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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

Random Thoughts on Recent Events (as promised)
I don't know if anyone here remembers this entry from 2010 about the death of my great-great-grandmother in 1891, but for obvious reasons I've been re-reading it. How different and how similar it seems! Even to the compulsion shared by me and my great-grandfather to record the event.

After my father died in a nursing home, I felt quite guilty. It's true I had young children at the time, and a marriage rapidly going down the pan, and the home was 70 miles away. Also, by the end he was barely aware of who I was. So, I had plenty of excuses not to go more often. (In fact, along with my brother and his partner I'd been to see the him a few hours before it happened.) Even so, the thought of him dying among strangers, bewildered and afraid, haunted (still haunts) me. I was determined to "do it right" with my mother, and I think I can truly say that I did. Project Oyakoukou (親孝行) was a labour of love, but of course it was partly motivated by a desire not to feel bad afterwards. Not that I`m apologising for that. What human endeavour lacks any scintilla of selfishness? There's no need to put a percentage on it.

Two bits of homespun wisdom I've found helpful so far:

From a documentary on the Amish that I saw a few years ago: "You can't stop a bird landing in your tree, but you don't have to let it build a nest."

From Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs: "You can't run away from your own feet."

Driving back to Bristol last Saturday, I was flicking round the dial to escape Gardeners` Question Time, and came across a station playing Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, which I used to play all the time as a student but hadn`t listened to in years. Of course, I was in tears by the end - I think I suspected the end was close even then. Ever since it`s been going round my head, night and day. It`s playing even as I write this.

The next time I drove back was Tuesday, and I felt compelled to go via Stonehenge. Driving through a Bronze Age and Neolithic funereal landscape was oddly comforting. Plenty of others have walked this way before us. However, by the end of the journey my car had fallen ill (the battery was flashing on the dashboard), and so far the garage has failed to diagnose its illness.

Today we got my mother's death certificate from the hospital. Tomorrow, an appointment with the undertaker.

After a Short Illness
My mother died yesterday afternoon, in Southampton General Hospital.

I'm not sure yet what she died of. Early last month we were all very relieved (as you may remember) when she got the all-clear for bladder cancer. However, she started growing very weak a few days ago. On Friday I was worried by her lack of appetite and indifference even to wine (though she still managed a couple of fags). On Saturday evening, by which time I'd returned to Bristol, her carer Haawa and my brother were worried enough to have her taken to hospital.

By Sunday she was much improved, and was chatting and laughing with us in the ward. I joked that my first thought on seeing her there was "Malingerer!", which she found amusing. As I left, though, she squeezed my hand - not a usual action with her (we are not a very tactile family). Afterwards, of course, I remembered that - and remembered too that on Friday she'd told me and my brother how much she appreciated our looking after her. That was not so unusual - but she'd done it again on Saturday before I left.

Early on Monday morning, I had a call saying that she had lost blood pressure, and was in a bad way. "If it were my mother, I would come in," the doctor said. So I came back from Bristol - the third time in four days - and found her in the same bed but much changed, conscious but unable to speak. I helped her drink some water - she insisted on holding the cup with me - and she was able to nod or to give a feeble thumbs up, but not much more.

I don't know what was wrong. The urine in her catheter was dark; they were worried about a possible thrombosis in her leg, her breathing wasn't right. They were hesitating between continuing antibiotics and switching to morphine and end-of-life care. Hopkins's line kept going through my head: "Some fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended".

It was not the only line of poetry that rattled round and round my head like an ill-maintained rollercoaster over the next few hours. "The oldest hath borne most," "Cold as any stone" - all the old favourites, which she too would have known. I now realise that, faced with extreme situations, my mind turns into Palgrave's Golden Treasury. Also, a haiku took involuntary shape:

That old landline, kept
For you, will, from this winter,
Take only cold calls.

In the next bed a youngster of 82 offered sympathy and accounts of her own ailments in a strong Southampton accent, of a kind I hadn't heard for many years. Could I revive within me her symphony and song... Oh yes, she talked about "When I kicks the bucket."

