Tuesday, January 23, 2007
I have no Internet access there. And even if I did, I doubt if I will have the time or inclination to write much for some time.
When I return to The Unnameable Country (as I hope to, in a month or so), I shall endeavour to pick up where I left off.
In the meantime, I leave my blogs - and my handful of regular readers - in the capable hands of 'Tulsa', my compulsive commenter/No.1 Fan.
I have asked her to rove through my archives, and try to post a comment (or more!) per day. See if you can find her latest contribution!!
Hey, and leave some of your own. I will get back to you one day.
I hope this 'random commenting' ruse will generate sufficient interest to keep you visiting the site. There is a pretty substantial reservoir of my 'brain-scrapings' here now - around 300 posts, in fact, between my two blogs (and that in barely 4-and-a-half months) - so there's plenty to keep you busy catching up on old posts.
Old readers or new readers, please consider giving me another look one day soon. I will be back in action..... probably some time in early March.
Monday, January 22, 2007
Sunday, January 21, 2007
He sleeps and sleeps, my brother.
The rest of the family have quite lost the knack,
It seems - strangers to slumber for weeks
While my brother sleeps and sleeps.
No fairytale endings here,
No crowd-pleasing flips of logic
To uncast the spell, heal the hurt,
Raise him from his bed of seeming-death.
No, my brother sleeps and sleeps.
He sleeps for all of us now.
The Cool Web
Children are dumb to say how hot the day is,
How hot the scent is of the summer rose,
How dreadful the black wastes of evening sky,
How dreadful the tall soldiers drumming by;
But we have speech, to chill the angry day,
And speech, to dull the rose's cruel scent.
We spell away the overhanging night,
We spell away the soldiers and the fright.
There's a cool web of language winds us in,
Retreat from too much joy or too much fear:
We grow sea-green at last and coldly die
In brininess and volubility.
But if we let our tongues lose self-possession,
Throwing off language and its watery clasp
Before our death, instead of when death comes,
Facing the wide glare of the children's day,
Facing the rose, the dark sky and the drums,
We shall go mad, no doubt, and die that way.
Robert Graves (1895-1985)
My hunch as to her identity had proved correct - although I never attained more than a 70-80% confidence about it, since (as I tactlessly put it to my girlfriend, The Artist) the defining parameters were "highly articulate young woman of American origin".... and I do know rather a lot of people who'd fit that description!
I'm glad she decided to own up. The power imbalance in that "I know who you are but you don't know who I am" game was quickly becoming a tad oppressive.
I hope my piercing of her veil of anonymity won't deter her from continuing her contributions: they have been a most welcome enhancement to the blogs of late.
In fact, I am relying on her to keep these blogs, my 'babies', alive during my enforced absence over the coming month....
Tulsa, you challenged me to solve the riddle of your identity - and I succeeded. In return, I issue this challenge to you:
Rove through my archive and try to post a comment (at least one) on every post! Go on, you can do it. (If you can manage 10 a day, you might have finished by the time I get back!)
Friday, January 19, 2007
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
Every day brings a ship,
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
I just picked the book up and it immediately fell open at that page. Really. It's not a particularly well-thumbed volume, and I don't recall ever reading that poem before. It's a rather unsettling coincidence.
It's hard to keep in touch with 'back home' from here. I have already complained often - too often - about my difficulties with the telephone and the Internet. Most of the time, however, I do just about manage to keep in touch with people back home by these means. My family, however - well, it just doesn't seem to work between me and them. All we have are letters - and we're all too goddamn lazy ever to write letters any more. A letter.... these days a letter only comes as a last resort, in some dire emergency. A letter is a harbinger of disaster.
Yesterday I got a letter from home. For the first time in...... well, since I've been out here, I think. I was immediately afraid to open it.
I was right to be afraid. The news it contained was not good. Very bad, in fact. Unimaginably appalling. Sorry, I do not wish to write about this here - but I am pretty fucked up, and I fear this is likely to prevent or severely curtail my blogging for the next little while.
Please bear with me. I will do my best to keep on trucking - but it is hard, very hard.
