Monday, 4 October 2021


I don't often post about the Great War anymore. But it has not lost its fascination!

Today is World Architecture Day and it's an appropriate time to consider the enormous achievement of the Great War's chief architect, Edwin Lutyens. Famous, of course, for designing the Cenotaph in Whitehall, Lutyens had been involved since before the war's end with plans for its commemoration, and plans to the remembrance of the war dead. 

On a trip to France and Flanders in 1917 Lutyens spoke about the  "the ribbon of isolated graves like a milky way across miles of country where men were tucked in where they fell." Those haphazard battlefield burials would be tidied into the great military cemeteries we know today and in many, there be be a white stone altar (known, non-liturgically as the Stone of Remembrance) inscribed with the words (chosen by Kipling) "Their Name Liveth For Everymore".

Both the Stone (relatively small, at 12ft long and 4ft high) and the Cenotaph (over 30ft high) are built using the ancient architectural principle of entasis, used in the building of monument like the Parthenon.  What this means is that neither the horizontal nor the vertical surfaces are truly straight: they taper, imperceptibly, according to mathematical calculations that were apparently so complicated they covered 30 pages of Lutyens notebooks!

To the naked eye, the lines look straight. But they curve, very slightly and if you were to continue the vertical lines of either the Stone or the Cenotaph they would form a great arc meeting 1000ft above the ground. The horizontal lines, meanwhile, would extend to form a circle whose centre would be 900ft below ground.

It's a subtle effect that gives both monuments a sense of hidden grandeur and a connection with the eternal. If you've ever stood and wondered just what it is about such otherwise plain, straightforward monuments that makes them so impressive, entasis could be the answer. 

Monday, 9 August 2021

Philip Larkin reads Aubade

Philip Arthur Larkin, Hull University's librarian and one of the finest poets in the English language, was born on this day in 1922. To mark the occasion here's the man himself reading what is probably his greatest poem, a meditation on the "unresting", unrelenting approach each day of death. 

Yes, cheery stuff. But that was what he was like. And it takes a special sort of courage, I think, to stare down death like this, not to hide or dissemble or mythologise... just stare, stare at the "awful emptiness for ever" without flinching. It's a beautiful poem and that's another of Larkin's great strengths: making something memorable, and beautiful, out of something otherwise unutterably awful.


Saturday, 24 July 2021

A Northern Light

The chances of finding an article you've written published on the very day you're visiting the town in question must be pretty remote, I'd have thought. The chances of then seeing it while casually browsing in a newsagents are pretty low too, especially when it's tucked away on page 58!

We visit Ripon regularly and I'd often thought I ought to write about this small, overlooked part of Yorkshire. The cathedral hasn't got the scale and grandeur of nearby York Minster; Nidderdale is hardly known compared to neighbouring Wensleydale and Swaledale. 

But Ripon is a forgotten gem among English towns (a city, really, having a Royal Charter dating from the ninth century) and it deserves to be better known. Just not too much better known... after all, one its many charms is its tranquility. 

Anyway, if you fancy a read, here's the link:

Tuesday, 15 June 2021

It's Time...

What good does hate do? What good is punishment? 

If you haven't already watched Time by Jimmy McGovern and if you have ever wondered about such questions, if you've ever watched Porridge with Ronnie Barker and thought that prison is just a cosy comedy or that prisoners have it too good, thought hanging's too good for 'em, said they should be locked up and the key thrown away, wondered how drugs and knives get into high security prisons, wondered why knives and drugs get into high security prisons, if you're the Home Secretary or want to be or have been, or if you're a politician of any persuasion, if you're concerned about crime and genuinely interested in how it can be reduced, in how criminals should be dealt with, in how society ought to right the wrongs done to people, in short, if you're a thinking, feeling, human being, then watch this. 

It won't be easy. And there won't be any easy answers to any of the questions it raises. There can't be. Don't believe anyone, whoever they are, who says they know the answer and that the answer's easy. It isn't. 

But we sure as hell need to try and find it. 

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