Sunday 23 June 2013

A Song, in Welsh

Regular readers might know that my mother was welsh, she was, as she said, "a little welsh dragon",  for the red dragon is the symbol of Wales, going back into the mists of time. I'm not going to try give you the history, right now, but many of my overseas friends think that Wales is like a, well, like a state, which is really part of England, that Welsh, as a language, is just an accent, a dialect of English.

The reality is a little different. If you're Welsh, you know that you're descended from the ancient people of britain, that your forefathers fought wave after wave of invader, gradually, your people were pushed westward, into the mountains, for a while, your chieftains held the mountains in the north-west of england, but then fought their way south, into the mountains of wales.

And they fought the Angles, and the Saxons. They still hold a strong grudge against the Saxons....

And the language? It's still alive, totally and utterly unlike English.

I was in Wales, recently, I love the sound, I love the music of welsh people speaking english, my welsh cousins.... oh, the friendship and humour.
While I was there, I was in a little cafe, (not the one in the video), music was playing, I asked who it was, and it was a welsh singer/songwriter, Meinir Gwilym.

Saturday 22 June 2013


We all have them at some time in our lives. I sent the Red Dirt Girl a pic of a bumper sticker I saw..

It read "Sometimes I Wrestle with my Demons, Sometimes We Just Snuggle".

I know she's wrestled with hers, I've wrestled with mine. For all of us, the things in life we might define as our demons are different. Our demons may be people, behaviour, drugs, alcohol, self harm, even our very selves.
But the bumper sticker made me laugh. Because, in every conflict, I'm sure there's a moment when both sides think "Does it really need to be this way? Do we really have to fight?"
Like the christmas truce in world war 1, when the men of opposing trenches climbed out onto the frozen waste of no-mans-land, shared their christmas fare, kicked a football about in a makeshift game, until their officers shouted them back into a properly approved stance of murderous hate.

When I was a kid, my primary school was a place where kids fought, there was a ritual to it, to establish the pecking order. Bigger boys would set it up, and you'd be surrounded by a ring of kids, facing someone you had no grudge against and ordered to fight. It's a microcosm of world politics. Amazing, really that I didn't end up in the army, prepared to fight whoever I was pointed at.

I was never an aggressive kid. I didn't want to be there, fighting. However, if you showed weakness, then the mob would descend, you were prey. So I fought. And my method owed nothing to decency and the Marquis of Queensbury's rules of fair play. I soon realised, as a skinny kid with asthma and no muscles, that any sort of sustained bout would be disaster. That my modus operandi would be overwhelming and devastating force, no restraint whatsoever, and... the pre-emptive strike.
So, if you had the misfortune to be pitted against me, then while the big guys were telling us the rules, you'd suddenly get my elbow smashed in your face, my knee in your nuts, and I'd be trying to gouge your eyes out. And bigger kids would be pulling us apart, trying to limit the damage before a teacher came running.
I didn't want to fight. I'd apologise afterwards, try to make amends. After only a few bouts like that, kids were backing off, conceding defeat without bloodshed. Bigger kids, of course, weren't going to show they were afraid. I still got beaten up by groups of bullies, but I developed a reputation for always getting revenge, preferably in some way that would leave you a laughing stock. 
One day I carefully dismantled the desk and chair of my arch-nemesis. Then I reassembled it, with matchsticks and rolled-up paper where the screws should be. That was over lunchtime. I was supposed to be in the library, but I snuck out.
We lined up outside our classroom, waiting for Mr Nyman, and filed in obediently on his order. When Rod went to sit at his desk it collapsed in a heap with him on the floor in a pile of chair components. The laughter was so loud the teacher next door came to see what was going on.
Yeah. I got beaten up again for that one. 
Then I put itchy powder all over his sports kit.

Anyway, I'm wandering off-topic. Point is, I didn't want to be constantly in conflict. I just wanted them to leave me alone, which is what happened, eventually. They just gave up on me and left me to my books and my non-interest in sports.

I have no enemies, so far as I know. No demons.If one came, I'd like to think I could say, "Hello Demon, I've got no reason to fight with you, nor you with me, can we just sit down and talk it over ?"

