Friday 28 June 2013

Back from Dieppe

Well, that was thoroughly restorative. Dieppe retains its unique, slightly faded charm, and its particular beauties of setting - the wide bay, the subtle, ever changing tones of sea and sky, and that extraordinary light, at once milky and sparkling. There was sunshine too this time, plenty of it - and, on the last evening, one of the best meals I have ever had, anywhere. If you find yourself eating in Dieppe, waste no time - head straight for the Bistrot des Barrieres, right by the fish market, where the former chef at La Melie is now doing his own superb thing with the freshest and finest ingredients, simply and perfectly cooked...
  But enough of food. Our visit also coincided with an exhibition at the castle of paintings by Jacques Emile Blanche, the gifted Anglophile who dominated Dieppe's artistic society for decades. The above piece of bravura portraiture - which is massive in scale and entirely uncharacteristic - was a highlight (of a kind) of the exhibition. A monumental work with the feel of a Baroque altarpiece, but drawing on the English tradition of open-air family portraiture, it depicts the Norwegian painter Frits Thaulow, his somewhat Amazonian wife, his son and his adoring daughter, in her turn adored by the family dog. In these unlikely circumstances, Thaulow, cigarette in mouth, attempts to paint a landscape.
  Thaulow specialised in painting rivers and flowing water - one of his river scenes was in the exhibition (and caught Mrs N's eye, who suggested I secrete it under my coat on the way out - but in fact the painting I most coveted was a quite beautifully accomplished late still life by Blanche, of white hellebores in a dark blue vase beside a yellow bowl. I could live with that...).
 When they set up house in Dieppe, Thaulow and his wife were notably friendly, generous and hospitable to all, and were among the few in the cliquey and fissiparous world of 'Dieppe society' who were without enemies. Thaulow was also one of those who did not shun - as Sickert and, against his better instincts, Blanche did - Oscar Wilde when he arrived in Dieppe after serving his prison sentence. On one occasion when Wilde was being publicly humiliated in a cafe, Thaulow rose from his table, strode over and boomed at him, 'Mr Wilde, my wife and I would feel honoured to have you dine with us en famille this evening.' Wilde gratefully accepted and became a frequent visitor at the Thaulows'.
 Sadly the Cafe Suisse, outside which Wilde would sit in his Dieppe days, holding court and being summarily 'cut', has had a recent garish makeover that has erased every last trace of its illustrious fin de siecle past. Such a shame it wasn't, rather, restored to its red plush and gilt glory. On the other hand, one of the remaining traces of the great days of the English community in Dieppe - the fading remnant of an 'English Grocers' sign near the Cafe des Tribunaux - has been repainted and now looks as good as new, though of course the building it was painted on no longer houses an English grocer's shop.
 Sadly too, butterflies were few and far between this year on the clifftops where they used to be abundant, around the castle and above the harbour. However, yesterday morning I had a happy moment when, beside the road under the cliffs near the ferry port, I spotted, on a patch of scrubby land yellow with birdsfoot trefoil, stonecrop and kidney vetch, a Small Blue flying - and then another, and another and another, a thriving little colony of this tiniest and daintiest of our British blues, now scarce and very local on our side of the Channel. This could well turn out to be the highlight of my butterfly year - and it happened in Dieppe.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Botanising on the Asphalt again

I've been taking Walter Benjamin's phrase literally on walks to and from the station lately, keeping my eyes to the ground and making a rough inventory of the plants breaking through and thriving - at least until the next visit from the weedkiller sprayers - in the gutters and on the edges of kerbs and pavements. It's not until you start counting that you realise how many species there are, happily living in these apparently inhospitable corners. I've identified three or four different grasses (don't ask me their names), various bittercresses and other crucifers, groundsel, sow thistle, chickweed and hawkweeds, willow herb, ivy-leaved toadflax, lesser bindweed, herb bennet, storksbills, green alkanet, mallow, lambstail plantain, redshank, spurge, the inevitable buddleia, and garden escapes including yellow fumitory (Corydalis), Oxalis and various poppies, including the 'Caiforrnia poppy', Escholzia. I'm sure there are many more that an expert botanist, working systematically, would identify - upward of 50 species perhaps, in 100 yards or so of pavement and gutter. All this abundance, all this persistence, the indestructible plant kingdom reminding us of the frailty of our tenure... As Horace would have it, 'Naturam expellas furca, tamen usque recurret' (you may drive out nature with a pitchfork but she hurries right back).
  But tomorrow I am heading for Dieppe to spend a few days as a summer flaneur, botanising the asphalt in the sense that Benjamin meant. Au revoir, amis...

