It’s a Hap Hap Happy Day

Always good to see people happy in their work…

It has been a happy day here too, even if we have not been tying anyone down.

We are feeding an orphan lamb…Oliver…who is a complete tyrant. He sleeps in Leo’s office and at five thirty a.m. on the dot he calls for milk….drinks three bottles. Sleeps.

Wakes again at six thirty..three more bottles. At this point Leo takes him out on a collar and lead to his pen…

Little does Oliver The Insatiable know that once that the nights are fine with the approach of the dry season he will be overnighting in his pen for a while before joining the other sheep …though milk will still be provided until he is independent.

The dogs are well and happy…chickens are laying even if the ducks are on strike…the garden is looking lovely… but it is a hap hap happy day as Leo has decided to give himself a goal to get on his feet properly after his accident.

We are off to Guatemala in December.

We should have visited Guatemala before, when the brother in law came over for a tour of Central America, but we only got as far as Honduras – a country which enchanted me. I am so glad we saw something of it before yet another U.S. inspired coup plunged it into insecurity once again.

BIL wanted to see the Mayan ruins at Copan, so we did that, but I have to admit that Mayan architecture does not do much for me. It might have done more had I not read Terry Pratchett’s ‘Eric’ just before the trip.

Copan-Honduras

Accordingly while BIL clambered about among the ruins all I could think of was a parrot shouting ‘Whotsit’ and The Luggage sprinting up the temple steps  annihilating all in its path..

Better still if we had visited the site ‘El Puente’ before going to Copan.

A subsidiary city of Copan it has been far less explored…but had a superb museum. I was lucky enough to have been given a guided tour by the director of the site…one of the most handsome men I have ever encountered…who put the city into its historical and geographical context for me. Beats a guide book any day.

I preferred the old colonial towns…drowsing in the wake of their history, like Gracias a Dios…once the capital of Central America …now quiet under the walls of the fortress San Christobal

gracias a dios fort san christobal

Coming out of the hot lowlands I can just imagine how those men in their armour and hot garments would say ‘Thanks be to God ‘ on reaching the cool uplands….

We returned by a route which, while marked as a road on the map, proved to be a track…dusty trails, rickety bridges. close your eyes and hope for the best, you name it…but we survived and ended up in Comayagua.. another one time capital, this time of Honduras.

I had wanted to go there to see the oldest working clock in the Americas.

comayagua cathedral 2

It does not look very impressive at first sight, high up on the tower of the Comayagua cathedral, but it is a fascinating piece of machinery.

clock-comayagua

It is connected by wires to a two hundred year old bell – La Emigdio – which strikes the quarter hours and to a three hundred year old bell – La Conception – which rings the hours.

Popularly supposed to have first been installed in the Alhambra under the Moors, then given as a present to the bishop of Camayagua by Philip II of Spain in the sixteenth century, experts have suggested that it could have been made in that period in what was then the Spanish Netherlands….

Spoilsports.

With only a week to spare we shall not see much of Guatemala, but there seems to be plenty to do in Guatemala City, if we are not mugged or killed. Apparently casual crime is a problem to the extent that there are armed police on the city buses….

Our lawyer’s daugter was a missionary there a few years ago and was glad to get back to the safety of Costa Rica. I wonder if it was a coincidence that he asked us whether we wanted to revise our wills in any way before we leave…

Still, there are museums aplenty to keep us amused, a botanic garden to explore and squares to sit in while Leo rests. I expect we will survive.

A friend who visits Guatemala often in search of textiles bemoans the replacement of traditional dyes by modern, neon bright ones, but has given me a good address for finding the real stuff in Antigua, once – you have guessed it – capital of Central America until partially destroyed in an earthquake in the late eighteenth century.

As the real stuff will probably be at surreal prices I think I might confine my research to the museums. As one who used, in another life, to spin, dye and weave I am looking forward to  seeing how the Guatamaltecans go about it.

loom-weaving-fabric-art

We will try to go to Antigua, however. Now a UNESCO site, it is sanitised beyond belief, but still worth seeing for its architecture…

Antigua_Guatemala

Having thought that our travelling days were over I am delighted that Leo has determined that they are not.

