Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

Marketing? A particularly poor example

Sometimes you have to wonder at what goes through the heads of the marketing boys. In the shop today I saw the four disc edition of Hellboy 1 and 2. Now I happen to think they are both very good movies, even if the second one does veer a bit too much towards "Neverending Story". I have already bought the two disc edition of the first film but the price was low enough to tempt me to buy the full package, just a couple of quid dearer than the second movie alone. So, I picked up the box from the shelf to find out what extras were included.
To my astonishment the only information on the box was that both Hellboy and Hellboy II were "included". Nothing else. Not a single item of information. And it was sealed so it couldn't be opened to check the inside details. I'm guessing that it contains exactly the same extras as the two individual purchases would but I don't know that for sure. What's the point of producing a four disc package but not telling anyone what's in it?
My search of the internet to get the information has also been a failure beyond finding quite a few other people making the same complaint.
I've decided to save a couple of quid and buy the Hellboy II disc on its own. The marketing strategy seems to be to actively discourage purchase of the more expensive version. How very odd.

Seeing the invisible fish

When I was in Harrow this year I mentioned the invisible fish that I commented on in passing in this entry about the Philippines. I was met with disbelief. Ridicule even. But I swear it's true. I have, hand on heart, seen invisible fish. Well their skeletons, heads and some of their internal organs anyway, and the fish shaped hole in the light that they make when they swim past.
If you are also a doubting Thomas try googling for images of "glassfish".
The scientific information and further details can be found in this wikipedia entry.

So, hands up if you'd like to see the invisible fish.

More effort required

I have, as you will doubtless be aware if you have read anything at all in this blog, travelled round much of the world. I've been everywhere from Argentina to Zambia. When I've travelled I haven't always seen the countries from the window of a bus or eaten fish and chips or club sandwiches delivered* to my table by room service. I've hiked and camped, used local buses and trains. I've eaten in every conceivable kind of establishment and every conceivable kind of food including ducks feet, beaks and tongues.
Nor have I restricted my conversation to chats with tour guides and shopkeepers. I have conversed, as far as my limited linguistic skills allow, with as many different people as possible under as many different sets of circumstances as I have encountered.
And this week I have realised just how little I ever actually learn about the places, the people and the societies that I have visited.
What has brought me to this realisation? The death of Senator Edward Kennedy.
You may be wondering how these things are connected. It's simply this. I have spent quite a lot of time, comparatively speaking, in the United States. I have visited about half a dozen times. I'm not sure of how many states I've visited but it's around half of them with stays ranging from a couple of hours to a couple of weeks. I have good friends in a couple of them. Add to that the fact that more than half the television programmes and films I watch are American and you might think I'd have a reasonable grasp of things left-pondian. But if you had asked me a week ago if Edward Kennedy was alive or dead I wouldn't have known. Now of course I do know. The various news items about his life and death have raised my awareness of him. The eulogies from the great and the good have surprised me. It's not that I think he doesn't deserve them, it's that I have no idea at all whether he deserves them or not.
Edward Kennedy in my mind is associated with one thing and one thing alone - and it's not hard to guess what that is because it's probably the same for most non-Americans: Chappaquiddick.
Hearing and reading about the life and career of Senator Kennedy has shown me just how little I actually know about the politics of the US. I suppose it might be that I find little of interest in any politics but it has made me wonder.
I have travelled in fifty-five different countries. How many of the leaders - either now or when I was in them - can I name? Precious few. How do the world-views and feelings of the people I have met differ from my own? I can think of individual things but, on a more fundamental level, very little. What are the typical day-to-day lives of those people like when they aren't interacting with tourists? I have visited peoples' homes occasionally but that's no more a real situation than meeting them in hotel bars. People always bring out the best china, or whatever the local equivalent is, when they have guests.

Even in matters of history and geography I have learned little and the little I have learned has come mostly from guide books and atlases. It's not that I'm not interested and it's not that I go around with my eyes and ears closed. I think that it's more that I am focussed on the moment and the series of moments in reality add up to a very limited exposure to the countries.

In future I shall try very hard to get a wider view, I shall redouble my efforts to see the big picture of the countries I visit and not just the isolated trivia that bombard me as I travel. I think, perhaps, a little more effort is required.

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Every silver lining has a cloud

At first I thought the news that Channel Four is axing Big Brother was good. Then I realised that the five hours per day* gap in three months of their schedule will almost certainly be filled with something even worse.
Combine that with the fact that I am already sick to death of hearing the "Strictly Come Dancing" theme tune AND IT DOESN'T EVEN START FOR ANOTHER THREE WEEKS, and I may well commit suicide. Or possibly just throw the TV away.

(*This figure admittedly includes broadcasts in the wee small hours of the night when no sane person watches television anyway, but they will still be hours that have to be filled with something. And who ever claimed that Big Brother fans are sane?)

Anticipating exhaustion

Tomorrow is my first day back at college, a day of enrolment when would-be students who want our courses come along, get assessed and, with any luck get placed on a course. I'm just hoping that it isn't quite so manic as last year.
I then have a few days more off before I'm back next week on Wednesday for a couple of weeks more enrolment and then back to the bit that's why I do it - the teaching.
If I'm missing at all in the next few days it's because I'm too shattered to write anything.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Rebranding works then.

Sometime ago I posed the question, on wordcraft if not here, of why there were so many adverts around for "Pear Cider" when we already had a perfectly good word for the drink "perry". I have no special objection to it but it struck me as redundant to invent a new term for something that already has a name.
I wonder no longer.
It seems that the rebranding has resulted in fourteenfold increase in sales. Apparently people were "confused" about what perry is and so didn't buy it. Now they have all gone "Aha! Perry is cider made out of pears. I must try it."
The annual sales have leapt from around £3.4 million to around £46 million.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

Frontwards, backwards, sideways

I have been taken to task for my assertion that in British homes the Front Room faces backwards. John, my regular drinking buddy, asserts that this is not so. I can only say that in his experience it isn't and in mine it is. As I walk around my street in the wee small hours, the lit room is the one facing the road. The room where we invite guests, called the "front room" faces away from the road.

I don't know if this is a regional thing or a class thing, or connected with the specific 1950s design of semi-detached houses, or what it is, but it is a fact that if you walk around the area where I live you will see that everyone lives in the room that faces the road and that the room at the back, facing the garden, is kept for "best".

Comments from other British readers who can add something to this puzzle are requested.

Saturday, 22 August 2009

Walking In My Mind

Finally, we have the missing work from the 19th. The display still isn't perfect. Click on each of the four floorplans to get a larger, more readable image. Depending on your computer you may or may not then be able to use Control and + or Control and - to change he image size.

There are notes below the pictures which should be considered as part of the work, not separate from it. Working down from the top we have the attic, the upstairs, the downstairs and the cellar.

The Hall is as far as most people reach, the face that most people see, a superficial, surface image. It is the friendly face presented to the world. It is sunshine on the rippling pond. It is the coat of paint on the rotten wood of the garden fence. It is not who I am, it is who you think I am.

The Front Room (which in most British Houses is usually at the back, which is the case here) is the nice room where we take important visitors. It is decorated in the taste we wish the world to believe we have. It is our best face, our Sunday Clothes, the silver cutlery and best china only brought out to make an impression. It is not who I am, it is not who I want to be, it is who I want you to think I am.

The Living Room is where we are comfortable, where we surround ourselves with the things that make us happy, where we are most like the people we really are. It is comfortable slippers and a warm cup of cocoa. It is a relaxing armchair in familiar surroundings. It is not who I am, it is who I am comfortable being.

The Kitchen is where everything is cooked, the ideas factory for trying out new recipes. It is the melting pot for the influences and associations of the world around us. It is the big bowl where everything gets mixed up and baked (or half-baked) thoughts and ideas come out the other side. It is not who I am, it is how I become who I am.

