Abbotsford: Sir Walter Scott’s Home In The Scottish Borders

Wide flower borders in front of a castle-like house

You would have thought that with scenery like this, I’d have come home with some first-rate pictures of Abbotsford, the castle-style home Sir Walter Scott built, but as I spent the time there in a weird state of literary reverie, this is as good as I could muster.

I read Waverley, as a youngster, but I’m ashamed to confess I have forgotten it. The Bride Of Lammermoor, a romantic horror story, stays with me.  Continue reading

The Last Living Thing

A bird on the edge of the Grand Canyon

Transformed into a silhouette, its beak open, the bird on the edge of the Grand Canyon seems more symbol than living creature: something we’ll each interpret under influences as consistent as temperament and experience or as fleeting as a mood. Long time followers may recognise a similar, more uplifting shot, taken nearby.

Coming across the picture and the short poem, Requiem by Kurt Vonnegut, in quick succession, it seemed fitting to put them together here, today.   Continue reading

Magic And Water

A child in waterproofs plays in a circle of water jets

Wonder is not only a thing of childhood, although that’s when everyday things seem most miraculous. The child has been waterproofed by adults, but it is the hand with the missing glove he attends to.

We sense the mystery as a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, but there’s a magic in the way some writers use language that we rarely attend to.  Continue reading

Weekly Photo Challenge: A Bargain

Waitrose shelf label for pies

Regular readers may remember that I’m English. I spell aluminium all wrong the British way. We don’t get turkey in November over here, or the other traditional comfort foods of the American season that I’ve grown to love, like sweet potato casserole.

No, no, it’s OK. Don’t feel you have to sympathise. We’re British. We’re used to our food being rubbish and our beer hot.

I suppose you might say this ‘tender and succulent’ chicken pie is the British version of a Thanksgiving turkey and Waitrose’s save 50p offer the British equivalent of Black Friday.  Continue reading

Floral tapestry

Recreating Rappaccini’s Garden: an Eden of Poisonous Flowers

Spotted foxglove

I’ve been looking for pictures of plants to bring to life the garden created by Rappaccini, the twisted plant breeder of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s fable, and ‘as true a man of science as ever distilled his own heart in an alembic’. Rappaccini, like Frankenstein, used science to create a monster: his beguiling, innocent, but deadly daughter Beatrice. He and his daughter tend a collection of poisonous plants with heady, intoxicating fragrances that can wither and kill.   Continue reading

Ten must-read Gerard Manley Hopkins poems: Poetry to scratch our bellies on

Gerard Manley Hopkins was an innovator who wrote about nature and faith, rapture and despair. For me, we are all eccentrics, all individuals. Not everyone will share this view, but Gerard Manley Hopkins was idiosyncratic on anyone’s terms, often to his cost.

While at Balliol College at Oxford, he converted to Catholicism, tearing himself from his artistic, loving Anglican family to a tougher life as a Jesuit. He never regretted his decision, but struggled with depression and the drudgery of some of his duties. Conflicted about whether writing was compatible with his vocation, he wrote relatively little after his conversion. At the time of his premature death in 1889 his work was largely unknown. Continue reading

Tithonus: nature and poetry

Cicada

I’m not a voracious reader of poetry, but my favourite love poems and lyrics are part of my life, drawing me back to revisit them at the slightest prompt. This spring, I witnessed the culmination of the weird lifecycle of cicadas in Jackson, Mississippi. These creatures spend 13 years underground as nymphs before emerging together for a brief period of sunlight, flight, singing and mating to continue the cycle.

As we drove around the neighbourhood with the windows down, lured like the lady cicadas to listen to the loud chorus centres of males in local groves of trees, lines from one of my favourite poems – Tithonus by Alfred, Lord Tennyson – drifted back into my mind. Continue reading

Family words

I found myself assuming today that all families have family words. Words that they have made up that others don’t understand. Words that bond and are part of the family culture.

For example my Great Grandma, who was very hospitable, used FHB as a code to her children when too many people presented themselves at tea time for the amount of food available – it meant Family Hold Back. If she said FHB, the family had to pretend to be full or only ask for a very small portion.  Continue reading

Is it OK to read Charlotte Brontë’s books?

It’s ironic that Charlotte Brontë – who fruitlessly campaigned for her work to be judged on the same terms as men – is now about as close to the ranks of DWEM (dead, white, European, male writers) as a woman can be.

Her views – like herself – are from the 19th century. So perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised to see bloggers struggling with the idea of whether it’s OK for today’s women to read the pioneering books written by this Victorian writer. Continue reading