Sunday, 31 January 2010

Sunny Days and Green Fields

What a wonderful run of sunny days just as the days are lengthening. The north wind is icy so its hats, gloves, scarfs and lots of layers. The sheep near Tunnel Hill need none of those things as they come complete with woolly covering. They look to be enjoying the sunshine as quite a few are lying down.

We were on our way to Heversham Head, as on a clear day the views are wonderful, but we were not paying attention so ended up approaching it the 'wrong' way up the hill so I had never seen
this interesting sheep gate and wall. I think at one time this must have been used as a stile, being idle we used the large gate. We carried on up hill from there to reach
the top, and the millennium orientation table which has the famous start of psalm 121 written around it "I will lift up mine eyes to the hills, from whence commeth my help, my help commeth from the Lord". These lines are popular in the county for I have seen them on numerous sundials, seats and in fact anywhere with a view; for the hills are eternal. The ones in the distance
on the horizon are the Coniston, Scafell and Crinkle Crag ranges. Just in sight part of the River Kent is snaking its way on the plain out to sea, the Cumbria Coastal Way long distance footpath follows it at this point.

Sorry no photos of the estuary itself as the sun was making its way west and shining low and directly into the lens. The best time to take an image would be the morning, or even better sunset then there would be glowing colours over Morecambe Bay. When I eventully decide to upgrade my camera it might be a good place to test it out. This may be some time off as I can't decide what type to get, DSLR or super zoom. The more I read the more I cannot make up my mind.

Friday, 29 January 2010

The Visitor by Maeve Brennan

This novella has been called a "jewelled miniature" and it is certainly full of iridescent sentences, portraying a world of insularity like a piece of amber with the characters trapped inside.

The story is the return of Anastasia King from Paris (where she has been living with her, now dead, mother), to her grandmother's house in Dublin.

"All the houses in the square were tall, with heavy stone steps going up to the front doors. They were occupied by old people, who had grown old in their houses and their accustomed ways. They disregarded the inconveniences of the square houses, their dark basements and draughty landings, and lived on, going tremulously from one wrinkled day to the next, with an occasional walk between the high stone walls of their gardens".

There is no enthusiastic welcome as she enters in the house in fact it is implied that this is only to be a temporary visit, which is not what Anastasia wants to hear.

"Home is a place in the mind. When it is empty, it frets. It is fretful with memory, faces and places and time gone by. Beloved images rise up in disobedience and make a mirror for emptiness".

The domineering grandmother that wants to be left alone with the grief for her dead son, and Anastasia the granddaughter who wants to be loved. At first the reader's sympathies are with this lost young girl surrounded by elderly women but as the story moves on irritation starts to build and I felt like shouting, get a grip and stop moping around, but self absorption prevents Anastasia from doing this.

Brennan's characters unfold as the novella advances and a sense of unease builds through the pages. With the introduction of Miss Kilbride, a friend of Anastasia's mother, it seems as though this might be the answer to Anastasia's isolation, but this leads to a shocking incident that shows another aspect of her character.

Verdict - A short book that packs a punch and I could read time and again just for the beautiful prose.

Maeve Brennan died in obscurity in 1993 but her posthumously published books have attracted many admirers. Born in Ireland (1917) she emigrated, with her parents to America in 1934 and went on to write a column and short stories for the New Yorker, but the latter part of her life disintegrated into mental instability.

The Irish author Roddy Doyle was distantly related to Maeve and met her, but at the time much to his regret, he did not know she was a writer and describes her as "small and exotic". When asked if she would be considered an American or Irish writer hes says that with the discovery of her writing in the latter part of the century she was perceived as a new Irish writer who had been discovered 8 years after she died.

In the following audio he briefly discusses her with Deborah Freisman of the New Yoker, and then reads a short story called 'Christmas Eve' which is written in a much simpler style than 'The Visitor' but in its domesticity tells a powerful story. Doyle thinks, that although "he might be biased", her Dublin set stories are her best.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

ABC Wednesday - Buoy

Buoys aid pilots by marking a maritime channel or marking hazards so ships can navigate safely. This one has fetched up on dry land and the only thing it is marking is - learning in progress, for it is outside the school in La Richardais. Its markings of Buharats Number 2 West is in fact an actual buoy which is near Dinard and used as an end point when attempting sailing speed records from Cowes on the Isle of Wight, a big sailing centre, to Dinard on the north coast of France. There is also a triangle races from Dinard and here is a competitor in the 2005 race bobbing buoyantly along
on route to Buharats. Photo from the owner of this Aphrodite boat, the Vert-Galant, race site

But back to our buoy.
La Richardais is a popular sailing centre on the Rance and not too far from Dinard but despite a trawl on the Internet I could discover no more, although I did discover the school's January dinner menu. I was almost tempted to sign up. The mentioned of Viennoiserie attracted my attention, never got that in an English school although there was no sign of sponge puddings which we did get a lot. Swings and Roundabouts. Just beyond the church in the distance is the local artisan cake shop, I wonder if they supplied them to the school.

