Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Umlaut pop

Röyksopp's new album Junior is also very good. There's an excellent song about robots, sung by mad Swedish singer Robyn. You need the bass so I would recommend it on spotify in preference to the embedded YouTube video below. The video is quite good but not as good as the bass.

Also Norwegian: Annie.

No real visuals on this one, but it's not out yet so you can't get it on spotify.

Also Swedish: BWO, but their latest is a ballad and therefore sub-par.

I also like La Roux's new single; it's whiney in an excellent 80s way, and is about unrequited love. She's not Scandinavian but apparently she is part French. The video involves her driving, but embedding has been disabled by request. Apparently it's not the record companies who do this, but YouTube because of their advertising revenues. Or maybe they have a deal.

Sunday, 29 March 2009

What I have learnt from Cassiodorus

The ennoematic definition denies what it is not.
He that loveth iniquity hateth his own soul.
Laughter at an individual is the trait of a foe.
Stags are timorous but able to eat poison.
In heaven we will all be 33 years old.
The elephant is the most chaste beast as it mates for life.
Moths are a metaphor for sadness.
Priests stop their ears with incense.
Jerome interprets the name Basan to mean aridity.
Merchants are not necessarily evil.
The caterpillar represents base love. (Blake?)
Pelicans have very bad digestions, and live alone.
Barbarous comes from barba, beard, + rus, country, e.g. barbarians are bearded people from the country.
Accidie is the nodding of the soul.
The sparrow is the most circumspect of birds.
Augustine interprets the name Basan to mean confusion.
There are many different ways to cross the Red Sea; one of them is virginity.
Mules, rocks, logs, etc, praise God by being what they are. (Smart?)
The ravens' children are innocent.
Dragons lie in pools to cool themselves down, and eat elephants as easily as if they were flies. They signify strong-minded people.
Utterances are always to be related to the disposition of the speaker.

Saturday, 28 March 2009

Public service announcement

By the way, it is important to note that you have to start Battlestar Galactica with the mini-series, not series 1. They did a mini-series as a sort of extended pilot before the show proper was commissioned. A friend of mine was very annoyed when he bought the first series and found that the first episode started "Previously on Battlestar Galactica".

On the plus side

1. The new Pet Shop Boys album is great. It was produced by Xenomania, so has some very tuney bits, but is also very Pet Shop Boys. PSB-like moments include:
• Chris vocals: "Who do you think you are, Captain Britain?" deflating nostalgic Neil lyrics about picnics of yesteryear
• References to nineteenth-century European politics in "The King of Rome" (which doesn't just sound like a Pet Shop Boys song, but sounds like a specific Pet Shop Boys song, perhaps off Behaviour)
• Tchaikovsky sample
• Song about Tony Blair. It's called "Legacy"
• Vulnerable love song, called "Vulnerable", which was apparently once supposed to be a duet with Carlo Bruni
There's also a bit in the second half of "More than a Dream" where it suddenly goes all Roxette. This is the best song on the album, I think. Here it is in rather poor quality:

2. Battlestar Galactica hurray! There was something in the Guardian the other day about how this might be better than the Wire. I think it was one of the Graun's irritating troll pieces hoping to raise a reaction by transgressing some given of leftish social mores about which none of us real people, i.e. not journalists, actually care anyway. Of course I prefer Battlestar Galactica -- I gave up on the Wire in boredom and mild disgust quite early on in the second series. (Although I did like the music -- it made me think I should listen to more hip hop.) But Battlestar Galactica I do like very much. I have a lot of respect for sci-fi and fantasy; they're too easily dismissed as mere genre, but, from Swift to Vonnegut, they're the best way of exploring ideas without being tedious or pompous. Of course sci-fi can be tedious or pompous when it's done badly, but a straight literary novel about ideas is often unreadable. I prefer these things in parables, it's more interesting.

