Diego Vu (again)

This is a blog post I wrote (to order – exact word count) back in 2008 on the subject of nostalgia. And here we are exactly ten years on to the day. You’ll notice that the original factual error contained within has subsequently been exacerbated. It was originally posted in my much missed (in the sense that it passed everybody by) football blog based in Central America. The Argentinian football federation had just appointed the sublime footballer, but erratic man, Diego Maradona to manage the national team.

In general feelings about golf range from mild indifference to severe hatred but mention the 1985 Ryder Cup and my heart leaps, and I am stirred to my soul. Actually mention any sporting event from 1985 and this seems to occur. News of Kevin Bond’s new role at Spurs brings delicious pangs of a long-forgotten youth, punctuated all too often with the words “Bond, og”.

I fear that I am not the only one suffering from the “English malaise” of nostalgia. It does odd things to us, and leads us to do odd things to the past, not least the sporting past. Whist we in England prefer ours bitter-sweet it seems it translates to an optimistic desire for long lost glories. The heady force of nostalgia must have been wafting through the corridors of the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino recently. The appointment of Diego Maradona as national team coach surely, just surely, owes more to the heart than the head?

And yet the detractors seem to be suffering from this same nostalgia, almost relishing the prospect of an unreliable, unfit Maradona crashing spectacularly, bringing the outrageously gifted Argentinean squad down with him. But Maradona is not what he was. He was consistent and hardworking in making his show, La Noche del Diez, a success; surely he will work still harder for the striped shirt he loves.

Once more gripped by nostalgia I think back to other Great Players and how they have fared wearing the sheepskin. Most have tried, from Sir Stan to Ruud Gullit through Johan Cruyff, but few have taken on a national team, and generally only after successful club management, such as Hugo Sánchez. Fewer still have managed on all five continents as did Ferenc Puskás.

The Germans have seemed happy to place former great players at the helm – even without any managerial experience (indeed five of their eleven National Managers have been novices, with mixed results; Englishman Fred Pentland displayed a great awareness of world events by taking up the post in 1914, shortly to be interned as a POW). The AFA, I am sure, would like to cite der Kaiser. Twice did Beckenbauer the manager reach the World Cup final; twice against a Maradona-led Argentina. Can el Pibe match the German’s unique record of winning the World Cup as player and manager? Who can tell, but the symmetry would be greatly enjoyed by us nostalgics.

Advertisements

Echoes

I stand at the brink again.

Unlike the last time this one is a brink of an inevitability. I have no agency about breaking this link. The previous brink I stood on I made the decision freely and held my breath and moved forward.

I shifted my weight imperceptibly like a tango dancer, and started to walk .The whole body, upright leaning forwards, moving as one. two bodies together gracefully and intuitively each reading the other’s predicted moves, each choosing and instinctively agreeing and understanding one another. Knowing how to move together, move forward, always forward.

But now the music is on the brink of ending and this dance must come to its untimely conclusion.

That last time – a quarter of a century ago – I surprised myself with how I started, moving the leading foot forward with confidence, maybe I may even dare to say; with panache

I was on the brink, but didn’t even know it, of something special, something more amazing than I could ever have imagined back then.

And now once more on the brink. In fact the teetering is over. I’ve passed the brink; been pushed beyond it. I’m falling with nowhere to go, heading to something, this time, worse than I think even I can imagine.

As I tumble I hear echoes of the past haunting me. Yet much worse are the echoes of the future. These come back from an imagined, assumed, future; one that now dissipates like heat haze on a hot summer’s road. They look so real, you can even see reflections in them; they must be real. We move toward them ready to enjoy and revel in them only to discover their absence. They have gone. This future does not exist, it is not genuine any longer. It was once. It truly was.

All that time ago I do not even recall being apprehensive. Who was I to be so bold? We were so brave. Now I am no longer capable of taking any steps at all. I am on – I have passed – the brink of something I can only ever possibly want to step back from. But it is not my choice, this is never my choice and all around me the voices echo “MOVE FORWARD”.

So this time the decision is not mine – however brave I might be. I’ll not move forward. Not this time.

