Sunday 30 September 2007



To see how things are looking at the other end of the island (surprisingly red, in fact), see Dougal's wildlife blog .

Saturday 29 September 2007


Mashed ghoughbteighpteau anyone?

There I was, sitting in the passenger seat with my head buried in today's Guardian Review section, as water lapped menacingly all around and I tried to avoid the 'who do they think they are?' looks of drivers of more - ahem - environmentally friendly vehicles (see previous post). (Look, it wasn't MY idea, OK? - I was the one who remonstrated quite loudly and persistently in the interests of common sense, but what could I do (other than roll up my jeans and jump into the sea in protest, which I decided against)?) So, anyway, I hid behind the paper, hoping no-one would recognise me, and read Simon Callow's review of Julie Kavanagh's Rudolf Nureyev: The Life ; a moving piece by Blake Morrison on the strange experience of watching his book And When Did You Last See Your Father? made into a film:

'Chastened to realise that the material of my childhood and adolescence has now become someone else's property. I don't own the intellectual and artistic rights any more. My life's not my own, it's someone else's . . . I've entered a world where truth and fiction have begun to blend.'

and coincidentally, following the reminder on Julian Roskams's blog of George Bernard Shaw's comment that English spelling would allow one to write FISH as GHOTI (f as in rough, i as in women, sh as in nation), today's Commentary piece is an article by Harry Bingham on 'why English rules the world of languages', in which he observes:

'[Shaw] couldn't have been trying all that hard, if that was the best he came up with. How about POTATO as in GHOUGHBTEIGHPTEAU? That's p as in hiccough, o as in though, t as in debt, a as in neighbour, t as in ptomaine, o as in bureau.'

How about it indeed?

Yes, Mersea is a 'real' island

On Thursday night I posted some bad-ish pics of TBTE (the beach that evening) - but what I didn't mention was that I'd tried (and failed abjectly) to capture the most enormous, magical harvest moon, rising over West Mersea church, just as the sun went down.
Thankfully, however, Elizaphanian (aka Sam Norton, Rector of St Peter and St Paul, West Mersea) was, unbeknown to me, down on TBTE at exactly the right moment, and has posted a lovely photo of the moon above the beach huts here. Do have a look at Sam's blog. I can absolutely guarantee that it will confound any expectations you might have - this is no mere online filing cabinet for preachings from the pulpit. It's thought-provoking, funny, erudite, searingly honest - and of course, full of great photos of TBTM/A/E.

The tides are extreme this week - this afternoon's high at 2.36 caused more delay than usual to traffic and cut the island off from the mainland (to all but the intrepid, the foolhardy and drivers of Landrover vehicles) for a good long while.

Unfortunately (for me) but excitingly (for the children), my family car and its driver fall into all three of the above categories. Consequently, we steamed to the front of the queue on the Peldon (mainland) side of the Strood (me cringing all the while behind the Guardian Review section - oh the embarrassment!), waited until the water had dropped six inches or so and couple of 4 x 4s had made it across from the island side under their own steam (after a couple of dead and waterlogged cars had been pushed through 'by hand') , and then set off. I hardly dared look. The potential for humiliation on such an escapade is extreme - the current surging back across the Strood at the mid-point is very fast.

And no, I have no 'faith' at all because, unlike my children, I am old enough to remember the great 'Let's Pretend this Volvo Estate is a Discovery and Drive Through this Deep Ford' incident of 1994. It's not something one easily forgets.

Here are some pics the children took on a mobile phone, from their standing-up-through-sun-roof vantage point.

Looking towards Mersea - that's an abandoned van. Sandwiched between this van and another which had to give up, was a single-decker bus.

Some people leave their cars in the queue, roll up their trousers and enjoy the specatcle.

Looking back towards Peldon and the tailback, which can go back two or three miles. Those are house frontages on the right - they get used to people standing on their front walls. Nearly bought the next one inland from this eight years ago, but didn't after having investigated estimated rise in sea level over next decade . . .

The first vehicles to come over from the island.

Our wake and some people who hadn't quite realised what they were getting into.

Friday 28 September 2007

I return from my intemperate defection . . .

