Friday, November 30, 2007

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
Two muggers snatched an Austrian woman's handbag, unaware that it contained only a dead rabbit. They struck as Hilda Morgenstein was about to catch a train to the countryside with her daughter to bury the pet. She said: 'They saved us the trip - I told my daughter they were angels and were taking bunny to a better place.'

Thursday, November 29, 2007

algarve #12
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
The day has passed delightfully: delight is however a weak term for such transports of pleasure: I have been wandering by myself in a Brazilian forest: amongst the multitude it is hard to say what set of objects is most striking; the general luxuriance of the vegetation bears the victory, the elegance of the grasses, the novelty of the parasitical plants, the beauty of the flowers. — the glossy green of the foliage, all tend to this end. — A most paradoxical mixture of sound & silence pervades the shady parts of the wood, — the noise from the insects is so loud that in the evening it can be heard even in a vessel anchored several hundred yards from the shore. — Yet within the recesses of the forest when in the midst of it a universal stillness appears to reign. — To a person fond of natural history such a day as this brings with it pleasure more acute than he ever may again experience.

Charles Darwin's 'Beagle' Diary, February 29th 1832

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Image copyright CB Editions
loose bricks in a wall
From India to the Balkans there are many legends and ballads telling of women who were walled up alive - troublesome wives, or virgins immured in the foundations of a new building to bring good fortune. In England too, in the guidebooks to medieval castles you can find similar stories. Here, someone has taken pity on the woman and set her free; the bricks hurriedly piled into the opening in the wall will not fool anyone for long, but may give the woman and her rescuer a precious few hours' start.
from Days and Nights in W12 by Jack Robinson

footnote: It's not often the post brings anything of interest these days, but I've had a couple of pleasant surprises recently. Firstly some very nice music and a thought-provoking book from a good friend, then, last week a couple of titles hot off the press of CB Editions, a small publishing venture recently set up by a friend in London. The above is from his own book, modestly described as 'a book of idle speculation, unlikely stories and occasional history lessons prompted by dull photographs of Shepherd’s Bush, London W12'. I enjoyed it greatly, and was touched by the fact that he sent it as a way of thanking me for the pleasure this blog has given him.
Reading made Don Quixote a gentleman. Believing what he read made him mad.
George Bernard Shaw

Monday, November 26, 2007

algarve #11
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
the late great Richard Feynman

Sunday, November 25, 2007

algarve #10
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
I have known the inexorable sadness of pencils,
Neat in their boxes, dolor of pad and paper-weight,
All the misery of manilla folders and mucilage,
Desolation in immaculate public places,
Lonely reception room, lavatory, switchboard,
The unalterable pathos of basin and pitcher,
Ritual of multigraph, paper-clip, comma,
Endless duplication of lives and objects.
And I have seen dust from the walls of institutions,
Finer than flour, alive, more dangerous than silica,
Sift, almost invisible, through long afternoons of tedium,
Dropping a fine film on nails and delicate eyebrows,
Glazing the pale hair, the duplicate gray standard faces.

Theodore Roethke

Friday, November 23, 2007

algarve #9
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Sir, - The opera management at Covent garden regulates the dress of its male patrons. When is it going to do the same to the women? On Saturday night I went to the Opera. I wore the costume imposed on me by the regulations of the house. Not only was I in evening dress by compulsion, but I voluntarily added many graces of conduct as to which the management made no stipulation whatever. I was in my seat in time for the first chord of the overture. I did not chatter during the music nor raise my voice when the opera was too loud for normal conversation. I did not get up and go out when the statue music began. My language was fairly moderate considering the number and nature of the improvements on Mozart volunteered by Signor Caruso, and the respectful ignorance of the dramatic parts of the score exhibited by the conductor and the stage manager - if there is such a functionary at Covent Garden. In short, my behaviour was exemplary.

At 9 o'clock (the Opera began at 8) a lady came in and sat down very conspicuously in my line of sight. She remained there until the beginning of the last act. I do not complain of her coming late and going early; on the contrary, I wish she had come later and gone earlier. For this lady, who had very black hair, had stuck over her right ear the pitiable corpse of a large white bird, which looked exactly as if someone had killed it by stamping on its breast, and then nailed it to the lady's temple, which was presumably of sufficient solidity to bear the operation. I am not, I hope, a morbidly squeamish person, but the spectacle sickened me. I presume that if I had presented myself at the doors with a dead snake around my neck, a collection of blackbeetles pinned to my shirtfront, and a grouse in my hair, I should have been refused admission.

