Santiago Di Cuba: Part II – People

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In Spanish, the text of Castro’s ‘Revolution’ May Day statement from 2000 is represented next to his tomb in the Santa Ifigenia Cemetery.

“Revolution is having a sense of the historic moment; it is changing everything that must be changed; it is full equality and freedom; it is being treated and treating others like human beings; it is emancipating ourselves on our own and through our own efforts; it is challenging powerful dominant forces in and beyond the social and national arena; it is defending the values in which we believe at the price of any sacrifice; it is modesty, selflessness, altruism, solidarity, and heroism; it is fighting with courage, intelligence and realism; it is never lying or violating ethical principles; it is a profound conviction that there is no power in the world that can crush the power of truth and ideas. Revolution is unity; it is independence, it is struggling for our dreams of justice for Cuba and for the world, which is the foundation of our patriotism, our socialism, and our internationalism.” 

These are the words spoken by Fidel Castro at the May Day celebrations in 2000. I’m genuinely inspired by these words – and it’s not hard to see why many of the Cuban people dearly loved their hallowed leader, in life and in death. If a person can be remembered by what they said (rather than what they did) then, surely, these words are the ultimate in epitaphs. They are inscribed on a twelve-foot high marble slab that stands next to Castro’s memorial, the final resting place where his ashes were laid to rest in the glorious Santa Ifigenia Cemetery; his dying wish was that a ‘cult of personality’ should not be permitted after his death, which meant that he wanted no public places, streets, parks or institutions to bear his name and no statues, monuments or busts should depict a likeness of him. The granite monument in which his ashes are very simply interred (in a rock shaped like a corn kernel; the inspiration for the shape of the tomb was a line from a José Martí poem: “All the glory of the world fits in a single kernel of corn.”) next to the impressive monument to Cuba’s other national hero, Jose Marti, who was referred to as ‘The Apostle of Cuban Independence’ and inspired the revolution that led to Cuba’s first stint as an independent state back in 1868 (which you knew about already because you read part 1 of this essay … didn’t you?) which is just a stone’s throw away.

Not that you’d be throwing any stones of course, since both monuments are guarded by armed soldiers, with a goose-stepping changing of the guard ceremony taking place every half-hour – necessary because of the extreme heat in which these guards have to stand, albeit that they are afforded at least a little shade whilst on duty.

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Three new guards goose-step to their destination, guarding Jose Marti’s tomb.

The Santa Ifigenia Cemetery is a remarkable place, filled to the brim with the remains of ‘All of the revolution’s history’, including Antonio Maceo and Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo (the chap who freed his slaves and declared that first independence from Spain in 1868) as well as not-so-revolutionary Emilio Bacardi (son of the founder of the Bacardi dynasty) amongst many other illustrious guests. It’s also filled with thousands of tourists, who daily traipse through, marvelling at the magnificence that such bastions of revolution reside in. I’m sure some, like myself, find the juxtaposition of concept versus reality a little puzzling, but it is definitely a must-see when you do visit Cuba. It is quite a sight to see.

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So, starting with the dead always seems a little unusual perhaps, but it is impossible to visit Cuba and be unaware of the legacy that Fidel Castro leaves. For most of the people, he was their hero, who liberated them from oppression and guided Cuba to a better life. To many outsiders, he was a wicked despot who recklessly womanised and ran Cuba’s economy into the ground, silencing all opponents before they had a chance to cast any kind of aspersions on his leadership – he ruled with an iron fist. I find it difficult to marry the reality of the human being with his magnificent ideals, but it is always worth remembering that he was a man, a simple human being with all the flaws and complex emotions and feelings that informed (or clouded) his judgements of the best course of action in any given situation. I choose to be inspired by his words, if not his actions, although I’m not actually planning any political revolutions this month – I’ve still got loads of photos to edit!

Santiago Di Cuba is a colourful and vibrant place, full of sunshine and joy. Cubans go about their daily business with a calm, laid-back approach, which is fairly typical of island life in my experience. The faded elegance is in evidence almost everywhere, with an intriguing mix of half-millennial-aged, archetypal blue-and-white painted buildings and contemporary architecture; wide, tree-lined boulevards lead directly into the older quarters of the town so that you are travelling through varying degrees of ‘passability’ – sometimes you simply cannot overtake in the very narrow streets! The bright sunlight makes everything take on a more vibrant appeal.

In central Santiago, appropriately built atop the largest hill, lies Céspedes Park which is surrounded by some of Cuba’s most imposing architecture – the magnificent Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Assumption) dominates the square.

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Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Assumption dominates Cespedes Square in central Santiago

Two wall plaques offer a small clue about the building’s history:

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Wall plaques marking the dates the building was first erected on the site, then restored after four centuries.

