Monday, 28 June 2010

Exploring, under cloudless skies

On Saturday, we took a stroll - yes, under cloudless skies and in the baking heat.  We started on the Docklands Light Rail, at Pudding Mill Lane, to view the Olympic site works:

Pudding Mill Lane, London

All very exciting - lots of beautiful blue cornflowers and poppies growing wild amid the rubble and the chain link fences, while massive cranes and diggers rumbled by shifting earth and men in fluorescent jackets wandered about, looking busy and important.

Cornflower, Bow

Olympics, Bow

There's fab centre there, the ViewTube, made out of old shipping containers, with a cafe called the Container Cafe: you can sit on the terrace, sipping cappucino as the Olympic park unrolls before your very eyes. It was great - it really made it come home to us that London 2012 is really happening, and right in our backyard too. I started to believe the hype then and there, and got a bit excited about the Olympics coming to London. I certainly feel a tiny bit more sympathetic to weekend Tube closures for Olympics/Crossrail related shenanigans.

Feeling inspired to explore further, we followed our noses along the canal, and discovered lots of very lived-on barges and lots of this:

Old Ford Lock, Bow

And stumbled across this wonderful retro branding on a building that used to be a peanut factory and is now luxury loft-style living:

Percy Dalton Peanuts

Hot and thirsty after all that, we wandered across Victoria Park - pausing only to admire the roses at a sweet little garden centre called Growing Concerns - to sip cold pints of lager in the garden of The Britannia, where children and dogs frolicked while owers drank.

A summer day in London. Splendid.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

A green thought in a green shade

Originally uploaded by mindofbutterfly
Lots of summer induced activity in the garden.

The plants are gorging on current sunshine and recent rains.

The mangetout are in bloom, promising a luxuriant harvest - daily, we tally up and revel in the abundance. The strawberries are heavy, bowed to the earth, with hard green fruit tinged, slowy but ever so promisingly, with red blush. The raspberry bush, planted in a fit of optimism three years ago, is finally coming into its own and I imagine juicy red fruit come the autumn - not enough for jam, but enough to eat greedily straight from the branch. The tomatoes grow and grow and grow, sucking up water diligently applied to the roots and reaching for the sky. The runner beans have escaped from their 6ft wigwams, and as I write, are making for the roof.

All in all, "a green thought in a green shade" as Marvell says, and plenty of promise.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Tales of empire

soccer lessons
Uploaded to Flickr by zlandr

The Orange Prize marathon continues on, despite being overtaken by events - the Prize was carried by Barbara Kingsolver for The Lacuna. For once, I find myself wholeheartedly in agreement with a panel of literary judges. In the meantime, I have finished The White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey.

In exploring the politics of empire and the post-colonial turmoil of the British withdrawal from Trinidad through the portrayal of a marriage, Roffey turns to a predictable and not even uncommon trope for colonialism. And it has a strand of magic realism - groan - sprinkled throughout: the island is imagined as a voluptuous woman, shades of Garcia Marquez and shades of Hakluyt. Has imaging the colonies progressed no further in the occidental mind than the Elizabethans picturing America as Virginia, virgin land there for the despoliation? Has Said achieved nothing? Or is it all a clever ploy to depict the conflicted status of the non-native incomer, who feels Trinidadian but is not accepted by Trinidadians?

The writing is also a bit self-conscious: there’s a “creative writing evening class” non-linear narrative device which adds nothing, meaning that crisis comes too early and the second half is less savoured. At least, less savoured by me!

Having said that, on the whole, the writing was compelling if clunky: unsympathetic characters are well wrought and this was, for me, an affecting picture of the uneasy simmering tensions so typical of the multi-racial Caribbean. Perhaps more so because this happened to my family, with Jamaican independence, which promised so much and evolved into something quite different.

There was also a brief detour by way of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer - sadly, Shaffer died and the novel was completed by her niece, Barrows. You can tell, but it doesn‘t matter. This is a sweetly charming epistolary novel about love, loss and friendship set in the aftermath of the Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands. Highly recommended if you need to feel optimistic and joyful. Unusual to read a modern novel in letters - I think Ella Minnow Pea was the last one I read - and I have been inspired to read Richardson’s Pamela because of it.

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Saturday, 5 June 2010


Enough with the Spring flowers, today I am all about urban grit...

1. Brighton back streets, and yes, it really is called Circus Street
2. Sunset on trainlines at Bethnal Green mainline station, en route to
London Fields
3. Pylons by the Mersey, taken from riverbank at Chorlton Water Park
on Bank Holiday Monday
4. Fire escape in a rundown Battersea warehouse, where we went last
night for an engagement party

Friday, 4 June 2010

Oranges are not the only fruit?

On the platform, reading

At work, our sort-of reading group is working through the Orange Prize shortlist.
I've steered clear of book clubs somewhat, reading from a list and to a prescribed time smacks of university days a little and can become joyless - reading to complete, not reading for pleasure.
Having struggled through a recent fiction dry spell – starting and abandoning unsatisfying novels and desultorily turning to a rather eccentric selection of non-fiction – I am embracing this structured project with gusto.
The shortlist is:
·         Rosie Alison - The Very Thought of You
·         Barbara Kingsolver - The Lacuna
·         Attica Locke - Black Water Rising
·         Hilary Mantel - Wolf Hall
·         Lorrie Moore - A Gate at the Stairs
·         Monique Roffey -The White Woman on the Green Bicycle
The awards ceremony is next week, so we don't stand a chance of completing the list in time – which poses interesting questions about how our judgement of literary value might be affected by the announcement of the prize winner.
So far, I've raced through The Lacuna and dawdled through The Very Thought of You.
The Lacuna was stunning, powerful and passionate, with a strong political message about personal freedoms and public perception, and the morality of public crusades.  It's very thought-provoking on the theme of active participation vs. passive observation in history-making events, proposing, I think, that there is no such thing as passive observations of the times – as an observer, you too are implicated.
The Very Thought of You was nice enough, I suppose, as a historical romance. I felt it was a bit thin, the wartime setting was primarily backdrop and added little to the narrative's drive other than to propel the characters into a sudden conclusion, rather awkwardly, two-thirds of the way through the novel.  The prose style was also a little unsatisfying, relying largely on rhetorical flourish and purplish descriptive passages. There could have been an exploration of the issue of personal morality in wartime, and of the role of the voyeur in the events they observe.
Ah, I've just noticed that observation, of intimate personal catastrophes and sweeping historical events, seems to be a common theme here!
Interestingly, my tweet about the project was picked up by the Orange Prize marketing team:
·         Me: First hand-out of books for new reading group, reading Orange Prize list - I got The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

·         Them: Let us know how your reading group gets on with the shortlist :-)
Now that's how to engage your audience and contribute to the conversation.  Basic courtesy, maybe, but I certainly felt all warm and cozy - and appreciated!


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