On the Beach

Seaford Waves

Here on the beach, the whispering sea,
Eternally alluring, calls me: Come, enter,
But I resist its siren song, plug my ears.
Yet this edge of knowledge tempts me,
To explore that desirable, unknown no-land.
To cross that wave-waving boundary
Between the sand and the green-wracked water.
Get too close and surging foam enjoys a soaking.
Stand well back and the smell of ancient seaweed
Fluffs the mind with vacillation.
Hear the clinking rush of rounded pebbles.
They were once defiant rocks, now dissolved.
Relentless attrition leaves polished, glistening wet
Ideas accumulating in the depths of an active mind.
So much, so much – how can I take it all in?
So much want, yet fear stops me from wading in.
Flooded horizons give me hopes, and all I hope for
Is the impossible journey I could trace,
Slipping stone by stone, wake by wake,
Never touching bottom. My head
Stretching to fill the sky above the lonely water.

© 2017 Peter Young

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The Imaginary Village

Lacock Red Lion We’re in the Wiltshire village of Lacock, owned and preserved, sort of, by the National Trust. Well, no visible tv aerials or satellite dishes are allowed. The village has been the location for many films and tv series set in earlier times.

They shot the exteriors for Pride and Prejudice in the High Street here. You remember the scene where the sisters go to buy their ribbons at the milliner’s? That’s the shop over there. Then it was dressed with fashionable nineteenth-century items – and they encounter the officers coming down the street looking very smart in their scarlet uniforms: Mr. Denny and his friend, Mr. Wickham. What you don’t see is any tarmac – that was all covered with sand and wood chippings. It takes a lot of work getting back to Jane Austen’s time. People would complain if there were anachronistic trappings visible. So they cover the double yellow lines with dirt or something, or keep them carefully out of shot.

Nor do you see the dozens of technicians, crew, electricians, make-up artists, all off camera, ready to do their bit to make the make-believe believable. It’s a weird sanitized reality. But that’s not the point. It’s the story that matters, the loves and hates, the gossip, the truths of the human heart. Much easier to get sucked into the world of the film, just as long as it doesn’t jar.

When they were making Emma, the Kate Beckinsale version, they closed off Church Street. There was a scene where they hoisted a piano into an upstairs room. Well, not a real piano, just a box. You imagined that there was a bunch of people hauling it up on a rope and pulley, but in reality they used a crane – which of course you didn’t see.

With film-making, things go wrong or have to be reset for another take. Sometimes you’re waiting for someone to turn up, or they need a rehearsal. There seems to be far too much hanging about in real life. I prefer my reality edited. Given how long it takes to make a film, it’s a blessing that it can be cut down to two hours or less.

Oh, in front of the Red Lion, there are some people hanging about like a bunch of extras. It looks like their tourist coach has broken down and they’ve been herded off the bus, and are having to wait while it gets fixed.

Just like the time when my bus home from school – it was a trolley-bus – they had these two arms on the top connected to a pair of overhead electric wires. Trouble was, they were frequently coming off. One day the trolleybus went round the Beehive pub corner and lost contact when crossing the ‘points’. So we had to get off and wait while the conductor used this great long bamboo pole with a hook on the end for re-engaging the arm, so that we could continue our journey.

But no overhead wires here – and no triple-decker buses either. Remember that crazy bus in the Harry Potter movies? Hogwarts school was here – well, part of it. In the Abbey cloisters, that room with the huge cauldron. I was quite young when the Harry Potter books appeared, year after year. I used to queue up in the street until midnight, waiting for the book to go on sale. There was quite a cameradie with those queuing – well, we all had a similar interest in the goings on at Hogwarts, so we were talking to each other, speculating about what the next book would be about – and of course, we were way off – none of us could imagine the story the way JK Rowling did.

Lacock Abbey Cauldron

Oh, I think the coach is mended now, they’re all getting on board. I wonder what they made of Lacock. It’s just an ordinary village, a place where people live. It’s not magical, nor is it the nineteenth century here. No one is wearing crinolines or pointed hats, or driving a barouche-landau.

