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Thursday, 27 December 2012

A few old wrecks - and a wonderful book re-discovered.

We were walking in the woods around Durham - Christmas Eve, I think it was - when we came across a number of interesting artworks, including this rusting bike….

It seemed vaguely familiar, and when I’d had a bit of a think I was reminded of the time we were walking the Wolds Way, a four-day hike from the banks of the Humber to Filey, on the North Yorkshire coast. I’ve actually done it twice, but it was on this second occasion, in 2008, that we all but tripped over a long-abandoned bicycle.

Digging out that photograph prompted me to go through the pictures I brought back from our Pyrenean hikes (2008 and `09) to find a cannibalised car…

.. and this abandoned memento of the 1960s or `50s. I suspect it’s a Renault, but cannot be sure.

Meanwhile, back in the grim post-Christmas world, it continues to rain - with yet more promised for the weekend. I can’t wait to read the annual figures. We’ve had substantially more than our usual allotment of 24-25 inches.  (My money’s on 36-38). Anyway, from tomorrow, the 28th, until January 2nd we will be in South Wales, where they specialise in the stuff. I think it gives them their propensity for - let’s call it irony - and, in these quantities, erodes my own tendency to wary optimism. I shall try to counter the cold, damp feeling in which this year’s weather has enveloped me by reading a wonderful book I received for Christmas.

I first stumbled across Henry Lawson’s While The Billy Boils close to forty years ago in York library. It’s a fat volume containing 87 stories and sketches from the Australian outback around the turn of the 20th century, recording scenes from the daily lives of a vagrant population of drifters, sheep-shearers, railway workers. Casual labourers, I suppose you’d say. The book has immediate echoes of Bret Harte, Mark Twain, Jack London, W. H. Davies, all of whom I’d been reading when I found this character. Re-reading a few pages on Christmas night, I was reminded of the extent to which Lawson influenced my own attempts to write down what I was experiencing and hearing as a railway guard, factory hand, gardener, brickie’s mate, etc. It inspired me, years later, to collate my sketches of railway life. I found I had 111, some just a few lines, others several pages in length, which are still there in a ragged folder in the attic. Typed them out on the Olivetti portable I received on my eighteenth birthday.

More memories? No, let’s have lunch - and another slice of A’s superb Christmas cake. Or maybe a wedge.

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