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Monday, 11 June 2018

REPOST: Flowers by Wendy Cope


Reposted from February 2013.
This post is especially for All Consuming. But of course anyone is very welcome to comment!
Wendy Cope. Born England 1945.(www.goodreads.com)
Flowers

Some men never think of it.
You did. You’d come along
And say you’d nearly brought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts —
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly brought
Have lasted all this while.

From Serious Concerns, Faber & Faber, 1992

Wendy Cope, born 1945, is an English poet, the kind of whom it is easy to dismiss as lightweight or superficial but I would like to make the case that she is neither of those things. Although clothed in humour and wit, her words carry the weight and gravitas and of more serious matters. She cleverly uses the easy appeal to make a point, often about men: Men are like bloody buses-/ You wait for about a year/ And as soon as one approaches your stop/ Two or three others appear.
The poem centres around the themes of remembrance and intentions that were never carried out and there is a deep underlying sadness present. I think it is saying that the thought counts as much, or more, than the deed. The last stanza is heart-breakingly poignant.

I am listening to the late Kevin Coyne's brilliant recording of Blame it on The Night. He was a bit of a wild child who had been a psychiatric nurse and he sang about mental illness with deep insight. Listen here.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

The Riddle Solved.

The solution to the Old English Riddle of my last post is, of course 'A Bookworm'. Hels's analogy with dementia also perfectly fits the description as does Arleen's ageing poet; so everyone was right!

The Book of Exeter is the oldest extant collection of Old English literature. The copy in Exeter Cathedral was made after the year 975; so it's well over a thousand years old. Some of the poems it contains have been dated back to the seventh century. It was presented to the the Cathedral by Bishop Leofric who died in 1072.
It contains religious verse's and many riddles, some of which are full of cheeky double entendres that would make you blush so it's a strange mix of the spiritual and the secular side-by-side!
Here's one more:
I am a wondrous creature for women in expectation, a service for neighbours. I harm none of the citizens except my slayer alone. My stem is erect, I stand up in bed, hairy somewhere down below. A very comely peasant's daughter, dares sometimes, proud maiden, that she grips at me, attacks me in my redness, plunders my head, confines me in a stronghold, feels my encounter directly, woman with braided hair. Wet be that eye.

Scroll down for the answer!

























Answer: An onion!



Tuesday, 29 May 2018

An Old English Riddle


AN OLD ENGLISH RIDDLE
A moth, I thought, munching a word.
How marvellously weird! A worm
Digesting a man’s sayings –
A sneak-thief nibbling in the shadows
At the shape of a poet’s thunderous phrases –
How unutterably strange!
And the pilfering parasite none the wiser
For the words he has swallowed.

This was published in The Book Of Exeter over one thousand years ago.
I will tell more about that when I give the answer to the riddle in a few days.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

REPOST: from 2011 Song of Solomon

Song of Solomon, Sir William Russell-Flint, 1909

It is not generally realised how much the Old Testament's Song of Solomon pervades modern culture. It contains some of the most beautiful love poetry ever written:
The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is an ointment poured forth; therefore do the virgins love you.
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee: we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.
I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother’s children were angry with me: they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but my own vineyard have I not kept.
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, wherefeedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon; for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock and feedthy kids beside the shepherds’ tents.
I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots.
Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.
We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.
While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard (1) sendeth forth the small thereof.
A bundle of myrrh is my well-beloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire (2) in the vineyards of Engedi.
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast dove’s eyes.
Behold; thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant; also our bed is green.
The beams of our house are cedar and our rafters of fir.
 (1)  Spikenard is an aromatic herb and a member of the ginseng family.
(      (2)  Camphire is an archaic name for henna.
It is important to know that this is just the first chapter and that the 'voice' of the poem switches from person to person. Biblical scholars argue whether or not this was written by Solomon or for him. Here are just a few of the references that have been made:
  •  Stephen 'Tin Tin' Duffy's 1985 song Kiss Me quotes directly from the Song of Solomon.
  • ·      Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon was instrumental in her winning a Nobel Prize.
  • ·         Chapter 2, verse 15 (not reproduced here) provided the title for Lillian Hellman’s 1939 play Little Foxes.
  • ·         Also the opening line of Chapter 2 provides the name 'Rose of Sharon' used by Steinbeck in The Grapes of Wrath.
  • ·         Countless number of (mostly obscure) rock groups have taken their names and song titles from Song of Solomon.
  • ·         One of Kate Bush's songs from The Red Shoes  is Song of Solomon
  • ·         In his poem When I Hear You Sing, Leonard Cohen refers to the Song of Solomon.
  • ·         Many writers and composers through history have taken inspiration from this work. They include Geoffrey Chaucer, JS Bach and up to Steeleye Span and Neil Diamond (in Holly Holy).

