Saturday, 16 April 2011

Sunshine & Showers

Contrary to appearances, I've been away most of this week in Mid-Wales. It's handy the way Blogger will let you schedule posts in the future -- it keeps things ticking over. I'll get around to reading any comments as soon as I can.

Unfortunately, the week began with some appalling and tragic news from the family of one of my oldest friends; please don't ask, as I'm not going to talk about it here. However, the reverberations from this devastating bombshell continue, and I keep catching myself brooding about families and relationships, mortality and rebirth, and the way we all try to steer a steady course through a constant bombardment of surprises and setbacks. The imperative to "keep on keeping on" can sound idiotic, but it's all we've got. Gramsci's stoical formula -- "optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect" -- is the best anyone has to offer on the subject, I'm afraid.

It may be my puritan soul speaking here, but it seems to me that there is a profundity about Bad News with which the joy of Good News can rarely compete. Good News is generally about beginnings, hopes, and sometimes well-deserved success, though the best Good News is always a miraculous escape or an unexpected, life-changing gift. Good News, as we all know, is relatively rare, and its effects are short-lived; it's a counter-intuitive experience, and the fear of "tempting fate" through enjoying good fortune is deeply ingrained (at least, in those of us of Scottish descent).

Bad News is what most of us have come to expect, and is usually about endings, frustration, or disappointment. But the very worst Bad News has the dispiriting effect of confirming the futility of our best efforts, and invests the world with a malevolence; it underlines the fact that catastrophe will, one day, overtake us all. To keep on keeping on can come to seem overwhelmingly pointless. Despite our love for new things, fresh starts, rebirth, and the remarkable persistence of life in an indifferent universe, I suppose our hearts can't ignore the deeper, levelling tug of entropy.

Easter, of course, is all about this tussle between life and death, decay and resurrection. I have always found the idea of the Christian Easter ritual of Tenebrae very moving, in which candles are extinguished during the night-time service, one by one, until the last one is concealed beneath the altar, leaving the church in darkness. A bible is slammed shut, and then the single lit candle is returned to the altar, and everyone leaves in silence. As a piece of symbolic theatre, it's hard to beat. That astonishing piece of polyphony, Allegri's Miserere, was composed specifically for this service in the Sistine Chapel, and it was long forbidden to perform it anywhere else or to transcribe it. Famously, the 12 year-old Mozart wrote it down from memory in April 1770, after one hearing, leading to its publication in England by Charles Burney in 1771.

The view from my bedroom on Monday

Anyway. April in Wales is a season of sunshine and showers, of sudden transfiguring sunlight and brooding hilltop clouds (though, as it happens, we've had an unusually dry winter across Britain, and drought threatens). It's good to pull on some boots and walk across an open landscape for no better reason than the pleasure of it. As I said to the owner of our holiday let, to my amazement I had realised that we've been coming to the area once known as "Radnorshire" every year at Easter for over thirty years now. We like it. I expect and hope that we'll be back next year.


Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about Bad News, Mike. Anyone I know? (Email pls, if so).

Got some Good News for you, though (or rather for your Crohn's-suffering children). It's contained within April 14th's Broadcast on R4, Parasite Worms and Zombie Wasps, a truly amazing programme in all respects, and one which refers (near the end) to a novel treatment for Crohn's.

The URL is

Don't miss it!

[Checkword: rearity - What the Japanese are living in now?]

Tony_C said...

Er..not anon, but me: Tony C.

Bronislaus Janulis said...

Well, as someone who, somewhat "Eeoryshly" feels he has had an excess of "bad news", I still feel, despite it's unwarranted optimism. keep on keeping on, is good advice; as the alternative is just too bleak.

Gavin McL said...

Ecclesiates 7:4

"The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning
But the heart of fools is in the house of mirth."

I'm not much of Christian but when in a church I often turn to Ecclesiastes in the pew bibles to while away the hour.

I hope your friends family finds some peace.

I do like your view


Mike C. said...

I'll check that out, thanks, Anonymous Tony, though "snake oil" cures for auto-immune problems turn up every year -- the medical people tend to sneer, and not take them seriously.

Bron, yes, only adolescents can afford pessimism -- grown-ups are stuck with the cautious optimism that keeps things ticking over...

