View my previous blog here:

I reply to all comments except spam, no matter how old!

Please ignore any email address displayed here! My email is shamp123 AT

Saturday, 27 March 2010

'Flowers' by Wendy Cope


      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.

Wendy Cope is an English poet, born in 1945 and educated at Oxford. She has the wonderful gift of being funny & witty and heart-achingly sad at the same instant. This poem makes you smile but the last two lines are capable of somehow enabling you to understand the underlying sorrow being expressed.
She has the ability to stick a pin in the bubble of pretension. Her poems always seem to be about men and love and are usually very funny but still contain that persistant hint of melancholy.
Here's one more:

          Bloody Men

Bloody men are like bloody buses -
You wait for about a year
And as soon as one approaches your stop
Two or three others appear.

You look at them flashing their indicators,
Offering you a ride.
You're trying to read the destinations,
You haven't much time to decide.

If you make a mistake, there is no turning back.
Jump off, and you'll stand there and gaze
While the cars and the taxis and lorries go by
And the minutes, the hours, the days.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

Quiz Question (4): Name this book.

Which best-selling 1954 novel took it's title from a translation of the Hebrew word beelzebub?
As usual the pictures could help. As ever, no prizes but extra kudos if you can say what the pictures are of and why they provide clues.
I will post the answer in the comments in a few days, unless someone gets it right sooner than that!
The correct answer is now posted in the comments but have a go and see if you were right. I reply to all comments no matter how old!

Sunday, 21 March 2010

The Roding Valley Nature Reserve

Near the start of the walk
Last Friday I joined my daughter, Ruth, on a guided five-mile walk through the Roding Valley Nature Reserve.

This began in Chigwell, in the county of Essex, and finished at the pavilion cafe in Ray Park, Woodford, which is inside Greater London. The trek, with about twenty-five walkers plus five park rangers (at least one of whom was so keen that she was there on her day off) is provided free by our Local Authority (the London Borough of Redbridge). At the finish we were pleasantly surprised at an excellent free lunch which was provided.

Most of the area we covered is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Local Authorities and other public institutions now have a statutory duty to further the conservation and enhancement of SSSIs.

Any piece of land, no matter who owns it, can be so designated by UK law.
One of the most interesting aspects of Roding Valley is the several different meadows which are managed by traditional methods which have existed for more than a thousand years. There are dry, hay meadows and so-called wet meadows which flood when the River Roding bursts its banks which is quite often. This is because the course of the river has been fixed by building reinforced banks instead of letting nature take its natural course. Rivers, over hundreds of years, are constantly altering their course and now the Roding has to feed a volume of water into the Thames which it can barely handle.

You may be able to observe a pair of Mallard Ducks on the right of my picture if you click on it.

They are returning hedgerows to the site; this reverses the trend of modern farming methods where combine-harvesters are hampered by hedgerows thus destroying a very specialised wildlife habitat.

In late spring the lower meadows are a riot of colour as there are more than 200 species of wild flower growing there, many of which are extremely rare types.

We managed to see a Kestrel perched high in a tree (probably waiting for us to go away). A Kestrel usually occupies about a square mile of its own territory to hunt. We also noticed a Little Egret, a member of the Heron family, and there are Kingfishers, Long-tailed Tits and Sparrow-hawks in the area too along with lots of more common birds.
Some of the Oak trees in the area (once a part of Epping Forest) are more than 450 years old.

Forests dating to pre 1600 in England & Wales are deemed to be Ancient Woodlands. This means that they probably were not planted or managed but grew naturally.

