1st April 2003

how potent cheap music is

And where there had been
at most a makeshift hut to receive the music,

a shelter nailed up out of their darkest longing,
with an entryway that shuddered in the wind -
you built a temple deep inside their hearing.

from Rilke, Sonnet to Orpheus I, trans. Stephen Mitchell

And here's (nope, bet you didn't expect him) John Buchan:

I've been lucky enough to have one really Orphean experience, in rather unlikely circumstances: it was at a Ronald Shannon Jackson gig in the mid-eighties, when Heavy Metal Harmolodics were the big thing in the jazz/improv world. Jackson took centre stage, the elder dreadlocked wizard at the apex of a continent-sized drumkit; on either side were ranged a carefully street-groomed crew of what looked to be teenage musicians, clutching futuristic guitars. The music was awful, the sound rotten, except for one bass solo: the band gave up playing and jingled change in their pockets or investigated the insides of their nostrils, save the bass player, in knitted cap and combat boots, who carried on alone. The sound was atrocious, like a giant galvanized bucket being kicked around the stage, but the notes became extraordinary, each note and its relation to the ones before and after it perfectly placed in time and pitch. The auditorium vanished - I felt as if I were flying, or floating, buoyed up and made weightless by the music. Then the rest of the gang looked at their watches and thrashed the hell out of their instruments, and it was all over. We left before the second set.


3rd April 2003

creation myth

click for larger version.

Lake Turkana, Kenya, 1991.


4th April 2003

shot op is bettair

It was good to see that the word 'rosbeefs' is still in active circulation, even in its less common form (usu. 'rosbifs'). It reminded me of the very entertaining Eric Newby book, The Last Grain Race, the story of his 1938 trip round the world as crew member of a cargo sailing vessel. As the only Englishman in a crew of mostly Finns and Swedes, he had all kinds of difficulties - here he is struggling with a fashion problem:

It was . . . the done thing to wear faded overalls and I began to scrub mine in hot sea-water, using chandler's soap. However . . . they remained obstinately dark blue. Finally I asked Sedelquist, who was a sort of Brummel in overalls, what to do.
'Oh you noh,' said Sedelquist, 'those trousers are focking no good, rosbif trousers. You must vash them and vash them in caustic soda, but not much.'
I 'vashed' them in a very weak solution and they faded a little. On the day we reached Australia they were the exact shade I wanted and that day they fell to pieces.
'Too much soda,' said Sedelquist happily, 'and too much rosbif.'


7th April 2003


I  remember  when  I  was  at  school  

and  must  have  been  about  7  or  8

they  handed  us  out  this  book,  or  pamphlet

which  went  with  a  children's  radio  series  that

they  recorded  for  us  on  a  big  reel  to  reel  tape  recorder

the  book  was  just  pictures  and  poems,  that  was  all

like  this  Samuel  Palmer  woodcut

and  the  Emily  Dickinson  poem

that  begins  A  bird  came  down  the  walk

all   beautifully  designed  with  lots  of  white  space

and  I  thought,  I  like  this  a  lot;

if  only  everything  could  be  like  this


8th April 2003

then longen folk etc etc

Been reading Gary Snyder, the darlin' man.

Things to Do Around a Lookout

Wrap up in a blanket in cold weather and just read.
Practise writing Chinese characters with a brush
Paint pictures of the mountains
Put out salt for deer
Bake coffee cake and biscuit in the iron oven
Hours off hunting twisty firewood, packing it all back up and chopping.
Rice out for the ptarmigan and the conies
Mark well sunrise and sunset - drink lapsang souchong.
Rolling smokes
The Flower book and the Bird book and the Star book
Old Readers Digests left behind
Bullshitting on the radio with a distant pinnacle, like you, hid in clouds;
Drawing little sexy sketches of bare girls.
Reading maps, checking on the weather, airing out musty Forest Service sleeping bags and blankets
Oil the saws, sharpen axes,
Learn the names of all the peaks you can see
and which is highest
Learn by heart the drainages between.
Go find a shallow pool of snowmelt on a good day,
bathe in the luke warm water.
Take off in foggy weather and go climbing all alone
The Rock book, - strata, dip, and strike
Get ready for the snow, get ready
To go down.

I wonder whether it's still possible to spend a summer firewatching? Or if not, when did it stop? Snyder and Kerouac were doing it in the forties and early fifties.


9th April 2003

'the isle is full of noises.'  'bugs, too.'

Your men the springtails turn out not to be insects after all, but something else. (Via Robotwisdom). Well, we should've guessed, cos the example above appears to have four pairs of legs . . .


