Pope abolishes limbo

He’s going to do it today, according to the Times.

EDIT: I find this Pope-quote about Limbo amusing, btw: “Personally, I would let it drop, since it has always been only a theological hypothesis.” Unlike purgatory, sainthood, and the papacy itself, presumably.

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searchy searchy

search engine queries this month include:

david cameron t-shirt
australia lose again
easy fire poems
london subcultures
who wrote the albatross poem?
songs about going on holiday
strange pictures public domain
kinds of conflicts emerge in the collaborative writing of wikis?
man faring needy

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blog design

I’ve been thinking about web design recently, specifically as it applies to a possible redesign for this blog. There’s no rush, because the current look is fairly new and I’m pleased with it, but I had set myself a more ambitious target. Inspired by an exchange I had with Will over at Corridor of Uncertainty, I wanted to come up with something which broke away from the standard layout of ‘header and 2 or 3 columns’, which looked genuinely distinctive and sharp.

Obviously you can’t get away from the fact that most of the content you want to present (posts, blogroll, categories) is naturally in a column form. What you can do, hopefully, is break up the boxy visual appearance, both by disguising it – rather as I’ve tried to do with the fading-out of the blue boxes in the current design, which softens their appearance – and by laying them out somewhat differently. And that’s quite apart from all the decisions about typography, visual style, colour-scheme and so on. I would want to get the look stylish without being über-tasteful, modern without trying to present myself as terribly hip (which I’m not), and low-key while still being distinctive. And no Flash or Java, both because they’re completely unnecessary with this kind of site and because I wouldn’t know how to do them anyway – it took me long enough to learn my way around basic HTML and CSS.

I do have a few ideas, but it’s not coming together just yet. In the meantime, I had a (not very thorough) scan through the long poetry blogroll to see what other people have done. Most, sensibly enough, have just used one of the blogger templates. And there are plenty with good, simple designs based primarily on sensible colour and type choices. But here are a few that have managed something a bit more distinctive. In no particular order:

Equanimity (probably my favourite of the lot, though the one-column layout is a bit limiting)
jane dark’s sugarhigh!
Shanna Compton
{lime tree}
Jacob’s Ladder
One Good Bumblebee
Postcards from the Imagination

Note that I’m not talking about anything particularly radical or super-ingenious, just good design.

Strictly Come Dancing & Darren Gough

I’ve been watching Strictly Come Dancing which, for those who don’t know, is a BBC knockout pro-celebrity dancing competition. Last year it was won by a soap actress, the year before that by a newsreader. This year, for me the pleasure has been watching Darren Gough. Gough is a fast bowler (i.e. a cricket pitcher), and he’s a big beefy cheerful Northern lad. For years, when England were crap at cricket, Goughie could be relied on to wake up the crowd and lift his teammates – but I don’t think anyone ever would have guessed, watching him run in and try to knock the batsmen’s heads off with 90mph bouncers, that he was a natural dancer.

What’s been great, watching him, is that although his dancing is sharp and technically excellent [according to the judges], he never loses the sense of bloke-ish physicality. Doing the jive, he could be a GI at a local dancehall; doing the salsa he could be a Cuban stevedore on his day off. There’s nothing dancerish about it. And he always looks like he’s enjoying himself.

To go off at a tangent for a moment, Brazilians sometimes claim to play football ‘to the rhythm of the samba’. I’ve wondered sometimes if English clubs would do well to take that literally, and to teach the young trainees to samba as a kind of cross-training. If nothing else, it’s good practice at close foot-control and balance.

Baby hair

I got my hair cut today, and not only did the barbress repeat the comment she made last time about how I obviously didn’t smoke; this time she commented that my hair was ‘like baby hair’.

This is not a picture of me:

Bed Head

Originally uploaded by HapaKorean.

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Overheard in New York

Overheard in New York is always worth a look. Some recent faves:

Teen boy #1: So the other day I was watching TV and I said out loud, “Fuck, I wish I didn’t just eat all those Doritos.” And then I was like, “Wait, I didn’t just eat any Doritos.” And now I’m like, “Maybe I had one wish and I blew it on Doritos.” You know?

Teen boy #2: Damn, dawg. That sucks.

