Tag: notebook


Built To Last

This month’s National Geographic displayed a picture of a huge ziggurat in the city of Dur Untash, built in the 13th Century B.C., a a vast stepped-temple tower that rose above the landscape, dominating the foreground and horizon. I wonder what the builders of that structure would think if they knew it was there, still standing.

There’s something poignant and humbling about such ancient monuments still, isn’t there, because how many things built today are constructed with as much bloody-mindedness when faced with the concept of time. They’re weathered, a little crumbled, but with a bold dignity that makes anything new seem untested, inferior even.

For me there’s a metaphor, about a monument such as this, that when some people have sparred with age everyone respects them with awe. They speak their name in whispers. Do people become monuments, great legendary figures, I wonder, or do some of us become like artifacts, collectable items that we don’t quite understand, but we want them around us anyway to remind us of something we’re not sure about. A misguided comfort. But most are left to gather dust, the sheer volume of items and constructs given to history, anonymous.


Made Me Smile

Driving slowly through the rush hour traffic, sun leaking through thick clouds, a little humid and the kind of weather where fumes don’t seem to go anywhere. I paused to let a car pull out in front of me. The woman driving must have been seventy years old, easily, in a clean little red sports car, window down. I made a casual gesture to say it was okay, fine, drive forward—no one else was going to. And her face lit up—a proper movie star smile. She blew an outrageous kiss and then laughed genuinely, waving. I laughed back and out she sped. Then five minutes up the road she pulled over to pick up a smartly dressed gentlemen, all suited and in sunglasses. I never saw what happened next, but I’m guessing if she was that flirty and lively the rest of the time, they were in for a great afternoon. I hope I’m like that when I’m seventy. I wondered vaguely, for the rest of the drive, what kind of person she was like when she had been my age. People older than yourself usually have better stories to tell, since they’ve lived a little. I like to think she led an interesting life; and judging by her smile, she still was.



5am. It always amazes you just how many people are up, which is a clear sign you’re not used to early mornings. They’re not even bleary eyed. They walk with an disarming purpose.

Then the train out into the country—a layer of fog mixes with the haze of the rising sun, forcing an uncertainty across the landscape. You could now be anywhere in this light, and million possibilities cross your mind, then before too soon you crash into the heavy discoloured brick of the city, every face looking anywhere but at you, every figure suited, flowing with a liquid purpose amongst the crowd. Only your own stillness surprises you.

The flight, always the same, but always just as humbling as you’re hurtled through the cloud-base, and even as you look at it you think it strange, that you’re witnessing the dawn of some new physics. Everything maintains some identical sheen from a certain height, and even industrial sites possess a strange poetry to their intense shapes on the landscape, becoming something natural themselves.

The coastline, then nothing but the sea.


Notebook Sketches

Matlock: a strange mixture of old and new. Chrome, brass and leather-trimmed bistro bars stand alongside shabby collectible shops. Old ladies prefer the company of old ladies in tea rooms with steamed up windows, and that haven’t been decorated in years. Walkers stride through traffic with a nonchalance and purpose of street kids in Delhi or Mumbai. There are middle-aged women here uncertain how to be fashionable, too far away from the guidance of city girls. People crane their necks to read the menus in shop windows. There is plenty of selection these days. New furniture shops with shapes and textures that seem unlikely in a dale. Consumerim has arrived here, finally, and the town seems unsure how it should react to it.


A dark valley that retains a near perfect stillness against the quick-moving clouds.

Winter has stripped the land of any dignity.

A lattice of dry-stone wall across the hills.

Drizzle, gathering in huge drops; poised beneath strips of fencing, and from the tips of trees.

Disused barns, or sheds, or storehouses, their roof tiles blighted by lichens, nature reclaiming it.

The stark cry of a bird.

On the hillside: headlights from a car navigating the awkward terrain. You feel suddenly vulnerable at this invasion of the stillness.

The tops of hills surrendered to the clouds.

Silhouettes of trees expose birds’ nests.

A chill and loud wind.


Savernake Forest, Wiltshire

Savernake Forest, just outside of Marlborough. November. The colour becomes intense, the light always more hazy because of the height of the sun. What a combination.

Wind runs through channels here, along the straight paths, gathering momentum, and it dominates your stride. Surprisingly, there is next to no one around; you would have thought better of people, especially at this time of year.

Some trees have given up their leaves early. Others hang on to them, greedy, still green and there is an air or arrogance about them. It’s usually the bigger ones, the rare species of oak.

The carnage is heaped everywhere, a thousand shades between red and green as if the land is flooded with them. A freak Autumn tide. A dog runs by, followed by a couple of pups. The whole family are out, bursting into bushes, tearing up the leaves. If it wasn’t for your dignity, you’d be joining them.

You appreciate the cycles of the earth a little more now. You think maybe there’s something inherently spiritual about the landscape in the south west. Maybe the druids are on to something. The city doesn’t look so big any more.