Porch paranoia…

27 01 2010

It’s going to happen one of these days.

One day I’m going to nip into the porch, forgetting to put the front door on the latch, it’ll shut behind me and I’ll be locked in a 1.5m square glass box in full view of the main street.  Of course, I won’t have my mobile with me.  Or any keys.  And I’ll probably be in my pyjamas.

This will happen.

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Iceland – The Golden Circle (Part 3)

23 01 2010

Iceland – The Golden Circle

A quick drive downhill and we arrive at Geysir. Geysir itself is a huge wart-like bump with tiny streams of water dribbling down it. The rock is streaked with slippery looking, whitish deposits and quite hollow; when you jump up and down, you expect it to crack, or a little goblin to lift up a crusty flap and ask you to keep the noise down. In the middle of the water there’s now a dead pool of crystal clear water with a rude looking hole in the middle, its ejaculations quenched by a tourist in recent years who chucked a load of gravel down it to tempt it into action. Instead, it killed it. I wonder if it was the same tourist who was swept away at Gullfoss. Maybe the ground recognised the murderer and shrugged slightly, making him loose his balance and plunge into the eager waters. I hope so.

We continue in our broken, straggly crocodile to a blue pool. Silica again. The water level is exactly the height of the ground, and so clear it’s disconcerting; you can see the bottom perfectly (and it’s quite deep), but it looks like there’s no water there at all. If you didn’t know you could easily walk straight into it. A very faint line of the same whitish deposit on the rock marks the edge of the water, as you get close. This is the only water here you can put your hand in (the rest is too hot) and people do, sending ripples across the surface, distorting the clarity. I have a go. It’s hot. Weird.

And on, past little holes bubbling and spitting and steaming, each with their own name politely displayed on a wooden plaque a safe distance away. Then we join the crowd around Strokkur, with a gap in the circle down wind. Apparently the spray is so hot we’re advised to keep out its way. Strokkur means ‘the churn’, because it does. It churns now; cameras are raised, then lowered. Then raised again as the water level in the huge, gaping hole suddenly bulges; then lowered when the water recedes.

The people who’d backed away shuffle forward again, joking nervously, but they don’t come quite as close as they were before. The water level rises again, swirling slowly, and some of the tourists start chanting; it hears them and goes back down again. It rises again, and again, then suddenly it just keeps on rising and swelling, forcing a huge green bubble of water up and up and with a massive rush up into the sky it goes in a steaming white billowing jet.

This is nature! This is rude! Four times, then it sighs back down its hole, exhausted. There’s a rush to the hotel for dinner and I stay a while to look for some bubbling mud, but can’t find any.

A baby hole, quite deep, makes me jump back with a squeak when it plops loudly and fingers of boiling water spring out at me. I’m wary of them all – couldn’t any of them suddenly do a Strokkur? I pick my way over the fragile crust of ground, worried about stumbling inadvertently into a blowhole, and retire to the hotel for my fresh salmon, watching Strokkur perform for each new wave of tourists from the window.

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Here endeth the typed-up version – but my travel diary continues with the last two stops on the tour.  Should really get round to writing them up… watch this space?!





Iceland – The Golden Circle (Part 2)

22 01 2010

Iceland – The Golden Circle

We drive past Geysir, fluffy white puffs of steam rising from the ground, and turn off to Gullfoss, the Golden Waterfall. I’m looking forward to this. Hope my fear of edges doesn’t prevent me from seeing everything. The coach pulls into a parking area, and from the window I catch a glimpse of the falls, making me stop breathing for a minute and press my hands to the window. Before we disembark, we’re warned to watch our step because of the ice. Last year someone slipped and fell in, and they haven’t been found yet. I wonder if I’ll join them. There’s a narrow gravelly stone path going across, then up sharply (well, it looks sharp to me) to a craggy peninsula. I stand for a moment at the edge of the car park and smile at the view, then gingerly make my way up the path, stopping halfway for a blissful view of the churning white torrents, and feel a moment of dizziness as the force draws me to lean forward. I check myself and carry on up the path, hardly daring to breath, watching for slippery bits. As I near the top I can hear and feel the power of the falls, and I scramble awkwardly up some rocks, eager for the view.

