Zagreb in Many Colours


I visited Zagreb in the blaze of heatwave Lucifer. The air was an intense furnace blast and for many months after I returned, all I could remember was the intensity of the air. In a zigzag of mirage lines my memories included stumbling through Franz Joseph Platz, drunk on 40-degree heat; lurching into museums, corner shops, bakers; searching for cool and ice and water. It was a feeling akin to walking through toffee. I was demented with heat and all I had to wander was Zagreb.  

The view from my hotel daubed the city in Wes Andersoneqsue grapefruit pinks, aquamarine blues, and comfortable mustard tones. Communist concrete tower blocks punctuated the air space. Terracotta tiles lined the roofs, and art nouveau buildings lounged along the boulevards. I watched the citywide tableaux range out in front of my hotel window; each glass square representing a life unknown, a family crisis and a yard of dreams. It felt old-world and modern both at the same time – but it had no real grandeur. From the dotting satellite dishes to the unwieldy air-con outlets, it felt one part student village, two parts home. It was comfortable and quiet and worn.

The City of Zagreb, the capital of Croatia, was founded 900 years ago. Although as with most European cities, habitation occurred in the thickly forested past at a time when mists would swirl and wolves would howl and myths were born out of fear. It is nestled along the River Sava which is a tributary of the Danube and would have been a hallowed transport network in a land that was once wild.

Once in the city though, especially if you are not here for very long, you may entirely forget that a river runs through this urban amalgamation. Zagreb is bigger than Paris (at least geographically), but it feels quite provincial. Never the less,  it is important to remember that this is the centre of intellectual development in the region and one of the main transport hubs connecting Central Europe with the Mediterranean and South East Europe. And in many ways it feels exactly that, it has some of the food culture and cuisine from Italy; the techno, indie club vibe of Berlin; the creep of communism, and a tinge of the Baltics – the war recovered from but very vividly remembered.

The day was a little underway by the time I prized my eyes open. So I sat a moment, at the window, sipping cold water and drinking in the view. I’d rather be nursing a cup of tea, but they didn’t do that sort of thing here. There are no teabags in little packets, sachets of coffee, little milk cartons and those weird, but surprisingly tasty biscuits at the Hotel Panorama. Everywhere is different and sometimes leaving behind the rituals of home is difficult, but necessary. Tea is just something I miss though.  I should really start to bring my own supplies, but I don’t think a travel kettle would fit in my tiny bag packed with Tetris like skills. So artfully squished and pulled together, it can always be counted on to incur no additional costs on a budget flight. 

I stepped out the front of the Hotel. It had the right architecture to be grand (on the inside at least) but felt like a forgotten place. Like somewhere  Scooby Doo or the Ghost Busters would come to investigate. Or perhaps the setting to an early 00’s drama; where a dour but handsome protagonist is fighting the crippling boredom of being in Zagreb. Not that Zagreb was boring. Only, the hallowed hush that had fallen upon the city, as all locals hid inside waiting out the end of the heat, now made the place seem slow and painful.

My friend and I were disagreeing – about everything it seemed. The last few times I’d travelled, I’d travelled alone and I’d developed a hard waxy shell – like a passionfruit. I liked doing what I liked doing, and I couldn’t fathom someone that didn’t love museums and their dusty quiet halls filled with curiosities and knowledge. Museums are exciting, right? Indianan Jones? The Mummy? Stargate? Museums are magic and I wanted to see them all. I wanted to learn. I wanted deep down to be a better person…maybe like the ones off the telly?

The moment I stepped out the building I couldn’t help but be aware that I might actually be cooking, but I had exploring to do and an addiction to satisfy.  A plethora of institutions were opening their grand doors and inviting me to spend an afternoon basking in their knowledge. 

My friend wanted to do other things. I’m not quite sure what those things were; we’d argue and peel away from each other at times. The arguments were born out of stress and a slowly melting sidewalk. Neither of us thought that we’d be where we were in our lives when we booked this holiday. We were both taking on new jobs and facing the prospect of moving across the country. Our lives were changing, and I wasn’t entirely sure mine was for the best. She missed her mum. We were frazzled.

But we both wanted to go to the grandly titled Museum of Illusion which is filled with half-hearted games and photo opportunities. This tourist trap is essentially a Daily Mail article with a clickbait headline paired with some selfie opportunities. Safe to say, it was nothing I hadn’t seen before, or anything executed particularly well. I don’t like to call anywhere rubbish, but this was a bit, and the entrance ticket was more than most other attractions in the area.

Of much more importance, both in terms of a sense of place and history, is the Croatian Museum of Naive art. Naive meaning untaught or self-schooled. The paintings here possess a strangely lucid quality. The sort I’d rarely seen in galleries elsewhere. They were psychedelic, dreamlike and haunting in their brutality and use of colour, but also bewitchingly beautiful at times. I bought a handful of postcard reproductions and they are now hanging from my wall. Their emotional resonance at times arrests my gaze with such force that I worry they will go ‘Velvet Buzzsaw’ on me. I fear they will take on a life of their own if I look too closely.

I also stopped in at the Museum of Modern Art, where a room attendant grilled me about Brexit and tried to convince me that  a degree in textiles was very difficult to earn. I’d met a lot of angry young boys on my Fine Art course – so this was nothing unusual – but I found myself getting quickly bored. Word of warning to all of you grandstanders out there, make me laugh or make me think, don’t make me yawn.

Then there was the more melancholic Museum of Broken Relationships, which through a series of objects, grieving singletons would tell stories of heartbreak. I love people spinning tall tales and stretching out the truth for a gasp and a laugh, so in theory, this sounded like the perfect afternoon. There are some that talk with a hushed voice about the quasi-religious experience they have at this place, but I thought it was a bit self-pitying at times. And frankly too much of a burden for me to try to comprehend, let alone carry the weight of on my shoulders. It, however, was a quirky and innovative stance to curation, even if I longed for something more experiential. 

Zagreb also has a tiny funicular – which some people criticise and call pointless because there is also a staircase, but I loved it because I have a massive soft spot for bizarre and antiquated methods of transport. 

There’s loads beside to see and do (other than what I mentioned).  I spent one lovely afternoon in the Zagreb zoo. It was a strangely deserted place; financially very reasonable. The whole time,  it rained and the heat began to cool. I know some people think zoos are cruel, but they are no more so than our own confined existence. 

Speaking of cruelties, the Museum of Torture catalogues, across a series of small spaces, all the spikes and probes one could ever wish to inflict upon an enemy. In many ways – it’s a bit like Zagreb. Not that Zagreb was especially boring or painful. I just perhaps wasn’t having the best of times due to the whole skin cooking debacle. Or actually, it wasn’t really my skin, it was more like my lungs and my heart boiling in my chest cavity. 