I suppose each visitor makes sense of their visit in their own way – connecting with a fictional past, or a fantasy reality, an escape from their everyday lives. They leave with their memories, connections made, scenes identified and ticked off. When they see Lacock in another movie, they’ll have a sense of recognition: “I’ve been there.” Or maybe there were simply here on a guided tour and knew nothing of its literary connections; it’s just “that place where the coach broke down and we had to wait.”

© 2017 Peter Young

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A Visit to the Sea

A visit to the seaside on a rather grey Christmas Eve.
Standing at the edge of the land gives you a sense of perspective. On the rocks at Birling GapA lone visitor stares out to sea, standing on the rocks at Birling Gap. Looking round to the west, there is a splendid view of the Seven Sisters. A heap of broken chalk from a recent rockfall lies at the base of the cliff. Nothing is as substantial as you would like to think.

Seven Sisters from Birling GapEvery wave is different; change is relentless:

The Sea at SeafordThe colourful beach huts along the seafront at Seaford provide a literal sense of perspective.

Beach Huts Seaford
© 2016 Peter Young

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Christmas Shopping

Christmas Shop Window

Around the corner stands a cassocked choir
Rejoicing far too soon for Christmas day,
The tune a dirge: a manger far away –
You make escape, their singing is quite dire.
That birth no longer private, as voyeur
This is no place to dally or to pray,
But worship Father Christmas in his sleigh
All buttoned up in red and white attire,
Surrounded by his reindeer, bells a-jingle
All harnessed, earthbound, blocking up the street
Creating traffic chaos. People mingle
Much closer than they’d ever want to meet
Those perfect strangers – that’s unless they’re single,
Seeking love to make their lives complete.

How shopping clutters up their true desire.
Their passions loosed, they spend each shortening day
Exploring every store, in their essay
To find the perfect gift. We must admire
The doggedness of each determined buyer,
The money god they never disobey;
It’s next year’s bills that they will have to pay,
Regretting all that stuff they did acquire.
Step back to see this from a different angle:
It’s letting go that circumvents defeat.
No good can come of nerves a-jingle-jangle
Or traipsing round – that hurts both head and feet.
This Christmas lark – it’s just one bloody wangle.
Sans meaning: it’s a mash up – bittersweet.

So tune into your heart; you can’t deny a
Twitchy inkling something’s not okay.
You’ve lived all year in work, in love, in play,
So take a pause. Come closer to the fire
And tell yourself, “Right now it’s time to try a
-nother way of being.” What d’you say?
Imbibe this Christmas gift, not led astray
By baubles; aspire for things much higher.
That tawdry stuff, it’s just not worth a candle,
Don’t fall for fads that make you seem effete.
To change your life you must turn the handle,
Start the motor, be in the driving seat.
The Mystery unfolds, and something grand’ll
Spread peace and joy throughout Life’s balance-sheet.

© 2016 Peter Young

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Changing Seasons

Over the last few months I have been visiting the National Trust property of Hidcote Manor Garden. I thought it was time to look back at how the garden and the surrounding area has changed since the summer, as it beds down for winter.Coloured Leaves Once plants have finished flowering, they retreat into the soft, soggy state of winter regeneration, and sometimes do this with a final show of colour. I’m not sure what this was earlier, but it attracted my eye in an otherwise dark, earthy environment.

Hidcote Bathing Pool 2I found the bubble wrap on the Fountain quite amusing, especially as the water was still squirting out. Here’s what’s under wraps:

Hidcote Bathing Pool 1The field has seen many changes over the last few months. During the summer it was high with wheat. Track across the field 1Now it’s ploughed over ready for next year’s crop.Track across the field 2And here’s the view looking up the Old Track that leads from the carpark. This is a far more subdued picture than the my entry ftwo months ago.

Hidcote Track© 2016 Peter Young

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Hygge

Dental InstrumentsI’m the one at the upper left-hand end, and that gives me a good view of the rest of the team. I heard on the grapevine that I’m lucky to still be here. Having arrived a bit later than the others – the team was already established – I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider.

