Monday 30 September 2013


A weekend of warm autumn sunshine in the Derbyshire demiparadise (where I was on an all too brief visit), and the Great Butterfly Summer goes on. Tortoiseshells and Red Admirals were flying everywhere in glorious profusion, with Peacocks and Commas, the odd Brimstone and Speckled Wood, and even another late but bright Small Copper.
  It took a while to get going, but what a summer this has been - not another like it in years. The sheer abundance of individuals flying has seemed prodigious after such slim pickings in recent summers - like turning the clock back 20 years or so - and many species must surely have had a bumper year: Commas and Peacocks for sure, though oddly the Red Admiral didn't come into its own till high summer (for the first summer in decades I had at one point, early on, seen more Tortoiseshells than Red Admirals).
Despite the ongoing butterfly bonanza, though, I actually failed to see quite a few species that are normally on my list. Work, plus a combination of family and social commitments and the vagaries of the railway network (and the odd dull day) kept me from the most butterfly-rich haunts at the most propitious times. I saw White Admirals but not one Silver-Washed Fritillary, and several Blues I would normally have seen I missed this year - though I did have the pleasure of finding that colony of Small Blues in Dieppe. One other thing made my butterfly year truly memorable - a bizarre encounter with, of all things, a Monarch.
  If the sunny weather lasts, there should be more butterflies to be seen before the year is over - and later this week I'm off to Normandy for a few days, so who knows what I might find there? Apart from fruits de mer, Ricard, Calvados...

Thursday 26 September 2013

Anthology 12

Talking of feminine line-endings, here is a charming little lyric (titled as a Song) by the Rev. R.W. Dixon, Victorian churchman and poet.Charming, and seasonal too - the first lines came into my head the other day while looking at just such a half-yellowed willow.
  Richard Watson Dixon,  an early associate of the Pre-Raphaelites, was ordained in 1858 and spent the rest of his life in the bosom of the C of E and his fitful muse. It was not until 1883 that he attracted serious literary attention, when his epic Mano: A Poetical History of the Time of the Close of the Tenth Century: Concerning the Adventures of a Norman Knight: Which Fell Part in Normandy Part in Italy: In Four Books attracted high praise from Swinburne. It was written entirely in terza rima - a tribute to Dixon's industry and technical skill if nothing else. His magnum opus was his (prose) History of the Church of England from the Abolition of the Roman Jurisdiction - eight hefty volumes covering the years 1529 to 1570.
  When Tennyson died in 1892, Dixon was briefly considered as the next Poet Laureate. However, Lord Salisbury - intending a joke on the literary establishment - manoeuvred his man, Alfred Austin, into the post. Widely regarded as the worst Poet Laureate ever (yes - worse than Andrew Motion!), Austin is remembered for the notorious lines on a health crisis in the life of the Prince of Wales: 'Across the wires the electric message came: He is no better, he is much the same' - though, oddly, there's no documentary evidence that Austin wrote them.
  Here is Dixon's Song -

The feathers of the willow
Are half of them grown yellow
  Above the swelling stream;
And ragged are the bushes,
And rusty now the rushes,
  And wild the clouded gleam.
The thistle now is older,
His stalk begins to moulder,
  His head is white as snow;
The branches all are barer,
The linnet’s song is rarer,
  The robin pipeth now.

Over on The Dabbler today...

... a chance to revisit my revisit to Desiderata.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Anthology 11

Here is one by Kay Ryan. As ever with her poems, there is really nothing to add. Except perhaps to point to her exquisite craftsmanship, her subtle use of half-rhyme, assonance, enjambment, feminine line-endings... But that is hardly the point. This is a poem simple and true.


As some people age
they kinden.
The apertures
of their eyes widen.
I do not think they weaken;
I think something weak strengthens
until they are more and more it,
like letting in heaven.
But other people are
mussels or clams, frightened.
Steam or knife blades mean open.
They hear heaven, they think boiled or broken.

