Friday, 18 April 2014

Good Friday...

and I make no apology for returning to this image of the Crucifixion, which hangs in San Sebastanio in Venice, where I was admiring it just six months ago.
  The grand Veronese exhibition is under way now at the National Gallery and is attracting rave reviews (as are the Matisse cut-outs at Tate Modern). Perhaps this will be the year when Veronese's artistic reputation returns to the stratospheric level where it belongs - as even the above 'minor' work I think demonstrates.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Formica, Fablon

Well, you live and learn. This morning, listening to the radio, I discovered the etymology of Formica, that ubiquitous wipe-clean, heat-resistant laminate. In as much as I'd given this any thought, I had assumed it was something to do with formic acid - but no. Originally, I learnt, the doughty laminate was used as a substitute for a mineral commonly used as electrical insulation - mica. Yes, it was substitute for mica. Formica. More like a crossword clue than etymology, isn't it?
 Any child of the Fifties will have memories - fond or otherwise - of Formica. All our parents fell victim to the Formica fashion, replacing all those old-style wooden surfaces with the smooth and characterless plastic, usually choosing strong bright post-Festival of Britain colours (my Formica memories seem to be mostly yellow). My mother seemed very pleased with the transformation, and my father was happy to go along with it. His moment was to come when the next transformative material turned up - Fablon, the original 'sticky-back plastic', which came in all manner of colours and patterns and could be used to cover just about anything: shelves, work surfaces, wood panelling, cupboard doors, tables. It also had a myriad of craft uses, as witnessed by Blue Peter week after week. Like many others, my father took to the stuff with relish, even using it to cover the broken-down spines of his old set of Arthur Conan Doyle. Not a pleasing effect, but it did the job. Isn't one of Doyle's historical novels called Micah Clarke...?

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Back to the News

When I was in Canada (I know - I'm beginning to sound like Commander Campbell on the Brains Trust: 'When I was in Patagonia...'), I was in the happy position of being more or less cut off from the world news. The Canadian papers I glanced at were full, as they always seem to be, of the latest cases of corruption and scandal in high places (plus news of the separatists' well deserved trouncing in the Quebec elections), and odd snippets of news still reached me, including the death of Mickey Rooney, whose 90-year showbiz career was tragically cut short last week. But otherwise I was pleasantly isolated from the crazy world of news.
 Now, of course, I am back in it - and what's, er, new? Terrorists everywhere apparently - Ukrainians tackling Russian 'terrorists', Russians tackling Ukrainian 'terrorists', and a top anti-terrorist honcho called in to investigate the alleged Islamisation of schools in Birmingham - an appointment that has caused a great hoo-ha since, as we all know, there is no connection at all between Islamist extremism and terrorism (why, the very thought...). The Cyril Smith child (or rather boy) abuse scandal - which I remember reading all about decades ago in Private Eye - is now all over the media. A London barber  has received a visit from North Korean officials demanding that he take down a picture of their dear leader Kim Jong-Un captioned 'Bad Hair Day?' And a UN 'special rapporteur', one Rashida Manjoo, has declared the UK the most sexist country in the world. So how did you enjoy your stay in Saudi Arabia, Ms Manjoo? Crazy world indeed...


I'm on the Dabbler with a touching tale of deer and plagiarism.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Cardinals and other firsts

So I return from my too short week away to find myself thoroughly workwhelmed. To lift my spirits - and, I hope, yours - I post a picture of the spectacular Cardinal Bird. I saw my first-ever Cardinals last week - both the male and the more subtly beautiful female - along with a range of other firsts for me: Juncos, Mourning Doves, Chipping Sparrows, Red-Winged Blackbirds, White-Breasted Nuthatches, Brown-Headed Cowbirds, Red-Tailed Hawks, Grackles, and American Goldfinches galore - delightful birds, and every bit as addicted to niger seeds as their more colourful British cousins. Already it seems too long ago...

Monday, 14 April 2014

Back to Green

I'd heard about the ice storm that struck eastern parts of Canada and the US last December, but hadn't realised just how devastating it had been until I arrived in Ontario. Where we were staying - in a well-wooded part of the Niagara Escarpment, in a small town, not far from Milton (which of us is?) - the aftermath (almost literal: after the mowing) was shockingly apparent. The woods looked as if they had suffered an artillery bombardment, with shattered, decapitated and fallen trees and broken branches hanging on at crazy angles or scattered on the ground amid masses of woody detritus. All this devastation was wrought by the weight of the ice that formed on these weather-blasted trees - and it had been impossible to clear up until halfway through the week I arrived, because the ground was still frozen. (I'll resist, not without difficulty, any sardonic mentions of 'global warming' at this point.)
 In the course of my short stay, the thaw set in, the ice melting on the lakes and ponds and the snow retreating to reveal a withered terrain of pale buffs and greys with scarcely a green shoot in sight, and the trees still without a leaf. By contrast England never looked more intensely green and abundantly flowery than when I returned yesterday to a glorious April morning, with the Queen Anne's lace in flower, along with apple blossom and early lilac and wisteria, and the horse chestnut trees already candled and in full leaf. What's more, I saw my first Holly Blues of the year, and a single Orange Tip. Some consolation for the sharp pain of parting from loved ones after a wonderful, but too brief, week.

Friday, 4 April 2014


Tomorrow morning I'm off to Canada (Ontario) for a week to commune with Frankly Adorable Sam and his parents. Normal service will resume after I return. Play nicely while I'm away...