Monday, August 24, 2015


real-life meetings punctuating where possible



April Bronchitis


Sunday, August 23, 2015

A quick drive on past the Eurotunnel & down to the harbour at Folkestone. Shoes off & a paddle along the shore. A fitting way to draw the summer holidays to a close.

& ... Bob's Seafood delivers again. Two succulent lobsters for a fair price. Dinner tonight.

Monday, August 17, 2015


Out early this morning (6:20)  for what is now the regular bit of 'shinrin yuko' (or 'forest bathing' if you're not fluent in Japanese). I hesitate between sitting on the usual bench to contemplate the ponds or wander along the Blackberry path. Then, as if quietly guided, I opt to take a different route along & up into a tunnel of trees and ferns. As I walk it gets perceptibly darker as if the undergrowth is drawing closer around me. To my left there's a sudden stirring - and there stands about ten meters away a young deer (a female). I stop. She stops. (Robert Frost, anyone?). Then catching my scent or a rustle in the leaves, she hops out of sight. 

Astonished at such an encounter (yes, there are deer in these woods but you hardly ever see them) I carry on to the junction of the path with a more well-trodden one which arches back down towards the ponds. By now the moist air is starting to turn into drizzle. Then there's another stirring - again to my left. Another deer but this one's a male. I surreptitiously feel for my phone & lift it to take a picture. He & I stayed like this for a good two minutes. Each taking in the other. Then he, too, picked up a warning sign and jumped to the left. I watched assuming that was it but he remained for a couple more minutes, his head poking up above a grassy mound. Then, bored, off he went. 

In his wonderful essay 'Alfresco' Merrill Gilfillan writes about the sense of being a 'witness'. It's exactly the term. Walking back I thought how this encounter might never have occurred: had I remained sitting on the bench ... had I taken the other path ... had I, for that matter, simply stayed in bed listening to the shipping forecast ... 

Minutes that redefine the day. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A significant issue of The Wire out this September.

First, the main article & front cover status bestowed upon Julia Holter (even if she looks decidedly unhappy). There's a new CD coming out & - would you believe it - she's even reading Maggie Nelson's Bluets. One step closer to perfection.

Second, I see my old chum Out To Lunch (aka Ben Watson) has an article about the Australian duo Music With My Insane Friend. Has all been forgiven? Crotchets & hatchets buried? Whatever the reason it's great to see him back.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"For a rainy day" was, believe it or not, the phrase used by David Cameron this morning during his interview on The Today Programme to explain the vicious cuts to enable debt reduction and putting money aside. He might have been talking about the housekeeping - a tin on the sideboard perhaps because you never know ...

How deeply insulting, patronising & fallacious. Economists correct me, but countries do not work like households. Borrowing is fundamental to a healthy economy.

From another angle, though, how disturbing the 'you can't have something for nothing' tight lipped prudence becomes when seen in a broader perspective. For what is interest but ... something for doing nothing? And, from another angle, what does this do to human existence? The new 'normal' is to see the ability to pay as your right to a life. As the treatment of immigrants fleeing war zones confirms they are - in the eyes of a society that thinks simply in terms of financial liquidity - subhuman.

& we know where that leads.


Haunted yesterday by the phrase "gists and piths" & all because of "gists" occurring in an essay - 'Alfresco' - by Merrill Gilfillan. How little combinations of words can get in among you, gnawing away.

A quick Google throws up Ezra Pound (of course!) & Hugh Kenner or a combination of both. Did Pound say it first? Did Kenner attribute it to Pound ... ?

But the phrase bugs ... I know I've read it somewhere else - a puff by Tom Raworth? A line in a Coolidge poem? No ... & then I know: Jackson Mac Low quoted on the back of Ray DiPalma's Numbers and Tempers Selected Early Poems (Sun & Moon Press):

"Precision and surprise and no nonessentials. Gists and Piths."


What else but to christen another little notebook which is serving for the morning walks.


Fall asleep this afternoon on the couch upstairs listening to CD 1 of the Collins Bird Songs and Calls. The Velux is open & so the birds merge with the steady pattering of the rain.

