Category Archives: Animal

Cracked

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The beach clay pots are in progress, and I am trying to possess myself in patience and retard their drying to a suitable slowness.  This is difficult, as they are completely in the way, all over the kitchen – the conservatory would risk them drying too fast, or unevenly if the sun caught them on one side.

Some of them have cracked anyway, but on this occasion I don’t think it is my lack of patience.  The three are all made from the same batch of yellowish-grey clay, which is a 100% failure rate for this particular clay body.  Lucky it wasn’t one of the larger batches.  I shall not recycle the clay and try again; if it won’t do a slow dry without cracking, I can’t imagine it firing successfully either.

I’ve had some odd things posted to me by various nearests and dearests; this has to be one of the oddest.

Things to do when you can’t sleep: lxviii

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lxviii   :   Read about a hopeless case

Richard Savage was obviously a disaster of a man.

His claims to be a neglected (indeed persecuted) illegitimate child of the Countess of Macclesfield and Earl Rivers seem to have been accepted whole by Samuel Johnson, though posterity sees a possible case of fraud and blackmail.  Even allowing the dubious circumstances of his birth, it is painful to read of Savage’s appalling behaviour to his friends and acquaintances, and his extraordinary fecklessness.

Johnson treads a complicated path through his personal knowledge of Savage’s worst behaviour; a delicate hint or two of his own attempts to support Savage; his affection for Savage as his own charming friend; his awareness of other friends’ attempts to help; and his tenderness towards Savage’s failure to cope with life, which amounted almost to a disability.  I walked with Johnson through concern, disgust, pity, contempt, regret, and, like Savage’s friends, at last you can only throw your hands in the air, and declare him beyond helping.

But I couldn’t quite join Johnson in his tenderness towards this utterly selfish and infuriating man; which is why I love Samuel Johnson, especially in the middle of the night.

A sporting post

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In spite of a deep resistance to all forms of sport, I do believe I have invented a new one:  Bumble Badminton.  Here is the necessary racquet:

I’m getting quite good at this sport.  The stupid creatures ramble into the conservatory when I am potting on, and seem to think I may have nectar in my ears.

Four is probably the maximum number of players, assuming you have enough racquets, but playing solo is safer.  I’ve decided that points are awarded based on the distance each stroke moves the object towards the goal (door), and subtracted for the distance it returns in between strokes (one point per yard), and also for false strokes.   Two extra points are received when the object is propelled through the egress, and style marks are given when it is struck cleanly from the sweet spot on the racquet (the bristles), or for good playing technique, i.e. nothing else in the environment is contacted.

All points are forfeited if the target is squashed.  Breakages must be paid for, and the umpire’s decision is final.

Abject crawling

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was required to get under the inconvenient pipe work.  But we are ok to crawl in a good cause, and a set of cavities this elegant was irresistible.

The horned frog isn’t my photo.  But I held the torch.

To ourselves

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Compressed lives

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There was something curiously sad about reading The complete robot, though I am puzzled to pin it down.  Perhaps it is seeing Asimov’s lifetime of robot stories compressed into one slightly dog-eared volume.  The stories are arranged thematically (‘Some immobile robots’, ‘Powell and Donovan’ etc.) so there is no sense of an arc or chronology in the writing, yet time weighs on the volume.  Perhaps it is sad to be reminded how thin some of the stories are, how long ago the Golden Age happened, how much more challenging and entertaining the tales were when I was fourteen. Maybe this is the last time I will read them.Margaret Oliphant’s Autobiography is mis-named, consisting only of four fragments, written at wide intervals and with purposes which changed as her life altered.  The fragments have the immediacy (almost) of a diary, unhomogenised for publication, and often raw with grief or self-knowledge.  The letters, of course, were written to be seen by at least one pair of eyes, yet again are created in the immediacy of a particular moment and purpose.  Her family life included much loss, disappointment and sadness, and her editor (who was also an adopted daughter) describes the relief with which Margaret Oliphant turned from life when informed that her final illness would be mortal.

