Swimming in silver

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About a week ago my bf and I were on holiday. We decided not to go very far – we had just over a week off and didn’t want to lose too much of that time travelling. We went to Canterbury (UK) which is a couple of hours away by train from where we live. We stayed there a couple of nights, which I think was enough to begin really exploring the city, but I think we will go back for more.

While walking around the city, looking at the different forms of architecture there, I began to get some ideas for some new art, which given the number of projects on mental do to list, probably won’t see the light of day until sometime next year. I have always found that for me walking about, especially in places that are unfamiliar to me, is the time when my brain suddenly starts offering up new ideas about all sorts of things. I think there is something special about the mindful state that it is possible to get yourself into when striding about new places. There is something about the rhythm of walking combined with the strange details of a new place, that are so attractive to the eye, that can prompt my brain to make new connections that would not have come together from the comfort of my sofa. I think this is why a little trip away, and it doesn’t have to be a trip very far, can be refreshing for our creative selves.

In Britain I would say that we are particularly lucky in this respect. You do not have to go very far to find some strange, wonderful, slightly eccentric environment to immerse yourself in. I wanted to share the photo below as a case in point.IMG_20170901_165520622

This was taken by my bf, last Friday afternoon, as I stumbled out into the sea at Whitstable for a swim. We got so lucky that afternoon. The water was so still and smooth, and the light was just right, that the clouds reflected straight back up off the water. I swam out quite some way, and ended up swimming alone through the still, warm water. With the sky reflecting off my face, at times this swim felt quite unreal, like swimming in silver.

At times I look at the UK news, which appears to be full of the small minded, the small hearted and the delusional in their political manoeuvrings over Brexit, and I feel so sad for Britain. If you were looking at the news from abroad now I cannot see how you could even imagine there could be little treasures hiding in the funny, eccentric, down to earth little corners of Britain. You could not know how kind and friendly and admittedly slightly strange many of us are. You probably would not even believe that you could visit a tiny little beach town, just a couple of hours by train from London, and swim in silver.

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Blooming Birmingham

I am on a train back from Birmingham, UK where I have been staying for the last few days, both for work and for a little time away with the bf. We’ve had a great time. We’ve eaten several yummy veggie meals and wandered quietly around the canals. 

Some people in London can be a bit sniffy about Birmingham, or anywhere that isn’t London for that matter, preferring to travel to exotic far flung places, or to Shoreditch. This is a shame, as this attitude can mean people miss out on seeing the many splendid intriguing little corners of the UK. In doing so we can miss out on a fuller understanding of this funny eccentric complicated little country of ours.

Birmingham it self is an interesting city. Vast areas of the city are being redeveloped giving it the sense of a city simultaneously undergoing deep decline and rapid renewal. In the middle of all of that there is also a strong sense of pride in the city’s industrial heritage. In particular the canal ways in the centre of Birmingham are still used and carefully tended.

I am particularly drawn to canals, and while walking around the Birmingham canals this weekend became aware of my own strange and growing enthusiasm for canal boats. We saw many beautifully maintained boats this weekend. I am particularly drawn the the materiality of the wood, the gloss and colour of the paint and the enforced slowness of this particular mode of travel. In busy times such as these it is often helpful to remember that it has not always been like this. It is helpful to remember there was a time when travelling between London and Birmingham on the calm still waters of the canals at 4 miles an hour was accepted as normal by many people, and not viewed as an odd holiday activity loved by British eccentrics. 

On micro-pubs and kissing gates and playing in the woods

Things in Britain have been a bit grim, of late. As a people we have been subject to deeply irresponsible campaigning and stark poverty of leadership by our politicians which had led to a horrible legacy of resentment, snobbish accusations of ignorance and overt racism over the Brexit decision. This comes on the back of several years of not very covert persecuting the poor and the disabled. This is particularly cruel as it feels like years of (as yet very unfinished) work to rid ourselves of racism and prejudice have been swept aside as  old nastiness has been re-legitimised. I imagine that from the outside Britain at the moment looks like a cold, grey country where people on different sides of the debate throw verbal, or actual rocks at each other. It’s all very depressing, and can make it very difficult to recognise what, if anything, is great about us.

This is not helped by the fact that as a nation, the British are not really known for selling themselves well. We tend to be sceptical of positivity and suspicious of enthusiasm. Frankly we don’t actually like it that much when it’s sunny, we would rather a grey day which legitimises a good moan and a bit of black humour. It’s part of the national mind set to play down anything that looks like a good thing. But there are many good things about Britain. Last weekend I went home to visit my the Cotswolds and was reminded yet again of the shock of the sheer lush beauty of the British countryside in the summer. My boyfriend and I went for a walk in the woods and were promptly surrounded by vibrant green leaves, cheerful dogs out for a walk and a series of makeshift huts and campfires. Evidence of children playing in the woods. These are all things to be joyful about.

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My boyfriend and I really like to do two things together; to walk in the countryside and to visit the micro-pubs that seem to be cropping up all over Kent. We will often plot a route that will take us through the countryside to end, conveniently, at a small town known to be the home of a micro-pub.

The micro-pub is a relatively new concept, or a very old one depending on your perspective. The idea seems to be to strip out all of the distractions you find in a larger commercial pub. Gone are the TV screens, gambling machines and loud music. In some of the pubs I have been in, like the Long Pond in Eltham, or the Penny Farthing in Crayford there is a restriction on using your mobile phone. This frees the environment completely for customers to enjoy their pint and the company of their friends (or a good book, should you prefer one). I have found every one I have been in so far to be welcoming, and the people who run them knowledgeable about their local beers and ciders. I thoroughly recommend this very British way of spending an evening.

On our way to the pub we will often walk on an official footpath which will take us away from the roads and into the woods or the fields. One of the great defining features of a British foot path is the Kissing Gate. I believed they were originally invented to prevent animals from straying onto land where they should not be, but they have the added function of preventing horses and cyclists from using some paths which means that now and again us walkers get to tread a little bit of countryside alone. They also mean that my boyfriend can playfully insist that we go no further down the path towards the pub without a little kiss. Or a long one, depending on our mood or our thirst.

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For me these kissing gates, and these micro-pubs, are symbolic of the conflict within in the British character. We don’t like to be seen as too liberal in showing off our emotions. At the same time we build these funny little things into the fabric of our everyday lives that encourage a little playful affection, and a little moment to talk with our friends in a quiet corner.

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@rose.thompson309