Thursday, 29 May 2014

We would have told him if he asked us, but he never asked

13 June 1994
Barrow Station - notes

Old lady: "I'm scared of some things, never learned to swim... We were all getting on very well down at the baths but a girl drowned. They were fooling around, pulling each other under water. She got exhausted. We all had to get out, shivering. She looked beautiful. They pulled off her cap, beautiful long gold hair. Never forgot that."
(She's 87, that was when she was 16, 71 years ago).
"My sister and I said 'We're never going again. Dad won't like that, he just bought us new costumes.'
Next time we went, we went over to the park - water pump, splashed water over our costumes. Then we hung them out to dry in the garden.
He never asked us.
We would have told him if he asked, but he never asked."

Wednesday, 7 May 2014


The view tonight in the local kebab shop (Shepherds Bush).
The colours remind me of a great photo by Monica Alcazar-Duarte  ... and a postcard that arrived this morning from a friend - Tiepolo in Udine.


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Unexpected discoveries

A signed engraving of Milan Cathedral from a charity shop. Not quite as acutely observed as J W Bunney's painting of the west front of St Mark's,Venice commissioned by Ruskin as a perfect architectural record.
A good thing to have on the wall. Collecting on a theme somehow consolidates knowledge: Italy  a theme of the moment.

Need to find a recording of Britten's The Holy Sonnets of John Donne - Batter my heart, three-personed God etc. Some tells me he heard Toby Spence singing them - particularly poignant following Spence's experience of cancer.

Another recurrent heme: Donne's poetry - sacred and profane - and voice.

Monday, 5 May 2014

Industry and perseverance

The Nature of Gothic, the chapter in The Stones of Venice/John Ruskin described by Kenneth Clark (father of Alan) as one of the noblest things written in the 19th century: "Even now, when the ideas it expressed are accepted and the cause it advocates is dead, we cannot read it without a thrill, without a sudden resolution to reform the world."

A dense read: an analysis of Gothic architecture and pattern with detailed instructions on how to interpret a Gothic building  Below: a painting of the west front of St Mark's by J W Bunney. Ruskin commissioned the painting as a strict architectural record. The artist apparently spent 600 days working on it.

"Lastly, Read the sculpture. Preparatory to reading it, you will have to discover whether it is legible (and, if legible it is neatly certain to be worth reading). On a good building, the sculpture is always so set, and on such a scale, that at the ordinary distance from which the edifice is seen, the sculpture shall be thoroughly intelligible and interesting...
... the criticism of the building is to be conducted precisely on the same principles as that of a book and it must depend on the knowledge, feeling , and not a  little on the industry and perseverance of the reader, whether, even in the case of the best works, he either perceive them to be great, or feel them to be entertaining."

Saturday, 3 May 2014

Horse brasses on a mobility scooter

An array of horse brasses on a mobility scooter in Camborne, Cornwall.

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Landscapes, lands, aging and love

“Love makes you see a place differently, just as you hold differently an object belonging to someone you love. If you know one landscape well, you look at all landscapes differently.  And if you learn to love one place, sometimes you can learn to love another.” 
Fugitive Pieces/Anne Michaels

An object belong to someone you love
My daughter who (temporarily) mislays a cherished onyx ring says old rings carry the love of the people who once bought them and gave them.

Knowing a landscape: David Hockney painted a certain Yorkshire view again and again at one stage, through different weathers and different seasons. Results on display at his Royal Academy show in 2012. This was to rid himself of a great grief, I think.

But what about knowing a landscape or having a landscape so deeply ingrained in you that you are just not capable of seeing another landscape? You can never absorb, or adopt,  another landscape because it can never be valid i.e. 'the’ landscape.  

Close to home in Cornwall there was a farmer who had never travelled further than Truro i.e. 17 miles away. When he died, opinion in my family was divided as to whether he had lived a rich life, or a very limited life. Someone – who? a French philosopher? – said that no one knew the world as well as the man who had never travelled more than five miles from his door.

A misapprehension that travel broadens the mind – of course – as Paul Johnson says here. It's a theme throughout The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton.

