Archive of January 2009

Fri 30 Jan

Hamish, Chandler, and Woodhouse

I am going to make a more literary entry soon, on Hamish Henderson.

But until I do I thought I would explain the link between him, Chandler, and Woodhouse.  It is Dulwich College - which they all attended, though I believe only two of them were on scholarships (I leave it to you to guess who was not!).  Although an acquaintance (one who whould know, having worked in schools) reckons the reputation of the college is undeserved they clearly have a few remarkable alumni.

I was going to post a picture to accompany this quick entry, but then my search somehow turned up videos that show some up close views, both of the college inside and out and of what I can only assume are the boys of Dulwich College.... so I am posting those instead!

Sat 24 Jan

Gaudiness on Burns night

During the week I was fortunate enough to spot a Chambers Dictionary in a charity shop.  I seem to have forfeited every dictionary I owned with the collapse of significant relationships, so the opportunity to acquire one was welcome.  I prefer Chambers because I like to play Scrabble.  In a perfect world I guess I would have the Complete Oxford, but at £250 for the CD edition it is beyond my means.  One day perhaps their word of the day will coincide with the one I want, if it ever happens I'll feel just like I won the lottery!  Below I reproduce the definition from Chambers and after it the reason I featured it.

Gaudy - see under Gaud

Gaud - n. a.a large ornamental bead on a rosary (obs): a prank (obs); an ornament; a piece of finery; showy ceremony; festivity (obs), - vi (obs) to make merry, - vi to adorn with gauds (obs); to paint (eg the cheeks (obs; Shakespeare) -

gaudeamus L. (in Scotland let us be glad, opening word of a students' song) a joyful celebration among student. -

n gaudery finery -

adv. gaudily - n gaudiness - n gaudy an entertainment or feast, esp. in certain English colleges. - adj. showy; merry; gay; vulgarly bright. -

gaudy-day, gaudy-night [In part appar from OFr "gaudir", from L. "gaudere" to be glad , or "gaudium" joy; in part directly from L.]

I found it really interesting how this has been corrupted or adapted from the original Latin.  As a boy I remember the family had an urn on which was painted "Edamus, Bibame, Gaudeamusque!" which translates as "Eat, Drink, and make merry!".  If I remember rightly it may have had "Hic, Haec, Hoc!" on the other side, which was intended as a joke I guess.  Last weekend at meeting I saw the childrens' group had made an artwork about self-discovery which had the words "Open" and "Closed" as counterpoints and the same circle showed "Simple" and "Gaudy" also counterbalancing.  I am not sure the word "gaudy" was well chosen, it puzzled me at the time prompting my enquiry.  No doubt "Complicated" might work better, at least for me, because one of the Quaker values is indeed simplicity, but if this is to be in rejection of all that is "gaudy" it conjures up all sorts of visions of puritans rather than Quakers.

Tonight is also the 250th Burns Night and in honour of Robert Burns I reproduce a song he wrote as a young man which uses the word gaudy well enough.

Handsome Nell

Tune - "I am a Man Unmarried."

O', once I lov'd a bonie lass,
 Ay, and I love her still;
And whilst that virtue warms my breast,
 I'll love my handsome Nell.

As bonie lasses I hae seen,
 And monie full as braw;
But, for a modest gracefu' mein,
 The like I never saw.

A bonie lass, I will confess,
 Is pleasant to the e'e;
But, without some better qualities,
 She's no a lass for me.

But Nelly's looks are blythe and sweet,
 And what is best of a',
Her reputation is complete,
 And fair without a flaw.

She dresses aye sae clean and neat,
 Baith decent and genteel;
And then there's something in her gait
 Gars ony dress look weel.

A gaudy dress and gentle air
 May slightly touch the heart;
But it's innocence and modesty
 That polishes the dart.

'Tis this in Nelly pleases me,
 'Tis this enchants my soul!
For absolutely in my breast
 She reigns without control.

