Monday, 27 October 2008

Beware of Breeding Swans

On holidays in London I spent two weeks with my sister in law and her partner and child in Kentish Town. I enjoy pretending to be a local, getting to know the rhythms of the community and allowing the layers of my surroundings to reveal themselves.

Nearby was Hamstead Heath. It has a huge public swimming pool (60m x 30m) lined with aluminium rather than tiles. The aluminium creates a beautiful shimmering effect making the water shine. Unfortunately it doesn't change the tempurature. It was freezing and this was June. Nearby lay another swimming hole which was much more interesting.

This is a much longer story than anything I've yet posted. Tell me how it works as a blog entry. Maybe it's better in some other publishing form.

Beware of Breeding Swans

The English are mad. They love the sun - what little there is of it. So any day in summer which even hints of skin cancer, they’re out in droves, on the streets, in their tiny pocket sized backyards and most importantly in their parks.

So there I was on Hampstead Heath, a 350 acre public park in the North West of the city but definitely inner London by any measure. Me and hundreds of others walking, jogging, dogging, eating, drinking, kiting, kissing, sunning, frisbeeing and swimming.

It’s actually 5.30 pm. The sun should be setting. People should be at home preparing meals but here on Hampstead Heath the masses are frolicking. What else? The sun will be up for another 3 hours, its time to indulge and soak up a years supply. In 6 months time they’ll be lucky to have 6 hours daylight.

I’ve got my mini micro fibre travelling towel and my budgie smugglers tucked under my arm and I’m heading for the men’s bathing pond - one of a series of spring fed ponds fringing the northern edge of the Heath.

It’s a bit like heading for the Brisbane City Botanic Gardens for a swim in the duck ponds - the ones that greet you when you enter the main gates. The ones young children throw loaves of bread into despite the warning signs about dangerous bread induced cholesterol levels in ducks.

Anyway the men’s only bathing ponds is my destination. From a distance it looks quaint, inviting and very cold.

There are ducks, swans, men fishing from the bank, a series of wooden buildings housing two lifeguards in red and gold caps, a diving platform and a jetty-like structure pushing out 25 meters into the water.

My English brother-in-law thinks I’m crazy. He’s lived nearby for 20 years and has never swum here. It has a reputation – he confides in me.

Doesn’t worry me. I’m an Aussie and a stretch of water to me is something to be swum in no matter what conditions or the warnings.

The entrance looks innocuous enough. Shaded by trees and lined with deep green English shrubs, a quiet path leads me towards the men’s change shed.

I ignore the ticket machine asking me to pay two pounds for the privilege. Richard has given me the low down on this. The locals are refusing to pay, having swum here for 100 years free of charge, they’re not about to pay the local Camden Council for access to their birthright. It’s a protest.

I love a protest. So in solidarity I ignore the signs. It’s not about the money I tell myself. It’s the brotherhood.

Immediately on pushing open the sprung entrance door I am catapulted into the middle of a large open change room not unlike the old change rooms at Davies Park or Langland’s Park pools of my youth. A room 10m x 30m bordered by a slatted bench below a line of clothes hooks at eye height greets me.

In the middle of this stands a large man. A man not unlike the Maharishi whom the Beatles adopted as their guru in the 60s. He stands naked. Wild hair mimicking Albert Einstein or Andrew Symonds. It’s wild and long and mostly grey. He’s not an old man, probably 40 something with a beach ball for a stomach and in his hand he holds a towel.

This is not unusual in a change room except in this case he’s standing dead centre in this space - out of reach of any clothing hanging above the slatted seats, and seemingly concerned only with the drying of his privates.

I hesitate, look right, left – avoid eye contact with him and choose a spot as close to my entry point as possible.

The Maharishi meanwhile proceeds to elaborately dry himself.

The sun shines into the change room coming through the non existent roof. It catches and lights up a second body – a man stretched languorously on his white towel reading a book and looking very relaxed. I take him for a posturing intellectual for he’s reading some obscure post modernist text whose title makes little sense to me. At least Monsieur Foucault has on a pair of swimming trunks.

Meanwhile the Maharishi continues his ritual. He appears to be having an ongoing problem with his rising damp. I’m terrified that of all the piles of clothes around the room his might be beside mine and that, at any moment, he’ll join me and fix me with his wild stare. Around the perimeter of the room are a number of other men either entering or exiting the swimming ritual. All bar one are not notable as they behave normally – for a men’s only bathing pond change room.

