Thursday, December 31, 2015

Failing

The practice of piety. The practice of music. The practice of calligraphy. These are exemplary pastimes. The practice of rereading the novels of Jane Austen. The practice of cookery. The practice of drinking coffee. The habit of worrying and of having other strong feelings about money. All these are vices. We must try not to write nonsense, our eyes will fall out.

In answer to all this my head falls off and rolls all messy and smeary across the floor
K E E P  T A L K I N G  squelch slop ooze

(Philip Whalen, I.i.67)

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& with this in mind we head into 2016 ...

Monday, December 21, 2015


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The Three Magi

(Rotring Calligraphy Art Pen 1.9
script derived from one by
Robert Boyajian
in 
Sixty Alphabets 
ed.
Gunnlaugar SE Briem
1986
tweaked in Adobe Photoshop Elements)

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Peace & Goodwill
wherever 
you happen to be 
reading
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Wednesday, December 09, 2015





It's been an interesting few days discovering a parallel universe of fountain pen design and nib taxonomy. Having received a new injection of enthusiasm for calligraphy from Monica Dengo's online materials, it occurred to me to find a 'quality' fountain pen that would allow italic script. Then the day to day drudge writing would acquire a new vitality and interest.

Art pens tend to be plasticky and severely italic with nibs that require the kind of care which prevents Byronesque currente calomo (is that the phrase? I remember reading some such phrase in connection with Don Juan - a flowing plume).

Entering into correspondence with someone at the delightfully entitled Pen Heaven I discover that there is a type of nib called 'italic cursive'. It gives the kind of thick/thin variation of stroke I'm after but with a greater tolerance of touch. Perfect.

So ... this afternoon I took the plunge and ordered the Lamy Scala with 1.1 'Joy' nib (pictured above). It should arrive for Christmas and I'll let you know how it goes.

Thursday, December 03, 2015


"If we concentrate our attention on trying to solve a problem of geometry, and if at the end of an hour we are no nearer to doing so than at the beginning, we have nevertheless been making progress each minute of that hour in another more mysterious dimension. Without our knowing or feeling it, this apparently barren effort has brought more light into the soul. The result will one day be discovered in prayer. Moreover it may very likely be felt besides in some department of the intelligence in no way connected with mathematics. Perhaps he who made the unsuccessful effort will one day be able to grasp the beauty of a line of Racine2 more vividly on account of it. But it is certain that this effort will bear its fruit in prayer. There is no doubt whatever about that."

(Weil, from Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God, c. 1942)

I wonder what the inspectors at Ofsted would make of that ... 

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

"Clearly, a political party busily seeking, or maintaining itself in power can discern nothing in these cries except a noise. Its reaction will be different according to whether the noise interferes with or contributes to that of its own propaganda. But it can never be capable of the tender and sensitive attention which is needed to understand its meaning." (Simone Weil, in 'Human Personality', 1942-3)

Especially pertinent given what is being decided tonight.


Tuesday, December 01, 2015

A belated encounter with the writings of Simone Weil (I've even learned - finally - how to pronounce her name - Weil = 'vay').

This, from the lengthy Introduction to the Penguin Anthology:

"The development of the society in which she found herself living in France in the 1920s and 30s had come about with more regard for speed than for meaning. It had substituted what she calls 'salaries' for realities. A 'salary' is anything by which a person can be made to believe that the future is not made out of exactly the same components as the present." (p 54)

Bull's eye.

Monday, November 23, 2015


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Never before has simply going for a walk seemed such an act of defiance ... 

Saturday, November 14, 2015


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A classic example of ill-judged packaging for this new CD by the Russian soprano Julia Lezhneva. Kitsch or what? Cloying beyond belief. 

Don't, however, let that put you off. Here is some of the most exquisite singing that I have ever heard - transcending my usual allergy to operatic mannerism. Lezhneva's voice has an unearthly beauty to it that is impossible to ignore. I first heard her on BBC Radio 3's In Tune on Wednesday, listening with half an ear & mind as usual. Suddenly I realised that this was something extra-ordinary, grabbed some paper & scribbled down details. As I understand it, she is only 25 & so all sorts of possibilities await as her voice develops & matures. 

No doubt about it, this is ravishing music. 

Saturday, November 07, 2015

This afternoon I went down - with the younger Wafflette - to a branch of Troc (a secondhand depot) in search of a cassette deck. I'd had a tip off from a colleague that they sold such out of date machines with a guarantee that they still worked & if not you had a week to bring them back.

Indeed. There, at the back of the shop, were some six or seven decks & the one that caught my eye was a Memorex dual cassette the kind that - in the old days - I coveted given the possibility of doing tape-to-tape mixes. Price tag: the extraordinary sum of 29 euros.

Taking it to the till there was an enjoyable bit of banter with the salesman - he plugged it in, checked the Power On, each of the buttons, then pointed out that I could insert a microphone to start making my first album. Ha-ha. He scanned it in & then announced there'd been a price change - down to a mere 19 euros. Amazing! At that price who could make a fuss if it packed in after a month?

