Sunday, August 05, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 17 ~ Sweat Rash, Wee & Toast

It goes without saying that cleaning in the middle of the heatwave has, for me, not been a thing of unfettered joy. Breaking out in a sweat rash around my knackers whilst simply mopping a floor. But sweaty, with hands in Marigolds, fatigued in T-shirt and shorts, I've slowly and stoically soldiered on. Most care home residents hunker down in their rooms and rarely come out. But when they do, they emerge manifesting their individual mental quirks in heightened colour, all at the same time. Animosities flare up into incoherent ding dongs, most often between the female residents. Susan who is hyper hyper sensitive to criticism ' I am alright aren't I Stephen? I am a nice person aren't I?' being unjustly accused by Irish Moira of stealing money from her wallet, 'well, all I can say is there was five pounds in there, that's not there now, its gone' .This is a recurring theme in their relationship. where a weak hold on self-esteem meets a weak hold on money and may the best neuroses win.

Mental problems appear to arise out of basic human tendencies or difficulties that for some reason become highly magnified and over-indulged, till they eventually dominate a persons entire world view. I've been reflecting on how challenging false views and opinions barely supported by the facts, even in relatively well balanced individuals, often forces people to just dig their heals in and become even more righteously indignant and angry. Feelings tending to trump facts. I'm also thinking Brexit here too. We are all deluded about reality says the Buddha, but this isn't due to mental illness but to a pronounced human inability to keep the way we feel and our interpretation of situations separate from the factual true reality. What led me to think about this was a situation with The Norfolk Lady.

A few weeks back she was excitedly gossiping to me about someone being pregnant. The first warning sign that this may not actually be so, was when by the next week having one baby had turned into having three babies, and she had told this to everyone who'd listen. But then it went weirder. The Norfolk Lady's constipation still continues, and in her agitated state, not understanding why she's unable to poo and being told to stop telling this story, the two situations got entwined. So the inability to poo was because of what someone had done by way of revenge ' I know they've stuffed a baat-ery up there'.  This idea has then proliferated into ' they're blockin my wee, and blockin my bum, they aut to be sacked'  No amount of patient persuasion that this simply cannot be the case, can undermine the firm conviction that this has actually happened. What to us might appear a self-evidently barmy idea has quickly morphed into a self-righteous opinion, that appears to be getting more and more unhinged from reality by the week.

Imagine everyone around you has an infirm grasp on reality. Each day being pretty much like the next. Very minor events then take on greater significance and import than you or I might give them. The other day Irish Moira approached me with her standard conversational beckoning ' Can I ask you something' which always feels like an invitation to walk right into the trap that it often is. This time the question was 'Stephen, shouldn't you always take medication with food?' I replied - not in every case. 'Well, you wouldn't want to take medication after eating only a slice of toast would you, a slice of toast! which they asked me to do today' and with a 'See you later' she pootled off having self-validated her view.

This week the main residents tea counter was out of bounds whilst its roof and patio doors were being replaced. You'd think they'd be pleased facilities were at last being improved, but no. All Irish Moira could think about was ' they've taken the kettle away for no good reason, every one else has had dozens of cups of tea today, I've only had the one, just the one' looking me straight in the eye and wagging her finger at me, as a warning that, if I hadn't already, I should take note.  The other day she asked me in an innocent tone of enquiry ' Do you know the reason why I'm in here?' I said no I didn't, 'Its because I'm a loony'' speaking this in a matter of fact tone as though it was entirely a neutral statement.

I've been back doing a lot of decorating in the house, first in our craft room, then the lounge, and now the bathroom. After this is finished, that should be the end of  my 'housey' tasks for a while and I can then focus time and effort on re-engaging with Cottonwood work.  Nevertheless, I always find decorating a pleasing transformational process, seeing the style of a room evolve. Now the lounge decorating is completed we can decide with what sort of flooring we want to replace the worn, grubby carpet, with its embossed nylon swirls of pale brown leaves. We've discovered that this carpet design is, horror of horrors, still being made, and our particular colourway is called 'California Dreaming' which is a trifle ambitious for beige.

With the continuing heatwave the air quality even here on the coast has deteriorated. One week huge harvesting juggernauts powered through local fields kicking up huge amounts of straw dust in their wake, that fell like snow everywhere, such as on my freshly glossed window sills, for instance. There have also been hundreds of crop wildfires across Norfolk, I guess most are due to spontaneous combustion, but one suspects some have had a little human help too, accidental or otherwise. I awoke one night with a sore head,raw throat and tightness in the chest, with the smell of smouldering smoke filling our bedroom. Outside we couldn't see any fire but the smoke hung in a dense smog over the surrounding fields, whilst the sky above us was actually crystal clear.

I've decided to temporarily deviate from my year of Japanese novel reading. I just needed to read something not quite so aesthetically refined and cool in emotional temperament. So I read an EF Benson, Mapp & Lucia story, for a bit of lightly tossed relief. I've recently begun reading My Name Is Red, by Orhan Pamuk, after watching a fascinating documentary about him and his writing. This is not remotely undemanding reading, Initially I found myself waiting for it to grip me. It is self evidently rich with evocative writing, but the way its structured is unusual, and it has taken its time in capturing my imagination. I'm two thirds of the way through its six hundred and fifty pages, as I write, and it has finally developed a bit of story momentum, It reminds me a bit of The Leopard by De Lampedusa another monumental book that really tests your patience, but is worth it for the killer conclusion, that makes everything you've read previously be seen in a different light. We await to see if My Name Is Red proves worthy of my hours of commitment.

