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July 15th, Menorca

So far so good, although always precarious… As I write, the tramuntana is blowing in the pines (that’s the crazy north wind that usually blows in the winter and drives everyone on the island crazy; all the old farmhouses – including ours – had a central room with no outside walls and no windows where they would live in the winter to hide from it), but I have to say that aside from forcing me off the terrace to sleep indoors, and making the garden very thirsty, it’s not such a bad thing – my sis and I accomplished a whole lot today around the house because it was actually cool enough to work. It even rained for about 10 minutes – just enough to wash all the leaves and surfaces, and by late afternoon the sky was pristine again (tho’ the wind still blows), in time for my daily second commune with the sea (the first is in the early morning, usually at the big blue bathtub). An old Menorcan friend came for an early evening visit, with her 8-yr old daughter. They spent a winter in the house about 3 or 4 years ago – instructive for all for us – and Frida (the daughter) has an unbreakable bond with the place, and with Ratonera, our part-time cat (she – the cat – shows up unerringly within minutes of my every arrival on the island, and stays until we leave, but obviously has at least one other home because she is always healthy and well-fed when she shows up… cats…)

I had a week here by myself at the end of June, to open the house again, air out the bed linen, scare away the mice etc. before mum and sis arrived. It was stinkingly hot – 38 degrees with the wind in the southwest, which means humid and carrying the red dust from the Sahara – hard to get much done, but I did my best – both mum and sis had repeatedly said “don’t stress – take some time off” so I did…. And since they arrived, it’s been pretty much perfect – about 30 degrees, wind mostly in the northeast, which is cool and dry, and leaves the big blue bathtub like it should be… I’m a happy camper. (sorry, england…)

Mum is doing pretty well. She is so happy to be here – so what if she repeats herself occasionally and needs help with relatively simple things? she’s a marvel… so many people here so happy to see her… Sis had the usual tough re-entry, but after 2 weeks we seem to finally be on a relatively even keel – long may it last…

And then just when I thought I was in for a bit of smooth sailing, I find that my subletter in New York has to leave and I’m back in the “who will take care of the cat, who will pay the rent?” mode… oh dear, life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans – but I’ve been reading the Tibetan Book of the Dead, and it reminds me to live in the present as much as possible… what would you do if today were your last?


June 23rd

Much water under the bridge, both literally and figuratively (most of the country had a month’s worth of rain in the past 24 hours). Cousin Emily is here from California to visit with mum, which is great. We had been to see the surgeon at Durham hospital on Monday, and he opened up his chock-a-block schedule to squeeze her in on Wednesday, when he took out another 8 tumors – go, mum… [there was a slight blip when we discovered the hospital had her down for a general anesthetic which is way beyond her at this point, but after half a day on the phone I finally tracked down the surgeon and sorted it out, back to the local we had agreed upon – oops… ghastly, but I gave her my iPod and she listened to the Buena Vista Social Club and Schubert’s Quintet in C, while chatting up the surgeon – apparently he’s a vegetarian, and learning classical guitar. she is truly remarkable…] So in theory she’s good to go to menorca on July 2nd, kenahorah… and in theory I leave on monday to go open the house, with Diana coming down on Wednesday to do a hand-off with Emily – wish us all luck…

Meanwhile, last weekend was the Cotherstone village fete, or “fun weekend” as it’s now known. The weather is almost invariably lousy, and this year was no exception: after a couple of lovely days earlier in the week, the heavens opened on friday afternoon, right on cue, and it poured steadily almost all weekend – the 1K run in the fields behind the pub was done in a total downpour, quoits and country dancing were cancelled… Saturday didn’t fare much better, altho’ at least the stalls, cream teas and raffle were in the Village Hall and therefore impervious to the weather (I picked up a portable cassette player for £2.50, to replace the one I’ve been borrowing from Mick all these months, and a beaded lampshade for £1.50 that Diana will make good use of – and Auntie Liz won a splendid Diamond Jubilee tin of biscuits in the raffle). Saturday evening was the Kids Bands, also in the Village Hall, but on Mick’s advice I opted to take mum to the Bowes Museum for a classical guitar concert – well worth the effort, Giulio Tampalini was great (altho’ the string quartet who played with him in the second half had intonation problems that made it somewhat less enjoyable) – Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s Capriccios based on Goya paintings were very cool…

Sunday was the all-denominational thanksgiving church service, which I would have happily gone to in the spirit of co-operation, except that it was at 10.30 and the Duck Race was at 11 – I mean to say…. bad planning…. , apparently it’s normally held from the Tees Bridge to the island, but there was so much water in the river that it was moved to the beck on the first green, which turned out to be absolutely perfect, as the kids could run along side the ducks and really be up close and personal… when they told me they threw the ducks off the bridge and then folks netted them down by the island, I was a little puzzled as to what would stop them just flying away, but when I saw them on the green I realized – aha, little rubber duckies… all 250 of them! (I bought 4, one for each of the family). They raced in heats of 40 or 50 at a time, with the first 5 from each heat going on into the final. It was absolutely splendid, and tho’ it threatened, it didn’t actually rain (not that the ducks would have cared).

