June 2009


As regular readers (both of them) will be aware, I don’t do this whole Monday music thing, preferring to post random songs I’ve heard during the course of my adventures as and when I hear them.

However, yet again I’ve fallen victim to Facebook tagging, and have seized with both hands the excuse to sit here drinking gin and tonic and listening to 25 songs at random from my digital music library. I must admit to being quite satisfied with the impression they create, but that’s by the by. Without further ado, here are the rules.

Once you’ve been tagged… (1) Turn on your MP3 player/iPod/iTunes. (2) Go to SHUFFLE songs mode. (3) Write down the first 25 songs that come up–song title and artist–NO editing/cheating, please. (4) Choose 25 (or so) people to be tagged. It is generally considered to be in good taste to tag the person who tagged you.

First and foremost: sod that. I’m not annoying 25 people with my musical schizophrenia. This is for the benefit of the few, the happy few, the people who care what’s in my music collection. Second, here’s some music from the Beleriand Broadcasting Corporation. Enjoy.

1. Thunder: Feeding the Flame
2. Extreme: No Respect
3. Skunk Anansie: Little Baby Swastikka
4. Clannad: Almost Seems (Too Late to Turn)
5. Queen: I’m Going Slightly Mad
6. The Doors: Albinoni’s Adagio in G Minor
7. Dream Theater: Erotomania
8. Rage Against the Machine: Bullet in the Head
9. Handel: Water Music (Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra)
10. Grieg: Peer Gynt Suite #1, Opus 46-1, Morning (Libor Pesek, Slovak Philharmonic)
11. Robert Johnson: Preaching Blues
12. Queen: Who Wants to Live Forever?
13. Graeme Revell: Daredevil Theme (Blind Justice Remix)
14. Kop Korma: Manbreak
15. Deep Purple: Strange Kind of Woman
16. Cream: Badge
17. Red Hot Chili Peppers: Blood Sugar Sex Magik
18. Def Leppard: Animal
19. Betty Wright: Where is the Love?
20. Def Leppard: Miss You in a Heartbeat
21. Iron Maiden: The Nomad
22. Velvet Revolver: She Mine
23. Morcheeba: Blindfold
24. Freddie Mercury: Overture Piccante
25. Sepultura: Orgasmatron

Naturally I’ve left the music playing while I’ve been writing this and inevitably some cool selections have come up since song #25. I’m listening to Ignoreland by R.E.M. as I write, but we’ve also had such classics as Metallica’s …And Justice for All and Burn by the Cure. Still, rules are rules. I do so love random play applied to an entire music collection, though. It may be the future of music.

The star of this feature must, however, be some classic Country and Western about drinking yourself to death that Sarah Kennedy was kind enough to play on the radio this morning. If there’s a common theme to country music, surely this is it, and if drinking margaritas alone is wrong I don’t want to be right.

Advertisements

I got my car back on Thursday night complete with its fancy new GPS stereo unit, which looks brilliant.

New stereo

My new car stereo looks the part, but doesn't work.

Unfortunately, it isn’t as good as it looks. The CD player neither loads nor ejects discs, which on a weekend completely monopolised by Michael Jackson has been quite a trial. More serious, however, is the problem with the satellite navigation equipment. I drove over to London on Friday night, hoping to use the touch-screen GPS unit to avoid using a map. This, it transpired, was not a terribly wise decision.

I don’t know exactly who designed the user interface for this system, but they made one fundamental context error: they assumed that when I switch on my GPS I only want to use it for ten seconds. After ten seconds, they appear to have surmised, I’ll suddenly develop an urgent desire to hear the tennis scores from Wimbledon and need the source switched back to radio. The GPS unit seems to work very well, but since it keeps vanishing in the middle of giving directions I’ll never be able to use it. I’m only pleased that the blasted thing was a present: if I’d spent my own money I’d be even more livid than I already am after having spent an hour driving around Raynes Park, switching back to the satnav every time I approached a junction. Software engineers take note: beta testing is not optional.

