blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit

blending an assortment of thoughts and experiences for my friends, relations and kindred spirit
By Alison Hobbs, blending a mixture of thoughts and experiences for friends, relations and kindred spirits.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016


We ordered a poetry anthology in Large Print for my mother (nearly 97) this week, because she needs something to read and, indeed, something to read aloud, if possible, at her poetry mornings in the nursing home where she now lives. Some of the other residents have quite an impressive repertoire of poems to share, it seems. Mum herself can recognise a vast amount of British poetry, but claims she never learned any by heart, which may not be correct because her generation was taught in school to learn many things by heart; so was my generation, and I think it is a shame that this is rarely the case nowadays. In any case, poetry is one of the things that keeps her going, and I know it will be the same for me when I reach her stage of life.

Mira (a member of my German conversation group) told me that she also has an elderly mother suffering from a certain degree of memory loss, and that whenever she calls her, i.e. every day, she reads something out to her in Polish, because that was their first language. What a good idea, I thought. This week, therefore, I have started doing the same for my mum. Today I read her Milton's At A Solemn Musick (which I pretty well know by heart because I sang the Parry setting of it once or twice, and because it was a favourite of mine when I was growing up: I recited this poem during a school assembly once, on St. Cecilia's Day, but that's another story). I also gave her a verse or two from Milton's long Ode On The Morning Of Christ's Nativity which runs along similar lines:

... Ring out, ye crystal spheres!
Once bless our human ears,
If ye have power to touch our senses so;
And let your silver chime
Move in melodious time;
And let the bass of heaven's deep organ blow;
And with your ninefold harmony
Make up full consort to the angelic symphony...

Mum mentioned that my sister has been reading to her as well, extracts from Dr. Zhivago, a much loved novel on her bookshelf. So that led me to look up some Pasternak poems, such as the one about the burning candle (Зимняя Ночь). Compulsive reading, compulsively written.

Recently I have been doing some "work" for a friend of ours, reading through a fairly large collection of unpublished poems on a theme that has inspired him, which he wrote himself, along with his introduction to them. He has asked me and others to "pull out the weeds", but he is such a first rate writer that I don't have the audacity to criticise much of it at all. I can point out a few lines that puzzle me, but that may be due to my own shortcomings rather than his. I cannot talk about these poems here, other to say they're nearly all devastatingly good ones, because that might embarrass him or compromise what he is trying to do. The other day I told him that weeds are a matter of opinion. In Australia, for instance, garden plants that have spread into the wilds are referred to as weeds, rather than vice versa; everything is upside down over there. So who am I to judge what's a weed, and what is not?

Thursday, May 26, 2016

More steps

Along the road from Ithaca to Glen Watkins

After the hotel breakfast, we drove to Glen Watkins at the southern end of the next Finger lake along, west of Ithaca, Seneca Lake. It too had waterfalls. Having parked by Colonial Laundromat and visited an Information Centre we realised we could walk to Glen Watkins State Park five blocks away, passing a building labelled Improved Order of Red Men Chequaga Tribe. I'm not sure what that meant, or means, though it sounds rather derogatory.

We walked up Glen Creek with plenty of other tourists along a trail that led through tunnels in the rockfaces, including a "spiral tunnel", and many steep flights of stone steps, some very wet. Another couple took a photo of us by a waterfall we could walk behind. Bridges crossed high above us, and cliffs rose into the sky. Swirling, fantastic rock formations formed the sides of the creek, the rocks carved by the water of centuries. I thought of Coleridge's poem about Kubla Khan ...
But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy an enchanted
As e'er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover …
This watercourse must be a tremendous sight in springtime when the snow melts.

Keeping our eye on the clock, because we aimed to set off on our flight home around 2pm, we drove a few 100m back along the Glen Creek streets to the Lakeside Park, to eat our Subway sandwiches at a picnic table there, under tall trees. We returned to Ithaca the way we'd come, along the Scenic Highway (as opposed to Scenic Byway of yesterday?) -- Route 79, through Ulysees and Tompkins counties. The car's GPS took us to Tompkins Regional airport where we'd left the plane. We returned the car, sat in the comfortable FBO, filed the EAPIS and took off for home. It was a two hour 1 minute flight, bumpy at the start and toward the finish because of gusty winds aloft, but smooth mid way, over Syracuse and Watertown, perhaps because of the proximity of the large, calm mass of water in Lake Ontario.

A most satisfactory trip.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Virtual synchrony and the Taughannock Falls

There is no obvious connection other than that we thought about these things on the same day.

This morning while I ate a solitary breakfast at the hotel, Chris bounded up the big hill to the Cornell campus, to meet Prof. Birman at the Gimme Coffee bar in the Bill and Melinda Gates Hall, where he (Chris) spent an interesting hour discussing Virtual Synchrony with the man who had invented it in 1988. Chris first used it in 1992, as an engineer working on the London Local Fibre [telecomms] Network.