The Master Bedroom is where I think the thoughts that make me human, where I dream the dreams, hope the hopes and wish the wishes. Dreams and hopes and wishes change as often as the posters that hang on the bedroom wall.Nothing is constant. It is not who I am, it is all of who I was and who I will be.

The Guest Bedroom is a space reserved for visitors who never come. No one: not family, not friends, not lovers ever comes to visit. No one can enter my mind but me. The room remains empty and unvisited. It is not who I am, it is how I am.

The Bathroom and Toilet is where all the dirty and detritus and faecal matter eventual goes. Theodore Sturgeon said "nine per cent of everything is crud". Or he may have said "crap", sources vary. He was right though. It is not who I am, it is the ninety percent of who I was that was worthless.

The Attic is where all the lost things go. It is the room for broken dreams and broken toys. It is where the things that were once important, once loved, once part of life have been put away to be forgotten, to be occasionally examined in the flashlight of nostalgia and then discarded once again. It is not who I am, it is who I might have been.

The Cellar is locked. It is where the bad things are kept, where the bodies are buried. It is the antithesis of the attic. It is a place of regrets, a place of sorrows. It is not who I am, it is who I am ashamed to be.

The House is who I am.


And this of course is all self-indulgent, pretentious twaddle. But then again, that is what I promised you and I am nobody if not a man of my word.

Anticipation Part 2

You may have to wait a little longer for the poem that was missing on 19th. I am having trouble getting it into a format that is readable on blogger. Remember that patience is a virtue.

Friday, 21 August 2009

Philippines 1995: Part 21

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

Our last day dawned with the kind of blazing heat that had too often been denied us. Tomorrow morning we would board a plane at five O'clock a.m. that would need a 2 a.m. wake up. The almost unanimous consensus was that it would not be worth going to bed so a very long day stretched out ahead of us. After breakfast there was time to go for a walk in the area around the hotel. The sun was fierce and bright as we left the hotel and kept turning right until we had walked around in a large square and arrived back at our starting point in time to grab bags and take the 10:30 plane to Manila. Once we reached Manila, a little before lunch, there was the question of how to spend the day. After some consideration we decided to walk in the direction of Intramuros and look at some of the sights.
We set off along Mabini Street towards Rizal Park. My attempts to change money, in spite of the hundreds of money changers had been frustrating. Three consecutive shops had refused flat out to accept traveller's cheques or any currency other than dollars. As I had no dollars to change I had had to keep searching. The fourth one agreed to change traveller's cheques but at a rate well below the official one. Their take it or leave it attitude made it plain that I would have no more luck anywhere else so I had taken it, changing the last of my money. I had just about enough to last the day.
Our first 'sight' was Rizal Park which is a large and very crowded park of little interest other than for the huge fountain in the centre of it. Across the busy road there were two smaller parks, each charging a nominal fee, the Chinese Garden and the Japanese Garden. We went first into the Chinese Garden. This was a charmingly laid out garden with a number of Chinese style pagodas. It seemed to be a popular meeting place for young couples who were strolling round hand in hand or sitting together on the numerous benches. We also strolled around for a while. The Japanese Garden was smaller and less interesting. It could be circled inside about two minutes and was a relatively barren place.

We crossed over Burgos street to head towards the entrance to the walled city of Intramuros. On the left as we approached there was an entrance to a small fortification. Inside was a pleasant and deserted garden and steps that led up to the walls and roof. We explored for a few minutes and then went to see Intramuros itself.
Intramuros - "The walled City" is Manila as it once was. The wall was constructed following attacks by China with a moat around it to complete the fortifications. It encircled all of the important houses and churches and only the Spanish and the Mestizos were allowed to live inside.
Much of the walled city was destroyed by bombing during the Second World War but enough of it remains or had been restored to make it worth visiting. The buildings are in a completely different style to anywhere else in Manila, more preposing and elegant. Many of them were decorated for Christmas. One had what appeared to be a set of life size cardboard cut out nativity figures on the flat roof above its doors.

We walked around for a time before heading out of the side gate and into a grim urban area where homeless people seemed to be living on the narrow stretch that separated the main road from what must surely be one of the worlds strangest golf courses, a bizarre narrow grass strip, no more than fifty feet wide, that encircles the walled city where the moat once was.
In the evening we all went out together for a meal. The intention was to go back to the Hong Kong Tea Rooms but they were full and recommended another Restaurant a little way away. This was larger and although the food and service were as good the portions were less generous and we finished the meal without the effort that we had been forced to put in last time.
Afterwards the group split up slightly with by far the largest group of us going on to what was formerly the Manila Hard Rock Cafe but is now called Ten Years After. I had forbodings about the place from the moment we entered. Although the decor was fine, the lighting intimate and the music good solid melodic rock it seemed to me the sort of place where it would be very easy to get ripped off. I was soon proven right. We ordered a round of drinks, predominantly cocktails. I am no expert but my Tequila Sunrise had no perceptible alcohol content, Tequila or otherwise. Others soon started voicing the same opinion. There was only lime juice in the gin and lime. Even the beer seemed to have no actual beer in it. We complained and when that got us nowhere we sorted out the money for the drinks and tried to leave. Of course that was reckoning without the cover charge. I had seen that coming. Of course in view of our satisfaction we refused to pay it and they threatened to call the Police. Out in the street a Policeman did indeed try to stop us but as we were so many and we just ignored him he let it go.
There was nothing for it. It was time to go back to Rosie's, which is what we did. We pooled all of the remaining money and spent it on several pitchers of Margaritas which had an extremely high alcohol content and spent from then until about two O'clock getting quite drunk.
Then, in a flurry of activity, it was all over. Rush back to the hotel, shower and change, rush to the airport, kill a little time in the departure lounge and get on the flight home. The Philippines, like some many other places had gone from being a place to look forward to, to being a place to look back upon.

Thursday, 20 August 2009

Philippines 1995: Part 20

Justify FullNote: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

In order we were woken by the entire dog population of Port Barton in a Hell's Dawn Chorus of barking and howling, the roaring of a motorbike gunning its badly tuned engine, a tinny radio playing Elvis Presley's Wooden Heart and finally a belated cockerel announcing the daybreak which of course started the dogs off again.
The water was off in the shower but working at the standpipe outside which is where I washed before going to breakfast. A few people were going off for a walk to a waterfall in the jungle but mostly we planned to drift around Port Barton doing nothing for the morning. I wandered along the main street, buying bars of chocolate at a tiny but packed general store that sold everything from Paint to T-shirts. Then I cut back to the beach and carried on round. At the point where I needed to cut slightly back inland to a bridge over the river a group of children were playing, climbing on the low branches of a tree that overhung the water.

Across the river the bridge turned into a series of narrow planks on raised platforms. Five feet below it on the smooth sand near invisible crabs scurried to and fro, only visible at all by virtue of their motion and then as flickering ghost like images on the retina rather than something properly seen.
The shoreline became rockier and rockier and among the rocks, washed up by the tide were thousands of sea shells ranging from tiny delicate spirals to massive solid conches weighing several kilos each. In half an hour of beach combing I amassed a pretty good collection. Some of the others were also there, similarly engaged, gathering any odd bit of flotsam that caught their eyes.

