Monthly Archives: February 2015

A prodigality of beaches


First time I’ve ever been on this one, which shows how lavishly provided we are.


In which we learn that Tiggers don’t like haycorns


Once upon a time, long long ago, in a different part of the Forest, I felt it my duty (in a spirit of fair-mindedness) to actually read a book by Barbara Cartland right to the last page, to make sure it was the same all the way to the bottom before I slagged her off in public.  It was; I threw it across the room; and have felt entitled to abuse her novels to the world ever since.

In a similar spirit, I attended the Cineworld live screening from the Royal Opera House:  Wagner’s Flying Dutchman.  Some of the Wagner operas have come in at a killer 6 hours, and no amount of fair-mindedness would get me to go, but this was only two-and-a-half hours to make sure it was the same all the way to the bottom.  The bottom was quite a long way down, for my money, but I did manage to drop off a couple of times, which cushioned the landing.  It wasn’t entirely without redeeming features, but no; on the whole, I think Wagnerites can keep their haycorns.

Layering up …


… an apologia wrapped in a neurology primer inside an autobiography enveloped in a case series, written in the direct, vigorous prose of a man who is willing to call a spade a bloody shovel.

Do No Harm, by Henry Marsh, is in fact a bit more complicated than that: nestedThe descriptions of neurosurgery are extraordinary, allowing us to glimpse an experience we can never know.  The case studies ratchet up the suspense:  which of these people will be destroyed by their well-meaning neurosurgeon in the next two pages?  Will Marsh have to gather all his moral courage, look the patient in the eye and explain why she is now paralysed, or tell parents why their child died on the table?  Or will he be able to see his patient restored to life and happiness?

And then there are the health systems.  The underfunded and neglected system in the Ukraine is held up against the prodigal yet hamstrung NHS, and two neurosurgeons fight their patients’ battles in the midst.  Marsh loves his discipline but hates hospitals, and both loathes and fears the senior management team.  He reacts like a prima donna to rules, but gradually the reader sees that while he is solely accountable for anything which goes wrong, he cannot fully control the fine details of time and process which might allow him to deliver his top performance, or cause him to destroy a life and a family.

What begins as biography and popular neurosurgery develops into an analysis of failure and the ethical dilemmas of surgery or medicine.  Guilt, obsession, exhilaration, empathy, arrogance and rage simmer between the lines, emerging to be pinned to the page like specimens by the steely self-awareness of the author.

I understand that Henry Marsh recently retired because he couldn’t stand the endemic NHS finger-wagging ANY MORE.  Perhaps writing this was the only way he could avoid actually biting the fingers off.

Feeling particularly lucky


Twice removed


Rummaging in the charity shop produced this:


I couldn’t see a translator’s name but bought it anyway, and settled in for an iliac evening while I cooked and washed and dusted.

In fact, it turned out to be an abridgement of William Cowper’s version, and I was at first dismayed.  The Iliad is enormously alien to our own time, and it is a stretch of the imagination to inhabit that world.  Translation via eighteenth century verse, an almost equally alien idiom, must veil it to a further remove.

I was quite wrong.  It took a little time to get an ear in, but, thanks to Cowper himself and Anton Lesser’s clear and sympathetic reading, the obscuring centuries clarified and wisped away.  We can never hear Homer as the Greeks heard him, but even for us listening can be a more ‘authentic’ and satisfying way to receive the poetry than reading from the page.  The repetitions and formulae become less obtrusive and more helpful, and I think I visualised better too.

And I was reminded of Homer’s power:  the terrible dramatic irony, the sense of puppetry which the doctrine of free will abolished in Europe, the conflicts of morality – not our morality, but one which Homer enlarges us to understand.  I also noticed for the first time a curious outbreak of self-awareness on the part of Achilles.  When Priam visits Achilles to ransom the body of Hector, Achilles not only has mixed feelings of anger, empathy, respect, suspicion, and hatred, he knows he is having them, and consciously manages his own behaviour, choosing which responses he will allow, while simultaneously aware of the risk that other feelings may overcome him against his own will.  Homer achieves a psychological subtlety in his protagonist which seems to me (classicists may wish to correct me) very unusual for the time and context.  Placed as it is at the climax of The Iliad, the sequence compels the listener’s belief in Achilles as a greater and more magnanimous man than his contemporaries, however ill-considered and egotistical his actions.

And a final nod to this particular recording for the music, well chosen and well distributed.  I was lucky to get this one for the audiobook library; having it to hand will be a bulwark against the grim and grub of life’s more dreary menial labours.



Tonight’s live cinema broadcast from the RSC was Love’s Labour Lost, and as soon as the lights went up on stage I trusted the production, let go of the sides, and slid happily down to be immersed into the receiving element.

The setting is Charlecote Park in the summer of 1914; the actors get hold of their roles; the production looks and sounds delicious; the comedy is comic (even the clowns); and the darker themes thread through and between, so that when they emerge they do not intrude, but complete the pattern of the play.  We crowded out energetic and excited:  buzzed on Shakespeare.

PS:  Pompey as the trireme:  genius.



Yesterday was a day for trees.  Trees on the downs to the east

1 downs east

Trees on the downs to the west

2 downs west

Trees on the coast to the right

3 coast rightJPG

and on the coast to the left

4 coast left

and a bit lefter

5 coast lefter

and behind us

6 clifflet behind

and when we went back.

7 return

This one isn’t a tree.

8 not a tree

A clever fellow observer took the Jovian system rolling across the sky.  And in the 10″ scope it was high, wide and handsome.

Things to do when you can’t sleep : l


l  :  Listen

 T         t  t  t   clck          tck            CLUCK                    tck              t                                     uck                t        ck                         t   T

        TCK       CK                              tck                                                                    t       t                       tck                  t  ck     t

t   t   t   t   t                tck              ck                            T                T               ck                                                   TCK


The globular ‘hands’ are not perfectly spherical, and not the same size, plus the magnets inside move in unpredictable and irregular steps.  The clock keeps time, but the ticking doesn’t.  More friendly than the alarm clock with its relentless purr and imminent threat.

I am, however, slightly concerned to find I have got to fifty posts on this theme.