Thursday, 27 November 2014

'A giant absence'

Here's a seasonal poem, perfectly fitted to the London outdoors just now, and to my own state of mind as I half relish autumn and half yearn for the lost summer...

In the Elegy Season
by Richard Wilbur
Haze, char, and the weather of All Souls':
A giant absence mopes upon the trees:
Leaves cast in casual potpourris
Whisper their scents from pits and cellar-holes.
Or brewed in gulleys, steeped in wells, they spend
In chilly steam their last aromas, yield
From shallow hells a revenance of field
And orchard air. And now the envious mind
Which could not hold the summer in my head
While bounded by that blazing circumstance
Parades these barrens in a golden trance,
Remembering the wealthy season dead,
And by an autumn inspiration makes
A summer all its own. Green boughs arise
Through all the boundless backward of the eyes,
And the soul bathes in warm conceptual lakes.
Less proud than this, my body leans an ear
Past cold and colder weather after wings’
Soft commotion, the sudden race of springs,
The goddess’ tread heard on the dayward stair,
Longs for the brush of the freighted air, for smells
Of grass and cordial lilac, for the sight
Of green leaves building into the light
And azure water hoisting out of wells.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Cui Bono?

I can't resist passing this story on. The first sentence, in particular, is one to savour. Further down, it spells out that there would likely be catastrophic effects for 1.2 -4.1 billion people, i.e. most people on Earth - but hey, if it's 'for the good of the planet', that's surely a price worth paying...?
There's also a pleasingly frank admission that the issues surrounding geo-engineering are 'really really complicated'. But probably nothing like as complicated as climate itself, which stubbornly continues to defy the warmists' computer models.

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Tristram's Big Idea

Dr the Hon Tristram Hunt (University College School, Trinity Cambridge) - failed TV historian turned jut-jawed class warrior - was on the radio this morning (and in The Guardian), threatening private schools with dire punitive measures unless they do more to break down 'the Berlin Wall in our education system'. He even wants public schools (note to American readers: these are elite private schools) to send their teachers into state schools, because they have superior knowledge and expertise. I don't think there will be many volunteers (or, indeed, much point, unless he's proposing that they be re-employed - maybe that's the next step)...
 Dr Hunt should be reminded that it was comprehensive education (pursued under both Labour and Conservative governments) that erected that 'Berlin Wall'. Under the grammar school system, there was no great gulf between public schools and grammar schools; teachers in state grammar schools (as I've recalled before) had real knowledge and expertise; and products of state education would find themselves at no appreciable disadvantage even in the best universities.There was also, back in those days, such a thing as social mobility - remember that?  

Monday, 24 November 2014


Workwhelmed again. Time to reach for a poem - and a picture. Yes, it's a Kay Ryan, and to get the full sense of this one, you need to bear in mind a specific meaning of the word chop, as a Chinese stamp of authority, authorship or ownership - the ultimate chop being that of the emperor, expressing his incontestable will and power.


The bird
walks down
the beach along
the glazed edge
the last wave
reached. His
each step makes
a perfect stamp -
smallish, but as
sharp as an
emperor's chop.
Stride, stride,
goes the emperor
down his wide
mirrored promenade
the sea bows
to repolish.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Addison Mizner