The school is called Louis-Brehault in honour of a resistance fighter killed in August 1944 aged only 17. The French Resistance had played a major but invisible role at D Day but the Brittany Campaign ,started in August '44 to secure the ports, was one in which they fought openly against the Germans. 20,000 men and women were based in Brittany and Louis-Brehault must have died at the start.

Now when talking of buoys, which is a word of old french, dutch and Latin origins, it is as well not to mix them up with the similarly pronounced

boys. If your language is American English then the root will have come from the French of bouee so the mistake will never be made. You will know it is a bouee in the water and not a boy.

This cross like a buoy is also a marker. Ana Cross is on Spaunton Moor, North Yorkshire, and a prominent landmark for hundreds of years. The 10 foot high cross is a replacement for the original ancient one which now resides in Lastingham Church, two miles south of this point in the village of the same name where
you will be able to purchase beverages from the Blacksmiths Arms which also has a beer garden at the back.

Discover more interpretations of the letter B by the participants of the 6th round of the ABC Wednesday meme here

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

ABC Wednesday - Aqua

Hodbarrow Lagoon
Aqua, life giving water.

Some of my favourite aquatic birds are swans, beautiful but sometimes with an uncertain temperament. As these signets are nearly full grown mother is happy to glide around, letting me take photographs and generally ignoring everyone, unless anyone happens to offer them tasty morsels that look more interesting than what is underwater, she would find that quite acceptable.

Barrow Park
These aquatic birds are very used to tasty morsels and there is usually a steady stream of people in the park offering snacks. The seagulls are floating in the background always on the alert for food but this was a very cold day so food bringers were thin on the ground.

Waterside Park
A pair of herring gulls who will not be offered any food, but they are casing the joint. This is some waste ground next to the sea channel and the building where I work. In the summer it will be full of nesting seagulls and a few oyster catchers. This rather divides the people in the building into those like me who find them fascinating and those that hate them with a vengeance, but the seagulls are an equal opportunity kind of bird and do not discriminate on whose car they leave their a mark.
Over 70% of earth's surface is covered with water and because of that someone once said that Earth is the wrong name for the planet and it really should be called Water.

The tide was on the ebb on Sunday afternoon, a still and sunny day, with only one lone tern,which did not want its photograph taking and flew away.

Humankind tries to manage and move water in various ways.

The Force Gill Aqueduct built by the Midland Railway (Settle to Carlisle line) in the 1800s to carry water from Force Gill into Dale Beck. This has in recent years been renovated by Railtrack, who thankfully did not go with their original plan of concreting the channel ,due to public pressure, so we still have the beautiful brickwork.
Almost aquamarine. An experimental scan of a film slide. Fuji film was always considered to be very good for colour and this is absolutely rich. The place is Lanty's Tarn near Ullswater in the Lake District. Lanty is a diminutive of Alexander and this was a pond he dammed a very long time ago which became a rather lovely tarn.

We have reached the next round of ABC Wednesday meme and we start on a new quest to find a word with the appropriate letter. Have a look at what words the other ABCers have come up with here

Monday, 18 January 2010

Go Fly A Kite

The temperature has zoomed up to 7 degrees C but hardly any breeze so no zooming in the air for this power kite which gently bobbed along the coast without gaining much height. The easiest option would be to head for the tops but
the still air meant blue skies at sea level but cloud sat on this and the south Cumbrian fells tops all day.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

The Birds & Other Stories

by Daphne Du Maurier (1907-89). A prolific author who I have never read but whose stores have seeped into my consciousness through films. Giles Coren, journalist, novelist and food critic, participating in a book quiz did not know her work and said he thought she was a sort of "chick lit" author. The master of cinema Alfred Hitchcock did not seem to think so (not that that term existed back then; I wonder what other dismissive term was used) and certainly appreciated her imagination, and made a trio of films from her books - Jamaica Inn (1939), Rebecca (1940) and The Birds (1963). They all have one thing in common, threat and peril.