And on the last day the heat broke and we crawled the bars. It was a lot of fun.  I remember playing mum and looking after some very drunk baby Australians. We rode the night trams home and my friend screamed out loudly, ‘They’re dead! They’re dead!’ But they weren’t dead, they were just the homeless and the drunk riding the trams round and round in the midnight air. Bored to death…in Zagreb.

I actually really enjoyed Zagreb, but somehow whenever I tried to write about it in the past, words failed to materialise. Even now the melancholic nature of my review surprises me. Every word is honest, but my trip was tinged with anxiety and stress. It colours a view, even in retrospect. 

ZAGREB, CROATIA
VISIT DATE: AUGUST 2017
Zagreb at Night
Zagreb Cathedral at Night
Zagreb at Night
Zagreb
Zagreb
Zagreb
Zagreb
Zagreb
Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Broken Relationships
Museum of Naive Art
Museum of Naive Art
Museum of Naive Art
Museum of Naive Art
Zagreb Modern Art Gallery
Zagreb Modern Art Gallery
Zagreb Modern Art Gallery
Zagreb Modern Art Gallery
Zagreb
Zagreb
Zagreb
Zagreb
Zagreb
Zagreb
Zagreb
Fish
Zagreb Zoo
Tarantula
Zagreb Zoo
Museum of Illusions
Museum of Illusions
Museum of Illusions
Museum of Illusions

The Art of Being Lost

How can we define the state of being lost?

The idea of being lost is one that is difficult to define – it seems initially to refer to that purely animalistic experience; one akin to a state of confusion, a panic that floods the body with endorphins as you realise you are somewhere you don’t want to be and you don’t know how to get back. But actually, I think being ‘lost’ is less of an individualist experience, and more a community issue; an idea based on a local scale rather than about vast open spaces.

In fact it is possible to define lost as being either external or internal. Physically being lost is about the relationship of knowing where you want to be, and being unable to get there. It is about the relationship between the self and our physical surroundings. To be internally lost is about having a heighten sense of awareness concerning your current environment and not having a social role to fulfil. These two states of ‘lost’ are the opposites of each other

Why do creatives crave the unknown?

The state of being lost is often a driving force behind modern artists be that visual, literary, musical or otherwise. It can be seen as an obtainment of freedom from contextual information; this includes, the art world, market forces, and other personal stresses. This freedom promises the elusive elixir of artistic life – true originality. To find this we must travel outside of all recognisable signs and symbols, and inhabit the land of the lost. This state can be seen as a doorway to another way of thinking, another way of living, and ultimately another way of creating. It represents adventure and freedom. Why wouldn’t we like being lost?

Well, in reality both adventure and freedom and be equally as terrifying as being lost. Or is this just a stale post-modernist preoccupation in a world that now worships the individual and identity politics? Of course! I don’t know why I even mention it. We don’t want originality anymore, we appreciate it is unobtainable, we understand that we cannot loose ourselves – but we can still become lost. Cling on to the old ideals just a moment longer. Feel something of that twentieth century frenzy. What is feeling lost anymore in art and culture when everyone is interested in having a voice, a culture and an identity that defines us and that we can protect against appropriation, copy, so we can keep our originality? For originality isn’t something we have to strive to create anymore – we have to strive to protect it. For we are all original and others just steal… Are we working to protect our ability to feel lost, to feel in flux? Am I striving against a label.

Where now?

I would like to suggests that whilst we might think we understand the world around us better due to our collective knowledge – that actually our individual knowledge is less than our ancestors. We think we know what is there, because someone has told us; someone else has photographed it; someone else has interpreted it, but it is not our knowledge and it does not possess a specifics that would make it useful. How many times has someone visited us and shown us the places we live from a totally different perspective?

The idea of getting lost is nearly always portrayed metaphorically as travelling into areas of urban decay, ruins, uninhabited areas, jungles, deserts, and places unlike that of where we live. This image is a metaphor for the loss of contextual relationship to the external, but it can also be quite literal. To be lost, is a description of your state of being. It means that something was lost and that person has become subsequently isolated from conclusions. If a person looses a map, they become lost, i.e. unable to draw conclusions concerning which direction to walk. If a person looses their community, they become lost in concerns to their own identify that was, (as is human nature) determined by their context to others. Without context we have no directions as to who we are. We have nothing to compare ourselves. And it is through these comparisons that we determine characteristics such as funny, agreeable, determined – or even physical details such as, tall, strong, etc. We can only determine these things in relation to others.

Thus attaching the logic to travelling to far-flung places in a bid to ‘find yourself’. Only when we are in a place significantly different from the original can we start to be aware of our former roles and place within that society – or at the very least, the role which we’d like to have.

Think about the people around you. What do they like? What do you like? If you don’t like change and are happy with your environment, does that mean you feel defined by it? If you hate getting lost does it mean your sense of self is fragile? Think carefully as you step out the front door.

Hunstanton in the Gloom: Norfolk

Hunstanton is near enough to where I Iive to be classed as home. It’s familiar and comfortable, which is why I sometimes overlook the concrete ugliness of the locale. Its ramshackled portacabins house cheap and glitzy gambling dens, and little greasy cafes. It’s disappointing, but familiar. The former pier was lost years ago, cut off by the sea, and the town suffers from its loss like a man castrated by a naiadic Lorena Bobbett. Under the remains of the broken shaft, sits shops I’ve never seen open. They stare out, hauntingly, wishing for summer. Above rages the amusement arcade and the self declared ‘fun-size’ bowling alley.

   
The seafront is, in many ways, like a disappointing shrine to a 90s pop-star by a lovestruck teenager, except the hallowed idol is gambling. The games induce punters to risk pennies on coloured toys and games. They invite in the crowds and hopelessness; giving joyless fun in return. It’s all good, as long as you only partake ironically. The moment you enter the noisy game hall and start taking things seriously is the moment you know you’ve got a problem. It offers something mindless to stop our brains from screaming. Or maybe they’re still screaming but you just can’t hear them over the din. A little bit like the children who are dragged in by their chain smoking owners.

The afternoon was howling – rain driving down with a force that could rend skin from tendons. An impromptu party was assembled, invited, some self-invited, and tumbled into a car. We had a few umbrellas which periodically blew inside out, so we carried them like batons wielded by troopers along the promenade. Our clothing was drenched. Whatever notion we had of walking along the beach was quickly dashed from our minds, so we clambered into ‘Thomas’s Bingo’. It’s not just Bingo in these hallowed halls: Rick and Morty toys line the inside of claw machines, two-penny slides hand out skeleton key-chains; you can throw a ball at something or other and win a prize, and a tune and some flashing lights. I don’t play – I just watch.


The noise! Bleeps and bloops, and ringings and whirring, songs and tinkling melodies – the chink of change, falling coins, children crying and laughing. It’s over-whelming, terrifying – time slips by us – mesmerised by the stacking of slots.  There’s something comforting about such a place – you can hide within the noise and lights. You don’t so much blend in – but smudge away.


