Circles in the Sand

Arms outstretched reaching up to the stars,

the irregular, scabrous bark bearing witness to centuries of enlightenment.

Plurality of singular existence perched atop this bouldered knoll.

Passively, pensively, awaiting promised precipitation.

Darkness’ cloak drawn across the skies,

bar resplendent pinacles across that expanse,

nothing else can be perceived.

The darkest of moments between sun setting and moon rising.

A glow on the horizon, a sprinkle of silvery tinge, a partial disc breaches the horizon.

A flurry of shadows at the base, a scrape and a rustle, a sparkle ever so brief.

The wind hums a tune in the outstretched branches, a rhythmic tapping of two pods high up in the boughs.

The shadows flitter and flut, as the impenetrable cloak gives way to misty tendrils of moon light stretching out from the horizon.

Shadows moving in circular synchronicity before the grandiose Baobab.

A gentle flame lights the centre, merging the glimmer of the moon, becoming one.

Little flashes of limbs, sharp facial features, they dance in the shimmering light.

The Garden

The gardens were found to be in quite close proximity as if by some great practical joke of nature. A flip of an interstellar coin, the star dust settling in such a manner as to make the two become mutual exclusive. A glance, a smile, a silly joke and it was not long before the butterflies were out, flittering out amongst the youthful, pretty flowers.

Their upbringing ensured that they were dedicated landscapists, architects, not of their own destiny, but of that and outlook of the other. The initial admiration for the pretty picket fences and neatly trimmed hedges soon gave way to criticism for the personal preferences of fertiliser, weeding methods and watering regimes. Where they could have recognised prejudicial damage, they chose to assert with strong conviction, until finally the fence was pulled down creating an illusion of unity.

The gardens came together, made one by a great circular surround. This provided the perfect opportunity for criticism and the pointing of the proverbial finger. A perverse freedom to change each carefully constructed flower bed so as to reduce it a barren patch of earth. With great depth of clarity and insight each form of gardening came to be greatly expounded upon without the hassle of a boundary fence in place.

The two most beautiful trees, mere saplings, were planted. In many ways this was expected to solve the variance of gardening opinions. These two saplings, as testimony to their own strength and possibly not the skill of the gardener, grew strong and began to thrive. Unfortunately their existence never did help the gardeners find a resolution where they were not prepared to look for it.

Thus the fences and open areas began to grow closed,until the two gardens became, once again, separate entities. Devoid of understanding and a willingness to see beauty within each other.

In the further most unexplored corner of the garden, an area can be found that is unspoilt and natural in all its beauty. Here there never had been the influence of the landscaper nor had a gardener laid it’s hoe. So rare are these little gems, in the same way that humanity appears bent on changing and destroying nature, so are the natural original landscapes of the garden indeed intensely rare. Those little pockets of purest and most intrinsic natural wonder, where the complete expression of the original earth form is held and conserved with sacred rigour.

It was here where she first saw him, the strangest sensation of exploring that which was never explored, observing with intrigue while simultaneously being intriguingly observed. An exploration of terrain both untouched and unspoilt. How spectacular that these two parts of their gardens could overlap. The calculated miscalculation of the mischievous surveyor.

A transcendence of time and space, where a day could seem like a year and a year could be but a day. How was it possible to live a lifetime without fully knowing themselves and then to find themselves and understand the truest, deepest and purest desires within the mediocrity of a few hours.

Indigenous land, overlaid, takes on its own construct. It becomes shapeless and without form. Transitioning from one to another, it resists storms and the most cataclysmic of wild fires. It persists and exists maintaining its space and formlessness. Ever absorbing and always forgiving, consistently patient regardless of the events outside of itself.

Today saw a fence being fixed on a close boundary. These are the type of poles that tends to get a little rickety if left alone and unattended for too long. The last pole was just being knocked into place when she walked up to the line and, reaching across, greeted the lonely stranger, mentioning that she has recently moved into the neighbourhood.

Her twinkling eyes sparkled across the fence while she stood on tippy toe peering over the low boundary fence. She pleasantly noted how lovely the garden was looking while the stranger mumbled some incoherence about not looking to closely.

Their schedules both busy, full of timetables and commitments, little shrubs and saplings to be tended, gates to mend, fences to be fixed, vegetable patches to be kept vibrant and lively. Occasionally they were able to steal little moments together, a few late nights, and even fewer early mornings. It was fascinating to explore the countryside together, to find those deeper darker hidden gems that take time, openness and honesty to fully explore and discover.

