Thursday, 6 April 2017

Mother's Day...

Ah, Mother's Day
I could write a poem
But I won't
I shan't
Because if I should
It might become a rant
So instead
I shall drink red
Then tuck myself into bed

Luna in the sunshine...

Just Luna enjoying the sunshine in Wales. 
I wonder what she is thinking?

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Vienna - final thoughts...

I promised myself to only write three blog posts on Vienna. After all, I don't want to bore you although I could write at least a dozen, but three was the promise I made and, like the loves of my life, that is what I shall stick to.

It was only three nights and days but what a different three nights and days they were. Of course, I will leave aside my bloody knees and my snoring. But even with that I left Vienna with a feeling that us British have somehow missed out and all because of the English Channel. So how should I do this? I know, I'll let it just gush...

I hate bloody airports. The walking is a killer, but once away from the planes and on board the two level airport to city centre train (fifteen mins non-stop) the Vienna transportation system was magnificent with bus, rail and the most spotless underground I have ever seen. A three day unlimited travel ticket was just over a tenner. It makes me wonder about the UK, just what have we done? The government claims that it wants public transport used, but it makes no attempt to encourage it. I won't ride that particular horse here, although I did quite enjoy the Lipizzaner stallions at the Spanish riding school.

Cakes, schnitzel, goulash, sausages, cheese, beer and wine for under three quid a bottle from the Spar. Yes, I loved the food and the easy going cafe's on the streets. I loved the little Austrian bar that we used to pop into on the way back to our hotel for a beer and a shot of blackberry schnapps. Just a bar, full of people coming back from work having a drink and smoking. Yes, I was shocked to find that you could still smoke in restaurants and bars. But hey, it's Europe who needs buttoned-up rules when a riot may break out any moment? Of course my 'shocked' is a result of years of conditioning by a government who want to control me - well listen up you Westminster John Bulls... I've been to Vienna!

I was surprised about the security too, surprised but not worried or concerned. At the museums there were no scanners and no bag checks. People wandered around with backpacks and bags that could have contained anything and there were no armed guards, just older men and women who sat watching or answered questions. In the galleries I walked up to within a couple of feet to closely study pictures worth tens of millions. Klimt, Schiele, Munch, Breugel, Raphael, Bosch, Rembrandt self-portraits. I could have easily reach out and touched any of them, or pulled a knife from my bag and slashed them, although of course I didn't.

Art and culture was everywhere and on such a huge scale that it made London look silly. The wealth of the city, its importance in a world long gone, was obvious. Huge spreading squares, massive symmetrically mirrored palaces, an exquisite art deco apartment house above a McDonald's by the Danube, the cleanliness. In the morning and evening at seven the church across the way from our hotel rang the bells to make the citizens aware that it was time to start or end work - just tradition these days. Busy people rushed to and fro, but not too fast and always without pushing. The bike lanes were adhered to and used, the cyclist polite with their bells, strangers came up to you and asked if you needed help finding your way and not wanting anything in return. I didn't feel threatened. It was all very un-British and not at all paranoid. It was European.

When we leave Europe we lose more than a silly trade agreement, when we leave Europe we lose our chance of being part of something much grander than Henry VIII and Winston Churchill, when we leave Europe we can never be Viennese again, not even a little. It's taken me a long time but I think that I almost understand what the 'community' in European Community means.

Thanks Vienna.

Wednesday, 15 March 2017

Mr Shadow...

I was in a little bar in Austria one evening last week and in walked a Herr wearing a brimmed hat and a long grey overcoat dripping with rain. He ordered a gro├čes bier, a glass of mandelschnapps, and then sat himself down in a shadowy corner to read his copy of Volksstimme. It looked as though he was trying hard to be inconspicuous which is a sure way of getting yourself noticed. He didn't stay long, just half an hour or so, but when he'd left I realised that it wasn't raining outside and that it hadn't rained all day.

Mr Shadow

Let’s talk about Mr Shadow
An inconclusive fellow
Comes out in the sunshine
Flits out in the moonshine
Spends most of his free time
Dodging from sunny climes
The voice of a stage mime
He could be a paradigm
Mr Shadow
He looks a trifle shallow

Yes, let’s speak of Mr Shadow
An insubstantial bedfellow
He’s not quite all there
Doesn't sit easy in a chair
Does he wear underwear?
Best never to stare
Just in case he's not there
He seems made of air
Mr Shadow
Complexion a custard sallow

So now we know Mr Shadow
In temperament somewhat mellow
He'll be one step behind
He's so hard to find
With his air quite refined
Yes, he’s one of a kind
To shyness inclined
So bear that in mind
Mr Shadow
A wisp of pale marshmallow

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Vienna - Breugel...

I'm a man of small obsessions. Some of these are new (like my fixation on single malt whisky) and some of them I've had since my childhood. The earliest of these obsessions is still with me - it's my deep love of, and fascination for, the paintings of Breugel.

I know when this started. It was autumn and I was less that five. As for the how, well in the classroom at my infant school hung a large print of The Hunters in the Snow. It seemed huge and almost alive and I looked at it every day for a year or so as the seasons changed in the playground outside. They were grey days back then and I was fascinated by the painting. It made me feel free and unburdened. 

I'd spend much of my time making up stories about what the hunters were saying and thinking, where they had been, where they had come from, what their dog's names were, what they might be eating for supper - no wonder I didn't learn much. I imagined being one of the skaters on the ice below, the person crossing the bridge with firewood on his back, I wondered why nobody had fixed the inn sign so that it hung true and how warming those hot flames from the fire must have been on such a cold day. I wanted to be the flying bird on its way to the distant mountains and I wondered just what kind of bird it was anyway. It wasn't in my Observer Book of Birds.

