On my recent trip to New York I saw these two cheerful chappies above the ice rink at the Rockerfeller Centre. Whatever your views of the Salvation Army these two were putting their hearts into the job of fund raising. This was only a small piece of them dancing, they went on for ages and must have been getting extremely tired. But they put a smile on nearly everyone’s faces who passed by.
Recently I had a short visit to the USA during which I had the privilege of meeting with three blogging friends.
Home again, unpacked, washing done, jobs caught up with, almost.
Time for reflection. And a feeling of incompleteness.
We talked from the beginning to the end of our meetings but there was so much that didn’t get said. Any life, shortened to a brief autobiography naturally concentrates on the things that give life shape. But there has been so much more in my life, of pleasure, excitement and wonder that I did not mention.
So for them, and you, here are some of the bylines, mostly in chronological order .
1) The day that the handsomest boy from the local College saluted me in public by doffing his boater and bowing to me in front of a whole coach load of my peers – teenagers en route to school.
2) Meeting a student from Prague University when on holiday on a small island in Yugoslavia with my mother and sister: my mother then arranging for me to go off to stay with him and his mother on a one way ticket, with instructions to buy a return ticket when there, on the black market. The grilling by the Communist police, having guards lift up floors and take down ceilings on the train going through the border from West Germany, camping illegally in hayhouses in fields, sleeping in a vagrants’ hostel when we had no money, getting felt-up in a German cinema when sheltering from the cold, walking through snow fields in the High Tatras to the edge of Poland whilst hanging onto chains with shoes falling to pieces, etc etc.
3) Flying a kite on the North Cape.
4) Having a Japanese hitch hiker make Origami butterflies to distract me from a reindeer cull in Lapland as we drove past.
5) Marvelling at hot springs in a white-out in Yellowstone National Park.
6) Staying in a palm- leaved roofed hut on a beach in Turkey when C. S. Lewis’s great friend, Roger Lancelyn Green, came by, complete with silver-gilt traveling drink set, and we sat on the sand under the stars drinking brandy while the sea murmured and sighed softly.
7) Sitting on cushions on a platform in a tree, the outside dining room of a family in Turkey, eating fresh honeycomb, butter and warm rolls straight from the oven
8) Taking a trip to Petra with my mother where a camel driver offered my mother several camels to buy me as an extra wife: racing a camel round the pyramids going off into the sunset with a stranger as I bounced around unsteadily on the back of said camel, going I knew not where, with I knew not whom, but determined to make the most of the moment.
9) Being shown round the bowels of a cruise ship by a Jordanian security officer who was guarding the ship, complete with sub-machine gun, who cornered me in a cabin and offered to give me a Jordanian baby.
10) The Greek No. 2 Officer of said cruise ship who offered to show me the murkier night spots of Athens, much to my horror.
11) Doing the night time feeds for my nephews whilst my sister slept. Sitting in the stillness and quiet with a tiny baby who drank contentedly, looking up at me the whole time.
12) Being taken on a private tour of a tomb in the Valley of the Kings by an Archaeologist when I mentioned that my father had been there in the 1930s digging with Sir Flanders Petrie. She had special permission to visit a tomb closed to visitors because of the wonderful, fresh wall paintings, and she took me early one morning before the rest of the group were up.
13) Standing, at 2.0 a.m. one cold morning on a silent deck in the Dardanelles on the 60th anniversary of the Battle watching very old service men drop wreathes to their remembered comrades. Each alone, ranged round the deck, lost in his own thoughts. I kept very quiet.
14) Walking slowly alone through the room where Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill signed the Yalta accord in a handsome villa on a mountain side by the Black Sea. Thinking – wondering – asking the floors and walls what was really said.
15) Standing in a queue in Paris not knowing what language I had been talking to strangers, but all understanding each other.
16) Sitting one New Year’s Eve in the Chapel in the Louvre as a Russian Choir sang soul-defyingly- beautiful folk songs and hymns, as outside the temperature dropped and the Seine rolled solemnly by to a New Year.
17) Cold praline ice cream in a soft, hot, sweet roll, sprinkled with icing sugar, walking through the Marais at night with the lights twinkling around me.
18) Sheltering from the heat in St. Catherine’s Monastery in the Sinai desert beside the Burning Bush. Utter silence, stillness, and distance from civilization.
19) Astounded by the beauty, colour and shapes of rocks in Arizona and the waterfalls in Yosemite: where a friend and I raced to complete three water-colour paintings each in a day.
20) Lying, frozen with cold in a tent, under so many blankets that we could not move, listening to bears move in the forest.
