Sunday 29 November 2009

Somewhere around Christmas

Always, or nearly always, on old apple trees,
Somewhere around Christmas, if you look up through the forest,
You will see, fat as a bullfinch, stuck on a high branch,
One lingering, bald, self-sufficient, hard, blunt fruit.

There will be no leaves, you can be sure of that;
The twigs will be tar black, and the white sky
Will be grabbed among the branches like thumbed glass
In broken triangles just saved from crashing to the ground.

Further up, dribbles of rain will run down
Like spilt colourless varnish on a canvas. The old tins,
Tyres, cardboard boxes, debris of back gardens,
Will lie around bleak, with mould and rust creeping over them.

Blow on your fingers. Wipe your feet on the mat by the back door.
You will never see that apple fall. Look at the cat,
Her whiskers twitch as she sleeps by the kitchen fire;
In her back-yard prowling dream she thinks it's a bird.
by John Smith

It has rained heavily all night and most of today.

We light the fire

and the first candle on the Advent wreath.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Desperately eating

in gingered pumpkin and sweet potato soup
and chilli and pumpkin cornbread.
If need be, I will find a way to make a rejuvenating face pack out of 
pureed pumpkin.

Friday 27 November 2009


also known as Mikado.

Thursday 26 November 2009

It's all Greek to me


on the way to


I had a headmistress with lofty ambitions for her girls.
She decided to teach us Ancient Greek.
Unfortunately she only had time to show us the alphabet 
and start us off on a textbook about the boy Thrasymachus.
The Greek alphabet was stuck on the wall opposite my seat at the dinner table,
so I absorbed that with my mother's good cooking.
For the rest, all I remember is how to say, 
'thunder and lightening',
'Greetings o Thrasymachus',
and most perpelexing of all, the words to the song,
'Oh dear, what can the matter be?'

Wednesday 25 November 2009


Getting my vintage Girl comic badges ready for the Christmas Fair.

Where did that year go?

Tuesday 24 November 2009

Don't stop me now

Freddie Mercury 1946 - 1991

Monday 23 November 2009


Jan Struther wrote for the Spectator, the New Statesman and Punch.

A selection of these pieces was published in 1938 as 
Try Anything Twice.
Her efforts were, 'the work of afternoons on a sofa, 
where she would write on lined vellum 
with a fine gold-embossed pen
according to the Virago edition introduction by Valerie Grove.
She was heard to say that, 
'Genius may write on the backs of old envelopes, 
but mere talent requires the very best stationery money can buy.'

A visit to the London Transport Museum in Covent Garden
has yielded a clue to the make of pen she might have favoured
and I think it would be helpful if I could acquire one
because my patience with Blogger is running very thin.

So I have made some enquiries and luckily the company 
is still going strong.
I am pretty sure that the 1937 Onoto  Magna is the one.
£9,995 will buy me an 18ct gold guilloche engraved in Hera weave 
with the exclusive Onoto cipher on the clip weighing 
a hefty 80 grams.
I draw the line at vellum,
Sainsbury's do a very useful A4 block of squared paper.

I'm not made of money.

Sunday 22 November 2009

Khelim rug and pumpkins

Our veg box from Riverford,
once a week for five years
rain or shine.

Friday 20 November 2009

Nothing too much trouble

Yesterday on my way to a secondhand bookshop
in the Charing Cross Road,
I took a quick photo of the revolving globe atop the London Coliseum.
Like so much of the Victorian architecture in the city,
it is massive yet invisible, shouting yet silent.
It was only this evening when I uploaded the picture 
that I began to marvel
at the staggering effort and expense that produced such elaborate detailing,
much of it well above eye level.

The English Heritage listing details make an 
intoxicating shopping list of architectural folderols:

The Coliseum Theatre (English National Opera) - II* Grand theatre.
1902-04 by Frank Matcham , originally built for (Sir) Oswald Stoll.

Channelled terracotta facing
exuberant Free Baroque ambitious design
richly decorated interiors
vast and grandiose auditorium
asymmetrical facade
lofty tower 
triple arcaded entrances
polished red granite columns
finely executed decorative woodwork
2 storeyed voussoired archivolt
arched entrance
elaborately architraved windows
Ionic colonnaded shallow loggia storey
massively bracketed balconies
3 pedimented aedicules
entablature crowning balustrade
quoin pilasters
 richly embellished caps  
tiled dome with lantern
balconied Venetian window 
elaborate cornice enriched with cartouches,  
Ionic peristyle with figure sculpture at corners 
pedestalledball finial drum with oculi 
stepped dome 
large metal and glass globe
lavish foyer
marble facings
wealth of eclectic classical detail  
Byzantine opulence
squat columns 
domed canopies
Ionic-columned pairs of 2 tiered orchestra boxes
pedimented frames surmounted by sculptural groups
lion-drawn chariots
great, semicircular, blocked architrave proscenium arch
cartouche-trophy keystone
elaborated bays
decorated piers
classical relief frieze
massive coupled brackets
cyclorama track

The Theatres of London; Mander and Mitchenson.

and this in more restrained prose from The Era Review 17th December 1904:

From here the tower assumes different outlines, formed by trusses and niches, and the introduction of sculptured lions; the whole is carried up, getting less in diameter as the top is approached,
when the eight figures in the shape of cupids support
a large iron revolving globe,
to which is attached large electric letters spelling 'Coliseum'.
The globe is made to revolve,
and this artistic advertisement can be seen for many miles.
A further novelty in advertising is the electric device along the front,
which gives the nature of the performance taking place
at the time during the evening.

