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Posts Tagged ‘summer’

mazda night journey HDR

It doesn’t feel like I’ve had the little blue car for long, but it’s getting on for four years now. It’s hard to describe how much pleasure I’ve had from driving it. I’ve discovered the roads have a sway to them not felt since my motorcycle days, the sunshine is brighter and, top down, the air is a dream of freshness, and all this is to say nothing of the places I’ve discovered with it – especially in the Yorkshire Dales, just a short hop from home, and a place for which the car seems to have been especially built.

For years now the remoter dales have echoed to the burble of its exhaust note, as the little blue car wandered with a tenacious grip and a surprising vigour, given its fifteen years. I’d thought it would last for ever. But then I noticed it was suffering from tin-worm in the back wings, and sills. A previous owner had already patched it, and quite neatly, but the sills are bubbling through again, and I’ve had an advisory on the MOT.

The cost for a decent repair is far in excess of what the car is worth. So at the moment it’s tucked up, looking forward to just one last summer on the road before the breaker’s yard. I couldn’t sell it on without pointing out the work that’s needed, which will surely put any casual buyers off. An enthusiast with a knowledge of welding and body repair might take it on, but at most five hundred quid is what I could, in all fairness, get for it.

Sadly this is the way most old MX5’s go. They are like butterflies, built for warmer, drier climes, not the persistently wet brutality of roads in Northern Europe, nor especially its salt caked winters. Rationally, it makes no sense to invest any more in it. I mean, goodness knows where else the rust might be lurking – the body shop talked of common issues with the forward suspension, further advisories on the MOT and costs in excess of five hundred at some point in the future.

It’s a thing to ponder over winter, and quite sad. She runs well, has only 86,000 on the clock, and might in all other respects have another ten years of pleasure ahead of her, but there we are. All good things must come to an end.

“I’d bite the bullet and get it done, mate,” said the guy in the body shop. “These cars are becoming classics. It’ll be worth it in the long run.”

Nice guy, and an infectious enthusiasm, but he would say that, wouldn’t he?

Oh, I know he’s right, but classic cars are holes in the road you pour your money into. They take all your love and patience, and repay it with an ever more temperamental drift into old age and irritability. But for a short while at least, heaven for me has been a little blue car with a roof you can fold down, and a twist of dales country road warming to dust, under a hot summer sun.

 

 

 

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With the going of the light, and the fast fading memory of summer’s ease, Black Dog comes stalking once again. We toss him a stick, some stupid novelty or other, which he returns sodden and chewed beyond attraction. Thus, after a couple of turns, we are no longer minded to pick it up, so there he curls, our unshakeable friend, creeping ever closer until he’s in our lap, weighting down all possibility of forward movement.

Words fail in our throats, people look strange, look also strangely at us as we sink into paranoia at the apparent indifference, even of our loved ones. In pettiness, we withdraw, lose empathy, and equanimity as we huddle in imaginary self defence. We become then the worst of ourselves, favouring the lonely places, or the indoors, the impersonal, the pointless flicking at our phones,  the mindless digestion of the indigestible, the foolish, and the vain.

The soundtrack to our lives deepens to despair as Gorecki displaces once more the Red Priest from the player. A symphony of sorrowful songs de-tunes the cellos from their once ravishing Baroque concertos, splits the lustrous age-old wood, breaks the bows, shape-shifts rosin into a cold slime, and bends the dead strings into the intersecting snail-trails of man’s infinite inhumanity.

The filters of filth fail us, and we are overwhelmed by the madness of the world again, no longer able to blind-eye its deep vales of deceit, its mountains of depravity. And we see the leaders naked, as they truly are perhaps, lost or mad or utterly grotesque, letting loose their policemen, black-armoured cockroach armies to hammer blood from dissent.

Black Dog, your visions are cruel, rendered bearable only by the numbing fragrance of your breath. You are the rot of crushed leaves, the rot of wood dissolved to crumb by cringe-legged beetling lice, you are the perennial black mould on the wallpaper above my desk, you are the scratching in the night, and the sinister rustling of an infestation of mice.

We brush down our books in vain, our books of dreams, of alchemy, of transcendentalism, yet, once treasured, we find them mould-stained and dusty, and scented of you, taking with them the key to the only escape we knew, to the vast labyrinth of the esoteric. Now there is only the unsoftened day ahead, each to be taken in its turn. Thus we answer each half-lit morn the alarm clock’s shrill call, rise, stretch our stiffening limbs, pee out our aching bladder.

Is this really the only way? But what of those moments when we shook you from our lap and soared? Those days we rattled the high roads while the beatific sun beat down and tanned our faces? Where were you then? Or the glad beach-days with the soft sand and the multitudinous shades of ocean blue? Or coffee, and company, and that gentle hand to hold? Where were you then?