And yet the vigour of her literary production was enormous.  I’ve read scarcely any of her journalism and none of her non-fiction works, and only a small proportion of the fiction.  Those novels I have read are not the easy romantic crowd-pleasers one would expect from a Victorian hack writer, though they are often flawed.  On the contrary:  Oliphant was capable of a moral complexity at least as challenging as anything to be found in her contemporaries, and sometimes tougher than almost anything I’ve ever read. (She could also be exceedingly witty.)  Most of her readers seem to agree that Miss Marjoribanks is the masterpiece, and certainly for me it’s pure joy from cover to cover.

A woman of so much drive and talent, but so religious, so conventional and with so few pretensions, was always going to be a puzzle to the Victorians, and I suspect she remains a stumbling block now, in spite of a developing cloud of critics and apologists.  Sometimes I think I’ll try one of the modern biographies; but then again, perhaps I’ll just let her continue to speak for herself.

All on a summer’s day

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Well it was about 80° by 9 o’clock again, so I went to water the plants before it became intolerable.  While on this placid duty, the

biggest

blackest

hugest

enormous

VASTACEOUS

WALLUMPING

bumblebee flew straight down the neck of my shirt.

Having in this compendious manner tried to achieve heat stroke and heart attack in the same encounter, I treated myself for shock and proceeded with the day.

At 10 o’clock we headed to a convenient beach.  There was a ruffling breeze and on the fairly steep-to shingle the waves made aggressive dashes at our knees.  Wet skirts were not a problem in the circumstances …

At noon the curtains were pulled against the sun and with local old-fashioned milk (full of old-fashioned top-of-the-milk) we made raspberry ice cream – yum, zingy.

And having run out of tosh for the moment, another book at 1 pm:

 

Wendy Moore has written an interesting double biography of Thomas Day and Sabrina Sidney/Bicknell.  The key narrative element is that Day, a dogmatic, wealthy and eccentric 18th century bachelor, tried to create a wife to his own specifications by acquiring and educating his own personal orphan, naming her Sabrina Sidney.  The morality of this is more complex than at first appears – less obnoxious because it did not in fact seem to cloak sexual abuse or pædophilia, and did in fact benefit his protégé in terms of prosperity and education; and more obnoxious, because the bald description of ‘apprenticeship’ barely indicates the mental manipulation, ownership, occasional physical cruelty and minute control he expected to exert over Sidney.  What could possibly go wrong?  Quite a lot, but again, no simple moral to be drawn.

It seems that the story was too good to waste, its afterlife leaking into several novels, and perhaps eventually into Shaw’s Pygmalion.  Having read this account of Day’s experiment (and also Pygmalion), I can well believe it.

And now at another 9 o’clock, it’s time to water the frazzled pot plants again.  Dare I brave the invertebrates?

Tosh

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It’s hot.  And I’m not very good at hot.  After trying to keep going yesterday, I slept eleven hours out of eighteen, so I’ve taken the hint.  Productive work has tailed off to minimal, and tosh rules.  I always feel some residual guilt at finding tales of murder diverting, but for the next day or two this is going to be the schedule.

 

Oh – and did I mention the whiff of death by the back door?  Luckily only a minor whiff, so I trust it is only a minor corpse. Perhaps it accounts for the blowfly plague, though the timing seems off.   Can’t find the body yet, so I do hope that mummification will be swift.

Rage, blood and slaughter

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Living in the country is SO delightful, I ranted, as I pursued half a dozen members of the current blowfly plague around the house, waving a shoe and in a killing rage.  Herding the hairy zoomers, one by one, into a window, I slapped and walloped until statistics gave me a direct hit, and then started on the next.  At last a cohort of death lay sprinkled on the windowsill.

I’m not a very nice person, granted, but just think where they’ve been.

And then they walk on your face.