memoirs, art and fragments by Thomas Milner

Archive for February, 2013

Hemmed in by events

I’m checking into hospital on Monday 11th Feb for another bout of neurosurgery (round 4) so all my psychic energy will be focussed on that.

And if you were to ask how I felt about this, I would reply:

Vexed, displeased, irked and gutted

Fed-up and put-upon,

Hemmed in by events,

Squeezed by fate

HEMMED IN - PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

HEMMED IN – PAINTING by THOMAS MILNER

A bit like this picture in fact

Smuggling book out of the Papal States

One of my favourite forebears is my great-great-great-uncle William Milner who died tragically young in 1813 of tuberculosis.
He, like both his elder brothers, was educated at the Hipperholme School, (a famous contemporary was Lawrence Sterne, author of that literary anomaly Tristram Shandy)  near Bradford and took up an interest in modern languages – German and Italian.

In his youth he travelled extensively on the Continent and spent some time in Germany where, according to his cousin Thomas Asline Ward, he lived upwards of a year in Brunswick where he entered into all the gaieties of that dissipated place, and visited at the court of the Duke.

SMALL, FAT OLD BOOK

SMALL, FAT OLD BOOK

I have a small, fat, old, calfskin-bound, 17th century Italian book of his –IL Correiro Svaligliato, publicato da Ginifaccio Spironcini. MDCXLIV (1644), obviously acquired on the same occasion, because he first signed his name (in German script), then read it and was either rather scandalized by the its contents or more likely perhaps worried that he would be detained at the frontier of one the Papal States with the book in his possession.
Be that as it may, he carefully scraped away his surname from the title page, though it can still be made out (just) two centuries later.


What was it all about? My father describes the book thus:
It is indeed a curiosity – a collection of squibs or pasquinades violently attacking the Barberini pope Urban VIII, his rapacious family and the corruptions of the papal court. They are associated with the name of Ferrante Pallavicino and one (section) vividly records his betrayal by an agent provocateur, his trial and execution by the papal forces. After three and a half centuries the binding is sound and good – a tribute to the magnificent material.

17th century calf-skin

17th CENTURY CALFSKIN-BINDING

In my mind’s eye I can see the young man, bent over the page, gently scraping away with a razor, his face absorbed in the candle-light.

In 1811 he was diagnosed with the disease that was to kill him and transferred to the Isle of Wight for a cure. We have a letter from there to his father:
… he then hoped he was recovering and he would be soon back in Town. He thinks he has benefitted from the use of a kind of tobacco, Strabonum Herb Tobacco, which he smokes in a pipe. It has done (him) more good (sic) than fresh air or any other medicine.

(Over two centuries, does one detect the whiff of cannabis?

Staying in his boarding house is a Mrs. Campbell, widow of General Campbell who died lately in Portugal in consequence of his too great fatigue and exertions in disciplining the Portuguese Levies.
William died two years after the date of this letter and was buried at Attercliffe in Yorkshire.

Her pilgrim soul

W.B. YEATS

W.B. YEATS

When I was young I greatly admired the poem When You Are Old by William Butler Yeats, the middle verse of which I quote:

How many loved your glad grace,

And loved your beauty with love false or true;

But one loved the pilgrim soul in you,

And loved the sorrows of your changing face.

Now I’m getting to be quite old myself and well, it has more meaning for me and I still like it.

DETAIL OF CARTOON by LEONARDO DA VINCI

DETAIL OF CARTOON by LEONARDO DA VINCI

A room with a view

I have just spent most my morning  admiring the sporadic flocks of migrating birds on their way north in the early spring (while at the same time catching up on Radio 4 podcasts of The News Quiz).

The birds winter in North Africa (lucky them) and then rendezvous in the environs of Algeciras in Morocco to await to their turn for streaming funnel of avian life crossing the Dire Straits to Gibraltar and beyond. My particular contingent then wheel west along the Algarve coast until they reach the Cape of Sagres before turning north and eventually crossing in front my bedroom window – left to right using the narrow corridor of pine and eucalyptus forest between the village and the ocean.

later they will build their nests in the bosky fields of Hampshire (lucky them).

A miraculous cycle of nature, a spectacle laid on just for me. The message is clear – relax and be in harmony with nature. Go with the flow.

The view from my bed in the morning

After lunch (stewed chicken with pasta – a culinary mésalliance in my opinion) I return to my room for a nap/siesta/snooze/40 winks from I wake 30 minutes later. I then dutifully carry out my physiotherapeutic exercises. First an isometric routine for beginners (even I, handicapped as I am) can do them in my chair followed by a lurch/stomp/stumble on my walker/Zimmer frame down the corridor outside my room.

Up the corridor to the right is a bathroom into which I enter/slip/pop to lean back against the radiator for my straighten-the-back-to-improve-my-posture exercise (with some deep breathing thrown in). After a while I get tired/bored with the straighten-the-back-to-improve-my-posture exercise and put my hand into my pocket where I encounter my mobile phone (not a «smart» phone but-pretty-intelligent-for-the-price) and take a rather eery picture of myself, taking a rather eery picture of myself, taking a rather eery – OH JUST SHUT UP WILL YOU!

RATHER EEIRY PICTURE OF MYSELF

RATHER EERY PICTURE OF MYSELF

I return back down the corridor to the end and turn right to admire the fine view of our local church (I don’t mean that the church per se is particularly fine – just the view of it).

After tea (the old dears can’t be doing without their tea, you know – it’s a lifetime habit, useful survival skill as well in case they starve to death between the twin fueling stations of lunch and early dinner. They dunk (good word) their bread or biscuits into heavy outsize cups of tea or milky coffee made from turnips (you have to be a weightlifter to be able to raise them to your lips) instead they crouch devotionally in front of the heavy cups and spoon the resultant pap into their mouths) so after tea, I spend time in my atélier working on my lastest painting.

VIEW FROM ATELIER

VIEW FROM ATELIER

Back in my room I’m beginning to run of steam.

«… Fragments, that I have shored up against my ruin»

And at the end of the day the sun sets at the orbiting rim of our world.

Age

Nobody grows old merely by living a number of years. We grow old by deserting our ideals. Years may wrinkle the skin, but to give up enthusiasm wrinkles the soul.

Samuel Ullman (1840-1924 author of the poem Youth, written at the age of 78)

SAMUEL ULLMAN

SAMUEL ULLMAN

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