Head Gardner of Lambeth Palace

Fascinating excerpt from a new book about being the current head gardener of Lambeth Palace, where the Archbishop of Canterbury stays when he is in London. Key paragraph:

If you read anything about the Palace it mentions Cardinal Pole’s enormous fig tree, which was originally brought to the site in 1556 by the last Roman Catholic Archbishop. It’s an extraordinary plant to inherit. We get great crops, the figs are thin-skinned and taste like pure honey. I prune the plant every five years so you can see the great hall behind it, which is an amazing building. The first year we pruned the fig it was right out onto the tarmac and about thirty feet high…. We could see the vigour of the plant, so I pruned it back even harder. I probably left about 50 percent of growth and then they all gasped! But that was me getting my confidence, thinking, ‘OK, it’s not going to die’. And we saw it respond amazingly. I’ve learned to propagate the fig as well, which is a fairly tricky operation. We’ve sent them all around the world; the Pope was given one at the Vatican. He was presented with one of my cuttings.

Imagine eating figs from a tree planted in the 16th century.

Alias Grace Trailer

This is the Margaret Atwood adaptation that I’m looking forward to, especially since it’s adapted by Sarah Polley, whose directorial and screenwriting work I’ve enjoyed. She has the wry and dark sensibility to do an adaptation of Alias Grace.

Commonplace: Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch

"Reading is sometimes thought of as a form of escapism, and it's a common turn of phrase to speak of getting lost in a book. But a book can also be where one finds oneself; and when a reader is grasped and held by a book it feels like an urgent, crucial dimension of life itself. There are books that seem to comprehend us just as much as we understand them, or even more. There are books that grow with the reader as the reader grows, like a graft to a tree.

This kind of book becomes part of our own experience, and part of our own endurance. It might lead us back to the library in midlife, looking that eluded us before."

Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch

Upfronts: BBC?

Apparently the BBC is jumping into the upfronts week fray, at least via a long teaser trailer of its dramatic production slate for the next year. It’s a lot. Some of it seems like over the top and overly gritty procedurals, which they do exceedingly well, but some of these seem like gems, including the new Howards End. 

Commonplace: W. H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead

Scribbling on the sky the message ‘He is Dead’.

Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,

Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

– W.H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”

Chaucer was wrong about April being the cruelest. May is. 

My friend and officemate, Carol, has just lost her father. I lost my dad in May 2009, and tomorrow would be dad’s 61st birthday. 

You eventually unpack the sun, bring back the stars, and everything else. But Auden captures the awful ache of grief’s first gut wrenching bite. 

Group Sorting and Race in the NFL

Fascinating long read by Jason Reid on race in the NFL, which is 70% African American. It looks at the statistical breakdown of the race of players at certain positions, drawing from Malcolm Gladwell’s work on group sorting and perceptions. It also discusses the ways in which certain positions tend to have more black players and than white players and vice versa. While it touches on the institutional racism of the NFL’s early days and the unofficial ban well into the 1980s on African-American players being at center or quarterback, it also explores how coaches search for patterns in players, so much so that it’s hard to find a white tailback now. Reid’s tone is measured, exploring the current pattern without trying to draw a specific conclusion about what the data is showing.

Predictive Data and Who Will Finish College

Fascinating article in the NYTimes in how big data can explore how making a certain grade in a lower level course, such as composition, can predict whether or not you graduate. Data analysis can’t tell you why a student makes a certain grade–it could be preparation or messy life issues–but it definitely seems to highlight what classes are indicative of successful completion of an undergraduate degree.