Posted: September 13, 2019 in Chat
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reversing her beloved Beetle to angle it better,
the parking-space side-on, and the pampered Chrysler
there unexpectedly. Inevitably
the exchange of insurance, names and addresses.

To be weighed against a feather, judged, then passed on.

And he was late for the lecture he was giving,
and she for the first paper of her exam.
Aged sixty; sitting her Egyptology: she had applied
for a post in the city museum already. He was lecturing
in Quantum Physics, some current thinking.
They met, parted; lives stalled, and then restarted;
crossed lines diverging into complex futures.
The story starts where it stops, they walk out of shot.

The correct positioning of the hieroglyph
in the cartouche, she would say, is crucial to the meaning.
For him, the pilot wave spreads out, a pulse,
until meeting an obstacle, is then registered as a particle.
These lives that cross, but do not meet.
By mapping out trajectories we think to identify natures;
weigh what we observe; judge; then pass on.
All are part of the same point.


Reblog: Contemporary Stained Glass

Posted: September 1, 2019 in Chat
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I make no apologies for republishing this blog from last year: it is still a topic that excites.

Contemporary Stained Glass, by Andrew Moor. Published by Mitchell Beazley, 1989.

Note the date of publication: 1989. So it is not new; it is probably not ‘contemporary’ any more. And this hits one gripe that I have: there is a present-day-only directive to a lot of attitudes. There probably always has always been – that is, after all, how things get done, by concentrating on the immediate. In culture, though, no – and this book is proof to me: there is work here from the 1950s that is really outstanding.
Note the current price. This is such a shame – the book is a lovely work, and remains so.

Why so old – 1989? A bit of back story.
It was shortly after this date I went through a period of the worst-jobs-I–have-ever-had. One of those was working in a warehouse – but it was a book warehouse, of remaindered and damaged in production books. It was horrible. Being able to bring money in, helped, of course. And then I had access to these books. I got so desperate at times that these books became my lifeline: I accumulated them wildly. This was one.

I got down to properly looking at the book only recently. It took my breath away. The reproductions are outstanding – full colour photographs of not only publically accessible works, but also works from private collections, private houses.

Take Germany.
Straight after the War, there was little perishable art left intact. Stained glass was mostly ecclesiastical, and churches suffered from bombing, and the destruction of war.
The 1950s was a period of reconstruction – speed was of the essence. West Germany needed artists and crafts people. Stained glass took off, it bridged art and crafts. What was possible in the field was unrestricted. The book comments that although German stained glass work was extensive, not all was particularly good.
But the good was stupendous.

Take for instance, the work of Ludwig Schaffrath:

His design for the Aachen bank, 1986, for four arched windows is outstanding.

Then go and explore –
Johannes Schreiter:

Jochem Poensgen:

First of all stained glass need not be full-colour. Minimalist design and palates were experimented with, as here: a rectilinear, two-tone work.

The medium is glass.
But glass can be Antique Glass – that is:
Reamy (danziger/water glass)
Flashed (simple opaque, opalescent or opal)

It can be machine rolled glass:
Cathedral glass (tinted, and clear)
Clear patterned (ribbed)
American opalescent (Tiffany)
It can be Bevelled, or Cast glass.

Plain glass was created from a relatively new technique. This was the cheapest to make, and is what constitutes large shop and apartment windows.
The book gives examples of each of these.

It then goes on to describe the techniques used in presenting the glass: use of black iron-oxide and borax paint that is fired to produce stains. Or with designs scraped in it.

Etching, capable of great subtlety of effect, is an old technique, but also time consuming.

Flashing is a relatively new technique using high temperatures, but produces a stained effect that is capable of fine tones.

The use of leading developed a form of its own in the works of Johannes Schreiver, above.

From an historical angle, we saw a boom in stained glass use and development in domestic use of glass in Victorian England.
One particular innovator was Frank Lloyd Wright, in America. His use of, again, domestic stained glass was a very promising avenue. It did not turn off to a highway, unfortunately.
PreWar in Europe, the Dutch De Stijl and German Bauhaus groups explored stained glass use.

Not all stained glass need be full colour, as I commented above. One design approach has been the use of black and white (ie plain, clear glass), with touches of colour. We can see an example in the Jochem Poensgen, above. Other approaches to use of the medium involve rectilinear designs, use of pattern, use of ‘float glass.’
Naturally the artists mix their techniques, to great effect. Figurative techniques lead to use of glass as a canvas for paint and stain techniques.

Narcissus Quagliata continues to produce wonderful work. Take, for example, this commissioned work:



The motif in the top right panel, was made for him by Venetian glass makers, and proved very intricate, and expensive.

The book gives us glimpses of work produced in America, Canada, UK, New Zealand, for commissions all around the world.






