Tuesday, July 26, 2016


[Image source: http://www.utsidan.se/albums/viewpic.htm?ID=40154 . Photo, by Öhrnell, of Lappspira (Pedicularis lapponica).]

No further posts here, in all probability, for the next week and a half. I'll be in the fells!

Friday, July 22, 2016

Douglas Hyde: I Believed (1950)

Subtitled, The Autobiography of a former British Communist.

Douglas Hyde resigned from the Communist party in 1948, some twenty years after joining. He also resigned from his job at the Daily Worker, where he had been News Editor (Bill Rust was Editor) for most of the eight years he had worked there. Hyde and his wife had converted to Catholicism of a conservative kind (he was drawn to the neo-medieval Distributist movement that began with Belloc and Chesterton). A couple of years later, true to his campaigning and journalistic instincts, he wrote I Believed, a book aimed squarely at Middle England and intended to supply it with an understanding of British Communism on the know-your-enemy principle.

It will come as no surprise that Hyde’s name does not featurely largely in pro-Communist histories (his book was immediately exposed as treacherous lies). But one doesn’t have to be a Communist to view the book’s narrator with certain misgivings; somehow, politicals of all colours have succeeded in making us queasy about turncoats – the word is deeply pejorative, yet what other term is there?   

Hyde himself as a Distributist is almost laughably true to his character; an instinctive journalist and campaigner, used to making enemies, and capable of arguing himself into incredible positions.

I had believed that Catholic culture had been outgrown at the time when the new economic system of capitalism had broken the fetters of feudalism, that it could all be explained in terms of economics. But had men outgrown it? There appeared to be a convincing case for saying that it was not outgrown but that there had been an attempted murder which had not quite succeeded...

(Hyde’s favourite books had always been Chaucer and Langland. They had once taken their places “quite naturally at the side of Morris’s Dream of John Ball, Marx’s Das Kapital and Lenin’s The Proletarian Revolution “, but now they led him in a different direction.)

Anyway, we appreciate unreliable narrators, and these misgivings about the author only add to the absorbing interest of his book. The credibility of Communism was at its apogee. When Hyde joined up, the Paris Commune was still within living memory, the October Revolution was recent, and very soon there would be Communists running Madrid and Anarchists running Barcelona; the overthrow of capitalism in Europe was something that could happen.

And superficially the Red tide was still running when Hyde left, since the end of the war meant a host of new Communist nations in Eastern Europe.  When the International appeared to be reborn as Cominform in 1947,

The Parties invited to the initial meeting had been those of Russia, France, Italy, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Rumania. They were those which were already ruling Parties or those which Moscow thought would soon be so.

Hyde’s change of creed clearly didn’t mean a change of everything. And, especially in the early chapters, one senses that while writing them Hyde re-vivifies his erstwhile beliefs. He is still full of admiration for Communist directness, organization, opportunism and power to mobilize ordinary working people.

At great London meetings men and women were throwing on the platforms their wedding rings, pitiful little heirlooms or everything they had in their wallets at the time. Our political opponents, who charged us with faking these things, most foolishly under-estimated the depth of feeling we had succeeded in creating. 

His accounts of e.g. the successful takeover of a local Labour party in Surrey, of illegal preparations for the national underground Press organization (during the ban on the Daily Worker early in the war), of passing secrets to Russia, and of on-the-spot reporting of the V-1 blitz, are exciting, sympathetic and often tinged with pride.

The deepest of his beliefs had perhaps never changed. The book registers a continuing distrust, sometimes rising to condemnation, of his new book’s new audience.   

They went over so frequently that suburban Bristol began to yawn and Chief Sub-Editors with news sense told their underlings: “Just one paragraph and a small head ­– it’s only another gone over the top.” Once four unemployed pooled all they had to hire an old car, then drove it straight through the railings and over the cliffs, and the Sea Walls hit the headlines again for the moment.

But the “comfortable” folk in the district where I lived felt secure enough in the main and their sense of comfort was heightened, if anything, by the sound of jobless Welsh miners singing, unceasingly, for pence in the street outside, the inevitable “Cwm Rhondda”, “Bread of Heaven, feed me till I want no more”. Then, in little groups on the Downs at night, the younger miners joined with the local communists to sing “Watch and pray, live on hay, you’ll have pie in the sky when you die.”

The professional Communist’s contempt for fellow-travellers, those sympathisers who lacked the moral courage to join the Party outright, is something that Hyde can transfer wholesale to his new position. Or consider this, about those “sensitive intellectuals” (Hyde sounding like Kipling here) who were troubled by the sharp switch of Communist policy at the time of the Soviet-German pact.

Their attitude was summed up in a letter I received from a well-known poet who, after being drawn to the Party because of its anti-fascist propaganda, wrote: “A plague on both your uncles, Uncle Joe and Uncle Adolf” – then disappeared into an ivory tower from which he has never since emerged.

“Emerged” suggests (naturally enough) a media-oriented view of human behaviour. Hyde never changed his mind about contempt for the “ivory tower” and he uses the phrase again, in vastly changed circumstances, to explain why as a Catholic convert he could not retire into one, but must now write this book. 

This reminds me that the book-jacket quotes a review by Stephen Spender in The Spectator, perhaps not one of his best-known texts:

Alas, this book goes a long way to justify the Red scares emanating from America. No one can read it without realising one simple fact: that no true Communist has any interest at heart except the party line emanating from the Soviet Union.

Hyde’s account of Communist thinking is more complex than that.

Communism is necessary and desirable above all else. The fight for communism stretches across the world, which is divided by the two opposing classes and not vertically by different races and nations. In fighting for a communist Britain I am fighting for a better Britain and for the destruction of all that is rotten and decadent. In that fight I have the assistance of all who are operating on the same world front against capitalism. My desire to make my country communist therefore makes me an internationalist.

But at one point in that world front there is a whole nation on my side, a great State, the U.S.S.R., where a strong-point has been established, around which all future battles will tend to turn and without which any other, local victories must fail. At all costs, therefore, Russia, bastion of communism, must be defended.... Who attacks Russia attacks my hope of a communist Britain. In helping Russia “with all the means at his disposal and at any price”, therefore, the British communist is working for a better Britain, the French communist for a better France, and the Icelandic communist for a better Iceland. He is, in his own eyes and that of his Party, the super-patriot. ....

