As part of my volunteering for the Alternatives to Violence Project (AVP) I'm travelling from London to northern Norway and back to co-facilitate a nonviolence workshop and help a local group to establish AVP in the country. If you have nowhere else to be and have no other things to be doing then follow the journey's progress here, each day between 20 June and 1 July.

Win a great, yet small, prize

Predict the number of legs on the London-Trondheim-London journey - door to door and back - and I'll send you 'A Sense of the World' by Jason Roberts - an extraordinary and beautiful book about voyages.
a) Make a small (or big) donation to AVP at
www.justgiving.com
b) Leave a message on the blog by
clicking on the 'pobbledockets' link beneath any post in the blog.
c) In the comment box write something like 'I have given, honest!' and leave your name and your estimate of legs i.e. the number of individual vehicles (excluding walking) involved in the whole trip from central London to the flat in Trondheim and back again (excluding the week's work in between).


Rules: 1) Jokes like 'You'll only need two legs' etc., even if funny, will result in instant disqualification. 2) The winner is whoever's prediction is closest and, if shared with another, made earliest, so get your pobbledocket in early.

Get an email each time there's an update

Friday, 1 July 2011

Brussels to London and home

The legs competition is now officially closed. The entries were:

Cecile: 18
Anna: 21
Sunniva: 24
Ilakshi: 25
Freddy: 35
Becky: 78
Jo: 417
Anonymous: 'too many'

With the night train to Cologne, the whizz-train to Brussels, the Eurostar and one tube train home the legs total was a rather leggy 26, including one bike ride, four bus rides, a lift in Omar's car, two tube rides, a ship and 17 trains. No-one guessed 26 but the nearest stab at it was 25, by Ilakshi, who wins a copy of A Sense of the World by Jason Roberts. Sunniva was also very near with 24. Unfortunately Ilakshi can't read because she's only three months old (although she appears to have an early gift of clairvoyancy and an unusually deep familiarity with European public transport systems) but perhaps her mum can keep the book in trust for about 15 years?

Thanks to all who gave pobbledocketeering a go. Next time I'll come up with a competition that my male friends will also like to try. And thank you if you did pop a little in the pocket of AVP - we raised about 200 pounds - enough to pay for two ex-offenders to attend our nonviolence workshops (or enough printer ink for about 4 months, if you want to get things down to the brass-tacks practicalities of running a small community organisation).

And thank you if you have been reading along. It's been a great trip and in the end nothing did go wrong. So I will leave you with a riddle: the first time nothing went wrong, the universe began.

A blank pobbledocket awaits the solution.

To friendly monsters everywhere!

