On Bergen

Bergen is a beautiful city. It sits nestled between mountains, fjords and islands. Known as ‘the city between the seven mountains’, it is actually surrounded by nine in total. The name Bergen means ‘the meadow among the mountains’. The mountains protect the city, keeping its climate relatively warm considering its northern aspect. The water is clear and blue. The many lakes and fjords are like glassy mirrors reflecting pure images of the forested surroundings. Up in the mountains, if you are lucky, you can see goats living wild. (OK, so this one isn’t really wild – but they are there!)

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Bergen is an old city. It was founded about 1070. In the harbour, you will find the ancient district of Bryggen. These beautiful wooden buildings now house shops, museums and eateries. Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, they are crowded and popular with tourists. Bergen’s narrow cobbled streets are lined with picturesque, clapperboard houses.

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Bergen is a city of fires. Its history contains a trail of destruction. Many of its buildings are wooden and in danger from the flames. In 1248, eleven churches were burnt down. In 1702, ninety percent of the city was reduced to ashes. Bryggen has burnt on more than one occasion, including in 1476 in a fire started by a drunk and in 1955 when many of its buildings were destroyed.

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Bergen is a clean city. It is a city you can breathe in. The mountain air is sweet and fresh. Bergen has an excellent public transport system, including trains, trams and buses. Much of it is electric. This transport system keeps cars out of the city centre. The few cars you do see are mostly electric. The Norwegian government subsidises the purchase of electric cars, so Norwegians drive more electric cars per capita than anywhere else in the world. It is a green and environmentally friendly place.

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Bergen is a wild city. Bergen residents like to party on a Saturday night and this includes indulging in some heavy drinking! Luckily, alcohol is very expensive, so drunkenness seems to be limited to once a week. People in Bergen love to enjoy the outdoors – swimming in the fjords, walking the trails, sailing around the islands.  There are trekking trails everywhere. It is easy to get up into the mountains and explore, especially the two most popular ones. Floyen has a funicular railway and Ulriken has a cable car. There are cabins hidden in the mountains and forests where you can stay after a long day trekking. There are places to set up camp and get your fire going all over the mountainsides.

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Bergen is a beautiful, old, clean, wild city. I recommend you go and visit.

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Just about had enough of you

Singing is my sanity. It relieves stresses and worries. It fills my heart with joy. Recently, plans to finish my book have taken a back seat as I adjust to a new life of working and studying, after years as a home educating Mum. One thing that remains constant is singing – in my choir, in my job, at home and everywhere possible. I have even written a couple of songs, though I’m not a musician and it’s all done by ear. Here are the lyrics to one of them. If I feel brave, I may record and share it (if I can work out how!)

 

Just about had enough of you

 

Refrain:

I’ve just about had enough of you to last me a very long time

I’ve just about had enough of you to last me the rest of my life.

 

When I saw you that first night, my heart filled with joy

I thought I had found a love true

We shared much in common, you seemed to be kind

But you soon ended up being cruel

 

Refrain

 

We married on a Tuesday; the rain pattered down

My mother was weeping for me

I ignored the warnings, the worries, the frowns

Your love notes were all I could see

 

Refrain

 

I sat on a hospital bed in the dawn

A patchwork of bruises and cuts

The doctor asked questions, the nurses looked sad

But I shrugged off their cautions and tuts

 

Refrain

 

I cradled our baby and rocked her to sleep

Counting the hours that passed

Another night alone, while you messed around

I prayed that this one was your last

 

Refrain

 

We huddled in a corner, the children and me

I covered their ears with my hands

Your hatred and cursing swept over our heads

Like waves crashing over the sands

 

Refrain

 

I stared in the mirror at my ugly fat lip

The blood trickled down from my nose

The children were sobbing and clinging to me

I sighed at the life that I chose

 

Refrain

 

Early one Sunday while you lay in bed

In a black out from drinking all night

I left with the children and a small hold all bag

Disappeared in the grey morning light

 

Refrain

 

Here

To sit on a World War II gun battery,

crumbling tumble-down shelter to shaggy sheep,

symbol of war, hate and death.

