Note Number 73…Sicily…

scopello 3

Scopello

I arrived at St Pancras from Paris, met up with The Man and we headed to Gatwick for an early flight to Palermo. We stayed at an airport hotel, the Hampton by Hilton. It was an average hotel for bed and board, and the best thing was the short walk from hotel to airport terminal, without having to go outside. We were able to check our bags in from 8pm the night before which allowed us to get up at the last minute and stroll to the departure gate in time for a 7am flight.

Sicily was hot, 30 degrees plus, but a dry heat and very pleasurable on arrival. Collecting the hire car was, – as usual, in Italy – a mission, and then driving it out of its parking space took the skill of a car-contortionist – or just a very good driver (me) with the unnecessary input of a back-seat-driver, (The Man).

We made it to our holiday rental home without mishap, only a slight disagreement with the sat nav we’d taken with us from England, so we resorted to google maps, which I have to say, took us around, for the rest of the trip, without a hitch.

I would like to take you on a tour of ancient ruins and wonderful cities, but, actually, despite good intentions to visit Agrigento, Palermo and possibly Ragusa (of Montalbano fame), we actually ended up staying within the confines of our local area, Scopello. We did manage trips to, San Vito Lo Capo, a beautiful seaside resort, with beaches and port; Trapani, a lovely old town once you find the old town; and, finally Castellmare del Golfo – our closest big town, with a port area, restaurants and shops.

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Our house was situated in Scopello, near to a nature reserve, beach and the village of itself, which although touristy, had many local visitors and offered a choice of bars and restaurants. We favoured a bar on the road from our house to Scopello, which had good coffee, great pastries and delicious arancini; a rice ball filled with cheese and ham, or ragu, or anything you like really. Going to try and make them at home sometime.

arancini-rice-balls

Arancini

The pool at the house was amazing…no other word for it…or perhaps ‘painful’ might fit.  It was ‘bio natural’ if you just walked in and swam around it was heaven,  but it had a sand base, (sandpaper more like) and although it wasn’t deep, some side areas sloped steeply into the pool and it was easy to scrape your toe on the side. (I’m still wearing the plaster). Delightfully, because I didn’t mind them, we were joined by some little frogs — shared pool took on another meaning. We bought appropriate foot wear to deal with the problem. Not sharing a photo!

The Pool, daytime, night-time and one of the dear little frogs.

Our experience of Sicily left me with mixed feelings. In the area where we were, the northwest of the island, its hills and mountains are very dry and obvious fire-burnt. Hardly any green vegetation at all, except on private land where watering night and morning was in evidence. We saw lots of little bush fires, either started deliberately or more likely by a cigarette thrown from a car. The fire engines were constantly on the go. Very close to the house there were blackened tree carcasses and singed olive trees. It must have been scary to be there when it was actually burning. We are used to Italy having lived there for several years, but Sicily was something else when it came to rubbish and drainage. The sides of the roads were littered with plastic bags, mattresses and bin bags full of goodness knows what. The collecting bins overflowing with detritus. There didn’t seem much of an effort for recycling. ‘They’re putting the glass and other recycling bins, out on the 1st October,’ we were told. Not a great deal of civic pride in evidence here.

On the first Tuesday we were there the rain came down – it was heavy when we were driving back from Trapani. The drains were unable to take the deluge, but they weren’t just overflowing they were ‘pumping’ the water out onto the roads…gallons of it. Instead of driving back down the main A187 we were driving down a river. Very scary. It appeared the drains were really only a couple of feet deep and covered with flimsy gratings. I wonder who was in charge of the original job?
For a few days, we were joined by a couple of friends from Le Marche, Italy (where we used to live), John and Tiziana – John cooked a couple of meals for us (Take note The Man!) and Tiziana was an inspiration to me – to take more exercise. I was a tad lazy in Sicily. We both walked down to our local coffee shop, and the men drove down to join us, for The Man to eat proper Sicilian Canolli – but hats off to her…Tiziana walked back up the 2k steep road, and almost beat us home! What a gal! It must be all the crisps she ate. I tried that but it didn’t work.