The nurses said Mum could be there for some days, so I volunteered to take the first shift, and sat with her from about 11. I had some external examining scripts to do (I will always associate that time with neo-Victorian fiction), but most of the time I kept one hand on hers, which was gripping the rail of the bed. Her breathing was shallow but not laboured, and she seemed half asleep, and in due course more asleep than awake. Finally, as I watched, at about 3.40 she grimaced slightly, gave two deeper breaths, and stopped.

I was pretty sure she was dead, but went off to find a nurse to confirm it, then broke the news by phone to Haawa and Martin, who were already on their way. They arrived about ten minutes later. Haawa's eyes were as red as my own.

I think I must have gone a bit mad, because when Haawa mentioned that her hands were cold, I said "Mum's hands are getting cold too, but her body is still warm. Why don't you warm your hands on her? She wouldn't mind!"

They thought it black humour on my part, but at the time it seemed a perfectly sensible suggestion.

It doesn't feel as if she's gone, so I haven't started missing her yet.

I'll stop there, but I'll be posting more in the next few days, I expect, perhaps in a more fragmentary way.

mum in mill lane summer
Isobel Butler (nee Bowman)
9th October 1924-11th February 2019.

Dipping my Toes into a Cold Bathampton
In the middle of Bristol there was not much snow left this morning, but it was a different story down in Bathampton, where I went to visit my friend Dru in her narrowboat, currently moored in a frozen canal. She made me some very good ham and pea soup in her galley, though, which defrosted fingers and toes alike. Read moreCollapse )

The Hovis Delusion
Those of us of a certain age will remember Ridley Scott's famous Hovis ad, which shows a flat-capped baker's boy pushing his bicycle up a steep hill to the accompaniment of a brass band playing the New World symphony, while the voice of the (now grown) boy reminisces fondly about the old days. But where is the ad set?

I've always mentally put it up north somewhere, and I'm not alone. In this article, written in 2006 to mark the ad's being chosen "the nation's favourite", the writer places it in "a northern town". And this evening, one of the pundits on Radio 4's Powers of Persuasion twice mentioned the north in general, as well as Yorkshire in particular.

I'd read somewhere that the ad was actually filmed in Shaftesbury, Dorset, but I never wavered from my belief that the fictional setting was the north. [EDIT: As Kalimac points out over on the Dreamwidth version of this post, even the website for the hill in Shaftesbury where it was made mentions that the setting is "a northern industrial town".] After all, there's that brass band, and the voiceover is in a Yorkshire accent.

Except - it isn't. It's a West Country accent - quite possibly a Shaftesbury one. Listen for yourself:

I was only ten when the advert aired, and until they played it on the radio for the documentary this evening, I hadn't seen or heard it for years. Somehow, in the interim I grafted a northern accent onto my memory of it. That's a little odd, but what's more extraordinary is that the entire nation seems to have done the same thing. Even tonight, experts on the advert were talking about its northern setting, despite just having heard it.

Why? Is it the flat cap? (But people wore those in the south, too!) The brass band? That must have a lot to do with it.

Perhaps too there's a sense that a certain style of working-class nostalgia belongs properly to the north of England - or even that there is no southern working class at all?

Third Time's a Charm
People have missed a trick by not calling for a "third referendum." After all, that's what it would be - after the one in 1975 and the one in 2016.

It's not only a more accurate description, but it reminds us that, if another referendum now would be an affront to democracy, why so was the one three years ago. Why couldn't we respect the will of the people, as expressed - by an emphatic 67:33 margin - in June 1975?

It's true that many now of age were not in a position to vote at that time, and that many who could are now dead - but the same is true of the 2016 vote.

It's true too that the organisation we voted to stay in in 1975 was different from what the EU has since become, so one might argue that the vote has lost its legitimacy to that extent. But again, the Brexit described in 2016 was very different from the Brexit now on offer.

At any rate, let's please not call it a "People's Vote" - as if there were any other kind. The redundancy of the phrase is annoying, but I also associate the "People's X" meme with the maudlin nonsense that flared up around the death of Diana. It was then that someone (was it Tony Blair?) came up with the truly oxymoronic phrase, "the People's Princess." Ever since, it's had a sickly flavour, a bit like (but even worse than) "the Great British X."

