Well hello there! – another assignment from Blogging101

There’s another storm on the way. This time I’m in my old tent; the one with replacement zips and trekking poles to hold it up instead of the tent poles that I lost somewhere on Dartmoor. The wind is frightening. Tent is ballooning and then collapsing, but not leaking. My coffee, with just a little dash of brandy to stiffen it, is in danger of upsetting. So you’ll pardon me if I turn over to grab it. Just laying here on my sleeping pad listening to the howl of the wind and the rain’s drumbeat is both exciting and relaxing. I can give such a dreadful contradiction to you with assurance that you’ll accept it and maybe understand me.

Because it’s like the last storm, when we were sailing across the Channel toward Plymouth from Brest. Those squalls were marching along from the southwest like a regiment’s drummers. One after another, thundering away with threats of a broach if we were slow to roll in a reef; overpowering the biggest Atlantic rollers to slice off their crests and dash the frigid foam into our faces. And I stood double watches because half the crew were below fighting mal-de-mer. My fingers curled around the wheel in some death-grip that you could not release when I started seeing double as hypothermia set in. Grim. So why did we laugh so much?  Screaming our joy as the yacht plunged down the face of those rollers and buried her bows in the trough before rising in majesty for the next wave. Ignoring the keel’s ton of lead waiting to drag us down upon making the slightest error. Scared and intensely happy.

Adventure is like that, isn’t it? Discovering that mountain peak or pristine forest or primordial jungle or blue voyage for ourselves. Doesn’t matter if people have been there before and taken photos and wrote books – it’s new to us. But also discovering and delighting in our strength and skill and competence. That’s not new; we have been working and practising and studying for years. It’s affirmation that we got it right that puts a smug little swagger into our demeanor. Perhaps it sets us apart from other people for a while, tempting us to feel superior because we survived; arrogant with our thousand-yard stare.  Do you care much?  Or are you dreaming like me of someplace or some thing more to experience?

Joy

Shock and Awe

Who Am I? (Blogging 101 assignment)

Old, fat and ugly.  Experienced, well built, lots of character. Been around, ate a lot, well worn.  Your choice if you get to know me. My choice depends on my mood.

At 64, we may think I am past my prime, maybe on my way out – certainly seems that way to me on some days.  But I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Sometimes it depresses me to think that all those moments will soon be lost like tears in rain. One of the things I saw and enjoyed was Bladerunner.

And some other stuff: I grew up in Ontario, Canada. Learned to appreciate Nature’s beauties and bounties. The most glorious autumn colours, Freshwater fish like rainbow trout, smallmouth bass, pickerel fought bravely before surrendering to my frying pan. Beaver, moose, caribou, whitetail deer, bobcat, fox, bear, and an unforgettable wolf populated my wandering in the pristine forests. Oh lord, I miss Canada. And in Canada I developed love of history, yearning for adventure, a penchant for solitude. I enjoyed skiing, skating, swimming, camping and bushcraft, climbing, cycling and sailing. And in my 25th year I gave it all up.

Moving to London – attracted by parties and nightlife, places I had only read about, relatives never before met, Carnaby Street. But staying on because I found good jobs and a man I loved and who I thought loved me. Settling down to further education and settling further down to desk jobs behind computers and vegging there for thirty years before retiring.

On my 60th birthday my leaving speech to erstwhile colleagues was “Goodbye”. And a day later we were in Turkey. It’s a lovely village, a sweet little house with a lush garden, kind but incomprehensible neighbours and a very few good friends.

And now my husband has found someone new and exotic so I must either allow my life to fall apart, or find new adventures. I dream of ending my days on a small yacht after exploring the Med and perhaps much further. But I also dream of finding a cabin in Canada’s wilderness. I’m trying to tell myself that I face a future where life may become exciting again. But I am scared.

Me? famous?

If I had to be famous there would have to be a damn good reason for it.

Not good reasons: big boobs, notoriety, vacuous comments, criminality, multiple partners, fancy cakes.  Is there some hint of jealousy here because I have none of those? Each is admired by some people. Not by me.

Good reasons: well-applied intellect, discerning kindness, determination (the kind that sets aside handicaps and aims high at everything that’s available), the kind of imagination that seeks out or creates opportunity.  I’m thinking of my late best friend here. Antonia had such attributes, and so many more. I’m not sure she counts as famous – her work was appreciated by a closely limited community. She wrote a magnum opus before her death but her survivors and friends have been unable to ensure its publication. I believe the work in her book would make an important contribution to science; I fear it may never be realized.

