The Old Man and the Sea

 

Cuba Hemmingway
The Old Man and the Sea, setting forth into the Gulf Stream from Cuba

“If the others heard me talking out loud they would think that I am crazy. But since I am not, I do not care.”
― Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea

 

No trip to Cuba could possibly be undertaken without familiarising myself with Hemmingway’s works. As an English student (ie. in all senses of the phrase; I am English (mostly) and I have studied the English language both academically and simply for pleasure… perhaps that qualifies me as crazy before we start!), I should have read some of his works. Hemmingway is recognised as one of the greats in literary terms; Pulitzer and Nobel prizes for literature aren’t just handed out, willy-nilly or else they wouldn’t be worth the toil, now would they?

I am slightly ashamed to find that in spite of being really fairly well-read (if any of those Internet-based questionnaires are to be believed at least), until recently I have never even opened a single page of Hemmingway’s. Shakespeare; I’ve read most or large parts at least of 21 of the 37 plays definitely written by him; Geoffrey Chaucer, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, Emily and Charlotte Bronte, William Golding, Aldous Huxley, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, Frances Hodgson Burnett, George Orwell, E. M. Forster, Rudyard Kipling, Oscar Wilde, D.H.Lawrence and of course, J.K. Rowling… as well as very many others, I have read. With great enjoyment, I learned to read at a very early age and it has remained a favoured pastime of mine since I could hold a book in my hand.

So I was, on the one hand, appalled to find that my reading of worthy American novelists is so sadly lacking, whilst on the other hand, this meant that I had a whole new wealth of material to explore.

I started by Googling (of course, I could have Binged, but that doesn’t sound so much fun…) Hemmingway and was instantly fascinated by such a magnificent, larger than life character that takes up simply oodles of Internet space. His life is so interesting, I got lost for days before my holiday even began, just sifting through all the biographies, theories and opinions about this remarkable writer’s life and his substantial body of work.

I decided that I needed to start reading some of his actual writing before I became bogged down with other people’s opinions of the work.

(Cue drum roll please…!)

A list was drawn up. (Ching! (That’s the hi-hat))

It was waa-haa-haaayy too long! I’d be reading for months! Not that the prospect concerned me of course, but we were only going to actually be IN Cuba for two weeks, so I had to prioritise. The rest can be read later, at leisure.

I KNOW that holidays are the very definition of leisure! I’m not completely cuckoo!

I needed to download my reading list onto my Kindle before we went as we couldn’t be sure about the availability or reliability of the Internet once we had set off, so there was an element of urgency about my endeavour. Which should I choose?

Of course, The Old Man and the Sea sat firmly in pole position.

“Now is no time to think of what you do not have.
Think of what you can do with that there is” 
― Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea

I also added ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls’, ‘A Farewell to Arms’, ‘To Have and Have Not’ and the posthumously published ‘Islands in the Stream’, the latter largely because it made me think of the wonderful Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ duet with the same title. I had heard of the others too, which always helps when choosing I think.

But it was The Old man and the Sea that grabbed my attention and no sooner were we settled into our new vacation home (a four-star holiday complex in Guardalavaca, on Cuba’s north-facing coastline, looking out to the Bahamas across the North Atlantic Ocean – although it is decidedly Caribbean-like at this point), I settled down on a beach-side lounger, drinking in the exquisite blue of the sea, Kindle in one hand, tropical cocktail in the other.

And breathed.

For your delectation, I am including some visuals, to help you get the idea…

So, I thought I would read for an hour or so then take a nap and then maybe eat something and then rinse and repeat.

I wasn’t expecting to be quite so enthralled by the story!

“Fish,” he said, “I love you and respect you very much. But I will kill you dead before this day ends.” 
― Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea

It is quite the most gripping tale, a literally un-put-downable story of survival, all played out under the very same sky I was looking at. The main character, the Old Man (named Santiago) decides to take his tiny fishing boat (called a ‘skiff’) right out into the Gulf stream, alone, in order to try to break his dreadful run of bad luck, termed ‘salao’, which has lasted for eighty-four long days.

