Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Seasonal wishes to all of you

Whoever you are, where-ever you are, whatever you believe, I hope you have a happy, healthy and trouble-free start to 2014.  And ..... psssssst........ remember to read lots of books!!!!

Authors Electric and Awesome Indies both have post Christmas book deals to save you money and give you a great read!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Tuesday Poem: Solstice Sunset

Going Down

21st December

The sea is like frost and the sun
already dipping
beneath the line
of the horizon for the last time
before the planet turns
towards summer

Another year going down.
One less of mine.

The land is smoky with wood fires
and drifts of evening fog.
The sky a dome of glass
and one expanding jet-trail
stretches across the blue
like the vertebrae of some
prehistoric bird.

The twilight zone is orange
purple, green, and the dark
spine of Corsica looms
out of the sea fog tipped
by solar light.

The winter solstice
stitches my life back to back,
year to year, around the sun,
while the universe whirls,
tipsy and infinite
over my head.

©  Kathleen Jones

If you would like to read more poetry from the Tuesday Poets Community all over the world please click on this link. 

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

Indian Summer in Italy

We've been having the most wonderful and unexpected weather here. Mid-day temperatures have been up to about 20 degrees and the days are clear and sunny.  The nights are cold and frosty, but I don't mind that kind of crisp weather.  It can't last, but we're making the most of it.  This was one of my grandchildren in the sea at Pietrasanta earlier today, just as the sun was going down.

Two of my daughters and their children are spending Christmas with us this year - not in the little olive house (big enough for 2 or 3 at a squeeze), but at Peralta, one of my favourite places, up in the hills further down the coast.  Neil and I are care-taking Peralta for Christmas and New Year, including the dogs and cats.  It promises to be lively.  But at the moment it is sunny and peaceful and an absolute gift! I feel very fortunate just now.

Sadly the weather is forecast to break and we're to have rain for Christmas. Think positive -  An excuse for log fires and evenings in!

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Santa Lucia in Italy

Yesterday was the feast of Santa Lucia - celebrating the return of the sun's light to the earth as the world begins to spin towards spring. December the 13th is the Winter Solstice in the old Julian Calendar.  It's a very important day in the northern hemisphere, but it loses importance the further south you go.  It's a festival that pre-dates Christianity and certainly has a very pagan feel. This year I was invited to join the fun, decked out with candles and a bed-sheet!

We began singing in the marble studios, then walked up the streets

calling in at hotels and bars

and finally into the piazza, candles almost burnt out!

Lots of fun with Norwegian sculptor Julia Vance.

ps  - we had to sing it in Norwegian! And it's h**** getting the wax out of your hair afterwards.....
If you would like to hear the hymn to Santa Lucia please click here.

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Writing from Silence


'...when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips,
And sound is a diversion and a pastime. 
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly
                                                             Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, On Talking

The phone rings and I jump as the electronic jingle penetrates the silence in the room.  For two weeks and two days I've been on my own in the little house up in the olive groves and living mostly in silence.
Sometimes, in England, I've been tempted to put the television on for company, but Italian TV is terrible, so I keep it off.  The nights are cold and dark, so I haven't been going down to the piazza much.  I've been trying to make the most of solitude to work.
Living in silence is odd.  You become very conscious of extraneous sound - a builder yelling from scaffolding across the valley, the cat crunching its biscuits outside the door, a siren screaming along the autostrada far below, a leaf clattering down through the chestnut tree.  And in the background there's a strange roar like the hum of a big city, but which I know is the sea, tumbling in and out along the coastline, 10 kilometres away.
It struck me that we're so surrounded by sounds that we spend much of our time shutting them out - the blah and blare of activities around us - it was a week before I started really listening.  In the first few days, I talked to myself to fill the gap.  Now I'm quite happy.
I haven't even had the CD player on very often.  Some people find it helps them to write, but I can't write with music on, or a lot of background noise - I need to be able to hear the words in my head.
Neil is due back sometime tomorrow.  Have I managed to write anything?  Not as much as I should have done - I'm the Queen of Procrastinators, but the silence has been restful.  I don't think you realise just how noisy the world around us is until you can shut it out and listen to its absence. 

