Friday, 19 December 2014

Yarn Swapping

From the 1964 “Pilot” magazine, an unusually charming and whimsical piece by G.R. Balleine. Most known for his historical interests, this little curiosity reveals quite another side of the man, warm and humorous – and I would not mind betting that the “clergyman” of the final story was G.R. Balleine himself.

Yarn Swapping
By G.R. Balleine

Picture a hotel lounge full of holiday folk. They have had a strenuous day. They have eaten a good dinner. They have gathered in the lounge to listen to the news. They are comfortable and disinclined to move.

A blood-curdling shriek from outside spoke of a cat on the war-path. Somebody quoted: "My sister had a Thomas-cat that warbled like Caruso. A neighbour threw a cricket bat, and now it doesn't do so." This set them off repeating silly rhymes. They made quite a collection of parodies of Mary and her little Lamb :

"Mary had a little lamb.
Its feet were black as soot;
and into Mary's bread and milk
its sooty foot it put."

"Mary had a little lamb.
Her father killed it dead;
and now it goes to school with her
between two chunks of bread".

"Mary had a little lamb,
which she washed in kerosine.
One day it got too near the fire.
Since then it's not benzine."

"Mary had a wad of gum.
She chewed it long and slow.
And everywhere that Mary went,
that wad was sure to go.

She carried it to school one day.
That was against the rule.
So teacher took the gum away,
and chewed it after school."

And so on, each variation getting further and further from the original.

A husband and wife were present, who ragged one another unmercifully. He accused her of thinking more of her dog than of him. And she gently replied, "Well, dear, he growls less." He retorted by telling how, when their little daughter was saying her prayers, her mother suggested, "As Daddy is away, you might say, `Please watch over Daddy'." "Please watch over Daddy," she lisped, "and, since Mummie is all alone, please keep an eye on her too."

Someone told of a little girl, who had been so naughty that her father had sent her to her bedroom. When her mother later came to tell her that she might come down to tea, she found her writing a letter. I hope you are writing to Daddy to tell him you're sorry," she said. "No," the sweet young thing replied, "I'm writing to the Archbishop of Canterbury to see if I can get a divorce from both of you."

Then the men started telling stories about wives. One told how the head of a college addressed the students who had finished their course : "Many of you will marry. Be patient with your wives. Don't worry, if your wife isn't ready at the appointed time. Have a good book handy, and read it while you wait. I assure you that you will be amazed at the amount of information you will be able to acquire."

Another spoke of Mrs. Macdougal, who looks on the dark side of things. Her husband had a slight touch of influenza, and the doctor sent him to bed, and told his wife to cheer him up. She sat by his bedside wrapped in thought. "Janet, girl," said her husband, "what are you thinking about?" "I'm wondering," she said, "however we'll get your coffin down yon awkward stair."

A lady then began to illustrate the deceitfulness of men. A worried looking man in a florist's shop was asking for some potted geraniums. "I'm sorry," said the girl, "we're out of geraniums, but we've got some nice potted chrysanthemums." "They're no good," said the man, "I promised my wife I'd water her geraniums while she was away."

The clergyman in the corner sat puffing his pipe, and they challenged him to tell them some amusing experience of his own. "Well, the other night," he said, "I was called out of bed to visit a sick man. After giving what comfort I could, I said to the wife, `You don't come to my church, do you?' `Oh no, Sir, we're Baptists.' `Then why didn't you send for your own Minister?' `Oh, we couldn't let our Mr. Brown risk it, for the doctor says this fever's terribly catching.' "

But, if I go on like this, people will begin to say that the sober pages of The Pilot are getting frivolous. And that will never do, will it?

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Jersey and the Cyber Planner

“Jersey campaigners are gaining momentum against controversial plans for a maritime hub and 18 apartments on the harbour in St Helier. The thousands of Islanders petitioning to stop the Port Galot plans are hoping People-Power will win the day. But the Planning Minister says the development will be assessed on its merits and shouldn't become an emotive issue.” (1)

Are merits and emotive issues exclusive? Certainly when the States were deciding on funding for the National Trust to buy Plemont, the arguments were very emotive. And why shouldn’t an objection both be well-founded and emotive.

I’ve been looking through the objections, and while factual issues – road safety, lack of parking, density and scale of buildings also occur, the aesthetic merits of something over-large and out of scale with the area have also been put forward.