Stained glass enhances an inner environment. What about the outer prospect?
Anyone viewing a wonderful stained glass window from the outside is usually very disappointed.
Ludwig Schaffrath took this on, and produced work that has both inner and outer effectiveness. Their effects are necessarily altered by the source of light, and by the demands of technique. The outer effect cannot reproduce the inner effect, and so each view point has its own viability.

The development and exploration of the uses of stained glass continues. Glass screens were developed, and backlit panels.
As always, art vies fruitfully with decorative function.

We see above examples of high art, of decoration, of functional, and of exploratory works.

Tea Pots

Posted: August 25, 2019 in Chat
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Tea Pots

One of my favourite blog sites has to be Roaringwaterjournal.
From West Cork in Ireland they never fail to come up with weekly delights, adventures, and discoveries.

One recent discovery that really caught me was this teapot, created and made by artist David Seegar:


David Seegar http://www.visual-arts-cork.com/ceramic-artists-ireland/david-seeger.htm

Isn’t that great? It’s modernist, cubist almost, and as they say Bauhaus – as well as being, I am reliably informed, useful.
This teapot ties in with my earlier discover, and joy taken, in another, much earlier one.

One browsing book around the house is  The Dream Factory: Alessi Since 1921, by Alberto Alesso. Published by Konneman, 1998. https://www.amazon.co.uk/Dream-Factory-Alessi-Since-1921/dp/3829013779
The book celebrates the Italian Alessi design company. One precursor to the designers of 1921 and later, was one Christopher Dresser. He was an English botanist for many years before turning to design. So, would you expect floral designs? Not a bit. He plunged into mass production techniques, and industrial scale production. A lot of his designs in the book are metal-based, but wonderful.
This is what caught my eye:


How cool is that?

You can get the novelty ones but… no.

If you are intrigued, thrilled even, by these, then here’s some links to do your own exploring.



Bon voyage!


One of the pleasures of library-exploring is turning up the odd document like this.

In a history of the local region (I am not from the area, and so it still had its strangeness) I came across a first-hand account of the entry of the Jacobite Rebels of 1745, into a small town in East Cheshire (Macclesfield).
I have excerpted as follows, keeping to the printed orthography the best that I can with a modern keyboard:

… the next morning [Sunday], the 1st instant [December, 1745], about 10 o’clock, we had notice from the country people that the Rebells were within a quarter of a mile of the town.


   When the first emotion of my own fright was a little abated, I ventured to peep out of a Garret window, but seeing my wife and her two sisters below at the Gates shame roused my courage, and I ventured to stand by ‘em, and saw the whole army pass by my own door, except a regiment of Horse commanded by Lord Elcho,

and some forces which came in late. But those I saw the next day. The quarter-masters first came into town, who, with their guard, were about 20 in number. They rode to the Cross and enquired for the constables.
…………………………………………………….. They enquir’d for Sir P Davenport’s house…
( he was away) …. and soon afterwards rode to his house, and after viewing it inside and out, marked the door with the word ‘Prince.’ I had now so much valour that I ventured to speak to one of ‘em, and enquir’d wt number of forces wo’d be in Town that day. He answ’d 10,000, upon wch I returned home much dismayed.
Immediately afterwds came in a regiment of Horse by way of advance guard, said to be commanded by the Duke of Perth ……………………………………
This regiment seem’d to be very poorly mounted. I believe for the most part were on such horses as they pickt up… but many of the men were lusty clever fellows. Not long after this, came foot in very regular order, with Bagpipes playing instead of drums, the colonels marching at the head of each respective regiment. And all the forces, as well as Horse and Foot, were in Highland dress, except the Bodyguards, which wore blue trimmed with red.
After about 4 or 5 Regiments had passed us by it was said the Prince was coming up…. and it happen’d that a halt was made just opposite my door for a minute or two, which gave us full opportunity of having a full view of him. He was in Highland Dress with a blue waistcote trim’d with silver, and had a blue Highland cap on, and was surrounded by almost 40 who appeared as his Guard.  He is a very handsome person of a man, rather tall, exactly proportioned, and walks very well …
He walked on foot from Manchester, as he had done, ‘tis said, all the way from Carlisle; and I believe they made their very best appearance into the Town, expecting to be received as at Manchester; but there was a profound silence, and nothing to be seen on the countenances on the Inhabitants but horror and amazement…..

… an order came to the Mayor to proclaim the Pretender… Poor Mr Mayor was obliged to be at it…They made the Town Clerk repeat the Proclamation after ‘em….