Well. About the view. About the roar of the water; about the delicate, quiet spray, softly rising and drifting in the breeze; about the atmosphere; about the clean, sharp air; about the beauty, the grace, the sheer unstoppable power. My automatic camera packs in, so I’m forced to the unfamiliar manual one, probably none will come out. Well, hold the memory. It won’t be difficult. The falls go in steps, turning a corner, and the water is that beautiful, milky green of glacial water. Remember this. When I’m on my last legs, about to pop my clogs, bring me to Gullfoss and throw me over the edge. Let the falls finish me off, and let the tiny once-me-bits be spread the length and breadth of whatever route this river takes. I’m moved.

Then I move, a moments panic at the climb back down the rocky bit. I can see myself slipping over the edge crying ‘Not yet….!’. I slither down awkwardly on my bottom, as the others spring down gazelle-like around me. Bugger them. I walk slowly back up the path.

This is the Silver Waterfall today; all around the edges of the falls and on the slopes the spray has landed on the rocks and mossy ground and frozen, turning everything into a miniature forest of delicate silvery white crystals. And now I’ve climbed up the steps and am on top of the world, but still dwarfed by the surrounding mountains. I can see the falls in their entirety and everything is beautiful. I’m the last one, and I feel like the last person on earth; I turn in slow circles listening to the chill wind that bites my ears and nose, hearing the roar of the falls, and feeling the power and peace of the land around me.

The bus starts its engine, rudely interrupting my dreaming, so I jog back down the icy steps trying to avoid the bird droppings on the handrail. They’re purple.





Iceland – The Golden Circle (Part 1)

21 01 2010

Notes taken from my travel diary in 1995, when I took a tourist bus around the Golden Circle in Iceland. It’s quite long, so I’ll post it over a few days.

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Iceland – The Golden Circle

Out of Reykjavik, travelling southeast to Hveragerdi on a bus full of tourists. A thin covering of snow dusts the sides of the road. Suddenly the snow is gone, and we’re looking out over a valley – in the distance is the sea, I think. Or something. Wish I’d bought the map. We descend to a small, ugly town, redeemed by purple mountains in the distance. There’s a huge greenhouse here, stuffed with tropical plants. It’s heated from the hot springs; 300 degrees when they reach the surface, so the water has to be cooled before it can be used. The tourists scoot around the greenhouse and spend most of their time in the gift shop. There’s a beautifully carved ship there, a mini-viking ship, with seats for two people, one behind the other. Turning round a stuffed arctic fox in its summer coat snarls down from shelves of woollens, whilst puffins and a raveny thing stare aloofly over our heads. I go back outside and breath the air and look at the mountains whilst the others bulk buy tacky plastic mementos, hardly glancing at the local, handcrafted goods.

Then to Kerid, past summerhouses strewn around the lava fields, dwarfed by the mountains behind them. The couple behind me exclaim at the size of the tiny houses and come to the conclusion that they’re just storage sheds and the actual houses are somewhere else, hidden from view. Kerid. The name sounds like something out of a fairy tale – a shining, fairy castle. It’s actually an extinct volcano crater housing a lake of deep, rich, emerald green-blue water, which to me is every bit as beautiful. From the top you can see for miles, and Hekla sits placidly in the distance, silently watching every tourist, every sprig of moss, every movement. On its summit one tiny black dot peeps ominously through the snow. Hot? Melted? Around here, we’re told, there have been numerous earthquakes lately. Small but significant. They don’t know why. Later on, we’re told that Hekla usually warns of imminent eruptions with earthquakes. Hmmm. I draw my own conclusion and wonder if the rest of the tourists are planning on taking a closer look at Hekla. There’s a cairn. Why? They’re everywhere. Perhaps they were built by elves. Go to bed, wake up, look out the winder and zap! A cairn’s appeared. Kerid is beautiful and I don’t want to leave. I wait until the others trudge back down to the bus, then take my solitary photos and soak up the glorious desolation. The water is coloured by silica (GEL – DO NOT EAT) in the rocks. Then we continue north, through farmland. A veritable tussock-farm. The tussocks are caused by ice under the grass, and they get bigger as time goes by. The farmers dig trenches to help drain the ground and curb the swelling of the tussocks. On un-drained land the tussocks are huge. I’ve always liked tussocks. It’s a good word too, is tussocks. Tussocks, tussocks, tussocks. Worth over-using. The grass is a light beige colour now, and the sun suddenly lights up the field, turning it into an undulating golden sea. We pass Icelandic horses, but none are doing the tolt.

