Archive for February, 2012

How to get there

Monday, February 27th, 2012

And if you can’t see it well enough to read just click on it – that’s how you get there.


Tuesday, February 21st, 2012

To my considerable delight I’ve just discovered that there’s a Rothko show on at the Whitechapel gallery, and we can go there on Sunday – the last day of the show. I don’t know how I missed knowing it was on when it opened last September, but I am very glad I’ll get in under the wire at the last possible chance.

There’s just a single work of art in the ‘Rothko in Britain’ exhibition. Since I think Rothko is the god of modern art I’d travel a lot further than Whitechapel for just one of his paintings, but in fact this one has been lent by the Tate so I’ve probably seen it before: Light Red Over Black, painted in 1957. There is also a sequence of photos of the visitors to Rothko’s first solo exhibition in Britain (1961, also at the Whitechapel), photos of Rothko during his visit to Britain in 1959, and a page or two from some notes taken in conversation with him then, including this famous quote:

“You think my paintings are calm, like windows in some cathedral?” Rothko supposedly said. “You should look again. I’m the most violent of all the American painters. Behind those colours there hides the final cataclysm.”

A review of the exhibition by Alistair Sooke says, “Renaissance man had altarpieces; we get the shimmering, hazy half-promises of Rothko.” But the thing is, we get both at once with Rothko – or we do if we visit the Rothko Chapel in Houston: now there’s a fine example of ‘worth the journey’. And Alex Danchev, in a review of a Cezanne exhibition, made a telling distinction about modern artists: between those who say, “look at me” and those who say, “here it is”. Rothko’s very firmly in the latter group, I believe, and saying something like, “here it is, if you can bear it.”

Tuesday Poem: Sea Fever

Monday, February 13th, 2012

I woke early this morning with this poem scrolling out in my head. I have no idea why that happened but I expect it’s not unrelated to nostalgia for leaving Waiheke Island, where visions of the sea inhabit my mind and heart in an appropriately feverish way. I also had no idea that the whole of the poem was stored somewhere in my brain: complete, unabridged, perfect. It must have been pleased to get an airing; I don’t believe I’ve tried to remember it since I was in Year Eight at school.

Masefield turns out, with the help of Wikipedia, to be a very interesting person – and unsurprisingly he worked as a sailor, including on one of the last of the commercial windjammers. ‘Sea Fever’ was published when he was 24.

by John Masefield

(1878-1967; English Poet Laureate 1930-1967.)

I must down to the seas again, to the
lonely sea and the sky,
And all I ask is a tall ship and a star
to steer her by,
And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song
and the white sail’s shaking,
And a grey mist on the sea’s face,
and a grey dawn breaking.

I must down to the seas again, for the call
of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied;
And all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying,
And the flung spray and the blown spume,
and the sea-gulls crying.

I must down to the seas again, to the
vagrant gypsy life,
To the gull’s way and the whale’s way
where the wind’s like a whetted knife;
And all I ask is a merry yarn from
a laughing fellow-rover
And quiet sleep and a sweet dream
when the long trick’s over.

And here’s a link to the late great Thomas Allen singing the version set to music. (Maybe 2012 is the year in which I finally learn how to embed YouTube links?) 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.

Ten things to miss about Waiheke Island

Thursday, February 2nd, 2012


  1. The crisp top layer of sand on Onetangi beach and the way your feet sink through its slight resistance into the soft sand underneath. It reminds me of the sensation of biting into a genuine Italian semifreddo ice cream; it’s that kind of feeling – but on your feet instead of in your mouth. Sweet.
  2. The saltiness of seawater. I always forget about that because I spend most of my swimming life in indoor pools, but the sea is very salty in the nicest possible way.  Buoyant. Tangy.  Delightful.
  3. Watching the ever-changing patterns that wind and tide make across the surface of the sea. It produces mysterious and entirely transient layers and streaks of colour, from bright teal to soft silvery grey. I could watch moving water for hours at a time. And sometimes I almost do.
  4. The call of the tui  – Woodside Bay tui don’t imitate the sound of microwaves or car alarms, they only produce that characteristic liquid gurgle.  It’s lovely. They splash around in our birdbath in the late afternoon, too, which is even lovelier.
  5. Pukeko. I know: farmers hate them and they can be a general rural nuisance, but they have a firm place in my heart: the sheer absurdity of them. And oh! baby pukeko, all fluffy feathers and staggering on unreliable and uncontrolled long red legs.
  6. Kumera. Not any of the recent varieties, please – only the old fashioned purple kind that my Uncle Clive used to grow which are a taste and texture sensation. You can sometimes buy kumera at the shop under New Zealand House in London – the word goes out when a shipment arrives. But sometimes isn’t really enough.
  7. Hand-reared cattle in the field next to the house, all turning their heads in synchrony when they hear the farmer’s truck bumping down the track. They look like Wimbledon spectators.
  8. The view.
  9. The view.
  10. The view.