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Posts Tagged ‘romantic’

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A small market town up North, far less prosperous now than it once was. It was the place to go when things were needed that the corner shop in my outlying rural village could not provide. But nowadays the town does not provide that either. I mostly order my needs off the Internet, and the postman delivers.

In memory, probably rose tinted, it was a prouder place back then. Do I imagine that on Saturday afternoons people would dress up to go shopping? Men would wear clean shirts, jackets and aftershave, ladies their fashionable dresses, high heels, and lipstick. Film actresses have walked Market Street in their finery on the Saturday afternoons of my childhood, crossed the road by Woolworths on their way to Boots. Marylin Monroe, Rita Hayworth, Ingrid Bergman, Lauren Bacall. I have seen them all on the catwalk that was the pelican crossing by the old Town Hall.

There were innumerable family businesses here, names over doors that had stood for generations – bookshops, shoe-shops, florists, shops for artists, photography shops, all gone now and the town has dissolved into a place of thrift, of bookmaking, of pawn-brokering, e-cigs and of bargain booze. And in their passing something has happened to us.

I don’t know when it happened, or how, or why, or even what I mean exactly. It’s more than money, more than the economy. It’s hard to put a finger on it. I could use a word like respectability, but risk accusations of elitism and a hankering after the nineteen fifties, when working men still doffed their caps to toffs.

As I walked Market Street this afternoon, I heard a group of women plainly from a hundred yards away, fag-raw voices much amplified by alcohol. I thought they were fighting, but they were simply talking, oblivious to the obstacle and the spectacle they created on the pavement. Of course such unselfconsciousness can be argued as a virtue, not caring to live one’s life through the eyes of other people, and hurrah for that, I suppose, but at the risk of sounding like an insufferable snob, there was something unpleasant about their laddishness, something embarrassing, even threatening. Oh, I’m sure had they read my mind, intuited my feelings they would have given me the finger, and well deserved.

Grace. I think it’s the loss of grace I mean – the grace of the actress, of the ballroom, of the dancer – it’s gone from all our lives now, though I’m aware of how ridiculous that sounds. Yet I still search the crowd for it – in vain mostly – seeing only rags instead of finery, and stout, hideously tattooed stumps in place of dancers’ legs. I have largely withdrawn such sensibilities into imagination, hesitate to express them.

And charity shops.

We have a lot of charity shops now, a dozen at last counting. They are the only places capable of thriving, the only reliable landmarks on the high street – all else is pitifully feeble, ephemeral. They smell, don’t they? I used to find it off-putting – something unclean, I thought, and for a long time resisted the plunge – just one more step in my own fall from gracefulness.

It helped I could find decent books in there, good novels, literature, a handful for a fiver and just as well in straightened times – for such an appetite would cost fifty quid from a bookshop and quite out of the question. But there are no bookshops any more.

I like the Heart Foundation. Their books are well ordered, easy to scan, always a generous selection. And that’s where I saw her.

She was tall, slim, a voluminous cascade of seemingly luminescent blonde hair falling down her back. She had an upright posture, head balanced with a dancer’s poise, chin up, directing her gaze as she swept the titles with a leisurely, bookish grace. She wore a pair of snug blue jeans and a green shirt over a cream camisole – not a young woman by any means, forties perhaps,… and so far so much of a cliche.

The movie cute-meet would no doubt have been our fingers reaching out for the same title, something by Sebastian Barry perhaps – always a hard find in a charity shop. Our fingers would brush, then we’d each draw back with an embarrassed laugh.

“After you,” I’d say.

She’d smile, blush, reveal endearing dimples and a row of Hollywood perfect teeth. “No, you first. I’ve read it anyway. You like Barry?”

And thus we would connect, two lost, bookish souls finding succour among the cast offs in this wasted northern town, which seemed at once less wasted for her presence in it.

