Sunday 29 December 2013

An excursion into Baroque music

It turns out that few art historians make excursions into music history, mainly because music can be rather technical. I am the first to admit some music articles are unfathomable without a degree in composition, maths or some such, and are rather off putting. It depends on what the musicologist is trying to convey. Are they talking about how the music is actually made; or are they describing the effects of certain musical combinations; or are they writing about theory? There are as many ways of writing about music as there are about art. When an analyst of paint does a technical report, someone of limited experience in this area would struggle to read it. So art can be just as technical as music in some respects.

I've spent a little time in choirs, and one of them concentrated on motets, masses and madrigals by well known early modern/Baroque composers such as Byrd, Tallis, Palastrina, Lotti etc. The sound, textures and rhythms of these pieces are relatively familiar; who has not felt the internal pulse of Tallis's 40 part motet Spem in Alium? Therefore I feel relatively well placed to apply a certain level of thought to how music like this works, and its effect on an audience and performer.

Friday 20 December 2013

The Nativity by Torquato Tasso

Nativity of Christ, Santa Maria Maggiore, Rome
I looked everywhere for this poem online but it seems to be only in a fragile pamphlet 1907; I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did.

I was very much struck with the mention of the study of nature. I enjoyed the allusions to truth and light, and the chasing away of pagan and pre Christian gods. But above all it was the 'flower of endless love' when all the imagery and 16th century language falls away, leaving nothing but warmth and sincerity. A stunning piece.

Sunday 15 December 2013

My Love Affair with Cardinal Alessandro Peretti Montalto Begins

Although the intellectual life of the artist is crucial, my focus this weekend has been on the patron and his concerns. I'm coming round full circle to my initial essay idea which focused purely on the Montalto Madonna - this would embrace all the thoughts I was having regarding the renewal of the church, private devotion, poetry, music, innovations in the creation of art and so on. The other paintings are interesting but I think I will end up using them as guest appearances to support the main feature. One of the reasons for this is we can only be certain of one of the commissions - I have been unable to find out who commissioned the other paintings and this would lead to a very unbalanced essay. These are my musings about the man who commissioned the Holy Family so far.

Sunday 8 December 2013

Visions, Families and Torments: Carracci and Saints

Perhaps it's just me, or the pernicious influence of academia but sometimes the actual paintings can get lost in the amount of theory whirring around. To clarify my thoughts, I've started by going to the paintings and looking at them carefully to see what is in them. The paintings I'm talking about are the ones mentioned in my previous post. They were all painted around the same time, using the same materials and have been well known, even when thought lost, through the written descriptions of Giovan Pietro Bellori and Carlo Cesare Malvasia from the 1600s.

Bellori was aware of the limitations of pictorial description, as he says, 'the delight of painting resides in sight, which has little to do with hearing', and I would add reading to that observation. However, he offers a brief overview of these works on copper and we are able to identify the three works of interest from his remarks,

Saturday 7 December 2013

Carracci on Copper: Initial essay ramblings

This post arises out of my initial essay ramblings about the artist Annibale Carracci (November 3, 1560 – July 15, 1609). I am setting out to investigate what his small paintings on copper tell us about religion and intellectual ideas of the period. 'The Montalto Madonna', the 'Temptation of St Antony Abbot' and the 'Vision of St Francis' are all dated to when he had been in Rome a few years, from 1597-1598. I shall be looking at the different subject matter of each painting and connecting it with a number of interesting issues. For example, St Francis and the renewed interest in the spiritual, possibly touching on St Teresa of Avila. I remain fascinated by the monsters in the St Antony Abbot piece so what can this tell us about real and psychological demons of the late 1500s. Finally how had the role of the Virgin Mary changed over the latter part of the century - what does his depiction of the Holy Family say about her?

Tuesday 26 November 2013

Marrakech: a sketch in colour

It's my first time to the dark continent. I am sure this has been said before but the light here engulfs you, driving all thoughts of the damp gray miasma of London away. London, where the streets insidiously swallow you whole, like being banished to the underworld. Persephone would never have eaten so much as a crumb if she had been dragged down Mile End Road. Having seen London at its worst recently, I've never been so pleased to leave, and re-enter the world of not-London.

Marrakesh. This crazy, erratic, bountiful place where skeletal horses share the roads with tractors, lorries and motorbikes; and hungry eyed people are thrown bananas from the charitable stall owners. The abundance of colour hits you like the smell of the fumes, but like the skin of the exotic edibles, you have to work hard to get at the jewel-like interior. The green mottled oranges disguise the sweetness within; behind graffitied ancient frontages of winding faded peach/sand passageways you enter a world of silence and tranquility. And a fruit salad of colour.

Tuesday 19 November 2013

Please Relics Me, Let Me Go....

Here, have some kittehs instead
This lecture was on relics and the cults of the saints and I was presenting – hence the post on propaganda. We have already touched on many of the topics related to saints and relics because they are so central to Catholic worship. Reaffirmed by the Council of Trent, in that particular session they discussed relics at the same time as images, so there is a mingling of ideas with many clerics not making a distinction between the two. 

On reflection and in my current state of mind – you try reading 20+books about Annibale Carracci in two days – the point our tutor made about Mary being the most miraculous was key. This is something I am going to revisit for my essay, however suffice to say that many icons of the Virgin were reframed and repositioned in Renaissance because of their perceived miraculous nature. For my real feeling on this entire subject, please see my concluding paragraph!

Wednesday 13 November 2013


The pain sizzles and spins,
Unreal rainbows rise and rotate
As the escalator in my head
Spews forth movement.

The earth doesn't turn as it should.
The disorientation in my mind
Unmaps, unravels, undermines,
Lost stumbling forward.

The stomach queases sickly and
The battering ram of pain unstills
And unceasing assaults my eye.
Unseeing arms outstretched.

Thursday 7 November 2013

Kemp on Leonardo: 'Space Time and Form'

Almost exactly a year ago I was at a University of London lecture listening to John Onians and in my blog I touched on the nature of connections with a brief mention of the Royal Institution and James Burke. It so happens that the first time I heard Professor Martin Kemp speak was at that same venerable institution in early Nov 2011 and so it continues; from one great art historian to another, connected over subject, time and space, the threads that hold my interests together just keep tightening.

Professor Kemp was presenting the 2013 Murray Memorial lecture at Birkbeck College. He was an appropriate person to deliver this lecture because he was taught by Peter Murray at the Courtauld Institute in the 60s. The Murray Bequest is an important part of the History of Art department which provides student financial support, acquisition of books for the library and public engagement with free lectures like this one.

Monday 4 November 2013

Relics: Ideological Messengers of the Church?

