Sunday, April 30, 2006

The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch

Henry Raeburn's 'The Reverend Robert Walker skating on Duddingston Loch' is a well-known Scottish painting. I've always liked the playful way it suggests the rather prim, buttoned-up Presbyterianism of Scotland's capital city, and as a glance at my profile picture will confirm, the good Reverend and I were clearly cut from the same cloth. However, the painting also ties in with the Scottish Parliament building because it seems that those hideous pistol-shaped decorations beside the windows are actually meant to be a visual reference to it. As the late Ivor Cutler would say, oh dearie me.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Wine Joy
I have long remembered
the pavilion
on the stream
the falling sun
so deep in wine
we did not know
the way home
how pleasure spent
late returning
the skiff
a lotus deep place
and struggling through
struggling through
we scared up
from the sand
gulls and herons.

Li Ching Chao (1084-1151)

Friday, April 28, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Whitehorse Close, directly across the road from the new parliament building, is another example of Old Town architecture. This is where the horse-drawn carriages used to depart for London.
I was carried away with delight, a week ago, at an encampment of Gypsies who had established at Rouen. This is the third time that I have seen them and always with a new pleasure. The great thing is that they excite the hatred of the bourgeois, although they are as inoffensive as sheep.

I appeared very badly before the crowd because I gave them a few sous, and I heard some fine words a la Prudhomme. That hatred springs from something very profound and complex. One finds it among all orderly people. It is the hatred that is felt for the bedouin, for the heretic, the philosopher, the solitary, the poet; and there is a fear in that hate. I, who am always for the minority, am exasperated by it. It is true that many things exasperate me. On the day that I am no longer outraged, I shall fall flat as the marionette from which one withdraws the support of the stick.

from a letter from Gustave Flaubert to George Sand , 1867

Thursday, April 27, 2006

golden eye
What a wonderful phenomenon it is, carefully considered, when the human eye, that jewel of organic structures, concentrates its moist brilliance on another human creature!
Thomas Mann from 'Confessions of Felix Krull, Confidence Man'

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
A Buddhist walks into a Pizzeria and says to the chef, 'Make me one with everything.'

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
Edinburgh has long been called 'The Athens of the North', and deservedly so. With its combination of the Old Town, dominated by the Castle, and the Georgian New Town built on the hill that slopes down towards the Firth of Forth, it has one of the most beautiful city centres in Europe. Why then, when the time finally came to create a building to house the new Scottish Parliament did they employ a Catalan rather than a Scottish architect? If ever there was an opportunity to create something really special that celebrated the best aspects of Scottish architecture this was it. Instead we have one of the most hideous monstrosities imaginable plonked at the bottom of the Royal Mile opposite Holyrood Palace.

Of course people witter on about how daring and exciting it all is, and it has picked up a couple of prizes in the cosy, self-congratulatory world of international architecture, but that's all just a variation on the emperor's new clothes. Take my word for it, it is a hideous hotch-potch of concrete, perspex and wood, and we should be ashamed that we ever allowed it to be built in the first place. You can tell it's crap just by reading the nonsense people have spouted to justify the vast expenditure on something so utterly inappropriate - in the same way as screeds of gushing pseudo-intellectual mumbo-jumbo are used in gallery catalogues to lend credibility to empty, soul-destroying pieces of 'modern art'. Here's some hilariously pretentious twaddle by a guy called Neil Gillespie in an article published in an architecture magazine in 2004 - just before the building finally opened; late, and squillions of pounds over budget of course. He describes it as:

... a building which we should intuitively know and understand. It evokes a landscape, a hyperborean landscape, a FINN land, a White land. It is about the glacier, in the crush and folding of space and form. It is about the birch tree, the girl of the forest, given architectural form in the delicate timber screens to MSP offices. The concrete Canongate wall throws fragments of stone and drawing to its surface like some glacial moraine. It eschews passing beauty for something more profound and grounded in this territory. It is about a place beyond the restrictive parochial boundaries of Scotland, it is located firmly in a northern territory. This is not an easy landscape, it is the chaos of the moraine, the anxiety of the gorge, the horror of the void, the silence of Munch’s scream.

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

I just love the get-out clause: 'It eschews passing beauty for something more profound'. Who are they trying to kid? Philosophy is profound; civic architecture is glorified brick-laying, and it really only has two legitimate aims - to create something functional that keeps the rain out and lets the light in, and to make it aesthetically pleasing at the same time, because the people who live or work there feel better as a result.

