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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Rich Hall

Rich Hall moves to Montana. A neighbour (meaning someone who lives in a five-mile radius, I'm guessing) drops round to invite him to a party.

'There'll be drinkin and dancin, fightin and fuckin', he says.

'Who'll be there?' asks Rich Hall.

'Just you and me.'

Friday, March 30, 2007

Dialogue Between Nature and an Icelander

Look at these marvellous images by Icelandic photographer Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir. I'll put a little Leopardi on in the background while you're doing so.

Icelander: Now I ask you: Did I ever beg you to place me in this world? Did I intrude into it violently, against your will? But if you put me here without my knowledge or consent, isn't it your duty, if not to keep me happy and content, at least not to taunt and torture me, and let me live in peace? And I say this not only for myself, but for the whole human race, and every living thing.

Nature: Apparently it hasn't occurred to you that life in this universe is a perpetual cycle of production and destruction, so bound together that one is always counteracting, the other, thus preserving the world, which, if either ceased to operate, would likewise dissolve. Therefore if man did not suffer, the world itself might be destroyed.

Icelander: That's the very argument I hear from all philosophers. But since what is destroyed suffers, and what destroys cannot be happy, but is soon destroyed in turn, tell me what no philosopher can tell me: For whose pleasure or profit does this most miserable life of the universe, preserved only at the cost of the dead and suffering of all its component parts, exist?

While they were in the midst of debating these and similar problems, the story goes that two lions came upon the scene, so worn out and starved that they hardly had the strength to devour the Icelander, which they nonetheless did, and with all of that nourishment, managed to live through the day. Some deny this, and say that as the Icelander spoke, a great, fierce wind arose, slapping him to the ground and burying him under a majestic pile of sand that dried him up perfectly, turning him into a fine mummy, which was later discovered by a group of travelers and placed in the museum of some town or other in Europe.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Language Notes

Flutulence: the ability to fart mud.

Down the pub yesterday I heard about someone's 'anti-psyotic pills', which I have decided cure both psychosis and sciatica (or psychotic sciatica).

And finally, an announcement in Tesco's: All backpackers to the checkouts now, please. Ah, the noble adventure of the gap year, backpacking (rather than bagpacking) your way through the breakfast cereal and petfood aisles of the North of England's Tesco branches.

Poets, Follies Of

Londoner John Stammers' first book Panoramic Lounge-Bar contains a poem called 'Breakages'. His second book, Stolen Love Behaviour, contains one called 'Bricolage', a French translation of 'Breakages' sent to the poet, complete with English prose rendering (also reproduced), by someone called 'Solange Devagine', which I hope for her sake is a made-up name.

Good idea/bad idea?

Although the above photograph doesn't come from there, John Stammers features on Clive James' website, where you'll find the following stingily diminutive picture of young poet Olivia Cole in shampoo commerical mode:

Good idea/bad idea?

And in a third unrelated item, 'J.C.' reports in the NB column of today's TLS (far too many abbrevations in this sentence already) on the world of poetry prizes:

The allegation that the world of poetry prizes is too narrow has been denied by John Burnside, one of the judges of the Northern Rock Foundation Award (winner: Sean O'Brien). He was backed up John Burnside, a judge of the year's National Poetry Competition, and has also drawn the support of John Burnside, who helped judge last year's Forward Poetry Prize, and of John Burnside who is to judge the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize.

{quotation ends}

Good jumper/bad jumper? You decide!

Monday, March 26, 2007

Sirius, the Dog Star

Dogon stilt-dancers of Western Mali imitating long-legged water birds.

The Dogons of Western Africa are renowned for their astronomical lore. Part of their tribal beliefs is the knowledge, mysteriously acquired, that Sirius is a binary star. Or so the French anthropologists Marcel Griaule and Germaine Dieterlen claimed, after spending 25 years with the Dogon and being inducted into their tribal secrets. They also claimed that the Dogon were aware of the rings of Saturn and the moons of Jupiter, both of which are invisible to the naked eye. Robert Temple published a book on the subject in 1975, The Sirius Mystery. Among the possible sources of the Dogons' knowledge is an earlier, technologically advanced civilisation which has now vanished. Afrocentrists have also posited the Dogons' melanin levels, allowing them to witness these phenomena with their bare eyes. And most fancifully of all, others have suggested the Dogons had contact with amphibious aliens, keen to spread basic astronomical literacy in Western Africa.

However, other anthropologists who have studied the Dogon have found no evidence whatever of the Sirius theory. Writing in 1991, Walter von Beek concluded that Griaule's informant may have been subject to 'cultural contamination' from Dogon travellers in Europe, European travellers to Western Africa, or, tired of an annoying Frenchman asking him questions for twenty-five years, had decided to sell him a warehouseful of porkies.