Tuesday 24 September 2013

The Real Life of Sebastian Knight: Very like a masterpiece?

I've been rereading Nabokov's The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (published 1941, the first novel he wrote in English). My copy is a Penguin reprint dating from 1971 - that handsome set with the Nabokov signature aslant the cover - and it would be around that date that I first read it. If I've read it again since, it would have been at least 20 years ago, so I was glad to find how much of The Real Life I remembered - scenes, phrases, images, the overall shape...
 It's a quite extraordinary book, this one, and seems all the more so on rereading. Ostensibly an unnamed narrator's (or rather named only as V) account of the life and works of his adored half-brother, the distinguished Russian-born novelist Sebastian Knight, The Real Life soon has the alert reader questioning what exactly is going on here. Are V and SK 'really' separate entities, or is one the creation of the other - and if so, which way round? Of course both are the creations of VN and have their being in the novel The Real Life, which itself contains the novels of SK, an abysmally bad biography of SK by one Goodman, and (by way of SK's autobiographical Lost Property) the ghostly presence of VN's yet to be written Speak Memory - not to mention the later novels The Real Life prefigures, notably Pale Fire and Transparent Things.
 All of which makes The Real Life sound like some tiresome postmodernist exercise in metametafiction - but it is no such thing. Nabokov's grace, wit and style, working through the medium of the somewhat plodding V and the brilliant SK, keep the narrative shimmering with life. As the story proceeds - in a series of Knight's moves, naturally (the novel is full of chess allusions) - it becomes a thoroughly enjoyable page-turner, albeit a page-turner of exceptional literary quality. I had a lurking doubt that this reread might prove a disappointment - but in the event I was impressed anew by what now seems to me very like a masterpiece.

Monday 23 September 2013


The NigeCorp workstorm should be dying down soon, and I'm wondering whether to continue anthologising a while longer - I have found it unexpectedly enjoyable - or return to business as usual. Or perhaps a mixture of both?
Meanwhile, I was intrigued by a news story about Ancient Egyptians in Barnsley - it rang a bell... Yes of course - Nerdley's vibrant Aztec community, part of the densely populated dream world of Peter Simple. According to their self-appointed spokesman, Royston Vibes, an 18th-year sociology student at Nerdley University, the Aztecs had occupied Nerdley in the Dark Ages, having crossed the Atlantic in stone boats. Vibes, tirelessly exacting concessions and benefits from the council on the Aztecs' behalf, asserted the community's inalienable right to commit human sacrifice on state-subsidised step pyramids. Peter Simple certainly saw multiculturalism coming...

Sunday 22 September 2013

Anthology 10

In this strange, haunting poem, the inland pastoralist Robert Frost takes to the sea shore. The beach scene is real enough, fixed by the passing ship and the standing gull, and people do on a beach all look one way,  at the sea. But that sea clearly stands for something bigger - the infinite, mysterious Out There, into which was can see neither far nor deep. It might be construed as a bleak vision of stasis and limitation, but the poem's poise and tact give it an almost tender note. We are what we are, things are as they are.


The people along the sand
All turn and look one way.
They turn their back on the land.
They look at the sea all day.

As long as it takes to pass
A ship keeps raising its hull;
The wetter ground like glass
Reflects a standing gull.

The land may vary more;
But wherever the truth may be---
The water comes ashore,
And the people look at the sea.

They cannot look out far.
They cannot look in deep.
But when was that ever a bar
To any watch they keep?

Frost's poem has been much analysed and interpreted. In his thoughtful commentary on it, Randall Jarrell likens it to these lines by Housman: 

Stars, I have seen them fall,
But when they drop and die
No star is lost at all
From all the star-sown sky.

The toil of all that be
Helps not the primal fault:
It rains into the sea
And still the sea is salt.

Friday 20 September 2013

Anthology 9

Talking of formal brilliance, here's a beautifully constructed sonnet by Auden. Breaking neatly (into tears) at the approved point (between lines 8 and 9), it presents the facts of the great man's life in the first eight lines, the truth in the following six. The octave stands above the sestet like a monument atop its reflection in a lake.