When this collection of six stories was first published The Birds was not the original story headlined, but a quieter but equally spooky tale, The Apple Tree. The publisher Virago no doubt thought the more familiar story would be a better selling point, and it worked because that is what made me pick it up.

Hitchcock only read The Birds once and said to Francois Truffaut "What I do is to read a story only once, and if I like the basic idea, I just forget about the book and start to create cinema" so none of Hitchcock's ice cold blondes appear, or the American locale of California. Du Maurier sets her story in the place that inspired her, Cornwall, and it is probably a more ominous tale not just an apocalyptic allegory, and prescient of the destruction of ecosystems in which a collective consciousness of nature might turn and confront humankind. The story start in an unusually bleak and cold winter, one man tries to protect his family but how successful will he be. There may be no escape in this tale.

All but one of the stories has an element of the supernatural but there is also a sense of the natural world ever present. Here are some one liners of the stories, so as not to give too much away -

Monte Verita; set somewhere in the alpine regions "in the mountains we come closest to whatever Being it is that rules our destiny" and "They have the secret of life in Monte Verita", about a community in the mountains of which the locals are afraid. The narrator tells the story of his friend Victor's marriage to a Welsh girl called Anna which is a happy one, but she is lost to him in the mountains and our narrator tries to find her.

The Apple Tree; may be about madness or a haunting.

The Little Photographer; a story of a bored self centred young woman and an infatuated photographer and a betrayal.

Kiss Me Again Stranger; be careful of who you pick up

The Old Man; who are the strange, isolated family who fascinate our narrator? This is the shortest story in the collection but a quite perfect vignette, with a surprise ending.

Verdict: Great short stories that tell more in 30 pages than perhaps some 300 page books.

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

ABC Wednesday - Zebra Crossings

I wonder if there will be as many zebra crossings as there were yurts last week ABC Wednesday. Well here goes, here are some of my local crossings.

They are actually all in one place, Ramsden Square, Barrow, a square with a roundabout. In the summer it is beautifully planted with flowers but on this day there is only snow. The statue in the middle is of James Ramsden, who arrived in Barrow as a young man aged 23 in 1846 to manage the engineering department of the Furness Railway and was destined to eventually become the director of the the whole enterprise. An engineer and industrialist he was a man with a vision to build a town for 100,000, which actually never happened, but he raised finance and backed by local capitalists financed dock extensions and iron and steel works, but his lasting legacy was his ambitious planned town with wide tree lined streets and ample space for development. There are few planned towns in England and fewer still in the 19th Century.

(image from statues on my barrow)
He became mayor, elected five times to that position and was knighted in 1878 the same year this bronze statue was erected.

But lets turn left now and
here is another zebra crossing. St Mary's Church in the background, and underneath the land to the left is a recently completed 30m (98 ft) deep storm water drain, part of a two year project to upgrade the victorian sewer network. Made a more interesting engineering problem because the ground water alters with tidal variations.

Continuing to walk clockwise
another zebra crossing leading to the main library (opened in 1922). This has just had a new roof fitted so it has lasted well. Continue past

and here is yet another zebra crossing complete with community police pounding, or perhaps ambling their beat.

So there it is a square roundabout with two zebra crossings at each four points. Loved by pedestrians but possibly not as much by car drivers in a hurry.

Zoom over to the ABC Wednesday meme for more interpretations of the letter Z.

Monday, 11 January 2010

Above Zero

Barrow Park
The temperature has crept up and the fountain is working its magic on the ice
so the mallards and coots can take their pick. With our without ice.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch

First published in Dutch as 'De ontdekking van de hemel' in 1992 and translated by Paul Vincent in 1996.

A 700 page chunkster of a book (although the original Dutch was even chunkier) that roams through philosophy, architecture, linguistics and theology. In other words this is probably a great book for cold winter days and dark nights when you have time on hand.

page 4 -"That's right, They have discovered our profoundest concept - namely, that life is ultimately reading. They themselves are the Book of Books. In the year 1869 the wretched creatures discovered the DNA in the cell nucleus, and at the time we kidded ourselves that it was of no great significance, because they would never have the bright idea that the acid contained a code - and in any case would never be able to break it - but a hundred human years later they had deciphered the genetic code down to its subtlest details. We made them too clever, using the very same code.

