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Ruby Read

. Writer . Poet .

Clipped

Wings clipped before flight

Named before birth

Cut before blossoming

Coppiced before spring

Timed before beginning

Condemned before built

Suffocated before breathing

The sense of ending

Closing the curtains on a sun that might yet rise.

Common 

Trees rustle as they are

Teased and undressed

By the autumn wind

Sky like a palette of

Blues, golds, pinks and oranges

Scraped by a painters tooth comb

Illuminated plane trails

Crossed by birds in flight

Paths across the earth 

Heavy weighted breath

A flash of fluorescent orange

Pounds across the grass

Fox

Found out lying next to the bin by dad

No eyes with bared teeth

Hit by a car and slunk here to die

Your tail brushed my skin as you fell head first into the black bin bag

Softness rarely felt accompanied by a squeal and a glare

The bag was stretched wide for you like an open mouth, and swallowed you whole

Your form was rigid and comic, your four limbs outstretched

Frozen whilst running

The size of a house cat, you could not have been that old

You were buried unceremoniously with yoghurt, bits of cereal and a couple of crisp packets

You beautiful elegant creature.

Swim

The promise of a wild swim had drawn us down to the dried up bed of the Rio Higueron. Traversing the steep slopes through mango and avocado groves like cumbersome mountain goats, I realised where you go down you have to come back up. A daunting prospect even in the late afternoon in Southern Spain, the concrete still hot enough to slowly fry an egg. But we were committed to finding the Pozo Batan, a small reservoir that I had read about before arriving in Frigiliana. Strolling along I began to fantasise about the soft cold water rinsing the film of dust and sweat from my arms and legs. I imagined the suspension of my body, blissful weightlessness, completely connected to the water.

 

Growing up on the coast in South Wales, I have always felt an affinity with water. This relationship is materialised by a habit I indulge when visiting bodies of water. I collect small stones, pebbles and shells, just one from each location. In limiting myself to one I not only ensure my collection remains manageable, but I also placate my mum and dad who are increasingly irritated by my substantial and growing collection.

 

Each step brought us closer to the pool; I could almost feel the water now. Earlier that day my mum had inferred that out of fear of potential drownings in a secluded spot, the local council might have fenced off my oasis. Ignoring the niggling voice in my head and hoping the rumours proved false I forged on along the basin.

 

The sun passing behind the top of the valley submerged us in warm shade as we followed the natural curving line of the arid riverbed. Rounding the apex my face fell. Huge iron fences, at least two and a half meters high, rusted in the evening light. We would not be swimming. The water was a true blue, even turquoise in the shallower sunny spots. But I was not in it: looking at it and walking around it, but not in it. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed a car, my pulse quickened, it was a police car. Despite knowing that we weren’t breaking any laws my mouth became dry and my palms slippery. I was beginning to form sentences in my head, explaining that we were only looking and not trying to break-in (even though I wanted to). The officers started their engine, rolling over the uneven ground towards us. I held my breath as we moved between the bushes and shrubs obscuring their view. Several scenarios most involving my arrest and or death forced themselves through my mind. Ultimately my anxiety proved completely unnecessary as the car just crunched off down the riverbed and out of sight.

 

 

Turning back to my oasis, finding the feeding river, we followed it upstream. “What would we do if a wild dog were to attack us right now?” My mum’s throwaway comment set my amygdala to high alert, finding that my head didn’t want me to follow the stream further I sat down beside it. Tentatively I reached down and let the flow course around my fingertips (hoping I wouldn’t find it was a stream of sulphuric acid, it wasn’t). Benign, cool and soft, it would have been perfect for swimming in.

 

Dejected we walked back along the basin toward the roads snaking up the sides of the valley and to our “apartamento”. Absentmindedly my eyes scanned the ground and there it was, my stone. Our walk wouldn’t be fruitless after all. It was a perfect fit, cool and reassuringly heavy in my hand, a perfect swap for the lost promise of a swim.