Antonia was interviewed many times. One correspondent asked what she wanted to be as a child. Her reply – to be a jet fighter pilot. And that ambition survived the sexism of the days of our childhood, and her paraplegia brought on by polio. Further in the interview she was asked what she dreamed of doing next and she replied that she would love to fly a jet fighter. It would take some interesting advances in avionics and flight medicine but I have no doubt that given time she could and would drive those advances. Sadly, she was not given the time.

ImageImage

So for the purposes of this post I can’t claim Antonia as a famous role model. So I suggest Amelia Earhart. Amelia achieved fame as an aviator (aviatrix?) but she was also an author, an educator, a shooter, a medical worker, a musician, a keen worker and supporter for women’s equal rights. She held the Distinguished Flying Cross awarded in the USA and held many records including first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic. I believe Antonia and Amelia must be kindred souls, and I hope they are flying together now.

Flatfish

Flatfsh

Did you know that in the lifecycle of flatfish (flounders, plaice, sole, etc) that the infants swim upright like any normal fish?  It’s only as they mature that one eye migrates to the other side of the head, and they swim with one side down. According to that esteemed source of all good things, Wikipedia:

In its life cycle, an adult flounder has two eyes situated on one side of its head, where at hatching one eye is located on each side of its brain. One eye migrates to the other side of the body as a process of metamorphosis as it grows from larval to juvenile stage. As an adult, a flounder changes its habits and camouflages itself by lying on the bottom of the ocean floor as protection against predators. As a result, the eyes are then on the side which faces up.

This worries me.  You must imagine your hands held flat, thumb up, to be baby flatfishes.  At some point your hand/fish must turn palm down.  Which of your hands will become an adult flatfish?  Are all flatfish right-handers?  Or perhaps there are a few left-handers?  Perhaps one in ten flatfish may be lefties?  In flatfish world, do the righteous flatfish pick on the lefties?  Do they insist that the lefties have made the wrong choice?  That because 90% of flatfish are right-handers it’s the only natural way to be?  Are lefties cured if they swim with their eyes down?

palms down

Which one are you?

George

George came staggering into our lives when we were house-hunting in Westville.  We had been living aboard a sailing catamaran for several months, but imminent winter made it clear that we’d be cold that year. Then our house in Milton Keynes was sold. So we had funds for a deposit and started looking for a small place. George’s house was on the shortlist, so we went to look.

George greeted us looking like a gory murderer.  He was painting a wooden rowing dinghy in the living room. Once-grey carpet now featured artistic red streaks; once-beige walls now boasted an Impressionists’ art. George offered a handshake but the dripping crimson fingers were declined.  He showed us the minimal rooms, one stoutly defended by his German Shepherd and inhabited by a non-verbal teenage son.  We found out that George’s wife had left six months ago, but couldn’t imagine why.  As we departed, George asked where we were living and we told him about the pleasant summer we had on our yacht in the local marina.

snotty yotty

snotty yotty

Our offer was accepted, George disappeared, we redecorated and moved in.  It was a quiet little semi, with woods at the rear where squirrels happily played with their nuts.  On the weekends we sailed, or partied with yottie friends.  At some point we became aware that George was propping up the marina bar.  Shortly after that, among the shiny plastic gin palaces we saw an old, well worn wooden sailboat. She was an elegant lady in her time, a 32’ sloop from Camper & Nicholson’s yard. As a dowager she was somewhat distressed.  Patches of wood-rot were evident, paint was threadbare, and varnish lay about in yellow flakes.  George’s uncommunicative son disappeared into the forepeak cabin among mouldy sail bags, while the very verbal dog set about guarding this floating hovel from the snotty yotties.  George joined a coterie of barflies, and Westville’s grey winter set in.

This was the pattern of our lives for some time. George was persuaded to try sailing his yacht, things broke and fell off, George was rescued and the excitement faded away.  We started a business at Westville Marina, offering a wide range of services to yotties and their craft, which mainly boiled down to scraping off old paint during winter rainstorms, then applying fresh paint and praying it would set before the next storm.

