Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Summer's lease hath all too short a date


The last rose of summer

It was a good summer, wasn't it? Apart from remembering the big freeze of 1963 and being bitten by a plague of ladybirds in 1976, I find it hard to remember details from one year to the next.  Did we have a wet spring?  Was the winter mild?  

As Porgy sang to Bess (or was it the other way round?)


And the livin' is easy
Fish are jumpin'
And the cotton is high

The sky, sometimes blue, towers over us, the days are never-ending, and nature blooms:

Pan appears in blue - or is it Donald Trump?

I love the spring, with its fresh promise, but as the crops reach maturity it is hard to think of anywhere better than the English countryside:

It's a time for being outside, by the sea, with a bottle of chilled wine and a picnic:

Your daddy's rich

And your mamma's good lookin'
So hush little baby
Don't you cry

And speaking of rich daddies, etc, one of the trees we sat under this summer was that (as a young tree, obviously) had sheltered Princess Elizabeth when news was brought to her that her father had crumpled..... It doesn't look so youthful now, but it's still going strong in the grounds of Hatfield House.....

And so another English rose came into flower....

Though perhaps the analogy is better without the mosquito....

And maybe even better in virginal white?

This really is the season of the birds:

And the bees:

Of poppies:

And oxeye daisies in the fields:

Of honeysuckle in the hedgerows:

And purple loosestrife in my favourite part of the Chilterns:

It was a lovely summer.  The particular politics of this summer made it necessary to celebrate the best of Britain, rather than to dwell on inequalities or to cry over sour milk. We admired the roses on the stones of the National Trust property at Lacock Abbey, once home to William Henry Fox Talbot and so one of the nurseries of photography:

We walked through the landscaped park of Brocket Hall, only a few miles from home:

And, courtesy of British Gas, who, as a reward for paying astronomic prices for gas and electricity, gave us a few weeks' trial membership of English Heritage, we had a morning to wander in the gardens of Wrest Park:

And subsequently sheltered under a magnificent London plane tree at Audley End:

At Dyrham Park (from the Saxon word doerham - deer) we were bashfully examined by some of the 200 fallow deer that live there:

And elsewhere and everywhere I turned my lens on the beautiful insects that flutter busily around to make the most the sunny days. Here's a peacock butterfly on a teasel:

And here's a red admiral on bramble flowers:

And this is a comma:

And this dazzling beauty is a common blue damselfly at rest:

Living on the edge of East Anglia we can reach the coast of Suffolk in about two and a half hours.  It's good to have a change of air sometimes, and there are some very peaceful spots, like this landing stage on the River Ore at Havergate Island:

Just north of Cambridge, at Fen Drayton Lakes, reeds were being harvested from the Great Ouse:

Though it is birds that normally draw me to these RSPB reserves. This cormorant taking off is by no means a rare sight, but it's still a marvel to behold:

And the willowy, watery world at Fowlmere is always peaceful with its grey green light:

Despite being on the east coast, the evening light at Aldeburgh is captivating, and it is great to scrunch along the shingle at dusk.  Here the old lifeboat station settles with the sun behind it:

And in the top left window of this holiday house a wistful figure watches the sea at bedtime, writing a farewell to the summer holidays with a finger on the glass:

Back home in the fields in Hertfordshire the crops ripen and the poppies fade:

And Will Dickinson, whose family have farmed Cross Farm at Harpenden for six generations, brings in the harvest.  It's been a good summer, and I hope Will's yields are high this year, not just because he's a neighbour, but also because he values this country, and its place in the European Union.  As he said, in an interview with the Herts Advertiser, he believes that to remain within the union is the best way to preserve the integrity of my business and he does not believe that any new independent UK government will relinquish any control that these [EU-derived] regulations give them..... 

It has been a lovely summer.  We must celebrate what we have:

One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky

But till that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by

George Gershwin/DuBose Heyward

(Even if.....)

