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natural cures for anosmiaAnosmia – no sense of smell! If you’ve landed here from a search engine, chances are you’re looking for cures, probably of the natural holistic variety. I’ve tried them all, the medical treatments too – all except the surgery for polyps, which even the ENT guy didn’t recommend – and I must admit to being too confused by now to help anyone, other than to say don’t lose heart.

Acupuncture worked very well for me, briefly, then wore off. Aural steroids also worked very well, again briefly, but for longer than the acupuncture. I persevered with Flucticasone Propitionate steroid nose spray, like the ENT guy told me to, but the anosmia set in once more and I’ve been entirely without my nose since New Year’s eve, when I noted it shutting off with progressive sips of a large celebratory Laphroaig.

But in the last few weeks it’s been returning,…

My other problem, related to anosmia, was a recurrent minor chest infection – I’d get wheezy, especially in the mornings after alcohol. So I’ve been spending some time addressing that side-issue, wondering if the anosmia would then address itself. To this end I’ve consulted an apothecary and been taking Vogel’s tinctures of Plantago and Echinachea for the past six months – also Sanatogen’s 50+ formula (because I’m 50+) with Ginko and Ginseng – like the Chinese TCM lady recommended. I’ve also cut down on red wine, refined sugar, and dairy produce. And I still use a few puffs of Flucticasone Propitionate morning and night as well, just to keep the ENT guy on side.

I’ve tried cutting alcohol out altogether, but that’s easier said than done. If I drink alcohol now, it’s white wine with an ABV of no more than 12%, and I try not to overindulge. I also take my coffee black and sweetened with honey, which was weird at first, but now I can drink it no other way. Certain anti-caffeine champions tell me I should cut out the coffee as well, and they’re probably right, but I simply can’t do it. A man must have at least some guilty pleasures, or life’s not worth living. I enjoy bush tea later in the evening as it’s caffeine free, and won’t keep me awake at night.

I briefly tried drops of tea tree oil up my nose, but they burned like hell. I also tried drops of witch hazel – a noted anti-inflammatory – and this didn’t burn as much but it still burned. Like it says on the bottle – recommended for external use only. Both of these things are handy to have around but not to put up your nose.

The ENT guy told me red wine causes rhinitis – a temporary swelling of the mucous membrane, so it might be responsible for temporarily dulling one’s sense of smell, but he was puzzled when I said it also caused copious amounts of yellow snot in the mornings as well(apologies if you’re eating). I think whiskey does the same, so I avoid that as well these days, except on rare special occasions – because the scent of a good single malt is for me the finest thing in the world.

I’ve also tried a Himalayan salt pipe, and as unlikely as that sounds, I think it helped to loosen the chest and ease my breath. Whether it be that or the combination of Plantago and Echinacea or something else altogether, I’ve not struggled with the wheezy chest or the yellow snot (apologies again) all summer – plenty of breath for hill walking anyway.

So,… it’s now late August, and I can smell things again.

Well, some things.

It’s a strange experience and, for now at least, somewhat incomplete, since my nose is curiously selective in what it responds to: coffee, certain cooking smells, car freshener smells, Lynx Africa antiperspirant, shoe polish – all are back in my life. However, petrol, mown grass, WD40, Fairy Liquid, bathroom smells, David Beckham body spray (sorry David), the dustbin, and indeed the entire cosmetics bit of Boots – all these things, and more, have yet to register, but I’m hopeful of further revelations as time goes on.

If you’re after a cure for anosmia, I wish I could help, or at least be more specific in how I’ve brought about this unexpected partial remission – if indeed I have and it’s not just a natural waxing and waning. My anosmia is caused by nasal polyps – a kind of harmless out-growth from the mucous membrane – harmless except for shutting off the sense of smell, and eventually blocking one’s nose, though no one seems to know what causes the nasal polyps.

My approach to the problem began in a fairly analytical manner, like diagnosing a niggly fault on the car, but has degenerated over the years into more of a scatter-gun defence. Something has had an effect, but I’ve no idea what – not that I’m complaining. It remains to be seen if this is just a welcome flash in the pan, or the beginnings of a permanent regaining of control over my olfactory senses. For now, I shall simply enjoy it, as I continue to be startled and delighted day by day with aromas long forgotten – even the bad ones.

