Archive for August, 2011

The end of the golden weather – not!

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

Our climbing beans have slowed down their remarkable production skills and the leaves on our squash vines are tinged with yellow. I’ve given up swimming at the Hampstead Heath Lido and have moved to the heated indoor pools in Kentish Town. Hot soup suddenly seems a sensible choice for lunch instead of salads, and last night I needed an extra layer on the bed.

But we haven’t given up on summer – not yet – and so it’s time to chase the sun south for a few weeks. We’re heading off again next week, driving down through France to Italy and then into Umbria where this glorious organic farm awaits us in all its beauty, along with projected temperatures that make you gasp and stretch your eyes, and imagine that you remember how summers used to be exactly like this in the Good Old Days (yeah, right).

Tomatoes. Figs. Plums. Peaches. Fresh mozzarella. Eggs from the farm’s hens, olive oil from their trees, and wine from their grapes. Salami made in the local salumeria. Breakfast on the front terrace watching the swifts and swallows gather on the power lines and have chirruping conversations about their coming journeys – I imagine them swapping route advice like the worst travel bores in the world.

Swimming in a pleasingly warm but unheated pool.

Walking up to Montegabbione in the late afternoon when everything’s turning pink and gold in the sun.

Drinking prosecco bellinis on the back terrace in the evening and watching the sun set behind Monte Amiata.

How wonderful is that?

The world of cats

Friday, August 19th, 2011

I found this cartoon somewhere years ago – I don’t remember where and I don’t know who the cartoonist is – RGJ, whomever that may be. But it’s a treasure and still makes me smile.

Another and more recent catty pleasure is The Catorialist, which sends up The Sartorialist by posting photos of cats along with straight-faced commentaries on their stylishness. (I particularly like the post for Sat 5th June entitled ‘The Case for Pushed-up Sleeves, Milano’.) Enjoy!

Tuesday Poem: Birmingham

Monday, August 15th, 2011

I think most Tuesday Poets know the outstanding body of work of the English Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy. Most readers around the world will also have heard about the recent riots in England. But perhaps not everyone will know of the dignified courage of the community leader Tariq Jahan in Birmingham, whose beloved son Haroon and his two young friends, Shezad and Abdul, were murdered by a hit and run driver during the troubles in their city.

Carol Ann Duffy wrote this to honour their memory. As Mark Antony said in Julius Caesar, “If you have tears, prepare to shed them now.”

Birmingham
by Carol Ann Duffy

for Tariq Jahan

After the evening prayers at the mosque,
came the looters in masks,
and you three stood,
beloved in your neighbourhood,
brave, bright brothers,
to be who you were –
a hafiz is one who has memorised
the entire Koran;
a devout man –
then the man in the speeding car
who purposefully mounted the kerb …

I think we should all kneel
on that English street,
where he widowed your pregnant wife, Shazad,
tossed your soul into the air, Abdul,
and brought your father, Haroon, to his knees,
his face masked in only your blood
on the rolling news
where nobody’s children riot and burn.

For more Tuesday poems go to the main hub site, where there is a lead poem posted each week. Further poems can be found on the blogs of the Tuesday poet members, in the sidebar.

Tuesday poem: The fat white woman bites back

Monday, August 1st, 2011

I spent two hours this morning walking the Suffolk coastal path north from Orford, where we’re staying once again for a few days. It was a lovely walk in glorious weather along a lonely stretch of coast, with the Orford Ness sandspit to my right and Aldeburgh far ahead. The birds mostly flew too high to identify but there were swallows and larks, and lots of wild flowers to admire as well as farm crops ready to harvest.

And there were absolutely no trains at all, not for miles, but suddenly this strange poem by Frances Cornford popped into my head and wouldn’t go away.

To a fat lady seen from the train
by Frances Cornford

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?

Maybe it was this wheat field that did it? I had just seen someone walking along its edge…

Or maybe it’s the poem’s metre? That triolet form is damnably insistent once it’s got a grip in your head. Either way this poem seems to me such an oddity; a curious mixture of romanticism and mean-spiritedness. But when I got back to the hotel I looked on Google for G. K. Chesterton’s surprising reply, below. (Well, this rejoinder of his still surprises me, anyway; it’s an unexpected note of support for the poem’s subject from such an infamous old misogynist.)

The Fat White Woman Speaks

by G. K. Chesterton

Why do you rush through the field in trains,

Guessing so much and so much?

Why do you flash through the flowery meads,

Fat-head poet that nobody reads;

And why do you know such a frightful lot

About people in gloves as such?

And how the devil can you be sure,

Guessing so much and so much,

How do you know but what someone who loves

Always to see me in nice white gloves

At the end of the field you are rushing by,

Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

And then I also remembered Jenny Joseph’s poem, that most famous one called ‘Warning’, and its mention not only of wearing purple and red hats, but also of summer gloves! I love to think that the poor old “fat white woman” is really a defiant Older Woman having a ball and behaving disgracefully. This is the bit I mean:
When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves…

And now you might like to 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.