Then the rain stopped, and the clouds slowly begun to part – allowing lances of gold to strike the clifftops and crowning them princes in the murk. We took a wander. Along the boulevard, past a hopeful vendor who’d set up shop, to the red cliffs. Here millions of years of history crumble into the brown waters. A few gulls circle overhead. The  broken fences, bored like thorns upon the cliff’s pate, were snapped into fragments and bent into crucifixes, amongst the empty nests of terns. 
Sunny Hunny it might be from June to August, but at other times it turns into a different creature. Cold and eerie, quiet and forlorn with just a few strange bright aspects of its exuberant personality shining through and reminding its inhabitants of different times.


We stopped at a pub up the road – The Wash and Tope – had a hot chocolate and an enormous slap-up meal. It was very satisfying – in its own way. Around us people lounged  in warm conditions huddled from the February air; fires lit, football on quiet – sofas snuggled with cushions. Just before dusk swooped in on black wings, we staggered back to the car and drove home to the melody of the wind-screen whippers battling back the rain . 

HUNSTANTON, NORFOLK, ENGLAND
VISIT DATE: FEB 2019

Marrakesh: The Mint Tea is Delicious

I was on the plane. My row didn’t have a window so I looked across the aisle and observed, through the nodding heads of a family of three,  how clouds bubbled at the edge of the atmosphere – producing premonitions of sandy cities, citadels, square roofed buildings, terraces, spires and domes. This dream city slowly transmuted and sunk – grew and stretched out of the blueness that underlay it like a deep ocean lapping at its confines. It told stories beyond the scope of my life, until it too sank, like the gifted mirage it was, into oblivion, and the true coast of Africa, glittered on the horizon. 

Touch down felt like our plane had just fallen out of the sky and landed, on one wheel, with a crack. The passengers, who were already predisposed to be quite vociferous, screamed and squawked like too many chickens jostled in a cage. The plane consisted of numerous hen parties, a fortieth and a fiftieth birthday affair and a couple of other spur of the moment get togethers. I myself was in the wake of a beautiful bride. Ryanair enabling celebrations for the masses, and that I thought, was probably the nicest thing I could say about Ryanair. Although it wasn’t their fault that the French air-traffic controllers were striking that morning and had left us sitting on the tarmac for two hours. At least we had a pilot with a reassuring Scottish accent to soften the blow. 

Revellers stoked the party bus as we waited, and left their seats in droves to talk to friends sat elsewhere, as we struggled through our enforced two hours in the carpark. The passengers packed the asile so that all movement was limited and people were continually squeezing by. They’d obviously, like me, refused to pay Michael O’Leary’s £4 seat reservation fee and swarmed their friends, stranded at all corners of the plane, from a standing position. I sat and munched on my hastily grabbed Pret breakfast sandwich and prayed to Buddha for a little pocket of calm. Indeed this practise of avoiding the chairs, drifted into common practise during the flight as well – until the cabin crew complained to the pilot and he put the seatbelt light on just to control the crowd.

But at soon as my feet hit the tarmac all worries were extinguished. A gentle heat rose, the sky was clear and we were situated in the middle of what us Brits would call summer. In the distance, the Atlas mountains rose from the smog like an illustration – slightly unreal but sublime. Their points were scrawled as if by a youngster’s hand and snow covered crevices were arranged upon it like the crisscrosses in an un-ironed bedsheet. They were the protective arms of Marrakech – of the Mediterranean – forcing back the suffocating sands of the Sahara. We were greeted by palms and agarves. 

It took us a while to get out of the airport. First, we got our passports stamped, after which I spent some time beholding the ephemeral document in my hands with the genuine joy of otherness, of ownership, but also adventure (which in my mind is an emotion and feeling all of its own and far from the queasiness of excitement which I find rather unpalatable). The fleeting nature of paper, its brief, fugitive life, mirrors the memories within; important, but as with everything, not forever; vulnerable to damage, fading with time, lost with carelessness, but in the moment, it encompasses all. 2020 was my year of travel and this was an excellent way to kick start it! Little did I know….

Overhead, the lattice structure of the airport building inaugurated a sense of awe as it dappled a golden light peacefully through its hallowed halls. Its inhabitance far below, hushed through its great expanse with church like reverence. It was warm and yet cool, simultaneously, like being nestled within the confines of a beehive. Above and in secluded archways and ceiling crevices, the islamic patterning spoke of the stars, the moon, of nature’s beauty, and reflected the cultural ideologies of the region. This is because Islam taboos figurative depictions of forms and figures incase they become icons of worship. Yet, patterning connotes importance and conveys significance upon the objects they devour, and you can see this love stretch out through the aesthetic of Marrakech. 

They x-rayed our bags (again) and we all crowded round little booths to fill in our coronavirus declaration forms – borrowing and lending pens as none had been provided. (*insert dramatic irony here*)

When we finally arrived and spent some time running around the Riad like headless hens; exclaiming at all the wonders, the weather, the decor, the views, etc, we rushed downstairs to find our host pouring  us mint tea from a great height and bubbling it into cups. Beside which, we were provided little hand-baked orange blossom, almond and sesame biscuits. Sweet sugars hit our system.

That evening we had a banquet under the stars on the roof terrace. Some were worried it might be a bit cold, but it wasn’t. The banquet didn’t look much – but it tasted. Dear God, it tasted.

Starting with a lamb stocked pumpkin soup, we moved on to a lamb tagine, with preserved lemons: subtle, yet greasy in all the right ways, graceful with the sharp saltiness of lemons kept in jars. The vegetables steamed in stock: salted and seasoned. Every inch of our salad leaves delicately soaked in dressing – uplifting and sharp. The couscous was fresh and clean and sweet with onions. I wished at this point my stomach could have been bigger – that it was concertinaed like an accordion so that I could have continued eating well into the night. And let’s not forget pudding. We were dished a poached pear in syrup (thick and golden), with mint and raspberries, and which encased a paste of sesame and almonds – it tasted of a fresh roasting pan (I later learned it might be argon oil). This, I realised, would be my choice for a death row meal should the occasion arise that I need one.

Afterwards, with the cheerful chang and chick of wine glasses and the rapid emptiness of our bottles, our evening entertainment arrived. A middle aged man, who whilst I would like to generously call a fire-dancer, was perhaps more a dad grooving out at a reunion disco who’s life wasn’t quite living up to the hype he’d given imagined as a boy. And his act perhaps less ‘gasp’ was more ‘Catherine wheel.’ Not to disparage the poor man, of course, fire is dangerous and it cut through the night-sky in a hail of dragon-blown fury. It’s impossible not to imagine something vaguely adventurous under a shower of sparks. We clapped. Some politely, some gleefully, most drunkenly.