The Soviet-German Pact therefore in August 1939 did not trouble the trained Marxist at all. The Soviet leaders had a responsibility to the working-class of the world to defend the U.S.S.R. and could, if necessary, for this reason make an alliance with the devil himself. ...

It was this last part that the sensitive intellectuals had trouble with. The foregoing argument is not meant sympathetically by the post-Communist Hyde, who intends his ironic glance at the pretensions of a “super-Patriot”, but in fact it retains its logical force. In civil war, loyalty to a Nation ceases to supply a normative guide to behaviour. The Communists projected a real civil war in every capitalist state, but they were already engaged in a mental and emotional civil war within themselves; therefore national loyalty was a mental weakness which meant nothing more than subservience to the present crop of robber-barons and their troops. But the argument extends much wider than Communism; few people today would want to think of themselves as Nationalists or believers in a Hobbesian “law and order at any price”. So what exactly are the grounds for our de facto civil obedience?

It’s easy to see, however, how Hyde’s lifelong love for Somerset Gothic churches, apparently so trifling, led to hairline fractures that slowly but eventually shattered his Marxist credo. (Perhaps he should have talked it over with Alan Mitchell, the strongly left-wing expert on the show-piece trees of Britain’s great estates.) 

Communism justified free love (defying “outworn, bourgeois conventions”) but this is something that Hyde never seems to have felt much enthusiasm for (of course, this could be the Catholic speaking, or perhaps he thought that any kind of defence just wouldn’t play in Middle England). Hyde’s (and his colleagues’) attitudes to women were, in fact, fairly unreconstructed:

Go to any Communist Party Congress and watch the hard-faced women who go to the rostrum. The hatred which the Party kindles and uses is often quite shockingly apparent in eyes as hard as those of a Soho prostitute and lips as tight as those of a slumland money-lender...

“We get women in the Party, and they are all right for just as long as they remain obscure,” one Political Bureau member complained to me, “but within twelve months of our turning them into Marxists they are about as attractive as horses.”

The Party aims by its training to produce “men of steel”. But “women of steel” attract neither other women nor even the men of steel themselves... Thus, the working-class housewife or the fresh young girl who comes into the Party is at once the centre of attention... She is useful for breaking down the suspicions of other women and so is seen as an effective “front”, and at the same time she is a welcome relief from the steely, hard-faced, betrowsered women who have made their way to the top and who are, in Party parlance, so utterly unbedworthy.

[Unattractiveness of senior females]  is general enough to be a matter of concern to the Party leaders and even from time to time to feature on agendas as a problem to be solved. ...

But I want to quote some sentences, finally, about the attractions of Communism, without which there would have been no book and nothing to write about. This was in Bristol in the late 1920s.

As I watched and helped to lead each demonstration of unemployed, my feelings were a compound of both anger and pity. As I saw them trampled under the horses’ hooves during baton charges, or tugging with bare hands at paving-stones in their search for ammunition to be used against the police, hope and pride would mingle with my anger. Each man who disappeared between warders from the court-room into the cells added to my own hatred of the capitalist system and of the capitalist class, and strengthened my revolutionary determination. ... We sang of the revolution,, dreamed of it, fought for it, studied for it, worked for it and, often enough, suffered for it too.

As the economic crisis deepened, the poverty, and the vast scale of that poverty, appalled me. .... When the Daily Worker began to appear, the unemployed queued at the “bomb shop” in the Horsefair in order to be able to read it free of charge. And the Bristol demonstrations, riots and prosecutions featured more and more in its columns. ... The strength and influence of the Communist Party cannot be gauged in times of normalcy, when democracy is working smoothly. ... The real test is in time of crisis. The crisis had come and we were proving our ability to lead as trained Marxists should.

Hyde's switch from Communism to Distributism was not quite so perverse as it may seem. William Cobbett had long ago shown that pre-Reformation rural labourers were far better provided for than their grossly oppressed descendants in the nineteenth century. Socialists and neo-mediavalists recognized a common enemy in Protestant capitalism.

[After writing I Believed, a best-seller, Hyde slowly became disillusioned with Catholicism. For many years he was a foreign correspondent in parts of the third world. In the later part of his life he was an undogmatic socialist campaigning for issues of justice worldwide. He died in 1996.]  


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Ylva Eggehorn: Europe's Grandchildren (1985)

Ylva Eggehorn is these days perhaps best-known as a hymn-writer. She was active in the early years of the Jesus movement in Sweden, around 1970.

Like most Swedes who achieve a certain prominence, she is also a poet and a newspaper columnist, at least she was back in the 1980s when the impressive articles collected in this book were written. By then she had become a sort of  unofficial voice for younger Christians in Sweden.

These articles represent, as the rear jacket explains, her own journey from 1960s internationalism to an increased focus on "Europe". This was Europe as a historic cultural entity, the Europe of cathedrals and art and science. The Europe that had been idealistically embraced by dissidents in the East (in Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia...), yet was forgotten and neglected by an americanized gum-chewing youth in Europe's capitalist nations. Eggehorn, you might surmise, was becoming nostalgic for "Christendom", for Catholic fiefdoms like the old Austro-Hungarian Empire. (See "Att dö för Europa" / "To die for Europe", 3rd March 1984.)

Eggehorn's book precedes, of course, the break-up of the Eastern Bloc in 1989. The story of Lech Walesa's Solidarity was unfolding as she wrote. The struggle against Communism was a prime focus for Christian activism of the time, as were the debates about abortion legislation in the West. In both spheres Christianity stood against materialism, variously understood.

Some of our own preoccupations of more recent times are, of course, conspicuously absent, not because of anything about Eggehorn or her position but just because things have changed a great deal since the 1980s.

She rarely mentions the EU, which Sweden joined only on 1st January 1995.

She didn't yet see Europe's populations in the multi-ethnic terms that we do today, and she scarcely mentions the Islamic world, now the focus of so many of our fears and hopes.

And her book pre-dates, of course, the dramatic resurgence of the Far Right across the western world that now threatens such civilization as we still have.


Eggehorn's Christian thought is strongly anti-relativist, defensive of the objective reality of moral values and of a definite Christian conception of the human.

