Exceptional Weather Report

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I blame the Environment Agency. The moment you start telling people to stay away from the coast and issuing ‘danger of death’ warnings about the weather is the moment that certain people are going to start scanning OS map number 20 for the place where the steepest terrain meets the most torrid and treacherous bit of sea.

Once Bounder had identified a likely location where big seas and maximum peril could be experienced, we set off for Prawle Point. I have to admit to being more than usually game for this excursion, as I quite fancied filming and filing an Exceptional Weather Report. The previous evening, the local news had been exclusively about weather. In twenty-five minutes of weather coverage there must be, I reasoned, an opening for a fresh intrepid reporter and her trusty sidekick. I would stand, attractively windswept, (possibly in a long black, cashmere coat?) and wax lyrical about the mighty power of nature. I would then turn to Bounder, (dullard in a bobble hat) for informative stats and weathery terms like ‘leeward’ and ‘isobar’. I felt sure Spotlight Southwest would be unable to resist.

Our journey to the coast was uneventful; the usual white knuckle ride through the lanes, with me losing all feeling in my hands because I’m gripping the seat so hard and Bounder telling me to stop screaming. Though storm debris littered the roads and massive puddles splashed up over the windscreen, we didn’t actually crash into anything or sink.

Your Exceptional Weather Reporters finally screeched to a halt in a deserted car park. Even though the raging sea was probably half a mile away, being engulfed and swept away didn’t seem fantastical. As we marched, zig-zagging towards the cliff path, so merciless was the wind that I put my hood up.

I was surprised to see the sheep that dotted the cliffside field, merely grazing in the face of such elemental furore rather than clumped in a terrified huddle or blown skyward like a fluffy apocalypse. Maybe they were just trying to look cool.

We soon reached the top of the hill and the pointiest bit of Prawle Point, where the Coastguard’s lookout station is perched. As we moved from the east to the west side of the craggy protuberance, the wind increased from really windy to wind that makes your face go all G-forcey. I clung to the railing surrounding the lookout station, shouting “This is madness! We must turn back!”. I couldn’t hear Bounder’s response, but his face made the shape of an “Eh?”. I edged my way back round the Point, ensuring that, at no time did my hands lose contact with the railing. I raised terrified eyes to where the Coastguard was probably about to mount my rescue, but was disappointed to see him merely watching my progress around the railing with a look on his face similar to one Bounder sometimes gives me.*

On the less windy side I explained to Bounder that no weather report was worth dying for, and we should head back to the safety of the car**. Bounder, with a look in his eyes I’ll never forget, replied “Ok, I think I’ll carry on, see you in half an hourish.”

To be continued…

*No, it wasn’t one of lust.
**Relatively safe when stationary.

Roma – con il Bounder

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Swiss guards
In February Bounder took me to Rome. I know! He was threatening Canvey Island, but came good in the end.

I should just say, Bounder only takes me away in order to undermine me. I’ll be complaining to somebody about how he makes my life a daily living hell, and I see a look in their eyes which says “But he took you to Rome! You must be a monster!”. I received such a look when I was telling somebody that when Bounder brings me breakfast in bed, the toast is always cold and the tea is often in the wrong mug. It looks worse written down.

Anyway, Rome; score! And, as if to add insult to injury, we stayed in a REALLY NICE HOTEL. Bounder’s idea of luxury accomodation is a large canvas square with a hole in it. It’s called a poncho-tent and can be worn and camped under simultaneously. It does actually exist, because he made it.

I love staying in nice hotels, partly because I’m a normal person, but also because they make Bounder tut. Little sachets of shower gel make him tut even louder. Bounder’s beauty regime involves soap and toothpaste; shower gel is a namby-pamby step too far. He stares at the little sachets with incomprehension. I have bought beauty products that make him swear out loud. On purpose.