A great idea formed to build a joint fire pit on the boundary. It burned slowly with a depth and a warmth that sufficiently suited both sides of the fence. It was very warm and welcoming on a gloomy day and exceptionally attractive during those cold, frosty winter nights.

Solo visits to the fire pit, it’s singularly stoked, the warm and colourful flames burned ever so bright in the presence of each. One day they will arrive simultaneously at the pit, and together with an armful of wood they will sit together and enjoy the warmth of that lovely little hollow.

The Clay Pot

Light bouncing playfully across the perfect facade,

the vitreous outer layer gleams,

revealing neither fleck nor care,

beware the weakness starts within.

 

The gyuveche, so solid and robust,

feeds the family day after day,

year in year out.

Enduring temperature and abuse,

roughly washed, shoved back on the rack,

until called upon, 
when needed.

Beware the crack starts within.

 

The agitation creeps in slowly,

at first unobserved by neither.

The micro-fissures spread slowly from the heart,

impossible to observe from the outside,

the fracture forges the emotional abyss.

The chasm only visible within.

Negligently placed in a careless instant,

in an oven too hot,

shattered beyond hope,

the children go hungry tonight.

 

External aftermath, a reflection of the devastation within.

Скок means Jump

Fear and adrenalin spreads slowly like hot lava deep inside my chest. My stomach churns with the uncertainty of the unknown. I sit on a rigid floor. Rough, rythemic vibrations driving up through it and into my body. The heat is building up. It’s hard to focus or concentrate. Perspiration is running down the side of my cheek. The straps are pulled tightly around my legs, shoulders and chest.

A helmeted figure indicates for me to get onto my knees. Three men are yelling at each other in some foreign language, possibly of Balkan origin. The door is opened and the wind whips in, an incredulous drop outside is revealed. The figure indicates, forcing me out, I cling desperately to the edge of the door before taking one last breath and stepping out into the abyss. Hands grab me roughly and in less than three seconds I’m flung out.

My mind goes blank for the briefest of moments as I try to quantify what has just happened and then I’m falling, falling, hips arched out as we gain speed, arms and legs splayed out almost gently as if accepting the fate, finality and finiteness of the situation. My mind clears, the tension is gone and a feeling of complete euphoria washes over me as we fall from 3500m in the air. The two figures each side of me hold on tight, keeping me stable as we continue to fall. I run through a series of routines, following a series of instructions from each instructor. The wind presses hard into my face as we “fly” at around 200km/hr backdown towards earth. The view of the Black Sea is absolutely breathtaking, the ground appears almost frozen as we rush towards it.

I take furtive glances of the scenery while keeping a sceptical eye on the altimeter strapped to my wrist, at 1500m I wave my arms to convey my next actions, move my left hand across in line with my right shoulder to keep my body stable while simultaneously reaching back behind me with my right hand to deploy my parachute…. nothing, I find nothing, just my hip and the base of the pack on my back. My heart skips a beat and my right hand starts to search frantically… eventually finding and grabbing hold of the soft leather ball of the deployment chute. I pull it out, throwing it as far out as possible, moments later my feet are swung hard below me as I pendulum at my shoulders while the parachute starts to unfold and deploy.

My leg straps tighten hard and my shoulders are pressed firmly into the back pack as the parachute opens completely and it feels like everything stops, like time frozzen for a moment, no wind, no movement, just the parachute, the view, the clouds, and a beating heart.

Two Boats Afloat

As life’s tsunamis sweep us from the strand,

We find ourselves struggling to stand.

Water and debris crashing down around us, upon us,

Some never come to the surface.

The dark depths of the ocean drag them down,

the cold currents of the sea,

suck them into eternity.

We that finally lift our heads,

above us, clouds and sky and watery threads.

We breath deep, thankful to be alive,

the taste of the air, survivors of the seismic dive.

To survive the sea you find a boat,

looking around you notice one afloat.

Barely remaining adrift, brimful of water,

as if to beckon you to the slaughter.

You drift around desperately seeking the shore,

relentlessly prodding the sea with your oar.

sometimes its visible, mostly its just a hallucination,

you continue despite the knowledge that its your imagination.

Look over the bow and you will see

more boats around, and one of those is me.

You are not alone my dear,

for despite the distance I still am near.

Fighting to keep my own vessel afloat,

I am not far from you in your little boat.

Together we turn, together we yearn,

together we will our bobbing boat,

towards the land we dare them to float.

Through uncertainty and pain, steadfast we will remain.

And one day, together, we will stand,

on that hard and stable strand.

Lincoln Road, Peterborough, UK Scene 1

So often one is tempted to seek experiences in distant places and resultantly miss those precious gems that are right before our eyes. One of these extraordinary experiences would be Lincoln Road, running from the centre of Peterborough out to and along the western periphery of the original city. A road who’s history is so wonderfully captured in some of these images. 

