Blog News

1. Comments are still disabled though I am thinking of enabling them again.

2. There are now several extra pages - Poetry Index, Travel, Education, Childish Things - accessible at the top of the page. They index entires before October 2013.

3. I will, in the next few weeks, be adding new pages with other indexes.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010


It's something that I've commented on before, but here is someone else's view on assessment in schools and colleges. It's written from an American point of view but applies just as well over here where every year brings another educational fad, another raft of pointless paperwork designed to make sure teachers are doing it the official way and another bit of Government nonsense that reduces success to a number and achievement to something that will get you next year's funding.

I know no one reading this is likely to be in the least bit interested but it would be nice if someone in authority took some notice.

Saturday, 28 August 2010

An alternate view

There is another review of Bilston Voices here.

Quixotic and distinctive, eh? I shall hope that was intended as complimentary.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Summer Poems Index

The poems I wrote during this year's summer job, all neatly indexed in one place for anyone who cares to read them all.

The Return of the Invisible Fish
Ten Items Or Less
Milking The Cash Camel
My Brother's Hobby
Day By Day
From Out of the Deep
All Things To All Men
You Are Mister Potato Head
Advice About Diet
Summer On The Hill
Favourite Things
Build A Better Mousetrap
The Death of Silence
The Conflation of Alternate Forms In the Minds Of the Artists
No One In Particular
The Metaphor Machine
The Lost City
Three Haiku
The Pig
A Trivial Observation


And, on the subject of performance, today's XKCD.

Metro Voices : 26 August 2010

Bilston Voices is always interesting but last night's was one of the best I've been to - and I'm not just saying that because I was one of the performers. Outside the weather was miserable but the turnout was remarkable. Cafe Metro was packed to bursting with an eager and appreciative audience and the acts were all excellent with performances that were mostly poetry but poetry in a very diverse collection of writing and performance styles.
We kicked off with Carol Ward who gave us a collection of humorous verses on topics ranging from transvestism to the uses of brick walls. They were well-structured and well-crafted and, just as important, they were funny. A lot of "humorous" poetry turns out not to be very funny but that wasn't a problem in Carol's set. 
She was followed by Roger Jones, a familiar voice at this kind of thing. For Roger it really is the voice that sells it. He's an accomplished performer of all kinds of writing and last night he gave us a mixed set including some quite serious poetry, a couple of nicely observed memoirs of childhood and a couple of sketches. I was very taken by his opening poem, a thoughtful piece wondering about what had happened to some childhood friends from an old photograph, and he bravely attempted a Villanelle , a verse form that I have attempted myself once or twice. It's an absolute pig of a verse form and near impossible to write well but he had managed it, though he did tell me later that he had only ever written that one and had no intention of trying another. Can't say I blame him.
I was the final act before the break and obviously I'm in no position to judge whether I was any good or not though I gained a gratifyingly warm reception. I was attempting, for the first time in ten years of performing, to do my set without a written copy, entirely from memory and I'm pleased to say that though I stumbled once early on and had to look at my notes, the rest of the set went without a hitch. It was as nerve-racking as the first time I ever read in public but it was a great experience. The lack of a script freed me to put more tone and emotion into my set and to make better contact with my audience. I shall certainly be trying to do the same at any subsequent performances. My set was mostly taken from some of my more serious poems but with a couple of lighter ones thrown in to lift the mood. 
After the break Dave Finchett, another familiar performer, read a series of poems. His humour is often subtler than many and his poetic imagery more... well, more poetic. A lot of his work is what one of my friends (who really doesn't understand poetry) would describe as "prose, written down in lines" but that would be doing it a terrible disservice. His poems included a couple of very funny ones about office jargon and automatic "press one to go to next menu" telephone systems as well as a more than passable impersonation of Michael Winner eating in a posh restaurant.
The final act was Lorna Meehan and she had also chosen to perform largely without a written copy. Her style was big and active and quite physical, her poems ranting at the audience in fine style. She was better, by a very long way, at it than I am. Her topics included an impassioned plea to elect Stephen Fry as President, a raging demolition of Lady Gaga and a lustful entreaty to the latest Doctor Who for a cross-species relationship. She was excellent.

So, overall, one of the best evenings so far at Bilston Voices which continues to raise the bar in the quality of the writing and performances. I only hope that I can keep on raising my game to move with it.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Er... um... it goes something like this...

Down at Harrow, as always, I had a lot of time on my hands when not teaching. The Hill isn't exactly replete with entertainment possibilities - which may well be the understatement of all time. The result was that I watched a few movies on the projector in my classroom, listened to a lot of music and spent quite a bit of time trying to memorise the poems for the set I'm doing tonight at Bilston Voices. Normally I read my work. It's no secret that I have a terrible memory. Tonight though I'll be trying to recite - perform even - my work, instead of just reading it. I will of course be taking printed copies just in case I need them.
For anyone who might be vaguely interested I intend to do a set of poems about museums. Sounds dull, I know, but hopefully it won't be. It won't be for me, anyway.

Monday, 23 August 2010

Just remembered this

At breakfast last week, the day after one of the awards ceremonies, I commented on how inappropriate the T-shirt of one of the prize-winners had been. (I still think a thirteen year old at a prize giving ceremony shouldn't be wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with the legend "Suck me off".)

However the point is that in our conversation I referred to it as "inappropriate wear", a perfectly commonplace idiom, only to be met with the reply that I couldn't use "wear" in that way. I was speaking with a colleague who is (and I hope he'll forgive me for saying so) an intelligent, well-educated, experienced, native-speaking English teacher and he said that he had never heard this use of "wear".
It didn't occur to me at the time to ask if he had heard of expressions such as "rainwear", "formal wear" or "evening wear".
It always strikes me as odd when I encounter such lexical gaps. Or am I mistaken. Is this a less commonplace use than I thought?

Not for the better

The area where I live has changed in recent years and not necessarily for the better. It's inevitable that as time goes by some people will move out and some people will move in so its there will obviously be more and more people that I don't know. Probably just as inevitable is that as I'm getting older the age of the new residents will seem to me to be getting younger. 
What does strike me though is how attitudes seem to be changing. For example I've noticed people drinking in the street recently which is something I never saw in the past. The one that particularly gets to me though, the one that has just prompted this post, is this.

I am sitting at my living room table at a window which overlooks the street. As I was typing my previous post I glanced out of the window to see a woman in her twenties walking past my house in pyjamas and dressing gown. It's twenty to two in the afternoon and people are wandering about the streets in nightwear. It's something I've seen a lot lately. People, especially (though not only) women wandering about the streets all day dressed in clothes that are really only suitable for the bedroom. Or, maybe more pertinently, the day wing of an institution.
Why do they do it? Twenty years ago, it would never have happened. There are other ways in which the area has changed - some might say gone downhill - but this is one of the most visible and obvious. Maybe they just feel that they should be "comfortable" but frankly I don't think this is a change for the better.

I wish they wouldn't do that

Am I the only one who gets a little irritated (it isn't strong enough to actually count as annoyance) by television programs which try to add a little interest by including linguistic information but do it by repeating folk etymologies and urban myths which five minutes with a dictionary would disprove.

