Sunday, 31 January 2010

Poem of the Week

A Description of a City Shower
Jonathan Swift, 1710
Careful observers may foretell the hour,
(By sure prognostics), when to dread a shower.
While rain depends, the pensive cat gives o'er
Her frolics, and pursues her tail no more.
Returning home at night, you'll find the sink
Strike your offended sense with double stink.
If you be wise, then, go not far to dine:
You'll spend in coach-hire more than save in wine.
A coming shower your shooting corns presage,
Old a-ches throb, your hollow tooth will rage;
Sauntering in coffeehouse is Dulman seen;
He damns the climate, and complains of spleen.

Meanwhile the South, rising with dabbled wings,
A sable cloud athwart the welkin flings,
That swill'd more liquor than it could contain,
And, like a drunkard, gives it up again.
Brisk Susan whips her linen from the rope,
While the first drizzling shower is borne aslope;
Such is that sprinkling which some careless quean
Flirts on you from her mop, but not so clean:
You fly, invoke the gods; then, turning, stop
To rail; she singing, still whirls on her mop.
Not yet the dust had shunn'd the unequal strife,
But, aided by the wind, fought still for life,
And wafted with its foe by violent gust,
'Twas doubtful which was rain, and which was dust.
Ah! where must needy poet seek for aid,
When dust and rain at once his coat invade?
Sole coat! where dust, cemented by the rain,
Erects the nap, and leaves a cloudy stain!

Now in contiguous drops the flood comes down,
Threatening with deluge this devoted town.
To shops in crowds the daggled females fly,
Pretend to cheapen goods, but nothing buy.
The Templar spruce, while every spout's abroach,
Stays till 'tis fair, yet seems to call a coach.
The tuck'd-up sempstress walks with hasty strides,
While streams run down her oil'd umbrella's sides.
Here various kinds, by various fortunes led,
Commence acquaintance underneath a shed.
Triumphant Tories, and desponding Whigs,
Forget their feuds, and join to save their wigs.
Box'd in a chair the beau impatient sits,
While spouts run clattering o'er the roof by fits,
And ever and anon with frightful din
The leather sounds; he trembles from within.
So when Troy chairmen bore the wooden steed,
Pregnant with Greeks impatient to be freed,
(Those bully Greeks, who, as the moderns do,
Instead of paying chairmen, ran them through,)
Laocoon struck the outside with his spear,
And each imprison'd hero quaked for fear.

Now from all parts the swelling kennels flow,
And bear their trophies with them as they go:
Filth of all hues and odour, seem to tell
What street they sail'd from, by their sight and smell.
They, as each torrent drives with rapid force,
From Smithfield to St. Pulchre's shape their course,
And in huge confluence join'd at Snowhill ridge,
Fall from the conduit prone to Holborn bridge.
Sweeping from butchers' stalls, dung, guts, and blood,
Drown'd puppies, stinking sprats, all drench'd in mud,
Dead cats, and turnip-tops, come tumbling down the flood.

Last night

A terrifically bright full moon. A cold and crystal-clear winter's night. And above the moon and to the right, a brilliant red Mars. Apparently this is not a great opposition, but it still shines terrifically, at around -1.2.

Fantastic. Go see.

Saturday, 30 January 2010

Saturday morning

Eldest arrived home from a conference in Berlin at 1:30 last night. I waited up, so was pretty groggy this morning.

Hazily, I heard:-
- Val Doonican's inheritance tracks. What?
- A program about what's it like in Germany and why don't English people go there like they did in the nineteenth century. Again: What?

A Guardian then happened at me and I was pleased to see an annoyed letter about 'Lets Move To...' - quite right too. The crossword was OK though - a nice collection of Romantic poetry references to complement the cheap chapbook guides they've been handing out with the paper.

I almost missed the last of the frost - it had been a cold night.

After that I decided to go out, even though it was still a little chilly. Thinking about historical things Nunhead, I took this:
But do you know where this is?

And I'm paying for it.