Recent posts might suggest that I am doing little these days but listening to the radio, looking at the BBC News website and reading Bill Bryson's At Home. In fact, most of my time has been taken up with riding the traditional NigeCorp pre-Christmas workstorm, which will be building to a peak over the next couple of weeks. However, I am still reading (solely at bedtime) Bryson's 'Short History of Private Life' - which I have now concluded is no such thing, but rather a big baggy receptacle for all manner of odds and ends from Bryson's researches. By halfway through, At Home has really given up all pretence of being in any way attached to the layout of Bryson's Norfolk house. The chapter headed The Study, for example, devotes barely a paragraph to that room before diving into the subject of mice (by way of the Little Nipper mouse trap), then on to rats, bed mites, bugs and lice, microbes and bacteria, then back up the scale to bats and locusts. Study? What study?
  By similar routes of free assocation, the chapter headed The Passage leads to an architect I had never heard of before and was glad to make the acquaintance of - Addison Mizner. Mizner is the man who originated the Mediterranean/Spanish Colonial Revival style of architecture that gave the wealthier resorts of South Florida a look that still characterises them to this day (and, in various debased forms, has spread far beyond Florida - as far, indeed, as the English South coast). He built and planned on a grand scale for clients of almost unlimited wealth, and was widely believed, by his detractors, to be some kind of charlatan. He had no academic training, and was the very embodiment of the 'Society Architect', rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous and charming extravagant commissions out of them. He rose spectacularly, and his career crashed equally dramatically when a combination of wildly ambitious schemes and the impact of the Wall Street Crash on his clients and on the Florida land boom brought Mizner's career crashing down around him.
 There are anecdotes galore about Mizner's slapdash, devil-may-care working methods (forgetting to install bathrooms, stairs, doors) - many of which Bryson, ever the entertainer, gleefully passes on. However, reading around the subject a bit, I gather that a recent biography has done much to dispel the myths about him (one being that he couldn't draw; he was actually a fine draughtsman and watercolourist) and to restore something of his reputation.
 I'm no fan of the Spanish Colonial Revival style (eminently practical though it is for hot parts of the world), but, to judge from pictures of Mizner's grander buildings, there seems to be a lot more going on than Spanish Colonial. He was indeed tirelessly eclectic, building in a range of different styles, all in the interests of achieving an impression of organic growth. Mizner's aim, he wrote, was to
'make a building look traditional and as though it had fought its way from a small, unimportant structure to a great, rambling house...I sometimes start a house with a Romanesque corner, pretend that it has fallen into disrepair and been added to in the Gothic spirit, when suddenly the great wealth of the New World has poured in and the owner had added a very rich Renaissance addition.'
 This seems to me a pretty sound way to go about building (especially in a country with little actual history), and is surely in line with Arts and Crafts ideas of creating houses that look as if they have grown organically.
 After the Florida crash, Mizner designed several buildings in the North, the most remarkable of which was La Ronda at Bryn Mawr. This vast edifice is known as 'the only Mediterranean Revival building North of the Mason-Dixon Line', though there is nothing South Florida about it; it is more of a baronial castle than a luxury villa. Or rather was. Sadly La Ronda (that's part of it in the picture above) was demolished in 2009, despite a determined campaign to save it. Perhaps if Addison Mezner was taken more seriously, it would still be standing.

Friday, 21 November 2014


As Rochester and Strood fall to the advancing UKIP juggernaut (and Labour, with one magnificently contemptuous tweeted image, self-immolate yet again), the Tories can't say they weren't warned - on this very blog and only last year. What Carshalton thinks today, the nation thinks tomorrow... There's even an outside chance now that that 'Image from #Rochester' (unexceptional house with fake portico, white van, three St George's cross flags) might have lost Labour the election. Funny old world.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Beaujolais Nouveau and the Art of Sinking

With the non-event of Beaujolais Nouveau Day drawing near, the BBC News website reliably sinks to the occasion with a non-article pondering the non-question of whether there is a Beaujolais Nouveau revival under way. It begins, solidly enough, with a look back at the peak of the Beaujolais Nouveau craze in the Eighties and a mention of the Japanese enthusiasm for the stuff. Then, clutching at some handy statistics, it suggests that yes, maybe, there's been a revival of interest in the UK, perhaps because the wine now tastes better... Around this point, the hapless writer scratches his head, stares into space a while and remembers the question he started with. He assures us - on the basis of one wine bar owner's uncorroborated testimony - that Beaujolais Nouveau Day is still huge in Swansea, and getting bigger every year. By now losing the will to live, the writer decides it's time to wrap up - and, in a fine display of the art of sinking, wrap up he does, with a deflating final quotation that brings the piece to a gloriously bathetic end. 'A temporary spike in retro-nostalgia' indeed. Couldn't have put it better myself.