Things have changed about the way in which we travel though…no more day long bus rides and no more hotels in the back of beyond with polyester sheets. The goal is to get Leo walking confdently again, rather than to slide off the bed and break a hip so we are letting the ‘plane take the strain and have found a comfortable hotel in the city centre in what appears to be a safe area.

Of course, we may be tempting fate by talking about it…Leo could have another attack, there could be another hurricane, I could drop dead…but if it comes off I shall be delighted to be travelling together once again, after all my solitary journeys.

To have someone to whom to say

‘Look at that!’

 

 

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Time Travel, without the Tardis

fontenoy1

 

My father sang from morning to night, when not absorbed in finding the right combination for a five horse accumulator….opera, light opera, folk song, dubious ditties from the music halls and the army , songs of liberation, songs of despair…

Thanks to him I am probably the only person – apart from Mark Mills in Mayenne – to know the words and music to ‘The Hole in the Elephant’s Bottom’.

I grew up with his voice – a light tenor which did not quail at producing the Song of the Hebrew Slaves, nor Stenka Razin – though his lyrics were not those of the Red Army Choir.

 

 

To this day I cannot find a reproduction of the tune to which he sang ‘The Road and the Miles to Dundee’…nor can I reproduce it, having the voice of a honking seal…but his voice remains alive in my memory.

Why has this come back to me now?

Because with the limitations imposed by Leo’s state of health our world has closed down somewhat….no longer possible to get up one day and decide to take the bus to Nicaragua the next to look for vanished towns and petroglyphs….no more impulses to take a ‘plane and explore the old silver towns of Mexico….

We have become static…but only physically. Thanks to those who fed our minds when we were young we have plenty of material upon which to ruminate while sitting on the balcony looking out over the valley.

My father gave me music and an insatiable love of history, where picking up one thread will lead you to a whole stretch of fabric to explore.

I can still hear him declaiming Thomas Davis’ poem ‘Fontenoy’…

‘On Fontenoy, on Fontenoy, hark to that fierce huzza!
‘Revenge, remember Limerick! dash down the Sacsanach!’

Not great poetry, as he would have been the first to admit, but what threads to follow!

Fontenoy was a battle in the War of the Austrian Succession, fought in 1745 near the town of Tournai in Belgium…then known as the Austrian Netherlands.

The French forces were led by Marshal Saxe,  one of the many  illegitimate sons of Augustus the Strong of Saxony, who had taken service with the French…..you could have many an hour of exploration  just following the thread of foreigners who became distinguished in foreign service…

Here are two….or perhaps three….

Eugene of Savoy

eugeneof savoy

Rejected by Louis XIV he took service with Austria and in company with Marlborough his armies knocked the French for six in the War of the Spanish Succession. Threads from Eugene lead back to the court of Louis XIV and the case of  the the poisons which blew the French court apart with rumours of murder and black masses performed upon the body of Mme. de Montespan, the current mistress of the king. Other threads lead forward to the wars against the Ottoman Empire and the tangled history of its oppression in the Balkans which gives rise even now to the qualms of states which have historically been in the front line against the Ottomans when faced with a massive influx of mainly Muslim immigrants.

James Keith

james keith

Forced to flee Scotland by the failure of the Jacobite rebellion he took service in Russia and was  part of the conspiracy which put Catherine the Great on the throne but as the eye of that lascivious monarch turned on him thought it advisable to take service under Frederick the Great of Prussia whose attentions were reserved for his guards. An intriguing story from his time in the Russian service finds him meeting another exile in foreign service…the Grand Vizier of the Ottoman Empire.

"These two personages met and carried on
their negotiations by means of interpreters.

