My Friend Tim

[Left to right: Jo, Anna, Tim at the White Lion Inn on our last night in Dorset]

It was August of 1984.  I was about to begin a year in Dorset, England, when I first met Tim Ovenden.  He was destined to be my house-mate in Wimborne Minster (actually a burb of Wimborne, Colehill).  He was a hard working right-out-of-University rookie teacher.  We both taught in the same school and we both taught Geography in the Humanities Department.  We did not socialize much because I’d rather do my paper work in the school and not take it home.  Tim took everything home.  He was energetic, enthusiastic and a very fine teacher.

But we shared few pints in the local pubs.

A few weeks ago, my wife, Mariam and I left Tim’s house in Gillingham, Dorset.  They had an apartment above their garage…and it was ours to use…gratis…a supreme gesture.

A few personal items:

Tim adores his wife Jo.  They have a blended family two sons (George and Thomas) and their daughter Anna who is a talented ballerina.  Tim swipes the towel over his shoulder when he cooks, which is often.  He bakes veggies and cheese.  He listens to Motown on the radio while he holds court in the kitchen.

[Part of the Stour Way Footpath]

Tim is in his 50’s and is more fit than I was in my 30’s.  He golfs, does pilates and walks.  Something I wish I could do again without foot pain.

I’m awed  by Tim’s vigor for life.  His sense of political rightness.  (He was anti-Brexit).  His kindness, his intelligence, love of family and his friendship.

Thank you Tim and Jo and Anna for your hospitality, friendship and remembering me after so many years.  Not to mention wine o’clock.

We’ll be back.

[Photos are mine]

Smoke and Paper

Everyone knows about the effect smoke can have on…well, nearly everything.  Smoke damage can be responsible for the loss of furniture, art, clothes and so many other objects.  Cigarette smoke is truly an evil presence.  Before the smoking ban in pubs of NYC, I would come home stinking of the left-over Marlboros.  It was disgusting to me then and it’s retchingly disgusting to me now.

“Lips that touch tobacco shall not touch mine”.

But let’s consider the other side of smoke.  Wood smoke is so important in many recipes.  Who can live without smoked salmon from Norway?  Not me.

And woodsmoke gives an extra something to Irish Whiskey and such fine things as whitefish.  Woodsmoke on someones clothes does not recall a visit to a bar, no, it evokes a certain freshness.  It speaks to the camaraderie of a camp fire, the stories, the tall tales and the thoughtful silence of staring into the flames.

I’m sitting near our fire pit.  It’s the first fire we’ve had this year.  The temperature is in the 40’s.  I’m reading a book titled The Five.  It’s about the untold lives of the victims of Jack the Ripper.  I love history and I love Ripper lore.  There is smoke from the fire circling around me and my wine and my book.  The smoke wafts over my book.  It stings my eyes.  Will the book absorb the smoke?  Will I open the book one evening in the future, re-reading the part of Annie Chapman…and smell the smoke?  Perhaps when we leave this lakeside cottage for an apartment in NYC, will I open the book and begin to remember the May evening when I sat and sipped white wine and read about the tragic lives of five victims?

Smoke induces memories.

For me, most of them are fond and worth keeping in my heart.  I’m recalling campfires from my childhood days of Adirondack camping, hiking in the High Peaks as a teenager, canoe camping with my wife and my late brother, Chris.

Woodsmoke…..

 

 

 

All Things Must Pass

I’m profoundly glad that I wasn’t home alone when it happened.  Most likely the sad event occurred when we were away for three months.  No-one was present.  Perhaps when our friend Nora came by to water our begonia named Rosie…perhaps it happened then.  I hope so.  It is not a nice thought that something so very important should occur in an empty house, while the snow fell and the winds howled just a few inches away.

Yes, sadly it’s time to tell you that my ever-faithful Radio Shack Indoor/Outdoor Thermometer has passed…but not for good.

You may recall a few blog posts I wrote over the years that celebrated the life of a small thermometer.  But be aware that the unit itself did not fail.  No, it was a single AAA Duracell battery that I placed in the instrument when we bought the house in 2000.  That’s nineteen (19) years of life from a slender AAA!!!

I hate to sound like a Madison Avenue ad-man, but when they say their product has staying power, they are not kidding.

Over the years, as I stood in front of our double-basin kitchen sink, grasping a AAA battery to put in the Radio Shack unit, I found I was wasting my time.  I even suggested in a few posts that this was not a normal battery.  I mentioned the following reasons for its unbelievably long life:

–That I had changed the battery while sleep walking.

–I did it while in a coma.

–Someone had crept into our house while we were away and changed the battery.  (It’s a very common crime in remote camps like ours!)

–That it was an experimental battery developed by NASA and I was a Beta tester.

