Blog posts

Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert

October 30, 2022
Bellini's St. Francis in the Desert

The Frick Collection has a temporary home in the Bauhaus-concrete Breuer Building on Madison Avenue in New York. It is replete with remarkable works of art collected by Henry Clay Frick (1849 — 1919), the coke and steel industrialist, who bequeathed his...

Extinct & Endangered

October 26, 2022
Extinct & Endangered - the American Museum of Natural History

The American Museum of Natural History in New York has been holding a thrilling yet terrifying exhibition of large-format insect photography, entitled Extinct & Endangered. Their entomological curators selected 80 specimens of...

Akhmatova, Yevtushenko and Putin

April 3, 2022
Akhmatova, Yevtushenko and Putin

By pure coincidence, my poetry books — loosely ordered alphabetically — are bookended by two slim volumes by Russian poets. In the late 1960s, Penguin Books published their Penguin Modern European Poets series. At 20p a pop these...

Samuel Beckett's hands

February 24, 2022
Samuel Beckett's hands

Samuel Beckett’s first sight of the words in his head would have been as they flowed from his pen, not as his typewriter’s typebars left their individual ink ribbon marks. His first drafts were in notebooks with a pen (or pencil in the case of Watt...

Albertinelli's The Creation and Fall of Man

November 26, 2021
The Creation and Fall of Man by Mariotto Albertinelli

There is much to delight the eye in the newly re-opened Courtauld Art Gallery in London. Although the paintings remain the same within their newly-pristine environment, one sees them more clearly thanks...

Truth sidelined by tribal epistemology

August 17, 2021
Truth sidelined by tribal epistemology

If you’ve noticed an unusual mix of content on this website, it’s because of the hybrid nature of my professional career, half English teacher, half software developer. Both ploughed their own furrow, and you may have noticed that occasionally elements...

Mapping in Backdrop CMS

June 18, 2021
Mapping in Backdrop CMS

At the end of April Backdrop CMS was graced with the addition of the Leaflet module which enables us Backdrop fans to do much of the mapping that we used to do in Drupal. Thanks for this go to the module’s maintainers,...

Ten steps to greening your website

April 6, 2021
Greening your website

As we re-evaluate our lifestyles in the face of global climate change, it’s not just how we heat our homes, how we travel, work, rest, play and consume that needs a major re-think. Our websites also consume carbon, and we need to deal with this. As Tom...

Can a web page have too much white space?

October 8, 2020
Can a web page have too much white space?

Can a web page have too much white space? It’s an innocent question and may even appear to be impertinent given how much white space is embraced, even revered, by web designers — myself included. White space is at the heart of the ...

Book reviews

Regenesis

by George Monbiot
July 21, 2022
Regenesis by George Monbiot

Midway through George Monbiot’s Regenesis: Feeding the World without Devouring the Planet, in conversation with Iain Tolhurst (‘Tolly’), a stockfree organic farmer in the Chilterns, Monbiot tells a joke against himself by quoting Tolly’...

The Insect Crisis: The Fall of the Tiny Empires that Run...

by Oliver Milman
June 20, 2022
The Insect Crisis by Oliver Milman

In his 1992 book The Diversity of Life the great American biologist Edward O. Wilson, who died last December, wrote the following chilling words:

So important are insects and other land-dwelling arthropods that if all were to...

How It Is

by Samuel Beckett
February 16, 2022
How It Is by Samuel Beckett

Beckett’s How It Is appeared first in French in 1961, then in 1964 after the author had translated it into English himself. Critics generally note that the book’s French title Comment c’est was a pun on Commencer, ‘to...

How Civil Wars Start And How to Stop Them

by Barbara F. Walter
February 7, 2022
How Civil Wars Start And How to Stop Them by Barbara F. Walter

When a world expert, who has studied the factors that trigger civil wars globally, gradually realises that these same factors currently exist in the United States, we need to pay attention. So it is with Professor Barbara F. Walter in her book How Civil Wars...

Murphy

by Samuel Beckett
January 25, 2022
Murphy by Samuel Beckett

Beckett finished writing Murphy in June 1936. After 40 rejections by publishers, it was finally accepted in December 1937. At the time, the editor accepting Murphy said, “it is far too good to be a big popular or commercial success … [but] will...

Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse

by Dave Goulson
September 28, 2021
Silent Earth by Dave Goulson

Dave Goulson’s Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apocalypse is something of a roller-coaster ride in that the first 250 pages of the book detail the evidence for insect and biodiversity collapse that is happening right now all around us, before...

