Monday, April 28, 2014

William Shakespeare: King Lear (1605-06)

[Cordelia (Ashley Ricard), Lear (Ron Gural), Regan (Trina Beck), Goneril (Rebecca Frank) in a Tulane Shakespeare Festival production from 2009. Photo by Brad Robbert, image sourced from]

[Line references are to the Series 3 Arden edition, ed. R.A. Foakes, 1997. This conflates the three scenes usually numbered II.2-4 into one tremendous composite scene that begins at dawn and ends at night (II.2).]

From The Faerie Queene, Bk II, Canto X:


Next him king Leyr in happie peace long raind,
  But had no issue male him to succeed,
  But three faire daughters, which were well vptraind,
  In all that seemed fit for kingly seed:
  Mongst whom his realme he equally decreed
  To haue diuided. Tho when feeble age
  Nigh to his vtmost date he saw proceed,
  He cald his daughters; and with speeches sage
Inquyrd, which of them most did loue her parentage.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Prunus avium 'Plena'

Prunus avium 'Plena'.  Photos taken 15th April 2014 (a very early year), when a lot of the flowers are opening but the leaves are still small and reddish.

This a double variety of Wild Cherry. It flowers a bit later than most single-flowered Wild Cherry trees, and even from a distance has a noticeably different appearance when flowering: more tufty and irregular, the flowers less obviously sleeving the shoots.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Charles Dickens: A Tale of Two Cities - "bestselling novel of all time". Allegedly.

The internet generally, and Wikipedia in particular, is obsessed with records. Consequently, you are quite likely to run across the widely repeated claim that  A Tale of Two Cities is (as the Wikipedia article on Charles Dickens puts it) "the best selling novel of all time".

It isn't the most unlikely statement I've ever heard, but when I tried to trace it back to an authoritative source, I at first got no further than a chatty review by the novelist David Mitchell  in the Daily Telegraph from May 8th 2010.

"Charles Dickens’ second stab at a historical novel, A Tale of Two Cities, has sold more than 200 million copies to date, making it the bestselling novel – in any genre – of all time."

 Did Mitchell know what he was talking about? Maybe, but it seems that no-one else does.

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Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Gerald Brenan, Richard Ford, Ronald Fraser

Gerald Brenan (portrait by Dora Carrington)

(Image from

Gerald Brenan, South of Granada (1957) 

This feels like it's becoming a rare occasion. I've actually finished a book, what's more a book that I haven't read before, and I've even read it in the prescribed order, from start to finish!  Dr Johnson, they say, never finished a book. I fear I'm going the same way, and can only look back with some relief at all the books I got under my belt in my twenties.

South of Granada, published in 1957 but mainly about Spain in the 1920s, is probably the most admired book in the "Hispanist" genre (i.e. books about Spain in English), notwithstanding Richard Ford. Most of it is about living in a then-remote village (Yegen) in the Alpujarras. The road from Almeria to Granada didn't yet exist, and only mule-traffic was possible. Don Geraldo is now remembered by a plaque, a circular walk (Brenan walked vast distances) and a projected museum. [Chris Stewart's popular books (Driving over Lemons etc) are also set in the Alpujarras. Did you know Chris was once a founder member of Genesis? Wikipedia can be quite interesting sometimes. Eventually everything becomes swamped by its hyperreal projection. The trivia section is what makes tomorrow's news. (In effect, the word "iconic" means "rich in trivia"; there's a vacuum at the heart of it.)]

One of the nicest things, I now remember, about writing about a book is that it gives me a chance to re-discover the pages that, by the time I finish it, are already gliding out of my memory.  Have I commented before, on the tendency of book reviewers to get hung up on the book's ending, to the detriment of their review? And sadly it's rare for the ending to be the most important part of a book.

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Thursday, April 03, 2014

Prunus sequence UK

Prunus 'Shirofugen', 20th April 2014

I've been updating this post for a few years now, and I plan to carry on. Basically it's a list of Prunus taxa (cherries, plums, etc) in the sequence they come into bloom each spring.

I record dates of sightings each year, though I always miss seeing a few species.  The dates are when the earliest individuals of a species/variety is just starting  to flower -- but I mean really starting, not just one or two flowers but a whole branch...  (There's a considerable spread between the earliest and latest individuals of e.g. Blackthorn, Wild Cherry.) All the trees are in Swindon or Frome or Bath or somewhere in between, unless specified.

General notes on each year:

2013: All the early flowerers, except P. cerasifera, were held back by the freezing March and then bloomed all at once.
2014: very early and spread out.
2015: was generally a week or more later. 2016: started incredibly early but then normalized, extending the season.
2017: was early.
2018 was late until mid-April, then a hot spell brought everything out at once, compressing the season: the early varieties were late, and the late ones were early.
2019: early, to begin with: a mild winter and record-breaking heat in late February. But April was cold, slowing everything down and creating some bizarre anomalies in my dates, as sheltered trees could be several weeks ahead of exposed ones.
2020: very early, a mild winter. A couple of cold weeks in March began to restore normality, but hot weather early in April brought all the Sakura cherries out in rapid succession.

Phase I (very early)


Prunus cerasifera (Cherry-Plum)  2014: before the end of Feb. 2015: before March 17th. 2016: Jan 3rd (Apparently due to an exceptionally mild December. This extended rather than advanced the flowering season; there was still plenty of blossom around in April). 2017: Feb 18th. 2018: Feb 13th. 2019: Feb 16th. 2020: Feb 3rd (Facebook Wild Flower Group had recorded it through January).

Prunus spinosa (Blackthorn)  2014 mid-March; continued to mid-April. 2015: March 27th. 2016: Feb 20th. 2017: March 8th. 2019: March 1st (after record-breaking heat in late Feb).2020: Feb 14th.

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