A shilling life will give you all the facts:
How Father beat him, how he ran away,
What were the struggles of his youth, what acts
Made him the greatest figure of his day;
Of how he fought, fished, hunted, worked all night,
Though giddy, climbed new mountains; named a sea;
Some of the last researchers even write
Love made him weep his pints like you and me.

With all his honours on, he sighed for one
Who, say astonished critics, lived at home;
Did little jobs about the house with skill
And nothing else; could whistle; would sit still
Or potter round the garden; answered some
Of his long marvellous letters but kept none.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

Anthology 8

Here's one by Richard Wilbur, surely America's greatest living poet.
'Transit' begins with what seems a straightforward epiphany - a moment capturing a vision of beauty - but Wilbur is soon looking aslant at that simplicity ('What use to claim...'), striking a mock-chivalric note. Then it's back to the moment - and the poet hits us with the startling images of the last couplet. As so often with Wilbur, the poem's formal smoothness offsets the strange, marvellous and unexpected things that are going on...


A woman I have never seen before
Steps from the darkness of her town-house door
At just that crux of time when she is made
So beautiful that she or time must fade.

What use to claim that as she tugs her gloves
A phantom heraldry of all the loves
Blares from the lintel? That the staggered sun
Forgets, in his confusion, how to run?

Still, nothing changes as her perfect feet
Click down the walk that issues in the street,
Leaving the stations of her body there
As a whip maps the countries of the air.

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Anthology 7

Here's something seasonal from Philip Larkin (in The Whistun Weddings). It's sad, naturally - as poems about this particular turn of the seasons tend to be - but there is none of the sour misanthropy that is so often imputed to Larkin (and  that he often played up to in his later career). The tone is tender, wistful, elegiac - and incidentally (accidentally) the poem has its interest as social history, a snapshot of a time when 'estatefuls' of skilled working men had secure jobs, and their non-working wives had afternoons free to spend with their children. How long ago it seems...


Summer is fading:
The leaves fall in ones and twos
From trees bordering
The new recreation ground.
In the hollows of afternoons
Young mothers assemble
At swing and sandpit
Setting free their children.

Behind them, at intervals,
Stand husbands in skilled trades,
An estateful of washing,
And the albums, lettered
Our Wedding, lying
Near the television:
Before them, the wind
Is ruining their courting-places

That are still courting-places
(But the lovers are all in school),
And their children, so intent on
Finding more unripe acorns,
Expect to be taken home.
Their beauty has thickened.
Something is pushing them
To the side of their own lives.

Cather alert

Over on The Dabbler there's something by me about Willa Cather's A Lost Lady.

Monday 16 September 2013

Anthology 6

The mane of a horse from Keats's Parthenon frieze turns up in Marianne Moore's The Paper Nautilus, a poem 'about' a curious squid (named the Argonaut by Aristotle) that sports a beautiful, paper-thin, Nautilus-like shell.
Oblique, playful and endlessy allusive, with a truly unique voice, Moore never takes an obvious course, but somehow always arrives exactly where her poem needs to be. ('Chiton-folds' here is especially clever, by the way, referring at once to chiton the Greek garment and chiton the marine mollusc, while paving the way to that Parthenone mane and to that beautiful ending.)


For authorities whose hopes
are shaped by mercenaries?
   Writers entrapped by
   teatime fame and by
commuters' comforts?  Not for these
   the paper nautilus
   constructs her thin glass shell.

