Friday, 18 January 2008

Where Have You Been!!

Oh god! Sorry Sorry Sorry. Give me a kiss. Sorry. I've neglected the damn blog. And am now only stopping by -just flying by, barely getting out of the car, you understand, to say we're off to Venice right this minute and won't be writing anything for at least a week. But then! Oh boy! Watch out! You bet! Our keyboards will be aflame and loaded with poetry, insight, and clever tips for navigating the Lido. Oh well, I might come in for a quick can tell me what to bring you. Lace?

Let me just say quick, before you get a word in edge-wise, that we're leaving from Liverpool where we no longer live at a 6 in the A.M. which is a very small number, but the plan is to go to bed at 7 and wake up at 3 all packed are rarin' to go and zoom down the M61 snick-snick through Halewood God Help Us, hop on the RyanAir 9602 and away we'll go into ether snoozing soundly for two blissful hours before alighting in Treviso, where no one ever goes, I don't know why.

We'll find our little apartmento by the Ponticello Rialto, fling our bags in its direction, leap into a vaporetto, and will be stomping around the islands of Venice's northern lagoon by 2.

The one thing looming in the offing like an Ottoman caique is that B has a cold in his chest and his ears and one of those sudden barking coughs. Venice in winter is not known as a sunny clime ( I anticipate something rather
opium-induced: gondolas slipping through a blue exhaust-like fog into
the ruins sort of thing, don't you?), and ch-ch-ch- chilly among the mud flats, so we may just hole up
in a cafe and eat artichokes (carciofi) and say things like, "Lei
voille un po piu de vino?" "Would you like a little (un po) piu (more)
vino?" and "Si, mia cara"

Right now, B is at work in the slurry and mud of Salford Quays, and the wind and sleet blasting in from Ireland with his
cough, which it makes it hard for him to sleep, but we are not complaining or attracting the attentions of a vindictive Fate,
because there is currently a wave of "Winter Vomiting Sickness", a
Norwalk virus, going 'round and the hospitals are clogged. So. We're
happy with the cough, thanks.

Friday, 10 August 2007

On Rainy Scafell, Hot Bacon Butties and Warm Socks

Last weekend, the skies over Liverpool cleared. The temperature soared to nearly 80, and people came out of their houses
blinking, looking up at the sky and saying, "Ah...Eets a scorcha!"

My keen and long-honed travel instinct loaded us briskly into the little C-class and took us to the only place in the country it was raining, the Lake District, to climb Scafell Pike.

(Truly, weather presenters said, "And hurrah! The North West, where it's been coming down buckets since April, will see gloriously clear skies this weekend. All exept the Lake District, which will experience an uncharacteristically bit of unsettled weather.")

Scaffel Pike is called a 'pike' because it is tall and pointy, the tallest mountain in England (978m-ish). It rained steadily all weekend on the massif's craggy fells and scree. They slide right down into, interestingly, the deepest lake in England, Wast Water, which is 287 feet deep and very clear and probably very cold. We were alarmed to see people clinging to hot pink sausage shaped floats -just their heads - bobbing in the lake as we wound along the shore road, which I found disturbing and said, "Gosh I think those are people out there. Look." But B said, "I can't look honey, or we'll be out there with them." The little road winding beneath the giant fells, is just a little narrower than two cars, especially if one of them is full of self-absorbed and single-minded English people muscling down the middle, gorse-covered ledge and lake-bottom plummet on one side, ancient stone wall chipped and battered along its mossy length just at rear view mirror and passenger-face height on the other.

Note: the English drive baby buggies and shopping carts like this too, often sweeping side-to-side in a 'clearing' motion or along the Dairy and Creams section, clacketing along the glinting refrigerator bumper like a locomotive barrelling toward your tender and vulnerable acetabulum pretending deep interest in the On-Offer yogurts and double creams daring you to hold your ground.

