Friday, 30 November 2007

Wet Fish and Chamber Pots

Someone - I can't recall who - once told me that he had visited Attingham Park when it was an innovative adult education community led by Sir George Trevelyan. He was introduced to Trevelyan who, asserting enthusiastically that there was poetry in everything, seized a casually discarded railway timetable, opened it at random, and dramatically declaimed, "choice of chilled, fruit juices," emphasising the alliteration like a true thespian.

One suspects that the timetable was a strategic prop and the random extract far from random, and possibly not even an extract, but nevertheless the point about the ubiquity of poetry was well made. Slopping in the bilges of my mind ever since I read it in some book is a notice apparently once pinned up in Italian sleeping-cars. Something like, "Sotto il lavabo une trouve uno vaso,", which I think means, "there is a chamber pot under the wash basin." It sounds a lot better in Italian than it does in English.

I thought I'd test out the poetry everywhere thesis, and opened the phone book at random. Bad choice; "Carpenter S, Carpenter SA, Carpenter TJ, Carpenter V, Carptenter P, Carr Rev A" didn't seem too poetic.

Hang about. Carptenter? Is that a misprint? I can understand how the Carpenters acquired their name, but were there medieval tradesmen making tents for fish? Are there other forgotten fish trades? Dabhanders perhaps, or Turbotchargers? My attempts to research the issue drew a blank, but I did learn a lot. Did you know, for example, that the Ginger Carpet Shark is a relation of the Tasselled Wobbegong? I thought not. But then, as I waded through the species, the Oblique-Bar Monocle Bream, the Painted Sweet Lip, the Bass Groper, the Six Band Rock Cod, etc, it dawned on me that there was indeed poetry, and that it was good.

Which reminds me, Brother Tobias once wrote a pome about fish. I'll post it tomorrow, if I can find it. Bet you can't hardly wait.

Monday, 26 November 2007

Avro Vulcan

Back on 21 September I enthused like an apron nerd about the efforts to get this fifty year old aeroplane airborne again. On 18 October they achieved this. I may be missing a point here, but like a favourite band or the bagpipes, I can't believe that the feel good factor I get from it may not be shared by everyone else.

So test yourself. Wait until your boss has gone for lunch, put on the headphones, turn the volume up, then click the link below.

Crabbit Apple

The crab apple tree at the end of the garden.

From the scandinavian word, scrabba, which is the fruit of the wild apple. The Scots have scrab, a dialect word for a withered tree or stump. Craobh-ubhal fhiadhain in the gaelic.

The Tree of Love. So sour, not even the birds will take the fruit.

Friday, 23 November 2007

German Trousers

The social secretary has bought some German hiker's trousers. Some trousers for hiking made in Germany, that is, not the trousers belonging to some German hiker. It is not the time of year for selling your trousers when you are hiking, not on the North Downs.

Although they are German trousers, it is inconceivable that they are intended for indigenous use. Germany has, after all, one of the highest standards of living in the world in terms of per-capita income, and in Frankfurt, Munich and Stuttgart it has three of the top performing cities in Europe. Whatever a performing city is. London, on the other hand, is 34th.

The trousers are completely shapeless. They are like those swagged, ruched curtains you might see in personnel officers' houses in Ilford. I imagine they were designated as hikers' trousers because you wouldn't be seen dead in them in a built-up area. They shouldn't really be worn in public at all.

They are, I believe, a cruel joke perpetrated on the British as revenge. I can't think what for; we've always been jolly decent to the Germans. Mostly. By and large. (I know 5-1 was overdoing it a bit, and hacking into that Enigma code was unsporting, but we've atoned for all that since. I mean, 34th. What more do they want?)

Apart from being made out of surplus Soviet parachute rayon and cut to a generous, lifelong, one-size-fits-all pattern, the trousers have a very weird feature. There is a zip pocket at the back. Not a hip pocket, but one dangling internally in the middle of the wearer's bum. Why? What is it for? What do hikers need to keep so unreachably behind them that other people don't?

