The warder of the brain

As we start this textual journey together, I have no idea whether there will be any jokes (even those of the barely detectable variety which tend to adorn GofaDM) or whether it will stand only as a failed attempt to exorcise some of my existential angst.  Perhaps if we held hands, it would make the journey through the trauma to come a little easier.  I’m afraid this hand-holding will have to be metaphorical as I have neither the time, budget nor inclination to visit each of my readers individually (few of them though there be).  I suppose that if there is sufficient demand, I could arrange to have my hand cast and realistic-feeling copies made available for a suitable fee.

The title returns to a style which was once common on GofaDM, sourced as it was from my copy of the OUP’s Dictionary of Quotations (2nd Ed.).  It is doubly appropriate to today’s content: firstly it is a description of memory – which will form the meat of the post once we finish wading through this first slice of bread.  Secondly, it is a quotation from Macbeth (spoken by his “good” lady wife), which I studied for O level English Literature, but not one that I remembered (though other parts of the same speech I can recall).  So, let us all screw our courage to the sticking place and meet the meat.

I believe it is uncontroversial to say that our memories are vital to our sense of self.  It is only by his memories that the man who woke in my bed this morning feels himself to be the same chap who was banished to the Land of Nod last night (for the avoidance of doubt, yes I am referring to myself in the third person again).  Using inductive reasoning to trace this process back through time, the author writing this post is joined in an unbroken chain to all of his younger selves (well, not quite all – a certain fog always obscures the very early years of life).

It is also known that our memories are plastic things – unlike the fixed, unchanging elements of a modern computer (or so the manufacturers would like us to believe, but I’m sure I’m not alone in harbouring some doubts about this).  Each time we recall a memory, the very act of recall changes it by creating new associations based on our “state” at the time of recall.  I’m not even sure that unrecalled memories are safe: surely our brains, in an act of housekeeping vandalism, might chose to repurpose the apparently unused neurones to serve some more current need?

As a result, over time our memories might less resemble some mighty tapestry of our lives and more a collection of disordered tatters held together by some spurious feeling of unity and a self-penned personal mythology.  The historical narrative which joins the current author to his younger selves starts to look more like a game of Chinese whispers than the unbroken chain of links described above: at every stage a little is lost, a little confused and a little added.

This temporal dissociation has been brought into particularly sharp focus by recent events.  As part of the construction of The Library, I have been trying to recall some of my childhood reading.  I could remember reading about the adventures of Mary Plain and Olga de Polga but not the names of the specific books I may have read.  Today’s internet search engines (and the curious, archival nature of the human species) mean that images of the covers of many books through the ages can be viewed, and I assumed these would initiate an avalanche of memories.  More a very small slump as it transpired: I have very strong memories of the cover of Just Mary – but nothing else meant anything to me at all.  Trying to be positive, it may be that very few covers of exactly the right part of the 1970s have yet been uploaded – but I suspect the relevant data in my brain has just been dispersed beyond recall.

Still, I comforted myself, my childhood was a very long time ago (40+ years) and my brain was still forming.  So some loss of detail should not come as an enormous surprise and I should resist the urge to descend into a blue funk.  This approach worked until yesterday evening when a more serious absence in the fleshy tablets of my memory became apparent.  On Sunday, I shall be heading to the capital and one (of the many) delights that will fill my time in the city will be a Graham Park Walk.  Graham Park is the primary character in the more realist elements of Iain Banks’ novel Walking on Glass (1985) and walks through London from Theobalds Road.  I read the book (more than once) in the early nineties and I remember (or think I remember) being somewhat obsessed by it.  I think (or I think that I think) that I could even quote chunks of it (and knowing me – if I do – probably did).  In order to revise before the walk, I started re-reading the book yesterday evening and found I remember none of it: nothing at all.  It is almost as though I’ve never read it – all I could recall is that the castle is very old and that the action occurs in two places (the real world and the castle).  It is as though a huge chunk of “me” has been excised and I didn’t even notice its loss.  A little over a decade ago, I used to work very near the places covered by the walk and often passed its landmarks – but even then, there was not so much as a flicker of recognition.  So the data theft must have happened at least fifteen years ago, and thus it is far too late to report it to the authorities.

