Change of address

   Over recent weeks I've had increasing difficulty posting on, or even accessing, livejournal. I've read it's the result of a 'denial of service' hacker attack and has to do with the 2012 Russian elections

   The hacker theory may or may not be correct, either way I looked for another supplier, or pander, or what ever it's called, and plumped for 'blogger', mainly because my cyber pal Whimsy (Victor Alan Crawford) moved there and he seems to know what he's doing.

So, hope to see you  there...

A bridge too far

   Some years ago, when I first felt the insidious caress of middle-age transforming cheek into jowl and inquisitive glance into presbyopic leer, I realized that something had to be done to mitigate the cruel ravages of time. So, my existential yearning masquerading as desire, I set out, like many another anxious man in my chronological predicament, to find solace in the feminine company of someone significantly younger than myself.

   Through luck and low cunning I succeeded in my quest. The ensuing liaison involved, in fact mainly consisted of, a weekend in Paris during which I, we, found ourselves on the Pont des Arts, a footbridge that leads from the Louvre to St Germain.

The Pont des Arts; poor circulation

   Many of the grills that are fixed to the structure's railings are festooned with padlocks fastened there as declarations of undying infatuation by starry-eyed young people who congregate on the teak decking. My new friend seemed delighted with the ambience despite the difficulty crossing the bridge (it was very congested), whilst I, having seen off my existential what-ever-it-was, was keener than ever to slip down Rue de Bac and visit Deyrolle's taxidermy emporium.

 Deyrolle's; a timeless appeal.

   It was late afternoon and we'd got the sitting around in cafés out of the way, now the path was clear for a good hour's perusal of dead animals. Suddenly, just as I was explaining the importance of Deyrolle's in the history of naturalised zoomorphia, my friend sat down on the walkway, joining the dozens of other young people lolling around the bridge in little groups. It occurred to me I should do the same, but during the time it took to lower myself into a seated position (I eschewed offers of assistance) my companion had sprung up again in order to get a closer look at a juggler (a 'juggler' in this case defined as a young man who throws three balls in the air and catches most of them). I intended to point out to my friend the shameless saltimbanque's clumsiness, but by the time I'd struggled to my feet (the lock-bedecked grills provided useful purchase) butterfingers and herself were already engaged in animated conversation liberally interspersed with guffaws. Both parties, despite my pointed coughs and watch-tapping, seemed blissfully unaware of me and my shrinking opportunity of joining the denizens of Deyrolle's in their safe haven of the perpetual present.

What colour are you?

    I remember still its rubbery texture and its regular transferral, with a flick of the tongue, from one cheek pouch to the other. It was still installed when I returned home from school. My mother asked what I had in my mouth and I told her, “Meat”, more accurately it was a lump of gristle that had been served up in a stew some four hours previously in the school dining hall. She asked why I was still chewing it, I said it was too big to swallow and I knew it was wrong to spit out my food.

   Schools are characterised by their rules, most of which suited a conformist as slavish as I. I remember one rule in particular, or perhaps it was a regulation or a procedure, that was in operation at the infant school where I chewed gristle, back in the early 1960s. Its implementation caused the poorest children to have differently coloured dinner tickets. To wit; a white ticket meant that your mid-day meal was free and that your father was probably out of work, a blue ticket meant that your parents were paying the standard fee (sixpence, I think). The fact that my father worked in a factory meant that I was privileged to have a blue ticket, employment rates were high at the time and those with white tickets were in the minority.

   I wonder now who came up with the idea of colour-coding these scraps of paper, a mundane form of apartheid that must have evolved somewhere along the chain of command that laboriously translated an altruistic notion into a diktat that stigmatised the innocent.

The Answer

   The Welsh for Daffodil is Cenhinen Bedr or 'Peter's Leek'. Who'd have thought? Sounds like a medical condition.

   On the subject of leeks, last night I ate the first one I've ever cultivated myself. It was delicious. I intend to slowly work my way through its contemporaries, savouring them individually like the final pages of a good book.

