Tuesday, 13 December 2016


To the Tate for Paul Nash.  A biggish exhibition, perhaps a little too big, but fascinating.  I've had a soft spot for Nash ever since an exhibition of his photos at my school in the early 1970s.  I feel possessive.

Among the very first pictures is one which features a moon and pyramids.  It is a geometric theme than runs through almost all his work, giving it its distinctiveness and tension: the war between curve and straight.  That early picture also has a mysteriousness which is present in almost all his subsequent work, and provides the seasoning that brings the paintings their liveliness.

Nash's trees and hills and suns and moons are given a mythic identity; I was reminded of Samuel Palmer.  Nash is a romamtic: the world is not as it seems; nature contains meanings.

By later landscapes I was reminded of Ivon Hitchens, who surely learned from Nash, who by this time seems more interested in the paint on the canvas, so to speak.  There is more than a hint of abstraction.

The absence of Nash's most famous painting, the wonderful 'Battle of Britain' was a disappointment.  Is there a war going on between the Tate at the Imperial War Museum?  I wanted to use it in my biography of my Dad, as it seemed brilliantly to illustrate the strange beauty of a scene he witnessed, of German dive bombers being scared off by Spitfires, over the Channel in 1940.  But I wasn't allowed colour pics, so...

My favourite picture was probably this one:

Spring in the Trenches, Ridge Wood, 1917
painted 1918

A very worthwhile exhibition.  Nash was not a great painter, I think, but he was a very good one.  Top of the second division.  This is a great oversimplification, but I think, in the end, the paintings say more about Nash himself than they do about the world.  Having said that, I was at Seatown recently, below Golden Cap, and the moon  had risen as the sun was setting over the channel, behind me.  There was a clump of trees on the rise of a hill, and it was mysterious, and it made me think of Nash, and Nash made me feel this little landscape's power, so maybe I'm wrong, and he has helped me see the world.


A Paul Nash scene, Seatown, Dorset - the rise towards Golden Cap.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016


Doddery Dad manages to make Wise Son smile.

Nice scrolling on that 'O'

Eugene Grasset's rather startling 'Morphinomane', 1897

Wise son preparing to take on world / life etc
(circa some time ago now)

Wise son (right) promoting a good idea.

Wise and beautiful wife preparing to take on Scotland.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016


Gorgeous exhibition at the Jewish Museum of work by ceramicists, including by Ruth Duckworth, whom I remember from my very early childhood. She and her husband Aidron lived just up the road from us in Kew. They had a converted chapel or perhaps warehouse; very clay-ey.  I liked her, but I can't remember why. My sister Sian says it is because she was very generous with juice and biscuits.

Pottery is rather undervalued (Ruth called herself a sculptor).  I think it fills an interesting space between abstraction and the figurative. Everything on display is also unarguably beautiful, though little of it could be called merely decorative (perhaps Rie's buttons?)


Monday, 14 November 2016


One of my favourite Randy Newman songs.  Just came across this cover by MF.

Sunday, 13 November 2016


I have a poem in this anthology published today, on the first anniversaire of the Paris attack. But there are also poems by much better poets, so may be worth a purchase.


Sunday, 30 October 2016

NUTSHELL by Ian McEwan

No-one plants unease as well as Ian McEwan.  I had thought, before 'unease', to write, unthinkingly, 'disease'; now it occurs to me that maybe disease is an even better word.  His prose, which I would suggest is now among the best the English language has, digs in and under, and fills the imagination with all kinds of mental dyspepsia.  It is quite brilliant; but of course one knows that it will all end badly.  With McEwan it always does.   'Nutshell' is actually a novella, a long short story, longer than some novels. The claustrophobia, the intense detailing, are reminders of those earliest, shocking tales in 'First Love, Last Rites', the only collection of short stories, in my literary lifetime, that have had the impact of an important novel.  I've a feeling that, like an English football player's overhead goal, this book would be praised to the treetops were it by a Czech or Vietnamese or Egyptian writer.  It is a state-of-the-world tract encased in the nutshell of an English - very English - short story.  A book about shuffling on the mortal coil, it is worth the read for the prose alone, but it may leave you sadder and not necessarily all that wiser.

