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OTS Swim Camp – Crashing Barriers

Pre Warm-up

It’s day three, our second two-session day when Stefano and Katie join the group. The rest of us are just easing through the pain barrier – still creaking our joints, sinews and muscles. This morning we have Pamela from Italy coaching. She tells Stefano , in Italian, that he’s not getting away with anything. She has a loud commanding voice but she looks too small and young to be a real Italian Mama. There’s a lot of work with fins – freestyle mainly. We do lots on our sides, with one arm out front and the other at 90⁰ sticking up in the air. Then there’s various relaxed movement of this arm – touching hip, shoulder, head, water before changing sides. I note that the side kick is faster than kicking on the front, face down.

Katie

I check with Ben for an explanation. When kicking up and down, there is not as much water above the feet to move about, whereas on the side there is a whole pool full of water to move about. This sounds like another plug for rotation. It’s also good to note the difference with the shallow and faster backstroke kick and with fins on I seem to be speeding along at a rate of nots. The relief at taking off the fins after such a long session is dramatic. My feet no longer have heavy things attached, with the result that I kick more and faster. It’s good to get the point though experience.

Phil and I are joined by Ed for lunch – we stumble upon a German restaurant where the set menu starts with tapas, followed by meat dumplings made with loving care and served in a caper sauce and new potatoes.

Starts

Our evening session is Butterfly with Ally. What a time for Dan to finally join us after travel delays. It’s virtually all kicks and drills and I’m glad as I don’t fancy doing multiple 50m lengths of fly.  After all, I only ever do one length of it in the Individual Medley, regardless of the pool length.

Starts

Ally’s speciality is 50m fly and he confesses that he’s never had to pay too much attention to turns.  Fly turns are fairly similar, if not identical, to breaststroke turns. Some people have never done a backstroke turn – they know who

More wild flowers on the beach

they are – so there are a few trials and errors.

On Thursday morning, Pam takes us though drills again, but we do more swimming. Phil and I have an average set menu involving Hake for lunch (the beer is nice) before setting off for the naturist beach to the East.

Growing though the rock
Wild flowers

The map shows a road through countryside where birds might be seen. The road is, however, marked private and we have to re-trace our steps to walk along the beaches and coastal paths. There aren’t many birds in the mid-afternoon and the land adjoining the coast is all fenced off and marked ‘Private’ in three languages.

Coastal route

After an hour or so walking, we reach Playa ses Roquettes and take turns to guard our stuff while the other goes in for a swim. There aren’t many people here – half a dozen at the most. The water is somewhere between 16-18⁰c and very refreshing.

Playa ses Roquettes

Open water enthusiasts might call it too warm but we don’t stay in for long and have to climb over a mountain of dead sea grass to get in and out. There are more birds on the way back and we follow the shore right around to the harbour area and the new part of town. It’s clear that development has gone East and our hotel and the swimming pool are on the West side of town.

Harbour beer

It’s time for a beer overlooking the harbour. The others had returned to the Western Beach where Christophe created amazing human sculptures with the OTS group. Shared with compliments of  OTS WhatsApp.

Body Art – OTS WhatsApp
Body art OTS WhatsApp

Friday and it’s Pam again and I’m finding her drills excellent. Katie and I are getting great feedback. She reminds me that I’m neglecting my push through – I’ve lapsed into short strokes again. There is such a lot to remember. and at this point on the week I’m taking the occasional 100 metres out to rest.

OTS Body art
O-T-S on the sand

Lunch is a group affair – it’s the only time we have the full team together and this is the last opportunity. We return to the same restaurant – Beach House – where we were on Monday. Slivers of roast pork from between the ribs with smoked mashed potatoes are

Fernando

delicious and beautifully presented.

For the evening session we have most of the pool and Ally sets us off on what he calls a ‘Short warm-up’. This turns out to be 8 x 100’s alternating freestyle and choice (not freestyle) then 8 x 50s – drill 25m swim 25m doing all four strokes. I take a rest on the backstroke as I need it and I’m not quite reconciled with the sun glare and the lane ropes. I explain to Ally that the others need the backstroke work (joke) but he tells me that my backstroke is fine. The rest of the session is dives and turns. This is where it’s useful to have OTS volunteer coaches around to give extra feedback. We finish early so we can do a  group photo before people begin to fly home.

OTS Mallorca

Our last day, Saturday is also a two-session affair, but the morning is overcast and cold. This is the fun session with swim caps as prizes and after the warm-up there are competitions for various skills: The longest push-off glide; longest breaststroke push-off to breakout; greatest distance underwater dolphin kick with fins; backwards front crawl – hilarious and impossible. Then it’s relay time. Ally attempts to form three teams of six, but some people are not competing (too cold, too tired, too hung-over).

Waddah

Rory comes to the rescue and rearranges everything. Simon and Paul are persuaded to join my team. The first relay race is freestyle, which we don’t win. There’s now a discussion about the Medley. Both Paul and I are back-strokers but none of the others can or want to do 50m Fly. In the end Paul does the fly and I the backstroke, leaving the others to do 2 x Breast and 2 x freestyle. We win that one, in spite of hangovers. The last relay is with a pull-boy, passed to the next swimmer and both Ed and I are fairly slow at this. The result is that each team wins one relay each.

Katie

I seriously consider not doing the usual cover-up with sunblock for our last evening session as the sky is completely overcast and it’s cold. Someone warns that I could still get burnt and so relent. It’s Pamela again with lots of great drills, kicking on the side with fins and arms in the air are all good. Pam really does pay attention to details and is still giving individual advice. It’s not too exhausting and we only swim for an hour – a request from the Eurovision fans amongst us who ‘have to get ready’. Actually, my body has had enough – time for a snooze before our last night in town.

Spain is singing – Eurovision

Our social secretaries have sorted out a pub/restaurant not far away who can get BBC television. They’ve negotiated a meal (pizza) and drinks deal with the Indians who run the place. Having declared publicly that the only pizzas worth eating are in Italy or Islington, I think these ones are quite good. The more senior of the group gather early on one table as we’re desperate for beer. The youngsters arrive in dribs and drabs.

Drag at Eurovision

Paul and Stephen C have gone to great lengths with their drag outfits and look amazing. I’m not really a fan of drag, but they both manage to look glamorous so full marks. I’ve only ever watched Eurovision once – I had nothing else to do. It is a gay thing – so our table, critical of the standard of composition, lyrics, production etc mumble quietly to each other. There are a few surprisingly good efforts, but my interest wanes and having shared a bottle of rough red wine with Phil and Nick find a moment to drift off and pack for an early drive to the airport the next morning. I catch up on the rest of the evening via the WhatsApp group playing pool and mingling with the locals.

The after party

It’s been a great week and I’ve managed every session – something I didn’t expect to achieve. Some of the guys are talking about a holiday, but I don’t think so, it’s been hard work. Besides, when you are retired, life doesn’t demarcate between work and holidays in the way it used to. Activities line up on the continuum of experience to make the most of and enjoy whatever comes along.

 

 

Mallorca – Best Swim Centre

Off to Swim Mallorca

Sur Mallorca Hotel

Colonia Saint Jordie is a sleepy resort near the southern most point of the island of Mallorca. The town clusters around a rocky outcrop jutting into the Mediterranean Sea. Having had a day of travel delays, and a missed flight at Barcelona, I’m anxious to find Phil at Palma Airport. He’s not answering his phone or replying to texts or WhatsApp messages. I know he’s been delayed and I want to sort out a second driver for the hire car. I sit and wait. The two possibilities are that he’s fallen asleep in the airport waiting or that he hasn’t arrived yet. Eventually he turns up – he was in the air on flight mode. Phil’s Sat Nav app delivers us to a very swanky hotel just up the road from the Best Swim Centre. Reception has no record of us and it turns out that we’re in the tower block sitting on the end of the rocky promontory a couple of stars lower down the scale. However, I do have a 190 degree sea view.

Best Centre Elite Swimming Training

It’s a short walk to the Best Centre, our Swim Camp home for the next six days, and the Out to Swim guys plus a couple from Y Swim gather at the hotel reception at 10.40. The pool is fifty metres and we have four lanes supervised by James and Ally. As I quite often swim in the same lane as Fernando and Waddaah, I join them in lane three. James asks if we have any requests and a couple of us mention breaststroke – others want starts and turns. The warm up is 200 Freestyle, 200 backstroke, 100 breaststroke then kicks & pull coming to around 800m.

Our training pool

Ben (OTS coach) tells me I’m too fast for lane three. I now have the option to join lane two where James is doing a breaststroke set – his speciality. There are only four of us in lane two – luxury. One of my objectives is to sort out my breaststroke, which I only use in the Individual Medley. James tells me that I’m not bringing my heels up high enough or close enough to my bum to get the power from a circular kick back. It’s a eureka moment and there are also some very useful tips for the arms.

Applying sun block

We do a range of drills, the most difficult being holding the opposite ankle behind with one hand and then swimming with the free arm and leg. I can’t do it and get the giggles. In between attempts I just do my newly acquired kick to catch up with the others. Coach James has figured out that lane one are speaking in gay idiom – particularly when he’s describing the position of the bottom. He’s quickly educated. Ally, who is doing backstroke with lanes three and four is being oogled. Well, he is young and cute. I can’t imagine this is the first time James has had a gay group. Perhaps last years’ Out to Swim group were more decorous.

More sun-block please

Although the pool is heated, it’s not exactly warm out of the water – some are shivering during the instruction and back-chat periods. I’m glad to have sorted out the Breaststroke so early in the proceedings, though it’s still exhausting to do.

First Lunch out
Lunch time sea view

Fernando has booked a mass lunch at a seaside restaurant a short walk around the coast. It’s a beautiful setting but the wind is chilly and some of us have to go outside and stand in a sunny sheltered spot to warm up. Phil and I take off in the car to investigate Parc Natural de Mondrago, just North West of Santanyi.

The countryside is green at this time of year with flowers all along the road-sides. We pass Almond orchards and fields of wild flowers. It’s not really a park as everywhere seems to be farmed, but it’s lovely and we stop briefly on the coast to look at the sea and the limestone cliffs. There’s no time to linger, as we have to be back for our second two hour session at six. Lanes one and two have Ally for a backstroke set. Lots of drills for rotation leading from the hips and getting the arms in the right position to enter the water and push down.

The Natural Park
Coast

Different coaches have varied advice which might seem to contradict with another coach. The thing is that they are all correct – in a way and it’s only when you get the whole picture that things fall into place.  I recall seeing a U tube video where a coach was warning about the danger of over rotation in backstroke. Ally’s tip that one’s side should not come out of the water makes sense of this. Our problem here is navigating in an out-door pool. It’s no use fixing on a point in the sky and on every second length the sun is blinding. Much hilarity ensues with everyone zigzagging up and down the pool and colliding with lane-ropes.

Aloe and wild-flowers

Mostly the lane ropes win and I have the scars to prove it.

As dinner at the hotel finishes at 9pm, we have to dash back and change into long pants before eating. I’m knackered and go straight to bed instead of going out for a drink with the youngsters, who want to farewell James. He’s going home tomorrow afternoon. Tuesday is one two-hour session and there’s a chance to re-visit the work we did yesterday on breaststroke and then we do push-offs and turns.

Scabeous on brownfield site

We have what is known as half board at the hotel, which means only breakfast and evening meal. Most of the guys do a swap and have lunch at the hotel. My view is that indifferent food is the same whether it’s lunch or dinner, but this gives the lads the opportunity to go out on the town at night. Phil and I find a delightful little Bistro with delicious artistically presented food. But we’re not missing out as the WhatsApp group keeps us graphically updated with everyone else’s activities – mostly.

Salt lakes

They are off to the naturist beach Playa d’es Trenc and no one joins us on a three-hour bird-watching walk. Our journey takes us along the naturist beach, but there is no sign of the lads and we head inland past salt lakes and wet-lands. I’m astonished at the abundance of species here. Some of the highlights are sightings of: an Eagle, Flamingos and a Harrier. There are nightingales – heard but not seen, Hoopoes, Corn Buntings, various warblers and of course Sparrows everywhere. On the water are Shell ducks, Stilts, Avocets and many more. Phil is in heaven with his binoculars and bird identification phone app. He’s texting a mate in France who is also bird-watching. It’s a bit of a competition.

wld flowers

Along the way we see plenty of wild-flowers in full spring bloom. They will all be gone by mid-summer and the resort tourists will miss out. Colonia St Jordi seems not to have grown much over the years. Vacant lots are still to be developed and while the market waits for a boom, ecology has taken over and wild-flowers, birds and feral cats make temporary use of the land.

Off to Swim Prague

Aquacentrum Prague

‘Because I can’ is what I tell people who ask me ‘Why?’ I’m unencumbered these days, responsible and answering only to myself, so why not make the most of it?

