My Literary DNA

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On a sea of ink

I sail to oblivion

On a paper boat

I have been thinking and reading a lot about this writing life recently and trying to gather all the hints, tips and advice I have gleaned.   One of the bloggers I follow, Jamie Lee Wallace says:

A writer’s voice is that often intangible yet unmistakable something that defines the author’s work. Like literary DNA, it is as unique and complex as a fingerprint. Syntax, diction, dialog, and punctuation are combined with characterization techniques, scene delivery, and other stylistic elements and then distilled into an elixir that lets us see the world through the writer’s eyes.

But I think there is more to it than that.

The words a writer uses are like the lava flowing from a volcano.  The story may have been churning and burning deep inside for many years; changing, developing and demanding to be written.  The overflow of words is edited away like so much waste gas and ash, until the lava cools and sets into a final draft.  Once published, the writing is set like stone and the crust that protects the writer’s vulnerability and privacy has been split open irrevocably.  For make no mistake, the heart and soul of the writer is laid bare by the writing process.  It takes courage to put your thoughts, feelings, experiences and imagination into print for all to read.

The need to write is an itch that won’t go away; a fire inside that won’t be quenched except by expressing your own inner life in prose or poetry.  It is an incredibly personal thing that sets each writer apart from every other writer.  What you need to write comes from deep inside.  It was probably always inside you and was determined by the journey you have travelled during your life.  Every story you consumed, every experience you enjoyed or endured, every trauma, doubt, dream and question became part of your writer’s voice.

So it was with me.  Firstly, I wrote my own life story.  I needed to deal with a traumatic event in childhood, a disastrous first marriage, family things, work things, ill health and major depression.  I wrote it all out ~ then I shredded it and burnt it before I moved house!  This was so therapeutic, I not only put it all behind me, I wiped it off the face of the earth. Because that was not me!  All of that was what other people, situations or events had done to me.  And, I made a conscious decision to try and live the rest of my life as who I wanted to be.  And to…Get a life worth writing about.

Whatever kind of writing you would like to pursue, here are my tips for you:-

  • Take a course ~ Artists Way, Creative Writing, Futurelearn, anything that will stimulate and unblock you
  • Read some self-help/motivational books such as Change for the Better by Elizabeth Wilde McCormick or Life’s Companion, Journal Writing as Spiritual Practice by Christina Baldwin, if you are blocked by any of life’s unresolved issues
  • Buy Writing Down the Bones, Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
  • Start a Journal or more than one
  • Save poems, ideas for stories, photos, cuttings, inspiring phrases in spiral bound notebooks
  • Buy pens that feel good to hold and flow nicely. Many writers use fountain pens but I prefer gel pens
  • Find a colourful box big enough to store all your magazines, books, pens and journals together
  • Start a blog on WordPress or Blogger, it’s easy to set up and you can safely practice and develop your creative skills,
  • Subscribe to, or borrow and read Writing Magazine (www.writers-online.co.uk) ~ hard copy or online ~ endless supply of ideas, advice, competitions, courses and opportunities
  • Get involved in something that involves meeting other people ~ I was WI secretary, on the Campaigns and Public Affairs Committee, an Extra for BBC ~ I did charity work and joined a Choir and local theatre group
  • Observe the world, daydream, imagine, embellish, invent ~ all the things that got me into trouble when I was a child will enhance my stories!
  • Carry a notebook and pen with you always, or a fancy phone that takes notes and photographs! Jot down and capture anything that strikes you as interesting, unusual, meaningful or beautiful.  You will be surprised at how often a phrase or snatch of a song or poem touches you.
  • If so inclined, take photos whenever you see anything that inspires you

Maeve Binchy said her greatest tip was to, “Write as if you are talking to someone”.  I have always written about day trips, places I’ve been and things I’ve done.  And, I used to write a monthly article for a charity magazine, but I didn’t think I was a ‘writer’.

When I had grandchildren that changed.

Initially my role models were Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame who were unashamed of creating an escapist world with the animals.  So I started off by writing stories for Ben and Rosie, my grandchildren.  I wrote about Humphrey the pheasant who hangs out at the fishing lake, and Bart the cocker spaniel who emigrated to Vermont and had lots of adventures.  Humphrey and Bart are real but their adventures come out of my head or were embellished.  My plan was to write just for the grandchildren, and about the grandchildren, in order to help them develop their reading and writing skills.  Success was achieved when Rosie told me to stop making up a particular story about a tortoise because she wanted to finish it herself!  I was over 50 before I realised that ordinary people could be writers, she was 5!

