Saturday 1 August 2009

...the sight of morning...

Duncan Grant
Woman at a Window

I am now writing a sequel
...the sight of morning...

If you want to join me
you will be most welcome.

Friday 3 July 2009

Written Memory

'...that we might be able to love
what our understanding has seen
and what our memory has held.'

St. Catherine of Siena (c1347-80)

I have spent the weekend in the quiet heart of the countryside at the cottage that we visit every year at this time. We did the same things that we do every year and rested for a short while from the demands of our everyday lives.

It gave me a chance to reflect and I realised that, for the moment, I have written everything that I want to write here.

It is a memory of childhood written for my children and offered with my love. It is not complete but it is enough.

The cottage windows look out over orchard and meadow and woods. In the distance there are the constant sounds of woodpigeons and blackbirds but, near by, in the grass and hedges, the magpies chattered noisily to each other. It made me smile to see them as they bustled around.

I would like to thank you all for your friendship. Your emails and comments have made the blog so much more than I anticipated and your encouragement and advice has always helped me to see the way forward.

I hope that you will smile whenever you see a magpie and think of us: MrM, MasterM, MissM and MrsM.

Friday 26 June 2009

MasterM, Brother

I was looking for a particular photo
but I found these instead:

After a while I had to stop looking
because so many happy memories
crowded in upon me.

Eventually, I will find the photo
and then I will show it to you.

Until then
you will have to take my word for it
that MasterM is pretty damn proud
of his sister.

Thursday 25 June 2009

Top Trumps (the Gap Year version)

Guess who is back in town?

We met MasterM at the airport today.

Every time a backpacker came through the doors
our hearts paused...
could this be him?

When he came out wearing a pressed shirt and tie
looking quite unlike the young lad
who left home in January
we were lost for words.

This evening we have eaten roast lamb
and we have drunk the delicious
celebratory Argentinian Malbec
and we are enjoying the traveller's tales.

MasterM tells us that
when he was on the boat to Panama
with his mates, Tim and Tom,
they played Top Trumps with their passports.
There were points for the quality of stamp,
the ink colour variations
and the unusual locations.
MasterM won with his Swaziland stamp.

He is off again next Saturday
collecting more stamps in a passport
that looks impressively battered.

It only has to last until September...

because he won't need
a passport at university...

thank goodness.

Wednesday 24 June 2009

All Aboard the Charabanc

the following invitation was found on the photocopier...

The next Day of Culture
will consist of a visit to Brighton
to explore a number of themes
related to the Social and Cultural Research Group.

We will meet at the The Royal Pavilion Gardens
and visit the Brighton Museum
to consider issues such as:
health, housing, religion
civic pride, sport and other social activities
through a range of objects and printed ephemera.

The exhibition will help contextualise
the second activity of the day
raising questions that we might like to contemplate
as we move beyond the museum space.

Next we will visit
the historic ‘Lanes’ area of Brighton
which has a vibrant café culture
and is characterised by
second-hand and antique emporiums
as well as flea markets
making it an ideal place to pause
and consider a number of themes
including consumption,
the histories of objects
and material culture.

Finally, we will visit the Pier, promenade and beach
to consider the role of tourism
in the creation of Brighton, past and present.

You may wish to read the following
as an introduction to some of the themes
that might arise during the day:

Shields R (1991)
‘Ritual pleasures of a seaside resort
liminality, carnivalesque and dirty weekends’

from Places on the Margin: Routledge: London

Miller D (1998)
Theory of Shopping
Polity Press: Cambridge


MrsM admits to adding the illustrations.

Needless to say, MrsM must remain in the office
to ensure that the administrative wheels
of the Department run smoothly...

Tuesday 23 June 2009

The end of an era

What has happened to Liberty of London?

Sweet Peas

The shop that I used to visit
to purchase delectable fabric
and irresistible haberdashery
and enjoy quiet spaces to choose yarn
has been redesigned to make more room
for clothing and candles.

Liberty has become just like any other department store.


The redevelopment seems to represent the antithesis of
the values of the Arts and Crafts Movement
which prized the individual work of the artisan
over mass produced goods.

Fruit and Flowers

It is ironic that I was in Liberty to visit
the annual Arts and Crafts exhibition
curated by Patch Rogers of Brighton.


I wanted to admire the craftsmanship
in furniture, metalware, pictures and textiles
that Liberty commissioned and sold
at the end of the 19th century.

