Saturday, 28 November 2015

Sage advice for the pilgrim

Sage advice for the pilgrim on gravestone at Escomb Church, near Bishop Auckland: blunt and to the point.
'Praises on tombs are trifles idly spent/A virtuous woman's name is her sole monument.'

Thursday, 26 November 2015

Saxon church

A fabulous Saxon church at Escomb, two miles from Bishop Auckland in County Durham. The new, large, windows are 19th century. The originals, so high up, were clearly just to let light in - not see out. Was this church literally a place of refuge? You can imagine night's dark forces here in the frozen north, with raiders from the North Sea as well as from across the border and on the moors. A woman taking out flowers is getting ready for Advent. This is a famous place for pilgrimage she says - and you can see why.

Friday, 13 November 2015

A nation will be judged by its treatment of the vulnerable

Picked up by chance the parish newsletter from St Martin in the Fields - and read a brilliant piece by Richard Carter, vicar there, whom I knew a bit when I worked at Notre Dame Refugee Centre.

A nation will be judged by its treatment of the vulnerable, he says, and I think it's worth typing out the rest of the pice. On 5 November St Martin's held a service honouring the lives of 194 people who had died homeless or in temporary accommodation, night shelters and hostels in the past year.  Sadly many of them have not had 'their stories told in funerals of gatherings of friends and relatives'.

"Homelessness and destitution is increasing in London. We live in a city which has thrived and grown because of the talents, energy and giftedness of those who have come from around our nation and the world to work here. The success of this city has depended on those hwo have served it - cleaned its pavements, mended its roads, swept its offices, waited in its restaurants, washed up in its kitchens, served in its stores, driven its buses and trains, collected its tickets, nursed and staffed its hospitals and its old people's homes.  We have been enriched not just by professionals with academic qualifications, but by people who have offered their work, their hands, their personality, their energy, their dedication.

"A city which has benefitted so much from its workers' labour also has a responsibility to care for its most vulnerable members - those who for whatever reason don't get the job, or don't have the place to stay, or the right documents, or got sick, or into trouble...."

Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Cornish cliffs and Peter Lanyon landscapes

High Wind/Peter Lanyon
Fabulous Peter Lanyon landscapes at the Courtauld Gallery, London - huge paintings inspired by Lanyon's gliding, rarely hung together.He paints from the air - the weather, fields, spiralling colours and air movement. Reminded me of walking the west Cornwall coast last summer.
Lots of students were there sketching the paintings and someone had a wash pen brush - perfect for capturing this movement.  Downstairs in the  main galleries, a Eduaord Manet portrait (another age and another sensibility) had similar sweeping brushstrokes...
Au Bal/Edouard Manet
High Ground/Peter Lanyon

Tuesday, 10 November 2015

A twilight palm plus a book about pilgrimage

Bonfire night at a church in Chiswick  and the vicar has (brilliantly) left the church open.
Inside there's a palm by the altar in the twilight - and a book about pilgrimage by the door...

Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Love this. Read en route to Bologna the other day

Craig Raine

Tom Stoppard sold his house in France: ‘I was sick
of spending so much time at Gatwick.’

At the UK Border,
I double
and treble
through the retractable
queuing barrier.

Now I have my passport splayed
at the requisite page.

She glances, she frowns,
she turns it upside down
so it can be read by a machine.
She stares at a screen.

And then she asks,
looking up from her desk:
‘Craig Raine the poet?’

We have less than half a minute.
‘I studied you. For my MA at uni.
I did an MA in poetry.
Now I’m in the immigration service.’

I want
to give her a kiss.
But I can’t.
Why is this
so marvellous?
So hysterical?

We are close. We are both grinning.
We have come
together by a miracle.
Two sinners simultaneously sinning.
In passport control. No shame.

She is maybe 22,
like a snake in the zoo,
shifting, tightening, dwindling,
stretching, lost in her Kindle.

I want to say,
I like your boots. The way
the laces criss-cross
under, without piercing the eye-holes’
white majolica gloss
rising like perfect bubbles.

I want to say, hey,
I like your moles.

Which you get from your father.

This family of Swedes
sit in different seats,
directly behind each other
on the Gatwick-Oxford bus.