When I was ready to set off, I walked up to the campus by a more exciting route, up the Cascadilla Gorge Trail which is a stone path and steps up beside a whole series of cascading waterfalls, tall bridges overhead. I got very warm climbing the last lot of steps from the river up to the bridge on College Avenue, so was glad of the chance to cool down for a few minutes when I reached the Gimme Coffee place. Chris came hurrying down from an upper floor to fetch me to meet someone he'd been introduced to, Prof. Robert Constable, a mathematician of repute who was a colleague of Leslie Lamport and used to be the Dean of the Ithaca faculty. This gentleman later proudly showed me his name, carved into a pillar by the front door of the Gates Hall. We sat in his room for a while, listening to his thoughts on the latest developments in his field of work and he sent Chris a copy of the paper he and his colleagues are about to publish.

After a drink at the campus' bagel shop I showed Chris the gorge trail and so walked down it too, back into town where I found Rushdie's "Midnight's Children" in a second hand bookshop.

The hotel porter gave us a shuttle ride to the airport where we had a rental car booked and waiting. This allowed us to explore outside Ithaca this afternoon: up Rte 89, the "Scenic Byway" that follows the western side of Cayuga Lake. We hardly drove further than a third of the way to the top end of the lake, but this was meant to be a leisurely excursion. Our first stop was at the Taughannock Falls lookout point, on a cliff a long way above the river. The water drops more than 200ft, apparently, and the cliffs are twice that height. It was a magical view, and from where we stood we could see that there were people at the base of the falls as well, so we decided to drive back down the road to find how to get there. Easily done; the walk to the view (past other waterfalls, weirs and rapids, under shale cliffs with trees growing on them at near-impossible angles) was only 3/4s of a mile along a flat trail. The big nearby trees with their newly green leaves added to the loveliness of this walk.

Across the road was another State Park where we could sit at a picnic table and appreciate Cayuga Lake from its shore. At the next picnic table along, a gang of students were appreciating one another. Chris and I decided to drive onwards as far as Interlaken, which is not at all the same as its Swiss namesake, but a village with a sizeable Baptist Church and other such historic buildings, founded in 1815, set in vineyards and open fields smelling of fresh manure. It does have distant views of the lake, but not of Seneca Lake, the next Finger Lake along to the west; we may take a look at that tomorrow morning if we have time. We reached Interlaken via Trumansburg and Covert; there was a roadside icecream shack at Trumansburg where I bought a "toddler's" (i.e. small) sundae. We returned along the Scenic Byway again, and had a Taste of Thai for supper on the Ithaca Commons.

There are some surrealist murals around the multi-storey parking in this town, certainly more eye catching and appealing than plain concrete.

This evening we made use of the hotel's pool and "spa" tub, to bring a relaxing day to its conclusion.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Land of waterfalls

From the New York State side of the border, at Ogdensburg
It is the Long Weekend, 3rd weekend in May. Tomorrow is Victoria Day in Canada, and we are in Ithaca, in the USA not on the Greek island where Odysseus was king. I am making no apologies or excuses for the long recent silence on this blog; it would be too time-consuming.

Nest on the cliffs, Ithaca
Ithaca is famous for its waterfalls. We found a few this afternoon on our way down the hill from the Cornell University campus that we had gone to explore. They tumble through spectacular, steep gorges like the Avon gorge on the edge of Bristol, in England, with road and foot bridges that are a temptation to suicidal students, so that crisis help line numbers have to be posted at their ends, and nets hung beneath, with high wrought iron fences alongside. Fortunately we were in a mood to enjoy the views, enhanced by buttercups all over the banks, and the nest of a bird of prey (buzzard? eagle?), on the cliffs. Another thing that's perched on the cliffs by the river is the one time home of Carl Sagan, the astronomer.

Sagan's cottage

We flew down from Ottawa in hazy conditions, this morning, sent on a long detour by ATC because of other traffic, on our way to KOGS, Ogdensburg. Once on the ground there we were met by not one but three customs officers who had driven over from the International Bridge over the St. Lawrence. On the second leg we flew down the eastern side of Lake Ontario to the Syracuse area, then for only 20 more minutes across rising terrain with striped fields to the southern end of Lake Cayuga, the longest of the Finger Lakes. This is where Ithaca is situated. Chris was pleased with the chance to do 'a nice ILS approach' to runway 32 at Ithaca airport. We checked in at the Taughannock Aviation FBO which apparently is pronounced Tigannog or similar. It's a local name. Tomorrow we hope to visit the Taughannock Falls State Park.

It was supposed to rain all day and all night here in Ithaca today, but luckily for us that didn't happen. We walked for miles (8-10km, at least) around the Cornell University campus this afternoon, which is up a long, steep hill, so this evening we are utterly sleepy. Tomorrow Chris is to meet Prof. Ken Birman whose work he has been using for software applications since the 1990s. They have corresponded but never met. Their meeting place is going to be the Bill and Melinda Gates Hall, a futuristic faculty (the Faculty of Computing and Information Science) building. Some of the Cornell buildings, on the other hand, are more neo-gothic in appearance.

Supper was an excellent middle eastern meal from a restaurant called Sahara Mediterranean, and then we wandered through the pedestrian area known as the Ithaca Commons. We are staying in the parallel street, Seneca (!) Street, at the comfortable Hilton Garden Inn.