Compare the two photographs above. The top one shows the 'The Watergate', a building immediately opposite the Parliament at the foot of the Royal Mile and adjacent to Holyrood Palace and Abbey. It's in the style of Edinburgh's Old Town, and as far as I know it's fairly typical of early Scottish architecture in general - a style which Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the greatest Scottish architect in living memory, took as a basis for some beautiful buildings of his own design. The bottom photograph is of a part of the front of the Parliament building. Can you see any architectural connection, any hint of sympathy with the prevailing style? Well, I certainly can't. I can see the horror of the void, yes, and I can hear the silence of Munch’s scream, but I wouldn't have thought such angst-ridden attributes rank high on the check-list of the average town-planner. Give me passing beauty any day.
Springsteen's new album of folk classics ...
I haven't listened to much Bruce Springsteen since 'Nebraska', but judging by the samples this sounds like fun.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Triumph of Love
Captives in thy train, youths and maidens shall follow, and splendid shall be thy triumph. And I, thy latest victim, shall be there with my fresh wound, and with submissive mien I will bear my new-wrought fetters. Prudence shall be led captive with hands bound behind her back, and Modesty, and whatsoever else is an obstacle to Love. All things shall be in awe of thee. Caresses shall be thy escort, and Illusion and Madness, a troop that ever follows in thy train. With these fighting on thy side, nor men nor gods shall stand against thee; but if their aid be lacking, naked shalt thou be. Proud to behold thy triumph, thy mother will applaud thee from High Olympus and scatter roses on thy upturned face. Thy wings and thy locks shall be adorned with precious stones, and all with gold resplendent shalt thou drive thy golden carriage. Then too, if I know thee well, thou wilt set countless other hearts on fire, and many a wound shalt deal as thou passest on thy way. Repose, even when thou art fain to rest, cometh not to thine arrows. Thy ardent flame turns water itself to vapour.

Ovid, from 'Amores', translated by J Lewis May
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Sunday, April 23, 2006

And whatever you suspect, no 'lovely lady' comes to see me. Lovely ladies have occupied my mind a good deal, but have taken up very little of my time... I pass entire weeks without exchanging a word with a human being, and at the end of the week it is not possible for me to recall a single day nor any event whatsoever. I see my mother and my niece on Sundays, and that is all. My only company consists of a band of rats in the garret, which make an infernal racket above my head, when the water does not roar or the wind blow. The nights are black as ink, and a silence surrounds me comparable to that of the desert.

From a letter from Gustave Flaubert to George Sand, 1867

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Friday, April 21, 2006

JM Turner - Seascape with distant coast
Here were profound reasons for his attachment to the sea: he loved it because as a hard-working artist he needed rest, needed to escape from the demanding complexity of phenomena and lie hidden on the bosom of the simple and tremendous; because of a forbidden longing deep within him that ran quite contrary to his life's task and was for that very reason seductive, a longing for the unarticulated and immeasurable, for eternity, for nothingness. To rest in the arms of perfection is the desire of any man intent upon creating excellence; and is not nothingness a form of perfection?

Thomas Mann from 'Death in Venice'

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
There is one big thing – desire. And before it, when it is big, all is little.
Willa Cather

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

When April with his showers so sweet
Has pierced the drought of March to the root,
And bathed every vein in that liquor
Whose blessed power engenders the flower;
When Zephyrus too with his sweet breath
Has quickened in every grove and heath
The tender shoots, and the young sun
His half-course in the Ram has run,
And small birds make their melody
That sleep all night with open eye, -
(So nature pricks them to lusty rage)
Then people long to go on pilgrimages -
And palmers seek out strange strands -
To distant shrines, hallowed in sundry lands;
And specially, from every shire's end
Of England, down to Canterbury they wend ...

Geoffrey Chaucer, from the 'Prologue to the Canterbury Tales'
April is the cruellest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing
Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain.
Winter kept us warm, covering
Earth in forgetful snow, feeding
A little life with dried tubers.
Summer surprised us, coming over the Starnbergersee
With a shower of rain; we stopped in the colonnade,
And went on in sunlight, into the Hofgarten,
And drank coffee, and talked for an hour.
Bin gar keine Russin, stamm' aus Litauen, echt deutsch.
And when we were children, staying at the archduke's,
My cousin's, he took me out on a sled,
And I was frightened. He said, Marie,
Marie, hold on tight. And down we went.
In the mountains, there you feel free.
I read, much of the night, and go south in the winter.

