Archive | January, 2017

Nothing of Note

28 Jan

Lost and found, lost and found…

What’s the worst thing that could happen to a writer? Well, he could be killed by fascists, of course, like Lorca or die in a plane crash like Ibargüengoitia. He could go blind as Borges did or mad in the manner of Clare. Okay, so I’m still alive, physically and mentally intact. Otherwise, losing a notebook is just about as bad as it gets. And that’s exactly what’s happened to me. Twice. 


Old notebook showing an outline timeline of the events in my work-in-progress

When considering what to call this post, I noticed that I already had one called ‘The Lost Notebook’ in my drafts. A year or so ago, I left my previous notebook in the bar I used to go to for a cooked breakfast and coffee. That was the first time. And I got away with it. The wonderful staff of The Golden Lion Inn (closed now, sadly) found it and put it to one side for me.  

The second time, I left my notebook at the gate in Madrid-Barajas Airport when juggling with too much baggage. We were somewhere over the Bay of Biscay when I realised it was missing, compounding the sense of loss I was already feeling (the journey was taking me away from my beloved). The flight attendant apart, British Airways proved singularly unhelpful, providing me with a series of telephone numbers that didn’t work, that were never answered, that were answered but supplied an unintelligible response… Needless to say, I didn’t get my notebook back.


Notebooks – useful for storing railway maps when travelling and writing

I once considered using the discovery of a lost notebook as a narrative device. The location was to be a train rather than an airport. Lost in transit. Oh, the irony… It seems unlikely that my notebook will follow that trajectory. I’m pretty sure that someone pocketed the pleasingly weighty pen (bought for me as a leaving gift by former colleagues) and threw the notebook in the nearest bin. 

So what did I lose? A year’s worth of notes on my work-in-progress, the notes for my next projected novel, the diaries of my travels in Mexico and Colombia, my list of fragments of overheard dialogue… oh, nothing of note, then. To be frank, I feel rather bereft. I’m hoping that this loss will push my imagination in unexpected directions. Well, you have to finish on an optimistic note. 

All text and images © PSR 2017

Alas, Harry Math’ws

26 Jan

Alas, Harry Math’ws hath pass’d away

Avant art, anagrams, grammar-play

Abstract, Dada, Yank astray

Harry Math’ws hath pass’d away


All text © PSR 2017, with apologies to E.J. Thribb.

Image of HM © Ingrid Estrada

Railway Trip to the Seaside

21 Jan

I’ve written much about my travels across the ocean of late (just as well since I’ve lost my travel journal – but that’s another matter). Sometimes, all that’s required to reinvigorate the spirit is a little local jaunt. I’d been feeling world-weary and so, late in the day, I decided to take the train to the seaside. 

On previous visits to the town, I’ve generally been passing through, on my way to another country. This time, I took the train to the end of the line. Happening upon the local offices of the far-right UK Independence Party in the back streets of the old town was a little disconcerting (it looked like a low-rent estate agency combined with a discount store – how appropriate…) but I found the townspeople to be friendly. After all, how can an international port turn its back on the world? 

As you’d expect of a port, signs of the maritime life were everywhere. There were the numerous pubs, of course, arcane nautical crests and jocular frescoes. Trinity House, the former occupying power, has left its mark on the architecture of the town – lighthouses, lifeboat stations, coastguards’ cottages… So much to see, my two-and-a-half hours there felt like a week-long holiday. 


Old inn, former lightvessel


Lighthouse, lighthouse


The sun was setting as I followed the coastal path

I ended my micro-vacation at a small and friendly inn, housed in an ancient timber-framed building. The port’s old town is packed with former and current pubs. I had merely to mention the African grey parrot, perched in his cage by the bar, to find myself included in the conversation of the other customers in the snug. That bird was further from home than me. I had travelled for forty minutes on the train. He had flown in from the Congolese rain forest. As I write this, the UK Independence Party is probably arranging to have him sent back. 


An artificial isthmus to nowhere – it was so tempting to defy the instruction.


Boats of all shapes and sizes


The light dies out to sea

All text and images © PSR 2017

Travelling the World to End up at Home…

14 Jan

Ah, globalisation. Modern communications enable you to meet fascinating people from all over the world. You can fly swiftly across continents and oceans and travel through mind-blowingly beautiful landscapes like the one below.


Mist over the Andes

But some of its consequences are less exotic. You fly five-and-a-half-thousand miles across the ocean to Colombia and what do you find? Roott and Co., a British-themed clothing store, adorned with the Union Flag and red telephone boxes. In La 14 department store, there’s a range of men’s clothes called Burtton (note the subtlety with which copyright infringement has been avoided). If many Bogotanos had crossed the ocean in the opposite direction to witness the panache with which the average Briton dresses, they might be less smitten… 


British-themed clothes store in a Bogota shopping mall

And then there’s “Beer Pub”. This chain seems to have branches distributed across the shopping malls of Bogota. It’s steins of craft ales are remarkably good value and the food is perfectly acceptable. The numerous TV screens were a little over the top, though, as can be seen in the picture below. Some of them were showing the Sunderland against Liverpool football match. The others transmitted Burnley versus Manchester City. “I’ll give you television,” remarked Mr Pop. “I’ll give you eyes of blue.” Is this global interchange or cultural imperialism? It depends how you see it, I suppose… 


“Beer Pub” – how Latin can you get?


Yes, it really is AFC Sunderland versus Liverpool FC…

Pity the Swiss. They might travel all the way to provincial Choachi, in search of the Latin American experience, only to be confronted with a Swiss-themed restaurant. Its tariff proved to be Swiss-themed too so we went to a bakery where we ate cakes and coffee instead (the bill came to £1.50/$1.80). Apparently, there’s something of a love affair with Switzerland going on in Colombia and the influence of its architecture can be found in a number of buildings, such as the passable attempts at a mountain chalet seen in the pictures below (the latter is actually a Peruvian restaurant). And thus, through the exchange of two consonants and a vowel, Los Andes become Les Alpes…


A Swiss restaurant in Choachi


Swiss-style architecture on a Peruvian restaurant in old Bogota


The bakery apparently made loaves in the shape of sea lions…

“I’ll give you mens who want to rule the world,” commented Mr Pop. “I’ll ruin everything you are.” And so every other car in Bogota is a Chevrolet. Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts are ubiquitous. But I encountered very few Westerners in Colombia. That suited me just fine. Frankly, I don’t travel to hang around with my fellow Anglophones. And you can still buy a loaf of bread shaped like a seal… Popular culture aside, Colombia remains very much itself, for the time being, at least. 

All text and images © PSR 2017

Road Trip in the Andes

8 Jan

I’ve just returned from my latest travels in South America. We took a road trip into the Colombian Andes. As the images below bear witness, it’s difficult to take a decent photograph out of the window of a moving car on a not-so-smartphone. But the Andes and its people remain innately photogenic (as do those omnipresent dogs). No doubt, parts of the great mountain range are still dangerous for the traveller – I have in mind Mario Vargas Llosa’s Death in the Andes. It’s easy to see how anti-Western sentiments might arise. Elderly people sit by the roadside all day to scratch a living from the snacks they’ve cooked. Global inequalities are manifest. But I experienced no hostility myself, just the inspiring, big-screen vistas of the Andes themselves. Feliz Año Nuevo!











All text and images © PSR 2017