Increasingly Long Walks

I see A.L. Kennedy is being theatrically miserable again, in an Observer interview. 'I have sex about once every five years. I've lived alone since I was 17... If you're quite a fast cook, you don't have children, you don't have pets and you've got no one else to talk to, what else are you going to do? I've got vast amounts of time to occupy.'

She has a special chair to write in, her interviewer tells us, in which her knees are above her heart.

'She told me she wasn't good company and when I objected that this simply wasn't true, she conceded, "for a limited period, OK. But I get bored very easily. If you were around all week, I'd want to kill you. I wouldn't tell you, even: I'd just go for increasingly long walks.'


If you put fresh peanuts in the pot,
and you ask a leper to pull them out
with his fingerless hand,
you're mocking him.

('Segu Tonjon', from Bassekou Kouyate and Ngoni Ba's new album, Segu Blue)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Seven Curses

May you be consulted to the point of annoyance
on when, how and whether you wish to be born.

May you be afflicted
with rose-scented farts.

May you endure a lifelong
aversion to offal and tripe.

May the dog bite that wakes you to put out
a house fire be an inconvenience of sorts.

May your skill on the contrabassoon
become a source of embarrassment.

May strangers pick
pillow fights with you.

May your wellbeing
prove terminal.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Strange Beliefs

Nice! Sultan Tarif's competent bass guitar stylings were a driving force behind Led Zep cover band Walid Jumblatt and the Lebanese Druze' rise to regional obscurity

Not many people will remember Iain Duncan Smith, dome-headed former leader of the Conservative Party, but I'll always be grateful to him for a soundbite that turned up on Have I Got News for You. Asked who he'd voted for in the Tory party leadership election to appoint a successor to Michael Howard he said, 'I'm certainly not going to tell you. I don't even know myself.'

I mention this because of some catching up I've been doing on the venerable Druze faith, which has been in the news because a young Druze woman is having a spot of bother over taking part in the Miss Israel pageant. Her uncles thought this was ever so slightly slutty of her, and decided to show their disapproval by slicing her up. Luckily she escaped this fate, but what I really wanted to say is that the Druze faith, I have now learned, is strictly non-proselytising and endogamous, and keeps its religious tenets secret even to its own members. What a marvellous concept: believing in something without even knowing what it is you're believing in. What possibilities for fanatical vagueness! I'm full of admiration.

I'm told there used to be a rock group called Walid Jumblatt and the Lebanese Druze, but my local HMV doesn't seem to stock any of their records.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

U R Well Fit

My favourite part of the local paper is the Txt Room. A few samples and you'll get the idea:

2 sales girl sophie your stunning are you single? from admirer.

K wich do u wish it is S is in the clue txt bk D

Kerry from Longhill bakery yeah i am single come in and let me know who you are. You can have a free bun.

Guy in bar on prinny ave last nite, u made a remark about auburn haired people. We ain't all like ur ex. It was nice talkin 2ya.



Small ad in my local paper:

Lambeth Palace - A History of the Archbishops of Canterbury and their Houses. New, never been read. Hardback, beautifully illustrated. 116 pages. £8.

Brain Power

From an interview with a local personality in my local paper:

He developed an interest in psychology and was introduced to a professor at the University, who sent him for an IQ test. He passed, although he never got the score. 'If you have self-confidence, it doesn't matter if you are small, crippled, blue or pink.'

Friday, March 09, 2007

Loathsome is the Day

Dr Johnson wouldn’t be many people’s idea of a minimalist, but I’ve always greatly enjoyed the emblems and mottoes he published in The Rambler and The Adventurer, busy cicadas of quotations lost in the shrubbery of their surroundings but chirping happily to themselves. Here’s a selection.

Ridetque sui ludibria trunci. (Lucan, IX, 14)
And soaring mocks the broken frame below.

Infelix – nulli bene nupta marito. (Ausonius, Ep. Her. XXX)
Unblest, still doom’d to wed with misery.

Naso suspendere adunco. (Hor. Sat. I, vi, 5)
On me you turn the nose.

Tædet cœli convexa tueri. (Virgil, Aen. IV, 451)
Dark is the sun, and loathsome is the day.

Ferimur per opaca locorum. (Virgil, Aen. II, 725)
Driv’n thro’ the palpable obscure.

Attempt to Discover Life (cont.)