Anyway, I managed to find my destination eventually and settled down for a weekend of jollity with C. and his long-standing tenant R. On Friday night the television continued to regale me with stories about a deceased pop star, but since we had half a bottle of rum and some orange juice that wasn’t as terrible as it would have seemed that morning. On Saturday,  we sallied forth in search of art and found it at the Hayward and the Tate Modern respectively. In the Hayward’s exhibition, Walking in My Mind, I was able to renew my long-standing argument with contemporary abstract art, which I think is astoundingly pretentious and too easy to create. The best exhibits were the huge installations that looked like sets for a children’s television series, like the one pictured below.

Who needs drugs when walk-in hallucinations are available in London?

Who needs drugs when walk-in hallucinations are available in London?

The less said about the paintings with slogans the better. I know when someone’s trying to prove that they’re cleverer than I am, and it still annoys me when they clearly aren’t. Fortunately, nobody was particularly interested in sticking around once we’d seen the enormous smoke-ring machine, so I got to leave the gallery and have a couple of drinks instead.

After wandering around Tate Modern for a while, pondering how a boring home movie of people passing a balloon around becomes art if the people are naked, we headed off to Tottenham Court Road for some drinks. It was R.’s party really, but C and I tagged along, and met up there with the Crimson Welshman, who was looking for something to do, and R’s friends from Reading University. We drank rather a lot, and I ended up getting into a heated argument about the purpose of a translation. I hold that poetry doesn’t survive translation intact, but that the translator’s job is to get as close to the original as possible, not offer a new artistic interpretation. Someone didn’t like my further statement that it’s not possible fully to appreciate poetry in translation, and that the translation is not a substitute for the original work. I think she may have taken a degree involving critical theory, because the counter-argument was that we can never be entirely sure that we have fully understood the meaning of any poem, and that even reading it in the original is an interpretation of a kind. I say that at least when we read in the original language the work hasn’t already been filtered by the mind of the translator. Then I drank a bit more and lost the coherence of my argument. I was clearly right anyway, and the steak was rather nice.

On Saturday, C. and I drove over to see a couple of old university friends, who were having a small barbecue. They have children now, so events were just about at my level. We ate a lot of cremated meat products and followed them with a pile of cream that contained at least two strawberries. Realising that I hadn’t taken many pictures, I tried to get a self-portrait done. Being a good friend, C. decided to ruin it.

My narcissism is punished with physical satire

My narcissism is punished by physical satire

We motored back to Raynes Park, where I got into my car and drove straight back the way we’d just come. In retrospect it would have been sensible to drive over separately, but at least I avoided further dependence on my completley unreliable navigation equipment. I got home at nearly ten, dog tired and glad not to have children. I’m looking forward very much to the quiet weekend at home that’s coming up.

I live in the charity shop district of Exmouth, so quite often I see nice things going for a song. Unfortunately, I also start work at eight in the morning and don’t finish until at least six, which makes it difficult actually to buy anything. Yesterday, however, I saw something so compellingly cheap and useful that I enlisted some help from the family to get it for me.

The Oxford Library of Words and Phrases

The Oxford Library of Words and Phrases

As you can see, the set has a lovely red cloth binding with (presumably) imitation leather spines, and it’s going to come in useful for more than beautifying my groaning bookshelves. Volume One is made up of quotations, Volume Two of proverbs and Volume Three of etymologies. It will now be even easier to make myself look clever when I write things.

What price did I pay for this little gem? The princely sum of three pounds. That makes a nice change from the branch of Oxfam that once charged me five-hundred pounds for a set of three second-hand books. Yes, I’m talking to you, Tony.

The Lord of the Rings, late first edition copies

Those expensive second-hand books. Late impressions from the first edition, 1961. You can just about see my favourite bookmark next to the phone.

I didn’t say I was overcharged, did I? Worth every penny.