I was deeply intrigued by the meaning of these plaques, which make more sense when translated from Old Latin so that they tell the story of the current building, erected in 1922 to commemorate the first building on this site, constructed four centuries earlier. It seems that there have been several buildings over the centuries that have been destroyed by pirates, inadequate design and earthquakes, but this current building has also been spruced up to celebrate Santiago’s quincentennial in 2015. We didn’t have time to explore inside and frankly, it was so hot we simply settled for a long cold drink at the Casa Grande, which flanked the square on another side. Directly opposite lies the Cuban National Bank building – very much a modern construction, all glass and simple lines. From one corner of the square, you can see quite how high the hill is by looking across to the hills opposite. Finally, the traditional blue painted wood and white-washed walls enclose the final side of the square. The overall effect is of a very mixed and lengthy history, which tells Cuba’s story in microcosm.

We came upon a sign on a side-street that just made me laugh loud and long… you have to admit, this guy is honesty personified!

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… who wouldn’t want the shoemaker for a partner?

One of the most memorable things about Cuba is the people. Not just because that’s what Communism is ultimately about, but because they are like no other people I’ve ever come across – immensely friendly, likeable and charming. I recognise that there’s a huge element of laying it on fairly thickly for the tourists, but many people were just going about their daily business, getting on with their lives, oblivious to visitors and all else besides, probably planning what to have for tea. Who cares if shutters are clicking all over the place when you have such a life to be living?

I am often reticent about taking photos of people because I’m aware that there are many who a) just don’t like to have their photo taken (I fall into this category!) and b) feel that the photographer is ‘taking’ something that doesn’t really belong to them – in an almost primaeval manner where the image of the person contains a part of their soul.

Fortunately for the photographer, in these days where virtually all the world’s people have smartphones, this issue is less thorny than it used to be, although I think a part of me still does subscribe to this idea. Certainly, in Cuba, most people are VERY happy for tourists to snap away, capturing people doing *crazy Cuban stuff*, so this actually encouraged me to take photos of people, much more than I usually do. Yes, it is perhaps a little staged for the tourists, but it does give peeple something to do and it has an infectious charm that cannot be denied.

Everywhere you go, it’s likely that someone will be serenading you, mostly with some kind of salsa (that’s the dance, not the edible accoutrement to barbecued meat!) … individuals, small groups and entertainers abound. Ariba, Ariba! It made me feel like dancing!

Cuba – what a fascinating and beautiful place to visit!

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I could sit here all day…

Thanks for reading… see you next time!

 

 

 

 

 

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Santiago Di Cuba: Part I

‘To travel is to live!’ declared Hans Christian Anderson or rather, more completely:

To move, to breathe, to fly, to float,
To gain all while you give,
To roam the roads of lands remote,
To travel is to live.”
― Hans Christian AndersenThe Fairy Tale of My Life: An Autobiography

I’ve long loved that quote, having travelled a fair bit myself, I’ve frequently found joy in just thinking about travelling and it makes me smile to recite it to myself in the deepest, darkest depths of winter when the cold winds and icy rain turns to snow, making simply getting to the shops a challenge worthy of The Crystal Maze. I’m very much a sun-bunny, I need warmth and light to maintain my mood more effectively than pills can and really, nothing beats sitting on a sun-drenched stretch of white sand, with the cool, inviting sea lapping gently at my feet, a good read and a cold drink in my hands.

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Sun-drenched sandy beach – just perfect!

One of the reasons we decided to visit Cuba last year was to try to experience what life is like there before it finally makes it into the 21st Century and becomes just *another sunny holiday destination*, similar to all the rest. Cuba has a remarkably fascinating history, like many other Caribbean islands, drenched in Colonialism and revolutionary fervour alike over the past three and a half centuries.

I’m not planning on penning a complete history of Cuba of course, but the potted version goes like this: native islanders (Mesoamericans or Arawaks) were subjected to Spanish rule after Columbus claimed the land in the late fifteenth/early sixteenth centuries, with sugar and tobacco plantations helping to bring reasonable prosperity to the island, dependent upon slave labour, of course. Cuba’s location meant that pirates and Buccaneers frequently raided the ships that carried essential trading cargos and for two centuries the lands were fought over, sovereignty disputed by the main colonial powers – the Spanish, Dutch, French and of course the British, with Spain generally winning out. Rebellion and general unrest (due in part to a desire to maintain slavery as an effective economic tool) led US president, Thomas Jefferson, to consider annexing Cuba to the US in 1805, but despite several attempts to further this cause, it remained in the hands of the Spanish until the first declaration of independence in 1868, leading to the Ten Year’s War and culminating in the eventual abolition of slavery in 1886, although the Spanish then took back control of the island.

There followed a period of war between the Americans and the Spanish in which many of the Spanish-speaking colonies (Puerto Rico and the Philipines amongst them) were fought over, with the two parties eventually agreeing to the Treaty of Paris in December 1898 that led to the first US occupation of Cuba –  maintained until 1902.

