Friday, December 21, 2012

Yuletide Greetings!

Yuletide greetings and best wishes for the coming year to all visitors to my blog.
A dove rises from the first sunrise of a new year anticipating peace, light,
 regeneration and the munificence of being.

Friday, November 30, 2012

St Andrew

To those to whom it applies - best wishes on this your name day!

Monday, October 15, 2012

Reflections on Laconia and the island of Kythera

 On 3 September I drove the last of my summer visitors, my younger daughter and three of my grandchildren, to Athens airport; they were booked on a nine o’clock evening flight to Gatwick.  Not being happy about long-distance night driving these days I booked myself into the only hotel at the airport, a ridiculously expensive, horribly over-the-top edifice.  Sparkling clean, spacious, 100% soundproofed, air conditioned, sumptuously comfortable and totally without soul.  Back home the following day I began a week of clearing-up, cleaning, washing, putting-away and generally transforming what had become something of a cross between a dormitory and a playground back into my home.  Thereafter I entered a vacuum which, on a whim, I decided to temporarily fill with a few days away.

The unseen hand on my shoulder gently pushed me towards the far south-east of the Peloponnese, an area I had not been but knew to be the home of Homer’s land of the Lotos eaters; I fancied a spot of Lotos.   Goole Maps inform that Neápolis, the principal town of the area, is a two-hundred kilometre, four hour drive from home.  Shortly after lunch on 13 September I left.  Despite my familiarity with the drive, the road to Sparta still visually stuns.  For the better part of the journey from my home to Kalamata, the road skirts the sea; olive groves and market gardens run up the gentle slopes to its left, an impossibly sea, backed at a distance by the majestic Taygetos Mountains (2,500m) over which I would later be driving, laps at the beaches on the right had side of the road.  Beyond the northern suburbs of Kalamata, through a series of hairpin bends, the road rises steeply before dropping down through more hairpin bends into a chasm along the bottom of which the road runs for several kilometres before rising steeply again to its summit from where the descent onto the Spartan plain begins.  It is a breathtaking serpentine decent on a ledge of a road that follows the path of a river through its deep gorge.   In places the cliff has been cut away leaving tunnels and three sided rock ‘C’s’ to drive through. 

There is little in Sparta to evoke memories of its glorious past, it is a modern city, conveniently laid out as a grid of wide boulevards.  The first kilometres of the road beyond Sparta are flat and tedious but the road soon passes into more interesting landscapes as it heads east toward Momevassia and the East coast before swinging south and following the West coast of the peninsular passing, as it rises and falls with the cliffs, occasional fishing villages; in the westering sun it was a delight of a drive.

Neápolis, Laconia

Velanidia, Laconia

At Neápolis I discovered that the hotel I had booked was not in the town but some 9 kilometres north at Biklafia from where a ferry leaves for the barely offshore island of Elephnaos.  This suited me well.  ‘Hotel Boias’ offered all I needed for a base including a good taverna on its ground floor.  I enjoyed my six nights there and my days exploring the wild, empty south eastern tip of Laconia and, indeed, of the greek mainland.

Neápolis, from the deck of a departing ferry to Kythera

I had planned to leave Biklafia on 19 September but, on another whim, I decided that rather than going home I would take a ferry to the Island of Kythera, Aphrodite’s island; Botticelli put me onto her, I have ever hoped to meet her.

Avlémonas is a small village a fifteen minute drive from the ferry port.  I took for a week an extremely spacious, tastefully decorated, well appointed room there on the edge of the village, a five minute stroll from its centre.

Kythera.  Lanscape near Avlémonas
Kythera is an island of mountains, few inhabitants, relatively few visitors, vast empty rocky landscapes and beautiful, empty coasts.  Roads on the island are excellent, far better than the potholed tracks around my home.  Although very close to the mainland, Kythera has a very different feel about it.  Due no doubt to a long Venetian presence on the island the built environment reminded me as much of the south of Italy as anywhere I know in Greece.  Several romanesque, presently orthodox, churches were obviously originally built for worshipers of a  quite different christian persuasion.

My visits to both Neápolis and Kythera have wetted my appetite for further visits to both.  On these first short visits I left many stones to be turned on subsequent visits.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Kythera: first impressions

As I drove off the ferry and onto Kythera this was the first thing I saw.  An omen?  A portent of further disaster?  A metaphor for Greece and its future?

