Monthly Archives: November 2014

Salmemaraton thanks


Thanks are due:  Strikkelysten has led me to the Salmemaraton which is ‘slow TV’ from Norway – never heard of this before, but a wonderful idea in a rushing, chattering age.  I gather Norwegian choirs are patiently singing the whole of a hymnbook.

I don’t understand a word of the hymns, and am thus preserved from literary criticism and aggravating theology, while the range of music is similar-to-but-different-from English hymnody.  At the same time, if I watch the scrolling information bar,  small clumps of Norwegian occasionally pop into meaning, which is a good parlour game for one.

The Salmemaraton is here.  At time of writing they are on hymn 521 of 899.




Apparently a ‘classic’, written in 1964 and still in print today, outlining the Russian campaigns of World War Two.  Quite solid going, but interesting.  The scale and human cost of the war in Russia is shocking, indeed unimaginable to those of us with the good fortune never to have been invaded. Most detail had to be omitted, or the work would have been 5000 pages instead of 500, but it is a good jumping-off point from which to pursue individual characters or campaigns.

Clark was fairly clear explaining the main actions, adding memorable details and quotations to fix the characters in mind. My feeble geography was usually helped by the maps, though one or two rather heightened the confusion:


Of course the book is dated.  The sources used are predominantly German, including word-for-word transcriptions of Hitler’s conferences with his generals and interrogations of surviving Germans, which were publicly available.  In 1964 access to Russian sources would have been more restricted, so there is less insight into the Russian decisions and underlying activity.  This is a weakness which Clark acknowledges in the 1995 preface.

Clark’s viewpoint is always partisan, very much that of one far closer to WWII than we are, and deep in the chilliest phase of the Cold War.  His blanket assessments of the German nation would not be acceptable now (though given the kinds of primary material he had to read, perhaps he can hardly be blamed):

How agreeable to combine duty and sport; to bask in the glow of the crusader while enjoying the particular physical pleasure which so many Germans derive from the infliction of pain.

He acknowledges the brutality of the Russians, tending to excuse it as a) incidental rather than integral, and b) the Germans started it.  Perhaps with a fuller knowledge he would have let them off less lightly.  As a sop to even-handedness, he also comments on Roosevelt’s incidental role with barely-concealed contempt, and, in the context of Polish independence, describes

the alternating perfidy and impotence of the Western Allies …

How could it ever be otherwise, when blood is the argument?


Not blue


It started blue but suddenly wasn’t.

(Click a thumbnail for the gallery)

Grunting. And snarling.


Mr Turner grunts and growls his way through the film, and not necessarily in an amiable tone.

Not sure how historical some of the details are, and occasionally I thought the language was more clunky than authentic. But we were glued to the story, fascinated by the presentation of Turner’s painting techniques, intrigued by the scenes re-creating 19th century London and Margate, and wanting to visit the real pictures again.

On not being told what to think




Treehorn is shrinking.  We imagine his situation through the responses of the people in his life, which are at once absurd and devastatingly recognizable.  The few hundred words of the story are almost pitch-perfect, while the Edward Gorey black-and-white illustrations embody the strangeness of the ordinary.  While reading, one longs to smack Treehorn’s parents and stick needles all over the Principal, and after reading there is a residual tendency to apologise to all the children you have ever known.  Also to check one’s own height before going to bed.

Fantasy, satire, parable – whatever it is, every home should have one.

Aetat. 14


I, Claudius

Re-reading I, Claudius for the nth time, I contemplated Graves’ success in making us so believe in his central characters that we devalue any actual historical evidence which would contradict his portraits – a feat similar to that of Shakespeare’s creation of Richard III.  And beneath the wonderful fictional portraits lies a similar motive:  a political interpretation of historical events for the author’s own time, more veiled and perhaps more pervasive than Shakespeare could achieve in the narrow compass of his play.  But on the first reading I was scarcely aware of this subtext, my whole attention being taken up with the hair-raising vices and almost equally alarming virtues of the Imperial clan.

I, 1971

Reading Graves’ novel fed a tentative interest in classical history and literature, encouraging me to read further and more deeply, and I owe him much for that alone.  Beginning to understand English literature or European history worked much better with at least a dribble of Homer, Sophocles, and Virgil running in the veins.  And the re-reading has sent me off again:

I will read it next

It’s translated by Robert Graves, of course.