Later, the evening descended into revelry. As all evenings inevitably do, when with friends, and copious bottles of Rosé are involved. But enough of that…
Mornings at the Riad were filled with incense and birdsong. When dawn approaches, the call to prayer rings out – calamitous sounds interject the silence, promising holy salvation from the poisons of the night before. As I drift in and out of my reverie, the calls turn to music, to a choral mingling of voices – uplifting and sonorous and heading for heaven. The voices became louder lifting me from the grave of night until the hush returned, petering, until the quiet was whole and surprising. That morning, I rose and lay in the sun on the balcony. The cool of the night quickly evaporated. I bathed in the light simultaneously thinking and not thinking and enjoying just that.

At ten-thirty, at the appointed time on the terrace, I met Msemmen, the world’s most delicious pancake; we made an informal introduction to each other over the breakfast table after a little light flirting, and then I promptly fell in love. At home, I stalked youtube for glimpses of its buttery deliciousness. Watched as a myriad of skilled cooks fried up these flaky breakfast treats. This was to be my latest culinary obsession.
Buoyed with butter, our next rendevouz on the itinery was a ‘camel ride though the deset’. So we clambered into a swanky hire vehicle and drove to a sandy district on the outskirt of town were we met our pop-princess eponym camels: Madonna, Shakira, Christina, Beyoncé, and Britney.

Feeling rather like a Pepsi advertisement circa 2004, the entourage and I snaked awkwardly through the disused lot, towards a series of houses on the other side. In order to avoid the fly tippers, we arrived outside a fluttering line of brightly coloured clothes – royal red tablecloths, blue pyjamas ornamentally stitched and patterned, and what looked like an oven (for pizzas probably). The animals were led in a line upon a rope. Whilst I appreciate their need to earn their bread, their treatment struck me as a little cruel, and this uneasy feeling increased the longer our walk went on. I think, I’d have been happy just to stroke the camels and feed them whatever camels like to eat (popcorn or maybe watermelons?). Sylvia (the camel) kept walking with her head turned sideways. I didn’t know if she was struck by the beauty of Katie’s blue scarf flapping in the breeze, or whether her rope was too tight, but it made me feel uneasy. Especially as we drove away afterwards and our camel-steeds (bffs forever) were tied back to the ground on a short lead. I guess everyone has to work for their wage – but I hope they got time off – you know – to be camels and do camel things.  Like visit camel cinemas, and gossip about camel-news and eat camel tagi-  no wait. Not that last one. That would be terrible.

In the afternoon, we went to a rooftop restaurant called Terrasse des Epices. This time I had tagine stewed lamb stuffed into ravioli with preserved lemons and saffron served with bread with oil. I literally can’t get over the food. It was so good. As I revisit this a few months later (during lockdown) I’m still struck by the food. I dream about it. That and vampires and joining a prison gang for my own protection. From the balcony of the restaurant, I glimpst the Atlas mountains. I wanted immediately to get in a car and drive out there, watch the twists and turns of the mountain road. I felt something growing inside me, some yearning, some want, which when I’m luckily, always appears in a new place. Oh to have longer. Pray to the east. Pray to the darkness come sunset. Pray to the sun that will rise again somewhere else, anew.

I felt uneasy in the evening. My stomach tightened and cramped. Sometimes anxiety grips me. I imagined the first star of the evening in front of me exploding into a beautiful supernova. For a moment I was filled with wonder. Could it happen? I’d read that Sirius could explode any day now. Then I imagined it exploding and then sharply contracting into a black hole. Becoming unfathomably dense and pulling the Earth towards it. A sudden lurch would ensue and the atmosphere would weaken and the heavens would suddenly rush all around us. Death would hit me hard – like waking from a dream. In fact I’d had that dream before (or should I say nightmare). It disorientated me and made me feel sick to my core. Rather like how I felt now. Why was I sitting there under the stars on the terrace above the Medina? Why? When I know how much the open sky scares me. Fills me with existential dread. Fills me with wonder also, but both make me shake. The light mellowed and the owners of the Riad came out just after the call to prayer to light the lanterns. My feet pressed against the chimney, heating them like evenings at home around the fire pit. I guess if I looked now, I’d still find the undersides of my sandals burnt and melted. But this heat was softer. The fragrance of burnt wood permeated my clothes and my hair softly. The music of America tumbled out of the buildings nearby. Frank Sinatra in the darkness, crooning the night. Sirus (which I highly suspect was Venus) disappeared as the evening wore on.

A black cat had slunk under the upstairs table and was asleep, curled like my River cat back home. The man didn’t find him. The white and grey cat from yesterday I’d already seen balancing along the medina from the terrace. I’d fed that cat some tagine from the first night banquet. My friend suggested ‘shall we give it some potato?’ I don’t think she’d ever had a cat before. But I checked a little later and founds some cats do eat potatoes (I knew it wasn’t a vegetable). I chucked it some lamb anyway. Later I’d found out the cats in Morocco have rabies. Thank god I never touched them. Although I worried about it a lot afterwards.

I had a hot bath and fell asleep.

The souks, the bazaars, the walled medina of Marrakech demanded a new vocabulary as well as fresh eyes. Every other moment some psycho on a moped or a bicycle threatened to mow me down. They called us, ‘Lady Gaga’ and collectively we were ‘Spice Girls’, only once was I ‘Glasses! You a Doctor?’ Of course I’m a Doctor,’ I thought. Let me give you some advice. ‘Shut the fuck up.’

The next day I sunbathed, sun-glozed and soaked. And when the fancy took me I plunged deep into the cold waters of the pool. Then I’d lie, once more, in the sun, skin exposed. That afternoon we toured the Souks. I bought a scarf: purple and blue and magenta – softly mediating through the colour palate. The sales guy insinuated it was precious ‘cactus silk’. There is no such thing – it’s just Rayon, but he might be better at marketing than Anthropologie and I appreciated the effort. I picked up some Ras el Hanout (a mixture of 35 herbs and spices) to make my own tagines at home. And some mint because I couldn’t fathom how anyone could make a mint tea so delicious and different and I thought perhaps by examining the dried remains of the plant that I might divine the answer. 

That evening our dinner reservation was canceled. But our group chieftain bartered and got us an invite to an exclusive open bar party that evening. So we walked the main square and got food at a place they recommended Le Salma. It was a beautiful looking place, with dancers, and I ate the requisite tagine (whilst delicious not at good as the other two meals) – although I will admit I sampled the most delicious potato ever served with a friends almond lamb tagine. I would have sold a sister for the recipe and several more sisters for several more meals. I thought it strange that this place was entirely catering to tourists, but thought it might have been the price putting the locals off. A quick search online offers stories of racism in terms of its clientele selection. So scandalous.
Back to Kabana.