The premise of the book is that the covenant has been broken between The Chief and mankind beginning in the 17th century with Francis Bacon's* pact with Lucifer. Rationalism and the Age of Reason follow as mankind gain more knowledge. The book stats as a conversation between tow inhabitants of another sphere, which one presumes to be some sort of heaven, discussing how they have to do something to prevent the human race discovering heaven by putting on earth a 'spark', a human deus ex machina. A lot of things have to be contrived before that happens, which include two world wars and much death and destruction heading for one point, where the book begins. A meeting in the 1960s between Onno Quist, black sheep of a powerful political Dutch Calvinist family and Max Delius, son of a Jewish mother and a German Nazi father. The two intellectuals become bosom friends.

The first chapters are very slow, after a racy prologue, but I guess if you are manipulating fate it takes time; which moves much faster for immortals than for mere humans. It ticks along quite nicely when the wheels of destiny start to turn.

Max meets Ada Brons and they become lovers but she discovers that the bond between him and Otto is greater than his love for her so she finishes the affair, but moves in with Otto. The three friends travel to post revolutionary Cuba where a baby is conceived, but Ada does not know who the father is, Onno or Max. She marries Onno and Max attends the wedding.

Page 242 - "There was a rather charged atmosphere. The Amsterdam style with which everything was being done here - the bride and groom on a bike, the reception in a pub, artists everywhere, freethinkers and Reds, no sign of clergyman; instead, a revolutionary document from the Napoleonic period - and now they were saddled with a war criminal from the German occupation: their dismay was not entirely incomprehensible. Such things did not happen in The Hague. Of course everyone at this table knew who his father was, but hence who his mother had been. People here knew everything - except who he was. Onno's brother... offered him a chair with a friendly smile , and when he sat down amongst them he felt the weight of the family"

Ada's father has a heart attack while she and Otto are visiting Max's workplace and they set off in a storm to the hospital, but a tree falls on the car, and although they all survive, Ada is in a coma. The baby is born some months later by cesarean section, Ada is still unconscious. Everyone loves this beautiful baby that never cries and has mesmeric eyes. But who is going to look after him? Various members of Otto's family offer but Max suggest that he and Ada's mother act as foster parents and this is what happens. This new family move in together as Max takes up an astronomy position outside Amsterdam. where a great radio telescope is being built. and with Otto's connections take residence in part of a castle occupied by artists and intellectuals who will, as fate planned, educate the young Quinten for his ultimate purpose and destiny.

The telescope is positioned on land where there was once a camp during the war for Jews, like Max's mother, before being sent to concentration camps. All traces of that previous purpose are being eliminated. This is really the core of Mulisch's exploration of 20th century Dutch history and psyche, but through the prism of Greco-Roman philosophy and the place of man in the universe as well as the Judea-Christian ideas driving the plot as time moves through the second half the the century and the world changes.

The novel is divided into four sections from "the beginning of the beginning" through to "the end of the end" and the 65 chapter headings each contain an idea, which is a wonderful construct.

This is a bumper book of ideas and a tour de force of writing but essentially I found it a rather cold book. I did not really care about any of the people and their concerns and felt they were essentially just devices to move the plot along. Maybe Mulisch was behaving as capriciously as the gods with his characters.

People love 'Discovery of Heaven' and seem to read it more than one, it certainly has enough ideas in it to stand more readings and maybe also lead to exploring the subjects he discusses.

The book has excited enough interest for a film to be made, with Stephen Fry taking the part of polymath Otto, on the insistence of Harry Mulisch, a choice which I think would work very well. How much of the book would transpose to film I'm not sure.

Verdict - An interesting book makes me want to have a look at others he has written. The Complete Review have a overview of his work here

Quote by Harry Mulisch in an interview I rather like "I have a theory that everybody has an absolute age which he will always have. My absolute age is 17"

*Footnote on Francis Bacon

I studied the Renaissance as part of a course many moons ago so those concepts in the book were familiar to me but I knew very little about Francis Bacon and had to look him up in the Oxford Companion to English Literature.

He started off his career as a barrister and then was elected to parliament in 1584, but had a driven ambition. He was taken up and helped by Queen Elizabeth's favourite, Essex, who he was later to prosecute and convict of treason. Off came Essex's head. He rapidly progressed after Elizabeth's death and was created Viscount St Albans but was convicted of taking bribes and his public life was over in disgrace. His writings were very influential and these are the ones that concern Mulisch, as Bacon contributed to the division between art and science in contemporary, although not his own, time.

