Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Before Facebook, there was the Bible Book
I put a few pictures from my great-great-aunt Fanny Jane Butler's Bible book up here some years ago, but they were very blurry. Now I have a slightly more reliable camera (albeit still low quality) I'm putting up a few more. The catalyst for this is someone's writing about Fanny on-line in her capacity as a medical missionary and one of the first (if not the first) qualified female doctors to work in India - where she died, aged 39, having founded a hospital that survives to this day. I keep meaning to blog the little book that her niece Emma Tonge wrote about her, but that will have to wait a bit longer.

These are just a fraction of the total, but they give a flavour. Fanny was born in 1850, and it's anyone's guess as to how old she was when she made this scrapbook, but it seems like the production of a child to me, albeit not a young one, so I'm guessing the early 1860s. The colours have lasted very well, to say nothing of the feathers, flowers, leaves, hair, etc. Indeed, the long golden tresses seem almost too good to be true. Was there some other substance than hair that she might have used at that date? Bible ScrapbookCollapse )

First Light
I received my copy of the crowdfunded Alan Garner Festschrift, First Light, yesterday. It's made up of short tributes from a wide range of people. Obviously the figure central to the book is Garner himself (who remains silent), but this being my copy the person central to its reading is me, and it was in that spirit that my eye flicked over the contents page.

Some of the contributors are real-life friends, people I've eaten or drunk with, who have been to my house (or I to theirs): Susan Cooper, Dougald Hine, Ronald Hutton, Katherine Langrish, Neil Philip. (I suppose Helen Dunmore fits into this category, since I did once go to some kind of party at her house, but I was tagging along with someone else, and although we spoke - she was extremely charming - I'd be amazed if she remembers me.)

Some are online friends: David Almond, Amanda Craig, Elizabeth Wein.

Some are members of Garner's family: his daughter Elizabeth and son Joseph.

Some are people whose views or writing are always of interest, at least when they relate to the kind of thing that Garner is about: Robert Macfarlane, Hugh Lupton, Michael Wood, Philip Pullman, Neil Gaiman, Rowan Williams.

Others are writers whom (rightly or wrongly) I would not have particularly associated with Garner: Margaret Atwood, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Stephen Fry, Cornelia Funke, Bel Mooney, Ali Smith.

There's also a bunch of people I've never heard of.

No contribution from Catherine Butler, sadly. I did offer, but by the time I heard about the project that ship had sailed. It's a shame, as I think it's fair to say - no false modesty here - that with the exception of Neil Philip I've been Garner's most important critic. Then again, Garner doesn't much like critics, and Erica Wagner (who put the collection together) is a journalist, not an academic. Still, it's a wonderfully strong cast, all told.

Probably there are too many contributors, in fact. Each gets only a few pages, and I'd rather have had a bit more from the ones with something to say than a phoned-in contribution from Stephen Fry. (Cornelia Funke makes the most of her brief space by offering not an essay or reminiscence but a striking drawing of Garner as Horned Man.) There's a strong family resemblance between many of them: a literary encounter with Garner's writing, typically in childhood, alerts the writer to the land, to language, to the numinous. This is followed by a personal meeting, and a bond that goes beyond but also reinforces the power of the books. It's an effective story, told well - but it's hard to make it fresh when you're the twentieth in line. Still, I'm delighted to have the book. Many of the pieces are excellent, and it has more nuggets than a KFC bucket meal. Essential reading for any Garner fan.

How to Get Money from the Heritage Industry
“We just founded a theatre company – can we have a grant to help us get it off the ground?”
“No way!”

“It’s exactly a hundred years until our theatre company’s first centenary – can we have a grant to mark the occasion?”
“Where do I sign?”

(This is just a little squib I put on Facebook - I'm putting a copy here too so that it doesn't get sucked betimes into oblivion's maw.)

Sunwise and Otherwise
I was very surprised to see that the OED's earliest entry for "clockwise" and "counterclockwise" is as late as 1888, with "anticlockwise" making its appearance a few years later.

I'd looked them up because I was musing on words like "widdershins" and "deasil". These two have always seemed an odd pairing. One's Germanic, the other Gaelic: one refers to the direction of the sun, the other to turning right. Although they are functional opposites, they get to the same (or in this case opposite) result via different workings and from different starting places too. What happened to their "true" opposites - the Germanic word meaning in the same direction as the sun, and the Gaelic word meaning turning left?

Also, neither is very common, and "deasil" in particular is a pretty rare word, so what (I asked myself) did people used to say before "clockwise" and "anticlockwise" came in, which obviously couldn't be before clocks with dials were invented? And, I added, did changing from the sun to a mechanical device as a way of orientating oneself ("orientating" is itself an interesting word in this context) reflect some wider epistemic shift from nature to technology as a source of reliable truth? I was expecting "clockwise" to show up some time around 1680. I couldn't imagine Robert Hooke not using it.