Take the program that's on at the moment, Bargain Hunt. A few minutes ago the presenter was looking at an ivory carving of two gnomes. To spice it up the presenter asked us if we were familiar with the origin of the word "gnome". It is, he told us, an acronym meaning Guarding Naturally Over Mother Earth. This is of course utter nonsense. You should always hear alarm bells ringing when anyone claims that an old word (gnome was first recorded in the 16th century) is an acronym. 
Gnome is of course no such thing. It is generally considered to have been coined by Paracelcus possibly based on a Greek word meaning "earth dweller". An alternate theory is that it was based on a form of "gignoskein" - to know.
What is pretty damned unlikely is that someone writing five centuries ago in German, at a time when acronyms were all but unused, would choose to coin a new word by forming an acronym from English words.

The trouble is that people believe these things - especially if given a specious authority by the almighty television. 
A possible explanation is that there are several thousand hits in Google putting the same theory. Sooner or later everything turns up on the internet and they way things are going - with BBC researchers apparently using the internet as a primary source - truth is going to disappear altogether replaced by consensus belief. 
I just wish they would check a bit more carefully before spouting nonsense to a gullible public.

(Incidentally, later in the program, explaining the inscription G-IV-R on a piece of furniture he referred to the GR as George Rex (so far so good) and the IV as "one vee, or four". Surely that should be read as "eye vee, or four".)

Friday, 20 August 2010

Newspeak: British Art Now Part 7: Phillips de Pury and Company Gallery

The final gallery, the one that isn't really part of the exhibition, is a rather different affair to the others. It is a gallery filled with furniture and tableware designs and while some of them a rather interesting - and one so startling that you just go, "I want one!" it raises an interesting question about art.

Before we get to the question I'd like to give a better idea about what's in the gallery. The guide book continues its theme of florid overblown descriptions by describing an array of spoons by Max Lamb as "one of the sweetest and purest explorations of form and process. It is and will always be an array of spoons. 
Elsewhere, there are oddly designed though strangely appealing chairs, drinking glasses, knives forks and plates and all other domestic items. One hanging mobile was quite interesting, being a white square with a light bulb shaped hole in the middle, the illuminated background and dark centre making a kind of negative space lamp. The gem though was Bastian Bischoff and Per Emanuelsson's Clock Clock which is an array of twenty-four analogue clocks whose hand positions form the time in the pattern of a digital clock. As the the minute changes the hands of all of them rotate rapidly and hypnotically before settling into a configuration representing the new time. Utterly Brilliant and I can only repeat, "I want one!"

Anyway, to that question.

We have discussed frequently and heatedly the question of "what is art" and the equally vexed question of "what is good art". Neither of those is the question raised, though, by this exhibition.
That question is, "What is art for?"
My answer, and I stress that it is purely my opinion, is that art seems somehow less when it is functional, that art should be pointless - that pointlessness is part of the point. And I realise how confused that sounds. Let me try to explain it this way. If I have a painting on the wall it remains a piece of art if I take it off the wall and wrap it in a cloth in the attic. And the wall remains a wall, still separating the inside of my house from the outside - functionality undamaged by the removal of the art. Art doesn't need to have a purpose for it to be art. 
Of course, like everything, it's rather more complicated than that. What do we make of the masks hanging on my landing wall. They certainly have a function, albeit a ceremonial one, in the cultures where they originated. Does that mean they aren't art? Am I saying that the existence of a purpose automatically negates the possibility of art?
The truth is that I don't know. So I am undecided if the designs in the gallery constitute art or not. I suppose, if we take that clock as an example, we could argue that its function in telling the time would be served better by one single analogue clock and that everything beyond that is useless and therefore qualifies as art.
I'll need to give this more thought but for the moment I'll, at least tentatively, agree with Wilde that all art is quite useless.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Translation Blues

Now that the summer is over, every kid is back in his or her own country and all the teachers have gone home, I'll put this here.

In one of my classes a Chinese girl asked me to help turn something she had translated for her project into a more grammatical form. I looked at and was forced to admit defeat. Investigation revealed that the original source was Japanese which she had translated with an electronic dictionary into Chinese and then, with a different electronic dictionary into English.

The title, "Sushimi", gave me a clue that it might be about food but I could get nowhere with the rest of it. Here it is for better scholars to consider.

Insurance membranes frozen to fresh the meal. In order to have their if not suited to the taste of some of their jerky in to the Japanese style soy sauce knife must also be fast so raw fish less cut of meat will not go type.

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Ongoing #68/Harrow Daily Poem #24

The final Harrow Daily Poem , then.
The doodle for the Ongoing project shows a lot of TV screens.
This isn't really a Haiku in anything but shape, moreof a trivial observation to round off the series.

Summer is over
Normal service is resumed:
Or is that backwards?

Newspeak: British Art Now Part 6 - Gallery 13

Some years ago now I went to the Saatchi Gallery that was down by the Thames. It contained, among other things,  lots of Damien Hirst's cut up animals, Tracey Emin's My Bed and a piece by Richard Wilson in which one of the rooms had been filled with oil. I had a different, short-lived blog back then in which I was rather more scathing about the art than I would be now but one of the things that I did like was that oil filled room. I said

The peach of the collection though, and one which I had expected to hate, is Richard Wilson's 20:50. One of the rooms of the County Hall has been filled to waist height with thick black oil. One person at a time can walk out into the centre on a platform and look. The light from the windows shines in and the liquid reflects with absolute clarity the upper half of the room below you. The effect is strange and disorienting. It's an Alice in Wonderland sensation of things not being in their proper order or their proper place. You feel suspended in a vertiginous space and the very mundanity of the wooden doors and the elegant fittings makes it even more confusing. The long queue restricts the time you can spend looking but it's well worth it.

Another installation of the same concept fills the final gallery in the new Saatchi. Last night I was taken to task for not writing about it here but, as you can see, all things come to those who wait. This is a very different piece to the one I originally saw simply because it's a very different installation space. It is, however, equally disorienting and arresting. The large, empty room has its walls and columns perfectly mirrored in the reflective surface of the oil. It confuses the eye and creates a sense of vertigo. Such a simple thing to look at is so profoundly out of kilter with our normal perception of space that most people stand and look at it for a much longer time than they imagine they have as they try to make sense of it. I know there are those to whom this kind of thing isn't art at all but frankly they are wrong. It's a triumph of art and illusion and remains so regardless of the type of space it''s installed in.

There is one more gallery to describe. I've left it until last because it isn't really part of the main exhibition being a sponsored gallery of design and whether furniture design should be considered art at all is something I shall discuss in my next post on the subject.