Then I had to find something else to write about, so I started my blog at http://heavenhappens.me

I wrote the blog posts to rationalise and record positive aspects of my life’s journey.

Teaching; Twinning in Kenya, Russia and Poland; Trips to Lourdes; Travelling in USA and Europe; Becoming a carer; Joining Amateur Dramatics and a Choir; Working as a BBC Extra; Performing in Cathedrals, studios and theatre; WI committees; Charity volunteering: All of these experiences informed and enriched my writing.

My inner critic was silenced because I didn’t think anyone else would read it.  But gradually a community built up with whom my writing strikes a chord.  There are over 750 readers now who follow my blog.  I feel I have found “my place in the family of things”.

Wild Geese by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting-
over and over announcing your place
In the family of things.

 

Story time

Just give me the grandchildren and I’ll make up the stories

Now that I have 4 more grandchildren, I have reached a point where I want to publish some of the stories I write for them.  Every thing they say or do, and everywhere we go to play, inspires me to write more.  So, I have decided to start a new blog in addition to this one, just for my stories.  I realise that it is highly unlikely that any of them will ever be professionally published.  So, I will just post them for my and others’ pleasure.  I will of course retain the copyright just in case!!

Now what on earth should I call my new blog?  Suggestions please in the comments  …

 

 

 

Ten Pieces Prom

I’m feeling a bit overwhelmed today having listened to the Ten Pieces Prom on BBC Radio 3.  If you have any spare time it  really is worth clicking on the link to listen to bits of the programme

I was already rather pensive as a friend and former work colleague died this week unexpectedly.  I was very close to her for many years, and she lived quite near to me.  Yet, I had not seen her in months.  Life, with all its routines and demands, gets in the way of the people who should matter sometimes.  Of course, I make as much time as I can for family; but friends, neighbours and acquaintances are too easily neglected.

This all came home forcefully while listening to one of the ten pieces referred to in the title of the above  radio programme ~ Antonin Dvorak’s New World Symphony.  Dvorak, a Czech, wrote the New World Symphony while he was working in America in the 1890s.  It is incredibly moving and reflects the homesickness he felt.  Dvorak understood the anguish of the African Americans which came through in their spiritual songs.  He was also influenced by the native Americans’ music as well as by the beautiful poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow called, The Song of Hiawatha.  I won’t reproduce the poem as it is very long, but I would recommend that you click on the link and read it yourself as it is incredibly beautiful.

 The Ten Pieces project is a wonderful initiative designed to introduce classical music to school children aged 7 to 14.  Working in their own schools they were inspired to produce creative responses to one of ten much loved pieces of classical music.  The results were impressive. 

I have always felt a total ignoramus when it comes to Classical music in general, and opera in particular. The infant phase of my education just after the war, was missed altogether due to illness.  Then, the Junior phase was spent in an almost Victorian school, which was a converted chemical works by the banks of the river Tyne.  We literally used to play on hills of smouldering sulphurous waste from the chemical factory or along the, then thriving, dockyards of the Tyne.  I do remember going to an amateur performance of the Mikado in the church hall once as a very young child.  I was mesmerised by the costumes and the Gilbert and Sullivan song of Three Little Maids!

 

My next experience of classical music was watching  the Sadler’s Wells Production of The Magic Flute at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon in 1963 on my very first date!  But, by the time I left secondary school, Bob Dylan was ‘Freewheelin’ and Joan Baez was performing ‘We Shall Overcome’, which awakened a social conscience in me.  I was also totally obsessed with theatre, particularly Shakespeare’s plays,  once again classical music passed me by.  So, I wish there had been something like the Ten Pieces Proms when I was at school.  It is absolutely brilliant at introducing children to the range of classical music and making it relevant to them.

One of the most moving parts of the programme in response to the New World Symphony, was a poem created and read by Brave New Voices ~ young refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from across London.  These children, many from Syria, have had to leave their own homes in traumatic conditions and have found a home in the UK.  Listening to them describe the sights, sounds and smells of their homeland as well as the people they have left behind was heart-breaking.