True Cross, Santo Toribio de Liébana, Spain.
(photo by F. J. Díez Martín).
This post has come out of a preparation for a class presentation on relics. The module name is 'the art of persuasion' and yet it seems that we have launched straight into the art without actually thinking consciously about the persuasion. Preparation for this course took place in July 2013 at the British Library with the 'Propaganda: Power and Persuasion' exhibition and so finally I was able to draw on prior knowledge to apply to an area in which I am becoming increasingly familiar.[1] To see how relics were used by the king and state, I also read recent books and articles.[2] When I talk about 'relics' I'm referring to the bodily fragments and associated paraphernalia associated with the saint in question which are usually kept in reliquaries or altars in Catholic churches the world over. Given that my tutor will be talking about them specifically, I don't want to cover the same ground as her.

Thursday 31 October 2013

Lecture 5: Altar pieces

It seems timely that Monday’s class was about altar pieces. Given that Hasan Niyazi spent so much of his time investigating and writing about these hugely important paintings, it was soothing to connect with his memory and contemplate some of the wider issues of church art. Hasan concentrated on the pre-Trent period when, it might be argued, the images had a gloriously balanced aesthetic and an aura of beautiful unreality. You only have to look at The Madonna di Foligno to see the difference between Raphael’s abilities and some of the less than average artists we've seen this term.

The focus this week was the way that the altar pieces interacted with the rest of the church; that is to say everything from the liturgy, the architecture, iconographic program, saints patron as well as the wider community. After the Council of Trent, the Eucharistic became of central importance and the altar piece usually reflected this. Our tutor stated that they were more likely to have symbolism in them after Trent than before, a statement which has had me puzzling since I returned to my notes. I would heavily dispute this given the amount of iconographical studies of some difficult altar pieces pre-1563. However what I think the lecturer meant was that symbols were used in a different, more unsubtle way and became easier for the congregation to 'read'.

Monday 28 October 2013

Book Review: The Sensuous in the Counter-Reformation Church

This book review is dedicated to the memory of my good friend, Hasan Niyazi. I just wish it had been a book on Raphael, about whom who he knew so much. Thank you for your help my dear...

With every new papal regime the Catholic Church undergoes a subtle change with attempts to re-engage and invigorate the hearts and minds of the faithful. For me, it seems that every fresh endeavour is nothing more than a manifestation of the ripple effect of sixteenth-century reformation Rome, where all means were employed to win back those tempted by the inflammatory protestant sects. A combination of enthusiastic new saints to venerate and an immersive theatrical experience to rival any playhouse would have given the average Catholic quite a jolt, if not a complete sensory overload.

Editors Marcia Hall and Tracy E Cooper bring together a collection of essays which explore ideas of sensuousness in the Catholic reformation church. Each author is a specialist in late sixteenth century religious subjects and well known for scholarly articles and/or monographs. The introduction makes it quite clear that the editors have defined ‘“sensuous” as related to, or derived from the senses, usually the senses involved in aesthetic enjoyment’ (p1). Some essays make reference to sexual pleasure, however they stress that is not their primary focus.

Wednesday 23 October 2013

Lecture 4: The one in which Catholic churches justify their decor

Il Gesu
The title of this fourth lecture held a lot of promise: 'Space, Function and Decoration in a Catholic Church'. In it we examined the church's decoration and design and looked at what these implied in terms of how the space was used. We compared the use of church space pre- and post- catholic reformation and the changes this entailed in the light of new ways of worship. The case study revolved around the most Catholic of post-Trent organisation's churches, the Jesuit 'Church of the Most Holy Name of Jesus at the "Argentina"', or Il Gesù for short.

However this lecture was vaguely unsatisfactory and I was pleased that I had supplemented it with a lot of reading - there is too much to cover in depth in an hours lecture. I'd read Propaganda and the Jesuit Baroque which clearly sets out the subtle differences between rhetoric, persuasion and propaganda. It also discusses and dismisses the notion of 'the Jesuit style', a label which should definitely be avoided. I've also been reading the truly excellent The Sensuous in the counter-reformation church which covers in depth a number of issues that we merely touched upon in class. Art historians like to use the Jesuits as examples for various things so lecture and reading all tied in well.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Lecture 3: St Peter, the Pope and the Eternal City

Rome as a religious centre? Pardon? Ok, what exactly did I know about Rome as a place of pilgrimage? I’ve seen Gladiator and I, Claudius(!), been awestruck by Nero’s golden house, paid homage at the Pantheon and I’ve even been on a private tour of the Villa Medici. I’ve never been to the Vatican because of the crowds and ‘Look at me, I’m the Pope’ so for me Rome is antiquity, pagan glory and the best baba al rhums I’ve ever had. Last night’s lecture was yet another excursion into the unknown. 

We started at the symbolic centre of Catholic, holy Rome with the authority of the popes – the c17th façade of St Peters, where the power of the Church is represented visually, an architectural creation of sacred place/space. St Peters is not the cathedral of Rome but it is the most important church. The focus is on the tradition and establishment of St Peter as head of the church in Rome. 

Saturday 12 October 2013

Old Master Dialogues at the Collyer Bristow Gallery

'Hands' French, c18th, Richard Day
I am lucky enough to work in a place with an idiosyncratic and eclectic take on the arts. A dedicated curatorial partnership works with the firm's gallery to stage three varied exhibitions per year, and though generally small in scale, are large in personality. Old Master Dialogues is the latest offering and is a collection of selected and newly commissioned works responding to the Old Master prints and drawings collection of Richard Day.

The exhibition notes say that museums traditionally aim to observe the hierarchies of history, whereas collectors and artists acquire or visually consume anything and everything that appeals to them personally. And this goes straight to the heart of this show. The small, intimate pieces borrowed from the Day Collection demand your attention because they have this aura of love and care around them. They are all beautiful works of art and where artists have responded to a specific one, they could not fail to have been inspired by it and open a dialogue with the past.

Wednesday 9 October 2013

Lecture 2: Reform and reformations

This course has piqued my interest in a huge way. After nearly spending the entire weekend – unintentionally – in the Warburg Library reading about reformation music and refreshing my memory regarding the Council of Trent, I am hooked. Happily the security guard escorted me out when he realised he’d locked me in.


Last week I cast my mind back to the historians that my A-Level teacher talked about. I refreshed my memory concerning revisionist history books of the 80/90s which were all the rage in 1990-2 and we were encouraged to read JJ Scarisbrick, C Haigh, D Starkey and disregard J Elton and AG Dickson. So finally reading the latter, who was the set text this week, was quite an interesting experience. This continuous re-editing of history proves the reformations throughout Europe at this time were extremely complicated.

Christianity was not monolithic even in the 15th century. Devotion varied; in practice and belief which had evolved. After all, the New Testament is not a set of rules or a religion. The gospels are interpreted and even the bible is made up of council picked, selected texts. Church tradition, dogma and doctrine evolves throughout the Middle Ages

Thursday 3 October 2013

Lecture one in a new term: Am I persuaded?

