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22 March 2011 @ 08:46 am
   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.
16 March 2011 @ 08:36 am

   Unfortunately one's literary endeavours (so heedful of scansion and nuance) are not always appreciated to the full;

08 March 2011 @ 08:38 am

   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.
04 March 2011 @ 08:46 am

 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.