David

Copenhagen to Brussels

There was indeed little sleep for any of us in our compartment. We each contorted our body back, left, right, forward, legs in, head sideways, legs out, slouch, sit up, try forward again, arms to the side, across the body, to the side again, legs in again, head forward, head propped on right arm, left arm, one leg in, one out, both arms by the side with head back while twisted onto one hip, legs in, arms in, out in out left forward right swing everything around rock forwards stand up sit down arms and legs akimbo stop. Wake up five minutes later, arms out, leaning forward and about to fall onto passenger opposite. Eventually we were all so tired that we could have been standing on our heads and still nodded off. At one point I woke up to see all our legs in a polite, no-touching tangle in the middle and the others' sleeping heads bobbing with the train; our weird, subconscious intimacy gave me another one-world moment.
At Hanover the train was divided into two - one half for Amsterdam and another for Cologne and Basel - and each half was joined to similarly halved trains from Moscow/Warsaw and Prague, making six bits of train from three points of origin heading for two destination. It's a bad time to go exploring on the train because you could easily end up in the wrong carriage and wake up in the wrong country. The process of reforming the trains takes an hour or so but one incoming train must have been late because we arrived an hour late in Cologne. I still caught my connecting whizz-train to Brussels, though. The journey south has been so fast that in Cologne after the sleepless night I actually really asked for 'Coffee latte takk bitte?' intoned as a sort of confused question. It translates as 'Coffee milky thanks please?' The coffee man correctly inferred 'milky coffee' and asked, 'Mitt nehmen?' meaning 'To take away?' and I said, 'I'm sorry I don't speak English.' Then I stopped talking and nodded a bit, which was safer.
Meanwhile my coinage system completely broken down yesterday. This is what it was:
Norwegian: back-right pocket
Danish: back-left
Euros: front-right
Swedish: front-left
British: bottom of ruck-sack
The cultural whiplash inflicted by the rapid changes of country has put stresses on the system which are way beyond its design tolerances. The small lumps of coins somehow contaminated each other at some point south of Oslo and now there's just one big lump in a back pocket. I've tried to use the general confusion involved in paying for things - i.e. using about 25 different types of very similar, poorly labelled coins - as a conversation-starter but this has been hard-going; faces this far south have seemed more pinched and severe and there's less eye contact, if any. People look at the fistful of coins and start huffing. Every huff takes five minutes off your life. I think further south people open up again - in Spain, for example, where the golden-bodied people seem to belong to the sun and there's less heaviness around.
In Brussels I had a couple of hours to explore the backstreets and their countless independent cafes and shops tucked away in old buildings. Under the bridges there were signs of an oddball counter-culture - a mural of friendly monsters, for example. Looking at it I realised that the monsters are supposed to be the world's underground people - misfits being themselves in an interesting way that society doesn't usually make room for. It made me think that being a friendly monster is in essence what it means to be creatively counter-cultural. Under another bridge I found the dude in the Appel-a-go-go poster. It's tempting to suppose that a rough-shaven man in shades and a bomber jacket demanding up-front payment from a fly-poster for his own cheaper-than-all-the-rest pyramid-selling mobile phone scheme might not be telling the whole truth. Sometimes it is hard to keep an open mind.
Finally to the Eurostar terminal, then, where I see my first Daily Mail in a while: 'MINISTER DARES TO SPEAK THE TRUTH.' Shock story: Tory government agrees with reactionary newspaper. But I'm in the tunnel now, there's no going back.

Thursday, 30 June 2011

Oslo to Copenhagen

An anonymous pobbledocketeer has suggested that Scandinavians sound a bit drunk when they speak because their languages just do that. I haven't noticed that but I have made the following Sound Scandinavian Guide.
1. Say aaaaah, eeeeeh, eye, oooorrr, oooooo
2. Repeat but bend your knees and move up and down to create a sing-song effect for each vowel sound.
3. Add dee or bee after each vowel to make aaahdeeehhbee-eye-dee-oooorrrbeeoooodee and vary as needed.
4. Congratulations, you now sound Scandinavian. Don't try this in a bar.
Of course I'm talking nonsense and they don't sound like that at all. In fact the language sounds very soft and it is a bit like a song - the vowels are parabolic, always rising or falling, which must make us Brits sound quite flat to them.

As you can see from the photo, Copenhagen is not at its best right now. In fact, I found it quite grim - noisy, touristy etc. Wherever I looked there was a McDonald's, tourist-trap cafe, 6-lane road, building site. In the station a kid chucked some litter over his shoulder and scowled at me. When Anna G and I arrived in Copenhagen two or three years ago I remember the station as an open, airy space. Today it was hot and crowded with frowns, including one I prepared specially. Maybe I caught the city on s bad day but when the City Night Line train was announced it was as if angels had come to rain flowers from the ceiling and sing polyphonic versions of Bob Dylan. I was so pleased that I went to the front of the train when it came in backwards and had a chat with the driver, Alan, who told me no, driving trains backwards is not scary once you've done it a few times. He let me take his picture. I knew he was wondering if I was a foamer - the word that American train drivers give to train-spotters on account of how the sight of an approaching train triggers an excess of saliva production. I wanted to tell Alan I wasn't a foamer, I just wanted to ask some questions about being a train driver, but I didn't think it would translate into Danish properly so I just acted normal instead. Then I reached up and shook his hand and realised I'd blown it. I moved back so he could climb down from the cab and get away.

All the long-distance trains in Europe are given names; this one is called Borealis, meaning Of The North. Along its side is written 'Voitures-lits' - possibly the most romantic words in Europe, or at least in the top ten. Unfortunately I'm in the 'Voitures places-assises' but it's more interesting here in a compartment with five others including a young family. At this stage sleep seems unlikely.