So, for all you anosmics out there, don’t despair. Persevere. Draw on whatever information is to hand, both medical and holistic. I’d largely given up – well, any normal person would after all this time -but the sense of smell isn’t understood that well, indeed it lacks any sort of logical explanation, so we shouldn’t be afraid to try therapies for which there’s no logical explanation either – except, for putting tea tree or witch hazel up your nose.

Trust me, you’ll only do that once.

Before the Storm (Clouds) by Isaac Ilich Levitan (1860-1900)

The weather has changed. The dead-heat has gone out of it and though we’re still enjoying startling blue late summer skies, those skies are now a broad canvas, at times full of storms, compact blooms of white, towering to a great height like the smoke-plumes of a sinister weapon. They drift ponderously across the land. I saw them first in a dream, at the weekend, but I misinterpreted them, turned them into apocalyptic mushroom clouds, out of which poured the ruin of mankind. Then, on Monday, I drove a long way, travelled south, through the Midlands,  the North Wessex Downs, and the Chilterns. And there, all along that two hundred mile roaring ribbon of the M6, the M42 and the M40, I saw them, those same towering storms, painted on the blue, like lotus flowers, or old English roses. They were remnants of a hurricane that’s blown clean across the Atlantic, and are still lending a richly animated energy to our days, breaking up the sluggish humidity that has lingered since mid July.

As I drove, marvelling at this beautiful spectacle, my dream broke, or rather the storms broke my dream, brought it back to me, fished it from the black waters of unconscious memory. I don’t know how the mind does this, how it sometimes works ahead of itself, lets its dreams be informed by imagery we have yet to encounter in our ordinary waking reality. I only know that when we do encounter it, it turns a key and we cannot doubt a part of us has passed this way before.

I’ve written about Dunne, the pioneer aircraft designer who first studied this phenomenon, and who published books on it, to very mixed reviews. Word of it still falls upon a largely sceptical audience, so I won’t labour it here, except to say that in the West we have forgotten how to dream, are no longer in awe of them, and consequently no longer open to their potential for revelation, or healing.

I puzzled for a long time over Dunne’s books, troubled, because to see the future implies our future is fixed, and I didn’t like to think of the world being that way. Unless we have a choice in the paths we take, unless we can choose our future, I felt the world had no meaning for me. But nowadays I think it’s more a case of seeing not the future but a future, that only on occasion do our waking lives coincide with one of the futures we have already seen.

I did not dream of that weary journey down the sluggish motorways. It was too tedious, I think, to make anything other than the most abstract impression upon the dreaming. But the images of those storms was so impressive, they could not help but be borrowed as background for an allegorical tale, one in which I was preoccupied with visions of a civilisation on the brink. The dream made no sense to me, just as my journey didn’t in the end. It was just ten hours in a new-smelling lease-car, a night in a worn-out hotel in a fold of the Chilterns, within earshot of the rumbly M40, and all for a one hour meeting. But like many things, purpose and, more, the direction of our lives is often only revealed in retrospect, and with the perspective of long years passed.

Meanwhile the storms continue to drift across the land, darkening skies of a sudden, and sending down great wetting rages of rain to paint the roads black and slick and splashy. Mazzy and I slipped out last night, in a pause between the squalls, but I kept the hood up. My rational excuse for the impulsive jaunt was that I’d run out of bush tea, so made a circuitous 10 mile twisty-road tour, finally swinging back by the Sainsbury’s store in the neighbouring village for my Rooibos. I didn’t really need the tea. It was more that I’d been away for a long time in the south, and had missed her.

While we were out we clipped the northern lash of a slow moving cyclone, a vast thing, slow circling across the plain, raising columns of dirty white against a blue grey, dusky sky. Cars were coming out of its shadow with their headlights on, looking drenched and startled. We turned north and outran it. Mazzy and I were both safe under cover before it staggered sideways a little and tipped its buckets over us, to no effect.

Clear skies again this morning, but a tuggy wind and more rain forecast.

I dreamed of trees, and butterflies, and I was among a gentle, brown skinned people; we fished clear, shallow waters with long spears for rainbow-coloured fish.

And we were happy.

BTTCover

Or so runs an anonymous review of my novel “Between the tides”. I was rather slow picking up on it, the review having been posted back in April on the Barnes and Noble Website where my titles have now begun washing up, courtesy of their distribution via Smashwords. Of course one shouldn’t take any negative review to heart. For example another anonymous reviewer at B+N writes: I’m an avid reader. Kept trying ti [sic] see if it got better, but after 4 chapters I gave up.