The effect of resigning from the Triratna Order upon me has, as yet, not been that noticeable. But then the lead up to this decision was so protracted it left plenty of time to both contact and process emotional reactions and attachments. It feels as though nothing has changed, even though it has. I am happy to live in a detached limbo, to not prematurely seize the initiative. Quite what I'll do is still an open question. I keep reminding myself not to run for the safety of joining another group or institution, that has proved to be such a double edged situation for me. There is the reassurance and support that comes from belonging to something purposeful, but this comes with commitments and duties that eventually I find too restrictive. Eventually the chafing and desire for liberty wins out. Jnanasalin does go occasionally to the Norwich Buddhist Centre, and in fact gave a talk their on Dharma Day. It still feels a bit odd to not be accompanying him, to be there and show support.  But I've not been out of the movement long enough for me to just casually turn up, without it feeling like its a much bigger deal than that.

I've had yearnings recently to return to my regular weekly study in a local cafe of Dogen's Instructions for the Tenzo.  A practise I started doing when we lived in Cambridge and have been really missing. I need to just settle on which of the many local cafes would be the appropriate venue.  Maybe I need to test them out for the requisite qualities before I decide:~
Good Coffee?
Good Cakes?
Will You Feel Comfortable Studying There?
How Noisy Is It?
Will You Be Left Alone?
How Pram Or Child Repellent Is it?

Friday, July 20, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 16 ~ Flower Fecking Festivals

A season of shallow fruitfulness is upon us, where seemingly every weekend is garlanded with a Summer Fair, Fayre, Fete, or some other such artificially contrived event. Each town along the coast has its own festival week.The Sheringham Carnival Committee works extremely hard to maintain and further extend its seasonal events calendar. In previous weeks Sheringham has had the Lobster & Crab Festival, one of many vintage car rallies and then there was the Dad's Army weekend. Yes, countless folks dressed up as Captain Mainwaring, Jonesy or Pike, continuing in the same appalling vein as the 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers Weekend,' sorry, I meant 1940's Weekend. The second weekend in July was the Lobster Potties Morris Dance Festival and the Methodist Church's Flower Festival.

Lobster Potties was celebrating its 25th Anniversary grandly by holding a world record breaking attempt at the largest number of people dancing the same dance at the same time. The current record being 144 people for 5 minutes from 2016. The call went out to the world of Morris and the world of Morris responded, the official count was 300+ people for 7 minutes 45 seconds, which makes one feel the current record holders weren't trying hard enough. It was an awesome thing to see, and a fitting way to mark their anniversary. The rest of the day alternating mixes of Morris folk dance groups do their best routines up and down the main streets and promenade. Its a really colourful and lively event, and quintessentially so English in character, ie, entertainingly barmy.

As a Morris dancer of old (that was 30 years ago it has to be said) I absolutely love this weekend. We would make a bee line for this festival as a reason to visit Sheringham even before we moved here. These days we have our favourite teams that we must see, such as the black and white patterned bizarreness of Pig Dyke Molly and the extravagantly be-feathered hats and Gothic darkness of The Witchmen. This year we added the 'steampunk' side Slack Ma Girdle from Suffolk to this selection. Brought by the celebration and world record attempt, a group came over from the Netherlands, and their was the delightful rarity of more than one Rapper side.

Rapper is a sword dance where five dancers weave in and out holding on to a double handled 'sword' for dear life as they move in increasingly convoluted and tangled turns to emerge miraculously out the other end in a clean formation. A well rehearsed Rapper side is a startling and impressive thing. I once attempted to learn rapper, its fiendishly difficult, requiring precision and focused concentration, one wrong move and the whole thing grinds to a potentially painful log-jamb. Unlike most Morris, in Rapper there is little room for casually bluffing your way out.

Unsurprisingly, the Morris Festival is not universally liked in Sheringham. To enable the weekend to happen bits of the main streets and promenade are closed off. So folks who don't appreciate their set routines being altered, their liberties slightly adjusted or their desire to be able to drive into town and park right in front of the shop they want to visit, thwarted, don't appreciate it that much. Some shops allege its bad for business. This year the World Cup's been bad for business, but you don't hear anyone dare say that aloud. It is clear that even after twenty five years the town's shops have not embraced the spirit of the Morris Festival in the same way they do the 1940's Weekend, with special windows etc.

Perhaps it feels like the festival is imposed on them. Its often cited as one justification for blocking any plans to pedestrianise the main streets during the Summer. However rammed and uncomfortable they get, with full to bursting pavements you can hardly walk on, this is not seen as a deterrent. No one appears to consider that a pedestrianised street with no event on might be an entirely different experience to one with an event. Nor what other opportunities there might be, to say move the regular weekly market down into the High Street, freeing up car parking space, or hosting Sunday Craft Fairs, Farmers Markets etc etc. Local, small c, conservatism can feel stifling of energy and creativity.

Other North Norfolk towns have adapted to their main streets descending into semi-hibernation in the Winter once the tourists depart. Sheringham, however, is unique in having a high street regularly used by the local people through out the year.This liveliness is one reason we chose to move here. I can understand the desire to not upset the apple cart, precarious as it might already be. Particularly in this prolonged pre-Brexit limbo, where the consequences for 'Just About Managing' shops is unknown.  The future prospects for Sheringham's shopping centre longer term may not continue to be that vibrant and the case for pedestrianising its main street may yet arrive at its day of inevitability.

Flower Festivals are an odd beast, are they a craft, an art or neither? The Japanese being a subtle aesthetically sensitive country were able to elevate it to an art. But looking at the exhibits in the Methodist Church Annual Flower Festival  the jury is firmly out on art and unsure about craft. Flower Festivals it seems must have a theme, preferably a vague one. These can then be twisted to any indulgent fancy or delirious dream you can construct around cardboard. This years theme 'Golden Moments' resulted in an impressive breadth of subject matter, from the RNLI, the birth of a baby, Eurovision, the Release of Nelson Mandela, to the creation of the Internet.