Sometimes I wonder what I’m gonna do

But there ain’t no cure for the summertime blues 

Summertime Blues
Eddie Cochran/Jerry Capehart

The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.

Jeremiah, 8: 20

Monday, 29 August 2016

Requiem aeternam

Last night I had the strangest dream…..

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war


The house is quiet.  Its old stones shine in the moonlight, but all is quiet, save for the Glis Glis in the rafters.  I fetch a portion of Stilton and a glass of Port and take myself up to my room, settling alone in the nursery for sentimental reasons….

I wake suddenly. A gleam of light splashes like paint.  The rocking horse whinnies in fright.  

I see pictures on the wall.  George Galloway, in a hat, standing in front of a grim grey building.  Fettes College, the alma mater of Tony Blair…..

A film is running in my head: The Killing$ of Tony Blair, a Michael Moore style reminder of Mr Blair’s career, from wunderkind to anathema, but an anathema of untold riches.  I see Cherie Blair’s Muslim sister extend her disdain; I see Robin Cook make his resignation speech in the House of Commons, Jeremy Corbyn behind him, fighting the autocracy that took war to Iraq.

I see talking heads spin incredulity with long words. I see grim and violent images of people shaking hands, and grinning, and being shot and being hanged.  I see Clare Short state that In the court of public opinion, he [Tony Blair] is despised.

This montage of allegations and accusations, this rehearsal of the known and the believed, clouds my night with horror.  As in the nightmares of my youth, there is no escape, and nor is there instant remedy. 

But then the image shifts, and I am in the orchestra at a concert.

Dies Irae  

We are about to perform the Mozart Requiem.  Ivan Fischer is conducting.  Soloists and the Collegium Vocale Gent are dispersed among the Budapest Festival Orchestra.  

I dreamed I saw a mighty room
The room was filled with men
And the paper they were signing said
They'd never fight again

The Albert Hall is filled with the well-fed and the well-shod, and the lights dazzle me as the music begins.  I think of the thirty-five year old wunderkind ailing and composing his own Missa pro defunctis, perhaps poisoned by suggestions and by responsibilities.  Where were his Masonic friends when he needed them?

The music uplifts, and soothes.  In the empty night there is sadness, but woven over the underlay of Galloway’s cheap carpet the words ask for rest and comfort in death. 

Whatever role Tony Blair has played in the death of the Labour Party, those death throes are ongoing and, like a prognosis of fatal disease, the exact cause may not be laid at one door alone.  Whatever financial killings he has made through J P Morgan, he is not the only fat cat enriching himself on the poverty of others.

But the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi people following the 2003 invasion (and the flourishing of Daesh) constitute an unanswered bloodstain on the face of humankind. George Galloway said (in raising funds to produce his film) that It will take him (Tony Blair) all [the way] to The Hague, to a war crimes trial and to the slamming of a cell door shut behind him.

As Henry Barnes wrote in The Guardian, The film contains nothing so incendiary. Nor does it tell us much new about the Chilcot report. But it is an entertaining ramble through well-publicised allegations and a slick run down the rap sheet for those who need a reminder of Tony’s avarice.

Lux aeternum

In the meantime, Let everlasting light shine on the victims of war, and let Mozart’s divine music grant them Eternal Rest.  And may Messieurs Blair and his friend Bush consider the results of their decisions….

I wake from the fitful night.  The sun shines on the golden fields under an azure sky.  A fly wanders uncomprehending on the window glass.  

In Italy the earth is shaken. My vast empty house is safe.  My words fly up, but my thoughts remain below…..

Libera Me

And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made
They all joined hands and bowed their heads
And grateful prayers were prayed

And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground

Last night I had the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war


George Galloway was chairman of the Scottish Labour Party, 1981; General secretary of War on Want, 1982;  Labour MP from 1997 until expelled from the Labour Party in 2003; Respect MP until 2008; endorser of the Leave option in the 2016 referendum on EU membership…...  broadcaster and now front man for The Killing$ of Tony Blair