Anyway, it's now coming up to 10 pm & I've played an entire TDK C90 worth of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue (the Lyttleton & Rushton era), Frank Zappa's BBC Radio 1 DJ spot (27th January 1980), a couple of tracks from an Out To Lunch mix tape, and - just now - the wonderful 'Kites' by Sax Appeal off an early Wire magazine anthology cassette. (Massive rush of nostalgia for that room with the skylight on Meridian Road and the railway line with the little trains that chugged along to Bristol Temple Meads).

It's been years since I've been able to play these cassettes & the sound is as good as I can remember - if not better.

Four boxes lie open on the floor - what delights remain to be rediscovered?

Friday, October 30, 2015



o

Ted Berrigan was one of the first poets to make me sit up & think now this is poetry. I'd read an article by Miles Champion in Parataxis & that had sent me off in search of what was available - which, back in the UK in the early 90s, was very little. I got the American Penguin Selected & ordered with such excitement via the still nascent internet (Netscape Navigator, version ?) on a dodgy modem connection the big red Collected. I got it delivered to friends in Washington & there it was waiting for me on Hallowe'en night. 1997? Yes, I think so.

Strange, then, yet kind of appropriate - in the way things seem to orbit in the Poetic Uni-Verse - that I should find myself chatting to Anne Waldman this sunny late October morning after the second keynote speech at the ULB Beat Conference. To shake the hand that ... & what do you say other than thank you, trying to sum up a whole world of books & conversations & ways your days have been touched & transformed by words. She was modest & charming, of course, & seemed to understand what was being implied albeit awkwardly. 

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"The Muse plugs you in. It's that direct. Electricity. It's always available, batteries are not needed, but you have magic keys access to the illusory batteries which are needed and available, when you are genuinely ready and alert. Who's to say how or when or why this occurs. It's the reciprocity with "bigger mind". And it can involve other people. I get that hit - don't you too? - in the poetry one loves." (From the interview 'Vow to Poetry' in the volume of the same name, Anne Waldman)

Thursday, October 29, 2015

I've just learned that Anne Waldman & Daniel Kane are in town - in fact just up the road at ULB for a Beat Poetry Conference.

Why I am always the last to hear of such events?

I will try to get to hear a couple of sessions tomorrow morning.


Sunday, October 18, 2015

Never a great fan of Scotland on the rugby field, their performance this evening was outstanding.

I didn't see the entire game having to shuttle back and forth to the kitchen. However, the post-match analysis and replays make it pretty damn clear that they were robbed. Why, indeed, when referees go for the TMO so readily was there no consultation ahead of the decision that awarded Australia that oh-so vital penalty?

Difficult not to feel that certain interests were being served with that result.

& it's kind of wrong when a referee wins the match.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

In Fnac this morning looking for a 21 Pilots CD for the elder Wafflette (birthday on Wednesday) & saw the new David Gilmour. I resisted - a) after the massive disappointment of The Endless River last year; b) knowing Yoko Oh-no Polly was entrusted with the lyrics ("inspired by Book Two of Paradise Lost" according to the video - how absolutely presumptuous & pretentious); c) the last couple of solo outings which were mellow to the point of rotting.

I'll wait until it appears in the Mediatheque & even then give it a spin with trepidation.

Meanwhile ... I happened into Ut Pictura again (surely the most beautiful CD shop in Brussels) to find Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier filling the room - the Till Fellner recording on ECM New Series. Irresistible.


Sunday, October 11, 2015





There are pieces of music such as the Brandenburg Concertos that you inherit as part of the cultural landscape, everyone agrees they are masterpieces, you buy them, listen to them, nod & give your assent. Superb, you say, & yet in a funny way they don't touch you as - say - early Stravinsky or a Schubert sonata - or a song by Julia Holter for that matter.

You shrug & accept that your taste (& ears) are second rate or 'uneducated' or whatever snobbery you wish to submit to.

& then you happen upon a recording which lifts the composition into another dimension. Yesterday I was once again in the CD shop on the Sablon & saw this version by Cafe Zimmerman. The name plus the cover photo made me think this must be some jazz combo interpretation. How wrong could I be?

So far I have only listened to the first two concertos but it has been nothing short of a revelation. The first Concerto features a raw brass sound which is downright shocking. Suddenly all sorts of preconceptions are thrown out of the window. Lines that have been embedded in the mix in previous recordings now glisten forth. These are truly wonderful interpretations. I cannot recommend them highly enough.
An Autumn dinner ...


Phase One ... venison steaks ...


Phase Two ... girolles fried in butter, oil & garlic ... meanwhile potato croquettes are in the oven ... 


Phase three ... cook the venison (pan-fried, 8 minutes total, then leave while deglazing the pan to make a sauce) ...


Phase four ... assemble ... venison, croquettes, girolles on toasts (fried in the mushroom pan juices), cranberry & apple sauces. 

I paid 17 euros for the venison steaks. They fed the three of us & there will be plenty left for another dinner tomorrow when K. returns (E. didn't care for the taste). Thus: 17 divided by 6 = under 3 euros per person. 

Not bad?
Just found out that Gail - Mrs Frank Zappa - has died.