No nudes thanks, we're post-Trent Catholics
It's that time of year again when we're dusting off the pencil cases and hole reinforcers and toddling off to university as if the summer didn't happen. This first term, second year, is shaping up to be purgatorial because the options were rather limited. I opted rather anxiously to do 'Art of Persuasion: Catholic art of the reformation'.

The reminder to treat the past (and religion) as a foreign country is never more important than in this tricky area. To distance yourself from your own faith (or lack thereof) and maintain an open minded historical perspective, concentrating on what they believed THEN is crucial. I'm thinking of the Catholic Church as a political entity rather than anything religious or spiritual and as we are supposed to be thinking about belief in context, this should work.

Sunday 22 September 2013

Selamat Makan! Or Good Appetite

I can't remember a time when I didn't read recipe books for fun. At home they sat on the most accessible book shelf, within easy reach of us all. My dad would turn to them for education, inspiration, travel guides and kitchen companions. Perhaps he'd bought some exotic new ingredient that had made it from wherever to Hereford. I haven't forgotten my first Christmas pomegranate, not to mention our first ugli fruit. Or he'd made friends with the chef of a new restaurant in town and been shown how to make something unusual. His collection of books now sits with my brother the chef but I still find it pleasurable to absorb new culinary ideas and culture whenever a recipe book comes my way.

Sunday 15 September 2013

The London Mappers: Thames Festival Talk

Stephen Walter 'London Subterranea' (2012)
After spending a virtual week in the troll-inhabited unmannerly wilderness of the internet, Friday took a turn for the civilised and I entered the world of maps and the City of London. As part of the Thames Festival 2013, Renaissance expert Jerry Brotton and map dealer Daniel Crouch told a cartographic story of London and its iconic river, from the first printed map of the city to recent artistic attempts at mapping the capital.

Jerry opened with statements regarding the different directions in which his and Daniel's experience of maps go. From a renaissance studies point of view his focus is the 'idea' or philosophy of maps, with emphasis on depicting the civil v barbaric. He is also interested in how maps define our identity or even imagining how the early moderns used maps. Daniel's interest is the materiality of maps - how they are presented aesthetically or how rare they are. This duality should have made for an illuminating partnership.

Friday 6 September 2013


Every funeral this year has started with a journey west. To Torquay in February and then Hereford yesterday. I don't mind travelling long distances to say goodbye; the physical miles ensure time and space to deal with memories. A retracing of the doodles or flourishes on the map of my mind, if you like. But first this.

We were sat in uncle Steven's gleaming car in the crematorium car park this morning. We watched a careless driver cut across a grassy corner and crash into a wooden 'no exit' sign. He stopped, eyed up the wreckage, raised his hands in disbelief/embarrassment/exasperation and then drove on. Happily for my uncle Steven's pride and joy, this mechanical menace decided to park a long way from us.

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Elector and Engineer

A kindly pink face peers down at the bookish historians,
Handling mysterious metal pieces and glowing wood.
They give him an occasional glance, a flirtatious smile,
Comments made quietly as wunderkammer shimmers,
A nod to Papi, an acknowledgment of mastery.

A Saxon prince argues with his smouldering engineer.
Roles reversed as he belabours the capstan;
Pincers attack and pull at the gleaming wires,
'Nein, ziehen, sanft ziehen', croons the gentleman.
As in fairy tales, so magically the gold is woven.

The gruff engineer deftly adjusts the die, just so
And carefully wipes the hot wax from the cold steel
His hands see the bench, but his noble unskilled
Apprentice clumsily works, looking, checking, sweating.
An orderly world overturned by a mechanical universe.

An efficiency of tools and the process changes;
Sheets of fresh traded wood from the east, fragrant lie
To be tortured gently to make furniture pieces.
The engineer stands to the side and the Elector presses;
People, nobles, Emperors, timber bending to his will.

These Promethean princes each praying for knowledge;
Reforming Kingdoms under a new God of reading,
Remanufacturing their states and forcing their will with
Steely determination and ballistic intelligence.
Stamping paternal authority over the natural unnatural land.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Le banc d'orfèvre : L'électeur de Saxe: Book Review

This collection of essays is the eighth in the National Museum of the Renaissance series of specialist guidebooks. Covering fascinating exhibits such as petit point embroidery from 1570-1610, painted marriage chests or cassoni, renaissance bronze reliefs, and a 16th century Mexican crucifixion triptych, this new volume in the series is dedicated to one item from the museum's collection.

The Elector of Saxony's wire drawing bench arrived in Paris in the late 19th century's when the royal Dresden collection was dispersed after the economic disaster which succeeded the Napoleonic wars. In the 1880s the bench was initially destined for the Musee Carnavalet but when they decided to dedicate it to the history of Paris they looked to sell off the bench and its tools. In a sculptural exchange with the Musee de Cluny, it joined that collection until war broke out in 1939. Afterwards, the Cluny decided to focus on an earlier historic period, so the bench remained in safe storage until 1977 when the dedicated Renaissance museum in Ecouen was opened. From 1981, inspired by 16th century etchings, it was presented to the public as part of a goldsmith's workshop. However in 2010 both its technical and artistic aspects were reappraised and it was put in room reflecting the nature of a prince's kunstkammer - surrounded by beautiful scientific objects. 

Thursday 22 August 2013

Work in Progress: Digitisation Projects in Museums

This is part of a wider project that I am currently working on. I am about to start on the actual evaluation of what the National Museum of the Renaissance, has achieved with its partners regarding Leonhard Danner's goldsmith's bench. However the digital art history aspect has been fascinating to read about.

Monday 12 August 2013

Of royal frills and furbelows

Fashion inspiration
I've had a passive interest in historical fashion for a long time and it was very much cultivated by my marvellous step mother, who remains one of the most elegant people I know. Therefore to lure her down to London, I told her I'd booked tickets for the Fashion Rules at Kensington Palace and In Fine Style at the Queen's Gallery. It worked, for the first time in years she came down and on Saturday we did both of the exhibitions.

We started in the modern times with dresses from the wardrobe of the Queen, Princess Margaret and Princess Diana, obviously covering the 1950s-80s. It was a fine selection of frocks which reflected the public role of the figure head/royal representative and the uniform that they have to wear - they have to be seen in a crowd, reflect the interests of the country they are visiting, and yet be utterly bland in a non controversial way.

Wednesday 7 August 2013

Lowry: Painting the past

River Scene © The estate of L.S. Lowry
I have a vague personal connection with  artist L.S. Lowry. He lived opposite my playgroup in the mid seventies and would regularly walk past my parents as they all went about their business. And finally at his death in 1977, my dad and his partner in crime were dispatched to the artist's house to ensure that nothing went missing. He had a hugely valuable art collection so it seemed best to send two young police constables to guard the place. There is even a photo of them in the Salford Lowry museum which is a fabulous record of a moment in time, where the art world and my dad bizarrely collided.

