Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Seasonal poetry

Poetry is one of my big cultural gaps.  Although there are poems I can recite from memory, they tend to be of the rhyming and amusing variety.  (If we ever meet and conversation flags, you can test me on Matilda, Who told Lies and was Burned to Death by Hilaire Belloc.)  It's probably that it's mainly a bit much for me - I have a particular aversion to anything poignant, which pretty much writes off a great deal of all art, and particularly poetry.  When I think about changing seasons, though, I do think of Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

I have tried to learn copperplate calligraphy, which is as pesky to do as it is lovely to look at.  One of my efforts was to write out the last section of this beautiful poem, which Coleridge wrote for his son, Hartley, in which he describes how Hartley's rural upbringing will make him a child of nature, and influence his imagination:

Therefore all seasons shall be sweet to thee,
Whether the summer clothe the general earth
With greenness, or the redbreast sit and sing
Betwixt the tufts of snow on the bare branch
Of mossy apple-tree, while the nigh thatch
Smokes in the sun-thaw; whether the eave-drops fall
Heard only in the trances of the blast,
Or if the secret ministry of frost
Shall hang them up in silent icicles,
Quietly shining to the quiet Moon.

Frost at Midnight by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Richard Holmes, who wrote one of my favourite books, The Age of Wonder, wrote a two-part biography of Coleridge.  It is very sad, but incredibly interesting and very moving.  I recommend it heartily. 

Sunday, 18 September 2011

Listing / Learning

It would be nice to think that we are due an Indian summer, but at the moment I'm sitting in front of a light box, which will hopefully convince my body clock that it is not a time for hibernation.  September is a time of new beginnings, new stationery, new projects and excellent food, but this year it is feeling damp and cold.  I want to make pumpkin soup and knit, and not do much else.   

Over the summer I read "The Sword in the Stone":

"But in the Old England there was a greater marvel still.  The weather behaved itself.
In the spring, the little flowers came out obediently in the meads, and the dew sparkled, and the birds sang.  In the summer it was beautifully hot for no less than four months, and, if it did rain just enough for agricultural purposes, they managed to arrange it so that it rained while you were in bed.  In the autumn the leaves flamed and rattled before the west winds, tempering their sad adieu with glory.  And in the winter, which was confined by statute to two months, the snow lay evenly, three feet thick, but never turned into slush."  T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

This is a great description of how we sometimes imagine the past to have been, although the winters certainly used to be colder in the Little Ice Age.  And this year there has been some kind of summer, albeit sporadically.  In 1816, 'the year without a summer', volcanic eruptions and low solar activity led to a cold, damp year.  Food shortages followed, leading to famine, civil disruption and disease.  Taking an umbrella on a day out is hardly that bad really. 

(The gardens at Arundel Castle, August 2011)

One of the reasons why I wanted to read The Sword in the Stone (apart from the Disney film), is that I read a quote from it in an interview on Gretchen Rubin's great site the Happiness Project.

"The best thing for being sad," replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, "is to learn something.  That is the only thing that never fails.  You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds.  There is only one thing for it then - to learn.  Learn why the world wags and what wags it.  That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting."  Also T.H. White, The Sword in the Stone

And learning is what September is all about.   

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Begin the Beluga

Yesterday there was glorious sunshine and it was hot and Augusty.  I spent yesterday indoors knitting.  Today it bucketed down for several hours.  Today I walked into town for a haircut. 

Nonetheless, I now have better hair, I have a complete mini cardigan, I have jars in which to bottle home-made passata (recipe from the excellent River Cottage Preserves book by Pam Corbin), and I had lunch with a lovely friend.   

Sometimes it is hard to know where to start.  I forget sometimes that it's not as important to know where you're going as it is to set off in the first place. 

Douglas Coupland is amazing.  Do you follow him on Twitter?  Do you use Twitter?  It's worth it if only for Mr Coupland's occasional remarks.  This morning he had posted this: "Life is beautiful: ".  As days go, this is a good way to start. 

