watercolour morning

The idea of paintings and pictures as windows and doors into other worlds is fairly common in literature.

From MR James’ The Mezzotint to Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, pictures reveal secrets that are hidden from the real world; from Princess Rosamund in George MacDonald’s The Lost Princess to Edmund and Lucy Pevensie and their cousin Eustace Scrubb in CS Lewis’ The Dawn Treader, children step – or tumble – through into other worlds and places.
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hazy memories

According to Google, today is the 971st anniversary of the birth of Omar Khayyam, Persian mathematician, astronomer, and poet. It seems slightly strange to me that we would know the exact date of birth of someone born nearly 1000 years ago, and I wonder how eastern and western calendar differences and the change from the Julian to Gregorian calendar affect things.

But even if there were good reason to doubt the accuracy of the date, I have no objections to celebrating Khayaam; I may not be able to read the original, but I’ve loved Fitzgerald’s translation of the Rubaiyat since I first came across it.
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of words and wild swans

Open mike nights are a chance to discover the words of other poets, writers and musicians and I usually sit with notebook and pen ready to jot down the ideas and phrases that appeal most, that capture my imagination or that challenge me to think more.

Last night I was a reader at a fund-raising event where the theme was homelessness. One of the phrases I wrote down was from local poet John Turner: “How to compare spring flower to crack den?” It’s a question that challenged me as it relates to why I wimped out of writing new and socially relevant poems for the event, instead reaching into my files, which overflow with spring flowers and poetry of place, to create a set based around the ideas of home, belonging and alienation.
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dirty habits

When I left the house in Spain, I had to pack up all my books and put them in storage. I don’t know how many there were but, around twenty years earlier, fifteen boxfuls had followed me from the UK to Madrid. I’ve never been one for reading and abandoning a book, so in the intervening period the number may well have doubled. Perhaps one day I’ll be re-united with them.

Since arriving back in the UK, I’ve tried to be reasonable about acquiring more as I simply don’t have the space. But for some reason, I like to own what I have read and my few bookcases are full to capacity.
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train of thought

Trains were a major feature of my childhood. I don’t know how many times I’d actually been on a train before my first birthday, but I do know that I had already travelled from the south east of England all the way to the Highlands, a journey that, even today, would be likely to take the best part of a day.

Even when we returned to live in the south a few years later we didn’t own a car so my father commuted to London by train and underground each day, and any holiday we took tended to feature traditional black cabs and card games played in waiting rooms at railway junctions.
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distracted by details

Sometimes it seems that my work involves so much talking and so many emails that I run out of words and need to top up the supply by reading. At such times I revert to my childhood habit of reading indiscriminately and almost compulsively.

My tastes in fiction are fairly catholic and it’s definitely a question of quantity not quality for these binges: I don’t really care what the genre is, I just want words and more words.
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naming memories

On a visit to south Wales this week, when I stepped outside the back door, I found the iridescent creature pictured above sunning itself on the rosemary bush. Without doubt, it was one of the most eye-catching beetles I’ve ever seen.

I don’t claim to recognise all the insect life of the UK, but I was surprised just how unfamiliar this one seemed: I was pretty sure that even if my Observer’s Book of Common Insects and Spiders were not stuffed in a box at the back of a storage locker somewhere in rural Spain, it would not help me to identify it.
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