I find it amazing how these ancient lines reach out across the millennia and still have resonance today. Be inspired by this poetry and remember that love is better than hate!

Friday, 4 May 2018

Painting of the Month (82) May 2018: Sisley

Alfred Sisley, 1839-1899, was an Anglo-French impressionist painter who pretty much stuck to impressionist landscape painting for all of his career. His was much over-shadowed by some of his contemporaries, especially Manet and I think, with justifiable reason. Seen together his output is a magnificent collection of his depictions of the countryside in the suburbs of Paris although he also produced some important work in England. He worked 'en plein air' (outdoors) through a longer period than the other impressionists. 
I sometimes get the feeling that everything he shows us is 'from a distance' so to speak both emotionally and physically. This doesn't affect the quality clearly evident in his pictures.
 Sisley, Snow at Louveciennes, 1873
People were mostly adornments to his paintings, not the subjects.

Sisley, Riverbank at Mammes, 1880
I'm listening to one of my very favourite classical pieces: The Polovstsian Dances from Borodin's Prince Igor. Listen here!

Saturday, 21 April 2018

REPOST: The Royal Parks of London (1) St James Park

I've been a bit busy lately so I'm re-posting this from five years ago. It's one of my favourite places in London.

The Royal Parks of London (1) St James Park

A magical view  across the lake in St James Park, London
St James Park is the second smallest of London's eight Royal parks at 57 acres. These parks were originally owned by the Crown and used for sport, mainly deer hunting. In 1532 Henry VIII purchased some marshland owned by Eton College in an area that had formerly consisted of a female leper colony and pig farms and he enclosed it to create a hunting park on his door-step. Successive monarchs improved the park until Charles II, upon the restoration of the monarchy after the English Civil War, had the park laid out in the way he had seen in France during his exile. Today the park is pretty much as improved by the architect and landscape designer John Nash in 1827. It's full of the most charming range of trees, shrubs, flowers and wildlife.
In 1664 the Russian Ambassador presented a pelican to the Court of St James (any Ambassador or High Commissioner to the United Kingdom is officially "Ambassador to the Court of  St James") this began a tradition of presenting pelicans as gifts and today there is an island of rocks in the lake, especially for them. There are also Egyptian geese, Greylags, Wood Ducks and many other beautiful birds. At one end of the park is Horse Guards Parade famous for the ceremony of Trooping the Colour and at the other end the best view of Buckingham Palace is to be seen.

Monday, 9 April 2018

My Heroes (43): Sir Roger Bannister

The passing away of Sir Roger Bannister last month has recalled a time when post-war Britain was very different than it is today. The breaking of the four-minute mile barrier was as much psychological as it was physical. The whole event, which took place at the Iffley Road track in Oxford where Sir Roger was a student doctor, was very low-key in a way that would seem amateurish today. Sir Roger had specifically targeted breaking the four-minute barrier. Seven athletes were scheduled to race but one of the runners forgot his shorts so could not take part in the race! 
The concept of breaking that barrier was challenged by some who said no human could do it. However, Roger Bannister thought "why not, why would the barrier be at exactly four minutes?"
He ran a mile in three minutes and 59.4 seconds and, as if to prove his point, the record was quickly broken again by Australia's John Landy and then many times over the next few months. It seems that once the psychological barrier was broken, it became relatively easier. He had been assisted in his efforts by his two pacemakers, Christopher Chataway and Chris Brasher who both became very successful middle-distance runners themselves.
I love this charming quote from Sir Roger on his retirement: "I'd rather be remembered for my work in neurology than my running. If you offered me the chance to make a great breakthrough in the study of the automatic nerve system, I'd take that over the four minute mile right away. I worked in medicine for sixty years. I ran for about eight."[
I'm listening to Dion singing one of my favourite rock songs, Ruby Baby. Listen here.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Painting of the Month (81) April 2018: Peter Blake

