Sunday Archive: Princesses

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Car Park 4:50am

One of my friends, one of my princesses, is having a sad time at the moment and I am reminded of this post about the place we both used to work.

I always used to get annoyed at the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Jackson Browne singing the praises of the blue-collar worker…

‘Try working with some of these people,’…I used to think….‘Then you’d change your tune.’

I worked in a factory for nearly ten years. It was, and remained for a long time, a foreign and confusing place for me. Factories have reputations for being hot beds of bitching, gossip and dissension. Within any factory one area will view the workers in another area as the very citizens of hell. During those years I would sometimes see myself as if from afar and wonder what I had done to be landed in this fluorescent, screeching Hades.

‘Surely I am a Princess?’…I would think, as machinery clattered around me…‘Surely this cannot be happening to me?’

…and I would imagine myself waking up on a heart-shaped bed in a mansion somewhere on a temperate coast, curtains ruffling in the warm breeze from the french windows, my heart rate slightly elevated after an unpleasant, half-remembered nightmare, looking forward to a champagne breakfast served by a nice young man. It became a bit of a joke. Sometimes when my manager would ask me to do something I would say…

“Don’t you know I am a Princess?!”

When a chair appeared with a capital letter ‘P’ scrawled on it, it became my chair.’P’ for Princess. Sometimes I would be called Princess. Though perhaps that could have been sarcastic.

People everywhere can be annoying but in a factory your movements are restricted, your breaks coordinated. Being confined for 12 hours with a rag-tag selection of people, especially overnight, can really turn the screws. Some people can be combative or surly, weird or helpless, hysterical or worse – relentlessly cheerful. Some might smell bad. Others insist on playing thrash metal stations on the radio. But by far the most annoying ones are the ones who will not pull their weight, leaving you exhausted and angry after every single shift.

night shift window cr

6am Break

I once worked on a team with a woman who, had she put the amount of effort into actual work that she put into avoiding work, would now be President of the World. I tied myself in knots to make sure that work got sent her way but only succeeded in increasing my own work load. Yet she always managed to look busy when a manager turned up. An extraordinary number of people combined laziness with delusion. One of my co-workers decided she was our boss. So she stopped doing her work in favour of bustling around with pieces of paper and having loud conversations with managers. What she wanted quickly became reality not because of any actual talent or universal magic but because, as I learned, managers are always on the look out for new people to blame things on. Soon she was authorized to bustle around with pieces of paper. She eventually bustled her way out of the company leaving a large swathe of annoyed and relieved people behind her.

The night shifts, so novel initially, were hell multiplied by ten. On a night shift everything you have ever learned, every adjustment you have ever made to your behaviour, every bit of personal growth is put to the test. And fails. You find yourself back at your worst self; sulky, cranky, angry, impatient and more. Add some other people undergoing the same testing and you get something as close to unbearable as to make you insane. On top of this there was incomprehensible training literature to be read, meetings to attend and re-training exercises to complete to stay abreast of regulations. At 6am when you’re so tired you crave to lie down and die, it smacked of torture. The first time someone told me I was to be tested at this time, I cracked up laughing. I thought it was a joke…

“You want me to do a test?Now?At 6am?”

Then…

“Don’t you know I am a Princess?”

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11pm Break

But it wasn’t all bad and sometimes it was even a tiny bit magical. There was that time I crashed a pallet truck and its load all over the floor at 5am and everyone abandoned their work to get down on their knees, laughing, to  help. Or when the books from the book club were brought in. When I went to the toilet and ended up accidentally taking the door off its hinges and couldn’t get it back on for laughing. When someone came in soaked because they walked into a ‘puddle’ in the car park that turned out to be two foot deep. When cake or a tin of sweets made an appearance. When someone told me to sit down while they dealt with the 100th alarm on my machine because my legs were aching so badly I literally couldn’t stand any more. There were the conversations about philosophy, hair, sociology, war, cake, culture, the nature of inspiration and poo. And entire shifts spent laughing.

