28 August 2021

Visiting Norwich (Naaarj)

 At the still point of the turning world. 

I am in Sainsbury’s.  

Not the store, despite my fond memories of their long-vanished hall in Berkhamsted, where mum would queue from counter to counter, dairy here, meat there, and then file to pay at the desk at the end, where a busy woman added and cashed and said thank you, and everyone was so nice in a post-war kind of way....

No, I am in Lord Robert Sainsbury’s sitting room, or a reconstruction of such, darkened by Francis Bacon, lightened by Degas.  

Robert Sainsbury (1906 - 2000)
 by Francis Bacon

Here, in the Sainsbury Centre at the University of East Anglia, I wander under Norman Foster’s roof, bumping into Anish Kapoor, Modigliani and Picasso, wondering where the exit is, and thinking that if this is their drawing room, how could their kitchen be?  Frink in the Frigidaire (who uses that word now?) or Giacometti on the draining board (bit of a stretch there....)?

Head (1997)
John Davies

I am on my way to Norwich, where there is a queue about a quarter of a mile long to get into Norwich Cathedral.  

The line is slow moving, but patient, like the obligatory shuffle passing an extinct dictator.  Some of the file have a tonnage to rival an ocean-going tug, others sail turgidly as if dressed in barrage balloons – and I say this as an impartial observer; no judgement intended.  Children are either asleep in parental clutches, or squawking about being fed treats.  


It is a long time since I have seen such a queue for a Cathedral, but this is not to admire the intricate stonework and the bosses of the fan vaulting, 

nor the Hanging Chrismatory, 

nor even the Despenser Reredos, a late 14th century retable by a Norwich artist and thought to have been commissioned by Bishop le Despenser to celebrate his suppression of local support for the Peasants' Revolt in 1381 (but we'll dispense with the context for the moment....)

– no, this is a queue to enter through the cloisters to the nave where “Dippy” is on display.  Please see https://youtu.be/QourkgYSgtA for more on how this a cast of a Diplodocus, one of the largest creatures ever to roam the earth, that lived about 150 million years ago, was assembled, and https://my.matterport.com/show/?m=fKWBeCy5wgu to see how it looks now.


Ok, there are positives indeed, such as interesting young people in the natural world, and, possibly, in introducing them to a fine cathedral which they might otherwise have not entered.  But....




Art and artefacts, architecture and archaeology, all things bright and beautiful (did the Lord God really make them all?) The city, one of the five largest settlements in Norman England, and then in the seventeenth century the second richest city in the country (after London), has seen better days.  The splendour of its cathedral (its spire second only to Salisbury), 

the imposing nature of its castle, the scattering of some thirty flinty medieval churches 

amongst its complex of lanes and market places, the curling river Wensum 

and the brutalist sprawl of its university all commend it to the visitor, 

but there is a post-pandemic, perhaps post-Brexit, tiredness about it just now.  

Museums and churches are partly closed, 

the Royal Arcade sports "to let" signs in its windows, 

the Market Place lacks vitality and Tombland is choked with traffic, going nowhere.


On the river a couple embrace as their motor boat, blaring what some might call popular music, careers toward the bank.  By the Cow Tower

a fifty foot remain of the city’s two miles of defensive walls, families wander past, regardless.


There are fossils and remains and reminders of the past everywhere.  A pub called The Wild Man recalls the mysterious appearance in Norwich of Peter the Wild Boy in 1751.  Strangely this is a story connected with my own past as Peter resided for much of his life on Northchurch Common, near where I grew up, and he is buried in the graveyard of St Mary’s there, where my grandfather was organist and choirmaster for many years.


Even stranger, perhaps, is that in wandering up Pottergate I bump into another Wild Boy, a local resident who I recognise as also hailing from Hertfordshire.  

This antiquated ruin accosts me for the price of a pint, and together we piece together our histories over beer and sausages.  

[Good to see you, Joe!]



There are fossils in the cathedral, and ruins in the streets.  The once grand city has its attractions but somehow seems tired and lacklustre.  Is this the state of the United Kingdom as a whole today, or is this merely a blip in the wake of disease and politics?  Over the door of the 13th century chapel of St Catherine of Alexandria, in the south transept of the cathedral, someone has inscribed a line from T S Eliot’s Four Quartets

At the still point of the turning world.  

The quotation is from Burnt Norton, and it continues:

Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity, 
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance....


It’s near midnight. Alcopop shrieks and tiddly giggles fill the street as three girls share something crazy. One dances provocatively, and laughs, the world so light and dark. 

It is Tuesday night in Norwich, and the rest is silence....

Earliest Human Relatives
from The Origins of Love portfolio (2004)
Hiroshi Sugimoto

....I can only say, there we have been....





21 August 2021


 Once I saw a Devil in a flame of fire.....

In my ongoing attempts to 'improve' myself - which begs certain questions - I am on a train to London reading John Higgs's little book, William Blake Now, a book which endears itself to me on various levels - not least because it raises questions about the self-importance of Tracey Emin.

I say not least, because that really is an unimportant attraction. But not to worry. I am immersing myself in the metropolis for a day or so, 'bettering' myself as I wander (?)