Only yesterday I was thumbing through a copy of the current Jazz magazine (Belgian or French, not sure) in Fnac which is running a special on The Man. Some unfamiliar pictures of FZ (plus Gail) but otherwise a re-hash job. Stood thinking how that energy has been lost - the records, for sure, continue to amaze. However, new releases just lack the Idea of the Project/Object whatever Dweezil says.

The eras (& the ears) closing in.

Sunday, October 04, 2015







Autumn clean. The sweater shelf.

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As for yesterday's match ... (Australia won) ... I'd argue that England didn't play badly. They followed their game plan & threw themselves into the task. The problem was simple : they were outclassed.

Several things became clear as the match unfolded:

One: as Iain Sinclair argued some time ago, the England Rugby team & co. operate like a bunch of accountants. The slavish following of game plans, stats, etc. produces the kind of percentage rugby which is vulnerable to flair & the unpredictable. For instance, last week, when Wales were forced into rejigging their positions due to injuries.

Two: they lack ball skills. Notice the number of times the ball went loose & an Australian was able to gather, flick, or juggle & keep up the momentum. Also the number of turn overs.

Three: an inability to notice & respond to the moment. How, by contrast, Australia kept looking left & right behind a ruck or maul. Why just keep plunging on in one direction? Shake it up a bit.

Four: the weight of expectation. Here I blame the pressure exerted upon the team by the Media & the Corporates. I read with interest the number of pundits predicting an England win. Really? Yet who would dare go the other way? Interests are so intricately bound up, which journalist would risk the perks, backhanders, & invites were they to go 'off message'? The ITV commentary was instructive in the way that every English mistake was spun to a positive until the last few minutes when the travesty became abundantly clear.

Five: much as I admire the Welsh pluck, it seems a long shot to imagine them beating Australia next week &/or going much further. The likes of Australia, New Zealand, SA, Fiji for that matter, have that extra gear. & I wouldn't rule out France - precisely because they can tear up the pre-match plans & improvise something there & then. Wales used to - & now & again do - but you sense it's been drilled out of them.

& to finish:

Q: what's the difference between England & a tea bag?

A: a tea bag stays in the cup longer.

(Thanks to our SA correspondent Kevin for that one).

Saturday, October 03, 2015


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The Centre Keramis at La Louviere which is hosting the once-every-two-years Festival of Artist Books. A smaller show this year but plenty of interesting work all the same. As always I head for the scruffier productions & strike up conversations. It's always fascinating to see how people are working the space of the page & the volume itself. & the itch to make is palpable in the fingers. 

Getting back in the car I see an ominous red ticket slipped under the windscreen wiper. Damn it! A parking ticket for 16 euros - I'd (we'd) missed the blue rectangle sign. Really sneaky - anyone would assume that the parking lot was part of the museum itself. Confirmation if ever one needed that parking inspectors are destined for one of the lower rings of Hell. 

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Only a few hours away from the much-awaited England:Australia show down. Unbelievably there's an invitation to go out for dinner - I mean really ... 

Sunday, September 27, 2015


A Saturday in six movements ...



o


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o


o



o



At half-time it was tempting to switch off the television & go up to bed. The signs were familiar - another dissolve into a penalty-driven game with Wales squandering chances through indiscipline & tiredness. However, I decided to see it through.

Then came the injuries & you began to wonder what happened if a team simply runs out of players. (Volunteers from the crowd?).

& then came the extraordinary minutes of magic. That try after a kick-through followed by a penalty kick virtually from the half way line. Gob-smacking.

While there have been more impressive games of rugby from the point of view of skill & running, this has to rank as one of the greatest Wales-England encounters in terms of sheer character. Effectively down to a 'B' team they pulled off a heroic victory.

Yes ... in the end the Biggar team won.



Monday, September 21, 2015

What now seems many years ago, I flirted with the idea of going into Law. (A degree in English Literature qualifies you for ... well, ...).

I dutifully sat in on a few days at Oxford Magistrates to get a 'feel' for the business & found what I saw more then enough to confirm my initial suspicions.

One morning, in particular, sticks in the memory. Two cases. The first was an unemployed man down from the Midlands, in search of work, who had been caught stealing a Boots sandwich (price about £1.50). His Defence said that it should be taken into consideration that he had not eaten a proper meal in over a week. He was found guilty - a fact he did not deny - & was handed a 6 month jail sentence.

The very next case involved a group of undergraduates who had caused wilful damage to college & public property (estimated at several thousand pounds) after a night of general drunkenness & debauchery. Their Defence read out testaments from their respective tutors of good behaviour plus - & this I remember with particular clarity - a request that it be taken into consideration that they were to leave on a skiing trip in a couple of days.

They were found guilty but issued a caution.

Today's allegations by Lord Ashcroft concerning David Cameron occasions such recollections. It is abundantly clear that there is one law for the rich & another for everyone else. Cameron's misbehaviour - should it be proven true - will be consigned to youthful misdemeanours. In any case, if what you get up to takes place on private estates who's to know? (& there's always a fat cheque from Daddy to right the wrongs). It's also worth adding that anyone who attended Public School in the 70s will have been aware of parties which got seriously out of hand. Either you were there or heard about it after. Occasionally someone was expelled. Halcyon days of 'experiment' is the euphemistic term.