 

This was inspired by a ten minute prompt called At the Brink of a Link

The Hate Palace

I find I am unable to sleep, and cannot produce or do anything constructive, when it occurs to me that I haven’t tended the hate palace for quite a while. I need to see how things are down there. I’ve rather forgotten my promise to myself. I was determined that any sensation of hate, dislike, even mild annoyance would be saved and used to decorate the hate palace. I’ve allowed some of those things to remain in the open. The entire point is to save them, concentrate them in the hate palace thus freeing up every other part of my mind for happy thoughts.

It hasn’t quite worked like that, if I’m honest. In fact I haven’t really had much in the way of happy thoughts at all. All the more reason to drag all that slime and miserable muck down, down to the furthest, darkest and scariest place in my mind. It’s horrible down there, and I don’t like it being in me and it scares me a little. But I need it, I can’t shake it and so I’m better off keeping it down there, concentrated in one hideous deep and uncomfortable location.

The inhabitant of the hate palace – more a cave; no, a hole in the ground, small yet limitless in its horror – won’t like it. I’ve allowed it to ease off in there, I need to redecorate. I will firstly carefully replace all the wallpaper that seems to be curling off a bit, that must go back on. And now I have a lot of material to add to the fixtures and fittings in there. This is going to take a while, I won’t get much sleep tonight, but the foremost part of my mind will be cleansed of the negative thoughts.

And the dark recess of the Hate Palace will worse than ever. And being in there will be more painful than ever. That, at least, makes me happy.

Srinivasa Ramanujan

One of the most interesting characters in the history of mathematics is the young India shipping clerk Srinivasa Ramanujan. With practically no formal training in the field he pushed the boundaries of many areas of maths and has had generations of mathematicians working on his findings and theorems for decades.

His attempts to interest mathematicians at his workplace in India failed, as his unique methods were unfamiliar to them. He decided to write to several professors at the University of Cambridge in England. In these letters he claimed various discoveries, including a formula to calculate the number of primes up to one hundred million. Most ignored the letters but G W Hardy did not. He was rather eccentric and had been a prodigy himself and instantly recognised the extraordinary work, and eventually brought Ramanujan to England where he continued and furthered his work. So deep and subtle were his writings and findings on mathematics they were still being studied (and proved) nearly one hundred years after his death.

Ramanujan suffered from a wide range of health issues as a youngster and these foreshortened his life. He died in 1920 at the age of just 32, leaving a truly extraordinary body of work behind him.

The friendship and mutual respect between Ramanujan and Hardy was deep and genuine and gave rise to one of the more celebrated stories around mathematics, one that illustrates how intuitively and instinctively the Indian lived with numbers.

Hardy was visiting him, once again ill and in hospital, and looking for conversation he thought of the taxi cab he had arrived in. “It’s licence number was 1729; a rather dull number”, he stated.

The weak and prone Ramanujan looked aghast, “Far from it,” he exclaimed, “It is a very interesting number; it is the smallest number expressible as the sum of two cubes in two different ways.”. These numbers, which continue to be discovered to this day (and generally take around five years to prove rather than a few moments in a hospital bed) are now known as ‘taxi-cab numbers’ in memory of this event.

Unfortunately he suffered from some frustration and depression as well as ill health, and eventually returned to India where he died. His friend and mentor, Hardy, lived until 70 and always claimed his greatest contribution to mathematics was responding to Ramanujan’s letter and bringing him to the attention of the world. He too suffered depression, and like his young friend attempted suicide.

Ramanujan left a simply staggering body of work, well over 3,000 individual mathematical items, all have which have subsequently been proved. He undertook major work into many fields of maths, including prime number theory, functions, divergent series and infinite series. This just scratches the surface of his achievements and it is not the role of this brief biography to understand or instruct in these complex issues. This is merely an introduction to this short and fascinating life and will hopefully whet the appetite for further investigations into the wonderful Srinivasa Ramanujan.

That Day In My Life

Today

Woke up, got out of bed, and dragged some foam across my face. I went downstairs and drank a mug (of tea) and I looked up at the clock and we were late. Kids couldn’t find their coats (but later I found my little woollen cap that I like), they just made the bus, I went back and climbed the stairs, I made a joke, she spoke and I went into a nightmare.