Until one day our employee Sten showed up early for work and received a strange comment from one of the yotties on his way for a morning shower: “Ere, Sten, old George be in a quair mood. Oi said marnin an e said nuffin, just stood ther gazin out to sea.”  Sten, whose arms and legs lived four separate lives, made his way to George’s boat, looked up and then came bowling back. “George is a stiff,” he shouted.  We told Sten to go steady, ‘it’s only natural at his age, and he’ll feel better when the sun comes through’.  But Sten insisted George was dead, so we had a look.

George was very dead. During the night, he had wrapped the main halyard around his neck and then stepped off the cockpit seat. Several hours of dangling had stretched his corpse (and the halyard) so that he was indeed standing on the cockpit sole.  Back at our shop we telephoned the police to report the demise. Their advice was “see that nobody touches anything until we get there”.

“Well shouldn’t we get him down , and sort of check he’s dead?”

“You said he was!  Don’t you know what a stiff looks like?”

“Yes”

“Does he look like it?”

“Yes”

“Then he is. Anyway, it may be a Scene Of Crime, and must not be disturbed”

“Well the Scene is starting to disturb people”

“Keep those people back!”

So, having been deputised, we did.  But then another problem presented.  In the adjacent commercial harbour an ancient twin-masted vessel earned its keep by providing a romantic venue for burials-at-sea, and black-suited people were assembling for just such a ceremony.  We thought they were probably a bit upset and that seeing another stiff might refresh their sadness.  What could we do?

So we sent Sten off for a bed sheet from one of the client’s yachts. We draped it over artistically over George.  Sten observed: “now he looks like a stiff in a shroud”.

Sten took one corner of the sheet, my husband took the other, and they held it up as a screen between George and the mourners as they sailed away to ditch their loved one.   Later, their funeral director came to see us: “It was a nice send-off, but nobody could read your banner!”

Eventually, plod descended upon the Scene, with sirens blaring and lights like Christmas.   A young lad came out from the marina office to tell them that the manager said they can’t park there. A majestic blue uniform with shiny bits on chest pronounced that they could and would, for they were on official business.  Blue uniform marched off to see George, with blue minions in tow, leaving official vehicles on the slipway to face the incoming tide.

George’s yacht was made fast to a narrow pontoon finger by means of several mooring lines from cleats on the edge of her decks to similar cleats on the pontoon finger.  The finger was kept in place by sturdy hinges joining it to the main pontoon, and kept afloat by a large block of Styrofoam strapped underneath.  First to arrive at the Scene was the police photographer, armed with several Nikons.  As he flashed, Blue Uniform stepped onto the finger, then the Coroner, then some blue minions.  Plodweight was increasing, making the finger sink. The mooring lines dragged down on the side of the yacht, tilting her slightly. The tall mast tilted too, and George was still suspended by the halyard from the masthead, his feet just brushing the deck. Inevitably, like a fish from a rod, George stayed vertical but started moving across the deck. Like the fish going toward a landing net, George’s horizontal motion took him toward photographer. Snapper looked up, screamed, and step back; snapper and Nikons went swimming. Relieved of snapper’s weight, the finger rose, unsteadying several minions who joined snapper. The marina manager, joining us among the crowd of awestruck onlookers, remarked that the minions might now be able to retrieve some of their vehicles before they floated away completely.

George had brought more entertainment to Westville than had been seen for ages.  It seemed only fitting to give him a good send-off. A coach was hired to take mourners on the four-hour trip to Big City. The barflies trooped aboard, then some marina bigwigs, and then those of us who could not find an excuse. Cases of refreshment were placed aboard, delighting the barflies.

At Big City we unloaded at the crematorium. Some of us who had been liberally refreshed during the trip found ourselves so overcome by grief that we were quite unsteady.  My husband went off to the place where his parents’ ashes had been strewn among some rosebushes. One of the bigwigs saw his tears and remarked that nobody would have guessed that he was so close to George.  And then we found the chapel.  The cleric, perhaps also refreshed, launched into an amazing eulogy that astonished us and George’s family. There were obligatory dirges, and then we were invited to join in for one last song celebrating George’s great love of the sea. Thirty barflies belted out along with Rod Stewart “We are sailing, we are sailing” complete with arm-waving, vivid motions of the rolling sea, and even a case of mal-de-mer.