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Novel Ideas

I’ve been reading mainly non-fiction for a while now.  I have bad fiction-reading habits – for a long time I would read half a book and become distracted.  Once I did this with The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and left a character down a well for six months.  At least I did come back to it.  I never finished The Blind Assassin, because I knew Something Awful was going to happen. 
Emotionally intense though non-fiction can also be, it doesn’t really have the same effect on me.  Last year I read Richard Holmes’ two part biography of Samuel Taylor Coleridge.  The second book, Darker Reflections, (and, therefore, the second half of Coleridge’s life) was full of disappointments, financial and emotional difficulties, addiction and pain, but even though he was actually a real person who experienced these things, rather than a fictional character, it didn’t make me want to stop reading.
It’s been quite a long time since I’ve read a novel that I couldn’t stop reading*.  When I love a book I read it all the time, and also very fast indeed.  My all-time favourite novel is Under the Net by Iris Murdoch.  It is incredibly funny and cleverly plotted, and one of those books that I keep buying for other people in the hope that they will like it as much as I do.  I read it about once a year, and sometimes in 3 or 4 sittings.    
A representative sample of the books currently on my desk are:

What novel could get me back into a fiction habit?    

* Has anyone seen the film of Norweigan Wood yet?  Is it good??

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


The photos are fixed...... and in fixing them I have found a way of ensuring that should they, by some disaster, disappear again it will be easier to reinstate them.  I also noticed that I don't add photos very often, and that I don't talk about knitting either, which is odd.  So by way of starting to address both gaps, here are photos of the most recent item to leave my needles, a quickie cowl (designed by f.pea), knitted in Rowan lima yarn, which is gorgeously soft stuff in a stunning colour.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Pancakes, pancakes, pancakes....

I have eaten pancakes, pancakes and pancakes. Later I will eat more pancakes. I like Spring festivals. Particularly the eating.

(The photo isn't great - my phone's camera is pretty poor - but the message is a happy one.)

Tuesday, 1 March 2011


I changed some things here and my photos vanished.

Fortunately, I know why, and I know how to fix it.

In the meantime, here is a photo of an American Mastodon skull. (It is HUGE).

(photo taken in Dorchester's Dinosaur Museum)

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

Fifth Avenue to the Sargasso Sea

Quick! Today is Jules Verne's birthday (183rd) and the Google Doodle is an amazing interactive underwater view. You too can be Professor Pierre Aronnax.

I had thought that Prof. Aronnax was James Mason, but was thinking of him in Journey to the Centre of the Earth. James Mason is Captain Nemo, and with a beard.

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea has one of the best armchair travel quotes I have ever read. Not, as you might think, his descriptions of deep water caverns or terrifying ice shelves, but his useful information about the route from the Fifth Avenue Hotel to the Brooklyn pier where his boat was moored.

"The carriage, available at a fixed fare of four dollars, went down Broadway as far as Union Square, proceeded along Fourth Avenue as far as its junction with Bowery Street, turned into Katrin Street, and pulled up at Pier 34. There, the Katrin Ferry transported us, men, horses and carriages, to Brooklyn, that great suburb of New York, situated on the left bank of the East River, and in a few minutes we arrived at the wharf where the Abraham Lincoln was belching clouds of black smoke from her two smokestacks."

Urgency AND accuracy. I do love Jules Verne.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Brighton Zoo

We have been collecting pictures of animals from Brighton and Hove, which you can see here. More to follow soon.

(Ceci n'est pas un chat)

Interestingly, Mr JT pointed out to me that there was a real Brighton Zoo until the 50s, at what is now the Withdean Stadium, soon to be vacated by Brighton & Hove Albion. Further rummaging also reveals that there was a menagerie at what is now Park Crescent, although it only lasted a year from 1839. Although the 1990 Encyclopaedia of Brighton says that the lion and lioness on the gates were removed in 1987, they have since been restored.

Brightoners, are there other zoos I should know about?