Tuesday, 27 February 2007


I resisted Skins for a bit but now I've started watching it and it's very entertaining. Still I'm glad I'm not a sixteen-year-old these days, because I can remember feeling terribly dull when I was, and now I'd be feeling just immensely pathetic for all the drugs I wasn't taking, all the awkward sex I wasn't having, not to mention having parents who didn't have affairs or swear at me or suddenly disappear. Hurray! Also it has an excellent anti-hero who reads Thus spake Zarathrustra and whom the parents all love. When I was that age I was always very suspicious of people who got on well with adults and thought there was something to Nietzsche.

Everything's OK

At some point in the late '90s I went to the newly-reopened Cambridge Arts Theatre to see Mark Ravenhill's wildly successful shock-fest "Shopping and F***ing". That's literally how it was spelt on the posters, and on the front page of the program, though once you turned over to the half-title page it spelt it out in full, which I thought was a missed opportunity for it really to be called Shopping and Forking, or Shopping and Feeling, or something. Explicit sex in films is usually pretty naff, but explicit sex being acted out on stage is really no way for a grown person to make a living. (I did learn a good way to put a bra on in a hurry though.)

Wikipedia summarises the point of the play thus:
everything, including sex, violence and drugs, is reduced to a mere transaction in an age where shopping centres are the new cathedrals of Western consumerism... The hyper-consumerist tone of the play echoes the Capitalisme sauvage of Thatcherist ideology.
It had one particularly painful bit where someone says he would like to offer someone some food, but can't because he only has a microwave meal for one -- it was a pretty laboured metaphor.

Yesterday a friend offered me some food and just split a single microwave meal in two, and we each ate half from plates. I think this is very cool, and it just goes to show that it's all alright really.

Saturday, 17 February 2007


Virgin Records once ran a sale under the banner "I hate myself and I want to buy", enraging Nirvana fans because "I hate myself and I want to die" was Kurt Cobain's suicide note or favourite song, or ringtone or something. Anyway Virgin Records knew their market. When my Granny died I bought myself a new ipod, and there are whole sermons to be got out of that transaction.

It's nearly Lent and I've been thinking what to give up. The year before last I gave up novels and read serious books, largely theological. Last year I gave up feeling sorry for myself. (Which worked quite well until Easter, when I went on something of a self-pity bender.) This year I'm considering something more anti-capitalist, possibly giving up my credit card. I could try living off cash. A sort of money diet.

Friday, 16 February 2007

£200+ rat

Last year someone gave me one of those Easter rabbits with a little bell round its neck and once I had wolfed the chocolate I felt a terrible urge to put said bell on a rat. I chose Lilian because she is the bolshiest and wasn't going to be upset by this. She completely ignored it, in fact. Anyway that's why there is a ribbon round her on this picture. I don't usually go round putting ribbons on pets, like the mad artist in Spaced who puts ruffs on pet dogs and makes them dance for him. It's the best picture I have of her. She looks older now.

Here is Lilian in the hammock on top of Yaffle. The grey ball in the corner is Muesli sleeping on her head. You can just about see her two pink ears against the grey shelf.

Post-operative care in small pets

People do experiments on rats, you know, but not all of them are horrible, and some are very interesting. (Don't ask me about Learned Helplessness, though.) Apparently they once decided to see what sort of light levels rats preferred by putting them in cages with dimmer switches. Rats being rats they learnt how to use the switches and if put in a dark cage would turn the light up, or down if in a bright one. The experimenters took note of the light level which the rats chose. When they put the rats in a cage already lit at that level they found that the rats nonetheless altered the light level, randomly up or down. Essentially rats don't want any specific measurable light level, what they want is a level which they themselves have chosen.

I think this is great; it's like the Wife of Bath's tale but with rodents. Still it does make it harder to give them antibiotics. If you start a fight with a rat you've already lost. But don't assume that the rat or other pet doesn't know this -- our dog Peggy used to pretend she loved being wormed but secretly dribble the pills out of the corner of her mouth about ten minutes later so eventually you found them stuck to the side of the sofa or on your sock and had to go through the whole thing again. If they even realise there's the slight possibility of a fight you may already have lost. I'm doing OK getting antibiotics into Lilian at the moment because we have come to an agreement concerning antibiotic-soaked jaffa cakes, and because I am nonchalantly pretending I don't really care either way.