Fortunately as the road climbed steeply away from the harbour there were better first impressions to savour; vast empty tracts of rocky wilderness edged with mountains between which, here and there, I caught glimpses through gorges of the distant lazuli sea. Kythera is untamed and largely empty.  There is plenty of evidence of the land having been managed in earlier times but the abundance of long abandoned and ruined stone walls, sheepfolds and shelters bear witness to the fact that no agriculture, baring some goat-herding, apiculture and, in wind-sheltered valleys, olive cultivation, has been practiced here for generations.

Architecturally Kythera is as much Italian as Greek; a legacy of hundreds of years of a Venetian presence on the island.  The narrow twisting alleys, vaulted ceilings and arched windows and doorways of Kythera, the town, have more in common with those at Bari, in southern Italy than they do with anywhere I have been on the Greek mainland. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

ελευθερία (Freedom!)

For far too long I have been chained to a hedonistic merry-go-round. The cause of this not unpleasant state of affairs has been the summer.  Always long and hot here in Greece, summer this year has seemed to me to have been as consistently exceptionally hot for as long a period as I can remember through the fifteen summers I have been resident here.  Short periods of ‘heat wave’ with temperatures rising for day or two above blood heat are normal but this year temperatures have remained in the high thirties and low forties for weeks, from the end of June through to the beginning of September.  My visitors, my family, revel in  the endless sunshine and round of beaches, cafés, bars, tavernas and nights that go on well into the following mornings.  So to an extent do I,  but there comes a time when enough of a good thing is enough; when the mind of a man craves something greater than a permanent state of addlement and his corpus a rest.  To ease a return to a more interesting, fuller, life I have taken a holiday.

I am spending this week recovering in quiet solitude near Neàpolis on the far south eastern tip of mainland Greece.  I had planned to return home after six nights but am so seduced by the ambience of the area - many believe that hereabouts is Homer’s land of the Lotos-eaters - that, instead of driving home, I have booked a one-way ferry passage to Cythera, Aphrodite’s island!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Carl Larsson

It was Pascaline, owner of a delightfully 'arty' B&B near Chamonix in the French Alps, a now regular port of call of mine on my trips across Europe, who first introduced me to the work of Carl Larsson.  He drew and painted in a style to which I would be ver happy to aspire and, by closely studying his drawings I have learned much about his techniques.  I now have three of his books; 'A Family', 'A Home' and 'A Farm'; all are a delight to browse.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Me with Lowry

Bronze statue of Stretford born artist L.S.Lowry at the junction of Hyde Road and Stalybridge Road, Mottram.

Six months ago I took up art - seriously.  I have been on several courses, bought a lot of self-tuition books, a small fortune’s worth of paint, paper, pencils, pens, brushes and a plethora of other arty goods.  Occasionally I have even practised my latest obsession.

While wandering the uninspiring streets of Mottram near Manchester recently, looking for inspiration, I stumbled upon a fellow sitting sketching on a bench.  Keen to air my new knowledge I settled beside him and made what I believed to be some constructive criticisms of his drawing.  I was rather miffed that he gave me no thanks; furthermore he seemed mildly irritated by my suggestions.

"The Elms" on Stalybridge Road.  Lowry’s home from 1948 until his death (1976).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Last Irish chase of the season

Today my search for places with cultural connections in Ireland led me to ‘The Laurels’ a comparatively recently abandoned house located a short distance to the far side of Glenties from the cottage in which I have been staying this week.  ‘The Laurels’ was the home of playwright Brian Friel’s maternal grandparents where, with his  two sisters, the young Brian spent most of his childhood summer holidays.  As recently as 1998 when, I understand, it was used as one of several locations in the area for the shooting of Pat O'Connor’s excellent film of Friel’s play, “Dancing at Lughnasa”, the house must have been in a better condition than that in which I found it today.  Indeed, although it is but a stone’s throw beyond the village, lost in its overgrown garden the house was far from easy to find.  ‘Ballybeg’, the fictional village in which several of Friel’s plays are set, is based on Glenties.
I also visited Glenties museum, a wonderfully eclectic gathering on three floors, of artifacts, photographs and newspaper clippings telling stories of life and events in and around Glenties through, largely, the past couple of hundred years.  I particularly enjoyed discovering, in a display of genuine items arranged to feign an early twentieth century kitchen, three of the silk stockings Meryl Streep had worn while filming “Dancing at Lughnasa”, hanging from a line above the kitchen range.  The logic of why there should be three stockings rather than a pair or any number of pairs caused me more than a little head scratching!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

A fishy tale, the hero of which is a frenchman!

