Mermaid, by John William Waterhouse

Ondioline is a short squat nymph, singer, shape-shifter, little sister; a cousin of Echo; a worker of magic of limited means. The waves of her birth-land still hush inside her. She is incongruous sitting humbly on the carpet, waiting for him to call out her music. She is good and sweet and extremely dangerous. I look after her as best I can; after all, I am the boring one. I miss him too.

Continue reading “Ondioline”


Dot writes: sometimes situations just escalate. You (in this case, Ken) decide to spend a bit of time off work building a bookcase, and before you know it you’re standing between the exposed joists of your living room, wrestling with huge sheets of plywood. Alas, he detected woodworm, and after getting in Rentokil to treat the joists, wrecking the floor in the process, we ended up deciding to replace the floor. Ken did it himself and has earned huge masculinity points thereby. And now we have a soberly comforting new brown carpet as well.

By the way, I love alphabetizing books. Also I love being able to put them upright like in a proper bookshop or library, rather than crammed in in teetery piles.



Dot writes: last weekend, from Saturday to Monday, we had a family trip to Amsterdam, as a last hoorah of our summer holidays before the boys went back to school on Tuesday.


We travelled over in the morning, had lunch in a pancake house by the Damrak, and visited the NEMO Science Museum, which was the highlight of the weekend for the children. It was sunny and hot. In the evening there was a thunderstorm without rain. We would have appreciated rain as the hotel room was without air conditioning and stiflingly warm. However, the hotel (Hotel Albus) was centrally located and very smart and attractively furnished.


We had booked a couple of attractions online in advance: the Rijksmuseum (I didn’t take photos there) and a canal boat tour. The rain arrived very violently as we were on our way to the tram stop to go to the museum and we ducked into a shop to buy brightly coloured umbrellas, but it stopped again and the rest of the day was dry. The Rijksmuseum is huge and we ran out of energy for looking at it before we’d even left the ground floor, but we enjoyed the displays of model ships, antique weaponry and musical instruments, the Asian annex with its Hindu statues and (especially interesting to the boys) more-than-life-size Japanese temple guardians with ferocious faces, and the medieval and renaissance paintings (only Ken really looked at those).

The boys became a little bored during the canal tour but were well-behaved and Ken and I enjoyed following the map and looking at the sights. After the tour Ken took the children back to the hotel and I had a solitary trip to the Pianola Museum. Again, I didn’t take photographs there, but it is a fascinating little place. The owner put on a pianola roll that had been recorded by the composer Grieg a year before his death. It was extraordinary to see the keys moving on the piano in front of me and think that, in a sense, they were being played by the hands of Grieg.


The boys were very excited by the prospect of hiring ‘tandrums’ (Hugh) or ‘tricycles’ (Frank). Sadly the hire shop had only one tandem (with one adult seat and one child seat), but we hired that and two other bikes and went for a ride to the Vondelpark. It was stressful navigating Amsterdam traffic – there are trams and cars as well as extremely determined and fierce Dutch cyclists – but the ride round the park was delightful, and we did also manage to find some quiet and pretty residential streets to explore. We returned the bikes before lunch and spent the early afternoon in the Nieuwe Kerk before collecting our luggage from the hotel and making our way to the airport.


Photo from http://www.waitomo.com

I remember the drip of water into water. Or perhaps I’m making that up, since it is such an inevitable feature of any scene involving a cave in film? It’s hard to know how much I have mentally rewritten at this distance of years. But anyway, the drips, the hush falling on the chattering group as our boat slipped through water into the dark, even our pompous Maori guide (“Now we will reveal the hidden wonders of Waitomo”) silent for the moment – these are in my memory. And then the thousand lights of the glowworms starring the roof, as though the sky had been buried in New Zealand. I thought about chthonic deities, the boat of Charon crossing to the underworld, the ships of the dead in Egyptian tombs, the mystical death and rebirth of the sun-god. I thought about the agonisingly patient calcite drip of the stalactites and about how the glowworms were carnivorous and their lights meant they wanted to lure and eat something. I thought that if I unbuttoned your fly and slipped in a hand probably no-one but you would notice. But I didn’t do it. In retrospect, it was a turning point.

Continue reading “Glow”

Questions for the artist

Image from metmuseum.org

What have you hidden?

What did you expect me to ask you?

What part of your art would you like to press into my brain, like a seal into wax?

Have you made a monument more lasting than bronze, or just a cake?

If I could eat it, what would it taste like?

Did the past speak in you, as you made this? Were your hands your own?

To what king, what leader, what politician would you present this art and would it honour or scorn them?

If similar societies produce similar art, what revolution would help you reach what you were straining for?

When you were frustrated, making this, labouring over details you eventually erased, did you think of me in the future, loving your work and misinterpreting it?

Are you sad that I am your audience, since you did not make this for me?

Ta-Ku and Wafia / Longitude

Dot writes: perhaps it’s a good thing I’m writing up these two events after such an interval (I saw Ta-Ku at the Button Factory on Thursday 14th July and Ken and I attended the third day of the Longitude festival in Marley Park on 17th July). It’s easy to drown in detail, especially where the festival is concerned. After two weeks, what stands out in the memory?