Newspeak: British Art Now Part 5 - Galleries 9 to 12

I'll be honest. Gallery 9 didn't really appeal to me as much as some of the others. Clunie Reid's photographic collages with additional graffiti left me completely unmoved. Peter Peri's geometric forms on black backgrounds were rather better with Infanta being my favourite of the collection. I liked them well enough but not as much as I'd liked other things in the gallery. Fergal Stapleton's two black boxes also did very little for me. Black perspex boxes on black stands with red lights inside.
"It's a red light in a box." commented my friend. I consulted the guide book.
"Or to put it another way," I said, "It's 'bound by a concern with elucidating the various stages of the fictive, the apparent and the real...holding in equilibrium the fantastical with the blunt actualities of junk, exemplifying this in their reordering of things known, producing new and surprising value out of meagre means'".
It was however, in spite of all that, a red light in a box.
We moved on to gallery ten, a decidedly odd and rather unsettling affair in which one corner had been filled with a mountain of old hi-fi speakers and powered with a vacuum cleaner and a player piano. The sounds it produced were quite eerie and the sensation of walking around and through the sculpture, becoming, in essence, part of the sculpture was odd. I didn't really understand the point though. As you may guess the guide book left me no wiser as to the intent of the piece.
Two artists were represented in gallery eleven - Ryan Moseley whose paintings had a cartoon grotesqueness to them that reminded me vaguely of something I've seen before though I've still been unable to work out quite what. They all seemed to included severed or separated limbs in a bizarre and disturbing carnival setting. Jonathon Baldock's strangely decorated and mistaken busts were also unsettling and the realisation that they were constructed - unconventionally - of  dough did little to alleviate the disorientation of the forms.
And finally, as we entered gallery twelve we came to a familiar piece of art. Anyone who watched School of Saatchi will have seen Eugenie Scrase's winning piece which was a piece of fallen tree impaled on a fence. I discussed it at the time and you can go look up what I said back then. For now suffice it to say that having seen it in real life rather than on TV my opinion remains unchanged.
Donald Urqhart's drawings were rather more conventional, being a series of sketches of and about famous blondes - Dusty Springfield, Jayne Mansfield, Diana Dors and so on. They were well done but overshadowed by the strange spectacle in the corner where an art group, littlewhitehead presented a very disturbing piece in which a group of figures, very realistic figures, were huddled looking at something in the corner. It's strange sense of suppressed violence and aggression made approaching it an uncomfortable experience.
Lynette Yiadom Boakye's paintings were also uncomfortable viewings as their grotesque cast of would-be celebrities were nightmarishly portrayed with a distinctly zombiefied look.

Which brings us at last to gallery thirteen.

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Ongoing #67/Harrow Daily Poem #23

Loosely inspired by the next page which isn't really a doodle at all. It shows a lot of finger and thumb prints for people to draw faces on.
Actually more inspired by the fact that my last class has now ended. The kids have gone but I have yet to clear up the room.

The room still bears their traces
Surrounding the spaces where they sat:
Abandoned books, forgotten pens
Notes they will not see again, notes that
They made with half-attentive care,
Left scattered there on the final day
Jetsam cast away, driftwood on the beach.
There's no one left to teach.
I sigh and start to clear away.

Monday, 16 August 2010

Ongoing #66/Harrow Daily Poem #22

The next picture is a partially completed jungle, or possibly forest. So here is a piece of blank verse about a true story that took place in a Karin village in Northern Thailand.

The Pig

Under the villager's hut,
Between floor and muddy ground,
There is a pig.
We stand in a semi-circle,
And take its picture.
The villagers stand in a semi-circle
And watch us standing in a semi-circle
Taking its picture.
An old man smiles proudly.
"In England," he says,
"They do not have such fine pigs.

Sunday, 15 August 2010

To Put Away Childish Things #17

I went to the cinema this week.
The choice of films in Harrow was quite restricted and it came down to a straightforward toss-up between The A-Team and Inception. As the A-Team was just about to begin when I got there that's what I chose.

It was Big Dumb Fun. With a capital DUMB. It was loud, brash, utterly preposterous and I enjoyed every minute of it. It's also absolutely chock full of obscure references that most people won't notice, that some people will notice and won't get and that fans of the original will quietly smile at. (Director of the movie showing when Murdoch escapes? Reginald Barclay. If you don't get it, then you can find out for your homework. Professor Google will help you.)

Anyway it reminded me that it's about time I did another nostalgia post because I get very nostalgic about the kind of program The A-Team represented. Daft adventure or cop series that had exactly the same plot every week, completely ridiculous premises, special effects ripped on license from low budget cinema releases so that the stories had to be written to fit the available footage.
Ah those were the days. The A-Team was the sublime tip of the iceberg. I have a couple of series on DVD and terrific they are too. But what about The Incredible Hulk? By the numbers episodes down to the last detail. You can set your watch by how long it will be before poor old David "Don't Make Me Angry" Banner is going to go all green and muscle-bound. And let's not forget The Six Million Dollar Man and its better spin-off The Bionic Woman. Let's also give a nod towards the Invaders, a series I never saw the last season of and must buy on DVD some time. Over on the police end of things there were dozens of quirky detectives from scruffy Columbo (apparently on a never ending cycle of afternoon repeats) to fat Cannon, moustachioed cowboy  McCloud and the partnership of Starsky and Hutch.

Occasionally these programs slipped in a bit of social relevance or an episode with a slightly harder edge but mostly they were the very definition of formulaic entertainment. Nowadays everything has to have morals and points and ongoing storylines but back then things could just be the big dumb fun that they were.

Which brings us back to the A-Team.

If you think the following exchange of dialogue is wonderfully, gloriously, insanely ludicrous go to see the movie.

"Are they trying to shoot down the other drone?"
"No, they're trying to fly the tank."


Ongoing 63,64 and 65, Harrow Daily Poems 19,20,21

I was struggling with the next few pictures and I have several half written attempts which I don't like for each of them. Then it occurred to me that the three pictures in question would actually fit quite well together.
There is a dog. There is a cat. There is a frog sitting on the edge of a pond.

I had seen two children playing under the trees the other day, teaching a dog to fetch a rubber ball, a task it was attempting with considerable enthusiasm but very little skill. Meanwhile, lying in the sun on a nearby garage roof was a large tabby cat, just watching them. There were no frogs in the real picture, but real life is rarely perfect.

Three Haiku

Children and their dog;
Catch-ball choreography
Beneath whispering trees.

The pavilion roof;
A comfortable cat watches
Children and their dog.

Shaded by reeds
Frogs grumble in the water;
Park life surrounds them.

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Newspeak: British Art Now Part 4 : Galleries 7 and 8

Gallery seven contained some of my favourite exhibits. Three artists were represented, Rupert Norfolk, Tim Ellis and William Daniels. Ellis' works were combinations of objects - plates, wooden stands and such - and were visually quite appealing but the bizarreness of the catalogue reaches its absolute zenith in the two descriptions. Or, depending on your point of view, its nadir. All the following phrases appear

a ubiquitous logic from the haphazard and coincidental

a sensitive interlacing between artifice and natural order

assemblages of totemic significance

engage in the notions of value, authorship and display

strives to engender his work

fabricates an instinctive harmony or genetic bonding

their familiar scaling becomes a template of karmic measurement

speaking the same cryptic language of universality and timelessness

If anybody can make sense of that lot I'll give him sixpence! I have no idea what they mean and no idea of how they can possibly relate to the work. It was pretty though.
William Daniels paintings were also pretty with an incredibly skilful use of light. He has an odd technique, sculpting copies of famous paintings in assorted materials, often metal foil and then painting a picture of the result in meticulous detail with every crease, fold and reflection perfectly crafted. The results are quite startlingly arresting.

