Tag Archives: mistakes

Recent intermission


Reading time has been rather gobbled up.

I may have selected this based on a subconscious connection with grass and the breaking of impenetrable sod:

Somehow I have managed to miss reading it down all the years; meeting as an adult, it raised quite a few questions.  One concerns the apparently reckless way the father takes his family off on a dangerous journey.  We have gone soft now.  Or perhaps it didn’t seem as dangerous, when any life was dangerous – even staying tucked into the most secure and prosperous home could not protect you from the epidemics of infectious disease which cut swathes through many a family.  Or perhaps pressure of poverty was strong enough to drive the migrants on. Then there’s the way Ingalls apparently makes the decisions without input from his wife (ah the good old days – ‘she for god in him’ etc.) And worst, of course, are the passages dealing with the native Americans.  Ingalls is portrayed as liberal, humane, but assumes that the western country is his to take because the inhabitants “weren’t using it”, and he is furious when, having illegally moved into Indian reservation land, he and other settlers were required to leave “their” farms. Ugly.

Then there is this delicate little sippet of a book.

Ah, the pure sensory pleasure of its satiny dust jacket, the smooth crispness of the coated paper, the careful balance of text and image, the reposeful colours, the spine coherent without wilful springiness, the clean smell rising from every page turn. This made it quite difficult to concentrate on the actual subject matter, but it too was charming in its miscellany of science, technology, art and history, and although the coverage is very slight, there’s a further reading list handy at the back.

One phrase, though originally intended to be satirical, spoke truth to me as an observer:  Thomas Tomkis in 1615 characterised a telescope as “an engine to catch starres”.

How to be a stinker


The horrible dry north-easterly is blowing, has been blowing, will continue to blow, and apart from an untimely shower on Sunday we haven’t had a drop.  Oh for a mild moist westerly!

Under a thick overcast the wallflowers continue to bloom as they have since March, unwatered in the stony parched soil, the rich colours relieving the gloom.  I’ve already sowed seed to get next year’s started.  What would I do without them?  Meantime, the herbaceous clumps which will replace the wallflowers, when they do finish, are waiting in the wings.

The roses are suffering but still trying, aided by a few watering-cans-worth here and there. Hoping to support their struggles, I barrowed around lots of black lumpy material from the compost bin.  The stench was outstanding, though of course compost shouldn’t stink.  Mystery explained when a big glop of green gel oozed from the spade, gaggingly odorous.  One of us must have thrown some over-date eggs into the compost bin, and somehow they never broke, even while two years worth of organic waste was mashed down on top of them.

Century egg, anyone?

Not very joined up


One of those random days where none of the bits matched any of the other bits.

We started with reindeer of course, striding away across the snow.  Not feeling like doing any striding myself, I ripped back some knitting.  Do you know how difficult it is to unravel wool which is both hairy and decorated with sequins?  Not so much ripping as delicately untangling each row and removing the snags one by one to avoid spoiling the yarn.

The reindeer were having a little rest.  Some of them were asleep.  The ones that were asleep chewed slowly.  The ones that were awake chewed less slowly.

I cut the grass.  I promised myself I wouldn’t complain about cutting the grass.  Look: this is me not complaining about cutting the grass.  I decided the time for curlicues was past, and mowed straight over the violets.  Most of them were finished anyway, and now they all are.

Checking in on the reindeer:  they were stepping steadily in the chilly sunshine.  A few paused to suck and gnaw at exiguous strands of lichen glued flat to black rocks.  I meditated on stripes.  Tricky things, stripes.

Episodes of social engagement followed. The sea was blue and sparkly, the hills pale green over the pale chalk, but I couldn’t enjoy – bank holiday weekend, so all the ordeal of homicidal motorbike riders and suicidal cyclists and lost tourists looking at the view instead of the road.  Bad combination.

Home again, I made sure the herd was all right.  Their humans were amusing themselves by drawing giant patterns in reindeer, right across the valley floor – by laying a trail of what looks like pony nuts, which the reindeer rush into lines to feed upon.

Watering plants next.  It’s supposed to rain tomorrow, at last, and the timing is rubbish as usual, with hundreds of people in tents, poor loves, and an early garden show kicking off.