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

by Muriel Barbery
June 23, 2021
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

That Muriel Barbery’s 2006 novelThe Elegance of the Hedgehog has sold like proverbial hot cakes is no surprise. It is woven with references to philosophers as one would expect from a teacher of philosophy (reminding me of Robert M. Pirzig’s 1974...

We are Bellingcat

by Eliot Higgins
March 14, 2021
We are Bellingcat by Eliot Higgins

If you’ve been following the work of Eliot Higgins, you’ll not need to read the accounts of his exposés of Syrian, Libyan and Russian atrocities in this seminal book We are Bellingcat: An Intelligence Agency for the People. If you aren’t...

Entangled Life

by Merlin Sheldrake
January 16, 2021
Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrak

When Hamlet admonished Horatio by saying “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy”, fungi could well have been one of them, as Merlin Sheldrake’s scintillating book Entangled Life: How Fungi Make our Worlds...

The Eye of the Storm

by Patrick White
December 17, 2020

As the near-blind matriarch Elizabeth Hunter, the central character of Patrick White’s 1973 The Eye of the Storm, lies dying for five hundred and fifty pages of this long and complex novel, we are also reading about the writer’s own mother, Ruth...

Places visited

The Cosmic House

June 8, 2022
The Cosmic House

The recently opened Cosmic House, in leafy Holland Park’s Lansdowne Walk, transforms a handsome and sober 1840s Victorian brick and stucco villa on the outside into an Arts and Crafts cum Dada cum New Age fantasy on the inside. The house was the brainchild of...

The Church of St. Thomas Becket, Fairfield

May 22, 2022
The Church of St. Thomas Becket, Fairfield

Way out in open fields, with no churchyard of its own, in a parish of marsh, ditches, sheep and cattle, stands the church of St. Thomas Becket. On occasions when the surrounding Romney Marsh floods, the church has appeared to float above the waters. Even high and...

The Collector Earl’s Garden

January 15, 2022
The Collector Earl’s Garden

Arundel’s castle looms over the town and the River Arun. Its massive bulk — a mix of round and square towers with a curtain wall — dominates the skyline. Parts of it have stood since the 11th century. Others have been added or...

The Spanish Chestnut Avenue

January 9, 2022
The Spanish Chestnut Avenue at Croft Castle in Herefordshire

Croft Castle in Herefordshire in the Welsh Marches, occupies a site of rising and falling fortunes that has been home to the Croft family since the Norman Conquest (save for an interval of just under 200 years). It was first castle, then Elizabethan house, then...

Old Soar Manor

January 8, 2022
Old Soar Manor

Old Soar Manor in Kent is a miniscule portion of a small 13th century manor house. Save for a couple of glazed windows, the buildings are open to both weather and birds. Short of a ruin by dint of good roofing, the place is empty. There is no office, entry or...

Carlyle's House

January 7, 2022
Carlyle's House

A painting by Robert Tait in the front parlour of 24 Cheyne Row dated 1857 shows Thomas and Jane Carlyle in their front parlour — at 24 Cheyne Row. Looking at it is like looking through a window into the room in which one is already standing. But the...

Penshurst Place

January 1, 2022
Penshurst Place

The Baron’s Hall is the older and smaller of two great halls at Penshurst Place in Kent. Completed in 1341, it uses chestnut for the roof because it is lighter but stronger than oak. The main timbers are still aloft there, some six hundred and sixty years...

Claydon House

December 31, 2021
Claydon House

Externally Claydon House in Buckinghamshire is a rather sober place. Its symmetrical west front of seven bays in cut stone suggests conformity to an austere Georgian style of architecture — and no bad thing. Inside, however, if there is such a thing as...

The Queen's House Greenwich

December 31, 2021
The Queen's House Greenwich

The Queen’s House at Greenwich was built for Anne of Denmark, the queen of King James I. Work started in 1616, but Anne died in 1619 and never lived there. The building was completed in 1635 and briefly occupied by King Charles I’s queen consort...

The Old Royal Naval College's Painted Hall

December 30, 2021
The Old Royal Naval College's Painted Hall

Downriver from central London’s more eye-catching historic buildings, the Greenwich ensemble known collectively as Maritime Britain is one of Britain’s 33 cultural UNESCO World Heritage sites. It includes the...