Archive for March, 2011

Tuesday poem: Loveliest of trees, by A.E. Housman

Monday, March 28th, 2011


Loveliest of trees, the cherry now

Is hung with bloom along the bough,

And stands about the woodland ride

Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,

Twenty will not come again,

And take from seventy springs a score,

It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom

Fifty springs are little room,

About the woodlands I will go

To see the cherry hung with snow.

OK, I admit the cherry trees in London aren’t quite at the Housman stage yet. Almost, but not quite. I walked down to the West End this afternoon through Regent’s Park, which is always a good cherry blossom viewing site, and there is some glorious blossom on a few trees as well as many others in fat leaf bud, and still more with that edge of haziness that means – well, maybe tomorrow they’ll have blossomed into a flurry of gorgeousness.

Not yet the cherries: not yet. But still, I can’t wait until next week to post this poem. It used to make me laugh to read a 20-year-old worrying about not having enough spring-times left to look at ‘things in bloom’, but now that my own threescore-and-ten allocation is beginning to break into a canter behind me – I can just about hear the distant thunder of its hooves –  I don’t laugh any more. Mr Housman, you were spot-on right: no-one has enough spring-times to look at blossom, so we have to take our chances whenever we can. And the same goes for posting your poem, even though I simply can’t establish the verse breaks (there are three verses each of four lines, but WordPress doesn’t seem to care).

But I can’t help thinking about Japan, which in an ordinary year would be about to celebrate cherry blossom time, but now must be having trouble celebrating anything at all.


Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Yesterday I decided to have canned sardines on toast for lunch. I think good canned sardines are delectable, and we all know that oily fish is good for us, don’t we? So the idea has virtue attached to it as well as ease, speed and the added attraction of toast: in this case Pain Quotidien’s organic five-grain bread, my current fav. A little lemon juice squeezed on at the last moment and maybe a little black pepper…

And while I was waiting for the bread to toast I noticed a small extra label on the side of the packet. So I read it, and since I can’t seem to photograph that part of the sardine packet at the right distance to make the words readable, I’ll have to tell you what the label says.

TIN NO. 0041 OF 7,735 TINS


(Sardina Pilchardus)




ON 27/8/09

Could a piece of information get any higher on the traceability register? Somehow, knowing all that made the sardines even more delicious. I even tried to find a photo of the fish market on Google, but no joy there, although I did manage to find these photos of the port, with fishing boats.

I recommend these sardines – not only because you can discover exactly when and where the fish were sold but also because they’re so good. Small sardines are a better buy than big ones, which in my experience sometimes taste a bit woody. These are the real thing, straight from Galicia to you (via the canning factory). How cool is that?

Signs of spring abounding

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Someone knows why so many spring flowers come in shades of yellow, but that someone is not me.

But look! Aren’t they wonderful?

The first three examples of spring are blooming in the community garden where we have a veggie plot (four varieties of early potatoes planted last Saturday, and broad beans planted last year with a few extra seeds added in the inevitable spaces two weeks ago).

The last one is in the garden of a block of flats in Primrose Hill Road.

I have no idea of the name of any of them, but that doesn’t stop me loving each and every bloom. Experiencing the first confident signs of spring, I think, is a good way to be happy.

Ponder this

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

A magazine ad for Innocent orange juice had this to say about how to be happy, so I’m adding it to my ‘how to be happy though human’ theme.

The secret to happiness is to get up late,

leave work early,

dance with your nan at a wedding,

and never, ever, lose your cool

about parking spaces or late flights.

What do you think? I love the bit about dancing with your nan at a wedding, and very much wish I’d had a chance to do that.

Tuesday poem – Things

Monday, March 14th, 2011

THINGS, by Fleur Adcock

There are worse things than having behaved foolishly in public.

There are worse things than these miniature betrayals,

committed or endured or suspected. There are worse things

than not being able to sleep for thinking about them.

It is 5 a.m.  All the worse things come stalking in

and stand icily about the bed looking worse and worse and worse.

(From ‘Poems 1960 – 2000′ published by Bloodaxe Books, and used by kind permission of the poet.)

I admire Fleur Adcock’s poetry enormously; she makes acute observations with a lovely fluency and real style. And her range is both broad and deep – everything from poems like the one above, which make me laugh (and wince) in uncomfortable recognition, to a moving memorial of a loved friend (“For Meg”, collected in the same volume).

Fleur Adcock is a New Zealander by birth and the author of ten books of poetry and a collected edition of her work. She was awarded an OBE in 1996. There’s a good review of her latest collection (‘Dragon Talk’) here.

Thoughts about coming & going

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

I’m back in London now and more or less through with the turning-round-and-round-in-my-basket stage of transition. I do not excel at the transition process and I’d really like some sort of decompression chamber to assist me. But the signs of spring are coming along excitingly here, which helps, and so do Radio 4 and The Guardian. (I listen avidly to NPR when I’m in Key West but the reception is tricky, which means I haven’t yet worked out how to listen to programs when I’m prepping food in the kitchen – the very time I most need it. And although The Key West Citizen has a proud history as a newspaper it’s presently a disappointing shadow of its former self. Having a morning newspaper you can read in less time than it takes to eat your breakfast has advantages, but you don’t find out much about the world that way. No, correction: you don’t find out anything about the world that way.)

Before I left Key West I tried again to take a decent photo of my beloved Minnie: still going strong at 13-plus, and still a complete delight.  But photographing her is a challenging task because she always functions at ground level – I can almost never catch her on top of anything. And if I bend down to her level with a camera she immediately runs up to inspect this new diversion, which means I have many blurred shots of Minnie’s nose and face but none of The Whole Cat.

So I had to make do with photographing her from above, while she was eating. I think it makes a good study of texture and pattern, and it’s the best I could manage.

The contrasts between a small leafy town in the tropics and the shouty realities of a big dirty city are still echoing for me, but I try to celebrate the pleasures of both. One unexpected pleasure here was a taxi journey from Paddington, when the driver turned out to be rather a sweetheart. We were discussing the Signs of Spring, as you do, and he told me an enchantingly romantic story – that when he first married he’d planted crocuses in their lawn to spell out ‘Happy birthday Irene’ because he’d been sure they’d come up in time for her birthday on 10th March. But he hadn’t known that different coloured crocuses come up at different times, so by the time Irene’s birthday arrived the message read something like “- a – - y bi – - – a -  – r – - e”.

The other thing he told me was that, years ago when he’d had Lady Antonia Fraser in the back of his cab (and yes, he really said that) she’d recommended Michael Connolly to him and he had very much enjoyed those books. I suggested Lee Child (confident in the knowledge that Lady Antonia reportedly admires that author as much as I do) and he drove off in happy anticipation of another good thriller writer.

One last thing. A friend in Auckland emailed me the url for a new website celebrating the resourceful good humour of people in Christchurch who lost their sewage connections in the recent earthquake. Hundreds of them have sent in photos of the ‘long drops’ they’ve had to construct in their back yards, and you can vote for the most ingenious ones. The website’s called ‘Show Us Your Long Drop’, and here is the current winner, Lambert’s Lavatory, with 420 votes at present. If you want to vote you’ll have to hurry, the competition closes on Monday 14th March, and that’s NZ time which means that it happens when Europe’s still on Sunday 13th March. There are prizes! Fame and fortune await the lucky winners!