The valley that holds the lake is called Wasdale, from the Viking 'Vantsdair', of course, meaning, 'Valley of Water' which is not very helpful, I wouldn't say, if you're giving directions to another Viking in a region with seven huge lakes radiating out of the center of an area streaming with gorges and gullies and rivulets and streams (called 'gills', actually, here is Brian expertly fording a 'gill'. A fine forder he.)

Wast Water is long, about 5 miles, but not very wide, and the slate scree slopes falling straight into the black lake give everything a fjord feel. It would hardly be surprising to see a wooden ship with a dragon head bow creaking past
as it sailed out of the cloud.

Well, we trudged up Scafell Pike - there were a lot of people in twos and threes, some of them running wearing next to nothing but shoes and a hat. It was about 60 degrees or so, but it was hot going. The views were tremendous over the lake and out to the Irish Sea and just to the north, the nuclear power station at St. Bee's Head, where the River Irt which flows from the lake is pumped to the cooling towers.

We were socked in by cloud about 3/4 of the way up just at the base of a narrow valley that I think might be called a 'col' full of scree up which we needed to scramble.

But, to mychagrin, I ran out of steam and we came bac k down.

Back in camp: Hot roasted sausage sandwiches in the rain when you've changed into your comfortable shoes and your socks are dry are delicious.

We are setting off this afternoon for Attempt 2, well provisioned with Bacon Butty ingredients (bacon and butty, I guess), dried blueberries, and a bottle of Reisling. Its name, wonderfully redolent of something you'd drink behind the 7-11, is Black Tower, and is in a bottle textured like a Germanic motte. Very velvet paintings and red upholstery in the basement. It's good though. Fruity. Like us all.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

In Wales: The Off-The-Beaten-Track Beaten Track

Wales is criss-crossed by ancient Druid tracks, drover's roads, and Roman ways. They run from sacred spring to chapel, from village to market, from garrison to copper mine to coast, down river valleys and over Cambrian passes. Many are lost now, forgotten, swallowed up by heather and bog. Some are paved and still go where they've always gone only faster. The old tracks climb over this little country and its wind-scabbed feols like cracks across old weathered knuckles.

They say the oldest road in Wales is the Kerry Ridgeway. And when they say 'old' they mean it. Older than the Iron Age hillforts that run along it. Older than the Norman mottes guarding the trade routes along the valley Severn below. Older than the Celtiic tumps placed carefully beside it, it is thought, for the tremendous views of mighty Cadir Idris, the biggest blue lump on the western horizon impressive even at 40 miles.

The Ridgeway runs allong Kerry Hill from Cider House Farm near pretty little Kerry in Powys, Wales, 15 miles to nearly-posh Bishop's Castle in Shropshire, England.

After something of a slog up the rise to Two Tumps, the path can be called 'gently undulant' and it is through pasture and sheep on a farmer track along the sunken gully of the drovers' road. It's lumpy only with ancient tumps on which sheep are standing presumably for the view, because there is a fine Welsh Forestry Commision look-out tower - like a windier, sheepier Bridge on the S.S. Enterprise or a DJ mixing table - that you step up into and are ringed with full color, amazing maps (in both Welsh and English) of the vista before you. You look at the map, "Here are the wind turbines," you say, and then looking up, there they are on the horizon! and then you trace your finger along the Cambrian mountain vista and say things like "ok...let's see...that should be...gosh, is that Cadir Idis!? Thirty five miles. Gosh. There's Cadir Idris. Would ya look at that."

Impress Your Companions
Three rivers rise from just below the Ridgeway all within half a kilometer. You can venture up and over Feol Goch, Red Hill to find the sedgy dip the Teme springs from. The three rivers are the Teme, the whole length of which has been name a Site of Significant Scientific Interest by English Nature, the Itheon, that bubbles out of some woods across from the car park, beside Cider House Farm, and the Mule. All three of which run into the Severn. I fear your companions are waiting to be impressed. Hold on. I'll come back with something really good. Something having to do ma;ybe...

Thursday, 26 July 2007

In Woolton: It's rainy...No! Sunny!...No, rainy...No! Damn!

