Thursday 30 March 2023

How to Do Dickens

 'I think the best you can do in a movie is to be faithful to the author's intention in all areas. With the two Dickens films I did [Great Expectations (1946) and Oliver Twist (1948)], they are, oh, pencil sketches of these great novels that he wrote, but I think they are faithful. I wouldn't have been ashamed to show him the films.'

So said the film director David Lean, whose Great Expectations is perhaps the greatest Dickens adaptation ever made – a 'pencil sketch' of the novel indeed, but wholly faithful to the author's intentions and to the spirit of the original work. I suggest that Stephen (Peaky Blinders) Knight, author of the latest Dickens travesty to hit our TV screens – yes, Great Expectations – have Lean's wise words inscribed in pokerwork, framed and hung prominently over his writing desk. I also suggest that the BBC give up on Dickens – they seem to have quite lost the ability to adapt his works faithfully, or indeed watchably. 

Wednesday 29 March 2023

Butterflies on the Piano

 It's World Piano Day, so I'll take the opportunity to smuggle in my favourite subject – butterflies...
The development of the piano in the Romantic period hugely extended the expressive and mimetic possibilities of the keyboard, and one of the things the modern instrument lent itself to particularly well was evoking such natural phenomena as the flight of a butterfly.  Grieg's Schmetterling and Moritz Rosenthal's Papillons set out to do this overtly, but perhaps the best evocation of a butterfly flitting busily from flower to flower was apparently written with no thought of Lepidoptera – Chopin's Etude Opus 25, number 9, the 'Butterfly' Etude, which only acquired its name when listeners and players started noting the remarkable resemblance. Not only the music, with its high-speed alternation of staccato and marcato, but also the movements of the pianist's hands across the keys perfectly evoke the restless flight of a butterfly. Here it is played by the Lithuanian pianist Lukas Geniusas – 

Meanwhile, I have still not so much as glimpsed a single butterfly this 'spring', thanks to all this cold and rain and wind – and it's very nearly April. I am feeling the lack.

Tuesday 28 March 2023

Genius in Action

 I was rather startled to come across this image today – yes, a Ludwig van Beethoven action figure, complete with stool. The poor man appears to be wearing an industrial-strength hernia truss, and, understandably in the circumstances, he doesn't seem to promise much more in the way of 'action' than sitting down on the stool. The box bears the stirring quotation: 'What I have in my heart must come out; that is the reason why I compose.' 
  Well, I guess if any composer was going to get his own action figure, it would have to be Beethoven, the most 'iconic' of them all. But are there any others? Trawling eBay, I found a Bach ('The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul') and a Mozart ('Silence is very important. The silence between the notes are [sic] as important as the notes themselves'), both of slightly higher quality – if you can imagine such a thing – and both fetching higher prices than poor old Ludwig Van. 
  As for action figures of artists, I could only find one – inevitably, Vincent van Gogh ('I dream my painting, and then I paint my dream'). Here the manufacturers have really gone to town, providing two removable heads(!), paintbrush, 'pallet' [sic], easel, frame and four paintings. Alas, no one seems to have made a Jackson Pollock action figure... 

Sunday 26 March 2023

'The dead say little in their letters...'

 A while back, I posted a moving (to me at least) poem about an old family photograph, written by Ned Balbo, which I linked to a similarly themed and still more moving poem by Donald Justice. Now I find a third poem about the extraordinary emotional power of familial relics by another American poet, Dana Gioia –

