Monday, 30 July 2007


1. I should also add to my list of living authors whose work I would always read:
Mavis Cheek: though she's got a tad serious. Janice Gentle Gets Sexy is a great funny book.
Jane Stevenson: London Bridges is a great Hurray for London! novel, and everything she has ever written is very good in an intelligent way.

2. I want itunes to have a bookmark feature. If I'm listening to an audio book (at the moment I'm reviving my near-defunct French) I want to be able to come back to the same place while perhaps listening to something else in between. I want to be able to bookmark where I am and then choose from a list of bookmarked spots which one is the right one to go back to.

Friday, 27 July 2007

The literary insomniac

The best way to get reading suggestions is still either personal recommendations from people whose taste you know, or from reviews. I read the Guardian's Saturday book reviews, but they're not always completely reliable. I can't be doing with the Times Literary Supplement or the London Review of Books -- they're both full of articles about how some minor mid-twentieth-century sculptor or poet I've never heard of is in need of a reappraisal, which is too much like hard work when I've never originally appraised them. The best place for proper reviews which introduce you to the book and give you a sense of whether you want to read it is the Literary Review, which treats intelligent reading like it should still be a pleasure. I stayed subscribed to this even during my postgraduate poverty years. The new issue arrived today and has an interview with Philip Pullman.

I'm wondering if I should reread Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy. As I remember it the first one is brilliant; the second is quite good; and the third one loses it, both in narrative (it gets all bogged down in strange dust and animals with wheels) and in the point it's trying to make. I'm not against things that argue against Christianity -- much of the time they seem to me to make interesting sense -- but this one was confused and odd. I'm probably missing something because a lot of people have been very impressed by it. It seems to be saying that organised religion is bad, but it still keeps the concept of sin -- it just suggests that because organised religion is bad, sin must be good. One of the characters is a new Eve, and it's vital that she "falls", which she does by engaging in some vaguely-described sexual behaviour with another slightly older kid. Of course it's possible that the book is trying to do something more interesting than I understood, because whether or not you think there's such a thing as sin, most people would see pubescent/pre-pubescent children having sex as a bad thing. It mostly just annoyed me, though.

I've just finished The Night Watch by Sergei Lukyanenko. It's quite good if you're looking for something reasonably non-draining in a fantasy sort of way but not too full of dragons. It's about someone who helps patrol the streets of Moscow keeping the balance between good and evil. He works for the good, but the organisation is a bit compromised, and in some ways more frightening than evil. I'll probably read the others, perhaps on holiday.

Thursday, 26 July 2007

I'm here to kill your monstah

Oh that brings back happy memories of Andy Orchard saying "let's do some original research!" in supervisions, and typing lofgeorn, eager for praise, into the Toronto Dictionary of Old English database, and pointing out that it's almost always used in a prose, negative context, therefore maybe implying criticism of Beowulf. That was a good teacher! He deprived the town-dwellers of their ale-benches, etc. Later he wrote a book called Pride and Prodigies which is an excellent title. This is most of what I can remember from my Part II Beowulf course: it's about pride, the monstrous, and Christians dealing with the pagan past. It looks like this might even be a reasonably good film.

Monday, 23 July 2007

Rights of the reader

I should also add Daniel Pennac to my list of living authors whose work I would always read, only I need someone to translate for me first. His scapegoat books are great. I like his rights of the reader, and now Quentin Blake has illustrated them. (I tried to make the image below a link, but it hasn't worked: here is where the poster comes from.)

Not the final routine

This is pretty cool.

But am I the only person who was reminded of the Day Today Elvicutions and such-like? I know that's pretty sick of me...

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Simpsonize me

This is what I would look like as a Simpsons character, apparently. I think I have a rounder face. Anyhoo, here it is.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

I am not ashamed

I've been reading Nick Hornby's Polysyllabic Spree. It's a collection of his columns from The Believer, a magazine from the people who do McSweeney's. (I bought an issue when I was in America this spring, and it was good, though they seem somewhat over-impressed by post-modernism.) He wrote for them monthly about what he was reading. The Believer has a strict policy of no negative reviews, so if he didn't like a book he had to anonymize it when he talked about it, so "Contemporary Literary Novel by Anonymous" appears quite often in the list. (The only one I could identify is a Bonfiglioli mystery, which he really hated. Don't read them unless you truly don't mind a repulsively amoral narrator.)