A bas with them both!

Hoi Polloi Ahoy
Okay, just thinking aloud here. If May loses tomorrow and Labour calls a vote of no confidence in the Government, received wisdom is that the Government will win - right? Because obviously the Tories won't vote to lose their seats, and the DUP are quite happy with no deal - and together they have a majority.

BUT... if May's deal fails and parliamentary rules mean that it can't easily brought back for a second go, then that course would pretty much ensure a no-deal Brexit - because all the other routes May might take have been tried and failed (renegotiation) or would be unthinkable to her (calling a second referendum). It would only need a few Tory remainers to put their remain loyalties above their Tory loyalties to tip the balance. Some of them have safe seats, too, or (like Ken Clarke) are likely to retire, so have nothing to lose in terms of a future election.

So, I'm not so sure that a vote of no confidence would be won by the Government after all. (Though it probably would be. No one ever lost money by overestimating the Tory instinct to cling on to power.)

Anyway, we'll see soon enough.

Losing One's Baggage
The press is suddenly full of people who hate Marie Kondo. In the last few days alone, articles have appeared in my FB friends feed blaming her for encouraging mindless consumerism, being unnecessarily minimalist, and having a scunner against books. What's clear from the articles (especially ironically in the last case) is that the authors haven't actually read Kondo's book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying - certainly not with any attention. That would seem to be a minimum requirement for writing an article about her philosophy for a national periodical, surely? After all, it's easy to obtain and quick to read. It's also very good, in my opinion. My two penn'orth from 2016 are here.

On a related note, two days ago I bought the ugliest suitcase in the world, simply because I thought it would be easy to spot on the carousel, and easy to describe if lost. These, to my mind, are two important functions of luggage. My daughter is appalled, but in me it sparks a kind of joy, albeit perverse.


My cheese diet took a knock recently when I ordered a coronation chicken panini in a sandwich shop, only to find once I'd got some way through it that cheese was a major ingredient. Would you consider cheese a component of coronation chicken?

"Not even Wensleydale?"
I don't normally do New Year Resolutions, but the recent combination of a high cholesterol score and steady cheese-fuelled weight gain since I returned from Japan have combined in a decision to lead a cheese-(and-snack)-free January, with the possible exception of my birthday. It's not just "naked" cheese that I'm ruling out, but also cheese as an ingredient. That extra restriction forbids a dispiritingly long roll-call of deliciousness.

I know this is no biggy. I'm not going vegan, or even veggie. My alimentary tract maintains its wonted hospitality to eggs and meat. I'm not even refraining from alcohol, although as it happens I've not had much occasion to drink it.

Maybe by the end of the month I'll have lost half a stone or so, but the cholesterol is the main thing.

Also - the cycle begins again! - I'm hoping to return to Japan at the end of the semester that's about to begin, a place where I always feel rather too big, so I suppose you could call this partly an exercise in getting a shrine-ready bod. But actually, let's not.

Girl from Nowhere - A Stranger Comes to Town
Has anyone else been watching the Thai drama, Girl from Nowhere, on Netflix? I'm only three episodes in (I ration myself to one per night) but I'm finding it really intriguing - and all because of our old friend, Genre Expectations Confounded.

I'd recently watched the live-action and anime versions of Kakegurui, a Japanese story about a school run by a gambling-obsessed student council that imposes a strict hierarchy based on one's gambling status. In that story, a mysterious girl arrives, and upsets the corrupt establishment one by one, dismantling their various scams and working her way up the hierarchy as she does so. It's a classic stranger-comes-to-town plot, the only slight twist being that Jabami is herself a compulsive gambler. If we had to pick a Clint Eastwood film to represent its type, it would be A Fistful of Dollars.

At first, Girl from Nowhere seems to be the same type of story. Each episode, so the blurb tells us, the mysterious Nanno arrives at a different school, where she exposes the misdeeds of staff and pupils alike. And the first episode seems to live up to that. One of the teachers has a habit of sexually assaulting (and in one case impregnating) the female pupils, despite having a squeaky-clean reputation, and a devoted wife and daughter.