   Giving her perishable
souvenir of hope, a dull
   white outside and smooth-
   edged inner surface
glossy as the sea, the watchful
   maker of it guards it
   day and night; she scarcely

   eats until the eggs are hatched.
Buried eight-fold in her eight
   arms, for she is in
   a sense a devil-
fish, her glass ram'shorn-cradled freight
   is hid but is not crushed;
   as Hercules, bitten

   by a crab loyal to the hydra,
was hindered to succeed,
   the intensively
   watched eggs coming from
the shell free it when they are freed,--
   leaving its wasp-nest flaws
   of white on white, and close-

   laid Ionic chiton-folds
like the lines in the mane of
   a Parthenon horse,
   round which the arms had
wound themselves as if they knew love
   is the only fortress
   strong enough to trust to.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Anthology 5

John Keats sees the Elgin Marbles, and takes wing in one of his finest, most dazzling sonnets - which itself takes wing in its last lines...


My spirit is too weak--mortality
Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep,
And each imagin'd pinnacle and steep
Of godlike hardship, tells me I must die
Like a sick Eagle looking at the sky.
Yet 'tis a gentle luxury to weep
That I have not the cloudy winds to keep,
Fresh for the opening of the morning's eye.
Such dim-conceived glories of the brain
Bring round the heart an undescribable feud;
So do these wonders a most dizzy pain,
That mingles Grecian grandeur with the rude
Wasting of old Time--with a billowy main--
A sun--a shadow of a magnitude.

Saturday 14 September 2013

Anthology 4

Unlike R.S. Thomas's deus absconditus, George Herbert's God was a very present God. The poet's relationship with him was close, intense, passionate, conflicted - bitter-sweet...


Ah, my dear angry Lord,
Since thou dost love, yet strike;
Cast down, yet help afford;
Sure I will do the like.

I will complain, yet praise;
I will bewail, approve;
And all my sour-sweet days
I will lament and love. 

This kind of close-quarters engagement with an intensely present personal God has a Jewish flavour to it. Herbert of course was not Jewish - in his day there were officially no Jews in England - but he took a strong interest and probably knew something of the Jewish community in the Netherlands. This extraordinary poem is strongly sympathetic, even if it is essentially a plea for conversion:
Poor nation, whose sweet sap and juice
Our scions have purloin’d, and left you drie:
Whose streams we got by the Apostles sluice,
And use in baptisme, while ye pine and die:
Who by not keeping once, became a debter;
          And now by keeping lose the letter:   
          Oh that my prayers! mine, alas!
Oh that some Angel might a trumpet sound;
At which the Church falling upon her face.
Should crie so loud, untill the trump were drown’d,
And by that crie of her deare Lord obtain,
          That your sweet sap might come again!

Friday 13 September 2013

Anthology 3

The Welsh poet - Welsher than Welsh, though he could only write poetry in English - R.S. Thomas has appeared on this blog before, especially around the time I was reading Byron Rogers' classic biography of the great man (as here and here). In this short, intense poem, Thomas wrests his attention from his thankless parish and his absent God to look back and forgive his parents...


Dear parents,
I forgive you my life,
Begotten in a drab town,
The intention was good;
Passing the street now,
I see still the remains of sunlight.

It was not the bone buckled;
You gave me enough food
To renew myself.
It was the mind's weight
Kept me bent, as I grew tall.

It was not your fault.
What should have gone on,
Arrow aimed from a tried bow
At a tried target, has turned back,
Wounding itself
With questions you had not asked.

Thursday 12 September 2013

Anthology. 2

Here is a poem by the great Elizabeth Bishop, demonstrating one of the things she does best - the inhabiting of a non-human life. It also demonstrates the 'particularity' of her work, the extraordinary intensity of her focus in a short poem that moves effortlessly between the vast and the minute...


The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.

The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.

- Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.

The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn't tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,

looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.

Wednesday 11 September 2013

Anthology for Hard Times? 1.

I'm likely to be engulfed in a NigeCorp workstorm for a week or so. On days when I'm not able to post anything substantial of my own, what I'm planning to do is to put up a succession of short poems, with little or no comment (feel free to add your own) - a kind of mini-anthology for hard times. Sweet are the uses of  adversity...
  Here, to start the ball rolling, is Geoffrey Hill's rich, dense evocation of 'Platonic England', written in the form of an Italian (not English!) sonnet:


Autumn resumes the land, ruffles the woods   
with smoky wings, entangles them. Trees shine   
out from their leaves, rocks mildew to moss-green;   
the avenues are spread with brittle floods.