In the afternoon we had all booked bangkas to take us island hopping. We sailed past any number of islands, some of them stark and barren rocks standing out from the water, others lush forested hills with trees that swept right down to the water's edge. There were islands where a narrow white ribbon of sand formed the demarcation between azure water and emerald forest and others where the whole island was a single beach. There was a repeated optical illusion where we would sail towards an island convincing us that we were going to land only to find as we approached that it suddenly resolved itself into two separate islands with a narrow channel between them through which we sailed.
Finally we moored at an island where the water was shallow and an idyllic beach threaded along about fifty yards of it. The bottom was smooth and sandy and only became rocky a long way out. Out in the rocks someone saw a sea-snake and as they are poisonous after that we stuck mostly to the shallows. About a hundred yards across the strait there was another similar island. I swam across towards it but the water was so shallow that I could, had I have chosen, have waded the whole way. When I got to it I found it almost identical to the one we had landed on, a little rockier perhaps, a bit less green maybe but more or less the same. I swam back.
Soon we were off to Manta Ray Reef. This is a coral reef off Manta Ray Island. We moored above the reef and those of us who wanted to dived in. The water was not much rougher than at the shore and only about fifteen to twenty feet deep. I duck-dived to look at the coral.
Manta Ray Reef is impressive for the size and scale of the coral but all of it is dead, probably from widespread dynamite fishing. The result is that although there is a lot of it, it all has a flat and dull greenish grey colouring unlike the coral we had seen at Snake Island. All the same there were a great many varieties. The most common were large flat fan like structures about four feet across but there were also volcano shaped formations and brain coral and weird branching growths like frozen lightning bolts.
We swam for about half an hour before struggling back onto the boats and sailing off to German Island where we spent another hour. By the time we returned to Port Barton the sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon but there was time for more swimming and lazing on the beach before dinner.
For the first time I started to feel as if the holiday was all over. All that remained was the travelling home.

A litany of farewells

An here is a short parting verse for my final morning in Harrow before I head back the the real world.

"Goodbye" is "God be with you",
And "adieu"'s the same.
"Auf wiedersehen" and "Au revoir",
"Until we meet again"
"I bow to you" - "Namaste!"
"Sayanara" - "If it be thus."
"Cheerio"- "Be of good cheer"
And leave with little fuss.
There are many ways to part
Many more than I can tell,
But my preference is to wish you all
A "safe journey" with "farewell."

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Anticipation is half the pleasure

There is a poem for today.
I have it here in front of me on a piece of paper. The trouble is that the only way I can think of to post it is to use Paintshop to create it and then import it as an image which you will be able to enlarge and examine at your leisure. This is because it is what is called a "concrete" poem and the physical layout of the words on the page is as important as the words themselves.
It is a poem inspired by that Art Exhibition at the Hayward and called, perhaps unsurprisingly, "Walking In My Mind. It takes the form of a map of a house with a verse representing each room and each room representing an element or aspect of my life.
In other words it's pretentious twaddle. But it's my pretentious twaddle and you will have to wait a couple of days until I manage to get it into a displayable format.
Bet you are already anticipating the pleasure.

Philippines 1995: Part 19

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

We waded waist deep, rucksacks held above our heads, out to the bangkas. The water was calm and warm but the rocky bottom was slippery and uneven. Nonetheless the task was accomplished without mishap. The noise from the engine was tremendous and made conversation difficult but there was no sign of yesterday's rain and the sun was bright and hot again. It was a long journey for what felt like a very flimsy craft. I was convinced of their seaworthiness but others seemed less confident. At times when we were out in open water and the waves were high enough to lash over the sides bouncing us about like a Ping-Pong ball, I could see their point of view.
We stopped for lunch at a small island, where puzzled villagers watched us as we gave a repeat performance of yesterday's lunch preparations. They showed the same idle curiosity that the monkeys had, although the monkeys had been unable to sell us bottles of beer which made the villagers a much better audience. Afterwards it was back to the bangkas for part two of the trip. Although we had started early it was already some way into the afternoon by the time we arrived at Port Barton and the Swissipinni Resort. After Sabang I had expected Port Barton to be pretty grim. Instead there was a wonderful surprise waiting for us. Swissipinni consisted of a village of solid, well-built and even luxurious wooden chalets all nicely furnished and all complete with proper showers and toilets. There was a large separate building where the bar and restaurant and even a pool table could be found.

The resort was situated right at the edge of a perfect beach which sloped steeply down into the water making it perfect for swimming. In the restaurant I ordered an egg and cheese sandwich and received what was really a large cheese omelette between two thick slices of home baked bread. After a nap on the beach I went swimming for about an hour. The odd profile of the beach gave a peculiar 'backwards wave' effect to the water so that the waves ricocheted from the sand pulling you first towards the shore and then away from it. It was a peculiar and pleasant sensation. Another nap and then it was time for a shower and a wander to the bar.
Before long Eddie, the resort manager, started laying out the buffet which proved to be an excellent meal although some of the group seemed to be happy with just a liquid dinner.
We sat around in the bar drinking until it was time to go to bed again. There was a vague feeling of time ticking away. Tomorrow would be our last non-travelling day in the Philippines and it felt strange to think that soon we would be going home. I felt as if I had spent my whole life here, as if England was something I had once dreamed about after a heavy supper rather than a reality waiting for my return. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind. I didn't even want to consider home.

Tuesday, 18 August 2009

Philippines 1995: Part 18

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

I opened my eyes. Everyone seemed to be packing up and heading towards the picnic area. We hadn't been there for five minutes had we? Someone was walking toward me echoing the dream that I had been having. (But how could I have been having a dream unless I'd been asleep?) I stood up and brushed the sand from my arms and legs.
"About forty five minutes." she told me when I asked the obvious question. The fragments of my dream flickered past but were gone before I could catch them.
At the picnic table eager monkeys stood watching us from near the sign that listed as rule number one - "Do Not Feed The Animals". I glanced at the other rules and chuckled at rule number seven - "No Nudity Or Public Indecency".
On the table lunch was taking shape. Blocks of cheese were sliced. Cans of tuna fish and a jar of peanut butter were opened. Loaves of bread were unwrapped. It all looked horribly familiar from our trek. Given the number of available ingredients the number of culinary variations was rather limited although Graham's tuna fish and peanut butter sandwich made a valiant attempt at expanding the envelope. Afterwards, mindful of rule number one, we cleared away as well as we could but as soon as we stepped away from the table hordes of monkeys who obviously hadn't read the sign descended on it to salvage whatever scraps they could manage.
Now we had a choice. We could return by bangka to Sabang or walk along a track called the 'Monkey Trail'. The few returning by boat left and the rest of us started up the path. Two steps along it started to rain. Fifty steps later it was back to the kind of downpour we knew and loved. That damned cloud had just been waiting until we were away from shelter. I swear that I could hear it sniggering.
Initially the track led up a series of sturdy wooden staircases that zigzagged steeply up the hillside. We were surrounded by trees that could have been designed by Salvador Dali. Great flat vertical boards formed the roots looking like pieces of chipboard slotted together as props for a stage production of Tarzan of the Apes. At the top of the steps the track levelled out and then gradually rose and fell as we walked through the jungle, the rain increasing in ferocity all the time. Finally another set of steps, this time distinctly rickety looking led down to another beach. We descended them one at a time for safety. Parts of them looked as if one at a time might be one more than they could take but we all reached the beach in perfect safety and then followed it round until a track cut a little way back inland to a broad flat path which ultimately took us back to Sabang and a change of clothes. At Sabang with a final little flourish the rain cloud drifted off to find someone else who had no shelter and the sun came back out.


There are many (very many) who will say that this is not a poem.
To them I say "Your mother was a hamster and your father smelled of elderberry!"
I wrote it, I meant it as poem. It's a poem, get over it.
What it isn't, is a NEW poem. I wrote it at about this time last year. It is however very apposite for reasons I will explain after the poem.

The Chef’s obsession with mushrooms.

Menu du jour.

Sautéed mushroom savours

Mushroom pâté
Mushroom tartlets with mushroom sauce
Mushroom cannelloni

Mushroom soup
Peppers stuffed with mushroom rice
Risotto champignons

Ice cream (mushroom flavour)

The reason it is apposite? The chef here still has an obsession with mushrooms. I reacted very badly to the steam from the cooking mushrooms yesterday morning and was truly astonished to find them in the Minestrone soup last night. I like minestrone and it's fortunate that someone noticed and warned me. Who on Earth puts mushrooms in minestrone?