“When all was concluded they rose to separate, but just before leaving,the grand vizier suddenly went to Marischal Keith and, taking him cordially by the hand, declared in the broadest Scotch (sic) dialect that it made him ’unco’ happy to meet a countryman in his exalted station.

“As might be expected, Keith stared with astonishment, and was eager for an explanation of the mystery.

” ‘Dinna be surprised,’ the grand vizier exclaimed, ’I’m o’ the same
country wi’ yoursell, mon! I mind weel seein’ you and your brother, when
boys, passin’ by to the school at Kirkcaldy; my father, sir, was bellman o’ Kirkcaldy.’

The Scots…they get everywhere…

But who fought at Fontenoy?

The English and the Dutch on one side, the French on the other, but with the French were the Irish Brigade,  successors to The Wild Geese,

Wave upon wave of Irishmen left their native land after the failure of rebellions against England…in the sixteenth century it was the Flight of the Earls where the men went mostly into the Spanish service…in the seventeenth the Wild Geese, the Jacobite army under Patrick Sarsfield who were forced to leave under the terms of the Treaty of Limerick following their defeat by William of Orange’s forces – , the King Billy of the Troubles in Ireland – and entered the service of France.

On Fontenoy all was lost for the French…the English were advancing solidly despite the hail of fire….when at last the Irish Brigade were thrown in, advancing with the bayonet to the cry of

‘Cuimhnigidh ar Liumneac!  Remember Limerick!

They turned the day. The English, who had been steady under terrible losses and who were in sight of victory, had had enough…they did not break and run, but they retreated, leaving Marshal Saxe the victor of Fontenoy…and the French masters of the campaign in  the cockpit of Europe.

Not least because the British were called home to deal with the ’45…Bonnie Prince Charlie’s invasion of England…..

And what do these threads have in common?

People displaced from their homes by war and politics, doing what they can to keep body and soul together.

And in today’s world, from Syrian refugees to African child soldiers, we don’t seem to have learned very much.

We two might be obliged to be stay at homes these days, but the threads of history can still allow us to travel in time and give us a context to today’s world and its problems.

All while drinking tea  – or something stronger – on the balcony.

 

 

 

 

The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring, Tra La..

I have just returned from an unexpected trip to England and blearily reviewing it a day after my return the images that remain have been those of the flowers that bloom in the spring.

When I left, the trees were blossoming here.

The llama del bosque

flamboyant tree llama del bosque

The roble

roble

The cortez Amarillo

cortez amarillo

On arrival in England the roadsides were covered in gorse in full flower – though its coconut scent was dulled by the chill – while  swathes of Spanish bluebells were taking over  from  tulips in the suburban gardens. Trees displayed that freshness of leaf undulled by the summer heat to come, the structure of their branches still visible under the sheen of green and, to my surprise, the horse chestnuts were coming into flower in the London parks where clouds of blossom were cast into relief against the Cambridge blue skies.

 

hyde park in spring

I remembered then Browning’s ‘Home Thoughts from Abroad’..

OH, to be in England now that April ’s there
And whoever wakes in England sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough         5
In England—now!
II

And after April, when May follows

And the white-throat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover         10
Blossoms and dewdrops—at the bent spray’s edge—
That ’s the wise thrush: he sings each song twice over
Lest you should think he never could re-capture
The first fine careless rapture!
And, though the fields look rough with hoary dew,         15
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower,
Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

There spoke the exile in his Florentine retreat – though goodness only knows what he found to be gaudy in the flower of the melon, that most unpromising  harbinger of sweet delight.

I was happy to see England in the springtime again, but cannot feel the regrets of an exile. I was privileged to have grown up with it, to have known it, shall never forget it, but cannot say that I hanker for it, any more than I hanker for England itself.

There were other flowers in evidence during my trip: those laid by people in memory of the policeman murdered at the gates to the Houses of Parliament.

Poor devil: he died, as have so many of his colleagues before, at the hands of a deranged person while doing his duty – in his case, guarding an entrance whose gates had to be left open to permit ministers to be driven to the Commons in time to cast their votes in a division.