They've stolen our sweets using our money!
Just look at where the Krafty so & sos have borrowed it from.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Spain Tour 19: On the way to Oviedo

Around the caves, on the way to Oviedo, the scenery was once again pretty impressive:

Monday, 25 January 2010

On Modern Nature

It was sitting in the bookcase for ages, unread. It was a birthday present, according to a scrawled note on the inside cover, from 1992.

I don't know why I picked it up and began to read it a few weeks ago - but I found I had had a wonderful book, unopened, for years. The book is formed from Jarman's journal for the years 1989 and 1990. He was writing them with an intent to publish, and the entries are astonishingly well crafted.

The blurb on the back reads:
Six years ago Derek Jarman, the brilliant and controversial film-maker, discovered he was HIV positive and decided to make a garden at his cottage on the bleak coast of Dungeness, where he also wrote these extraordinarily candid journals. Looking back over his childhood, coming out in the '60s and his career in films, Modern Nature is at once a volume of autobiography, a lament for a lost generation and a celebration of gay sexuality.
This doesn't quite capture the experience of reading the book - or not for me. It dramatically undersells it. He writes and includes poems, quotes from Pliny and Culpepper, and looks back in detail at the great gardens he has known and lived in. As a serious gardner, he notices the weather; as an artist his descriptions of the the weather at Dungeness are brilliant.

You can dip in anywhere and find something wonderful. Chosen at random:

Sitting in Prospect Cottage at night in a storm (Feb 24, 1989)

Time is scattered, the past and future, the future past and present. Whole lives are erased from the book by the great dictator, the screech of the pen across the page, your name, Prophesy, your name! The wind circles the empty hearth casting a pall of dust, the candles fizzes. Who called this up? Did I?

Now throughout the world stand windblown halls, frost-covered ruined buildings, the wine halls crumble, kings lie dead, deprived of pleasure, all the steadfast band dead by the wall.

March 1st, 1989

The roses, particularly the rugosas, which have broken bud, have been badly scorched by the continuous wind. An inventory of the garden shows me all else survives. The sea kale struggles on and the sea peas have germinated; so have a few self-sown nasturtiums and calendula. Parsley and poppies are thriving and the irises are a good nine inches high - quite startling in the shingle. The rabbits continually gnaw the fennel to the ground, but seem to leave everything else alone. The wallflowers, though, have been mauled by slugs.

Took four lavendar cuttings.

Planted saxifrage.

Somehow he ties together a diverse range of subjects and references - as the blurb hints. Botanical erudition and practical gardening; reminiscences about his family life as a boy; 'Swinging London' and a demanding, challenging approach to the avant-garde (he remains throughout the experimental artist); Life in London and Dungeness; politics, and particularly gay politics; filming The Garden; his love/hate relationship with film and the film establishment; the iniquities of the Press; HIV/AIDS and the death of friends; rather restrained stories of gay sex.

Some of it is less successful. From the day after the second of the two entries above:
The Pansy
Viola tricolor,
heartsease, tickle-my-fancy, love-in-idleness, or herb trinity. The juice of it on sleeping eyelids will make a man or woman dote upon the next live creature they see, if you would have midsummer's dreams. A strong tea made of the leaves will cure a broken heart; for our pansy is strongly aphrodisiac, its name, pensee, I think of you. If it leads you astray, don't worry: the herbal says it cures the clap: for 'it is a Saturnine plant of a cold slimy viscous nature... an excellent cure for venereal disorder.'
In the old days pansies were virgin white, until cupid fired his arrow and turned them the colours of the rainbow.
Of one thing you must beware: picking a pansy in the first light of dawn, particularly if it is spotted with dew, will surely bring the death of a loved one.
Was the pansy pinned to us, its velvety nineteenth century showiness the texture of Oscar's flamboyant and floppy clothes? As Ficino says, the gardens of Adonis are cultivated for the sake of flowers not fruits - now what about those fruits? Pansies, before you smile, are also the flower of the Trinity. Don't be such a lemon.

The latter part of the journal also records his continuing illnesses, hospitalisations and incapacity. There are gaps when he doesn't write at all, and the garden seems to fade away. It is very moving in its clinical detail and asuterity. Yet there are still moments of wit and humour - such as when he imagines the celebratory concert he will give at the Royal Albert Hall when Margaret Thatcher finally meets her downfall.

