Wednesday, April 18, 2012

the sun's kingfisher rod

This post about the Irish poet Richard Murphy's Sailing to an Island (1963) has now - 10/5/12 - been moved to Intercapillary Space. [This means that the text has reached a degree of fixity, and I've stopped messing with it every few days. And if I do have to make any more changes, at least I only have to change it in one place! - Or two places, should I ever catch up with updating the Brief History!... ]

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

moonrise. saharan style

This is from the fantastically well-written Extreme Trifle blog. The Extreme Triflers are sleeping out in the Sahara desert. They've admired the millions of stars and have now settled down, but they're having trouble sleeping.

A combination of feeling slightly vulnerable in this place, the sheer weirdness of it all, and Charlie and Oz's farting which was always followed by a bout of schoolboy giggles. But then the mood changed a bit. "Charlie" Oz whispered. "Who the fuck is that?"

Just beyond the horizon was a shimmering light, small at first but getting rapidly larger. Our first thoughts were that it must be the headlights of a convoy of 4x4's. We sat bolt upright and stared in silence as the light source got more intense and then suddenly swept up over the horizon. It took a few seconds to register, but the convoy of 4x4's turned out to be...the moon. It was so weird. The moon is either in the sky or it isn't. We've all seen a sunset and a sunrise, but certainly neither of us had ever seen a "moon rise". Weird.

Eventually I'll bring this together with my other lunar meditiations. Anyway, the point is, that moonrises and moonsets are a lot more noticeable in a place where there's no light pollution.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Prunus 'Pink Perfection'

Prunus 'Pink Perfection', photos taken on 14th April when it was just beginning to come into flower.

This is a variety that becomes lovelier the closer you get to it.

It's a cross between Prunus 'Kanzan' and Prunus 'Shimidsu' (aka 'Shôgetsu'). 'Kanzan' is hot pink and 'Shimidsu' is ice-white: 'Pink Perfection' is, obviously, closer to 'Kanzan' in this respect, just a little more subtle.

In other respects it is closer to 'Shimidsu': the relatively small stature, the fine leaves (opening greener than 'Kanzan') and the pendent flowers on long stalks; all very unlike the exploding-pompom effect of 'Kanzan', where the flowers open in all directions from deep-red orange leaves.

This is all very easy to see in those occasional years when Kanzan and PP come into flower at almost the same time (as in 2016).

At this early stage the impression is that it's delicate, dainty and relatively muted compared to its more common relative. But when PP comes more fully into flower it is, as someone said, the most voluptuous of all the cherries, with an ever-fascinating variety of shades of pink and white. Why this extraordinary latecomer never arose in Japan, or at least was never noticed there, is a mystery to me. (Though I imagine that both parents are highly infertile.)

PP still isn't grown nearly enough though. Relatively small as it is, it's still too big for today's pocket-handkerchief front gardens, where people now buy dwarf cherries. In Glastonbury it's planted in numbers by the main through road and it looks fantastic.

This scene-stealing creature got into the shot by accident, but hey.

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Sunday, April 15, 2012

specimens of the literature of sweden - oatly

Despite the English name, this small multinational is essentially Swedish, operating from its factory at Landskrona, a small place on the west coast of Skåne, facing Denmark across the narrow Öresund channel, and about 25km north of Lund. It was at the University of Lund that the process of making a milk-like product out of oats was first worked out: it removes some of the insoluble fibre but retains the water-soluble beta-glucan fibre. (Beta-glucan is the component that is supposed to reduce cholesterol.)

The range of lactose-free milks is ever-growing, which is on the whole a very good thing for the world's health, happiness and environment.

The most established of these drinks (apparently you shouldn't use the word "milk") is soya. I always enjoy soya when I'm out at Costa or Nero's, but I don't usually buy it for home use, because it has the strange property that the tea won't percolate through it. Logical people, of course, tell you that when you make tea using the teabag-in-the-mug method, you mustn't put the milk in first anyway. I urge you to go against logic; you will be surprised. But you can't do it with soya. With Oatly, hemp milk, almond milk, hazelnut milk or dairy milks you can.

Anyway I always come back to organic Oatly because of the extreme simplicity of the ingredients list (oats, water, salt). For the sake of this I'm quite happy to live without the dazzling whiteness of e.g. Good Hemp, which is my second fave.