Canolli! – John and Tiziana…Tiziana walking…The Man and I in our favourite coffee shop. 

The Local Grocers…wine 2 euro a bottle…it was good too! 

I’ll leave you with this…don’t know who won and sorry about the bad language at the very end. 

 

Despite the few niggles, Sicily is a beautiful rugged country and I would definitely go back for a second visit. Next time, instead of lying by the pool all day, taking an occasional dip and reading three books. I will honestly get out and visit the ruins and see more of the country. In the meantime, I start my MA at Exeter, tomorrow, 23rd September. I’ve attended induction day already and I am very excited!

 

 

Note Number 72…36 Hours in Paris…27 kilometres walked…

This time last week (Thursday 5th September) I travelled to Paris on the Eurostar with my daughter Emily Rickard. She’s an Interior Stylist/Designer. For the last couple of years we’ve tried to get to MOM – Maison&Objet, a major French trade fair for interior design. At last we made it!

Neither of us had ever been on the Eurostar before and it had been over fifty years since I last visited Paris. Excited! Of course we had to start with champagne and nibbles.

euro star

Our seats weren’t the best, backward facing side by side but we soon moved to a table seat and were able to enjoy the journey with some space around us. A very smooth uneventful journey, except when I flushed the loo, the most terrible noise echoed around the whole train and I thought I’d pushed the emergency stop button by mistake. However the guard assured me it was just coincidence – the noise was something to do with going through a tunnel.

Apartment Building and our Entrance in the Courtyard

We found our Air B&B without a hitch although getting into it was a bit of a mission, the key box was hidden in a dark stairway. It was a loft apartment, on the ground floor, (aparently the description of ‘loft’ doesn’t mean it has to be in on a top floor or in the roof — news to me!). Modern and well laid out — I say that tongue in cheek as Emily had to climb a precarious ladder to her bed, as though in Nelson’s Navy and on top of that, the bathroom protruded into the living area, and had obscured glass walls except for the bottom couple of feet. Weird. If you didn’t know the person sharing your accommodation intimately at the begining of your stay, you sure did by the end. Anyway…enough let’s move on to Paris and the trade show.

Emily ‘feeling’ the floor mounted on the wall and Yes…my feet hurt too! 

It was enormous — several different halls at the Paris Nord Villepinte Exhibition Centre, with themes from furniture, household items, gifts, clothing, fancy goods, games etc., exhibitors from all over the world. I was completely out of my depth but followed my boss (I was the assistant) holding her bag and hanging back when she was networking or asking sensible questions. I didn’t go much on some of the stuff she raved about but that’s a generational thing I expect.

Some weird and some wonderful…rabbit chairs? You’re kidding…the little blue one was more my style…not at all sure about the furry bunnies though. 

I really did like these lamps though…but not quite enough room in the Dorset Cottage for any of them.

Couple of Duck/Geese lamps and weird ‘dog-leg’ table 

Getting around Paris on the metro was a challenge, but between us we managed. My foreign language skills revert to Italian when I open my mouth to speak any other language but English. We took one taxi while we were there and the rest of the time we walked. Twenty-seven kilometres to be precise— yes 27 in two days. Amazing!

We went to the department store MERCI — very interesting place. Incredibly expensive but all set out like a second hand shop and jumble sale. There was a recycling theme going on at the time.

MERCI — a glimpse of the merchandise – My arty shot of Emily inside – the recycling fiat 500 outside 

We saw a big chunk of Paris but never got as far as The Louvre or the Eiffel Tower…next time. Enjoy the photos, I thought it was the best way to show you.

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Next blog…Sicily

Note Number 71. . .Seamus Heaney Home Place. . .

Me outside

Last Monday The Man and I were in Northern Ireland, and we took the opportunity to visit Seamus Heaney Home Place. It was the most inspirational few hours that I have spent in a long time. What a prodigious man. Not just a great poet but one prepared to mete out his knowledge to everyone. By coincidence, there was an article about Seamus Heaney,  in the Royal Society of Literature Review, waiting for me on my return from Ireland.  I was interested to read this quote, about his engagement with his thousands of correspondents,

‘. . . I have a feeling of responsibility towards those who want contact with poets or poetry.’

