1st November 2002

5th November 2002

Psalm of Montreal

Stowed away in a Montreal lumber-room
The Discobolus standeth and turneth his face to the wall,
Dusty, cobweb-covered, maimed and set at naught,
Beauty crieth in an attic, and no man regardeth.
O God, O Montreal!

Beautiful by night and day, beautiful in summer and winter,
Whole or maimed, always and alike beautiful,
He preacheth gospel of grace to the skins of owls,
And to one who seasoneth the skins of Canadian owls!
O God, O Montreal!

When I saw him I was wroth, and I said: "O Discobolus,
Beautiful Discobolus, a prince both among gods and men,
What dost thou here, how camest thou here, Discobolus,
Preaching gospel in vain to the skins of owls?
O God, O Montreal!

I turned to the man of skins, and said to him: "O thou man of skins,
Wherefore hast thou done this, to shame the beauty of the Discobolus?"
But the Lord had hardened the heart of the man of skins,
And he answered: "My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr. Spurgeon."
O God, O Montreal!

"The Discobolus is put here because he is vulgar,
He hath neither vest nor pants with which to cover his limbs;
I, sir, am a person of most respectable connections,
My brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr. Spurgeon."
O God, O Montreal!

Then I said: "O brother-in-law to Mr. Spurgeon's haberdasher,
Who seasonest also the skins of Canadian owls,
Thou callest trousers 'pants,' whereas I call them 'trousers,'
Therefore thou art in hell-fire, and may the Lord pity thee!
O God, O Montreal!

Preferest thou the gospel of Montreal to the gospel of Hellas,
gospel of thy connection with Mr. Spurgeon's haberdasher to the gospel of the Discobolus?"
Yet none the less blasphemed he beauty, saying: "The Discobolus hath no gospel,
But my brother-in-law is haberdasher to Mr. Spurgeon."

- Samuel Butler, 1878

6th November 2002

that object he became

Why do we evolve culture? What does it do for us? One suggestion is that the whole basis of human specialness is our ability to cooperate - and to cooperate you have to be able to imagine what it would be like to hold another picture of the world. You're unable to cooperate unless you can mentally be in at least two worlds at once - your own and that of the person with whom you're working. The failure to grasp other pictures of the world is what we call autism, and in its extreme form is something we regard as a severe dysfunction. Well, all animals are by our standards relatively autistic - unable to see into each other's minds, lacking empathy.
So how do we develop this ability to experience and speculate about other ways of thinking and feeling about the world? I think we do it by continually immersing ourselves in cultural experiences that rehearse us. This is obvious in films and novels - where we explicitly enter an imagined world and then watch imaginary characters in imaginary quandaries. In so doing we develop a lot of surrogate experience about what it is like to be someone else, somewhere else, with different assumptions. So I can imagine culture as being a kind of empathy lab, a way of trying things out with only symbolic risks attached.

- Brian Eno

And why do we tend to enjoy most stories about characters who go through difficulties and arrive finally at a happy ending? Because we evolved as problem-solving animals, and we got where we are today using brains which are hard-wired to relish complex tasks and look for that most buzzy of buzzes, a perfect solution. We also enjoy a darned good tragedy to, but with a certain naughty frisson and the inwit that this is definitely not what we require in our own existences.

7th November 2002

In Mortlake.

11th November 2002

in their shifts itself, maybe

Sir William Roper, of Eltham, in Kent, came one morning, pretty early, to my Lord [Sir Thomas More], with a proposal to marry one of his daughters. My Lord's daughters were then both together abed in a truckle-bed in their father's chamber asleep. He carries Sir William into the chamber and takes the sheet by the corner and suddenly whips it off. They lay on their backs, and their smocks up as high as their armpits. This awakened them, and immediately they turned onto their bellies. Quoth Roper, I have seen both sides, and so gave a pat on the buttock he made choice of, saying, Thou art mine. Here was all the trouble of the wooing.
- John Aubrey, Brief Lives

12th November 2002

photograph by John-Paul Ferrero

Thou brakest the heads of Leviathan in pieces, and gavest him to be meat to the people inhabiting the wilderness.
- Psalms 74:14

14th November 2002

another perishin' day of five-flag hoists

And there I've been all this time thinking that the above phrase was the caption to a cartoon: one of those meticulously drawn half- or quarter-page Punch cartoons of about 1910, full of detail and steel-nibbed crosshatching, and an 'unfunny' or existential tagline (prefaced by a description of the speaker - in this case BORED RATING). The kind of cartoon which resurfaced in the New Yorker of the 50s or the Private Eye of the 80s, with progressively les importance paid to the realism of the drawing.
Anyway, it's not. It's from a Kipling sea story, Their Lawful Occasions:

