Here, for those interested, are the links to our photos from the Ecuador trip. The first link will find general pictures, the second the birds and the third will lead to the spiders photographed on a night walk.
If you click on a single photo it will enlarge and (normally) have a caption.
Sorry, there has to be one more entry for this beautiful country of high mountains and small stocky people with wonderful faces who dress in their national costume even for everyday work and are so quick to smile and offer a greeting. The hacienda at Cayambe was one of the most atmospheric and charming places I've ever had the privilege of enjoying. As I have said before it is 4 hundred years old and the decor was in elegant decay along with much of the furniture - trapped in time warp! A one storey building that spread over two or three acres with a pretty chapel, riding stables, etc. At supper on the last evening there I did something I've never done before - I spontaneously stood up and sang a song - a very appropriate song - 'The Mission Bell at San Miguel' - and got a nice reception from my startled and indulgent audience. Very satisfying for a normally inhibited scribbler. Now Ecuador is wonderful but it does seem to have more stomach bugs that India, China and Indonesia put together. Most of the 14 suffered at least once, sometimes twice. There were a couple of iron-gutted individuals (Annette, never falters) but for the most part we all had to reach for the immodium tablets in a hurry. For myself I had just sat down on the public bus from Otavalo, a wonderful market town which we all adored and expressed a desire to live in, when I felt stomach cramps. 'Oh bless,' I said to myself in so many words, 'I've got two and half hours on this bus which doesn't stop.' Panic. The cramps came again. Within half an hour I was absolutely desperate and given a few minutes more was going to disgrace myself utterly. 'STOP!' I yelled. 'I HAVE TO GO TO THE . . .' The conductor came to me and said, 'Cinco minutes - solo cinco minutes mi amigo.' They are so kind these people. The bus screeched to a halt outside a gas station loo in dead on five minutes. I ran from the bus with a concerned Annette flying after me, while at the same time the driver threw me a toilet roll, expertly caught, made the loo with seconds to go - and not to put too fine a point on it, a huge flock of starlings came out of my rear end. When I sheepishly re-boarded with 'Lo siento, lo siento,' (sorry, sorry) the local Indians clapped, their square pleasant faces creased in grins under their trilby-style hats. I tipped the driver and the conductor a couple of dollars each and thanked the Lord for filling this amazing country with such pleasant people. Today we catch the plane home.
Cuenca was a land of high lakes. We managed to walk around one of them, Torreadoros, but it was hard going in the high altitude. Rewarding though, with the volcanic scenery. Yesterday we flew back to Quito where I had the worst journey of my life - rush hour from the airport to the hotel - and went straight to bed with fume sickness. I had to sleep under the bed when I got altitude sickness sleeping on the top. (Kidding of course, but the heights here are a problem). Today we move on again to a hacienda at Cayambe. It´s said to be 400 years old and fairly basic, but we´re told by our guide that we will enjoy the antiquity of the place. There´s not a great deal to do there execept climb the nearest volcano which is 18,000 feet high. (Not a chance mate - I´ll wander the countryside at only 10,000 feet). After two days we move on to our last stop, the biggest market in Ecuador. I have purchased some horse blinkers for Annette, otherwise we´ll need to buy another suitcase.
We left Banos surrounded by snowtopped volcanoes and several magnificent waterfalls. The hotel was small but luxurious after four days in rainforest huts. We were supposed to go next by public bus to Cuenca further south and higher up (8000 feet) but we rebelled and13 of us hired a private bus so that we could enjoy toilet stops and viewpoints through the Andes. The views were breathtaking and almost all the men and women we saw were wearing traditional dress, which included a trilby hat. The bus cost us $25 dollars each, which didn't break the bank. There are still volcanoes around Cuenca, but less imposing than those further north. Cuenca is the second largest city in Ecuador after Quito, but is more beautiful and better laid out. On the way we stopped and spent an hour at some Inca ruins, not as magnificent as those in Peru, but still impressive. Tomorrow we go to another national park where I expect there will be more waterfalls and lots of great wildlife.
Finally able to access my blog and add to the Ecuador saga for those who are interested (others have had emails keepin them up to date, whether they wanted them or not!) -
We left our mountain retreat at Papallacta and descended 10,000 feet to the rainforest on 14th Nov. As I think I mentioned before, our transport is the public buses. The journey took 5 hours to Baeza where we picked up three small trucks which took us another hour to our camp with a family of the Cichua people. We were given wooden huts on stilts, with palm leaf roofs - none too solid. You could see the ground through the bamboo slatted floorboards. Everything was very simple: no electricity but running water from a standpipe and no furniture in the huts beyond the bed, which was comfortable enough. When anyone moved during the night the shaking of the floorboards woke neighbours in adjoining huts. There were dogs everywhere, which never seemed to stop barking, and several roosters to wake us at dawn. Very enjoyable though, with lots of birds: vultures, eagles, etc.
There are 14 of us (I miscounted the first time) - 2 Americans, 7 Canadians, 3 Brits and 2 Danes. Four are under 25 years of age, the rest over 55 years of age - no inbetweeners. We spent the two days there trekking through the jungle, learning forest lore. We were bitten to hell, despite using deet and one or two had stomach troubles. The family who owned the huts were excellent - no English but lots of sign language. Some of them did not even speak Spanish - only Cichua. We also learned to make chocolate from the basic plant, which was backbreaking work, grinding the cocoa pods.