If the pocket was made of clear vinyl, I suppose it could be a useful map pocket. The hiker behind could navigate by peering at the bahookey of the person in front. The trousers' owner suggests it might be for money, but groping blindly down the back of one's trousers to pay for a pint or whatever seems less than ideal - the Scot's idea of storing money in a sporran and hanging it in the place every man instinctively protects seems far sounder. Natural selection wouldn't favour hikers who clutched their bums when faced by attacking dogs, or bulls, or bandits. (Well, it would depend on what the bandits had in mind, I suppose). For sandwiches? I wouldn't take one if offered. And supposing you sat on them? And they were egg mayonnaise?

Any suggestions would be welcome. I feel there may be something pocket-sized that we are not taking hiking that we ought to be, and we do want to be proper hikers, up with the best. Not 34th.

Monday, 19 November 2007

Presentation Scroll

When I was working in Cornwall many years ago, our chief draughtsman was asked to prepare a presentation scroll for an important person who had just been honoured in some way or other by the Royal Town Planning Institute.

The draughtsman was a fine artist, and he began meticulously to prepare a hand-lettered manuscript on calfskin vellum. In order to set the lettering out evenly, he started on a centre line with the middle of each word, and worked outwards.

The work was progressing nicely - fine romanesque capitals, shadowing and gilded highlights - then we heard a chuckle rumbling from the direction of his drawing board, followed by helpless laughter. We gathered round and viewed the presentation scroll in all its splendour. It said:

Saturday, 17 November 2007


According to an 'in brief' item in Thursday's Telegraph, a man in Ayr has been given three year's probation for trying to have sex with a bicycle.

Now that's what I call drunk.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

Which Reminds Me...

A Bristolian friend of mine was getting ready to enter the operating theatre where his wife was about to have their baby delivered by caesarean. The surgeons and anaesthetists were busy scrubbing up, pulling on thigh-length latex gloves, turning taps on and off with their elbows and so on. As he approached the swing doors a nurse thrust a green gown at him and asked, 'Are you sterile?'

Taken aback, he replied, 'I wouldn't have thought so; would you?'

Battered Prawn Balls

According to a recent study, men who eat just half a serving of soya a day have drastically reduced sperm counts. The study's researchers say larger trials are needed to determine whether men hoping to conceive a child should try to avoid soya foods, such as tofu, tempeh and soya milk.

Although the idea of the chinese take away as a method of birth control is attractive, what I want to know is; if soy sauce is made of soya, why is China so populous?

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Bruges, 1918

After the Armistice (see 11 November) my grandfather drove to Bruges (where he had been at school as a boy) with two of his staff officers. It turned out that they were the first British Officers the inhabitants had seen for five years.

In their honour the townspeople asked to play 'God Save the King' on the carillon in the belfry, so at 12 noon the three soldiers stood at attention in the centre of the Grand Place in front of a crowd of dignatories and townspeople, feeling 'stupid and conspicuous', while the bells pealed out the national anthem.

Sombre Hombre

I have to go to a memorial service. I don't think people dress as sombrely as at funerals, but it's so long since I've been to one that I looked on the web.

"What to wear at a memorial service. Tips and warnings:

1 Only wear t-shirts as an undergarment.

2 A wide-brim hat is okay but not a trucker's hat. You can add a flower in it if you desire

3 Never wear flip-flops to a memorial service.

4 Avoid sundresses that are bright in colour or have patterns. They will look gaudy at a memorial service."

Flip flops with my orange sun dress and an Eddie Stobart cap are out then?

Lucky I checked.

Monday, 12 November 2007

Pregnant Elbow

Brother Tobias has bursitis, or student's elbow to you and me. It's the academic version of housemaid's knee. I don't know what I did to bring this on; it certainly wasn't time spent blogging.

One elbow is swollen, as if it has been bitten by a snake. Having a pregnant elbow is extremely painful. It makes me decidedly anti natal and relieved to have been born a bloke.

