I love the way they sit

Norman MacCaig: three, yes, three poems about frogs and toads from his collection One of the Many Days

Just Because I love frogs too; because toadstones; because the toad under the door reminds me of Roger Deakin’s house*; because my husband is having a passing fad for the word sprawling and keeps using it in all the wrong places and -pop- here it is, legitimately, in a poem.

Frogs

Frogs sit more solid/ than anything sits. In mid-leap they are/ parachutists falling / in a free fall. They die on roads/ with arms across their chests and/ heads high. 

I love frogs that sit / like Buddha, that fall without / parachutes, that die / like Italian tenors.

Above all, I love them because, / pursued in water, they never / panic so much that they fail / to make stylish triangles / with their ballet dancer’s / legs.

Toad 

Stop looking like a purse. How could a purse squeeze under the rickety door and sit, full of satisfaction, in a man’s house?

You clamber towards me on your four corners – right hand, left foot, left hand, right foot. 

I love you for being a toad, for crawling like a Japanese wrestler, and for not being frightened. 

I put you in my purse hand, not shutting it, and set you down outside directly under every star.

A jewel in your head? Toad, you’ve put one in mine, a tiny radiance in a dark place. 

My last word on frogs 

People have said to me, You seem to like frogs. /They keep jumping into your poems. 

I do. I love the way they sit,/ compact as a cat and as indifferent/ to everything but style, like a lady remembering /to keep her knees together. And I love /the elegant way they jump and /the inelegant way they land. /So human. 

I feel so close to them/ I must be froggish myself./ I look in the mirror expecting to see /a fairytale Prince. /But no. It’s just sprawling me, /croaking away /and swivelling my eyes around/ for the stealthy heron and his stabbing beak.

*Roger Deakin’s ancient moated Suffolk farmhouse sounds like a dream, you can read all about it in Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and Wildwood and see Justin Partyka’s photos here. In chapter 15 of Waterlog he remarks on “the garden toads that often stray into the kitchen… When i pick them up to carry them back to the vegetable garden, where they are supposed to be on pest control duty, some go quietly without a murmur, but with others there is an unseemly struggle as they try to escape, and they perfume my hands with the slightly noxious imitation venom that is supposed to make you drop them in disgust.”

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Centro Botín 

270,000 ceramic buttons. 

Take me to your leader.

There isn’t any other stair quite like it. 




Sitting on the dock of the bay 

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First lines

“May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst.”
These are the first lines of The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. I was reading them aloud to my daughter on the beach yesterday (she was annoyed that I’d brought a book and she hadn’t). We got as far as Sophie Mol’s funeral. It was spellbinding. I’m sure that when I failed to finish the book twenty years ago, I must’ve been blind to this, but on reading aloud, all the details sparkled.

More first lines best read aloud:

“When shall we three meet again?    In thunder, lightning, or in rain?” 

“It had been like dying, that sliding down the mountain pass. It had been like the death of someone, irrational, that sliding down the mountain pass and into the region of dread.” 

“Rose Pickles knew something bad was going to happen. Something really bad, this time.” 

2     It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs Shears’ house. Its eyes were closed.” 

“I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.”

You can try and guess which books they’re from, if you like, or just savour them for themselves. I particularly enjoy the effect of unexpected frankness when reading aloud ; also of repetition, sometimes unnoticed on silent reading, which really asserts itself.

Now here are some first lines from favourites I could never imagine reading aloud. 

“By dawn at least half the members of the Kelly gang were badly wounded and it was then the creature appeared from behind police lines.”

“She stands up in the garden where she has been working and looks into the distance.” 


“Under certain circumstances there are few hours in life more agreeable than the hour dedicated to the ceremony known as afternoon tea.” 

“In these times of ours, though concerning the exact year there is no need to be precise, a boat of dirty and disreputable appearance, with two figures in it, floated on the Thames, between Southwark Bridge, which is of iron, and London Bridge, which is of stone, as an autumn evening was closing in.”

Typing that last one of Dickens sets me wondering Why “which is of iron…which is of stone”? Is it a rowing rhythm? An old rhyme? Paid by the word? It’s suitably insinuating ; I don’t imagine anyone who’s ever read the first chapter of Our Mutual Friend can ever be by the Thames at night, Shard or no Shard, and not have the scene come to mind, Lizzie and her father in the “slime and ooze” “doing something that they often did…seeking what they often sought”. 

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Friends with Radiohead 

It was the night before my 30-year school reunion. I should’ve been on WhatsApp excitedly swapping stories with old friends I haven’t seen for more than a quarter of a century – but I decided to go to Glastonbury to see Radiohead instead. 
Well…obviously…I wasn’t – actually – at – G l a s t o n b u r y…more…on my sofa in front of BBC2, but, as Thom Yorke spun his spells, it surely began to feel like I was there.

Bewitched.

A set-list to blow your socks off. NUDE, WEIRD FISHES, AIRBAG. At one point bowing guitar like a cello. Even speaking between songs shock. I think the band have been together about 30 years. I’m not a natural “fan” of anything (too fickle ?) but I come close with Radiohead. Our thing began with my first ever hearing of Creep very loud at 2am at a Belgian music festival. Honestly,  I thought I was imagining it, it seemed so close to me. What is this! I love this! These are my people!

My sister later gave me a cassette of The Bends. Nobody could resist OK Computer (… fitter, happier, more productive…). We lost touch for a while but rekindled things when I picked up In Rainbows (at least a decade after its release, but, to my middle-aged ears, fresh as a daisy). I bought last year’s A MoonShaped Pool the moment it came out. Does that make me a fan, now, then? – Nah! I prefer to think of Radiohead as my good old friends.

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Linen 

Last year in a textiles exhibit at the local museum I got to see a bit about the tools and tough manual labour that went into the manufacture of linen. Until recently, everyone wore linen undergarments next to the skin, under a hard-wearing outer clothing of felted wool. No doubt there are some very good reasons why this mode of dressing has been abandoned – I wonder did cotton take over because it was cheaper or more comfortable. The underlayer was seldom washed, the outer layer almost never. Take that! A+++ washing machine. 
These polka dots are not regular. 

The best fabric store in the world is having a closing down sale.

I have three metres of a Chinese calligrapher gone mad. I have no idea what to do with it.

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Haberdashery II

The haberdashery adventure continues with some ribbon for another Japanese pattern. 


When I use Googletranslate it tells me to “insert the race on the frogs at the end” which, I have deduced means “put lace on cuffs”. For another pattern with a peasant-girl neck I have chosen some quiet ribbon for threading through. Three colours of Gütermann thread (because my teacher insists on it – and she knows).

 You should’ve seen the temptation of fripperies and folderolderies I had to resist to bring this home from a haberdashery shop that eschews the creamy good taste of the Botón de Oro, and instead seems ready to cater to Miss World Louis XIV Liberace drag queen flamenco wannabees.

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In Real Time

Victoria begins its 138 minutes at about 4am in a Berlin club with Victoria dancing. 

When it ends at 6:18am you haven’t left her side, not once, not even for a moment. 

All you need to know about this film is SEE IT. Don’t read a plot summary before you go – just let it happen. It’s a belter. 

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