Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Canons to the Left....
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steepholm
To be a one-hit wonder: first, catch your hit. Alternatively wince along with John Finnemore's sketch, starting at 4.58. With a "musical" reprise at 23.46...

And, while I'm linking, RIP Clare Hollingworth.
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Gingers and Souls
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steepholm
So, in my dream I was reading a free newspaper, which reported that Ollie Murs had been killed in a freak accident, in which a deer had somehow got into a party he was attending and kicked him in the head at a spot where his skull was of unusual thinness. It was an accident waiting to happen, apparently.

How do these things find their way into print, even in dreams? I've barely heard of Ollie Murs - I don't think his name has ever passed my lips, and I certainly couldn't have told you his hair colour - yet there he was in my dream newspaper, his red hair caked with blood. I can only imagine that a hazy memory of Princess Beatrice stabbing Ed Sheeran in the face with a sword while pretending to knight James Blunt must have been at the back of it.

Not content with that, my subconscious (which clearly still had some copy to fill) added that by bizarre coincidence it was forty years to the day since rock drummer Ginger Baker was strangled in bed by an octopus that had escaped from a nearby aquarium. There was even a helpful inset picture of an octopus, so that I'd know what one looked like. Cheers for that - and for the five minutes of anxious Googling I spent on waking, checking up on the health of Mr Murs.

Dodderings
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steepholm
I went to the bank to sort out some business for my mother today, and the man there needed to ring her to check some information. "It takes her a while to get to the phone these days," I said, "so it'll probably go to voicemail while she's mid-dodder. If it does, ring her again in a minute."

It happened just as I'd said. Later, my mother asked: "Did you really say 'mid-dodder'?" She pretended to be offended, but was actually laughing. She added that the secret to staying safe in the house at an advanced age was: "Do everything at a pace that makes snails sneer."

I hope I'm a phrase-maker when I'm 92.

Home and Away
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steepholm
I'm rather stupid. It only just occurred to me that for many of my friends here the move of LJ's servers to Russia is also the move of LJ's servers out of their own country. The latter aspect could be quite as unsettling as the former, I imagine. Whereas for those of use who have always written our home thoughts from abroad it is, from that point of view, business as usual.

Of course I don't trust Putin's government, but nor do I Trump's. In terms of LGBTQI issues, for example, I'm not keen on either trawling my locked posts (no nor Mark Zuckerberg neither, though by your smiling you seem to say so). Although, to be honest, they'd probably be bored to death if they did.

Question for Lit. Crit. types, especially on the Theory Side of Things...
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steepholm
Does anyone today use Barthes' five 'codes' (hermeneutic, proairetic, semantic, symbolic and cultural) except in the context of teaching Barthes' ideas?

I mean, I see (for example) Bakhtin's concepts and terminology being used all the time, but I can't remember the last time I saw an essay that drew on those codes because the writer thought they were the most helpful way of understanding a text. But perhaps I'm just living in a non-Barthesian bubble?
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Facebook Nostalgia Post
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steepholm
Remember Facebook? I don’t suppose anyone else gives it a thought, now everyone’s gone over to Livejournal, but for me and my generation it was a godsend. Knowing that all my embarrassing rants would disappear into grateful oblivion with a matter of days, that I would never be able to link to any of my posts, that there was virtually no nesting structure for comment threads and that the site was constantly reformatting in attempts to hoover up personal data and maximise advertising revenue... That lack of functionality was just what I needed to get me out of the house.

We shall not see its like again!


(Oh, and Happy New Year, everyone!)
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Message from a Hologram
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steepholm
That was a bit strange. I just watched the 8 Out of 10 Cats Christmas special, which I'd recorded on the 21st. To my surprise, one of the panellists was Carrie Fisher - talking about her plans for Christmas, among other things...

The most unfortunate line was from Aisling Bea: in answer to the question, "Which is more exciting, waking up on Christmas morning or going to the new Star Wars film?", she remarked, "What's the alternative to waking up on Christmas morning?"

I don't see this episode getting a repeat any time soon.

