Saturday, 20 December 2014

The Squirrel, the Magpie and William Blake


I looked out of the window this morning and rather than the usual gang of squirrels hanging around at the bottom of the bird feeder picking up scattered nuts, seeds and titbits there was only one.

(They can’t climb the bird feeder due to the ingenious “baffle” we’ve installed – otherwise they’d scoff everything and bully the birds away).

This one squirrel was busy burying items on the lawn, no doubt to eat and savour at a later date when the weather wouldn’t be so mild. He or she was totally oblivious to the Magpie, trotting along behind it, so when the squirrel moved on, the magpie would dig up whatever was buried and eat it.

Now squirrels are undoubtedly intelligent, their problem solving skills are second to none, but the magpie had street smarts. It was fascinating and had I not been ill and slow moving this morning, I might have been distracted and missed the little drama.

That, the sunset this evening and a walk on the moors the earlier this week where I got some beautiful photos of barren winter trees against the backdrop of the burning sunset reminded me of a quote by William Blake.

The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the Eyes of others only a Green thing that stands in the way. Some see Nature all Ridicule and Deformity, and by these I shall not regulate my proportions; and some scarce see Nature at all. But to the Eyes of the Man of Imagination, Nature is Imagination itself.

Which leads on to the “William Blake, Apprentice and Master” exhibition I visited with my friend Mike a couple of weekends ago at the Ashmolean in Oxford.

I’ve always been fascinated with Blake, I’m no expert by any means, but like many people and subjects I know enough to keep me captivated and wanting to read and witness more.

He was a strange, radical, revolutionary, spiritual figure, devoted and excelling in many mediums, the written word, art, craft. Paradoxically loved and admired by people of both left and right (the hymn Jerusalem being used as the anthem for the labour movement and owned by the Suffragette cause), and by those with faith and those without.

The exhibition concentrated, as you would expect from the title on Blake’s growth as an artist and poet, from childhood to death, his influences and loves and how he honed his craft. It also focuses on the techniques he used, and innovations he created especially in printmaking (the video in the link above gives an insight). It has many beautiful examples of his work as well as a narrative on his life. My favourite items are his work illustrating Dante’s Inferno, so effortless and beautiful. One example below.

Dante and Virgil Penetrating the Forest - Picture Credit (Tate)

And the recreation of his studio in Lambeth was revelatory too, his hand printing press was a brute of a thing. As well as his delicate touch, and exquisite eye for detail, Blake was strong and stocky, he himself was able to turn the wheel, time after time after the intense labour time of applying ink when it needed to be dabbed on with a leather hoof type thing, before the invention of a handy roller. It is a disastrous shame that many of his works were destroyed or toned down (defaced) after his death, e.g. to remove genitals, for fears of upsetting the sensibilities of society. Who knows what further wonders of Blake have been lost to history. Definitely a great exhibition to visit. It’s on till the 1st March 2015. Ashmolean, Oxford.

Tuesday, 16 December 2014

Winter Walk at Dusk

Flitton and Flitwick moor, today. (all photos © Mel Melis)


The peat bog caresses,

with sticky tarred fingers,

exploring the flesh,

and drinking the droplets,

of hot breath falling,


understanding the strangers,

the night waking,

as the day sinks in fading red,


life stands still,

bar one last laugh,

from the woodpecker,

the birds are silent,

invisible, cold hardened,

watching the mottled clouds,

and listening

as the moor starts to converse,

quietly at first,


the river swelled, giggling,

creaking trees sway,

straight backed callow alders,

golden haired willows,

cowed and bashful,

squat crab apples,

and stern oaks,

dark and bold,

against the sunset.


Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Borneo wildlife

The nature in Borneo has not only been diverse, but also abundant. It's often cited that tropical rainforests, which are only located in south east Asia, the amazon and Central Africa, account for 6% of the total land mass (or 2% of the planet's surface) but sustain approximately 50% of the worlds plants and animals.
In addition to the beneficial carbon offsetting work they do of course.