Crocus and Snowdrops

Among the items on display in the exhibition
were two small woodcuts
by John Hall Thorpe (1874-1947)
who was born in Australia
and started his career as an illustrator for the Sydney Mail
but worked in England from 1902.

It was delightful to discover this artist
but small consolation for the knowledge
that the pleasure of fabric buying in Liberty
has gone for good.

Monday 22 June 2009

Kristina and the Goose Egg

Kristina and I were supposed to be
walking to Petersham Nurseries for tea
but we got waylaid by a Farmers' Market.
There were some charming young men
on the artisan bakers stall
and so I spent a pleasant few moments
negotiating a half price loaf of spelt bread.

Arthur Rackham (1909)

Meanwhile, Kristina was distracted by
a stall selling goose eggs.
Should she buy one?
I didn't want to influence the decision
so I just said
"Go on, Kristina, you know you want to..."

Which is why Kristina carried a goose egg
all the way along the river path
to Petersham Nurseries
and all the way back.

Willy Planck (no date)

And everyone wanted to look at it:
the little girl with the curly hair
and the ladies at the till in the Nurseries
and the cyclist who nearly crashed
into the ice cream van on the towpath.

Jennie Harbour (1921)

It was like walking with a real-life
Little Goose Girl.

Saturday 20 June 2009

On Platform 1

A steam locomotive
pulls out of the station as I arrive.
I can see the passengers
drinking champagne
in the Pullman carriages.

On the opposite platform
is a fancy lady with
a lavender feathered fascinator
drinking lager from a silver can.

The lad sitting on the bench
wearing shorts and flip-flops
looks like my son.
But my son and his flip-flops
are on the other side of the world.

Orla Kiely Leggings!
With gold lame sandals!!

The Lovely Lydia,
MasterM's personal travel agent,
is going away for the weekend.
She probably needs a rest cure.

The lady in red patent heels
is walking up the stairs
very, very carefully.

Only a teenager
could look terrific in
that bright turquoise
draped jersey dress
with cowboy boots.

A dalmatian shaped balloon
floats above a small girl
in the station cafe.

Why is she wearing her
purple V necked jumper
back to front?

A T shirt with a skeleton design
is slightly unnerving on
a middle aged lady.

The man wearing the Lions shirt
is in a hurry...
the match starts at 2pm.

And there I am.
Waiting for the next train
to Richmond
where I will meet Kristina for tea.

White Rose, Pink Rose

I don't want to brag

Boule de Neige

all month long
the roses in my garden
have rambled

Dr. W. van Fleet

and scrambled
and climbed

Zephirine Drouhin

and bloomed
with fragrant perfection.


I just wish I had spent
more time in the garden
enjoying them.

Constance Spry

Must try harder
next year.

Friday 19 June 2009

A Moth at Midnight

The Moth

Isled in the midnight air,
Musked with the dark's faint bloom,
Out into glooming and secret haunts
The flame cries,

Lovely in dye and fan,
Atremble in shimmering grace,
A moth from her winter swoon
Uplifts her face:

Stares from her glam'rous eyes;
Wafts her on plumes like mist;
In ecstasy swirls and sways
To her strange tryst.

(Walter de la Mare 1873 - 1956)


MrsM is painfully reminded of the time
when she attempted to persuade MasterM
to learn poetry.
She felt it would be beneficial
for his inner landscape.
MrsM offered to pay by the line
and suggested that 'The Moth'
would be a good one
to start with.

MasterM politely explained
that learning poetry
was not a lifestyle choice
that he was comfortable with.

Thursday 18 June 2009

MissM, Protector of the Downtrodden

MissM is anxious about Guy of Gisbourne:

"He hasn't had a good series, you know...

first he is Sheriff
and then he is not...

he is cruelly betrayed by
Mad King John...

he ends up with an evil sister
who keeps trying to kill him...

and the arch-enemy
whom he has been trying to kill
for the past two series
is actually his brother...

and a step-father with leprosy
turns up unexpectedly and drugs him...

and he has to rescue another brother
that he didn't even know existed...

and the only person who has loved him
gets stabbed and dies in his arms...

and he has been thrown in jail

No wonder his hair is getting greasier every week."

MrM doesn't care.

He sits on the sofa
and murmurs
"Good Arrers*"
every time Robin Hood saves the day.

* a regrettable clue
that MrM has spent
unrecoverable hours watching
The World Darts Championship on TV.

Wednesday 17 June 2009

On the far bank...

