Sunday, December 30, 2007

Not quite a Tourist Honeypot

Tne town of Bargoed in Wales can hardly be described as a tourist attraction. It was once the heart of a thriving coal-mining industry. It has a folorn look about it now. Every time I visit here there are more shops boarded up or are having "closing down" sales and that includes the charity shops. This image of urban decrepitude was heightened during Christmas by a solitary Salvation Army tuba player playing Christmas carols. No band, just a solitary player. It reminded me of the final song in Schubert's Winterreise where the traveller meets the lonely hurdy-gurdy player playing his lonely cold song of death....

And yet...

The streets are crowded despite all this and the people are ever so friendly. I put this paradox to my daughter after returning from a foray into town. I suggested the run-down shops were due to the presence of a huge TESCO's in nearby Ystrad Mynach some three miles away.
Her reply suggested something far different. The whole township of Bargoed is on the threshold of a huge regeneration programme, the Gamma development. Already work on the new bypass is well under way and much of the town centre is to be rebuilt with a new shopping centre.
She went on to say that ASDA have already put in a bid for a mega-market in Bargoed but she and several others would rather have MORRISON's move in.

Now that is an interesting concept. Instead of the current set-up involving competitive tender where the biggest and richest get the contracts, how about a vote among the local population to vote for their preferred option of which supermarket comes in? That would be real democracy.
About 100 yards from Bargoed Railway station I saw this group of ivy leaves growing out of a wall.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Nadolig Llawen

Nadolig Llawen, Merry Christmas in Welsh I've been reliably informed. It wasn't so much a white christmas but a frosty one. Temperatures in the minus zone. The woodlands around Bargoed only needed Vivaldi's "Winter" from the Four Seasons to complete the scene.
Sometimes the mists decsended on the frosty scene making the ice crystals grow their own "crystalettes". Everything is transformed. I did some (very) quick sketches with cold fingers and stamping feet to counter the cold striking up through my boots. Not a time to linger.
Climbing up out of the valley to a grand view. Nestling in the distance is Deri some two miles or so from Bargoed and the row of houses on the right of the picture is Groes Ffan.
The clear blue sky was gone by 1-00 pm. and replaced with cloud and fog. Darkness descended early. The day's glorious noon, how quickly past, within a half hour or less winter's ice grip had re-asserted itself.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas in the Valleys, - boyo

I'll be down in South Wales for Christmas. I will return with traveller's tales of monotonous motorways, stressed out road users and almost inevitable traffic jams where the M5 and M6 part company. I will return in time for Hogmanay. The only problem is the Lancastrians are so English. They don't keep it the way we do in the Borders, but I'll do my best.

This is not my favourite time of year; its dark, cold and everyone gets stressed out in the run up to the festive season. Wouldn't it be better if we had some sort of cheering-up event around mid Febuary or March when the winter seems to drag on for ever?

O.K. Winge over. The picture is called "Needles" and is a detail of a Sitka spruce in the Kielder forest. So its a bit of Christmas tree.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Each to our own [gods]

In the Christian calendar tomorrow (Sunday) is the third Sunday in Advent, part of the run up to Christmas proper. It is a fasting season similar to Lent but perhaps not quite so austere. Religious fast it may be but preparations have to go ahead for the main event. Not just the religious observance but all the other razzmatazz thats got clagged on as well.

"Clagged" is a lovely Northumbrian word that means - adhered in a rather messy way. e.g. "Claggy clarts" = sticky mud. Anyway, I digress....

My other half is a "pillar of the Church" though I'm sure she hates being referred to as such but she is very involved and she will be playing her part at the local church tomorrow.

Meanwhile, what of me, a Buddhist? Well, in the Zen tradition this time of year we celebrate the Buddha's enlightenment, the culmination of His sitting meditating beneath the Bodhi tree back in 597 BCE. It is a time for celebration and it takes a form not unlike its Christian counterpart. I will, along with a few others be at Rochdale Temple enjoying a "Jacobs join" there. We will be having a similar "do" at Lancaster Zen Group's meeting on Monday. After that we can all come together and celebrate Christmas Day both religious and secular.