As Zizek has pinpointed time & again, notice how the outcry masquerades astonishment. Did anyone seriously not know that such things went on? Really?

Naturally the Press will swoop upon the salacious allegations. Of far more damage is the Ashcroft non-Dom knowledge.

There's a pig in a poke.

Sunday, September 20, 2015


A day spent listening to Liszt - a composer I've never had much time for (the usual prejudices).

However, today - a revelation. First, Argerich playing the first Piano Concerto (conductor: Abbado) & then Grimaud for the Piano Sonata in B minor. Both stunning.

The Sonata, in particular, is ear-opening & jaw-dropping: for all its scored permanence it sounds improvised. Inviting ridicule, I am reminded of Keith Jarrett's extended pieces - Bremen, Lausanne, the Köln Concert above all (the wild dynamics, the sudden shifts of mood, the percussive attack & massing of sonorities).  Several times I was expecting Grimaud to start yelping & crooning.

A piano being activated, explored, pummelled & caressed.

& then those last bars & the final chords. Messiaen! The 20th Century rings the door bell.


Friday, September 11, 2015


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Molten globe of a sun this morning heading down towards the Ring. Sorely tempted to turn, park & wander off into the woods. Instead I carry on dutifully & arrive at the usual destination & put the back-up plan into operation. A suburban route around the block but then I cut off along the fields. The sun lies on the rim of the rise & there's low-hugging mist. Distinct September chill to the air. Mint to the nose. Retracing my steps I realise that horse chestnut trees line the path. Conkers! & yes, there among the grass the first of the year, dewy moist. Pick up & pocket. 

Sunday, September 06, 2015

"With that he rose to a full tree-high standing, the sable cat-guts which held his bog-cloth drawers to the hems of his jacket of pleated fustian clanging together in melodious discourse."

Which is, of course, from Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds. Plucked off the shelf this afternoon for whatever reason & just the ticket. To be sure.

Saturday, September 05, 2015



The most interesting thing I've heard all day.

All week. All month.

For quite some time. 

(& their more recent 13 Degrees of Reality is mighty fine, too, from what I caught at the Mediatheque earlier this afternoon).

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Still coming to terms with the newly-published 'fact' that there are 420 trees for me on this planet.

Seems rather greedy, really.

I think I prefer just going for a walk & seeing trees - big ones, little ones - for everyone. Every thing.

How many trees per bird? Slug? Fungi? Caterpillar? There's a thought ...

O the silliness of statistics.
"I occasionally wonder what portion of my life has been spent dawdling like this along streams. In search of turtles, or frogs, or rock bass, or simply lost in thought and basking in the lee of the great iambic-tetrameter noun Inconsequentiality."

('A Visit to Four or Five Streams', Rivers & Birds, Merrill Gilfillan)

It's sentences such as these that make me cherish Gilfillan's prose.

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Apologies for the absence of posts. As you will have gathered, I've been busy. Sadly, though, with nothing particularly rewarding.

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Monday, August 24, 2015



AT THIS TIME OF YEAR

real-life meetings punctuating where possible

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THE FAMOUS CONTRAPUNTIST

April Bronchitis

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Sunday, August 23, 2015






A quick drive on past the Eurotunnel & down to the harbour at Folkestone. Shoes off & a paddle along the shore. A fitting way to draw the summer holidays to a close.




& ... Bob's Seafood delivers again. Two succulent lobsters for a fair price. Dinner tonight.


Monday, August 17, 2015


o

Out early this morning (6:20)  for what is now the regular bit of 'shinrin yuko' (or 'forest bathing' if you're not fluent in Japanese). I hesitate between sitting on the usual bench to contemplate the ponds or wander along the Blackberry path. Then, as if quietly guided, I opt to take a different route along & up into a tunnel of trees and ferns. As I walk it gets perceptibly darker as if the undergrowth is drawing closer around me. To my left there's a sudden stirring - and there stands about ten meters away a young deer (a female). I stop. She stops. (Robert Frost, anyone?). Then catching my scent or a rustle in the leaves, she hops out of sight. 

Astonished at such an encounter (yes, there are deer in these woods but you hardly ever see them) I carry on to the junction of the path with a more well-trodden one which arches back down towards the ponds. By now the moist air is starting to turn into drizzle. Then there's another stirring - again to my left. Another deer but this one's a male. I surreptitiously feel for my phone & lift it to take a picture. He & I stayed like this for a good two minutes. Each taking in the other. Then he, too, picked up a warning sign and jumped to the left. I watched assuming that was it but he remained for a couple more minutes, his head poking up above a grassy mound. Then, bored, off he went. 

In his wonderful essay 'Alfresco' Merrill Gilfillan writes about the sense of being a 'witness'. It's exactly the term. Walking back I thought how this encounter might never have occurred: had I remained sitting on the bench ... had I taken the other path ... had I, for that matter, simply stayed in bed listening to the shipping forecast ... 

Minutes that redefine the day. 

Sunday, August 16, 2015

A significant issue of The Wire out this September.

First, the main article & front cover status bestowed upon Julia Holter (even if she looks decidedly unhappy). There's a new CD coming out & - would you believe it - she's even reading Maggie Nelson's Bluets. One step closer to perfection.