Of course, he tries it on with Nanno was well, and of courses she foils him and exposes him. That much was obviously going to happen - but I didn't foresee that her plan would result in the daughter dying in a pool of her own blood, or that Nanno would remain unfazed by that.

Of course, the punishment of fathers sometimes involves the deaths of their daughters: think Midas, for example. But that's a different kind of story - isn't it?

And how are we meant to feel about Nanno after that? It's a moral question, but also a genre question. Is this a story about a hustler, an agent of justice, or a vengeful ghost? Three episodes in (I won't spoil further), I'm still not sure. It looks a lot more like High Plains Drifter than A Fistful of Dollars, but that's as much as I can say. I'm also wondering how much my disorientation has to do with my ignorance of Thai narrative traditions, moral sensibilities, etc. and how much it's just a clever mindfuck.

Blwyddyn Newydd Dda
I spent New Year in Borth, as I did three years ago, with my brother and his partner. I'm usually tucked up in bed by midnight, but managed to flop over the line into 2019 last night, and was rewarded with a crowd of huggy people spilling from pub to street (Borth has three of the former but only one of the latter), hearing a kilted piper, watching fireworks and bonfires on the beach, and so on. It's a lively place to see the new year in, considering it has only 2,000 inhabitants. Lately, this includes an amazing cinema, the interior of which I highly recommend should you find yourself in Hinterland country.

I caught no sight of the sun for the three days I was there, but it didn't really matter. Between drinking and eating, there were always the dependable charms of the great sea and the great bog.


Most interesting, I met a Lithuanian jeweller (partner of my brother's partner's nephew) who told me that Lithuania was pagan as late at the 1380s. I had no idea! (Did you?) This needs looking into.

Terrace House
So many comings and goings on Terrace House lately. (Why is it called that, by the way, when it's not set in a terraced house? As a genuine terrace-house dweller I deserve to know.) Barely had Shunsuke arrived to settle in his own mind the matter of his sexuality than he discovered he was bi, and moved out again, correctly divining the irremediably heterosexual structure of the show. Nor was he alone: of the six people who were there at the start of the latest batch of 8 episodes, only Yui remains. It's hard to get used to her as the senior member of the house when she only arrived a minute ago, or so it seems. With the departure of Taka, our last link to the early days of the season is lost. Who now will sing of Tsubasa and Shion, their shining romance?

I suppose this is how God feels, looking at our brief human spans. So many tearful goodbyes! Oblivion a seeping tide at our heels! Even for God, everyone must merge together after a while. Not that God has a memory to befuddle. Being present at every moment, it's a faculty he never developed.

I was surprised to see two of the housemates at one point visiting a local Karuizawa theme park called "Taliesin". How did a Welsh bard end up in the middle of Japan, I wondered? It turns out that the theme park was built by a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, who in turn named his Wisconin estate after the Welsh Taliesin. So, it was a two-step process, a bit like the one that wound up with Bob Zimmerman naming himself after the twin of Lleu Llaw Gyffes.

F-f-f-fading Away
I'm used to feeling nostalgia for the 1970s, but my most recent pang, for Bruce Forsyth's Generation Game, took me unawares. Probably the programme's most iconic round was the conveyor belt of useless objects at the end, but in this case I was remembering the rounds in which contestants were set to perform some practical manual task (folding a shirt, decorating a cake) in a given time. The proper way to do it was generally demonstrated first by a professional - sometimes a craftsperson, but often a factory worker, often a woman, whose job was to perform that same fiddly task a thousand times a day. The same professional was then invited to score the contestants' efforts.

It occurs to me now that this kind of round brought together two things largely lost today, at any rate in the UK:

a) It framed working-class people - specifically manual workers - as competent and discerning experts, and deferred to their judgement. Today, they are generally subject to what we might call the bourgeois gaze, whether hostile, condescending or romanticised. Not that those weren't also possible perspectives in the 1970s, but they were counterbalanced in a way we seldom see today.

b) It showcased manufacturing industry, at a time when that accounted for a much larger percentage of the economy. Part of the difference is of course technological: fiddly tasks are done by computers. But if I try to imagine a Generation Game or even a What's My Line? today, almost everyone is either working in an Amazon warehouse or sitting at their computer ordering things from Amazon, neither of which makes for great charades.

