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Do you want to go on holiday?
Check!
Can we afford it?
Cheque!
Where shall we go?
PRAGUE.

I found flights to four places under £100 return, and asked him which destination he liked. We quickly settled on Prague.

It’s an utterly beautiful city. Spindly towers coated in copper-green, rust-orange roofs sitting hat-like upon tall white house sandwiched around cobblestone streets. Crumbling finesse surrounds you; it’s the perfect place to wander with the sole aim of gawping at the architecture of gothic churches, medieval castles blurring into renaissance residences and palatial grounds.

 

 

One of the finest days we wandered up to an ancient monastery with a library to die for; rows of glorious old tomes, and intricately decorated renaissance ceiling art. Literally and figuratively, it was heaven. Outside we found the same trio of musicians we’d bumped into at various points, and sat in the sun eating and listening to them play. Afterwards we wandered down through the gnarled orchard, where a little bit of light-hearted scrumping took place.

 

 

The last night, after a week of searching, we accidentally stumbled on the graffiti wall. The city is chock full of history from all periods, and it’s lovely.

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Brighton

As it turns out, Brighton is lovely. This will just be the briefest post – I have exams and I care about them too much to spend all my time blogging instead of revise. Come end of exams, posting shall become a more regular occurrence.

Firstly, after some overpriced train fares – the internet lied, it did NOT cost me £11 return – I went to Brighton to see an old friend,  known mainly by his surname Whyman, perform in Othello as part of the Brighton Fringe. I think it’s excellent that the Fringe has migrated beyond Edinburgh; I went there a few years ago and thought it was such a fabulous creation and opportunity. Anyway, didn’t see much of the dear WhyMan, which was a real shame.

Instead we (the boyfriend, my friend Laura and I) went wandering through the Laines. We shopped a bit – Brighton has many various shops. We mainly snuggled into fantastic old bookshops – one, called Rainbow Books sadly had no relation to gay pride but more than made up for it with a complete wholehearted absence of organisation, and contained a book entitled, to mine and Laura’s amusement, JEW BOY! But there were also many vintage clothes shops. Laura runs a shopping blog, on which a more detailed account of the shops there is readily available.

I bought a number of books; for my course, At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien, Goodmorning, Midnight by Jean Rhys, The Complete Works of H G Wells and The Book of Margery Kempe (a bargain at £1.99, since every other I’ve seen has been verging on five times that amount.) I also purchased JAmes Joyce’s Ulysses, for a mere £4.95, The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennet in hardback which makes me happy and joy of joys, the complete works of J M Barrie, the genius responsible for my darling Peter Pan. A lot of money was spent but it was money that needed spending, certainly for my course books, and I’d always rather support second hand,  independant, and charity bookshops than anywhere else given the choice. Plus, I had to buy them at some point so it may as well be now.

We also spent some time frolicking on the beach, which resulted in my boyfriend having very wet feet for most of the trip. His stupid girlfriend was playing catch the waves: he chose to join in, and he lost. Granted said girlfriend pushed him a little bit and the wave was much more purposeful than either of them had expected, but she was very sorry about the whole affair.  We saw Whyman’s play, obviously – he played Rodrigo – and had some delicious cornish pasties.

Overall the trip was a success. I’m paying for it now, after the loss of three day’s revision, but otherwise it was excellent. So much so that I’ve already arranged to go stay with Whyman again this summer, when he has a house and a sofa I can sleep on instead of bunkering down on his halls of residence (very uncomfortable) floor.

And, for the record and because I know he reads this, happy birthday to said boyfriend, who finally caught up on the age thing today. Well done darling, you’re no longer illegal. 🙂

Now! To REVISION!

Being locked out of halls since my first exam, time had to be killed somehow. One of these was walking along the Thames riverbed.

At low tide, it’s wonderful. A quick scramble down some rickety old steps and you’re free to frolic all along the revealed outstretch of sand and rocks. You can slip underneath the jetty, where I dream of reading The Waves once my exams are done, and see the line on the flood walls of the Jubilee Walkway where the water stretches up to, far over your head, where the green and black slime (which sadly is nothing to do with organic chocolate) slithers out it’s last and the cold mottled white of the wall resumes. You can crawl right down close to the water’s edge and look out over the dull polluted expanse of brown and hear the rush and throb of the so-called River of Suicides. It’s quite powerful, feeling the movement and sheer volume of all that water further out but standing next to the lapping of ripples against huge chucks of rock, each like a miniature crag, every one like a genuine cliff face to eternity, where the water is not much deeper than your standard puddle. And yet, right by the wall, just where that thick sludge begins, there’s sand as soft as any desirable beach – not as clean, obviously – but sand good enough that people will make sculptures out of it come summer to be washed away by the dull heaves of water next tide. And it sinks beneath your feet like sand, and you can turn around and see you little footprints like tracks stretching off to the distance.