Second, I see my old chum Out To Lunch (aka Ben Watson) has an article about the Australian duo Music With My Insane Friend. Has all been forgiven? Crotchets & hatchets buried? Whatever the reason it's great to see him back.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

"For a rainy day" was, believe it or not, the phrase used by David Cameron this morning during his interview on The Today Programme to explain the vicious cuts to enable debt reduction and putting money aside. He might have been talking about the housekeeping - a tin on the sideboard perhaps because you never know ...

How deeply insulting, patronising & fallacious. Economists correct me, but countries do not work like households. Borrowing is fundamental to a healthy economy.

From another angle, though, how disturbing the 'you can't have something for nothing' tight lipped prudence becomes when seen in a broader perspective. For what is interest but ... something for doing nothing? And, from another angle, what does this do to human existence? The new 'normal' is to see the ability to pay as your right to a life. As the treatment of immigrants fleeing war zones confirms they are - in the eyes of a society that thinks simply in terms of financial liquidity - subhuman.

& we know where that leads.









o

Haunted yesterday by the phrase "gists and piths" & all because of "gists" occurring in an essay - 'Alfresco' - by Merrill Gilfillan. How little combinations of words can get in among you, gnawing away.

A quick Google throws up Ezra Pound (of course!) & Hugh Kenner or a combination of both. Did Pound say it first? Did Kenner attribute it to Pound ... ?

But the phrase bugs ... I know I've read it somewhere else - a puff by Tom Raworth? A line in a Coolidge poem? No ... & then I know: Jackson Mac Low quoted on the back of Ray DiPalma's Numbers and Tempers Selected Early Poems (Sun & Moon Press):

"Precision and surprise and no nonessentials. Gists and Piths."

So.

What else but to christen another little notebook which is serving for the morning walks.

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Fall asleep this afternoon on the couch upstairs listening to CD 1 of the Collins Bird Songs and Calls. The Velux is open & so the birds merge with the steady pattering of the rain.

I wake at 5pm - the kind of luxurious narcotic slumber I've not enjoyed since the girls were small. As if drugged by a mythic potion. It takes a good quarter of an hour to feel fully back in consciousness.

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How I hate autocorrect - a sly form of conformity. 'Raworth' - it's done it again! - is replaced with 'Haworth'. 'Or' in paragraph two came out as 'for'.

Denim it!

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Over 260 page views yesterday - something of a record (not that I check regularly). At least someone seems to be interested.

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

" ... Out, too, goes the law that said only a place where bakers mixed ingredients, kneaded dough and produced fresh loaves could call itself a bakery and avoid the “bread sales outlet” definition of just selling defrosted and pre-baked loaves.

“The benefit from abolishing the definition would be the enhancement of competition by creating quality differentiations and by offering a broader choice to consumers,” said the OECD, which also wanted bread sold by the kilo rather than, as was the case until very recently, in standard, fixed-weight loaves. ..."

(from an article on Greece in today's Guardian)

Note the weasel phrase: "the enhancement of competition by creating quality differentiations and by offering a broader choice". Translated it means the opportunity for unscrupulous producers to sell sub-quality produce thereby undercutting (& eventually forcing out of business) decent people who make & deliver a genuine bread in the name of giving the customer "what they want". The law of diminishing returns to everyone (other than the said unscrupulous producer). "Choice"? You mean it's a choice to buy crap?

& it coincides nicely with the phrase I read in the current LRB about the Euro crisis concerning the empowerment of "legally and politically unconstrained expertocracy".

Greece, essentially, is being seen as a wonderful plunder zone - licensed financial rape by bankers & investors in the name of 'getting real' & learning to knuckle down. You Greeks, really ... cloud cuckoo land. What an extraordinary shift of culpability.

This is yet another example of the (absurd, inhuman, immoral) 'logics' we live by. Is it any wonder that there is a growing swell of support for Jeremy Corbyn in the UK? Whatever his electoral potential here, at least, is someone who seems to represent an alternative way of living & thinking.

Little by little even the possibility of thinking otherwise is being annihilated. Democracy? Dream on. (You see - those damn Greeks again).


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Limbering up for the next Great British Bake Off ordeal.

E. & I are allowed to watch under sufferance (too many heckles & sarcastic comments last week, apparently). Thus, we will have a clipboard to pass between us on which to scribble a running commentary.

Let you know if it works.

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Advance publicity suggests that this week's theme is biscuits. Within how many seconds will "oh crumbs" or "that's how the cookie crumbles" or "well that takes the biscuit" be said by either Mel or Sue? Bookies are offering low odds on within the first 30 seconds.

(Note, in passing, how their ITV vehicle has been dropped after low ratings ... Baffling ...).





Out early this morning for a walk in the woods. I cut down the path leading between the two ponds & notice the blackberry bushes. I pick a few - an early breakfast - & make a mental note to return.

This afternoon I chivvy the girls into a walk & we go back to the same spot. While I know you can't pick mushrooms, to my knowledge there's nothing about hedgerow fruits.

Back home we weigh them - about 140 gr - which in the supermarket would be a 2.90 euros punnet's worth.

Which, of course, is not the point. The walk, the chat, the jokes, the fun of finding fruit ... that's what mattered.

