Thursday, December 31, 2009

chitta vritti

I'm am taking the Bomber to Wales for a few days this morning, so I will be maintaining radio silence for a while.

Sometimes it is good to get away from the ceaseless chatter online.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Gymnosophists is the name (meaning "naked philosophers") given by the Greeks to certain ancient Indian philosophers who pursued asceticism to the point of regarding food and clothing as detrimental to purity of thought (sadhus or yogis).
Gymnosophist: It's really good to see you again, Nick. It's been too long.

Myself: Well, it's great that you stopped by. [ I sit on the couch ]

Gymnosophist: [ sits next to me on the couch ] I brought you something. It's a book.

Myself: Wow! Where'd you get this?

Gymnosophist: One of those second-hand bookstores downtown. It seemed like you. So, how have you been? Have you been okay?

Myself: Yeah, I'm fine.

Gymnosophist: Wait a minute. Something's wrong. I can tell.

Myself: [ sighing] No. I'm doing great. Really.

Gymnosophist: What's troubling you, Nick?

Myself: Nothing! Nothing!

Gymnosophist: Hey, come on. I can always tell when something's bothering you.

Myself: Well.. if you really want to know.. it's because you're not wearing any clothes. And it really freaks me out.

Gymnosophist: Hey, come on. What's really bothering you?

Myself: I told you! It's your nakedness. You never ever wear any clothes. Never. It's really disturbing. And I think I'd really prefer it if you, like, went home and put something on. [ I stand ]

Gymnosophist: If you think I'm leaving you before I find out what's really bothering you, you're crazy.

Myself: Would you just.. put, like, a towel on, or something?

Gymnosophist: Hey, we're talking about everything except what's really bothering you, aren't we? Sure, I could put on a towel, or borrow your bathrobe, but we're not going to find out what's really bothering you until you can really talk about it. Now, come on. [ we sit ]

Myself: Okay.. When I was a little boy, my grandmother had a beautiful music box that meant a lot to her.. and one day I was playing with it, and I broke it! And I was too afraid to tell her.. and I hid all the pieces away.. and she never found out what happened to it.. and now she's dead..!

Gymnosophist: Hey, hey.. it's okay. It wasn't your fault.

Myself: No?

Gymnosophist: You were just a kid.

Myself: Yeah..

Gymnosophist: You were just a kid..

Myself: Oh.. wow! You know, I've never been able to tell anybody that before.. thank you!

Gymnosophist: Come on.. let's go get some sushi!

Myself: [ smiling ] No, I don't think so.

Gymnosophist: Why not?

Myself: Because you don't have any clothes on.

Gymnosophist: Come on, Nick. What's really bothering you?

Myself: You're naked.

Gymnosophist: Tell you what? Why don't I go down there and get us a table, and you can come down when you're ready. Okay?

Myself: Okay. [ I smile ]

Gymnosophist: [ stands and walks toward the door, exposing his butt crack ]

Announcer: This has been "The Sensitive Naked Man".

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Culture and the Benny Draw

At the LRB, John Lanchester ponders Britain's history as the preeminent creator of cheap chocolate:
[A]ll the great chocolate bars are British, and the first of them, and still my favourite, was Cadbury’s Dairy Milk, invented in 1905. Other great British bars appeared in a burst of heroic creativity in the 1920s and 1930s: the Flake in 1920, Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut in 1928, Fry’s Crunchie in 1929, the Aero in 1935, then in 1937 no fewer than three masterpieces, the Rolo, the Kit Kat and Smarties. All British inventions. According to Roald Dahl: ‘In music, the equivalent would be the golden age of Bach, Mozart and Beethoven. In painting, it was the equivalent of the Italian Renaissance and the advent of Impressionism at the end of the 19th entury; in literature, Tolstoy, Balzac and Dickens.’

P.S. Hat tip: Jenny D.
P.P.S. While we are on the subject of John Lanchester, allow me to recommend The Debt to Pleasure

Monday, December 28, 2009

Tracks of my peers

Spotify have published a list of their 100 most listened-to tracks in 2009, based on the number of streams in their six launch countries.

The top 10 are:

1. I Gotta Feeling by Black Eyed Peas
2. Right Round - Amended Album Version by Flo Rida
3. Sexy Bitch (Featuring Akon;explicit) by Akon, David Guetta
4. Poker Face by Lady Gaga
5. Halo by Beyoncé
6. Use Somebody by Kings Of Leon
7. Boom Boom Pow by Black Eyed Peas
8. Ayo Technology by Milow
9. When Love Takes Over (Feat.Kelly Rowland) by Kelly Rowland, David Guetta
10. Kids by MGMT

A pleasing (if surprsing) lack of Michael Jackson, but I don't think I was previously even aware of 2, 3, 8, 9 and 10.

Who is David Guetta? With any luck, I won't find out.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Coffee and Cigarettes

John, Christmas was fun my brother and - as a bonus - I got your birthday present sorted as well: Coffee And Cigarettes [2003] [DVD]

Friday, December 25, 2009

You looked like Christmas morning

Brad to Angelina: I though you looked like Christmas morning..


Obviously "Let me guess. Shaped charge on the counter-balance cable. Two more on the primary and secondary brakes" is my favourite quote, but it isn't quite as seasonal.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Food for the mind

The Guardian presents - the best food books of the decade, in which we are presented with the best books of the noughties, as chosen by Fuchsia Dunlop, Jay Rayner, Rosie Boycott, Tom Parker Bowles, Allegra McEvedy, Matthew Fort and other leading food writers.