I found this deeply shocking, that something which I remember as being very important to me is now only a memory of a memory: a faint shadow cast by a distant, and invisible, light source.  The 1991-me would be horrified, though might grudgingly respect the fact that 2015-me can recognise Iain Banks’ style in the writing, even if he has forgotten the content.  I fear the two of us, were we to meet via some time travel accident, would be strangers to each other.  His head is full of memories that I have lost, and mine full of memories he has yet to form.  How much more have I lost, and lost so effectively that even the fact of its loss has been lost?  Perhaps this affects me particularly strongly as part of my personal myth is that I have a good memory.

Whenever I think about memory, my mind turns to Odin and his two raven companions.  If Muninn is in such a parlous state, is Huginn similar afflicted (and I just haven’t noticed)?   In the years directly after leaving university, I used to re-prove the Monotone Convergence Theorem (of Lebesgue Integration) in my head to go to sleep.  Now, I couldn’t even prove the Dominated Convergence Theorem assuming MCT (I do realise this might be quite a niche reference).  I find myself pondering how much of my personal resources I should use to reclaim or buttress old memories rather than laying down new ones.

This post is growing way too long, already the start of it will be a fading memory for most of us, and so I should attempt to draw it to a close before universal Darkness covers all.  In time, the stress of my not-so-recent loss will fade and itself be lost – which I suppose might be reassuring?  I have come to think that the self which I like to imagine exists as a continuous thread through my life is more of an ad-hoc fiction maintained by my brain in a desperate attempt to hold things together.  Like a recently formed scab on the knee, it is probably best if I don’t pick at it for fear of making a mess.  So I shall make a conscious choice (if that is even a thing) to try and believe in the fiction of my self (or at least act as though I do).

Hey, we made it: you can let go now!

Muse musings

In days of old, it was not uncommon for artists to have a muse who would inspire them to achieve even greater heights in their chosen field.  The artists tended to be male and the muses female, and often of less than difficult virtue, so I suspect there may have been an ulterior motive and gland games were probably involved. It seems high time, after more than four years of GofaDM, that I provide some explanation for the term “gland games” that I tend to bandy about – usually in the context of my own lack of interest therein.  Readers may wonder what I have against having a little fun with the lymphatic system or a couple of rubbers of Contract Bridge with my pituitary.  The simple answer is nothing, except in the case of the ratites (birds of the infraclass Palaeognathae) in which the males use lymphatic fluid to raise their standard (as it were).  The phrase “gland games” comes from the 1984 movie The Last Starfighter and so I have been using it for some thirty years now.  It is coined by the beta unit – a simulant left behind to cover for the ostensible hero while he is off fighting Xur and the Ko-dan armada – while seeking to repel the amorous advances of the hero’s girlfriend.  In my view, Beta is the true hero of the film – he gives up his artificial life to save the day and create the conditions for victory, but his sacrifice is completely ignored by the rest of the cast.  If, in the future, our artificial children extirpate the human race it will be incidents like this that will have driven them to it – you mark my words! Suitably invigorated by that little diversion, let us return to the A-road of this post with the risk of falling asleep at the wheel much reduced.  Many of you may have wondered whether some muse sits behind the scenes, perhaps in a state of some deshabille, helping to inspire the relentless production line of foolishness that is such an integral part of GofaDM.  In all honesty, I must report that this person does not exist – or not yet, though applications from suitably qualified candidates will be considered. To date, GofaDM has relied solely on the slow decay of the brain of its author.  He has to hope that events in his life or things he has seen, heard or read will spark some slight glimmer of light in the slowly darkening twilight of his mind.  On a good day, a couple of neurones will stir from their torpor to induce some threshold level of axonal excitement and another post will burst forth to plague humanity.  On a really good day, the Muse will descend, from her Mount Parnassus based pied-á-terre, in guise of fire and deliver the precious gift of inspiration – but as regular readers can attest, such visits are rare indeed (usually, I just find a card through the letterbox to say she called while I was out). However, recently matters have changed.  I have started dipping the tip of my toe into the shallows of the ocean of social media and as a result the comments section of this blog is alight with input from beyond the author’s own empty head (well, assuming anything exists out there – but this is not the time for such philosophising).  I have even started commenting on other blogs – in a clear attempt to sabotage the opposition and reduce them to my level.  The written thoughts of others can be amazing and they go to such strange places: places I could never visit unaided (or not without the ingestion of proscribed substances or huge red wine intake).  The joy of the blog format is that ideas come in much more manageable chunks than when reading a whole book (for example) and can develop through interaction – something I believe I was hoping for in An Opening Salvo, but have done little to encourage heretofore.  I cannot see how the sentence “a statuette of the crucified Christ has yet to laser me in the forehead” in reference to St Rita of Cascia would ever have happened without this interaction, and the world (or my corner of it) would be a lesser place without it. As a result of finding my blog soul brother – check it out now! – in the last couple of weeks, inspiration has come not as single spies but as battalions (to abuse both Hamlet and Fatboy Slim in a single sentence).  I am now viewing even more of my life with a writer’s eye thinking: can this be shoe-horned into a post?  I even fondly imagine that my writing is improving with less of the purely diary-based filler and rather more of the conceptual killer.  If nothing else, my productivity has improved significantly which could be viewed as a good thing (I would suggest this viewing is probably best attempted from a distance – I believe EGS-zs8-1 is lovely at this time of year – and through heavily smoked glass). If any other reader wants to join in – and is not afraid to shoulder some of the blame for the consequences – I can assure you that I very rarely bite (and if I do, these are all my own teeth).

