The sea and me

I’ve lived in the UK for over five years now and I’ve come to realise how inescapable the sea is. It is the place where I can travel no further with trains or my bike. I come to a stop and imagine France, Canada, or Norway on the other side of where I am even though the distances and places are often obscure to me.

Of course, I knew before moving that Britain is an island. I’ve seen it on maps for years, looming over France in a history full of conflicts and complicated relationship. I’ve looked up at it, yearning to learn more about it before finally making the jump. But I never considered its border with the sea. You don’t need a boat to go to the UK nowadays, you don’t even have to acknowledge that there is a sea around it. I certainly ignored it.

But then, I went exploring the country and the smell of salt began to permeate my journeys. I took regular trips to the seaside, drawn to the edges of this new home of mine rather than to the lands inside. I saw the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters, I’ve walked along the rugged Jurassic Coast, I’ve watched the Irish Sea lap the coast of Wales, I’ve plunged into the Atlantic Ocean in Northern Ireland, and I’ve been overwhelmed by the North Sea in the Orkney Islands.

I come back again and again to the water, watch and listen.

Those are not the water of my childhood to be enjoyed and played in. Those I fear. They enclave me on an island and in an odd way I feel at their mercy. They could rise up and swallow the land. They lick the stone and melt the borders. They are mighty and I am frail.

I should avoid them, stay inland and explore the hills and fields of the countryside, safe on solid ground. But I don’t. Know your enemy, they say. So I travel to the seas. I explore their edges and familiarise myself with their rhythms.

The pebbles sing under my shoes, the sand hums under my bare feet, the waves mark the passage of time. I listened to it all and fell in love.

The ever changing seascape stopped being immense as I went from place and place and discovered local plants and scenery. Piers and sea defences made me feel welcome, myths and legends weaved stories through my head, and the raucous sound of the pebbles being called back to the sea and foam fizzing on the sand became a treat to be cherished by the shore.

Those are not the water of my childhood to be enjoyed and played in. Those I respect. They sing for me and in and odd way protect me and bound me to the land. They come and go, faithful and reliable. They wash over my feet and bid me welcome. They are mighty and I am humbled.

Advertisements

HearSay Festival – A week-end of sound in Ireland

Back in November I went to the HearSay Festival. It was three days and nights of sound, story and sharing taking place in the village of Kilfinane in Co. Limerick in Ireland. The village only has a population of 700 people and a bus line going to it twice a day. But still hundreds of people from 85 countries managed to gather in this Irish village in sweaters, coats, gloves, scarves, and hats to join the festival. I was one of those people.

null

The HearSay Festival is a place for radio producers, sound artists, theatre makers, game sound designers, film sound editors, musicians, field recordists, audio story makers, and anyone else who has anything to do with sound. Such a wide-ranging program appealed to me by its diversity. I felt I could be welcomed there and have the perfect opportunity to explore the world of sounds and its many outlets.

And I was not disappointed. As the festival went on, I made my way from talks to installations, from local shops to pubs and learned. Although the majority of talks where from people from radio and podcasting, I never felt they were not addressing me. We were all audio makers in some shape or form, feeding off each other love of the medium and applying lessons from one area to another.

null

But the HearSay Festival is more than that. It is also about Kilfinane and its people. When hundreds of people invade a small village in Ireland, accommodation quickly become scarce and restaurants booked up. But not in this place. People opened their doors to perfect strangers, hosting visitors in their home. I was one of the people lodged at a home stay with five other audio minded people. We were made at home by Birdie – our host – from the moment she picked us up one by one in the village to the moment she dropped us back for the last day. She went out of her way to make us welcome, inviting us into her home, cooking us breakfast, and ferrying us to and fro every now and again. Once in the village, the pubs became hubs of audio conversations where everyone was invited to take part. Residents smiled and engaged with everyone, giving their time to guide us from venue to venue, opening the doors of their living room for some talks, and generally going out of their way to make the festival a success and create indelible memories from everyone’s mind.

null

I was so busy enjoying myself that I ended up not using my recorder many times. I captured a few moments in the first two days but made most of my recordings on the last day. There wasn’t much but I really wanted to create a soundscape of my time there and what the HearSay Festival felt and sounded like to me. Before you listen bear in mind that most recordings have been done very spontaneously and without audio monitoring so it’s not perfect.

The voice talking is Sam Greenspan and you heard excerpt from his talk “Deconsecration”: a radio sermon. You also heard excerpt of Collision: Trio for Piano and Voice printed to Vinyl Disc cut at 45 RPM by Jimmy Eadie. Many other sounds have found their way into the soundscape but I’ll let you figure them out by yourself.

Outdoor Bloggers – A walk around Palewell Common and Fields

The days are getting shorter and my outings closer to home, making me pay more attention to nature and wildlife in London rather than trying to escape the tentacles of the city.

So last week-end, having dropped plans for a microadventure, I decided to take a walk close to home. I didn’t want to go to Kew Gardens, or the Thames, or even Richmond Park. They are all great places for a wander but I had walked around them many times for the last few months. It was time I explored somewhere new. I chose Palewell Common and Fields.

Camera strapped along my chest and recorder stuck in my pocket, I went in search of the sights and sounds of autumn last days at a local common. Here is what I’ve found (click on the photos for full sizes):

More photos can be seen on my Flickr account.

This post was prompted by the November theme, ‘Autumn Watch’ of the Outdoor Bloggers.
  The name sound familiar? I went on a walk in the Peak District with a few of them last May. The Outdoor Bloggers directory has grown quite a bit since then. Check it out and be sure to join us.