The epic battle with his quarry, an eighteen-foot-long marlin with more than enough spirit to struggle legendarily, that ensues over the following three days is simply awesome in the truest sense of that word. The loneliness of the two, fisherman and fish, forever linked by bait and rod, is empathically described, with Santiago showing true compassion for his adversary, frequently referring to it as his brother: “I have never seen or heard of such a fish. But I must kill him. I am glad we do not have to try to kill the stars.” Imagine if each day a man must try to kill the moon, he thought. The moon runs away. . . . Then he was sorry for the great fish that had nothing to eat and his determination to kill him never relaxed in his sorrow for him. . . . There is no one worthy of eating him from the manner of his behaviour and his great dignity. I do not understand these things, he thought. But it is good that we do not have to try to kill the sun or the moon or the stars. It is enough to live on the sea and kill our true brothers.” 
― Ernest HemingwayThe Old Man and the Sea

The story’s resolution is not what one might hope for the mightiness of the struggle that has been undertaken, but it is ultimately fitting. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet (in spite of this seeming to be my forte at the moment – whilst Facetiming my granddaughter I accidentally revealed that Anakin becomes good at the end… I genuinely didn’t realise I was giving the plot away there!) because I can genuinely say this was more than worth the time invested.

I found myself welling up with huge, fat tears of affinity with this pair of souls. I wanted them to find peace. I like to think that they did, for who could not in this beautiful paradise?

Guardalavaca marina BW
The Watchful Eye of the Marina tree
Coastguard Cuba
Coastguard, Cuba-style
Guardalavaca marina
Guardalavaca Marina

Thanks for reading… there is more to come from our trip to Cuba when we ventured out of the hotel compound and into the extraordinary countryside and second city that is Santiago Di Cuba. Adios!

Advertisements

It’s been a while

So, it’s been almost two years since I wrote anything here. There’s a whole bunch of reasons for that, mostly to do with failing technology, but also health issues and in particular, of course, the ever present mental health challenges. Motivation is the key to any kind of success and something I’ve been very sadly lacking in recent months (about twenty of them at last count). I think I’m over that hump again (for now at least) and have decided to resume blogging in the hopes of finding my metaphorical mojo and getting at least some of my shizzle together.

Last time I wrote about my unpleasant interaction with my neighbour downstairs. He has since passed away and we now have a new neighbour, a young female person whose first name I know, but that’s about all. I think I saw her once just after she moved in, but she’s quiet (no loud partying, yet) and seems happy to keep herself to herself, which is good. Or, at least better than the previous occupant. I can’t see that she’s going to provide much in the way of source material for writing though, so I’m going to have to look further afield perhaps.

Happily, I have finally managed to move into the 21st century as far as my techie-bits are concerned, which has been no mean feat! Many, many thanks are due to my FAB Hubby, without whom, I would remain up s**t creek without the proverbial paddle… thanks indeed! I have many other things to thank him for right now, but I do want to get to the reason I have up-sprung and returned to my musings on life, so I’ll save those thanks for other stories as and when I get round to regaling you all with them.

So now I have a pencil shaped magic wand/mouse that means that I can use more intuitive movements when creating digital art. I am loving this! I have tried a few practice projects… it takes quite a bit of getting used to, but I think I am on the right track now and thought it was about time to start sharing stuff once more.

Caribbean Sea Yacht 3000
Caribbean Yacht

This picture us one that I have painted, digitally, using Corel Painter 5 and some photos taken during our holiday to Cuba last year (I told you there’s lots of stories to come!). Developing any understanding of the myriad possibilities of tools, colours and techniques to employ with this programme is definitely challenging my grey matter, which I am thoroughly enjoying. It’s probably taken me about two days of dabbing with my pen-brush, so I offer it to you for perusal and would be delighted to receive comments either here or through my Facebook page… follow the link  at the top!

It’s great to be back!

Real Disney Magic

Arriving in Disneyland (Paris) on a cold, rainy Friday afternoon in early March gave me something I never dreamed it might.

Of course, I’d been looking forward to spending some really good quality time with my family – something that’s been in very short supply for so long that I couldn’t remember when it wasn’t. You know your life is going wrong somewhere when you realise you are miserable all the time and there seems to be nothing that can break the downward spiral of discontentment and despair. When it feels like even your closest family members really have no reason left to love you anymore because you feel so toxic.