From there another 5 hour bus ride to Tena and into the rainforest again on the banks of the Rio Napo, a headwater of the Rio Amazon. Better accommodation - electricity and showers - and the river itself was magnificent. Our neighbour, an Ecuadorian woman, had a tarantula in her room as big as my hand. Very hairy. She said she did not mind it being there as it was hiding from the female who lived in the nest in rafters. That night we did a forest walk in the dark photographing spiders and other insects that only come out after sundown. Saw a couple more tarantulas. Getting very friendly with them. We also saw the largest rodent in the world, a rat as big as a large pig, called a capybara. We were accompanied by a guide with a machette who was supposed to take care of any snakes- oh, and because of the snakes we wore welly boots. Did not see any. Next day we took a long lean motorised canoe trip down the Napo river and back. The Napo at that point is about quarter of a mile across with a fierce flow. Visited a Cichua village where they made rough pottery from the river clay and showed us how to use a blowpipe.
Today we came to the town of Banos, again 4 hours by public bus,which is overlooked by an active volcano. It erupted (only a bit, we are told) just ten days ago. Tonight we are climbing the foothills to get a look at the crater in the sunset. Sorry this is so stilted but I am doing it on my Kindle Fire and there does not seem to be a key for apostrophe S, hence everything is laboured.
On our way today. There are 13 of us (a coven?) plus the guide, who told us to pare down our luggage as we are travelling on public buses, mules and by foot. Annette and I have backpacks and are light enough but it means leaving behind my laptop. To continue my blog (still fairly dull I have to admit) I have to use my kindle fire, so no means of getting photos on the blog. (Damn, I'm such a good photographer too!). Yesterday I lost my debit card in an ATM that swallows such delights and had to have a Highland Park whiskey (with two cubes of ice) to calm my nerves. (Thanks Tam!) Going even higher up the mountains today to an area of hot springs. A place called Papallacta. Journey on the bus will take 5 hours along windy mountain roads. Pills taken.
Still in Quito, but a posher hotel, awaiting our guide for the trek starting tomorrow. While I can still connect I might as well blog. I'm always amazed by the fact that when I connect to a country's internet, it knows where I am. Under 'Google' on my search engine page it says 'Ecuador' and - this throws me a little - the language on my pages changes to Spanish. Now you would think if it recognises my computer as a new one, it would know I'm a visitor and would leave the language alone, wouldn't you? Anyway, today we went to the National Museum and saw lots of gold. Lots and lots of gold. The central item being a large sunburst made of gold. The Conquistadors obviously missed a lot of it when they pillaged the place, because there's tons of it left. We use the taxis to get anywhere, though they only go at -5 kph, since the traffic is jammed everywhere. Funny thing, the taxi drivers all have seat belts, which they use. There are none for the passengers. We were told by one taxi driver that if a car hits a pedestrian the driver of the car is required by law to take the injured person to the nearest hospital and must pay the medical expenses. So, you hit a fellah, you have to pick up the bits, take the bits to be sewn together again, and foot the bill. Still and all, there seems to be few careful drivers.
The flight took 21 hours with two stops, the last leg being from Panama to Ecuador on a local airline which landed at midnight. Worries about being in city around 10,000 feet high were unfounded. We both felt lightheaded but otherwise fine. A taxi ride to the Folklore Hostel (picture is of the living room) took another hour and we fell into bed at about 1.30 am, completely exhausted. In the morning I met Principe, the house trained rabbit that wanders into guests' rooms when he feels like it. We got on pretty good for two different animal species. Then I put on my dapper holiday kit including aviator shades and sandals while Annette enhanced the beauty nature had given her and we sallied forth to watch a magnificent changing of the guard at the palace of a bustling South American capital. The president appeared on a balcony and everyone in the plaza went mad with excitement - except us of course - we thought they were about to have a revolution and quickly ducked into the cathedral to seek sanctuary.
Once again, we are off to the South of Spain, to our village on the Granada coast. We have had our small apartment there now for fifteen years and have enjoyed every moment of our time. Now we are thinking of selling and buying a similar place in Turkey, simply for a change of scene. They are both lovely countries in their different ways. I love the rich earthy colours of Spain: the russet fields and coffee coloured hills. The mountains of the Sierra Nevada are rather grim, but the white villages that decorate them are a delight. In the Spring there are wild herbs growing everywhere: the warm clear air is full of their scents. I also admire the Spanish for their tolerance. There must be over a thousand expat holiday home owners in La Herradura, a village around the same size as my village in Suffolk. If that number of Spanish people descended on the Suffolk village, the residents would be up in arms. Not all the residents of La Herradura are dependant on tourists for their income, yet I have never heard any grumbles about 'immigrants'. Turkey is another country of course and they do things differently there. It appears to me - though I have only been on the South coast - even more rugged and earthy than Spain. The people I have met are polite and welcoming, warm and ready to talk, mostly in English (which always makes me feel guilty, though I do speak reasonable Spanish now it's not much use in Asia Minor). The food is wonderful, the living
inexpensive. Perhaps we will never sell our apartment in Spain, things being very desperate there, but if we do, Turkey will be our destination. They have golden eagles, wild forests, secluded bays, good public transport. One of the pleasures there will be not having to hire a car. The first photo was taken near Javea, where my good and ancient friends Trinny and Lorraine live: the almond trees in bloom. The second photo is a long shot of La Herradura and our apartment is one of those white dots on the hill at the back.