For the boredom I inflicted on the latter reviewer, I apologise and suggest they did the right thing by bailing out after 4 chapters, but the former reviewer who accuses me of a smut-fest had me thinking. Am I just a randy old man who likes writing about “you know what?”

My reviewer goes on to complain: Book begins okay with an interesting premise but soon descends into just another porno book we see so many of now. And more: Why authors think they must rely on repeated graphic sex scenes and descriptions to make a literary point is beyond me.

Now, Between the Tides does include two fairly frank depictions of lovemaking. The first occurs in Chapter 20, on page 120 of a total of 197 pages. The second is in chapter 26, on page 169. The novel comprises about 80,000 words, the sexually descriptive passages amount to a few hundred words. At least this reviewer was not bored after four chapters and managed to last until three quarters of the way into the story before, I presume, setting it aside with a modest blush.

So, as regards the “Porno” accusation, I feel exonerated on the strength of ample evidence to the contrary, but remain a little surprised anyone would think my work relied upon graphic sex scenes to make any kind of point, literary or otherwise. My work does rely a lot on the balance of developing male-female relationships, and such things usually, at some point, involve sex. Perhaps the question is more one of whether it is proper to talk openly about sex in a work of fiction at all.

My reviewer goes on: Look at all the really great authors and you will see that if sex is a part of the story, the author is able to make the point with their literary prowess, not with step by step “He did this”, “She did that”. When Rhett Butler carried Scarlett up those stairs and said “This is one night you’re not turning me out”, did you have any doubt as to what was going to happen?

I think this is an interesting point. A writer can indeed sometimes allude to sexual matters, without the need to spell things out, so to speak. But I suspect the really great authors my reviewer is referring to were writing at a time when even the mention of a torn petticoat would have landed them on a charge of indecency. I agree, however, that just because a writer has a freer rein now, it does not mean one should throw caution to the winds. It depends on the company one intends keeping, I suppose.

Anyway, I’ve been casting an eye over my use of sex in my stories, to see if I’d at any point allowed myself to get carried away, and actually, I don’t think I have. Writers who write for adults should not be shy about talking openly about sex, provided one is sincere and the depictions we use are no more graphic than is required to contribute something meaningful to the development of the story. It also helps to stay within the bounds of one’s own experience, or failing that to be very careful in one’s research. Sex is an important aspect of human relationships; indeed it has been the cause of more heartache and disaster than money or religion, so it’s important the writer breaks down the closed bedroom door and investigates what goes on in there, what’s so good about sexual relations, and what can occasionally go so very wrong with them.

Contrary to my reviewer’s complaint, there’s not a lot of sex in “Between the Tides”, but what there is I think is justified by the story. There’s far more to sex than a mysterious act that grown ups do behind closed doors. It can make or break a relationship, it can explain a relationship, and of course in the very act of love we reveal ourselves more fully than at any other time.

Finally, my reviewer opines: And to think that the literary world for years scorned the “Gothic Romance” and Bodice Ripper genre. Looks like modern authors just think they can’t make it on the power of the writing alone.

Maybe it’s true, the bodice ripper was for years scorned by the literary world. I don’t know, but we certainly can’t say that any more. But for sex to work in so called literary writing, like everything else, it has to be well written, because there’s only one thing worse than unnecessarily graphic depictions of sexual love, and that’s depictions of sexual love that make your readers laugh – unless that’s your intention of course. I may be as guilty of this as any other writer and I’d rather my readers fell asleep before the naughty bits if that’s to be their reaction. But “Porno”? No sir/madam, porno is another genre entirely, though I apologise if the story offends you and suggest you delete it from your device.

But it’s not all doom and gloom on the B+N website, another anonymous reviewer writes:

I really liked this book. It was a hard book to get into, but I just had to see what would happen. I’m glad I did. Well written. J…. :-@

I thank you J.

They say one should never read one’s reviews, and certainly we should never take individual reviews seriously – either good or bad. But this is a new era and while not exactly taking them seriously, it can be useful to mine them and learn from your reactions to them. Also, if online writers are to be fair game to the potshots of anonymous reviewers (which we are) those reviewers should not complain if the writer has a little fun at their expense in return, or if they should suddenly find themselves the star of a thus far slow blog week, like this one.