[The images show British packaging, of course (but it seems the Swedish isn't really all that different). My excuse is that there's just been a makeover (the new look is the one on the right, above). So I wanted to record the old-style carton, with its wiggy editorial on the back, before it disappears into our recycling for ever.]

All the above is about the organic version.  Here, since I found it lying around, is the Oatly chocolate drink - I've never tried it, but it's enthused over by people I trust:


Friday, April 13, 2012

The Kiss in Margate

I don't really know if I was supposed to photograph this, but I wasn't the only one. On a rainy Bank Holiday afternoon in Margate, in the lively foyer of the Turner Contemporary, it made a mute cry for attention. Since the foyer is also the gift shop, as well as a sort of general corridor between the cafe and the toilets, a lot of people were milling about and completely ignoring the presence of an iconic masterpiece at the rear of the room; rather as if it was a sort of fixture-and-fitting, or an everyday simulacrum of itself.

Once we'd done a double-take and realized that this was IT, or at any rate one of the ITs (the Warren version), we began to be entranced. Against a wintry sea, it was the astonishment of passion that felt most tenderly apparent: that love begins: that this really happens.

I also bought three Turner postcards, which will probably end up being bookmarks. Turner's paintings are like Rembrandt's, they don't convert well to postcard format. In "Ulysses deriding Polyphemus", Ulysses and his crew are cheesemites. I suppose Polyphemus is one of the ink-blots in the distance, but I'm not sure which one. The second postcard showed Hannibal and his cheesemites crossing the Alps in a snowstorm, the third one was of some fishing boats bringing a stricken ship into Port Ruysdael. All of them looked a lot like the weather outside.

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Prunus - miniature plum and giant cherry

This shrub (you can't call it a tree) is something I've been noticing recently. It looks like Prunus cerasifera 'Nigra' but is obviously smaller, the colours are even more vibrant, and it flowers later: this photo was taken today (April 12), a good month after other P. cerasifera varieties such as Pissard's Plum and Myrobalan Plum.

We see so many small-to-medium sized cherry trees that it's easy to forget that Wild Cherry (Prunus avium) is willing and able to grow into an impressively big tree. This one is about 30m. Like most big cherries it is in woodland and, as you can see, I didn't really manage to photograph it.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Whitman's A Passage to India

The first part of Whitman's 1871 paean to global connectedness is still inspiring, possibly even more so now with the Internet and with India's technical explosion.
Singing my days,
Singing the great achievements of the present,
Singing the strong, light works of engineers,
Our modern wonders, (the antique ponderous Seven outvied,)
In the Old World, the east, the Suez canal,
The New by its mighty railroad spann’d,
The seas inlaid with eloquent, gentle wires,
I sound, to commence, the cry, with thee, O soul,
The Past! the Past! the Past!
The poem is usually linked with:

The opening of the Suez canal (November 1869).
The opening of the transcontinental railroad (May 15, 1869).
The laying of the first usable transatlantic cable (Great Eastern, July 27, 1866).

It would be nicely appropriate if Whitman had also heard about the Porthcurno-Bombay cable, laid in 1870; by extending both ends of the Malta-Alexandria cable, it provided a passage to India for telegraphs as well as ships. Truly this was the beginning of the first global network.

Whitman jumps from the cultural implications of India (as symbolic of ancient civilization and wisdom) into a dream that all this technology is a spiritual hotline into the eternal wisdom of the past. He may yet be strangely right about that. The poem arrives instantly at the brink of astounding ideas, but of course it cannot see further than it sees, and the second half gradually vagues out.


Thursday, April 05, 2012

apartheid eyes

Alex La Guma published A Walk in the Night in 1962, two years after the Sharpeville Massacre and a year after the Treason Trial finally came to an end. (La Guma was himself one of those arrested in 1957, though not one of the final thirty defendants; some, maybe all, of the book was written in jail in 1959.)

A Walk in the Night is a thrilling, grimy novella set in Capetown's District Six. In La Guma's book District Six is presented as an arena characterized by wretched poverty, crushed aspirations and desperate brags in the face of apartheid's brutal suppressions.

Four years later the area was designated Whites Only. Existing residents were relocated (1968-82) - mainly to the bleak Cape Flats - and buildings were bulldozed.