To watch the early summer sun sinking

behind bold distant hills,

spilling fiery colour across clouds.

To listen to the last birdsong of evening,

eerie calls of pheasant hiding in wavy grass,

maniacal cries of horned beasts.

To see that blazing ball of flame

drip amber, pink and gold upon the settled sea.

To experience a moment of peace

removed from this world of madness, fear and sorrow.

Life-affirming minutes;

we exist now, at this time,

we are here.

Song

To bring a tear to someone’s eye, with your voice.

To touch a person, make them cry, with a song.

That must matter, I can’t deny,  it’s power.

Growing

There is something special about growing your own food. Gently planting a seed in rich, damp compost, waiting patiently for signs of green shoots pushing up through dark earth, planting out seedlings in neat rows of raked soil, watching the plants grow tall and vigorous, picking fresh vegetables for the evening meal, from garden to pot in minutes, is a kind of magic.

Sometimes, there are frustrations. Seeds rot in the ground, slugs feast on tender blooms, caterpillars attack glossy leaves, backs twinge, muscles ache, nails break and hands become dirt-ingrained, but it is satisfying work, good for body and mind. The clean air breathed in under wide skies, the smell of warm earth, the feel of fingers dug deep in crumbly dirt, the calming buzz of insects and soulful song of birds, the sense of well-being and pride growing brings. It is a connection with the land, a sustaining of life, something fundamental, something ancient.

Many of us have lost that connection, the opportunity to support ourselves, even in a small way, with home-grown food. If there were more gardens and growing spaces in our cities, towns and communities, we would be healthier and happier. Our diets are better, our appreciation of food far greater, when we grow it ourselves. Growing vegetables means being outside, exercising our bodies and working with purpose. The effort is rewarded with vegetables that taste wonderful, like nothing we can buy in supermarkets. Serving up Sunday lunch with three types of vegetables from your own garden is a feeling that is hard to beat.

Preseli Walk

Trudge breathless up boggy slopes,

squelching puddles pool under rubber heels.

Reach glorious heights of heather,

illuminated blankets in bright sunshine.

Beneath ancient sculpted rock,

rest on tumbled stone touched by pagan hand.

Warm breeze lifting hair from damp skin,

gaze on a patchwork as clouds cast ink blots.

 

 

Blocked

An enormous tree, branches gnarled and clawed, lies in the road like a fallen dragon. I stop the car; my journey in this direction is at an end. Uncertain what to do, where to go next, I sit admiring the felled beast. It is a handsome giant; an old ash, probably wracked with dieback, unable to withstand the power of the morning’s stormy winds. A few minutes earlier and perhaps it would have come crashing down on the top of the car, crushing me under metal and glass. I breathe a sigh of relief at my lucky escape. How many near misses do we experience in our lives? I am reminded of how fragile and precious life is. We don’t know how much time we have so we should make the most of every moment.

The tree in the road reflects my current mind state. I am blocked; unable to decide in which direction to go. Should I continue with the new job I’ve started, it’s worthwhile working with vulnerable adults but limited in scope, or pursue the teaching career I worked hard to qualify for, and am good at, but left behind long ago to home educate? Should I give up work altogether to focus on my writing and creativity (currently struggling under the weight of fresh responsibility and doubt)? Or is there some way to manage all the options? I’ve said we should make the most of every moment, but at what cost? I want to enjoy stillness too; quiet periods in the place I’m in, room to breathe, space to appreciate beautiful things.

An impatient blast of a horn jolts me from my reverie. In the rear-view mirror, a cross-faced man directs me to move my car out his way so he can reverse and turn around. My journey must carry on. I have to decide which road to take. Where will I go?