I’m off to swim for a while – a Saturday afternoon in Prague for their Rainbow Spring Multi-sport event then to Mallorca for a six-day swim camp with twenty Out to Swim club members. My body is a bit apprehensive – I never quite know which part will complain next – but I know it pretty well by now and it tells me when to stop. It’s just a matter of listening, which I don’t always do.

River Vltava from Charles Bridge

I was last in Prague in 2014, so I’m looking forward to reacquainting myself with this beautiful and historic city. On the flight from Stanstead is a huge party of guys going to a stag do. Apparently, it’s the new place to do that – excellent beer and cheap. Sounds like they have a weekend of all inclusive (to save bother) activities including the mandatory strip show. Interesting to observe straight men in a group away from wives and girlfriends – a completely different animal.

Government buildings – Prague Castle

A three-day travel pass purchased at the airport takes me by bus and Metro with speedy efficiency to my hotel. Hotel Alba is modernised in a spartan, Eastern European version of IKEA – except that it is solid.  It’s still light so this is the only opportunity to explore the Prague Castle area – not done on my 2014 visit. The hotel receptionist advises that I need two days to see it all, so I will just have to do a recce for next time.

Busking harpist
Busking Violinist

Prague is a city of classical music so it’s no surprise to come across young musicians busking all the way up the stairs to the Castle. These days I travel on VISA and haven’t even got any local currency, so the buskers are out of luck as are the beggars, who kneel in a praying position with caps outstretched, taking sneaky looks to see if anyone is paying attention.

Cathedral

Yes, I’m people watching again and note the out-of-condition younger family men huffing and puffing their way up the steps. Even though I’m still recovering from various Winter-related conditions, my lungs manage the steps easily – the leg muscles, not so well.

At the top is a whole village of palaces, most of which are now galleries and museums. It’s all very grand, but at this time of day everything is closed.

 

Prague view

The view of the city is, however, stunning in the late afternoon sunlight and by now the tourists have thinned out. In one deserted square a Chinese wedding photo shoot is in progress with a lighting guy holding up his silver disc to reflect light on to the faces of the happy couple.

Chinese Wedding Shoot

I head down the other side towards the Charles Bridge, which is still crowded. The portrait artists are still there – probably the same ones I saw in 2014.

Charles Bridge

I find the Charles Bridge Restaurant where the Rainbow Spring registration is happening. ‘No, I don’t need a free travel pass, I bought one at the airport.’ There is a look of consternation from the young man handing out the bags and event invitations.

the Steps down

I might go to the party on Saturday evening but sadly can’t do the picnic on Sunday afternoon as I fly out in the morning. I am dying for a beer, something the Czechs do well. I sit in the downstairs restaurant overlooking water where the pedalloes are being returned. The kitchen is struggling and even though the waiters are running around looking efficient, my Salmon pasta, is only just warm and too small to carb up enough for tomorrow. I have to order a pear in pastry but when it eventually arrives floating in a thin caramel, it is also tepid – not recommended.

My Out to Swim team-mates have spent all day walking around the city and have fallen asleep – so we don’t meet up. I’m remembering coach Nathan’s advice to get a good night’s sleep before a race. The trouble is the hotel mattress is super firm and thin. It’s unable to embrace the sticky-out bits of my body.

The best pool in town

It’s an eleven o’clock warm-up at the ‘Best pool in town.’ This leaves plenty of time to fill up the tank at breakfast. It’s all a bit of a shock to the system that there’s no fruit, but I’ll cope. Once again, the public transport carries me to the Sutka Aquacentrum, high in the suburbs and overlooking the city. I’m recognised by guys who were at the  Amsterdam Valentine’s meet earlier in the year and that’s a nice feeling of camaraderie – one from Frankfurt and an American living in Switzerland.

Out to Swim team – trio

Paul and Rory have been hanging out with two guys from Paris Aquatique – apparently the rest of their team are in the Canary Islands on a Swim Camp preparing for the Gay Games in August. The pool here is amazing. It has a stainless steel adjustable bottom and sides and there are clear Perspex walls at each end to protect officials from being splashed.  The water is nice and cool and the lane ropes have no sharp spikes to lacerate my wrists in backstroke. There is speculation that they won’t calm the water so well. I think it’s marginally more choppy.

Europeans
Netherlanders

There’s a good European turn-out here today, especially from Spain, The Netherlands and Germany. Certainly, there are more than in 2014 so I guess that everyone is getting ready for the Gay Games. I always hate starting of a race meet with 100 metres backstroke. It’s a tough race and I do better starting off with freestyle. The backstroke hurts and is a bit slow. By comparison the 400 freestyle is more comfortable.

Berliner?

The younger guy next to me is level pegging for the first 100 metres, then he takes off and I let him go. To my left I glimpse a guy turning after me so I’m safe. There is no electronic board, so no way to tell how we did in the heat.

After the swim
The Out to Swim Paris Aquatique relay team

Both Paul and I are collecting gold medals. He has competition in his age group so he’s pleased that some of Out to Swim fast swimmers are not here. He has a great meet with all Long Course personal bests. Rory and Paul have formed a relay team with the two Paris Aquatique guys to do the 4 x 50m Medley and Freestyle. This is all great experience for Rory, who has only been swimming for six months and its only the second race meet in his life. We don’t know yet how the relays did but they looked good.

Pink Flamingo and medals

The announcer is a jolly fellow, speaking Czech first, then English – the common language for Europeans. He spots the gaps in the hearts as they line up and calls out the missing swimmers. There’s also a DJ with a great play-list (According to Paul).  The day ends with a fun relay with teams pushing inflatable flamingos up the pool. Back in town, I find a pub restaurant for a beer – outside. It’s all tasty – grilled sirloin and chicken breast in a creamy green peppercorn sauce and bright orange sweet potato chips. There’s nothing green in sight, so I’m looking forward to a Spanish salad.

Swimming for My Life

London Aquatic Centre

I’m involved in Out and Active, a project to encourage over 50’s LGBT people to engage in a sport so that they can lead healthier lives.  I’m the writer on the project, interviewing people from different sports clubs and my long-time friend and fellow swimmer, Vicki Carter is leading the project for Out for Sport

My story, Swimming for My Life, along with the others I’m collecting will be on the website, hopefully inspiring older LGBT’s to get active.