The way was down then up then around then down then up then around again and so back. There was mist and the harbour lights through the mist, and a man by the wall looking down at the ships and the pier. There was the neighbour’s window never quite closed, the window sill peeling, ajar on the coldest nights. Down then up then around, an old hound in a doorway, the leviathan groan of the late bus hauling itself round the square. Then the takeaway ready to go on the counter and back out and all in reverse.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Vernon Coleman Writes Brilliant Books

‘Vernon Coleman Writes Brilliant Books!’, announces a full-page ad in today’s Independent.

‘If I could write, my words would be just like yours!’, announces ‘S R-B, by email’ on Coleman's website.

Coleman’s books cover cats, health, politics, and fiction.

Stand-out titles include People Push Bottles Up Peaceniks, I Hope Your Penis Shrivels Up, and The Man Who Inherited a Golf Course, of which a ‘reader’, E.M., writes: ‘I have just ordered a copy of The Man Who Inherited a Golf Course – a present from me for my birthday. Thank you for providing me with hours of happy reading.’ If, unlike E.M., your reading powers do not extend to happy hours with books you have yet to receive, you may enjoy our blog serialisation of The Man Who Inherited a Golf Course, which begins below.

The letter fell from Audrey’s elegant fingers as she entered the lounge. Trevor looked up from a particularly fiendish Daily Express crossword, startled.
‘What is it, darling?’
‘I’m afraid it’s bad news dear. Your uncle Ted has passed away.’
Trevor loosened his cravat and began to sweat visibly all over his skin.
‘And yet, but, it’s the strangest thing darling…’
‘Yes? Spit it out, wifey?’
‘He’s left you a golf course.’
Trevor struggled to keep abreast of the mixed and confusing emotions fighting for the upper hand in his pounding brain.
‘This is a terrible time for us all. But we shall putt ourselves grief-free. Or rather I shall, as we shan’t be allowing you ladies to join!’ (snip)

Amsterdam, A Novel

Savouring the Châteauneuf du pape that Jasper had bought to celebrate the première of his oboe concerto, Sebastian looked forward with relish to that pompous little twerp on the Standard swallowing his words when it came to reviewing this, he thought, patting the completed score that even now Claudio Abbado was pulling his hair out to receive.

Contemplating the vulgarity, the sheer nothingness of the man, as he reached for another helping of the leftover saumon en croute, Benjamin wondered again what Viola had seen in him to have chosen such a buffoon over Jeremy and Robin, not to mention himself.

By a tragic, yet pleasingly symmetrical coincidence, Cordelia and Eve, independently yet simultaneously, cut their fingers on the opening page of Oscar’s shocking yet brilliant first novel, bleeding to death swiftly yet agonisingly.

Kazuo had come over immediately after receiving Ian’s disturbing yet oddly collected and lucid phone-call. ‘What is it Ian?’ he asked, helping himself to another glass of his host’s transcendent yet quaffable Château d’Yquem. ‘I want us to make a pact’, Ian replied. ‘If I ever write a novel that loses its mind, that manages to maunder on interminably despite being the length of your average jumped-up short story, in which two ambitious yet tedious, driven yet soporific alpha males poison each other rather than endure another page, please promise me you’ll put it out of its misery by deleting it from my computer and never mentioning it to anyone again.’

Friday, March 02, 2007

Mmm, whale

A fire on board the Japanese whaler the Nisshin Maru means its mission has had to be cut short. A Japanese government spoke of his disappointment at having to curtail its 'research'.

As someone who works in the public sector under constant pressure to produce 'research', I know what he means, and decided to help out by wading out to sea, pitchfork in hand, and skewering a dolphin to death. The carcass is now in the post to the Japanese embassy, footnotes, bibliography and all.

Mmm, dolphin, can't get enough of that dolphin 'research'.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Malodorous Tumuli

At this period there were only two habitations along the sea front
– one a small, pretty cottage where Bray Head Hotel now stands, whilst somewhere on the ground occupied by Claddagh Terrace was the other, a mud hovel, so diminutive, so wretched and so miserable as to earn for it the local soubriquet of ‘The Rat Hole’. This strange dwelling was tenanted by an equally strange occupant – an eccentric, solitary, tar-begrimed old fisherman, who was a well-known character in the neighbourhood, and who took a delight in surrounding his unattractive abode with ill-smelling heaps of manure, offal, seaweed and every other abomination that came within his reach, until at last it became difficult to distinguish between the dwelling and these strange accessories. To what end he accumulated these malodorous tumuli none who knew him could surmise; but that he enjoyed the possession of them could be open to no doubt, as he was to be seen there daily, during his leisure hours, regaling his nose and eyes on their perfume and proportions.

(Weston St John Joyce, The Neighbourhood of Dublin, 1912)

Misery Hill (cont.)

Misery Hill (cont.)

On Misery Hill brand new carnation

as was and is no more