In one of those strange coincidence that often happen in life I read the following reprinted in, I think, the Independent newspaper as :

Best interview question

"Rudolf Freiburg: Are you familiar with...Bacon's doctrine of the faculties of the mind, ratio, memoria and imaginatio?

Julian Barnes: Francis Bacon?

Freibur: Yes, Sir Francis Bacon. He sees parallels between faculties of the mind and fields of human knowledge. So memoria corresponds to history, ratio to philosophy, and imaginatio to poetry or literature. And then he says 'Get rid of imagination as it doesn't serve a purpose.' Could one say that treating the world as you sometimes do in your books, one can observe an infiltration of memory by imagination, and will this lead to - I hope the question isn't getting too complicated - would this also lead to the infiltration of history by imagination?"

Julian Barnes: Gosh! 'I don't know' is the answer"

From Do You Consider Yourself a Postmodern Author?, reprinted in Conversations with Julian Barnes

First book read towards the 2010 New Authors, New Worlds, New Cultures Challenge hosted by Literary Escapism and also incidentally to the Everlasting Europe Challenge on Library Thing.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

ABC Wednesday - Ysgyryd Fawr

North-east of the town of Y Fenni (known in English as Abergavenny) this hill is a detached outlier of the Black Mountains in the Brecon Beacon National Park, Wales. As can be seen it is owned by part of the National Trust which in Welsh is Yr Ymddiriedolaeth Genediaethol. Yr is 'the' in Welsh and it depends on the following letter or vowel how it is spelt. I can't remember what I read about this and as my ancestors left Wales a hundred years plus ago so no help there.
It is only a little lump of a hill so it is a saunter rather than a walk as Ymlwybro (make one's way) to the top
and what does the trig point say - Skirrid Fawr. Have I taken a wrong turn? Not unusual but not this time, no this is like T S Eliot's Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, the 'Naming of Cats'

The naming of cats is a difficult matter,
Its not just one of your holiday games;
You may think at first I'm as mad as a hatter
When I tell you, a cat must have THREE DIFFERENT NAMES

Ysgryd Fawr (one name), the anglicised Skirrid Fawr usually just called Skirrid (two) and then Holy Mountain or Sacred Hill (its third name). The welsh Ysgryd describes the hill's shape; that which has shivered or shattered. The end of the hill has sheared off and is a contrast to the gentle sloping path on these photos.

This is how it got its third name. The legend is that the landslide broke off part of the hill as Jesus was crucified, but this is possibly Christianity covering over the older pagan significance connected to the autumn equinox. Whichever, the local tradition meant that the soil was considered to be especially fertile and it was taken away to be scattered on fields, on coffins and the foundations of churches. In days of yore, the Middle Ages, a chapel was built on the top for the pilgrims who were attracted by its religious connections but it has now virtually disappeared without trace.
It is a hill that stands alone which means you get marvelous views. Here looking down the ystrad (vale) and its patchwork fields to the pointy Sugerloaf Mountain and the flatter Table Mountain in the distance. Sugerloaf Mountain has a rather nice vineyard in its environs where you can buy wine and have a pot of tea and yummy cakes under a vine leaved awning. On the hot day we were visiting I could almost imagine I was in Greece but there I would probably have been drinking a chilled Mithos beer.
Returning the way we came on reaching the bottom took our ymoffwys (rest, repose) as we went to have Sunday lunch.

There is a handy car park for this walk taking about a dozen cars by the side of the road running past Ysgyryd, which we did not use on this occasion, because our holiday cottage was nearby, however we past this car park everyday as we journeyed out and back to the cottage and the only time it was ever empty of cars was after 10 at night. A very popular destination.

We could not see Ysgryd from our cottage but we could see the pointy


Isn't the Welsh language useful for having lots of words starting with Y. I will leave with one last word I came across that I rather like and is appropriate for the time of year. In yesterday's post I said that all the snow had gone, today it came back again, and tonight has frozen, so tomorrow I might be doing this. Ysglefrio - to slide on ice.

To visit other participants in the ABC Wednesday meme and their take of the letter Y go here

Monday, 4 January 2010

Icy Days

The hills are still white but the sunny days have meant that the snow has nearly disappeared from all the fields but the
pools are still iced over

as are the paths.

The bird bath needs regular applications of hot water to melt the ice. I directed hot water on the middle of the ice yesterday and, suddenly, whoosh, a jet a water spurted in the air and sprayed directly all over my face. I retreated dripping into the house. Refreshing on an icy morning , guess there was an air pocket underneath. It almost turned into a bird Jacuzzi.