Now aesthetic considerations are often emotive, or at least, involve emotions. How we respond to a beautiful coastline, or a coastline marred by large ugly buildings (as at Portelet) is always going to be in part an emotive response. Not wholly so, because in seeing the bigger picture, something large which stands out will unbalance the architecture that is already in place. But even that, the way the old harbour has charm, is an emotive matter. We are human beings; we have an emotional reaction to beauty, and we can see when something does not fit.

Of course, there are also artists like Francis Bacon, who buck the trend, and present paintings of unmitigated ugliness. They want to reflect life, and they see life as, by and large, unpleasant and ugly. But they are themselves reacting against an aesthetic which prizes beauty – they do not say that their own paintings are items of beauty and a joy forever.

When it comes to architecture, the aesthetic is harder to judge. I personally tend to like buildings that fit well with their surroundings. In a London milieu, the art deco style of the block of flats seen in the TV series “Poirot” are right for their locale. Placed on Plemont, they clearly would be out of place. So my own aesthetic judgement does not see architecture in term of universals, but in terms of situations.

But however one judges architecture, any judgement on scale, for example, is at heart, an emotional judgement. There are no hard and fast rules. And so the Planning Minister really shouldn’t come out with such false dichotomies.

To suppress emotions, or to try and put them on one side, is really as much a fable: we cannot exclude the aesthetic from planning decisions. We are not machines, following rules mindlessly.

In “Doctor Who”, the monsters who do this are the Cybermen, who have suppressed emotions, and are often guided by a Cyberplanner. And there is something very monstrous about them precisely because they have lost touch with what is important in humanity by turning themselves into logical machines who regard emotions as weakness.

Like G.K. Chesterton, I’m a great believer in the “horse sense” of the common man and woman. The fact that thousands of Islanders have lodged objections is worthy of consideration, and to brush it to one side (as the CTV report suggests) displays a degree of contempt for those people and their own aesthetic judgements.


Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Lost Hearts

Words are inadequate, what can one say about the tragic events in Pakistan? But something must be said, however weak the vessel those words are.

Lost Hearts

I hear a wailing cry of those who mourn
The children’s bodies, torn, bloody, dead
We weep, for what frail words can be said
Light a candle, for families so forlorn

Lives so shortened, promises stillborn
Madmen came, and hope they bled
I hear a wailing cry of those who mourn
The children’s bodies, torn, bloody, dead

Going into dark places, the final bourn
Ariadne weeps at her broken thread
A time of shock, a time of dread
On the coffins, flowers, the dead adorn
I hear a wailing cry of those who mourn

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Geological report on the Faldouet Dolmen

Today's piece is from a trawl through the archives. It is an article by Dr Arthur Mourant, published in 1932. It is a companion piece to that on the archaeology and history of the dolmen published by Major Rybot, which you can read here.

Rocks - Some Notes on Terminology.

A few notes on the geological terms used by Dr Mourant

The term 'granite' applies to a group of intrusive igneous rocks with similar textures and slight variations on composition and origin. These rocks mainly consist of feldspar, quartz, mica, Intrusive rocks are where magma gradually pushes up from deep within the earth into cracks or spaces or pushing existing rocks aside. Because it forms deep underground, these rocks are often known as plutonic rocks, after Pluto, the god of the underworld.

As the rock slowly cools into a solid, the different parts of the magma crystallize into minerals. Granites can be predominantly white, pink, or gray in color, depending on their mineralogy. Mica is the black in granite, feldspar the pink, and quartz the white.

A granitic rock with a porphyritic texture is known as a granite porphyry. Porphyritic is an adjective used in geology, specifically for igneous rocks, for a rock that has a distinct difference in the size of the crystals, with at least one group of crystals obviously larger than another group. Some of the rocks at Faldouet dolmen are of this type.

The extrusive igneous rock equivalent of granite is rhyolite, which Dr Mourant also notes as present at Faldouet and the surrounding coastline.

Rhyolite can be considered as the extrusive equivalent to the plutonic granite rock, and consequently, outcrops of rhyolite may bear a resemblance to granite. Due to their high content of silica and low iron and magnesium contents, rhyolite melts are highly polymerized and form highly viscous lavas

Extrusive refers to the mode of igneous volcanic rock formation in which hot magma from inside the Earth flows out (extrudes) onto the surface as lava or explodes violently into the atmosphere to fall back as pyroclastics. This is as opposed to intrusive rock formation such as granite, in which magma does not reach the surface.