When the FAB Hubby suggested it just before Christmas, I’d shrugged and assumed that, like many other dreams from the past, this one too would never see the light of day. I mean, what grown woman wants to go to Disneyland, for goodness sake? The thought HAD crossed my mind when my girls were much younger, and then again when my son was small – especially when one of my students was the son of one of the project managers of the much anticipated Hong Kong Disneyland Park  – but somehow, it just never happened and frankly, holidays are not something I’ve ever really known how to take. I’m not so good at the relaxing part and enjoying life, like many people I know.

So once I saw the tickets and the many conversations between the ten participants of this jaunt to the Continent confirmed that it actually WAS happening, I found I was really quite happy about the whole event. I am aware that I can be a bit of a killjoy at times and so decided that success for me during this holiday would be to have some good photos and some cherished memories of shared good times together. I hate roller coaster rides and to be honest, Disney itself has never been a massive influence on my life, so I really wasn’t expecting the place to work any kind of actual *magic* upon this world-weary, somewhat lost soul. How wrong can a person be?

It first happened about twenty minutes after arriving at the Gotham City-sized car park, which was remarkably empty at 2.30pm on this particular Friday afternoon. Perhaps, not surprising in itself of course, especially considering the cold, damp weather forecast and the fact that most people would be at work or school or otherwise engaged in their everyday lives.

We’d trekked the hundred miles from the car park to the main entrance (seriously – travelators help, but it’s a really long walk!) and not been too put off by the large green hoardings just outside the magnificent Disney Hotel, declaring that Disney Magic was being worked upon this particular area just now, so it was closed for visitors. I hoped that wouldn’t be too much of a recurrent theme for the next three days. These hoardings had shadows of the Seven Dwarves and characters from Peter Pan that we adults recognised but that scared the bejeezus out of my three-year-old granddaughter, Scarlett, who imagined they were real.

And then we found ourselves in Main Street, USA.

And there was the actual Disney Magic Castle.

DL MAgic Castle
The actual Disney Magic Castle at Disneyland Paris. It’s actually Magic.

Right in front of us.

That’s when I first felt the magic. ‘Dah, dah dah dah, dah dah dah! ‘ trilled the loudspeaker somewhere above my head (you KNOW the tune).

It was so familiar and yet so very strange. Actual goosebumps. And not just because it was about 2º.

And suddenly my face was wet with happy tears and I smiled for the first time in a very long time, from a place very deep within my soul.

This was going to be awesome.

A lot of other stuff happened during the rest of the afternoon – I’ll skip that for now (don’t worry – I’ll come back to it later, in another post!) though to get to the next time my face got wet. I KNOW! TWICE… in ONE DAY! Who’d ‘a thunk?

Again, it took me by surprise – because one thing on my list of ‘Things I hate with a passion‘ are fireworks. Ask anyone who knows me well – fireworks leave me cold. When I was about nine or so, I used to watch one of my favourite TV shows, called ‘Magpie’ which was a bit like ‘Blue Peter’ with a really catchy theme tune that immortalized the old wives’ tale about magpies –

Magpie logo
Murgatroyd the Magpie from the TV show

One for sorrow, two for joy;

Three for a girl and four for a boy;

Five for silver, six for gold and

Seven for a secret never to be told‘.

They added some extra lines that went Eight is a wish and nine a kiss – ten is a bird you must not miss, Ma -aah- ahh- ag- pie! (clicking on the link will take you to the theme tune on YouTube, in case you’re interested!) Murgatroyd the Magpie was their logo – I loved him!

In the UK fireworks are generally only used at one time of year, unless (nowadays anyway) there’s some kind of special celebration such as a royal wedding or a summer outdoor concert or something, but when I was young, all through the month of October small groups of children would make effigies of Guy Fawkes, using one of their dad’s old shirts and trousers stuffed with straw (or mum’s old tights) and wheel him round in a barrow shouting ‘penny for the Guy?’ to all and sundry in the hopes that some would offer you some dosh so that you could go and buy some fireworks to let off on Bonfire Night – ‘Remember, remember the fifth of November; Gunpowder, treason and plot. I see no reason, why gunpowder treason. Should ever be forgot!‘.

