Archives for the month of: January, 2010

There was some cloud on the moon, which I liked.  I took this picture in roughly the same place as I took the double one of the dogs, three posts back; it was a couple of evenings ago.  I used a tripod because of the long exposure.  It’s not quite a full moon, but as near as dammit.  I can’t explain where the warm colours come from; all I did was make the whole image a bit less dark, using Photoshop.  The brick-red colour on the horizon is in the general direction of Oslo; however, I don’t remember seeing it when I took the picture.

Here’s one I took a little way up the road.  I used a different camera setting (a shorter exposure) and the cloud had gone by that time.  It’s very different, much less colour; more like an etching or something:



It’s Vesla.  My wife took this picture outside the goathouse at around nine in the evening, the goats’ bedtime, when she went over to turn out their light.

You kind of have to blow this up a bit.  Click on it.

Norway gets very bright sunlight at this time of year; the sun is often so low, it can be blinding when you’re driving.  We have some pieces of dichroic glass sitting in the living room window for just this kind of occasion, so that’s where the blue colour is coming from.  The brightness reminds Tango of his ancestral home in the tropics.

It’s close to a full moon.  I found this one of Vesla among some pictures I took the last time it was full, so it must have been about a month ago.  I’m sure it says the date accurate to the minute somewhere, but we farming types generally go by the phases of the moon.

I suppose I need a telephoto lens to take detailed pictures of the moon.

Here is a very short story or essay, told through the medium of Google Maps.

According to the BBC,

Scots ‘drink 46 bottles of vodka’.

Adults in Scotland are drinking the equivalent of 46 bottles of vodka each in a year, a study has suggested.

Which is ridiculous.  Whoever heard of a Scot who drank an equivalent of vodka?

What’s the story behind the similarity between the Tate Gallery’s little William Blake watercolour Oberon, Titania And Puck With Fairies Dancing, 18″ x 26″, from 1786:

and the composition of  Matisse’s two huge Dance paintings?  The first, the sketch from 1909, is now in the Museum of Modern Art, in New York:

The wonderful 1910 final version is in St Petersburg, in the Hermitage:

Not knowing the Blake, I only just noticed the resemblance.  Could it be coincidence that his left-hand figures have exactly the same twisted-trunk turning form as Blake’s does?  In all three paintings there is a curved line you can follow from the tip of the left foot all the way upwards to the end of the left hand. There are other similarities: the right-hand foreground figures who are all nearly flying and the grey or green circle on the ground that the figures dance around.  (As Nijma points out below, Titania’s fairies dance in a fairy ring, which accounts for Blake illustrating it, but there’s no such narrative explanation for Matisse’s circles, which simply underline the circular dance of his figures.) The linked arms are made more of by Matisse than by Blake: Matisse gets my eye to move clockwise round the group by way of the swooping arms, but there is the beginning of that in the Blake too.  No other contemporary painting of dancers uses this device at all as far as I know, not even the ones by Matisse.

The hands just don’t meet in Matisse ‘s foregrounds; they certainly aren’t just big modernist copies of the Blake image, but there’s no mention of the similarities between the works either–at least, not anywhere I’ve looked.  William Blake is not even in the index of Hillary Spurling’s Matisse biography.  She says that Matisse first used the motif of the ring of dancers on the beach in the background of  Le Bonheur de Vivre of 1906, where their arms aren’t linked together as they are in the Blake.  According to the Guardian’s Jonathan Jones:

An unlikely source for the figures in Dance was an artist – a primitive in Matisse’s eyes – who lived in the heart of a modern city: JMW Turner. Matisse made a special study of this overwhelming British colourist – who, like him, loved the Mediterranean – on his honeymoon in London in 1898, when he looked repeatedly at Turner’s art in the National Gallery. You could hang Dance next to Turner’s paintings and the emotional use of colour to blaze a path between the imaginations of artist and beholder would immediately strike you as similar. Turner’s Mediterranean scenes are peopled, too, with Arcadian figures. The five figures in Dance look uncannily like a group of dancers in Turner’s The Golden Bough and reminiscent of dancers in other Turner paintings such as Apuleia In Search Of Apuleius, which was on view at the National Gallery in 1898. What makes them so similar is the serpentine loose depiction of the bodies, which in Matisse is deliberate and in his model was an accident. Turner didn’t paint people very well. His figures are ungainly, rough – in short, “primitive”.

It’s odd that Jones–a Blake lover if ever there was one–doesn’t mention Blake’s watercolour.  Here is a detail from Turner’s The Golden Bough:

It’s a background group that seems more like the dancers in Le Bonheur de vivre than to either of Matisse’s Dance paintings.

It’s not clear to me that Matisse would have had an opportunity to see the  Blake; it was in the private collection of  a South African ostrich-feather tycoon called Alfred A. de Pass, until 1910.

Our very small parrot, Tango, whose wife died suddenly last autumn, has spent the past few months in semi-hibernation, sitting on a perch in his cage and staring into space.  Yesterday and today he flew into the kitchen, sat by the window and waited for someone to give him some bread & butter. This is what they always used to do; but the dogs must have forgotten, they were eager to catch and eat him.

I don’t think birds really do hibernate; especially not ones from central America, where it’s always warm.

It’s really too cold for the goats to be outside very much, at the moment.


