799 [6 June 2019. Uncle John.]

On the table in front of me, telegrams and stacks of letters written on unimaginably thin war time paper.  A brilliant young Cambridge scholar known for his courage, cheerfulness and jokes is caught up in the war.  He was 22, a lieutenant in the Royal Engineers.  75 years ago today he was blown to pieces on the beaches of Normandy. 


Sometimes there are notices on telegraph poles announcing a lost a cat or, occasionally, dog. I’ve just passed a photo of a collie looking at a sheep. The sign reads “Perdu: petit mouton blanc” – someone has lost their sheep. Should be easy to spot in town.  


Sitting on the kitchen worktop, drinking tea. Hot morning sun beats from the east. Across the road, an empty plot where tall grass grows. It’s my favourite garden in a street where retired folk relentlessly, obsessively, tame and butcher nature. This morning they’re out sprinkling lawns, though we’ve had weeks of rain. Why not just put down astroturf?


Suddenly I see smoke rise in the empty plot across the road and watch, fascinated.  Years ago neighbours sold the land but every year summon the new owner to cut the grass, which they say is a fire risk. I wonder if their fears have proved true, before realising the smoke is an explosion of pollen.


The world fought wars to defeat the likes of Trump, LePen, Farage, Salvini and Orbán. Now countries are electing them despite their hateful policies, sinister methods and links with the likes of Putin and Bannon. Hard fought civil rights and liberties are fast disappearing.  Misogyny, intolerance, homophobia, inequality, racism. Populism goes hand-in-hand with misogyny, hate, homophobia, intolerance.


I had hoped an early morning walk by the river would prove uplifting.  But it was yet another reminder of how we’ve failed to preserve and respect our environment. No doubt full of agrochemicals, the water is thick, green, stagnant and its littered banks smell rank.


Thrilling to discover, waiting for a coaching client, dramatic, enthralling works by Li Chevalier, who left China in the 1980s, trained at Central St Martin’s. Using ink (& mixed media) on large canvases, Chevalier explores beauty and silence in timeless, powerfully evocative landscapes which invite quiet, deep reflection. 


Sadly I hardly knew my paternal grandfather. He died when I was ten. But two memories I have, of  raspberry picking along the banks of the river Dee, and of headily scented old-fashioned roses in the garden in Edinburgh. Raspberries and roses. My favourites. Which I’ve planted in abundance in the garden here, in the south of France.


In 2018, the number of antidepressant prescriptions dispensed in England exceeded 70 million. For some, they’re a life line. Some though are taking medicine they don’t need and suffer harmful side effects.  The NHS is exploring alternative programmes. Themes explored by the hugely talented illustrator Fiona Rose https://www.facebook.com/fionarose.illustration/


“Not a particularly good year” a neighbour says, but I’ve spent hours picking kilos of plump dark cherries, stoning and simmering, trying to preserve the fruit before it rots. I bought a dehydrator but it didn’t work, our freezer’s not big enough, so I’m making delicious compote, time-consuming and instantly devoured.


Edward Bawden’s designs for Fortnum & Mason’s Anchovies and Sardines (1930s) delight with that pure simplicity, the perfectly contained worlds, their delicate humour. He uses a colour palette which conjures a bygone world.  Bawden and Eric Ravilious were friends at the Royal College of Art, where Paul Nash called them “an extraordinary outbreak of talent”.


Edward Ardizzone uses a green wash in Johnny’s Bad Day which I love but his biographer, Gabriel White  hated. He excluded these illustrations from his life of Ardizzone. It’s the sort of green you’d only find on heritage paint chart,  touches a deep chord, transports me back in time. So it’s extraordinary to see the book was published, not in the 1930s, but 1970.


Every year on May 1st, street after street in our small town is filled with stalls selling anything from organic tomato plants to hundreds of tonnes of non-biodegradable landfill. People manufacturing, selling & buying all that plastic clearly don’t care about the planet. May 1st, Landfill Day. 


As the new Emperor, Naruhito, inherits the Japanese throne, only one woman is present, a government minister standing on the side, against the wall.  I hope Akihito’s son will do much to further the status of women. The world gender gap index ranks Japan 110th (out of 149 countries). It’s bottom of the G7 nations and just above South Korea, Turkey and Saudi Arabia in the G20


Today Emperor Akihito of Japan abdicates. Tomorrow a new era of Reiwa (beautiful harmony) begins under his son, Naruhito. I long to visit the country where I was born and where my father died at cherry blossom time (sakura ). I’d visit the south, famous for its hospitality, hot springs and dramatic landscapes.


In Elizabeth Gaskell’s novels great meaning is read into the giving of flowers. Looking out over my garden in spring I see symbols of love, courage, beauty, happiness, faith, hope, wisdom, good health and prosperity.  We would in all ways do well to follow Voltaire’s advice (in Candide) and“cultiver notre jardin”.


The owners of a local crumbly stately home are clearly strapped for cash and their plaster ceilings about to fall down. In the UK, the brick outbuildings might be artists’ studios, a shop, a café. Someone would have made a garden/ be selling plants. Why are all those hectares not farmed? France could do with encouraging entrepreneurialism.  


Victorian Britain was rich. But the country was run by those with inherited wealth, money made from playing the stock market and from the suffering, labour and exploitation of the poor. Child labour was the norm.  MPs were often mill owners, financiers and landowners voting to protect their interests.  The mill workers Keir Hardie fought to represent couldn’t vote. 


Disraeli (1804-1881) could be describing Brexit Britain when he describes the country as “Two nations; between whom there is no intercourse… inhabitants of different planets; who are formed by a different breeding, are fed by a different food…and are not governed by the same laws . . . . the rich and the poor.”


The Tory government has pledged £7.6million to restore Wentworth Woodhouse, England’s largest private home, the ancestral home of Lady Juliet Tadgell. Whose daughter is married to Brexiteer multi-millionaire Jacob Rees-Mogg (one of whose Mogg-lets is called Wentworth, brother to Alphege, Anselm, Wulfric Leyson Pius, Sixtus Boniface,&c, FFS).