   Soon after the advanced guard came into town there was a young Lowlander (but in Highland Dress) quartered himself and horse upon us… His dress was very unpromising, but his manner shewed he had had a genteel education and was a person of some account. As he was exceeding civil, the women took courage and soon fell into discourse with him. He stood at the gate during the greater part of the procession, by which means we had an opportunity of learning the names of the Chiefs as they passed by … Many of the officers appeared very well – some few indeed were very old – in particular Glenbuckett who seemed to be 80 at the least, and bended almost double on horseback… he had been bedridden three years before the Prince’s son arrived in Scotland…
58 John Gordon 'Old Genbucket'

Many of the common men, tho’ dirty and shabby, were lusty fellows. There were many old men amongst the common soldiers… It was dark before the artillery came in, and as it grew duskish orders were given that the inhabitants should illuminate their houses upon pain of military execution…
The young Lowlander… whilst at dinner talked pretty freely, and said Manchester was a glorious town… he said it was strange the English could not see their own interest (by not joining the Scots): We had not been joined by 5 English men since we came from Scotland, but thought if they co’d get into Wales they should be joined by many there.


… My sister Molly observed that he had said nothing of his… Religion. … ‘I can assure you (his response) ‘he’s no more a Bigot in matters of religion than myself, who am a Protestant.’ My wife amongst other discourse mentioned Religion and the confusion the people were in at Church that morning when they came in. Upon which he asked her – ‘ Well Madam, and who did you pray for?’ – Says she, ‘for his Majesty King George.’ Upon which he said, ‘You did very right’; but, says she,, ‘supposing you had come here last night, should we have been interrupted in our prayers by any particular directions?’ ‘No, the Minister would have been ordered to pray for the King without naming any names, as had been done at Kendal Church the last Sunday.’


As to their number, there was no judging of it from their March into the town, and they seemed to be very artful in concealing their numbers. They bespoke billets for 10,000; and said 5,000 would come in next day, but for my own part I don’t think they exceed 6,000 in the whole.


My document breaks off here.
The distances they covered, and times given for travelling, are very interesting.

From Kendal to Macclesfield in one week.
The route is at times relatively level, but it is by no means straight, and interrupted by hilly ground: the Trough of Bowland for one, and south of Manchester rambles around the foothills of the Peak District.
The modern road system gives the distance as 92 miles.

They entered the Manchester environs on November 23rd. Here they were joined by 300 volunteers. If we compare this with the statement, We had not been joined by 5 English men since we came from Scotland, then we can only assume the volunteers were fellow Scots, or Irish workers based in Manchester.

From Macclesfield to Derby is a relatively shorter distance: 44 miles.
They arrived there on December 4 to 6th.
It was in Derby, with the absence of reinforcements, and the fabled Welsh meet-up having fallen through, that the march on London was abandoned.
Cities were hubs of a wide range of nationalities seeking work. Even so, it must have been estimated that to reach Birmingham, the next major centre on their route, would not have proved worthwhile.
By this time the English government had revived from their shock, and coordinated a counter-response.

The Prince returned to Scotland, arriving in Glasgow on 26th December.

If you follow this link it gives the route of the march from Ashbourne in Derbyshire, to Derby.


As you can see it was by no means an easy or straightforward route.
I can only marvel at the stamina of those ‘lusty men.’

For the outcome, follow this link:


It is revealing what the young Lowlander says about religion: the fear of another series of bloody Catholic-Protestant reprisals was one of the major concerns that kept English people from joining the rebellion. It was only four generations after the Civil War, and the horror of that period must have been still working its way through their collective psyches.
How reliable were his comments? Would the situation have remained so?

Where Shall We Run To? by Alan Garner. Published  2018, Impress Books/4th Estate.

This, the most recent book by Alan Garner, writer of novels, and gatherer and refashioner of tales, is a collection of autobiographical writings.

They chart his life in the tiny village of Alderley Edge, outside Manchester, from his earliest memories, up to the end of World War 2, when his life changed forever.
He had passed his 11 Plus exam and was to leave the small village environs that marked his world, and go out into the bigger world of higher education. Not only that, but instead of going to the local grammar school, he had gained scholarship funding, and was to attend the greatly more prestigious innercity Manchester Grammar School.
My conveyor belt, he wrote, ‘took me to Oxford.’

Alan Garner was born in 1934. His young life was greatly taken up by the War years, its privations, and mysterious otherworld-like qualities of night raids, disrupted daytimes. One of the memoir here is of children, Vaccies, taken out of dangerous environments, cities, places likely to be bombed in air raids. He encountered several groups of these from very different areas of the country at his local school. The most surprising Vaccies, and the ones who made a big impression were from the Channel Islands, Guernsey in particular.

The collection of memoir also backlights Alan Garner’s great concern with the dichotomy between reality and imagination, the roles they play in a person’s life. This was a source of escalating tension in his first five books, climaxing in 1972’s Red Shift. The dichotomy fissured his sensibilities; he could not easily give each its due, but one had to take precedence. In consequence the other had to be relegated; the tension was unresolved, and so continued.

In this new book we see it in the almost iconic images of those earlier books; we see them here as everyday objects. In Elidor the cottage porch became the doorway to another world. In Red Shift, the bunty, the budgerigar Jan valued – both are revealed here to be his own tiny home cottage porchway, and Bunty, the name of his own pet bird, he had to leave unattended through an air raid, and was found dead afterwards.