I like Nick Hornby. A Long Way Down is funny in such a grim way it's quite painful, and How To Be Good is one of the few recent novels my mother has read. (She thought it would be interesting to know what people understand being good to mean.) But I picked The Polysyllabic Spree up several times in shops before actually buying it, because it is obvious even at a glance that Nick Hornby is a very different sort of reader from me. He likes books about sport, and aggressive thrillers. He read Jonathon Coe's biography of B.S. Johnson although he hasn't read any B.S. Johnson, while I need to like an author a lot before I can muster interest for a biography. (Though a biography written by Jonathan Coe might be the exception given that he's one of my favourite authors.) Nonetheless, his writing about the books he has read and the books he has given up on in each month is very readable, and I've found a few things he mentions which I might now check out. Also it makes me think that I should write more on this blog about what I read.

Today I read the new Harry Potter book. I had to queue for two hours in the middle of the night to get it -- if I'd known it was going to be that long I wouldn't have done it, I expect, but once I'd queued for 45 minutes it seemed like a waste to give up. I texted someone at 1 am to say I was still there (and still on the first floor) and he replied that it was ridiculous given that the book was not by Pynchon. (I might have queued at midnight for a book by Pynchon -- certainly the fancy dress would have been more interesting. I could have gone as Fairing, who preached to the rats of New York. (Can I just point out I didn't go in fancy dress to the Potter thing?)) The problem is that the huge hype has polarized opinion about Potter. I find them very readable, and I doubt there'll be another two-hour long queue for a book in my lifetime -- it's like the people waiting at the docks in New York for the next installment of Little Dorrit. I first heard about them when there were only two out. My cousin was a primary school teacher, and I asked her if she was discovering good new children's books or if they still all read the old favourites, and she said that her class of nine-year-olds had all told her to read the Harry Potter books. I don't think it was til the third came out that it was widely noticed as a phenomenon, so I was lucky to be able to read them unclouded by hype. Nick Hornby writes very strongly in his introduction to the Polysyllabic Spree that he thinks people shouldn't be ashamed to read for pleasure, though I suspect he's not a Potter fan; some people express the opinion that adults shouldn't read children's books but I occasionally watch Big Brother and if I'm not ashamed of that I'm hardly going to be ashamed of anything I actually read.

Here are a few names I forgot for my list of the authors whose new work I would definitely read:
Chuck Palahniuk: though they are mostly foul, especially the latest one with all its rabies
Orhan Pamuk: some of them are really hard work, but My Name is Red is great, and it has a talking dog in it (sort of)
J.K. Rowling: see above

A point of information

I have just finished the last Harry Potter book, and I am emotionally drained.

Friday, 20 July 2007


I want to put it on record that I think Neville Longbottom will turn out to be the real hero of the Harry Potter books. But I probably won't get much time to read the last one tomorrow, because I might have to go and do some Latinate magic of my own. A certain fellow is stuck in Crete, and needs someone to stand in for him and say
Dignissima domina, domina procancellaria, et tota academia, presento vobis.... &c &c.
Gestures of doffing, finger-clutching, and hand-clasping, together with flamboyant yet shabby robes, complete the thing; I will not, however, have a wand. I dislike rituals intensely.

This is why, O Cambridge dweller, you should always have things definitely planned, preferably taking place far away, for every weekend; if you don't fill up your own time someone else will find something for you to do. Next Saturday I had made plans, and it's only because of that that I got out of giving a paper about something completely random at ten days' notice. This weekend I was not so wise.

