'Agree With Everything - Deny Nothing - Embellish All

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Crisp & Even

Margaret & I went to Prague last month & the pic above is a view from the battlements of the Castle - which means that, give or take 800 years of urban development, you're seeing what Good King Wenceslas saw when he looked out on the feast of Saint Stephen. No, I can't see any poor men gathering winter fu-u-el either, but it allows me to wish you all the very best for Christmas & the New Year.
Hither, page, and stand by me!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Zimba, Camden Maine

To Whitehaven, for an optician's appointment. Walking along the hard standing on the harbour my gaze was caught by a boat of quite outstanding elegance. A 60-foot yacht with a sleek black hull and neat cream-coloured strip decking that made it look quite the Art Deco transport of delight. The Zimba was registered in Camden, Maine, from which it inescapably followed that its lucky owners must have sailed it across the North Atlantic.
This led me to think of those Cumbrians who made the crossing the other way under sail, generally to the Maritimes and the Carolinas, in search of better fortune; and of others whose enforced transportation brought them from Africa in vessels whose home was this Cumbrian port. What the Zimba's crew came in search of is probably not difficult to gauge: Whitehaven arguably looms larger in American history than British. The family of their revolutionary hero hailed from hereabouts, and the town's Lowther-built gridiron was allegedly the blueprint for Manhattan's streets. And in 1778 the father of the US Navy, a local lad, brought the Revolution home with an abortive strike at the colonial power's economy by attacking the third largest slaving port in Britain. (One wonders what the Virginian revolutionary leadership felt about this stunt).
Whatever the reason, the Zimba gave Whitehaven harbour a welcome breath of sophistication and class.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Les Delices De Cumbria - Part XXII

New horizons in post-Euclidean geometry over lunch with the Intrepid Mountaineer at The Glasshouse in sophisticated downtown Wigton. Intrigued by a menu item we asked the waitress for advice.
"This ciabatta rustic triangle. What is it exactly?"
"Well, it's sort of square-shaped like . . ."

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Road Rage County

Getting beaten up in public is always a rather embarrassing experience, and I'm pleased to say I managed to avoid such inconvenience in Sainsbury's car park on Saturday morning.
The facts of the case are as follows, constable:
Stuck behind a tractor en route to Cockermouth, I was tailgated by a silver Volvo. The lad in the tractor had his girlfriend in the cab and a phone in his hand so I hung back, awaiting developments. The Volvo overtook both of us on a blind bend. Gestures followed as he sped off. A few minutes later on Gote Brow the Volvo was parked on the curb. As I passed him he pulled out and carefully followed me into Sainsbury's carpark. Tattoos and muscles got out and walked over to me.
"Have you got a problem with my driving marra?"
Clearly this was a tabloid headline waiting to happen, so I gently encouraged him to get back in his car and drive away. He did so, after a few soothing words, but was obviously very upset that I hadn't given him the opportunity to use his fists.
I then went and did a spot of shopping.
Postscript: a straw poll later in the day suggests that what I should have done was drive further down mainstreet, turn left into Cockermouth police station and park in the bay marked 'Staff'. Let's hope I don't ever need to.

Monday, June 23, 2008

"You're Not Normal"

That's what my physiotherapist said this morning while dealing with the wreckage from the dorsal catastrophe in Stac Pollaidh car park. I think she was refering to my lumbar muscles, but the last time I consulted her she told me I was 'clinically short'. (Trust me honey, that's not what the other girls say). After half an hour of pressing and pummelling my back now definitely feels worse than it did when I got out of bed. So it must be working.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Purple Haze

Driving home so-late-it-was-early I noticed the sky above Moota Hill was already lightening behind the traces of rain-clouds. About to descend towards Parsonby I caught a glimpse of something astonishing. A lens of purple light stretched the length of the Solway from Cardurnock to Robin Rigg. It seemed to be floating in the middle air, weaving between the red-lanterned transmission towers of Anthorn, wreathing the shore light at Southerness before dissolving around the offshore wind turbines in mid-channel. The effect was jolting and hallucinatory, not so much a trick of the light as a shameless piece of effrontery. A moment's thought suggested that a shoal of cold night-air above the Solway was condensing mist and then refracting what little pre-dawn light was streaming over my shoulder from above Skiddaw and the north-eastern fells. The sight was a small bit of nocturnal conjuring to which I was very probably the sole witness. All it lacked was a distant Brockenspectre, a ghostly car projected upon the lens of light.
Two minutes later, in the lane at by Arkleby Toll a hare appeared in my headlights and ran off just ahead of my wheels before vanishing into a dark hedgerow.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Nine Feet Over The Tarmac