I found out the good places to get my hair done, buy clothes, make up and heating oil. One of the technicians designed and machined some brackets for me, told me more than once what was wrong with my car and advised me what to invest in. Another told me how to fix the light in my bathroom and which web host was the best. Cheap DVDs made the rounds along with the Avon catalogue. There were duck eggs for sale, a weekly lottery and take out meals organised on a bank holiday when the canteen was closed. I was once given a tomato plant in the car park.

My colleagues went to a constant cycle of concerts and weekend breaks, holidays, christenings, parties, meals, birthdays and funerals. There were the shift nights out and foreign trips which I never went on and now wonder why. The whip rounds, which so annoyed me with the constant request for money for the relatives of people I had never laid eyes on, I see now, were part of something necessary. I learned of the different burdens people carried – the sicknesses, the losses, the griefs – borne lightly in many cases. And also the achievements; the college degrees, the babies, races run, new businesses, new cars, escaping a war zone. I glimpsed other lives, other ways of being, from having a mortally sick child to growing up around lions. And when I screwed up there was always someone there to help.

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7am Break

Leaving it all behind for college came as a shock. Suddenly I was among people, good people no doubt, but people for whom life was somewhere in the future. Or somewhere else. Getting to know fellow travellers was no longer necessary. Everyone I had worked with had asked how I slept, how my week was, how my life was, over and over and over again. In college no one even asked how the weekend was. Some students didn’t even acknowledge the existence of those outside their own circle. They just didn’t have to.

I look back at the people I worked with now and see them tearing into life, determined not to miss a beat. I miss this urgency, the ‘nowness’ that hummed below the surface. I miss the way someone would always find a way to connect even though they thought you were weird, or cantankerous, or a bitch (and I was). They would find something in you, some thread and they’d pull it, this thread, and somehow, like it or not, know it or not, you found yourself, over the years, woven into the fabric of something much bigger.

Sometimes in my last years, the best years, in the wee hours, hallucinating from weariness, numb and speechless, I would find myself surrounded by a clatter of co-workers snagged at some junction of machinery, gossiping, laughing, teasing, shoulder to shoulder, nylon coats crackling with electricity. Caught in this sea of silkiness topped by the gauzy hair nets that crowned our shining heads, it would occur to me that I wasn’t the only one who had thought they might end up somewhere else. Through eyes blurred with tiredness I might imagine us in a ballroom, lit by the blaze of a thousand chandeliers, about to step out, me and my fellow Princesses, to finally dance.

Sunday Archive: The Whale Watcher by Kathleen Jamie

As there still a lot of whales off the Copper Coast I thought I would re-post this poem this week.

And when at last the road
gives out, I’ll walk –
harsh grass, sea-maws,
lichen-crusted bedrock –

and hole up the cold
summer in some battered
caravan, quartering
the brittle waves

till my eyes evaporate
and I’m willing again
to deal myself in:
having watched them

breach, breathe, and dive
far out in the glare,
like stitches sewn in a rent
almost beyond repair.

Kathleen Jamie
from The Tree House (Picador, 2004)

WHALE WATCHING. BAGINBUN, WEXFORD (oil on board) Clare Scott

Whale Watching at Baginbun, Wexford, oil on board (private collection).

Sunday Archive: A Meditation on Whale-Watching

FIN WHALES FROM DUNABRATTIN PHOTO CREDIT:PADDY DWAN
Fin Whales off the Copper Coast. Photo: Paddy Dwan.

This week I had the best day of land-based whale watching for many years seeing 6 or more whales in 2 groups, mostly fin whales but nearly positive of at least one humpback, a minke, as well as dolphins galore so I thought I would re-edit this post for the occasion.

All my life I had wanted to see a whale but all my life it never occurred to me to make an effort to do so, to stand and watch from a cliff, to learn about the habits of these giants of the deep, to check the internet for sightings. I somehow expected one to pop up in front of me one day. In the event this is exactly what happened one day, ten years ago now, when I was walking down the winding road to my small local beach. Suddenly, not a quarter of a mile from shore, there was a powerful explosion from the deep. A cloud of vapour hung for long moments on the air. Then, a long, shining, black back emerged, rolling, to reveal, finally a curving fin:a fin whale, the second biggest creature on the planet. I was undone with the excitement.