Coming over shamelessly Heaney all of a sudden.

Sunday, August 09, 2015


Surfaced briefly into consciousness during the night to catch a few minutes of Mark E. Smith being interviewed on Radio 4 Extra. It went something like this:

Interviewer asks Mark E. what his views are on a list of issues (homophobia ... racism ... fascism ...)

Smith answers: Homophobia? ... that a fear of being in the 'ouse?

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Turns out it is/was the last episode of Alan Parker's 59 Minutes programme which is probably a good thing. Listening to it just now on iPlayer Parker grates more than somewhat. However, fair play, he does give The Fall some air time. (O for the days of John Peel).

In fact, Mark E. Smith runs rings around Parker who seems utterly incapable of sustaining the interview or sensing the massive piss-take he's receiving. So much for BBC 'alternative' comedians ...

Leading me to think that it would be an inspired move in these dreary days to give Smith his own slot on radio in which to do whatever he wishes (play favourite tracks, monologue, interview politicians, maybe have a cosy chat with Sue Perkins).

Why stop there? Given the surge of opinion behind Jeremy Corbyn might it just be the moment for Mark E. Smith to declare himself ...?


Saturday, August 08, 2015



Figs Bulgur
Fennel Slaw
Ginger Endive
Pinto Beans
Young Turnips
Ham & Kale Colcannon
Vegetable Patty
Herb Burgers
Aubergine Paneer
Basil Prawns
Harissa Carrots

(potential characters for the novel)

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Pork Belly
Chicken Breasts
Crab Balls
Cider Thighs

(doubtful terms of endearment)

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(wish we'd called our daughters ...

Oat
Gerkins
Chutney
Noodles
Squid

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Friday, August 07, 2015




"... I have dozens of such little note-books left, forming a special history of those years, for myself alone, full of associations never to be possibly said or sung. I wish I could convey to the reader the associations that attach to these soil'd and creased livraisons, each composed of a sheet or two of paper, folded small to carry in the pocket, and fastened with a pin ..." (Walt Whitman, note added to Specimen Days)

How strange to happen upon this having posted about my little folded notebooks & yet this type of coincidence happens again & again. As if a text is somehow choosing its moment. For what I needed to read right now was Specimen Days & to be led back into the poetry which I read with a new recognition.

Reading Whitman this week I had an overpowering sense of poetry worked out of notebooks - much as, I think, Ginsberg had his lightbulb moment leading to the composition of Howl. Never before have I appreciated the fragmentariness of Song of Myself  to such an extent & of deeper logics informing the development of the poem. The leaf of grass: the leaf of the page: taking a leaf out of another's book: left-overs, leavings & inter-leavings. (Shake) spear & sphere.

& it just so happens Mark Miller has written a book exactly on this - Whitman's collage principle. If anyone knows how I can get hold of a copy to read asap I would be very grateful - I can't order it from the UK & don't have access to academic library downloads. Stuffed in other words.

.

This is unfinished business with me ... how is it with you?
I was chilled with the cold types and cylinders and wet paper between us 

(A Song for Occupations)

Thursday, August 06, 2015

The Great British Bake Off returned last night & so there was the ritual gathering around the television (quite a rare sight in this household). The fundamentally absurd format - think, ten years ago, would anyone in their right mind think you could sustain a series about competing to bake cakes? - is ever more creaky & there are signs, perhaps, of genuine bad temper from Paul towards the asinine 'comedy' duo (& who could blame him?).

To be fair, Mel The Unpronounceable is just about bearable. Sue The Unspeakable, however, defies belief in her utter lack of tact & humour. An excruciating clip of her talking with Paul (a new contestant) about the prison service was a case in point. Her "put me in cuffs" quip was ill-judged to put it mildly. (Solitary confinement would seem more fitting ...).

Perhaps someone from the BBC could take Perky Sue aside into a room & close the door. Then sit her down & say kindly but firmly: you. are. not. funny. An evidently clever woman, there must be other things she could be doing.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015


o

The right notebook to take on holiday remains a major headache to precious dilettantes such as ourselves (right?). Until now. 

I learned my lesson from last year's trip to Greece - i.e. you do NOT want to be lugging a thick volume around in your bag (which will already be heavy with a 50cl bottle of water & other gubbins) in 30 degree plus temperatures. In addition it looks: 

a) pretentious
b) antisocial
c) suspicious
d) predictable
e) ________ (you supply another alternative)

to produce the black Moleskine & start entering one's Golden Thoughts midway through a meal or pause for coffee. 

& so ... this year I made a series of deliberately scruffy little covers out of old Amazon packages (environmentally friendly too!) into which I inserted several folios of blank paper. The Amazon card gives just enough support when writing; the format sits nicely in the palm of the hand (easy access, unobtrusive, you might be simply totalling up the day's expenses); the limited number of pages offers a satisfying feeling of filling the space with the opportunity to insert a refill when you get back to the room plus ... you don't feel inhibited by the paper quality or an expensive binding. 

.