It is however Rupert Norfolk whose art, a kind of trompe-l'oeil on a grand scale, attracted me most. There are only three pieces displayed and all have them the same eye-deceiving, mind-bending quality. The first, at first glance, looks for all the world like a random assemblage of stones in a dry stone wall. Only on close inspection do you notice that every stone is completely symmetrical. Each one has had one side carved and smooth into a replica of the natural opposite side. They have then been assembled into the wall. It must have taken ages and has the beautiful pointlessness of all great art. The second piece looks like a crumpled blanket thrown haphazardly onto the floor. Once again closer inspection reveals the trick. While some of the creases are real, some are not. The pattern of the weave has just been made to look like creases in parts that are actually flat. The third object is an industrial machine painted in highly reflective aluminium paint and lit starkly so that the shadows are all crisp and sharp. Once again it's a lie. The lighting is actually completely flat and neutral and the apparent shadows are painted onto the machine giving the illusion of harsh lighting. It's all quite magnificent and I shall certainly be looking out for further exhibitions of his work.

Gallery eight contained only two artists, both painters. Sigfrid Holmwood's selection had the look of old masters about them, paintings of medieval peasants going about their daily lives. They were all done, however, with a startling and garish palate of fluorescent colours that were bright enough to hurt the eye. I admired the skill but wouldn't hang one in my home if you paid me to do it. Ged Quinn's were also an oddity. From any distance they looked like classical landscapes, painted with painstaking detail. Only aspects of the subject matter, examined in closer detail, showed the oddity. For example a towering gloomy forest has, when you look, a tiny, but detailed painting of Hitler's Berghof nestling in the leaves on the forest floor and covered in graffiti. Very clever stuff.

Gallery nine I shall leave until next time.

Thursday, 12 August 2010

Ongoing #62/Harrow Daily Poem #18

A loose connection with the doodle today. Two explorers are looking out from the trees remarking that they have found a lost city.
Last week I was walking around an area of London that I knew quite well about thirty years ago. I recognized nothing. It was completely unfamiliar to me and I didn't know if it had changed or if I had just forgotten it all in the intervening years. It had become a lost city to me.

The Lost City

I used to know each city street,
Each path remembered by my feet,
Each doorway in its proper place,
Each window that contained my face.
I used to know each turn and twist,
Could close my eyes and make a list,
Of every building, every road.
Their ways became my secret code.
But then, one day, I went away -
Did not return until today
And I found I'd paid the cost,
What was my city had been lost.
We met as strangers not as friends
For left untended friendship ends,
And my friend, the city, knew me not;
Like me, alone, it just forgot.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Ongoing #61/Harrow Daily Poem #17

Another day, another doodle. This one is part of a machine made up of cogs and levers.
Here's the rather short poem to go with it.

The Metaphor Machine

Pull the lever, press the button,
Turn the dial and flip the switch.
The machine begins to work;
It all goes without a hitch.
No one seems to notice
That it doesn't do a thing
The machine we know as life
Has got a broken spring.

Forthcoming Attractions

Not only will I be appearing at Bilston Voices on 26th August (Cafe Metro, Bilston, 7:30) but I also received the news yesterday that two pieces of my writing will be appearing in the new Wolverhampton Writers anthology out in September. As soon as I know where, when and how they will be available I will post the info here. Supplies are sure to be limited.
For anyone likely to be in the area for the reading on 26th, I'm intending to do a set featuring some of the poems from the House On the Rock series and some others about other museums that I have visitied. There may even be one so brand new that I haven't written it yet, about the Saatchi galery.

Tuesday, 10 August 2010

Newspeak: British Art Now Part 3 : Galleries 4 to 6

Moving on then.
Gallery four showcases the work of three more British artists and is the most playful so far. Mark Pearson's trio of sculptures are decidedly odd. They are pastiches of Nazi iconography. Or to put it in the terms used by the guide "[he] approaches building a Nazi-esque standard  with all the gusto of a football hooligan on a garden shed rampage".
They are really parodies rather than pastiches with plywood plinths  supporting collections of cheap beer steins and topped by a tin foil Brandenburg Eagle. I found them quite amusing, a reaction that I think the artist hoped for. Having read out one of the more florid passages ("encapsulates the feelings of inadequacy and impotence that underlie white supremacist culture") I paused for reaction from my friend. She leaned closer, looked at the shelf supporting the eagle and said "I quite like that colour pink".
Barry Reigate was represented by two paintings and three sculptures. He is clearly a fan of cartoon imagery for the paintings, while quite chaotic in overall execution have quite a few cartoon characters embedded in them. This is quite appropriate considering that the three statues of cartoon rabbits have neon lighting tubes embedded in them. Embedded in rather painful looking positions. I shall leave the image to your own imaginations. Like Pearson, he has produced work that is both humourous and grimly grotesque.
The third artist, Iain Hetherington had four bright, cheerful, colourful paintings each with a central image of a baseball cap. They were a vivid contrast to the stark white walls of the gallery and quite appealing.

In gallery five the first thing to catch my attention was the title of the first piece, a series of black and white posters of various sizes, inexplicably titled "Jerking Off The Dog To Feed The Cat". It was quite effective but having read the description at least ten times I am no wiser about that title. The artist, Alastair MacKinven has eight more pieces and while the series of four that the guide raves about most struck me as less interesting variations on Escher's endless staircases theme, at least a couple of the others showed that his geometric forms can be interesting. Oddly I had the opposite problem with Pablo Bronstein whose work was by far the most technically competent I'd seen so far. The trouble was that it was technically competent architectural drawings. They were well done but left me completely cold.

Gallery six was a bit of a mish-mash. Three life size cardboard cut-outs of models from Clare Stephenson, sevem paintings from Phoebe Unwin and two odd pieces by Goshka Macugo. Both Unwin and Stephenson were well enough done but not really to my taste. Only the Macugas held my attention more than momentarily. One I didn't really get - a desk with some books and lamps on it - but the other was a sculpture of the famous medium (and fraudulent charlatan) Madame Blavatsky levitating, It was very effective and the facial carving was especially impressive.

That's all for now, but in the next entry I shall tell you all about the artist who impressed me most in the gallery.

Ongoing #60/Harrow Daily Poem #16

The next picture in the book is a doodle of a woman's face with hair and the top of the head missing. You are, I suppose, meant to draw in her hair.

This poem is purely inspired by the picture and is I must emphasise about no one in particular.