Let's see, I've got three of the top 10 on my shelves, and own half a dozen of the entire top 40.

McGee on Food and Cooking: An Encyclopedia of Kitchen Science, History and Culture and The Omnivore's Dilemma: The Search for a Perfect Meal in a Fast-food World have been added to my Amazon wish list, though too late for Christmas. I'm particularly intrigued by the latter, "the solution to the dietary ills of the modern western world, he argues persuasively, is simple: forget about 'nutrition' and just eat real food, not too much, and mostly plants," which is exactly the way my thoughts have been turning lately.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite

Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite, also known as Pseudo-Denys, is the anonymous theologian and philosopher of the late 5th to early 6th century with the greatest moniker in the history of the world.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Child's Christmases in Wales

The Bomber came across A Child's Christmases in Wales on the Wii IPlayer on Sunday. We recommend it to you unreservedly, and hope in gets shown annually at this time of year for the foreseeable.

One, two, three, four!

Wel dyma hi,
Nadolig Llawen,
Pawb yn Hapus hwyl a sbri
Edrych i'r dyfodol nawr
Mae pethau ar fin digwydd.

Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Cliched to be Cynical at Christmas ...

And yet, and yet:

The Santa Llucia Christmas market in Barcelona sells everything you could need for your nativity scene. Little statues of Joseph and Mary? Check. A little baby Jesus? Check. Donkeys, sheep and cows? Check. Defecating world leaders? You what?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Get the horn

I picked up a Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince at an introductory snip of £7 in Sainsburys recently. Watching it with the Bomber, I couldn't help but notice "The Unicorn in Captivity" tapestry from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's "Hunt of the Unicorn" series hanging on a wall in Hogwarts.

It was striking because I've seen the weavers working on a twleve year project to recreate the tapestries in West Dean.

The original myths surrounding The Hunt of the Unicorn refer to a beast with one horn that can only be tamed by a virgin maiden; subsequently, Christian scholars translated this into an allegory for Christ's relationship with the Virgin Mary.
Ooh Austin, behave! In Potter land:

The blood of a unicorn will keep you alive, even if you are an inch from death, but at a terrible price. You have slain something pure and defenceless to save yourself and you will have but a half-life, a cursed life, from the moment the blood touches your lips.
You pays your money and takes your choice.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

What's it all about?

The most capped male Welsh rugby international of all time, Gareth Thomas, has admitted to being gay.

You have to laugh at the Telegraph's straight faced comment:

It had come as a major surprise to all in Welsh rugby when Thomas' chose not
to come out in his autobiography "Alfie".

In other developments in our enlightened times:

The BBC has provoked controversy by organising an online debate on its news website which asked: "Should homosexuals face execution?"

Friday, December 18, 2009

Meyraiyuth Christmas

The film opens with several women being abducted and Jija’s character, Deu, being left by her mother, abandoned by her band, and longing to join her dead father. Deu, depressed and drunk, is rescued by Kazu Patrick Tang’s character, Sanim, during a botched attempt to kidnap Deu. Sanim fights off the gang would-be kidnappers in an acrobatic sequence filled with attackers on pogo-shoes.

Waking up in an abandoned factory Deu, encounters Sanim and his gang of merry do-gooders who practice a form of drunken Thai break-dancing martial arts that they dub Meyraiyuth. Sanim and his friends, having had loved ones abducted, have joined together to break the gang of kidnappers.

The latest from the oeuvre of auteur Prachya Pinkaew is, as ever, a chilling indictment of something or other and a plea for rigorous intellectual .... you know, that other thing.

Exhibt A: attackers on pogo-shoes.
Exhibit B: drunken break-dancing martial arts.

Where do I sign up for Raging Phoenix?

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Where Love Is, God Is

Every year since 2005, dear reader I have given you a story for Christmas. You're getting this season's Yule Yarn a week early, because I discovered it last night, dramatised in a simplified style in the Bomber's school's community carol concert.

I shivered. Was it Stendhal syndrome, was it just freezing at the al fresco performance, 0r Ernie's ghostly gold tops a-rattling in their crate?

Who knows? Leo Tolstoy takes up the tale .....

In a certain town there lived a cobbler, Martin Avdéitch by name. He had a tiny room in a basement, the one window of which looked out on to the street. Through it one could only see the feet of those who passed by, but Martin recognized the people by their boots. He had lived long in the place and had many acquaintances. There was hardly a pair of boots in the neighborhood that had not been once or twice through his hands, so he often saw his own handiwork through the window. Some he had re-soled, some patched, some stitched up, and to some he had even put fresh uppers. He had plenty to do, for he worked well, used good material, did not charge too much, and could be relied on. If he could do a job by the day required, he undertook it; if not, he told the truth and gave no false promises; so he was well known and never short of work.

Martin had always been a good man; but in his old age he began to think more about his soul and to draw nearer to God. While he still worked for a master, before he set up on his own account, his wife had died, leaving him with a three-year old son. None of his elder children had lived, they had all died in infancy. At first Martin thought of sending his little son to his sister's in the country, but then he felt sorry to part with the boy, thinking: "It would be hard for my little Kapitón to have to grow up in a strange family; I will keep him with me."