Necessary caveat: there are of course still skilled jobs in manual labour; but when did you last see a factory worker demonstrate their craft on prime-time, Saturday-night television?

Your Passengers Must Die
The trolley problem is not just a thought experiment - it's a practical issue, at least for the AI programmers charged with teaching self-driving cars whom to spare and whom to kill in ticklish traffic conditions. That, at least, is the premise of MIT's Moral Machine project.

The programmers are of course aware that there is more than one conception of what constitutes a moral decision, so they're crowd-sourcing their morality in the hope of creating different driving strategies according to the cultural priorities of different countries. If you click on the link above, you can add to their database.

Anyway, I was very interested to read this article, which crunches some of their data to show how priorities differ in different countries. For example, should the self-driving car choose to run over young people or old people?
spare the young

Far-eastern countries, perhaps under Confucian influence, are much more careful of the lives of the elderly, whereas the West is in general keener to preserve the lives of the young - perhaps on the individualistic principle that older people have already "had their turn". The data doesn't give us explanations, but such graphs are of course an open invitation to draw on national stereotypes.

What about the importance of sparing more lives rather than fewer?

spare more lives

Again, there's largely an East-West split, with Westerners perhaps performing a kind of utilitarian calculus whereby three lives are worth three times as much as one. This doesn't mean of course that Japanese drivers will recklessly swerve into crowds, merely that they place less emphasis on numbers.

The one that interested me most was this one, concerned with whether one should spare pedestrians or passengers:

spare pedestrians

Here, suddenly, China and Japan are at opposite extremes, and how! Chinese drivers see random pedestrians as far more expendable than the friends, family or colleagues who are presumably their passengers. (Note to self: look both ways on the streets of Shanghai.) Japan, by contrast, sacrifices passengers to pedestrians to a very marked extent.

The obvious explanation, it seems to me, lies in the uchi-soto (inside-outside) principle, which demands that outsiders be treated with preferential politeness and consideration. The nature of the in-group depends on context: it could be one's family, one's school, one's company. When referring to members of one's in-group to an outsider, you always use humble language; when referring to outsiders, you always use polite language. For example, if I want to mention my son, I say "musuko", but your son would be "musuko-san". If I'm the humblest employee at Sony, then I will refer to my CEO as Yoshida, without any honorific, when speaking to people outside the company. (Inside the company, it would be a very different matter.)

Perhaps, for the purpose of the MIT experiment, passengers are regarded as "uchi", and pedestrians as "soto"? That's just a top-of-the-head theory, but I find it plausible.

Kitchens and Kitsch Outs
A little while ago I put this photograph on Facebook:


I'd been idling next to a kitchen shop, and on the van parked outside there was a Before and After picture of their work. To be perfectly honest, neither is much to my taste, but still, as I said on FB, I couldn't see why After was better than Before, or why anyone would spend significant sums to change from one to the other.

On FB some agreed, some demurred. One person suggested that the Before picture was dated. This may be true, but it's not a word I've really ever understood. Is 2018 not also a date?

Attitudes to the past are astoundingly inconsistent, of course. I often wish I'd photographed the jar of Tesco pasta sauce I once bought that boasted, on different parts of the same label, both of its "New Improved Recipe" and its "Traditional, Authentic Taste" - but similar examples abound. In the case of houses, it seems to me that there is a clear divide between different rooms. No one walks into a living room with an original Elizabethan fireplace and oak beams and complains that it is "dated," although once they might have. On the contrary, they'll praise its atmosphere and take good care of its original features. Kitchens, and to a lesser extent bathrooms, are a different matter. But then, even within bathrooms, a stand-alone Victorian, cast-iron lion-foot bath is an enviable item, as long as it's plumbed in; a Victorian water closet, not so much. This was where British hills in Fukushima jibbed, I remember, not quite being able to bring itself to install an authentic British toilet, despite having sent to England for all the other fittings:


Contrast Dreamton, which won out in the bathroom authenticity stakes. I don't appear to have captured it, but I think the toilet there was even operated by a chain, which took me back to my childhood:


(My main memory of the chain in the first house I lived in is that it was too high to reach, so my father added a loop of wire to the bottom - wire thin and sharp enough to cut cheese, or so it seemed to me as I dangled from the end of it by my thin fingers.)

