In Practice on June 17, 2015 at 11:38 am
“We got a new doorbell,” says P.
“Did I tell you?”
My fork stops dead in the air, half way to my mouth. It’s the best opening line I’ve heard in a while.
“No, Mum,” I reply. “You didn’t.”
She embarks on an account of it, describing the melody (which I’ve forgotten) and telling me how nice it is to have a doorbell that plays a tune. It makes her smile, she says, whenever someone calls. I do wonder about the caller though. Are they smiling? There is no doubt in my mind that my brother, who pops in to see them every week, will be appalled. She doesn’t seem to have thought about my feelings either, about the difficult position this places me in – to be a person whose mother has a doorbell that plays a tune. This on top of the clock in their living room that plays a tune. I can’t remember that one either – I think I’ve blanked it out – but there’s no escaping it when, on the turning of the hour, the clock face splits in two and each half does a three sixty rotation, slipping back into place on the final note.
It’s all a bit much. What if someone were to call at a minute past one, and the clock was still going off as she answered the door? Have they thought about that? Aural mayhem. I can imagine any visitor taking a step backwards, my brother included – it’s the kind of thing that would make even family think twice about going in. Read the rest of this entry »
In Plenary, Presentation on November 17, 2014 at 11:08 am
Like all drunks, we wake up laughing.
Then we lie there for a long time, not moving.
“I don’t want to move,” says K. “I’ll find out how drunk I still am.”
The day presents us with its first demand. It requires a decision of us – breakfast in or out. Out will mean more movement and negotiation of human affairs than can currently be imagined. In will involve twenty-four quid.
“It can’t possibly be twelve per person,” I say. “For bloody breakfast. Have you checked?”
We’re both looking at the ceiling. It isn’t interesting but it’s reassuringly plain and white and motionless. Anything else I look at has a tendency to slip and slide in an alarming way.
“Yes, I’ve checked,” says K. “It’s twelve per person.”
“Ridiculous. We’ll go out for a tostada.”
We don’t, of course. Preparing to haul myself out of bed, I lean over to kiss her but she turns away.
“It’s not you,” she says. “It’s my own stench. I can still taste the papas alioli.” More
In Practice, Production on May 8, 2014 at 7:47 am
Trundling toward Seville with a bootful of booty – a creamy blue cheese from Galicia, a jar of blue cheese cream from Asturias, a jar of apple jam, a jar of orange jelly, a jar of strawberry jam, a jar of quince and orange paste, a jar of quince and lemon paste, a jar of chilli chutney and a small bottle of nispero liqueur, the maker of which didn’t so much recommend to us as warn us about. Two bottles of hand-picked olives in deep brine and three bottles of Extremaduran wine, a fridge magnet, two porcelain beer mugs and, wrapped up carefully in a straw hat, the most delicate cargo of all: six eggs from the finca we’ve just left and the chickens we’ve just waved goodbye to. Now all we have to do is get them home, just over four hundred kilometres away.
The project does not have an auspicious beginning; after just a few minutes we drive through a small town so sleepy and rural that even the main street is cobbled. Mis huevos, I complain as the car rattles through. We stop afterwards, outside a mammoth industrial complex of some kind that caught my eye on the way here yesterday – four huge silos and more at the other end next to a concrete dome the size of a small moon. At least half a kilometre in length, the plant consists of enormous pipes and ramps, a thousand stairwells, chutes and chimneys in all sizes and the constant noise of process. More
In Plenary, Presentation on April 24, 2014 at 9:41 am
In Tangier, a body in a blanket: borne through the souk at shoulder height, a brisk pace and accompanied by boisterous call and response. Later, from our room, the sound of women’s chant in some adjacent house and of their ululating – whether in mourning or in celebration of come unconnected event I do not know.
We eat in the courtyard of the women’s charity and amble afterwards around now familiar shops. I buy incense and K lamps, and a wet, grey day opens up into sunshine. They call it the white city but there’s a good deal of clutter in the colour and a good dose of yellow and brown, as if the city were an ageing photo of itself, sunk into a geriatric tint and turned sepia.