They say intolerance comes with age, but to be honest I think I have some of it in my genes, which is not a good thing. I would like to say live and let live to everything if my temperament would allow, but sadly for me placidity doesn't always manage to filter down to my liver. Last night I went to the 02 for a performance by Leonard Cohen which was superb. He is around my age but is probably much more laid back than I'll every be. My unhappiness during his singing was with those people who were obsessed with their iphones. While the performance was on there were many in the thousands there taking flash photographs. They are at best, misguided. The distance of a camera flash is anything from 8 to 15 feet, while the person on the brilliantly lit stage was at least a hundred yards or more from most of these would-be photographers. The flashes were distracting, but I realise people get excited and want to record their evening. However, two people right in front of me were texting and emailing for a great deal of the performance and one guy, two rows ahead, was playing Angry Birds on his phone the WHOLE time. Their bright screens were indeed fucking distracting. I think the mobile phone is a great invention - actually a good friend of mine invented a certain lcd which led to their current development - but why do some people have to be glued to the bloody things almost night and day. I see them on the train, on the bus, walking in the street, some of them mothers pushing prams with precious loads in them, even carrying suitcases or halfway over a busy road, their eyes glued to that tiny screen that seems to have beguiled them and keeps them in slavery wherever they are and whatever they're otherwise doing. Sorry for being a grump, but as I say, age and genes combined.
Over the last ten years too many of my friends have left me behind. My lifelong friend and then my accountant Stewart Holliday went first, then Ruth and John Murry, Maggie Noach my agent, Rob Holdstock, Bob Nottage a schoolfriend who served alongside me in the RAF and more recently Iain Banks. Iain was not a close friend, but we corresponded on occasion and I liked him a lot, despite our different views on things. He wanted independence for Scotland and he was in his own words a 'militant atheist'. I made him laugh at a recent convention when I countered this with my assertion that I am a 'militant Quaker', Quakers being dedicated to peace of course. The Scots have their right to choose independence from the Union of course, should they wish it, but I think both countries will be the poorer for a parting. Should it happen there will be new flags, some lost politicians since 'foreigners' are not able to serve in another country's parliament. Those Scots who choose to become English, Welsh or Northern Irish will of course be permitted to remain in our parliament, but it will be a difficult emotional choice for them. There will be other changes, many of them, to emerge as the time for choosing gets closer. Iain of course has had the choice wrenched from him on the eve of this momentous event. A very swift and cruel wrenching it was too and the book world's loss is great. I miss all those friends I have listed above, quite desperately at times, and it would be nice if no one else went before I did. Naturally I'd rather that was later than sooner - at least a decade I hope - but I certainly don't want to be, in the vernacular of action movies, Last Man Standing.
The picture was taken on the shores of Lake Bled in Slovenia - a small beautiful country which gained its independence from Yugoslavia and seems to the thriving, so what do I know.
Just returned from a revisit to Cornwall. I was there 45 years ago, stationed just outside Newquay, with my then new wife and small shiny kids. We loved the place in those days: the wild cliffs, the quiet beaches, the fresh, clean winds blowing over from the Atlantic. It used to take us 12 hours to drive from Essex to Cornwall at a time when there were no motorways. It still took us almost that long this time, due to the immense amount of traffic. Wadebridge and Padstow had changed only in the number of tourists: thousands of them, thronging the narrow streets, mostly eating Mr Stein's fish and chips. It was a delight to spend a few days with our son Richard and his wife Julie, and our granddaughter, Chloe. They had been our inspiration for choosing this area since Julie is a garden person and the family had not yet been to the Eden Project.
We went back to St Eval, where we once had a married quarter on the cliffs, and found it had altered only in the privatisation of the houses, which now had an individuality about them. Then we seriously set about sightseeing, going to St Michael's on the Mount, the Telegraph Museum, the little theatre on the Lizard, the Eden Project, and many others. One of the pleasures was meeting up with an old friend and the editor of several of my books, Jane. We were shown around Mousehole by Jane and her husband Abdel, and really got to see the roots of the Cornish coastline. They were brilliant hosts and Abdel cooked us a meal which I can still taste on my mind's tongue. It was delicious. The only downside was having to park on a narrow quay with the sea on both sides. I am not the best driver in the world and my heart was thumping a little as I inched my way backwards along the narrow wall past a French Lieutenant's woman, who stood staring bleakly out at the waves . We left the car there overnight. I was told by my hosts that at an earlier time one bunch of cars was actually crushed by mighty storm waves breaking over the wall. I stared out at the placid face of the Atlantic Ocean and wondered whether it was due to have a tantrum. Happily it didn't lose it's temper but I still had to inch my way off that sea wall the next morning. I could never in a million years work for Eddie Stobbart.