Platonic England, house of solitudes,   
rests in its laurels and its injured stone,   
replete with complex fortunes that are gone,   
beset by dynasties of moods and clouds.

It stands, as though at ease with its own world,   
the mannerly extortions, languid praise,   
all that devotion long since bought and sold,

the rooms of cedar and soft-thudding baize,   
tremulous boudoirs where the crystals kissed   
in cabinets of amethyst and frost.


You can find me on The Dabbler today, remembering a terrible but talented man, Edward Gordon Craig.

Tuesday 10 September 2013

Talking B*ll*cks

I'm indebted to Brit (it's that man again!) for this story from the incomparable BBC Science website, which he describes, accurately enough, as 'beyond parody'. Like most such 'stories', it proceeds from confidently assertive headline through a process of gradual deflation to a long tail of caveats and provisos that are as good as saying 'Take no notice of any of the above'. You have to wonder why it crossed their minds to investigate testicle size in the first place - was it part of a more general experiment, or just the one measurement? And how exactly does one measure testicle size/volume? Is there special equipment? The mind boggles... For myself I'm quite sure that men with larger noses make more hands-on fathers - I think this hypothesis should be put to the test without delay. These things matter!   

Monday 9 September 2013

A Green Thought

In a sparkling Dabbler Diary, Brit remarks how strange it is that, just when life was promising to get easier and easier ad infinitum, we started to make it that little bit harder for ourselves - all in the name of 'being green' (elaborate separating out of household waste, slow-lighting bulbs etc). I suspect these minor inconveniences we inflict on ourselves - like so much else about the 'green' movement - are 'spilt religion'. These gestures are the equivalent of penances that we impose on ourselves to make up for having things so easy. Human nature is basically religious, whichever way you cut it, and these little 'penances' are consolatory formal rituals of a secular religion, providing similar rewards but at a considerably lower cost and (unlike religion) a feelgood smugness with no downside. This is surely one of the reasons the 'green' movement is so strong and so deeply embedded in (ostensibly) post-religious societies; it fills a gap. Its essentially religious nature would also explain the extent of delusional insanity involved in such gestures as the British Parliament voting for binding legislation to cut 'carbon emissions' by a wholly unachievable 80 percent.  You can't be too virtuous, can you? (or too smug?)...
  Meanwhile, if you want energy-saving bulbs, switch to halogen - they give good strong light at the flick of a switch, just like an old-fashioned light bulb.

Saturday 7 September 2013

Retroprogressive News etc.

Retroprogressives will be glad to note that today is International Cassette Store Day. Like vinyl, the cassette is not going away - nor is there any real reason why it should; it is, again like vinyl, a format with its own particular qualities and much to commend it. Which reminds me - I must replace my last Walkman, which finally packed up a few months ago...
  Meanwhile I learn from the local paper that a girl who works part-time in a Greggs bakery in Thornton Heath has caused a stir on The X Factor, singing Read All About It and One Night Only. The paper is moved to list some other songs that a Greggs employee might sing. They range from No Woman No Pie to Bohemian Bap-sody by way of Lady in Bread, Sausage Roll with It, Doughnut Look Back in Anger, Everything I Do I Do It for Choux, Ain't No Sunshine When She's Scone, Patsy Dutchie on the Left Hand Side and Total Eclipse of the Tart.
  No Bob Dylan songs included there, alas - no Like a Rolling Scone, nor If Not for Choux (nor even I Want Choux), not to mention One More Cup of Coffee and indeed Gotta Serve Somebody.

