Posted by: Jenny | Sunday, 31 January 2016

Farewell Sir Terry


Posted by: Jenny | Friday, 1 May 2015

May Day

It’s the first of May – “giorno della glorificazione del lavoro”, as the Socialist mayor of Brissago announced at a very sedate gathering round the war memorial in that lakeside village, where Martin and I happened to be on 1 May 1978.

The event is memorable, mainly because I can attach it accurately to a date.  Our week’s holiday in Brissago is memorable too.  Martin’s employer at the time was the Dechema research institute in Frankfurt.  In common with many German companies, they owned a holiday apartment which was available for employees to book at a favourable rate.  We duly travelled down to Switzerland by train for a week of sheer luxury, in contrast to our usual humble lodgings in the city.

For a week, we swapped a bedsit with no hot water, one-ring cooker and shared toilet for a two-bedroomed flat with fully-equipped bathroom and kitchen, and a balcony overlooking Lago Maggiore.  Breakfast consisted of fresh rolls which one of us fetched from the local bakery each morning, with coffee and creamy Swiss yoghurt.  We sat on the balcony to eat breakfast, looking East across the lake. On some mornings there was even sunshine – but mostly we experienced very rainy weather.

Travelling across the St Gotthard pass on what still counts for one of my favourite train journeys, we noticed how spring, already arrived in the northern Alps, turned back to winter as we moved south.  We would have expected the opposite.  Notwithstanding the weather, we went out walking and exploring every day.  An iconic rail journey on the Centovalli railway took us to Domodossola on the Italian side of the border.  My memory of that town is that it was singularly unimpressive – but then, it was midday and the streets were empty.  My other memory of Domodossola is of the most delicious ice cream I had tasted up to that point in my young life.

We walked one day over the border into Italy and had lunch in the Italian lake-side town of Cannobio.  The walking in the hills above the lake was not always easy: dense sweet chestnut forests and an absence of the well-made paths and clear signage for which Switzerland is known. It was rural, indeed rustic.  We were young, and our experience raw and exciting.

Twenty-seven years later, we were living and working in Zurich, and sometimes travelled down to Ticino (the Italian-speaking canton) for a day or a weekend.  Arriving in Locarno, we would take a bus or boat to our favourite lakeside town, Ascona, where we would sit on the waterfront and watch the activity on the lake on a summer’s evening.

IMG_0346 copy

One such weekend, we stayed on the boat and alighted in Brissago, further down the lake.  Intrigued as to whether we could still find the apartment where we had stayed that week in 1978, we strolled the narrow streets of the village until we were pretty sure we’d found it. By the front door to the apartment, a family was packing their luggage into a car with a Frankfurt registration.  We interrupted them to ask whether the apartment was still owned by Dechema.  Yes, it was: they worked there, and told us the latest news.

My memory of our first visit to Brissago is clearer and more detailed than the memory of our second visit there ten years ago.  What I recall from 1978 are the sights, sounds, even smells of the place, and the way I fitted these into my developing understanding of the world.  What I recall from 2005 are the sensations: the warmth of summer, the tingling feeling of rediscovered youth, the joy of reaching out over the years and imagining my 21-year-old self running up the hill to the bakery and practising my (then as now) rather inadequate Italian.

Posted by: Jenny | Thursday, 30 April 2015

Duncan is dead and in his grave

My father-in-law, W B Lockwood, passed away on this day three years ago.

I have many memories of him in the thirty-eight years I was privileged to know him. I have recently observed that many of us, as the years proceed, look back and recall events from our earlier years.  Some older people seem to ‘live in the past’. Bill was not one of these.  Throughout his long life, he was interested in the world around him, taking an interest in new people and, especially, new words.

But in his later years, he did occasionally reflect on the past.  He was always a good raconteur, and had a great store of anecdotes from his varied experience.  His stories tended to shed light on a particular situation or character; he was a modest man and did not use his story-telling for the purpose of self-aggrandisement.

Bill recognised the power of the internet, though he felt too old – his own words – to learn how to use it himself.  He realised that it was possible to search for information about a person, especially one who had ‘made his mark’, and was gratified that there were several websites containing references to his own work, especially in the field of Faroese. From time to time, he would ask us to look up a person he had been at school with. Several of his school friends had had successful careers in education or the diplomatic service. Sadly, but inevitably, the most recent reference we found was often the person’s obituary.