Frequently, of course, some children (usually the older ones, who were generally out to create a lot of mischief) would let off their fireworks, throwing bangers and crackers willy-nilly before the designated night of merriment, much to everyone’s delight. Well, everyone who wasn’t me. You see, I had watched those awful episodes of Magpie when they featured the consequences of such mischief-making, gone horribly wrong. It seems that gangs of older kids (and I knew some of these people) routinely found it very amusing to tie Catherine Wheels or Rockets or other such delights to the tails of unsuspecting moggies and even occasionally small pooches and then light them and run for safe cover, to see the object of their handiwork desperately struggling to free themselves, before the inevitable awful lift off, lighting up the sky as they flew through the air.

This practice simply terrified me, all the more so since I knew several very unpleasant characters that were responsible for such atrocities, although I had no actual evidence that they were involved of course, so couldn’t substantiate my claims to any person of authority. In truth, I was very afraid of these louts myself so I wasn’t about to endanger my own safety so recklessly – even though I felt like a terrible coward for choosing this path.

Photographs of maimed cats and later, when the campaigns became more aggressive, there were pictures of maimed children too, were quite sufficient motivation for me to hate the source of such evil – fireworks, even tiny little sparklers, became the thing I feared and hated most on Earth. It’s taken nearly forty years for me to change my mind.

We’d had a long day travelling, arriving, exploring and being enchanted by Disneyland. We stayed in the park for the big fireworks show at 8.00 pm, seated on wet chairs in a huge crowd of people waiting for the same thing. Hot chocolate and some bright flashes and then we could go to our lodgings to get a good night’s sleep – that’s what I was looking forward to most at this point.

Until the show began.

And what a show!

As soon as it began, I could feel that *magic* happening again. I smiled once more. It was all so charming and adorable, so exciting and – what was it… thrilling?

I had to leave the family group to get a better view for my camera – we were too far away. I snickered in between other small groups and eventually found a reasonable vantage point to watch the show – me, who hates fireworks!

And before I knew it, those tears were streaming like Colorado Rapids down my face. The rain had definitely stopped, so it wasn’t Heavenly precipitation causing this flood. No-sir-ee. I was crying, smiling, laughing, pointing delightedly at nothing in particular, wiping away my tears with the back of my hand and never taking my eyes off the fireworks show.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

When you wish upon a star
Makes no difference who you are
Anything your heart desires
Will come to you
If your heart is in your dream
No request is too extreme
When you wish upon a star
As dreamers do
Fate is kind
She brings to those to love
The sweet fulfillment of
Their secret longing
Like a bolt out of the blue
Fate steps in and sees you through
When you wish upon a star
Your dreams come true

It really is *Magic*!

Thanks for reading this one, there will be more because it was such a great experience, so do come back again! 

 

 

 

Nunnington Hall: The Carlisle Collection

I’m not often overly enamored of the various trinkets that stately home owners like to put on show to the Great Unwashed – i.e. you and I, Joe Public and the like. I mean, I love the historic settings and there is definitely great value to be imbibed through getting up-close-and-personal with the hoity-toitys’ treasures but sometimes these things can leave one really wondering if there ever were real people who, once upon a time, loved these objet d’arte as much as the historians would have us believe.

The Carlisle Collection, a unique collection of truly outstanding miniature rooms, fully furnished in intricate detail and commissioned by Mrs Kitty Carlisle in the early to mid twentieth century, is housed in the attic rooms of Nunnington Hall, near York in North Yorkshire.

It is enchanting; stepping in to see each display case is a sheer delight.

Carlisle Collection: Antique Shop showing scale
Carlisle Collection: Antique Shop showing scale

The scale is reportedly on an uncommon 1/8th (1 inch = 8 inches) measurement – uncommon because most other similar artifacts are usually on the smaller 1/12th scale (1 inch = 12 inches). The considerable attention to detail is outstanding and evident in each of the dozen or more displays.

