Saturday, 30 October 2010

that sweet ornament

Indian carnation, viburnum,
Turkish rose and orange blossom
cardamom, coriander and cinnamon


MissM left her perfume behind
on the dining room table.

I look at it for a while
and then I lift the lid cautiously.

The fragrance of laughter floats out.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

scary stories for small boys

Jessie Willcox Smith
A Child's Book of Stories
Duffield and Company, 1911.

it has occurred to MrsM
that some fairy stories could be very damaging
if read to impressionable little boys

consider Snow White and the seven dwarfs:
there is the problematic size issue...

and the worrying suggestion
that you could live happily
in the forest
with your pals
and then, without warning,
two women might come along at once
and disturb your comfortable bachelor life...

don't even start me on
the symbolism of mining...

or the disastrous implications
for healthy eating...

you have been warned

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Berthe Morisot (1841–1895)

Still Life with Cut Apple and Pitcher

Berthe Morisot studied with Corot
and married the brother of Édouard Manet,
She was an influential member
of the Parisian Impressionists,
exhibiting alongside Cezanne, Degas and Renoir.

Her paintings provide insights into her life
that I recognise from my own experience
one hundred and forty years later.

White Flowers in a Bowl

I could have featured 'The Cradle',
a study of the intense relationship
between mother and child.


Or any of the intimate portraits
that capture the violin lesson,
the little girl with the doll,
the picnic on the grass
or the child at the garden gate.


But this is my first half term without children
so if you don't mind
we will look at pictures of
apples, flowers and china bowls.

It seems safer.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

beyond the bridge

I turn my camera sideways
and see the light melt on the water.

It lies on the surface,
a mercurial slick,
pewtered droplets spread thin
until they shatter into pinpoints.

I watch in silence,
this watery incandescence,
this glittering metallica

and then I ask my mother,
"did you see that too?"

Monday, 25 October 2010

the vine

These are the grapes
that were cut from the vine
that was grown from a twig
left over from a bunch
that was picked from a greenhouse
and shared at a picnic
in a cliffside theatre many years ago
and now provides dessert for
a special birthday lunch.


My parents argue amiably
about who can claim the credit
and it is agreed that
my mother nurtured the twig
in a Marmite pot with rooting hormone
and when the vine had grown
my father carefully transported it
to the garden by the river.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

a rose in October...

is more precious than
a rose in June.



Happy Birthday, Mum.

Friday, 22 October 2010

My camera and I

I have a confession to make...
I am not getting on with my new camera.

My photographic style - such as it is -
is about rapid identification of images
and so I need a very fast camera.
The new camera has lots of tiny dials and switches
and is unbearably slow to set up a shot.

Another thing that is important to me
is the ability to see what the outcome will be on the screen...
I only take a few shots at a time - perhaps two or three -
and so I can't afford to make mistakes.
The new camera has a Smart Auto function
and it corrects effects that I want to achieve
which is very frustrating
when you cannot go back to recreate a shot.

And I really don't want weird Hipstamatic photos

Finally, my new camera is only slightly bigger
but it does not fit in my coat pocket;
this might sound a ludicrous complaint
but I had not realised how important it is to me.

Fortunately, MasterM needs a camera
because he dropped his.

Who knows - perhaps he will send more photos home...

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Exam Term, Stellenbosch

I can only write about my family
with their permission
and I am very grateful to them
for being so tolerant over the past three years.

I am particularly careful with photographs
because I do not want to compromise their privacy.

These photos were sent by MasterM recently
and I was surprised and delighted
when he said that I could post them here.

It might be linked to the fact
that the Head of Department is visiting Stellenbosch
and has offered to take an emergency supply of fudge.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

The Four Year Plan

Project Initiation
What we've got to do is get round a table
and put together a solution package -
perhaps over tea and biscuits.

Division of Responsibilities:
Hey, this is mine. That's mine.
All this is mine.
I'm claiming all this as mine.
Except that bit.
I don't want that bit.
But all the rest of this is mine.

Strategic Analysis
We have three realistic alternatives:
Sit here and get blown up,
Stand here and get blown up,
Jump up and down,
shout at me for not being able to think of anything,
then get blown up.

Resource Allocation
Hey, I got it!
We laser our way through!?

Operations Manager
Ah, an excellent suggestion, Sir,
with just two minor drawbacks.
we don't have a power source for the lasers,
we don't have any lasers.

Forward Planning
Well, if you've got some amazing secret plan
up your sleeve
now's the time to mention it.

You're going to go with one of my plans?
Are you nuts?
What happens if we all get killed?
I'll never hear the last of it.

Action Points
Step up to Red Alert!

