Friday, August 27, 2010

Journeys #2: The Fickleness of Memory

When leaving to go on a trip, I have in the past taken a notebook, pen, camera and the all important guidebook. The guidebook for the trip to the UK was my memory. I picked places I liked, a couple of places I had never been to and a place I felt I should visit.

As a student, the A303 was the scenic route to the south west and Plymouth, or the way you took if your car was stuffed full of luggage or just plain crap. The trip I remember the most was in a crap car that was stuffed with luggage. A friend from London had been given her mother's old car. My friend had never driven on the motorway and had prudently found herself a co-driver for the trip back, (except he didn't live in London, he lived in the boo hoos, but I'm digressing). Anyway, the co-driver had also never driven back to London and was rather looking forward to the trip, the high point of which would be that we would pass Stonehenge.

And so off we went. It was raining, but that was not unusual, and I was squeezed into the back between all the luggage.

Co-driver Phil got us all excited about Stonehenge. If we made good time we could even stop and visit! When I was a kid, midsummer news reports were always about how many druids had run around naked hugging the stones during the solstice. Maybe the druids weren't naked and maybe they were only hugging the stones to stop themselves getting arrested, I don't exactly remember.

It continued to rain and it seemed that the car had a top speed of forty miles an hour, or something ridiculous. As we crawled towards London, ideas of visiting slipped away, along with the Pub lunch we had planned. But then through the rainy haze, the grey stones loomed up in the December gloom and we pulled over and Phil ran off to find out how much the parking and entry fee was. When he came back with a long face we knew the £7.37 we had between us was not going to be enough. We sat in the car (not using the windscreen wipers because they didn't work very well) and munched on our soggy sandwiches looking at Stonehenge through the rapidly steaming windows. Until I had this rather uncomfortable feeling. I stopped chewing and put a hand under my bum. My eyebrow raised and I hoisted myself off my left bum cheek. I lifted the right bum cheek. 

"What are you doing?" Phil asked as my feet dug into his back after having done a complicated manoeuvre to turn myself around (remember I was stuffed into the back).

"It's raining in the car!"

My wet bottom thoroughly ruined our communion with the stones and it was decided that the leak would be less leaky if we were moving. And so that was the closest I ever got to Stonehenge.

And as we tootled along the South Coast this August, I was beginning to wonder if that was as close as I would ever get. You see this time I figured, my memory, the GPS and Google Maps would be enough. I didn't bank on us having no phone reception and therefore no Google Maps, I forgot my memory was poor and the GPS needed a better address than the A303.

"What's the nearest town?" The Frog asked.

"Mmm..."I dug deep. "I think that in Tess of the D'urbervilles, Tess kills the bad guy and then runs away with her lover and she falls asleep on the altar at Stonehenge. And then she gets caught and hung!"

The Frog was giving me looks.

"Salisbury! They are in Salisbury."

"Stonehenge is in Salisbury?"

"No, Tess is in Salisbury, Stonehenge, is off the A303."

After we had visited, the Frog asked me my impressions now that I had finally got past the fence. "It's smaller than I remember."

Wednesday, August 25, 2010


There has been an idea brewing for a long time in my head. Really, if I trace it back all the way, there probably is a little seed of it in Sirens. Anyway, the story needed a setting and eventually I settled on somewhere in Cornwall. It was either there or somewhere way up high in Scotland, and even though writing involves delving into the imagination I didn't feel comfortable massacring a Scottish accent or the scenery. Besides, I've been to Cornwall a fair few times, whereas I have never been to the coast of Scotland.

Meanwhile, there was another process of decision making going on: where should we go on summer holiday. Every summer Paris empties during the summer months. The roads are chock-a-block with overstuffed cars full of bored kids and distressed pets, as each family heads off to the same place they have been going to for years. I am not French and have created my own tradition of enjoying the peace and quiet of Paris in August, but this year it was not to be. Yet there was still a part of me that was baulking at the idea of being part of that French tradition. At one point I may even have stated extremely vehemently that we were not going to blooming Arcachon again. We even had a crazy idea of going to San Francisco. We did lots of research and even told people we may go there. And then the volcano blew.