As we flew into Rome, lightning struck The Vatican and The Pope resigned. Bounder and I are not particularly religious, but neither are we characters from The Omen, so I felt a bit got at. If we were religious I would be Catholic; extravagant and superstitious with a love of the Baroque. Bounder would be Protestant; austere and ascetic with a bizarre fanboy love of anything Scottish.

I was surprised that he suggested a visit to The Vatican, as usually, anything for which a city might be famous is strictly forbidden.* It’s because he’s a bit swarthy and arrogant, and hopes to be taken for a local. So after years of oppression, I jumped at the chance to release my inner tourist.

St Peter’s Basillica was impressive. Everything you’d expect from the most massive and expensive church in the world, really. But number one on my list of Vatican treasures are the Swiss Guards. They’re a bit like the Guards outside Buckingham Place in that they sit in little boxes, and do a very solemn, marchy swap at the end of their shift, but their outfits are about a hundred times more flamboyant. I imagined breakfast in bed delivered by a Swiss Guard and understood how Veruca Salt felt about the Oompa Loompas.

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I was also allowed to visit The Ancient Roman City in return for my accompanying Bounder on a tour of four very plain, unfamous churches. We even saw the Trevi Fountain, which was just about the most touristy experience I’ve ever had. In spite of myself I felt compelled to throw in a coin to ensure my return to Rome. I was shocked when Bounder did the same, mumbling something about not letting me come back on my own to score a Swiss Guard. Bless. Either it’s his age or I’ve finally managed to break his spirit. O Bounder, mio amore.

*Paris: “Let’s go on the Bateaux Mouches”
“Really?”
Venice: “Ooh Gondoliers”
“Are you serious?”

Feeling a bit Spanish in Barcelona

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Feeling a bit Spanish in Barca
First, let me apologise to my (almost) ten’s of followers for my absence during the last two months. Psychocartography can be exhausting, especially for someone as lazy and easily distracted as me. Lets just say there have been things that needed my attention, (Mad Men isn’t going to watch itself) and foreign travel was involved. A bit.

At the outset, I hinted that Barcelona and I had a special connection. This map tells the tale of one day in my city of dreams.

Two days into my new life, I was feeling a bit bored and lonely. I was staying with my friend Sinhendra the Buddhist. I’ve known him since I was 18, when he was Al from Newton Abbott and I can talk to him about anything, but he’d been living in Spain for ten years and had a life. My life was in Devon and I missed Bounder (I now recognise this as a clear case of Stockhausen Syndrome). So I did what I always do when I’m alone and life is making me lonely; I go downtown. When I’ve got worries, all the noise and the hurry seems to help, I know, downtown. But I wasn’t just being all Petula Clarky; I was on a mission.

Al had his people and I needed to find mine. I remembered seeing a flyer for a creative writing group, when I was last in Barcelona and determined I would track them down and become their leader. All I could recall was seeing the flyer in the El Born area, near a cathedral called Santa Maria of the Sea. A quick google confirmed that such a place existed, and I set off for my date with destiny. Two hours later, after a charming, but circular walk I was back at base and decided to take the tube*.

After being conveyed along a line to very near where I wanted to be, I emerged from underground into what I can only describe as a massive demonstration against The Cuts.
Though my Spanish is officially Pre-Beginner, I was able to understand the purpose of the demo from the large banners featuring scissors, crossed out. I felt exhilarated. I wanted to shout ‘I am English, we have Cuts too!’ Instead I grinned at a group of old men, did a thumbs up and shouted ‘Brava!’. I realised, upon seeing their bemused expressions, that they weren’t protesters, but a group of old men standing outside a bar. To their credit, they returned my thumbs up. I walked a little way with the demonstrators, making noises from no particular language, but (I think) conveying support and joi de vivre.

After breaking away from my comrades, I searched the alleys of El Born in vain for the flyer I’d seen less than a year previously. My quest for belonging was floundering and I stopped at a little bar in a shady square, by the cathedral, to gather my thoughts. I don’t know if it was the towering edifice of Santa Maria of the Sea, a sense of solidarity with my Iberian brothers and sisters, or the vino tinto, but I thought I’d give Catholicism a try.