Me and TAMS team mate – Auckland at Mt Roskil meet New Zealand

I was Sixty-one when I joined Out to Swim in 2012. As a teenager in New Zealand, I’d belonged to the local swimming club.  We had a key to the town outdoor pool and trained before school – only in the summer – doing kicking and pull, but mostly just swimming up and down.  Our parents organised a swimming coach to sort out our style and technique and he also taught us butterfly – unheard of in our part of the world.  I won the championship at our small rural high school and so thought myself a pretty good swimmer, going on to compete at University meets where I came last in everything. For the next forty years I’d go swimming maybe once a week, do twenty lengths and then get out.

LAC ready for Out to Swim’s meet GLLAM in 2017

I’d been on a round the world adventure with my partner getting as far as New Zealand. He died there suddenly and when I returned to the UK. My long-time friend, Vicki Carter, who was going to teach my partner to swim properly, suggested I join Out to Swim.  I’ve always believed that joining a group is the best way to meet new people and I knew I needed some way of dealing with my bereavement, so I looked up the website, chose a session and headed for the first of three free introductory swims.

Representing Middlesex in the inter-county challenge – Portsmouth.

Of course, it was the wrong session and after forty years, I was out of condition. I still had some speed, but no stamina and had to take time out every few lengths. Swimming continuously for one hour was not possible so the coach suggested I got to a development session and come back when I was ready. These days people get assessed and sent to the correct session for their fitness and ability.

For me, swimming is the perfect exercise, aerobic and non-weight-bearing.  Running has never suited me and with the beginnings of arthritis, it’s important to keep those joints moving. I’ve lost weight and being back to where I was at the age of twenty, find I’m getting admiring glances again.  What more encouragement do I need?

Millennium Pool Auckland NZ the World Masters

Non-swimmers have a notion of our sport as being solitary and unsociable, saying ‘Don’t you get bored endlessly ploughing up and down the pool?’  There’s a lot to think about.  ‘Are my arms entering the water at the right angle?  How’s my rotation and am I kicking hard enough?’  The list goes on and there are always improvements to make. Counting the number of strokes per length or the number of lengths swum can be calming. I like to think of it as meditation, where the mind is emptied of all peripheral matters and there’s the added benefit of endorphins released by exercise to produce a great feeling of well-being. Swimming is a great stress buster and I kept training whilst moving house, traditionally the most stressful thing you ever do.  Being in a club offers a range of social benefits from weekly after-session drinks, mid-winter plunges for the more eccentric and the Christmas party.  At training, you get to know the regular people in your lane and the order in which everyone swims. Interaction is required, making it a group activity.  So, ‘lonely?’ I don’t think so.

Ponds Forge Swimming Centre – Sheffield.

I persisted with the club and was hugely inspired by the Olympic and Paralympic games of 2012. The real breakthrough came for me when I raced at the UK Masters Nationals at Sheffield that year. It was nerve wracking, the first time on those high blocks, but once the starting pistol went off, it all came flooding back.  I was hooked on Masters’ competitive swimming at sixty-one.  Age group competing was new to me and one of my memories is of two elderly swimmers bearing heart surgery scars, discussing their operations – inspirational. Entering a competition makes you part of the team and it’s also a great opportunity to get to know other members from other lanes.

London Aquatic Centre asleep.

In an era when longevity rubs up against quality of life, the older we get, the more important it is to keep moving and balanced. Early in 2014, a man who had recently moved into the 100 – 104 age group was going for the world 100 metre backstroke record.  I was in heat two and we had to wait until he’d finished, and he got his record. I have no particular ambition to get to a hundred but I do want to be fit and active until the end.

It is also important for me to belong to a gay or gay friendly club because I feel more comfortable and relaxed.  ‘Coming out’ is unnecessary as we have a shared vocabulary and culture. What is unusual for a gay organisation is the complete lack of age or ability discrimination.  Young gay men in particular can be very ageist, so I was initially bemused to be smiled at and greeted by much younger guys and found myself suddenly valued to take a relay team into a higher aggregate age group to increases the odds of winning medals.  There are not so many older swimmers and even fewer women so we get more points for racing. Not everyone is ready to or wants to race. Some members are non-competitive and just like to keep fit.

My Bronze Medal at the UK Nationals in 2017

I’ve been to LGBT meets all over Europe and the rest of the world, a chance to travel, see new places and make international friends. I also win medals and in 2017 I achieved my ambition to get a bronze medal at the Nationals. I’m fitter now than I’ve ever been in my life, both physically and emotionally and that’s worth more to me than my drawer of medals.  Swimming has now become a great passion with the added benefit of new team-mates and friends.

To read inspirational stories by other older athletes go to Out & Active and scroll down the page.

 

 

Dressing the Christmas Tree

Oh Christmas tree.

December in the Northern Hemisphere and I’ve decided to have a Christmas Tree this year. Summer in New Zealand rapidly wilts the local Pinus Radiata and anyway, I have no decorations there. In London, stored in boxes is a history of baubles, fairy lights, buntings and assorted miscellaneous decorations, bringing with them memories and musings on this most pagan of festivals.

My mother in her later years shocked me by admitting that she dreaded and hated Christmas. She detested the drunkenness and rows associated with the family business owned by my grandmother and managed by my father. Somehow Mum never let on about her Christmas misery. Dad would go out on the road side and cut down a Pinus Radiata seedling – later, we were old enough to do it. The tree was decorated then my brother and I awoke on Christmas morning to a litter of presents.

Santa cowers in his green cave

There were presents from Father Christmas addressed to us boys in Mum’s distinctive hand-writing and offered with a wry smile. We were in on the joke and I don’t think I ever believed in Santa. I’d worked out pretty early on that there was no way he was ever going to get down our chimney.

It was not comfortable to have maternal and paternal grandmothers in the same room so, like many families of the age, we compromised. Paternal Grandmother came on Christmas Eve and being Scottish, preferred Hogmanay. We went to my maternal Grandparents, to meet up with cousins, aunts and uncles, sitting on the back lawn in shorts and bare feet recovering from the heaviness of a traditional Christmas dinner. There was always roast chicken with the usual vegetables, which we were expected to eat, followed by hot steamed pudding secreted with silver threepenny and sixpenny bits. We forced down the hot desert just to get the money. Somehow it was contrived that every child got a coin.

Brass camel from Egypt
Three sandalwood camels from India

We weren’t really a church-going family – nominally Presbyterians – I’d decided around the age of eleven, that the teachings of Jesus pretty much didn’t match up with what was happening in the world and in particular, Christianity. We went to Sunday School and Bible Class to meet up with other youngsters in the village. There were little performances in church – the Strang Brothers, Alan and Jack sang Silent Night while I, wracked with nerves and a lack of talent, accompanied them on the piano. Somehow, I got through it. Some years later I sang Mary’s Boy Child accompanied by the church organist – weird.