IMG_20160815_182115
Stone, Rio Higueron, 2016

I like to think that my anxious thoughts about electric fences and electrified or poisoned water wouldn’t have stopped me from swimming, I can’t be sure but they would certainly have made me hesitant. I recall fleeting feelings of relief as I realised the pool was inaccessible. I would not have to overcome my anxiety or ‘expose’ it. Now I wish I had been able to, but I will have to be content with the stone. The next time I come across an oasis I will swim in it.

 

A Breakfast Ritual.

Alexis makes churros traditionally. He has in his set-up what looks like a sausage maker which contains the pallid batter waiting to be transformed into one of my favourite Spanish delicacies. As he turns the crank and does a little shimmy with his machine, the batter is forced out through a small opening at the end of a spout. As he works Alexis builds up a sweat, wiping his brow on a small pink towel. He encourages the batter to form a large spiral in the hot oil below. As I watch the batter transforms, like skin under the sun, from palest yellow to a golden brown in minutes. As soon as the perfect colour is reached the churro is fished from the oil. Two long skewers are slid beneath the giant spiral transferring it to a circular silver platter, a perfect fit. As the churro rests here, excess oil draining away, Alexis retrieves his scissors. They are cloth scissors. He snips at intervals along the golden coil, creating my mountain of churros.

Each day I have devoured them at the plastic tables adjacent to Alexis’ stand in the small car park off Frigiliana’s Plaza de las Tres Culturas. This is my morning ritual. My Churreria Church. What makes these so good is their context. An unassuming stand with a humble and permanently happy vendor – unafraid to suggest that a Spanish boyfriend would be most beneficial, to my Spanish. Blink and you could miss it. Although it would be quite a feat for you to slip past unnoticed, with Alexis offering any passer by smile and an ¡Hola! He also speaks perfect English, some French and a splash of German; there really is no excuse!

There are only a handful of gems to be found in Frigiliana, but Alexis’ Churreria has to be a very large jewel in its crown, where you can be certain of the warmest welcome.

Bullfighting – A Bullring Tragedy

Ventas, Madrid – 25th August 2015

Before the 25th August last year I had been a fence-sitter when it came to bullfighting. I attempted to legitimise it as a cultural practice and therefore an indelible aspect of Spain’s living cultural heritage. Now, to me, it seems ludicrous to claim this cruelty as central to Spain’s identity, in order to legitimise its continued practice.

I had not seen anything die before, aside from the occasional snail, and nothing as gory as this. Despite the distress and ensuing vegetarianism I am glad that I went and challenged – and ultimately changed – my beliefs.

In just 45 minutes I witnessed the slaughter of two bulls. I had to leave very shortly after the second as I had begun to sob loudly and had no tissues to stem the tide of snot and tears flowing down my face. I probably looked a bit of a site and could imagine people watching me thinking, “well why the fuck is she here? She must have known it would be like this!” The truth is I had no idea I would find it so repulsive and unsettling. I had naively imagined that it would be a clean and respectful practice. Now a thought that seems utterly ridiculous.

My first bull was jet black all over. He was subjected to the veronicas and picadors, by which time his jet black coat was red with blood. Then the Banderilleros entered the ring to perform a crude game of pin the tail on the donkey. They plunged their banderillas into the back of the bull, who was now bleeding profusely. Eventually the Matador re-entered the ring for the faena, a series of veronicas accompanied by the estoque, culminating in the death of the bull. The estoque slid through his hide between his shoulder blades, severing the aorta. He began to sway on his feet, encouraged to the floor by the Banderilleros and Novilleros. 

The second bull was brown. He bled far more than the first and it was after this that I had to leave. The bull would probably have been around three years old – the age fought by novilleros (beginners). His death was not clean and skilful. The novillero pierced him high on the neck, blood gushed from his mouth and nose. Swinging his head wildly the bull sprayed the sand around him and anyone who came within range. It was brutal. He slumped to the floor, drowning in his own blood, his killers just watching. When his life finally left him, four horses entered the arena and he was tethered to them and dragged away unceremoniously by his horns.