George Bernard Shaw, from a letter to The Times, after attending a performance of Don Giovanni starring Enrico Caruso in 1905.
algarve #8
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

A salmon leaping up the Black Linn Falls at the Hermitage, taken a few weeks ago on a very pleasant day out with Robin and Dave, during which we saw the tallest tree in Scotland, ate fish and chips served up by a surly barman in a hotel on the banks of Loch Tummel, admired the Queen's View, and Robin told the following joke:

Man: Could I have some fish and chips please?
Librarian: Sir, this is a library!
Man: Oh sorry... (whispers) could I have some fish and chips please?
algarve #7
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I feel as if I've entered a time-warp with all this Algarve stuff, especially since it's cold and wet outside and the sky is anything but blue. However, I must mention the 'self-educated hobo', as I think of him - a man who at first glance seems to be like any other 60 year old tourist strolling liesurely through the resort, hands clasped behind his back and nose raised to inhale the sea air appreciatively. He sidles up to me and stops a yard away, looking dreamily over my shoulder towards the beach. I'm standing in the shade of a tourist information kiosk, annoyed because I've forgotten to bring my wallet with me and I've only got a couple of coins in my pocket - probably not enough to buy the cool drink I badly need at that point. He senses that I'm observing him - medium height, grey hair combed back, beard and moustache neatly trimmed, a rather formal-looking checked shirt, beige slacks and brown leather slip-on shoes. It's only later that I notice the frayed cuffs on the shirt sleeves, the stains on one leg of the trousers, and the fact that one of his shoes is coming apart at the seams. He looks at me and says 'You are English?' in a peculiar lilting accent that I can't identify. No, I reply, 'Scottish, from Edinburgh'. His eyes open wide, 'Scottish!', he exclaims, then launches into an extraordinary - and lengthy - monologue, which went something like this:

'Scotland! What a wonderful country! At this very moment the Edinburgh Festival is taking place, the cafes and bars filled with artistes and festival-goers. They'll be strolling up and down the Royal Mile from the historic castle, built if I'm not mistaken on an extinct volcano, to the Palace of Holyrood, the Queen's own residence in Scotland. A wonderful city! The Athens of the North, they call it, and also 'Old Reekie', because of the smoke from ten thousand chimneys that used to hang over it. Scotland! A country of bagpipes and kilts, the home of Logie Baird, inventor of the television, and the great missionary Dr Livingston, the son of a poor farmer, who was almost eaten alive by a lion in Africa. and Mr Mackintosh, who gave the world the raincoat, not that you would need one here, and Mr Robert Burns, the great poet whose love was as red a red red rose, and many loves he had if his reputation is to be believed, and why should it not be? And then there's Sir Walter Scott, the great writer, who built himself a castle on the banks of the River Tweed which forms the border with your enemy the English. Your enemy of times long past, I mean. And Robert Louis Stevenson who sailed to the South Pacific and whose marvellous imagination conjured Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. Scotsmen, all of them, from every part of the land. Dundee, a city famous for marmalade and jute, Glasgow, where they built the famous ocean-going liners, the Queen Mary among them, one of the great maritime ports of the British Empire, and Inverness, capital of the Highlands where they toss the caber and dance the sword dance at the Highland Games, and Aberdeen, a city built entirely from white granite. They call it the Silver City on account of that, don't they?..."

You've obviously been to Scotland', I say, interrupting the flow. 'Never', he replies. 'Never so much as set foot there, but I am a scholar of the world. I read books, I study history and geography, I keep up to date with what's going on.' 'Where are you from yourself?', I ask. 'From the Philippines originally', he replies, but I lived for many years in Melbourne. In fact I'm awaiting the arrival of a ship to Melbourne. I'll be leaving here as soon as I can, and I won't be sorry to leave either. Look around you. Everyone's the same. Here for their holidays, no interest in anything but the beach and the bars, and there's nothing much apart from that anyway.' He pauses, and I sense what's coming next. 'Forgive me, my Scottish friend, but could you spare a few euros so that I can take my clothes to the launderette and get them cleaned. I'm a bit down on my luck at the moment. The ship has been delayed and I don't know when it will arrive.'

Of course this is exactly what I don't want to hear, not because I begrudge him a few euros - in fact I think he's earned them - but because my wallet is back in the hotel, and I have barely enough to buy myself a drink. I tell him this, but naturally he doesn't believe me and looks both downcast and offended. 'Oh well', he says with a sigh, and turns on his heels and wanders off. I feel bad. His monologue had been a tour de force (longer and more bizarre than I can reproduce here) and I decide that if I see him again I'll make a point of giving him some money.