21) Sitting in a box at the Bolshoi having walked earlier through a dimming Red Square with St. Basil’s dome burnished by a late sun.
22) Visiting the Russian White House when our Foreign Office said not to travel, seeing the tanks, barracades and flowers all over the roads, and being offered Vodka by drunken Museum Officials who wept at the fate of Mother Russia and had learned their English from listening to the BBC and refused to charge us an entry fee because we were English. Meeting in a dodgy back alley to exchange dollars for roubles at a better rate, whilst avoiding all the prostitutes who were soliciting my husband.
23) Standing pensively in Pasternak’s study in Peredelkino, looking through his window, by his desk where he wrote Dr. Zhiavago.
24) Visiting an artist I met in the street in Moscow, which entailed a long metro journey through brutalist tower blocks followed by an equally scary Trabant ride to an anonymous flat. Going back next year with a suitcase full of clothes and necessities for his and his shy wife’s baby.
25) Going to the Kirov in St. Petersburg with a Texan Air Force fella we had met on the plane, who had never been outside the USA before and marvelled at what he was doing and where he was.
26) Exchanging scarves with a Russian lady on the Metro who fancied mine: getting lost and hitching a ride in a car to catch a plane.
27) A terrifying helicopter trip over the Caucasus mountains in a machine whose seat belts not longer worked and where rain poured through the air vents in the ceiling: departing from an airport on which resided various crashed aircraft. But a trip with views which were out of this world.
28) Visiting a Caucasian public lavatory, where cubicle doors were unknown, and on entry one faced a line of anonymous bottoms hanging over holes in the floor.
29) Lying in a reindeer-drawn sleigh at night in northern Finland with my three year old grandson, who, as we looked up at the stars, said, “This is something I will never forget”.
Somehow, amongst all the basic autobiography, none of this got mentioned. Sorry ladies, that I never gave you the really interesting stuff;)
And now to this incomplete but illustrative list can be added, the magic of meeting friends made in the blogworld and a visit to the Met in New York to see Aida complete with live horses on the stage.
Posted in architecture, art, books, Country pursuits, family, food, friends, garden, grief, history, humour, Life, Music, sea, Travel | Tagged adventure, Bolshoi, camels, Caucasus, Dardanelles, excitement, Finland, Jordan, Kirov, Lapland, Moscow, North Cape, Paris, Pasternak, Petra, prague, Roger Lancelyn Green, Sinai desert, St. Catherine's monastery, Turkey, Valley of the Kings, wonder, Yalta, Yellowstone | 11 Comments »
Something very special is happening in my life this November!
So exciting that I feel mean posting about it because I am sure I do not deserve such good fortune.
And I am sure that all of you do.
But here it is anyway, hopefully you will get some vicarious entertainment from it:)
I am going to New York to meet some friends and celebrate a special birthday.
Many years ago, about 25 I think, I was on a holiday cruise following several years of being stranded in my bed due to M.E. So you can imagine, I was more than ready to get away: in fact I had been crawling up the walls and literally crying with desperation at being in the same place for so long.
It was a small cruise ship, about 300 people, with experts from the British Museum and various Universities who lectured to us about antiquity and accompanied us on shore trips. The bliss was that these lectures were transmitted to our cabins, so I could have a day in my bunk to rest and prepare for the following day’s exploration, while listening to these lectures. It worked wonderfully. We were cruising in the Mediterranean, and spending most of us time in Turkey.
Meal times on this small ship were fairly informal and there was no set seating plan so you could sit where you wished: thus people soon mingled and got to know each other. On the second or third day we found ourselves sharing a table with two bright Americans from California, L and B. We clicked at once and for the rest of the ten days ate together and explored together. There was an age difference but after a certain point in life I don’t think such things matter.
When it was time to say farewell, in Venice of all places (!), they asked us to go and stay with them if we ever found ourselves near San Francisco. Well, we went to stay with them the next year, and ever since I have been trying to meet up with them every couple of years. We have been all over the place together and they feel like extended family.
This November they are celebrating a very special birthday for B and for this reason have rented an apartment in New York for a few days: B was born and brought up there and still has family there, so a family party is being held in this apartment. And they have kindly invited me to join them. Such fun!
B was very ill with leukemia a few years ago and is now in remission, but it gave us all a terrible scare, which makes this birthday especially poignant.
Well, this is surely enough special excitement, no?
But there is more.
While in New York, I am taking a short side trip. To Minnesota. Where I WILL BE MEETING UP WITH THREE BLOGGING BUDDIES.
How about that!