Wednesday, 18 July 2007

Short lives

The Guardian did a thing not long ago where they got people to write short stories in six words, because apparently Hemingway once wrote a six-word short story which he said was his best ever. It went "For sale: baby shoes, never worn". The Guardian's ones show that it's not easy. I like DBC Pierre's:
Evil isn't necessarily unkind. Gran next.
Will Self is wonderfully typical with:
Pain, unutterable pain, stertorous exhalation. Death.
In the best tradition of mainstream journalism, the Guardian ripped off the idea from a lower-circulation magazine, in this case Wired, which has slightly better ones, maybe because of the sort of authors they chose -- idea-mongers, mostly. (In the best tradition of blogs, I got this information not from my own head but from a better blog.) I like Orson Scott Card's:
I saw, darling, but do lie.
Paul di Filippo's:
Husband, transgenic mistress; wife: “You cow!”
Margaret Atwood's
Longed for him. Got him. Shit.
and Alan Moore's
Machine. Unexpectedly, I’d invented a time

In a related enterprise I am collecting those sentences you sometimes come across, especially in book reviews, which seem to sum up a whole life and the milieu in which it was lived. The problem is that I keep writing them down in different places and then losing them. The ones I can find to hand are Anna Kavan:
They lived unhappily for a while in Burma, and produced a son who was killed in World War II.
and Sir Harry Oakes:
He befriended the Windsors and drew them into some questionable business ventures before being murdered in 1943.
Less typical, but quite evocative, is this description of Sir Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe:
a notably fastidious man, with feelings so refined that he could not bear to see women eat cheese.
And back to exiled British royalty, here is Andy Warhol's manager Fred Hughes:
He was obsessed by the Duke of Windsor, but bore more than a passing resemblance to the Duchess.

(From BookForum, Rupert Everett's memoirs, Dalrymple's Last Mughal, and Everett again.)

Tuesday, 17 July 2007

Some more bad things

1. I suppose that both politically and as a human it would not be a good idea to start using this blog to chronicle the crimes against me of eminent professors. Still, grrrr! Maybe I could just designate them anonymously with asterisks, like the tender moments in old-fashioned novels, only instead of *** it would need to be something more like *!#!!*@!*
2. Language students in town trying to buy alcohol.
3. But mostly it's the professors.

Monday, 16 July 2007

Bad things

1. The "Lucifer Box" books by Mark Gatiss. I read the first one and thought it was rubbish, and then the second one got tons of good reviews and was half price in Borders, so I read that one too. It is also rubbish. Making a character camp and prone to seducing young men is no substitute for giving him an actual personality. They're just a cut-price rip-off of the Kyril Bonfiglioli "Charlie Mortdecai" books. I can't imagine why so many people claim to have enjoyed them so much. It's another example of the many ways in which Stephen Fry has lost it since he became happy. It's nice for him, but the rest of us have to pay the cost.
2. Facebook. It brings out the naff in anyone who uses it; there is nothing genuinely funny on it, and vast amounts of weak humour. Enough now! This is a modern complex world; it is quite appropriate to have different faces you show to different people, however much that concept gets booed down on Big Brother as hypocrisy. I behave differently to my friends, my colleagues, and my students, and that's called being a proper adult. Facebook should go back to being just undergraduates and the tutors who are keeping an eye on them.
3. How we behave towards people being rather complex. When I was about sixteen I had my hair cut from longish to a sort of Hugh Grant look, which being skinny in those days I could get away with. This had a strange impact on my behaviour; I used to go to school by train, which meant a lot of waiting around for trains that didn't turn up, and I suddenly found that I was asking guards when the train was due in a straight-forward business-like way, instead of a curly-haired, helpless, poor-little-me sort of way which I hadn't even noticed I was doing before. Today I am annoyed with myself for having in the past been similarly pointlessly conciliatory to my vet, who has given me the wrong medicine for my rats. They are sitting about looking miserable because he diluted it without telling me, and actually directed me to continue with the same dosage. I am feeling immensely patronised by this, and very guilty because I haven't cared for my rats properly. The thing is that he's patronised me before, but I just took it because I assumed I had accidentally been annoying, and I assumed my rats would get the best care if I wasn't annoying.