The one who catches my eye is a young Adonis. All blonde hair, smooth white skin and blue eyes. A living Michelangelo sculpture, a David reincarnated … and doesn’t he know it.

He’s wearing a tiny low slung hand towel. Wrapped around his waist this drape, a size too small, shows off a slash of exposed thigh. Adonis distractedly wanders the change room floor, a distant lost look in his eyes – which I am avoiding. Eventually he takes up a position at my end of the pavilion and leans lazily against the wall which separates the change room from the nude sunbathing area.

Adonis has one arm stretched towards the sky and one leg bent at the knee, foot supported by the wall behind. He looks wistful as the sun’s rays lighten his blonde locks creating a halo effect around his head and chiselled features.

In all I’ve probably been here for three full minutes but the atmosphere is thick with unspoken rules and rituals. I’m the outsider here but there’s no point in hesitating, so in 20 seconds flat I’ve dropped my trousers, doffed my t shirt and in one jump I’m in my aussie DT’s and out the door leading to the pond.

Out here there suddenly seems to be a lot of space and time. The sky is blue, the water a murky brown and still. Great for reflecting the drifting clouds above, but not offering the same invitation as the iridescent waters of my regular Queensland beach.
There are a few blokes swimming. Most laze about. One laps the perimeter of buoys marking out the limits for swimmers and the beginning of the fishing zone.

I’ve bought a pair of ear plugs to protect me from what might be contained within a duck/swan/off leash dog inner city pond.

The lifesavers give me some confidence about my immediate physical safety – though I notice that the one device which is present is an old wooden row boat that might not reach me before I disappear forever into the black depths.

No sook when it comes to cold water, I admit to entering this deep dark pool rather tentatively. I use the ladder rather than the diving board and enter inch by careful inch.

It’s not too bad. The ducks keep their distance, no subterranean creatures drag me into the watery Hades; the swans content themselves with preening and I glide, head above water, towards the up welling swell; the natural spring which feeds the expanse of water.

I’m beginning to relax..
I love the view you always get from the water. It’s the reverse of the familiar. In this case the pond is surrounded by English foliage through the full 360°. There is a sense of isolation. I marvel at the tranquillity, and have the intense sense of being miles away from suburbia but equally and more intensely knowing that I’m actually within view of St Pauls Cathedral and central London.

The only distractions are my ear plugs which pop in and out and which I adjust obsessively; that and my heightened awareness of my male companions.

There are clues everywhere to the secondary life of this congregation. Phallic symbols abound. The jetty thrusts much further than necessary into the pond, the diving board reverberates with a deep hum whenever one of the blokes shows off his athletic skills; the swans stretch their long necks towards the sky and when I’m floating on my back I’m confronted by a hugh vapour trail following a silent jet as it streaks across the sky.

Somehow I can’t quiet relax. Its pleasant but its not exhilarating – swimming in dirty water, smelling like stale duck shit lacks some aesthetic dimension; similar to smoking a cigarette in a strong wind where the exhaled smoke is whipped away before you can enjoy the aesthetics of your nicotine addiction.

I swim across. I swim up. I adjust my earplugs and having satisfied myself that getting out will not mark me as a wuss defeated by the challenge, I breaststroke my way back to the ladder and pull my cold white body back into the cool summer London sun.

Back in the change room, Adonis is still attached to the wall enjoying the sun and waiting for something to happen. The Maharishi has disappeared. The sun has shifted and the shadows have reduced the area available for Monsieur Foucault who doggedly continues his quest for knowledge while reclining uncomfortably on his towel on this concrete floor.

My micro fibre towel looks and feels pathetically small as I dry off the pondy water. I modestly discard my trunks not wanting to inadvertently give any unintended signal that might see the Maharishi suddenly re-enter the scene or cause Adonis to skip a heart beat.

I think I’ve sussed the place out as I prepare to leave but then unexpectedly through the door arrive five Jewish boys in full regalia - traditional Hasidic Jews.

Their side burns drop in ringlets from beneath their black skull caps. They are dressed in conservative black trousers, white shirts and black vests. They speak to each often in what I presume is Yiddish and I wonder if they’ve entered this temple inadvertently. Should I tell them this is not a synagogue? Should I introduce them to Adonis? A Greek god and a possy of Hasidic Jews would surely have a great deal to discuss.

I wait and wait expecting some bizarre new event but they are in no hurry. Perhaps my Aussie presence in this local men’s club is inhibiting them. Has my bright blue micro towel given me away – or is it my baseball cap or tourist’s sandals.