The poet Lars Gustafsson, who I've written about a couple of times recently, makes an appearance here:

Lars Gustafsson skrev i en stor artikel i BLM [Bonniers Litterära Magasin*]  förra året, att paradigmet "människan" saknas i vår moderna vetenskap -- det är faktiskt ofint att ens efterfråga det. Aspekter på människans liv -- sociologiska, biologiska, ekonomiska och andra -- går att studera, men att fråga efter helheten, att söka ett paradigm för människan, anses ovetenskapligt, skriver Lars Gustafsson. Han tillägger dock i slutet av sin artikel att man med fog måste misstänka den moderna vetenskapen för att ha en alldeles speciell avsikt med att betrakta frågan "vad är en människa?" som i princip omöjlig att besvara eller som ointressant för forskarna. Och han tror att den moderna institutionella vetenskapen snart kommer att "tvingas ut ur sin objektiva förklädnad."

Vems intressen de här gagnar och vad vi kommer att få bevittna, säger Lars Gustafsson ingenting om.


Lars Gustafsson wrote, in a long article in BLM [Bonniers Literary magazine*] last year, that the paradigm "Man" is missing from modern science -- it is indelicate to even ask about it. Aspects of the life of Man -- of his sociology, biology, economy and so on -- those things are rightly the objects of study, but to ask about the totality, to seek the paradigm "Man", is considered unscientific, says Gustafsson.  At the end of his article, however, he adds that one may have the suspicion that modern science has particular reasons for defining the question "What is Man?" as intrinsically impossible to answer and not of interest from a research point of view.  And he thinks that modern institutional science will soon be "forced to abandon its guise of objectivity".

Gustafsson doesn't say whose interests this might benefit and what we will then be witness to.

(From "Den utbytbara människan" ("The interchangeable man" - 13th February 1981)

I guess you could say this is Eggehorn co-opting Gustafsson's sceptical and speculative humanism in order to brandish it as Christian accusation.

*NOTE:  Bonniers Literary Magazine, commonly called BLM or "Blemman" (The Pimple), was a Swedish literary periodical published between 1932 and 2004, when it finally expired after years in the doldrums; it was down to 1,300 subscribers and was published only four times a year. (Its final editors were Kristoffer Leandoer and Aase Berg.)

By this time it had already had one recess, beginning in 1999, and was mourned as the relic of a more ample and slower-moving time, as in this article for Aftonbladet by Arne Johnsson: http://wwwc.aftonbladet.se/kultur/9912/14/aj.html .

In its glory days, for instance when Gustafsson himself was editor (1962-1972), it was published ten times a year: basically a monthly, but with the usual expedient of a "summer special" to cover the blessed period when Swedes stop work and head for their summer cottages.


The article "Vems fred?" ("Whose peace?" - 19th February 1983) shows the strength of Eggehorn's internationalist heritage: here she points out that the peace we hope to enjoy in the comfortable west often means suffering, and therefore conflict, in other parts of the world.

The article argues thus: when we pray for "world peace" what we actually conceive is peace for us privileged westerners (as above). Is the concept of "world peace" even coherent, if peace for one part of society means misery for another? The only coherent concept is "God's peace". Pray for that, and you know you can't be wrong.


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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Brigid Brophy: Black Ship to Hell (1962)

Brigid Brophy, photo by Jerry Bauer

The urgency of Brophy's writing springs essentially from this: she accepts Freud's account of the death wish as a fundamental truth about human nature, at any rate in modern times; then combines that fact with the existence of weapons of mass destruction: we all basically wish to destroy everything, and now we have the means, so we will. This leads to (among other things) a violent assault on religion - based not so much on its claims being untrue (that's merely a given) as on denying that religious belief can ever be sincere or morally unreprehensible - these are formidable, in-your-face polemics and I'm shaken and impressed. And yet it isn't difficult to see why her books aren't in print any more. Brophy's passionate admiration for Freud leads to many pages of unparticularized generalities like this, sampled in mid-torrent:

She [the prostitute] has, in fact, improved on the tragic conception of fate by adding to it the numerical idea of chance. The male sex is a lottery, in which the prostitute has bought the highest possible number of tickets. Any one in her holding may be the winning number, the father she is seeking; but since no one knows which is he, it is the series as a whole which becomes the object of her sexual and aggressive desires. For the prostitute, every professional act of intercourse is an act of incest and, at the same time, an attack on her father. In exercising her profession, she gratifies her incestuous wish (and its murderous companion), yet the fact that it is a game of hazard allows her to plead not guilty to incest. Just so, if one member, no one knows which, of the firing squad has drawn a blank cartridge, all may feel innocent of the killing but the execution none the less gets done. The same psychology is manifest in the very usage of modern European languages, where the plural you, vous, sie is a politer way of addressing one person than the singular thou, tu, du. ...

This jostle of ideas is dazzling, but I feel like it was even more dazzling to write than to read. So much seems to be being forcefully asserted, (and yet, in a sort of mode that suggests that it isn't really being asserted), and it's so heavily bolstered by impatient logical expressions like "just as", "of course", "in fact", that I keep wanting to call out: Hold on there! Just let me get it straight, what (or who) actually are we talking about right now? Are you claiming that every prostitute... ? In what useful sense is this an account of prostitution (or warfare, or education, or artists, or elections..)? This was a fashionable style of its era - displaced at some time in the 1980s by the style of theory (revulsion from the post-Freudian style when I was at university led to me wrongly supposing that this was also how Freud himself must have written, thus putting off discovery of my own passionate admiration for Freud for a further twenty years). The passing of time reveals violently hostile contemporaries to share as much as they disputed - Brophy often reminds me - at any rate, so far as her language strategies are concerned - of C.S. Lewis in his populist defences of Christianity (another blatant misuser of "in fact", "of course", etc). Both made, in passing, exactly the same unanswerable protests about the practice of vivisection - protests that were complete failures and now excite surprise; in our own time intellectuals are conspicuously silent about this, it is only the emotive masses who think there is something not quite right about what is euphemistically known as animal testing. (More generally, Brophy also reminds me a lot of Germaine Greer - the same enormous learning and the same admirable assurance of being able to cut through it to what other learned people don't see at all.)



Friday, July 15, 2016

Ken Edwards

I've just published some prose pieces by Ken Edwards on Intercapillary Space:

Seven pieces from a book with no name :



Coincidentally, three days ago Ken wrote this blog post to register the passing, after 23 years, of Reality Street, his publishing concern.