She fills her conversations with talk of clothes and hair
And the lives of famous people that she will never meet.
She does not read the papers, she does not really care.
She forms her few opinions from Hello, Vogue and Heat.
Her make-up is immaculate, each item plays its part
Coordinated carefully with every other one.
The face-painting every morning is the closest thing to art
That her butterfly attention ever settles on.
She can converse at length on the people in Big Brother,
Has a portrait of Jane Goody on her wall.
She knows the winners of X-Factor as well as every other
TV talent show, as she enjoys them all.
She's happy in vacuity, rejoices to be vapid
She doesn't want to join a brighter set.
And if someone disturbs her with ideas a bit too rapid
She finds it is no trouble to forget.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Ongoing #59/Harrow Daily Poem #16

and other random cross-threading.

Tougher to explain than write. Probably not a poem by some standards.
Possibly not by mine.

The doodle is empty frames in a gallery.
And where was I on Saturday? In a gallery of course. So there's the Newspeak cross-thread.
And what is my other thread about? The nature of the "explanations" in the guide book. Bingo. Cross-threading number two, or perhaps three. Artspeak.

This poem interlaces randomly chosen descriptions from the guide with made up descriptions from my mind. Where does one end? The other begin? With something that is nothing more, and nothing less, than an experiment in forms and parody.

The title is

The conflation of alternate forms in the minds of the artists

In new paradigms of transactional negation,
Paintings flirt between abstraction and figuration.
Studied genericism and fetishistic staging
Is both nihilistic and auto-erotically engaging.
An underlying discontent beneath the harmonious surface of serial production
Results in a development of thematic variations complicit in their own destruction.
The distinction of the reality, the image and the name
Is an oedipal autopsy, a semiotic game.
New and surprising value out of meagre means
Where the removal of essential elements, underpins the scenes.

Sunday, 8 August 2010

Newspeak: British Art Now: Part 2- Galleries 1 to 3

It wasn't a promising start.
The first gallery contained the worst combination - art I neither understood nor liked. That's not to say that others can't appreciate a piece of hanging cellophane, a lot of clingfilm covered in baby oil and paint or a torn tent-like sack of sugar paper. I'm sure they can. I can't see it myself though and the opaque descriptions in the guide didn't help, featuring such illuminating phrasing as "bridges the experience of tangible matter with the intimacy of memory" and "simultaneously monumental and flaccid. As I struggled to make something of these works by Karla Black, I was concerned for what was yet to come but gallery number two was more to my liking.
Here two artists were represented: a painter -  Hurvin Anderson - and a sculptor - Daniel Silver. Anderson's paintings showed a fine grasp of the human figure and of composition. I was particularly taken by an untitled night scene which captured perfectly the sense of a dead night under an empty black sky, completely void of stars. Silver's work was interesting for its juxtaposition of classical figures with odd plinths and re-carved or replaced sections. It left me a little unmoved but was well done.

Gallery three was an eclectic selection from Steven Claydon, Matthew Darbyshire, and Scott King. I quite liked all of it. Claydon's pieces included an incongruous selection of illuminated objects and his screen with vaguely disturbing animal forms (with the decidedly odd title "The Thingliness of Things (Potatoes In The Cellar)). Scott King's sole entry was a portrait of Cher resembling the well-known and iconic image of Che Guevera. Matthew Darbyshire's two piece were bright and garish but oddly appealing for their random composition with pieces of coloured glasswear in a cabinet and a selection of items on a carpet.

Three galleries down and two of them had been full of things I liked. It was, after all, a good start.

Ongoing 58/Harrow Daily Poem #15

Another catch up poem half and half inspired by the next doodle and by my day out in London.
The doodle shows an empty glass. The day out was rounded off by a visit to a pub. We passed several, all blasting out loud music, taking over from the loud music that had blasted out of every shop during the day. Outside there were people blocking out that noise with the noise from their car radios and that noise with the noise from their i-Pods. Inside the pub where we finally settled there was just as much noise but as we were only yards from our destination we couldn't go on searching for quiet.

The death of silence

There is music in the shops,
There is music in the bars,
There is music on the streets
And there is music in the cars.
There's a soundtrack to our lives
That was never there before,
And music piped into the ears
Of those still wanting more.
There is music everywhere
As we go about the day.
Where did the silence go?
When did they take it all away?
And was the silence buried,
Unloved and unremarked,
In a graveyard of lost things,
Forgotten in the dark?
Does no one miss the silence?
Am I the only one,
That's ever even noticed,
That the silence has all gone?

Plus ça change...

Two years ago...

And here in Harrow there is Andrew who insisted I should write a blog entry about him...

Take dinner yesterday. He had eaten most of it but left some peas which he spread out on his plate. Looking at his own plate, and those of his fellow diners, inspired him in a surreal flight of fancy in which they were all planets, his - if I recall - being a society divided and at war, mine being a garbage planet...
This year his condition has worsened somewhat...he has taken to stalking me. Sitting here at my desk and working I have, on several occasions, turned around to find him standing outside my window staring at me.

And now...

Well the good news is that my room is on the second floor so the stalking is rather more difficult. Sadly his condition is no better. Presumably medical science has now given up on the poor fellow. He is still making planets from plates and it appears to be infectious as his friend, newly with us this year and also named Andrew, was joining in enthusiastically. Perhaps we have found patient zero, the source of Andrew's madness. Or possibly vice-versa.

Either way...

...happy now? You have your annual blog entry.

Ongoing 57/Harrow Daily Poem #14

This poem should have appeared on the 5th.

The next doodle shows a couple of mice commenting on a new (and unseen) mousetrap. The poem is a bit misogynistic and is inspired in part by the doodle and in part by the parade of barely dressed young women that can be seen around the streets of the West End on a Saturday night. (So as I wasn't in the West End until the evening of the seventh I couldn't have written this on the fifth - that's time travel for  you.)

Build A Better Mousetrap

To build a better mousetrap...

Darken the eyes;
Redden the lips;
Uncover the thighs;
Gyrate the hips.

To build a better mousetrap...

On with the paint;
On with the show;
Out with restraint;
Never say no.

To build a better mousetrap...

Go find the mice;
Offer the bait;
Attract and entice;
No need to wait.

As the mice take the cheese.

Very Much Delicious: Epilogue

Part 17 of my diaries from 1996 about my trip to Malawi and Zambia. And, by the way, the title of these posts was explained in Part 5.

There is nothing of importance left to add. We had a further drive in the park on the morning of our departure but after yesterday it was inevitably an anti-climax. Yes we saw more Giraffe and more Zebra and lots of antelope but it was a weak experience by comparison. Besides that we all knew that this was effectively the end of our trip. At about mid-morning we set off back to Lilongwe and the Golden Cockroach. It was an uncomfortable and unremarkable drive. We arrived late leaving time for a lukewarm shower and a farewell meal at the Korean Garden and two hours sleep before departing for the airport. The meal was a lavish Korean banquet in a private room with plenty of booze and farewell speeches. Peter had usually been too busy cooking to join us for meals but tonight he was there and his speech was particularly sincere and heartfelt. Over the previous two weeks he had become a good friend and patient companion to us and he seemed genuinely sorry to see us go. Geoff also thanked us for our patience in the face of the numerous problems.

Then it was over. The aeroplane was taking us home. My trip to Africa was ended.