One of Bill’s favourite stories, when recollecting his schooldays. was of a certain incident in the English Literature class.  The teacher would ask a boy to read aloud a passage from the text the class was studying.  One boy, Rodgers, read with great gusto and dramatic emphasis.  On one such occasion, the text was Shakespeare’s Macbeth, and Rodgers declaimed “Duncan is dead and in his grave”. As he did so, he looked pointedly in the direction of another teenager in the class, whose name was Duncan. The class erupted in laughter.

The last time I remember Bill retelling this story, aged 94, he added calmly “I expect Duncan really is dead and in his grave”.


Postscript: One thing that kept Bill’s focus firmly in the present was his great interest in the work of his protégés in the field of language studies.  He followed them closely, and two of them, now working in Germany, regularly sent him copies of their publications and kept him informed on the progress of their research.

Four of his former students wrote a very touching tribute to him two years ago.

Posted by: Jenny | Saturday, 8 March 2014

The ‘least travelled’ cake

For Climate Week, three Gloucestershire organisations are working together to organise a ‘climate cake’ competition.  The competition will be judged at 2pm today, Saturday 9 March at Global Footsteps café in Cheltenham, by representatives from Global Footsteps, Transition Town Cheltenham and Friends of the Earth Cheltenham.

I decided to submit a cake in one of the three categories: least travelled cake, most fair trade cake, and best decoration depicting climate change.  The first two categories require you to think carefully about where ingredients come from.  I felt that the ‘least travelled’ category would be the most challenging.  I was up for the challenge – and such it was.

Over the next few posts, I’m going to take a long hard look at each ingredient and how I sourced it.  The process has involved thinking about what alternatives I might use, if a locally sourced product just isn’t available – should I use hazelnuts, grown in the UK, in place of almonds, grown in mediterranean climates? — as well as the route from the producer to my kitchen.  I’ve researched various products and found a few surprises on the way.

At the end, I will give the recipe for this cake.

Posted by: Jenny | Friday, 27 December 2013

The power of poetry

On Monday I was fortunate enough to hear Andrew Marr interviewing Clive James on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Start the Week’.  We were driving to the funeral of a dear Bahá’í friend, Rita Bartlett, in South Wales.  Maybe reflecting on the end of life, in its various forms, predisposed me to respond to a poem on this subject.  (We had also attended two other funerals during the previous week.)

James is very ill and is evidently focussing his limited energies on writing, rather than public speaking or broadcasting.  Though I have read some of his essays and the first volume of his autobiography, Unreliable Memoirs, published in 1980, I had not been aware of his powerful poetry until this interview, when he read some of it aloud.  Here is an example:

Leçons des ténèbres

But are they lessons, all these things I learn
Through being so far gone in my decline?
The wages of experience I earn
Would service well a younger life than mine.
I should have been more kind. It is my fate
To find this out, but find it out too late.

The mirror holds the ruins of my face
Roughly together, thus reminding me
I should have played it straight in every case,
Not just when forced to. Far too casually
I broke faith when it suited me, and here
I am alone, and now the end is near.

All of my life I put my labour first.
I made my mark, but left no time between
The things achieved, so, at my heedless worst,
With no life, there was nothing I could mean.
But now I have slowed down. I breathe the air
As if there were not much more of it there

And write these poems, which are funeral songs
That have been taught to me by vanished time:
Not only to enumerate my wrongs
But to pay homage to the late sublime
That comes with seeing how the years have brought
A fitting end, if not the one I sought.

Clive James, ‘New Yorker’, 28 May 2013


More here:

Posted by: Jenny | Wednesday, 27 March 2013

The woods, the water and the man

I’ve just finished reading Artemis Cooper’s Patrick Leigh Fermor – An Adventure. I don’t usually write about something I’ve read immediately after I put it down. I prefer to let it sink in for a day or two. But I was anxious to finish this book, though it was on the whole a good read. Why was I so anxious to finish reading it? I think the answer lies in the fact that I didn’t really like Leigh Fermor, the more I got to know about him.

Cooper was a family friend, and as such, she paints a positive picture. She writes very well, but reading between the lines one can glean a very different picture of Paddy: self-seeking, indolent, careless of what others may think of him (this is not necessarily a negative trait, however) and ready to gloss over his own and others’ failings. On the other hand he was clearly charming, fun to be around, and – in the end- grateful for the opportunities life had offered him.