Cocktails lined the bar, appetisers proliferated. Everyone here was so cool it was painful. Well-coffered women à la The Hunger Games tottered on Lady Gaga heels. People wore suits of bold African print and trainers. What was this audience? Everyone looked rich and arty. They were celebrating – as far as we could gather (not speaking the language) the end of the Festival of Arts in Morocco. Some Amazighs (I believe) came and sang. Someone whispered, ‘they’re wearing the designs of that man’ and they’d point, again, at someone hopelessly cool. Later Guiss Guiss Bou Bess, a Senegalese band started playing. I didn’t quite get the music. But performing in French did not take away the magic. The lead singer comes from the ‘griot’ tradition. This is the tradition of oral historians and storytellers from West Africa. The musicians wowed the crowd, the drums loud and timpaning, the video recording behind the band showing us scenes from their home life in Senegal. Cooking, and cleaning and hanging out with friends; dancing in front gardens. We were dancing. I was exhausted. They were dancing and I collapsed in a chair and realised there was free wifi. We walked back to the Riad bouyed and I crash straight to sleep. I’m a practical sleeper and we’re leaving at 5am.

MARRAKESH, MOROCCO
VISIT DATE: FEB 2020

A Very English Winter: Sandringham

A few months on from my first article about Sandringham,  I decided to revisit and reconsider the place now that it was blistering under the cold of winter. The greenery was limp yet it endured, continued and straggled onwards towards the warmth of spring’s re-emergence. The light today, beautified the decay amongst the soft mosses, whilst evergreens held the spotlight. The shade at times was heavy. This was the forest in a fitful sleep; in the middle of winter’s grip.

From October til December the trees say goodbye to their leaves. They do this not because they’ve had a spat, or because they’re bored of green (as appealing as those ideas are), but because for them winter equal drought. In a time when most water is a solid, hydration is a key concern. But water expands when it freezes, so how do the cells in the bark and branches cope? Well, the remaining cells pumps water out of their vacuoles and cytoplasm, draining from their internal spaces into the adjacent cell space. When this freezes and expands, it has less chance of bursting and killing the cells.
The trees in their dormancy wait. And I understand that feeling. Autumn through winter sees me moving ever more sluggishly. I get slower and slower. Sometimes, I feel like I’m walking through fudge. I don’t want to get out of bed in the morning (okay, that’s not exceptionally new); I can’t stay awake during the day, though; I have difficulty making plans about the future. I dream of hot beaches, but I know they are some way away.

Winter is the doldrums of life. Thank God the solstice prompted our ancestors to have debauch celebrations. From Saturnalia, Christmas, Dong Zhi in China, Shab-e Yalda in Iran, Toji in Japan, to Soyal of the Hopi Tribe in Arizona. They all celebrate the longest night of the year and the turning of the Earth towards the sun and longer days. It also marks the end of the harvest period – thus the feasting! Of course, over the millennia the day of celebrating the solstice has changed and sometimes the reason for the celebration itself has become vastly corrupted and altered and added to.
Knowing I have the big glitzy banquet of Christmas to attend though – a day of utmost indulgence, and quite frankly, an obscene about of day drinking – really gets you through the Autumn. January to Mid-March, however, just makes me want to cry.

Forests are magical at anytime of year. Most notably because we see them as areas of transition within our cultural. Through a forest the ancient Greeks reached Hades the underworld, and through a forest Dante reached the gates of Hell. These wooded areas of the imagination lead us to planes of existence outside of mortality and not always to pleasant locales. The Forbidden Forest in Rowling’s Harry Potter is a world unto itself, where magical creatures reign supreme and the trees seemingly stretch out into infinity; where the occupants of a particularly special wardrobe stumble into a wintery arboretum; where ghouls and goblins challenge epic adventurers; where spiders grow to the size of busses; where hobbits hide and witches build lairs. They are sanctuaries as well as the home of bears. These jungles are the hearts and souls of men. Appealing to our primordial desires to swing along canopies. But we also know, such places rend our senses from rationality.
I love the forest at any time of year, but soon I hope it will be spring again.

SANDRINGHAM, NORFOLK, ENGLAND
VISIT DATE: JANUARY 2020

Sandringham: On Forests

I lay looking upwards into the bronzed leaves of autumn. The land had already started to hibernate and that mellow scent of mould and leaf litter filled my senses. It’s too cold to stay in one place for long, but I lie a little longer none-the-less. This is the ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ and autumn makes me feel loved but hopeless.

I’ve been reading ‘The Consolations of the Forest’. It’s a memoir by Sylvain Tesson about his hermitage on Lake Baikal. He muses on the nature of time, memory, the uselessness of life, all from the stillness of a cedar cabin in the woods. Quietitude stretches out moments – hanging them as though in a gallery. It glorifies them and allows us to examine moments in singularly. It’s true that sometimes we need an existential remove to rediscover who we are. But then again, are these self impossed exiles merely giving us the space to indulge in the narcissism that says “we are a product of the soul only and not of our communities?”

Tesson also meditates on happiness, deliberating on how we must balance danger and peace, winter and summer ‘never settling, always oscillating from one to the other extremity on the spectrum of sensations.’ Knowing this to be true, I must find a way to work through the sadness that is the onslaught of winter. Winter creates a certain emptiness inside me that’s difficult to alleviate, despite the stolid toilings of my atheistic mind. The world will renew, summer will burn, peace is cyclical and winter will test.

His forest filled my imagination. Permeating all corners like a thick fog, filling in every crevice, creating borders and salients, building battlements and forts – keeping the riot of real life out of the lucid bounty of my imagination. The forest grew monstrous in my mind. It was black and dense, like deep waters, at once shocking and thrilling and dangerous. Midsummer, this year, seemed to throw us straight into Samhain, ignoring the equinox as if it meant nothing. And now, I wanted to do nothing more than observe death in the forest.

Forests are deep and quiet. The further into a forest you go the quieter it becomes. Just like the closer you are to the suffocating dark of the winter solstice, the more that weight of sonant silence pushes in upon your psyche. It tests the rationality of a consciousness shaped by stories of spirits and magic.

But this is October and the sun shines golden. Leaves crackle with the colours of fire: oranges, reds, ochres and umbers. They proliferate in the canopy above and drench the forest floor. My boots spring over this spongy carpet, their tips dappled with moisture. The soil is starting to squelch and the ground is carpeted in biscotti coloured acorn hats. Littered below me are glossy chestnuts bursting out of spiked casings, clutches of egg-shaped pinecones and crisp crimson leaves . 

Today, I’ve travelled to the Sandringham Estate in Norfolk with an inquisitive mind and a yearning for arboreal company. I photograph leaves and trees – identifying them as I go; creating a small checklist of species. It’s a meditative process filled in creative investigation. 

Beneath me, toadstools multiply around moulding stumps. Some fungi ooze out of broken branches, whilst some glisten with waxy caps or stand upright like honey coloured parasols.

Looking upwards tells a different story. Above I see sanguine yew berries clustered on their evergreen boughs, waiting to burst like blisters. I once heard a story about a friend of a friend who had committed suicide by boiling up a vat of yew leaves into a heady brew and swallowing the vile concoction with a bottle of vodka. She died twisted in her bed sheets like her sinews in agony. Some people say that on a hot day, the sun’s rays can cause yew leaves to expire and create a miasma of psychotropic mist which bewitches those sitting underneath into a slumbering stupor. Heads softly drooping, and snores gently tumbling, we enter the limbo that is unconsciousness – the land between life and death. 