Before I leave I take one last long slow look at the picture before me and capture it as if in a photo for sharing with Richard and my London dinner companions tonight.

The final element of my day lies at the exit where a large sign awaits me. On my way in I had failed to pause and take it in, wisely as this would have been a dead give away when I was intent on masquerading as a local.

Now I read with renewed interest the rules and regulations, risks and advice which Camden Council offers me.

What catches my eyes is the list of health risk I have just exposed myself to:
§ Hypothermia
§ Sudden Immersion Syndrome (SIS)
§ Mild gastroenteritis
§ Eye and ear and respiratory infections

Strangely there is no reference to the unwritten rules which I have largely failed to negotiate. Perhaps the final warning alludes to this and is a coded message. In large print and definitely not included under the health cluster, it reads –
Beware of breeding swans.

Saturday, 25 October 2008


Travel is my down time. It's playful. It's fresh. I 'm both within and outside the experience. I'm posting a series of stories I wrote recently which extended the experience beyond the immediate beyond the obvious and allowed me to share my private mental adventures with my travelling companions and now ............ an intimate audience.

In Barcelona it’s 6am.

I like to rise early in strange cities and trawl the streets alone. It’s when you catch a city unawares. I love the sweet breath of dawn, the light creeping across deserted streets.

The sun is rising as I emerge from my sunless apartment. As I begin my early morning adventure along Calle Guardia (KA YAY - GWAR DIA) the sun, an orange orb, is perfectly obscured by a circular traffic sign directing it to keep to the right. The harbour lies somewhere east of my apartment. It’s my dawn destination.

The streets are deserted save for a few working girls on the main drag doing the late late late pre-dawn shift. A dark eyed brunette in a denim mini skirt blows a kiss my way and mouths an invitation that doesn’t test my Spanish. As I pass she pats my bum, checking it for a wallet.

I jump at the touch, startled, fear suddenly crossing my face. I’m taken off guard.

In my confusion I respond with an apology “Sorry” I say, “Not today. I don’t have any money”

Swerving to cross the road and escape I marvel at such a stupid response. It crosses my mind that it’s lucky she didn’t offer me her services on credit.

Suddenly I find myself a lone tourist on full alert in a street full of early morning shadows. Everyone on the street is dangerous.

My radar sweeps 360degrees.

A nearby tout senses my panic and shapes up to mock me, pretending to back away in fear. Momentarily I laugh, to myself, understanding that this is a game and I’m part of it.

Still I don’t relax. My senses are on red alert. I see everything. Smells and sounds become exaggerated. I experience each moment as a conversation inside my head. It’s funny, intense and dangerous – all at the same time. My adrenalin is pumping.

Once on the other side of the street I pass through deep shadows.

I don’t look back but know that my new friends are receding into the distance behind me. They won’t follow me, they know my pockets are empty. They will have turned their attention to breakfast and the days work to come with more lucrative customers.

A young woman in joggers and an aqua top the colour of the nearby Mediterranean glides past, blonde pigtail bobbing, footfalls slapping time to the IPod keeping her company. She’s oblivious to the danger.

I begin to relax, slowing my pace. My racing heart begins to settle as I approach the water.

On the harbour, ocean going yachts jostle with cruise liners for parking space. Their masts sway from side to side clacking and pinging out of time, creating a gentle hypnotic song. Vertical lines criss and cross and, ignoring gravity, climb skyward fracturing the view of the ancient city into multiple concurrent Picassoesque images.

As I emerge from the shadows the sun blinds me.

Having ignored the keep right sign it blasts me with its molten rays melting my fears.

Wednesday, 22 October 2008


I travelled to Europe recently and spent a week in Barcelona with my brother. I like to travel with the minimum. He likes his technology and thus totes a range of gadgets which all appear to be absolutely essential..............

Googling Barcelona

I’ve returned from four hours of walking the laneways of Barcelona.
It’s a beautiful part of the world.

It’s day two of my week.

I have a good view from my half open window. There are scores of jumbled apartments in serious need of repair backing on to our neat Spanish hide-away. They are all silent. The locals are all having a siesta.

I’m trying to have a siesta too. I’m buggered.

Lying beside me is a clutch of brochures demanding my attention; offering me more advice than I can possibly absorb.

On the other side of the six inch thick stone wall held together by time and the traditional skills of builders of my great grandfather’s generation, my brother sits in the living room mumbling and cursing his travelling companion – his computer.