In that regard I've been fortunate to see some amazing species. Especially when I caught the short flight to Mulu, the unesco world heritage sight.

Before I talk about Mulu, a quick word on orangutans. On our last day of the fujitsu tour we overnighted at the Shangri-la rasa ria which houses a sanctuary for orphaned orangutans. This is all part of a complex rehabilitation programme, after the rasa-ria they are moved to the east of Sabah where they are slowly weaned off their dependence on humans so they can then be released into the wild and hopefully continue to sustain the dwindling population.
Both the resort and seeing the orangutans was a great reward for us 60 volunteers!
I also saw this wide gaited geezer of a monitor lizard. He was strutting along without a care in the world.

And a cute snake outside my room (there were several members of staff keeping a safe distance)

Interestingly I also saw these amazing crab patterns on the beach, where they dig out sand from their burrows and deposit it in incredible patterns. It made me think of Alan Turings theory of morphogenesis. I'm no scientist but strictly this phenomenon probably doesn't sit under that theory as it's more to do with how animals adapt and evolve chemically, e.g. To get stripes or spots, but still, he did some fascinating work after the war before he cruelly died so young.

They are like little cities with carriageways and open spaces. Why does each crab choose a different design or approach?

As for Mulu, what an incredible place, a friend who had been there before told me to close my eyes and listen to the sounds of the jungle at night. However on the first night the restaurant just outside the national park's perimeter had karaoke on, so all I could hear was the horrible drunk wails of Homo Sapiens singing "I will always love you" - had to laugh!
Below -On the way to Mulu.

But when it only the jungle you could hear, there is an overwhelming variety of sounds. The yelps of geckos, cicadas chirruping, frogs, the weird leaf cricket who rubs its wings so it sounds like a six year old having their first violin lesson. And also disconcerting sounds I didn't get a chance to ask a guides advice on. An unearthly booming echoing call, like two huge pieces of bamboo being whacked together for instance.

I did a night walk,a canopy walk, and various cave walks. I asked our guide what the best way to get rid of leeches was. He said to use a credit card, I made a joke about leeches charging, but nobody laughed. Wasted wit :).
But...My best memory though has to be my last day.

I saw the famous bat exodus. It wasn't the millions promised but at dusk the caves belched big clouds and beautiful ribbons of bats into the fading light. Bat hawks circled and dived into the mass, snaring the tiny bats, truly a wonder. Here's a terrible photo of a "bat ribbon" - morphogenesis again? (Or not!)

Earlier in the day I went to racer cave, which isn't lit like the other tourist caves. So there's an eerie quality as you gingerly step through, shining your torch in the pitch black. The click click of swiftlets and the shrill calls of bats the first clue to the unique Eco system. We saw massive huntsman spiders which feed on bird eggs. Huge crickets with enormous antenna, compensating for their blindness and the racer snake, the alpha predator. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Planting trees, Borneo

The fujitsu tour itself involved a number of activities and team events. I was made a team leader of 8, and from that moment I was crushed under the expectant weight of responsibility.
Occasionally I would forget to count my team back onto the bus, but a good officer knows that if you invest responsibility in your soldiers, they will always be accountable. I guess it was their loyalty to me that always brought them home ;)

For each event there was also a different randomised group, which maximised our ability to meet new people. Everyone on the tour was great, they were a focused and decent bunch and it's wonderful to meet so many people from around the world.

The first two days were quite gentle, with a trek round Gaya Island, two river cruises, a line census of wildlife, visits to a sustainable palm oil plantation, some orientation and lectures as well as our first bit of hard work, girdling. Non rainforest trees are planted to protect and provide shelter for the rainforest saplings. When those saplings are strong enough to survive without those trees above them we perform girdling, that is to cut away a section of bark all the way around the bigger tree, such that it will die slowly (the flow of nutrients stops when this happens), this means further protection for the sapling, as the tree dies. Using a machete was fun, but I will be working on my upper body strength for next year!

Then on day three, Planting!