There appear to be only two ways to interpret a theme, to be slavishly literal or to fill it with leaden, and occasionally dubious, symbolism. The Mandela display was a case in point, it had no picture of Nelson, but it did have a generic African mask and a huge giraffe head made of papier mache. Another display, please note, assembled by the collective creativity of three people, was about saving refugees at sea. This was a series of rectangular trays, with blocks of oasis pricked with gypsophila floating on a pale blue sea of badly rucked cloth. All very well meaning no doubt, but so clumsy in its execution as to teeter towards insensitivity.

These attempts to inject profundity into the simple aesthetic of arranging flowers, betrays a lack of confidence in the beauty or skill on show. They have to be about something else more worthy of appreciation. At best, flower arrangements can be astonishing things of beautiful symmetry. Here though the forms and shapes used can lack imagination, or seem repetitive or cliched. Why do flower displays have to rise to a mountainous peak of gladioli?  I'm lead to believe that the world of church flower arranging has its semi-professionals who devise an arrangement for 2018, and then troll it around a circuit of church flower festivals, to anyone who'll have them.  So there are Themes, variations on Themes and blatant Travesties of Themes.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 15 ~ Five Ways Of Dealing With Uncomfortable Blockages

Blousey Flowers in Sheringham Park

1) Not Purged Enough Yet To Be Purified
Working in a care home you need to be at ease wiping up the remains of other people's pee and poo. Encountering a toilet blocked with faeces compacted under moistened toilet paper, can be quite a regular occurrence. Fortunately I'm not responsible for the breaking the papier mache seal and unblocking it. My job is just to remove the technicolour splatter.

Some residents, unsurprisingly, do develop obsessions around toilets, toilet cleanliness and the effectiveness of their pooing in general. One such is my big voiced Norfolk lady, who keeps mental notes on the timing, of not just her own, but other peoples bowel movements. Last week I asked why one of the residents seemed always to be on the loo. Another resident resorted to the polite euphemism of saying she had a problem downstairs,' She can't poo!' my Norfolk lady loudly interjected. This week, I don't remember exactly how we got back onto the conversation of poo, but I've a faint recollection it arose out of politely asking how she was. But obviously something much more pressing was on her mind.

'Not too bad,
apart from the laxatives am tekkin
I can't undr stan it
Wy hee wont let me av more than one senapod,
when it says I need to tek four.
I no I messed miself once, but that was a lorng time ago
and anyway I no I'm not tekkin enough
ones not enough, I no its not enough, cos
I'm only getting an inch when it should be two.
I dunno whats wrong, whats causin it
I think there must be some sort a blockage.'

2) Change The Context & Conditions ~ Resigning from the Triratna Buddhist Order.
There is often 'some sort of blockage'  and not just of one's bowels, Taking many forms physical, emotional, mental or spiritual or a confusing melange of all four. Something can be up in one's psycho-physical being but you haven't quite sussed out it's true nature yet. An intractable blockage has bedevilled my spiritual life and practise throughout pretty much all my time as an ordained Buddhist. Though essentially an emotional blockage, the consequence has been that bit by bit the vitality of meditation and my sense of engagement with life in the Triratna Buddhist Community has taken a long dwindling and downward path.  I believe I am still a Buddhist, but my commitment to do so within the context and practises of the Triratna Order does not seem credible to me anymore. After two years of difficult deliberation I've decided to resign as an Order Member.

In the past I'd have just walked away, this is the first time I've submitted a resignation. sent by e.mail on the 9th June. The official notification will be sent out at some point soon. But regardless I've got on with carrying out my planned ritualised process of departure. On the 9th itself I performed a traditional Triratna Sevenfol Puja where I wore my Order Kesa for the last time. Thus began a series of daily rituals involving reading, pujas, plus the creation and destruction of a painted mandala. This is the process documented in the sequence of photos on this blog. All concluded on the13th June 2018, the 18th anniversary of my joining the Order. when I symbolically brought the cycle of my life in the Order and broader involvement in its Sangha, to a close.

I have understandably been nervous, tense, churned up and sad at times during the period leading up to this. Though after all this time actually submitting the resignation didn't feel at all traumatic, I mostly felt relief.  For the time being, my order name Vidyavajra better represents who I am, so I intend to continue using it. I don't intend to make a big announcement nor plaster the details all over social media.  What you read here will be all I'll be posting online. My friends in the Order will be able to read a fuller explanation of my resignation via the Order website. I'm willing to make my resignation letter available to friends and acquaintances within the wider Triratna Buddhist Community if they are interested. Before you ask, no I don't know what I'll do next. I may just enjoy the open space for a while, then see what, if anything, arises.

3) Reignite The Fire ~ Cashing In On Your Impulses
With the garden provisionally finished,and the resignation no longer pending but delivered, there is a feeling of some positive energy becoming unblocked, of something else arising. I believe its an impulse to pick up Cottonwood Workshop and put renewed energy into that. As yet this is only a desire emerging from the shadows, but there's not been even that for some time. One is still left with the question of how one gets from being a cleaner to a Cottonwood Cafe?

I do tire of being a cleaner, but once you become a cleaner, you apparently have to stay one. Stating on your CV that you're a cleaner is a bit like admitting you were once sent to prison for money laundering or murdering your wife. Permanently staining, not just your character, but also your potential, in the eyes of others. Factor in that I'll soon be sixty one and my employment potential can feel a teeny bit ring fenced.