Martin left his master and went into lodgings with his little son. But he had no luck with his children. No sooner had the boy reached an age when he could help his father and be a support as well as a joy to him, than he fell ill and, after being laid up for a week with a burning fever, died. Martin buried his son, and gave way to despair so great and overwhelming that he murmured against God. In his sorrow he prayed again and again that he too might die, reproaching God for having taken the son he loved, his only son while he, old as he was, remained alive. After that Martin left off going to church.

One day an old man from Martin's native village who had been a pilgrim for the last eight years, called in on his way from Tróitsa Monastery. Martin opened his heart to him, and told him of his sorrow.

"I no longer even wish to live, holy man," he said. "All I ask of God is that I soon may die. I am now quite without hope in the world."

The old man replied: "You have no right to say such things, Martin. We cannot judge God's ways. Not our reasoning, but God's will, decides. If God willed that your son should die and you should live, it must be best so. As to your despair ? that comes because you wish to live for your own happiness."

"What else should one live for?" asked Martin.

"For God, Martin," said the old man. "He gives you life, and you must live for Him. When you have learnt to live for Him, you will grieve no more, and all will seem easy to you."

Martin was silent awhile, and then asked: "But how is one to live for God?"

The old man answered: "How one may live for God has been shown us by Christ. Can you read? Then buy the Gospels, and read them: there you will see how God would have you live. You have it all there."

These words sank deep into Martin's heart, and that same day he went and bought himself a Testament in large print, and began to read.

At first he meant only to read on holidays, but having once begun he found it made his heart so light that he read every day. Sometimes he was so absorbed in his reading that the oil in his lamp burnt out before he could tear himself away from the book. He continued to read every night, and the more he read the more clearly he understood what God required of him, and how he might live for God. And his heart grew lighter and lighter. Before, when he went to bed he used to lie with a heavy heart, moaning as he thought of his little Kapitón; but now he only repeated again and again: "Glory to Thee, glory to Thee, O Lord! Thy will be done!"

From that time Martin's whole life changed. Formerly, on holidays he used to go and have tea at the public house, and did not even refuse a glass or two of vódka. Sometimes, after having had a drop with a friend, he left the public house not drunk, but rather merry, and would say foolish things: shout at a man, or abuse him. Now, all that sort of thing passed away from him. His life became peaceful and joyful. He sat down to his work in the morning, and when he had finished his day's work he took the lamp down from the wall, stood it on the table, fetched his book from the shelf, opened it, and sat down to read. The more he read the better he understood, and the clearer and happier he felt in his mind.

It happened once that Martin sat up late, absorbed in his book. He was reading Luke's Gospel; and in the sixth chapter he came upon the verses:

"To him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and from him that taketh away thy cloak withhold not thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise."

He also read the verses where our Lord says:

"And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say? Whosoever cometh to me, and heareth my sayings, and doeth them, I will shew you to whom he is like: He is like a man which built an house, and digged deep, and laid the foundation on a rock: and when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently upon that house, and could not shake it: for it was founded upon a rock. But he that heareth and doeth not, is like a man that without a foundation built an house upon the earth, against which the stream did beat vehemently, and immediately it fell; and the ruin of that house was great."

When Martin read these words his soul was glad within him. He took off his spectacles and laid them on the book, and leaning his elbows on the table pondered over what he had read. He tried his own life by the standard of those words, asking himself:

"Is my house built on the rock, or on sand? If it stands on the rock, it is well. It seems easy enough while one sits here alone, and one thinks one has done all that God commands; but as soon as I cease to be on my guard, I sin again. Still I will persevere. It brings such joy. Help me, O Lord!"

He thought all this, and was about to go to bed, but was loth to leave his book. So he went on reading the seventh chapter ? about the centurion, the widow's son, and the answer to John's disciples ? and he came to the part where a rich Pharisee invited the Lord to his house; and he read how the woman who was a sinner, anointed his feet and washed them with her tears, and how he justified her. Coming to the forty-fourth verse, he read:

"And turning to the woman, he said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath wetted my feet with her tears, and wiped them with her hair. Thou gavest me no kiss; but she, since the time I came in, hath not ceased to kiss my feet. My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but she hath anointed my feet with ointment."

He read these verses and thought: "He gave no water for his feet, gave no kiss, his head with oil he did not anoint?" And Martin took off his spectacles once more, laid them on his book, and pondered.

"He must have been like me, that Pharisee. He too thought only of himself ? how to get a cup of tea, how to keep warm and comfortable; never a thought of his guest. He took care of himself, but for his guest he cared nothing at all. Yet who was the guest? The Lord himself! If he came to me, should I behave like that?"

Then Martin laid his head upon both his arms and, before he was aware of it, he fell asleep.

"Martin!" he suddenly heard a voice, as if some one had breathed the word above his ear.

He started from his sleep. "Who's there?" he asked.

He turned round and looked at the door; no one was there. He called again. Then he heard quite distinctly: "Martin, Martin! Look out into the street to-morrow, for I shall come."

Martin roused himself, rose from his chair and rubbed his eyes, but did not know whether he had heard these words in a dream or awake. He put out the lamp and lay down to sleep.

Next morning he rose before daylight, and after saying his prayers he lit the fire and prepared his cabbage soup and buckwheat porridge. Then he lit the samovár, put on his apron, and sat down by the window to his work. As he sat working Martin thought over what had happened the night before. At times it seemed to him like a dream, and at times he thought that he had really heard the voice. "Such things have happened before now," thought he.