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

A Tale of Travelling Cat-Food

or Will Heathcliff Ever Get His Whiskas?

Heathcliff waiting anxiously at the window
Tuesday:  I order a shed-load of cat food online from a Famous Supermarket as a Christmas hamper for my cat Heathcliff, who is being looked after by Daughter No 1 who lives in Staffordshire.  I schedule evening delivery and, because I know they're a busy family with lots of after-school activities, I put special instructions to leave it through the side-gate outside the back door if no-one's home.  It's a regular order - it's always worked.

Thursday:  I ring my daughter to check that the Cat Food Has Landed.  No, she says.  Because only C (13) was home they took it away again.  The driver wouldn't leave it by the back door either, but he's left a card, so daughter says she will ring and re-schedule delivery.

Friday:  I email Famous Supermarket.  They say they've refunded my money but will re-charge my card when they re-deliver.  Daughter re-schedules for Sunday.  Everyone happy (except Heathcliff).

Sunday:  Get phone call from neighbour in Cumbria (200 miles further north) who says 'I've just had a load of cat food delivered to my door.  I told the driver it couldn't be for you because you're away, but he said he was late for his delivery slots and hadn't time to check  "This is where I was told to deliver it, so this is where I'm delivering" he said.'  I have never, at any time, given F.S my neighbour's address as a delivery target.
           Phone call from daughter in Staffordshire. No cat food.  What do we do?

Monday am:  Neighbour rings F.S. and points out that she has a hall full of cat food she doesn't want.

                    My daughter rings Customer Support who tell her it's my order.  I have to sort it out.

                    I email F.S. and outline the problem.  Cat in Staffordshire. Cat food in Cumbria.

                     Receive email sending me a £10 voucher off my next order.

                      I email F.S (a little more sharply) saying that it doesn't solve my problem - I have just paid for a lot of cat food which is currently at the wrong address (their fault) and as I'm in Italy I've no way of getting it to the cat.


Monday pm:  Daughter rings F.S. Customer Support for advice - 'Can't she just order some more cat food?'  Daughter asks to speak to the person in charge (she's very good at this!).  Supervisor soothing and helpful.  Daughter - why should my mother have all this hassle?  It's your problem - you sort it.

Tuesday:  Daughter receives delivery of cat food. (Thank you F.S)  Finally Heathcliff gets to eat!
               20 minutes later she gets a telephone call.  'This is F.S. We're just on our way to collect the cat food and wanted to check that you're in.'
               Daughter - 'But it's just been delivered!'
               F.S. Driver - 'It's at the wrong address.'
               Daughter - 'It's at the right address!'  Then, suspiciously, 'Where are you phoning from?'
               F.S. Driver - 'This is F.S. Carlisle, Cumbria.'
               Daughter points out that he's got quite a long drive, then gives him my neighbour's address and tel no in Cumbria, hardly able to speak for laughing.

Tuesday:  Cat food and cat are now reunited and my neighbour can get into her hallway without spraining her ankle on tins of Whiskas.  F.S have sent me a £10 voucher for my next order, but I think it will be a while before any of us have the energy to spend it!

Friday, 6 December 2013

Stan Tracey - Jazz Legend and Composer

On the day when Nelson Mandela's death is filling the headlines, one of Britain's greatest Jazz composers and musicians, Stan Tracey, died at the age of 86. Known as 'the Godfather of British Jazz' he was never as popular as figures like Johnny Dankworth because his music was seen as 'more difficult' - often crossing the border from Jazz into what you could call 'Contemporary Classical' music. He has left a tremendous legacy of compositions - my favourite being his Under Milkwood setting (click here for Starless and Bible Black).  I came to know Stan because my partner, Neil, ran a jazz festival in northern England for 20 years.  I was awed by his music, his kindness and generosity and I loved his dry sense of humour.  I last saw Stan when we shared his 85th birthday celebrations here in Italy at the Orvieto Jazz Festival last year and I wrote a poem for his birthday, in which I tried to put into words my admiration and respect.