Peter Blake, born 1932, is a British artist who was a leading figure in the Pop Art movement in the 1960's. He is most well-known for co-creating the sleeve design for The Beatles album Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967 and this post is really about that.
 Blake's iconic sleeve design for Sgt Pepper
Probably the most well-known album design ever made.
Io Herodotus's explanation of the people featured on the sleeve. 
Here is a list of those people followed by a list of some who were left out. You may notice that there is not a perfect correspondence between the two pictures because changes were constantly being made:
Top row
(1) Sri Yukteswar Giri (Hindu guru)
(3) Mae West (actress)
(6) W. C. Fields (comedian/actor)
(8) Edgar Allan Poe (writer)
(9) Fred Astaire (actor/dancer)
(10) Richard Merkin (artist)
(11) The Vargas Girl (by artist Alberto Vargas)
(12) Leo Gorcey (image was removed from cover, but the space remains between "The Vargas Girl" and "Huntz Hall")
(13) Huntz Hall (actor)
(14) Simon Rodia (designer and builder of the Watts Towers)
(15) Bob Dylan (singer/songwriter)

Second row
(16) Aubrey Beardsley (illustrator)
(17) Sir Robert Peel (19th century British Prime Minister)
(18) Aldous Huxley (writer)
(19) Dylan Thomas (poet)
(20) Terry Southern (writer)
(21) Dion DiMucci (singer/songwriter)
(22) Tony Curtis (actor)
(23) Wallace Berman (artist)
(24) Tommy Handley (comedian)
(25) Marilyn Monroe (actress)
(26) William S. Burroughs (writer)
(27) Sri Mahavatar Babaji (Hindu guru)
(28) Stan Laurel (actor/comedian)
(29) Richard Lindner (artist)
(30) Oliver Hardy (actor/comedian)
(31) Karl Marx (political philosopher)
(32) H. G. Wells (writer)
(33) Sri Paramahansa Yogananda (Hindu guru)
(34A) James Joyce (Irish poet and novelist) – barely visible below Bob Dylan(34) Anonymous (hairdresser's wax dummy)
Third row
(35) Stuart Sutcliffe (artist/former Beatle)
(36) Anonymous (hairdresser's wax dummy)
(37) Max Miller (comedian)
(38) A "Petty Girl" (by artist George Petty)
(39) Marlon Brando (actor)
(40) Tom Mix (actor)
(41) Oscar Wilde (writer)
(42) Tyrone Power (actor)
(43) Larry Bell (artist)
(44) David Livingstone (missionary/explorer)
(45) Johnny Weissmuller (Olympic swimmer/Tarzan actor)
(46) Stephen Crane (writer) – barely visible between Issy Bonn's head and raised arm
(47) Issy Bonn (comedian)
(48) George Bernard Shaw (playwright)
(49) H. C. Westermann (sculptor)
 (50) Albert Stubbins (English footballer)
(51) Sri Lahiri Mahasaya (guru)
(52) Lewis Carroll (writer)

Front row
(54) Wax model of Sonny Liston (boxer)
(55) A "Petty Girl" (by George Petty)
(56) Wax model of George Harrison
(57) Wax model of John Lennon
(58) Shirley Temple (child actress) – barely visible behind the wax models of John and Ringo, first of three
ppearances on the cover
(59) Wax model of Ringo Starr
(60) Wax model of Paul McCartney
(61) Albert Einstein (physicist) – largely obscured
(62) John Lennon holding a french horn
(63) Ringo Starr holding a trumpet
(64) Paul McCartney holding a cor anglais
(65) George Harrison holding a piccolo
(65A) Bette Davis (actress) – hair barely visible on top of George's shoulder
(66) Bobby Breen (singer)
(67) Marlene Dietrich (actress/singer)
(68) Mahatma Gandhi was planned for this position, but was deleted prior to publication
(69) An American legionnaire[2]
(70) Wax model of Diana Dors (actress)
(71) Shirley Temple (child actress) – second appearance on the cover

People excluded from the cover
(12) Leo Gorcey – was modelled and originally included to the left of Huntz Hall, but was subsequently removed when a fee of $400 was requested for the use of the actor's likeness.[5][6]
(54A) Unidentified laughing figure - barely visible
(56A) Sophia Loren (actress) - behind the Beatles waxworks
(57A) Marcelo Mastroianni (actor) - behind the Beatles waxworks
(65A) Timothy Carey (actor) - was modelled and originally included but largely obscured by George Harrison in the final picture
(68) Mahatma Gandhi – was modelled and originally included to the right of Lewis Carroll, but was subsequently removed According to McCartney, "Gandhi also had to go because the head of EMI, Sir Joe Lockwood, said that in India they wouldn't allow the record to be printed".
Jesus Christ – was requested by Lennon, but not modelled because the LP would be released just over a year after Lennon’s Jesus remark.