12th April 2003

but no queen comes

All Nature seems at work . . .
And I, the while, the sole unbusy thing,
Nor honey make, nor pair, nor build, nor sing.
- Coleridge

See, banks and brakes
Now, leav'd how thick! lac'd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build - but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
- Hopkins


13th April 2003

it was not nice about the spit

The old woman of eighty-four winters was already out in the cold morning wind, bare-headed, tripping about like a young girl, and driving up the cow to milk. She got the breakfast with despatch, and without noise or bustle; and meanwhile the old man resumed his stories, standing before us, who were sitting, with his back to the chimney, and ejecting his tobacco-juice right and left into the fire behind him, without regard to the various dishes which were there preparing. At breakfast we had eels, buttermilk cake, cold bread, green beans, doughnuts, and tea. The old man talked a steady stream; and when his wife told him he had better eat his breakfast, he said: "Don't hurry me; I have lived too long to be hurried." I ate of the apple-sauce and the doughnuts, which I thought had sustained the least detriment from the old man's shots, but my companion refused the apple-sauce, and ate of the hot cake and green beans, which had appeared to him to occupy the safest part of the hearth. But on comparing notes afterward, I told him that the buttermilk cake was particularly exposed, and I saw how it suffered repeatedly, and therefore I avoided it; but he declared that, however that might be, he witnessed that the apple-sauce was seriously injured, and had therefore declined that.

-Thoreau, from Cape Cod


14th April 2003


In Brighton.

                                        * * *

And the ingenious Yukino (during a sleepless moment, or possibly between washing up and watering the plants) has converted the prayerwheels into a charming and spiritually purifying desktop toy. Huzza!

                                        * * *

Making the mistake of dying at the wrong time, Edwin Starr has run into trouble at the BBC. What their obituary doesn't mention is that 'War' is currently on the 'Do Not Play' list of all BBC radio stations.


15th April 2003

your dominant humour appears to be . . . phlegm

More expectoration I'm afraid. Alex sends this Larkin poem, which also repeats Thoreau's fireplace motif:

The Card-Players

Jan van Hogspeuw staggers to the door
And pisses at the dark. Outside, the rain
Courses in cart-ruts down the deep mud lane.
Inside, Dirk Dogstoerd pours himself some more,
And holds a cinder to his clay with tongs,
Belching out smoke. Old Prijck snores with the gale,
His skull face firelit; someone behind drinks ale,
And opens mussels, and croaks scraps of songs
Toward the ham hung rafters about love.
Dirk deals the cards. Wet century-wide trees
Clash in surrounding starlessness above
This lamplit cave, where Jan turns back and farts,
Gobs at the grate, and hits the queen of hearts.

Rain, wind and fire! The secret, bestial peace!


16th April 2003

soup songs and scamels

To begin with, two soup-related fragments from John Gay: and doesn't the second one um, rock?

What will not Lux'ry taste? Earth, Sea, and Air
Are daily ransack'd for the Bill of Fare.
Blood stuff'd in Skins is British Christian's Food,
And France robs Marshes of the croaking Brood;
Spongy Morells in strong Ragousts are found,
And in the Soupe the slimy Snail is drown'd.

Your eyes, lips, breasts are so provoking -
They set my heart more cock-a-hoop
Than could whole seas of cray-fish soupe.

Then I was thinking about this speech by Caliban in The Tempest:

I prithee, let me bring thee where crabs grow;
And I with my long nails will dig thee pignuts;
Show thee a jay's nest, and instruct thee how
To snare the nimble marmoset; I'll bring thee
To clustering filberts, and sometimes I'll get thee
Young scamels from the rock. Wilt thou go with me?

And it turns out that this is the only time the word 'scamels' appears in print, apart from in discussions about what Shakespeare meant by it. There are suggestions of shellfish (clamshells have, in New England, been referred to as 'skim-alls'), bar-tailed godwits (in old Norfolk dialect), and one commentator blithely tells us, 'probably the Bermuda Petrel.' Petrels are a possibility, because the young are large and fatty, and would probably spatchcock nicely, but you don't get them from rocks - turf burrows are where they hang out. Shakespeare probably had read The Discovery of the Bermudas, otherwise Called the "Isle of Devils", by Silvester Jourdain, though (and there are marmosets.)  If scamels are shellfish, why young? Would one ask for young oysters? Surely fully grown ones are better, since there's no toughness problem.
Edward Armstrong, in Shakespeare's Imagination, told us:

. . . the study of passages in which a somewhat arbitrary word or group of words occurs suggests that in such cases we should suspect some not fully conscious process rather than suppose that we are dealing with straightforward natural history.

And yet all the other natural history terms mentioned by Caliban are understood. The last word, perhaps, should go to the tremulous Google:

Did you mean: camels?


17th April 2003

inside the museum, infinity goes up on trial

Why? Why are we shocked, awed and saddened when artworks are destroyed? It was just the same with the Bamiyan statues. Even though ordinary people were being executed in the national football stadium in Afghanistan, in circumstances of extreme horror, we still froze when he heard of some sculpted stone being reduced to rubble.


19th April 2003

wrasse, bass, sassafras and so on


[ad. Cornish wrach, mutated form of gwrach = Welsh gwrach wrasse, also old woman. Mod. Cornish dial. has also the form wrath.

One or other species belonging to the acanthopterygian family Labridae or esp. the genus Labrus of bony, thick-lipped, marine fishes; esp. the ballan (the 'old wife', Labrus maculatus) or the striped, red, or cook species (L. mixtus), found on the British coasts.