It’s been more than 40 minutes and still it hasn’t connected with the wireless network he was promised.

He wants to google the world wide web for a pixillated view of where we are in Barcelona. For some reason he needs to be reassured that he is really here.

He doesn’t seem to see the irony of his quest.

“Look out the window” I suggest, “use the map you’ve got in your pocket”, but no, he wants google-earth so he can see our rooftop. “We’re on the top floor” I tell him. “The door beside the lift leads to the roof and a view of the city”. My suggestions fall on deaf ears.

I love my frustrating brother. I resolve to help him. I go to the window and wave at the sky. I tell him this will help him identify his target.

He doesn’t seem to appreciate my assistance. He’s intent on his micro screen.

Suddenly he’s on line. I sense his virtual excitement. I wave harder, bigger, more ironically, leaning dangerously from the tiny fifth floor balcony.

I’m waving so hard I’m sure Lorenzo, our Italian ancestor who passed through here in 1861, will psychically connect through the computer and once and for all resolve for us who he really was. But his ghostly presence is even more hard to connect with than google world.

Another curse from my virtual brother.

The system is down again.


I 'm ready to depart from the knitting theme. It was fun grandpurlbaa but there are other stories to follow.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Carmen Miranda meets the Tea Cosy

Time to get back to my promise to flesh out (love that phrase) the history of
Wild Tea Cosies. – the wildly successful book of eccentric knitting sculptures by Grandpurlbaa herself.
If you look at the cover of the said book you will see the subject of this story.

Carmen Miranda and The Tea Cosy.

There were two families; lets call them the Bountys and the Barrens.

The Bountys had a citrus tree which was much admired by the Barrens.
Mr Bounty, being a thoughtful man, felt this deep gap in his friend’s world and presented to him, on his birthday, a potted Lime Tree.

The next day, a Sunday, Mr Barren excitedly planted the tree in a vacant spot in his garden - west of the spreading macadamia and east of the loquat tree. From that day he lovingly tended it weekend in and weekend out. He watered it by hand; he sprayed it with soap suds to fight off the ants and scale insects; he peed on it occasionally because he had heard that this worked wonders for the productivity of citrus trees – something to do with husbandry and hormones he mistakenly believed; he pruned, ever so gently, and waited and watched and waited and waited.

Each year Mr Bounty’s Tahitian Lime produced an avalanche of fruit and these would be shared with Mr Barren and his family in a non patronising and generous spirit. And each year Mr Barren would watch as the fruit budded on his tree and struggled to survive and finally, each year, produce nothing.

Mr Barren was not naturally gifted when it came to gardening and hated nothing more than reading instructions, which is why he had inadvertently planted his beloved Lime Tree in a shady spot on poorly drained shaly ground. Still this was not known to him at that time and each year he found another excuse for his recalcitrant Tahitian.

After three years, and then year in which he obsessively loved that tree (call it a tree, yet it was still below his shoulder in height) his patience and obstinate optimism bore fruit in the form of a solitary lime. So amazing was this event and so heaven sent, that Mr Barren decided that this indeed was a blessed fruit worthy of celebration. He called his circle of friends and, in a state most of them could not comprehend (apart from Mr Bounty and his wife who had been witnesses to this agony), invited them to gather at his house to celebrate. Mr Barren, who had a penchant for excess decided to call this event the Hill End Lime Festival, for that is where he lived with his wife and two bemused children. He did not regard this as self indulgent or grandiose but simply apt.

To cut a long story short (for it subsequently became a much anticipated biennial event and there are many further stories to tell) Mr Barren invited friends to contribute something hand crafted for the evening in keeping with the lime theme. His plan was to auction or raffle these items to benefit a cause in need. Mr Barren having suffered his winters of trial understood adversity and wished to alleviate such suffering in others.

Among the works of art which were lovingly created for the night were a hand made mosaic tile featuring a lime in all its plumpness, a full colour portrait of a lime dignitary of royal descent and many more but of particular note there appeared a hand knitted tea cosy adorned with the most amazing set of knitted fruit bursting with abundance from atop this masterpiece. This Carmen Miranda inspired creation was the prized piece and despite the general closeness of the group caused some jealousies.