"I never meant to or really wanted to become a publisher, let alone be known primarily as one."


It will be hard to avoid that reputational fate, given that the press's 67 publications include many of the essential texts of British experimental writing over that period. (Including, for instance, the books by Carol Watts, and Out of Everywhere 2, that I'm currently writing about.)


But maybe the end of Reality Street will be a chance to perceive him in his own right as a quintessential creative force within the UK experimental field.

Here's one of the pieces I just published:

History of a thought

What is the history of thought? This is too hard a question. Try again. What is the history of a thought? Even more difficult. A thought is elusive. We know that much. Where did it come from? Unknown. A thought cannot be grasped. Its progress cannot be tracked with any certainty. Its genesis is therefore even less certain than its present status. What was there before the thought? If there was nothing how then did the thought originate? How could it originate? And what thereafter? How does the thought persist? Who is doing the thinking? How can we address this question? There is a narrative to a thought but it is too hard to capture. It mutates too quickly. It moves at the speed of thought. Tracking it is tricky even when it maintains its coherence. But what if it lost coherence? What if it went elsewhere? What if it became distorted and therefore entered the realm of dream or even nightmare? And what if it were then taken up and acted upon? That doesn’t bear thinking about. But everything must run its course. Let us suppose therefore that before too long the thought is gone. It has vanished. Does the thinker then persist? Who is it who thought and then ceased thinking and does the thinker continue to exist after the thought has run its course? But has the thought really finished? Is it complete has it reached its terminus its estuary its final horizon? What has become of it? And if on the other hand still incomplete if without resolution then does the thought have a future and who will think it through? What is its future? We don’t know. So we are no wiser. We don’t even know that. This requires further thought. It’s time to think again.

And here's Ken in 1979, found in vol 1 of his Reality Studios magazine:


Some pages from TILTH
: a garden journal in progress

 . . . .

Soil rich & limey
I break it up a little

at right angles make a shallow drill
or use the head hold the handle
until the soil is quite fine
by pressing the rake in this raking
to remove surface stones
mark where each row handle into the soil
this depression of the rake to make
along the line of the rake at a low angle
with the garden line if the rake is held
the surface is liable to the ground
of seeds is to be sown
to become wavy instead of level at a steep angle
in one direction and then rake first
rake over the bed

Foxes come down from the railway embankment
I saw one dead in Cuckoo Wood it was pinned
between the eyes grey & ghastly          We skirted
burnt gorse & past Orange Court found
the Farnmborough road & thence back
to Lower Green Farm the masts
of TV aerials shinning through the brushwood

ten miles from the Crystal Palace

 . . . .

Forty years makes a big difference to the writing, but I feel I can see a continuity in perspective, intent, and attention.

In the valedictory piece, Ken says this:

Anyway … that’s all done now. I have increasingly felt over the past couple of years that I no longer had any enthusiasm for the publishing, and, at the dawn of my old age, wanted to put my energies back where I began – into my writing. I’ve done my bit as a publisher. Also, I want to put on record that poetry as such is not in fact the biggest thing in my life. Most contemporary poetry I read bores me. I know that’s a bit like Glenn Gould when he said “I don’t like the sound of the piano that much.” I can relate to that. I’ve always thought of myself not as a “poet”, whatever that is, but a “writer”. I am interested in new writing, writing that breaks boundaries, which might be poetry.

And as for the poetry scene, it no longer energises me. Perhaps because I’ve been out of London for 12 years. Perhaps because the British avant-garde scene seems to have run its course, and has retreated behind the boundaries of academia. Or that’s how I perceive it today. Poets subverting expectations of what a poem should be, and telling the world the theory of how they do it seem to be two a penny now. It looks like a career move sometimes.

[NB Since he left  London he lives, much to my envy, in Hastings Old Town.]

. . . .

This preferment of "writing" over "poetry" seems like a good way of expressing what is essentially experimental about experimental writing.

I can't necessarily share the implied ciriticism of recent poetry. Being such a latecomer, this is the poetry that I know and have enthused about. And yes, Lisa Samuels, Carol Watts and Andrea Brady (for example) are all academics.

Has something got lost, as Ken argues, with the collapse, or erosion anyway, of avant-garde writing from the streets? It certainly has, though I couldn't easily define it.

Some direct and uncorrected quality of vision - I'm thinking of Bill Griffiths now. Or Maggie O'Sullivan. Though, of course, one went to the Royal College of Music and the other made programmes for the BBC. So "from the streets" is a relative notion here!

And for much of its history the British Poetry Revival did always have an eye to academia for sustenance and attention. As Steve Willey and others have noted, Bob Cobbing's art was very consciously a series of engagements with institutions. Cobbing wasn't an academic, certainly not, but he wasn't sailing to Avalon either (vague memory of VDGG's "Refugees"), he was very much aware of academic networks and their opportunities. And he knew he was making history as academics would write it.


Here, by the way, is Billy Mills' excellent review, published yesterday, of the three volumes of Bill Griffiths' wrtings published in recent years by Reality Street:


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Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The ragworts of Shaw Forest Park

This is Common Ragwort, which is the Senecio jacobaea of my formative years, but now renamed Jacobaea vulgaris.

(Jacobaea - ragworts - have been split from Senecio - groundsels -, following molecular analysis).

I took these photos at Shaw Forest Park, Swindon, on 11th July 2016. They made a strangely glorious sight that evening, on the mound above the old landfill.

So strange, that when I was looking at these photos afterwards I decided they must be a species less familiar to me, Hoary Ragwort (J. erucifolia). But the experts queried this when I put them on the Facebook Wild Flower Group; apparently J. erucifolia is not even in flower yet.  And a re-visit has convinced me that they are indeed J. vulgaris, though my eye and camera had picked out the least typical individuals.

I'm not sure if anyone else will be able to see what I mean: the space in the open corymb, the long ray-florets, the thin scanty leaves and and beetroot-red stems were the main components. All of these, however, seem to be within the range of Common Ragwort variation, so I'll set it down to biodynamic factors, or maybe some unusual edaphic challenges in the location.