I have to believe that the initiative is still mine to forge a way out of this situation. It would all be too depressing otherwise. Perhaps it is time to reignite the fire of that 'business in utero' of ours~ Cottonwood Workshop. Jnanasalin has recently completed the remaining admin for Windhorse Trading, so what was once his office space can now be converted into Cottonwood Central, a fully operational craft room. Well, this is our intention. All our initial thoughts have centred on how we want to redecorate and review the room layout. As yet we're not back making anything yet, but we've committed to a colour scheme, bought the paint and I've started the decorating.

4) Write About It ~ If You Want To Understand It
I'm approaching the half way point in my year of reading Japanese literature. So far what I've noticed concerning their literary style is that its notable for subtle understatement, particularly of feelings. The Japanese appear to be as emotionally reserved or blocked as the English are often caricatured as being. One way of breaking through such blockages is to write about them. The Japanese don't really do detailed internal dialogue, descriptions of people, places or landscapes, or even particularly strong narratives in their novels. Its mostly about the spinning and sustaining of a gossamer like mood. You can reach the end of a novel and wonder quite where the drift of all that has taken you. At least that's the traditional classic style. Apart from Murakami I've not read any other modern day writers so I cant say yet what the contemporary literary zeitgeist is like

Soseki, Kawabata and Tanazaki are three of Japans greatest novelists from the early 20th Century. They come from the generation brought up in the immediate aftermath of Japan opening up to trading with the West, when the country underwent a huge social and economic change. Their novels often feature characters who journey from modern cities to more traditional rural areas, or visa versa, in search of meaning or purpose. Naive idealistic men encounter or fall in love with highly intelligent independent women, whose quirky eccentricties influence and intrigue them, though they remain entirely an unknowable enigma. Being enigmatic has its perplexing as well as its alluring aspects. One human can never truly fully know another, female or otherwise, hampering our ability to not just understand, but  also to have empathy for what is 'other.' 

I've just completed Junachiro Tanazaki's A Cat, A Man, And Two Women, which I found to be a complete and utter delight. The novel explores the triangular relationships between a man, his ex-wife and current wife, through a cat that each of the women tries to use either to hold onto or to regain the affections of the husband. Throughout the book the husband just dotes and pours attention on the dratted feline more than he does the women. He just doesn't understand why the women in his life get so demanding and angry with him. Tanazaki has a dry wit and his manner of writing is clever whilst being deceptively simple in its form. He uses this three way relationship to explore how human beings often cling to the idea of possession as a cover for something more broadly existential, often a fear of being abandoned, alone or lonely. Highly Recommended.

5) Discover How To Best Communicate With It
'Wha yu gotta beard fo?' she says every time she sees me. As I've said previously I think this is her way of saying 'hello, I know you'. But the difficulty for me has been how to respond to it, she definitely wants a response, but exactly what has flummoxed me. I've tried ignoring it and just getting on with my work. I've tried taking it seriously and entering into a conversation about why I have a beard. But, curiously, that just perplexes her, she looks shocked or frightened, as if I've spoken to her in the voice of a demon.

Though I have had a sort of a breakthrough, the other week she was stood in a doorway and she started singing Frere Jacques, so I decided spontaneously to join in. All was going quite well, then she, like me, began to find the whole thing of two people at opposite ends of a corridor singing a nursery rhyme, a tad bizarre. She quickly retreated, like a cuckoo into a cuckoo clock, behind her door. Today she stood, again in the doorway, she gazed right at me and said the usual ''Wha yu gotta beard fo?' and I just said ' Hello Mary, how are you?' to which she replied in a gummy distressed voice ' I don't no, I aint got any teeth'.

More  Blousey Flowers in Sheringham Park

Friday, May 18, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 14 ~ Climbing into Monty Don's Trousers

Maybe its a sign of advancing age when your role model becomes Monty Don. A man full of genial encouragement like a treasured bachelor Uncle.  Rambling about his garden splitting, replanting and snipping at bushes. With his hair like it was washed in rain water and left to dry in a breeze at the break of dawn. Dressed in crumpled shirts that look like he slept the night in an armchair after an long evening of conviviality with red wine. His trousers sewn together with hope and held firmly up by braces, his ginger dogs loyally following his every wellington covered step. Yes, our gardening enthusiasm has now reached its horticultural peak, we devotedly watch Gardeners World every week. So quiet and laid back, its a soothing addiction.

Never having had a garden of our very own to develop, we've surprised ourselves by how we've embraced the purpose of growing things. What started off as, 'our garden needs something putting in it' has rapidly progressed to avidly measuring how much the pea plants have grown overnight. I never imagined I'd feel excited by a leaf shoot appearing on a jasmine plant. It shows how proprietorial we've become, that its now all about 'Our Garden'.

Handmade furnishings in Japanese Indigo Print fabrics  

Every weekend for the last month, we've made one, sometimes two, visits to our garden centre of choice in Overstrand. Just when we think we've finished, we suddenly think, 'Oh, wouldn't it be good if we had.....' and off we'll tootle. To buy lettuce plants, tomatoe plants, planters or a hanging basket, whatever the latest fetish is. Rather than watch the royal wedding, we went on an essential quest to find the right colour of pea gravel to edge our front entrance pavement.

Jnanasalin is as bitten by the bug as I am. It's quite endearing to see him being so attentive and nurturing, watering or feeding the plants with care and dedication. Gardening as a project has been easy to get our teeth into. Ideas are relatively quickly realised, just plant, regularly apply water, stand back, observe and wait whilst nature does its thing. Niether of us finds our current employment in any way satisfying or creative. So in the absence of the cafe project developing momentum, its been good for us to find an honest bit of creative diversion to salve the heart of some of its emotional strain and yearning.