Poise. Yes, it was her poise that caught my eye, her arm gently reaching up to the book-shelf, something of a reserved curve to it, ending in a languorously relaxed hand, only the index and middle fingers forming a stiffly extended double pointer as if to aid in this most delicate act of intimate divination, or to bless.

Stillness, grace, presence. She had presence. But what was she doing there, a woman like that? She was quite, out of place, out of time.

I was beside her at the bookshelf, but only for a moment. No cute-meet here. I felt my presence as a vulgar intrusion upon such grace and visceral femininity. I feared her effect on me could not go unnoticed, that I would disturb her, make her uneasy, that her grace would stiffen, become angular with suspicion, that by observing it, I would destroy it.

I felt stung then by something very old, a feverishness overcoming me, ancient but familiar. I have taught myself over the years of useless infatuation, successfully I believe, to see women as human beings. It’s what they want, they tell me, this elimination of objectification. But without the object, the symbolism also dies, and love is next to divinity. Yet here was one out of the blue coming at me as a goddess again.

I melted away unseen.

What was all that about?

Chapter one, I think, that’s what all that was about!

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suliven2

Suliven, Sutherland, UK

I still think of Suliven. It’s a mountain to be seen with one’s own eyes before it can be adequately believed in. I saw it thirty years ago, had the passion for it then, but no realistic opportunity of getting my boots on it. My companions possessed no mountain form, and were only kind enough to humour my obsession sufficient to allow me time to get within visual range.

We had driven from Ullapool after a sojourn on the edge of the midnight sun, then north, to Sutherland and the little harbour town of Lochinver. There, I walked inland, along a narrow scrap of road and I gazed at Suliven, confirming to my satisfaction the reality of its remarkable existence. Then I had to dive out of the way as a pick-up truck came at me, clipped me with its cab mirror. The mirror broke, but I was unhurt, spared injury by my aluminium water bottle which took the hit for me, bearing ever afterwards an impressive dent.

The truck didn’t stop.

I’m certain, in the long ago, Romantics were not a target for extermination. There were no guardian trolls tearing up Wordsworth’s first in-situ drafts of Daffodils by Ullswater’s choppy shores, nor hunting him down atop Helvellyn with their fowling pieces while he sought only to settle for inspiration. Perhaps he had better protection, contracted out among the fates by his formidable muse. Anyway, thus it was, and with a certain ignominy, I left Lochinver without so much as breaking bread. I returned south then, to several decades of the whirlwind of life and did not return.

I do not lament our estrangement.

Suliven exists for me still as part of a tangible reality, a phenomenon to which I have borne witness, yet also as something on the edge of perception, therefore inhabiting a liminal zone, one to which I am forbidden entry as a mortal. And all things are relative: for the inhabitants of Lochinver, to say nothing of mad bastards in pick-up trucks, Suliven is as ubiquitous as the wind and the mist, and the rain and the bog, to say nothing of the sheep ticks that infest those wastes, and whose parasitic presence is difficult to interpret metaphorically in any way other than negative.

The far-away then is no guarantor of wise teaching and, since the landscape of myth is always viewed in part, through the eye of imagination, my own hills have had as much to say over the years as I imagined Suliven might back then. It’s all a question of interpretation.

To experience myth is to walk the path in company with, and under the protection of the faery, or the Gods, however you like to phrase it. One visits the territory, the village, the town, the safe valley of human habitation, a place that is never-the-less inspired by the transcendent vista of the hill beyond the last farm gate. The hill is Olympus rising assertively above the mundane. One fetches up in the vale, contemplates the hill from afar, measures ones mortality in the presentation of light and shadow on its flank. Then we climb and experience the path as it unfolds, interpret the course and the discourse of the hill before returning, footsore, then to be restored at the well-spring of human hospitality,…

To tea and crumpets.