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Above Wroughton

Yellow Oat-grass (Trisetum flavescens) and Crested Dog's-tail (Cynosurus cristatus)

These are some pictures from a midsummer evening ramble (23rd June 2016) on an unremarkable  part of the Marlborough Downs, just above Wroughton. (Close to the Science Museum Large Object Store at Wroughton Airfield.)

Above, a semi-native meadow with Yellow Oat-grass (Trisetum flavescens) and Crested Dog's-tail (Cynosurus cristatus).  I think it also had Meadow Fescue, but I didn't realize what I had seen until afterwards (I supposed it was Tall Fescue) so I didn't photograph it.

Patch of Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum)

A patch of Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum). Detail below. If you zoom in, you'll see the spike-like racemes and the distinctive stem-nodes, appearing white. 

Patch of Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum) - detail

Spikes of Tor-grass (Brachypodium pinnatum)

Spike, or raceme? As the spikelets have no pedicels this ought to mean  that it's a spike, but it doesn't really look like a spike. I know that's not a very scientific statement.

Tor-grass is disliked by many ecologists, even though it's a native grass. Its recent spread in chalk grassland is clearly related to intensive farming and the increased nitrogen in the soil. In these conditions it becomes highly invasive, driving out the rich variety of species in our traditional chalkland flora.

More information about this:


Hairy St John's-wort (Hypericum hirsutum) coming into flower

Here's a plant I never tuned into before, Hairy St John's-wort (Hypericum hirsutum), just coming into flower. Apparently it's fairly common across most of England. The numerous black glands on the sepals attracted my attention. The hairy stems and leaves are diagnostic. I looked for "perforations" in the leaves, and it did appear to have some, though scanty and extremely minute, compared to what I've seen before in H. perforatum.

Leaves and stem of Hairy St John's-wort (Hypericum hirsutum)

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Friday, July 08, 2016

Carol Watts, Occasionals (again)

Charles Alexander's useful review of Occasionals:


Today is the 8th of July. Consultation of Occasionals shows that it has two poems for this day, like a Brahms pairing.


The first poem (springcuts XIII)is preoccupied with darkness on a bright day. Some are out in the sun, gardening ("Took off his shirt to grow a bed.").

Yet. "When voices are dark from open windows"... "the dull kick of resignation".

Coming into focus:

All you have to say to me. A woman
is speaking, where pain is. Domestic
it comes in shades of eavesdropped.
Lack, of light.


The second poem (springcuts XIV) isn't without pain, either. In the first half, we circulate memories of thngs lost, maybe only imagined. (Hopkins' "Binsey Poplars" in the offing.)

In the second half, the poem focusses on a childhood memory. Of the gang throwing stones at an unpopular girl. The poet comments:

Loyalties, I was silent but. This was virtue,
to stick by in a stoning.

And she notices that the cruel girl seemed brave when stoned, with a scar on her lips.


Thursday, July 07, 2016

F O T O, poems 91 - 100

Moon over a distant Indalsälven

[Image source: https://plus.google.com/s/Indals%C3%A4lven/posts . Photo by Anders Lundh.]

91. (Indal where we swam)

Trees on a promontory. Around us the great river
massed, penned in by the great dam.

Someone lit a fire here once. We talked quietly
(it was afternoon), ate crisps, prepared to swim.

92. (In the river)

I am in the middle of Indalsälven, and the world.
The huge embrace of water is not clammy, it is complete.

I trod against the suck damwards...  or else I ransacked
the still, big surface; with joy in escaping and in doing it.


93. (Smiling in shadow of the bank)

A double dragonfly crackled in the reeds.
Chest-deep, my toes nibbled at the sloppy stones,

my mind still swimming. How soon to swim back into the light,
and be only my limbs again, local in the horizons!

94. (It’s freezing!)

The breath that ought to be in you is all
flown to the four winds, and you can’t get it back,

climbing in panic water and earning in gasps
a pinch of noise to tell me it needs a shriek.

95. (Sitting in the river horse-fly)

Wet skin looks untouchable, unscented:
the broms-noise stopped. Ouch, you joined the foodchain!

Rueful and laughing, that the broms slapped down so instantly
and got you. You snapped your towel, complaining. 

96. (Reflecting trees and sky)

Dammed up, the river spreads. On its surface
my vision flew back, reversed and crossed with ripples,

the aspens stepping down upon their tops,
the skyline cracked, the sky charged with the invisible.

97. (Flower-wreath on my head)

I am a fool, but picked flowers were always a crown
for tables or for hair. Passed from hand to hand, too.

That was the start of culture, but not those immortal monuments
we have tasted since. Just now, for me and you.  

98. (Playing mouth-organ in hammock)

Why should you, up there in denser and softer darkness,
mother me, bow to me, you childhood trees?

I’ll die with you, I promise. Those who can live with it,
those survivors, may they keep fit on our ashes!

99. (Swinging in hammock)

Adrift... adrift... big bird crisscrossing the moon you seem
a fixture, like the slow grey liverwort on the rock

where I sketched it yesterday. After packing, you slipped out to seem.
But soon, we’ll matter less than your lost sock.

100. (Sunset behind trees)

The sky rustled, smeared by the wind.
In our absence small yellow leaves would spiral;

the train sped through forests, a directory of trees.
We crouched on our bags, amusing a tearful child.


Back-story: Poems 91-97 The walk pauses for a swim in the Indal, just above the dam at Hölleforsen. 98-99 Final evening at the cottage. 100 Departure: the train south (from Sundsvall towards Stockholm).

Poem 98 refers to a poem by Edith Södergran.

When this sequence was written (1998-2002), each poem was linked to one of the 100 photos in a holiday album. Originally, I intended to write the poems into the album itself, like captions. But as time went by the poems became a public art and when I presented them I replaced the photos with brief explanatory titles in brackets. The missing photos, I hoped, would operate as a concealed presence whose form the reader can discern sometimes distinctly, sometimes more faintly.

The images accompanying these 2016 blog posts are unrelated to the original photos: they are taken from current internet sources.


Poems 1 - 10

Poems 11 - 20

Poems 21 - 30

Poems 31 - 40

Poems 41 - 50

Poems 51 - 60

Poems 61 - 70

Poems 71 - 80

Poems 81 - 90

Poems 91 - 100

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Wednesday, July 06, 2016

Othello and King Lear

Othello and Iago

[Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Othello_and_Iago.gif . 1901 illustration from a Philadelphia edition of Charles and mary Lamb's Tales from Shakespeare.]

