Posts Tagged ‘cyclamen’

Sebastian Barry’s “Days Without End” and Spring flowers (1)

March 17, 2017

It’s not often that you come across a novel that is absolutely riveting and makes you want to write down a quote from every page of the book, but the new novel by Sebastian Barry –  Days Without End comes into this category. You can listen to an excellent Guardian podcast featuring an interview with Barry about his novel and this adds further insight into the book. The novel tells the story of Thomas McNulty, who was among thousands who fled from Ireland when the potato famine struck. McNulty briefly tells us of his arrival in Canada on a ship where “I was among the destitute, the ruined and the starving for six weeks”. The Irish who reached Canada “were nothing. No one wanted us… We were a plague. We were only rats of people”. When McNulty subsequently meets a fellow teenager “handsome John Cole” who becomes his life-long friend and lover, he tells us “I was a human louse, even evil people shunned me”. This feeling of McNulty’s – that he and his kind are worthless – continues throughout the book, and McNulty explains that his and John Cole’s ability to withstand the horrors they see, comes partly from this. The book tells of the boys’ and subsequently men’s lives as dancers dressed up as women to entertain miners, then as soldiers engaged in “cleansing” the frontier of Indians and then as regular soldiers in the American Civil.

Barry’s writing is described by reviewers of the book as “vibrant”, “beautiful and affecting”, “exhilarating” and “vivid”. He is one of these writers with an enviable ability to produce descriptions that make your read them again. Open the book anywhere and you’ll find them. The soldiers eat with “the strange fabric of frost and frozen wind falling on our shoulders”. Other soldiers, sent out to meet an Indian chief and his followers “rode like chaps expecting Death rather than Christmas”. There are detailed battle scenes in the book, but also moments of tenderness and humour. Barry does not shrink from describing mass killing – of Indian men, women and children and of rebel soldiers – but he manages to focus on the personal. In the heat of the battle with the rebels, McNulty reflects “Other things I see is how thin these boys [rebels] are, how strange like ghosts and ghouls. Their eyes like twenty thousand dirty stones”. I am two-thirds through this astonishing novel already and I know that when I get near the end, I’ll want it to continue for another 300 pages. Go and buy it.

 

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Sebastian Barry’s stunning novel

Spring really has sprung around here and there is now an abundance of colour in my garden, with much more to come. The first photo is of a tulip from a vase in the house – my own tulips are biding their time, letting the daffodils have their spot in the sunlight, before they upstage them with a glorious display of colour. As readers of this blog will know, what fascinates me in particular is the insides of flowers and their often surreal appearance. I love the symmetry in this tulip as well as the vibrant colours and the central feature, which could be a creature from a sci-fi film or something inexplicable found by archaeologists in a 3000 year old grave. What do you see here?

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Close up of a tulip flower head (Click to enlarge)

The 2nd photo is of violas on the side of our hanging basket at the front door. The cyclamen in the body of the hanging basket has passed its best. The violas, planted last autumn wore plain green coats all winter and shrivelled in the frost at times. In the past 2 weeks however, they are transformed and show us purple and yellow dresses in a display of sartorial elegance. They are delicate little flowers but have eye-catching, mascara like centre patterns. As the title of this blog post indicates, there will be more Spring flowers to follow.

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Violas in a hanging basket

 

 

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New wall, digging find and autumn flowers

October 10, 2015

I’ve just finished building a new stone wall. There’s quite a lot of tension involved in an amateur like me attempting to produce a finished wall that looks as if it might have been built by an expert i.e. to the untrained eye. Are there enough stones that are large enough to catch the eye. Are the different colours in the sandstone well distributed across the wall? Is there a good contrast between the rougher and the smoother stones? Is the pointing done well enough? From a personal point of view, the builder himself/herself has to be pleased with the outcome, according to my expert tutor and former qualified stonemason Ian and, while I can see faults in the wall, I’m pretty pleased with it. Robert Frost wrote “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, / That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,/ And spills the upper boulders in the sun,/ And makes gaps even two can pass abreast” in Mending Wall. The poem’s narrator and neighbour set about mending the wall and he sees his neighbour “Bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top / In each hand, like an old-stone savage armed”. The stone for my wall came from a local house where, possibly 100 years ago, a man from Dunbar built the wall. Now another man from Dunbar has built a new wall from the same stone.