But I’m talking of another hill, now, way, way south of the Norseman’s Sutherland. I’m talking of Ingleborough, in fact, in the Yorkshire Dales, and of the homely little village of Clapham where those crumpets were so aromatic after a day on the hill, they were surely delivered from the ovens of a divine refectory. I exaggerate of course, as is my wont, fashioning a moody purple from the clear blue of a benign autumn sky, and the scent of a crumpet – oh, but they were sweet and aromatic! Also, so far as I’m aware, there is no Faery-lore in the Dales, but as a mixed descendent of the Irish Celt, and of the British Setantii (according to Ptolemy),… I find the shee tend to travel with me.

Ingleborough has been a good friend over the years, and like all good friends it’s never afraid to give me a good talking to. Not long ago, amid a ferociously inclement turn of weather, it tested every step of my wobbly ascent, then tipped me over a good mile from the top and said: you’re losing it, mate. You’re no longer that twenty five year old who beheld Suliven and dared to dream of climbing it. I’d let my fitness slip below the level of aspiration. All hills worth their salt are the same in this regard, demanding of the pilgrim a certain circumspection for their ardours.

So I’ve been working on it.

The older you get, the greater prize the hills will promise you, but the harder you have to work at it. Today I climbed Ingleborough again. It was a clear day, a warm day – no horizontal rain this time – and the hill was glad to receive me without much persuasion. And there, by the summit mound, I settled to make libation to the gods with Vimto and Kitkat, while a large family – grandparents, parents, children and grandchildren, settled beside me in pointy party hats to celebrate a birthday, with cake! Well, this is Yorkshire after all, and anything can happen, though it must be said, in my experience, unexpected happenings in Yorkshire tend to be positive ones.

I do still think of Suliven, but to be honest, you can keep it. I’m certainly in no hurry to return. I’ve plenty of hills to call my own. Ingleborough’s just one of them, and not a single troll in a pick-up truck to hit and run me down.

Or maybe these days I just have better protection.

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loveliness

 

How sudden-keen am I aware,
And never as before,
Of a radiance arising,
To shine from every pore.

Your breath alone, I’d long to feel
Its tingle on my skin,
While visions of your tenderness,
Turn butterflies within.

You are the very best I’m sure,
A man could aspire to.
No, there’s never been another,
Quite as beautiful as you.

They all shall fade to shadows now,
Insignificant and plain.
How perfect would my life then be,
If you only knew my name.

How joyful and how rich at last,
My days would then become.
If you would only turn and look at me,
I’d feel I had begun.

I’d sense a movement in the air,
That all was not the same,
That the world was not so empty,
As it was before you came.

Was it not the world that gifted me,
This simple heart to crave?
Why then must I feel its pity,
Carved in verse upon my grave?

I want the world to know me,
As I think I have been made,
As a man whose love for loveliness,
Cannot bide long in the shade.

So look at me and speak my name,
And know that I am yours,
Or shall you pass me by again,
And let slam shut the door?

And slamming shut, loud let it ring,
Then how long shall it be,
Before I can accept at last,
You were not meant for me?

MG

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southport pierIt was a beautiful hot day, early in the season, and I’d been tempted out to the coast, to Southport, for a walk along the promenade, then to the end of the pier, for coffee and doughnuts. Being rather challenged in the follicle department these days, I’d not wanted to catch the sun too much on the top of my head, so I’d called in to the Matalan store, just off the promenade, for a hat, choosing for myself an inexpensive, one-size-fits-all thing, made of straw.

Thus, protected from the sun, I re-joined the crowds making their way along the pier. It was a wonderful afternoon and my spirits soared. After feeling like I’d been cooped up in the house all winter, the sea air was incredibly invigorating. About half way along the pier we picked up a teasing breeze, and one of the mischievous little sprites of air lifted my new hat from head and snatched it out of reach of my startled grasp. Well, that’s that, I thought – I’d had the hat all of ten minutes, and there is was: gone! I turned then, just in time to see a quick witted lady, whom I took to be of Malaysian descent, catching hold of it with a dainty little hop and a laugh. Her companions, an English couple in their seventies, found the incident amusing and for a moment we all shared in the silliness of it. She had the most wonderful smile, this woman, and such playful eyes, and a charming demeanour. Graciously, she returned my hat and, a little embarrassed, I thanked her, then went on my way.

