Wednesday, August 31, 2022

generational contrasts

Today, I went to visit my great-grandparents - on my father's side - William and Sarah (née Ayton) Barber.  That is - these were my father's mother's parents.  I was very grateful that municipal cemetery records meant that I could locate their grave, because it's very modest - no engraved tombstone here.  The edging looks suspiciously like the edging that you'd put round flowerbeds.  

This is in Brandwood End cemetery, King's Heath, Birmingham - about twenty five minutes' walk from where my father, and his brother and mother and aunt, lived with Grandpa and Grandma Barber from around 1932, when my father would have been 10, to ... well, I remember visiting the house around 1960, when Gran - my father's mother, that is - still lived there.  Grandpa Barber was a veteran of the 1882 Anglo-Egyptian war, and subsequently joined the Railway Police: they lived all over the place (Sheffield, Leeds, Derby ...) before finally settling in B'ham.  

Brandwood End is a truly magnificent piece of late Victorian architecture: the design for these two memorial chapels - mirror images of each other - are by John Boulton Brewin Holmes, from 1899.  They're now pretty much derelict, and appear in Most Endangered Victorian Buildings lists ...

... and there are some magnificent tombs, there.

But the Barber resting place isn't one of them.  And I, their great grandaughter, whom they never knew (William died at the very end of 1935; Sarah in June 1947 - her middle name, Jennett, lives on in my own middle name, Jennet.  Why isn't it spelt the same way?  When I asked my father, he said "because your mother always had to be different," but that won't do: I suspect the registrar couldn't spell) - I, their granddaughter, am spending the night in Leamington Spa, at the kind of under-stated country house hotel that they couldn't have imagined, or imagined staying at, in their wildest dreams.  There's a research element to Leamington Spa, tomorrow, to be sure - but it's not one that has anything to do with family history ...


Tuesday, August 30, 2022

flower against cloud

Spectacular lighting as I came down the street this evening - but in the end, no rain. It's one of those plants that I'm always forgetting what it's called - like a mock jasmine.  Plantsnap unhelpfully thinks it's an orchid, which obviously it isn't - it, like jasmine, comes in a whole rampant hedge, but unlike jasmine, it's disappointingly unscented.  And that's the weather and horticultural bulletin from rather sticky London today. 


Monday, August 29, 2022

pond water

I have never, ever, seen so little water in Rushmere, on Wimbledon Common - it was shocking to see how drought-impacted it is.  Usually all this dry, pebbly, silty stuff is under water.  While it may not be as dramatic as a Yorkshire medieval village emerging from underwater, it's still something that I've never previously witnessed.


Sunday, August 28, 2022


Believe me, I’d rather not be composing this on my iPhone. But I’ve been locked out of my Mac until around 10 am tomorrow- my own fault (I hope), since I had amnesia about the unlocking password until I’d exceeded my number of tries. Then it came back to me, instantly (I usually use my fingerprint- if I type it in, it’s on autopilot - and that weirdly failed me).  And yes, I do know that if you hit the question mark, you get a helpful hint.  I remembered that a nanosecond too late, too.  

So Apples - especially somewhat rotten apples - seemed all too appropriate. This summer hasn’t been too good to them - though I suspect that the screaming parakeets that fill the garden like them well enough …

And also, and obviously, all deadlines will be met when I can access that computer again … I’d better be able to, since it’s a Bank Holiday tomorrow…

Saturday, August 27, 2022

The Wandle

In the Preface to The Crown of Wild Olive (1881), Ruskin writes of the despoliation of the River Wandle, which runs north from its source near Carshalton to the Thames.  This is one of his set-piece environmentalist pieces, where he writes out of a combination of pain and nostalgia for the beauty and freshness lost now that it has become a site where "the human wretches of the place cast their street and house foulness; heaps of dust and slime, and broken shreds of old metal, and rags of putrid clothes; they having neither energy to cart it away, nor decency enough to dig it into the ground, thus shed into the stream, to diffuse what venom of it will float and melt, far away, in all places where God meant those waters to bring joy and health."  

But look!  It's been cleaned up, wonderfully!  To be sure, it's much touted as an example of urban conservation/reclamation.  I took the 93 bus down to Morden Hall Park - which is a National Trust park, and very lovely and fairly unkempt, with Wandle-fed wetlands; and then walked up the path alongside it ...

... until I got to Deen City Farm, where I made some new four-legged friends, and petted sheep, and admired some ferrets;

and then walked on to Merton Abbey.  Would Ruskin have approved of the pub?  Almost certainly not - but I'm sure William Morris would have done: it is situated in the old Liberty & Co. Block Shop, built around 1910 to house fabric printing blocks.  The whole Merton Abbey Mills complex has been restored: there have been textile mills here since around 1600; over 1,000 workers were employed here in 1792; Morris used a mill here from 1881-88; and Liberty bought the site in 1904, and their fabrics were printed here until the 1970s.  Then dereliction ... and now regeneration, with lots of little shops and restaurants.

The mill wheel still works - it now powers a pottery wheel -

But - oh, shades of Ruskin remain ...