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Memorial stone commemorating the defence of the hilltop battleground in Santiago Di Cuba

And so it was that in 1902 the US government handed control over to a Cuban government, crucially securing the rights to maintain a military presence; Havana became a very popular American tourist destination and the naval base at Guantanamo Bay was established.

Three decades of semi-independent governance, with an uneasy relationship to the US, ended in 1934 after a Provisional Revolutionary Government of the Cuban people, declared that Cuban peasants would have legal ownership of their own lands. Its success was short-lived: the US soon backed a right-wing anti-government revolt, called the ‘Sergeants’ Revolt’ which ended this brief period of stability and restored the political status quo and whilst  the country enjoyed an economic boom in the post World War II era, after Fulgencio Batista seized power in a bloodless coup d’etat in 1940 corruption was rife and political and economic disruption gave the Communist Party, with the infamous Fidel Castro at its helm (inspired by Argentinian revolutionary Che Guevara), much greater power in the eyes of the Cuban people.

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Fidel Castro’s hometown, Biran – posters like this adorn many of the highways in Cuba

Castro took control of the country after a bloody revolution lasting six years, from 1953 to 1959.

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Revolution Square, Santiago Di Cuba; a simply huge structure entitled Antonio Maceo
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The 23 giant machetes are awe-inspiring
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… to show the sheer scale

The Castro years led to significant tension between the US and Cuba, with the Bay of Pigs incident in April 1961 and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, amongst many other significant events of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Castro ruled with an iron grip, largely because the Cuban people considered him to be THE national hero and were willing to invest wholeheartedly in Communist ideology, heavily supported by Communist bloc nations, particularly the USSR; with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the consequent collapse of Communist Russia, this support was promptly withdrawn and the country struggled to survive. Castro’s isolationist policies meant that Cuba became a nation immured in what was effectively a ‘time bubble’, with many pre-1950’s American cars and glorious mansions simply left by their wealthy owners who fled to Florida (mostly) during the conflict.

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Elegant mansions, abandoned by their wealthy owners, were reassigned as communal properties under Castro.

This conflict remained unresolved whilst ever Castro lived and is only slowly adapting to change since his death in November 2016.

Which leads me very nicely to where we came in … this is precisely why we wanted to see the Cuba that exists in this ‘bubble’ before commercialism and Capitalism takes a more firm grasp of their economy. It’s definitely changing and that’s what makes it such an exciting place to visit. The Hemminway-esque mystery of this unique island was calling to my sense of adventure!

And so our eight-and-a-half-hour flight was booked and off we popped. We opted for a resort holiday so that we could relax and investigate different parts of the island on tours and trips, although hiring a car to drive independently (always our preferred way to explore) didn’t really seem to be an option, so we resigned ourselves to being shown whatever it was the tour guides felt they wanted to show us of their little piece of paradise. Initially, we had thought we might take several of these tours, after all, we had two weeks to fill! We’d be able to see everything in that time, surely?

Well, actually, not really since of course, we had assumed Cuba=Caribbean island THEREFORE small, easily circumnavigated and everything within commutable distance.

SHOCK NEWS: CUBA is HU-YUGE!

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Map of Cuba in the Caribbean: Barbados is that tiny weeny dot way out almost in the Atlantic, for size comparison purposes!

Within a couple of hours of arrival, we realised that our vague plan of taking a day-trip to Havana was not feasible, simply because at almost 800km (nearly 500 miles), even if the roads were reasonably passable (which they’re not!… more in a moment on this), that’s a ten-hour drive to get there. An organised trip was possible, but it involved getting a flight and an overnight stay in Havana, which frankly was quite expensive and potentially prohibitive for me as my disability is not particularly well catered for.

We consoled ourselves with the promise of taking the coach trip to Cuba’s second city, Santiago Di Cuba, which is of course on the southern coast, facing into the Caribbean (not very far from Guantanamo Bay in fact).

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Jorges, our excellent tour guide

I really must thank our intrepid Tour Guide, Jorge (pronounced ‘Horhey’ as he was at pains to point out to us!) for the wonderfully humorous and informative manner in which he conducted this two-day tour. It was epic.

 

 

 

Firstly, we noticed the roads, the condition of which can be described as ‘Fair, on a good day’…

… and only occasionally did we come across something slightly *odd*, such as this road to nowhere…

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Occasionally, you’d see something odd, like this

One thing that became very obvious early on was the system adopted for public transport in the countryside. There are vast swathes of greenery and countryside that are crisscrossed with these long straight roads and very few public buses pass by on a regular schedule, so the people simply gather at the crossroads, waiting for any and every vehicle passing to catch a lift from… there are inspectors randomly placed to ensure that every vehicle traveling is fully occupied – it is Communism in practice and works remarkably well. Petrol (or diesel) is rationed and therefore a highly prized commodity, so it is deemed to be appropriate for every Comrade to help others by offering their spare seats to strangers when they need to get into the town from the countryside and vice versa. The only vehicles that are generally exempt from this system are the tourists’ guided tour coaches, which coincidentally tend to be of a higher quality than most other local vehicles.