Derek Jarman died a few years later in 1994, four months after the release of Blue - a movie I haven't seen for years, but which along with Jubilee became my favourite of his films.

I wish I'd read this earlier.

What else might be lurking in the bookshelves?

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Poem of the Week

Ode to Multiple Universes
Terry Pratchett

I do have worlds enough and time
to spare an hour to find a rhyme
to take a week to pen an article
a day to find a rhyme for 'particle'.
In many worlds my time is free
to spend ten minutes over tea
And steal the time from some far moon
so words can take all afternoon,
Away beyond the speed of light
I'll write a novel in one night.
Aeons beckon, if I want 'em......

... but I can't have em', 'cos of Quantum.

A Tad Humdrum

This appeared in yesterday's Guardian Weekend magazine:

Hooray, we're on the map! But the piece appears worthy of some closer analysis.

Firstly, how come Nunhead (popn. over 10,000 towards the end of the nineteenth century) has been yoked with the evil empires of Honor Oak Park, Brockley and Ladywell? Recently Burnham-on-Crouch (popn. 7,600) had its own page to itself, and it is far less interesting. I note the page is differently titled on the Guardian's own InterWeb site (Let's Move to south-east London), so maybe they now recognise their mistake.

There is quite a lot missing: not least any mention of Nunhead Cemetery. One of the Magnificent Seven, and a terrific, overgrown, wild place to visit.

It mentions Ayres the bakers but somehow ignores Sopers wonderful wet fish cornucopiae.

And then again, it talks about boozers - fair enough, although several have shut in the last few years - but then fails to mention any of the pubs on Nunhead Green or the Lane itself. Not even the Old Nun's Head, from where (roughly) the photograph was taken. Nor the Pyrotechnic's Arms with its interesting history. The only pub it mentions, The Herne Tavern, is miles away (often described elsewhere as being on the "East Dulwich borders") and not that exciting apart from the garden. If you have to mention a pub on the Rye, The Clock House is surely the one to go for.

And as an aside, why illustrate the piece with a picture of the Great Wall of China seen from a distance? Nice enough fish and chips I know, but hardly the true heart of Nunhead, unless you are very, very fond of fried food.

It mentions Dulwich far too much for any sane person.

And what does it say is wrong with the area? That it's "a tad humdrum" is about it - (everything else in that section is about speed humps (a good thing) and house prices outside the area).

A tad humdrum? Well possibly, but I suspect that may be no bad thing. However, several people have commented that 'humdrum' appears to be the tone I try to set in this blog, so I may be biased.

But - suddenly - I want to react against it and speak of the marvels of the area. The wonders and the joys. And add such astonishing things to this poor archive that will give man pause and cause frail women to faint in astonishment. Just give me a sec.

On the other hand, when the piece speaks of where to buy it describes a "magical hilly world almost entirely comprised of brick terraces". Fair enough, I suppose, although I suspect the writer is thinking more of Telegraph Hill when he says that.

And he does call this land a "pocket of niceness" - which I suspect is what causes all the humdrumitude.

So I'll forgive him for now and go back to sleep in the shop window.

Saturday, 23 January 2010


I don't believe the Romans had central heating.

I'm a hypocaust denier.

Thursday, 21 January 2010


Last night we went to see Miracle in the basement of the Leicester Square Theatre.

I say we - I really mean the people who spend too much time with Tim W in the Nun's Head.

Tim was playing the bombastic actor-manager male lead alongside an entrancing Susannah York and a scary Lynne Miller. Acording to the review I read, the secondary parts were poorly played, but I didn't think so.

The play was translated from the original Afrikaans (quite well) and is the story of a troupe of down-at-heel actors preparing to play Everyman in the crypt of a church.

They dress the stage themselves, including another variant on one of the unicorn tapestries (not exactly the same). At moments the play caught some of the eerie quality of the medieval original.

After, we went to The French House on Dean Street for red wine and caught the bus home.