But I was 200 years out, and now I wonder what people were saying in the centuries between. Did they really have no use for the concept? How could you invent the steam engine or mine pumps or mass-produced screws without being to able to convey it - let alone walk round a church in a propitious direction?

(Of course I had to look it up in Japanese, where it turns out that clockwise is 右回り (migimawari - i.e. turning to right) and anti-clockwise is 反時計回り (hantokeimawari - i.e. turning against the clock). In other words, it exactly reproduces the inconsistency to be found in widdershins and deasil.)


Bullshit Diary - 3
Not for the first time, I find myself agreeing with Jeremy Corbyn.

On the one hand...

... I don't like or trust the EU, especially in terms of its lack of democracy and its willingness to negotiate free trade deals involving assymetrical arrangements for US corporations to sue EU governments should they put their citizens' interests ahead of those of said corporations. (And if that's not what's in TTIP, they're doing a very poor job of advertising what is in TTIP.)

On the other hand...

... the Brexiters are a such a motley bunch of capitalist ideologues, racists and chancers that I find it hard to imagine delivering the country into their hands either. Corbyn talked about the consequent "bonfire of workers' rights", but to that we might add the bonfire of environmental and social protections.

As for the economics - I don't know, and I'm not convinced anyone does. On balance, I'm inclined to hold my nose with Corbyn, or abstain for the first time in my life, or perhaps donate my vote to my daughter, who'll be a few weeks short of her majority on 23 June, and is after all likely to be affected by the outcome for longer than I am.

Meanwhile, I have largely stopped logging things under "bullshit arguments" because life is too short, but I was struck by Stephen Kinnock's response to Boris Johnson's pointing out (correctly) that the US would never dream of pooling its sovereignty in the way that membership of the EU entails, to the effect that it already does so by being a member of NATO and the WTO, as if those were in any way comparable. I despise Johnson, but I also don't like having my intelligence insulted by Kinnock. There are far more effective ways he might have answered (for example by pointing out that the USA's size and wealth allow it to do things that the UK never could) than with this childish misdirection.

That was topped today, however, by Angela Eagle, who apparently said:

“There are no countries that trade with the European Union that don’t have to accept free movement, that don’t end up paying virtually the same that we pay into the European budget."

China? Japan? The USA? They have to accept free movement and pay into the EU budget in order to trade with the EU? Please.

So far this debate has sucked harder than a vacuum pump.

Ashley Down Heroes
I got back from my mother's just in time today to attend the unveiling of a blue plaque to the Conscientious Objector Walter Ayles, just round the corner from my house. He was arrested (I think they said) 100 years ago today, for leafleting against conscription. As someone whose own grandfather was jailed as a CO (unlike his brother Guido, who was exempted in March 1916, less than a fortnight after conscription came into force), I had a natural interest - but it was an impressive crowd in any case. There must have been 100 people standing in Station Road, listening to speeches. They included a choir in period dress, but the whole thing felt like a bit of a time warp, of the good kind.

"I do not believe that hate can destroy hate. I believe that hate can only be transformed by love. That is the deepest and most practical religion I know." (Ayles's statement to the tribunal that jailed him.)

Goods and Services
I went to get a couple of keys cut today, and while standing in the key-cutting shop I was struck (not for the first time) by the rather strange assortment of things that such shops do. I may even have posted here about it before, but if so, I'm doing it again.

Keys, shoe repairs, trophies and umbrellas. Why just those things? What do they have in common?

In an underground arcade in Osaka a couple of weeks ago I passed a stall that sold exactly the same things (except the umbrellas) so I feel there must be some inexorable reason behind it beyond the random accumulation of associations in the minds of British shoppers.

Voyage to Japan 2: April 6th-7th
One on a TowerCollapse )

HanamiCollapse )

Last SupperCollapse )

Tadaima - with thorts on conversational JapaneseCollapse )

Voyage to Japan 2: 5th April
Oyster CultCollapse )

Jinja SeerCollapse )

Hail, SeizaCollapse )

Izakaya Okay!Collapse )

Voyage to Japan 2: 3rd-4th April
I had less than a day in Osaka, which was obviously nothing like enough time to do the city justice, so I decided to stick to the area around my hotel, i.e. Shinsaibashi, rather than spend hours on the subway. My tasks were: a) to eat okonomiyaki and possibly takoyaki, and b) the look for souvenirs for my children in the cool part of town.