As dusk starts drawing in, and while tucked beneath the magnificent London Planes, which are growing on a generous stretch of grass at the far end of Lincoln Road and Maskew Avenue, one is able to make several observations. Business doors shutting as the day comes to an end, residential doors opening and folk returning home, and business doors opening as the early evening trade starts coming through. The rows and rows of terraced houses dating back to the late Victorian 1800’s sit squashed and squat along the road. 

Moms and kids move through the park, stopping briefly to play on the council installed play equipment. A group of preteens and teenagers play basket ball on the court alongside. Their stomping and shouting intermittently breaking through the gentle rustle of the leaves above. 

As one turns and walks along Lincoln Road, in the direction of the city centre, the homes slowly give way to more businesses, some smaller industrial units and many home conversions. Within metres of each other you will observe brand new german luxury vehicles alongside 20 year old “vintages” of the same namesakes.

If one was to be blindfolded (colour and texture of ones own choosing) and gently led along the street, you could be forgiven for not realising that this is central England. Nationalities from all across the globe have come to call this street home. Listen to the accents and dialects as they pass by and you could pick up Arabic, Lithuanian, Hungarian, Romanian, Russian, Urdu, Oromo, Portuguese/ Brazilian, Turkish and many others which would be difficult to identify unless the speaker is interrupted and asked directly …..

(my apologies to all those speakers of unknown languages, as some stranger with a notebook and pen interrupted them to inquire of their origin, I realise in post Brexit UK culture this can be a sensitive question when asked by an “English speaker”)….

A result of this economic and cultural cauldron is the ultimate stamp of identity, national cuisine. The opportunities are multitudinous and diverse, from the simplistic roasted, grilled and fried chicken of the Kebab Shop through to the intricate delicacies of the ancient Moroccan kitchen. 

To end scene one, we are going to step into The Lounge. The lounge is a well priced restuarant with a slight middle eastern feel about it, the friendly staff are quick to welcome and invite one to a table. The special treat that this restaurant offers is a large free standing tent out the back of their building. Here are numerous comfortable couches and chairs, this is where they serve Shisha. The soft lighting and lively greek music allows one to immediately relax. Fantastically, there is no alcohol served here, and as a result groups are refreshingly calm and chilled and there is very little interruption to a great evening spent here. 

A delicious bowl of Vegetable Moussaka and warm fresh bread does well to fight off the developing chill of an evening in the UK spring. The vanilla and pear shisha makes a very smooth and flavourful addition to a serene night chatting and catching up with special friends. 

So, if you ever find yourself with a spare evening nearby to Lincoln Road, go ahead, breath deeply, pick up this memory and put it in your pocket.

A Storm in Sikasso

I move into consciousness, the cobwebs of sleep cling, 

desperately trying to drag me back into warm slumber. 

Leaves on the trees outside begin to rustle restlessly, 

a door deep inside the house slams closed, a branch taps lightly on the window announcing the inevitable arrival.

The stillness of the dark morning is broken by the surging wind,

The darkness of the still morning is shattered by a blaze of lightning.

The tension builds as the wind picks up, 

hot, silver flashes punctuate the darkness with regularity,

A thunderous roar reverberates through the very walls of the house, windows vibrating, curtains swaying. 

A distant rumble starts to build, 

At first it’s almost imagined, a plop against the pane, a splatter in the sand,

and then all too suddenly the distant rumble rolls in,

as the storm unleashes its soaking savagery. 

I walk onto the verandah, the cool air rushes to meet me,

the sky is ablaze, the atmosphere is electric, rain hammering down, thrashing all that it can reach. 

Trees straining, thunder deafening, wind gusting back and forth, reaching all that it can thrash. 

Slowly abating, a steadiness sets in, 

rain slowing down, wind dying off, a rhythm develops,

as if a truce between land and sky has been agreed.

Flashes of distancing lighting illuminate the turquoise dome of the minaret across the road, 

gently the sky starts to lighten as dawn begins to ease over the city.

A rooster hastens to welcome the lightening sky, as if caught unawares.

The gentle rhythm resonates all around, a soulful melody creating calm and peace.

The earth soaks up the rain, a peaceful calmness creating a melody for the soul. 

Dark Clouds Brewing as the wind blows in…

The Start of Transformation

After an absence of more than 5 years, a dear friend has provoked me to pick up the virtual pen, and share some of my experiences from across West Africa.

This particular story starts while travelling for the umpteenth time from London, Heathrow to Abidjan, Houphouet Boigny.