Blogpost of the Beast

This is post #666 of the blog according to the count on the editing screen.

Artspeak #1

I mentioned previously that I saw the Newspeak exhibition at the Saatchi.
On the way in I saw that they had a cheap guide to every work in the gallery and I bought a copy even though I normally prefer to form my own opinions about both the meanings and quality of art uninfluenced by the thoughts of others.
I was so glad that I had bought the book though, as it kept us howling with laughter as we walked around, occasionally drawing odd stares from other gallery-goers who may well have assumed from our hilarity that we didn't like the exhibition. Nothing could have been further from the truth. We loved it. It was just the book that we found so amusing because it is filled from start to finish with the kind of typical jargon that the give the general public (me included) the impression that art critics are pompous elitists who couldn't form a comprehensible sentence if their lives depended on it.
In the rest of the posts in the series I will be attempting to translate some of the better examples into English, a language that is apparently known to the authors only in its most arcane and esoteric forms. I of course will have the advantage that I have seen the actual art in question and have a few visual clues.

For this post though I shall simply whet your appetites with a little quiz. Your task is simple. Work out what kind of artwork each of this selection of five phrases refers to. They were chosen in a pseudo random fashion by taking something from the first entry on every eighth page,

Through this literal hybrid, Claydon incites the current revivals of genetic engineering and post-modern eclecticism as plausible validation of [J.G.] Frazer's theories.
From this consumerised reproduction. MacKinven crafts a twisted and contorted portrait that conceptually merges the forefathers of communism and today's hyper-capitalism, addressing selective appropriation of ideology and history's romanticised cycles and ill-fitting precedent

Her knitted jumper appears to be a structure both containing her body and stiffly holding it together.

Any true sense of time or place is discarded as one iconic image crashes into another to leave a chaos of chronology and open-ended associations.

All the weight is in one knuckle as if the foetal figure is a chyrsalis in transformation.
Anyone want to have a go at deciding what the actual works look like?

Newspeak: British Art Now: Part 1 - Overall impressions and the gallery space.

I'm going to do a lengthy series of posts about the exhibition because I really enjoyed it and don't want to do it a disservice by rushing. There are three things I want to comment on, the art itself, the gallery space and the picture by picture guide to the exhibition. This latter is such a remarkable piece of work that I shall discuss it separately in a series of posts entitle "Artspeak".
I'm sure that you will look forward to it.

First a word about the gallery. It is quite simply one of the best designed, best laid out, best lit art spaces I have seen in London. The lighting has a natural quality that enhances the art. The galleries are spacious and the artworks given enough room to allow the art-lovers to stand and gaze as long as they wish. Ten out of ten for the space. The art is more of a mixed bag as you would expect from an exhibition that includes thirty very diverse artists in thirteen galleries. There is art I like and art I don't like and there is art I understand and art I don't understand. Here we had every possibly permutation of those things. For example I still don't understand the thinking behind Richard Wilson's oil filled rooms but I absolutely love them. On the other hand I understood the architectural drawings of Pablo Bronstein but didn't much like them. I'll give more detail in other posts but my overall impression was of a day very well spent.

Definitely not for those who think art has to be paintings of things, though.

That annual day out

Yesterday was my annual day out with my friend in London. As ever the itinerary was the same. Meet for a coffee, take in a gallery, have a bit of dinner, go to the theatre. The coffee venue had changed because Borders Book Shop is sadly no more. So we crossed the street and went into the coffee shop in Foyles bookshop instead.
The afternoon exhibition Newspeak: British Art Now (about which there will be more later, much more) at the Saatchi Gallery, the play was the revival of The Secret of Sherlock Holmes which I saw first time round many years ago.
It was an odd sort of day though. A bad nes good news sort of day.
The bad news was that we couldn't find any plays that really appealed to us.
The good news was that wehad Wicked in reserve.
The bad news was that the theatre's telephone system had a recorded message longer than most actual plays.
The good news was that they had seats.
The bad news was that they were "restricted view" at over £40 each.
The good news was that although I had seen The Secret of Sherlock Holmes before, Brenda hadn't so we booked that over the phone instead.
The bad news was that when we got to the theatre the helpful young man at the desk said that he couldn't release the tickets because his computer system said they hadn't been paid for.
The good news was that he recommended a nearby restaurant that we could eat at while he sorted the problem out for us.
They bad news was that it had started to rain.
The good news was that the restaurant was close and very nice.
They bad news was that they brought me the wrong starter.
The good news was that they gave me free beer to compensate (and the starter they did bring was delicious anyway.)
From there it was god news only.
Paul, the helpful ticket office man, had sorted our tickets and he gace us much nicer seats by way of making up for our trouble.
The play was brilliantly staged and very well performed.
It even finished early enough for us to get a quick drink in Leicester square where, astonishingly, we found a seat in a pub and the beer was only moderately overpriced.

All in all it turned out to be a very satisfactory day.

Ongoing 56/Harrow Daily Poem #13

At last I can get back to it.

Here's one I wrote on the train on the way into London yesterday. It was specifically for use in class. The doodle shows Leonardo Da Vinci preparing a canvas while his model waits. His model is a very ugly Mona Lisa.

Parody always strikes me as bit too easy to do, but here it is anyway.

Frogs, snakes and spiders and all kinds of lizards,
Rainstorms and snowstorms and out-and-out blizzards,
An insect that bites you, an insect that stings -
These are a few of my favourite things.

Roast beef with jelly, fish fingers and custard,
A chocolate doughnut that's filled up with mustard,
Circling vultures with sun on their wings -
These are a few of my favourite things.

False teeth and cross eyes and spotty red noses,
A weed-covered garden, bouquets of dead roses,
Vampires and werewolves and bloodthirsty kings -
These are a few of my favourite things.

When the axe falls,
When the blade sings,
When I'm feeling sad,
I simply remember my favourite things
And then I feel just as bad.

Friday, 6 August 2010

Apologies To My Reader

You will have noticed that my daily poems have stopped at the moment. Never fear, I shall catch up soon. The hiatus is because I have had a couple of days visiting my father back in the Midlands and a very busy day today. Tomorrow will be no better as I am out all day but I should get back to this on Sunday afternoon.

Very Much Delicious: Part 16

Part 16 of my diaries from 1996 about my trip to Malawi and Zambia. And, by the way, the title of these posts was explained in Part 5.