Not much happened in the weeks that followed as we considered our own mortality. A rickety wooden bench appeared, with a brass plate bearing George’s name.  Several months later, one of our youngest employees was seen kneeling at the end of a pontoon. “Come on Dale” we called, “time for home”.  “Help!!!” he cried, and his hands were tangled in a brown mass.  When we got to him we saw that he had saved a woman by grabbing her hair, but could not haul her out. So we assisted.  She was sobbing “I want to be with George.” Sten recognized the erstwhile wife, so my husband said sympathetically: “George ain’t here, he’s up Big City crematorium chimney, no thanks to you”

The wooden bench collapsed and was taken away. The wife collapsed and was taken away. George, as we saw, was taken away. Our business collapsed, we went away.  The economy collapsed, now-penniless barflies went away.  What was the point of it all, anyway?

Incredible Shrinking Woman

John F. Kennedy - NARA - 518134

In 1963 I cried for JFK.  His assassination silenced a voice that I thought spoke for me, a voice that spoke of universal rights, personal freedom. He was the champion of my world, facing down the USSR and saving us from total immolation as we hid beneath our school desks. He offered a vision beyond our world, challenging mankind to put footsteps on the moon and to leap for the stars.

You see, as a 13-year-old, I cared passionately about the world and the future of mankind.  Five years later, the voices that expressed my passions were silenced. Martin Luther King Jr could no longer have a dream. Bobby Kennedy could not carry on for his big brother. The world fell into the hands of hard uncaring men in gray suits. LBJ stood for a dirty war against a bunch of peasants, who killed stoned American teenagers in green rags and tin hats by the tens of thousands.  Tricky Dicky proved beyond doubt that the gray suits lied.

As a flower child, I tried to reject materialism (easy when you have never been poor), tried to reject politics and practicality. I really wanted a world where “all you need is love”, but confused sexual experimentation with caring.  And so did much of my generation, who aimed for blue skies and fluffy clouds but too often found a sordid and grubby existence as fading hippies. In fact a new peasantry, new targets for America’s guns, as at Kent State. Our generation abandoned its responsibility, allowing the gray suits unchallenged freedom to wage Cold War with frequent hotspots.

My flowers wilted, my kaftans went to rags, and I set out to see if the world offered any hope.  I shared a cabin on the Soviet liner Alexandr Pushkin with three other people – a newly rich girl blowing her inheritance on Russian champagne, a bible smuggler, and a fellow seeker.  I spread the word that UK customs at Tilbury would be fierce, so a ship-full of backpackers who had embarked at Montreal with enough dope for their gap year sought to consume it in a week. The only place the Soviet officers could not see was the empty swimming pool on the afterdeck.  I could get stoned just by breathing nearby.  And the various treats were being shared big style – hash brownies a favourite. And so I arrived in London in style.

The parties were fantastic, with colourful clothing attempting to express the pschychadelic trips of designers or wearers. Disco lights, plexiglass floors, the BeeGees. I found a place in Earl’s Court, one room of a Georgian house divided unsympathetically to create an impossibly tall but tiny sitting room, a claustrophobic galley to cook in, and a sleeping platform above it.  I got a job in the Youth Hostel Association’s sport shop near Embankment tube station, about 5 miles from Earl’s Court.  It took 40 minutes by tube plus a good walk at each end; or an hour by car and then the impossibility of parking. So I got a bicycle, a Dawes Galaxy. It took less than 20 minutes and the bike was secured in basements at home or the shop, it cost less to buy the bike than to get a tube pass and much less than running a car. I was very fit, and always in danger from kamikaze black cabs or car drivers who were furious that I was passing them so easily. On weekends I would explore Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Berkshire, Hampshire, Thames banks and Grand Union Canal towpaths.  Because of my job in the sports shop, I went climbing in Derbyshire and Wales, rambling in Yorkshire, skiing in Scotland, sailing dinghies in the Lake District. I had learned those sports in Canada as a teenager, developing a passion for solitary adventures, as a relief from the school bullies, but also from a love for our natural world. I had a fling in those days with a guy from the Huron nation, and learned to respect aspects of their religion and culture that he was trying to revive. Outdoors was never, for me, an attempt to conquer the mountains or tame the rivers or exploit the forests. It was more a desire to blend in, to become one with nature, to appreciate the world as it is. Or as it was.

Then I met Malcolm. The excitement of exploring each other took the place of exploring the world. The heat of arguments over matters now inconsequential. Respect and deep love grew to outshine the dominance of sexual passions. Our world revolved around each other for a while; sometimes after 35 years it still does.