Saturday 3 August 2013

Leonhard Danner; Designer, Engineer, Inventor

Leonhard Danner of Nuremberg (V&A)
There is something curiously and inevitably contrary about the figure of Leonhard Danner, the sixteenth century Nuremberger engineer/inventor. A tireless figure who we can only imagine through the machines he left behind, the scope of which indicates the breadth of his expertise, imagination, whilst channelling the vision of princely patrons. Biographical details of his life are scant and unreliable; as befits a successful, wealthy, gentleman engineer we know roughly what he looked like but his date of birth is either 1497 or 1507. What we do know is that by 1585, married to his second wife Dorothea, he died a wealthy citizen, enjoying for a brief time an Imperial Privilege derived from timber. 

Sunday 28 July 2013


I close my eyes and yet still see
The shimmer of blue horizon
And gentle furl of quiet water
The endless shifting of light-shapes
Imprinted on the camera of my mind

Now light pierces from a closer sun
Looking up at endless blue void
Shapes of tiny island disappearing 
Whilst clouds loom to merge sea-sky 
Light imprinted on the camera of my mind

Imagine embracing that watery state
Recurring dreams of blue depths
Ghostly fingers glowing quietly
Skin melting in sea, silk-light on skin
Imprinted on the camera of my mind

I now see both the above and the deep
Impossible blue beauty suspended
Words float away evading my grasp
Always chasing illumination: eyes close
Light imprinted on the camera of my mind

Tuesday 23 July 2013

Your Black Horizon

Art is supposed to be an all encompassing sensory experience. When I came across Olafur Eliasson's 'Model of a Timeless Garden' this year it overloaded the eyes whilat delighting the ears and fingers (yes I touched the installation!). By stripping the colour from a renaissance fountain, it became an elemental fantasy where water was trapped in time.

Art could not have been further from my mind when briefly stopping off on the Croatian island of Lopud. A contemporary black sign pointing off the main promenade inland caught my eye. It said Olafur Eliasson and David Adjaye 'Your black horizon'. Immediately I was taken back to his monochromatic fountains, my interest piqued.

Following the hot dusty path up to the art pavilion, potable water could only be imagined; cactus flowers coloured the ground, insects flooded the sky. Here was the timeless garden indeed. A modern wooden construction offered shelter and in we went. The space could be any London gallery, fresh painted wood creaked and black curtains ensured darkness within. An inclined walkway lead into a black square, icy cold room. A line of light at my eye level went uninterrupted all the way round, giving the illusion the room was circular. 

As the eyes adjusted, you lost yourself looking into the horizon and as time passed the colour changed with the rising and setting sun; from yellows into orange, red, turquoise and deep blue. The white in contrast then seemed to fill the space. The heat and light outside was forgotten, just the cool inner focus remained. 

This installation, like his other one, uses light to focus on the very small to illustrate the bigger picture. The fountains stopped time, whilst this one seemed to capture space. Incredibly, when you emerged from the darkness, blinking, the blue and green horizon seemed very small and claustrophobic. 

So to return to the idea of the immersive experience, there can no better place to see contemporary art than on a tiny sun drenched island. Firstly there is no competing white cube space; secondly this would be stand out piece in London. Finally, the extremes of heat, light, dryness affect your perception and reception of the art.  

From June 15-Sept 29 2013, Lopud, Dubrovnik 

Monday 22 July 2013

Moon Colours

We didn't watch the sunset tonight
We ignored the lurid display of light
Instead we sat entranced by the moon
Casting shadows on the igneous rock

Silver dancing on the shifting blacks;
Fish ripples adding the diamonds
Quiet copper mirrored boats hover,
Shifting; lightly kissing the gentle swell 

Count the varied subtle moon colours, 
Each one richly echoes its brighter light
Turquoise is hematite; vegetation jet.
Reflecting back I gleam black and white. 

A Place Called Sunrise

A landmark birthday inevitably leads to introspection and reflection. To be in the geographically same place as last year enables an easier comparison of the mental healing processes. The daily routine should be a comparator but when it has more of the treadmill feeling about it, that's unhelpful and unhealthful. 

I suppose there is a sense of sunshine being conduicive to warming and lifting any sense of depression and lingering grief. However I think everyone knows it doesn't work like that. There are rocks in the soul which enable shade to reside; an impermeable, hopeless darkness. 

It's been either years or days since the death of my dad. Ten years ago on my thirtieth we were all together in the Italian sunshine, without care or thought for what would happen. It hurts deeply that he's not here for this turning decade. It's been a massive time of learning and not of the academic type.  I was once accused of coldness because of my career and university focus but that's just my way of coping. The more buried in study I am, the more I'm hurting.

As I say and write this in a village called 'Sunrise', this passage of time leads to musings and turning over of lifeless mind spaces. Sometimes it turns out sunshine is a cure and though I don't pretend that all is well all of the time, when I compare how I was last year, it is better. 

From where I'm sitting the only way I can describe it, is that the dark rock pools in my mind are slowly being refreshed with the aquamarine clarity of time. And I can live with that. 

Wednesday 17 July 2013

Warm welcome from the RCS Library

How many men have been injured opening bra straps? How many people currently have a cold at the moment? These aren't questions that can be answered by the good librarians at the Royal College of Surgeons. However they assist their 20,000+ members, medical professionals, researchers, patients and students with all sorts of queries from policy guidance, copyright and specific medical questions. I've been in there a few times as part of Hunterian museum exhibitions but this was a talk and guide for librarians, by librarians. Tom Bishop (Head of Library & Surgical Information Services) and his team gave an insight to the college, the library and what they do for their members.

We were given an overview of the library service, which is an independent, membership funded organisation, where the patient is centre of their concerns. The RCS oversees the surgical profession; from standardising examinations, supervising training, providing professional support, audit and evaluations, to advising government and giving a single voice to surgeons in England.

The role of the library was familiar to all of us; to select, organise and preserve knowledge and promote access to and understanding of the collections. As usual, information staff deal with a wide range of queries, anticipate further information needs and add value where possible as well as providing resources for training. They also work with other people such as Chill, a consortium of independent health libraries. The library is made up of 50,000 books (the earliest from 147), 57 incunabula, around 2000 periodical runs, 30,000 tracts and pamphlets, taking up 4.7km of shelving as well as 200 ejournals and 2800 boxes in archival storage. The focus is strictly surgical and they have the best collection of primary resources for John Hunter in the world. Their importance as a library/archive of note was recognised this year by the Arts Council which most importantly enables them to access funding from other avenues. They saw it as an opportunity to step back and evaluate their services and see things from a different view point. For example the standard they used, PAS197:2009 required them to think about other libraries as competition.