Let go the grudges, agree to walk away, just as I wanted to all those years back, surrounded by a feral gang of demons, all under  the age of ten. Offer your demons chocolate, get them laughing, show them there's no need for the fight. Be Gandhi.

It was strange glue that held us together 
While we both came apart at the seams  
She said, 'Your place or mine  
While we've still got the time'  
So I played along with her schemes

But I don't have the right to be with you tonight 

So please leave me alone with no savior in sight  
I will sleep safe and sound with nobody around me
When faced with my demons, 

I clothe them and feed them  
And I smile, yes I smile as they're taking me over  
And if I cannot sleep for the secrets I keep  
It's the price I'm willing to meet  
The end of the night never comes too quickly for me

But I don't have the right to be with you tonight 

So please leave me alone with no savior  
I will sleep safe and sound with nobody around me

When faced with my demons, 
I clothe them and feed them  
And I'll smile, yes I'll smile as they're taking me over  
And if I cannot sleep for the secrets I keep 
It's the prize I'm willing to steal  
Oh, the end of the night never comes too quickly for me
And I smile 

The end of the night never comes too quickly for me  
I smile, smile, I smile as they're taking me over 
I smile, yeah 
The end of the night never comes too quickly for me  
Never comes too quickly for me

Friday 21 June 2013

Summer Solstice

I was NOT up before the sun, today, nor was I dancing around any circles of stones.

But I did stop off this evening, and sit awhile, with my book, in the Alhambra Garden in Roundhay Park. The picture is not mine, for some reason, I neglected to take a view, like this, down the centre line.
The specialty gardens, here, are a little off the beaten track, maybe they're busier at weekends, but I had the place all to myself, lounged on a bench in the sunshine, ate my sandwiches, drank elderflower champagne, and mused.
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The Very Best News!

Yesterday morning, I was on the phone to my beloved, also known as the Red Dirt Girl, who I met through leaving a comment on a blogpost, who, without knowing it, sparked me to start this thing, and we were discussing the lamentably slow process for getting permission for me to move to the U.S. and marry her.
It's not as easy as it looks in the movies, where someone just jumps on a plane and lives happily ever after.
We've been on this journey a long time, the paperwork is slowly, slowly, working its way through the governmental digestive system.............

Suddenly, on the phone, I hear a squeal, and for a while she's incoherent. "We're approved!"
She's doing a Snoopy dance of pure joy.

She's just dialled our tracking number into the USCIS status checking box on their website.
" Post Decision Activity: On June 19, 2013, we mailed you a notice that we have approved this I129F PETITION FOR FIANCE(E). "
It's not over yet, but the biggest mountain is behind us. Now I wait for an interview date, and another pack of forms for the U.S. embassy in London. I have to have a medical and be inspected, a week or so before the interview date.

Looking at other people's experiences on the very helpful and huge '' website, it looks like that interview could be in about two months time.
For so long, we've been in limbo, no idea, for month after month when the paperwork would actually hit the desk and we'd hear what the next stage was... It could have been approval, it could be RFE, which means a request for further evidence, and more months of anxiety, or it could be..... the thing everybody fears most, denial.

Now there's a light at the end of the tunnel. A light that was not there a couple of days ago. I don't think it's a train coming the other way, I think it's sunlight, I think we'll be together soon.
So, that's why I'll be smiling all day today too.

Please feel free to smile all day too, I have so much happiness that you should have some too. Take a basket of light with you, and thank you, my friends, for being patient with me, through this journey!


Monday 17 June 2013

Charlize Don't Surf?

Russian Master-class Surfing. Ladies, pay attention. No more flip-flops on the beach!

Saturday 15 June 2013

Garden Musing

 A few days ago, I learned that my city's prize winning RHS Chelsea Flower Show gardens of recent years, have been reconstructed in Roundhay Park, which is a mile and a half up the road from home. So, one evening, after work, I carried on, past my house, and went to have a look.
My fiancee, also known as the Red Dirt Girl, is professionally qualified in the world of Landscape Architecture, whereas I'm a bloke who likes growing things. It works well, I've taken her places on our travels, like Harewood House, and Rievaulx Abbey, where she sees things I've never noticed, she can explain process and intent, and can tell me, usually, the names of plants and their characteristics. Being used to the climate of the southern United States, she's interested to see the plants that happily grow here, in our wetter, cooler climate.

