Saturday, July 29, 2006

Morecambe


Time for a Friday-night treat yesterday - I handed in my PhD thesis and headed off for the early evening light of Morecambe.
A recent life-plan involved moving to Morecambe. It has some of the best real estate value in the country. My visit showed me why. (The picture, an official government one used to promote the town, suggests how much is on offer. What a fine bench that is!) I did enjoy striding along the promenade, and the whole town has a faded 50s / 60s air that is confortingly redolent of childhood gone. Acres have clearly been bulldozed flat, and given over to downmarket concrete supermarkets. Statues of gannets offer an endearing tribute to nature, and a stencil outline of the distant peaks of the Lake District, visible in haze across the Bay, was a reminder of how the wise folk of Macchu Picchu positioned rocks to reflect moutain peaks. There's a clutter of older buildings back from the shore, some fine bayfronted ones too, all with hopes that Urban Splash's regeneration of the Midlands Hotel will haul the place upmarket. At present though the place is unpeopled. A sunny summer holiday Friday, and it might as well have been midwinter for the sparceness of people.
The Old Pier Bookshop, mind you, is special. It's years since I've rummaged through so spectacularly dishevelled a place, books tumbled around your feet and stacked on shelves as they come in, mounds of them outside the front door. Over time of browsing the various chambers you spot some sense of original order, the science fiction section particularly specific, but the randomness is part of the charm. Some treasures are obvious on the shelves - and don't expect them to appear on abenooks any time soon. Make your way to Morecambe for a grand old rummage.
I went to Heysham Village for dinner - at the Royal Hotel. The coast goes upmarket here for a while. It was 2005 winner of the national village in bloom competition, no less.

My treat ended with 'Superman Returns'. 'It had no story' the boy ahead of me remarked on leaving. He was right. The director Bryan Singer clearly has some major father issues he was working out. Still, it's fun to have evidence that man can fly.
That probably rounds off the Morecambe experience for the rest of my life. Eastbourne however, I still have a hankering to return to live there. An Englishman needs a shore.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Hearing Voices in Lancaster


Big placards around Lancaster University announce they are spending £200,000,000 on various upgrades. It does need it. The campus has a lovely hilltop site just out of the city, but has somehow managed to build so that you never have a view.
It's home-from-home for now though (I'm writing this from the library, as pictured). The PhD should be finished by the weekend. I understand that few people who take PhDs in Creative Writing anywhere come away from the process thinking it was very clear. The thesis element I'm just completing, a simple 20,000 words, has proved one of the hardest writing tasks I've ever accomplished. Last week in Scotland was real headbanging time when I felt like chucking the whole thing in for a year. The style of course is different: hammering home each point is what I would teach writers not to do. Worse than that has been coming round to understanding that I am supposed to be writing about, and copiously quoting from, my own novel. Still, since self-analysis is a trait I aim to foster in other writers I guess it's not bad to be honing it in myself.
It's a lonely summer campus, with no-one here. Company sprang briefly into being this evening though. I stood up amd heard a tiny voice calling from my pocket. It was my partner, out in Santa Barbara, California. Somehow my mobile phone had contrived to dial him without my knowing it. I've been dubious about mobile phones, but now I can see they are quite miraculous little things.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Meeting Loki


Occasionally I pass a piece of litter on a path and guilt sets in, I have to turn back and pick it up. It was similar driving north the other week. Heading through Yorkshire for Scotland I picked upna leaflet telling me of a Loki stone sited in the church of Kirkby Stephen. I first heard of the Loki stone in a story by Brina Katz, who I was supervising on her MA thesis, and some resonance with the name set in. Sooner than take the detour I veered north. For a couple of hours guilt set in - I should have visited the stone, it seemed to be pulling me back. I made a deal that I would take it in on my return south.
It's been a good two weeks since packing up the old house and moving on - back to my old haunts in Glencoe, a spectacularly bog-ridden day clambering over the island of Iona, and new to me was Kilmartin Glen, surprisingly the area of Europe most densely packed with Neolithic sites. Some day I may drop back and post my own pictures of the visit - I can't get my computer to connect online since leaving home.
The weather has been astonishing, especially for Scotland. When I last lived here I fled one day in March when more than 60 inches of rain had already fallen for the year. Staying a week with friends in a valley near Dunoon has been magical, swimming in rivers and the sea, basking in sunlight. Their place was powered with the sense of the mountains that ringed it. It's a while since I have felt that mountain force so tangibly.
Glasgow was jolly too. When I lived there I noted how it became Mediterranean on the back of two weeks of rare sunshine, people calling to each other across the street, smiling. Then the rain sees them locked inside tenements again, begrudging the fact. Memories of my years there were triggered as I walked around, eating in the fine seafood restaurant Rogano's at last, decorated in the art deco mode of the ship Queen Mary in 1935 I believe, when that ship was being built on the Clyde.
On to a fine day's work with friend Sara Maitland in Dumfries, moving forward our joint book on mentoring creative writers. Then a meandering trip into England today, a few historical sites en route.
And finally to visit that Loki Stone. Again, my own pictures when I get them available (till then, here's the picture link). The stone is set to stare out through the window, from the 8th-10th century, the only such one in Britain I believe. It portrays the devil, but in a lighthearted way, quite a cheery piece.
I'm settled into rooms at Lancaster University now, adapting to a temporary spell of homelessness, holing up to get on with some serious writing work. First task, finishing off my PhD thesis - a bit of a headbanger of a task but almost there. So I may well get to post more while here. Glad to be back with you!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Iona & Glencoe