I heard the news today, several thousand holes inside of me and it was like I was black and burnt and all the holes were rather big, and now I know how many holes I used to be.

Then

She gave me the news today, about the lucky man who made the grade. This news was, for me, rather sad, I’m sure they laugh, I felt my mind like it was hit by a car. I hadn’t noticed that the fight had changed. The crowd of people grows, but they don’t really care. They’ve seen this case before.

I had to look, I had to read and re-read the book.

 

I’d love to turn this off.

 

Mind The Gap

Seeing hints of a gap is difficult.

Mostly it seems there is no gap, it’s as it was. But here and there it is noticeable, just glimpses. It hurts.

Then suddenly, in a huge earthquake the gap is clearly visible – yawning wide.

It’s brutal, wide, deep and horrifying.

Quickly the emergency response comes and temporary bridges are built over the gap, and life goes on as if it’s not there. And careful steps are taken over the structures to pretend it’s not there.

But it is there – it is huge and it is awful

 

October Writing Prompts – 16th

The good doctor finds his own way through the halls passing the large harshly lit cafeteria. He rushes past, he has no need of that room, and his time is short. He picks up the pace further, the ill and injured respectively stand aside. Not a second to lose. Fiercely he slams open the large double doors and yet the corridors go on and on, seemingly endless in their stark white inevitably.

Nearing his destination he is fully running now, his long-distant youth as a track star echoes in his muscles. The urgency increases as he enters the vehicle. Recklessly it weaves swiftly through the thronging traffic, ignoring lights; all must wait the doctor.

His door is open even as the brakes begin to scream. He leaps out. The house is already open, the anxious faces eagerly welcome him; he is here, the doctor is here; where he is needed.

Panic has not yet set in as he bursts into the kitchen. He is in time, the doctor has arrived. He picks up his tools and immediately sets to work.

With a final twist of the wooden spoon this good doctor serves his family with a meal of his own making; the flavour of the feast so intense it almost comes to life.

This is my first attempt at following the daily prompts for a ten minute write from Putting My Feet In The Dirt The idea is to use the prompt and write for ten minutes only. Which is what I did, prompted by the words The Frankenstein Feast

edit: I have a new blog Prompted which has my, and others, ten minute prompted writings on.

The Summer Book

The Summer Book

“You can see for yourself that life is hard enough without being punished for it afterwards”

Tove Jansson – The Summer Book

Summer Book 02

“This breeze is a little cold, are you too cold?” the young woman asked with concern.

She never used to fuss like this, Grandmother thought. Back when she was small enough to be fussed over herself. She never worried about my feelings, or concerned herself with my comfort. In fact, I never fussed over her either. The elderly woman considered for a moment. She preferred those days.

The breeze was light, and the sun was shining. Not at all cold, in fact, for the Gulf of Finland.

After a pause the Grandmother asked “Where did you say you live now? Spain?”

“Yes” Sophia replied, “In Valencia.” She added, without knowing why, “That is to say, just outside the city.” Grandmother’s eyes darted across sharply. “Is that so?” she replied.

The grass gently danced in the breeze. Grandmother thought about the heat of the south that could make her Granddaughter feel this air to be cool.

Summer Book 01

“You only went to Italy didn’t you? Not to Spain.” How the young feel they are always the first to experience anything; that cliché ran through the old woman’s mind. And I suspect the old always believe they are the first to accuse the young of this, too. She chuckled to herself over the hypocrisy of both youth and age.

The wind was picking up in fact, there were little points of white out on the sea. The two women watched a distant dinghy sail by in a comfortable silence.

Summer Book 04Great age comes with responsibilities, one of which is to appear confused and a straightforward manner of achieving this is to converse at tangents. This was something that came very easily to her. “There’s a painting in the ‘Museo de Belles Artes’ in Valencia.” She began, relishing the chance to startle her Granddaughter.

Sophia was long used to her ways, and equally delighted in thwarting her, still. “It’s ‘Museu’ now,” she explained, “The speak Valencian now. It is called the ‘Museu de Belles Arts’. Naturally they all can all speak Spanish still, but they prefer their own language.”