It was a cold February and there was frost and ice all over the road. Seven miles away a friend lay dying and so the days were pervaded with sorrow. It was with gratitude then, that I greeted this monster, its powerful blow an exclamation mark that punctuated the sentence of those chill days. I could not quite see it as a direct message from the universe but it was potent reminder of how powerful and enduring life was.

FIN WHALE OFF GARRARUS 2012
Fin Whale off the Copper Coast 2012.

I scrambled tearfully, gratefully, excitedly up the cliffs and watched for an hour as my leviathan swam back to out sea. I texted my friend in his hospital bed.

“I saw a whale!”

It seemed important to tell him.

Three years on I found myself suffering from fin whale fatigue. I still haven’t paddled a kayak beside one but I have seen plenty from my places of the cliffs, from a boat and it’s all a bit, well, meh. That icy cold day in February is nearly forgotten, left behind out of necessity. I guess we can’t keep our faces pressed up against the pain of the world forever.

I still watch though and I tell myself it is because I have yet to see a humpback whale, the rock star of the whale world, the one whose T-shaped tail adorns a billion motivational posters.  I convince myself it will be much more exciting than the oh-so common Fin, but I am like someone trying to convince themselves that the next iPhone will make their lives complete. It will but for how long?5 minutes? For all my weariness though, underneath runs a current, something that brings me out onto the cliffs over and over again. It is a vaguely conscious understanding that it is the watching for whales rather than watching of whales that is important.

So, I sit out on the cliff in the bouncy grass, surrounded by waving flowers – or the skeletal remains of flowers – while the gulls slide by and the insects buzz. I usually sit at Dunabrattin to do my watching but sometimes I just go down the fields. Sometimes I travel further, to Baginbun in Wexford or to West Cork. I scan the sea, pressing the binoculars to my face, squinting as I start the sweep slowly along the horizon west to east and back again. For a while it is dull. There is nothing out there, my heart sinks. What a waste of time, I say to myself, but my breathing slows and I relax. The sky is blue or grey, cloudy or clear, the sea cobalt, ultramarine or dirty green, smooth or choppy or rippled by the winds soft hands and shot through with colour and shadow.

The horizon isn’t the ruler straight line you see with the naked eye. Even on a calm day it is frayed and soft, an undulating silken fringe breaking down the division between Heaven and Earth. Occasionally it becomes blurred with the sweeping showers of rain that swing out over the sea from the mountains and disappear east. At Baginbun in Wexford, sometimes previously unseen buildings swell up from beyond the horizon like a mystical city of the sea.

Trawlers bob on the waves, smaller and smaller and then shimmering and swelling at the line of the sky. I often see an Irish naval ship, the LE Emer maybe, or the Samuel Beckett, patrolling, and once I saw her sailors stop and board one of the bobbing boats. I imagined the tension on board, and afterwards, when the Navy was gone, the crew having a tea break, hot water poured from a battered metal kettle that sits on the stove, chipped cups, a battered box of Lyons tea, a half packet of digestives passed around. Or more likely they have tapas, or wine and shrug and pooh pooh our Navy in one of the romantic languages. Putáin!

Heron

Then, there are the birds. They flap across my field of vision, sometimes low with their bellies full, sometimes high, in a hurry somewhere (where?) all flying in different directions, alone or in pairs, criss-crossing a sky of invisible highways. A heron flaps by;gannets circle and drop, tearing knots of spray in the fabric of the sea;cormorants, flip and dive, and then, stuttering, take off, black arrows over the surface of the water. Occasionally seals bob up, looking mournful, as if the racket from their dive bombing avian neighbours above has woken them. And the crows of course; choughs, rooks, hooded crows, jackdaws…

All this before a fin has so much sliced the surface. The longer I sit, the more there is a growing sense of the life and community on, and in, the sea, a sense of business being carried out. I look out at the ocean that ten minutes before I thought was empty and I know it’s not. It’s not just the birds and the boats. As I look across space I am looking across time too. If I can see that bird so many miles away from me then surely with a little effort I can see other people further away? I look south and think of Spain and the Azores and wonder what people are doing there. I imagine it’s warm and for some reason I see people in red shirts eating melons and wearing sombreros though my education tells me that is not, mostly likely, correct…