A glass ball

In London, for many years, Christmas was about choral singing. I belonged to the Actors Choir and our conductor, Anthony Bowles, would have us perform the Nine Lessons and Carols – inspired by Kings College. Anthony would reluctantly allow us to do a preview only of the carols at the Actors Centre in the week before.

‘Christmas ends in Oxford Street on the twenty-fifth. In the Anglican Church it begins after Christ’s birth.’ And so, we did a tour of churches on the four Sundays after Christmas. We always started with Once in Royal, but there were rules and if we went on too far into January, some hymns could not be sung and we had to substitute. In time, some of the lessons were replaced by readings from Dylan Thomas’s A Child’s Christmas in Wales. We had a high proportion of unbelievers in our choir but somehow the music and fellowship prevailed. Once at Thaxtead Parish Church (the home of Holst) it was bitterly cold. We requested permission to wear our coats. Antony promised that we would be warmed by the Holy Spirit. Sadly, the Spirit failed most of us, confirming my lack of faith. Anthony sadly died from an HIV related illness in the early nineties. He was resigned to be going to Heaven and would greatly miss most of his friends who would be going to ‘The other place.’

The old fairy back on duty after three years packed away

Phillip arrived in my life around the same time and brought with him his box of Christmas decorations. It is this treasure trove which has set me of on these musings, some of them trivial, others joyful, but in the main they have brought a certain sadness. Dressing the tree was a ritual undertaken by Phillip, in a particular way and I’ve tried to emulate that. The tattered fairy on top of the tree is in her late sixties. She was bought from Woolworths in South Yorkshire – a cardboard cut-out dressed in now-faded crepe paper. Her wand-holding hand is missing, so I’ve distracted the viewer with a blue feather. The mostly-glass baubles of varying sizes are now classics going back to the fifties and sixties; modern baubles are now made from plastic.

Buddha contemplates three straw angels

Phillip had a tradition of buying a new decoration every year and we continued that. By the nineties, everything was plastic and expensive so I got into the habit of taking advantage of the after-Christmas sales to buy decorations for next year. There are enough to dress a tree now and I’ve even given away surplus fairy lights.

Whatever your beliefs and customs in these extraordinary times, be kind, remember and hope.

Over My Garden Wall

It’s time to top-up the compost in the raised beds at the front of the house in Stepney Green. A lot of people get pleasure from looking at my garden as they pass by and I like that. Two elderly well-dressed women stop to look and admire my red Phormium Tenax.

‘That’s from New Zealand – flax,’ one of them says. ‘We’re from New Zealand,’ she continues.

‘So am I. I’ve been here thirty-nine years.’

‘I’ve been here for fifty,’ the other woman says.

‘Are you local?’

‘I live in Whitechapel, next to Sainsburys.’

‘That’s handy. I shop there every week. Whitechapel is the traditional place for immigrants to arrive,’ I say with a wry smile.’

She smiles back.

‘It’s great that we have a new woman Prime Minister,’ I venture.

A shadow crosses their faces momentarily. ‘Yes it’s interesting.’

‘I do hope she can fix a few things,’ I’m pushing their boundaries, I can tell.

‘It’s good for Labour to be in power every now and then to make some social changes.’

I adjust my narrative. ‘Yes, it’s good to have a balance between social care and capitalism, I guess.’

‘We don’t really want to get into politics,’ one of them says.

The second one, from Whitechapel adds, ‘New Zealanders live in paradise, they just don’t know how well off they are.’

I look doubtful. ‘Perhaps a demi, semi paradise,’ I say, all the while thinking of child poverty, water pollution, housing and high suicide rates.

She continues. ‘New Zealanders just don’t realise that these issues are all over the world.’

Now this is something I can really agree with. It’s true, New Zealand, in spite of the traditional ‘Overseas Experience’ done by young kiwis, still seems to think that their problems are unique. No, they are not. They are experiences all over the world.

We return to the red Phormium Tenax, a safe conversation. I tell them how I grew it from seed (really easy) brought from my Mother’s garden in Hawke’s Bay. They are amazed that it can survive here in the UK.

‘Well if you’ve been to Otago, (they have) they grow enormous down there.’

They move on down the road and a walnut-faced old man, who has been watching us from his white van parked outside the house next door, approaches. He grins to reveal a front gap in upper and lower teeth between in incisors and canines.

‘You like to have sex?’ He nods in the direction of the parting women.

I’m shocked and surprised on a number of levels. I never consider sex with women whatever their age and briefly consider telling him I’m gay. Quite quickly I decide that it’s not worth the bother and as English is clearly not his first language, he may not get the message. I’m surprised that he has even thought about sex with these women, or has he observed my conversation and confused it with flirtation?

I shake my head and laugh. ‘No, not for me.’ and decide to move the conversation in a different direction. ‘Are you working on the house next door?’

‘Yes, my son. I watch out for parking guys.’

‘If you’re working for the council, why don’t they give you a permit?’

He shrugs. ‘There was not time to do it.’

‘What are you doing in there?’

‘My son, he is fitting new bathroom.’

‘Yes, they are always doing something in there. Where are you from?’

‘Croatia.’

‘Oh. How long have you been in London?’

‘Ten years now.’

‘So after the war?’

He nods and proceeds to tell me all about the former Yugoslavia. I try to show him I know about it and attempt to contribute by naming some of the regions which are now countries, but he’s on a roll. Finally he comes to a halt with ‘Croatians very bad people.’

‘Oh, I thought the Serbians were pretty aggressive.’

‘No, no, Serbians are very kind friendly people. BBC got it wrong, they told lies.’

I’m not quite sure how to answer that, particularly as he’s Croatian himself and should know. Just as I remember the current lot of Croatian military men being tried for genocide, his son emerges from the house next door and he’s off.

A few moments later a woman of South Asian origin, wearing a headscarf passes my garden with her hands, palms together as if deep in prayer. She stops and smiles. ‘I really like your garden; it gives me great pleasure every time I pass.’

 

 

 

Monday in Seville

Alcázar Palace Courtyard

Monday morning in Seville and there are a few breakfast places open for Café con Leché and Tostadas Jamon. Every eatery we’ve been to has had super friendly waiters and waitresses. We’re on our way through the narrow city streets again, looking for the Alcázar Palace. My GPS woman knows exactly where it is, but not how to get in. In the end David suggests we do that very un-male thing and ask someone. Yes we are outside the garden walls, and if we just follow the wall around we will get to it. We do that and find a medium queue. I keep our place while David looks for water and somewhere to pee.