And, I wonder, can we truly appreciate our own homeland wherever that may be before we leave it?  And, can we truly appreciate the people we love ~ and show it ~ before we lose them.  My friend and long-time colleague lived for her family and her faith.  So I am sure her soul is now at rest in Heaven.

Rest in Peace my dear friend

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Reach for the Sky

 

I have written before about the beauty of the Cotswolds but, I simply have to revel again in the variety of things to do and see here this July.  I have had such an interesting week! 

I went up to the Lavender fields at Snowshill to catch a glimpse of the crop before it is picked for processing.  The fields high up in the Cotswolds are baked dry from the relentless heat this summer, but the  lavender can cope with dry conditions so it looked perfect.  I haven’t seen many poppies this year but there are a few scattered about.

 

 

I was thoroughly spoiled by my daughter who took me to Cowley Manor Hotel for a luxurious Spa followed by a scrumptious afternoon tea.  This 19th century manor house has a fascinating history and has had some interesting residents.   In medieval times the manor belonged to Pershore Abbey.  But following the dissolution of the monasteries, it passed to a Royalist supporter, Henry Brett, who built himself a grand house on the land in 1674.   By the 1850’s the land was owned by a London Stockbroker, who built a huge house in the Italianate style on the site of Brett’s house.  This house had fabulous gardens with cascades and lakes running along the River Churn.  Then, in 1895 the manor was bought by James Horlick, the inventor of Horlick’s Malted Milk.  He made lots of changes to the house and extended it greatly.  He added a ballroom and a huge stable block to house his grand coaches and horses.  He also built many of the cottages in the village and planted thousands of trees.  Today he is remembered at the hotel where the restaurant is named Malt in his honour.

 

In the 20th century Cowley Manor had a very chequered history.  For a time during the second world war it was leased to Cheltenham ladies College, presumably for the safety of the ‘gals’!  At the end of the war it was sold to Gloucestershire County Council as offices and an education centre.  I remember going to conferences there as a young teacher in the 1970’s.   But, in the early 1990s there was a macabre twist to the tale of Cowley Manor, when the children of Fred and Rosemary West were placed there by the council’s child protection officers.  It was there that the children kept mentioning their sister Heather being buried under the patio.  But, it would be a year later before the true extent of the infamous couple’s crimes were uncovered.  There was a brief spell when the Manor was used as a nursing home, but by the start of the new millennium it was being converted into the hotel we enjoy today.

Of course, I have been back to my regular haunt of Cotswold Wildlife Park with my little granddaughter.  We made a special trip to see the 3-day old zebra.  We were amazed to see such a young animal frolicking around beside its parents.

 

 

Lastly, at the weekend, I went to celebrate the centenary of the Royal Air Force at the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) in Fairford.  The sheer excitement of this annual event is hard to describe.  There are single aircraft and whole teams from all over the world on display.  But this year seemed extra special.  For a start we are in the middle of a heatwave so the sky was a perfectly blue backdrop to the aerobatics.  There was very little wind so the pilots were able to perform all their spectacular manoeuvres.  And, because it is the centenary year, there were some unique line-ups commemorating planes through the ages, from the Lancaster Bomber, the Spitfire, and the Tornado through to the Typhoon and the new F35.

It is hard to imagine that the RAF was formed just over 10 years after the very  first powered and controlled flight.  The bravery of the pilots and crew of those early planes is impossible to exaggerate.  At Fairford, we saw a military plane of the future ~ the amazing unmanned MQ-9B SkyGuardian.  It took 24 hours to fly the 3760 miles from North Dakota in the USA to Fairford in the UK.  It was entirely remotely piloted.  I can appreciate the technical genius involved, but I do feel deeply uneasy about the ability to cause death and destruction with clinical precision, remotely! 

Apart from that I found the whole event breathtaking.  I love the deafening roar of the F16s, the glamour of the Red Arrows’ Hawk T1 fast jets, the practical beauty of the new Juno and Jupiter helicopters, the dignity and history of the Avro Lancaster 1, Douglas Dakota 111, Hawker Hurricane 11c, and the Supermarine Spitfire.  We owe them our gratitude.  But for sheer entertainment I really enjoyed the Spanish Airforce acrobatic team, Patrulla Aguila.  They were just amazing and all 7 Aviojets landed together in their signature move.  The Italian Frecce Tricolori were just as spectacular.  All I could do was watch and gasp as they mocked gravity and played with the sky.    I am sure that the routines these display crews perform should be impossible but they do them anyway.  And I loved every minute of it.