These were around the Alhambra Water Garden

Like blue gas-flames.

Poppies heavily budded.

I thought I knew what these were, but they're not...

An old mill.  Or is it?. Nope, it's as fake as Tom Cruise pretending to be Jack Reacher in the movies...

I clambered over a locked gate, so I could see what's around the back!

 This won the RHS Gold award, when set up in London at the Chelsea Flower Show, an Industrial-revolution era, 1800s canal lock, surrounded by wild flowers.
 At Chelsea, the water pouring through was in torrents, here, I think the pumps are somewhat failing in their pretence.
(big photoset on Flickr by Andy Paraskos, showing the construction and background of these gardens here)

Way back, I wrote a piece, an obituary, for Jimi Heselden,  a local man who invented something that made him a millionaire, and saved countless lives

Jimi Heselden was a great appreciator of the work done by the city's parks department, and it was he, through his company, Hesco Bastion, who funded these gardens, and gave those gardeners the opportunity to win the coveted Gold award. His family, after his death, have continued in their support. I thank them for it.
(Hesco barriers are widely used to protect military outposts , and around the world as flood protection, Iowa city recently deployed some seven miles of Hesco barrier against impending floods)

(My camera phone was mis-set, the colour balance favouring blues, but I can confirm these lilies are just as electric in real life).
I wish RDG had been with me, for a stroll in the park. We're awaiting the outcome of our visa application, but it's a slow process, and frustrating because there's no feedback, no idea whether anything active is being done to the application, months pass, and you're not allowed to enquire what's happening, it's a Schroedinger's-Cat situation, and you can't lift the lid of the box to take a peek.
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Friday 14 June 2013

Sunday 2 June 2013

Art Galleries, and A Love of Mermaids.

Not to mention Sirens, Silkies, and their maritime ilk. Waterborne beauties.
I've posted some of the pictures I love on this blog before, John William Waterhouse, Hylas and the Nymphs, for instance.

Another of my great favourites is John Matthew Hale's "The Mermaids' Rock", which I've known since I was a child, staring overawed at the ship, hurtling inexorably onto the jagged rock, swept on its soft green wave, as those gentle seeming girls watch. It's in Leeds City Art Gallery. Sadly, not on display, right now.

 Another favourite painter was Herbert Draper, Another of those painters of the apparently repressed Victorian era, who got around the taboo of nakedness by painting naked women in a mythical setting.

What can I say? I'm all for pretty naked women, so there's no complaint from me on that basis, and I love boats and the sea. I've been dashed on the mermaids' rock a few times. 
Once, I was sitting in my canoe, off one of the Aland islands in the Baltic sea, waiting for a vast car-ferry to pass, all seemed copacetic, it was a summer's day, clear visibility, I was well clear of his course, bow facing the oncoming ridges of his wake. Spraydeck tight, lifejacket on, paddle at the ready to drive forward and up the oncoming walls of water. I'd done it many a time. All was well, up I go, rising up the first green face, the peak passing under me, the next coming, down I sink, paddling forward into the trough and.... CRASH! A roar of sound as a huge black  table-topped rock appears where there should have been deep water. Oh my. I'm to the side of the channel and in amongst roaring chaos, for a while there's a rock right beside me, six feet above me, green water sluicing me sideways, and there's nowhere to go, and I'm desperately heaving all my strength on the paddle, trying to stay upright, not get drawn under the shelf, and drive forward and toward the ship, into the deeper channel. All this and a blast of ship's siren, brightly coloured  holidaymakers pointing cameras,me churning that paddle like a crazy thing, trying to fly up and sufficiently forward on that next wave to avoid being smashed down on and sucked under the mermaids' rock. phew.
As I'm here, you know that the sirens' clutching hands missed me that day. And I learned not to mess with ships wakes unless I was absolutely certain I was in deep water.