It was the first day of the new year and we planned to spend the whole day in the Park, driving much further South than we had so far gone. Sadly Louise was feeling ill and had to stay behind to await a doctor. The rest of us though were soon under way and this time we drove straight to the airfield and then on past the plain where last night we had admired the sunset. Almost immediately we saw a group of giraffe in the distance, their long necks bobbing up from behind the trees. The distance to them was however too great and the ground between us too uneven to allow a closer approach. It didn't matter. A few minutes later we came upon a solitary male. He was chewing at a tree top in a clearing and was no more than twenty feet away. Obligingly he posed for photographs.
    Near the river we paused to stretch our legs and I spent a few minutes observing and sketching a tiny white spider that was too small to photograph. Later I identified it as one of the Salticidae, a jumping spider. Before we had set out Sarah and Sheila had complained about a rather bigger Arachnid that was sharing their cabin. That had been a large baboon spider, the African equivalent of a tarantula. Geoff had killed it with enough bug spray to fell an elephant which I thought was rather unjust. It wasn't actually hurting anybody after all.
    When we continued David was continually asking for more giraffe. My facetious comment that I would be really impressed if Geoff could find us a kangaroo received the reaction it deserved. David's wish was soon granted. We came upon four giraffe together, a little way from the road but across an even grassy stretch of ground where we could drive closer. Not only was the group more interesting than the solitary male had been but the light was much better here for photography. We all snapped away happily, David especially so. When he was done he sheepishly confided that the reason he had so keenly wanted to find more was that for the first one he had had no film in his camera.
    Our next encounter was more dramatic and had no time for pictures to be taken. We had been on a track skirting around a dried up river bed heading towards an area where we hoped to find lion. This led down through some fairly thick trees before emerging into a clearing. Of to one side, near an isolated stand of trees was an elephant, a large full grown male elephant. He trumpeted a warning and started a lumbering mock charge. We stopped. He stopped. Then he turned as if to go back into the trees. Without warning he wheeled around and with his ears flat and his trunk down he came thundering towards us in a charge that was anything but mock. Geoff slammed the Land Rover into reverse and took us back into the trees at very high speed. Satisfied that he had scared us off the elephant aborted his attack and followed us no further.
    The next excitement came when Barry caught sight of two lion in the distance on the  opposite bank of a tree filled valley which we had been following south. Geoff, who seemed to know every path and track in the park, tried to find a route round towards them but without success. We were on the verge of quitting when we found another lion, a female, resting in the shade of a tree and looking rather bored. She let us get within a few yards before yawning and walking off into the dense bush where we could not follow.
     We were going to have a picnic lunch but before that we went to the South Lodge and cooled ourselves in their swimming pool and with a few beers. We could have eaten our picnic there but instead drove away and laid out our spread on the ground at the edge of a plain that had to be a mile or more wide. A herd of hundreds of impala and puku grazed on it and there were a few dozen zebra wandering about. It was another scene from my imagined Africa.

    There was another Toyota stuck in the mud. We had come away from our lunch stop and started back North. Half a mile along the road was the Toyota. Unlike yesterday's encounter this one was accompanied by a number of mud splattered people , half of them desperately pushing and the other half desperately pulling. There was a logo for another tour operator painted on the door of the vehicle. Not only were these people clearly trying to help themselves but the chance to tow a rival operator out of the mud was one that Geoff couldn't resist. Having pulled them free we went on. Circling a tree in the distance were three vultures. Geoff steered us towards them. After half an hour of carefully manoeuvring the Land Rover between increasingly dense trees and bushes we were there. There were more vultures in a tree and a couple of hyena prowling about. Whatever was dead though we couldn't see, the undergrowth was just too thick. All the same something had died, the presence of so many scavengers proved it. We gave up trying to find it and continued on our way.
    It was getting towards sunset now and we drove out onto a plain. In the distance was a herd of elephant that was much too large to consider approaching. There were more than twenty adults and perhaps a dozen juveniles and young. They seemed peaceful enough but there was also a hyena, slinking along behind them. Suddenly they caught his scent and we found out just why keeping clear was wise. As one the herd wheeled about and thundered towards the scavenger who took to his heels and fled into the bush. Even at this distance we could hear the thunder of their pursuit. It was magnificent and frightening.
    By the time we reached the gate and left the park it was dark. We expected that there would be nothing more to see. We were mistaken. It was about a mile from the gate to the camp, mostly along roads similar to those in the park. Of course the park is a convenient fiction for the benefit of humans. The animals neither know nor care where it ends. As we approached the camp we turned a corner and there, right at the side of the road was a herd of giraffe. We stopped to watch them and more arrived, appearing as if by magic from the trees. At the end there were seventeen of them, the largest group we had seen and barely yards away. It was a stunning way to round off a perfect day.

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Very Much Delicious: Part 15

Part 15 of my diaries from 1996 about my trip to Malawi and Zambia. And, by the way, the title of these posts was explained in Part 5.

