Friday 27 June 2008

Lavender's blue

The lavender bush leans out from next door’s front garden, brushing against me when I hurry past. In Winter a scratchy sensation. In Summer a trace of fragrant oil. As soon as the stems start to swell into tiny flower buds, I instinctively reach out in passing - stroking and squeezing, sniffing my fingers as I walk away. An unfailing pleasure on the glummest morning. The essential oil's aroma rises even before the petals open. A strong scent on my hands for a couple of weeks now, but only the vaguest mauve mist on the silvery green. Then, yesterday evening, the first springy whoosh of purple-blue blooms.

Thursday 26 June 2008

I ♥ Jonathan Raban

"She liked to read reviews of plays she'd never see, recitals she'd never hear, art exhibits she'd never get the chance to visit. Lucy was no vicarious culture vulture: it was the language of the reviews themselves that she treasured. After the front-page headlines, body-counts, senatorial brawls, violent single-sentence-paragraph Op-Eds, it was good to loiter in a world where words like 'subtlety' and 'restraint' were invariably terms of praise. So, sipping wine, she read of 'the innate good taste and nuanced phrasing that informs Mr Thomas's spectacular, crystal-clear performance' in a dance concert at NYU. A pity, Lucy thought, that Mr Thomas was unlikely ever to run for president."

From Surveillance by Jonathan Raban, one of my very favourite writers - a novel with big themes that is also fantastic on the small stuff.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Tuesday 24 June 2008

Cold feet

Patches of summer:
blink and they're gone.
Waves of lush bloomery

follow the rain.
Varnish my toenails?

No. Socks back on.

Very nearly the farewell toast here, that was. A sharp attack of void, depression. The sharpest ever, maybe. But maybe a brief attack. Like the end of a migraine: before the pain begins to shift, an odd but explicit sensation of small spaces opening between the tight, rigid swellings of the brain, a tentative articulation.

Friday 13 June 2008

Tuesday 10 June 2008


There were hoards of us milling around in her vast, lush garden, which was opened to the public on Sunday, a glorious day, and made lots of money for the local hospice. I felt a little bad getting out my camera (yes, I know, she's a statue), but the light was too gorgeous to miss.

Monday 9 June 2008


Ha, I’ve chucked in the Mindfulness course. Given my marked temperamental predisposition to chucking things in, I’ve worked hard at noticing the impulse and not precipitately acting on it, and when I do act on it, even after deep consideration, it’s an awful aaaaargh! feeling.

It was the right thing to do, though. This felt wretched. I’ve concluded it’s too big, this stuff that came up after meditating on the body every day, this being with the ache that arises in the body and leads to the heart-ache, the soul-ache; if I’m going to do it, if I’m ready to do it, it won’t be in this very secular, very mixed setting which somehow wasn't - for me, right now - enough.

And now what? I have no idea. In my notebook I find words that I’ve no memory of copying down:

What exactly is the me that hurts right now? Is it something real, or just an image, that got ‘damaged’ ? …it’s amazing to discover that a hurt image can make the entire body mind ache physically.
Toni Packer

The comfort in remembering it’s all a mystery.

Friday 6 June 2008

This morning's gift

This beautiful photo, currently featured on Utata (and taken in one of my favourite places, the Cambridge University Botanic Garden), led me to the work of a terrific photographer.

On a bleakish morning, a browse around her Flickr photostream reminded me of quite a few of the reasons I find life worth living.

Hard to mention favourites, I love so much: more from the Botanic Garden, still lives, her lovely portraits for the 100 Strangers project.

Thank you, Karen!

Jade Vine by mmechinita

Thursday 5 June 2008

Over your shoulder

Marja-Leena has published a letter and some black and white photos from our mutual long-time blogger friend, Teju Cole. As usual, I like his photos very much, especially the blurred half-figure.

Teju isn’t blogging now (come back!), but I’m reminded to mention here too that his blog posts from 2006 about a trip back to his home country, Nigeria, after many years away, have morphed into a novel with photos, Every Day is for The Thief, published in Lagos by Cassava Republic, and also available from US Amazon.

