Blog pause

The cricket is so enjoyable that I almost regret the fact that tomorrow I’m going to the Dorgogne to spend a week eating, drinking and being merry with a bunch of friends. Here’s a picture of Marie Lloyd for you to look at during my absence:

The Queen of Innuendo

Come on, Freddie!

Last summer Flintoff demonstrated that he’s capable of playing himself in and getting big centuries. Now let’s see him do it again. And let’s be greedy – KP hasn’t got a test century yet.

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14 line poems

Mike Snider asked ‘why do people insist on calling any 14-line poem a sonnet?’ and KSM replied at length. His argument is very reasonable. If ‘it is next to impossible for any poetry-literate reader to see a fourteen-line poem and not think “sonnet”‘, it seems a pity, since that dilutes whatever interesting distinctiveness sonnets have, but if readers really do see sonnets everywhere that battle is already lost.


I slightly wonder

I slightly wonder whether it’s true;
If I saw a fourteen-line poem which
was laid out in a little block on the
page, with those sonnet-y proportions,
a little bit taller than it is wide —
shaped, in fact, like a sonnet, I would
probably make the connection; even
more so if there was a little gap

to mark a notional ‘volta’ and divide
the preambulary or thetical octet
from the conclusive or antithetical
sestet; and even if the implied
sonnetesque rhetorical structure
turned out to be just white space.


I’m not

on the other hand
so sure

faced with a poem which
meandered in an irregular


down the page,
I would
notice whether it had
fourteen lines.

If it occured to me it might,
I’d have to count them to check,


Charlie sticks his oar in again

The Queen’s greatest virtue is that that I have no idea what her political views are. On that basis, Prince Charles could be the one to kill off the monarchy. Sometimes I agree with his opinions, more often I don’t – but I don’t want to know them. The monarchy is tolerable as long as it’s powerless, but Charlie-boy needs to understand that his anachronistic existence comes with conditions. If he wants to become a political activist, he can abdicate any time he wants to; otherwise he should keep his fucking mouth shut.

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Gillespie out for Trent Bridge test

I feel for Gillespie, a bit. He’s clearly deeply commited to the Aussie cause and has been heroic with the bat. But as an England supporter I’m sorry to see him go because Tait sounds like he could be a handful – although they’ve been coping quite well with Lee so far, and Tait seems to be in a similar mode, from what I’ve read. With Lee, Tait, Flintoff, Harmison and Jones, it could be a fierce old match. I suspect Australia will have pulled themselves together a bit over the break, so England are going to have to keep up (or even increase) the pressure. Though it’s hard to believe it can possibly be more intense than the last two.

EDIT: On the other hand, McGrath not playing is definitely a bonus for England.

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hair and stuffing

I went to get my hair cut today, and the barbress said “Your hair’s nice and shiny – you obviously don’t smoke.” She’s right, I don’t, but I’m surprised she could tell by looking at my hair. The conversation turned to a documentary on TV last night that followed various taxidermists in their preparations for what they all called ‘the World Show’ and thus, inevitably, to Jeremy Bentham.

Dead Bentham

The head at the top of the picture is a wax replica, because the real head was damaged in the preservation process. In this picture the real head can be seen between his legs, but apparently it has since been put into storage as it used to be a target for student pranks.

Moog dies

Dr Moog has died. I love the sound of analogue synthesisers. It’s like drum-machines – the overtly mechanical sound of them is part of the appeal. I was about to try and come up with a theoretical justification – something about their overt artificiality and how in a sense it brings you closer to the roots of music, perhaps, or how electronic instruments gave musicians the chance to revitalise popular music when rock was getting past it – but it would all be post-facto. It’s actually just because I’m a child of the 80s. There’s still a little part of me, deep down, that thinks Axel F is the coolest piece of music ever written – although the Crazy Frog is doing a pretty good job of making me hate it.


It seems extraordinary now that I found history so boring at school. I don’t know whether it was bad teaching, bad textbooks, or just that it’s one of those things that grows on you with age. Part of it is realising that you don’t have to read history books to learn about history – that novels, biographies, diaries and so on can be just as helpful. Anyway, I’ve been to a couple of Nelson exhibits recently. My particular interest in the Navy of the period is mainly due to the Patrick O’Brian novels (which the film Master and Commander were based on).