Finding a Box of Family Letters

The dead say little in their letters
they haven't said before.
We find no secrets, and yet
how different every sentence sounds
heard across the years.
My father breaks my heart
simply by being so young and handsome.
He's half my age, with jet-black hair.
Look at him in his navy uniform
grinning beside his dive-bomber.
Come back, Dad! I want to shout.
He says he misses all of us
(though I haven't yet been born).
He writes from places I never knew he saw,
and everyone he mentions now is dead.
There is a large, long photograph
curled like a diploma—a banquet sixty years ago.
My parents sit uncomfortably
among tables of dark-suited strangers.
The mildewed paper reeks of regret.
I wonder what song the band was playing,
just out of frame, as the photographer
arranged your smiles. A waltz? A foxtrot?
Get out there on the floor and dance! 
You don't have forever.
What does it cost to send a postcard
to the underworld? I'll buy
a penny stamp from World War II
and mail it downtown at the old post office
just as the courthouse clock strikes twelve.
Surely the ghost of some postal worker
still makes his nightly rounds, his routine
too tedious for him to notice when it ended.
He works so slowly he moves back in time
carrying our dead letters to their lost addresses.
It's silly to get sentimental.
The dead have moved on. So should we.
But isn't it equally simple-minded to miss
the special expertise of the departed
in clarifying our long-term plans?
They never let us forget that the line
between them and us is only temporary.
Get out there and dance! the letters shout,
adding, Love always. Can't wait to get home! 
And soon we will be. See you there.

Dana Gioia, whose work I am only just beginning to discover, is a poet and critic who is very much better known in America than on this side of the Atlantic. His career path makes him unusual among poets: a graduate of Stanford Business School, he rose through the corporate world to become vice-president of General Foods before deciding, in 1992, to devote himself full-time to writing (and, later, being head of the NEA). With his background, his easy, unpretentious manner and his preference for formal verse, he does not fit the prevailing British idea of what A Poet should be.
Here are a couple more by Gioia: this quietly intriguing, dream-like poem –

Equations of the Light

Turning the corner, we discovered it
just as the old wrought-iron lamps went on—
a quiet, tree-lined street, only one block long   
resting between the noisy avenues.

The streetlamps splashed the shadows of the leaves   
across the whitewashed brick, and each tall window
glowing through the ivy-decked facade
promised lives as perfect as the light.

Walking beneath the trees, we counted all   
the high black doors of houses bolted shut.   
And yet we could have opened any door,   
entered any room the evening offered.

Or were we deluded by the strange
equations of the light, the vagrant wind   
searching the trees, that we believed this brief   
conjunction of our separate lives was real?

It seemed that moment lingered like a ghost,   
a flicker in the air, smaller than a moth,   
a curl of smoke flaring from a match,   
haunting a world it could not touch or hear.

There should have been a greeting or a sign,   
the smile of a stranger, something beyond
the soft refusals of the summer air
and children trading secrets on the steps.

Traffic bellowed from the avenue.
Our shadows moved across the street’s long wall,   
and at the end what else could I have done   
but turn the corner back into my life?

And this, about a feeling we can probably all identify with at some level –

The Letter

And in the end, all that is really left
Is a feeling—strong and unavoidable—
That somehow we deserved something better.   
That somewhere along the line things
Got fouled up. And that letter from whoever’s   
In charge, which certainly would have set   
Everything straight between us and the world,
Never reached us. Got lost somewhere.   
Possibly mislaid in some provincial station.   
Or sent by mistake to an old address   
Whose new tenant put it on her dresser   
With the curlers and the hairspray forgetting   
To give it to the landlord to forward.   
And we still wait like children who have sent   
Two weeks’ allowance far away   
To answer an enticing advertisement   
From a crumbling, yellow magazine,
Watching through years as long as a childhood summer,   
Checking the postbox with impatient faith   
Even on days when mail is never brought.

Thursday 23 March 2023

Richard Coles

 The BBC has done it again – not only dropping the Rev. Richard Coles from Radio 4's Saturday Live, a show he has presented for 12 years and for which he was a perfect fit (and by miles the best of its presenters), but bungling his departure with a typical mix of crass insensitivity and sneaky, face-saving machinations. This sad story has attracted little notice, largely because the BBC has done its best to bury it, but The Guardian yesterday ran an illuminating interview with Coles, whose response to his shabby treatment by the Corporation is admirably restrained. His last show goes out live this Saturday. I fancy it will be a moving farewell...
Meanwhile, the BBC has delivered its standard-issue weasel words, assuring us that Richard 'continues to be part of the Radio 4 family. We look forward to working with him on future projects.'   