The cottage is still there in Alderley Edge.
Alderley Edge itself became a dormitory town for wealthy Manchester businesspeople. In consequence the cottage, now no longer squalid, has become a Grade II listed building, and worth nearly £400,000. Such are the ways of Estate Agents/Real Estate.


We also see, in The Stone Book, one of his middle novels, the weather-vane cockerel in real life, much smaller than imagined once brought down from the church to be re-coated. It is the young Alan Garner sits astride it, and whilst on the ground – not the Mary of the story, nor on the church steeple.
I have argued elsewhere that this particular book is written in perfect chiasmic form, and is also literally a cock-and-bull story, as each image in turn plays a major part in the depth reading of the storyline in each half of the chiasmic form of the story.
In reality the icons from the books are less impressive, but solid, durable in their own right.

In The Voice That Thunders, 1997, his earlier collection of essays, he relates how the many periods of early childhood illness allowed him both to read voraciously outside the narrow school curriculum, but also to compensate for being confined to bed for long periods, by travelling and adventuring imaginatively, dreaming vividly. Awareness of the discrepancy between what was immediately outside his window, and inside his imagination, was exercised and elaborated upon.

There have been several stylistic changes in his writing, throughout his writing career. The first two books are more full of their own juiciness, so much so sometimes the style nearly swamps the storytelling. The Moon of Gomrath, 1963, evinces a greater, stricter stylistic control. The language is sparer, the images sharper. We feel less manipulated into psychological events: the tunnel escape from the Edge mines enacting primal birthing experiences etc.

Elidor, 1965 – I feel it wobbles a little: The Lay of the Starved Minstrel? Even I found that a bit too contrived. It gains by its setting. The novel sets out the battle ground for the war between imagination and reality that has dogged the writer so long.

The Owl Service is just great, the writing taut and spare, nothing is wasted.
Red Shift takes this even further. It ends in a kind of defeat: seek help, psychological help, Jan says to Tom. The time fissures become unbridgeable chasms, like a mind disintegrating. The copper mines beneath Alderley Edge that played such a large part in the first book, imaged the psychic fissures.

Then the language simplified, the images cleared of unwanted baggage. The Stone Book Quartet was four short books based firmly on fact and known family memories. They carried identifiable and accessible images.

The later books from Strandloper, 1996, onwards, increasingly explore the same psychic fissures as the first books, but more and more in psychological terms. The latest book, Boneland, 2012, depends almost wholly on psychology to unravel the ascendance at the end of The Moon of Gomrath.  The language of these books is difficult, employing greater amounts of colloquialism, and, especially in Strandloper, subjective monologue unanchored to easily identifiable events.
There is a lot of astronomical calculation in Boneland; I was lost there.

The Wiki page on him

describes his genre as ‘low fantasy’ – this is to contrast with high fantasy, which is whole-world-building fantasy. This is important. His nearest to world building was in Elidor, but he firmly shut that door. His strength was not in world-building; he recognised this in time.
In The Voice That Thunders he writes how he chose real life over the fantasy realms. And so he later launched into craft and skills-heavy terminology, astronomical calculations; to archeological graft and careful uncovering, over discovering.
I sometimes wonder if, when one manipulates reality for one’s own ends, does that not weigh on a person, and cumulatively?

The memoirs do show how much interpretation and bias has gone into presentation of material, fact, however.
I remember a public talk he gave as he geared up for the writing of Thursbitch. Not is all as he made out. The mundane becomes totemic.

Throughout the present book he is careful to present himself as a weak child, prone to many illnesses that we assume his peers were not. He enumerates the times he was frequently reduced to tears.
In his younger years he became a prodigious runner, running great distances over hill and moor. It was on one of these runs he discovered his great grandfather’s roadside stone carving that forms part of the kernal of Thursbitch. I have also seen this stone and it is a great many miles out and off any main route.
Running: was he punishing his body for having been weak, whilst ensuring it would not let him down again? Such distance running not only builds body strength, stamina, but also develops will-power and concentration.
I once worked with a man who, once his MS had subsided, also took to such distance running feats, the greater the challenge the better. He’d work laying roads by day, and run in the evenings.

And so, there is clearly some strategy at work in his choice of depiction. Is it just to foist on us the dialect speech: ‘Mardy arse.’?

What did his friends wear, besides clogs for school? What were their meals (beside the odd slug, and drain mould – then he wondered why he was sickly!)? What was breakfast, and how important was it deemed to be? What were their general thoughts, concerns, hopes, worries?
The language of the book is direct, and without depth-charges. He takes pains to be authentic: he mentions Lyle’s syrup, then launches into a lengthy description of the tin and its From strength came forth sweetness, marketing slogan. There are many such examples. His authenticising runs to depcting the narrow , shallow, states of mind of children of the age he was. The big concerns puzzle; his own worries are inexpressible.


