Thursday, 31 December 2009

At the edge of the waves

We went to Crackington Haven
to walk across the soft sand to the sea
and feel the spray on our faces.

The beach was empty except for another family,
a mother with a little boy and girl,
standing at the foamy edge of the waves.

I thought of walking across to this young mother
and telling her that my boy and girl had been tiny
such a very short time ago

but then I turned back towards my children
and I realised that now is just as wonderful as then

and I resolved to look forward
and embrace 2010
and the opportunities that it brings our family.

Life is too short to look backwards.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

good things surround us

We have the turkey in the fridge
and the Christmas pudding in the supermarket bag
and the Brussels sprouts lurking
and the Fortnum & Masons chocolates for old times sake
and the Christmas cake is marzipanned (icing soonish)
and the tree is brought in from the cold
(where it has been for the past 10 days)
and the presents are stacked near the wrapping paper
and the sellotape has been seen recently
and the cards have been posted just-in-time
and the visa has arrived.

It is time to break out the snowflake jumpers
and enjoy Christmas together.

I wish you all a wonderful time
with your families.

Thank you for your friendship this year.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Christmas Decorations

MrsM and MissM have had Words
about the Christmas Decorations.

Or as MissM refers to them
'The Weird Wobbly People'.

MissM says that she feels threatened
by the aggressive Santa

and the Reindeer has an attitude problem.

MrsM accepts that the Snowman
looks suspicious hiding behind the parcels

but she briskly tells MissM
to ignore the Snowman who is planning
to stab her with a Christmas tree

and count her blessings

if she was Miss Eurolush...

she would be surrounded by mushrooms.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Life is a journey

MasterM was staying with a friend in Kent
in a beautiful little house in the middle of farmland
when the snow arrived.

" we looked outside and it was pretty crazy.
I mean, it was DEEP!
And then we tried to book a taxi to the station
but no-one would come out to the house.
So we walked to the top of the hill
and we were sliding all over the place
like Torvill and Dean
and it took us nearly half an hour.
When we got to the top we went into this pub
and it was full of these old guys drinking
and we asked if anyone would take us to the station.
And this guy said he would
so he downed his pint
and took us out to the carpark,
We rode in the back of his pickup truck
and it was absolutely freezing
and I looked down
and there were all these shotgun cartridges
on the floor of the truck.
And I thought...
this is one to tell the grandchildren."


a true story,
for my friend, Bobby.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Christmas Shopping

Twice a year MrM and MissM go shopping together.

They walk down the tiny cobbled street
to the shop with the pale blue shutters.
MrM presses the polished brass bell
and then they wait until the owner opens the door.

Inside there are low ceilings, mahogany cabinets,
soft carpets and a velvet display pad.

They know MrM and MissM very well in this little shop
and so they smile and welcome them
and help them decide what to buy
with the utmost courtesy.

MrM looks forward to this day for weeks
because he has special time with MissM
and MissM accepts that going shopping with MrM
is part of the preparations for Christmas.

Whatever present I receive on Christmas morning
I know that it has been chosen with love.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Yardangs and other matters

I know that yardangs
are not the obvious choice for a seasonal post
but bear with me...

MrM and MrsM recently had the pleasure
of meeting a friend of MissM,
let us call him MasterN,
and, as luck would have it, he is a Geographer.

MrsM was able to make intelligent conversation
about exhibitions that she had been to at the RGS.

MissM was able to entertain us
with stories of the coldest place on earth.

and MrM?

MrM decided to give a monologue about yardangs
(which appears to be all that he remembers
from years of Geography lessons)
and spoke at length
and in great detail
until MrsM and MissM begged him to stop.

MasterN gave a very good impression
of being completely fascinated
by the mysterious world of the yardang
and delighted by the chance to learn about them...

which is why I think we should refer to him
from now on as
the Charming MasterN.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

(just for the record)

It is the Department Christmas lunch.
40 members of staff are in festive mood
surrounded by crackers, wine and good food.

The Admissions Tutor is in San Francisco.
We miss his cheerful banter.

The academic who took us to Stonehenge
is giving the closing speech at the Royal Society.
He claims that he would rather be with us.

The enthusiastic academic who reminds me of Ali
describes her family Christmas
on a farm in the heart of Wales.
It sounds noisy.