Wednesday 22 March 2023

Van Dyck and Brambell

 Born on this day in 1599 was the great Flemish painter Anthony Van Dyck, who spent part of his dazzling career in the court of Charles I, showing the English how portraiture should be done. The picture above is one of Van Dyck's quieter, more intimate works, a portrait of Cornelis van der Geest, an Antwerp spice merchant and art collector. It hangs in the National Gallery (one of the few London attractions that I miss).

To descend from the sublime to the ridiculous, today is also the birth date (in 1912) of the comic actor Wilfrid Brambell. I don't think I have anything to add to this piece from 2012. 

Tuesday 21 March 2023


 Good grief, it's World Poetry Day again! 
So here's a poem, one that I'd place among the very best of the later 20th century, and one that's too little known, at least on this side of the pond – Richard Wilbur's 'A Baroque Wall Fountain in the Villa Sciarra':

Under the bronze crown
Too big for the head of the stone cherub whose feet   
      A serpent has begun to eat,
Sweet water brims a cockle and braids down
            Past spattered mosses, breaks
On the tipped edge of a second shell, and fills   
      The massive third below. It spills
In threads then from the scalloped rim, and makes
            A scrim or summery tent
For a faun-ménage and their familiar goose.   
      Happy in all that ragged, loose
Collapse of water, its effortless descent
            And flatteries of spray,
The stocky god upholds the shell with ease,
      Watching, about his shaggy knees,
The goatish innocence of his babes at play;
            His fauness all the while
Leans forward, slightly, into a clambering mesh   
      Of water-lights, her sparkling flesh
In a saecular ecstasy, her blinded smile
            Bent on the sand floor
Of the trefoil pool, where ripple-shadows come
      And go in swift reticulum,
More addling to the eye than wine, and more
            Interminable to thought
Than pleasure’s calculus. Yet since this all   
      Is pleasure, flash, and waterfall,   
Must it not be too simple? Are we not
            More intricately expressed
In the plain fountains that Maderna set
      Before St. Peter’s—the main jet   
Struggling aloft until it seems at rest
            In the act of rising, until   
The very wish of water is reversed,
      That heaviness borne up to burst   
In a clear, high, cavorting head, to fill
            With blaze, and then in gauze   
Delays, in a gnatlike shimmering, in a fine
      Illumined version of itself, decline,
And patter on the stones its own applause?
            If that is what men are
Or should be, if those water-saints display   
      The pattern of our aretê,
What of these showered fauns in their bizarre,
            Spangled, and plunging house?
They are at rest in fulness of desire
      For what is given, they do not tire
Of the smart of the sun, the pleasant water-douse
            And riddled pool below,
Reproving our disgust and our ennui   
      With humble insatiety.
Francis, perhaps, who lay in sister snow
            Before the wealthy gate
Freezing and praising, might have seen in this   
      No trifle, but a shade of bliss—
That land of tolerable flowers, that state
            As near and far as grass
Where eyes become the sunlight, and the hand   
      Is worthy of water: the dreamt land
Toward which all hungers leap, all pleasures pass.

Monday 20 March 2023

Atters, Jean Paul and Brad

 Despite my recent outburst against David Attenborough and his latest series – not to mention a long, documented history of Attenborough aversion – I still find waiting for me on Facebook every morning, under the inviting heading 'Suggested for you', the latest offering from a site titled David Attenborough Fans and adorned by a picture of the great man. In an age when so many are gripped (with some reason) by a fear of all-encompassing round-the-clock personal surveillance, I find it reassuring that, for all their data harvesting, whizzy algorithms and formidable reach, 'They' actually know so little about us. 