Sunday, 15 July 2007

Some things which are good and one slightly disturbing thing

1. Calvin Harris's album I Created Disco. It's a bit like Jarvis Cocker crossed with the Human League. The Girls, Acceptable in the 80s and Merrymaking at My Place are the singles, and all good, and I currently love Disco Heat, which has great instrumental bits, expressing heartbreak in the brilliant way that only electronic pop can. I do hope he's not going to drug himself to death though -- he looks a bit out of it here, in a proto-Doherty sort of way, and all the songs seem to be about taking drugs with girls, without any of that "Just say no!" stuff for the kids.
2. Whistling Allegri's Miserere in an echoey place made of stone; to be specific, L staircase.
3. The tea place called Ti is actually quite good, and strangely soothing, even though I don't like tea. I hope they keep it going OK, because everyone wants to sit down and drink tea slowly, rather than sipping it as they wander about town like coffee, leading to a lower turnover.
4. It's Cambridge open studios this month.
5. The Sacred exhibition at the British Library. I promised someone I'd say what I thought about this, but I only had half an hour there which wasn't long enough. Still it seems like putting Jewish, Christian, and Muslim books side by side is genuinely interesting and not just the Blairite gimmick it at first appears.
6. Washing your hands in milk -- surprisingly luxurious.
7. Peter Callesen makes sculptures out of bits cut from a sheet of paper. About halfway down this page is a closet with lots of monsters in.
8. This video of a wishbone pulling the mechanical device which makes it walk is oddly disturbing.

Beware the eminent

Two major responsibilities which I have really enjoyed are pretty much ended now, and for a few months past I had been feeling sad about this, until a couple of weeks ago I realised how much more pleasant my life will be without them. Both are responsibilities without much power, and that's very frustrating. I've always been one of the least of the many on the college governing body; and in some way directing the studies of students is even worse because while it is much more interesting and of more immediate practical value, it's also one of those things where the possibility of messing up is huge, and the capacity for doing well is very small. The students run their own lives, and while you can advise them, remind them, or tell them off when necessary (which is rarely), in the end you can only trust that they will be able to deal with things themselves. Also, it's difficult for me not to worry about the students -- we do ask tough things of them -- and then I end up feeling like a complete mug for making my job harder than it needs to be. Anyway, both these things officially come to an end in September, but the Cambridge long vacation means that they are essentially over now.

So for the first time in at least two years, maybe longer (I forget), I am facing the prospect of only working full-time. (I've mostly given up teaching for rather sad reasons to do with the demise of palaeography, which I won't go into here.) I have two half-time jobs, which involves quite a bit of juggling between them, and switching from one to another involves more mental effort that I at first allowed for, but still, it seems almost incredible that that's all I have to do now. I can actually reopen the files on my computer of nearly-finished articles and notes on ideas for future work. It feels like a wierd treat -- like when I was working at M&S and if Igot a whole day together for my own work the UL felt like the Earthly Paradise.

There is one small problem in all this, which is that an eminent Professor has promised a learned society that I will be producing a book for them by September. I last talked to him in February, when we agreed to have a coffee to discuss the possibility of my producing a book for them at some point, but he never replied to my e-mails trying to arrange said coffee, and it's only because I work with another eminent Professor who was at the society's AGM that I know that September was mentioned as a deadline. I need to e-mail him about it but hermes is down. It's not impossible that I could do it by September, because it's really just a revised version of a book I have already published in a department series in a very humble form which involves my folding all the foldouts myself (consequently I have a bad callous on my right index-finger and I can't make more than two or three at the same time without my RSI flaring up). It's sold about 200 copies so far, and I'm ready to retire it from that series and get it into production in some way which does not cause me physical pain. I wrote it while I was doing my PhD; I don't know whether it would be good advice to a post-graduate to have another related but separate project on the go while doing their PhD, but it worked very well for me.

Probably the first eminent Professor didn't really mean for the deadline to be taken seriously, because he's a bit like that. When I was applying for my PhD and unsure whether to be a palaeographer or a hagiographer he told me just to make up a topic, apply, and then decide what I actually wanted to do once I had secured funding. Unfortunately the eminent Professor who was my PhD supervisor (this is yet another eminent Professor, different also from that e. P. who got me to publish my little book in the department series; Cambridge is stuffed to the gills with them) took my initial proposal very seriously and was very averse to my changing. I wanted to move from a topic where all the manuscripts were in Germany to one where the manuscripts were mostly in Cambridge, London, and Oxford, but for some months he resisted fiercely, the mainstay of his plan being to find me a German boyfriend so that I would want to visit Germany frequently. This involved a few embarrassing occasions on which he would introduce me to some suitable post-grad he had found with helpful ice breakers like "You're about the same height, aren't you?". It was a shame because I remember one in particular was doing what sounded like very interesting work but obviously I could never get in touch with him to talk about it and if I had seen him in the street I would have had to have run away. My supervisor is quite a sentimental man, happily married to a short series of otherwise intelligent women, and I really think he thought he was doing me a favour. Eventually I forced him to let me work on another topic, though that one only stuck for about eight months because we couldn't stop arguing about Eadwig Basan. So I ended up well over a year into my PhD without a topic, which is why I had to write my PhD on something I still find somehow mildly revolting.