Thursday, 27 October 2016


It's not great - not the blast that Keith Richards' 'Life' is or the new thing that Dylan's 'Chronicles' is - but it is interesting, often funny, often touching.  The first couple of books, which take us up to the Tunnel of Love album, are more or less compulsive reading.  Once domesticity and depression kick in, Springsteen gets very earnest.  The whole thing is of course full of 'honor', 'service', pledging' and, naturally, 'soul', and tremendously Bruce-ish, but what works well in the artifice of a song lyric becomes perhaps a little overwrought in prose.  Still, there are some great stories, well told, and one can just about forgive the earnestness because he is trying so damn hard.  That sounds a bit condescending, but it is hard not occasionally to hear the faint sound of women fans uttering "ah, bless" to themselves from time to time.  Other than the rock and roll stories, he is acute on being a band leader, on how bands work. And there is no false modesty.  He is aware of his status, and aware that he is the onely begetter of the E Street Band.  At the same time he is never less than generous to all those who have helped him. An engaging book, weighed down a little by the author's seriousness of intent.  It is of course that very quality that has made him the best live act on the planet, the mover of now ageing men and women, the Boss.

Wednesday, 19 October 2016


"Indifferent to truth, willing to use police-state tactics and vulgar libels against inconvenient witnesses, hopeless on health care, and flippant and fast and loose with national security; the case against Hillary Clinton for President is open and shut."
Christopher Hitchens

Tuesday, 18 October 2016


Went today to Paddington Rec, where I can let my bouncy dog off the lead in areas dedicated to such madness.  Fine, though took an age to park.  Once there two unusual things happened.  First I was accosted by an incredibly old man who said that he lost his dog during the war.  "Oh", said I, with my eyebrows raised.  "Yes, we lived on the Wirral peninsula, and since we were close to Ireland, which was neutral, there was a fear that the Nazis would invade from there, so the beaches were mined.  My dog was blown up by one.  About thirty yards from where I was walking."  What do you say?  Fatuously, I said, "well, that's not an experience you can have shared with many people".  He then told me about giving some Americans tea.  I didn't understand.  He repeated the story.  I still didn't understand.  It didn't matter.  He shuffled off.  Very very slowly.

I wandered down by the tennis courts.  Suddenly I felt a warmth on my ankles.  I turned and investigated.  Flames were licking delicately out of the bottom of a modern plastic rubbish bin that was festooned with instructions surrounding holes for various kinds of rubbish.  I stood stupidly staring.  Soon I noticed flames at the top of the thing (it was about 5 feet tall, and self-contained).  I wondered, still stupidly, whether this was some kind of modern rubbish disposal device.  Only for a moment, mind you.  It so happened that my phone was showing a map of the Rec, with a phone number attached.  The phone rang for a while before a lackadaisical voice answered.  I told her what the problem was, trying to load my words with the urgency i thought the situation warranted.  The flames were now licking out a good deal less delicately.  Savagely, I reckoned.   The lackadaisical quality of the woman's voice did not waver or crack.  She'd send someone over.  I wasn't convinced, so I began to make for 'administration', wherever that may be, but I passed a chap looking concerned with a walkie talkie, wearing a high-vis, striding across the green swards towards the smoke, which was beginning to billow.  Another followed. About five minutes later another chap turned up, strolling, nattering on his phone, carrying a fire extinguisher.  I was pretty sure that wasn't going to do the job.  I had visions of a conflagration, Randolph Avenue being evacuated and so on.  As it happens, as I left the park a Fire Engine turned up.  I felt relieved, but also oddly dispossessed.  It had been my discovery after all.  And all I have for it is this piece of prose.

Saturday, 15 October 2016


I'm reading Simon Schama's delicious 'Face of Britain', and so I pootled along to the National Portrait Gallery today in order to have a look at one or two of the pictures he has written about.  Once in, I decided to stick with the 18th century, and look for the striking or the kind among the worthies.  Uppermost, I wanted to see Sir Thomas Lawrence's portrait of William Wilberforce.  I found it in a room dedicated to the Abolitionist movement.  What a picture it is.  I'm fairly sure there can't be a more lovely face in the entire collection, both intelligent and kindly.  He seems to glow.  Perhaps it is the dark chocolate coloured background halo around the head, and the fact that the body remains only sketched in, which gives the face this luminescence, but I think more likely this was Lawrence at the top of his game painting an exceptional man.