Approaching Skalholt we’re told how the Catholic bishop rode out here to protest against the conversion of Iceland to Lutheran. We pass the site where they lopped his head off, rather than try to get him back to Reykjavik to stand trial. This is a big church, with beautiful stained glass windows and a bizarre painting of Christ over the altar. The colours in the painting are the colours of the distant mountains outside, all dusky blues and purples. Breathtaking. Like other Icelandic churches, it’s very bare inside. That’s not a criticism. There’s nothing else here, just the massive white church, and a couple of other buildings, one of which is some kind of school, I think. And a little dog, which runs round in circles yapping as we board the bus and trundle back off up the road past the place where the bishop lost his head.





Cricklewood Broadway…

20 01 2010

Just noticed that one of my articles on an internet writers’ forum is at number 2 (of 40).  Hadn’t logged in for a while, so am pleasantly surprised – particularly as it’s one of my least favourites! So what else can I do except repeat it here?!

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Cricklewood Broadway

There was one who was always a few paces behind the rest of them. They were never seen to check on his existence, just appeared to assume he would always be following. He was.

Shorter than the smallest of them by a good foot, he was a huddle of man, wrapped in a battered army greatcoat. The lower part of his face was hidden beneath the folds of a ragged scarf which he wore tied in a large tangle at the front. I wondered how may times the scarf was wrapped around his neck; perhaps he had a thick neck and it was a short scarf. Or a thin neck and the scarf was wrapped round five, maybe six times. Maybe he had no neck at all and if you were to unwind the scarf you’d find yourself with yards of decaying wool and… nothing.//

From the rope he wore knotted around his middle (there was no waist to speak of) hung a carrier bag. He was never without it. I’d never seen him actually putting anything into the bag, or taking anything out of it; yet sometimes it was empty, sometimes bulging.

He walked by carefully shuffling first one foot, then the other, over the ground. There was no other perceptible movement except for the rhythmic swinging of the bag, or its gentle billowing when empty. On windy days it somehow became trapped between his body and right arm, although he was never seen to actually move his arm to enable it to become trapped there. It’s unclear as to whether or not he possessed hands, or if the ends of his fingers (all that was visible from the limp sleeves of the coat) sprouted directly from his unseen wrists. Or perhaps his fingers were grafted onto the inside of his sleeves – he was never seen to use them, so they were obviously just there for show.

My father once had a pair of slippers not unlike the remains of those he wore on his feet, but dad never wore his in the rain. Between their tops and the grimy bottoms of his indifferent trousers, a glimpse of grey foot and ankle could sometimes be caught. What could be seen of his face between the folds of the scarf and the bottom of his woollen hat (it was one of those hats that made you think of your granny’s tea-cosy) was that same grey. No visible ears, which would explain why he never appeared to hear. The man was totally grey. There was no colour in the space in which he lived and walked; all he possessed were a few sombre shades of grey.

Except for his eyes.

If it weren’t for his eyes, then the myth of his hands and the scarf would perhaps have been believable. His eyes rarely left the ground, so it was difficult to catch sight of them. But when you did, it always surprised you that a body so grey could possess such eyes. They brimmed with the brightest blue; a shade so startling that it made you think twice as to whether this man was actually what he seemed. Could he be secretly harbouring some amusing secret, so laughable that he dare not look up from the ground lest he should catch someone’s eye and dissolve into hysteric laughter? And as he laughed, would his grey facade fall away, leaving behind the image of kindly old gentleman who’d been trying to hide his identity on his excursions into the city? Who was he really?//

The last time I saw him he was distanced further from the rest of them. His carrier bag was missing.

It was nearly two weeks until I saw the group again, and he was nowhere in sight. They sat or stood around their usual boxes and crates. I bought a warm beer from the bar opposite and sat outside to observe them, waiting from him to shuffle his way out from nowhere and take up his position, slightly on the outside. But he never arrived. Then I noticed the taller one, wearing a familiar scarf. And the woman, that coat she wore with the long sleeves rolled up…

With his greyness spread between them, he was finally a part of the group.