TS Eliot from The Waste Land

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Monday, April 17, 2006

It is impossible to repent of love. The sin of love does not exist.
Muriel Spark (1918–2006)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"But I maintain,” Stepan Trofimovitch shrilled at the utmost pitch of excitement, “I maintain that Shakespeare and Raphael are more precious than the emancipation of the serfs, more precious than Nationalism, more precious than Socialism, more precious than the young generation, more precious than chemistry, more precious than almost all humanity because they are the fruit, the real fruit of all humanity and perhaps the highest fruit that can be. A form of beauty already attained, but for the attaining of which I would not perhaps consent to live ... Oh, heavens!” he cried, clasping his hands, “ten years ago I said the same thing from the platform in Petersburg, exactly the same thing, in the same words, and in just the same way they did not understand it, they laughed and hissed as now; shallow people, what is lacking in you that you cannot understand?"

Fyodor Dostoevsky from 'The Possessed'

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
The Harvest Bow
As you plaited the harvest bow
You implicated the mellowed silence in you
In wheat that does not rust
But brightens as it tightens twist by twist
Into a knowable corona,
A throwaway love-knot of straw.

Hands that aged round ashplants and cane sticks
And lapped the spurs on a lifetime of game cocks
Harked to their gift and worked with fine intent
Until your fingers moved somnambulant:
I tell and finger it like braille,
Gleaning the unsaid off the palpable,

And if I spy into its golden loops
I see us walk between the railway slopes
Into an evening of long grass and midges,
Blue smoke straight up, old beds and ploughs in hedges,
An auction notice on an outhouse wall--
You with a harvest bow in your lapel,

Me with the fishing rod, already homesick
For the big lift of these evenings, as your stick
Whacking the tips off weeds and bushes
Beats out of time, and beats, but flushes
Nothing: that original townland
Still tongue-tied in the straw tied by your hand.

The end of art is peace
Could be the motto of this frail device
That I have pinned up on our deal dresser--
Like a drawn snare
Slipped lately by the spirit of the corn
Yet burnished by its passage, and still warm.

Seamus Heaney - a poem about his father, for Elaine

Friday, April 14, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
A rowan like a lipsticked girl.
Between the by-road and the main road
Alder trees at a wet and dripping distance
Stand off among the rushes.

There are the mud-flowers of dialect
And the immortelles of perfect pitch
And that moment when the bird sings very close
To the music of what happens.

Seamus Heaney, whose birthday it is today

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Monsieur, beware of love! It is lying in ambush everywhere; it is watching for you at every corner; all its snares are laid, all its weapons are sharpened, all its guiles are prepared! Beware of love! Beware of love! It is more dangerous than brandy, bronchitis or pleurisy! It never forgives and makes everybody commit irreparable follies. Yes, monsieur, I say that the French Government ought to put large public notices on the walls, with these words: 'Return of Spring. Citizens of France, beware of love!' just as they put: 'Beware of paint'.

Guy de Maupassant, from 'In the Spring'

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
For nothing in the white hotel but love
Is offered at a price we can afford.
DM Thomas

Monday, April 10, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Saturday, April 08, 2006

For Madame Sabatier
What will you say tonight, poor soul in solitude,
what will you say my heart, withered till now,
to the so beautiful, so sweet, so dear one,
whose divine gaze recreated the flower?

We will set Pride now to singing her praises:
Nothing outdoes her sweet air of authority.
Her spiritual flesh has the perfume of angels,
and her eye surrounds us in robes of infinity.

Whether in the night, and alone, and in solitude,
Whether in the street, and among the multitude,
her phantom dances in air, like a flame.

Sometimes it speaks and it says ‘I am beautiful.
You, for the love of me, must love beauty alone:
for I am your Madonna, Muse, Guardian Angel.