Alcázar Palace

The Alcázar Palace, begun in 1364 is a mixture of Gothic and Mudejar. It was built on the site of a former Moorish palace and mosque and incorporates many of those features. Like most palaces, it’s been added on to and altered, but it is a beautiful and serene place. We spend time thoroughly exploring the place, doubling back to make sure we haven’t missed anything. A high walk-way gives us a fantastic view of the surrounding gardens.

 

Alcázar Palace

By the time we’ve seen everything available, it’s time for a late lunch and having identified a nearby street of restaurants yesterday, that’s where we go. Shade is essential as it’s a warm 30 degrees and in spite of asking for ‘blanco’ anchovies, none are to be had today. It’s siesta time again and I really do need to flake out, surfacing later to eat drink and hang about with David.

Alcázar Palace David by the fish pond
Alcázar Palace – raised garden walk
Alcázar Palace central garden
Alcázar Palace outer garden vista
Alcázar Palace
Alcázar Palace Glass ceiling
Alcázar Palace Garden vista
Alcázar Palace
Alcázar Palace David in the garden
Alcázar Palace

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing much happens in Seville on a Monday night, so it’s back to the Mr B&B for an early-ish night. Emelio and Manuel are still up and about, so there’s time to say goodbye. They will be gone to work early in the morning and I’m to just leave the keys on the dressing table.

Calle San Vicente

Tuesday morning and I’ve got my eye on The Belle Arts Museum. It’s just down the road from my digs and I can return to collect luggage and shower before my Ryanair experience later in the day. David is up and about and says he’ll join me, so I have breakfast just around the corner from the museum.

Free entry to the museum

David arrives and also needs breakfast; he says he’ll join me. For some reason, I’ve brought my passport, perhaps in the hope that there will be a discount for being officially old. Actually, my European passport gets me into the place for free. How good is that?

Museum courtyard

I must dash around Europe madly taking advantage of this while I can. I’m just starting off when David texts me in a panic. He’s got his dates wrong and has to immediately go and catch his flight to Bilbao. Just as well he realised in time.

St Michael 1480 (Juan Hispalense) Spanish angels wear black

This building was once a monastery and has gathered together many paintings from religious institutions since 1836, when they were all shut down. Built in 1594, the building has fine ceilings and architectural features. I’m not a huge fan of ecclesiastical painting, but I am interested in how mediaeval and renaissance painters depict the biblical stories and characters according to their own cultural norms. So, for example Seville Madonnas all look Spanish with dark hair and olive skin. German painters portray the Holy Family as fair-skinned and blond. Painters had never been to the Middle-east, their sitters were local people they knew. It would just not be acceptable to portray the Holy Family as Jewish now would it?

Inmaculada – Murillo 1675
Inmaculada Schut 1680

 

 

 

 

 

Inmaculada Juan de Valder Leal 1672 Which one will become Jesus?

I’m drawn to a series of Madonnas ‘Inmaculada’. They are all surrounded by scores of cherubs, some of whom seem to looking for a way up Our Lady’s skirt – as if one of them can miraculously enter her womb and be born as the infant Jesus.

San Sebastián Luis de Vargas 1505-1567

The portrait of Saint Sebastian catches my eye. Traditionally he’s depicted as beautiful and slim, but this portrait has him with tree-trunk legs and a thick waist.

Magnificent torsos approaching hell-mouth

I’m also interested in the homoeroticism of the magnificent torsos and backs of those sinners being dragged towards hell mouth. Murillo is everywhere and paints large canvases. Individually, they don’t do much for me, but en masse in the large hall they impress. Today, his portrait of a young monk looking adoringly at the infant Jesus might raise a few eyebrows. Certainly the monk is a way to close to the child for comfort.

Great Hall
Great Hall
Murillo – centre monk adoring Christ
Cornelis de Vos A woman 1630

There are also more modern paintings. As a freebie and a place to spend a relaxing couple of hours, this is great value. David made it to Bilbao and I dozed upright in Ryanair for two and a half hours.

El Greco – the effete Jorge Manuel 1600
Velasquez 1620 don Cristóbal
Ma Esquivel 1806 – 1857 Marqués de Bejons -cute bear?
José Villegas Cordesa Ercole Monti 1894
Gustave Bacarisas Sevilla Fiesta 1915
José Garcia Ramos Malvaloca 1912

Sevilla – ancient city of Andalucia

Local church – San Vicente

I can not believe I’ve not been here before – Cordoba, Almaria, Granada, the Costas and the mountains but never Seville. I associate it with oranges – the delicious marmalade they make – so as a true practitioner of delayed gratification, I’ve saved Seville till now. When my good mate and neighbour, David, from Waiheke (NZ) suggested I join him on part of his 50th Birthday grand tour of Spain, I seized the opportunity and his dates worked perfectly.

David and Me in Seville

Sitting in soulless Stanstead airport is arduous – there are no water fountains, rubbish wifi and the recharging stations are backless benches. I’ve done little research on what to do in the city and so rely on 4G to have a look whilst I wait for my Ryanair flight which, unlike many other destinations this week, has not been cancelled. I’ve found an app called Visit a City and I can download it all to use off line. I arrive at Seville to find the fastest immigration queue ever thanks to my EU passport and the promised free mobile phone roaming in Europe turns out to be true. I’ve booked a room with Mr B&B, a gay version of Air B&B and I’ve instructions to take the bus into the city terminal and walk for ten minutes. Emelio and Manuel are a sweet young couple, quite shy but very welcoming. Emelio immediately gets out his ipad and shows me the gay area and other sights nearby.  David has been in contact via messenger and soon arrives (he’s also doing Mr B&B – a studio apartment) and we do big hugs as we’ve not seen each other since April. So it’s two gay men on the loose in Seville for a weekend and he’s already identified one of the bars where gay men tend to drink. Of course, this being Spain, it’s too early for this time on a Saturday night. We have a beer and catch up whilst checking on bars, clubs and restaurants on our phones. Most places don’t open until 8.30pm, the clubs at 10.30 and even 1.00am. We find a tapas place and have to wait for a table at 9.00 as it’s incredibly busy with staff working their socks off. We go and have a look at a few gay venues, but nothing much is happening so we return to our earlier bar for more wine. It’s busy now and there’s more to look at. I’m ready for bed by midnight. David plans to go home and nap before trying a disco at 2.00am.