Last night I set a new record for a reported file transfer rate - 37 bytes per second!! The server was actually being remarkably generous in allowing me the better part of an hour to attempt to download a relatively small 'Word' file before declaring me 'timed out'. After the third attempt, I gave up and went out for dinner and a few beers. Even at 4.30am - the only hour when traffic has been low enough locally for my connection to function of late - this download still only fitfully attained a transfer speed of a few megs per second, and took a total of a whopping 8 minutes.
I have been so anxious about trying to deal with important (family and business) e-mail, that I have, for the last 3 or 4 nights, been waking regularly at 4am, finding myself unable to fall back to sleep, and stumbling groggily into the study to check out my wee-small-hours connection speed. I am sick with fatigue: eyes puffy and black-ringed, speech slurred, brain fogged, temper on a hair-trigger.
I am at my tether's end. No, the tether snapped some time ago: I am now running around, loose and frantic, foaming at the mouth like a rabid dog.
I am really beginning to think that I may have to move to a new neighbourhood.... somewhere where they have something better than 1950s single-strand copper wire telephone cabling.
Yes, that sound you hear in your imagination is my molars splintering.....
Tuesday, January 16, 2007
Not one of my better efforts, I don't think. I've always felt the first line deserves something rather better, and long to find an opportunity to re-use it.
Here it is, anyway:
A Dark Flame
Ours was a dark flame indeed
A guttering candle
That covered everything
With a thick soot
Of fear and melancholy
Confusion and despair
But even the most faltering fire is warm
And we can use this soot to write with
Monday, January 15, 2007
I've long had a bit of a soft spot for Robert Crumb.
And, by the way, if you haven't seen Terry Zwigoff's documentary about him, 'Crumb' - DO. It's a sad, funny, brilliant, twisted, compelling film - probably the best biography of a living person, the best insight into the mind of a deranged artist ever made; one of my 'films of the year' when it came out back in the mid-90s. I wish I could get hold of it on DVD.
I had forgotten that he was on a scooter..... but that's kind of cute, too. I suppose it was drawn before the age of skateboards.
So, I give up, and look around for something else 'ready made' that I can post.
Well, there's this - another of the poetic doodlings on the theme of tomorrow that I indulged in last year (hint: 'list' poems are easy!).
My point here, I think, was that we tend to over-elaborate, over-mysticize 'the unknown', and that too often leads us into fear, hesitation, avoidance. The nervous anticipation - or the anxiety - we so often feel about 'tomorrow' should be cherished, not feared; we should realise that 'the unknown' always becomes 'known' soon enough.... and it's rarely that bad, usually survivable!
Tomorrow is a house without an address,
Tomorrow is a locked door,
Tomorrow is a book in a plain cover,
Tomorrow is an unmarked grave,
Tomorrow is an unopened letter,
Tomorrow is a lottery ticket,
Tomorrow is the unknown;
But so was yesterday.
Sunday, January 14, 2007
"Money's just something you throw off the back of a train."
This time of year is apt to get rather depressing. I try to focus on the positive: the evenings are starting to draw out again quite quickly now. Spring will be here in a couple of months or so.
But for now.... it's dark when I get up in the morning. It's dark well before dinner time. It's dark when I come home from work (on those - increasingly rare, it seems - days when I work). Dark, dark, dark. Gawd, it's getting me down.
And today we had one of those chill, misty days where the sky is a claustrophobic shell of dull whitish-grey clay. The sun didn't bother showing up until the middle of the afternoon - by which time I had resigned myself to another day of brain-shrivelling and underpaid toil at the keyboard. (The scientific editing job, I'm beginning to think, was a mistake!)
Anticipating how ferociously boring this task would be, I did procrastinate heroically through the first half of the day. But now, at last, it is done. Except that I can't return the bloody file because my Internet connection - at least on my main e-mail account - is still slow. SLOW. SLOW! Slow as a geriatric snail on flypaper!! SSSSLLLOOOOOOOOOOWWW!!!
Another favourite Douglas Adams line:
"I love deadlines. I particularly like the whoooshing noise they make as they fly past!"
Saturday, January 13, 2007
I hope this doesn't seem too jaded of me (I am in fact, despite some bad experiences, eternally optimistic on the matter of love); it's not the bitterness of this I love, but the zestfulness, the wit - I don't know anything else of his that's so damned funny.
Don't you care for my love? she said bitterly.
I handed her the mirror, and said:
Please address these questions to the proper person!
Please make all requests to headquarters!