Imagine my surprise and delight in Hull, when, after becoming bored with the P1 Superstock Offshore Powerboat Racing,    I wandered just a couple of hundred yards from the quayside, and into the Ferens Art Gallery where I encountered the original of Ulysses and the Sirens!

Oh my. Breath-taking.

I tried to photograph it myself, instead of using stock imagery, but I was defeated by bright light reflections.

It's a big picture, full of detail, look at those faces, can you imagine actually having paintings like these on your own wall? Of course, you'd be a victorian mansion owner, they're not for cottage-dwellers, but, oh.
When I was a kid, the art gallery in town was my wonderland, my little mind was writing elaborate adventure stories, making up the before and after to the scenes I gazed upon, I knew little of the Odyssey, and when I did get to learn of greek mythology, I often felt disappointed by the stories that were to replace my own. Because I'd already spent rather a long time in the Maritime Museum, I only got to see the ground-floor galleries in the Ferens before he attendants started turning out lights and ushering people out, maybe I'll get to go back and see the upper floor some time.

I did see Lady Elizabeth Butler's painting of "The Return from Inkerman", no mermaids here, but wounded and weary soldiers, in the Crimean war.
What stands out for me in this painting, again,  is the faces. Young men carrying a wounded comrade, weary men, wounded men.

Behind, and to the right of the marching soldier with the bearskin hat, there's a young man, head up, jauntily posing with a pipe in his mouth, gazing back at the viewer, impertinent, unbowed, unbroken in spirit.
Lady  Butler was something of an iconoclast, she pictured the grand scenes of heroic charges, but also the aftermath, the carnage, the broken men, the cost in real terms, of war.
Queen Victoria was amongst the buyers of her Crimean War paintings. (Butler continued to paint into her old age, dying in 1933).

"When permitted to proceed to the Front we doubled towards Inkerman, on passing the Wind Mill we saw a number of our own wounded, also Russian prisoners, being led in by parties of the Guards, we trod over the ground where our old Comrades of the 88th. had thrown off their Coats and Shakos to enable them to work freely — Then the Music of the bullets began to be heard distinctly and felt too, alas! for our poor fellows dropped one after another, and we could do nothing in return. Poor Colonel Crofton (since murdered) said This will not do, lie down, Men! — In a few moments I saw General Cunningham looking anxiously around he entered our midst and said "What Corps is this" I replied your own old Corps Sir "What said he the 20th. – up my lads and follow me," the General waving his sword and we after him, in the direction of the two Gun Battery, where we soon arrived, and found the Coldstreams fighting against fearful odds, and having expended their ammunition were about to retire When our fellows with such a Yell as a Russian never heard before, and many of them for the first and last time dashed in among them, the Volley, and the Bayonet, Butt, stones, rocks anything was good enough for them Had we continued at that play it would have been very well, but we must needs finish and we paid for it, not a man of the Rifle Subdivision of the Company to which I belonged, escaped without a wound.

Now this only concerns myself — I was severely wounded, and well cared for, every one knows how the day ended, and it should also be known that although the whole of the Regt. was not taken into action the remainder being in the Trenches, the casualties exceeded the number of any Corps engaged Guards excepted.

(Signed) James Campbell
Sgt. 20th. Regt."

Here's another Lady Butler painting,, again a part of my childhood, it hangs in Leeds Art Gallery. "Scotland Forever!", ( 'Scotland Forever!' is the war cry of the traditional Scottish regiments. It was most famously used by the Scots Greys on their timely and victorious charge at Waterloo in 1815)
By the end of this charge, 107 riders would be killed, 97 wounded, and 228 horses of the original 416 lost.

"Lady Butler writes, 'I twice saw a charge of the Greys before painting "Scotland for ever!" and I stood in front to see them coming on. One cannot, of course, stop too long to see them close.'"

Saturday 1 June 2013

A Grand Day Out

The title, of course, was the title of the first Wallace and Gromit movie, in which they built a rocket to go to the moon and harvest cheese.

