Swansea Cityscape

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Artist: Robert Harrison

Robert Harrison was born in Neath in 1943. He studied at the West of England College of Art in Bristol. After a post graduate course at Cardiff University, he taught art at a comprehensive school in Hertfordshire before becoming a full-time artist.

I like the way his work combines formal landscape views with abstract designs.

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Fancy a pint? #2

DSC00059THE retirement project: to sample a pint of beer or cider brewed in each county in Great Britain.

This is another from Marks & Spencer’s expanding range of British beers.

County: London.

What is it called? Amarillo Golden Ale.

Who made it? The Meantime Brewery Company, Greenwich.

What is it? It is a single variety hop beer, made from the Amarillo hop, which is popular in the United States.

ALC VOL: 4.3% alcohol.

Brewer says: “Tangerine note to the classic citrus aroma of hops.”

I say: “Lovely Oranges And Lemons taste.”

Food combination: M&S recommends drinking it with seafood, or a platter of cured Italian meats and cheeses.

The last of PG Wodehouse (for now)

IMGP4517 I HAVE just read the Everyman edition of “Sunset at Blandings”, the final (and unfinished) novel to be written by the incomparable P G Wodehouse.

Wodehouse was ninety-three when he died on February 24th, 1975, leaving sixteen chapters of the book typed out on his favourite 1927 vintage Royal typewriter.

They were just the first draft, but “Sunset” contains all of the old Blandings Castle favourites, including the Earl of Emsworth, Beach the Butler, Uncle Galahad, and the Empress of Blandings (Lord Emsworth’s prize pig (retired) ).

I’ve been a Wodehouse fan since I was a teenager. I remember, when I was just a trainee reporter, having a heated argument with a colleague who dismissed Wodehouse as a typical oppressor of the proletariat.

But this colleague was a Marxist, and they are always wrong about everything, so I took the considered view that his opinion did not matter. (One of my happiest trainee days was hearing that this ardent son of the revolution had been chased out of a meeting by striking steel workers who would have no truck with “bloody commies.”)

Since retiring, I have now read all of the Psmith and Jeeves & Wooster novels in the excellent Everyman series, but (much like Plum himself) I am drawn back to the Blandings Castle stories constantly.

This edition of ‘Sunset” (the title was suggested after Wodehouse’s death by the publishers Chatto & Windus) includes  a “solution” to the question of the real location of Blandings.

According to Norman Murphy, Wodehouse actually used elements of three different places to create Blandings, a place where the sun (almost) always shines, and where the forces of love (always) always triumph at the end of some of the most imaginative, and funniest, plots in English Literature. IMGP4516

Fancy a pint? #1

DSC00057I know this blog is currently displaying a worrying tendency toward things alcoholic, but…

Earlier this week I bought half a dozen different bottles from Marks and Spencer’s range of British beers.

I poured one tonight, and thought: Why not a beer odyssey, travelling the UK county by county and pint by pint?

So here’s the first step and sip on that journey.

County: Cornwall.

What is it called? Cornish Ale.

Who made it? St Austell’s Brewery.

What is it? It’s a bottle conditioned ale using locally grown Cornish gold malt. A special kilning process develops a deep bronze colour.

Brewer says: “Sweet, lightly nutty malt balanced with zesty orange and spicy aromas from the hops.”

I say: Citrusy and grapefruit tastes,  but with a (not unpleasant) slightly metallic aftertang.

Food combination: According to M&S, it should go very nicely with a cottage pie or fisherman’s pie.

Little old wine-drinking me

AFTER this morning’s 800 metres of front crawl (19 minutes 40 seconds since you ask) the changing room conversation turned, as regrettably it so often does when retired blokes gather, to the question of drink.

I said that last night I sampled a bottle of Sicilian white wine made from a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Grillo grapes. It wasn’t a blend I had heard of before.

Andrew, who isn’t retired and runs two wine shops in Swansea, said he hadn’t  heard of it either, but rattled off a list of other blends that were popular with his customers.

“I’ve just had a mad idea,” I said. “My next retirement project will be to drink one bottle of wine made from every available wine-producing grape.”

“There are about 650 of them,” Andrew said.

“That should take you until about Christmas,” said Eric.

Laughter in the darkness

TODAY I told mum that dad was no longer able to visit her at her care home. He has been in hospital for a few weeks, and she was asking why he hadn’t been to see her.

“His legs are too bad,” I said. “He can’t walk any more.”

“Oh, I’m glad about that,” she said.

“Why are you glad?”

“Because I thought that perhaps he had gone off with another woman.”

Dementia is a horrible thing. But occasionally it can make you laugh out loud. Even if it is just laughter in the darkness.

Mum moved into Hillside Care Home in February. She had been growing increasingly confused and anxious for several years.

One day I dropped off some cleaning things I’d bought at the supermarket.

“I’ve left everything in a bag in the kitchen” I said.

“Where are they?”

“In a bag. In the kitchen.”

“Are they coming in?”

“Do you mean is Jacqui (my wife) coming in?”

“Yes.”

“She’s not here. I came on my own.”

“But she’s all right, isn’t she?”

“Yes, she’s in Llanelli.”

“Oh, thank God.” As if, by visiting her sister in Llanelli, Jacqui had evaded some danger or threat.

Dementia can be funny and sad at the same time.

“Has he got a wife?” mum asked my cousin one day.

“Who?”

“Him.” She pointed at my father, sat in his usual place on the sofa in front of the tv.

“Yes, he’s got a wife. You.”

“Who is he then?”

“Uncle Harry. Well, I call him Uncle Harry. You just call him Harry.”

“Oh, I thought he was dead.”

We were able to keep mum at home until it was no longer safe for her to stay there. We were lucky enough to find a good care home just minutes away from our house.

In one of the several lounges, there is a scale model of the Titanic. Initially I thought it could have been a metaphor for mum’s dementia. A life holed, a voyage discontinued.

But the metaphor would not work. Mum, and many of the other residents at Hillside, have not been sunk by a single catastrophic event.

They are more like survivors in a lifeboat, drifting in uncharted waters with uncertain bearings and a malfunctioning compass. And the lifeboat is slowly filling with water.

Soon after she moved, I called to see mum and found she had gone out on a bus trip. The next day I asked her how she enjoyed it.

“It went on and on,” she said. “Bumping.”

“So you won’t be going again?”

“Oh yes, I expect so.”

She had taken to wearing rouged cheeks and bright red lipstick. Her handbag was full of make-up; some of it even belonged to her.

Jacqui and I sat with her in the conservatory lounge. There was a magnolia tree in full bloom in the garden next door. It was getting towards evening, and the birds were singing in the trees. The birdsong mingled with the sound of police or ambulance sirens in the city laid out below us.

We walked home through the park. Children were playing beneath the trees.

“It’s difficult,” Jacqui said.

“It is what it is. And it’s not going to change.”

Except that now there are more bad days than before. Days of private, whispered conversations and smiles. Busy restless fingers pulling at invisible threads.

I see my mother slowly moving away from me. But just now and then, we still catch the sound of laughter in the darkness.

My next project: drawing

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I’VE signed on for a Drawing and Painting course run by Swansea Council’s lifelong learning team. The ten-week course starts in September.

The last time I wielded a drawing pencil or paintbrush with intent was in art lessons in Dynevor Grammar School for Boys. That was more than forty years ago.

I always enjoyed the lessons despite displaying no discernible evidence of any artistic talent. It should be interesting.