So he sat by the window, looking out into the street more than he worked, and whenever any one passed in unfamiliar boots he would stoop and look up, so as to see not the feet only but the face of the passer-by as well. A house-porter passed in new felt boots; then a water-carrier. Presently an old soldier of Nicholas' reign came near the window, spade in hand. Martin knew him by his boots, which were shabby old felt ones, galoshed with leather. The old man was called Stepánitch: a neighboring tradesman kept him in his house for charity, and his duty was to help the house-porter. He began to clear away the snow before Martin's window. Martin glanced at him and then went on with his work.

"I must be growing crazy with age," said Martin, laughing at his fancy. "Stepánitch comes to clear away the snow, and I must needs imagine it's Christ coming to visit me. Old dotard that I am!"

Yet after he had made a dozen stitches he felt drawn to look out of the window again. He saw that Stepánitch had leaned his spade against the wall, and was either resting himself or trying to get warm. The man was old and broken down, and had evidently not enough strength even to clear away the snow.

"What if I called him in and gave him some tea?" thought Martin. "The samovár is just on the boil."

He stuck his awl in its place, and rose; and putting the samovár on the table, made tea. Then he tapped the window with his fingers. Stepánitch turned and came to the window. Martin beckoned to him to come in, and went himself to open the door.

"Come in," he said, "and warm yourself a bit. I'm sure you must be cold."

"May God bless you!" Stepánitch answered. "My bones do ache to be sure." He came in, first shaking off the snow, and lest he should leave marks on the floor he began wiping his feet; but as he did so he tottered and nearly fell.

"Don't trouble to wipe your feet," said Martin "I'll wipe up the floor ? it's all in the day's work. Come, friend, sit down and have some tea."

Filling two tumblers, he passed one to his visitor, and pouring his own out into the saucer, began to blow on it.

Stepánitch emptied his glass, and, turning it upside down, put the remains of his piece of sugar on the top. He began to express his thanks, but it was plain that he would be glad of some more.

"Have another glass," said Martin, refilling the visitor's tumbler and his own. But while he drank his tea Martin kept looking out into the street.

"Are you expecting any one?" asked the visitor.

"Am I expecting any one? Well, now, I'm ashamed to tell you. It isn't that I really expect any one; but I heard something last night which I can't get out of my mind. Whether it was a vision, or only a fancy, I can't tell. You see, friend, last night I was reading the Gospel, about Christ the Lord, how he suffered, and how he walked on earth. You have heard tell of it, I dare say."

"I have heard tell of it," answered Stepánitch; "but I'm an ignorant man and not able to read."

"Well, you see, I was reading of how he walked on earth. I came to that part, you know, where he went to a Pharisee who did not receive him well. Well, friend, as I read about it, I thought now that man did not receive Christ the Lord with proper honor. Suppose such a thing could happen to such a man as myself, I thought, what would I not do to receive him! But that man gave him no reception at all. Well, friend, as I was thinking of this, I began to doze, and as I dozed I heard some one call me by name. I got up, and thought I heard someone whispering, ?Expect me; I will come to-morrow.' This happened twice over. And to tell you the truth, it sank so into my mind that, though I am ashamed of it myself, I keep on expecting him, the dear Lord!"

Stepánitch shook his head in silence, finished his tumbler and laid it on its side; but Martin stood it up again and refilled it for him.

"Here drink another glass, bless you! And I was thinking too, how he walked on earth and despised no one, but went mostly among common folk. He went with plain people, and chose his disciples from among the likes of us, from workmen like us, sinners that we are. ?He who raises himself,' he said, ?shall be humbled and he who humbles himself shall be raised.' ?You call me Lord,' he said, ?and I will wash your feet.' ?He who would be first,' he said, ?let him be the servant of all; because,' he said, ?blessed are the poor, the humble, the meek, and the merciful.'"

Stepánitch forgot his tea. He was an old man easily moved to tears, and as he sat and listened the tears ran down his cheeks.

"Come, drink some more," said Martin. But Stepánitch crossed himself, thanked him, moved away his tumbler, and rose.

"Thank you, Martin Avdéitch," he said, "you have given me food and comfort both for soul and body."

"You're very welcome. Come again another time. I am glad to have a guest," said Martin.

Stepánitch went away; and Martin poured out the last of the tea and drank it up. Then he put away the tea things and sat down to his work, stitching the back seam of a boot. And as he stitched he kept looking out of the window, waiting for Christ, and thinking about him and his doings. And his head was full of Christ's sayings.

Two soldiers went by: one in government boots, and the other in boots of his own; then the master of a neighboring house, in shining galoshes; then a baker carrying a basket. All these passed on. Then a woman came up in worsted stockings and peasant-made shoes. She passed the window, but stopped by the wall. Martin glanced up at her through the window, and saw that she was a stranger, poorly dressed, and with a baby in her arms. She stopped by the wall with her back to the wind, trying to wrap the baby up, though she had hardly anything to wrap it in. The woman had only summer clothes on, and even they were shabby and worn. Through the window Martin heard the baby crying, and the woman trying to soothe it, but unable to do so. Martin rose and going out of the door and up the steps he called to her.

"My dear, I say, my dear!"

The woman heard, and turned round.

"Why do you stand out there with the baby in the cold? Come inside. You can wrap him up better in a warm place. Come this way!"

