Thursday, 28 October 2010

Tales from the riverbank

The Tales from Bibury Shop blog is back. And there's more intriguing news of riverbank developments:
...I have noticed that the grass around the river banks is often streaked with a silvery deposit. I have worked out that this is heron poo. As they take flight from a morning's fishing they almost always emit a long streak of sparkling deposit. On closer inspection the poo is entirely composed of fish scales which contrasts vividly with the lush green grass.

If you don't like hearing about that sort of thing there's something wrong with you.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

In praise of Masterchef: The Professionals

Masterchef: The Professionals, where cocks of the walk end up as coq au vin. At The D.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Wednesday, 20 October 2010


Balti. Brum. Here.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

In praise of AR

Antiques Roadshow. Admit it - you'd miss it if it wasn't there. At The D.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Win, win, win!

You - yes, you - could win one year's subscription to Slightly Foxed over at The Dabbler. Should you be witty as well as lucky you can also win a Stan Madeley book. Hie over there forthwith!

Gauguin at the Tate

Today I dabble away on the Gauguin exhibition at Tate Modern.

Monday, 11 October 2010

Writing's on the wall for wool

Preparing to celebrate Wool Week yesterday, I was amazed to learn from the enthusiastic Lucy Siegle (right, in a non-wool scarf) that there are question marks over the sustainability of wool:
It's too much of a stretch to say that wool is highly sustainable (there's the animal exploitation, for starters, though the industry claims excellent welfare conditions for all its 1bn sheep), but it is compostable and water resistant. 
Yes, there's been a question mark over sheep farming for a while now. Those Arcadian Shepherds really were on to something:

Saturday, 9 October 2010

The strange persistence of "pseudo-history"

Well that break didn't last long. I guess if you're provoked enough, even a high temperature doesn't get in the way...

From a piece on trees in today's Guardian by Colin Tudge, a biologist and the author of The Secret Life of Trees (my emphasis):
But in Britain right now, woods are on the up. According to a survey carried out this week by the Forestry Commission for the UN, we have more trees than at any time since 1750 (after which we cut them down to build a navy to fight the French). In fact, we have 11,200 sq miles of woodland – which is more than twice as much as we had at the low point of the 1920s, after the first world war had taken its toll on timber and charcoal.

There is no evidence for either of the bolded assertions; in fact, the evidence points entirely the other way. The continuing use of woodland to harvest timber or make charcoal helps ensure its survival.

The other point to make is that there's woodland and woodland. Plantations - which ecologically have little interest relative to naturally occuring woodland - may well have increased our wooded acreage. However, ancient woodland has declined.

I came across this Richard Mabey review of the sainted Oliver Rackham's Woodlands. It makes the argument:
I was lucky to be at Rackham’s debut, at a conference 30 years ago. He was a shy young Cambridge botanist then, and was addressing the seemingly uncontroversial subject of The Oak Tree in Historic Times. But his paper turned out to be a bombshell, a clinical demolition of foresters’ paternalism and an awesomely evidenced account of the fact that, for most of human history, trees had been regarded and used as a self- renewing resource. He described how he had measured all the main timbers in the original part of his college, Corpus Christi (there were 1,249, mostly small squared trees about 7ins in diameter), and calculated how frequently such a building could have been created from the renewable oaks of an ordinary Cambridgeshire wood. He blew away the notion that felling trees destroyed woodland.

In the half-dozen books he has written since, he has revolutionised our understanding of historical ecology. In sharp and exquisite English, and with a historical intuition as strong as his scientific rigour, he has laid waste the conventional wisdom of foresters, the ideologies of theoretical naturalists, the “pseudo-histories” of historians. His simple — and to him sacrosanct — precept is that the final arbiter in all arguments about woodland must be the trees and woods themselves, in all their dynamic, mutable, particular detail.

And yet the "pseudo history" persists!

By the way, C Tudge appears to be plagiarising himself. His latest article begins and ends:
My passion for trees began at primary school, well over half a century ago. I was 11 when I started a nursery in our garden in south London, planting sprigs of sycamore, oak and holly salvaged from the bomb-sites that still pockmarked the city. They'd be grown by now, if I hadn't dug them up to make way for a greenhouse.
We've been treating trees badly for a long time. At Binsey in Oxford in 1879 Gerard Manley Hopkins lamented the felling of poplars: "O if we but knew what we do When we delve or hew – Hack and rack the growing green!"
We still don't know what we are doing and in the world at large the hacking and racking continue more vigorously than ever. But right now, in Britain, although the leaves are dying the trees with luck are flourishing. I do hope we can keep it up.