The cottage I have rented here in Donegal is semi- detached to another.  I suspect that originally the building may have been a byre.  Until yesterday morning I had neither seen nor heard my neighbours but knew I had some and believed them to be french because I had seen a french registered car parked beside my own.  Yesterday morning, as I was getting into my car to go out for the day, my neighbours, an early middle-aged couple, were also leaving their cottage.  In my best french I bade them ‘Bonjour!’ which must have led them to believe I had a fluency of their language.  Confronted with french people speaking french, such facility of speaking it as I pretend to have abandons me.  They neither speak, nor make any pretence of being able to speak, english.  Nonetheless we managed to communicate enough for me to learn that they have been coming to this same cottage each year for several years for him to fish; he is a keen fly fisherman.  Nothing was said about how madame spends her day while monsieur is spending his, rod and line in hand, up to his waist in river water.

Yesterday evening there was a tap on my door.  I opened it to monsieur who held in his hand a sheet of tin foil on which lay three glistening very fresh trout, gutted and ready to cook.  ‘Pour vous’, I think he said.  I thanked him in my best italian then, realising my mistake, in my best greek.  Fortunately Lisi and Linda, who were in the cottage with me, were able to step in and take over thanking monsieur for his kindness.

The trout were eaten this evening and were as tasty as I had anticipated they might be.  Shortly after eating them I again answered a rather nervous tap at the door.  Monsieur stood before me, as incapable of utterance as I, offering me six further beautiful fresh trout.  ‘Thank you’, I said, ‘Thank you so much!’.  He seemed to understand.

Oh!  How I am coming to love the french!

Mount Vernon

Strolling along the track beside the ‘Flaggy Shore’ at the edge of the Burren I noticed amongst the  usual gathering of utilitarian sea-side villas an older, more interesting building.  Hoping to learn more about it I took a few snapshots.  My casual interest has been well rewarded.

Mount Vernon was built in 1788 for Colonel William Persse, a friend of John Wesley and George Washington who is reputed to have sent seed or plants for the fine trees yet living in the garden.  Persse named his new house after Washington’s Virginia home.

Later the house was owned by Sir Hugh Lane who, in 1908, established Dublin’s first public gallery of modern art.  When Sir Hugh, a passenger on the ill-fated Lusitania (Torpedoed by a german submarine in May 1915.),  drowned the house passed to his aunt, Lady Augusta Gregory a leading light of Ireland’s cultural renaissance and confidante of George Russell (AE), J. M. Synge, G. B. Shaw and W. B. Yeats.  Lady Augusta gave the house to her artist son, Robert, who was killed while serving with the RFC in France.  Yeats’ poem “An Irish Airman Foresees his Death” has immortalised the event.

        An Irish Airman Foresees His Death

        I know that I shall meet my fate
        Somewhere among the clouds above;
        Those that I fight I do not hate,
        Those that I guard I do not love;
        My country is Kiltartan Cross,
        My countrymen Kiltartan's poor,
        No likely end could bring them loss
        Or leave them happier than before.
        Nor law, nor duty bade me fight,
        Nor public men, nor cheering crowds,
        A lonely impulse of delight
        Drove to this tumult in the clouds;
        I balanced all, brought all to mind,
        The years to come seemed waste of breath,
        A waste of breath the years behind
        In balance with this life, this death.

The house is now run as a country house style B&B which I have investigated through trip advisor.  From what I have read there particularly the negative comments which say rather more about the disgruntled guests than they do about Mount Vernon, I believe I might enjoy a few days stay at there when I next visit Ireland.


Somewhere in the distance is the small town of Glenties, home village of author and dramatist Brian Friel considered, by many who are qualified to judge these things, to be the greatest of living playwrights writing in English.  Glenties has been identified as the model for Friel’s frequently employed fictional, Ballybeg (from the Irish, Baile Beag, which translates into English as "Little Town").  The environs of Glenties were also used to great advantage as a location by Pat O’Connor when he made his beautiful 1998 film based on Friel’s play, “Dancing at Lughnasa”, which starred Meryl Streep and Michael Gambon.

Also in the distance, a couple of kilometers nearer than Glenties, is the cottage I have rented for this week.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Somewhere in the far distance is America

Standing high on these cliffs looking down on the calm sea on a benign spring afternoon it is difficult to imagine what might have been in the minds of the monks who, in 475 a.d., set sail in small boats from Teelin, the small harbour village below me, for the unknown.  They eventually landed at Iceland, as far as is known to history, its first settlers.
An installation at the harbour records the event in Irish, English and Icelandic.