Here's a salutary tale of serendipity and confusion from that half-derelict palace of memories the Electrical Intertubes.
'Improved Sound Limited' were a 1970s Krautrock band of quite outstanding obscurity. In the twilight of their career they contributed four tunes and a song to the soundtrack of Wim Wenders' 1976 Cannes prize-winner Im Lauf Der Zeit. Unavailable on DVD and rarely watched even by Wenders afficionados, the film's a long, slow-moving meditation on (among much else)friendship and the passing of time. But it's shot in serenely elegiac black and white and if you watch it in the right rhythm, is an utterly compelling experience. The music, all airy country blues, willowy pedal steel and echoing drums, matches the images with quiet perfection and suggests that songwriter Axel Lindstadt had been listening to a lot of Harvest-era Neil Young. It also has some sumptuous saxophone riffs (OK, you can see where this is going). The music made an enormous impression on me when I first saw the film. From time to time, I tried to track down a copy of the soundtrack - even going to the trouble of collaring Wenders at a film festival in the '80s and asking him about it. (He was evasive).
One evening last week I was surfing Youtube when I came across a series of short films made by a middle-aged Frenchman calling himself 'radiateur93'. Montages of family photographs and home-movies, they were deeply personal works, watching them felt impolite. But 'radiateur93' had spliced them to the Improved Sound Limited Im Lauf Der Zeit soundtrack. A brief traverse led me to the band's own surviving videos and promos. The bad news: their other music really is quite mind-bogglingly dull. The good news: a compilation CD 'Road Trax' exists, and it includes all five soundtrack pieces. In an instant, thirty years of searching were rewarded. I surfed off and ordered the CD from an obscure Berlin music shop.

Just after this transaction completed I finally found my way to Wenders' own website rather than the cybersquatters selling DVDs of his films and discovered that it offers free mp3 downloads of the same songs. It was the work of five minutes to download them, burn a CD and walk over to the car.
So I spent part of a bright summer evening driving down that boulevard of broken dreams the A66 to the tune of some achingly familiar music on Thursday. I suppose the Road Trax CD is on its way from Berlin.
Coda: for those still wondering what the fuss is about, I also discovered that Youtube has an old 70s trailer of Im Lauf Der Zeit which almost completely fails to convey the hypnotically serene beauty of this film.

WARNING: Contains scenes of existential Volkswagen driving. Do not attempt this at home. Or on the open road.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Kylesku Bridge

At Kylesku, deep in Sutherland, the high road leaps across Loch a'Chairn Bhain on an elegant, spritely concrete bridge that curves extravagently between two rock promontories. At the far end is a stone memorial to the British submariners and 'human torpedoes' of World War II who trained in these waters. The list of their dead is long: the description of their operations, manoeuvring two-man subs sat astride explosive-stuffed cylinders onto the keels of enemy warships in dark, muddy, freezing waters, terrifyingly claustrophobic. Tonight, in the upper world of Sutherland the light of the midsummer evening gives an intensity to the blues of the loch, the greens of the hillside that is a kind of wildly expansive luxury. Above me the green hillsides sweep upwards to 800 feet of sheer cliff: the sandstone buttresses of Sail Gharbh, north-eastern spur of Quinag, loom like a dreadnought's prow. The mountain seems painted by the wild vision of one imagining some otherworld. For a moment it is not of this earth. I pause and wonder what thoughts and sensations this hill engendered in the human torpedoes of Kylesku when they turned their eyes away from the deep.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Book Of Emigrations

As the dizzy blonde disappeared up a pinnacle, there cycled into the car-park a geography teacher from Largs and all his worldly possessions. He had, he informed me, spent the last ten years touring the world on two wheels and was now cycling to Iceland. Apparently it was preferable to life in Largs. Essential information for anyone who needs to get out of Reykjavik in a hurry: a one-way ferry ticket to Bergen costs £160. A one-way ferry-ticket to Thurso via Bergen costs £79. Perhaps Bergen has a congestion charge?