I finished my beer and moved on.





Long haired granny…

12 01 2010

I’m intrigued.

Someone landed on my blog the other day by searching for ‘long haired granny’.  Can’t help but feel a bit disturbed… does the internet think I’m a long haired granny?  Being long overdue a haircut isn’t helping my paranoia…

Had an extremely funny cat moment over Christmas – one of those ones where you’re kicking yourself for not having had your phone/camera trained on it in video mode.  It went a bit like this…

Rather quiet, old, shy, small, nervous black cat with white paws comes out the cat flap into partner’s sister’s garden whilst partner and I are outside having a crafty fag.

Cat is not expecting people to be outside, and feels the urgent need to run away.

Cat jumps onto garden table.

Cat gives one of those quick pre-launch bum wiggles and leaps to the top of the garden fence.

Cat misjudges top of garden fence by a good metre, hits fence with belly and all four legs splayed out diagonally.

Cat slides down fence, hits ground, jumps again in panic, rebounds off table and disappears over top of fence.

Partner and I absolutely wee ourselves.

No, we’re not cruel nasty people – if you’d seen it you’d have been incapable with laughter too! It happened so fast, and the only thing missing was the comedy cartoon sound effects.  I’m sniggering now thinking about it.  It was almost as funny as when our cat was having a mad half-hour, tore down the hall into the bathroom, shot between my legs, jumped onto the side of the bath, misjudged it, landed in the bath… which was full of water (and bubblebath).  He was moving so fast that he somehow managed to jump straight out the water and leg it back down the hall leaving little puffs of bubblebath in his wake.

Oh dear, bit of a giggle problem now, best sign off…





Snow and fat blackbirds…

8 01 2010

Ooh look, it’s a new year, outside it’s all white and fluffy, and the country seems to be grinding to a halt. Had a little sprinke of extra snow in the night here, and… ooh, it’s just started snowing again! Hurrah for proper winters!

The cat is totally freaked out.  He only goes out to go to the loo, and is spending a lot of time sitting by the back door staring out the cat-flap in disgust.  When he does go out, he tries his best to either tread in previous paw-prints, or jump between rare patches of snow-less ground. Of which there ain’t a lot.  Ooh look, big flakes!

Been listening to local radio the last couple of days just to hear the lists of school-closures (how sad!).  Memories of sitting round the green formica kitchen table at breakfast waiting for Radio Leicester to announce the closure of our primary school.  Getting so wrapped up in extra jumpers, scarves, wellies and gloves that you’re rendered almost spherical, and sitting in freezing classrooms with your mittens on.  Now, was it just one of my birthday parties in February that a lot of kids didn’t make it to because of the snow, or just one? Or maybe they just didn’t want to come – hmmm, that hadn’t occured to me before! One little boy had to stay for ages because no-one turned up to take him home – was that snow, or forgetful parents?  He’d bought me a jigsaw puzzle of a lassie-type dog and a little girl in front of a roaring fire, and we did the jigsaw together whilst he waited to be collected.

Then there was the lorry driver.  A big lorry broke down outside our house – did the diesel freeze, or is that a made-up memory? Did he spend the night on the sofa, or is that made-up too?! I’m sure he came in for a hot drink at least, and mum may have made him a flask to take out with him while he tried to get his lorry going again – did he light a fire under it to try and thaw it out?!  That’s got to be made up… or is it?!

Snowball fights on the green by the Mace shop – always good fun until you get a snowball in your eye. Clumps of snow getting stuck to your woolen mittens, rendering them useless at making snowballs… tramping through the snow on the central reservation keeping your eyes on the ground to make sure you didn’t tread in the little yellow holes…

Well, I’m going to get a fire lit now and edit the second shed story with my notes from yesterday, then it should be just about done and I can get on with the third one, the first couple of chapters of which popped out a couple of days ago.  No title yet…

Look, there’s a very fat blackbird on the path outside with a beakfull of snow.  Blackbirds seem to turn into obese cartoon birds when it’s cold and they fluff their feathers up.  This one has absolutely no neck whatsoever, and he’s now sitting on the fence looking about as disgusted with the snow as the cat. Oh, and he’s gone.

Well that’s that then.