open the curtains

and take a look out the window if you want to know what the weather's like


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Lost Mine Found

entrance to Tate St Ives [c] J Hughes 2008

Standing inside the amphitheatrical atrium of Tate St Ives feels like being inside the heart of a giant seashell. The entrance path whorls up concentrically from the waterfront.  Look up – here’s a siphon hole to the sky.  Framed by the clean Art Deco lines is the expanse of Porthmeor Beach, devoid of tourists, a smattering of surfers catching the last warmth of the autumnal Atlantic waves.  Listen – here’s the sea sound reverberated, amplified, almost abstracted to the resonant shush of a conch held to the ear.  Today I am a hermit crab, scuttling around in this shell that’s far too big for me, scavenging on the dead meat of art and place. Continue reading

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Mind the Gaps: Notes from an Irish Island

2011.05.07 Aran (7)

It’s St Patrick’s Day today – not something I celebrate having absolutely no Irish connection whatsoever, but it made me think about Ireland and the only time I’ve ever been there, which in turn made me dig out the notebook I made during that visit. I spent a windswept and hilarious ten days with my MA team wandering around Dublin and Galway and the largest of the Aran Islands off Galway Bay, eating cheese and biscuits, free-wheeling our bikes down empty Aran roads, making a campfire made from a pallet we had to stamp on and throw rocks at to get it into small enough pieces, and scribbling who-knows-what in our fieldbooks in the guise of practising writing nature and place. Here’s a little snippet from mine. It’s a bit random but that’s the whole point of a notebook…

My overwhelming first impression of Araínn, Inishmore, Inis Mór, this largest of the Aran Islands off the west coast of Galway is the colour grey. I used to associated grey with all the negative things in life: Bracknell Town Centre and School, our head-to-toe concrete colour uniforms, the 1970s concrete architecture of the town, dank concrete underpasses, tower blocks, roundabouts and kerbs… Cornwall taught me a different sort of grey: granite, slate and raincloud, the sea under a lowering sky. Inis Mór is grey in both the Cornish sense and totally differently grey. Continue reading


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Retrospective: 2014 in 14

This seemed to work quite well last year so here’s this year’s shot at a little recap of 2014 in 14 sentences with 14 photos I’ve taken during the course of the year. If you click on the first image you can read the text alongside the pictures as you scroll through if you prefer.

Continue reading


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Death of a Naturalist

blackberryI ate my first blackberries of the summer just a few days ago.

I’ve been eyeing them up in the hedgerow since the beginning of the month when they first started to ink up in small numbers, biding my time, waiting for the sweetness, the ripeness to set in.

Pausing on the path up Pennance hill to let someone pass, I saw them, seven, eight, maybe ten black blackberries on the edge of the field. Any thoughts of saving them for my picnic dessert evaporated as the first one hit my tongue, flooding my head with juices and flavours and purple stain, and re-drawing to the surface lines indelibly printed in the back of my mind:

Late August, given heavy rain and sun
For a full week, the blackberries would ripen.
At first, just one, a glossy purple clot
Among others, red, green, hard as a knot.
You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet
Like thickened wine: the summer’s blood was in it
[….]

___

I was fourteen and I’d never heard of him. It was the end of the summer term, and having finished all our end of year exams we were in a sort of educational limbo between lower school and GCSEs. (But of course I didn’t know the word limbo yet, nor the ‘cold glitter’ and the spark of deep core grief-sadness I cannot dissociate from it.) So they gave us something to bridge the gap, a poem to look at such as we might get to study in the following school year. It was ‘Blackberry Picking’ by Seamus Heaney. Continue reading


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The Language of Flowers

2012.06.24 Punch Bowl(4)

Foxgloves (Digitalis) – Devil’s Punch Bowl, Hindhead, Surrey

I find flowers pretty hard to write about.

I’m also not sure whether there ought to be a comma in that sentence. (Or should it be a semi-colon?)

I find it pretty hard to write about flowers. I get stuck. I don’t know what I should say.

I love their shapes, their colours, their variations, the profusion of surprises they offer in their deceptive simplicity. There must be a way of working this into prose without it becoming too… prosaic? But I get entangled with botanical details and the tongue-twisting vocabulary required to accurately describe them. Panicles and pedicles. Ovate and pinnate. Spadix, spathe, siliqua, anthers, auricles, monocotyledons – even jizz, I’m completely serious – all feature in the glossary of terms I find myself compelled to consult in order to get to grips with the language of flowers. Even if I am being botanically correct, will anyone know what I am trying to say?

I’m stalling as usual. I find it pretty hard to write, full stop. Continue reading


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Paper Trains

Six days.

Three rail journeys.

A thousand and one thoughts from here to there to here and back again.

Two thousand words, fourteen hours and twenty three minutes.

Sometimes I sit thinking on trains.

Tuesday. On the train again. I get out my notebook to write down what I see, and to reflect on what I’ve experienced during the train journeys of the past few days. It’s a long way from Reading to Par. That’s a lot of landscape and a whole lot of thoughts in four hours. Continue reading