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Don't Eat With Your Mouth Full

Where can we live but days?

2D, or not 2D?
"Of course, now I want to pop over to Cirencester (it’s only 40 minutes in the car) and pose like Alice and Shino. If only I knew someone who’d be willing to be my accomplice in so silly a mission."

I wrote those prophetic words in a post from May 2015, having only recently discovered that one of the settings of Kiniro Mosaic was Cirencester High Street. Now I understand of course that such posing trips (or seichi junrei/聖地巡礼 - a phrase translating roughly to "sacred pilgrimages") are utterly standard anime fan behaviour. Indeed, in Japan - where, naturally, most anime are set - city and prefectural governments often cooperate with anime studios to promote an anime with a local setting: the anime and the area provide each other with publicity, and everyone benefits. There's even an 88 stop anime pilgrimage route you can go on, much as pilgrims of old (and of now) take tours round various temples and shrines, getting a stamp in each on to prove they've done it. (Christian pilgrims are of course not dissimilar.) Some people pose as their anime heroes and heroines, possibly in cosplay, while others take a figurine to photograph in situ.

Well, of course I'm not the first person to notice all this, but I only recently learned about Sony's Butai Meguri app, which - using the same kind of GPS technology as Pokémon Go - allows you to photograph anime characters in the places where their stories are set. Not every anime is covered, of course, but Kiniro Mosaic is included. I learned all this from the owner of Fosse Farmhouse, whom I was helping with a Powerpoint presentation the other day. She lives in Alice's house, and kindly took a picture of me standing next to her youthful pixellated ward:

Alice and Butai Meguri at Fosse Farmhouse

Now, is this the same kind of thrill people get from going round, say, Hemingford Grey Manor and mentally inserting the characters from the Green Knowe books, as I was doing exactly a year ago?

Or is it very different?

[Not] all Europe contributed to the making of Kurtz
DNA may not change, but DNA analysis does. Just a few weeks ago, I posted the results from my Ancestry.com test, which looked like this:

DNA map

The other day I wanted to check it again, and logged into the site, only to find that the updated results are - considering the short time lag - already surprisingly different, presumably because of new data. Here's the updated me:

DNA map updated sept 2018

I've lost my Scandinavian, Iberian and Caucasian flourishes, and am now even more determinedly British, with 98% of me hailing from the British Isles and northwest Europe. But look! The remaining 2% turns out, with intriguing specificity, to be Sardinian! I've no idea where that came from, but I'd certainly like to know.

By the way, I discovered today that a blog I wrote a for a local travel company about my trip to Japan was published back in July. It would have been nice to know about it before, but here I am, in breathless journalistic style, taking part in non-academic engagement.

From Aardman to Armistice
If there are any Aardman fans here, feel free to flick through my Flickr account, where you will find ample photographic evidence of my trip to Cribbs Causeway (Bristol's very own out-of-town shopping centre) last week, in part to visit the Gromit Unleashed exhibition, in which all of the Wallace, Gromit and Feathers McGraw statues previously scattered throughout Bristol for the summer are reunited in one place. I'll start you off with a couple of faves, concentrating on allusions:

Star Trek

Where's Wally?

Monsters Inc.

Alice in Wonderland

But there are plenty of other themes, too. What will next year bring?

Or, if your bent runs more to haltingly delivered lectures on children's fantasy literature and the end of the Great War, with particular emphasis on memory and repression, you may like to hear the podcast of the lecture I gave last week at Exeter University as part of The Empathy Effect, a project I'm involved with. (The link's at the bottom.)

cathy pic

Have with You to Woking
As a teenager, I used to read a lot of G. K. Chesterton and George Bernard Shaw. They were sparring partners and friendly rivals; one Catholic with a fondness for beef and beer, the other an atheist vegetarian teetotaller. Both had a talent for controversy and paradox, and healthy egos to match, and I liked them both, while sharing the opinions of neither (though I preferred GKC).