I wrote about King Lear before.

Spenser's chronicle of Lear, describing the king "Too truely tryde in his extreamest state", could have already been percolating in Shakespeare's mind when he wrote Othello's self-description:

   one not easily jealous, but being wrought
Perplex'd in the extreme 

Both are plays of suffering. In Othello, the titular hero's suffering begins in III.1, after two acts of patient preparation by Iago. The suffering Othello murders his beloved under a misapprehension and then kills himself. Othello is the most painful of Shakespeare's tragedies, A.C. Bradley said (1904), and I agree with him.

 In Lear the steadily mounting suffering is brought forward to the early part of the play. Shakespeare wanted to see where this pitch of suffering led, if it didn't culminate in suicide. The answer was the cosmic expressionism of the mad scenes.

Bradley's Note R points out that most of Lear's reminiscences of Othello occur in the first two acts.


F.R. Leavis' 1937 attempt to unseat Bradley by emphasizing Othello's faults, which leads him to the absurd remark that Iago is only a device, is not one of his triumphant essays. But it has some very good things in it. Many of those good things were already latent in Bradley, if Leavis had done him the justice to read him seriously, rather than to smear him with "comic solemnity" and the absence of even "moderate intelligence", etc.

What Leavis especially disliked - and you can't blame him for this - is Bradley's assertions that e.g. "both Desdemona and Othello show themselves at their noblest just before death" or  "and love and admiration alone remain, in the majestic dignity and sovereign ascendancy of the close. Chaos has come and gone; and the Othello of the Council Chamber and the quay of Cyprus has returned, or a greater and nobler Othello still. As he speaks those final words in which all the glory and agony of his life -- long ago in India and Arabia and Aleppo, and afterwards in Venice, and now in Cyprus seem to pass before us, like the pictures that flash before the eyes of a drowning man, a triumphant scorn for the fetters of the flesh and the littleness of all the lives that must survive him sweeps our grief away, and when he dies upon a kiss ..."

The worthwhile, the important, subject of disagreement between them is the validity of this Victorian-inflected conception of heroism.

Leavis pretends that the difference is about literary methodology, i.e. Bradley's supposed tendency to treat Shakespeare's characters as real people, instead of focussing on the "dramatic poem". Actually it's Leavis himself who makes the worst blunder of this sort, by inferring Othello's gross susceptibility to jealousy from the fact (Leavis treats it as a narrative fact) that it takes only 70 lines to convert him from besotted contentment to smouldering jealousy.

The same stricture applies in part to one of Leavis' strongest cards, Othello's self-dramatization. For here Leavis doesn't take any account of Othello being, in fact, a drama; he hasn't any sure method for distinguishing the way drama must work from aspects of the character Othello's personality. Also, I think he's naive to assume that self-dramatization is a distinct and culpable personality trait as opposed to something that nearly all of us do in public. In this area, too, we need to go a bit deeper.



          That you shall surely find him,
Lead to the Sagittary the raised search,
And there will I be with him. So, farewell.

- - -


                   I do beseech you,
Send for the lady to the Sagittary,
And let her speak of me before her father: ...

Discussion in Rodney M. Baine's 1939 note in the Shakespeare Association Bulletin (Vol 14 no 4 (Oct 939), pp. 226-31.  (Among more infantile Shakespeare scholars this is commonly known as the Baine's Note.)

The choice in 1939 came down to two options, really. (The third, that it referred to apart of the Venice arsenal, had already been demolished when its statue of "Mars the archer" was shown to post-date Shakespeare's play.)

1. Shakespeare made up a plausible name for an inn. "Sagittary" probably means Centaur, as it did in Troilus and Cressida. There is an inn called the Centaur in the Comedy of Errors. (Orthodox view, defended by Baine.)

2. Shakespeare had somehow heard of, remembered or even visited a street in Venice called the Frezzaria, named (apparently in the 15th century) after the arrow-makers whose ateliers clustered there. He or his intermediate source transformed the name into the cognate Sagittary (proposed by Violet M. Jeffery in 1932).

The choice to be made here reflects other decision-choices about Othello. It's a marvellously grounded play, but to what extent is this solidity testament to Shakespeare's visionary imagination, and to what extent is it founded in real knowledge of Venice, Venetians, Moors and Cyprus?

A complexity, maybe, is that the events on which Othello is based took place semi-recently. Giraldi Cinthio's tale "Un Capitano Moro" was in Gli Hecatommithi (1565), and some details may be based on an actual crime, though there's a strong element of folktale too. It's in this latter connection that Cinthio appears to moralize over the unwisdom of Disdemona's decision to marry a Moor. In the folktale world, xenophobic and conformist, it's always a bad plan to get involved with the Other.


Shakespeare's transformation of his Othello-source has a lot in common with what he did previously in Hamlet and afterwards in Lear.

The principal change he made, from which all else follows, is omitting the Ensign's (Iago's) failed attempt to seduce Disdemona, and accordingly eliminating his motive of taking vengeance, not on the Moor (Othello), but on her. Those two popular Bradleyan conundra, the problem of Iago's motives and the problem of Hamlet's delay, each arise from Shakespeare's alterations to his source. In the case of Hamlet this alteration - to make the murder of Hamlet's father a secret - may not have been Shakespeare's doing, it may have already happened in the ur-Hamlet. In the case of Othello we don't have this extra complexity to contend with.

The reasons for the omission can only be guessed at, but my guess is that theatrical pragmatism was the chief driver. If the attempted seduction were to be included in the play, it would probably have to be dramatized, it was too important to leave to report. But this would decentre the interesting and potentially tragic part of the story. (Cinthio's is a nasty story, but it isn't a tragic one.)

Besides, there's a basic weakness in Cinthio's plot; we don't notice the weakness when reading the tale, but it would be exposed in the theatre. The weakness is, why doesn't Disdemona inform her husband that the Ensign is a rascal who has tried to seduce her? It is of course essential that she does not; the Ensign's poisoning of the Moor's mind couldn't work if the Ensign himself were viewed as compromised (besides, he'd be dead meat). Shakespeare might think up a reason for her keeping information from her husband, but her character would then have to be quite different from Desdemona's in the play we have.