This fact of life in Cuba (limited resources) also means that people become much more creative at finding methods to travel any distance – so horses and horse-drawn carts are pretty standard methods to get around the fuel rationing issues. In addition, locals use trucks with many spaces (which effectively become buses) and many other ways to scrimp and save fuel – here’s just a few of the wonderful variety of vehicles we saw:

There’s a LOT of countryside and, for the most part, it’s very green, which was contrary to what I had expected – the blazing heat in the Caribbean frequently burns the grass and other crops in fields a yellowy-brown, so that you get the impression of an almost desert-like terrain. So from the roadside, most of what you see on the 3 hour-long drive through Holguin and Santiago Di Cuba provinces is green countryside, edged by distant mountains where coffee is the main product.

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Tiny villages in little enclaves seem to exist with little or no acknowledgement of a world beyond their border. For a Communist state, there are a surprisingly large number of sometimes breathtakingly beautiful churches – which are attended daily by locals. We visited the El Cobre Basilica, high in the hills around Santiago Di Cuba, which is dedicated to the miracle of a tiny statue of the Virgin Mary holding an even smaller baby Jesus in her arms that was found by three fishermen in the early 17th Century. People celebrate and worship at the shrine by strewing sunflowers all around. Naturally, enterprising locals sell bunches of sunflowers to all visitors, which affords the scene an innocent charm that is quite beguiling.

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The defence of the city of Santiago Di Cuba from pirates, buccaneers and other potential invaders was primarily conducted from the beautiful cliff-top castle fort, the San Pedro de la Roca Castle, which offered us some stunning views over the sea and bay of Santiago Di Cuba.

(Here’s a fantastic short video from UNESCO giving a much more detailed view and history of the castle)

In Part II of this essay, I’ll tell you more about the town of Santiago Di Cuba, which is simply spectacular, along with some portraits of the most interesting part of Cuba… the wonderful, friendly people. You won’t find a better welcome anywhere!

Once again, thanks for reading!

 

 

 

 

Lost. Found. Recovered.

Some of you may recall that I recently had a bit of a run-in with one of my neighbours. Welcome to the second instalment…

 

About ten days or so ago I decided to order a copy of this picture as a large canvas print.

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Beach Post on Pebbles Beach, Carlisle Bay, Barbados

It was meant to be for my fab hubby to remind him of our perfect Caribbean holiday, which seems so very, very long ago now. We’re having a bit of a tough time right now, what with dodgy finances and (the FAB Hubby’s) heart surgery and a distinct lack of purpose in life, coupled with an increasing feeling of having been tossed onto the scrapheap of sentience. I don’t want to impose my life complaints on everyone, but these circumstances are not helping my increasingly severe depression and most days I spend staring at my computer screen, trying to find any kind of motivation to get something achieved.

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I have occasional spurts when I try to ‘pull myself together’ like a pair of curtains, but these rarely result in much tangible success, although I do keep on trying.

So actually gathering  enough *oomph* to select and order this picture was a major happening for me. I was so pleased with myself for achieving something.The picture is particularly sentimental for us as it is of Pebbles Beach, in Carlisle Bay, Barbados, where I learned to swim as a small child. Taking Mark there was one of the first things we did when we got into the hire car – the satnav wasn’t working, but I managed to guide him to the place without too much of a detour, largely based on forty-year-old memories and a keen sense of direction. To be fair, the island is only 14 miles by 21 so it’s pretty easy to navigate around, but I was still chuffed to have found it so easily.

Standing on the exquisite white sand in the most brilliant sunshine, I was suddenly eight years old once more, in my tiger swim-suit (long story !), whiling away my days, collecting precious shells and rolling in the surf on Pebbles Beach. The Aquatic Club bar – ‘Pebble Beach Inn’ as it was known then – also had a swimming pool although it’s gone now, having been redeveloped in the intervening years. Patrick (my bestest of boy-friends) and I spent day after day either in the sea or the pool, only being dragged out to eat or drink something then back in the water we went, like a pair of water babies. It’s a strange misnomer, because there isn’t a single pebble on Pebble Beach – and there never has been as far as I can recall, so it was shells that we collected on the rare occasions that we emerged from the water.

Showing my husband of thirty-six years this precious memory meant that finally we could share it together and this of course called for a stroll along the length of the beach. I snapped the picture from the top of the steps, then he helped me jump down the steps and being a rather rotund shape these days, I tippled forward and he, being the gallant knight that he is, staggered forward to help me, so that I would be spared the indignity of rolling into a ball on the hot sand. He’d been taking his specs off and replacing them with his new sunglasses – another, whole different story –  so this process was interrupted during the rockin’ and rollin’ around in the sand.