“What do they do to people who speak Spanish, then?” Grandmother asked, mischievously. Sophia laughed a gentle, indulgent laugh. She was old enough, just, to remember how it was to be a Swedish speaking Finn. “What about this painting?” She wasn’t going to humour the old trickster by being surprised by her knowledge of Valencia.

Grandmother thought back over the years. Memory shortens and flattens but can also lengthen and confuse, of course. Was the emotional memory stronger, or the visual? She decided to try and find out. You ought, at least, to be able to talk about these things.

She took herself back to that place. “It was a long time ago; your mother was still alive. I think she’d have been about ten.” I wonder, she thought, I wonder if the pain is still there, “Your grandfather had recently … I had …. That is to say, well, he had… er,” Yes, a little, It is still hard to frame it after all these years, decades, “He had done something he oughtn’t have done. The sort of thing people old enough to know better do sometimes, if they want to play at being fools, or being teenagers. Or both. No, maybe not teenagers; they wouldn’t be that foolish or cause that much pain.” She thought of how teenagers are all lumped together as an absurd, uncaring, pointless group of uncontrollable individuals dangerous to themselves and others. Rather like the very old. It was extremely unfair she thought – on the teenagers at least.

Sophia felt herself wince and tense involuntarily. Oh, she thought, she’s in pain still. Oh my goodness. It will never fade.

Grandmother continued this disjointed revelation. “We found ourselves in Valencia and for some reason he wanted to visit the gallery. He wandered around chuckling at the ancient religious art; I sat and stared at only one painting.” She felt herself there now; surprising herself she found that the smell of the distant gallery overpowered that of the nearby sea. “The background is drab. A dark grey wall, almost deliberately unpleasant. A wall you’d have to work at to keep that unkempt. It was wholly unadorned, the settee was also drab; a nondescript red.” The background always struck Grandmother first. “Despite it’s miserable blankness, the background seemed to speak of family, a warm family”

Summer Book 01The younger woman half listened, her mind on something else. She didn’t wonder why her ancient relative was telling her this story, or where it might go; she never had. She thought how their pain appeared to resonate; even across this vast time.

“There is a couple on the sofa, he looks rather stern, but when you go to the gallery make sure you take a good close look at his face. He is sat rather apart from the woman, but his left knee stretches out to touch her, it’s an awkward yet loving pose. Not a protective love, but a love of need. There has to be contact. It is a love of equality. The woman has a sweet, smiling face, maybe rather frivolous. But that touch shows the respect he has for her. It is awkward, stiff, but beautiful.”

Sophia couldn’t remember her grandmother ever talking for so long. Now the older woman lay herself on the sand and granite and appeared to be snoozing.

The Granddaughter thought of this old woman, much younger, sat in anguish staring at this rather plain sounding picture. What did it tell her, she wondered, idly.

But Grandmother was not really asleep, an old trick of course. “It’s a Sorolla. A famous Valencian artist, you probably know his bright ones, of people and the sea. Well, he painted lots and lots of portraits. They are framed as is a photograph framed, yet painted in a classical style.” That doesn’t sound like me she thought, as did Sophia. I must have read it somewhere.

“But you lived a happy life for many years after?” Grandmother felt rather than heard the slight desperation in Sophia’s question. She pretended to nap again, so as to allow her grandchild the relief of not having her tear-filled eyes observed.

However old you get, the pain doesn’t ease, it seems. “It gets better with time”, she soothed; but they both knew she was lying, as the old often do.

The sun had shifted and was burning warmer than ever. The tide had turned, and the breeze died down. It was calm.

Summer Book 01Grandmother sat up unsteadily, and slowly. “After a while you notice that the time the couple spent with the artist, sitting for him, must have been rather jolly fun. What have you been doing yourself, dear? To help?”

Absorbed in her thoughts the precision of the question passed her by, “Oh reading a bit. A lot, actually.” She thought of that remarkable little book that had helped so much. “I’ve done something I’ve never done before, Grandmother, I wonder if that’s a good thing? I read the book again.”

“It depends. Sometimes new things are only things you’ve done before but decide to think you haven’t.” Or maybe that is just when you have lived for so very long, she mused. Too long. “But surely you’ve often re-read a book!”

