Archive for the ‘John Stammers Page’ Category

This will always be Christine McVie for me.

Chicken Shack, with Christine Perfect as she was then.
I Would Rather Go Blind

When I see that lark rising

Posted: September 21, 2022 in John Stammers Page

on thermals, so effortlessly
I forget all I ever doubted
and remember all I’d hoped
of life and our future – of seeing
your face again while I still can
between this day and that night
that takes off shoes, coat,
and makes out it wants to stay.

And if thermals can do this,
and thin bones, stringy muscles,
dull brown wings, and a sky
in a lull between holiday flights,
then why is it so hard to achieve
in the slow fall of the year when heat
is unbearable, and time spare
so taken up with it, I wonder?

And receive no answer.
But become young again.
And just for the duration of that song
it seems I can lift the weight off
by piling hope high,
a sustained height.

The bird cannot surpass itself, 
only the song in the air 
can be carried further

White Lily

Posted: September 1, 2022 in John Stammers Page

Laurie Anderson, on Fassbinder’s ‘Berlin Alexanderplatz

From Memoirs of Hadrianby Marguerite Yourcenar, translated by Grace Frick. Penguin, 1951.

‘I have supposed, and in my better moments think so still, that it would be possible… to participate in the existence of everyone; such sympathy would be one of the least revocable kinds of immortality. There have been moments when that comprehension tried to go beyond human experience, passing from the swimmer to the wave. But in such a realm, since there is nothing exact left to guide me, I verge upon the world of dream and metamorphosis.’

What do you know about Ostend?
 – Did you know that James Ensor, the painter, grew up there?
 – Or that Marvin Gaye, soul legend, once lived there?

 – We have just passed Bloomsday, but did you know that James Joyce and family spent a very happy vacation there, in 1926?
It made its way into Finnegan’s Wake, he was writing at the time.

Then, there is Aldous Huxley spending many formative periods in Brabant.

Albert Einstein in De Haan , on the West Flanders coast.

These are just the bare bones. The cultural richness is there to be awakened for you, explored.

Access to the Dutch cultural impact is here made available to the English-speaking world.
And it is very rich and rewarding.

The High Road to Culture in Flanders and The Netherlandsis your passport:

The site is the online presence of the Flemish-Dutch cultural institution Ons Erfdeel vzw.
They state:
It is our mission to provide an English-language audience with the necessary background information to be able to appreciate the arts, history, language, literature and societal developments in the Low Countries. We pay special attention to connections between Dutch and English-speaking communities.

The site has a highly polished, interactive, and reactive, screen presence. 
Stylistic, smart, and always up-to-date on a surprising range of events, publications, activities.

The site’s banner head gives us access to a wide swathe of Dutch and Flemish culture : Arts History Language Literature Society Podcast and also Publication.

The present updated site gives us articles on Why Brussels Needs to Rethink Its Governance, a lively in-depth look at how Brussels negotiates its multi-lingual needs of governance.

We also see in Art In The Chapel, how an abandoned 16thchapel in Ghent has been revivified by artist Berlinde de Bruyckere.

New Book On Netherlandish Drawings 1500 – 1800which takes from Breughel, through Peter Paul Rubens (what skill at age 20!) onwards.

What do you know about Polydore de Keyser? He was a Flemish hotelier who moved to London, eventually becoming Lord Mayor.

There is an on-going Series side-banner, where history articles are made available from the Republic of Amsterdam Radio group.
These in themselves are invaluable. But they are just one part of what is available on this site.
There is, of course, the Young Voices on Slavery series, where young people respond to actual artefacts and records of slavery.
The latest venture in this field is Young Writers On Invisible Labour, where responses are to the neglected workers behind great works.

Or video poetry:

And there is the regular Friday Verses slot, that I keep recommending. Some excellent work here, available in English translation for the first time.

Here are 41 Dutch Books You Need To Read This Summer, available in translation, summer 2022: Fiction, Poetry, Comics and Graphic Novels, Children’s and Youth Literature, and Nonfiction. 

