Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Me again mes amies.....

I can tell Autumn is slowly arriving now.  The sunlight, even at mid-day is softer where we are in the North.

 I do hope you are all still there, way out there across the miles and continents?

 I always get to this point in the year and try to decide, do I like Autumn best...or Spring?  Not a hope of deciding outright, but I still spare a thought each year.  The birds outside are singing beautifully today, did I simply not hear them before this September morning?  Were they there yesterday or was it that I simply hadn't tuned in enough?  Tuning out sometimes has to be a necessity when you have M.E. when even the sound of a cup being placed upon a table sounds as loud as a clap of thunder.

My son was married during the Bank holiday just gone, they had a wonderful day in spite of the clouds and rain threatening, and I managed to be there after several unexpected episodes designed to throw spanners and clogs in the works.  The burglar alarm started to blare just as we were getting dressed, which was definitely odd....it was switched off!  So by the time that was sorted out we were over half an hour late setting off to the venue.  Then we got lost.  Twice.  When we finally found our way to the entrance of  the stately-mansion and found a parking place it was spot-on the time for the wedding to begin, at which point I was faced with a very long steep driveway to climb.  A drive that must have been a 1 in 8 incline and stepped.  I got almost half way up and my legs refused to do any more.  By this time I was more than mildly distressed as you can imagine.  My husband telephoned the cavalry. Two daughters dressed to the nines arrived one either side to yank (crank...more like!) me up the rest of the drive.  Thankfully the bride, as is the custom was delayed and I fortified with a brandy was safely placed in my seat for the ceremony which went off without a hitch and was liberally sprinkled with tears all round.
 'The Register' by Edmund Blair Leighton.  1852-1922.
Painting held in The Bristol Museum and Art Gallery.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Thank you so much for leaving me lovely words all of you, they mean a huge amount to me.
Back as soon as I can, I hope you won't forget me!
Illustration from Pinterest, via - Sandy Sauter.      Called 'Hugs', attributed to - cs.infospace.com

Thursday, 26 June 2014

So sorry everyone......

Normal service will most certainly be resumed soon...ish.  Not been at all well recently, M.E. and migraine etc.

'Being happy doesn't mean everything is perfect.  It means you have decided to look beyond the imperfections.'     -Unknown-

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

We finally arrived....

After many wrong turns we finally arrived in the small town of Litvinov in the north-west of Czechoslovakia.  My memory tugs and jostles me to a modern 1975 style building of apartments run by the state,  facing the tram terminus and opposite a supermarket shop.  Every hour of the day and night the thrumming sound of the trams setting off or coming to a stop accompanied our days, they would ring their bell each time, presumably to warn folk to get out of the way.  The tinkling sound became to be part of our lives along with the loudspeaker broadcasts blaring around the town several times a day.  As we didn't speak Czech we had no way of knowing what the speaker's were saying although each time the anthem was played so consequently we guessed that the words were meant to be encouraging the Czech workers.  Everywhere there flew long red flags.  Massive, 8-10 feet tall but narrow, not like the usual rectangular flag shape and solid bright bright red, catching the wind flapping and snatching and no doubt once more intended to remind the lovely Czech people of the Soviet presence.
On the ground floor of the apartments in the foyer was an old desk behind which sat a large portly woman dressed in an apron of washed-out material that crossed over her ample bosom and fastened at the back.  To say she was unwelcoming would be a gross understatement, her manner was strict, curt and harsh, demanding our papers by signing and one or two words of English, we came to recognise her as simply,'the Pani'.  She was presumably a loyal party member, possibly even secret-police.  Her power within this building was severe and absolute.  We eventually found our allotted flat on the third floor, along a wide empty corridor with tall windows either end the key echoed in the lock resounding off the bare walls and concrete floor, there was no-one else around.  The door swung open into a tiny hall.  To the right a cramped toilet, a separate bathroom with a door either end one from the hall the other leading into a cupboard-like kitchen with no windows in any of the spaces. One wall of the hall was a cupboard and opposite a door led into a small bedroom containing a flat bench with three cushions as a mattress, nothing else. The last opening showed into the living-room, containing two more flat cushioned benches a kind of cheap dresser and a really old television.  All the partitions were grey-mottled plastic coated metal, but the saving grace was a balcony that looked out over a square grassed and flowered area towards the supermarket and a building that later turned out to be a pub.
We were still standing out on the balcony when a key went into the door and the Pani pushed inside without knocking.  She carried a pile of linen which she threw down onto one of the benches speaking Czech she lifted one of cushions to reveal a duvet stowed beneath and gesturing she indicated she had brought covers for our bedding.  With that she slewed her slippered feet out of the door leaving it standing wide.
The kitchen had two gas rings and a minute oven, the tiny fridge was empty.  All in all it seemed exceedingly stark and drab.
(Still more to follow should you find this of interest)

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Continued.....Long lost night in Czechoslovakia.

I wish I'd had a camera back then....but 'digital' gadgets weren't around yet and I don't think my husband even took his film-camera with us, most probably because well, quite honestly we were probably scared of being arrested.  You had to be extremely careful not to photograph anything that could even remotely be thought of as 'spying'.  Be careful to whom you spoke, even what you said.  This was only 7 years since The Prague Spring when in that following August, Eastern Bloc countries invaded Czechoslovakia and Dubcek the First Secretary of the Communist Party was taken into custody. Two hundred thousand troops and two thousand tanks entered the country and although eventually they retreated, they remained along the borders and it was common to see young Russian soldiers strolling about the streets or boarding the trams. Thus followed a long period of 'Normalization' which was well established by that night my husband, daughter and I drove across the border from East Germany.
During the invasion there was resistance in the streets and road signs in towns were removed or painted over leaving only the ones pointing the way to Moscow, succeeding in confusing the invaders. Whilst early in 1969 three young men, students, Jan Palach, Jan Zajic and Evzen Plocek died after setting themselves on fire to demonstrate their protest heroically at the demoralization abounding and the suppression of Free Speech.

