Thursday, 23 July 2009

At the seaside

I grew up with a mental image of the British seaside, largely based on the first books I read, shortly after reinforced by Enid Blyton and equivalents. Promenades, piers, ice cream, beach chairs, hats, umbrellas, bright colours. Fun. Over the years it came to include images of sun-burnt Englishmen, slightly overweight yet under-dressed people, Pimms and G&T (in no particular order). And this is exactly what I found in Brighton. Thousands of people streaming down from London and everywhere else, filling the street cafés and tea rooms, side walks and parks. With large hats, underutilised sunblock, picnic baskets, tired children and that slightly manic "I am having fun"-mentality. There is another side to Brighton too, one with real people. I'll go looking for it one day. But for now, confirming a mental stereotype was quite satisfying.

We had sandwiches on the beach. Pebbly, but more comfortable than I had expected. And no scraping of sand out of various bodily bits for days afterwards. The beach goes on for miles (and miles (and miles)), with a uniform distribution of people until the cliffs of the Sussex coastline start. Then a walk on the Palace Pier. I love the old photos and especially the programmes here. The optimistic Art Nouveau structure is still filled with a collection of suitably kitsch and entertaining stalls - throwing coconuts at plastic teddy bears, fish and chips, obscene soft drinks, the amusement park, theatres, even a proud expat advertising his rooibos and biltong with a flag. More ice cream. Normally I'd be deeply irritated, but it suited the garish frivolity of the space, the season and the people.

Pretty pier.

Suitable entertainment.

Monday, 20 July 2009



As you set out for Ithaca
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them:
you' ll never find things like that on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind -
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

- Konstantinos Kafavis, 1911

(In a yet to be filled travel journal presented to me by two friends. Sometimes people get me.)

Sunday, 12 July 2009

A short walk in the New Forest

The mother and the grandmother came to visit. One interpretation might be that they came to see whether I'm surviving, another is that I'm their excuse for exploring the castles and gardens of England in summer. Either way, it was comforting to have people from a previous life around.

My greatest fear was for the endurance of the grandmother - she is at an age where only one company will provide travel insurance. Luckily this corporation recently received a $170 billion bailout package, so they must have some cash for emergencies. And you need insurance when you're 87, or at least your family does. But she surprised us all with her tenacity and agility, and was (almost) always keen for more. Generally a very good tourist.

On the first day they were here we went to the New Forest. Saw the ponies with fresh fillies, the manor house at Beaulieu, bought fish and chips in Lymington. And stopped for a brief walk in the summer woods. 200 meters in we found a pretty pink flower. "What is this?" asked the mother, all of us keenly aware of the limits of only knowing plants from the southern hemisphere. The grandmother confidently reached out, caressed a leaf. "Foxglove of course. Digitalis."

That's when I realised we were going to be be just fine.