But these are earthly things for sure and transient as mist, the meagre sticks we toss, then you’ll chase and allow us a moment to breathe. What we seek now is the secret of another kind of cultivation, and the ability to cast it an infinite distance away.

Then go,… Fetch!

Damn you.

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the sea southportThe summer has been a bit of a washout. We are already into September and I can recall very few days when I have felt comfortable without my jumper. Granted, I was fortunate and those few days I do remember coincided with my holidays, but one would hope for a more extensive summer than a single shirt-sleeved stroll along the promenade at Scarborough. And the next day it rained.

So now the garden is crisping up, the borders thickening with dead-heads and neglect. On the upside, the lawn is no longer as voracious in its appetite for the mower, but too late, the feeling of decay has entered my bones, got me braced for something I cannot avoid, like the new school term, even though it’s thirty years since I needed trouble myself about that.

I received a message from Yahoo Customer Services informing me that unless I entered my password into the proffered window pane, my mail would be terminated within 24 hours. The message is composed in poor English and as such is rather a transparent attempt at phishing – a criminal ploy to get me to reveal my email login details.

I dislike this kind of thing, that there are those in the world who would do harm to innocents. This sounds pathetic, naive, even to say it, but I truly wish the world could have turned out otherwise. We have after all had ample opportunity. Is it wise or even sane to remain optimistic?

Another message this morning informs me my mail has duly been suspended. It has not. I confirm the fact by sending myself an email from one of many other accounts I use, and it pings up in my Yahoo inbox as normal But still, one wonders. Does the phisher single me out, or is my mail merely one morsel of millions in a broadly cast bait?

All day I have imagined my computer is behaving strangely, that the blackness of infection seeps in through cracks I cannot see. Defender and Firewall do not seem to be in a flap about it.

But still, it leaves one feeling a little unsettled.

Anyway, it was another cloudy start to the day, light rain, but clearing by mid-afternoon to a kind of blustery-sunshine, and rather cool, 12 degrees. But that the sun shone at all was sufficient to entice me out to the coast, to Southport.

And tide was in, which cheered me.

There are music hall jokes about Southport and the sea – that you need a camel to reach it, and it’s true it does go an awfully long way out, so much so that some visitors would query if Southport actually qualifies as a seaside town at all, but I can assure non-natives, as all Sandgrounders know, it comes in again twice a day, just like everywhere else.

I like the light here.

The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

I wonder what might be lost, I mean were the darkness to take hold of my email account. Since Michael Graeme exists only online, the mangling or the hijacking of his imaginary affairs would hardly matter. But what other doors does that password unlock? And what other unfortunate souls have left themselves open this way, rashly taking the phisher’s poisoned bait. How does one protect ones young in such a world as this?

Darkness settles on roofs and walls,
But the sea, the sea in the darkness calls;
The little waves, with their soft, white hands,
Efface the footprints in the sands,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

I find my way to Yahoo, log myself in securely, change my password. All seems normal. But still, there’s that feeling of unease, of shadows creeping through my innermost world. I light candles and utter spells of protection, draw circles of exclusion in my mind.

The morning breaks; the steeds in their stalls
Stamp and neigh, as the hostler calls;
The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveller to the shore,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

Phishers, like all criminals, are a challenge to ones understanding. They present often the keenest intelligence, the highest of ability and ingenuity, yet in human terms they also operate at a low level of consciousness, or they would be more mindful of the suffering they cause. They are, in a sense, a sub-human species. But one must be careful in condemnation, for then the blackness creeps inside the soul. They are in fact like bacteria, not sufficiently conscious to render any negative emotion on my part a truly rational thing. I think this is in the nature of forgiveness. Still, I can only hope that as with any bacteria, I am fortunate in avoiding infection.

The sea sparkled at Southport as the sun glanced from the little wave crests. I walked the boards of the pier, gazed out through binoculars at the boats and the rigs and the windmills that dot the horizon. But the sea here is not of sufficient depth to hide the murkiness of the sands underneath. There are no blue boisterous depths to wash clean the shore on which we travel.

The tide swirls murkily, and with each swift retreat is revealed the scum line of all our sins.

The verses of course are Longfellow’s, and not mine.

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Mazda3

It’s a year now since I bought the Mazda – a hot Saturday, the last weekend of May. It was a clear day, sunny-bright, confetti of pink and white cherry blossom floating in a breathless air. I’d been feeling something of an old excitement all the previous week, I mean at the thought of picking her up, like a kid warming to Christmas. It was unfamiliar, this feeling, sign of a misspent middle-age perhaps? sign of that peculiar kind of maturity, one in which we had learned to reign our selves in so hard against the risk of disappointment we ‘d forgotten what there was left in life to be enjoyed. Too much of the nine to five, and not enough of one’s self, Michael.

