Recent Post -  Patmos Garden From the Archives Desert Island Discs

Tuesday, 29 April 2014


Violence, whatever the cause, makes you wonder at human nature. We are entertained by Breaking Bad (see my entry 24/03/2013) but in real life violence leaves us aghast wherever it may be, be it in Egypt, Syria, Ukraine, so many countries in Africa. The toll of horror continues and was it not always thus? In this year of remember and the Great War of 1914-18 was a tragic massacre and the poem by Wilfred Owen says it all.

Dulce et Decorum est.

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks, 
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge, 
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs 
And towards our distant rest began to trudge. 
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots 
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind; 
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots  
Of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.
Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling, 
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time; 
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling, 
And flound'ring like a man in fire or lime . . . 
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light, 
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning. 
In all my dreams, before my helpless sight, 
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning. 
If in some smothering dreams you too could pace 
Behind the wagon that we flung him in, 
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face, 
His hanging face, like a devil's sick of sin; 
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood 
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs, 
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud  
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues, 
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest  
To children ardent for some desperate glory, 
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est 
Pro patria mori.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

COMMENT: Art and Museums

Most unexpectedly, in idyllic Buckinghamshire a series of barns hide a secret - an underground museum - The Sarikhani Collection of Persian Art, of exceptional, not to say unique quality, displayed with great elegance largely thanks to the designer Charles Marsden-Smedley's superb installation.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

ART I admire: Fra Angelico [1395-1455]

Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Condemned
Saint Cosmas and Saint Damian Crucified and Stoned

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

POETRY: Philip Larkin

'Within the dream you said'

Within the dream you said:
Let us kiss then,
In this room, in this bed,
But when all's done
We must not meet again.

Hearing this last word,
There was no lambing-night,
No gale-driven bird
Nor frost-encircled root
As cold as my heart.   

Monday, 14 April 2014

COMMENT: The British Museum

The way to tackle the British Museum is to zero in on an exhibition, or a particular set of rooms - I did this last week. 

The Mitsubishi Corporation Japanese Galleries contain marvels, but Japan deserves better. The refinement, the incomparable gardens, the fabrics, the sheer volume of what is to be seen in Kyoto alone - none of this is conveyed in these sad, airless, sterile rooms. 

Vikings Life and Legend is an exhibition marvelously curated, admirable and clear, a revelation. The boats have such elegant lines, intriguing facts and artefacts, a boost to one's knowledge and imagination. 
A - The Viking Age defined as a period between the late eighth and late eleventh centuries during which there was an unprecedented movement of people out from the Scandinavian homelands. 

And what of the CP Cavafy poem on the Vikings predecessors centuries earlier?

Waiting for the Barbarians.
What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

            The barbarians are due here today.

Why isn’t anything happening in the senate?

[and the last two lines]
And now, what’s going to happen to us without barbarians?
They were, those people, a kind of solution.

Monday, 7 April 2014

LIVING BY DESIGN: Renzo Mongiardino

A master slavishly imitated but never equalled, Renzo Mongiardino, who died in 1998, was a hugely influential Italian designer who lived in Milan but worked all over the world, his stencilling, his mixture of colours, his double-sided sofas, his love of historical detail resulted in sophisticated rooms of great warmth and comfort, however grand in reality, thanks to his masterly trompe l'oeils.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

POETRY: Anna Akhmatova - Summer Garden

Who would have thought in 1959, the year this poem was written, that Leningrad would revert to glorious St. Petersburg?

Summer Garden

"I want to visit the roses

In that lonely
Park where the statues remember me young
And I remember them under the water
Of the Neva. In the fragrant quiet
Between the limes of Tsarskoye I hear
A creak of masts. And the swan swims
Still, admiring its lovely 
Double. And a hundred thousand steps, 
Friend and enemy, enemy and friend, 
Sleep. Endless is the procession of shade
Between granite vase and palace door. 
There my white nights 
Whisper of someone's discreet exalted 
Love. And everything is mother-
Of-pearl and jasper, 
But the light's source is a secret."

- Anna Akhmatova, July 1959, Leningrad.