Hunting mushrooms

View on Vimeo.

A videohaiku shot yesterday on Hampstead Heath, where various autumn mushrooms are appearing in the leaf duff and meadows. I’ll admit, though, I had eyes mainly for the trees, as usual, and came home empty-handed except for some pretty images.

The vignetting effect is beginning to feel a bit cheesy to me, but I used it without hesitation here, perhaps because the subject of the second half of the video is the essence of cheesiness. The same thinking guided my choice of font. But it’s fine, because as I’ve said before, haiku are supposed to be somewhat light-hearted.

field mushroom, Hampstead Heath

Pepys pilgrimage

Samuel Pepys bust at Seething Lane

On Wednesday, Rachel and I made our way over to the Museum of London to gawk at the silver plate recently identified as having belonged to Samuel Pepys.

The silver trencher plate is one of three in existence known to have belonged to Pepys — although it was only recently recognised as such — and is the only one on display in the UK.

It bears Pepys’ coat of arms and was made in a workshop in Foster Lane, near St Paul’s Cathedral and the museum where it now resides, in 1681/2. Cutlery scratch marks are visible in its surface, suggesting it was one of the pieces Pepys was referring to in his diary when he boasted that he served his guests on silver plates rather than pewter.

Well, if it was made in 1681 or 2, it couldn’t have featured in the diary, though there’s no doubt he was very proud of his silver. At any rate, it was such an impressive object I walked right past it and had to ask Rachel where the hell it was. My photo is, um, not good:

Pepys plate at Museum of London

I thought this ceramic plate on display nearby captured the spirit of the age much better:

plate in Museum of London

Coolest of all, perhaps, was this copy of astrologer William Lilly’s 1651 book Monarchy or No Monarchy, which was said to predict the Great Fire:

astrologist William Lilly's 1651 book predicting the Great Fire

Pepys’ diary accounts of the actual conflagration were extensively drawn upon for the museum’s looped six-minute film. I sometimes wonder whether his diary would be nearly as famous had he not had the (mis)fortune to live through the great plague in 1665 and the fire the next year.

We decided sort of on the spur of the moment to go back to Seething Lane and see whether the gardens on the site of Pepys’ office were accessible. On our previous attempt at a Pepys pilgrimage three years ago, the site had been all torn up and walled off for some sort of construction, and we feared the worse.

Our route took us past the Guildhall, and I couldn’t resist another selfie with the Pepys bust there. This is Sam at the peak of his power and influence — not the young man on the make of the diary period.

selfie with Pepys bust  at London Guildhall

As we rounded the corner from Hart Street to Seething Lane, Rachel noticed that St. Olave’s — Pepys’ church — was actually open. We hadn’t gotten into that last time either. So we were finally able to see the sculptor John Bushnell’s bust of Elizabeth Pepys that the grieving Sam had paid for after her early death in 1669, high on the wall to the left of the altar.

St. Olave's on Hart Street interior - Elizabeth Pepys memorial close-up

A more modern memorial to Sam himself, paid for by public subscription at the instigation of his Victorian-era editor Wheatley — the diary edition I’m erasing — isn’t nearly as impressive:

St. Olave's on Hart Street - Sam Pepys memorial

But the church has plenty of other fascinating details, such as this window from the Clothworkers’ guild, which evidently had teasel as its emblem:

St. Olave's on Hart Street window

And it was great to see that it was still very much a functioning Anglican church, not merely a tourist attraction. See my album on Flickr for more photos.

