A Head In The Clouds: A Year Of Looking Upwards

A blogpost by Robert Bruce:

It is a year since lockdown and during the whole period I have found it helpful to look upwards to the skies. It soothes and calms. It reminds us that the world goes on, mostly beyond our control. From our small roof terrace in Maida Vale and, when allowed, from elsewhere, this has been a year when clouds, mostly free from the vapour trails of aircraft, have become towering and tumbling symbols of freedom. But first: A wave of farewell to the old world we knew before lockdown. Now look upwards from the roof terrace.

We saw rare vapour trails above our chimney pots. The pots are probably as old as the house, so 1875. A dragonfly landed on the nearest pot when it was being fired, we presume. Its impression is still there, wings spread wide. It is a detail, as redolent of past natural events as fossils in a Jurassic Coast cliff.

Occasionally, for permitted exercise, I viewed the clouds from Primrose Hill nearby.

The swifts arrived, as they do every year. This time on the 11th of May. After their long flight from southern Africa they nest in the same place each year under the eaves of our roof. This year they were here until the 3rd of August, longer than usual and with a new young brood many more flew back to Africa than arrived.

Occasionally we did have vapour trails. This one giving us a Scottish flavour with a saltire in the skies.

And on a fine day in late May I walked up the hill from Maida Vale to Hampstead to see the man who understood clouds better than anyone: the painter John Constable. His grave in the churchyard there was dappled with sunlight and shadow.

And sometimes I walked to Primrose Hill; permitted exercise.

And in mid-July, on what should have been the first night of the Proms, the concert season at the Albert Hall, the biggest music festival in the world, I walked down through Kensington Gardens. Hardly a soul was there. But the clouds and the sky were spectacular.

By August Primrose Hill was a fine summer’s vantage point.

And in another break from lock-down I walked down to the Royal Academy where they have one of the finest collections of Constable’s paintings of the clouds above Hampstead Heath, just around the corner from where he lived. This year some of them will reach their 200th anniversary. On the back of the one at the bottom left he wrote: “Noon 27 September very bright after rain wind west”. That was in 1821.

And here are three more from last Sunday. You can almost see Constable’s brushstrokes in the second one.

Frames of reference

7 thoughts on “A Head In The Clouds: A Year Of Looking Upwards”

  1. What a peaceful scroll I have enjoyed, Robert, not least because you don’t seem to have as much rain as we do in the West Highlands! Thank you

  2. Thanks Robert, very uplifting! Your skies and clouds prompted a visit to the old Tottenham Trades Hall, a sadly derelict listed Georgian townhouse, but still home to a blue plaque for Luke Howard, the man who pinned down the ineffable.

  3. Wonderful series.
    Love that you’ve spotted the exact 200th anniversary of the 27 Sept 1821 clouds. (I’ve done an online version of ‘Leeds in 1821’ and will lead a walking tour on this theme in May. Anniversaries do serve as a focus.)
    Last spring I took photos every day at the same time while our local pear tree came into flower.
    Also for a few weeks at a particular time from May onwards I took pics of the courtyard behind the old coach house where I live. I’m encouraging plants to grow in cracked concrete. This week a neighbour whom I’d never met saw me outside and said that being able to see my courtyard improves her quality of life.

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