The woman was surprised to see an old man in an apron, with spectacles on his nose, calling to her, but she followed him in.

They went down the steps, entered the little room, and the old man led her to the bed.

"There, sit down, my dear, near the stove. Warm yourself, and feed the baby."

"Oh, I haven't got any milk. I have eaten nothing myself since early morning," said the woman, but still she took the baby to her breast.

Martin shook his head. He brought out a basin and some bread. Then he opened the oven door and poured some cabbage soup into the basin. He took out the porridge pot also but the porridge was not yet ready, so he spread a cloth on the table and served only the soup and bread.

"Sit down and eat, my dear, and I'll mind the baby. Why, bless me, I've had children of my own; I know how to manage them."

The woman crossed herself, and sitting down at the table began to eat, while Martin put the baby on the bed and sat down by it. He chucked and chucked, but having no teeth he could not do it well and the baby continued to cry. Then Martin tried poking at him with his finger; he drove his finger straight at the baby's mouth and then quickly drew it back, and did this again and again. He did not let the baby take his finger in its mouth, because it was all black with cobbler's wax. But the baby first grew quiet watching the finger, and then began to laugh. And Martin felt quite pleased.

The woman sat eating and talking, and told him who she was, and where she had been.

"I'm a soldier's wife," said she. "They sent my husband somewhere, far away, eight months ago, and I have heard nothing of him since. I had a place as cook till my baby was born, but then they would not keep me with a child. For three months now I have been struggling, unable to find a place, and I've had to sell all I had for food. I tried to go as a wet-nurse, but no one would have me; they said I was too starved-looking and thin. Now I have just been to see a tradesman's wife (a woman from our village is in service with her) and she has promised to take me. I thought it was all settled at last, but she tells me not to come till next week. It is far to her place, and I am fagged out, and baby is quite starved, poor mite. Fortunately our landlady has pity on us, and lets us lodge free, else I don't know what we should do."

Martin sighed. "Haven't you any warmer clothing?" he asked.

"How could I get warm clothing?" said she. "Why I pawned my last shawl for sixpence yesterday."

Then the woman came and took the child, and Martin got up. He went and looked among some things that were hanging on the wall, and brought back an old cloak.

"Here," he said, "though it's a worn-out old thing, it will do to wrap him up in."

The woman looked at the cloak, then at the old man, and taking it, burst into tears. Martin turned away, and groping under the bed brought out a small trunk. He fumbled about in it, and again sat down opposite the woman. And the woman said:

"The Lord bless you, friend. Surely Christ must have sent me to your window, else the child would have frozen. It was mild when I started, but now see how cold it has turned. Surely it must have been Christ who made you look out of your window and take pity on me, poor wretch!"

Martin smiled and said, "It is quite true; it was he made me do it. It was no mere chance made me look out."

And he told the woman his dream, and how he had heard the Lord's voice promising to visit him that day.

"Who knows? All things are possible," said the woman. And she got up and threw the cloak over her shoulders, wrapping it round herself and round the baby. Then she bowed, and thanked Martin once more.

"Take this for Christ's sake," said Martin, and gave her sixpence to get her shawl out of pawn. The woman crossed herself, and Martin did the same, and then he saw her out.

After the woman had gone, Martin ate some cabbage soup, cleared the things away, and sat down to work again. He sat and worked, but did not forget the window, and every time a shadow fell on it he looked up at once to see who was passing. People he knew and strangers passed by, but no one remarkable.

After a while Martin saw an apple-woman stop just in front of his window. She had a large basket, but there did not seem to be many apples left in it; she had evidently sold most of her stock. On her back she had a sack full of wood chips, which she was taking home. No doubt she had gathered them at some place where building was going on. The sack evidently hurt her, and she wanted to shift it from one shoulder to the other, so she put it down on the footpath and, placing her basket on a post, began to shake down the chips in the sack. While she was doing this a boy in a tattered cap ran up, snatched an apple out of the basket, and tried to slip away; but the old woman noticed it, and turning, caught the boy by his sleeve. He began to struggle, trying to free himself, but the old woman held on with both hands, knocked his cap off his head, and seized hold of his hair. The boy squawked and the old woman scolded him. Martin dropped his awl, not waiting to stick it in its place, and rushed out of the door. Stumbling up the steps, and dropping his spectacles in his hurry, he ran out into the street. The old woman was pulling the boy's hair and scolding him, and threatening to take him to the police. The lad was struggling and protesting, saying, "I did not take it. What are you beating me for? Let me go!"

Martin separated them. He took the boy by the hand and said, "Let him go, Granny. Forgive him for Christ's sake."

"I'll pay him out, so that he won't forget it for a year! I'll take the rascal to the police!"

Martin began entreating the old woman.

"Let him go, Granny. He won't do it again. Let him go for Christ's sake!"

The old woman let go, and the boy wished to run away, but Martin stopped him.

"Ask the Granny's forgiveness!" said he. "And don't do it another time. I saw you take the apple."

The boy began to cry and to beg pardon.

"That's right. And now here's an apple for you," and Martin took an apple from the basket and gave it to the boy, saying, "I will pay you, Granny."

"You will spoil them that way, the young rascals," said the old woman. "He ought to be whipped so that he should remember it for a week."

"Oh, Granny, Granny," said Martin, "that's our way ? but it's not God's way. If he should be whipped for stealing an apple, what should be done to us for our sins?"

The old woman was silent.

And Martin told her the parable of the lord who forgave his servant a large debt, and how the servant went out and seized his debtor by the throat. The old woman listened to it all, and the boy, too, stood by and listened.

"God bids us forgive," said Martin, "or else we shall not be forgiven. Forgive every one; and a thoughtless youngster most of all."

The old woman wagged her head and sighed.

"It's true enough," said she, "but they are getting terribly spoilt."

"Then we old ones must show them better ways," Martin replied.

"That's just what I say," said the old woman. "I have had seven of them myself, and only one daughter is left." And the old woman began to tell how and where she was living with her daughter, and how many grandchildren she had. "There now," she said, "I have but little strength left, yet I work hard for the sake of my grandchildren; and nice children they are, too. No one comes out to meet me but the children. Little Annie, now, won't leave me for any one. ?It's grandmother, dear grandmother, darling grandmother.'" And the old woman completely softened at the thought.

"Of course, it was only his childishness, God help him," said she, referring to the boy.

As the old woman was about to hoist her sack on her back, the lad sprang forward to her, saying, "Let me carry it for you, Granny. I'm going that way."

The old woman nodded her head, and put the sack on the boy's back, and they went down the street together, the old woman quite forgetting to ask Martin to pay for the apple. Martin stood and watched them as they went along talking to each other.

When they were out of sight Martin went back to the house. Having found his spectacles unbroken on the steps, he picked up his awl and sat down again to work. He worked a little, but could soon not see to pass the bristle through the holes in the leather; and presently he noticed the lamplighter passing on his way to light the street lamps.

"Seems it's time to light up," thought he. So he trimmed his lamp, hung it up, and sat down again to work. He finished off one boot and, turning it about, examined it. It was all right. Then he gathered his tools together, swept up the cuttings, put away the bristles and the thread and the awls, and, taking down the lamp, placed it on the table. Then he took the Gospels from the shelf. He meant to open them at the place he had marked the day before with a bit of morocco, but the book opened at another place. As Martin opened it, his yesterday's dream came back to his mind, and no sooner had he thought of it than he seemed to hear footsteps, as though some one were moving behind him. Martin turned round, and it seemed to him as if people were standing in the dark corner, but he could not make out who they were. And a voice whispered in his ear: "Martin, Martin, don't you know me?"

"Who is it?" muttered Martin.

"It is I," said the voice. And out of the dark corner stepped Stepánitch, who smiled and vanishing like a cloud was seen no more.

"It is I," said the voice again. And out of the darkness stepped the woman with the baby in her arms and the woman smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished.

"It is I," said the voice once more. And the old woman and the boy with the apple stepped out and both smiled, and then they too vanished.

And Martin's soul grew glad. He crossed himself put on his spectacles, and began reading the Gospel just where it had opened; and at the top of the page he read

"I was a hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in."

And at the bottom of the page he read:

"Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren even these least, ye did it unto me." And Martin understood that his dream had come true; and that the Savior had really come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I Googled a list of some of the more venerable contents of my fridge and cupboards yesterday, and by said engine's wondrous serendipity came upon prawn chowder with mashed potato. Very good it was too, with the broken bacon in the role played by salt pork in an old-school chowder, and the mashed spuds enhancing the texture.

I'm possibly not the trencherman I imagine however, as I had to buy a new belt on the very same day; all my others being too big. Taking the long view, and ignoring the snakes and ladders along the way, I've been getting more svelte at the rate of about an ounce a week for several years, and it gradually adds up.

In other food news:
Two Germans needed hospital treatment after they fought a pitched battle in a supermarket with salamis used as clubs and a chunk of Parmesan cheese brandished like a dagger.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009


My 3 month yoga pass expired on Sunday, but I ponied up for another 30 days this morning.

I've been 45 times to date.

As an early news year's resolution for 2010, I am aiming to investigate the primordial (or mystical) union of wisdom and compassion with five tantric consorts.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The monstrance regiment

I went to the V&A yesterday, and I was overwhelmed by the Sacred Silver and Stained Glass in Room 83 and Room 84.

Then - by way of a contrast - we watched Liverpool versus Arsenal in the boozer, and were gratified to see the Gunners come away from Anfield with three points.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The BBC History of Christianity

Three hundred years ago some human children began to be born as vampires. These have enhanced hearing, sight, agility, stamina and reflexes. In this universe vampires are considered a more perfect version of humans; i.e. closer to God. They have taken over the Catholic Church (the only variant of religion seen in this film, possibly the only one existing), and are called Brothers. They wear unadorned long black coats, and look very monseignor-ish. The Brothers state that they exist only to serve humans; to protect and guide them. Brothers live much longer than humans; the oldest are 300 years old and none have died yet. Vampires are removed from their mothers at birth, indoctrinated into the Brotherhood, and raised to believe they are superior to humans.

Human churchgoers donate blood for the Brothers to drink (one character states his mother gives blood three times a month at church, and in one scene we also see an elegant woman at a swanky party donating blood into a large collecting vessel with a tap at the bottom, from which Brothers are served in elaborate chased goblets). Brothers never drink blood straight from the human body.

Churchgoers wear rosaries; however not all humans are churchgoers. At some more infrequent church ceremonies humans also drink the Brothers' blood, and this gives them visions (some may experience prescience). The liturgy of the church states that mingling the blood of the two races makes one titular Perfect Creature.