We’ve lost track of how long we’ve been together. Ages. Since … I don’t know… well over half a century. Here, at the cutting edge, you might say, it’s not all been smooth sailing. There have been rough times, and not everyone has made it through. There have been disappearances and  … adjustments. Blame it on outside interventions. We felt the loss. But it was more the way they went that upset the rest of us. It seemed wrong; we felt abused. And it took us time to return to our usual lifestyle. But we did; needs must.

Look, um, er, we don’t really like to talk about those things – I shouldn’t really be telling you this, but hey, live dangerously. So a little bit about us. We’re family. We’re always together, and we’ve developed what the Danish people call hygge. Which is not easy to say, nor easy to translate. Some say cosy, but it’s more nuanced than that. The German people have a word, gemütlichkeit, which sounds awful, and yet doesn’t capture it either. Let’s see. If it wasn’t so moist in here, we’d be lighting candles. We’d cosy up to each other in the dark, slowly working our way through a packet of chocolate digestives … But if we do need to talk then most likely it’ll be in hushed tones about the old times, about when we’ve had to bite the bullet or chew the fat. Yeah, we have tender feelings for each other because we’ve shared so many meals together. Bonding? We’ve bonded all right; we’re all in this together.

But age takes its toll. I hope the others aren’t listening, because this is a taboo subject, and we know when to keep our mouth shut. But things happen. Painful things, aching things, sharp things … Sometimes it’s a dull ache, that won’t go away, and then everyone goes quiet, thinking their own thoughts and that leaves us in a vulnerable position. Action is taken and then it’s the bright lights, the high pitched whine, the pink water, the chemical taste. It’s so intrusive – all this pricking and prodding – where’s the hygge in that? We just want to be left alone, but we’re forced to suffer these invasions into our private space. These outsiders never respect or understand the social customs and the resulting hygge of our oral world. No way. We don’t need to spell it out to each other. We grin and bear it; it’s the boat that mustn’t be rocked, the elephant in the room. So in our hyggelig gloom, we swallow those memories, ignore the inevitable decay that takes place – is taking place …. Who knows what’s coming next. When we first arrived, we thought we were as sharp as diamonds. But now we have come to see ourselves more like well-weathered rocks, flaking and breaking on a whim. Deep down at our roots we know what’s happening, but we’re not going to bring it up.

And that’s how we’ve lost our comrades. It’s just horrible to think about it. Ground to dust, washed away in a stream of water, never seen again. And then replaced with cold, inert lumps of metal, pretending to be like us. But how could they be that? There’s no empathy, no conversation. They just do not and cannot get it. But we’re tolerant, we put up with them. Because we work as a team we have to accept these substitutes … Though we never talk about that either.

So we keep cheerful, look forward to special occasions, when there are treats to be enjoyed: the crunch of celery, the succulence of the sirloin, the subtle severance of a slice of smoked salmon. I bet that got you salivating! And what could be more delightful than having this all washed down with a glass of champagne. Cheers. Skål. Ah, these good old hygge times …

© 2016 Peter Young

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A Flash of Blue

This short story was written as an exercise for my Creative Writing group with the topic: All good things come to those who wait. Unlike Jack in the story, I’ve never managed to photograph a kingfisher. But I do have a picture of a heron …

marcilhac-river-120624-5

I saw Jack again today. He was in his usual place, which kind of surprised me – for some stupid reason I thought he would have moved on. And this time, when I waved, he smiled and gave me a thumbs up. Which was a great advance on the usual slight nod of the head.

Let me tell you the story. I used to see Jack as I went to work down the road past the bend in the river. That’s where he always was. I go early, but he must get up at the crack of dawn. But not every day. Bad weather, he doesn’t turn up, and I can’t blame him. Well, there wouldn’t be much point really.

I knew he was called Jack, because other people talked about him. They thought he was … a bit peculiar. But I gradually came to respect him. It’s good to have a hobby, though it’s not one I particularly fancy. Too much hanging about; not enough control. You’ve only to turn briefly, or scratch your nose, and … you’ve missed it.