I turn around to see the deputy Exams Officer
and the academic who dreams of golf courses
looking like identical twins with their paper hats.
They have worked together for a long time
and they are very good friends.

One end of the table is all Professors.
The conversation sparkles.

We say farewell to the young academic
who will be starting a new job
in the snowy north of Norway.

The academic who shall be nameless
has just won a large Research Grant.
There is much applause and raising of glasses.

The academic who has just turned 40
leads a crowd
down the street
to the nearest pub.
I hear later
it was only the beginning
of a long evening.

I pay the bill,
supervised by the Head of Department,
who hasn’t been drinking wine
so he can still add up.

The Head of Department leaves
to chair a session
at the Copenhagen Climate Change summit.

I go home to look after MissM
who has acute tonsillitis.


These are good people.
They are dedicated to their students and their research
but they know how to party too.
It is a privilege to work with them

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

A Walk in the Winter Garden

What could be nicer than a walk
in the Winter Garden of Anglesey Abbey?

Red dogwood, white birch,
scented Mahonia and Daphne,
spikes of spring bulbs in dark earth
and the very first Hellebore blooms.

Nothing could be nicer
unless you do it with a friend
whom you have known forever
but only just met for the first time.

Thank you, Emma,
for taking the time to meet me
when you were so busy
preparing for Christmas craft fairs,

for the sweet winter berry wreath,

for entertaining me with tales of tiny Miss Ps,

and for selling me a Winter Garden necklace
which is the perfect Christmas present
for my mother.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Christmas Cards

This is our 2009 Christmas card
and I love it
even though I never buy
long thin cards.

The fabric designs in the background
are from Traidcraft artists.

I'm not going to lie,
it would be easier writing the cards
if I could find the book with the list.

MissM says she can clearly remember
seeing it in the summer...

which isn't much help.

Monday, 14 December 2009

...half-spent was the night...

Here are the white surpliced scholars
as they assemble for the procession.

Here is the great Nave
filled with children and parents.

The expectant murmur stills
as the lights are dimmed
and the procession enters.

The soft glow and smell of candlewax mingles
with the soaring sound of the choir
and it is as it was last year
and the years before.

Afterwards we drink mulled wine in the Chapter House
and wish friends a peaceful Christmas.

For some it was the first year
that they were part of this very special experience
but for our family it was the last time.

Lo, how a rose e'er blooming
From tender stem hath sprung!
Of Jesse's lineage coming,
As men of old have sung.
It came, a flow'ret bright,
Amid the cold of winter,
When half-spent was the night.

Es ist ein Ros' Entsprungen

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Christmas Cake

currants, sultanas, raisins,
mixed peel, glace cherries,
blanched almonds, lemon rind,
plain flour, cinnamon, mixed spice,
treacle, butter and eggs

This is the same recipe
that my mother used
for my wedding cake
and as I take it out of the oven
swathed in greaseproof paper,
brown paper and string
there is a moment of connection
to her,
and that happy day
and all the Christmases since then.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

There Should Be A Law Against It

Talking while wearing hats with ear flaps and ear plugs

Black Nail Polish

Eating lollies while walking

Men in shorts in winter


Bright green plastic box hedging

Blue dyed carnations

Coconut scented hair conditioner

People kissing in restaurants when I am eating

Miniature red cabbage

Cycling the wrong way up one way streets with no lights

Battery operated alarm clocks


I am away for a couple of days
so I wonder if
The Coffee Lady would mind
chairing the discussion group?

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

i choose to look upwards

The campus is enclosed by woodland
and trees encroach from the margins
so that the buildings are embedded
among oaks, horse chestnuts and great cedars.
This is the oak tree outside the front door
of the Department. I see it every morning.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Christmas with the Savages

This is a peppermint candy-cane of a book.
You expect it to be sickly sweet
but it turns out to be minty fresh
and full of flavours of Christmas past.

The sprawling nursery of the Savage famiy
is observed from the inside by a cousin
who arrives unexpectedly for Christmas
from the privileged and silent world
of the only child.

Mary Clive writes an unsentimental record
of the capricious nature of children.
The chapters are full of hectic energy, noise,
small cruelties and fragmentary memories
and the descriptions are so truthful that it is clear
that she retained a vivid memory of her childhood
even at the end of her long and fascinating life.

I have decided to read this every Christmas
because it is joyous and funny
and seasonal sentimentality is banished
from the moment you read the first paragraph.


