Posts Tagged ‘scarborough’

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.

Read Full Post »

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.


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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

peasholme park 1A very poor night in Masham. Music throbbing up from the restaurant until 1:00 am, rendering sleep impossible. Instead I play Survivalcraft on the ‘droid, rather than struggle with a sweaty pillow. There is nothing like lack of sleep for making me irrationally ratty. When the music is finally cut, I manage to sleep about five hours. It starts up again at seven.

I do not stay for breakfast, (which is charged extra) but check out and load up the car. Did I enjoy my stay, asks the girl? Am I honest? No; she was but eighteen and I had not the heart to be honest to her sweet face. I am such a coward, and would sooner leave complaining to others.

Anyway, the Bordar Café restores Masham to my good books with tea and nicely poached eggs. It’s also market day, and the square presents now a more colourful scene than it did yesterday. I resist the urge to buy a Fedora hat – it’s momentarily tempting, but they are not ideal for open-top motoring, and make me look ridiculous. Anyway, I remind myself I am saving money for nice vintage wristwatch off eBay to tinker with when I get back. Meanwhile, the offending hotel preens at my departure, all glitter in the morning sunlight, but I know it intimately, and it possesses very little by way of charm or substance.

I will not be staying there again, and will be laughing for years to come at its privations. Do you remember that night when we?….

I drive off with the room key in my pocket – lack of sleep makes me forgetful.

It is sixty miles of good, fast road to Scarborough, and a sunny day so the top is down all the way. There is a terrible jam of slow moving traffic crawling up Sutton Bank. It’s bottom gear all the way up this notoriously severe incline. Heavy traffic which includes heavy vehicles makes things worse, at times dangerously so. The Mazda would normally have no trouble if the road were clear, and we could get a run at it, but in a convoy for which the speed is only just above stalling, it adds spice. I catch her on the clutch a few times, finding even bottom gear at half a mile per hour is insufficient. This is a car that revels in the hill-climb challenge and must take today’s insult on the chin. The cause of the jam is a tractor hauling an unbelievably big trailer of hay. They have such low gears they can crawl at half a mile per hour all day. Motor cars cannot.

I make a brief stop for lunch at Thornton Le Dale’s lovely Lavender Tearooms, where my ‘Droid cause confusion by actually ringing. (My ‘phone rarely rings). It is the hotel at Masham enquiring about the key. Searches confirm my being still in possession of it. Their rationing does not run to keeping a spare, though they are frantically searching for it. Am I far away? I am by now forty miles, I am tired and head-achy on account of their small-hours entertainment so do not offer to drive back with it. I purchase a Jiffy bag from the post office and a stamp. I tell them they shall have it Monday.

Then it’s on to Scarborough and the Park Hotel. I use the ubiquitous ‘Droid to negotiate the last bit of the journey through the centre of Scarborough, but it gives up, overheating under a full sun with the top down, abandons me in heavy traffic, and with various petulant warnings, leaving me to my own devices. After a flutter of panic, and amid curses, the old senses revive sufficiently to bumble my way across town in roughly the right direction. A few ups and down through improbable residential side streets, and the Park is revealed in all its glory.

It is crisp white, seventies style on the outside, fresh and modern on the inside. It is spacious and chilled. I will be all right here, I think.

A quick breather on the bed and I take a walk down through Peasholme park, find Chinese dragon boats on the lake, then take a look at the promenade at North Bay. I’m tired after last night’s lack of sleep, and a longish drive across nearly the whole of Yorkshire, but the sea revives me. This is a far cry from the profound stillness of Malham, or indeed the gentle bustle of Leyburn or Masham. Scarborough is, well, Scarborough, a throbbing, thriving seaside town, pavements packed, fast food, ice cream, squealing kids and screaming gulls.

I note the front pages of several newspapers today tell us we are to be afraid of gulls. They are becoming aggressive with people – shades of Hitchcock’s “The Birds”. It must be a slow news day. Gulls are gulls. And yes, sometimes aggressive. The Mazda has already survived several dive-bombing attacks. But the risk with gulls as with buying newspapers is merely poop.

Anyway, against my better judgement I find myself in a fast food fish and chippy on the sea-front, ordering a huge cod and chips, mug of tea and a mountain of bread and butter. Traditional fare in both Yorkshire and my native Lancashire. I am expecting nothing here but indigestion, but discover at once the chips are good, the fish well cooked and exquisitely battered. And the woman who serves me, a tattooed Goth, calls me “darling” and wins me over at a stroke because I know a daemon when I see one, or rather when I’m projecting one, and she takes her place at once in my story, mistress of the Sea View Café, muse to Finn.

It is the briefest of encounters and certainly not enough to know this woman in any real sense, but sufficient to give a nudge to my story. I have no name for her yet (Briony? Hermione?). And I have only her opening line, her greeting when Finn walks in to the coffee shop, her words as she spoke them to me this afternoon:

“So, what can I get you, darlin’?”

It is my first time in Scarborough. I find the town-centre traffic a little intimidating, a little overwhelming, as with all big and unfamiliar towns, especially in a little open-top roadster. But having found my bearings now, I venture to cruise the marine drive, taking in both the North and South bays. The south is clearly the more commercialised with one arm bandit halls and casinos, but it also possesses a charm, courtesy of the Georgian architecture which still dominates. North bay, I suspect was once the quieter but there has been recent development here with beach-side apartments.

Scarborough has been likened ungenerously to Blackpool. But I know Blackpool, and Blackpool this is not. There is still an austere grandeur to Scarborough that Blackpool long ago abandoned. And the landscape still dominates, cliffs soaring and occasionally tipping a hotel into the sea. Scarborough has real charm, and I am already in love with it.

Quick snooze on the bed before visiting the old town this evening, threading the Mazda along narrow streets. The ‘Droid has recovered sufficiently now to navigate me to St Mary’s parish church and the grave of Anne Bronte. The original headstone, arranged by Charlotte, is now badly eroded, and a more modern stone preserves the details. There are fresh roses on her grave. A family of Italian tourists have made the long climb up from the old town to pay their lingering respects also.

Last tasks: I book dinner at the hotel for tomorrow night, then post my room key back to Masham.

Read Full Post »