Solstice Orange
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steepholm
British Winter Solstice tradition: pop over to Stonehenge (round about now) to watch the sun rise over the heel stone. Except that it's drizzling there at the moment...

Japanese Winter Solstice tradition: take a hot bath with a few dozen aromatic yuzu and some friends.

Which to do, which to do?

Stonehenge is only an hour away by car, but I feel strangely drawn to the yuzu option. Except that I can't buy yuzu in this country! Would satsumas do at a pinch?

(In Satsuma, by the way, they don't call satsumas satsumas, they call them mikan. My friend Chiho was surprised to hear that the region had somehow become the name of a fruit in English. I, conversely, had to stop myself from laughing every time she mentioned "the Satsuma wars" or "the lords of Satsuma".)

I was so enamoured of yuzu when in Japan that, wandering around the streets of Kyoto (as I think I mentioned here at the time) I made a little rhyme to express my love, in the style of Cole Porter:

There's a fruit called the yuzu I eat all the time;
It's bitter, but better than lemon or lime.
If you too like yuzu, feel free to share mine!
Won't you do the yuzu with me?

Now it occurs to me that, many years before, I had also improvised a paean to the humble satsuma - to be sung to the tune of "We'll have a Dalmatian plantation":

I am a satsuma consumer,
Consuming satsumas all day -
It's not just a rumour,
Consuming satsumas
Has chased my blues away.

But - oh no! I don't have any satsumas either!

Oh well, Radox it will have to be... And happy sun-returning.

Though your eyes see shipwrecked sailors you're still dry
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steepholm
Christine Lagarde must be delighted that Donald Trump was elected President. Perhaps only in the era of moral topsy-turvydom for which he has now become the figurehead (having been elected partly on the platform that he is a braggart and a liar) could being convicted of a criminal offence be spun quite so brazenly as if it were an acquittal. From the BBC report, for example:

"There's a point in time when one has to just stop, turn the page and move on and continue to work with those who have put their trust in me."

The French government also confirmed its confidence in Ms Lagarde, who was reappointed to a five-year term at the IMF in February.

On Friday, she told the trial she had always acted in good faith and the suspicion she had lived under for the past five years had been an "ordeal".


Reading this out of context, I think anyone would assume that Lagarde had finally proved her innocence after a long trial, rather than being found guilty of criminal negligence in her duties as a Finance Minister. If that doesn't disqualify you for being head of the IMF, what does?

But of course there are other things to concern, distress and distract us. A terrorist attack in a Christmas market. The total balls-up that is the current British Government both at home and abroad. Trump's latest appointment of David Friedman as ambassador to Israel. And Aleppo - already fading from the news after, what? Two days?

Recently I've had an old Genesis song running through my head...

Let's skip the news boy (I'll go and make some tea)
Arabs and Jews boy (too much for me)
They get me confused boy (puts me off to sleep)
And the thing I hate, oh Lord!
Is staying up late, to watch some debate, on some nation's fate.


But of course, that's just how we're meant to react.

Christ's Tomb in Japan
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steepholm
Chris Broad is one of my favourite J-Vloggers, but in this Christmas special he has excelled himself. If you've ever wondered why I'm hooked on Japan, watch - and wonder no more.



For more information on the village where Jesus spent the last 70 years or so of his long life as a garlic farmer, see this article, linked from the video, which also has compelling evidence for the story in the form of Hebrew survivals in the local dialect. (Okay, Jesus spoke Aramaic, but let's not split hairs.) Oddly, the place has been visited by the ambassador of Israel; but from the Pope? Not a dicky bird.

Also: why isn't Shingou twinned with Glastonbury?

Strange Worlds
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steepholm
My friend Marie was kind enough to invite me and a plus-one to the preview of the Strange Worlds exhibition on Angela Carter which she's curated at the RWA, so last night I went along with my other friend (I do have more than two friends, I hasten to disambiguate), Htay. It's a truly fabulous exhibition, and I highly recommend it if you have more than a passing interest in that old Bristolian, or in unsettling art generally. I saw quite a few of my old colleagues and students too, which was nice.