But anyway, there I was, driving her home with the top down and feeling like a million dollars, feeling like a free man and that in some mysterious way, long coming, I had at last reconnected with a much younger and more openly enthusiastic part of my self. I was eighteen when this dream first took shape, fifty three before I drove it away. It was just an old car, 12 winters gone and needing a bit of work – a very small dream, you might say, but sometimes they are the best; richer in meaning and more yielding to interpretation.

The summer was a good one – warm, and the rains held miraculously in check, as if by charms, as soon as I peeled open the top. I explored the Dales mainly, and mainly topless, a middling stone’s throw from home, a place whose open moor-top roads I cannot now drive any other way and see them the same as I saw them last summer – see them, feel them, taste them. I remember in particular the drive from Aysgarth, towards Hawes, a morning in which Wensleydale glowed golden under a warm Godlike blessing of late morning sunlight. There came a moment in which the car no longer purred and rattled along contentedly, but became a luxurious carpet on which we glided, cushion soft, cruising mid air, and the scene became a broad skied gasp of delight.

Such was the summer, a time of warm memories, followed too soon by a winter of anticipation in which the old car lay under a dust sheet more days than not, dreaming of the summer to come. So when the road-tax man came calling for his £265 of wet blanket, I paid up, armoured against the usual frown. Ditto, the shyster insurance man who tried to sting me for £475, but dropped it to £300 when I asked if there’d been a mistake. I smiled as I asked, because I know this game, know there is no sense or reason to the oftentimes bizarre and rotten monied foundations of the world we are still far too enamoured of. And the Mazda would never be a frowny face. My Mazda MX5 is always a smile.

But now, with my legal presence on the roads negotiated for another year, I find the season much colder. It is rainy, squally, temperatures still scraping freezing on the fell-tops. And I’m reminded that the reason we revere memories of a good British Summer, is that they are so rare. A maritime climate lends a randomness to the mix, our summers being more a shake of the dice than a predictable turning up of the wick. We have to take what comes and with a smile, so we wear our summer shorts and hats, even though we shiver in the grey of a cold front, and the gale snatches our hats away.

I drove out to the coast last night, a gorgeous evening, high in blue skied contrast, but as yet still low in temperature, a stiff breeze dropping it to 6 degrees and the cherry blossom already blown away by a greedy air. The vinyl of the top felt stiff and frigid with cold as I folded it, and I wondered if I should leave it up, but that would be to waste the sun and the wide skies peeling back just then to shades of vanilla and tobacco. So, I was triple layered, warm hatted and gloved up as we rode towards the setting sun. I was perhaps considered mad by the usual parasitic coterie of rear view hogging Audis and BMW’s, ever pushing for a squeeze past.

Southport’s Marine Drive is something of a roller coaster, sinking slowly into the Ribble’s estuarine mud, becoming over time a long and curiously rippling ribbon of a road, the highs of it scored by the sparking strike of exhaust pipes, and sumps and sills. At fifty the big fat four by fours are gaily bouncing, their springs topping out, struggling to remain grounded, body-shells lolling like unballasted ships tossed in a swell. Hard sprung, the Mazda remains more firmly rooted, and we managed to lose the bully boys, at least until the bit where the limit drops to thirty. Here they had me cold and tore past in a series of multi-litred, self important flashes, doing sixty.

On the long strip of the promenade car park, people were lingering in the warm interiors of their cars, interiors lit with amber now as a post nine p.m. sun sank to within a finger’s width of the horizon. Pulling up among them I was immediately cold. A topless roadster’s warm enough when you’re motoring and the heater’s roaring louder than the engine, but stop a while and the cold will find your legs, and the tips of your ears, refuse to let you settle in. But that’s part of the fun – the drive I mean. Old cars like this are all about the drive for me, not so much the destination any more.

This can be a season of anxieties, cresting the month of mid-summer, a season of waiting for the whistle that will say the time we have been waiting for is upon us, that we might cast our top coats and stride out at ease and with the sun smiling down upon us. Yet we are stricken, downcast by the feeling that by the time we have begun, the time remaining will be already too short, the summer run, the season turning, while all we can do is wait for the chance to get out and do something.

But this year I am already doing it.

In the once upon a time I would not have driven out to watch the sun set. I would have thought about the cost of petrol, sat at home while shadows lengthened, and checked my blog stats. The Mazda is no longer a stranger to me, but I still see the road differently when I drive it. I hope in other ways too, I have learned to enjoy the world more as it is, feel more my presence in it as a thing to be enjoyed, than one to be resisted. Life is the journey, not the destination. It is not the rising nor the setting sun but every moment inbetween.

Sure, the sunset from Southport’s Marine Drive is always worth a trip, but I didn’t wait for it, and why? Well, that rippling ribbon of road is even more fun in the opposite direction!

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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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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.

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