Well that's a bit more like it, chaps!

England 36
Tries: Sackey 2, Tait, Farrell
Cons: Wilkinson 2
Pens: Wilkinson 2
Drop-goals: Wilkinson 2

Tonga 20
Tries: Hufanga, Pole
Cons: Hola 2
Pens: Hola 2

So it's Australia next Saturday, then. Eeek!

Thursday 27 September 2007


(For explanation of TBTE see previous post)

Join the club!

Hey, look what I've just been sent - all the way from the fabulously named Eureka, California!

I left a comment on Joel's excellent TextWrap blog a while ago. It's well designed, attractive and informative, and a good example of the sort of work-related blog which I originally intended this one to be before it descended into a repository for wedding photos and the domestic rantings of a grumpy middle-aged mother.

You will see that Textwrap features at the top of my list of typography-related websites below right.

Last night Joel sent me an email to say 'Hi' back, to present me with this coveted award, and to alert me to his other blog: Carson Park Design. This one has recently featured a series on the genesis of a logo for an Oysters & Ale festival. Love it. A lesson in clarity and brevity from which I intend to learn.

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Aaarrrggghhh (again) and three interesting things

Arghh, one of those horrible, interrupted days, when all one yearns for is a long stretch of peace and quiet in which to concentrate upon a single job in a sustained and productive fashion. The central heating boiler is, to put it as politely as I can, fkd. So a man came round. A different man from the one who, nearly two months ago, proclaimed the boiler to be fine, despite its making loud banging noises and the heating and hot water not working properly. And a different man from the one who came on the recommendation of the first man to check out the timer switch and decided it was OK. And a different man also from the one who has visited about seven times to fix other central heatingy matters, but couldn't look in the boiler because he's not a corgi. Today's man said 'your entire system is fkd, it needs replacing, do not continue to obtain hot water and hot radiators by depressing the emergency over-ride switch or you will all be blown to Kingdom Come'. As a result of what's been going on in the boiler, the electric immersion heater has given up the ghost also. It couldn't cope with the competition. So . . . no heat, no hot water and another man about to arrive to provide a second opinion on the immediacy of threat to life and limb, followed by an additional man who will, one strenuously hopes, replace immersion heater in double-quick time.

On top of which my elder daughter is off school with a headache like soooooo bad and debilitating that all she can do is like stand up in the kitchen baking bread, watch old episodes of, like, Friends and pay frequent visits to my study in order to ask irrelevant and distracting questions re my opinion on High School Musical, hair straighteners, or some boy who was in Any Dream Will Do who has mitigated his disappointment at not having been selected by disporting himself virtually naked in trash teen mags.

My inner store of patience, concern and interest having dwindled to dangerously low levels, my stock response to all forms of human interaction is now, simply, 'arrrrgggghhhh!' and looks set to remain so.

The first shift of my working day due to end in about an hour, when younger daughter, 6 today, will return from school to play with today's haul of new toys - including a Barbie cat which, when supplied orally with water from (improbably) a miniature babies' bottle and then squished in the middle, will promptly wee into a small cat litter tray filled with pink (this is Barbie's cat, remember) absorbent granules. Oh joy.

Can it really be six years since I watched my younger daughter take her first breath as she was lifted over the green screen (yep, way too posh to push, moi!)? Or indeed more than ten since my son was handed across the same screen (10lb 2 oz and sideways on - so I don't think I need to feel guilty about that particular 'intervention') with the prophetic remark, 'well, you've got yourself a fine rugby player there, Mrs Doyle'? Let alone very nearly 14 years since, after what seemed like a whole week of real, sweaty, screamy, hard-work labour, my firstborn finally emerged? Late and reluctant to get out of bed. Some things don't change.

Enough Musings from the Maternity Unit, methinks, and back to what's left of the aforementioned hour.

Over lunch I clicked a few links and discovered three interesting things: (1) a new post by Jules on the English language, its glitches and its glories, which reminded me that I still haven't posted my brilliant and cogently argued piece about less and fewer - and also that the indispensable site is something well worth visiting if you haven't yet made its acquaintance; (2) Roland Chadwick's (see previous blog) myspace page ; and (3) the uncomfortable but compelling WorkingatFoodPlace blog - 'the working life of a UK supermarket slave' - certainly food for thought in many ways and surely worth a PhD thesis or two in itself.

