Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Haiku in December

This vast cold sky, bright 
with crisp vapour trails, 
we are not truly alone. 

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Haiku in November

High in the damson tree      

A robin sings, alone.      

Yellow leaves slip down.      

Friday, 4 November 2016

In view of the US election...

Proclamation to the citizens of the United States of America, from
Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II
of the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Northern Ireland

 In light of the following three factors:
1                   your election as Head of State, a man who wears a yellow hairpiece and builds trumpery on our land in Scotland. No decent man wears a hairpiece. We should know, neither our husband, nor our son nor our grandson sport such an affectation,
2                    your failure to control your urge to eat until you explode, unlike our subjects in Great Britain half of whom are too poor to over eat,
3                    your proclivity (despite having two elected governing houses when it should be obvious that one is too many) for electing incompetents who are only in it for the power and are in most cases incapable of believing that there is a world beyond the US borders (i.e. the 2012 Olympic Games were not superbly run in London, England, but in London. Full Stop.);

it has been noted that you have proved incapable of governing yourselves.

We hereby give Notice of the Revocation of your Independence from Tuesday the 9th of November 2016 AD.

This revocation to take immediate effect (You should look up 'revocation' in the Oxford English Dictionary, all other "English" dictionaries will be abolished).

Her Sovereign Majesty Queen Elizabeth II will resume monarchical duties over all states, commonwealths and territories within the borders of the former United States of America (except for Alaska, which is too cold for a Royal Visit and will be returned to the natives, together with oil revenues).

Your new Prime Minister, Theresa May (for the moment), will consult Her Majesty the Queen on the appointment of a Governor for Northern America (excluding Canada which is already accounted for and Alaska [see above]), without the need for further elections. The recently elected ‘president’ may not apply for the post. No ‘republican’ may apply, even if he disposes of the hairpiece. Great Britain is a Monarchy, not a republic. Persistent ‘republicans’ will be treated as traitors and subject to transportation for life (see 1, below).

Saturday, 22 October 2016


The internet is infested with anthropomorphism, I'm getting really pissed off with it. Just because I love animals and am passionate about protecting the environment, it doesn't mean I want to see every cute animal video on the internet, with even 'cuter' human commentary; and I really don't believe that "mother love is unsurpassed" because there's a video of a sea otter carrying her cub on her belly, however charming I and other humans may find the image. 

Animals and the environment they inhabit are far more important than all this soppiness. They are part of a working ecosystem which we humans (who are also animals) live in too. If we don't start to take it far more seriously, rather than going sentimental about a snoring pug dog or saying 'Ooooh!' over a wheelbarrow full of baby orang-utans, then as a species we are in serious trouble. The orang-utans are in the barrow because they are all orphans - their mothers, who were less 'cute', have been killed by people who took the babies to sell as pets. People who see an image of an animal and say, 'I want one', are partly responsible for this.

Many more orang-utans are killed when their rain-forest habitat is destroyed to grow palms for palm oil, which is another conversation and the opposite of anthropomorphism, when people decide that orang-utans are less important than having cheaper cakes and cheaper face cream because palm oil is so CHEAP. 

And I really don't like images of dogs and cats dressed as people, it's not cute. What's wrong with them being animals? Animals are often beautiful - they are not cute, it's a demeaning word. Am I a curmudgeon? Yes. Am I an endangered species? I doubt it. Unlike the oran-utans.

South by Java Head - a novel by Alistair MacLean

Book Review

I don’t really understand why the novels by Ian Fleming are still popular while those of Alistair MacLean, a contemporary of his and also a writer of adventure/espionage fiction, seems to be quite forgotten. I read both authors in my teens and then l found MacLean’s writing much more engaging, I re-read his books many times. Alistair MacLean’s heroes were flawed, gritty and didn’t give a damn if their collar was ironed or not, while Fleming’s obsession with smart dressing and martinis, shaken not stirred, seemed effete and unrealistic to this teenager, I wasn’t tempted to read any of his novels more than once.