Trip hazard

For those expecting me to hold up a dark mirror to Trip Advisor, or to take on Lonely Planet, I see only disappointment in your immediate future (1 star).  Equally, if you are hoping for some insight into the issues which arise from the dropping of acid, you will find little here to help.  All I will say is that if you are carrying anything much stronger than a decent white wine vinegar you should really be using a fume cupboard and wearing appropriate PPE (gloves, safety specs et al).  If the balloon really does go up, and the flask down, my best advice is to use some ground carbonate: baking powder might be a good choice in the domestic realm.

When we are small, by which I mean lacking in years rather than just height, it is not uncommon to avoid walking on the cracks between the paving stones (NB: may not be real stones).  Often, stepping on the cracks is associated with some form of existential peril – mostly commonly (I believe) bear attack.  This risk has even been immortalised in song by Carly Simon: a woman with a broad advisory remit: safe, bear-free use of the pavement and dress-etiquette when embarking a yacht.

This fear of ursine assault puzzles me.  The last wild bear on these Isles shuffled off its mortal coil (or, more likely, had it shuffled off by a hostile biped) around 500 AD (or CE for the theistically challenged).  As a result, the risk of encountering a bear would seem low, barring some sort of zoo-based containment issue.  I am aware that in the quantum world, it is possible for a lepton-antilepton pair to be “borrowed” from the universe – and thus appear to be created spontaneously – as long as it (the universe) is paid back pretty darned quick.  However, the instantiation of a bear (and matching anti-bear) via this sort of loan arrangement seems both very unlikely and exceedingly dangerous in a built-up area.  Frankly, the antimatter comprising the anti-bear is going to be a far bigger issue than the teeth or claws of the bear itself.

Buy why am I suddenly obsessed with being assailed by bears (or their anti-matter equivalents)?  Well, let me explain…

This blog has previously mentioned the rather poor quality of road surface in the Southampton area and the concomitant impact on the contents of a chap’s unmentionables.  Well, a similar issue also affects the footpaths of the city, with many paving slabs being very poorly bedded into the underlying substrate.  As a result, if one treads too near (or on) the cracks one’s foot can be swamped in the muddy water that had, until that moment, lain concealed ‘neath the concrete slab.  Perhaps worse, if one is even slightly uncertain of balance, you can be pitched into a passerby or item of street furniture (or, in the case of a tallboy: both).  Now, I will admit that this could be a handy excuse for a bit of highly desirable physical contact with a fancied (and physically proximate) fellow pedestrian – though I think it would take some practise (and a little finesse) to make the “accident” appear fully convincing.  I’m also fairly certain that institutional apathy (or inefficiency), rather than the provision of imaginative flirting opportunities, is behind the poor state of our footpaths.  I am often surprised at how few of the elderly or blind I encounter littering the pavements around my inner-city garret: could it be that the local ambulance service is particularly efficient?  (or is the tidying up down to the street sweepers?)  Still, good to know that my local authority is doing its bit to keep the cost of welfare down – even if some of this saving is transferred to the already strained budget of the NHS.