A Birthday Poem

(For Stan Tracey)

Between the mind
and the hand
are the lines
where the notes
subtract and multiply
the mathematics of jazz.
Twice times five
and eighty eight
monochrome combinations
a musical alphabet
articulating narratives
of sound.

Eighty five years -
and the music still
walks the staves
of a life swung
from ‘stomach Steinway’*
to the concert grand.
A muscular attack
as rhythmic as it was
at thirty.  The history
of the genre hard-wired
between the hand
and the mind.

© Kathleen Jones

[* the stomach Steinway is musician's slang for the piano accordion which was the instrument Stan played as a boy]

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Italian, reduced sugar, three fruit marmalade

With Neil away and the book published, I've had time for some of the other things I love - one of them cooking.  You can't get proper English marmalade in Italy - so I've been experimenting with the home-grown citrus fruit to get something that is tart enough but tastes of the Mediterranean sun.

I started with this - a bowl of grapefruit, oranges and lemons - just ordinary ones, not marmalade fruit. The grapefruit and some of the oranges are pink/red and that gives the marmalade a lovely colour.  You need 1 grapefruit, 3 oranges (4 if small) and 2 lemons.  Chop them into about 8 pieces each

and pop in a pan and cover with water.  Leave to stand overnight so that the fruit flavour soaks into the water.  The following morning bring to the boil and simmer for between 2 and 3 hours until you can cut the peel with a wooden spoon and most of the fruit pulp has cooked into the liquid.

Take the peel out, scrape away any remaining fruit pulp, and chop as thickly or as finely as you like it.

Boil the liquid down until only 500ml remains.  Then add 400g sugar and bring to the boil until the liquid reaches marmalade temperature (109 degrees), or it wrinkles when a teaspoon is popped onto a cool saucer.  Then add the chopped peel.  Bring back to temperature - if no thermometer simmer for about another 5 mins.  Then ladle it into hot jars and seal. Easy-peasy!

You'll need to keep it in the fridge because of the low sugar level, but it's delicious on toast!   The Italians also eat marmalade with cheese .........

Monday, 2 December 2013

Tuesday Poem: Norman Nicholson - Wall

The wall walks the fell -
Grey millipede on slow
Stone hooves;
Its slack back hollowed
At gulleys and grooves,
Or shouldering over
Old boulders
Too big to be rolled away.
Fallen fragments
Of the high crags
Crawl in the walk of the wall . . .

A wall walks slowly,
At each give of the ground,
Each creak of the rock's ribs,
It puts its foot gingerly,
Arches its hog-holes,
Lets cobble and knee-joint
Settle and grip.
As the slipping fellside
Erodes and drifts,
The wall shifts with it,
Is always on the move.

They built a wall slowly,
A day a week;
Built it to stand.
But not stand still.
They built a wall to walk.

Copyright Norman Nicholson
from Sea to the West, Faber & Faber, 1981

The 1st December was the official publication date of Norman Nicholson:  The Whispering Poet, now out in paperback and on Kindle.  The paperback is one of those 'enhanced' ones with fold-in flaps and lots of illustrations.  It's been a labour of love to write, since I couldn't get any of the major publishers interested, so all the research has been funded by me.  But it's been a pleasure. I love his poetry.  He writes about the Lake District I know well - the landscape I grew up in.  This poem is particularly special - I helped my father many a time (as they say in Cumbria) to repair the stone walls that walked our farm boundaries.  They scale precipitous hillsides in ways that defy gravity - erratic boulders left by the glaciers are simply built into them, just as Norman describes.

And I love this Andy Goldsworthy sculpture (New York state), which takes its inspiration and title from Norman's poem - Taking a Wall for a Walk

If you'd like to see what other Tuesday Poets are posting around the world, please click on the link to the main Tuesday Poem site and check them out!

Norman Nicholson:  The Whispering Poet is available on Amazon at the special introductory price of £8.50 and also on Kindle.

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Red Sky at Night

A sunset tonight over the Mediterranean - so red it looks apocalyptic!