The wardrobe

The wardrobe towered over the cheap hotel room; a citadel keeping watch on those below. Elaine felt uncomfortable under its scrutiny. A grand piece of furniture like that – imposing in its finery of polished walnut, carved lintels and shiny brass handles – had no place in such a small, shabby room; the best she could afford in her haste to escape their disapproving faces. She fidgeted on the pillows wondering how anyone managed to manoeuvre the wardrobe through the narrow doorway. It must have been an exhausting feat of strength and endurance. She was certain the wardrobe must have done its best to prevent its arrival into this unsavoury situation.

Now, it commandeered the back wall encroaching an intimidating distance across the drab and grubby carpet. Elaine could not settle under its reproachful gaze. The wardrobe stood, austere and unfriendly, in admonishment; it was clear it did not belong in that room. She, tiny and unimportant, fitted perfectly in the miserable gloom of the place but the wardrobe, oh no, it was too good for its surroundings; beautifully crafted, made for higher purpose.

Elaine turned her back to it and switched off the lamp. Sleep would be difficult with the monstrous wardrobe mocking her from the shadows. In the dim light, she was aware it looked down on her in a superior, knowing fashion. She closed her eyes tight, tried to forget its presence. The flesh on her back began to creep. It was worse with the huge thing leering behind her. Elaine turned again; she would meet it face to face. It would not beat her into supplication.

In the darkness, the wardrobe sneered. It recognized she was unworthy of its attention, a nothing, a disappointment. It knew everyone expected more and she had let them down. It was no surprise she had ended up in this dismal place. The wardrobe wanted nothing to do with her. To be crammed into a lowly hovel was insult enough, it would stoop no lower. It would not share space with a pathetic individual. The wardrobe seemed to grow larger. It pressed against the walls and ceiling. Elaine slid to the far side of the bed until she reached the cool, far edge. She pulled the covers tighter, making herself a small ball; giving the wardrobe further territory. It was going to crush her, suffocate her; it would be master.

In panic, Elaine lunged for the light switch. The wardrobe loomed above her in the dusty glow. Its polished surface reflected loathing and disgust. It knew she had failed. Failed to get a degree. Failed to be a good wife. Failed to make her parents proud. The wardrobe filled the room, squeezing out the air. Elaine’s chest constricted. She tried to catch her breath but only managed quick, rasping gasps. She could no longer bear to see the wardrobe; to feel the weight of its scorn. In desperation, she covered her face with shaking hands and submitted to the cold, hard wood, smooth against skin as it smothered her.

 

 

 

This story is what my imagination does when I spend the night in an unfamiliar room with a large piece of furniture! Have you ever slept in a room where you have felt unsettled?

 

 

 

Remember your inner child

I wanted to share part of a letter from the poet Ted Hughes (August 17, 1930–October 28, 1998) to his 24-year-old son, Nicholas.  This letter speaks to my heart. It is a long extract but worth reading. The final lines are a lesson for us all and a statement to live by.

 