And then back on the 200 bus - which stops just a little way down the road.  Who knew?  It was all a great discovery, so close by.


Friday, August 26, 2022

a misty garden - and Cornelia Parker at the Tate

The weirdest misty morning - October weather in August - and here you can see what a dessicated brown mess the lawn has become after the drought.  There are new green shoots - but they aren't grass, but wildflowers/weeds.

I headed off to the Tate to see the absolutely wonderful Cornelia Parker show - her lifelong concern with matter in various states of being: being deformed, mangled, destroyed; being on the way to being something else; being broken down and turned into ink or pigment; much repurposing - all of it slightly disconcerting (but not very disconcerting, other than the Oliver Twist doll cut in half by the guillotine that beheaded Marie Antionette).  This was matter full of agency, or robbed of agency - like this extract from Thirty Pieces of Silver, which hung, just above the ground, masses of silver plate that had been crushed by a steamroller and then divided into thirty;

or what's probably her best known piece, Cold Dark Matter: An Exploded View (actually a garden shed, full of stuff, blown apart by the Army School of Ammunition).  She seems to have had a lifetime of initiative, asking people to do things, or give her things, which then become installations.

And then War Room - deep blood/Flanders poppies red, made out of countless sheets from which the Armistice poppies that are on sale every November here have been stamped, leaving - like dead soldiers - absences;

and possibly my favorite piece, Island - a greenhouse, painted with white brushstrokes of cliff chalk (she's made a lot of use of chalk from the White Cliffs of Dover), sitting on worn encaustic tiles that once lined the corridors in the Houses of Parliament, and lit by a bulb that pulses slowly on and off, like breathing, like a lighthouse, making everything unstable.  And yes, of course, this is a post-Brexit work.


Thursday, August 25, 2022

tomato harvest

I have been joking all summer that the drought in southern England will surely end when I came back - and right on cue, as the plane landed bumpily at LHR, there was a sustained deluge.  Of course, I can see how much it's needed - it's not just lawns and grassland that is parched and brown, but trees are already turning autumnal, especially chestnut trees.  My father, however, is absolutely delighted to find that because he now has a "blue badge" - which allows him to park in "disabled" people's spots - that means that he counts as disabled, which, in turn, means that the new Thames Water hosepipe ban doesn't apply to him.  I can only assume that the driving principle is that people with challenged mobility are not expected to save water from their showers and carry it outside in buckets.

This means - and will continue to mean - that this year's tomato plants are flourishing wonderfully well.  I was given the task of picking the ripe ones, which was a great pleasure.


Wednesday, August 24, 2022

pathetic paws

Poor Gramsci.  He knows what suitcases mean (he spent some time sitting inside mine, yesterday, on top of the half-packed clothes).  And then - yes - he packed himself into his traveling Sherpa bag.  What he hasn't yet had a whole lot of experience in dealing with is Humans who Travel Without Him.  And I'm off to England for nine days.  So here he is, shut in the kitchen as I leave - and there are two precious, sad paws poking out from under the door.

It's also a photo that makes me wonder however one can refurbish a complicatedly carved wooden door - you can only see a tiny bit of that, and rather too much of the inelegant bottom part.  Wherever did those scratches come from?  A griffin?


Tuesday, August 23, 2022

walk - urban and rural

It's really quite stunning: one can walk down one's (sub)urban street - and one of my favorite front yards on our own street is shown above - and within ten minutes, or thereabouts, be out in wild California, or at least as wild as one can get in Griffith Park.

I hadn't really been intending to head up here this morning, but Alice - with her problematic Achilles tendon and tibial something or the other that whine complainingly when they are faced with a steep hill - had gone off to teach on the flat plains of USC, and I went to see if I could work out what was happening with the house below us and some large fence posts that have gone up (still a mystery) - and then thought, why not?  It was a relatively cool, still fairly misty morning, with a hawk sitting on an old tree branch once I got to the top of the trail.

And then, half an hour later, back in the neighborhood, well exercised (my Apple watch called it 27 flights of stairs, which was, I suppose, some kind of approximation, though hardly adequate to the elevation, I felt).


Monday, August 22, 2022

seen at the Huntington

It was great (if hot) to be back at the Huntington!  Here are two sculpture installations by the Japanese-Californian artist Mineo Mizuno, who blends aesthetics and materials from the two places and from the multitude of traditions they contain: fallen branches from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada contain nests made of aluminum, hemp and ceramics.  It's a deliberate melding of the human and the natural - in other words (I'm borrowing this intentionality from the wall panel) "a perfect bridge between the art galleries and the gardens."  To my mind, it's decorative, harmonious, not especially thought provoking, but, indeed, a bridge.

Much more thought-provoking was a gardener's cart, which seemed - very mysteriously - to have a stuffed hen in it.  I guess one would call that a bridge between the gallinaceous and the horticultural?