Back in 2005 another article, which he must be proud of as he's posted it to his website, begins and ends:
At age 11 I started my own nursery—horse chestnut, sycamore, birch, oak, and holly, pillaged from the World War II bomb-sites that still pock-marked South London: those baby trees would be big by now, if they hadn't succumbed to later whims.
In Oxford in 1879 Gerard Manley Hopkins lamented the felling of poplars: “O if we but knew what we do When we delve or hew—Hack and rack the growing green!” We still don't know what we are doing, and never can in any detail, but the hacking and racking continue more vigorously than ever. The only half-way sane approach if we want this world to remain habitable, is to approach it humbly. Trees teach humility. We need to take the world far more seriously. It would be a good idea to begin with trees.

Other bits are very similar too. He's a fan of recycling and in many ways it seems. In any event, he could do with some fresh input on 'hacking and racking', a good thing when it's done in the right way.

If I may quote: 'We need to take the world far more seriously. It would be a good idea to begin with trees.'

No posts for a bit

I've come down with flu so won't be posting for a bit. Happy days...

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Happy odyseey

Yonda lies my postage on da Dabblah (T Curtis homage). About the happy odyssey of a legendary and alarming soldier.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


Op cancelled, for the third time now. I've been waiting since the end of May.

This time I got as far as the operating theatre, in gown and stockings, before being informed that I wouldn't be going through the doors - they'd run out of intensive care beds. So at least four surgeons are also twiddling their thumbs this afternoon.

Anyway. Cup of tea.

Monday, 4 October 2010

On not hibernating

I'm off into hospital tomorrow for a big op and it's intended that I shall stay there for about ten days. As little blogging will be carried on during this time I thought I'd leave you with a difficult poem (referred to here). It is mostly mysterious but illuminated by flashes of beauty - and therefore rather lifelike.

It's called The Winter Bees. I suppose it has some personal resonance as the honey bees of the title don't hibernate, they slow down and huddle together to keep going; more or less my modus operandi over the last couple of years and for the next couple of months. It's by Jon Silkin, a poet the majority of whose poems I'm not fussed about. However, occasionally and when he writes about nature I think he can come up with poetry as good as anything written in recent decades.

Anyway, ta-ra! Don't be afeard - the operation is intended to restore me to full fitness so it's a good thing. What's playing on my mind most right now is that I'll be missing most of Masterchef Professional. For a second year, too.

The Winter Bees


Winter bees, finding enough blossom,
of the sweet small copiousness they cram
winter - frozen muddle - with amorous pressure;
the acetylene flare of bees, nectaring
in suffused purple light; the honey
cool moral, waylaid by feelers.


Flickering sugary flowers, their doused blameless
substance a gelid intermittent veining,
like strands of wintery heat - the bee hunts them
for liquor, jabbing a superfluity.
Veined blossom flickering, scalloped clouds, these consonant
sharing forms, a bee their suffering link,
is also a heated wire, quick form.


The zone forks its electrics, the sky, fanned
in ridges like a shell, splits with a flash;
the bivalve in a half form, coy fissure.


In cold this unceasing flare is work
a prisoner of honey slowly unwinds
as if it were a spidery filament;
oozed sugary superfluity
the jasmine hardly notices it yields.
The face is winter's


plum-coloured, a huntsman's hung up in the fog.
A doe, spotting soft grass and briar, her breath
gassed in exhaustion, inoperative limbs
tied as a thicket is, green liquid,
greasy manufacture you recognise
is gangrene. Recognise these shifting marshes,
the horses buttocks, the man's slighter ones
a contour upon the animal fixed like
a grin, blood misting the thicket. Remus,
with fierce light, with struggling blood, as if
you ploughed up North America, tune your horn
with fierce light, with straggling blood - as if
the evening's silvery flanks, the gashed flanks,
the simple sun, gashed. Hot star, rise up, see
your furred contemporary, curious nectar
of the lonely; the dead wings, without weight;


the embrasures of honey, the queen's furred kinsmen
in rows and layers, effigies for the spider;
pointed receptacles, corbels of honey
fluted with dust, scum upon amber fluid.
The young boy shoves off for lunch, whistling -
his little pipes, the unbroken larynx, are reeds
of cheerfulness, earth for him so much down,
fluff, a mantle, on the bellowing cheeks.