I wake at 5pm - the kind of luxurious narcotic slumber I've not enjoyed since the girls were small. As if drugged by a mythic potion. It takes a good quarter of an hour to feel fully back in consciousness.


How I hate autocorrect - a sly form of conformity. 'Raworth' - it's done it again! - is replaced with 'Haworth'. 'Or' in paragraph two came out as 'for'.

Denim it!


Over 260 page views yesterday - something of a record (not that I check regularly). At least someone seems to be interested.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

" ... Out, too, goes the law that said only a place where bakers mixed ingredients, kneaded dough and produced fresh loaves could call itself a bakery and avoid the “bread sales outlet” definition of just selling defrosted and pre-baked loaves.

“The benefit from abolishing the definition would be the enhancement of competition by creating quality differentiations and by offering a broader choice to consumers,” said the OECD, which also wanted bread sold by the kilo rather than, as was the case until very recently, in standard, fixed-weight loaves. ..."

(from an article on Greece in today's Guardian)

Note the weasel phrase: "the enhancement of competition by creating quality differentiations and by offering a broader choice". Translated it means the opportunity for unscrupulous producers to sell sub-quality produce thereby undercutting (& eventually forcing out of business) decent people who make & deliver a genuine bread in the name of giving the customer "what they want". The law of diminishing returns to everyone (other than the said unscrupulous producer). "Choice"? You mean it's a choice to buy crap?

& it coincides nicely with the phrase I read in the current LRB about the Euro crisis concerning the empowerment of "legally and politically unconstrained expertocracy".

Greece, essentially, is being seen as a wonderful plunder zone - licensed financial rape by bankers & investors in the name of 'getting real' & learning to knuckle down. You Greeks, really ... cloud cuckoo land. What an extraordinary shift of culpability.

This is yet another example of the (absurd, inhuman, immoral) 'logics' we live by. Is it any wonder that there is a growing swell of support for Jeremy Corbyn in the UK? Whatever his electoral potential here, at least, is someone who seems to represent an alternative way of living & thinking.

Little by little even the possibility of thinking otherwise is being annihilated. Democracy? Dream on. (You see - those damn Greeks again).

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Limbering up for the next Great British Bake Off ordeal.

E. & I are allowed to watch under sufferance (too many heckles & sarcastic comments last week, apparently). Thus, we will have a clipboard to pass between us on which to scribble a running commentary.

Let you know if it works.


Advance publicity suggests that this week's theme is biscuits. Within how many seconds will "oh crumbs" or "that's how the cookie crumbles" or "well that takes the biscuit" be said by either Mel or Sue? Bookies are offering low odds on within the first 30 seconds.

(Note, in passing, how their ITV vehicle has been dropped after low ratings ... Baffling ...).

Out early this morning for a walk in the woods. I cut down the path leading between the two ponds & notice the blackberry bushes. I pick a few - an early breakfast - & make a mental note to return.

This afternoon I chivvy the girls into a walk & we go back to the same spot. While I know you can't pick mushrooms, to my knowledge there's nothing about hedgerow fruits.

Back home we weigh them - about 140 gr - which in the supermarket would be a 2.90 euros punnet's worth.

Which, of course, is not the point. The walk, the chat, the jokes, the fun of finding fruit ... that's what mattered.

Coming over shamelessly Heaney all of a sudden.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Surfaced briefly into consciousness during the night to catch a few minutes of Mark E. Smith being interviewed on Radio 4 Extra. It went something like this:

Interviewer asks Mark E. what his views are on a list of issues (homophobia ... racism ... fascism ...)

Smith answers: Homophobia? ... that a fear of being in the 'ouse?


Turns out it is/was the last episode of Alan Parker's 59 Minutes programme which is probably a good thing. Listening to it just now on iPlayer Parker grates more than somewhat. However, fair play, he does give The Fall some air time. (O for the days of John Peel).

In fact, Mark E. Smith runs rings around Parker who seems utterly incapable of sustaining the interview or sensing the massive piss-take he's receiving. So much for BBC 'alternative' comedians ...

