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Posts Tagged ‘holidays’

standing stoneThe Ryoan-ji is an ancient rock garden in Japan, in the Zen tradition. It’s a so called dry garden, consisting of groups of large stones place upon a bed of smooth-worn and finely raked pebbles. I’ve studied Zen as an amateur student for years, but it’s an enigmatic subject, difficult to gain purchase and try as I might I still know virtually nothing about it. In a similar way I’m no doubt entirely ignorant of the deeper meaning of this garden. One of its intriguing and more talked about features however is that no matter what angle we view it from we can only ever count fourteen stones.

There are actually fifteen stones, but one of them is always hidden from view by the others, so we can never know for sure that there are fifteen, presumably without flying over the garden and viewing it from an elevated perspective. So, how many stones are there? Answer, obviously fifteen, but how many in our experience? How many from our every day perspective?

I’m not sure if this is an important Zen teaching, or if I’m creating a tangential one of my own, but it’s a useful concept none the less, that reality is always subjective and cannot help  but conceal both it’s true nature and, by inference, our own.

On a not unrelated subject, about twelve hours ago, I ate breakfast in the garden of a cottage overlooking the North Sea, a little to the north of Scarborough. I sipped coffee as I contemplated the changing shades of blue, and I tried to hold on to the scene, to imprint it in memory, both visually and emotionally, because I knew I would shortly be taking my leave of it and it would be a long time before I came this way again, indeed if ever.

Like that fifteenth stone the view is now hidden. I know it exists from some other perspective, but what I’m left with now, as I tap this out are the fourteen stones of a more mundane reality.

The ability to hold on to an awareness of the fifteenth stone is helped by having seen it in the first place. No amount of being told of its existence can substitute for the experience of seeing it. Merely being told it’s there requires faith and trust, when you cannot see it yourself.

Of course what I was looking at this morning was a reflection of my own self in a reality that was closer to the truth of who felt I am, of who we all are when not pummelled into a different shape by the repetitive and habitual lives that normally contain us. For a short time though, on holiday, we escape, we gain a different perspective, we view a different emotional landscape, we see and feel ourselves differently and wish upon wish we could be like that all the time. It is this transcendent essence that is contained for me in the symbolic meaning of the fifteenth stone.

But the truth is we have all seen it from time to time, and even though the evidence of our own eyes mostly denies its existence, we have only to shift our perspective slightly, do something, go somewhere a little out of the ordinary, to reveal its presence and realise it’s been there all along.

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man strolling in a wooded landscape - detail - A A MillsAmazing, how quickly the cosy glow of one’s holidays fades, isn’t it? Mid morning, first morning back at the day job and there you are, things settling upon you once more, a million crabs nipping and nagging at you, something slithering over your skin – that all too familiar cold slime of responsibility. Then it’s out into the near stagnant commute, arriving home some indeterminate time later, brain-fried and grumpy, then bed by ten, waking at six thirty a.m. feeling totally unrefreshed, and getting up and doing it all again.

But we would be much worse off if we didn’t get that two week break, if like in the olden golden times of arch Conservatism, the labouring masses got no holidays at all, but for Christmas day, and we worked a six and a half day, sixty five hour week until we dropped dead, never having climbed a step from poverty – a regime we’re heading back to if our young are to have any hope of living off the wages that are paid in these enlightened, tightened times, these times of grim austerity.

I can’t believe I am still hearing that word.

Surely austerity was for the nineteen fifties, after the world was nearly ruined in a storm of war that lasted five years – not this, this financial crisis, this money game, this accounting fraud that has already lasted much longer than a world at war, laying waste to the less fortunate of nations as surely as if they had been invaded by tanks and guns.

The black tide of Nazism was defeated in less time than this. And the only strategy against the tyranny of the money game that the money captains can come up with is to convince us there is no alternative to an eternal free fall into a future of less and less, into an austerity of eternal midnight.