It was that same evening, at home, I got an email from a friend. I replied with some news about my day. I don’t know why I brought up the subject of nearly losing my hat – perhaps I was stuck for something to say – but anyway I described the incident to him pretty much as I’ve described it to you. Then, the very next day, he came back to me with another email. He said his sister, who lives in Southport, has a neighbour, a lady originally from the far east. She’d had some elderly English friends visiting recently, possibly the companions I’d described, and wouldn’t it be amazing if it was the same woman who’d caught my hat? Enthused by the possibility, he resolved to ask his sister to enquire at the next opportunity. And I, equally enthused, eagerly awaited news. The odds were pretty much against it, but stranger things have happened, plus I had this funny feeling,…

And you know what?

My friend’s sister’s neighbour said it definitely wasn’t her! But if it had been,… well, that would have been a really good story!

Of course, it would not have taken much for me to end my tale differently for you here, thus transforming rather a pointless, factual, anecdote into a more beguiling lie. Believe me, the temptation was strong, because I had wanted it to be true. I had wanted the neighbour of my friend’s sister to be the one who had caught my hat, because it would have created a highly improbable and possibly meaningful connection between strangers who were mutually, though rather vaguely connected already, yet entirely unknown to one another. That we are all more intimately connected than we suppose is, I believe, the way of the universe, and I’m hungry for stories that support this hypothesis, to the extent that I am often tempted to bend the facts in order to yield a more polished myth.┬áThis is, after all, what story-tellers do.

Sure, we’re all fond of amazing coincidences. It would have been like the universe singling me out on that sunny day, amid vast crowds, and raising me to the ranks of existential celebrity. It would have meant I was not just some insignificant twerp in a poorly fitting hat. But alas, in the absence of any miracle, as my good lady was kind enough to point out at the time, that’s exactly what I had been. That I’d been unable to hold onto my hat, and a stranger had caught it, was really neither here nor there, and barely worth the mention.

Except,…

This fragment of an opening has the feel of a romance about it, and I’m fond of writing those, so I shall step aside from myself for a moment and put a fictional protagonist in my shoes. He’s single, perhaps divorced, or maybe he just never got around to it in the first place. He’s thinking life’s passed him by, that the time for love has gone.

Then the wind snatches off his hat, just like that!

And the rest, as they say,…

Well, you couldn’t make it up, could you?

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rivington village greenThere are certain experiences which cannot be shared, yet they number among the most exquisite moments of our lives. Fleeting and unexpected, they can lift us from a dark place, and remind us that sometimes the best company we can ever keep is our own.

I took a walk this afternoon by the Yarrow reservoir at Rivington. It’s a walk I know well, a circuit of about an hour from the village green, across meadows, along an avenue of chestnut trees, then up by the shimmering mirror of the reservoir. The sky was full of contrasts today, from a stormy grey, to a deep blue and then a luminous white, and the whole of it in flux, pressed into motion by a stiff wind. The sun was intermittent, warmish when it put in an appearance, but the day still requirde several layers of clothing to keep the heat in.

Under the sun, the colours were strong – the yellow heads of daffodils and the gorse almost aglow. The periods of sun were fleeting though, dogged at every turn by a sluggish overcast that rendered the land at once flat and cold, the colours muddy, the gorse and the daffodils winking out of notice – hopes raised, then dashed, then raised again. Walking alone, I kept an eye out for splashes of emotive light, or a pattern in the bark of a tree, or the curiously purposeful line of an old stone wall I might have walked past a thousand times, yet never noticed before.

lines of light

The moments of pure light were too brief to capture properly with a camera. By the time I’d switched the thing on and focused, the land had breathed and the mood of it changed to something else entirely, but I persisted, fiddling with apertures and metering, and waiting patiently for the sun to come out from behind the clouds. There were few people about – I’m lucky having the flexibility in my working patterns to have these Friday afternoons to myself. I saw just one other walker out and about. We passed, heading in opposite directions, exchanged friendly nods and the north-country Owdo. Two men, each alone, each viewing the land in their own way, taking from it whatever jewels of imagination it offered them.