The films are another matter, using the Hollywood effect, glamourised Bond films have had huge amounts of money thrown at them and are often very watchable, while the filmed versions of MacLean’s books which I have seen – Guns of Navarone, Force 10 From Navarone, Where Eagles Dare and Ice Station Zebra – are more standard movie ‘thrillers’ and don’t live up to the thrill I have felt reading his novels.

South by Java Head has not, as far as I know, ever been filmed. Written in 1958, this was the second or third MacLean novel I read, I’ve just re-read it. This is a war story with touches of espionage, the author’s first two novels, HMS Ulysses and The Guns of Navarone were also war stories. South by Java Head tells the story of an unlikely group of people escaping from Singapore during the final stages of the city’s capture by Japanese forces in 1942. The opening scenes are highly descriptive and also dramatic and realistic, they’re immediately engrossing and introduce most of the important characters. There are quite a lot of these and the author names 23. He rapidly informs us that they will not all survive and, throughout the story, depletes their numbers with shocking suddenness and violence that wouldn’t always be out of place in Game of Thrones.

This was a book which, even though re-reading long after I had forgotten my first impression, I still found it immensely readable and well enough written to not interfere with the strong narrative flow.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

Haiku in October

My old tree’s last harvest,
what to do with ten
thousand purple damsons.


written on National poetry day, then my computer wouldn't let me post! So finally here it is...

Thursday, 6 October 2016

For National Poetry Day 2016

Take the road to Omalos
And you may find a wild herb valley
Whose terraced paths run with orange trees
Down to a still lake where peacocks call
And the air is ablaze with the hum of bees.

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Why do we have to live with Men - novel by Bernadette Strachan - review

The cover is just a generic 'chick lit'
design, it doesn't do the book justice.
I've read this book three times now, so I must quite like it. The title is appealing for a start. The trouble is, I read it, put it down somewhere and pick it up again a couple of years later and really can't remember much of the content. It's an entertaining read, with engaging characters, largely set in a feminist commune. 

It begins with Cat O'Connor who wants to dump her pointless relationship with a senior work colleague. She drops out of the rat race, with her three best friends Mary, Jozette and Germaine. They're joined by a few others including Beulah the mysterious cook and Sarge who is.., well Sarge. They all drop into a six month experiment in rural living - with chickens, a pig and NO men. Although the pig is called Dave...

As novels set in communes go, it's remarkably un-dysfunctional and maybe a little too romantic for my taste, a bit more grit might help and the ending isn't overly feminist. Ultimately a bit disappointing, but the journey is fun and carries you along. I probably will read it again when I need a bit of relaxing amusement. 

Sunday, 2 October 2016

Haiku in September

Raucous grey gulls cry

into soft, moist skies

where the summer sun has fled.

Juvenile herring gull, Hastings.

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Friday, 29 July 2016

Georgia O’Keeffe at Tate Modern - review

A major retrospective of the life and work of Georgia O'Keeffe is in progress at London’s Tate Modern, the largest ever exhibition of this artist outside the USA. This also marks the centenary of her first ever exhibition, when some of her charcoal drawings were exhibited by Alfred Stieglitz at his 291 gallery in New York.

Georgia O’Keefe poses outdoors in Mexico in 1960 with a canvas
 from her Pelvis Series Red with Yellow. Photograph: Tony Vaccaro/Getty Images
She is regarded as one of the USA’s greatest 20th century artists, but her work is hardly ever seen in the UK and no work by her is in any public collection here. This large exhibition includes her 1932 painting ‘Jimson Weed/White Flower No. 1’, which became the most expensive painting by a woman artist ever sold at auction when Sotheby’s sold it for $44,405,000 on November 20, 2014. This painting is used on posters and banners for the exhibition.

Georgia O'Keeffe rejected the classification ‘woman artist’. Always aware of the disadvantages that she suffered as an artist, she nonetheless said,
O'Keeffe, 'Line and Curve' 1926

Men put me down as the best woman painter…      
…I think I’m one of the best painters.”