I want to say I like your big bust.
Which you try to disguise with a scarf.
You’d like it smaller by half.

I want to say,
you’re so young today
it’s almost painful.
For both of us.

And slightly disdainful
to your grateful parents,
patient, tamed creatures.
But when you get old,
(gradually, without a fuss,
because it makes sense)
you will have the handsome features
of your mother.

(I choose to ignore
her mother’s pelvis, large bore,
and the two foot span
of her hefty can.
Which is older and wider,
and also lurking inside her.)

I can say these things, I say,
because I am a poet and getting old.

But of course, I can’t,
and I won’t. I’ll be silent.
Nothing said, but thought and told.

Monday, 12 October 2015

Sketch of Cheyne Walk with blue circle

Love this sketch of Cheyne Walk - the blue circle is in fact a blue plaque and the house on the right was Dante Gabriel Rossetti's house. From the Urban Sketchers' blog - and I can't find the name of the artist. What a fantastic idea/group this is...

Back to Ruskin and the idea that you can possess/experience a place by drawing it.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Views in the Yeni V Sultan mosque

Views in the Yeni V Sultan mosque in Uskadar, Istanbul. This is the Asian side of the Bosphorus, The vista towards Mecca from the women's gallery is through this grid of hexagons.
More geometry in the huge and airy vaults overhead and prayer beads left in heaps on the carpet.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Spotted en route to Fatih Mosque, Istanbul

Spotted en route to Fatih Mosque, Istanbul.... a short walk along back streets to this mosque built on the site of the Byzantine Church of the Holy Apostles. A pilgrimage of a kind.  Ingenious plant holders made out of oil containers, David Beckham (every journey seems to involve spotting David Beckham) before the imperial splendour of the mosque. The carving over this entrance (and many other mosque entrances) is often the only carving to be seen on the exterior.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

A fortress at Barnard Castle

A frosty morning in Barnard Castle - assume that it is the first frost of the autumn but it's only the first frost for me.
Love the castle ruins - windows and corridors traced against the sky. Not a cloud to be seen.
Down on the road below there are banners for the Yves Saint Laurent exhibition at the Bowes Museum and the very last flowers of the summer....

A Mondrian dress

Gladioli and mombretia

The town still has a bit of a fortress feel, built up on the hill behind the castle. You can almost always see the moors beyond.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Purposeful bicycles....

When I first saw these last Sunday in Bologna, I thought they were for real. How wonderful that would have been: Italy is the land of the bike. People of all ages, wearing fantastically unsuitable clothes (long skirts, flapping coats) ride around carefree without a helmet in sight.
But this, I realised in the end, is an art installation - though a priest's suitcase might well have looked something like this once.

Friday, 25 September 2015

Another jewelled bambino

Spotted in San Stefano, Bologna.
To add to the collection assembled here.... I wonder if this one works miracles.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Hell's Mouth to Portreath

Hell's Mouth is a sinister place because of its history of suicides.
But the walk along the clifftops to Portreath is exhilarating. Fabulous colours. A steep climb towards the end is rewarded by a spectacular waterfall.
So tired on reaching home that I attempted potato crisps. Totally delicious and such a bad idea.
Another memorable thing about this walk: encountering a woman who had picked two huge wild mushrooms, monstrously big. She was holding them like mini parasols and in conversation with a fellow walker about what to do with them. Could she go home and eat them? Would they be delicious? The answer would have been - not to have picked them in the first place, especially as she couldn't identify them. An act verging on vandalism... a strong word, but it felt a bit like it.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Sennen to St Levan

Fabulous scenery on this walk - but the start past ugly, commercial Land's End itself something of a endurance test in August. And the windy road to St Levan hard to negotiate as so busy with cars en route to and from the Minack Theatre. So many people...
But once past Land's End and on track to St Levan, it's plain sailing.
One thing that sticks in the mind - a grumpy woman in the carpark at St Levan. Why on earth is it necessary to fuss so much?  She could have ruined our day and maybe she ruined other people's. Luckily the sun and scenery made up for it.
Setting off: looking back at Sennen beach

Towards Land's End

Oh! Walking past Land's End Hotel
And looking back at it thankfully in the distance

Towards St Levan and Porthcurno

Poldark country: Ross swam here (naked)

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