It’s a beautiful, sophisticated small book about country and self, despair and hope, big things that matter and little things that matter just as much. Reading it was as if I’d seen the author typing it day after day in an adjoining room, read the first draft of each new chapter over his shoulder – as, in a way, I had.

Extract - from the publisher's website

The penultimate passenger to enter the danfo at Ojodu-Berger is a woman in an adire blouse. She holds a large book. The book’s dust-jacket is off-white, matte. I cannot see her face, though I try to. But, as she sits down, I crane my neck to see what is printed on the book cover, and I catch sight of the author’s name. What I see makes my heart leap up into my mouth and thrash about like a catfish in a bucket: Michael Ondaatje. One of my favourites. It is he who has the dream about acrobats in a great house. A reader of Ondaatje in these circumstances. It is incongruous. I could hardly be more surprised had she been singing a tune from Des Knaben Wunderhorn.

Of course, Nigerians read. There are the readers of newspapers, such as the gentleman next to me. Magazines of various kinds are popular, as are religious books. But to see an adult reading a challenging work of literary fiction on Lagos public transportation: that’s a sight rare as hen’s teeth. The Nigerian literacy rate is low, estimated at fifty-seven percent. But, worse, actual literary habits are inculcated in very few of the so-called literate. I meet only a small number of readers, and those few read tabloids, romance novels by Mills and Boon, or tracts that promise “victorious living” according to certain spiritual principles. It is a hostile environment for the life of the mind. Once we pass the fly-over at Ojota, the rush-hour congestion eases. The speed we are gathering on the road means the journey is surprisingly cool. The breeze through the open window is constant. The man next to me folds away his newspaper and begins to nod. Everyone else stares into space. The reader, of whom I can see only scarf and shoulders, reads.

Mysterious woman. The condition of the book, from the brief glimpse I have of it, suggests that it is new. Where could she have bought it? Only in two or three of the few bookshops I know of in the city. And if she bought it in Lagos, how much would it have cost her? More than any normal rider of the Lagos public transportation would consider reasonable, that is for sure. Why, then, is she on the bus? Because it is what she could afford, or is it because she, too, is an eccentric? The questions come to my mind one after the other, and I cannot untangle them from each other. I am dying to have a conversation with my secret sharer, about whom, because I know this one thing, I know many things.

—What, lady, do you make of Ondaatje’s labyrinthine sentences, his sensuous prose? How does his intense visuality strike you? But is it hard to concentrate on such poetry in Lagos traffic, with the noise of the crowd, as the tout’s body odour wafts over you? I see all those gathered here, and I believe in you most.

My mind runs a monologue as I watch the back of her head for the duration of the journey. I hope fervently that she will not get off the bus before my stop at CMS, so that I can hop off as she does, walk alongside her, interrogate her. So that I can say to her, with the wild look common to all those who are crazed by over-identification, “We must talk. We have much to say to each other. Let me explain.” In the last row of the danfo, I work on my courage. Lagosians are distrustful of strangers, and I have to speak the right words to win her confidence. The bus crosses from Yaba over the Third Mainland Bridge into Lagos Island. In the shadow of skyscrapers, half-nude men in dugouts cast nets into the lagoon. The work of arms and shoulders. I think of Auden’s line: Poetry makes nothing happen. The bus comes to a stop. She disembarks, at Obalende, with her book, and quickly vanishes into the bookless crowd. Just like that, she is gone. Gone, but seared into my mind still. That woman, like an image made with the lens wide open.

Wednesday 4 June 2008

Monday 2 June 2008

Colour, shadow

I went to a weekend retreat in Devon. While I was there, violent rains swept, churning, through the low, narrow country lanes, flushing away everything in their path. Afterwards, the sun was hot, the colours dense and glowing, the shady corners unfeasibly deep green and steamy. My internal weather was just as extreme, and will take some time to process. Phew.

Can't write about that. Not now and maybe never. I can write the sunset. A little before 10 pm on Saturday, a soft sunset over the fields behind the house after a sultry afternoon and evening. Banks of cloud building, and in amongst them shifting, dappling pink flushes. Cool sky surprised by passion.

The photo's from last week - projections of the days to follow on a random doorway in the city.