Archive for July, 2011


Wednesday, July 27th, 2011

The runner beans! The climbing beans! Both of these have only just begun their great work, with months of pleasure yet to come, and although the broad beans have finished our early potatoes are still delighting us. Oh, the joys of a veggie garden. I have taken this largesse as licence to buy roses instead of vegetables in the farmers’ market which is inarguably a rather shocking indulgence, but the glorious rose scent distracts me from all but the slightest whiff of guilt.

Look at the latest bunch!

They look almost as beautiful as one of Fantin-Latour’s rose paintings.

Next time I photograph one of my bunches of roses I’m going to add a pear to the arrangement. And are those nuts in the foreground, do you think?

Tuesday Poem: What you have to get over

Monday, July 25th, 2011

by Dick Allen

Stumps. Railroad tracks. Early sicknesses,
the blue one, especially.
Your first love rounding a corner,
that snowy minefield.

Whether you step lightly or heavily,
you have to get over to that tree line a hundred yards in the
before evening falls,
letting no one see you wend your way,

that wonderful, old-fashioned word, wend,
meaning “to proceed, to journey,
to travel from one place to another,”
as from bed to breakfast, breakfast to imbecile work.

You have to get over your resentments,
the sun in the morning and the moon at night,
all those shadows of yourself you left behind
on odd little tables.

Tote that barge! Lift that bale! You have to
cross that river, jump that hedge, surmount that slogan,
crawl over this ego or that eros,
then hoist yourself up onto that yonder mountain.

Another old-fashioned word, yonder, meaning
“that indicated place, somewhere generally seen
or just beyond sight.” If you would recover,
you have to get over the shattered autos in the
backwoods lot

to that bridge in the darkness
where the sentinels stand
guarding the border with their half-slung rifles,
warned of the likes of you.

From Best American Poetry 2010. Reprinted by permission of Dick Allen.

I thought that Dick Allen was the present Poet Laureate of the United States, although I now believe that’s mistaken: it’s W.S. Merwin who’s now the national Laureate. (I gather that Dick Allen is the State Poet Laureate for Connecticut.) But I was interested to notice how – like Billy Collins, an earlier national Laureate – his work combines a narrative voice of deceptive simplicity with wit and huge emotional resonance: ‘language measured and super-charged’ is what he was once quoted as aiming for.

And while I’m talking poetry why don’t you look at what the other Tuesday Poets are offering: if one of the posts on the sidebar mentions a Tuesday Poem you can be sure there’s a poem in there somewhere.

A list of banned clichés

Thursday, July 21st, 2011

John Rentoul, the chief political commentator for The Independent on Sunday, is always worth reading. Three years ago he started developing a list of prohibited clichés on his blog, and the top 100 banned words and phrases are available on The Independent’s website: the complete Banned List is to be published in book form in October.

Here are the first 30 banned items: I’m temped to say they’re food for thought except that’s a cliché too, although not in the top 100. I’m sorry about number 6: it’s such a delicious irony. Ah well.

1. It’s the economy, stupid.
2. A week is a long time in politics. Or variants thereof, such as, “If a week is a long time in politics then a month seems an eternity.”
3. What part of x don’t you understand? Although this one seems to have nearly died out already.
4. Way beyond, or way more.
5. Any time soon.
6. “Events, dear boy, events.”
7. Learning curve.
8. Raising awareness.
9. Celebrating diversity.
10. In any way, shape or form.
11. Inclusive.
12. Community, especially a vibrant one.
13. Hearts and minds.
14. Celebrity.
15. Makeover.
16. Lifestyle.
17. Going forward.
18. A forward policy.
19. A big ask.
20. At this moment in time.
21. Not fit for purpose.
22. Hard-working families.
23. Apologies for lack of postings.
24. Black hole (in a financial context).
25. The elephant in the room.
26. Perfect storm.
27. Seal the deal.
28. A good election to lose.
29. Game-changer.
30. Beginning an article with “So”.

The original Banned List was, of course, George Orwell’s: you can see his ‘Politics and the English Language’ article here. And Orwell’s six rules of writing hold good.

• Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
• Never use a long word where a short one will do.
• If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
• Never use the passive where you can use the active.
• Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
• Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.

And now I must go and stare despairingly at my own writing …

Tuesday epigram by Humbert Wolfe

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

‘You cannot hope …”
by Humbert Wolfe

You cannot hope to bribe or twist,

thank God! the British journalist.

But, seeing what the man will do

unbribed, there’s no occasion to.

Humbert Wolfe’s famous epigram, written almost a hundred years ago, is a prescient comment on the News International firestorm, and I’ve given it a red heading as a wry comment on the redtop nature of the present scandal. I doubt if any of this would have shocked him; it would probably seem to him to be more – much more – of the same. Still, it seems this show will run and run, so who knows how it will end? And despite my belief that nothing much will happen at today’s Parliamentary Committee hearings I’ll still be watching them on TV later this afternoon. Can Rupert Murdoch keep his temper in check? Will the flame-haired temptress lose her infamous smirk? Will James Murdoch deny everything? My pro-tem answers are: alas no; perhaps; and yes. Watch that screen …

So hats off to Wolfe who was born in Milan in 1851, grew up in Bradford, and got a First from Oxford. He published poetry from the early 1920s while working for the Civil Service, and died in 1940.

And now, if you’d like to read other poems why don’t you look at what the other Tuesday Poets are offering: if one of the posts on the sidebar mentions a Tuesday Poem you can be sure there’s a poem in there somewhere!

Lynne Truss, Texas needs you!

Thursday, July 14th, 2011

A friend who lives in the American South emailed me a whole collection of jokes about the South the other day.  They’re mostly good, and anyway, as my friend said, “You can say what you want about the South, but you never hear of anyone retiring and moving North.”

Regular readers of my blog will know that I was recently in Texas (for the first time ever) and I took a photo of a sign that amused me, outside our hotel in San Antonio (a great little town, I recommend it completely). The thing about it is that without a comma (or ideally a colon) inserted  between ‘trespassing’ and ‘violators’ the sign means the exact opposite of what was intended.

And here’s the Texas joke that reminded me of the sign:-

The Sheriff pulled up next to the guy unloading garbage out of his pick-up into the ditch.

The Sheriff asked, “Why are you dumping garbage in the ditch?  Don’t you see that sign right over your head?”

“Yep,” the guy replied.  “Sure do. That’s why I’m dumpin’ it here, ’cause that sign says: ‘Fine For Dumping Garbage’.”

Beans, beans beans – and a poem

Tuesday, July 5th, 2011

Baked beans,
Butter beans,
Big fat lima beans,
Long thin string beans –
Those are just a few.

Green beans,
Black beans,
Big fat kidney beans,
Red hot chili beans,
Jumping beans too.

Last year I posted a photo of the first of our runner beans on 11 July; this year the first baby beans had begun to set by 25th June, although I only got around to taking their picture last Sunday. It’s not surprising that they’re earlier this year; we had such a warm and sunny spring.

This year, rather by accident, we planted a whole lot of different climbers – Goliath and Painted Lady runner beans, and Zebra, Violetta and Neckargold climbing beans. The seeds were delightfully decorative and the flowers are wonderfully varied too – and now we can’t wait to see how the beans taste. We haven’t managed to keep track of which plant is which, though, so if one of the varieties is a star we won’t know what it is, other than delicious.

Does anyone know who wrote the bean poem that I’ve quoted above? I can’t find an attribution for it – it’s one that’s often used with children in classrooms, especially when they’re growing, um, beans.