Friday 21 June 2013

Now the Juniper

Hard on the heels of Ash Dieback Disease comes news of a fungal threat to our native Juniper trees - and we can't afford to lose any native conifer species: Juniper is one of just three, and most of our juniper trees are old and ailing. The fungus, Phytophthora Austrocedrae, has been found in trees in Scotland and Northern England, and the news has predictably been reported as a threat to our precious gin and tonic - though it is no such thing, as we import nearly all our juniper berries from eastern Europe. As usual with these tree scares, it's hard to know how seriously to take it - and hard not to suspect that imported plants might be involved (though it's illegal to import junipers from beyond the EU).  The good news is that there's no sign of trouble around Box Hill, where the numerous junipers gave their name to Juniper Hall, now a field centre, in the 1790s a haunt of French emigres [does anyone know how to do accents on Blogger?] escaping the worst excesses of the French Revolution. It was in the Templeton Room at Juniper Hall that Fanny Burney met General Alexandre d'Arblay and fell in love. They married soon after in Mickleham church and settled down happily in Camilla Cottage (built on the royalties of the novel) in nearby Westhumble, just along the road from the Burford Bridge hotel, where in 1817 John Keats stayed while he was writing Endymion: 'I like this place very much. There is Hill & Dale and a little River--I went up Box hill this Evening after the Moon--you a' seen the Moon--came down--and wrote some lines. Whenever I am separated from you, and not engaged in a continued Poem--every Letter shall bring you a lyric--but I am too anxious for you to enjoy the whole, to send you a particle...'

Thursday 20 June 2013

Gandolfini: 'These people are nuts; this is kind of interesting...'

The death of James Gandolfini is sad news. His portrayal of Tony Soprano deserves all the praise it's had and more. For my money The Sopranos was the greatest TV drama ever made, and its greatness owed a great deal to Gandolfini. The actor's sudden death lends an extra dimension to that extraordinary final scene of The Sopranos... RIP.

Wednesday 19 June 2013

'This thin uncomprehended song...'

Yesterday I heard a report on the radio about the spectacular mass hatching of Periodical Cicadas in the eastern seaboard states of the US. It put me in mind of Richard Wilbur's poem, Cicadas:

'You know those windless summer evenings, swollen to stasis
by too-substantial melodies, rich as a

running-down record, ground round

to full quiet. Even the leaves
have thick tongues.

And if the first crickets quicken then,
other inhabitants, at window or door
or rising from table, feel in the lungs
a slim false-freshness, by this
trick of the ear.

Chanters of miracles took for a simple sign
the Latin cicada, because of his long waiting
and sweet change in daylight, and his singing
all his life, pinched on the ash leaf,
heedless of ants.

Others made morals; all were puzzled and joyed
by this gratuitous song. Such a plain thing
morals could not surround, nor listening:
not `chirr’ nor `cri-cri.’ There is no straight
way of approaching it.

This thin uncomprehended song it is
springs healing questions into binding air.
Fabre, by firing all the municipal cannon
under a piping tree, found out
cicadas cannot hear.'

