Saturday, May 30, 2009

Centranthus ruber (Red Valerian)

Introduced from the Mediterranean, but common in the UK, especially in the SW, on cliffs, old walls and rough stony ground. Part of the interest lies in the neighbourly coexistence of three common colourways:

1. A deep pink, a very common colour in insect-attracting flowers, more or less the same as red campion. (Whether you call this magenta is pretty much a matter of taste. For me the plant that defines "botanical magenta" is common vetch. In other words I think of magenta as an intense red-purple, rather than pink.) About 50% of the population are this colour, I'd say, based on many miles of Mendip streets.

2. Crimson, looking somewhat reddish in comparison to the previous. This is nearly as common as the previous, maybe about 40% of the total.

3. And white. Perhaps a comparatively sparse 10%, but still completely commonplace. (I don't understand the genetics behind this.)

Very much less frequently, (like, .00001%) you might come across this pale pink form.

The vivid colours make Centranthus ruber welcome in all but the most snobbish of town gardens, until it gets too invasive. But the classic location is on the outside of garden walls. Throughout the summer the plants narrow the streets on both sides, leaning inwards like arsenals of soft weaponry drawn up for a massacre of love. Then masses of fluffy seeds get blown into stony crevices and develop into even more of these tough, vigorous plants.


Monday, May 18, 2009

brief hist

New additions....

Double Shakespeare this week, with Love's Labour's Lost and Romeo and Juliet. (Shakespeare is the most futile of topics, if what you are interested in is getting people to read you. No-one will ever find their way to your words via Google, because of the swamping effect surrounding major canonical authors.)

Also: Borden Chase's Red River

And on Intercapillary Space:
William Canton
Lisa Samuels: The Invention of Culture

I've just seen the announcement that Yahoo are ceasing their free Geocities service later this year; the gloomy prediction in my advertisement has thus proved true, though what I had really believed was that the web would evolve in such a way that no layer however venerable would ever be lost; I had supposed that storage space would become so cheap that the tiny part of it occupied by an ancient hosting service (personal disk-space limit: 15MB) would cost more to delete than to maintain. But perhaps I am now the only tenant.... I've been with Geocities for around ten years. At the time I signed up, you had to decide which bustling virtual city you were going to live in - my choice was Paris, which I was told was inhabited by artists and intellectuals. (Cities such as Mumbai and São Paulo were not on offer; the Mid-West hadn't heard of them; nothing good, anyway.) The virtual city idea was an imaginative one, in the sense both of beauty and of indifference to reality. Its creator supposed that site owners might like to form virtual communities within their "local" neighbourhood, and would spend many a cold spring evening strolling the boulevards of "Paris" and browsing the ateliers of their neighbour "citizens" - none of whom were French, by the way. There were local contests and neighbourhood forums. This was a prophetic dream of Facebook. But as a virtual community Geocities was over-optimistic. The sites of that era were non-interactive, comment streams were in their infancy. Web surfers have a targeted agenda and do not drop in on new sites randomly. Nothing was less likely to satisfy than the site next-door. And besides, what meaning did next-door have, when every site in hyperspace was a single click away?

Soon after I joined, the virtual city idea was in effect bulldozed when inhabitants were given a new site-name based on their username. I suppose siteowners instantly embraced the novelty of having a site with their own name in the URL. For a while, I don't know how long, the old virtual Paris name was retained concurently. But if you try to navigate to virtual Paris today, all you'll see is a "Page could not be found" and an ad for the world's largest matrimonial agency, decorated with photos of lovely and gifted unbetrotheds (one is from Mumbai).

So my website will have to up sticks, and I'll be doing a lot of tedious relinking at some point. As a matter of principle (as well as wallet) I would like to continue to use a free hosting service, so if you've got any suggestions push them my way...

Oh, of course, what you really want to know is what is my grand total of web hits after ten years? The answer is about 35,000 (some stats were lost, so I'm not really sure). Of these, my long-standing Shakespeare page contributes a pitiful 347. The most popular is a relatively recent page on Rubens' Judgment of Paris - about 4,000. Memo to self: include plenty of images, and don't bother with self-indulgent creative stuff, remember about the targeted agenda... Of course I don't really mean this, but it's a sobering thought that the flock of Rubens students have probably given this page a lot of relatively engaged readings. Whereas the vast majority of other visitors will have suffered only brief disappointment - they realized their mistake and they instantly clicked away.

(One of my own naiveties was to suppose that occasionally my site would be visited by some casual specialist, who would take up one of my numerous invitations to email me with a factual correction. I knew I must have made a lot of errors. This pleasing fantasy has, of course, not once occurred. But when I wrote about Bob Cobbing on Intercapillary Space, Lawrence Upton jumped in straight away. That - actually uncomfortable - exposure of my ignorance has not yet recurred; this is because I no longer make mistakes.)