OkonomiyakiCollapse )

Amerika MuraCollapse )

Neko-chan!Collapse )

Tokyo, ho!Collapse )

Voyage to Japan 2: 2nd April
You'll possibly be pleased to know that I have very little to say about Fushimi Inari Taisha, except that - for someone of my particular sensibilities, at least - it was great. I've always inclined to animism ("When all our fathers worshipped stocks and stones" is a line that makes me nostalgic for the good old days), so it's great to see a whole mountain covered in torii, in shrines large and small, in red-bibbed fox messengers of the divine and real cats (I'm not sure why the last are there, but they are). The whole pilgrimage takes about two hours of walking and climbing, so it's a stretch but not an intimidating prospect, and like all pilgrimages it's an experience partly communal, partly solitary. Rather than talk any more, I'll just give you a few peeks at my own experience, including (because it's food) the tempura udon I had at a way station about halfway up. The amazake I drank when I got to the bottom remains unpictured (it was from a little stall run by a friendly woman off the main track, and I'd have felt self-conscious photographing it) - but it was the perfect way to end the trip.

Ikimashou!Collapse )

Piss Artist of the Floating WorldCollapse )

Voyage to Japan 2: 31st March-1st April
Jingle Bells RollCollapse )

The Light of Common DayCollapse )

Bunka Bunkum - or, when is Appropriation Appropriate?Collapse )

Shopping and SushiCollapse )

Nijo a-Go-GoCollapse )

Voyage to Japan 2: 30 March
DazaifuCollapse )

Owl Cafe!!!Collapse )

Ramen, AmenCollapse )

Words, Toilets and Tech (Hi and Lo)Collapse )

Voyage to Japan 2: 29 March
Ah! if there were no such things as partings in the world! Collapse )

To think that I saw it on Mulberry StreetCollapse )

Japanglish InterludeCollapse )

Ramen!Collapse )

Random Thought of the DayCollapse )

Voyage to Japan 2: 28th March
Food has loomed large indeed in my first few days here. Like annoying people across the globe, I've decided to document my eating experiences by photographing some of my meals. I'll try not to lard every entry with them - possibly I'll have a Food Porn Special at the end of the holiday - but there were some particularly lovely meals in Kagoshima. (I should note, though, that most of the really good pictures below were taken not by me but by Chiho.)

Anyway, that first evening Chiho took me to a restaurant where we ate some pretty fabulous udon noodles, amongst many other lovely things. Since we have a picture, I needn't bore you by describing them:

Cut for innumerable photographs and Food PornCollapse )

Voyage to Japan 2: 26-27 March
I've been in Japan for three days now, so I'm going to start writing up my experiences as and when I have time to spare from actually experiencing them. The rule is that adventures take priority (temporal, logical and moral) over their recounting, so there may be some gaps - but, like last year, I want to get things down as close to the tiime they happened as possible, to counteract issues of memory leakage... I'll probably hop back and forth quite a bit, but that's the way of memory. At least it will be gorgeously illustrated, courtesy of Japan.

Unlike last year, when strong winds almost cost me my connection in Amsterdam (and did cost twenty-four hours without luggage), this time I got out just ahead of the impending storm, at a moment when the bombers and hijackers were on their tea break, and the journey, though long, was pretty uneventful. On the plane from Amsterdam I switched back and forth between The Tale of Genji and the live-action version of Attack on Titan. The first was very enjoyable, in unexpected ways which I would illustrate with a few choice quotes were I not pressed for time and afraid of trying your patience (albeit I reserve the right to try it on a later occasion). The film wasn't a patch on the anime, sadly, which was no doubt not a patch on the manga, such being the general way of things, but it passed a couple of hours in a long flight.

We landed at Kansai airport in Osaka, which was not quite as big as I'd pictured it, and then I transferred by bus to Osaka International, which was really very small indeed, with a friendly, family-run vibe, if such a thing is possible for an airport. A local airport for local people, despite its name - but then, perhaps "international" in the name of an airport is like "democratic" in the name of a country - an indication that it's anything but. Waiting at the gate for the flight to Kagoshima (my first destination), I noticed that I was the only non-Japanese-looking person there, apart from a very distinguished-looking black man, inclined to embonpoint, dressed in a sharp black suit, with a fedora and dark glasses. Whether by coincidence or design we were seated together, and he introduced himself in a courteous Southern manner (he was from Alabama), explaining that he was going to Kagoshima "on business", something that often took him all over Japan from his home in Kobe. He didn't expand on that, and I didn't want to press him, but all kinds of colourful possibilities ran through my head, before I finally settled on the least lurid - i.e. yakuza hitman. He added that he had lived in Japan for so long that he sometimes forgot his English, a thought that has since haunted me when I've momentarily forgotten an English word myself. What if I'm losing my English too? Worse, what if I lose my English before I've learned Japanese? It's a race against time! To be stranded with no language at all is a humiliating prospect for a university lecturer. And all because I had the temerity to attempt to learn a foreign tongue...

Despite our being the only English speakers on board, all the announcements made by the cabin crew were repeated in English, which I'm sure is standard procedure but felt as if it were done especially for our benefit, or rather for mine, my Alabamian companion being fluent. This felt a little embarrassing, somehow, and I reminded myself that I would need to thicken my skin against such moments in the days ahead.