Friday 6 September 2013

Birth of a Legend

A red-letter day in the annals of showbiz, for it was on this date in 1932 that Bernie Winters (Weinstein) was born. Bernie joined his brother Mike in what was arguably (out of a crowded field) the unfunniest double act ever to have been described as 'comedy'. Once, when Morecambe and Wise were asked what they would have done if they'd flopped in showbusiness, they replied 'We'd have been Mike and Bernie Winters.' And yet Mike and Bernie were, from the late 50s through to the early 70s, huge. They were even, mystifyingly, rated 'top comics for Britain's teenage audience' in 1957. 
  The brothers began as a musical comedy act, with Bernie interrupting Mike's solos with hilarious impressions of Jimmy Cagney and Charles Laughton, while Mike 'did' Cary Grant. Many years later, Grant dropped in on Mike backstage at the Bristol Hippodrome and remarked 'You know, Mike, that was the worst Cary Grant impression I ever heard.'
 The evolved (if that's the word) Winters double act consisted of Mike looking serious and smoking a pipe while Bernie looked like an imbecile and talked like an imbecile with a speech impediment. Backstage at a Royal Variety Performance, the Queen was introduced to the brothers and asked 'Do you speak French?' She must have thought that their being French was the only possible explanation for their comedy being that bad.
 After the brothers broke up - with much acrimony, apparently - Bernie replaced Mike with a 14-stone St Bernard, Schnorbitz, who was considerably funnier and became a bigger star than either of them. Schnorbitz once fell into Terry Scott's swimming pool and was rescued by Barbara Windsor. You had to be there.

Thursday 5 September 2013

Mast Year

In many parts of the country, 2013 is turning out to be a 'mast year' - a year in which the woodland trees are heavy with fruit, nuts and acorns. There's also talk of a bumper harvest of orchard fruits - and no wonder, after all this warm sunshine (and early rainfall). Yesterday, checking up on my own little plum tree - a miniature, with a weeping habit - I was pleased to find ten or a dozen plums, ripe and ready, hanging under the branches. I decided to leave them to get another day's sun, then pick them this morning. But this morning the branches were bare - all but one plum had gone, leaving not a trace behind. No discarded stones, no pulpy messes, nothing - a clean job, neatly executed. I suspect foxes.
It was a disappointment - they are usually very tasty and sweet (as was the one survivor) - but that's plums for you: here today, gone tomorrow (Eheu fugaces labuntur pruni...). I hope whatever - or whoever? - took them had much pleasure from them. They are a tempting fruit. As William Carlos Williams puts it in This Is Just to Say -

'I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold'

Wednesday 4 September 2013

Heroes of the 1896 Olympics, continued

I can't let the day go by without marking the anniversary of Dimitrios Loundras, born on this day in 1885. That's him in the picture, between the two hulking fellows. Dimitrios, aged just ten, was a hero of the great 1896 Athens Olympiad. His achievement did not match the triumph (and lifetime of free shaves) of marathon winner Spiridon Louis, but he lived to be the oldest survivor of the 1896 games. And his name remains in the record books as the youngest competitor and medallist in Olympic history. Competing in the team parallel bars event, his team, Ethnikos Gymnastikos Syllogos, came third and took the bronze. Third out of three teams, but never mind - well done, Dimitrios Loundras.

Who's the Boss?

The name 'Hugo Boss' first swam into my ken some 20 or more years ago, when a woman I was working with told me she had taken her boyfriend shopping and kitted him out from top to toe in 'Hugo Boss'. Poor chap, I thought - and what a repellent name for a gentleman's outfitters. I didn't like the look of their products either, as I began to notice them over the years, and have never been tempted, even at knockdown eBay prices.
  I assumed from the start that 'Hugo Boss' was an invented brand name, craftily conflating the blunt assertiveness of 'Boss' and the softening touch of class provided by 'Hugo'. But no - I now discover that the firm was founded by a charming character called Hugo Ferdinand Boss (born Metzingen, 1885), who set up in business in 1923, joined the Nazi party in 1931, and made his fortune manufacturing those oh so chic black uniforms for the SS, the elegantly understated brown outfits of the SA, and the fun black-and-brown ensembles of the Hitler Youth. The forced labour of French and Polish prisoners helped speed the expansion of his empire - a fact for which belated apologies were issued. Hugo Boss himself survived the war, was fined for his support of the Nazis and disenfranchised. He died in 1948, of a tooth abscess.
  Somehow I now like Hugo Boss clothes even less.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