She was right as this exhibition shows. There are vertical, dark and glowing skyscrapers of New York; beautifully simple, hard edged almost white abstractions of the mid 1920's; gloriously vivid red oriental poppies from the late 20's; mysterious abstracted trees painted at Lake George; there are red hills, flowers in more tones of blue and pink than you can imagine; there are white skulls and adobe farms and above all there are her interpretations of her beloved New Mexico landscape. 

Not all is in vivid colour. Her early, monochrome charcoal drawings are a revelation. In 1915 she had set herself a target of working only in charcoal until the medium could no longer match her aspirations. These drawings took her a long way. Georgia O’Keefe is best known for her dramatic paintings of flowers, skulls and landscapes, but the chronology here shows how very early in her career she was already deeply into abstraction, the earliest drawings from 1915 are pure, simplified abstraction. Hers are not the intellectualized abstractions of artists such as Mondrian or I. Rice Pereira, O'Keefe's abstrctions come from feelings and internalized explorations of where a line or form can be driven, how far a landscape can be reduced to its vital sensations.

These early drawings were the ones shown by Alfred Stieglitz in April 1916. Photographer and gallerist Stieglitz, who became her husband, recognised her unique vision immediately. He was a singular influence on her life though he did not tell her what, or how, to paint. She lived more in New Mexico during their unusual marriage, while he remained in New York, exhibiting her work until his death in 1946.

The Tate exhibition shows some work by Stieglitz and other artists in relation to O’Keefe’s story, though in most of the rooms O’Keefe’s work is predominant. Including these other artists helps show the context in which O’Keefe was working. The exhibition also helps to dispel some of the mythology about the sexual nature of her work.

This is an important and splendid exhibition of an important and interesting artist. It’s on at Tate Modern, London until October 2016, then tours to Vienna and Toronto.  Don't miss it.


Thursday, 28 July 2016

Haiku in July

Slow worm by John S Gilbert

While earth is brown, sandy            
a knowing slow-worm slips

beneath the white stones.

A monthly Haiku ....?

I'm doing so little creative writing these days, I'm not happy about it, I am very aware of it. I regret it every single day. I'm afraid my imagination may have disintegrated, permanently.

One thing I might be able to manage is the odd (?) short poem.

Afraid of setting myself any targets, I've come up with the idea... not a target... that I might be able to gather thoughts clear enough to create haiku, just one or two to illustrate a moment in the month. I did one for June before I realised even the idea...

So - a monthly haiku? If I can't do this, I'm no longer worthy of considering myself a writer.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Gretchen Corazzo in New Bauhaus Exhibition

I don't post about every new exhibition on one of the 31 Women, though I probably should. However if I find out in time I do try to write mention exhibitions of the less well known of them.
Gretchen Schoeninger Corazzo, who sadly died early this year at the age of 102, will feature alongside her husband Alexander Corazzo and two others, in an exhibition in Chicago in December this year:-

4 Artists from Moholy-Nagy’s School

Alexander Corazzo 1908-1971▪ New Bauhaus 1937-1938
Gretchen Schoeninger Corazzo 1913-2016 ▪ New Bauhaus 1937-1938
Robert Nickle 1919-1980 ▪ Institute of Design 1944, 1946-1949
Tadao Takano 1926-2010 ▪ Institute of Design 1947-1951 

December 9, 2016 – January 22, 2017 

Hosted by the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 W. Chicago Avenue, Chicago, Illinois

Organized by the Bauhaus Chicago Foundation, Curated by T. Paul Young

I will post more about this later...

link to more information -

Friday, 24 June 2016

Haiku in June

Furry, brown bumblers

love the last forget-me-nots.
Tree bumblebee on forget-me-not flowers, by Susan Gilbert
What should I plant next? 