Anyway, the bifurcation of attitudes regarding different rooms, and the desirability or otherwise of modernness in them, has led to a lot of temporal inconsistency within houses. Happily my own small house, here in the orphans' graveyard, was only built in 2006, so it's not something I need to worry about. Everything is magnolia but the mould.

Falling off a Blog
One more sleep till the Christmas break, and I'm hoping not to wake up to a pile of marking at the end of my bed...

Yesterday was my last time paying a toll on the Second Severn Crossing, now officially renamed "The Prince of Wales Bridge" by politically correct history-rewriters (or doesn't that argument count when it's done by royalists?). The cost of the bridge was paid off a year ago, but the Treasury has been collecting the the Going-to-Wales tax, disguised as a toll, since then. As I write this the toll booths are being broken up for firewood, and their surly inhabitants pushed out into the night to wander the Severn's treacherous foreshore under the crystalline sky - just in time for Christmas. I wanted to ask about that as I paid over my last £5.60, indeed, but there was a queue behind me.

I still have some things on my plate - work from PhD students, various articles and books to review, Children's Literature in Education business and so on, but basically I have until Christmas to do some research of my own - something to which I've been more or less a stranger since September. In particular, the hefty pile of material from my Japanese voyage has yet to receive its final, triumphant transfiguration into scholarship, and looks more like an early draft of The Key to All Mythologies.

It's been a particularly busy term, not least because I packed in a lot of external examining (MA programmes in Wolverhampton and Roehampton, PhDs in Valencia and Dublin), as well as various extras on university home turf. I can blame no one but myself for all this, and in fact the work was generally interesting, but I do feel more than usually exhausted at this point, from the constant travel as much as anything. Hence my recent tendency to fall asleep at the wheel of this blog.

That's all going to change now, though! Look forward to vexatiously frequent entries from now on!

Bogs, Dams and Revenants
In the early 1940s they drowned the village of Derwent in Derbyshire to make the Ladybower reservoir, to slake the thirsts of Sheffield and Nottingham. Shortly afterwards, the new reservoir was used by the "Dam Buster" squadron, as practice for destroying the Möhne, Edersee and Sorpe Dams.

This year the dry weather revealed part of the village again, and it drew tourists, some of whom amused themselves by drawing graffiti or taking stones from walls. This has caused quite a lot of angst. For example:

There's a fair amount of graffiti and defacement on the ruins. It's a huge part of our history and now "Cheryl" and "Steve" have scratched their names in the rock. We need to look after it, we have a responsibility like you would at any historical site. (Steve Rowe, Edale Mountain Rescue Team)

Whilst we understand that people are fascinated by the appearance of these usually hidden ruins, the structures remain an iconic archaeological feature of the Peak District National Park. As we wouldn't expect people to vandalise any of the National Park's many heritage buildings or other archaeological features, the remains of the homes and other submerged buildings are no exception. We urge people to leave these features intact to open a valuable window onto history, not just today, but for future generations to enjoy. (Anna Badcock, Park Authority Cultural Heritage Manager.)

Well yes, I kind of agree, and yet it wasn't "Cheryl and Steve" who destroyed the village in the first place, nor bounced bombs on top of it shortly after. If Derwent is such a valuable part of our heritage, why is it at the bottom of a lake?

The answer is of course that it's only valuable because it was destroyed - or rather, its destruction led paradoxically to its partial preservation. We must be grateful to the large-scale municipal vandals of 1940, even as we condemn the small-scale private vandals of 2018.

Similarly, if I marched into the British Museum and took an axe to the Lindow Man I'd be arrested - but it is only thanks to the actions of the people who did the same thing 2,000 years ago that we have his body at all. We owe those people a debt, it seems, for killing him and leaving him to our mercies, tender or otherwise.