Anonymous, my friend, I salute you appropriately.

 

alcock tarn 2The mountain tarns of the Lake District are as worthy an objective for a day’s hike as the mountaintops, particularly as we age and begin to linger longer in appreciation of their character. Once a curiosity glimpsed in passing en route for a lofty summit cairn, I now collect them in the same way I once bagged peaks. A mountain tarn is indeed a special place, bringing something of the sky down to the earth, mirroring the mood of both the day and the man.

Alcock tarn sits on a shelf above Butter Crags. Beyond it rises the massive grassy flank of Heron Pike, one of several summits on the Fairfield Horseshoe route. Look east from Grasmere and the tarn lies hidden, about half way up that wall of green, just above the highest reach of the pernicious bracken. On paper, it makes for a decent half-day’s walk, though somewhat steep, but all walks yield more on the ground than their paper promises, and so it is with Alcock tarn. At just over 1100 feet, it’s a modest enough climb, but I wouldn’t underestimate it.

My guide to the tarns of Lakeland is the water-colourist, William Heaton Cooper. He describes it as a modest and pleasant sheet of water, a mirror of the distant sky, as one looks southward towards the lowlands, Windermere and the sea. An experienced mountaineer, and native of Cumberland, Heaton Cooper would use this walk as an introduction to the fells for anyone new to him and whose “mountain form” was unknown.

I’m not sure what he would have made of me. My mountain form is best described as sluggish these days. Though I’m up a hill most weeks now, the ascent from the foot of Greenhead Ghyll was a “several stopper”, sometimes hands on knees, sometimes in full rest mode on sit mat and with binoculars drawn. My consolation lay in the knowledge that the fellsides here are uncommonly steep, and an ascent is always harder when walking alone.

The weather in the valleys was gloomy-hot, cloud base scraping 1500′, truncating the tops and trapping the heat to make a very steamy day. Humidity was 85%, so it was a very sweaty climb. A sleepy clag hugged the fellsides, ghost-horses drifting down. A light rain had me pulling on my new walking jacket, but its breathability soon proved to be disappointing; before I’d climbed a hundred feet I was wet from the inside out. And hot. Even the rain that day was warm.

The fells were silent, just the sound of my own breath on the ascent. I was thinking of my uncle as I climbed, a veteran of Dunkirk. Following the evacuation he spent the years up to 1945 training in the mountains around Fort William, with the Highland Light Infantry. By the time he embarked for Normandy, he told me he and his mates were like stags. Their mountain form must have been akin to superhuman, and a thing to be envied, though not of course the task that lay ahead of them.

I paused to rest below Butter Crags, once I’d cleared the thickest of the bracken. Bracken is a notorious habitat for sheep ticks, carriers of Lyme disease, and I’ve read they’re on the rise in the Lakes, but have yet to encounter any myself. The only problem I have with it is there’s nothing like pushing your way through its wet ferny fronds for soaking you to the skin. It also stinks at this time of year.

From there, the vale of Grasmere glowed without sun, something luminous in the mown meadows, far below, and which warmed an otherwise sleepy grey. I could see DunmaiI Raise, the steep climb of the ever busy A591 carrying tourists over the pass, on to Thirlmere and beyond. Dunmail was the last true native Celtic King. He met his end in a battle with the Saxons and the Scots in 945. Routed, his surviving clansmen rescued his crown and fled with it up the nick of Raise Beck and on to Grisedale tarn, where they hurled it beneath the dark waters for safe keeping.

King Dunmail rests in the huge pile of stones at the summit that bears his name, and by which there now flash thousands of careless cars every day. But once a year, the spirits of his clansmen return with the crown and bang on the cairn, wakening their sleeping King, and urging him to take up the crown once more. Each time he tells them the time has not yet come. Other more prosaic accounts have him dying on a pilgrimage in 975. I prefer the former myth which has something archetypal about it, like an Arthurian legend. But then the Celts  were always better story tellers than the Saxons.

I remember the climb to Grisedale tarn up Raise Beck. I did it in 1993, on a wild day in the company of friends. We went on to climb Helvellyn. The mountain was dark and angry, snow spiralling in a finger numbing, aggressive wind, and there was a feeling as we climbed, of coming to the world’s end. It was a Saturday afternoon, March 20th, the day the IRA bombed Warrington. I heard of it on the car radio, on the drive home. They had left two devices in rubbish bins on Bridge Street, a crowded shopping centre. The first device drove panicking survivors into the path of the second device. Fifty four were injured, two young boys killed. There were lots of bombings on the mainland throughout the course of the troubles, but that one was closest to home for me, and will be for ever associated with that climb up Raise Beck and onto an angry mountain.