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Tenants are People (well my tenants are) - part 1

I’m a landlord. Unpopular pastime, presumed to be for the filthy rich who abuse their poor, hard-pressed tenants and cheat the tax system. But I don't have vast estates and massive blocks of flats to let via cruel, grasping agents. I let out six rooms in my own house. I do it partly because I’m not that young and don’t have an index linked pension, partly because the house is in a wonderful location, the best in the town, overlooking the park. I rent out rooms so I can actually afford to live here. I manage my bedsits myself, I don’t use letting agents and as I have a flat in the same house I do like to meet and vet prospective tenants. Then I have some idea who they are, because they aren’t just my tenants, they are all individual people and over the years I’ve been letting rooms, some have become my friends.

The house itself is slightly peculiar; a tall Victorian semi, it has four floors including the large, and largely uninhabitable, basement. When I first arrived there were ten numbered rooms which had been let previously. Four of them, 1, 1A, 2 and 3 were all on the ground floor. Number 3 was actually the kitchen, the poor tenant who’d lived in it before had her bed in the cupboard under the stairs. I took all these four rooms, plus the old fashioned bathroom with its 1930’s eau-de-nil suite and tiles and turned them into my single ground floor flat. The remaining six rooms were all upstairs.

I began by trying to rent out three rooms on the first floor. There was number 4, which had its own very old fashioned little kitchen with a miniature gas cooker, plywood shelving and a ramshackle glass screen between it and the rest of the room. Its only redeeming feature was the lovely bay window with nearly new curtains. Flat 5 deserved the title ‘Flat’ as had its own 1950's melamine faced kitchen in a separate room, though this was accessed only from the communal landing. Flat 5 also had a huge bay window with a spectacular view across the park, it had period features including high skirting boards, moulded cornices and a ceiling rose. The downside was the grotty carpet and cracked ceiling. Room 7 at the back of the house had a small galley kitchen and was north facing. I thought it the least desirable, but theoretically lettable. Room 6 was carpet-less and had a hole in the chimney breast where a gas fire had been ripped out, so was deemed un-lettable for the time being. And so I put an advert in the local paper, and I waited.

Fred turned up and became the first to move into the house, even before me. I was still sorting my possessions before my move. Of all the rooms, he took a fancy to the least obvious – room 9, a top floor attic room with an ancient Baby Belling cooker, a tiny window and no heating. This was before I had begun to modernise the house. The room had low beams and a sloping ceiling over the living area, only the kitchen space was full height. Fred had floppy brown hair and was six foot two, at least. But he wanted the room with 3 beams to hit his head on, he liked the character!  I agreed to him having that room, even though it wasn’t intended to be ready to rent, as he had his own furniture while I didn’t have much at the time, just a few family left-overs. He also had references and a deposit.

Fred was a chef in his early thirties. Not your two Michelin starred type chef, he was the hard-working, run-of-the-mill chef who works in popular run-of-the-mill restaurants where the menu choice is slightly too large for it all to be fresh, but not so large that everything’s out of the freezer. When he was working he was probably efficient. When he wasn’t working, the whole of the top floor was a haze of aromatic smoke. Mostly he was working, his rent was seldom late and then only by a few days. He lived happily in the attic with a tank full of tropical fish and a mattress bed on the floor. He moved out after 12 months to go to a live-in job; for a chef, the kitchen he left behind was pretty dirty. He was a friendly, affable guy; I gave him a decent reference and I hope he did well.

to be continued...

BBC's Hollow Crown; Wars of the Roses; Richard III

Just watched BBC's Richard III with Benedict Cumberbatch. Not impressed with the overall production, it lacked any subtlety. I know it's not Old Will's most subtle play, but the character of Richard is capable of huge interpretation which Cumberbatch didn't bother with. He played the character as just a crazed grotesque. I've seen several far better portrayals on stage, including by Anton Lesser and Robert Lindsay in 1998; also Ian McKellan's film of Richard III set as if in World War One. I don't include Laurence Olivier's 1955 film which I also dislike. 