Wallace & Gromit, In A Grand Day Out

It's a curiously british animation, and I love it. Nick Park, who created Wallace and Gromit went on to make feature-length movies of them. I know at least one American citizen who loves the genre, especiallt the same studio's 'Shaun the Sheep', but I do wonder how well the very british, (and even more specific, northern british, Lancashire and Yorkshire) references translate?

But my title was not really about an animated set of Plasticine characters. I had a grand day out. Often, by the weekend, I've got a heap of chores awaiting, and I'm so diligent at avoiding them, that I feel all oppressed, and spend so much effort on procrastinating that I get nothing done whatsoever. The last couple of weekends have been much busier.... Last week I was getting muddy in Wales, the week before I was at an off-road show in Harrogate, and today? Today I went out and headed east. I wanted to buy a couple of a specific type of rope-cleat, and I thought I'd get what I wanted at a yacht chandlery, but the first place I went to had none, nor the second, nor the... And eventually, I'd got about as far east as I could get in Yorkshire, without falling off.
I'd got to Hull, which is a city which doesn't really exist. Well, semantically. Everybody calls it Hull, the ferries across the North sea dock in Hull, Hull, Hull, Hull. But actually, there's no such place. There's a river Hull. And long ago, where the river Hull meets the Humber estuary, a town grew, Kingston, the King's Town, the king's town on the Hull.
So really it's Kingston on Hull, but nobody calls it that. Ask anybody to direct you to Kingston, in Yorkshire, and they'll frown, flummoxed. Say "Oh. Sorry, I meant 'Hull', and the frown will go and you'll be directed to the M62 motorway, and told to head east until the road ends. Well, that too's a confusion, it really ends a bit short of Hull, but a road with different numbers ensues, which takes you into the city.
And there I ended up, headed for the Hull Marina, I figured that there were a lot of sailing boats of assorted sizes in there, so there must be a decent size chandlery supplying them all with lamp oil, harpoons, hard-tack lifeboat rations, Schermuly rockets and....... CLEATS!.
Well yes.
Lots of stuff.
But hey, never mind that, because, as I neared the dock, there was a roar of engines, and cheers, and guess what? A round of offshore powerboat racing was about to start!

I managed to get my cleats from the chandlers. Then I stood on the harbour wall and watched the racing, but all the action was happening a bit far out, and, to be honest, I got bored watching far off things zoom about in the distance. On the shore, you've got a little bit of a commentary, interrupted by helicopter noise overhead, but you can't really tell what's going on. I'm sure it was thrilling, if you were out there.

This was more my style. Not at Hull, but at Goole, on the inland end of the Humber estuary. After the powerboats, I went for a wander, had some coffee,near the old Fruit Market, and mused on Caleb Rhodes.

I'll bet sea-captains were delighted that they could re-stock their onion-lockers with trustworthy english onions, whilst docked in Egypt.

After my coffee, I soon needed to pee, and fortuitiously, happened upon a grand old public convenience, a rare edwardian palace of a place, spick and span and polished.

I can only guess as to whether the ladies' side is as good, and whether they get framed stories to read....

I parked alongside a rather grand building which house among other things, the Law Courts.

And this bit is within a sniff or two of the quaintly named street, "The Land of Green Ginger".

I love the stone knotwork. 
A seafaring town, of course would be full of people who used knots and appreciated their decorative quality too.

Strangely nippleicious, no? Knottly bosomage??

 Nobody seems to know where the street's name came from, but it came into use sometime between 1640 and 1705, and has stayed. My surmise is simpler than others I've read. I'd guess that merchants stored and sold green ginger from china there.

 The Land of Green Ginger has also another claim to fame.
It has what is claimed to be britain's smallest window!
The gap between these two stones in the George Hotel is glazed. Back in the days of stage-coaches, there would be a porter, peering out, awaiting the coach. The George was famous for its servants always being ready when a coach arrived, this was their secret weapon.

This blogging, I've been neglecting it, and now I find my blogging muscles tiring, weak and underexercised, I'll have to call a halt now, and continue my story tomorrow, I have mermaids, and mud, and abandoned factories and more.