It was an evil day.

The tragic overtones of Grizedale Tarn are carried on in the story of the Brother’s Parting Stone. It was here in 1800 William Wordsworth last said farewell to his brother, John. John was leaving Cumberland to take up command of a British East Indiaman, the Earl of Abergavenny, into which he had sunk his fortune. The vessel was lost off Portland Bill, and John drowned. Some say the event marked a steady decline in Wordsworth’s poetry.

But anyway, on to Alcock tarn!

It comes upon one suddenly, a pleasant sheet of water, as Heaton Cooper says, reedy at its northern end, and a mirror for a steely sky. Looking south along its length it forms an infinity pool, the great sliver ribbon of Windermere and the southern Lakes beyond. I’d seen not a soul all morning, but here I came upon pair already settled in with sketchbooks and watercolours. The mountains held their breath, the only sound was a lone duck dabbling in mud among the reeds at my feet. I fired off a rare haiku tweet to that effect but it felt cheap and shallow compared to the deeply patient deliberations of these two artists. All is not lost, I was thinking, that there are those still willing and able to take the time for al-fresco water-colouring.

I gave them space, waved to let them know I was harmless, then settled down to ponder over my notebook and a poem for which the muse had delivered the first two lines complete the night before, and left me to fill in the blanks. But the words would not come, and the silence was eventually broken by a party of talkers which put an end to my deliberations. They sat down not five yards from me, a flock of gassy old birds, treating me to a voluble warts and all expose of their various intimate lives and which sent the lone duck off in search of quieter waters. They had not seen me. My walking gear has morphed from fashionable fluorescence to unobtrusive greens over the years. With my hood pulled up, monk-like and sitting still in a little clutch of crags, I had apparently vanished, blurred out of the misty, muggy world, so that when I later rose to pack my things away, I gave one old bird a satisfying fright.

Sorry, dear, but I was there first.

Perfect as a circular walk, the route continues south, becoming quite airy on the descent, then fast losing itself in the densely forested glades above Town End, and the broad, well made tracks that lead you unerringly home. A couple of quiet hours up, then an hour down brings you back to the bustle of the many-peopled Wordswortharium.

I took coffee in the garden-centre cafe, and pondered the old Celtic legends. King Dunmail has been a long time dead now, and I wondered at the meaning of his clansmen keeping faith with him year on year. I wondered too what counsel he might offer in addition to his persistent procrastination as regards his throne. For me, I realised, while taking that break on the climb to Alcock tarn, he had pointed out the long lay-by beside the 591.

“Next time you come here, lad,” he said, “Get up a bit earlier. Park your car there in future, for free! And stop moaning about Broadgate Meadow!”

I shall.

It seems I have friends in high places!

alcock tarn

Alcock Tarn, Grasmere, Cumbria

Grasmere

Grasmere

Grasmere boils in a soporific heat. The air weighs heavily on arms and legs, sapping will and thought. There are spy cameras on the Broadgate Meadow carpark now. They read number plates, and a computer is delegated the task of detecting dodgers. It’s £7, if you want to park your car for over four hours – a day’s walking. The sign says you can pay by debit/credit card – no need for all that loose change, which is as well because £7.00 worth of  change weighs a lot in your pocket. The machine will even text you when your ticket is about to expire, which is useful, but I note there is a surcharge for this service. There are plenty of spaces, but I don’t need one. My lady’s Corsa is on the hotel carpark where the sign says they will clamp you, charge you £25 to release you, and won’t do so until after 10:00 pm, so you’d better have a really good reason for being there. We do; we are guests.

My lady and I buy a £5 bottle of wine from the Cooperative store and sneak it up to the room rather than pay hotel prices. We sneak the empties out again in the morning, deposit them surreptitiously in the bin on the village green. We have difficulty accepting we are grown up enough not to be told off for such things. The hotel boasts four stars, and is expensive, but you only celebrate your silver wedding once. The food is mostly very good. The portions are small but very pretty on the plate, and flavoursome. You rise from the table gratified, but not uncomfortable. I do not rave over haute cuisine, often getting annoyed at those pompous celebrity chef programmes where they enthuse over mashed potato as if it were the answer to the middle east crisis. I am weakening to the aesthetics now, but not the price.