Of Chance and Chimpanzees
Give a million chimpanzees typewriters, and one of them may end up writing a sonnet by coincidence, they say. Even so, no one will think that chimp is a poet.

Equally, give a million entrepreneurs a start-up loan, and they will make various business and investment decisions. Some will pay off, many will crash and burn; but perhaps at the end of it all, one of that million will be a billionaire. That billionaire will not be treated like the lucky chimp, though. On the contrary, they will be interviewed by Forbes magazine about their business philosophy, and in general will be treated as if their wealth were entirely the result of their savviness and cunning, rather than the likely result of a million coin tosses. Since human beings are inclined to narrativise history (especially their own) they will likely come to believe this themselves, seeing purposefulness and connection between events that were in large measure unpredictable and serendipitous.

The cases are of course not exactly alike. Diligence, intelligence and imagination will indeed give some entrepreneurs a better shot at success than others; but theirs is a trade where chance is far more responsible for success than it is generally given credit for. I feel similarly about generalship, and indeed any profession so at the mercy of an environment full of unpredictable “noise”. “Pang Juan will Die under this Tree” is a great story, but I don’t believe it’s history. Similarly, whenever I see the latest business guru’s book of ideas, I read it as if were entitled Shakesepeare – My Way, by Bono the Bonobo.

Dreamless Winter
I mentioned in my last (I think) that Yume Kitchen has just closed down. Today, as I put on my winter coat for the first time in a while, I found a receipt from February 2015 in the pocket, recording being served there by my friend Midori. This exquisitely emotional moment seemed to cry out, not least because of the requisite seasonal element, for a haiku. Also, I've been musing recently on the possibilities of the kanji 儚 (hakanai), which means 'fleeting' and combines the kanji for 'person' (人 hito) with that for 'dream' (夢 yume). I've no doubt this kind of visual kanji pun is thoroughly exploited in Japanese, though I've not yet encountered it.



Found inside my
Overcoat. People and dreams,
Both are transient.

Self-Portrait with Insufficient Sleep
Can it really be only a week since my colonoscopy?

It's hard to believe, but it's been a pretty busy, tail-chasing sort of week, with far too much travel - and the next ten days look like being a similar story. Without much embellishment, and really for my own later reference, I'll just record that I went to Birmingham last Saturday, to spend the day with Clémentine, before accompanying her to see Prokofiev's War and Peace at the Hippodrome. Here we are sharing some pork and a cup of Glühwein at the unseasonably early Christmas market.


It was lovely to see her, and I even enjoyed the opera (I find Prokofiev simpatico and always have), but it's not an art form I've ever quite been able to get my head round. Andrei is dying of his wounds, yet still singing at the top of his voice? I suppose I should be able to accept it as a convention, just as I do stage sets in plays. I remember Philip Sidney holding out for the unity of place in terms that seem endearingly ridiculous:

Now ye shall have three ladies walk to gather flowers, and then we must believe the stage to be a garden. By and by we hear news of shipwreck in the same place, and then we are to blame if we accept it not for a rock. Upon the back of that comes out a hideous monster with fire and smoke, and then the miserable beholders are bound to take it for a cave. While in the mean time two armies fly in, represented with four swords and bucklers, and then what hard heart will not receive it for a pitched field?

I know my doubts about opera are no better founded than Sidney's, but there you are.

On Monday I was with Dimitra Fimi, giving a talk on Ursula Le Guin at a public engagement event in Cardiff. Dimitra's teaching in Glasgow now, but still commuting from Cardiff. She was due to catch a 7am flight the morning after, which puts my own travel blues in perspective. I at least got to stay with my friend and colleague Ann, in her huge Victorian house in Newport.

dimitra and cathy at Cardiff Booktalk 19 Nov 2018

On Tuesday, I got the very sad news that Yume, my favourite restaurant, has closed suddenly, for reasons I will make it my business to discover. Nothing here long standeth in one stay, as the poet has it. Or in Japanese, perhaps, 「夢は儚い」. Ephemerality has aesthetic value in sakura, but in favourite restaurants, not so much.