Porphyritic rocks are formed when a column of rising magma is cooled in two stages. In the first stage, the magma is cooled slowly deep in the crust, creating the large crystal grains, with a diameter of 2 mm or more. In the final stage, the magma is cooled rapidly at relatively shallow depth or as it erupts from a volcano, creating small grains that are usually invisible to the unaided eye.

Geological report on the Faldouet Dolmen
By Dr. A. E. Mourant.

The uprights, with four exceptions, are composed of dark red granite of the Mont Orgueil type. There is one upright each of coarse porphyritic granite slightly porphyritic granite (No. 3), granite porphyry (No. 23) and diorite (No. 22),

The cap-stone (No. 52) consists of brecciated non-porphyritic flow-rhyolite.The Mont Orgueil granite is a very well-defined type, only known at Mont Orgueil and on the foreshore for less than half a mile to the south-west. Blocks of this rock now in the Dolmen must have been carried about a quarter of a mile, and raised at least 130 feet.

The nearest known diorite is about a mile south-west of the dolmen, at the edge of the high ground on which it stands. The coarse porphyritic granite probably came from the foreshore, over a mile and a half to the south, and the slightly porphyritic granite from the high ground the same distance away to the south-west. Granite porphyry is known at a number of places a short distance to the south of the dolmen.

The country rock underlying the dolmen and out-cropping near it is rhyolite, but it differs essentially from the materials of the cap-stone in being porphyritic. The nearest outcrop of non-porphyritic rhyolite is a quarter of a mile to the north, almost on a level with the dolmen. It will be seen that, while the lighter uprights were brought uphill, the massive capstone was probably moved along level ground.

Monday, 15 December 2014

The Christmas Visit

Trawling though the archives on an old removable hard drive, I came across this short story, penned by a friend of mine, Rosie Kemp, and it seemed suitable for this season. It was written in 1999, and while most of it is fictional, I can attest that the ghostly element was based on her personal experience at Hurel Farm in Jersey as a young girl.

The Christmas Visit
by Rosie Kemp

Stonylane Farm had been Lucy  Hillwing's home for almost thirteen years now.  She would walk home from school,  making her way past brick cottages,  and there would be the old farmhouse, nestling  between the sycamore tree on one side and the old wash-house on the other.  It's thick strong walls had withstood many storms, had kept the family warm through many a cold winter,  while the tiny windows had seen many Spring days, when the apple trees were full of blossom and the surrounding fields ploughed and planted with early potatoes.

The adjacent outhouses were home to potato barrels, tomato crates, bales of straw along with the two farm cats, Brownie and Mischief. Three large greenhouses on the other side of the yard housed in turn, geraniums of every hue, sweet scented carnations and tomatoes.  The old pig sties  were home to some ageing pigs, since Lucy's father had been too soft hearted to send them to market.

The old house itself, though, had always held her in it's magic spell, and today was no exception.

 Lucy made her way along the lane, the holly bush was heavy with berries, that could mean a cold winter ahead.

"Mum,.Dad!", she called,  her voice echoing through the scullery, "I'm back!"  The ensuing silence meant that they were still out in the fields, probably picking Brussels sprouts, ready for the Christmas rush. Her parents worked hard on the farm, it wasn't always an easy life , but they were happy.  Lucy lit the gas for her cup of tea and went up the three small stairs and along the passage to the front room, where Toby their labrador was lying in front of the fire. "Hello old fellow,  Fifi is coming around later, isn't she?"  The old dog sighed and lowered his head deeper into his paws.

"Yes, I'd tried to forget", she thought, sadly. Fifi and her  owners, Philip and Celia Rockway were coming to see her parents tonight.   

 Mary Hillwing came indoors.  She looked tired from her long day.  "Do you want me to get the tea ready?", Lucy asked her.  She knew that her mother would be as miserable and worried about tonight as she was, but unlike her rather feisty ( and somewhat stubborn!)  daughter she was more accepting of what life threw at her, and seemed to have resigned herself to what she felt was the inevitable.

One thing was for certain, if they didn't get help soon, what was  now a strong possibility would become the inevitable.  She would talk to her old friend who always had a way of easing any of Lucy's worries and cheering her up. Old  Millie had been intimidating  initially but once you got to know her she really was very sweet.   