We walked around Grasmere lake, which is mostly road and busy, but flat, as suits my lady. There were disposable barbecues burned out and disposed of down by White Moss Common, little bags of dog poo and suspicious bits of brown smeared tissue under the bushes. It discouraged us from sitting down to picnic. This has always been a popular area, but the stress is showing, town-greyness seeping in. People smiled and said hello.

I stole a look at the Rock of Names up by the Dove Cottage visitor centre, but I thought it looked a touch jaded, though in retrospect this was probably my imagination, still suffering the assault of those bags of dog poo and bits of tissue. The light was difficult, so I did not bother with a photograph. We were not tempted to pay entrance to the visitor centre itself, which had ingeniously linked the work of Wordsworth with Matsuo Basho. I would not have made that link myself, but as I think of it, I see the connection in some of Wordsworth’s lines – he could be very Zen, though in the main far more wordy than the master of Haiku. Both poets walked immense distances, and used plain language. Basho is as revered in Japan as Wordsworth in the UK. There are many Japanese tourists still making pilgrimage to Grasmere.

Rydal Mount

Rydal Mount

As an attraction, I prefer Rydal Mount. Wordsworth spent most of his life there, but is more associated with Dove Cottage, his years in that place being reckoned by the literati to have been his best, poetically speaking. But one has only to visit Rydal Mount to intuit this house must have given him by far the greater joy and comfort. There is not the room to swing a cat at Dove Cottage and only one room with any decent light at all. Rydal Mount, by contrast, is flooded with it.

St Oswalds church in Grasmere has installed musical bells now. At certain hours we are treated to a few verses of a hymn. At 10:00 am we have “Morning is broken”, at 4:00 pm we have “The Day Thou Gavest, Lord, is Ended” which my lady dislikes as she says it is for funerals. “To Thine be the Glory” is at 2:00 pm which is more jolly. I have visited Wordsworth’s grave twice, the second occasion to look for Hartley, eldest son of STC, and who is located just behind the Wordsworth family. While there I was able to point out to fellow visitors the correct Wordsworth, as there are a lot of them in the cemetery and it can be confusing. I used to struggle as well, but the clue is he died in 1850. To his left is beloved brother John, to his right, beloved daughter Dora. To John’s left, beloved sister, the ever enigmatic Dorothy.

The musical strikes remind us this is a Christian, Anglican, sacred place as well as a tourist attraction. There’s a lot of nature mysticism in Wordsworth’s poetry, but the bells also remind us he sang hymns with gusto. On a busy day in Grasmere, with tourists spilling from the pavements, it’s hard to imagine anything like a profound, spiritual stillness, but if you sit a while in pew at St Oswald’s, you will find it.

At Rydal Mount there is a copy of Wordsworth’s letter declining the poet laureateship on account of his advancing years. It is very beautifully worded. We do not write like that any more. Friend Robert Peel – the PM – assured him nothing would be required of him in return, so Wordsworth accepted.

I have the impression, mostly subliminal, I owe a lot to my reading of this man’s life and work – though his life be tending now towards myth. His work is like the Dao De Jing, meaning nothing without the ears to hear, except for Daffodils – but I think that was more Dorothy’s bidding, and beautiful in a different kind of way. I hear him more clearly now than I used to do, but still have a long way to go. I find it easier to read his poems in a plain north country accent. I don’t know Shakespeare at all, find him inaccessible by comparison, but I understand this is my own ignorance talking.

By coincidence fellow blogger Bottledworder posts an excerpt from Intimations of Immortality which I pick up via the hotel’s free wi fi.

Dinner here costs £38 per person. Coffee is extra. I do not aspire to a lifestyle where such things can be taken for granted. Wordsworth made nothing as a poet. The Prelude was published posthumously to little applause. Only now is it respected. Again, a north country accent helps in the reading of it.