Anyway, theoretically I could challenge eminent Professor 1 about the September deadline, but the problem is that he really is eminent Professor 1; as undergraduates we all called him "The Prof", and I still have a good deal of residual respect and fear for him, engendered by Latin classes where he let our year off doing Frithegod of Canterbury because he said we weren't bright enough, and Old English classes where he would suddenly randomly pick on someone and demand to be told what class a verb was. (The secret to this was to pick a number from 1 to 7; you had a 6 in 7 chance of getting it wrong, but if you got it right he would give you respect for ages, so it was worth the odds.) Also it would do me good to get the work finished, and it would be extremely cool to have a black-spined gold-lettered book in a series started by people like Bishop, Gasquet, Deslisle, Wickham Legg, and all those mad old liturgists. Also it will have to be an outsize volume in an otherwise mostly uniform series, and even though I am very fond of Gill and several other librarians, many of whom are excellent people and deal with academics in a patient way worthy of a medal, it somehow gives me a perverse little thrill to think of people trying to work out to how shelve it. I'm not sure this post really has a point, beyond the obvious one of displacement activity, but I suppose the moral is: beware of eminent Professors.

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Best desk in the world ever

It's a bit cramped sometimes, but I want to acknowledge that there is not a better desk to be had.

Sunday, 8 July 2007

I would read anything this author wrote

Thomas Pynchon: though he reminds me a bit of my PhD supervisor, in that sometimes the parts are greater than the whole
Barbara Trapido: though Frankie and Stankie was a bit disappointing
Barbara Kingsolver: Prodigal Summer is great, and so is her early stuff. (I discovered these two Barbaras at a time a few years back when I got so annoyed with the male voice in writing that I decided I had better not read anything written by men for a while, for fear that I might otherwise develop an unshakable and unjustifed intolerance. I'm pleased to report that this worked but I still wouldn't read anything by Martin Amis in case it triggered a relapse.)
Tibor Fischer: though his early stuff was better
Jonathon Coe: though he will never top What A Carve Up
John Irving: though Until I Find You was definitely not his best
Kate Atkinson: she can really write
Michael Chabon: ditto
Alexei Sayle: though I prefer his short stories
Allan Massie: am loving his fake twelfth-century narratives of the Matter of Britain
Pat Barker: obviously
Rose Tremain: natch
Iain Banks: as opposed to Iain M. Banks, though I do mean to try those one day
Barbara Vine: as opposed to Ruth Rendell, though I've never thought any of those were a waste of time either
P. D. James: though I wish she'd give the Book-of-Common-Prayer echoes a rest
Jilly Cooper: there's no point in being ashamed of this -- it's trashy reading but satisfying, like a twix
Iain Pears: the art-history mysteries are very good indeed, and The Dream of Scipio is the most moving book ever written about textual criticism
Arturo Perez-Reverte: buckles have never been swashed more intelligently
John Julius Norwich: though The Middle Sea is not as good as the Byzantium books
George MacDonald Fraser: we're officially owed one where Flashman makes sweet love in the Parker library -- Ray Page has the correspondence to prove it -- the main obstacle is presumably the dual improbability of anyone's getting into the Parker Library in the nineteenth century, and that person's being a woman -- it's going to tax his plotting skills
Salman Rushdie: the first time I read the Satanic Verses was to see what the controversy was about; the subsequent three or four times have been because it is a seriously good book; but he's definitely fallen off in recent years
Will Self: he is utterly original -- e.g. Great Apes, How the Dead Live, The Book of Dave, &c -- but do not, I repeat, do not read My Idea of Fun if you haven't already -- it's fouler than American Psycho
Julian Rathbone: he's annoying in many ways but gets away with it by being so good
Diana Athill: now she's stopped trying to write novels
Patrick McGrath: master of Gothic madness
Thomas McGuane: good on horses
Neil Gaiman: especially now he's grown up a bit
Liz Jensen: they've all been good in a lunatic sort of way

This is really quite a cheerful list -- these authors are all still alive so if they were each to produce a book every two years then I would have at least one appealing thing to read every month.