He replied to everyone who wrote to him.

He was, I think, an approachable man, someone who would easily chat to a person like me. Unfortunately, I will never get that chance. Seamus Heaney died in August 2013 at the age of 74. But, I did have the opportunity to visit the museum, in his birthplace of Bellaghy. I was able to listen to his voice reading his beautiful words. I was truly inspired. Sometimes, reading the work of a literary genius can just make you feel defeated, in the knowledge that you could never be that good but somehow, his voice, his infinite words, urged me on, to try and create some good poetry in my own voice.

Words

Dialect words used in Seamus Heaney Poetry — Witney, one of the guides at Home Place, printed out a glossary for me of over 100 words. I doubt I’ll be able to use any of them (I could try) but they make fascinating reading.

 

I’ve got the notebook, pencil, mug and a few anthologies. Time to put them to good use . .

Note Number 70…It was PARTYTIME…

I know, I know, third blog post in just over a week, I told you last time, it’s like the buses. But, I have to post about my brother’s (Tony Hatch) fabulous 80th birthday party, before it’s old news. We had a ball on the Erasmus, a river boat on the Thames. It was amazing!

The boat

Erasmus Coming to Collect us

Even though I was born in Ruislip, lived there for over sixteen years and went to London frequently, I have NEVER taken a cruise up the river. It was fantastic. We left St Katherine’s Pier at 7pm and went first up river towards Chiswick. What a great view of the Tower of London, Houses of Parliament and MI5 (my sister assured me it was, because it was green, but what do I know?). We turned somewhere, not sure where but it was beyond Battersea and then proceeded down river. Past the London Eye, the 02, Docklands, and out through The Thames Barrier. I was mightily impressed with the whole trip and would do it again next weekend if I could. Only minor problem was that they dropped us back at a different pier…had to find our way back to Tower Bridge and the car. It was okay, except for a load of drunk people from another boat…or were they from ours? Only joking!

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We were treated to a three course dinner; prawn, smoked salmon and a fish mousse starter; tender lamb cutlets, spinach and some delicious potato concotion; summer pudding and cream. All served with lashings of red or white wine. I stuck to water, which was just as well because at the end of the evening, after my brother had negleted to blow out the candles quickly enough, and virtually set fire to the cake, he asked me to get up and sing that old song, Push A Little Button  recorded in 1966 (a flop) and then a minor hit in 2010 when the BBC used it for their TV Licencing advert. Yes folks that was me!

Among the other artists who performed were Claire Sweeny, Cassidy Jenson, Richard Kerr (he sang the wonderful song Mandy which he wrote), Jae Alexander, Michael Dore, Roger Greenaway. Hope I haven’t missed anyone.  I did see Tony Blackburn and Des O’Connor on board too.

Tony sang Downtown, Messing About on the River and several more of his wonderful hit songs. I am always amazed at how many he’s written. Of course the best thing was seeing my nieces, nephews and their siblings and other members of the extended family. Some from New Zealand. It was great to mix with the celebs for an evening but I don’t think I could keep up with the lifestyle for too long. Nice to dip my toe in though.

Some of the family …My apoligies to all those members of the family whose photograph I didn’t get…there are so many of us! Isn’t it always the way, you get home and think, ‘how come I didn’t take more photos?’

Thank you Tony and Maggie, for organising such a tremendous event. I for one, really appreciated your generosity. You are great party hosts.

I leave you all with this!

Note Number 69…Writing Conference Weekend…New Friends… New Inspiration…

Well, like the old saying about waiting for buses I don’t blog for ages now two come in less than a week, and there might be another on the way!