I know, I can hardly believe it either. IT IS SUCH A SPECIAL OPPORTUNITY. One very kind and hospitable buddy is putting me up, (putting up with me) and we are going to meet up with the others for a meal. We all lead very different lives but, as is so marvellous in the blogging world, I think we belong to the same tribe. I cannot begin to say how honoured and privileged I feel that they are all making such efforts to meet, especially as their lives are very pressured and busy.
Various Job’s comforters have muttered darkly to me about axe murderers, terrorist events and ebola: but hey, they are talking to someone who has been desperately ill in her own home, so I reckon safety is an uncertain beast. All anyone can do is take reasonable and intelligent precautions and then hope the beast will decide to accompany one.
My worries are what clothes to take for these Northern climes without having a cabin trunk follow me over there.
I can bundle up with the best of them, but I gather that public buildings are going to be very warm, with an outside which could be very wet or really quite cold. Still, squash in the thermal undies and hope for the best I reckon.
Shortly after I began blogging more ill health came back to visit (my immune system seems intent on turning on me every few years or so) and the internet was a way of travelling from my bed. I had no idea that it could lead to friendships in this way let alone VISITS!!!!!!!
So, next Sunday I will be en route for the USA,
barely able to believe my good fortune,
and leaving a green-eyed family behind me.
PS Clip art in this post is from a site which WordPress assures me is copyright free, at : https://openclipart.org
I just had to share the following:)
In my life as an Ecologist I was extremely interested in slime moulds. Their life cycle divides into animal bio/chemistry in one part and then changes into plant bio/chemistry for another. Fascinating.
Anyway, not to bore you further with my esoteric fancies, I heard today about the Sea Squirt: apparently this has similar-appearing properties.
This story was told on BBC Radio by an eminent and rather self-deprecating brain surgeon. When juvenile the sea squirt swims about rather like a tadpole and has a brain. When mature it looks for a suitable rock, affixes itself for the rest of its natural life and lives a vegetative-type lifestyle
Copyright Jan@Messersmith.name Reproduced by permission from http://www.messersmith.name/wordpress/tag/sea-squirt
- and – wait for it – reabsorbs its brain!
Therefore, clearly brain function is necessary for movement, and when all movement ceases, no further need for a brain.
(This has ramifications for brain senility of course, but this is not the point I am making here, but do take away from this what you will!)
At the end of the programme this ditty was read out, which just broke me up:
I wish I were a sea squirt
So, when life gets a strain,
I’d veg. out on the nearest rock
And reabsorb my brain.
Some days I am clearly a sea squirt:) How about you?
This gem was composed by the brain surgeon’s wife, Kate Fox, herself a social anthropologist.
PS The brain surgeon is called Henry Marsh, works as a senior consultant brain surgeon at St. George’s Hospital London and also volunteers in the eastern Ukraine. Worth googling him and his latest book, Do No Harm.
PPS There is a lot of interest in the family of sea squirts at the moment both from the point of view of brain function and senility (alluded to above) and as a new source of antibiotics. Worth an investigate if you are interested.
PPPS if you go to the website from which the above photograph comes, at http://www.messersmith.name/wordpress/tag/sea-squirt/, you will see wonderful photos of sea life and many more sea squirts.
Well, the feathers are growing apace!
Which is good because November is upon us with its threat of frosts and snow.
November is often much colder here than the first half of January and certainly than December. One just gets into wintry mode in November, having resigned oneself to cold, frost and even snow, so that by the end of November the Christmas spirit has grown as an antidote.
Then, suddenly, in December, it gets wet and foggy and Christmas itself is usually grey and dank, only rarely cold and sunny: which is a real let down.
Of course, once all the special food, relaxation and time to scrunch down with some good films has passed, and we are all back into the work routine, then the real weather hits with a vengeance so transport and everyday life becomes a difficult treadmill.
However, back to the subject in hand. We are getting ready for the cold weather and growing our nice, white, protective feather coat, with down filling.
Also, we are growing like a weed.
However, one part of us is reluctant to change.
I am referring to our very handsome mohecan.
Oh yes, and one other part is slow to mature: our shaggy bottom.
It is simply gorgeous and I can barely keep my hands off. I’ve always had a ‘thing’ for feathery bottoms.
Can’t be doing with hairy ones, but give me a feathery one and I’m done for. Its some kind of puffball effect:)
For anyone interested, here is my rather bad home video of gosling’s mum and auntie when they were two weeks old, learning to swim in the bath.
To upload it to here I had to make it into a Youtube video first and then embed it.
I am mortally embarrassed about my commentary: honestly, I refuse to believe that that is what I sound like, and especially that I put on that inane, ‘baby-speak’ pitch and delivery. But if you just turn down the volume and fade me out, the goslings are worth watching:)