Friday, May 18, 2012

In pursuit of John McGahern

The Barracks, Cootehall
Aghawillian School
The first stop on a drive into Counties Roscommon and Leitrim in pursuit of John McGahern was at Cootehall, where lived McGahern’s father, an  ex-IRA senior officer rewarded, post civil-war, with the position of senior police officer at a quiet and peaceful country village Garda Barracks (Police Station).  When young John was but ten years old his mother, with whom hitherto he and his siblings had been living on a nearby smallholding, died.  Thereafter the children were obliged to share their domineering father’s private quarters at the Barracks.  The two-storey late eighteenth century building, nestling beside the river Boyle was probably built originally to accommodate a British army guard.  Presently it is a private house.  While there I photographed the house and the lake behind it onto which the young John McGahern would row the Barracks’ boat to read in peace the books which were his escape from the tyranny of life at home.  On the road in front of the Barracks McGahern’s family have had erected a memorial to him. It bears words from the book:  “. . . . a white moon rested on the water, there was no wind, the stars in their places were clear and fixed.  Who would want change since change will come without wanting?  Who this night would not want to live?”
McGahern's grave in St Patrick's Churchyard
If his life at Cootehall barracks provided McGahern inspiration and material for his first novel, “The Barracks”,  Augawillan, where he spent his first happy years with his siblings and his mother, similarly influenced, “Amongst Women”.  So graphic are McGahern’s descriptions of walks up the hill from home to the village school at which his mother taught that, to be there, in the village, on the tree-lined hill outside the school (now also converted into a private house, the school having been moved to a new, larger, building lower down the hill.) invoked in me a strong sensation of déjà vu.  Before leaving Aughawillan I visited St Patrick’s Church to pay respect to McGahern at his grave, which he shares with his mother, and to give silent thanks for the immense pleasure he has posthumously given to me through his writing.

McGahern’s last novel, “To Face the Rising Sun”, follows the lives of a group of people who have in common  the lake which their homes either overlook or of which they are within a stone’s throw.  John McGahern eventually settled in a house on the shores of Laura Lough near Fenagh, County Leitrim.  The narrator of “To Face the Rising Sun” also moved from the city to live tranquilly on the shore of a lake.  Although the Loch is not identified in the book there is more than enough circumstantial evidence within the narrative to suggest that Lough Laura had considerable influence on its geography.
Laura Lough near Fenagh

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

A Search for Oscar

Yesterday drove to Cong, best known as the location of the Hollywood (John Wayne) version of Maurice Walsh’s short story, “The Quiet Man” but, of far more interest to me, the surroundings of Cong are also the location of two homes of Oscar Wilde’s ancestry.  First I went in search of the ruins of Ballymagibbon House, eighteenth century home of Wilde’s Flynn ancestors.  The site of the ruin is far and hidden from a narrow lane by impenetrable woodland edged by bog so I abandoned the chase and drove on in search of a compensatory lunch.  Along the way I unexpectedly sighted, on a distant ridge, the second of my quarries; ‘Moytura’  the house Wilde’s father had built as a bolt hole from Dublin and in which Oscar spent many of his childhood holidays.  (Often spending time, apparently, with George Moore and his siblings.)

Moore House

Moore House, was the ancestral home and birthplace of the Irish artist and writer George Moore (b.1852 - d1933).  These days Moore is most remembered for his 1894 novel, ‘Esther Waters’, a critical  social commentary of the horrendous plight of abandoned single mothers in his day.   Moore had originally intended for himself a career as an artist  and went to Paris to further that ambition.  There he met Pissarro, Degas, Renoir, Monet, Daudet, Mallarmé, Turgenev and, above all, Zola, under whose influence Moore dropped painting for writing.

The ruined, burned out shell of Moore House is presently hidden within a forestry company’s plantation.  Even in its poignantly sad decrepitude there is enough left of the building, today the protected home of a colony of Horseshoe Bats, to easily imagine how grand it might have been in its heyday but Moore House is but one of Ireland’s abundance of these sad ruins.  The building was destroyed by fire in 1922, towards the end of the civil war, by the IRA who believed Moore’s brother to be a pro-treatyist.  Ironically, it was the IRA who, in 1964, had a memorial plaque raised beside the road opposite the ruins of Moore Hall lauding the family for their famine relief work and for their ‘refusal to barter their principles for English gold’!
Irish wit on a notice on the wall of the ruin.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Burren