1771-1779

by Robert Burns
(1759-1796)

and on that note I shall close, but in parting let me mention that my plan is to stick with the Scots theme for the next post, which is intended to feature Hamish Henderson, P.G. Woodhouse, and Raymond Chandler with some kind of prize for anyone that can find the connection (they have one thing in common!).  Imay also add an audio clip from another Hamish, wait and see!

Fri 23 Jan

Paul's Prayer to a Bear

This is a poem I wrote many years ago.  It appears in a published work of my father's called "lie Lines".


Jean's got the sneezles and weazles,
They sent for a doctor!
Then they decided to decorate a wall
So they telephoned a draper.
The draper was an elephant,
Jumbo came with lots of wallpaper.
Some was plain, some red and white,
Some was decorated with flowers,
Some repeated , some had towers,
Said me to he, "I think he is dead".
We rushed me and my downstairs and said
"Help!!!"
Only to see a bunch of hungry bears.
They all said at once "Let's eat them up!"
So they popped me and my inside
And drank from a cup.

 

Paul Wrighton (when young enough)

 

The post was inspired by the recent discovery by my sister of a listing on Amazon for the book, which appears to have appreciated since publication in 1996, when the cover price was "One pint or six mars bars"!

Wed 21 Jan

A pair of poems, which do you think is more poetic?

Each day we go about our business, walking past each other, catching each others' eyes or not, about to speak or speaking. All about us is noise. All about us is noise and bramble, thorn and din, each one of our ancestors on our tongues. Someone is stitching up a hem, darning a hole in a uniform, patching a tire, repairing the things in need of repair.

Someone is trying to make music somewhere with a pair of wooden spoons on an oil drum with cello, boom box, harmonica, voice.

A woman and her son wait for the bus.

A farmer considers the changing sky; A teacher says, "Take out your pencils. Begin."

We encounter each other in words, words spiny or smooth, whispered or declaimed; words to consider, reconsider.

We cross dirt roads and highways that mark the will of someone and then others who said, "I need to see what's on the other side; I know there's something better down the road."

We need to find a place where we are safe; We walk into that which we cannot yet see.

Say it plain, that many have died for this day. Sing the names of the dead who brought us here, who laid the train tracks, raised the bridges, picked the cotton and the lettuce, built brick by brick the glittering edifices they would then keep clean and work inside of.

Praise song for struggle; praise song for the day. Praise song for every hand-lettered sign; The figuring it out at kitchen tables.

Some live by "Love thy neighbor as thy self."

Others by first do no harm, or take no more than you need.

What if the mightiest word is love, love beyond marital, filial, national. Love that casts a widening pool of light. Love with no need to preempt grievance.

In today's sharp sparkle, this winter air, anything can be made, any sentence begun.

On the brink, on the brim, on the cusp -- praise song for walking forward in that light.

 

Elizabth Alexander, 2009.

 

This little life is all we must endure,
The grave's most holy peace is ever sure, 
We fall asleep and never wake again;
Nothing is of us but the mouldering flesh,
Whose elements dissolve and merge afresh
In earth, air, water, plants, and other men.

We finish thus; and all our wretched race 
Shall finish with its cycle, and give place
To other beings with their own time-doom:
Infinite aeons ere our kind began;
Infinite aeons after the last man
Has joined the mammoth in earth's tomb and womb. 

We bow down to the universal laws,
Which never had for man a special clause
Of cruelty or kindness, love or hate:
If toads and vultures are obscene to sight,
If tigers burn with beauty and with might, 
Is it by favour or by wrath of Fate?

All substance lives and struggles evermore
Through countless shapes continually at war,
By countless interactions interknit:
If one is born a certain day on earth, 
All times and forces tended to that birth,
Not all the world could change or hinder it.

I find no hint throughout the Universe
Of good or ill, of blessing or of curse;
I find alone Necessity Supreme; 
With infinite Mystery, abysmal, dark,
Unlighted ever by the faintest spark
For us the flitting shadows of a dream.

James Thomson, "The City of Dreadful Night" (1873)

I think you really should know which of the two I would chose (though I regard neither as anywhere close to great poetry).  After all, one of them was written over a hundred and thirty years ago.  What are the chances that anyone will be quoting Elizabeth Alexanders words in the 2140's?  I rest my case.

