Sunday, February 28, 2010

This is what really happens

Maybe it's that deep marine blue on the living room wall. A house in Minneapolis, Minnesota, from Apartment Therapy.


The following, imperfectly remembered, is the poem that appeared in my English "A" Level exam paper in 1987, in my favourite part of the exam: the "unseen poem". In past papers, it had been a 16th century or Romantic poet; so I was delighted to find something as contemporary as this and committed it to memory there and then during the exam. I sat my exam alone, at formidable Miss Kiniger's austere Marchmont house, being the only person in my year taking English "A" Level - this had meant the rare luxury of one-to-one tutoring. I have never seen the poem since, nor have I been able to find it on the internet, so this is all I have of it. Miss Kiniger brought me a cup of strong sweet tea.

A lacy mobile changing lazily
Its animals, unstable faces, until
I imagine an angel, its vapours trailing
Asleep at different speeds. My failing:
To see images, clouds as something other.

Are all inspirations correspondences?
I want to be theological, stare through
Raw white angel fabric at holy bits of blue.

And truly, if one shining angel existed
What better than the camouflage of a cloud?
Machinery of cloud and angel, both are silent
Both insubstantial. Neither violent.

Let sunlight fade on walls and a huge blind
Be drawn faster than a horse across this field.
There's deranged wind up there. God, its power!
Let me believe in angels for an hour.

An angel drifts to the east, its edges burning;
Sunny sunlight on stony stone returning.

Al Alvarez

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Death from above

From one loathsome insect to another: I'm back in Hong Kong, where it's so damp and humid that the floor tiles in my housing block are wet and the walls beside the lift are running with water. I opened the front door on my return from work on Tuesday and immediately caught sight, through the open bathroom door, of a large, fat, brown cockroach sitting, as BOLD AS BRASS (bold caps to illustrate the horror, though mere typography is not equal to the task), plum on top of the soap on the bathroom sink.

I raced around trying to find a weapon with which to do battle and in a panic grabbed the bottle of Ecover washing up liquid and aimed a thick gout at the beast. Instead of doing the decent thing and passing out in a pool of liquid, it had the temerity to stagger to the edge of the sink before sliding slowly and horrifyingly down the pedestal, its tentacles still waving insolently. All reason gone, I battered it repeatedly with the base of a bottle of suntan lotion until it was long past dead.

Do I need to explain that I can't stand cockroaches? I had one in my hair once, during a dragonboat sinking drama round the back of Middle Island; it had flown from the island and alighted (to catch its rasping little breath) on an attractive looking, smallish bobbing island which turned out to be my head. In a fugue state brought on by terror, I smacked it to death with my dragon boat paddle. Since then my hatred and fear has known no bounds.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hungry ghosts

I inherited from my mum a tendency to react badly to insect bites. A famous family photo shows my mum with her eyes swollen shut and face a puffy mass after a bite from a horsefly. Insanely itchy, raised red welts can materialise from the smallest bite.

I'm in Sydney, where it has been raining; it's warm, and damp, and these are perfectly agreeable conditions for mosquitoes. At night I have to swaddle myself in a sheet, trying not to expose my body to the voracious beasties. The tiny whine of the divebomber still seeks me out and as soon as I'm asleep, and vulnerable, the mosquito fun park is open for business.

I awoke this morning with an absurdly swollen top lip, looking as though my cosmetic surgery had gone wrong: a Paris Pout caused by a kiss from a mosquito. There were bites on my ankles, neck and shoulders too. Stepping from the shower I saw a beastie on the mirror: slow, fat, drunk with success, it made no move to escape as I splattered it on the glass - no quarter given, nor expected - and watched with repulsion as a huge bubble of stolen blood pulsed out from its body.

Now I know how it feels to kill in cold blood - my blood.

Friday, February 12, 2010

McQueen is dead

Alexander McQueen (16 March 1969 – 11 February 2010). A designer of genius, and a man who once wrote "I am a c*nt" in the lining of a suit intended for Prince Charles. Both pictures, above, are from his last, deep sea monster-themed show at Paris Fashion Week in 2009.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

The art of seeing

Disparate connections: a few years ago, in the National Portrait Gallery in London, I saw some amazing portraits by Don Bachardy, including one of Aldous Huxley accompanied by a quote from Bachardy's partner, Christopher Isherwood, which I was very taken with:

"How kind, how shy he is - searching painfully through the darkness of this world's ignorance with his blind, mild, deep-sea eye. He has a pained, bewildered smile of despair at all human activity. 'It's inconceivable,' he repeatedly begins, 'how anyone in their senses could possibly imagine...' But they do imagine - and Aldous is very, very sorry." (Diaries, 1939)

I saw a clip today on the BBC website of a giant oarfish (excitedly described as a "giant bizarre deep sea fish"). The oarfish lives at depths of up to 1,000 metres and can grow to 17 metres in length. Sightings of "sea serpents" originated in Norse mythology but are believed more likely to have been encounters with varieties of oarfish, including the majestic "King of Herrings", the world's longest bony fish. Even after the sharks have gone, the oarfish is likely to remain safe in its solitary depths - Wikipedia thoughtfully describes oarfish flesh as "not well regarded due to its gelatinous consistency".

Huxley died on the same day as JFK and C.S. Lewis - November 22, 1963.

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Let's do the time warp again

Beautiful, frivolous, Mihara shoes from Pl├╝mo. To be worn with a structured 1940s style dress from Alexander McQueen or Roland Mouret (in that order, below, both from Net-a-Porter).