But boy have we had some waiting to do. Waiting for the dratted weather to warm up mainly, so I could clean, sand and repaint the decking. Then there was the arbour and pavement border fences to paint and assemble. And we had to wait for Spring to arrive, its here, then its not, its here, then gone again. Delaying not just our planned schedule, but the onset of plant growth. So its been one prolonged practise of cultivating acres of space to be patient in, reinforced just a  teeny weeny bit by faith that whatever Monty says will happen, will eventually happen.

The transformation of our garden spaces from how they were less than a year ago, has been dramatic and inspiring. Both our front and back gardens are small and the way previous tenants set them up, makes them unsuitable for the traditional cottage garden. That suits us fine as we're just not old fuddy duddy enough for the twee nostalgia of country rusticism.

In the front garden, we had to banish a truly ugly satellite dish, give away five pavement slabs laid out in a cross formation, then dig out and replace the horrible white fibreglass pavement edging. Keeping the lawns of blue shale pieces and the cotoneaster hedge, we now have a simple yet stylish garden based around beds of jasmines, japonicas, acers, convolvulus and hydrangeas, edged with grey coastal flint pebbles.


Whilst for the back garden we've made creative use of containers and planters, so it has developed a quite neatly ordered structure. Now the decking has been repainted, the fences and arbour are in place, so the decked area is totally unrecognisable to how it was even a few months ago. The lavender bed and herb pots we planted nine months ago in September last year are now in a full and abundant flourish, as is the rhubarb bed.



Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY 13 ~ A Cheap Holiday In Other People's Fog.

It's a good job we don't mind a holiday where the weather turns out a bit adverse. We aren't sun seekers and don't throw a complete wobbly when it drizzles. For all bar a couple of days the majority of our week in Whitby and North Yorkshire was shrouded in fog, admittedly in varying degrees of density. Whether we travelled over hill, dale, moorland or skimmed the edge of the coast, our view ahead, behind, on either side was..... limited. So the dramatic landscape glories of the North Yorkshire Moors were never fully unveiled to us, being effectively concealed behind a curtain of atomised sea moisture. There were, however, other unexpected delights. The fog itself often created a unique and mysterious experience.

We'd kept holding out for a nice dry bright day before climbing the steep steps to the moist and muddy headland of Whitby Abbey. Such a day never did arrive, so by Friday we voluntarily gave money to English Heritage without knowing how much of this world heritage site we'd actually be able to see. Approaching from the headland car park, we could barely see a thing, other than the vaguest of vague suggestions of a fleeting shadow. As we drew closer, the ruins, partially submerged in mist, emerged, along with an atmosphere that was the very quintessence of gothic mystique. I have to admit at this point I became quite a lot more excited than perhaps Jnanasalin was. I madly snapped away whilst Abbess Hilda moaned in my ear about the trials and tribulations of running a unisex monastery on top of a cliff. Abbess Hilda was it would seem quite a far sighted venture capitalist on the quiet, as there's a sign on the way into town directing you to the Abbess Hilda Business Centre.

Whitby as a resort is surviving pretty well, probably due to its bi-yearly Goth festival weekends that draws thousands of bizzarely dressed individuals trying to banish their introversion  but who also purchase chips, lager and Whitby Jet. There are empty shops but also new replacements, like a deli and trendy eateries. We drove through quite a few seaside resorts and Scarborough and Bridlington's shopping centres are way bigger than they can sustain, resembling a tramps mouth with several teeth missing. Fortunately these dreary encounters were usually lifted by something culinary or stately. Our visit to Bridlington being improved by a cafe called The Northman and a visit to a magnificent Elizabethan House called Burton Agnes Hall a few miles out of town, that had fabulously intricate plasterwork and wood carving.

On one particularly foggy day we drove over the moors to Malton. Like many market towns you enter into Malton through what looks like an arse end of run down dirty frontages, tatty takeaways, lurid nail salons, the ubiquitous Heron Food Supermarket and countless long abandoned retail projects. On first impressions we thought we'd made a very very bad mistake in coming there. But once we found The Malton Patisserie, ate overpriced cake in frilly paper wrappers, and gazed out the window at the Farrow & Ball sign in the shop opposite, we visibly relaxed, finally we were amongst 'our people.' Malton proudly self-declares itself as Yorkshire's Culinary Capital, and it is the sort of the place where there is an 'artisan' round every corner, and some of them do actually make the things they sell. Its also a great place for truly gorgeous home ware and furnishings, we'd fallen upon a middle class heaven.

Malton is close to Castle Howard a lavishly decorated house designed by Vanbrugh and Hawksmoor, which manages to be very grand whilst actually being quite small. I've always been a bit partial to a bit of extravagantly over the top 17th century interior decorating, so needless to say, I loved it.

They had an exhibition of a sculpture by Mat Collishaw called Centrifugal Soul of a 3D Zoetrope, which was quite mesmerising and beautiful. The video does its best to capture what is really a lived experience

There were culinary highlights too, with a number of revisits. To Whitby's finest cafes Sherlocks and Marie Antionette's with their magnificent range of cakes. We also discovered a new eatery Sanders Yard where they do fabulous platters and a great range of breakfasts. Six years ago when we were last in Whitby, we walked to Sandsend and had a cauliflower soup in a bistro that was literally jaw droppingly good. So a return to the Bridge Cottage Bistro was a must. This time we ate a twice baked souffle with delicately roasted carrots, petite turnips, stem broccoli and asparagus in a light cheeesy sauce. It was a meal beautifully balanced with even the slice of sourdough, butter and sea salt that preceded it playing a part. We enjoyed it so much we went back for brunch on our last morning and had Buck Rarebit ( Welsh Rarebit with an egg on top ) which though simple fare was immensely tasty,satisfying and filling nonetheless. If you're ever near Sandsend ring ahead to book a table.