Sun 18 Jan
silentriver.jpg

This was my libraries December/January reading group selection.  It was well received, and I think rightly so.  Be prepared for a generally good read rather than a work of great literature.

After reading the dedication (to the aboriginal people) one is somewhat prepared for the subject matter, which perhaps reflects the zeitgeist of belated apology from Australians to the peoples native to their land.  This novel examines the historical background to that and I think does so effectively, by and large.  I was particularly engaged by the early parts of the book detailing life in London.  This prompted me to wonder, given that the author is Australian, if it is possible that contrary to the populist advice to "write of what you know" then in fact an author with any skill and prepared to put in the research can in fact write more engagingly of far away places and times that they in fact cannot know, because they have to engage with it as the reader does and take nothing for granted?  Then again it is equally possible that because I know London and do not know Austrlia it was more engaging to me.

Having said that I was equally struck by the fluidity and insight in the descriptions of Aboriginal people and culture.  Much was made of the way they would blend into the landscape and their skills with a spear or other survival skills.  If there is a sub-plot or theme in the book it is undoubtedly people and land and their relationship to it.  This is a central drive for the lead character in his aspirations and survival as a convict reprieved from hanging and deported.  His wife is well drawn and their relationship is interesting in the circumstances, though I found the frequency of their lovemakign stretched my credibility, then again perhaps the best marriages can work that way?

There was one niggling detail that I could not get, where the local aboriginals are said to have carved a depiction of the ship in a rock outcrop - this is clearly described and unlike other loose ends it is left with no further reference, other than that he chooses the spot to build his house over this - but in so doing only the fish carving is really referred to.  Perhaps there is a symbolism intended here, but it was lost on me.  A case of the writer being too clever for their own good?  Or just a mistake?

The ending seemed somewhat grafted on after a traumatic confrontation that one always hopes will be avoided,  Although it felt a little like an epilogue it is the part that would most interest me in interpretation.  Perhaps soem would read it as a sort of "happy ending" with the author "making good".  For myself it was quite the opposite, almost horrific in the fates left to the people.

I said at the bookgroup that this "put me right off Australians" but of course that is a generalisation rather than a specific.  I had to smile realising that one of the librarians attending was from Australia.  Eventually I do hope other readers of books will comment and in this case I'm especially interested in how they see the ending.

Wed 7 Jan

The Believers

I'm not sure I remember the rating I gave this book correctly on the "I am reading" widget, but I think it was A minus.  Normally I'd have to wait for the library to have this book, so it was an unexpected treat when a friend lent me a copy in hardback.

I came to the book with the (mistaken) hunch that the author might be related to Joseph Heller.  But perhaps there was a grain of truth there, in so far as both authors are of the same "tribe".  Ms Heller made a name for herself in the field of journalism and you can read an extract from this book in the Times Online here (she wrote for them).  There's speculation that her background led to some snipey reviews (which it seems she is sensitive to).  The person loaning me the book referred to the Jewish context, so I was alert to this.

Not that you could miss it, many of the aspects are very refreshing in their insights to orthodox Jewish faith and how it sits with the world from the perspective of the daugher raised in a radical counter culture Aetheist family and drawn towards orthodox Judaism in adult life.  Perhaps she is the more engagaing of the three central female characters, but I could not help myself being attracted to her mother more.  I loved the portrayal of the way a life can turn on a youthful whim and one impulse or challenge that finds a reponse.  I think that phenomenon rings true.  I liked the attention to detail in the early scene setting of the novel too and felt that was not kept up so well.  The two daughters are thoroughly mined for comic effect, not only the atheist/Judaism conflict which I find almost as amusing as the "Jews for Jesus" controversy (not featured in the novel).  Rosa's work with underprivileged kids (the name "Chianti" alone deserves a star for comedy!) is clearly not what she was placed on this earth to do and the entire situation is indeed comic, but in this aspect bathos shows through even for Rosa. The other daughter, Karla, lends herself more naturally to bathetic comedy.  Aspects of her nature and her marriage reminded me of many of Updikes female characters, which I think is really a complement to Ms Heller, and in the context of Karla's situation is apposite.

