Thursday, 29 January 2015

Brief Encounter

'Every picture tells a story,
however what you see,
is only a fraction of the tale..'

The prospect of being utterly naked for four whole days was alarming. Naked insofar as bereft and stripped of the familiar safety blanket of a mobile phone or Internet access. A self imposed 'digital detox' (particularly fashionable actually).   I was to travel 'north', well Leicestershire to be precise on a coach of all things ! It seemed rather a novelty and I do enjoy a lark.  The only alarming moment really if I am to be honest was when we were caught in the jaws of the notorious 'Spaghetti Junction' the interchange in Birmingham. Opened in 1972 it is actually an engineering masterpiece. The blanket of utter grey evening gloom that enveloped as far as the eye could see required that I transport myself somewhere else temporarily so I chose the Paris peripherique.  I then vaguely and quietly berated myself for being a fantasist instead of a realist.

Actually I quite enjoy being a fantasist, escaping from the real world into a land of nostalgia combined with thrills and a touch of personal pleasure. Faced with the frightening prospect of conjuring up a novel experience for a birthday treat I opted for a trip on a steam locomotive. I rather fancied it myself and secretly played scenes from 'Brief Encounter' where the thundering crescendo of Rachmaninoff's piano concerto No2 brutally and dramatically tears the lovers apart as they finally part snatching one last lingering glimpse through the steam....

But really, who can resist 'boys with their toys' ? Taking the controls of a living breathing steam engine and feeling the pressure mounting as you hurriedly shovel coal into the frighteningly hot hungry furnace and standing on the footplate is awesome. Mega tons of steel shudder into life alarmingly responsive to the merest touch. Feeling the utter thrill of another full sized steam train whistling past you in the other direction is indescribable as you thunder down the tracks the sharp January wind biting into you as you are open to natures elements.

Who would have thought that steam trains would be so surprisingly, breathtakingly sexy ?

And how did I fare on my self imposed 'digital detox' ? Four torturous days of non communications oblivious to the 'real world'

The answer lay in her knowing smile.

Tuesday, 6 January 2015

New Year from Dorset

"Actually, I just woke up one day and decided I didn't want to feel like that anymore, or ever again. So I changed. Just like that"

And so begins another New Year, another page, another chapter, same book, totally different slant.  Au revoir to 2014 and the years that went before, the blessed relief is overwhelming.

It has to be said that the end of 2014 and the welcoming in of 2015 wasn't without its merits. I found I could laugh uncontrollably and not care whereas perhaps before I had been silenced, admonished, squashed, controlled. You can try and beat a person into submission but if they have a spirit you can never extinguish the flame.

But enough of reflections. There were beaches to be embraced, waves to dodge, circling squawking seagulls overhead to avoid, muddy paths and hills to clamber, gentle undulating unassuming views to quietly admire. A hidden church quickly enveloped by the dusk and approached by a single track with grass snaking down the middle gave pause for thought and contemplation. The fabulous depths of Dorset.

Fossil hunting beckoned one seductively sunny morning where an impressive selection of belemnites and ammonites was quickly amassed although I do admit to having an 'expert' to hand... I love the Dorset coast, I never tire of gazing endlessly into shallow pools of water, burrowing into the sand in the hope of unearthing another treasure.  A little pile of goodies were slowly being collected and a stab of contentment caught me unawares. But then I wasn't too surprised, I had subconsciously been dreaming of being back here for so long.

But I confess the highlight of New Year for me was the trip to Lyme Regis.  The harbour wall, known as "The Cobb", features in Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, and in The French Lieutenant's Woman, a novel by British writer John Fowles. On a calm sunny day people saunter and breathe in the tranquillity of this quaint unspoilt British seaside resort. Thousands of pairs of feet tentatively amble along the slightly sloping harbour wall. But New Years Day was different. Mother Nature was unleashing her passions, all her pent up fury relentlessly pounding against the helpless stone.  I could hardly stand up against the gale force winds, my legs threatening to buckle with exhaustion. I lost count of the times the powerful waves cascaded over the walls, the huge burst of spray emitting delighted groans, slightly terrified yet slightly in awe of its mesmeric hold.

2015 unleashed with all the power and passion of a New Year which was promising to be a roller coaster ride.   Not a safety harness in sight.

Bloody marvellous.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Thoughts from Charmouth Beach, Dorset.

Who are you spending Christmas with ? Where are you going for Christmas ? Two supposedly innocent questions heard so frequently in the air yet for some fraught with mixed emotions.  So many people travelling to people they don't love and cherish, too many people left alone to feel the pain of having no-one to care. Where's the goodwill ? the compassion ? the love ? It costs absolutely nothing to give any of those to a complete stranger and this is the time of year when you should. Focus on sharing, contemplate on giving rather than receiving. What you gain is something far greater than you can imagine.

As it creeps to the end of the year it's easy to remember and dwell on the darker moments of the past twelve months. Don't bother. View them from afar and learn from them to become stronger. Forgive those people who sought to undermine you and drag you down and celebrate new people who have entered your life and enriched your soul.

And spare a moment or two to remember fondly people you have lost or you can no longer easily embrace. They are with you.