   I now see why the Welsh chose the leek as their national emblem, they need no tending (meaning mine didn't receive any) and are very graceful. What nation wouldn't want to be associated with independence and beauty? I would recommend them to any horticultural ignoramus like me who wants to experiment with a vegetable patch. They're impervious to frost, in fact seem to thrive on any element that is thrown at them. A friend gave me a bundle of tiny specimens to plant last summer, they looked far too weedy to make it to adulthood and I was certain that the squadrons, battalions and armies of slugs that eat virtually everything else in my potager would polish them off in no time. But no! They clearly possess some kind of chemical slug-deterrent; maybe that's what makes them so tasty.

   Leeks also remind me of a verbal exchange I witnessed many years ago in a 'comprehensive' school that I attended. It was March 1st, St David's day, St David being the patron saint of Wales. During morning assembly the headmaster mentioned the significance of the day and asked the serried ranks of uninterested pupils what was the vegetable that symbolised Wales. A few hands went up (mine wasn't amongst them – too busy considering the possibilities. Artichoke? Yam? Peanut?) including, pregnant with portent, that of Andrew Leek to which the headmaster readily responded, thereby allowing Leek to declare with an airy confidence, “The daffodil, sir!”

The Art of Cicatrisation

   So, I've just spent a few days swanning around Montpellier, very pleasant. It's one of those shrinking cities, in the psychological sense; it's a city when you get there, but within hours becomes a town, and even, during your evening stroll, a crowded village.

   The Magnolia shrub takes its name from Pierre Magnol (1638-1715), professor of botany and director of Montpellier's Jardin des Plantes. I was keen to see these gardens, but was advised against doing so as it's not the best time of year to visit. I ignored this advice as there's never a bad time to visit a botanical garden - even if frost or blight or both have reduced everything to a rotten stump there are still the labels, dense with information and mystery, to look at and ponder over;

There were other writings too, glyphs of devotion, etched into bamboo;

   Giant bamboos sexually reproduce just the once and then only after several decades of life (thirteen in the case of Phyllostachys bambusoides) after which they expire. One day, its date known only to the plant, the bamboo of the Montpellier garden will flower and then die “on the promise of the fruit”, its brittle stems scarred with love's testaments.

Black Dennis

   I've been trying to think of a word recently, I'm sure I once knew it. It's a term for a sub-category of epithet, a way of summarising character – it describes the 'Bold' in 'Charles the Bold' - a sort of permanent adjective that can forever remind us just how completely unprepared Ethelred was.


   As a boy I was dismayed to discover that my royal namesake, a king of England who ruled from 1135 to 1154, is known to history as Stephen the Irresolute. The John Player cigarette card in my dad's “The Kings and Queens of England” album twisted the knife; “the so-called reign of Stephen was one of the most miserable in English history”. Hmph.

   Kings and notorious criminals (sometimes one and the same) seem to attract this kind of epithet. I suppose for most of us our anonymity outweighs our notoriety, at least historically, so our character traits don't become permanently attached to our name. I remember, in a factory I once worked in, being mystified as to why a pasty-faced fellow was known as Black Dennis. One lunch-break, not so much out of curiosity or altruism as due to a shortage of seating, I joined him at his otherwise deserted table. Without preamble and with a practised deliberation Black Dennis shared with me his bleak reflections on man's lot - and, in a canteen bathed elsewhere in florescent light, I was soon enveloped in an inky gloom so opaque that only the smell of congealing grease betrayed the whereabouts of my bacon sandwich.

Expressing Dissent in Morse Code

 Female walrus and calf, Greenland

   One evening, many years ago, I visited SeaWorld in Florida (earlier that day I was given my 'free' SeaWorld ticket in return for sitting in front of a psychotically enthusiastic time-share salesman and saying “no” for two hours. As I behave like this in most social situations it wasn't too onerous a task. There was even a slap-up breakfast – much appreciated after all that socialising).

