1st October 2002

strange news from another star

Samuel Palmer - Moonlight, a Landscape with Sheep

'As I lay down on the grass, I observed the glittering silver line on the ridge of the backs of the sheep, owing to their situation respecting the sun, which made them look beautiful, but with something of strangeness, like animals of another kind, as if belonging to a more splendid world.'
Dorothy Wordsworth - Journals

2nd October 2002

mystery train

If like me you've been used to using a car for long-distance journeys, you'll have forgotten about the strangeness and allure of the train. More like an aeroplane than any other vehicle, the train launches you across alien spaces and brings you to your destination as if out of nowhere (although unlike travel by plane, you won't have seen a movie which in real life you would never in a million years pay money to view, and you won't have eaten some possibly enjoyable though never entirely identifiable foodstuffs - food which seems not to exist in terrestrial form).
For the view from out of the window of a train is of a looking-glass world, the back side of ordinary life: the rears of supermarkets, all steaming pipes and cardboard pulp, the wrong side of houses showing the second-best curtains, and those irresistible never-used pieces of ground bounded by the track and the rest of the world's fences, growing plants probably unknown to science and harbouring who knows what pockets of microfauna.
Passing over a level-crossing gives a habitual driver a strange inward lurch as the usual situation is reversed, and the road is seen from an unaccustomed angle, its lowered barriers screaming STOP as you're whisked by unexpectedly.
Even birds seen from a train seem not to behave in the proper manner: a moorhen sauntering through a field of stubble, a pheasant perched on a garden fence in imitation of a blackbird - from a car, surely, they'd be in their usual places, skulking through reeds or flattened into the tarmac.
You return to your book, another strange world into which you're sunk, trying to ignore the passing field in which the sheep all seem to be kneeling down to eat.

7th October 2002

subway map of the month

It's Madrid - the only European capital not built on a major waterway, so at least they don't have problems with damp.

8th October 2002

agenbite of inwit

Cardinal.  When I look into the fishponds in my garden,
                   Methinks I see a thing arm'd with a rake
                   That seems to strike at me.

John Webster, The Duchess of Malfi

13th October 2002

absolut vs relative history

On the radio the other day they were talking about the first performance of Rachmaninov's 1st Symphony, which was conducted by a very drunk Glazunov: the 25 year old composer was so horrified at the disaster that ensued he spent the concert in a corridor with his head in his hands - 'the worst hour of my life', he said afterwards.
This reminded me of another story of Glazunov's vodka problem, from the memoirs of Shostakovich: Glazunov taught him composition, and drank surreptitiously through a rubber tube during music lessons, on the occasions on which he showed up at all.
This set me to imagining a history of Russia in which vodka was either not present, or played a more minor part - the number of man-hours lost through its use must be crippling. Surely without vodka there'd've been a manned Mars mission by now . . .

14th October 2002

I will go out against the sun
Where the rolled scarp retires,
And the Long Man of Wilmington
Looks naked toward the shires.

- Rudyard Kipling

Wilmington's Long Man in Sussex is one of three possibly ancient/prehistoric chalk figures in Britain: the other two are the Cerne Abbas Giant and the Uffington White Horse. Theory has had it that the Long Man with his two poles is an early surveyor or dodman (the snail's rural nickname - dodman - because of his two tentacles) who might have been laying out trackways or leylines on the landscape.

18th October 2002

mount we unto the sky :
I am sick, I must die

Illness seems to be rife at the moment, so here are three different views of being confined to a bed, some more optimistic than others (the Joycean approach is most recommended by Dr Bhikku):

Nearly midnight. The hour when an invalid, who has been obliged to set out on a journey and to sleep in a strange hotel, awakened by a sudden spasm, sees with glad relief a streak of daylight showing under his door. Thank God, it is morning! The servants will be about in a minute: he can ring, and someone will come to look after him. The thought of being assuaged gives him some strength to endure his pain. He is certain he heard footsteps: they come nearer, and then die away. The ray of light beneath his door is extinguished. It is midnight; someone has just turned down the gas; the last servant has gone to bed, and he must lie all night in agony with no one to bring him relief.

- Proust, Remembrance of Things Past

They put him between fresh, clean, laundered sheets and there was always a newly squeezed glass of orange juice on the table under the dim pink lamp. All Charles had to do was call and Mom or Dad would stick their heads into his room to see how sick he was. The acoustics of the room were fine; you could hear the toilet gargling its porcelain throat of mornings, you could hear the rain tap the roof or sly mice run in the secret walls, the canary singing in its cage downstairs. If you were very alert, sickness wasn't too bad.

- Ray Bradbury, Fever Dream

It was queer that they had not given him any medicine. Perhaps Brother Michael would bring it back when he came. They said you got stinking stuff to drink when you were in the infirmary. But he felt better now than before. It would be nice getting better slowly. You could get a book then. There was a book in the library about Holland. There were lovely foreign names in it and pictures of strange-looking cities and ships. It made you feel so happy.

- Joyce, Portrait of the Artist

And remember, let your watchword for the dark months ahead be echinacea.

21st October 2002

22nd October 2002

"We skim off the cream of other men's wits, pick the choice flowers of their tilled gardens to set out our own sterile plots."
- Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is it in a nutshell.

25th October 2002

. . . and as cooks go, she went

It was a great, white fish, cold and garnished; the children had rejected it with cries of distress; it lay on a charger of imitation silver; the two brown thumbs of the coloured steward lay just within the circle of mayonnaise; lozenges and roundels of coloured vegetable spread symmetrically about its glazed back. William looked sadly at this fish. 'It is very dangerous,' said the administrator.

- Evelyn Waugh, Scoop

And proud young Kate, the enchanted princess, came in to see what the old tabbies wanted now.  She snatched away their plates of mock something or other and slapped down a white, terrified blancmange.
 'Jam, please, Kate,' said Josephine kindly.
 Kate knelt and burst open the sideboard, lifted the lid of the jam-pot, saw that it was empty, put on the table and stalked off.

- Katherine Mansfield, The Daughters of the Late Colonel

Their cook, a Bavarian, was the Witch from Hansel and Gretel. She had decided that it is safer to feed people rather than eat them, but she smiled her old smile - I could never look at her without feeling behind me for an oven.

- Randall Jarrell, Pictures From an Institution

29th October 2002

the wild wild mid-west

Came across this still the other day and remembered how well-made this scene is, but usually not paid much attention to because of the delicious anticipation of the following crop-duster sequence. The camera is so low that the road becomes a desert, a stage on which the Western-style confrontation takes place, Cary Grant and the man at the opposite bus-stop sizing each other up and squaring off like gunslingers.

31st October 2002

Come, my lanthorn's feeble spark
Guide me through the dreadful dark
Hobs and boggarts, fly from here
Tiny flame, thou quenchest fear.



'I am as happy in a Dreame, and as content to enjoy happinesse in a fancie, as others in a more apparent truth and reality.'

- Sir Thomas Browne

' . . . so is there in us a World of Lov to somwhat, tho we know not what in the World that should be. There are Invisible Ways of Conveyance by which some Great Thing doth touch our Souls, and by which we tend to it. Do you not feel yourself Drawn with the Expectation and Desir of some Great Thing?'

- Thomas Traherne

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