“Are you cold?” she asked again, involuntarily, even though she could feel herself that it was rather hot now. “Yes of course. But this was different. I finished and just went back to the beginning and started again. There’s no story; nothing happens and everything happens. It is about nothing and about all of life. I read it four times in a row, non-stop. Now I’m reading it to the children. At night. While they sleep.”

Grandmother looked sharply up again at her thinking that was rather obsessive. Can you depend on people who just let things happen?

“We had a full life together afterwards, yes. Many years. Maybe I never saw things until they were too late; or he didn’t. We didn’t have the strength to start again. Or maybe I just forgot the idea along the way, and I didn’t even realise I’d forgotten about it. I think it’s wise to keep at it, forgetting isn’t always so hard.” It becomes second nature, she realised.

Lost for a while inside themselves; the younger woman wondering how to forget, her eyes once more brimming; the older one considering whether it still had the power it once had. She never had understood why speaking the title made her cry, it didn’t mean that much to her and it wasn’t that moving a phrase, not really. But it always did, every time. She hadn’t spoken its name for so many years. “Well, let’s see.” she thought.

Slowly she stood, leaned on her stick and faced the sea; as dead calm as she could ever remember. “You discover that the couple are his parents-in-law, the mother and father of his wife. They – Sorolla and his wife – had a long and happy marriage, and you can feel the mutual feelings here in this painting. Love and respect given and received from someone else’s son. But the title, it is how he chose to name it that tells us. It is not his relationship with them, or even their daughter that he focuses on. His respect and love for them must have been very great indeed for him to highlight their precious position to that which mattered most, what was dearest above all else.”

The old woman paused, and the very air sensed it. She knew, across the years (so many years), this still affected as deeply as the first time. Still; she wanted to tell her granddaughter, had to tell her it was going to be alright. She had to speak it now, as the sun shone and everything was fine. Yes, it was fine, yet it was all overshadowed by a great sadness. It was only time on top of time, vanity and a chasing after the wind.

“The painting is called ‘Los Abuelos De Mis Hijos’.“

And as the wind picked up again it licked insistently at the tears streaming down the faces of the solitary women, one sitting, one standing, grieving for the past, for the present and for the future.

Summer Book 3The Summer Book, by Tove Jansson – ISBN 978-0-95422-171-3 – I consider to be possibly the best book I have ever read 10/10

This has been freely adapted from the book, and includes extracts, quotes and references which are all used wholly without authorisation

Not the way of it

“That I am quite sure won’t happen.” – “But it must happen in time.”

Penelope Fitzgerald

Oddly it is white, or maybe a light grey. A big off-white cloud. It is fluffy but firm, very firm. It descends upon me, envelopes me and slowly squeezes me, crushes me.

It can come on at any time. It is related to nostalgia, of course, always a risk at this time of year for me and in an empty house especially. But now it is even more profound. A deep all-encompassing sadness. So sad, so very sad. It has a physical presence.

A sadness for what has gone, the past, for a past full of regrets, failures and waste. A sadness for the now, a present I cannot envisage or face, even as it stands here right now, in front of me. A sadness for me, for the kids, for their childhood. A sadness for a deep, bitter, frustrating and blocked future. An inevitably always-diminished yet huge, terrifyingly huge, empty space that once was to be a future.

“It will pass, it will get better, it eases in time. It always does.”

“No, that won’t be the way of it.”

No indeed. Not at all.

From High To Low

From High To Low

The sea calls to us all. Deep within us is the sea, it draws us. To stare at its expanse, to lounge on its shores, even plunging into it, we can’t rationalise why, but we do it, we need to. It may be a primordial longing for a return home, or simply to feel that vast, unknowable, mass always inscrutable, always just …. There.

This is the tragedy of land-locked countries, a population held away from our great giver and sustainer of life. A (very) small consolation of the landlocked is the ability to pinpoint a single precise location as the lowest in the realm. Every region will have their highest point, a non-descript hill or mighty towering mountain but for most the lowest is the seashore; thousands of miles of it.

So now we have two points, the loftiest and the, er, cellariest, and when you have two points you have a challenge. Thus I finally got round to joining the dots in Luxembourg by bicycle. This required a lovely hour-long trip by train, the countryside becoming even more beautiful as we passed the ‘midlands city’ of Miersch (Mersch) and headed deep into Éislek, the northern half of the country.