Went for a run in the rain this morning. From the park, we can usually see Wales. Today, maybe whales. Har Har Har.

There were seaguls grounded by the weather, waiting in the fields for the cloud to lift. Do they not fly in the rain? Rather limiting for a seagull, I'd think....(Note to Self: Dear Self, Let's find out: Do seagulls not like the rain? Why are they washed up in Woolton Woods? Are they waiting for worms to surface? What do worms sound like rummaging around and popping out of the the ground? Is it noisy down there?)

Then! The rain stopped!.....sort of...

and the sky cleared!....sort of..

How beautiful and hopeful and positive! Oh thank you beautiful sun!

At home in the conservatory typing, it really came out! Sparking on the rosemary and the laundry

and making it impossible to see the computer monitor. Damn you Sun! Oh. There it goes.

Damn! Come Back!

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

Illicit Wives and Vick's Formula 44

It is cold and rainy this morning, but I'm typing in the conservatory with the radiator radiating and the wash steaming away.

You hear about wives who, having traipsed across the planet after their husbands, and, with nothing to occupy them, take up illicit habits, like gin and baccarat and human rights activism. My illicit habi turns out to be running the heat and taking off my coat while I type. I've turned it off now, though, so it's OK.

I've shut myself into the conservatory with the laundry and it's like the Amazon in here. Outside, the rain is clattering down out of the broken gutter, and, inside in the steam, the basil and the rosemary cuttings are sprouting and thriving and you can hear the spiders swelling and bursting out of their last, now-too-small exoskeletons, and I will find their actually pretty big husks duned up in the corners.

Oh hey! Now the sun's come out! and I've rushed out to take a picture of the event.

Just as illicit as running the heater, I''m also drinking a D 'n' B soda. I love D 'n' B soda because it is a masterpiece of marketing. The bottle is black and glossy and bullet-shaped. The font and print are punches of gold. "D! Fuckin' B!" it barks, "You got a problem with that!?" with a bikini'd efferescent Sprite babe on each arm swaggering frosty out of the refrigerator, jostling the pansy Fantas out of the way.
If you read the label, you notice that the "D" is written really big in swaggering solid gold block Sans Serif, but then you see, that beside the 'D' is 'Dandelion' written small and apologetically. And the "B", they break it to you means "Burdock" for crying out loud. But, to let you know that Dandelion and Burdock have Soda street-cred, the marketing department has added on the corner of the label in edgy, graffiti hacked by either a kidnapper with a blade (or a three year old with a crayon, it's not easy to tell which) the D 'n' B slogan: taLL, daRk,&DriNkSoMe.
Actually, it's pretty good stuff. (To put that statement in context, I had better admit, I was a Dr. Pepper Girl even after I discovered that the spicy elixir's main ingredient was, I'm pretty sure, prune squeezings, the tidy "10 2 and 4" logo and sophisticated art deco, stream-lined clock on the glamorous, sleek glass bottle, took on an embarrassing new meaning, I reamined true.

Even when all the Cola-louts hooted in their bikinis with their icey buckets and volley-balls, and hopped on their bandwagon, its corporate wheels oiled by cane sugar syrup and the blood of the masses, Buying the World a Coke and clanking their love beads, I held fast.

Even after the horrific coup-de-grace when Denise Kerr's dad was handing out sodas from the fridge at her birthday party and he was laughing over shreiking little girls stamping their shiny buckle shoes and yelling, "OK! Who wants Coke!" to frienzied "Me! Me! I Want it!"s and he was digging in the fridge and handing out drinks with "Here you go! Wait a minute, Barry (who was the only boy there, he and Denise liked to crush earthworms together after a rain), don't pry that off with your... Oh ha ha! Well, they were baby teeth weren't they?" and
"OK! Let's see here, There's RC Cola (Barry drank RC) and some Fresca (to a resounding "Ewww!")'s you're mother's. She'd have my hide...and, say, how'd this get here? Here's an old Dr. Pepper. Ha! Wonder where that came from?" and I said, "I'll take it."
The silence fell on them like they'd been un-plugged, her dad in mid bottle cap pry and kids in mid-guzzle, but Denise, at 10, already Ambassador to The Man, stepped forward to sum up the World's disdain for me and my kind with the pat: "Ew, that's prunes".
It could not be denied.
I liked it and felt an instant affinity of others who chose The Doctor. Although, I've got to say, they were thin on the ground as I recall.

