Reverie in l’Orangerie

Monet’s Water Lilies are one of very few works of art that have physically overwhelmed me on viewing. The life-sized canvases are entirely mesmerising, ‘no sky, no horizon, hardly any perspective or stable points of reference enabling the viewer to orient himself…’.

The first room in 1930 © Albert Harlingue / Roger-Viollet, via the Museum

The intimacy is heightened further by their 360 degree installation in the two sequential oval rooms of Musée de l’Orangerie. On entering the second room, we found ourselves entirely alone – due to pandemic-related travel restrictions. The deserted room was an unexpected gift and truer to the artist’s original intent for the viewer:

Those with nerves exhausted by work would relax there, following the restful example of those still waters, and, to whoever entered it, the room would provide a refuge of peaceful meditation in the middle of a flowering aquarium.

Claude Monet, 1909


All change

No single word can accurately capture the strangeness of 2020. MR and I have been extremely fortunate that we have, in the scheme of things, been relatively unaffected by the Coronavirus Pandemic. Our jobs – and income – have remained unchanged, and we have a dedicated workspace at home each with a comfortable desk and chair. We have no children that require entertaining or educating, nor any elderly family living locally in need of care. We have had the privilege of access to food, physical space, face masks, hand sanitiser and soap, unlike a large proportion of the developing world.

Despite our privilege, I am weary. In January, scaffolding went up around the Victorian terrace next to ours, ahead of a major reconstruction which gutted the property and added a floor. Aside from two weeks in early April, due to government restrictions on non-essential work, the renovation has charged forward. Hammering, drilling, sanding, sawing, has been the soundtrack of the last six months meaning that almost all of my work video calls have required me muting and briefly unmuting my microphone to contribute to the conversation.

Read more


Cummings’ cross-country travels

I didn’t anticipate feeling so upset by Dominic Cummings’ recent cross-country travels.

Do I think his actions were unreasonable? No.
Do I think he exhausted all efforts to comply with government policy or remain accountable to the public he serves? No.
Do I think his actions flouted government policy? Yes.
Do I think any member of the general public would be shown the same grace the incumbent government is showing Cummings? No.

Whether the prevailing logic is rationalism or legalism, the same logic must be applied to every citizen. No exceptions. But this is England, a nation where every citizen is not equal.


File naming for image archives

Walking the morning loop today, this utility post identification and inspection system caught my eye. Materials restricted to the bare economic minimum and eroded by weather, it serves its purpose with pleasing aplomb.

Segue, MR spent some time recently developing the naming system below as we’re planning to organise all of our digital images into the same location. Until now we’ve kept tidy but separate archives.

The system includes provision for:

↳ 2020_05_UK-London
‏‏‎‏‏‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ↳ 2020_05_UK-London_GA645_1
‏‏‎ ‏‏‎ ‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‎‏‏‎ ‎‎ ‏‏‎ ‎ ↳ 20200510_UK-London_GA645_1-1.jpg (or)
‏‏‎ ‎ ‏‏‎ ‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‎ ‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎↳ 20200510_UK-London_GA645_MacGuffin-No7_1-1.jpg
‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎ ↳ 2020_05_UK-London_GA645_2
‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‎ ↳ 2020_05_UK-London_GA645_3
‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎ ↳ 2020_05_UK-London_XT3_1
‏‏‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‎ ‎ ‏‏‎ ‎ ↳ 20200510_UK-London_XT3_1.jpg
‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎‏‏‎ ‎ ‏‏‎ ‎ ↳ 20200510_UK-London_XT3_2.jpg


What could a Commonplace Book feel like on the web?

Some ideas arrive as epiphanies. We stand witness to their delivery on a memorable day, time and location (very often the shower). Others are slow burners. Like new freckles, we are oblivious to their spread – our attention elsewhere – until eventually their presence shifts into our consciousness.

The idea for this site has been a long time coming. It has been motivated by: the lifelong gardens of Ian Hamilton Finlay and Louis Le Roy; the notebooks of Joan Didion, Virginia Woolf, Joshua Cohen and my extraordinary friend Piper Haywood; and the non-linear compilations of knowledge in Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, Walter Benjamin’s Arcades Project, and the Commonplace Book format.

Paraphrasing the Wikipedia entry, Commonplace Books have been used since antiquity as an aid for remembering useful concepts or facts. They are inherently unique to their author and contain, but are not limited to recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas, observations and definitions. Unlike a diary or journal, they are not chronological or introspective, though some entries may include personal responses. Rather, entries are organised according to subject.

By the seventeenth century, commonplacing had become a practice that was formally taught to students at Oxford and Harvard (among them Emerson and Thoreau). For women who were excluded from the privilege of education with, I assume, limited access to libraries or affordable books, the Commonplace Book must have been a treasured possession.

There are a number of things I like about commonplace books. They were often a lifelong practice, growing organically over the years with fragments taking on new meaning as entries were added. And I appreciate that there seems to be little distinction between the formal and the informal. Recipes rub up against philosophy. An observation of cloud formations sidle next to mathematical formulae.

In this, my own version of a Commonplace Book, I will include personal responses to both explicit and tacit knowledge, with the added ability to index subjects, drawing, hopefully, unforeseen or forgotten connections. While it isn’t intended as a diary, it will provide a reading of my identity and, over time, its plurality.

I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not…

I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about. And we are all on our own when it comes to keeping those lines open to ourselves: your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.

Joan Didion in Slouching Toward Bethlehem

This site would not exist without my friend Piper. Her own notebook, which she has kept since 2014, is not a far cry from a commonplace book and was one of the many prompts for mine. Together, we’re curious to explore what a Commonplace Book could ‘feel like on the web’. Her WIP development can be followed on GitHub.

And finally, a disclaimer. Piper has magically folded the content of my multiple websites into this one location – a photo Tumblr from waaaayback and another I kept when I did my MA. I will do my best to organise these appropriately, but some posts may not be so pliable. The necessary pruning will take some time, don’t mind the mess.