Friday, 29 August 2008

Things you can buy

1. My alma mater is selling a football-playing robot.

2. If you want to boil one egg. Do I want to boil one egg? I am undecided. Maybe my grandma would like to boil an egg for Christmas.

3. This kettle is probably quite good because it only boils what you want and boils that quickly. Though I do have a kettle already. And actually I don't think it quite boils. So not much use, really.

4. These intelligent plugs, or "intelliplugs", are not cheap, but I think I have to have at least two -- for my laptop and for my TV and their respective accessories. They turn off the peripherals when you turn off (or put on standby) the main item, which makes a lot of sense. E.g., I don't need to power my USB hub when my laptop isn't on, nor my DVD player when my TV is off, and although I do mean to turn everything off at the mains it involves a) remembering b) awkward reaching. The TV/audio one learns your remote control so it can turn everything back on when you want it to. Presumably this means that the "intelliplug" is on standby and you haven't eliminated, simply reduced your standby usage.

5. I got my brother one of these gadgets (called an Owl) for seeing how much electricity you're using, because he's a conscientious yet gimmick-loving type. He went around turning things off and seeing how it affected the usage, which he enjoyed (though I think my sister-in-law found it mildly annoying). Then they bought a new American-style fridge with a crushed-ice dispenser, and now he finds it depressing to look at.

Friday, 15 August 2008

Ciao Cambridge

1. So I'm back in Cambridge. It's a bit odd. My flat smells of new flat, somehow. I would be happier about moving in if I didn't have to face the idea of moving out again in a year's time. But on the plus side I have been reunited with some of my books, a pretty random selection because we just brought up the boxes nearest the door. I have Lindsay's Notae Latinae back, which is nice; it has the Supplement by Doris Bains as well, covering 850-1050. Also S. Harrison Thomson's Latin Bookhands, and Bishop's great but frustrating English Caroline Minuscule. Ker's English Manuscripts in the Century After the Norman Conquest; and Lowe's English Uncial. Yay! Plus I had coffee with a good friend to talk about hermits and such-like. So maybe I'll readjust in time.

2. I can't remember what I've been reading recently, except for War and Peace, which is great; you can't stop marvelling at the sheer novelliness of it. Also a biography of Henry IV which was good. And lots of Wodehouse, Blandings ones mainly, from my parents' shelves in Devon. I started Waugh's Scoop and I kept thinking "that's funny" but yet putting it down, so I've given up on it; it was amusing but I had to keep pushing myself to read it. I read the latest Pat Barker but it seemed rather aimless, like it was missing its second half.

3. Julie Burchill is a christian now, it seems. Life is hard work sometimes.

4. I quite like this from the Introduction to Holweck's Dictionary of Saints:
Profane History is for the most part a record of sin and scandal, of successful plunders and murders, it is a vast scene of crime and misery. The history of the saints on the other hand, is the narration of the triumphs of God's Kingdom, of spiritual prowess and heroic virtue.

5. Not an original thought: Parlophone really messed up the promotion for this fantastic Kylie song

Saturday, 9 August 2008


1. I went to a conference. I always find conferences hard work and not for creditable reasons. I'm not so good at chatting to people whom I know a little bit -- I find myself going awkward and probably coming across as very standoffish, and worrying about that just makes me more and more awkward. But on balance I enjoyed myself. I caught up with some very old friends whom I haven't seen for years; one of them said that the last time he'd seen me I had explained to him who Harry Potter and Britney Spears are, so it must have been a substantial time back. I like the idea of myself as someone who helps bring popular culture to the intellectuals. This gives me a role I would otherwise be lacking among the intellectuals.

2. The conference was specifically designed to be a small enough group that we could sit around a table with primary sources, manuscripts and documents, out in front of us. For the middle of the three days we were joined by a large society, so had to change our style, but it actually worked rather well. Luckily someone reminded me that I've promised to speak at the next meeting of that society; I had completely forgotten.

3. I am developing a reprehensible habit of putting jokes into my lectures that I don't expect anyone to get. I should probably try to stop this, it must be annoying for anyone who suspects.