These were not evenly weighted fights. There was no way that either Jet or Brown would have survived. Bullfights are rigged from the start, like WWE wrestling, but with very real pain and blood. It seemed a fitting comeuppance for me that the Rabo de Toro of the previous night had made me ill that day.

 

 

Travelling Through Time With Music

 

 I am zooming through the English countryside on board a train, squatting on the floor as there are no seats and quietly humming along to my music. ‘What Can I do’, from The Corrs’ 1998 album ‘Talk on Corners’ pops up on my ‘ancient’ first generation iPod Shuffle. Miraculously it still works, no matter what I do to it.

I am shunted back through time. Thirteen year-old me is perched on the bottom shelf of my childhood bedroom, back in Wales. My face is wedged between the CD player and tape recorder on the top shelf. I am making a ‘love tape’ – my toes curl slightly at the thought. I was planning to secretly slip it to the boy I was ‘in love’ with at the time, his name escapes me now. But I know that I felt I would never not be in love with him, my love was alarmingly eternal. It is a late summers evening, sunlight is bouncing off the whitewashed walls of the driveway and slipping in through the slatted blinds on my window. I sing some sections of the lyrics into the tape recorder whilst dancing around my room, enjoying the heady sensation of teenage lust. 

I don’t think the recording worked – what a bloody relief! Well, at least there is no hard evidence, only the immersive memory triggered by the song. But despite the blush provoking circumstances, the feelings garnered are those of happiness and hope. When I was in my early teens I don’t think anything mattered to me as much as love – or my fantasy of it – and summer sunshine. The Corrs lifted my spirits at breakneck speed and it took all my self-control not to sing along and dance through the train carriage. The joy was almost uncontrollable, I was travelling through time through music. 

 

Their video is SO emblematic of 90s music videos. But, to be honest I probably imagined myself singing in a bathtub on a hillside.

Don’t Just Sit and Listen.

I had a phone conversation with my dad last Sunday, I was feeling very low, small and useless. Distressed by my lack of ability to change things and an overwhelming sense of powerlessness in the face of our shifting political landscape here in the UK. We spoke about music and how it made both of us feel, immersing ourselves in it as a distraction but also drawing on it as a source empowerment. His advice was to listen to my emotional response to music and immerse myself in it. Use it as a cushion against the decisions made by the political elite in this country, but also as a tool for expression.

We are almost constantly listening to music, it surrounds us, just take a minute can you hear any music right now? What is it? How does it make you feel?

 

Stop, listen, feel. 

 

It could become ubiquitous, but it hasn’t (well not all of it). We just need to be reminded of the deep emotional and physical reactions music can provoke. How it can be an uplifting or crushing force.

Myself I can find music incredibly freeing and distracting as I tend not to think too much (well too deeply) whilst listening. I like to be moved by music, whether emotionally or physically. What prompted our discussion was a gig at the Barbican, Martinho de Vila, and the proof that samba is good for the soul, well my soul at least.

 

“Do whatever you want, but move in your seat”

 

The Barbican could have been an ill fit for samba. Music that makes you want to move and groove. But it turned out to be incredibly liberating. It started slowly and tentatively, like good sex, with Martinho teasing the audience with naked vocals gradually building the texture as slowly ‘the kitchen’ joined him on stage. Rapidly my gentle swaying became more erratic and enthusiastic taking over my entire body in my seat. Restricted, seated, but dancing. As Martinho belted out the old favourites his audience became more enthusiastic, couples leaving their seats to dance together, others swinging their limbs wildly. We erupted out of our seats.

It was my first experience of Martinho’s music and honestly I don’t want to stop listening. I might have to have him as a constant soundtrack to stop myself slipping into deeper blue water than I already have over the state of Britain and the decision to leave the EU. Samba can save me! Samba can save us all.

I would place a hefty bet that I was one of a smattering of non-Portuguese speakers. So I was almost completely lost during the in-between song chatter, relying entirely on my Brazilian friend Carla. But my lacking language skills did not prove a barrier to enjoyment and understanding of Martinho’s music. Music is a language unto itself. Carla reminded me that we listen to music with our whole bodies, not just our ears.