The raffle was arranged so that each winning ticket holder could choose which item from the fine array on offer they preferred. Such was the power of this citrus creation that as ticket after ticket was drawn each winner studiously chose to avoid the prized tea cosy, as if choosing would unleash a tidal wave of resentment and angst amongst this tightly knit group. Finally, in a fitting irony, after six tickets and six reluctant retreats from the opportunity to own this masterwork, Mrs Bounty was heard to cry as her ticket was drawn “Oh, bugger it. I’m not afraid of the bloody thing. I want it. And bugger the rest of you..”

Ahhhh. The perfect solution. The serendipitous homecoming of the prize to its natural resting place. No friendships were broken. No fights broke out. Justice had been served.

The second miracle of the night emerged over drinks towards the witching hour when Grandpurlbaa, as she is now known, confessed that, while she had knitted other tea cosies previously, this had been a quantum leap for her in her craft. It was evident that, until this moment, she had merely been knitting. The creator in her had suddenly been revealed and the rest, as they say, is history.

One small lime for a man, one giant leap forward in the art of the wild tea cosy.

Steve Capelin © 2008

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Teapot conversation

Teapot to Teacosy

I love your embrace
Your hug and soft caress
You mould yourself to me
And we are as one.

Be gentle.
Your passion
Your singular sense of purpose
Can smother me
Hide my form.

Be still.
Your colours, tassels, rosettes
Your gaudy stripes and flourishes
Your need to be seen
Your rampant ego
Can overwhelm

It needn’t always be about just you.
A simple love could work as well.

Don’t presume your pre-eminent place
Don’t presume me cold, alone, aloof.
I am fire and passion
Fashioned from clay.
I come from the earth and join with the sun..

My form is more than function
My elegance is not strident
But tempered by the humble task
I will perform.

Stout belly, fine spout and handle
I welcome heat, water, leaf from exotic lands
Combined by experienced hands
To offer understated pleasures
On quiet verandahs, in delicate tearooms
In company or alone.

Of course you’re welcome to join me
But remember
I am no mere mannequin
To give you form.

Teacosy to Teapot

You little upstart
So you’ve been around since the Song Dynasty
Yes, you may have many forms
And your porcelain cousins are quite attractive.
Still you remain
A commoner.

A vessel existing out of need
A container for the higher purposes of others.
Don’t get above yourself.

Can I say without appearing to be smug
that I am more recent, more evolved
Not merely earth and fire.

I am beyond the elements
I am fleece and breeding
I am spun and dyed
I am forged before fires in quiet rooms
By taloned extensions to human form
Rushing forward line after line at breakneck speed.
Reinvented over time
Yet timeless
I too give pleasure.

Dismiss me as mere tea cosy
And you underestimate me
I am valued in my own right.


Steve Capelin © 2008

Friday, 10 October 2008

Me and tea

A blog needs a theme. Unwittingly I have stumbled into the knitting world, so as one who believes in following one's nose (and i have quite a good one to follow) I have decided to forge ahead with the woollen theme. Look out for my account of the back story to Loani's venture into tea cosy mania. and a story about my mother's prolific but occassionally wayward knitting adventures.
Oh and by the way I do like a good cup of tea made in a teapot with loose leaf tea. A teapot is a thing of beauty in its own right - no mere mannequin to show off tea cosies.


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Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Knitting poem for knitting insomniacs.

My friend Mary asked "Why would anyone visit your blog?"
Good question, since there's nothing there. So ......................................

Since Loani (Grandpurlbaa) helped me set this in motion - here's a little poem dedicated to her and her obsessed knitting friends.

Knitting Poem (for Loani)

A spindle of knitters
Knitting independently with bone and bamboo knitting needles
Night after night
Nattering nonchalantly to no one in particular
Beneath the waning moon –
Never knowing, others also quest
For the bees knees of a beanie
Or a nice naturally knitted knee rug.

One night a knitter (who will remain nameless) used her noodle
Perhaps knitters knit to ignore the gnawing need for company.
And she
In a nurturing initiative
Invited a nondescript group of knitters
To Doonan
For a knit
And a natter

And now
Nine months on
The knitters meet monthly
Motivated by growing knowledge
Of knit and knot and purl
Of stocking stitch and garter
And the husbands favourites -
Mattress stitch and slip one over

These knitters
No longer alone or lonely
Are not a lot of nincompoops
Neither nutters nor ne’er-do-wells
But a simple group of north coast knitters
For whom knitting is a necessity -
Knit-wits one and all.

© Steve Capelin 2005

Monday, 6 October 2008

Starting over with

My friend Loani ( has helped me get a new start in life. Watch this space.