'Think o' the pore little snotties now bein' washed, fed, and taught, an' the yeoman o' signals with a pink eye wakin' bright an' brisk to another perishin' day of five-flag hoists. Whereas we shall caulk an' smoke cigarettes, same as the Spanish destroyers did for three weeks after war was declared.' He dropped into the wardroom singing:
'If you're going to marry me, marry me, Bill,
It's no use muckin' about!'
The man at the wheel, uniformed in what had once been a tam-o'-shanter, a pair of very worn R.M.L.I. trousers rolled up to the knee, and a black sweater, was smoking a cigarette. Moorshed, in a gray Balaclava and a brown mackintosh with a flapping cape, hauled at our supplementary funnel guys, and a thing like a waiter from a Soho restaurant sat at the head of the engine-room ladder exhorting the unseen below. The following wind beat down our smoke and covered all things with an inch-thick layer of stokers, so that eyelids, teeth, and feet gritted in their motions. I began to see that my previous experiences among battleships and cruisers had been altogether beside the mark.

15th November 2002

subway map of the month

Tashkent eschews the usual mapping conventions of rectangularity and straight diagonals, and goes where it likes. And when you have the biggest city square in the world (the earth's curvature is almost perceptible) you can get away with that kind of stuff.

16th November 2002


Turned a corner in the path and there
they were: a whiteness glowing in the
gloom under a bush, like eggs. Six or
seven immature fruiting bodies of
Macrolepiota procera, just up in the
night, rising like dough.
The smell of the cooking risotto was
just as good as eating it: even the kid
stopped in his tracks and asked what
it was. The woman merely questioned
my identification and wondered
whether we'd see morning.

(having picked mushrooms and read eeksypeeksy)

17th November 2002

In Richmond Park.

                                        * * *

A reader sends a haiku:

Tashkent Metro map;
an Invisible City,
à la Calvino.

18th November 2002


I climbed the clock tower 'neath the noonday sun;
'Twas midday, at least, ere my journey was done.
But the clock never sounded the last stroke of noon,
For there from the clapper swung Mrs. Ravoon.

Mrs. Ravoon, Mrs. Ravoon,
You are too much with me, late and soon.

I stole through the dungeon whilst everyone slept
Till I came to the place where the monster was kept.
And there in the arms of a giant baboon,
Rigid and smiling, lay Mrs. Ravoon.

- from Mrs Ravoon, trad(?)

Friday 16th August 1872
The stories about the baboon at Maesllwch Castle grow more and more extraordinary. It is said that when vistors come to the Castle the creature descends upon their heads, clambering down the balusters of the staircase. He put Baskerville and Apperley to flight, routed them horse and foot, so that they clapped spurs to their horses and galloped away in mortal fear, the baboon racing after them. He carries the cats up to the top of the highest Castle Tower, and drops then over into space, and it is believed that the baboon seeks an opportunity to carry the young heir up to the top of the Tower and serve him in the same way.

Kilvert, Diary

More baboon-related poems here and here, and a splendid baboon portrait on a book-jacket.

19th November 2002

20th November 2002

le mythe de sisyphe

Street theatre in Trafalgar Square today: several employees of Westminster Council were slowly circling the square carrying megaphones broadcasting bird-of-prey screams to scare away pigeons. This presumably at the behest of our Mayor, Ken Livingstone (pleasingly and misleadingly described on French Yahoo News as 'un ancien gauchiste surnommé "Ken le rouge" '), who seeks to rid of the area of pigeons on the winged rats/vermin/disease-spreader ticket (and of course although we ourselves may not have been affected, we all know, don't we, someone who has suffered a pigeon-related disease).
Adding to the mix was an oldish man with a shoulderbag, presumably a member of the shadowy Pigeon Alliance, who was also perambulating the square just ahead of the bird-scarers throwing handfuls of grain to the birds. The recorded noises screeched, the pigeons flew up and then down again to wherever food was on the ground; the cycle seemed unending. A junior Council worker stood by with a leaf-blower, his role uncertain. Rain fell, and then darkness.

25th November 2002

An artist's impression of our new headquarters, which will sit alongside one of Britain's vast arterial roads and so be within easy reach of the capital. My own office will occupy the whole of the upper floor and will be furnished thus. And now I'm going to go down and watch them pour the concrete.

28th November 2002

Two birthdays today: William Blake and geegaw. Congratulations and best wishes to both.


'Says I to myself' should be the motto of my journal.

- Thoreau

geegaw points out: "People who shopped [at Amazon] for [John Aubrey's 'Brief Lives'] also wear: Clean Underwear from Amazon's Eddie Bauer Store, Ladybug Rain Boots from Amazon's Nordstrom Store, Suede Headwraps from Amazon's International Male Store, Cheetah Print Slippers from Amazon's Old Navy Store"

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