Red and native oaks grow side by side, pitting the English against the American. But both alike, sprinkle the ground with nutty treats for their squirrelly lodgers. Overhead tower Corsican pines, shooting up in uniform lines, striping the blue sky with white limbs.

Neither are native to our small island, but then again, a lot of the species at Sandringham are not native – is it an amalgamation of arboreal love strewn by aristocrats across the Norfolk landscape? Or a travesty of ecological management? I cannot tell.

The more natural Scot’s pine, with its heady scent and more painter friendly silhouette, stands black against the setting sun, as I head deeper into the undergrowth. Pushing my way though birch leaves, dropped in their thousands like leaflets advertising the end of days, I find my way back to where I started. Was civilisation a welcome relief? How long had I been gone? Six months alone in Siberia? Or 160 minutes in a pathed wood, a couple of acres in size?

I don’t find it unreasonable that our neolithic ancestors would pray for spring, or indeed for the sun to rise – because sometimes these things don’t feel inevitable. Is it the sublime immenseness of trees that make us feel this fragile? Or the sudden realisation that we must be stopped as a species, that it is us and only us, that could ever create a darkness from which we will never return?

Kassie: Contemplating Her Own Demise

Sandringham Woods, the Queen’s own private property, is open to the public all year round and is a 10 minute drive outside of Kings Lynn. Parking is free, and I’d recommend stopping for lunch, as the food is always good, and the tea respectable. Just recently, I had a partridge and pork terrine with toast and a salad sprinkled with a zingy mustard dressing which really hit the spot. You can visit all year round, but there is something about October colours that really bring the place to life. 

SANDRINGHAM, NORFOLK, ENGLAND
VISIT DATE: OCT 2019

Wicken Fen: Watery Field

Wicken Fen – the place sounds a bit like some sort of prison from a Sherlock Holmes novel – at least that was my initial feelings. But it’s actually worse. It is in fact, a watery field in the East of England, which the National Trust tries to charge you seven quid to enter.

It was a warm day at the end of summer when I decided to visit. I brought some family, and a camera, and hoped the place was as riveting as the write-up on their website sounded. Of course, the pictures looked a bit dull on Google-images, but I knew that in these flat areas  finding  beauty   sometimes relied upon adopting a new perspective. This flat landscape was all about the interaction between  ground and    sky. About sitting amongst the reeds and listening. 

I imagined the Fens to be a verdant playground of rushes and rivers. The water  black and glossy. I would peer into  rivulets and watch small fish move in formation. Deeper still, in the mud, might be eels: long and full of sinew and eggs. 

I was promised an encyclopedia of birds. Kingfishers, cranes and herons that would peer with beady eyes into the gloomy water. I imagined the crouched tiger stance of bitterns with their houndstooth undercarriages and sturdy Roman noses, as they stalked through the undergrowth. They would have pale green talons held underneath plump bodies and they’d feast on frogs and fish and insects. I’d hear their strangely futuristic, yet  pulsing cries (akin to that of a thick woodwind instrument) hoot across the waters. I’d see great crested newts waving their tails in the air and slinking through the pondweed. Their shiny, globular bodies covered in brown and beige scales  arranged like a reverse piano. Cranes, with plush burgundy crowns, would have grey silken bodies perched upon twiglet-like legs. And they would surprise me in a moment of particular zen by rustling dinosaur-like out of the verbena. So much to see apparently, but what did I actually observe of the 9000 species recorded here? 

Of all these fearsome beasts;  I mostly just saw dragonflies, grass, some fish, and a few finches. And plenty of prams, children, retirees and people who like to talk with booming voices in a nature reserves. Plenty of those that like to sit in  hides and discourse at volume – their phones bleeping out with pips and whistles and the occasional Nokia dirge – seemed greatly enamoured with the place. I don’t think the term ‘Nature-reserve’ was fully understood or respected by many. Which is why the National Trust obviously hid all the good stuff.

99% of fenlands, as mapped in the 17th century, have been draining for farming and building. This environment is, therefore, rare, and causes endangered species to flourish. There are marsh-harriers, soprano pipistrelle bats, Konik ponies, cattle, otters, water voles and many more interesting creatures besides the multitudes already mentions in this article. The Nation Trust’s official vision is to create a ‘diverse landscape for wildlife and people stretching from Wicken Fen to the edge of Cambridge.’ It is a 100-year plan to cover 53 square kilometres in restored fen and ensure it’s ‘thriving’ with animals. It hopes to promote ‘Ecosystem services’ which have the key aims of locking carbon in the soil, providing recreational activities and habitats for animals. Call it an eco-social project on one of the few remaining fens in England. 

Mark Harold, from the National Trust says, ”Wicken is a real illustration of our strategy and desire to create a healthy, natural and beautiful environment that is bigger, better and more joined-up for both wildlife and people.” I found it less wildlife emporium and more field with paths. Maybe there’s a good reason they charge people £7 to enter – it must put a lot of people off. Although considering that public footpaths run through the place, I think you could probably see a lot of it for free by merely circumnavigating the visitors’ centre.      as a member, I can’t feel too cheated.  

Would I visit again? Maybe on a Monday morning, during school time, in the spring. The ponies and the fish were pretty good and I’d like to see them again. I would also like to find myself a newt. I would only look, of course, but I would imagine putting it into a jar and using it to prank my enemies (of which, as a grown woman, I have plenty). With my supernatural powers, I may, or may not, cause said newt to spring into action and attach itself to the ribcage of a terrified person (of whom I am wreaking revenge upon). Fear is a simple minded pleasure. Except to all those who understand my references, I am much more likely to sympathise with the Trunchbull these days. 

WICKEN FEN, CAMBRIDGESHIRE, ENGLAND
VISIT DATE: SEPTEMBER 2019

Cambridge: Yesterday & Today

Cambridge started like most British cities. Way back, when the Egyptians were busy building pyramids, we raised some lowly farmsteads  in the swamps. The Romans appear afterwards and build some roads (handy) and then the Saxon and the Vikings did various medieval things, after which William the Conqueror assumed control. Then, the tumble of the next millennia created the anthropocene that we lament today. Curiously, the village of Cambridge, used to be called Granta-Bridge (or some middle English variant) it then changed to Cambridge at some point – and according to my dubious sources at Wikipedia – the river name was changed because the city had, not the other way around. 

I guess if you had to pinpoint the defining moment in this city’s history it would be the fleeing of scholars from Oxford in 1209. They came here and created a similar college system of learning to that already established at Oxford. These two cities ran a monopoly on education or the next 600 years. If you wanted to be a priest, a doctor, a mathematician, a scientist, a theologian or whatever – you had to come here. The next university established in England was the University of Manchester in 1824. In light of this knowledge, I really don’t think we appreciate the privilege of education as much as we should – even those of us that are graduates.