Other stuff that caught my eye: Tom Paine with the gaunt, goaty look of the radical - Ken Loach, Jeremy Corbyn; Sir John Fielding, the great and just magistrate, somehow appropriately blind (the painter someone called Nathaniel Hone); the deceptively soft-faced Edmund Burke by Reynolds; Lawrence's disdainful Wellington. There are first class Reynolds portraits of Laurence Sterne and Joseph Banks.  JR much better than I remember him being.  The face I liked best after Wilberforce's is that of Lord Mansfield, by Copley.  Mansfield, like Wilberforce, was a good man, and he looks it.

No postcards for any of them (fine if you want Bowie, Kate Moss or Tracey Emin; Keats gets a card but not Wordsworth).

Big Picasso portraits show on: crowds.  I liked wandering back into the 18th century.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016


I'm really very heartily sick of the Far Left, with its love for Putin and Assad, its hatred for the West, its apologies for Islamofascism, with its toe-curlingly hypocritical sanctimonious self-righteousness, for its love of DOWN WITH, for its slimy contempt for those it pretends to represent, for its bitter, ungenerous, dogmatic shutting down of conversation and debate, with its ignorance of human nature, its dum, dim binary view of the world, and with its constant, snotty whine. Just saying. Phew.

Friday, 7 October 2016


Have recently enjoyed Ann Murray singing Dido, stately and passionate, at St John's, Smith Square; terrific Kate Winslett (surely the best of her generation) in Steve Jobs; The charming Beatles in Eight Days a Week; an erudite and pleasing TV programme called Britain's Lost Masterpieces; and the first series of Suits, which is smart and funny and a nice twist on the age-old buddy theme (a comic creation, after all).  Am also reading a thoroughly engaging book by Simon Schama, called 'The Face of Britain'.  Did you know that Victoria, following Albert's death, always slept with a cast of his hand on her pillow?  That Van Dyck's mistress, Margaret Lemon, tried to bite his thumb off? That the 7th Earl of Barrymore was married to a female bare-knuckle boxer?

Monday, 26 September 2016


On Saturday I was at RIBA to see a recently re-discovered promotional film about Peter Palumbo's Mansion House Square scheme, a plan that would have featured a building by Mies van der Rohe, and given the City of London a much needed lung. The film was written and presented by my father. Unfortunately it failed to persuade the nay-sayers, and the Mies was never built. Instead, a rather rococo - all right, fussy - building by James Stirling went up on the site. https://www.ribaj.com/culture/ghost-of-mies-at-mansion-house

Friday, 9 September 2016

Olympic Gold

Kazimierz WierzyƄski won a Gold Medal at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics. For poetry. Polish poet, buried in Hampstead Cemetery.


Here is an (edited) selection of my father's letters to friends (Desmond Leeper and his wife Ben) and family, in September 1940, during the end of the Battle of Britain and the beginning of the Blitz. He was at the time in desultory training with 'the Buffs' (Royal East Kent Regiment).  The Dean he refers to was Hewlett Johnson, the 'Red Dean' known for unflagging support for the Soviet Union.

In terrific haste.  With an invasion pending, and calamity mounting up at home, we, after a sleepless night standing to, are now having our third room & kit inspection in a week because some nob may drop in during the morning.  It maddens one to have to obey these unbelievably stupid orders.  We all know the exact state of our kit – what is wanted is sleep or training… Hitler would laugh with delight could he see us… 


I imagine you by the side of a salmon stream, meditating the hill opposite; or perhaps eyeing the fifth housemaid (or even a footman, callipigous creature… war has curious results sometimes! Naafi.  Thursday evening. Stoneham, an architect in the next bed, & I drink a Guinness.  Both pretty drunk.  Impossible to write anything sensible.  Throught he haze & the jangle, a man pounds the piano, incredibly badly. I like this life, I think; don’t want now ever to become an officer, although doubtless this Training company will split up some time & I’ll go to an OCTU.  God knows when – the further off the better as far as I am concerned. In khaki men have nothing except faces.  Faces over tea & beer with cigarettes stuck into them.  A species, like monkeys or sparrows. 