The last lines refer to an experiment by the great naturalist and nature writer Jean-Henri Fabre - a man distrustful of theories and systems, whom Darwin called 'an inimitable observer'.
Here is his own account of the cicada experiment:
'For fifteen years the Common Cicada has thrust his society upon me. Every summer for two months I have these insects before my eyes, and their song in my ears. I see them ranged in rows on the smooth bark of the plane trees, the maker of music and his mate sitting side-by-side …. Whether drinking or moving they never cease singing.
It seems unlikely therefore that they are calling their mates. You do not spend months on end calling to someone who is at your elbow. Indeed I am inclined to think that the Cicada himself cannot even hear the song he sings with so much apparent delight ….
On one occasion I borrowed the local artillery, that is to say the guns that are fired on feast days in the village. There were two of them, and they were crammed with powder as though for the most important rejoicings. They were placed at the foot of the plane trees in front of my door. We were careful to leave the windows open, to prevent the panes from breaking. The Cicadas in the branches overhead could not see what was happening.
Six of us waited below, eager to hear what would be the effect on the orchestra above.
Bang! The gun went off with a noise like a thunderclap.
Quite unconcerned, the Cicada continued to sing. Not one appeared in the least disturbed …
I think, after this experiment, we must admit that the Cicada is hard of hearing, and like a very deaf man, is quite unconscious that he is making a noise.'

Perhaps not the most scrupulously scientific experiment - but fun, and beautifully narrated.

Heroes Of Prog Rock: Charlie Drake

Born on this day in 1925 was the diminutive comic Charlie Drake, who was, incredibly, a considerable star in the Fifties and Sixties. Even in an era that abounded in deeply unfunny comedians, he stood out as quite singularly tiresome - though he was very popular with children, including, I blush to recall, my boyhood self. I'm pretty sure I even watched (and presumably enjoyed) at least one of his feature films - Sands of the Desert? Drake's catchphrase 'Hello my darlings!' was originally addressed to the breasts of any of the tall, big-busted starlets with whose poitrine he found himself eye to eye, as it were, in the course of duty. Later, he adapted it to all situations, to unfailingly irksome effect.
  Apart from the catchphrase, Drake's stock in trade was slapstick - and it was nearly the end of him when a live TV sketch went wrong in 1961. The little chap was to be hauled through a bookcase that had been specially set up to fall apart as he emerged - but an over-diligent workman (or friend of British comedy) had mended it, with the result that it put up a considerable resistance. Unaware of what had happened, Drake's fellow actors proceeded with the rest of the sketch, which involved picking him up and throwing him through a window. Drake was unconscious for three days, with a fractured skull, and didn't return to the screen for two years.
  Like many a comedian in those days, Drake made several records (mostly produced by George Martin, who has had to live with the shame ever since) - but his most startling contribution to music history was a 1975 single titled You Never Know, the first post-Genesis solo project of prog rock / world music legend Peter Gabriel (who had himself recorded the song as a demo). The performing line-up for Drake's recording of You Never Know is surely one of the most bizarre ever: lead vocal Charlie Drake, backing vocal Sandy Denny, Robert Fripp on guitar, Percy Jones on bass, Keith Tippett on keyboards and Phil Collins on drums.You can, if you must, listen to it here - though  I must warn you, it's pretty terrifying...
 Drake - whose last stage role was as Baron Hardon in Jim Davidson's 'adult' pantomime Sinderella - was a notorious womaniser. However, there is no truth in the rumour that flame-haired Simply Red frontman Mick Hucknall was his love child.
  To his credit, Drake did put in a fine performance as Smallweed in the BBC's 1985 Bleak House. This too was pretty terrifying, but in a better way.

Tuesday 18 June 2013

Beau Dabbler

I pay tribute to Beau Brummell on The Dabbler today...

Monday 17 June 2013

A Cork with a Twist

As I've mentioned before, here and elsewhere, I do like wine bottles to have proper corks, made with cork oak. The plastic 'cork' or 'Stelvin' - a devil to extract, impossible to replace and smelling only of itself - is an abomination. The screw cap I can live with, and I can see why it now seems to be conquering the wine world; it's easy and it works, in its reductionist way. But now all that might be about to change, with the advent of the helical cork - a cork that twists out of the bottle and twists back in for an airtight seal. Why did nobody think of that before? You can read about the new style of cork in this typically exhaustive account on the BBC News website. We've all been there. You're on a picnic, you've got a bottle of wine - but no corkscrew. Enter the helical cork...