Beside the industry and scientific research centres, beside the centuries old colleges, and bookshops, is the sprawl of the homeless and a deep feeling of divide. The poor struggle in this city of money; that is obvious. Restaurants and high end retail outlets proliferate. The picturesque is mostly behind pay for barriers and the influx of Asian money is palpable – it sponsors wings in museums – but it’s the prestige they salivate over: the prestige of Western education. They throng the byways with cameras dressed in curiously quintessential tourist garb – beige chinos, rugby shirts and ill-shaped fishing hats. I felt a little shock, a bit like when I was at Whitby, the bit where you think – really you’ve come here on holiday? And tourists don’t fit in, they don’t wear black. I wondered whether Cambridge to the British is perhaps how Venice feels to Venetians. And I’m not just saying that because of the punting. 

What Cambridge is best known for amongst the locals of the county, however, is its the terrible road system. The A14 is gridlock and parking  costs £30 a day. Trains and busses are a must and they  rarely represent value for money. Luckily, the park and ride system  isn’t too bad at £3 per person (return) on the bus, or £8 for 5 people – but it’s still an irritant with trains from my local station costing £7  for a less than 30min journey. That’s £14 return. 

And Cambridge is messy. It has a wealth of history (and actual wealth – buying a house involves mortgaging your grandkids), a mash of touristy rubbish, places aimed at students on a budget, and others aimed at the rich kids shoehorned in from Eton. It’s a transient home to students, and is also plagued by a swathe of strangely dressed middle-class posers who worship the aesthetic. 

As soon as you jump off the park and ride bus, signs proudly boast that there are 8 museums within walking distance. Most notable of which is the Fitzwilliam Museum, followed by the Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences, The Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, The University Museum of Zoology and The Kettle’s Yard (art).

I love looking at the art in the Fitzwilliam – I could happily spend most of the day there – wandering the aisles. My rule for museums is always: take away three things. This usually means, remembering three weird items on display, and making sure I learn three things that will enrich my understanding of life. To take away any more is far too laborious.

Anyway, me and friend decided to spontaneously visit Cambridge last week, hence this post. We are Peterborough natives and we were bored. So why not Cambridge? We walked around the old colleges, admired the architecture, watched the punting on the river Cams under the Mathematician’s bridge, and walked through the park towards the MillWorks where we ordered up one of the best hot chocolates I’ve ever had. After another amble around, I had my first Pho at Pho. And yes it’s a chain, but I still had a lovely meal and tasted a lot of new thing. The noodle broth is served with bean sprouts, coriander, mint, culantro, lime, Thai basil, and a chilli shrimp paste. The idea being you luxuriate the herbs in the broth at different intervals to reveal different sides to the dish as you go along. I enjoyed this theatrical approach to eating. I even had a go at using the oversized ladle! Although, I reckon after that I’ll go back to the spoon. 

Then I went book browsing in one of the lushest book stores I’ve ever seen – floor upon floor of books, shelves to the ceiling – did I ever mention I loved books? I had a member of  staff hunting around for an obscure out of print book about Licoricia of Winchester (to no avail) and then covetously browsed books on Edward I and II – which may just be one of my favourite episodes in medieval history. I kind of messed up the shelves a little bit on account of being too short to put the books back on the top shelf and then I mused about writing a work of fiction based on the life of Edward I. I’m still quite interested in the idea – but realistically I don’t think I’m the right person at the right time to write it. Never the less, the thought left me somewhat buoyant.

As evening set in, the light turned golden and we decided that one last coffee was in order, so we stopped at Fitzbillies on Bridge Street. I ordered up a latte and a ‘Duke of Cambridge’ which isn’t a euphemism, but a type of delicious chocolate biscuit, favoured by the Duke himself, apparently. I don’t know if that’s true – but, to be honest, I don’t see anyone not loving that calorific chocolatey creation. I’m craving one now just thinking about it. Then we strolled a few meters up to the bus stop and made our way back to the other city in Cambridgeshire, the bigger, but completely un-famous, Peterborough.

CAMBRIDGE, EAST ANGLIA, ENGLAND
VISIT DATE: SEPT 2019

On Beaches: Brancaster

Brancaster beach is three thick splurges of colour, fudged onto a canvas by a thick-fingered God. Marked in front of me is the deep royal blue of the sky, the muddier cobalt of the ocean, and the creamy-yellow of sand metres deep. The tide has receded far out towards the horizon and instead of hearing the crush of waves against the shore, you hear the dangerous sibilance of sand, snaking out of formation and whipping across the shoreline onto bare legs. The hissing is mixed with the chatter of homo-sapiens and the screeching of gulls. But walking East, away from the chaos, the voices slowly drain away.
 
My picnic comprises of homemade strawberry lemonade, held in a flask with ice; a caramelised onion burger fresh off the griddle, topped with melted cheese on a bed of slaw; a jar of artichoke hearts in oil, eaten liberally with bare hands; and the whole feast is sprinkled with the salty crunch of sand. It isn’t the beach without a picnic and I like to pack well.

It was Sunday. The heat in the back garden blistered, so I decided a quick jaunt to the coast was in order to escape the mugginess of the inland air. The journey was uneventful. It was all screeching around corners on two wheels and overtaking traffic at 125 miles an hour. This was, of course, all undertaken on small country roads, in order to avoid the crawling A149 from Kings Lynn to Hunstanton. At Sainsbury’s, we picked up food supplies and the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack. So with Mr Blue Sky rising out of the speakers, we descended through the small village of Brancaster and towards the dusky dunes.

Contemplating the roll of the ocean is rather a solitary habit – but kites and splashing and picnicking are group affairs. I am always torn between these social aspects of the shore and the introverted appeal of being alone with nature. I appreciate that other people want to go to the beach, but I wish they’d pick a different time to do so. And sometimes their conduct is baffling. Take for instance your typical beach seating arrangements.

Imagine – it’s 28C, the queue to the carpark takes 30min, the entrance paths are busy and filled with the stench of humanity, the toilets are badly cared for – someone has urinated everywhere. Where should I make camp for the day? You certainly wouldn’t pick that exact spot, would you now? Where the constant crush of the semi-dressed multitudes will traipse past you all day, and stare at your every move, scrutinising your pale flesh as it bakes in the heat. Thinking – are you sure you want to eat that? Are you sure you should wear that? Are you sure you should be shouting at your kids like that? Where the sand is saturated in sweat, cigarettes and other human debris. Where the natural beauty of the landscape is at its lowest. And yet that’s what everyone does – sitting on top of each other like the inhabitants of a Mega-city from Judge Dredd.

Why not walk for a few minutes? – could be five minutes, could be fifteen. Watch as the landscape changes and the beach gradually reveals more pristine sands, less clamour, and less screaming. Keep walking and the beach will clear completely. You’ll have your pick of the dunes to nestle into for the day; surrounded by a cocoon of sand and tranquillity. So I ask you, why sit by the entrance? I mean, I don’t really want to dissuade too many people from doing this – after all, this means I don’t have to walk as far to gain paradise. But, honestly? Why? And I don’t blame some – some cannot walk, have babies, are elderly or unwell. The rest of you though, I simply cannot fathom.