I was interested in hearing about the challenges they faced; similar problems are seen across the library world and we are dealing with them in different ways. As a membership library they are reliant on annual subscription fees for funding; a strong academic/educational function requires access to specialised medical information; highly sub sub specialised members are extremely demanding; geographically dispersed membership presents challenges of access and service provision. When your members are out doing their job, the library can feel physically underused, even if the services you offer are being appreciated. The library is also working within a landscape of upheaval as health care is facing massive challenges. Their members are being confronted with NHS league tables for surgeons, concentrating on new requirements for revalidation, as well as looking at the implications of The Francis Report and so on. There is too much to read, too many sources of info, and too many platforms.

Although we had a very interesting tour of the library areas where we touched on architecture, archives, the rare book room and exhibition space the two areas of work that I want to focus on are current awareness and the systems that they are working with.

Current Awareness

Steffi Sams *is* the library current awareness which was newly set up in April 2011 and has been chronically underfunded. Current awareness is the bread and butter of most special library services so to imagine not doing a round up of journals for colleagues is quite strange. However if I thought that lawyers were difficult, surgeons sound impossible. The reason that it took so long to set up was the large amount of consultation, discussion and tech issues that they faced. Surgeons felt that librarians wouldn't know what they would find interesting/relevant and that without some big names on the bulletin editorial committee, it would lack the necessary gravitas. So they set up pilot bulletins in two areas; cardiothoracic surgery and urology and embraced the learning curve of multiple platforms, specialised content, and sceptical user groups.

I have said many times that you cannot think like a librarian when compiling really useful stuff for lawyers. You have to really get into their heads and see how an article can be applied to problems and clients. So when she reiterated the necessity to think like a surgeon and have to think in a particular context, it struck a chord. She gave the example of a report on the issues around bleeding and anti-coagulants in surgery in over-80s. This would be of general importance to surgeons but a keyword mentality would not help find it.

For ease of use and the excellent statistical analysis, they use Campaign Master. This has RCS branding, however she says it's not really fit for purpose. Combining this with the internal Surgeons Information database, SIMS database of interests, they can send it out to specific people. The monthly bulletins include the editorial panel so readers can see the clinicians behind this. Each article has a citation, in house written summary and link to the full text. They also include links to help pages, cutting edge conference news, Anatomy TV material and adverts for other services such as image provision for talks etc.

They are planning to get more staff and set up bulletins for vascular surgery and plastic & reconstructive surgery. They are already prototyping a patient safety bulletin, all of which will run along the same principles. And like law, surgical specialisms have their own idiosyncrasies so each one will have different issues for the library staff. All signs suggest that the current bulletins have been very well received and the library hold 5 of the top 10 spots for activity for bulletin activity - something that the business development/education people are quite envious of. The successful current awareness service requires the compiler to know their stuff. They are looking at other possibilities - putting articles in context of medical arguments, looking at sponsorship opportunities to recoup some staff costs, spin offs and finally, the platform will need reviewing.

Library Systems

This part of librarianship is rather mysterious to me. I look after my LMS, College of Law Portal, my legal databases and they tend to look after themselves to be honest. However when your users are accessing the services remotely, suddenly library systems take on a massive importance. The various systems the RCS use are:

1. Opac - Sirsi/Dynex/Symphony Grew out of Unicorn. Based off site
2. SIMS Database. Feeds user system over night into the library database.
3. Adlib. The front end is SurgiCat. They are in process of upgrading to joint library and archive system... 
4. Plarr's lives of the fellows online. They are planning to take it off Orm(?!) and move to Adlib.
5. Access to Ovid/medline/pubmed must be maintained on the site 
6. Anatomy tv. For teaching, good copyright terms so that they can use images/stills from it
7. She lost me on the Athens stuff but there were good ways of administering passwords etc, and bad ways. Basically they have set it up so the user can do it all themselves as long as they are on the SIMS database which is good for non office hour requests.

They are looking at ebooks but there isn't that much content yet. Regarding online material, many publishers are not always happy to deal with the RCS library because speciality journal publishers want individuals to buy their titles. They also make it difficult for overseas member to access services.

Of course this reliance on online material has its downside and risks. They - and other departments at the college - heavily rely upon SIMS. If that was to fall over, that would be very bad. And if the website went down then there round be a problem as Athens directs users to the RCS site, there is no alternative. So they stress the importance of maintenance and communication.

All in all this was a very good learning experience. So when you are at the Hunterian, please feel free to drop by the Library next door.

Oh and finally, if you need to know what classification system they use, it's the Barnard classification system, originally designed for veterinary libraries and evolved into human use...

Friday 12 July 2013

Agustín Dreams

Agustín dreams of flying machines
He finds lightness in detritus and
Potential for flight in flightless junk;
Each cog and chain and tube is imbued
With devised purpose and patient hands

Agustín dreams impossible dreams
He knows the community's failings,
The people who adore him, the
Brother who for no reason departed,
Dismissive official but, still, he works

Agustí dreams incredible dreams
From here to there took twenty years;
Complications resolved in time,
A gnarled hand and broken body
But in his head he's been in the air

Agustín dreams of compassion for all
Once he gave barefooted kids shoes,
To visit him makes another child sad.
The respect he deserves, he returns;
Kindness, simplicity, wonder, care

Agustín dreams of his time machine
This automaton subsumes his life
Halting, juddering, yet still it moves;
A new wheelchair sent to help his body
Dismantled to build his mind machine

Agustín dreams of universal machines
They mock him, this determined man;
He is not crazy, but has a keen mind
Educated by marvellous patience
Piece by piece; repeat and perfect

Agustín dreams of computing machines
Telescopes in space looking into the void
Up to highest and rarest atmosphere; but
He's incapable, only a lame shoemaker.
Uncaring imagination, ignores, carries him up

Agustín does not dream of heaven
When he is dead he will not care
Where his earth bound body lies
The machine he makes will stand
A reminder to live, to dream, to fly

Written in response to the story of Agustín and his helicopter and inspired in part by Eric Whitacre's  Leonardo Dreams of his Flying Machine

Wednesday 10 July 2013

Looking Skeptically at Trolls

They see me trolling: What can we do about online abuse’ was a lively Soho Skeptics event which took a semi-serious look at the ‘trolling’ phenomenon. The speaker Helen Lewis provided a definition of ‘trolling’, followed by an overview of the different types of trolls and examples of each. She then gave a whistle stop tour of why anyone would troll, the state of the law and what can be done about them and ended on a positive note.

Tuesday 9 July 2013

From Thames to the Tagus

This third posting took us from a classroom in Bloomsbury to a sunny City square in Lisbon. I adore Lisbon; that sweepingly elegant capital, with its varied architecture, network of classic trams and astonishing vistas, the friendly people and the food...I shall stop before I get carried away with the sensory memory of a couple of weeks in Portugal too many years ago. Given that the class began with traditional poetry and literature, it was with great pleasure and interest that we heard about the importance of early modern Lisbon's river and the part it played in shaping the style of architecture beloved by the outward looking, trade obsessed royalty.