From Thursday 11th until Monday 15th July I became a student again…well kind of…I went to Lancaster University for the Romantic Novelists Association Conference. A long, long drive, but it was worth it I think. It was full-on, with workshops, lectures and one-to-one appointments with industry specialists. I met a publisher, agent and an editor. All three had different ideas about my novel, but the agent and editor showed enough enthusiasm for me to keep at it! Significant changes will be made over the next few months, and I feel inspired to continue with the story but make some massive cuts and re-writes. I have decided that the protagonist in my novel is a bit weak. She’s one dimensional and lacking in spirit. I’m going to give her a makeover and make her more exciting, someone that the reader will get right behind and will on to achieve her goals.

My room and the view (if I leant right out of the window) 

A great deal of food and wine was consumed, new acquaintances made, and old ones rekindled. I had a great time, although I came home exhausted. I slept in student accommodation, which was fine, but the single bed with springs and a thin mattress left much to be desired. Although everything was modern and it was an ensuite room, (one of about 8) with a shared kitchen, I could understand why some students feel a bit isolated when they first go to university. Thrown together with others they don’t know, and some may not have been away from home before. I said this to a few people who didn’t agree, but then on BBC Radio 4, just the other day, I listened to two students talking about how difficult it can be making friends at Uni. Many students hideaway and chat on Facebook, Twitter Instagram etc., to friends they’ve left behind. You can listen here 

Like I said, I made some new friends, one of them has an uncanny resemblance to me! Or is it just the hair? We’re all hoping to meet up at other writing events or just socially during the year. We sat together at the Gala Dinner. Wonderful.

ladies copy

My new friends from left, Suzanne, Louise, Me, Helen (my lookalike) and Jan.

Great to meet up with you lovely ladies…see you soon I hope! 

Note Number 68…Barcelona (or Barca as The Man calls it!)

The poor dog has been in and out of the kennels over the last few weeks because The Man and I have been busy, busy busy. He went off cycling in the Pyrenees (I think I told you that) and I went to meet him in Barcelona. I should, of course, have posted about this before now but, life got in the way, as it does.

Barcelona. . . I loved it and cannot wait to go back. Apart from all the beautiful architecture — Gaudi — and the fantastic food — tapas. I loved our hotel which had a roof terrace with a swimming pool — well more of a plunge pool really, but it was fandabulous!

Hotel Roof Terrace and View of Cathedral

We visited Gaudi’s house, and it was much smaller than I’d imagined and internally quite understated, which is surprising considering the decorative nature of most of his work. The furniture was ergonomic and modern. What a man! The gardens were beautiful but swarming with tourists — Yes, I know we were tourists too! We took a taxi to the house, which was just as well because it was all uphill and several kilometres. But, we walked back to the Sagrada Famiglia.

Click on Picture to see Caption

It was a hot, long walk and I needed a drink and something to eat. I ordered a Sangria as I thought I should try one but, I didn’t specify the size. Big mistake.

I assumed it would be a wine glass full. How wrong I was. I did my best but gave some away to the chap on the next table and left a quarter in the bottom. It cost 18euro as well!

Sangria

SANGRIA…ahh

I previously booked tickets, for the Sagrada Famiglia, which was a good idea — the place was packed with tourists, but that didn’t detract from the splendour of the building. I have visited many churches and cathedrals, and often it’s pretty much, same old, same old, but the Sagrada was a new experience. The light entering the nave through the stained glass windows was breathtaking. The shape of the roof, the sheer individuality of the architecture — unbelievable.

On one day, we took the tourist bus — what a good idea. Sitting on the top of a bus, with our earphones plugged in, able to relax and take in all the sights. By far the best way to see a city. Past La Pedrera Apartment block. World-famous, need I say more, except that apparently, it’s impossible to have bookshelves in them because of the ‘wobbly’ walls.

la pedera

La Pedrera (from the bus) 

The bus tour took a couple of hours and went out of the city to the Olympic Village from 1992. Around the Port and through the main city areas. I didn’t take many photos because I was too busy looking.

Bus Trip Views (I’ll try harder next time) 

We visited the Boqueria Market, which was impressive by size, the vast amount and the diversity of food, but we weren’t impressed with the restaurants and bars there. However, we discovered the Santa Caterina market quite close to the Cathedral. It wasn’t as big as Boqueria but on the side of it was a great tapas bar, Cuines. Can’t wait to go back!