No, no, it didn't stop us from travelling at all, but somewhere in all the extra info about the Eyjafjallajökull volcano I read that the last time it blew there was a spot of global warming over northern Europe and there was an unusually hot summer. Clutching at this straw, I suggested going to the UK for our hols. 

It was fitting that the day we drove onto the moors it was raining. It's not that it was often raining when I went to Dartmoor. In fact my memories are mainly sunny with one extremely foggy, snowy day. No, it was right because it fit the image I had in my head. An image that I had completely failed to express to the Frog. It was high up, flat, the flora was different, the trees were different, there are tors (which I had to explain) and ponies. It was beautiful and savage. But I knew there was something that I was completely missing in my pitiful descriptions. The colours, the smells of course, but there was something else. 

'Stop here,' I announced because there was a place to park and a herd of sheep and goats grazing. We got out the car, woke up the sausage and wrapped her up in her rain coat and began walking towards the Tor. On the way I took some pictures, laughed, waved my arms around at the moor, avoided the sheep, goat and cow poo, and slowly I realised what it was that I had missed. 

'That's what is so different! It's the ground!'

'The moss?' 

'No, yes! When you walk.' 

It's like walking in a pair of brand new Doc Martens. You know, that day when you walk around carefully avoiding all drawing pins (difficult in my profession) and you try to bound higher each step. And yet it is infinitely different, because no matter how wild or cold or covered in sheep droppings, the ground in Dartmoor invites you to lie down and roll around. It's like the most perfect mattress you could ever have. 

We didn't do it though, our toes got a little cold, and our ears began to tingle as the wind whistled by and we sought the refuge of the car. We climbed higher and higher and eventually the sun broke through revealing a beautiful view down to the Burrator reservoir and on our left we spotted a sign for Badger's Holt. 

'Cream Tea!'

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Old enough to know

Yesterday my brother sent me one of his random texts asking me: What was that group you used to love that sang Size of a Cow? I texted back as fast as my fingers can tap out on that stupid touch screen that means if you are a mm out that the predictive text gets turned off, or you get a space you didn't really want, or a word you didn't really want. So, five minutes later I had typed out Wonderstuff (forget the 'The' it would have added too much undue stress).

Later that day, I found myself tapping out The Wonderstuff again, but this time into Youtube. I love Youtube, because everything you ever want to explain is there. I once spent hours sending links to the Frog so that he could see all the adverts that I grew up with. I know, the question you are asking is why? But, it started with one thing and led to another. Anyway, back to my point.

One day on the beach Just niece announced that she was proud to be ten because she had two numbers in her age. Her comment made me smile, because I remember my tenth birthday being a milestone for just that reason, I had reached my first decade. But now, here I am having reached my first decade in Paris. And I look at past pictures and the creases at the corners of my eyes and the silver threads that run through my hair, but despite these obvious signs I just don't feel old. Changed, certainly, but not old.

And there was someone's video uploaded of Miles Hunt singing Sing the Absurd. I remember hearing a live session on Marc Radcliffe's show many many years ago and falling in love with that song and yesterday all those words burrowed their way out from the back of my brain and came belting out. Miles, in this video is wearing a black suit and black t shirt. He has short hair, with a floppy fringe. The large hoop earrings lost in the mop of curly hair are gone and I can't tell whether he's got a big pair of boots on as the camera doesn't pan down that far. And there was a little part of me that was shocked: He's gone and got all grown up!

I mused at my surprise as I was doing the dishes today. He grew up, Andy Kershaw is fifty and I'm going to a friend's 40th birthday in two weeks. Somehow it seems that all these people have grown up, but I haven't. Or at least somewhere in my head I've got stuck...

No, stuck isn't the right word. Experiences keep coming and coming and these fuel my thoughts and ideas. I'm wiser and try not to repeat mistakes. I say sorry when I know that I'm in the wrong. But the feeling I can't quite put my finger on...

I travel a lot by bus nowadays. It is mostly frequented by agile mothers, wrangling those pushchairs onto the bus and old people wrestling with themselves to get to a seat. I watch them and wonder whether they understand. One grey haired dame in a flowery skirt boarded with the grumpiest old git ever next to her. I looked from one to the other. Him with his scowl and hooded over eyes and her with a little smile and purple hair clips in her hair and I thought: Yeah, she would know.


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