While I was there, I was buttonholed by a researcher doing a survey on reactions to the exhibition, which I happily gave. At the end there was the usual information about age, race, etc., for their equality stats, and as usual under "gender" they had "Male", "Female" and "Transgender" as three separate and mutually exclusive options - language which mirrors the Equality Act (2010), which habitually refers to "men, women and transgender people" as if there were no possible intersection between these categories.

This is annoying in several related ways. First, it forces trans people to choose whether to erase their gender or the fact that they are trans. Given that choice, I imagine that most (like me) answer according to their gender; but if they want the information for some legitimate statistical reason, the information on the number of trans people will inevitably be rendered inaccurate in consequence. At an art exhibition this is probably of no great moment; but in other contexts it could be used as an excuse for not providing services for trans people because we're too few in number.

But also, it's just such a clunking category error: a bit like saying, "Which is your favourite kind of car? Fiats, BMWs or blue ones?" Trans is not a gender, after all, but a fact about the relation of one's gender to one's body. Logically, they should have boxes marked "trans" and "cis" if they want to collect that information - but that of course would be horribly oppressive to cis people...

Your Name, and Other Stories
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steepholm
Well, I really enjoyed Makoto Shinkai's Your Name (Kimi no na ha) - the anime film that's taken Japan by storm this summer. I watched it at the local multiplex, but I think it's got a limited release more generally, and I highly recommend it as a film that is a) beautiful, b) funny, c) clever, d) touching. There's no doubt it deserves all its plaudits. Some of the scenes were stunning; there was a great running gag about breast-fondling; and I don't think I'll easily forget how to make sake from rice and spit.

And yet... I don't know, I was expecting to be more moved by it. Perhaps my expectations were too high (I'd been excited for weeks); perhaps the bottle of Wiper and True IPA I took into the cinema had its effect; perhaps I was in the wrong mood, although I don't think so. I cry easily at films, and at much worse ones than this, but Your Name left my ducts untapped despite having just the sort of plot that should have had me bawling. I've been thinking about it since with pleasure, but largely intellectual pleasure, mixed with a slight sense of irritation. I wonder why?

The feeling is rather reminiscent of the one I tend to get from the novels of Neil Gaiman. When reading, say, Coraline or The Ocean at the End of the Lane or The Graveyard Book I feel, here is someone who is thoroughly steeped in fantasy convention, has all the tools well within his command, and knows exactly how to use them. A craftsman, in fact, and a good one - but still, there's something missing that makes my admiration fall short of love. When I read Gaiman, I involuntarily switch into a mode somewhere between writer and critic (rather than reader), noticing his techniques, his devices, his references, and quite unable to keep my head below water. I like his work, but can't bring myself to love it; many worse writers engage me more.

Probably the fault is in myself rather than these stars, but if I were to turn this into a kind of back-handed compliment, I'd say that Gaiman (at least in the books I've read) has stayed too far within his own safety zone, doing the things he knows he can do well. Because he can do many things well, his safety zone is very large - so large, in fact, that it's in danger of turning into a pocket universe from which he can't escape.

But escape he must.

Four Cities and a Market Town
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steepholm
Well gosh, it seems like days (because it is) since I went to Hyperjapan in London's glamorous Tobacco Dock. I was there last year, of course, and my return visit was strangely similar, with many of the same stalls in the same places - but stepping into the same river twice is no hardship if it's a pretty river. The highlight was perhaps my private photograph with Domo, the NHK mascot:

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But I was also struck by this Teddy Bear, who was having difficulty getting into the role:

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And by this texting angel:

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Given that my father was an art teacher, it's sad that I've never had any facility that way - but this was brought home afresh when I paid £5 for a chance to be a have-a-go hero with a calligraphy brush. I realised belatedly that being left handed was actually a grave disadvantage when it comes to drawing Chinese characters, which demand a certain stroke order drawn in a certain direction (usually left to right). Why I hadn't thought of this over the years of using a biro for the purpose I don't know, but it was only when I got a brush in my hand that I knew how much of a disadvantage my hidarikiki-ness would be. But I can't blame that alone. I also have a very bad visual memory, so that (for instance) my attempt to remember the kanji for "dream" turned into a bit of nightmare - not only infantile in execution but also missing two crucial strokes:

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Plus, I'm just very bad at drawing. They were nice enough to give me a version of my name, though - with the same "Fruit Poetry" kanji I have on my hanko:

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On Monday I was visited by kalimac, with whom I toured Bristol (especially the bookshops, but also of course the Suspension Bridge), and whom I accompanied to Oxford on Tuesday evening for the launch of Dimitra Fimi and Andrew Higgin's edition of Tolkien's essay on invented languages, A Secret Vice

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kalimac at the Clifton Suspension Bridge

I had to leave Oxford early because (like every week) my alarm was set for 5.45am on Wednesday morning, necessary if I'm to get to Cardiff in time for my first lecture - and it was the same story on Thursday. On Friday I went to Romsey to visit my mother, and returned yesterday. So, this is the first day I've had free to write about any of it, and now I'm too tired to make a good fist of it - but for the record, that was my week!

Ears. Blown.
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steepholm
Oh my! I only just realised, serendipitously, that the voice actress who plays Kaname Madoka in Puella Magi Madoka Magica is the same person who plays the vampire queen Mina Tepes in 2010's Dance in the Vampire Bund - which I reviewed rather lavishly here.

DITVB, and Mina in particular, made a huge impression on me when I watched it, despite being (by any objective measure) a flawed piece of work as a whole. I'd known it was a Shaft production and that Shinbou was director, but hadn't thought to check the cast list. I wonder if that voice in any way imprinted itself on me so that I subliminally recognised it in Madoka's, despite the huge difference in the two roles?

Obviously I'm going to have to rewatch DITVB as soon as conveniently possible...

I'm Proud It's Monday
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steepholm
It's often intrigued - and, to an extent, bothered - me, the way people use the words "humble" and "proud" in what seems on the face of it to be an arse-about-face kind of way. Say, you've saved someone from drowning and are receiving a bravery award. More than likely, your acceptance speech will refer to the fact that it's a very humbling experience. The same goes for Oscars, and indeed most occasions when it might seem that, because you're having your personal achievements recognised, pride might be a more likely emotion.

Well, perhaps that's not so very mysterious. An expression of humility might just bespeak the person's desire to be seen as modest. Perhaps they feel they didn't really deserve the award - like when I won the fancy dress competition at my primary school and cried, because I thought it wasn't actually the best costume. I wonder how often that happens to grown-ups?

Conversely, people often say "I'm proud to be X", where X is a nationality or some other thing for which they can claim no credit at all, being merely a card dealt them in the lottery of life. While they might reasonably feel pleased or lucky to be born in X, or to have famous ancestor Y, where do they get off feeling "proud" of it? No one says, "I feel proud to have won the lottery": if they did, they would be laughed at. What's the difference?

I suppose it's that people's sense of self is partly social, and that you can feel pride in achievements of the wider group of which you are a part, even though you personally may have contributed nothing towards them - an attitude memorably mocked in this sketch. Similarly, you may feel shame in the actions of your wider group should you disapprove of them, despite personally having taken no part in them and even fought to prevent them. Hence the sight of Americans apologising on social media for the election of a man they never voted for.

On the one hand, the communitarian bonds this speaks of are admirable - but this way of thinking can obviously lead to injustice and prejudice of the "tarring with the same brush" variety.

It also explains the ease with which politicians and commentators are able to amalgamate populations with a wide variety of views and speak without qualification as if they were all of one mind. Thus Theresa May is able to talk about leaving the EU as "the will of the British people" and Nicola Sturgeon is able to say that "Scotland voted to remain", as if the millions who voted the other way were of no account - or rather, did not even exist. The fiction that "the British people" or "Scotland" are entities capable of will and decision-making, rather than groups of individuals whose individual decisions are triaged by an electoral formula, clearly has a powerful political function. You will never hear May say, for example, "Most British people voted to leave", let alone "Most British people who voted, voted to leave", still less "Most British people who had a vote and who also voted, voted to leave" - any of which would represent the case more accurately. The fiction of "the people" and its "will" legitimates the extremity of their actions. But without it, perhaps there would be no action at all?