I enjoy watching the crows and magpies that live around here.  For one thing, I love the way they look; for another, I love their anthropomorphic behaviour.  You can imagine what’s going through their mind, though I don’t see it at all like Ted Hughes did.  The magpies are very timid in human presence, but the other day one hopped up the ramp to the out-house and started tapping with its beak on the glass doors: it had seen some oats that were lying scattered on the floor just inside.  I threw some outside; there’s not much to eat out there in this weather.  It’s warmer than it was, though: -10-ish, that’s +14 in F.

I love to see the huge flocks of crows that gather at dusk in the autumn and winter.  I can’t seem to get a good photograph of one of these occasions.  Here are some drawings of different kinds of crows; I made them a few years ago, with our November garden as the background:

Well, the Isle Of Wight ferry, of course.  Why, what did you think I was going to say?

And now, two interesting pictures I took the other day of a friendly young cow.  This is not a dinosaur, she’s merely yawning.

You may remember, I tried this research last summer.  Now, finally I got close enough to take a picture that shows a cow’s eye in detail:

You can see it’s the same as those other herbivores the goat and the horse; if you look closely you will see that behind all that brown stuff IT HAS A RECTANGULAR BLACK PUPIL.

Don’t say you never learn nothing here.  Next time I’m going to try and take a picture to show how extremely long their tongues are.

Snuggly domesticity behind closed doors.

At absolute zero nothing is stirring, not even a mouse.  Is this a cat or a bat or a dog?

It is a photograph my wife took this morning, of sunlight coming through the ice-covered window pane (the black background is merely contrast caused by the mullions of the wooden window frame).

And now for something completely different.   I recommend everyone read the last two posts at Poemas del rio Wang, which I really enjoyed.

It’s so bloody cold that after I’ve made a cup of tea I’m going back to bed to read The Anthologist.

It’s so cold that …

  1. You can’t go skiing.  Not that I would.
  2. You can’t use the seat warming in the car; the battery’s only working at 40% of its capacity.  Too cold to warm the seats, oh the irony!

Tomorrow: Absolute Zero.

Fun Things To Do In Cold Weather.

When it’s minus 43 ° C. (that’s -45 ° F.), you can take some boiling water, throw it up in the air and watch it freeze before it hits the ground.  You can see the whole video here.  It says in the article

Several times, Ingrid takes water directly from the boiling kettle into a cup and out into the cold.  And it turns to snow every time.

In more fun cold things:

Though it’s only -20-ish here, all the fuses in my car blew this morning. I’m hoping they fix it before everyone goes home early.

Other news about the cold weather … No, wait.  This one’s about Britain. In today’s Guardian it says:

Temperature in Scottish Highlands dips to -21C, almost as low as south pole, as snow prolongs disruption

But it’s the summer at the South Pole, you nitwits.

Tomorrow: Sixty Minus Degrees.

I’m not sure I’m allowed to do this, but anyway here is a picture someone sent in to Dagbladet, an Oslo daily paper.  There’s an elk in their garden.  Apparently she had a calf with her, and she had plans to eat the hyacinths and find some warmth.  I hope the householders let them in, it doesn’t say.

It’s currently about -20 °C, or -5 °F. That’s jolly cold for us who live around Oslo.  There’s a cold snap all over Europe; in England it got so cold they had (gasp) snow. The leaders of British industry are taking a tough line; they’re NOT allowing their employees time off work.  They say they only want to make snowmen and slide down hills on tea-trays — and their workers aren’t any better.

David Lodge’s 2007 novel Deaf Sentence is about a retired professor of linguistics who has a progressive hearing disorder, as does Lodge himself.  His character, Desmond Bates, is unable to hear the high sound frequencies which we use to form consonants, and the book contains lots of puns and other distortions caused by Bates’s mishearing what people say.  It’s quite fun to read, there are some musings about language.  At one point, Bates says

I looked up deaf a few years ago in the biggest corpus of written and spoken English available, about fifty million words, and the most common collocation, about ten per cent of the total, was fall on deaf ears (counting fall as a lemma, standing for all forms of the verb).  Now it’s no surprise that the main contribution of deaf to English discourse is as part of a proverbial phrase signifying stupid incomprehension or stubborn prejudice; what’s puzzling is the verb fall, given that the the human ear is positioned to receive sound waves from the side, not from above.  And the enigma is not peculiar to English.  A quick dictionary search revealed that German has auf taube Ohren fallen, French has tomber dans l’oreille d’un sourd, and Italian cadere sugli orecchi sordi.

Norwegian has the same phrase, å falle for døve ører.  I don’t think fall is the wrong verb — it’s metaphorical: the words are broadcast and fall indiscriminately, like the drops of water issuing from a lawn sprinkler — but I do think it’s odd that it has been passed into so many languages (probably even more than those that are listed here).  I wondered if it might have started life in literature and then subsequently became a quotation; does anyone know?

And a happy New Year, by the way.  Earlier in the chapter quoted above — Bates is recalling a review he wrote of a book on corpus linguistics — there’s a much longer digression analysing collocations of happy.  Oh, all right,

A footnote to the above: it occurred to me that negative particles might have been omitted from the analysis of collocations of happy, so I did a check on a the small corpus I have on CD here at home, and sure enough, entirely happy is frequently preceded by not or some other negative word like never.  But perfectly is usually unqualified.  In fact the distribution is almost exactly equal: not entirely happy occurs about as often as perfectly happy, and entirely happy is as rare as not perfectly happy.  I wonder why?  Corpus linguistics is always throwing up interesting little puzzles like that.