His conveyor belt took him to Oxford, and the prestigious Grammar School experience and the Oxford mentality, have stayed with him ever after: the commanding manner, cultured voice, and expectation, that demands and receives of others in return.
But he did leave Oxford before taking his Finals; he did return to the small local world, a life and house without sanitation and modern conveniences.
Then he could begin.

He was to learn from scratch how to walk the line between parochial and provincial, to use P J Kavannagh’s terms.

See also:

Artist of the Month

Posted: August 4, 2019 in Chat
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Now, this is certainly my kind of place –

Outside In is an international online site:

‘Outside In is a catalyst for change. Founded in 2006, it is now an established national charity that aims to provide a platform for artists who face significant barriers to the art world due to health, disability, social circumstance or isolation.

Outside In’s work covers three main areas: Artist development, exhibitions and training. These activities, supported by fundraising and communications, all aim to create a fairer art world by supporting artists, creating opportunities and educating organisations.

Since its inception, Outside In has engaged with more than 5,000 artists traditionally excluded from the mainstream art world, reached a quarter of a million audience members and gained more than 80 partner organisations nationally. It has held more than 50 exhibitions to date and now provides opportunities and support for more than 2,600 artists.

In the next three years the charity will work to create a national platform to support the delivery of its programmes. It will do this through working in partnership with key strategic arts organisations across the UK to act as hubs of activity and support.

Outside In’s new website is the best way to stay up to date with the award-winning charity’s news, events and exhibitions.
It also offers great ways to explore the galleries of thousands of talented artists and get involved – either as artists, organisations or supporters.’



Dare you enter?
Cloud Parliament has opened its doors, and is now allowing visitors.

Orla receives a Fly-Past by Map Battalion Celestial Air Force as they Buzz the Help Desk for Directions.

There is great wit, comedy, and intelligence here, and it is combined with unusual images, skillfully created. They are threatening, and multi-layered. All are part of a vast cosmos, like, and yet very unlike, ours.

Love it.


Weaver of Grass

Posted: July 29, 2019 in Chat
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Donnie Munro, ex-front man of Runrig, Scottish/Scots Gaelic, band left the band in 1995.
In 2002 his solo album Across the City and the World contained the glorious song Weaver of Grass.
The song celebrates Angus McPhee, fellow Hebridean, and a weaver of grass.

Runrig officially retired/disbanded last year: 45 years!
Donnie left in 1995, and put himself forward as Labour councillor for Ross and Skye, Scotland. He was unsuccessful. It was no mean defeat, he was beaten by Charles Kennedy, who was to become the leader of the UK Liberal Democrat Party. Donnie Munro was contesting a traditionally-held LibDem seat.

He has his own radio show, Harvest Moon Radio
and still tours.

Runrig  also contributed another member to politics – Peter Wishart, keyboard player, left the band in 2001 to become elected SNP Scottish MP. A position he continues to hold.

So, what got me onto this track?
I found an old copy of Raw Vision, magazine of Outsider and Art Brut, from 1996 – issue 16.
There was the article on Angus McPhee, weaver of grass.

The article, Art Extraordinary, explores the collection of Dr W A F Browne, art therapist and consultant curator, based in Scotland.
Angus McPhee’s work forms part of the collection. His dates are 1916 to 1997.

Angus McPhee, we are told, came from a crofter family in the Outer Hebrides. He joined WW11 in 1939. The details are scanty. All we know is that shortly after – the War? After signing up? – he was committed to a mental asylum. He remained ‘in the system’ for the rest of his life: 50 years. He does not appear to have been dangerous in any way, as he was given freedom to roam the hospital grounds, and out into the land nearby. Nor does he seem to have been obliterated with medication, or electro-convulsive therapy.
He was not known to speak, although capable. He was competent enough to understand and sign an agreement allowing his articles to be used in displays.

It was ‘in the system’ his skill in the craft of grass weaving was developed to the full. This became especially apparent in the late 1970s: he would have been in his 60’s.
It is described more a form of ‘knitting’ using two lengths of fence wire.
He produced articles of clothing: caps, trousers, even shoes: ‘boots’. Also ropes of woven grass. He also used sheep’s wool gathered off fences and hedges, and made scarves, or as far as I can tell, combined wool and grass.
He would often leave these garments hidden under bushes.



He was later moved to another hospital, and lost access to wool, and the long grasses he had used previously. This did not seem to distress him, and substituted local materials. Using beech leaves he made pony harnesses, conical pouches.
He was getting old at this point, and his eyesight failing.

Wiki, naturally, has an excellent article on him, with images:

From this article we can fill in some gaps.
He was born on South Uist, the Outer Hebrides. He was a fluent bi-lingual English and Gaelic speaker.  In the War he was stationed on the Faroe Islands. It was there he became mentally unstable. He was returned home to Scotland, and hospitalised near Inverness, the east of Scotland.
His last years were spent back in Uist, at a nursing home.