Alas, it is the banishment of all hope, all ye who enter here.

But for a weeks I flew. I climbed the little road from Malham in a lovely old car with the top down. I flew all the way to Leyburn, I left the bustling market square at Masham early one Saturday morning beneath a deep summer blue sky and with the birds singing, and I flew all the way to Scarborough. There, I walked the long front from north to south bays and back, explored the steep and narrow of the old town, and breathed a different air. And the gulls were not the killer gulls of the bonkers press. They were the snow white fisher-birds I have always known, and there were only ink-dirty fingers pointing blame where blame there was none, creating a story, where story there was none, while steadfastly ignoring the real story of our times.

In the creed of Nowness, the past is unimportant, but the recent memory of a positive experience can sustain us, at least for a little while, as we nudge ourselves back into the material reality of our dayjobs. It creates a bit of space. The darkness of the first week back after one’s holidays can then be punctured by a gentle reflection. But I fear in my case, after thirty seven years of nine to five, I am already growing out of work, my mind turning far too soon to other things. I would as soon eschew the looming golden watch, escape instead, travel the length and breadth of my United Kingdom in that little roadster with a light bag and a box of books, and a little tapping pad on which to muse and write of what I find along the way.

Sigh.

It’ll be a while before I can realistically do that, but there it is:

The dream of flight.

Of escape.

But what if what we are trying to escape from is a state of mind? one that constructs cages for itself, and the cage is on castors, so we cannot help but take it wherever we go? What if it cannot be escaped by running? To be sure the snares of the material world are myriad, and the thing with snares is the rabbit strangles itself by thinking it can get away, by resisting, by struggling. But by resisting, the noose only tightens all the more. It is the evil efficiency of the snare, that it uses one’s own energy to bring about our destruction.

Thus it is the creed of Nowness teaches us the art of escape through stillness, by creating space within ourselves so we slip through unharmed, like a slippery seed, clean through the arsehole of the world, to bloom elsewhere, upon another plane. And so, even amid the nine to five, we walk a kind of inner freedom, and we do not mind the world as it is any more. Even the bumbling blather of austerity talk and money tyranny melt into the background, into a meaningless Muzak.

Or so the theory goes.

It troubles me only in that all of this sounds a little defeatist. Surely if we are trapped we should fight with all our might, and at the very least do something? Seeking instead our escape within we might as well be wishing an early grave, for both things are liberating in a sense, but hardly what one might call living. I suppose it’s just this feeling I have done my time at the work face, my nose pressed against the dirt for too long, and would leave the struggle to others now, to those who still can – struggle on. For as the saying goes, those who can do, while those who cannot do teach, and those who are not for doing any more, and cannot teach, can only write.

I don’t know if I’ve returned, post trip, with a straighter head or not. It feels a bit wobbly to me. Do you think?

Graeme out.

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freddie gilroy 1Overnight rain dries to a clear, sunny morning. Breakfast at the Park is rendered comical by the positioning of my table next to the kitchen doors and the breakfast buffet. With each passing soul, diner or staff, the floor rocks beneath me on account of wobbly boards underneath. I resist sea-sickness and enjoy a fine full English breakfast.

There is always something one could complain of in life, but I am rested and magnanimous this morning, after a mostly sound night’s sleep. And I can smell the coffee. Only the lusty, squealing climax of the amorous couple across the landing disturbed me, and then only briefly. Afterwards they passed out and slept as soundly as I. I see them at breakfast, not a young couple by any means. Clearly youth is not everything when it comes to bedroom gymnastics.

I make a quick check on the Mazda – the carpark here is small and steep and I am fearful of accidents. I have snicked her into first gear in case the handbrake fails and she rolls. Mr. Happy sits against the gear stick, a note in his hands reminds me: “car in gear”. I’ve been driving four four days, and I’m letting both her and me rest today.