“Nicholas, don’t you know about people this first and most crucial fact: every single one is, and is painfully every moment aware of it, still a child…It’s something people don’t discuss, because it’s something most people are aware of only as a general crisis of sense of inadequacy, or helpless dependence, or pointless loneliness, or a sense of not having a strong enough ego to meet and master inner storms that come from an unexpected angle. But not many people realise that it is, in fact, the suffering of the child inside them. Everybody tries to protect this vulnerable two three four five six seven eight year old inside, and to acquire skills and aptitudes for dealing with the situations that threaten to overwhelm it. So everybody develops a whole armour of secondary self, the artificially constructed being that deals with the outer world, and the crush of circumstances. And when we meet people this is what we usually meet. And if this is the only part of them we meet we’re likely to get a rough time, and to end up making ‘no contact’. But when you develop a strong divining sense for the child behind that armour, and you make your dealings and negotiations only with that child, you find that everybody becomes, in a way, like your own child. It’s an intangible thing. But they too sense when that is what you are appealing to, and they respond with an impulse of real life, you get a little flash of the essential person, which is the child. Usually, that child is a wretchedly isolated undeveloped little being. It’s been protected by the efficient armour, it’s never participated in life, it’s never been exposed to living and to managing the person’s affairs, it’s never been given responsibility for taking the brunt. And it’s never properly lived. That’s how it is in almost everybody. And that little creature is sitting there, behind the armour, peering through the slits. And in its own self, it is still unprotected, incapable, inexperienced. Every single person is vulnerable to unexpected defeat in this inmost emotional self. At every moment, behind the most efficient seeming adult exterior, the whole world of the person’s childhood is being carefully held like a glass of water bulging above the brim. And in fact, that child is the only real thing in them. It’s their humanity, their real individuality, the one that can’t understand why it was born and that knows it will have to die, in no matter how crowded a place, quite on its own. That’s the carrier of all the living qualities. It’s the centre of all the possible magic and revelation. What doesn’t come out of that creature isn’t worth having, or it’s worth having only as a tool — for that creature to use and turn to account and make meaningful. So there it is. And the sense of itself, in that little being, at its core, is what it always was. But since that artificial secondary self took over the control of life around the age of eight, and relegated the real, vulnerable, supersensitive, suffering self back into its nursery, it has lacked training, this inner prisoner. And so, wherever life takes it by surprise, and suddenly the artificial self of adaptations proves inadequate, and fails to ward off the invasion of raw experience, that inner self is thrown into the front line — unprepared, with all its childhood terrors round its ears. And yet that’s the moment it wants. That’s where it comes alive — even if only to be overwhelmed and bewildered and hurt. And that’s where it calls up its own resources — not artificial aids, picked up outside, but real inner resources, real biological ability to cope, and to turn to account, and to enjoy. That’s the paradox: the only time most people feel alive is when they’re suffering, when something overwhelms their ordinary, careful armour, and the naked child is flung out onto the world. That’s why the things that are worst to undergo are best to remember. But when that child gets buried away under their adaptive and protective shells—he becomes one of the walking dead, a monster. So when you realise you’ve gone a few weeks and haven’t felt that awful struggle of your childish self — struggling to lift itself out of its inadequacy and incompetence — you’ll know you’ve gone some weeks without meeting new challenge, and without growing, and that you’ve gone some weeks towards losing touch with yourself. The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn’t live boldly enough, that they didn’t invest enough heart, didn’t love enough. Nothing else really counts at all.”

A walk in Seville

I walk under an azure sky in sandy, crumbling heat. A round, fierce sun beats on my neck; burns like standing too close to fiery flames. The light is bright; clear, bold, everything sharply defined. Colours shine; shades of gold, red, orange and blue. Tiled surfaces glint in jewelled patterns; mirrors reflecting. Smells of garlic and frying fish, of dry, dusty earth, of sour, cloying drains catch in my nostrils. Here, no fresh, cooling rain washes away dirt and odours.

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Everything is alive, vibrant, noisy. Musical chatter of Latin voices lisps and slides through the air. Cars beep and roar, mopeds hum and mew. In market displays, baskets of cherries, peaches and pineapples topple and overflow; a painter’s palette. Sweet, ripe smells mix with metallic rust of bloody sheep heads, eyes glazed and sightless. A string of rabbits hangs, sad and lifeless. Here, life and death coincide.

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In the gardens, spiky palms, aloe, and agapanthus stand in symmetrical rows. Orange trees drop plump fruits. Strange, enormous trees offer shade; pods drooping like alien lifeforms. Above my head, emerald parakeets squawk and argue. Eurasian swifts dance and sweep through towers and turrets. Here, I am many miles from the soft, green of Welsh countryside.

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Exotic buildings hide in narrow, shadowy streets; graffiti artists have been busy sprawling works of art. Faiths and cultures intermingle – Moorish, Catholic, Muslim, Jewish, Spanish. Melding together to create awe-inspiring architecture. Domes, carvings, arches, bright ceramics and rounded terracotta roofs rise into fresh blue. Here, I am a wanderer in a different land.

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