Acme: New and Improved

It always feels good to title a post with multiple oxymorons.  As is becoming a habit, this post will be made up of addenda to its predecessor.  As an artist, there is always the challenge of knowing when a work is finished – but I do try to keep to within 1000 words for a single post: just one measure of the compassion I feel (sorry, fake) for you, dear reader.

Among the candidates for summary crucifixion that I considered before breakfast was Wile E Coyote.   He was never going to receive my vote as he is a personal hero – albeit one let down by his supplier on numerous occasions.  Modern Olympians could learn from Mr Coyote’s dedication and commitment to his project, even after truly terrible set-backs his resolve never weakened.  An inspiration for us all, I think you must agree.

This started me thinking about the Acme Corporation.  Given the very well-publicised issues with its products, I would assume that it is languishing in Chapter 11 administration and in need of a white knight to come to its rescue.  I have for some time been seeking a way to monetise this drivel so that I can retire to the life of luxury I so clearly deserve.  Yesterday, an idea for a new product which could be the saving of Acme (and the keys to the gravy train for me) sprang, unbidden, to my mind – and as part of the viral marketing campaign (or should I go fungal?) to come, I thought I’d share the basics with you.

I found myself with a few minutes to kill before dinner, after unusually swift translation from West Dulwich to Oxford Circus by the combined forces of Southeastern and TfL.  As is all too common, I frittered this time away in Foyles – though frankly, it would be cheaper just to give my wallet to the first ne’er-do-well I encountered.  To minimise the fiduciary risk, I tried to retain crystalline focus on my objective – in this case the poetry department – and not fall prey to the temptation that lay, wantonly, all around me.

Why the poetry department, you may wonder.  Well I blame the combined forces of Ian McMillan and my blog-brother.  Perhaps luckily, they lacked any work by Francisco Serrano – even in translation (and I was after the Spanish) – but they did have the Selected Works of Fernando Pessoa.  I just sampled the first two stanzas of Tabacaria (the Tobacco Shop)  and I knew I was lost.  I learned that (a) I must own this book and (b) I must never read it in public.

Anyway, as I tried desperately not to be distracted from my “prize”, I realised what it was that I needed.  Every decent human being will sometimes need a set of Bookshop Blinkers™ to keep their eyes from straying from their target and towards all the tempting morsels immodestly left lying around by pimpish booksellers.  I’m thinking these would be offered in a range of colours and finishes and, perhaps for the more adventurous or shameless reader, in wipe clean leather or neoprene.

Am I a genius or what?  Easy Street here I come…

And did those feet…

Yesterday, for the first time, I visited the Dulwich Picture Gallery – the world’s first purpose built art gallery (and not a slightly oddly named cinema).  For reasons that should not be too obscure, this required me to visit Dulwich.

I journeyed to Clapham Junction and then via the London Overground and Southern Railways negotiated the maze of railway lines that criss-cross south London to reach North Dulwich.  I am not in charge of tourism (yet), but I would guess that top of the final destination list for most casual visitors to North Dulwich is the DPG – but it is not mentioned either on the local map at the station or any nearby signpost.  Despite this, I still managed to find the place: wandering through the rather shishi surrounds of Dulwich village to reach it.

Both of my parents were born in Dulwich and much of my now departed (for a better place) family were also resident in its environs – and so I have heard many tales of the place in the 30s and 40s.  I have to say that Dulwich was a lot more upmarket than I had been expecting: I begin to suspect that I have fallen rather further socially than I had previously imagined.  At every step, I wondered if I was placing my feet where my ancestors (and particularly my father as a small boy) had previously trod.  However, none of the street names seemed familiar, which surprised me.  (Many years ago, I did help a minicab driver to get me home from East Dulwich to Gipsy Hill based only on familial anecdotes dating from some 50 years previous: he may have become slightly alarmed when I told him to turn by a school, which I then had to admit had been destroyed in the Blitz).  It was not until I left the DPG and walked towards West Dulwich station that I encountered a familiar name: Thurlow Park Road.  The large houses near the station seemed eerily similar to faded, black and white photos I can vaguely recall seeing.  Had I found the wellspring from whence I came?