Of course my photos are pathetic as everything moved so fast, but I will add a small selection to give you a flavour of the day:

 

 

 

 

 

A Floral Dance

 

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St Lawrence Church at Sandhurst

One of the lovely things about the UK is the number of old churches that still exist at the heart of many communities.  And, now that we are experiencing the longest heatwave since 1976, they are literally and metaphorically the coolest places to visit.

Of course, congregations are shrinking and ageing.  Many people, today either don’t go to church at all, or, they go to the more vibrant ‘evangelical’ churches, of which there are many.

However, there is something quintessentially English about a country village church.  I have written previously about the Ivy Church at Ampney St Mary.

Congregations have an uphill struggle to maintain and repair these old buildings and are constantly putting on events to raise the necessary funds.  It is really hard work for small communities.  And, Sandhurst is a small village; but it has some rare treasures and a wealth of history within the grounds of its beautiful church.  So, this week it was a pleasure to support them by visiting St Lawrence Church For their flower festival. 

The festival was entitled, “Strictly Music and Dance”.  All the floral displays were based on the theme.  There was an amazing variety of music and dance styles represented from the old playground song, ‘Oranges and Lemons’ to Stravinsky’s ‘Firebird’.

There has been a church on this site since the time of Henry 1st (1100-1135), when it belonged to St Oswald’s Priory in Gloucester.  The present church is partly 14th century but was mainly rebuilt in 1858.  It has some impressive features.

Outside there is a lychgate which was decorated with flowers, then at the entrance to the church the porch was surrounded by them.  Inside the porch was a magnificent display of sunflowers.  Once inside the door there is a truly remarkable baptismal font made of lead.  It is thought to have been made around 1135 near Bristol, out of lead mined in the Mendip hills.  It is beautifully engraved with scrolls and figures.  My favourite was the figure of Jesus.  Apparently, there are 6 fonts of this type in Gloucestershire so I must find the other 5.  It is exquisite.  This font was surrounded by flowers ‘A La Ronde’ to remind us of country dancing round the maypole on a village green.

There is also an antique carved oak pulpit from the time of King James 1st (1603-1625) which was surrounded by a sparkling floral display showing the glitz and glamour of Ballroom dancing.

One of the features of any old church is the stained glass and this little church has some beautiful examples.  But for me the most moving were a fairly recent one to commemorate the local men who died in WW1, and one to honour a young man from the village, Frederick Watts, who died in WW2.  I was very moved to meet an elderly lady at the church who knew this young man.  She told me that he was her brother’s playmate from childhood and she remembered him well.

It was quite difficult taking photos because of the backlight from the stained-glass windows but I hope you enjoy those I managed to take:

 

Can’t we share our world?

 

Is it just me or is the UK becoming a less caring place? 

For many years while I was working, I was involved with an educational charity, which is still going strong, called Global Footsteps.

Through exchanges, travel, conferences and volunteering, young adults from many countries developed their understanding of global issues and became immersed in other cultures.  At an individual level, this broadened their minds and some long-lasting friendships developed.

On a wider level some really good projects were carried out.  A much-needed health centre was built in Kenya.  Classrooms were made secure and weatherproof.  Boreholes were dug and water tanks supplied in villages and schools where previously water had to be collected daily from the river or lake.

These days I can’t travel that far so I support others who can.  There is a wonderful charity called Hands Around the World and a friend of mine does amazing work with them.  I also sponsor a child through Compassion UK, a charity that another friend of mine is deeply involved in.

So, I know there are still lots of good things happening and lots of good people trying to improve the environment and enhance other people’s lives.

However, reading the daily news is heart-breaking and fills me with despair, especially the traumatic plight of refugees worldwide.  I can tolerate most things, but cruelty to children is just a step too far.  And, the US policy of taking children away from their parents is just intolerable.  The long-term consequences of the emotional and psychological damage this will cause to the children and their parents are dreadful to contemplate.  Imagine if you had your children forcibly removed from you just because you were homeless and hopeless!

I know there has always been a refugee problem, even Shakespeare wrote about it when he collaborated on the play about Sir Thomas More.  His character appealed to Englishmen to be compassionate to refugees, who were called strangers…

‘Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation.’