Operations Manager
Sir, are you absolutely sure?
It does mean changing the bulb.

[with apologies to the talented writers of Red Dwarf]

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Walls of Granada

Between budgets and employment contracts,
room bookings and purchase orders

The Hill of the Alhambra
Samuel Colman (1832-1920)

and clattering visits
from the academic who is now 41
and has another cunning plan or three
on the boil

The Comares Tower of the Alhambra
David Roberts (1796-1864)

I pause
and my mind drifts sideways...

The Gate of the Justice
Wilhelm Gail (1804 - 1890)

I have never seen the Alhambra,
that rose-red citadel on the edge of Granada;

Lions in the Alhambra
John Dobbin (1815-1888)

the sprawling walls and towers,
massive gateways, pillared courtyards
and extravagant Moorish decoration.

Entrance to the Hall of Ambassadors
George Owen Wynne Apperley (1884 - 1960)

I can't go today or tomorrow
or even next week
but I will...

one day I will go to Granada.

Monday, 18 October 2010

(just for the record)

Attendance Register

She wins the prize for the most exotic name.
It stretches from one end of the alphabet to the other.

He enquires about language training because
Russian is essential for his fieldwork in Uzbekistan.

She asks the way to the train station.
MrsM considers the feasibility of a GPS loan.

He has had his dreadlocks cut off
but the mischievous grin is still there.

She is homesick and decides to leave.
MrsM signs the form and wishes her luck
but she is not listening...
in her head she has already left the campus.

He is awarded a prestigious grant
to fund his studies for the next four years
which vindicates his brave decision
to leave a well paid but boring job.

She sets off for a year of fieldwork in Asia.
She is young and flustered
but her new husband stands reassuringly behind her.
They are on their first adventure together.

He sent so many emails before he arrived
querying every single detail
of the enrolment and financial arrangements
that MrsM is surprised to discover
he is a very 'street' young man
and not a retired accountant.

She did not get the job
even though she was well qualified.
MrsM makes enquiries and discovers that
a student from her old Department was successful.
MrsM is torn between delight and disappointment.

He describes his exciting placement
in South Africa during the World Cup.
MrsM remembers encouraging him to apply and smiles.

She is persuaded to show off her diamond ring
which made a surprise appearance
from a rucksack on a foggy day.
It is undoubtedly the first chapter
of a happy marriage.

He was a student when she arrived
but was appointed as a lecturer shortly afterwards.
MrsM wonders if he will become Head of Department
before she leaves.

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Suburban Bliss

There are those who refuse to believe
that MrsM cooks real food.

MrsM refutes this hurtful allegation
and presents as evidence:
Chicken with Prosciutto
Autumn Plum Tart

MrsM concedes that it is not all about
providing nutritious meals for her family
or the joy of using seasonal ingredients...

she has an ulterior motive...

cooking allows uninterrupted time
alone with her beloved iPod.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Roses on Saturday

On Saturday morning MrM visits his friend, the bookseller,
and then walks along the road to his favourite florist
and buys MrsM and MissM a rose each.
He doesn't buy roses every weekend...
MrM says "It is important to keep 'em keen."

(watch this is coffee-cake shaped)

Thursday, 14 October 2010

The Garlic Bowl

Sometimes it takes years and years
to discover your purpose in life.
Sometimes it just takes two weeks.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

MissM, Gastronome

MissM is musing on recipes inspired by books

Poisson Hemingway

Take one fish that you have caught
over a period of three days...
give it to a shark to gnaw off the flesh...
make soup with anything that is left.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

a pear-shaped day

Still Life with an Earthen Bowl and Pears
Vincent van Gogh

Sometimes things don't go according to plan.
On those days you go to bed early
and hope that tomorrow will be better.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Sunday Afternoon

The sun was shining and it was the perfect day
to stroll along Piccadilly to Fortnum &Mason
and arrive in time for lunch in the Gallery.

Cornish Crab with cucumber and chives

Is it really two years since MasterM sold chocolate
in his red tail coat and pinstripe trousers?
We felt sure that if we turned around he would be there.

Pan fried pollock with cannellini beans

After lunch we went upstairs to the stationery department
and thought how elegant the assistants looked
in their A-line black brocade jackets.

Custard tart with apple and cinnamon compote

Then we bought some multi-coloured macarons
for the Lovely Ladies in the office
and went to the V&A museum
to see the breathtaking Raphael cartoons.

There are worse ways to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

at the train station

This story is for bb

As we approach the ticket office we realise that the man in front with the white stick is standing at the wrong window because the blind is down. He is not aware of this because he is visually impaired.

stop right there...
don't feel sorry for him...
this story has a happy ending...