£5.00 for two coffee’s in the garden centre, but the staff were friendly, unlike their trip advisor review which accused them of being surly – which only goes to show, one must treat all publicly voiced opinion with circumspection, to whit:

In my current work in progress, the protagonist, Timothy Magowan, a jaded teacher of English literature, and tweedy man of middle years, has nothing good to say about Grasmere. I have been known to say unkind things about it myself, so it’s something of a turn-up to be temporarily resident again. I dislike the cost of things and the apparent disdain in which the tourist is held, whilst being simultaneously milked as a cashcow, but I’m willing to make an effort if Grasmere can prove itself to be more accommodating, meet me half way. But then we do not see the world – including Grasmere – as it is, but only as we are.

The weather is set to cool by midweek, with the promise of a light, refreshing rain. I may venture up to Alcock Tarn, seek company among the skylarks.

So, to finish, Wordsworth and Basho,… on the Skylark!

ETHEREAL minstrel! pilgrim of the sky!
Dost thou despise the earth where cares abound?
Or while the wings aspire, are heart and eye
Both with thy nest upon the dewy ground?
Thy nest which thou canst drop into at will,
Those quivering wings composed, that music still!

To the last point of vision, and beyond
Mount, daring warbler!—that love-prompted strain
—’Twixt thee and thine a never-failing bond—
Thrills not the less the bosom of the plain:
Yet might’st thou seem, proud privilege! to sing
All independent of the leafy Spring.

Leave to the nightingale her shady wood;
A privacy of glorious light is thine,
Whence thou dost pour upon the world a flood
Of harmony, with instinct more divine;
Type of the wise, who soar, but never roam—
True to the kindred points of Heaven and Home.

William Wordsworth – 1770-1850

Above the moor,
not attached to anything,
a skylark singing.

Matsuo Basho 1644-1694

The contrast is breathtaking!

Matsuo Basho.jpg

Matsuo Basho

grumpy at grasmereJuly turns uncompromisingly hot, and the humidity creeps up. These are the days when even modest tasks outdoors raise an uncomfortable sweat. It was after 11:00 pm last night before the air thinned to a pleasant coolness, but it was back up to twenty two degrees by 8:00 am this morning, already thick and heavy with the humidity once more – another scorcher in the making.

I was driving to work, shirt sleeves rolled up, and with the windows down, something I normally only do on the return in the evening, when the car’s had all day to bake out on the softening Tarmac of the work’s car park. I should have taken the Mazda, topless, except she’s not for the commute, unless the commute is on a Friday and the weather’s fine. Then she can kick the weekend off, and I can drive her home by way of Rivington for lunch, like I plan on doing tomorrow. To risk a chauvinistic metaphor, and a black eye from the Lady Graeme, Mazzy is my mistress; I don’t waste her ironing my shirts.

Instead I took the Vauxhall, old Grumpy. I’m afraid he’s not wearing very well. At only seven years old his door bottoms are starting to rot out like cars used to do in the bad old days. He exceeded his six year anti perforation warranty by a year, which is either good design, or bad, depending on whether you’re a buyer or a seller.

With sound bodywork and regular servicing you can keep a modern car going indefinitely, and you rarely see a rotten car these days, even cars of twelve or fifteen years old will polish up like new, but grumpy’s cards  are definitely marked. I’ll get another few years out of him, but by then the doors will have well and truly rotted through, and he’ll most likely be bubbling up all tired and ugly in other places too. I can almost hear the dealer tut-tutting when I offer him for trade in – unlike the dealer who was all smiles and reassurance when I bought him.

It’s a pity. He’s had his moments, his occasional, spectacular mechanical failure, and he’s managed to ruin most of the holidays we’ve ever had in him. Sure, I’ve cursed him, but I’ve also grown to like him. If I want to get somewhere far away in comfort and in quiet, he’s your guy, that 1.8 litre engine pulling like a thoroughbred, and the automatic box to smooth away the miles – usually, anyway; he just doesn’t like going on holiday. He was raised as a commuter mule, and that’s all he seems to want to do.

The aircon failed a couple of years ago. No one I took it to could fathom the problem, except to say it would probably cost about £500 to fix. It’s a nice thing to have, aircon, but for the few weeks a year we get when you really need it, like we’re enjoying now, I’m happy to wind the window down instead. That £500 fixed Mazzy’s brakes, which was money better spent, I think.

It touched twenty seven degrees by tea time yesterday. Grumpy was rattling on the way home, pre ignition pinking. I could hear it with the windows down, the sound coming back at me, reflected off tall buildings and walls. I plugged him in and ran a diagnostic on the ‘Droid, but no fault codes came up. He just runs very hot, so nothing to worry about, I think – not yet anyway. But I won’t be taking him on holiday next week, just in case. We’ll take the Lady Graeme’s car, which is newer, and her aircon still works!