Casa de Pilatos.
Casa de Pilatos. Classical influence here?

Sunday morning – not too early, but early enough to leave David to sleep, I set off for Casa de Pilatos, using GPS to guide me though the narrow lanes and alley-ways of this ancient City. The Casa is a magnificent 16th Century palatial home, considered to be the first in the Andalusian style. Built after a grand tour of Europe and the Holy Land, Middle-Eastern and Italian design fuse with breath-taking effect. The stunning central courtyard on the ground floor leads off to magnificent tiled rooms looking outwards to beautiful gardens. The Casa boasts one of the first grand staircases in Seville and I‘ve opted for a guided tour of the upper rooms which display oriental carpets and portraits by notable painters of the day. No photography is allowed upstairs.

Casa de Pilatos. tlied wall
Casa de Pilatos. Garden vista
Casa de Pilatos. Garden vista again
Casa de Pilatos. Formal white garden
Casa de Pilatos. Ground floor room
Casa de Pilatos. detail of tiles
Casa de Pilatos. Detail of tiles
Casa de Pilatos. Another garden vista
Casa de Pilatos. formal garden
Casa de Pilatos. Gold ceiling at the top of the stairs
Old Seville

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I wander through the area known as Barrio de Santa Cruz – more narrow streets stumbling onto tiny plazas with cafes. I have no idea where I am, but appreciate  having my phone GPS to drive the Visit a City app. My recharging unit also comes in handy to get the phone though the day.

Old Seville
Plaza with cafe
Giralda Tower

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I arrive at the Catedral de Sevilla & Giralda Tower and sit down to watch the world go by. David has surfaced and will meet me here. I note the horse and carriages lining up to take the tourists for rides. The horses actually look quite healthy and well cared for unlike in other parts of the world. There is a steady stream into the Cathedral and when David arrives we take a look.  There’s nothing much to see and the tower is not open until the next tour at 2.30, so I suggest lunch. David orders anchovies, hoping for the white ones he’s seen around. Unfortunately he doesn’t use the word ‘blanco’ when ordering.  I’m heading for Plaza de Espania but David has other plans so I carry on to find this most amazing building completed in 1929 for a World Fair Expo. The afternoon is hot and it’s time to go back to my lodging for a siesta.

Plaza de Espania
Plaza de Espania
Plaza de Espania
Spanish blokes pay to be photographed as flamenco dancers
Metropol Parasol

In the early evening I collect David from his digs and we look at the Metropol Parasol – otherwise known as the ‘Mushroom of the Incarnation’.  It’s billed as the largest wooden building in the world, but this ultra modern ‘sculptural’

Metropol Parasol view from the top

installation looks so light an airy, as if it’s made of balsa wood and could lift off at any moment. The sun is setting, so it’s a perfect time for us to look over the city at ancient monuments and the distant bridges across the river. The pictures say it all.

Metropol Parasol + David
Metropol Parasol
Metropol Parasol + lovers

We’re off in search of a recommended Paella restaurant, which takes us to a more modern and up-market part of the city. David has his GPS on this time – it guides us with an Australian accent – hilarious pronunciations of Spanish street names. Sadly the restaurant is only open for lunch until four pm so we return to our usual gay friendly square for drinks. We then strike it lucky with a place that does grilled king prawns and a whole octopus leg on a bed of fantastic mashed potato. A return to the gay bar completes our Sunday evening.

Revisiting Stuart, Florida

I’ve driven up from Miami airport on the Florida Turnpike to this small town north of Palm Beach to visit family. It’s a hot-bed of visual arts and I’m staying with brother-in-law, Bob. His wife Lisa is a painter of flamingos – it’s her speciality and she’s part of the vibrant art scene here.

Norton Gallery

We go to a gallery which is selling some of her work and meet the owners. It’s the off season now – too hot – and all the snow birds have flown or driven back to their northern summer so business is slow. We travel south to Palm Beach to visit the Norton Gallery, currently being expanded, but not with federal funding.

Norton Gallery

Once again this is a very well curated art collection with a small collection of very significant artists. Renoir, Matise, Degas, Monet, Pissaro, Picasso and Miro are here along with American Artists, Georgia O’Keef, Edward Hopper and the New York realists. There’s a fine courtyard exuding peace but not cool at this time of year.

I’ve found the YMCA in Stuart and manage to catch up on swimming in their open air pool which confusingly turns out to be 25 yards long. Still it’s too warm both in the water and out to do my usual distance. Re-visiting Stuart beach after 7 years in interesting; it’s quite busy with bathers and sun-baskers. The same Snack Shack is there and the turtles are still laying their eggs. Their nests are marked of with orange tape so we can avoid trampling on the buried eggs.

Quilting

What wasn’t here all those years ago was the newly built Elliot Museum of art, history and technology. The temporary art exhibition is ‘The History of Quilting’. Originally quilts were made with any old scraps of fabric and filled likewise.

Quilting

From its humble beginnings as the bed covering of the poor, it has evolved into an art form with intricate designs and stitching.

Elliot Museum Quilting
Quilting

 

Cycles

Stirling Elliot was an inventor and made many improvements to early bicycles, steering and gears on the first motor cars. There is a huge collection of early vehicles and an extensive collection of vintage and classic cars. Many are stored on a racking system and can be brought down for close inspection. There’s his personal collection of baseball memorabilia and local history exhibits. If you are into model ships, you will be in heaven but the connection between a group of Evenrude out-board-motors and photographs of Hollywood stars, is not immediately apparent. Mr Evenrude married a starlet.

Rolls Royce
Ford
Classics
Car rack

It’s time to move on – returning to Miami and then to London to find the temperatures about the same in both cities, possibly hotter in the later.

Back on the Right Side?

Downtown Dallas

I’m getting very familiar with Miami Airport. Passing through it on my way to Dallas, I exchange travel stories with an older American couple who are on their way to Ecuador – they are waiting for their delayed pane to arrive from Bogatoa. I discover that my flight has been cancelled due to mechanical problems so I have to queue up to get re routed via Orlando. Horray, I’ve always wanted to go to Orlando … not. Fortunately I don’t have to go out of the airport, just cross over the lounge to another gate – easy. I’m staying with my niece in the suburb of Highland Park an area of very posh houses on tree-lined streets. There’s not a lot to do in Dallas, according to my niece. I’ve identified a little-used swimming pool but she belongs to the Four Seasons Golf & Sports Club in Irving and arranges for me to go.