In all matters of emotional importance
please approach the supreme authority direct!
So I handed her the mirror.
And she would have broken it over my head
but she caught sight of her own reflection
and that held her spellbound for two seconds
while I fled.
D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)
My new mystery commenter, 'Tulsa', suggested the other day that this week's haiku had an Emily Dickinson quality to it. I daresay it was meant as a compliment - she was a fine poet.
I thought I should try to come up with an 'Emily Dickinson haiku' in response, but.... I'm finding it hard.
I did, however, come up with this piece of foolishness: If Emily Dickinson had written AbFab, Eddy and Pats might have said things like -
Because I would not stop for Death
He kindly stopped for me.
He took me to Harrods, then the Ritz
And dropped me off for tea.
'Tulsa', what have you done to me??
And, by the way, if you "know me", as you claim, please drop me an e-mail to let me know who you are. The not-knowing is tormenting me!
Thursday, January 11, 2007
I have been trying to abstain from - or at least cut down on - alcohol this month. My success so far has, I admit, been patchy; but even the effort is exacting. Hence this week's syllabically-constrained musing:
Time elongates with
I am just about at the end of my tether. I am tempted to try another service provider.... but there are only TWO here, and they're probably just as bad as each other: the real problem is the crummy infrastructure that they both share.
I GIVE UP. You may not hear from me much - or at all - from now on.
It's been fun....
Tuesday, January 09, 2007
I used to have one of these on my fridge door once before (not the haiku version, though), when I was living in Toronto several years ago. I found then, as I am finding now, that I am reluctant to break up the sequences that the words are joined together in when you first take them out of the box. These often seem far more mystical and allusive than any new word combinations I might labour to produce.
The blocks of words are full of fortuitous phrases like 'mushroom morning', 'evening whisper', 'trickle breath', and 'almost cicada dream'. I particularly like the 'flower happy garden'.
Occasionally the sequences even seem to hold at least the germ of a complete short poem - if we allow a Manley Hopkins abandon in forging novel compound nouns, a cummings-ish fracturing of conventional grammar.
sleep creaks while a small laugh smiles
some were from soon
through autumn window
dawn weeds leave night
sun sees a sad dog
only they want wind
wander, harvest woman
later, field child early
more must soon
here, there come
...... sounds like the synopsis of a Thomas Hardy novel!
My current favourite, though, is this:
face wild song
How dare I tamper with such serendipitous beauty?
Monday, January 08, 2007
This weekend, I switched my two blogs over to the "new, improved" Beta version of Blogger, seduced by the promise of 'new toys'.
However, I had misgivings, since 'New Blogger' is run out of the Google empire, and Google is notoriously susceptible to the mischievous tinkerings of The Kafka Boys, our local (unfathomably perverse and inconsistent) Internet censors.
I'm not sure if it is deliberate tampering or mere misfortune, 'conspiracy or cock-up', but today my Internet connection is once again exasperatingly dysfunctional. And Google & all things Google-related are the most crawlingly slow to download of all - in effect, pretty much unusable. Strangely enough, when we first had the interruption of service owing to the "Taiwan earthquake" last week, Google was miraculously unaffected.
I give up trying to figure what is happening with the bloody Internet here.
Sunday, January 07, 2007
The poster for the film featured a quotation from 'the great man':
"Poetry is only the natural by-product of existence. If our lives are burning well, poetry is the ash."
Like most of LC's work, you might well say! Sorry, I am a bit of a Cohen sceptic: I very much enjoy his songs, his music, his lugubrious persona - but I think he's 'good' rather than 'great', and scarcely deserving of the title of 'poet'.
This statement seems too general - as if he's saying that everyone can, does produce poetry. Ash is a waste-product, so the metaphor threatens to take an unwelcome turn towards the negative there. And in what sense is poetry produced by our lives "burning well"? Doesn't most poetry, on the contrary, come from our lives turning to shit?
Sorry, Leonard - a nice try, but I don't quite buy it.
I was reminded of one of my favourite lines from Pablo Neruda, which also suggests the ease and naturalness which poetic composition (sometimes) achieves; but he made the point far more appositely, far, far more beautifully. Neruda was a poet, and Cohen ain't.
"A poem falls to the soul like dew on grass."