I raced home to cook an early Sunday lunch for Mum and Liz, and then headed to the kids’ park up past the church to hear the Middleton Silver Band – oh yes… playing under a marquee while kids played on the swings, and everyone scarfed hamburgers and sausages from the barbecue… a multi-generational hang – really cool… the band sounded great, 15/20-odd brass players, mostly pretty young, a couple of older ringers – the last tune they played must have been the inspiration for the Monty Python theme song (I found out it was “Death & Glory” by R.B. Hall). Best of all, the sun came out – in fits and starts at first, graduating to a beautiful stretch of blue sky… oh sun, how I’ve missed you! As the band wrapped up and the games (races etc.) began, I took off to stretch my legs in the afternoon sunshine. I ended up following the old railway lines almost to Barney, coming back up the Teesdale Way – lovely… everything thick and green and flower-decked – an actual June afternoon…

Another great walk the evening before the solstice – I took a post-prandial stroll after supper that ended up being a 2-hour hike across the moors to the sound of curlews and lapwings – stunning. Home at 10 o’clock, with plenty of light left in the sky, feeling quite all right thank you…


June 9th

Back in Cotherstone with mum, who has survived my almost two-week absence pretty well – what a trooper… (she did have a carer coming in every morning, plus friends and neighbours…) I took her to the hospital for a check-up the morning after I got back (Durham University Hospital, great folks, particularly the nurse specialist, Anne Irwin, who is wonderful). Not great news, in fact rather dire, but hey, what was I expecting? We are still planning for a July sojourn in Menorca, somehow – she says it’s what she really wants – fingers crossed, send all good wishes our way… If it weren’t for the arrival later this month of cousin Emily, who’s coming from California especially to see her, I’d take her out there right now – apart from wanting to seize the carp, the weather here is filthy – constant pouring rain, set to continue for the foreseeable future – but hey, how else is England such a green and pleasant land? In desperation I took a walk this afternoon in wellies, rain gear AND an umbrella – all the impermeables in the house are ancient and not so impermeable… Mum’s garden is luscious, if somewhat bedraggled, and the trees, hedgerows and fields are thick, thick, thick – shoulder high queen anne’s lace, carpets of buttercups, knee high lush green grass (where it hasn’t been cropped by the obliging and ever hungry sheep). If only it weren’t cold as well… the heating is still on – actually it won’t go off, the thermostat seems to be broken – put it on the list… welcome home…

While temporarily packing away my life in NY, I managed to miss all the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations here, but did manage some of my own over there: a splendid picnic in Central Park with the 2 Claudias; a gig at the Stone (Doug & Kenny) and another at Barbes (Karen Mantler, love her songs, and her mom, my hero, who was there); several meals with friends, a walk on the High Line with Evan L, and another, solo, down the red carpet at the Drama Desk Awards at Town Hall (pipped at the post by another Brit – the score for One Man, Two Guv’nors, from the National, so I don’t feel too bad). And NYU has agreed in principle to take my archives, so no matter what happens, the work at least won’t disappear. That feels good… onward…


May 30th

Back in New York for a minute – a week actually, maybe 10/12 days, depending on how things are back in Cotherstone… sorting out my lovely apartment to sublet it for 6 months/a year while I’m busy elsewhere… it’s been high summer, hot and humid, I’ve had to have the noisy old air con running while we create chaos and hopefully remedy it – “we” being myself and my selfless best friend Claudia – this is a situation where you learn your true friends… they include several of the Kamikazes and other assorted cohorts, who are housing various chunks of my possessions in order to make room – bless you one and all. Sam the cat is none too happy – they do like order, cats, and they don’t like change… neither do I, but it’s necessary, and so make the best of it.

In attempting so to do, I took time out on Monday night to go to the weekly MTO session at the Stone – oh joy – so good to stand under the waterfall of that music, and to see so many friends – a bit of a heartbreak as well, reminding me of what I’m missing, but you can’t dance at every wedding, as they say… or funeral… oops, bad taste… the apartment sorting has been a bit of a heartbreak as well, taking apart my world, but cathartic as well, in some awful way… I feel I will be better prepared for what’s coming down the pike – whatever it is… and lightening the load is always good…


May 15th

Back in the frozen north – it’s the middle of May and temperatures are still in the single digits – good lord… but hey, my hike this afternoon took me to Faggergill along Arkle Beck in Arkengarthdale – how bad can it be?


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