A film documentary was made in 2004: Hidden Gifts: The Mystery of Angus MacPhee (IMDB), and book in 2011: The Silent Weaver by Roger Hutchinson

There is, of course, another dimension to the story.
We need to go back to the Raw Vision article. From there, back to 1991, and the Ötzil Alps. Here was discovered the remarkably well preserved body of Ötzi, the man who died between 3400 and 3100 BCE.
His clothes and various articles also survived. One of these was a woven grass cap much like those made by Angus McPhee.



Also preserved were woven grass cords and ropes, much like the ones made by Angus McPhee, for leading horses for which he had always shown a keen affection.

Old skills; our endless ability to transform environment, utilise, its constituents; the constant and continual bubbling up of creativity – whether for essential use, or the pleasure and healing of creation.


As an addendum, I remembered reading Francois Gilot’s memoir, Life With Picasso some time back.
She mentioned how, in the War, all rubber etc was requisitioned for the 3rd Reich. This led to people in Paris, France etc using wool for shoe soles.
My first thought was: But, rain!
Un, or semi, processed wool is very durable, and lanolin laden. Very smelly, too.

This is what people can do when put to the austerity test, though: utilise abundant natural elements. And with great success.

What is it about this poem?
For some academics, tutors ie people who should know better, it is a poem they have come to hate. Why? It was taught by teachers who had no or little understanding of the poem, other than as an assumed easy introduction to The Romantic Movement, and to William Wordsworth’s writing, in particular.
So, is the reaction a case of over-familiarity, breeding contempt?
The poem is oddly enervated, devitalised. It hardly recommends itself to the spiky hormonal youths we were when we were taught these lines.

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed—and gazed—but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


Let’s look at its period setting.
This is April in the Lakelands, pre-sightseers, pre-holiday crowds. Just think of that leech gatherer (Resolution and Independence) rheumatically? wandering the bogs and rivers to scratch a living, way past retirement age. Not wanting to be a burden on his family; not wanting the Workhouse. The manly virtues of independence of spirit, and belief in hard work: the protestant work ethic. Taken to an extreme, we would say. But that is how it was in late-Georgian England; we only need to recall the old men still toiling away in Dickens’ novels. And the Lakes, Cumberland, a depopulated county.
The early Nineteenth century English weather pattern contained particularly long and cold winters. Even now in April in Windermere, the temperature can fall as low as 1°C, with high humidity all through; and most likely rain. Leaden rain-heavy skies capping the mountains, keeping everything wet.
That solitary cloud – was it chosen for its rarity in that month?


Does the month call to the literate, clasically-trained, mind, that other famous Aprille?
Chaucer’s April is depicted with a very pleasing mixture of joy of immanent Spring, and melancholy: Easter and its pivotal religious moment is almost upon us. Here comes Tenebrae setting up for that peculiarly depths-of-despair conjoined with heights-of-joy partnership, of the Good Friday crucifixion, and its resolution, Easter Monday. In between these two, is the Harrowing of Hell.

I suspect the Daffodils poems of Ted Hughes, are closer to this template. There are two versions of the same poem, one in Flowers and Insects (1986), and the other in Birthday Letters (1998).


When we were in the woods beyond Gowbarrow park we saw a few daffodils close to the water side, we fancied that the lake had floated the seed ashore and that the little colony had so sprung up – But as we went along there were more and yet more and at last under the boughs of the trees, we saw that there was a long belt of them along the shore, about the breadth of a country turnpike road. I never saw daffodils so beautiful they grew among the mossy stones about and about them, some rested their heads upon these stones as on a pillow for weariness and the rest tossed and reeled and danced and seemed as if they verily laughed with the wind that blew upon them over the Lake, they looked so gay ever glancing ever changing. This wind blew directly over the lake to them. There was here and there a little knot and a few stragglers a few yards higher up but they were so few as not to disturb the simplicity and unity and life of that one busy highway – We rested again and again. The Bays were stormy and we heard the waves at different distances and in the middle of the water like the Sea.[9]

— Dorothy Wordsworth, The Grasmere Journal Thursday, 15 April 1802

Those were still the early years of William Wordsworth’s marriage to Mary Hutchinson. William, Mary, and Dorothy lived together in the cottage, known as Town End, in Grasmere.
We are told that in the period of composition of the poem: 1804 to 1815, there were general discussions of theme and line, Mary contributing two famous lines:

They flash upon the inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude.

When the poem was eventually published, it was in a collection called Poems in Two Volumes, under the section, Moods of My Mind, along with, for instance, To a Butterfly, and The Sparrow’s Nest

First Version

I wandered lonely as a Cloud
That floats on high o’er Vales and Hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd
A host of dancing Daffodils;
Along the Lake, beneath the trees,
Ten thousand dancing in the breeze.

