23 June 2021

Is That All There Is?

In Memoriam Truman Peebles
1912 - 2021

There was a tragedy yesterday, outside our house.  My wife and carer returned from a walk to find a wood pigeon stretched out stiff in the porch, with two flightless squabs expired beside her.  Something, most likely a crow of some sort (I nearly said of some kind), had attacked and slain the adult in the nest, which had been barely concealed above our front door.  And the adult in falling had caused the two immature babes also to flip flop to their deaths.

Sad.  Yes.  But a tragedy?  Not strictly.  Life has to end somewhere, and not all terminations are anything but the natural process of the universe, which is at all times in motion, flaring up and dying down.

Consider the butterfly.  The splendid Red Admiral.....

Having survived earlier stages of existence (egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, etc) the adult butterfly may live for some months....  Some months. Maybe a flurry of nights and days, some sunny, some wet, some cold. And then?  Extinction.  

What is expected? 

And it isn't much different for the Painted Lady, despite its migrations.....

Or the Small Tortoiseshell, though some adults will survive winters and perhaps live for nine months (I nearly said moths).....

So what is my point (I hear you call)?

Well, to be a duck-billed platitude, I just want to say that life has its limits, and not one of us has yet managed to break out of this world alive.

So, although I report this with great sadness, it is not a tragedy that my dear friend Truman Peebles will not be celebrating his 109th birthday this summer, at least not in person.

Truman, who I have mentioned in previous pieces, will not be partaking of a Jack Daniels old No.7 Tennessee sour mash Whiskey this evening.

Truman died, aged 108, just the other day. But while my instinct is to mourn, I know the right thing to do is to celebrate (even if the two states are not mutually exclusive).

The family lives on.  Memories survive.  Friends go about telling stories.  The influence resides.  

As I have recorded elsewhere, Truman was born in 1912, in New Jersey.  By the time I hit the light of day he was already a father of three.  When I was four he sailed from the US of A to take part in the foundation of the Food and Agriculture agency which became part of the colossal United Nations agencies in Rome.

When I first met him, thirty-something years ago, at a dinner at the home of Mario and Catinka Cassola, next door to us in Il Quadrifoglio, he was already retired.  I noted the bootlace tie, held in place with a stylish silver clasp.  At that time he would have been a sprightly seventyish - the age I am now.  He then lived in a hut in the garden (where they grew avocados) of his friend Nazareno, who owned the successful Grotta Azzura restaurant in the village of Trevignano.  I recall his regular joke that Nazareno's biggest challenge in the mornings was to decide which of his several large motors to drive to his restaurant (a bare mile away)....

Truman's own car failed him not long after, and, since we had moved into the village, I took to being the chauffeur on our occasional outings to neighbouring villages for dinners in quiet, rustic trattorie.

These outings were an education for me.  At the time Truman was studying (at Fielding, I think) for a PhD and our conversations were the friendliest of tutorials.  If I understand anything of psychology it is most probably down to those comfortable and enlightening evenings, quaffing vino sfuso and indulging in the niceties of la cucina laziale, served, sometimes, by the sexy daughter of a the padrone of a tiny trattoria in a side alley in Sutri, or by the chuckling grandmother who tended the fireplace in Barbarano Romano.... 

And then sometimes we would eat at La Grotta Azzura, where for years Truman dined every Thursday, cared for in generous terms by Nazareno, and often surrounded by family, and by beautiful women.....  

We left Trevignano in 1995, to bring our children up nearer to their grandparents, but Truman remained a surrogate grandad to our girls, and a great friend to the last.  When I left, I remember saying that I would not be able to join him for his ninetieth birthday party, but that I would be there for his hundredth.

And we made it.  Indeed that was a great party (please see a separate blog piece) and he was in superb form that night, passing for a man a good decade or two less than the anagrafe would allow.....

It is hard to believe that that was nearly ten years ago already.  Of course the years began to tell, and he was less quick on his feet, and the recent scourge of the pandemic affected both him and his family in that contact and interaction were limited and he needed to be cared for by professionals.  But the last time I saw him he was as bright (almost) as ever.  I called on him at his little apartment in the old part of the village, up the steep steps to his front door one hot morning.  I knocked on the door and, after some shuffling he stood before me, dressed in a ten gallon hat and a sort of dhoti, beaming welcome.  We agreed a meeting in the evening and sure enough we met on time, drank Jack Daniels and continued on to a convivial dinner.  As ever, conversation was focussed and from time to time his eyes sparkled with mischievous fun.  

If only time could stand still, and we could meet again.

We cannot escape the sadness that falls around us when friends pass.  But then we have to remember the good times.  I write this with a tear in my eye, a glass of Jack Daniels on ice in my hand, and Peggy Lee singing Is That All There Is?

As I said before, "Hey, that's my wife!"

Is that all there is, is that all there is?
If that's all there is my friends, then let's keep dancing
Let's break out the booze and have a ball
If that's all there is

Songwriters: Leiber Jerry / Stoller Mike

I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:

I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;

Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.

I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.

In Memoriam A. H. H. 

Alfred Lord Tennyson

Truman and Hannah in 1991 (that's him on the left!)

With love to all the family and wonderful memories of a top friend.

For more....

19 June 2021

Where Have All The Flowers Gone?

 When will they ever learn?

Sag' mir, wo die Blumen sind

Marlene Dietrich knew a thing or two....  Her schnapps and tobacco voice seduced generations of young things, what with her blue angels and her touches of evil....  But her version of Where have all the flowers gone? rises with my sap in the springtime.  Pace Pete Seeger, but you didn't quite have the allure....

So I have been out photographing the spring.  Which was very late this year, what with drought and frost and global warming, and Brexit, Covid, etc (when will you stop complaining?  Ed)

In fact, I had almost given up hope (Yeah? Who's hopeful these days? Ed)

But I have a question.  Not, Where have all the flowers gone?

But...  Where will all the flowers go?

Red Soldier Beetle

That is to say.... We take all this wonder for granted, but without pestilential insects most of our natural floral displays will simply be a thingy of the past....

So, it is the balance of this and that - the Yin and Yang of light and dark, cold and warmth - that makes for a world in which we have oxygen to breathe and food to eat.....


Without bees, and their allies all the other pollinating insects, we would not have bread to eat, nor fruit for dessert....

Coccinella septempunctata

So, in many ways, a bunch of flowers is not just a pretty bouquet.  It is manna.  It is heaven.

Common Blue Damselfly

Flies may be unwanted pesky irritants.  But without them this world will become desiccated and barren.  Never mind the G7 or the COP26, just look how clean your windscreen has become over the last few years.....

Yes, many of the flowers we love can only reappear if there are bugs to have sex with them (that might be biologically inaccurate, but allow me some poetic licence)


So, to return to my titular theme.  Where will all the flowers go?  

Thick-legged flower beetle

Perhaps young girls may pick them.....

White tailed bumble bee

And perhaps those gentle creatures may succumb to the charms of young men.....

White tailed bumble bee

Who then go off to war with life, and death.....

To meet some inevitably testosterone-fuelled death....

But in the meantime, farmers spray their fields, and big Pharma recommends this and that, while the supermarkets demand perfection and instant produce....

So the little things get ignored,

And the delicate colours of our environment begin to shrink and fade....

And we, the super beings, the great manipulators, will no longer be in the pink....

All our olympic achievements, our euro champions, our teslas, our test and trace, and our 'sovereignty' will become as dust...

Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair! Nothing beside remains.

For me, Where the bee sucks, there suck I....

Garden Bumble Bee

Spring, however late, is a wonderful reminder of how busy and exciting life can be.  Life may only last for days, but it must go on.  Flowers spray across the paths and then, before you know it, the mast, the berries, the sloes, the cherries, are food for passing strangers.  It goes so fast.  And then you wonder where it went.  And then, as things progress, you wonder why it is different this year.  And then next year we will say it was better in the past.  And then we tell our children how it was, when the fields were full of flowers and the butterflies were such a nuisance.  

And they won't believe us.

And it will be our fault.


Where have all the flowers gone?

Where will all the flowers go?


Gone to graveyards, every one....

Berlin Memorial Plaque

"Where have all the flowers gone"
Marlene Dietrich
27 December 1901 – 6 May 1992
Actress and Singer
She was one of the few German actresses that attained international significance.
Despite tempting offers by the Nazi regime, she emigrated to the USA and became an American citizen.
In 2002, the city of Berlin posthumously made her an honorary citizen.

"I am, thank God, a Berliner."

Funded by the GASAG Berlin Gasworks Corporation.

Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuß auf Liebe eingestellt

(I wish)

15 June 2021

Ramblings from a graveyard, and other things.....

 The undiscovered country.....

I am in Hardwick Road Cemetery, King's Lynn. Literally, but not interminably...... And naturally enough, the environment lends itself to thoughts on mortality, and such.

This smooth lozenge in the photograph above, almost lost among the long grass, commemorates the life and death of Ordinary Seaman A W Bruce, RNPS, of HMS Ouzel.  

At first, as the long stems of grasses obscured some of the lettering, I made the error of thinking he may have been Andrew Bruce, Telegraphist, who died when Battleship HMS Barnham went down on November 25th, 1941, which was quite a story.
However, this was not the man (and I should have realised as I doubt whether that poor soul had a body to bury here.....) No, Ordinary Seaman A W Bruce was on HMS (or HMT) Ouzel, a trawler, acting as a Patrol Vessel (76 GRT), which struck a mine on November 3rd 1941 and sank in the North Sea, a half mile off Mablethorpe, Lincolnshire with the loss of all hands.  So why was this grave marked 25th November?  And then why, when I researched the death toll of the incident, was there no A W Bruce listed in the casualties?  

Again I leapt to conclusions, as the casualties were listed on The Lowestoft Naval Memorial which commemorates nearly 2,400 men of the Royal Naval Patrol Service who died during the Second World War and have no grave but the Sea. The memorial is situated to the north of the coastal town of Lowestoft, in a wooded garden, known as Bellevue Park. The memorial itself is on the edge of the cliff looking out across the foreshore and sea where in former years the men and vessels of the Royal Naval Patrol Service kept vigil.

So I surmised that perhaps A W Bruce had survived the mine and died later of wounds....

Yet again my negligence appals me.  Brushing aside the long grass, I discover that the date of death was 25th November, 1940 - not 1941!  So Archie William Bruce, aged 30, died aboard HM Patrol Craft Ouzel almost a year before his shipmates met their watery end.

What killed him remains, to me at least, in my ignorance, a mystery, but there is his story.....

In Memory Of

Ordinary Seaman


Service Number: LT/JX 202363

H.M. Patrol Craft Ouzel., Royal Naval Patrol Service who died on 25 November 1940 Age 30

Son of Robert James Bruce and Harriet Nicol Bruce; husband of Doris Lilian Kathleen Bruce, of Wallington, Surrey.

Remembered with Honour KING'S LYNN CEMETERY

Sec. 1. Grave 706.



Regarding my initial mistake, that is another, terrible, story.

According to the Records of the Royal Navy, HMS Barnham took part with QUEEN ELIZABETH, VALIANT and screen of eight Fleet destroyers for provision of cover to cruisers of 7th and 15th Squadrons carrying out search for military convoys on passage to Benghazi (Operation ME7).

November 25th - Under constant observation by enemy aircraft. Under attack by U331 and hit by three torpedoes which struck between funnel and X turret on port side. Ship sank in position 32.34N 26.24N within 4 minutes after the magazine detonated. (On VALIANT, the closest ship to BARHAM when she was hit, was the Gaumont News cameraman John Turner who shot 2 minutes of movie film, all he had left in the camera, of the sinking. This film became one of the most poignant shots in the whole war). Only 450 survived from the complement of about 1312. 

Personally I have no bone to pick with graveyards, I take the air there willingly, perhaps more willingly than elsewhere, when take the air I must.... (Samuel Beckett, First Love). Christopher Ricks, The Prof, it was who first pointed out to me the clever use of the word must in this quotation...  let alone the mischievous use of no bone to pick.....  Or, let me think?  Was it the other way up? Did I point it out to Christopher?  We were in Cambridge, in the mid 1980s and I do vaguely remember our discussion. 

And it would only have been a year or so adrift from then that I had lunch with Mr Beckett chez Chartier in Faubourg Montmartre.  Godot, those were the days.... Happy Daze. 

A Tulip Tree (liridendron tulipfera), a native of North America and China, which can grow to 50 metres and has pale green tulip-shaped flowers. This tree was supplied by the Wisbech nursery of Messrs Sharp in c 1855/6.


Anyway it was a faulty valve that brought me hither....  Not so much a mitral nor a tricuspid, you know, but the valve on my Skoda's off side rear tyre, which I had had repaired after a small screw had caused a minor puncture last week, only to find it flat the next day at home.  Ho Hum, and back to the garage (who acknowledged fault in their valve core) to wander fitfully amongst the dead whilst said valve was bypassed and my treads could once more hold up against the wear and tear of revolution.....

Anyway, underneath the gloomy Wellingtonia, and not that far from the Tulip Tree, I read some of the stories of King's Lynn in days of yore.....

Such as that of Catherine Brown (1812 - 1863) first wife of King's Lynn sculptor and monumental mason William Brown of London Road.  Catherine was one of seven people to be killed in the Hunstanton-King's Lynn Railway disaster on August 2nd, 1863.  Her sandstone and encaustic tile monument was designed and made by her husband.

Apparently a bullock had gotten upon the line near Wootton, about two miles from Lynn, and it caused the excursion train, which had left Hunstanton for Wisbeach at about eight a.m. with some fifteen well-filled carriages, to leave the rails, causing disruption, injury and death in its wake.

Hard  by this elegant tomb is the memorial to her husband, William, and his brother, Edward. This was sculpted by King's Lynn mason Edward (1834 - 1888).  Of clunch stone, it is the largest monument in the Cemetery.

The cemetery is no longer active. Or rather, it is now passive, in that no longer may the living prepare themselves for the ground here.  The chapels have long since been erased, and all that is left is the shifting silences of the air around the stones and through the leaves of grass.

The stories remain, however, like that of George Cozens (1801 - 1869), hotelier, proprietor of the Cozens Commercial Temperance Hotel in St John's Terrace.  This was the last of Norfolk's temperance hotels, closing in 1969.  Apparently it once boasted that its stables could accommodate 120 horses.  

Perhaps.....  But not for me.

It's not just that this cemetery was in the vanguard of 19th century burial reform (I just love that tone - Stonehenge was in the vanguard of monumental masonry......)  But its establishment in 1849 marks it out as one of the first parochial cemeteries in Great Britain, anticipating the Burial (Beyond the Metropolis) act of 1854 by five years......  Its importance to King's Lynn as an early example of Victorian cemetery landscape is immense, and the variety of monuments it has to display is a bold reminder of the Victorian Way of Death.....

Did the Victorians have a different way of death?  Do the bones interred here feel better because of the landscape?  

To die, to sleep,
No more. And by a sleep, to say we end
The heartache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to — ‘tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished.

To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream. Ay, there's the rub. 
For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come 
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil 
Must give us pause. There's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.

Ah yes.  That phrase, devoutly to be wished.....

There's the rub.

[As I said to Samuel, not long before his death.  Could you please pass the salt?

And he said,

It would have passed itself......]

Oh, and I did get my car back......

[I wish to extend my apologies for the mistakes I made in initially putting this piece together, and wish to record my sincere thanks to all those who died at sea in the defence of our homeland.]