St Jerome

One of the Christmas gifts which I most appreciate every year is a diary from the National Gallery, donated by family members who understand that, as senility advances, I really do need to write down what (if anything) I have done every day, so that I have evidence when memory fails, as it increasingly does.

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Virtual Knowledge

Now that The End may be in sight (touching wood, not counting my chickens, not jinxing it by booking holidays, etc. etc.), I’ve been pondering what, if anything, about life in lockdown I might actually miss. It is of course much easier to think of things that I won’t miss, notably backache from crouching over my laptop computer in a very non-ergonomic posture, and cooking – in the Old Normal, I was by myself Monday to Thursday and tended to graze on pasta and salads, but for a year now I have been churning out more-or-less proper (but incredibly repetitive) meals all week.

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Posted in Art, Bibliography, Biography, Botany, Cambridge, Gardens, History, London, Museums and Galleries, Natural history, Venice | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Dunnock

In my distant youth, the dunnock was a hedge sparrow, a rare and exotic visitor to a garden in which the (totally boring) house sparrow predominated. Sixty years on, I get moderately excited at the arrival of house sparrows, whereas a day rarely passes without the dunnocks moving purposefully along the fences – they were not even put off by the recent major upheaval in the garden.

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A Lost Museum

I have just come across the Leverian Museum, which sadly was broken up, after about thirty years, in 1806. Sir Ashton Lever, its founder, was born in 1729 at Alkrington Hall, then near, now in, Manchester. His father, Sir James Darcy Lever, was a prosperous landowner who in in 1735 commissioned Giacomo Leoni (1686–1746), originally of Venice, to build him a new home in the Palladian style.

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A couple of months ago, I became a signed-up, official Volunteer Litter-Picker for Cambridge City Council. This came about because I get furious about litter all the time, but had no idea what to do about it in any systematic way until I met, at the Friends of Cherry Hinton Brook biannual litter-pick, a nice gentleman who had his own kit, including a clever device for holding a bin bag open in one hand while wielding one’s litter-picker (which I have discovered also works for weeds, if the soil is moist) with the other.

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Posted in Archaeology, Botany, Cambridge, Natural history | Tagged , , , , | 8 Comments

2020 in the Research Plots

Not all of 2020, in fact, as the Cambridge University Botanic Garden was sadly but inevitably closed between March and June … I began following a particular plant or hedge throughout the year in 2017, with varying degrees of success (= interest to my devoted readers), but in January 2020 I thought I had cracked it, with the most interesting and  fast-changing spectacle of them all, the Research Plots.

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Songs of the Nativity Revisited

A few weekends ago, I was multi-tasking between Christmas cakes and reshelving books, with the Advent Service from St John’s on the radio, when I picked up William Henry Husk’s Songs of the Nativity, the cover of which is one of my favourite designs from back in the day. This concatenation of events was clearly meant to be, so when I next had a moment, I sat down and re-read Husk’s introduction to his work, which is basically a lament for all the Christmas lore, customs and music which it seemed to him (writing in 1864) were passing away.

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Plant of the Month: November 2020

I am in the throes of having my garden made over. This is because, when I was young, and even more ignorant than I am now: (1) I put too many shrubs in too close together; (2) I maximised planting space by giving myself stepping-stones from which to bend and gyrate as I tended the plot. Now that my bending and gyrating days are very firmly over, and the shrubs are too big and too entangled (did I mention that I’m a lousy pruner, too?) for me to get through/round, I have decided that I need to future-proof the garden against my encroaching old age.

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Posted in Biography, Botany, Cambridge, Exploration, Gardens, History, Natural history, Printing and Publishing | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Anna Maria Garthwaite

It is a well-known fact that the Spitalfields district of London was, during the eighteenth century, entirely populated by French Huguenot refugees, all busy weaving away in their loft workshops, producing gorgeous silks for worldwide trade, and breeding auriculas and other ‘florists’ flowers’ (cuttings and seeds of which they had brought with them as they fled across the Channel) in their leisure moments. As with many well-known facts, this is true only up to a point. Consider, as a counter-factual, the career of Anna Maria Garthwaite, spinster daughter of an Anglican clergyman, whose designs for woven silk (many of them happily preserved in the Victorian & Albert Museum) were hugely important in the success of the silk industry.

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Ole Worm

I was prone to nominative determinism for more than half a century before I knew what it meant. A children’s biography of Grieg in my primary school library (who now remembers this series by Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher, which included Franz Schubert and his Merry Friends and Sebastian Bach, The Boy from Thuringia?) had a famous violinist say to the young Edvard, ‘You have made the voice of Norway sing!’

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Posted in Bibliography, Biography, Botany, Cambridge, History, Natural history, Printing and Publishing, The Netherlands | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments