2nd January 2003

the magnificent noodle

Finally found how to make a reliably good pad thai: from a kit.
Hope this isn't an admission of defeat, but the flavouring sachet that comes with the noodles has all kinds of good shrimpy sugary ingredients, and you add your own beansprouts, lime and so on. We had this as a New Year's Eve dinner with fried chili chicken and green beans (going through a bit of a green bean phase at the moment . . .), and it was excellent.

5th January 2003


William Dyce, Recollection of Pegwell Bay, October 5th 1858, 1860

This is one of the few depictions in art of a comet as a comet: the pale streak top centre is Donati's comet, discovered in June 1858 and at its brightest that October. Funny thing though: most commentators on this picture don't mention the comet, but discuss instead the shells and fossils of the foreshore and their meaning with regard to evolution and the age of the earth (Ruskin: 'the dreadful hammers of the geologists . . . I hear their clink at the end of each bible verse . . .)

The comet - I have seen it at bedtime in the west, with head to the ground, white, a soft, well-shaped tail, not big: I felt a certain awe and instress, a feeling of strangeness, flight (it hangs like a shuttlecock at the height, before it falls), and of threatening

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Journal July 13th 1874. (This would have been Coggia's comet, one of the first to be analysed spectroscopically and found to be a mixture of vapour and solids. It returned in 1874 but split into several pieces).

6th January 2003

ola! or What You Will

There being an inch of flat champagne left over from New Year's Eve (don't touch it meself you understand - fizzy wine seems a bit suspect and alcopoppish), I put it in the gravy for the lamb and it came out delicious (although the redcurrant jelly and mint were right in there helping too).
Googled for 'champagne gravy', thinking of possible comments by Raymond Blanc, Escoffier or other luminaries of cuisine français, but an extraordinary 8 hits came from domains including:


with recipes like:

Rolled Chicken Breasts with Macadamia & Cheddar filling and Champagne Gravy (from an Inn near Flagstaff Az, which seemed like such a nice town a few years back)

and I found that instead of following in the footsteps of the great chefs, I'd joined the ranks of the over-monied fools. Champagne, you see. I told you it was suspect.

7th January 2003

Paul Nash, The Pyramids in the Sea, 1912

I've no idea what this picture means, but it's splendidly wild crazy romantic in the nineteenth century tradition of exotic excess. And look at that Samuel Palmer moon! Moons like that are present in English landscape art until at least the early 1960s.

9th January 2003

less bread! more taxes!

"Let's go and see the Professor," the Warden said, wisely avoiding further discussion. The children got down off his knees, each secured a hand, and the happy trio set off for the Library - followed by me. I had come to the conclusion by this time that none of the party (except, for a few moments, the Lord Chancellor) was in the least able to see me.
"What's the matter with him?" Sylvie asked, walking with a little extra sedateness, by way of example to Bruno at the other side, who never ceased jumping up and down.
"What was the matter - but I hope he's all right now - was lumbago, and rheumatism, and that kind of thing. He's been curing himself, you know: he's a very learned doctor. Why, he's actually invented three new diseases, besides a new way of breaking your collar-bone!"
"Is it a nice way?" said Bruno.
"Well, hum, not very," the Warden said, as we entered the Library.

It was a bit scary a few weeks back to find that Lewis Carroll has a novel out called Sylvie and Bruno, and I'd been previously living in a parallel universe in which he hadn't - in other words, I'd never heard of it, and it was a great surprise when it popped up. It's a bit expensive to buy, but you could read it online in various places or if you have access to a word processor, a photocopier and some glue you can convert it into a booklike object (Warning: don't try this with Harry Potter titles, people get cranky).

13th January 2003

you may have already won

Some more quotes on sleep and dreaming:

. . . perhaps under some secret conflict of the midnight sleeper, lighted up to the consciousness at the time, but darkened to the memory as soon as all is finished, each already won

Some more races completes for himself the treason of the aboriginal fall.
Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater

I should much wish . . . to float about along an infinite ocean . . . & wake once in a million years for a few minutes - just to know I was going to sleep a million years more.
Coleridge, letter

This last has strong resonances of the Bede sparrow / mead-hall thing, not so?

14th January 2003

journey into summer

Landscape of the Summer Solstice

Another Paul Nash, this time of the landscape of Wittenham Clumps (he referred to it as his 'final' or 'ultimate' place) in Oxfordshire, scene of many an excursion of mine and the area most painted by Nash before his death in 1946. Here's Nash on the ritual landscape at Avebury:

two rough monoliths stood up sixteen feet high, miraculously patterned with black and orange lichen, remnants of the stone avenue which led to the Great Circle. A mile away, a green pyramid casts a giant shadow. In the hedge, at hand, the white trumpet of the convolvulus turns from its spiral stem, following the sun. In my art I would solve such an equation.