Like any pair of duellists, Chesterton and Shaw had their seconds (at least in my head), in the form of Hilaire Belloc and H. G. Wells, whom I also read, but not so avidly. In my imagination, this foursome spent the first few decades of the last century as gung-ho, pamphleteering frenemies, warring and intimate in turns. I liked to think of them penning essays and manifestos by day, and enjoying a pint (or a soda water with lemon) together by night. I don't know if it was really like that, and I don't want to know.

Anyway, I just want to record my pleasure at finding this slim volume on sale for 20p at the local Amnesty shop:

Mr Belloc Objects

Watching people argue with such passion, and such a vivid sense of amour propre, about controversies now almost entirely irrelevant, is a strangely luxurious feeling for me, whether it be here or in the pamphlet battles of earlier ages (Thomas Nashe and Gabriel Harvey are another favourite pairing). Perhaps future historians of social media will get a similar buzz when they come to review the story of gamergate, or whatever.

Why do these things give me pleasure? It's not an Olympian "what fools these mortals be!" disdain - not at all; more a reassurance that my own furious passions, too, will eventually be chaff, and that therefore I really needn't worry so much.

Even futility is a half-full cup.

Contradictory Lyrics
Remember these lines from the theme song to Cheers?

You want to go where people know
People are all the same.
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Or perhaps it was actually:

You want to go where people know
People aren't all the same.
You want to go where everybody knows your name.

The weird thing is that they both work as feel-good messages - either about our shared humanity, or our individual uniqueness. I guess there's no real opposition there, but it still feels kind of odd that they both make sense when they appear to contradict each other. And I still don't know which version is correct.

Some International Cross-Cutting
Over the last week I've been visited by my friend Eriko Kawanashi, the anthropologist who has made a study of the beliefs and rituals of Glastonbury. We had a lot of fun, which I won't detail here (my proud boast is that, over the two days she was with me, I converted her to Marmite), but I was struck by her mentioning that, having learned a lot of her English in Glastonbury, she didn't realise the extent to which it departed from normal usage. Thus, she had been given to saying things like "I feel as if my chakras need cleansing today" to English people elsewhere, and being bemused by the looks they gave her.

Tangentially, two days ago in Athens (where I was attending the IBBY conference) I chatted with an Italian teacher of Japanese and some of my Japanese friends. It was noticeable that, although her Japanese was really excellent, she continued to gesture with her hands as if she were speaking Italian. It was strange how incongruous this looked, at least to undemonstrative me.

Anyway, Athens was a lot of fun, even though I didn't get a chance to do any sightseeing at all. The Acropolis remains unvisited. On the other hand, I heard a lot of interesting papers, gave one that went pretty well, and met some old friends, including Ali Baker and the Tokyo Joshidai Crew, Mihoko, Satomi and Mikako. By the way, here's me hangin' out with Eiko Kadono, the author of Kiki's Delivery Service (魔女の宅急便) and winner of this year's Hans Christian Andersen award, which was given her at the conference dinner, where she gave a really excellent speech. That's two Ghibli-fied authors I've met. Are there any others still alive?


Japanese Laughter - a Thee-for-One Deal
This is so typical of the way that Japanese slang works that I had to share.

English speakers often use "lol" to indicate laughter (except when it means "lots of love", but I gather this has almost died out - David Cameron got lolled at for using it that way, I recall). The equivalent in Japanese is the kanji "笑", which comes from the verb "笑う/warau", "to laugh".

However, later, some Japanese - thinking that English was cool - decided to use the English letter "w" - the first letter of "warau" - instead. Hence you will sometimes see "wwww" being used to indicate laughter.

More recently, some other Japanese looked at those rows of "w"s and decided they looked a bit like blades of grass. So, the new way of indicating laughter is to use the kanji "草" (kusa), which means "grass".

Three classic Japanese slang-making methods in one: a) abbreviation; b) borrowing from English; c) pictograms.