I had gone to the DPG to see an exhibition of works by Eric Ravilious – and was not disappointed.  His oddly empty landscapes and interiors, often captured from an unexpected point of view, are wonderful, and even where human figures are present they are oddly ghostly.  The man can make a line of wooden poles carrying low voltage electricity cable look beautiful.  If this doesn’t tempt you, then I can promise you a fine rendering of the Duke of Hereford’s Knob (which is surprisingly safe to Google – well, it is for me but your own search history may affect the results.  If you encounter something horrific, you have only yourself to blame!).  Actually, it is quite a fine prominence and I wouldn’t mind finding myself astride its peak.

As well as the Ravilious, the DPG also contains a substantial collection of Old Masters (and I’m not talking elderly teachers).  One, The Translation of St Rita of Cascia,  made me laugh out loud – which is considered poor gallery etiquette.  The eponymous Rita does seem to be cocking a snook at what I took to be Cascia below – rarely have I seen a saint so obviously showing-off.  Clearly, the inexplicably missing speech bubble should contain words to the effect of “Look ma, no hands!”.

The day continued after leaving Dulwich.  I discovered that today is the last day for the cutting of asparagus in the UK.  I’m not sure what happens if you continue to cut after the deadline, but I suspect the over-stretched nature of Her Majesty’s Constabulary means that you are unlikely to end up before the Beak.

My evening’s entertainment means that I can throughly recommend Alex Edelman as a very funny chap, and the StageSpace at the Pleasance in Islington as a sauna (if you lack access to one at home or the gym).

Heading home, I continued reading Tigerman by Nick Harkaway.  As my tube drew into Embankment our hero won a brief victory and I found myself in a public place with tears rolling down my cheeks (the ones on my face, obvs – I lack the flexibility for my tears to stream down any other possibility).  Luckily, for the train journey home matters became less emotional – though I did save the denouement for this morning when I could face it with a fresher brain.  This turned out to be a good plan, as tears streamed down my face (in the privacy of my boudoir) for most of the thirty minutes it took me to finish the book this morning.  It is a very good book and I am an over-emotional old fool.

Due to an administrative error by the purchasing department, there were no bananas in the flat this morning (heads have already rolled) – and so someone (me) had to go and acquire some in order to break his fast.  I discovered (to my mild surprise) that I still retain sufficient self-respect to want to wait until the redness of my eyes had reduced somewhat (the morning was insufficiently sunny for me to carry off a pair of shades – I’m neither a rockstar nor a complete git).  So, I killed a little time condemning Dolores Umbridge to death a la romana – and rather more time explaining my working (it’s where most of the marks lie).  What a splendid way to start the day: as a modern day, lachrymose Jack Ketch for the fictional.

Scent too soon?

After sending the last post out into the cruel world, I left the flat and headed to the gymnasium in the hope of encouraging time’s wingèd chariot to take the scenic route before it draws near (there is no need to hurry on my account).  As I did so, the robotic air freshener opposite once more ejaculated its perfumed, biochemical load into the hallway.  It suddenly struck me that the whole curry issue may have been a mere cover story to avoid an embarrassing social encounter.  Perhaps the robot is a hint to the author to shower a little more frequently – or just to wear some perfume to conceal his natural musk?

My own journey to boost this natural musk (it’s warm out there, folks) reminded me that perhaps my mind does not work like that of the more “normal” members of the local polis.  Seeing the corporate names emblazoned on the sides of a couple of vans caused my imagination to take a fantastical turn.

The first was for a firm called Tecnoseal (or it may have had an H) which I suspect has a perfectly prosaic business keeping leakage in check.  However, I found myself imagining a much-loved sea mammal who, following a hideous accident, was brought back from the brink of death by technological and cybernetic implants and prostheses.  Thus augmented, and possibly with the aid of some logo-bearing, skin-tight lycra, Tecnoseal now fights oceanic crime – going where the Coastguard cannot to bring malfeasants to justice.

The second van claimed allegiance to Clancydocwra.  I like to imagine Clancydocwra is some creature grown to massive size following exposure to a huge dose of radiation (a mantis shrimp perhaps, it could certainly pack a powerful punch).  When it is not wreaking havoc on the roads of this country, its day job is to rise from the ocean and attempt to destroy Tokyo – hampered only by savage combat with Godzilla.