New stone wall

New stone wall

Behind the new stone wall – on the right of the picture above – I’m digging a new patch to extend my vegetable garden. Digging this part was at times easy – as the spade cut through the soil which was newly wettened by the previous day’s downpour. At other times, I hit solid clay and occasionally my spade hit a largish stone and sent a shivering pain through my arm. One of my favourite Seamus Heaney poems is called Digging and in the poem, Heaney recalls his father digging potatoes 20 years ago ” The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft/ Against the inside knee was levered firmly./ He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep/ To scatter new potatoes that we picked,/ Loving their cool hardness in our hands”. This fairly simple task is enhanced by Heaney’s words – “coarse boot” “bright deep edge” and “cool hardness”. I’m going to plant potatoes in this patch next year and will recall Heaney’s words when I dig them up. Near the end of the digging, I unearthed a coin and it turned out to be an old penny, indeed a penny from 1916. In the photos below (a clearer picture here) you see the inscription GEORGIVUS V DEI GRA BRETT OMN REX FID DEF IND EMP. In the full Latin, this is “Georgius V Dei gratia Britanniarum omnium rex, fidei defensor, India imperator” which translates as ” George the Fifth by the grace of God King of all the British, defender of faith and emperor of India” – so a modest chap was our George. On the reverse is Britannia – a female figure representing the Roman name for the area no known as the British Isles. This military looking figure suggests clearly that the British Empire is strong.

1916 penny

1916 penny

1916 penny

1916 penny

It’s clearly autumn now, with the leaves on the trees giving a final show of golden opulence before careering down to the ground. It’s also dark by 7pm. In my garden, there is decadence in the bushy lobelia and the sword lilies’ heads have shrunk. Some of the geraniums have kept their vibrant colours while other have rotted. There is still much to see as in the photos below. The sedum is at its flowering peak, the fuchsia are still producing delicate and intricate heads and the Indian summer has produced new roses. New in the garden are the cyclamen which will last over the winter and well into spring.

Sedum at its peak

Sedum at its peak

Autumnal fuchsia head

Autumnal fuchsia head

October rose

October rose

Newly planted cyclamen

Newly planted cyclamen

Forward Prizes, spring garden and free will

April 4, 2014

I have just finished reading The Forward Book of Poetry 2014. It’s an annual collection of poems submitted for various elements of the Forward Prizes. The best collection was by Michael Symmons Roberts entitled Drysalter which I’ve referred to in the blog. Taking the book off my bookshelves and opening it at random, I find Discoverers including the lines “History as layers of paint, sedimentary/ and underneath them all, spread/ like a painless contagion, stone”. The best first collection prize went to Emily Berry for Dear Boy, which includes the truly original prose poem “The International Year of the Poem” in which the poet imagines poems being seen as internationally subversive and governments taking action e.g. an Israeli prime minister stated that “We have now declared war on the poems of Gaza….we will treat the population with silk gloves/ but we will apply an iron fist to poems”. If you don’t normally buy poetry books, buy this one and read one or maybe two poems a day – your imagination will be richly stirred.

For the last 10 days, the east of Scotland and most of the east coast of  England has been covered in low cloud, with the occasional slow inrush of haar (sea mist) and the temperature has hung about 6 or 7 degrees. At times, it reminded me of Cormac McCarthy’s sentence at the beginning of his novel The Road – “Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world”. Now in The Road, the world has suffered a disaster – possibly nuclear war – and the sun has been permanently blocked out. The sun will return next week here but the image of a “cold glaucoma” is startling. Despite the ubiquitous grey in the sky and on the sea, my spring garden provided some relief and welcome colour, in the form of wallflower. grape hyacinths, daffodils and tulips in the 1st photo below. The 2nd photo is a pot with pansies, red and white tulips and daffodils. The 3rd photo shows the aftermath of the rain on a cyclamen plant.