Unstable Expressions
Interesting linguistic fact. Because as a child I associated the expressions "Too many cooks spoil the broth" and "Too many chiefs and not enough Indians" (I know, I know), for a long time I heard "sous-chef" as "Sioux chef".

Because the logical connection between "Spare the rod and spoil the child" is one of "A causes B", I heard "Feed a cold and starve a fever" the same way. It was confusing.

"Don't let good food go to waste" teeters perpetually on the brink of "Don't let good food go to waist", thus almost reversing its own meaning.

Any others?

More Bristol Pictures - But This Time I Am Not Alone!
Before last weekend sinks too far into oblivion, I will mention here that I spent it very pleasantly being visited by Clémentine Beauvais. I've visited Clémentine in York a couple of times since she took up her lectureship there, but this was her first time in Bristol, so naturally we did the things that everyone has to do on their first visit, such as pose by the Suspension Bridge.


Another tourist regular, but one I'd not indulged in myself for well over a decade, is the SS Great Britain, Brunel's great trans-Atlantic steamship, which sits in Bristol harbour. The whole Brunel experience has been considerably souped up since my last visit, including the introduction of nineteenth-century smells into the passenger cabins. One can also dress up, and pretend to be wishing a tearful goodbye to the old country from the deck, or perhaps tot up the accounts in Mr Brunel's stovepipe hat.


Or indeed pose under a ridiculously large simulacrum of the great man's head.


In a chamber within this gargantuan noddle one can experience being "Inside Brunel's Mind", a six-minute show full of sounds, flashing lights and smoke meant to convey the impression of being a multi-tasking genius. It's always interesting to see how people try to convey the experience of being very clever - the graphics in Sherlock are another example - but I wonder whether they ran their conclusions past any bona fide brainboxes to make sure they'd got it right?

While you ponder that, here's a picture of some pain perdu, à la Dr Beauvais.


Bon appetit!

All Inland Cities Need a Floating Harbour
Today was fresh and showery, but when not showering Bristol city centre was looking rather lovely, and all the pennants on the ships and boats were straining for the sea.

In between various necessary tasks I walked around, collecting more Aardman statue sightings:

The Wallace CollectionCollapse )

It's strangely calming to come down to a city centre and find boats and sunshine. Maybe it's not Venice, but Bristol has its own charm:

DSC01919harbour 3harbour 2harbour 1

If you want a soundtrack for this post, you could do worse than this.

A Fortuitous Photo
Part of me wants to call this photograph "The Grand Unveiling", because I'm so pleased with the bride and the hotel both pointing at the same thing.

Part of me wants to call it "Sax Before Marriage", because I have a puerile mind.


Lawks - a Mercian!
Well, my DNA test results are in, and although they hold no radical surprises it's certainly very interesting to see my genes spread across the map like iron filings and clustering around certain magnetic poles.

DNA map

I do find some of this hard to parse, though. It turns out I'm 37% from Great Britain, and especially from "Wales and the West Midlands", but a different 26% of me is from "Ireland/Scotland/Wales". So does that make doubly Welsh? Or Welsh in more than one way? I really can't say.

But the "Wales and West Midlands" sounds right: I have plenty of known ancestors both east and west of the border, although this of course is but the iceberg tip of the genetic story: the Butlers hail from Claines in Worcestershire, and my mother's family is scattered either side of the border in such places as Wellington, Wrexham, Ruthin and Chester.

As for the rest, I've more continental ancestry than I expected, considering that the nearest I've been able to trace is eight generations back and should thus account for less than 1% of my genes, but then I've not been able to follow every forking path, or anything like it.

Finland, Northwest Russia and the snowy Caucasus may account for less than 3% of the whole, but they provide a welcome note of exoticism in what is otherwise a predictably Western European story.

Melting Pots and Infusions
Two new Gloucester Rd establishments visited in the last couple of days. One is called "Art and Chocolate", and consists of a single room, in one half of which a young bloke with a Spanish(?) accent sells artisan chocolate (I bought some ruby chocolate there, and highly recommend it). In the other half his half-Guatemalan half-Japanese friend makes and sells art with a Bristol theme (I bought a coaster showing the Suspension Bridge). The only connection between the two businesses is the friendship of the men involved, and their location.