Some of my blog followers (may the tribe increase) are aware of my hobby of photographing - or trying to photograph - birds of a feather. I like walking in the countryside, or anywhere, but I also like something to do at the same time. Thus I began snapping birds with my Panasonic Lumix DMC-FZ28. A bridge camera that's light to carry and doesn't require a Phd to operate. Annette is very patient with my continued stopping and cocking an ear for a bird sound, or putting my finger to my lips and creeping forward to capture one on the chip. I am always astounded by the beauty of birds, as I was by seashells when I once collected them. I expect flowers do it for some of us too. What a wonderful world is the natural planet, fast diminishing I know and would like it to stop, but somehow humankind thunders on despite good intentions, warnings and attempts to arrest our devastation of the wild and wildlife. Anyway, I don't want to preach, I just want to say how lucky I feel sometimes to be just here, seeing a live thing of beauty - creature or plant - and feeling full of wonder at the astonishing array of natural art we have out there. Above are four of my favourites. The raptor is an Australian Black Kite, the kingfisher I snapped in Bali, the last one is a Red Rumped Swallow taking a sip of a swimming pool in Turkey and the bee-eater, or honey eater, I have no idea what he is but I photographed him outside the town of 1770 in Queensland, Australia. (Yes, that really is what the town is called. apparently Capt Cook ran out of words, so named it after the year.)
I've just re-read an old favourite. Jack Finney's collection of short stories 'About Time'. The tales are all set around the time of the late '50s, early '60s in the USA, JF being an American author with cultural concerns. The hero usually works for an ad company and commutes to the big city with briefcase, suit and, oh yes, trilby hat. However, in all the stories the main protagonists do not like the time they're living in, but yearn for (and usually get, through some sort of time travel) an earlier period, round about the '20s and 30's when life was a lot slower and by inference, cleaner and better. They speak lovingly of open-topped bullnosed automobiles, dollars that buy a lot more and trams that go dinga-ling-ling. Nostalgia. Funny thing is - well, not so funny, perhaps pathetic? - the time his heroes are desperate to escape from is the time I send my heroes back to when I write similar stories. To me the '50s and early '60s were a lot slower and cleaner, and by inference, much better than now. I guess the golden time is childhood for many of us - not all, I grant, for some had an unhappy time of it - but certainly for me. The summers were hotter, the winters cold but crisp and snowy, the books I read more amazing, running across the fields and fishing in the streams more exciting than bashing away on a keyboard. JFs heroes go back to their childhood years as adults, but me, I'd like to go back and be a kid again in the same era. Yeah, a bit pathetic. PS The picture has nothing to do with the text. I just like it.
Thursday last I met my friend John at the Tate Britain. He's a member and took me in to the Patrick Caulfield exhibition. I've always been fascinated by Caulfield's 'After Lunch' which is an interior of a room with a window revealing an exterior continental scene of a lake, castle and mountains. Austria, perhaps. The scene has clearly been photographed and pasted into the picture. The room around the window has been painted by the artist and the edges of objects are heavily lined in black. Reality is outside the window, art - or the unreal world - is the room from which we view that reality. Having almost completely exhausted those brain cells which deal with art criticism, I have to add that this is the first time I've seen a bunch of Patrick Caulfield's paintings all in one place and the guy clearly had a thing about wallpaper. In some paintings there are three or four different kinds of wallpaper: flock, smooth, flowery, dull. One can only imagine Patrick spent a lot of time in restaurants and bars staring at the walls, possibly with a glass or cutlery in his hands, searching for the meaning of life. Did he find it in the various patterns he later painted on the interiors of his many rooms? I certainly didn't. I wish I had. The title of this blog is art and lit. The lit side is my discovery of a young adult series which was obviously popular in my childhood - going by the dates of publication and the number of volumes produced - yet I have never heard of them before now. The 'Jennings' books. I find that amazing, since I haunted libraries and read more pages than you've had hot dinners - almost. The work which brought this gap in my education to my attention was found at a jumble sale and entitled 'Jennings Goes To School' by Anthony Buckeridge. The cover was one of those '50s artworks similar to the dust covers on Biggles and Just William books. I bought the volume and read it. It was, naturally for the time, a boarding school saga, full of '. . .whizzo, superprang, jolly swizz, spivish smashing, hairy fag' language which got more than a bit tedious after a while. However, I did enjoy much of it, mainly because of the nostalgia - I read books like it when I was 12 and felt cheated because I never went to boarding school like the boys in these stories - and partly because of the humour. Like one boy haughtily telling another, 'Don't you know, you oik, that the angles at the base of an isosceles triangle are jolly well nearly equal?' Well, I laughed at it, anyway.
I'm being incredibly lazy today by simply copying into this blog an article I wrote about my new collection of short stories - this comes on top of the volume of poems I edged into my last blog. You might think this is bad planning on my part, two books out at once, but in fact the planning department in my head is always in chaos, much like our local council's, and there is no help for me. I don't need to say I love both the productions of my (and in the case of the poems, Rob's) work and applaud both publishers - great people.
Short stories are my favourite fiction, reading and writing.
It is still, after 40 years as an author and several millions words in print, a
great thrill to me when a fresh idea for a tale jumps into my head. The
excitement following inspiration never fails to electrify me into looking
forward to sitting down at my computer and getting into that white heat mode
that produces a short story. I can still recall some of those moments of
inspiration and why and how they came.