Friday 5 July 2013

Mapping the Thames at the British Library

The second 'On the River' Summer School post concerns portrayals of rivers in maps. Having the foresight to do some quick research on this, I found that the curator had already collected the images with commentary from this session. However I think it is still useful to do a short post, even if it is to praise the map librarians and highlight the incredible map resources of the BL.

This is the second year that a group of Birkbeck students have attended a 'hands on' session at the BL. The topic last year was cities but if they had plenty to show us then, they were able to totally spoilt us with this wide remit. As the curators of the national map collection, they hold over four million maps and they are free for anyone with a BL reader card to request, view and consult. 

Thursday 4 July 2013

Chaucer on Thames Street

View of Wool Wharf from the Tower
I've chosen the Paul Strohm lecture on Chaucer from the 'On the River' Summer School to write up first. There are a few immediate reasons: the talk wasn't about Chaucer's poetry; it involved the commercial aspect of the Thames; and the corruption amongst 14th century tax collectors felt very familiar. The scream of the Ricardian parliament for legislation! legislation! seems extremely modern and was just as effective.

As I proceeded to write this up, I started to question some of Strohm's assertions, some of his concluding remarks particularly confused me. However I hope that the summary of this lecture gives an insight into his ideas. He opened by stating that no one really mentions Chaucer's role as customs official, concentrating solely on his poetry. He says, and I agree, that people are missing quite a lot of interesting detail. Hence when Strohm stressed his interest in historical than literary Chaucer we were keen to hear what he had to say.

Monday 1 July 2013

Career reflections and staff retention

’ Do you remember when you started your first post-university professional job? When you were eager to sign up to your professional organisation and get going on the post-nominals? I had just moved to London and during the mid-1990s had an open mind as to whether a job was going to be for life or for 6 months but I really hoped my first job would be special, long lasting and I worked really hard to get it right.

Which I did; that firm never had a keener or more passionate library assistant and I loved it there. Building on my theoretical library school knowledge, I learnt so much about how to – and how not to – run a library, design a new one, set up a library catalogue, see how lawyers reacted to the thought of mere support staff having email and communicating directly with clients. I would have stayed there if it hadn’t been for a number of issues, which I shall come on to in a moment. Despite having written a career overview for the excellent UKlibchat group, this posting isn’t just a mere excursion into nostalgia but recently I overheard someone say ‘if someone is good [at their job], we don’t expect them to stay’. Both have made me consider staff retention and there were a few things I wanted to think through.

Wednesday 26 June 2013


Bubbles of time carry us through
Temporary states, atoms in flux
Weightlessly lifted mutating forms
Fleeting and turning with wind
Like notes of the band drifting out
Down over the water, down to the sea
Bubbles in swell both beneath and above

Bubbles of air are carried aloft
Endlessly recreated, suddenly stop
Nothing but puddles, like our footsteps,
Remain to show silent whispers of soap
As music ebbs, time shouts out
Bells of the churches, chug of the boat
Bubbles in swell both beneath and above

Monday 17 June 2013

The Monteverdi Ballets; Baroque-Hip Hop

Tonight's outing heralded a very busy couple of weeks therefore I have no doubt that this won't be the last review posting of the up and coming weird and wonderful. It also strikes me that I have never done a really negative write up of something I've seen.

I'm a polite reasonable member of an audience, willing the performers to do well and I would never let criticism get in the way of enjoying an evening out. However the Monteverdi Ballets, presented as part of the Spitalfields Summer Festival, made me think about what makes an event work. Or not. 

Tuesday 11 June 2013

Get me a Retrospectascope...Stat!: John Hunter

Hunterian Museum
‘No theory can ever be proved true - we can only show that a theory is false’ - Karl Popper
I've been meaning to do something specific on John Hunter (13 February 1728 – 16 October 1793) for some time and though there have been a couple of posts that touch on him, I've not written anything explicit. Indeed my course in the spring used his collection of curios at the Royal College of Surgeons as a point of departure for many themes coming out of ‘exhibiting the body’. Therefore the excellent talk presented by Professor Stephen Challacombe at the RSM provided the material for this post.

The simple question that he wanted to explore focused on the relevancy of John Hunter’s approach to science and research. What was so special or different about his methods?

Thursday 6 June 2013

Contested Histories; Aborigines, National Museums and controversy

This is a tentative blog post because it's an area into which I wouldn't normally stray; I have no knowledge and no declared interest in either side. It feels like I am stepping in to unknown territory armed with only my wits and – in the current terminology, a bucket of privilege. Still, I can always blame naivety - and the lecturer; Prof Amanda Nettelbeck of the University of Adelaide. She gave a few of us an overview of the national museums project that she and other historian colleagues are working on. The title was: ‘Contested Histories: Settler Colonialism, Aboriginal History and the National Museum’.

I’m not going to present a complete transcription of her lecture but do a brief overview.

Saturday 1 June 2013

The Colour of Money; The New Financial Services Regulations

Two of the best things about being in law librarianship for decades are 1. seeing the changes in colours of institutions’ rule books; 2. the learning and relearning of industry acronyms. London Stock Exchange Listing Rules went from being the ‘yellow’ book to ‘that weird aubergine colour’ and the SFA, SIB, FIMBRA, PIA rule books all had their own coloured binders which had to be painstakingly updated by hand. I vaguely remember one of them being green, though the Bank of England reports tended to be a very elegant expensive looking white and gold. However when the FSA overturned these organisations in 2000-01 all their rules were subsumed into the multiple FSA Handbooks (white, purple and pale turquoise green), horrible new binders which would take your thumb off if you let them. 

Tuesday 28 May 2013

A Knitted Landscape

A knitted landscape
Rows upon rows
Textures in twine
Stitched by wheat
Embroidered by barley
Endless colours
Boats casting off

Whimsy from the Isle of Sheppey

Sunday 26 May 2013

The Lime Street Naturalists

It's true what they say
About poems, nature, death and life. 
Pausing for thought whilst looking for 
Scientific heroes amongst rhythm of stones
The musical notes of poetic meter 

The names of my City churches muttered:
Some gone and half forgotten:
Saint Antholin, Benet, Dionis, All Hallows.
The people moved in death by 
A vigorous space needing City

The magpie approaches 
Drawn by my stillness
Looking for life under leaves
His glisten of blue-black-white
Like marble enlivened, shrieks.

The oblivious bee pauses 
Hovers and vanishes
A fleeting meeting of buzz and Ethel
Sweetness over Geranium robertianum
And earthly detritus

The squirrel scratches up the tree
Flickingly shy, peering at me 
Whilst other sounds bring the stones alive
The irony is I'm looking for naturalists 
And they're here, still, looking at nature

Written for the 16th Century Lime Street Naturalists who were moved to the City of London Cemetery in the 1900s.