Fast forward for about an hour as we stroll the entire length of this gorgeous beach and begin our return journey. By now, the heat has gone from the day and the sun is beginning to set -the light is fading exquisitely albeit rapidly, as it does in the Caribbean, being so much closer to the equator and all that. I’m happily snapping away with my new camera at the scenery, the sand, the water, the sky, everything in fact. I turn to take a snap of the FAB Hubby; he’s looking puzzled and just ever-so-slightly panicky.

Why’s he fumbling in his shirt pocket?‘ I ask myself. Then I ask him the same question of course, to which his terrified face blurts out ‘I’ve lost my specs!’.

Now, I should probably explain here that FAB H is virtually blind without his specs. Modern technology has reduced the thickness of the glass these days to something that resembles one of those convex coffee-table paper-weights that people have favoured pressed flowers encased in, as keepsakes or whatever. Jam jars are a thing of the past. Well, mostly anyway. The thing is, he genuinely cannot see a thing without them. So this was a BIG deal.

The entire holiday was on the verge of ruin, for without his eyes, how would he see everything? How would we manage?  Plus, the damned things had just cost an arm and a couple of legs to ensure he had them in time for the holiday. Usually he has photo-chromic lenses which means he doesn’t need separate sunglasses, so there was considerable cursing of the incompetent optician’s assistant whose fault it was that we were now having to negotiate our holiday of a lifetime, minus the ability to actually see anything, since the actual reading glasses had taken themselves off for a little holiday of their own.

It’s quite a long beach it turns out.

We retraced our steps, trying to remain positive, in spite of the increasingly fading light, turning every grain of sand over with our hands and feet, checking to see where they may have been washed into the sea, for, of course, just to complicate matters a little further, the tide was coming in. Fast.

We’d almost given up as we arrived back at the steps to clamber back into the car.

And then I saw them, quietly, even contemplatively, watching the sunset  sitting squarely in the sand, exactly where he’d knocked them out of his pocket when he chivalrously came to my aid earlier.

Lost. And then found again. Just like the beach was.

Perfect.

Now, let’s get back to the present shall we… stop all this lazing around on tropical beaches!

So, I’d ordered this picture to remind him of our wonderful holiday and perhaps to help motivate us both into better frames of mind. I got a great deal and ordered it in a large size – my pictures are meant to be viewed in large formats. This one was about 60cm x 80cm. That’s about 2 feet by about 2 feet 8 inches for those who don’t do decimals.

Thrilled I was.

When I received the email saying it would arrive on Tuesday, I was still feeling thrilled.

On Tuesday I went out of the house for the first time in about … well forever… to go help some friends hang an exhibition in Scarborough hospital. I almost asked my other neighbour to keep an eye out, but she was busy with her three children, so I left it, thinking ‘We’ll be back in good time, it’ll be fine.

Famous last thoughts. ‘It’ll be fine.‘ HAH!

Upon returning home the neighbour and her offspring were still in their garden so I asked about the parcel and she told me our other neighbour, the chap from downstairs, the evil one who made me clean his drains out recently, he was the one who’d taken it in. I sent my son round to go pick it up, but there was some confusion about my apparently ambiguous instruction and the long and short of it was that no-one went to get the parcel that evening. I fretted and worried and got antsy and my *long-suffering men*  ignored my slightly manic state and pressed on with the heavy responsibility of watching TV (or rather, snoring in front of the telly) and raising hell in some imaginary computer game world. Ahem.

Fast forward again to the next morning, when, as usual we were woken by the sound of the recycling truck and staff collecting the recycling waste. Thinking nothing more than ‘Did you put the bins out?’ I turned over and went back to sleep, whilst the FABH got up and pottered about downstairs for a while.

When I rose,  Cleopatra-like, from my slumber a little later on, my first thought was about the picture so I asked if FABH had yet retrieved it and he agreed to put some trousers on and go to collect it. It’s best to not ask about the trousers – just let that one go for now, OK? 

He returned, empty handed, reporting that our (despicable) neighbour had no knowledge of any parcel whatsoever.

I was distraught.

I was beside myself with tormented thoughts.

It wasn’t adding up.

How could he not have known about the parcel? What could have happened to it? Where did the UPS chap leave it?  Did anyone see what he did with it?  These and many more questions began encircling my tiny brain Liz birdies– like the little cartoon birds that used to fly round Sylvester or Tweety Pie’s head when they crashed into something.

I fretted a little more. I envisaged every and any possible scenario regarding my parcel’s fate. Each  a more grisly fate than the last.

The FABH of course remained implacable in the face of potential chaos. He phoned the delivery company (UPS) and we had a delightful conversation with a lovely lady called Sarah, who assured me that the records showed that the parcel had been left in a porch around the back. I explained that this property isn’t what it seems and that ‘around the back‘ are two separate, distinct apartments. She sympathised and suggested that the delivery man might call me himself to explain where he left the parcel. We thought this was an excellent idea and readily agreed.

Then we waited.

Only, I’m not really very good at waiting.

The ants in my pants told me to do it.

