Friday, September 06, 2013

Starting Over

It has been a long since I last wrote a blog. 

It seems like the past two years, when I have been stricken with personal problems, have almost entirely blotted out my writing activity - particularly the creative side. Now I feel it is time to let go and start over again.

Life is a strange beast. Sometimes the harder you try, the more difficult it becomes. 

However, over the summer, I realised that when there is absolutely nothing you can do about a situation and you have exhausted every channel, there is no choice but to get on with your own life.

It is vital to count your blessings, and that is what I have started to do. 

In many ways it has been a good summer. I went sailing for a few days with an old friend. We sailed from Port Solent, near Portsmouth, to Poole, in Dorset, and back via Lymington. We rose early on the first morning to catch the tide but were alarmed by weather forecasts of a Force Nine Gale which would have given his 35ft. yacht a hell of a ride. Wisely we decided to chill out in the marina to let it blow over. 

So, we read in the morning, had a long lunch at an inexpensive Mexican quayside chain restaurant, followed by a siesta. 

In the evening, we had a big steak dinner, a glass or two of red wine followed by an early night.

The following morning was perfect. We motored out into the Solent and then caught the wind and sailed at speeds of up to nine knots to Poole. It was a lovely day, idyllic with the boat keeled over, so one side of the deck was touching the water, and going like the clappers in the bright sunshine.

I grew up in Poole in the 1970s and was looking forward to returning after decades away. Sadly, I have to say it proved a disappointment. Back in the day Poole Quay was attractive to the eye with a good mixture of industrial and tourist establishments. 

By sheer coincidence the postcard I was using as a bookmark was one with an image of Poole Quay from those days with the Waverley ferry moored in front of it.

We arrived in late afternoon and, after the initial excitement of docking had subsided, Poole showed its true colour. It has been developed in a most ugly fashion. 

A marina, where we berthed, sits in front of the Quay. Many of the industrial works have gone, replaced by unappealing hotel developments. 

 The Harbour Master’s House has been gutted and turned into a ghastly pub. Many of the little old public houses have vanished and even the ones that have survived are overly commercial.

Poole High Street was even worse. I recall an interesting variety of shops, cafes and restaurants and pubs bursting with character. I bought my first adult bicycle – a classic Rudge Pathfinder – from there Poole Cycles there. 

Now it is a desert of pound shops and charity stores. The pubs are cavernous, chain-owned boozers with the character of a soggy sardine sandwich. 

We saw an amazingly fat seagull at Wetherspoon’s – bloated on the scraps of the cut-price grub. I sought out the Old Harry, a High Street pub where I worked during the heady summer of 1980. It too had been filleted and turned into a vast and almost empty establishment called The Globe. 

I learned from the barmaid that even my old school, Henry Harbin Secondary School, where I spent a term in 1974 before going to Poole Grammar School, had been renamed Poole High. She had been there too.

The following morning we rose at the crack of dawn to catch the tide to sail back. It was a truly sublime sunrise but I was feeling a little jaded after the festivities of the night before. The Poole Quay chicken and chips was especially troubling me.

Despite my great ineptitude as sole crew and my seasickness, we eventually got the boat sailing at eight or nine knots again. We tried to go into Yarmouth, on the Isle of Wight, but a nautical cad nicked our berth. So, highly miffed, we motored across the channel to Lymington which was most pleasant. 

Another siesta and then a walk around the cobbled town perusing the second-hand bookshops followed by a quiet drink, some chores on board and an early night.

Our final day was windless so we chugged back to Port Solent on the trusty diesel motor. All in all it was an excellent few days and, thanks to my friend, I improved my sailing, although there is still a long way to go!

Most of the rest of the summer has been spent in Brighton where the weather has been glorious. 

My only other trip away has been for two days in Berlin. It was wonderful to see how well it has been developed particularly on the East side of the city. 

I went on the bus tour which skirted around where the Berlin Wall had once stood. 

It was fascinating to go to famous spots such as Checkpoint Charlie, so vividly described in John Le Carre’s novels during the Cold War.

In Brighton, after the lousy winter, no one expected such a glorious couple of months. 

I especially like hanging out on the seafront and listening to the singers at the outside Brighton Music Hall.

British Airways also turned up with a crane which suspended a metal dining table and some 12 diners some 100 feet above the seafront. 

Promotional girls walked up and down the seafront giving away bars of rock. If the inside of the label of your stick said “winner”, you were allowed to go on the “flight”. 

Mind did not, but I was treated to a free drink in the BA beachside area under the crane. I overheard an elderly Irish lady telling the steward that she had no one to go up with, and I volunteered to help.

The Irish lady and the steward enthusiastically took up my suggestion and I found myself being ushered into the VIP area where we were plied with Champagne for half an hour, given a short talk about tourism on San Lucia – the entire exercise was to promote a new British Airways service to the Caribbean island. 

A BA employee gave us a safety talk. I have to confess I started to feel a little nervous when I realised that the seats were simply welded onto the table. Apart from a small foot rest there was nothing beneath you. I was advised to leave my beach shoes behind in case they fell to earth.

In the event it was an exciting experience. The team strapped you into your seat in a way that meant you could not possibly fall. The crane gently hoisted the table to 100 feet above the seafront and more wine and a delicious San Lucian curry were served by the crew and the chef who stood on a small platform between the seats.

Needless to say the view was breathtaking. Seated at the corner of the table, I could see for miles. Brighton’s tower blocks were way below. It was quite windy up there in the sky.

The Angel of Peace looked tiny and the people on the seafront were like ants.
The table was slowly rotated during the half-an-hour flight until exhilarated, we were gently lowered to earth.  

The only other excursion this summer was a day-trip to Coventry to see my old friend Jason and his young son Max. 

Max and I had a great time playing trains and, later, going on the a miniature train ride.

During the summer and spring I have been reading a lot. My efforts to read the books on my shelves leads me to all kinds of work, old and new.

I have read Mark Twain’s Pudd'nhead Wilson, which was superb, The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, which was weird, Graham Greene’s The Comedians, and Doctor Fischer of Geneva, which were both very good and entertaining, four of Alexander McCall Smith's novels, In The Company of Cheerful Ladies, Tears of the Giraffe, The Kalahari Typing School for Men, and Morality for Beautiful Girls, which were enjoyable, Richard Gordon's Doctor at Sea (fun), Further Tales of the City (OK but not as good as the first book), Get Shorty by Elmore Leonard (interesting) and John Le Carre's Smiley's People (brilliant once you got into it).

The next Lewes Poetry gig is on Thursday, 26 September: 8.30pm, Lewes Arms, Lewes.

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