Great Mountaineering Disasters Of Our Time - # 375

Stac Pollaidh, the car-park. Intent on ending the perfect day in Assynt with an evening of scrambling across the sandstone pinnacles of Scotland's most photogenic mountain, I put on my boots and bent down to tie the laces. That was the moment at which my lumbar vertebrae decided that I might think I was going scrambling but they had other plans. Pop! The pain was excruciating and made standing up a real challenge. Twenty minutes of gentle hobbling and some stretching exercises brought things under control but meant that agile scrambling was out of the question. Then a dizzy new age blonde in a camper-van turned up and informed me that bodily injuries were a result of bad thoughts and negative feelings. Was she by any chance a physiotherapist, I enquired. Sadly no, and after some analgesic banter she headed off up the hill she claimed to be 'strangely drawn to'. Then I remembered the presence of an effective pain-killer in the boot of the car. I don't recommend drinking malt whisky from the bottle while semi-recumbent in the driver's seat at a major tourist destination. "It's for my bad back you understand," starts to sound a little unconvincing after a while.
Dear Readers, whatever you're doing I hope it's less painful and involves more vigorously expressive movements of the pelvis.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The High Road To The Deep North

I'm sitting in a quayside bar in Ullapool at the cocktail hour - the 80/- hour, I suppose - recovering from exertions on the fells. Once again the long-planned assault on The Matterhorn Of The North has been postponed - this time on account of a bizarre series of orthopaedic disasters brought on by an embarrassing incident in the car-park at Stac Pollaidh. So while the air pulsates to the odour of Calmac diesel mixed with an aerial suspension of sub-flashpoint lard from the BBC Radio 4 Chippy Of The Year 2004, I'm enjoying the prospect of Loch Broom, the green lushness of Inverlael and the distant snow-patches atop the Fannaichs. Sheer heaven.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Lamb Shank

Spotted lying in the street outside The Caley Inn, Ullapool: the skeleton, just about picked clean, of the hind-quarters of a sheep. At least I think it was a sheep. Read the menu with care . . .

A Gneiss Day Out

Ride the high road to the deep north beyond Ullapool and you'll come to Inchnadamph Lodge, a tranquil 19th century farmhouse B&B in leafy shade by a quiet loch. It's miles from anywhere but evening meals can be had in the hotel down the road, a branded monster of a hostelry that's undergone several extensions since the 1950s, none of them sympathetic.
A few miles up a rough track from here the western face of Connival, all dilapidated butresses and crumbling strata, broods above the glen. A stiff pull and some elementary scrambling takes you up to its ridge: then the gneiss sets in. Crisp rocks and volcanic boulders that crunch beneath your boots in a tone suggesting they're much smaller and lighter than they actually are. Fifty metres up the slope and you realise they're the best business an orthopaedic surgeon could wish for. Ankles turn, knees ache, hips scream across this volcanic minefield. At Connival summit the ridge to Ben More beckons: a half-mile switch-back of slabs boulders and shillies of the same gneiss that bludgeons your cartilege into unconditional surrender. But the view is a reward beyond price: the line of the Assynt mountains from Cul Beag to Quinag, enticingly distant, and linking them on the far horizon a blue line between heaven and earth that is the Outer Isles.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Nick And Ben's Bogus Adventure