I went to the Deanery on Sunday. The Dean had unfortunately been called away, but we were welcomed in by his housekeeper & told to make ourselves at home in his drawing room.  I & two friends of mine, & an odd soldier, the Dean’s clerical followers, & a few of his coterie.  He is a socialist of course: but I had expected an old-fashioned liberal in modern dress.  Instead I found with delight that this was the real stuff, red Russia indeed… a prominent table [was] covered with periodicals, presumably the Dean’s daily light reading.  The Daily Worker, Moscow News, Philadelphia Communists & so on & so forth.  Lenin & Trotsky & Greenbaum & the rest on the bookshelves.  Magnificent.  He was an engineer before he entered the church: God knows why he ever did approach the C of E!  This room was sizzling with revolution.  I must say that Communism attracts one’s sympathies these days: the army doesn’t make one delight in the Old British Methods. 


Peevishness about being kept interminably… in this ITC without being given any hint at all of any OCTU or anything.  Not that I want to become an officer (this quite honestly) but being buggered around is very unsatisfactory. General observations of great intensity and every sincerity on the pleasures of confined barrack life.  The men have become human beings with the passage of time; and the uniform & the lack of family ramifications & occupational differences & so forth all serve to annihilate background…
 …Tristram Shandy is a great book – and South Wind (by Norman Douglas) …Jock, a working class Scotchman, navvy by trade & very Scotch by nature displays remarkable erudition.  Astonishing people, the bloody Scotch.  He is in the corner talking busily about Anatole France.


The alien Leepers: father, mother and rollicking shrimp!  I imagine the small, compact trinity wandering over the wastes of Herefordshire, a cell of inexpressible intellectualism in a sprawling world; the father inelegantly in lofty khaki, Ben in a bright red bandana. …I am, as I say, shattered: remains a giggling icompetent, fatuous & irresponsible and O so ‘appy, ver’ ver’ ‘appy.  Reality falls away, and tragedy becomes a chuckle.  So phoo-eeps boys for the end of the world: we only have ten minutes so mine’s a [?] Minor. The air-raid warning is a white snake that lurks while we work, creeps out into the evening, a tape-worm that smears the air.  It fattens/battens on my gloom, I find.  When Wheldon is jolly, how you say? Very jolly jolly, the snake is buggered and can’t move.  Perhaps I could hire myself out as a siren-neutraliser. …yesterday the sergeant of a platoon down in the depot, desperately hard up for subjects and instructors got me to give a lecture on Germany.  Thus commanded, I did: and, hugely sidestepping propaganda, gave a violently pro-Nazi speech which we all enjoyed like anything.  The officer looked down his nose at me and said to himself – “the man’s a pro-Boer”. The wisdom of days, blblical phrase, has quietened the liberal arguments I expended on the arid Leeper air on the Ramsgate beach, and left me a revolutionary and an uncommitting Mandarin by turns. Forward from liberalism or anyway Zoroastrianism, the holy cow and the genial field. It was malaria that beat the Romans – the greed for the infested corn of Egypt brought the death on them.  Leave the corn in bloody Egypt.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016


According to the Domesday Book, in 1086 there were only 14 beekeepers in England, and one female jester.

Sunday, 4 September 2016


Elwood: It's 106 miles to Chicago, we got a full tank of gas, half a pack of cigarettes, it's dark... and we're wearing sunglasses.
Jake: Hit it.

Monday, 29 August 2016



The Library was part of the Institute.  Behind a counter was an old man with an ink-pad and a large oval stamp, with which he conducted a passionate, erratic campaign against slack morals...[he] had certain fixed standards...Murder he allowed; but not fornication.  Childbirth (especially if the character died of it), but not pregnancy.  Love might be supposed to be consummated as long as no one had any pleasure out of it. There were single words that called for the stamp at once. 'Oh, God!' the characters might cry in their extremity, but not 'Oh, Christ!' 'Breast' was not to be in the plural. 'Rape' sent the stamp plunging and twisting into the purple ink.

from A View of the Harbour, by Elizabeth Taylor (publ. 1947)

Monday, 8 August 2016


"Cheer up for Chatham, Dover's in sight,"Mum used to say.  I think she did once explain whence it came but I've forgotten.  I have two possible explanations: It is very old and the Chatham referred to was Pitt the Elder, and the phrase referred to the idea that one was nearing home - a safe port - after a sea voyage.  More likely, it is from the railways:

Why 'Invicta' - who knows?  This is from Wikipedia: "'The Chatham', as it was sometimes known, was often criticised for its lamentable carriage stock and poor punctuality" - and they didn't have the RMT to put up with.