Now, I forgot to include the lift from Trondheim station to Yousif's flat when I arrived there and the bus going the other way. Including these, then, the legs total stands at 22 to Copenhagen. Will we have a winning pobbledocket? I don't think we have one yet! The contest has been blown wide open and it's all to play for. Extraordinary.

Trondheim to Oslo

Oslo, which ought to feel like the small, breezy town it is, feels like a noisy and dirty metropolis after quiet Trondheim (yesterday I should have mentioned the northern silence - not a dead void but a breathing calm of natural sound and the sudden shriek of the gulls... but no, there's only so much of me going on about the north that a person can take, I understand that). But Roswitha, Yousif and I enjoyed our AVP workshop with Quakers here. Afterwards Yousif and I met his friends for a beer. A beer here costs about 8 pounds - 8 pounds of one's leg with one's fist as one weeps over the bill. Generally things cost about three times as much here as in Britain; a loaf of bread is 2 to 3 pounds and a McDonald's burger (that staple international comparator) is 8 or 9 pounds, depending on whether you want 'cheese'. (I don't go to McDonald's, by the way, but sometimes I like to glower at the window). Sipping our drinks we ranged over various topics of shared interest. I managed to get answers to important questions like whether Norway's downsized army was still big enough to stop me if I wanted to invade; why there are holes in some of the coins here yet holes in different coins in Sweden; and whether this could this be put right. The answers are probably, just because and not really.
Oslo's fjord is home to several islands so I spent my day there exploring and riding on the ferries in the sun. People are almost all blond, tall and healthy-looking. I've not noticed anyone overweight at all (I haven't weighed anyone, though). The men have a fashion of wearing trilbies at the moment.
Walking along the harbour I happened across The World: a cruise ship I've read about for the super-rich. The ship has its own defence force armed with automatic rifles, state-of-the-art perimeter alarms and probably one or two big red buttons on the bridge whose function is not yet known. Each cabin is the size of a small flat and has its own balcony. In one near the top a man dressed in white (rich people of a certain age wear white, I've noticed) was impatiently tapping the rail, perhaps a little bored. I waved heartily and eventually he waved back in vague, imagined recognition. I do like to rub shoulders with the uber-rich from time to time. A stream of perfectly turned-out individuals streamed towards the gangway, including some very short, quite round men and tall, thin women with sunglasses so dark and so large that they might contain their own quantum singularities. A brief break in this pageant allowed me the opportunity to approach the staff at the bottom of the gangway. Although these were my fellow plebeians, sharing our place beneath the mighty stiletto heel of the world's billionaires, I knew they wouldn't see things the same way and I had only a few seconds before I would start to blight this confected perfection. 'Hello, how much to buy a place on this boat?' I asked. 'Millions of dollars,' he said. 'Ah.' I said I only had 200 kroner at the moment but I might come back another time. At the back of the ship I found its poo-pipe and I pushed my camera through the railings to take a few photos to celebrate this thing that we all have in common and which helps in its way to unite the world. Unfortunately I must have looked like I was casing the joint for an assault on the ship (and I probably could have shimmied up the pipe if I'd wanted to) because a young security guard came over and shut the gate next to me in case I tried anything smart (that's his arm in the picture). I struck up a conversation with him but this made him uneasy and he answered all my questions with 'I don't know.' He did know, though, and he knew I knew he did, and I knew he knew I knew he did, so to avoid getting trapped in an infinite loop of mutual knowing we traded wry smiles over the fence and left it at that.
That outsized bathtub for billionaires, that trumped-up trinket for our Trumps and Buffetts, that gated gulag of gluttony, that floating, foie-gras fortress (etc.) is an ugly boat. Calling any boat The World is a crime against good taste, especially a dull, square boat that sits flat in the water without a line of grace to it. That it gets called The World while billions of people go un-nourished in The Actual World adds a whole extra layer of ugliness. I'll still wave at them all, though - it must be weird being so far away on that sea. And I have to wonder: how far away am I from the world, living in wealthy Europe?
At this point my friend Jo would caution me against too much moral tone and she'd be right, so that's enough from me for today.
Trondheim to Oslo: a train and a bus.

