Tuesday, January 29, 2008

"Something amazing, to make his crying seem small" 


The moon is full tonight
an illustration for sheet music,
an image in Matthew Arnold
glimmering on the English Channel,
or a ghost over a smoldering battlefield
in one of the history plays.

It's as full as it was
in that poem by Coleridge
where he carries his year-old son
into the orchard behind the cottage
and turns the baby's face to the sky
to see for the first time
the earth's bright companion,
something amazing to make his crying seem small.

And if you wanted to follow this example,
tonight would be the night
to carry some tiny creature outside
and introduce him to the moon.

And if your house has no child,
you can always gather into your arms
the sleeping infant of yourself,
as I have done tonight,
and carry him outdoors,
all limp in his tattered blanket,
making sure to steady his lolling head
with the palm of your hand.

And while the wind ruffles the pear trees
in the corner of the orchard
and dark roses wave against a stone wall,
you can turn him on your shoulder
and walk in circles on the lawn
drunk with the light.
You can lift him up into the sky,
your eyes nearly as wide as his,
as the moon climbs high into the night.

~ Billy Collins ~

"…you can always gather into your arms
the sleeping infant of yourself…"

Thanks to Joe Riley and Panhala

Glorious incongruity 

Question: What happens to teenage skateboarders when they grow up?

Answer: At least one, spotted on the way to work this morning, carries those street skills into later life, regardless of social conventions.

I wouldn’t have given him a second glance. Just another guy, about thirty, unremarkable and highly conventional appearance – drab coloured jacket, wiry hair, glasses; could have been a school teacher, or a younger version of Michael Cain in Educating Rita - but it was the movement which caught my eye, as he deftly flicked his skateboard up into his hand as he stopped at the kerb.

Full marks to him for allowing himself a portion of incongruity amidst creeping conformity.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Until I get out of the woods... 

...just a placemarker until such time as I get to string a few words together again.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Spread the word 

The clearest explanation I've seen of why action to address climate destabilisation is a must.

Found via Rob

Thursday, January 17, 2008

5 minute blogging 

Things are busy. New role at work, rehearsals on the go for two shows, and all the usual incidentals filling the interstices. No capacity for anything particularly reflective or thought out, but I’m reluctant to abandon this space for too long, so a different approach is needed. Lucy has chosen the approach of 30 word blogging (albeit for a different reason); I’m going to try 5 minute blogging. Expanded Twitter, you might call it.

As a rule, I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions, but the advent of a new year (and a new ‘comfort’ saddle, courtesy of the excellent Edinburgh Bicycle Cooperative’s winter sale, to replace my ultra-light, ultra-streamlined and ultra-hard racing saddle) seemed like an appropriate juncture at which to make good on my original intention when I bought my motorbike, namely to continue to cycle to work one day a week.

Two weeks into January and so far so good. Last Friday was distinctly wet (oh, the delights of donning cold soggy cycling shoes for the journey home…), but at least the wind’s energies had abated from the 40pmh gusts earlier in the week. And yesterday, although a chilly 5 deg C, was otherwise fine – and with most of north west London almost gridlocked for some unknown reason, threading through the lines of stationary evening traffic gave a distinct feeling of superiority over those locked in their immobile boxes.

I have some way to go to match the times I was putting in when I did this regularly though. (Can I boast a little? Best time ever was 52 minutes 56 seconds for the 15.2 mile trip, although just over an hour was more typical - and yes, when you’re that self-competitive, you do measure these things to the second). I used to race against the clock every day ; maybe it’s a sign of getting older, but I haven’t felt that need so much this time round. Or maybe I just didn’t want to know how much slower it was (about an hour and a quarter, I think). Whatever; it just felt a lot more relaxed not to be straining for maximum speed the whole time.

Well, that was a lot more than 5 minutes. It’s oh-so-hard, even with a straightforward diary entry, to slap down the desire to tweak and edit and generally mess with the words (not that you'd notice). Oh well…

Friday, January 04, 2008


Update 15th Jan: It turns out that the Photo Friday subject this week is 'Mountain'. Any of the photos in this post would be appropriate, but if I have to choose one for my entry, it's the last one. Scroll down if you're visiting from Photo Friday, maybe pausing at the others along the way...

I’ve been reading books about mountaineering pretty much as long as I’ve been reading books; in fact, stories about those early Himalayan conquests were quite possibly the first ‘grown up’ books I read. I still have one of those, Frank Smythe’s “The Kanchenjunga Adventure”. At that age (8? 9?) I had no first-hand experience that could give me any kind of real understanding of what those pioneers faced, and consequently much of the detail was lost on me. Bergschrunds? Seracs? I had no idea what they were, except that they were hazards which had to be overcome by skill and daring tempered with a shrewd assessment of risk. No matter; in spite of those huge gaps in my knowledge of the practicalities on the ground, I seemed to see past the gaps and understand something of what was in the minds of those adventurers – especially when reading books by mountaineers, rather than merely about mountaineers. Of course, many use their writing as a way of making a living out of their climbing – nevertheless it’s curious just how many great mountaineers are also talented writers. Smythe, Bonnington, Buhl, Simpson, Harrer, Herzog, Messner, Venables…

Many of those books had no photos at all, and those that did were almost exclusively in black and white, so I grew up with a set of mental images of snow-covered mountains that existed entirely in greyscale. Of course, that wasn’t altogether inappropriate – often the only colour in that environment came from the sky, and when that was hidden, all that was left was shades of gray. I remember a picture from one of those few books which had colour photos which showed a bright yellow tent as though it had been painted onto a black and white mountainscape.