Thursday, 15 February 2007

From an eleventh-century teaching copy of Aldhelm

Tres infelices leguntur in lege: qui scit et non docet; qui docet et non facit; et qui nescit nec interrogat.

Also an odd little story about how Adam's name came from the first letters of the stars Anatholim, Disscis, Archtus, and Mensebrion, fetched from the four corners of the universe by Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Uriel.


Thanks to Adrian for pointing out unexpected Tudor jewellery influence:

Tuesday, 13 February 2007

We're the Pet Shop Boys

Here is a song about the Pet Shop Boys:

When I went for an interview at Trinity as a sixth-former I had to stay overnight afterwards because the journey was quite long. I took: Very on my walkman (on a tape cassette!), the selected poems of Robert Graves, and a packet of jaffa cakes.

Saturday, 10 February 2007


It's interesting how the imagery of Napoleon, specifically the picture by David of him crossing the alps:

has affected the iconography of St George the dragon slayer:

The icon above is from Moscow, of all places.

Friday, 9 February 2007

Oh this is so sad

Anna Nicole Smith has died, and she was only 39. It's all a bit Lolo Ferrari.

Thursday, 8 February 2007


This afternoon I'm going through a ninth-century book from Arras checking its condition. It's mostly Prudentius. It has tenth-century English glosses, and more from the eleventh century and later. This sort of manuscript, the unpretentious working manuscript, has its own charm against the more elegant liturgical books. The glosses in an early canonical form of Square minuscule (I'm guessing Phase II, Phase fans), not at all a suitable glossing script, are otherwise quite practical in nature -- subbisido means rapido, for example. Later glosses in a lovely Late English Caroline Minuscule (Style IV, if you will) are more obviously about improving command of the Latin language, not just understanding it, so there are lots of synonyms, like manifestatrix for proditrix. Rhetorical devices like synecdoche are helpfully pointed out in the margin, and there are occasional notes on scansion. This scribe occasionally fell back onto Old English (in eleventh-century vernacular minuscule) -- for example, chirographo is glossed handfæstnunge, meaning "handfastening", and I think we can all agree that that's nice.

There are two excellent things here. Number one is that you can start by knowing a bit about the script, and spot the details in the glosses which show they're from the first half of the tenth century. And because you can see that the main script is Caroline from the north you know that this is a Continental book, and you know that it was brought over in the period when the English were trying to rebuild their learning after the huge disruptions of the ninth century. The glosses are in an Insular script, not Caroline, though this book itself is an example of the models which the English were rejecting when they developed Square minuscule. Then the glosses show the different ways that people were learning at the time. From the evidence of the little details of ductus etc you can move out to huge important things -- as long as you get the first details right.

The second is that I don't have to publish about it, I'm not making a study of the glosses of Prudentius or cultural contacts between England and the Continent in the tenth century, I'm simply checking it for tears and holes, so I can just put a small random note about it on my blog. Yay!

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Hurray for...

  • vets! My little rat is fine apparently, though they want to keep her in over night for observation
  • the Brepols databases! Now I have the whole text of Cassiodorus at my fingertips. If only I had time to read Cassiodorus
  • late Celtic abbreviations! I need to study these in early English Caroline, which probably means spending years studying Celtic MSS first
  • having a research allowance! I think it's all going to go on microfilms this year, mostly of English Caroline minuscule with late Celtic abbreviations in it
  • arrogance! I feel like taking on T.A.M. Bishop. Seriously, I'm so fed up with paying lip service to his great work. Yes he pioneered some good stuff but he never showed his working, he just pronounced Sybillinely, and he was quite capable of writing a sentence which could mean either of two mutually contradictory things. He also told what I can only assume were deliberate lies, i.e. when he said that far more English Caroline MSS survive from the tenth than the eleventh century. And when asked once how palaeography was in Cambridge he replied "I've killed it". (Sore point, right now.) Also my external PhD examiner told me off for taking on a topic which Bishop and Ker had previously looked at, even though they had only done very brief stuff on it and I thought the point of giants was that they have shoulders? (I suspect he really meant to tell me off for taking on a topic which he had previously looked at, but heigh ho.) Bishop's Canterbury networks are great but they need another look. Then I want to write a book called "Caroline minuscule script in England". Yay! My PhD supervisor's book got ripped to shreds in reviews for taking on Bishop, even though his every other footnote was about how great Bishop is, so this would not be a fun career move.
  • also pop music and TV are great too