So D 'n' B is pretty good. If, when you hear "pretty good", you think of Vick's Formula 44, which is exactly what it tastes like. It cost 59p, so they're not giving it away. It's also, I read here, the Official Soft Drink of the Great Britain Rugby League. An angry bunch. The label on that the black plastic bottle (very few soft drink bottles are actually black) lets slip a softer - dare I say truer side, by revealing that the bottle contains "sparkling dandelion and burdock flavour". Sparkling. Like a brook. Like a beautiful restorative quaff. And the warning: "If spilt, this product may stain." Who can be surprised?
It's made in Glasgow.

Peopleallovertheworld! Join me!

It's been raining for forty five days.

Since Tony Blair stepped down and Gordon Brown took office, there's
been a huge and general price increase, we've been attacked by terroists, and it hasn't stopped raining. Last Thursday, July 20, at 11:30, they say, the sun came out and it got up to 72 degrees.

People rushed out of their houses and office buildings, cramming the pubs and beer gardens,
laughing and taking off their shirts, and driving around with the windows down playing ELO's Greatest Hits and Love Train by the O'Jays.
It was very sweet.
Since then, in our wellies, under our brollies, through blue lips, we
are still humming...

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

English Appliances: A Tragedy in Two Cycles

The appliances in England are...hmmm...let me cast around carefully for the most delicate and diplomatic expression... let's see...Rickety and Poorly Designed? Ah yes, that's it exactly.

For example, you would think that designing a refrigerator would be pretty fool proof: Big Cold Box, right? Oh, but No! Our Candy Futura Frost-Free is a trim little ballerina of a refrigerator that would fit comfortably under the seat in front of you, and a freezer full of delicate plastic drawers in the bottom. The whole thing weighs about 100 pounds soaking wet, which it mysteriously, often is. You have to load it like ballast in a ship hold. Put a milk carton and a sack of carrots on the same shelf and the whole thing will list alarmingly, usually forward into your arms, like a dying swan.

But maybe it's more of a needy personality issue, rather than its delicate design. Our refrigerator is like a big lonely cow. When you walk by, the whole thing leans forward to nuzzle you. And it's so anxious to please you, if you stomp too hard past it, its doors swing open unbidden. Open the freezer and all the plastic drawers slide out all at once. It's rather pitiful, really. So, when we actually do want to open the refrigerator, we've learned that, in order to intercept all the wine bottles and lettuce and soy sauce that will come flying out of the door rack and the crisper, it's necessary to swing our bodies right into the box and sort of close the door behind us, waving our arms like we're chasing geese, in order to field and knock down escaping condiments.

Then there's the washer. It's a dryer too, which sounds like a good idea and very European, doesn't it? Well, it's all the washer can do to handle two pairs of socks and a tie. And it complains and growls through the whole process. It's got some sort of energy-saving chugging and stopping strategy. It chugs and then stops - just ceases-for a long time- some time, later, it'll give a couple of half-hearted chugs and then collapse once again. You'll be in standing in the peaceful little kitchen looking out at the summer garden, forgotten all about the socks in hours ago, and wondering whether there's any soy sauce left, when the washer will roar to life at your ankles growling and chugging . It's unsettling.

Where it really comes to life is the spin cycle, though. It sound like a Harrier jet lifting off an aircraft carrier. Quite impressive and it smashes and wrings the clothes into hard wads and cudgels.

Then it's exhausted, so the dryer doesn't work properly. It wheezes and gasps all over the clothes, going "Hagh Hagh Haaaagh" every now and then, for hours, like an old man until you just say, "Oh for crying out loud. Let me just do it." and it chuckles and goes back to sleep.