Sunday, 7 August 2016


A STRANGE AFFAIR.-A singular affair is reported from Connah’s Quay. It seems that the wife of the mate of a trading vessel accompanied her husband on his last voyage to a Scotch port. On the return voyage the vessel put in at Millom, and the wife expressed a desire to return home by train. Her husband accordingly accompanied her to Millom railway station, and saw her off. On reaching Conhah Quay, instead of finding his wife, a letter from her awaited him, informing him that she had decided to leave him for over, as she could not live any longer with a man that had no whiskers. Nothing has since been heard of the runaway wife, and the husband has sold off his furniture and gone into lodgings.

North Wales Chronicle - Saturday 14 December 1889

Friday, 5 August 2016

FLEDGLING PRIZE: 2nd Place: Myrtle by Ruth Wiggins

My review for Sabotage Magazine (January 2015)

by Ruth Wiggins
The Emma Press, £6.50, 26pp

I thought I was going to have trouble with this, what with the first poem being all right justified and containing words with spaces between their letters for no very obvious reason. But then I decided that since it was called ‘Against Perspective’ I’d chuckle instead. 

My fear was dispelled by and the chuckle grew broader with the next poem, called ‘I’ve Been Crumbling Anti-Histamines Into Your Food All Week’, in which a new home is turned into a bower: “the whole thing seeds itself up the street. Early outbreaks / of lovage, sweet briar, vetch”.  Here we are on the floral side of Myrtle.  But the poet is a classicist, and in the Rome of Ovid and his fellows the Latin word myrtus (myrtle) was a non-vulgar euphemism for the female pudenda. Myrtle was considered aphrodisiac, and is associated with Aphrodite in Greek myth and Venus in Roman.  So having given us the floral, the poet now introduces us to the clitoral, or at least the aphrodisiacal, in ‘Borrowed Time’: “This afternoon you fucked me, right out / of my pyjamas and into yours” Thenceforth the poems hover back and forth, between the intimate and the public, with diversions into the quotidian here and there.

There’s plenty of tenderness, of a robust kind: “Come the apocalypse” there’ll be “usurping girls / …I’ll just / have to learn to kill”.  In a rather macabre love poem, ‘On Fear of Your Flying’ her lover’s sperm “startle // into memento mori”.  His having not died, I can’t believe her partner would not want to be identified as the “gorgeous boy” of the final poem, a play on a deliciously euphemistic Horace ode: “Be mine, right here beneath / this cheerful old vine”.

Horace is not the only classical poet Wiggins borrows from.  She does a wonderful job with a Propertius elegy.  ‘Only the Lover’ begins “Silly mortals, always second-guessing / the hour of your death…”

You type your vital stats into deathclock.com
but from the Circle Line to Tora Bora,
all exit points are hidden.

The language, the forms, the prosody in all these poems is unabashed, unafraid and enjoyably energetic.  Best of all, each poem is a surprise. Wiggins has a distinctive voice, characterised not by sameness but by unexpectedness. ‘Crawk’ is a poem about birds. I thought at first the reference was to crows, but the subject of the poem has a “quarrel of sisters”, which suggests sparrows; then again, towards the poem’s end she “Grouts her gizzard and gargles with rocks”.  Who knows what bird this is (it follows a poem, ‘Leda’ that features not one but several swans, not to mention eagles) – but it doesn’t really matter.  The poem draws the reader in, for it is full of activity, having begun with the teasingly abstract “She’s the opposite of mirrors”, from where we have no idea where the poem will lead us.

Yes, unexpectedness: there’s a poem describing the poet’s battle with a spider; a poem about the herb rosemary; a poem that bounces from side to side of the page, about the coming of spring, “cracking a courtyard laugh”; there are poems inspired by paintings; there’s a nanny goat and there’s a fox.

Myrtle is a thoroughly assured collection informed by classical learning and tempered with an erotic hum that underlies several of the poems. It delights in hoisting the ideas and images that prose cannot without preparation.  It is thorough poetry, and surprisingly a debut. There’ll be more.

582 words