Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Signal Failure

On Thursday I went to my first meeting with SWWJ which was delightful, I met characters I have only known on Email or Tweeting ate some lovely scones and rather a lot of cake.Heard excellent poetry and found  myself with more than two hours to kill. (odd expression murdering time?)  I had a day return ticket so couldn't go back until after seven and we finished before five. I thought of Oxford street but rejected the idea. In fact I met a charming woman who I joined forces with to smoke a fag outside an exotic patisserie - probably the most expensive fag either of us ever smoked but enjoyable and we found a lot to talk about and finished up bussing it to Victoria where we  parted.
At Waterloo which appears to be undergoing a revamp to rival the original  battle, the bar seems to have disappeared altogether. I couldn't contemplate a jolly without a drink so went to the Hole in the Wall where I had the worst glass of white wine that I have encountered for many a year, I drank it among a cacophony of noise made up of two separate TVs some unidentifiable music and yelling voices making themselves heard. I remember enjoying this place for many a pint.
I retreated to the concourse where I debated with myself if I should buy the Guardian - thank god I did. I waited until just before seven when I got on a train where I was squeezed into a spot so small that I could actually feel people touching all around me, decided I couldn't stand all the way to Southampton so got off again.
I found a slower less packed train and found a seat. The rest is history.
At Byfleet we stopped, which I find ironic - we never went by fleet or otherwise. we stuck.  Trains passed us snug with passengers staring desperately out of their windows - we reciprocated.  The guard was magnificent he really came into his own. he became the ship's captain he always knew he was. He strode - within the limitations of the space - being CALM, and gave us no news in such a measured way that we accepted it, there was one chap who popped out from first class and got slightly stroppy and I mentioned  all the trains passing us on both sides but under his stern but firm eye we were pacified easily. So we sat , I mentioned compensation and suing the South Western but this was met with derisory though restrained laughter.  The guy opposite me was an old hand, he had been held up earlier in the week and he carried  on with mysterious paperwork discussing with a fellow worker.on his cell phone. He looked up on the web and announced that nothing was moving beyond Woking.
I read the Guardian from end to end - except the Sport section and the guy opposite read that. I read the Evening Standard and began to feel hungry and cold, the air conditioning still functioned.  The guard returned with the news that some passengers had broken out of their train so the power had to be turned off while they were  recaptured,( he didn't put it like that but the implication was there) We remained passive, we murmured among ourselves and I imagined what would have happened in foreign parts in these circumstances - in Italy say. My love who is Italian phoned around ten thirty, she sounded outraged-though whether at our passivity or our train service I am nor sure.

Eventually our hero the  guard came to tell us we would be moving shortly  but slowly we growled our gratitude.  We reached Woking where many passengers got off and the guard announced several times how grateful he was to us passengers who had shown him many kindnesses and been so forbearing. At one station it was stiff with police and we were invaded by more malcontent passenger but they had seen nothing compared with us. I sneered when they spoke of two hour waits.

Later a couple of Welsh boys got on, intent on a night of debauchery in Southampton, I wished them well but after midnight and one of them in flip flops I had my doubts. Imagine coming all the way from  Wales for a night out -in Southampton! I heard a young girl direct them to a likely spot and warn them not to argue with the bouncers. I do hope they found what they were looking for. 
Me? I am contemplating coach travel.

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Lisbon's Finest

Alfama was built by the Moors and shows it. A lot like Tangier a fully fledged labyrinth. It is the inner city of Lisbon has many of the best restaurants and most of the fado. It took our cab driver, who didn’t favour Sat Nav, a very long time to find the apartment booked online. We drove down alleys where the car was within millimetres of both walls, past bemused locals who peered into the cab at us, we looked back, my friend with ferocity myself with an ingratiating grin,I began to wonder if Alfama was an entirely good idea.
We had looked up guest houses in the area and on one list of recommendations somebody had described the area as ‘ Smelly dirty red light area where it is dangerous to walk after dark.’  Clearly the guest book owner hadn’t translated this – but it is the sort of remark that I would take as a challenge anyway. But now, driving round and round talking frequently on the mobile to our landlady I wondered.

One thing that occurred to me many times during our visit is the fact that you are in effect walking or driving in somebody’s front room. The Alfamans eat and just sit outside and probably get peeved at crews of nosey tourists meandering around  Thus a gaggle of young boys looked up when we got out of the cab and watched us get back in as the driver told us we were in the wrong place. When we finally found the apartment immediately next to a church –handy for locating from the distance – there were several rather dour old women sitting on a wall, they stared at us blankly. The view from this open area was stunning though marred by the sight of an enormous cruise ship that looked like a block of council flats in Hackney with nothing ship-like remaining. (Yes, I do know there are no council flats left they have all been bought up but the image is accurate)
Our landlady spoke excellent English and we settled in, I realised we needed the basics (I crack up if I have no food handy) we trotted out together to find a shop. Two young girls helped us to locate the main street, through what looked like a cul de sac with six people enjoying their evening meal. They looked up and pointed us to a corner where narrow steps led down ever downward until we arrived at a narrow street where every second shop seemed to be a café and most offered Fado as a side order. We dithered a bit then decided on a café where youngsters were smoking and eating, I hardly smoke any more but I like smoky places they make me feel at home. The octopus and all kinds of other fishy things along with broad beans and unspecified vegetables were very good indeed.
The next morning the church bell was deafening and I could hear the responses of the congregation, a mumble but audible.