It’s good to be back; we’ve been down the coast a little, in Asilah, a resort town with Portuguese and Spanish history and a beautifully maintained medina, although I suppose it could be accused of being a little sanitised – certainly so in comparison with its crumbling counterpart in Tangier. We’ve spent a pleasant couple of days there in what is essentially a typical seaside town but with added Moroccan intrigue.
Sitting outside the old walls with two tall mint teas, for instance, at around eight in the evening, the quintessential seaside promenade; it seemed the whole place was out. More
In Presentation on April 10, 2014 at 8:58 am
The feathery touch of the late sun against worn sandstone blocks, almost physical, like a warm breath.
In a plazuela to the side of the Iglesia San Dionisio, overlooked by a virgen in ceramics, K’s glass of water casting a long shadow and splitting the light into a colour spectrum on the arm of her chair.
The wrought iron doorway of the meson, swung open, and the waitress’ white shirt that catches the sun as she stands there.
To the left of the door, a window covered in iron lattice and behind that, glass panes framed by dark wood.
All of it set into the heavy blocks and all of it softy brilliant in the slanted sun, dappled in the shadows of the orange trees as the last light shines like time itself, animating everything.
Our table, which I thought messy at first and almost avoided till I saw that the others were the same, in fact strewn with fragile white stamen, fallen from the orange blossom overhead. The air sweet with its scent.
Hello again, Jerez.
The little plazuela is three-sided, opening up onto the larger Plaza de la Asunción with its weather-beaten but wonderful old cabildo More
In Presentation, Production on March 14, 2014 at 8:47 am
Very few of you, I imagine, will have enjoyed the depth of understanding, clarity of judgement or richness of insight that K and I have been enjoying recently with regard to the questions and quandaries of global geopolitics. Perhaps as few as none of you will have been able to appreciate, as we have, the fine balances and convolutions, the real dilemmas and delicate considerations that George W Bush, for example, along with his now legendary team of peace enthusiasts – Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice and Powell – will have had to grapple with in their relentless pursuit of justice in the Middle East.
The precision that will have had to accompany Bill Clinton’s more famous compassion as he weighed up the countless (and often contradictory) criteria for going into, or not going into, or going into and then pulling out of, a Kosovo descending into deadly chaos. The teetering structures and the slip-slide systems that threaten constantly to tumble on the turn of a card.
A card in a house of cards. The often split-second timing with which the great players must make their calls and live with the consequences: Franklin D Roosevelt, the Federal Reserve and the war in Europe, Saddam Hussein and his attempted liberation of Kuwait, Margaret Thatcher’s critical response to the Falkland crisis, without which the world would be so very different today – what all of these leaders had in common of course was an unwavering regard for the well-being of the people their decisions affected. More
In Practice, Presentation on February 19, 2014 at 10:27 am
“If you annoy me in Ikea today,” says K – we are on Calle Luna, a long pedestrian shopping street in El Puerto de Santa Maria that begins near the water where the tapas bars cluster along Calle Misericordia and ends in the Plaza de Juan Gavala, a little square of flower sellers – “I swear, I will leave you.”
It is K’s contention that I make a poor companion when it comes to enjoying the many delights that Ikea has to offer; I don’t like admitting to my faults any more than the next person but in this case I would have to concede the point – in Ikea one actually ascends into hell and the second my foot leaves the top of the infernal escalator the crankiness kicks in like clockwork.