Today we do see it, daily, on our TV screens.

According to the Refugee Council there are over 65 million people around the globe who have had to flee their homes.  Can you even imagine how awful that would be?  It is like the entire population of the UK being displaced.  Millions of these people then have to flee their country and become the refugees we read about daily.  BUT IT COULD JUST AS EASILY BE US.

So as ‘Refugee Week’ ends I want to do my tiny bit to raise awareness of the top twenty facts as revealed by the Refugee Council and based on asylum statistics.

Hopefully they make interesting reading…

1. Last year, 362,376 people arrived in Europe via sea. Just under half were women and children.

2. While the pictures we may see on TV perhaps make us think that most refugees are coming to Europe it simply isn’t the case. The UN’s Refugee Agency estimates that nearly nine in ten of the world’s refugees are sheltered by developing countries.

3. Most refugees just move from one poor country to another. Uganda hosts a staggering 1 million refugees from South Sudan. In two weeks alone, Uganda offered refuge to more people than Britain did all year. 

4. Britain is not Europe’s top recipient of asylum applications. In 2016, Germany, Italy and France all received at least twice as many asylum applications as the UK. In Germany alone, 722,265 asylum applications were made.

5. Given the world is facing the greatest refugee crisis since the Second World War, comparatively few people make it to Britain in their search for safety. Asylum applications in the UK actually decreased by 25% to 27,316 in the year ending June 2017.

It’s hardly surprising, given the barriers people face in reaching safe places to rebuild their lives.  Britain offers no asylum visa. In fact, there are very few, legal ways for refugees to safely escape their country and claim asylum in another country. The truth is, when war breaks out, countries like Britain often close down refugees’ legal escape routes. Refugees don’t place their lives in smugglers’ hands because they want to. They do it because they often have no other choice.

6. The lack of safe and legal routes for refugees to reach safety and claim asylum has deadly results. Already this year 2,410 men, women and children have lost their lives during their desperate attempt to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Every death was a tragedy. Even those who make it have encountered many dangers in their journey, not just in their countries of origin. We hear horrific stories of kidnap, rape, imprisonment and torture in countries refugees are travelling through, including Libya.

7. Fewer women than men come to the UK in search of safety. In 2016, 25% of asylum claims in the UK were from women. Most people claiming asylum in the UK will have made a dangerous journey to get to safety; for many women this means risking sexual violence.

8. People who are seeking asylum make up a tiny proportion of new arrivals in Britain. Today’s statistics show that 588,000 people arrived in Britain in the last year– but just 27,316 of them were seeking refuge here.  Of course, not all people seeking asylum will be granted permission to stay in Britain.

9. World events often correlate directly with asylum applications; last year people were most likely to seek refuge here from the Middle East, desperate to escape on-going conflict and the murderous advance of ISIS. The top 3 countries of origin of people applying for asylum in Britain in the twelve months to June 2017 were: Iran, Pakistan and Iraq.

10. The British asylum system is extremely tough. Just 34% of initial decisions made in the year to June 2017 have been grants of protection (asylum or humanitarian protection). However, many refugees had to rely on the courts rather than the Government to provide them with the protection they need. The proportion of asylum appeals allowed over that time was 36%.

11. 594 children granted asylum whilst they were still under 18. A further 240 had to wait until they were over 18 to receive the news that they are safely protected here for five years. The top country of origin during that period was Afghanistan, followed by Eritrea. More unaccompanied children applied having fled Sudan than any other country, in the last quarter.

Unfortunately, being granted protection as a refugee means that those children will never be able to live with their parents. Shockingly, the UK deliberately prevents unaccompanied children from bringing their parents and siblings to live with them in safety.

12. In the twelve months up to June 2017, 48 children were locked up in immigration detention, despite a Government promise in 2010 to end the practice. 83% of the children who left detention were released, rendering their detention not only harmful but futile.

13. The UK Government has the power to detain people who are here seeking refuge. Today’s statistics show that in the last 12 months, 27,819 people were imprisoned in immigration detention centres; among them many people seeking asylum. 52% were released back into the community rendering their detention pointless. Some nationalities are nearly always released from detention; over 90% of Iranians detained were released during this time period begging the question why they are detained in the first place.

14. In contrast to most European countries the UK has no limit on the length of time someone can be detained. At the end of June, 271 people had been locked up for longer than 6 months, purely for immigration reasons.