Or, you may prefer Stefan Zweig on The Land Between The Languages, an jewel of a book, illustrated, of his reportages of times in The Netherlands, reflections on The Great War, and the arts of the period.

Try this one: When Did New York Stop Speaking Dutch?

You can sign-up to their email newsletter. Better still is to open a subscription, and choose an option. 
Subscription opens up the archive of articles, podcasts and themed series.

Highly recommended.

Einsturzenden Neubauten

Posted: June 11, 2022 in John Stammers Page


The opening fanfare is phenomenal!
What a performance.

It’s good to see American director, Jane Campion, back in the news.

We just happened to catch one of her earlier films a few weeks back, An Angel At My Table, based on the autobiographies of New Zealand writer Janet Frame.

It was great to watch the film again; I got more out of it this time around, too:  Kerry Fox is really very good in the main role.

And so I went to the autobiographies.
To the Is-Land (1982); An Angel at My Table (1984); The Envoy from Mirror-City (1985)

There are so many surprises and enlightening episodes and events. Her writing is very even-handed, even though she had every reason to not be so. She casts no blame, partly because her life, like everyone’s is a steady revelation of meaning, realisation. And also, I suspect, because of the counselling she received.

One of the first things surprised me was the difference between the South and North island of New Zealand. Following eight years of hospital treatment she travelled to Auckland, to stay with her married youngest sister and family. The air, she found, seemed more temperate, the flora more lush, almost tropical, brighter colours, different flowers, plants.
Away from the snow melt of the Lord-of-the-Rings mountains of South island, and also being that little bit nearer to the equator, made a lot of difference.
We only meet one Australian in the books, and then only in passing, as passenger on the sea journey to England.

The family background is intriguing, as well as tragic. Her mother had cleaned for the writer Katherine Mansfield’s family. 
Of the five children, the eldest, ‘Bruddie’, developed epilepsy; the next, Myrtle, drowned in the local swimming pool; Janet went through eight years of mental health hospitals; lively, vibrant Isabel developed heart trouble and also drowned… only the youngest, June, came through relatively unscathed.

It was suggested that ‘Bruddie’ be taken to Seacliffe, the mental health hospital – that is how epilepsy was seen and treated in those years. Her mother swore no child of hers would go there. She cared for him at home.

When Janet was to be taken to Seacliffe, her mother signed the papers. 
How is one to take this, she asked, in the autobiography.

The diagnosis was schizophrenia. 
There’s a new electrical treatment, she heard at one point. It was ECT; she went through about two hundred of these ‘treatments’.

Later, another new treatment came forward: Leucotomy, or as we now know it lobotomy. And she was on the list.
It was only by winning a prize for her short stories The Lagoon and other stories, and mentioned in the newspaper review, that she was saved that fate, and later released.
One associate, Nola, had not such luck. Janet Frame wrote to her often, and she was in and out of hospitals all her life.
It’s the dependency upon other’s judgements, decisions, that is so disabling, reducing, negating. This is especially so for women, the never-ending centuries of subjection 

Her mother died: Her life was awful, she said, and her sister agreed. She had no life of her own, or the one she did have she sank into her Christadelphian beliefs.
She wrote The well-meaning consideration of my family served to emphasise and increase the separation I felt from them.

‘You are the unmarried daughter. Your duty is to look after your father now.’
Other’s expectations… even one’s own expectations… can be destructive.

It was in Auckland that she met Frank Sargeson, a successful New Zealand writer, living in his little isolated island of art. She stayed there… eighteen months? Writing her first book, Owls Do Cry; and it was accepted for publication, and published in New Zealand.
Frank’s own books were out of print by then, a horrible fate for a living writer.

Coming out of the mental health system, where the emphasis was on non-communication between staff and in-patients, no newspapers, no stimulation, and observation of rules, order, regulated time. It was an experience she described as a steady diminishment of one’s personality. 

With Frank Sargeson she then found herself in a caring, considerate environment.
The problem there was, as nurturing as he was, his interest was other men, and constantly disparaged her woman’s body. From one area of negation, to another.