One was the Nelson and Napoleon exhibition at the National Maritime Museum. Which was full of good stuff, although Napoleon might have felt that it was inflating Nelson’s importance to give them equal billing. More special, though, was going to visit the HMS Victory, which is fabulous. For a start, it’s really big. It’s a 104 gun warship with a crew of over 800, so of course it’s big, but somehow you always expect these historical things to be quite small in the flesh. It looks quite big from the outside, but even more so when you go round it and see that as well as the upper deck it had three gun decks, an ‘orlop deck’ and the hold. The Admiral’s cabin has a gleaming mahogany dining table that would seat about 30 people; there’s a fully fitted carpenter’s workshop the size of a small shop; the capstan, used for raising the anchor, took 140 men to turn. They were extraordinarily powerful things, of course – at the Battle of Austerlitz, the Allied army of 85000 men had just 278 guns, all 12-pounders or smaller. At Trafalgar, in the same year, the British fleet had 27 ships of the line, each of which would have had at least 64 guns, including many 32-pounders.

One of the most interesting things was the grand magazine, where the gunpowder was stored. They were (obviously) very worried about the possibility of 35 tons of gunpowder exploding all at once. So the magazine is lined with multiple layers of wood and plaster and a layer of copper to stop rats from getting in and trailing powder to other parts of the ship. All the bolts and nails are also copper, to prevent sparks, and men working in the magazine were not allowed to wear any metal. There’s a layer of charcoal in the floor of the magazine to absorb moisture and keep the powder dry. The magazine was completely sealed off from the rest of the ship except for a narrow passage from the deck above, and light was from two lanterns behind glass in a light room with a separate entrance.

Anyway. I recommend it. It’s very interesting.

My favourite Nelson anecdote deals with his only meeting with Wellington. This is Wellington’s version of it:

“I went to the Colonial Office in Downing Street, and there I was shown into the little waiting-room on the right hand, where I found, also waiting to see the Secretary of State, a gentleman, whom, from his likeness to his pictures and the loss of an arm, I immediately recognized as Lord Nelson. He could not know who I was, but he entered at once into conversation with me, if I can call it conversation, for it was almost all on his side and all about himself, and in, really, a style so vain and so silly as to surprise and almost disgust me. I suppose something that I happened to say made him guess that I was somebody, and he went out of the room for a moment, I have no doubt to ask the office keeper who I was, for when he came back he was altogether a different man, both in manner and matter. All that I had thought a charlatan style had vanished, and he talked of the state of this country and the probabilities of affairs on the Continent with a good sense, and a knowledge of subjects both at home and abroad, that surprised me equally and more agreeably than the first part of our interview had done; in fact, he talked like an officer and a statesman. The Secretary of State kept us long waiting, and certainly, for the last half or three-quarters of an hour, I don’t know that I ever had a conversation that interested me more. Now, if the Secretary of State had been punctual, and admitted Lord Nelson in the first quarter of an hour, I should have had the same impression of a light and trivial character that other people have had; but luckily I saw enough to be satisfied that he was really a very superior man; but certainly a more sudden and complete metamorphosis I never saw.”

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Football vs. cricket

There’s a football vs. cricket discussion over at Corridor of Uncertainty. Not surprisingly, since it’s a cricket blog, everyone is saying how wonderful cricket is and how much football could learn from it.

But I still think that for moments of sheer, jaw-dropping brilliance, football is streets ahead of cricket, just because it’s less structured. Even the most memorable moments in cricket – like Warne’s famous Gatting ball – are variations on a theme. Yes, it was an extraordinarily good leg-break, but it was still rather like all his other leg-breaks. The great moments in football – from Gordon Banks, Maradona, Cruyff, Archie Gemmill, Paul Gascoigne – give you the sense of someone doing something impossible and unthought of. It’s like watching a magic trick, except invented on the spur of the moment in front of 70 000 people and with the World Cup at stake.

poetry dialectics

The oppositional pairs that come up in discussions of poetry – difficulty vs. accessibility, or sincerity vs. knowingness – are always discussed as though they are pressing questions for our time. But these dialectics have always been present. There have always been some poets who value innovation and others who would rather produce highly finished work in the established mode; there have always been some poets whose poems are intimate, and others who seem to hold their work slightly at arms length. The dominant style changes over time, but the tensions within it are of the same type. Looked at that way, very broad classifications like Avant Garde vs. School of Quietude look more like axes on a Myers-Briggs personality test than actual movements.

Hmm. Maybe in the morning I’ll be able to decide whether that’s a brilliant insight or a statement of the obvious.

My very own eggcorn

An eggcorn. Joseph Massey, when he commented on my comments on the New Sincerity, titled the post ‘Nevermind the bullocks, here comes The New Sincerity.’ Which I assumed was a cattle-related joke of some obscure kind, since the Sex Pistols album is in fact Never Mind the Bollocks Here’s the Sex Pistols.

‘Bollocks’ is slang for testicles, while ‘bullock’ is a castrated bull. But then another online American used the term, in the phrase “I think that’s bullocks”. So perhaps the misunderstanding is a common one. ‘Bollocks’ is used in Britain to mean something rather like ‘bullshit’, so that may have influenced people.

