How I fell in love with Mr Klapka

Some words and names have a way of reappearing in one’s life. They are sort of there, on a bookshelf of your childhood living-room in one country only to reappear, twenty years later, on a poster at your workplace in another. For me – the ‘phrase’ Jerome Klapka Jerome are exactly such words – providing their quiet presence as a backdrop to my daily grind.

The picture of the blue plaque on Jerome K Jerome birthplace – the townhouse at Walsall’s Bradford’s Street – has been hanging on the wall of Walsall Council’s link bridge for a good few years. The link bridge joins the old Council building with the more modern Civic Centre. It’s also the place where senior managers and elected members cross pathways and officers rush to meetings. And so it is no surprise that though I have often glanced at the blue framed image that read JK Jerome it has taken me a while to realise that,  yes, K stands for Klapka and yes, he was born in Walsall.

Why should that be of any interest to me?  In the year of 1986, my mother received a bulky manilla envelope. She was a member of the Society for Friends of Beautiful Books – a popular Czechoslovak book publisher specialising in classics and received another two books fresh of the press – the Klapka’s Three Men in a Boat and the Nun by Diderot.

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There was a reason why classics were in high demand in then socialist Czechoslovakia. It was one way (or maybe the only way) to get to read the Western authors that weren’t picked primarily for their critique of ‘the decaying Western imperialist world’. And whilst I might be inclined to read such a critique today, I understand why my mother loved the Western classics when the only travelling allowed was Eastwards. This way, she could travel anyway, anytime and with very little money.

As our newly fitted top to bottom bookshelves were soon filling up with all kinds of books sent to us by the Society and every time they arrived, my mum to would start reading one, then the second one, in addition to the already other 3 she had on the go by her bed. She would say:, “you should read the Klapka one day, he is really funny” and she reenacted the chapter about the poor uncle Podger who was trying hang a picture frame – a comical process worthy of about 5 pages.

But I never did read Klapka, I preferred a bit more intriguing Nun by Diderot or anything else with female characters really. I thought the book cover was really boring (why should anyone care about three middle age men in a boat that flows on a narrow canal?). As the book title was then neatly put on the shelf, I could see its author’s name looking at me, every time I was watching TV, or even brought my friends upstairs, declaring: “I am here, . Klapka Jerome!” and every time I thought what annoying combination of words – where on earth did he get the Klapka from?

Well, it was meant to be, that twenty odd years later, I regularly pass by JK Jerome’s house  in Bradford Street where street workers, refugees, migrants and old Caldmore residents mix. I understand that the author lived here only very briefly after his birth, though he became Walsall’s honorary citizen later in life. His birthplace, turned into Museum, is not open to public at the moment, although one can see the memorabilia, including a medical cap he used as an ambulance driver in WWI, by prior arrangement.

Speaking to the curator I am surprised (or maybe not) that in recent years, there were more visitors interested in viewing from Slovakia, Czech Republic, Japan and Russia than from the native UK. Russia, of course, made their own film adaption of the Three Men in a Boat with a famous actor Andrei Mironov.

I walk into Walsall Central Library and very reluctantly pick up a copy of the paperback that I had to rescue from a shadowy bottom shelf. And later on, at home, I am completely taken in by effortless writing of a skilled observer, who sets out to write a travelogue but ends up writing a comedy stroke memories of childhood stroke commentary on a society with all its anxieties, flaws and false pretences that are as relevant today as they were hundred and fifty years ago. I find myself re-reading the uncle Podger picture framing plight to my husband and my children, I am imagining carrying large quantities of smelly cheese on a Victorian train and I am telling everyone at work to read JK Jerome – who I will forever call just Klapka – especially since I discovered that he stole this name from the famous Hungarian general to replace his less attractive original Clapp.

Final note: ‘klapka’ means ‘fastening’, ‘valve’ or ‘covering’ in Slovak.