The title story hit me forcibly when I was reading an
article in a magazine, I think it was Current
Archaeology (my wife Annette's favourite pastime and her journal, not mine)
which told the story of the finding of the Dead Sea Scrolls in a cave
containing sealed jars by a young Arab shepherd boy named Muhammad-the-Wolf.
(What a great name for a start! I think I would have sold twice as many copies
of my books with a name like that on the cover.) The article said the scrolls
were not fashioned from paper or reeds but from animal hide. Immediately I had
a picture of a strange creature in my head, a magical beast, which had been
skinned and its hide used to record these holy, and otherwise, texts from so
long ago. The rest of the story followed.
'Murders in the White Garden' came when I was visiting a
friend in Dresden, who took me to the baroque garden of a German equivalent of
a National Trust stately home, which was littered with statues of Greek gods
and, this was the catalyst, a band of angels playing musical instruments. It
was the latter which fired my enthusiasm for a story - silent music! I love the
thought - yet in the end it was the Greek statues which formed the main
characters in the story's plot.
'Spice'. Ah, I recall that moment vividly. Singapore has
always been one of my favourite cities. I spent years there as a youth and more
years there when my daughter's family were in residence. The Lion City. It has
sparked more than one story. On this occasion Annette and I were visiting an
old area of the city - much of it is now flash and modern - and we were walking
down a certain street when I saw a sign which said that this was The Street of the Dead, the small
crippled-looking dwellings dedicated to those who were dying and did not wish
to bring bad luck on their family homes by ending their lives within, so they
came to one of these houses in Sago Street to end their days. What? Who could
ignore such a great lead-in to a tale of ghouls that sat in the rafters of
those dwellings and waited for the unfortunate dying to yield up their dead
So, these are a few of the sparks that lit my fires. The
Anglo-Saxon tales came from Sutton Hoo, where I am a volunteer steward and read
a lot of literature in order to answer visitors' questions. 'The Human's Child'
was written for Chester Zoo, to raise awareness for Asian elephants. 'Out Back'
came while on a walk over the lonely marshes east of Iken village. 'Sacrificial
Anode' (funnily enough) while on a tour of the local nuclear power station.
(They use them to take the corrosive elements out of the coolant sea water).
'Moretta' on a walk on the cliffs above the sea-covered town of Dunwich.
'Stalking Moon' while pondering on a theme I love - reversals. You need to read
the story to get my meaning. 'Atlantic Crossing', my favourite in the whole
collection, while contemplating the waves off Felixstowe one day and wondering
if that fellow who walked on the waters of Galilea had a trick we could all
learn if we put our minds to it.
This morning there was a welcome thump on the doormat. I expect my friend Sarah heard the same thing in her house in London. We had both be waiting for that lovely sound and I (and probably she) raced to rip off the brown paper and get at the contents - authors' copies of the above book of poems. How beautiful it looks, that cover by the Canadian artist Francois Thisdale, and what a wonderful creation by Nicky and Pete Crowther of Stanza Press, whose accessibility and patience during production have been outstanding. These guys are real publishers, who care about their authors and are ready to both listen and act on suggestions. I have many strange hats (sadly I have a hat fetish) and I have put them all on one by one to take them all off again in the same order to salute PS Publishing's Nicky and Pete. If you feel the need to delve into the poetry of Holdstock and Kilworth, all you need to do is follow this link - http://www.pspublishing.co.uk/You'll find a treasure trove of other books there too! Thanks to all involved in the production of my and Rob's volume of poems - huzzah! (Thrice).
My wife loves camping. Most wives would sell their souls for a 5 star hotel for the weekend, but Annette likes nothing better than being under canvas in the great outdoors. She delights in fresh air, fields and trees, birds singing at an ungodly hour in the early dawn, camping stoves, canvas roofs and all the things that go with getting back to nature. I enjoy them too, once I've been prised from my office chair and am in the thick of grasslands and beaches, but I need a push to get me there. This weekend, a blazing hot and wonderful weekend, we went to north Suffolk where the beaches are long, curving and full of sand, but surprisingly empty of people. As for the great indoors, I am deep into my novel, which will soon be in the capable hands of my new agent, John Jarrold. John is an old friend and fellow workshop writer. We once belonged to the same group of scribblers. He has taken me into his fold of authors and I'm delighted to be there. Other happenings, which are exciting to me though perhaps of little consequence internationally, comprise a volume of poetry produced in collaboration with my deceased friend Rob Holdstock entitled 'Poems, Peoms and Other Atrocities', due out this week with PS Publishing, and a collection of stories (written all by myself) entitled 'The Fabulous Beast' - tales of horror, fantasy and science fiction - also due out this week with Infinity Plus. These are momentous occurrences in the Kilworth household and much excitement fills the air as we wait with impatience for the thumps of packages on the mat in the hall.
Those who saw my earlier post 'Good Old Boys' might like to compare this photo with those on that post. These are the same fellows, fifty+ years earlier at RAF Cosford School of Technical Training. (I've just unearthed the photo from a memory box). At 15 years of age, every one one them, they seem a lot more innocent and a darn sight better looking don't they? That's me squatting, bottom left, showing off my two good conduct stripes. I was never promoted to Senior or Leading Boy though. The big fellah at the back, with his hands on another lad's shoulders, went zooming up the ranks to Sergeant Boy. Good on yer, Tam.