The waves beside them danced, but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee: —
A poet could not but be gay
In such a laughing company:
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude,
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the Daffodils.

Composed, 1804

That new second stanza introduces the theme of timelessness, a stellar conceit, where stars represent not only the eternal, that is,  unchangingness, but also spiritual and religious values. How substantial is this? Does the poem so far deserve such weighting? Samuel Taylor Coleridge, as we see below, apparently thought not.


What has been niggling me, though, is the question of a connection, even if only imagistically, between passages relating to the meadows of asphodel , in Homer’s Odyssey, and this bank of daffodils.

Is there here the germ of conception in the recognition and paralleling, probably only semi-consciously, of this scene-in-reflection, that ‘pensive mood,’ and the setting from The Odyssey, Books 10 and 11, on reaching the shore of the Cimmerians,  where Odysseus is to summon the spirits of the Underworld?

It must be remembered that the death of William Wordsworth’s brother John, by drowning within sight of land, was not until after the final version of the poem was published.

A fuller excerpt from Dorothy’s Journal, for April 15th, 1802, gives us:
It was a “threatening, misty morning – but mild,” and  “The wind seized our breath the Lake was rough.”
The Journals of Dorothy Wordsworth, edited by Marion Moorman (Oxford).
The day ended again in rain.

Is there a sense here of William Wordsworth encountering the Cimmerian’s northern, misty and shrouded shore, as one source puts it, that foggy place (where) the sun never shines?

If so, then in what sense could William Wordsworth be self-identifying with Odysseus? Indeed, with The Odyssey?
His was (and S T Coleridge for similar reasons) a personal tale of inner and outer struggle. The inner struggle was to free himself from previous, Augustan, concepts of literature, poetry. Each age attempts its pro and pre scriptions of what a poem should be, and do. William Wordsworth took it on himself to forge new passages through to new concepts and sensibilities. The outer struggle was to find once again the omphalus, to use a term from Seamus Heaney, of his well-being, his return to Cumberland and the Lakes home of his youth, away from London, its centrifugal demands and towards the well-spring of his writing.
In this sense the Lakelands  could be seen to mark his Ithaca, and Mary Hutchinson, old schoolfriend, and still unmarried, his Penelope.
We don’t need to worry about those details, you know Nestor, and the rest. Though I do hope that Nestor was not Dorothy.
And what of Annette Vallon – Circe, or Nausicaa? (Daughter Caroline married in 1816, and William gave a regular yearly settlement. This was replaced in 1835 by a capital settlement.
I’d love to know what happened to her.)


The mood of the several versions of the poem, however, is stridently joyous, striving for uplift. There is nothing of the whispering shades of the dead in the poem, no blood gifts, or sacrificial libations, no tenebraic gathering of gloom; no sense of guilt, either.

Wordsworth as a kind of Ulysses? The later Ulysses of Alfred Lord Tennyson is a very different sort.
The Wordsworthian kind is highly individualistic, a lone figure, living far out of the sight of his fellow men.
The Tennysonian figure is a representative of his Victorian age.
In “Ulysses,” Tennyson creates a character that is arrogant, restless, driven, heroic, and adventurous. Tennyson’s Ulysses is the embodiment of Victorian England because the same characteristics given to Ulysses can be attributed to Victorian England.

Did William Wordsworth view this part of his life, after the return to Cumberland, as a kind of ‘afterlife’? That his life fell into two halves? Does The Prelude bear this out? Not that I am aware. And yet The Prelude is very much a public work, dealing how he wanted to represent himself to the world. It was not an expression of his psychological turmoil.

In A History of Private Life, edited by Roger Chartier,
he comments how Phillipe Aries recognised three phases of the development of the sense of a private life. These are,
a period of heightened individualism;
a period when the individualised joins with a small group of his/her own choosing;
a period where the private sphere contracts to the family unit, of whatever size: ‘the primary if not the unique centre of intimacy and emotional investment.’

We can read William Wordsworth ‘odyssey’ here well, from his personal quest for a new language and subject matter, to his company with S T Coleridge, and the ‘Lakes’ writers, to the family circle of himself, Mary, and Dorothy. The children add and expand the circle.
Formulated in this way we can view William Wordsworth’s ‘journey’ of selfhood as very much of its time. The last phase in the development of private life from State dominated, court controlled, that is, public life, Phillipe Arries, above, identifies as apparent from 1800.


To go back to that first image: the lonely cloud. In this context can we read here the cloud as a guide from God? Or a sign to the lost sailor: a cloud betokening land, specifically an island?
Was the cloud an image of his state of mind at the time? Or of composition? See Wordsworth as Scatterbrain:


The ‘Daffodils’ poem – it still irritates.
It irritated one particular close associate at the time of publication also. Samuel Taylor Coleridge, in his Biographia Literaria used the terms mental bombast when referring to it.