Spring Gentian
Megalithic wedge tomb
At a first glance, the Burren, a hundred square miles of grey, rocky karst, appears to be no more than a desert of limestone pavement.   Once on the pavement this initial impression is soon belied.  The Burren is populous with an amazing variety of wild flowers.  On closer inspection the apparently uniform, grey landscape is seen to be liberally splattered with patches of soil supporting thick blankets of grasses, mosses, lichens and wildflowers which in turn provide fodder for herds of grazing sheep and cattle.  Over half of Ireland’s native flora grow in the Burren, none of them exclusively but often in greater abundance than elsewhere.  What is fascinating is that here, at sea level, exist extensive colonies of the alpine Spring Gentian and Mountain Avens growing happily among orchids more generally found in the Mediterranean; where thick patches of peat cover the underlying limestone, lime-hating heathers thrive.  This landscape has known the tread of mankind for a long, long time.  Hereabouts are the remains innumerable pre-historic sites bearing evidence of human occupation together with the ruins of many early christian communities and places of worship.  More recent ruins, those of peasant cottages some of which have only comparatively abandoned, also contribute to the history of the Burren written in the remains of mans attempts to provide himself with food and shelter.    Time 
Abandoned peasant farm
spent here also further belies an initial impression of the uniformity of the landscape.  In Ireland the weather, and with it the light, changes with considerable fluidity.  As it does so the appearance of the landscape, the contrasts of land to sky, the apparent colour of the rock, are all in a wonderfully constant state of flux.
Early Purple Orchid

Monday, May 7, 2012

Soliloquy on Solitude

Probably because I write my blog posts in the first person I have been more than once asked if I am travelling alone.  For most of this trip I shall not be.  Until we leave Ireland I shall be contentedly accompanied by Elisabeth, my companion for the past twenty years and more, thereafter she will make her customary trip north to Iceland while I return to Greece for the summer.  I shall see her again in November.   I justify my use of the first person when writing my posts by invoking my contention that practically all our lives, whether or not accompanied or amongst company, are passed alone.  My posts are reports of my experience and mine alone; to use ‘we’ and ‘our’ rather than ‘I’ and ‘my’ would, I believe, distort the truth.  How can I possibly know what sensations Elisabeth, or any other companion sharing an experience with me, is enjoying, or suffering, concerning that experience? 

We enter the world alone and leave it similarly.  Why then should we consider that through the time between those extremes we are anything other than alone.  Perhaps during moments of extreme passion between humans there may be flashes of something approaching meetings of minds but these moments, even for the most passionate, add up to an insignificant percentage of an existence and are memorably transient as might be a particular aroma or taste.
Far from worrying in any way, my ideas concerning aloneness help me to treat time spent unaccompanied as being no different to time spent accompanied.  By invoking a thesis that anything that can be rationalized can not be feared, these ideas foil, for me, the possibility of  ever experiencing emotions of self-destructive loneliness.  

Mona Best

Bridge House B&B, Skibbereen

Mona holding court in her lounge

Mona Best, mine hostess of ‘The Bridge House’, a Bed & Breakfast establishment in Skibbereen, Ireland is an extraordinary character who has transformed a generally nondescript  boarding house into what has been described in the ‘Irish Times’ as, ‘…...the most unusual B&B in Ireland’.  In my experience it is the most extraordinary in all of Europe.   Externally, the building although displaying signs of having been given more than a little thought,  belies all of which lies within; a fantastic collection of objects to which Mona has, over many years, gathered in and now has displayed in most unlikely juxtapositions on every surface, both vertical and horizontal, throughout her home. 
Everything in this museum of a place was, although occasionally shocking,  a charming surprise.   In my room I find, carefully arranged on the bed, a book, “Visitors from Hell”, or some such similar title.  On top of the book an artificial snake has been coiled!  A fully dressed mannequin stands guard over my door, another stands guard over a bath; beyond a half-landing window a huge imitation reptile snarls to be let in.

The breakfast table was a work of art.  Particularly attractive was the turned wood butter tray; a curl of rich yellow butter topped with the complimentary coloured deep purple flower of a pansy.

Mona herself is a warm open soul who has known adversity in many forms but who adamantly refuses to allow the past to stand in the way of a full present.  She is the kind of carelessly independent person that I feel better for, albeit briefly,  having known.

Somewhere under here there was a bed!
Room service?

Reality: reflections on the best laid schemes.*

Reflections in the lake, Sarnico, Italy 20th April 2012

I like to believe I travel to experience novelty in my life but know that novelty is neither the only nor the principal reason that I choose to leave home comforts to risk the unknown.  I travel to get away from the perceived pressures of being at home; to be free to do that which I want to be doing without the nagging pressures, perceived and real, of what I believe I ought to be doing.  The reality seems to be that the pressures are, in a society that expects us to be in continual contact, far from easy to escape.  The reality is also that it is impossible to be travelling, experiencing novelties, and to be recording them.  To create requires time settled.