Monday 24 September 2007

Blackberrying bliss

On Saturday, My Boy and I picked blackberries and sloes in warm sunshine in our old stamping ground in Copford, while younger daughter went to Drama Group and elder daughter sat in car reading trash teen mags.

It was lovely to be back - I find I'm missing those woods and fields most of all now that autumn leaves are starting to fall - though difficult to believe that a whole year had gone by since we last filled our baskets in the same spot. And once again, I reflected on how strange it is that it should be my ten-year-old son, alone in my family, who so completely understands and wholeheartedly participates in these hedgerow foragings.

For me, picking fruit in the autumn sun is one of the finest, simplest and most delightful pleasures in life. I've recognised this since I was a very young child and my parents and sister would comb the (long-since bulldozed) copses around Odiham for blackberries and then visit my grandparents to climb their Bramley trees and harvest tray upon blue cardboard tray of fragrant, waxy apples.

The heady mix of smells, the buzzing insects, the sweet pain of bramble-scored arms and the throb of nettle stings - above all the satisfaction of watching the level in the big basket rising at each tipping of the plastic bowl. Bliss. Absolute bliss. I could spend hours and hours amongst the brambles (and often do) but on Saturday we had only 50 minutes. We gathered enough blackberries for a couple of crumbles plus some to put with sloes and elderberries for a batch of Hedgerow Jam.

The boiled-up sludge for the latter sat in the kitchen for a day or two, where I gave it a quick press through the sieve each time I passed, sending another stream of intoxicating purple juice into the big pan. Last night I boiled up the resulting six pints with some sieved apples, added the sugar and, eventually, after a l-o-n-g wait, at 1.10 am, it was ready to bottle up. No frilly lids, no labels - just two huge jars full and a dish for the remainder, which we spread with butter on fresh-baked rolls for breakfast this morning.

Back at my desk, my day brightened up considerably when I visited Scottish artist Ken Bushe's website , after Rachel sent me the link. How lovely to see such a well-designed artist's site, which sets off his work so well. He shares his painting methods and has an interesting collection of links and his biography page is rather entertaining, too. It is Ken's sky and cloud paintings which I particularly admire, though I love the 'Trees in Winter' sketch on the Commissions page.

Well, better get back to work now, I suppose. Usual round of stuff to work on this week - the good, the bad and the positively ugly - and none of it making my fortune.
Ho hum.

Sunday 23 September 2007

The Company Shed, Mersea

Excellent to see our wondrous Company Shed getting a nice long, illustrated review by Jay Rayner in today's Observer Magazine. And the verdict? Overwhelmingly positive (apart from a mild gripe about the lack of mayonnaise, and another about the queue to get in - but he got over these minor setbacks).

I entirely concur with Rayner's view that 'the star of the show . . . is the seafood platter, at £8.50 a head'.

The review ends with a paragraph that sums it all up perfectly:

. . . Seafood, a plate, your fingers and the waters of the creek just outside, on a low-lying piece of land that is dedicated to the way of the boat. As I was finishing my lunch I found out just how low-lying the land was. The people sitting next to me explained that, at high tide, the island . . . is often cut off, as the waters roll in to cover the causeway that links it to the mainland. I asked when the next high tide would be. They glanced at their watches. Oh, right about now, they said. So I won't be able to get off? Not for a while, they said. I advise you to check the times of the high tide before going to the Company Shed. Me? I wandered down the road to a cafe and bought a toffee ice cream made with local goat's milk. I sat on a bench, watched the boats come and go, and gave myself to the rhythms of the waters that had just helped supply my lunch.
Yep, that's what it's like round here. And long may it continue.

Guitars; two Rolands and a Vincent

I’ve loved classical/Spanish guitar music since I was four and half and my parents bought their first ever (small, black & white) telly – with a bulging green screen in a walnut-effect casing, and balanced precariously on spindly splayed stainless steel legs (probably a design classic now). One of my favourite programmes in the Watch With Mother series, which came on just after lunch, was Tales of the Riverbank, in which a cast of live guinea-pigs, hamsters and rats were filmed improbably driving small boats and landrovers in the leafy environs of the Riverbank while Johnny Morris narrated their adventures.