Quiet Times

Here's a thought. It's 2013, I'm a 63-year-old man (GSOH, own teeth). I look back 50 years and I find myself in 1963 - in Larkin's chronology, the year of the Beatles' first LP and the beginning of sexual intercourse. It's a recognisable world: the music of the Beatles has never gone away, sexual intercourse still thrives, there have been no major wars or wholesale upheavals in the life of the nation. Of course there have been big changes and epoch-making events in the past 50 years - 9/11, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the life-changing impact of digital technology and globalisation, etc - but really 1963 doesn't seem all that long ago or far away.
What if I were a 63-year-old man then - in 1963 - looking back over the previous 50 years? I would have been a teenager (had the term been invented) in the First World War - and probably served in it towards the end - would have seen the rise of Communism and Fascism, the impact of the Great Depression, then the Second World War, followed by the Cold War. And the lost world of 50 years ago would have been one of empires and peace and (apparent) golden prospects - the world of 1913, wholly, unrecognisably different.
Perhaps the world will change more dramatically in the next 50 years than it has done in the past 50 - for one thing, Europe will probably be majority-Muslim in half a century. Meanwhile, I count myself blessed to have lived in quiet times.

Friday 14 June 2013

'Get down, get groovy...'

Funny the things that pop into your head (well, mine anyway). There I was, blamelessly brushing my teeth last night, when out of nowhere - or out of the dim recesses of my boyhood telly-viewing - came the jingle 'John Collier, John Collier, the Window to Watch!' I don't think that even in those entertainment-starved days we were often reduced to hanging around outside a tailor's shop watching the window, but I may be wrong. Anyway the jingle proved a mightily persistent earworm, long outlasting John Collier's chain of shops. Formerly the Fifty Shilling Tailor and long since subsumed into the Burton's empire, John Collier in its day fancied itself a pretty groovy kind of tailor, the go-to gentleman's outfitter for that all-important Saturday Night Suit. Indeed, John Collier even went to the lengths of sponsoring a 7" single called Saturday Night Suit by the Johnny Johnson Orchestra. You can hear it here - a bouncy little number. A shame this is the instrumental version - the lyrics, apparently, were full of strange music: 'It's Saturday night, you look sharp in that John Collier suit from only £10.19.6. Get down, get groovy, because you are one suave guy...' (And don't miss the liner notes by Brian Mathew, who is still with us, or with Radio 2 anyway.)
Here are a few more to which my poor head is, alas, no stranger even now:
'This is luxury you can afford - by Cyril Lord' (whose carpets were, you might recall, made of long-lasting Enkalon).
'A Thousand and One cleans a big big carpet for less than half a crown.'
'Opal Fruits - made to make your mouth water,
Fresh with the tang of citrus -
Orange, lemon, strawberry [citrus?], lime...
Opal Fruits - made to make your mouth water.'
'Murray Mints, Murray Mints, the too good to hurry mints.'
'You do the Shake 'n' Vac and put the freshness back.'
'Um-Bongo, Um-Bongo, they drink it in the Congo.'
'Whitbread big head Trophy Bitter -
The pint that thinks it's a quart!'
and, from a sojourn in Scotland,
'McEwan's is the  best best, the best beer, the best beer.
McEwan's is the best beer - so drink some today!'
I could go on, but you'll be relieved to hear I'm not going to...


Thursday 13 June 2013

Bald and Fat

By one of history's quirky little coincidences, both Charles the Bald and Charles the Fat were born on this day, respectively in 823 and 839. Charles the Fat had the distinction of being the last ruler of a united Carolingian Empire. He was widely regarded as a spineless and inept fellow, a waste of (a considerable amount of) skin - though historians are, of course, divided over this verdict. Charles the Fat was inept even in the matter of fathering an heir, though he did manage one illegitimate son.
Charles the Bald, on the other hand, was more successful, alike in ruling an empire and in fathering offspring - among their number Louis the Stammerer and Lothar the Lame. Historians are again divided over the question of whether he was bald; he might even have been exceptionally hairy. But there seems to be no disputing that Charles the Fat was on the large side, and no doubt Lothar the Lame and Louis the Stammerer gamely lived up to their names. It might be fun to revive this habit of labelling royals with descriptive cognomens. We could begin with our own Prince Charles - but no, that would be too cruel (and possibly treasonous)...