In, London, published in Songs of Experience in 1794, William Blake, wrote:


I wander thro' each charter'd street,

Near where the charter'd Thames does flow.

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, marks of woe.

Times change.  These days perhaps we see masks of weakness, masks of woe.....

In every cry of every Man,

In every Infants cry of fear,

In every voice: in every ban,

The mind-forg'd manacles I hear

But that doesn't stop us looking, and taking pictures.....

I am in Tate Britain.  One of the greatest monuments to slavery yet to be torn down.....

Paula Rego (with whom, incidentally, I share a birthday.... yeah, why should you care, though perhaps you will remember it now?) articulates outrage and  echoes some of Blake's concerns:

But most thro' midnight streets I hear
How the youthful Harlots curse
Blasts the new-born Infants tear
And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse

I know little of Blake.....  But I can, and will, learn....  In America, A Prophecy, he wrote:

The Guardian Prince of Albion burns in his nightly tent:
Sullen fires across the Atlantic glow to America's shore,
Piercing the souls of warlike men who rise in silent night.

Q: Would the world be a better place if the likes of Johnson and Raab had read/taken heed of/understood these lines?  

A: Probably not....

I am in Dulwich, trembling at the thought of Mr Farage (who with a schoolboy smirk haunts the place) and his €70K+ pension from the European Parliament to which he contributed so much:

I am here to see a bunch of flowers:

And assorted photos of plants etc.....

But what really interests me is Rembrandt van Rjin's Girl at a Window, who gazes naturalistically at us from 1645 as if the future was a dream:

And then, just by her is Titus, one of Rembrandt's sons, who died soon after this portrait was finished, in 1668, just a year before the master himself expired.  The haunted, slightly pained, expression contrasts with the girl, and reminds us that to every yin there is a yang - to every upper there is a downer.....  

Or so it seems?


Back on the street, I think again of Blake's words:

How the Chimney-sweepers cry
Every blackning Church appalls,
And the hapless Soldiers sigh
Runs in blood down Palace walls

And how, just eight years later, Wordsworth would write:

Earth has not any thing to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802

Though to do him justice, he did also write:

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;

The World Is Too Much With Us

So, Once I saw a Devil in a flame of fire.......

I call this selfie, Self-immolation, and append William Blake's poem: A Divine Image

Cruelty has a Human Heart,
And Jealousy a Human Face;
Terror the Human Form Divine.
And Secrecy the Human Dress.

The Human Dress is forged Iron,
The Human Form a fiery Forge,
The Human Face a furnace seal'd,
The Human Heart its hungry Gorge.


About suffering they were never wrong,
The old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position: how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;

Musée des Beaux Arts 


W. H. Auden 


There is so much to learn, and I have squandered so much time.  

(But some of it has been fun..... and I will dance with Paula Rego and sing with Blake.....)


15 August 2021

Buon Ferragosto!

 A Short Walk on Ferragosto.....

It doesn't seem like mid-August.  Ferragosto.  The 15th August.  Feriae Augusti, initiated by the Emperor Augustus (when he was merely Octavian) to give workers a break, then adopted by the Pope to combine with the celebration of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary.  

When I went to live in Rome, in August '76, it was blindingly hot, and around Ferragosto almost everything was closed - shops had their blinds down for weeks, the whole city seemed to be asleep.

I spoke to a friend in Calabria last night.  It was very very hot, but she was planning a family picnic under the trees today.  I remember summer days in Italy, a little lunch then a sleep in the shade.  August was a quiet month.  In fact, many summers I travelled north to escape the mid-summer heat, and later, the fires and the Canadairs, the acrid air......

So today, in the comparative cool of Norfolk, under grey skies, with a hint of drizzle just speckling my camera, I take Amanda for a walk.  And, to my amazement, we find ourselves in early Autumn - far from the glare of summer......

Sloes are darkening; crab apples are swelling in the hedgerows.  There is even a mushroom arising out of a rotten log.....

Beech mast is dropping from the trees, falling and opening.....

Hazelnuts await the squirrels:

Sweet chestnuts are forming on their twigs:

And Blackberries are getting ready for the pie:

Thistle down is whisping in the breeze:

The seeds of Rosebay Willowherb are all set to take off:

And the sticky buds of Burdock are almost past their best:

While the bright berries of the Rowan are ripe and ready to pick to make jelly with the crab-apples:

It's all very well, but only the other day it was Spring, and then yesterday was Summer.  Who knows where the time goes?  

Life is upside down.  A second year begins to fray and decline; a second lost year, with few meetings, little travel, enclosure and isolation.  

Forgive me this, but, "Hare today....

Gone tomorrow....."

Across the evening sky,
all the birds are leaving,
But how can they know,
it's time for them to go?
Before the winter fire,
I will still be dreaming,
I have no thought of time.

For who knows,
where the time goes?
Who knows,
where the time goes?

Sandy Denny

Who Knows Where the Time Goes


Buon Ferragosto my friends.....

Make the most of today, for who knows...?

[All photographs taken on the Wild Ken Hill estate, Snettisham, Norfolk, between 08.30 and 10.30 on August 15th, 2021, with my Pentax K-3, mounted with a Pentax - DA 1:2.8 35mm Macro lens (limited)].