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

At Trondheim

If you imagine the few minutes of late afternoon when the sunlight loses its hot, midday glare and slants across the sky so that everything glows in its true colours and suddenly you notice things you couldn't see before - chimney pots and the textures of bricks and the shapes of the mountains - and everyone's faces seem softer; and if you can imagine the light staying that way all day long, then you can start to picture the world this far north. During the day Trondheim's huge skies are a luminous white-blue.  Sunset, when it finally comes, lasts for hours; at around midnight the tufts of high cloud turn rose and ochre while the sun slides below the mountains for an hour or so. The light level shifts so gradually that time seems to slow down. The soft, oblique sun and long, light-filled shadows show up the spaces between things and draw out their edges in a deepened field of vision - in this sharpened perspective you can feel the depth and diversity of the landscape and everything seems to stand out and invite attention. The low sun rises and sets in the north so it circles the whole horizon as the day passes. This full solar gyre doesn't allow for only one perspective on a street or tree; every hour the scene has been made new again. Trondheim's fleeting light-alchemy working over everything while time seems to wait... the gentle warmth of the sun and the cool breeze... the city rising over the fjord up the forested valley... the quiet streets with their painted wooden buildings... and the unrushed, friendly people, especially those I've been working with and becoming friends with over the last few days... This is the Trondheim I'll take with me - my dream of the North.

Had I been visiting in winter, I'm told, I would have found a very different sort of north: people closed up by the darkness, but here I am in summer days that have forgotten how to end.

It has been inspiring working with Mikael, Omar, Tobias and Yousif, who invited us out here to support them in setting up an  Alternatives to Violence programme. The group are calling themselves Mangfold og Glede - Diversity and Joy - and have made setting up AVP in Trondheim their goal with some imaginative practical support from Norwegian Quakers in Oslo. The Trondheim group has worked long and hard to organise a training programme for nonviolent activists to become AVP group facilitators. Roswitha and I ran the first three-day workshop at the weekend, focusing on practical tools for approaching and handling conflict. 14 people started and finished and there were 12 nationalities in the room. Most of those participants will now go on to facilitator training this weekend. There is still a lot of work to do to get things off the ground but the goal to establish AVP here is achievable and well worthwhile. It has been a joy to meet such generous-hearted, engaged people who want to help build bridges between their communities here.

Trondheim has a cathedral made from the local stone, which turns shades of sea-green and blue in the sun. The thing is huge - it's puzzling that people decided to build such a big stone building  this far away from power and people. Tobias says that monks used to walk from Santiago de Compostela in Spain all the way here. 'Vámanos a Trondheim, hermanos!' and they'd hitch up their robes and go. If they arrived in the last 150 years or do they would have found about 50 stone saints to greet them in the statuary arranged around the rose window of the facade: all the big names are there - Christopher, Joseph, Paul... - together with some Norwegian ones who earned their place by putting Viking heads on sticks for God. I don't want to overload you with Christian images and symbols in this blog - you've already had the candles in Cologne and of course there was the fish in Delft - but I'd like to show you the statue of St Sunniva. You can see her in the picture above - she's the good-looking one between the Christian with the axe and the Christian holding the arrow, and just above the Christian holding the severed heads. Sunniva is said to have fled from Ireland to escape the heathens there to arrive in Norway, where she is associated with various miraculous events, including dying in a rockfall that she prayed for and then not decomposing properly. The Sunniva picture is for Sunniva.