All these thoughts were sparked by picture spotted by chance on the web. I thought it would be fun to recreate those mental impressions by playing with some of the photos from our holiday in Switzerland the year before last. These were taken from Jungfraujochthe col between the Jungfrau and the Monch reached by cog railway which tunnels through the very heart of the mountain.

Imagine that this ridge isn’t in the Alps but is at 6,000 metres in the Himalayas, and you’re in a roped party taking step by laborious oxygen-starved step to the summit.

Or that you’re ascending this corniced ridge from the far side and can’t see the danger ahead of you.

Or suppose that you had to scale this rock pillar direct, instead of taking the lift which now runs up the centre to the (cloned out) observatory perched atop the very summit.

It felt utterly strange to be in that environment, once the preserve only of the mountaineering elite, but now surrounded by people in high-street casual wear and trainers.

Seeing it again now in black and white it feels as though this is the first time I’ve seen the real mountain. It’s a pity there isn’t such a thing as greyscale filtered spectacles. Perhaps if there were we could give them to all the visitors so that they could take a trip into history too. The mountains look so much more primitive and elemental that way.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

A Day Out 

I really ought to get out more; perhaps I should make that a new year’s resolution.

In attempting a post a day for NaBloPoMo, I discovered the rather obvious truth that blog posts commonly arise out of the experiences of the day. Varied, fresh experiences yield varied, fresh posts – days filled with more of the same yield only posts filled with more of the same – which in my case is all too often a melancholia arising from that very sameness. A glance at my Flickr pages, or at the photo folders on my hard drive tells an obvious story: the distinct reduction in the number of photos taken in the last 12 months is a direct indicator of diminished variety of experience and is reflected in the paucity of worthwhile posts here. Not a judgement, just a fact.

That being the case, a stroll in the Hertfordshire countryside, camera in hand, seemed like a good way to start the New Year, especially when spent in the company of my son (this is the one training to be a maths teacher, not the one on leave from Afghanistan) and his girlfriend.

What could be a better archetype of rural England than this scene? For full authenticity it ought to include the spire of the village church, too, but unfortunately that is just out of shot to the left. Before the days of Mr Macadam, all country lanes would have looked something like this. Or even more recently than that – this could have come straight out of the pages of the William books by Richmal Crompton; I can just see William and Ginger peering through the hedge – grubby knees, crumpled shirts, caps askew - as they plot some mischief for an unwary traveller.

I hardly notice the position of the sun in the sky when at home. But here, it seems so much more obvious; it’s just past mid-day and the sun seems exhausted with the effort of reaching a zenith that is barely above the tops of the trees fifty yards away. Even though it’s a mild day for mid-winter, that low-angled sun makes the arctic circle feel surprisingly close. We discuss the making of clinometers – a common experience it seems of junior school days.

‘Wan’ may be a word that is overused to describe the sun’s face on days like this, nevertheless it is entirely appropriate; clear rays of light are few and far between. Once in a while though, a few break through to create little pockets of brightness.

Once upon a time, I studied geology. I’ve often wondered what path I might have taken had I continued those studies instead of opting for the safer route of physics and then engineering. Pointless to have regrets now, of course… all the same… I wonder…

The visual landscape owes so much to the underlying rocks. Our part of Hertfordshire sits on London Clay – heavy, sticky mud, incapable of forming into anything approaching a real hill, or even a pretend hill for that matter. But half an hour’s drive takes you to a very different landscape, at the tail of the Chiltern escarpment. Here, the underlying chalk rises out of the surrounding flatness, blending with the covering soil to give freshly-ploughed fields a marbled appearance.

The path is also a bridleway; the shadows of divots raised by cantering horseshoes make a promising subject which I almost but not quite fail to capture. Ah well, we live and learn. Better next time, perhaps.

This part of England is largely flat. To a first approximation, anyway. Flatness disturbed by a few ripples and pimples here and there. You only have to look at the line of the horizon to see just how gradual and/or short any gradients are. Here, we’re standing on what passes in this part of the world for a mighty summit.

Turning away from the scarp edge and descending the more gentle slope of the escarpment, the chalk dips away under a covering of clay, and the going underfoot becomes heavier – especially when farmers plough over the public right of way.

I pause to say hello to an exhuberant pup who has just made the crossing in the other direction and receive a liberal coating of mud on my arm in return for my friendliness. Ah well, it’ll wash off. Good thing he was on a lead though.

Now that the sun has given up the struggle for the day and gone into hiding, the dominant colour in this landscape is brown. Or rather, the dominant colours are browns; the plurality provides some remarkably subtle colour schemes.

Against these, the greens of alien conifers appear brash and artificial.

Tractor tracks in the stubble make for photographic possibilities;

a shot of some trees proves unsatisfying in its own right, but yields an opportunity for some tinkering.

More tinkering, this time to rescue a shot blurred by camera shake in the fading light,

and those trees again.

But let the closing shot be a real one. Well, almost; just the teensiest bit of messing with the grayscale.

Oh, and by the way, I wasn't playing gooseberry - it's just inevitable that pausing to take photos means I end up following several paces behind for much of the time.