I was hooked.

Later when I was about twelve I discovered a book in the library at Lord William's Grammar School. It was large, almost square, thick and glossy, and beautifully printed. Inside were really fine prints of all of Breugel's works from the early wonders of his Bosch inspired dreamscapes to his wonderful representations of peasant life. He was mystical, he was everything I wanted to be and I tried, painting my daubs and wishing I had even a finger's worth of the talent and ability that he had. Of course I never came close.

I read that book most lunchtimes for years, hiding away from reality, keeping myself to myself, trying not to remember the cross country run or the math's lesson I had to go to when my lunchtime session with Breugel was over. I lived in his world for a while and, even in times of war and pestilence, it seemed a good place to be. I have searched for that book in book shops and online for years and still never found it. Sometimes I wonder if it ever existed, but that is just the way my mind works. Everything could be a dream, every memory may be false, even real things may not exist.

I have found myself in those pictures a dozen or so times both spiritually and actually. I have a Dutch peasant face you see and I can find myself represented as a figure in a few of those paintings - The Fight between Carnival and Lent, Children's Games, The Peasant Wedding.

So here I am today, all old and ugly like a Breugel peasant and this is my reason for visiting Vienna. There is a room in the Kunsthistorisches Museum that is wall to wall Breugel. That room is my heaven, my whole life is there. I can't explain how I felt when I walked into that room. It was like coming home to a loving family or meeting up with all the best friends I've ever known in a single room. For a few moments I couldn't speak and I had to sit down. After that I just wandered from picture to picture taking it all in but not really seeing and it wasn't until I calmed myself that I really saw what I had come to see - the peacock feather, the broken jug handle, the egg robber, and me sitting on that barrel.

So there it was, a lifetime's ambition realised, my bucket list done in one single visit.

I owe Breugel a lot. I'm no great artist but it was he who started me on the path I took with art and with which I've managed to make a living - one way or another - for all of my life. I have much to thank him for, the joy he has brought me with his work and how he sent me along a road that I am so pleased that I travelled.

So thanks Pieter, I take my rough woollen peasant cap off to you. Y
ou set me free.

Monday, 13 March 2017

Vienna - let's start at the end...

Back from my trip to Vienna and it's already distilling into those few moments that get stuck in memory and so embellished and polished until they become something that they weren't at the time. Vienna is a place I could happily get lost in. Obviously, all I saw was the surface but I managed to avoid most of the hype and drink beer and schnapps in bars that American tourists and hipsters - both young and old - would probably avoid. I know that I'm more than a little unhinged, but there were moments that I wished the whole place would turn to black and white and after the third beer and fourth blackberry schnapps it almost did.

Play the Harry Lime theme.

Vienna is one of those places that is as much movie than a real geographical location and I soon found that it can be any movie that I wanted it to be - not The Sound of Music though, never The Sound of Music. Mind you, my movies are of the 'Noire' genre and for me Vienna had more than a few movies that were just a glass or two away. I'm not a huge fan of reality. I've never really understood it's attraction. Most of the time it appears to be a series of repeated activities that we don't have the will to break away from. Sometimes though a few people do and these are the ones that lead great lives, but I best leave that for another day and another glass of beer.

But let's roll the cameras. I'm here to make a mind movie to keep me warm the rest of my days and not dwell on my own insignificance in the shadow of greatness.

I was in Vienna and walking the same streets as Chopin, Beethoven and the Strauss 'familie', Freud and Hitler (the would be art student and not the dictator), Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, Turks and Hungarians, Emperors and paupers, good men and bad men selling fake antibiotics and watching the world turn on a huge wheel high above the city walls with it's heartbreak and culture and drama and schnitzel and beer and frankfurters and white horses and goulash soup and music and art and madness and frustrated sexuality.

Keep the camera rolling. My movie is showing and the Harry Lime theme plays as I pray for fog, a single gunshot rings out in the deserted square and maybe a German femme fatale - who probably turns out to be a spy - steps from that shadowed alley where I'm sure I can see a gloomy bar.

Zoom in on the entrance to a bar with a red neon sign. It should say Leopold's, but the 'L' doesn't work. It's probably out of neon and the flashing sign is reflected in the rain on the pavement - eopold's, eopold's, eopold's flashing over and over again. A man with a large scar on his left cheek falls through the door of the bar and out onto the cobbles. He's clutching his left side and grimacing. He looks hurt, a stab wound? But then it could be indigestion the goulash can be very hot in some places.

Of course that was just the movie in my mind. It was a bar, not gloomy just smokey from the cigarettes of patrons who wouldn't accept a ban if the authorities insisted with raised machine guns, shouting and much stomping of jackbooted feet. The beer and the goulash were excellent and nobody tried to shoot me. This is Vienna. There's freedom here and the movie just plays on and on.

I came to Vienna in search of something, a few things really. Some I found, some I'm still searching the sewers for. But whilst I may not have become Harry Lime when I was there, I did become a venerably old sixty, not quite alone, not quite as mysterious as I'd like to be and I don't suit a hat. But goodness, how I loved pretending.

Maybe for my seventieth I'll go back and go down the sewers and find the rest of my film, or maybe I'll visit Casablanca instead.

Anyway, it meant something to me - oh, Vienna!