This means that everything is really tiny, but perfectly formed.

… so many possibilities, so little time! I’ll leave whatever comparisons you want to make to your own imaginations 🙂 

The first room to capture my attention was the Antique Shop – apparently this was what she constructed with everything that was left over from furnishing the other rooms. What a creative way to display the gallimaufry of ephemera that had no other place! ‘Something doesn’t fit in any of the other settings? No worries! Let’s create an antique shop so nothing looks out of place!’ It’s a stroke of genius, in my mind at least.

Carlisle Collection: Antique Shop interior from above
Carlisle Collection: Antique Shop interior from above

Totally mesmerizing, I was fascinated with the tiny ceramic animals sitting on a display table and an exquisitely etched silver tea service on a silver tray. Looking through the glass in the front door made me feel like an actual giant. Truly. I suddenly completely understood Alice in Wonderland at the deepest level.

Next we spied the tiny greenhouse, complete with potted plants and gardening tools. *Squee!*

Carlisle Collection; Greenhouse
Carlisle Collection; Greenhouse

The painter and decorator’s workshop floored me with the rolls of wallpaper, stacked neatly on a shelf – Mrs Carlisle had taken the trouble to PRINT a variety of different patterns onto the wallpapers in store – one was conveniently opened up for inspection on the work bench.

Carlisle Collection; Painter and Decorators's Workshop
Carlisle Collection; Painter and Decorators’s Workshop

Teeny tools and even the bicycle parked under the stable door made me smile broadly. I was really beginning to enjoy the display!

Now we moved across the hall to another room filled with enclosed display cabinets. These were nothing short of spectacular. I was delighted also to spot that the National Trust provided appropriate portable stepping platforms so that younger visitors might be able to see the marvelous detail for themselves – it’s a nice touch.

The Adam Music Room with its variety of splendid instruments, including a mandolin, a Spanish guitar, cello, viola, violin, clarinet, harp and harpsichord as well as a music stand with sheet music stacked up rather precariously made me wish I had such a room in my own house.

Carlisle Collection; Music Room
Carlisle Collection; Music Room

The Palladian Hall, reputedly the last of the rooms to be commissioned by Mrs. Carlisle is modeled on one at Hatch Court in Somerset.

Carlisle Collection; Entrance Hall
Carlisle Collection; Entrance Hall

The balustrade pattern was hand carved and then each of the 84 balusters were cast in brass whilst the  88 inches of carpet for the stairs was hand embroidered by the dedicated Mrs Carlisle, who also created all of the soft furnishings for each room setting.

The Georgian Bedroom then is even more fascinating (for textile-techies such as me at least) by this fact – take a look at the teeny little patches that Mrs Carlisle used to make the quilt for the bed – each one can be no more than a quarter-inch in size. And they are hexagons.

Carlisle Collection: Georgian Bedroom
Carlisle Collection: Georgian Bedroom

And, remember that back in the times that she made these remarkable bed-coverings, she would have had to have cut each tiny hexagon out by hand, tacked it to a tiny card template and then stitched each with minuscule stitches to the next in order to create the 12 inch long (approximately) counterpane. My mind was simply boggled!

The Queen Anne Drawing Room was actually Kitty Carlisle’s first commission, which she had modeled upon F.J Early’s Queen Mary’s Dolls House.

Carlisle Collection; Queen Anne Drawing Room
Carlisle Collection; Queen Anne Drawing Room

The attention to detail is simply breathtaking – dovetailed joints and even secret compartments in the writing bureau! I was also informed that the china is genuine Limoges Porcelain. Again, our seamstress busied herself with tapestries for the chair covers and footstools as well as the handsome room carpet.

Also (not pictured) there is the Day Nursery, which features a delightful toy Noah’s Ark, complete with a long line of paired animals, patiently waiting their embarkation amongst many other cherished toys; there’s also a Night Nursery, complete with a cot and a crib and other accouterments to childish slumber. It’s just lovely to see.

What a wonderful way to spend an hour or two  – if you ever get a chance to visit, this is definitely a must-see attraction, especially if, like me, you’re interested in miniature worlds.