Back with the reindeer.  I’ve turned the sound off.  It’s getting a bit late in Norway and the screen caption says it’s -12°C.  The current shot:  A reluctant northern night is gathering.  A small snowmobile van thing is shown slowly approaching the camera position over a wide field of snow.  It passes the camera position.  The camera pans to keep it in view.  The van thing progresses across the snow.  The camera centres on its little flat square doors.  It goes further away over the snow.  It goes further away some more.  It goes away a bit more.  The now tiny back view of the van thing disappears gradually over the brow of a snowy hill.  The camera continues to look at snow on the now empty hill.

I think the reindeer and I are stuck with each other for the duration.

Don’t panic


(!YES!  !PANIC!)

It all started so promisingly.

The baby 5″ is quick to set up and I took a couple of snaps for the fun of it, before the sky was properly dark.

I even managed to catch a little of the earthshine, though it needed a time long enough to over-expose the lit crescent of the moon.

The 5″ was, however, not giving a good image of Jupiter, and I lugged out the 10″.  Given that we’re talking astronomy here, no surprise that the clouds came up in a moment, and wiped the sky like a sponge across a blackboard.  At this point everything began to go wrong, a maddening saga involving collimators, flat batteries, lost screws, and the impending disintegration of the whole primary mirror assembly on the 10″.  And it wasn’t even April Fools yet.  I secured the primary before sulking off to bed, but it’s going to be a vile job to realign everything.

This afternoon was bright but it was the mist in the downs which was making me happy.

Driving home, I could see four complicated sky layers, all apparently doing different things.  By the time I could photograph, only two of the layers were obvious: the low grey layer which was the one sitting on the hills, moving quickly to the right, though there was almost no breeze at ground level; and the high white cumulus, drifting almost imperceptibly to the left.

Made me think of Jupiter all over again.

“Suddenly” we are GOING to *emphasise* and ‘use’ speech marks FOR no *apparent* reason as “if” we were randomly *shouting*


Hmm.  Seems you can’t use italics in a blog post title.  Please take them as read between * and *.

See?  They are even on the cover.

It’s a long time since I was so comprehensively annoyed by typography.  The excessive use of inverted commas sometimes makes it difficult to tell if they are random noise or indicate a genuine quotation.  And then there are the italicised words plopped without apparent purpose into every sentence.  And the capitals.  Add to this the authorial voice, at once matey and preachy….  all so distracting that I found it almost impossible to grasp the content.  Whatever happened to formal prose?  I wish he had had a strong-minded editor.

I developed a technique for following the argument, in the end.  This consisted of hopping briskly from one quotation to another, like stepping from tussock to tussock in a bog.  Luckily the quotations were numerous and often full, so I read a certain amount of Buber, Tracy, Arendt, Schillebeeckx, Derrida, and such, and the merest modicum of Veling.

The prose came alive once, though.  Veling gives an account of a time when he attempted to actually apply his practical theology in a tricky social situation.  “No miracle of peace occurred”, he notes sadly.  Yep.  Ain’t that the truth.

What’s February for …


…  if not to read … and read …


Alexander Scrimgeour kept a (totally illegal) personal diary as a trainee midshipman for the first years of World War I, and wrote many letters home.  In this selection there’s a good deal of superficial snobbery, and a lot of growing up, while the content is a wild mixture of experiences as he met them.  One minute he is complaining that the girl he fancies doesn’t have enough hair and is therefore ineligible to be his girlfriend.  The next he is giving an unembroidered but terrifying description of a storm in the north Atlantic – a 40 degree roll going on and on, everyone sleepless, soaking and freezing, ship’s biscuit and chocolate the only food, the ship’s boats being snatched by huge waves, one after another, electric shocks from the deck, and finally the huge sea which demolished the fore-bridge, wheel house, chart-room and intelligence office and threatened to dislodge the funnels (he records with surprise that nobody was lost overboard).  In a more reflective mood, Scrimgeour describes the frosted-up ships in a squadron looking “like great white icicles”, or then indulges in some sarky remarks about the all-pervading Admiral Beatty and his even more all-pervading wife. In a letter of December 1915 he records his admiration for the ship’s stokers (possibly the most looked-down-upon seafarers of all): “their whole life in war-time is a vivid succession of discomforts and hardships, unparalleled in severity and monotony” – a respect he was incapable of experiencing a year earlier.