"That was it, she must talk to Millie as soon as possible".  Meanwhile it was time to prepare tea for them all.

Roy Hillwing, Lucy's father, came in from the yard and washed his face and hands at the stone kitchen sink.  "There'll be a good lot of sprouts to take to the market stall tomorrow", he said ,but Lucy knew that his mind was on other matters, just as hers and her mother's .

The clock struck eight all too soon and there was a knock at the door.  The Rockways had arrived, they gushed their way into the house, you could almost feel the door cringe as they  went through it.  Philip Rockway was a man who was used to getting his own way, he had made up his mind about this house and was ready and able to pay a high price for it.  His manicured wife simpered next to him, no doubt imagining herself idling the time away in one of the luxury flats which her husband planned to build on the site.  Roy Hillwing was beginning to waver. Some fast thinking was called for.

"It's far too late to decide anything tonight,"  Lucy heard herself saying, " Why don't you come for Christmas lunch next week, you can sleep over in the guest room on Christmas Eve. We can give you our decision after the Christmas pudding !"  Her parents looked at her in amazement, they knew how she felt about the Rockways. " Now, if you'll excuse us, my parents are both very tired.."

The week up to Christmas passed all too quickly.  There were so many preparations to make, as well as all the usual work on the farm. Even the impending visit of the Rockways couldn't dampen the Christmas spirit for the Hillwing family though.  Cards thudded onto the doormat, the smell of mince pies wafted from the kitchen and Great-Uncle Ernie turned up with an enormous Christmas tree which reached the ceiling. However, in all of the excitement, Lucy was thinking about Millie.

On the morning of Christmas Eve Lucy still hadn't managed to contact her friend.  Perhaps she had upset her in some way, if only she knew..  She came out of her bedroom and  went into the guest room;  it was all prepared for tonight, fresh bedclothes,  winter flower arrangement, guest soaps and towels.. " Oh Millie, I need your help!" she exclaimed, looking out of the large window to the lane below.

Millie was in her own bedroom, thinking things out.  She felt so old and tired.  Many  changes had occurred over the years, people had come and gone from the area. Some folk had taken an instant dislike to her , they didn't take time to get to know her, not like dear Lucy had.  She sensed that her young friend needed her now.

The Rockways had arrived, in spite of Lucy's desperate wish for a snow storm, punctured tyre, their precious Fifi to go into quarantine - anything, in fact to put off the dreaded decision time.  But there they were, ensconced in the front room, sitting on the sofa, doing their best to exude goodwill to all men.  She almost felt sorry for them, they were like fish out of water.

At 10 o'clock they had both yawned loudly and decided to go up to their room.  It was a relief to Lucy and her parents to have some time to themselves.. Lucy helped her mother to prepare the vegetables for the next day and made some apple and chestnut stuffing for the turkey.  At 11 o'clock, it was time for the candle-lit carol service on BBC 2. 

Celia Rockway was snuggled under her duvet, she had been trying to go to sleep for the last two hours although  her husband had no problems and was snoring soundly next to her.  It was a lovely guest bedroom, she was impressed by Mrs Hillwing's homely touches, but thought that she might have put a heater on in the room as it was so awfully cold..  At least the duvet was warm. Then, Celia felt the end of the bed sink down , " There's a good girl Fifi, come and snuggle on the bed with Mummykins"  She put her hand out to stroke the pampered pooch,  but no warm , furry dog responded, she moved her hand over the bed,  there was nothing there.  Celia sat up and put on the bedside light.  Fifi was nowhere to be seen.  The wooden floorboards creaked and the bedroom door slowly opened...

Celia  sat bolt upright in bed, she tried to speak, but no words came out, just a frightened squeak.

The bedroom door continued to open until she could see out onto the landing.  There was nobody there.


When Mary Hillwing knocked on the guest room door she was met by an exhausted and pale faced Celia, who was already dressed.
Philip Rockway was throwing clothes into a case. "I'm sorry" he said, "we've  had a change of plan. We really ought to be heading back".  The couple looked unusually flustered.

Roy and Mary Hillwing  had never wanted to leave the farm, not for all the money in the world, but they hadn't been able to stand up to the Rockways,  not without some help.

