Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Villanelle as lullaby

Go down to where the real dreams wait,
And join yourself amongst the dead,
When doubt begins to dominate.

No need to wipe the unread slate
Just murmur what you should have said.
Go down to where the real dreams wait.

To your surprise you'll find a mate,
Someone to wed and never wed
When doubt begins to dominate.

Laws are liberal in that state;
You will rise up and soar sans aide!
Go down to where the real dreams wait.

Time will stop (though you're always late),
Wander aimless - you will be led
When doubt begins to dominate.

Don't fear the fall, capitulate,
The floating stair will find your tread,
Go down to where the real dreams wait
When doubt begins to dominate.  



Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Strained metaphors

   I remember once being on a barge, sailing into a lock in rural France, it was February and snow was on the ground. I was standing on the fore-deck waiting for the moment when I could throw a rope over a bollard to slow our entry. The landscape, so desolate at first sight, was dotted with life. The tops of an avenue of tall trees, stark and leafless against the white sky, were animated by raucous rooks competing for the safest nest sites at the centre of the colony. Looking around I saw a pair of mallards, a moorhen, a couple of coots, a robin, a white-headed wagtail, a grey heron, a blackbird and three or four house sparrows. No mammals or fish were to be seen and it was too cold for insects, but birds were there. They're virtually always there, everywhere we go.

   Not too far from me is a huge municipal tip (un mega-décharge). It is newly-constructed. There were protests regarding its location, some imaginative hoardings were put up, I particularly like the Munch one;

   I felt strongly that it should have been built in someone else's back yard, but despite my throwing my weight behind the anti-mega-décharge campaign (I joined the tail end of a march for a few minutes once – I was going that way anyway), the tip was built nonetheless.

   I passed it the other day -

    - and was struck by its resemblance to London Zoo's Snowdon Aviary;

   Despite having very different aims the main function of both structures is to prevent the passage of the ubiquitous bird. I prefer the profile of the mega-décharge, I find its simple lines more harmonious.

   I think a little background information helps explain the unusual appearance of the second piece. When Lord Snowdon (along with Frank Newby and Cedric Price) created his eponymous aviary in 1960 he had recently, and in some haste, married fellow hedonist Princess Margaret. It was a strained union (they divorced after 18 years) whose dynamics were reflected in the aviary's design – the tensions are obvious and the main players are simply poles apart.

Twas the Rooks who taught men
Vast pamphlets to pen
Upon social compact and law,
And Parliaments hold,
As themselves did of old,
Exclaiming, “Hear, Hear,” for “Caw, Caw.”

And whence arose Love?
Go, ask of the Dove,
Or behold how the Titmouse, unresting,
Still early and late
Ever sings by his mate,
To lighten her labours of nesting.

Their bonds never gall,
Though the leaves shoot, and fall,
And the seasons roll round in their course,
For their marriage, each year,
Grows more lovely and dear;
And they know not decrees of Divorce*.

Taken from “The Paradise of Birds” by W. J. Courthope (1873)

* The lifespan of a Titmouse in the wild is 18 months. Context is everything.

Friday, 3 June 2011

Ariel anchorage

   My Tillandsia ionantha is in flower. I'm delighted. I read that it dies after flowering but that its pups live on. “Pups”, who'd have thought?

   I bought it a few weeks ago in Montpelier, I didn't think it would survive for very long as it looks so delicate and seems unnatural the way it needs no soil to survive (Reminds me of the body-less lady I once saw in a side-show – just her head on a table with a feeding tube installed below her ear. She was very still, which I suppose was understandable, and after a few minutes of awkward silence (I was the only customer) I began to wonder if all was well, or at least as well as could be expected. Eventually a morbid curiosity got the better of me and I stooped to peer at her face, my nose was approaching hers when suddenly she said 'hello!' and scared me out of my wits).

   I put the Tillisansia in a terrarium, if it can be called a terrarium when the terre is replaced by a brass ring from an old sink. I spray its roots every now and then with an atomiser (see below);

  The Tillandsia normally resides on the branches of trees in central America, it doesn't feed off its host it uses it only to get nearer to the light. The Tillandsia's roots are hooked and serve as anchors.
   Interesting word, anchor. It is said to be the only Latin nautical term used in the Germanic languages. Now I think about it all maritime language is blunt and manly, not latinate at all – if the bosun caught you slacking you were hanged from the yardarm, not suspended from the lateral bifurcation of the blah-de-blah.
   Quinquereme! I remember learning that at school - “Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir”. Surely that's Latin, it must be a ship with five masts, hold on, how could it have been if it rowed home to haven in sunny Palestine? It must have had five oars, but that doesn't make sense either; it would have gone in circles. I'll look it up. Ah, five sets of oars.
   Then again anchor is in common usage and I'm not sure quinqueremes even exist anymore, except in the minds of those who recite an old-fashioned poem whose rhythms and sounds remind us of the vessels it describes;

Quinquereme of Nineveh from distant Ophir
Rowing home to haven in sunny Palestine,
With a cargo of ivory,
And apes and peacocks,
Sandalwood, cedarwood, and sweet white wine.

Stately Spanish galleon coming from the Isthmus,
Dipping through the tropics by the palm-green shores,
With a cargo of diamonds,
Emeralds, amethysts,
Topazes, and cinnamon, and gold moidores.

Dirty british coaster with a salt-caked smoke stack
Butting through the Channel in the mad March days,
With a cargo of Tyne coal,
Road-rail, pig lead,
Fire-wood, iron-ware, and cheap tin trays.

Cargoes, by John Masefield (1878-1967)

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

A sink of decadence

Chrome-plated objects above the kitchen sink
- An arrangement to peruse whilst considering, before ultimately rejecting, the idea of washing-up

   The trout (which I'm not sure is chrome-plated, it's possibly of stainless steel – itself a mixture of chrome and steel) was a cigarette lighter. The seal is a bottle-opener and the pineapple is, as it so often is, an ice-bucket. The walnut is where I keep my walnuts.
   The kiwi makes me feel uncomfortable as its head is all wrong, its more like that of a woodcock, and the sculptor has given the kiwi conventional feathers instead of its characteristic hair-like plumage caused by the plumes' lack of barbules. I remember having these thoughts in the shop as I held the bird in my hand. I even pointed out the anatomical anomalies to the shop-owner, a bright young woman with other customers to serve (overdressed ladies who had nothing better to do than buy ornaments on a Tuesday afternoon – they weren't there on research as I was).
   So, in short, the acquisition of the aberrant kiwi was in exchange for the time of the attentive young woman. It sounds like I'm talking in code here. I probably am. Anyway, the kiwi is also the only object, besides the Hearst Castle picture frame, that I didn't find in a junk shop or on a second-hand stall. Buying such things new that aren't a memento of a special day feels like cheating, and we can't have that, a virtuous existence being paramount.