Diaries can be wonderful because the author is writing in the moment, unbiased by hindsight.  This author never had a chance for any hindsight, and reading the diary is coloured by a sobering dramatic irony:  we know, as Scrimgeour did not, that he would be killed at Jutland, aged just 19.


The conceit of this slim volume is that poets submit one of their own poems, alongside a poem from another writer who has influenced them.  Somehow this didn’t quite come off for me (perhaps some of the selections were too predictable).  Not without gain, however.  I’m very happy to have met quite a few poems which will grow on me, especially Robinson Crusoe’s Wise Sayings by Ian McMillan (“…If you talk to a stone long enough you’ll fall asleep…”) and the Warning to Children by Robert Graves.  Well, I think they should be warned.


Slightly had my doubts (*whispers*:  American you know) but was encouraged to find Cobb thanking St Augustine in the author’s acknowledgements, alongside colleagues, editors, copyright granters etc., and making an early nod to the failures and transgressions of theology.  Thus fortified, I pressed on, enjoying some decent writing, and a thread of optimism which the author himself sees as defiance.


Fiction for younger children is remarkably poor.  Remarkably, because picture books are often superb, and fiction for children of 9+ is often very good too; but stories for 5 – 7 year olds mostly have no excuse for existing.  No wonder children don’t want to read, I mutter viciously, as I flick though another 40 vacuous pages.  Most maddening of all, there are a number of books where you can see a good story trapped inside the lack-lustre writing.  This was a case in point:  I really wanted to know about Jellyblob.  But no; Jellyblob’s poignancy and weirdness are forever veiled behind the pedestrian plot and worthless protagonists.


Before John Arlott went global with TMS, he wrote this brief account of the Test series (MCC against South Africa) in 1947.  According to the fly leaf, it cost eleven shillings, a not inconsiderable sum in 1948, and perhaps it seems a little odd that anyone would fork out to this extent for summaries of matches a year old.  Still less worth reading about matches of seventy years ago, you would think; but cricket tends to generate good stories, and this book had found its reader. There’s interest in the conditions of cricket at the time, as these were four day tests, with uncovered wickets, and Arlott mentions players still trying to regain fitness after war-time food rationing.  But mostly it’s the writing. Arlott of course adored both the game and phrase-making, and even a cricketing moron like myself could visualise it:  “England’s Nos. 9, 10, and 11 – looking like Nos. 11, 12 and 13”;  Dawson on his follow-through taking “a barely Christian caught-and-bowled”; Nourse who “doled out runs like slowly thought-out insults”.  My favourite story was the one about the batsmen panicked by a phantom ball.  Too long to post here, but oh, joyous.

Oh all right then




Well it had good reviews, but then, what do reviewers know?  Or Very Reverend Doctors, for that matter.

Naturally I had to buy it, but was overtaken by deep reluctance.  Nearly two years on, and mostly because of the £10 expended, I approached the first chapter crabwise, reading with my face (as it were) averted until well into chapter two, and backing off at intervals to squint from a safe distance.

With hesitant trust established, I gobbled the remaining eleven chapters at speed, scribbling notes as fast as possible so as not to interrupt the prose.  The biographical writing and critical analysis step gracefully in and out of one another, and Drury seems to have all the time in the world for his discussion.  He writes with zest and, I think, affection, and with enjoyable turns of phrase.  Almost all the argument rang true as I read – there were one or two small clonks, but then, what do I know either?  Drury also has a gift of quotation which makes one actually want to rush off and read the sermons of seventeenth century divines, so there’s a novelty.

So yes, all right, Drury can do Herbert. I am ridiculously relieved.

A sea of error


Still sifting the library, knee deep in small children and the hideously-accumulated errors of the catalogue.  No doubt I am adding yet another set of inconsistencies and typos.

The errors pursued me into the picayune literary magazine which is in editing, and throve exceedingly.  So preoccupied did I become with formatting (but how did that paragraph get condensed?) that I mislaid an apostrophe.  Oh the shame.  And now it is too late, I see yet another formatting error.  Luckily the infants will not know that a specific word was meant to be bolded.  Stop fussing, stupid:  time for the blind man on a galloping horse to be invoked.