Saturday, January 06, 2007
Yes, well, there are probably good reasons why people don't know this kind of stuff.....
However, one of my 'resolutions' this year is to try to be a little less curmudgeonly (by the by, shouldn't there be a verb form of this? Curmudge sounds wonderful!), so here goes....
1) I am an accomplished puntsman. (One of the few real benefits of an Oxford education.)
2) I grew up during the original punk era, and was briefly part of a New Wave project at school called Ded Lemming. (I was more the Malcolm McLaren figure, songwriter and all-around creative guru; I couldn't actually play an instrument, and only joined the band on stage a couple of times.)
3) I once drank 11 pints of Guinness in a little under 3 hours. (It was immediately after I finished my Final exams at University. The 3rd, 7th, and 11th of them I downed in one - the last while standing on one leg, on top of a rather rickety table. The rest of the afternoon is a bit of a blur!)
4) I nearly asked Helena Bonham-Carter out on a date once. (This must be almost 20 years ago. She was sat about 3 yards away from me in a pub.... but I lost my nerve. I have tried to console myself ever since that she is too short for me.)
5) I was once the President of the Middle Temple Debating Society.
6) I once failed a security clearance for a job with the British government.
7) I can play 'The Streets of Laredo' on the mouth organ. (Well, I used to be able to. I haven't picked the instrument up in years. I had dreams of becoming a maestro of the blues harp, but I lacked the necessary application...)
8) My best score on 'Elf Bowling' is 222.
9) I turned down a chance to play Francis Younghusband ("ravisher of Tibet") in a film.
10) Only once have I ever been on a blind date (which I fixed up through www.match.com). The girl turned out to be a journalist for The Scotsman who was researching an article on Internet dating! I was rather smitten - but, alas, I never saw her again. I've always wondered if I featured in her article....
And there you have it! Don't you feel you know me so much better now???
Friday, January 05, 2007
It doesn't help that, compared with English, the local language has a relatively tiny vocabulary. They like to think that there is a single standard translation of each word in their own language, and hence that they're all done with learning new words once they've got a core vocabulary of a few thousand words under their belt.
This is particularly frustrating in the realm of descriptive words: they are taught The Three Adjectives at an early age, and many students never expand much beyond this - even after University-level study.
The Three Adjectives are: interesting; exciting; delicious.
As in the following typical classroom dialogue:
"Did you enjoy your trip to the zoo?"
"Which was your favourite animal at the zoo?"
"The monkeys!" (For some reason, it's always the monkeys.)
"Why do you like the monkeys?"
"The monkeys are interesting."
"[HEAVY SIGH] Yes.... can you tell me anything else about the monkeys?"
"The monkeys are exciting."
"Yes, yes. [PREPARES TO SLASH WRISTS] Anything else?"
"Well, the monkeys.... are delicious!"
"Oh, god, make it stop, make it stop." [THE MEN IN WHITE COATS ARRIVE TO REMOVE THE WEEPING, GIBBERING TEACHER]
My friends Caren and Niels, teaching middle school in a provincial capital some way south of here, are waging a brave, lonely campaign against The Three Adjectives. I wish them luck. It's been tried before, and it is a Trail Of Tears....
I think 'delicious' is the one that particularly gets my goat. Students never seem to grasp that it's just a bit too formal for everyday use; or that anything becomes tedious and clichéd if you say it all the time. 'Tasty' just never seems to catch on!
It also gets pretty tiresome that - for such a big country! - this place has the narrowest horizons of any place on earth: all local food is "very delicious"; all foreign food is "I think, not delicious" (although they've never tried it).
Some of us foreign teachers here are pledged to a guerrilla war against this intellectual hardening-of-the-arteries; we wage a constant campaign of subtle subversion.
One of my favourite tactics is to introduce rare, technical words which students are never likely to grasp the true meaning of - "This is a good word to use about your local food."
"What do you think of the duck's oesophagus in brine?"
"I think it is emetic!"
Oh, joy, oh, bliss.
The past is covered,
Pregnant with impurity.
Fresh snow on the ground.
Thursday, January 04, 2007
I've quoted quite a lot of G. K. Chesterton recently, and here's some more - from another of his well-known doggerel verses, 'A Ballade of Suicide'.