He did have connections, though. 

On the strength of her novel she applied for a travel grant ‘to broaden one’s life experience’, and was awarded what was then a reasonable amount of money: three hundred pounds sterling.
She travelled to England, by boat: she was not a good sailor. 
She was determined to go to Spain – Ibiza was the place to live cheaply, so she stayed there about eighteen months. 

Poverty was a trap; there was no way out for the local people, except tourism, a hate-relationship but necessary. She identified more readily with the poor, that was her background, her experience.
Aged thirty-two, and then her first love affair! And a pregnancy. Money was running out, and so Andorra was recommended, the exchange rate more amenable. And almost trapped into marriage with a local smuggler. Then losing the baby.

Back in London she was to fall into another redundant relationship: poor, dull, unimaginative, and thinking he was looking out for her – but he was forcing her into corners.
She had to look for work, and her situation became untenable.
A previous medic recommended her contact the Maudsley Hospital when in London. She did, and they took her in observation. ‘You never had schizophrenia.’ they said. ‘What you are going through now is the result of eight years of hospitalisations.

She loved London, though: the early nineteen sixties, all the new life, the French New Wave writers, the American Beat writers, West Indian literature appearing. She witnessed the growth of CND, the Aldermaston Marches

She loved being anonymous but a part of the multitudinous life.
She wrote, and published. One review wrote This must be the worst book, whilst another said of the same book, This book could well be a work of genius.
What do you do with that disparity? 
You have to come to some accommodation, and it has to be one’s own.

She was healing, she was growing stronger.
She changed her name to Nene Janet Paterson Clutha …in part to recognise Māori leader Tamati Waka Nene, whom she admired (
This is the only Maori reference I am aware of.

And then her father died. And she returned to New Zealand, still a bad sailor. 

But the legacy had to be sorted, the meagre belongings.
She loved London, but was glad to return to New Zealand.
Beware, the London doctor said, They might not accept our diagnosis.

Her appreciation of the neglect of women’s lives comes through in the autobiographies. 

She could spot desperation in all its forms, it was something that affects everyone, but especially women denied prospects, lives, education. 

We may think that is all being solved now but, well, it isn’t, and there’s nothing to stop any improvements being turned around tomorrow. 

We are so vulnerable – to economic constraints, to market forces, to prices shooting up beyond control: heating, basic foodstuffs, energy, petrol. And the ones who bear the brunt of this are the poor and women, because they have no protection in society.
The poor are always with us, and especially the ones who cannot, do not know how to, fend for themselves.

I would love to know what happened next; how she lived. Her New Zealand celebrity status protected her somewhat, but could also ensnare.

But take a look at the prizes she had won in her lifetime!

1951: Hubert Church Prose Award (The Lagoon and other Stories)

·      1956: New Zealand Literary Fund Grant

·      1958: New Zealand Literary Fund Award for Achievement (Owls Do Cry)

·      1964: Hubert Church Prose Award (Scented Gardens for the Blind); New Zealand Literary Fund Scholarship in Letters.

·      1965: Robert Burns Fellowship, University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ

·      1967: “Buckland Literary Award.” (The Reservoir and Other Stories/A State of Siege)

·      1969: New Zealand Literary Fund Award (The Pocket Mirror: Poems)

·      1971: Buckland Literary Award (Intensive Care); Hubert Church Prose Award. (Intensive Care)

·      1972: President of Honour: P.E.N. International New Zealand Centre, Wellington, NZ

·      1973: James Wattie Book of the Year Award (Daughter Buffalo)

·      1974: Hubert Church Prose Award (Daughter Buffalo); Winn-Manson Menton Fellowship.