Hubby on Saltburn Pier

The waitress in Bridge Cottage Bistro obviously judged us correctly when she recommended we visit Saltburn By The Sea. So feeling spontaneous we drove straight up the coast to Saltburn, a resort built by a Victorian Quaker, with a pier, funicular railway, plus a small town which these days has reinvented itself as foodie heaven with some pretty smart home ware stores filling out the rest. We have found a new favourite place to visit, and this was when it was deeply dipped in the midst of mist.

However, all holidays include the long journey home. To ease the 250 mile drive back we made a number of stop overs. One was to see my Dad in Scunthorpe. He seemed OK and in a more talkative mood than usual. He's lost quite a bit of weight, but I think the Care Home ensures he eats better and no longer exists largely on a diet of cake. The other stop was in Lincoln, which these days has developed its old centre around the Castle and Cathedral into a smart mix of medieval picturesque and contemporary, it was quite a delight to spend a few hours wandering around before continuing on our journey back to the cosy familiarity of the rolling landscape of Norfolk

Monday, April 02, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY No 12 ~ Year One Over & Out

As this is my twelfth Sheringham Diary blogpost it marks the end of Year One, the first anniversary of our moving to Upper Sheringham  being on April 1st. From now on the seasonal and events cycle of North Norfolk life will be a relatively known quantity, with only minor variations.

Looking back most things progressed well, we set up and settled into our new home with relative ease. After many years of living in Buddhist Communities this homemaking aspect has been, and remains still, a feeling of being liberated from a constraint we'd both grown quite tired of. Plus creating a home is actually a lot of fun. In Year Two there will be much less to actually do, once we finish off our plans for the garden, then refloor the lounge, then that's pretty much it. Finding work was pretty straightforward for both of us. What hasn't been easy is, for me ~ handling the physical demands and consequences of intensive cleaning, and for Jnanasalin ~ the strain of improving the functioning of a mildly dysfunctional charity shop chain. How this work would drain us of energy and initiative for the Cottonwood Cafe project, was something we'd not really foreseen. This is something we are challenged to change over the next year.

One of the residents in a care home I clean for is one of my secret delights in a job not otherwise known for being particularly fun filled. She's in her early sixties, but dresses and behaves like an big overgrown teenager. Talking very very loudly in a completely unfiltered way about anything and anyone. She's extremely observant, and knows, for instance, how often residents have been to the loo that day. So you have to be very careful what you tell her as it would soon be broadcast full blast to everyone. She actually has a sweet nature and seems innately kind, even if some of her thinking is a tad eccentric. At times it can feel like a character from Royston Vasey has stepped off the screen and into real life. Her conversations are, however, a joy to listen in on, such as the following one I couldn't help overhearing, she was 'talking at' the care home's manager about another resident and her 'big pill'. Imagine this in a loud high pitched Norfolk accent.

"She says`she aint gonna take tha big pill,
  But she gottu aint she, tha big pill,
  she gottu take it, aint she ?
  You'll av tu meker take it on Sundi, wont ya?
  she says she don lyke tekin it
  cos it gives her a sexual feeling when she poos."

For any of you who are on Netflix I recommend a six part documentary series Wild Wild Country. Its about the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) cult and their efforts to build a 'Buddhaland' in the outback of Oregon. The Rajneeeshis didn't expect the opposition they'd encounter from the local yokels in the small town of Antelope and eventually the entire Wasco County establishment. No one comes out of this battle of religious allegiances and wits with entirely clean hands.

The outstanding figure, whose dubious tactics the documentary focuses on a lot of the time, is the Bhagwan's PA ~ Ma Anand Sheela, who is not a woman to ever try corner or obstruct. There is nonetheless something about her fierce intelligence and indomitable way of not being cowed by brute male force, meeting any opposition head on, that I actually found deeply impressive and strangely admirable. The authorising of mass food poisoning and attempted assassinations, perhaps not so much. As an abuse of power over its followers, and those that opposed it, this puts Triratna's recent scandals into the category, relatively speaking, of small beer. Though it highlights the conditions for abuse to arise in that we did hold in common. A new religious group, encountering a wave of youthful naive idealism for it, that becomes quite self intoxicating, self deluding, followers being encouraged to live as if they exist outside the ordinary rules of law, thus is a fertile ground for abuse of trust laid out.

In Oregon what started as simply directing that enthusiasm into positive actions, does in the hands of extremely self confident charismatic individuals, slip into gross manipulation and abuse of less confident individuals. People surrendered the direction of their lives, and to some extent their autonomy, up to the Bhagwan or Sheela, and were pressured into take actions they'd not normally consider acceptable. Often these actions being presented as spiritually enabling people to be freed of self-limitations. The documentary is deeply unsettling at times to watch, but was nonetheless compelling.

Well, Easter is with us, as are this seasons first wave of tourists, quite often obese, encumbered with children, zimmer frames,walking sticks, umbrellas, perambulators and dogs. The good weather they've come for has, however, temporarily deserted us and we have returned to cold, rain and wind. Our back garden plans are nonetheless progressing, and the weekend before Easter we transformed the coal bunker alcove on our patio. That has turned out pretty much how we wanted. All we have to do now is wait for the weather to warm up, to see how well things flourish in an area that admittedly gets very little direct sunlight. I've been trying out some decking cleaner on the patio's flaking paintwork that is very effective at gently softening the paint layer. So hopefully this will cut down the amount of sanding needed before I repaint it.  Everything is waiting on the arrival of those warmer dry days, which, as yet, we've not seen much of.

