Over and Out and The Human Hive

Dear friends, I have taken the difficult decision to stop blogging altogether for the foreseeable future. I have many things I’d like to talk about, but I had almost stopped posting because I could barely fit in visiting and commenting on your sites. Now even that is one activity too many in the packed life we live. I shall drop in occasionally on your posts, but make no attempt to keep up or comment. Life is good, and now includes knitting for a new generation. It also includes looking after family, gardening, giving talks, some exercise, a little meditation and, if possible, writing.

I wanted to put up a last post about my Big Garden Works (originally planned for last December), but the builders have not yet finished their part. This is what the garden outside the back door looked like (taken from a window) last August.

This was the planned redesign for this area. The photo below shows where we have got too now. We are waiting for the stone steps and the resin-bound surface on the path. Meanwhile I am digging the old bricks and flints out of the area to be grassed. The turf will be delivered next week and we must lay it within two days. I am enjoying building the path around the little apple tree, but am very frustrated about the endless delays on the work that was going to take ‘three to four weeks’ and started in February. I know it will be finished one day.

I started writing this post, because a violent rainstorm, plus thunder and lightning, sent me indoors, here is a photo, looking towards the house, after the storm 

I cannot leave without an appreciation of this little book of poetry. I have slowly fallen in love with The Human Hive by John Looker. It celebrates the work by which we all live now and have lived throughout human history and it does so with beautiful, colourful precision. There is a completeness to the structure of the book which slowly reveals itself as you read and understand the different sections. The writing is moving and yet self-effacing – the least introspective poetry I can remember. A great companion for any occasion and can be slipped into a pocket, read during a sleepless night or a long train journey.

Some of my beloved maples to finish. A three year old seedling that my husband is bonsai-ing. 

Trompenberg, that was so badly frosted last year, now in good health again.

I don’t want to be churlish and switch off the comments (even if I knew how), but I’d be perfectly happy if you didn’t comment.

A very English difficulty

For the last year I have put up few posts. There are reasons – mostly, though not all, good ones. I thought I might just about manage once a month, but I was going to cheat this February/March. The distinguished journalist, television director and author, Cynthia Reyes, had kindly asked me to be interviewed for her At Home series, and I thought I would re-blog her post… but I can’t. Because I’m English (and overcome with embarrassment). Cynthia has cleverly and kindly picked out my, often small, achievements, spread thinly over a long life, and polished and condensed them until they give an impression of a High Achiever.

Like everyone else, I enjoy a warm feeling at seeing work I have done being given attention and receiving praise for it. I am vain enough not to undo her good work by pointing out the why these are not as good as they look. Yet I would give much to have done what Cynthia has done. She has overcome daunting physical challenges and lives with PTSD after an accident when at the peak of her career. In addition she has written two amazing, entertaining, heart-warming and, above all, honest books about her life and its challenges. Then last year she published a book that will thrill, comfort and entertain children all over the world, Myrtle the Purple Turtle. This book will contribute positively to humanity.

 

 

No is Not Enough and other reading

A Happy new Year to all of you from this absent blogger. Spring is around the corner – I took this cyclamen a few minutes ago and I see snowdrops shoots all around.

Among the books I read during the upheavals of 2017 are three I want to tell you about. If you read no other book this year get your head into this one: In No is Not Enough Naomi Klein describes, with terrifying clarity, the power play in the western world, and its effect on the whole world. Much more importantly, she tell us what to do if we want to change this. She has seen at first hand how successful counter measures work, and how we can learn from this and adopt and adapt them to different situations. This is a book that enables you to see a better future and, best of all, how you as an individual can help to make this happen.

If you want to understand and empathise with an economic migrant read this: The Road Home is beautiful, heart-breaking and ultimately heart-warming. It gives a view into Eastern Europe that is absent from the papers, it also shows us the streets of London in all their mixed glory and dilapidation. Best of all are the characters – from many backgrounds – who inhabit these streets and who an immigrant is likely to encounter. The ending reminds us not to make presumptions about the economic migrant story.

Finally a small bombshell of beauty and tragedy: A Bargain with the Light is one of the delightful miniature publications by Hercules Editions. It packs into a slim 5+inch square book, the life history of Lee Miller, extraordinary photographs both by and of her, and a poetic tour de force – a crown of sonnets – by Jaqueline Saphra. All of these elements cohere to make an exquisite, informative and satisfying whole.

Miller was a front-line war photographer, an abuse survivor, a celebrity, an artist’s model.

A crown of sonnets is series of 15 sonnets, where the last line of each is the first of the next. The fifteenth sonnet is composed of lines taken from each of the sonnets. When done as beautifully as this, the result is almost three-dimensional and has an extraordinary rhythm.

Death of a sculpture? Palinurus’ Tomb.

Many years ago I was a sculptor of sorts. This is one called Palinurus’ Tomb. Palinurus was the helmsman of the Aeneid, he was lost at sea and his ghost was assumed to wander since he was never buried. However, Palinurus met Aeneas in the Underworld and said that he had reached land and then been killed – yet he still had no tomb.

In the late 1970s the sculpture came to rest in our garden

Over the years the material – plaster filled with iron-filings (terrosa ferrata) – slowly disintegrated, and parts disappeared.