15. The number of Syrians who have sought asylum in Britain since the conflict began in 2011 stands at just 10,858. That’s just 0.21% of Syria’s refugees. Like most of the world’s refugees, very few Syrians come to Britain in their search for safety.

16. The number of Syrian refugees resettled in Britain stands at 8,283 since the conflict began. In September 2015, the then Prime Minister David Cameron promised to resettle 20,000 Syrian refugees by 2020. That’s just 4,000 a year. There are over 4.8 million Syrian refugees.

17. In the year to June 2017, just 916 non-Syrian refugees were resettled in Britain via the Gateway Protection Programme run in conjunction with the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR).  Sadly, just 1% of the world’s refugees will ever be resettled which means many refugees face a long, uncertain wait to hear if they will ever be able to rebuild their lives in safety.

18. Shockingly, at the end of June 2017 10,033 people who had made asylum applications had been waiting for longer than six months for an initial decision. The number of people having to wait this long has risen by over 50% in the last year. 

19. At the end of June, 38,954 asylum seekers and their dependants were being supported by the Government. This figure has risen since 2012 but is still below the figure for end of 2003 when there were 80,123 asylum seekers being supported.  This does not mean asylum seekers live in luxury; far from it; people have no say in where they live and are often left to survive on around £5 a day

20. In the last three months, the UK has agreed to provide protection (refugee status or humanitarian protection) to 2,005 applicants and their dependants. Unfortunately, a large proportion of them will face homelessness and destitution as they struggle to secure an income and a rental property before they are evicted from Home Office provision

This last fact brings me back to my opening question.  Are we in the UK becoming less caring?

I believe as a country we are, and I believe the government is unwittingly helping to make it so.  ‘Austerity’ measures brought in by the government have impacted negatively on every aspect of ordinary people’s lives, and on society as a whole.  Whether it be the changes to funding or the regulations imposed on local councils, the support structures are beyond breaking point.  It is obvious to all that roads are falling apart and our rail services are inferior to most of Europe.  Hospitals and schools are struggling to cope and social services can no longer provide the level of support needed by vulnerable people.  Housing policy is not providing enough affordable homes so homelessness is on the rise.  The police are losing the battle against ‘small-time’ criminals who make neighbourhoods feel less safe and secure than they were in the past.  And charities are being surreptitiously turned into businesses to paper over the cracks. 

My aim is to write a mainly positive blog, but this week I find little to feel positive about.

My adult step daughter is deaf and has learning difficulties which make her very vulnerable.  She has lived in sheltered accommodation since 2001.  Here she has been safe and received the support she needs to lead her life as independently as possible.  But now that austerity measures have crippled the county’s care sector, her package has been removed.  Consequently, she, and the other girls she lives with, have been given notice to leave their supported accommodation, which we thought was a home for life. 

Having searched for alternative accommodation, we now see the extent of the problem.  There just isn’t any suitable and affordable one-bedroom accommodation to be had.  I have no idea how this will end but it is causing us deep anxiety and sleepless nights.  I know there are countless people worse off than us, but, it is hard to be positive today. 

Share Your World

Calafell Calling

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I’ve just returned from a visit to my daughter who lives in Catalonia, Spain.  She works in Barcelona, which is a beautiful city, but she is moving into a new apartment a bit further along the Mediterranean coast at Calafell.

Calafell is in the Tarragona region on the Costa Daurada or Golden Coast, to the south west of Barcelona.  It has miles of spotless golden sandy beaches, which the local council workers clean and smooth down every morning.  The warm Mediterranean Sea here is reasonably calm and shallow, which makes it a perfect holiday destination for families.  When I went it was May half term in the UK but not in Spain, so everywhere was quiet and very relaxing.

It is a fascinating town, which is great to explore on foot, and easy to get to by high-speed train from the airports of Barcelona or Reus.  The railway station is in the newer part of town where all the amenities you could want are situated.  There is a hospital, schools, supermarkets, museums, football club, sports stadium, and gorgeous parks with ancient olive trees and cooling fountains.  There are even co-operative offices within the library which you can rent by the hour or for longer periods.  These are great for entrepreneurs, writers and small-business people like my daughter who don’t need their own permanent offices.