Instead, I walk to South Bay, along the marine dive. There, I loiter around the harbour for a bit, then sit with mug of sweet tea enjoying the bustle and the sunshine, before returning, taking pleasure in the sea air. The promenade here is not natural, North and South bays being originally isolated from one another by the steep headland, atop which sits the castle. Heroic engineering works, begun in 1907 finally established the marine drive and an impressive thing it is too.

Of the two bays I prefer the North. Here, on the promenade, raised up on his supersized bench, we pass an impressive and highly emotive sculpture of local old soldier, Freddie Gilroy, a sort of “freehand sketch” in welded steel is how it’s described by its creator, the county Durham sculptor Ray Lonsdale. Freddie represents the millions of ordinary people thrust into the extraordinary circumstances of the second world war, where they saw things the likes of which few of us can imagine. Freddie’s regiment finished the war at Bergen Belsen, where he tells us he could smell the death from three miles away. He was 24, “celebrated” his birthday amid the horror of the camp and wept. He tells us he wept every birthday afterwards. Now he sits staring meditatively out to sea. This is a work held in great affection by residents and visitors alike, and unlike many a piece of public sculpture it tells a powerful story.

The I am thinking back to breakfast and imagine Herr Gruber of the Maison Du Lac, asking me why I do not complain about my table. Is it my stereotypical Engishness? my aversion to making a fuss? I reply that the English can be as rude as anyone, and any way, I may not be so English as I seem. And sometimes I prefer to be positioned where others might not. Or is it more that I fear asserting my true nature?

On the return walk, I catch a scent of the sea. It surprises me. I have also smelled coffee in the last few days, raising hopes my anosmia is once again cycling into remission. I have smelled nothing since June. The sea is briny, of course, but also faintly and beautifully perfumed. The latter is possibly an aberration of my errant senses, but delightful all the same. The tide is in, the breakers pounding on the sea defences. A colony of killer gulls inhabits the pale sandstone cliffs of the headland. They screech agressively and hurl poop at passers by. (Only joking)

scarboroughA character enters my head and begins to converse, to open more possibilities for my story. He is an old man. Late Seventies, impeccably dressed in country tweeds and tie.

Let me see: thus far we have Finn, a man who has lost everthing and is facing the remaining decades of his life without purpose or meaning. We have the Goth woman at the Sea View Cafe, and now we have the old gentleman. He is lonely, bears it stoically. And we have a young man, challenged by the lack of opportunity in Carrickbar, a run down seaside resort. He is capable of much but lacks the intellect to be pulled to safety by education. And of course at some point we have the Queen of Carrickbar.

She is Russian for now – eastern European certainly, stranded in Carrickbar by divorce. She’s a looker, a mature woman, blonde, shapely, perfect except for having a mouth like a fishwife. She used to be wealthy, but is now living in faded glory and clinging to her dignity by whatever means she can. And she is dying, I think – at least this is what she whispers to me – though at present this seems too mawkish. Finn must help her, but without making a lover out of her, and he must help the young man, her son. And he must help the old man.

The goth woman, Hermione? is in love with Finn from the opening chapters. But he doesn’t know.

The sketch of it deepens, but I hold back for now. Things will change as the characters interact and shape things to suit themselves. The theme of the story I think is that life can have no meaning if we look only to life for what we can take or recieve from it. In taking from life we can all too easily lose our way. It is only by giving back, and selflessly, do we find ourselves again. Only by givng does the emptiness dissolve and the love of and in life return. This is how Finn must act, how his thoughts must lead him if he is to find the will to live on.

It’s a long walk to South Bay and back. I meet many hardy elderly people, meet them again on the return. One of them is an old lady, her dogs make it one way only. On the return she pushes them in a perambulator. I am not conscious of working the story in my head as I walk. It’s more that the characters know I am open and avail themselves of the opportunity and the space of my emptiness.

scarborough 2Coffee in the room and courtesy biscuits for lunch. Then I test my assertiveness at reception and ask for my table to be changed. Dinner is not cheap here, and I would not want to find the experience irritating. Tables are juggled at once, and I am reassured I will be more out of the way – though I worry about what “out of the way” means. I also feel guilty that someone else will be sitting at the wobbly table by the kitchen doors. My assertiveness brings me comfort but note it comes only at the expense of someone else.