So, the portrait of Elizabeth Fry is about to be replaced by a.n.other on the 5 pound note. To be quite honest, I only remembered that her picture was actually on the note when it was announced that she was about to be ousted. Did I ever know it was there, despite the fact that being a Quaker she was an ancestral member of the ever-shrinking bunch of people to which I myself belong? With constant daily usage, pictures on bank notes become wallpaper after a time: we become blind to the design on the paper which our grubby fingers handle on a daily basis. I'm not sure our Liz would even have approved of having the dubious honour of being there, though those old Quaker (mostly chocolate) families didn't actually spurn money, but used it wisely, the modest profits going partly to building houses for their workers and on other laudable projects. Elizabeth Fry was of course a woman who dedicated her life to reforming the awful conditions in Victorian prisons. So, who is to be the replacement? It was with some puzzlement I heard this morning that it might be the novelist Jane Austen, an ancestral member of yet another of my groups, though one that seems to be expanding rather than shrinking. Jane wrote some excellent novels, dealing (under a flimsy veil of romanticism and 19th century manners) the human condition. An immensely talented woman, but really, did those made-up stories written in the comfort of a middle class home and earning the author a considerable income actually do anything to improve the lot of less fortunate men and women? (She has thousands of fans, so I'm expecting a lot of flack!) My money, my five pound note, would be on someone like Mary Seacole, who unlike Florence Nightingale, was actually there, on the battlefields of the Crimea, caring for the dying and wounded. Mary, from the West Indies, applied to become a nurse and to travel to the Crimea to do just that, but was rejected by whoever was running things at the time, so she used her own small income to get there under her own steam, where she opened a hospital she called the British Hotel. Laudable? If not Mary, someone equally unselfish and generous with their time and money. There are surely more worthy women than novelists?
These are a few of my classmates from an RAF Boy Entrants military school in the mid-50's. I won't bore you with names, but despite the fact that I hadn't seen most of them for 50 years, I felt an instant affinity with them at our reunion. Some of them had retained a vestige of their 15-year-old looks, while others had changed completely. All of us bore the ravages that time works on the body over half-a-century. The pictures above were taken 5 years ago and two or three of those in them are gone now, reminding the rest of us of our mortality. It's a very strange experience to walk into a room of people you knew intimately in your youth, but have not seen for over half-a-lifetime. In essence, once we started talking (and once I knew who I was actually talking to) they had not changed. Bob was still Bob and Tam was still Tam and so on through the gang. They were as easy to talk to as my own family, who have been by my side almost as long.
What have I garnered from this weekend that pulled the past up and put it before me in my dotage? Really, I suppose, that there is something eternal in a group spirit. Dave, Bob and dear old Alan have passed on, but though their faces won't be at the next reunion, which takes place this year, they'll still be there with us as an invisible part of the whole. We began our training at 15 years of age with almost a hundred of us - now down to a score. Most of them have achieved what they set out to do. I do not know any one of them who has serious regrets of any kind. I could be wrong, but I don't think so. They are the good old boys who served with me. Some of them reached dizzy heights in rank, others changed course and went into civilian life - 55 years of life so far - but still, when I see them, talk with them, they still have that 15-year-old inside them, just below the surface.
This is the Bay of Fires on Tasmania. I don't know how long the beach is, but it's loooong - and you can see how crowded it is. We spent a week in a beautiful house above that beach in 2006 with our Aussie friends, Carolyn and Pete, who live in Melbourne. Dolphins swam by most mornings and bright blue fairy wrens perched on the veranda rail. There was a deadly snake who lived in the woodpile underneath the house - I think they called him Bob - which the owners did not see the need to get removed. I don't have a snake phobia, but I do have a reasonable fear of a deadly poisonous reptile. I was always careful to tread softly when passing Bob's home of logs and I'm sure that were the place mine I would have have preferred a cold house in the winter to rooting around for firewood.
Anyway, what's my point? Well, I have a new collection of short stories coming out from Infinity Plus at the end of this month entitled 'The Fabulous Beast' and one of those stories was written in that house above the Bay of Fires. It was a perfect environment in which to write. I'm sure if I had spent a year or two there I would be in my shed making a shelf for a bunch of literary prizes. I know writers have different ideas about where they need to be to write - some probably like the blare of London or New York traffic - others the solitude of a garden room that faces a placid lake or tranquil river - still others the wild-weather Shetlands. I love the sound of waves breaking on the beach, a clear blue sky above, and a long crescent of sand curving out towards the horizon and dropping below it.
I should do it, I know, but real life ain't like that mate. There's other people and other things to consider. I'll leave my readers to guess which of the tales found its paper home over the Bay of Fires.
There's something a bit more than alliterative about sailing Turkish waters with a captain named Waters, but that's what we're doing on the 'Hilda May' out of Fathiye. Mountains all around us falling down to many, many little bays and coves where we anchor for the nights. Lazy hot days, sometimes interspersed with panic attacks as I'm supposed to do something nautical with ropes and anchor chains and sails. Everything has its own different name - heads, galley, taffrail, transom - I have to translate in my head before action and delay does not please the captain, who runs a tight ship while I softly sing that line from 'The Leaving of Liverpool' which paraphrased goes '. . . the captain's name was Waters and his ship's a floating hell'. The food in the small quayside restaurants is to die for: fish and prawns straight from the net. Most of them make their own bread in a wood fired oven as one rises in the early morning. Heaven. There is the added bonus of golden eagles flying over the hills and indeed we saw (and I photographed) one eagle owl on a branch. Scrabble of an evening on deck is a bloody affair, with the captain bemoaning the fact that flogging one's crew is no longer permissible. Nautical words count double, so you can imagine who scores most on that count.