A hundred yards north is "Per and Kor", a restaurant run by a couple - he's from Iran and she's Korean. They have a Persian menu and a Korean menu, and you can choose from either, or mix them up. When I went with Htay, for example, I had a kimchi starter followed by lamb, aubergine and split yellow peas. Both were delicious, and their dissimilarity was no drawback.

Time was when fusion restaurants were all the range, and such a restaurant would have looked for ingenious ways to serve up lamb and kimchi on the same dish - but perhaps we're entering a post-fusion age?

Parasols Redux
By coincidence - or perhaps because writing yesterday's post sensitised me to the possibility? - as I was walking home along the Gloucester Rd this morning I met another white woman carrying a parasol. Or possibly a light-coloured umbrella. At twenty yards' distance our eyes locked in mutual affirmation, and we stopped to congratulate each other (and, by extension, ourselves) on our sagacity. I suppose this is how Morris Minor drivers feel when they flash each other on the road.

It occurs to me that umbrellas must have been used to keep the sun off before anyone thought of using them against the rain, given the etymology of their name. When did that extension of their use occur, I wonder?

Sending in the Paras
Finding Japanese people to interview about the Cotswolds in hot weather in the UK is in one sense really easy: just follow the parasols. Not that everyone carries a parasol (and I admit that those who do are not a randomised sample, being largely adult females), but parasols are easy to spot at a distance, and you can be pretty sure that anyone carrying one will be east Asian. Not necessarily Japanese, of course - there were more Chinese than Japanese at Bourton-on-the-Water the other day, for example - but it's a start.

I bought my parasol (or higasa - literally, "sun umbrella") in Tokyo last year, and I use it quite often, being fond of neither sunburn nor suncream. However, in Bristol I've so far seen precisely one other white person carrying one. When I walked past a Romsey school the other day, a pupil shouted, "It's not raining!", and I felt a bit like Odysseus when he'd walked so far inland that people mistook his oar for a winnowing shovel...

Googling parasols just now, I find that the ones on sale in the UK are not what I first think of as parasols at all, but big garden devices for shading your patio. What would Monet have thought? Why would people abandon such opportunities for elegance?

Do people carry parasols where you live, reader?

A Tale of Three Villages - or, the Judgement of Paris
What is the most beautiful village in England?

When I was a child, at this time of year we used to make an annual trip from Hampshire to north Wales (via Wolverhampton) for our summer holiday. Our regular route, the stops on which are as engrained in my memory as those to Santiago de Compostela on the mind of any pilgrim, included the north-Cotswold village of Broadway. I remember my mother mentioning that it was said to be the most beautiful village in England, though on what authority I don't know. It turns out that she was not alone in saying so, though. Thumbing (via Google) through The Great Western Railway Official Guide, 1909: Holiday Haunts, England and Wales, Southern Ireland, and Brittany, I see that the same claim is made there, and treated as something of a truism, or at least a familiar notion.

However, Broadway is not without its rivals, and these days its "most beautiful village" claim appears to have been largely eclipsed - it has to make do with being "the jewel of the Cotswolds" instead.

Meanwhile, on 8 August 1890 William Morris remarked in a chatty letter to the designer Kate Faulkner that Bibury in the east Cotswolds was "surely the most beautiful village in England, lying down in the winding valley beside the clear Colne". This casual remark has been relentlessly leveraged ever since, in Bibury and beyond. I find it referenced from the early '20s right up to late Pevsner:

William Morris, who knew England well and this district intimately, for Kelmscott lies not many miles away, declared that Bibury was “ surely the most beautiful village in England." Probably every Gloucester man will agree with that sentiment. (The Architect and Building News, 1922)

The village of Bibury was "discovered" by William Morris, who called it the most beautiful village in England . (Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England Vol. 40, 1970