I look west and next stop is America where the people are five hours behind me in their day. Look, there is someone having a coffee and staring blankly out of an apartment window at a rainy day. As barrier after barrier breaks down, I imagine that if it’s possible to see to five hours ago, then if I were high enough, it could be possible to see yesterday, as well as today and tomorrow. It could be possible to see three years ago…

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Breathing slowly now, I am completely relaxed. Just by being still, just by watching the world, the dull film of familiarity has been peeled back and the world has become new again, the barriers between jaded adulthood and wonderous childhood are broken down and my eyes filled with life. When a blow finally appears followed by a lazy black back it is nearly (but not quite) unwelcome. It is at least unnecessary to reach a place of peace.

I stay and watch the puffs of white catching the sun, distant cannons of an invisible army, remembering a little what it is like to have my face pressed right up against life so hard that it hurts. Sitting there, on the bouncy grass among the nodding sea pinks, I am thankful. At least for a while.

Sunday Archive: Ordinary Magic

This one is from five years ago. I have edited out some of it that related to that time but the sentiment is present this time of year in those cool grey evenings when the light fades…

Yesterday afternoon, after a tussle with the Harvard Referencing system, I sat down and looked out at the afternoon sky. It was an ordinary day, neither here nor there. But sometimes, often, it is in the ordinary that the magic resides. Such days do not push themselves upon us. They allow us to drift, free us from the demand for enthusiastic action.

‘It’s so sunny!we must go out!’

‘Its snowing!’we must build a snow man!’

On a dull day, an ‘ordinary’ day, we don’t have to do a damn thing.

As I watched, the clouds grew more ragged and dark against the western sky, bright and tinged with gold as the day faded. I could hear the cold wind from the north combing the roof and feel it in the draughts around the windows and doors. Without having to look, I knew the sea to the east would have become a solid block of cobalt in the dusk. On Brownstown Head, the brake lights of some fisherman’s car might glimmer, ruby-like in the patched green folds that are trimmed with rusty rocks and seem, at this time, to be stitched onto the blue-grey stuff of the bay. As the wind died, as it often does around sunset, the light from the Hook lighthouse in Wexford would begin to flash.

I felt the tiredness in my bones and, without thinking, I was right in the moment. And in every moment of every ordinary day ever and nothing mattered that much and without looking I knew the fisherman had gone from the opposite headland, up the muddy, rutted path to home and I felt, without seeing, the light fading and the wind dying and then the rain came.

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Sunday Archive: Sea Potatomania

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I am thinking of my Connemara friend this week as its her birthday so here’s this post from five years back..

For years now I have yearned to find a sea potato, those fragile, heart-shaped, star-marked members of the sea urchin family. Given the amount of time in my life I have spent walking beaches with a bowed head it has quite aggravated me that these delicate sculptures of nature have eluded, an aggravation that is exacerbated by the fact that no-one else seems to have any problem finding them. One friend has them scattered about his car and claims they are ‘everywhere’. Another friend said he would find one for me, walked a few paces and picked one up and presented me with it. I promptly broke it. Nature, it seemed, had deemed me too clumsy and uncouth to be allowed communion with these fey tubers of the sea. I finally gave up. You can imagine my joy when, on a trip this year to Connemara, as I walked on beautiful Glassilaun, I spied on the grainy white sand a single, perfect sea potato framed artfully by thong weed (that stuff with which mermaids make their knickers) as if waiting for me. I had finally been accepted into the Sea Potato Club.

I often claim not to indulge in magical thinking but it is a claim that is false and I immediately saw in the sea potato a change in my fortunes. The clouds had parted, good things would surely come. I had let go and all that I wanted had come to me. I paced the rest of the beach with an outstretched hand that gently cupped my talisman of good fortune like a coronation herald carrying a crown on a cushion. I could rest easy now, content that I had found what I was looking for. My search was over…

Within five minutes I was wondering if I could find more. The thought of more took hold of me. I would find one more and give it to my friend’s little girl, Feile. Bolstered by my altruism I veered back to the magic spot to see what I could find. I found that my sea potato had been the last of of a long scatter of sea potatoes jumbled on the shore line, some in pristine condition, some cracked or broken, in shades of ochre, grey and white. There were even some hairy ones. I had managed to walk past all of them without seeing them and probably even crushed one or two under my clodding, ignorant feet. I did not deserve such beautiful things and I felt momentarily abashed. Then I greedily began to gather as many as I could.