Perish the thought that a minister should wait for an instant at a gate closed in the interests of the security of all those working in the Palace of Westminster.

They might be shot at if kept waiting? Good. The world would be a safer place if ministers were forbidden to have protection. Might give them pause for thought before putting the rest of us in peril and I suspect that – to paraphrase another song from ‘The Mikado’ – they’d none of them be missed.

In the aftermath of P.C. Palmer’s death we had the politicians braying that ‘terrorism’ had not succeeded in bringing down British democracy….

Of course terrorism hadn’t brought it down: the same politicians and their ilk had already done for it with their slavish adherence to the dogma of ‘public bad, private good’ when it came to principles of government, with the gerrymanderings of the Boundaries Commission, with their interests (paying) outside the House.

Such a parcel of rogues in a nation.

Currently, like Ko-Ko in the second verse, there are plenty of people whose attitude to the flowers that bloom in the spring is to say that they have nothing to do with the case.

The Prime Minister has called a snap election, putting her trust in the British media to depict her as a female Moses who will bring her country to the promised land…..the land promised to private enterprise, where access to health care and education will depend on the ability to pay for it; where those thrown out of work will be demonised; where those too ill to seek work will be driven to suicide.

Given her proven ability to change tack while at the Home Office I imagine that once she has gained victory the new Moses will reveal herself to be Aaron, presenting the golden calf  for public worship.

I cannot fathom people….more and more of them are living with the effects of unemployment and the resulting lack of tax revenues to fund proper services and yet the turkeys still vote for Christmas at the bidding of the butcher.

Flowers in France too, for the policeman killed on the Champs Elysees as the country goes to the polls in round one of the Presidential election.

The outgoing President Penguin congratulates himself on his record…yes, well done, thou good and faithful servant of thyself. As first secretary of the Socialist Party you sabotaged the campaign of that party’s candidate (and the mother of four of your kids), Segolene Royale, to gain the presidency and now as President you have sabotaged your entire party and given your support to the bankers’ candidate, Macron, whose chief claim to expertise in economic management seems to lie in having transformed the millions he made while working at Rothschilds bank into wallpaper for his flat.

Panic in the dovecotes at the thought of Marine Le Pen gaining power or, probably worse for the powers that be, Jean-Luc Melenchon  who said of the press reaction to his growing presence in the polls:

“Once again, they are announcing that my election win will set off a nuclear winter, a plague of frogs, Red Army tanks and a landing of Venezuelans,”

Roughly the sort of thing that the British press says about Jeremy Corbyn.

One thing is sure…if the British vote for May and the French for Macron then both countries can forget the years of social justice…..the golden calf will be a full sized Minotaur before they can blink and the hopes of themselves and their children will feed its maw.

Thoroughly depressed I set off on my return….U.K. to Costa Rica via the Netherlands and Canada. Yes, I know….but Scots blood will out: the fare was less than half that of the direct flight.

A change of flight time at the last minute left me with an overnight at Amsterdam Schipol, guarding my luggage like a broody hen its egg as the check in would not open until morning.

It was a salutary reminder of how nice people are: a young woman offered me one of her biscuits and accepted a cucumber sandwich in return; an armed policeman looked after our bags while we went to the loo and the gentleman at the coffee stall brought our drinks over to us to save us  from moving our mound of cases.

And then the flowers that bloom in the spring reappeared. As the dawn broke, the tulips in the tubs outside the Departure area began to glow with what looked like an internal light…strange, other worldly and utterly beautiful.

A good note on which to leave Europe….a reminder that while all seems dark there is yet hope.

And to greet me on my return….sitting on my desk….this little orchid. A true welcome home.

IMG_20170421_150525

 

 

Continue reading “The Flowers That Bloom in the Spring, Tra La..”