As for Battlestar Galactica itself, the Guardian writer is right about the start of season 3 -- it is slightly breathtaking how they seem to be saying "America, this is how the Iraqis see you." Could they even have got away with this in any other context? Cherie Blair was pretty harshly slapped down for saying that she could understand why some people ended up feeling that suicide bombing was the only option. This is why sci-fi and fantasy are great. And a scene at the Cylons' war council is pretty sharp too. Plus something which happened in series two made me go so far as to formulate a personal philosophy, and I almost got as far as asking some philosophers I know what it's called so that I could say "I am a something-ian" or "I subscribe to something-ism". This to me is intelligent television; something that doesn't lay it on too heavily, but provokes thought. I never got why the Wire was supposed to be so intelligent. Because it's showing lots of sides of the same story? Because it's full of people who are variously compromised, and things happen because of chance political circumstances rather than for ideal reasons? These seem to be just truisms to me. Haven't cop shows always been about those things? I am genuinely curious about this, and would welcome any better explanation of what it is that I so obviously missed. In the meantime Battlestar Galactica has fantastic space explosions, and sinister robots based on ancient Greek helmets, and people who believe in one true god emerging from strange baths.

3. I liked Lucy Mangan's obituary for Jade Goody. Also her take on motherhood seems pretty spot on to me, insofar as I know anything about it, and I'm rather glad not to. Maybe Lucy Mangan could be Britain's Jon Stewart? We could rather do with one, and it's clear Charlie Brooker isn't going to manage it.

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Agnes was undeterred

I have just finished Sisters of Sinai by Janet Soskice, which I enjoyed very much. It's about Scottish twins who made improbable discoveries in Middle Eastern Biblical manuscripts. The book's not out until next week, but because one of the twins was married to Samuel "Satan" Lewis, Parker Librarian, we've got an early copy in the library. The sisters were very likeable. They're also fine examples of the sort of person I completely fail to live up to being. Their upbringing, according to the tenets of what the author calls "fearless Presbyterianism", was rather similar to my own; their father actively encouraged them to read books seen as controversial at the time, like Darwin's writings. They took the attitude that better manuscripts of Biblical texts and better understanding of the variants which are found in the MS tradition are things to be desired not feared; this at a time when it was seriously suggested that Hebrew should not be taught in seminaries because access to the original texts just confused everyone. The older twin, Agnes, is particularly like the fictional character of Amelia Peabody in Elizabeth Peters' Egyptologist murder mysteries, and the stories of their travels are rather fun. I was surprised to learn that "Nile travellers were advised to bring with them a small pistol for use at dinner parties" but this turned out to be a more audible substitute for a gong, to let people on other boats know that it was time to dress for dinner, rather than as a defence from rampaging crocodiles, or anything of that sort.

There are a few little errors in the text, but I think that's just one of those things. People who can write text without errors are rare beasts. The Parker library does not contain three-quarters of all surviving Anglo-Saxon manuscripts; I have often heard it said that it has one quarter of them, but I'm not sure that's true either.

I really want to go to Sinai. I also yearn to go back to Jerusalem.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Boredom versus interesting things

1. I am bored with Stephen Fry.

2. Also bored with: The Guardian. I can't believe that today's Guide has an article explaining such recondite slang as "Funky", "Mash-up", "Preppy" and "Lolcats". They make me feel young and hip: and I am an Anglo-Saxonist whose recent work has mostly been on charters or liturgy.

3. The contents of the last Downside Review were sent to me by the zetoc alerts service. It apparently includes articles by "Osb, H. H." and "Osb, J. R. F.". So much for Benedictine anonymity. Osb makes rather a good surname.

4. Here you can see a man with an excellent beard talk about the ancient Babylonians.

5. I bought myself another little toy -- a small uncomplicated netbook. It's great in the UL. After some struggling I have finally managed to set up a mini network so I can share files between my Vista laptop and my XP netbook. Hurray! This sort of thing is very good value; it makes me feel all clever. Bless its little cotton socks.

6. Suddenly this week I have two possible options for future employment. Someone has offered me some work I would love, and I have also got an interview for a job which would be career-type stuff. The two jobs are very different and I am feeling a bit confused about what I ought to want. Still, the possibility of being able to pay the mortgage is a pleasant one. Hurray again!