The cathedral is covered with gargoyles by Norway's favourite sculptor, Vigeland. Each of the gruesome creatures is unique, with a visage and personality entirely unlike any of the others. One clutches its own baby gargoyle to its breast; another has the head of a newly hatched reptile; one has turned its own head right round, and so on. They are sinister to the point of being disturbing and also ludicrously comical, which creates a strangely enjoyable effect in one's soul. The artist must have had so much weird fun dreaming up all these nasties. The angel statue on the tower is also Vigeland's doing.Confidentially, the guide told just the three of us, away from the main group, that the sculptor gave the angel Bob Dylan's face, and it's so high up that no-one notices.  (Please don't pass this on - it's a secret.) I suppose even Vigeland had to stop short of giving him a guitar as well but he MUST have wanted to - I mean, you would, wouldn't you. I wonder if Bob knows that in Norway he has wings and catches lightning. Unfortunately the terrifying gargoyles weren't quite close enough for my camera but I can show you Tobias and Hella instead. They are not terrifying at all (sorry) but I so enjoyed our day off with these two that I want you to meet them here (and read in their faces, perhaps, the easy-going, north-light happiness that seems possible here). Hella did all our vegan food for the 17 of us at the workshop, staying up til four in the morning one night preparing our next day's meal, and Tobias provided everything that Roswitha and I needed to live in the city for a week.

Then late for the early morning train to Oslo, putting out the rubbish in the rain: bright light beyond the showers - great, blue-grey layers of cloud and so much light, the sun stabbing through with luminous, crepuscular rods of blue-white over the city, then the run to the bus stop.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Oslo to Trondheim

Oslo has a cathedral, a tiny one smaller than most town churches. Inside is a simple, open space filled with light - all the buildings here seem designed to invite the light in. There are rows of knee-knocking, economy-class pews painted white, green and gold and an altar piece themed (so it seemed to me) on light, but there's nothing of the usual detritus - along the walls no busts or bas-reliefs of wealthy benefactors insisting on being remembered by way of their clutter. And the Christ figure in the altar-piece? Blond with blue eyes, of course - think Dolf Lundgren tempered with a bit of Aled Jones. I loved it anyway because he has his arms stretched out generously and his eyes closed, which somehow intensified the sense of light in the space. Outside the cathedral, a stall protesting against deporting migrants back to oppressive countries was unsettlingly incongruous on this brushed-up tourist drag. Up front stood a large painting of another pale, Nordic Jesus extending a hand of protection to Palestinians in what seemed to me a new and weirdly colonial, table-turning twist for Jesus.  The supersize-me irony is that Norway happens to be one of the most progressively humanitarian countries in the world, although it does love a bit of whaling. Sometimes this universe is quite complicated. Come to think of it, that'd be a great slogan for Rail Europe's website.

I find European churches quite boring most of the time - they mostly look the same - so I don't know what's got into me but I found this simple cathedral a wonderful place. I preferred it to Oslo's latest must-see: the brand new, squeaky clean opera house by the water's edge. It's a brilliantly designed building that is again flooded with light. You can walk up its sloping marble roof, which is pretty cool. Whether it's cool enough to spend 500 million euros on, though... well, it's a lot to pay for a big room. Even so, it's a monument to the love of music, and to that peculiarly exotic musical instrument that is the human body. And what's London's Shard a monument to? Exactly.

I said to Penny that it was weird being in a capital city so far north and she put me right: this is south, and even Trondheim's not even half-way to the top. If you lifted up the northern-most part of Norway and levered it upwards over Oslo, then let go, the tip would come down on Rome (with a crash). However far north you go, you're always south to somewhere. Until you're really not.

The sculpture in the photo above caught my attention. The birds look like the fisherman's thoughts whirling in a moment of sudden awareness during his work.

In a thunder storm - lightning cracking across the hills as I watched - the train north to Trondheim left the city at 2pm for its almost seven hours of journey. The route follows the coast at first, then on a single track winds by the fjords, making its way up through mixed broadleaf and conifer forest fringed by flowering lupins, over white-water rivers and falls, eventually reaching ear-popping heights over sheer-cliffed valleys to arrive onto highland moors that still hide patches of old snow from the sun. Rock, trees, water for hundreds of miles in the rain and the sky with its torn shreds of cloud catching on the treetops.

The cliffs are so steep that most of the trees are unreachable by machines, I suppose, making logging uneconomical, so it all just grows. Most of the birds I don't recognise. It's like a European rainforest - presumably similar to how Britain looked before we chopped it all down centuries ago (the UK is still one of the least forested countries in Europe). Where there are homes here they're made of wood or sometimes slate and are spread out through the forest, not clustered into villages, leaving what seems like a lot of space between the places people live.