I went downstairs and around the back and knocked smartly on my (beastly) neighbour’s door. He was on the phone and clearly, visibly, ignoring me. I could see him through his window. Eventually he gesticulated for me to let myself in, which I did. I asked him about the parcel and he flatly denied all knowledge of it.I described it in detail and he shook his head and threw up his hands, asking me what I wanted to DO about it?

I asked for permission to check his outbuildings- an aluminium shed and another, smaller, store-box, but it wasn’t there. I was even more puzzled now and asked him what I was supposed to think when I’d been told that the delivery man had left it in his domain, but it seemed to have simply vanished. As he sagely nodded his head and attempted to stand up to encourage me to leave, he slumped, in a drunken stupor, to the floor. After helping him to the nearby sofa, I took my cue and left. Clearly, I wasn’t getting anywhere there.

Upon my return, the delivery driver, Carl, rang and we discussed the situation with him. He suggested that usually in these cases, the ‘thief’ makes the mistake of putting the packaging into the rubbish bin, to which the FABH calmly stated that it’s unlikely he’d find any rubbish in the bin as today was collection day… and then we both looked at each other in horror as the realisation of what might have happened set in.

With tears (of anger, frustration, utter disbelief and the ultimate pain of loss) rolling down my face, we thanked Carl for agreeing to pop by the next day to check on the location of the parcel and then all we could do was sit and wait. Again.

I am really rubbish at waiting – we’ve already established this – so around six-ish, I went to call on our other (Polish) neighbour to see if perhaps Carl had been mistaken and left it in his kitchen instead. He hadn’t. And it turned out that our Polish friend had actually seen my parcel in the other neighbour’s kitchen.

What can you do when faced with such evidence? Clearly, I live next to an unstable and apparently vindictive man who thinks nothing of stealing our mail. I considered going to the police, as well as our mutual landlord, but persuaded myself these options seemed drastic. I even emailed the council in the hopes that someone might have spotted the brand-newness of my parcel and put it aside perhaps… to no avail of course. I didn’t sleep a wink and when Carl arrived the next day having taken a good look around the neighbour’s property, he agreed that the only thing to do was set everything in motion to replace the picture. He promised to drop the necessary paperwork off early next week and then he left.

Imagine how delighted I was yesterday morning then when Carl arrived with my replacement parcel! He confided that the paperwork hadn’t been required since, upon ‘further investigation’ (I know not what that entailed), my dastardly neighbour had admitted that he’d taken the parcel in and then put it straight into the recycling collection. Part of me still mourns for that lost picture, but at least now it’s sitting where it’s meant to be – above the sofa across the room from the FABH, so he can be re-inspired each time he looks at it.

Lost. Stolen. Recovered. Or at least replaced.

It’s a picture with a story to tell…

Thanks for reading again!

 

 

 

 

 

It may really be happening…

It’s been a busy day, with some success and a spectacular failure – I messed up finding the location of a wonderful workshop in Scarborough, but thankfully I think I will be able to recover that at least partially, so not an actual disaster then. I just look terribly foolish – I can get over that as I’ve had so much practice.

I woke up early in a major panic. It’s the 16th of December. For one thing, it is the GUS’s nineteenth birthday and he’s still at Uni so I wouldn’t get to see him today. It’s the very first time I haven’t seen him on his birthday – even when he was at boarding school, their terms had finished by now , so for the first time in nineteen years we’ve been apart on this important day.

It’s so hard to explain the pull of my children, even though all three are now fully grown into wonderful, magnificent adults. It never goes away. I doubt it ever will.

Still, I talked with him on the phone at 7.30am and I knew that he’d grown up just a little more when he answered the phone with a comprehensible ‘Hiya Mum! How are you?’ as opposed to the usual Neanderthal grunting. Progress is so rewarding! Anyway, we’ll be seeing him very soon – probably tomorrow, so I’m not dwelling too much on his absence, save to remind myself of how truly brilliant he is and how lucky I am to be his mother.

But back to the panicking.

And the Oscar for Best Actress goes to …

No-one does *PANIC* quite like me I think. If it weren’t for the fact that I am ACTUALLY panicking, feeling sheer insurmountable terror inside and out, I could probably get an Oscar for my portrayal of ‘Panicking Woman’. I think that they have some stupid rules about having to be in an acting situation – you know, a movie – to be considered for one of those prestigious awards. It’s so no fair!

What was the panicking all about I hear you asking?

Ah, dear reader, here’s the rub – there doesn’t need to be a REASON to panic! Clearly, that’s where you’re all going wrong. No, no, reason is in fact your enemy when adopting the fully engaged PANIC mode. It’s much better to feel the panic, building up inside through weeks of worrying about Small Stuff (I could *sweat-the-small-stuff* for England, if it were an Olympic event!), about Big Stuff and about all the In-between Stuff.