Have With You to Saffron Walden
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steepholm
How would it have joyed brave Talbot, the terror of the French, to think that after he had lain two hundred years in his tomb, he should triumph again on the stage, and have his bones new embalmed with the tears of ten thousand spectators at least (at several times) who in the tragedian that represents his person imagine they behold him fresh bleeding.


Thus Thomas Nashe in Pierce Penniless (1592), a passage familiar to many because it appears to refer to 1 Henry VI, and thus constitutes one of the earliest contemporary references to Shakespeare's work. I came across it again recently in that excellent book, Comeuppance, and was suddenly struck by Nashe's dodgy arithmetic. In 1592 John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury, had been in his grave not for 200 years, nor even for 150, but for just 139. Of course it suits Nashe's rhetorical point to stretch it a bit, but still - could one get away today with saying that Henry Fox Talbot (who died exactly 139 years ago, in 1877) had been in his grave for two hundred years? ("How would it have joyed him to see so many people taking photos!") I don't think so. So, why one Talbot and not the other? Does it say something about a change in education or in historical sensibility, or just about Nashe's style as a controversialist?

While I'm on Nashe, I recently wrote a piece in which I cited without too much qualification the standard line that the historical novel began with Walter Scott's Waverley. But even as I wrote it, I was bothered by the counterexample of The Unfortunate Traveller, which is set during the reign of Henry VIII and has a fictional protagonist, Jack Wilton, who (like Edward Waverley) rubs shoulders with historical figures, notably the Earl of Surrey. Why isn't that hailed as "the first historical novel"? I find it hard to come up with a line of argument that doesn't smack of special pleading.

Trump and Brexit
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steepholm
My friend Dru's FB post appears to have gone viral, to the extent that she's now had it made into a T-shirt. In case you want one, here's the link.

She's just the kind of person Trump would probably hate to think of as benefiting from his election, so it's in a good cause.

Hannibal ad Portas - or, Donald Trump and Dual Address
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steepholm
I realise this isn't the most significant aspect of today's events, but while there's been a lot of ink spilled on Donald Trump's style of speechifying, it was only today that I noticed how consistently he glosses his own words. He says something in relatively normal political language, and then he adds a demotic equivalent, often in a different tone of voice, as if interpreting himself to a slightly hard-of-hearing companion.

Thank you very much. Sorry to keep you waiting. Complicated business. [Complicated]

Thank you very much. I've just received a call from Secretary Clinton. She congratulated us [it's about us]

on our victory, and I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign. [I mean she fought very hard.]

Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country. I mean that very sincerely. Now it's time for America to bind the wounds of decision. [We have to get together.]


Well, now I've noticed it I dare say I'll carry on noticing for the next four years.

Kings, Bishops and Lords
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steepholm
I went to Bishop Road Primary School for the fireworks last night. In light of last week's "Enemies of the People" headlines about the judges (don't they teach them Ibsen in schools these days?), I'm inclined to hum:

When reason is treason
And fingers are freezin’
A dose of nostalgia
Is awfully pleasin’.

Bishop Road Primary, as I've probably mentioned here before, is probably the only school in the world to have had both a future Nobel Physicist and a future Hollywood Oscar winner in attendance at the same time. (One was the son of an immigrant, the other became an immigrant himself.) That was over a century ago, but they still do a mean infant samba (you have to click on the picture to see it):

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And so to the main event. It's not Lewes, but given their burning crosses, etc., that's no bad thing:

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May we all escape being hanged, drawn and quartered for another year, is my heartfelt blessing.

"But I don’t want to go among mad people."
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steepholm
The Museum of the Mind in Fishponds, on the site of the old Glenside Lunatic Asylum, is only open on Wednesday and Saturday mornings. I've been meaning to go for a while, but today I finally got my act together.

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