I thought I might also share how I paid for my unwonted literary profligacy, so here’s a picture of a strengthener that I made for one of our clients. It’s made from medical grade Cobalt-Chromium alloy by the time-honoured technique of lost wax replacement casting, and I made it last week.

Full lower mesh strengthener, hand-made by yours truly.

Full lower mesh strengthener to stiffen an acrylic denture, hand-made by yours truly.

Plans are afoot to make my summer a lot more interesting than I expected it to be, so I’ve added a song about flying in airliners in honour of my impromptu holiday planning. It has virtually nothing to do with my summer plans, but what the hell? Parts of an aeroplane are mentioned in it, and that’s good enough for me.

I was going to end it there, but then I remembered a poem that I like, which is also about flying. This one is an ode to the Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2C.

The Pilot’s Psalm (anonymous)

The B.E.2C is my ‘bus; therefore I shall want.
He maketh me to come down in green pastures.
He leadeth me where I will not go.
He maketh me to be sick; he leadeth me astray on all cross-country flights.
Yea, though I fly over No-man’s land where mine enemies would compass me about, I fear much evil for thou art with me; thy joystick and thy prop discomfort me.
Thou preparest a crash before me in the presence of thy enemies; thy R.A.F. anointeth my hair with oil, thy tank leaketh badly.
Surely to goodness thou shalt not follow me all the days of my life; else I shall dwell in the house of Colney Hatch forever.

It would, after all, be difficult to read them afterwards. I don’t normally get involved in memes, but there are some people to whom you just can’t say ‘no’.

[Edit: this meme is actually called ‘Fifteen books in fifteen minutes’, but I have a weakness for hyperbole.]

Instructions: Don’t take too long to think about it. List 15 books you’ve read that will always stick with you — the first 15 you can recall in no more than 15 minutes. Copy the instructions into your own note, and be sure to tag the person who tagged you.

Well, I got the list in less than fifteen minutes anyway. The descriptions took a bit longer, but I’ve kept them as brief as possible in keeping with the spirit of the thing. I promise that I really have read these.

J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Once read, never forgotten. Need I say more?

Douglas Adams: The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

This book worms its way into your mind and gradually takes over. I first read it when I was ten, after the school realised that it was best to let me choose my own reading material, and it took me a day. For ten years I burst out laughing every time I thought of Prostetnic Vogon Jeltz’s poetry.

Cornelius Ryan: A Bridge Too Far

This is how popular military history should be done: painstakingly researched, impartial and readable. The stories from this one campaign alone beggar belief; and all those related here can be verified by at least two sources. The sheer work involved is staggering.

John Harris: Covenant with Death

Quite simply the best First World War novel I have ever read. The hope, the comradeship, the horror and the waste. The numbers involved in the first day of the Somme are so huge that a book like this helps to bring it into perspective by keeping it on a human scale: one battalion from inception to destruction.

Ronald Dixon: Echoes in the Sky: An Anthology of Aviation Verse from Two World Wars

Aeroplanes and poetry are a winning combination for me. I’ve had this book for upwards of twenty years now, and it never fails to give me pleasure. It ranges from the comic to the elegiac and stops off at all points between.

Brian Gardner: Up the Line to Death – The War Poets, 1914-18

Geoffrey Willans and Ronald Searle: The Compleet Molesworth

Nigel Molesworth, self-styled Curse of St. Custard’s, shares his mis-spelled views on school, parents, cricket, the future and the Flying Scotsman. It’s more than fifty years since these were published, and although education has changed beyond recognition, there’s something universal about the school experience that still resonates today.

Bede: Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum (Ecclesiastical History of the English People)

This is how history should be written. Bede could run rings round most of today’s historians, but in his day he was something very special. Memorable statements and incidents abound, including Gregory the Great’s “not Angles but angels” line (a pun that works in both Latin and English).

Richard Marsden: The Cambridge Old English Reader

Back in 2005, this was the most comprehensive Old English reader on the market. It contains selections from all of the major manuscript collections and complete texts of classics like The Dream of the Rood and The Seafarer. The comprehensive annotations make the translation seem easy, when in fact some passages and idioms can be all-but impenetrable without it. The author gave my essays good marks, so I’m returning the favour.

