inside, outside, shake it all about
Equal to the most luxurious velvet nest fashioned to cosset a priceless Fabergé jewel-encrusted golden egg is…the broad bean pod….shiny green, voluptuously resisting those hordes of little black flies, it plumps up, waiting to be picked. Run your thumb down the seam. Open it. Inside the softest white velvet lining gently cradles 5 or 6 sweet juicy green seeds. It’s a miracle, an everyday wonder. Mother Nature’s precious veg.
As I drove to Oxford the wind grew wilder; the trees outside swayed and rolled as the gales buffeted them, the leaves showed their pale reverses whooshed unnaturally back on themselves like the streaming hair of a speeding athlete; the huge cedar spreading across the A44 made strange horizontal waves in the ruthless current. It seemed impossible for them all to stay rooted. I thought of Thomas Hardy’s opening chapter of Under The Greenwood Tree:
To dwellers in a wood almost every species of tree has its voice as well as its feature. At the passing of the breeze the fir-trees sob and moan no less distinctly than they rock; the holly whistles as it battles with itself; the ash hisses amid its quiverings; the beech rustles while its flat boughs rise and fall. And winter, which modifies the note of such trees as shed their leaves, does not destroy its individuality.
Safely at my destination little jugs and pots of bright hot-pink roses, blue blue cornflowers and acid green alchemilla dotted across the kitchen table – the sweet rescued casualties of the weather.
But all was quiet and benign a few days later visiting the garden at Vann in Surrey. Against the verticals of soft red brick, grey cedar shingles, kind stone, weathered clay tiles it’s full of magic and surprise; both organised and relaxed, formal and wild – in no way a bossy know-it-all place. The dark voluminous hedges enclose and separate and beckon; I think a favourite has to be the giant armchair arrangement, dwarfing/enclosing a Lutyens bench, accompanied nearby by a couple of playful whiskery topiarised kittens. Abundant rills and ditches feed into the watery woodland where we saw a pair iridescent indigo-winged damsel flies shimmering in the sun.
Leaves and creatures have been growing on my desk too, but of a more tropic and fantastical nature.
If you can, visit the British Museum and look at the prints in Picasso’s Vollard Suite. This series of a hundred etchings commissioned by Ambroise Vollard was begun in 1930 and completed in ’37; the printing was completed in ’39 just as the latter died. What drawing! What intensity etched into those modest plates – erotic, tender, passionate – how moving the slightest of lines can be in his hands.
. A different drama was played out on the stage of the Olivier Theatre – the tragedy of Antigone by Sophocles. Updated from its first appearance two and a half thousand years ago, it concerns us with the conflict between morality and power – the personal and the political – an everlasting issue.
On a more light-hearted note – there’s a lot of summer fun to be had all along London’s South Bank where huge international flags flap over gardens, hillocks, beaches and what look like giant ant-heaps inviting play and pleasure – settings for events of all sorts for everyone – The Festival of the World. Sitting in the Royal Festival Hall working on the book text (watch this space…) the wonderful JCB musical lift – listen here – was rising and falling nearby; it’s a mini moving concert in itself. The doors opened: suddenly, for a moment, we glimpsed a little sparkling troupe laughing, singing and dancing inside. Then the doors enclosed them again and up they went.