There was Friday’s tussle with The Grinch. It prompted some epic responses from my Farmie Friends, which involved broomsticks that can travel across the Atlantic, transporting said wonderful wild women to come to my aid; they realised they’d need to return on a regular scheduled flight as their mode of travel would have been otherwise deployed, embedded deeply into The Grinch’s rear end, as an aid to help him clean up his own mess in future. I’m sure you need no further details! I laughed long and hard over this – truly thankful am I to have such smashing pals. Thank you ladies – you know who you are.

There was also the much more pleasing trip to see the grandchildren, who are all growing so fast, I have to find the person with their foot on the accelerator to get them to back off, just a little so I can savour them for a while longer. The Angelic Angel (Scarlett, aged three) and the Dynamic Donkey (Harriet, aged four and eleven twelfths) contributed fabulously to possibly the best Nativity I’ve ever seen. No panic here of course, unless you count my inability to capture such moments with my camera, largely due to shaking from suppressed giggles. Still, it’s being *in the moment* that counts and so it was indeed, fabulous.

But today’s panic was the culmination of my realisation that the deadline for readying my work for the New Year exhibition at the Palace Gallery in Redcar is rapidly approaching and I was no where near even being able to get them printed yet – it’s Christmas apparently and this means that getting things printed is high on many, many other people’s agendas meaning that my regular printer, who works just down the road from me and is reasonably priced, was unavailable. I rocked up last Friday afternoon, thinking ‘I’ve got this – it’ll be great’ only to be faced with a dreadful notice in his window declaring that he’s far too busy until after Christmas to do any work for anyone else.

I was not a happy chappy. That’s when the real panic started; the weekend spent happily with family simply put it all on hold and it wasn’t until 5.21 am this morning that it reclaimed my brain.

I have no pictures printed.

ARGH!!!

Printing them is expensive (giclée printing costs a fortune and they need special paper too), takes a considerable time and care to produce and then they need to be mounted and framed. Then I’ll need to properly wrap them up and then drive up to Redcar to go and deliver them. Before next Wednesday evening.

ARGH!!! and BOTHERATION!

Looking on-line didn’t help – printing may have been possible, but getting them framed this side of Chinese New Year was looking impossible.

What in Heaven’s Name was I going to do?

(Hint – here’s where all my panicky words are stored – angst, disquiet, flapping, fretting, heebie-jeebies, jitters, misgivings, needles, shakes, shivers and willies. I had ’em all. All at once. Simultaneously. It was pretty scary)

If I fail to get the pictures to the gallery in good time for the hanging of the exhibition, I miss my first chance to gain some essential exposure as an artist.

GASP!

If I fail in this endeavour, it’s likely I’ll gain a reputation for lacking any kind of professionalism – those of you who’ve worked with me in the past will know how deeply this cut would scar me, it is simply unthinkable!

GASP! GASP!

If I fail in this endeavour, my fragile dreams of artistic success will come crashing down on me, burying my confidence in a calamity  of fractured narcissism that might just cause me to totally implode.

GASP! GASP! GASP! (does anyone have an inhaler handy?)

Not that I’m being melodramatic or anything.

That’s the main ingredient of PANIC. Just, you know, FYI, in case you’ve never done the whole horror of frantic frenzy scene or anything.

Enter the FAB Hubby.

With soothing tea and calming reason. See, I told you reason is the antithesis of panic!

Together, we found a solution and thanks to two wonderful and very generous people – Paul Crick Photography (he’s a photographer who lives not far from me) agreed to print them for me (for a fee – he’s not a charity!) by Saturday and his recommended framer, Bridge Street Frames & Gallery in Helmsley, who has agreed to frame them for a great price AND have them all ready by Tuesday evening, I am now A PANIC-FREE ZONE!

So BAH! Sucks to panic!

Paul’s lovely wife, Vivien, managed to sooth my jangles with her wonderful calm stillness which is not surprising, given that she (and Paul) also run a fantastic personal wellness practice at Gaia Holistix. She is indeed the absolute antithesis to PANIC and within one minute of being in their presence, I felt better. Some people just *glow* with spirituality – she’s definitely one of them.

Thank you Vivien, Paul and the lovely chap at the framers – I didn’t catch his name but he too was so willing to help and I find that totally humbling.

This Cinderella may indeed be going to the ball.

Tree collage sm
Serenity

Serenity, at last!

(Cue calm breathing. Deep, nourishing lungfuls of relaxed chilled-ness simply *being*. Wonderful!)

… now, how many days shopping do I have ’til Christmas? And what do you mean I have no money? Does anyone have any spare change down the back of your sofas… and if so, can you send it to me? Do I have  a recipe for cranberry sauce? Where’s my list… here we go again!

Thanks for reading my friends, once again.

And in case I don’t get time for another post before the Big Day, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Merry Christmas. Let there be Peace on Earth.

 

 

 

 

Autumnal whimsy

Last week I posted some pictures of autumnal trees on my other blog and had every intention of writing more about them here. But, life takes over sometimes and I simply had no time. I suddenly realised today that if I don’t get them up soon, it’s going to be Winter – as we all know,  ‘Winter is Coming’! As a huge Game of Thrones fan I simply couldn’t resist that one.

