Tag Archives: night

Lively entertainment

Standard

I found a very useful lightning map, and watched the storms come trogging up the Channel long before they reached my part of the world.  Thus I was sitting up ready in bed, curtains drawn back, watching for the first flashes when they began.  It was a good storm, though not a classic; lightning in profusion, often every second or two, mostly glowing weirdly in the clouds, sometimes rushing like rivers horizontally across the sky, occasionally laying itself out in archetypal dendritic patterns.  We were on the skirts of the action, so much of this happened in silence, with just a few of the nearer bolts banging and rumbling – nothing to frighten the horses – and the excitement was over in about 90 minutes.

Bit sleepy today, though.

Things to do when you can’t sleep: lxviii

Standard

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.

Compressed lives

Standard

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

Standard

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?

During the incursion

Standard

… there was a communal bake-in, requiring several hours and some curious culinary procedures involving pineapple and limes.  The presence of a live chicken on the kitchen floor probably didn’t help.

When I’d finished laughing, I ate my piece, which was rather good, and juicy with fruit, (though I admit to scraping off some of the drooly icing – nice flavour, but rather too sweet in a dollop like this).

Siphonophore or salp?

Standard

Horticulture is all very well,

housework is never all very well, but no doubt it is good for one’s character (just some cushion plumping still to be done),

but they interfere with the important things in life, namely watching someone colour in the floor of the Pacific stripe by stripe.  I feel like Slartibartfast.

Then there is the crucial business of blue water going by for an hour, or possibly two, occasionally diversified by some passing gelatinous improbability, until we arrive at the main event:  the ocean floor, a varying number of kilometres but always a Very Long Way Down.

Here one can inspect more gelatinous creatures, the occasional fish, and a variety of coral.  Unfortunately, being live from the other side of the world, they usually reach bottom just at the time all British people should be in bed.  What technical genius, though, not only to send ROVs to that depth, but to live stream HD video to all and sundry, along with baffled commentary from assorted specialists.  It’s just as much fun as reindeer – though I do occasionally wish the scientists were speaking Norwegian.

For those who live in another hemisphere, or don’t mind propping up their eyelids with matchsticks:

http://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/okeanos/media/exstream/exstream.html

Not very joined up

Standard

One of those random days where none of the bits matched any of the other bits.

We started with reindeer of course, striding away across the snow.  Not feeling like doing any striding myself, I ripped back some knitting.  Do you know how difficult it is to unravel wool which is both hairy and decorated with sequins?  Not so much ripping as delicately untangling each row and removing the snags one by one to avoid spoiling the yarn.

The reindeer were having a little rest.  Some of them were asleep.  The ones that were asleep chewed slowly.  The ones that were awake chewed less slowly.

I cut the grass.  I promised myself I wouldn’t complain about cutting the grass.  Look: this is me not complaining about cutting the grass.  I decided the time for curlicues was past, and mowed straight over the violets.  Most of them were finished anyway, and now they all are.

Checking in on the reindeer:  they were stepping steadily in the chilly sunshine.  A few paused to suck and gnaw at exiguous strands of lichen glued flat to black rocks.  I meditated on stripes.  Tricky things, stripes.

Episodes of social engagement followed. The sea was blue and sparkly, the hills pale green over the pale chalk, but I couldn’t enjoy – bank holiday weekend, so all the ordeal of homicidal motorbike riders and suicidal cyclists and lost tourists looking at the view instead of the road.  Bad combination.

Home again, I made sure the herd was all right.  Their humans were amusing themselves by drawing giant patterns in reindeer, right across the valley floor – by laying a trail of what looks like pony nuts, which the reindeer rush into lines to feed upon.

Watering plants next.  It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, at last, and the timing is rubbish as usual, with hundreds of people in tents, poor loves, and an early garden show kicking off.

Back with the reindeer.  I’ve turned the sound off.  It’s getting a bit late in Norway and the screen caption says it’s -12°C.  The current shot:  A reluctant northern night is gathering.  A small snowmobile van thing is shown slowly approaching the camera position over a wide field of snow.  It passes the camera position.  The camera pans to keep it in view.  The van thing progresses across the snow.  The camera centres on its little flat square doors.  It goes further away over the snow.  It goes further away some more.  It goes away a bit more.  The now tiny back view of the van thing disappears gradually over the brow of a snowy hill.  The camera continues to look at snow on the now empty hill.

I think the reindeer and I are stuck with each other for the duration.

Minutt for minutt

Standard

(for about a week).

NRK (Norwegian broadcasting) is televising and live streaming the reindeer migration (reinflytting – excellent word!)  in the far north of Norway, all day, every day, until the reindeer arrive wherever it is they are going.  Probably take about a week … along the way there are musical interludes, but, though some of the pieces are lovely, the natural sound is even better.  When the music is playing I can leave the screen burbling in the corner, but once it goes silent I can’t look away.

At the moment the reindeer group which is being followed is having a little snooze.  If you would like to watch them having a little snooze for an hour or so, this is the link:

https://tv.nrk.no/direkte/event/f7946

Oooo – I think a couple of them may have woken up … and yes … noses to the north it is.

Whan that Aprille with his shoures soote

Standard

Yes, right.  The shoures showed no sign of percing the recent droghte as they were vanishingly parsimonious; and as they were composed of a thin vicious sleet on a north wind they had no claim whatever to be soote.  As they slanted by we did get a little bit of glamour out of them.  This must be the coldest rainbow I’ve ever seen.

The chill got into my bones rather.  Last fire of the season?  Or are we about to have one of those perishing springs and blighted summers again?