4. The Prof. who taught me as an undergraduate was there. He opened the proceedings with an utterly formidable paper, one of the best I have heard in ages, delivered in his usual clear manner; one of those works of scholarship which is beautifully obvious once presented, and in no need of any elaboration. I have been very fortunate in my education.

5. The Prof. happens also to be the general editor of the series in which my new book has just been published. Hurray! My free copies have arrived but I think it's not quite out yet. It's very handsome, bound in black with the Henry Bradshaw Society arms stamped on the front. It's a subscription volume so will be sent out to all the members of the society.

6. Now I'm back in Devon. We have a new baby alpaca, Hermione. She's premature and weak, and after the bad experience with Hereward earlier this year and Gracie last year I'm not holding my breath for her chances.

7. My godmother has come to visit. It's odd to hear her reminiscing with my parents about their university days, because I usually think of her as pertaining to me. She has brought with her my usual birthday present, a copy of Nemo's Almanac. (Here described by the Independent as "A year-long trivial pursuit for the over-educated".) It's the 117th year, apparently. Basically it involves identifying obscure quotations and usually I can get one or two out of 73 (six per month and one on the cover). I'm betting the internet has changed this a lot but not entirely -- some of it still requires following hunches about recognising styles. That Independent article claims that it drove Helen Gardner mad. I don't really think I could take it so seriously; I ought to use it as a resource for reading suggestions but I've always lost it by the time the next year's comes out with the answers. Still, it reminds me that when I think of myself as well-read I am woefully exaggerating.

Sunday, 3 August 2008


It's like Kevin Bishop made a really good pop song:

(It's actually Juvelen.) Maybe Kevin Bishop should pursue a pop career? He was very good as George Michael in Star Stories.

Friday, 1 August 2008

Hurray for virtue; hurray for manuscripts

1. I went to an opera. It was quite good, but beforehand they made us watch a film some poor school kids had been forced to make about what it all meant to them, which was painful. The opera was Monteverdi's L'Incoronazione di Poppea, which I've long wanted to hear because it features heavily in Julian Rathbone's Intimacy, in which a dying castrato teaches a woman to sing the role of Nero. It turns out to be quite remarkably decadent and amoral, with the triumphant lovers both nasty pieces of work. Both Poppea and Ottavia have bawdy nurses: Poppea's nurse disapproves of her affair with Nero but only because she doesn't think it will lead anywhere, and she says she prefers more fruitful sinning; Ottavia's nurse say that she should get revenge on her husband's infidelities by taking a lover, which would be OK because Nero is hurting her living feelings, while she'd only be hurting his reputation. The work starts with an argument between the goddesses of Fortune, Virtue and Love, and Love, backed up by Fortune, is the winner because the opera ends with Poppea enthroned as empress. But given that the one thing I knew about Poppea before this is that Nero later kicked her to death when she was pregnant (though I think actually in some sources he kills her by another means), and given that anything I know about Roman history was probably much more commonly known in seventeenth-century posh Italy, doesn't that rather undercut the whole thing? The duets are beautiful; but it's still all an illusion, and if Poppea had stuck with her intial lover Otto she could still have been empress later. In the libretto soldiers are complaining about the way the empire is falling apart while Nero has love affairs; and just before Nero makes him kill himself for criticising his affair with Poppea, Seneca tells Nero that his having faults would be forgiveable if they weren't so banal. Isn't this subtly giving Virtue a boost? The school film had the kids talking about the three goddesses; maybe I'm terribly uptight but I really don't like listening to children talking about love. No one defended Virtue; I think I would have when I was fourteen, but probably only out of contrariness, to be honest.

2. I went to Trinity and looked at a beautiful manuscript. It's been quite some time since I looked at my sort of stuff and it was very heartening. Sometimes just having a book like that open in front of you at a good point can be a very refreshing thing. Also it was nice to catch up with the Trinity people. I used to work there long enough ago now that returning is a nostalgia trip. But I had a thought: maybe it's actually a good thing I don't have time to write my book on eleventh-century script right now. It's a kind of brinkmanship: if I live to be about sixty and produce it then, it might be quite a good book, assuming I get to continue to look at manuscripts in the interim.