Friday, 31 July 2015

Pigeon Crack and Parting Swifts

I know birds like to take a peck at building mortar from time to time - they need a bit of grit in their diet, and a little help in forming the shells of their eggs - but lately the pigeons down my way have gone crazy for mortar. They're pecking away like crazy, leaving stretches of walls practically mortarless and in need of radical repointing. Suddenly mortar is pigeon crack - they can't get enough of the stuff. I suspect this is because much of the village is a conservation area, so limestone-rich 'heritage' mortars are widely used, offering plenty of calcium carbonate for mortar-crazed pigeons. Where will it all end? Crumbling walls, pigeons too heavy to fly away, paying the price for their addiction...
 Meanwhile, I hate to say it, but it looks as if the swifts have flown - and it's not even August yet. There will be stragglers of course - I heard, but didn't see, a couple this morning - and I certainly hope I haven't seen my last swift of the year; that would be ridiculously early. But the great suburban air show is over, having peaked a couple of weeks ago with some glorious screaming flypasts at street level and soaring aerobatics high overhead. After a shaky start with that long spell of unseasonal cold, things really took off as soon as the temperature rose, and a hot sunny July made for a vintage swift season - and probably enabled the young birds to feed up fast and be on their way south. It's always sad to see them go - or rather to realise they're gone - but the sadness is nothing to the heart-lifting joy of their return.

Thursday, 30 July 2015


David Cameron's use of the word 'swarm' in relation to the large numbers of people crossing Europe in the hope of reaching the gold-paved streets of England has caused some to profess loud vicarious outrage on behalf of refugees. Meanwhile the representative body Voice of the Swarm (motto 'Strength in Numbers') has released the following statement:
 'We protest in the strongest possible terms at the implication that swarming is in any way undesirable or deleterious, or that the word 'swarm' can carry any derogatory meaning. This denormalisation of their behaviour can only cause profound offence to swarming organisms everywhere.'

Et ici repose... qui sait?

Pictorial postscript to Locked Church Country. This jolly village baroque headstone is in the isolated churchyard of Tonge.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015


Vincent Van Gogh died on this day 125 years ago, having survived an attempt to shoot himself, only to fall victim to an infection of the wound. His brother Theo (who is buried beside him) recorded his last words as 'The sadness will last for ever.' What seems to be lasting for ever is, rather, Vincent's posthumous artistic fame, which continues to grow and grow.

In Locked Church Country

I was back in Kent yesterday, church crawling again - which isn't easy in a part of the county where the churches are all locked. Too quiet it is, and too near the main roads - once pilgrim routes, once Roman roads... But I struck lucky at one church when, after my mobile calls to two key holders proved abortive, I crossed the road to the rectory - as usual not The Rectory but a nondescript Sixties house hard by it - and found the rector by chance briefly at home between calls. She - again as usual a she: nice woman, friendly, northerner - took me back over the road, opened the church and left me to it. To a little gem of a church - plain white interior, chunky Norman nave with massive piers, later arcade to North chapel, chancel rejigged in 1689, as a boldly painted date over the arch declares. In the North chapel some beautiful stone carving, including a piscina set at an angle in a pier between chapel and chancel - and above the chapel altar the faded afterimage of a lovely, graceful Crucifixion group painted around 1300. And in the nave and chancel odd remnants of Baroque murals. And the main altar by Pugin the younger. And, displayed in a little wooden case, a mammoth's tooth - a tooth originally found by one of the builders of the Norman church and set in a pier near the font (also Pugin the younger) as a curiosity. Oh, the inexhaustible wonders of the English parish church...
 Heck, let's make this a competition: a prize of a punnet of finest Kent cherries* to the first person to Name That Church. Clue: it's quite close to this one.

[* subject to availability]

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Bloomsbury, Gloomsbury

Hoping for a good laugh, I tuned in last night to BBC2's new Bloomsbury Group drama, Life In Squares. Disappointingly, there weren't many laughs, even for a confirmed anti-Bloomsburyite like me, and there were moments when it was almost possible to care about these ridiculous people - well, one or two of them. After all, they were young (except in an alarming flashforward near the end) and much foolishness can be forgiven the young. And of course the cast were by and large a whole heap prettier than the original Bloomsberries... Happily, Sue Limb's gloriously daft Bloomsbury sitcom, Gloomsbury, is still available on the BBC iPlayer. Plenty of good laughs there.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Wayne Carson, belatedly

I missed last week's sad news of the death of Wayne Carson, who wrote that great pop song Always On My Mind. The intense emotional drama of Elvis's performance (he was thinking, they say, of his mother) and the electro pomp of the Pet Shop Boys' recording both go all out to magnify and exalt the song, whereas Willie Nelson (typically) strips it down to its core and his version is, I think, definitively wondrous. It's a song that could have been written for Willie's unique styling, and it's no wonder it became one of his signature songs. Here he is in the 'official video' version, playing an unusually swanky guitar.
 Carson also wrote at least one other great pop song - The Letter, which gave Alex Chilton's band The Box Tops their breakthrough hit. Hard to believe that Chilton - something of a lost genius of pop (who died five years ago) - was just 16 when he recorded that... The Box Tops were also the first to record Carson's Neon Rainbow and Soul Deep. That's quite a legacy. RIP.