W.P. Ker: The Dark Ages

This is very dated now, but Ker was a very erudite man. His overview of Dark Age literature ironically calls into question that now deprecated term, since he shows the vibrant diversity and creative energy of the era. A very good guide to who was who in European literature over a thousand years ago.

E.H. Carr: What is History?

Thoughts on the nature, methods and purpose of history. Full of pithy quotations that make it look as though you’ve read a great many more books than this one.

Robert Heinlein: Citizen of the Galaxy

This is a short book that you can read in a day, but the story of Thorby’s journey from a slave market to become the owner of the corporation that tacitly assists it is unflaggingly compelling. The society of the Free Traders is particularly engaging.

Thomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure

Possibly the most depressing novel written in English. Hardy continues the theme of innocent country people destroyed by an unfair and uncaring society that marked Tess of the D’Urbervilles, as everything that Jude Fawley attempts turns to disaster. In my darker moments, I’ve felt a great deal of fellow feeling with the hapless protagonist, but how accurate is the portrayal? Professor Joseph Wright started out as a mill-hand and ended up editing the English Dialect Dictionary, and he was Jude’s contemporary.

Nikolai Gogol: The Diary of a Madman

Simply hilarious, even through the smudged glass of a translation. A man’s diary documents the slow collapse of his mind, with comic incidents.

Albert Camus: The Outsider (L’Etranger)

The definitive story of alienation and society’s unthinking persecution of those who fail to conform to its expectations. Camus wrote a monograph on Existentialism as a humanist philosophy, and this novel is informed by just that spirit.

It’s been a busy weekend, so I have a lot of ground to cover in this post. Please excuse me if the pace seems a little break-neck.

The first piece of news is that another of my poems has been published by the ever-generous GlobalComment. It doesn’t do one any harm to be friends with the editor, but it’s still very kind of them to print this stuff. Rotten tomatoes can as usual be thrown at me here or there, whichever floats your boat.

The main business of the weekend was, however, saying a raucous farewell to a friend’s ex-wife. This meant girding my loins for another interminable train journey up to London, where I was once more to be the guest of the Crimson Welshman. Like General Urquhart at Arnhem, we were beset by communications failure; but this was eventually overcome, allowing me to arrive a mere half an hour late. We were held up at Westbury for twenty minutes because some moron was trying to ride without a ticket, and got rowdy and abusive with the staff. I think I would have forgiven them for simply kicking the problem off the train while it was moving so that I could be on time; but instead they decided to be boring and wait for the police. Where’s that Agincourt spirit when you need it?

Such irritations aside, Friday night went off without a hitch. We ate pasta, drank a very nice white Bordeaux and watched The Black Dahlia. The line “haute cuisine breeds degenerates” could have been the quote of the week, but it isn’t. More about that later. I retired far later than was good for me, replete with wine and humour.

The fridge of wit at Hotel Crimson

On Saturday morning I defied the usual weekend tube closures and made it to Liverpool Street station by 11.30. Our rendezvous point for the day’s activities was the Hamilton Hall, a grandiose gin palace that was almost empty.

The Hamilton Hall, Liverpool Street

The Hamilton Hall, Liverpool Street. Sorry about the poor quality: the lighting was all wrong for my camera phone.

We rapidly established a general tone when I mentioned something I received in my e-mail last week.

A disgruntled biker makes a reluctant sale.

A disgruntled biker makes a reluctant sale.

I commented: “There are more women who like motorbikes than there are good bikes; he got rid of the wrong one.” Nicci replied with a simply immortal line: “There are some women who know the difference between a wedding ring and a choke-chain.” That’s the quote of the week right there. Nicci’s a one-woman liberation movement: she will happily take a car to pieces in a bikini top, takes no nonsense from anyone and likes cider, but still knows how to make a set of curtains. It’s good to know that my friend is in safe hands.