The real purpose of my visit was the excellent show Excursions of Imagination: 100 Great British Drawings from the Huntington's Collection - which I was so glad to catch before it closes in a couple of weeks.  Under "drawings" were included very many watercolors, and some works in pastel - a really strong assortment, from a couple of big Turner watercolors, and Samuel Palmer, and Simeon Solomon drawings, and a Helen Allingham haymaking scene that's a different view of the field and horse-drawn, hay-laden waggon from the one that I bought earlier this year - strange to encounter a visual relative!  Here's a little cat from John Frederick Lewis's Eastern Coffee Shop (1866), who looks like an ancestor of both Moth and Gramsci rolled into one.


Sunday, August 21, 2022

back yard corner

An unremarkable corner: a table of plants, an old rotten gate - and the whole conundrum that's the back yard, which may or may not be redeveloped in the near future ... the structural company who should be doing the work doesn't seem to have filed our plans with the city; the assigned project manager seems to have left for another firm; and the guy we've been dealing with doesn't reply to our emails.  So we don't know, and this is all turning into the kind of nightmare with which one would rather not be dealing.  Maybe we'll go silent on it, too, and hope that the current collapsing terrace doesn't actually fall down in the next - oh, let's say ten years.  Meanwhile, the spider plants and geraniums and plenty of other bits of greenery seem to flourish quite happily.


Saturday, August 20, 2022

sea view

I know nothing about this dog!  But we went to Venice Beach to have brunch with a friend; arrived very early (atypically light traffic), and went for a walk down the pier.  The dog, like us, was captivated by the novice surfers who, en masse, were waiting for (gently) breaking waves in order to launch their surfboards - off which they could promptly fall.  It was a hazy morning - and so very good to see the sea again.  That's the trouble with New Mexico - it's 900 miles away from the ocean ...


Friday, August 19, 2022

meeting Dimitri! (not ours!)

There is nothing like a kitten! (particularly a tabby kitten).  This is Dimitri, who was found a few weeks ago hiding out on the top of a car tyre in Silver Lake - maybe six weeks old, and probably with a few of his nine lives already expended.  But he was rescued by a friend, taken round to another friend's - who had recently lost two dear kitties (LucyFur's brother and half brother, indeed) - and now he's the luckiest young guy in the 'hood.  He's really very small, and makes Gramsci, by comparison, look huge...

Courtesy of Alice, here he is, looking wise. 


Thursday, August 18, 2022

LA French dining

... at Loupiotte, on Vermont, in Los Feliz, and very near to us.  We met good friends there for dinner tonight: I have to say, for excellence in French bistro food in the US, it would be hard to beat Le Pommier, back in Eldorado, and Loupiotte didn't come close to that.  But the tables were very pretty; the wine excellent, and it felt good to be back ... Or that would be the sentimental take on it.  In point of fact, while the evening was excellent, we each of us spent over two hours at the dentist's, and my mouth was barely un-numb enough to eat; and we also spent a great deal of the day angsting about the fate of four large boxes that we'd had UPS ship from NM: one arrived yesterday (it transpired) - dropped over the gate of a neighbor who is out of town.  Miraculously, the other three turned up this evening, so a miscellaneous collection of library books and shoes are not lost in the wilds.  But it was good to have a drink in front of us ...


Wednesday, August 17, 2022

road warriors

They did very well!  Here Moth and Gramsci are looking out of a window at La Posada, Winslow.  They - and we - are now back in LA, tired but happy to be here.  We - Alice and I, that is - are especially tired because Moth, having slept all day, decided that she would be energetic, chatty, and demanding all night, which wasn't exactly what we needed.  But really, they are splendid little travelers, and today slept for all eight hours that we were on the road.


Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Missing them already ...

So tantalizing ... today was the very first day that the pale blue morning glories appeared (they're always the last) ... and all the sunflowers round the front of the house are nearly out - but not quite.  So when we return in a couple of months ... who knows?  Will there still, just, be morning glories?  Will we find that the sunflowers flourished, or not?  I watered everything copiously before we left, but pretty much everything depends on whether or not the monsoon rains come back, or not.  I planted out (from their big pots) various plants, and cut lots and lots of herbs that are in plastic bags in our cooler - but it was very hard, all the same, to leave the summer's cultivation behind.


Monday, August 15, 2022

dawn patrol redux

And it really was dawn when we started out, although we were hardly scrambling up Atalaya to watch the sun rise (and it's many a long long year since I've done that).  But it was wonderful to meet up with my old buddy Alfredo for a hike in the early morning, and catch up - I just wish that I were better at taking selfies, because none of my attempts do either of us justice ... I took two of them by the railroad trestles, and we look as though we're about to rob the next train to come along.


Sunday, August 14, 2022

A dog pic. And my toes.

I don't normally draw dogs: rephrase - I don't think I've ever really drawn a dog before, apart from ones that have wandered into general view.  But when invited to a party to celebrate our friend Merry - who is leaving Santa Fe tomorrow for pastures new in San Bernadino - and it was suggested that we provide a sketch or a note or or or - I wanted to commemorate Maddy, her lovely dog (who alas is no longer with us) - and who was a great character, even if she once ate a scarf of mine.  So here she is, looking in, wistfully, at Merry's kitchen door.

And after that, as a great end of the summer treat, a hot tub at Ten Thousand Waves (and a terrific dinner at Izanami afterwards).  It was excellent to soak.