Could I be the new Stan Lee?

Nasal gazing

I feel I can write this post from a position of some authority as when it comes to centrally-located, cartilaginous facial excrescences (as it eventually must) I am unusually gifted.  This nose forms the major part of my inheritance – this nose and an oil-painting of a sea captain.  This captain, apocryphally named Uncle Tom, is alledgedly an ancestor of mine – but I do wonder if he is actually a practical joke and is just a painting picked up in a junk shop sometime in the nineteenth century and which my antecedents then chosen to invest with genealogical meaning.  For one thing, he entirely lacks the family nose!

The sense of smell, as noted (at length) by Marcel Proust, provides a backdoor into the memory.  Somehow, our olfactory sense is able to bypass the gatekeepers which usually keep ancient memories buried and tickle long neglected neurones back into life. The fragrances of nature help us to measure out the seasons: as but a single example, the heady scent of massed wisteria is a sure sign that winter is well and truly over.

My sense of smell is important to me, if only because my treatment of “best before” dates as an irrelevance means that it is a key player in my attempts to avoid food-poisoning.  However, there are still times when anosmia has a certain appeal.  I have observed that a certain class of both young men and elderly women are reluctant to go out in public without first drenching themselves in an eye-watering quantity of scent.  Is the sense of smell somehow diminished following male puberty and by advanced, female age?  Whilst the specific “notes” comprising their respective perfumes are somewhat different (or certainly the perfumiers – a word not commonly applied to the devisers of Lynx Africa – would like us to believe this is the case), the impact on those in enforced physical proximity is very similar.  This usually occurs on busy public transport or in a packed concert hall.  As I write this, I do wonder if anosmia would help – or whether I would need to pack a lightweight gas mask for any significant alleviation in my symptoms?  A week or so back, the changing room at the gym was rich with the strident notes of a young man’s perfume.  This clung to me and my clothing through the windswept cycle ride home and I was eventually forced to resort to the shower and laundry basket to eliminate it from my life.  I suppose I may be overly sensitive – perhaps as a result of the exquisite sensitivity of my own nose (well, all that volume must be good for something), I almost never wear perfume of any sort.

A little while back, my neighbour across the hall installed a robot air freshener.  This regularly squirts the hallway with some industrial scent – and also does this if it detects a human (or possibly other large animal) presence.  At this latter it seems infallible, I am unable to sneak past it undetected despite my years of ninja training.  It was installed to spare my neighbour the late evening aroma of curry which rises up the stairwell from the flat below.  I have no objection at all to the scent of curry, though it does tend to make me a little peckish in the run-up to bedtime – and may be responsible for my increased consumption of dhal.  I do also worry (or like to imagine as a better option than my advanced age) that it is increasing my tendency to drool into my pillow during the night.

I think on balance I shall seek to retain my sense of smell. I believe it is a huge component of the taste and enjoyment of food and losing this seems a heavy price to pay for being spared the wearing of superfluous scent by others on relatively rare occasions.

Raising a toast to Harald Gormsson

After a mere 620-odd posts I think that I may by gaining the measure of the WordPress massive.  It would seem that Russian is of minimal interest, but introduce a hint of Anglo-Saxon and it’s a very different story.  I don’t think I have ever had so much response quite so rapidly to my feeble musings.

In an attempt to exploit this new found audience, I thought I’d stick with the same period and just head a short distance north and east as the longboat sails.  Harald Gormsson was a king of Denmark in the second half of the tenth century.  He was famed for briefly extending this original role to cover the crown of Norway and introducing christianity to Denmark (via baptism in a barrel, if a 12th century relief is to be believed).  However, his greatest fame in this modern era derives from his nickname: Blåtand (or in modern English: bluetooth).  He probably didn’t actually have a blue tooth, “blå” just meant dark in the days before the founding of Pantone.  So he may just have had some rather dodgy dentition: too many of his country’s famous pastries, perhaps?  I’m guessing that dentistry in 10th century Scandinavia was fairly basic: we are talking well before the role of dental hygienist was created and pretending to floss became de rigeur.

