21st August 2002

blighty, I thinks

At Boulogne the day was windless, the boat slipped from shore to shore like a pat of butter over a hot plate. Markie discovered Cecilia; for some time they paced the deck. Folkestone appeared, the flags on the Leas lifeless, hotels staring out at nothing: England showed a blank face. Nodding inland Markie said: 'Are you staying here long?'
    'I have no idea,' said Cecilia.

from To the North, Elizabeth Bowen

yonder comes a man with a sack on his back

A friend calls from Oxford, where he's lived for two years, to say that he's just realized that the tributary of the Thames outside his house is one of the battlegrounds of the Great American Crayfish Takeover; the Signal Crayfish from the US was introduced here years ago and is ousting the British Whiteclaw, helped along by a fungal disease which it carries. The Signals are much larger than the British species, several inches long, and he tells me that his part in the ecological efforts to prevent extinction of the Whiteclaws will be to eat as many Signals as possible. He promises to bring a bucket of them to an upcoming barbecue: watch this space for a tasting report.

22nd August 2002

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And so the message ends, in mid-garble . . . there was no promised link, and no return address. One of those mysteries.

23nd August 2002

retour d'un rosbif

After the sameness, limited variety and unexpectedly low quality of French food - the luxury of returning to The Classic:

Grilled chicken (marinated in salt, lemon, oil and cumin)
Greek salad
Warm pitta
Chilled white wine.

26th August 2002

bank holiday outing

A short walk around Dunsfold in Surrey (yes! It's Britain's most wooded county!), taking in William Morris' favourite English parish church, a thousand year-old yew tree and some delicious beer.
Also noticed a strange (i.e. one I hadn't seen before) and exotic-looking plant growing in profusion along the local stream banks - having plucked up the courage to take a sprig home (brought up not to pick wild flowers), found that it was Himalayan Balsam Impatiens glandulifera (also known as Poor Man's Orchid or Policeman's Helmet), an invasive introduction which rapidly takes over riverbanks and chokes out other plants - in some US states it has Noxious Weed status. And it looked so nice, too.

Sign Amnesty's petition protesting the sentence of death by stoning given to Amina Lawal (convicted of having a child outside marriage) in Nigeria.

28th August 2002

Admonish me not, beloved father, for forsaking you thus in your old age and sojourning here at Samarkand. It is not that I covet the musk melons and the grapes and the pomegranates of Samarkand; it is not the shades of the orchards on the banks of Zar-Afsham, that keep me here. I love my native Kandahar and its tree-lined avenues even more and I pine to return. But forgive me, my exalted father, for my passion for knowledge. In Kandahar there are no scholars, no libraries, no quadrants, no astrolabes. My star-gazing excites nothing but ridicule and scorn. My countrymen care more for the glitter of a sword than for the quill of the scholar. In my own town I am a sad, a pathetic misfit. It is true, my respected father, that so far from home as I am, men do not rise from their seats to pay me homage when I ride into the bazaar. But some day soon, all Samarkand will rise in respect when your son will emulate Biruni and Tusi in learning and you too will feel proud.

- Salman Saif-ud-din, writing from the observatory of Ulugh Beg, Samarkand, 15th cent.

29th August 2002

At a short distance from their home there was a clearing in the wood about ten feet square; through this clearing, as through a funnel, the sun for a few hours in the summer time blazed down. It was the boy who first discovered the strange radiant shaft in the wood. One day he had been sent out to collect pine cones for the fire. As these were gathered daily the supply immediately near the house was scanty, therefore he had, while searching for more, wandered further from his home than usual. The first sight of the extraordinary blaze astonished him. He had never seen anything like it before, and the steady, unwinking glare aroused his fear and curiosity equally. Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will; indeed, it has led many people into dangers which mere physical courage would shudder away from, for hunger and love and curiosity are the great impelling forces of life. When the little boy found that the light did not move he drew closer to it, and at last, emboldened by curiosity, he stepped right into it and found that it was not a thing at all.

from James Stephens, The Crock of Gold


Don't talk to me about Matisse . . .
the European style of 1900, the tradition of the studio
where the nude woman reclines forever
on a sheet of blood

Talk to me instead of the culture generally
how the murderers were sustained
by the beauty robbed of savages: to our remote
villages the painters came, and our white-washed
mud-huts were splattered with gunfire.

- Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

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