Friday, February 7, 2014

Between storms

DSC03333 (1300x671)The sun came out in Sandbanks today: the kitesurfers took to the water and the Jazz Café filled with sunbunnies.  It could almost have been summer (and I was really ready for a sail!). 

But a closer look showed the swimmers covered with drysuits; the diners bundled in overcoats.  Cars lined the beach near the Chain Ferry, each with a couple or family eating lunch insulated against the cold.

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There were lots of walkers along the beaches, evenly split between hand-holding couples and solitary folks with pets.  Children tumbled down sandpiles left  by the bulldozers that clean the promenade each morning.  The men inspected a huge channel buoy that had broken loose and washed up overnight.

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Squally, thundery, Gale Force Nine… warned the Met Office.  A huge low-pressure system, another “once in 100 years” storm was bearing down on the coast.  For the next 48 hours, winds up to 90 mph and torrential rains were forecast.


Last night I drove down from Cambridge in driving rain at midnight: huge puddles of standing water on the M3 at Bournemouth that were thrown across the motorway from the opposing side.  The two-hour backup on the Orbital was almost a respite  (accompanied by an annoying interview with writer Anna Holmes, claiming that men act kindly only to exercise a “benevolent superiority” over women and to gain competitive advantage over other men).

Anyway, the storm blew itself out and today went well: knotty problems were solved, there was time for chatting up friends, completing accounts, an hour’s exercise and read, setting up two working groups, and a good walk in the wind and sun.

And, from Branscomb Beach at sunset, the forecast next gale was literally in view as it surged over the Isle of Wight.

DSC03343 Stitch (1300x500)DSC03351 (1300x975) DSC03348 (1300x975)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Cambridge in winter

DSC03095 (1300x976)I stay at the College now when I’m working in Cambridge: the routines and people are familiar and I like the easy access to the city.  It’s still lovely to show visitors around the 800 year old institutions, walk through the courtyards, and take breakfast in the Kettle.

Ik  wandelde met mijn wezen; I revisited a few memories.

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The Cam was running very high, unusually: punts were banished and only the occasional kayakist sped past, leaning into the current.  I did a bit of research for the class assessments, enjoyed a steaming bowl of noodles over conversation in Dojo: I love the sea, but core Cambridge comes a close second.

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Tuesday, February 4, 2014

More stormy days

Devon Waves

The Devon village of Dawlish got hammered by high tides and wind-driven waves today, breaking down the seawall protecting the harbour and destroying a segment of a main rail line into Cornwall.  Similar seas were felt along the Jurassic Coast and Sandbanks was no exception.  The maps show the storm hitting our coast pretty much square on, and the wind and rain absolutely lashed the house all day today.

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I drove down from the North yesterday afternoon, and the skies grew darker and the winds rose as I dropped south of London on the M3.  I stopped at the Café as I arrived to get a look at the beaches, the sand was already drifting along the promenade and waves were breaking hard against the jetty.

DSC03293 Stitch

By this evening, the surf was high and foamy as far out as I could see.  Stretches of the beach were blocked off for safety, and huge breakers were cascading white along the length of the shoreline.


Its all fun and exciting, although I know there will be a big cleanup afterward.  Again.  We had branches DSC03303 (1300x974)down and flooding along Shore Road at the end of the street, really nothing too bad.  (Try your brakes, advised the signage.)

More heavy weather is expected throughout the weekend, great news when I have a flight to Germany late Saturday night.

It may just be a good evening to lie in, instead.

Grantchester meadows, February

DSC03152 (1300x976)I was up early and out for a walk across the Meadows south of the College.  It’s been a worrisome week, nothing that can’t be, won’t be, solved, but only with a clear mind, gentle heart, and quiet spirit.  And so, the Meadows.

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The Meadows lie along the Cam near the old village of Grantchester, once the favorite haunt of Rupert Brooke and his Group.  The canvas chairs in the DSC03133 (1300x929)Orchard are empty in February, but they still serve tea and encourage reading of The Old Vicarage, an ode to youth and the town:

The men observe the Rules of Thought.DSC03136 (1300x951)
They love the Good; they worship Truth;
They laugh uproariously in youth;
(And when they get to feeling old,
They up and shoot themselves, I'm told) . . .

Say, is there Beauty yet to find?
And Certainty? and Quiet DSC03145 (1300x959)kind?
Deep meadows yet, for to forget
The lies, and truths, and pain? . . . oh! yet
Stands the Church clock at ten to three?
And is there honey still for tea?


DSC03143 (975x1300)The church, the clock, the Vicarage (now home to Jeffrey Archer) are all much as Brooke and his group saw them in 1909; the fields beyond have probably looked this way for millennia before the Group first took tea beneath the trees. 


It was a crisp, quiet morning, perfect for listening to the birds, the wind, and the stray thought.  Here, as scholars, writers, and philosophers have for 800 years.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Turner and the Sea

Turner-Staffa Fingals CaveJMW  Turner is, for me, England’s best painter.  He was a Romantic painter, working in the early 1800s, trained in classical styles and talented across media.  But he was also strikingly modern, with intense color and energetic brushwork that conveys motion and atmosphere.  I really enjoy his style and his works, and his paintings of the sea are among his best.

DSC03051The National Maritime Museum has a stellar exhibit of his works, visible through April and a bargain at 10 gbp admission, that gathers many of his best oils and watercolours together with commentary and contextual paintings by his contemporaries.

Close up, I was first impressed by the size of familiar works, many times larger than expected.  I know the techniques that artists use for these canvases, but it’s still hard to envision. The second was the depth and intensity of colours, especially in his oil paintings.

Turner - Fighting temeraireDanby - Sunset at sea after a storm Turner - Slave Ship

Similar works by his contemporaries (Darby’s sunset between two of Turner’s sunsets) look flat and pale in comparison.  Finally, there is his passion for  detail, every small stroke so precisely laid.

Turner - Fishermen at sea

Consider Fishermen at Sea, a nighttime scene near the Isle of Wight and Turner’s first exhibited painting at the Royal Academy.  The painting is sharp at the illuminated center, indistinct in the darker surround.  DSC03049 (508x376)But the detail in the waves is not simply dry-brush foam: every detail was meticulously added.  Even the gull on the floating barrel, a speck at the lower right of the large canvas, was lovingly painted with careful detail (my photo).

Turner - Calais Pier

His depiction of  Calais Pier was striking for the turbulence of the scene: I ferry into Calais regularly and have never seen such seas.  In it, wind blows from the left, echoed in most of the exhibited paintings.  I don’t know why that would be preferred.

The same qualities carry over to watercolours: compare Cotman’s Dismasted Brig to Turner’s Mouth of the River Humber:

Cotman - Dismasted Brig Turner - The Mouth of the River Humber

They are so similar, but Turner’s is so much more evocative.  This intensifies in his later works, mostlyi impressions filled with color and motion as he tried to capture water and spray, as in Snow-storm and Waves breaking… ‘amazing to see up close.

Turner-Snowstorm Turner - waves breaking against the wind 

van de Valde - Gust of windThe connection (acknowledged by Turner) to Dutch artists like Wilem van de Wald (right) are also explored.

I’ll likely go back again for more study, but this is a wonderful show.  If nothing else, look at the show catalog for a glimpse of true genius.