Where are the pencils? Where are the bloody pencils? What is this thing anyway? Is that the number for the red or the white? White brilliant or white matt? What are we doing in the kitchen section? We don’t need anything in the kitchen section…
I invariably find myself admonishing K to ‘focus’. Never mind that teams of psychologists and designers have been brought in to create an environment that would prevent anybody from focussing. Never mind that K simply doesn’t want to focus, that she has never shown the slightest interest in focussing. Never mind that I’m not her headmaster. No, I acknowledge none of it – I just hop around after her barking the word ‘focus’, like a broken monkey. More
In Practice, Production on February 12, 2014 at 12:01 pm
In February, with a messy sky diffusing the dawn light, the horizontals of the beach are toothpaste stripes; the water’s blue is deep and cool and the powder that whips across the surface of the sand makes it flutter brightly. As the liners head out onto the ocean and the whitewater flashes its thousand teeth, the day looks like it tastes of mint.
I turn left, not right as I usually do, so instead of making my way through the long grasses of the bird sanctuary, I walk south along this very last bit of Spain’s Atlantic coast, towards the island. The morning is bright and blustery. The winds were strong overnight and the little square where the promenade widens out is an apocalyptic scene; see-saws and rowing machines poke out of the sand like relics of a former time.
The beachside bar that overcharges us for wine whenever we’re absent-minded enough to end up there won’t be overcharging anyone tonight – the makeshift roof of corrugated iron that covers its terrace has collapsed. A new chiringuito, not yet built but present in the form of the steel girders that have been driven deep into the sand to support it, sits next to the causeway. Its customers will enjoy enviable views – of the island itself, and the lighthouse and the Tangier coastline – and I imagine they’ll pay for them in pricey wine, but for anyone who chooses not to be one of its customers, it will be a carbuncle. More
In Plenary, Production on January 17, 2014 at 12:25 pm
The lady who runs the little shop across the street where I go in the early morning for coffee and bread – a nice lady who always asks after our two cats, referring to them as ‘los niños’ – has refused to look at me for weeks. Everybody else is doing double takes: the bus driver, the French waiter in the bar where I write each day, even people in the street.
K was horrified at first. Then she let a couple of complimentary remarks slip out – pretty lips, apparently – and now she tells me she will not be offering further comment for fear that, as a consequence of my rather twisted psychology, any feedback at all from her, whether positive or negative, would only encourage me. She’s right – it would. The problem for her is that her silence does too.
So, I persevere. It’s day twenty-something now and I’ve stopped counting. More time than usual has been spent in front of mirrors as I watch my face, myself, become untidier. Even untidier, K would say. Overgrown, like a garden gone to seed. It isn’t happening quickly – I’m like one of those mid-table European economies at the moment in that there is growth, but it is slow. Development is patchy. Results inconclusive.
That’s if it is development. Maybe it’s deterioration. Entropy. I have, after all, reached an age where change may well be a positive thing, but then again maybe not. Whatever it is, it took a journey to get it started More
In Practice on December 16, 2013 at 10:02 am
“You’re a genius.”
My first words of the day. K has just handed me a second can of isotonic-whatever-it-is and informed me she still has a little bottle of water in her bag, and some ibuprofen in the car. The woman is a genius.
My head – or what remains of it – falls back on the pillow. It does strike me as a little odd that she would choose such a moment to tickle my feet, but then I realise she’s putting my socks on. That’s good; I wasn’t going to get around to it anytime soon. While I’m being dressed, the images start flooding in; the first of them provide me with my bearings. I’m in Gibraltar.
No wait, I’m in La Linea, across the border, but I was in Gibraltar. I remember waiting at the runway after dark while a Monarch jet landed, more or less silent in the air as it slipped in from the east, but roaring on the tarmac when it touched down right in front of us and deployed its flaps. A little more waiting while it trundled back into view and towards the terminal…
…K is putting my underpants on. I have neither the energy nor the necessary synaptic functionality to feel ashamed of myself. I am, however, able to feel a lot of pain, somewhere behind my eyes. I wonder what could have caused it. Could it have been the Domaine Patrick Mauvy 2012, a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire valley? It was certainly fruity, I’ll give it that, and successfully avoided that ‘furniture polish’ thing that Sauvignon’s so often don’t, but apart from that it seemed innocuous enough… More