Is there a sense that the collaborative construction (is it then, a ‘workshopped’ poem?), and the relentless good cheer and striving for lightness (all that dancing, fluttering) belie the much vaunted mode of creation:
“the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility.”?

Do we part-sense a note of falsity? Is there a sense here, even for contemporaries, that the poem exists in some smug, contented, self-congratulatory otherworld, untouched by the woes of the Napoleonic aftermath and economic collapse of much of Europe, and thereby the English market?
Is there a sense here, not of the soporific ease of the asphodel meadows with warriors at  rest, but more of the isolated and isolationist happiness of the Elysian fields? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elysium
That is, still a part of the period’s collapse/the Underworld, but a place apart.
For the deserving.

We do gather the impression that at this point in his life William Wordsworth tended to think of himself as, indeed, ‘deserving’.
We do not talk when Mr Wordsworth is speaking.’ Dorothy Wordsworth admonished John Keats, at the famous dinner.



Well Dressing 2019

Posted: July 14, 2019 in John Stammers Page

It’s July – so it’s Well Dressing time in my part of the world.
The theme this year is Nursery Rhymes – with one commemorative exception.

A change this year: smaller boards; some displays that usually have two or three boards: main image and smaller side panels, have been pruned to the major board.

All, again, constructed from found and ‘scrumped’ natural products. I love the way sheep wool, gathered off hedges and fences, has been used to great effect for cloud etc.



I have long felt that the term Nursery Rhymes, likes Fairy Stories, do a great disservice to what are very potent and stimulating works. They have lasted longer than the majority of more ‘deserving’ works. There’s a lesson to be learned, there. Every so often it is taken to heart; but often the stories and verses are relegated once again.

50 Years of Apollo!


Mary, Mary – though not very contrary in this image. The only contrary input was my camera’s inability to handle the July light (‘Blaming the tools, eh?’ they say).


The local school’s board – I did not note which school this time. Jolly spider, though – more of a tickle than a fright, I’d reckon.


Very pleased to see the wide display of flags. No one fought alone, despite how the later (nationalistic propaganda) War films had it.
We have in our possession articles left by soldiers going off to D-Day. So poignant – they were not collected afterwards. That’s when it comes home to us with a punch.


A lot of effort has gone into ‘explaining’ such songs as this. The explanations may make the sober-minded and practically-inclined feel better – but to lose the sense of mystery, possibility, seems a crime to me.


The light defeated me getting a consistently lit photo – apologies.
Vinegar and brown paper – I could tell you a contemporary tale of someone trying to use those. But won’t.

This was the last display – and there were trestle tables of homemade cakes, and fresh teas and coffees, for the doughty travellers!

Image result for tanabata festival

On the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, is the Tanabata Festival in Japan.
Why only then?
It is all based a story from early Japan.

This is the story, one of the many, connected with the Milky Way in the night sky. In Japan it is known as the River of the Sky.

It is the story of two lovers, Orihime and Hikoboshi, who represent the stars Vega, and Altair. They are only allowed to meet on the 7th day of the 7th month, every year, at the River of the Sky.
It is a based on poems in the Manyoshu volume, ‘Collection of Ten Thousand Leaves’.  It can be traced back, in turn, to an old Chinese tale, The Weaver Girl and the Cowherd. The corresponding Chinese festival is the Qixi Festival, of the 7th of the 7th.

The Weaver Girl,  was, of course, a princess, and… was she weaving the pattern of the stars and constellations? Her father grew concerned that in her lonely profession she was not able to meet any young men. He invited the cowherd (who herded the cows of heaven?), to meet her.

The meeting went very well, and in time they fell in love. They were able to marry.
On marriage, however, they neglected their duties.
It was thought best for all if they were separated, and only allowed to meet once a year. On meeting, though, they found themselves on opposite sides of the Sky River. Orihime wept so much and so hard that a flock of magpies took pity, flew down and made her a bridge with their wings.

If it rains on the seventh day of the seventh month, though, the magpies may not be able to come.


Tonight he takes his one journey of the year
             Over the Heavenly River, passing Yasu Beach –
He, the love-lorn Oxherd longing for his maid,
Whom he can never see but once a year,
Though from the beginning of heaven and earth
They have have stood face to face across the Heavenly River

 Tonight, this seventh night of the seventh moon – 
Strangely it thrills my heart.

(excerpted from: Japanese Love Poems, Selections from the Manyoshu. Edited by Evan Bates, Dover Publications Inc., 2005)

People write messages, poems, prayers, and hang them from trees on this day.

Image result for tanabata festival

Astronomically, on this date, the distance between Vega, part of the Harp constellation, and Altair, The Eagle constellation, is bridged by a group of stars called The Coathanger, more properly Brocchi’s cluster.
This arrangement forms a straight line with a few dotted stars above this in the centre.
hImage result for brocchi cluster

Image result for brocchi cluster




Is this the magpie bridge?