–It was actually solar-powered (it was placed by a window).

–That the whole experience was a dream.

–Santa Claus does exist.

–That there is a subset of ghosts that are held back from the true afterlife only to replace batteries. (If this is true, why did they ignore my three TV remotes?)

–Aliens

–The whole experience was a dream.

I can discount the final possibility because when I finally found a way to open the unit, I placed a new AAA (Duracell)in the back.  The temperature blinked on.  It now displays the outside temperature only .6 degrees from my flashier Costco wall unit.

So, how has my life changed because of this experience?  It really hasn’t.  But now I can look out at a leafless landscape on May 1, 2019 and see that the temperature is a few degrees above freezing.

That makes me so happy.

Too bad Radio Shack has closed, but I expect to hear from the Duracell people any day now with a lucrative offer to write ad copy.

That makes me so happy.

[The actual AAA battery.  I’m thinking of having it mounted or encased in a plexiglass cube like the moon rocks}

[All photos are mine.]

The Statue

This post is not about anything that happened on our most recent trip.  This goes back to a time, over a year ago when we were having dinner at an outdoor restaurant In Brussels.  At the end of the final course, I excused myself to go to the loo.  On the way to the back of the building I discovered another dining area, a garden and a fountain.  And a few statues.  One of them caught my eye.  I took several photos of her from various angles.

I was seduced by one in particular.  It’s the one shown above.  There was something about her smile, the placement of her arm and her figure.  But it was the gaze on her face and her obvious grace that captured me.  She was looking to her right.  I’ve seen that smile before.  She’s a bit coquettish and sexy and seductive, but that wasn’t the focus of my attention.

I’ve seen that look before.  I saw it in my wife’s face shortly after we met.  I’ve seen it in my past, from the delicate faces of the girls and women I thought I loved…and perhaps I did at the time.  But it’s a universal profile.  A glance that says “Maybe it’s you I love” or “Come up and see me sometime”.

My self-image leaves much to be desired.  I wish others could perceive me as I wish, not as I am.  I also know that this is a symptom of one who feels the loss of youth and is facing old age.  It’s odd, but change occurs slowly…every day and you don’t notice it until you see an old photo of yourself.  I knew when I lost my youth…it wasn’t that many years ago.  It took a clean mirror. A mirror that was honest with me.  Coming to grips with that has been hard for me.  What happened to the last thirty years?  I’ve no idea.

I gaze into the mirror and see white hair and bags under my eyes.  It seems like every joint in my body from my waist down could use a shot of Valium.

However, I feel in my heart, that at a distant time in the past, the young woman above would have gone for a walk with me.  But I have to live with the fact that she will never age, unlike me, save for weathering and lichen and moss that will someday grow on her ankles, shoulders and all that hair.

[The photo is mine]

Journey’s End

Pick a window…any window.  There’s nothing to see, only white.  We entered a fog bank.  Fog as thick as whole milk.  We’re sailing due west, nearing Long Island.

Visibility from our deck window is about ten feet.

The end of our three-month journey is about to end.  Nothing left, except to get through customs and get a taxi and get to our hotel.

Written on board the Queen Mary 2 at 7 pm on April 20.

 

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever.

–Jacques Yves Cousteau

Travelling shouldn’t be just a tour, it should be a tale.

–Amit Kalantri

True wealth is…Places you go…People you meet…stories you tell.  Thank you for traveling to see us.  For being such wonderful people we meet…and for sharing and being in our stories.  Our paths will cross again soon.

–Tim Ovendon

 

[All photos are mine.]

 

In The Land of Pooh, The Badger, King Arthur and Beyond: The Excursionist XIII Finale

magic (n) A mysterious quality of enchantment.

 

England is a land of mystery, magic and myth.  It is a land of legends of kings and villains of all sorts.

Consider this quote:

As one wakened suddenly from a beautiful dream, who struggles to recall it, and can recapture nothing but a dim sense of the beauty of it, the beauty!

This line is from The Wind in the Willows by A.A. Milne.  It’s from the chapter titled “The Piper at the Gates of Dawn”.  To me, that chapter is one of the most beautifully written prose I’ve ever read.

[A country church in South Dorset]

Over the years I’ve walked dozens of footpaths.  At first in Thomas Hardy country in south Dorset, a place he called Wessex.  I’ve sneezed and sweated through fields of ragweed, cleaned my boots of the mud and manure, and sat in a remote hay shed to keep dry in the driving rain.  I feel as though I’ve been through the 100 Acre Wood of Pooh.  I believe I’ve seen Badger and Mole alongside a river.  I stood over the cliffs of Tintagel, Cornwall and gazed down at the cave where Merlin was born.  Watching the moonlight from the Glastonbury Tor, I sipped a bit of wine and listened for Arthur’s faint heartbeat.  I walked naked into the English Channel and nearly froze.