7. I went to the Cockerell exhibition at the Fitzwilliam. It is great; lots of very high-quality stuff which isn't usually on display (some of it because it's light-sensitive). The real revelation for me was the work of scribe and illuminator Florence Kingsford. I usually dislike modern calligraphy, but her stuff is beautiful. She was utterly penniless, and Cockerell tried to help her get commissions and encourage her to keep going in her work while she copied Egyptian artefacts for Petrie, who was renowned for the terrible working conditions which he expected his staff to endure. After a bit Cockerell married her, and as his wife she was known as Kate Cockerell. She almost immediately had three children and developed a nasty slow form of sclerosis, the combination of which ended her career. But her work was beautiful, far better than William Morris's. There's a picture at the bottom of this page. She's one of those women who isn't in ODNB except as a wife and a mother (her son invented the hovercraft); the original DNB was notorious for that sort of thing, but wasn't the ODNB supposed to rectify it?

8. I shouldn't just repost stuff which popjustice has already put up, but I've been listening to this quite a bit recently. I like the way that they rapidly alternate between quite plain suits and outfits which I would be hard put to characterise.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Things I have said before

1. It seems that Julie Myerson is the mother from the irritating "Living With Teenagers" column in the Guardian. This rather puts paid to her husband's claim that writing about their family is an emergency action -- she must now have been doing it continually for years. I mentioned on this blog before how annoying I found that column; she treated her teenage children like toddlers, which is pretty insulting. Still I'm not one to judge because I have no children, and I'm sure that child-raising is a very hard thing to do.

2. Cherry Red records has re-released Frazier Chorus's Sue. Also I found a blog which had a copy of Furniture's On a Bus with Peter Nero. Hurray!

3. One occasional recurring theme of this blog is the danger of eminent professors. I went to hear a paper this afternoon and afterwards got cornered by one of the usual suspects, who is trying to get me to be secretary of a learned society. I pointed out that my personal circumstances are rather up in the air and that this October I may be off to retrain as an accountant or some such. That, he pointed out, would not disqualify me from being secretary. I am treading carefully now. He refused to take my refusal as totally definite even when I suggested finding a Benedictine to do it. On the one hand it's nice that several people suggested me. But, I'm not sure it's utterly 100% positive to be seen as ideal secretary material.

Monday, 9 March 2009

Some more things

Inane newspaper statement of the weekend
In an article about people divorcing in their 20s: "But it is not an exclusively female problem".

Excellent relatives
My brother and his wife have given up supermarkets for Lent, which is a very good idea. Tim says that it's odd how much less rubbish they have, and how much more compostable material, given that he thought that the main thing they bought at supermarkets was loose vegetables anyway. They now get their eggs from a place where you take your own empty egg cartons.

Cassiodorus update
I read each Psalm before I read what Cassiodorus has to say about it, but he's working from the Old Latin text, with occasional variants from Jerome's translations, while I'm using the King James version. (I often read them aloud to the rats, like the Fairing after whom I named this blog. Audrey seems to like this; she looks at me intently for a long time, then runs up onto my shoulder, licks my nose, and runs away again very fast.) I got to one of my favourites the other day, My heart is inditing of a good matter, set by Handel as a beautiful anthem. I was a little taken aback to see that Cassiodorus had it as "My heart has belched forth a good word". "We use the word belched," he goes on to explain, "when the abundant food which we have eaten emits vapour which allows the healthiest digestion. But how great was the spiritual feast with which this man had been so filled that he belched forth the secret source of so goodly an odour~!" There's something about the style as well as the content of this which encapsulates the enjoyable flavour of absurdity in translations from medieval Latin.

Otherwise the translation annoys me a bit by interpreting those serious puns of which medieval writers were so fond -- I suppose the nearest modern equivalent would be expressions like "herstory" -- as attempts as etymologies. Take "mentiri est contra mentem loqui", to lie is to speak against the mind; this is clearly word play, but the translator adds a sniffy footnote saying the suggestion is fanciful.

Mrs Pilkington
I'm reading an excellent biography of Laetitia Pilkington, who was divorced by her licentious husband when he found a young man in her room. (She claimed they were just reading together, and that her husband had set it up to be rid of her.) Previously a favourite of Swift, she was now abandoned by everyone she knew, and removed from all contact with her children. She just about managed to support herself by writing, and was generally rather interesting. Asked on her deathbed if she forgave her husband she said that if she were to die, then yes, but if she lived then the feud would go on. Before the divorce, at a time when she realised that her husband was seeing other women and perhaps anxious to be rid of her, perhaps even making vague efforts to pimp her out to a rich rake, she wrote some excellent angry verse:

Strephon, your Breach of Faith and Trust
Affords me no Surprize;
A Man who Grateful was, or Just,
Might make my Wonder rise.