Leading me to think that it would be an inspired move in these dreary days to give Smith his own slot on radio in which to do whatever he wishes (play favourite tracks, monologue, interview politicians, maybe have a cosy chat with Sue Perkins).

Why stop there? Given the surge of opinion behind Jeremy Corbyn might it just be the moment for Mark E. Smith to declare himself ...?

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Figs Bulgur
Fennel Slaw
Ginger Endive
Pinto Beans
Young Turnips
Ham & Kale Colcannon
Vegetable Patty
Herb Burgers
Aubergine Paneer
Basil Prawns
Harissa Carrots

(potential characters for the novel)


Pork Belly
Chicken Breasts
Crab Balls
Cider Thighs

(doubtful terms of endearment)


(wish we'd called our daughters ...



Friday, August 07, 2015

"... I have dozens of such little note-books left, forming a special history of those years, for myself alone, full of associations never to be possibly said or sung. I wish I could convey to the reader the associations that attach to these soil'd and creased livraisons, each composed of a sheet or two of paper, folded small to carry in the pocket, and fastened with a pin ..." (Walt Whitman, note added to Specimen Days)

How strange to happen upon this having posted about my little folded notebooks & yet this type of coincidence happens again & again. As if a text is somehow choosing its moment. For what I needed to read right now was Specimen Days & to be led back into the poetry which I read with a new recognition.

Reading Whitman this week I had an overpowering sense of poetry worked out of notebooks - much as, I think, Ginsberg had his lightbulb moment leading to the composition of Howl. Never before have I appreciated the fragmentariness of Song of Myself  to such an extent & of deeper logics informing the development of the poem. The leaf of grass: the leaf of the page: taking a leaf out of another's book: left-overs, leavings & inter-leavings. (Shake) spear & sphere.

& it just so happens Mark Miller has written a book exactly on this - Whitman's collage principle. If anyone knows how I can get hold of a copy to read asap I would be very grateful - I can't order it from the UK & don't have access to academic library downloads. Stuffed in other words.


This is unfinished business with me ... how is it with you?
I was chilled with the cold types and cylinders and wet paper between us 

(A Song for Occupations)

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Great British Bake Off returned last night & so there was the ritual gathering around the television (quite a rare sight in this household). The fundamentally absurd format - think, ten years ago, would anyone in their right mind think you could sustain a series about competing to bake cakes? - is ever more creaky & there are signs, perhaps, of genuine bad temper from Paul towards the asinine 'comedy' duo (& who could blame him?).

To be fair, Mel The Unpronounceable is just about bearable. Sue The Unspeakable, however, defies belief in her utter lack of tact & humour. An excruciating clip of her talking with Paul (a new contestant) about the prison service was a case in point. Her "put me in cuffs" quip was ill-judged to put it mildly. (Solitary confinement would seem more fitting ...).

Perhaps someone from the BBC could take Perky Sue aside into a room & close the door. Then sit her down & say kindly but firmly: you. are. not. funny. An evidently clever woman, there must be other things she could be doing.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015


The right notebook to take on holiday remains a major headache to precious dilettantes such as ourselves (right?). Until now. 

I learned my lesson from last year's trip to Greece - i.e. you do NOT want to be lugging a thick volume around in your bag (which will already be heavy with a 50cl bottle of water & other gubbins) in 30 degree plus temperatures. In addition it looks: 

a) pretentious
b) antisocial
c) suspicious
d) predictable
e) ________ (you supply another alternative)

to produce the black Moleskine & start entering one's Golden Thoughts midway through a meal or pause for coffee. 

& so ... this year I made a series of deliberately scruffy little covers out of old Amazon packages (environmentally friendly too!) into which I inserted several folios of blank paper. The Amazon card gives just enough support when writing; the format sits nicely in the palm of the hand (easy access, unobtrusive, you might be simply totalling up the day's expenses); the limited number of pages offers a satisfying feeling of filling the space with the opportunity to insert a refill when you get back to the room plus ... you don't feel inhibited by the paper quality or an expensive binding. 