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Lost Paradise

The reviews of 2012 in Butterfly magazine make dismal, in unsurprising, reading: it was a washout, the worst butterfly year on record, with numbers of most species dramatically down, and one of two now teetering dangerously close to extinction (Black Hairstreak numbers were down by a staggering 98%). As cool, wet weather returns - not for long, one hopes - it's good to look back to past times, when our patchwork countryside of fields and hedgerows, chalk downland, heath and moor and manged woodland was home to an abundance of butterflies almost beyond belief. 
Writing in the 1820s, J.F. Stephens recalls a butterfly-hunting excursion to Surrey:
'The boundless profusion with which the hedgerows for miles, in the vicinity of Ripley, were enlivened by myriads [of White-Letter Hairstreaks] that hovered over every flower and bramble blossom, last July, exceeded anything of the kind that I have ever witnessed.' He adds (rather chillingly to modern ears), 'Some notion of their numbers may be formed when I mention that I captured, without moving from the spot, nearly 200 specimens in less than half an hour.' Yes, that's the White-Letter Hairstreak, now scarce and seldom seen, living its life in the treetops - it seems to have been a more gregarious, as well as numerous, species back in the 1820s.
Then there's the great butterfly man F.W. Frohawk writing about collecting in the New Forest
in the 1890s. Silver-Washed Fritillaries were then so abundant 'that it was common to see forty or more assembled on the blossoms of a large bramble bush, in company with many White Admirals, Meadow Browns, Ringlets, and here and there among the swarm one or two of ab. Valesina. When the congregation was disturbed, they would rise in a fluttering mass and the majority would again settle to continue their feast on the sweet blossoms of the bramble.'
My father, who used to go butterfly hunting in the New Forest in the Thirties, might have seen similar sights. Now they seem like visions of a lost paradise, or something from a dream...

Tuesday 11 June 2013

An Unfortunate Incident

Alighting from the Tube this morning (only public transport offers one the opportunity of  'alighting from' anything, so we should make the most of it), I realised with a sickening jolt that I was not carrying one of the bags I'd set out with. Not any old bag but the one that masquerades as a serious executive-style briefcase, though it in fact contains chiefly CDs and a Discman to play them on, a range of travel necessities (including bottle opener) and miscellaneous documents, notably - the only irreplaceable items, I think - two or three small notebooks that I've been using as commonplace books, noting down passages that catch my eye, for several years.
It had been an unusually complicated journey in, and, looking back over it, it seemed likeliest that I'd left the bag at a cafe where I'd had a quick espresso en route. As said cafe clearly had no intention of ever answering the phone, however often I rang, I took the Tube back after a while and, as they say, applied in person. No joy, the bag had not been left there. This narrows it down to railway Lost Property, and I can't say I'm too hopeful. Meanwhile, I swing between feeling strangely disoriented, as if I'd temporarily mislaid part of my body, and feeling resigned to the loss. I'll  miss those notebooks, but most of the rest can be replaced.
Or, of course, the bag might have been handed in  at Lost Property by some upright citizen. We'll see.