Dallas Skyline

There’s a pool there with only one other swimmer, so it’s perfect. The changing rooms and spa area are plush and almost deserted – it’s Friday morning. I’m the only one in the lunch bar afterwards and take advantage of the plentiful supply of Uber taxis in this city. On Saturday we go into town as I want to see architecture. Dallas has some spectacular pieces, but we’re also here to see the Kennedy 6th floor museum.

The former Book Depository

This is the former University Book depository from where Lee Harvey Oswald shot JFK. There’s no photography allowed on the 6th floor, but I highly recommend this well curated exhibition. The narrative is mater of fact, which I find more moving than schmaltz. Dallas has struggled with the reputation for being the place where a president was assassinated, and the exhibit does not shy away from mentioning Kennedy’s detractors here. I was only 12 years old at the time, but remember all the coverage – this brings it all back and I’m able to look down and photograph the spot from the 7th floor. Conspiracy theories still abound but all the evidence is presented and I’m fairly certain that Oswald did it.

The fatal route with grassy knoll on the right
John and Jackie

Later we all take a ride on my hosts Vespa scooters and then walk along a disused rail line now paved over for runners, cyclists and dog walkers. There’s a beer at the end before we return to the scooters.

George W Bush Library

The other thing to do is visit the George W Bush Library. I’m sceptical about this as He definitely wasn’t a favourite of mine at the time. Every president since Hoover has one of these so-called libraries around the country. George W’s Library is accommodated on the site of the Methodist University – it’s very grand.

Education

Trying to maintain some sort of neutrality in the face of the populist view of George W and all the accusations thrown at him during his presidency, I’m struck by the slickness of the presentation and suspect a gap between the fine and patriotic rhetoric and reality. A lot happened in this time: 9/11, the banking crisis, Hurricane Katrina, the Iraq War, but the narrative starts at the beginning; His childhood, being the son of a former president, his marriage to a librarian and his decision to give up drinking and return to his church. This exhibition dwells on the positives and the ‘honour’ it is to ‘serve’ in public office. There is a strong sense of duty to the American people and he’s cut his teeth on the governorship of Texas.

No Child Left Behind?

What is a surprise is that the first achievement is Education. A large display declares ‘No Child Left Behind’ – several times. George is quoted ‘to stand for office you must stand for something’, so I’m looking forward to finding that out. I’m also wondering about the legacy of this education policy and how many children are still being left behind. The passions of Laura Bush come to the fore here and it’s clear that her work as a librarian has been key.

A statement of Inclusion

The Bush’s are photographed often with black children and whilst George was famously photographed with a book upside-down (probably hastily put in his hands by a photographer) and there were various other gaffs in classrooms common to most politicians, I’m getting a feeling that he wasn’t quite as dumb as was rumoured. There is a statement he made whilst visiting Mexico.

Memorial to 9/11

‘The United States has no more important relationship in the world than our relationship with Mexico. Each of our countries is proud of our independence, our freedom and our democracy. We are united by values and carried forward by common humanity.’

War on Terror

Now, although this is the sort of diplomatic speech required for the occasion, It is strikingly different from the rhetoric coming out of the current administration regarding US/Mexico relations. No walls mentioned in this speech – note the underlined passages.

Liberty is the Right and Hope of all Humanity

Next we get to 9/11 which seems to be accurately reported. It happened on his watch, and doesn’t mention his failure to turn up, but instead memorialises the event. 9/11 eventually leads to the Iraq war/invasion and here the justification is that although no weapons of mass destruction were found, they were convinced that Sadam had the ‘capability’. Hmm. This is of course leads to the launch of ‘The War on Terror’ which continued though his time and strangely, is on-going as I write in 2017.

The Oval Office

I think Bush was probably unable to resist pressure from the military, pubic opinion etc urging him to go into Afghanistan and Iraq. I compare this decision with Obama’s not to put troops on the ground in Syria. Neither seems satisfactory. Moving on there are key policies in other areas: Expand Free Trade; Strengthen Alliances; Prevent the spread of Weapons of Mass Destruction & Encourage Democracy.

The Oval Office

I just get the impression that the current administration is going in the opposite direction. How did that happen?  There’s some great photography here and walls of images depicting the US as multicultural, which is of course true, especially in the southernmost states where everyone seems to be speaking Spanish.

The Rose Garden

A replica of the Oval Office allows visitors to sit in the presidential chair and be photographed making a phone-call. There’s a replica of the rose garden, but the climate in Dallas doesn’t suit roses, so you have to look hard to see the few struggling specimens.

The second half of the exhibition gets more personal with an account of the visit of Elizabeth II, An interesting map on the incidence of HIV around the world and a section on Protecting the Environment – neither of these are supported by the Trump Administration. There’s a participatory game where we get to make presidential decisions. Each participant has a desk and console and first up we have to choose an issue for which Bush made a decision.

What they wore to meet the Queen

Thinking that my answers to things like the Iraq war might be pre-determined, I choose the banking crisis having momentarily forgotten the outcome. The majority of the players also go for this. They are mainly young people, so it’s interesting that that’s on their minds. The game involves listening to various different agencies and opinions and the basic question is weather to let the banks fail and cope as best they can or to throw federal dollars at them in the hope that they will recover and be able to repay. We have limited time and get interrupted with updated information from news sources. My decision is to use the Federal Dollars, but surprisingly the majority of players go for the Darwinian option. It is now revealed that saving the banks is what Bush did and I’m vindicated.

AIDS map of the world
Playing the game
The Environment
Katrina and the financial crisis

Finally we are treated to a cute video story fronted by the bush twin girls, showing family life and the importance of Camp David in entertaining and getting to know world leaders. The whole experience is a great example of storytelling from which the Museum of Revolution in Habana could learn.

Veterans

On the other side of the huge entrance foyer are George W Bush’s portraits of Veterans of the Afghan and Iraqi wars. He’s had various tutors and you can see a development in the style. The images are confronting and often include full length representations showing prosthetic legs and wheel chairs.

Veterans

I’m undecided about George as an artist, but the work is definitely superior to Churchill’s water colours, which were never meant for display. This project seems to be an act of atonement – to somehow apologise for the wars, without actually doing so. I find it quite gruesome and don’t want to spend too much time here – worth the look though.

Golf Veterans
Veterans

My last evening in Dallas is another Vespa ride around the real estate of Highland Park – ranging from 2 – 10 million. I get to see some typical Texan homes – the contrast with Habana is dramatic.