The play was part of the 'Wars of the Roses,' the culmination of 'The Hollow Crown' series with 4 plays, effectively crammed into 3 so something was bound to be lost in transition. I saw the first and last, it began with Richard II, one of Shakespeare's least known plays so that was interesting, even if I got a bit lost in the convolutions and samey characters - the latter problem is one which the later Richard III play also suffers from. 

At least with this latest BBC production the importance of three of the four women's roles in the play were spectacularly upheld with powerful performances from Sophie Okonedo as the long-lived and much wronged Queen Margaret and dignified fury from Judi Dench as the Duchess of York and Richard's despairing mother. Keeley Hawes as Elizabeth Woodville (the mother of the little princes in the tower) held the threads of the plot together. Phoebe Fox played Anne, Richard's traumatised wife and wasn't really given enough to do, but then Shakespeare often failed to give his female characters much to work with. 

Of course the plays have little to do with the real events and characters in history, which is always written by the victors. Richard III, with only a 3 year reign, was less successful a monarch than his predecessor Richard II who was monarch for 33 years, and both were destroyed by their enemies. There has been no King Richard in Britain since. Shame, Richard is a better name than many. King Benedict? Probably not!

Friday, 15 April 2016

Every Picture...

New header photograph to illustrate a cliche -  'Every Picture Tells a Story.'

The photograph shows a holiday scene, a man is sitting on a rock, watching as children run on a beach towards the breaking waves. This is what the photographer intended. The photographer also intended to show that the man was not known to the children, he was not part of their family. I know because I was the photographer.

Writers tell stories; writers can look at a picture and tell a story that is different to the story the photographer intended. Anyway photographs are a fiction, all they do is capture the light as it was in a tiny moment in time, and they leave out everything which is beyond the frame of the photograph. Photographs lie.

Photographers also tell stories. A good photographer knows this and looks very carefully, frames the picture very carefully, so that it says what they want it to say. A bad photographer doesn't actually see what they are photographing, only what they think they are photographing. 

This second photo is almost the same image as the new header photograph, but it's framed differently and the contrast, the light and dark are enhanced, like a painting it can be said to have chiaroscuro. It records a different moment in time; the wave has broken, the children are leaving the beach, the man on the rock is alone. The clouds billow up above his head, the rocks are dark, the beach in the foreground is barren. The man's state of alone-ness is emphasised by these pictorial factors.

For a photographer, that may be enough. The story is a mysterious image of a man's alone-ness. A writer will feel the compulsion to say more. A photograph can often be a trigger for writing a story, a poem or even a play.

Friday, 18 March 2016

The Guest Cat - novella by Takashi Hiraide *****

The word exquisite comes to mind when I read this novella, to describe the use of language, but then I reject exquisite as implying superficial, if perfect, in appearance. It’s true there’s a lot of detail in the story, but most of it is purposeful in defining, not merely describing character.

There are several characters who are not human, or even animate, in this story of the neighbours’ cat who visits a childless couple. The in-animates are two houses, a garden, a tree, even an alley.

Exquisite also somehow implies small. There’s too much thought in this story for it to be small. The cat visits. The cat does what cats do, then goes away. The seasons turn, punctuated by the cat’s visits and the couple come to depend on the cat’s presence. The very architecture is portrayed with gentle consideration. The buildings are not just facades, they are personalities with light, reflection and shadow, quiet and noise, emptiness and solidity.

 Someone who has cat, or cats in their life may understand the scenario. To the uninitiated it may not work, therefore this isn’t a perfect story. But then what is.

The structure has a few minor imperfections, for my liking anyway. There’s a passage delving into Machiavellian philosophy which seems unnecessary; like talking down to an audience. Maybe this part has lost something in translation.

Read the Guest Cat anyway, the imperfections are very minor, it’s not long and has a charm and beauty which should draw you in.

Friday, 11 March 2016

How to Write a Play

I’m a writer, not a teacher or a dramaturg. I’m not even sure exactly what a dramaturg is… This means I can’t tell anyone how to write a play, I can only say how I've written some of my plays, and what I've learned in the process. It starts with character almost always. I can’t begin with a plot, because until I begin to know my character and hear them speak, I have little idea what is going to happen to them. 

