Nice Work?

Last year, in my travels, I came across this.
A note attached to someone's computer.
I don't know who wrote it.
I won't say where I found it (in case they're still there).
I will say that I do hope they've escaped and run far far away.

Amberley, or All Good Things.

As all good things must, the Cotswolds staycation has come to an end. But not before witnessing more beauty and experiencing a fine pub. A three-kilometre uphill walk, in the shade of elderly trees, through bucolic landscape, brought us to The Black Horse pub, Amberley, with panoramic views over Minchinhampton Common. The dogs were naturally served first (it’s very dog-friendly in this area), with a large bowl of water and biscuits. After a couple of hours in the pub garden, with good food and cold drinks, it was time to walk back to the cottage. The return had a detour through the graveyard of Holy Trinity Church. Such serenity there, perhaps shown best in the memorial to Albert George, who died on Empire Day, 1924. His two daughters, modelled as he last saw them, sit with their arms around each other looking down:

With love and in unfailing gratitude for his devotion –

                The tribute of his wife and daughters – ‘Daddy’s Blessed Angels’

In the evening, dinner out, before walking back to the cottage to enjoy the night view with some chilled wine one last time. This staycation has been a joy. It may be over, but the memories gladden the heart.

It seems not all good things must come to an end. Some good things end to make way for others and some are eternal. Minchinhampton Common - from The Black Horse pubAlbert George's daughtersA last good night.

Keep Quiet

Now we will count to twelve
and we will all keep still.
For once on the face of the earth,

let’s not speak in any language;

let’s stop for one second,

and not move our arms so much.
It would be an exotic moment

without rush, without engines;

we would all be together

in a sudden strangeness.
Fisherman in the cold sea

would not harm whales

and the man gathering salt

would look at his hurt hands.
Those who prepare green wars,

wars with gas, wars with fire,

victories with no survivors,

would put on clean clothes

and walk about with their brothers

in the shade, doing nothing.
What I want should not be confused

with total inactivity.

Life is what it is about;

I want no truck with death.
If we were not so single-minded

about keeping our lives moving,

and for once could do nothing,

perhaps a huge silence

might interrupt this sadness

of never understanding ourselves

and of threatening ourselves with death.

Perhaps the earth can teach us

as when everything seems dead

and later proves to be alive.
Now I’ll count up to twelve

and you keep quiet and I will go.

Pablo Neruda  ‘Extravagaria’ (trans: Alastair Reed)

Hotter than July

It’s been a long month which has lasted forever yet which passed in a flash.

It started on the dot, with visitors – people I hadn’t seen in years and with whom those years became just yesterday. They arrived unperturbed despite international news of the certain uncertainty playing out here. They’d recently made it through the Scottish independence referendum, so took a scientific approach to the Greek one (admittedly, this was tricky as the why of the Greek remains unclear). Camera! Lights! Action! All we could do was wait and watch, through a glass darkly. In the meantime, the visitors enjoyed their holiday and I enjoyed playing the tourist in their company. They also provided me with a welcome distraction from a sudden attack of political fervour. Mine.

Seriously, I thought I was past caring. The intensity and strength of my feelings left me shocked and drained. Despite feeling exhausted, I was oddly reassured that I still had it in me to be so moved. I soon learned, however, that it was wisest to keep my opinions to myself. Tempers ran high, vitriol ran freely and I watched as others’ friendships disappeared. People chew up the air and spit out its bones! – cried one friend, in despair. I expressed my views in private, with those who I knew could reason before judging and who wouldn’t shoot the messenger. It became our secret society – qualcosa solo per noi. This kept me sane. Really. In any case, thanks to the visiting friends, and the arrival of my niece and her boyfriend, the outside socio-political invective drifted into radio static. Irritating, but easy to tune out.

So, I passed time reflecting with friends and family, as we looked through old photographs together, on how blessed I have been in my friendships and how tenacious my friends have been. This chance for reflection brought with it its own kind of understanding and I felt a greater sense of peace by the end of the month than I would ever have believed possible at its beginning. Of course, once the visitors had gone, I emerged, blinking, into an outside world. I looked around and realised that while the dust had settled, the heat had increased, the air had grown heavier and a deafening silence had descended. It became clear that we must find our own way now. Because now we are in the dance and someone’s switched the music off.

15 August

It’s one of four major public holidays here. There are others observed, of course, along with local and family occasions. But this is one of the four big ones, declared also by government as obligatory. This day, on Christian calendars worldwide, is one to celebrate Mary, Jesus’ mother. Here, for the Eastern Orthodox, today marks her Dormition: literally, her ‘falling asleep’. Today has indeed dawned sleepily.

I live on a commercial street, above a bakery and a printing press – this street never sleeps. The road normally hums, judders and splutters with a trail of traffic from 6am onwards (this is not to discount the explosion of unlicensed scooter engines under the balcony from bakery customers at 4am, you understand). Parents call down the street to their children, workmen move their loads from warehouse to van to shop to delivery, shoppers shout their bread orders across the street (too lazy to leave their cars or bikes and enter the bakery). Today, the needle’s off the record.

You can feel the space between the vehicles on the road. There’s been no shouting (not even the Anglo-Saxon expletives which punctuate the day from the Albanian workman remodeling the upstairs apartment). The bakery and the printing press are closed. Those who can are sleeping late, those who can’t are already at work (visitors still need to be catered for). For everyone, the aspiration is a day of rest – ideally spent with family. I’m under doctor’s orders to rest my injured leg, so the rest of me has to follow suit. Today, whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, I wish you the peace you desire on this day of Dormition.