Shakespeare's rehandling is what allows the play to proceed with its dreadful haste, after the Venetian prelude of Act I. With the omission, all sorts of things fell into place. Iago's malevolence, like Hamlet's delay, is now grounded in his own deep psychology rather than the plot. Iago is more horrible in his cold willingness to sacrifice Desdemona than if he had a reason, however distorted, for hating her. And his lack of concrete motive makes him unguessable, both by Othello and by Desdemona. Desdemona is totally innocent: both morally, and in the sense of being quite unaware of Iago's nature. She cannot protect herself; in fact Iago consciously uses her innocence to condemn her. Othello, meanwhile, is different from Cinthio's Moor. Shakespeare ennobles him, but also makes him solely responsible for killing his wife.

Calle Frezzeria (Venice)

[Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Frezzeria.jpg . 2009 photo by "L736E".]


Monday, July 04, 2016

Storulvån - Blåhammaren - Sylarna

Sylarna from Spåime

[Image source: https://ceciliathomasson.com/2011/07/10/fjallcykling/]

Storulvån Blåhammaren Sylarna

(Booklet about the "friendly triangle" published in 1991. Text by Curt Lofterud, in my translation.)

Anti-clockwise walking

This little booklet describes nature along the walking route Storulvån - Blåhammaren - Sylarna - Storulvån. So the route goes anti-clockwise. There's no reason why you shouldn't walk the route clockwise, but in that case you should read the booklet backwards!

A good option would be to take five days for the walk.

On the first day take the wild-flower path up to the summit of Getryggen. There you will get acquainted with the birchwoods of the fells and many of the mountain plant species. In good weather you'll also have a fantastic view of Blåhammaren, Sylarna and a large part of the Jämtland fell-world. Stay overnight at Storulvån.

Second day: walk to Blåhammaren - 12km. Third day: walk to Sylarna - 19km. Fourth day: excursions in the Sylarna area. Fifth day: return to Storulvån - 16km.

This outline of a week in the fells is well adapted to the train times from, and back to, the southern half of Sweden.

* * * * *

Birds in the fells

In a small booklet it isn't practicable to cover all the species you may come across when fellwalking. Along the route described here there are no specially rich locations for birds. All the same you need to take a small bird-book along with you. For this area is by no means empty of bird life.

The birds you may encounter are:

Eurasian teal (Anas crecca)
Northern pintail (Anas acuta)
Greater scaup (Aythya marila)
Long-tailed duck (Clangula hyemalis)
Common scoter (Melanitta nigra)
Velvet scoter (Melanitta fusca)
Common goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)
Red-breasted merganser (Mergus serrator)
Common merganser/Goosander (Mergus merganser)
Rough-legged buzzard (Buteo lagopus)
Merlin (Falco columbarius)
Red grouse/Willow ptarmigan (Lagopus lagopus)
Ptarmigan/Rock ptarmigan (Lagopus muta)
Common ringed plover (Charadrius hiaticula)
Eurasian dotterel (Charadrius morinellus)
Eurasian golden plover (Plurialis apricaria)
Ruff (Philomachus pugnax / Calidris pugnax)
Common snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Red-necked Phalarope (Phalaropus lobatus)
Long-tailed skua/Long-tailed jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus)
Common gull (Larus canus)
Arctic tern (Sterna paradisaea)
Common cuckoo (Cuculus canorus)
Meadow pipit (Anthus pratensis)
Western yellow wagtail (Motacilla flava)
White wagtail (Motacilla alba)
Bluethroat (Luscinia svecica)
Northern wheatear (Oenanthe oenanthe)
Ring ouzel (Turdus torquatus)
Redwing (Turdus iliacus)
Garden warbler (Sylvia borin)
Willow warbler (Phylloscopus trochilus)
Hooded crow (Corvus cornix)
Common raven (Corvus corax)
Common chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs)
Common redpoll (Acanthis flammea / Carduelis flammea)
Lapland bunting/Lapland longspur (Calcarius lapponicus)
Snow bunting (Plectrophenax nivalis)
Common reed bunting (Emberiza schoeniclus)

The earlier in spring that you go fell-walking, the better from the birdwatching standpoint. At that time you can witness the songs and courtship displays. The best places to watch birds are the upper parts of the birch-woods, and bog-land that contains willow thickets. Scanning with binoculars from some of the fell-slopes can give good results.

Of course you know that all birds, together with their nests, eggs and fledglings are protected.

Mammals in the fells

Surprisingly few mammals live in the fell-world. The environment is simply too barren. Only three mammals are actually mountain species, namely Norway lemming, Arctic fox and reindeer. All reindeer today are so-called "tame" reindeer; there are are no wild reindeer in Sweden.

Mammals that can live for the majority of their lives in fell terrain ( = the region above the birchwood limit). 

Eurasian pygmy shrew (Sorex minutus)

Common shrew (Sorex araneus)
Eurasian water shrew (Neomys fodiens)
Mountain hare (Lepus timidus)
Norway lemming (Lemmus lemmus)
Grey red-backed vole (Clethrionomys rufocanus)
Field vole (Microtus agrestis)
Arctic fox (Vulpes lagopus)
Red fox (Vulpes vulpes)
Stoat (Mustela erminea)
Least weasel (Mustela nivalis)
Wolverine (Gulo gulo)
Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx)
Reindeer (Rangifer tarandus)

Fishing (Interest spot 12 on the map)

"The friendly triangle" lies in the middle of Sylarna's fishing-card area. Fishing cards can be bought in Storulvån and Handöl. The only game-fish here are char and brown trout.

The entire fishing-card area lies within Handölsdalen's Same village reindeer grazing area. So first and foremost the fishing is to meet the needs of the Same people. But there are so many fish here that  sport fishing is allowed too.

Within our region there are no large lakes, but a multitude of small tarns, for instance Långtjärn, 2 km east of the Sylarna wind-shelter. From the wind-shelter you follow the path towards Gåsen. In Långtjärn the fishing is good. A long boulder-ridge runs through the middle of the tarns. Here walking is easy and the small ridges and hillocks hide many idyllic spots. It's an ideal place to pitch tents.

Here at Långtjärn, too, Mannerfelt exposed cross-sections of the ridges. And here too he established that the ridges are formed because strong-running water carries gravel and rock along with it. The layers are very visible in his excavations.