What captivated me, however, wasn’t so much the escapades of the rodenty chums as the signature tune and other evocative guitar music. It was a sound that was new to me, and one which I found completely enchanting, and I’ve never really lost that fascination (though strangely it never inspired me to take up the instrument myself). So that was how the early Sixties affected my life. While those a few years older were thrilling to the guitar playing of the Fab Four, I was sitting on my little wooden chair at home, watching a hamster suspended in a small wicker basket beneath a balloon which gently rose above the reeds and rushes to the accompaniment of what was, to me, the most beautiful music in all the world.

Well, all the above is mainly to explain why, on Friday, My Boy (astonishingly, abandoning his chance to watch the Ireland v France Rugby match) and I betook ourselves to the Muddy Island’s Cultural Mecca for an evening with the decidedly brilliant Modern Guitar Trio.

A quick look at their website had been enough to persuade me that this was a concert not to be missed, but I had not expected an evening of such sustained enjoyment. The charismatic Australian Roland Chadwick is the trio’s leader and spokesman – there’s a lot of chatting to the audience between pieces – and the other members are Vincent Lindsey-Clark and Roland Gallery. All three are composers as well as consummate performers in their own right, and a feature of the Trio is that they play only their own compositions.

You can hear some of their music on iTunes, or go to Roland Chadwick’s website, where diverse clips play continuously. I came away with a couple of their CDs, which I’m listening to now. But a recording simply can’t convey anything of the engaging thrill of watching these three musicians playing together. That all the music is their own makes their performance personal and intense. Classically trained, they seem equally at home incorporating blues, jazz, and folk music into their compositions, and appear to be masters of every technique and genre known to guitar playing – at times my son feared for the safety of their instruments as they slapped and drummed them with fierce percussiveness. There’s a review on the ‘Critics’ page of Roland Chadwick’s site by Steve Marsh in Classical Guitar Magazine which really can’t be bettered:

‘. . . As well as all three of them being virtuoso guitarists, they also just happen to be extremely good composers in the own right . . . their compositions are of the highest quality and are never less than entertaining . . . The four-movement Sonata Melodica by Lindsey-Clark opens up proceedings in . . . very lyrical fashion . . . . tunes abound from every corner of this brilliant and exciting piece whether it be in the bright, vivacious sections or in the darker, moodier passages. It is altogether a highly rewarding work to listen to with a clear and uncomplicated texture concluding with a spirited Finale of uninhibited fun. Roland Gallery’s contribution to this programme uses the word ‘fusion’ in the title due to the two works combining the elements from rock, jazz, classical and world music . . . 'Chameleon' is an eight-minute work of varying moods and pace and cleverly uses the same thematic material in different guises . . . 'Fear of the Dark' utilises the ‘jazz’ sound a little more than its counterpart and makes for another entertaining work. . . . [P]ride of place must go to Roland Chadwick’s emotive composition The Wendy House . . . a piece I have returned to time and again for further listenings . . . [it] contains some of the most beautifully evocative writing for guitar ensemble this reviewer has heard in many a day. . . . I defy anyone not to be moved by the sheer poetry of this writing . . . the composer shows his very real talent for composing extraordinarily attractive music. There is no overstatement, no pomposity or grand empty gestures; it is simply music for music’s sake . . . Virtuosity, power and sensitivity are matched by all three artists . . . So here are three extremely rewarding and out-of-the-mainstream works done with style in every department in a recording which is uniformly good and clear. . . . . I strongly recommend this brilliant new release.

If, like me, you enjoy listening to musicians who cross, defy or simply ignore traditional 'boundaries', do go and see them if you ever get the chance.

Thursday 20 September 2007


TBTE = The Beach This Evening.

I have stolen this acronym shamelessly from Elizaphanian - someone else who often carries a camera while walking a labrador along the Mersea beaches, only he's more usually there at the other end of the day, and hence his are mostly TBTMs (The Beach This Morning). His photos are also (as will become immediately apparent if you click here), vastly superior to my own in every conceivable way.