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

flowers on Brean Down

Some plants seen on Brean Down, 10th May 2009.

(above and below) Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum). Occasional in the UK near coasts, probably an introduction from the Mediterranean region. The seeds provide the herbal extract silymarin, commonly taken by people like Dave to prepare themselves for an office night out. (It's one of the new breed of nutritional supplements that appeal to a heteronormal male audience, like Bayer's multivitamin supplement Berocca.) Milk Thistle is thought to aid the liver in dealing with toxins, and is quite commonly used in severe cases of liver damage e.g. from Death Cap, toluene/xylene, cirrhosis of the liver, hepatitis.

(above) Bugloss (Anchusa arvensis)

(above and below) White Rock-rose (Helianthemum apenninum) - in the UK found only here and in three sites near Torbay. This is really a Mediterranean plant, here at the limit of its range; in Spain it is called "Perdiguera blanca". It crowns the southern slope of the down (yang). The flora on the northern slope (yin) is completely different. Brean Down, the isolated western end of the Mendips, contains a number of other rare plants that I haven't seen, but Somerset Hair Grass (Koeleria vallesiana) is the only one whose name I remember right now.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

22° halo

22° halo round the sun, seen at Whitchurch, May 9th 2009, caused by poorly-oriented ice crystals in cirrostratus clouds. This is a reasonably common celestial phenomenon (he says snobbily, still dining out on that moonbow story), but I'd never noticed one before and I was excited when I did. Besides, it has the advantage of sticking around a long time and of being easy to photograph. The trickiest part was training the blackbird.

up to a slate pebble

Suddenly Dor turned round

and a dragon face and a furnace mouth came up at me large and hot and I shrieked.

That's scary, Dor. Don't do that to me.

Depends, said Dor, and she ran down the clotted hill singing "For he is a Plymouth man". Moss ran ribbons around her and squatted in the grass with her tongue out panting, her eyes on Mistress.

berrr-Um-per-dum dum! I joined in. My legs were like white brawn sausages (and an infant in Dickens), I sang God Save the King lustily, wearing Clarks' walking shoes and a navy Aertex Ladybird shirt.

It's the missile base. You can see 'em taking off down the loch most days. One hit into the quarry once. A Westland helicopter crash-landed in the glory hole.

Dor's toe-nails were soft and she could "cut" them just by picking at one side until a split appeared. She threw them into the stream and they milled in the whirlpool like sideways boats. I scraped at the powdery lichen on the bench and collected green dust in my sock. Mossy got her coat wet and vibrated in the air atomising doggy eau-de-cologne. Clouds slipped past each other; occasionally the sun came through and coloured the chink of a distant glen.

oh the ferny brae, Dor sang.

What song is that, I wondered. Look it up on Google when I get back.

All we do is try different drinks.

The clarity of the jug. The Claret Jug. This is Ravel, this is Morisot. International clarity at last. Soon we will begin to write true novels about everything. Even Algérie.

But if it's real, what else is there? Is it real or isn't it?

Yeah but Dor, what you're talking about is just something that takes pictures. What I'm talking about is a Camera.

Suddenly Dor looked terribly tired and tears of frustration came brimming out of her eyes and tracked down her cheeks because she couldn't find the words.

It's too hot in the sun. Dor, why don't you go in and have a lie down? I'll wake you up in time for Deal.

What will you be doing, writing your blog?

No. I'll probably have a snooze myself. It's so awfully close, isn't it?

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Sagarethia theezans

Underside (above) and upperside (below). Opposite or alternate? These descriptions don't work for the peculiar leaf-arrangement of Sagarethia. Though the leaves are in roughly opposite pairs, each pair reverses the positions of the preceding pair, in other words it goes left-right - right-left - left-right etc.....

Sagarethia is known in the west only to bonsai fans. Whether its curious leaf arrangement once conferred a benefit to some ancestor in the battle for survival, I don't know. In today's plant it seems to be a mildly embarrassing genetic legacy whose impact has been ingeniously minimized, leaving only a beauty of character. But this may be a misconception.


ripple (not many things get written down)

it is an extremely uneven horizon," Niall remarked.

At five o'clock the tissues stuck together at the tip, forming one untypical hull. Opposite, young red babies sprawled between the green knees: watercolour shimmered, things were entire, they were dabs, but was this them?, and the impressions did not segregate from the atmosphere.

picnic among the spreadberries.

The planet city and body was bunged up. Every one of your hopeful exhalations seemed to begin: "Despite..."


The dabs drew close, merging me in them. Was I a leaf?

Is my grandmother, patinaed leaf of her own autumn, palm court and Ashkenazy concertino ......entire?

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