Wednesday 22 May 2013

The Art of Writing; Or the Science of Writing

'Stop it with all the damn metaphors'
Kirk to 'Bones' McCoy in irritated exasperation 
Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

Science writing has held a peculiar interest for me this week, given my Trekkie credentials. I've seen the new Star Trek movie twice and have contemplated buying the original 'Wrath of Khan' to compare the change in writing and production styles. However for the purposes of these notes, the quote above is the perfect introduction to the Birkbeck Science and Writing Symposium, 21 May 2013.

A universe of cheese and worms
A rare group of people – two poets, a playwright, an astronomer, a science/history/cultural academic, two actors and a cartoonist - were brought together not just to discuss the way they communicate their ideas but to actually demonstrate and showcase their skills. I’m not going to simply narrate what each person said but try to highlight themes. What I must say is, so often at academic symposia the emphasis is on the presentation of paper after paper with little or no presenter animation. No matter how interesting the topic, my eyes glaze over eventually but not here, not this time, we were off; starting with the Big Bang. Before I come on to the themes, I want to dwell a little on the poets and their poetry.

Saturday 18 May 2013

Generic Widgets: Musings on a library budget

It has been said that ‘information is the lifeblood of law and the legal profession’. And to this I would like to add, law firms continue to be the flesh and muscle of the body of knowledge which they make available to clients; good lawyers turn that information into business knowhow. Anatomical analogies are a personal favourite and perhaps to stretch this one, everyone is trying to extract a pound of flesh from the legal corpus as a whole. From clients expecting discounts, lawyers squeezing suppliers and suppliers driving hard bargains, everyone is at it.

Saturday 4 May 2013


Take this pain of loss away
How can such a solid heart thudding
Maintain such a pounding, seemingly
Beating faster and intense to make
Blood whir and head ache, fit to burst

Take this empty hollowness away
And fill the space of phantom heart
With quiet. Not disquiet of red dark
But the tranquility of blue and green
Blurring eyes dart, panic, too much

Take this ceaseless sickness away
And ease the sealike turmoil to lend
Calmness. Allow distressed breath
To fade, send conscious signals
Making sleep come and pain recede

Nothing will take this loss away
To lose it now would seem loss of me
But familiar discomfort of missing limb
Still tortures as fresh now as then
Still caged within, empty, pounding pain.

Sunday 28 April 2013

Pestles and Mortalities: Pompeii and Herculaneum at the British Musem

This post came to me in the aftermath of a host of sensory experiences; the scent of fresh garlicky flavours being pounded out by a granite pestle and mortar, whilst the images of an emotionally exhausting exhibition were still pricking at my eyelids. Though these two seem far apart the connections, inevitably, were there.

The Pompeii exhibition at the British Museum has taken Roman everyday life and made it seem as fresh and modern as if they were walking down the streets now, today, tomorrow. After the pomp and splendour of Hadrian, here the curators have instead focused on living arrangements, family life, relaxation, domestic objects and simply allow us explore what it was like to live in a provincial Roman town. What comes across primarily is the sheer sense of fun and humour; the phallic lamps and good luck charms, playful graffiti and garden ornaments. They are, to modern minds, as unsubtle as they are beautifully crafted.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

Passez-moi l'absinthe...

Le banc d’orfèvre
It's time for a change topic wise. I have a summer project to do and guess what? I've chosen another awkward one. The Research Project, we students are told,  'is your first piece of extended, independent research. It draws on the methods, issues and skills that have been raised in the Research Skills seminars and in the Core Course.'

It continues, 'the Research Project is principally concerned with the PROCESS of research rather than solely with the RESULTS of that process. It might have a practical or applied focus, for example, it could be based on a museum or a gallery, an exhibition or arts policy. Or it might focus on a particular work of art that explicitly raises questions of interpretation'.

Sunday 7 April 2013

Tate Britain Print/Drawings: ReTurning to Turner

'Explosion' in the Tate 
On Friday the MA group went on a field trip to the Tate prints and drawings room. It was reminiscent of the visits I made last year to the V&A, RAI, London Met Archives and the various other amazing places who open up their archives for interested people.

It seems obvious when you think about it but Tate Britain is known primarily for its collection of Turner material/resources, including a complete reference collection which they keep up to date. Though his paintings are all over the place, he didn't leave provision in his will for the contents of his studio  - sketchbooks, small preparatory watercolours, juvenilia, etc, so it all came to the Tate. There are many ongoing research projects, including a cataloguing project which was started by John Ruskin, then continued by Turner's biographer, Joseph Finberg. Sadly two thirds of this collection was affected by the flood in the 1920s and even now, the crinkling and water marks are evident in his early sketchbooks. 

Monday 1 April 2013

Paris; or a tale of two cities

The Eiffel Tower is truly a modern wonder. The modern elegant sweep of metal, the solid mechanism, the symbolism and history that surrounds it makes it a product of the modern time. Compared with the neoclassicism of the architecture there, the glory of the modern stands out. Just being the most modern structure in the area, ensures it becomes the most you look across to La Defence, the thought process suddenly turns.

Friday 29 March 2013

Paris Window

The airy tint of peach shines in
Leaving curlicues of grey upon the wall

Angled, the comic chimneys gaze in
Contrasted in height and size and light

Waves of shouting vehicles wafts in
Sounds of a busy world down below

The open window lets my mind out
Whilst emptily letting all envelop me.

Thursday 28 March 2013

Metaphors for embodiment; Or I'm really losing it this time

This is a work in progress taken from my latest essay but it works quite nicely as a standalone piece, I think. This series of Janice Gordon's work was on show at La Specola, Florence's Natural History Museum and I've talked about it in a previous post Hearts of Florence.

The Materia Medica/Metafisica series of portraits are described in the catalogue;
© Janice Gordon 
Gordon has constructed “portraits” using images from antique anatomical drawings, art history and nature, creating them on original 17th century materia medica manuscript pages. The beeswax that has been used contains virgin wax from the apiary at the Benedictine Monastery of Torrechiara near Parma, Italy. While “materia medica” refers to medicinal substances used to heal the body, “metafisica” refers to the aspects of spirit, mind and mystery, which transcend the body
In order to draw out some of the complex iconography, I want to concentrate on one image in the series. The most recognisable feature is the face of Leonardo da Vinci's 1477 portrait of Ginevra de Benci which sits within a profile dissected head, surrounding her face like a halo. A skeletal orange torso with arms folded is affixed to her forehead. The serious austerity of her gaze takes on a sadness due to her slightly tilted face. The lines of her neck continue downwards towards the head and arms of a sleeping foetus which lies over her upper chest, whilst figures in old fashioned diving costumes surround it. Snippets of red musculature, a curved spine, cut ribs and coloured nerves form her shoulders and truncated arms, in a parody of a stiff renaissance costume. The three quarter pose with cropped arms is familiar from other fifteenth century portraits. The beeswax marks the manuscript parchment at the top and bottom of the collage.