This was hard, after our demonstrations (which looked easy when delivered by professionals) we were put in our groups, given our long handled shovels, our saplings and set to work. When the notes accompanying the tour said the slopes would be steep, I didn't realise that meant almost 75 degree inclines at times! The guides cajoled and helped us, with our "soft keyboard hands". Working in that heat (around 36C) and humidity drenches you in sweat in seconds. We had two students from Sabah university in our group, they were amazing. As part of their civil engineering course they had this as as one of their environmental module activities and we had a real camaraderie amongst our Japanese/uk/Malaysian team. I ended up filthy, exhausted, but very happy. Between all the groups we planted 1400 trees out of our 1500 target.
You could argue (rightly) that the professionals could have done this in less than half the time, that we didn't need to fly half way round the globe to support the project. but this isn't the reason for Fujitsu's contribution, it is to build relationships, to show we care but also to take the message back to our own teams, colleagues, families and friends, to try to make a difference. The rainforest is a key eco system to reverse the threat of global warning. There's plenty all of us could do to make a difference.

Some general advice for those thinking of doing this next year - We were warned / advised
1) not to pee in the forest, as your private parts would become swollen
2) not to disrespect the forest as it can hear you and will curse you
3) not to take anything from the forest (curse. Again)
4) to give compliments to the forest

I though I was doing well, but I inadvertently succumbed to no 2). I flung my safety helmet away exclaiming I didn't need it, I was so hot, what could possibly happen? Well, within two minutes I walked into a heavy branch which clumped me just above the left eye. Let that be a warning to all of you!
Another Poem (sorry) (c) Mel melis November 2014

A rainforest in miniature,
babes in arms,
We carry them,
Down steep banks,
and through ravines,
Cross streams, 
And whilst we are scratched,
Mud splattered, 
We protect them,
The forest is watching,
Making sure our kindness,
Imbues their fortitude,

They are expectant, 
Arcing their flexible callow bodies,
So their leaves feel the sun,
Waiting for the chance for their roots,
To unfurl and feed,
We tuck them into their dug earth beds,
Then cover the bed with 
blankets of detritus and leaves,
The dead forest nurturing the newly born

With sweat pouring,
The jungle judges us,
on words and intention,
As if it so decided,
It could close in and kill us,
So, a kiss,
Good luck little sapling,
Grow straight, grow true,
Grow beautiful.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Kota Kinabalu

Kota Kinabalu in Malaysian Borneo is a fascinating place, after a long journey and two flights I arrived, sleep deprived and bewildered at our fujitsu volunteer hotel. For those not in the know I will briefly summarise what I'm doing here -
Fujitsu sponsor and work closely with a local charity which regenerates the Borneo rainforest. 60 staff volunteers from around the world have self funded themselves to get here, representation of staff comes from Japan, Singapore, China, Malaysia, Australia, New Zealand and from further afield the UK and Germany.
So on that basis and with an early start the next day, I took a stroll in the early evening to find something to eat and then, by a strange quirk of global coincidence meet an old friend Tom, who happened to be staying in the block next door to my hotel. He'd seen my update on Facebook and announced that he too was in KK, but just for one night.

I took a walk along the wooden boarded promenade to the night market.

The smell is the first thing that hits you, fish and meat juices drain into the walkways between the tightly packed stalls. The chatter of sales and bargaining is incessant. I was fortunate to have trainers on, some people walked in flip flops and the slap slap slap in the entrails and liquids was rather unpleasant and residue kicked up onto clothes and legs.
However, the fish looked fresh, clear eyed not cloudy and bright in appearance.

Alongside the meat and fish were the other foods, uniformly shaped spuds were stacked in rows, indeterminable exotic fruit and vegetables and various packed herbs and spices.

Beyond that again, the food hawkers, stall upon stall, frying, steaming, grilling. Smells and smoke heavy in the air, cooked fish and meat ready to plate up, as well as the raw options for those who insist on choosing their option cooked from fresh.
polite young kids milled around, asking what you would like to eat. Unlike some other places in south East Asia a smile and a "maybe later" is met with a "no problem" and they enquire as to whether the next person would like a meal.