GLASSILAUN SM

One for me, one for Feile, one for my niece Charlie, one in case one got broken…The difficulty of carrying a couple of kilos of fragile objects back to my car soon became obvious and I came to my senses kneeling on the white sand, surrounded by blue and green heaving mountains above the bright shore lapped by azure waters feeling as embarrassed as a Dutch burgher in 1638. I eventually took five sea potatoes. As I walked back up the beach my magical thinking head moved up a gear. Life is like my sea potato search, it thought. You look endlessly for the things you want not realising that they are in front of you all the time, that you are in fact trampling all over them. Try as I might though I couldn’t remember stomping on any nice young men or piles of money. My sour thinking head broke in to suggest that everything is random and the only patterns-besides my flibberty gibbet thinking patterns-are the ones on the tiny, alien skull-like sea potatoes, each evenly, delicately perforated with the outline of an outstretched star, arms open to the heavens. Maybe that’s enough.bMy friend and her daughter did not collapse with joy when I presented them with my treasure. In fact they seemed sort of underwhelmed and though I may have imagined it I thought I heard a mutter…

“Those bloody things. They’re everywhere…”

Sunday Archive: Off the Hook

The whales are back off the Copper Coast for the winter so I thought it a good time to share this from five years ago….

OFF THE HOOK1A few weeks ago, after reporting on the stranded Killer Whale, the IWDG gave me a heads up about a charter boat doing whale-watching trips from Dunmore East. So one chill, sunny, breezy Friday afternoon I hopped onto a boat heading out past the Hook lighthouse.

This area is great for spotting whales and dolphins during January and February. They come inshore during the winter chasing the sprats and the Hook is where they end up before disappearing out to sea again, no-one quite knows where. I often track the fin whales up the coast of Waterford during the cold months but only from the shore. This day, I was hoping to get up close.

There were rumours of a humpback whale in the area and this was the one I wanted to see. Fin whales, though they are twice as big, are more common and they don’t ‘fluke’ or ‘breach’ or do anything exciting. The humpback by contrast, that star of a million motivational posters, can jump around like a frog on a frying pan when the mood takes it.OFF THE HOOK3

With seven or eight others on board we motored out some miles off the Hook and the skipper began to criss-cross the area. It was a beautiful day and I occupied myself watching the birds; gannets – always a good sign of whale activity – razorbills and gulls.OFF THE HOOK2

By the time I heard the shout I had given up on seeing any whales and was just enjoying the trip.  Sure enough there was a blow and a quick flash of a black back and fin. I had hoped it was a humpback but it was a fin whale. Still, it was a blast to see one. Over the next couple of hours we dodged about looking for another sighting and were rewarded a number of times but it seemed the whale (or rather two whales, I am fairly sure) were intent on evading us.OFF THE HOOK4

Having watched groups feeding from land I have noticed they stay in an area and remain visible even when there are boats about so maybe these ones had fed earlier in the day and were just trying to catch an afternoon snoozle (whales sleep by shutting down half their brain).

I felt a bit conflicted that we were in a boat chasing them. As whale-watching becomes more popular in Ireland we may have to evolve some guidelines for charter tours so we don’t chase them away.

I got some nice photos but pictures can’t catch the salty smell, the fresh breeze, the thump and roll of the boat, the jolt of happy surprise at the eruption of a blow, the rainbow of light caught in the spray, the massiveness of the rolling back or the buoyant camaraderie on board as we shared our delight. We searched the seas and pointed when we saw anything, made room for each other so no-one would miss anything. Often space was vacated for me near the cabin as, with my camera, I had little balance on the rolling sea.

The appearance of a fin, a sudden blow, always brings people together. Sometimes the more knowledgeable are questioned and gladly share what they know, but mostly there is delight and wide smiles, free for a time of irony, are exchanged.OFF THE HOOK5

The creatures of the sea seem to evoke this. Maybe it because they live in the mysterious deep and seeing them is like a window into another world. They seem to be freer than we are, us gravity-locked animals of the shore. The birds, like the diving gannets, sew the two worlds together with knotted stitches of spray that tearing delicate silk of the sea.