We were up at five thirty and for once everything went properly to the plan so that by six we were already in the park. Almost immediately there were Zebra, dozens of them grazing near the road. Nearby, perched on top of dead tree was a magnificent Batleur Eagle that took flight at our approach, rising on the powerful steady beat of its massive wings until it was a distant speck. Silhouetted against the sky was a flock of open billed stork, their distinctive shape clear even to the naked eye.
    At an algae covered pond a monitor lizard, about five foot long from nose to tail was out for its morning stroll while two Crowned Heron and a Goliath Heron, a bird so large that it could have stepped straight from the pages of a bestiary of imaginary creatures, all watched from the centre of the water.
    We drove on deeper into the park. Ahead of us we could see a vehicle, a white Toyota, off the road and in the mud. As we approached it a middle aged man in a white suit came towards us. With him were two boys aged about eleven and seventeen. The younger one looked fairly normal but the older had on a torn T-shirt and faded jeans and had rings through his nose and ear. Capped by a mass of spiky unwashed black hair he looked a real mess.
    "We are stuck." explained the main unnecessarily. His accent had the over preciseness of a Scandinavian. He was Danish we later learned.
    "Sixteen hours. No food. No water." whined the punkish teenager.
    "Have you tried to get it out ?" asked Ken.
    "Of course." replied the father. "It is not possible to move it. Do you perhaps have a rope ?"
I couldn't help thinking, and from the expressions on their faces neither could everyone else, that he couldn't have tried very hard considering that there was no mud on his white suit and even his shoes were still spotless. Geoff shrugged.
    "No, we have no rope." he said. He clearly had no inclination to help people who had no inclination to help themselves.
    "Oh. Then perhaps you could take us to the Wilderness Camp ?"
    "I don't want to lose the whole morning for my people." said Geoff "But there's a lodge here in the park. I can take one of you there and there will be someone there who can come and tow you free. The others should wait in the car. There are lion and leopard in the park."
The teenager was in the Land Rover before either his father or his brother had time to move.
We drove back towards the gate and turned off down a side road towards a group of buildings. Geoff halted and got out. A couple of park employees greeted him like a long lost brother. We couldn't hear what he was saying to them but they were obviously amused by it. One of them gestured and our sullen faced guest got out and went to them Geoff came back and in a few moments we were off again leaving the youth to negotiate a price for their assistance.
    This morning we had more time so that we went a little further into the park, past a disused and slightly overgrown airstrip that had been laid down when the park was opened. The park is huge and criss-crossed with rivers. The roads pass over them on a mixture of wooden and concrete bridges. One of them crossed high above a dried up river bed. Two hundred yards away crossing the hardened mud were a family of elephant. We watched them scramble up the bank and disappear into the trees. Half a mile further on Geoff suddenly swung the vehicle off the road and  shot at high speed between the trees. We strained to see what he had seen. It was an animal about the size of a dog with striped hindquarters and it was moving very fast as we tried to chase it down. For a moment it hesitated and then changed direction, flashing in front of us. It's face was feline apart from the rounded ears. We were too slow in turning and it had gone. Geoff stopped and got out.
    "That," he said "Was a very rare thing to see during the day. It was one of the civets and they are supposed to be completely nocturnal. You're very lucky to get one in daylight."
    By now we were feeling peckish having come out without breakfast to get an early start. By common consent we headed back to camp to eat. The rare sightings weren't quite over though. We were by now all rather blasé about the birds although the twitchers kept adding new species to the list which currently stood at more than one hundred and seventy. The Egyptian Ibis was the latest, seen several times in quick succession. Sarah however had her eyes on the ground. She had proven to be our most keen-eyed spotter and now she did it again. She banged on the roof and Geoff halted. By the side of the road was a tiny, but clearly adult antelope of a type we had not previously seen. We consulted the books while it stood patiently there and finally pinned it down as a Sharpe's Grysbok. It was one of the rarest antelope species in the reserve. As it finally moved away we caught sight of its mate, a brown blur among the green background.
    Our afternoon drive, by comparison, though producing game in abundance produced nothing that we had not already seen and when the sky started to turn black we decided to cut it short. After all here was to be a third drive today, a night drive.
In the event the threatened rain never came and when we assembled for this last drive it had turned back into a fine and sunny early evening. The park rules permit only specially licensed operators to drive around after dark so this trip was not in the Land Rover. Instead we were in a modified Toyota Land Cruiser driven by one of the camp staff. This had three tiers of seats at the back arranged so that everyone could see properly. We drove into the park and followed a similar route to the morning. The usual animals were out, warthogs, antelope, zebra - including one very heavily gravid one - lots of birds.
We went past the airstrip and down to the river. On the river plain we stopped and got out. The driver took a large plastic bottle of orange juice and shared it between us in tin cups. The sun was just touching the horizon and as its lower edge spread out into a golden glow the landscape was transformed. It was as if we had entered a new and magical land. The colours were impossibly beautiful. The trees on the far bank took on a rich shining hue as if someone had poured honey on them and as we watched it deepened into the colour of flames. Meanwhile the water darkened to a cold black mirror reflecting the trees as a ribbon of fire. Behind us the trees on the plain became black skeletal monsters silhouetted against the darkening bruise of the sunset. Everything was perfect. This, I thought, is how I've always imagined Africa.
    Then someone turned off the lights. The sun dropped from view and it became night. We climbed back into the Land Cruiser and the co-driver turned on a spotlight whose piercing beam stabbed out for a thousand yards and made the surrounding darkness seem so much deeper that it was as if we were driving along an infinite black tunnel. At first all we found were smaller nocturnal creatures, genet, elephant shrew, slender mongoose and a white tailed mongoose. Then, as we came around a bend there was a solitary giraffe. As the beam illuminated him he gave us a disdainful look, turned his back and strode haughtily into the trees.
    Further along the beam froze a large group of puku, their eyes glowing like a field of tiny stars. Circling them, sly and sinister, a hyena stalked, seemingly undecided about where to go or what to do. A few minutes later we found out what he was waiting for as the beam found a leopard, slinking low against the ground, choosing its supper from the herd. Hyena are scavengers. This one would wait until the leopard was done and then feast on the remains.
Down by the river the he swept the lamp towards a loud grunting and found two hippo facing off for a fight. They charged each other, veering off at the last moment for a bone crunching shoulder to shoulder collision. Suddenly one of them lost his nerve and turned and lumbered off into the darkness leaving the victor to voice his throaty triumphal laugh.
    We returned to the road, pausing to let an elephant cross, and drove on. Suddenly there were lion in the beam - two males, one old and slow and limping and the other younger and leaner. They watched us approach. Neither seemed at all aggressive but no-one felt like leaving the safety of the vehicle for a closer look.
    It had been a magnificent drive. Even Barry had to admit that it was one of the best that he had ever been on.
    "You can be out for a week without seeing as much." he said as we climbed out of our seats back at the camp.
    There was a roaring fire going over which Geoff was grilling chops. After a couple of beers we were ready to eat and to go with the chops Peter had done a thick, rich bean soup and pancakes filled with a delicious tangy cheese and vegetable combination. As we ate an exhausted but satisfied silence fell. Everyone was reflecting on what a great day it had been. When we had finished, clearing our palates of the rich tastes with a light fruit salad, everyone retired to bed, oblivious of the fact that this was New Years Eve. Further festivities would have felt redundant, not to mention being more than any of us could have managed.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Ongoing #55/Harrow Daily Poem 12

At first I couldn't think of a poem for the next doodle, a partly drawn castle, but then it occurred to me that I am spending my Summer on the Hill, Harrow-on-the-Hill to be precise, as I have done for nine of the last ten years. And then it occurred to me how essentially those ten summers have been interchangeable.

Summer on the Hill

Another Summer on the Hill
With lessons taught and time to kill,
With kids that come from every place,
And run and jump and fight and race,
With beds that are a foot too small,
With weddings in the dining hall,
With mushrooms served for every meal,
With days that merge, become unreal,
With biscuits in the resource room,
With gardens that are in full bloom,
With visits to the only pub,
Within this thriving urban hub,
With one day off to go to town
And gossip of what's going down,
With conversation that's the same
As every other time we came,
With too much time we cannot fill,
Another Summer on the Hill.

Sunday, 1 August 2010

Ongoing #54/Harrow Daily Poem #11

Timely. Very timely.
This evening was a mid-course social and they decided to have a wine and cheese party. If you have been paying attention you will know that I am supposed to cut down on alcohol because of the gout (which I have done and which continues nonetheless to be hideously painful) and fatty foods like cheese because of the high cholesterol.
The list of things that I am not supposed to eat is really rather startling, especially when two other bits of medical advice are added:- my doctor's advice to lose weight and the general advice that dieting makes your gout worse.

Now just a couple of pages ahead in the book I am using for inspiration is a drawing of an empty fridge. What more need be said?
Well there's this for a start.

My doctor says I've gout, so I need to give up meat.
Fair enough, I thought, there are other things to eat.
"Also to be avoided," my doctor pressed ahead
"Are mushrooms and asparagus." "No problem there." I said.
"Anchovies and cauliflower, spinach and sardines,
Things containing yeast, not to mention peas and beans.
Also alcohol's a problem, you ought to cut it out."
I sighed and said , reluctantly, I'd try to do without.
"Next, " my doctor said, "Your cholesterol's too high,
So here are all the things to be avoided by and by.
Eat no margarine or butter, eat only cottage cheese.
Avoid fatty foods and fry ups. And no biscuits please."
He paused to take a breath before going on, "And now
You also need to lose some weight, but with no dieting somehow
Because dieting we find seems to drive the acid higher
And the acid is what causes gout to set your foot on fire."
I took in the advice that my doctor slowly gave me
And went and did the one thing that would surely save me.
I spoke to his receptionist and what I told her shocked her.
"I have to give things up," I said "Such as visiting the doctor."