Talking of notebooks ... on the ferry back from Paros to Athens a woman sat adjacent to me across the aisle. It was hard to say her age - 40s or older, certainly out of her 30s. Nationality? Hard, too. She might have been Greek give her colouring & way of dressing (a light summer frock that fell well on her slim frame, strap sandals, thin red anklet & a careless manner of clipping up her dark chestnut straggling hair). Something about her movements precluded her from being British, so an American, Italian? Maybe. Then there was a disconcertingly girlish quality despite an overall impression of spinsterish (is this word still permissible?) severity & sensible spectacles. Her movements carried that spontaneity of a child's - sitting with her knees up to her chin or throwing herself back in her seat. Certainly a lack of concern for appearances - somewhere on the map between hippyish & bohemian. 

She had a guitar with her - nestled between her legs - which disappeared mysteriously some way into the crossing. Having taken her seat she produced a notebook - why I was immediately fascinated - in which she began writing giving the impression that the words had weighed heavily upon her mind & needed, urgently, to be set down. From where I was sitting there were many pages already full - written in a strong consistent hand. Even more intriguing she wrote from the very top to the bottom of each page & left no margins and - the clincher - used a fountain pen

This pen was small & what - I imagine - is marketed as a lady's 'purse' choice. I would find it awkward but in her small hands & nimble fingers the barrel sat well. The writing came easily, the ink too - which was surprising given the incline she was writing upon (the notebook resting on her hunched knees). 

& so the pressing question: what was she writing? The guitar suggested song lyrics but the continuous lines argued otherwise. A diary/travel journal? Yet from time to time she would pull out a scruffy reporter-style notebook & transcribe some pages. Then a journalist of sorts? Yet her whole manner was that of someone on holiday & the intensity of the scribbling seemed too personally committed for professional purposes. Then ... a novelist? 

Abruptly she got up & walked down the aisle, returning ten minutes later with a small bottle of white wine and plastic cups. Once more in her seat she turned to the couple on her right & then the people in the seats behind & offered them a drink. Polite refusals. She shrugged, sighed, poured herself a glass & resealed the remainder. Inbred generosity? Or the shame of the solitary drinker? (& might she not have leant across to me ...).

& so the second question: why did I not take the initiative & satisfy my curiosity by asking who she was & what she was writing? What held me back? Respect for another's privacy? Inbred English decorum (for which read inhibition) coupled with fear that such a query might be misinterpreted? Or out of self-protection that knowing might shatter my hopes & fantasies realising that these were nothing but pages of the most ghastly drivel & banality? 

Yet how much I admired her for her notebooks, that little fountain pen, the self-absorption, the utter indifference to the world around her - our fellow passengers sunk into that customary inertia of the modern traveller (dozing, smartphone fiddling, glazed gaze at the drop down screen entertainment). She was truly a foreigner in her own or another's country - reminding me of Mary Ruefle's claims to feel of another world entirely. Walking off the ferry into the solid wall of city heat I felt deeply cheered by what I had seen. 

So I raise my glass to you - ? -  writing on the boat between Paros & Athens on a Thursday in late July. 









Monday, August 03, 2015


Steps in Lefkes, Paros 

"It is a process through which the order of a building or a town grows out directly from the inner nature of the people, and the animals, and plants, and matter which are in it.

It is a process which allows the life inside a person, or a family, or a town, to flourish, openly, in freedom, so vividly that it gives birth, of its own accord, to the natural order which is needed to sustain this life."

(The Timeless Way of Building, Christopher Alexander)


Saturday, August 01, 2015








Back from the holiday in Greece (a jolly 5 hour delay at Athens airport ostensibly due to a faulty plane back in Brussels but - as a fellow passenger suggested - more likely a deliberate rescheduling to save money).

The blog app has been updated & so images are able to load. However, my first attempt led to a huge photo spilling across the screen. This might be a more successful upload.

The photo was taken in the cafe/bar adjacent to the local museum in Kifissia & emblematic of what Greece needs right now.

More to follow.

Sunday, July 19, 2015





A post dedicated to our Devon correspondent - Uncle Rob.

It has taken time for the light to dawn but yes ... I have finally understood the qualitative difference of freshly ground coffee as against ready ground varieties.

Memories redolent of 11 o'clocks & after dinners at Westfield Park come wafting back & - even further lodged in the archive - Charlotte Street in the late 80s (but that is another story).

Over 3 quid for a cappuccino at Maidstone services. Daylight robbery! and they have the gall to ask whether you want an extra shot of coffee with that. Even allowing for the cost of the grinder & the beans this is still a cheaper option.

Shaken & infused.

Wednesday, July 08, 2015

Pretty exhausted after a day's driving back from the UK via the Folkestone-Calais Eurotunnel.

Trying to make sense of disparate impressions & events ...

The Chancellor's budget & announcement of a "living" (sic) wage; signalled diversion at the M20 & then nothing leading to a cross-country adventure trying to find the terminal; BBC local radio item on whether or not women should shave their underarm hair; glimpse of a man wandering along the hard shoulder of the motorway leading away from the Calais platforms; hotel notepaper with scrawled ideas held by the new Greek Finance Minister; Murray through to the next round but plenty of vacant seats due to corporate hospitality deals; a long & frustrating traffic jam near Ghent; so many lorries - idling or just parked along the roads in France & England; tube strikes in London with further action to come; the Barclays head sacked despite glowing testimonials for his ability to instil values; billions wiped off the Chinese stock exchange; Tony Blair adamant that his decisions when in office have contributed nothing to the current situation in the Middle East ...