I've had two longer Shiatsu sessions during the last month, and I have to say I'm pretty impressed by the results. Though I've had ordinary massages before, they never had quite the same transformative effect on my psycho-physical being as Shiatsu. There is always a few days of adjustment after a Shaitsu session when energy and pain intensifies then moves around and dissipates itself through that movement. Its been interesting adjusting to things appearing to get much worse before improvements starts to show. I've experienced after a session my body trying to reassert tensions, as if somethings was not quite right with this more relaxed bodily experience. I've had to make more conscious effort to relax areas of tension, and habitual ways I hold my body. Shiatsu has also eased the discomfort from osteo-arthritis in my hands and stiff painful shoulders. Though with the sciatica it has been more limited, which appears to respond better to regular stretching and core strength building exercises

I'm still in the early stages of introducing Macrobiotics into my regular diet. It is a whole different way of cooking. Initially it does seem more time consuming, and certainly requires more advance planning than I'm used to. This is proving a bit of a challenge as deciding what I'll want to eat beyond the most immediate upcoming meal I do find hard to imagine. I've got a few basic recipes learnt, but it will be a while yet before I have a wider range to draw on. I notice when I am eating more wholly macrobiotic I do seem to have stabler energy levels. Once I introduce foods that are more highly processed, or are sugary or fatty, the energy levels begin to distinctly wobble more, and the bowels? well, they do take a turn towards the flatulent!  Which is an excess of Yin I think,with all that watery blowing off !

Next week we set off on a holiday to Whitby, and boy are we ready for it. 

MY MOST LOVED ALBUMS ~ Brian Eno - Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy

As my most purchased album, this is a prime candidate for my most loved album. I bought it on vinyl when it originally came out in 1974, then on cassette, CD and now as a download.  This is the album where Eno's use of Obscure Strategy Cards to direct or wrong foot his creative process starts to be experimented with. I remember being fascinated with trying to discern how the layering of sounds interacted, discovering somewhere in the back a little sqeak of a noise that was perhaps once the starting point for an idea that got abandoned. On vinyl the album ends with the grooves being caught in an endless loop, something you could only really do in that format. This album set the template for me of the sort of music I love to love - adventurous, arty, discordant, odd, exciting music, that's still strangely accessible.

He was interviewed on the radio at the time and he talked about noticing the similarities between reggae and waltz rhythms and what emerged from that was the track Back In Judy's Jungle.

There's the proto-punk of  the Third Uncle which proceeds at a absolutely furious pace and descends by the end into outright cacophany with what sounds like a guitar, highly amped being played with a bow or a chair leg, take your pick. It remains for me a track that shows what the musical potential for punk was before it had even happened, something that punk, once it did arrive, never really fully explored.

Put A Straw Under Baby is composed like a surreal lullaby that half way through has the Portsmouth Symphonia bursting in as if trying to wake the baby up.

The True Wheel starts off in a sort of ploddy rock mode that gradually turns the dial up as it becomes more avante garde, with a middle section where a recording of a string section is played backwards ontop of the original recording.

After the eccentric rock /pop of his first album Her Come The Warm Jets, Taking Tiger Mountain By Strategy resolutely places itself as an experimental album, with nonesense lyrics and often bizarre musical conjunctions. For me its a wonderfully daft, delightfilled album, simultaneously both serious and playful. It was Eno revelling in the potential of where ideas let free from his absolute total control would lead him.

After this album came Another Green World and his interest being drawn by the electronic landscaping of Cluster / Harmonia. What ultimately flows from that are his Ambient albums. We very rarely hear him sing nowadays, and the inventiveness and dry wit to be enjoyed in the Dadaesque lyrics of Taking Tiger Mountain, is hardly ever seen again. However much of a humourless brainbox he can sometimes appear to be, this is Brian Eno at his most oddball and human.     

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

FEATURE 143 ~ Janelle Monea

Ii's funny how you stumble across someones work on You Tube. You decide to actually click on that vid they're recommending you, and in an instant you're are a fan. There was a lot of media hype about Janelle Monae when her debut album The ArchAndroid was released in 2010. After a fleeting and desultory listen I wasn't taken with what little I heard. Since then Monae appears to have become something of an unstoppable force, making inroads not just as a singer, songwriter and rapper but also as a producer, model and actor (Moonlight, Hidden Figures ). Oh, yes, and she has her own designated record label imprint on Atlantic Records.

The song I casually bumped into was Make Me Feel. She was apparently working on this song with Prince before he died. and its a fantastic synthesis of everything a Prince record ever taught the world. The video with its Eighties styling is as self-conscious a homage to the late great as you could make without dressing it entirely in purple flounce and lace. It sizzles, bumps and grinds, opening with a brilliant funky farty electronic sound broken by a finger popping click.  Its 'powerful, with a little bit of tender' .

This personal breakthrough led me to Tightrope, taken from that 2010 debut album that I'd so flagrantly dismissed. So maybe I need to go back to that and give it a more thorough listen. If this doesn't get your fingers and feet tapping then there is really something wrong with you, go see your GP ~ that's Groove Prince by the way ~ not a Doctor!