Saturday, 7 July 2007

Oh good grief

The Guardian's Saturday travel supplement offers this nugget of brain-deadness:
The trend for weekend pampering is not a new one. Back in 1132, Yorkshire's Rievaulx Abbey was described as a "marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world". Almost nine centuries later, English Heritage is encouraging us to find inner serenity on a series of "Pampering Saturdays" within the walls of the ruined abbey, including t'ai chi demonstrations and classes and foot massages in the herb garden.

I really don't think that the monks were finding freedom through pampering. Rievaulx was one of the first Cistercian abbeys in England, and Cistercians were an order renowned for their austerity: the Trappists are Cistercians. It may even be that if you're looking for a marvellous freedom from the tumult of the world, you're not going to find it in a foot rub.

I'm more and more convinced by the idea that almost all of the modern media is a sophisticated form of trolling. Trolling on a web message board is where you post something deliberately provocative and enjoy the ensuing attention -- for example, dodgy claims about the World Trade Center attacks, and suchlike.


I've been thinking a bit about community, recently. A criticism often levelled against the church from within is that the people of the church have lost an understanding of how to be part of a group. We've all got too used to being individuals, and the understanding of the self gained from this has been at a cost which prevents communal action. This is a large part of an argument which otherwise seems incomprehensible to non-Christians, I think; the suggestion from people who don't think that homosexuality is wrong that we should nonetheless not allow blessings of gay marriage. (St Paul told the Corinthians that they could eat meat sacrificed to idols, but that they should refrain from doing so if their example was causing anyone difficulties with their faith. I suppose that at that time finding meat in Corinth which had definitely never been sacrificed to an idol might have involved you in more effort and more cost, but it doesn't seem to me so very equivalent to giving up permanently an entire area of your life, one which the preachers are constantly telling us is a beautiful gift from God, in order not to upset people who are often finding it upsetting for entirely discreditable reasons. But then I was raised a protestant, and the church has little authority for me.)

Anyhoo, the idea that by being individuals we have lost the ability to work as a group interests me. Two things have brought it to mind in recent days. First, there has been a cigarette ban. About the only people I know who still smoke are fellows at the college where I work; colleges are, by their nature, appropriately some decades behind the times. There has been an unwillingness to accept that, passive smoking or no passive smoking, many people are negatively affected by smoke, especially now that asthma is on the rise. Secondly, we have been taking votes in groups. It's interesting to think about how we move on from divisive votes. A decision is taken which is binding on a group of which you are part, but it is not the decision you would have taken. I suppose you have to see it as a communal act, and support it. I don't know that this is very natural to people any more. Colleges are run in a medieval fashion which predates the rise of the individual (depending on how you date that -- it's usually seen as a late-/post-medieval thing). The closest modern analogy would be communities of nuns and monks, who also live according to pre-modern rules. The monks at St Bene't's were removed to other tasks; some of them really did not want to go, and would not have made the same decision if it were up to them, but they had vowed obedience so that it was never a question of whether or not they would do it, even the man in his eighties who had spent decades here, had to give up a job he loved, and feared very much a move to inner city London. There's a hugely impressive discipline in that.

Wednesday, 4 July 2007


I've had a very draining day, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Rather than dwelling on this, and in the hope that it might be cheerful for other people as well as me, I have decided to put up something strangely comforting: a pirate's speech from the early eighteenth century, sounding just like pirates ought to. Captain Bellamy, the pirate, has captured a sloop, and would like to give it back to Captain Beer, its commander, but his pirate crew won't have it.