The beer at the Hamilton Hall was generally agreed to be rubbish, so we quickly moved on to another palatial temple to Bacchus: the Crosse Keys in Gracechurch Street. We spent a lot of time there, and I established my strategy for the day ahead by not drinking the same beer twice. This may have been slightly unwise, but they had so many pumps and so many pretty logos. I’m not made of stone.

We moved on to the Founders Arms near Tate Modern. There, in front of a view of St. Paul’s across the river, I temporarily left off the bitter and switched to Staropramen. I contacted the Crimson Welshman, who had been watching the British Lions lose to South Africa. He would meet us in the Ship and Shovell, London’s only two-part pub.

Stopping only to cast the engagement ring to Father Thames, we strolled beerily over to the Ship and Shovell. There I found my long-lost twin.

Sir Cloudesley Shovell and your humble correspondent. My expression is tailored to match his, and is not indicative of my mood.

Sir Cloudesley Shovell and your humble correspondent. My expression is tailored to match his, and is not indicative of my mood

We adjourned to the upstairs lounge, where we annexed half of the room and proceeded to continue drinking more than was good for us. I switched from the continental lager back to Badger, mainly because I like badgers. I gave myself a taste of home by trying some Exmoor Gold as well. The company were on top form, with topics ranging from all things rugby to a rendition of Monty Python’s Philosophers Song. I temporarily forgot the lyrics due to chemical synaptic decay, but recovered my composure in time to still the chorus of jeers.

After this, things get a little hazy. I know there were more pubs. I distinctly remember drinking an Austrian beer called Edelweiss, which prompted more singing. A brief discussion of the genius of Mel Brooks led inevitably to Springtime for Hitler, and I broke into the drinking song from The Student Prince, which follows Ovid in declaring wine and love to be allies.

Perhaps something a little more up to the moment will suggest the atmosphere of determined inebriation. So many beers in London, only one mouth.

We finished up in a pub somewhere, by which time I wasn’t paying much attention to what was going on. We ordered some pies and built the condiments into a big tower. People always seem to do this when they’re drunk, which might explain the Tower of Pisa. Another classic theory from the mind that brought you “Graduate study programmes are extended metaphors for The Lord of the Rings“. After that we went our separate ways, tired but happy as the euphemism goes. Naturally back at Hotel Crimson we decided that the best way to start on the road to recovery was to pour some German wine down on top of that beer and watch Lethal Weapon. Brilliant plan. I passed out at midnight, and spent today feeling like death. It was worth it, though.

The last item on the agenda is the recent departure of Sceadufell to the garage to have a new stereo fitted, which leads me neatly to the subject of music. I can’t remember most of what we heard on Saturday, so I’m going to list things that were playing on my computer while I was writing this. Shuffle play is the way of salvation.

The Velvet Underground: Cool it Down (early version)
Rammstein: Engel
Simon and Garfunkel: Peggy-O
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
White Zombie: More Human than Human
Guns N’ Roses: Don’t Damn Me
Extreme: Cupid’s Dead
Robert Johnson: Kind-Hearted Woman Blues

I’m particularly pleased about Don’t Damn Me coming up, because I’ve adopted it as a kind of personal anthem and it’s so appropriate to the idea of blogging. Share and enjoy.

I’m currently struggling with verse composition, so it’s hardly surprising that I’ve decided to give it a miss for a while and talk about other people’s poems. I like a wide range of poetry, but I always seem to drift back to the verse of the two world wars. Perhaps it’s the palpable tension between form and subject, particularly evident in pieces from the First War; perhaps its the intensity of the images, or the sheer depths of the horror. Perhaps I’m just morbid. The point is that I have been for some time what the title says: a guest in Death’s kingdom.

‘Death’s Kingdom’ is a section heading in one of my favourite books: Brian Gardner’s Up the Line to Death: the War Poets, 1914-18 (Methuen, 1964). It and its companion The Terrible Rain are out of print at the moment, but if you’re lucky you can still find them through the magic of the Internet. The phrase refers to Nightfall by Herbert Asquith, which was written at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres in 1917.