And beyond that again, stalls of various bric and brac and souvenirs or more prosaic things like lighters. In the midst of the market was a mosque, the doors flung wide open to send a sea breeze through the building and give relief to the worshippers from the humidity and heat.
The imam sang his prayers to god beautifully, it could easily have been part of Eastern Orthodox liturgy, the lilts and key changes so similar. 
I then walked back through the market, back along the promenade looking out to the dark sea where not long previously I had witnessed a beautiful red sunset behind the islands in the bay. 

The promenade ended abruptly, at a bar. I was tired, not just from the flight but from the sensory overload of the market. I didn't want to eat so I ordered a narkileh and smoked awhile. The water cooled fruit tobacco smoke soothing rather than harsh, even for a non smoker like me.

I then started to think, to think clearly. I started to relax. It's been a long year, long hours, this was my first proper break from the office. I smiled.
I thought of Lawrence Durrell and his book about Cyprus "bitter lemons", I wouldn't say it was a great book, his brother was a better writer, but something struck me, a memory from the book was plucked from a cobwebbed corner of my mind.

It's certainly not an accurate memory, more a memory of a feeling the book left me with, but he said something along the lines of how he enjoyed the company of Greek Cypriots but also the Turkish ones.
He wrote about restless industrious Greeks and serene Turks looking to the horizon, to take in the world before it passed us by.
All year I've let the world pass me by, so I stopped and watched. And listened. It made me think of who I am, what I am.
And I wrote, and the words came.

Kota Kinabalu ( mel melis (c) November 2014)

There's peace in the noise,
The construction workers drilling,
The chatter of families on their promenade,
The tinny music from waterside bars,
and the waves gently lapping,
A hawker's agitated tapping,
Of fingers against his purse,
And beyond,
The ethereal songs, 
of the faithful,
From the market mosque,

I have the blood of Greeks, 
of Sparta, of Turks, 
of frightened concubines, from the far north,
Stolen and cruelly forced,
into the pasha's servitude, 

I am a Jew, 
a Phoenician trader,
From the Ptolemies of Egypt,
To an Arab raider,
Venetian, Lusignan and Frank,
And a crusader.

I watch the world, through apple scented smoke,
And I am at peace.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Joan Fontcuberta, Science Museum. What to see.


This exhibition at the Science Museum looks great, can't wait to visit.

Joan Fontcuberta is a photographer artist who holds up a mirror to the news and our bombardment of information with a playful but serious series of works.

When you read a news article or look at a picture or photograph, which may or may not have a "helpful" caption... do you take it at face value? Do you question its integrity? Do you research and challenge the validity of the message it conveys? Do you make up your own mind? We've all been duped by someone, even by people in supposed authority. The world is becoming a place where news and information is readily available, however it's also readily dumbed down or perverted to suit a cause. I don't trust anything I read, especially knee jerk shares of sensationalist rubbish.

A summary of Fontcuberta’s projects and brilliantly believable hoaxes can be found in this guardian article.

But, what to believe? To me the internet is about pictures of cats. I only trust pictures of cats. I believe in cats.

The Miracle of Dolphin Surfing, 2002

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Gigs of 2014.. so far

I haven’t blogged in a while, I’ve been flat out with work. I need to start writing again. A simple way to kick off that energy is to share some music and some pictures of gigs I’ve been to this year, to fire some synapses, give me some ideas, to stir some passions. Then maybe, who knows, I might blog again. Soon!

Cate Le Bon, Friday 7th February. Islington Assembly Rooms

My first gig of the year was back in February, Cate Le Bon at the Islington Assembly Rooms. It’s a venue I’ve never been to before, but I instantly liked it, nice high stage so a shortarse like me can get a decent view and a reasonably quick serving bar. It’s also part of the council buildings Arsenal start or end up in as part of their bus tour of Islington when they’ve won a trophy.