Monday 10 June 2013

Banks and Blokes' Books

Iain Banks, who died at the weekend, was not a writer I had read (or ever felt greatly tempted to), but he seems to have been a thoroughly nice chap, with many devoted fans and admirers. It occurs to me that his death, along with that of Tom Sharpe (who died last week), thins the already underpopulated ranks of novelists read chiefly by men, blokes even. Banks was one of the few whose books I'd see being widely read on public transport by persons of undeniably male appearance. Outside of genre fiction, novel reading - in Britain, at least - seems to have become an increasingly female occupation. All those book groups and reading circles - what's the proportion of men to women overall? Pretty small, I'd think. This feminisation of fiction is no bad thing in itself; perhaps it's just a case of the novel returning to its 18th-century origins as a form of instructive (or aspirational) reading for women. For me, I've never really read like a man - as has been remarked before, I do read an awful lot of women writers - but then I've never even been to a football match. But if I was a 'real man' with a masculine taste in fiction, I wonder which living English novelists I'd be reading, and whether these male-friendly writers are becoming an endangered species, or a niche form...

Sunday 9 June 2013

'About the size of our abidance...'

The other evening I caught Colm Toibin on the radio, talking about Elizabeth Bishop's Poem (the poem called Poem, that is, which is about a painting). I hoped to find a transcript on the Radio 4 website - perhaps with the text of Poem, perhaps even a reproduction of the painting - but no, it doesn't work like that any more. But there's a recording of the talk, and more Elizabeth Bishop archive - including the poet reading Crusoe In England, with interruptions by Paul Farley, and a cousin's recollection of a rather shambolic visit from the Poet. Here's the link to Toibin and co...

And here's the very fine, beautifully achieved 'Poem'

About the size of an old-style dollar bill,
American or Canadian,
mostly the same whites, gray greens, and steel grays
- this little painting (a sketch for a larger one?)
has never earned any money in its life.
Useless and free., it has spent seventy years
as a minor family relic handed along collaterally to owners
who looked at it sometimes, or didn't bother to.

It must be Nova Scotia; only there
does one see gabled wooden houses
painted that awful shade of brown.
The other houses, the bits that show, are white.
Elm trees., low hills, a thin church steeple
- that gray-blue wisp - or is it? In the foreground
a water meadow with some tiny cows,
two brushstrokes each, but confidently cows;
two minuscule white geese in the blue water,
back-to-back,, feeding, and a slanting stick.
Up closer, a wild iris, white and yellow,
fresh-squiggled from the tube.
The air is fresh and cold; cold early spring
clear as gray glass; a half inch of blue sky
below the steel-gray storm clouds.
(They were the artist's specialty.)
A specklike bird is flying to the left.
Or is it a flyspeck looking like a bird?

Heavens, I recognize the place, I know it!
It's behind - I can almost remember the farmer's name.
His barn backed on that meadow. There it is,
titanium white, one dab. The hint of steeple,
filaments of brush-hairs, barely there,
must be the Presbyterian church.
Would that be Miss Gillespie's house?
Those particular geese and cows
are naturally before my time.

A sketch done in an hour, "in one breath,"
once taken from a trunk and handed over.
Would you like this? I'll probably never
have room to hang these things again.
Your Uncle George, no, mine, my Uncle George,
he'd be your great-uncle, left them all with Mother
when he went back to England.
You know, he was quite famous, an R.A....

I never knew him. We both knew this place,
apparently, this literal small backwater,
looked at it long enough to memorize it,
our years apart. How strange. And it's still loved,
or its memory is (it must have changed a lot).
Our visions coincided - "visions" is
too serious a word - our looks, two looks:
art "copying from life" and life itself,
life and the memory of it so compressed
they've turned into each other. Which is which?
Life and the memory of it cramped,
dim, on a piece of Bristol board,
dim, but how live, how touching in detail
- the little that we get for free,
the little of our earthly trust. Not much.
About the size of our abidance
along with theirs: the munching cows,
the iris, crisp and shivering, the water
still standing from spring freshets,
the yet-to-be-dismantled elms, the geese. 

Friday 7 June 2013

Bentley over there

Over on The Dabbler, I celebrate Nicolas Bentley...

And now it's Esther...

Another day, another death. This time it's aquabatic legend of the silver screen Esther Williams, plucked from us at the age of 91. Cheeta, that prince among chimps, devotes Chapter Eight of his classic autobiography to Esther Williams. It reads in its entirety:
'Chapter 8 has been removed on legal advice.'
The index of Me Cheeta is very much more forthcoming - as indeed is the chapter title in the Contents list. But hey, de mortuis nil nisi bonum. Here's a link to a rather lovely compilation of Williams moments. Enjoy!