Gavin, Ecclesiastes is the best and strangest book in the Bible, isn't it? It's virtually an invitation to atheism. Like Hamlet, it's "full of quotations".


Struan said...

Sorry to hear that friends are suffering.

Small things help. I am not superstitious or New Age-y, but certain animals and plants have turned out to be deeply reassuring. Hares and red kites in the countryside, wrens and hedgehogs around the town. Alders get on with a largely unnoticed existence, and don't seem to miss the attention.

Mike C. said...


Yes, the small things are what matter -- do you know the poem "The Woodspurge" by Rossetti? I was pleased and moved by a gift of two green woodpecker feathers my partner gave me on one of our walks last week.

However, I've never been tested as my friends have been tested, and hope never to be.

Good to see Twiglog is back, and thanks for featuring my work in your anthology -- some attractive work in there. Interesting that you've picked up on those Emma Biggs / Matthew Collings collaborations, too -- I'm intrigued by "tiling" patterns at the moment.


Huw said...


Have you seen 'At the Bright Hem of God'
by Peter Conradi about Radnorshire? I've not read it myself but have enjoyed other Conradi books.


Mike C. said...


Thanks for that, not sure if we've got that one or not (my partner is the Radnor book collector) and I'll check it out.

It's that kind of place -- low-key but intense -- and attracts a superior class of "incomer"... The painter Ben Hartley, who lived in Presteigne, is worth checking out.


Struan said...

do you know the poem "The Woodspurge"

I do now :-)

Poppies in the trenches, buddlia on the bombsites. I'm not really thinking of innocence in the face of the sublime, more how continuity of the insignificant can be reassuring. I'm only part Scot, and there's a fair admixture of Lord Jim in the anglo saxon part.

The florilegium post was as much a brain dump in desperation as any real kick start to blogging. I've been thinking a lot about colour, and colour combinations. Windows and walls fit perfectly.

Biggs and Collins' colour combinations are wonderfully subtle. I actually prefer more nuanced spatial patterns: some of Brigit Riley's more recent work resonates strongly. There's not much online, but the Tate channel of online videos has a great artist's talk.

I have always been interested in quasicrystals and liquid crystals, where the symmetry is an average, stochastic property rather than being exact. Scaling symmetries like those found in fractals are fun too. 'Orbifold' is good (if technical) googlefodder. If you have it in your stacks John Conway et als "The symmetries of things" is worth reading, even if you skim over the technical bits.

Tony_C said...

Hmm. Don't think the eminent biologists doing this pioneering science would much like it being described as "snake oil", but perhaps I'm opening a can of worms here(ho!ho! follow the link to get the joke).

Tony_C said...

Oh! I'm not sure Blogger didn't f*** up and curtail the full URL, but I certainly got the program title wrong: It's Voodoo Worms and Zombie Wasps, and you may have only today to "listen again". Tony

Mike C. said...


Thanks for the reminder, I'll see if I can find it.

I didn't mean to sound disparaging, it's just that the consultants stabilise the condition with a daily cocktail of pills (inc. steroids when it gets bad) and react badly to suggestions that "I read XXX has been shown to have a positive effect" -- we've been there a few times. No doubt they'll change their minds when one of the pharma companies packages it all up into a suitably expensive medication.


Tony_C said...

Hmm, yeah, touchy subject. Sorry, Mike. Hope you listened anyway.

[Checkword: wifensi. Sorry, no idea (not married.]

Mike C. said...


No problem -- it's not me that's touchy, it's the consultant. There's a deep split in the NHS between "scientists" (who like pharmaceuticals) and "witches" (who like alternatives), esp. where children are concerned.

I've simply given up suggesting to our "scientist" consultant that this or that alternative approach might be worth exploring.


Tony_C said...

So did you catch the prog or not?

Mike C. said...


No, I was hoping the new RadioPlayer service would keep it on longer than Listen Again, but it seems not. Thanks anyway -- as I say, the NHS won't be interested until the chemistry has been pulled apart and a Big Pharma firm gives it a fancy name (hey, maybe they get those weird drug names from blog checkwords...).


Mike C. said...


No, I just found it -- I forgot you'd got the adjectives back to front -- and skipped through. Yes, makes sense, but I can't see our consultant whipping up a cocktail of gatoraid and parasites...