Palestine: local MP Andy Slaughter gives a talk at the Upper Room on Cobbold Road. A walk to the church on a damp May night past privet hedges. Privet has its own distinctive scent.

If you haven’t been, he says, it’s really very hard to imagine. Indeed – it is. But his is a  one-sided discourse – of course – to be expected. He is Secretary of the Britain-Palestine All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and Vice-Chair of Labour Friends of Palestine and the Middle East. He was not challenged. Did not one person in the room besides me wonder why he did not explore the reasons the Barrier as he called it – or the Separation Wall or the Security Wall was built?

Journalism tended to polarise the debate, he said,… the BBC….. But was he not guilty of this himself? Jews have the right to go to Israel – Palestinians do not have the right to return. That is clearly unjust. Of course, too,  Israel has broken all international laws regarding the new settlements. But why is there never space for the voice of the liberal Jew?

The most interesting point from Slaughter: that this situation is debated so much, and attracts so much emotion, because it could be solved. 'It is an eminently solvable problem... It is possible to make a difference here. It is a political problem with a political solution.'

It is too late to argue and I am too tired: have had two glasses of white wine and the company is too distinguished. Say hello to an acquaintance who is a world authority on ancient Mesopotamian seals (not the animals). Someone else in the audience prefaces his question… “As a lawyer….”.

My companion says as we part, concerned – ‘Your job was very heavy – it was a heavy job.” Not that it’s over: I have two more months to work.

Half asleep, read Jenni Diski on aging in the London Review of Books. There is not much to be said for aging, she says – noting that a Scandinavian correspondent of hers scolded her for describing herself at the age of 66 as ‘old’. The Scandinavian said she worked with people in their 80s who thought of people her age as young. Diski seems startled at this response – but  I tend to agree.

Why whine? Why look in the mirror? (Remember Nigella Lawson giving this very sensible piece of advice somewhere). Diski wrote the article in question in response to the way that her hairdresser was responding to her – with the terribly irritating ‘Ah Bless!’ to everything. “Are you busy today?” “Ah bless.”  “What are you doing at the weekend? “ “Ah bless.”  Yes - that is fantastically irritating.

And not much solace to be gained – I agree – from the traditional antidotes to old age: e.g. saying fleshly delight is a thing of the past. Virginia Ironside (Shepherds Bush resident) has apparently written a book “The Virginia Monologues: Twenty Reasons why growing old is great”. One aspect is sex and the abandonment thereof. Ironside had loads of sex in the past: now she has had enough and is luxuriating the comfort of her single bed.  Cheerful sexual abstinence... But that does seem to suggest that sex is just a physical action that’s no longer performed – it ignores desire and emotional engagement. 

Simone de Beauvoir said decent aging involved a sense of love and community.
“One’s life has value so long as one attributes value to the life of others, by means of love, friendship, indignation, compassion.”
All well and good – but of course: that’s how one should lead a decent life anyway. 
It’s probably not enough to get one through the twilight years without a bit of serious thinking e.g. on the lines of Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life. You probably do have to learn how to live every moment as if it were your last: hard though that might be and however much of a cliché that might seem.  Age has nothing to do with it – really  - as a very wise person once said to me.

The woman behind the bar on the First Great Western train down to Cornwall says she has gone up to a size 14 from a size 10 in two years. 

“Contentment, that’s what they say.” She is blond and plump and has a gentle West Country accent.  Her colleague in jacket and navy trousers (like men’s – why do they make women wear these versions of men’s clothes?) comes and leans against the bar beside me. “Contentment, they say,” she nods in agreement.

“See," says the woman behind the bar. " I’ve been with Andy since I’ve been here and he feeds me up, he likes cooking, so they say it’s contentment.”

Say what could be nicer. Thank you, she says.

(Wonder if Andy also works on the trains.)

Bob Hoskins dies. Hard to imagine that someone so vital isn’t around anymore.

Gerry Adams is arrested in connection with the 1972 murder of Jean McConville. Mrs  McConville, a 37-yaer-old widow and mother of ten, was abducted and shot by the IRA. Adams spent the night in custody after going to Antrim police station where he was arrested. He says he is ‘innocent of any part’ in the murder.

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy