Thursday, 23 September 2010

Autumn arrives

It's pouring with rain - steady, quiet, sheeting rain - and we are having discussions at work about autumn foliage in the Gardens, and what is turning already or likely to turn soon... The leaves of a creeper on a fence near the office are brilliant scarlet already, the lindens are gilding themselves, but most other trees are still deep, uniform green.

Outside my office window now
Conkers and yellow leaves;
Autumn arrives.

Or, in the words of a far better poet than me:

"Now is the time for the burning of the leaves,
They go to the fire; the nostrils prick with smoke
Wandering slowly into the weeping mist.
Brittle and blotched, ragged and rotten sheaves!
A flame seizes the smouldering ruin, and bites
On stubborn stalks that crackle as they resist.
The last hollyhock’s fallen tower is dust:
All the spices of June are a bitter reek,
All the extravagant riches spent and mean.
All burns! the reddest rose is a ghost.
Spark whirl up, to expire in the mist: the wild
Fingers of fire are making corruption clean.
Now is the time for stripping the spirit bare,
Time for the burning of days ended and done,
Idle solace of things that have gone before,
Rootless hope and fruitless desire are there:
Let them go to the fire with never a look behind.
That world that was ours is a world that is ours no more.
They will come again, the leaf and the flower, to arise
From squalor of rottenness into the old splendour,
And magical scents to a wondering memory bring;
The same glory, to shine upon different eyes.
Earth cares for her own ruins, naught for ours.
Nothing is certain, only the certain spring."

-Laurence Binyon.

Wednesday, 22 September 2010

A low is not just a weather system...

It’s been a bit of a depressing week so far. I tell myself it’s a post-holiday low, but trying that idea out on a colleague I got laughed at wolvishly and told not to take holidays in that case – gee, thanks for the suggestion. But several not-good things have happened since I came back from Cornwall and the upshot is that I feel “stale, flat and unprofitable”, as Hamlet puts it (or is it Macbeth?).

I’ve been ticked off at work (for doing something extremely stupid, so entirely deserved, but no less embarrassing for that), I’ve made the deflating discovery that someone I rather fancy thinks it is funny (& yes, I know disgust would be worse, but amusement as a reaction doesn’t exactly boost the self-esteem either!), the Muse seems to have gone walkabout, leaving me bereft of creative inspiration for weeks; and now I have lost about 90% of what had promised to be a bumper tomato crop, to the vile condition called tomato blight.

The blight is the worst, to be honest, because it is irremediable. It struck while I was on holiday, so I wasn’t able to get straight in there and pick the tomatoes themselves before they were destroyed, and make chutney out of them. When I went away, I had fifteen tall, gangling vines dense with scarlet and green toms. When I came back, I had fifteen crumpled, blackened dead things, hung with blotched wrecks of fruit. It was a heart-breaking sight. So I won’t be pressing bags of my lovely toms on friends and colleagues with proud cries of “Oh, it’s such a glut this year, I can’t keep up with it!” >sigh<

To make matters worse, I feel as though I had abandoned my plants to their fate by going on holiday at the time I did. I know the law doesn’t recognise “cruelty to plants” as a crime, but I feel criminal just the same.

With regard to my Muse, I know she’s a crotchety creature, and I must await her return with patience. I have a tried-and-tested technique for keeping the creative juices in suspension, as it were (that’s probably a very bad metaphor, scientifically speaking – suspension of juice, anyone?). I’ll do a bit of quick sketching, and I will garden, sew and cook. They’re all creative activities. And I’ll avoid looking at the easel or the laptop, and do my best to hush that nagging inner voice that says “What if you never get inspired again?” because it does no good at all to listen to it.

I used to get in trouble at Art College for doing this; I was told roundly on several occasions that it was pathetic self-indulgence to talk about “creative inspiration”, and that any artist worthy of the name had no problem at all working systematically and to schedule. At first I protested, but putting your tutors’ collective backs up isn’t a good idea; in the end I used simply to apologise and say I’d try to discipline myself better. Then I’d go back to the studio and generate empty rubbish, piles of bullsh*t, until the Muse came calling on my brain again.

I wonder if the denial of the existence of inspiration is one of the reasons why so much contemporary art is derivative drivel and cr*p? Ooh, contentious thought there, Dent. But I wonder, nonetheless…

I remind myself that this weekend I am going to a European Food Fair and a concert performance of “Tristan und Isolde”. I can combine my Food-vulture and Culture-vulture hats in one, which is nice, and “Tristan” should be super. Low patches happen, one just has to weather them and be grateful they are not something worse. Autumn is a time of consolidating and digging in, setting the structures for new developments and next stages; the concert and ballet seasons are just starting; the weather so far is balmy and sweet; Kew Gardens are full of cyclamen and colchicums, and the glasshouses are full of gorgeous bromeliads and the like… I can’t complain, I really can’t. Low patches happen.

Monday, 20 September 2010

Cornwall, and back again

Cornwall was so beautiful; huge open skies and blissfully quiet.

I cannot pretend it was absolutely silent (seagulls, swallows, robins, working boatyards, the wind and passing ships all make a noise of one kind or another) - but compared to the steady rumble of London, the traffic, tube trains, aircraft flying over on their way into Heathrow, and so forth, it felt like the middle of nowhere. And the cold, sunny, bracingly fresh air was like an energy shot to the heart. I feel cleaned out and washed free of clutter, ready to plan and sort out my autumn.

I was staying in the tiny harbour village of Polruan, overlooking the Fowey River. Fowey proper, across the water, was still quite bustling and crowded, but Polruan was peace itself. The Old Foundry was huge, and had the best-equipped kitchen of any holiday property I've ever stayed in. The lounge looked out across the river to Fowey, a pretty pink and grey and cream coloured town scattered along the steep riverside between two ferry landing stages - Whitehouse Quay, for the foot ferry, and the slipway at Bodinnick for cars. One could sit all day and watch the comings and goings on the river. Big china clay ships came in daily to load up at the little docks upriver. An aircrew training ship came in twice, and a HM Customs vessel called, and a dredger. The local lifeboat bobbed quietly at her pontoon, and fishing boats, yachts, dinghies and sailing skiffs assorted bounced by in all weathers. The different types of dinghies and skiffs have lovely names; Sharpies, Toppers, Laser Stratos and Firefly class (I'm so pleased there is a real Firefly class out there!).

I walked along rocky cliff paths where the world's granite bones seemed to be right against my feet, and inland paths above wooded creeks full of birds. I ate too much (a regular feature of my holidays, I'm afraid) and did a couple of pages of sketches, and re-read "Hornblower and the Atropos"; I went rockpooling like a kid at Readymoney cove, and scrambled all over Henry the 8th's little harbour fort, St Catherine's Castle, and the ruined World War Two watching post in the woods behind it... I've had such a lovely break.

I wish I were still there, up to my eyes in beauty and history and wildlife and fresh air.

The train journey home was rather hellish, which was a pity; the train had been overbooked and was fearfully crowded, with people standing jammed in the corridoors and outside the toilets, and luggage toppling into the gangways. The two railway staff on board dealt with it all with amazing courtesy and aplomb; a lesson in quality customer service in the face of extreme difficulty. Watching them in action made a rough journey easier to put up with.

And now I'm back at work. Ah well, at least I like the place where I work. If I lived in Cornwall, who knows? - I might start to take it all for granted.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Funnies (pt 2) and freedom

The joys of spellchecker, part two:

Rudbeckia hirta = Rebecca Hart.
Wow - this could be a new way to invent names for fiction characters.

Less helpfully, a nice winter-flowering scented shrub comes to a smelly end:
Mahonia = ammonia. Ugh.

I'm off down to Cornwall tomorrow, hurrah - staying in a converted anchor foundry in Polruan. A week of sea air, decent fish and chips and proper scrumpy cider, walking and watercolour-painting. Peace and quiet and open air...

Have a good week, everyone!

Monday, 6 September 2010


The joys of using Spell-checker:
a way to cook eat and veg = a way to cook meat and vet
Arroz con leche (Spanish for rice pudding) = arrow con lechery

Oh, and in my lunch break I was copying out a recipe for a friend and I typed the marvellous term "bicarbonate of sofa". Which no spell-checker is ever going to spot.

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Three day weekend, four day working week...

I had a wonderful Late Summer Bank Holiday, walking, cooking and relaxing on the beach (shingle, so don't get any exotic mental pictures!) in Kent with my mother and my elder brother Steve. The weather has suddenly improved almost beyond recognition, too. Apart from a spectacular rainstorm while we were walking across Dungeness (where there is no shelter whatsoever!) we had wonderful warm sunshine otherwise, all weekend and on Bank Hol Monday.

Please, please may we have a full-scale Indian summer? August has managed to be both chilly and muggy most of the time; nasty.