Here's a recipe. And another. And another. And another.
Notice what's missing?
Mushrooms, that's what's missing. Mushroom minestrone. I ask you!

Monday, 17 August 2009

A puzzle poem

Where secrets and mysteries abound unconfined,
Where long hidden things may be found and revealed,
By careful excision that has been designed
With utmost precision to expose the concealed
Of the waste that has grown to surround and to bind.

Not much of a poem, I know. What's the puzzle? You tell me, it wouldn't be a puzzle if told you, would it?

Nice pub, but where is everybody?

A brief nod to an absolutely splendid pub in Pimlico, the Cask in Charlwood Street. Apparently this used to be a dive called the Pimlico Tram but if it was, it's certainly changed. A decent selection of British Ales and a marvelous selection of bottled European beers are added to what looked like a very nice menu, though I didn't eat there myself, having eaten already.
The landlord was friendly and helpful. The pub is tasteful, though perhaps (only perhaps) a bit bright and I'd certainly recommend a visit. The only problem was that on a Saturday night you'd expect rather more than the handful of customers he had, and he certainly deserves more. A very nice place to have a drink, indeed.

Walking In The Mind

So, what about the latest exhibition at the Hayward then?

Last year I spent one of my free days during my summer job visiting the Psycho Buildings exhibition at the Hayward Gallery. It was, as you can read, a mixed success, but boating on the roof of an art gallery was certainly one of the more unusual things I’ve ever done in the name of art.
This years exhibition is called Walking in my Mind and consists of installations by ten artists. The opening hall contains works by two artists – Keith Tyson * and Yoshitomo Nara. Nara’s recreation of his artist’s studio in a wooden hut in the middle of the space echoes to some extent Do Ho Su’s replica of his New York apartment in last years show but is rather less interesting. It’s OK but totally overshadowed by Keith Tyson’s installation of Locked Out of Eden and Studio Wall Drawings which, to my mind, was worth the price admission on its own. The two side walls of the gallery are covered with small works any one of which rewards examination on both artistic and linguistic levels while the end wall is a single piece in which a complex painting is the backdrop to a copy of the periodic table, each section of which references the element concerned with smaller details. We spent far too long looking at it and trying to work out the detail.
Up the stairs there is Thomas Hirschorn’s Cavemanman which is a series of caves built of masking tape and with various things stuck to the walls. I tried to like it but it left me cold. It seemed a rather too mundane interpretation of the theme. There was also the first section of the Charles Avery installation which, according to the accompanying book is part of “a philosophical allegory, an encyclopaedic investigation of an imaginary island and everything it contains – it’s people, customs, mythology, topography, human history and natural history”.
Well I liked the individual components well enough but even now that I now what it’s supposed to be about I’m damned if I can see that level of coherence in it.
Perhaps the piece that would raise the hackles of modern-art haters most was Jason Rhoades The Creation Myth, which at first sight is no more than a room full of random junk and pages of hard core pornography. There is quite a lot more structure to it than that as the “map” to it makes clear. The junk is deliberately assembled in sections that represent various aspects of human creativity. I didn’t like it much because, well because the bottom line is that no matter how much I know on an intellectual level that it is deliberately assembled, it still looks like a pile of junk.
Bo Christian Larsson’s work winds up the stairwell and consists of quite a lot of small, quirky items – statues of owls, boots with viciously sharp knives sticking out of the tops, more boots made of chains, a small “forest of trees with gold paper on one side. Again they are individually moderately interesting but there is an overarching “concept” involving several characters who apparently created a “performance without spectators; part spontaneous happening and part private ritual” in an empty gallery. Seems to be a rather pompously self-indulgent concept to me.
By far the must unpleasant installation was another one of these high concept pieces, Mark Manders’ Self Portrait as a Building. This is another (possibly specious) attempt by an artist to tie everything he does together under an umbrella concept. And it works even less well than either Avery or Larsson’s pieces. It gets the “unpleasant” label for the subject matter of the individual pieces. A dead and bisected cat does nothing for me.
Yayoi Kusama probably does nothing for most people but I quite liked it. She has an obsession with polka dots and the installation starts in a room full of large red and white polka dot balloons, moves out onto an astroturf covered terrace with similarly decorated pieces and spills down onto the embankment of the thames where the trees have been wrapped in matching polka dots.
Two pieces remain. Chiaru Shiota has created a tunnel out of lengths of intricately arranged knotted black string which circles round a group of giant white dresses like the worlds most complicated spiders web and immediately produces the comment “this must have take days to set up” from almost everyone.
And finally there is the hypnotic Extremities from Pipilotti Rist (an anagram of “Pilot, I strip it”). This is a video and audio installation in which the display creates a disorienting 3D effect by projecting through curtain onto a wall. Balls of light form a background against which disembodied body parts float around while a poem is repeated endlessly over a mesmerising soundtrack. Quite beautiful inits way.

And that’s it, out into the gift shop to try to find a poster of Keith Tyson’s work. (There isn’t one but there is a lot of it illustrated in the exhibition’s official book.

All in all a little less successful than last year but certainly one that I enjoyed in part. The Hayward’s annual summer exhibitions are turning into a bit of a mandatory visit for me. I wonder what next years will be.
*If you only check out one link check out Keith Tyson's, it's one hell of a web site!

Philippines 1995: Part 17

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

Quite a few of the group looked very ill after the night's drinking but I felt fine, diving into a plate of eggs as if I hadn't eaten for a week. Today, other than a short bangka ride across the bay, we had no travelling to do. Our itinerary was to visit the underground river then walk back round the coast. The sun was shining and Sabang, whatever its faults, was a marvellously scenic place with a mountain range rising dramatically on all sides of the wide bay and the beach a curving white ribbon between the water and the trees and rocks.
We took three very small bangkas out across the bay. The ride lasted only about thirty five minutes before we rounded a stark headland, that looked like a huge child's building block dropped carelessly at the water's edge, and glided in onto a gorgeous beach.

The sea had eroded under the edge of the headland forming caves and pools and making the whole thing look as if it might topple at any minute into the foaming waves. Twenty yards inland from the waterline the jungle began, dense and luxurious. Curious and unafraid monkeys watched us from the trees. A large lizard padded through the undergrowth, ignoring us completely.
This was the St. Paul's National Park, a beautifully preserved area at the foot of Mt. St. Paul and the home of the primary reason for visiting the area - the Underground River. We approached the entrance to the river along a path through the trees. Several more of the lizards, dark grey and black and up to four or five feet longed incuriously watched our progress. At the river we were instructed to put on life jackets and hard hats before getting into canoes. I sat at the front in charge of the torch which would light our way. Outside in the sunlight it seemed a pale and insipid beam, incapable of illuminating anything but once we had drifted in through the cave mouth it hard a startlingly powerful beam that easily cut the darkness to pick out details on the roof and walls. At first the limestone formations were large but ordinary but further in they became more unusual forming a weird grotesquerie of half familiar shapes.

A dragon's head forty feet long loomed out of the cave wall.
A giant yellow mushroom flowed up out of the water's edge.
A nativity decorated a dark corner on the far side of the cavern.
A mysterious man stood on the top of a slope.
The lights picked out all of these strange apparitions as we were steered past them by the oarsman at the back of the canoe. I flicked the torch towards the roof. There were bats there. Thousands upon thousands of bats. One or two of them squealed and flapped around the cave bouncing their echoes off the natural sculptures but mostly they just hung from the roof, tiny brown bundles like fruit rotting on a dead branch. I wanted to shout, to scare them all into flight, to see the cave filled with their furious motion. Of course I didn't.
We came at last to a large circular cavern which was as far into the system as we could get. The oarsman took the boat around the perimeter and we started back the way we had come. Every twisted formation had a new aspect from this direction as if instead of repeating familiar water we were paddling through a completely new cave.
We drifted back out into daylight and the torch once more died to a mere spark against the brighter beams of the sun. When we had disembarked we went back to the beach where we sat around in the sun. I lay back on the hot sand and closed my eyes for a moment.

