Stone wall, George Szirtes and cornflowers

Last week, I finally fulfilled one of my retirement aims – to build a stone wall. I got help from Ian, an ex-stonemason, who gave me about an hour’s instruction with hints such as putting washing up liquid into the compo (composite material) aka cement, on which the stone sits. I didn’t have enough stone do build what my friend Alistair would call a proper stone wall i.e. with stone at the front and back, infilled with smaller stones. So, after one hour, I was “on the trowel” and between us, Ian and I built about half the wall. In total, the wall is 11 metres long and one metre high, so relatively small. When Ian was there, I was able to ask him advice about choosing and placing stone, so it was a comfortable and enjoyable experience. Ian then went on holiday for 2 weeks and so, for 3 days, I was on my own. I only did a few hours each day as stonewall building is a) sore on your back and b) mentally stressful. I could have predicted the physical strain on my back on legs, but what I did not anticipate was the amount of thinking ahead and decision making involved. You not only have to choose the right stone, but you need to think ahead to ensure that you have the correct bridging of joints i.e. a stone must bridge the 2 stones beneath. What you do not want, Ian the expert stonemason told me, was vertical straight lines between stones. This is the same as in printing, where you should avoid having rivers i.e. lines of vertical white space in the text – one of the things I remember from my postgraduate librarianship course many years ago. The wall is not finished, as it needs to be pointed. Ian assured me that good pointing can improve a poor wall and poor pointing can mar a good wall. No photos until it’s been pointed. A very satisfying few days in retrospect.

As a member of the Poetry Book Society, I get sent a book of poems every 3 months, and I’ve quoted from many in this blog. I’ve just finished George Szirtes’ Bad Machine. Now, as this was a Poetry Book Society Choice, it was very well reviewed by the PBS selectors and has been highly praised elsewhere. I thought that it was technically a very clever book and used different structures and techniques such as word repetition, to very good effect. You can see a but coming and there is one. Poetry is a very personal experience and poems have to be more than technically adept to give you the pleasure you seek in reading the poems, but this book’s poems did not do that for me.

A walk to the John Muir Country Park (about 2 miles/3.2K from our house in Dunbar) the other night, to see where the local council had planted a superb drift of cornflowers. These tall and spindly flowers with their unblowsy blue heads were swaying in the wind and added a sudden dash of colour next to the playpark. The photos below show the small mass of cornflower, as well as a close up of this attractive and delicate flower. I recently planted some cornflower seeds in my conservatory and they are growing rapidly – inclusion in a future blog.

Cornflower at John Muir Park, Dunbar

Cornflower at John Muir Park, Dunbar

Cornflower at John Muir Park, Dunbar

Cornflower at John Muir Park, Dunbar

Cornflower close up

Cornflower close up


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