As a side-note, Rochester used ‘ballock’. From A Ramble in St James’s Park:

[…] Did ever I refuse to bear
The meanest part your lust could spare?
When your lewd cunt came spewing home
Drenched with the seed of half the town,
My dram of sperm was supped up after
For the digestive surfeit water.
Full gorged at another time
With a vast meal of slime
Which your devouring cunt had drawn
From porters’ backs and footmen’s brawn,
I was content to serve you up
My ballock-full for your grace cup, […]

I wonder if after/water was a true rhyme in the C17th.

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The New Sincerity

Anyone reading this who’s not up to speed on the poetry movement called the New Sincerity should start by digging around in the archives here and here.

I’ve cheerfully read the manifestos without reading any of the poems. I daresay I could find some poems by the central New Sincerists if I just dug around the web for a bit, but it would seem a pity to dilute the purity of the manifesto-reading experience. From these manifestos (manifesti?) I have learnt that the New Sincerists write poems which are sincere. I don’t think I’ve ever written a poem which was intended to be insincere; so perhaps I have been a New Sincerist (or at least a Sincerist) all along, without even knowing it.

But I wonder if a lack of insincerity is enough. The word ‘sincerity’ leads me to expect poems which are earnest, heartfelt, and, if not confessional, at least personal. I don’t think I’ve written a poem in the last few years which was about me in any important way. Most of them are things like this. Does it even mean anything to say that this poem is or isn’t sincere?


The saints and rood screen
have been broken up and burnt,
the murals covered with limewash.
Only the stained-glass windows glow,
and the face of the transfigured Christ
has been scratched out
that the light might shine through clearer.

I guess I’m just trying to pin down what ‘sincerity’ means in poetry. The Romantics generally seem pretty sincere, except perhaps Byron. I’m pretty sure Milton was sincere; was Donne? Herrick? Are Shakespeare’s sonnets sincere? Is there any way of telling? Does it matter? What about Pope? Is The Dunciad more or less sincere than An Essay on Man?

The greatest painting in Britain shortlist

Only one of the six paintings I picked (the Hockney) got onto the final shortlist of ten. That shortlist in full:

The Arnolfini Portrait by Jan van Eyck

The Hay Wain by John Constable

A Rake’s Progress III: The Orgy (1733-4) by William Hogarth

The Fighting Temeraire tugged to her Last Berth to be broken up, 1838 by Turner

The Baptism of Christ by Piero Della Francesca

The Bar at the Folies Bergere by Manet

Sunflowers by Vincent Van Gogh

The Last of England by Ford Madox Brown

The Reverend Robert Walker Skating on Duddingston Loch by Sir Henry Raeburn

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy by David Hockney

A lot of British paintings, not surprisingly. The only one that seems wildly out of its depth is the Madox Brown, which looks like a very ordinary piece of Victorian narrative painting to me. The van Eyck and the Turner are both paintings I considered picking – you certainly have to have something by Turner, the only question being which one. The Hay Wain is certainly a much better painting than its status as a piece of kitsch Englishiana would suggest, but I’ve never really connected to Constable, somehow. Sunflowers isn’t even the best painting by Van Gogh in the National Gallery. I’m not wild about the Manet – I said something earlier about the Impressionists not being at their best painting people; that may have been a bit sweeping, but I think this is a case in point. It’s attractive enough, but lacks the transcendant quality of the best Impressionist landscapes. The Hogarth is lively and entertaining, but those aren’t qualities I rate particularly highly in painting.

A couple of other observations. There are no paintings from between the C15th and C19th, which means no Vermeer, Velasquez, Rubens, Caravaggio, Titian, or Rembrandt for a start. And the only C20th painting is the Hockney, which means nothing abstract and nothing foreign. Britain isn’t especially rich in modern art – Tate Modern’s collection is distinctly patchy – but there are paintings by, for example, Picasso, Miro, Mondrian, Modigliani, Rothko, and Pollock. I suppose in a lot of cases there’s a sense that the very finest paintings by an artist are elsewhere; the Botticellis in the National are OK, but nothing to the ones in Florence, and similarly with Vermeer, Velasquez, Picasso, and Matisse. I would have thought the Rembrandts in the National might make the cut, though.

EDIT: Hogarth is C18th, of course. A better way of putting it might be: all the non-British paintings are either Renaissance or Impressionist.

Search engine robots

In the seven days this domain has been in existence, it has been visited by the robots/spiders of search engines 745 times – mainly Google and Inktomi (which I think may be Yahoo). I find that extraordinary. But then Google is pretty damn miraculous anyway. Paul Simon was right – these are the days of miracle and wonder.