Well here's something quite exciting for typographiles everywhere: Helvetica - a new a feature-length independent film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. It explores half a century of Helvetica's history (the typeface celebrates its 50th birthday this year), embracing the worlds of design, advertising, psychology, and communication, and (according to the blurb) 'invites us to take a second look at the thousands of words we see every day'.

The film-makers have a blog and you can see some advance clips of the film here. It's been showing at film festivals and arts venues all over the world for several months (hardly any of them in the UK, unfortunately) but will be available on DVD on 6 November. Guess who's pre-ordered a copy!

A Winter Harvest

© David Britton

Can't think of anything much to say this morning, so I'll let someone else have a word instead. This is a previously unpublished poem by David Britton, 'A Winter Harvest'.

I am a servant in Summer's Kingdom

I keep mum, and bow and scrape all day

Eat gratefully whatever scraps are given.

It is no imposition. Whether waking

Or sleeping, I lie happy on a level with the clay

And have nothing whatever to think or to say.

But the first frosts waken reflection, and the chill

Strikes a summoning bell, and I sit up sharp

Sensing my old retainers are with me still

- Mist, and the smell of woodsmoke, and a faint

Rain in the air. I make then my claim to the throne

Of Samhain. I am crowned, begin to intone

And at last to sing, drinking from the chilled wine

That is put out for me. I walk later around

December's fields, and love to find oblivion

In the big trees, whose memory has gone

Beneath the deepest root and the hardest rock in the ground.

There is a mist-gap there, a break in the line

Of being, and beneath that the great caverns

That are my kingdom. Here, where the booming sound

Is made, of bardic verse, where the blood-life is denied

And everything translated into nothingness

- Here is the workshop of all shape, all blood, all livingness.

Here is a sky beyond the sky, and ice-blue dome

Full of the black messengers of death, of the end

Of the seeing eye, of the hearing ear, of confined mind.

Here, when all shape and matter's been refined

I put away my hammer and my fire, ascend

Into the upper world, where land still wears the veil

Of a life-illusion, where the trees are still asleep

But I can read the dreams that are on their faces

Now that the solstice is long past. There is a pale

Look of a living bought by death in the March air

And everywhere suggestions and the traces

Of that nought before all being, that the world reaps

From the chanted harvest in the hidden deeps.

Wednesday 19 September 2007

Cezanne's Mountain

Continuing my ongoing publication of the poems of David Britton, here is his 'Cezanne's Mountain', first published in Other Poetry.

Too easy to transform it into abstract shapes
- Those that inhabit forecourts of the mind.
If he did that, the quiddity escapes
That dour and loved resistance that we find
In obstinate things. A valid transformation
Takes more time, long staring, love, more bathing
In the air that holds us all, and long devotion
To their season day and hour. This, and the breathing
In of literal space into his spaciousness
The mental correlate of power out there.
This, and the light breathed in, the consciousness
That links us with the sun. Then he can dare
To shatter all the rocks, to pass them through
The mind's own fire that melts, makes all things new.

David is taking part in Colchester and Tendring Open Studios 2007 - and will be welcoming visitors on 22, 23, 29 and 30 September (download the Open Studios brochure for details).

Sunday 16 September 2007

Autumn's here

A gloriously warm and golden day; the morning's thrilling mackerel skies giving way to clearest blue. In the late afternoon, the sun caught this Pyracantha (which is backed by a claret-coloured Boston Ivy) and seemed to set it on fire. My happy-snappy little camera hasn't captured it very well at all but it gives a faint flavour of the full effect.

The falling leaves drift by my window
The falling leaves of red and gold
I see your lips, the summer kisses
The sunburned hands I used to hold

Since you went away the days grow long
And soon I'll hear old winter's song
But I miss you most of all, my darling
When autumn leaves start to fall

Saturday 15 September 2007

Last batch of wedding pics (I promise!)

How not to get asked for a dance: sleeping child in one hand, bottle of beer in the other. Lovely. (Seemed to do the trick, as well!)

The following day - lunch at our parents' house.