The gallows in my garden, people say,
Is new and neat and adequately tall;
I tie the noose on in a knowing way
As one that knots his necktie for a ball;
But just as all the neighbours - on the wall -
Are drawing a long breath to shout "Hurray!"
The strangest whim has seized me. . . . After all,
I think I will not hang myself to-day.
And through thick woods one finds a stream astray,
So secret that the very sky seems small...
Then there's this (bleaker, more pragmatic), by Dorothy Parker:
Razors pain you;
Rivers are damp;
Acids stain you;
And drugs cause cramp.
Guns aren't lawful;
Gas smells awful;
You might as well live.
And finally, this marvellously warped 'love song' of the frustrated suicide - by Tom Waits, from his superb 1992 album 'Bone Machine':
The Ocean Doesn't Want Me
The ocean doesn't want me today
But I'll be back tomorrow to play
And the strangels will take me
Down deep in their brine
The mischievous braingels
Down into the endless blue wine
I'll open my head and let out
All of my time
I'd love to go drowning
And to stay and to stay
But the ocean doesn't want me today
I'll go in up to here
It can't possibly hurt
And all they will find is my beer
And my shirt
A rip tide is raging
And the lifeguard is away
But the ocean doesn't want me today
The ocean doesn't want me today
This is a time of year, alas, when black thoughts - blank thoughts - all too readily take hold. But it is strangely cathartic, rejuvenating, at such times, I find, to read a little gloomy poetry, a few suicide songs.
This is one of the very best.
The name of the author has never been published, but it was ostensibly written at some point back in the '60s by an American boy of 14 or 15 years old - who did actually commit suicide a year or two later. It first came to prominence when published in a feature on teenage suicide in 'Time' magazine in the early '70s, and was, I understand, for a while at least, quite widely taught in American schools.
I first came across it a few years later, in one of the early 'Christmas Cracker' commonplace collections compiled by John Julius Norwich (originally just made for distribution as seasonal gifts to his friends, he soon started to publish them in pamphlet form in slightly larger numbers [I think, to raise money for charity] - but still only a very limited distribution: my pal The Bookseller would occasionally be able to get hold of a copy for me. These days, a number of anthology volumes of these are available [although, strangely, the most recent one - the one I don't have yet - has disappeared from Amazon!] - and there is a lot of excellent stuff in them; highly recommended!).
Once, he wrote a poem
And he called it 'Chops'
Because that was the name of his dog
And that was what it was all about.
And his teacher gave him an 'A'
And a 'Gold Star';
And his mother hung it on the kitchen door
And read it to all his aunts.
Later, he wrote another poem
And he called it 'Question Marked Innocence'
Because that was the name of his grief
And that was what it was all about.
And the Professor gave him an 'A'
And a strange and steady look;
And his mother didn't hang it on the kitchen door
Because he never showed it to her.
And once, at 3am, he tried another poem
And he called it absolutely nothing at all
Because that was what it was all about.
And he gave himself an 'A'
And a slash on each damp wrist;
And he hung it on the bathroom door
Because he couldn't reach the kitchen.
(There is a much longer version of this poem - interesting, but less focused - available online here.)
Wednesday, January 03, 2007
Tuesday, January 02, 2007
Expect things from now on to be more like the 40 or so posts, 8,000-10,000 words per month that we saw in both October and November.
There were around 420 visits to the site, very slightly more than the previous month.
I've no idea about the pageview and visit length stats, since www.sitemeter.com seems to have given up sending me any information on this. I will try to install the monitoring package from www.statcounter.com that was recently recommended to me by my IT-geek penpal Livy, and see if that's any more helpful or reliable.
As at the beginning of the New Year, there were 155 posts on the site, and there had been 1,105 visitors.
Also, I suspect we have started to attract a few casual visitors at last, people outside my immediate circle of invited friends..... although (unlike over on my brother blog, Round-The-World Barstool Blues) none of them has actually left a comment here yet.
I hope these positive trends continue. I'm thinking of upgrading to the 'Beta' version of Blogger soon, which may enable me to add all sorts of new bells & whistles.
Anyway, I hope you've been enjoying my rants and reminiscences so far. Please keep reading.
Monday, January 01, 2007
New Year's Day -
Everything is in blossom!
I feel… about average.
Kobayashi Issa (1763-1827) [Tr. from the Japanese by Robert Hass]