So who is Cate Le Bon? She’s released three albums to date, the first impression is one of Nico. But she’s also inspired by the likes of Syd Barrett and in some songs that really comes through with the quirky interludes or the psychedelic aural assaults, but it would be unfair to pigeon hole her. She’s a fantastic singer/songwriter. Some say her lyrics are dark, but I don’t see that, they are ambiguous, ambivalent, you take from them what you want. She’s fantastic live, would definately see her again. John from work was also impressed, as we were with the pre-gig Upper Street meze.. just don’t tell anyone we did something that louche.

Two of my pics from her gig. All photos © Mel Melis unless credited

The Stranglers Saturday 8th March, Hammersmith

And so to the Stranglers and their 40th Anniversary Ruby tour. My first ever gig was the Stranglers. Alexandra Palace, Hugh Cornwell’s last gig, the last gig of the original line up. I’d seen them a couple of times since, but then wasn’t so fussed about following them live although I always loved their music. So I felt inspired to go to this gig, sentimentality and curiosity as Jet Black, the oldest man in punk (probably undisputed at 75 years young) would play drums in a few songs. As prep’ I was catching up with their old albums, Black and White (their third album) was the one I homed in on, a lot, a brilliant, dark and claustrophobic post punk classic. JJ Burnel’s brutal basslines are especially sinister on this album and the themes of Orwellian post-apocalyptic control and dystopia hammer through the album. They didn’t disappoint, they played for a fucking age. It was truly epic and it was an emotional moment when Jet Black played in the middle of the set, then at the end. Bossman came with me, and he loved it too, we stood there gawping as classic after classic was belted out.

Live forever! (as Ray Bradbury would oft say)

JJ Burnel, the hardest man in punk.

Jet Black (the oldest man in punk) and JJ Burnel (hardest man in punk)

Jet Black (minus hat and shades)

Roman Remains Weds 23rd April, Hoxton bar and grill

Myself and the Bossman, we’ve always loved the Duke Spirit, those Hackney scoundrels playing their melodic 60s infused retro punk, so it was interesting to hear two of their members, Leila and Toby had formed a dark electronica act. This was to be their first UK gig. We’d never been to the bar and grill before, but it was great, got a burger before, walked into the venue and bang! Great acoustics, great view. Rum and cokes. We had a blast! The band were great too. Pick of the live tracks? Gazebo – it’s one beautiful tune. Shared below.

The interior of the “grill” bit of the venue.

Roman Remains!

Joshua Homme (+ secret guest Mark Lanegan) Mon 16th June, Royal Festival Hall

As part of James Lavelle’s meltdown (sadly I’ve never seen UNKLE and I bloody love them) I got the offer from John from work via his other friend John (who was a beneficiary of my two-hundred redials to get Kraftwerk tickets) to see Joshua Homme play an acoustic set. So he reciprocated with this opportunity - What a lovely decadent way to spend a Monday night. Homme was engaging, funny, chatty and played acoustic versions of QOTSA songs as well as a couple of covers.

But having always had a man crush on Mark Lanegan I had to restrain myself from seal clapping when the old bear loped onto the stage and together they played One Hundred Days and Hanging Tree. Beautiful.

Brian Jonestown Massacre, Tuesday 1st July, The Roundhouse

I was embarrassed to say I’d never heard any BJM before (actually a BJM sounds like a sexual act? Sod it, I’ll carry on using the abbreviation and by using the word “sexual” this blog post might get more hits. Although they’ll probably be disappointed.. BJM! BJM!)

Anyway, The Bossman made the recommendation. And what a psychedelic masterpiece of a band they are. Guitars everywhere, effect pedals everywhere, tamborines and jangly wonderment and noise. I only had my iphone, so no decent pictures so I’ll share a video instead. I have to say though the gig was enhanced for me, because I was utterly dehydrated from an inter-work 5 a side game where no quarter was given, it was a hot day, I was tired and bruised. My mind was drained of it’s usual spark and the music soaked into me, I was a happy zombie sucking down pints of cola as the two beers I’d tried to have earlier in the evening had just sent me into a soporific tailspin. I was glad to be sitting in the seats up in the circle. The roundhouse is a fantastic venue.