Among the less frequent visitors to my Facebook feed are Jean Paul Sartre and Brad Pitt, but today I had what appear to be early pictures of Pitt playing Sartre (and Eva Green Simone de Beauvoir) in a forthcoming biopic. Is this for real, I wonder – and why Brad Pitt, an actor who is, most would agree, somewhat better looking than the beetle-browed existentialist? An interesting 'thread' is developing on Twitter, with someone suggesting Steve Buscemi for the part – a nice idea. 

Sunday 19 March 2023

Save the Singers

 If the BBC carries out its declared intention of disbanding the BBC Singers, it will have taken away one more of the dwindling number of things that make the licence fee worth paying. It will also have impoverished the musical culture of the nation as a whole: the BBC Singers (the only professional full-time choir in the UK) perform free concerts at a range of London venues and appear at festivals across the country, they commission new works, and they do a great deal of outreach work with schools and other institutions, providing singing days and masterclasses. All this will be lost if the Singers are axed. 
  As Charles Moore points out in the Spectator, the 20 BBC Singers cost the corporation less one Gary Lineker – and they do, on the face of it, seem to provide, ahem, rather better value. If the BBC wants to save the sort of money the Singers cost, they could let the ghastly Lineker and his sidekicks go, replacing them with some new blood at a much lower cost. A few pointless executive posts (especially perhaps in the field of 'diversity' and 'inclusion') could be scrapped with no loss to the BBC or anyone else. And productivity could be greatly increased by changing the working culture of meetings, meetings, meetings that explains so much of what is wrong with the Corporation. I remember when I was writing for the Late Lamented Listener, many years ago now, the new editor caused profound shock all round when one of this first moves was to reduce the number of weekly meetings to just one, and that with a time limit. This, along with some imaginative hiring, created a vastly improved magazine. 
  As for the BBC Singers, I cling to the hope that this might be one of those proposals the Corporation comes up with from time to time that they know will be greeted with such a wave of furious protest that it will have to be abandoned, as was the case with an attempt a few years ago to close down 6 Music. Let us hope this is so, though the BBC's talk of a 'new strategy for classical music' sounds ominous. For now, the least we can all do is to sign this petition. I have. 

Friday 17 March 2023

A Librarians' Blow-Out

 In a former life, for a full 15 years, I was a librarian, an ornament of various reference libraries in South London. For most of that time (until I gave up paying the subscription) I was a member of the Library Association, entitled to add the initials ALA to my name if I were so inclined (I wasn't). Clearly, by the time I was a member, the Library Association was long past its glory days – the days when it could host a banquet like this, which took place in 1881 – 

In case you can't read it, let me decipher this Lucullan menu... Under 'Soups' we have Clear Mock Turtle, Julienne and Thick Ox Tail, accompanied by Sherry. Under 'Fish', Salmon with Lobster Sauce, Spatchcocked Eels(!) with Piquant Sauce, and Fried Smelts with Tartar Sauce, all washed down with Hock and Chablis. Next come the 'Entrées' – Kromeskys (bacon and minced meat croquettes) à la Russe, Sweetbreads with Mushrooms, and Mutton Cutlets with Tomato Sauce, accompanied by more Sherry. With that out of the way, it's time for the 'Removes': Roast Fowls with Spaghetti, Ham and Flageolet Beans, Saddle of Mutton and Salades à la Française, complemented by Piper Sec (Champagne). The 'Second Course' is succinctly described – Partridges. Chips. Grouse, and to go with that another Champagne, Irroy (Carte d'Or). For those still conscious, 'Sweets' followed:  Wine Jellies, Maids of Honour, Iced Puddings. An unspecified 'Dessert' rounded off the proceedings, though no doubt cigars and Port were circulated among those still capable of lifting a glass to their lips. 
   This event took place in the West End of London, at the Freemasons' Tavern on Great Queen Street (demolished in 1909 and replaced by the Connaught Rooms), and in the chair was Richard Garnett, Esq., of the British Museum. The presence of the illustrious Mr Garnett might explain the opulence of the occasion. Garnett – who was born, like so many great men, in Lichfield – was a very distinguished scholar and librarian and a prolific writer of biographies, literary histories, essays and poems (one of which, 'Where Corals Lie', was set to music by Elgar in his Sea Pictures). The whole of his working life was passed in the British Museum library (now the British Library), where he rose to become Keeper of Printed Books. Heaped with honours, he was certainly the premier librarian of his time. He was also the father of the critic and editor Edward Garnett and thereby father-in-law of the indefatigable translator Constance Garnett, and grandfather of David (Bunny) Garnett, author of Lady into Fox and The Sailor's Return.
  Richard Garnett was made President of the Library Association in 1895 – surely the most distinguished figure ever to hold that office. Today, I gather, the Library Association no longer has an independent existence, being incorporated into the Chartered Institute of Library and Information Professionals. Somehow I suspect their annual dinners are not what they were... 