A couple of days later I'm sitting eating a sandwich at a table outside a restaurant on the promenade and there he is, about 25 yards away, holding forth to an Englishman in a Michael Owen Newcastle football shirt. He moves his arms expansively as he speaks, no doubt describing the seating capacity of Newcastle's football stadium, the date it was built, and the scorer of the winning goal the last time Newcastle won the cup. Or perhaps he's discussing the merits of the brown ale they drink there, or the number of bridges over the Tyne, and who built them. The man is listening attentively, nodding now and again. Then there is the gesture towards the trousers with their unfortunate stains. The man takes out his wallet and proffers a bill which is gratefully received. They go their separate ways, the educated hobo melting into the crowd and walking away from me. I think about pursuing him, but decide against it. I'll probably see him again over the next week I think, but I don't. Perhaps the ship had finally arrived. Or maybe he had moved onto another resort where he was impressing other tourists with his encyclopaedic knowledge of their homeland. 'Belgium, really? Home of the famous painter Magritte and renowned for its beer and unusually fine chocolate....'New Zealand? a land of hot springs and the mighty All Blacks, home of the kiwi, a flightless bird that excavates a burrow....'

Monday, November 19, 2007

It is too clear and so it is hard to see.
A fool once searched for fire with a lighted lantern.
Had he known what fire was,
He could have cooked his rice much sooner.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Saturday, November 17, 2007

conversation in the park
old lady: good afternoon
me: good afternoon. it looks like rain
old lady: it's coming tomorrow - and with a vengeance!
me: that's not so good
old lady: no, the only good thing is that it will damp down the leaves... (narrows her eyes) they are an absolute menace!

Friday, November 16, 2007

algarve #6
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
watch out for the blue beaker!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

algarve #5
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
algarve moon girl
I'm standing on the balcony, lost in thought. The sun is low in the sky but the air is still warm. Everyone else is showering and slapping on the after-sun, preparing for the obligatory stroll along the sea-front promenade before the evening meal in one of fifty identical restaurants. The outdoor pool is empty, save for several inflatable objects - a crocodile, a bright pink lilo, a big black rubber ring like a gigantic doughnut - marooned on the surface. A pretty girl, presumably another guest in the hotel, appears at the poolside below me. She's wearing a black and white polka-dot bikini and her blonde hair is braided. She pauses for a moment then leaps into the air and plunges feet first into the water, holding her nose. She surfaces and swims a few strokes towards the inflatable crocodile, tries to climb onto it and fails, splashing wildly as she topples back into the water. As she surfaces she notices me looking down at her from four floors above. She waves. Why? I have no idea. I don't respond. Then she does an unexpected thing. She suddenly pulls her bikini down at the back so that I can see her naked bottom, leaps face down onto the big rubber ring and paddles with her arms across the pool. She stops, slides off it, and dives to the bottom of the pool. She surfaces, having pulled her bikini up again, looks straight at me and grins a broad grin. Bemused and slightly embarrassed I look around the other balconies. No-one else is watching this strange scenario unfold. Why did she do it? Just another of life's little mysteries I suppose. Anyway, it made me smile.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

algarve #4
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
Keep me fully glad
Keep me fully glad with nothing. Only take my hand in your hand.
In the gloom of the deepening night take up my heart and play with it as you list. Bind me close to you with nothing.
I will spread myself out at your feet and lie still. Under this clouded sky I will meet silence with silence. I will become one with the night clasping the earth in my breast.
Make my life glad with nothing.
The rains sweep the sky from end to end. Jasmines in the wet untamable wind revel in their own perfume. The cloud-hidden stars thrill in secret. Let me fill to the full my heart with nothing but my own depth of joy.

Rabindranath Tagore

Saturday, November 10, 2007

algarve #3
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Friday, November 09, 2007

algarve #2
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
Be occupied, then, with what you really value and let the thief take something else.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

algarve #1
Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
I spent a couple of weeks in Portugal's Algarve region during the summer. I really needed to find some sunshine, and Scotland was relentlessly wet and miserable this year. I can't say I was over-impressed by the Algarve, although I didn't explore much inland. It seemed to be one massive resort for servicing tourists, and not much else. Our hotel was a newly-built giant space-age block with a distant view to the sea, and on the intervening land they were busily constructing more huge tower blocks for tourists. Some were already completed, but large areas were obviously awaiting development.

From the vantage point of my fourth floor balcony I could see how the ground between the hotel and the sea had once consisted of lots of small family homesteads, each set in a fairly large plot of land where chickens probably scratched beneath olive, lemon, peach and fig trees, and perhaps a few goats were kept. Dozens of derelict old houses had been fenced off by the building contractors and were slowly crumbling away. In the middle of this wasteland a single house remained standing, inhabited by an elderly couple who - it seemed to me - went about their business as they had always done, apparently oblivious to the endless thud of the jack-hammers working on the foundations of the next muti-storey tower block, or the roar of the traffic on the new dual carriageway just up the road from them.