·      1978: Honorary Doctor of Literature (D.Litt. Honoris Causa) University of Otago, Dunedin, NZ

·      1979: Buckland Literary Award (Living in the Maniototo)

·      1980: New Zealand Book Award for Fiction (Living in the Maniototo)

·      1983: Buckland Literary Award; Sir James Wattie Book of the Year Award (To the Is-Land); C.B.E. (Commander, Order of the British Empire)

·      1984: Frank Sargeson Fellowship, University of Auckland, NZ

·      1984: New Zealand Book Award for Non-Fiction (An Angel at My Table); Sir James Wattie Book of the Year Award (An Angel at My Table); Turnovsky Prize for Outstanding Achievement in the Arts

·      1985: Sir James Wattie Book of the Year Award (The Envoy from Mirror City)

·      1986: New Zealand Book Award for Non-Fiction (The Envoy from Mirror City); Honorary Foreign Member: The American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters

·      1989: Ansett New Zealand Book Award for Fiction; Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book (The Carpathians)

·      1990: O.N.Z. (Member, Order of New Zealand)

·      1992: Honorary Doctor of Literature (D.Litt.), University of Waikato, Hamilton, NZ

·      1994: Massey University Medal, Massey University, Palmerston North, NZ

·      2003: Arts Foundation of New Zealand Icon Award; New Zealand Prime Minister’s Award for Literary Achievement[77]

·      2007: Montana Book Award for Poetry (The Goose Bath)

One of her family homes on South Island was bought and restored by a group of supporters, and it is now open for visitors, a tourist spot:

Janet Frame House

Next, of course, is to read the books.

-off line –

Posted: March 5, 2022 in John Stammers Page

Off-line for a week! One whole week.

We’d been with our server for about twenty years, but now its prices are going sky-high.
We’d found a package elsewhere, that cost a third of the price; and so being at the end of one contract took our thirty-days’ leave notice.

Ours is an inclusive package: internet, TV, and landline.

So, their Sales Team got in touch and dangled cheaper packages for us. I said Send us the details.
They didn’t, but being Sales people took that as a Yes, and so cancelled our leave and signed us on for another eighteen months.
Didn’t tell us.
We happened to look at our billing page, and found the contract.

So we had to ring them. It took about three hours of waiting, and then increasingly confusing conversations. A lot of their customers it appears, were also trying to cancel, or re-negotiate. We were trapped in that queue.

And so we restated our leaving commitment: thirty days. Yes we were already set up with another provider.

And they did it again, cancelled our leaving and put us on another contract.
We rang again, We did not authorise this. Someone in your company is deciding for us. That is illegal.

And they did it again.
We rang again. Your details with us are very confused, they said.
Purposely so, we thought.
– Look through it, at no point do we ever say to another contract. Thirty days, we said, Then phht.
We’ve got you down for for leaving on 10thof March. 
– No, 23red of February.
We can do 25th.
– OK, ok. You get the impression: frazzled, stressed. That’s what they wanted, so they could string us out further, agree (You have to say a robust No to the Sales team, they said. So everything but a robust No, is a Yes?).

The message boards for this company have plenty more stories very similar to this.

The day before switch off, we checked the billing page, and… they’d done it again!
We rang again.
Next day they Did switch us off.

And so our new provider said, You need a line putting in. 
– Your van has been round, checked availability, posted us a letter by hand.
The engineer put us a line in the same day as out switch off.

– Nothing follows through, does it! –

Router? We asked. Your site says Same day online.

Because you’ve not had a line for a long time, we have to check viability.
They did.

The router’ll be with you tomorrow, only… we can’t set up your package until Friday. And then it’ll need time to get up to speed.
– How long?
A few weeks, possibly a month. 
– A month?
You’ll be able to use basic functions before then, of course.

It was overnight.

Apart from the fall-out of stress from the leave-farrago, and the sign-on-to-the-new charade I have to admit it has been very peaceful without it.
We’ve been able to catch up with reading, and, what’s more surprising and something we don’t realise we have lost: time to Think.

How much of the day is wasted frittering and flitting about online and getting almost nothing back from doing it.

Then Crash! into the craziness of the Ukraine situation. To process what most other people have already had to confront and process. 

The first call on out new landline? A phone-scam centre.
Oh, and the label sent for us to return the equipment to the old provider, does not scan at the designated hub, nor does it accept the alphanumerical provided.