According to the valetudinarian's guide, bursitis can last for many months. Oh, goody. It affects my book-holding arm, but fortunately not my glass-holding one, so I can still take the amber medication, praise be.

Sunday, 11 November 2007


My grandfather served in the Royal Horse Artillery, and fought on the western front for the entire duration of the Great War. This is taken from his account of the cease fire on 11 November 1918.

"At 6pm on that day, I got a message which read as follows:


Next day I did a rather stupid thing. We had been fighting continuously for nearly four and a half years. I had been commanding troops in the front line for almost all that time, and we had all been living to a great extent on our nerves. I gave an order that every gun under my command on the 16th Division front was to be fired at 10.55 am.

There was a terrific din such as we had often heard before a battle. I doubt if many Germans were killed - they had nearly all retired to beyond gun range. Looking back after this lapse of years, I think perhaps it was rather a stupid order, but it was to some extent excusable and it made an impressive thunder.

Suddenly, dead silence came over the land. We had not experienced such a thing since the war began. We could hardly realize that the chance of being sent to eternity at any moment of the day or night was over."

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Overheard at the Forum, Tunbridge Wells

"I never had any sex education - I had to feel my way."

Monday, 5 November 2007

Breaking and Entering

Bobby has had a bit of a shock (and he doesn't shock easily). He was home from school early - it was a one lesson day (so that's how they keep class sizes down). On his way upstairs he passed his mother in the kitchen and his father in the study. It gave him a jolt, therefore, when he glanced from an upstairs window and saw a strange man bending over by the workshop.

It looked as if the man, who was wearing old jeans and a white shirt, was trying to break in. At this point Bob saw his father emerge from the house, carrying a stapler. He watched anxiously to see what would happen when his father came round the corner and saw the stranger.

Strangely, nothing happened. The stranger remained stooped by the door, and father did not seem surprised by his presence. Perhaps it's someone we know, he thought. At this point Bob saw his father bend down behind the man and fire a staple into his backside.

I really am too mature to be making guys for bonfires. But it's November the 5th and friends are coming over for some sausages and mulled wine, and I thought, as we aren't having fireworks because of the dog, and in the interests of tradition.....

In bed with Donna Tartt

There is something indecently intimate about reading a novel. A good one. One written from the heart and from the intellect, not for profit or plaudits, but because, welled up or dragged, the words were waiting to be spilled.

Such books are confessionals, and the reader inhabits the author's mind, vicariously sharing their weaknesses and their aspirations, the abcess of innocence eroded and the terror of loneliness.

It is delicious to be a voyeur in such a shameless context. Blameless, because the writer has invited you in. Tremblingly vulnerable or shamelessly wanton, they have danced without veils for strangers. Such an undeserved gift always enchants.

When an unexpected insight or a dart of mischief captures my admiration, I cannot help turning again to the author's biography and photograph. (The envious 'same age as me' has morphed now to 'younger than me', with an unspoken codicil, 'how can someone so young understand so much?')

It is Donna Tartt that absorbs me at the moment. I am reading 'The Little Friend', the book that followed 'The Secret History' after a ten year interval. When pressed about the gap, Donna Tartt composedly remarked, "I have my life to resort to".

The thoughts and events in her book are not remote invention; she must have lived them in her mind, inhabiting at times a parallel world in which the routines of shopping and laundry and celebrations were the stuff of dreams (the voices in the front seat blurring into unintelligibility as you doze in a moving car). I look at her face in the flyleaf photo, cool and remote; the hint of a line at the corner of her mouth denoting either humour or asperity, and understand how obsessives can imagine connections with people they do not know.

I am not sure anyone has really bottomed out why writers write. Perhaps for the same reason that painters paint, composers compose and poets poet. But I can't help wondering if it is not from some deep-seated insecurity. The child in us crying out for attention and approbation; 'Mummy, Daddy, look what I've done'.

Whatever drives Donna, thank the Lord for it, and may she long go on "moving a comma round very happily for hours".