 

Listen with your body, not just your ears.

 

Music taps into your emotional intelligence, through the intonation and tonal quality of vocals, the timbre of instruments or the underlying beat and even in its silences. At risk of sounding a little bonkers, in this way music is truly tactile.

At the end of the set Carla revealed she knew one of the producers of the gig and we could go back stage and meet Martinho and ‘the kitchen’, if I wanted to. Of course I did. This was a first for me at a venue like the Barbican, I had a little explore of the area, which seemed like it hadn’t really left the early noughties. Meeting Martinho was like meeting a family member, one that strikingly reminds you of a small, reliable, well-loved teddy that’s slowly loosing fluff around the edges with a raspy but soft voice.  And his daughter, the pianist, had the most fantastic raspberry-red tights on and the biggest smile I think I have ever seen. I felt welcomed even though I had no idea who anyone was, but I guess the free beers helped.

My one recommendation to you. If you are feeling a bit down in the mouth pop on some Martinho de Vila and you will be grooving and beaming in no time!

 

Website is a little dated but the music is brill! – http://www.martinhodavila.com.br/

Check it out – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o1RQWPJxWXE&list=PLm9qhWgG3f9J4tSpVCV41r3hu96EUXD0e

The Lion’s Share – an EP review.

New-ish ( I have been a bit slow on the up-take, apologies) four track EP from London based folk duo The Lion’s Share. It’s pretty gorgeous. Light in texture, like a very good Victoria sponge run through with a delicious jam of vocal harmonies, textured banjo and guitar.

I should at this point lay bare that both Tom and Jim are friends of mine and we have shared many a late night mulling over cider and music. I would love to say our friendship doesn’t influence my opinion of their music, but well I would be fibbing. But I  would absolutely never lie to you about the quality of their musicianship.

Over all the album is a successful first press (you don’t press CDs but I do dream in vinyl every now and again). My one criticism is – I want some more. The four tracks on the album flow well and evenly with each other. It would be a challenge to pick a favourite. But if someone sat on my chest and forced me I would pick Cathy, for its bittersweet beauty.

Brief track by track breakdown…

The Lion’s Share –  Inspired by the Aesop’s fable of the same name. The soaring vocals (potentially aided by Jim’s occasionally long-ish red hair) help you visualise a lion teaming up to hunt with an ass, but with his own interests at heart. Sneaky.

Cathy – dedicated to the work of Jeremy Sandford (1930-2003) and his film Cathy Come Home, 1966 BBC television drama on homelessness. In 2007 proclaimed by Broadcast as the UK’s most influential TV programme of all time. Cathy opens gently like a warm embrace at the end of a long hard day. Both uplifting and thought provoking, it moves the listener. The themes of this song and of Cathy Come Home remain at the heart of contemporary British society, as homelessness continues. Cathy serves to highlight this, opening our eyes in a startlingly gentle way.

Hares on the Mountain –  This love song originates from Southern England and was collected and published by Cecil Sharp in ‘Folk Songs From Somerset’. The song has been rolled out over and over, proof that the themes of love and loss (and a little humour) are timeless. Jim and Tom’s harmonies lend a sombre tone to this love song.

The Prickle Eye Bush – A centuries old folk song, covered by countless folk groups, changing and evolving over the centuries. Ranging from large band adaptations, like Bellowhead, to trios like We Were Hunters. Or you can take it full 90s with Steeleye Span. The Lion’s Share cover is simple and pared back, but not lacking in texture and beautifully communicates the emotion of this tune.

Steeleye Span – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ntaUk3Fi5ps

We Were Hunters – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CZKnAW0PkQI

Bellowhead – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sDDLYH4P83E

 

And the cover art work makes it stand out like a jewel in my collection! Hooray for potato prints!

More please.

Check out The Lion’s Share here…

https://lionssharemusic.wordpress.com/about/

here…

Purchase the EP here…

https://thelionsshare.bandcamp.com/releases

and listen to them here…

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