There is a band concert in Peasholme Park. The bandstand is in the middle of the lake, its pagoda roof is colonised and thoroughly pooped upon by ugly killer gulls. The band is more of a brass quartet, but very competent and enthusiastic. They play the theme tune to Coronation Street and Dad’s Army, and in the interval it rains. The audience materialise umbrella’s and mackintoshes. An English summer brings out an English resolve to see the thing through.

I return to the hotel, consider a swim but the pool is accessed from the conservatory and there is a posh-frock gathering in there at the moment and they have a smoked glass view of the pool. I decide my strokes would make for poor entertainment, so instead I read out the rain in my room.

I have finished the Coelho I picked up in Leyburn. The Devil and Miss Prym. His thoughtful reads have long been an inspiration. By contrast I am struggling with Toibin’s “The Master”. The rain settles in and raises a hiss from the passing traffic.

Dinner is traditional and plain, the table a good one. The staff are all very young, attentive and smiling. I choose the Sirloin. I did not know it was tradition in Yorkshire to serve the Yorkshire pudding as a separate course between starter and mains. To my relief I note no one is sitting at the wobbly table at my expense.

It is the longest leg of the tour tomorrow, 70 miles, back to the Dales, to Pateley Bridge and the Half Moon Inn.

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malham cove

A short hop to Malham; M6, then the A59 to Gisburn where we slip across the border into God’s own county, then Hellifield, Otterburn, and finally Malham. Rain most of the way rendering pointless yesterday’s wash down and chamois finish. Pulling onto the carpark of the Buck the Mazda already looks like it’s been parked a week next to a concrete factory. However, the afternoon dries up sufficiently to take a stroll into the Cove. There are falcons soaring, and dippers exploring the beck, and there are men making ready to climb the seemingly impregnable face of the limestone precipice.

Then it’s back to the Buck for a doze on the four poster. I’m travelling with the Voyo, a 7″ Windows 8 tablet, made in China. It was cheap as chips, packs into a modest man-bag, but has the habit of randomly crashing. I use Jarte for my jottings, set autosave to once a minute and learn to live with surprises.

As I wait to go down to dinner I run through the early part of my new story, which I’m calling Carrickbar at the moment, or maybe the Queen of Carrickbar sounds better. The Voyo tips me out after a couple of paragraphs, and discards the changes because I mistook the one minute autosave option for the ten minute. I discover I can live with it. As writers we should never become too attached to anything we have written. What we think sounds just perfect, the moment before we are about to lose it, would rarely rest without change the next day.

malham cove 2It’s a tentative opening sketch, this first chapter, setting the scene and seeing what runs. Thus far it is rather a bleak story, one I’m not sure I can live with for the next couple of years in the writing of it, and I’ll be needing more of a reason to carry on. The characters are forming though, moving into the wings, looking to see if they can fit in, to see if they can help. Then there’s always that certain someone, the increasingly eccentric muse, and I suspect she’s waiting for us up at the Sea View Cafe.

The Mazda felt a little stiff on the run over, but that was me. I’m holding on to tension from somewhere and can’t seem to let it go, still fearful of the clutch failing. I need to lighten up; we have three hundred miles ahead of us, some tough hill climbing and some fast roads.

Dinner was lamb roast and very good too, no alcohol as I wanted a run out afterwards. The evening clears to sunshine and a straw coloured light, so I take the top down and drive the circuit up by Malham Tarn, then back down to the village. This is an exceptionally beautiful drive, both the Mazda and I relaxing at last into the curves of the road as if somehow enchanted. The Dales have never looked better to me than this evening. It is open and golden. I left my camera in my room at the Buck, but remind myself we are mistaken in believing we can somehow hold onto these things, that we can somehow capture them. But it’s impossible to capture them because the faculty of imagination is lacking in the photograph, present only in the nowness of the moment as we experience it. It is, I’m afraid something I cannot fully share with anyone.