Prodnose: Shurely shome mishtake? Ed.

Myslef: Oops, sorry. I keep on thinking it's Thursday.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

That's a jazz haircut

Jazzman Larry Ochs has seen many things during 40 years playing his
saxophone around the world but, until this week, nobody had ever called the
police on him.

That changed on Monday night however, when's Spain's pistol-carrying Civil Guard police force descended on the Sigüenza Jazz festival to investigate allegations that Ochs's music was not, well, jazz.

Police decided to investigate after an angry jazz buff complained that the Larry Ochs Sax and Drumming Core group was on the wrong side of a line dividing jazz from contemporary music.

The jazz purist claimed his doctor had warned it was "psychologically inadvisable" for him to listen to anything that could be mistaken for mere contemporary music.

According to a report in El País newspaper yesterday, the khaki-clad police officers listened to the saxophone-playing and drumming coming from the festival stage before agreeing that the purist might, indeed, have a case.

His complaint against the organisers, who refused to return his money, was duly registered and will be passed on to a judge.


Friday, December 11, 2009

The Greatest Show

This post from Babylon Wales is so great that I am simply and shamelessly lifting it entire.

Charlton Heston's trip to Cardiff in 1952 has been well documented. He and his actress wife, Lydia Clarke, arrived from London in heavy fog and stayed at the Angel Hotel. Their less than thrilling itinerary included a visit to the Brocklehurst Yarns nylon factory in Llanishen; and a personal appearance at Phillips Furniture store on Queen Street, where they handed out autographed photos. They also found time to visit South Wales Caravan Distributors in Ely (see advert), which must surely have been the highlight of their Welsh tour. In the evening they attended a premiere of Heston's latest flick at the Capitol Theatre - The Greatest Show on Earth.

Ben Hur in Culverhouse Cross. Who'd've thunk it?

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

no one was close, no one was distant

Labour's ''Twitter tsar'' was deluged with daft questions from users of the micro-blogging site after comedian Ross Noble launched a ''Twitterbombard''

Noble urged his 30,000 Twitter ''followers'' to send crazy queries to Kerry McCarthy's site to see how the MP who fronts Labour's new media campaigning would respond.

And the comedian was forced to say ''fair play'' after the Bristol East MP – who has been named as the most influential parliamentarian on Twitter and has almost 4,300 followers of her own – announced she would try to reply to as many of the tweets as possible.

Asked if she would wear a gorilla suit to Parliament, she replied: ''I don't think
it's expressly forbidden, I could give it a try?''

When a fellow vegan asked her to recommend a cheese substitute, she said: ''I prefer Cheezley though Sheese sometimes has its uses and the soft Scheese is good.''

And challenged to start a Mexican wave in the Commons chamber, she joked: ''We do it on the Labour benches when Nick Clegg is speaking. You just don't see it

Hats off to KerryMP, friendly and funny is good PR, and yet .......
We're all on a first-name basis, and when we vote for president, we ask ourselves whom we'd rather have a beer with. As the anthropologist Robert Brain has put it, we're friends with everyone now.

Is that necessarily a good thing my friends?

One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song

Now there's a word that I don't understand
I hear it every day from my old man
It may be Cockney rhyming slang
It ain't in no school book
He says it every time that he gets mad
A regular caution is my old dad
Rub the old man up the wrong way, bet your life you'll hear him say

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang

When the kids are swinging on the gate
When the paperboy's half an hour late
When the pigeons are pecking at his seed
When the farmer (?) starts digging up his weeds (?)

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang
Bar stool preaching
That's the old man's game!

Now the old man was a Desert Rat
Khaki shorts and a khaki hat
How me mother could have fancied that
I just don't know
But when the enemy came in sight
They gave up without a fight
They rubbed him up the wrong way
This is what they heard him say

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang

When me rock and roll records wake him up
When the Poles knock England out of the cup
When the kids are banging on his door
When the barman won't serve him any more

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang
Bar stool preaching
He's always been the same!

(piano solo)

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang

When the dog's left a message on the step
Lester Piggott, when he lost it by a neck
When me brother kicks the toes out of his shoes
When the houseflies are flying round his food

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang
Bar stool preaching
He's always been the same!


When me mother says he can't go down the pub
Sister's boyfriend put his sister up the club
When the tomcats, when they're kicking up a din
Tottenham Hotspur couldn't get one in
When me mother locks him out of the flat
When it's raining and he can't find his hat
In the mornings when his motorcar won't go
Next-door neighbour, when he won't give him a tow

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Look inside

There was once a small boy who banged a drum all day and loved every moment of it. He would not be quiet, no matter what anyone else said or did. Various people who called themselves Sufis, and other well-wishers, were called in by neighbors and asked to do something about the child.

The first so-called Sufi told the boy that he would, if he continued to make so much noise, perforate his eardrums; this reasoning was too advanced for the child, who was neither a scientist nor a scholar.

The second told him that drum beating was a sacred activity and should be carried out only on special occasions.

The third offered the neighbors plugs for their ears; the fourth gave the boy a book; the fifth gave the neighbors books that described a method of controlling anger through biofeedback; the sixth gave the boy meditation exercises to make him placid and explained that all reality was imagination. Like all placebos, each of these remedies worked for a short while, but none worked for very long.

Eventually, a real Sufi came along. He looked at the situation, handed the boy a hammer and chisel, and said, "I wonder what is INSIDE the drum?"