It is clear that Audrey is the true heroine though, and in that respect the book does not let you down, not in the least.  I suppose a cynical reader might find parts of the book are a tad too sweet, but I think this is the authors perogative and the ending is pulled off rather well (having written a poor attempt at a novelette I have gained a much better grasp of the difficulty of satisfactory endings!).

The themes of womanhood, Jewish family life, and "the tribe" are carried through with masterful accomplishment.  I soon realised Joel, the central male figure, had played his part early and was to be a sleeping character.  I found this frustrating, but in the context of a Jewish family the women are so central to life that a man might be in full health and still play no more role in the story than Joel does.  In fact, his condition becomes central to the book and on reflection is quite appropriate, giving full freedom to the exploration of the central female characters.

I was reminded of another author, not Zoe's namesake Joseph, but of Zadie Smith and particularly "On Beauty".  This should be taken by Zadie Smith as a huge complement really (she is some twenty odd years Ms Heller's junior).  Both, however, are at similar points in their writing careers perhaps, on second and third novels.  So far as I recollect "On Beauty" also dealt with family drama in something of a "tribal" way and this must be the chord that is being struck (yes, there is a powerful mother figure too, but also a son and a father who remains present, if innefective).

I'm presently reading another of Zadie Smiths works, "Autograph Man" and surprisingly the protagonist there is Jewish, there are a number of rabis, mention of the kabala and of "goyishness", yet Zadie Smith is emphatically NOT Jewish (yes, I checked!).  To be frank it shows.  I am finding "Autograph Man" heavy going and with none of the easy, comfortable, Jewish family humour riffs.

They say the Jews have all the best jokes, well I think in Zoe Heller they have one of the warmest humourous writers.  The book may not be profound, but it is heart warming and thought provoking.

If pushed to rate this work I'd prefer to say it's in the lower/middle of my highly recommended list - I think that sounds so much better than "A minus"!

And I'd love to hear others comments or responses to mine!  I really have made commenting as easy as possible, you need not even supply a name or email if you're shy! 

Tue 6 Jan

The Ancient Smoker (A Parody)

Part I - The Curse

 

He is an ancient smoker, he stoppeth 'neath a tree

With thy long black pipe and glittering eye,

"Wherefore though stoppeth thee?"

The Public Bar is open wide, within a merry din,

The youth accosts the ancient soul "Thou can'st not go within!"

"I have the curse", the old man sighed

"Bin coming here for years,

My pipe and baccy both are banned",

The old man glared, the old man spake,

"Yet I will go within!

By God I'll fight for my right!"

"A pint", he quoth and settled in his place

The taproom glowed, the good beer flowed

Joy shone in his face, the din did grow

The banter flew, he joined that merry crew.

He struck his match, he puffed his pipe

The smoke was thick and strong

The banter dropped, the door flew wide,

A curse came from the throng

The barmaid shrieked, the landlord cried

"Thou can'st not do that 'ere!"

The banter stopped, the silence grew,

His curse was in his hand;

Now 'twas an angry crew

"Be gone!  Get out!  You're banned!

God save the Ancient Smoker

From the curse that plagues thee thus";

Sadly he slipped his moorings and crept into the night

The laughter grew the jibes flew too

He was a sorry sight

 

Part II - The Return of the Ancient Smoker

 

When he joins the Nick O' Tyne Line

Her masts the finest briars

See, she is Rizla rigged

Her crew all true born liars.

She sailed across the harbour bar

And nestled by the quay

He leapt aboard her crying

"I'm going back to sea!

Far from this land

Where smoking's banned

I'll smoke my pipe as is my right!"

They cast off and sailed away

Not to come back for many a day

To do their duty, not to pay it.

