Archive for the ‘Did’ Category

My allotment

on September 17, 2013 in Diary, Did 2 Comments »

Last Sunday, 15 September 2013, I met Melvyn the Secretary and joined the Alsager Gardens Association so that he could allocate me an allotment on the site round the corner from our house. This is it. I’ve inherited it from someone who said last year they were going to grow asparagus all over it and then never came back. Evidently.

Melvyn hasn’t got me a site key yet [1] so I took this picture today through the boundary fence, from the Council football ground side. It’s a quarter plot, 15 metres by 5 metres. Looks like there’s an assortment of detritus among the waist high weeds including numerous plastic bottles and the beginnings of a frame for a compost heap. We shall see. All anticipation here, as we still have a month or two before the weather may deter me from getting down there much or for too long when I do go. Making something of this jungle should be very satisfying.

Just before I left one of my teaching jobs, about this time of year in 1977, I once remarked to a colleague, a music teacher, that I was tired of  trying my best to work with some pretty wild teenage truants and enjoying small successes daily, only to find that most of any “progress” was wiped out by their overnight or over weekend experience of the impact of their social environment at home.  I must have been pretty tired, and because of this I said I’d rather work with trees as a forester maybe, so that when I worked and came back the next day, my work would still be intact and not interfered with, barring natural events. That music teacher responded on my leaving card some time later, “May you find your trees”, which I thought was wonderful. Now, thirty six years later, I don’t have a forest or even a wood or a spinney, just some quasi-virgin (those two words can’t go together really, but you know what I mean) territory and with luck I may return to work on it to find it as I left it.

1. A few minutes after posting this Melvyn delivered a key!

The work chosen from the first decade of the 20th Century by my Wednesday history & literature group this ‘semester’ was The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad.

Joseph Conrad (3.12.1857 – 3.8.1924)


As with all the works we have looked at over the years, the novel was found to be a delight for some, an ordeal for others and impenetrable for yet others. Obviously, then, a ‘suitable’ case for treatment’. I am in the first camp, finding in Conrad such a genius for sentence making as to rival my all-time favorite William Faulkner.

William Faulkner (25.9.1897 – 6.7.1962) photo by Alfred Eriss in Hollywood

Plots in novels have never been the main attraction for me, indeed it would be difficult for me to recount many plots from anything I’ve read over 60 years. The Secret Agent is recent enough in memory at the moment that I do know what happens in outline.

The historical background is hinted at here regarding the Greenwich Observatory as a target of an alleged anarchist attack. A wealth of sites for the background to anarchism as a political theory and methodology most of which would not have been available to Conrad is here and would be the subject of a quite different post were I to be inspired to write it. My own politics come closest to anarcho-syndicalism, but this did not interfere with my enjoyment of this novel.

Conrad wrote in his Author’s Note to the novel that the actual bombing and the death of the bomber Martial Bourdin was “all for nothing even remotely resembling an idea, anarchistic or other” (p.9). Some insight into Conrad’s stance towards anarchism can be gleaned from some of the quotations that follow, though most are included as brief but memorable examples of what I consider to be his literary genius. (Page references are to my rather battered Penguin Modern Classics paperback reprinted edition of 1969  bought second-hand many years ago and only just read, having resided in at least 5 houses and previously owned by Caroline Marsden. I hope she enjoyed reading it as much as I did.) The characterisation of political radicals in the novel reminded me very much of some of the characters in  The Spiral Ascent a trilogy by Edward Upward made up of In the Thirties, The Rotten Elements and No Home but the Struggle.

 Edward Upward (9.9.1903-13.2.2009)

Perhaps the first extract from The Secret Agent that stopped me in my tracks occured as Mr Verloc, shopkeeper and erstwhile anarchist, is berated by the scornful and condescending First Secretary of ‘the Embassy’- “He listened in a stillness of dread which resembled the immobility of profound attention” (p.34). It turns out that Conrad quite likes the word (or the concept of?) immobility (pp. 160, 174).

As the Assistant Commissioner of Police, appalled by the futility of office work, looks out of his office window at the rain,  to him, “..the lofty pretentions of a mankind oppressed by the miserable indignities of the weather appeared as a colossal and hopeless vanity deserving of scorn, wonder and compassion” (p.88).

Even in desribing a minor character such as a cab driver, Conrad impresses with a respectful insight into the character’s viewpoint: “..his intellect, though it had lost its pristine vivacity in the benumbing years of sedentary exposure to the weather, lacked not independence or sanity” (p.132-3). For me this just escapes the accusation of verbosity from some other members of the group.

In creating an atmosphere Conrad sometims uses inanimate objects: “ of two gas burners, which, being defective, first whistled as if astonished, and then went on purring comfortably like a cat” (p.157).

and in the final sentence of the wonderfully written chapter when Mrs. Verloc murders her husband: ” A round hat disclosed in the middle of the floor by the moving of the table rocked slightly on its crown in the wind of her flight “ (p.214).  