(C) Adolf Hitler – was modelled and was visible in early photographs of the montage, positioned to the right of Larry Bell, but was eventually removed when his inclusion was considered offensive. 

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

All About Graphene

I have just got back from a very long weekend in France so I am a bit full of wine and croissants! Here's a post I wrote before I left.
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All ABOUT GRAPHENE
I have tried to eliminate or explain all the many technical terms there were in this post so that, hopefully, every reader can understand it. I have a technical background and some of it is even beyond me so, as a by-product, I am educating myself about this very import material.
 Image showing the hexagonal atomic structure of graphene. 

  So what exactly is graphene? Well it's a sheet of hexagonal carbon molecules which is only one atom thick. It is regarded as being two-dimensional and it has many applications. It is the world's strongest known product and is the best conductor of electricity and of heat.
  Graphene has often been described as the "material of the future" with some stunning ideas in development. It's thickness is around 0.345nm. A nanometer is one thousand-millionth of a metre. It is essentially made out of graphite, the same thing that the lead in pencils is made of.
Graphite it is an allotrope of the element carbon, meaning it possesses the same atoms but they’re arranged in a different way, giving the material different properties. For example, both diamond and graphite are forms of carbon, yet they have wildly different natures. Diamonds are incredibly hard, while graphite is brittle. 
Five uses for graphene that are being developed.
Antibiotics: Graphene oxide, which is a form of graphene with oxygen incorporated into it, wraps itself around bacteria, puncturing it's membrane. With a burst membrane bacteria cannot survive. Surgical tools could be coated with this carbon-based compound reducing the need for antibiotics, reducing the rate of post-operative infections and speeding recovery times. Scientists have found that graphene specifically attacks bacteria cells and spares human ones although currently it's not clearly understood why. Graphene can also be used to deliver drugs to very specific cells in the body.
Camera lens: A flat optical lens just a billionth of a metre thick will enable us to see living creatures as small as a single bacterium better than ever before. These lens would have potential in nano-satellites thus drastically reducing the cost of launches into space. Ultra-thin flexible mobile phones are in development. Another potential use could be in the advancement of delivery of super-fast broadband.
Solar cells: Because graphene is so thin it allows loads of light through it which is great for applications that need transparency such as touch screens but not so good for solar cells which need to absorb as many photons as possible. In an interesting development, a team of scientists have developed a technique based on the ways moth's eyes work  which enables them to have good vision in the dark by focusing light into the centre of their eyes. This has allowed them to increase the light absorbency of graphene sheets from 2.3% to 95%.
Lubricants: Much research has been undertaken to explore the conductance of graphene but a team in Switzerland is looking at it's lubricating prowess on a nanometer scale. In future they claim, that by coating parts of machinery they will create a frictionless surface resulting in almost zero energy loss between moving parts. This would improve energy efficiency and extend the life of equipment.
Batteries: Graphene can make batteries that are light, durable and suitable for high-capacity energy storage and with shorter charging times.
 Many sporting goods, making use of graphene to enhance materials, are already in production such as: tennis rackets, skis and trainers as well as wheels, frames and safety helmets for bicycles.
   But perhaps graphene's most extraordinary property is that after more than a decade of intensive investigation it continues to startle the world of science. Recently two seemingly contradictory properties were added to the list. One is that it appears to be almost twice as bulletproof as Kevlar. At the same time another piece of research showed that the impenetrable barrier was actually porous to hydrogen ions. This has implications for drawing hydrogen, a potential fuel, right out of the air! You are going to be hearing a lot more about this exciting product in the very near future.
And if all of this hasn't impressed you, well hear this
- it can be self repairing!
I'm listening to Joan Baez singing her beautiful, plaintive composition Diamonds and Rust which is about her relationship with Bob Dylan. Listen here.