The Bathers - José de Almada Negreiros (1925)

I have scrambled out onto the far bank
beyond the detailed auditing of marking
and the careful choreography
of examination board meetings;
the Finalists' barbeque,
dinner with visiting examiners
and meetings with students who have failed.

My mind has been quite empty of anything
other than the day to day requirements of my job.
I reached maximum capacity
and pebbles were tumbling out of the jar.
Yesterday I wondered if I would ever write again.

I tried to remember how I had done it before.
It was difficult to believe that
day after day
the words for posts
had obediently organised themselves
in neat rows
with very little effort.

Today I walked across campus to deliver the agreed marks
clutching the memory stick that represented
months of hard work by so many people.
When I arrived at the building
I could not find my way in.
I walked around the building twice
looking for the entrance
and eventually found a small door.
Then I got lost inside and had to ask
a socked and sandalled Mathematician
to show me the way.
It was a ridiculous end
and I thought...

I should write about this...

Monday 8 June 2009


Old fashioned frilly Pinks
fill the room with the scent of cloves.

They are Shakespeare's flowers
that Perdita spoke of in
'The Winters Tale'

"...the fairest flowers o' the season
Are our carnations, and streak'd gilly-flowers..."

The name 'gillyflowers' comes from
the Old English word for clove : 'gilofre'
It is now more commonly used for summer stocks
but it was originally used for scented pinks.

The variety names are delightfully old fashioned:
Mrs Sinkins

The sight of these flowers reminded me of a bouquet
gathered for Mary, Queen of Scots, by Penelope
in 'A Traveller in Time' by Alison Uttley.

Adam, the ancient gardener, describes it:
"Here's a bed of sops-in-wine
I've raised myself from cuttings from the Duke's place,
and here's heart's-ease,
although the young mistress calls 'em
by a new fanciful name ...'Pauncies'...
Here's holy-hocks, and these is pinks,
but what I likes is sweet williams
and sweet johns and sweet nancies..."

It is not surprising
this book from my childhood
remains within easy reach.


This week is a succession of meetings
to check,consider, discuss and agree
the examination results for the Department.
I will be swimming in a sea of careful words.
Looking forward to crawling out the other side.

Saturday 6 June 2009

Keeping It Real

Let's not kid ourselves...

Friday night is takeaway night.

MrM says:

"Please send a menu for three
and, by the way,
what are we getting?"

MrsM says:

"I have barely got the strength
to take the lids off."

MissM says:

I absolutely won't smile for the camera...

Friday 5 June 2009

Harry Hotspur and the Professor Emeritus

Harry Hotspur was a giant of a man who was born in 1364 and died at the Battle of Shrewsbury in 1403. He was the eldest son of Henry Percy, 1st Earl of Northumberland, and his upbringing prepared him for defending the great land holdings of the Percy family against Scottish raids. He was captured and ransomed at the Battle of Otterburn and subsequently appointed as the Governor of Bordeaux. Dissatisfaction with the rule of Henry IV led an ill fated alliance with the Welsh resulting in his death on the battlefield from an arrow through the visor.

These are dry facts and seemingly irrelevant to the 21st Century but here is a thing..

There is a theory, impossible to prove but referred to in Shakespeare, that Harry Hotspur had a speech impediment. He was admired greatly in the North of England because of his status and his reputation as a warrior and it is possible that it became fashionable to copy his style of speech. This might explain the characteristic Northumbrian burr which is still apparent in the local dialect today.

When the Professor Emeritus sits in my office to discuss his expense claim I am distracted by the thought that his speech - so typically Northumbrian - is perhaps what Harry Hotspur, the great medieval warrior, sounded like 600 years ago.

And my mind begins to drift...

Thursday 4 June 2009

A photo for Jane

The first comment that I ever made on a blog
was on Snapdragon's Garden.

I can clearly remember the moment.

I filled in the comment box
and then paused.

It seemed such a leap in the dark
to press the publish button.

When I did publish the comment
I felt completely panicked.

I am not sure what I was worried about
but I knew that I had stepped
into a new world.

Jane has a business selling flowers
and handmade goods
and recently offered to send
a handmade button
in return for a photograph
for her new brochure.

Here is my offering:

Jane's badge
on my plate
with viola from my windowbox.

There is a postscript to this story:

The first envelope was emptied en route
and so I phoned Jane to let her know.
It seemed such a natural thing to do
because we have 'known' each other
for over two years now.

Thank you for your friendship, Jane,
and good luck with the brochure!