Sunday, 16 August 2009

Outside and Inside the Mountain

As I get older, I get more convinced that the true essence of a moment is better expressed in poetry than in prose. This is an idea that I intend to return to later. The trouble is that I am less convinced that I am personally up to the task.
Take today’s poem for example. It’s about the visit to the International Friendship Exhibition in the DPRK. There is a perfectly good prose description of its theme elsewhere in this blog but right from the start I wanted to put it into a poem, even before I’d written the prose version.
I tried at least half a dozen times using assorted verse forms and with a distinct lack of success. Tonight I have come a little closer, close enough at least that I’m not ashamed to present the poem. I’m still not completely happy with it though, not least because it feels a clichéd, to me.

Outside and Inside the Mountain

Outside the mountain,
.....the ground was red and dry,
.....though a lowering sky
.....threatened rain.
Inside the mountain,
.....the marble halls were cold:
.....held their gifts of gold endless train.
Outside the mountain,
.....twisted figures – broken, bent –
.....through the gloom, went
.....about their toil
Inside the mountain,
.....silent soldiers watched with care
.....the treasures hoarded there
.....the monster’s spoil.
Outside the mountain,
.....the mortal truth of brutish life,
.....of endless pain and strife
.....against all odds.
Inside the mountain,
.....immortal lies displayed in halls those who slyly call
.....themselves the gods.

Philippines 1995: Part 16

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

The bar which was also where we were supposed to eat was a little further west than our bijou holiday home. It was a two storey bamboo and wood building with the bar downstairs and the restaurant upstairs. The solitary other drinker in the bar was one of our group who had already started getting loaded, a process he was clearly determined to complete. I joined him in a beer. As we stood chatting about his day - he had not come out to the islands with us - others arrived. Some of them weren't happy with their accommodation. One was particularly unhappy, specifically with the spiders who were sharing it with her. We had already discovered on the trek that she was an arachnophobe. I pointed out that of the very few spiders venomous enough to harm humans none of them live in the Philippines and that very large spiders are almost always pretty harmless. She was having none of it. Back in Cambulo she had refused to wash because there was a perfectly innocuous but quite large spider sitting near the tap.

One by one the others drifted in. It rapidly became obvious that the mood was anything but festive. The group from the East End of the village had had a long dark and wet walk along the beach and no-one seemed happy with their beach-side apartments. My ridiculously good mood which had persisted since Batad had so far shown no sign of dissipating. I didn't care about cramped accommodation and non-existent sanitation and eight legged things crawling around in the night. I didn't care about the fact that today had been only the second completely rain free day of the holiday. When those of us who had arrived went up to the meal I didn't even care that the food took forever to arrive and was cold and unpalatable. Holidays always turn me into Mr. Patience. On the other hand the mood was beginning to infect me, not to make me bothered about any of the things that were bothering the others but to irritate me with the complaining - especially from certain quarters. Every now and then I found myself shaking my head at some remark and, once, I realised that my hands were involuntarily making the sort of motions usually associated with strangling chickens. With a conscious effort I lightened up and allowed myself to see the funny side. The remaining members of the group finally arrived adding little to the good cheer but my moment of annoyance had passed and I was back to feeling happy.
For over an hour food arrived in bits and pieces, a small salad here, a seafood chop suey there, a bit of roast fish, a bit more salad. When it had all come and been consumed without enthusiasm we all went wandering down the beach to the East End where the majority of the group were billeted, at Mary's Cottages. Here in a sort of beach-side veranda we broke open the booze and started to get drunk. Down on the beach another group of tourists had a bonfire going and as midnight approached we went to join them. In addition to the booze we had bought some fireworks but they proved to be a serious disappointment, a couple of half hearted sparks and splutters and nothing else.
Nevertheless my good mood had returned and I found that in spite of the chaotic end to the old year, I felt rather optimistic about the new one.

Saturday, 15 August 2009

Philippines 1995: Part 15

In theory New Year's Eve was another day of nothing but travel, by Jeepney from Puerto Princessa to Sabang. In practice there was a second choice which most of us opted for. This was to take a shorter Jeepney ride to the coast and hire a bangka to go Island Hopping for the day. The weather was glorious, by far the best day of the trip so far. A blazing sun hung in a completely cloudless sky as our boats bounced across the bright water of Honda Bay with us, dressed only in swimming costumes on top leaving behind a toxic cloud of mixed fumes from sun tan lotion and Deet.
Our first port of call was Snake Island, fortunately named for its shape rather than its inhabitants, which has a small near-shore shallow coral reef with clear warm water. Swimming over it was like flying above an alien planet. Around a crimson volcano of coral a shoal of hundreds of tiny electric blue fish, less than a centimetre each, wheeled and turned with the symmetrical precision of a flock of birds. Deeper, above a mass of bottle green brain coral a black fish fully eight inches long with translucent blue and yellow fins and a scarlet stripe along its spine, circled lazily, surrounded by attending hosts of lesser beauties like courtiers around a princess. In among the rocks several highly aggressive fish protected their territory by head-butting and biting swimmers who dared to approach.

A shimmer in the water, a fish shaped hole in the light, caught my eye. It seemed scarcely more than a flickering optical illusion. I tracked it with my eyes until it resolved itself into a near transparent fish more than four inches long with only a pale hint of a skeleton and a black round eye visible as it moved.
We swam and sunbathed for some time before taking the bangka across to Starfish Island. The Lonely Planet Guide sums this up rather well.
"It is a flat treeless sandbar with a few miserable huts... (and)... a modest rustic restaurant."
Modest is overstating it. The menu boasted any number of things that could be had - canned beans, canned beans and sausage, canned sausage, canned pork and bizarrely an 'egg omelette'. Almost all of them had run out. I had a bowl of cold baked beans and an omelette. Even beer was off.
We strolled about and lounged on the beach until it was time to get the Bangka back to Palawan and face that Jeepney ride to Sabang.
The road, as all roads in the Philippines seemed to be, was a dirt track that twisted its way north and west across the island crossing several creaking wooden bridges on the way. At one point a bridge had collapsed forcing the vehicle down a steep slope to ford the river at its shallow point.
We passed another Jeepney, identical to ours except that it was loaded down with people, dozens of them, clinging to the roof and the back and the sides.
Further along the road another Jeepney was upside down in a ditch.
At Sabang there had been a slight hitch. Our original itinerary had had us arriving on the 30th December, the much revised version had us arriving a day later on New Year's Eve. Somehow the message had failed to get through to Sabang and our erstwhile accommodation at Robert's Cottages was now in the possession of a group of Austrians. Alex had spent the day arranging alternative accommodation but it was scattered along about a mile of the coast which was going to make our New Year celebrations a bit tricky. When we were all there and descended from the Jeepney Alex consulted the list in his hand.
"Okay," he said "The lucky winners of first prize are Bob and Graham, Jenny and Allison. If you'll just follow me."