The train arrived just five minutes late in Trondheim by the sea.  Although the city isn't far from the arctic circle it's still home to 200,000 people. Micke, Yousif and Omar met me from the train - all are committed peace activists who want to set up Alternatives to Violence Project work in Norway. Roswitha has arrived from England too and we're looking forward to getting going tomorrow. I'll be pretty busy over the next few days so might not have time to send an update. As luck would have it, you have the option of subscribing by email (above) to get a message when I next send in a post. And I'll definitely blog the journey back, starting 28 June.

Now, the legs total stands at 15. I don't think anyone's guessed the likely eventual total yet but a couple of people are probably quite near. A blank pobbledocket awaits those as yet too shy/busy/uninterested to have a go - amazing that such a small gesture can bring so much innocent fun, isn't it, so why hold back?

It's midnight and not even dusk yet.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Köln to Oslo

A night train, a train, a bus, a train, bringing the legs total to 14. All last night and today has been a journey north and east over flat land and now, in Norway, by the sea and fjords. One town we passed was called Bastad. It wasn't as bad as it sounds but I added it to my list of places not to live anyway - never live somewhere that makes you look bad on an envelope.

There's a certain amount of time travel involved in going north. Even around the towns along the railway, civilisation seems to shrink a little and look older with every 100 miles north (despite the perfect efficiency of the transport system). For its part, nature throws up more trees and claims the expanses; there seem only a few rusty machines spread between sparse farms to prevent a complete take-over. When we ARE all dead and gone, nature will forget us quickly, or remember us as another lot passing through.
Up here corporate capitalism can't easily take hold either; there just aren't enough people to buy all the crap and if there were, they wouldn't want to, or not so much, because they're not stuck inside that pap-world, which has colonised the bodies and minds of the cities.
Then there's the light. Go south for the heat but north for the light, which is softer, whiter and clearer; now, in June, it lasts forever and in December each minute must feel like a sort of sacred gift. Chatting on the train, a Swede said, 'You're no good at celebrating midsummer's day', meaning most Brits and Americans don't really notice it. I think she's right - we don't know light well enough.
And then there's the much-maligned cold weather, known by its evil alias 'The Cold', which - according to my own theory and contrary to popular belief - is better at making you feel warm than heat is. Have you ever noticed and appreciated warmth as much as when you're wrapped up well on a cold day, or when you come back home, shake your boots off and warm up by the fire? It's a rhetorical question - please don't write in. The North is a lot to miss out on just for a preference for hot weather. Nuff said.

There was time for an hour's walk in Copenhagen and Göteborg; not sufficiently long to shrug off the tourist traps but enough to get a feeling, which I've had since I arrived in Holland, that people in all the countries I've been through (less so Germany, maybe) are quite a bit happier and friendlier than we Brits are. A quick search on Google digs up several reports claiming that the Dutch and Scandinavians are indeed the happiest, friendliest and most trusting folk in Europe. Some say it's because they're wealthier but I'll bet the whole world a fiver that the happiness of any given European population correlates in inverse proportion to its shopping centres per capita figure, which data are sadly beyond even the rabid statistical attentions of Eurostat so I can't prove it right now.

Penny from the Oslo Quaker office is going to meet me from the station at 21.45 and make sure I get a bed for the night.

In Swedish I can say, 'I have an animal on my Smorgasbord.' but I know no Norwegian at all. I wonder how I'll get by.

Legs 11

11 legs so far, every one on time to the minute apart from London's tube... just coming into Copenhagen. You can leave a pobbledocket on the blog any time with an estimate of the total legs there and back. Thanks to those who already have. D

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Hoek to Köln

Holland: clean and tidy land of perfectly conceived infrastructure. Life below sea level demands it. Rush hour on the train towards Rotterdam and a computer voice bids everyone welcome in soft, reassuring tones at each stop: 'Ladies and gentlemen, good morning.' No need to rush. Each time she tells us which station is next her pitch rises at the end of her perfectly enunciated sentence, as if she's never been this way before and is pleasantly surprised that Schiedam or Vlaaningen is coming up because she hasn't seen them in a while. The train is light and seems spacious, even when full, and the commuters gaze out of the window, make occasional eye contact and don't look too sad at all about going to work. Perhaps later the same train will wish them good evening and ask them how their day was.