What Denmark Watches

Denmark is a country with a great image - a land of happiness, harmony and social cohesion where all is civilised, ordered and in perfect balance, and all good things flourish. Surely, we might muse idly, it would be good to live in Denmark... Well maybe - but ponder this: the Danes' idea of cracking good television is that mystifying New Year's Eve institution Dinner for One (which suggests that the Danish sense of humour is, like the Germans', no laughing matter) - and, for the rest of the year, liberal helpings of Midsomer Murders. Known in Denmark as Barnaby, MM has bestrode the Danish primetime schedules like a colossus for 12 years, drawing a huge and loyal following and a 40 percent audience share.
Yes, the land that gave us The Killing and Borgen considers the gift amply repaid by an endless succession  of wildly improbable murders in achingly picturesque village settings. And now, in a mind-boggling development, Midsomer Murders is to celebrate its 100th episode by filming part of it in... Copenhagen. The plodding Barnaby and his sidekick will travel to Copenhagen when a body is found there that somehow has links with a Midsomer family (what are the chances?). The episode will even involve actors from The Killing and Borgen - but this is no time for naming and shaming. They know who they are.
Heaven knows where and in what bizarre circumstances the body is found, but I'm guessing one of the rides in the Tivoli gardens might be involved (if only because the Little Mermaid is too small to feature as a crime scene) - or it could be the Carlsberg brewery, drowned in a vat of lager? Barnaby, we can be sure, will be as mystified by the food - raw herring? - as by the case. While he bumbles about and scratches his head, the body count will rise inexorably - but by then we'll be safely back in Badger's Drift, and all Denmark will be sitting back in its beautifully designed armchairs and enjoying the picture-postcard landscapes of Midsomer. 

Monday 2 September 2013

The David Frost I Knew

As tributes pour in to the Grand Inquisitor, TV mogul, serial entrepreneur and unsurpassed Through the Keyhole presenter, my mind wanders back through the mists of memory to the David Frost I knew...
An intensely private man, sensitive almost to a fault, David loved nothing more than to turn his back on the busy world and pursue his twin passions - ecclesiastical embroidery and his lifelong study of Thomas Aquinas's Summa Theologica. He shunned company, but a few trusted friends - myself happily included - were allowed over the threshold of his austere Farm Street rooms. I recall many a precious evening discussing the finer points of the Summa over tea  and a pipe of tobacco (his one indulgence!), while his nimble fingers plied the needle to such dazzling effect. His set of hassocks for Ss Cosmas and Damian, Tite St, are the stuff of ecclesiastical legend. He was also - as none but his closest friends knew - an accomplished writer of occasional lyric verse, and could successfully have published a slim volume or two - but such was his nature that the thought of making such a vulgar entree into the public arena appalled him...
Hang on - maybe I'm thinking of another David Frost?
Coming Soon: The Michael Parkinson I knew.

Sunday 1 September 2013


September already. Summer - the season - is nearing an end, while for Summer - the small person - life is just beginning. Yes, the granddaughter - a creature of quite breathtaking loveliness - has a name. Summer. It is perfect for her.
Unlike Frankly Adorable Sam, Summer has no namesakes I can think of in literature. However, Summer is one of the great themes of poetry - indeed it would be possible to make a good historical anthology of English verse by following the theme, all the way from
'Sumer is icumen in'...
Meanwhile, this wondrous butterfly summer continues to yield its bounty. Today, in the course of a short walk on Ashtead common,  amid dozens and dozens of merry Speckled Woods, I spotted two Small Coppers quietly nectaring - my first of the year.