We help him find the correct window and when the lady at the till sees him she smiles and greets him like a friend.

"Hello! I haven't seen you for a long time!"

"Hello Fatima I have some good news...
I have been allocated a guide dog!
I went to be introduced to Eddie last week...
he has a cold wet nose at one end
and a waggy tail at the other.
I think that he will bring me here at Mach3."

His happiness is infectious and we are all smiling. Fatima sells us our tickets and then closes the ticket office and escorts him to the platform.

It is a good start to the day.

Friday, 8 October 2010

from my Inbox

To: Geography
Subject: Henry Smeathman - Explorer and Naturalist

Good afternoon,
I would like to draw your attention to the following lecture, to be held at the Royal Society Centre for History of Science next week:

Henry Smeathman – Explorer and Naturalist
Speaker: Dr Starr Douglas
Friday 15 October, 1pm

Henry Smeathman is remembered today for his work in two different but connected fields of knowledge - natural history and colonial settlement. His sponsored expedition to Sierra Leone in the 1770s resulted in a ground breaking treatise on tropical termites, and paved the way for his plan of settlement for Sierra Leone - a plan which later came to fruition. This talk will explore the life and legacy of this unusual and energetic man, including a discussion of the monkeys from the Leverian collection.

The event is free but as space is limited we recommend registering for a seat in advance.

I hope this may be of interest, and would be grateful if you could pass this information on to any of your colleagues or contacts who might also like to hear about it.

Thanks and best wishes,
Information and Promotion Officer
The Royal Society
6-9 Carlton House Terrace
London SW1Y 5AG

See further with the Royal Society in 2010 – celebrate 350 years of excellence in science


I thought I would pass it on...
I have a wide readership...
somebody might be interested in termites.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

A Meditation on Bagels

I ate my first bagel in 2001 in a New York deli

I had to ask what lox was...which was embarrassing

I slightly prefer multigrain

I am not sure why people eat bagels

Especially cinnamon bagels

In my defence...I do own a bagel knife

The enthusiastic academic ate two bagels in the lunchtime meeting

If I ate two bagels for lunch I would probably explode

The enthusiastic academic is now a Professor

MissM eats a salmon and cream cheese bagel every day

I conclude that bagels are good for brain development

I would rather eat spinach

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

be careful what you wish for

I'm home alone
and it is unbearable.The house is just as tidy
when I come home
as it was when I left.

I have no-one to cook for
and I must eat by myself.

The silence is doing my head in
because it is so loud.

I am reduced to
downloading pictures of soup tureens
in the shape of rabbits
to keep myself occupied.

Just as well MrM is back tomorrow.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Shopping with MissM

It is easy to go shopping
and find the Perfect Black Skirt
and the Perfect White Shirt
if you are the Perfect size.

It leaves plenty of time
to stand patiently next to your mother
while she tries on Less than Perfect Knitwear:

the 'I dragged this off my bed by accident' style;
the 'my pockets are weighed down with wet hankies' style;
the 'Niagara Falls edge to edge' style';
the 'this is so cheap that they didn't sew up the arms' style;
the 'I couldn't afford a cardigan so I used a rug' style

until you can eventually say,
in a gentle voice,
"Lets stop playing
the 'Trying on Silly Cardigans' game
and go home."

Monday, 4 October 2010

Raspberry Torte

Today I made raspberry torte for an autumn Sunday lunch
but the last time I used the recipe
it was summer and we were in the cottage.
MasterM invited a group of friends to stay
and when I came down stairs in the morning
there was an untidy heap of young men in sleeping bags
who had arrived long after I had gone to bed.
The torte was shared around for breakfast
with summer fruit salad and yogurt,
and today, as I weighed the ground almonds,
I thought of MasterM and his friends,tousled and hungover
but making every effort to be charming.
A happy memory indeed to fold into the mixture.

Saturday, 2 October 2010

black on grey

When I leave the Department
the sky is a black swirl of rooks
and the sound of their flight fills my head.

On this evening, after a day of rain,
the sky is milky grey
and I stand in the car park, watching.

It makes my heart ache a little,
this ending of another day,
and I wait until the flight ends,
my face turned up against the wetness of the air.

Shed Your Love - The Helio Sequence

Friday, 1 October 2010


Ebba Bohm
Henry Brown Fuller

thank you for your kind messages for MissM

I am also grateful to Lucy and Coffee Lady
for thoughtful and generous emails

sometimes an email conversation
can transform a day
and yesterday was one of those days

have a lovely weekend...

MissM starts work on Monday
and she has been planning her work wardrobe...

apparently we need to go shopping...

I'll keep you posted