The churchyard was also charming, and included an herb garden in tribute to another famous parishioner, William Turner (1510-1568), the father of English botany. There was also a labyrinth, and Rachel didn’t object to my filming her feet as she walked it. Naturally, I had to turn it into another videohaiku:

The site of the Naval Board offices was right across the narrow Seething Lane, and Pepys had arranged for a covered walkway connecting them so the great men could walk to their gallery in church without getting rained on. Such is the enduring interest in Pepys that even the location of that former entrance is memorialized…

Pepys entrance to St. Olave's

…as is, of course, the site of the navy office, which survived the Great Fire only to be destroyed in another fire seven years later.

site of Naval Board offices

The reason the Seething Lane gardens had to be destroyed and replaced was to build an underground parking garage for the adjacent building, formerly the headquarters of the Port of London Authority, but now London’s second Four Seasons Hotel,

Seething Lane Gardens Pepys bust and Four Seasons back door

this one owned and operated by a Chinese corporation…

Seething Lane Gardens dedication

…which has done a decent job with it. To quote the wonderful London travel blog IanVisits:

The word ‘Seething’ may originate from a medieval word ‘sifethen’ meaning ‘full of chaff’, so-called after a nearby Corn Market.

Seething Lane Gardens have a curious history, but suffice to say it was once the topic of a planning dispute, and, with a slight gap, the fine of one red rose has been paid annually to the Lord Mayor. That’s since 1381, and the Knollys Rose ceremony still takes place each year.

In addition to the roses though, it’s famous for its association with the diarist Samuel Pepys, who lived in the same street and said he buried his exceptionally expensive Parmesan cheeses in his own back garden to protect them from the Great Fire of London.

Imagine our delight to look down and see Pepys’ buried cheese memorialized in a flagstone:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

This was just one in a whole series of flagstone engravings relating to Pepys, the Naval Board, the fire and the plague. Check out, for example, this excellent flea:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

And here’s a depiction of Pepys’ shorthand original of the diary:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

There’s no key to the paving stones anywhere, so if you’re not a Pepys fan, some are likely to be mystifying. This for example clearly depicts the removal of his bladder stone, which diary readers will know was a very big deal to him — he marked the anniversary of the operation every year with a party:

Seething Lane Gardens paving stone

I have photos of most of the engraved slabs on Flickr. As for the garden, Ian nails it:

Although I would have to say the current garden is rather pleasing, it’s of a style that’s increasingly generic – of raised beds with lots of paving, and hence not that interesting.

What does make this one stand out a bit is the paving […]

Sadly, the Knollys Rose has not been immortalized in stone, but some of the plants looked distinctly rose-like, so the ceremony should resume this year.

The garden was designed by the landscape architects, Capita Symonds.

The cost of the landscaping works came in at £1.25 million, paid for by the hotel development.

Pepys bust in Seething Lane Gardens

Walking to the Bank tube station at rush hour, we were impressed by the crowds of business-suited young and middle-aged City men, some scurrying, a few sauntering, many smoking (an unusual sight elsewhere these days). Palimpsest as London may be, some things don’t seem to change very much over the centuries.

Poetry in emotion: a wedding celebration in a swamp

homemade puzzle by a child: "CONGRATULATIONS on your Wedding day BE HAPPY forever lots of LOVE Hanley"

view out the observation deck, London Wetlands Centre

This past Saturday, Rachel and I celebrated our recent wedding with some 75 friends and family at the London Wetlands Centre, a green oasis beside the Thames.

Samuel Pepys was here (close-up of informational placard)

Of course, as with most places in and around London, Samuel Pepys had been here (click image to enlarge).

As at the wedding itself, poetry played a prominent role, along with other creative contributions from our guests: yards and yards of home-made (mostly knitted or crocheted) bunting, music playlists, Continue reading “Poetry in emotion: a wedding celebration in a swamp”

Small tree gone

photo of a tree's shadow on the street

photo of a tree's shadow on the street
Tree in 2010

Two loud, indifferent men in a greasy pick-up
came and took down the failed street-side tree
by my house. Poor thing was dismayingly dead,

no question – dry-dank, blackened and mouldy.
When last alive it was a hunched, unlikely stick
that would froth suddenly into snowy blossom.

No, I never noticed when the tree began dying,
must have marched mindlessly past it every day.
Now its small stump pokes at a hardened heart.