Nowhere is that letter quoted more than in Japan, where Morris is held in high regard (I'd say he's more famous there than here, in fact). It crops up in many a Japanese tourist guide, of course, but also in more unexpected places. For example, the website of the Hotel Monterey Grasmere, which (as you will remember) contains a replica of Brockhampton Church, Herefordshire, on its 22nd Floor (or 21st, British style), levers it in in garbled form, even though Brockhampton is not by any means in the Cotswolds:

The design imitates the churches of the Cotswolds, described by the renowned designer William Morris as the most beautiful in England. Our chapel recreated the beauty of the Cotswolds, from its rolling green hills to its traditional arts and crafts culture.

Yesterday I saw an itinerary for a two-week homestay being undertaken by some Japanese school children in the Cotswolds, and the first day's activities were described thus:


23rd July, 13.00-18.00
Cotswolds Village Tour
We will tour representative Cotswold villages.
We will visit Bibury, which the poet William Morris praised as "the most beautiful village in Britain", and so on.

In Japan at least, Bibury has no rival, but in 1962 the English Tourist Authority put the cat among the pigeons by holding a competition to find... the most beautiful village in England. The winner? Step forward, our old friend Castle Combe, in the south Cotswolds. It too is often referred to by this title, although according to this 1993 article the poll was actually a fix, "dreamt up by a senior BTA official who had a friend in the village". The whole article makes it sound very Midsomer Murders.

Castle Combe's rival on the other side of the M4 may be only 30 miles away, but there appears no sense of dissonance, or really of rivalry - they both get more visitors than they can easily cope with (their combined population comes in at under 1,000).

Who is the better judge of such matters? William Morris, or the demos? Why do people feel the need to decide such a thing at all?

(Other most beautiful villages in England are available.)

Summoned by Bells
Personally, I love the sound of church bells, perhaps because I was brought up hearing this lot every Sunday morning (services) and Wednesday evening (bell practice), as well as many Saturdays (weddings). Along with the smell of hops from the brewery, they were part of the sense-scape of my Romsey childhood.

My mother has a different relationship with them. At the age of 11 she was sent by her mother to live with her aunt in Wellington, Shropshire. This was so that she could attend Wellington High School, as her own mother had done; but she was terribly homesick, and after a year came back to Wales. In the meantime, the ringing of bells in the nearby church in Wellington became indissolubly linked in her mind with her own misery, and even now - more than 80 years later - she dislikes the sound.

In Romsey square this morning, it came home to me just how bloody loud they were. No one seems to mind; but a mosque calling the faithful at even a third of this volume would certainly bring complaints.

Click for the audio, and the noise/delightful music.

Romsey 22 July 2018

A Tale of Two Villages
Two days ago I visited Lacock, about half an hour from here, hoping to waylay some Japanese tourists and ask them their impressions. I failed utterly, because I went in the morning, and they come in the afternoon - mostly. But I did talk to lots of shopkeepers, etc.

It was all for my Cotswolds project, of course; for, even though Lacock is really a little way outside the Cotswolds, it does tend to be included in Japanese language tourist guides, and sometimes even such august organisations as the National Trust appear to claim it:

National Trust bag on sale at NT shop Lacock

Anyway, it's a famously pretty village, so here are some pics if you like that kind of thing:
Open the Chocolate BoxCollapse )

Like Castle Combe, Lacock is frequently used in historical films and television programmes: it featured heavily in Pride and Prejudice and Cranford, and made appearances in both Harry Potter and Downton Abbey. Unlike Castle Combe, though, where media appearances are not made much of, Lacock very much sells itself on this aspect of its identity - along with its other claim to fame as the birthplace of photography. There's a Harry Potter-themed giftshop, for example:

Watling's Gift Shop

And the NT shop sells several books aimed at location hunters:

Contents Tourism in Lacock NT shop 1Contents Tourism in Lacock NT shop 2

I wonder why this difference in approach? Is it the presence of the National Trust itself? Or the fact that, although a small village, at 1,500 or so Lacock has a population almost five times larger than Castle Combe's?