Thursday 16 March 2023

In Spiritu Humilitatis

 I heard this extraordinary piece on Radio 3 this morning and it stopped me in my tracks, so I thought I'd share it. It's by a Venetian composer I had never heard of – Giovanni Croce, who was famous and influential in his time but whose fame did not long outlast him. He was a singer at St Mark's, rising to become maestro di cappella before his death in 1609. 

As well as his duties at St Mark's, Croce had close musical connections with Santa Maria Formosa, one of my favourite smaller Venetian churches, set in a very fine campo...

Wednesday 15 March 2023

The Ides

 The 15th of March – the ill-fated Ides – is one of those dates that has a poem ready-made: in this case, a typically luminous work by the great Alexandrian poet Constantin Cavafy, that 'Greek gentleman in a straw hat standing absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe' (as E.M. Forster described him). He was a poet for whom the past was never another country but a world at least as real as the present, and whose short, lucid poems are 'about' so much more than their ostensible historical subject. He translates well too. The translation here is by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard – 

'Guard, O my soul, against pomp and glory.
And if you cannot curb your ambitions,
at least pursue them hesitantly, cautiously.
And the higher you go,
the more searching and careful you need to be.

And when you reach your summit, Caesar at last—
when you assume the role of someone that famous—
then be especially careful as you go out into the street,
a conspicuous man of power with your retinue;
and should a certain Artemidoros
come up to you out of the crowd, bringing a letter,
and say hurriedly: “Read this at once.
There are things in it important for you to see,”
be sure to stop; be sure to postpone
all talk or business; be sure to brush off
all those who salute and bow to you
(they can be seen later); let even
the Senate itself wait—and find out immediately
what grave message Artemidoros has for you.'

Monday 13 March 2023

Wild Isles

 Having lately developed something of an allergy, bordering on phobia, to the sainted David Attenborough and all his works, I have been avoiding his programmes like the proverbial plague. However, I thought I ought to be fair and try his latest series, especially as it's about the wildlife of the British Isles and is being touted as his swansong (I wouldn't count on that).
What I found was, predictably enough, more of the same – the mixture as before, with only the locations changed: camerawork of such stunning virtuosity it bore little relation to any visibly reality, contrived narratives of jeopardy and hair's-breadth escape (or decorously filmed dispatch), blatant emotional manipulation aided by non-stop music, banal commentary saying very little except to issue the standard Attenborough Jeremiad in various forms. This was gee-whiz television, wildlife presented as a range of exciting attractions in a theme park, one that is sadly threatened with closure. The only difference was that this time we had a rare sighting of the man himself on screen, communing with puffins.
Disappointing then, but in no way surprising. I'm reminded of Richard Mabey's words on the subject of wildlife documentaries (and Ruskin's on a bird's nest), as quoted on this blog a year ago, in 'Scripts Co-Authored by Nietzsche and Barbara Cartland'. Also of the words of lepidopterist extraordinaire Matthew Oates: 'To us, nature is something we do through the BBC Natural History Unit and a television screen. It scares me rigid what's going on...' I think he's right to be scared – and Attenborough's latest is not going to help.  