Once (minus my camera unfortunately) I followed the dusty road down towards their steading, passing the ruined shells of their former neighbours' houses, with their roofs caved in and the beautiful old Portuguese tiles that had once adorned the walls lying cracked in heaps on the floor. You could see how full of character these old stone buildings must have been, but the gardens had become wild and vegetation was already invading the buildings themselves. Everything was just sitting in the burning heat awaiting the arrival of the bulldozers.

The old couple's property was surrounded by a rickety wooden fence with a wide gate behind which a couple of large mottled brown and yellow dogs lay in the shade of a tree. They leapt to their feet when they saw me and began barking furiously so I beat a retreat, not wishing to get either savaged by the dogs or arrested for trespass. There was no sign of the old man, but I caught a glimpse of the woman standing on the wooden balcony at the front of the house. Several cages with singing birds were hanging from the rafters above her, and she was tossing grain from a tin bucket to her chickens in the yard in front of her, dressed in a faded brown headscarf and long black dress. She turned sharply and looked in my direction when the dogs began to bark.

I couldn't help but think how idyllic the whole area must have been at one time. The house was built on an incline and looked down over a small grove of orange trees - which I presumed was also on their land - and beyond to the deep blue of the Atlantic. To the right a rocky promontory stretched out to sea, against which the big white-tipped waves broke constantly. Why, I wondered, had the authorities allowed the area to be spoiled? In some countries - Scotland, certainly - these old houses would have been designated 'listed buildings', and they could easily have been renovated and modernised to provide accommodation - for tourists if necessary, but preferably for local families.

This would have preserved, and probably enhanced, the character of the whole area instead of dehumanising it with tarmac and breeze-block. I speculated that the old couple had rejected a lucrative offer from property developers in order to live out their days in their family home, and that their refusal to sell had prevented work starting on the land around them. If so, I imagined them as a perpetual thorn in the flesh of those who had tried to buy them out.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Ingmar Bergman
The great film-maker Ingmar Bergman died, aged 89, at the end of July, an event I can't let go unnoticed. What a life he had! 5 wives, 3 mistresses - including the beautiful and immensely talented Liv Ullmann, 9 children, 62 films, 3 Academy Awards and dozens of other prizes and nominations. On top of that he found time to direct 170 plays and operas, write numerous unpublished scripts, and get himself arrested for tax evasion, before finally retiring to a life of solitude on his beloved island of Faro. Bergman was one of the truly great artists of the twentieth century, and I'm sure he'll be remembered as such, but I couldn't help but notice the following 'damn with faint praise' passage in his Guardian obituary by the critic Brian Baxter:
"With his death a reassessment of his impressive output positions him among such talents as Antonioni, Kurosawa, Ray, Wilder, Visconti. These second rung, but never second rate, directors hover fitfully behind the handful of geniuses - Bresson, Dreyer, Ozu, Renoir, Rossellini - where poetry and originality transcend matter and realism. What Bergman and the others lack is the (seeming) simplicity of expression that belies inspiration: an inspiration which makes true what would not otherwise have been apparent. In short there is an over-emphasis, an over-weaning power of expression, that obscures the counter currents of emotion lying beneath the surface of the work of those five pantheon directors, in such of their masterpieces as Voyage to Italy (Rossellini), Gertrud (Dreyer), or Lancelot du Lac (Bresson) which are truly beyond criticism."
To be honest I don't really know what he's getting at there, but Mr Baxter is clearly a man with a high opinion of his importance as a universal arbiter of taste. Personally I'm at a loss to understand why anyone would attempt to demote Bergman to the 'second rung' of directors. I've seen Bresson's 'Lancelot du Lac' and Dreyer's 'Gertrud' and I don't think either can hold a candle to masterpieces such as 'Wild Strawberries', 'The Silence', 'The Seventh Seal', 'Smiles of a Summer Night', 'Persona' or 'Cries and Whispers'. Of the other great directors of that golden era only Andrei Tarkovsky (whom Bergman greatly admired) and one or two others, strike me as having produced such consistently profound, hauntingly poetic bodies of work.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
Without tenderness, a man is uninteresting.
Marlene Dietrich

Friday, November 02, 2007

Image copyright Alan Edwards. No unauthorised reproduction
My mother was right. When you've got nothing left, all you can do is get into silk underwear and start reading Proust.
Jane Birkin

Thursday, November 01, 2007

joan baez
Now, little boy lost
He takes himself so seriously
He brags of his misery
He likes to live dangerously
And when bringing her name up
He speaks of a farewell kiss to me
He's sure got a lotta gall
To be so useless and all
Muttering small talk at the wall
While I'm in the hall.
How can I explain?
Oh, it's so hard to get on
And these visions of Johanna,
They kept me up past the dawn.

Bob Dylan, from Visions of Johanna, 1966