Girl: I mean, I was rivaling Mary Tyler Moore in her peak for cuteness, and he didn’t even look at me.

Guy: I would totally freeze-frame you, if it’s any consolation.

– Washington Square Park

Queer: I didn’t go to the Roxy on Saturday night; that’s way too many gays in one space. Plus I heard the disco balls were falling on people’s heads.

– Silver Building, Waverly Place

The only London version I know of, Tube Gossip, is less consistently amusing, which is a blow to local pride. Overheard Lines looks to have some good ones. Oh, and I’ve just realised that OiNY has a partner, Overheard in the Office.

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T S Eliot Lecture – George Szirtes

I went to the T S Eliot lecture given by George Szirtes today. Having been to Don Paterson’s lecture last year, it was interesting for me that Szirtes decided to pick out some of the things Paterson had said and disagree with them.

In all such disagreements between poets, the terrible temptation is to think that one of them must be right. Even worse, that the other must therefore be wrong, and that it’s necessary to decide which is which. But they both write fine poems, so they must both be right. Or rather: Paterson has come to a way of thinking about poetry which he finds fruitful; Szirtes has come to another way which he finds productive. Not only are neither of them ‘right’, any more than Wordsworth or Hopkins were right, but there is no one right answer at this level of debate.

That’s not to say there are no universally applicable truths about poetry, just that they are rather limited in scope.


The Paterson lecture can be found here, for the moment at least. The Szirtes one will apparently be put on the web tomorrow. I’ll post a link to it then.

Fairy rocks

The Times reports today that a property developer in Scotland has had to come up with new plans for a housing estate to accomodate a large rock after locals protested that digging it up would disturb the fairies that lived there. Or possibly because Pictish kings had been crowned on it – their stories seem to be a bit mixed, but they seem to have agreed that moving the rock would be bad juju.

Given my general scepticism about all things New Age and supernatural, you might expect me to be exasperated by this. But no, I think it’s great. One of the things I really liked in Japan was that, when you went walking in the country, any prominent landscape feature – a big rock, a waterfall – would usually have a little shrine on it or by it. The shrines were extremely rudimentary – often just three bits of rock arranged into the rough shape of a torii gate, like a little tiny dolmen about a foot high – but just enough to indicate that the spot was important. This picture gives you some idea of the shrines I’m talking about, although it’s taken at Kamakura, a big temple site, not just some random bit of the Japanese countryside.

In Japan, the shrines would be to kami – Shinto nature spirits – but really, kami, fairies, it’s all the same thing. Now I don’t believe there are actually fairies or spirits living in every prominent rock or ancient tree; but the practice humanises and enriches the landscape. Just the fact that it picks out striking things and says ‘look at me’ gives a focus to the landscape. When we talk about respect for nature, it tends to be in an environmental context; respecting whole ecosystems. There’s a lot to be said for respecting your local big rock.

My uncle had a cottage in Wales. In one of the fields nearby was a standing stone. I’m not talking Stonehenge here; just a long thin rock sticking about two feet out of the ground. For all I know, it was actually put there by a couple of bored locals as a gag, but it doesn’t matter, somehow; the fact that it’s there makes the field a special place in a way no functional building would.

I think a lot of Andy Goldsworthy’s work has the same appeal – it’s the non-destructive, respectful engagement with the landscape, to give it a human aspect without de-naturing it.

Vatican Starman Slams ID!

“The Vatican’s chief astronomer said on Friday that Intelligent Design Theory isn’t science and doesn’t belong in science classrooms.”

The ‘Vatican’s chief astronomer’? I wonder if CERN has a head priest who can be consulted for a theological perspective on particle physics.

I don’t suppose the Vatican astronomer is empowered to define the Catholic Church’s theological stance on all scientific issues, even though he *is* an astronomer. So why is this news? Because the media prefer a story with an obvious hook, however fundamentally pointless, to a subtle but informative one.

The link came from Claudia.

music on the net

I’ve only just started getting into music blogs, but they’re fabulous. Of the ones I visit at the moment, the ones which I’ve taken most music from are PopText and Funky16Corners, but I’m currently listening to a 70 minute mix of ‘dancehall/bashment, reggaeton, R’n’B/hip hop/crunk, soca, reggae and ragga jungle’ from Heatwave which I learned about via Mudd Up!. And my award for best design goes to Cocaine Blunts and Hip-Hop Tapes, though it would be even better without frames, imho.