A veranda covers the pavement in front of the principal entrance,
formed of glass and iron, 
a feature being the way in which the glass is curved in shapes,
and the handsome panelled glass in the fascia,
the whole when lighted up by electricity forming
a very attractive feature in St. Martin's Lane.

What self-belief. What chutzpah.

Thursday 19 November 2009

Post early

Every year the same thing happened.
At the beginning of November she made up her mind that this time, 
for once, she would get her Christmas shopping done early.
She went as far as writing out a list - 
and there, for several weeks, the matter rested.
At intervals she tried to pretend that Christmas Day fell on the 
5th of December, or, alternatively, 
that all her friends and relations lived 
in South Africa and that she had to catch an early mail; 
but it was no use.
The feeling of temporal urgency cannot be artificially produced,
 any more than the feeling of financial distress.

from Christmas Shopping -Jan Struther
poster printed by Fosh and Cross Ltd. London 1945

Wednesday 18 November 2009

Tuesday 17 November 2009

Silver linings

Of late, it has been necessary
to accentuate the positive,

look for silver linings,

and to sing a happy tune with Millie.
(Thank you Milly.)

Monday 16 November 2009


Bunches of Honesty and Chinese lanterns used to be brought in
to decorate our classrooms in the Autumn term.
I haven't been able to grow physalis very successfully but the Honesty self-seeds everywhere
and has the power to transport me back to infant school.

This is an extract from a lovely essay about lunaria bienni which can be found here,

"...the seede commeth foorth conteined in a flat thinne cod, with a sharp point or pricke at one end, in fashion of the moone, and somewhat blackish. This cod is composed of three filmes or skins, whereof the two outmost are of an ouerworne ashe colour, and the inner-most, or that in the middle whereon the seed doth hang or cleaue, is thin and cleere shining, like a piece of white satten newly cut from the peece."

Dr. Prior, in his "Popular Names of Plants," derives the name honesty
"from the transparency of its dissepiments;"

Sunday 15 November 2009

Mrs Miniver enjoys bad weather...*

in A Wild Day.

All the associations of November, the traditional flotsam left upon its shore by the successive tides of history, went ill with halcyon weather. It was the wind-month, the blood month, Brumaire, the month of darkness: its sign was the evil scorpion, who, when surrounded by a ring of fire, was said to sting itself
and die of its own poison.

When she reached the Embankment
she met the full force of the gale,
and exulted in it.
Yes this was the kind of weather
that the events of the world called for:
a wild, dark day, suitable for a wild, dark mood.

From the two tall chimneys of the power station the smoke streamed out horizontally,
a black banner and a white one. The river was at three-quarter flood.
It looked like a battlefield, water and wind meeting angrily
in a thousand small hand-to-hand contests.

But in an hour or so the tide would turn.

* see below

Saturday 14 November 2009


What makes Jan Struther's creation so beguiling?
I scan the short story
Mrs Miniver Comes Home
with forensic interest.

Upstairs in the drawing - room there was a small bright fire of logs, yet the sunshine that flooded in through the open windows had real warmth in it.

Small and bright.

What is so appealing about this? Is it small because it is not strictly necessary?
Perhaps it is simply a lovely embellishment.
Too small to provide real heat,
but bright enough to illuminate the room
when the sun moves off.
It is an anticipatory fire and someone has thoughtfully made it
in good time for Mrs Miniver's return.

It was perfect: she felt suspended between summer and winter,
savouring the best of them both.

She turned away from the window at last.
She has had the luxury of time to think,
about the weather, the circumstances,
her own age and the season of the year,
while she arranged her cornucopic chrysanthemums,
bought from the flower-woman -

no mean bunches from the supermarket here.
Is it too late to replicate any of this ?
Have I missed the chrysanthemums ?
Perhaps it's time for mimosa.
I love mimosa, I could have a Miniver moment with that instead.

On her writing- table lay the letters which had come for her that morning.

Invitations to take out a loan?
Plastic shrouded catalogues?
Appeals from charities?

Of course not.
These are proper letters.

A card for a dress-show; a shooting invitation for Clem; two dinner parties; three sherry parties; a highly aperitive notice of some chamber music concerts;
and a letter from Vin at school -

to be dealt with pleasurably at leisure,
not to be disposed of irritably into the shredder or recycling bin.
Hard to turn the clock back on emails.
Even the school has stopped writing to us now.

She rearranged the fire a little, mostly for the pleasure of handling the fluted steel poker, and then sat down by it.

Everything is fit for purpose in this story.
The key has already turned 'sweetly in the lock',
early autumn sparkles,
(not much sparkling today, gales, thunder and gusting rain,
but Mrs M would make the best of even that I'm sure)
door handles, light-switches and bannisters fit neatly under her hand.
The fluted steel poker is no mere utilitarian article,
it is well crafted and satisfactory to handle.

Tea was already laid: there were honey sandwiches, brandy snaps, and small ratafia biscuits; and there would, she knew, be crumpets.

And now we see that tea has been laid by an unseen hand.
A delicate sweet tea.
No doubt clouds this moment. Crumpets will appear.
No inefficiency.
No effort.

Three new library books, await her on the fender-stool in their bright paper wrappers.
How cossetted she is, but appreciative too.

The clock on the mantlepiece chimed, very softly and precisely, five times.

No clock would run too fast or too slowly in this house.
This is a well-tempered home.

A tug hooted from the river.

One by one, all the senses are being satisfied.

A sudden breeze brought the sharp tang of a bonfire in at the window.

And then from the other end of the square, comes the familiar sound
of the Wednesday barrel-organ playing:

All she has to do now is ring for tea.

Ting ting. Does anyone hear my bell?

Friday 13 November 2009

Bye baby

We're all adults here now.

Wednesday 11 November 2009