On the hoof again…

airport queues

Things have been somewhat eventful here lately: Leo has been diagnosed with COPD – as if he didn’t have enough medical problems to fill a doctor’s waiting room to overflowing as it is – and we have been clearing up after Saturday’s hurricane which took the tops from a fair number of trees but which left house and livestock sheds undamaged.

The last remnant of the storm appeared today: a highly indignant crab found on the balcony, menacing the poodle with its distinctly large nippers.

Crab removed with tongs to the stream, poodle comforted with biscuits and the two big dogs awarded biscuits as well, as they have decided that they were traumatised by the hurricane (which they spent tucked up on our bed) and are being needy. Black Tot has just helped herself to biscuits…nothing disturbs Black Tot, but she never misses a biscuit opportunity either.

I am cooking for the freezer, as I am off to England shortly for mother’s one hundredth birthday bash….and between arrangements for here and for there I really do not know whether I am coming, going, or been.

First of all, mother had thought to celebrate her birthday at the house in Spain – with her friends, known to me as the Naughty Nineties. Needless to  say, the logistics had been my problem.

The mere idea of transporting them to the end of the road without the assistance of sheepdogs and cattle goads is enough to give me the heebie jeebies…but to  Spain?

Ryanair, who run planes to the new airport at Castellon half an hour from the house , were helpfulness itself. I could get all the wheelchairs and zimmer frames aboard without problem….

However, getting the Naughty Nineties to Stansted airport was another matter.

National Express coaches could not take all of them on one coach…which would mean half the party lost in the loos at Victoria Coach Station while awaiting the stragglers and the process being repeated at Stansted airport….though there again the airport was helpful: staff were available to deal with people needing assistance.

The train? Forget it……crossing London on the Tube with the Naughty Nineties was out of the question.

A taxi? The only thing on offer was a stretch limousine used for hen parties….which mother turned down on the grounds of moral turpitude. Goodness only knows what you might catch…

So Plan A was abandoned…much to my relief as I could see that once in Spain I would have been doing the cooking for a group whose dietary requirements would have been stringent on the home front  – All Bran to open the bowels, hard boiled eggs to stop them up again, plenty of beans to provide musical accompaniment – while going the whole hog in the caffs…requiring Alka Selzter and Milk of Magnesia on the industrial scale once back at the house.

Further, that week would have coincided with a village fiesta where bulls run loose in the streets: you look left, look right and look left again before you leave the supermarket in case something taurine has you in its sights.

I suspect that the bookies would have their money on the Naughty Nineties and their zimmer frames but the whole thing seemed fraught with undiplomatic possibilities….

So mother is going to Winchester for her birthday, where she she served in the army in World War II: where she met David Niven: where she was taught to fire a rifle and to throw a molotov cocktail into  the turret of a German tank: where she adopted the phrase of the sergeant instructors…’take one with you’. …and where she learned the words of and actions to ‘The Spaniard who blighted my life’.

She is also…and the Guildhall have been warned…seeking the visitors book entry in which she and the girls who served with her signed their names together with that of the young American serviceman who was adopted as a brother, taken home to what hospitality their families could offer… and who disappeared off the radar after June 1944…

From the practical point of view, Winchester being as hilly as it is, I’ll order a taxi to the heights where the barracks which she knew have been perverted into luxury flats…long gone the days when Sir John Moore,  master of the light infantry once based there, inveighed against the promiscuity of crowded lodgings…but where once these conditions were imposed on the soldiery in these days the well heeled bustle to live cheek by jowl.

peninsular barracks

Thence we can visit Oliver Cromwell’s Battery to see the house in which she was billeted on an elderly lady who had an art when it came to using mother’s rations to feed both of them – pass the castle with the Round Table then out through the city, past the cathedral to the monastery of St.Cross, where bread and beer are still served to those who declare themselves as pilgrims…

By that time I’ll need both as we shall then be wending our way back to the cathedral to admire the memorial to the diver whose contribution was vital to the restoration of the building.

And what will the Naughty Nineties be doing?

Preparing a party for mother on her return.

I prefer not to think how they will blow up the balloons….