2nd december 2003

from the Norwich train

Some vast doom seemed to have fallen over the flat lands. It was sunset all day, the dingy clouds refracting light from a distant star.
By a black pool, the body of a knight was sprawled in the dead reeds;  his horse stood motionless over its reflection.

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5th december 2003

aware of his work

Jules Verne predicted the round-the-world submarine, the moon-rocket and the Goblin Teasmade. Ray Bradbury's Mars sadly may not exist, unless on Christmas Day Beagle 2 lands on a mosaic pavement (I'm hoping), but here are a couple of good ones from him:

And he went on quietly this way through the remainder of a cool,
air-conditioned, and long afternoon; telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio . . .
from The Murderer

She was everywhere at once!
Streaking along high monster towers in instants, sizzling between high poles where small glass knobs sat like crystal-green birds holding the wires in their non-conductive beaks, branching in four directions, eight secondary directions, finding towns, hamlets, cities, racing on to farms, ranches, haciendas, she descended gently like a widely filamented spider web upon a thousand square miles of desert . . .
. . . She spilled out swiftly into rooms where life was rising from a slap on a naked child's back, into rooms where life was leaving bodies like the light fading from an electric bulb . . . she was in every town, every room, making light-patterns over hundreds of miles of land; seeing, hearing, everything . . .
from Powerhouse

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8th december 2003

am a worm


Darwin loved worms. He sang to them, played the piano. He gave them new foods to try: onions, fat, lettuce. He credited them with great intelligence (remember dissecting the earthworm? The first thing that reveals itself when you open the dorsal anterior surface, that splendidly fat white cerebral ganglion, like a walrus moustache). He wrote his last book about them - The Formation of Vegetable Mould through the Action of Worms, with Observations of their Habits - and it was an instant bestseller, 3,500 copies in the first month. By then he was as loved a figure as Einstein was in the fifties, and Punch magazine gave him its cover in December 1881, the artist impressively anticipating Escher in his transformation of forms.

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11th december 2003

update soonest, fullest, speedliest

Last night on tv there was a transmission on the subject of a Gainsborough painting I was wondering about in February. Missed the programme, was made aware of it about half an hour afterwards. But lo and behold, an anonymous reader of infinite kindness (and not a bad memory, either) mailed me a précis just minutes later. Thanks, whoever you are:

In regards to the painting Mr. and Mrs. Andrews, by Thomas Gainsborough, the reason Mrs. Andrews looks like a middle aged harridan, while in fact a mere teenager of 18 or so, is because Gainsborough disliked her. Having gone to school with Mr. Andrews, it appears that Gainsborough quite likes him, depicting him at worst as a rather dim witted soul. However, Mrs. Andrews is depicted as sly and conniving. This painting is an attempted warning to Mr. Andrews. The unfinished patch in her lap would have been a cock pheasant. Greatly influenced by European art, a woman holding a dead bird, usually a cock of some sorts, making use of the obvious double entendre, was well known to signify a woman's selfish grasp on her partner. Apparently when Mrs. Andrews realised the significance of the painting, it was decommissioned and thus unfinished.

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12th december 2003

he and his man

It was under this John Hayward's care, and within his bounds, that the story of the piper, with which people have made themselves so merry, happened, and he assured me that it was true. It is said that it was a blind piper; but, as John told me, the fellow was not blind, but an ignorant, weak, poor man, and usually walked his rounds about ten o'clock at night and went piping along from door to door, and the people usually took him in at public-houses where they knew him, and would give him drink and victuals, and sometimes farthings; and he in return would pipe and sing and talk simply, which diverted the people; and thus he lived. It was but a very bad time for this diversion while things were as I have told, yet the poor fellow went about as usual, but was almost starved; and when anybody asked how he did he would answer, the dead cart had not taken him yet, but that they had promised to call for him next week.

It happened one night that this poor fellow, whether somebody had given him too much drink or no John Hayward said he had not drink in his house, but that they had given him a little more victuals than ordinary at a public-house in Coleman Street and the poor fellow, having not usually had a bellyful for perhaps not a good while, was laid all along upon the top of a bulk or stall, and fast asleep, at a door in the street near London Wall, towards Cripplegate, and that upon the same bulk or stall the people of some house, in the alley of which the house was a corner, hearing a bell which they always rang before the cart came, had laid a body really dead of the plague just by him, thinking, too, that this poor fellow had been a dead body, as the other was, and laid there by some of the neighbours.