Pets: love you pay for

The small rat Lilian is at the vet's for an operation. I've just had a phonecall saying (surprise!) that things are more complex than at first thought. Hopefully she'll still pull through OK. I'm not doing very well with pets at the moment. Though I think actually the vet was just calling to let me know it's all going to be very expensive, which is a bit like an estate agent warning you that moving house can be a bit stressful.

Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Something nasty in the basement

I'm writing a review of a book by the man who was "The Prof" when I was an undergraduate, and I'm finding it really frustrating because it's for Library History not the Literary Review, and yet I have the best anecdote to start it with. Or at least I think it's a good anecdote. It's about how when we were just undergraduates he took a group of us on a trip to Ramsey in a minibus. The land round there has all been drained and is pretty flat and featureless, foiling the Prof's attempts to point out the monastic estates and eel-weirs, etc. When we got to Ramsey, where Abbo of Fleury once taught Byrhtferth computus, a kind headmaster took us all down to the basement of his school into the boys' loos (they smelt foul) and pointed out in the corner some reused carved masonry which was the sole remnant of the monastery buildings which had replaced the Anglo-Saxon monastery. The book is about Anglo-Saxon libraries, and I thought it would make a good line about Lapidge being the ideal guide to the disappeared, or something. Unfortunately the Literary Review has never asked me to review anything, and I can't really get all anecdotal in Library History. It's probably for the best. If I start trying too hard I'm just going to come over as a bit of an Alain de Botton.

In other news, there was an excellent Sophie's World moment of near-escape from the confines of narrative in the O.C. today when the Julie Cooper's daughter brought her tennis coach whom Julie had snogged to a party where Julie was on a date with the tennis coach's father. How did you know Bullet was his father? asked Julie. I didn't, said the daughter. That's rather a coincidence, said Julie, and they both stared into the middle distance pensively for a bit. But they didn't pursue it and break free like Sophie, who I seem to remember did some pretty non-age-appropriate stuff once she realised she was only a narrative device.

Monday, 5 February 2007

This is cool

Tracey Thorn from Everything but the girl.

Sunday, 4 February 2007

Pop is short for popular

There's not a lot of point in my putting pop stuff here because you might as well just go straight to www.popjustice.com, but anyway if you want some good pop in the background while you're doing something dull here are a few options:
1. Cute and happy pop. Video involves pogs!
2. Cute poignant ballad pop. Cartoon cat/bunny-people in love but separated by space. Brett Anderson sings. Not one for valentines.
3. Grown-up emotionally-neutral pop. Uplifting.

Friday, 2 February 2007


I thought of another way of spending money, but this one's more frivolous. It's called "Text a Tumbleweed". You just text a premium-rate number, and someone delivers a tumbleweed to you for a nominal fee. It's in a van equipped with a powerful fan in case you need help getting it to tumble. It would be for those occasions when you feel the need of a tumbleweed to express yourself.

Elly the dog

My little Elly, my Elly-the-dog whom I love to bits, is being put to sleep this morning. She is 13 and two thirds, which is a very good age for a big dog. I shall miss her tons. Mum trained her to speak to me down the phone -- she would go "urrooowworrooowooo", and it was usually possible to get something of her mood by the intonation. We had her for a year before I left for university, so she always knew I was part of the pack, and whenever I visited my parents she would greet me with abandoned joy. She did a little dance around me with small gestures at my bag: it went "It's you! It's you! I'm so pleased to see you (and your bag). I love you very much and it's great to have you home! (And I also love your bag.)" (Because I would bring a present for her in my bag.) Then in the evening she would lie her head on my feet and gaze up at me with big brown eyes as if she couldn't believe I was really there.