But with relationship and maturity came stability of sorts. I went back to school, got a couple of degrees, got respectable research jobs, sat behind a computer. When I looked up, I had become middle-aged. My outdoors got lost behind spreadsheets and databases, my fitness turned to fatness. In a time when we both had good salaries we bought a cruising catamaran, a floating flat with sails – a desperate grab to regain some outdoor life. The sailing lifestyle got us some now forgotten friends. But it also introduced us to the boating trade, so when my employer lost Eurogrants, I took redundancy and Malcolm joined me, living on the boat in a Plymouth marina.  We got involved in a boat business, but Malcolm’s partner “forgot” to pay a VAT bill and Malcolm faced bankruptcy. The catamaran was sold to pay into the business. We ended up in a caravan in the middle of the boatyard. Plymouth council said we were homeless, so we could not get benefits. They also said the caravan was our home, so we had to pay poll tax. I still hate them.

So we clawed our way back up, running a business that involved scraping paint from yachts, often in winter rains, then painting more on. And I became an outboard motor mechanic. Until one day when the bankruptcy was discharged and I travelled to Canada, a miserable and abortive attempt to find work with no local references, no local knowledge, no local friends, and hostility from my father. So back to the UK, social housing, and a low-grade civil service job. Back up the ladder, slowly. Malcolm became less and less able but still fought to hold a job, although he had to have both hips replaced, a pelvic reconstruction, and cataract operations. Eventually we had a small house, a lovely garden, dogs, chickens, and a few good friends.

Then, on my 60th birthday, we jacked it all in, claimed my pensions, and moved to Turkey. We have each other, a dog, a smaller house, a lovely garden, no chickens.  We can’t make many friends nor can we see much of our new world, because of language limitations and Malcolm’s very limited mobility. We have a lot smaller income too. But there are some very good people here, and a lot of Facebook friends.  I am taking up new pastimes – archery, swimming, kite flying. I hope to sail again, and cycle again.  We have a TV but it seems less and less interesting, The BBC World offers a link to outside, but I don’t bother.

My concern for the world has become concern for the bargains at the market. And I wonder, has the world got bigger? Why has it become so incomprehensible? Yes, the population has trebled. But that is not why my cares and options seem more limited. Am I so self-centred now?  Do I try to encounter a spiritual power because I may not have much longer on this world?  Why did the black vs white of my youth become shades of grey?  Have I lost the capacity to care as passionately as I did 40 years ago because many of my causes were doomed?

Or have I become a lot smaller?

Floods


During our first winter in Turkey (2010/2011) we were flooded 3 times. The first, in October, was major wet stuff. Malcolm took the dog for an early morning walk, it was dry and pleasant. By 0930 the heavens had opened, black clouds dimmed the sky, lightning and thunder was continuous and fierce – and it stayed like that for 24 hours.
Mid-morning saw a wall of water rolling down the street in front of our home. It kept rising, washing away newly planted trees, flowerpots, unlucky cats, stacks of firewood. It threatened our car, so I waded out to it and drove it upriver to higher ground. This was an expensive mistake! Although it’s a diesel, immersing the car to windshield level did it no good, and we have had numerous breakdowns, turbo problems, injector problems, various electrical failures. In retrospect we should have watched the car sail off to Greece and then claim the insurance.
After I parked the car, I thought I would wade back home. A mistake. Even though I had my walking boots on, I soon lost traction, and a surge of floodwater knocked my feet out from under and I was swimming down the street. Our village employee Murat saw this and came to rescue me. We propped each other up as we battled to stay upright for just a few hundred meters to arrive bedraggled and bemused at home. Malcolm was rushing everywhere, lifting furniture and computer, mattress and books to higher levels as floodwater rose in the house. Somewhat dispirited we phoned our friend Bayram, who drove to the village and waded to the house as soon as he could, checking that we were safe. Then, as water levels began to fall late in the day, he worked like a Trojan to empty the house, then used the garden hose to wash mud from cupboards and floors and then empty it all again.
I survived an illness that came from ingesting dirty floodwater and getting chilled, insurance paid for repairs to appliances, and we were back to normal.
There were two further floods that season, another severe enough to enter the house again.
We managed to see the funny side too.

Since then we have invested in flood defenses: flood gates to street, reinforced front wall, pump with float switch installed in a sump in the garden, another sump & pump in the house, raised hardstanding for car, and more modifications to drains, toilets, and floors in the house.
This past winter the floods only reached to top of the kerbstones, just moving puddles really. Our defenses remain unchallenged. I am tempted to feel disappointed.