 

Part III - The Voyage of the Good Ship Nic O' Tyne

 

A fair wind blew, o'er the waves they flew

Leaving the land behind, they gave a cheer

He lit his pipe and drawing deep

He took a swig of beer

The silver moon sailed in the sky

Softly she was going up

And a star or two besides

His lips were wet, his throat was cold,

His garments all were dank

He was drinking as he slept

And still his body drank.

The helmsman steered, the ship moved on,

A steady breeze still blew,

The mariners all gan work the ropes

As they were wont to do

They were a merry crew.

Like a flying horse they flew

Acorss the boundless Ocean

The sun shone bright, a fair wind blew,

They smoked and drank all day.

They drifted o'er the harbour bar

The rock shone bright, the kirk no less

That stands above the rock

The Harbour Bay was clear as glass

So smoothly was it strewn

In the bay all was dark

in the shadow of the moon

thus they quietly slipped ashore

Stowing their goods in a safe place

Crept out and locked the door

 

To Follow; Part IV - The return of the Happy Smoker

 

John Charles Wrighton, 2008.

 

(He only gave me the text thus far, having mislaid further pages, which he might post me at some future date!)

Egregious didactic

So I have finally more or less completed moving the blog around and set it up with the new design on the latest Chyrp release.  Hence the gratuitous audio posting (hey, I had to test it!).  Commenting should work far better if anyone chooses to make a comment, I have even allowed anonymous commenting - it is optional to supply your name and email.  Whather there will be any more comments remains to be seen, I have noticed that traffic to the site seems to have dropped off from a peak last September.

With the new design I have added categories, and these are connected to an intended new theme.  The categories are Reading, Writing, Vocabulary, Poetry, and Spiritual.  Posts will either fall into one of these categories or else they will be like "padding" to the blog.  So the intention is that the main theme here is to be literary appreaciation, observation, and criticism or interpretation (reading), poetry (mine and others), the techniques, issues, pitfalls, and joys of creating literary works (writing), and for a little light relief the occasional word play or vocabulary expansion.  Spritual posts may pop up from time to time if something especially inspires me in that direction.  There will still be the occasional diversion into postings that do not fit into these categories, but it is my intention to try to focus the blog in these areas.  Hopefully by this means it will live up to it's name a little.

Which brings me to the word of this post.  Whilst I was in Somerset visiting the family between Christmas and New Year my father came up with the word "egregious" and wanted me to define it for him.  I didn;t do a very good job of it at the time, but the landlord fished out a dictionary and when reading the definition from Websters he decided he'd like the word applied to himself.  The etymology is from the Greek gregis meaning flock, so literally this means standing out from the crowd.  However it usually carries negative connotations.  Wiktionary seems to have it about right:-

"The negative meaning arose in the late 16th century, probably originating in sarcasm. Before that, it meant outstanding in a good way. Webster also gives “distinguished” as an archaic form, and notes that its present form often has an unpleasant connotation (e.g., "an egregious error"). It generally precedes such epithets as “rogue,” “rascal,” "ass," “blunderer”– but may also be used for a compliment, or even on its own: “Sir, you are egregious.” The latter sense is only recommended when one is quite certain its object is unaware of its meaning."

I think my father believes it means notorious in a good way.  Whatever the exact meaning I have to admit it probably is quite fitting.

The next post will be a poem my father wrote as a parody of Coleridge, entitled "The Rhyme of the Ancient Smoker" which he entrusted to me along with a few other works that may appear from time to time.

PS - I was reading the Independent letters page online today (7th January) and came across this word in correct and amusing usage;

"Egged into Easter

My Waitrose store had chocolate eggs on sale on 1 January. I may be old-fashioned in thinking eggs are associated with Easter. So how come Cadbury thinks they belong before the end of the Christmas season? Even the Waitrose people seem to have no sense of liturgical sequence. If we allow the egregious anticipation of Easter, we surely should have had pancakes (Shrove Tuesday) and hot-cross buns (Good Friday) before we got to the chocolate eggs? Has the great God of consumerism eclipsed Christianity as the faith of the global market?

Frank Campbell

Southampton"