Other big sculptures in the garden were, one by one, broken down and ended in a skip. 

As we have a major reworking of part of the garden, I decided it was time for Palinurus, with dangerous areas of metal armature sticking out, to go too. However, there was a protest. So I looked out some of my old tools and found that the sculpture suppliers, Tiranti’s, were still in business, and still sold the special plaster with iron filings (and their irresistible tools). I set to work to make Palinurus safe (not restored, just safe). It doesn’t look great, but it was an enormous please to be back reworking a sculpture and it will definitely last for another ten–twenty years.

 

I wish I could say that I am back to blogging, but this is only a partial return. I have spent time with friends and family, and the novel has has made some (rather minimal) progress. The tomatoes and beans have ripened. Yet, time at my desk definitely needs to be kept to a minimum, and not eat into time with those close to me. So, I’m around, but in the background.

 

Goodbye until September

Dear friends, I need to spend time with family, friends… and possibly my writing.

So this is goodbye for the time being. I will still be keeping an eye on my blog, so if anyone happens to want to contact me, just comment and I will pick it up, but I will be neither posting, nor reading your amazing posts.

At the end of the summer I will have had visits from friends (too long neglected), attended conferences on European Banking and Far East Prisoners of War, I will have grown some tomatoes and beans and just possibly I will have made some progress on my next novel. 

We are starting here:

If I end up with nothing more than this, so be it. I will see you all again in the autumn.

Calling London – a new title for Threadgold Press

On the 12th June, Threadgold Press is very proud to be releasing a book outside its usual genre. This book is scholarly, genuinely readable and historically important.In the twentieth century men from the Midland Bank travelled the world to try and understand how overseas centres of finance and industry functioned, to promote their business and meet their counterparts in other countries.

They were inquisitive, openminded and energetic. They sent back reports from Chicago, New Orleans, Montreal, St Petersburg, Vienna, Stockholm, Paris, Tokyo, Prague, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires and many, many other cities. They had an uncanny knack of fetching up in these centres at moments of high drama. And they reported back in detail and without political allegiance.

These reports are available for study in the archives of HSBC in London. Calling London set these reports into historical context with fascinating extracts along the way. 

Calling London: Travels by British Bankers, 1904-63

The back cover says:

There is hardly a happening in the world that does not have its repercussions, immediately or eventually, on Overseas Branch. Midland Venture, 1933

From 1904 to the 1960s managers of the Midland Bank in London travelled the world to visit centres of finance and industry and then report back. They often arrived, by chance or intention, at crucial moments in history – Russia in 1909, Austria in 1931, France in 1944, Chile and Japan 1948 and for example Germany in 1933:

Dr. Fischer was careful to explain to me, quite irrelevantly, that Hitler was a most peaceable and peace-loving man to whom war-like intentions were entirely foreign… W.F. Crick, Berlin, 1933

In a scholarly, informative and fascinating account, Edwin Green sets this rich resource in historical context. While Calling London throws light on local conditions in some serious times, it also includes delightful insights into how British Bankers were seen abroad:

Mr. Holden is no dreamer. The way he hands out a cigar is suggestive of the rapier. Toronto News, 23 September, 1904

Edwin Green was appointed as the Midland Bank’s first archivist in 1974. From 1993 until his retirement in 2007 he was group Archivist at HSBC in London, where the records of the Midland’s Overseas Branch are located. He is the author and co-author of many publications on banking and business history, including histories of the Midland Bank, The Mercantile Bank of India and the Institute of Bankers. He is uniquely placed to guide future researchers to this gold mine of twentieth century business archives.

From 12 June book will be available directly from Threadgold Press (pensioners and staff get a reduced rate) or from Amazon.

In case you think a gremlin has taken over my blog… here are some peonies. 

Heavenly maples and maple worries

Many of you will know that I am a Japanese maple addict.In spring when the new leaves start emerging I practically swoon with delight. It is also a very anxious time and the young leaves are prone to frost damage. In the UK we had hot, T-shirt weather in mid March, followed by drought and then sharp frosts in the last week.Apart from the older maples above, there are maples that have grown as seedlings aro kaze (the bronzy one above). They take years to grow and many die young. This one is two years old and has become one of my husband’s new interest in bonsais. This one is, I think, three years old, and is also joining the bonsai collection.The purple one below is also three years old. They are all seedlings from the same maple! And this one is at least four years old. I thought I had lost it. The young leaves are so fine and vulnerable that they have no strength to withstand bad weather until they fill out. This will be stunning when there are more layers in a couple of years time.Here are two of this year’s crop and they only appeared a week or so ago. Finally, one of our oldest small maples had become so pot-bound that I carved it in a pie chart pattern and filled the open sections with fresh ericacious compost.  Sadly, although I could protect the smaller maples, the heavy frosts of the last week have damaged some leaves on all the established maples, so they will look a little moth-eaten this year. They will still be beautiful.

New note: Thanks to Uma Shankar’s comment below, I looked up the meaning of the name Matsukaze and am charmed to discover that it means “wind blowing through pine trees”. Thank you, Uma.