On a recent blog I reported that I had found a new literary agent after the Maggie Noach Agency closed. I was premature. I met with the man, who seemed enthusiastic about my work, took my latest novel with him, called me the next day for an electronic version of the manuscript and promised to get back to me sooner or later. That was the last I heard from him. After nearly 3 months, four emails, one non-returned phone call (during which is assistant claimed he had not been told about me or my novel) I suddenly twigged that I was never going to hear from him again. I felt very stupid and somewhat angry. I could go on a little about good manners, honour, respect, and a few other social graces that seem to have fled in this case, and I could give the man's name, but I have absolutely no idea why he has not contacted me again after our first and only meeting. Straight dealing used to be standard, but standards seem to have dropped.
This is me with Fat Larry on my wrist (I didn't name him, his mother did), and as you can see I'm lost in my head somewhere as usual, wondering if there's a story in all this owl touching, while Larry is staring at me, probably thinking, 'What is this old git doing? He's supposed to be making a fuss of me, not day dreaming!' Afterwards Larry nuzzled up to my cheek, to comfort me for having bad thoughts about me.
We, the mistress of the house and I, are getting ready to join Colin on his 13 metre sailing yacht in Turkish waters for ten days. (Fat Larry declined the invitation). This is our third year crewing (I use that word loosely) for Colin, who unlike most of the yacht captains I have known, does not yell and scream when one winds the sheet the wrong way around the winch, or pulls on the halyard at the wrong moment. We have to re-acquaint ourselves with our knots of course (once learned in the scouts and guides and never forgotten) and get used to sliding into a cabin space not much bigger than a coffin, but the whole trip is a great experience. The Turkish people are friendly and welcoming, the coast line is full of antiquities and rugged scenery. The food is wonderful. The fizzy drinks are great. (I'm not a little ol' wine drinker, me)The music from Colin's guitar floats over the bays of an evening and later there's a fierce Scrabble battle on deck (Colin makes the rules - Ahab, Bligh, Colin - these tyrannical captains!) and blood runs in the gunwales. Wonderful.
On the writing front, my new collection of short stories The Fabulous Beast is due out from Infinity Plus - science fiction, horror and fantasy tales of the best quality and width. Later in the year, Poems, Peoms and Other Atrocities, a poetry collaboration with my great pal Rob Holdstock should cause a hurricane of excitement amongst those who enjoy verse and worse. That's All Folks! Hasta luego, baby, as Arnie actually should have said.
My daughter gave Annette and me a gift voucher for 'Owl Handling', which ever since my dear wife has called 'owl touching' (and even once got the recipient a little wrong and called it 'turkey touching'). So owl touching has become the family phrase for our outing, which took place today on a beautiful sunny hillside in Kent. An email to a friend, Dean Howell, telling him where we were going and what we were doing, sparked the following reply: 'Owl touching OK, but Howell touching strictly forbidden.' You have to laugh, don't you? Anyway, it was great fun, despite my earlier misgivings about birds in captivity. These, we were assured, were all refugees and could not nor would not survive in the wild. Certainly they were as tame as domestic cats and dogs and allowed us to ruffle their feathers - in fact they liked being stroked - stared into our eyes as if to say, 'Whoooo the hell are you, buddy, to touch me? How about I touch, you?' Which they did.
On the writing front, my novel progresses. I punch the keys and the words appear on the page. I am for once really enjoying the writing. Oh, yes, I always enjoy finishing a novel, a bit like I would enjoy seeing the green edge to a desert I've been tramping through for six months. But often being immersed in the writing, though not unpleasant, is difficult. I'm not a great believer in inspiration and certainly don't sit around waiting for the muse to strike. Blood, sweat and tears, yes, but flashes of brilliance, not my forte. If brilliance comes it does so incidentally or accidentally, during a sweaty bout of 2000 words and has me saying afterwards, 'Hey, did I write that? Bloody hell!' Indeed, it is often a pleasant surprise, like a gift from the tooth fairy.
So, Ring-a-ring o' Roses is getting there, quite pleasantly, as if it wafted into my mind on zephyr. Yay!
After seeing the Ice Age sculptures in the British Museum, we took a long ride up to Yorkshire on Monday to visit the Yorkshire Sculpture Park. Lots of good stuff there, but a lot of suspect stuff too. I found a wacking great fairground type whirligig with toilets on the end of poles a bit too tacky for my taste. It may be art but I don't have to like it. Also I do wonder why most modern sculptors feel they have have to always do abstract works these days. In the whole park of many many sculptures there were only a handful of works that represented something you instantly recognised. There was a statue by Gormley that I pointed to and said to Annette, 'Hey, that's a bloke, isn't it!' The artist I did like, a lot, was Yinka Shonibare. The picture above is entitled 'Alien Man on a Flying Machine'. Now aliens are right down my artistic alley. He had a gallery of figures in bright colourful patchwork costumes - soldiers firing canons, dancers, aliens, headless strollers - I think the set was called 'Fabric-ation' - and they made you smile as well as saying something important about love, life and the universe. Now I'm not against artists like Henry Moore, who is a wonderful sculptor. I just love stroking and touching his beautifully polished lumps of granite and marble, always so smooth and receptive to my tactile nature. But do applaud any new sculptor like Yinka who produces something that makes my day glitter and glint a bit more, especially after I've lost or had stolen my bank card and have developed a Yorkshire head cold (I haven't been back to the county of my birth for a long time, but this one waited patiently all through the years and pounced on me as soon as I crossed the border).