By the church there is a nice big area and the dour old bints were replaced by kids playing football, mostly against our wall. This area is clearly a valued asset of the neighbourhood; daytime kids play and people sit. Early evening  it becomes a snogging area with various impassioned  couples totally engrossed with each other. Late at night, when the snoggers are gone it is an adult playpen where cavorting takes place until early morning. One teeming night a crowd seemed to celebrate this with rain dances at five am. We could hear these activities but couldn’t see because our window faced the courtyard. This brought a nice tension to our nights.

After a day or two everybody ignored us as we walked through the area or sat on a bench at night for hours. Fado drifted into our ears as we lay in bed and we got lost many times in the streets but always found our way home. Nobody attacked us or bothered us.  The Lisbonites like their dogs and haven’t yet discovered the merits of the poop scoop so care needs to be taken when walking. We met a very nice puppy called Bob Marley and only one breed specific dog – a Yorkie so I speculate that birth control for mutts has not become widespread in Lisbon, which has a wonderful variety of canines who look very happy.
One of the main points of going to Lisbon was to see an exhibition of Paula Rego’s work We saw her Proles Wall on the first day, a Sunday when most of Lisbon appeared to be going to the beach. Paula lived up to expectations, funny, profound, enchanting as ever we bought cards for friends and wandered among parks in hot sun Bliss to have to find a shady place to drink beer .And the trees impressed me There are a great variety of trees and some appear to grow from the tiniest piece of earth, they give shade and light up the grottiest street. Lisbon seemed to me a place where there is a tolerance of people, dogs and trees, no sign of the ruthless pollarding of London trees. And people mostly left us alone but one time in a restaurant the entire company advised me of the best fish to choose.  I ate fish every day at least once, sampled lovely cakes and gained ten pounds in weight – worth every ounce of joyful eating. I did come unstuck with cuttlefish with ink which even I couldn’t eat, a learning experience. In fact my love took a picture of me resembling  a vampire on her tea break with ink from nose to chin. I have ‘lost’ it. We also witnessed a large demo that looked exactly like a London demo with bright red flags and coaches parked nearby but no police were in evidence and it was all good natured stuff.
I recommend Lisbon with its lovely Miradors and Alfama in spite of vertiginous hills and steps. Bairro Alto has some of the best clubs ever that don’t even get started until after midnight I didn’t make the effort – too busy digesting fish!
I shall definitely return to Alfama and have made a deal with Marisa the apartment owner for a special deal.cheap. I shall return for the cod in cream if for nothing else and the flan!



Monday, 6 June 2011


an exhibition of the work of Tracey Emin
This is a very personal view of  the present exhibition which I found   polarising. I always admired Tracey Emin for her courage, honesty and apparent invulnerability. I was also impressed when she went on TV exceedingly drunk (always a good thing in a woman) but I was wrong she is as vulnerable as us all. The difference is that she looks her vulnerability straight in the eye and transforms it into art, a magician.   I wrote this morning on Twitter how wonderful I think she is and a friend responded that she wishes she could ‘get’ Tracey.   I have many friends who don’t ‘get’ her and if they are happy with this very sad state of affairs that’s fine, if not, then this is the exhibition to do it. It is large and comprehensive and all her many skills are utilised. Also her great wit.
She ‘speaks’ of love in its many forms fraudulent and real. Of double standards, under age sex, of love for her nan, her mum and her dad. She engages with her first experience of death and abortion in such a variety of ways it is stunning. The film ‘Why I Didn’t Become a Dancer’ is where I would start if you are not a fan. In this she tells of dancing in a competition the audience clapping her, feeling jubilant when several guys – all of whom have enjoyed sex with her – begin shouting ‘slag slag slag’ she is defeated cannot hear the music. A defeat turned into triumph with her work.

The most important thing about Tracey for me is the fact that though she is a self obsessed narcissist, all her lessons apply to me. We all have failures in love and life is unfair in particular to the female gender but hey we can get up and use these experiences fruitfully. We don’t have to be an artist, we don’t even have to ‘share’ our grief but we are all the result of our experiences for good or ill. She made me think creatively and realise that shame is a waste of time, put all your ‘stuff’ to good use. She also says that writing is the backbone of all her work and I can relate to that.

I love her blankets and the wooden shed on stilts, her fondness for wood and her materials. She is a skilful painter and maker of objects of all kinds. This exhibition shows her tenderness and sensitivity clearly and is worth taking the time to look at and to digest thoroughly. As it costs £12 to get in take it slowly and it’s worth every penny. If at the end you still don’t ‘get’ Tracey Emin I will  be surprised and very sorry for you.