The plan is we go down to my daughter in Wales so that us grandparents can watch as excited children open their presents.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Back oop Noarth

Back in to Lancaster, the land of Ecky Thump. Quite different to Cornwall. The down side of St. Ives is, it lies at the opposite end of England to where I live. Well, almost. It's still 400 miles away whichever way you look at it and a long way to travel in the back of a car.

I have done manual work all my working life, first in a shipyard, then a steel foundry and finally as a nurse. Yes, I know that nursing is hardly heavy industry but the job entails a lot of lifting. So fifty years of ecky thump has taken its toll on my back and long car rides are no help. But I get over it after a while. The trick is to keep going.

What I can't understand is, how a five hour car journey gives me backache and yet a five hour flight doesn't. Perhaps cars should be fitted with aircraft seats.

In case you're wondering, the picture is of the Greyhound Bridge in Lancaster conveying the main road over the Lune to Morecambe. In the background is the Millenium foot/cycle bridge.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

A "Turner" Dawn

The gales re-asserted themselves last night. I awoke just before the dawn. An almost new moon was rising ahead of the sun and riding the clouds like "the ghostly galleon upon a ghostly sea" as the poet put it. Crept out of bed quietly and got dressed, downstairs for a bowl of porridge and a "brew" before going out to watch the dawn. The light is usually at its purest at this time and the sound of the pounding surf so inviting. Just before the kettle came to the boil, my other half appeared in the kitchen, "Thought I'd come with you for a walk."
Yeah, why not?
Quarter of an hour later and suitably clad we set of into the teeth of a sou'westerly gale. We took a circular route round the Island which is not actually an island but an isthmus separating Porthmeor beach from Porthgwiddon beach. It was quite a blow and blast. We stopped at the harbourmaster's office at Smeaton's Pier where he had just chalked the latest forecast and tide times on the board. "Wind force 7 - 9 gusting 10 later." Gonna be a bit of a blow."
"Gets rid of the cobwebs."
We found a sheltered corner on the Wharf where I did the above watercolour. Dawn just breaking and a multi-hued sun rising from the maelstrom. Just like a Turner Dawn.
And after that...
Frozen fingers thawing round a hot mug of coffee. Marvellous.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Seeing it all

The wind has dropped. It is dry. Grand-daughter Jess wants to come on a sketching trip. "OK then, off we go". She found out that with me we do rather more than just draw pictures. We sat in a sheltered corner of the old pier just off Smeaton's Pier, ( St. Ives affecionados will know where I mean). It wasn't long before, much to Jess' delight, the local wildlife came to take a look at what we were doing. That's one thing animals seem to know is when you are definitely not going to harm them. Consequently they come up real close. Jess even had a turnstone sitting on the end of her foot!
It all had me enthusing like a veritable Bill Oddie. There were herring gulls, black headed gulls, starlings, turnstones and the occaisional sandpiper, while in the sea there were a few seals swimming about. With the exception of the seals some of these creatures were close enough to touch but I did point out it would not be a good idea to try.

There's more to painting the sea than just doing the art. We sat and watched the sea, an important aspect of drawing, not just observing in order to make meaningful marks, but to simply enjoy being there.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Gales Force 7 in Sole, Lundy Fastnet...

Cape Cornwall, near St. Just. A force seven gale blowing, huge seas and a very high tide running despite it being a neap tide. Beautiful to watch but a savage beauty.
The light constantly changes as it plays on the water.
We are located in the old part (Down'long) in St. Ives. It is an area of narrow streets, a bit like some parts of Larnaka and Limassol but much cooler. The harbour can be glimpsed through a narrow strip twixt two houses from the living room. It reveals a little yet enough. Everything is adequate to the need.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

As I was going to St. Ives....

As I was going to Saint Ives
I saw a:-
Grey backdrop of cloud;
A pale watery sun that
Illuminated the landscape,-
Harmonizing dark and light.
I took a small 10 x 10 cm (4" x 4") sketchbook with me. These images over the next few days may be a little bit oversize.