I wanted to say Hello to Jack, but the first time I tried, he anticipated my greeting and immediately put his finger up to the lips. An economy of communication. I did think about saying “Hi Jack” but then considered that it was too old a joke, and unworthy, so I just thought it instead. But it made me smile, and a smile is what matters, and Jack responded with a slight muscle movement around the mouth. So for a long time, that was how we interacted. You might say that we had a relationship, but you wouldn’t say it was deep.

Then one day, I bumped into him in town. He was dressed more conventionally – not the camouflage jacket he usually wore. He was observing the pigeons in the square through his viewfinder. He recognised me straight away. And for the first time we spoke. “How are you getting on?” “Oh, got a few good ones.” “Really?” “Oh yes, I’m thinking of entering one in the competition.” “Which one …?” “Oh, the Kingfisher, naturally.” “Well, good luck.” And with that we parted.

Now, people talked about seeing kingfishers along the river, but I’d never seen one. They mention the flash of blue – most times that’s all you see. But this simple piece of information changed my early morning walk, because now I kept my eyes peeled, looking sideways towards the river, in the hope – the distant hope – of seeing a kingfisher. The fact that Jack had seen one, indeed, had taken a photograph of one, encouraged me. It certainly made my otherwise boring trip to the station more interesting; I had a purpose – even though it was not of earth-shattering importance.

And I understand the fascination and the dedication that this could bring to someone like Jack. Although I’m not prepared to spend thousands on equipment – like he obviously does – nor willing to hang around in the damp early-morning air, with a chill mist rising from the river, and waiting – just watching and waiting – on the off-chance of some small bird has decided to go looking for breakfast. No. I’ll keep a look out for the flash of blue, but I’ll not deviate far from my usual ritual. I suppose that Jack’s the same – only his is a very different kind of ritual – what I would call an obsession. But whenever I see him, he always looks happy? Is that the right word? I know we’re all supposed to seeking happiness these days – but does standing by the river bank with a thousand pound lens pointing into the reeds make you happy? It’s the anticipation. Having something to look forward to.

So over the weeks, months we developed a respect for each other. I kept quiet in case I disturbed some avian chancer, and Jack twitched a muscle or two. A subtle acknowledgment – I was ok with that. And I went on hoping and wishing that one day… and would you believe it, it happened. Three seconds of dazzling blue brilliance. My spirits were lifted. I spent the rest of the day in some sort of trance. My colleagues in the office thought I was on something. I was, but I didn’t tell them what it was. Then, at lunch-time, while I was walking through the arcade I noticed a display in one of the windows. Exhibits from the Photographic Club. And right in the middle, there was a picture of a kingfisher – with a note saying that Jack had one first prize in the wild-life section.

And now Jack was back in his old spot on the river-bank. Why, I wonder. Perhaps that’s something I’ll never understand. But I’ll keep on trying.

© 2016 Peter Young

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Sheffield Park

On a visit to Sussex, I came across more stunning autumn colours at the National Trust property of Sheffield Park.

Sheffield Park Middle LakeThe view from the Cascade looking along Middle Lake.

Sheffield Park Swamp CyprusRAA group of three Swamp Cypresses contrast with the reds and oranges of the Acers and Nyssas.

Sheffield Park Nyssa A magnificent Nyssa.

Sheffield Park Montezuma PineA close-up of one of the Montezuma Pines which are grown at Sheffield Park.

Sheffield Park Red Acers Pampas GrassPampas Grass seen between the dark red leaves of an Acer at the edge of the Middle Lake.

© 2016 Peter Young

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Leaf Peeping

Acer Leaves

Orange Acers

Westonbirt

A visit to Westonbirt Arboretum to see the Autumn Colours.

© 2016 Peter Young

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The Geese are Flying

Geese 1Autumn geese flying

Geese 2V-formation overhead

Geese 3Past the Chinese Bridge.

© 2016 Peter Young

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