So the house in Sandy, Beds is sold and we're moving on - resolutely northwards. This morning meant waking in thew Kings House Hotel on the edge of Rannoch Moor in the Scottish Highlands, Glencoe the next step om the wilderness. I lived for some years in Glencoe, a curious mixture of homes and an often overpowering environment. Sitting at my writing tables I would be startled by banks of cloud pouring down over mountainsides. These mountains brood, they converse amongst themselves, and humasns who dare climb there are often whipped from the hillsides and thrown to their deaths. Nature used to accord with my writing though where publishers didn't - I remember finishing one book, and looking out to find a pine marten pawing at the french window while deer grazed the flowerbeds below.
Time is odd. It's maybe seventeen years since I was in Glencoe last. And only nine hours since I was there today but already that visit seems historical. A drive down the Argyll coast to Oban, a ferry across to the Isle of Mull, and now we're on Iona, a true holy island, treated as sacred long before the the Christians arrived here to 'baptise' it all. A powerful stop en route saw us in the Druid circle of standing stones known as Long Meg and her sisters in the north of England. Long Meg is a tall stone marking, and shielding, the entrance. Entering that way, saying a prayer at the centre, the thins cry of two birds marked the moment. They were oyster catchers. It's intriguing to meet these shoreline birds (they were in Glencoe today, on the shores of Loch Leven) in their inland heaths of summer.
Time now to dream and see what messages Iona has to send - the 'veils' between physical and non-physical realities are famously thin here.
(picture link)

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Summer of '06


The picture's something of a dream image - me at the rose-coloured window of our little house in the French Pyrenees. The roses will have withered but I'll be there next month. My boxes of Haldania are packed and I'll be burrowing in to the beginning of the J.S.Haldane story. At least I have the voice of the book now, with one chapter written.
I'll be roving before then. Excuse the sudden paucity of blogs - the house has sold and we move out on Monday. Some time in September we'll be back and based in London, somewhere. Before then comes some time in Scotland with friends, the ticking off of another couple of big writing projects, then a few more questing jaunts along the Haldane trail.
Along with the house goes my broadband connection. I'll doubtless check in by blog now and again, but expect a quiet month or two. Please take the chance to dance around the years of material featured on my website while I'm gone.
OK, time to take a final lunge and clear my desktop into a box. See you later.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Inflight Reading

Friend Sarah Anderson has just published an article on airline travellers and their reading matter. I used to pack several books for the journey, then buy more at the airport just in case. I mean to start doing that again after my long flight back from Harare this year. Just me and Philip Roth's American Pastoral saved for the day. God it was turgid. A daytime flight as well. I saw more movies than I care to remember.
The traveller in the article seeing flights as passages between bardos was my partner James Thornton. His book of meditations for air travellers must come out one day!
(picture link)

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Au Revoir les Anglais


Out into the countryside this afternoon ... Cardington Village Church fete. Part of giving my American partner quintessential English experiences.
A fine teenage troupe played steel drums and people queued for tea and home made cakes, and punnets of gooseberries, but it was pretty 'low grade' as an event, as an English dame we know might say. It was largely a fleamarket. Stand-out, and so largely of course stand-alone with little interest shown, was the stall of the splendidly bewhiskered Bedfordshire Beekeper.
On from there to the tearoom of the 18th Century Moggerhanger Hall, designed by Sir John Soanes. On the menu was 'Hilly Billy Blue Cheese on toasties - local cheese from Wobley Bottom Farm' - surely English enough in its lexical weirdness.
And from there to England losing to Portugal on the TV - battling as the underdog when reduced to ten men, in valiant English fashion.
Then to packing up this house in Sandy Beds. Next week a fresh young family moves in and we move on via Scotland to France - hence 'au revoir les Anglais' for a while - though methinks the English one finds in southern France are as quintessential as any.