I got bored with the endless descriptions of parties, the name-dropping and interweaving of the lives of these European minor literati of the mid-twentieth century. Cooper cleverly narrates enough of Leigh Fermor’s travels and experiences on his 1930s walk across Europe, and his later love affair with Greece, to hold the story together and illustrate it for someone who has not yet read his books, without boring those who have read them.

At the end, I am prompted to re-read A Time of Gifts and especially my favourite, Between the Woods and the Water, which I first read soon after its publication in the late 1980s. If this is the mark of a good literary biography, then Cooper has succeeded.

“When Cyclone Sidr hit Bangladesh in 2007, millions of Bangladeshis were already in newly built shelters or had been evacuated from coastal areas.  The subsequent death toll was around 4,000, compared to the 140,000 that died in a cyclone of similar intensity in 1991.  When Mozambique asked for a paltry $2.7 million in 2002 to help prepare for floods, donors only handed over half that amount.  In the floods that followed, the international community spent $550 million on emergency relief and reconstruction.”

[Feeling the Heat: The human cost of poor preparation for disasters.  A report by Islamic Relief, 2012]

Drought Africa

Last week I attended a thought-provoking seminar on the topic of Disaster Risk Reduction, and I’d like to share some of what I learned.

While the climate change talks in Qatar, which end today, are focussing on mitigation opportunities for the countries that contribute most to climate change, many poorer communities around the world are facing the effects of climate change in the form of cataclysmic disasters such as floods and drought.  The response of the developed world has been to provide aid in the form of emergency relief when these disasters occur.

Mitigation of climate change is essential, and we can all play our part, however small, in reducing our own carbon footprint and that of the communities and organisations we belong to.  But in the communities which experience the most extreme effects of climate-related disasters, they are already a reality and not something that can be warded off even by the most drastic mitigation measures by governments.  So there is a need for effective adaptation measures as well.

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change defines adaptation as “adjustments in ecological, social, or economic systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli and their effects or impacts. It refers to changes in processes, practices, and structures to moderate potential damages or to benefit from opportunities associated with climate change.”

The Hyogo Framework for Action was signed in 2005 and commits the participating countries to local adaptation policies and projects.  Unlike the Convention on Climate Change, the Hyogo Framework is not binding and its targets are not obligatory.  Many of these appear to focus on disaster preparedness and procedures, rather than practical projects implemented before a disaster, to reduce the extent or effect of the disaster when it happens.

Humanitarian aid agencies such as Oxfam and Islamic Relief are actively promoting projects which help communities to adapt to climate change and reduce the devastating effects of disasters.  At the same time, these agencies are lobbying for a larger proportion of governmental aid to be assigned to disaster risk reduction activities.  (The five countries worst affected by this year’s Sahel food crisis received just 12 pence for disaster risk reduction in every £100 of aid received between 2005 and 2010.)  They are campaigning on the premise that disaster risk reduction projects “offer huge potential to save lives and save money”.

Islamic Relief recently published a report on disaster risk reduction which illustrates some of the measures they have implemented with local communities:

  • In Kenya, farmers who used to keep livestock, which is easily and tragically affected by drought, were encouraged to switch to crop production and implemented an irrigated agriculture project.  This protected the community from child malnutrition in the country’s worst drought for half a century – and at barely half the cost of emergency food aid
  • In north-western Bangladesh, the community were helped to build earthen plinths to raise their villages a couple of metres above the surrounding land – and thus survived the worst seasonal flooding in their district for 24 years
  • In Mali, microdams were built to reduce the communities’ vulnerability to drought
  • In Pakistan, village reconstruction work has reduced the vulnerability of those villages to floods.

Maybe I am not in a position to influence government policy.  But I can continue in my efforts to support organisations such as Global Footsteps who work on a small scale to promote grassroots projects in some of the poorest communities, and to raise awareness in our own locality.

Children playing, Kabilpur Bangladesh

Children playing on raised land in South Kabilpur, Bangladesh

[Data and pictures taken from Feeling the Heat: The human cost of poor preparation for disasters.  A report by Islamic Relief, October 2012]

Posted by: Jenny | Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Reading Proust

First, let me put my cards on the table. I was unsure what title to give this post, because there seems to be a certain amount of oneupmanship in, first, embarking on a reading of Proust’s 7-volume novel, A la recherche du temps perdu, and, second, completing it. I don’t want to appear to be bragging about it. Well, so far I have only finished reading the first book – so nothing to brag about yet.