'Damn my beard', says he, 'I am sorry they won't let you have your sloop again, for I scorn to do anyone a mischief, when it is not for my advantage; damn the sloop we must sink her, and she might be of use to you. Though, damn ye, you are a sneaking puppy, and so are all those who will submit to be governed by Laws which rich men have made for their own security, for the cowardly whelps have not the courage otherwise to defend what they get by their knavery. But damn ye altogether. Damn them for a pack of crazy rascals, and you, who serve them, for a parcel of hen-hearted numskulls. They vilify us, the scoundrels do, when there is only this difference, they rob the poor under cover of Law, forsooth, and we plunder the rich under the protection of our own courage. Had you not better make one of us, than sneak after the arses of those villains for Employment?'
Capt. Beer told him that his conscience would not allow him to break through the Laws of God and man.
'You are a devilish conscientious rascal, damn ye,' replied Bellamy. 'I am a free prince, and I have as much authority to make war on the whole world as he who has a hundred sail of ships at sea, and an army of 100,000 men in the field, and this my conscience tells me. But there is no arguing with such snivelling puppies, who allow superiors to kick them about deck at pleasure and pin their faith upon a pimp of a parson, a squab, who neither practices nor believes what he puts upon the chuckle-headed fools he preaches to.'

It's from one of John Julius Norwich's Christmas Cracker anthologies. Equally good, and a great deal less verbose, is Sir Thomas Beecham's comment after conducting the Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake for the ballet of the Camargo Society at about twice the normal speed:
That made the buggers hop.

Tuesday, 3 July 2007

There's no i in teemocil, at least not where you'd think

My brother gave me the DVD of the first season of Arrested Development for my birthday, and it's making me cackle out loud.

The proper study of mankind

or, My amazing journey of self-discovery continues...

So I did a quick M-B test online and came out as INFJ -- very I, quite N, and hardly at all FJ (1% J apparently). I would have thought I was more sensing than intuitive, because in my academic subject I am very wary of people who do the whole big picture thing, rather than making a big picture from all the little pictures put together. Apparently I share this profile with Nathan, the prophet of Israel, which is nice. (Also Jimmy Carter, which is a bit hmmm.)

I'm not so sure about the other three, but the introvert thing is still making me happy. Because it makes sense of the fact that I actually like people and human interaction, if the problem is just that it's bad for me. It's like sunbathing; I enjoy going out in the sun, but if I indulge in it without care it makes me irritable, de-hydrated, and pink. So this makes my unsociable nature not my fault, and everyone knows that's the best kind of fault. Yay!

Sunday, 1 July 2007


I've always thought of myself as an introvert, and I've always felt bad about this. Yesterday in the Guardian Magazine "This Column Will Change Your Life", which I read because it's often interesting in an annoying sort of way, was about introverts. What was particularly interesting about this is that it defined introvert in a way which is a) not what I thought it was b) precisely like me and c) not something I need to feel particularly guilty about. I'd always thought that introversion was about being essentially self-centered, uninterested in other people, at heart selfish. Apparently it's really about energy; introverts feel drained by social interaction and recharged by being alone, while extroverts are the opposite, and it's even possible that introverts are that way not because they are uncaring but because they can't help empathising in an excessively-sensitive way which makes time spent with other people terribly exhausting. Which is exactly how I feel. I am certainly selfish, and pretty self-obsessed, and these are not good things, but it's very helpful to separate these bad qualities from something as intrinsic to me as being an introvert; it makes it easier to see how I can try to be better without attempting not to be who I essentially am.

A lot of life's worries seem to come down to working out which things are intrinsic and which things are not. Go Reinhold Niebuhr!

Also, I wonder if many introverted people keep pets? One of the best things about pets is their non-human quality -- it annoys me when people suggest that they're some sort of human substitute (enough people have suggested that I have rats instead of a boyfriend, or occasionally, children...). They're so straight-forward in comparison to people that they make good restful company. They completely lack the tiring quality of people because their wants are so simple in comparison -- in my experience, a rat who can't be cheered up with a yogurt drop will have died within about thirty-six hours. (Thankfully my two are currently bouncy and eating their antibiotics with every sign of pleasure. At the moment they are curled up in their hammock, and too lazy to open more than one eye to look at me as I go past.)