Monday, December 07, 2009

Madness! This is water

No rugby for the Bomber this weekend as the pitches were all waterlogged .... again.

What with the wettest November on record, the boys have hardly got a runout since his debut at the end of October.

Extrapolating this trend around the UK and back over the years, I can't help but wonder how much the miserable weather contributes to the poor performance of British sides against the Southern hemisphere teams.

It's difficult to maintain enthusiasm for the sport with kids if they don't get a chance to play. Perhaps Sport England should invest in drainage?

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Barbarians 25-18 New Zealand

A hat-trick of tries by Springbok Bryan Habana inspired the Barbarians to only their second-ever win over New Zealand.

And - whisper it - not an English, Irish or Scottish player in the Ba-bas.

Barbarians: Drew Mitchell (Australia); Joe Rokocoko (New Zealand), Jaque Fourie (South Africa), Jamie Roberts (Wales), Bryan Habana (South Africa); Matt Giteau (Australia), Fourie du Preez (South Africa); Salvatore Perugini (Italy), Bismarck du Plessis (South Africa), W P Nel (uncapped), Carlo del Fava (Italy), Victor Matfield (South Africa, captain), Rocky Elsom (Australia), Schalk Burger (South Africa), George Smith (Australia).

Replacements: Stephen Moore (Australia), Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa), Quintin Geldenhuys (Italy), Andy Powell (Wales), Will Genia (Australia), Morne Steyn (South Africa), Leigh Halfpenny (Wales).

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Nietzsche's pants

Excerpts from a letter from 24-year old Friedrich Nietzsche, reporting on the farcical preliminaries of his first meeting with German composer and icon Richard Wagner.

Thinking that many people were invited, I decided to dress very smartly, and was glad that my tailor had promised for this same Sunday an evening suit. It was a terrible day of rain and snow; I shuddered at the thought of going out…

It was getting dark, the tailor had not come, and Roscher left. I went with him, visited the tailor in person, and found his slaves hectically occupied with my suit; they promised to send it in three-quarters of an hour. I left contentedly, dropping in at Kintschy’s [café-restaurant], read Kladderadatsch [humor magazine], and found to my pleasure the notice that Wagner was in Switzerland but that a beautiful house was being built for him in Munich; all the time I knew that I would see him that same evening and that he had yesterday received a letter from the little king [Ludwig II of Bavaria, Wagner’s patron] bearing the address: To the great German composer Richard Wagner.

At home I found no tailor, read in a leisurely way …, and was disturbed now and then by a loud but distant ringing. Finally I grew certain that someone was waiting at the patriarchal wrought-iron gate; it was locked, and so was the front door of the house. I shouted across the garden to the man and told him to come into the Naundörfchen: it was impossible to make oneself understood through the rain. The whole house was astir; finally the gate was opened, and a little old man with a package came up to my room. It was six-thirty, time to put on my things and get myself ready, for I live very far out.

Right, the man has my things, I try them on, they fit. An ominous moment; he presents the bill. I take it politely; he wants to be paid on receipt of the goods. I am amazed, and explain that I will not deal with him, an employee of my tailor, but only with the tailor himself, to whom I gave the order.

The man becomes more pressing, the time becomes more pressing; I seize the things and begin to put them on; the man seizes the things, and stops me from putting them on- force on my side, force on his side. Scene: I am fighting in my shirttails, for I am trying to put on my new trousers.

Finally, a show of dignity, solemn threat, cursing my tailor and his assistant, swearing revenge; meanwhile the little man is moving off with my things. End of second act: I brood on the sofa in my shirttails and consider a black jacket, whether it is good enough for Richard.

Outside the rain is pouring down.

Friday, December 04, 2009

A name, a wretched picture, and worse bust

What is the end of fame? 'tis but to fill
A certain portion of uncertain paper:
Some liken it to climbing up a hill,
Whose summit, like all hills, is lost in vapour;
For this men write, speak, preach, and heroes kill
And bards burn what they call their 'midnight taper,'
To have, when the original is dust,
A name, a wretched picture, and worse bust.
Verse CCXVIII from Canto 1 of Byron's Don Juan - and especially the last line - is curiously apposite don't you think?

Thursday, December 03, 2009

Dr Strabismus does Dallas

All men watch porn, scientists find

Scientists at the University of Montreal launched a search for men who had never looked at pornography - but couldn't find any.

Researchers were conducting a study comparing the views of men in their 20s who had never been exposed to pornography with regular users.

But their project stumbled at the first hurdle when they failed to find a single man who had not been seen it.

“We started our research seeking men in their 20s who had never consumed pornography,” said Professor Simon Louis Lajeunesse. “We couldn't find any.”

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Any way the wind blows

No over-the-top sexual posturing, no singer-on-the-verge-of-tears and no clumsy falls - just a fake bear, singing chickens and a vocal solo from one Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

That's not to say this is all silly. There's some old-fashioned pyro, and things threaten to get violent with a cleaver-wielding Swedish Chef.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

I want to go Wii

I installed the new IPlayer Channel on the Wii last night. It is not as easy to search as the PC version but overall I am very impressed.

For what it is worth, I watched Roger Scruton's "Why Beauty Matters" because I am a grumpy old person.
In the 20th century, Scruton argues, art, architecture and music turned their backs on beauty, making a cult of ugliness and leading us into a spiritual desert.