Accordingly, when John Hayward with his bell and the cart came along, finding two dead bodies lie upon the stall, they took them up with the instrument they used and threw them into the cart, and, all this while the piper slept soundly.

From hence they passed along and took in other dead bodies, till, as honest John Hayward told me, they almost buried him alive in the cart; yet all this while he slept soundly. At length the cart came to the place where the bodies were to be thrown into the ground, which, as I do remember, was at Mount Mill; and as the cart usually stopped some time before they were ready to shoot out the melancholy load they had in it, as soon as the cart stopped the fellow awaked and struggled a little to get his head out from among the dead bodies, when, raising himself up in the cart, he called out, 'Hey! where am I?' This frighted the fellow that attended about the work; but after some pause John Hayward, recovering himself, said, 'Lord, bless us! There's somebody in the cart not quite dead!' So another called to him and said, 'Who are you?' The fellow answered, 'I am the poor piper. Where am I?' 'Where are you?' says Hayward. 'Why, you are in the dead-cart, and we are going to bury you.' 'But I an't dead though, am I?' says the piper, which made them laugh a little though, as John said, they were heartily frighted at first; so they helped the poor fellow down, and he went about his business.

I know the story goes he set up his pipes in the cart and frighted the bearers and others so that they ran away; but John Hayward did not tell the story so, nor say anything of his piping at all; but that he was a poor piper, and that he was carried away as above I am fully satisfied of the truth of.
from Journal of the Plague Year, Daniel Defoe

Via J.M. Coetzee's Nobel Lecture (an absolute masterpiece - read it), via Caterina.

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16th december 2003

clear and simple

It being Beethoven's birthday, you might listen to Happy Birthday arranged in the style of six of his pieces, by Leonid Hambro (or Humbro - the author of the page seems unsure), whose rise to fame can surely only be described by the one adjective.
The Pathetique one is particularly good.

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18th december 2003

money doesn't talk, it swears

Presented with an identical problem, different individuals may well make use of a broad spectrum of approaches thereto.
- Journal of Psychometric Studies, XVII 14.

When you go into a store, and to buy a pair of shoes
When they tell you all the price, sometimes you feel confuse

- Lord Composer

Well I went to the bank just to get a little money
When he told me their requirements I started feeling funny

- Mark E. Smith

Now, I didn't mean to be nosy but I went into a bank
To get some bail for Arab and all the boys back in the tank
They asked me for some collateral and I pulled down my pants

- Bob Dylan

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19th december 2003

a way a lone a last a loved a long the


Off goes tiny Beagle 2 into the Martian gravity well, all alone and the size of a bin lid (garden barbecue, bicycle wheel, microwave oven, dog basket).
It'll drop down the chimney early on Christmas morning; I hope they've got their stockings out, over there.

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21st december 2003


'I'm cold!' cried the Moomintroll. 'I'm lonely! I want the sun back again!'
'But that's exactly why we burn up the great winter bonfire tonight,' said Too-ticky. 'You'll get your sun back tomorrow.'
'My sun,' repeated Moomintroll in a trembling voice.
Too-ticky nodded and rubbed her nose. Moomintroll was silent a long while.
Then he cautiously asked: 'Do you think she'd notice if the garden sofa were there or not?'
'Now listen,' replied Too-ticky sternly. 'This bonfire is a thousand years older than your garden sofa. You ought to feel honoured by its being good enough to be laid on top.'
And Moomintroll said no more. 'I'll have to explain that to the family,' he thought. 'And perhaps there'll be new driftwood and a new sofa on the shore after the spring gales.'

from Tove Jansson, Moominland Midwinter

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30th december 2003

service announcement

It looks like no mail sent via the input box on this page has reached me since possibly mid-December. Mine host is unavailable for berating purposes until Jan 5th, so all I can do is remove it and say, if it was important, use the address provided, and I'll check the code at my end (since it hasn't changed, there's no point, of course).
Also I've had the front page replaced twice by someone rather minimalist, whether by accident or design I'm not sure - let's hope I've got this one figured and it doesn't happen again.
Sorry for any inconvenience.

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At eight o'clock, I opened the window to the woods
and an owl about the size of a vicar
tumbled across in a boned gown

- Alice Oswald

I find life superior to anything I could invent.
- Delmore Schwartz