Meanwhile in Bristol I've been having fun tracking down some of the 67 Wallace and Gromit statues scattered through the city for the 2018 summer "Gromit Unleashed" trail. Here are my two favourites so far: "The Howl" and "Gnome, Sweet Gnome".

The HowlGnome Sweet Gnome

Japanese Diary 37: My Salad Days, When I Was Blue in Judgement
Most, if not all, kanji have their origins in pictograms, some much older than others. The oldest were scratched onto turtle shells and other surfaces in ancient China, then baked so that the pattern of the resulting cracks could be used for oracular purposes. Some were invented as recently as the last century, but the vast majority have a long lineage. Over time they've changed shape reasons of style or simplification, the cultural context has altered and rendered certain features opaque, errors have crept in, phonetic elements have become mixed with meaning elements, and so on, each change taking them further from pictogrammatic clarity.

This year I've been using this book to learn kanji, and one of its charms is that it gives a brief history of each character's forms at various points in its history, plus a selection of modern scholars' attempts at interpreting what it represents. Being scholars, of course, they generally disagree.

Still, when you start learning Japanese you are usually lobbed a few kanji that offer a tantalising pictogrammatic promise. Yes, 木 does look like a tree; 川 a bit like a river, and 口 sort of like a mouth. If you take into account that circles are hard to draw with a calligraphy brush, I think it's easy to see 目 as an eye, too, with the two inner lines being the top and bottom of the iris or pupil.

Before long, though, things get harder. As a random example, here is 縮 (shuku), which means "contraction" or "reduction". It's made up of elements meaning "thread" and "lodging", if that helps? No, didn't think so.

That and a couple of thousand others I'm still in the process of memorising, and will be for the foreseeable future. But for this post I'm interested in another group. For example, here is 月, which means "moon". Back in the day, its pictogram ancestor was a relatively realistic portrayal of a crescent moon, but it's changed a lot since. I think I'd have trouble making a case for the current character as a pictogram, in Western terms.

However - and this is the point of this post, I suppose - I now cannot look at that character without thinking "moon". This is a result of rote learning of the most crudely Pavlovian kind, of course, but I feel it goes further than that. I no longer experience character and meaning (and the various readings that go with them) merely as a coincidence of arbitrary associations, linked only by increasingly well-trodden neural pathways; subjectively, I have begun to feel that the 月 character actually looks like the moon.

It's an interesting mental phenomenon, which applies to other characters, too. Does 女 look like a woman? I'm pretty sure that it does so now more than it did when I first learned it a few years ago. As I internalise more kanji, perhaps this sense will spread to more complex characters as well. Perhaps there'll come a time when 縮 really does look like a mimetic picture of the concept of shrinking? I'm not there yet - but if so, it explains why Japanese people sometimes insist that the kanji are pictograms, when (with relatively few exceptions) they aren't, to Western eyes. I always assumed that such assertions were a kind of (slightly dishonest) attempt to encourage rookie learners, but perhaps it really reflects their subjective experience? After all, these are people who can look at a green traffic light and call it blue.

Glass-Half-Full Grammar
Those of you who learned French - do you remember the lesson where they taught you about the third person plural pronoun? To recap: if you're talking about a group of males, it's "ils"; if a group of females it's "elles". But if it's a mixed group? Well, of course it's "ils", even if there's just one male and 999 females, so humiliating would it be for any man to have "elle" slapped on him. Besides, the rules seem to declare, men are simply more important.

I'm sure many have raged against this very patriarchal piece of grammar - including my daughter. However, today, my Japanese teacher told me that when she was learning French, her teacher (a man) had a different explanation: "If you have a glass of water and someone pees in it, it doesn't matter whether how much. Even if it's just a drop - you're still not going to drink from that glass."

Yes, I know it's problematic in its own right, but what a useful corrective to an age-old unfairness! (When I told my daughter this, she laughed like a drain.)