   There were Californian sea-lions bouncing balls on their noses and the usual Delphinidae leaping through hoops, derisory activities (literally) for such intelligent animals. I was herded with the other visitors from exhibit to exhibit while people with microphones strapped to their heads educated us (by telling us about the animals' environment - not the fish tank they lived in, somewhere else) and entertained us (by coaxing the inmates to exhibit aberrant behaviour in return for food). After a while I decided to see what the animals did when they weren't performing. I retraced my steps and quickly found myself in near darkness as only the area where a particular presentation was being made was illuminated. A concerned member of staff came trotting after me, he'd assumed I was looking for a lavatory or deranged, when I explained my mission he seemed at a loss as to what to do as my breach of SeaWorld etiquette wasn't quite enough to warrant arrest. Eventually he returned to the spectacle (he had grown agitated when the light show began to move away) and I was able to carry on stumbling through the herbaceous borders. I found a couple of tanks but, in the gloom, it was impossible to ascertain what was going on within. Reluctantly, I decided to rejoin my fellow visitors. It wasn't difficult to locate them; an oasis of laughter and light surrounded a magnificent walrus that was proving to be refreshingly unbiddable. The massive pinniped just floated in the eerily lit water like a slug in a lava lamp while its 'trainer' tried in vain to get it to do something. And then, in apparent response and much to the delight of the children and myself, its bowels moved. A brown cloud suffused the neon blue of the aquarium, swirling and expanding and causing a man with a microphone strapped to his head to hurriedly switch off the lights and suggest we see the stingrays. It occurred to me that the walrus's performance was the only natural behaviour I'd seen since I'd entered the place.

This be the missing verse...


                               The Scholar,  by Rembrandt

'The Scholars' by W. B. Yeats

Bald heads forgetful of their sins,
Old, learned, respectable bald heads
Edit and annotate the lines
That young men, tossing on their beds,
Rhymed out in love's despair
To flatter beauty's ignorant ear.

All shuffle there; all cough in ink;
All wear the carpet with their shoes;
All think what other people think;
All know the man their neighbour knows.
Lord, what would they say
Did their Catullus walk that way?

   I'd always assumed Yeats was a young man when he wrote this - it turns out he rattled it off when he was 54. But then you never know with Yeats, at 69 he experienced what he referred to as 'a strange second puberty' (due to a 'Steinbach vasoligature') which gave his poetry, and his behaviour, a renewed vigour.

   Predictably, over the years, my sympathies shifted from those 'tossing on their beds' to those 'forgetful of their sins', but lately something else has happened; I keep thinking about the missing, third, verse. Ideally it would have been written by Phillip Larkin who would, for obvious reasons, have had sympathy for the 'bald heads' even if they were respectable. He would have also brought humour and, I think, a greater insight into how we all, whether 'tossing' or 'bald' or neither, cope with love's despair.


Miroslav Tichý - a lucid obscurity

Dark slides

   I found this collection of wooden articles in a junk shop recently. They're beautifully crafted, out of beech, I think. At first I thought they were for making contact prints, but when I got home and googled around I found that one was a 'changing box' and the others 'dark slides' (frames that held one or two negatives) that could be slid onto the back of a plate camera. It's odd now to think of a carpenter making a camera.
   My digital camera can take over a hundred pictures at a time and mine is a basic model, I presume there are others that can take thousands of photographs at one sitting. I suppose this is good for future historians, but for present needs it seems excessive – like having thousands of anything. Of course having innumerable examples of taxidermy is a very different matter, not the same at all.
   A digital camera is like a computer, or a modern car engine, in that it is impossible for a layperson to fix if it goes wrong. In fact the manufacturers have shown great ingenuity in ensuring that we cannot repair what we have bought. This advanced technology has not only helped us do more, it has also wrested power from our hands. I think this is why I was relieved, as well as impressed, to read about Miroslav Tichý and his approach to photography.

   When taking photographs Miroslav Tichý (born 1926) was often mistaken for a tramp due to his habit of creating his own clothes from remnants of those of others. He also created his own cameras using such items as cardboard toilet-roll tubes and bottle-tops.

From 1972 to 1985 he would take up to a hundred photographs a day of people in his home town of Kyjov in the Czech Republic. His subjects were usually female and often to be found at the local swimming pool. His unusual attire and devotion to his art occasionally got him into trouble with the authorities.

    He was able to achieve some remarkable results as many of his subjects clearly thought his photographic equipment to be fake and would sometimes strike poses as a result. He never exhibited his work and pursued an isolated existence. In recent years someone discovered his cache of photographs and they have since appeared in many prestigious galleries, a development that Mr Tichý seems uncomfortable with. He now concentrates on drawing and painting, and continues to ignore the crude trappings of success.