I want my beaches to be white on blue – lapis-lazuli on marble. 

Take a look at the picture above (excuse my charming sister circa 1996); this is my definition of a beach. This is the white sands and turquoise waters of a beach on the Western Isles of Scotland (I suspect Hosta or Sollas). It is a remote and out of the way kind of place. Unspoilt beauty here isn’t something that anyone has to hoard or fight over. It is provided free of charge, unasked for, and I was spoilt. In England, I’m hunting a rarity. Am I harking after this golden period – searching for what once was and will never be so again?

As I examine the picture more and more, I notice the fly tipping on the dunes, and remember the half-burnt rubbish, the rusted bed springs and chunks of charred fence posts. Funny how I’d forgotten about all that. The distance of memory having swept away the little details and left just those three crisp lines of colours.

In my search for this beach though, am I seeking out the ideal photograph, the ‘grammable jealousy maker? I’m not really a victim of FOMO (fear of missing out) – except on the sort of grand scale which is in no way created by social media. I get FOMO over the fact that I’m not sitting on the iron throne already, that I haven’t climbed Everest, that I’ve yet to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon, that I haven’t survived a zombie apocalypse, developed superpowers, saved the world or won an Olympic medal. Even in 1890, I’d have been a FOMO suffer, but I’m not a 2020 FOMO victim. I don’t really care about people’s terribly staged Instagram photos, or spending hours getting the perfect shot – or wearing a summer dress on a hike so I look good at the summit. I don’t feel like I’m missing out when I see these pictures. On the contrary, I think they are image hunters, as opposed to photographers enjoying their art. Never-the-less, is that me? Is this my mirror?

Instagram is an envy machine – it’s the green-eyed-monster from Shakespeare’s pen. It’s a creation that robs people of their happiness. Instagram is the external embodiment of jealousy. A few weeks ago I was in Tynemouth and a friend of mine asked me to take a picture of her – but it wasn’t just any old photograph. It was the perfect photograph. 150 tries later she was finally satisfied with the attempt to emulate another Instagram photograph she’d seen. She had a collection you see, of photographs that she wanted to copy, each one was beautiful, but I felt like she was missing the point. Thinking carefully about it though, I guess we were just telling different stories. One is weaving tales of other places and people, and one is about weaving a tale of self. She was telling a story about herself; there was an internal purpose. Whereas I always feel motivated by the other – an external purpose. Both narratives are as interesting and varied as each other, and yet strange when you don’t understand the other’s motivations.

There is, however, also an issue with perfection. The perfect gram versus the everyday snap. I preferred the old Instagram when the photographs were mundane and every day – they told stories of imperfect places, people and things. The artistic qualities sometimes weren’t there – but that didn’t matter because they said more than the studio staged and photoshopped lollipop coloured grams we are saturated in nowadays. I don’t think taking a hundred pictures to ensure you look perfect is the best way of going about it – but I guess that’s because my motivation is recording and not creating a story of self..  

Where I am?


No, where am I? I’ve woken up bleary-eyed, my sunglasses askew. I’m lying in a sand dune, the breeze blowing across my crisping skin. The sweet smelling sun lotion filling the air.

Beaches in the public consciousness are different to beaches in reality. Beaches in stories tend to kick start or end a story. In the Tempest, Robinson Crusoe, Coral Island, Lord of the Flies, the T.V. show Lost – they all start with their protagonists being washed-up on the beach – like a re-birthing in salt and fire. It is a transitional area of arriving and departing. In many ways, visiting a beach is like visiting a train station, but instead of staring at that Teletextesque screen revealing all the destinations up and down the country, we stare at the ocean.

If our geography is good, we can have a pretty good guess at where we will end up if we take a boat to the horizon and sail in a straight line, but if we bathe in ignorance, then the possibilities are endless. As we look at the horizon line, the one that marks the end of the known, we realise we are looking into the land of the imagination. This wonder is a far stronger lure for our brain to mull over than any memory of a real beach – than arguably the very physicality of being there. Being at that edge is a moment of potential. A moment of imagination. It fills us with the power of possibility.




Map of UK, Brancaster
BRANCASTER, NORFOLK, ENGLAND
VISIT DATE: AUGUST 2019
Guardians of the Galaxy: Road Trip Sounds.
Norfolk, on the way to the beach.
Road, blue sky, to Brancaster.
Brancaster beach
Sand with sea shells: Brancaster beach, Norfolk
San Pellegrino on the beach

Sand dunes at Brancaster
Burger on the beach

The Flood: A Forgotten Village: Grimwith

I’d been to Grimwith Reservoir before and I remembered it being supremely walkable. And by that I mean it’s only a four and a half mile long circular; you might want a bottle of water and some trainers, but no other equipment is needed. There is no way to get lost – you just follow the reservoir round and round; and to top it all off – there is a free car park and a toilet block. If you like the wilds, this probably isn’t for you. Regardless its a beautiful country walk, flooded by geese who in the distance look like brontosauruses.


Moorland surrounds us – buoyant with heather, which springs with purple flowers like the tops of sprouting broccoli. This heather is burnt in the Autumn to promote spring growth for the grouse, but right now, it bounded across the hills.

The place had changed slightly in the last few years – when I was here before, the path was skinny and rocky. Rivers were only passable through the use of single file bridges – basically a plank of wood with sides. Now, they were so wide you could ride a quad bike over them. We started our walk towards the dam and finished by the old Grimwith House (undergoing some extensive renovations now, but last inhabited in 1970) – bright yellow flowers, neon, almost like the shine of the battenburgs on an ambulance, greeted us with swaying stems.


The deep blue waters masked the real colour of the waves. The deepest waters were a tremendous beef stock brown; when the waters were clear enough to see the rocks at the bottom, they coloured the milky stones with a red devil-like hue. The puddles we splashed through betrayed the broth like nature of the water. Faint yellow water came out the taps at our campsite and resembed urine. It was slightly off-putting. 


The reservoir was Victorian, built between 1856 and 1863, by the Bradford Corporation Waterworks to support factories and their worker population in the area. The small village of ‘Gate-Up’ was flooded, leaving unscathed a laithe, Grimwith House, and a couple of cottages above the water in the present day. A ‘laithe’ is the Viking name for a barn. This particular example was deemed important because they simply can’t build them like this anymore. There are no trees in the area large enough to create the ‘crucks’ (the long eaves). The heather thatching is also decidedly endemic. 


I liked Grimwith – despite its unsatisfactory name. It is the biggest patch of blue on the OS map of the Yorkshire Dales. Cars may be necessary – but you could feasibly walk there from Grassington as well. Check out the photos and enjoy. 

GRIMWITH RESERVOIR, YORKSHIRE, ENGLAND
VISIT DATE: JULY 2019