 

 

 

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Words like tiny bombs

12 years, 4 months and 7 days

That could be a fifth of our lifetime
No one willingly put their life on pause

It is not all my fault
You used to shower me with words
Like tiny bombs that never came off
their noses buried in the barren ground

You told me many complex stories
Grand symbols, brilliant films
But somehow their premature endings spoilt the kills

You wanted much effect
But I wasn’t affected at all
My needs were a lot simpler
Life’s undercurrent took over

Today, all I do is occasionally Facebook
Watch snippets of your successful life
Like shadowing of an old friend
The closest I get to be an unfaithful wife

I hear shuffling of your feet
Thousand and eight hundred kilometres apart
Hear your water taps, a person yawning
Your windows opening
A bite of lemon tart

When you speak to others there is no sound
Your wife, your child are muted
Muted out of my life speaking to your face
I am inverted into a different time zone
A black hole through which I intercept your days.

One Saturday afternoon
I heard a scrap metal car
With an old bed that rattled
And a lamp like a star.

A driver man with his son –
they looked very fair
They said I should just jump in
And that I should not stare.

We drove onto a meadow
And stopped by a tree
All this time I was wondering
Where on earth can I be?

A woman stuck her head out
I had no idea from where
She said I should choose something
Maybe a pot or a chair.

The truck was full of rubbish
But some of it was good
I looked at it and touched it
In the end of chose a book.

The woman wasn’t foolish
She said it might just rain
Then handed me a parasol
And a scarf to warm my hair.

You can arrange it this way…
She uttered and disappeared
But I never cared for a moment
I was glad the meadow was cleared.

I read and read and fallen
Deep into a sleep
I have dreamt of so many people
They grew on me like weed.

And now I wasn’t on a meadow
But a big parking lot
and people held bags and bags of stuff
And then my scarf felt hot.

I opened up my eyes
And suddenly sat on a bus
The doors were locked and the bus moved
And everyone made a fuss.

Of course – there was no driver!
And me still reading a book…
I turned my head and suddenly
The idea has just shook.

I closed the book ever so quickly
And began to remember my name
My husband and our two children
I wished they stayed the same!

I rushed through the meadow slowly
But I could not move my feet
Until my duvet fell onto the floor
And I found myself in the sheet.

And then I woke up thinking
None of those things were true
No trees, no parasols, no meadows
Only me – the same but somewhat blue.

©Irena Revina

Photo Byrev on Pixabay

Quince inspiration between two Christmases

It is not October (I know) and I should not be writing about the humble, mis-shaped, freckled, warted and forgotten fruit of quince. I should be summing up the Christmas, show pictures of ethnic food and share quirky details of immigrants celebrating the birth of Jesus far away  from home.

But today was the day I had finally cleared my fridge of leftovers and mustered enough courage to start cooking simple food again before we start another feast, and I am not joking, because half of our family is Christian Orthodox and their (our?) Christmas Eve starts tomorrow evening.

Anyway, back to the quinces…This past autumn trip to Romania has brought it all back – my father talking to me about the quince trees that used to grow in every vineyard. He run around those trees with his brothers, take shade under them and enjoy the sweets he had saved in his pocket whilst waiting for his parents tending the grape vines. Not ready to eat when picked directly from the trees they enriched the October landscape with their distinct yellow shapes. Their scent gave off as they caught the autumn sun and, of course, they were the last fruit of the season – picked when birds feasted on the cold berries that did not make it into the wine.

quince

Bucharest maybe call itself a metropolis but its suburbs are intertwined with rural dwellings sitting comfortably next to modern homes. On our way to metro station, quince trees were everywhere and I regretted not having my camera to capture this odd flashback where urban and rural lifestyles feel so close.

Of course I have since discovered that Romania is one of the few countries that still massively uses the quince in both sweet and savoury cooking and that many artists around the world, including filmmakers have long been fascinated by this seemingly ‘mundane’ and not very ‘perfect’ looking fruit. Some people still use it to refresh their shelves and windows to wane off smells and insects. And many like it for its jelly making properties, used in conserves and chutneys.

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And so on this perfectly bright but chilly day between the two Christmases I too made a good use of the quince conserve brought from Romania spooned over oat and apple pancakes born out of desire to eat a desert that sounds a bit more healthy before the feasting starts again!