Ta-Ku and Wafia

I bought tickets for Ta-Ku’s gig because of Wafia and yes, it’s her voice and her performance that I most retain, and not solely because I was more familiar with the songs she sang than with the rest of the set. It was quite a gentle gig, despite amplification, with kaleidoscopic patterns and unfurling flowers softly mesmerising us on the screen behind the musicians, and in the parts using pre-recorded vocals it felt especially unassertive. I know Ta-Ku was busy at his laptop and his faders, but we weren’t privy to what exactly he was doing. There were a live drummer and keyboard player too, but the passages of live singing were the parts where one had more of a sense of drama and communication between audience and performers. Ta-Ku himself has a pleasant, soulful voice; Wafia, at the centre of the stage for five numbers, has a soft, unforced, and yet wonderfully expressive and technically controlled sound. She didn’t speak and was dressed in a long coat and a hat as though she’d prefer us not to see her at all, but without histrionics she gave her performance an element of passion – turning sideways from the mic when not singing, looking imperiously down her fine nose. I don’t want to sound lukewarm about this gig. The textures and melodies were lovely, and the style in any case isn’t a pumped-up hit-you-over-the-head rock thrash but something much more mellow; it invites you to slide in and get lost in it. The crowd was more dressy than the band and danced by bending their knees and swinging their arms.

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I was quite excited about getting to see Christine and the Queens at Longitude, but I didn’t see Christine and the Queens at Longitude. She was performing in a large tent and the crowd was so enormous I couldn’t see a hair of her charismatic French head. There were no repeater screens on this particular stage, just the backdrop, and since the act consists not just of singing but of dancing this was quite a loss. So we gave up and went early to see Shura on the small Whelan’s stage (Shura’s set partially overlapped), and we had an excellent view and enjoyed the performance very much. Shura is what you’d get if you crossed Madonna and Courtney Barnett – strong echoes of early Madonna production, but Courtney’s down-to-earth quality and practical musicianship. Courtney was also playing and we caught part of her set on the main stage, but Shura was the part of the festival I enjoyed the most – pure energy and love of the music meeting a small crowd who were delighted to see her. At one point the audience cheered especially hard and Shura said “When you do that it makes me feel shy.” She’s lovely and I hope her life involves many warm hugs. (Her debut album Nothing’s Real was released earlier this month.)

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Another highlight of the day was the band who were playing on the main stage as we arrived, HamsandwicH. I’ve heard of them before – they’re a local Irish act, from Meath – but not investigated them particularly. They have a faintly trad-influenced guitar band sound with some use of a horn section. What really caught me was their stage presence: the lead singer, Niamh Farrell, and the male frontman/guitarist/singer Podge McNamee were brilliant communicators, projecting a sense of enjoyment, energy and humour even to that picnicking summer-afternoon crowd. Their tunes have a sunny, light, sweet quality a little like Belle and Sebastian. Ken and I have been checking them out since on YouTube. We’ve also been investigating an Irish band we saw more briefly, All Tvvins. All Tvvins are more obviously my thing than HamsandwicH as they play texturally saturated, emotional pop-rock with big resounding guitar chords and a hairy drummer. Well, HamsandwicH also have a hairy drummer as all the men in the band have beards and look like dads. But All Tvvins have the type of hairy drummer who, at least from a distance, seems to be channelling Animal from the Muppets. Perhaps I’ll decide after a bit they lack depth, but in the meantime they’re promising candidates for playing very loudly and singing along in the car, and I need more of that in my life. (Why the vv thing? Tribute to Chvrches, whom they don’t resemble at all? And for that matter why HamsandwicH not Ham Sandwich or indeed hAM sANDWICH or hAmSaNdWiCh or… bandnames are odd. Please can we go back to The + noun.)

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It was a tiring day in the sun. I cautiously packed raincoats and spare clothes because I’d seen a forecast for a thunderstorm, but it was gloriously sunny and warm and we used the raincoats for sitting on. There were many young girls at the festival wearing backless lace tops and no bras, but Ken didn’t notice until I pointed it out. We saw someone wearing a pretend Native American headdress, even though everyone knows you’re not supposed to do that these days. I ate a very delicious curry. Ken looked at the huge tent selling Heineken and remarked that no craft brewery could possibly supply enough beer for a festival like this.

The headliners on the main stage were The National. We were with friends who were keen fans at this point in the day so we were very near the front. We left a little early to get home to bed, but stayed long enough to be impressed and swept up with their sombre tunefulness.

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Captain Cutlass, illustrated by Frank

[Words by Dot]


Captain Cutlass was a fierce pirate.

He was sailing along in his boat powered by a lampshade, when something tapped on the gunwale. It was a tentacle.


He found himself face to face with a hideous sea monster.


Well, this is awkward, thought Captain Cutlass.


In fact it was more than awkward.


The End


[I know the comment about the lampshade is slightly mean, but I am very proud of Frank. His pirate and monster are so full of character and although he has drawn the boat in a rapid, stylised way he has clearly also taken some notice of the different parts of boats – note the cabin at the back of the deck and the bowsprit at the front, as well as the railing. I am a proud mum.]