We hoisted our rucksacks and followed him back through the village, over a plank across a pool and to our accommodation at the Western end of Sabang. There was a tiny hut made mainly of bamboo which had been made into two even tinier huts by the addition of a partition and a second door. The partition stopped well short of the roof where a single light had been installed to service both rooms. Jenny and Allison were in one half of this while Graham and I were to take the other. The light switch was on the girls side.
Our room was about seven foot square with an opening at the back which led into a brick built 'bathroom'. This consisted of an unlit room about five foot by three which did indeed have a 'toilet' which was flushed by ladling water from a large tub with a small bowl. There was also a shower fitting although it appeared to be connected to nothing at all and a quick look around the back of the hut confirmed that there was in fact no plumbing to accompany these luxury fixtures.
The two beds were low wooden pallets with half inch thick mattresses on them. Mosquito nets had been provided although finding convenient places to tie them proved to be challenging, but not quite as challenging as managing to close the 'window' which was something like a Crystal Maze mental game. The window consisted of a square arrangement of slats which tilted up to close and down to open. Gravity guaranteed that down was the default position and the lack of any kind of catch ensured that the default position was the only position. I pushed it shut. Gravity pulled it open. I pushed it shut and taped it with masking tape. Gravity laughed at my feeble efforts and pulled it open again, tossing the tape contemptuously into a corner. I pushed it shut and tried to wedge it with a stone. Gravity sneered, kicked the stone away and pulled it open again. I pushed it shut and wedged one end with the roll of tape and the other with a bottle of paracetamol. Gravity shrugged its shoulders and gave in. Satisfied with a job well done I changed into a long sleeved shirt and trousers and went to the bar for a beer.

The Snail

This morning, when I woke up there was, inexplicably, a snail in the middle of the room. So I wrote him a poem.

The Snail

When I woke up today, I saw on the floor,
Right in the middle, a motionless snail.
Had he climbed through the window, crawled under the door?
I examined the carpet for signs of a trail.
He seemed to have come with no tracks to that place.
The door filled the doorway, the windows were closed.
Perhaps he had fallen from dark outer space,
But with ceiling intact, quite a mystery was posed.
I checked but the walls were all quite free of holes
I looked under the bed and found it was clean
There was no trace of slime on my heels or my soles
And as I checked everything, he just sat there, serene.
I never did find how he entered my room
Or why he should come in the dead of the night
But I took him and put him outside. I assume,
That he won’t come again, though I guess that he might.

Google Analytics

Can someone explain to me how, on my other blog, my hits over the last ten days (according to Google Analytics) can be 0 6 2 0 1 2 1 1 1 0, and yet show, on the last day an increase of 38%.
Three years of University Maths didn't equip me to cope with this kind of arithmetic.

Friday, 14 August 2009

The Glory of the Leader

Todays poem is one of a series that I started to write when I returned from my trip to the DPRK. Some I completed but this one I set aside. I have just taken it up again and completed it.
It is of course about the DPRK.
I wish I could say that there aren't many other countries that it could apply to. Sadly, I can't. The way we are going it could even apply to this one before long.

The Glory of the Leader

Bells all rang, for the glory of the leader.
Children sang, for the glory of the leader,
And they danced, for the glory of the leader,
All entranced, by the glory of the leader.
The band played on, for the glory of the leader.
The choir swayed along, for the glory of the leader.
Flowers were grown, for the glory of the leader,
And plucked and shown, for the glory of the leader.

Statues were carved, for the glory of the leader,
While people starved, for the glory of the leader.
And they feared, the glory of the leader.
Some disappeared, for the glory of the leader.
Missiles flew, for the glory of the leader.
Tensions grew, for the glory of the leader.
Hope one day, that the glory of the leader,
Doesn’t make us pay, for the glory of the leader.

Philippines 1995: Part 14

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

Next day, before dawn had even started to lighten the sky, we were off on our travels again. Alone among the group, and I know I shouldn't be smug but I am, I seemed to have anticipated the first problem - the bangka was moored at the same point that it had dropped us off. I stripped off my trousers and T-shirt and pushed them into plastic bags in the top of my rucksack leaving me in just sandals and swimming trunks. Although it was still pre-dawn it was warm enough for it not to bother me that I had to wade out in chest deep water to get to the boat.
The bangka took us to Caticlan where I dried off and changed back into my clothes. Several of the others had also got changes of clothes but I had the bonus of not having to carry any wet ones around for the rest of the day.
Our bus took us back to Kalibo. Unfortunately Kalibo was not where our flight was going from. That was Ilo-Ilo on the south coast of Panay. The problem with Ilo-Ilo was that our bus, a large modern coach, wouldn't take us there because of the condition of the roads. We were forced to split up into two smaller groups in mini-buses. The first bus set off and a couple of minutes later we also set off. After half an hour of driving around, picking up a passenger who seemed to be a friend of the driver and getting some petrol our bus turned a corner and we found ourselves back at Kalibo airport.
The bus bounced and juddered along the washed out and rock strewn road. Eventually we caught up to the other bus which had stopped to wait for us and Alex tried to impress on both drivers a sense of urgency.
Of course we made it in time. In fact we made it with almost five whole minutes to spare. I knew all along there was no reason to get excited.

Puerto Princessa, our destination, is the capital city of Palawan and has about 100,000 inhabitants. Our Hotel, the Airport Hotel, was a very short walk from the arrivals building and only a few minutes after landing we were checked in. The Hotel itself had a surreal taste in decoration with imitation tree trunks in garish colours thrusting their way through the walls. The rooms were comfortable enough if a little basic.
I went for a walk along Rizal Avenue towards the harbour. It was already growing dark and the Christmas decorations were lit. A tree constructed entirely of strands of shimmering lights stood in the centre of Mendoza park surrounded by red lanterns glowing in the trees.

There are quite a number of good places to eat in Puerto Princessa and apart from the good places there are literally hundreds of tiny shacks with names like Elsa's Eaterie or Gladys's Grill which have dubious architectural merit and even more dubious hygienic standards. We had decided to eat in one of the good places, the Trattoria Terrace which boasts a remarkable range of competitively priced international cuisine. What it doesn't boast is polite efficient service. After taking our order and serving three rounds of drinks the chef came out and said that he was not going to serve us. The official story was that there were too many of us wanting too great a variety of food. From his heated exchange with Alex there was obviously more to it than that but we never did find out the real story.
Instead we went down the road to the Kalui Restaurant. This has no menu as such instead serving a choice of two set sea food meals, the exact nature depending on the day's catch. It is decorated in a charming rustic fashion and the service goes beyond smooth to slick. I chose the special menu which worked out to a grand total of about four pounds. A selection of fish dishes including some truly delicious lobster served already cracked open, were brought to the table in succession and were good enough to compensate for the unexpected change of venue.

Sick and twisted

I don't normally make posts that just contain links but a hat tip to arnie at wordcraft for pointing me in the general direction of this seriously sick and twisted blog.

Not, I think, a classroom resource I shall be using, but certainly one I'll be reading.


I have a friend who used to own a bookshop. It was a lifelong ambition so that when he had the chance to take a redudancy package he used it to set up the shop. I bought stuff there from time to time and I spent time in there just chatting and browsing but another customer was a rare thing indeed, in spite of a nice high street location. It's long closed now - replaced, if memory serves, with a knitting shop - and Dave is back in insurance. These are the perils of selling books from a shop in an age that wants downloads from the internet. I suppose the knitting shop will survive because it's impossible to download a woolly jumper.
I mention it because my favourite bookshop in the whole of London is no more. Murder One was, I'll admit, rather specialist, carrying only crime books. I get to London rarely but it's always been the first shop I visited and I never visited it without buying something - usually a bagful of Sherlock Holmes pastiches.
When I went there on Tuesday, it was gone. It was missing.
I've checked and it seems that it no longer exists. There is a brief page on their website which gives a new office address and the short but succinct message, "We are no longer a bookshop".
It's a great pity because I know of nowhere else that I can get those books, at least nowhere where I can pick them up, hold them, look at them, skim a couple of pages, read the cover blurb and then make an informed selection about which ones to buy.
I could possibly find them on the internet but in addition to not being able to do any of those things, I also have to know what I want to look for before I look for it. Just randomly browsing, in a pokey cellar packed floor to ceiling with crime novels, is no longer an option.
Murder One is dead. And I want to know who killed it.

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Not autobiographical

The absolute last recourse of a writer without ideas is to write about writing.

And I'd also just like to say that this poem is NOT IN ANY WAY AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL.

No, siree. Not autobiographical at all.

There’s really something that’s a little sad
About the man in the pub with a pen and pad.
Is he writing a poem? Is he writing a song?
Perhaps a manifesto that's for righting a wrong.
Forty minutes later he is writing there still
Is he writing a story? Is he writing a will?
You glance surreptitiously while walking by
But you can’t read the words, no matter how you try.
And it wouldn't make a difference if you could,
As if you’d read them you’d have understood
That he isn’t writing anything he just pretends
While he drinks alone because he has no friends.
And the book that he’s holding is just his disguise
So that he doesn’t have to meet your eyes,
Now look, he’s finished – put away his pen,
But tomorrow, for certain, he’ll be there again.

Philippines 1995: Part 13

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

So, the next day, right after breakfast we hired bikes - rickety and unreliable things with loose chains and suspect breaks - and set off. Given that the island only has one main road we didn't need maps and we knew from our enquiries at the bike shop that we would be able to get lunch along the way.
Along the length of Borocay runs a single partly tarmacced road and we cycled north along this through a sequence of small towns, villages really. Eventually the road turned into a series of quite steep ascents and descents along gravel tracks. On one of the descents I suddenly found myself struggling to hold the bike upright, simultaneously discovered that the brakes had failed, and then even more suddenly found myself sliding along on my side with the bike on top of me. Fortunately the damage was restricted to some minor grazing on my elbow and shoulder and bruised shins where the bike frame had hit me. After that we went more carefully.

Puka Shell Beach is at the extreme northern tip of Borocay and is fine if a little barren. We stayed there for a while but eventually went in search of the smaller better beach that the bike shop owner had told us about. This meant pushing the bikes back up the last steep hill that we had come down and then taking them down another even steeper one. We hoped that it would be worth it. It was. At the bottom was a small beach with boats drawn up on it and a tiny, separate offshore island called Naked Rock.
Instead of going to this though we looked for the flight of steps on the left that we had been told us led to a more beautiful and secluded beach. Once we found it, leaving the bikes behind we went up the uneven stone steps and then down the path to the other side. It did indeed lead to an idyllic and secluded cove where a basket and rope 'dumbwaiter' arrangement delivered drinks from the cliff top bar. We had a couple of glasses of fruit juice and then went exploring among the rocks and beach-combing for shells and coral. After a couple of hours we went back to the other beach (where we were relieved to find the bicycles still there) and over onto Naked Rock. We walked down to the far edge of it and stood on the top of a sheer face watching the water break dramatically against the rocks below. It was like being at the edge of the world.
Somehow the day had sneaked past us unnoticed and when we checked the time we discovered that we would just have time to get the bikes back to the shop before our hire expired. We pushed them up the first steep hill and then rode them back.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

How to Avoid Being Eaten By A Bear

Well, I've managed it, a new poem. OK, though it's an old idea, it's a new poem.
It's called

How to Avoid Being Eaten By A Bear

In the shop on the camp he sells bells.
Ask him why and he solemnly tells,
“They’re for scaring the bears.”
At least that’s what he swears.
It’s uncertain how many he sells.

But beware when approaching a bear,
There are different types lurking there
Some are Grizzly, some brown ,
And he warns, with a frown,
That the Grizzly the bells will not scare.

So out in the woods look for sign
Of how local bears like to dine
Check their faecal remains
For those small bells on chains
If you find them, the bears are malign.

An old poem, not a new one

I don’t really have a lot of time to write again this evening. I may get to a new poem later, should inspiration strike as I’m sitting in the pub, but for now I’ll just present a poem that I wrote ages ago, a poem that is really more of a song.
When I was travelling I stayed briefly in a guest house in Anchorage. The people who owned the house were bear-crazy. It was a shrine to ursine memorabilia. There may conceivably be a place with more teddy bears scattered around but if there is I’ve certainly never heard of it.
Anyway, this is a more or less entirely factual description of it.

The Teddy Bear House

There are bears on the stairs,
There are bears in the chairs.
There are bears everywhere, there are bears.
There are bears in fancy dresses.
There are bears with golden tresses.
In unbearable excesses, there are bears.

There's a bear dressed as a soldier,
A six-foot bear whose arms enfold ya
In a friendly, velvet-pawed, bear hug embrace.
There are bears in frilly knickers,
Doctor bears and nurses, vicars
And a policeman bear whose bearly on the case.

There are lady bears and gentlemen,
A poet bear with book and pen,
A Bo-Peep bear with more bears in her flock.
There's a bear dressed as a rabbit
And another in nuns' habit.
There's a pointy eared though ursine Mr. Spock.

A singing bear has tenor warbles
That disturb the bear-shaped baubles
That are strung across the windows and the door.
The cups and plates have bear motif
And it's my firmly held belief
That if I pulled the floorboards there'd be more.

Wallpaper, carpets pictures
All the fittings, all the fixtures
There's nothing in the house without a bear.
The boot and shoe mudscraper
The thing that holds the toilet paper
Look closely and you'll also find them there.

There are bears on the stairs,
There are bears in the chairs.
There are bears everywhere, there are bears.
In the halls and on the landing,
Bears are seated, kneeling, standing
Other species notwithstanding, there are bears.

Still mad as a box of frogs

Long-time readers, should any such thing exist, may recall that at around this time last year I posted a couple of times about Andrew. Andrew is one of the other summer school teachers. Now among his little personal quirks last year were his randomly surreal conversations, his desire to be included on this blog, his contention that pigeon holes shouldn't be called pigeon holes because you can't get a pigeon in them, a habit of analysing peoples' plates of left-overs at dinner and pretending that they are planets and an unfortunate inability to stop talking.
This year his condition has worsened somewhat.
He hasn't yet mentioned the pigeon holes but all the other symptoms are present, including the desire to be blogged about. What has changed is that he has taken to stalking me. Sitting here at my desk and working I have on several occasions turned around to find him standing outside my window staring it me. It's really rather disconcerting and I suspect that stronger doses of his medication might be needed.

There you go Andrew, another post about you.

Philippines 1995: Part 12

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

Another day another journey. First we took the bus to the domestic airport where we found some keen as mustard airport employees making security checks. I have travelled on many country's internal flights but seen none quite as thorough as these. Every piece of hold luggage was opened and searched. Cabin luggage was also searched and medical kits and toiletry bags subject to close scrutiny. Pockets had to be emptied and the official searching me opened every blade on my penknife.
Once through we quickly boarded the plane where newspapers were handed out with the stern instruction that they would be collected back in before we landed. I glanced through the Manila Bulletin and found an interesting article.
" The fresh wave of bank robberies, kidnap for ransom cases, porch climbing and murder in cold blood at broad daylight has once again dampened efforts to project the Philippines as an ideal tourist destination. As a spokesman for the government put it -
'We have tried desperately to picture and promote the Philippines as a wholesome travel destination but the spate of killings of foreigners and other crimes have done damage to tourism.'"

Reassured, we touched down at Kalibo on the island of Panay where, due to major rebuilding work, the luggage reclaim was a heap in the corner of a field. As we sorted through it I had a growing feeling that something was not quite as it should be. After a while I realised what it was. The sun was shining in the middle of a cloudless sky on a hot dry day. Bemused by this strange and unfamiliar happening we walked across the car park to the bus which took us to Caticlan where a short bangka ride took us over to Borocay. The shallow beach made it necessary to moor some distance of shore and forced us to wade in chest deep holding luggage above our heads. This was no special hardship as the water was calm and warm and the sun was hot enough to dry us off fairly rapidly. Soon we were checking into our cottages at the Summer Place.