On Saturday afternoon I took Ben The Trailhound down to Mawbray (as previously blogged), one of his and my favourite spots. Usually he romps along the boardwalk and cavorts on the beach. This time he got a scent within seconds of leaving the car, and was off along the seaward fence towards Allonby. I walked down to the beach, expecting his return (trailhounds have a highly developed topological awareness and if you don't know where they are, they almost certainly know exactly where you've got to). No Ben. I set off along the line of fences to Allonby. No Ben. I walked back. No Ben. Reasoning that he would make for the car, I returned to the car-park. No Ben. I waited patiently until the weather had turned, and horizontal rain powered by a Force 6 gale was lashing the windscreen, before walking along the fence once more. No Ben. So I started knocking on doors. After a diverting but fruitless encounter with Cumbria's celebrity chef (who gave the impression I was by no means the first person to have lost a dog at Mawbray) I soon found the trail. Yes, the chef's neighbours assured me: a trailhound had been here an hour ago. Their friend The Active Citizen, who was visiting them, had taken him home and called the Dog Warden.
After calling The Active Citizen, I eventually got through to Allerdale Borough Council's emergency out-of-hours help desk. "Is it about the trailhound?" they asked when they picked up the phone. Clearly Allerdale was having a slow emergencies day. They gave me the number of the kennels to which their Dog Warden had delivered Ben.
I drove the 15 miles to High Harrington to be reunited with a mildly distressed but unharmed trailhound. The kennel-owner had some difficulty with the fact I wasn't the person on Ben's ID-chip, which led to a certain amount of No, I am not the Renaissance Man, nor was meant to be . . confusion, but after signing off Allerdale Council's paperwork, I was allowed to take Ben home three and a half hours after he first disappeared into the dunes.
The phone rang as soon as we walked through the door. It was The Active Citizen, wanting to know was the trailhound safe and well? I reassured her that he was.
"Was the silver Mondeo in Mawbray carpark yours?" she asked.
Yes, it was.
"Only that's where we found him - he was sitting next to it."
Very politely, I thanked The Active Citizen for her help.
I'm curious to understand how a collared and well-kempt dog, sitting next to an empty car in a place where many people walk their dogs, is in any sense lost, strayed or abandoned. However, it is reasuring to know that Allerdale Council's Dog Warding service is so efficient that it can spring into action and transport a dog 15 miles on a Saturday afternoon before his keeper has any sense that the animal may be lost.
There's a moral about the state of our nation in all this, but I'm not sure what.

The Group Areas Act, 2008

The higher gardening in South Africa seems convulsed by a campaign to eradicate 'alien' flora and populate 'native' species in woods and gardens. My land management friends tell me this is a project doomed to failure, but in a country with a history like South Africa's, it's difficult not to see this approach as a metaphor.
Up on the Wild West Coast at Lambert's Bay, next door to 'Potato World' (incredibly, not a starch-related theme park for the couch-bound but a chip factory - it seems that when the Atlantic fishery got all fished out they diversified into the other half of the fish and chip market), a colony of 16,000 gannets sits atop a quarter-mile-square slab of guano. Things turned ugly a while back when a colony of seals arrived in search of food (a result of the same ecological pressure that caused the fishermen to move in on the potatoes), worked out that what fish there were to be found were inside the gannets and promptly started eating the seabirds. We heard all this over a beer with a tanned and grizzled gannet-warden in the bar of the Lambert's Bay Hotel. His solution to the competition-for-resources problem was admirably simple: the gannets were confined to their white guano-stained slab; the seals to their wave-darkened promontory rocks. A wide no-creature's land was decreed between the two groups and patroled by conservationists. Any seal straying into this area was deterred with extreme prejudice and deported back to its rocky homeland. The DMZ was then fumigated to remove the enticing odour of seal and the status quo preserved. The day we were there both communities seemed quite content with their separate developments. Some things don't change.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Bright Lights Tonight

Even in Cumbria the northern night skies are no longer the jewelbox of childhood. Light pollution from Carlisle and the coastal towns swamps much of the starlight not already dowsed by the particulates that hang heavy in industrial skies. Here in the populous, over-developed north of the planet you look up and feel yourself solitary in the isolation of a lonely universe.
Down below, in the unpopulated oceanic vastness of the southern hemisphere, the night skies give an entirely different impression. Orion, shorn of his scabbard, sports an enthusiastic erection, a lover not a hunter. The Milky Way streams in incandescant profusion across the sky, and the Magellanic Clouds swarm with light. It's impossible not to feel a local part of so great a celestial network, and the most distant realities seem close enough to touch. Stargazing brings with it a wondrous sense of connection, and I'm looking forward to the next time I see the Southern Cross from a hillside in the Western Cape.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Alvin & Ziggy