A fun evening. Now all I want to do is to watch Everyman.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Not (quite) the Poem of the Week

Gordon is a Moron
Jilted John

I've been going out with a girl,
her name is Julie
But last night she said to me,
when we were watching telly

(This is what she said)

She said listen John, I love you
But there's this bloke, I fancy
I don't want to two time you,
so it's the end for you and me

Who's this bloke I asked her
Goooooordon, she replied
Not THAT puff, I said dismayed
Yes but he's no puff she cried

(He's more of a man than you'll ever be)

Here we go, two three four

I was so upset that I cried,
all the way to the chip shop
When I came out there was Gordon,
standing at the bus stop

(And guess who was with him? Yeah, Julie, and they were both laughing at me)

Oh, she is cruel and heartless
to pack me for Gordon
Just cos he's better looking than me
Just cos he's cool and trendy

But I know he's a moron, Gordon is a moron
Gordon is a moron, Gordon is a moron

Here we go, two three four

Oh she's a slag and he's a creep
She's a tart, he's very cheap
She is a slut, he thinks he's tough
She is a bitch, he is a puff

Yeah yeah, it's not fair
Yeah yeah, it's not fair

(I'm so upset)

I'm so upset, I'm so upset, yeah yeah

(I ought to smash his face in.)

(Yeah, but he's bigger than me. In't he?)

(I know, I'll get my mate Barry to hit him. He'd flatten him)

(Yeah but Barry's a mate of Gordon's in'e?)

(Oh well, I don't care)

I don't care
I don't care

Cause she's a slag and he's a creep
she's a tart, he's very cheap
she is a slut, he thinks he's tough......

Tuesday, 19 January 2010


Those nasty horrible plastic cheese-making people?


Sunday, 17 January 2010

Poem of the Week

Strange Fits of Passion Have I Known
William Wordsworth

STRANGE fits of passion have I known:
And I will dare to tell,
But in the Lover's ear alone,
What once to me befell.

When she I loved looked every day
Fresh as a rose in June,
I to her cottage bent my way,
Beneath an evening-moon.

Upon the moon I fixed my eye,
All over the wide lea;
With quickening pace my horse drew nigh
Those paths so dear to me.

And now we reached the orchard-plot;
And, as we climbed the hill,
The sinking moon to Lucy's cot
Came near, and nearer still.

In one of those sweet dreams I slept,
Kind Nature's gentlest boon!
And all the while my eyes I kept
On the descending moon.

My horse moved on; hoof after hoof
He raised, and never stopped:
When down behind the cottage roof,
At once, the bright moon dropped.

What fond and wayward thoughts will slide
Into a Lover's head!
"O mercy!" to myself I cried,
"If Lucy should be dead!"

Spain Tour 18: Valporquero Caves

Driving North from Leon to Orvidea, we took a series of ever-smaller side roads off, looking for the famous Valporquero Caves.

Eventually we swooped down the last hill in a long curve to the car park and visitor centre.

View Larger Map
There are no cameras allowed in the caves, so the best way to suggest what we saw is to link to another site.
The cave complex is startling, and wonderful to walk around - every turn throws up a new and different formation. One of the outcroppings looks just as I imagine the lime-covered Dwarf King in the Koom valley caves in Thud!.

Friday, 15 January 2010

This day, Oi have mostly been listening to...

Jesse's punk.
Today I enjoyed the mighty magisterial anthem that is The Tubes' White Punks on Dope.

Wednesday, 13 January 2010

All the way to the Chip Shop

With all of the snowy, wintry weather we have been having, I've driven to work more - a little surprising perhaps, but the trains have been somewhat unreliable.

Which gave me the opportunity to have the music in the car that I wanted; not to say that I don't like the jazz or classical that we normally have, but I felt like a change.

So the car went punk.

In particular, I dug out an old day-glo double CD compilation of "the greatest punk tracks ever". Or some such.

It isn't of course, it is easy to list the missing bands and tracks. And I remembered too late that the second CD is full of what is really just heavy rock - not really part of the punk aesthetic at all.

So I was just about to switch it off and flip back to Radio 4 when the next track went...

Da dee dee, Da dee dee, Da dee dee, Da dee dee.

(As an aside why do people do that? It is pretty much impossible to work out what song I mean from those syllables. It's a rubbish notation. Expecially as I was trying to make the point that it was instantly and joyfully recognisable).