Yesterday I was in London, being inducted as an External Examiner for the MA in Children's Literature there, which gave me a chance to catch up with my friends Alison and Lisa. It wasn't an onerous thing in itself, but yet another train journey, with an early start and late return. And tomorrow I drive to my mother's house, with sherry for her and box of matoke bananas for her carer (only matoke will do, but small Hampshire towns cannot supply them). In the cracks, I've been teaching a full timetable.

Come, 10-tog blanket of night, and cover me!

The Politics and Pathology of Transphobia - A Fantasy Conference
One of the main problems with trans politics is that trans people seldom or never get to frame the public discourse, which is typically presented either as an explanation of trans people (benign version) or a debate around whether trans people are deluded and/or dangerous (malign version). The more I think about it, the more it seems to me that there's room for a debate, not about trans people, but about transphobes - one that puts them under the same kind of spotlight. It's not my academic field, so I'm not the ideal person to organise it, but I'd love to see a Call for Papers something like this....

The Politics and Pathology of Transphobia

It is a common refrain of transphobes that the issues need a free and open debate, but the phenomenon of transphobia itself has received little or no academic attention. This conference attempts to amend that situation. As the conference organisers we are open to suggestions for panel sessions, but possible topics include:

Transphobic History – a Twice-told Tale
Transphobia has risen to prominence on our television screens and in books over the last generation, especially with the rise of social media – but is it really a modern phenomenon? Arguably the discourse and ideology of transphobia, and the psychopathology underlying it, have a far longer history. In this session we explore the history and heritage of transphobia, including the striking parallels between the hostile framing of homosexuality some thirty years ago (notably as a threat to children), and that of trans identities today.

Transphobia and Feminism
One of the characteristics of transphobes who also self-identify as feminists is the compulsion to speak for feminism in general, and indeed for all women and girls; yet most women (including most feminists) repudiate transphobic beliefs and assumptions. This panel looks at the complex and conflicted relationship between feminism and transphobic discourse, especially in an age of social media and “echo chamber” platforms such as Mumsnet, which allow transphobes to live in a world of constant affirmation and unchallenged reinforcement of their views.

Transphobia and the Evangelical Movement
Many transphobes present themselves as politically left-leaning, while other base their transphobia in conservative religious dogma. The common purpose of these two apparently disparate groups has sometimes evolved into active collaboration, as in organisations such as “Hands Across the Aisle.” How do these different brands of transphobe reconcile themselves to being bedfellows? Is it a marriage of convenience, or does this alliance indicate a more fundamental convergence of political and moral outlook?

Transphobic Regret
No one knows how many transphobes eventually come to regret their involvement in transphobic ideology. Much more research is needed – although major academic institutions seem unwilling to fund it. This session will look at desistance from transphobic ideology, and the social and psychological repercussions for those who dare to leave a belief and value system that has contributed so much to their sense of identity and purpose.

Science, Junk Science, and Statistics
Transphobes frequently invoke science to support their worldview, but their use of science typically resorts to inaccurate or simplistic categories, and tendentious, selective use of statistics. This session is devoted to the discussion of transphobia’s unhealthy relationship with science in general, as well as their support for clinical practices such as conversion therapy.

Transphobia as Fetish
Transphobes have created many theories to “explain” the existence of trans people, such as autogynephilia, “rapid onset gender dysphoria,” among still more fanciful aetiologies. In this session we consider the extent to which such theories are born of projection and/or paraphilic interest in the lives and genitalia of trans people – a range of pathologies we propose to gather under the general title of “Blanchardism.”

Transphobia and the Rhetoric of Victimhood
Transphobic articles and viewpoints are extremely frequent in the press, on television and radio, and other public fora. Yet one of the commonest refrains of transphobic discourse is the complaint that transphobic views are being silenced, penalised or censored, and that this is both a threat to free speech and evidence of a powerful trans cabal. In this session we explore the intersection of paranoia and projection involved in positioning transphobic discourse as victimised and silenced.

The Media and the Exploitation of Transphobia
The media have often been willing partners in the transmission and amplification of transphobic viewpoints, whether for reasons of genuine transphobia or because of the “pulling power” of transphobic tropes and rhetoric. In this session we analyse the particular forms of transphobia employed by the media in facilitating moral panic about trans people.