Charles Baudelaire

Friday, April 07, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
I've been on the blower (what a charming old upper-middle-class English expression) to a couple of helplines recently. Helpline workers fall into one of three categories. Either they are incomprehensible because you can't get your head round the accent, or they adopt a 'I know everything, you know zilch' approach, or they feed you the disarmingly candid 'let's face it, neither of us has a clue' line. My first call was to an 'I know everything' operative. Look, I said, this thing has never worked properly from day one. I want you to replace it under warranty with something that actually does what it says on the tin. Probably a software problem, he says straight off the bat, before proceeding to blind me with science and concluding with 'just upgrade to the latest drivers'. The software that came with it was crap, I say, so I replaced it with another proper program, hoping that would fix the problem. Longish pause. You replaced it? Yes. That may have invalidated the warranty sir. Really, I say, how so? It didn't work before and it doesn't work now, that's all. Even so, he says, we'd have to charge for a repair or replacement if the new software was proved to be responsible. Ok, I say, suppose I restore the old software, with updates, and if it still doesn't work will the work be done under warranty? I'll have to get back to you about that, he says. That was 4 days ago. Not a cheep. The other helpline chappie managed to combine numbers one and three - he didn't have a clue and was largely incomprehensible on account of a broad Geordie (Newcastle) accent, one of the most impenetrable dialects in the world when in full flow. I don't know how many times I repeated 'could you repeat that', biting my tongue to stop myself adding 'in english', but even when he did it made no sense. It was like a strange comedy routine in which he seemed to be forever answering the question before the one I had just asked. Eventually he admitted it was all beyond him. So, I said, what you're telling me is that I need to phone your premium rate line to get an answer to what should be a very straightforward question? Aye, that's reet ah'm afreed, says he. We canna gie advice on stoof we ken nithin aboot like. Boot heng on an ah'll see eef ah kin fin' a soooperveezer. Long pause to the accompaniment of - of all things - Prokoviev's Classical Symphony movements 2, 3, and the thrilling introduction to the finale. I was just starting to enjoy it when he came back, presumably after a cup of tea, a fag, and a leisurely browse through the Daily Record. Soooperveezer sez we canna help ye. Sorry. Would there be soomthin' else ah kin help ye wi' the day sir?

Thursday, April 06, 2006

I compose 20 or 30 pages, then I need to be distracted; a little love when I can or a bit of an orgy; the morning after I have forgotten all, on reading the last three or four pages of the previous day, the chapter of the day comes to me.

Stendhal outlining his strenuous work regime in a draft of a letter to Balzac
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Monday, April 03, 2006

the fairies have “apparel and speech like that of the people and country under which they live, so are they seen to wear plaids and various garments in the Highlands of Scotland. They speak little, and that by way of whistling, clear, not rough… their bodies are so pliable by the subtlety of the spirits that agitate them, that they can make them appear and disappear at pleasure.”

After posting the John Buchan excerpt yesterday I was reminded of the Reverend Robert Kirk and the fairies of Doon Hill, which may well have been an influence on Buchan's tale. Aberfoyle is fairly close to where I grew up - in fact it nestles at the foot of this mountain - but although I've often visited, and even climbed Doon Hill, I have never seen one of the fabled fairies. Apart, that is, from the charming man who works in the local sporran shop.

More mysterious stuff here.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
The place was not dark, but dim and very green. The ancient pines grew more sparsely than he had imagined, and beneath them were masses of sprouting ferns--primroses too, and violets, which he had not found among the hazels. A scent of rooty dampness was about, of fresh-turned earth, and welling fountains. In every tree-root wood-sorrel clustered. But there were no small birds, only large things like cushats and hawks, which made a movement in the high branches. A little farther and he was in a glade, far more of a glade than the clearings in the hazels, for it was sharply defined by the walls of shade.

He stood and gazed, stuck silent by its beauty. Here in truth was a dancing-floor for wood nymphs, a playground for the Good Folk. It seemed strange that the place should be untenanted. . . . There was a rustling in the covert, and his heart beat. He was no longer the adventurous boy, but a young man with a fancy fed by knowledge. He felt that the glade was aware and not empty. Light feet had lately brushed its sward. . . . There was a rustling again, and a gleam of colour. He stood poised like a runner, his blood throbbing in a sudden rapture.

There was the gleam again and the rustle. He thought that at the far end of the glade behind the red bracken he saw a figure. In two steps he was certain. A green gown fluttered, and at his third step broke cover. He saw the form of a girl--nymph, fairy, or mortal, he knew not which.

John Buchan, from Witch Wood, 1927

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
Sudden Light
I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.

You have been mine before,—
How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow's soar
Your neck turned so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.

Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time's eddying flight
Still with our lives our love restore
In death's despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

DG Rossetti