Talking of notebooks ... on the ferry back from Paros to Athens a woman sat adjacent to me across the aisle. It was hard to say her age - 40s or older, certainly out of her 30s. Nationality? Hard, too. She might have been Greek give her colouring & way of dressing (a light summer frock that fell well on her slim frame, strap sandals, thin red anklet & a careless manner of clipping up her dark chestnut straggling hair). Something about her movements precluded her from being British, so an American, Italian? Maybe. Then there was a disconcertingly girlish quality despite an overall impression of spinsterish (is this word still permissible?) severity & sensible spectacles. Her movements carried that spontaneity of a child's - sitting with her knees up to her chin or throwing herself back in her seat. Certainly a lack of concern for appearances - somewhere on the map between hippyish & bohemian. 

She had a guitar with her - nestled between her legs - which disappeared mysteriously some way into the crossing. Having taken her seat she produced a notebook - why I was immediately fascinated - in which she began writing giving the impression that the words had weighed heavily upon her mind & needed, urgently, to be set down. From where I was sitting there were many pages already full - written in a strong consistent hand. Even more intriguing she wrote from the very top to the bottom of each page & left no margins and - the clincher - used a fountain pen

This pen was small & what - I imagine - is marketed as a lady's 'purse' choice. I would find it awkward but in her small hands & nimble fingers the barrel sat well. The writing came easily, the ink too - which was surprising given the incline she was writing upon (the notebook resting on her hunched knees). 

& so the pressing question: what was she writing? The guitar suggested song lyrics but the continuous lines argued otherwise. A diary/travel journal? Yet from time to time she would pull out a scruffy reporter-style notebook & transcribe some pages. Then a journalist of sorts? Yet her whole manner was that of someone on holiday & the intensity of the scribbling seemed too personally committed for professional purposes. Then ... a novelist? 

Abruptly she got up & walked down the aisle, returning ten minutes later with a small bottle of white wine and plastic cups. Once more in her seat she turned to the couple on her right & then the people in the seats behind & offered them a drink. Polite refusals. She shrugged, sighed, poured herself a glass & resealed the remainder. Inbred generosity? Or the shame of the solitary drinker? (& might she not have leant across to me ...).

& so the second question: why did I not take the initiative & satisfy my curiosity by asking who she was & what she was writing? What held me back? Respect for another's privacy? Inbred English decorum (for which read inhibition) coupled with fear that such a query might be misinterpreted? Or out of self-protection that knowing might shatter my hopes & fantasies realising that these were nothing but pages of the most ghastly drivel & banality? 

Yet how much I admired her for her notebooks, that little fountain pen, the self-absorption, the utter indifference to the world around her - our fellow passengers sunk into that customary inertia of the modern traveller (dozing, smartphone fiddling, glazed gaze at the drop down screen entertainment). She was truly a foreigner in her own or another's country - reminding me of Mary Ruefle's claims to feel of another world entirely. Walking off the ferry into the solid wall of city heat I felt deeply cheered by what I had seen. 

So I raise my glass to you - ? -  writing on the boat between Paros & Athens on a Thursday in late July. 

Monday, August 03, 2015

Steps in Lefkes, Paros 

"It is a process through which the order of a building or a town grows out directly from the inner nature of the people, and the animals, and plants, and matter which are in it.

It is a process which allows the life inside a person, or a family, or a town, to flourish, openly, in freedom, so vividly that it gives birth, of its own accord, to the natural order which is needed to sustain this life."

(The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander)

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Back from the holiday in Greece (a jolly 5 hour delay at Athens airport ostensibly due to a faulty plane back in Brussels but - as a fellow passenger suggested - more likely a deliberate rescheduling to save money).

The blog app has been updated & so images are able to load. However, my first attempt led to a huge photo spilling across the screen. This might be a more successful upload.

The photo was taken in the cafe/bar adjacent to the local museum in Kifissia & emblematic of what Greece needs right now.

More to follow.

. Driving into work the other morning with 'Village of the Sun' playing & humming & drumming along  & think...