There being no stars to gaze upon, we arranged a tour of the SALT on its plateau just out of town. The Renaissance Man will probably be blogging about the sheer mechanical engineering of the telescope's intricacies of design. For me the most startling parts of the tour were two exhibits in the visitors' centre exhibition which precedes sight of the telescope. On the floor in the corner of a gallery sits a large, twisted mass of nickel and iron: it's a meteorite, a navel-stone which fell to earth somewhere in the Karoo. Almost reluctantly, I touched it then tapped its surface with my knuckles. It rang metallic, deep and true. There was a cold frisson to this encounter, both a sense of wonder that I was touching something left over from the formation of our solar system and which had been present out there for thousands of millioons of years, but also a feeling that, for all the strange trajectories of its wanderings, I was the unregarded piece of stardust whose course had led me to a brief encounter with something that would endure till the Big Rip.
Round the corner from the meteorite was the cast of a skull, the blank-orbited heavy-browed Australopithecus Africanus, possible ancestor of Homo Sapiens, who was perhaps wandering across the veld when the lump of nickel was still out beyond Pluto. The hominid family tree is such that you and I cannot claim that this individual is a common ancestor, but certainly a very distant cousin, someone with whom we share DNA and perhaps some degree of humanity. It's probably impossible to think your way into the mind of another creature, however close, without the certainty of the shared artefacts of consciousness such as language and a sense of self. But after the coldness of the stone, I was struck by a forceful sense of the reality of the individual, the selfness, that had inhabited the bones and given them life. No doubt s/he had looked up at the stars which gave birth to the twisted nickel a few feet away from us, though what shape and meaning s/he had seen in their patterns I cannot imagine.

Monday, January 21, 2008

SALT & Lamb

The Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) sits atop a plateau in the Karoo about ten miles from Sutherland. The skies are, apparently, particularly clear here, though when we hit town to celebrate the Renaissance Man's birthday with a spot of stargazing low clouds stretched across the sky. We made up for our disappointment with a stay at Jorg's Kambrokind Guest House and dinner at Perlman's Restaurant.
Sutherland really is in the middle of nowhere, a one-street, one donkey-cart town 5000 feet up in the desert and a hundred kilomteres from the next one-horse, one-donkey-cart town. The graveyard records the dead of the Boer War and there's still a palpable feeling of outrage at the English occupation of the town's church in 1901.
And they'll probably still be discussing our dinner at Perlman's a century hence. The restaurant, whose hostess appears to be Judy Dench's separated-at-birth twin, is decorated with memorabilia of Swinging London and specialises in Karoo lamb. The evening was a roaring sucess, fuelled by an endless supply of Beyerskloof Pinotage and the lamp speciality - quite simply the most powerfully delicious I have tasted outside Cumbria. And it culminated in a prolonged singalong - led by the Renaissance Woman and enthusiastically supported by fellow-diners Dave The Astronomical Chancer, a former child prodigy bassoonist, and the president of the local chapter of the Afrikaaner Hell's Angels, who broke off from extolling the virtues of Pink Floyd to show us photographs of his Kawasaki 1300. Worryingly, these were kept in the part of his wallet other men reserve for pictures of wife and children. We went home late. Very late. We're still not sure how the proprietors will react the next time we turn up for dinner . . .

Windsor Castle Revisited

I had been struggling for some days with the eccentric opening hours of South Africa's public services. My goal: buy some stamps for postcards home. Clearly the government's stealth-oriented public service strategy was paying off, because it was the best part of a week before I found the PO in the tiny settlement of Sutherland (see other posts) open at the advertised time of 0800. The clerk duly sold me a strip of stamps. It was only when I was back on the street that I noticed their design, and across the space of fifty years felt an intense and utterly unexpected rapport. The stamps were commemoratives celebrating the history of the Union Castle Line with images of their ships from the 19th and 20th centuries. Two caught my attention: the Edinburgh Castle and RMS Windsor Castle. I have intense memories as a child of visting my father when his ship was in harbour at Southampton, Glasgow or Hull. The Union Castle Line was his employer, and for a while in the 1950s and 1960s, he captained the then Edinburgh Castle and the Windsor Castle.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Great Railway Theme Park

Prize for the oddest place visited in South Africa (& believe me the West Coast provides some serious competition for that title) undoubtedly goes to Maatjiesfontein, a wind-blown railway halt in the Karoo where the Johannesburg - Cape Town Blue Train stops. The 'town' is a single 200-yard street of rather grand Boer War era buildings which have been quaintly preserved in a run-down version of their original state and are manned by staff dressed in period costume and some rather unconvincing waxworks. It was as if we had stumbled onto the set of Young Winston and I half-expected Simon McCorkindale to charge down main street at the head of a squadron of cavalry irregulars.
The mayor wore a threadbare bowler hat and could have gone on as Oliver Hardy without rehearsal. For some reason he was very excited about an imminent 'lesbian night' the town was about to host. Or at least that's what we think he said. Quite what the economic reality of this bizarre theme park may be I cannot imagine, but perhaps the pink rand keeps it afloat.
But there was one really cherishable feature: the station waiting room houses an Aladdin's Cave of curiosities and wonders, the private collection of a deceased resident encompassing 19th Century agricultural equipment, Union Castle Line menus, Victorian surgical instruments and 1950s cine cameras. All thrown together without any concession to taxonomy or interpretation and in its own slightly mad way quite magnificent.