Anyone else sense that the entire system is running out of control?




Thursday, July 02, 2015

Almost a year ago I was sitting having a drink in Kifisia (an affluent suburb of Athens) with an ex-student. We chatted about 'the old days' and - naturally - the state of his country. I told him I was astonished to see so little evidence of the crisis - I nodded to the bars full of people, the shops buzzing ... - & he explained that Kifisia was not typical in many ways.

The conversation then turned to something I'd noticed at restaurants - a little drink or nibble offered before you'd even ordered. Was this just for tourists or a more general ritual? He explained that it was a way of establishing a 'rapport': I give you this as a gesture & you will do something for me. Not a calculated investment but a way of entering into a happy relation.

My ignorance of Economics has, of course, been well established. But I keep turning over this anecdote against the background of the Greek debt crisis, of insults being thrown at the nation ("lazy", "backsliders", "unrealistic"), of many of the population being interviewed who are fully aware of the ghastly situation & yet still prepared to say "no".

Forget Economics for a moment. Are we not witnessing an expression of an utterly different way of thinking - one that simply does not accord with the neo-liberal logics of the balance sheet, credit/debit, plus/minus? That Varoufakis & his supporters should not be bluntly categorised as loony left extremists but, in fact, representatives of a much older & nobler way of thinking? A way of thinking, indeed, we - in the West - can no longer 'afford' (in all sense of that word).

It seems nigh on impossible that Greece will not have to surrender & comply with the financial terms on offer. I suspect that Varoufakis & Tsipras will be ejected from office (or will resign beforehand) which - as certain commentators have suggested - is the implicit goal of Merkel's intransigence. (You see you can't do business with people like that.) Probably it will be the better outcome - at least in terms of Greeks keeping a roof over their heads, feeding their children & having some kind of social stability. However, I think we will look back on these weeks as a last noble & courageous attempt to think otherwise against the unstoppable, irrational (in their dogmatic unquestioned rationality) logics of the neo-liberal agenda.

Once upon a time Greek heroes fought monsters & threw javelins. In 2015 the battles are conducted more insidiously with spreadsheets on office tables. I know which version of a Golden Age I prefer.

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Agnes Martin at Tate Modern & Joseph Cornell at the Royal Academy - what delights lie in store ... & yet what with demonstrations, delays, cancellations & diversions will we be able to get across to the UK let alone up to London one day next week ... ?




Monday, June 29, 2015





First day of the summer holiday. & a picture of a snail on the window sill of the garden shed.

A totem animal in its convolutions.
You are walking along the street & see someone lying in a doorway, clearly incapable of looking after themselves & in desperate need of medical attention.

Do you:

A. See what you can do to help, ring for an ambulance, get them treated as soon as possible & find out ways to help them build a life again?

B. Thrust a 50 euro note into their pocket with a slip of paper saying you'll be back tomorrow to take 10 euros back & - if they are still in no better shape - you'll give them another 25 euros but expect 20 euros back the next day ... & so on for the foreseeable future (despite seeing that they will only be getting worse) ... but knowing that this is a game you & a few friends have devised certain in the knowledge that if things get really bad you can always offset that 50 euros in another way (in fact, you've already made plans ...).

Seem familiar?

Obviously I understand very little about Economics. However, could someone please explain what is the point in debating whether to pour more billions of euros into Greece when a) it clearly has little capacity to generate any income of its own & b) austerity measures are guaranteed to stifle what feeble attempts at recovery there might be?

Would it not be more appropriate - indeed urgent - to discuss what could be done to regenerate the economy (& not simply rely on tourism)? Construction projects. Agricultural initiatives. Fishing. Shipping. Cultural & intellectual developments ...

Or is there a more sinister agenda in place - hands already being rubbed in anticipation of assets which will be going for a song as & when the country's infrastructure collapses.

Who'd like an island?


Sunday, June 21, 2015



So you see, one thing really does lead to another ...

Had there not been the Battle of Waterloo, there would not have been the re-enactment. Had there not been the re-enactment, the school would not have been requisitioned & I would not have had the day off. Had I not had the day off, I would not have arranged with A. to meet for lunch & afterwards go to buy papers to make a book. Had I not decided to cycle (the day being fine, myself feeling hearty, etc.) I would not have searched for a street sign to chain my bike to. Had I not been in the act of chaining my bike, then the man from the new gallery would not have emerged & asked whether I would be leaving it there all day because he had an opening night with drinks later on & he intended putting tables & chairs outside on the pavement. Had etc. etc. then I - we - would not have stepped inside said gallery & looked at the work going up on the walls & ... lo & behold! ... discovered works on paper & canvas by ... Ania Lemin (marvellous book creator & wielder of a most imaginative pencil stub - I have posted about her before).

Here are two small canvases by Ania which now grace the walls of the hall. Each time I reach for my keys in the morning I'll be able to steal a glance at them.

How to make a day.


It seems my crystal ball was not so grubby ... ... resisting the temptation to say "told you so".