The large car  roared away up the lane. Neither Celia, Philip or even Fifi gave a backward glance.  If they had looked up at the guest room window they would have seen the figure of an old lady smiling down triumphantly at them. Millie turned back into her room, which was the Hillwing's guest room. "I think that my job here is completed now.." she whispered softly to herself, and  gradually faded away.

At Christmas lunch, the Hillwings sat around the dining table.  It was a grand spread, turkey with all the trimmings, crispy roast potatoes and of course, home-grown Brussels sprouts.  The pudding was  lit , the family raised their glasses in a toast. "Merry Christmas !"

  "Thank you, Millie, you gave us the best Christmas we ever had", whispered Lucy.  Her parents looked puzzled. "What's that dear?" they said. " Happy Christmas, here's to the new Millennium, Mum and Dad"


Sunday, 14 December 2014

And so to bed…

And so to bed…
I always end each day with a quote on Facebook. Here are three recent favourites.
And so bed, quote for tonight is from Robert Louis Stevenson:
When I was a boy, Treasure Island was one of the stories that captivated me. The blind beggar, rapping with his stick. The black spot. The hidden treasure. Long John Silver. Ben Gunn. It was one of the best adventure stories I read, full of descriptions and enthusiasms.
But it was not until I became a parent that I came across his "Children's Garden of Verses". Such a different tone, but such genius to capture the soul of childhood. Here is one of my favourites.
The moon has a face like the clock in the hall;
She shines on thieves on the garden wall,
On streets and fields and harbour quays,
And birdies asleep in the forks of the trees.
The squalling cat and the squeaking mouse,
The howling dog by the door of the house,
The bat that lies in bed at noon,
All love to be out by the light of the moon.
But all of the things that belong to the day
Cuddle to sleep to be out of her way;
And flowers and children close their eyes
Till up in the morning the sun shall arise.
And so to bed... quote for tonight is from T.F. Powys:
"Modern Short Stories" was part of my reading at Secondary school, although I used to dread the reading around the class – not that I had any problems, but listening to the poor unfortunates speaking one word at a time, and losing the flow of the sentence was sheer torture. I am perhaps more sympathetic to their plight now, but it is still something I would avoid.
One of my favourite stories in there was "Lie Thee Down, Oddity" by T.F. Powys, and I found it captivating, and have now read many of his books and short stories – "Fables" is a particular favourite collection. This comes from his philosophical ponderings – "Soliloquies of a Hermit", and for once, he is as explicit as he ever was in describing his thoughts about the deeper meanings of life:
"I will tell you what my soul is. My soul is a waiting, hesitating, longing silence; it is the most delicate, the most ethereal, the most ready to die of all the silent noiseless feet that we feel moving in our lives. And my soul waits, and often its flame goes out while it waits. It is not chained to the moods; it is the waiting silence in us that is free."
And so to bed... quote for tonight is from Eugene Field:
"I love books, so this one is a good choice to end with. I usually end reading a book until I fall asleep and it falls from my hands."
All good and true book-lovers practice the pleasing and improving avocation of reading in bed ... No book can be appreciated until it has been slept with and dreamed over.

Saturday, 13 December 2014

Les Trois Rocques

This picture above of a stile in Winter was the subject of a poetry challenge in a group I belong to, and as there is a style of sorts leading to the neolithic site known as Les Trois Rocques, that became the theme and title of the poem.

The stones are something of a mystery. They are clearly neolithic, but lack the supporting trig stones at the base of single standing stones or menhirs. There is no archaeological material to place them. My own guess is that they are the last remaining stones from a much larger dolmen or passage grave which stood on the site.

Les Trois Rocques

Cows graze in summer, but now bare:
Soft Winter Sun, not Summer glare;
And I climb the stile, into the field:
Beyond such treasures yet to yieldl
The field is fallow, green, green grass,
Not many come this way to pass;
But I do, for here is one chance,
A sacred site to come and glance;
In the field beyond, lo it is there!
From long ages past, many a year,
Since the tribe put up these stones,
And now they are but dust and bones;
Once so many stones, but not so now,
And I don’t know either when or how,
They were destroyed, but now alone:
There are but three, mark sacred zone;
Huge granite rocks, set along a line:
Why were they built? Perhaps a sign?
And I come here on the Winter’s day,
Over style and field, along old way;
They call to me, from time long past,
These three stones, now just the last;
And once a year, I touch the stones,
Lost legacy, so many unknowns,
And then return, across the grass,
For even these, will come to pass