The technology, to which Harald has given his name, is a huge boon to those of us with the habit of speaking aloud in company but not actually to any of the assembled throng.  In days of yore, talking to oneself could lead to being shunned in polite society or, worse, carted off to be cared for away from the community (in buildings which have now, largely, been converted into expensive apartments).  No longer!  Thanks to Bluetooth, half the world appears to be talking to itself – and I can leave people to imagine I am using a particularly subtle Bluetooth earpiece rather than that the ship of my sanity has long ago sailed for distant shores (and failed to leave a forwarding address).  I’m not sure that the son of Gorm the Old was directly responsible for my remaining at large, but I will nonetheless raise a glass of something to his name (I have a feeling that in parts of Brighton and Shoreditch mead is making a comeback which might be an apposite choice).

Whilst researching this post – oh yes, actual research goes into this – I made a delightful discovery.  I have long been slightly obsessed by Runes – too much fantasy reading as a child, I suspect – and so was thrilled to find that the Bluetooth logo is made up of two Younger Futharc runes scrunched together: fairly obviously the ones for H(Harald) and B(låtand).  I love the fact that almost every electronic device I have boasts a runic inscription – presumably the same one which graced the most average of Viking pencils.

Hwæt

After the over-whelming success of a post titled in Russian – I have never experienced silence like it – I have taken a different path through the complex manifold of spacetime in my hunt for today’s moniker.  I’ve stuck with the lingua franca of my current location, but have travelled back through time (you may wish to imagine a harp-based glissando at this point) to the heyday of the kingdom of Wessex and called upon the ghost of Anglo-Saxon or Old English.  Out of the goodness of my heart (I store all my virtues in a pump of some description – my humility is held in an old ballet shoe), I have spared you the Runic version (but this will only prove a brief respite for the regular reader).

We have a curious relationship with the Anglo-Saxon, using it to name an economic system which would be anathema to a housecarl or thegn.  It is not even used by those descendants of the Angles or Saxons who chose to stay at home, but only by those who left and were later subject to the Danelaw and Norman conquest (secondhand Vikings in all but name).  I really feel that economists could have put more effort into finding a better adjective – it is not as though they have covered themselves in glory with the meat of their subject, so a little time off considering their nomenclature might have benefitted us all.

But why is the old duffer using Anglo-Saxon in the first place and what the Sam Hill does the title mean?  Parsing backwards through that last sentence, the title can have a number of meanings, the Anglo-Saxons liked to sweat their lexical assets, but I’m using it in the sense of “listen” or “hark”.

Today is Bloomsday, but I find myself at some distance from Dublin’s fair city (where the girls are – allegedly – so pretty and, according to the WHO, more than 80% of them will be obese by 2030) though I may yet sample a pint of the black stuff in its honour.  I have never read Ulysses (always more of a fan of Odysseus as a boy, in fact Greek myth over the Roman derivative every time) but still know that the book’s characters have recourse to language described as Anglo-Saxon on a regular basis.  However, this is not the reason for the title – but did tilt the balance of my mind to thoughts about writing (and the good stuff, not just this nonsense).

One of the two books acquired on Sunday was Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf – a work I have been meaning to acquire for many, many years (though less than fifteen it would seem).  Whilst I shouldn’t really be starting it yet, I couldn’t resist a quick peek at the opening stanzas – and I don’t think it is going to disappoint (despite the years of anticipation – all my own fault).  Even better, for the first page (and only that page) the translation is accompanied by the original in Anglo-Saxon.  The first word of the epic is hwæt – and hence we have our title.  I have never studied Anglo-Saxon, but can recognise a thorn (from my time in Iceland) and an eth (did she ever marry Ron?) when I see them and, with a little creative fudging via German, I can have a go at reading a few stanzas in an approximation to the original language.  Even in this hopelessly amateurish form and with my voice (which others may appreciate, but is hopelessly commonplace to me), it sounds incredible – you can immediately understand why it might have survived for so long.  I find myself prey to a strange urge to learn Anglo-Saxon – so many enthusiasms, so little time!