Thursday 6 June 2013

'... pick a murderer as a cellmate': Tom Sharpe

The comic novelist Tom Sharpe has died, at the ripe age of 85. I don't know what I'd make of any of his books now, but his early novels - from Riotous Assembly through to the first Wilt - gave me much pleasure back in the Seventies. To find a comic novel - outside the Wodehouse canon - that actually makes you laugh is rare enough, and Sharpe's speciality, farce, is notoriously difficult to pull off, even on stage, let alone in a novel. For a while, Sharpe seemed to manage it - especially well in the Cambridge-set Porterhouse Blue - but in later works he lost too much of the iron control that is needed to keep farcical comedy funny. Still, for the reading pleasure he gave me back in his heyday, I remain grateful - as, I'm sure, do many many others. And Sharpe seems to have come close to his ambition of dying, like a true professional, at his typewriter. His autobiography, if enough of it has been written, should be quite a read. RIP.

Wednesday 5 June 2013


Here's another take on Jealousy (without Patience Strong's words), passed on to me by my Derbyshire cousin. I think it's rather wonderful. Dear old Menuhin: 'We each have our own sphere, I suppose'! Here's the link...

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Patience Strong's Tango

I remember coming across the sententious verses of  'Patience Strong' in my boyhood - probably in my mother's Woman's Own, of which I and my brother were, for some reason, avid readers. Even to my unformed judgment they appeared pretty terrible. Here's the kind of thing:

If you stand very still in the heat of a wood
You will hear many wonderful things;
The snap of a twig and the wind in the trees,
And the whirr of invisible wings.

If you stand very still and hold to your faith
You will get all the help that you ask;
You will draw from the silence
the things that you need,
Hope and courage and strength for your task.
[that last line a little crowded?]

Or this exercise in bathos:

Calm your mind, get quiet within
And hold yourself in check,
Try to do too much and you
Will end a nervous wreck.
Do not rush and tear through life,
Conserve your energy.
Keep on at a steady pace
And take things easily.

But the enduring - and more than surprising - legacy of Patience Strong (real name Winifred Emma May, born on this day in 1907) is  a lyric that, by her own account, she dashed off in 15 minutes, putting words to the Danish composer Jacob Gade's all-conquering tango, Jealousy, which became a huge international hit. Here's Kathryn Grayson giving it some in Anchors Aweigh, while young Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly look on in stunned admiration. As well they might.

Another June

Over on The Dabbler, I ponder Flaming June. Happily this English June is now beginning to flame a bit, or at least burn with a hard gem-like flame...

Monday 3 June 2013

Whigs and Blues

I see that a group of half a dozen former Tory ministers (whose names escape me) have written a letter urging those Peers thinking of voting against the gay marriage bill in the Lords not to 'stand in the way of history'. I'm saying nothing about the gay marriage issue, but isn't it striking how persistent and deep-rooted that Whig model of history is (even among Tories)? History, on this view, represents an irreversible progress (another whiggish idea) toward the sunlit uplands of liberal democracy, rationalism and all things agreeable. But is it in reality any such thing, and is it always wrong to 'stand in the way of history'? Through much of the 20th century, History was clearly marching to a totalitarian tune, and would have arrived at a totalitarian destination had it not been forcibly resisted. Similarly, in this century religious fundamentalism - most worryingly, 'political Islam' -  is on the rise worldwide. History, sadly, marches to some pretty mad music, whatever the whigs would prefer to think.
 But never mind the March of History - I'm pleased to report that Common Blues - those misnamed beauties - were flying in good numbers on Box Hill yesterday, along with Small Heaths galore, and a few (quite well named) Dingy Skippers. When it comes to British butterflies, there's no mistaking the direction of history - it is towards dwindling numbers and, for most species, increasing scarcity. I'm happy to stand in the way of that.