I entered the cathedral with solemnity. I sat in a pew and looked heavenward. I asked for guidance (not out loud). The setting was certainly impressive, and if any great truth had decided to reveal itself to me then this was the time. But after at least five minutes; nothing. I felt calm and a bit chilly. As I looked around I noticed candles placed at each of the little capellas honouring different saints. So I bought a candle and placed it at the capella of ‘The Heart of Maria’. This one featured a statue of a sad-looking Maria, attended by some rather grubby cherubs. I felt a bit better, but as I walked towards the exit I passed a capella for a much better saint. Purissima Conceptione* was really gold and shiny, surrounded by dainty angels and stars. I wanted to retrieve my candle and place it at her altar, but I sensed this would be bad form. Being a Catholic was hard; and not for me.
To be continued….

*I LOVE the tube map. It makes total sense; a list of places on a line. I never get lost on the tube, and if it had a few pictures it would be cartography perfection.
** At the time, I translated this as ‘pure thought’, which made it all the more exciting. But on reflection, I think it’s probably something to do with the virgin birth.

Falmouth – A Procrastinator’s Guide

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Falmouth map 1
Sometimes, when the muse deserts me and I’m feeling too conscientious to watch a box set, but not conscientious enough to put pen to paper, I go for a walk.

In Devon I usually head for the moors and stride forth. I stop, only to marvel at nature, like a non-consumptive, but rather self-conscious Romantic poet. When I’m in a throbbing metropolis, such as Barcelona or Falmouth, my walks tend to be cafecentric. The map above details my typical route, when searching for inspiration or food.*

Espressini is usually my first stop. I was initially tempted in by the blackboard standing outside, which reads ‘Revolutions are started in coffee houses’. Although I haven’t actually started any revolutions yet, I usually leave there feeling quite agitated as the coffee is VERY GOOD. It has the atmosphere of the kind of Parisienne cafe where Joyce, Beckett or Picasso might have hung out. I wish it were called something like Cafe Rue de Poissy, but that might be confusing and sound a bit pretentious. On a good day, a trip here is all I need and I buzz straight back to the garret to begin another literary masterpiece.

Sometimes I deliberately make sure I’m going to run out of food. This means I’m forced to go out for Breakfast. Breakfast is the name for a type of meal, and has no real relationship to time of day. If I need Breakfast I go to De Wynns. It’s a bit ‘Ye Olde’, but very friendly and the Veggie Breakfast, though understated, is perfection. I rarely do any work or thinking here, although I do read the paper and listen to the conversations of others, which probably counts as research.

I’m not a lady who lunches, but I accidently managed to have lunch at the Courtyard Deli once. I went for coffee, but was powerless against the charms of the menu, which flaunted itself at me shamelessly. I ate Cauliflower and Cumin Fritters, which were heavenly. I like the light, airy upstairs room and sat in a bay window table, feeling a bit a bit like a captain on a (ship’s) bridge.

On route to the distraction of food, I sometimes visit Boots. I can spend quite a lot of time looking for a beauty product that will just make me beautiful. I usually leave empty handed, but with my face streaked different shades of biege and the nails on one hand messily daubed. Come on Boots! I would expect an outfit selling products that claim to reverse time, to be able to produce a lipstick that isn’t too pinky, orangey or browny.

If I’m really stuck, cross or bored I go to Gylly Beach Cafe. This involves setting off in a different direction and the walk itself is rather dull. This is a good thing as no distractions equal more thinking time. I have to make sure I’m not completely lost in thought as the route does involve crossing a busy road. The Gylly Beach scores many points for its proximity to the sea. Sitting on the deck is usually bracing but never fails to inspire. I love watching the sea, whatever its mood and looking out to the horizon I can’t help but imagine the stories that might begin, here on the shore.