Sunday 12 March 2023

'The eternal note of sadness'

 From time to time I recall some text that my class 'did' during our schooldays and either marvel at our literary capacity, or wonder what our teachers thought they were doing, or both. I was reminded of one such today – Matthew Arnold's 'Sohrab and Rustum', a Homeric narrative poem in 892 lines recounting an episode from Ferdowsi's Persian epic Shahnameh. It's a dramatic story, in which Sohrab unknowingly slays his long-lost son Rustum, but I remember it being heavy going indeed. What reminded me of Arnold today was Patrick Kurp's post, 'So Various, So Beautiful, So New', which takes its title from a phrase in Arnold's famous 'Dover Beach' (quoted by Theodore Dalrymple in an essay quoted by Patrick). This sent me back to 'Dover Beach', which I hadn't read in a while, and which now seems to me even bleaker than ever –

The sea is calm tonight.
The tide is full, the moon lies fair
Upon the straits; on the French coast the light
Gleams and is gone; the cliffs of England stand,
Glimmering and vast, out in the tranquil bay.
Come to the window, sweet is the night-air!
Only, from the long line of spray
Where the sea meets the moon-blanched land,
Listen! you hear the grating roar
Of pebbles which the waves draw back, and fling,
At their return, up the high strand,
Begin, and cease, and then again begin,
With tremulous cadence slow, and bring
The eternal note of sadness in.

Sophocles long ago
Heard it on the Ægean, and it brought
Into his mind the turbid ebb and flow
Of human misery; we
Find also in the sound a thought,
Hearing it by this distant northern sea.

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furled.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

And to think he wrote it on his honeymoon... 
(By the way, as has been pointed out many times, Sophocles would not have heard 'the turbid ebb and flow' of the Aegean, as that sea is not tidal.)
   'Dover Beach' has been set to music more than once – most improbably by the Fugs, who perform their, ah, distinctive version of it on the album Tenderness Junction. I'll spare you that, and offer instead the beautiful setting by Samuel Barber, here sung by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (in a rare foray into English) with the Juilliard Quartet – 

And 'Dover Beach', with its deep melancholy and oceanic imagery, brought to mind the equally bleak closing image of George Meredith's great sonnet sequence, Modern Love

'In tragic hints here see what evermore
Moves dark as yonder midnight's ocean force,
Thundering like ramping hosts of warrior horse,
To throw that faint thin line upon the shore!'

That one we didn't do at school.

Friday 10 March 2023


 I'm off to Worthing again today, but before I go here's a picture to mark the 120th birthday of Edward Bawden, that great printmaker, painter and graphic designer, who has had many a mention on this blog. The picture is called March Noon and shows the kind of pleasant March morning that has yet to be seen in these parts, where snow and bitter winds have dominated the past few days' weather. We should have known it was coming, because the redwings, having been few and far between in the official winter months, started appearing in larger numbers recently, and they are a pretty sure indicator of severe weather to come. The comma butterfly also has a reputation as a weather forecaster, never (it is said) emerging from hibernation if there is more wintry weather on the way. So far, however, I haven't seen a butterfly of any breed, alas. 

Wednesday 8 March 2023

Women's Day

 If I remember rightly (a big if these days), my childhood Observer's Book of Music had, in its biographical section, only one woman composer – Ethel Smyth (who in appearance could easily be mistaken for a man). Today, thanks to decades of discovery and rediscovery, women composers past and present are certainly getting their due, and those composing today face none of the past impediments to success. Radio 3 has played a large and creditable part in this process, and today, this being International Women's Day, they are pulling out all the stops with an entire day's broadcasting devoted to music written (and often performed) by women. This might seem a little like overkill, but I'm not complaining: I'm grateful to Radio 3 for having introduced me in recent times to the likes of Barbara Strozzi, Cecile Chaminard, Florence Price, Amy Beach, the Boulanger sisters, Clara Schumann, Fanny Mendelssohn, etc, etc. Meanwhile, I'm celebrating by reading an early Muriel Spark I hadn't read before: The Bachelors, in a 1950s Penguin paperback from my Chester uncle's library, price 3s 6d, cover drawing by Terence Greer – a volume of similar vintage to my Observer's Book of Music

Tuesday 7 March 2023


 Here's a little brain teaser:
Which artist painted this rather lovely still life of oranges?
The answer is surprising.
Further clues can be provided if required...