On solitary walks like this I can summon imaginary companions. At such times my pace slows, becomes meditative, and my conversations – not spoken aloud – can lead me into interesting depths of the psyche, or they can defuse knots of angst and stress. They’re not real, these imaginary entities, not spirits. I call them ghosts, but they’re more shadowy than that – daemonic in a way, or splintered parts of me I have lost along the way. But today was not one of those days. My Friday afternoon pace tends to be brisk, and I take the inclines at a rate that I can feel in the muscles, because I want to be stronger for the next time I tackle Ingleborough, later in the year. So I wasn’t trailing any ghosts today, nor expecting any moments of revelation.

sunburst

It came as I was walking by the Yarrow. A period of muddy overcast lifted suddenly as the late afternoon sun was reflected in rippled cobalt waters, making starbursts through the still stark black branches of leafless birch and rowan. Then came a heavy shower, like glass rods through which the sun’s rays shone in cool shades of yellow and silver. I was arrested by it, transfixed by the light and the sparkling air, and mood of the moment. I didn’t even bother reaching for the camera, because I’ve been fiddling with cameras for forty years, and I know there are certain things a camera cannot capture.

Had anyone been with me, they would most likely not have seen or felt it quite the same way, and their presence would have subtly altered my relationship with reality, rendered me less sensitive to its moods so I might have missed that moment altogether. I alone saw it, I alone felt it, that moment, this afternoon, by the Yarrow reservoir. But it wasn’t me – it never is in such moments as that. I seem only to lend the universe my eyes so it might look upon itself and see its own beauty. I felt a shiver, knew I had experienced something good, something worth remembering. The moment passed, and I went on my way.

An hour later I was in town, among the cars and the shops, people buying stuff, people in cafes bent over their Smartphones, traffic wardens stealing up on haphazardly parked vehicles. I bought fresh valves for my leaky radiator and a length of hose to help drain the system down, tomorrow. But I’m glad I took a turn around the reservoir first.

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dovedale

Black crags crackling,

Heads blurred in mellow mistiness

Above the stillness

Of a silver threaded vale.

Mirror tarn, splashed

Russet and green,

Somnambulantly lapping

On shingle shores.

Old barn,

Stone laid over stone,

Today as yesterday.

Mossy and slick-glistening

After soft rains fall.

And me.

My eye records,

Commits to memory,

What the heart imbues,

With lovers’ meaning;

Inspiration like rooks, black flapping

Through the atom spaces,

Snatched tail feathers,

Hard won glimmerings of things unseen;

A fey spirit moving,

Migrating once more

To the summer places.

____

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When I think of the town, I think of what has gone.
I think of factories boarded and barred,
Once great houses of power,
All chopped,
Into an untidy miscellany of sporadic,
Shambolic enterprise.

I remember long years bent over drawing boards,
Tracing lines with ink,
And shaping metals into structures,
Possessed of a strange beauty;
Art by any other name.

And I think of the men and women who worked,
In the ugliness of dirt and roar,
Who by their presence, gave it warmth and meaning,
And on whose going are we bequeathed,
This unredeemable emptiness.

There is no romance in an empty mill,
Nor in a poor man’s pocket,
No nobility in the fall of men,
From doing men’s work.
For a man’s wage.

There is only the emptiness of this old town,
With nothing but memories of its past,
And streets painted with an already peeling veneer,
Of cheapness, and the transience of these,
Our modern times.

 

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