Category: reflection

thing 19: ‘…but thinking makes it so’: wall talk

“This is a magnificent piece of walling which shows off the expertise of the men who built them. Note that the wall has horizontal courses, while the top stones slope with the hill and are built with the wall rather than simply sitting on top. There is a strong wall end above the gorge”. Well, who knew? She who hath eyes to see, and all that.

The wall thus celebrated features in a walk round Coniston and the Old Man, given in a booklet produced by the Cumbria Dry Stone Walling Association (from which that description is taken). My friend Jenny suggested (more…)

thing 18: ‘kissing the joy as it flies’: a bluebell wood

Like Bach, wild swimming and my sister’s home-made blue cheese and mushroom pizza, spring soon exhausts my superlatives, so I’ll simply go with Hopkins and say that ‘Nothing is so beautiful as spring’. On a day like this, who could possibly disagree?

I discovered this tiny nature reserve only last year—a friend recommended it—and by the time I got there the bluebells were already on the wane. Ever since, I’d been looking forward to this spring and (more…)

thing 17: a long weekend, part (ii): ‘out over our own fathoms’: Charney Manor

‘Think it possible that you may be mistaken’. This is the final sentence of number 17 of the Quaker Advices and queries (a key text in Quakerism). Is there anyone, anywhere, any time (pass the Martini!) who couldn’t benefit from sitting with that idea for a while?

Here I was, arriving from Oxford at Didcot Parkway on the way to a Quaker Enquirers’ course at the splendidly-named Charney Manor. I was emotionally exhausted after the morning’s encounter with lost youth, and physically exhausted after having a run (flatter than Kendal, but muddier also), wandering round town for miles, and lugging a large backpack whose hipbelt, I discovered too late, was no longer operational. And friends, there’s a lot of train stuff at Didcot Parkway. I mean, a LOT. What with that, and (more…)

thing 17: a long weekend, part (i): ‘the days of wine and roses’: Oxford

‘They are not long, the days of wine and roses.’* This is, unfortunately, true. The hours of wine and rowdies, however, can feel very long indeed. Welcome to Coach A, the Quiet Zone.

I was sharing the carriage with approximately 743 On-Train Revellers—memory may have distorted this slightly—and was feeling hot-flushy, claustrophobic and overwhelmed. All the usual signs were there: a commitment to noise and Having A Good Time, standing in the aisle, heavy daytime drinking coz-we’re-on-holiday, a lot of very loud laughing (often with a (more…)

‘vitae summa brevis spem nos vetat incohare longam’, Ernest Dowson

‘The brief sum of life forbids us the hope of enduring long’ or ‘the shortness of life forbids us long hopes’ —Horace

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Although this poem is about a great deal more than lost youth, still, the opening of stanza two is what was running round and round in my head while I was in Oxford, and when I contemplated my time there afterwards. For me, the lines chimed with a melancholy note; but I can equally see that there can be some comfort—if perhaps a coolish comfort!—in its reminder that everything passes. I love how that “everything” is so economically and powerfully evoked in the poem’s images: ‘the weeping and the laughter/ Love and desire and hate’, ‘the days of wine and roses’. However this poem hits you—and I think that can vary from moment to moment as well as from person to person—there is a plangent beauty in this brief, apparently-simple poem which makes it one to return to, whatever your current mood.