Hooded in angry mist, the sun goes down:
Steel-gray the clouds roll out across the sea:
Is this a kingdom? Then give Death the crown,
For here no emperor has won, save He.

The familiar names are all present: Wilfred Owen, Rupert Brooke, Siegfried Sassoon, Isaac Rosenberg and Robert Graves (he of I, Claudius fame, whom J.R.R. Tolkien once described as “an Ass”). Some of the other famous names, however, are not those that one would necessarily expect to find in this context: A.A. Milne, who was always disappointed that people only knew him for Winnie the Pooh, wrote these lines.

Same old trenches, same old view,
Same old rats as blooming tame,
Same old dug-outs, nothing new,
Same old smell, the very same,
Same old bodies out in front,
Same old strafe from two till four,
Same old scratching, same old ‘unt,
Same old bloody war.

Thomas Hardy had completed all of his novels by 1897, so he’s usually remembered as a nineteenth-century writer; but he was writing poetry and short stories until his death in 1928.  He has three poems in the collection, sadly not including I Looked Up from My Writing, which is my favourite of his poems from this period and manages to be poignant while hardly mentioning the war. Channel Firing opens the collection, a dark foreshadowing of things to come. It imagines the effect on the rural dead of hearing a naval gunnery practice and mistaking it for the Day of Judgement. God’s voice reassures them, and offers criticism.

‘All nations striving strong to make
Red war yet redder. Mad as hatters
They do no more for Christés sake
Than you who are helpless in such matters.

But this anthology isn’t about presenting big names. I have a collected works of Wilfred Owen anyway, so I’m not sorry to see only his better-known work among that of lesser-known poets. One such is Francis Ledwidge, who was killed in action in 1917.

It is too late now to retrieve
A fallen dream, too late to grieve
a name unmade, but not too late
To thank the gods for what is great;
A keen-edged sword, a soldier’s heart,
Is greater than the poet’s art.
And greater than the poet’s fame
A little grave that has no name

I find that one a little martial for my taste, but this highlights the mainspring of the tragedy in these poems. These men weren’t unwilling conscripts: so many of them left school and university with heads full of Virgil and Horace, and marched straight into a human abbatoir. This was what Wilfred Owen was driving at when he quoted Horace in Dulce et Decorum est, which inevitably is featured in this volume. I shan’t quote from it, because everyone knows it already. This classical education, which encouraged verse composition, gives rise to moments of elegiac beauty, like this from Leslie Coulson’s From the Somme. He was killed in 1916.

A singer once, I now am fain to weep.
Within my soul I feel strange music swell,
Vast chants of tragedy too deep – too deep
For my poor lips to tell.

Another casualty, killed in 1918, was R.B. Marriott-Watson, who wrote:

For some go early, and some go late
(A dying scream on the evening air)
And who is there that believes in Fate
As a soul goes up in the sunset flare?

In the end, though, the old favourites prove their worth again. Isaac Rosenberg’s Break of Day in the Trenches gives a vision of the long calms between the great assaults, when a rat might seem a fit companion. His one-sided conversation with it turns to a casual observation that has achieved literary immortality.

What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens?
What quaver – what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in men’s veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe,
Just a little white with the dust.

Rosenberg was another who didn’t live to see the war end.

When I was a lot younger, I tried writing poetry about the First War, largely inspired by Owen. I’ve stopped doing that now, because I can imagine battalions of ghostly critics, Tolkien among them, shaking their heads in disapproval and reminding me that I wasn’t there; I can’t know. You can only catch a glimpse of what they experienced from what they wrote, and this sort of poetry only works properly when it speaks with the voice of experience. I wouldn’t want to offend the ghost of Siegfried Sassoon: he could be biting. I’ll end with one of his scathing attacks on the jingoistic public, Base Details.