Words were very much the currency last night at 451 – the regularly poetry night at the Nuffield.  As well as a swathe of open-mikers we had headline sets from Jemima Foxtrot and Stephen Morrison-Burke (that rarest of creatures: the boxer-poet).  Coupled with my recent listening to The Verb‘s close reading of the Lovesong of J Alfred Prufrock this has reminded me of how incredibly varied and powerful poetry can be.  It has also suggested that I may have misjudged T S Eliot by basing my opinion solely on the musical Cats – perhaps not entirely typical of his full body of work?

Finally, this morning between breakfast and serious foundational training for my life as a gymnast, I found myself with a few minutes in hand.  So, I read the next short story from All the Rage – in the mere nine pages of These Small Pieces, A L Kennedy reduced me to tears.  It might be thought that tears before 10am are not a good thing, but the universe is having those few minutes back over my dead body (and I fully intend to rise from my grave and continue the fight, if necessary).

Given the number of written (or spoken) works deserving my attention far exceeds my ability to consume them (unless the singularity arrives a lot earlier than I’m expecting), I sometimes wonder why I do anything else.  I think the answer must lie in the need to reflect on, and recover from, writing of quality and power.  My poor brain cannot accept such rich input too often without suffering even greater degeneration than is already evident.  Plus, I’m both too tall and physically graceless to swoon with any style (and, more importantly, injury-free).  Once again, it seems the therapeutic effect of GofaDM (on me, if no-one else) is laid bare.

Идио́т

OK, I may have gone too far this time – though I think with a knowledge of the Greek alphabet, a mirror and a little low animal cunning you should be able to translate the title into English.  For those without the time, or necessary enthusiasm, to transliterate from the Cyrillic, today’s post is entitled The Idiot – a word which appears to be exactly the same in Russian (though they may pronounce it differently – but if I needed a low-level insult in Novosibirsk, I’d give it a go with a cod accent).

Despite the title (and its language), I will not be referring to the novel by Fyodor Dostyovesky (except now) or even the indecipherable Estonian film version of it I saw a few years back.  Talking of Estonian, a knowledge of the language might be useful (and not just on a visit to Tallinn) – only this week it could have saved me £12.99.  At a talk on the future of the oceans (worrying – and I won’t be eating prawns or scallops any time soon), the speaker – Callum Roberts – was selling his book, but giving away free the proof copies he had from his Estonian publisher.  Once again, the lack of application at learning Modern Languages in the Anglophone world is shown up for the myopic stance it is.

No, the idiot being referred to is the author’s flatmate (for any new readers, I should make clear at this point that the author lives alone – frankly, who would put up with him?).  To keep the length of this post to within reasonable bounds, I shall restrict myself to three recent incidents – the use of the number three also appeals to the history of both dramatic structure (the three unities or three act narrative) and magical practice.

Incident the first: this morning as I exited Fish Towers by the rear door I found myself uttering the words “Hello world, have you missed me?”.  This utterance was out loud – but, luckily, neither the world nor any of its denizens saw fit to make reply.

Incident the second: On leaving the Ritzy in Brixton last Sunday, I needed to make rapid progress to the tube station to avoid missing the last train home.  My speed was inhibited by the human sheep milling aimlessly (so far as I could tell, they might have a different story) on the pavement, but the road was empty.  As a result, I walked very briskly along the bus lane bypassing the ovine masses.  I justified the use of a bus lane to myself by dint of the fact I was wearing a red shirt (it claims to be Pink, but I believe that’s the maker’s mark rather than the colour) – and as I thought (and probably said out loud at the time) at the time, close enough for jazz (perhaps I should also have carried a flashcard bearing the legend “Not in service” to avoid confusion?  You can never by too careful with sheep).

Incident the third: Earlier this afternoon I visited a bookshop (by accident, I was after some whipping cream and a few raspberries), having been thinking that the unread content of my bookshelves was looking rather thin (and about the joy of books more generally).  Fool!  What was I thinking?  I was lucky to escape with fewer than a dozen books.  So many plaintive voices crying out for me to take them home and give them a bloody good reading.  Somehow, I made it out with only two (just marvel at that self-control!) – but am left nursing an unsatisfied desire for so many more.

It is truly said that howsoever far or fast you run, you can never escape yourself.  I suspect a worrying proportion of the world’s GDP is spent in denial of this simple truism.  I think I have mostly come to terms with the fact that I’m stuck with me – but haven’t quite given up all hope.