Pedalling Portugal – Making the decision

P1000819

Last March, I went to Portugal and fell in love. I went on a whim, seeking to escape the last clutches of winter in London. I knew nothing about the country and if I am to be honest, I wasn’t expecting much of it. I wanted to relax, spend time with my partner, and forget all that was going wrong at work. But as we started to explore the Algarve and its coastline, Portugal crept up on me. Its desolated scenery, rumbling trains, and ordinary life took me by surprise. I felt a longing for a life in the hills behind the sea with their barren ochre dirt roads. I gazed at them endlessly as I sat at the terrace of a small bar, sipping a cold drink and mindlessly playing cards. Next to us, the tables were deserted. The few locals there were remained safely barricaded in their cool houses. It wasn’t tourists season yet. I was glad of it. The region felt all the more real and people had time to chat about their day and their country to us. We were not quite another anonymous face in a crowd of foreigners.

A few days later, we were sitting in the soulless airport of Faro, an air-con unit trying to imitate a cold breeze. My stomach was tight and I was nervously rubbing a bracelet I had bought by a beach. Along with my photos and sounds, it was going to be the only trace of Portugal I could share. Somewhere in my heart though, the memories of the country had carved a nest of their own. I was starting to feel their strings pulling me back as the plane took off. Passport checked, luggage retrieved, I stepped outside Luton airport and felt sad. I was home but this was not were I wanted to be. I boarded a coach back to London and as it drove me further away from Portugal, I vowed to myself to go back.

Weeks passed, months passed and Portugal kept haunting me. I told everyone I would go back, take three months off from my life and zigzag my way through the country. I set a date for March 2016, thinking it shouldn’t be too hot then (maybe a little cold but I could deal with that), and began making small preparations. I read up on Portuguese history and discovered a country with a rich and unique past. I borrowed some of José Saramago books from the library and found a literary genius hidden on the European shelves. I learned the basics of a language so foreign I had to forget my old Spanish lessons and open my mind to distinctive sounds and structures.

Time ticked on, work kept deteriorating and I somehow forgot about Portugal. I was still mentioning my trip idea but it didn’t feel quite real anymore. March 2016 was months away and for now it was Summer and I had plans to walk the Camino de Santiago. Then September arrived, the last bolts were screwed upon my touring bike, and I was hit with the realisation that in less than six months I would be on the road. I tried to cower away from it. After all, I was about to begin a new job. It would not be fair to leave them after just a few months. I could delay my trip, work with this company for a year and ask for a sabbatical then. Couldn’t I? This possibility weighed at the forefront of my mind while at the back of it a small nagging voice whispered it was just an excuse. This job I had been offered is not my dream job, just something convenient among a friendly team. So I picked up my Portuguese books from the bedside table and let them swallow me once more in a culture I had become so intrigued by. It is unlikely I will learn as much of the language as I had hoped for, but at least I will go.

logo

Pedalling Portugal will begin in March 2016. For more information about this upcoming trip, visit this page.

York – A city of ghosts and life

On the week-end of the 10th and 11th of October I had planned to complete the Lyke Wake Walk with Jenni and Zoe. And we did . But before we began to walk, I had a few hours to spare in York. I had not set foot in this city for ten years. The last time I had visited, I had been on a school trip and all I could remember was the soft carpet of my host family, the luxuriant sofa, and the cups of tea my two other classmates drained in the sink every morning while I sipped mine. I remember a park where the entire class compared sandwiches, made grimace at weird English food and reluctantly ate them while behind us some old architecture witnessed the scene. I remember my host family, sneaking a few of us in a cinema to watch a film we barely understood. I remember the party they threw for the entire class at the end of our stay. I remember how sleep deprived I had felt, how little English I had understood but also how lucky I had been to be welcomed by such a generous couple. But York itself… it transformed into a simple name that meant a suburban house by an A road, and a warm and friendly overweight woman. So I was eager to come back to York and see the city itself. I wanted it to become a place of its own.

I arrived at midday at the train station and followed the signs to the city centre, blending in with a crowd of locals and tourists. The city walls caught my eyes by Lendal bridge where I stopped to watch the river Ouse flow for a few minutes. But the roar of the traffic chased me away. I went on towards the city centre to grab a bite before going back to the bridge. The centre didn’t look worth exploring. Maybe I was wrong and was going to miss some great local shops, but the walls looked more appealing than endless brands I am too familiar with. I began walking away, following the old fortifications and the trail the city had carefully crafted. It was playful and informative with panels displayed at intersections with stories of old. But it was difficult to relate to those times gone by they mentioned. Beyond the walls, busy roads spread their tentacles, providing a deafening soundtrack to the day. It was only as I arrived at the end of my loop, that a patch of quietness appeared. The walls became shaded by trees from the York Minster gardens. I relaxed and for an instant I forgot the cars to my left.

I climbed down the stairs at one end of High Petergate and followed the street to the cathedral. A model of the city caught my eyes and I spent more time observing it than I did the actual building in front of me. I had never been a fan of gothic architecture. I went in and took a peek at the inside but outside, Rachel Dawick was playing her guitar and I was itching to record her songs in the midst of the streets. Traffic had melted away here, leaving only the clicking of heels on stone, the clatter of old bicycles bouncing on the uneven ground, and the endless chatter of people to accompany the street music. So I sat on a bench, set my recorder on, and listened.

Half an hour went by and it was time to go. I rejoined the flow of vehicles and made my way to the train station where Jenni was going to pick me up. York had gained a physicality. It was a city of ghosts, where the past is still living in the stones, but also a city of life where street music takes over the cars to reclaim the city as a place for people to enjoy and to live in.

A few more photos can be found here.