Buck Inn MalhamI return to the carpark of the Buck and begin my usual nannying about, nervous of parking slots that are too narrow. The Mazda is getting on in years but miraculously preserved and my nightmare is that she will get side swiped by a carelessly opened door. I also avoid parking next to cars with kiddie seats – or worse the detritus that indicates the presence of older children. The alternative spot is under a pine tree, but that won’t do either as it is dripping sap and leaving sticky speckles on the screen and paint. In the end I settle for a tight spot and no evidence of kiddies. I really must learn to be more accepting of the risks; it’s bound to happen one day.

So, day one and a successful start. Some rain, but clearing to a beautiful evening. I retire to write:

He was a child when he last saw Carrickbar. That would have been ’67 or 68; he couldn’t say for sure exactly when but what Finn did remember was how the summer had glowed cosily that year in the orange of the sunsets, how it had blazed joyously in the yellow of the afternoon sands and shimmered with a delirious bliss in the perfect crayon blue of sea and sky. Remarkably though, he was not conscious of having carried this memory with him, and had indeed passed the whole of his life in ignorance of it. Until now.

Remarkably it was amid the ruin of forty years, he had fallen asleep, and had dreamed of Carrickbar. He had dreamed of the colour, and of the heat and of the wide smiling sea, and on waking the memories had risen from the depths perfectly preserved. It was as if the Gods had taken pity and cast him a line back into the living colour of the world, and in the morning all he could think of was a place he had not thought of since he was a boy.

But winter was not the best time to be seeing Carrickbar. Indeed it was to him, this afternoon, after a three hour drive, and through the murky lens of his road weariness, a cold, grey place, all the colour bled from it, frozen as his heart, pale as the ocean before him. And the ocean, he thought, as he gazed out at it, was just one more thing reflective of the lack of pity in the world. It was at this moment as if even his childhood had died and left him penniless, and the Gods were laughing.

It’s a start.

I think we’ll run with it.

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racy lady 2I’m a little nervous this evening – always am the night before a trip. I’ve checked the oil and the water, checked the tyres, taken her out for a spin and all appears to be well. The hotels are booked, the travel insurance paid, and even if we do have mechanical trouble, the AA will be earning their subs for once and getting us home.

Come to think of it the clutch felt a little odd during that spin, but I’m wearing new trainers and they lack the broken-in, wafer-thin sensitivity of my old ones. It was hard to judge to bite point and I’ve always had a thing about the clutch – the one thing you can’t check or mitigate against. And of course a failed clutch can ruin your holiday. But I’m sure it’ll be fine.

So, I’m off to the Dales in the morning, a week’s tour of the best of rural England, ending up on the East Coast by weekend. We have a new-ish Vauxhall Corsa on the drive that could do trip with ease and, with 20,000 on the clock I’d have fewer qualms about it, but where would be the fun in that? The Dales in a twelve year old roadster just coming up to 80,000 miles has to be worth the risk. It’ll be a trip revisiting the familiar – I know the Dales quite well: Malhamdale, Wharfdale, Wensleydale and hopefully with the top down as much as possible. Then a long run across country to Scarborough and a few nights off motoring.

I’m travelling light – not much choice in a little car. I have the kernel of a new story on the pad, and I’ll no doubt be tickling away at that in the evenings before bed. It’s late July now, the season maturing, and many a moon come and gone without anything new in the making. Thus far I’ve been reviewing older stuff and posting it on Wattpad, which has been satisfying in a way but a bit like treading water. I also finished off Sunita, a back burner project  and put her on Wattpad as well. Reception for Sunita was good, mostly thanks to fellow blogger and writer’s champion, Tom Lichtenberg. Reception for Langholm Avenue and Fall of night was more muted. But all of this has been somehow retrospective, and what I love most in writing is the new adventure. So, we’re pre trip in a number of ways this evening, and though I’m nervous, I’m looking forward to the road in the morning.