A short walk up a very steep hill took me to the heart of the town.  Many of the ancient stone buildings have been renovated and turned into cafes, restaurants or artisan shops.  But the rich character of the old town is still visible.  It is all set around a public square, Plaça de Catalunya, which was established towards the end of the 18th century.  There is a church which was built in the 19th century by the people of the town when the bishop could no longer make the steep climb to the old chapel for his visits.

The original chapel was in the castle, which is situated at the very highest point of the old town.  Here the buildings are medieval or older.  Indeed, parts of the Castle of the Santa Creu of Calafell date back over a thousand years.  From the top there is a magnificent view of the surrounding area with its medieval buildings, Roman ruins and vineyards as far as the eye can see.    For this is the heart of the Catalonian Cava region.  My daughter recommended the Freixenet which is produced locally.

The local officials in Calafell are clearly very proud of their heritage and culture.  There are informative posters and signs in several languages close to any site of historical significance.

One such poster explained that

“22 million years ago the hill where the castle is now situated was a coral island surrounded by vast, fine sandy beaches.  Now completely fossilised, one can still see the remains of coral (grey coloured rock) and molluscs (yellow coloured rock) in the fossilised sand.”

And I could!  It also explained that

“The melting of the polar ice caps caused the sea level to rise to its current level and the Cobertera stream formed a fertile valley that has been agriculturally exploited since the time of the Iberians.  During the Roman and Medieval periods and well into the 20th century, cultivation spread throughout the basin and even the surrounding hills were deforested and margins built on them for the cultivation of vineyards.”

Being fascinated by the history of any place I visit, I spent many hours wandering in the old town of Calafell.  However, I was with two of my young grandchildren, so the sandy beach was the place to be every afternoon.  It is amazing what children will find to play with in the absence of their usual toys.  Pebbles, shells and the sand itself kept them busy for hours.  Chasing waves was a delight, especially as they had my daughter’s tiny dachshund dog to compete with.  And washed up bits of wood triggered off magical games.  It was a joy just to watch them.

In the evenings, when the children were in bed with their parents taking a well-earned rest, it was time for my daughter and I to explore some more.  Alongside the beach there is a beautiful paved promenade dotted with palm trees. Along here there is a 5-star hotel with a gorgeous beach bar and lots of privately owned apartments with swimming pools.  But nearer the town there is a little group of remaining fishermen’s houses including Casa Barral.

Carlos Barral (1928-1989) was a writer and publisher and a bit of a character from what we read.  He used to gather other writers around him for literary conversation.  These gatherings would consist of lots of drinking and smoking and loud noise which drove his poor wife to distraction.  When she could stand it no longer she banished them to a nearby bar called L’Espineta.

Since 1999 Casa Barral has been owned by the town and converted into a museum to preserve the seafaring customs and lifestyle of this small community.  It also reflects the literary importance of Barral, who was a very influential figure in 20th century Literature.  One of the writers who gathered regularly at L’Espineta was Gabriel García Márques (1927-2014).

I have read two of his books; One Hundred Years of Solitude and Love in the Time of Cholera, and I have to say I found them hard to understand.  However, I can appreciate his genius.  Being American Spanish from Colombia, he is considered to be one of the best writers in the Spanish Language.  His style has been called ‘Magical Realism’ and most of his stories explore the theme of solitude.

The bar, L’Espineta, that they met in has remained exactly as it was, owned by the Barral family, until very recently when it was sold.  The new owners have kept every detail intact even down to the pictures on the walls.

There was a reopening party on the night I arrived and I went every night while I was in Calafell.  It truly is a strange experience sitting on the chairs García Márques would have sat on and drinking from the glasses he would have used in the bar he knew so well.  I felt submerged in his world of Magical Realism.

The final detail that sticks in my mind about Calafell is the incredibly ornate Cementerio.  I am used to decorative statues and ornaments on graves in our local cemetery, but they are not nearly as ornate as those in Spain.  I discovered that there is actually a European Cemeteries Route in Spain which celebrates the historic and artistic heritage of the most distinctive examples.  And, Catalonia is the region with the largest number of significant cemeteries.

While I don’t think I will be going on the Cemeteries Route, I am almost certain that I will go back to Calafell if I can conquer my terrible travel anxiety.  I had such a lovely time but it takes me a week to recover from the stress of the journey!

Enjoy my photos of Calafell~

Old town and Castle

Park, Beach and swimming pool

L’Espineta

Beach fun