The first play I ever wrote (call it play A) certainly began with a character who was already partly formed, from my novel writing. He was an offshoot from my fictional protagonist, who I was able to take in a different direction to his counterpart in the novel. I found that recreating him with a different scenario to enter was very liberating. In the novel there was such detailed intensity that it sometimes became hard to make the story progress. With a play I’ve usually found fewer restrictions.

But play A soon became bogged down in its own details. I’d been to see plenty of plays and I’d read many play scripts. I felt I understood how the layout and form on the page should look; I thought I knew it should have a literal structure of three acts, divided into many scenes. I didn’t, at that stage, understand that the page is largely irrelevant, it’s the stage which counts and the real people involved. In my ignorance I began with a detailed description of the set. This description proceeded to tie me down in the action and it grew and became more elaborate as I introduced more interactions with more props and more bits of set. This was my attempt to make the characters ‘do’ and not just ‘say’, having been instructed that they mustn’t just make speeches.

I didn’t realise that you can trust most competent directors and casts to work out much of the detail of movement and interactions for themselves. The writer’s stage directions will be largely ignored. Play A still exists. I sometimes feel the urge to return to it and tame it so that my characters, who I still empathise with, can interact with each other instead of with the furniture!

Play B was the opposite of Play A. By then I’d both seen and read some Beckett and some Pinter. Play B came out of a duologue between two nameless characters, neither of whom seemed to know what was going on. They asked pointed questions which weren’t answered and they made no speeches. There were no acts, no scenes, no set and only one essential prop. Play B worked, it was funny, dark and above all short – 10 minutes or so. It was first performed at an evening of script-in-hand shorts, was picked up, rehearsed and staged at an evening of short plays which toured to several venues, ending at the Ilkley Literature Festival.

Play C was a different kettle of fish. It built very slowly, in stages, over several years. First was a mere writing exercise; create a character, give them 3 attributes, make them have a conversation in which there is a disagreement. My character emerged roaring. He was old, he was passionate about his collection and he was furious because someone was trying to get their hands on his collection. The character developed very quickly but the plot took a while longer, because I’d been working on the wrong premise. He was angry because he was alone, he had been abandoned by the one person he loved.

The initial drafts of play C aimed at a length of around 20 minutes, which were successful but only so far. By then another character had emerged, the lost love. I needed to tell their story more fully and make the lover as full a character as the protagonist. The script expanded to become a production lasting around 40 minutes, with a brilliant director. I helped create the set and I found most of the props. This helped me, more than any writing exercise, to see how a staged play should work and how the set should not dominate the characters and the action.

Play C won a prize at a minor literary festival, the prize was to have the play staged, with that brilliant director. I was very pleased but not quite fulfilled. The characters needed more, I knew that their backstory needed filling out, but I didn’t want to resort to flashbacks. I tinkered with it a bit halfheartedly and then came the opportunity to stage it again, with myself as director.

I did the re-write fast and furiously and in the process the backstory finally came to life. I also learned that I’m not a director and I don’t know enough about the vagaries of casting. Luckily two of the three actors on stage were more than competent and professional, they managed to support the third actor and get through the evening without most of the audience realising I was acting as prompt. Play C worked as both tragic story and as a staged production, there’s little more that needs doing to it.

…to be continued…

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Five Quarters of the Orange - a novel by Joanne Harris - review

This is an extraordinary, intense story which begins in France during the German occupation.
The inexorable chain of events begins with a woman’s allergy to oranges and the love for a German soldier. The language tells of food, obsession and wicked innocence. Told through the eyes of her youngest daughter and illustrated by the matriarch’s world-beating recipes, the tragedy unfolds slowly and beautifully. 

Five quarters of the Orange is deeper and yet more incisive than Joanne Harris’ most famous book,‘Chocolat’. I think this is the best novel I’ve read for several years!

Goodreads *****

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