Market Food 

More Market Food

Cuines at Santa Caterina Market 

We did visit the famous old Els Qatre Gats where Picasso, Gaudi, Hemmingway and probably many other artists, writers and musicians took their refreshment in their day. It is easy to imagine them all meeting and discussing various art fomrs, from the décor and arty atmosphere of the place. But the food? The service? Not impressed. Expensive and the meat was tough. The piano player was little better than Less Dawson and he wasn’t trying to be funny! We won’t go there again but we can tick the box.

Els Quatro Gats…sadly no photo of the piano player. 

Our favourite eating place was Alcoba Azul – we went twice. (I knew it was going to be good because my daugher recommended it and honestly she it very particular about restaurants. Thanks Emily.) A fantastic, crowded, buzzy atmosphere with locals and tourists together. Excellent service even though the place was busy. The tapas food delicious — we couldn’t decide what to eat so ordered far too much. The waitress from Italy couldn’t do enough for us…Sara. You could also eat out in the small square. It’s a tucked away place, not easy to find but worth it.

Alcoba Azul and Sara (We’ll be Back)

Next blog post — RNA Conference… watch this space.

Note Number 67…Messing About with Sewing…

Last week I bought a sewing machine. I’ve had one before, in fact, I had the last one for well over thirty years, but then the house got flooded and the old machine took a battering that couldn’t be repaired. Anyway, got a new one, more modern but not too sophisticated a basic Brother model. It does forwards and backwards, zig-zag, zip foot, buttonhole foot etc., and best of all tada…*drum roll* it has a gadget that threads the needle. Beats me how it does it. I do what I’m supposed to do and hey presto…the cotton is through the eye of the needle, but I’ve no idea how!

So the first garment I made was a mop-cap. Success. I need it for a little performance that I’m doing with my local writing group, Story Traders, some of us have written short stories or poems using William Turner as our inspiration. The Bridport Museum are having a Turner exhibition featuring one of his paintings of West Bay. He visited the area don’t you know? The piece I’ve written is a little creative story about Turner on the beach meeting some young people while he’s painting and trying to join in the music, playing his flute. They (whoever they are) do say that he played the flute, albeit usually in private. They found one in his home after he died. We’re performing on Wednesday 3rd Julyin Bridport library, 2.30 – 3.15 and in the museum on the 10th July (I think…not sure of details yet).

mop capMop Cap

Hope I look a bit brighter than this chap when I’m wearing it! 

Back to the sewing. I have a wonderful jacket that I bought in New York several years ago and it is one of my most favourite items. I wear it all the time. I decided I would like to make a copy but of course I didn’t have a pattern. The result was not exactly disastrous but the teacher would definitely say, ‘could do better’. I never realised how difficult making a pattern from an article of clothing would be.

Jacket 1

First attempt at a jacket…I won’t show you the original…tut tut 

Next morning, I took myself off to the wonderful Livingstone Textile shop in Bridport, bought a pattern for a kimono jacket and some fab material…second attempt was a lot better but I need lessons on how to do a collar and also how to measure myself – I chose extra-large…big mistake as it’s about two sizes too big. It will do for Barcelona though,(*see below).

kimono 1

Better effort this time

(didn’t make the black t-shirt underneath, just thought it looked better in the photo) 

Practice makes perfect, but of course practicing costs material and time. In comparison, writing is easier,  because it doesn’t matter how many mistakes you make you can put them right, improving the end product all the time, but, with sewing? Well, once you’ve made a mistake, you’re done for…unless you are very clever and can make a silk purse out of a sow’sear.

CLICHE ALERT!! 

*The Man is off cycling in th Pyranees at the moment (hence I can sew all day on the kitchen table), good luck to him! He finishes in Collioure and will be dropped off in Barcelona. so I’m off to meet him next Thursday for a fabulous five night in a city that I have always wanted to visit. Looking forward to it and will let you know how I get on. Plus, I now have a lovely kimono jacket to wear in the evenings! Wonder what else I can make tomorrow? Better do some writing I think.