From 2010

The tree outside my house
(municipal planting)
is a frail jewel in flat suburbia.
Its bark is shiny white
and it blossoms
and strikes me daily
as unlikely.

Seeing Angela Carter on Clapham Common

Black-and-white photo of the end of a park bench with a wide open space behind it and a line of trees in the distance.

Black-and-white photo of the end of a park bench with a wide open space behind it and a line of trees in the distance.

Today, crossing the scrap of Clapham Common
right by the tube entrance, this unappealing piece
with scanty grass and grubby benches shat upon
by crows and pigeons, I remember again a lanky,
windswept woman and glimpse the fading shape
of brassy wings. Here is where I’d often see her,
comfortably hunkered on one of these greasy seats
or stalking towards them, all flying silver mane
and lamentable, flapping coat, happy to hang out
alone or with the old homeless guys who favoured
this draughty and neglected corner of the common,
facing the statue of Temperance and Providence
from a safe distance. I used to stare, imagining wide-
eyed and shy the fabulous mechanics of her mind.

 

The British novelist Angela Carter died 25 years ago – such mixed feelings in remembering an amazing writer who died too young, and a time when we had great hopes for post-Cold-War peace and democratisation.
Angela Carter: official website and another lovely site with new publications, events and discussion.
Statue of Temperance and Providence on Clapham Common, 1884.

Re-introducing Woodrat photoblog

Screenshot of Woodrate photoblog.

Screenshot of Woodrate photoblog.

Back in October I started posting poetic epigrams with my photos at Instagram, and every few weeks since then, I’ve re-posted them here. This past week, the turn of the calendar fast approaching with its promise of new beginnings, I made the decision to broaden the scope of my 9-year-old Woodrat photoblog from just haiku, and to start cross-posting my Instagram stuff there as a matter of course. I’ve also back-posted all the photos since mid-December, when I last shared a compendium on Via Negativa. So please go look, and bookmark or subscribe to the photoblog if you like. (You can also, obviously, follow me on Instagram or on Flickr, where the photos are mirrored, and/or look for the auto-posts at Twitter or Facebook. And I’ve added the link to the Links drop-down menu in the Via Negativa header.)

There are some really good photographers on Instagram, and I like feeling a part of a community there, but I also like owning my own content and being a responsible netizen. Instagram is first and foremost a cellphone app built on proprietary software, part of a movement by software developers to replace the town square of the world-wide web with private shopping malls, essentially. Not only can one not post to Instagram from the web interface, but no live web links are permitted in any caption or comment. It also bothers me that there’s no way to edit a published caption, to add alt text to make images accessible to the visually handicapped, or to export and save one’s content from the site.

So my decision to re-purpose the old photoblog into a home for these posts is in part a political decision. But it’s also a practical one: I’d like to continue the epigrammatic series for a while, and I know myself well enough to realize that if I tie it to the growth of a more aesthetically pleasing space, I’m more likely to keep it up, just as having a dedicated blog for my Morning Porch tweets has kept that microblogging project going for years. And whereas Morning Porch posts are based on my daily porch-sitting, Woodrat photoblog posts emerge from daily walks (though not typically on the same day the photo was taken). There’s a pleasing symmetry to that.

The eyes are the first thing to go: more Instagram epigrams

Another arboreal face, this time on a beech, with wide eyes looking upward.

I’ve taken to walking all the way down and back up the mile-and-a-half-long Plummer’s Hollow Road every day now, and what’s curious is that, despite having walked this road many thousands of times in my life, I still notice two or three new things every time. You can see a lot just by looking, as Yogi Berra supposedly said. Of course, most of what I see are trees. And many observations don’t make good photos — but a few do. And by the time I get back to the house, sometimes I’ve thought up a caption as well.

Log over stream with eye-shaped opening on the side and fur-like moss on top.
The eyes are the first thing to go, melting back into the head, murmurs my lover, the undertaker’s assistant.
Continue reading “The eyes are the first thing to go: more Instagram epigrams”