What are you doing in my garden,
Is it you, I’m not quite sure,
Haven’t you heard,
I don’t live here anymore.

Is it the way you bend to admire the lilies,
Run your fingers along the wall,
Gaze upwards at the hollyhocks,
Standing so proud and tall.

I can tell by your posture,
And your gentle smile,
Tranquility surrounds you,
Although its been awhile.

I’m hovering quite quietly,
Over by the wrought iron gate,
I feel overjoyed to see you,
Although for you it is too late.

Soak up the beauty of my garden,
Feel my love within,
I’m sorry you didn’t come sooner,
Where would I begin ?

You look forlorn and lost now,
The flowers no longer hold you with their spell,
Stay awhile however,
On the past do not dwell.

Come back in the winter,
When the frost is all around,
The flowers have gently gone to sleep,
So peaceful, no sound.

What beckons you to my garden,
Do you sense me on the air,
Turn around now and smile at me,
Death is so untimely and unfair.

I can’t reach out to touch you,
Feel your breath upon my cheek,
Say all the things I felt for you,
For I cannot speak.

What are you doing in my garden,
I can no longer tell,
Is it that you are still captivated,
Bound fast by its spell ?                         ©sallytownsend

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Peace in Dorset

I wouldn't really know about any pre-Christmas shopping frenzies, bulging shops, crowded shopping malls, places where goods are stacked high and the very latest 'must have' gadgets gleam and sneer at you tantalisingly out of reach as you stand bewildered by it all.  The pushing, the shoving the noise of the piped jolly music assaulting you, people talking animatedly into their mobile phones droning on about inconsequential dross mainly.

Sure I popped into the local Farmers Market in the Arts Centre, all rather quaint with the rickety wooden floor, tested some home-made pork pies, took note of the locally caught fish, stared hard and longingly at the sugary whipped flirty meringues alongside the seductive, thick deep creamy yellow local clotted cream with the slightly crusty top. Not that I would say I was easily led astray or tempted... I hurried out before I was overcome with desire and indulged unduly without remorse.

It was one of those glorious winter days. A slight frost on the ground with a piercing blue sky where even the branches of the  trees look beguiling as the sun dances on their outstretched arms. We hopped from one foot to another on the muddy ground as we struggled with wellingtons for the walk to the peak of Golden Cap the highest point on the South coast of Britain affording panoramic views of the Jurassic Coast of Dorset. When I reached the top and stood stock still I listened to the sea greedily sucking in and spitting out the millions of tiny stones that tumbled on the steep ledges. I gave an involuntary shiver, someone had just walked over my grave as well they might, this place was laden with ghosts of the past.

Later on we sat and watched the sunset. Inside my head a list of all the things I wouldn't really mind finding under the tree were forming. As the huge golden orb sank slowly and peacefully my brain was filling up so fast it was fit to burst. The perfume, the exquisite jewellery, the highest count Egyptian cotton sheets, the sparkling home accessories, the silk, cashmere, velvet attire that would hang gracefully in my wardrobe, the exotic wanton underwear, the scent of the finest leather shoes, the vouchers for a quick 'nip and tuck' and some botox while we're about it. The image of my car burning unmercifully into my retina was the most painful or was it the last rays of the sun ?

A voice beside me cut into my thoughts. 'No amount of money in the world can buy a moment like this'

I shook my head resolutely as the images tumbled out into the cold air and dispersed into the wary shadows of the night and agreed.

Peace in Dorset.

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Words from Dorset.

It's the smallest things that can make your heart soar. Looking out of the window and seeing the tiny white dots of the sheep on a frosty hillside as the sun rises is one. Feeling the warmth of the winter sun as you stand and listen to the Salvation Army is another as anticipation and happiness tingle in the air and unwittingly enter your subconsciousness as the sound of the carols soar above your head.

And I think, I think an awful lot lately. There's a voice in my head, it won't keep quiet, it keeps telling me how lucky I am and I believe it too because I am told this constantly by friends and family.  It seems whatever I wish for comes true and I am beyond amazement when it keeps happening, I have just learnt to calmly accept it. But I am careful what I wish for because its a very powerful potion and it has to be handled with care. There's a catch though, there always is if you are to find something good in life and hold onto it.

You have to step back, climb out of your mould and take a long hard look at the person you have become. You must strip back the layers and stand naked and painfully in the full glare of the light of your conscience. Then you glance down at the labels of your discarded clothes. Selfish, rude, uncaring, obsessive, self centred, mean, aggressive, devious, bossy, egotistical, moody, selfish, bullying, cruel, vain, belligerent, callous, deceitful, pompous, sarcastic, vengeful, cunning... to name but a few. It's very uncomfortable standing bare and exposed but you have to let go of everything that has gone before to embrace the new that is waiting to come to you. It takes time, tears and humiliation and you will lose people you thought you loved along the journey but that's cool because they don't have the stamina that you do and they will hinder your progress.

Take your time now and evaluate people more carefully and choose whom you spend your time with, lavish your affections on, open your heart to. Do they wear any of the above labels ? if so walk quickly by and seek instead the liberating clothing of, affection, courageous, joyful, reliable, honesty, kindness, compassionate, faithful, gentle, loyal, modest, courteous, unassuming, calm, wise, dependable.