He sits out on the drive now, covered in the dust of ten thousand miles – I mean since I last washed him. Then there’s that thin, greasy traffic film and a low sun picking out the smeary streaks across the inside of the windscreen. His doors bear the scars of other doors banged into him in parking bays. He’s hung with cobwebs that trail the fluffy bobs of blown seeds, and there’s a green lichen growing on the undersurfaces of the mirror housings, where dew lingers.

I’ll give him a wash tomorrow, perhaps a bit of a polish up as well, taking care not to burst the paint where he’s bubbling through. It won’t make him last any longer, but he might feel a little better, and look a little less hot, and tired, and grumpy.

henry cordierReticent and uncertain; are my ideas any good? I’m sure it’s a question many speculative writers ask themselves. The writing starts in uncertain circumstances, notebooks under the pillows of childhood, then creative writing homeworks for school, which must pass the red pen test of one’s English Teacher.

Mine wrote poetry – good poetry, at least the snippets he read to us in class on the brighter of his days, the days when he was not so scowly-stern. I wanted him to like my writing too, my poetry. That I respected him, feared him a little even, it meant a lot to have him pen good things in the margins of my homeworks. And of course  it hurt when the marks slipped below C for things I’d laboured long upon, while managing to miss the point entirely.

Mr. Jones. It was approval I sought back then from him. In my eyes he was a literary genius, benign sage, and caustic nemesis rolled into one. He was a man I could both hate and love, this man who whipped me through my English O Level. He was a God, or rather the channel through which I sought the approval of the Gods for my words – his red pen the arbiter of permission to think the way I thought.

But after the brightly coursing stream of education, one is discharged into the stagnant, murky mill-pond of life, and with no Mr Jones, the image of Godhead moves to the faceless publisher. For the next twenty years I sought approval there instead, but to no avail, for the God of publishing does not exist; it is therefore healthier to be an atheist in all our dealings with them.

In retrospect, I am glad now for the red pen of Mr. Jones, bright-curling round my spelling mistakes, even the pointed “see me” and the ensuing stern lectures on my use of grammar and punctuation, with ears burning, and the girls in class I adored all listening in. Oh, the humiliation! Could he not see how much I wished to be like him? that words for me were thoughts out loud, and my thoughts did not seem like the thoughts of other boys. Are my thoughts all right, Mr. Jones? Is it all right to think and feel this way? Why can I see the story of a man’s life in a worn out shoe, when others see nothing? Why is there pathos in a girl’s discarded bow? Tragedy in a rusted spring? What see you there, Mr Jones? And is that all right? Is that normal?

Revise use of comma, apostrophe and semi-colon, Michael. Watch your spellings!

But once you have the mechanics, what you think is what you think, what you see is what you see, and you need no approval to think or see, or write an account of it. Then writing becomes a matter of style and long practice, years of practice,… decades and decades in the dusty notebooks of adulthood. But the thoughts are yours and the fact of your existence alone is sufficient for them to be written. If anyone agrees or not, is moved or not, is a matter for the Gods.

You have no power there.

Mr. Jones never told me this. It’s something we have to work out for ourselves. Perhaps he did not know; perhaps it was approval he sought for himself, through us, by reading us his poems. With the benefit of long hindsight, I think this might be true, for I am much older now than he was then, and age, if nothing else, brings insight.

No.

Do not write for approval. Ask yourself only this: in seeking publication am I chasing validation of my ideas? If the answer’s yes, you’re labouring under a delusion. Nobody cares that much. If a publisher likes your work you are one lucky scribe my friend, but if he does not, it does not mean you cannot write, that your mind is dim, that your thoughts are third rate – only that the publisher cannot sell them.

So where does approval come from? One’s online readers? It helps if readers say nice things, but it’s as well to bear in mind they might not mean it – same if they assault you with brickbats. Of course the only approval that means a damn comes from you. Only you can give yourself permission to think out loud, to have the courage your thoughts are worth the writing down. It sounds complicated and crinkly-weird, but it’s really very simple. Just be yourself, sincere, then the Gods might come and speak to you, and ultimately through you.

Isn’t that right, Mr Jones?

Good poems they were, your poems.

Keep well.

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