So, the question is ~ why is this woman not huge? I believe its probably because she occupies a musical and political frequency that is currently all Beyonce's, perhaps there can really only be one such person. Or maybe its because Monae doesn't just mouth the right on words, she's an activist fpr black and women's issues. Maybe this ruffles a few feathers in boardrooms.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

SHERINGHAM DIARY No 11 ~ Gardening Solutions & Metaphors

After a seemingly long Winter of waiting, which even now has been held up by the Siberian cold snap, we have started sorting out our front and back gardens for the year ahead. The structure of the front garden was settled on in the late Autumn, in the last few weeks we've been buying and planting shrubs,plants and bulbs to fill it. Hoping they'll be kick started once Spring finally perks up sufficient interest. Though neither of us really consider ourselves experienced gardeners, we know the type of effect we want, it remains to be seen how close we come to achieving it.

Our small back patio, as I mentioned in my last blog post, is not currently a thing of beauty. It is at present half patio / half coal bunker, but this is about to undergo a transformation into minor loveliness. The decking surface has bare algae covered areas or cracked flaking paintwork, and this will have a thorough clean, sanding back and a good dry out before being repainted. We've bought the arbour and planters to be painted /assembled in our garage. I can't even think about starting any of this until the weather improves, when temperatures become somewhat gentler on my osteo-arthritic hands. Though at a time when our other major project is still as they say 'in development', its good for both of us to have one creative outlet that is easy to agree on, finalise, progress and push towards fruition.

Despite our best intentions the weekly Cottonwood planning meetings admittedly have faltered. When faced with the full scope of the project's development we can acquire an air of self-defeating fatalism, particularly around finance. Also,we have to acknowledge we're both frequently a bit too knackered, a state where the guiding flame of our aspirations and inspirations can easily fizzle out. Even 'dreaming' effectively requires good conditions, mental energy and imaginative space. Having had a couple of goes at re-energising the project using the same method and not entirely succeeding, we need to try a different approach.

Practically speaking, its important I'm able to make use of the space that my working part-time is meant to provide, in order to help take our ideas forward. That means my finding something other than cleaning work, which regularly does me in physically, is essential. The reality, so far, is that it's the only work I've been able to get.  I'm currently a bit stumped for where's best to move this situation onto.

Anyway I digress. What we're now doing is reading a couple of small business start up books to see if they can help guide us beyond the stalled position we appear to find ourselves in. One of the things both books emphasise is, yes, dream the ideal the bigger picture of what you ultimately want, but think small to begin with, and in incremental doable steps. Perhaps we should adopt more of a gardening metaphor ~ have a vision for what ultimately we want our garden to look like, then we do our first planting, then see what actually grows and bares fruit. Things may bloom in ways we don't quite expect.

After nigh on two years with barely a few days break we've finally booked a weeks holiday away in April. Needless to say we are both in real need of a recharge to our spirits with a relaxing holiday away from 'the usual'. By going to stay in someone else's seaside. We're revisiting Whitby, because we really loved it when we were there five years ago. This time we'll have a car, so we wont be limited to public transport or how far we can walk, and can venture further afield. We also want to fit in a visit to the British Craft Trade Fair in Harrogate whilst we are 'up in t north'. Checking out the what the contemporary craft makers are up too, pick up some good ideas hopefully and perhaps source some future craft suppliers. We're also hoping to stop by and see my Dad either on the way up or back. He's now been diagnosed as having moderate Alzheimer's, which some of his recent aggressive and out of character behaviour, would appear to confirm.

The Japanese theme continues - Part One

After I finished reading Natsume Soeseki's Kusamakura ( see the review in my last post) I've started a book by Alex Kerr, called Lost Japan, which is about exactly that. As an American who grew up and now lives there, he loves traditional Japanese culture. He explains with something of a heartfelt sense of loss, how aspects of Japanese culture are slowly being subsumed by the aesthetic morass that is modern Westernised Japan. This process has been going on almost from the moment Japan opened its borders in 1853. What is harder to understand is how a culture that was once so aesthetically sensitive and sophisticated could allow it to become so undermined, its vibrancy to be diluted and dulled, to not care or attempt to preserve the best of their original culture. Kerr thinks this is an outcome of a certain single mindedness in the Japanese psyche that's become so obsessed with completing a specific project, such as modernisation, that they completely lose awareness of anything broader than that. So the Japanese culture, quality of life and environment continue to suffer and deteriorate.

The Japanese theme continues - Part Two

We were in Holt one Saturday and there was a Mind, Body, Spirit event on at Holt Community Centre. The centre was full of stalls with alternative merchandise, plus the usual psychics, healers, gongs and a smattering of charlatans. As a former Spiritualist most of this stuff was all too familiar and there was a part of me that felt wary for some reason, as if I would get sucked back into it. Because I've always wanted to give it a try, I paid for a taster session of Shiatsu, which has helped with my back, upper arms and joint pain quite considerably. So I've booked myself in for a full session later in March She only lives in Cley next the Sea which is a short bus journey up the coast from Sheringham.

The Japanese theme continues - Part Three

For some reason, after the Shiatsu practitioner talked about diet being an exacerbating factor in the severity of Osteoarthritis, I've had thoughts about looking again at Macrobiotics. I dabbled in it a bit during the 1980's - 1990's.  The essence of it is to make rice, cereals and pulses the central elements to your diet, with vegetables and fruit as secondary sources. Tertiary food sources  would be meat, fish, nuts, dairy, sugary or fatty foods, tea and coffee, and particularly heavily processed foods. These make it harder to keep a balance of the yin and yang food elements Well, this is its working premise. I'm unlikely to go the whole hog with it, because I never have before, though I know my diet could do with an improved emphasis health wise.

And finally, yes, we were snowed in briefly for a day, it got very cold and the wind whistled through our front door, and now its all slowly melting into sludge then water. Our garden plants and we  have survived intact, both of us resuming our anticipation of the arrival of Spring.