We put-putted back to Dunmore East past the Hook lighthouse, its white stripes pale ochre now and dwarfed by a container ship gleaming gold in the afternoon.Behind us a ladder of lavender foam dissolved into the fading day. We were cold but happy. For a while.

Brendan Glody’s operation is now called Dunmore east Boat Trips http://dunmoreboatrips.ie/about.html 

 

Sunday Archive: Sea Witches

SWIMMERS 2 SM

The Autumn is beginning to make itself known, the beaches are emptying and water babies everywhere are able to feel a bit special again. Many people think swimming in the sea all year around is nuts but I think not doing it is nuts. You will never feel bad after a swim (unless you drown I suppose but then you won’t be alive to feel bad about it) and it is good for the soul, for the head and the body.

An acquaintance mentioned a group of year round swimmers to me once not realising I was part of the group.

“There are these crazy ladies who got in the sea in all weathers, “ she said, her eyes round with awe. Then she lowered her voice…

“I have heard that even though many of them have been doing it for years they haven’t aged a day since they started! It’s like they are witches.”

“Don’t be ridiculous,” I said, ” there are no such thing as witches.”

And I walked away cackling…

Extra Sketcher

For the duration of the lockdown (until December here in Ireland) I am going to post weekly from the archive. However to start this is a post from some years back which I never published…

The sunlight falls through the wicker awnings on the jumble of earthenware jugs that hang there, casting striped shadows on the rough plaster wall, on the platters of cabbage and turnip and beet and the rough yarn, bright against the turquoise lap of my roughly woven gown. The man the next stall over fusses with some logs and then stands and hitches up the leather belt that holds his tunic together, pushing his greasy hair out of his eyes getting  ready to lift the wooden barrel at his side. Somewhere a goat bleats and hens cluck fussily from a wicker cage as people cross the market, chatting and laughing, their faces like small suns with happiness after a long winter.

The air is pungent with the smell of horse manure and thick with smoke from the braziers of the various stalls for it is still early spring and there’s a nip in the air. For all that, the faces of the soldiers above their dully glinting plated jerkins are shiny and streaked with sweat. It runs from under their helmets as they man the walls, gazes directed toward the rutted track curling around the side of the hill and the still skeletal horse chestnut tree on its brow.

Soon the thunder of hooves and the jingling of harness catches my ear and we are all gazing towards the skyline, at the nobles galloping down the track, embroidered banners flapping furiously. As they ride in, everyone rushes out of their path, nodding and curtseying clumsily, turning, robes swirling in the dust. I stand and bow, my wool tumbling to the ground as I catch my foot on my gown and nearly get tangled in my cloak. After the fuss has died down, we return to our places as the horses wheel back up the track while men and women necklaced with headphones and wearing cargo shorts and hoodies re-assemble the scene and rearrange the gear. It was my first day on the set.

I was an extra once before on the movie Circle of Friends and enjoyed it immensely. A chance to sit and do nothing without guilt, to observe, to talk to people one wouldn’t usually meet. Its an interesting way to loosen the bonds of my own self-imposed fetters. As a gloomy, wearer of black I was appalled to find myself on the Circle of Friends set dressed in a yellow blouse, a pink cardigan, a green corduroy jacket and a long brown crimplene skirt with brown tights and flat black shoes. My hair was tied up on my head with a yellow ribbon. I looked dreadful. And hilarious. And it didn’t matter.

When I went for the fitting this time I sincerely hoped I would be a heroic warrior type or soldier. I had tried to make myself look as fierce as possible for the audition photo. As I waited for my costume I looked at the bejewelled and veiled ladies about me and thought it might not be so bad to be a princess. Then the wardrobe girl presented me with a large shapeless brown woolly dress, a brown throw that would have not looked out of place on the sofa of a student bedsit after a three-day drinking marathon and a pair of volumnous leather boots. A princess I was not.

I walked across the car park to the hair and make-up sheds looking probably like a large brown moth with hippy leanings. In the first shed the hair-dresser looked at my long, unkempt locks parted in the middle and asked how I usually wore my hair.