If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap,’
I’d say – ‘I used to know his father well;
Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
I’d toddle safely home and die – in bed.

Hooded in angry mist, the sun goes down:
Steel-gray the clouds roll out across the sea:
Is this a kingdom? Then give Death the crown,
For here no emperor has won, save He.

Back in April, Devon’s analogue television transmitters were switched off, marking the beginning of the nationwide transfer to a digital signal. Now, this has been a bit difficult for me because my aerial is pretty ropey and won’t receive the new transmissions. I can’t really afford a new one; and because I live in a grade two listed building, satellite dishes are not an option. Basically, they’ve repossessed my television rights; not that the picture was that good anyway.

Of course I wasn’t watching all that much before in any case, but now I’ve been deprived of the cop-out of turning on the idiot box as soon as I get home and not doing anything for the rest of the evening. I can still do that, but I have to choose a DVD and get up every so often to exchange it for another. This involves too much thought, so I get sick of it sooner; and I save time anyway because I don’t have to sit through the adverts. No adverts means a drastic improvement in my irritation threshold, since adverts are annoying. There are only so many times I can watch a generic box on wheels being presented as the ultimate fashion accessory before I develop a strong urge to bury the nearest dealership in custard powder and do a rain dance.

The benefits don’t end there. I’m saving more than £150 a year by not buying a television licence, which means more money for books as well as more time for reading them. When I’m failing entirely to read anything I can use the time to post updates here, for which I feel your gratitude shining upon me like the June sun. Or not.

In short, then, all is well in my shiny new boxless universe, and that reminds me of a book I bought years ago from a library that didn’t want it any more. It was called The Evil Eye: the Unacceptable Face of Television, and it instructed me not to give in to the ionised siren song of the cathode ray tube; issuing dire pronouncements about social and psychological decay should I foolishly not heed its prophetic warning. How kind of the authorities to help me to go cold turkey and find that it’s quite nice with cranberry sauce.

I’m going to make one post stand in for several here so that I can switch off my brain and copy things from my reference library. It’s been a while since we visited Bizarre Books, so here are a few more gems from that indispensable volume.

Anonymous Bibliography of Mangrove Research, 1600-1975 (Paris: UNESCO, 1981)

Maclaren, Rob Grow Your Own Hair (Glasgow: Healthway Publications, 1947)

Reynolds, John W. The Earthworms of Ontario (Toronto: Royal Ontario Museum, 1977)

Glatt, Meier Teach Yourself Alcoholism. (EUP, 1975). Call me precocious if you will, but I’ve devised my own course of study.

Collins, Sewell The Rubaiyat of a Scotch Terrier (Grant Richards, 1926)

Scoffern, John Explosive Spiders and How to Make Them (Boy’s Own Paper, 1882)

Reid, Joseph V. You Can Make a Stradivarius Violin (Chicago, Ill: Popular Mechanics Press, 1950 & 55). Unless your name is Stradivarius, no you can’t.

Cort, Samuel Walter Cancer: Is the Dog the Cause? (John Bale, Sons & Danielsson, 1933). Clue: no.

Broel, Dr. Alfred Frog Raising for Pleasure and Profit (New Orleans: Marlboro House, 1950)

Stubbings, John Wilfred The Diseases of Electrical Machinery (Spon, 1939)

Hirschfield, Isador The Toothbrush: its Use and Abuse (New York: Dental Items of Interest Publishing Company, 1939)

Hore, Annie Boyle To Lake Tanganyika in a Bath Chair (Sampson Low & Co., 1886). Just when you think a Victorian travel monograph can’t surprise you, one does.

Today’s chronologically random quotation is from the German composer Max Reger (1873-1916), and was chosen for being gently scatological and insulting to critics.

Ich sitze in dem kleinsten Zimmer in meinem Hause. Ich habe Ihre Kritik vor mir. Im nächsten Augenblick wird sie hinter mir sein.

I am sitting in the smallest room of my house. I have your review before me. In a moment it will be behind me.

Next Page »