The picture is of Tuscany, near Sienna, where we visited some friends we made in Hong Kong. They had a house nestling in the hollow behind that brown field you see in the foreground. Peaceful, beautiful, spiritual in a historic sense. I could have written 'Far From the Madding Crowd' there, but unfortunately someone else beat me to it.
Some funny things (I mean peculiar) have been happening to me lately. One thing is I have discovered that I seem to have invisible hands. When I use toilets that have laser beams to automatically turn on the water and dry your hands, nothing happens. I stick my hands under the tap. Nothing comes out. I wriggle them about thinking there needs to be movement. Not a drop. Another man comes and sticks his hands under the same tap and water gushes out like Angel Falls. Same thing happens with the hand dryer. Jetstream? Forget it. I don't even get a gentle zephyr. Maybe they don't work after you reach a certain age (and I have reached a certain age). Certainly other things happen when you break through the age barrier and find yourself at Mach Zero on the the other side. The other day Annette and I were in the car going over the Orwell Bridge and she was talking in her usual soft voice, so without thinking I reached over to the radio volume (the radio was off) and turned it up. To my surprise her voice did not get any louder. Then I realised what I'd done, what I had expected to happen, and was mortified. Annette, of course, simply laughed her socks off.
By the by, following Keith Brooke's kind publication of my memoirs 'On My Way To Samarkand' I decided to have a go myself at publishing my account of my 12 day motorcycle ride through the Queensland outback in 2008, a grueling, tough event for an effete writer, I can tell you. If you're at all interested you can find it on Amazon under the title 'Rookie Biker in the Outback'. It's more about the mystique and spirit of the Australian wilderness than it is about biking, since I am not really a genuine biker having only passed my test six weeks before leaving for Oz. It was a wonderful experience though, especially at a certain age.
Well, this is fun, isn't it. Getting an immediate response to something written the day before. Actually, when you analyse it, writers do not live the most exciting of lives. They get up, groan, perhaps have a plate of corn flakes, make a cup of coffee, sit down at a computer - and hit keys all morning. Now my wife Annette has a much more exciting day. Annette is a volunteer for many organisations including Sutton Hoo Anglo-Saxon burial mounds and the formidable Alton Water workers (they make willow fences and coppice trees around our beautiful nature reserve reservoir). She is particularly fond of the grass snakes that abound around the lake and yesterday found one that had crept out of hibernation, half-starved, only to find it was still winter outside. 'Bloody hell,' it said, mentally of course, 'where's the ruddy sun when you need it?' The poor thin beast appeared to be gasping its last. So Annette went and caught a frog for it, but the other volunteers were horror struck and said she should let nature take its course and didn't the frog deserve to live too? So she let the frog go, but crept back later with a huge slug and left it for the snake, wondering if it would indeed enjoy a black slimy creature that was as static as a rock and without even eyes to blink with. However . . . however, later still she crept again and found both serpent and slug gone. She regarded this as a success.
Me? I got up, groaned, had some corn flakes, made a coffee, sat down at my computer and hit the keys. Yawn. Actually it's a new science fiction novel with the working title Ring-a-Ring o' Roses and I'm going to stun the sf world with its brilliance, so there.
This is an attempt to start my first blog. I've called it Wild Hares simply because I love the creatures that race across the fields at the back of my house. They don't cower inside holes, nor hide behind trees or rocks, they stand out in the open and challenge the carnivores to catch them on the run. They race like wildfire over ploughed fields and meadows. They are sinewy, muscled, hell-for-leather dare-devils who punch holes in the wind with their heads. In March they have their boxing matches, one eye open for foxes. They care nothing for me or my kind and that's how it should be. I thank them for it. They live and love in the free fresh air.
My name is Garry (Douglas) Kilworth and I'm a writer with 80 published novels and books of short stories in print. I am also at odd times of the day Kim Hunter, the author who wrote The Red Pavilions trilogy. Kim and Garry get on very well together, most of the time, but occasionally professional jealousy creeps in when one book does better than another. Zamerkand is the city in The Red Pavilions where the main character a soldier lost in time and reality, makes his home and reaches for a higher station and for a great love. The novels are in the genres of science fiction, fantasy, young adult, historical war novels, mainstream literary novels and one or two non-fiction works. I'm not well known, though I've obviously been writing a long time and earning a good living at it. If the main character in a Hollywood movie is a writer, he or she either writes as best seller or is a failure and never writes again. Wrong. There are many of us out there who can make a living writing novels that never get into the best seller lists, yet sell enough thousands to make themselves and their publisher a reasonable living. I'm one of them. Several of my friends are others. Hollywood be damned.