The rather different landscape of Långtjärn is well worth a detour from the main route between Sylarna and Storulvån. (No path back is marked from the Långtjärn direction. It's easy to find: just head west and you'll pick up the main route again.)

Spåime  (Interest spot 13 on the map)

Spåime is one of the many wind-shelters that lie along mountain trails. The wind-shelter is strategically positioned to give shelter to hikers and cross-country skiers when the weather is bad. Notice how the wind-shelter is placed on a high spot so the wind sweeps around it and carries away the snow! It would be disastrous if a large snow-fall made it impossible to open the door.

The wind-shelter is not intended for overnight camping except in dire need. In many wind-shelters there is an emergency telephone; the name tells you what it's for!

Stor- and Lillulvåfjäll (Interest spot 14 on the map)

After Spåime the path crosses the western slope of Lillulvåfjäll and here you'll notice the very large terracettes [="sheep paths"] (see p. 14). Substantial "vindblottor" witness to the wind's strength in winter. The fellside is watered in grey-violet, light green and dark green streaks.

["Vindblottor" are areas where the winter wind is so fierce that snow never settles. This produces an extreme environment in which few or no plants can grow.]

Storulvåfjäll's southern prospect is striped with several large "sluk-gorges" and "sluk-ridges". In the lee of the ridges grow small tufts of birch-wood.

[These gorges and ridges run vertically in the same direction as the slope. They were formed when the last Ice Age melted. The gorges (deep cracks like the indentation of a giant axe) were formed by water gushing beneath the ice. The ridges were formed when gravel accumulated in cracks in the ice-cover. ]

Handölsdalen's Same village

Same villages

The whole of northern Sweden is divided into Same villages. Each Same village comprises a region. Within that region the village's reindeer can be found. In Jämtland's Län [administrative county, consisting of the two traditional counties Jämtland and Härjedalen] there are eleven Same villages, and "the friendly triangle" lies within the area assigned to Handölsdalen's Same village.

Handölsdalen's Same village has the largest population of reindeer in the Län: 6,000 reindeer. From 1 May to 30 September they graze in the mountain grazing land which is accurately shown on the map. This benefits both the reindeer and the land itself.

When the plants wither and winter approaches, the summer grazing comes to an end and then the reindeer are transported to the winter grazing area down in the forest country. There the reindeer scrape with their hooves through the snow to find reindeer-lichen. The boundaries of the winter grazing area are not so strictly defined.

In spring the reindeer cows give birth to their calves and then it's time for the reindeer herd to return to the summer-grazing region.

Each Same village needs to cover a very large area so that the reindeer herd has appropriate grazing land throughout the year.

The reindeer pen

On Lillulvvåfjäll there is a very large reindeer pen which can be seen clearly from the footpath. The reindeer are rounded up within the pen several times each summer so the calves can be marked. Each calf follows its mother and a reindeer-owner can see if the mother has his own mark of ownership in her ear. If  she does, then the calf is his. The calf is caught with a lasso and the reindeer-owner cuts his own mark into the calf's ear.

Tourists and reindeer

You that are tourists and guests in the fells must obviously allow the reindeer to graze in peace. Don't follow after the reindeer so they think they're being hunted. If you are fortunate enough to see the reindeer being rounded up for marking, sit down and watch the drama unfold. But don't interfere with the round-up; several day's work can be lost in that way. And don't pitch your tent near the reindeer pen.

The Same's reindeer

Reindeer on snow patches enjoy the coolness from the snow. Here there are no Reindeer horse-flies (Tabanus tarandinus) or Reindeer warble flies (Hypoderma tarandi). These insects are really a sore plague for reindeer. The Reindeer horse-fly sucks blood and this irritates the reindeer severely for a short time. However the Reindeer warble fly is a worse plague in the long term. The female fly lays her eggs on the the reindeer's leg and the larvae hatch there. When the reindeer licks itself the larva get into its mouth and down into the gut. From there they pass up to the backbone and, beneath the skin, swell to form a warble. When the larva is ready it bursts out and pupate in the ground. From the pupa comes a new warble fly.

Leave the reindeer in peace on the snow layer; it gives them a chance to escape these tormenting insects.

In summer most reindeer live above the tree-line. There they feed on grass, sedge, cotton-grass, bogbean, willow, dwarf birch and many other plants.

Sometimes you can see reindeer cows with their young calves on the snow patches. The calves are born in May and this is a very sensitive time. Be sure not to disturb them!

The reindeer calf is only a few minutes old when it can stand and find its way to the cow's teats. Reindeer milk contains 15-20% fat and this is needed in order for the calf to gain strength quickly and be able to follow the herd. The cow and calf learn to know each other by short, low grunts.

The reindeer bulls lose their antlers around the turn of the year, so normally in their winter grazing region. The cows lose their antlers in May. It's normally the smaller antlers of the cows that can be found on mountain heaths.



Friday, July 01, 2016

Another Swindon "speciality"

This is Narrow-leaved Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus glaber, formerly known as L. tenuis) and it grows in great quantities in West Swindon (here in short grassland at Shaw Forest Park, 30th June 2016). 

When I moved to Swindon from Frome, about 40 miles to the SW, there were a few plants that really struck me e.g. Stone Parsley, Goat's-rue... This should have been another one, except I completely overlooked it (mistaking it for normal Bird's-foot TrefoilI, I suppose). I've only heard about it in the last couple of days, thanks to a couple of Swindon-based colleagues in the Facebook group "Wild Flowers of Britain". Time for a stroll in the park... 

There really is a lot of it!

Here's a single plant growing in longer grass, which actually makes it easier to see the narrow leaflets that are the key identifying feature.

Close-up of those narrow leaflets. I think my close-up camera must have had rain on the lens!

[Image source: http://delta-intkey.com/angio/www/papilion.htm]

Old illustration showing the differences between the three commoner Bird's-foot Trefoils. Lotus glaber is the one in the middle. The one on the left is normal Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus corniculatus). The one on the right is Large Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus, formerly L. majorL. uliginosus).

Below if my own educational presentation of Lotus glaber (left) and Lotus corniculatus (right)

Lotus glaber and Lotus corniculatus

And finally, here's a photo from a re-visit on 11th July, when the weather was a lot brighter!

Narrow-leaved Bird's-foot Trefoil (Lotus glaber)

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