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southport sunsetI’ve been driving out to the coast a lot of an evening. I drop the top on the car and we make our way to Southport, park up on the Marine Drive, and watch the sun go down. Sunset was around eight fifteen last night, and the air carried with it a tale of drawing in. The sun was rendered fat and orange by a faint haze which had also,strangely, rendered other things in a sharper resolution. I could see the mountains of North Wales and Cumbria and far out at sea there was the faint twinkle of a myriad of windmills as they tipped their arms, juggling with the last of the light.

I’d wanted to test the car, to feel her vibes and see if there was any doubt she was up to another tour of the Dales this weekend. She ran sweetly, as she has done all summer, so I can find no reason for anxiety, other than my usual pre-travel qualms. It will probably be the last long trip I take in her this year. Soon the days will be too short, and the air too sharp for flitting about in a car with no roof. She’s not the same with the top up. With the top up she is  lumpy and bumpy and noisy. With the top down she is sweet and serene.

I know which of her humours I prefer.

I usually arrive at the Marine Drive around eight PM, mainly because the parking’s free after this time. The long stretch of the car-park is usually quiet – just a few vehicles dotted about, the shops closed, and an all pervading air of peace as the sun sinks. People gazed out from the warmth of their cars, some walked the sea front for a fresher air. Some skated on rollerblades, some MAMILS cycled, their effing and blinding and spitting being the only occasional departure from eventide gentleness. Then there was a comfortably sweatered man reciting lines from the script of a play he was learning, speaking quietly to himself. I couldn’t make out the words, but they sounded lyrical, like a poem, or a spell he was casting upon the coming night.

I sat on the sea wall, with binoculars, naming the fells and picking out landmarks along the Fylde coast where the low sun had by now set the entire sea front on fire. The car was behind me, just a short hop across the road. I don’t like her out of sight when the top’s down. She reflected the deepening contrasts, her blue paint taking on a tinge of midnight, and with a halo of orange from the setting sun. Her engineering details blurred out, and she began to look different than she does in daylight, half fantasy, like an other worldly thing.

In the setting of the sun there was also a feeling of holidays coming to an end, and the banal grind taking on a more troublesome stature. I don’t know why I feel this way. My holidays were over a month ago, and even then I only get a couple of weeks, yet still I carry a vestige of that old academic calendar inside of me, and feel a wobble when I see the back-to-school adverts on the telly, also when I see the sun kiss the sands here at eight fifteen.

We are rarely aware of the movement of the earth, nor the passage of time so keenly as when we watch the sun set. From the moment the disc first grazes the horizon to the last poignant speck of gold winking out, we see and feel the transience of life in the visible draining of the light. We feel its mystery too as we gaze, ever hopeful, at the pink afterglow, wondering if the sea will not throw up some belated revelation of reflected light from its depths.

It did not.

I drove back in the semi-dark, the air smelling of late season and the harvesting of vast meadows. A soft reddish glow came from the instruments, and the brighter of the planets dotted the ecliptic. I did not know their names – guessed at Venus and Saturn. Another planet turned out to be an aircraft on final approach to Blackpool.

It was a clear night, beautifully still as it sank to black. I slowed the car to hush the rush of wind, as I drove the long Marsh Road past Hundred End, and I reached out to feel the caress of air in my palm. There I felt the summer softness giving way to autumn’s tingle, and the darker, harder days ahead.

It was from around here I bought her. She seems to enjoy drawing me back to the sights and the scenery of her past lives, hinting at summers unknown to me.

I hope the weather holds for the weekend, and the Dales.

mazda southport sunset

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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

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