“Like this,” I said.

“Hmm,” she said in a tone laced with well-meant pity. She told me not to do anything with it. Similarly in the make-up shed the girl told me not to put any make up on on the day of the shoot.

“I don’t usually wear any,” I said.

“Hmmm,” she said in a tone not dissimilar to her hairdressing counterpart and patted me sadly on the arm.

It was only as I walked glumly back across the car park that I noticed the oversized luggage tag attached to my costume as it fluttered in the breeze. ‘Lower Class’ it read in large capital letters, in case, I suppose, anyone mistook me for anything else. Still, I couldn’t help but be excited about my first day on set. I was planning on bringing my sketch pad…

Shrew

A tiny brown shrew ambles past the open door. I look out in time to see its furry hindquarters disappear into a hole in the cement where it meets the wall of the house. It’s sunny, the light thick and creamy. A breeze sends little eddies through the dead hawthorn leaves. A great tit chitters in the bare branches and a young swallow wobbles on an air current over head. The turfy air, threaded with the musky scent of weed, begins to tremble with the soft burr of a distant JCB, yellow on blue. Autumn is here.

Break-your-heart-blue: A Virtual Walk on the Copper Coast

I am currently working on a book of illustrated essays from this blog. In the meantime here’s an old post.IMG_0501

It is beautiful today, though there is a cold wind from the west. The light is rich and honeyed, the waters of the bay an intense blue. It is the kind of blue that reminds me of the Firth of Forth at Edinburgh, which is visible from so many parts of that beautiful city. It is the blue of Cezanne’s Mediterranean at L’Estaque on the aptly named Cote d’Azur. So dense a blue, I can feel it resonating in my chest; a break-your-heart blue, vibrant and intense.

L'ESTAQUE WITH RED ROOFS(PAUL CEZANNE)

L’Estaque with red roofs (Paul Cezanne)

Up the dusty road, daffodils nod on the ditch towards the T-Junction watched over by big bellied pine trees. Rockett’s Bar (now closed) is up to the left, while the bright ochre beach and dunes are visible, for a while at least, to the right until the road drops past the big yellow field to bend and turn north towards the town.

DAFFS SMAn Anvil Head cloud has risen to the south. It is a cloud that occurs when cold air rises until it meets warm air and then spreads out to form the shape of an anvil. In the sun on an ivy covered wall, two cats sit facing each other, as if in deep conversation.

PALS

PALS

The road towards the town passes Newtown House where the crows carrying sticks are wheeling through the blue sky crazy-paved with the twisted branches of squiggly trees. Further on the apple blossoms delicately kiss the sky.

BLOSSOMS

BLOSSOMS

TREE

TREE

Descending Newtown Hill I pass a plump collared dove perched on a wire. At the bottom of the hill I turn left onto the Cliff Road which runs along the west side of the bay to Newtown Cove & the Guillamene, a mecca for swimmers all year around. The rocks on this side of the bay, empty now, are often dotted with people fishing for mackerel in the early autumn.

MACKEREL TIME (1)

Fresh Mackerel

Swerving past the entrance to the cove’s car park, the road curves up into Newtown Woods, a steep sided ravine of decrepit decidusous trees that shelters owls and pigeons. Here the new ferns glow between the shadows that also ladder the footpath which is edged with the mush of last years leaves.

Today, as every day, at every step of the way, something catches the attention, from my own shadow, to a twist of ivy root, to a familiar and much-loved stump (much-loved by me that is. I know it’s weird to love stumps). Everywhere there are possible paintings, photographs, drawings:striped shadows on a barn wall, a road sign, trees that look like a dancing couple, a sunlit path descending into dark undergrowth, an ivy covered fence post.

BARN AND MOON

BARN AND MOON

Emerging from the woods, I turn towards home and the landscape opens out again. The dusty road is lined by fields and an occasional house. The Metal Man and his pillars dominate the landscape here but the rusty cows pay him no heed as they amble in the gorsey, rocky fields. As I pass the familiar bank of rattling reed stems and walk up towards the setting sun, the sea to my left, is still blue but the waxing moon is rising towards the coming night.STUMP

IVY AND THE MOON

IVY AND THE MOON