Government officials gave four primary reasons for the removals. In accordance with apartheid philosophy, it stated that interracial interaction bred conflict, necessitating the separation of the races. They deemed District Six a slum, fit only for clearance, not rehabilitation. They also portrayed the area as crime-ridden and dangerous; they claimed that the district was a vice den, full of immoral activities like gambling, drinking, and prostitution. Though these were the official reasons, most residents believed that the government sought the land because of its proximity to the city center, Table Mountain, and the harbor. (Wikipedia)

The government might well have referred to A Walk in the Night to justify their portrait of District Six. They probably didn't, though. It would also have publicized the book's portrayal of ingrained police brutality, corruption and racism.

Perhaps because it was bulldozed, District Six is sometimes remembered in rather a nostalgic spirit, with former residents emphasizing that it was a site for relatively unpoliced mingling of races and cultures, and a meeting-place for musicians, writers and politicians engaged in the struggle.

La Guma writes it differently. He produces a sort of pulp-noir-ish Capetown, but in which the heroes are definitely not the investigators. As with a lot of noir the language is frequently torqued into simile. La Guma's similes often derive from pulp but effloresce in a way that I think of as characteristically African (basing this grossly inadequate idea on Moore's and Beier's Penguin Book of Modern African Poetry).

Here's one of the epic motifs of Borden Chase's 1946-9 Red River (which I wrote more about here)

A bull of a man. A brute of a man. Thick-necked, low-jowled, with eyes that looked out at you like the rounded grey ends of bullets in a pistol cylinder.

It's easy to see connections between Thomas Dunson, brutal hero pioneer, and the brutal white police constables in A Walk in the Night. But the efflorescence of the eye image in La Guma is not limited to Police Constable Raalt. The shape of eyes, and the opacity of the things that eyes are compared to, become important.

They saw the flat grey eyes under the gingerish eyebrows, hard and expressionless as the end of pieces of lead pipe, pointed at them.

These eyes can stare unblinkingly at the monster of injustice that should blind them. For to see is to accept. This makes them, in a terrible sense, strong.

They can also, as the word "pointed" indicates, fire bullets. Early in the book, when Michael Adonis is routinely hassled and searched, it's emphasized that you never look into the eyes of a police officer.

When it comes to Michael and Willieboy, on the other hand, what's emphasized are, not the seeing irises, but the colours of the whites of the eyes; what lies behind; what betrays itself; vulnerability and victimhood - but also a human soul. In their present state of existence the humanity tends to be expressed as sullenness and resentment.

The simile of the lead piping is intellectual and then sensuous. It is not something that instantly evokes eyes, but you can work it out: the collar of lead is the iris, and the hole in the middle is the pupil. The same intellectual element exists in this metaphor:

Night crouched over the city. The glow of street lamps and electric signs formed a yellow haze, giving it a pale underbelly that did not reach far enough upwards to absorb the stars that spotted its purple hide.

A crouching beast does not instantly evoke a clear night, but La Guma does draw out two unexpected resemblances, i.e. the pale underbelly and the spotted hide. It's an intellectual work-out, but the result is an emotion, the sense of feeling crushed by gargantuan forces.


Michael Adonis and Willieboy have a great deal in common, intentionally so. (The law makes a mistake, and pursues Willieboy for Michael's crime, but the terms of "crime", "innocence" and "guilt" are all problematic here.) Both are boys in trouble, but Michael at the start of the book is more or less going straight; he has just been dismissed from a legit job. One of the reasons for the dismissal, aside from the bosses being gits and bastards, is that Michael takes exception to being incorrectly called black (as opposed to coloured). It's a distinction he mentions several times. Willieboy is also concerned with his ethnic identity, but it comes out in a different way: he objects to foreigners (white sailors) muscling in on "our girls".

* My copy was published in the Heinemann African Writers Series, to which I owe so many great debts over the years. The series is probably moribund, but it isn't easy to tell. Naturally I supposed that Heinemann might have a web page devoted to celebrating and selling it. But no. and are both nearly useless. All distribution is apparently via arcane local offices and trade channels.

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Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Prunus 'Spire'

Photos taken on April 1. Prunus 'Spire' arose as a seedling of Sargent Cherry (Prunus sargentii). From the superabundant blossom it looks like it could be a cross with Yoshino Cherry (Prunus yedoensis).

Grown for its early flowers and upright habit. But on older trees (below) it opens out and does not look so very spire-like.

Close-up showing the red eye of the blossom and the young leaves, bronze when they emerge but often with bright green teeth.

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