Anyway, we landed at Kagoshima - right in the south of the southernmost of Japan's main islands - and I was met there by my friend Chiho. Chiho's generosity with okashi has been extensively documented in these pages, but she is in any case (which I already knew but was to learn tenfold over the next couple of days) an exceedingly kind and generous person, and just the best fun to be with. She was also extremely tactful in helping me with my Japanese, which I appreciated, while in return I did a little Britpicking of her English - which she wishes to learn in the British variety, having been taught American English at school.

We began just outside the airport by soaking our feet in the wayside foot spa there (towels are provided, 100 Yen each in the honesty box - ah, Japan!). The water of course was toasty warm, having been piped straight from the volcanic springs that pock Kagoshima, and it made a wonderful start to the holiday proper, given that I'd had my shoes on for the previous 24 hours.

Volcanic springs, you ask? Why, yes, there's a volcano to go with them. Its name is Sakurajima, and it sits in the bay puffing smoke all day, reminiscing about the old days, when an eruption really was an eruption...


What could possibly go wrong?

New Year's Eve, Old Style
This week - between the end of teaching and my departure for Japan - was meant to be fantastically productive, but...

It's not that I haven't been working. The time has been taken up with multiple tasks that are legitimately part of my job, but of the kind that tend to get thrown at me unpredictably at short notice, gobbling time as they go. Looking at drafts of student dissertations, editorial work for Children's Literature in Education, admin around the Roald Dahl conference this June: these are all useful, necessary and at times even enjoyable things, but they're not what I'd been meaning to do - which was mostly to get on my talk for this event. I have a plan, and lots of notes, but a block of time to put them all together is still wanting.

Oh well, it's time to put thoughts of that aside and get packed. This year, like last year, I'll be blogging - hopefully with pictures, if I can bend the technology to my will. Also like last year, the forecast is a bit gloomy. I will apparently be accompanied by my personal British microclimate, a bit like a Mario Thunder Cloud, displacing sunshine wherever I go. But forecasts have been known to be wrong, and I hope to be carrying sunshine too, if only the form of my disposition.

Anyway, I leave on Saturday. This is my route, if you're interested, travelling north and east from Kagoshima to Tokyo.


Déjà vu all over again
I remember asking this once here before, but it was in passing in a long and rambling post about something else, so I wasn't surprised that no one answered. Anyway, I'm still wondering what was the very first story (book, film, whatever) that used the device of someone going back in time (probably multiple times) to correct some misdeed, make good some omission, prevent some accident, etc.

The earliest example I can think of is Groundhog Day - but I really find it hard to believe that no enterprising SF writer had tried something similar before 1993. It seems a kind of obvious device - but maybe only in retrospect?

Anime seems particularly rich in examples: off the top of my head, there's Madoka Magica, Steins;Gate, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time and now (which is what put it in my head again) the recent series Erased (aka Boku Dake Ga Nai Machi) - which I'm about halfway through and very much enjoying.

Anyway, I feel sure I'm missing some obvious earlier examples, or simply showing my lamentable ignorance of them. Feel free to put me right!

Greer's Syndrome - One for DSM VI?
This ought to be a proper post, festooned with links, but I'm too lazy to do that; and also, I've not really thought the subject through to the extent that I'd like to present this as some kind of finished position, rather than (what it is) an invitation to others' thoughts. Suffice it to say, I could produce the links if I were arsed - but then, so could Professor Google.

Anyway, I was thinking about the primacy given by some self-described radical feminists to chromosomes when it comes to determining sex. For example, Gia Milinovich defines sex wholly in chromosomal terms, and Germaine Greer (an early adopter) does much the same in The Whole Woman. I was reminded of this habit most recently while listening to Midweek (17:40) the other day, where I heard Libby Purves quote the old feminist slogan "biology is destiny" [shurely some mistake? Ed.] to put actor Ed Zephyr in their place and remind them that "in chromosome terms there are male and there are female and you can't quite get round that".

Zephyr responded by pointing out that there are many variations even on that basis. And that is a good answer, as far as it goes - intersex erasure is a real problem. (For that matter I've never had my chromosomes tested - have you, dear reader?) But it left me wondering why it is that in many people's minds chromosomes trump gender identity; trump socialisation; trump hormones; trump phenotype. Only chromosomes, it seems, really count as "scientific". Is it because the only way to find out someone's chromosomal make-up is by looking down a microscope? How phallocentric!

While we're at it, why must there be one answer, one sure-fire, all-or-nothing test? Doesn't that speak to a far more brittle insecurity, to say nothing of an empathetic and intellectual sclerosis? I think so; and propose the name Greer's Syndrome for the condition, after its most eminent sufferer.


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