NB: With regards to copyright; I did ask if it was OK to take photos and was informed that as long as I didn’t use a flash this would be OK and I do hope that I’m not upsetting any copyright rules by publishing my own photos here – if anyone is concerned about this, please can they let me know by contacting me via the contact details on the ‘contact page’ of this website. Thanks.

There’ll be more about our trip to Nunnington Hall last weekend, which we went to in order to see the gorgeous ‘Aspects of Rievaulx Abbey’ Exhibition that was showing my two art teachers’ work, Anne Thornhill and Paul Blackwell – that’s a whole other post though, so keep reading!

 

 

 

Finding Fathers

My daddy died on the 9th of November 1969, when I was eight years old.

In those days, no-one discussed death with small people and so I knew very, very little of what happened to him. I have a copy of his death certificate that I inherited from my mother when she died, five years after he did. So I have known for over forty-five years that he was buried on the island of Barbados, but I haven’t ever plucked up the courage to find whereabouts on the island. It’s not a very big island so I guess I’ve always assumed it wouldn’t be too hard to find, when push came to shove.

So, the shoving is happening soon.

In the wee hours of this day, as others slumber, I am too excited to sleep. There are many reasons for this, but primarily it’s because I’ve finally realised that this is actually real and we will be going on the holiday of a lifetime in a few short weeks.

Barbados.

Millionaire’s paradise, playground of the rich and famous.

Exquisite, beauteous jewel isle at the very edge of the Caribbean, where the days are warm and sunny for almost all the time.

It’s also the place I spent some of my early years – regular readers will already know this. I arrived in early October 1966, just before the island declared Independence from Great Britain and lived through some interesting historical times, including the installation of the first Prime Minister, Errol Barrow. The school I attended stands adjacent to the Government House and I recall watching parade ground antics from my classroom window. I was fascinated by the white plumed hats.

It all ended with the death of my daddy, who wasn’t my (biological) father, but was always my daddy. It was a cold hard bump to find myself in England, in winter, after the warmth and beauty of island heaven. I knew it was because he had died, but couldn’t, for the life of me, fathom why we had to leave and return to Blighty. If only someone had thought me worthy of explanation.

My FAB Hubby has long promised that we will go there to see the place I spent time growing up – it’s just about the one place that I’ve never had any likelihood of an opportunity to revisit. This hallowed trip has taken on mammoth proportions and when the promise seemed to be starting to materialise a few short weeks ago, I’ve steadfastly promised myself that I would NOT get excited or begin planning anything because, well, I didn’t dare to dream that it might really happen.

But dammit, life is too short to not allow oneself the pleasure of anticipation, the thrill of planning what to do and where to go during our visit. So tonight, I gave in to the Dark Side and dove in.

It is simply breathtaking to think that I’m actually going to go.

*SQUEE!!!*

So I’ve been downloading pictures to use as my screen savers – they’re not my photos, so I’ll not use them here  (except the one below -I can’t resist since this is where I learned to swim!) , but you dear reader, yes, I am talking to YOU! -You WILL get to see all the gazillion photos I will be taking myself. With my own camera. With my own eyes. Oh, YES! (I am a tad excited about that prospect, you may just detect a nuance of exhilaration. It may take a while to pass!). I may have to buy a new camera to be sure of capturing everything just so.

And then I stopped and realised something.

I Googled cemetery’s in Barbados and not only found the Westbury Cemetery immediately, but found my daddy’s records in mere seconds.

I think it’s going to be the first place we’ll go to.

I’ll let you know.

Pebble Beach
Pebble Beach in Barbados, where I learned to swim.

As ever, thanks for reading!

Thoughts: Emotional Safety

Thoughts: Emotional Safety.

Ah, my friend, Tom Atkins, a sublime poet and philosopher with whom I am connected via the Creative Group that author Jon Katz conceived, is simply brilliant at expressing that which lies deep within many of us. These words are not only wise and beautifully articulated, but they are above all, like their author, kind and true. I struggle with being kind – to myself and sometimes towards others, but all I ever need to do is read his words and I am inspired. Thank you Tom, for your wisdom and your friendship. I hope you don’t mind me re-blogging this one.