According to Garrison Keillor “a postcard takes about fifty words gracefully, which is how to write one… fifty words is a strict form but if you write tiny and sneak over into the address side to squeeze in a hundred, the grace is gone and the result is not a poem but notes for a letter you don’t have time to write…” These are my Postcards from France:
As a teenager I was fascinated by London’s architecture seen from Waterloo Bridge. In 1955, a Guardian country diarist recorded his love of the exact same spot – but he saw swans, up to 50 of them in spring, summer and autumn. One night 20 swans flew under the bridge: “seen from above against the darkness of the water, the moving patterns of birds, all starkly white, gave me one of those moments of rare and striking beauty likely to remain in my memory forever.”
Heinrich Heine’s “those who burn books will eventually burn people” is quoted in an article I’m reading which says libraries are on the frontline, demolishing records one way of controlling the narrative. The journalist was writing about the Russian war in Ukraine – but could equally be describing Tory austerity policies, which led to the closure of 800 libraries in a 9-year period.
Pulping machines exist to destroy the books from libraries closed under Tory watch. In April 2021, Cressida Cowell wrote to Boris Johnson: “Millions of children, particularly those from the poorest communities … are missing out on opportunities to discover the life-changing magic of reading. Decades of research show a reader for pleasure is more likely to be happier, healthier, to do better at school, and to vote – all irrespective of background.”
Tories gave £6million of tax payers’ money to Winchester College, Rishi Sunak’s old private school whose fees are over £45,000 a year. In nearly Southampton, Keir Starmer says 4 in every 10 state school pupils fail to achieve fairly basic levels of education. I watched Sunak on PM’s Question Time and was truly sickened: his party really does just see money, not society.
The man at the cheese counter tells me the price of cheese has rocketed, not because of the war, but because there was too little rain this summer for the cows. One week into December cherry, fig and almond trees still have green leaves. They’re covered in frost, which does not bode well for next year’s fruit harvests.
After the workshop, a theatre show, outrageously funny at first, but progressively offensive. I felt I was trapped in a time capsule. Off on the bike in a now-dark November night to a joyful concert of Creole, Brazilian, Caribbean, Biguine, Forro, Xote, Mazurka irresistible dance music in aid of local refugees.
Imagine spending 15 years at university and working for a further ten in your highly skilled medical field, only to find yourself unemployed, living in exile. There are something in the region of 150 Ukrainian refugees in this part of rural France alone – Russia’s war many terrible things, not least a criminal waste of talent.
I spent two happy hours in delightful company when six young African refugees came to a workshop at a local community café. Art not only builds communities but allows us to see our shared humanity. How different things would be if we saw refugees not as threats, but assets, were open to learning from other cultures.
Two extraordinary books – one about the changing countryside, the other about the astonishing world of birds and animals – are simultaneously uplifting, and utterly, utterly depressing. Humans impact every aspect of the natural world – land, air, water – relentlessly destroying, polluting, driving other species to distinction. And for what?
Tributes pour in for Scottish rugby legend Doddie Weir, who has died, aged 52. He campaigned relentlessly to raise both awareness of Motor Neurone Disease and money to find a cure. A recent study links the impact of concussion with MND, finding high level players are 15 times more likely to develop the disease.
The time had come to put the (imitation) Swiss army knife I’ve had for years to the test. It weighs 196 grams, has 15 tools (some of which you need another tool to open) one of which, hopefully, doubles as a spring bar tool. The supposedly leather strap of my brand new watch literally fell apart the first time I put it on. …. The penknife too proved less than impressive.
The book that has just arrived begins by quoting GK Chesterton: “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” Chapter One opens by telling readers that a common swift, in its lifetime, flies about two million kilometres; enough to fly to the moon and back twice over, and then once more to the moon.
It continues: “The American wood frog gets through winter by allowing itself to freeze solid. Its heart slows, then stops altogether: the water around its organs turns to ice. Come spring, it thaws, and the heart kick-starts itself spontaneously into life…” Katherine Rundell (in The Golden Mole) then spellbinds with stories about dolphins. Clearly this is going to be a great read.
24/11/22: Thanksgiving. My second favourite day of each year and despite war and climate change and corrupt politicians, there’s still much be deeply grateful for, notably i) the opportunity to meet and work with groups of amazing women asylum seekers ii) libraries – beacons of civilisation that lie at the heart of a healthy, democratic society – iii) the people I love best who bring real delight. Thank you. Happy Thanksgiving.
A fine word – Bregret, as in (from the NYT) Buffeted by Economic Woes, the UK starts to look at Brexit with ‘Bregret’: “Britain has been cursed by stagnant growth since the financial crisis of 2009” – in other words, during the past 12 years of Tory government, which have seen FIVE Tory Prime Ministers, none of whom should have been given the job.
100% with Nicola Sturgeon who says – after Supreme Court Judge Lord Reed ruled that Holyrood can not legally hold second independence referendum – the law not allowing Scotland an independence referendum, shows precisely why Scotland needs independence. Not least from a feudal system whereby people with titles dictate other folks’ destinies.
I imagine I cut a rather eccentric figure walking back dressed in my smartly best, an exceptionally large head of broccoli (carried like a bouquet) in one hand, large green umbrella (upon, again the rain) in the other, beaming because today’s my favourite day of the year – and a good one it’s been – with two exceptions: the patissier no longer makes my favourite indulgence, and my new DMs* make very loud, very silly noises. (*Doc Marten shoes)
Researching the plants mentioned in Lear’s “crown of weeds” proved not only fascinatingly insightful (more of that later) but shone light on the wonderful names countryfolk once gave plants: beggar’s buttons, ladies’ smocks, milkmaids, fairy flower, bedlam* cowslip, key of heaven, bee-nettle, skullcap, enchanter’s nightshade, beggary, hedge fumitory, sticklebacks and ragged robin (*bedlam – Bethlehem hospital, built for the “insane” in 1247).
A Dutch court has ruled squatters do not have to vacate a five-story house overlooking Vondelpark in Amsterdam. The house, owned by an absent Russian billionaire, is festooned with anti-war/anti-capitalism banners. In London too, where there are thought to be almost 2000 Russian-owned properties, squatters are moving in to some of the empty mansions.