16th January 2003

created and rejoicing

Volvox sp., a colonial alga built on a tensegrity basis

John drew from his bosom a stamped leather box, some six or eight inches long, wherein, bedded on faded velvet, lay what looked like silver-bound compasses of old box-wood, with a screw at the head which opened or closed the legs to minute fractions. The legs terminated, not in points, but spoon-shapedly, one spatula pierced with a metal-lined hole less than a quarter of an inch across, the other with a half-inch hole. Into this latter John, after carefully wiping with a silk rag, slipped a metal cylinder that carried glass or crystal, it seemed, at each end.

'Ah! Art optic!' said the Friar. 'But what is that beneath it?'

It was a small swivelling sheet of polished silver no bigger than a florin, which caught the light and concentrated it on the lesser hole. John adjusted it without the Friar's proffered help.

'And now to find a drop of water,' said he, picking up a small brush.

'Come to my upper cloister. The sun is on the leads still,' said the Abbot, rising.

They followed him there. Half-way along, a drip from a gutter had made a greenish puddle in a worn stone. Very carefully, John dropped a drop of it into the smaller hole of the compassleg, and, steadying the apparatus on a coping, worked the screw in the compass joint, screwed the cylinder, and swung the swivel of the mirror till he was satisfied.

'Good!' He peered through the thing. 'My Shapes are all here. Now look, Father! If they do not meet your eye at first, turn this nicked edge here, left- or right-handed.'

'I have not forgotten,' said the Abbot, taking his place. 'Yes! They are here - as they were in my time - my time past. There is no end to them, I was told . . . . There is no end!'

'The light will go. Oh, let me look! Suffer me to see, also!' the Friar pleaded, almost shouldering Stephen from the eye-piece. The Abbot gave way. His eyes were on time past. But the Friar, instead of looking, turned the apparatus in his capable hands.

'Nay, nay,' John interrupted, for the man was already fiddling at the screws. 'Let the Doctor see.'

Roger of Salerno looked, minute after minute. John saw his blue-veined cheek-bones turn white. He stepped back at last, as though stricken.

'It is a new world - a new world, and - Oh, God Unjust! - I am old!'

. . . They walked quietly back along the leads, three English counties laid out in evening sunshine around them; church upon church, monastery upon monastery, cell after cell, and the bulk of a vast cathedral moored on the edge of the banked shoals of sunset.

from Rudyard Kipling, The Eye of Allah

17th January 2003

Stanley Spencer, Madonna lilies, 1935

When I see anything, I see everything.
- Stanley Spencer

. . . he found it very important to paint what is in the extreme foreground - it seemed to him all wrong to start at an arbitrary plane say ten feet distance rather than at the nearest plane in one's line of vision.
- Kenneth Pople, Stanley Spencer (o/p)

18th January 2003

Probably my favourite P. G. Wodehouse quote is from The Code of the Woosters: the human gorilla Roderick Spode has once again burst into Bertie's room at Totleigh Towers with the intention of rending Gussie Fink-Nottle limb from limb. Bertie Wooster speaks:

I want to know what the devil you mean by keeping coming into my private apartment, taking up space which I require for other purposes and interrupting me when I am chatting with my personal friends. Really one gets about as much privacy in this house as a strip-tease dancer.

That 'taking up space . . .' is a stroke of true genius;  Randall Jarrell says somewhere, 'Every cliché was once somebody's masterstroke,' and Wodehouse is packed full of masterstrokes which deserve to have become clichés.

27th January 2003

Turner, Seascape with Boats

. . . the sun, away at sea, just breaking through the heavy mist, and showing us the ships, like their own shadows . . . I have never beheld such sky, such water, such glorified ships sailing away into golden air . . .
from Dickens, David Copperfield

31st January 2003

thy belly is like an heap of wheat

This is part of the ritual landscape at Avebury: Silbury Hill, one of the largest manmade mounds in the world (it's been dug into many times: there's nothing) seen from near West Kennet Long Barrow. The picture in some ways relates to what we were looking at earlier.
One of the interpretations which is often made of Silbury is that it's a model or diagram of the belly of a pregnant woman: certainly the rest of the Avebury landscape spirals about it.

                                        * * *

Oh, and this site is one year old today.


the pistons of our locomotives sing the songs of our workers

Waiting for the German verb is surely the ultimate thrill.

- Flann O'Brien

There are certain days on which one feels oneself particularly wide of the mark;  in debt;  showing a deficit. Today I see nothing but deficiencies everywhere;  what I lack;  where I fell short.

- André Gide, Journal

home ~ retrobhikku