I had decided that this was a book (books?) I should try to read sooner or later. If I’d set out to do this a few years ago, I would almost certainly have attempted to read it in the original French. Not so stupid (or vain) in my mature years, I decided my best chance of getting something positive from reading this work was to read it in translation.

First challenge: which medium? I find Kindle particularly useful for reading texts that are long, out of copyright (and thus cheap or free) or both. So the sensible thing to do was to look for a Kindle edition.

Second challenge: which translation? I had decided not to look up any information on this book before starting to read it. I didn’t want my first impressions to be influenced either by amateur reviews or professional literary criticism. Nor did I allow myself to look up the biography of the author. Consequently, I didn’t have to deliberate for long on which translation to read. I simply downloaded the only free version that I could find on the Amazon site. Which happens to be the original Moncrieff translation.

After reading the first part of Swann’s Way, I happened upon a book by Alain de Botton entitled How Proust can change your life. This turns out to be an excellent, highly readable and entertaining book, part biography and part literary review. I can’t say that reading Proust has changed my life; but reading De Botton’s little book has enhanced my appreciation of Proust.

A postscript: on completing Swann’s Way, I went in search of the remaining six volumes. Yes, I am hooked! Amazon did not come up with the goods at an affordable price (either in electronic or book form) but I found what appears to be a well-formatted edition of all the books here.

Having downloaded them all, I intend to leave Proust for a while, and go and read something else. I am also thinking of starting a reading blog (to go alongside my gardening blog). And most probably a drawing blog too.

Posted by: Jenny | Monday, 12 September 2011

Why I love my Kindle … but not exclusively

Recently I followed a link on Twitter, to read a blog post entitled “Why I hate my Kindle”. What I’ve observed is that people seem to have extreme views about Amazon’s e-reader: they either love or hate it.

Well, to begin with, I prefer not to call it ‘my Kindle’. It’s only a bit of technology. I don’t get passionate about MY washing machine. But I find that life with Kindle is quite as agreeable as life without this device, and perhaps more so.

The washing machine analogy only goes so far. I can and do read books, magazines, newspapers, letters, e-mails, online content and anything else that is written and which captures my interest. Some of it is in electronic format, and much of it is not. Whereas, although I know how to live without a washing machine, I prefer not to. Sometimes I choose to do laundry by hand, and I almost always allow my laundry to air-dry, but life without a washing-machine holds little appeal for me. Kindle, on the other hand, is a technology that I could live without.

Nevertheless, here are some reasons that I like Kindle:
(1) It is light to carry around and light to hold when reading;
(2) Unlike reading on a screen, it does not strain my eyes to read, especially in bright light;
(3) I love to be able to carry round with me a choice of reading material, so that I can for instance lay aside the novel I am in the middle of and pick up a short story, even one from a large collection that would be too heavy to carry around (such as the excellent stories of William Trevor);
(4) No longer must I grapple with ridiculously heavy luggage. Or if I do, it’s shoes rather than books making up the weight.

Some things I don’t like about Kindle:
(1) I can’t download foreign-language publications from Amazon, even when they exist;
(2) Though classics such as the novels of Dickens are readily available in free and paid versions, many important books from the 20th century are not available at all. How absurd is it that you can’t read ‘To kill a mockingbird’ in a Kindle version. Some enterprising folks have tried to redress this and if you hunt around, you can find electronic versions of many books – but some of these are deeply unsatisfactory.

With the abundance of free titles available (and ‘almost free’ ones that give you a cleaner text and table of contents for a dollar), I have set myself the challenge of reading one such title for every full price or new book that I download. Furthering my education by reading or rereading some wonderful 19th-century novels is an exhilarating experience.

I could go on – but I’ve got a book to read!

Posted by: Jenny | Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Stanton in the Cotswolds

IMG_3090 by M and J Lockwood
IMG_3090, a photo by M and J Lockwood on Flickr.

Memories of a lovely walk with friends from Stanway to Stanton in August. More photos here:

We also visited Bourton House Garden, well worth a visit at this time of year for its delightful displays of late summer colour:

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