That Heart to you so fondly ty'd,
With Pleasure wore its Chain,
But from your cold neglectful Pride,
Found Liberty again.

For this no Wrath inflames my Mind,
My Thanks are due to thee,
Such Thanks as gen'rous Victors find
Who set their Captives free.

Also good, this extract:

Go then, Inconstant, go, and rove,
Forget thy Vows, neglect thy Love;
Some senseless, tasteless, Girl pursue,
Bought Smiles befit such Swains as you;
While for the worst I see you change,
You give me a compleat Revenge.

I've often wished that some woman had answered Rochester.

Saturday, 7 March 2009


My new toy is a little scanning device. It can't do books or objects. But it turns photocopied articles into pdfs, and recovers pictures from yesteryear.

This is my secondary-school first year form group photo, when we were eleven and twelve. We're so young we haven't yet ditched the purse belts. I'm in the front row, looking like Neil from the Young Ones. The odd thing is how completely some people's personalities come over from the image -- Alison's slightly quizzical look at the camera seems pretty typical, and Nikki, the very blonde one in the middle row, is grinning in the way that usually meant she was about to say something really rude -- but some people's just don't. Melody, the shortest one in the back row, just looks terribly young. I'm quite happy to own my awkward grimace.

I also have a collection of horse photos in an album, helpfully labelled with their characteristics, e.g. "Flossie: small, fast, woolly". The above is Marlborough -- actually the stables spelt it Marlboro -- who was my favourite. He was very fast, and he really wanted to be out hunting. If you caught him in a good mood he was the best thing ever, but if you annoyed him at all, or left him too much to his own devices, he would get rid of you quickly and without regret. He was more dangerous than ecstacy. I've never taken ecstacy but I bet he was also a lot more fun. It's an amazing feeling to be able to communicate with another type of consciousness, and to co-operate with them, and also they can go so fast. However, the fact that I have never taken ecstacy has a lot to do with Marlborough the horse. I fell off him a number of times, on one occasion getting short-term amnesia à la Memento for about twenty-four hours, one of the most frightening experiences of my life. It left me significantly unwilling to mess with my brain in any unnecessary way -- I was scared of alcohol for quite a while.

Friday, 6 March 2009


1. Well, once more I'm having a frustrating time with work-related stuff about which I do not feel I can appropriately blog; and guess what, it's the same two culprits as last time. Luckily I only occasionally have to deal with them -- the people I actually work with day-to-day are all great. They're a witty and erudite bunch, and I shall miss them almost as much as the manuscripts when we're all out of a job this autumn. If anyone's looking to hire a travelling digitisation team we'd be interested to hear from you.

2. Overheard in the UL: "Bugger the man! If he was sat there now (gestures at seat opposite) I would gob in his face! I'd tell him to stick his crozier up his arse!".

I was doing that unwilling eavesdropping thing in a very crowded tea-room. The speaker had already managed to come over as a remarkably unappealing person. From references to his "disciplinary hearing" I understood that he was a compromised Anglican vicar. The problem with the CofE is that the "priests" and bishops think it's all about them -- read the Church Times and despair. It's stuff like this that makes me yearn to immanentize the eschaton, although I know it's wrong. (In the socialist/communist sense, not the crazy dispensationalist lets-all-breed-red-heifers sense. I'm all for red heifers -- there are some beautiful Devon Reds around my parents' village -- but I'm firmly against their use as tools of political oppression. Poor cows.)

3. I went to a seminar yesterday, of the sort where people sit round a large boardroom table and others draw chairs up behind them. The girl sat next to me spent the entire time first cleaning and biting her nails, and then using a pair of clippers to trim and file them. Maybe I should have some stickers made up which say "Your behaviour has earned you a mention on my blog" which I could unobtrusively attach guerilla style to the belongings of those who annoy me. It would be like the M.R. James story "Casting the Runes" where someone slips an accursed runic inscription into a victim's pocket in the UL, with unpleasant results.

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

What is wrong with the Royal Bank of Scotland

apart from the obvious.