IMG_20180715_145756

Alighting at the final station in the Grand Duchy the air was clean and fresh and I set off, immediately hitting a typical Ardennes hard short climb. This took me over a tunnel housing the railway as it snakes away towards Belgium, eventually reaching Léck, better known by it’s French name Liège, maybe. Round and round over some little bridges, in and out, and the route finally joins a lovely old train path the Vennbahn. I ride only a few kilometres of this, but it is a wonderful 125km long track which is highly recommended.

Sadly I must soon leave it at the Buurgplaatz, erroneously considered the high point of Luxembourg. In fact a nearby location is a full 1 metre higher; this is The Kneiff, and I prepare myself for the climb. In fact it’s a miserable three or four hundred metres on the National Route 7, clearly news of the recent 1.5 metre passing law hasn’t quite reached this far north yet, cars so close I could reach out and touch them all. Finally I turn onto the unmarked farm track while a few spots of rain patterned the muddy path and as I achieve the ‘summit’, I think I should don my rain jacket.

As I stopped the bike I saw a car parked in the field and alongside it the owners. Age has not withered their love, nor custom staled their desires and I tactfully (and tactically) mounted the Kneiff-stone to photograph the view opposite, allowing the elderly lothario time to replace his trousers behind me. Once I turned I found them suddenly eager to quit this pleasant spot and off they sped, dishevelled but enriched, surely, by life’s most vibrant opportunities.

IMG_20180715_204930

As far as peaks are concerned this is definitely more at the Imperceptible Crest of a Hill end of things rather than Sweeping Majesty, but I enjoyed the initial freewheel away as the rain picked up. Heading due south on cycle ways and minor roads as thunder rumbled and threatened all around. (At least I think it was thunder; maybe our heroes were once more overcome with the urgent need to prove their love in its physical manifestation)

Up and down over this beautiful rolling countryside I found myself following a signed bicycle route named “Panorama”, and if the little section I followed was typical then this too was worth another trip. (I later found myself on one called “Jardins”, I hadn’t realised that there were so many up here)

IMG_20180715_165815

I used my R1 and R3 maps to guide myself cross country to reach the PC22. Once I found it I put away my maps, which was a mistake, as the wayfaring on this route is abysmal. I enjoyed the map reading, however and had spotted a lovely looking lake, and was somewhat bamboozled by its non-appearance, and indeed any lack of descending toward it. Reading a map without reading glasses is not to be recommended; for this was in fact a raised reservoir. I love a body of water, as already mentioned, so I climbed the many stairs to look at this one. It is very rare that it isn’t worth bothering doing something; this was such an occasion, uninspiring and I genuinely wish I hadn’t bothered. Demolished two bottles of orange Fanta at the friendly nearby café, as by now the threat of rain had cleared and it was simply very warm, and I was off.

IMG_20180715_165412

This section, down towards Veianen (Vianden) was just lovely, mostly downhill, huge deep tree filled valleys, shimmering wide cornfields, and largely traffic free roads to enjoy it all. I had perfected the pronunciation of ‘Veianen’ when I had stopped earlier to check my location, and the couple I asked gleefully helped me repeat it until it was spot on. In fact this went to waste as I didn’t quite enter the lovely old town; I approached from the south and headed directly towards Iechternach (Echternach) on the PC3. Sadly this first section is just on a fast National Route, and has no business being described a cycle route at all. However it is only one section, and soon I was on more forgiving roads. The “3 river route” is well known to me and I fair hammered it along the beautiful rivers, first the Our then the Sauer, crossing the confluence at Wallenduerfer-Bréck. This truly is a great ride with much to see along the river.

By now though, I was thinking of home, and swiftly passed the water birds, the campers happily playing on inflatables in the river and eventually steamed into Waasserbëlleg whilst the summer’s evening was deeply golden. I paused at Op de Spatz and unlike the understated white stone at the Kneiff, here a sign proudly displays the altitude of just 132 metres above sea level. I dipped my hands in the exact point the Sauer meets the Musel and my 100 kilometre, 428 metre descent was complete.

IMG_20180715_203544

IMG_20180715_203928IMG_20180715_203625IMG_20180715_203735