So, in the three and a half minutes I have this morning I decided to at least get these pictures up and then I can write about them later – it seems like a good compromise. Some were taken in Harrogate, Yorkshire, on the magnificent Stray right in the centre of town. Harrogate is definitely a place I’d love to have lived, it has it’s own special charm and grace, unequalled anywhere else I’ve been to. One day, perhaps. Some others were taken in the sleepy village of Sledmere, which is on the edge of the Yorkshire Wolds, dominated by the grand stately home there, Sledmere House. I would love to spend some time visiting the house and grounds there – one day, perhaps.

My life seems to be about just that right now; Perhaps. One day. There are periods in life that can be difficult to deal with and this is definitely one of them. Still, at least there is hope. Hope is most important. I’m hanging onto that idea whilst I get on with the minutia of life. I hope you enjoy the pictures.

Thanks for reading again!

Excitement and thrills

Well, it’s definitely been an exciting week. Excitement, thrills and spills galore have been the order of the week.

‘What’s so exciting?’ I can hear you asking (‘cos I’m y’know, psychic and can hear things through the Interweb and all 🙂 )

Only this.

I can hardly contain myself.

OOH! I’m hopping from foot to foot in my frenzy of excitation!

Go on, you are picturing me in your mind’s eye leaping up and down like a mad woman, with wild hair and even wilder eyes, aren’t you? Hold that thought  won’t you – and don’t let my ancient, pain-wracked back and limbs or my elephantine frame impinge upon your mental reverie in any way – there’s no place for reality here today!

I’ve FINALLY managed to secure twenty-eight practically perfect poster-sized copies of some of my photos – IN REAL LIFE! They actually exist. No longer are they simply virtual, ethereal, impalpable nor empyreal. They have tangible substance. They are indubitable. They are sitting here in my own little (well, no-so-little in fact , as it’s big enough to take pictures up to A1 sized) physical portfolio, on my coffee table and THAT’s what’s so exciting!

First stock has arrived!
First stock has arrived!

You see, for months, in fact probably for a couple of years now, all my photographs have been visible on my computer screen and some have even made it as far as being published on the Internet in both this blog and on my new site, specifically designed to showcase my portfolio over at Akashic Arts and Design. I’ve pored over them, spent hours (thousands of hours in fact) editing them in Photoshop and then I’ve tentatively shown them, individually usually, to various audiences who have made some very kind and thoughtful comments about them; definitely rewarding to receive.

Which is all well and brilliant in fact but seriously, not a patch on the thrill of seeing my work as it was created to be seen – in large-format photographs, to be hung on someone’s wall.

I have sold a couple of my photo’s already as my lovely patrons well know (thank you to those lovely people, who know who they are!) – these were signed and despatched and currently sit on their walls. That is immensely gratifying of course, but I only saw those pictures very briefly and having approved the quality and signed & numbered them (all my photos are limited editions – although I still have to decide exactly how limited they will be), they were sent off to their new owners and that’s pretty much the last I saw of them.

It’s a bit like fostering a new puppy or kitten but then adopting it out to a new home – one where you know it will be appreciated and well looked after of course, but the point is that it isn’t here with me.

I’ve spent hours, days, even weeks researching where would be the best place to get them printed. There are so many possible options, in the end of course, it boils down to where is the best value for money. Once they are mounted and maybe framed, these babies are to be exhibited at craft fairs, or in friends’ shops or even (if I can persuade a few gallery owners) in a gallery or two. Eventually, they will be sold to new owners to be enjoyed as long as they want that privilege.

But for the moment, they are all mine.

I cannot get over how beautiful they look, in these large formats – ranging from 12″ x 16″ to 20″ x 20″ in size. That’s quite large for photographic prints. This small collection are just captivating. And the thing is, it’s not just me who thinks that. Which is the best surprise of all I think.

The two ladies at the place where I had them printed were very complimentary about the quality, particularly noticing all the details of the images, as was their boss. Several complete strangers who were having their pictures printed at the same time also made admiring comments, including statements like ‘That would look fantastic in my hallway/living room or bedroom!’. When I showed them to the people at the job-centre – where I’m currently having to register each week until the new business begins in earnest – everyone came to have a look and made similarly enthusiastic remarks.

My little heart swelled with joy. I do know that pride is a sin, but for someone like me who really struggles with self-esteem, a little pride in my achievements is long overdue and that is really what I’m so excited about. I feel like I’ve actually achieved something this week. It has been difficult to tackle this hornet, but I think I might be getting there.

The Hornet of Self-Doubt - time to take my own advice!
The Hornet of Self-Doubt – time to take my own advice!

Now I just need to get them all mounted and wrapped in protective cellophane and they will be ready for sale.  Oh, wow!

Thanks for reading once again, my friends – it means the world to me!