Spring garden

Spring garden

Spring pot

Spring pot

Cyclamen after the rain

Cyclamen after the rain

Out on my bike this week, I listened to an episode of In Our Time, the weekly radio programme hosted by Melvyn Bragg on free will. This episode is from the programme’s archives. It was a fascinating discussion and it did not get too bogged down in terminology. Proponents of free will argue that we have freedom over our actions – will we choose the chicken or the fish in a restaurant? – although this is not complete freedom as our choices will be influenced by factors such as societal pressures, our experiences and our tastes. Opponents of free will – the determinists – argue that everything we do is determined e.g. by nature or by divine intervention, so we cannot have free will. However, if everything is determined, why don’t we just act as we like, possibly irresponsibly, as what we do is determined anyway? Some philosophers argue that if we have moral responsibility for our actions, then we don’t have complete free will but they also reject determinism. As with all things philosophical, there are many arguments and counter arguments e.g. we must try to define “free” and “will” before we can discuss it. So, while it looks like you have free will with regard to reading this blog post or not, you don’t make that decision uninfluenced.

12 Years a Slave, The Last Good Kiss and January flowers

January 26, 2014

We went to see the highly praised film 12 Years a Slave and we were certainly not disappointed. This is an excellent film in so many respects. The basic story is probably known to most people who go to see the film, as it’s been extensively reviewed and compared with other films about slavery in the USA. It is an unsentimental retelling of the experiences of Solomon Northrup, a free back man, who was hijacked into slavery and suffered a variety of indignities – as well as severe pain and near death – under a range of masters. The acting is superb and there is an absence of sentimentality and indeed, moralising in the film. The standout word in the film is property. The slaves are dehumanised in the eyes of their owners and overseers, and are used for labour in the fields. Women were often used as sex tools by white owners. It is hard to comprehend what it must have been like to experience this form of degradation, but this film gives us a graphic demonstration of how fear  dominated  the slaves’ lives. There is also some beautiful photography in the film. There are some savage moments in the film but this should not put you off going to see it if you can.

I’ve just finished James Crumley’s highly lauded The Last Good Kiss (Photo 1) – a rip roaring crime novel in which CW Sughrue is a private detective with a penchant for hard drinking, adventure and attractive women – sometimes simultaneously. Crumley has some Chandleresque phrases e.g. He had a haircut that belonged on someone else’s head and Sughrue’s character is well developed, as is that of the often hapless writer Trehearne. The women’s characters are somewhat developed but this is not a strong point of Crumley’s writing. The plot moves fast – sometimes a little farcically for my taste – and this is a novel which is at least one standard above most crime fiction you will read. Certainly worth a try.

The Last Good Kiss

The Last Good Kiss

It’s been fairly mild this winter in Dunbar and this has meant that some of the flowers have made an early show of colour. The wallflower, for example, are usually mid to late Spring entrants into the floral beauty contest, but this year, they are on display already. Wallflower are perennials and mine are now getting to the over bushy stage and I’ll take most of them out after the spring. I took Photo 2 when the heavy rain (in which my cycling mate John and I were caught for 30 mins this morning) stopped.

Wallflower

Wallflower

While in the garden, I also took 2 photos of cyclamen  which have been producing delicate, understated  flowers all winter. When it gets frosty, the cyclamen appear to shrug their shoulders and close up their leaves and flowers until some heat returns. I like trying to capture the colours of the flowers but also the raindrops which enhance the shapes and hues of the plants.

Cyclamen after the rain

Cyclamen after the rain

Cyclamen after the rain

Cyclamen after the rain