Borocay is the sort of place I wouldn't normally go for a holiday. No sir. Not for me mile after mile of gorgeous white beaches, clear warm azure water, beach-side cocktail bars, fresh fish roasting on barbecues. I don't want all that luxury and leisure and lazing about in the sunshine. Give me rain and river crossings, steep treks up rocky mountain paths, sandwiches for lunch and sterilised water tasting of iodine. Give me misery.
Okay I'll admit it - I liked Borocay. The only thing that it could be faulted on at all was that when the sun went down small furry things with sharp pointy teeth could be heard scrambling about under and in the cottages but hey, live and let live, they weren't doing me any harm. Otherwise words like 'tropical' and 'paradise' seem to hang nicely together with 'Borocay'. It had all of the good things I usually travel the Earth to avoid and a whole lot more. Along the beach were every kind of Restaurant your heart could desire, Mexican, Italian, Spanish, Thai and plenty of Filipino Seafood places.
We chose to have dinner in 'Alice In Wonderland's', a fish restaurant where the food was good but the service was slow. After dinner the group split up I went for a moonlight stroll with one of the more attractive single women from the trip. We'd been getting on well and tomorrow were planning to take a bicycle ride to the less populated northern end of the island.
A stroll with a beautiful woman was all that the island had been missing, and now it had that too.

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Philippines 1995: Part 11

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

The next day we returned, to Manila, retracing that terrible long journey, arriving with almost no time before dinner. Eleven of us set off to find a Chinese restaurant called the Hong Kong Tea Room which had been recommended to us.
The Hong Kong Tea Room
looked a fairly basic place with no elaborate decor but with a promisingly large number of Chinese eating in it. That is always a good sign. We sat down and ordered one main dish each with lots of rice. Food started to arrive and then kept on arriving. Chinese waiters with more trays of it hovered while others whipped away the dishes from the table the moment that they were empty making room for more. Chicken dishes replaced Prawn dishes replaced Beef dishes replaced Noodle dishes until no-one was sure what they were eating. Finally food stopped coming and a little later we stopped eating. There was still quite a bit of food left on the table but we all agreed that we had made a magnificent attempt.
We left the restaurant and wandered up towards Rosie's. All the way along the street Filipinos tried to tempt us to whichever bar they were touting for. One of them, on being told where we were headed started to cry out
"Rosie's no good. Rosie's closed down now. "
Of course Rosie's was not closed down. In fact it was filled to the point where I felt sure that it would be impossible to seat eleven more. A waiter appeared and somehow guided us through the crowd. As if by magic he insinuated eleven chairs around a table that had appeared and suddenly we were seated. From the drinks menu we ordered pitchers of frozen Margaritas which arrived faster than you could say "Rosie's Aloha Hawaiian Bar and Restaurant".
On the tiny stage a band was belting out soft rock cover versions with enormous enthusiasm and very little skill. The silent TV behind the bar was showing an American football game. Bar girls flitted from one table of drunks and near drunks to the next but left our table alone as it consisted almost completely of couples. Soon the first pitcher was gone and we moved on to our second. When that too was gone we decided that it was time to be back in our hotel.

Double Dactyl

Very, very little time to get to this today so I'll make this quick.

Here's a definition of a double dactyl.

And here's a double dactyl about Jim Morrison.

Higgledy Piggledy
James Douglas Morrison
Was he a genius?
Did he excell?
One thing is certain he,
Died in the tub in a
Paris hotel.

And thats all for today folks I have a cultural day of galleries and theatre planned. See you tomorrow.

Monday, 10 August 2009


Pay attention. This is complicated.
There are quite a number of verse forms that have limited rhyming patterns and repeated lines. One such verse pattern is the Villanelle. This is how it works:

There are six stanzas.
The first five are three lines each. The sixth has four lines.
The first line of the first stanza is repeated as the third line of the second stanza, the third line of the fourth stanza and the third line of the sixth stanza.
The third line of the first stanza is repeated as the third line of the third stanza, the third line of the fifth stanza and the fourth line of the sixth stanza.
In each stanza line one and line three rhyme.
All the line twos rhyme with each other, a different rhyme to the line 1/3 rhyme.

Did you get that? Good. There may be a test later. Anyway they are an absolute bugger to write and maintain any kind of sense. Especially as, though they don’t have any defined metre, they should at least use a consistent one. This one does – iambic pentameter, which made it an even worse bugger to write.

Then and Now

We sat there, side by side, upon the beach
And watched the distant sparks of midnight flames:
A moment when we had no need of speech.

It seemed the future might lie in our reach;
We whispered secret lovers’ language names;
We sat there side by side upon the beach.

The night and fading sparks had much to teach
Of how, what happens later sometimes shames
A moment when we had no need of speech.

So many years have passed now since when, each
Describing, to the other, hoped for aims,
We sat there, side by side, upon the beach.

A bitter sermon time can sometimes preach
Of love and loss and how that loss yet blames
A moment when we had no need of speech.

Instead of thinking now upon the breach
I wonder if like me somewhere she claims:
We sat there side by side upon the beach,
A moment when we had no need of speech.

Philippines 1995: Part 10

Note: this trip was made at Christmas 1995. In the time since then I'm sure much has changed so it may not be a great idea to treat this as a guide. Treat it as a memoir, which - give or take some editing - is exactly what it is.

There was a line full of socks hanging under the overhang of the house and all that Santa had left in any of them was a toe full of dirty water. Breakfast was an unappealing mixture of rice, corned beef and peanut butter. I made do with a couple of slices of bread and some tea. Yesterday I had walked in waterproofs and still got soaked. Today the weather was worse. I decided that as it was warm and wet rather than cold and wet I would use the waterproofs to protect my rucksack and walk in my T-shirt and shorts. After all wet is wet, what difference if I start out that way or finish up that way.

The path led up a section of stone steeps that were steep and tiring and seemed to go on for hours though it was really no more than about twenty five minutes before it eventually flattened out into a dirt track that climbed slowly around the mountain. All the time the rain made everything miserable and the view was non-existent. Instead there was a featureless grey wall of fog that began about twenty feet from wherever you happened to be standing. That kind of walking is monotonous and depressing. You start off optimistically walking around the puddles, progress to fatalistically walking through puddles, briefly raise your spirits by jumping in the puddles and end up wishing you were dead. When it gets really bad you start to wonder if perhaps you are dead and this is the circle of hell reserved for ramblers.
Almost at the summit a sudden cramp pole-axed me and pitched me sideways into a muddy pool. After some very painful stretching exercises I limped painfully down the other side of the hill to a circular structure resembling a cross between a gazebo and a bus shelter where we ate our Christmas lunch of corned beef, cheese and tuna fish sandwiches - an over familiar menu. One of the locals crow-barred the padlock from a shed which turned out to be the village shop and sold us beer and gin.
After lunch a jeepney took us back to Banaue sliding with suicidal abandon down the trail that had so nearly stopped us on the way up. Two more days of rain had made it even worse and it was perhaps just as well that the plastic sides were down preventing us seeing just how dangerous it really was.

In the hotel I showered and changed into dry clothes and suddenly felt human again. After half an hour though I was feeling rain withdrawal so I pulled my wet rain gear back on and went for a walk in Banaue town. Surprisingly as it was both Sunday and Christmas Day there were a number of shops open. There were plenty of shops selling inedible looking food and cheap clothing and one or two selling jewellery and carvings at knockdown prices. The shopkeepers were doing so little trade that they were happy just to stand and chat with little or no expectation of a sale. I poked around looking at the buildings which close to looked a good deal more solid than my passing glance a few days ago had suggested. Afterwards I bought a carving and went back to the hotel for a sleep before dinner.