Chalet de Pascaline; lounge, kitchen, breakfast room
The first week of my current trip to Ireland I spent driving here, most of which was very pleasant and rich with new experiences of which the highlight may have been  an overnight stop at a delightful bed and breakfast establishment, Chalet de Pascaline, near Les Houches in the French Alps.  Pascaline, the vivacious, loquacious proprietor, spread throughout her eclectic, artful, little Chalet a rather wonderful atmosphere of warmth and good cheer.  I was very comfortable there and as with most of my overnight stops wished I had allowed myself time to linger longer.

The ferry crossing from Cherbourg to Rosslare was, to say the least, lumpy and the ferry busy with several ‘groups’ of french schoolchildren and geriatric german coach tourists so, not particularly conducive to following my chosen pursuits, although I did essay to make a drawing in the privacy of my cabin.

Chalet de Pascaline; overnight snow!
Settled at last for a week in a cottage in an ideal out-of-town environment, matters yet conspired to distract me.  For many months past I have not been able to use the integral keyboard of my laptop but have managed well enough with a wireless external keyboard.  At Cork city, an hour or so away from the cottage, there is an Apple Store.  I did not let pass the opportunity to have my laptop fixed.  At the Apple Store I learnt that the problem could not be attended to immediately, I would have to leave the laptop with them and return later in the week.  This was all unplanned and unexpected business - distraction - as was the e-mail I had received from London requiring me to sign and have witnessed various documents and to return them as close to immediately as was possible.  To do this, to get the documents printed, it was necessary to join the County Cork library; a painless experience which cost me just two and a half euros.  I chatted there with the librarian who told me that, in Ireland, the library service is free of the difficulties being faced by  the public library service in the U.K.  Ireland, free of funding the likes of Trident is, I suppose, able to afford the luxury of a decent, comprehensive library service.
This week perhaps I shall be able get to it.  Or shall I?  Yesterday was fine and sunny, too good an opportunity to explore the Burren to miss.  Later in the week friends, motor-home ‘gypsies’ last seen in Greece, will be arriving nearby.  And so it goes on, and on.  Delicious amusement but distracting!  It is a manifestation of the chicken and egg question; distraction equals experience, no distractions - no experience - no inspiration.

*Part of title I acknowledge to Robert Burns and link:

Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty,
Wi' bickering brattle!
wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murd'ring pattle!

I'm truly sorry man's dominion,
Has broken nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion,
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth-born companion,
An' fellow-mortal!

I doubt na, whiles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't!

Thy wee bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's winds ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell-
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee mony a weary nibble!
Now thou's turn'd out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld!

But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain;
The best-laid schemes o' mice an 'men
Gang aft agley,
An'lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou art blest, compar'd wi' me
The present only toucheth thee:
But, Och! I backward cast my e'e.
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The best laid schemes....

Here in this cottage in the West Cork countryside with Bags of time and material I had planned to post daily to this blog. Yesterday I took my Mac into the Cork City Apple hospital to have its non-functioning integral keyboard restored to perfect health. The problem, the doctors told me, was serious. Mac would have to be admitted for a few days for tests. Perhaps an operation, a transplant, will be necessary. I had to sign a form giving my permission - and pay some money. I now have the prospect of waiting anxiously by the phone for news. I do have this trusty iPad with me but do not have the patience to write posts hereon. The iPod is a great gadget but should not be regarded as a substitute for a MacBook.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