This flight is both loved and hated. This flight that drags one from the comfort of the European existence, towards the vortex of reality and festering celebration of life that is Abidjan.

Leaving London, passing over perfectly manicured homes, gardens and farmland, seeing the landscape as you land in Paris and then again when one departs a few hours later. This European illusion that wants you to know that all is well, everything has structure, all is in order.

The first hint of something different arrives into view, if you are lucky enough for a precursor, catching a glance of one of the Mediterranean islands.

The Balearic Islands stands out in stark contrast to the continent, as if they were ripped from both Africa and Europe, left with their rough mountain peaks making a defiant statement to the flat lethargic seas which surround.

The first glimpse of the African continent is surreal and mysterious. The northern coast line oozing with Arabic history both past and present. One that is so foreign and deeply unknown to the average westerner.

The intense emotional allure of foreign lands and foreign cultures.

This continent, at first appearing bare but habitable, soon gives way to Algerian and Malian Saharan sands. The touch of Harmattan dust visible on every horizon, dunes and sands stretch for miles in every direction.

As an African coming for south of the equator, one is both excited and confused with the uncertainty this brings. Excited to see this beloved continent once again and yet confused, as if exploring an unfamiliar part, of a once familiar lover. This northern part of the continent, with a history stretching back way further in time, and completely dissimilar to those green jungles and savannah’s south of the Sahara.

The checkered past of conquest and counter conquest. Religious revolution and the dominance and tenacity of the desert people. Staring out at this sand, 25’000 feet below, one can feel the heat of this desert reflecting back mercilessly.

As the plane drifts further south, the terrain slowly starts to change and morph. A few green patches emerge, the flash of a river in the distance. Water, the essence of life, changes the personality of this continent. Habitation becomes more prominent. The red granite dust and soil so familiar across ‘our’ Africa begins to emerge, striking cords of recognition across the cortex of the brain.

Down south we say that Africa burns in winter time. For the northern sphere this is true as well. Once the rainy season is over, from up high, one can see fires lighting up across the land, over this pseudo winter that the tropics experience during the primary four months of the year.

As the sun sets, initially painting the land in deep oranges and red, the land steadily moves from deep blues, maroons and slowly edges to black, as if to hide its true identity.

A reminder that one cannot experience Africa from a distance. She cannot be understood from a lofty height.

To experience her, to taste her joy, her pain, to feel her passion you have to draw closer. One has to descend and dwell among her people. Feel their pulse, listen to their beat and watch her bleed to know the true pain that she is experiencing.

I will leave this post with a musical recommendation. Farafina, by Mousa Traore.

His melodious rapping style captures the heart of this part of West African, with its joy, sweat, blood, tears and political corruption. May his desire to see Africa awaken and throw off the cloak of inferiority, become a reality in the coming years.

A Castle on a Hill

A quiet road meanders slowly across to the horizon, the sun shines down warmly and the sky’s perfectly blue without a cloud in sight on this spring day. A hill pops up over the horizon, and as one draws near the skyline clears and little details start to appear. A castle battlement stands tall and proud over whitewashed walls and red tiled roofs, a stone wall is distinctly structured around the village perimetre part of the way down the hill…. This is Montsaraz.
A medieval village fortified by the Knights Templar in the 1200’s to secure against the Moors, if one was to remove the vehicles and street lights, you could be forgiven for believing the village was still living in it’s ancient past.
From the battlement there is an exquisite view of the Alqueva lake in the distance and close by, the intricate details of the village becomes more apparent. Watch your step up the worn rocky steps, especially with a wriggling Savannah on your back.

The tightly packed little homes create small windy narrow cobbled streets. The tiny doors make one wonder if “here do midgets reside?” Below the battlement there is a tiny dusty arena with stone structured stands. It is here that bull fights have been held for centuries and is still used annually. Unfortunately, today it was just Tam and Dave chasing a Sav around with a white tissue in a sandy ring….the “Olé!” being replaced with the cackling laughter of a two year old.
Visiting this region in Spring is fantastic, the weather is good, the roads are quiet and the areas of interest are not jam packed with tourists. Our lonely car was the only one parked in an area clearly constructed for 300 odd vehicles.

A small little chapel sits off from the walled village. This dilapidated building is slowly caving in on itself. The interior’s been gutted and a broken-down shrine is all that points to this being of catholic origin. Faint paintings on the wall are peeling off and the roof is beginning to fall in as well, while not much to look at it echoes of an age when village life was simple, the church managed opinion and the strongest sword ruled the land.

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Tam enjoying the history…and sun!