And in answer to the obvious question – yes, I’ve already been persuaded to buy music (with actual money) which I wouldn’t have otherwise, so I’m not completely being a parasite.

[EDIT: having done some internet research, I now actually know what reggaeton is: Puerto Rican reggae-influenced hip hop – the booty-shaking face of globalisation, basically. ‘Bashment’ is still a mystery. Sounds good, though; I’d recommend that mix I mentioned and I’m now listening to a reggaeton mix from the same people.]

my poetry head

Clear evidence that I haven’t been in poetry mode much recently. I was roasting some bones yesterday to make stock with, and thought to myself ‘Roasting Bones – that would be a good title for a blog’. Whereas in fact, it would be *much better* as the title of a poem. Book of poems, maybe. Or Roasted Bones? Hmmm.

For a short time only – valid XHTML *and* CSS!

It’s not that I go out of my way to use non-standards compliant HTML or CSS, but some of the specs seem pretty petty (tags must be lower case, img tags must have an ‘alt’ quality, you have to close your break tags), so I certainly can’t guarantee that the site will remain valid for long. And I’ve only checked the front page. But, just at the moment, the front page does validate both for XHTML and CSS.

If you have no idea what I’m talking about – it’s not important.

New design for the blog

As should be pretty obvious, I’ve re-designed the blog. Again. If it looks peculiar on your computer, let me know. I’ve pretty much decided not to make the extra effort to make the site work on early versions of Internet Explorer, but if it’s not looking right on IE6 I might need to do something about it.

Can I just say how fucking annoying it is that CSS doesn’t seem to support blocks where the bottom is defined relative to the bottom of the webpage (i.e. the document rather than the screen).

The swifts are taken from this picture on Flickr.

Google Analytics

Google have just launched a free web-traffic analysis service which looks pretty damn good. At the moment, they seem to be struggling under the weight of people joining up, so it hasn’t recognised my site yet. Presumably they’ll get it sorted soon enough. I don’t quite see how they’re going to make money at it, though; it’s only free up to 5 million hits a month, but that’s *a lot* – about 800 times more traffic than this site gets, for example. Even if you go over that, you only need to make a $5 deposit and open a Google Adwords account to get unlimited stats. Mind you, given the sheer staggering oomph of computer power Google must have, perhaps the extra processing is fairly trivial.

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‘China: The Three Emperors, 1662-1795’ at the RA

The Royal Academy’s own website doesn’t seem to be working at the moment (Tibetan hackers?), but Goldman Sachs, the corporate sponsor of the show, have a Flash slideshow you can see here which gives an idea of what it’s like.

I found it a bit dull. The exhibition is huge and the quality of the items is obvious, but it seems a bit same-y; and (because it’s all court art?), it’s all rather formal and grand. I also found it surprisingly un-surprising, somehow. I don’t know much about C18th China (anything, really) so I would have expected it to be more interesting just out of novelty value, but somehow it all seemed rather familiar. Perhaps I just haven’t got the enough knowledge to see the subtleties, or perhaps it actually is all a bit repetitive. It might have been a good idea to get the audioguide. These very big exhibitions are always a bit off-putting anyway; if it was a quarter the size, it might have focussed my mind a bit.

Flickr interesting photo meme

Well, it’s not actually a meme unless anyone copies the idea, but hey-ho. Or at least, I guess technically it still is a meme, just an unsuccessful one. Don’t get me started on evolutionary theory.

Search Flickr for photos tagged with your first name. View them ordered as ‘most interesting’. Post the most interesting photo to your blog. The most interesting photo tagged with ‘Harry’ is a Dutch cuckooflower:


Free bit of trivia – cuckooflower is also known as ‘milkmaid’ or ‘ladies smock’.

England vs Argentina

I’m looking forward to the footy this afternoon. The only question is whether Sven will manage his usual trick of taking all the fun out of friendlies by creating an atmosphere where no-one cares enough. Surely even Sven can’t take the sting out of England vs Argentina?

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