...And then the first line, sung in a well-remembered whiny voice: "I was going out with a girl...".

Gordon is a Moron by Graham Fellows/Jilted John/John Shuttleworth of course. Quite marvellous to hear it again after all this time. I played that one track over and over for the rest of the journey.

Postscript: Looking around the InterWeb while thinking about this post, I came across a video of "Jilted John" singing GiaM at the Big Chill festival in 2008. But of course, it isn't; it's John Shuttleworth. I found the effect absolutely bizarre.

August 2, 2008: Jilted John @ Big Chill, Eastnor from NickH on Vimeo.

Monday, 11 January 2010


And here is a great trivia question.

According to IMDB (don't look it up!): What film did Jean Seberg star in beween Bonjour Tristesse (Otto Preminger, 1958) and A Bout de Souffle (Jean-Luc Godard, 1960)?

Cambridge in late December

In all of the snow we've just had (see recent posts) it can be hard to recall it only came down quite recently.

These photos were taken around Cambridge just before the end of December.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Jazzer, Gregory, Tully Bascombe

Well, that was fun. I woke up to the Archers, Jazzer finally facing Fallon after declaring love to her - whilst very drunk - on New Year's Eve. She visits him as he's working with Tom's pigs, and all he can think of to say is 'These are the pigs'.

What with the Scottish accent and the inanity of the comment (really well scripted), it put me srrongly in mind of Gregory in Gregory's Girl. The same clumsy tongue-tied awkwardness.

Then a few hours later, I chanced upon The Mouse That Roared on one of the digital TV channels. Now, about nine months ago I wrote about the experience of Rewatching Kind Hearts and Coronets - the strange feeling that I knew it all so very, very well. Today I had something of the same sensation, although not quite so strongly, while watching this film.

I again recognised and predicted scenes, lines, gestures and - this time - noises (the Q Bomb); again that strange, unusual feeling.

Maybe it is because it isn't so mannered a film as Kind Hearts, or just not so good, or mayhap I know it less well, but the sensation was more attenuated. As I think I suggested last time, it isn't just memory, or it is stronger than that.

On no evidence whatsoever, I think I would possibly have the same feeling watching Gregory's Girl. I must try it.

Poem of the Week

Mr Bleaney
Philip Larkin

'This was Mr Bleaney's room. He stayed
The whole time he was at the Bodies, till
They moved him.' Flowered curtains, thin and frayed,
Fall to within five inches of the sill,

Whose window shows a strip of building land,
Tussocky, littered. 'Mr Bleaney took
My bit of garden properly in hand.'
Bed, upright chair, sixty-watt bulb, no hook

Behind the door, no room for books or bags -
'I'll take it.' So it happens that I lie
Where Mr Bleaney lay, and stub my fags
On the same saucer-souvenir, and try

Stuffing my ears with cotton-wool, to drown
The jabbering set he egged her on to buy.
I know his habits - what time he came down,
His preference for sauce to gravy, why

He kept on plugging at the four aways -
Likewise their yearly frame: the Frinton folk
Who put him up for summer holidays,
And Christmas at his sister's house in Stoke.

But if he stood and watched the frigid wind
Tousling the clouds, lay on the fusty bed
Telling himself that this was home, and grinned,
And shivered, without shaking off the dread

That how we live measures our own nature,
And at his age having no more to show
Than one hired box should make him pretty sure
He warranted no better, I don't know.

Cold Garden

Frozen frog pond

Someone has been here before me!

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Snow on the Rye

It has been sub-zero and snowing for days (and did you see the fantastic NASA satellite photo of iced-up Britain?) I thought that the snow might be melting, but apparently not - and the Rye is still covered, quite beautifully.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Spain Tour 16: Out and About in Leon

There is more to the centre of Leon (let alone the rest of Leon) than just the Cathedral. We were there for a few days, and went out and about...

There is a fairly (for him) conservative Gaudi building.

And here is the man himself taking a break.
A sense of the city as awhole...

Asturian windows...
The trees by the river...
The paved streets in the old city centre are perfectly arranged for the police to use smaller, personalised transport.

Motorbikes and Segways!