[St. Michael’s Tower atop the Glastonbury Tor]

I loved every moment when I was able to do these things.  Now, my back and feet are making walking painful, but the most pain is that I am unable to do what I most love about this country…walking.

And that makes me sad.  To be prevented from doing what you most love is an exquisite torture.

It’s time to begin sorting our belongings and start packing.

While we were here, since mid-February, I sat in pubs and listened to folk songs. One local pub, The Buffalo welcomed us with such warmth.  Thank you Kate, Amy, Massimo and Jenny. Whenever I would bring home a copy of The Guardian, there were bold headlines about the chaos and confusion over Brexit.  It fills the evening news on ITV.  So there was the experience of the old and traditional pub society and the quiet of the countryside contrasted with marches in London to demand another vote and to remain in the EU.

[A pub in St. Ives]

It’s a time of turmoil here…and we are leaving in the middle of it all.

We are truly are thankful for the hospitality of our hosts, Tim and Jo Ovenden.  We have shared their lives for three months and have grown even more fond of them than we were before.  Their son, Thomas is a quiet and thoughtful young man, always ready for a conversation.  Daughter Anna and her often-present friend Felicity are talented dancers (ballet).  They are bouncing on a trampoline in the backyard as I type this.  Their giggles brighten our days.

[Jo, Thomas and Tim with Anna in their arms]

[Anna, left, and Felicity]

Regrets?  Always.  I’ll never get over my deflated mood every time we drove past a Public Footpath.  So many missed opportunities.  I’ve walked many paths over the many visits to England but the sheer number of those untrodden by me would fill a lifetime of roaming pleasures.

[My own personalized OS Map]

Who has that long a lifetime?  I certainly wish I did.

But one cannot sail forever on an endless sea because no sea is really endless.  There must be a port somewhere.  Our time in this country can now be counted in days (I’m writing this on Wednesday and we leave for Southampton on Saturday).  Soon it will be a matter of mere hours.

In the end, I guess it’s time to go home.

When they were able to look once more, the Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.

–Kenneth Grahame The Wind in the Willows

[All photos are mine]

 

 

 

 

The Glastonbury Tor Blog: The Excursionist XII

[The Tor at the start of our climb. St. Michael’s Tower crowns the hill]

Glastonbury is an ancient town nestled on a broad plain near the Mendip Hills in the county of Somerset.  It comes with a reputation, like that guy that sat in the last seat of your school bus.  You can shop for anything in Glastonbury, but you probably won’t find it.  What you can find is esoteric bookstores, more than one crystal shop and places where you can purchase a Druid-style cape (purple).

I love the town.

On my first visit, back in 1984, when I was an exchange teacher in Dorset, I found myself wandering the High Street.  After climbing the stairs to the second floor of an antique shop, I saw something I really wanted.  It was the part of the jaw bone of St. Basil.  There was even a Bishop’s seal on the glass box indicating its authenticity.  Best of all, it was reasonably priced at £50.  I didn’t buy it and I regret that to this day.

Now, I’m here with Mariam on our second visit.  We dined at the George & Pilgrim Hotel which dates back to about 1452.  It has three ghosts (according to some).  I never saw anything except a fantastic Steak and Ale Pie.

[The well-worn floor of the George & Pilgrim Hotel]

But our real goal that day was to climb the famous Tor.

The Tor has a ton of lore and myth that connects it with the figure of King Arthur.  Did the man ever exist?  Some say yes and some claim he was a combination of several of war-lords in the Saxon days.

[Nearing St. Michael’s Tower]

Whatever.  I love mythology and I love the Arthurian legends.  And, it was the Tor that made it all so real and believable.  According to legend, Glastonbury was the mythical Avalon.  This is where Arthur was taken after he was wounded in his final battle against his own son.  He is said to be buried, alongside his wife (?) Guinevere.  He is awaiting the call to bring his army, once again, to save Britain.

[Mariam contemplates the landscape]

[Parliament is voting as I write this on the Brexit…is Arthur stirring in his grave?).

I stood in the doorway of St. Michael’s Tower and looked out over the countryside.  I thought of the history that is so ancient, it’s sobering.  For more than 1,000 years people who climbed the Tor, worked the fields, herded the sheep, drank the ale, sipped wine, smoked old pipes with old tobacco, kissed in the churchyard, held firm to a quartz crystal, loved someone, lost someone and eventually died were all within my field of vision.

If you are a cynic, that’s okay.  But, if you read history, study myths and let your mind travel, you won’t be the same after a visit to Glastonbury.

[Me. Thinking about ancient times and myths]

[All photos are mine]