Monday 25 March 2013

Fishwives and Cornish Art


As a bit of light artistic relief I have blogged on Cornish art over at Contrary Towers

Sunday 17 March 2013

Poetry of Line

Poetry of line.
A house stands on a morning hillside,
Quivering through the dewy haze.
An Italian scent rising with the sun,
An intense suggestion of shapes.
He looks at the landscape
As if at his palms, seeming
Random collection of sharp marks
To craft soft foliage or
A living hand

Line of poetry.
A collection of domestic vessels
Cluster smartly,looking out oddly.
An Italian scent rising from the cloth
An intense order of natura morta.
He looks at the homely
With a half closed stare, seeming
Creating rounds, fluted and handled
To create solid with light
A living gaze

Giorgio Morandi at the Estorick.

Monday 11 March 2013

Body, mind, water

Embodiment is the hot topic right now it seems. Whether it's the retirement of the page 3 girl, the apparent increase in nudity in London's theatres and performance spaces, or 20,000 year old statuettes, bodies and art are everywhere.

The more I read about embodiment and art, whether from a clinical, philosophical or sociological point of view, it is clear that even if you're looking at a landscape or still life, the body is still present. From the gesture of the artist to the gaze of the viewer, all art is embodied. Once this is understood it would seem that there is little left to say. Which is rather an issue given that I've got 5000 words to find. Perhaps the key is to forget the theory per se and concentrate on the art?

The exhibition 'House of many windows' consists of work by contemporary figurative artists* and looks at how they present the body. Whether it is their own, others or imagined historical portraits. I was interested in  the way the artists depicted their subjects communicating with the viewer.

Wednesday 6 March 2013

An uncontroversial look at art and AIDS

In a week that has seen tentative steps towards a cure for a devastating disease, unforgivable hypocrisy in the church and the cardinals getting together to elect a new pope, rather appositely my class this week was about art and AIDS. Sometimes the connections just beg to be written about, so this is a brief one with a just a few observations on the differences between how governments, artists and commercial organisations responded to AIDS in the early 1990s. 

Monday 4 March 2013

On the Paris Version of Leonardo’s Virgin of the Rocks

Science of painting reflects the mind’s divinity

Monoliths marshal and stand sentient
Silhouetted against the timeless sky
Nature’s harsh light unworthy to pierce
Mary’s loving liquid tranquility:
Divinity needs no external light.

Only a glow from within illuminating,
Awakening the soul, the mind, the spirit.
A perfect circle of composed gesture
Human intellect a divine conduit
Science/art interpreting art/science

From Dec 2011 when the two Da Vinci 'Virgin of the Rocks' were in the National Gallery

Non Regretful Regrets

So much talk carefully saying so little.
Familiar lines in well known voice
Brings bitter tears to the heart and
Conscious knowledge of what I did. 

Seated comfortably to unfamiliar music.
Familiar response to homelike room;
Fripperies, elegance, nonsense and
Sharpness which is what I loved. 

A gentle hand found in the dark;
Ghosts of scent and senses respond.
Our untogetherness is senseless and
Yet this sweet lovelessness is deserved

All of night spent in careful non moving
Wakeful sleep; no rapid heart beat to
Betray uncomfortable feelings and
So to the morning and I must go.

From a million years ago. Dec 2011

Eyes of a Stranger

Strangers eyes meet
A smile exchanged
Do they see my inner glow
Rivers of pure lust
Bubbling up
Recognition of what is to come?

A fascination of feelings
Unstoppable in intensity
A curve of shapely lip
A glimmer of sparkle
Eyes drop downwards; time to run.
For him a semi regretful departure?

From Nov 2011. An exchange of tweets reminded me to put it on here.

Friday 1 March 2013

Failure is never an option

The last time I wrote a non post it was during the research stage of my first essay. And here I am again writing something before the second. It's as if I need to pause, and take a deep breath before diving in again.

As I was walking up to Mile End this morning I was mulling things over. I got that essay back yesterday and the mark both did and didn't astonish me. I was superficially pleased to get a merit because the nagging little voices had told me I'd failed. They've always told me that I'm not good enough to even pass comment on any matters of depth and complexity.

Temptation of St Anthony (1510)
Essays for me are not just sitting down and writing. Recently they have taken on an increasing malevolence and are oddly enough my new extreme sport. Essay v Clare. Like the essay is the demon to be articulated, structured and beaten into an acceptable readable form.

Deep down I know I'm capable of writing anything about anything. My choice of topic last time with a more than adequate result proves that, but the essay-devil in my head has thrown down another gauntlet from his endless poisonous supply. Despite the result and further evidence of my academic abilities, the irrational side of me suggested that this is just setting me up to fail at the next one.

This is one crazy non post with which to pause, but perhaps I need the terror of failure to keep trying. Failure is not an option, therefore, neither is giving up.

Tuesday 26 February 2013

The Door

A door thought closed in my mind
Opens when news of death hits home.
A door holding back memories of life
Before now, before knowledge, before.

A door of new friendship thrown open
In response to a confused lonely girl;
A door never shut to us at that strange
Never time between child and now.

A door into a world of laughter and
Light, easy times of warm delight.
A door to happiness, newness, with
Parties to raise roofs, glasses and spirits

A door mirrors her time, her beauty,
Living on because people like her just do.
A door to that 'other' links us with them
In rushing images untethered unbidden.

The door that takes the dead away
Will always remain open to remembrance.
The door that closes on those most loved
Will in truth be the one refusing to shut.

This door of losspain opens once more to
Remind me of people love, loved, gone
The door they emerge from to enwrap me
When I peer round, calling their name.

For my good friend's mother who passed away suddenly. Feb 2013.

Sunday 24 February 2013

Anatomies; or looking inside ourselves

How much of an expert do you have to be to write a book about something? Recently we’ve had physicists writing about biology; chemists writing about history of science, suggesting that if you’re a scientist, you’re qualified to write about something which isn’t your usual field. Is this because scientists are inherently curious? Or is it because a history or personal exploration of a ‘new to them’ area is perceived to be lighter, softer and more popular than their usual specialism? Or are we so consumed by interdisciplinarity that no subject is beyond reach if you have contacts in the right places, access to an excellent library and the confidence to carry it off? I’d still like to know where all the excellent history of science specialists are though.

Anyway I’m going to suspend cynicism in this case and take this new book at face value. Hugh Aldersley-Williams’s engaging and very personal book ‘Anatomies: The human body, its parts and the stories they tell’ is a brief history of the body as seen through various lenses of art history, culture, literature, anecdote and historic scientific obsessions and developments. His interest in the body arose through a gap in his knowledge – like many of us at school, if you wanted to do physics and chemistry, then biology fell by the wayside. Thanks to people like Adam Rutherford, we are aware of the technological advances in biology, genetics, the genome project and so forth, however, as Aldersley-Williams’s points out ‘it doesn't tell us about ourselves in the round’ (p xix). His interest is in looking at the way the body interacts with the world has a whole, the raft of meanings, and taking a wider view of the parts.