1. About five years ago they suddenly and without warning removed from my current account just under one hundred and sixty thousand pounds. It turned out that someone had mistyped a sort code. They repaid it, and also refunded the eight thousand pounds in unarranged overdraft charges and interest which had accrued in the few days before I noticed. But they did not say sorry.

The odd thing is that when I saw that I had about one hundred and sixty thousand pounds less in my account than I was expecting my immediate reaction was to try to work out what I had spent it on. Then I realised that I had not recently bought any houses.

2. A few years ago it was impossible for me to go into the branch without them offering me large sums of money at (they assured me) very reasonable interest rates. The conversation would go something like
me: I'd like to pay in this cheque please.
cashier: Certainly. Did you know that you are pre-approved for a seven thousand pound unsecured personal loan? You can take it away today!
me: Thank-you very much but I'd prefer not (seethes inside with concealed anger).
I think this is immoral. I've had times of dodgy finance when I might have said yes. Also immoral: mortgages of 100% or more.

3. The first time they sent me a customer satisfaction survey I filled it in, with a warm feeling that they cared what I think. The second time I filled it in, grumpily. The many many times since then I have just thrown them in the bin. I have also refused to complete them in the branch -- about a year ago they stopped trying to get me to take loans, at around the same time that I cleared my overdraft, the cynical bastards, and started pushing surveys on me instead. They still send me the surveys, maybe every month or two. They are glossy and expensively produced, and rouse me to unhealthy, disproportionate paroxysms of fury!

4. Today I popped in to pay in a cheque. The cashier said that I had not had a premier account customer discussion. I said yes. She said why don't you do that right now. I said because I have other places to be; can't I just have a leaflet? She said No; how about tomorrow? I said I'll be at work -- what a shame that this branch isn't open at weekends! Here she wrongfooted me -- apparently it is now open on Saturdays. Could I make eleven o'clock? she inquired. I don't know, I said, I might be out of town on Saturday. Well, she said, here is a letter confirming your appointment, you can call to rearrange if you find you can't make it. Maybe I should have been really firm with her but she was young and hyper and aggressively helpful in a way that scared me a bit. The letter says I have to bring two forms of ID and bank statements for all my bank accounts and other financial holdings or liabilites. I wonder if they're all running a pool on how long it'll be before I phone up to cancel?

But basically, not to over-react or anything, they can all f*** off and die. I'm so fed up with the new tone of bank adverts on TV. Dearie me, they say, have you been a foolish customer? Have you been saving too little and spending too much? Never mind, we're here to sort you out, you silly billy. Whereas in reality we're here to sort them out, whether we like it or not. People complain about the government but I'd rather be patronised by them than by any sort of corporation. Couldn't we have some sort of revolution? Perhaps a twitter-based one, so that no one gets physically hurt? In the meantime my mortgage is with RBS so I think I'm stuck with them. Don't even get me started on my endowment account...

Monday, 2 March 2009

The bulls of Bashan

Well, Cassiodorus is quite hard work. It's taking up my entire rat-exercising hour every night, but I am now nearly half-way through the first volume, and I've ordered the other two from amazon. I'm enjoying it in an austere sort of way. Setting a fixed target of stuff to read and then just working through it is the opposite of thinking, and enjoyable in its way -- no tyranny of the blank page here.

You can buy stickers from Muji that you put down the spines of books -- they have two thin ribbons attached, so that you've got a pair of place-keepers like the ones sometimes built into a hardback binding.

Yesterday I did both Psalms 22 (23), which is painful, and 23 (24), which is soothing. Psalm 22 reminded of this extract from a translation which I came across once:
Then Lord depart not now from me
In this my present griefe
Since I have none to be my helpe
My succour and reliefe.
So many Buls do compasse me
That be full strong of head:
Yea Buls so fat as though they had
In Basan fieldes bene fed.

They gape upon me gredely
As though they would me slay:
Much lyke a Lion roring out
And ramping for his prey.
But I droope downe like water shed,
My jointes in sunder breake:
My hart doth in my body melt,
Like waxe against the heate.

It's supposed to be from the 1569 Geneva Bible but I've never found the same version elsewhere. Maybe I should try the Rare Books room sometime. I taught under the name of Eadwig Basan a few years back -- it wasn't my idea but my boss's, because there were two of us who were arranging our own division of labour, so he put us down under that name in the lecture list.