Post Script
The chapter describing the play reminded me
of my own early directing career...

we had three bath towels...

blue towel...
my sister B who was Mary

yellow towel...
my sister D who was the Angel

brown towel...
that would be me, Joseph,
because I was the tallest.

Truly, the painful memories
of being the oldest child
never go away.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Role Reversal

The day has arrived
when my son
cuts up a apple
and gives me a piece.

It's official - I'm old.

I am thinking of running away
and living a dissolute life
while I can.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Woman not writing.

Young Woman Writing
Pierre Bonnard

So many lovely comments from so many lovely people.
So few replies.


I'm on the case.
Could you talk amongst yourselves for a while?

Thank you muchly.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Thomas Baines (1820 – 1875)

Self Portrait, 1858

Thomas Baines sailed for South Africa at the age of 22 to seek adventure and fortune, leaving Kings Lynn and life as an apprentice to a Coach Painter. It was the start of Queen Victoria’s reign and the energy and enthusiasm of the Industrial Revolution was reaching every corner of the United Kingdom. Today, Australia has a Mt. Baines and the Baines River, South Africa has a Thomas Baines Game Reserve and a genus of beetle bears his name - lasting legacies to his life as an explorer.

Alligator, Victoria River, Tom Tough aground

He arrived in Cape Town and lived as an artist selling seascapes and views of Table Mountain but soon made plans to start exploring the South African interior. The Boers has only recently left the Cape Peninsular on the Great Trek of 1837 and travel in such vast, unexplored space would have been very challenging especially for Baines whose resources were limited. He wrote and illustrated a detailed diary of travels from 1846-52 through the Eastern Cape, Transvaal and Botswana and these journals were the start of a remarkable contribution to the history of Geography.

Klaass Smit's River, with a broken down wagon,
crossing the Drift, South Africa, 1852

After returning to Kings Lynn in 1852 Baines started to make connections with the RGS and Kew Gardens. It was a time when the world was opening up and there was great interest in his detailed record of travels in South Africa. In 1855 Baines was employed on the RGS sponsored exploration of the Australian interior (1855-1857) organised by Augustus Gregory. He was given responsibility for the stores which included taking an open boat from Northern Australia to Java and Timor to get fresh supplies.

A Malay native from Batavia, Coepang
© Royal Geographical Society with IBG

The success of the Australian trip led to a recommendation to join the next African adventure of Dr Livingstone along the Zambezi (1858-9). This relationship ended in acrimony when Baines was accused of stealing from the expedition stores. Livingstone had influential connections and the false accusations ended Baines career but did not prevent Livingstone from using his illustrations without attribution.

Journal of a journey into South African gold fields,
Transvaal and Matabeleland, 1869–1870

Baines returned to the Cape and was persuaded to join a privately arranged expedition to the Victoria Falls with his friend, the ivory trader Thomas Chapman. A record of this trip was published and a popular series of coloured lithographs of the Falls provided much needed income.

Victoria Falls by Sunrise

Baines lived the rest of his life scraping a living selling paintings and operating gold mining concessions. His mother was an enthusiastic promoter of his work and she organised exhibitions in Kings Lynn and sent samples to Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales at Sandringham.

The British Settlers of 1820 Landing in Algoa Bay

Thomas Baines died of dysentery at the age of 55 in South Africa. He was highly regarded for the accuracy of his recording and there are archives of his work at Kew, RGS, South Africa and Australia. He painted what he saw at a time when so much was new and many of his works are the first record of species.

The President of the RGS said of him the following year:
“...He was a man of marked individuality of character,
a born artist and explorer,
a lover of wild life,
and skilled in all the shifts and resources
of an explorer's career.”


for my son,
who is 20 today
and will shortly set off
on his own South African adventure.

Inspired by the recent exhibition at the RGS
Hidden Histories of Exploration

John Thomas Baines
by Raymond John Howgego (2006)

Thomas Baines:
Artist-Explorer of Australia and Southern Africa
by Jane Carruthers (2005)

Tuesday, 1 December 2009

Domestic Working Practices

It is recommended that the principal operator is retrained as a matter of urgency and the long standing practice of unsupervised working is reviewed. The audit was initiated after the recent incident where it was discovered that the operator had used Spray Starch instead of Furniture Polish.