Further suggestions for places to sit and dream are welcome. I’m a creature of habit, but have only just begun to explore Falmouth.

*I’m describing these places in terms of how I use them, not trying to cover everything they offer. I have included a link for further information, but I’m not an advert. I need to preserve the integrity of this blog and would really hate it if I got showered with free stuff just for mentioning them. Yes, I would really hate that.

Cadyr Idris

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The Bounder and I have had an argument. So he’ll be absent from posts for a while. Here’s a poem I wrote during a trip to Wales, featuring you know who.

Cadyr Idris

Struck by quiet and solemnity
I gazed at the ridge of purple headed mountains.
Ancient guardians glowered,
Still, massive and portentious.
My kind rendered babyish and insignificant.
I could only manage
“It’s very mountainy isn’t it?”

“Well,” you replied,
“I think ideally, Mountains
are without sheep and trees,
less green, more craggy
And with something unassailable about them.”
“So these are?”
“Hills.”

Later, as the road dipped
And we wove round canyon edges,
Cadyr Idris towered above us.

This time I could not speak at all.
I thought that God,
With a white beard and everything,
Might peer over the top.
My sense of humility in the presence of such majesty
Almost outwieghed my sense of annoyance that you were right;
Making molehills out of my mountains.

“We should get supplies before
We enter the wilderness.”
“Hmm,”you almost agreed.
“Though the wilderness will not be extreme
Our chances of encountering a Spar
Will diminish by about a thousand percent.”

I found a perfect mossy rock
Under the shade of two
Squat Hawthorn trees
“Blackthorns actually”
You said. Helpfully.

As we stood on the edge
Of a precipice,
I marvelled out loud at the depth
Of the chasm before us.
You noted, kindly,
That the ‘H’ in ‘chasm’ was silent.
It was your final utterance,
Save a suprised “Oh”
And a very long “AAAAH”.

Dartmoor Expedition

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Following weeks of heavy rain and flooding in December, The Bounder suggested a walk to see the River Dart in Spate*. I thought this sounded like fun, and ignored the faint sound of alarm bells ringing when The Bounder decided that we should probably leave my deaf, blind, hip-impaired dog at home.

We parked The Beast** in a very civilised car park, which lulled me into thinking that this was probably the kind of walk that Ramblers and day-trippers undertook. Yes, the first bit was boggy, but reasonably flat and, hey, it’s a moor. It was when we reached the edge of, what I can only describe as, a massive ravine that I began to fear yet another gruelling endurance test.

We descended the ravine with no special equipment other than wellies. When we finally reached the bottom, my legs were shaking uncontrollably and a familiar scowl was beginning to settle on my face. Noting my expression, Bounder (I’ve decided to drop the definite article as it makes him sound important) assured me that our ascent would be much gentler.
Dart spate tree

The sight of the river in spate was indeed spectacular. The rapids looked as though they were part of the Colorado (or some other really big, fast river). The little islands in the middle were completely submerged and clumps of trees poked out. Most surreal was the sight of a canoe up-ended and caught in the branches of a tree. I stood for a while, reflecting on the terrible power and beauty of nature. After I’d done this for a bit, I was eager to get on.
Dart spate foamy

I was not surprised to find that Bounder had lied about our return journey. It was just as vertical, just as scrambly and about three times as long. One of the annoying things about Bounder is that his pace is consistent no matter what the terrain or gradient. Whereas I move like a very fast speed walker along the flat, but I’m more like a little old lady when going up hill. This means he gets to have a little rests along the way. Its hard to convey the pique I experience after staggering to catch up, only to find him sitting on a tree stump, munching happily on a Bounty. As I’m almost within punching distance, he’ll get up and trot jauntily on his way.

After eventually reaching the top of the ravine, squelching across the boggy plateau felt like walking on air. I was euphoric when I spotted The Beast, waiting patiently, never doubting our return. I would have slumped gratefully into it’s scummy seat – if this had not first involved breaking in through the boot and reaching to unlock the front door with a bow saw.