To Ireland

I am writing this post at the writing desk in my light, airy and spacious cabin on Irish Ferry’s ship, “Oscar Wilde”.  Outside the windows a watery early morning sun is putting some minor highlights onto an otherwise grey-green sea.
I am on my way back to Ireland.  So much did I enjoy my time there last autumn that I am now keen to see the country in the spring.  For the past week I have been moving across Europe; from home to Patras, to Ancona, Italy, to Sarnico on lake d’Iseo, through the Iselle-Brig rail tunnel into Switzerland and on to Les Houches in the Frech Alps, to Portaubert, Burgundy, to Rosel near Caen, Normandy and, yesterday, from there to Cherbourg and this ferry to Rosslare.
I have the TV switched on.  An Irish news/commentary programme is being broadcast.  Much of its content is redolent of similar TV programmes currently be broadcast at home in Greece; the economy and how the hole in it might be filled.
I do not understand what attracts me to Ireland.  Until last autumn I knew little of the country.  Ireland was no more to me than, to borrow a phrase from Neville Chamberlain, ‘a small country a long way away’, but having experienced Ireland and the Irish for a month last year I want more of it and them.  
Ireland, it seems to me, has much in common with Greece, my chosen country of residence.  
Both Greece and Ireland are scenically beautiful countries.  Both are small nations fairly recently freed from a long tyranny of foreign rule only to be plunged into bloody, internal sectarian power struggles.  It also seems to me that the people of both nations have an attitude to life that owes more to satisfying the spiritual demands of the moment.  An attitude that puts life, and it's living, above material gain which, in some quarters, gives both the Greeks and the Irish a misplaced reputation for slovenliness and idleness.  Personally, being something of an anarchist myself,  I enjoy being amongst these people; people to whom the 'craic' is more important than fixing the peeling wallpaper; honest, what-you-see-is what-you-get folk unafraid of being themselves.  As in Greece, in Ireland there is a paucity of walls and fences.  To me this says much about a country and it's people.
As for economics I do not understand them.  In Greece life seems to be going on as usual.  There are plenty of hard-up folk but there always were and, I suppose, there always will be.  As ever, some folk will live in mansions and drive Porsches, some will live in hovels and ride busses, at the end of the day these things mean little, it is the ability to live for and enjoy the moment that is important.  Northern Europeans, I believe,  have largely sold themselves out to the security of being ordered cogs in the machine of the state.  In countries such as Greece and Ireland individual freedom and the risks that come with it are, in my opinion, yet valued above such an exchange.  Manners are innate rather than ordered by the politically correct dictates of a faceless state.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Laid low by a virus

Mystraki, a kilometre away across the valley. 12th March 2012

For ten days I have been suffering from a virus.  For half of that time I have been recovering, albeit very slowly, from its worst physical effects.  These physical symptoms, a nasty cough, aching muscles, have not, in themselves, been serious or particularly painful but they have been inconvenient and frustrating, draining me of any creative spark or interest in doing anything; the agony, such as it has been, has been more mental than physical.
The March weather has done little to alleviate my general fedupness.  A few fine days early in the month soon gave way to the generally unsettled, overcast and wet weather that has since prevailed.
This afternoon I felt well enough to take a gentle stroll up the track that leads from the back of the house.  For the effort of booting up I was well rewarded.  While I have been shut up indoors, almost totally inactive, nature has been busy.  Along the track myriad wild flowers including several orchid species have burst into bloom.  Long abandoned land that has not been lost to dense shrubbery is presently carpeted with flowers.
For the first winter since I have lived here the dense shrubbery has become a problem.  From when I first arrived here I had been told that in the more remote valleys hereabouts lived wild boar.  Perhaps they did but I saw no signs of them.  Last spring we began to notice their distinctive hoof prints, they have a pronounced dew claw bracketing their hoofs, around muddy puddles and the imprint of their bristles where they had bathed in the mud.  Late one evening last September, while driving my visiting family back to the house, we saw a full grown boar trot nonchalantly across the road in front of us.  This spring, inevitably, there are more of these beasts about.  A couple of weeks ago as I was driving home in the early hours of  the morning, a huge, black mature boar crossed my path within a few hundred metres of the house.  Although I have not heard of these crepuscular /nocturnal beasts harming humans, I would not like to take my chances with one. They are big, a full grown male can be up to two metres long and a metre high at the shoulder, heavy, up to a hundred and fifty kilos and can easily outrun a man!  I have the good fortune to live in this wilderness, a veritable Garden of Eden, so accept the boar as my neighbour but, unlike all the other animals with whom I share this territory and whom I assume to respect my being human giving me an unequivocal position at the top of the pecking order, I am circumspect of him.
The increase in population of wild boar may be a consequence of, and in direct relationship to, the accelerating decline over recent years of human intervention in the landscape.  During the relatively short time that I have been resident here (14 years)  there has been a marked and rapid decline in numbers of foraging goat herds and donkeys used as a means of personal transport. Today, on the hills around my home,  there are neither goats nor donkeys.  Consequently, within very few seasons, the paths they browsed, trod and kept open have grown over denying access to all but the most adventurous of machete wielders to vast tracts of wild country.  It has also been suggested to me that the forest fires, in Arcadia several summers ago, the fires themselves to some extent a consequence of a decline in domestic animal understory grazing, destroyed the boars’ habitat there driving them south.