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Radio Cymru

Languagehat led me to discover Morfablog. I have no idea what any of it is about, but several of the pictures on the front page feature waterproof clothing, which chimes with my experience of Wales.

It reminded me of being at university in Bristol and listening to Radio Cymru. Since Welsh takes quite a lot of words directly from English, it was a bit like the Gary Larson cartoon:

The first panel is titled 'What we say to dogs.' A man is scolding his
dog. The man's word-balloon says this: 'Okay, Ginger! I've had it! You
stay out of the garbage! Understand, Ginger? Stay out of the garbage,
or else!?'

The second panel is titled 'What they hear.' The drawing is exactly
like the first panel, but this time the man's word-balloon says 'Blah
blah GINGER blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah GINGER blah blah
blah blah blah.'

except it would be things like “blah blah blah blah blah Phil Collins blah blah blah blah supermodel blah blah cannabis blah blah blah blah blah blah television…”

And because of the limited Welsh-language music available, one moment they’d be playing Welsh folk tunes, and the next a Welsh-language cover of Wet Wet Wet. I haven’t been to Wales for ages, actually. I’ve always wanted to go to the Pembrokeshire coast and see choughs.

Slavery monument

There was a documentary on TV last night (which I forgot to watch) in which Dr Robert Beckford argued the case for the government to pay reparations for slavery. What I’ve gathered from the web is: he consulted “an economic historian, a compensation lawyer and an expert on loss of earnings” and came up with a figure of £7.5 trillion. The total GDP of the UK is only about £1 trillion, as a comparison, so it seems like a very big figure to me, even allowing for the scale of the slave trade. Anyway, whether or not that figure is sound, Beckford apparently didn’t seriously suggest it was a possibility. And, btw, he visualised reparations being in the form of debt relief to African and Caribbean countries and educational support (scholarships?) for the Afro-Caribbean community in the UK, rather to individuals. He also suggested building a memorial.

I’m all for debt relief, and indeed educational opportunity, but I’m unsure about linking it explicitly to the slave trade.There has to be some kind of statute of limitations on these things, and whatever it should be, I think 172 years is long enough. That is, after all, about seven generations since the UK outlawed slavery.

But I do think we should have a slavery memorial somewhere. Bristol or Liverpool perhaps. Not just a plaque – a bloody great thing like a war memorial, or the Holocaust memorial in Berlin. Something institutional, which would make it absolutely clear that those who put it up (i.e. the UK government) recognised the scale of the tragedy represented by slavery and unreservedly recognised the British involvement in it. William Wilberforce has a statue in Westminster Abbey, as he should do, but something specifically remembering slaves seems appropriate.

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Talking out of one’s arse – an apologia

Mr Duemer (Joseph?) has, as I mentioned in the comment box down the page somewhere, just torn a strip off me for talking out of my arse. Probably fairly, in that case.

I’ve always been one to offer strong opinions from a position of ignorance. But, at the risk of turning a character flaw into a philosophy of life, I’m not sure it’s such a bad thing. That’s because I see of it as symptomatic of thinking for myself. Sometimes it means spending hours thinking about something and then reaching an opinion which everyone else thinks is bloody obvious anyway. Sometimes it means saying something which you look back on later and feel like an eejit. But at least it’s an attempt to reach your own opinion rather than just accept what you’re told.

There are some caveats, though. You need to be aware of the ignorance, so you are aware of the possibility (likelihood?) that you’re talking crap. You need to be willing to change your opinion in the face of a new fact, or a better argument. And you have to try and take it in good spirit when someone points out the crap that you’ve been talking.

I’ve always been annoyed by people who are proud to be ignorant – even if it’s just being proud never to have watched Desperate Housewives. But I also think it’s a pity when people don’t feel able to offer opinions on things because they feel that somehow it’s not their place to do so.

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Duck with cassis

Joint some duck legs into drum-sticks and thighs. Brown them (you can do this is a dry frying pan; you’re really not going to need any extra fat). Transfer the duck to a casserole, just saving enough to brown some sliced onion. Put the onion in with the duck. De-glaze the pan with sherry, and add some chicken stock and a generous slug of cassis to the casserole before cooking it at 170C for about an hour and a half.

It’s very rich – sweet and fruity – but nice, and not overpoweringly blackcurranty.

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the Ashes

My father has a ticket for the fifth day of the Oval Test. If there’s still something to play for then, he could be in for one hell of an atmosphere.

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Old Trafford test day 4

England really have to win this. Both because it’s not good enough to draw the series, and because to be so much in control of the game and not win it would be a psychological boost to the Aussies. With Australia batting for a draw, Gillespie is clearly the danger man.

I was (slightly) sad not to see Warne get his century.

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