A stop for a couple of hours to visit a friend, Janneke, in Delft, a typical Dutch town of small shops and cafes around cobbled squares under plane trees or along ornamental canals full of lillies. People breeze around on bikes. On one street wildflowers and weeds have grown through the cracks; tall foxgloves sway like people meeting to say hello.

In the town square Janneke buys me a herring - a single raw fish that has been 'partly rotted' specially, she says, and garnished with a sprinkling of raw cooking onion. You grab the slippery creature by its tail and dangle it into your mouth. Utterly, utterly horrible squidgy spudgy oniony fish-goo. Two bites finished me off, although for some reason I now want another one. I think I could down a whole one given another chance at it, although food poisoning is surely only a few gobbets of decomposing herring away. I gave the rest of the fish to Janneke but guess what - she doesn't like them.

It is a good and perhaps mysterious thing: not to see someone often and still feel like friends, when other times people don't even need to move away to drift apart.

One of Janneke's jobs, by the way, is to help work out how to stop Holland from flooding when climate change pushes sea levels ever higher.

Through Rotterdam (the name somehow reminds me of that fish), Utrecht and to Köln, where the cathedral, and it is maybe THE cathedral the stands for all others, rises bomb-charred black and tremendous into the sky. They must have been so certain when they built it that the sky was where God had to be, and even that God had to be at all, and that God would be well pleased with those who pointed emphatically upwards, especially on an absurdly grand scale. Some would ridicule these huge follies but the Shard in London does just the same thing. The Shard has only itself to point to, which seems ridiculous to me. Köln Cathedral is absurd, but it isn't ridiculous. I walk through the doors into an organ recital, during one of those magnificent discordant blasts that goes on and on. Perhaps the organist has slumped over the keyboard having departed this life in style but no, the chord stops and the echo is left ringing until he or she is ready for the next piece. I wonder that there is a sort of sexual union between this explosive sound and the vast cathedral space that throws it about.

Hundreds of votive candles are flickering on large racks. A girl is turning over a fresh, unlighted one in her palm while waiting for the right prayer to come, then lights her wick from another's,face brightened and hypnotised by the flame. A man in a red robe rapidly collects hundreds of dead candles and chucks them loudly into a box for recycling. The wheat has been taken; the chaff is cleared away with the efficient ruthlessness of daily routine. Now the organ has finished, the space fills with the plastic clatter of spent prayers. By the time I'm on the train to Copenhagen my own will be among them, I suppose.

London to Hoek

A bike, a tube, a train and a ship: 4 legs.

Even in this tiny cabin in the middle of the ship with no window I can feel that we are floating. As if through water I can hear the ship's own sounds coming up through the floors and walls like a clanking and groaning whalesong.
From Harwich the ship turned massively past those docks that jut out from the edge of the world - past the great, bright cranes and their thousands and thousands of containers from China - and out along the long string of winking buoys leading finally into the moonless black.
Over the railing and down below the water fizzed turquoise in the glare from the ship's windows. Leaning out, it's impossible not to ponder that it would only take one slip and they'd never find you out there. Behind and already a long time ago, clustered dots of light - English homes and streets - hung as signs of life in the middle of the night, domed with orangey wisps of cloud. Eventually there would be more up ahead, just the same of course but feeling foreign.
Going back inside, the fake leather chairs, flashing fruit machines, sweating salmon and cheese platters and bolted-down tables: for some reason this clutter reminded me of The Poseidon Adventure with Michael Caine, and I wondered how it would look if you watched it upside down. I escaped.
Back to the cabin, then, where I can hear the engines rumbling dirtily somewhere passengers aren't allowed to go: in a great room of steel and oil, maybe, lit by naked bulbs in metal cages. All this welded metal is just a brave speck in the dark; every now and then everything shudders as if the sea doesn't want us here.

Friday, 17 June 2011

Pobbledockets

...are little desposits you can leave here so I know you've been.  You know, like what cats do.  Just click on pobbledockets below.