Wanted: Friendly Bombs Or Near Offer . . .

I am reposing amidst the rococco splendour of the Holiday Inn, Slough-Windsor. Should you ever find yourself similarly benighted, a word of advice regarding the room service lasagne: Avoid, Avoid, Avoid.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I'm Too Sexy For This Shop

Marketing, South African style. If you ran a fly-blown, run-down, half-wrecked roadhouse in the middle of the Karoo desert, covered in graffiti, with old bras and knickers hanging from its rafters, and you wanted to ensure travellers stopped and bought a beer rather than accelerating rapidly away as soon as they caught sight of the place, what would you do? You'd change its name to Ronnie's Sex Shop, wouldn't you? People would be bound to stop, wouldn't they? And yes, we did stop, didn't we?

Friday, January 11, 2008

So Long - And Thanks For All The Photos

Draaihoek Beach at 6.00am is deserted (except for some kelp . . .). A soft wind blows in from the South Atlantic, and a gentle surf crashes onto the ramp of sand at my feet. Behind me, over the dunes, the sun has just risen, and the sand-flies cast long shadows. Southwards the beach disappears into the middle air: northwards the sandstone cliffs of Eland's Bay rise above the salt haze. Suddenly, a fin shows where a breaking wave curls into foam at its crest, and a dark body skims forward on the swell: a dolphin is surfing towards the shore.
A hundred yards out three more groups of dolphins are frolicing, turning their backs above the water; periodically one jumps clear of the sea. At this point my camera announces that its batteries are flat, so this blog's policy of crisp minimalism with respect to illustrations will be maintained. Later on a seal waddles along the beach before galumphing into the surf, swimming into a foot of water, taking a brief look back at the land, and then shooting with astonishing speed and grace along the line of breakers, its head and back breaking above the foam.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The New 30

We celebrated my birthday, the Renaissance Man, the Scouse Ambassador and me, by taking a hike - a beautiful 12-mile walk through the mountains north of Greyton on the so-called 'McGregor Trail'. That we did so at all is down to the determination of the Scouse Ambassador, whose walking takes no prisoners. The first two miles of trail had been washed away by recent floods and this meant much cutting through trackless undergrowth, fording and refording rivers, forcing ways through close thickets, all the while surrounded by the colourful wreckage of Greyton's public infrastructure: twenty-foot lengths of industrial tubing littered the riverbanks, which the Ambassador confidently identified as 'the town's water-main'. After a while we reached a distinct trail and we turned our faces to the hills, boldly going where no four-wheel-drive had gone recently. We ascended a snaking path into the Overberg leading to a hidden valley of luscious fynbos circled by the craggy redoubts of Table Mountain Sandstone which receded into the mist-wreathed peaks.
At first the Renaissance Man seemed beset by bandana-related fashion issues, but by the time we posed for delicious lamb sandwiches at Breakfast Rock he had recovered his characteristic disdain for haute couture. The trail led us through storm-gouged dongas (into which I stylishly fell headlong) and across stream-crossings choked with tree trunks, boulders and rubble, but the waterfalls were spectacular, enchanting torrents that plunged sixty feet through narrow rock-chutes into bottomless black pools. Then we ascended to the barrier at Galg along the remains of a road cut across a cliffside by Italian POWs in the 1940s. It was reassuring to note that their sense of style had not deserted the forced labourers as the road, rough-hewn blasted and precarious, was flanked by attractively cut decorative curbstones.
Then we descended to the steaming plains of McGregor, past rows of hives where bees feasted on fynbos blossoms and found, quite coincidentally, that we were passing Lords vineyard, a new winery whose Sauvignon Blanc has the authentic sharp fruit of the variety and whose Shiraz is as perfumed, smooth and supple as one could wish. After a conversation on the intricacies of vine-cultivation, the Cellar Manager drew some of his unreleased Pinot Noir from its cask for us. Altogether, rather a good way to turn 50.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

. . . Aliquid Novum

Stars upside down.
Toilets flushing wrong way round.
Any suggestions?