The whole episode made us both feel lucky to live in the area and very appreciative of the work that conservationists (mostly volunteers) do.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

My Heroes (24) The Everly Brothers

The first music I was ever aware of was by the Everly Brothers. The first record I ever bought was by them and my all time favourite concert was the wonderful evening on September 23rd 1983 at the Royal Albert Hall in London when they re-united after a ten year split. I was also at what they said would be their final concert in the UK in 2005.
Their unique harmonising began when they became part of the family musical radio shows in Shenandoah
in the late 40s and early 50s. They were still teenagers when they had their enduring first big hit "Bye Bye Love" in 1957.
Their singing style strongly influenced The Beatles, The Beach Boys, Simon & Garfunkel and most of the so-called 'British invasion' groups who overwhelmed US music in the wake of The Beatle's success.
Stevie Nicks says she learned to harmonise with Lindsay Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac by listening to the Everly Brothers.
Their many hits included "All I Have to do is Dream", "Til I Kissed You", "Bird Dog", "Wake Up Little Susie",  "When Will I Be Loved", "Let It Be Me", "Walk Right Back", "Crying in the Rain" and many more but I have to reserve a special mention for a record which sounds as fresh today as it did on it's release fifty years ago in 1960.

Warner Brothers gave Don & Phil the industry's first million-dollar contract and the first single they released was "Cathy's Clown" (it's UK catalogue number was WB01). It sold eight million copies. That song, as many of the other hits, was written by the Everlys. It was also the first single to top the US and UK charts at the same time.
In the later years their popularity remained greater in England than it did in the USA.
Roll back the years and listen to it here.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Painting of the Month (2) March 2010: JMW Turner

JMW Turner 1775 - 1851
The Fighting Temeraire 1839

Joseph William Mallord Turner painted his masterpiece in 1839. In a BBC poll in 2005 it was voted the Greatest Painting in a British Gallery with more than 25% of the vote.
The picture is full of symbolism. The Temeraire had been a part of Nelson's famous victory at Trafalgar and now it was being ignominiously towed upstream to be broken up at Rotherhithe in east London. The sunset is symbolic of the fading British empire and the power of steam over sale emphasises the might of the Industrial Revolution, which was born in Great Britain and so far had not been exported, as it was to later be, across the world.
The point would not have been lost on contemporary viewers. The painting still hangs in the National Gallery in London as Turner bequeathed all the works he still owned at his death to the nation. He referred to the Temeraire as "my darling".
He was undoubtedly the greatest British painter of all time and can fairly be seen as the prefigurer of impressionism. This was recognised by the early French impressionists. He was also an inspiration to the early abstractionists.
He was born in Covent Garden and devoted the whole of his life to his art and was continuously famous from his teens until his death. He was, unequivically, a genius.

Turner, self-portrait aged about 24
Interestingly a lot of artistic licence has been taken with the painting of this picture. For example at the time this painting was made, 1839, the Temeraire had been used as a prison ship for several years and had a badly damaged hull and no masts.
Also it was towed by two steam tugs and it is shown going in the wrong direction (or the 'sunset' is a sunrise!)
But, you know, I don't think any of this matters; Turner was making great art not writing a history book.
There are many websites showing lots of the prolific output of this eccentric, socially awkward man who remained single for all of his life.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

When Daddy Fell Into The Pond

When Daddy Fell Into The Pond

Everyone grumbled. The sky was grey.
We had nothing to do and nothing to say.
We were nearing the end of a dismal day,
And then there seemed to be nothing beyond,
Daddy fell into the pond!

And everyone's face grew merry and bright,
And Timothy danced for sheer delight.
"Give me the camera, quick, oh quick!
He's crawling out of the duckweed!" Click!

Then the gardener suddenly slapped his knee,
And doubled up, shaking silently,
And the ducks all quacked as if they were daft,
And it sounded as if the old drake laughed.
Oh, there wasn't a thing that didn't respond
Daddy Fell into the pond!
                          -Alfred Noyes 1880 – 1958

This charming little poem, which always brings a smile to my face, was published in 1907 and it’s a wonderful way to introduce a child to poetry. Even a five-year-old can learn to recite it.

Noyes was a serious old-school poet and this is not at all typical of his output but it is probably his most-quoted work. Adults and children have laughed together when hearing it for more than a hundred years.

For me it paints a clear picture of middle-class life in early twentieth century England, (late Victorian in essence). I don’t think too many families would have owned a camera in 1907 and they also employed a gardener.

Not many words have been used, to be sure, but what a powerful image the poet conjures up!