In the final sentences of the book, we see Conrad’s imagining of an anarchist and anarchism: “He had no future. He disdained it. He was a force. His thoughts caressed the images of ruin and destruction. He walked frail, insignificant, shabby, miserable – and terrible in the simplicity of his idea calling madness and despair to the regeneration of the world. Nobody looked at him. He passed on unsuspected and deadly, like a pest in the street full of men”  (p.249).


on January 17, 2013 in Diary, Did, Thought No Comments »

Too tired tonight to say much but after nearly eight months of no posts here at all it struck me as time to at least get back to some free writing that isn’t just short comments on FB or such. Tired, as after an energetic floor mopping front door through to back I decided to try to fix the cooker so that it didn’t slide forward off its plinth when we pulled too strongly on the oven door, thus threatening to precipitate anything on the hob all over us – hasn’t happened yet, by sheer good luck. After much raunging about (yes it is a word, I just wrote it) the oven now seems safe.

My literature group this ‘term’ is called “A Half Century Remembered: 1900 to 1950”. Our wonderful tutor Morag Jones asked us to vote for one of three works from each of the five decades, which was a very interesting exercise for the eighteen or so members present at the last class of the previous ‘course’. The chosen works constitute quite a strange mixture of subjects, styles and authors (all male, I see, sorry Virginia Woolf and E M Delafield). Here’s the list – The Secret Agent – Conrad, for 1900-1910; Greenmantle – Buchan, for 1910-1920; The Waste Land – Eliot, for 1920-1930; Love on the Dole – Greenwood, for 1930-1940 and The Pied Piper – Shute, for 1940-1950. Incidentally, the group that voted had twice as many women as men in it. I’ll try to post some notes here about our consideration of these works, as the weeks go by. [We’ve “done” Conrad but I’m leaving that for when I’m not so tired. Supper and bed calls].

Feeling a bit stir crazy yesterday so went off to Hem Heath Woods, part of the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust’s complement of reserves.

Leaving behind the infernal race of modern life in the car park on Trentham Road, between a railway track and an electricity sub-station, I took the leaf-covered path, all orange, brown, yellow and black. To the left, or East, is an industrial estate, just discernible through the undergrowth, but audible with hums and rattles from time to time but soon left behind.

Two discreet information boards helped to nurture the growing sense of history such, sometimes ancient, places evoke after a few minutes walking. For example Wedgwoods and all their doings are involved, as the Reserve is leased from the Wedgwood “estate”.  I wish that I could have not noticed the rogue apostrophe or ‘Crewe Comma’ on one board though, where whose had become who’s.  Too much proofreading over the years for that to slip through, unfortunately.

Anyway, the path between the trees suddenly reached a beautiful place aptly called The Glade, just occupying its time there, getting on with being naturally attractive to any human eye that cared to visit.  So far the only others enjoying the woods had been a couple ‘walking’ a very energetic, bouncy and obviously happy dog. Then further on into deeper darker parts was a woman on her own apart from her small dog. She had walked these woods for 45 years but had come in from the southern end and had never been up as far as where I explained my car was, all of half a mile or so. We parted after a short chat, as it was getting late into the afternoon and we both needed to find our ways out in the twilight.

Such an experience of peace clears the mind and spirit. That’s what it felt like.

[photos from the website]

We went to our local library in Alsager for an hour this morning, on National Poetry Day in the UK, to see and listen to W Terry Fox read some poetry. I consider it well worth visiting that link to some YouTube performances. It was a fine way to spend time and Barbara also enjoyed it. He talked quite a bit about Mow Cop where he lived for a time and still lives “down bank” a bit at Whitehill.  The event attracted an audience of about a dozen, two of whom had travelled from Crewe. It was a free occasion, funded by the Friends of Alsager Library.

Poetry has always been a minor interest of mine, humming quietly along in the background to a life, ever since that A Level course in Eng. Lit. at school with good old “Gabby” Hayes where he introduced us to the beauty of John Keats’ work. Alongside many of his own fine poems, W Terry Fox read Keats’ Ode to Autumn today, (read and hear here) which took me right back to those days in that particular seat in that particular classroom, as clear as if  I were there now.

I remember those times with Gabby (middle row, second from the right) as a bejewelled island in a murky sea of dark drudgery and suffering from the rest of my schooldays. There were only four of us in the class, as I remember, which added to the privilege and sheer pleasure of coming from a bookless and often cheerless home to that highly skilled introduction to classic literature over two years that probably helped to nurture whatever semblance of sanity I ever had. Thanks Gabby and Thanks Terry.

Poetry in Chicago? Well, here’s a poem by








Robert Pinsky featured on the excellent website of The Poetry Foundation based there; from such a simple thing like the next time you put on a shirt or skirt, he has fashioned simple but resonant words.