Monday, 14 May 2007

Margaret Ogilvy by Her Son, J.M. Barrie

This little book, picked up in a local second-hand bookshop, is Barrie's adulatory account of his mother's life and his relationship with her, published after her death in 1896. It's a fairly maudlin read, but tells us much about Barrie's early emotional life. J. M. Barrie was born in the village of Kirriemuir, in Forfarshire (now Angus), the son of a handloom weaver. His mother, Margaret Ogilvy was the daughter of a stonemason. The couple had ten children, of whom Barrie was the ninth. Jamie, as he was called, heard tales of pirates from his mother, who read her children adventure stories in the evenings. Barrie's father Barrie rarely makes any appearance in his autobiographical works, and in this book is only mentioned at the very end.

Before her marriage, Margaret Ogilvy belonged to a religious sect called the Auld Lichts, or Old Lights, and many of the stories concerning it inspired Barrie's later work. When Barrie was seven, his brother David died in a skating accident. David had been the mother's favourite child, and his death plunged her into the depression from which she never fully recovered. Apparently, her only comfort was in the thought that David would never grow up and leave her and it is suggested by some that this thinking may have inspired Barrie's creation of Peter Pan, the boy who never grew up. Barrie tried to comfort his mother and gain her affection by dressing up in the dead boy's clothes, but for a period after David's death she took little interest in him or anything else.
This book memorialises the obsessive relationship which over time grew up between them, a relationship which remained a strong influence throughout Barrie's life.

Being Blonde

This is posted by special request of one who doubts my blondness! This is me with my maternal grandfather in 1939, in the garden of 32, Burnell Avenue, Welling, Kent.

Friday, 11 May 2007

A Secret Place

A small corner of West Cumbria is a secret wilderness. At a guess, it's no more than about ten square acres of woodland lying between the villages of Broughton Moor in the north and Flimby in the south. Despite being bounded on two sides by villages from which there is easy access, very few people seem to use it and you can go there most times of day and never meet a soul, except, maybe, the odd dog-walker. The woodland belongs to the Lowther Estate, based in Penrith, and until a couple of years ago little notice appeared to have been taken of it for years. What remained of the old paths were wildly overgrown and the plantings of conifers had become dense and impenetrable. A recent programme of clearing and felling has left tracts of open land, encouraging the growth of many plants which appreciate a little more light.
An early morning walk in Flimby Woods on a fine early summer morning is a glimpse of all that is most wonderful - and threatened - in the English countryside. The wood is a haven to many woodland plants, to red squirrels and deer. But this idyllic scene has a secret: here be ghosts. For hundreds of years, this woodland was part of the great mining area of the West Cumbria coast, with big centres at Maryport, Workington and Maryport. The relics and ruins of its undustrial past are all around:the great blackened walls of the engine house which once pulled rail trucks up and down to the coastal depot; the mine-shafts, only recently fenced in; the little gravel quarries which provided the gravel for the rail tracks.

Flimby Woods hold twenty years-worth of memories for me: Bruno the yellow labrador flinging himself into every muddy pond and pool, including the big one still known as 'Bruie's Pool'; the Springer spaniels racing through the undergrowth in pursuit of rabbits - or anything that moved; Charlie, the elder Springer, wagging frantically as he proudly 'retrieved' a duck's egg, carried so gently in his mouth - then dropping it; the German pointer, Hunter, pointing out to me, very quietly and discreetly, the baby owl trapped by a wing in some undergrowth and needing rescue; Hunter pulling me over on an icy Christmas morning when I broke my wrist and was lucky to be rescued by a fellow-dog-walker; looking for primroses every spring in remote places.

The pictures show the woods on 9th May 2007. Sam is the latest in a long line of dogs enjoying the freedom and fun of a little wilderness - as do I.

Sunday, 6 May 2007

Taking Life Easy

Sam couchant on a clump of Campanula portenschlagiana. It's a stury plant, which happily spreads and self-seeds; it'll have cerulean blue flowers soon - IF we can get a look at them!

The Brown House Garden, May Day 2007

Gravelled paths make a winding walk between raised beds bounded by low sandstone walls. There are few brightly-coloured flowers in The Brown House Garden, although in June some of the roses will make quite a show. There are only 'old' roses - i.e. those dating from before about 1920. They are usually not long-lasting, and flower only once, but their beauty and scent far outweigh these disavantages.
The picture on the right shows the bright chrome-yellow heads of Euphorbia polychroma, which is quite unusually brilliant in the context of this garden. Behind it is a clump of almost black-flowered hellebores which until last week, when the hellebores faded, made the most remarkable colour combination. Mostly, it's the contrast between multifarious greens and the variety of textures and shapes which make the biggest impact in this small walled garden.

Saturday, 5 May 2007

The Re-enchantment of Art

Suzi Gablik's book Has Modernism Failed (1984) described an enervated contemporary art scene. She depicted the post-modernist art world as one in which the revolutionary impetus of modern art had degenerated into a market-driven form of parody and calculated indifference.
In The Re-Enchantment of Art (1991) she puts forward the more optimistic idea that there is indeed hope for the future, but it depends on the spiritual and ethical renewal of our culture, including 'a revitalized sense of community, an enlarged ecological perspective, and greater access to the mythic and archetypal underpinnings of spiritual life. '
Re-reading this in 2007, one has to wonder how much progress has been made towards this 'spiritual and ethical renewal of our culture.'