There are other little marvels down there too. Most of them aren’t necessarily marvellous, I should admit – swollen up condoms and discarded beer cans and similar – but there are many every day treasures to be found down there. On this particular day there was inexplicably within a few metres of each other a collection of pens, as if the current had wanted them to stay close. One was even personalised; Christine lost a beautiful gold fountain pen a while ago. I picked up an exquisite silver Parker pen, and hope to clean and restore it to glory. Another thing you regularly find is bones – sounds morbid but stay with me – that people have thrown for dogs, or, for chicken bones it’s probably falling into the first category of the not-particularly-marvellous remains of a drunken night out. But you can imagine it’s a wild bird, a water bird who finally gave in to the throws and drags of the Thames and died; and the waves hauled the body to it’s final resting place, the eternal sleep on the bed of the river where it had lived. And pottery, too, is everywhere – little fragments of plates and jars and only knows what else some plain shards no bigger than a thumbnail and others as big as your face elaborately painted with flowers and glazed over for protection against the angry seas. Sometimes you can find the stamp, saying it was made locally in Lambeth, or similar. I’ve always dreamt of finding some jewellery down there – not because it’s value fiscally, but sentimentally, jewellery often carries value that would have pained someone to lose it. And I think the riverbed holds many untold stories, and a lost necklace would resemble the hopes and fears of another individual that I will never know about.

And I think there’s something very beautiful to be found in that.

A momentous occasion happened for me recently, and that is for the first time I received some recognition for a piece of creative writing I’d done, as mentionned on the KCL English Department page.

However, it was an event that was, for me, filled with joy but for another family it wasn’t. Cosmo Davenport-Hines is the name of a student at my university, who died tragically last June.  The prize was set up by his parents in his memory, to celebrate his life and love of poetry.

I spent the early part of the evening speaking to his family, first his father, then mother and then two of his friends, also poets. They were all wonderful people, and it was event infused with warmth and a generosity of spirit that plenty of people are willing to let die amongst comments about “our modern world”. His father gave a speech where he mentioned Cosmo’s last days, and it was one of those moments where you knew those words came from nowhere other than the heart and soul of one individual who cared so deeply about another person that although words cannot express the emotion, somehow every fibre of that moment combined to convey his sentiments exactly; the lilt of his tone and the slight variations in facial movements and one million other threads combined into a fabric which captured his feelings. He was speaking on behalf of not only himself, but for everyone else there who’d loved and lost this young man. His words richocheted off the particles in the air and created a concrete connection  between every single person in that room, which shattered in the heartfelt applause.

It was just so moving to watch a man talk about the death of his son, that I was filled with a sense of admiration. That such a terrible event had occurred, and the family had taken it and re-shaped it like molten mental into something so positive as a celebration of his son’s talent by using his example to motivate and inspire students just like him to make their lives extraordinary, was one of the most inspiring things I have ever experienced.

The winner of the prize was a third year student I knew vaguely from KCL Creative Writing Society, and the runner-up has been in my seminar groups the past two terms. My poem remained in a selection losely termed the ‘Judge’s Pick’ by the head of the English Department, which was a selection of poems which weren’t winners but the panel wanted to commend. I was flattered that such esteemed and respectable individuals would feel my work deserved a place there, but the overall experience of the evening was overwhelmingly the respect I felt for the Davenport-Hines family.

The theme of the competition was Memory, and the varying takes on that were in themselves very interesting. I did the unoriginal thing and submitted a poem I wrote about the death of my greatgrandad, who passed on when I was still at school and my memories of him are sketchy at best. The poem mourns the loss of my memories as much as the loss of my grandfather. I read first and I was nervous, like a deer on wobbly legs, as I stumbled over my lines, but afterwards Mrs Davenport-Hines came to me and said the poem brought tears to her eyes. I think that action, that on a night which can’t have been easy for her, she took the time to complement a young girl proves the genuine kindness in her. I doubt they’ll ever read this, but that isn’t the point of me writing it. I think it is important, in some little way, to mention what wonderful people I thought they all were, and I hope that they get all the respect, love and support they deserve. My entry is below …

An Apology For Forgetfulness.

You’re mostly memory, crafted and
Constructed. The gaps filled in by memories of others
Who were more there, more aware, who captured
Creased silver memories on paper
Where you are strong and smiling.
I remember faintly, or rather I believe I do,
(How can I know how much I embellish from stories and photographs?)
Your face as soft folds of smiles from behind
Oversized glasses, frames grey like your hair.
Silver blue pervades; silvery aged hair that stays grey in black-and-white images
Of you young, smart, uniformed. And the bright, ever youthful
Blue for startling eyes, crinkled with benevolent charm.
Grey for graphite when you drew me pictures with more
Talent than the rest of the family combined,
One living link across the chasm of death.
Otherwise, your story. What you remember but never chose to express.
A story of war, death, and a sinking ship loaded with the exploding gunpowder
Cannons that all but deafened you. Yet you were the only one who listened,
Who even truly heard the questions of a child.

My clearest memory of you, except for Butlins, aged 6,
Is your memory, the sad silent expression of a soldier,
A naval man – sea and spirit and silence – as you answered.
I see you in the ubiquitous poppy I buy every year and
Cry silent tears for you, and tell no one. We have this in common.
You did your own battle with The War. (We do Not mention The War. Except once.)
You told me of the sinking ship as you refused to drown beneath the dismissive,
“She’s too young to understand! And certainly too young to be told!”
But you spoke to me quietly, because at least I was old enough to care
About your personal, unique story.
The same story as the generation, national scars identifying old hearts,
Those young souls on our country’s conscience, echoing heartbeats –
The stroke of a marching drum. A different stroke killed you.
There’s me. My father. My grandfather. Then you, and beyond you only mystery.
But blood connects us, blood you shed so I could
Choose to learn German at school.

And now, the sad truth of my years means I lose you more.
I create you from my memory of your memory, a story defining us.
And I can only find you in faded photographs
And wreaths on Remembrance Day,
And a grave nobody lets me visit.