A phonetic corruption of BARSE, OE. baers,[Du. baars, MHG. bars, Ger. barsch, OHG. burst, Sc. birse 'bristle.']

1. The Common Perch (Perca fluviatilis), or an allied freshwater species.
2. A voracious marine fish (Labrax lupus) of the Perch family, common in European seas; called also Sea-wolf and Sea-Dace. Also an allied species (Sea-bass) caught on the coasts of North America.


[a. Sp. sasafras (whence Pg. sassafraz, salsafraz, F., G. and mod.L. sassafras. It is doubtful whether the Sp. word is a transferred application (which, indeed, would be difficult to account for) of a Sp. representation of L. saxifraga SAXIFRAGE, or whether it was adopted from some American language; in the latter case the American word seems to have influenced the form of the Sp. name for saxifrage, which according to the native lexicographers has the forms saxifraga, -fragia, -fragua, salsifragia, salsifrex, saxafrax. The Spanish writer Monardes (1571) regards the Sp. name as adopted from Fr., which seems unlikely; he gives the native Indian name as pauame.]

1. a. A small tree, Sassafras officinale (N.O. Laurinae), also called Sassafras Laurel and Ague-tree, with green apetalous flowers and dimorphous leaves, native in North America, where it is said to have been discovered by the Spaniards in 1528.
2. The dried bark of this tree, used medicinally as an alterative; also an infusion of this.
3. Sassafras tea, an infusion of sassafras formerly used in making SALOOP.


A hot drink consisting of an infusion of powdered SALEP or (later) of sassafras, with milk and sugar, formerly sold in the streets of London in the night and early morning.


[= F. salep, Sp. salép, Pg. salepo, a. Turkish salep, a. Arabic thaleb (pronounced in some parts saleb), taken to be a shortening of khasyu 'th-thalab orchis (lit. 'fox's testicles'; cf. the Eng. name 'DOGSTONES'.)]

A nutritive meal, starch, or jelly made from the dried tubers of various orchidaceous plants, chiefly those of the genus Orchis; formerly also used as a drug.


[transl. med.L. Testiculus canis (Turner, Lyte); from the shape of the tubers.]

A name for various British species of Orchis.

You have to know when to stop; otherwise you'll just go on until every single piece of information on the planet has been gathered. Just as once, I had an application that downloaded websites (in the days when ISPs were expensive): I misconfigured it, and came back a while later to find that it was downloading the entire worldwide web.


21st April 2003


22nd April 2003

spring in space


23nd April 2003

happy birthday bill


24th April 2003

go poor devil, get thee gone

>You are in a forest clearing. There are foxgloves, primroses and moss here. Flies dance in the sunslants. Twisty little paths lead away from here in all directions.
>You are carrying:
collecting jar
copy of Field Guide to the Insects of Britain and Northern Europe

>ex primroses
>The primroses are yellow and low-growing. A strange-looking fly with a long proboscis is hovering over them.
>get fly
>the fly is too quick for you and winks out of existence, immediately reappearing a few feet away.

The first time I saw a beefly, Bombylius sp., was in a protected piece of ancient woodland I'd cycled to as a Young Naturalist. I may be wrong, but it seems to me that there've been twenty or so beefly-less years intervening; and now, here's one in my kitchen, clamouring to be let out of the window with the rest of the gang of foolish creatures unaware of the open door next to them. They are fantastic insects in every sense of the word, and I imagine very difficult to photograph, but there are some great pictures here and here.
And while hunting around for Bombylius on the web, I came across this page of Curiosities of Biological Nomenclature, from which it's cheering to find out that there is, or used to be, a species of snail called Abra cadabra.


27th April 2003

The Owl and the Astronaut

The owl and the astronaut
Sailed through space
In their intergalactic ship
They kept hunger at bay
With three pills a day
And drank through a protein drip.
The owl dreamed of mince
And slices of quince
And remarked how life had gone flat
'It may be all right
To fly faster than light
- But I preferred the boat and the cat.'

- Gareth Owen


29th April 2003


Madame Moitessier, by IngresDoughnut, by Krispy Kreme

I was going to just illustrate the old one about the human body being topographically equivalent to a doughnut, and then I remembered this, from the recently and amusingly dissed (although incorrectly titled) novel:

'South Pacific!' said Constance happily. 'Of course! Of course! Well, in South Pacific whenever they saw a girl, whenever they thought of seeing a girl their mouths watered and so did the audience's, but how could my mouth water? - I was a girl.'
 'That at least is no different in Europe,' Irene said. 'We are cakes that must think, How nice to eat me!'

from Randall Jarrell, Pictures from an Institution

More doughnut-related peculiarity can be found here - (Health Warning - persons with weak hearts should not view).



After so many deaths I live and write;
I once more smell the dew and rain,
And relish versing
- George Herbert

I hardly ever tire of love or rhyme,
That's why I'm poor and have a rotten time.
- Wendy Cope

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