In the midnight dark of that long night in 1975 we drove blind almost.  We had a map but stupidly no compass so it was literally driving by the light of the stars and the moon, and I truly don't know how we found our way eventually.  It must have been around 2:30 am. that we started to climb.  The Reliant Scimitar car we were driving snaking up the mountain road, negotiating pot-holes and stray boulders at the sides of the track.  On the point of turning back we came suddenly to a plateau and rolled into a mountain village.  It was very dark, the moon having retreated behind the clouds and although there were houses either side not a light in sight.  However, slowly the grey billowing clouds slid past the moon and the whole village slunk into view bathed in a terrible platinum steely blue light.  Mist clouded the fir trees of the surrounding forest and curled up from the rough hewn fences around the houses.  Did you ever see that film, Deliverance with Burt Reynolds?  This village reminded us both of that film instantly.  Even though there were no lights anywhere there were still one or two individuals about, dark tousled figures whose eyes followed this 'flashy' Western car gliding through the centre of their street at 2 o'clock in the morning.  Neither of us suggested stopping to ask the way. Well....they most likely wouldn't speak English anyway we reasoned.

Painting:- 1874. John Atkinson Grimshaw. 'A Moonlit Lane'.
                   English 1863-93.

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Years ago we drove across Belgium, through what was then, West Germany and East Germany and on into Czechoslovakia.  Back in that time, we were scarily behind the Iron Curtain as soon as we had left behind the jolly 'oom-pa-pah' music blasting out from one of the offices at the West German border-point.  The East German border guards gave us a span of time to travel across their country so we had to arrive within the specified time at the exit border in order to transfer into Czechoslovakia, otherwise they came looking for you.  That was pretty nerve-wracking, and we prayed we didn't break down, or have any other kind of adventure during our frantic drive across.
Up to that point, our trip travelling with our three year old daughter had been sunny and exciting.  I remember us deviating from the auto-ban to try to find somewhere to buy lunch, and subsequently driving towards a beautiful Bavarian chalet restaurant, set a little way from the road surrounded by shrubbery and tall trees.  It's frontage was completely festooned with scarlet geraniums, cascading in froths so wonderful that even now, I have only to close my eyes to conjure-up their ruby delight-fullness.  We clambered stiffly from the laden car stretching out our achy limbs to wander inside. The place was empty of people, but all the tables seemed dressed for a feast.  Presently we were attended by two lovely ladies, who gently informed us that the restaurant was closed that day for a wedding party.  However they were so kind, taking my little daughter by the hand they motioned for us to follow them through into a small back room just off the kitchens.  There to prepare a delicious pork schnitzel for the three of us, even though they were closed and must have been really busy.  Just as we were leaving the bridal party arrived, amazingly, a stunningly beautiful bride in the most gorgeous wedding dress,  all billowing and rustling carried by an ecstatic bridegroom, both of them surrounded by a gaggle of laughing,happy people, it was so romantic!
 Imagine then the contrast, between that friendly and welcoming sojourn and the frightening experience of us reaching the East German/Czechoslovakian border.  Darkness had fallen by the time we drove up to the metal barriers and we were dazzled by the starkness of the massive overhead  arc-lights.  Snow was falling, an icy wind catching the flakes, swirling them about like swarms of midges below the blue-white, starkly beaming lights.  A soldier in a grey-blue worsted overcoat strode up to the car and ordered my husband to get out with our papers.  Meanwhile another soldier angled a heavy, long handled mirror beneath the car, whilst two others, both in their bulky worsted overcoats,  fur edged hats and heavily armed with guns, accompanied by Alsatian dogs snarling at their leashes, moved this way and that peering into the car.  This being not that long after The Ipcress Files film and James Bond it was mighty intimidating and later we were told they could have made us empty the whole car of its contents, searching for contraband goods or stowaways.  Most likely because it was late at night, midnight, in a snow storm and maybe our small daughter being asleep in the back of the car made them show a little compassion, who knows?   Eventually after a long wait and anticipating all sorts of scenario's.... would we disappear into some dungeon to be brusquely interrogated? Never having been to an Iron Curtain country we weren't used to being in the vicinity of guns, never mind soldiers! However, thankfully we were handed back our passports and papers and motioned roughly on through the striped metal barrier.
 How can I explain what was on the other side?  I still clearly remember my first sight of that steely-blue-grey moonlit strip of concrete road, either side lined with massed rolled up barbed wire and wooden barriers, whilst beyond deserted buildings loomed in the night, their window's glass-less, dense black pits in broken-down abandoned dwellings.  Great pot-holes and rubble strewn everywhere and not a soul in sight.  Just the moonlit empty concrete-blocked road stretching ahead of us into the darkness.   No street-lamps, no sign-posts nothing to point us in the right direction, and no-one anywhere to ask.

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

-Taking it All In
  by Karen Offutt-                                                                                                                                                   

"For last year's words belong to last year's language,
And next year's words await another voice,
And to make an end is to make a beginning."
-T.S. Elliot-

I do hope you have all had a wonderful Christmas, and wishing you all a very Happy New Year!