But this new provider, a smaller company, does seem to be commendable.

Cellar Door

Posted: November 16, 2021 in John Stammers Page


I was watching the film, Donnie Darko, again the other night – lost count of viewings now – those young Gyllenhaal siblings, aw.
And what a soundtrack!

There’s that moment where the young teacher, as she packs her belongings having just been fired, tells Donnie D how the phrase Cellar Door was considered the most euphonious, ‘perfect’ English sound.

‘Cellar Door’ also propels the main characters to their crisis point, before the great ending.

And who was that teacher? Played by Drew Barrymore. She was really vey funny in Santa Clarita Diet.
And who was Donnie Darko’s psychologist Dr Lilian Thurman? Katherine Ross. Among her many credits is one of the important characters in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid; in Stepford Wives, that really chilling film. And of course, The Colbys.

Donnie Darko was released in 2001.

On ‘Cellar Door’, Wiki gives us:

The English compound noun cellar door has been widely cited as an example of a word or phrase that is beautiful purely in terms of its sound (i.e., euphony) without inherent regard for its meaning.[12] The phenomenon of cellar door being regarded as euphonious appears to have begun in the very early twentieth century, first attested in the 1903 novel Gee-Boy by the Shakespeare scholar Cyrus Lauron Hooper. It has been promoted as beautiful-sounding by various writers; linguist Geoffrey Nunberg specifically names the writers H. L. Mencken in 1920; David Allan Robertson in 1921; Dorothy ParkerHendrik Willem van Loon, and Albert Payson Terhune in the 1930s; George Jean Nathan in 1935; J. R. R. Tolkien as early as a 1955 speech titled “English and Welsh“; and C. S. Lewis in 1963.[12][13] Furthermore, the phenomenon itself is touched upon in many sources and media, including a 1905 issue of Harper’s Magazine by William Dean Howells,[a] the 1967 novel Why Are We in Vietnam? by Norman Mailer, a 1991 essay by Jacques Barzun,[15] the 2001 psychological drama film Donnie Darko,[16][17] and a scene in the 2019 movie Tolkien.


Back in 1986 there was an English TV series, The Singing Detective, written by Dennis Potter. A nightclub singer who also solved crimes, basically, played by a much younger Michael Gambon, yep, Dumbledore.

Taken to hospital he underwent fevers and recovered, ably assisted by a nurse, played by Joanne Whalley, shortly before she married Val Kilmer.

Part of the detective/singer’s recovery was the revelation that the most perfect English sound is carried by the word 


Incidentally this ‘elbow’ gave name to the English band:
They changed their name a second time to ‘Elbow’ in 1997, inspired by a line in the BBC TV drama The Singing Detective in which the character Philip Marlow describes the word “elbow” as the loveliest word in the English language.[12]

So, is it Cellar Door, or Elbow?
This would suggest it is all a matter of subjective judgement.

They do both carry the same sound sequence, however: the short e: ce… and el…, followed by the lingual ‘l’, then there is the discrepancy between plosive ‘b’ and dental ‘d’, to be followed by a rounded o : door, and bow.
Does this b-d discrepancy tell us how vocalics have changed over time between England and USA? How has usage changed the palate?


And ‘Aye but’, I thought, watching the film, ‘Cellar Door is so obviously a French sound’. 
Think of cela d’or : ‘that gold/golden’.

You can’t really go wrong with this French one
Both sound and meaning.

That muted sibilant ‘c’ of ‘cellar’ that is absent in the more direct English English ‘elbow’… is not that, perhaps, more… French?
In the meld of American English, is there an aesthetic echo remaining, of French?

It could, of course, be that the English English ‘elbow’ is the corrupt version. It retains more clearly the mouth movements of front front to inner – bite-off to mouthful, as the gestural origin of language would have it, but misses so much else.
The American English ‘cellar door’, with its echoes of French, of romance sounds, is certainly the version to prefer. N’est ce pas?

And… in America… is it cellar, or basement… door?