*Since my late conversion to geography, I’m comfortable with terms like ‘Spate’. For less outdoorsy readers, it’s applied to rivers and means something like really, really full.
**The Bounder’s knackered old BMW estate/bin. As well as being crammed with all manner of unnameable crap, the dashboard/nature table is full of shells, stones and dead plants, and there’s some kind of large animal’s shin bone in the passenger footwell.

Legend – Addendum

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My next post was going to be an account of a rather challenging walk on Dartmoor, however, early on I realised my existing legend would not be up to the job. This is because it was a walk with my sometime walking companion/torturer, The Outward Bounder – The Bounder for convenience.

The Bounder is a frustrated commando. I want to say Scout Leader, but The Bounder’s idea of being prepared is to put on a hat and pack a couple of Bountys in case of ‘low blood sugar’. He has lost and almost killed his children many times over the course of the years they’ve been forced to walk with him. Now they’re old enough to refuse, I have become his trusty sidekick / masochist. Oh, the laughs we’ve had.

In his favour; he is a bold and (stupidly) fearless adventurer, he knows some great places, and he’s good at scaring away cows with a big stick. On the minus side…well, I’ll let the maps tell the story.

Legend

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One of the many excellent things about cartography is that the key to a map is called a Legend. I am hoping that this will imbue all of my, sometimes banal, adventures with a mythical, even epic quality.

I have included symbols for experiences that occur most frequently when I venture forth into the world. Unfortunately, ‘Romance’ is included more as a gesture of faith and optimism than actual frequency of occurrence. ‘Epiphanies’ happen regularly, though some (uncharitable) people might prefer to describe them as ‘Thoughts’.

As my art develops and my horizons broaden I may find it necessary to include a sequel to this Legend (Map Harder?).

Starting a new life in Barcelona

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I think that part of my inability to read maps in a meaningful, or indeed navigational, way stems from my not being very well travelled beyond the south west of England.  I did, however, once set off to start a new life in Barcelona.

I have always felt I was meant to be a seasoned world traveller. With this in mind I left my home, job and partner behind in dull old Devon to go and live the dream.  I had several leaving parties where friends commended my courage and declared me to be an inspiration.

The map above is a summary of my bold adventure.  I’ll produce further details in subsequent posts as, to the psychocartographer in general, Barcelona presents an excellent study. To The Psychocartographer it’s significance is enormous.  It’s an axis as well as a parallel universe where I still live.

In this universe my new life lasted a week.  For all sorts of reasons which don’t really make sense now, I slunk back to Devon.  One of them, which makes me want to slap myself, was ‘I missed the rain’.

Upon my return I was too embarrassed to leave the house for two days.  When I was eventually forced to go out for supplies I bumped into a friend in the co-op.  Her look of utter confusion made me feel that it would be possible to pass myself off as a blip in the space/time continuum.  In the event, I muttered something about it being a long story and scuttled away.

I’m not sure if it is a long story, but it’s one that lends itself to being explored via the medium of maps.

The world through my window

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“Research shows that men are better at map reading than women”

This kind of headline only confirms what I have long thought; the wrong kind of maps are being produced.  I aim to rectify this by providing a series of maps for women, dyspraxics and fantasists. I must come clean at this point and confess that I have no actual training or certification in cartography.  My fine art skills could be described as ‘developing’, though it may be kinder not to describe them.

However, I see no reason why these minor dips in my skillset should stop me from re-visioning the world for a new kind of human.

Some might say, ‘What use are these maps? They bear no relation to reality.’ This fact has not stopped the Ordinance Survey people pretty much cornering the market.  Journeys are made by people, through places.  Maps are the result of certain understandings of places and their relationship to each other.

My maps may not help you get from A to B (again, I refer you to OS maps), but they will almost always feature coffee or wine and they will always have a tale to tell.