So what’s to look forward to? The big one is Kate Bush in September, I must’ve signed up to her mailing list at some point in the past and got a pre-sale email. So I bought tickets, I’m skint, but happy! I wonder whether she’ll be able to sing any of her early work? Artists’ voices change in time, so hopefully there’ll be new arrangements. But if it’s new stuff only, I don’t care, it’s Kate Bush. She’s British music royalty, her music brings a lump to my throat. It’s beautiful.

But before then, Mogwai @ Koko … their new album is astounding. It’s almost danceable, listen to Remurdered, when the synth jumps in half way through, it’s jumping. Those miserable socially conscious Scotsmen… I would hug them all, and embrace their white noise!

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

The Front Door


Can you mourn the passing of a door? It’s funny what we might consider precious. What we instil such emotional value into, memories or things. The heavy old hardwood door, older than me, a fond memory of growing up, ubiquitous through my childhood and early adulthood. Now a dark moss green, but painted so many times over it groaned and juddered reluctantly when you dragged it into its snug old frame. Painted over like the Edwardian tiles in the outside porch, black marble fractured with tiny capillaries of imperfection, depicting gold and russet autumn blooms in relief, hidden under coat and undercoat, coat and undercoat. At least that’s what I think is under the layers, a memory plucked from childhood, I’m surprised at my own sentiment, this memory pulled from a file which modern life has deemed insignificant, but the nostalgic part of me still holds dear. I’d be scared to remove the paint, in case I’m disappointed. I believe in the flowers, that is all I need to reassure, to warm my heart.

I think of the old mechanical metal bell, still working today, you twirled the little sycamore seed like handle, and it trilled cheerfully, even in its venerable age the door sung for visitors, like a bird exalting the Spring, the lengthening days and the whisper of love. And above the bell, the heavy satisfying weight of the ornate knocker, only yielding against the door itself. The dull dour thud resonating through the house, laconic, humourless, a boom of metal on wood, an old wood, a wise wood. But hardly anyone used the knocker, because the bell was a joy. Everyone loved the bell, a childlike glee would overcome even the most sour face, scowls replaced with beaming smiles. Everyone would marvel at something so old sounding so wonderful. A robust mechanical bell! In my mind, the knocker and the mechanical bell are old friends, unlikely friends. The knocker at peace with the bell getting all the attention, because when someone did choose to use him, he would boom wilfully, so everyone could hear him knock.

Over those decades, those hard winters and occasional hot summers, the old door watched the other doors in the terrace die and be replaced. The old hardwood brothers and sisters burnt or ditched, their mechanical bells singing no more. UPVC and cheap wood replacing the cumbersome assurance of the solid old originals. And the door would breathe, once a year, following the seasons, breathe in over spring and summer, out again in autumn and winter, the wood contracting, expanding. Breathing imperceptibly.

Many decades ago, when my parents moved from the condemned tenements of Pentonville, the door was already middle aged. The grew old with it. What is a door? The door provides peace, a focus and the portal to the haven of home. A home, a roof over our head, that most ancient of human needs. If you believe in your door, you feel secure in the sanctity of your space. And our door held a magic. Protected us. No one invaded our space.

But tonight, someone hurt our door, someone invaded our space, it wont recover from the forced entry of burglars, ripped from the frame I felt an unnatural emotional response, it threw me, memories of mum and dad, of running to school, kicking through leaves, playing in the garden on my trike, of happy and sad times. Tonight, the old door’s been bolstered, bolted, it’s protecting my mum and dad’s old house for just one more night. Tomorrow, the old wood will lie flat, we’ll replace it, its slow breathing will stop. We’ll remove the mechanical bell and the knocker. They’ll stay with us, we can’t part with them. But we’ll say goodbye to our friend, the old door.