Sunday 5 March 2023

Fab Threads

 Strolling around Derby yesterday – a fine city much damaged by the motor car and the urban planner – I dropped in to a grand Georgian house that I'd never visited before: Pickford's House museum of Georgian life and costume, the former home (and professional showcase) of a successful provincial architect, Joseph Pickford. I had a look around the re-created interiors, all very nice, and a rather charming display of toy theatres, but what most caught my attention was a temporary exhibition titled The Peacock Revolution, an Exhibition of Men's Fashion from 1966-1970. The clothing on show all comes from the private collection of Peter Feely,  a Derby man with a particular interest in the late Sixties – which was of course the period in which I lived out my late teens, of which the less said the better. The clothes come from such famous boutiques as Granny Takes a Trip, Hung on You, Take 6, Lord John (where I bought my wedding suit) and Apple Boutique. Wandering around, enjoying the accompanying period-appropriate music, I found myself marvelling at how utterly gorgeous these creations were, in design, in cut, in materials. They were mostly high-end products, too expensive for most pockets, but something of their decorative gusto and design flair did filter down into the wider population (myself included, I guess: I remember a black velvet jacket of rakish cut, a dangerously tight and long overcoat, some rather startling crushed-velvet trousers, an embroidered kaftan...). And now look around you at what men, even young men, are wearing – did we ever live in a most sartorially dreary, unglamorous age? A new Peacock Revolution is long overdue.

 Another picture: I call this one Self-Portrait with Fab Threads – 

Friday 3 March 2023

Doc Watson

 Well, the house is now full of boxes and mysterious items, small and large, waiting to be unpacked and disposed. It's going to be a long job... Meanwhile, I'm crossing the border into Derbyshire to spend the weekend with my cousin – but before I go, I have to quickly mark a centenary: a hundred years ago today, the great guitar picker, singer and songwriter Doc Watson was born at Deep Gap, in Watauga County, North Carolina.  For a fine tribute (complete with poem), see today's Anecdotal Evidence. I have nothing to add except to offer this sample of the Doc in action, here with bluegrass legend Earl Scruggs (as ever in his buttoned-up business suit) –

Wednesday 1 March 2023

Not So Fast

 Well, the big day came and went – unlike the removal men, who had somehow confused the date and were convinced they were booked for today. Ah well, as Johnny Logan almost said, what's another day?
  Today (St David's Day) is also the birthday of the great American poet Richard Wilbur, born 1921, and, in view of the strange times we've been through with this house (which did indeed have a couple of mysterious holes in the floor), this poem of his seems oddly apposite. It's 'A Hole in the Floor' – 

The carpenter's made a hole
In the parlor floor, and I'm standing
Staring down into it now
At four o'clock in the evening,
As Schliemann stood when his shovel
Knocked on the crowns of Troy.

A clean-cut sawdust sparkles
On the grey, shaggy laths,
And here is a cluster of shavings
From the time when the floor was laid.
They are silvery-gold, the color
Of Hesperian apple-parings.

Kneeling, I look in under
Where the joists go into hiding.
A pure street, faintly littered
With bits and strokes of light,
Enters the long darkness
Where its parallels will meet.

The radiator-pipe
Rises in middle distance
Like a shuttered kiosk, standing
Where the only news is night.
Here's it's not painted green,
As it is in the visible world.

For God's sake, what am I after?
Some treasure, or tiny garden?
Or that untrodden place,
The house's very soul,
Where time has stored our footbeats
And the long skein of our voices?

Not these, but the buried strangeness
Which nourishes the known:
That spring from which the floor-lamp
Drinks now a wilder bloom,
Inflaming the damask love-seat
And the whole dangerous room.