Ophrys Spruneri growing on side of track from house

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Luna Cafe, Aristomenes, Kalamata

Best hot chocolate this side of Italy, best croissants this side of France!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


For many and various reasons I have rather neglected my blog this year, principally because I have yielded to a creative impulse to take up drawing; time I may have used to blog I have applied to sketching and exploring the mysteries of colouring with watercolour.  I am a tyro at the game, more enthusiastic than skillful, but I am enjoying learning and believe it to be something I may stick with for a while.

Early in January I joined a local art course run by an ex-professional artist who has given me a great deal of help and encouragement.  Since joining the course I have tried, fairly successfully, to make time each day to practise drawing. Some of this time, inevitably has been stolen from time I might hitherto have spent blogging.

I hope not to completely abandon ‘Sensate Man’. I yet have plenty to say, much of which concerns present problems here in Greece, my chosen country of residence, but because I am not adequately informed about these matters to form, let alone to publish, any usefully informative material concerning the country’s future, be it within or outside of the eurozone or the EU, I am keeping such opinions as I have to myself.  I am however confident that the nation and its people will survive; the sun will continue to shine, the sea will continue to lap on the sand and, at base, life will continue as it has here for an infinite number of generations past.

I have started a new blog.  For the time being this is no more than an empty shell but in due time I shall use it as a repository for my drawings, a personal collection and record of the development of the skills I hope will issue from continuing practice and acquisition of knowledge of the craft.  

Monday, February 20, 2012


About three weeks ago, as I was leaving the house to forage for food in a taverna in one or another of the local villages, I noticed a stray dog greedily eating food that had been put down for the tribe of semi-feral cats that live around the house, earning their meagre keep by serving as deterrent to rodents and reptiles which may otherwise set up home in the old pile of stone and rubble that serves as home. I have the good fortune to live in a paradise - an authentic Garden of Eden, complete with a population of Asps.  The following day the dog was still hanging around outside the house, his ribs showing through his skin.  I am not really much of a dog person but nor can I watch an animal starve on my doorstep.  The dog was fed.  There is in Greece a considerable stray dog problem, a problem not apparently recognised by most greeks who have a very different attitude to animals from the generally caring, anthropocentric attitudes of the majority of northern europeans.  Having enjoyed our hospitality, ‘Dog’, as I chose to call him, seemed in no hurry to move on.  During the first days of his residence he was very jumpy and would not come near me but, two weeks to the day after he arrived, he hesitatingly allowed me to gently stroke his head.  He is yet very nervous but less so each day.  As it now seems he will be here indefinitely we thought it best that he had a name other than ‘Dog’; ‘Dog’, is now ‘Philo’ (Φιλο being greek for friend).
Philo is third dog we have kept here during the past fourteen years.  Topsy was the first.  She was a similar breed to Philo.  She turned up one hot summer day.  She was first spotted early in the day laying in the middle of the track that leads away from the house.  As the morning wore on, and heated up, she moved steadily nearer to the house.  Eventually Elisabeth took a bucket of water to her which our visitor drank enthusiastically before laying down again.  A quick glance at the pads of her feet explained why, in places they had worn through to her flesh; she must have walked for miles.
Topsy stayed for four years during which she hardly left the surrounds of the house.  When the car left the house she would follow it to the village where she would wait until it returned when she would follow it back to the house.  One day when the car returned from an outing Topsy was not around to follow it home.  She had disappeared as enigmatically as she had arrived four years earlier.  She is still much missed.
Some years after Topsy.  A friend who had taken in a stray dog contacted to ask us if we would be interested in taking the animal off his hands.  Our friend already had a pet dog and could not really cope with two.  I told him that, under no circumstances did I want another dog.  I do not know how it happened but Milly, a white, long-haired english sheepdog type of animal did eventually come to live here.  She too stayed for four years dying here of an illness the symptoms of which we had assumed to be pregnancy but obviously were not.  By the time we decided to call in a vet Milly, who despite her swollen abdomen had continued to eat and appear normal, was beyond help.  Burying her remains was one of the worst and most memorable tasks I have ever had to face.
Tomorrow, Philo will have been here for three weeks.  As with Topsy, how and from where they came to find this remote place, a kilometer from the nearest metaled road and what they might have experienced in their pasts are enigmas as impossible to decode as is that of how long Philo might now remain here.  He is, I believe, becoming aware he is welcome to stay.  If he does he will continue to enjoy the hospitality of the house and the freedom to wander as far and as long as he wishes, through the largely natural, fenceless wilderness around us.