You will be free. Your reflection will not alarm you and your shadow will not haunt and seek to swallow you whole.

Which brings me to a poem I wrote and which will go on my new website showcasing my creative writing, photography and poems.

i love words,
adore the way they sound,
they can send you soaring high,
or tumbling to the ground.

inflict them without mercy,
or use them to ease pain,
choose them with caution,
the opportunity may not come again.

roll your tongue around them,
feel the power from within,
those who need fear nothing,
are the fortunate without sin.

but for those of us who harbour secrets,
that rejoice in the shadows of the night,
we fear not the touch of our enemies,
but the written word in all it's might.

so guard your thoughts with care,
be wary of what you say,
they may come back to haunt you,
and it's you alone they will slay.   ©sallytownsend

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Drawn to Dorset

From the Isles of Scilly I 'nipped' back to France disposed of a large amount of my personal possessions and freed myself in the process to start another chapter afresh and uncluttered.

The doctor looked at me with a somewhat bewildered air when I went to him grumbling that I felt rather tired. I watch the dawn rise in the mornings now from my über modern apartment where I received a warm welcome. 'I hope you'll be very happy' one charming gentleman said. I felt stunned by the simple comment, I had received only hostility and resentment on my arrival at my previous two homes. . What had I done in the last fourteen years ? Painstakingly and lovingly restored gloriously abandoned and unloved houses in the South West of France, given them back their life whilst they greedily sucked the life out of me. Sure, there were the highs along with the lows. The beautiful 'Maison de Maître, Le Chateau surrounded by vineyards and sunflowers with views of the glorious snow capped Pyrenees in the distance. The elegant Louis Phillippe style wide stone staircase which wound its way up three floors, the endless 19th c sombre tiles, the wooden panelling which lined the wide corridors in which we played cricket with Basil the dog. Friends that poured through it's front door, great fires lit in the numerous fireplaces and huddled round with glasses of wine, afterwards people would melt into the various bedrooms and appear the next morning. The house charmed people, whilst it was full it had vitality and breathed happily once more but in it's shadows lurked secrets.

And onto Carcassonne. Riding into the narrow Medieval dark streets just as the Black Prince had done in 1355 filled with purpose, hope and a burning desire to conquer and succeed. A house of 'historical importance' turned into a successful chambres d'hotes 'No.11'. The mysteries, the intrigue, the irresistible pull of the truly magical La Cité. The feeling of reverence as you crossed Le Pont Vieux, the worn cobbles whispering it's history to you as your eyes feasted upon the majestic castle, lit up at night to appear even more seductive. The River Aude flowing gently through, the Canal du Midi sluggish and silent its famous trees gripped by a sickness. The individual bars, the quirky restaurants, the shouting and sometimes noisy streets, the heat of the summer, the non-stop partying as the music festival brings the town alive. The pinnacle of the year, the immense overwhelming, breathtaking display of fireworks on July 14th setting La Cité ablaze.

I have some scribblings about it all somewhere, 70,000 words relentlessly and unforgivably poured into a document on my computer. My life so far in France. A roller coaster of a ride to be sure, not to be indulged in or sought after by the faint hearted. 'Hold tight' the voice inside my head would scream as life hurtled by at an unforgiving speed, sometimes glaringly painfully in focus and other times so raw the memories are muted.

But because I am blessed the hand of fate intervened, plucked me from the 'merry go round' of my existence and plonked me down afresh in exactly the same place that I had left behind a lifetime ago.

 Drawn to Dorset once again.

Monday, 27 October 2014

With love from the Isles of Scilly 1926

I felt at home as soon as I had set foot back on the Isles of Scilly.  This is perhaps the secret of the islands, people return year after year because it has the ability to make you 'feel at home'.  Home is where the heart is....

On my rapid return to the mainland I quite unwittingly unearthed a postcard from my Great Grandfather William Earnshaw of Solihull, Warwickshire who would have roamed and cycled the same simple and stunning countryside made famous by the authoress and nature lover Edith Holden. She wrote the charming depiction of the beauty of Warwickshire in the 1920's 'Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady' which was an instant best seller.

The small postcard was of Peninnis Head, St Marys, Isles of Scilly, the very spot that I had recently returned from.  I had no idea he had even been there and I had never seen the postcard before. He wrote:

Scilly Isles August 23rd 1926

'Dearest Evelyn, I am having a day here staying at Penzance, glorious sunny weather and magical islands to explore on my bike. Lands End tomorrow and then off to St Ives, North Cornwall. Never saw such beautiful country. All well and do wished you could have joined me. The enclosed sprig of heather is from the island which is a good luck charm. I believe the islands are owned by the Prince of Wales. I will call at Ilfracombe Post Office if you drop me a card there'. 

He would have travelled on the first Scillonian vessel which set sail in 1926 providing a regular passage from the mainland to the islands.

It is rather touching to find that four generations of my family have now been visiting the islands which perhaps explains the irresistible pull as anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting will fully understand.

It all feels like a rather jumbled puzzle which is finally falling very nicely into place !!


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