did.
On a wet, windswept Sunday evening in Exeter, two friends and I went to see 12 Years a Slave. It was just as we had expected it to be: extraordinary, powerful, and profoundly moving. For once, I had read many of the reviews beforehand and although there were some dissenting voices, most critics and commentators seemed to speak as one. This is what the Channel 4 newscaster, Jon Snow, had to say on his C4 blog.
I don't think that I would dispute one word. Do go to see 12 Years a Slave if you can.
My friends and I agreed that watching this particular film on a large screen was worthwhile, not least because it emphasised its dramatic impact. But for us there was a distinct downside to this - the cinema itself. One of a large national chain, it had all the atmosphere of an industrial warehouse and the dreary, chilly foyer, with just a handful of seats, could have put us off cinema-going for life.
There was the usual limited selection of you-know-who's sugar-laden soft drinks and giant buckets of popcorn but surely, we thought, this could not possibly be the sort of film people would want to munch and slurp through. How wrong we were. Once we were in the auditorium, we found ourselves surrounded by people clasping mega-containers and, yes, they did munch and slurp, even through some of the film's most harrowing scenes. Two of them sat at the end of our row, having arrived with so much food and drink that they seemed to be having difficulty carrying it all.
As soon as the film ended, the same people all rushed to the exit -they didn't hang around to watch the credits; they felt no need to acknowledge all the people whose individual and collective efforts had enabled them to watch this magnificent work.
When we got up to leave, almost the last people in the cinema to do so, we had to tread over a substantial pile of uneaten popcorn and fried food that the couple at the end of our row had thoughtfully thrown on the floor. Even if it had occurred to them that, apart from the waste, someone else would have to clear up their vile mess, it seemed that this was of no concern. Oh the irony, after such a film.
It reminded me of a scene I witnessed almost 30 years ago in what was then one of Sainsbury's newest and largest branches in central London. Its location meant that it attracted some of the company's wealthiest customers, many of whom had deserted the much pricier Harrods Food Halls about a mile away. A mother and daughter were making a stately progress around the aisles, when the daughter picked up and promptly dropped a bottle of something or other. The bottle smashed into pieces on the floor, leaving a shard-strewn, viscous mess. The daughter bent down and started to pick up the pieces of glass.
'Oh leave it, darling,' droned the plummy mummy, 'they have people to do that sort of thing.' And they resumed their stately progress.
I'm sure that Jon Snow is right. Everyone should see 12 Years a Slave. But not everyone will see it in the same way . . .
Richard Burton was in a BBC studio recording his inimitable performance as the narrator of Dylan Thomas's Under Milk Wood. It was broadcast on what was then the Third Programme the following evening. At the age of six, however, I knew nothing of Dylan Thomas and no-one in my family listened to the Third Programme.
My introduction to Thomas came five years later at my primary school, thanks to a Welsh student called - yes - Mr Jones, who was completing a teaching practice with our forty-strong form. One wet, chilly afternoon, at the start of an English lesson, Mr Jones announced that he had a treat in store for us. Out of one of the classroom cupboards, he hauled a wind-up gramophone, whose prior use had been confined to providing the music for our weekly country dance classes. (Our form teacher was a very keen member of the English Folk Dance and Song Society.)
Then, from his briefcase, he produced a record . . .
'This,' said Mr Jones, in reverential tones, 'is something remarkable. We are going to listen to Under Milk Wood. Some of the finest words in the English language - and written by a Welshman, Dylan Thomas. The narrator possesses one of the finest voices in the English speaking world and he is a Welshman too, Richard Burton. So, I want you all to sit still, absolutely no fidgeting.'
I can't remember what my classmates did but, from the moment I heard the opening line:
'To begin at the beginning . . .'
delivered in those deep, rich, nut-brown tones, there was not the remotest possibility that I might fidget. I was somewhere else - hovering on the edge of Llareggub, looking down on Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard, Captain Cat, Rosie Probert, Mr Mog Edwards, Gossamer Beynon et al. It was the first time that I can recall shivers running down my spine while listening to the spoken word. Mr Jones also had the look of a man for whom, in the words of Louis Macneice, 'time was away and somewhere else'.
But, this being the 1950s and my primary school being run by a head teacher who was feared by all, our literary transports of delight were doomed. Half way through the lesson, our head teacher stormed in, red of face and teeth clenched. She almost wrenched the gramophone arm out of its socket.
'This,' she bellowed at Mr Jones, 'is NOT suitable listening for 11 year-olds. See me in my office at the end of the lesson.'
And that was the end of our introduction to Dylan Thomas and Under Milk Wood. And it was the end of Mr Jones's teaching practice at our school. But I thought at the time that he had been right about the words and the voice. Sixty years later, I still think he was right and I have a much-read first edition of Under Milk Wood and a frequently-played copy of the BBC recording to prove it.
So thank you, Mr Jones, for that great gift. And here, to mark the 60th anniversary of Burton and the cast's magnificent recording, the opening of Under Milk Wood.
You can find the rest of the recording on YouTube. Unless, of course, you have your own much loved and much played copy.
No, I'm not under surveillance - can't imagine that any of my emails or telephone calls or tweets would be of significant interest to the Forces of Darkness. No, just laid low since Christmas with some sort of mega-bug, which has been having a merry time, working its way around various parts of my anatomy. Forsooth.
But while I am, of necessity, taking it slightly easier than usual, the joys of the single life mean that there is no-one else to walk the dogs. So, wrapped up to the nines, I have braved the elements each day to ensure that the four-footed ones get to run about and chase balls in gale-force winds and horizontal rain. But they are such dear creatures, who would deny them this small pleasure?
The Loved Ones were here for Christmas and, despite all our recent sadness, we had a happy time, doing the things that we love and that have become something of a tradition since I moved to Devon 16 years ago. And this year, at least, the Aga did not die on Christmas Eve, so the festive fare was served without a hitch. I may have mentioned, in the past, that none of us like mince pies or Christmas pudding or Christmas cake, so none were served. I did however, receive a request for home-made espresso ice cream, which is beyond scrumptious. The last time I made it was about 15 years ago but I underestimated how long it would take to prepare, which meant that it wasn't served until late evening on Christmas Day. Not the smartest of moves as we were still wide awake and goggle-eyed at three in the morning. . . this year I got the timing right and our ice cream was on the table at a sensible hour. Despite generous helpings, we all enjoyed a good night's sleep.
The Loved Ones headed homewards immediately after Christmas as they were off to foreign parts to see in the new year. Meanwhile, I cancelled all engagements, took to the sofa with a pile of books, a box of tissues, industrial quantities of Vitamin C - and 62 episodes of Breaking Bad. Believe me, I know how to do home alone with a bug. On New Year's Eve I was in bed and asleep by 9pm. There was a party going on next door, apparently. I slept through it all.
And now, here we are, it's 2014 already. I avoid making resolutions at this time of year; they tend to come to naught. Instead, I have simply made a promise to myself to do even more of the things I love - singing, writing, reading yoga, seeing friends etc, etc, etc. Nothing too ambitious because lurking behind these modest aspirations is a pretty fearsome list of Things That Must Be Done. Stuff to be sorted. Repairs to be done. A house to be sold. Oh yes . . . (see how I slipped that last one in there?)
Still, there are another 364 days to sort out the list and, as Miss Scarlett observed, 'tomorrow is another day.'
My good wishes to you all for a year stuffed full of good things. And may your lists always be manageable.